Sunday, December 13, 2015

It's the season

to leave this blog for the rest of the year, summon one's favourite god(s) (if any), hug/sacrifice/ignore one's loved ones and be merry.
See you next year frequent and/or imaginary readers, and don't forget to think about the important things:

See you next year!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Island of the Fishmen (1979)

aka Screamers

Original title: L’isola degli uomini pesce

Prison ship physician Lt. Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) finds himself in the unfortunate situation of being adrift in a skiff on the open sea with a boatful of prisoners he rescued when the ship they were all on went under. Things don’t improve when the gang crashes on a mysterious island, for the local fish person population soon kills off most everyone except for the Lieutenant and two of the prisoners.

At least the island is not completely unpopulated of people (probably) not from Innsmouth: the trio soon encounter Amanda (Barbara Bach) who warns them off and basically tells them to shoo back to sea; curiously, that’s not an offer Claude takes. Instead, the stranded follow Amanda to the nice little mansion where she lives under the thumb of sadist prick Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson), a voodoo priestess maid (Beryl Cunningham), and a handful of “natives”. Edmond clearly has plans for his unexpected guests, though it takes a bit for him to go beyond saying every sentence he speaks with improbable sarcasm (there’s not a single word the dubbing actor says that isn’t surrounded by invisible air quotes of doom).

Let’s just say the man’s plans have something to do with the fish people, the mad scientist (a terribly sick looking Joseph Cotten playing a terribly sick man) he hides in his house and who spends most of his time spying through peepholes, the lost race of Atlantis, and so on, and so forth.

I am a great admirer of Island of the Fishmen’s director Sergio Martino’s giallos. However, his work in other genres wasn’t always as fine, with films whose quality was all over the place. Island is very much all over the place, too. At its core, it’s a somewhat Vernesian adventure movie often pretending to be a horror film that follows the old rules of one damn thing after another plotting, and contains nary a second that makes any damn sense at all. I, at least, did have a hard time understanding what Edmond’s plans were actually supposed to be, why he does what he does, and other completely unimportant questions.

But hey, the film does feature the fish people its title promises rather extensively, as well as the obligatory scenes of our wetly clad (clearly, Martino did his best to get around Bach’s no nudity clause in a Bollywood approved way) heroine having a good time with them. There are completely useless (and mildly offensive, as are all the non-white characters, though you gotta admit the white people here are generally pretty offensive too) voodoo rituals, lots of shouting and running around by everyone, an explosion or two, a mad science villain speech each for Johnson and Cotten, as well as a pretty crazy soundtrack, and an English dub that sounds as if we’re listening to a first run through with especially bad accents (Johnson’s voice can only be heard but not described, unless nasal to the degree of cosmic terror counts, while Cassinelli dubs himself as a Frenchman with a heavy Italian accent). And fish people. In other words, I find it pretty damn difficult to find a bad word to say about the film, even though Martino’s direction is uncommonly bland for the third-most stylish giallo auteur, the plotting is, well, not actually plotting, and there’s not a single sensible idea in the movie.

Well, I’ll just admit it, this is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Past Misdeeds: Mahakaal (1988/1993)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

The life of thirty year old college teenager Anita (Archana Puran Singh) is starting to get interesting. Right now, she and her equally old student friends (among them the most terrifying monster of them all - "comedian" Johnny Lever) are still cavorting around merrily - that is when her boyfriend Prakash and his best friend Rakesh aren't dishooming the local would-be rapists - but all this is beginning to change when Anita's best friend Seela, and very soon our heroine herself, is starting to have terrible nightmares.

In them, they are hunted by a shadowy, mulletted man with a scarred face and the propensity to laugh menacingly while showing his charming iron-bladed gloves. That would probably be troubling enough for the girls, yet the worst thing is that these dreams are leaving physical traces behind. It's one thing dreaming about getting your nightshirt ripped by claws, but it's quite another when you wake up and actually find it ripped.
Still, the friends are (theoretically) young, their hair freshly sprayed and mulletted, so they decide to drive to the country-side to have a picnic and cavort some more. That works out nicely until they want to drive back home and discover that their car won't move an inch anymore. Fortunately there's a hotel nearby. Unfortunately, it's managed by another Johnny Lever and has no working phones to call home from. How immoral! Well, at least it's dry and warm.

Anita and Prakash do the boring and responsible thing by keeping chaste. Seela and Rakesh however decide to have a real picnic together in one bed. Would you believe that Seela dreams of the nice man with the interesting gloves again? Yeah, I was completely taken by surprise myself. This time, though, he's not just appearing to scare the girl; he kills her, leaving Rakesh - who of course decides to run - as the main suspect of the dastardly deed, no matter that there's no proof whatsoever against him.
Hunting Rakesh is Anita's father, your usual Bollywood patriarchal copper arsehole. Thanks to Rakesh's brilliant idea to make a visit to his school campus in bright daylight, it's a very short manhunt, and the young idiot finds himself in a nice, damp cell.

The next night, Anita dreams of Rakesh getting killed in his cell by the mullet man and his new pet snakes, and even her sceptical father looks shaken when he learns that the young man did in fact die that night.
After a few more small revelations, Dad explains who the man with the gloves is. It's a certain Shakaal, a black magician who worshipped some undefined dark gods by sacrificing children to them. Seven years ago, he kidnapped Anita's little sister to do the same to her. Her father wasn't able to save his daughter, so he poked Shakaal in the face with a torch and buried him alive in a chained box in some ruins. Obviously, the dead man has returned to take his vengeance.

If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to the films of the Ramsay Brothers, it is their absolutely shameless will to entertain in the broadest and sleaziest (for Hindi cinema) way possible. These two aren't afraid of anything, not even ripping off one of the two films by Wes Craven that are actually any good - A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Well, there is something the Ramsays were afraid of - putting their Nightmare rip-off into the cinemas when their arch enemy Mohan Bakhri had just before thrown his own version of the tale, Khooni Murdaa, on the market. Just imagine, they could have lost money! So they let the film lie and ripen for a few years and only put it out when the Bollywood horror boom had already run its course, making it their last theatrical feature before they had to flee into the land of cable TV, as far as I've heard while being hunted by villagers carrying torches.

So the fashion and the victims of Johnny Lever's "parodies" (and does Amitabh Bachchan's comeback vehicle Shahenshah truly need to be parodied?) and "satire" are very much part of the late 80s. I have a hard time imagining that this will have helped Mahakaal's financial performance, but hey, what do I know about stuff like that.

What I do know is what I find fun, and Mahakaal definitely is fun.
Sure, if you are easily angered by really brazen theft of plots, ideas, scene set-ups or musical cues, you'll probably have a hard time watching it without beginning to froth at the mouth. I find the Ramsay method here rather charming. The first half of Mahakaal copies the plot progression and characters of its model as closely as possible, but adds a lot of flavour to prepare Craven's recipe for the taste of an Indian audience. So the viewer gets to see a slightly less bloody version of A Nightmare on Elm Street plus everything he, she or it ever loved about the trashier side of Bollywood cinema - musical numbers of dubious quality (well, I actually found the last one with its golden glitter costumes from hell rather undubious, even quite delightful), heroines with an insane propensity to get very very wet, said dishooming of would-be rapists and other assorted rabble, Johnny Lever humour you can blessedly fast forward through because his scenes are not in the least relevant for anything else in the film (although you will then miss out on things like his Michael Jackson imitation, his Amitabh Bachchan in Shahenshah stick - which is actually kinda funny - and the rare Johnny action scene).

Then the last third of the film arrives, and the Ramsays have obviously had enough of following Craven, throw out the dream demon idea completely and turn the film into the monster rumble most of their films I have seen until now end in. Which is an excellent idea when it brings us a re-jigged scene stolen from Dawn of the Dead, an inexplicable, but fun bout of demonic possession and a much better water bed death scene than in the original. The only way to beat that (or bring it to an end) is of course to end the film in a bizarre beat-down that is at once gruesome, silly and absolutely insane and alone worth the price of admission.
Technically, Mahakaal is typical Ramsay Brothers filmmaking - there's not a bit of subtlety to find anywhere, yet the brothers show an exhilarating sense for hysterical in-your-face intensity when it comes to the horror sequences or the action. If it has to do with the use of zoom, manic camera movements, fog, multi-coloured lights, more fog, or bizarre interior architecture (watch out for the temple of evil!), the Ramsays know what they are doing and (or so I suspect) love it.

Memorable acting you won't find here, but at least our heroine, future TV personality Archana Puran Singh, is as game for anything as Polly (Shan) Kuan, be it fighting an invisible man, getting very very wet repeatedly, or just screaming "Nahiiiiiiiin!". Especially her screams are something I won't soon forget.
What more could I ask of a film?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

In short: Puppet Master II (1990)

Another group of doomed psychic researchers – though these are government-sponsored parapsychologist – visit the house of Toulon (Steve Welles), maker of living puppets to find out if there’s any truth to the insane gibbering of the last survivor of the first film. Little do they expect that the puppets have revived Toulon, who now roams the house bundled up like the Invisible Man. To keep his puppets alive, the puppet master needs them to collect glands (or whatever, but glands are the traditional thing to collect in such a case) from human brains. He’d rather prefer his puppets to harvest the stuff from outside his home, but the area isn’t exactly populated, and the puppets are not terribly good at keeping brain parts unroasted (which is what happens when you build a flamethrower into one of your dolls and send it out brain-gathering, I suppose, therefore Toulon only has himself to blame), so the researchers are still doomed.

Things become a bit more complicated when Toulon decides the research team’s leader Carolyn (Elizabeth Maclellan) is the reincarnation of his dead wife Elsa. Look, Toulon, bandages don’t make you a mummy!
I don’t think the second of many, many Puppet Master films of Charles Band’s puppet obsessed outfit Full Moon is as fun as the first one, but we are still at a point in time here when Band productions were at least trying to be actually entertaining films in the classic low budget tradition. Consequently, director David Allen (despite being more of an effects guy than a filmmaker in his own right for most of his career) delivers a decent little horror movie that – for my tastes – could use a bit more of the spirited weirdness of the first film (no stuffed poodle here, that’s for sure) but that’s working the few assets it has – a decent cast, puppets – as hard as financially viable.

There are certainly far worse ways to while away ninety minutes than with this variation of various mummy films, but with killer dolls. And because the cruel and uncaring universe had a pretty good day when it caused Puppet Master II to happen, it ends on a final scene so loveably bizarre I can’t help but approve of the whole Puppet Master endeavour up to this point despite my general annoyance with Charles Band as doll movie impresario on account of it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

SyFy vs The Mynd: The Hollow (2015)

Sisters Sarah (Stephanie Hunt), Marley (Sarah Dugdale) and Emma (Alisha Newton) have been having a rather hard time of late. Their parents died in an accident that left the youngest Emma hurt and suffering from some form of PTSD, and now the money their parents have left them has run out from paying for Emma’s hospital bills. Their only choice to escape the loving arms of the foster care system is to move in with their aunt Cora (Deborah Kara Unger).

Cora lives on a somewhat isolated island in what I assume to be the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, this island turns out to be at the centre of the return of a rather nasty supernatural surprise in form of a fiery stick-monster bound to Halloween and storms. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a storm coming up, and it’s the day before Halloween, so when the sisters arrive on the island, Cora is already dead (one suspects Unger isn’t cheap), the island under attack, and the sisters will have to put quite some work into surviving.

It looks as if now that the SyFy Original is a species threatened with extinction, the few films still being made are allowed a greater degree of care – or we’re a really lucky audience and only the crappy SyFy Originals are dying out. Be that as it may, SyFy veteran Sheldon Wilson (in the past responsible for what might be my favourite SyFy movie, Carny) does provides us with a fine example of the SyFy monster movie. Pleasantly, it’s an earnest one too, so nobody’s patience will be tested by unfunny attempts at being funny, and the people who can only enjoy a monster movie ironically can go watch American Horror Story.

But I’m getting rude, and I digress. If you’re acquainted with the SyFy formula, you will have noticed this one surprisingly doesn’t feature any divorced characters getting together again via monster hunting, and indeed no romance plot whatsoever. Instead, Wilson concentrates on the tensions and bonds between the three sisters (the male characters aren’t of any import whatsoever), whose nature is of course revealed via the whole monster business. The characterization isn’t particularly deep but done with a degree of precision that avoids making any of the sisters the bad one who doesn’t deserve to live and realized by the young actresses with surety. The sisters and their relationship feels believable enough to not make me want them get eaten by a stick-monster. Indeed, I found myself actively rooting for them during the course of the film, which isn’t exactly something you can count on in more formulaic horror flicks.

As in most of his other movies, Wilson shows himself to be a capable director of low budget chills too, with many an atmospheric shot of rather picturesque woods (mostly by day, interestingly enough), well-timed monster attacks and an eye for the gruesome detail. It’s a very controlled movie, with little going on in front of the camera that doesn’t have an actual bearing on the movie except for the somewhat pointless sub-plot of Emma’s visions that changes nothing about the plot and tells us nothing about the characters (and was perhaps more important in an earlier draft of the script?). That subplot is fortunately tiny, though, so The Hollow stays the taut and fun SyFy horror movie I enjoyed greatly.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

In short: Black Sheep (2006)

Sheep farmer’s son Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) has not chosen the best day to return to the family farm to sell his share of it to his asshole brother Angus (Peter Feeney) in an attempt to find closure and perhaps lose his phobia of sheep (based on a cruel prank his prick brother played on him the day their father died).

For today isn’t just the day when Angus is planning to present his new genetically modified super sheep to interested parties but it is also the day when bumbling eco-activists Experience (Danielle Mason) and Grant (Oliver Driver) will accidentally cause the beginning of the sheepocalypse. That’s the sort of thing just bound to happen when one hires a mad scientist (Tandi Wright) to perform illegal genetic experiments on sheep, of course.

Well, at least the ensuing rise of the zombie sheep and zombie sheep people just might help Henry get over his sheep problems.

I don’t know what it is with New Zealand and gory (though in this case not on the early Jackson level of gore) horror comedies, but I’m glad these things always turn out so well. In the case of Jonathan King’s Black Sheep the film’s even funny enough I don’t exactly need to call it something like “the best zombie sheep movie ever made”, though it most certainly is that.

Apart from the film being funny (it’s a comedy thing), it also recommends itself through some adorable sheep people zombies courtesy (as the rest of the effects) of WETA Workshops that would also look good in a future were-sheep film, sheep fart jokes, not very mean-spirited jokes about chakras and other “alternative” nonsense up to the use of acupuncture when you fight sheep people zombies, some nastily-funny gore effects and a script that realizes that sheep jokes will only get you half-way through a film, yet family trouble and trauma treated through the lens of sheep zombie-ism aren’t just comedy gold but also a fine way to have a film that feels serious enough in certain ways not to end up as only a series of sheep jokes.

King is rather good at the sort of half-comedic (these are still and always zombie sheep, after all) suspense and zombie sheep defence scenes George Romero never includes in his films (because he doesn’t know about sheep, I suppose), so that Black Sheep stays as riveting as it is funny throughout.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

In short: Hideous! (1997)

I am generally quite down on Charles Band and Fullmoon Entertainment productions after about 1992 or so (what with them generally sucking badly in the worst possible manner) but this big gloopy ball of weirdness is much more fun than I could have hoped for, starting from an outrageously silly premise and just getting intensely strange, and then stranger.

Unlike most of these films that spend more time winking at their audience while exclaiming how funny they are, this one actually had me amused throughout, thanks to a cast of strange stereotypes with an extra dollop of weirdness, played with the proper kind of overacting by a cast (among them Michael Citriniti, Mel Johnson Jr., and Jacqueline Lovell as the strangest henchwoman imaginable) that actually isn’t phoning it in, even though they are in a film with mutant killer foetuses concerning the misadventures of people in the medical specimen collectors’ underground. A film not containing all that much of said killer foetuses to boot, because special effects ain’t cheap, buddy, but talking it. Fortunately, said talking’s often so funny – as well as off – you might not even miss said foetuses. If all this does sound a bit like a Troma movie, there certainly are more than just a few parallels, but it’s Troma done right, which is to say, actually funny and weirdly subversive in feel instead of just screaming at you that it is.

Hideous! (it truly works hard for that exclamation point) is directed by Charles Band himself with unexpected verve, and just goes from one moment of fun off-the-cuff weirdness to the next. There aren’t many films around who get their mandatory bit of nudity in by having Lovell (the actual brains of her collector’s operation, like every good henchwoman should be) staging a hold-up while being topless and wearing a gorilla mask, which won’t even be the weirdest habit the character will show. And if that sounds like your idea of fun, this one’s for you as much as it is for me.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Past Misdeeds: Fiend (1980)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

A strange red energy descends upon a graveyard by night. It seems to have plans with one of the corpses which are so peacefully rotting away. Conveniently, a pair of lovers has decided to spend some time together there, and the freshly revived dead guy (Don Leifert) can have some fun strangling the female part of the duo with red glowing hands. Looks like he is sucking out her life force too - at least he looks much fresher after the rude deed is done.

Some weeks later, we see the former dead guy move into a house in the circle of hell known as the suburbs. Another jump in time forward, and we finally learn a little more about him and what he is up too.
Dead guy now goes under the name of Eric Longfellow, owns a music school and drives his choleric and paranoid neighbour Gary Kender (Richard Nelson and yes, ladies and gentlemen, our hero) bonkers with his proclivity to play the violin until the early evening hours (terrifying, I know).

When he's not fiddling away merrily, Longfellow sits in the cellar of his house, pets his (of course black) cat and swills wine. From time to time, he drives out to kill another woman to replenish his energy levels.
This could probably go on forever if Longfellow wouldn't start to get sloppy. He kills his victims ever closer to his home until he one day strangles a child in the woods just behind his house. The police might not suspect anything, but his categorical statement that he hasn't heard or seen anything out of the ordinary when the child was slain is more than enough to put the aggressive lunatic that is Gary Kender on his case.
Gary is soon convinced that his hated neighbour hides something terrible behind his facade of arrogant politeness.

For once, there are no evil aliens invading Baltimore in a Don Dohler film. We are in fact not in Maryland at all but in Delaware, and the change of scenery does minor wonders for Fiend. It's the peculiar case of a Dohler movie that is actually more good than just stupidly entertaining.

Sure, Dohler still provides all of the flaws that characterize his films in copious amounts, but their impact on the film as a whole is not as bad as I'm used to in his works. As a director, Dohler often had trouble reaching a level above "technically barely adequate", probably thanks to the shoestring way he had to budget his film, but also thanks to a decisive lack of visual imagination. Fiend still isn't a festival of the senses, yet there are enough moments that show a higher amount of style than one is used to from the director. For once, Dohler is out to evoke a mood through his film's visuals instead of just pointing the camera in the direction of his actors. Don't get me wrong, he isn't suddenly transforming into Mario Bava, but in the context of his other works and the way American local independent horror films had to be shot to be shot at all, it's quite an impressive development for Dohler.

The acting is also quite a bit better than in other Dohler films. Of course, there are still enough bad line readings to make viewers unaccustomed to backyard filmmaking flinch. Nelson and Elaine White as his wife however are at least coming over as natural instead of wooden, which is all I ask for in a film like this, really.
Don Leifert's performance as the film's Big Bad is a little more difficult to evaluate. On one hand, he does some truly fearful mugging for the camera, like a chimpanzee trying to imitate Vincent Price (and of course failing), yet on the other hand he hits some notes of real creepiness, sometimes even of evil, when one would least expect it.

Also better than usual in Dohlerland is the script, or at least the plotting. The pacing is very deliberate (meaner people than I might call it slow), yet also lacking the rambling, disconnected quality of Dohler's other films. Calling it tight would probably go too far, but it's pretty solid.

What I found especially interesting about the film was the character of Kender. The viewer is obviously meant to identify with him, but his irascible nature and extremely rude manners and the initial irrationality of his antipathy towards Longfellow made this completely impossible for me. Our hero here is the kind of guy who, living in a totalitarian state, would go around denunciating people with the smugness of one perfectly unable to have empathy with anyone but himself. In this, he is ironically enough just like the monster he is after, both of them perfectly punchable.

Now, I'm not arguing this is something Dohler put into his film on purpose; looking at the politics of his other films I rather think Dohler sees Kender as "good people", and as someone perfectly in his rights when being an insufferable arse. To me, it just seems to be one of the beauties of art, and something that happens especially often in this type of local filmmaking, that aspects and ideas an artist never planned for still find their way into it, making it stranger and quite a bit more interesting than anyone could expect.
Of course, one would be perfectly in one's right to call this pretentious crap and just let oneself get distracted by Fiend's perfectly annoying synthie soundtrack.

Technorati-Markierungen: ,,,

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Three Films Make A Post: It's diabolical! It's daring! It stalks, it cuts, it rips!

Debug (2014): Call me conceited, but I always get a bad feeling when a movie is written and directed by somebody who is mostly working as an actor, despite there being clear and rather fantastic exceptions to the rule that actors can’t write and direct for shit unless they bring a ghost writer/director or two. David Hewlitt’s Debug is not going to change my mind on the matter either, for while the film’s technically competent on the direction side, it’s also a text book example of a film that makes the wrong choices for mood, characters and everything else with every single edit.

And that’s before I’ve even come to the atrocious script, a kind of lite version of the lovely but already not exactly intellectually brilliant Event Horizon. The script doesn’t know how or when to exposit effectively, how to build up to its supposed scenes of suspense or fright, and instead just lets things happen without seeming to have any control over its own narrative. The characters are one-dimensional and – despite a decent cast – uninteresting, and the dialogue’s just embarrassing, with no single line that sounds as if an actual human being would speak it, nor one that at least sounds cool. I thought I’d be so easy to please with SF/horror that no film in the small sub-genre could manage to not entertain me at least a little, but this thing’s beyond any hope.

Timebomb (1991): This action film with conspiracy thriller elements by Avi Nesher featuring good old Michael Biehn and Patsy Kensit as the least believable (and impressively stupid) psychiatrist imaginable on the other hand did entertain me quite a bit. The script doesn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny (but then it’s not paced to be scrutinized, really) but Nesher’s a consistent director with a decent eye for keeping things rolling, there’s some entertaining nonsense about brainwashing, and the cast (also including a ranting Richard Jordan, a completely wasted in a non-role Robert Culp, our old friend Billy Blanks and Tracy Scoggins) is getting into it with a degree of enthusiasm.

There are even one or two scenes – the shoot-out in the porn cinema in particular – that are as good as US low budget action gets, and given these scenes aren’t in a film that bored me before them, this is a minor for me.

Eden Lodge (2015): Despite marketing material that makes Andreas Prodromou’s film look like a British version of slasher, torture porn and backwoods cannibal flicks, this is actually much more in the tradition of 70s British thrillers, with some bits and pieces of the more hip genres stitched onto the proceedings (one suspects for better saleability). Unfortunately, it’s not a very gripping entry in any of its genres, with not terribly much happening in it that’s actually very thrilling at all, the psychological suspense never really arriving, and a hesitant air to the proceedings.

The film is pretty to look at though, and, as it so often goes with films that leave me absolutely cold, clearly made by basically competent filmmakers making a basically competent film without anything in it you’ll remember a day later, and not much more you’ll actually be interested by while watching it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Headhunter (1988)

A series of deaths among the local Nigerian community awaken the mild degree of interest deaths among the poor and the black tend to awaken in Miami’s police force. Racist idiot Captain Ted Calvin (Steve Kanaly) sends out what must be his least favourite couple of detectives to solve a series of murders you’d usually build a task force for. The lucky ones are Katherine Hall (Kay Lenz) and her peculiar partner Pete Giullani (Wayne Crawford). Pete’s suffering from marriage trouble: seems as if his wife (June Chadwick) has found her lesbian self after what we can only assume to be a decade or more of horror and is throwing him out on his ass, and if you ask me why that’s going to be important for the course of the film, I surely don’t know. But then, I didn’t write the script.

But, let’s get back to the murders – as the film does from time to time too. These aren’t your run of the mill killings but rather bizarre beheadings after which the head of the victim goes missing. Because they sure as hell wouldn’t find anything out on their own, Nigerian-American shaman/lawyer Samuel Juru (Sam Williams) provides a bit of exposition and informs our heroes they are looking for some sort of demon that drove the Miami Nigerians from Nigeria. Which they of course don’t believe.

But no matter, for the demon finds himself threatened and challenged by the two worst cops in town kinda-sorta being on his case doing nothing of consequence, and starts to haunt them with hallucinations and attacks instead of letting them get on with drinking in bars, walking around town muttering nonsense, and not doing anything that could solve even the case of little Timmy’s vanished ball.

Seriously, I got nothing here. I have no idea what Francis Schaeffer’s film is supposed to be, what it’s supposed to do, or what the people involved think its plot is. About half of the film belongs to the peculiar genre of the mumbling, rambling cop film, consequently spending its time on showing our police heroes (yeah, that’s sarcasm right here) being shlubby, mumbly, and totally ineffective, investing a lot of time into Pete’s personality crisis without it having any pay-off or much connection to the supernatural plot beyond his wife and her lover becoming victims at the end. Mostly, that part of the film takes places in bars, cars, and other places where characters can mumble some nonsense at each other, and honestly, I have no idea why the film showing half of this stuff.

I have even less of an idea about the supernatural plot. There’s a demon, who might have a cult, and might do something or other even worse than beheading people we never learn anything much about, I suppose. He’s mostly an invisible wind for large parts of the film (at least those parts that are indeed concerned with him), and turns into a rubbery suit for the big tiny chainsaw against monster finale, but otherwise, I have no idea what his game is, why he feels threatened by two characters who couldn’t find their own asses, or why I should care.

If all this sounds rather vague and disconnected, welcome to Headhunter, a film that spends most of its time not actually doing anything except for being somewhat peculiar and pointless, and certainly never deigns to attempt stuff like entertaining its audience, telling a story, building up a mood beyond “huh?”, or anything you might connect with, you know, a film, and which, alas, just isn’t weird in an interesting enough way to keep one awake watching it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Berserker: The Nordic Curse (1987)

Warning: I’m going to get a bit spoilery here; on the other hand it’s going to be one of the spoiled elements that’ll be the film’s main draw for most potential viewers (you know who you are).

A bunch of the usual young ‘un stereotypes go fishing and hut dwelling in your usual dark woods somewhere in the United States. George “Buck” Flower is playing a guy called Pappy Nyquist; a police man exists (John F. Goff). One of the kids (character and actor names aren’t really needed) – the Intellectual, obviously – reads from a book about the Vikings, because the local area had mostly been settled by Norwegians. From him, we learn a bit about berserkers, specifically a curse that opens up the descendants of berserker bloodlines to possession by berserker ghosts. Oh boy, history can be so exciting.

And wouldn’t you know it? There is indeed someone or something with a bear snout and paws going around killing people in the area. Is it a berserker, or the bear the film shows off from time to time?

In many aspects, Jefferson Richard’s Berserker is your typical middle-80s (the point just before the films became all “funny”) low budget independent slasher movie. There are the paper thin characters embodied by actors with little experience and not much of a future in that career, the oh-so-very-slow first half of the film that spends a lot of time on things like showing the cop and Flower playing chess, or people just goofing around in front of the camera for no reason of narrative, mood, or character.

However, despite these not very enticing elements, Berserker has that peculiar something – call it magic – that made watching it a more pleasant experience than I’d feared. Some of that is caused by some actual filmic achievements, for Richard, particular once the plot gets going, does know how to shoot an (improbably bright by night) wood with all the atmosphere mist, blue light and a primitive (in a good way) soundtrack made out of fake wind noises and random synth warbling can provide, which is an excellent way to make something out of the best production values nature (and cheap electronics) can provide. Done right, and it is done right in this case, watching kids creep through the woods and getting murdered can provide a lot of bang for one’s buck, and doesn’t ever get old to my eyes (particularly since the advent of corridor horror redefined true visual boredom, or horror). What I’m saying, I think, is that the later parts of the film show a bit of a sensibility all its own. Let’s called it individuality. For an example, just look at how creepily it realizes the old tacky chestnut of the sex scene intercut with a murder scene. It’s not exactly tasteful, but it certainly works better at making me uncomfortable than a lot of these scenes do in other movies; most probably because Richard even mirrors the camera angles of the two scenes appropriately, really making the old sex and death story work for him.

There are also some surprises to the script: the way the film takes elements of slasher, nature strikes back horror, and some survivalist thriller bits is actually pretty clever, and leads to some truly unexpected scenes. In particular, it’s the scene where our film’s killer in his partial bear cosplay costume gets to wrestle a bear, a scene that nearly gives Leslie Nielsen mud-wrestling a bear in Day of the Animals a run for its money. And that’s not even the film’s actual climax, because that somewhat later scene aims for a bit of 70s horror feel, with our heroine (more or less) screeching “shoot him! shoot him!” until the rather doubtful looking cop indeed does shoot our killer. In other words, what starts out as a very typical cheapo slasher turns into something unexpected. People get killed if they had sex or not, I’m pretty sure the survivors aren’t virginal, and the way the survival horror elements make their way into the slasher narrative does lead to a handful of minor surprises.

It’s still seat-of-your-pants filmmaking of course (this is a film whose big guest star is Flower, after all), with many a rough edge, and a lot of elements it’d be easy to point at to call Berserker “bad”, but to my eyes, this one’s got heart and personality, and a head of its own, and is therefore good.