Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Catman of Paris (1946)

Paris during the Belle Epoque. Charles Regnier (Carl Esmond) has written a rather sensational book surrounding a secret process whose true proceedings leave a lot of people in power quite embarrassed. Said people in power would really rather see Regnier incarcerated and his book destroyed, for the only way they can see him knowing the things about the not-Dreyfuss-Affair he put in his book is buying state secrets from someone.

Regnier doesn’t become more popular when the man supposed to correlate all the information about the old affair in preparation for another secret process – one against Regnier – is first strangled to death then kitty-scratched by someone dressed up to the nines in an opera cape, an excellent hat etc, and who meows quite loudly while doing the deed. Inspector Severen (Gerald Mohr) is convinced Regnier is the perpetrator, an assumption that gains weight by the mysterious headaches the audience knows Regnier to suffer from in connection with a cute series of hallucinations including a negative lightning, a buoy in bad weather (!?) and a cute black kitty. Regnier also just can’t remember anything about the night of the murder, so the very excitable police prefect isn’t the only one shouting “Were-Cat (person)!” quite loudly, for we all know the signs, right?

The next murder – of Regnier’s superficial and rich fiancée – happens under comparable circumstances and adds to the evidence against Regnier, but can a guy this suave really be a murderous kitten?

Republic Studios, the party responsible for Catman of Paris is mostly known for its serials and its B-Westerns, many of the latter directed by the (usually) great Lesley Selander who also directed this one. One can’t help but assume that Selander didn’t really feel at home in the horror genre, even though Republic’s earlier, and much superior The Vampire’s Ghost was also his work, and had more than a few moody scenes. That film also had a much better, and certainly much more interesting, script which might have been nearly as talky as this one is, but thanks to the always excellent Leigh Brackett, did actually have things to say about character and theme where Catman seems to spend hours on clunky exposition delivered as woodenly as possible.

While one can’t really expect a late 40s budget horror film of this kind to be all that exciting (excitement costs money, after all), or coherent (coherence needs the people involved to actually care, after all, and not just need to churn out their 30th film of the year to fill a cinema slot), some of it (I’m looking at you, the half of Monogram’s horror films that isn’t just boring) make up for their lack in more typical and sensible virtues through sheer bat-shit insanity. And while it stays boring more often than I would have liked it to, Catman of Paris does have quite a bit of that good stuff in it, too. It’s not just the fact that a lot of French people in Belle Epoque Paris speak either with the most sonorously American accent possible or a German/Austrian one, or random moments of script genius like the quickness the Prefect of the Parisian Police jumps at the idea of a Were-Cat-Man at the earliest possibility (scratches like from a cat! OMG! Were cat!) and never leaves the idea, the way a quaint (well, as quaint as it gets on this budget) Parisian café quickly turns into a punch-out saloon right out of one of Selander’s Westerns. And did I mention the coach chase?

Anyhow, these things are really just the beginning, for when the film really gets going, it introduces a professorial gentleman who posits a series of historical cat man appearances caused by astrological gubbins at crisis times in history, with this one, being the ninth, and a cat having nine lives, clearly being the last. SCIENCE! There’s also the way the film’s finale might explain the identity of the catman, but never bothers to even think about the logistics or motives of his deeds, or why Regnier has the buoy-centric visions, headaches, and amnesia, or, you know, why the catman is a catman? This sort of thing does go quite a way with me to make up for all that exposition during the rest of the film, the particular dullness of the romance, and the stiffness of the acting, but then, it would, wouldn’t it?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Riddles of the Sphinx (2008)

Of course, having decided to return to my irregular habit of taking a walk back through the SyFy Original catalogue from time to time, I begin by watching a movie so bad, it could have been improved mightily by not having been made at all, so the universe stays cruel instead of just indifferent.

Riddles of the Sphinx, as directed by one George Mendeluk - who I try not to call a hack because rudeness is wrong even in the face of a deeply shitty film - concerns the adventures of Dina Meyer whose character isn’t supposed to be a Lara Croft rip-off, oh no, and Lochlyn Munro who just happens to dress just like that New Mexico Smith guy, as well as of Munro’s character’s obnoxious, all-knowing teenage daughter. There’s a bit about a secret government agency, the threat of the Plague of Isis™ coming to destroy our planet, crappy dimension portals leading to really crappy riddles (and yes, there’s even a variation of that one whose adaptation in the film clearly suggests somebody got his Christian and Ancient Egyptian virtues mixed up writing this crap), Mackenzie Gray playing a character whose baldness clearly demonstrates he’s going to turn out to be evil and other nonsense that could have turned out rather entertaining in other hands (Paul Ziller’s, say) but is here presented with all the verve and charm of something completely without verve and charm (a trashcan?).

There’s just no minute on screen when the film actually commits to entertaining its audience. Instead it is going through the motions in a way I found incredibly annoying, bringing up silly ideas without ever seeing the potential in them, thinking nothing through, and not making up for any of this by any morsel of visual excitement, or just even mild interesting-ness. Obviously, a SyFy budget also doesn’t lend itself too well to a globe trotting adventure (something many other SyFy movies solve by having the Apocalypse take place in Kansas), so expect (or if you’re clever – avoid) really bad CGI not only with the film’s titular monster (which everyone involved must have been so embarrassed about, it’s more often than not replaced by its “human form”, a big guy with Halloween fake teeth in his mouth), but also coming into play for all the places the characters visit that can’t be replaced by two tiny locations in British Columbia.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two Men of Violence: A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) & The Equalizer (2014)

I was all prepped up to file A Walk Among the Tombstones, a Lawrence Block adaptation by Scott Frank, under “another film where Liam Neeson plays an aging Man of Violence™ who has to get back to his old ways again”, in other words, as something that’ll probably be decently entertaining but also something that I’ve seen before a few times too often. And sure, A Walk does belong into this particular genre of crime films but this one feels special and weighty all the way through, with the clichés feeling close again to the truths that once built these clichés.

The superiority of Scott Frank’s film becomes particularly clear in comparison with the same year’s Denzel Washington version of The Equalizer directed by Antoine Fuqua. Whereas the Equalizer makes a lot of gestures towards the horrificness of violence and the toll it takes on those performing it (not much about the victims, nor about the fact the borders between the role of victim and perpetrator might get rather fluid sometimes, though), by the end, it’s basically fist-pumping Washington’s character (a guy who stops the time he needs to kill a bunch of people on his watch), spouting all the usual vigilante movie crap, and simply ignoring much of what it has set up, A Walk is all made out of one piece, not turning away from the violence yet also never simply condoning it. In fact, there’s nothing simple in this film’s moral world except perhaps simple human compassion. Again, compare the way the Equalizer uses the compassionate acts of its hero as a basis to then cheer on his acts of horrible violence, where A Walk treats both things as standing in opposition to each other even when some of Scudder’s violence really – perversely - is a product of that compassion. The difference is that A Walk heads for the grey moral zones this sort of thing causes with open eyes and a headful of thoughts where The Equalizer is shouting “FUCK YEAH!” way too loud to have time for thoughts, particular once the film has reached its second half, when all promising suggestions the people involved might actually have realized that McCall isn’t an awesome badass but both an awesome badass and a monster, and that there just might be a problem with that, fly out the window.

Of course, Antoine Fuqua’s unpleasantly showy direction doesn’t help The Equalizer’s case much either, always using the wrong kinds of gestures, and always in a way that suggests it doesn’t really want to think about the nature of its protagonist despite having brought it up during its first hour (of more than two, which also makes a simple plot unnecessarily bloated) itself. A Walk’s Scott Frank, on the other hand, has a clear, calm, and controlled approach to direction that looks much simpler than Fuqua’s but really brings out much more subtlety, eschewing to hammer ever point it makes home, and building up a sense of place and atmosphere.

Now, I wasn’t really planning to come down quite as hard on The Equalizer just after I watched it, because I had a decent – if not un-annoyed - time with it, it’s just that I saw A Walk Among the Tombstones right the next evening, and really couldn’t help but notice how much better Frank’s film is, and how much worse the Fuqua outing becomes in direct comparison, not so much for reasons of it being catastrophically bad, but because it is a barely decent film compared to one I expect to return to again and again, and its thoughtlessness truly becomes clear in the contrast.

What’s undeniably good in both films is the acting, and in this regard, I’d probably even argue The Equalizer to be slightly superior: for where Liam Neeson et al actually have interesting and not unsubtle characterisation and focused direction to work from, Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz and so on do their best to make something out of a film that just doesn’t seem to know what it actually thinks about its main character and that surely doesn’t want to face any unpleasant implications of the way he acts when it comes down to it, because fuck yeah, slowly walking away from an explosion. So where Neeson gives a performance that gains a part of its considerable strength and authority from the possibilities the work around and behind him provides it with, every bit of Washington’s success is one all of his own. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure all the coherence McCall has as a character belongs to Washington and the way he and Moretz play off of each other in their scenes, the bizarre tacked on happy ending notwithstanding.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bear Island (1979)

A UN sponsored group of scientists of different nationalities – of course all played by English native speakers doing horrible fake accents – under the leadership of one Otto Gerran (Richard “Nein, hören Sie!!!!” Widmark) comes to arctic, Norwegian Bear Island for some vague studies concerning climate change. Apart from the small former Nazi base the scientists are making themselves at home in, there’s only an old Nazi submarine harbour and a NATO base that is so completely out of bounds for the scientists they are not even supposed to make radio contact with it. Even before most of the expedition arrived, there has been the first mysterious disappearance (well, it’s a mysterious disappearance for the characters, the audience knows full well the victim was murdered), and that’s just the beginning of a series of violent events.

American scientist Frank Lansing (Donald Sutherland, not attempting a Californian accent as far as I can make out), who is actually on the island because his father was a German submarine captain who probably died right there and he feels in need of some closure, quickly discovers that there’s a huge cache of gold hidden on the island. It’s a lot of the stuff, and there are a lot of people in the expedition willing to kill for it.

Finding out who these people are will become rather difficult, though, because nobody on the island actually seems to have come to do any science at all, everybody has a secret, and nobody is truly who he or she seems to be.

By 1979, Don Sharp – despite a career that would in stops and starts continue for a further ten years – was still the always at least dependable, sometimes brilliant director he had been for decades, but he didn’t exactly move with the times anymore. From this perspective, he’s a very good fit for Bear Island, a thriller inevitably based on an Alistair Maclean novel that seems to come from a different world in a movie landscape after Star Wars and Jaws as well as after much of 70s action and adventure cinema.

There’s something old-fashioned and stiff about the film, a certain lack of sharpness and focus that results in a rather draggy middle act, with a script that can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a more visceral thriller, a variation of an Agatha Christie style manor mystery, or both, or nothing of the sort. From time to time, the film finds its step for ten minutes or so, thanks to Sharp creating a set-piece that’s actually exciting (if you like snow mobile duels, that is), or moody and actually telling us something about the characters (like Lansing’s first secret visit to the submarine base). Of course, a few minutes later, everything becomes a bit lifeless again, because obvious red herrings (seriously, no self-respecting old-fashioned mystery would be this obvious) have to be laid, and anything interesting has to wait for a while.

At least Bear Island has quite the cast. Apart from Sutherland (giving a performance fluctuating between bored and amused), and Widmark, there are also Lloyd “Bad Ass” Bridges, Christopher “I’m Polish, really” Lee, and Vanessa “Oops, forgot my accent for a scene again” Redgrave (wasted on playing The Girl, of course), and while the script does its damndest to not give them much to do or puts many a clunky line in everyone’s mouth, you can’t quite put this assembly of talent down, so from time to time, tiny sparks are indeed flying between them.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In short: Stung (2015)

Caterer Julie (Jessica Cook) and her employee and friend Paul (Matt O’Leary) are working a rich people’s garden party. There’s not really much to get excited about in the job, apart from watching the friendly alcoholic mayor (Lance Henriksen) get drunk in a chipper manner, or see the rich neurotic son (Clifton Collins Jr.) be rich and neurotic, giving Paul ample time to pine for Julie (unrequitedly).

Alas – or fortunately, depending on one’s viewing tastes – the party is attacked by icky killer wasps. Worse (or even better), their stung victims quickly pop open and give birth to really damn big icky killer wasps. Soon, there’s not much of the party left, and the few survivors (obviously including Julie and Paul, because how else would the two ever get together?) are barricading themselves in the manor house. Obviously, the wasps aren’t going to let things stand there.

So, what do you have to do to get a genre film made in Germany (or the other predominantly German language countries, for that matter), particularly when said genre isn’t “shitty comedy”? The public film support funds don’t want genre, the critics look down on it, kickstarting films is pretty difficult unless you’ve got additional sources, and who wants to stay on the semi-amateur backyard circuit forever? Honestly, the minor wave of German horror (etc) films made during the last few years is a bit of a wonder, suggesting a degree of perseverance from the side of the filmmakers I can’t help but admire.

Stung’s director Benni Diez apparently solved the conundrum of how to scratch enough money together by going the time-honoured way of getting a US source, and an American cast, resulting in a film that attempts to emulate one of your better US monster movies, despite being shot in Berlin with a German language crew behind the camera. Of course, given my usual love for the local and the specific, the resulting genericness of the setting is a bit of a disappointment; on the other hand, Lance Henriksen. Lance Henriksen in a very good and charming mood, and with more scenes than I expected him to have, even.

Otherwise, this is a competent, if not completely slick, bit of horror hokum featuring a neat (though not always convincing) combination of practical and digital effects (which always seems like the best way to go for me), some pleasantly icky moments of body horror, some funny jokes, some less funny ones – all wrapped up in a package of decent pacing and a total lack of depth, like a really good SyFy Channel Original. Please keep in mind that this description is not an insult coming from, for I do appreciate a ninety minute genre piece that just wants to entertain its audience for a bit. Particularly when it is like Stung and actually achieves what it sets out to do. I at least had quite a bit of harmless, riskless fun with the film.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

U.F.O. Abduction (1989)

aka The McPherson Tape

On an evening in 1983, the Van Heese family come together in their family home in the boons to celebrate the eighth (or is it fifth?) birthday of their youngest member, Michelle. There’s the usual degree of familial tension, with the family father having died some time ago, Ma now looking into the bottle a bit too often, and one of the sons hilariously trying to assume the mantle of head of the family in a way that’d get me kicked in the ass by my Mum, who is of a more democratic bend, but it’s nothing anyone would make a melodrama of.

That changes when the sons of the family follow a strange light in the sky and observe what looks a lot like a landed UFO. Unfortunately, the three little grey man this very special ride belongs to discover the guys right back and clearly aren’t too fond of witnesses to their activities. The boys manage to get back home, but that’s of course not the last they’ll hear from the aliens this night.

As we all know, the POV/found footage sub-genre did already exist before the Blair Witch made her entry in the movie canon, so it will not come as a total surprise that Dean Alioto’s semi-professionally made U.F.O. Abduction purports to be the family video one of the Van Heese sons shot during that long night in 1983, nor that the characters disappeared without a trace beyond the footage. Why, even in 1989, the “shut off that goddamn camera!” trope is already in place. Clearly, Alioto’s film was quite ahead of its time.

So much ahead of its time, in fact, that Alioto remade the film in 1998 as Alien Abduction with a professional cast and a bit more money for effects. I have to say I prefer the earlier (and rather difficult to find) version here, I think not in spite of but because of, a certain technical roughness (as befits a supposed family video from 1983) and the absolute emphasis it puts on the audience imagining the dangers to its characters because it can’t afford showing much of them at all. This is of course the by now traditional POV horror trick, and is a little played out here in the far-flung future of 2015 but in Abduction’s case, the technique still works beautifully, and the film gets by quite well by letting our imagination do most of the work once it has set up the situation.

It does the highly important basic work needed to come by its effectiveness honestly, though. The actors may not be professionals but they sure do feel authentic. It is at least not difficult to believe them to be a pretty typical family of their time and place, which does make it quite easy to get sucked into their reaction to what’s going on around them and sells the strangeness and the threat of their situation.

Alioto also times his film impeccably, using just the right amount of time to set up the characters before the shit really hits the fan, and then demonstrates a fair bit of talent for timing the breaks in the action so that they feel real without letting things drift off into boredom or annoyance with the characters (always dangers in the POV trenches).

U.F.O. Abduction is a fine example of what you can achieve on a shoe-string budget when you have the right idea and the right amount of talent.

Technorati-Markierungen: ,,,,

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In short: The Gay Falcon (1941)

Playboy criminologist, international adventurer, and charming rogue Gay (ah, different times) Laurence, also known as The Falcon (George Sanders), has supposedly retired from all the interesting things in life and is now in the serious business of sitting in an office drinking spinach juice. Apart from the spinach juice, that’s exactly how Gay’s fiancée Elinor (Nina Vale/Anne Hunter) wants it.

Of course, when one Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie) asks our hero for help catching the crook or crooks stealing valuable jewellery from various rich ladies during high society parties, he’s very quickly in the charming rogue and crime fighting business again. Elinor is not amused, and her mood will not improve when Gay’s comic relief associate “Goldie” Locke (Allen Jenkins) falls under suspicion of murder, nor when the same thing happens to Gay himself. Well, at least she has tasty international playboy Manuel Retana (Turhan Bey) to distract herself while Gay romances Helen and solves a few crimes.

George Sanders was quite popular as the hero of RKO’s The Saint adaptations (and a much better choice for the role than Val Kilmer decades later), so when RKO started their own series of Saint rip-offs (one suspects so they didn’t have to pay Saint author and creator Leslie Charteris), they let him take on the role of The Falcon, too. Seeing that the two characters are so close as to be basically the same, it’s not much of a surprise that Sanders is pretty fun as The Falcon too, providing the character with the right combination of smarm, actual charm, and dry humour that is allowed to crackle in a screwball style in many a scene where he and Wendy Barrie trade snappy, actually rather bizarre dialogue of a delightful nature.

Of course, and also very typical of this kind of comedic mystery, the film doesn’t care much at all about its mystery. It’s all about the verbal gymnastics, content as risqué as the production code state of affairs allowed, and many a scene that suggests the writers were really just throwing together whatever seemed fun and came to mind, leading to a mystery film full of scenes that don’t have any function at all for the mystery at its core but that are bound to charm those parts of the audience charmable by them, like me.

It is, of course, rather difficult to say all that much about a film that concentrates so much on being a light, fun, dialogue and laugh dispenser, unless on wants to go the sociological route and furrow one’s brow about the way Turhan Bey’s decidedly non-Caucasian character is handled, or things of that sort. This isn’t a film made for furrowed brows, though, so I’ll leave it at declaring The Gay Falcon a perfect example of the kind of fluffy, slick fun a studio like RKO could just throw out in 1941.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Arsène Lupin (2004)

Gentleman thief Arsène Lupin (Romain Duris) steals from the rich, mostly by soulfully/smarmily flirting with women while he steals their jewellery from their throats, though right now he’s wanted for murder because he was a bit too good at ducking during a police chase. There’s a lot of melodramatic hither and yon about the possible return of the mysterious person who killed his (thief and savate master) father, a former childhood friend who grew up into a young Eva Green, and the film’s need to play swelling music at every possible opportunity.

Eventually, Lupin finds himself on the trail of three crosses that somehow disclose the hiding place of the lost French Crown Jewels. Other parties are involved too. A secret society with the goal to bring back the monarchy lead by the Duc D’Orleans (Mathieu Carrière), the sinister Beaumagnan (Pascal Greggory) and finally Joséphine de Cagliostro (Kristin Scott Thomas), professional femme fatale and possible immortal evil, are all searching for the crosses. Lupin naturally teams up with Joséphine but there just may be various twists and turns in his future that suggest this to have been not a very good choice at all.

Jean-Paul Salomé’s rethinking of everyone’s favourite gentleman thief is a truly peculiar film, seeing as it mixes French blockbuster style action and adventure, melodrama turned up to Eleven like in one of those French swashbucklers the nouvelle vague directors loathed so much, with a bit of the style of the French serials a la Feuillade the same nouvelle vague directors adored. The resulting film is certainly individual yet also the sort of thing even someone quite predisposed to its style might just hate when she’s seeing it in the wrong mood, because Arsène Lupin is utterly unrelenting to point of obnoxiousness.

It’s not enough for this film to have loudly scored action scenes in a style as old-fashioned as they are on the technical state of the art, it has to have the loudest, most old-fashioned action scenes; it’s not enough for it to be as melodramatic as a French roman feuilleton, it needs to be the most melodramatic thing possible. More often than not, this rather shrill approach to just about everything turns out to be rather effective, perhaps because the film’s overblown style isn’t a product of irony (though there is a bit of ironic humour in the film) but something it has come by honestly by taking itself seriously to a degree that borders on the absurd. On the other hand, the film’s overblown approach does make it impossible for it to be subtle in any way, shape or form, with everyone and everything in it having larger-than-life dimensions, and nobody and nothing having much to do with actual human beings or the actual world we live in. Fortunately, the film clearly isn’t trying for even the faintest whiff of reality, and more involved with working on a palette based on a pretty, loud surface.

Salomé did hire the right actors to perform here, too. While I’m not particularly excited by Duris’s Lupin, and think Eva Green is rather wasted on the damsel-in-distress-with-excellent-uterus (and yes, that’s kind of a plot point, alas) part of Clarisse - in fact, I’d have cast him as Clarisse and her as Lupin – the rest of the cast is absolutely perfect, with Thomas in particular pulling out all of the stops in textbook examples of controlled uncontrolled over-acting that are a joy to watch.

Unfortunately, Arsène Lupin’s general pomposity also results in a film that by far overstays its welcome, with a film that should have ended when a certain character falls down a cliff (you know, when the film’s actual plot is over) droning on and on and on for twenty-five long further minutes that try and (very loudly) fail to pack a full sequel into half an hour, ending the proceedings on the sourest note possible for no reason I could make out.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

In short: The Relic (1997)

Tough times in a Chicago museum: a pair of crates full of leaves and a South American relic turn out to be rather dangerous deliveries. Soon a strange monster is on the rampage. The investigating cop, Lt. D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore), would probably be competent enough to avoid a particularly high body count if he had his way, but there’s a party for the mayor and the big spending contributors of the museum in the works that just can’t be postponed.

So soon it’s on D’Agosta and evolutionary biologist Dr. Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller) to protect the One Percent from being eaten by a monster. I’d be rooting for the monster, if our heroes weren’t so damn likeable.

For reasons only known to professional critics, Peter Hyams’s adaptation of a novel by bestseller factory Preston & Child, has something of a bad reputation but for a lover of the classic monster movie, this thing’s actually pretty wonderful. The pacing might be a little off in the film’s first hour or so, with slightly (but only slightly) too much time spent on things not monstrous, yet once the real monster rampage starts, it’s a particularly good one, expertly paced, and full of great moments of suspense and mildly weird exposition (that’s a good thing in this type of film). The monster, a Stan Winston creation, holds up very well too, with Hyams taking great care to only ever show the curious yet effective creation in (slimy) bits and pieces.

And, unlike your usual 50s monster movie, the film does put a bit of effort into making its characters likeable, giving Sizemore and Miller enough material to work with to create two characters we for once don’t want to become monster fodder, leaving it to a working class guy and a female scientist to save the day. The Relic gets extra bonus points from me for keeping Miller’s character competent and relevant throughout without needing to turn her into an action heroine or regressing into turning her into the object to be rescued. Why, there isn’t even a romance between her and Sizemore!

Add to that Linda Hunt and James Whitmore (who just happens to have been in the best US monster movie ever made, Them!) doing their respective things in minor roles, and I have real difficulty to see what I’m supposed to dislike about The Relic.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Howling VI: The Freaks (1991)

British drifter Ian (Brendan Hughes) comes to a dying town in the US South-West (with a big emphasis on South). Despite the handful of people populating the place that hasn’t been driven away yet by droughts and desperation being rather eccentric, Ian stays on for a while. For room and board, Ian helps the local preacher Dewey (Jered Barclay) and his traditionally pretty young daughter Elizabeth (Michele Matheson) renovate their church, a place that needs every bit of help it can get. After a while, even the rude local sheriff (Gary Carlos Cervantes) comes around to Ian, and of course love is blossoming between Ian and Elizabeth.

Things are bound to get somewhat more complicated when the travelling carnival of one R.B. Harker (Bruce Payne) arrives. With carnies played by Antonio Fargas and Deep Roy in sinister weirdo mode, it comes as no surprise that there’s something just not right about that carnival. If one were bound to do some research, one might even learn there’s a trail of disappearances and deaths following it or a carnival quite like it. And wouldn’t you know it, Ian’s stay in town hasn’t exactly been accidental: he has been waiting for the carnival to arrive, for the young man is a werewolf, and he has plans against Harker. However, Harker, it turns out, might just have plans of his own.

For two movies, the Howling series got downright interesting again, films number five and six being very much their own thing without any relevant connections to films numbers one and two (we don’t talk about number three around here), or the attempted reboot with four. Clearly, as long as there are werewolves in the movies, it’s good enough to be called a Howling movie, so we follow a badly acted yet fun goth-ing of the manor house mystery with a Southern Gothic that also nods to Ray Bradbury (especially Something Wicked this Way Comes, of course), the Incredible Hulk, and every strange things you ever heard about the US South as a place of the grotesque.

Even though it is a bit of a scrappy movie (clearly on account of its budget), director Hope Perello shows a surprising amount of control over a film that just shouldn’t work at all, given the peculiar rhythm of its plot, the not exactly easily believable nature of its characters, and a core moral about the lack of connection between inner and outer monstrosity. Yet Perello does some fine work creating the appropriate heated and strange mood that might not convince anyone of the reality of her film’s world but convinces one quite wonderfully of the irreality of it. Which is my preferred movie mode anyhow.

While the plot has its awkward moments (like the scene where Ian oversleeps rather stupidly on a full moon night, something a surprising amount of werewolf media thinks to be plausible), these moments emphasise the film’s mood and the idea you’ve stepped into a place that is both less and more than real just all the more. There is a lot going on under the film’s surface too, an argument about the nature of evil that isn’t quite as simple as it at first seems to be, with the film putting its money on evil being a choice, as well as a force inside oneself one has to fight (or if you’re like Harker, cultivate) again and again, no matter if you’re a priest, a wolfman style werewolf, or a guy with a bad skin condition looking for a place where people treat him right. Some of the conclusions the film comes to are actually a pleasant surprise, with it coming down heavily on the side of hope and redemption instead of eternal damnation.

And as if being a dream-like morality play done well weren’t enough to endear The Freaks to me, Perello also didn’t skip on the all-important monster content, presenting some cheap yet fun murders absolutely in tone with the rest of her film, and even ending the proceedings on an old-fashioned monster mash you probably didn’t see coming. The monster make-up is in keeping with the film’s mood too, and makes an interesting attempt at using a very classic monster model but making it individual. It also looks just a bit silly, but then, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

It’s a shame the Howling films didn’t continue in this vein, but then, we’ll always have The Rebirth and The Freaks.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In short: The Four Warriors (2015)

You’ll probably need to share my general love of medieval pulp action (this time around even with the sorcery to make it pseudo-historical sword and sorcery, instead of sword and sorcery without the latter!) to get much enjoyment out of Phil Hawkins’s film about three crusaders and their Saracen prisoner stumbling about a village whose whole male and juvenile population has been kidnapped, perhaps by something much worse than slavers, particularly once it turns into a pretty basic Dungeons and Dragons scenario. There are a myriad problems: there are continuity mistakes even I see, the plot is clichéd and presented in the least interesting manner, the acting is often awkward (well, script writer and male lead Christopher Dane and female lead Alex Childs are certainly decent), the dialogue heavy-handed yet utterly improbable for the time period, the demon costumes mostly ridiculous, and the whole thing slows down to a crawl somewhere around its middle. There’s also a lot of basic conceptual stuff that just doesn’t work at all, but I don’t think there’s any need to go that deep for this one.

Still, I did enjoy myself enough for the ninety minutes of The Four Warriors running time. There are people with swords in armour, mediocre fights happen, lame synthesizer music plays, and Evil is conquered by the power of believing in not being Evil (or something), while, from time to time, Hawkins manages an effective or even a pretty shot. Plus, the film does take itself seriously in a way that makes it unkind, perhaps even cruel, to criticize it too heavily, for it is quite clear that this is the best the people involved could do in the time and place, and with the tiny amount of money they had at their disposition. It doesn’t work out very well, but you sure as hell can’t say The Four Warriors isn’t at least trying very hard, which, let’s be honest, is quite a bit more than you could say about your typical Michael Bay movie.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983)

After soldier of fortune J.T. Striker (four time winner of the title “best name in the business”, Tony Anthony) acquires a mysterious key from a haunted castle/wildlife park, a professor sends him out to steal two of the crowns of Visigoths (yup, the title’s ever so slightly exaggerating), items full of mystical power, to which the key is the, well, the key, from the mountain lair of evil cult leader Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo). Of course, one needs to assemble a crack team for this kind of operation, so Striker packs in his wimpy tech guy buddy, an alcoholic mountain climber, a circus strong man with a secret deadly heart disease (Francisco Rabal), and the strong man’s wife Liz (Ana Obregón), trapeze artist. I’m somewhat disappointed he’s not taking clown Popo too, but we just can’t have everything.

The team assembled, it’s off to the heist; though the finale might turn out rather different from Rififi.

Sometimes, it truly can be the first and the last fifteen minutes that make a film special. At least, that is the case in Ferdinando Baldi’s Treasure of the Four Crowns, a Spanish/Italian film (for some reason distributed by Cannon Films, of all companies) made to cash in on the second 3D fad, which means there are way too many moments of pointless pointy things – and plastic snakes, a lot of them – popping into the camera as if there’s not tomorrow.

But oh, that beginning! It shows our hero conquering a castle that acts like the lamest haunted castle ride you can imagine, with first various animals (fake and real) trying to get at that tasty Tony Anthony flesh, a full plate mail and a skeleton playing peek-a-boo with him, and various things catching on fire for no good reason. Everything that happens here is accompanied by the most outrageous cartoon noises the sound department could come up with, with animals that make more improbable noises than Lucio Fulci’s maggots (particularly the non-rubber snake), and only the least frightening giggles and howls. And of course, dear Tony Anthony does contribute his own bit of craziness by making all the rubber faces he can come up with, stoicism not being the strong point of his character, until you can’t help but laugh at the seriously presented insanity happening in front of your eyes. And just because, all this stuff happens to the accompaniment of an absurdly dramatic score by Ennio Morricone, because of course it does.

Unfortunately, once that is over and done with, the film calms down into a bit of an hour-long rut, with way too much exposition (though the mandatory slideshow exposition scene is at least accompanied by some excellent insane rambling from Brother Jonas), and too little happening. Even the craziness can’t help much there, because apart from the bizarre and hilarious scene where the “flying” (on strings visible even in a film as badly treated on home video as this one), whistling key turns the alcoholic mountain climber’s hut to mush in an attempt to “escape” (don’t ask me), and the fact the audience learns of the strong man’s heart problems in a scene between him and Popo in full clown make-up, there’s little of interest happening.

Of course, finally, after too much time spent on our characters avoiding lasers by hanging from a ceiling, and an intercut (stalling for time) sequence of Brother Jonas healing a fake possessed woman, the film finds its feet again when people start dying in hilarious ways, Tony Anthony’s face melts, and he turns into a human flame thrower, melting someone into the kind of skeleton that makes crashing noises like a breaking clay jar.

That’s the sort of thing that really makes up for a pretty dismal middle in a film, at least in my house, and particularly when the film treats the whole mess with a blank faced earnestness that’s only disturbed by Tony Anthony making rubber faces even when he’s not wearing a rubber face, but that’s Tony Anthony for you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In short: Brain Dead (2007)

Not to be confused with all those other brain dead movies, I mean movies called “Brain Dead”.

A bunch of cliché characters converge at the usual woods/cabin/lake nexus where some cost effective alien parasite zombie thingies do their thingy. Breasts are bared, heads are exploded, and oh so very many horrible jokes are made, until the film truly does to you what the title promised. Your Latin teachers were right!

Remember Kevin S. Tenney? Once a purveyor of silly horror films of mediocre to surprisingly good quality, the 00s find the director still/again dealing in the genre, but if Brain Dead is anything to go by, he’s not even reaching the heights of “mediocre” anymore, for this thing is as dreadful as they come. Sure, it’s kinda-sorta better than some of your usual shot-on-video movies in that the shots stay in focus and the sound is fine which, alas, means you can really appreciate how bad the acting is, and hear the dialogue. However, it’s a bit like saying being hit on the head with a mallet is better than being hit with a morning star – your brain’s gonna be mush either way. So, otherwise, the film offers one would-be clever bon-mot after the next (until you begin to see Tenney’s Night of the Demons as an exercise in restraint), only broken up by a bit of gore from time to time. Alas, about one (two, or three if you’re absurdly nice) joke here is actually funny, and the incessant barrage of “humour” does of course make it impossible to enjoy the horror parts as horror, particularly since anyone with even the slightest footing in the genre will have seen everything here a dozen times before, sometimes even in movies with characters, a plot, a theme, or jokes that are actually funny instead of obnoxious.

I have no idea what I – or anyone else for that matter - did to deserve the cruel and unusual punishment of this thing.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bloodmoon (1997)

A rather talkative serial killing martial artist (Darren Shahlavi in a performance that becomes increasingly silly in all the right action movie villain ways the longer the film goes on) goes around murdering champions of random martial arts in surprise duels, mocking the police with his superior powers of 90s action movie computer hacking. Chuck Baker (Chuck Jeffreys) the martial artist leader – and seemingly only member – of the local police force’s serial murder beat is clueless as to the how and why and who, perhaps because he’s an idiot, or just because he’s too distracted performing magic tricks next to dead bodies.

Baker’s supremely shouty boss (Frank Gorshin) has just about had enough of the guy’s shit, so he attempts to rope in retired former serial killer department boss and profiler Ken O’Hara (Gary Daniels – yes, that’s Gary “what’s line delivery?” Daniels as a profiler) to do the job. As an aside, Baker – you know, the leader of the one man serial murder department – doesn’t seem to know what a profiler is and does (or the name of his predecessor, for that matter); but then, the movie isn’t much clearer about that point either.

Anyway, O’Hara at first doesn’t want to help – because Baker’s an obnoxious ass, and the darkness in serial killer heads (mate) has ruined his marriage – yet changes his tune once the next victim of the killer turns out to be his former martial arts sensei. Now the cops only need to get over their differences, find the killer – with the help of the sensei’s adoptive – and of course also martial artist - daughter (Brandie Sylfae) – and beat the crap out of him. Alas, the bad guy might always be one step in front of them (and babbling).

When Hong Kong talent went to Hollywood it weren’t of course only the John Woos and Tsui Harks of this world but also rather lower profile guys like Bloodmoon’s director (whose main achievements rather seem to be in the realm of action choreography) Tony Leung Siu-hung, or its main baddie Darren Shahlavi. Watching Bloodmoon, I couldn’t help but conclude the rather more low budget world reserved for people like Leung to be more amenable to the actual talents they developed working in Hong Kong, what with their experience at making spectacular action with little money, and working with actors and screen fighters whose talents went from “brilliant” to “wooden manikin”, making them all look competent.

At least, this works out pretty fine for Bloodmoon, a film chock-full of cheap yet awesomely choreographed diverse martial arts fights and stunts (sure helped along by the fact that Daniels, Jeffreys and Shahlavi are all very fine screen fighters, as are the guys playing Shahlavi’s victims), stupid yet funny dialogue, and much glowering in the direction of the camera. It is, of course, pretty easy to make fun of the plot but it is a perfect structure to hang the film’s fast and furious action on while adding the always popular profiler mythology beloved by everyone and their daughters.

Additionally, Leung and/or screenwriter Keith W. Strandberg put in quite a bit of the random nonsense of the sort that just seems to accrue in low budget action films, particularly those made in the USA, things that make no sense but open up so many interesting questions. Like, why does our serial killer dress up like the Phantom of the Opera (and why isn’t the abominable soundtrack at least quoting Andrew Lloyd Webber?)? Is Baker’s obnoxious magic trick crap really only in the film to set up the hilariously awful ending? Do computers really work that way? Or the police, for that matter? Does really everyone in the US know martial arts apart from strip joint visitors, for with the direction the film was going in, I was only waiting for Frank Gorshin to pull some fancy moves too? And so forth, and so on, until no brain stays dry. Which, of course, is absolutely how I like it.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

In short: The Demon’s Rook (2013)

This is quite clearly one of the very best pieces of micro budget gory horror movies I’ve ever seen, and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the best micro budget movies of its kind ever made. And really, given the mix of energy, bizarre to silly and utterly enjoyable things visible on screen, I don’t even think narrowing it down to just micro budget horror is necessary. Director/writer/effects maker/male lead (his wife and creative partner Ashley Jo Sizemore being the female lead)/etc. James Sizemore has created horror fan-nip of the highest order, a movie that makes so much of its small budget I’d be grinning happily about that if it were the only thing the film did oh so right. To make short work of the plot, just imagine a late 70s/early 80s piece of gory Italian horror displaced into a stretch of woods in the actual US South with added elements of demonic wizardry and some trippy moments right out of Jodorowsky, and you’ll be prepared for what’s coming as much as possible.

Of course, one isn’t truly prepared for The Demon’s Rook once it gets going, the obvious love for horror movie classics that only seldom gets in the way of the film building its own mythology and its own personality out of the pieces it has found and loved elsewhere, and the insane joy of splattering fake blood. Sizemore’s physical effects are pretty incredible here, not looking “realistic” in the sense boring people need in their movies about rampaging demons but made with such an eye for the telling detail and with such a breadth of different demon and creature designs it’s overwhelming in all the best ways.

The film’s photography and editing (both done by Tim Reis) are equally praiseworthy, with so many clever, often bizarre and dream-like, uses of simple digital video techniques, it wouldn’t need the moody and strange (that’s always a compliment coming from me) lighting – lots of blue and green of course, in absolute defiance of the rule of teal and yellow –, the heaves of dry ice fog to get me all a-flutter. Many of the film’s scenes are edited to the rhythm of the film’s – also, I’m not sorry to say brilliant – soundtrack ranging from minimal synth over rock hovering between acid and drone to garage styles, often providing the extra push any given scene needs to really jump out at the audience.

There’s very little about the film I disliked – the script probably could have lost one or two scenes of random characters getting killed off, and the acting is a bit amateurish though never in the bored and boring way of people embarrassed by what they do – and I could go on for another 400 words or so just heaping gushing adjectives on the film, like trippy and psychotronic, but really, this sort of thing, always hovering between dream-like, peculiar and energetic as it is, is something much more fruitfully experienced than talked about, and once experienced, to be loved with great enthusiasm.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Zombie Shark (2015)

Sisters Amber (Cassie Steele) and Sophie Steele (Sloane Coe), Ambers’s boyfriend Jenner (Ross Britz) and the sisters’ kinda-sorta friend Bridgette (Becky Andrews) are going on a weekend trip to a rather disappointing island.

Little did (or indeed could) they expect the place would soon be under attack by a shark zombie quite Jaws-ily called Bruce who does what zombies do: multiply. Bruce is the product of a tiny research lab right around the corner where one Dr. Palmer (Laura Cayouette) attempted to create useful cell regeneration properties, with sharks as the oh so obvious stand-ins for future humans. On the plus side, once the zombie sharks really attack, and people just can’t stay away from the water, Palmer’s security guy Maxwell Cage (Jason London, looking confused and rather constipated) comes in handy. Though it has to be said that Amber and Sophie are pretty handy in needless zombie fights themselves.

Sharks again, SyFy? I know, I know, sharks are to the SyFy Original movie like gorillas to Julius Schwartz edited DC comics but now that the Channel has started its misguided attempt to become “serious” again and they only crap out a handful of these films in a year, I wish less than two thirds of these were about sharks.

Particularly since the people responsible for the special effects still can’t make a believable (or just effective) CGI shark to save their lives, leaving the film’s central threat rather toothless. Not that the human zombie make-up later on (spoiler, I guess) is much better than the shark effects but then, why bother when the film has much worse problems in its so-called script. It is, for example, utterly unclear why most of the cast is taking the monsters on at all instead of just sitting somewhere, waiting. Sure, sure, there’s that one scene where a shark attacks on land, and Amber (as a waitress clearly a zombie shark logic expert) suggests that these things are as dangerous on land as in the sea, but last time I looked, and zombie shark or not, sharks aren’t terrible well adapted to moving about on land what with them being built for swimming.

Most of the film is pretty much SyFy Original shark stuff by the numbers: the cast really is one of the lesser ones, with London the best they could do with actors having hit on hard times (which is to say, not much at all), and the young actresses mostly droning their dialogue with little visible interest. Well, Steele is putting some effort in, but the film’s particularly meandering and cloying application of SyFy character background melodrama standards doesn’t exactly help her much.

On the plus side, director Misty Talley does pace the film well, and the script does contain at least one and a half surprises when it comes to character survival and death. I’d even call them subversive surprises if only they weren’t buried under so much of the usual dross, and the standard elements the film doesn’t resolve it doesn’t so much seem to leave unresolved because it is being clever, but because it simply can’t be bothered to put in effort.

However, as so many of these films are, Zombie Shark is a perfectly alright, undemanding watch for those days when you only have as much brain capacity as Jason London has facial expressions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

In short: Alien Outpost (2014)

aka Outpost 37

It’s 2033. Ten years after humanity – uniting under the banner of something called the “United Space Defence Force” or USDF – has driven back an alien invasion despite those aliens pretty clearly being technologically far advanced, nobody on the planet seems to care much about the fact there are still aliens, called “Heavies”, left behind continuing the war, so the USDF is undermanned and underfunded.

The film follows the obligatory documentary film crew accompanying a handful of soldiers to Outpost 37 in Iran. There, the war is still very active, and now it looks as if the locals weren’t any longer willing to tolerate the once welcome USDF’s presence any longer – at least going by the regularity with which they attack the outpost.

Or there just might be something else – something much worse – going on.

I wish I would like visual effects specialist Jabbar Raisani’s feature debut more than I actually did, for its basic set-up of using the military doc formula, POV horror edition, in combination with the alien invasion scenario is a good one. Unfortunately, the fake military documentary part is neither very interesting nor very surprising, with every character a cliché you’ve seen in dozens (if not hundreds) of war movies and little actual depth put into it. Personally, I’m also not a fan of the completely uncritical way the film looks at the military but then, that’s not atypical for the documentary style it’s imitating either, so it’s at least authentic.

The SF part is even more problematic because so very little about it seems thought through at all. I at least find a future taking place some years after an alien invasion where humanity actually doesn’t care about a continued aggressive alien presence on their planet anymore pretty implausible, a word that also fits a world where technology doesn’t seem to have progressed much during eighteen years, particularly not eighteen years that must have left us with quite a bit of superior alien technology to learn from. And hey, as luck will have it those aliens are even humanoid to a silly degree, so a lot of their technological concepts would probably be pretty manageable to understand. These things, and quite a few other details that are equally badly conceived, leave the film’s basic plot standing on a very shaky world building foundation.

And that plot isn’t very interesting either – apart from the fake military doc thing, it’s alien invasion by numbers with the biggish surprise for the characters being obvious to an even just mildly genre-savvy audience early on, and little else to distract one. Well, the military action aspect of the film is decent, as are the effects but both elements aren’t so spectacular they could ever make up for the undercooked rest of the film.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Year of the Comet (1992)

Her father, a big trader in wine as a collector’s item, and not one in visible affection, finally allows wine expert Margaret Harwood (Penelope Ann Miller) to go out and catalogue her first wine cellar out on the Isle of Man. This first outing turns out to be quite the coup, for Maggie finds buried among the dross a humungous and very, very valuable bottle of wine bottled in the year of the Great Comet (therefore the title) for Napoleon’s personal use. How Nappy planned to survive drinking his body weight in wine, we never learn. Maggie’s father sells the bottle right when he hears of it to his favourite customer, who in turn sends out his all-around trouble-shooting macho man assistant Oliver Plexico (Tim “The ‘stache” Daly) to get the bottle home safely.

Alas, there are a few problems for Maggie and Oliver. It’s not just that they are clearly involved in one of those Hollywood romances of people first loudly professing how much they loathe one another to finally fall in just as loud love, for there are several groups after the bottle. There’s the elderly landlady (Julia McCarthy) and her murderous son who just like the sound of one million dollars, one Philippe (Louis Jourdan) and his men who think one former associate has hidden some mysterious formula in or around the bottle, as well as the henchpeople of another wine collector who has been sold the very same bottle by Maggie’s mildly evil half-brother. Looks like the road to true love is paved with adventures through Europe for our heroine and hero.

Year of the Comet’s Peter Yates is one of these directors it is pretty difficult to get a handle on. In the early part of his career he sure knew how to do brilliant crime films and car chases, yet only a handful – and generally the best – of the films he made throughout his career actually fit these talents, while a lot of them are pretty characterless mid-level mainstream Hollywood (and British would-be-Hollywood) affairs of the completely forgettable sort, or Krull.

Once you’ve seen enough of his lesser films (that make a most of his filmography, really), you just might start to notice a pattern with them, though. Yates was clearly an admirer of classic, pre-70s Hollywood style films, and some of his body of work seems to me an attempt to keep the values and the style of these films alive during the 80s and 90s, just generally not with too much artistic success. Classic Hollywood is difficult, even for the talented. The William Goldman-scripted film at hand fits very well into this theory, though it does work much better than many other of Yates’s films of this type, perhaps because it wears its heart and its influences rather obviously on its sleeve.

So, this is one of these adventurous romances you might imagine seeing Cary Grant or Errol Flynn in, with a plot that is light, fluffy,  and quite nonsensical yet also a really fun set-up made to keep the romance moving and the audience entertained with some stunts, some action, some comedy, and so on. Of course, Tim Daly sure is no Cary Grant; on the other hand, Penelope Ann Miller is allowed to be much more fun than she would have been in the olden times (at least after World War II), and is really charming enough to sell Daly too.

There’s really not terribly much else to say about the film, I’m afraid: if you’re in the market for a slightly updated (with the good stuff of less icky romance and a more present female lead) old-style Hollywood adventure romance, with sometimes silly, sometimes witty humour, little depth but a truly polished surface, then this is going to be a lot of fun (remember that?) for you; if not, you’re probably dead inside, say stuff about films like “it’s fun and endearing but there’s just no true depth to it”, and probably don’t even appreciate that sometimes a piece of fluff can save lives, or at least souls.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)

Warning: this is going to get quite spoiler-filled

One Count Istvan (Philip Davis), not a creepy guy at all, oh no, invites a random – or are they? – assortment of people to the reopening of a Transylvanian castle that has stood closed up and shunned for five hundred years.

Things don’t go well for the party: there are some soap-operatic romantic constellations, people are assholes, and then the castle gets hit by a surprise snow storm that’ll make it impossible for anyone to get back to civilization as planned. That’s a particular problem once people begin disappearing. Soon, it becomes clear a murderer is strolling through the castle’s dark parts; eventually the characters realize what the audience has known all along: the murderer just might be a werewolf, and its motive might just have to do with the very reason the castle has been empty for so long.

Apart from the werewolf, Neal Sundström’s Howling V doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the films that came before in the so-called series, which in their turn generally didn’t have a whole lot to with each other. Though, seeing as it actually does contain a werewolf, it has one leg up over The Marsupials already. As the plot should make clear, the film goes about the often fruitful business of using most of the bits and pieces of a different genre than horror, only adding a monster to the equation.

In this case, the non-horror genre is of course the Manor Murder Mystery, just with a castle and a few more gothic trappings replacing the manor house, and the murderer turning out to be actually supernatural. There are also some locked room mystery bits, and other elements of the sort, of course. Unfortunately, Sundström and his scriptwriters aren’t very good at that whole murder mystery thing, not being able to draw characters you like to watch or to hate, and showing no clue at all about how to elegantly – or just functionally – use red herrings or alibis. I, at least, can’t imagine a crime novel of this sort treating “X was asleep the whole time”, as a believable alibi for a series of murders, or one where the detective categorically states that the murderer is always the most innocent seeming person around, only to then go on and ignore the most innocent seeming character as if she weren’t even there.

Consequently, much of the film’s mystery is pretty darn obvious, and its solution about as surprising as counting one’s fingers and thumbs and coming up with ten (or eight plus two, if you’re so inclined). However, unlike in most mystery novels of this style, there’s a certain pleasure to be found here in seeing the detective actually failing in the end, and the werewolf win through the guy’s utter stupidity and the paranoia of the film’s other survivor. Which is of course a perfectly normal horror movie ending, and one that gets into a rather pleasant dialogue with the film’s murder mystery parts, regarding concepts like trust in the infallibility of authority and the idea of a rationally explicable (and rationally acting work) a rational being can completely understand and therefor control.

Among the film’s other strengths are a number of quite atmospheric stalking scenes, and a really cool castle; among its other weaknesses is an often absurdly bad cast whose members just don’t seem to be able to deliver their lines in any sensible way. Some of them, however, are bad in a rather entertaining way, and everyone carries around rather excellent 80s hair too.

Despite the film’s rather heavy flaws (a murder mystery whose murderer isn’t much of a mystery is generally not a very successful film, and boring characters played by bad actors aren’t helpful there either), I found myself rather enjoying Howling V, particular in its second half, when the cast has been whittled down a little, the tensions between characters feel slightly more interesting, and the film does one or two things that actually come as a surprise. At least, the film gains a certain freshness by virtue of its not too often used genre mix, and in the right mood, there’s a lot to be said for a film whose action mostly consists of bad actors strolling through darkly lit rooms.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Three Films Make A Post: When the force was with them, NO-ONE stood a chance!

Final Girl (2015): Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is the best example of the problem with being consciously weird when you don’t actually have the imagination for it I’ve seen in quite a while. What is supposed to be strange only ever feels stilted and campy; what’s supposed to be dark and deep only ever turns out to be cheap and stylized for no reason. Sure, the film’s pretty to look at in its “oh, I wish I were David Lynch” kind of way, but there’s nothing at all behind the stylish pictures, and the style itself is too derivative and too pretentious to carry any meaning. Watching the film mostly left me with one big question, and not the generally interesting “what does it all mean?” or even just “what the fuck?”, but the tired old “what’s the point?”. The film sure doesn’t know, and I can’t say I found myself even caring.

The Monster Squad (1987): Fred Dekker’s much beloved movie about a bunch of kids fighting against Dracula who is getting back the band of monsters together leaves me a bit cold. Sure, I do get the film’s enthusiasm for the classic Universal monster canon, I appreciate the care the film takes with its details, and I sure as hell am not going to be too much against a kiddie monster movie that features an elderly KZ survivor in an important role (though I sure would appreciate if the film had bothered to cast someone for the role who actually speaks German instead of the ungrammatical mispronounced gobbledygook the script uses). However, I also find the film’s action not very exciting, the emotional parts too sentimental without actually working for my tears, and honestly never found myself caring about the kids (or the early turned to the side of goodness Frankenstein monster as tear-jerked by Tom Noonan). Or maybe I’m just allergic to nostalgia.

Tuno negro (2001): To dislike this Spanish slasher movie with some promising bits of giallo thrown in the mix, you don’t need to be allergic to anything but to dithering films that don’t know for what tone they are going nor are well enough directed to get away with the rapid tonal shifts. Part of the film’s problem I’d lay on it having two directors in Pedro L. Barbero and Vicente J. Martín who don’t seem to have come to an agreement of what film they were actually making, nor on how to realize it. So bits and pieces of 90s psychopath thriller, giallo, erotic thriller, and conspiracy movie are thrown all over the place without either script or direction being able to connect them. On the positive side, there are two or three good ideas among the dross, and the film’s use of the university of Salamanca and Spanish minstrels/serenade singers certainly does give the film at least interesting local colour beyond the usual slasher style.

Now, if it only did something more interesting with it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Agent Red (2000)

For security reasons the Russians want to return a dangerous US-developed virus the Soviets once stole from its rightful, mass-murdering creators. Because that’s the way you do this sort of thing, a US submarine commanded by a skipper on his last mission before retirement is to transport the virus to US shores. Alas, a group of terrorists have infiltrated the sub, murder the crew, and are planning to release the virus on New York via the sub’s missiles, all as part of their protest against weapons of mass destruction. Seriously.

Fortunately, two Americans have survived the attack, and now it is up to them – marine badass Captain Matt Hendricks (Dolph “What, I’m not playing a Russian!?” Lundgren) and his ex-and-soon-to-be-non-ex-again fiancée Lt. Dr. Linda Christian (Meilani Paul who is, to say it politely, the worst actor in a film full of horrible performances) – to save the day. Well, at least Matt’s carrying a rather convenient antidote to the horrible, horrible virus nobody actually understands (or so the film says) around.

Well, sort of beloved Swedish scientist and actor Dolph Lundgren has been in quite a few crap films, but among connoisseurs, this one is generally taken to be the absolute low point in his career, which says something given some of the films he put an appearance in. I mean, that means worse than the The Expendables films, after all.

Going by what the Internet tells me, the original state Agent Red was in when director Damian Lee delivered it was so bad, even producer Andrew Stevens wasn’t willing to put that one out, so, after some useless attempts by one Steve Latshaw to rescue the film without having to do any reshoots, he hired that well-known artist, Jim Wynorski for three days of hasty reshoots that resulted – if I can believe what I read – in 40 minutes of new footage. To nobody’s surprise this, as well as the film’s now rather humungous use of footage taken from slightly higher budget productions Stevens could cannibalize (in a way even I see the continuity errors, like the incredibly shrinking Dolph early on), does not for a very good, or even only a basically coherent film make. Indeed, even by the standards of cheap direct-to-video action the film makes little sense with its lack of coherence even when it comes to very basic things like the way the virus it is all about works on human beings. Needless to say, characterization and plot are rote, yet where other action movies of this type make up for that kind of deficiency with crazy ideas and fun nonsense, Agent Red drags its feet.

Sure, there is the large, large, absurdly large number of dumb one-liners, and sexual innuendo of the most painful type (example: “Ow!” – “That’s what you said the last time I put it in.”), and that’s good for a laugh now and then, but the film commits the most horrible sin a movie of its type can commit: it is just plain boring, with minute upon minute of guys in uniform just talking nonsense at each other, surprisingly little happening for something supposedly being an action film, and little in it that’s actually enjoyable.

What there is of actual action scenes is pretty bad too, thanks to the awesome directorial decision (probably one by Lee, not by Wynorski, who is bad and most probably hates his audience but isn’t quite this stupid a director) to film the action exclusively in shots so close to the actors you see as little of what is going on as if the film were shot in shaky-cam and lightning edit mode. It’s impressive in a way, if impressive means a horribly bad idea executed terribly. Sure, it’s probably an attempt to disguise that the interior of the submarine doesn’t look at all like the interior of a submarine but rather like that one badly lit warehouse set 99 percent of all cheap action movies are shot on, but you know what? It doesn’t work and makes the film a chore to watch, so one can’t say the attempt was successful.

 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In short: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Despite looking like a generic slasher movie, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown is something rather more peculiar. It’s not really a remake of Charles B. Pierce’s – also peculiar – regional horror classic but more a sequel to the actual murders that film was based on, with Pierce’s original existing in its world and building the base of the copycat murder series (or is it?) this film’s about. Rejoice fans of musical instrument based killing, because that’s in here too.

Anyway, Sundown ‘14 doesn’t go for the whole pseudo documentary angle of the original film, instead in turns opting for generally dreamlike and unreal atmosphere, made of the kind of Americana David Lynch is so fond of as the surface to his abysses, humour I could have lived without, a bit of metafictional business that doesn’t lead anywhere, and a directing style that is pretty much the opposite of Pierce’s, generally choosing conscious strangeness and the crass whenever possible. The murders here a bit slasher-ed up, with the face-sack-wearing killer walking through a lot of windows, and murder scenes staged in ways a death by trombone doesn’t seem particularly outré anymore.

As might already be obvious, I’m not completely sure what to make of the film. On one hand, I’m happy Sundown ‘14 attempts to get into a dialogue with the film it is remaking, and doesn’t just turn it into a standard slasher. On the other hand, I’m not sure where the film is actually going instead: there are moments of satire, the metafictional parts seem rather pointless, there’s a bit of a coming of age story of our heroine Jami (Addison Timlin in a pretty fine performance), there’s comic book violence, all adding up to a film that is certainly peculiar and not just a film made by the numbers. Unfortunately I’m not too sure these things really add up to anything in particular, and while I – as a friend of all films peculiar – had an interesting time letting all this wash over me (sometimes even sucking me in with elements like Timlin’s performance or the very pretty photography), it’s all very meandering and not looking to have any point it wants to get to. Then there’s the “oh what the hell, let’s just have an ending” Scream style final twist that not only makes little sense but also feels even more disconnected from everything else going on. So, to be perfectly honest, I really don’t know, and I’m not so fond of the film’s style of strangeness I’ll be digging into it any further.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In short: Burying the Ex (2014)

Well, this isn’t a complaint you hear from me very often, but what really buries Joe Dante’s newest movie for me is how inherently sexist the whole affair is, showing not a bit of compassion for its zombie returnee (Ashley Greene, whose manic performance once she’s back from dead is to my surprise one of the better elements of the film, and deserving of a better one), and no visible clue that its supposed everyman hero (Anton Yelchin) is a childish, superficial little prick. Of course, the latter isn’t too surprising in a film that seems to believe actual human pair relationships should be between people who are virtually identical, and that can’t seem to ever rise above the lamest of comedy clichés in its characterisation, with Yelchin’s Max the poor beleaguered sod under attack by the oh-so-evil (just look at her ecological fixation, oh noes!), neurotic, dominant shrew back from the dead, even though all he really deserves is Alexandra Daddario’s female other self (just without any actual ego, because clearly, that’s baaad in a woman).

One might hope that at least hilarity ensues, but the film’s jokes are stale, Dante’s usual visual gags and nods in the direction of the tradition of genre cinema are the same old for him, and there’s really not a reason to root for anyone here. Compare this to something like Shaun of the Dead, a film that goes out of its way to show its male main character as a loveable fuck-up but always stays conscious that he is indeed a fuck-up, and what Dante’s film mostly looks like is dated, as if he didn’t learn a thing since his 80s heyday. Well, actually, it’s more like he unlearned quite a few things he knew. It doesn’t help this impression that the film is so clearly struggling with its depiction of contemporary twenty-somethings, using phrases, jokes and characterisation for them that suggest they’re actually living in an old man’s idea of 2004.

Add all this up, and you get yourself a film that actually leaves one somewhat embarrassed for its director. Surely, this can’t be the film Dante was actually aiming to make?