Monday, July 29, 2013

The Hills Have Spiders

Somewhere between the dog eating charms of The Hills Have Eyes and the blood-spewing beds of A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven directed a pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone, post-Devil’s Rain Ernest Borgnine, and a few stunt tarantulas thankful not to have worked on Kingdom of the Spiders in 1981’s Deadly Blessing.

It’s pretty weird.

Quick Plot: In the rural part of America, there lives a religious group of humble folks called the Hittites who, according to locals, “eat brimstone for breakfast and make the Amish look like swingers.”

Naturally, they’re led by Ernest Borgnine who naturally gets the best lines. Sharon Stone might have proven herself with Casino, but I’d still prefer my gems like “You are a stench in the nostrils of God!” to come from her costar. Especially since her orifices are being filled in other ways.

The Hittites live next to a farm run by former son Jim, a handsome young fella who renegaded from his family’s strict (read: lame) ways to marry pretty young Martha. All the sweet glances in the world aren’t enough, however, when Jim is ominously (and verrrrrryyyyy slooooooooowwwwlllllyyyyyyyyyy) killed in a freak tractor accident. Now widowed, Martha invites two of her city gal pals to spend some time being judged by her neighbors/in-laws and help her cope.

There’s not much to do in the country circa 1981. Pal Vicky starts flirting with a confused Hittite, much to the chagrin of a bearded Borgnine and the Hittite’s cousin/fiancé. Lana (Stone) has recurring arachnophobic nightmares, while Martha entertains creepy visits/egg gifts from her wacky non-Hittite neighbors. Over in the more religious parts of the land, man-child Michael Berryman calls everyone an incubus before meeting his own slow motion end and sparking the real mystery of who or what is hunting locals.

Deadly Blessing bares the strangely ironic qualities of being rather boring yet batshit insane. Craven gets decent-to-strong performances out of his cast, but the actors are hampered by mediocre dialogue. The story chugs along slowly, occasionally pausing for bursts of weirdness (Berryman screaming “INCUBUS!” for two minutes straight, for example) before its truly bizarre twist (we’re talking The Initiation levels here) followed by an even SILLIER coda.

But hey, much like the not-at-all-similar Silent Hill series, there’s something fresh and different about Deadly Blessings when compared to its horror brethren of the time. The story wanders, but even if you see a good part of the ending coming (since it’s screamed at you early on), there’s still something special about the weirdness of how it plays out. In an era of dead teenagers, it’s always nice to have slightly older characters to follow. While it’s never quite explored to its potential, the Hittite angle offers a lot of promise and helps to make some of the less significant characters at least have some kind of identification.

This is a problematic film and I imagine for some, a very dull one. But for someone who enjoys some good spider-in-the-mouth dream sequences, children crying at Ernest Borgnine, and gender-confused serial killers with no real bearing on the story, one could do a lot worse.

High Points
It’s occasionally a little much, but the frantic, perhaps fully orchestrated maniacal score helps to amp up the already crazed finale with energetic success

Low Points
Look, I understand that all humans have different body temperatures, but I’m rarely wearing five layers of flannel while my friend in the same room is drinking iced tea in a tank top and panties. I realize it’s a petty point, but the lack of consistency in season REALLY irked me 

Lessons Learned
Faith is spelled F!-A!-I!-T!-H! (!!!)

Cars are WAY better than horses

After shooting and *maybe hitting an insane killer responsible for the deaths of at least two much larger men, the best course of action to immediately take after the body disappears is to throw your still-loaded gun on the floor. OBVIOUSLY

Craven a Calling Card
It looks like SOMEONE was toying with a few pending trademarks, including:
-German shepherds
-Michael Berryman
-Pretty brunettes taking baths only to have something devious crawl between their legs*

*Also, as a note, it’s much more effective when said devious something crawls between a woman’s legs when she’s not wearing underwear. I’m not saying I (of all people) was looking for bottom nudity, but a snake being released at a woman’s special place loses some of its power if she’s got at the very least, a cotton barrier

Deadly Blessing is streaming on Instant Watch, and those with that service and a free 90 minutes will certainly get some fun out of a viewing. By no means is the film a classic, but it’s interesting to see a young Wes Craven at work, even if he’s weighted by a fairly crappy script.

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Revealing, More Silent, More Hill

Michael J. Bassett’s Deathwatch was a fresh and frightening entry into the horror genre, so it was great news to hear this British writer/director would be handling the second installment of the potential-filled Silent Hill franchise.

Quick Plot: When last we met the Da Silvas, mother Rose and daughter Sharon  were trapped in some sort of Nether-reality that separated them from dad Ned Stark—er, Sean Bean’s Henry. 

At the start of Revelations, Sharon is now an 18-year-old blond renamed Heather living a nomadic existence with a non-Nether-separated Henry and the belief that she lost her memory and mother in a car accident. The pair rarely stay in one town long because, as far as ‘Heather’ knows, her dad is on the run from the law due to a self-defense murder. It doesn’t explain the increasingly surreal nightmares-dripping-into-daily-life-visions she has, but Heather seems well-adjusted enough for a surly teen.

On her first day at a new school, Heather catches the eye of another new kid/Game of Thrones refugee named Vincent (aka You Know Nothing Jon Snow) who quickly becomes her ally after a private detective tracks her down and gets murdered by a monster-woman-thing at a shopping mall. Heather and Vincent return home to find her dad gone and a blood-written invitation on the wall calling her back to the place of her nightmares, Silent Hill.

After that, it’s all cotton-tailed bunnies and bulldog puppies of course!

Or horrifically mutilated corpses, murderous religious zealots, stabbers wielding knives bigger than Shaquille O’Neal's idea of an oversized novelty item, and Malcolm McDowell.

I appreciated Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill for being something significantly different from the standard studio horror film you’d find in a major release. As someone who’s never played the video game (Super Nintendo’s top left and right buttons were where I drew the line, thank you very much), I didn’t necessarily have a preexisting attachment to the world, making some of the fuzzier touches rather confusing. Though it apparently is bursting with easter eggs for loyal gamers, Revelations is also much more appealing to newbies like me because it doesn’t necessarily feel as though it’s trying to replicate the PlayStation experience.

This is not to say that Revelations makes total sense, but unlike its more style-over-substance predecessor, the film adheres to a simpler, more straightforward narrative that the atmosphere effectively supports. We primarily follow Adelaide Clemens’ Heather/Sharon on a sort of Alice-In-Wonderhell trip of Silent Hill, and because the narrative is fairly simple (girl find dad), most of Revelations moves at a much better pace. 

Not that I wasn't baffled again as to what was actually happening once Heather/Sharon reached the final reel. There’s a muddled confrontation with goth girl other half Alessa that translates extremely poorly from 3D to standard def, followed by a cooler, if MORE confusing showdown with the real villain who never really feels that important. 

Could I poke holes in most ends of this movie? Certainly. But can I find a gigantic Shelob-style spider composed of human limbs and mannequin heads in just any big screen genre release? I WISH!

Silent Hill: Revelations is a messy film. But dagnabbit, I had a pretty great time watching it. It’s easy to be lazy when working with surrealism, and Bassett keeps the reins tight to deliver an effective ride. This isn’t game-changing horror, but in the realm of wide release studio horror, it’s a big win.

High Points
In what’s essentially a cameo, Malcolm McDowell brings full energy and wackiness to his role


Low Points
I know 3D sounds like a great idea when you’re marketing a big screen release and can bank on that higher ticket price, but please, filmmakers, please remember that eventually, those effects are going to be seen on a good old fashioned television screen. It’d be nice if they didn’t look terrible

Lessons Learned
When filmed in close-up, even a Pop-Tart can be frightening

People from mystical orders in netherworlds have trouble deciding what type of accent to use

Fitting in at a new school can be tough, but fitting in when a lot of your day is spent seeing images of no-faced Jacob’s Ladder refugees following your every move can be REALLY tough

Sometimes, everybody needs some Pyramid Head to help them out of a jam

Bean There, Done That
SPOILER FOR THE OPENING SCENE OF THE MOVIE: You have to admire the film's wink to kill off (dream sequence style) Sean Bean within five minutes of starting. It's almost as if someone pointed out that no matter what, the audience was going to be counting the minutes until the inevitable, so why not just give it them immediately so they could check it off their list and watch without distraction

I was very pleasantly surprised by Silent Hill: Revelations. While I appreciated the first film’s ‘otherness’ and dedication to NOT being another slasher or messy action-riddled video game adaptation, the gooey pace and lack of any strict focus made it something of a slog. Revelations is a much tighter film filled with neat visual touches and an incredibly unique soundtrack that actually works WITH, not FOR the action (unlike the majority of modern horror films that believe a crescendo equals a scare). Now on Instant Watch, it's well worth a visit.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wine, Worms, Witches, & Killer Boobs

Hey! Hey YOU! Did you know that in 2006 (or some time before), Ken The Devils Russell, Joe Gremlins Dante, Sean S. Friday the 13th Cunningham, Monte Silent Night Deadly Night III Hellman, and John I Did a Lot of Visual Effects on The Matrix Series Gaeta got together and made a horror anthology? A horror anthology that involves carnivorous breasts, Japanese monks, and dislocated French vintners? 

Thanks to blogger supremo Joe Blevins of Dead 2 Rights, I did. Is that a good thing? 

I’m not sure.

Story 1/Wraparound
Because Dick Miller pops up for a cameo, we instantly know that the framing device is directed by Joe Dante. The premise is simple: a lovably kooky old man leads a starlet and her boyfriend, architect and his wife, screenwriter and the scowl of John Saxon, and mildly Goth girl with an attitude on a tour of a Hollywood studio, stopping in a famed haunted house to lock the doors and force the tourists to tell scary stories about their lives. 

Story 1 is notable for being the only one that does not involve copious female nudity and /or women being sexually pleasured/assaulted by things they assume are male body parts, but are in fact supernatural entities that want to eat them in a non-sexy way.

Moving on.

The Girl With Golden Breasts
Before synopsizing, I need to get something off my chest (har har): why no ‘the?’

Normally, I’m all for cutting unnecessary words and articles in titles. But in this case, you have a perfectly cheesy joke of a title that is, I assume, clearly meant to call to mind The Man With the Golden Gun. So why lose the ‘the?’ “The Girl With Golden Breasts” misses the easy joke, and ultimately sounds messy. 

Now onto the story, which involves a wannabe Hollywood starlet getting experimental breast implants that naturally have fangs and drink blood.

That is that.

Did I mention Ken Russell directed this one? And appears in it in drag?

Indeed, that's that.

No, not Jigoku, a far superior Japanese horror film that helped to usher in a new style in genre cinema. This is about JiBAKU, and no, I have no idea what that means, mostly because it wasn't easy to stay awake for this one.

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham, one of Jason Voorhees' fairy godfathers, Jibaku follows the aforementioned husband and wife on a trip to Japan, where the Mrs. becomes intrigued by a handsome stranger who ends up being a suicidal monk, easily leading us to the film's winning line:

"I was sexually molested by a dead monk and dragged into Japanese Buddhist hell!"

I can't think of any response to that, other than, perhaps, "How was the weather there?"

Stanley's Girlfriend
In 1950s Hollywood, Stanley is a great director with a skanky girlfriend who seduces his screenwriter friend Leo. 

Leo grows up to become John Saxon. 

Skanky girlfriend might be a witch. 

Monte Hellman also made the third (and dullest) Silent Night Deadly Night movie. Stanley's Girlfriend is one fifth of a movie. 

Movies are composed of scenes. Scene It is a game involving trivia. 

Jeopardy! is my favorite game show. It involves a variety of trivia, usually being delivered by a snooty Canadian, sometimes derailed by a hideous invention called The Clue Crew who travel the world doing fun things like petting wild animals in the Galapagos Islands or touring German chocolate factories. 

One of them is named Sarah. 

She sort of resembles Hatchet Face from John Waters' Crybaby, which includes a lot of scenes that are far more enjoyable than anything that transpires in the 10 minutes or so of Stanley's Girlfriend.

Apologies for the derailment, but I would rather watch Alex Trebek stand in line at the DMV than Stanley's Girlfriend. I think that was the point I was getting at.

My Twin, The Worm
Perhaps it's one of the lesser known Twilight Zone: The Movie curses that calls for anthologies helmed by multiple directors to generally have the better segments made by lesser known names. Such is the case with visual effects designer (and first time director) John Gaeta's My Twin, The Worm, a messy but entertaining tale about French immigrants/extras from Les Miserables who come to the U.S. in the 1970s to make wine, wear provincial garb, and consume undercooked meat that leads to a parasite growing beside our narrator inside the womb. 

Surprisingly enough, growing up for 9 months next to a parasitic worm (but not in the lair of a white one) can do some damage on your psyche. Add in a mildly wicked stepmother--who, guess what? also gets a scene wherein she thinks she's being pleasured in bed by her husband but is actually being mangled by a parasitic worm--and you have what might be the most interesting story of the bunch. 

That's not saying a WHOLE lot, although overall, I found Trapped Ashes enjoyable in a 'huh?' kind of way. Written by Dennis Bartok, none of the stories are actually scary, but Russell's and Gaeta's segments are at least amusing and the other two, while rather bland, are still better made than what you generally find in the worst of horror anthologies made in the 21st century.

Make of that ringing endorsement what you will.

High Points
Between Dante's wraparound and Hellman's period-set tale, the affection for old Hollywood is a nice touch

Low Points
Aside from the fact that the whole project feels as though it was either filmed in a week or while cooking a big dinner and killing time as the ingredients hardened or baked, there is indeed a strange attitude towards the female sex that feels a tad exploitative. The fact that all four stories seem very concerned with a) showing female nudity (and male only in the animated form) and b) having turning points always happen while a woman is naked in bed feels seedy when not handled with any real sense of wink

Lessons Learned
Actresses don’t mind the spotlight

Marriage can be defined as wishing death upon each other

A Heather Graham type is cute and likable

Like Scary or Die, Trapped Ashes is a mixed bag anthology with some fun (Golden Breasts and Worm) and some clunk (Stanley's Zzzzzz, Jibaku). The mere fact that luminaries Dante and Russell are involved certainly makes it worth an Instant Watch gander, but then again, any film that involves a woman's breasts drinking blood through crazy straws attached to martini glasses generally does that on its own.