Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yee Haw-ror

For such a good website, IMDB sure has a pretty stupid readership. Somehow I once again find myself prowling the dangerous neighborhood that is their message boards, this time for the 2008 little historical horror, The Burrowers. Tremors meets Jeepers Creepers,” cries one probably-thinks-he’s-very-clever commenter. You know, because The Burrowers has worms. And...hats?

My point, aside from the fact that people who frequent the IMDB message boards are generally not very bright, is that The Burrowers is a refreshingly well-made and even, dare I say it, original little film that’s mean, gooey, and surprisingly witty. So pah.
Quick Plot:
In the 1870s, a young Irishman named Fergis woos a pioneer lass (House of the Devil’ s Jocelin Donahue in a quick cameo) until her and her entire family disappear one day in the Dakotas. Fergis is soon met by a too-cool Clancy Brown, Lost’s William Mapother and his prospective stepson, and a suspicious military outfit led by another Lost veteran (Doug Hutchison, with a kicking handlebar mustache) to follow the probably doomed trail, assuming the settlers have been abducted by Indians.

It doesn’t take long for the four men to break off into their own posse, joined now by Sean Patrick Thomas’s not-so-Irish cook. Soon they discover a young catatonic woman buried (slightly) alive, her neck marked with an oddly oozy cut and mysterious infection. 
Following my review of Dead Birds  and callout for more historical horror, several readers and friends recommended this 2008 Western creature feature, directed by J.T. Petty. To those who did, I say...thank you. 
The Burrowers isn’t the best straight-to-DVD film I’ve seen this year, but it’s a genuinely rewarding 90 minutes of effective atmosphere, likable acting, and a far smarter-than-it-had-to-be script. It even has some laugh-out-loud lines, particularly in its early scenes as the comfortable cast starts their trail. It can't be easy to write dialogue set one hundred and thirty years ago, but Petty produces some natural and entertaining conversations for his game cast.
More importantly, the film is scary in a unique way you don't really see too much of nowadays. In no way does The Burrowers change the nature of horror cinema, but it actually does some fairly interesting things with its story, killing off characters you expect to go further, avoiding cheap scares where plenty could be used, and teasing us with the nasty subterranian carnivores until near the film's end. Following a rather neat climax, the final moments are incredibly unsettling in a way you just don't find in most horror.

High Points
Headed by a cast of character “that guy” actors, The Burrowers is extraordinarily played. All the men are believable as nineteenth century working fellas, but they also have great chemistry and come off as a likable, if flawed (and doomed) crew

For CGI creations in a low budget film, the titular monsters are surprisingly neat little creatures, with phallic wormy bodies, muscular cricket legs, and ugly little faces primarily marked by the kind of teeth you're really not looking forward to being devoured by

While I don’t usually enjoy a dreary ending for dreariness’ sake, (and The Burrowers finish is a downer), the final images and lines are hauntingly appropriate. We've seen that this is a cruel world run by narrow minded men. A fairy tale finish would've been ridiculous. 
Low Points
I appreciate a film set before electricity not going for the easy fake lighting during night scenes, but at the same time...I really like to see things in movies 

Lessons Learned
Never mess with another man’s Indian
When in doubt, assume you’re surrounded by bear traps. Just trust me on that one

The ability to fall asleep while riding a horse is a power that must be cultivated, though unfortunately, bares no correlation with good aim when shooting a pistol
Vertically challenged men in positions of power will usually do nothing but cause trouble
A highly recommended little Instant Watch, The Burrowers has an intriguing pace that may be a little slow for some viewers. Though it took a fair amount of time to get to the (surprisingly not that brutal) monster mashing, the engaging style of the acting and rare historical setting will still make it a winner for most genre fans. Watching it so closely after Survival of the Dead  even makes me think that my problem with Romero's film had nothing to do with my lack of love for Westerns. This is a solid, scary, and entertaining film that easily warrants a bargain priced buy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reader Recommendation: The Omega Man

In my heart, I really wanted to lobby for The Omega Man, it introduced me to post apocalyptic movies, and is simultaneously scary, campy and endlessly entertaining. I saw it four times when it was released theatrically and it never fails to thrill me.”--Shiftless
It's a must see, but it's so ridiculous. Heston is classic macho stereotype. And the bad guys? Apparently being mutated means being covered in white makeup and talc powder. After you watch it, you'll understand why many people saw I Am Legend and said "What the fuck....?". Because the whole point of the story is that these bad guys are still recognizably human. That the mutants consciously decide to rid themselves of this "normal" reminder of what they once were.” Ghoul Friday

Yes folks, despite my unadulterated affection for plague-ridden universes, cult card carrying mutants, and the 1970s, I had never seen 1971’s The Omega Man. Perhaps part of it stems from my iffy relationship with Charlton Heston, a justifiably celebrated actor whose political hypocrisy always irked me (how does one devote such energy to unbridled support for the second amendment following a mini-crusade against the first during his 1992 protest of Cop Killer?). Still, Instant Watch, above listed recommendations, and the fact that I’m a sucker for a good old fashioned post apocalypse led me here.

Quick Plot: Heston plays Col. Robert Neville, a military scientist surviving a lonely existence in an almost empty Los Angeles. Two years earlier, germ warfare was waged between nations, leaving most of the world’s population dead within a few minutes of catching the airborne plague. Some survived, their bodies processing the sickness by turning into albino-ish creatures of the night, their pale skin flaking while they became something of a hive mind with an aversion to technology and a love for sparkly graduation robes. “The Family,” as they now call themselves, are ruled by the menacingly named Matthias (Anthony Zerbe in a role that today would perfectly be played by John Lithgow) who would happily rule the land were it not for the thorn in his side that skips around town with a Smith & Wesson and superb aim.

It takes a certain type of actor to pull off one-man-shows onscreen. Sam Rockwell rocked solitude in Moon, Tom Hanks was likably endangered in Castaway, and the most recent I Am Legend adaptation was fantastic until Will Smith was joined by downer humans and CGI beasties. In The Omega Man, Heston is Heston, and it works quite well. He drinks like Don Draper and wears his shirt for less screen time than Fear of Clowns  Shivers or even, dare I say it, Twilight ’s Jacob. He sweats, growls, and laughs through teeth that last tasted the rarest of juicy steaks. With a less naturally interesting lead, the film would simply not work.

Eventually, Robert learns that his whole last-man-on-earth schtick is false. Hiding in the hills is a meager band of surprisingly clean survivors, headed by a leather jacket/no shirt biker med student and a foxy fashionista (by ‘70s standards) named Lisa (From a Whisper to a Scream’s Rosalind Cash). With renewed passion to cultivate a cure, Robert, Lisa, and her recently infected little brother chill out in his city penthouse while The Family gets more active in their quest to eliminate all the “users of the wheel” for good.

This is a fun, flawed, and at times, fascinating little movie that somehow works both as a slightly cheesy cult relic and a genuinely effective film. The idea behind The Family almost deserves its own film, as their unbridled uniformity in a time just a few years after civil rights legislation is a story in itself. Meanwhile, Heston swaggers with hairy confidence and he and Cash share an easy chemistry that feels believably sexy, even if their newfound irresponsibility is distractingly dumb (remember dear, just ‘cause you’re in love doesn’t mean the sun won’t go down).
High Points
Can we give a round of sharply gloved applause to whomever was responsible for the costuming of this film? Between Heston’s green velvet ruffled suit and slightly Seinfeldian pirate shirt, Dutch’s leather jacket with a giant middle finger patch, and Lisa’s blindingly bright orange fiesta dress, I almost wanted to head to the nearest mall

Low Points
I wasn’t expecting The Omega Man to be even the slightest bit subtle, but the blatant crucifixion image in the final shot is a bit much
Lessons Learned
If you’re Charlton Heston, one gun shot is (not surprisingly) the equivalent of six
It’s harder to blend in with mannequins than cartoons might have you think

Some accessories, such as seemingly accident prone hoop earrings and dunce caps, simply never go out of style
A must-see for any genre fan, The Omega Man is currently streaming on Netflix and deserves 100 minutes of your time. Is it dated? Certainly. The makeup looks as impressive as that on your last Halloween party guests and the dialog occasionally inspires a Heston-like roar. Nevertheless, the film is a fun watch with some strong ideas, perhaps even ahead of its time and yet still an engrossing shoot the mutants up monster mash.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

To Whom It Concerns:

Roll up your knee socks and start those vocal warmups! It’s a new season of the GleeKast!

For those who don’t know/forgot/blocked it out of their heads, GleeKast is a weekly(ish) podcast brought to you by myself and good pal Erica about the Fox musical comedy, Glee. I know, I know. I can feel some of the goosebumps some of you just received just THINKING about your usual blood, guts, and doll part covered bloggess talking about something so popular as Glee, but you know what...I like the show. Erica likes the show.  We like talking about the show. So there.
If it makes you feel any better, I somehow manage to reference The Human Centipede.

So now that I’ve pimped musical theater and cheerleader catfights, it seems appropriate to settle that stomach with a hearty dose of testosterone. But where can I find such manly grease on a place as cold and static as the Internet, you ask? Why, just follow the trail to The Gentlemen’s Blog to Midnite Cinema!

A good deal of you readers probably already know Big Willy and The Samurai, two of the classiest, film savvyiest sweethearts in the podosphere. If you’re not already a listener to The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast, let me change your life for the better by telling you to become one. Week after week, the Canuck and Kentuck spread joy on all things genre cinema and now, Aaron of The Death Rattle has put together a fine blog to accessorize their half shirts and leather pants. Among the current contributors are Mattsuzaka of Chuck Norris Ate My Baby fame, Rupert Pupkin from Rupert Pupkin Speaks, Pickleloaf of Assorted Loaf, movie recommender extraordinaire T.L. Bugg of The Lightning Bugg’s Lair, and yours truly. Stay tuned to the site for exciting new posts, film reviews, podcast updates, and more tough tittage than George Eastman could possibly muster in all his musky musteriness.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Time to Skin the Lightning Bugg...

Check the calendar kiddos: it’s time for the monthly Lightning Bugg’s Lair/Deadly Doll’s House Exchange Program! This month, I assigned Mr. T.L. Bugg one of my absolute favorite films, Stuart Gordon’s 1987 horror fairy tale, Dolls. Head over to his fine establishment of a blog for his take (which better be dripping with praise or the fluorescent lamp WILL be turned to high) as I tackle the less esteemed, yet still...interesting 2004 indie, Skinned Deep.

Quick Plot: Like about 31% of all direct-to-DVD horror, Skinned Deep revolves around a group of ‘normies (in this case, a family a few waiting lists spots away from eligibility in The Biggest Loser) whose car breaks down in the land of mutant backwoods carnivores. The perfectly unsightly nuclear family are invited to dinner with a seemingly kind old lady and her sons:

 the Surgeon General (a gas masked cousin of Dr. Satan with a rather groovy bear trap mouth)

Brain, the sensitive overall clad shy one with an enormous noggin

and my favorite, Plates, the dish-tossing dwarf played with typical panache by a pasty faced Warwick Davis.

In a pretty kickass (yet incredibly silly) scene, 3/4 of the family is brutally slaughtered and the teenage Tina taken captive to be Brain’s future bride. Don’t worry: it’s much less dirty than it sounds.

Sure, the kind-hearted mutant gets a fantasy Basket Case-like streaking scene in Times Square (something that apparently got the very game Jay Dugre arrested since unlike Cameron Crowe, director Gabe Bartalos wasn’t about to splurge on those filming permits) but Brain treats Tina like a lady. He even takes her to a public park filled with people whom she could probably have hitched a ride with and teaches her how to ride a motorcycle, something that in no way could possibly have any bearing on anything else that might happen later in the film.

Meanwhile, the mutant family makes a few more enemies when an elderly gang of bikers (one member being the late Forest Ackerman) stop for some coffee. When one geezer decides to put the moves on Granny, she responds accordingly by having her children brutally slay him, later leading to his grizzled gray haired pals riding back to town to take some vengeance. And get blown up, attacked by plates, and have heart attacks. Whatever happened to bingo halls and early bird specials?

By now you probably realize that Skinned Deep is no Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is, however, about on par with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation or perhaps more fittingly, the Dan Akroyd directed Nothing But Trouble. Yes, these are comparisons that should send chills down the spines of most discerning filmgoers, but there are plenty of cinema-nonsnobs with a weird sweet tooth for this type of terrible fun.

And seriously, that’s what this movie is. Warwick Davis seems to have full reign of doing whatever the Hoth he feels, from a touchdown dance in front of an old shirtless man to an extensive political monologue about why senior citizens suck. It’s that kind of movie, and as long as you’re in the mood for it, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

(For the record, this man clearly does not suck. I mean his acting kind of does, but look at that grin!)

High Points
This might make me an evil person, but I automatically give a handful of bonus points to any film unafraid to murder its underage characters

Low Points
You know, when female nudity is displayed in most films, the audience gets really excited because most of the time, it’s somewhat impressive. Why is it then that most of the men who take it all off on camera are generally just...well, I give them points for bravery

I often complain when low budget releases don’t include subtitles and generally, it’s for a very simple reason. The audio of Skinned Deep is terrible, loud in some scenes and barely audible in others. Thankfully, the DVD includes a necessary subtitle option that simply must be on to get half the film

Lessons Learned
Cardinal rules of T names remain in place. Just as any character named Tiffany is inevitably a slut, the heroic Tina follows her name in being your typical bitch

It takes about 8 seconds to choke to death on sand

A heart attack is best explained as your heart exploding into chunks

Vegetable print dresses flatter no woman, least of all Bette Midler’s much less attractive mutant cousin (who by the way, isn’t playing one of the mutants)

The Winning Line:

“Coffee. Make mine black.”
Um. You don’t make coffee black. It comes that way. You make it un-black by adding stuff to it. Hence, when your waitress is holding an urn, you don’t need to say anything else

Skinned Deep will please a particular sort of horror fan, the type who relishes the zany washed down with a gooey glass of gore. It’s not a good movie--okay, it’s a terrible terrible film--but at the same time, it never shies from its wackiness and delivers the goods with a whole lot of heart. The DVD includes an audio commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature with a style of its own. Just watch Warwick Davis behind interviewed while wearing his Leprechaun makeup. That in itself is kind of super.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reader Recommendation: Tenebrae

Eschewing any in depth analysis or over-enthusiasm for something I personally like a lot, I'll try and just give you one quick reason to see one of the movies on your list. When you reviewed a movie and said that it contained a death by dodgeball scene in it, I wanted to see that movie. That's the kind of recommendation I would like to pass on. That said, my recommendation to you is "Tenebrae," and it's for this reason only: it's got some pretty damn impressive stunt work performed by a Doberman Pinscher. That doesn't sound so alluring now that I've written it, but it's like nothing I've ever seen before.”--Dave 
“You should watch tenebre because I won't read your blog again until you have!”
Having finally watched one of the seminal films of Italian horror, I can honestly tell you what I will take from it most prominently is...

Doberman Pinschers are indeed capable of doing incredible stunt work.
Quick Plot: Horror/mystery novelist Paul Neal heads to Rome for his book tour just as a psychotic slasher begins murdering beautiful brunettes in the style of his pages. A fanboy detective investigates while Neal, his assistant, and driver play Encyclopedia Brown on their own time.

Talking about Tenebrae in the horror community is the equivalent of discussing Citizen Kane at the Producers Guild or Guinness at an Irish pub. It is, to my understanding, the definitive giallo film, one of Argento's crowning achievements, and, for some, the best Italian horror film of all time.
For. Some.
I can't gush over Tenebrae. I can say, in utter honesty, that I found it be an interesting watch from a film-ish point of view. As an experience, however, it never felt...well...effective.
I'm going to divide this review into two parts: the simple sit-down-to-a-movie fan and the intellectual meta-watcher. Here goes:
Couch Potato
Though visually interesting, Tenebrae just isn't that suspenseful from my 21st century sensibilities. It's hard to be emotionally involved in a character's fate when synthesized music blasts through the television to tell me said character is being stalked. It's hard to care about a mystery that seems so calculatedly mysterious on the part of the writer. It's hard to be scared by a film that wears its style on every frame.

At the same time, Tenebrae grew on me strong enough that I was intellectually, if never emotionally invested in its outcome. It’s impossible to not TRY to solve the mystery, even though the film spends just about every minute making it impossibly improbable to crack. The climax is sufficiently brutal (yet still pretty unbelievable) so you’re left satisfied enough.
Intellectual Movie Watcher
One needs to read a little bit about Tenebrae in order to get why it figures so prominently on best-of lists in cinema studies. I did this after watching the movie.
And so yes. I get that the extraordinary movement of the camera, superbly executed crane shots, and meta nature of Peter Neal’s relationship to Dario Argento. It’s there onscreen to be sure, and when analyzed, very impressive. The visuals are superb. The red is very red. There are books to be written (and recommended) and long conversations to be had. It's an important movie to be discussed. I just didn't really like it enough upon first viewing to do it right now.
High Points
I’m always for daytime horror, and one thing I genuinely admire about Tenebrae is how well Argento uses sunniness and full lighting to show us everything
Low Points
I know Goblin and Argento are as complimentary as peanut butter and banana, but really, how scared can I as an audience member be when the soundtrack just makes me want to put on a pair of jogging shorts and a headband and do a few laps?
Lessons Learned
The best way to get a girl in bed probably does not involve telling her you might throw up

When your driver is clearly mentally unstable after witnessing a horrific murder, it’s a good idea to buckle your seatbelt
Those ‘keep your bag in your view at all times’ airport rules aren’t just useful for terrorism
There really is a reason for modern art!
Stray Observation
Two characters do things I can’t: the aforementioned dog climbs a fence and John Saxon demonstrates how to bow and dance without losing a snazzy hat. Both make me feel insanely jealous and inadequate

Considering its pedigree, all genre fans should see Tenebrae at some point in their lives. I would recommend reading up on why it’s so important before watching, something you could do quite rewardingly with blogger extraordinaire James Gracey’s book . I’m sort of stepping away from calling Tenebrae good or bad, great or dull. It’s essential viewing, and one I’ll need to revisit before feeling comfortable with a judgment. In true honesty, I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ it the way I did something like Suspiria or The Beyond. It was pretty. Rather silly. And I know, very important. For now, I’ll leave it at that.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Because sometimes it's the third serving of pea soup that really takes the salt

I have strong memories of watching The Exorcist III late one night on cable, probably when I was ten or eleven years old. Though I remembered very little of the actual film, I still to this day recall how I felt when it was over, weirdly frightened and reluctant to head to my bedroom without first turning on the light.
Naturally, I had to one day return to a film not really considered to be a classic that had made me so uneasy. Having recently rewatched Friedken’s The Exorcist and, with much less interesting results, John Boorman’s boor-ing (see what I did there?) sequel, it seemed like the time had come to see how well William Peter Blatty’s 1990 thriller held up.
Quick Plot: Detective Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb in the original; a fine George C. Scott here) attempts to solve a series of grisly religious-themed murders in the sunny city of Georgetown. To de-stress, he heads to the movies with his best friend, Father Dyre (Father Karras’ old pal) who isn’t thrilled to hear about slaughtered priests and beheaded altar boys. Before long, extra tragedy strikes and Kinderman becomes personally involved in solving the case.
I won’t spoil one of the first major kills of the film; it’s somewhat predictable, yet still deeply sad and terrifyingly explained. The third murder moves the investigation to a shady hospital, the kind of place where the head of psychiatry can walk around chain smoking (ahhhh, 1990), the head nurse can rudely roll her eyes when being questioned about a crime, and the ‘disturbed’ patients sit wrapped in straitjackets inside dank, unlit cells with leaky faucets. 

It’s inside the mental ward where Kinderman meets Patient X, a sometimes catatonic man who was found roaming the streets with amnesia 15 years earlier. Now awake, the curly haired man oozes evil, waxing nostalgic about the murders he committed in the guise of the Gemini, a fictional serial killer supposedly executed right around the time that “McNeil Kid” threw up her last bowl of pea soup.

Has Pazuzu found his way inside Patient X? Did Father Karras welcome yet another unwanted demon visitor into his body on those fateful stairs? How close is Kinderman to solving the crime and what will he sacrifice in order to do so?
The Exorcist III is, in an easy word, a complicated film densely packed with a few too many ideas. Blatty himself was never quite satisfied with the end result, mainly because the studio (Morgan Creek) insisted on having the final cut so much so that they demanded an exorcism be weaved into the plot (despite the fact that, as you see in the final scene, it really had no place) and changing the title of the film. Though clearly a sequel to Friedken’s classic, Blatty wanted to call the film Legion, after his book that he had used as the basis. Despite the rightful bombing of The Exorcist II: The Heretic, the studio won out, believing a sequel to be more bankable. 

Production, you might say, was probably not buttery smooth.
That being said, however, I kind of loved The Exorcist III. By about thirty minutes in, I realized why the film grabbed me so deeply as a child. Even though most of the violence occurs offscreen, all of it is described in chilling detail; a black child crucified and decapitated, his head replaced by a Jesus statue in blackface. A woman split and stuffed with rosary beads. A little girl, whose ribbons and pink dress are as vivid in your mind as anything you’d see on camera. Blatty, who wrote the screenplay, uses novel-like prose as dialogue and since it’s delivered by fine actors, it comes off as natural and horrific. Some of the special effects don’t look quite as sharp twenty years later, but there are also a few shots that are as unsettling as anything I’ve seen in recent cinema. A hospital murder, given, without exaggeration, four seconds of screentime made me do another audible Magic -like “ugh!” and though I don’t have any religious affiliation, Blatty’s use of macabre Jesus statues gave me the chills.

Though this one is a little more The Joker Goes Catholic for my tastes

Will the film work for everyone? Probably not. There’s an age-old argument that occasionally surfaces when discussing The Exorcist that claims those without Christian leanings are naturally more immune to some of the story’s machinations. Perhaps that’s true for some, but what’s neat about The Exorcist III is that it never feels preaching or pro-religion. There is evil in the world, it argues, evil that may exist as some counterpoint to good (or God, if you like--I don’t) but good men can do something about it, regardless of their faith. You don’t necessarily need an ordained priest to save a soul; sometimes, a detective’s smarts, gun, and determination are enough.
High Points
There’s a lot to be said for laughing in a horror movie, especially one as dark as this. Blatty gives us some truly winning dialogue, especially in the unique but believable friendship between Kinderman and Father Dyre. There’s also plenty of visual gags that simply make the film interesting, including a wonderfully weird dream about heaven (complete with Fabio and Patrick Ewing, natch) and a wheelchair flasher who kind of deserves a sequel of his own

You simply can’t cast crazy better than Billy Bibbit himself, Brad Douriff, and even though you can occasionally catch a little Chucky in his voice, Douriff (and Jason Miller) make the Gemini Killer (maybe) a horrific force

Remember how I said the best part of a movie that ended up with the original title of this one was when a possessed senior citizen crawled on a ceiling? This film has one too. And it could kick that old bag’s ass

Low Points
Perhaps due more to studio intervention than Blatty’s skills, it’s hard to deny the story of The Exorcist III is kind of a mess
Because Scott, Douriff, and most of the priest, police, and medical characters are so darn good, the two scenes that take place inside Kinderman’s home feel out of place. Both the acting and general look just don’t mesh with the rest of the film, taking us out momentarily
Lessons Learned
Never trust a man who has a glamour portrait of himself hanging prominently inside his office
It’s a wonderful life

When conducting an exorcism, nothing says fashion like a tear-away robe
I’m heartily recommending a rental of The Exorcist III, mainly so that you can come back here and tell me if the film affected you in the same odd way it did me. I don’t scare easily, but there’s something so strangely wrong about the murders here, helped, of course, by some fine acting and a director with an instinctively good feel for atmosphere. Had the DVD included a single extra, I’d easily tell you to buy it but sadly, all of Blatty’s cut footage was ‘lost’ by the studio and no one comes back here to tell us why. This is a smart, funny, and deeply scary film that is simply better than it had any right to be. The fact that it’s been branded a cheap sequel is almost a sin.
Or maybe I’m just a wimp.