Friday, July 30, 2010

One Hot Wax, Courtesy of the Lightning Bugg

With summer burning its way through our sanity, it's only fitting that I should accept a recommendation from not only an esteemed blogger, but one named for the season's rare good find. This month, T.L. Bugg over at The Lightning Bug's Lair has assigned me the 1999 low budget wackjob Hot Wax Zombies On Wheels while I ordered him a serving of the Hong Kong actionfest, We're Going to Eat You . Head over to the Lair  for his take as I dust off some leather for...

Aggressive campiness may very well be one of the hardest sub (sub) genres out there when it comes to film. How do you secure audience involvement when the very nature of your work is to not take itself seriously? Generally, the answer lies in attitude. For every John Waters joke that falls on its face, there’s the simple smile you find yourself making at the sheer silliness of what’s onscreen.
As you may surmise from its title, Michael Roush's Hot Wax Zombies On Wheels is 90 minutes of pure goofballary with little regard for sanity or sense. It features lots of hot wax, zero zombies, some wheels, many pairs of boobs, an offensive amount of kooky sound effects and enough puns to make the Crypt Keeper seethe.  Take those lactose pills and dig in:
Quick Plot:
The quiet town of Davenport gets rocked when a European waxing salon sets up shop. As quaint citizens line up to remove that pesky body hair (a phrase repeated just about every 65 seconds throughout the film), Sharon, the owner of the world’s tamest lingerie store, begins to suspect something amiss. Aided by her boyfriend’s best friend Sven (a barber with both a crush and a need to have hairy clientele), Sharon declares war on Yvonne, the she-beast waxist with a horrendous Halloween store wig and dangerously misguided early 90s sense of fashion.

So by this point, you may be wondering: is this a story about one woman’s resistance to hair removal? The question is valid. The answer is mostly.
See, there are a few minor kinks thrown into Hot Wax Zombies On Wheels (still no zombies or wheels though). For one, removing that pesky body hair doesn’t just make you feel smooth: it also turns you into an insatiable horndog. This is convenient enough when all your fellow villagers share your sudden lustful enthusiasm, but poor Sharon can’t seem to say goodbye to her Lady Bic..

Even though she must be sustaining a leg worth of nicks from never rinsing her razor. See despite the fact that Sharon’s career would seem to be greatly enhanced by her clientele’s increased libidos, this independent woman would much rather bike with Sven and make funny faces at the oddness going on around her (side effects include a newfound addiction to cleaning). Luckily for Sharon, a pair of traditional pun-spewing sailors are also on hand to help fight the villains. With sawdust.

The first issue that simply must be addressed is the title, a catchy but misleading name that saves itself by being sung in the opening scene. I’ll give my due to any film that manages to make a song out of “Hot Wax Zombies On Wheels,” though it would have been a little more justified had this film involved a single actual zombie. Sure, the townspeople do seem to lose their individuality in a Body Snatchers-esque way, but to call them zombies is to call the gigantic toads that plague Sam Elliot in Frogs ...well, it’s like calling them frogs. 

Putting titular issues aside, Hot Wax Zombies On Wheels remains a rather atrocious film that nevertheless gets more and more charming as it runs. None of the cast can actually act, but all truly do put every ounce of energy they have into having a good time. As a result, their enthusiasm eventually wears you down enough where you have to chuckle at what they do. Then again, for every clever pun that actually works, about twelve pass by with a loud thud. Such is the nature of cheap verbal slapstick.
High Points
If I did a pun-by-pun breakdown, I can’t say that the ones that worked hit the majority. Still, there are a few that end up being genuinely amusing, particularly the pure ridiculousness of those f*cking rats

I wouldn’t cast lead Jill Miller as Lady MacBeth, but she maintains a guilt-free attitude throughout the film that helps to make her likable enough for us to care about
Low Points
If you’re going to act like a horror sci-fi movie, can you at least give us some form of horror/sci-fiishness? Tanned bare breasts don’t please ALL audiences you know.

Don’t mind some of the odder evidence of low budget or 12 day shooting schedule, such as Sharon’s early conversation with her mother where for whatever reason, neither character makes any eye contact with one another
Lessons Learned
When wielded correctly, a roll of tinfoil is a powerful weapon
You’re never too old to cheat at Candyland

If there’s one thing Irishmen don’t like, it’s people who dare to creep inside their psyches
When you’ve reached the limits of human horniness, the next logical step is to join a swim team
If Sarah Palin can invent words like refudiate, then I suppose there’s nothing particularly wrong with Yvonne’s defiant use of the term ‘sensuism’
It’s hard to recommend this movie because in all honesty, it’s pretty gosh darn aggressively atrocious. At the same time, it’s made with such gung ho spirit that once you round out the first half hour, you just might find yourself cracking a smile. Most of the jokes are cornier than Nebraska, the boobs more artificial than Meg Ryan’s new mug and the story about as involving as a SyFy original, but those with a taste for good-natured trash may very well find enjoyment. The DVD includes a commentary with stars Miller and Somm, as well as director Michael Rousch who remains proud enough of his campy little film. Rent it--if you must-- with the knowledge that you’re not actually watching anything good...just a lot of American cheese grilled to a guiltily mild enjoyment.

And speaking of culinary delights, don't forget to follow the trail of butter all the way to The Lightning Bug's Lair for a hearty helping of We're Going to Eat You.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Still Not as Scary As a Caterpillar...

I hesitated in reviewing The Human Centipede, since just about every blogger and his or her sock has had a go at the year’s most talked about underground film. Even though I actually forked over a full $6.95 for the On Demand viewing, I almost felt like there was no need to say anything about a movie in which everything has already been said about it. 

Then I found this:
the most incredible cat toy of all time, courtesy of OhBoyCatToy via Etsy (direct link here ) and realized if I can't afford to give Mookie Wilson and Joplin Zelda Rubinstein Intravia a proper kitty toy, I at least had to acknowledge where I stood on the film that inspired it.

That's right. Consider this the first and in all probability last post every directly written in honor of a creatively sealed catnip.
Rather than crawl through a plot synopsis of a movie that everyone already knows the plot to, I figured I’d just address a few of the complaints lodged against Tom Six’s film.
1. The Gore Issue

Apparently, that 2-Girls-1-Cup video awakened a hunger the mass public never knew they had for coprophagia. Personally, I’m somewhat grateful Six left so much to our sick little imaginations. The dinnertime digestive sequence managed to make me laugh and cringe; had I actually been watching the process, I’d probably be too distracted constantly reminding myself that all I was seeing was Hershey’s syrup and marmalade (aka, How I Survived Salo).
2. The Girls Are Awful

I know! I hate them too! They represent every dumb chick you’ve climbed over in a bar bathroom as she slouches over her giggling friend and nonsensically slurs on about how some ugly bitch looked at her boyfriend the wrong way but oh my god! Her shoes are so cute! (In case you can’t tell, these types of women are not my friends.) Every word out of their mouths makes you want to punch them in the face or, more fittingly, tie said mouths to the anus of someone else. They can’t even escape or kill themselves the right way. It’s almost adorable.
3. Nothing Happens

...except for the fact that people are sewn together. I agree the plot is the gimmick, but had everyone and their former conjoined twin not been reading the Internet, wouldn’t we still be surprised by that alone? 
I don’t have much more to say about The Human Centipede, save for the fact that it was amusing, disgusting, and more than a little ridiculous. I loved Dieter Laser’s kooky performance as Dr. Heiter and loved even more how his hardened face resembled a creepy cross between Lance Henrikson, Udo Kier, and maybe just a teaspoon of Jeremy Irons. 

I found myself surprisingly affected by one character’s (let’s call him “A”) rather shocking decision and pretty darn grossed out by another (we’ll call her “C”)’s fate. I recommend this in the same way I’d recommend trying the chocolate mashed potato cupcake I tasted at a food festival on my recent vacation. It’s not really good and I’ll probably never return to it again, but wouldn’t my life be a smidgen empty had I not just went through with it?

Damnit. Why oh why did I bring up the combination of chocolate and mashed potatoes while still thinking about people’s mouths being tied to other people’s anuses? Consider that the most important Lesson Learned ever.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dusting off the archives for Film Club Day

Pop quiz hotshot.
What's the best way to be cool?

A. Get a tattoo of the Chinese characters for "iPad"
B. Cruise through town on a Segway covered in environmentally concerned bumper stickers
C. Participate in Final Girl Stacie Ponder's Film Club 

If you're reading this blog, you're already hip enough to know the answer. Savvy readers will remember that I reviewed Ti West's well-received The House of the Devil earlier this year but since I'm sad to say I haven't had to chance to revisit it, what follows is merely a reprint of past work. So in a sense, this marks the first official summer rerun of The Doll's House. For fresh perspectives, order some questionable pizza, head to and catch a few more posts by fellow club kids.

Ti West’s The House of the Devil is the new darling of the horror community which meant I was hesitant to watch and review it because a) many others have already done so and b) my expectations are rarely met (I’m sorry Trick ‘r Treat. I really like you but can we just be friends?). Hearing such mountainous heaps of praise from nearly every blog and podcast I respect left me no choice.
I had to enter The House of the Devil.

Quick Plot: College student Sam (Jocelin Donahue) is about to rent an adorable two bedroom home, mostly to escape germs and her promiscuous roommate’s date nights. Unfortunately, she suffers the condition shared by many coeds by not really having much in the bank. To earn a few bucks, Sam answers the mysterious ad for a baby$itter posted on a campus corkboard.

After much hesitation, girlfriend chatting, and pizza not-eating, Sam accepts the job. BFF Megan (Greta Gerwig) drives her to the secluded home of Mr. and Mrs. Ullman where things are, not surprisingly, not quite what they seem. 
They’re weiiiiiiiiiiird. You should know you’re in trouble when Tom Noonan, that 10’ tall enigma of fine thespianhood with genre cred, opens the door with painful politeness and far too much gratitude. Plus, Mrs. Ullman (the fine Mary Woronov) wears fur and the local pizza guy is more polite than a Jehovah’s Witness on a Saturday morning. I’ll cease any more detail on plot to protect the house of the virgins, but honestly, most of the story ends just about there anyway.

Other stuff happens, but The House of the Devil succeeds--and yes, it truly does--based on atmosphere. West clearly went to great lengths to ground everything about The House of the Devil in that golden age of creepiness known as the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, when Satan made more cameos than Christopher Walken. From the high-waisted jeans to grainy cinematography, every second onscreen is a new form of retro.
Also, it’s a damn scary movie, providing you accept a film primarily built on the oft used term, rarely mastered format, ‘slow burn.’ There are a lot of viewers--solid genre fans among them--who will say The House of the Devil doesn’t work, and they’re not necessarily wrong. Like The Haunting, Rosemary’s Baby, or even The Others, The House of the Devil is more about atmospheric buildup than blood (which is not to say there is none; a few fantastic practical effects practically drip goo off the screen). It might pull you in. It might not.

It got me, and I’m extremely happy that it did. The Ullmans are creepy, also quietly polite in a way that makes you believe Sam would accept their mysterious job. The actual house is a classic example of haunted gothic, made all the more eerie by the impending lunar eclipse. While we as an audience long to pull Sam’s flip-out bangs out of a situation that simply HAS to be wrong, Donahue does a perfect job at conveying smart caution mixed with simple monetary need. Like us, she enters the house sensing something off, then slowly lets her guard down as the jump scares prove groundless. By the time hell really starts burning, it’s incredibly jarring because we’ve already survived countless ups and downs. The payoff might seem a little too quick, but that’s only because we’ve had so much fun getting nervous with an hour’s worth of carefully constructed tension.
High Points
Gold stars to the whole cast, from Donahue for centering the story to Gerwig adding sassy and believable humor and the perfectly pitched Noonan and Woronov for being the definition of eery awesome

Guns are generally not that interesting on camera, but The House of the Devil finds several ways to make them truly frightening
Low Points
Um. I’m coming up short. If there’s any fault in the seamless direction of The House of the Devil, it shows somewhere in the bloody finale, which is simply not quite as stand-out as the masterful buildup.
Lessons Learned
Massachusetts is home to really awful pizza
Hard candy from old people is always gross, even when said elderly are Satanists
Don’t smoke. Seriously. Just don’t.
Every fan of the horror genre should give The House of the Devil a fair chance, but I do fully expect a vocal portion to find this an underwhelming and boring film. However, if you’re tired of self-aware slasher satires and just want an old fashioned spooky flick, this is a definite watch and, once proven, a solid purchase. The DVD includes some featurettes and an informative filmmaker and crew commentary (which, considering the skill at work, is a great investment for those interested in the technical side of filmmaking). Playful performances, masterful atmosphere, and an energetic throwback spirit makes it something truly special.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When You Wish Upon a Star (you die)

I was all ready to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Disneyland this past July 17th and then some hack named Guillermo del Toro came along to steal my thunder. Apparently, one of the best working genre directors is now planning on filming his own adaptation of everybody’s favorite G-rated ghost ride, The Haunted Mansion. So while millions of dollars get thrown towards a story that’s already been told (terribly), here are a few of my own suggestions for how to bring to life some of Disney’s other less cinematic attractions.

It’s a Small World

 In one of the first true bids for truly international peace, the UN organizes the world’s largest toy drive, requesting every nation to donate a collection of toys that best represents its people. It’s a beautiful idea...until the poor security guards manning the midnight deliveries unearths a devastating secret revealing each doll to be possessed by the spirit of wronged dead patriots (think Che Guevara, Oliver Cromwell, Davy Crocket, William Wallace et al) and the entire plan is a simple attempt to bring about universal chaos. It’s up to a nearly retired night watchman Hank (John Goodman) and his fresh-faced apprentice Timmy (Jay Baruchel or your own favorite skinny goodball du jour) to save the world, one verse at a time.
Dream Director: Having proved his worth with 1987’s Dolls, I can’t think of a worthier man than Stuart Gordon.

Tagline: Getting the song out of your head will be the least of your problems...especially when you no longer have a head.

The Enchanted Tiki Room

A snob-filled yacht gets thrown off course while sailing through the Pacific, washing up on an eden-like isle blossoming with tropical greenery. After a playful montage wherein the leads bask in the sun and squeeze out some mango juice, the brattiest of the well-tanned millionaires (we’ll say John Hannah) spots a rainbow-hued bird and in a misguided attempt to impress his friend’s wife/hopeful mistress (Madonna, attempting to redeem herself for Swept Away), he hurls a coconut shell at its beak and kills one of island’s enchanted creatures. Everyone laughs at the prospect of eating poultry with their banana leaves, but the fun stops when its brethren flies home to seek vengeance. This being a Disney movie, the villainous vultures (or toucans most likely) spout G-rated one-liners with the voices of such esteemed artists as Mel Gibson, Robin Williams, and Wanda Sykes, all while shredding the faces off of a few bad people eventually waiting to be weeded out for one to learn a valuable lesson.
Dream Director: Joe Dante, for his established record balancing the fine line between monster massacres and good old fashioned family fun.

Tagline: The early bird gets your soul.

The Hall of Presidents

Plain and simple: America needs more historical horror. We’re a country still stained by slavery, civil war, genocide of native population and corruption. Let’s start remembering with a simple tale about a school trip gone terribly, terribly wrong when a busload of unruly students awaken the spirits of every former head of state. They’re not necessarily interested in prosecuting the kids, but when a juvenile delinquent gets in between the slave-holding George Washington (Ian McKellan) and a suddenly reinvigorated Honest Abe (the guy that played Lincoln in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and a bunch of commercials featuring a talking squirrel), collateral damage is inevitable. Now, a detention-bound gang of teens must choose sides between Republicans and Democrats, abolitionists and Jim Crow supporters, Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctorine. Think epic one-on-one fight scenes by rickety slightly-past middle aged white men occasionally aided by young boys and girls choosing sides and political parties. 
Dream Director: Wouldn’t you love to see the screwball spirit of unleashed Sam Raimi slightly classed up by the prestige of American history?
Tagline: You won’t fall asleep in this history lesson.

Country Bear Jamboree

If Del Toro can rejuvenate something Eddie Murphy soiled, then surely there’s a filmmaker of note that can hone in on the true terror of animatronic carnivores wielding banjos. A story could be as simple as Goldilocks (a freshly paroled Lindsay Lohan dusting off her Disney princess crown with a hint of I Know Who Killed Me trashiness) stumbling upon what seems like a friendly family of musically gifted bears. We’ll throw a House of the Devil twist that reveals the bears’ talents to be harnessed over centuries of mating with unlucky humans subsequently sacrificed. It’s almost as scary as the 2002 film.
Dream Director: Since the normally go-to director of fantastical creatures of the night will be busy with 3D ghosts, let’s watch David Cronenberg delve back into his Broodish body horror with man-bears, man-bear spawn, and all the mishaps in between.

Tagline: Didn’t mother tell you not to play with bears?

The Mad Tea Party

Honestly, I don’t really know how one would make a film out of what I equate to 2 minutes of pure torture in a pastel purgatory, but this current climate for near-snuff Serbian Films certainly shows the audience is there. 
Director: Gaspar Noe. The man and his spinning camera may have been born for this chance.

Tagline: You should have ordered coffee.

Have a story for Space Mountain? A plot to resurrect Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? Share your thoughts and keep your hands and feet inside the comment box at all times.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Whose breath is worse? A fire-breathing dragon or Matthew McConaughy

Of all the disasters we imagine will bring on the apocalypse, man-eating dragons is by far the least cinematically explored. C’mon Hollywood: flesh-eating viruses and nuclear holocausts can’t be that much more bankable.
According to 2002 Reign of Fire, they probably are.
Quick Plot:
English miners awaken a long dormant race of fire-breathing dragons, a hibernating prehistoric gaggle who spend the next 20 years eating humans, burning their food sources, and driving drably dressed survivors underground where they must entertain themselves with live reenactments of The Empire Strike Back.

Wait, this is a negative future?
Having survived the initial attack, a grown post-Newsies, pre-John Connor Christian Bale plays Quinn, the leader of the apparently incredibly fertile survivors who are slowly growing tired of such meager portion sizes. Assisted by a still handsome and not yet greasy Gerard Butler, Quinn tries his darndest to keep surly English folks alive and their kids prepared to hide when the inevitable attacks happen. Ho-hum life gets a twist with the arrival of a bearded American (aka the star of the modern classic Tiptoes ) and his military cohorts, a gung-ho gang eager to destroy the entire species of fire-breathers by killing the only male.

Yes, only male. The world has been taken over by dragons--that of course we can all accept. But of all the millions of flying carnivores, only a single creature has sperm to offer? Sometimes one can only suspend disbelief so much.

Ah who am I kidding? Made at a strange time in cinema when nobody was really investing millions into dragon slaying, Reign of Fire is a bizarrely attempted blockbuster that despite its post-apocalyptic setting, is rather fun. The monsters look no better than what you see on your average SyFy original and the attacks are nowhere near the gruesome joy as something like Starship Troopers, but this is the kind of film that makes for an enjoyable drunken or errands-around-the-house riddled Sunday afternoon.

At the same time, there definitely is something missing from Reign of Fire, a kind of false grandeur that never quite rings victorious. Perhaps it has something to do with Quinn's oddly unheroic mama's boy of a hero or the anticlimactic final attack, but for all its incredible possibility to be the kind of Doll's House favorite best served with cheddar, Reign of Fire falls a little short.
High Points
Though I’d still prefer to watch his nude bongo performance on pot, Matthew McConaughy is a rather ridiculous joy to watch

Low Points
Do we blame this film and the influence of a grizzled McConaughy for creating the surly monster that is Growling Bale?
Some of the grown men relationship stuff feels dull and simultaneously underdeveloped and too prominent. We came to this film (or didn’t, as it was a box office dud) to watch McConaughbeard fight dragons. How many shouting matches do we need?

Lessons Learned
What’s a great way to show an apocalypse without spending more than $5 of a budget probably reserved for Matthew McConaughy’s sweat buckets? Photoshop and Time Magazine

Dear medieval or post-apocalyptic societies: just because you have one minor victory after decades of hardship does not give you the right to have a free-for-all party. If there’s one thing monsters like Grendel and dragons hate, it’s 

The only thing worse than a dragon is an American...particularly a McConaughbeard

Reign of Fire isn’t the flaming ball of cheese I was hoping to relish, but it’s enjoyable in its oddness and well worth a lazy viewing. As both a Netflix Instant Watch and constant TV airer, it’s easy to catch without investing any capital into.