Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Here!

I can't believe it!

Here's hoping everyone has the happiest of all the year's best holiday. I tip my cinnamon rimmed glass of pumpkin ale your way. 

And wish you all a joyous October 31st.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Big Things!

As Hurricane Sandy sings her way through New York, I bid you all a safe and spooky All Hallow's Eve's Eve with a nudge towards another blog tearing up the season in gargantuan style. You all know and love T.L. Bugg, he the keeper and swatter of The Lightning Bug's Lair. This October, he's been posting up a storm (or tropical cyclone, however the weather people now choose to classify it) with daily posts on gigantic monsters.

Though such a focus seems to violate my belief that smaller things are scary (see February's annual Attack of the Shorties), I fully endorse the Bugg's seasonal posts, in part because he let me share a few of my own virtually gifted picks. Head on yonder for mack trucks, white worms, underrated sequels, and face punch-ins (because giants are generally really good at it). 

Plus, you get the Bugg's take on one of monster cinema's proudest moments, THEM! 

What more do you want? The power back on? Puh-leaze.

Unless you need it to read our posts. Then I guess you're entitled to that dream.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

New Podcast Announcement!

Now available! A new podcast hosted by myself and that darling of a magazine editor, Paracinema's Christine Makepeace. Every other week, we'll be tackling two films. Sometimes horror. Sometimes not. We start Episode 1 by double teaming (not like THAT) Francis Ford Coppola, discussing that Gene Hackman jazz 1974's The Conversation 

and the 1986 start of Nicolas Cage's marvelous descent into insanity, Peggy Sue Got Married

Hipper than a surveillance expert with a tenor sax? Cooler than Jim Carrey in a supporting part? That's how we roll at The Feminine Critique! You can stream us here or head to the iTunes and subscribe for free. 

Did I mention the cost?

Get on it. Or else I'll sic Kathleen Turner on you, and nobody can handle that woman's baton.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Deep Down, Maybe We’re All Mushroom People

Much like Midnight Meat Train, Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People has the kind of misdirecting title that might put potential viewers in the wrong frame of mind when sitting down to watch this 1963 Japanese oddity. Thankfully, unlike Midnight Meat Train, it does not suck in the least.

Quick Plot: We open in a hospital with a back-lit man telling us his tale. SPOILER ALERT! He will survive what we’re about to see (at least up to the time the flashback meets the present, because, you know, he's telling us his story). 

His yarn beginneth:

While sailing with free spirits on a sunny day, a batch of wealthy professionals get stuck in a storm and end up washed ashore to a mysteriously abandoned island. As arguments abound over just who the REAL skipper is, the folks gradually realize something is quite amiss on their tropical not-paradise.

For starters, nary a bird nor beetle seems to be buzzing. The only life is of the plant variety, with a healthy population of fungi making the island its home. After discovering another shipwrecked vessel rotting away under mold, the group decides to ration their canned food, scavenge what they can, and avoid ingesting any of the maybe (or most certainly) poisonous mushrooms that seem to be blooming throughout their their new residence.

If you’re like me, you might now be thinking “sheesh Emily, we’re three paragraphs into this synopsis and not once have you said the words ‘mushroom people.’ What gives?” Well, a surprisingly lot. See, though a film titled Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People would lead you to expect, well, lots of mushroom people, director Ishiro Godzilla Honda has other ideas in mind.

Thankfully, they are good ones.

Rations lead to hoarding, hoarding leads to hunger, and hunger leads our grumpy survivors to feast upon the colorful garden of fungus freely growing about them. Those who give in turn loopy. Those who don’t stay hungry. And eventually, mushroom people happen.

Matango is an unusual film and I mean that as a compliment of the highest esteem. Though the characters didn’t quite engage me, the caustic pacing, eerie atmosphere, and unique payoff more than make up for it to produce a weirdly fascinating little genre picture unlike anything else. Now THAT’s an achievement in itself.

High Notes
Honda’s soundtrack is wonderfully weird, with everything from loud instrumentals to eerie laughter doing its part to set a tone like nothing you’ve quite experienced before

Although the actual design of the mushroom people isn’t necessarily cutting edge, there’s something pretty groovy about the fact that no two look the same

Low Notes
I might be convinced to blame some of the bland characterization on awkward dubbing, but it is a tad disappointing that some of the players--particularly the virginal ‘heroine’--fail to leave a major impression

Lessons Learned
Everything in Tokyo is important (it’s a great city and full of life)

If you threaten a girl then pretend to be kind to her she’ll fall for you immediately

Turtle eggs are rich in protein

Long hard to find (and a ‘long wait’ on Netflix), Matango earns its place as a cult favorite. The movie is far eerier than you probably would expect based on its title and premise, and as a result, it’s simply filled with surprises from beginning to end. Sure, the dubbing is imperfect and characters thin, but its utter, well, DIFFERENTNESS makes this well worth a taste.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unsinkable Lovely Molly

The last time I sat down to watch a film by ½ the Blair Witch team, I was saddled with The Believers, a good idea mangled into a dull movie. Despite this disappointment, the Internet told me that Lovely Molly—an indie made by the OTHER 1/2—was actually quite good.

Let us judge without prejudice. 

Quick Plot: After Molly’s to-the-camera suicide attempt prologue, we flash back a few months to her happy wedding day to Tim, a nice guy truck driver. Although their nuptial toasts are filled with vaguely ominous hints towards a troubled past, the couple seems content enough living together in Molly’s childhood home.

They are not.

Little by little, we piece together some facts: Molly and Tim are financially challenged and need all the work hours (or Tim’s out-of-town trips) they can get. Molly is a recovering drug addict. Her late father was a very bad man. And older sister Hannah (Dead End’s Alexandra Holden) has secrets of her own.

In just two weeks, Molly is spinning out of control. Though she tries to maintain her sanity by documenting her days via found footage, there’s something amiss. The question remains: is she relapsing, losing her mind due to buried childhood trauma, or just an unlikely horror movie victim of demonic possession?

Directed by Eduardo Sanchez, Lovely Molly has been receiving a fair amount of praise in the genre blogging circles and I’m pleased to say that it’s well deserved. Though the film isn’t a game changer a la Sanchez’s more famous effort, Lovely Molly has plenty going for it to make the film haunting, memorable, and disturbing on a deeply sad level.

A lot of credit goes to actress Gretchen Lodge in the title role. With a haircut that subtly winks to Mia Farrow, Lodge has the challenge of playing a woman haunted by something unknown. As the audience, we never quite learn if her downward spiral is caused by psychosis or the supernatural, and while Molly isn’t sure herself, Lodge never backs away. Whether she’s shivering behind a camera in the middle of the night or trashing up the join in smoky eye shadow to seduce a local minister, the actress always seems in control of a character who is anything but.

What really makes Lovely Molly special though is its unusual ambiguity. It’s not that uncommon for a minimalist horror film to skirt around the specifics, but there’s something about Lovely Molly’s approach that feels fresh. Compare it to the recent dud Silent House, which tried to build itself on what you couldn’t see only to then draw everything in gigantic print using permanent red marker and THEN crossed everything off because nothing you saw made any sense anyway (not that I’m still bitter about that or anything). 

I could see some viewers being very turned off by Lovely Molly’s noncommittal nature, but I think the execution ultimately makes it effective whether you leave confused or satisfied. The early sequences of suggested horror are done quite well, as quiet sound design plants the seeds of horror that may or may not be paid off in the long run. The film is filled with slightly off images that aren’t explained but linger uncomfortably, be they Molly’s dry humping the air or a photo album ominously collaged with horse heads. 

Though not a perfect film, Lovely Molly is a fresh, surprising, well-executed, and genuinely unnerving little indie that finds something new in a simple and well-trod premise. After 13 years of watching countless filmmakers rub his film’s belly for inspiration, it’s nice to see Sanchez return with something like this.

High Notes
One of my recent miffs with horror cinema has been the seemingly unlimited finances of its characters, be they Screfourem’s deluxe suburban kitchens or Paranormal Activity’s upper middle class snobbery. By making its leads working class, Lovely Molly instantly garners a little more sympathy and also sets up important (and identifiable) roadblocks that helps facilitate the horror

Low Notes
While I like the idea of integrating some bits of found footage from Molly’s handheld camcorder, it never really seems to come together with the full story in a way that makes those shaky cam moments (always undercut by standard filming) worthwhile

Lessons Learned
If your sister is a recovering heroin addict, it’s probably not a good idea to bring over a bag of pot when she’s home alone

Breaking your vows as a minister isn't the worst thing a man of the cloth could do, but the smart ones would avoid doing so with someone who might just totally and very obviously be insane

Crappy health insurance or not, when your boss catches you on surveillance video miming sex with a stranger, it’s time to see a doctor

Lovely Molly is well worth a rental for a quiet and chilly night. While it won’t change horror like Sanchez’s more famous debut, it is a refreshingly new take on ye olde possession tale that works to both make you think and creep you out. The DVD includes a few—whaddya know—Curse of the Blair Witch-style featurettes that purport Molly’s haunting to be deeply rooted in history. They don’t add much, but at five minutes each, they’re fun enough and bring an extra layer or two to the mythos of the film. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Swapping Scarecrows For Working Wax

I know I haven’t been celebrating the greatest month of all with the usual candy corn fueled fervor I keep in reserve, but times have been busy here in the actual Doll’s House. After apartment hunting with more gusto than Gary Busey bare handing it in Surviving the Game, I’ve since moved on to the act of packing with more reluctance than Paul Rudd cleaning up his breakfast tray in Wet Hot American Summer. Still to come: the part where my fella and I face the first real test of our relationship by battling for poster space, followed by my cats meeting/hopefully not killing their new stepsisters.

You might say I’ve been stressed.

But thankfully, there’s one semi-monthly tradition that always soothes the crazed soul: the Lightning Bugg Doll’s House Swaparoo! In honor of the glory of October, T.L. Bugg and I went the good old fashioned Instant Watch horror route. Over at his Lair, I assigned Zach one of those VHS staples of the ‘80s that always warmed my straw heart: 1988’s Scarecrows.

My assignment? That very same year’s cult horror comedy Waxwork.

It has a little person butler and everything!

Quick Plot: In a sunny college town, a group of spoiled university students stumble upon a ‘hey, how’d that get there overnight?’ wax museum called Waxwork run by none other than genre stalwart David Warner. This is awesome on its own, but get ready to pick up some messy pieces as I make your head explode:

He’s dressed as if he ransacked Willy Wonka’s closet.

As if that wasn’t enough, he also heads a satanic wax museum with the best security system of all time. See, if any of the wanderers dare to cross that oh-so-tempting velvet rope, he or she ends up transported to an alternate dimension where the scene of the waxy display is real. That would be fine if Waxwork focused on happy periods in history, like discovering the cure to polio or the day peanut butter met banana. 

Then again, when was the last time you entered a wax museum and didn’t leave with a nagging sense of the icks? They’re inherently creepy places. Even the purely historical one I visited in Virginia a few years back seemed designed to steal the souls of every patron.

The scenes on display inside Waxwork are more in line with horror fans than history hunters, with vampires, werewolves, mummies, and phantoms luring our snarky teens into grizzly fates. The wealthy brat Mark (played by Face of the 80s Zach Galligan) and hungry virgin Sarah make it through the night, but there’s still another day of battle to wage.

You know how there are some films that other people seem to adore, yet the one time you tried to watch it you just couldn’t keep your eyes on the screen? That was how I always felt about Waxwork, perhaps in part because its first big sequence involves werewolves. As I’ve said before, it’s a monster that just doesn’t do anything for me one way or another. While I can appreciate the metaphorical aspect of man’s darker side (or menstruation metaphor of a female’s redder one), I generally find the execution to be either dull or just plain silly looking.

Such was my initial experience with Waxwork a few months ago, when I sat down to what I had always assumed was an ‘80s horror movie about killer wax mannequins but is, whaddya know? actually a comedy more focused on throwback horror monsters. Writer/director Anthony Hickox (he of the decent Hellraiser III) is clearly having a ball with giving us classic movie villains with an ever so slight twist. It’s not many an ‘80s teen horror film that would feature a fencing duel between its unlikable antihero and a pirate-styled Marquis de Sade, but Waxwork seems intent on being something special.

I see that now.

High Points
There’s a character named China (played by Michelle Johnson) who responds quite smartly to her vampiric dilemma. In a period where even the bravest final girl usually ran through boxes of Kleanex before lucking into victory, it’s nice to see a female character (and one presented as the bitchy slut at that) use her wits when needed

Any final reel that involves wheelchair-bound old dudes battling zombies, vampires, axe-wielders and werewolves can’t be half bad!

Low Points
Due to my intense discomfort with wax figures, I would have liked to see Waxwork utilize that fear factor a little more, rather than focusing so much on some of its Universal tributes

Lessons Learned
Having drinks with the butler leads to anarchy

If you think of completely raw, possibly human meat as steak tartar, it goes down slightly easier

Dictators have the shouting voices and the small mustaches

Stray Confusion
John Rhys-Davies 

Jonathan Rhys Meyers:

Not the same person. One day, I'll understand that.

Now streaming on Instant Watch, Waxwork is good fun so long as you know that’s what you’re getting. I think my initial humbug reaction came from expectation: I wanted a waxy horror film and got an affectionate horror comedy. Thankfully, this time around I wanted a good time and Waxwork is busting with that. 

Thanks as always to my righteous recommender Zach. To see what that southern fried lightning bug thought of Scarecrows (an eerie little dark ride that I’ve always felt deserved more love) then grab some corn on the cob for the ride and head on over!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A True HOOT-Done It!

When an '80s slasher opens on the kind of frenetic Broadway dance performance that makes Sylvester Stallone's sweat-drenched solo in Staying Alive look classy, something called love happens in my heart.

Welcome to Stage Fright.

Quick Plot: A snooty and intense theatre director is torturing his cast with one last rehearsal before opening night of their “intellectual musical.” What are they rehearsing? Why, only THE GREATEST STAGE PERFORMANCE OF ALL TIME.

There's a man with a giant owl headpiece. And he dances. A lot.

I think he dances about rape? Or prostitution? Or about being raped, because seriously: what prostitute is NOT going to want to rape the dancing man dressed like an owl?

It's more amazing than something as limiting as words can describe, so just go with it and I'll get to the murdering.

After the leading lady sprains her ankle, she and the wardrobe mistress head to the nearest mental asylum for a wrap-up. There they learn that the famed Irving Wallace, legendary actor turned serial killer, is admitted as a patient. Before you can say 'Macbeth' in a theater to piss off annoyingly superstitious actors, Wallace has tracked the ladies back to the now-locked-from-the-inside theatre to shed some blood, where the overzealous director is doing an 11th hour restaging to properly take advantage of his show's newfound infamy.

Cue figurative AND literal axings!

It’s not long before the bodies start piling up mid-rehearsal. Our murderer is refreshingly creative, utilizing everything from hunting knives to drill bits. If you, like me, have spent long nights dreaming of the day you’d see an owl man tear through snooty theater directors with a chainsaw, I don’t know that there could possibly be a better choice out there than Stage Fright.

Directed by Michael Soavi (The Church), Stage Fright is a fairly standard slasher enriched by a fair amount of fun theater tricks. A few hunt scenes offer some genuine tension, while the basic ‘there’s a killer dressed like a giant owl’ trick simply gets me every time. Soavi gets some good pokes in surprising places, like framing real blood oozing over a spilled jar of red stage paint or focusing the camera on our final girl as she watches her understudy get knifed an inch from her face. 

And when in doubt, there’s neon workout gear, dummy violence, and a MAN DRESSED LIKE AN OWL DOING BALLET.

I’m a fan.

High Notes
Though I sometimes have a problem with the electro-techno soundtrack style so popular in ‘80s Italian horror, it’s used quite well here and not JUST because one song bears a ridiculously strong resemblance to the music played when Sarah first enters the labyrinth in a little movie you might have seen called Labyrinth

Low Notes
Michael Soavi’s direction is about as good as it can possibly be. The problems with Stage Fright are found in the by-the-numbers script, one that produces virtually no surprises in plot development or character quirks

Lessons Learned
It’s surprisingly easy to knock someone’s head off with one axe swing

On the flip side, turning a key in a lock can be exceedingly difficult

Grizzled janitors like to bet their bottom dollars, just like Annie

The Winning Line
“Your character will no longer be an anoynmous owl”
Based on what I know about actors, this is pretty much a synonym for ‘living the dream’

Stage Fright is far from a masterpiece, but it’s a darn good time. Sure, it’s technically a typical ‘80s slasher, but the theater angle makes it infinitely more interesting than your regular hack ‘em up. The DVD from Blue Underground is fairly bare bones, but it still includes INTERPRETIVE DANCING BY A MAN DRESSED LIKE AN OWL. In other words, why WOULDN’T you seek out this film?