Monday, July 22, 2019

Hell Hath Nothing On AnnaLynne McCord

Sometimes, you see cover art on Amazon Prime and feel a warm, comfy feeling that someone out there knows what you like: elevated Lifetime thrillers about dramatically angry women taking control of their lives. Then you look closer and see the cast involves Billy Zane, AnnaLynne McCord, and Spartacus's Viva Bianca and you wonder if you're actually dead because folks, Scorned...Scorned is heaven.

Quick Plot: We open a very cheap way of showing a text conversation between two hip abbreviations-using cheaters as they discuss their next meetup. Next, we meet the man on the end of it and yes, it's none other than Billy Zane tied to a chair.

Zane is Kevin, a wealthy gentleman with an incredibly active libido. 28 hours before his capture, his girlfriend Sadie (the glorious, never restrained McCord) was predicting his marriage proposal over shots with her best friend Jen. If you haven't guessed by now, Jen happened to be the other woman on that fateful text chain, she with the "magical pussy" and use of "U"s.

After some lakeside lovemaking, Sadie discovers the affair via Kevin's phone. Lucky for her, she's packed a generous supply of Vicodin despite this just being a weekend getaway. Having disabled the former Demon Knight with surprising ease, Sadie lures Jen and her Yorkie puppy Bootsie to their remote mansion for a wild evening of teeth pulling, shin hobbling, taco eating, and so much more.

I'm not going to tease anything here: Scorned is a ridiculous good time.

Emphasis on ridiculous.

Directed by Doll's House royalty Mark Jones (he of the first Leprechaun and the one and only Rumplestilskin) with a script cowritten by Sadie Katz, Scorned understands its Eat-Your-Heart-Out-Lifetime place and GOES for it. Is Sadie faster than The Flash? Sure! Do we get Billy Zane attempting to foot call the police? HELL YES. Even the music choices seem tongue-in-your-cheek clever, which makes perfect sense if you watch the credits long enough to see that Jones wrote most of the lyrics. 

This is the kind of movie that has a character try to get even by shouting, "you flat-chested whore!" One where two women can be lifelong best friends and yet somehow one doesn't really seem to know anything about the fact that her BFF was committed to a mental hospital and given electric shock therapy for seven years. Size 0 Sadie drinks 3/4 of a full bottle of Maker's Mark and is not only still standing, but has the ability to kidnap two people, make a full dinner, blind her boyfriend, and plot an elaborate escape plan by picking up an escaped prisoner at just the right time.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that.

Throughout Scorned, there are a few probably filmed-in-one-day asides where we discover a heavily tattooed violent criminal is on the run (Checkhov's Law of Prisons in full force). Naturally, we're constantly waiting for him to show up at just the wrong time, a deus ex machina in a film that's already skirting any rules. The way Scorned works this into the main plot is even better than I could have imagined. 

As much as the "b*thces be crazy" subgenre pioneered by Lifetime can be insulting to women, Scorned manages to elevate it into something that might even be empowering. There are no boiled bunnies to be found here, even if there's a constant threat of little Bootsie drying off in the microwave. That's not Scorned's game: Sadie IS crazy, but she's not stupid, and there's something about her determination that's almost, dare I say it, admirable. Not all heroines wear capes: some of them just sport rainbow hair and spaghetti straps.

High Points
AnnaLynne McCord probably doesn't have the A-list career she initially dreamed of, but it's clear that she's become a genuinely interesting actress who makes a point of choosing roles where she can let loose. She's on fire in Scorned, and it's a damn beautiful thing to watch

Low Points
I actually love the yes-they-went-there ending, but if you sit back and try to put the details together, there are a LOT of holes in Sadie's plan

Lessons Learned
Girls put up with a lot of things before they lock you in

The key to making good tacos is cover up crappy meat with tons of spices

You know someone's a villain when she feeds a dog chili

Cigars are less likely to give you cancer than cigarettes, at least according to the Book of Zane

If you're a fan of fun trash, Scorned is an absolute delight. Get your fix on Amazon Prime now. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sh! I Can't Hear In the Dark!

The last time I took a chance on an early '90s sultry thriller airing on HBO my reward was Faye Dunaway shouting "cookies!" in Tom Holland's The Temp. Twas a glorious day.

With that in mind, I went back to the cable well for 1992's Whispers In the Dark. 

Let's just say we can't all be winners.

Quick Plot: We open on blurry lovemaking, which is basically a bunch of pinkish shapes melding into each other like the finale of Society. Instead of butthead jokes and face melting, we simply get Annabella Sciorra as Ann awaking from a dream and heading to her office, where she gets hit on by Jamey Sheridan, provides counseling to a very well-dressed John Leguizamo, and hears the sexual exploits of Debra Kara Unger's Eve.

Sheridan is Doug, a nice guy pilot eager to whisk the workaholic Ann off her sensibly shoe'd feet.Their first plane ride date culminates in that kind of instrumentally scored sex scene the '90s loved, with Ann declaring Doug "the gentlest man she's ever met".

This being an early '90s sexytime thriller, Doug is more than meets the eye. We're less than 20 minutes in when Ann discovers the mystery man from Eve's detailed stories is none other than her new squeeze. Eve reacts with fury, stealing some of Ann's files before hanging herself...allegedly.

Enter Anthony "Whatever Nationality You Need" LaPaglia as brash detective Morgenstern, a man with a very specific hatred of the psychiatric profession. The suspect list begins to mount as Morgenstern interrogates everyone around Ann, including her mentor/pal/therapist Alan Alda.

Checkhov's Law of Name Actors In Small Parts should answer a lot of your questions, but Whispers In the Dark doesn't seem to have the best handle on how to ask them in the first place. Sciorra is fine in the lead, but writer/director Christopher Crowe (penner of 1996's roller coaster game changer Fear) doesn't really have a great handle on how to put the steam in what's supposed to be an erotic thriller. He gets a lot of help from the always-reliable-to-ooze-sensuality Unger, but her character's gone too soon, leaving us instead with such riveting scenes as Ann hanging out with Doug's conservative Iowan mom as she drives around town to show off the local bank.

Basic Instinct, this ain't. Heck, Whispers In the Dark makes Body of Evidence and Sliver look like bonafide classics, and trust me: that's not easy. 

High Points
If you make it through Whispers In the Dark long enough, you will ultimately be rewarded with one of the more bonkers endings of the '90s involving a beachfront confrontation that culminates in a hook to the face of a beloved sweater-clad character actor, so there's that?

Low Points
A goofy erotic thriller that's neither sexy nor fun is a bland, bland thing to behold

Lessons Learned
Being a detective might be considered low, working class, and unjewish

When hiding evidence, consider a place slightly less exposed than the living room shelf

Nothing says "not guilty" like hogtying up your therapist

'90s era police glass was incredibly breakable

Look, I love the stupid subgenre that is the sexy '90s thriller, but there are dozens of better choices out there. Watch one of those instead.

Monday, July 8, 2019

We'll Always Be Bosom Buddies

TCM remains a nice treasure for the movie fan, but its Underground weekend airings a bonafide goldmine. When I see my beloved Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? airing one Friday followed by a title I'd never heard of, but SURELY was in the same grande dame guignol genre (a term I prefer to the meaner-sounding hagsploitation or psycho-biddy horror), I programmed my DVR faster than Shelley Winters at a swim meet. 

I don't know I was adequately prepared. 

Quick Plot: Stanley and Paul are Baltimore thieves on the run, hiding out in suburban Miami. Paul disguises himself as the titular Aunt Martha, while Stanley romps about town with a string of young women, only to freak out when they make sexual advances. Martha/Paul comes to the rescue, murdering the ladies as Stanley sobs himself into further madness.

Their relationship, you might say, is complicated.

So much so, in fact, that the film doesn't officially acknowledge its sexual nature. Now 1971 wasn't the easiest time to make a film marketed as queer, but one of the strangest things about Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things is the very fact that it doesn't fully embrace itself.

Make no mistake: Paul and Stanley are lovers of some sort, or at the very least, men who share the same bed. The more handsome, younger of the two, Stanley spends a good deal of time doing drugs with conventionally attractive young women eager to get his pants off. The problem, of course, is that as soon as these ladies near his crotch, Stanley falls into a mad state of tears and violence. 

Things get even trickier when Hubert, a heroin addict thief, shows up to blackmail the couple in return for houseguest status. Meanwhile, Paul is constantly fending off the aggressive friendliness of his pregnant neighbor, while Stanley finds himself attracted to her good girl nurse daughter. 

It's a LOT, and I haven't even mentioned the Scooby Doo gang love van and post-mortem C-section that deflates its mother's belly. Written and directed by Thomas Casey (screenwriter of Flesh Feast), SAMDDT is a special little remnant from a very different time in independent cinema, combining spirit of John Waters with Norman Bates and sloppily shoving it into your nose like Stanley's cocaine. Considering its drag-ilicious plotline, I'm somewhat shocked that I've never heard of it.

Is this a classic? No, in part because it's just not that, you know, good a film. But paint my face red if it isn't something special.

High Points
While I wouldn't add them to the list of 1971's Oscar snubs, Abe Zwick and Wayne Crawford (under the name Scott Lawrence) go all out for Stanley and Paul, successfully managing to create real, albeit over the top people in one damn campy film

Low Points
The subtext of Paul and Stanley's relationship is so fascinating that it remains incredibly frustrating that the film doesn't dig deeper into its complexities

Lessons Learned
You don't have to go to parties and smoke pot to be into it

Jack rabbits are notoriously untrustworthy

Some women find childlike men attractive

The Winning (Most '70s) Line
"I hope you have a good astrologist!"
Incidentally, this is spoken by a man who has never held a gun nor watched a movie involving a character that has

Exploitation and cult movie enthusiasts will definitely find a lot to enjoy in (deep breath to say the title one more time) Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things. It's zany, messy, and pretty much unlike anything you've ever really seen. As is often the case with no budget cinema of the time, its quality as a film doesn't quite measure up to some of its more interesting concepts, but trust me: you won't be bored. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Eight Legged Arts & Crafts

If you grew up on a deserted island with no access to cinema, imagine how powerful a movie like Arachnia would seem.


Quick Plot: Professor Mugford has chartered a private plain captained by a man named Sean to fly his team to a dig in Arizona. Also on board is Chandra, his assistant, Deke, a horny grad student, and Kelly and Trina, airheads sleeping their way to a passing grade. When a meteor shower takes their plan down, the group lands on an isolate farmland stretch.

Like any educated group, the gang finds the nearest house and rudely make themselves home, guzzling down the available liquor and running baths in the center of the living room. Farmer Moses Cobb (the farmerest name that ever did farm) comes home a little miffed, but excited by Kelly's nude body and Mugford's specialty in critters. 

See, two generations ago, Grandpa Cobb found a car-sized spider and took him around as a traveling fair attraction. Moses still has the petrified corpse, which Mugford dismisses as a carnival hack. Naturally, our eggheaded misogynist will soon be proven very, very wrong.

What follows is a somewhat adorably cheap creature feature populated with paper mache, stop motion animation, and some incredibly well-aimed molotov cocktails. Writer/director Brett Piper's ear for dialogue is about as keen as his sense of staging, which means we get the kind of conversations that go like this:

Kelly: You ever do it with another girl?
Trina: I don't think so.

In the world of low budget Vermont filmed horror, young women don't even remember whether they've had same sex experiences. This is the kind of movie that has the world's foremost expert in ancient animals constantly referring to spiders as insects or bugs (and never arachnids, despite the title of his movie being, you know, Arachnia). 

Basically, you're dealing with a SyFy level cheapie made with even less money and skill. Considering that means our effects are seemingly 100% practical, there's a huge amount of charm to be found in the homemade efforts, providing you're the kind of horror fan who appreciates that type of thing.

High Points
I can't stress enough how terrible everything looks in Arachnia, but the fact that you're looking at physical creations rather than fast and cheap CGI is genuinely refreshing in our current era

Low Points
There's obviously a LOT that I COULD complain about in a movie like Arachnia, but I'm in a kind mood so I'll instead sit back and let my annoyance at the lack of effective web-based plot details be it

Lessons Learned
Studying dinosaurs makes you a critter expert, even if you can't tell the difference between an insect and arachnid

Self-proclaimed world's best damned personal assistants have a unique set of skills, including excellent shotgun aim 

Always trust in the air force, especially when it's being led by a discount Asylum version of Paul Sorvino 

Folks, Arachnia is by no definition of good a good movie. Its acting is stiff, dialogue laughable, and effects less impressive than most of what came out in the 1950s. That being said, if you're in the mood for dumb hand-crafted fun, you can find it on Amazon Prime. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Mars Needs Moms (& Dads)

When I hear “Invaders From Mars,” the first things that come to my mind are raw hamburger meat and Grandmother Foxworth bellowing out vowels. Released in 1986, Tobe Hooper’s remake of William Cameron Menzies’ 1953 sci-fi film is just weird enough to have cast a very deep impression on young me. It’s a mixed bag of a film, filled with some dark concepts and style that never quite fit with its youth-targeted market.

I’ve always been curious about the hard-to-find original, which is finally easily available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Quick Plot: Young David MacLean has his head in the stars. This happens when your dad is a scientist and you keep a long-range telescope in your bedroom. One stormy night, David sees what can only be a UFO landing in the field just behind his house. His parents are dubious, but Dad heads outside to take a look, returning the next morning in a stone-faced manner unfitting his previously gentle disposition. 

David is suspicious, and with good reason. From his window, he witnesses his younger neighbor Kathy disappear in the same place his dad headed, seemingly sucked into the ground before returning to burn down her own home and dying of an aneurysm. Clearly, something from another world (in the pronunciation of 1953, “mew-tahnt”) has come to do some damage, but the warnings of a 10-year-old are hardly believable…especially as more and more authority figures fall victim to the same cursed sand pit.

Thankfully, David finds a few allies in the sympathetic Dr. Blake and scientist Dr. Kelston, who are able to convince the Scorsese-browed colonel and mount an attack. The race is on to free those already infected by Martian probes (including both of David’s parents and a few key members of military personnel) and send the leader (depicted here as a silent by big-eyed gold-painted head with tentacles encased in a glass fishbowl) back to the stars.

Made in 1953, Invaders From Mars lacks the deeper intensity and societal smarts as something like Them! or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it’s not quite the type of throwaway lightweight space thriller better served by Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yes, Richard Blake’s screenplay essentially opens and closes with a kid saying “gee whiz”, but the film taps into something dark when David’s parents, introduced so lovingly, morph as they do. Director William Cameron Menzies finds some truly impressive ways to shoot, creating a sort of expressionist art deco style that makes the action memorable. Sure, the alien slaves are silly-looking doughy extras in green bodysuits, but there are some clear visual choices that elevate Invaders From Mars amid its timely limitations.

High Points
Authority figures not believing kids is an age-old trope for good reason, and Invaders From Mars manages to make it a deeply effective tool. We’re fully with David as he plays Chicken Little, making the introduction of Dr. Blake and Kelston such a comfort at exactly the right time.

Low Points
I love a montage as much as the next simple-minded movie fan, but when you get to the third “U.S. military assembling to patriotic music” segment in a 75 minute long film, it’s a tad exhausting

Lessons Learned
1950s suburban moms slept in heavier makeup than 2019 Hallmark Christmas movie leads

If there’s one thing the fire department can’t do, it’s put out a fire

When trying to avoid saying “dead” to kids, substitute my new favorite expression: “like Kathy”

There are certainly more powerful sci-fi flicks from this era, but Invaders From Mars is indeed worth a watch in 2019. The visuals are special, and there’s an ageless charm to the utter 1950s-ness of it all. Where else can you get a squid head Martian god in under 80 minutes?