Monday, March 24, 2014

When You Wish Upon a Killer's Moon

Let’s just get this out of the way:

This film is poorly punctuated. 

Killer’s Moon implies the moon belongs to one killer. 

This film has four.

Perhaps I’m just quick to the angry apostrophe following a recent typo in the special edition of The Dark Knight Returns

Anyway, let’s try to put this terrible experience behind us and get on with the show.

Quick Plot: An all-girls choir bus experiences some mechanical trouble in the middle of the British countryside, where a pair of handsome (I assume, by 1970s British/expat American standards) twentysomethings are camping, a pleasant woman is prepping her out-of-the-way hotel, and a grumpy gamekeeper is gamekeeping.

Also, there are four violent lunatics on the loose who escaped the clutches of their psychiatrist and his experimental treatment that involved encouraging them to act out their basest instincts by convincing them they were living in a dream world with no consequences.

Naturally, the combination of insane men without societal constraints and the nubile flesh of teenage girls does not a merry evening make.

Let me just say it: I absolutely adored this movie.

Mind you, I don't normally like to jump into my judgment so soon in a review, especially for a film as messy (maybe intentionally?) as Killers' Moon (yeah, I'm repunctuating the title like the maverick I am). 

But see, I simply did not want to stop watching the kind of movie that includes such gems of dialogue as such:

 "Look, you were only raped, as long as you don't tell anyone about it you'll be alright. You pretend it never happened, I pretend I never saw it and if we ever get out of this alive, well, maybe we'll both live to be wives and mothers."

The biggest question I had with Killers' Moon regards said script, credited to director Alan Birkinshaw but rumored to come from the pen of his sister, famed feminist novelist Fay Weldon. Had I not known anything about Ms. Weldon, I probably would have assumed lines like the above to be tongue-in-cheek. This is the same film, mind you, that sees our pair of heroes discuss how they are outnumbered and outarmed only to conclude that the best solution to fight their enemies would be to split up.

Always a wise plan, gents. Always wise.

However, some brief Wikipedia'ing seems to point that Fay Weldon considers rape, how do you say, overrated as a crime. Knowing that makes Killers' Moon an even odder watch, as the film is filled with young women being violently attacked in a way that might be tasteless, might be offensive, or just might be what you would expect (and maybe want?) from a '70s pre-slasher exploitation genre film.

While Killers' Moon is rife with messiness as a low budget movie, it also has some pretty neat subtext in its villains. From their bowler hats and white-on-white attire to the way they respectfully speak to each other as Mr., our killers are clearly inspired by A Clockwork Orange. That they're acting out their impulses simply because they believe they're living in a fantasy world is rather fascinating. They're confused when their actions don't cause the desired effects they'd have in REM, but you almost can't blame them for committing these crimes because why should they not believe it's all part of their therapy? As the mayhem intensifies, some start to realize what's really going on, and their reactions are not at all what you'd expect.

If that weren't enough, we also have a heroic three-legged dog played by a local canine hero, barbershop quartet levels of harmony coming from the mouths of mass murderers, and a rather brilliant case of drag being applied where you least expect it.

Yes, I did indeed love this movie.

High Points
Though it sometimes calls a little too much attention to itself, John Shakespeare and Derek Warne's score is generally pretty darn awesome, filled with Repulsion-like jazz riffs and playful little nods to Three Blind Mice and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Low Points
It's a shame that none of the girls really register as fully fledged characters. Other than 'somewhat helpful girl,' 'somewhat whiny girl,' 'somewhat raped girl,' and 'somewhat flirty girl who thinks it's silly to be sad about being somewhat raped girl,' none really stick out in a way worth remembering

I suppose it bears mentioning that in the real world, nighttime and daytime don't necessarily change back and forth over the course of an evening

Lessons Learned
The white slavery industry has been ruined by too many enthusiastic amateurs

Never call a British headmistress a nature lover

If it’s not ramblers, it’s bramblers

The Winning Line
Killers' Moon is bursting with them, but I think my heart belongs to this one:

"I understand you have a problem."

This is the final line of Killers' Moon, and is spoken by a police officer in the calmest manner possible. Substitute "I understand you have a question about parking regulations" and you might have a better idea of how this is delivered. 

The problem, you see, is that these characters have been terrorized all night by raping murderers. Nothing to raise anyone's voice about, of course. 


I’m not sure how I had never heard of Killer(s)’ Moon before stumbling upon it on Netflix Instant Watch. This is the kind of low budget, completely insane little gem that brings true joy into the lives of genre film fans. Hop to it with your very own three-legged Doberman. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Little Miss Deadshine

I’ll never forget the day I watched Vincenzo Natali’s Cube on a rented VHS in 1998. There was something so mind-blowing to sixteen-year-old me about a film that seemed unlike anything I’d ever seen. Since then, I’ve been waiting for Natali to capture that same unique spirit with his bigger budget works. I’d heard intriguing things about his recent haunted house (OR IS IT?) tale Haunter, so let’s see what Instant Watch wrought. 

Quick Plot: Lisa (Abigail Breslin) is a grumpy young suburbanite going through the motions on the eve of her 16th birthday. How ANY teenager can be grumpy when such a day includes macaroni and cheese AND Murder, She Wrote is truly beyond me.

Seriously, Mr. Natali. You should thank your Cube cred that I didn't turn off your little movie the moment a character failed to express enthusiasm at sitting down to watch Jessica Fletcher visit one of her six hundred godchildren and solve a homicide committed by a character actor or TV personality.

Anyway, we can forgive Lisa once we learn the source of her misery: she's been Groundhog Daying this uneventful Sunday for an interminable amount of time. Each time, her little brother plays Pacman with his imaginary friend, Mom hounds her about missing clothes in the laundry, and Dad attempts to repair the family car at varying levels of hostility.

But it always ends with mac 'n cheese and Angela Lansbury's delightful laugh.

It doesn't take long for Lisa to realize that, much like the twist ending of 98% of all modern horror films, she's actually dead. This is confirmed when a mysterious telephone operator in the form of Grant Mazzie (er, Stephen McHattie) visits with an ominous warning about what will happen if she tries to contact the living, something that proves easier than she thought via a few strategically placed pieces of jewelry.

There are a lot of ways to tell a story like Haunter, and while much of the film does work, I also found myself wishing Natali had chosen a different approach. Much like Drag Me To Hell, Haunter sort of falls into a category I like to call 'slumber party horror.' This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as sometimes, a tame but effective little ghost tale is perfectly fine entertainment.

And you know what? Haunter is...perfectly fine. The performances are strong, and the script keeps the character interactions quite natural. Like the recent House Hunting, the premise of being trapped in the same remote suburban setting is interesting and executed well. The problem for non-teenage viewers, at least for me, is that once you meet the big bad, the film's PG13 feeling becomes an issue.

Most serial killers are, one would imagine, pretty monstrous people. Those who target young women have an added ick factor. Those who slaughter entire families throughout five decades should be truly horrifying. And those played by Stephen McHattie and a dandy imaginary friend should be the WORST.

But, how to say this? There's something a tad anticlimactic about a man who kills his victims in what might possibly be the most peaceful way possible.

High Points
Hey, remember in The Wedding Singer when it was the 1980s and you knew that because characters were constantly pointing out every cultural reference that happened in the 1980s? Yeah, Haunter doesn't do that. Thankfully

Low Points
I guess I just like my sadistic murderers a little more sadistic

Lessons Learned
Imaginary friends are never REALLY your friends

Ghosts are extremely fast adapters to today's Apple technology

If you’re going to relieve one day for all eternity, you might as well make sure said day includes mac ‘n cheese and Murder, She Wrote

If and when you’re in the mood for a good, if light little horror film, queue up Haunter on Instant Watch. It’s  solid, if a tad restrained. 

I guess what I’m saying is that Haunter is fine, just not as fine as Murder, She Wrote.

Like most things in the world.

Monday, March 10, 2014

(Black) Rock Paper Scissors

First, a rant.

I'm a woman. Been so for 32 years and counting, leaving me a realistic 27 years to make, keep, and occasionally lose friends, many of whom are female. In these 27 years of BFF comings and goings, both of myself and within groups of friends who are friends, there is one thing that has never happened:

I have never, in 27 years of conscious awareness, personally witnessed a friendship end because one female was intimate with another female friend's partner.

Is this a thing that a lot of women DO? According to cinema, yes. The same women who keep their bras when lounging at home, exercise with their hair down and go to sleep with full makeup on are the norm, and the norm also sleeps with or has to watch their beloved sleep with a girlfriend. 

Movies don't lie, right?

Anyway, that's my preluding gripe with Black Rock, the otherwise fairly believable female-centric thriller.

Quick Plot: Sunny Sarah (Kate Bosworth) attempts to reunite two childhood besties with a surprise weekend getaway to a New England island they partied on as kids. As you might guess from my prolonged prologue, some tension is afire due to Lou (Lake Bell)'s previous romantic entanglements with Abby (director Kate Aselton)'s then-boyfriend. 

Now in their early 30s, the ladies attempt to make the best of an awkward situation by humoring Sarah's quest to find their old clubhouse, where a VHS of The Goonies surely awaits in watchable condition (remember: VHS tapes are the cockroach of media). Before pillow fights can ensue, the ladies bump into a trio of young hunters, one of whom Abby is quick to drunkenly flirt and share a can of Spaghettios with.

NOTE: Share a can of spaghettios is not a sexual term I'm aware of. But I also tie my hair back when working out, so I might just actually be a dude.

All is not so carefree once Abby goes a little too far with her new friends, quickly revealed to be recently dishonorably discharged soldiers. Before you can spit on anyone's grave, the ladies are running, swimming, and tree climbing for their lives. 
There is nothing particularly new about Black Rock in terms of plot or style, so let's just address the main reason this film has found some footing: it's a genre film directed by a woman.

As much as I wish this wasn't something that needed to point out in 2014, it really, really still does. In Black Rock's case, this is especially important because we're dealing with the type of film that has so often found itself stewing in debates of gender and misogyny. While not exactly a 'rape revenge' flick (despite critics like Rex Reed's assertions, suggesting that he apparently doesn't watch the films he gets paid to review), Black Rock does put pretty women on the run through the wilderness from very bad men. We know where this usually goes.

It's refreshing then to say that while not officially or aggressively a feminist film, Black Rock handles its gender issues quite well. The men are stronger because of their size and military training, yes, but put three healthy thirtysomething females against them and the fight becomes realistically even-handed due to their smarts and will. The film even manages to deal with, without OVERdealing with, Abby and Lou's complicated boyfriend past. When the going gets rough, the lingering feelings of betrayal are acknowledged, resolved, and ultimately made into a good and necessary laugh. If a trio of sociopath soldiers were hunting me down and the only help I had was a former friend who ruined my love life, I tend to think that's exactly how I'd deal with that too.

Even more vital to seeing what makes Black Rock a little more knowing than some of its peers is how it handles that always complicated cinematic issue, nudity. Hey guys, did you know that women take their clothes off every day? Actually, TWICE a day, and sometimes more. Again, a century of cinema has taught us that nudity is only useful for stimulating its presumed male audience. Observe the token camera leering breast shot that seems so central to even the most rushed rape scene, something so clearly focused on for all the wrong reasons in films like Silent Night Deadly Night and Blood Games (a film so female unfriendly that rumor has it, the studio tacked on a fake female name as its director).

Side Note: I still love Blood Games. It's a vengeance flick about a female baseball team. But just as I love Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and don't pretend Kevin Costner is even trying, I can also adore A League of Their Bloody Own without ignoring the fact that it's got quite a bit of misogyny in its running time.

My point, and maybe I do have one, is that seeing how Aselton handles nudity is vital to understanding why Black Rock is a worthy film, even if it seemingly offers nothing new in its storytelling. In many ways, this is indeed just another Deliverance-inspired thriller. But the fact that it's so deliberately FEMALE in its execution helps to point out some of the problems these types of films can so often run into. 

High Points
I've been awfully hard on Kate Bosworth following her Lois Lane in Superman Returns (if there was a more offensive case of miscasting in Hollywood, I've yet to see it) but watching her in Black Rock was a pleasant reminder that she has genuinely likable screen presence. No, she wasn't and probably never would be believable as a 25 year old Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with spunk, but as Sarah, Bosworth really does have a sense of ease in front of the camera that helps to sell not just her character, but her character's friends.

Low Points
For the most part, the protagonists of Black Rock behave the way you want them to in this kind of situation. But it behooves me to mention such key frustrating moments as 'survivor holds gun, then seems to drop it (I think offscreen) to better fight her enemy with a child-friendly pocketknife'

As the reigning queen of the I Don't Have An Indoor Voice Club, even I was shouting "Shhhhhhhhhhh" at key moments

Lessons Learned
Black rocks are the hardest rocks of all

Always bury a useful treasure. You just never know when you’ll need that junior pocket knife in the wilderness

Seriously ladies, SSSSSHHHHHHHHHH!

Black Rock is a slick and efficient little survivalist thriller not without its flaws (GRAB THE GUN!) but well-worth a visit. There are better tellings of this tale, but the utter female-ness of a film in this genre makes it a prime discussion piece for the topic. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Like a Virgin, Except Not At All

Commonly assumed to be a quick cash-in on Basic Instinct, Body of Evidence was actually in production before Sharon Stone's crotch opened wide on the big screen.

That doesn't make it feel any less like a quick cash-in.

Quick Plot: A millionaire with a heart condition is found dead in his mansion, cocaine in his bloodstream and handcuff scars on his wrists. The police and DA (Joe Mantegna) quickly discover said dead rich guy was dating a kinky golddigger named Rebecca, played by a pre-English accent carrying Madonna.

Eager to grab a big case, a lawyer named Frank (the eagerly naked Willem Dafoe) rushes to defend and, quite quickly, have ever so slightly sadomasochistic sex with Rebecca. Never mind that Frank seems happily married to restaurant owner Julianne Moore (in fairness, she has a bad haircut) or that more than one of Rebecca's exes has found himself in the hospital. This is MADONNA we're talking about.

Pre-Swept Away Madonna, in fact.

You're still not convinced that this isn't a Basic Instinct clone, are you? Truthfully, neither am I. Produced by the purveyor of class, Dino Delaurentis, Body of Evidence tries far too hard without really wanting to try hard enough. Yes, Madonna is naked and occasionally receiving oral sex in a parking garage, but because the film REALLY WANTS YOU TO KNOW THAT IT'S KINKY, nothing actually feels kinky. 

Take, for example, Rebecca and Frank's first (of many) sex scene, wherein the camera ogles Dafoe's belt to aggressively foreshadow the fact that--SHOCK OF ALL SHOCKS--Madonna will use it to tie his hands behind his back. Excuse me for not warning you about this before divulging such a scandalous detail. I assume your monocle is now halfway across the parlor from the shock of it all!

I'm sure that in 1992, the script for Body of Evidence seemed dangerous and exciting. Unfortunately, nothing is less sexy than trying to be sexy (just ask Nomi Malone). We don't know enough about Frank to feel anything about his fall from sorta-grace, and the most we learn about Rebecca is that she likes to have sex with silver foxes like Frank Langella and is really good at lighting candles. At least Catherine Tramell wrote crappy novels.

High Points
Well, if anyone out there is a big courtroom drama fan, I'd hate to miss the fact that this film is filled with a ready-made drinking game to take a shot anytime an objection is raised, overruled, sustained, or side-barred

Low Points
Ah, the complicated politics of raping a woman who sorta asked for it, then didn't, then kind enjoyed it and eventually came back for more. Ick.

Lessons Learned
People from LA know their nipple clamps

People in Oregon know how to light an entire roomful of candles in just 60 seconds

Judges in Oregon don't tolerate gasping in their courtroom

Body of Evidence is streaming on Instant Watch, which is about the amount of work you should give yourself to see it. Less sexy than it thinks it is and not nearly as goofy as I'd like it to be, this is early '90s mainstream trash at its blahest. There are other ways to see Madonna naked, and a LOT of other ways to see Dafoe's Willem.