Saturday, August 27, 2011

HAVOC #2: Stream and Stream Again

Welcome freaks, it’s time for another installment of HAVOC. What? You’re new to the party? In that case, let me explain. HAVOC is the world’s worst acronym. It stands for Horror AVailable for free On your Computer. Anytime I find something good…well, maybe good isn’t the right word, especially considering what I’m about to show you. Lets’s start over. Whenever I find something interesting that you can watch for free, I’ll post it here. Now, when you see the HAVOC acronym and a bad pun about streaming, you’ll know what’s up. Man, oh man, do I have a doozie for you this time.

In 2007, Leah got me a 50 film box set called Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares for Christmas. This set contained some of the worst movies I have ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of gems. You all know that I love me some low budget independant horror. Hell, I love bad movies, but some of this crap even I found unwatchable. In fact, 4 years later, I still haven’t seen them all. It was one of the best gifts ever, though, because it introduced me to Suburban Sasquatch. It was so spectacularly awful yet undeniably entertaining in that “train wreck” sort of way that it became a rite of passage. If you came to Nathan’s house, you were going to end up watching a couple of choice scenes from Suburban Sasquatch. In fact, it became a bit of a cult classic amongst those in the service and tourism industries of Savannah that way. I still don’t know anyone other than myself who has had the fortitude to watch it all the way through though. Some of the things in the following paragraphs may give you the idea that I don’t like this movie. Nothing could be further from the truth, I love this flick. I just have no delusions about what it is. You can be a gourmet food connoisseur, but sooner or later, we all get those bologna sandwich cravings. That’s Suburban Sasquatch. Cinematic baloney.

Suburban Sasquatch came out in 2004 and is the brainchild of Dave Wascavage. You know it’s a bad sign when 80% of the people credited also have the last name Wascavage. It’s all about Bigfoot rampaging through an apparently very sparsely populated suburban area, while a Native American Mystic pursues him with her magic bow and arrows. Yeah, that’s about it. There are cops, a cover-up, a reporter following the story, blah, blah, blah, but that’s not really important. It’s agonizingly slow and way too long (99 minutes). The acting is awful. The script is beyond bad. Dave Wascavage said in an interview that the budget was $3,500. No, that comma isn’t in the wrong place. I guess it’s impressive that they got a movie out for that. There is such brilliance on display as

  1. Bigfoot tearing off someone’s leg. Yet, in the next shot, the person clearly has both legs.
  2. An Indian Mystic who lives in a $30 Bass Pro-Shop clearance tent.
  3. Bigfoot tears through a CGI door, while the real door is right there on the hinges.
  4. The Sasquatch has a really nice rack actually. Seriously, look at the tits on Bigfoot! He’s...kinda hot. Dear gods help me.
  5. Did I mention that Bigfoot can disappear and reappear at will?
  6. Squatch hits a man in the face, and he falls down with slash marks across his chest. Um, what?
  7. It actually had a credit that reads “Blood and gore effects for hunter head removal and pants wetting.”
  8. Etc, etc, etc.

The real selling point here is the special effects. These are special effects in the “Olympics” sense of the word special. I have ranted and raved about CGI before, but this is literally and without exaggeration the worst I have ever seen. Remember Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo? It looks like they were done with that. The “practical effects” are almost as bad. You can see the joint hinges on some of the ripped off mannequin limbs for crying out loud. I’m not going to try to describe effects like these; they just have to be seen.

Folks, I am not a cruel man. Well, at least not to you. I love you guys. For this reason I would never ask you to watch this film all the way through. I never expect anyone to be quite as sick as me. If it looks like something you would dig, feel free, it’s right down there. Just know that I’m not responsible for any brain damage, PTSD, loss of bowel control, or any other condition that might result. Cash Wampum, if you thought Sharktopus was bad, you might want to steer clear of this one. Your head just might explode. What I’ve done is give you a guide to the most mind bending, laugh out loud, ludicrously genius moments in the film. Unless you crave that special kind of abuse this whole movie will put you through if you let it (it won’t even give you a safe word by the way), these scenes are all you need.

NOTE: These times are from the DVD. The youtube count may be a couple of seconds different.

9:20-11:20: The fishing attack. This is the second Sasquatch attack in the film, but the first really classic one. I dare you…no, I DEFY you to keep a straight face the first time you hear the Sasquatch’s trademark “Rawr!” I’ve tried. I failed miserably.

14:30-17:30: Squatch finds Little Timmy playing. Little Timmy runs inside, where his mom delivers the classic line “Monsters are (line flub and recovery) not real like the boogieman or your father, they’re not really there” and sends him back outside. When she sees Squatch menacing Timmy, she tries to fight him off with a broom, American Gladiators style. Timmy then convulses as he watches Bigfoot show his mom how his pimp hand be way strong.

32:00-35:45: The police car scene! Hell yes! In what might be my favorite effects shot ever, Squatch picks up a cop car and throws it. I promise you, you will rewind this one shot multiple times. It might be the funniest thing ever filmed. Then, when Bigfoot walks away, the car is exactly where it was before he picked it up. After a minute of hilarious acting, we get an amazing fight scene with Talla, the Indian warrior, and Squatch. It features CGI rock throwing, an amazing arrow shot, and...this is a historic statement…THE WORST CGI BLOOD OF ALL TIME!

38:50-39:30: Actually, this might be THE WORST CGI BLOOD OF ALL TIME! Then Bigfoot tears a dog in half. It’s a stuffed dog, complete with stuffing falling out. You’d think the filmmakers would try everything they could to make it seem like, oh, I dunno, a real dog, right? In a complete reversal, they actually add in sound effects that sound exactly like fabric tearing. Unbelievable.

54:45-55:55: The scene that blew the makeup budget. Pay special attention to the sound effects when Ol’ Squatchy drinks the blood out of the severed leg.

1:03:20-1:07:00: The hunters vs. Bigfoot scene. It’s almost as good as the police car scene. Some highlights include when all of the hunters inexplicably stop shooting and run single file at Bigfoot, and Squatch doing Jax’s arm rip Fatality from Mortal Kombat 2. The best part is when the hunters throw a net over bigfoot. An actual net. In the next shot, Bigfoot is covered in a CGI net that wriggles like it’s made of weird, black, alien worms. Then, in the next shot, Bigfoot stands up and pulls the REAL net off of him. Don’t think about that one too hard. It hurts.

1:22:00: Best explosion in film history.

1:35:00: “Trust in Thee,” the song played over the credits, is AMAZING. Once again, I defy you to keep a straight face listening to it. Interestingly, it’s performed by Loretta Wascavage, who is either Dave’s Mom or Grandmother. I’m not sure. The best part? “Soundtrack available from Troubled Moon Films.” Wonder how many of those they sold.

That’s it folks. If you have the balls to go back and fill in the blanks, be my guest. As one final treat, here’s an interview with Dave Wascavage. Make sure you read it after watching as much as you dare of Suburban Sasquatch. You’ll wonder how he can be talking about the same flick. Also, while you can watch it online, Brain Damage Films has a copy for $9.99. Why would I buy a copy of a movie I can watch for free and already own on DVD? I have three words for you; making of featurette! I hope you enjoy laughing uproariously at Suburban Sasquatch as much as I do. Honestly, if Ed Wood were alive today, I think he would have said “Dave, bro, I don’t know if you should release this one.” Severed thumbs really aren’t adequate to rate this flick. Just leave a comment so I know you survived.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Son of Celluloid's second award.

I got another award! Pardon me while I do an idiotic victory dance and yell “WHO DA MAN” repeatedly. Ok, I’ve got that out of my system. The illustrious “Liebster Award” was given to me by Freddie Young, who writes a great blog called Full Moon Reviews. Go check it out. When giving me the award his comment was “Horror and Wrestling Fan - my type of dude.” As a wise man once said “I judge a man’s character by how many of my vices he shares.” I’m very honored by this award I’ve been given. Thank you Freddie.

Liebster means “dearest,” or “beloved” depending on what translation you go by. Awesome, I love it when people love my blog. Can’t you feel the love? I dig this one a lot because it’s specifically for new or underground bloggers with less than 200 followers. Us little guys gotta stick together. Anyone who knows me in real life just laughed at that statement. Shut up. I don’t have to share 7 facts about myself with this one. It’s a good thing too, there’s only so much interesting stuff about me that (a) I haven’t told everyone already and (b) wouldn’t incriminate me. What I am supposed to do upon receiving this award is to bestow it upon 5 blogs I deem deserving. Oh the power! Unfortunately this isn’t the kind of award I can use to procure ill gotten sexual favors, so I’ll have to do this on the up and up. So here, in no particular order, are five awesome blogs that you should be reading…

Chilling Scenes of Dreadful Villainy

A simple yet profound concept for a blog. It’s all about screenshots from great scenes from great horror movies. How could you not dig that?

Guts & Grog

I like this one because they have a unique voice and review a little of everything, not just the mainstream stuff. I’ve found a coulple on here that I haven’t seen reviewed anywhere else.

Words From The Master

Giovanni writes primarily about three things, horror movies, beautiful women, and porn. Talk about a guy who knows how to enjoy the finer things in life! Warning, this always entertaining blog is NSFW.

The Cathode Ray Mission

In addition to reviews and interviews, Professor O’Blivion offers many fun weekly features like Femme Fatale Friday, Hump Day Posters, and Sunday Smackdown.

Satanic Pandemonium

This blog shares my, in their words love of the weird, the gory and the perverse.” Good reviews and great taste in movies, with a special leaning to films dealing with ‘Ol Scratch.

Congratulations to the five of you, you all earned it with your killer blogs. Thank you again Freddie for the award. Now, let’s celebrate!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Son of Celluloid's first blog award!

Son of Celluloid first blogging award has been bestowed upon me by John Squires of Freddy in Space. Not only is this my first award, but it was given to me by one of the bloggers that got me interested in doing this. If you’ve never checked Freddy in Space out…what the hell is wrong with you? Do it, do it now! Thank you John, I am honored and gratefully accept this award. Looking at that pretty, colorful award, I have a sneaking suspicion that it was never intended to reach a site like this. I love the irony of a horror blog being dubbed “Irresistibly Sweet.” I am truly stoked.

The idea of this award is that you receive it from someone who digs what you’re doing in your little corner of the blogosphere. I still always feel pretentious when I use that word. Then, you thank them for the award, give seven random facts about yourself, and bestow the award upon blogs that you deem worthy. So here we go…

  1. In addition to being the Son of Celluloid, I’m also a son of a preacher-man. Yup, when I was a kid my family were traveling evangelists. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
  2. I am scared of snakes. Actually, I am terrified of snakes. For some reason, people always seem to think that’s hilarious. In fact, in my opinion the scariest scenes in film history aren’t even in horror movies. It’s the snake scenes in the Indiana Jones trilogy. I’ll watch Cannibal Holocaust, Serbian Film, Salo, August Underground, Martyrs, whatever without batting an eye. Snakes on a Plane? No way in hell!
  3. I can quote It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure all the way through. When I was 8 I taped (yes kids, taped, as in VHS) these two Halloween specials of of TV, so the commercials are part of quoting it too. It was my favorite tape to watch as a kid and now it's required viewing, multiple times, in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
  4. My other obsession is professional wrestling. It was my first obsession, actually. I've ended up being featured in crowd shots on the TV shows of all 4 major American promotions in the last 30 years, WWE, WCW, ECW, and TNA. There are only 6 wrestlers who can say that they were on all 4 companies shows (Shane Douglas, Raven, RVD, Sabu, Mick Foley, and Scott Steiner.)
  5. While I mainly listen to horrorpunk, psychobilly, and metal, I am a big oldies fan. I love 50’s and 60’s music. A nowhere near complete list of oldies bands I’ve seen live includes Chuck Berry, Wilson Pickett, Jerry Lee Lewis, Three Dog Night, The Beach Boys, The Animals, The Turtles, The Grass Roots, Tommy James, Johnny Rivers, Little Richard, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Percy Sledge, The Drifters, The Coasters, The Tams, Frankie Valli, Booker T and the MG’s, Junior Walker and the All Stars, Ben E King, and a whole lot of others.
  6. There is one song, and therefore one movie that features this song, that can make me cry. Not every time mind you. Probably about 85% of the time. Remember the scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan in the bus station where they all go their separate ways and sing that “Saying Goodbye” song? Go ahead and laugh, but that’s the most heart wrenching song ever recorded. In fact, it’s the song I want played as they carry my casket out of my funeral.
  7. If I ever win the lottery, one of the first things I’m going to do is buy a food manufacturing plant and make sugar free Little Debbie style snack cakes. I’m diabetic, and I can find a decent sugar free version of almost anything except that. I betcha I’d make a fortune. My kingdom for a Starcrunch.

There they are, seven random, and in some cases kinda embarrassing, facts about myself. Now to bestow the award on others. It doesn’t say how many though. John did 5, but I’m going to switch it up, make the award a little more exclusive, and narrow it down to one. That recipient is…

The Moon is a Dead World

This is a great blog. Ryne writes great reviews about horror flicks, books, music, comics, collectibles, and just about anything else you can think of. His Viewer Vomit series (which unfortunately for one reason or another I haven’t been able to participate in yet) invites you, the reader, to join in the reviewing fun. The blog’s recurring Horror Horizon feature breaks down each week’s releases and is an invaluable resource for staying abreast of what’s being released. Tons of good content and good writing going on over there, and for that I give you this award. Nathan says check it out.

So there you have it folks. I’d like to thank the academ…I mean John from Freddy in Space again for the award. Who knows, maybe I’ll get another one sometime soon and we can do this again. In fact…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a rarity in that it’s the first time since The Ring 2002 that I’ve gone to see a remake of a film I haven’t seen. Somehow the original 1973 TV movie that I’ve heard so much about and I haven’t crossed paths. Therefore, this will be the first, and probably last, time you will read a review of a remake on this blog where I have no frame of reference. From talking to people who have seen both, it seems that it’s fairly close in story and has some interesting nods to the original. All I knew about it going in was that Guillermo Del Toro had a hand in it. I hadn’t even seen the trailer, so the flick is all I have to go on. Therefore if you’re looking for how the flick stacks up against the original, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Sally’s mother has sent her to live with her father Alex and Kim, his girlfriend. They are staying in and restoring a beautiful old gothic mansion that once belonged to renowned painter Emerson Blackwood. Blackwood became obsessed with painting grotesque, evil fairies after the disappearance of his son. He then mysteriously disappeared. When Sally discovers a hidden basement in the house, she unwittingly opens a door for the house’s deep, dark secret, the creatures that live beneath it, to enter. Can she convince the adults that these tiny terrors aren’t just in her imagination before it’s too late?

This movie is all about old-fashioned horror, but in a more “dark fantasy” way. It almost has the feeling of a kid’s movie, but with the scares and intensity kicked up. It definitely has that twisted fairy tale feeling that permeates the vast majority of the films that Guillermo Del Toro is involved with. That’s partially due to the fact that the story is basically told from Sally’s point of view. Remember back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when Disney started making slightly darker live action flicks like Watcher in the Woods, Candleshoe, and Something Wicked This Way comes? That’s exactly what it reminded me of. It had the feel of one of those, just WAY meaner and without the happy ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but no, everyone does not live happily ever after. Think of it this way, remember when you were a kid and someone told you a scary story? Your imagination ran wild. Everything was lush, simple but detailed, and dreamlike, and you were scared shitless. This is like that childhood story that gave you nightmares, but designed to work for grown ups. The best part is…it succeeds.

Like Insidious earlier in the year, DBAOTD doesn’t rely on cheap camera tricks, music video editing, and constant jump scares for its fear. It’s a throwback to the days of horror based on atmosphere. Despite what mainstream, and therefore squeamish, reviewers might try to tell you, there is no gruesome violence in this movie. There is violence, some of it rather squirm-inducing, but it’s not graphic. I respect a movie that doesn’t need a lot of violence and gore to be intense. Woah, hold on. Don’t get me wrong, I love gore. LOVE IT! Everybody knows that I’m a gorehound. They won’t come and see me in this dive. (Anyone?) Atmospheric horror is great too, though. Some movies go with the gore because that’s the style of horror they want to do, and others gore it up because they can’t manage to create atmosphere or suspense. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark didn’t go there because it didn’t need to. This movie’s potent combination of children’s story feel, gothic horror tropes, monster movie thrills, and genuine suspense creates a unique atmosphere that’s honestly unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. Doing something different is a rarity in horror these days, and I love that this film went that way.

Del Toro may not have directed (he co-wrote and co-produced) this movie, but just like The Orphanage, which he also produced, his distinctive style is all over this flick, from the “tooth fairy” motif (Hellboy 2) to the child protagonist exploring an old, creepy house (Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labrynth). First time feature director Troy Nixey does a very good job behind the camera. Being a comic artist, he definitely has a knack for compelling visuals. He also shows a lot of skill when it comes to creating suspense. The scene in the trailer when Sally is looking under her sheets for one of the little creatures plays out perfectly in the film. They hold off the payoff scare for just long enough to let it ripen, but not so long that the effect is lessened. I’m a fan of Del Toro, and his style is always welcome, but his fingerprint on the film makes it a little hard to tell how much of the good stuff here is him and how much is Nixey. It will be interesting to see what Troy comes up with on his own. Consider me intrigued.

Guy Pearce is probably the least impressive of the three leads. It’s not that he’s bad, because he isn’t. His character is very one note though, and doesn’t really grow or change much, so he didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Katie Holmes does a good job, proving that she can pull out a good performance when the situation calls for it. Leah informed me that she was much better in this than she was on The Kennedys, which was the last thing she saw her in. On a side note, Katie used to be really hot. Now she looks like an x-ray with hair. I’ll be glad when anorexia goes out of style and we can get our buxom Hollywood hotties back. Anyway, the best of the three leads is 11 year old Bailee Madison. This girl can emote and be believable. Sure, all kid actors can turn on the waterworks, they learn to do that to manipulate mom and dad. She runs a full gambit of emotion here, some very subtle. Very impressive for a child actress. The other performance that stood out to me was Jack Thompson as Harris, the handyman who knows the secret of the house. Going back to the children’s movie thing, he’s the stock “gruff and scary adult who turns out to be just trying to look out for the kid” character.

There is only one thing that didn’t work for me in this movie. Ironically, it’s one of the things that worked well also. I’m speaking of the monsters. The voices sound great. It’s a collective ethereal whispering, and it’s pretty damn scary. That definitely worked for me. Visually, for the first half of the movie the monsters are only glimpsed in shadows. They are dark little shapes skittering around with only their glowing eyes or a quick flash of a hand visible. They are incredibly creepy and effective that way. If they had kept it at that, this movie might have been an instant classic. The problem is, they decided to show them. How many times do I have to say it? CGI characters aren’t scary because they don’t look real. A completely CGI character hasn’t been realistic enough not to take me out of the story since Jurassic Park. These little guys look like tiny Gollums. I expected them to start talking about “their precious” any minute. They should have left them barely glimpsed, because when they decide to give the critters some screen time, they just don’t cut it. I found myself wanting to be swept back into the well-told story, but I was too busy laughing at the inane CGI. It’s a shame too. If they had decided not to show them in detail, the creatures actually would have been one of the movie’s strengths. Had I seen the trailer, I would have known that. Since I hadn’t, it was the film’s only disappointment.

One thing about this movie I absolutely do not understand is why it was rated R. This is a PG-13 movie if I ever saw one. That’s not a knock on it at all. In fact, Del Toro says that he designed it for that rating. There is minimal gore, not really any language to speak of, but the MPAA said that their R rating was "not negotiable because of pervasive scariness." Pervasive scariness? Are you f**king kidding me? Whatever. Up yours MPAA. Buncha jackasses. Anyway, this “pervasive scariness” that in no way makes this an R movie is also what makes it a good movie. For the most part, it’s visually stunning and beautiful to look at, the acting is solid, the pacing is perfect, and the suspense is effective. It’s a solid combination of old school gothic horror, dark kid’s story, and creature feature. Bad CGI monsters and all, it’s still good enough to get two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Dead Hooker in a Trunk

Ok, before I review this movie, which is damn good by the way, I have to rant for a minute first. It’s a tried and true rule in horror cinema, and cinema in general, that if someone stumbles upon a profitable idea, it will be taken, copied endlessly, ridden hard and hung up wet, done to death, and run into the ground. Currently, mainstream, big budget studio horror is riding the tail end (hopefully) of the remake and 3D waves. In indy horror, neo-grindhouse and exploitation flicks are currently all the rage. At least two thirds of the trailers I’ve seen for low budget, independent “genre” films in the last year have featured either fake film aging or an old school “coming attractions” screen. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse may have been a box office disappointment, but it sure was influential. Actually, maybe a better word would be imitated. Fake age drives me nuts. I think it’s ridiculous to buy brand new t-shirts made to look like you’ve been wearing them for 20 years. You have to earn that vintage look. I feel the same way about the fake film aging. It’s just dumb. It was fine in Grindhouse, because it was unique. That hadn’t been done before. Now everyone and their mothers are making crappy slasher or “exploitation” flicks, artificially aging the digital footage, and calling it a “throwback.” It can occasionally work as a nod to the genre's heritage, but a little goes a long way folks! Lines, grain, lost reel gags, and that sort of gimmickry is not what draws us to these films. The best neo-grindhouse movie since, well, Grindhouse was Hobo with a Shotgun, and it had none of that. What makes this subgenre special is its spirit. The ideal that nothing is off limits, anyone with an idea can make a movie, and being as outrageous and potentially offensive as possible is the name of the game. It’s the manic energy, DIY aesthetic, and “up yours” to conventional standards of cinema that made these movies special in the 70’s and 80’s, and it’s what makes the good flicks of this new wave exciting. Which brings me to the flick at hand; Dead Hooker in a Trunk. Dead Hooker in a Trunk doesn’t employ the fake aging, but it is more spiritually akin to the exploitation movies it is inspired by than most I’ve seen.

Badass and Junkie, two friends, wake up after a wild night. Geek, Badasses sister, asks for a ride to pick up her friend Goody Two Shoes from his church youth group. It just so happens that they were on their way to score some drugs anyway, so they agree. When the four meet up, they make a discovery. I’ll give you one guess what it is. That’s right, there’s a dead hooker in the trunk of their car! You sure are smart. Anyway, what the hell are you supposed to do with a dead hooker in your trunk and no idea how she got there? Apparently you spend the rest of the flick careening through a madcap series of misadventures that seem like a “Pulp Fiction-esque” fever dream. All I’ll say is that it involves chainsaw dismemberment, drug dealers, a cowboy pimp, a serial killer, eyeball extraction, necrophilia, bestiality, power drill torture, tied up cops, and God driving a taxi.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is the brainchild of Jen & Sylvia Soska, identical twins who, in addition to playing Geek and Badass respectively, wrote and directed the flick. The passion they have for films like this and the fun everyone was having making it is evident. It definitely epitomized the DIY school of filmmaking. They have been tight lipped about what the actual budget was, but in an interview on the Altered Realities podcast they said that you couldn’t buy a used car for what they spent on the flick. For a film this low budget, it looks great. The action scenes and gore are amazingly well done, and it has a definite visual flair. Everyone puts in a good performance. The four central performers in particular have a great onscreen chemistry and, in a rarity for movies these days, actual character arcs. The story is very creative and unpredictable. It moves along at a breakneck pace that keeps you constantly anticipating just what kind of outrageousness and weirdness they are going to throw your way next. The final line of the film is both a perfect coda to the ride you’ve just been on and a laugh out loud inside joke for lovers of this type of flick. In other words, this movie is just a whole hell of a lot of fun.

One other thing that deserves particular mention is that title. How could you not want to see a movie called Dead Hooker in a Trunk? That was a brilliant move on the part of the Soska sisters. It’s memorable, intriguing, attention grabbing, and makes it stand out from the glut of direct to DVD indie horror product. Plus, I’m a big fan of the whole “naming your movie after what’s in it” trend. Dead Hooker in a Trunk, Hobo With a Shotgun, Ticked-off Trannies With Knives; you know exactly what you’re in for with those. I wish more mainstream flicks would follow suit. I would love to walk up to the box office window this fall and say “One adult ticket for ‘Fish, Blood, and Tits’ please” instead of Pirhana 3DD. I would also love to see a marquee advertising “Sparkly Pretty Boy Vampires” or “M. Night Shamalan Presents: Obvious Yet Nonsensical Plot Twist.”

Anyone who regularly reads the blog and has seen the movie already knows what my one quibble with it is; the almost non stop jumping, shaking, bobbing camera. In this case, however, I’m going to be a little more forgiving than usual. That’s because in this flick it actually seems more like a stylistic choice than a crutch. The Soskas do actually have a grasp of the concept of shot composition. In a lot of those shaky shots it seemed like the camera was moving within a larger frame that had been carefully constructed. While it’s not a stylistic choice I like, I can dig what they were trying to do to an extent. Despite the wildly unsteady shooting, the violence and action is still fully visible for ample time and allowed to play out naturally, so it doesn’t feel so much like a cheat. The action sequences were also well choreographed, something you rarely see in conjunction with third person shaky cam. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not letting them off the hook for using a filming method that’s become trite and ridiculously overused, but with DHIAT is seems like they wanted to use it because for some odd reason they dig it, rather than used it because they needed it to cover up deficiencies.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk is the kind of flick that deserves and somewhat requires repeated viewings. You almost have to experience it again to catch everything it sends flying at you. I personally had a blast watching it. Sure, the story doesn’t make strictly logical sense, but it isn’t supposed to. That’s part of the fun. The sound is a little rough in spots, but come on, you have to forgive that kind of nitpick when people deliver a movie this good for the pittance they had to work with. It’s far more enjoyable than movies I’ve seen lately with 1000 times the budget. The problem with horror right now is that every movie either takes itself way more seriously than it needs to or is just regurgitating a tired formula. This flick does neither. Not only do I recommend this flick highly, but I welcome the Soska sisters as exciting new artists on the horror scene. I will be greatly looking forward to American Mary, their next project, and everything after. One and a half severed thumbs up just because, despite what I said, I can’t in good conscience give a perfect score to a flick with that much shaky cam. Sorry ladies. Nathan vehemently says check it out!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mini Reviews: Teeth and Brutal Massacre: A Comedy

Teeth -

When I was in film school, one of the things that struck me as ridiculous was how much emphasis is put on Freudian imagery in films. It seems that most film academics think of every plot, character, scene, set, or action in terms of sex or gender roles. They like to ascribe a psychosexual meaning whether it’s really there or not. Well, here’s their dream film where those elements are front and center. I’m not sure why this was marketed like a horror flick though. This is a comedy, albeit with some gore here and there. Oh, and by the way, nine out of ten reviews I’ve read of this movie haven’t been able to resist the phrase “every man’s worst nightmare.” Clever the first hundred times guys. Jeez.

Dawn is a leader in the purity and abstinence movement at her church. She takes her virginity seriously. She may have very high standards, or it may just have something to do with the fact that she has vagina dentate. Basically, “her flaxen quim, the winking eye of God” (somebody’s gotta get that reference) has razor sharp teeth sure to put a damper on any potential coital activities. She meets a boy and feels that old familiar stirring in her loins. She takes that whole purity thing a lot more seriously than he does, however, and he tries to rape her. The toothy ‘tang has other ideas though. I think you see where this is going. For the rest of the flick we follow Dawn as she deals with the unique challenge of dealing with her awakening sexuality while possessing a chocha with chompers.

This is a pretty good flick. There are parts of it that are hilarious. It works great as a send up of the “true love waits” movement and a bizarre sex comedy. It features a couple of good performances, particularly by Jess Weixler as Dawn. She carries the film. This could have been a very one-dimensional character, but she brought out a lot of complexity and nuance. I was quite impressed, and I see very good things ahead for her.

The problem with this movie is that the joke wears thin about halfway through. By the time the biting box claims its fourth victim, it’s not funny, shocking, or even cringe inducing any more. With the funniness worn off, all we’re left with is heavy handed social commentary and feminist film theory. If the movie had something to underlie the thin premise, it would have been better. Maybe if it had gone in a more exploitative direction it would have had more substance. Perhaps if the obvious Cronenbergian tone of the central conceit had been explored, there would have been something left when the novelty of a poonani with pearly whites lost its flavor. Nevertheless, it is entertaining for the most part, features a wonderful central performance, has a couple of laugh out loud moments, and I loved the ending. Those severed penises are gnarley looking too. When that first castration scene comes on, look around the room and see how many of the guys cross their legs. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out.

Brutal Massacre: A Comedy -

The cover of the DVD features a quote from calling Brutal Massacre “This is Spinal Tap for horror.” That’s quite an accolade. After watching this flick, I can say that it is a very fitting comparison. Brutal Massacre is freakin’ hilarious, it certainly has the feel of a Christopher Guest movie, and it is just as rewatchable. It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a while.

The mockumentary follows has-been horror auteur Harry Penderecki (David Naughton), the creative force behind such classics as Sasquatch at the Mall and I’ll Take the Ring Back…and the Finger Too, as he makes what he believes will be both his masterpiece and his comeback, Brutal Massacre. Penderecki is convinced that an evil spirit is following him and bringing misfortune down upon his film. As a documentary crew records the shoot, it would be hard to refute his theory. Whatever can go wrong does, and the mishaps get more outrageous and ridiculous the closer the film comes to wrapping. Will this doomed flick ever see the light of day?

This movie is downright hysterical. I really hesitate to call it a horror comedy, because there really aren’t any horrific elements per se. Well, there are horrific elements, but they're not dealt with in a horrific way. You know what I'm saying. It’s more like a comedy about making a horror film. You can tell that writer/director Stevan Mena is a fan as well as a filmmaker. The conventions of the genre, and genre filmmaking in particular, are so skillfully skewered that a true knowledge of the subject matter is definitely evident.

Horror fans will recognize a who’s who of familiar faces, including Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond, etc.), David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London), Gunnar Hanson (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and the lovely ladies of Evil Dead, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, and Theresa Tilly. Even Mick Garris drops in for a cameo. Comedy veterans Brian O’Halloran (Clerks) and Gerry Bednob (40 Year Old Virgin) add to this amazing cast. Really, look at that list, that’s one hell of a cast! Everyone is on point too. With the exception of an absurdly over the top (and really funny) performance by Hanson, everyone plays it completely straight. If there had been any “wink wink” at the camera, this wouldn’t have worked nearly as good.

Honestly, and this doesn’t happen often, I don’t have anything bad to say about this movie. If it has one downfall, it’s that non-horror fans might not get some of the jokes. Enough of it works on a broader comedy level, though, that it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to say anything else about the flick because I don’t want to give anything away. It’s something you have to see for yourself. If you love horror movies, if you’ve ever been involved in making any kind of movie, or if you just like “comedy of errors” type movies, this one is for you. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Bloodrayne: The Third Reich

Yes, I did know what I was getting into when I decided to watch this flick. I had to answer a very important question though: Can even Uwe Boll suck bad enough to make me lose interest in a movie about a cleavage baring babe with swords fighting vampire Nazis? Plus, I knew that I was attending a screening of Lucio Fulci’s classic City of the Living Dead last night, and that would wash the rotten taste out of my brain. The answer to that question, surprisingly, is no. Don’t get me wrong, he tried hard. This movie sucks in nearly every way it is possible to suck. It reaches such ludicrous levels of sucktitude, however, that it is entertaining despite itself. It seems as though after making a career out of unintentionally making unwatchable movies, Boll tried to make this one unwatchable, and still failed. If you are the kind of movie watcher that loves to throw in the worst of the worst and play Mystery Science Theater 3000 with your friends, oh man, have I got a flick for you!

I guess I should start with the plot. By the way, I couldn’t even TYPE the word plot with a straight face. We begin with a six minute long credit sequence with a few shots of Jews being transported by train to concentration camps. It might actually be the most effective scene of the film, but six minutes? This isn’t Bloodrayne’s List. Oh, by the way, did I mention that the movie is only 76 minutes long? Six of those are this opening sequence. Not only that, but the damn closing credits are 7 minutes long. I’m not kidding. Without the credits, this freakin’ movie is only 63 minutes long, and it still drags! Wait, I was talking about the (snicker) plot wasn’t I? So Rayne, the “dhampir” (half human half vampire), is killing Nazis when she decides to drink one of them. Oops, he turns into a dhampir too. A mad Nazi doctor decides that they must track down the dhampir that bit him so they can use her to make Hitler immortal. Rayne, in the meantime, has hooked up with a group of resistance fighters. After an incident in a brothel, Rayne and Nathaniel, the leader of the resistance, are captured. The resistance fighters rescue them. That’s about it.

There is no way I could really write a coherent review of this nonsense, so from here, it’s probably going to read more like a random collection of my thoughts on the flick. Shall we start with Rayne herself? She is played in this installment of the series by Natassia Malthe. Natassia, it’s a good thing you’re so hot, because you can’t act at all. Not as hot as Kristanna Loken in the first one though. Actually, she’s one of those women who are more attractive scantily clad than disrobed. Maybe it’s that all blood diet, but I haven’t seen a jutting ribcage like that since those “for pennies a day we can end the suffering” commercials. Eat something! Anyway, she delivers her lines with all the emotion of Ben Stein and all the believable acting skill of a bored porn star. Her “epic cleavage” outfit, although alluring, would never pass in the streets of WWII era Germany. Also, what the hell is with that stupid leather hat thing she wears for half of the movie? Who thought that looked cool?

The dialog in this movie is amazingly bad. I think my favorite moment is when Dr. Mangler says the line “The times, they are-a-changing” in a definite Dylan-esque cadence. Pardon me, but did the good doctor just quote a song that wouldn’t come out until decades after the movie is set? Yes, yes he did. Attention to detail folks. Rayne’s voiceover monologues are impressive in their cheesiness. When Rayne tells Nathaniel that he’ll have to kill vampires now, he gives the classic line “Good. I was getting tired of just killing Nazis. The undead will spice things up.” I’m not going into what all is wrong with that line. Just to give you one final indication of the intelligence of the writing, the movie ends on the line “Guten Tag Motherf**ker.” Sheer brilliance.

The action sequences are an absolute riot. Some of these Nazis have the worst death scenes ever. They get shot and just kind of slump to the ground like they fell asleep. The fight choreography is horrible. Uwe Boll’s action sequences always look like they were filmed by a coked up chimp, but it’s particularly bad here. There is one point where, during a fight scene, the camera just swings down and points at the ground for four seconds for no apparent reason. What the hell was that? We all know that I abhor CGI blood, but I will give it credit here, some of it looks pretty realistic. In fact, I’m not 100% sure some of that wasn’t actual practical blood spray. The problem is, that real looking blood isn’t coming from anywhere close to the right spot. Rayne will slice a Nazi, and blood will explode from three feet to the side of the victim. The blood isn’t even coming from the bodies! It’s just materializing out of thin air! Someone wanna explain the physics of that to me? Please?

With the exception of Brendan Fletcher (Freddy vs. Jason, the Ginger Snaps sequels), who to be fair always at least gives it a good shot, and Clint Howard, who I’ll get to later, everyone’s acting is sub “Syfy original” level. For one thing, why does NO ONE have a believable German accent. Half of them don’t have an accent at all. You would think Uwe Boll, who is German, could get some of these folks to sound remotely German. It seems like the majority of the cast signed on and then, when they found out who was directing, realized that it didn’t matter if they half assed their performance or not.

In the end, the final fight is the definition of anticlimactic. As Rayne and Nathaniel are putting their clothes back on (don’t worry, I’ll explain), a handful of their friends saves them and annihilates a well armed Nazi convoy in two minutes flat. Worst Nazis ever. These guys couldn’t dominate a game of capture the flag, much less take over half of the world. The vampire commandant, who is the main villain of the film, drinks more dhampire blood and becomes, as he put it, “power incarnate.” He even has the crappy echo chamber voice to prove it. Then, Rayne beats the film’s number one threat by squashing his head with a rock after a titanic battle that lasted…wait for it…26 SECONDS! Now that’s how you off your bad ass villain!

I could go on and on forever about the ridiculousness on hand here. I haven’t even gone into the psychedelic vampire Hitler attack dream sequence or the commandant drinking blood from Rayne’s armpit. I’m going to switch gears here, however, and tell you the two things that really make the flick worth sitting through. The first is the gratuitous sex scenes. I’m all for gratuitous sex, and the flimsier the excuse for throwing it in, the better. I love the balls on these screenwriters, as I’m sure they argue that they’re integral to the plot. The first is a lesbian scene. Rayne is getting a massage in a brothel when she hears a German soldier roughing up one of the whores. She saves her, and another one of the whores sexes her up to say “Thank you.” Makes perfect sense to me. The second one, however, deserves a spot in the “Awkward and ridiculous time for a sex scene” hall of fame. Rayne and Nathaniel have been captured. They are being taken in a truck to Berlin to be tortured and killed. Rayne is unconscious, and neither of them is bound in any way. No handcuffs, no ropes, no nothing. She wakes up, grabs him by the throat, and their eyes lock. My first thought was “There’s no way they’re about to do what I think they’re about to do.” Sure enough, within 10 seconds, out of nowhere, they’re getting’ it on. They’re not trying to escape, they’re not formulating a plan, hell, Rayne doesn’t even know where she is or how she got there. They’re banging in the back, and the guys driving apparently don’t notice. The best part is that they’re getting naked in the half open back of a truck driving through snowy terrain. Seems like one of those “take off just enough to do the deed” situations. Nope, up against the cold steel. Kinky. The inopportune timing and idiotic placement of this scene had me literally laughing until I cried. That’s a lot better than the reasons I usually feel like crying during Uwe Boll movies.

The other thing that makes this worth watching is a must see performance from Clint Howard. Clint is playing Doctor Mangler, a thinly veiled play on words (Dr. Mengele), but it’s more than that. It’s a performance within a performance. Clint Howard is playing Peter Lorre playing Dr. Mangler. It is truly a sight to behold. I truly can’t put this scenery chewing, bizarre, hilarious performance into words, and as much as I hesitate to tell you to see this movie, it absolutely must be witnessed. Remember the Loony Tunes character that was basically a caricature of Lorre? That’s exactly what this reminds me of. That character, brought to life by a true B movie icon and spewing Z movie lines, is mesmerizing.

I was expecting crap, and I sure as hell got crap. I just wasn’t expecting to enjoy it. Bloodrayne was an agreeable enough slice of shlock with a good cast. It was one of those Saturday afternoon, catch it on TV, why not type of flicks. I’m not sure what they were going to do to Rayne and Nathaniel once they got to their death camp, but it couldn’t have been much worse than watching Bloodrayne: Deliverance. Bloodrayne: The Third Reich is a lot like cheap pot; it made me laugh like a fool and I’m pretty sure it killed a whole bunch of brain cells. At least it’s short. Cheese, cleavage, and Clint Howard earn this one half of a severed thumb up. I couldn’t in good conscience give it more than that. If you insist on your movies being good, or even average, hell, even decent, turn around and run as far as you can away from Bloodrayne: Third Reich. If you need a good hearty laugh at Uwe Boll’s expense, Nathan says check it out. So far, it’s the best comedy of the year.

Right back at ‘ya Uwe, right back at ‘ya!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: The Orphan Killer

If you have the twin addictions of horror and facebook, of which I am guilty on both charges, then you’ve most likely seen an indie flick called The Orphan Killer making its presence known. Filmmaker Matt Farnsworth and crew have set up a public figure profile for Marcus Miller, his slasher character, and boy is he active. With so much social networking going on, it’s a wonder that he has time to kill anybody. They’ve been making some pretty audacious statements about the movie, hailing it as a “tour de force,” touting tweets calling it the best slasher picture of all time, and dubbing Marcus the “newest horror icon.” Does the flick live up to that kind of hype? I wouldn’t say that, but it is quite the enjoyable ride and one of the best slasher flicks I’ve seen in a while.
Marcus and his sister Audrey witness their parents’ murder during a robbery when they are very young. Marcus vows revenge, dons a mask, and becomes Batma... wait... nevermind. That was someone else. Marcus does indeed don a mask, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The two are sent to an orphanage. His parents’ murder obviously affected Marcus in ways it didn’t affect Audrey, as is obvious when he snaps one night and beats a boy to death with a baseball bat. After this the Nuns who run the orphanage beat and abuse the boy, keeping him in isolation and forcing him to wear a mask to signify that he is a “monster.” Audrey ends up getting adopted, leaving Marcus behind. Now Audrey, all grown up, is a teacher at the church/school/orphanage, and Marcus decides that it’s time to make her suffer for abandoning him all those years ago.
The film is really two types of horror in one. The first half is an old school “stalk and slash” flick. After Marcus peruses Audrey and kills anyone who stands in his way for the first half, the film makes an abrupt tonal shift. Once Audrey is captured and drug off to Marcus’ lair, it becomes a torture/survival flick. Those who still insist on throwing around the trite, meaningless throwaway phrase “torture porn” will probably decry it as such. I thought both halves were well done and well paced. There is a significant shift in Marcus’ character also, which is a little less seamless than the shift in story style. After spending the first half of the film grunting, growling, knocking over furniture, and generally being maniacal, all of a sudden with Audrey in his clutches he becomes eloquent, measured, and calculating. The change is out of nowhere, but it isn’t so jarring that it negatively affects the movie.
This flick has a lot of things going for it. It’s obviously low budget, but manages not to look low budget. The production values are very high, and the film looks very good. It has a great, unique, gritty look to it, but it definitely does not look cheap. I asked Matt Farnsworth what the actual budget was on facebook, but he hasn’t responded as of the time of this review. I really dig the mask itself. It’s blank but not featureless. It gives the killer a little personality. I personally love the use of religious motifs and iconography throughout the proceedings. One of the main things that sets this movie ahead of the pack is that the acting is head and shoulders above the usual indie horror fare. In fact, aside from a couple of performances that aren’t really bad, just kind of wooden (you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em) the acting is really quite good. The standout is definitely Diane Foster as Audrey. She makes a great victim and an even better “final girl.” There are many scenes in which she really shows her chops, but one in particular stood out to me. When Marcus has her tied up, he disappears out of the frame for about a minute. The shot is a close up on Foster’s face. We don’t see, nor do we even know, what Marcus is doing to her, but the agony in her expression and her performance in that one scene tells us everything we need to know. It is a moment of brilliance, and big kudos go out to her. Plus, this chick has one hell of a scream. David Backus is good as Marcus. Playing a masked killer is hard, because the physicality of the character has to be expressive enough to make up for the lack of facial expressions. It’s easy to buy Backus as not a typical stoic undead killing machine style slasher (Myers, Voorhees), but a relentless psychotic human slasher. The supporting cast, as I said, does a good job as well.
This is first and foremost a slasher flick though, and I am well aware that these movies aren’t generally judged on the quality of their acting. Horror fans come into movies like this looking for one thing in particular, the red stuff. Let me assure you folks, the violence in this movie is meaty indeed. We have a machete through the face, various stabbings, limbs hacked off, and all kinds of other gory goodness. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Marcus uses barbed wire as one of his weapons of choice. Barbed wire has a huge variety of creative potential deadly uses, and I’ve always felt that it was grossly underutilized as a slaughter tool in horror cinema. In fact, in a few months you’ll be hearing me talk a lot about barbed wire weapons. That’s all I’ll say about that for now. Anyway, gore hounds will find a lot to love about The Orphan Killer. Unfortunately, talking about the gore also brings me to one major issue I had with the flick.
Whenever the time comes for some on screen bloodletting, the shooting style changes abruptly. During the kill sequences, we get my pet peeve modern horror cliché, a bouncy camera and frenetic editing. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record, but I will continue to scream it from the hilltops until directors and cinematographers realize that shaking cameras and frantic split second editing do not add drama. Atmosphere, acting, plot, score, and interesting shots can. Relying on those overused, cheap techniques is just lazy filmmaking. It’s a damn shame that the makers of this film did that for two reasons. First, in the scenes where this abhorrent shooting method isn’t used, they show a great knack for the kind of fluid, dynamic, visually interesting camera movement that I think is quickly becoming a lost art. These scenes show a lot of style in the camera work, and I really wish the whole film had been done that way. There are a lot of really great shots on display here, and while they are refreshing, they make the “28 Days Later” style crap stand out that much more. I won’t even get into the “strobe light “fight scene, but it’s the epitome of what I’m talking about. The other reason people sometimes use that style is to hide weaknesses in the special effects department. That was absolutely not necessary in this flick. The gore is very well done, and could have definitely stood up to more prolonged views of the carnage. The film would have benefited from it. There were quite a few instances where I was annoyed that a really well executed gory set-piece was onscreen, but the ultra short, shaky shots wouldn’t let me get a good look at it. The fact that the film obviously didn’t have to resort to cheap tricks makes it similar to getting in a fight with someone who you know is about to beat the hell out of you, and they kick you in the nuts. Why? They’re strong enough to get the job done the right way, so why would they resort to taking shortcuts? I feel much the same way about this flick in regards to the shaky cam and hyper-kinetic cutting of the violent scenes.
My only other issues come from the story itself. First, I wanted more backstory. There is a huge gap there. The last time we see Marcus in flashback, he is (I would guess) a teenager, mask on, being sedated after killing an orderly. Then, all of a sudden, some girls are oh-so-conveniently finding his mask laying around in “the old part of the building” and he’s a full grown adult running free. What happened in the ensuing time? Was he moved when he grew up? What happened in the “killing spree” that’s alluded to? How did he lose his mask? How did he escape? Where the hell did he escape from? He tells Audrey that “Jesus showed me a way out of my room last night.” Talk about your vague explanations! It would have been nice, especially considering how well his early backstory was handled, to fill in these gaps and make the character make a little more sense. Either leave him mysterious with no back story, or tell us everything. The gap there is a little much to ask the audience to jump. Maybe they were thinking that they’d save the rest of his history for the sequel, which they left the ending wide open for.
My other two story issues stem from the final scene. Up to this point Marcus has been very meticulous and competent, but in this scene he does something that is mind-blowingly stupid with his weapon that almost leads to his demise. His slashing resume looks great, but if I were hiring psycho killers, this one bonehead move might have cost him the job. Also, the thing that finally does take him down is telegraphed badly. You can see it coming a mile away and almost pinpoint the second that it’s going to happen.
Random Thought #1: Does anyone in a horror movie ever take any reading material to the bathroom with them besides a porn mag? Is that a horror movie thing, or am I the only one that doesn’t look at porn while taking a dump?
Random Thought #2: Smacking someone in the face repeatedly with a monkey wrench just might be my favorite way of waking up an unconscious person that I’ve ever seen.
Random Thought #3: Any movie that includes a Nun giving head is cool in my book.
Overall, The Orphan Killer is a truly enjoyable indie slasher flick and there is enough awesome offered up to more than counteract the flaws. In this day of either mindless underground gorefests or sanitized teenybopper horror, too often you have to decide if you want to watch a movie with quality filmmaking or one with balls. With this flick, you don’t have to choose. As writer and director,  Farnsworth shows some flashes of real talent here, and since this is his first horror flick, I’ll be watching his evolution as a filmmaker with great interest. The only thing that really mars this film I hope will come in time, when Farnsworth realizes that his film is good enough that he doesn’t have to resort to the cheap, unimaginative bobble head shooting and rapid fire editing that The Orphan Killer unfortunately does. It may not be the landmark film it purports to be, but it is a fun flick and well worth watching. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.
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