Monday, January 29, 2018

Best of the Year, Year 9!

As we wrap up our ninth anniversary here at the Doll’s House, we honor tradition by looking back at the best—well, most enjoyable—films covered over the last 365 official blogging days. While 2017 didn't quite have the bang of some past years, it DID give us murderous gym equipment, zombie theme parks, and of course...

Yes, Cat In the Cage is easily the worst thing on this list in terms of quality, but it’s also the kind of wacky, joyous, angry, nonsensical batch of weirdness INVOLVING A CAT that makes it a default entry here. The story is both confusing and confused, an unresolved revenge tale with a last act twin brother reveal and unexplained disappearance of its best character (yes, it’s the cat). It is obviously well worth a watch.

I’m not here to tell anyone that Heidi, the found footage evil doll film airing in all its under 80 minute glory on Amazon Prime, is a great movie. For the first half hour or so, I wondered whether it was even worth finishing. But you know what? At some point, somehow, Heidi becomes a genuinely creepy little tale, making clever use of its budgetary limitations to suggest true evil without ever having to really show it. It’s an impressive feat that won’t click for everyone, but if you give it a chance, you might find it intriguingly unsettling.

It had to happen sooner or later: my drunken idea of a theme park where people hunt zombies comes true in this light but action-packed version of Jurassic World. The high concept is thankfully matched by decent production values and some of the better looking undead of the last several years. You get rich people hunting zombies then being hunted by zombies. What more do you want?

I could go into deep detail about how Baba Yaga is a fascinating representation of female power in horror or how it explores a woman finding sexuality outside of the male gaze, or I can just say THIS MOVIE INVOLVES AN S&M CLAD PORCELAIN DOLL THAT TURNS INTO A BADASS HENCHWOMAN and you know, you get why it makes the list.

7. Viral
At the risk of sounding like a very old woman, those Catfish boys seem to have a pretty impressive ear to millennial culture. Viral is a sleek, fairly small apocalyptic zombie tale framed so specifically as a tale of two teenaged sisters trying to survive. With a rich script from Barbara Marshall and Christopher Landon, it’s a solid, involving saga that finds a very human way in to a much larger story.

Less a horror film and more an American gothic fairy tale, Hunter Adams’ Dig Two Graves tells the sad, compelling story of a young girl whose mourning for her older brother leads her down a dark path buried deep in her small, haunted hamlet. Ted Levine ’s performance as her kind and morally torn grandfather is a thing of beauty. This is far from the scariest film on this year’s list, but it’s certainly the saddest.

Perhaps the one horror film on this list that would have been better if it just wasn’t a horror movie, Late Phases follows a grumpy retired veteran (the solid gold that is Nick Damici) as he discovers that his new gated community is the target of a hungry werewolf. The human stuff far outweighs the cheaper monster effects, but that tends to be what you get when you have deep conversations about religion and life with Tom Noonan. This isn’t a great horror movie, but it’s great in terms of how it lets an age class we never see get to deal with the situations typically reserved for bland teenagers.

A rookie cop starts the overnight shift at a soon-to-be-closed place station only to find herself doing battle with the ghosts of a satanic cult. Director Anthony DiBlasi does a whole lot with his one-night thriller, building tension beautifully and suggesting so much more than what we see in this all-too-short tale. It’s rare that I want a film to be longer, but this was a case where I could easily watch a prequel and beyond.

Yes, it’s most well-known for SPOILER ALERT OF THE SCI-FI ‘70S the “made from people” reveal. But the beauty of Richard Fleischer’s cinematic adaptation of the far less interesting novel Make Room! Make Room! is that it’s also a haunting preview of the possibilities of a world mismanaged. Overpopulation and environmental abuse have led to a miserable existence for the 99%, who pile up to sleep in hallways while the wealthy keepers occupy bland high rises where the romantic company is actually called “furniture.” Soylent Green’s most iconic image may be Charlton Heston’s final screams, but it’s the grand Edward G. Robinson’s journey of a man unlucky enough to remember the beauty of the natural world that truly elevates the material. You’ll never look at a plate of lettuce with the same unappreciative eyes.

As has historically been the case when it comes to political satire, genre film continues to be the first in line with biting commentary. Leave it to Roger Corman’s production company to nail a post-Trump world by casting Malcolm McDowell as the perfect hair plugged stand-in. The film uses the same basic outline as the 1975 original, wisely updating it with over-the-top characters more fitting of our time. Despite making strong statements about politics, pop culture, climate change, and other current issues, Death Race 2050 never loses sight of its main goal: ridiculous, violent entertainment that never stops moving.

For as rough a place as this world can seem (especially in these last two years of political darkness), there are certain human-made creations that do wondrous jobs of renewing our faith in the possibilities of this species. Bubble wrap packaging, nachos, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend…these are true gems in our physical world made with the minds and hands of homo sapiens. So, my friends, is Death Spa. An ‘80s slasher that somehow combines aerobics, cyber ghosts, killer power shakes, and Ken Foree in a rainbow blazer, this is the kind of boisterous ‘80s slasher that makes you remember why and how crappy horror movies can be an incredibly joyous thing.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lessons Learned 2017!

As we fast approach the ninth (NINTH!) anniversary of this little corner of the internet known as the Doll's House, allow me to continue with the NINE-year-old tradition of compiling a list of some of my favorite lessons gleaned over the last 365 days. You never know: they just might save your life...particularly if your life includes satanism, promposals, and as always, bear traps.

School Days
The trick to not vomiting when dissecting a frog is to chew gum

The best college professors are the ones who fashion themselves akin to female porn actress starring in teacher-student scenarios

Science As Business
In the early '80s, the going rate for transporting flesh-eating bacteria was 50,000 pounds

Wonders of the Natural World
Wild mustard has quite a high sulfur content

The Body Human
When done effectively, fatal stab wounds yield no blood

Chlorine probably prevents herpes
Pregnancy makes your skin really, realllllllllly dry

The Modern Chef
To best keep pepperoni hot, stick it to your butt

Nice Ride
Surviving a brutal car accident can change a lot of things about you, including eliminating any trace of your Australian accent

The majority of teen-related car accidents happen because everybody inside the car is screaming and flailing to dangerous levels of chaos at once

Personal Grooming (with special attention to the eyebrows)
Being in a mental asylum should never hold your eyebrow grooming back

Rural-based satanists take excellent care in grooming their eyebrows

It's a Family Thing
One of the perks of being VP of a toy company is that you can populate your stepdaughter's room with an arsenal of teddy bears
-- Mommy’s Little Girl

Always remember where your uncle's gambling-related bruises are located
-- The Chosen

Vacationing Know-How
LA hotels will charge guests extra to stay in rooms where guests committed suicide

The beach is for riff raff. Classy broads stay on the marina
Let Me Dance For You
Nothing kills a ballet career like falling off an 18" high stage in slow motion

Working Girls
When you sell something, that makes you a professional

Flirting with a good-looking coworker on your first day of work may not seem like the best career advice, but if your office is suddenly subjected to a cruel homicidal experiment, it may just be the thing that saves your life

If you are female and your morality is put into question, the solution to any accusation is simply, "I'm a businesswoman" 

Marketing Problems of the Near Future
Turning global famine into clickbait is harder than you think

Relationships Nuances
In world before online dating, one could always count on pet cemeteries as a great way to meet a potential partner

The best way to rebound from being stood up is to give in quickly to the sexy vampire next door

Affairs are always improved with warm champagne
A proper prom proposal should require at least four weeks of intense dance practice and intermediate choreography

The Name Game
Just because you've named your villain Susan doesn't mean supporting characters can't call her Suzanne

Catholicism 101
Priests are second only to rock stars when it comes to leaving a motel room in ruins

Backwash will seriously compromise the efficacy of holy water

Party Planning Tips
When organizing a home rave, don't skimp on the bouncer. A quality door man will really take your party to the next level

Basic Survival
The secret to escaping a horny forest beast involves wearing a lot of layers

Nail guns are cost-effective weapons when fighting zombie hordes

Want to throw your attacker off? Pee on him when he least expects it

Meg Tilly is not to be messed with

Love Me, Love My Pet
In an undead situation, never get too attached to a bunny, no matter how cute its floppy little ears may be

The Five Senses
When you're blind, it always looks like you're paying attention

The Real Estate Market
Realtors don't have myths

Bodyguard FAQs
Few henchwomen are quite so loyal--or breakable--as reanimated porcelain dolls

The Art of Self Awareness
To avoid freaking our your family after accepting a black magic deal, take two minutes and a moist towelette to wipe the glob of blood sticking to your face
— Dig Two Graves

If you don't want people to think that you're a murderer, wear something other than black ski caps when indoors

The Southern Hemisphere
Bumming around Europe is what Aussies do best

America the Beautiful
The only thing worse than phone service in South Dakota is the quality of its police force

Detroit is such a dangerous place that even a bear trap will get you when you least expect it

In some small American towns, the head surgeon also serves as the lead investigator in ongoing murder investigations

Social Media for Dummies
Duck faces and assholes are pretty much the same thing, particularly if you're a bitter police officer

Fashion Tips
Real pearls are what you would call "proper'

When leaving the house to confront your backstabbing partner and lawyer, make a statement by wearing your Macguyver jacket without a shirt
— Death Spa 

You Don’t Make Friends With Salad
Lettuce will never be exciting, even if the world hasn't had fresh food in decades

Monday, January 15, 2018

March of the Plague Survivors

Film plots that I will never turn down: save the rec center through dance, prevent/survive nuclear war, and worldwide plagues.

1980's Virus has two out of three.

Somewhere in my personal heaven, a movie exists wherein breakdancing teenagers struggle to disarm Soviet missiles while coughing through a superflu.

If that's not motivation to live morally, what is?

Quick Plot: Ah, the Cold War, a time when everyone couldn't help but create messy scenarios that could inevitably go wrong and lead to the end of the world. 

Or most of it.

After an experimental virus is accidentally released, the majority of human beings are wiped out by the new malady known as "The Italian Flu." The only hope for mankind awaits in Antarctica, where the freezing temperatures provide a natural barrier to the germs. With 800 men,  8 women, and a whole lot more (unseen) penguins, the remaining survivors (mostly scientists, thought probably not the penguins; or maybe the penguins, who am I to draw conclusions?) re-order society under the wise guidance of George Kennedy.

Things are going peacefully enough until an impending earthquake is detected. Because it's the 1980s, nuclear missiles have been locked and loaded with just about every spot of land in target for one political reason or another. An American survivor realizes that the movement from the earthquakes will trigger some bombs towards the Soviet Union, which the Russian diplomat reveals will in turn blast some weaponry toward suspected U.S. stations in none other than the lonely outposts of the Arctic shores. 

Thankfully, there's one working submarine still in action, and it's captained by none other than Tourist Trap's Chuck Connors who plays a British naval officer with an accent that makes Kevin Costner's Robin Hood seem authentic. Actually, he doesn't really even TRY an accent. He just reads his script littered with Englishisms ("chaps", "you Yankees," etc.) in the same grizzly Brooklyn/Southern cadence he used as Mr. Slausen. It. Is. Weird.

Anyway, American soldier Bo Svenson(!) teams up with scientist Masao Kusakari to deactivate the bombs, now armed with a possible vaccine. Can they save the lingering bits of humanity? SHOULD they? 

Virus, also known as Day of Resurrection (spoiler alert?), was an incredibly big budgeted international production directed by Kinji Fukasaku, the visionary who would go on to helm Battle Royale and fuel Emily's imagination in every scenario. Based on a novel, its international scope feels epic in intention. Unfortunately, the pared down version streaming on Amazon Prime (with some 45 minutes cut out from the original cut) doesn't quite reach the bigness the material deserves. 

There's a good 45 minutes or so spent with characters who (SPOILER ALERT) die en masse as the virus spreads throughout the northern hemisphere. While it's exciting to see such an assortment of actors (Henry Silva! Glenn Ford! Robert Vaughn!), the constant shifting of protagonists takes a little too long to stabilize, eventually leading us to figure out by default that our real lead is a mild-mannered but secretly brave Japanese scientist. 

Perhaps because of the editing, there are also a ton of ideas that don't quite get the attention they deserve in being fleshed out. The gender politics are incredibly complicated, and while there's a small amount of effort made to show how a society of educated individuals would deal with such matters, it ultimately feels fairly shortchanged in the overall final product. 

Problems (of which there are many; did I mention this is Amazon Prime and therefore, very poorly lit?) aside, I certainly enjoyed Virus because, well, it's a movie about the end of the world involving both nuclear missiles AND a devastating plague. It's brimming with recognizable actors from all over the globe, from Sonny Chiba to Edward James Olmos to, you know, CHUCK CONNORS PLAYING AN ENGLISHMAN.

Sorry, this one just REALLY lingers.

High Points
You can't be unhappy with the sheer internationalism of the cast, which includes not just a diversity of actors, but characters from every part of the world

Low Points
Look, it's also sort of what will make me remember this movie forever so it can't be THAT bad a thing, but seriously: how DID I MENTION CHUCK CONNORS PLAYS A BRITISH CHARACTER DESPITE NOT ALTERING HIS VERY AMERICAN ACCENT AT ALL?

Lessons Learned
In the early '80s, the going rate for transporting flesh-eating bacteria was 50,000 pounds

The real secret to world peace is a stern Bo Svenson

Tying one's shoes is more difficult and time consuming than activating nuclear weapons

I can only speak to the truncated 108 minute version available on Netflix, which looks grainy and doesn't seem to flow with the full epic scale one would imagine for a film of this subject matter, budget, and director. That being said, if you, like me, love a good fashioned On the Beach-style end-of-world saga, this is certainly one loaded with a whole lot of the hallmarks of the genre. I'll be on the lookout for the extended version, which is probably (I'm guessing) the more proper way to watch.

Proper, in the truest of British forms.