Thursday, December 19, 2019

It's the reddest and greenest time of the year again

so I'm taking time off from the exciting business of rambling about movies to do whatever you, dear imaginary reader, believe I'm getting up to at this time of the year. Normal service will resume on Wednesday, January 8th.

Have a fine holiday of your choice, hug your loved ones, and be kind to strangers. The next year just might be a better one, for once.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The People Who Own the Dark (1976)

Original title: Último deseo

A murder of upper class men – doctors, hunters, military scientists, diplomats and so on – meet up in an old castle for a very special kind of party. It’s a cultish sado-masochist sort of thing, the men (among them characters portrayed by Paul Naschy, Emiliano Redondo and Alberto de Mendoza) putting on rather creepy looking masks, and just starting on business of dubious sexiness with the hostesses (among them characters played by Nadiuska, Teresa Gimpera and Maria Perschy) in the castle’s cellar, when somewhere outside what we’ll soon enough learn is a nuclear bomb explodes. Apparently, it’s World War III.

The castle’s cellar is a fallout shelter, too, so right now, the inhabitants are as well off as possible. One of them also happens to be a physicist involved in the military-industrial complex, so there’s someone to provide helpful exposition and survival tips about how it’s best for them to first get provisions from the nearby village to then hole up in the castle for a couple of weeks or months.

That visit to the village doesn’t turn out terribly well, though. As it turns out, every villager was at a big village fete when the bomb fell, and so every single villager has been blinded by the bomb, now acting rather a lot like blind zombies you might remember from certain other Spanish horror movies. Though, to be fair, the blind are only becoming aggressive once they realize our protagonists – at least one of them – are rather quick to murder people getting in their way of grabbing provisions. Of course, the actual killer is then strangled by one of his peers, who afterwards starts to crawl around in the buff, grunting like a pig, so no harm, no foul, right?

Alas, the blind people must have seen the same horror films we’ve seen, too, getting up to what amounts to a classic zombie siege scenario while the seeing get up the the equally classic – though at the point in time when this film was shot not quite as clichéd – business of ripping each other apart even without help.

The People Who Own the Dark is a weird one. Obviously inspired by the early-ish non-voodoo zombie movies following Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, its director León Klimovsky is also sharing the American’s love of highly metaphorical zombies (okay, blind people). Klimovsky clearly wants to say something about class divisions, as well as the social and emotional pressures of the cold war in an era when it felt to be very close to becoming hot.

He just has a much goofier and weirder way going about that than Romero did, with little grip on even vaguely believable human psychology, but a lot of love for a bit of sleaze and soap operatic dialogue. He also never bothers to explain why everyone here is acting quite as extremely as they do, with everyone willing to murder whoever is available on the slightest provocation, only to turn into a human pig afterwards, or start dropping mutilated corpses through holes. As a portray of humanity under pressure, all of this doesn’t work at all, and if Klimovsky wants to suggest this is meant to be a result of the radiation, he certainly never mentions that despite not shying away from expository monologues anywhere else.

The portrayal of the blind masses is rather bizarre too, not just because the blind apparently turn into a weird mob only waiting for a reason to literally rip people apart at the first opportunity. The film also feels it opportune to have every single one of these blind grab some dark glasses from somewhere (I assume there’s a factory for the things somewhere in the village), as well as useful sticks. And yes, that does indeed lead to siege scenes that look as absurd as one imagines reading this, only turned more so by Klimovsky’s perfectly serious and melodramatic handling of all of it, clearly believing that a mob of regular blind people is one of the most terrifying things any audience could imagine.

When not concerned with SM cults (which will never come up again after the first act, of course) and the blind as zombies, the film is always also still trying its best to be a bleak after the bomb film, so even the characters who survive the blindpocalypse end badly in a couple of scenes that are at once improbable and ridiculous yet also curiously effective thanks to Klimovsky’s use of nearly archetypal shots of an open mass grave, gas, and a surprisingly clever use of the choral part of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Of course, as a whole, The People Who Own the Dark is much too silly a movie to feel truly bleak; its treatment of the anxieties and fears of its time to bizarre to be terribly effective; but as a document of a not untalented exploitation filmmaker like Klimovsky trying to make sense of its time as well as making a buck, it is a very worthwhile film, particular since its general sense of weirdness really never lets up, keeping a viewer at least guessing at what strange idea Klimovsky’s going to put on screen in the next scene.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

In short: Predestination (2014)

Warning: I’m going to keep it very vague, but if you’re up on your classic Science Fiction, even the mention of the Heinlein story this is based on will probably be enough to count as a heavy spoiler in. A plot synopsis is right out anyway, for the best way to learn what this is about is to watch it. Whoa.

I’ve never warmed to any of the other films made by Australian brother director/writer duo The Spierig Brothers. To my eyes, most of them seem glossy yet terribly empty, not having the kind of style as substance gloss that’ll let me be okay with that sort of thing. However, turning their hands at adapating Robert A. Heinlein’s tale of temporal (and other) shenanigans “All You Zombies” seems to have brought out quite different directors in these two. The film’s still very slick – usually, directors don’t unlearn the gloss or the style unless they go the Dario Argento route of working really hard at that – but in this case, the slickness seems completely in service to presenting a complicated and pretty bizarre plot that keeps surprisingly close to the equally bizarre (and great) Heinlein story in a clear and focussed manner.

The directors seem to have realized quite exactly that this particular tale doesn’t need style as distraction, but style as a way to lead an audience through it without things becoming as preposterous as they could otherwise feel, a device to help ask the material’s questions about free will (and the ones about solipsism I don’t believe Heinlein actually noticed, given what I’ve read about his ego) and predestination more clearly. In fact, even if you know where all of this is going – and the film’s close enough to the story you’ll know that pretty early on if you’ve read it – the film is still engrossing because it is so well constructed, playing its game with such verve, one can’t help but get sucked in. Plus, the philosophical questions do of course become quite a bit clearer when you know what they actually are, and how the film is going to frame them in the end.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Sadist of Notre Dame (1975/9)

Original title: El sádico de Notre-Dame

(For the Francophiles among my imaginary readers: this write-up is based on the Spanish language cut of the movie)

A man calling himself Mathis Vogel (Jess Franco) is in a bit of a mental state. A former seminary student who was excommunicated after he developed ideas too “radical” even for the Catholic church in their rampant misogyny and outright gibbering madness, he has spent some years in a mental institution before he escaped. Well, presumably escaped, for the subtitles of the film are rough and my Spanish very basic. He is now haunting the nightly streets of Paris around Notre-Dame, murdering sexually open woman and prostitutes (he’s clearly the kind of guy who can’t see the difference there) while ranting in a mix of self-hatred for his own sexual desires, Christian doctrine gone crazy-violent and egomania, internally styling himself as a new grand inquisitor killing all these devilish women come to tempt him/men.

Obviously, there’s just as much self-hatred as hatred of women involved here, and wouldn’t you know it, Mathis isn’t just a killer, he’s also a voyeur as well as a sexual sadist, punishing people who live out the fantasies he is afraid of. When he’s trying to sell a mildly fictionalized manuscript of his deeds to a would-be posh S&M magazine, he stumbles upon the trace of a group that’s particular irresistible to him: a count and countess and their followers and hangers-on who live a swinging sado-masochistic weekend orgy lifestyle with some elements of – staged – Satanism. Basically, it’s everything Mathis must dream of but could never admit to, making for ideal victims.

From time to time, we also pop in with some cops whose investigation is 99 percent sitting around in an office, bickering.

The Sadist of Notre-Dame is a clear and immediate favourite in the large and obsessive body of work of the great Jess – or Jesús if you want to be too precise – Franco. The director isn’t always interested in character psychology, but he’s written himself quite the role here with a deeply disturbed lead character who is obsessive about a lot of the things the director himself was obsessed with but really functions as a dark mirror of these obsessions turned bad by a certain strain of Christianity that sees all things physical as sinful and the resulting self-hatred projected outward.

This mirroring between Mathis’s desires and that of others happens in the plot of the film regularly, too, the killer sometimes re-staging moments of sexual play he has watched (cue many a close-up of one crazed Franco eye), only with the difference that the only penetration he offers is one with a knife. Where the rest of the characters are wont to get each other off, Mathis can only ever conceive of sex as something that must be punished and purged.

It’s pretty obvious political commentary by Franco, offered with the self-irony that comes when a writer/director also casts himself as the villain of the piece.

Visually, this is an often striking film (though shot in the Franco seats of his pants way, so non-Francophiles should probably adjust their expectations), full of moody shots of nightly Paris and its much less pleasant looking day side, with all of Franco’s favourite ways of framing scenes and his patented camera positions there and accounted for. This is, however, not one of the director’s dreamlike and somewhat woozy films. One might even call it energetic for much of its running time, for there’s a sense of naturalism surrounding parts of the film that doesn’t suggest that we are partaking in parts of the dreams or nightmares of the director this time around but some of the things he sees when he wakes from them. Which obviously still means naked Lina Romay. Fitting to this mood is the absence of a big nightclub and strip sequence. Instead, the film features a short mock-Satanic ritual followed by a little orgy that nearly takes on the quality of sensual dream but never quite gets there; on purpose, if you ask me, for this film, at least in this version, isn’t as much about Franco indulging in his dreams than reflecting on their dark side.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Three Anime Make A Post: They threatened his world. He will destroy theirs.

Kiki's Delivery Service aka 魔女の宅急便 (1989): An easy psychological test for weeding out people with whom something is dangerously wrong is finding out their opinion about Studio Ghibli movies, particularly classic ones like this directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki. If one doesn’t like these films they are not to be trusted.

The particular beauty of Kiki is how easily Miyazaki turns what would in lesser hands be a very rote story of growing up with very obvious valuable lessons to learn into a tale that’s not just charming as all get out but also suggests complexities in the character of its (barely) teen witch protagonist as well as in the world around her, never treating the elements that have clear metaphorical uses only as metaphor and never pretending inner or outer life were simple.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower aka メアリと魔女の花 (2017): While also pretty damn charming and imaginative for most of its running time, not quite on the level of classic Ghibli is this Mary Stewart adaptation by former Ghibli director (and owner of a particularly impressive name) Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It is a lovely example of the art of all ages anime, don’t get me wrong, it just becomes somewhat lesser in the direct comparison the very Ghibli-like style of the production can’t help but  invite. The difference here really is a comparative lack of that internal complexity I just praised Kiki for, Mary’s process of growing up never suggesting more than the most superficial internal struggle adding to the outer one, and a world that simply feels a bit flatter and simpler then in the best anime of this style.

Your Name aka 君の名は。(2016): Your Name’s director Makoto Shinkai has made at least one film very much beholden to the Ghibli style, too, to not terribly great effect, if I remember right, but at least this film is not at all interested in that comparison but goes aesthetic and philosophical ways all of its own. On paper, this is a bit of a science fictional romance weepie – and weep indeed I did watching it – so you could accuse it of focussing on emotional manipulation. However, it manipulates the audience’s emotions for good, perfectly encapsulating a feeling of emotionally big young love from afar, while also thinking surprisingly deeply about questions of fate and random chance, the gravity of distance (in a way only possible in the genres of the fantastic) and about the responsibilities of being human. These thematic concerns are  all effectively wrapped in a lot of tear-stained hankies, while also presenting a true sense of awe about the world as well as about  the human heart.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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 gang of four white men wearing blackface raids a village somewhere in the jungles of Africa – a part of Africa that seems to still lie under British colonial rule. While stealing some crates of explosives, the assailants also show no compunction against killing two men.

The deed happened in the territory where Tarzan (Gordon Scott) makes his home, and the fur-shorted one follows the men upriver to enact the Law of the Jungle on them. To add a bit of piquancy, the leader of the criminals, Slade (Anthony Quayle), is an old enemy of Tarzan’s (“I would have killed him, if not for the Law of Man”), and a bit of a brutal crazy thrill-seeker. Tarzan’s hunting job is complicated when he saves tough-talking Angie (Sara Shane) from a plane crash she suffers when she’s trying to impress him, and while Angie isn’t exactly the proverbial damsel in distress, she’s also not Sheena. Though she does appreciate a good nearly naked barbarian like Tarzan when she meets him.

With Tarzan ever closing in behind him, Slade has his own problems. He needed the explosives he stole to work an illegal diamond mine he has discovered, but his men – Irish thug O’Bannion (Sean “The Irishman” Connery), river boat captain Dino (Al Mulock) and diamond miner Krieger (Niall McGinnis) – and his girlfriend Toni (Scilla Gabel) are a rather problematic bunch that does half of his work for Tarzan. Shouldn’t you start on the infighting only after you’ve actually acquired your loot? These people disagree, and it’s quite probable they’d kill each other off quite without Tarzan’s help.

I’ve not been seeking out any of the Tarzan movies during these last few decades, for in my memory, I had the films pegged as more or less exclusively family friendly fare containing more chimpanzee shenanigans than jungle variations of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and seldom taking on the Lost Race stories and general strangeness of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books. John Guillermin’s fifth film of the Gordon Scott-starring Tarzan series turns out to be a noirish adventure movie rather than chimpanzee action, however, and of highly doubtful family friendliness, particularly for the time it was made in. To drive the point home, there’s an early scene where Tarzan leaves Cheetah behind at home that is an early signal (well, after the murders) what kind of film this is going to be.

Tarzan here is less the noble savage than a man who spends his life living a particular style of barbarism by choice. The film seems not completely sure if Tarzan’s brand of barbarism is really all that much different from the more civilized forms of barbarism Slade and his men stand for. It does, at least, not seem very satisfied when Tarzan finally conquers Slade, and quite dubious about the act’s morals, and looks equally askance at his rejection (after they quite obviously had sex, though) of Angie.

It’s only fitting in a film that spends about half of its running time on Tarzan’s antagonists, sure-handedly and effectively hitting all the beats of hard-boiled movies about small groups of criminals coming to blows, until the jungle, or Tarzan (this is probably the only film I’ll ever see where Sean Connery is killed with bow and arrow by Tarzan), or one of their own partners kills them. The film is really rather ruthless in its set-ups here, repeatedly demonstrating a hard edge that makes it impossible to not see this as the hard-boiled adventure film it was meant to be.

Guillermin isn’t only particularly good at directing his very competent cast in their scenes of infighting, he also gives the action itself a much harder edge than I would have expected from a Tarzan film. It’s not just that people actually bleed here, but the violence seems more brutish than you’d expect from any late 50s adventure movie, with a handful of moments I found rather astonishing in their directness. Guillermin really understands how to stage the action too, keeping a film that takes place in a mix of actual location shots and obvious sound stages quite dynamic, with much more movement than you’d usually see in the often stiff low budget adventure movies of this time and age.

Angie’s role in the film also comes as a bit of a surprise. While she does need rescuing by Tarzan from time to time, she isn’t a helpless, whining doll, with most of the dangers she gets herself into being the kind of thing someone who isn’t used to jungle survival would believably wander into, the film never suggesting she gets in trouble because she’s a woman. For someone who is basically an “adventuress”, to keep with the parlance of the time, the film treats her quite sympathetic too, even subtly suggesting that a woman with actual experiences of life would make a good partner – in the actual meaning of the word – for Tarzan, and mildly shaking his head at him for pushing her away to continue a jungle life the film is already dubious about too.

For how different is Tarzan truly from a violent thrill seeker like Quayle, once you get to counting the bodies either man leaves behind? Guillermin emphasises this question with some interesting variations on classical Tarzan elements. Here, Tarzan’s trademark yodel is not a quaint gimmick, but an expression of the wildness that lies at the core of the character, used just once at a dramatic moment that makes it that much more memorable and, if you think about it, even rather horrifying. Which, come to think of it, is not something I ever expected to write about a yodel, or in the context of a Tarzan movie.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

In short: High Spirits (1988)

Knowing the varied, sometimes highly peculiar, body of work of director Neil Jordan, it’s actually not that much of a surprise he once made a comedy in which Steve Guttenberg romances an “Irish” ghost played by Daryl Hannah while a bunch of more interesting actors like the great Peter O’Toole (as a castle owner who turns to faking ghostly encounter badly to keep the lights on, only to cause the rather rambunctious real ghosts to start doing a bit too much of their thing), Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher and a practically baby-faced Liam Neeson as a toxically masculine ghost with freakishly large hands, are involved in sometimes funny but always loud shenanigans.

Knowing Jordan, it should also not come as a surprise to anyone the whole thing’s intensely aestheticized to a degree you don’t usually encounter in pretty slapstick heavy comedy like this. It also should come as not much of a surprise that all of Jordan’s intense camera work, aggressive production design tastes, and love for an ultra-obvious score often seem like the worst possible fit for material that could use quite a bit more subtlety, and a looser rhythm that leaves the comedy as well as the actors room to breathe. Not here, though, for Jordan has everything turned up to eleven all of the time.

As in practically any movie he’s in, O’Toole seems to have the time of his life, but when does a great scenery-chewer like himself have the opportunity to work with a director who’d never tell anyone to tone it down? And honestly, while O’Toole turned to eleven might not be too good for the film, he’s certainly fun if you like him; which only a monster wouldn’t.

On the other acting hand, Steve Guttenberg’s so boring, he’s completely steamrolled by all the business going on around him. His only saving grace is that he’s partnered with Hannah in what I believe is the worst performance of her career, so lifeless that anyone who’d fall in love with her would also romance a blow-up doll, and doing the most atrocious Irish accent imaginable.

As should be clear by now, I’m not a particular fan of this example of Neil Jordan being Neil Jordan – it’s still better than In Dreams, though – but even I have to admit the film does have its moments, mostly when it calms down a little and doesn’t attempt to make four jokes at the same time, and stops with the incessant shouting and jumping around. That’s not really enough to call this a successful movie, but it’s very typical for a bad Jordan movie. For the director’s bad films like High Spirits never fail because they are lazy and disinterested but because they are busy risking and trying a lot, which just doesn’t always work out but is still much preferable to by-the-numbers filmmaking any day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

OSS 117 Murder for Sale (1968)

Original title: Niente rose per OSS 117

aka OSS 117: Double Agent

aka No Roses for OSS 117

An organization cleverly known as The Organization is successfully committing a good number of high profile political assassinations. US secret agent OSS 117 (John Gavin), Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath to his friends, decides to do something against it. He does the logical thing and gets some plastic surgery to look like the most wanted international killer of them all, sleeps with a random beautiful woman so she can rat him out to the police, and then awaits rescue by The Organization. Which somehow really does work, so our hero – such as he is – ends up in the palazzo and headquarters of The Organization’s boss, The Major (Curd Jürgens hamming it up lovingly). Situated there, 117 has a fine opportunity to get bored by classical music (philistine!), bed the place’s doctor (Luciana Paluzzi), make enemies with the Major’s right hand man Karas (George Eastman in all his hairy glory), and spy a bit. Eventually, he is sent on a mission, during which he will be poisoned by Robert Hossein, have more sex (this time around with Margaret Lee), come up with plans that make no sense at all, and get involved in fisticuffs and mild car chases.

André Hunebelle’s Murder for Sale is the only time John Gavin was playing the title role in a film about agent OSS 117 (based on a long running series of French pulpy spy novels), and I’m not terribly surprised by it. Now, unlike your serious John Le Carré-style espionage material, Eurospy movies of the sillier Bond-affine variety – to which the film at hand absolutely belongs – don’t live or die on the merits of their lead actors. These guys are mostly there to punch uglier guys and look good in a suit, so basically any more or less handsome visage will do. However, Gavin’s not a terribly convincing puncher, while his acting approach here seems like an attempt to channel Alain Delon’s patented icy coolness, perhaps with an added wink from time to time, which might have sounded like a good idea at the time but mostly results in this OSS 117 feeling very bland rather than cool.

Fortunately, that’s not terribly important, and the rest of the film is a perfectly entertaining example of its style, and one that doesn’t have the slapdash feel of many a Eurospy movie either. Hunebelle had quite a bit of experience with genre movies of all types, and he manages to take the very silly script, pump up the right bits of silly business yet also provide all the minor thrills of face-punching, car chasing and perfectly awkward sexiness one comes for in these films.

The director keeps the pacing up admirably even when there’s no action happening, too. He seems to have particular fun with all the side business that makes a Eurospy movie, like The Major’s version of the dancing troupe you find in so many villain lairs: a string quartet playing Schubert. One can’t help but think that’s quite good for the lair’s security too, for while you can man-dance your way through a Bollywood dance number (just look at Sonny Deol), no vengeful hero’s going to take the time and study the cello to infiltrate your base. And hey, The Major even has a neat self-destruct device for the place, though he doesn’t quite manage to use it, alas.

Not terribly typical for the genre is the film’s aesthetic emphasis not on the pop art culture much more common in Eurospy films but what I can’t help but call posh art – there’s the Schubert, the somewhat tacky old school rich people beauty of the Major’s lair, and a general tendency of everyone furnishing a home here to go for mock Greek statuary to behold. It makes for a nice change from other films of the genre, and must certainly have jibed well with director Hunebelle’s experience with swashbucklers.

It’s all rather lovely to look at, particularly since the director is also rather good with pretty postcard shots for cars to mid-tempo chase one another in and dubious heroes to strut around in front of, nicely leaning into the travelogue aspects so many Eurospy films feature.

Obviously, there’s no depth at all to anything here – unless you make like George Eastman and drop from a roof, of course – and the film’s sexual and social politics are a bit dubious to modern eyes, but for light action and very pretty pictures, Murder for Sale is an excellent choice.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

In short: Sweetheart (2019)

Jenn (Kiersey Clemons) is washed ashore an, apparently tropical, small island together with a dying friend who’s just alive long enough to at least provide us with the name of our protagonist. Jenn turns out to be a bit of a natural when it comes to wilderness survival, going about the required business of fishing and foraging with considerable intelligence and foresight. So she could most probably survive until an eventual rescue without too much actual danger for her life, if there weren’t a pretty big problem.

Every night, a monster (one of those person-shaped amphibian/fish monsters, it will turn out) comes to the island from its underwater lair to hunt, with clear ambitions of adding Jenn to its diet.

I already thought J.D. Dillard’s first movie, the sort of black superhero origin story Sleight, was a considerable achievement, and an excellent example of how an intelligent script and careful direction can turn a low budget genre affair like it into a truly excellent film. So Sweetheart’s particular excellence doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing how it shares exactly these virtues. Sure, given the Blumhouse involvement, the budget must have grown from miniscule to tiny for the director this time around, but the film still does need exactly these virtues to work.

And work it does wonderfully, the small amount of dialogue giving Clemons enough space to draw Jenn’s character through body language and glances alone, an opportunity she uses very well. There’s no ball she’s speaking to to make things easier on the actress, either, and once dialogue does set in, the film uses this to quietly point out the difference between the audience’s perception of Jenn, and the way others see her and make her see herself. It’s very cleverly done, adding thematic resonance about Jenn’s life as a young black woman without disturbing the fine balance of the monster movie.

For Sweetheart is a great survivalist monster movie indeed, one of those examples of the form where a filmmaker understands the needs coming from his budget, like not being able to afford many shots of convincing full-body monster action, and always seems to draw just the right consequences, using one of the oldest solutions to this problem in the book, only showing the creature in silhouette, in part or in short glances, but making all of these partial impressions count.

Sweetheart is a quietly excellent film, Dillard having excised all of the needless guff that makes a movie like, say, Crawl so bloated and ineffective, to really focus on the core of its sub-genre, his lead actress, and the shadow of a monster drawing near.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Mr. Brooks (2007)

Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a beloved family man, a respected businessman, and also a feared serial killer. He’s not been killing anyone for two years now, thanks to the wonders of the twelve step program (I wonder how that making amends part worked in his case). However, his second personality, one Marshall (William Hurt), representing director Bruce A. Evans’s fear of letting Kevin Costner simply act a man with two very different sides to his personality, does talk him into beginning another murder spree. Alas, some idiot, let’s call him Mr Smith (Dane Cook), has photographed Earl doing the deed through a window and is now blackmailing the serial killer into killing a random person with him, for Mr Smith desperately wants to know how that feels. And that would probably be the plot for an at least half sane movie, but since this thing’s about as deranged as its protagonist, there are various sub- and side plots awaiting your pleasure, apart from the Dexter-style dubious joy of seeing how Earl’s going to get away with it all.

So, we also spend quite a bit of time with the Detective hunting Earl, one Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore); we spend even more time with the divorce troubles her greedy husband – she’s not just a cop, she’s also a rich heiress, you see – gets her into. And then there’s the killer couple who is trying to take vengeance on her. And her breaking all the rules. Earl is going to involve himself in all of this business, because why the hell not?

Because that’s clearly still not enough PLOT for a single movie, meet Earl’s daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker). Jane has left college for reasons she isn’t willing to explain, and now wants to work for Daddy. Turns out she is pregnant (and we learn that serial killer Earl is against abortion). Then it turns out she has probably murdered someone at school with a hatchet, and Earl has to worry that she has inherited some of his little mental problems, and try to fix her little problem without her noticing.

Also also, Earl might want to commit suicide in the most complicated manner ever devised, or perhaps not. Who knows?

I believe these are more or less all of the sub and side plots Mr. Brooks throws at its audience. If all of this sounds like total nonsense to you, you’ve got the film right. Obviously, it’s trying to milk the automatic respect a lot of people have for actors like Costner playing a bad guy for all it is worth, but it is permanently undercutting this by having so much plot business to take care of, Costner has little time to do any actual character work. That’s certainly not helped by the idiotic decision to give him another half portrayed by a different actor, which turns what should be an internal struggle into lots of expository dialogue, or scenes of the film gloating at how people not Costner can’t see William Hurt!

The funniest thing about the whole affair is that director/co-writer Evans presents all this bullshit with the grand gesture of somebody making a deep and thoughtful film about a terrible human being, wilfully pretending that this is not a cartoon, and that we learn a lot about the human condition here. Of course, if you watch the film as the cartoon about a bedraggled serial killer haunted by the horrors of plotting it actually is, it becomes rather brilliant, with stupid twists and idiotic new sub-plots coming so fast and furious, it’s impossible for me to watch this (or just think about it), and not fall into rather regular fits of the giggles. The film’s educational, too, in so far as we learn that there’s no genre that can’t be made hilarious by the simple application of all the plots ever.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Three Films Make A Post: Evil Lives Just Beneath the Surface

Mary (2019): Michael Goi’s movie about a haunted ship that ruins a family should by all rights be much better than it is: a ghost on a ship is doubly creepy, seeing as it adds isolation to a vengeful supernatural force; terrible things happening to perfectly likeable people are my kind of horror; and lastly, the film has Gary Oldman and Emily Mortimer, and they don’t look bored. Alas, everything that could be wrong with the film is wrong, starting with the needlessly awkward narrative structure of having Mortimer’s character tell the tale to a cop (cue internal groaning about plot twists at once) instead of the film simply telling the damn story, characterisation that does neither know how to do shorthand (don’t even think about actual depth) nor how to properly utilize the abilities of a great cast.
As for the film’s horror business, Goi – despite a perfectly promising background in TV genre work – seems completely incapable to construct even a single creepy scene properly. The framing of scenes is random and uninvolving, and there’s not a moment of the appropriate atmosphere on display.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): I must have mentioned my immense dislike for Mark Millar’s brand of industrialised cynicism here before; curiously enough, I don’t hate all adaptations of his crap body of comics work quite as much. Case in point is Matthew Vaughn’s (co-written by Vaughn with the great Jane Goldman) super spy movie at hand. The movie’s humour is acerbic and generally aims a bit low for my tastes, but at least it does tend to aim for the lower parts of the people on top. Why, there’s even a bit of thinking about class in here that seems…honest. The film also has a lot of fun with the whole super spy business, putting imaginative twists on all kinds of standard tropes. The action is generally loud and abrasive but well-structured, and for most of the time, the film’s on the right side of being cynical. It also features Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson in great form.

The final act does become decidedly weaker, though, suffering under the really Millar-ian idea that mass murder is inherently hilarious, at the same time it is trying to milk it for laughs, also trying to use it as the base for suspense. Which, no surprise, doesn’t work out terribly well, but doesn’t end up so bad it ruins what is a surprisingly fun time.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Aaaaand, I don’t know what happened here. Same director, same writers, basically the same cast, but the film is a bloated mess, lacking the satiric edge of the first film, landing hardly any joke. It was apparently made under the impression that what this sequel really needed were about a dozen sub-plots, none of which is terribly interesting, and so spends more time tediously juggling all the bits and pieces of what feels like at least half a dozen different scripts in place of having an actual narrative.

It doesn’t help at all that the action sequences follow the way of the plot, becoming more and louder but less interesting, certainly going through the motions of how a contemporary big budget movie action sequence is supposed to look and feel, but never making much of an impact.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Avenging Force (1986)

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

Former intelligence agent Matt Hunter (Michael Dudikoff) packs in his family - consisting of his grandfather (Rick Boyle) and his little sister Sarah (Allison Gereighty) - to visit his old secret ops partner Larry Richards (Steve James) and his family in New Orleans. Larry’s retired too, but apart from being a family man, he’s also running for senate, clearly on the sort of humanist platform that’ll get you labelled as a communist by quite a few people, particularly when the politician in question is a gentleman of colour like Larry.

So, despite being rather awesome, Larry has made enemies, in particular a secret society of rich fascists around Professor (who knows of what, though further proceedings suggest it has something to do with being evil) Elliott “Hitler was right” (actual quote) Glastenbury (John P. Ryan), who add to their evilness by having stolen their name from the seminal British folk rock band (The) Pentangle. Because Nazis are assholes, some of the groups’ henchmen attack a Mardi Gras parade Larry, Matt and their families take part in, murdering one of Larry’s children in the process.

Things don’t become more pleasant from there on in, and various attacks on our heroes eventually leave only Matt and Sarah alive. The Pentangle’s leaders have a hobby quite befitting their politics, and love to hunt The Most Dangerous Game™, so they “invite” Matt to take part in one of these hunts as their chosen victim. Which must have seemed like a good idea at the time; one suspects the Professor ignored the decidedly un-Aryan subject of hubris in his studies.

Quite surprising for the generally exploitative way Cannon and Golan-Globus chose their movies, they didn’t immediately follow up the success of American Ninja with a direct sequel. Instead, they put American Ninja’s leads Steve James and Michael Dudikoff and its director Sam Firstenberg to work on a film that does not contain any ninjas at all, but which otherwise does include pretty much everything else you’d expect from a low budget (though not that low budget) action film, except exploding huts. For reasons I don’t even want to ponder, this seems also to be meant as some sort of sequel to the Chuck Norris vehicle Invasion U.S.A., despite the only connection I can make out without having to watch a Chuck Norris (tied with Seagal as my least favourite US action movie lead) film, being Dudikoff’s character name, his job, and dead parents. And since all action movie heroes from the 80s are basically the same guy anyway, that’s not really enough to think of this as a sequel at all.

Instead of the ninjas, you get a film that works very, very hard to establish its heroes as the most awesome thing since sliced bread and its villains as the scum of the Earth, people who aren’t just Nazis (and just listen to how exactly the film actually hits the complete idiocy of right-wing “intellectuals” in Glastenbury’s speeches, probably without even having to try terribly hard), people who hunt others for sport, child killers, and probably puppy eaters, but also the kinds of guys who plan to sell Matt’s twelve year old sister into prostitution. Speaking of Nazis, it’s always a particular joy to find an 80s US action movie that uses them as its big bads instead of the more typical “Asian enemy of the day”, or “the Russians”, and I really appreciate the extra miles the film goes to turn its Nazis into proper cartoon villains while still keeping them perfectly in the correct spirit.

Of course, it would have been rather nice when, with the film’s heart placed on the left as it is, it would have made another step and not killed off James in your typical “black best friend in an action movie” style, particular since Steve James really is more charismatic, a less stiff actor, and also nicer to look at than Dudikoff, but then, we really can’t ask everything of what is only meant as basic action fodder.

Speaking of action, Firstenberg  was one of Cannon’s more dependable directors, not flashy but often able to rise above mere basic competence into the realm of the highly entertaining. In Avenging Force’s case this means there’s hardly a boring second on screen. Whenever nobody gets shot, spiked, strangled or otherwise killed, there’s a car chase, or a scene between Dudikoff and his sister that turns the emotional hysteria up to eleven (see also the imaginary chapter in my imaginary book about the action film as melodrama even when it doesn’t come from Hong Kong), or Steve James losing his shirt, with little that happens on screen having anything much to do with that pesky reality business, and instead everything aiming for the same kind of awesome kids of all ages get out of Power Metal. Best of all is that Firstenberg’s not just aiming at but hitting the mark in every scene, sometimes through the varied style of the action sequences, sometimes through the addition of little silly bits and pieces (a chase scene becomes something different once the chased bad guy puts on a straw hat, it turns out), clever application of atmospheric New Orleans and bayou locations (some of which were of course situated in LA), or outright ridiculous cheese like the costumes the Pentangle like to don during their chases. My favourite among the last is of course the wrestler gimp outfit.

On a more direct level of craft, I’m quite impressed with Firstenberg’s handling of escalation here. Instead of ever louder, higher in body count, and explosive, the action in Avenging Force becomes increasingly up close and personal, with shoot-outs and car chases in the end making place for grimy and dirty hand to hand struggles in the mud and the (excellently used) rain.

It’s all pretty inspiring stuff, really, at least as far as dumb yet affectionate entertainment goes; which is pretty far with me.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

In short: Fast Color (2018)

Warning: I have to spoil one late plot point

The USA in a near future where a complete lack of rain has caused a huge economic downturn, though things like police and the government are apparently still rocking, more or less. Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), is travelling through the semi-apocalyptic not-quite wasteland, running from what we will soon enough learn is the evil government™, trying to suppress fits during which she unloads huge amounts of psychokinetic energy, enough to cause minor earthquakes.

Ruth is running towards home, a mother (Loraine Toussaint) she left years ago, and a daughter (Saniyya Sidney) she dropped off with her years ago. Psychic powers do run in the family, but unlike Ruth, the other women in the family can dissolve objects into their separate molecules and put them back together again (but not change them). Still, once she arrives home (or “home”) she might have more to do than just try to reconnect with her closest relations, for she just might lead the evil government™ right to the people she still loves.

Julia Hart’s Fast Color is a rather frustrating film in that there’s much to like about it, but all its great elements never quite come together well enough to form a satisfying whole instead of a patchwork of good bits.

The film’s obvious strength and emphasis is on its portrayal of three generations of black women, attempting (and often succeeding) at being honest about the flaws and virtues of all three of them, effectively portraying the way people can oversteer to avoid well-known troubles but also evoking a feeling of genuine kinship despite everything wrong between the three. The film goes about this business slowly, but methodically, with patience and an eye for the telling detail, well-served by three excellent leading ladies.

The problem is that the film doesn’t trust a bit of SF enabling a family drama to be enough, so it adds the semi-apocalypse, random superhero tropes, and that godawful nonsensical evil government™ subplot that only works when a viewer accepts that a government not wanting to have someone causing earthquakes running around inadvertently destroying motels must be evil. Of course, the film really doesn’t think about that bit at all, but rather goes for the government realizing that Ruth’s powers can probably be used to let it rain again, and therefore, instead of simply offering her a job as their designated rain maker, go the whole “hunting a young woman to do vaguely defined experiments on her”.

While the special effects for this part of the film do end up looking rather beautiful, the rest of these plot elements add very little to the film, and too often get in the way of the its actual strengths.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Eli (2019)

Warning: I’m going to spoil the devil out of the final act twist!

Rose (Kelly Reilly) and Paul (Max Martini) have clearly grown desperate about the rather peculiar auto-immune disease of their little son Eli (Charlie Shotwell). That at least seems to be the only rational explanation for their decision to pack him, his little bubble boy tent and his little hazmat suit, and take him to the very special clinic of what we can only assume (because the film certainly isn’t saying) to be rogue immunologist Dr Horn (Lili Taylor). “Rogue”, because what proper clinic would be an old creepy mansion out in the boons, staffed only by the doctor and two nurses and only ever keeping one patient at a time. Once the treatments start and Eli looks increasingly worse for wear, one also can’t help but ask oneself if one shouldn’t replace the “rogue immunologist” simply with “mad scientist”.

When he’s not getting tortured by the good doctor, Eli does encounter various strangenesses. For one there’s the sarcastic girl (Sadie Sink overacting for all she is worth) outside he has regular chats with through a closed terrace door, and who seems to hint at something not being quite right at the clinic. Worse than mockery, however, are the ghosts. At first, Eli believes these entities want to do him harm, but as he will eventually discover, they are the spirits of Horn’s former patients, all deceased thanks to her treatments, attempting to warn him and help him escape.

The problem is that his parents are more or less in on the dangers of the whole affair – his dad more so than his mum – but then, and here comes the plot twist, Eli is  not actually there to be treated for an auto-immune disease, but because he’s a son of the devil. I’m not speaking metaphorically here, mumsy really banged the devil. Of course, “Doctor” Horn and her nurses aren’t medical people either, but what I can only assume to be renegade nuns – child murder not generally being a terribly accepted part of Christian doctrine – pumping him full of Holy Water in the hopes that it cures him or kills him and saves his soul.

When Eli figures this nonsense out, he gets a bit angry, so I hope you like the idea of a hilarious/dramatic confrontation between mother and son that’s surrounded by a little circle of floating, upside-down (because SATAN) crucified nuns who will of course eventually catch fire.

Now, if you’re asking yourself if Ciaran Foy’s Made-for-Netflix horror movie really is quite as stupid as all of this sounds, I can assure you that yes, it indeed is. On a technical level, Foy is a perfectly capable director, but he is not able (or not willing) to turn the film into the sort of dream-like phantasmagoria needed to make a plot quite this dumb and contrived work. Instead, much of the film is spent on the usual contemporary mainstream horror business of jump scares and people creeping through badly lit corridors.

The film’s structure doesn’t help make up for its dubious big idea either, for the reliance on the one big twist does mean that everything that comes before looks and feels terribly implausible. Neither Eli’s illness, nor the way his parents treat him, nor Horn’s therapy make sense as anything but either a writerly inability to understand the basics of reality or the long, long wind-up to a Big Twist. Alas not in any way that might intrigue a viewer; it’s rather like having to listen to a storyteller who never comes to the frigging point, instead dragging things out endlessly.

Of course, once the point came, I did find myself surprised by its extravagant stupidity as well as by the filmmakers’ apparent conviction that this nonsense somehow makes up for their film feeling patently ridiculous throughout. Foy, despite a soundtrack that becomes increasingly (one might say desperately) dramatic and actors giving their all melodramatically pulling their hair out, simply can’t sell any of it, playing as highly shocking and horrifying what actually comes out schlocky and intensely hilarious.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

In short: The Severed Arm (1973)

One fine day, Jeff Ashton (David G. Cannon) has a rather awkward package in his mail. It contains a severed arm. Most people would be taken aback by this sort of thing, but Jeff has an additional reason to panic a little: some years ago, he and a group of friends were visiting an old mine, where they got trapped in a cave-in. After a couple of weeks, starvation set in. Jeff manages to convince most of the gang that cannibalism was the solution to their problem, but because they weren’t barbarians, his plan was to cut off one extremity of everyone in turn. Ted (Ray Dannis), drew the short straw and lost an arm. Only moments later, rescue came. The others pretended Ted lost his arm in the initial cave-in, and the now one-armed guy has been bopping in and out of mental health care facilities ever since.

So it’s no surprise that Jeff assumes this very special package to be a sign of Ted now seeking revenge on his former friends. Indeed, one after the other of them get an arm hacked off, the mysterious one-armed perpetrator seemingly not caring if they live or die in the process, as long as the killer gets their arm.

Tom Alderman’s The Severed Arm is one of those local/regional US movies of the 70s that I find rather more effective than it should be on paper. The budget is obviously low (as the seat of one’s pants); half of the actors are the sort of people who have long careers in mostly very minor parts, the other half only have one or two credits; the script has obvious logical flaws (like nobody noticing that Ted’s arm was cut off just a minute ago instead of several weeks as the friends tell); and director Alderman – whose last of two films this is – is clearly inexperienced.

However, most everyone involved seems to have put quite a bit of effort in. Thus the actors apply themselves to the material much more than most name actors would in the situation, and Alderman does his utmost to avoid the nailed-on camera and bland staging not atypical of this sort of film. In fact, the director puts a lot of imagination particularly into the staging of the suspense scenes, using chiaroscuro effects, Dutch angles and every other play of light and darkness he can come up with, often achieving a feeling of aesthetic intensity that’s at least related to the giallo or early US slashers. You could certainly argue that this is a proto-slasher, at least on an aesthetic level.

An additional charm are the film’s – very 70s – little eccentricities like placing one of the victim’s as a low rent “comedy” radio DJ going by the nom de plum of  Mad Man Herman (played by Marvin Kaplan as the unfunny Marx Brother). And then there’s the obligatory 70s downer ending that involves an improbable plot twist, dubious acting, and a horrible fate for everyone, turning this into a film I find physically impossible not to love a little.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Ravenous (2017)

Original title: Les affamés

It’s the end of the world, as always. This time around, we witness the last twitches of humanity in a forested area in Northern Quebec. It’s a sort of zombie apocalypse, with fast infected type zombies that do like to scream – horribly, actually – but also have phases where they just stand there, staring creepily. We follow the trail of what will become a small group of survivors (eventually Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri, Charlotte St-Martin, Micheline Lanctôt, Marie-Ginette Guay, Brigitte Poupart, Édouard Tremblay-Grenier and Luc Proulx) who eventually have to make their way through the countryside in the direction of a bunker that may promise shelter.

On paper, Robin Aubert’s French-Canadian production is your typical latter day infected zombie movie. Most of the usual and expected tropes are there and accounted for, but the director treats them with clear knowledge of his audience’s experience with these tropes. So there’s no time wasted on a long introduction of the why and wherefore of the zombies – the differences in how they work will be shown and suggested instead of exposited – and the film in general clearly has no illusions that we know how this will work out for most everyone involved.

Yet still – and I’m rather sure that’s the point where the film will lose quite a few people – Ravenous does take its time, slowly revealing not the world the characters barely survive in but what the state of the world has done to them, not via dramatic dialogue or grand gestures, but through the small stuff – glances, shifts in postures, the tone of someone’s voice. At this stage, the film seems to suggest, everyone still alive has lost all capacity for being emotionally loud. Which often leads to scenes where the characters’ behaviour mirrors that of the silent moments of the infected, as if whatever destroyed humanity also changed the way people can still relate in the world, to the world, and to each other.

It’s all very impressively done, providing the film with an air modern zombie movies – who are now typically out to talk metaphorical politics or to show how awesome the end of the world is when you finally can shoot your stupid assault rifles without consequence – seldom carry, a sense of quiet sadness and loss, actually treating the end of humanity as something to be sad about, despite everything.

But what about the actual horror movie stuff, people with curious priorities might ask? It’s slow, and quiet, for the most part, yet also not shying away from getting fast and a bit louder for a while in a couple of very impressive larger scale zombie attacks, not feeling the need to show every bit of gore but also not shying away from it when it is necessary. The stuff’s there, and the film isn’t afraid or ashamed of it (suck that, “elevated horror”) but it’s not the only thing the film’s about.

The film also has at least a toe in the realm of the weird, not just because the infected are strange and inexplicable to a handful of survivors who simply have no idea what caused the end of everything they knew, but also because they do strange things, standing around in fields, building pyramids out of chairs and furniture that rise towards the sky (or in one of the film’s more heart-breaking shots, tiny kid sized pyramids out of children’s toys and furniture), suggesting something’s still happening inside their brains beyond hunger and aggression, but also insinuating it’s something that makes them genuinely different from humanity as we knew it. Another neat bit of filmmaking is how Aubert overlays beautiful moody nature shots with the bloodcurdling screams (the sound design is fantastic here) of the infected, not just emphasizing the threat for the human characters and making clear their new role in the food chain but also contrasting them with nature as many of us prefer it, less red in tooth and claw.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Three Films Make A Rather Grumpy Post: Buckle up for a ***** ride

Stuber (2019): Well, at least that tagline is honest about the quality of the movie, which is a bit of a shame seeing how much I usually enjoy the body of work of many of people in front of the camera here. But what good is an action comedy with a script (by Tripper Clancy) that can hardly land any joke even if most of them come out of Kumail Nanjiani’s and Dave Bautista’s mouths, two gentlemen with excellent comedic timing? And what good is an action comedy whose direction (by Michael Dowse) is so bland, it completely wastes some perfectly good set-ups for violence and shouting (as well as Bautista’s and Iko Uwais’s talents in this regard)? This one’s really only recommended to people who think the title is funny, methinks.

Portals (2019): To stay very much in the same realm, the abilities of the directors behind this weird SF horror anthology – or at least three out of four of them, namely Eduardo Sánchez, Liam O’Donnell and Timo Tjahjanto – stand in inverse proportion to the quality of their movie. All segments here share more or less the same problems, featuring characters who aren’t fleshed out enough for the psychological aspects of the horror to work, a weird threat feels rather more generic than actually weird, and little sense of actual tension to anything happening. There’s not much for any audience to actually care about here, nor does the film present any idea that feels even the faintest bit fleshed out. Tjahjanto’s segment is probably the strongest because it does at least have a tiny bit of dramatic pull, but it’s still disappointingly mediocre. On the plus side, at least it’s not a bro horror anthology.

Vox Lux (2018): Let’s finish this as grumpily as we started, with Brady Corbet’s – also director of the much superior The Childhood of a Leader – anti-pop movie full of songs that may mirror the most insipid side of mainstream pop music but too much in loathing with it to come up with songs for its protagonist that could still believably be hits. One can’t help but think that Sia, who is responsible for the songs, just used old songs of her own deigned too bad to put them out under her own name. Our main character Celeste starts as something of a human being but increasingly turns into a caricature, something that’s not at all helped but the most misguided performance by the usually extremely capable Natalie Portman I’ve ever seen. Structurally and stylistically, the film is more straining to acquire an artsy patina instead of actually doing anything artistically interesting. I also can’t help but raise an eyebrow at a film that so clearly wants to criticize the commodification of pain in popular culture but actually does exactly the same thing, just with an expression of general loathing for said culture on its face.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Mr. Jones (2013)

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

Penny (Sarah Jones) and Scott (Jon Foster) are retreating into the proverbial cabin in the woods - though it’s a pretty upmarket sort of cabin - to get away for a year to “work on” their relationship, help Scott cope with a never defined mental illness, and give him time and space to make a nature documentary.

Things seem fine at first, but city boy Scott gets bored quickly with the rather samey beauties of nature, and it is perhaps not actually all that great for a struggling relationship when both partners spend all of their time together isolated in a cabin in the woods for weeks on end. Who knew? And, come to think of it, Scott secretly having stopped taking his meds can’t help the situation either. All these turn out to be rather quotidian problems compared to the things the couple soon stumbles into, though.

It turns out they have a neighbour living in a shack close by, a guy in a creepy mask (Mark Steger) sneaking through the woods at night carrying what looks like a lantern, putting up strange and rather creepy totem poles all around the woods. Penny identifies these poles as the work of the mysterious artist only known as Mr. Jones, and after sneaking into their artist neighbour’s – or whatever he is - creepy underground workshop, she gets the brilliant idea that Scott should make his documentary about Jones instead. With the survival instincts of a true horror film character, Scott jets off to New York, where he learns rather disturbing things about Jones: how one day the first of his sculptures (if that’s what they are) just was sent to a New York gallery, and his later ones were sent to seemingly random people. Worse, these people seemed to have had a rather bad time of it afterwards, as if the statues had a malignant influence of some kind on them. More academic research connects Jones’s works to the mythological border between the world of dreams and our reality.

While Scott learns of these things and becomes convinced there’s something definitely destructive about Jones and his motives, Penny has an encounter in the woods around their cabin that convinces her of pretty much the opposite. To her, the statues are something in the manner of occult scarecrows, and Jones’s intentions towards her and Scott well-meaning and protective. Still, when Scott returns, the couple do agree further poking around in Jones’s business to be the appropriate reaction to what they have learned and believe. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be rather a bad idea for everyone involved.

Karl Mueller’s POV horror movie Mr. Jones pushes a lot of my personal buttons, so the director would have had to put considerable effort into making horrible decision after horrible decision to put me off of this one. How many horror films - sub-chapter The Weird - do you find, after all, whose cosmology has quite a whiff of Algernon Blackwood to them, and who put their characters into an illogical – or rather dream-logical - nightmare world for their whole final third without fear of alienating the parts of their audience who dislike getting confused and want something more strict and linear (“plot holes!” I hear them scream while I’m looking at them askance, but then, different tastes and all) from their movies about the abnatural.

However, I don’t even think you can honestly say that Mr. Jones doesn’t make sense. On its own terms, it’s a perfectly logical movie where a leads to b leads to c, only that a and b look rather strange, and that the road between them has a lot of mirrors by the wayside. Speaking of mirrors, the film does make wonderful use of the doppelganger motive, finding a clever and effective way to broaden its meaning through the conventions of POV horror, giving some uncomfortable answers to the question of who is filming certain scenes and why, while at the same time using the opportunity for rather more involved camera set-ups than strictly normal in the style. It’s an economical and clever way to use the style of the film to make the content more disquieting, and turn the clichés of that style sideways until they look strange again, or rather Weird.

There’s quite an obvious allegorical reading to the film too, though if you’re like me and think that allegory is the least interesting use of any given narrative, you can for once be happy in the knowledge that in Mr. Jones, allegory and the coherence of a narrative that can stand for itself aren’t enemies. Of course, it’s also a film where narrative coherence consists of the film stepping outside of the usual lines of coherence into what you might call incoherence, and where symbols become parts of the characters’ reality, which is the sort of thing that happens when a film takes the whole idea of a dream world seriously beyond the opportunity for cheap reality bending any good dream offers. Nothing against cheap reality bending from my side, of course.

Taking a step back from the film’s big whole, there’s also a lot to love about its minor details. It’s not difficult to argue said whole wouldn’t work at all without the care Mueller takes with the details of his film, but even when you don’t care about that, it’s a (creepy) joy to look at the care with which the film’s stick and bone statues are constructed, witness the symmetry and intelligence of the framing of many of the film’s shots (something many POV horror films eschew for reasons of fake authenticity, sometimes successfully, sometimes not), or just the clarity and simplicity with which Mueller uses the possibilities of cheap digital editing to enhance the weirdness of the film’s nightmare-ish final third.

It’s all very lovely stuff, well acted, without fat, and full of the kind of reality-bending, mythology-building moments I love most dearly in horror.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

In short: Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

It’s Christmas time in the sleepy Scottish town of Little Haven. Now nearing the finish line of her highschool life, our titular heroine (Ella Hunt) is planning on taking an off-year before going to university. That plan is somewhat inspiring the ire of her working class dad (Mark Benton) – who clearly fears she’s pissing away her chance for a future that doesn’t see her having to do stuff like janitorial service at the school her children go to as he does – as well as puppy-eyed sadness in her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming). And yes, Virginia, of course John’s secretly in love with her. There’s also some business about Anna having an actual crush, a total arsehole called Nick (Ben Wiggins), and various friends and hangers-on.

All of this is going to stay as important as very obvious character relations can stay when the worst sort of Christmas trouble in form of the zombie apocalypse arises. You know the drill with that one. On the plus side, Anna’s really rather good at killing zombies once she gets going.

This little bit of plot already makes it clear that director John McPhail really attempts to go all in with the genre mash-up here, mixing teen comedy, somewhat gory zombie horror comedy, and a tiny smidgen of romantic comedy (minus all of the tropes of that genre that are actually satisfying, as it will turn out), mostly using the genres in their most clichéd forms.

Because that’s apparently not enough genres, the film’s also a musical, featuring a bunch of tunes that are catchy but also not terribly good in other regards, and choreography that mostly gets by on a bunch of young, clearly talented, actors really going on a charm offensive, which is what keeps much of the film lively and comparatively fun to watch. Alas, this does not change the fact that most of the songs are in the style of second string contemporary broadway tunes. Personally, I tend to find even the first string of this type of music with its love for the technical and the slick pretty much the opposite of most of what I appreciate in music, so this isn’t exactly making me happy. Your mileage may obviously vary here.

Tonally, the film suffers from having a few too many genres to work through, ending up disappointing genre expectations for every single genre it belongs to in turn, something even a truly clever script could not necessarily avoid in a case at this; the workmanlike one with its series of clichés and tropes Anna has certainly can’t.

All of this does make Anna and the Apocalypse sound like a worse experience than sitting through it actually is, though, for while things don’t hang together terribly well here, and the film avoids to do anything actually interesting with it genre mash-up, it does have the already mentioned charm of the cast, as well as a lot of the kind of energy I can’t help but read as a desperate wish to entertain. And even though the film certainly entertains far below its possibilities, who am I to deny it a wish this appropriate to the season?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Lips of Blood (1975)

Original title: Lèvres de sang

At a party, Frédéric (Jean-Loup Philippe) lays eyes on a photo of a castle ruin by the sea. The picture is apparently meant to become part of some kind of ad campaign, though the film never explains for what exactly. The photo fascinates Frédéric, drawing out a childhood memory about a night he spent in these very same ruins protected by a strange, young, and very beautiful woman (Annie Belle). As we will later learn, recovering this memory is quite a remarkable thing, for Frédéric has no other memories of his childhood at all, and has constructed what he knows about this part of the past only from what his mother (Natalie Perrey) told him about it.

Not surprisingly, he becomes a bit obsessed with finding the place, the woman and perhaps an answer to questions about himself he can’t quite put into words. But it’s not easy finding out where exactly the castle is situated – the internet and Google image search still need to be invented, and someone puts quite some effort into making it impossible for him to find it, not even shying away from murder.

But Frédéric has protections too. Once he has remembered their encounter, the young woman appears to him as a shade, beckoning him into directions opportune to his quest. Thanks to her, Frédéric half-accidentally frees four young, female vampires with the thing for see-through gowns that flap, flatter and wave in the wind and no underwear all female vampires in Jean Rollin films have. These ladies will proceed to protect him quietly and mostly out of his sight in the only manner movie vampires know.

Ah, I love the films of Jean Rollin, and Lips of Blood is one of the very best of them. Yet Rollin’s films are, for me, rather difficult to write about, for their greatest qualities are not easily put into words unless one is a poet.

Sure, I can talk about the man’s unique aesthetic vision that includes a type of eroticism that might come from a fetishist place (or just from a man who knows what he finds beautiful) but seldom feels sleazy even when he’s showing vampire woman gowns revealing pretty much everything. Rollin mixes his erotic imagination with a healthy appreciation for the beauty of ruins, and has an eye that turns the nightly streets of Paris into a dreamscape as much as it does a castle ruin. Lips, belying the tiny budget typical of the director’s body of work, is a particularly beautiful film, full of shots that feel like strange paintings come to life, or as if someone had managed to not just film a dream but stage it wonderfully, too. In fact here Rollin works his magic so well, even a final scene in which the two surviving characters hop into a coffin, close it, and plan to let it drift to a lonely island to which they plan to lure rich sailors and drink their blood, doesn’t seem ridiculous but completely in tune with the logic of dream and childhood memory the rest of the film displays.

If one wants, one can of course read the whole affair as a metaphorical treatment of Frédéric’s midlife crisis and his wish to regress back into a mythical youth. I do think that reading works of art, even more so of art as outside of the mainstream as Rollin’s, as puzzles to solve to come to a very specific reading and meaning (which as it happens also tends to be one from which we can then moralize and berate an artist for their numerous moral failings), is a terribly reductive way of going about things, not just eschewing the qualities of mystery and ambiguity, but also turning an imaginative place we can inhabit into a mere map of the place.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In short: Dead Bang (1989)

LA county homicide detective Jerry Beck (Don Johnson) is teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Suffering from the results of an acrimonious divorce, too much alcohol in the blood stream, the Christmas period, and a bad case of being a cop, he’s just one more drink away from getting out of control completely. Fortunately, the murder of a black shop owner and a cop provide him with a case to really get his teeth into, and soon he’s obsessively following the traces of a gang of white supremacist killers all over the USA. On the way, he’s also finding evidence for attempts of the disparate groups of racist shitheads to unite into a union of racist shitheads.

In his prime, poor Don Johnson was too busy shooting Miami Vice to actually have much opportunity to drag his TV stardom onto the big screen, losing out on quite a few roles that made other people stars, and ending up at best starring in films like this minor John Frankenheimer movie, made during the great director’s weakest phase. Which doesn’t mean it’s a truly weak film, for even mediocre Frankenheimer usually has its moments. As a matter of fact, Dead Bang does have rather a lot of them and seems just a script rewrite by someone with a bit more bite than TV writer Robert Foster has to offer away from being really good.

For there’s little to nothing wrong with Frankenheimer’s direction here, and whenever the script provides him the opportunity to stage one of his patented action scenes – even on a minor scale – or have a sad sack macho guy doing the sad sack macho guy thing, the film really comes to gritty life that becomes only more effective because Frankenheimer’s direction often seems so off-handedly easy. Johnson’s not bad, either, but then, he’s played this kind of cop for a while at this stage, so he doesn’t exactly need to step out of his comfort zone. He’s also supported by people like William Forsythe or Bob Balaban, experienced character actors all.

It’s just too bad that Foster’s script leans quite as hard on the cop movie clichés as it does, especially because he’s writing all the stuff about Johnson shouting at his ex-wife over the phone, threatening a psychiatrist, and the various attempts to get him off the case with all the intelligence and verve of someone who can only imagine these things by cribbing them from bad TV shows. There’s also an utterly pointless subplot concerning the dead cop’s wife (Penelope Ann Miller wasted on a non-role) that just disappears after the first act that has no business in the movie whatsoever. I do have to give it to the script, though, it does do well with the general stupidity of white supremacist ideology.

Given the general weakness of the script, it’s actually rather surprising how watchable the whole of the film is, really demonstrating Frankenheimer’s great talent by having him work with nonsense and still get a proper movie out of it.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

aka Monster of Terror

A letter calls American absolvent of SCIENCE CLASS (the film does indeed only ever call whatever he studied “science”, as if it were a 50s monster movie) Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) to the home of his girlfriend Susan Whitley (Suzan Farmer) in the UK. The locals from the nearby village dance the usual gothic horror dance about the house, either not speaking to the stranger seeking it at all or making insinuations towards something terrible connected to it. Once Reinhart does manage to get where he is going, said home turns out to be a lavish estate, yet one surrounded by an area of scorched vegetation and decay.

Susan’s father Nahum (Boris Karloff) knows nothing of any boyfriends coming to visit, for Reinhart’s visit seems to have been cooked up by Nahum’s ailing wife Letitia (Freda Jackson), who is mysteriously always hidden behind bed curtains that look like mourning veils, and by Susan. Letitia wants dearly to get her daughter away from the house, away from the decay of her surroundings as well as from a father who has become increasingly obsessed with occult studies and experiments on plants as well as on something hidden away in the house’s basement. Nahum’s keeping with the family tradition there, for his grandfather was doing the very same thing, becoming increasingly deranged in the process.

Despite being more of the mopey kind of American, Reinhart’s love for Susan – who has somehow managed not to notice how creepy and weird her household is – drives him to poke around in things clearly not meant for poking.

Seen as an adaption of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s finest works, “The Colour Out of Space”, the AIP/Anglo-Amalgamated co-production of Die, Monster, Die! – a film clearly not afraid of punctuation – is pretty dreadful, its attempts to reform the tale into something better fitting the mold of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations losing much of what makes the story so special. I do understand the difficulty of coming up with a way of representing a living colour we do not have any words for in our human languages cinematically, but the monster the film eventually uses is plain ridiculous, and ripping the tale out of the world of an American rural farmer family and pressing it into service of another tale of Karloff doing experiments is the least creative thing anyone could have done with it. Coming from a script written by Jerry Sohl, who really could do better and knew better, it’s particularly disappointing.

When I’m trying to ignore how much this misses the point of HPL and look at the film as just another AIP gothic, though one set in then contemporary times, keeping at least this part of the Lovecraftian method, I can find some enjoyment in the thing. Haller’s not a terrible dynamic director, but his experience as a production designer – particularly for Corman’s Poe adaptations – is seen in most every shot in the first two thirds of the film. Haller is very adept at suggesting the appropriate mood of wrongness and decay through all kinds of neat little details in the sets, and uses the foggy and wet locations to great effect too, creating a wonderful and focussed mood of all the good d-words.

Well, it is too bad that it is Nick Adams wandering through these places, looking a bit like a rodent with very weird hair, and only ever distracting from that with a performance that’s wooden even for the romantic lead in an AIP gothic. The – British – rest of the cast is fine, of course, the elderly and ill Karloff doing the best with the weak dialogue he is given and managing to inject a degree of dignity and pathos into the proceedings by the sheer power of his personality; he’s certainly, as was so often the case, miles above the script there.

But for the first two thirds of the film, the good atmosphere and Karloff do outweigh the bad, suggesting this to be a bit of an underrated little film, not a top notch AIP gothic, but fine enough. Alas, there’s a final act that seems hell-bent on sabotaging everything good that came before, the little plot there is breaking down under the sudden need to get some monsters in, which, in the end, leads us to a climax in which Karloff mutates into a guy wrapped in what looks rather a lot like aluminium foil and chases the rest of the cast through the house, with and without an axe, while Haller suddenly seems to lose all ability to make things look creepy. It’s terrible. So terrible indeed that it overshadows all the decent and better bits that came before, turning Die, Monster, Die! into the kind of film that’s best treated by turning it off once it gets into its third act and making up one’s own ending.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Three Films Make A Post: Always Choose Treat

Trick (2019): From time to time, Patrick Lussier’s Trick is a satisfying little contemporary slasher movie, featuring a killer with a not completely uninteresting MO as well as some fun kills. Alas, it is also a terribly messy film, with way too many main characters for its own good, too many elements from other horror sub-genres that don’t fit with each other at all and a plot that wants to become increasingly intricate and twisty but actually only ever gets dumber and needlessly complicated, as so many twisty films do, in the end turning the supernatural slasher into a bit of Scooby Doo affair with added generic social media critique. On the plus side, there’s a long cameo by Tom Atkins as an adorably cantankerous old man, and Omar Epps pretending he’s in a better written movie than he actually is.

Tomie vs Tomie (2007): Despite the fun and intriguing set-up (somewhat based on a storyline from mangaka Junji Ito’s second – I believe - revival of the Tomie character), Tomohiro Kubo’s entry into the Tomie cycle suffers heavily from the fact it’s coming at a point in the franchise when it has become a strictly direct to video cheapo affair. So the budget’s too low for the effects to visualize the crazier stuff from the manga for more than a scene or two, the actors aren’t exactly top notch, and the script has to somehow come up with a way to let everything take place in an apartment set and the inevitable crappy warehouse. Given these circumstances, this isn’t actually a terrible film but it’s also much less than Ito’s creation deserves.

Split of the Spirit (1987): A choreographer (Pauline Wong Siu-Fung) suffering from men trouble and self doubt adds ghostly vengeance seeking possession to her list of problems when she knocks over the ashes of a recently murdered woman.

Fred Tan Hon-Cheung’s Taiwanese horror film doesn’t add all that much new to this specific part of Asian ghost movies – this is pretty much playing out exactly like you’ll expect it to do. However, the film’s well made and never boring. From time to time, there’s even an aesthetically very pleasing moment or two (the film makes quite a bit out of our heroine being a dancer here), and it’s clear that Tan does try to work with the parallels between the living woman and the dead one having been treated very badly, if in different degrees, by the men they loved.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Past Misdeeds: Blutgletscher (2013)

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

aka Blood Glacier

aka The Station

The team, such as it is, of a small science station researching climate change and its ecological consequences high up in the Alps make a rather exciting – as well as disquieting - discovery. A glacier in their surroundings has melted into a strange, reddish biological mass, as if the glacier had turned to blood. The scientists find that it’s actually a whole layer of a strange microorganism until now unknown to science. That’s quite sensational news, but our protagonists soon have rather bigger problems. For something is not at all right with the local fauna, and what at first looked like the attack of a rabid fox on long-time station mainstay Janek’s (Gerhard Liebmann) dog Tinnitus (Santos) turns out to be caused by something quite a bit different as well as decidedly more dangerous. And there are even more dangerous things around still.

To make the situation more complicated, Austria’s minister for environmental affairs (Brigitte Kren) and a small entourage are coming for a visit the next day, possibly waltzing directly into danger. More personally troubling for Janek, who spends half of his time drunk, the other half obnoxious, his ex-girlfriend Tanja (Edita Malovcic), the reason he has been staying at the station for years now, is part of said entourage. Well, and then there’s the little fact that Janek, normally the man you’d vote mostly likely to lose his shit in a dangerous situation, is actually the only one of the science team who actually has his shit together when push comes to shove, and monsters attack.

I’m regularly bitching and moaning about the state of German language horror film, a tiny segment of cinema dominated by bland and dull attempts at imitating US mainstream horror and – generally -painfully amateurish and charmless independent gore films that quickly grow tiresome in their desperate attempts to break taboos, but in the last few years, there has been a small but interesting group of very different productions coming from Austria, Switzerland and Germany with higher ambitions than the latter and more personality than the former, films like Andreas Marschall’s Masks or Huan Vu’s Lovecraft adaptation Die Farbe. The Austrian Blutgletscher, directed by Marvin Kren - who already made the very good short-ish zombie film Rammbock a few years ago, - certainly belongs to this wonderful group of films.

Blutgletscher is a true genre film at heart, if you understand genre as a conversation held between films via the variation and personalization of conventions. As such, this is a film that doesn’t win hearts with its basic ideas, which a genre-savvy audience will generally know from other films (and books and so on), but with the little twists it gives them, and its ability to turn already established genre ideas into slightly different directions. Kren’s film is really incredibly good at this, taking elements we know and love from John Carpenter’s version of The Thing and other related films and making them its very own. One thing I found particularly fun (and wickedly funny) in this regard is the basic nature of the film’s monsters, which I don’t really want or need to explain here more closely. Let’s just say you will probably never look at the proud, dignified species of alpine animals that Heimatfilm and nature documentaries alike so very much like the idolize the same way again. There’s a nasty side to nature (just ask Werner Herzog about chicken), particularly when it is provoked into changes. On the other hand, the film genuinely seems to like animals; it just doesn’t have illusions about what they are actually about.

Speaking of Blutgletscher’s monsters, there’s a real joy in watching these particular creations of pleasantly grotesque imagination, realized in a fine – if not exactly naturalistically convincing – combination of digital and practical effects. The way Kren directs it, there’s always enough of the monsters to see to satisfy but seldom so much the seams in the – probably not very high – budget available start to show. It’s the best of both monster movie worlds, really.

The film’s pacing is quite flawless, too, with exactly the right amount of time lying between tension and release and the return and escalation of that tension. Benjamin Hessler’s script also does some rather clever and effective things with the parallels between Janek’s and Tanja’s relationship and the horrible things going on around them, adding thematic resonance where you least expect it. The script also does the old monster movie and SyFy Channel stand-by of treating monster attacks as the best way to get a separated couple back together again; it just does it well and with a twist belonging to the film’s pleasantly strange and clever ending that rather suggests decisions taken under the sort of pressure the characters find themselves in might not always be healthy, while at the same time also suggesting highly unpleasant things about the necessities of humanity’s biological survival in the film’s world.

If I had to find flaws in Blutgletscher – the sort of thing people who watch movies looking for “plot holes” excepted because I only seldom find that  relevant to the quality of a movie or important to my enjoyment at all – I’d probably go for its at times somewhat stilted dialogue, but then, that’s a problem so typical of German language films of all types and genres, I can hardly blame a film for it that does so much else differently and better.

Blutgletscher is, after all, such a very enjoyable film full of what German language horror seems to be lacking for my tastes the most – personality. It is, apart from that, also as good as any monster movie style horror film made in the last decade or so you’d care to mention.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

In short: Teketeke 2 (2009)

One year after the end of the first Teketeke, poor Kana (Yuko Oshima), now barely functional and spending most of her time in her darkened room without any red things, does have her final encounter with Teketeke, the legless wonder, on the same overpass. The grad student who had helped a little with the research in the first film is so struck by her death that he begins to obsess over Teketeke, trying to find out what the basis of the urban legend truly is, in the hopes to eventually stop the curse.

When we don’t spend time with his research, we pop over to a group of high school students. One bullied girl meets Teketeke and somehow manages to control her into killing the girls who bully her one after the other.

I am a big fan of director Koji Shiraishi, but this quick-shot sequel to Teketeke just isn’t very good at all. Despite a running time of 73 minutes (with four minutes or so spent recapping the first film), the whole affair feels bloated and overlong, all the jumping between the two plotlines giving the film a disjointed quality. And it’s not as if much of what the film jumps to is terribly interesting: grad student guy is basically revisiting the places our intrepid heroines in the first movie investigated and learning a tiny bit more, while the high school plotline has to fight its damn obviousness, as well as some pretty bad acting by half a dozen young women with little to none acting experience. Even the horror scenes don’t really come together, Shiraishi, for some godawful reason, deciding to show way too much of Teketeke herself, turning what was weird and creepy (if a bit silly, or perhaps even because it’s a bit silly) in the first film into a crap special effect.

The only actual cool bit – and totally fitting in tone with the sort of thing Shiraishi loves to put into his films’ mythologies - is the final explanation as to why Teketeke kills certain people, but others not: let’s just say she’s a yurei with a somewhat scholarly approach to things.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Peacemaker (1990)

An alien spacecraft crashes down close by the coast of LA, as UFOs are wont to do. Out of it swims a guy we will later learn to be called by the typical alien name of Townshend (Lance Edwards). His attempt at stealing a shotgun out of a cop car right in front of what must be donut central or something ends in him getting shot so often, the cops must have confused him with an unarmed black man.

But don’t you worry, he gets better in the morgue, right in front of coroner Dori Caisson (Hilary Shepard). He kinda-sorta proceeds to kidnap her. On the way to her home – because that’s where aliens bring their kidnapping victims when it’s not an abduction with all the probes and whistles – they are attacked by a charming man (Robert Forster!) with a handgun so large I don’t even need to make any jokes about his manhood. We’ll later learn that he goes by that other popular alien name, Yates. Townshend and Dori escape, and shack up together, or rather, Townshend ties her up and studies TV for a night, from which he learns to speak English. Well, more or less, for Edwards (or whoever) had the brilliant idea to play his new-won language abilities as if he were a mentally handicapped man played by a horrible actor.

Anyway, Townshend exposits that he is an alien cop, a so-called peacemaker, who got sucked into a black hole together with serial killer Yates and somehow landed on Earth. He’s now keen on finding Yates as well as some McGuffin they are both after. The problem is that this is going to be exactly the same story Yates is going to tell Dori when he’s alone with her, only with Yates in the police role, and consequently, she’s going to bounce around between the two like a human yo-yo.

Also involved is an Earth cop (Robert Davi!), who has taken a shine to Dori, as have the two aliens. The problem: Dori has been burned by policemen before and is unwilling to commit to anything beyond bad jokes and a bit of sex under the shower.

There’s a good handful of films with the same basic plot made around the same time as Kevin (S.) Tenney’s Peacemaker (I think somebody in Hollywood must have enjoyed Hal Clement’s “Needle” quite a bit), and while the film at hand is most certainly not the best of the bunch, it may very well be the goofiest. The whole set-up is a bit silly from the outset, but Tenney (who also wrote the script) seems to be hell-bent to always make the silliest choice in any given scene, so we get Dori’s incessant wisecracking even when she’s kidnapped, threatened or shot at, the horrible performance by Edwards that makes one wrong but entertaining acting decision after the next, never shying away from the worst line delivery possible in any given situation, and a plot that never comes up with much more for the characters to do but drag Dori around.

Because Edwards is so goofy (and mildly embarrassing), and Shepard’s Dori is reacting to whatever happens in any given scene in the most insane and illogical manner possible, Forster’s very serious performance of an alien with a very, very, very big gun makes for a particularly hilarious contrast. Now, if you’re me, you’re probably a bit sad the film uses non-actor (sorry, but seriously) Edwards as the other alien when it has a perfectly good Robert Davi around, who’d make such a great counterpart to Forster. Sure, you might have wanted to cut the romance angle from the film in that case, but those parts of the film are so cringeworthy because Dori’s written as such a ditz in them, that would not have been too much of a loss.

Anyway, when the film doesn’t do goofy nonsense, or babbles about black holes and time travel (don’t ask), it does sometimes find the time for a decent if silly action sequence or three, probably delivering what was the actual selling point for this loveable and highly entertaining piece of crap.