Friday, December 31, 2010

Still Easier Than Being Married to Alec Baldwin

Note: On Wednesday morning, I awoke to discover this wonderful fact called 'my blog had disappeared.' Some of you may have noticed clicking on my link would send you to an empty page. Thankfully, this issue has been resolved (I'm still not actually sure how, but we'll call it a Kwanza miracle) and I have a lot of thoughts about it to share later in the week. Before that, let me urge every blogger reading this to back up your work. You never know when something like this can happen, and we all work far too hard to simply lose all our posts. 

And now onto the main attraction!

Winter may be here, but that doesn’t mean the bug(gs) aren’t still watching movies! This month, my pal Zach (he of the one and only Lightning Bugg’s Lair) and I did a conveniently Watch Instant swap. Over at the Lair, Sir T.L. Bugg will be reviewing my pick, the gloriously pun-filled, Passions connected late ‘90s go-kart classic, Rumplestiltskin. Head his way for what I can’t not possibly believe will be a 5 bug review.

In return, Zach pointed me towards some classier holiday fare: 2007’s While She Was Out, a MILF revenge flick starring (and executive produced by) Oscar winner Kim Basinger.
Quick Plot: Della is an upper middle class suburban housewife, miserably married to an abusive (and oddly puffy) Craig Sheffer. Her only happiness seems to come from mothering her perfectly blond twins. On Christmas Eve, Della heads to the mall for wrapping paper (I guess wealthier neighborhoods don’t have Rite Aides?) and has the nerve to write a mildly scolding note to a rude empty car that took up two spaces in the packed parking lot.

Big mistake. After shopping, Della returns to her spot and is ambushed by a punky quartet led by the smarmy Chucky (Lucas Haas, all grown up from The Lady In White). It’s not quite clear whether they’re on drugs or just assholes, but they prove their badassary immediately by executing the rent-a-cop with a double head shot.

A chase follows, ending in the woods of a developing real estate complex. Della is armed only with her truck’s handy toolbox, while the gang pursues with a loaded gun.
That’s pretty much the basics of While She Was Out. The film is sold as a woman-gets-vengeance tale, but it’s really more about the actual pursuit as Della--a timid woman who gets spooked even by the gentlest salespeople--rotates between her survivalist instincts  and human guilt. Save for the film’s final beat, she never takes any pleasure in defending herself against her would-be assassins. She just wants to live to see her kids open their Nintendo Wii.

While She Was Out is dependent on two things: Basinger’s performance and the tension of the chases. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the former Mrs. Baldwin, she is quite wonderful as Della, selling the bored WASP act like the A-list star she sometimes is. While She Was Out was probably conceived as a character piece, something evident in early scenes meant to establish Della’s fragile state. As we watch her timidly ask a friend for a drink date or get scared off a biscotti when the Starbucks barista asks her to choose a flavor, the audience gets a very clear picture of what kind of person our soon-to-be protagonist is.

The other key to While She Was Out is first-time director Susan Montford’s ability to stage a good chase. It’s hit or miss. Though setting the majority of the action in development property provides plenty of neat visual twists, the repetition of watching Della hide behind trees or freeze in flashlight beams does grow tired. At a certain point, savvy viewers can make a pretty clear guess as to where our story ends up. I wish Montford gave us a few different types of teases.
High Points
After clowns, dolls, Carol of the Bells, clown-dolls and caterpillars, next on my list of Random Things That Freak Me Out are kids’ crayon drawings and high-voiced children singing choir music. The fact that While She Was Out’s opening credits featured both set a pretty wonderful (for me) tone for the film. 
Low Points
Though Haas has fun channeling his inner thug, there’s something just lacking in his gang. Maybe it’s their overly obvious “It’s a Small World” multi-ethnicity or general ineptness of their housewife catching, but the villains felt more like they needed detention in High School High than maximum security prison

Lessons Learned
Loyal Pilates practice will prepare you for all sorts of life survival
To keep your husband happy, comb your hair and clean up after your kids. Really woman, do you HAVE a vagina?

When in doubt, duck
Part of why I love these Bugg-sponsored swaps is because I thus far have gotten the chance to watch films I probably never ever never would have otherwise thought to queue. While She Was Out isn’t a new classic, but I enjoyed it far more than I ever would have expected. It’s a brisk and well-made little thriller that gives us an unusual and quite sympathetic heroine, someone we genuinely root for for the right reasons. It’s seasonal AND on Instant Watch, so if you’re looking for a tight and entertaining 86 minutes, I say go for ungrateful little pig.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Drugs Are Bad, M'Kay?

Sometimes the generically named Instant Watch horror film you've never heard of just seems to call your name, begging with shy low expectations to be streamed with an open mind. Today, that generically named Instant Watch horror film I've never heard of is 2007's Dead of Winter.

Quick Plot: Young lovers Kevin and Tiffany stop by a stoner friend’s New Year’s party, toasting with an unknowingly LSD spiked shot and driving home like the responsible leaders of tomorrow they are. It takes a few quick hallucinations to drive the pair out of their vehicular safety and into the cold, lonely, and snow covered woods oozing with rusty barbed wire and dormant plows.

A confusing 911 call alerts the small town authorities. Concerned dispatcher Nancy senses something amiss, though the sheriff seems more worried about his love interest deputy following their trail. The film rotates between the two groups.

Dead of Winter (aka Lost Signal) is a surprisingly well-made little thriller, but it lacks just about anything to make it stick. Comparing it to another snowy set, generically named holiday horror like Dead End shows how something just isn’t there. Where Dead End took a cliche plot and spun it into a funny, scary, and oddly memorable tale, Dead of Winter just sort of happens. Leads Al Santos and Sandra McCoy are fine enough, but their characters never show an ounce of intrigue to really make us care. Give them a dog that needs walking or a cute in-joke they can chuckle over, something other than the fact that they’re young and pretty to make us actually want their love and lives to last.

The other half of Dead of Winter doesn’t fare too much better (it’s hard to invest too much in overly inept policemen) but the film salvages itself with a surprisingly touching coda. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll simply say that it’s rare for a modern dead teenager flick to think to consider the guilt and mourning of its adults.
High Points
First-time director Brian McNamara (also a veteran character actor) does a decent job of establishing some of the paranoia of our leads. Demonic voices and hallucinations could easily be laughable, and even though we as the audience are always pretty aware what’s not real, we can absolutely see why Tiffany and Kevin would get so freaked so fast
Low Points
The final “twist” doesn’t do much. I suppose it tries to make the audience rethink what they’ve just seen, but considering our heroes are already working with altered minds, what difference does it even make?
Lessons Learned
If your boyfriend’s friends are stoner jerks, avoid drinking anything they hand you not in a sealed bottle

A little knife can do big damage
In the absent night light, a cow is about the equivalent of a non-English speaking farmer
For a quick view on Instant Watch, one could do a whole lot worse than Dead of Winter. The performances are passable, cold night atmosphere effective, pacing nice and brisk. In other words, it’s perfectly fine...just not that special. Enjoy it on a light night when you feel like 80 minutes of mild entertainment. Or take an LSD laden cocktail* and have an even more interesting time.

*Note: The Deadly Doll’s House does not condone the use of hallucinogentic drugs. We’ve (okay, I’ve) seen Jacob’s Ladder and do not in any way wish to upset Macauly Culkin into becoming The Good Son.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas With the Cassels

Sometimes one performance really can make a film. Other times, one performance plus a supporting turn in pregnant drag by the same insanely charismatic actor can simply win all.
Kim Chapiron‘s Sheitan will never be called an unmemorable movie. Derivative of other suggested inbred horror? Maybe. Annoying filmed and stocked with characters that need more face punching than a wormy Steven Dorff? You betcha. Unfocused and unresolved? You can say that.
But all these insults ignore the fact that as an eternally smiling bucktoothed animal loving satanic SOMETHING, Vincent Cassel gives one of the funnest, most bizarre and energetic performances I’ve ever seen. It’s almost a Christmas miracle.

Quick Plot: A trio of horny young men make some trouble at a horrifically seizure-inducing club on Christmas Eve. Enter the aptly named Eve, a mysterious temptress who brings the gang (plus too nice hanger-on Yasmine and a smelly unneutered pit mix) to her country home, a strange mansion filled with eerie puppets, a random gang of gangly goofs, and the pure perfection of Joseph, Cassel’s sweater vest (sans shirt) wearing caretaker.
Anyone who’s seen any of the hundres of TCM ripoffs knows something is amiss, and most of us have been well trained enough to predict the plot. Emotionally ugly party kids act obnoxious. EUPKs start getting suspicious. Someone is placed in a situation of seduction and dies horribly pre-orgasm. The remaining EUPKs fight back. One survives, typically amongst lots of screaming. A hit of sequel cues the credits. Rinse and repeat.

Except Sheitan has no plans whatsoever of retreading America’s favorite subgenre. Yes, the setup echoes a dozen other titles, but whether it’s defiant in not satisfying your predictions or just prefers to dally in the details, Sheitan simply avoids the final chase scenes we horror audiences are so conditioned to expect.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a masterpiece of originality. By trying os hard to be bizarre, Sheitan occasionally just feels annoying. We care nothing for our leads, from their bastardly games of gas ‘n dash, cheating on girlfriends with no guilt, and generally, treating property as if it were their own personal urinal. Perhaps it’s refreshing to not have to worry about inevitable victims. But it also means we have to spend 90 minutes with their awfulness.

Is Sheitan a comedy? Maybe. There’s plenty of humor, including raunchy sight gags like Eve getting a goat milk facial. 

The Franklin character of Bart, an unhygienic, ill-mannered jerk, is quite fun to watch squirm, especially when it’s Cassel’s insane Joseph putting on the discomfort.  On the other hand, you get some horrifically creepy dolls that seem to tease you every moment as you wonder when they’ll suddenly engage in a French folk dance or stab someone’s eyes out with cheese knieves. And just when you think he can’t get any better, Cassel shows up with an unflattering banged wig and pregnant belly. At this point, you can’t not want to watch this movie.

Yet I honestly don’t know what in Eden I though of Sheitan. It defies typical horror conventions with such aggression that you simply can’t get a proper handle on what it is. That’s not a bad thing, but it also makes the film one tough nut to crack.
High Points
Did I mention Vincent Cassel is in this movie? DId I mention he’s beyond fabulous. Just to be clear: Vincent Cassel is in this movie and he is indeed beyond fabulous

Though it doesn’t really do too much with its December 25th setting, Sheitan is a refreshingly different alternative to the pile of killer Santa movies that hogs up xmas horror
Low Points
MINOR SPOILERS: When you make us hate characters as much as the guys (particularly the increasingly smarmy Ladj) why would you not show us their ultimate fates?
Lessons Learned
Tall men have a lot of strength in their upper leg region

Unevenly matched games of pool chicken have bigger dangers than your pride

If you don’t want the truly obnoxious men you’ve just met to play with your father’s handmade dolls, perhaps you should stop showing them every single room where said dolls are stored

French nightclubs=the driveway to hell. Why does that not surprise me?

You know those nights when you feel like doing something new and wacky, say, pouring hot sauce on popcorn or sleeping with your feet where your head usually rests? Sheitan is the film for those times, one you’ll recognize bits of from your favorite hick horror but ultimately be blindsided by its utter weirdness. Cassel fans simply can’t pass it by. In all honestly, I wouldn’t necessarily say I liked Sheitan, but the experience was one I won’t soon forget. 
And let’s face it. Any movie that gives us this:

is one worth watching

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Life Day, One and All

May it be filled with family, fattening food, repeat viewings of Pee-Wee's Christmas Special and/or Silent Night Deadly Night 2, and of course, this:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Get a Life...force

But not at this unswanky joint! You want naked alien vampires, angry nun zombies, dried out bat people and some Patrick Stewart face melting? Pack up your day bag and head over to one of (okay, really THE) best horror websites on this wild wild web, The Blood Sprayer! No raincoats required.

Over yonder, I'll be joining a kicking all-star team (wherein I'll probably be picking daisies in right field). We're right in the middle of the first Dan O'Bannon Week, a whole seven days with multiple posts devoted to the late great sci-fi master. I'm today's party pooper, as delving into his 1985 big budget flop collaboration with Tobe Hooper was certainly NOT the best way to honor a man responsible for far greater work (including Alien and one of my absolute favorites, Total Recall).

So head over to The Blood Sprayer to read my take, and stay for the far happier articles on all things O'Bannon. It will make your life better.

Another way to achieve the same effect? Queuing up Total Recall.

Because that my friends, is happiness in a disguise bomb.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Horrible Non-Horror! The Cincinnati Christmas Edition

Drew Barrymore. Eileen Brennan. Jill Schoelen. Richard Mulligan. Pat Morita. Some guy named Googy Gress. 
Could this be the greatest cast ever assembled for a Christmas movie?
Quick Plot: Young Lisa (off the wagon Barrymore) has no time for sleds and Barbie. See, she’s from Cincinnati (where, according to song, the girls are pretty, boys are feisty, and the town is natty...which sounds racist, though the town is completely white and therefore may indeed be really racist). Also in Cincy is Lisa’s flaky mom (Mrs. Peacock), minimum wage slave big sis, sis’s boyfriend Ted Theodore Logan, his chubby friend George (some guy named GOOGY!) and their smarmy boss, played in his glorious sleep by the phenomenal Richard Mulligan.

On Christmas Eve, a storm of Every Christmas Movie You’ve Ever Seen proportions strikes, causing a mini-car accident that sends Lisa into the magical world of Toyland. There she meets alternate versions of her Cincy pals, now rough derivatives of nursery rhyme characters. Evil boss (now named Barnaby) is attempting to marry Lisa’s not-sister (now Mary), much to the chagrin of her true love Jack (still pretty much Ted Theodore Logan). 

It’s vital that Jack be named Jack, primarily so that we get the line “Jack be nimble. Jack be dead!” at a key moment towards the end of the film.

Naturally, the only person who can help the young lovers is Pat Morita, aka The Toymaker (not to be confused with the homicidal craftsman of the same name in Silent Night Deadly Night 5). With magic toy soldiers, bottled up evil, and an incredibly terrible song that doesn’t even attempt to rhyme its lyrics, the little man spreads his glee throughout Toyland and inside the hardened heart of young Lisa.
Babes In Toyland is a bizarre and fairly hilarious television movie from the golden age of television movies that was the 1980s. Decorated with deflating balloons and mascots that look like their fur has been fading in a Hollywood warehouse since the ‘50s, the film feels more like an elementary school play than big budget special. I almost wonder if the actors thought they were simply rehearsing and didn’t know until later that there was film in the cameras.

That’s a wonderful thing.
You know what else is wonderful? The fact that Babes In Toyland is a musical. Kind of.
Listeners of GleeKast (that’s you, right?) know of my dislike for the modern crutch that is AutoTune, but Babes In Toyland certainly makes a case for it. Non-singing actors like Morita and Mulligan get through their brief musical interludes mostly by just shouting the lyrics. Hey, even the greats have to compensate somehow.

Lessons Learned
In Toyland, only the bride dresses up for a wedding. Guests are encouraged to wear the same clothing they’ve been in for the past week

Wooden soldiers aren’t much in demand anymore, and that’s appalling
The best way to fight evil is to be from Cincinnati. And to sing about it
Instant Watch was invented for one reason, and one reason alone: movies like these. Babes In Toyland is a cheap, awkward and not at all good holiday movie that drags in places and makes you laugh your ears off in others. In other words, it’s a tasty Christmas cookie that you owe it to yourself to enjoy. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Film Club + Reader Recommendation x Jumpsuits = The Sweetest Hill of All

See, in Canada we don't get Netflix. And because of that, I don't have access to all these movies. And I'd LOVE to be able to finally see it. The radio ad for it is one of my favourites. "Roses are red. Voodoo is blue. Sugar is sweet. Revenge is sweeter".I mean, foxy mamas, voodoo and zombies? Come ON! So you have to watch it for me. Do it for me. Do it for the Canadian who can't watch it.”--Ghoul Friday

1974’s Sugar Hill has been on my radar for several years now yet somehow, I never felt quite hip enough to watch it. Putting aside my pasty whiteness and general nerditude, the film’s cult status genuinely intimidated me. But as a fortune cookie once told me, fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment and when Stacie Ponder announced Sugar Hill as December’s Final Girl Film Club pic, my fate was sealed.
I would walk the funk.
Quick Plot: Diana “Sugar” Hill is enjoying a glittering night at her fella Langston’s nightclub, partially because her beau is wearing a suit that actually glitters. Note that he’s the most sedately dressed man in the room.

The evening gets a whole lot less starry when evil real estate tycoon Morgan and his racist crew (plus a Fabulous henchman named Fabulous) beat Langston to death. It’s a bummer, but Sugar has the luck of having a voodoo priestess in the family who knows a thing or two about summoning a vengeance smart demon. With a few pieces of jewelry and an IOU soul, Sugar has the gloriously tophatted Baron Samedi and his pinball eyed minions hunting down each of Langston’s murderers with innovative homicide on their zombie minds.
The story, you see, is quite simple. Sugar wants revenge. Sugar gets revenge.

The beauty of Sugar Hill, however, is that how she gets it is simply a joy to behold. A rundown:
-bait ‘n switch at Le Whores Massage Parlor
-eaten alive by fasting hogs
-knocked down by a hopping disembodied chicken leg
Dig it?
Sugar Hill is a fairly infamous gem of the blaxsploitation era and having FINALLY watched it, it’s easy to see why. While the racist dialogue that rings out of every white character’s mouth is squirm-inducing, the film itself never feels racist or uncomfortable to watch. We WANT these bigoted jerks to lose, and an audience of any color can appreciate a smokin’ hot, well dressed and groomed chick directing scenes of carnage like Tyra Banks at an ANTM photo shoot.
This being horror, I suppose it’s worth asking and answering whether Sugar Hill is actually a scary film. At times, sure. Though Samedi is closer to Sweet the dancing demon from Once More With Feeling than anything terrifying, actor Don Pedro Colley brings an interesting (and, am I strange, sexy) creepiness that we can’t be sure will spare our spunky heroine. With their spider web wrapped bodies, his zombies have a memorable strangeness that works despite (or perhaps, because of) the film’s overall lack of gore. Some pretty rough violence is suggested, and even though we’re pretty much all for it due to the sliminess of the villain/victims, director Paul Maslansky (who sadly directed nothing else) is wise to not beat us over the afros with blood and guts.

High Notes
In her early scenes, Marki Bey feels way too classy and sweet to possibly turn into the hell-breathing vengeance madam she becomes. After a surprisingly disturbing suicide induction, however, Bey makes a subtle but perfect transformation into a woman in full control of all her tools, from her bargaining business abilities to the easy chemistry she sparks up with virtually every one of her male costars. It's not necessarily as fun a performance as you'd expect from this era, but it's still enigmatic enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Lessons Learned
Always be sure to wear a nude nylon stocking over your face when planning on killing a high profile businessman. Sure, your flashy one of a kind zoot suit might be a giveaway, but it never hurts to add a tad of discretion
White people suck
If there’s one sad fact I’ll humbly accept from this movie, it’s this: in no way do I possess a mere pinkyful of the coolness it would have taken to flourish in the 1970s. Sigh. Perhaps I should be thankful that I grew up in an age where role models were ET and Jem.
I must use dynamite as a synonym for great way more often than I do now
For whatever crime of mankind, Sugar Hill isn’t officially available on DVD in the US, though you can enjoy it through the wonders of Instant Watch and Midnite Movies. It’s certainly a treat worth tracking down and/or calling upon your favorite sharply dressed voodoo  demon for a wide release. In the meantime, bulk up your sugarcation with a trip to Final Girl for a roundup of other reviews.