Monday, January 30, 2012

EC3 Takes On Subconscious Cruelty

Warning! The EC3 posts are not the usual semi-family friendly Son of Celluloid fare. Due to the nature of the films presented and the fact that the three members of EC3 curse like sailors, the language and subject matter may be offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

Subconscious Cruelty is one of those movies that wants you to ponder what it’s about. It is the spiritual kin of other esoteric, obtuse flicks like Begotten, Holy Mountain, Visions of Suffering, Eraserhead, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Wall, Tetsuo, all of Kenneth Anger’s films, etc. It kinda made me feel like I was in film school again. Since a major part of experiencing a flick like this is interpreting what it means, I’m not going to go there in this review. You’ll have to do that for yourself. Daniel, Joe, and I did spend about an hour after the flick in a deep, philosophical, scholarly discussion about the symbolism and meaning writer/director Karim Hussain was trying to convey with Subconscious Cruelty. This conversation, which contained some very profound moments, was capped off by all 3 of us laughing like Beavis about the word “taint.” That’s just how EC3 rolls.
A word of warning before I start, there WILL be spoilers in this review. Honestly, I don’t think that matters a whole hell of a lot with a flick like that. Subconscious Cruelty has no linear narrative. The first segment does to an extent, but the series of four vignettes is definitely more about the symbolism presented and the emotions and mood it can create in the viewer than actually telling a story. Trust me on this one, my words can’t describe what’s shown. Knowing what is coming would not diminish the effectiveness of the film at all. If you really don’t want the spoilers however, skip the next paragraph.
Up first is Ovarian Eyeball, in which someone cuts a woman’s abdomen open and removes…an eyeball. Yes, an eyeball. I didn’t see that one coming. This is accompanied by a monolog (actually there is no dialog at all in this flick) about killing our left brain, the literal side. Section two is The Human Larvae. A man lives with his whore of a sister, with whom he shares a (possibly incestuous) love/hate relationship. He watches her with other men as he delivers a vaguely Poe-esque “descent into madness” first person voice over. When she becomes pregnant, he takes on the role of midwife, all the time pontificating about and plotting the ultimate desecration of life. When the child is born, he carries out his plan. Rebirth is next, and it’s basically a bunch of naked people rolling around and getting it on with the earth, literally. A man fucks a bloody hole in the ground. A woman gives head to a tree branch, giving new meaning to the euphemism “twig ‘n berries,” bites it in half, and it starts bleeding. Then a woman holds a butcher knife as if it was a penis and a man proceeds to give it a blowjob. Finally we get Right Brain/Martyrdom. A man sits in a coffee shop watching couples. He then goes home, pops in some porn, and angrily does the ol’ five knuckle shuffle. He is apparently deeply religious and disgusted with what he’s just done. In his dreams that night a man “from the right” comes to him, melts his cross necklace, and shoots it into his brain with a hypodermic needle. Joe and Daniel pointed out the “Opiate of the masses” visual pun at the exact same moment. Anyway, Mr. Right (get it?) pontificates while an unseen person skins Mr. Religious’s wang like a banana while jerking him off. Then Jesus is cannibalized, peed on, and anally raped with a tree branch by three naked demon sluts. I’ll pause while you read those last two sentences again. Finally, we have a moment of serenity in the form of a naked man lying in a waterfall.
SC sits firmly in the arthouse horror category. The difference between this flick and a lot of arthouse horror fare is that this one was actually good. Looking back on it, you realize that the movie could be looked at as quite pretentious, but that’s only in hindsight. Joe, Daniel, and I are all very quick to point out ostentatious bullshit. While we were actually watching the film, none of the three of us ever mentioned anything of the sort. The powerful imagery and intense atmosphere do a great job of making the potentially overblown thematic material palatable. You’ll notice that there is no wittily insulting exchange in this EC3 review like there was for the Vomit Gore trilogy. That’s how you know it was great.
The dreamlike visual style is unique and effective. The lighting is a big component. Each of the three main segments has its own style. In Human Larvae, the action is mainly lit with warm amber hues, with the backgrounds being very dark. This serves to both focus the viewers attention, enhance the hallucinatory qualities, and hide a lack of elaborate sets. Since the movie was made for approximately $100,000, that was a very smart move on the part of the filmmakers. By contrast, the “dirty hippies” getting it on with nature were lit very brightly. It has the same disorienting effect as sitting in a dark room for a while and then walking outside into very bright sunlight. The last segment has the same black backgrounds as the first, but veers into Argento-esque territory with its colored lighting.
The other thing that really impressed us was the gore. These are some of the most effective low budget practical effects I’ve seen in a while. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was in the Ovarian Eyeball scene when the woman’s abdomen was being cut open. You could still see it rising and falling with her breath. I’m pretty sure it was a complete prosthetic, as the cut was a little deep to be a smaller piece placed over the actresses body. If I’m right, then they used a simple bladder effect. If I’m wrong, then the makeup appliance was a masterpiece. Either way, that small detail made the shot immensely more believable, and I was duly impressed. They didn’t even do that in Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood, which is my standard for up close bodily mutilation. The final segment featured some great cannibalism, and some of the…um...penile trauma even made EC3 cringe. That’s not easy to do. The baby in the Human Larvae looked excellent also. If you are going to be doing unpleasant things to a baby in a movie, it has to look real or it’s just going to be hokey. It’s the difference between the idiotic baby scene in Slow Torture Puke Chamber and the positively horrific one in Serbian Film. This one looked very good, and the scene is much more gruesome for it.
Random Thought #1: For the love of Hitchcock, can EC3 get through one damn movie without watching someone getting pissed on?
Random Thought #2: Joe and I have decided that we should start a death metal band and call it Fishhook Handjob.
Random Thought #3: SPOILER ALERT: Daniel was actually disappointed in the fact that after all of that build up, all he did was kill the baby with a knife. He was expecting something more elaborate and subversive. In fact, we all kinda were. THAT is a good indication that you are ridiculously jaded when it comes to movies. Then again, I guess once you’ve seen the infamous “newborn porn” scene in Serbian Film, there’s no turning back.
The general consensus is that Subconscious Cruelty is by far the best flick EC3 has reviewed so far. It’s very high on the sex and violence scale, but it’s not at all an exploitation flick. I’ve rarely seen “artsy” horror go to these extremes, and it works here. It assaults you with bizarre imagery and challenges you to make sense of it all. Some of the symbolism is a bit hamfisted at times, especially in the anti-religion department, yet it never becomes overly grandiloquent. Ha! I finally got to use that word in a review. Anyway, Subconscious Cruelty will give you your depravity fix while actually giving you something to think about and maybe even prompting some meaningful discussion. It is a rough ride in parts, but is extremely well made, so feel free to spring this one on your film snob buddies. The looks will be priceless. All three of us highly recommend checking this one out. So, once again, on behalf of Joe and Daniel, this is Nathan inviting you to join us next time as EC3 continues to explore the fringes of horror cinema and answer the burning question ”what kind of sick freaks watch this stuff?” EC3, that’s who!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

HAVOC #3: From a Whisper to a Stream

Welcome Cellmates. I know it's been a while since I did one of these HAVOC posts, so I'll give you the rundown again for the benefit of those who are new around here. HAVOC is the world's worst acronym. It stands for Horror AVailable for free On your Computer. When I find good stuff that you can watch for nothing, I share it with you. For this third installment, I've got something really good. You may or may not be aware of this, but I am a huge fan of Joe Bob Briggs. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? If you read this blog then you're painfully aware of my love for the world's greatest drive-in critic. I consider him my horror mentor. After his stint hosting movies on The Movie Channel. he went on to take over Monstervision on TNT. It was only the greatest TV show of all time. Joe Bob would show movies ranging from classic to craptastic, giving each the benefit of his wit and wisdom. I personally think his "Drive In Totals" should appear on the back cover of EVERY horror DVD. I'm gonna stop gushing about Monstervision now, mainly because I've already done that HERE. Go read it.
What I have here are four movies as they appeared on Monstervision. This means that the gore and nudity are cut out, but the presence of Joe Bob at the beginning, end, and wherever the commercials were more than makes up for that. I also like the fact that these are all one link flicks. Nothing drives me crazier than movies that are cut into parts. Sure, you can watch it on youtube, but you'll have to wait while 73 different files buffer. Screw that. I promise never to do that to you fine folks. All of these are in one piece. I would tell you the original air dates, but that's damn near impossible. I can't find a definitive list anywhere online. Plus, sometimes they reused movies, so it gets a little confusing.
Anyway, I do know when this first one aired. It was Halloween night, 1998. I was 18, and they were doing a Friday the 13th marathon from dusk 'til dawn. There was a running joke throughout the marathon that strange things were going on in the studio. People were disappearing. It was eventually revealed that Ted Turner himself was bumping off the crew members, working his way to Joe Bob. This was the last flick in that marathon, and it's what I watched as I passed out after a long night of debauchery. Good Times...

I'm not entirely sure when these next three were, but it was during the first few years since they still had the trailer set. Ghoulies 1 and 2 were shown together, so this represents an entire episode of Monstervision...

The Howling 3 was, I have no idea. Who cares, it's Monstervision...

There you go ladies, gentlemen, and whatever else may be lurking around. For those who never got to see the show during its run, you're welcome. Now you know why it's the greatest show of all time. For those who grew up on it like I did, I hope you enjoyed this little trip down a dark, deserted, spooky memory lane. Nathan says hurry up and check these out before someone decides to go all SOPA on us and take them down.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Hack Job

In my early 20’s, I spent a lot of time, probably an unhealthy amount truth be told, in a place I like to call The Video Fringe. I got that term from a book called Video Trash & Treasures by L.A. Morse. That book changed my life. Anyway, The Video Fringe is a place on the far reaches of the cinematic world where Hollywood, and even respectable indie flicks, fear to tread. It’s where the cheap, obscure, home-made, self distributed, idiotic, bizarre, off beat, off the wall, deviant, eccentric and unnaturally entertaining flicks live. During my first three years of college, I worked at a chain video store, but I lived within driving distance of three independent stores. These were the kind of places that were far more concerned with their shelves being full than what they were full of, so they stocked anything and everything. Films that will never see a DVD release, films that were sold to the store by the filmmakers themselves, movies as far removed as possible from the mainstream, and films that blew my mind all resided in those dusty aisles. I would leave these stores, sometimes with 5 videos, sometimes with 10, sit in my dorm room, bong in hand, and slum it in The Video Fringe. I was like a drug addict shooting and snorting everything he can find in search of a new high. I was like a sex addict trolling progressively sleazier clubs in search of dirtier and more depraved action. These movies were terrible more often than not, but this was true independent cinema, and I loved it. Every time a movie made no sense, had bad effects and lighting, made me laugh at its stupidity, or was just plain freakin’ weird, I was a happy man. While I don’t know the guy, I would be willing to bet that James Balsamo, writer and director of Hack Job, has spent quite a bit of time slogging through The Video Fringe also. How do I know? I know because only another fringe flick junkie could make a flick that emulates that style so perfectly.

In Hack Job, Beelzebub himself gives a script to two wannabe film directors named James Argento and Mike Fulci (get it?). It contains a trilogy of stories. In the first, Nazi archeologists disturb a mummy’s tomb, awakening an ancient curse. In the second, an alien invades a small town, leading to a showdown at the Battle of the Bands. In the final story a man is…um…I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in the last part, but it has something to do with a guy who has blackouts going on a mission to kill a drug dealing televangelist. To tell you the truth, the synopsis really isn’t important. There is a framing device about the boys trying to get the film made, but the move is more like a series of skits with the 3 main stories being the longest. In addition to the stories and framing scenes, we get concert footage, fake commercials, real commercials, a cop show spoof starring Toxie and Kabukiman, a random shower scene, sock puppets, psychedelic interludes, and all kinds of other randomness. It reminded me a bit of movies like Amazon Women on the Moon or Kentucky Fried Movie that may have a loose narrative, but are really a series of barely related comedy vignettes.

Simply stated, this flick is a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve seen other reviews go on and on about how bad the movie is. They apparently missed the point. Of course it’s bad. It’s supposed to be. Traditional “quality filmmaking” isn’t the point here! It’s called Hack Job. Hello? The whole film is basically a love letter to Troma. Need proof? Lloyd Kaufman plays himself and Troma stalwart Debbie Rochon has a cameo. Need further proof? Appropriately, the scene with Kaufman, which takes place in the Troma offices by the way, quickly devolves into a long shit joke. See, the dude knows his Troma. In addition to Uncle Lloyd and the always beautiful Miss Rochon, Dave Brockie and Lynn Lowry add to the impressive cameo list. When Oderus Urungus from GWAR shows up to fight off a giant alien, you know things are about to get both awesome and ridiculous. If you’ve ever seen GWAR live, you’ll understand the ironic humor of the role reversal at the end of the scene.

Hack Job has everything you could ask for in a low budget cheese and sleaze fest B movie. The acting achieves the cornball quality that it aspires to. The humor ranges from the truly funny to the downright silly. The gore effects are all practical, and they’re all done pretty well. Some of the deaths are pretty creative. I mean, have you ever seen vertebrae torn out through an eye socket? Didn’t think so. We are also treated to lots of gratuitous nudity. The proceedings never go on for very long without showing us some boobs, which is always a good thing. So we have juvenile humor, blood, tits, monsters, a wacky all-over-the place story, and cameos from B movie icons. In other words, Hack Job is a movie that truly knows its audience.

The other aspect of this flick that I loved was the music. What a soundtrack! The Bloodsucking Zombies From Outer Space, one of my personal favorite bands, contributes an original theme song. That in and of itself is enough to win my horror punk heart. In addition, The Creepshow (another personal favorite), Calabrese, The Brains, The Koffin Kats, Psychocharger, and plenty of others contribute songs. I’m used to being the only person who has heard of some of these bands, so hearing them in a movie was cool. This is probably the best horror movie soundtrack (not score, soundtrack) since Demon Knight.

I do have two issues with this flick. The first is the unevenness of the audio mix. There are times when you can barely hear what’s being said, then it will return to normal just about the time you crank the volume. It appears that a few different camera types were used throughout the film, so that might have something to do with it, but a little more tweaking of the audio levels would have been nice. Considering that the flick was made very cheaply (60 grand according to imdb), I can forgive some technical issues.

My other issue, however, is unforgivable. I cannot turn a blind eye to it, no matter how much I liked the movie. As many of you know, I am a bit of a Grammar Nazi. True, I don’t always use the best grammar on the blog, but that’s because I want the blog to read the way I speak. The misuse of homophones, however, is my favorite pet peeve. You know, like the difference between their/there/and they’re. That kind of stuff. During the credits, there is a “follow the bouncing skull” sing along. The line “If your a gore geek, then you should take a peek” scrolls across the screen. Yes, it’s spelled YOUR in the movie. YOU’RE is the correct word. They used the wrong f’n you’re in a finished, commercially available movie! My head nearly exploded. For the love of all things unholy, get someone to proofread your text before you put the movie out! We all learned the difference between your and you’re in second damn grade! Why do people do this to me? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! Ok, breathe Nathan, breathe…ok, I’m cool now.

RANDOM THOUGHT: Hack Job drinking game: drink every time an actor or actress momentarily can’t maintain a straight face and looks like they’re about to burst out laughing.

RANDOM THOUGHT 2: How could you not love a flick that uses a brutal Balls Mahoney chairshot in its promotional videos? Danny Danger, you are either an idiot or a braver man than I. Probably both.

I’ve said many times that the two things an independent horror filmmaker has to have to make a successful movie are a passion for the film they’re making and love of the genre. It’s obvious that the makers of Hack Job have both. In truth, aside from the celebrity cameos, there’s not a whole lot here that you couldn’t do yourself with some of your horror geek friends. I love that aspect of low budget DIY filmmaking. You COULD, I COULD, but few ever DO. James Balsamo and crew DID and I, for one, am damn glad they did. Hack Job is not for everyone. Some people need big budget gloss to enjoy a flick. If you're one of those horror fans, Hack Job doesn't give half-a-damn what you think of it. It wasn't made for you. If you have a taste for cheese and a movie that celebrates “Video Fringe” flicks by capturing their essence sounds good to you, then you’ll dig it as much as I did. One and a half severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: The Devil Inside

First off, I have to give a lot of credit to the marketing team for this flick. One of the things I’ve bitched about in recent years is how often the trailer for the movie contains all of the good stuff. It’s basically the movie’s best scenes, spoilers included, edited together. I thought this was more of the same. I thought I had The Devil Inside figured out before I went in. I did not. Neither do you. The story suggested in the trailer is present in the film, but the film goes farther and in a different direction. That is what a properly made trailer does. It gives a basic idea of what the movie is about, but it doesn’t tell the whole damn story and give away the twists. As for the movie itself, I’m gonna break it down into three sections.
The first section is comprised of the first hour of the movie. Isabella’s mom killed three people during an exorcism years ago and was taken to a mental health facility near the Vatican. Now Isabella is going to Rome, with a documentary filmmaker in tow, to find out if she’s really possessed. She teams up with two priests she meets at the School of Exorcism… School of Exorcism? Are you serious? Now I’m even more pissed that I got this useless film studies degree. I could have gone there. Imagine how cool THAT alumni sticker would look on my back windshield! Anyway, the four try to help mommy and all hell breaks loose. It was, while not bad per se, merely rehashing the conventions of every other “mockumentary” and “exorcism” film. There was nothing here we haven’t seen a hundred times, and seen done both better and worse elsewhere. The actual exorcisms are pretty well done. That being said, how many more times do we have to see a contortionist chick with bone cracking sound effects put in as the possessed girl. I guess it works for the whole making people queasy factor, but we’ve seen it. Bring something new to the table. Then again, there really hasn’t been much new brought to the possession table since The Exorcist, now has there?
When there’s not a lot of “power of Christ compels you” going on, there is a lot of talking going on. A LOT of talking. There is some cool scenery of the Vatican. The sets in this flick look pretty damn good actually. All in all, nothing really stood out as good or bad. Wait, you know what? That’s not true at all. As far as good, the two women who played the possession victims were good. Bonnie Morgan as Rosa was…holy shit! When I saw Piranha 3D, I said that the girl who got drug through the inner tube must have been a contortionist. Turns out I was right! It was the same gal they got to do the contortions in this one. I called it. Sorry, I got sidetracked again. Suzan Crowley was excellent as Isaballa’s mom too. Very creepy. I’m sure that performance was aided quite a bit by effects, but she was creepy as hell. She went from normal to crazy to demonic on a dime. In fact, all of the acting was pretty solid in this flick.
As far as what stood out negatively, well, let’s just say that I absolutely hated the cinematography in this flick. In my efforts to avoid spoilers, I haven’t read any of the press about this movie, so I somehow missed that it is a FFF (found footage flick.) I knew there was a whole lotta shakin’ going on in the trailer, and when I found out it was an FFF, I thought “Ok, it makes sense now.” As much as I rant about 3rd person shaky cam, as I’ve said many times, I’m ok with 1st person. 1st person makes sense. I was prepared to give Devil Inside a pass on that. It’s supposed to be footage that was being made for a documentary, however. You know, by a FILMMAKER. If that’s the case, this guy is the worst cameraman of all time. I would never watch a documentary that was this badly shot. Most of this is footage we are to believe was being shot for the purpose of one day releasing. I would have fired this jittering, bobbing, weaving, idiot the first day. The camera is even wobbling during sit down talking head interviews. I’m not joking. Look guys, shaky cam does make sense when filming first person, but when the character filming is supposed to be a professional filmmaker, I don’t expect the footage to be even shakier than usual. Quite the opposite.
The second section of the movie lasts for the next 27 minutes or so. I was sitting there after the first hour wondering if they were going to show me anything that was unique in the least. Then, a scene involving David, one of the priests, occurred and the film made an abrupt change. Now I was interested. Now I was into it. Sure, what was going on had been foreshadowed with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, but the way they were playing it out was compelling. The story was picking up, and I genuinely didn’t know where they were going with it. The shaky cam made more sense as everyone got panicked. I’m not going to say much, because I don’t want to give away the big twist. Suffice it to say that this part of the flick was good stuff. Damn good. If the first hour had been like this, I would have LOVED this flick. The action is rocking along, something dramatic happens, I’m thinking “oh man, that was cool, I wonder where they’re going with this,”…
…and then part 3, the ending happened. This movie is 87 minutes long. I said the first hour was ok, just kinda boring, and the second part, the next 27 minutes, was awesome. I’ll pause while you do the math. You’re probably thinking “But Nathan, that leaves no time for an ending.” PRECISELY! There wasn’t one. It just stopped. Right in the middle of said “something dramatic and interesting happening,” it cut to a black screen. We were given the lame “nothing was ever settled and no one was ever heard from again” Blair Witch rip off ending. I detest when people stop something mid scene. Blair Witch’s ending was left unresolved, but it didn’t just end. It built to something, gave it to us, THEN abruptly ended. This one just arbitrarily stopped out of nowhere. It took me a second to realize that it was the end, and another to confirm to myself that, yes, they just had the balls, and apparent disregard for me, the viewer, to end it like that. Then, to add insult to injury, there was a message saying that if I wanted more details, I should go to a URL shown on the screen. You know what? UP YOURS! I paid for a movie ticket, and I want an ending. I shouldn’t have to go to your god forsaken website for the rest of the story. I’m not doing it. Screw that, screw you, screw your ending, and god help us, if that was your way of setting up a sequel, screw The Devil Inside Strikes Back too!
Ok, calm down Nathan. I got a little carried away for a minute there. That ending pissed me off though, especially after giving me a killer half hour there that finally got me into the movie. Ok, lets recap, shall we? The first hour was decent. Sure, it was unoriginal and way too talky, but it wasn’t bad. The acting and exorcisms were good, even though the more unstable than usual cinematography threatened to ruin it. Then, the last third of the flick rocked. It was plain old good storytelling. I was not expecting it, and I dug it. Then, the ending rewarded me for being on the edge of my seat by kicking me squarely in the nuts and laughing in my face. The Devil Inside built slowly, then ramped it up and really got me going, and then abruptly stopped without a decent payoff. It’s basically the cinematic equivalent of blue balls. One severed thumb up. If you’re the type that can enjoy a good story knowing that you’ll never hear the end, then Nathan says check it out. Otherwise, it’s good enough to see when it comes to redbox, but not worth theater prices.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The 5 Best Flicks of 2011

STOP! If you haven't read my picks for 10-6, you can find them here. Done? Ok, now you can proceed.

Man this was hard. These 5 movies are all incredible. The top 3 especially are separated by a hair. Anyway, these are my picks for the 5
most must see movies of 2011. Three of them are on DVD, and the other two will be coming shortly, so you have no excuse not to expose yourself to...HEY, not like that! Put it back on. I meant ...oh nevermind. Anyway, Nathan most definitely says check all 5 out. 2012, the bar has been set. Let's see what you've got.

5: Hobo With a Shotgun
2011 was the year of the neo-exploitation movie, and this was the most high profile release of the faux-grindhouse wave. While it’s going for the grindhouse style, it reminded me more of one of those great 80’s Troma movies, but with a much larger budget and less poop jokes. The film has a unique look, with its saturated colors and fluid camera work. It has a surprising amount of twists and turns for a fairly simple story about, well, a hobo with a shotgun. The violence is creative, featuring some of the most ingenious weapon selections in quite a while. It can be brutal at times. I mean, come on, they take a flamethrower to a schoolbus full of kids. That takes balls man. It’s also one of the most hilariously quotable films of the year, offering such gems as “First I’m gonna have to wash this guy’s asshole off of my face,” “When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat covered in razor blades,” "You can tell Mother Teresa when she's finger banging you in hell,” and my vote for movie quote of the year “I’m going to wash this blood off…with your blood!” What really puts this movie in the upper echelon of 2011’s cinematic offerings, however, is an outstanding performance by the always great Rutger Hauer. He plays the hobo with such a believability and dead serious sincerity that you can’t help but buy into the scenario no matter how ludicrous it becomes. He delivers lines stone faced that lesser actors could never have pulled off without a “wink wink nudge nudge.” So far, this is by far the best Grindhouse spin off, and is likely to retain that title unless “Werewolf Women of the SS” eventually sees the light of day.

4: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
When we finished watching this flick, Joe (of EC3 fame) declared it the best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead. I think it’s competing with Zombieland for that title, but I can’t really argue with him. Either way, that’s saying something. It’s definitely more comedy than horror, but the red stuff certainly flows freely. The strongest aspect of the flick is the acting. Not enough can be said about the chemistry between Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine). They really are the best comedy team to come along since, well, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. These two play off of each other so well that they really do seem like life long friends. The writing is whip smart without over thinking itself. Sure, once you know the central joke, you see a lot of the twists coming, but it doesn’t make them any less effective. For example, when you see the wood chipper, you know exactly what is going to happen. How someone comes to find themselves in the wood chipper is the funny part. The way it turns the conventions of the “backwoods horror/crazy redneck” genre upside down is genius. When it takes a turn towards straight horror near the end, it still manages to pull it off. It’s impressive that this is writer/director Eli Craig’s feature debut, as it shows a skill usually shown by much more seasoned filmmakers. All of you indie filmmakers out there producing this glut of “self referential” snark-horror and lame parodies, take notice. This is how horror comedy is done.

3: Dead Hooker in a Trunk
There are two types of movie fans in the world, those that hear a title like “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” and turn up their nose at that kind of filth, and those who hear that title and think, “Holy hell, I have to see that NOW!” If you’re reading this blog, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in the latter category. Like Jabba said, you’re my kind of scum. Well folks, take it from me, here’s a flick that lives up to the promise of its title. I don’t just mean that there is an actual dead hooker in a trunk, but that it’s as irreverent, gritty, over the top, and entertaining as the name would suggest. The debut feature from Canadian filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska is often lumped in with the “faux grindhouse” wave, but it doesn’t attempt to recreate that era aesthetically. Instead, it successfully captures the independent spirit that has remained through all eras of exploitation flicks; the manic energy, DIY aesthetic, “up yours” to conventional standards of cinema, and the attitude that being as outrageous as possible is the name of the game. It’s as much Tarrentino as it is Corman. The unpredictable plot follows a great cast of characters (played by an equally great cast of actors) as they careen from one misadventure to another, all in an effort to give the dead hooker a proper burial. What makes me love this film the most isn’t the chainsaw dismemberment, drug dealers, cowboy pimp, serial killer, eyeball extraction, necrophilia, bestiality, power drill torture, tied up cops, or God driving a taxi. None of that stuff hurts of course. No, the best part is that the passion the cast and crew had for the film, their love for film in general, and the fun they had making it is evident on screen. I dare you NOT to have a blast watching this flick. It can’t be done. With Dead Hooker being released on DVD at the end of this month, and their next flick American Mary due later this year, 2012 looks like it just might be the year of the Soska sisters.

2: Dear God No!
As you can see by my top 10 here, the neo-retro-exploitation trend was a major contributing factor in genre cinema this year, and that trend produced some really good flicks. Hell, it produced some really crappy flicks too. It also produced one great flick, and that flick is Dear God No! So many films in this year tried so hard to feel authentic. Dear God No didn’t have to try. This flick IS authentic. Everything needed to prove that is present right in the first scene. After a “you scared me there for a second” moment, you realize that this actually looks like film. Well guess what, it is! The flick was shot on 16mm. You tech geeks can continue to besmirch your shorts over the newest hi def blu ray digital “upgrade”, but this old school movie geek will take actual film any day. THIS is how they used to make movies, and this is what a movie is supposed to look like dammit. Analog has a warmth and texture that can’t be reproduced digitally; no matter how hard you try or how much money you spend. Aside from the look, it has the authentic “anything goes” attitude found in the best exploitation classics. Need proof? Like I said, look no further than the first scene. There’s drug use, entrails, full frontal nudity, mutilation via motorcycle, a biker repeatedly kicking a dead raped nun in the crotch, and an exploding drive-in. In the first scene alone! If you’re not hooked, then I’m not sure you and I can be friends any more. You must be a Todd. From there Dear God No takes you on a bikers vs. bigfoot thrill ride you’ll never forget. The practical effects are great, the acting ranges from great to appropriately cheesy, the soundtrack is killer, and the story is as unpredictable as it is sleazy, violent, and enjoyable. More than once you’ll find your self thinking “They’re not really going to…holy shit they did!” I’ve always said that the one thing a movie has to be above all else is fun. Did I have more fun watching any other movie this year? Dear God No! When it becomes available, this future cult classic will be THE must own DVD of 2012.

1: I Saw the Devil
I want to state for the record that Magnet Releasing is hands down the horror MVP of the year. They were responsible for releasing 3 of my top 5, as well as Rubber, Black Death, Last Circus, and Troll Hunter. Thank you Magnet. You rule.
Anyway, I Saw the Devil was on a lot of top 10 lists last year. It made its DVD debut in the US this year, so it’s on a lot of top 10 lists again in 2011. It’s well deserved too, because this flick is amazing. I originally hesitated to put it on my list because it’s technically a crime thriller, but deep down in its black heart it’s a stalk and slash flick. A serial killer rapes and kills a cops girlfriend and the cop goes after revenge. We’ve seen that a million times, right? Well, this time, the cop plays a cat and mouse game of “catch, assault, release, repeat” with the killer that will keep you on the edge of your seat for every minute of this movie’s 144 minute running time. It’s a showdown between two men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, the agony and destruction of the other. The movie is perfectly paced, and continues ratcheting up the intensity until the almost unbearably tense final act. It knows when to punctuate the goings on with black humor however. Try not to laugh out loud when the police inspector says, in true TV detective form “Come on son, you’ve got to tell us who broke your balls.” (My runner up for movie quote of the year.) It is expertly shot, with the peak if its cinematic artistry coming during the much hyped “taxi cab scene.” This movie is worth seeing just to behold the blood soaked beauty of this murder sequence. The greenhouse fight is bad ass as well. The two leads deserve a lot of credit for the brilliance of this film, as it just wouldn’t have been as gripping without their virtuoso performances. Byung-hun Lee as the cop plays the character as cold and calculating, but with a flood of grief and rage threatening to break through any minute. That’s a difficult dichotomy to pull off without over or underplaying it, but he’s pitch perfect. As the serial killer, Min-si…you know what, it really doesn’t matter what the actor’s actual name is. He’s Oldboy to me. Oldboy plays the serial killer! MOTHERF’N OLDBOY! Sorry, I love that flick. Anyway, in I Saw the Devil, he’s downright scary. The evil in his eyes and the icy menace in his voice bring to mind a hint of Hannibal Lector. They make perfect counterpoints for each other. One is good, one is evil, but both are sadistic, brutal, and uncompromising. Speaking of brutal, the effects are practical and well done enough to be absolutely wince inducing at times. I’ve seen much made in other reviews of the “questioning which character you’re sympathetic to” aspect of the story, but I didn’t get that at all. I just saw a good old-fashioned revenge story with a new twist that featured great acting, direction, cinematography, writing, and effects. Korea continues to establish itself as the current horror capital of Asia. Best flick of 2011.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Son of Celluloid Turns One Today!

Today marks the first birthday of this blog. I’m gonna get a little serious, and maybe a little sentimental, for a minute here folks. Since I was a teenager, horror movies have always been what kept me going and kept me (somewhat) sane, and that was never truer than in 2010. It was a very rough year, and with a lot of downtime, I started getting more and more into the world of online horror blogs. The idea of writing a website dedicated to my passion for horror intrigued me, but I didn’t know if I could do it. I’m not exactly technologically inclined, so creating a website in the first place was a frightening proposition. Besides, I hadn’t written anything about film since college. Would anyone even care enough to read it? I registered a blogspot page, but just let it sit there for months while I toyed with the idea. Then, a comment on facebook changed everything. I had been writing short “status sized” reviews, and someone said something to the effect of “I was waiting to see what you said before I saw it.” That one comment opened my eyes and gave me the kick in the ass I needed. On January 3, 2011, with a post entitled “Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guessed My Name,” Son of Celluloid was born. So began one of the most fun and fulfilling experiences of my life.

What a first year it’s been. I’ve been amazed by the response the blog has gotten. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would grow like it has. I’m not one to throw numbers around, but that whole “will anyone read it” question has been answered. What I find really exciting is all of the countries the blog has been viewed in. SOC has gone worldwide! I’ve made great contacts through this blog, gotten to see and do things I thought were beyond the reach of the average horror geek, and even got quoted on a movie cover. Best of all, I’ve met some incredibly cool people through doing this. I want to sincerely thank everyone who has been so great to me and given so much support to the blog, like Leah, Tina, EKG, Cash, David, James, Dr Terror, Ryne, Guts & Grog Eric, Freddie, Ahdri, Giovanni, Robocop Eric, and so many others who I either knew before or met through the blog. I know I missed a lot of people, but to be honest, the people I need to thank for contributing to the success of Son of Celluloud’s first year are too numerous to list here. I’d like to humbly thank everyone who read, enjoyed, and ESPECIALLY commented on my ramblings this year. I definitely give all of my Cellmates two severed thumbs up. I’d also like to thank James Bickert and Jen and Sylvia Soska; filmmkers who have been especially supportive of SOC. Finally, I’d like to thank my nay-sayers; those who told me I was wasting my time, those who said I couldn’t do it, and those who got pissed at me over my views (or reviews). You guys were great motivation.

I promise folks, this whole thing is just getting started. The ol’ Son of Celluloid is just getting warmed up. I have some really cool ideas for the future, and a lot of cool stuff in store. Thank you all for this wonderful year. I encourage you all to stick around and continue to spread the word folks, I’m gonna do my damnedest to show you all a good time. To quote one of my favorite taglines of all time “if you thought one was fun, wait ‘til you do two.”

The Top 10 Flicks of 2011 Part 1: 10-6

Well folks, I wanted to get the top 10 out by New Year’s Eve, but as we all see that didn’t happen. Allow me to explain. On Dec. 30 I ended up in the hospital with acute temporal labrynthitis, aka severe vertigo. Cool name, cool movie, but no fun at all. Apparently someone gave me a little present in the waiting room, because since New Years Day I’ve been celebrating 2012 with a 102 degree fever, constant vomiting and…well, I’ll spare you the rest of the details. Suffice it to say; writing got put on the back burner for a minute there. Not looking for sympathy, just making sure everyone knows I wasn’t just being a slack ass for no reason. Excellent. Glad we’ve got that out of the way.

A word about dates is in order before we get underway here. If a film is a major theatrical release, the year isn’t a question. Some smaller release titles are a little trickier. I normally go by the date when it became widely available in the US. If it played a few festivals last year, but got a wide release this year, I count it as this year. There is one exception. If it was in limited release and I happened to see it, it’s this year. That’s right, it’s all about when I saw it. Time is my bitch. Anyway, on with the countdown…

10: Tie - Machete Maidens Unleashed and More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead

I caught some flack for ranking a documentary so high on last year’s list, so I figured I’d kick off this year’s list with a pair of them. I’m going to throw three names out, and if you see them involved with a horror documentary, I recommend you buy it without hesitation. Mark Hartley has been making “making of” docs for years. He came into prominence with the amazing Not Quite Hollywood (about Australian exploitation flicks) a couple of years ago, and this year saw the release of Machete Maidens Unleashed. It is an impressively in depth look at Filipino exploitation cinema. Extremely entertaining on its own, it also provided me with a long “to watch” list. If you like obscure, off the wall flicks, you have to see MMU. Besides, how could you not want to see ANYTHING with that title? Bill Philputt and Thommy Hutson are two of the minds behind His Name Was Jason, Scream: The Inside Story, and the flawless Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which was #2 on this list last year. This year they gave us More Brains, which gives the “everything you ever wanted to know” treatment to Return of the Living Dead. If you’ve seen their other work, you know what to expect. If you are a schlock historian, zombie fanatic, or a fan of horror films at all, these docs are for you.

9: Insidious

Insidious is the only major studio theatrical release on the list. In a year where Hollywood kept churning out sequels, remakes, retreads of tired clichés, and bloated big budget 3D fluff, this little ghost flick was a breath of fresh air. It also proved that PG-13 horror movies can actually deliver, a fact I needed to be reminded of. It really didn’t break any new ground, we’ve seen evil spirits and haunted houses lots of times, but it stripped them down to their barest elements, wrapped them in thick layers of atmosphere, and gave us a classic style fun fright flick. Darkness, well timed (and not over done) jump scares, suspense, monsters lurking in the shadows, and the “pair a non creepy song with a creepy scene” trick will never go away, nor should they. The flick didn’t need multi million dollar special effects. Instead it relied on style and, gasp…storytelling. I love blood and guts as much as anyone, but Insidious proved that an old fashioned “gather round the campfire” spooky story can still resonate with modern audiences…even if the demon did look like Darth Maul.

8: Attack the Block

Ok, ok, so it isn’t really a horror movie. It’s sci-fi, but I’m still counting it. It’s my countdown, and I’ll mix genres if I want to. Anyway, it follows a group of juvenile delinquents as they try to survive an alien invasion in Urban England. The chemistry between the young cast is excellent. They almost have a ghetto Goonies vibe. They start out as completely unlikable shitbags, but by the end of the movie you’re truly rooting for them. A character arc like that isn’t easy to pull off, especially with young actors. It’s clear from the staging of the action scenes that Joe Cornish is a Carpenter fan, and you can do a whole hell of a lot worse as far as influences go. The design of the aliens is brilliant in its simplicity, and the CGI actually looks good. If you dig the “80’s-esque kids vs. aliens” movie but were sickened by the sheer Speilberg-ness schmaltziness of Super 8, Attack the Block is for you. Plus, Nick Frost is in it, and 9 times out of 10 that’s a good indicator that a flick is worth watching.

7: The Woman

For the record, I’m pretty sure that guy that stormed out of this flick at Sundance was an ingenious publicity stunt. At least I hope so. That was just a little too perfect. That’s not to say that this flick isn’t extreme enough to elicit a strong reaction, I just want to think that someone was brilliant enough to come up with that viral marketing strategy. Anyway, the reason this flick is so good is that it’s the closest anyone has ever come to capturing the spirit of a Jack Ketchum story on film. Ketchum is a maestro at dragging audiences through humanity’s heart of darkness, and The Woman delivers in spades. It’s sick, bloody, and it manages to be misogynistic and feminist at the same time. It also features a couple of great performances. While I do have a few issues with Lucky McGee’s direction of the flick (like that godawful soundtrack), it’s pure Ketchum, and you can never go wrong with that. Have I mentioned that I love Jack Ketchum?

6: Embodiment of Evil

Coffin Joe returns! I found out about this flick two years ago, and agonized, paced the floor, and chewed my nails (a problem Coffin Joe obviously does not have) over it until it finally became available stateside this year. I love me some Coffin Joe. If you’re not familiar with Coffin Joe, shame on you. Go watch the first two parts of the trilogy and the documentary Coffin Joe: The Strange World of José Mojica Marins NOW. Then you can finish the countdown. I’ll wait…ok are we all caught up? Good. It is fascinating to watch the work of a true horror auteur in very different eras in film. Marin’s flicks were groundbreaking in the 60’s and 70’s, and watching him embrace what is possible and allowed in modern film is entrancing. All of the usual Coffin Joe touches are here; the critters (snakes, bugs, spiders, snakes), the gratuitous nudity, the nightmarish hallucinatory landscapes, the bizarre soliloquies, and Marin’s melodramatically sinister performance style. The gore quotient is definitely higher here than back in the day. Merins has always been twisted, but this time around he had the resources and permission to indulge himself the way he couldn’t in the 60’s. The story mirrors this change of the times, with Coffin Joe being released from prison into a very different world than the one he left. He’s still after the perfect woman to carry on his bloodline though. Gotta respect that kind of dedication. This one is a must see for both fans of the Coffin Joe films who have been chomping at the bit for the trilogy to be complete and those just discovering this under appreciated horror icon. This may be the end of the trilogy, but I hope we haven’t seen the last everyone’s favorite blasphemous grave digger.

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