Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Scissoring with Sharon Stone & My Cat

Recently, it has come to my and some delightful readers’ attention that the 1990s output of horror cinema is something...well, different from other decades. It’s long been though of as a cinematic void in the genre, but look hard enough and you’ll pull up a few random pre-Scream gems and more importantly, a very different kind of nostalgia.

See, in 2011, the ‘80s are just funny. Camp counselors with one big earring getting slaughtered to post-disco beats? It’s like being tickled! The ‘90s, on the other hand, don’t yet have that distance. The actors *look* like us. They use a lot of the same lingo, even if they speak said lingo into elite car phones or public phone booths hunted down after receiving important messages on their beepers. We chuckle more and more as the time distance grows, but not so much that we excuse these films the kinds of dated errors that make the ‘80s so charming.

I have no idea why Scissors ended up on my Netflix queue, but hey, it’s got some genre pedigree behind it (director Frank De Felitta made the cult classic Dark Night of the Scarecrow), a fresh off of Mars Sharon Stone, and a lot of creepy dolls. Also, it’s the epitome of ‘90s horror for reasons soon to be discussed.

Quick Plot: Angie is a beautiful but frigid 26 year old who prefers the company of her strict psychologist (Ronny Cox!) and collection of antique store dolls to handsome single men or speed dating. Much like Catherine Deneuve in Replusion, the ice blond Angie easily attracts male attention that she has no idea what to do with. After almost being raped in her apartment elevator by a red bearded stranger, she meets a pair of Dead Ringers-lite twin brothers, both played by Lifeforce and Turkey Shoot star Steve Railsback.

Also, by the way, Joplin Zelda Rubinstein Intravia's new crush.

Twin Alex is a successful soap opera actor, while his brother Cole is a creepy wheelchair bound artist with an abominable haircut. Somewhere in the middle is Alex’s ex/Cole’s current cohort Nancy, who matters only because she’s played by Sheila from the film version of A Chorus Line.

NOTE: This might only matter to me.
As Angie begins an awkward courtship with Alex, mildly strange things start to occur but because of Angie’s own oddness, we’re not entirely sure if actions or her own fragile mind are to blame. Eventually, a faked job offer leads her to a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse sort of luxury apartment where she’s soon locked in with immobile furniture, angry birds, and a scissors-stabbed corpse.

Scissors is a strange movie, both in terms of plot and general feel. It was made by  Frank De Felitta, the man behind the novelist behind Audrey Rose and The Entity.  Whereas (in my opinion) both of those were great stories that wandered off into muddled territory, Scissors is a story that feels trite, then progressively turns bizarre, then silly, then dramatic, then wacky, and finally, rewarding.

Part of it does indeed come from the nuevo ‘90s nostalgia that paints each frame with mildly grainy and slightly badly dressed hue. Part of it has to do with the fact that the movie features about five extreme closeups of a creepy pig doll that seems to come with his own theme. There’s a delicious twist that’s more than ridiculous, followed by one that’s kind of awesome. It's ultimately the film equivalent of a box of Cracker Jacks, filled with handfuls of sweet goodness, evil little peanuts just waiting to ruin your mouth, and finally, an exciting little prize that makes it all worth it in the end. 

Historical figure trivia! Cracker Jacks' newest hit!

High Points
She might be somewhat insane in real life, but Sharon Stone holds the film together quite well, even when battling a bird

Low Points
During the opening credits, I was totally sold on the circus-like score. Bought and returned. The music of Scissors is, after the first two minutes, used fairly horrendously, with overly dramatic classical tunes practically raping the action onscreen, and I’m not just referring to the hilariously scored almost-rape scene

Lessons Learned
90% butter fat is terrible for the skin

All things cry and make a fuss when they’re lonely

A great way to meet an eligible bachelor? Fight off a rapist down the hall

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Scissors. At over 100 minutes, it’s far longer than it should be and filled with a tad too many time-wasting red herrings, but there’s something quite entertaining about where the storyline goes. 

Also, for those who care, Sharon Stone gets naked. Railsback, however, remains fully clothed. And the cat keeps her collar on (that’s not a euphemism; there’s a cat and it wears a collar. You’re disgusting).

So is that hair...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dot Squared

Let’s start with the title: Dot.Kill
What’s up with that? The word ‘dot’ is there, so adding the ‘.’ is both redundant and confusing. Imagine you adored this film and want to recommend it to your best pal. A conversation would go like this:
You: Look it up. Dot Kill.
Pal: Dot, like, do I write the word ‘dot’ or just make a dot?
You: Both.
Pal: Wait, so the title is Dot Dot Kill?
You: No, it’s Dot but then there’s an actual dot and then the word 'Kill'.
Pal: But that doesn’t make any sense.
You: But it looks cool.

Pal: No it doesn't, it looks stupid and redundant.

You: You're right. Let's go eat nachos.

Pal: Dot done.

Quick Plot: Someone with a fast speed Internet connection is staging elaborate Saw-ish murders for all of cyberspace to see, including the slacker son of Detective Daines. Daines (or Double Dees, because that's a far better nickname) is dying of lung cancer, coughing his way through a morphine addiction and general surliness. Having to deal with a whiz kid in a wheelchair tech consultant doesn't help his condition, nor does the fact that the entire world gets to watch his squad fail to save lives online.

Yes, it's essentially an earlier version of Firewall (I assume, since I've never seen Firewall but assuming never hurt anyone, right?). Directed by respectable filmmaker John Irvin (Ghost Story, Raw Deal, Hamburger Hill) and starring the generally respectable (unless put in an NBC mythological miniseries) Armand Assante, Dot.Kill is competently made. It's just also kind of boring.

It's not hard to finger the killer, which would be fine if the film had anything interesting to say about him. It does not. 

How about the whole issue of an apathetic but blood hungry public sitting back as their desktops stream brutal murders in real time? I'm sure there's a few questions we should be asking about that.

But eh. That requires a lot of work. We've got nachos to eat.

High Points
The idea of making your hero a highly flawed individual with a death sentence certainly gives Dot.Kill an interested story base, and Assante coughs up lungs with admirable gusto

Not one, but 2-TWO uses of my favorite "Nooooooooooooooooo!" are found following explosions

Low Points
I can't remember the last time I've seen a film begin with less energy than Dot.Kill. While the rest of the film maintains enough motivation, the opening scene or two (including one set in a strip club less fun than the DMV) just seems to spell doom

Lessons Learned
Shouting at a subordinate to "talk to me!" but following his first attempt to do so with "shut up!" doesn't help anyone, least of all the exasperated audience

This Internet shit can give you nightmares

Do not, for the health and happiness of all, mess with Armand Assante's breakfast routine

Meh. Dot.Kill isn't awful, but I don't know that I'll remember anything about it (save for the annoying punctuation decision in the title) by July 4th. It's just there, and then it ended, and then I realized it would have been better if I'd watched it whilst eating aforepictured nachos That's really all I have to say about that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The opening credit sequence for Werner Herzog’s 1979 adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu features creepy mummified beings scored to beautiful music ...

and followed by a closeup of two adorably playful kittens. 

This film was made for me.
Quick Plot: Jonathan Harker (the wonderful Wings of Desire’s wonderful Bruno Wonderful Ganz) must head to the ominous castle of Count Dracula, a Mr. Burns-y hermit with --

Aw heck, you know the story. It’s Dracula, plain and simple. Mina is actually Lucy (just ‘cause) and she’s played by the gorgeous Isabelle Adjani, one of, perhaps, the only actresses that could dare face-play against the glorious insanity of Klaus Kinski. 

There’s a whole lot to love about Herzog’s film, so rather than a straightforward review (it’s DRACULA for goodness sake), here’s a list of all that works about it:
-The three lead performances are, plain and simple, perfect for the material. Ganz brings intrigue to a role usually reserved for pretty boys, Adjani’s facial expressions are straight out of the silent film era and Kinski is shockingly restrained (yet still typically creepy) as the titular demon
-Within five minutes of Nosferatu’s running time, it hit me that I needed to turn off all the lights in La Casa Dolls to fully appreciate the insanely beautiful camerawork. Take, for example, Jonathan’s trek to the castle. It’s a scene that goes on far longer than necessary, but between a fertile but empty landscape, shadowed ruins, and a cloudy night sky slowly parting to let in a haunting blue light, I could not take my eyes off the screen. 

This goes for just about every frame of the film, be it Lucy’s lonely beach walk or a disorienting overhead shot of coffins marching through a desolate village.

-Dracula’s boat trip is more painful than the movie Boat Trip, and I mean that as a huge compliment (and probably the only one that will ever involve the movie Boat Trip). The journey is usually skirted over or entirely ignored in most adaptations, but Herzog gives it plenty of weight, letting the trip herald in a deadly plague that wreaks havoc over Lucy’ and Jonathan’s home town. This eventually gives us an almost apocalyptic view as Lucy roams an emptying village and the few remaining citizens resign themselves to impending death.

-Though I won’t spoil the ending, it’s certainly worth acknowledging that it departs from the usual Dracula finale and wow, it’s pretty great.
Low Points
Word on the cinema street is that Herzog wasn’t overly nice to those thousands of rat cast members, which makes me a little sad

Lessons Learned
Pigs do not stop walking to poop. I did not know this fact

One should probably not dip one’s toes inside a mysterious rat-infested coffin. I’m not a doctor or anything, but this advice seems sound
You know, there are starving children in China who would kill to eat those grapes. (Note: this comment is directed towards vampires who seem to thrive on wasting decadent banquets)

I rented the German version of Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht through Netflix, since general consensus is that it’s superior (Herzog filmed an English version simultaneously with the same cast, also available as a separate disc). Clearly, I recommend this film with all the muster I’ve got. Dracula tales don’t generally do too much for me, but Herzog’s approach--essentially, creating an homage to Murnau’s original--is incredibly striking from both a visual and audio standpoint. The music is gripping and the imagery, absolutely breathtaking. Add in a Ka-razzzzzy Kinski (well-supported by a fantastic Adjani and Ganz) and you have a film that’s simply a joy to experience.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Descending Into Your Ears

It's been about 2.5 years since I started this blog, and somehow, I've yet to devote more than passing references to one of my favorite films of this century, Neil Marshall's new classic, The Descent.

I know, just toss me in a hole with a noisy digital watch why don't you!

Or worse, poop on my head and make me watch The Descent 2.

Well you might have to because today, I am not actually writing about The Descent. Nope. Poop on. Instead, I'm here to direct you to Girls On Film Radio Podcast where in Episode 25, myself and a few other sassy non-spelunking badass females delve into the film, audio-style. We also tackle the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, another huge recommend of a very different ilk.

Get to it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hungry For Some 90s

When a film with a mildly interesting premise (such as today's)  is listed as “Long Wait” on the third arm of mine I like to call Netflix Queue, I immediately bump it to the top in fear that a) it might be special if others keep stealing it or b) it may disappear as discs get damaged or stolen. Sometimes, this yields great things like Brotherhood of Satan. Others, we get Deadly Little Christmas and I die a little inside (until I find that defibrillator I like to call writing). 
Quick Plot: Meet Monica, an attractive 28 year old (who makes me look young, so rock on, late '90s fashion) who thinks she's found Mr. Right. Sure, he's a tad creepy, what with the whole meeting-women-at-bars-by-videotaping-them-until-they-display-wit thing, but hey, he also sends a dozen roses, rocks some Dylan McKay height hair, and offers to cook dinner on a fateful second week date. Clearly this tale will end with a montage at David's Bridal and honeymoon at Sandals.

Or more likely, with Monica chained in a dank basement as she wilts down to the chic Kate Moss skeletal look while Scott plays out a sadistic game of starvation and memory wipe on our plucky career woman. Meanwhile, Monica's best pal (whose name I didn’t write down and can't quite navigate the IMDB page successfully enough to guess) takes the investigation into her own hands when the police seem way more concerned with perfecting awfully odd accents that don't really fit the Vermont setting. Damn pigs.
Starved calls to mind more recent man-taking-woman-hostage films like Shellter and Broken, with an interesting twist in that Scott has no sexual interest in Monica. Instead, he's simply a sociopath who seems to enjoy the power he has in rewriting her identity, slowly trying his best to convince her that she is someone else. As I often say when excusing my habit playing Internet Boggle or spanking my cat, we all have our hobbies.

Poor Monica, on the other hand (played decently by Cinemax veteran Lee Anne Beaman) doesn't have many options. With a morsel of rice every once in a while, she simply isn't physically strong enough to attempt any sort of escape, a good trick that keeps the audience from the inevitable "just hit him on the head!" shouting that is so often instinctual with these kinds of premises. Co-directors Guy Crawford and Yvette Hoffman do a good job of capturing her hell, never shying away from making an attractive woman into a yellow toothed stick of malnourishment and showing through some delusions where our victim's head is at. Unfortunately, they also see the need to cut away from Scott and Monica to follow her friend on her quest. While the main supporting actress pulls off her role, virtually every other supporting character (from a beefy private investigator to Scott's next would-be victim) comes off as if auditioning for walk-on roles in a softcore porn. It takes a little away from the far more effective basement narrative and ultimately prevents Starved from achieving a true sense of disturbing.
Though IMDB lists Starved's release date as 2000, the film feels incredibly 1996, from its camera style to oversized blazers. That definitely helps to keep things interesting, but maybe also weighs any sense of seriousness far down. Then again, there have been far superior films made about psychological torture and at the end of the day, Starved needs anything it can get to last in your memory.
High Points
The unglamorous attitude towards Monica helps to make her entrapment fairly believable
Low Points
Did we need scrolling text to inform us that men like Scott exist because society lets them? Absolutely not, and the obvious preachiness of the last beat forced Starved into something far less interesting and subtle than its previous 90 minutes led us to believe
Lessons Learned
When you wake up chained in a basement, you probably don’t have to tell the owner that you’re in there. You can safely assume he’s already aware
You should know you’re on a date from hell when your gentleman caller earnestly asks “Tell me more about your mother”

A search warrant takes an hour, two at the most
There are a lot better films made about mad men and the women they torture than Starved. That being said, this is a somewhat interesting take on the age-old premise made during a time when torture porn was not even gestating in the wombs of modern filmmakers. The bizarre PG13 rating is appropriate only for what is graphically not shown, but the ideas and mood are disturbing enough. So rent it if you’re genuinely curious about a mediocre take on this genre. Otherwise, just cue up any one of the many 90210 episodes where one of the pretty young gals was taken hostage by some dude or another.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I like my plague the way I like my coffee/men: black & Beany. Um...

Ever since I stayed up late four weeknights in the 6th grade to watch ABC’s adaptation of The Stand, I’ve had something you might call ‘a thing’ for plagues. Whether it’s a movie like Carriers or a novel like Blindness, the idea of infection sparing no one is just such a ripe and rich premise for any horror film.
Toss in the word bubonic--easily one of my favorites--and  you’ve got the ingredients for one kicking movie. Oh, and did I mention Christopher Triangle Smith is behind the camera?
Yes, you could easily say my expectations for Black Death was about as high as the body count of the actual Black Death.
Quick Plot: It’s 1348, a great time for rats, mead, and long hair but a crappy time for life expectancy. A deadly sickness is tearing through Europe leaving nothing but paranoid Christians and rotting corpses in its path. 
Enter Oswald, a young monk torn between his village love and his word to God. Fearing the worst, he sends his girlfriend home to the woods where she plans to wait for him every morning as he decides where his true heart lies. 

A sign comes in the form of the rarely shampooed Sean Bean playing Ulric, a knight leading a tribe of Christian mercenaries into the woods to capture a rumored necromancer. As they venture deeper into the wild, they encounter violent savages and eventually, Black Book’s lovely Carice van Houten’s Langiva, a mysterious beauty lording over a gang of pagans.
Christopher Smith has one of the most impressive resumes of any genre filmmaker working today, so the idea of putting one of my favorite film premises in his hands is beyond exciting. In a way, unless Black Death met Wizard of Oz standards, it was probably never going to truly be as good as I wanted it to be.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t like Black Death. It had body boils, angry mobs, David Warner, a bleak ending and Sean Bean snarling. Of COURSE I enjoyed the movie. But coming from the man who made a beautiful day of sailing into a time warping horror complete with a baghead killer, Black Death fell a tad short of being the bubonic bonanza I was hoping for. 

High Points
One of the interesting aspects of any film set pre-1700 is the necessary lack of firearms. Black Death gives us a great moment of dialogue where the young monk learns from a grizzled knight about the mercy knife and how a carefully placed stab wound serves as the medieval headshot for merciful killings
I drifted off a bit from Black Death during its somewhat disappointing third act, but I found the epilogue to be absolutely great. Having Oswald, our young and lovelorn hero, 
transform into a dark witch-hunting murderer (with Episode 2 Anakin Skywalker hair to boot) was devastatingly brilliant, making it a spiritual prequel to films like Mark of the Devil and Witchfinder General
The only good thing I was ever able to say about the awful Hitcher remake was that hey, at least the truck stretch out was cool. So it’s kind of neat that Black Death, another Sean Bean vehicle, gets to do the limb pulling, period style

Low Points
While some of the sound design is haunting (ew death gurgles!) I find it hard to believe that every time sword moves it makes that slicey sound

There’s a fantastic shot when one of Ullric’s men is crucified by the pagans, as Smith’s camera follows him face-on in a frenetic Wicker Man-like final prayer. The problem is that this type of moment is far too rare. With a hauntingly fogged landscape and some set pieces that speak for themselves (hooded executioners marching on, corpses a’plenty) it’s kind of a shame that Black Death doesn’t feel truly immersed in the natural madness like, say, Vinyan or Aguire: The Wrath of God.

Lessons Learned
Christians appreciate the concept of betrayal
The longbow is quicker to load AND farther in flight. Take THAT buck of tar!
It’s indeed possible to smell a lie on a man

As Red Riding Hood taught us well, eye makeup was never more lovely than during pre-Industrial Revolution times
The Winning Line
“I look forward to shagging your mother’s ass in hell”
Who knew medieval times were filled with such great trash mama talk!
Black Death is certainly worth a lights-off watch, particularly since it’s currently streaming on Instant Watch. My slight disappointment probably stems more from the fact that I just watched Werner Herzog’s drop dead gorgeous Nosferatu (review coming soon) and was slightly spoiled by his masterful use of medieval times, plagues, and European forestry. So Black Death ain’t Nosferatu, but it’s still an engrossing period horror refreshing for our age.