Thursday, May 21, 2009
Ghost in the Machine
Written by William Davies & William Osborne
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Ted Marcoux .... Karl Hochman
Karen Allen .... Terry Monroe
Chris Mulkey .... Bram Walker
Wil Horneff .... Josh Monroe
Brandon Quintin Adams .... Frazer
In the calm before an incoming storm, the Yardley family settles down for a nice dinner. Little do they know that just outside sits Karl Hochman, AKA The Address Book killer. His M.O. is this: he steals an address book and harasses the owner while systematically murdering everyone listed inside. The Yardleys were the final stop on Karl's current murder tour, but luckily it's not long before he finds another victim.
Karl begins scouring the internet and retrieving any information he can on the Monroe family. Bram Walker, a computer expert, stumbles upon the electric investigation and sets out to help, thinking it nothing more than the work of an angry hacker. But when Terry's friends begin dying off in the same order they were listed in the address book, it seems there's something else going on. Theresa stumbles upon the truth first, and her son Josh and Bram are not far behind. Together they form some grandiose scheme involving magnets and cheesy CGI animation to "erase" Karl forever.
Suggested only to those who enjoyed films like Hackers and the similarly themed Shocker. All six of you.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR: Josh the daddy mack; Password: Family Values; The Love Corral; Radiation pimples and banana ooze; Satan's Video Inferno; Cleavage prostitute; More hackers than you can shake a stick at;
BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW: Brandon Quintin Adams was also in People Under The Stairs two years earlier, another mediocre horror movie; The movie playing in the Yardley's living room is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir from 1947;
Ghost in the Machine is currently ranked #62,061 in DVD's at Amazon.com. Read more about it at the IMDB, rent it at Netflix, or buy it today!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The Book of Lies
by Brad Meltzer
When Cal was just a child, he witnessed a terrible accident that resulted in his mother's death and his father's incarceration. His inability to save her sent him on a crusade as he grew up, trying to help those who could not help themselves. Now a disgraced and defrocked federal agent, Cal and his friend Roosevelt--a similarly disgraced and defrocked preacher--operate a mission program to help the homeless.
But when one of their calls has them aiding a familiar-looking face with a gunshot wound, Cal's past collides with his present. He has found his long-lost father.
Inadvertently, this family reunion lands Cal in a wild adventure in which he is pursued by both the federal government and a well-trained killer with ties to the world's first murder, way back in the Biblical days when Cain slew Abel. The only way that Cal can save his father and himself is by finding the archaic totem that the killer is searching for, the fabled Book of Lies.
This book (the actual book, not the book-within-a-book) is written in a style that is deceptively simple, but unique in that it alternates from first person perspective to third. The chapters are brief, and easy to read in short sessions, which keeps the action moving at a healthy clip. The characters are fully realized, but not everything is explicitly stated. You feel that there is a a whole lot left unsaid or merely hinted at, as if these are real people that you are only beginning to know.
The connections made to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and to their iconic creation Superman are frequent and well-researched, and will make any comic book fan smile. But, what would you expect from the guy who wrote Infinite Crisis for DC Comics?
Book of Lies is probably best described as a less-pretentious DaVinci Code, or a geekier (and mercifully Nic Cage-free) National Treasure. The ending may be a bit schmaltzy, and this book won't change the way you think about fiction...but it very well might make you think.
Which is really something for an adventure story.
Book of Lies is currently ranked #59,575 in Books at Amazon.com. Visit the author's webpage, or buy it today!
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Cold & Dark
Directed by Andrew Goth
Luke Goss...John Dark
Kevin Howarth...Moritimer Shade
Police officer John Dark and his new partner Mort Shade are investigating some of the slickest and most untouchable criminals in England. When Shade appears to be killed in the line of duty, Dark thinks the partnership has ended, but Shade emerges miraculously unharmed, in fact completely unfazed by the whole ordeal. In the following weeks, those untouchable criminals are touched indeed, by the murderous hands of a half-man, half-monster vigilante. Dark begins to think that Shade is responsible, and finds himself toeing the grey line of good and bad, tempted by the possibilities of such power.
Not gritty enough to be a crime drama, not dark enough to be a horror film, and not explosive enough to be considered action, Cold and Dark toes the same grey line of good and bad. While it is competently filmed and (for the most part) acted, the characters don’t seem quite tangible enough to be believed, and although the narration at the beginning of the film states that Dark and Shade (whose naming scheme reeks of desperation) are best friends, you never sense any sort of real camaraderie between them. And although the special effects are passable, the creature design leaves much to be desired. Dark is one cool skull-cap wearin’ mother, however. I will give him that.
Ultimately, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes of your life. But, as always, there are better ways as well. These, however, don’t offer the following information:
“It takes 40 minutes to bury a body. Longer if it’s still alive. Tougher when it’s your best friend.”
Please alter your day-planners accordingly.
Cold & Dark is currently ranked #71,142 in DVDs at Amazon.com. Read more about it at the IMDB, rent it at Netflix, or buy it today!
"As they say in Alabama, they're making me drink monkeymilk! "
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl
Written & Directed by Katsuhito Ishii
Tadanobu Asano .... Kuroo Samehada
Ittoku Kishibe .... Tanuki
Sie Kohinata .... Toshiko Momojiri
Kimie Shingyoji .... Mitsuko Fukuda
Susumu Terajima .... Sawada
Koh Takasugi .... Sorimachi
Toshiko is a shy and bookish employee of the Hotel Symphonia in Japan. Her manager is obsessed with her and her life is going nowhere, so she decides to just jump in her Jeep and run away from it all. While on the road she stumbles across a man running through the woods in his skivvies and offers him a ride. His name is Samehada and he's on the run from the mob because of a large sum of stolen money. Toshiko, hungry for excitement of any kind, leaps into a relationship with the fugitive and joins him on the lam.
Pulp Fiction craze and its influence seems painfully obviously in some of the directorial style and conversations of pop culture minutiae (just substitute Big Mac's and Beatles with Yoga and vintage poster collecting.) The references don't hold up, at least not outside of its native Japan.
With a name like Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, you're really expecting something great right off the bat, but after the rocking opening credits get you all jazzed up there's not much substance beneath the surface. It's just a mediocre crime movie with a few choice scenes that couldn't live up to its own standards.
BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR: Cartoon credits; Zippo trickster; Seizure and a slap; Back breaking bastard;
Japanese (with English subtitles)
Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl is currently ranked #72,776 in DVD's at Amazon.com. Read more about it at the IMDB, rent it at Netflix, or buy it today!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul
(À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma)
Directed by José Mojica Marins
Written by Waldomiro França, Rubens Francisco Luchetti, José Mojica Marins & Magda Mei José
Mojica Marins .... Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe)
Magda Mei .... Terezinha de Oliveira Nivaldo
Lima .... Antônio de Andrade
Valéria Vasquez .... Lenita Ilídio
Martins Simões .... Dr.Rodolfo
"What is life? It is the beginning of death. What is death? It is the end of life. What is existence? It is the continuity of blood. What is blood? It is the reason to exist."
To further contradict himself, despite his disregard for life his greatest desire is to bring a son into this world. His wife Lenita is unable to bear children and so he sets his sights on Ternzinha, unmindful of the fact that she is engaged to his best friend Antonio. Thinking that Ternzinha rejected him because of his wife, he returns home and promptly kills her, making it seem like an accident.
Weeks after Lenita's death, Zé goes along with his friends to visit a gypsy. He scoffs at her supposed powers as she warns him that he will pay for his sins by an eternity in hell, and that when his final day comes his soul will be taken at midnight.
Next in line is Antonio, who Zé bludgeons while engaging in a theological discussion. With him out of the way, Ternzinha should be his. She's outraged and disgusted by him, however, and so he beats her until she submits. Not wanting to bear his child, she takes matters into her own hands. Having lost everyone that mattered to him (as much as anyone can matter to such a madman), Zé is alone in the world.
After a series of strange events, Zé goes through a crisis of faith--or unfaith as the case may be--and wouldn't you know it? Sooner or later, midnight rolls around.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I rented this film. Foreign, black-&-white, low budget. Seemed like a shot in the dark, but I was completely blown away. It's not often that I feel like giving a standing ovation in the privacy of my own home. At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul surpassed its budgetary limitations and turned out to be an artfully done masterpiece. Look at the effects used to transition from one scene to another. They're astoundingly well done considering the time period.
Even the special effects work well for the most part, only disappointing or "hokey" on two occasions: one, the tinsel-like aura that surrounds a spirit making him look like the ghost of Christmas past (it was actually achieved by gluing glitter to the original negative); and two, the rather ridiculous looking owl-puppet that flies from a cemetery tree. These images are fleeting and relatively unimportant, however, and do little to take away from the worth of the film.
Extras on the DVD include theatrical trailers for At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, and Awakening Of The Beast, as well as a 10-minute interview with José Mojica Marins (complete with subtitles.)
Black & White
Portuguese (with English subtitles)
Friday, May 15, 2009
Written by Robert Schlitt
Based on the novel by John Buell
Directed by Harvey Hart
Jim Henderson.... Christopher Plummer
Pierre Paquette.... Donald Pilon
Elizabeth Lucy.... Karen Black
Meg.... Yvette Brind'amour
Gun-packin’, gum-smackin’ gumshoe Detective Henderson is dispatched to investigate the death of Elizabeth Lucy, a heroin-addicted prostitute who may have jumped from a 20-story apartment building, or may have been thrown. Following the trail of clues like any self-respecting officer of the law, he questions Elizabeth’s roommate, harasses her madam Meg, and even roughs up a suspicious person or two. He learns that the deceased was Catholic, which he seems to think is extremely relevant to the case. When Meg and Laura are later found slaughtered, with a gutted black cat pinned to the front door, Henderson quickly rules out the suicide theory and finds himself entrenched in a murder mystery of satanic proportions.
The action bounces back and forth between Henderson’s investigation and flashbacks to Elizabeth’s final day of life, both working together to unravel the mystery for the viewer’s sake. Imagine Twin Peaks spliced together with scenes from Fire Walk With Me.
The film definitely has its problems. Aside from the poor transfer and audio (which may be the result of my shoddy budget release DVD), some scenes are too shadowy to see what the hell is going on, and on the occasions when the characters speak French (it was shot on location in Quebec), there are no subtitles, leaving the English-only viewer feeling a bit lost. With the wannabe sleaze quotient and the chanteuse-heavy soundtrack (featuring selections composed and performed by Karen Black herself), not to mention the heavy handed Catholic and Anti-Catholic symbolism and imagery, The Pyx seems almost as if it longs to be an Italian Giallo, but never quite lives up to that desire. Only the briefest moments of inspired stylized cinematography (such as the children pulling the police tape from the murder scene and using it as a jump rope) lends any real value to the film, which otherwise hobbles along at a crippled pace, striving desperately to be something it isn’t.
Aside from a few curse words and a couple of B&B (Breast and Bottom) shots, this probably could have debuted on network television, right after Matlock or Murder She Wrote.
ALSO KNOWN AS: La Lunule (Canadian French title); The Hooker Cult Murders
English & French
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Written by Rian James & Sid Silvers
Based On The Play by Ralph Spence
Directed by Allan Dwan
Walter Stevens.... Lionel Atwill
Peters.... Bela Lugosi
Kitty.... Patsy Kelly
Jack Marsden.... Edward Norris
Norma Denby.... Anita Louise
Garrity.... Jimmy Ritz
Harrington.... Harry Ritz
Mulligan.... Al Ritz
Wealthy Walter Stevens is left a note from “professional killer” The Gorilla, proclaiming that he is the next to die. As is the Gorilla’s custom, Stevens is given 24 hours before he meets his maker, and so he hires a trio of detective/bodyguards—played by the bumbling Ritz Brothers (kind of a cross between Laurel and Hardy and The Stooges)—to protect him. Unfortunately, they’re more frightened than frightening, more brainless than brave, and probably luckier than anything else.
Throughout a lengthy series of supposedly comic moments in which the bodyguards mock Bela’s accent, lose a fistfight with a fold-out ironing board, and make a plethora of wacky faces, a number of other bodies begin popping up around the mansion. By the time it comes down to the Grand Unveiling, where we learn if The Gorilla is a real gorilla at all, we quite frankly don’t care anymore.
The tagline promises a pretty hefty mathematical formula (Thrills + Laughs = Entertainment), but this film is far from thrilling, I never once laughed, and I wasn’t entertained in the loosest sense of the word. The story is downright ridiculous (which makes me wonder just how ridiculous the play this movie was based on was) and the Ritz Brothers hamming and slap-sticking was well more than I could handle. Not even a slumming Bela Lugosi could save this bomb.
If you’re looking for laughs, look elsewhere.
If you’re looking for scares, look elsewhere.
If you’re looking for…hell. Just look elsewhere.
Black & White
"Don't you know that Poe hates women?"
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Color Me Blood Red
Written & Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Produced by David F. Friedman
Don Joseph .... Adam Sorg
Elyn Warner .... Gigi
Scott H. Hall .... Farnsworth
William Harris .... Gregorovich
Jerome Eden .... Rolf
Candi Conder .... April Carter
Adam Sorg is an obsessed young painter struggling in his field. Although he's got a nice house on the beach, an exclusive showing at the Farnsworth Gallery and even makes the occasional sell, he just can't earn his fair share of respect. Critics say it's because of his use of color, which could stand some tweaking, and Adam is inclined to agree.
When his fiancé Gigi accidentally cuts herself on a loose nail, Adam takes one look at the blood and realizes that's the color he's been missing. She refuses to supply him with enough to cover an entire canvas and so it's slice-&-dice self-mutilation time, all for the sake of his art.
You can only give so much before you start to feel a bit woozy though (especially without the free orange juice and sugar cookie that the Red Cross offers you), so in a fit of rage he “volunteers” Gigi to become his fleshy pallet, leaving him with one great masterpiece and one mediocre corpse. And when her veins run dry, it's time for old Adam to take a little stroll down the beach in search of new “art supplies,” if you will.
Although there was quite a bit of blood in this movie, most of it was on the canvas. The gore was relatively restrained for a Lewis-Friedman production except in a few key scenes. Some of the paintings were actually pretty damn cool and would be right at home hanging in my gallery (if I had a gallery, that is). Things did seem to slow down a bit somewhere in the middle, giving you time to wonder “didn't I see this all before in A Bucket of Blood?” but it all evens out with a pretty decent ending.
This Something Weird DVD release comes with the original theatrical trailer, commentary by Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman, a reel of rare outtakes and the traditional Gallery of Exploitation Art. Definitely worth a watch.
"If we ever get married, the first thing I'll do is... get a divorce. "
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
It's been a good long while since we've seen Howard the Duck, but it doesn't seem as if too much has changed. He's still living in Cleveland, still driving a taxi, still shacking up with Beverly Switzer, and still cracking wise in a world he never made--whatever the hell that means.
His latest adventure begins when his defeat of a pair of would-be-hunters named the Barrel Twins (get it? Twin barrels!) is caught on film and uploaded to YouTube--excuse me, MeTube. It becomes a viral video hit, and Howard and Bev are quickly launched into internet stardom the likes of which is normally reserved for Tila Tequila and LonelyGirl15. Only instead of being offered movie deals and slutty reality shows, they wind up embroiled in a bitter controversy revolving around Howard's illegal alien status. The whole thing is being orchestrated by AIM's latest big-headed bastard, MODOT, who's a lot like MODOK, except he's designed only for talking, not killing.
That was pretty much my reaction, too. When Howard first appeared on the scene in the 1970s, he was being written by the late, great Steve Gerber, and the result was pure genius--nevermind the whole Spielberg theatrical debacle. It was a smart, biting, and yes, countercultural satire of the climes of the times, dressed up as a funny animal book. Unfortunately, Mr. Gerber is no longer with us, and while his wacky water fowl lives on, he's really just a ghost of what he once was. It's crossed the line over satire and landed right in the land of parody, which doesn't work nearly as well.
A parody of what? A parody of modern times, a parody of modern culture, but most of all, a parody of itself--like Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live.
Shortly before this series first appeared, I attempted to e-mail Steve Gerber with a number of suggestions for Howard the Duck novels, one of them revolving around Howard being hunted down and deported to Mexico due to his illegal alien status. The e-mail was unfortunately bounced back undeliverable. I still believe that is the story this series should have told, which would be particularly fitting in this age. Unfortunately, it only touches on this concept briefly, spending the rest of its time concentrating on our society's unwavering addiction to the media and our fascination with celebrity--a subject that is tired, to say the least. It's been said before, and it's been said better.
And no matter how hard I try, I can not get used to Howard's "makeover". They've done away with the cigar and rumpled suit, replacing it with outfits from the Gap. He's no longer squat and stocky--in fact, he looks more like a juvenile albino parakeet with AIDS than a duck.
No matter what, THIS will always be Howard to me.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Due to the terrifying nature of this film, we strongly urge those of you with faint hearts or weak stomachs NOT to see this picture.Offensiveness is a viable form of expression. Remember the Garbage Pail Kids? What about Mad Balls? And look at the success of South Park and Family Guy. Even recently, Official Offensive Jackass Andrew "Dice" Clay was seen kicking up dust on NBC in an attempt to become Donald Trump's billion-dollar bottom bitch. Shock and awe, baby...shock and awe.
Dr. Stein, a card-carrying member of the Mad Scientist Club, emerges from certain death in the sewer following the events of Monsturd in this sequel from 4321 Films. Minus one eye, and plus one eye-patch, he assumes a new identity and takes a teaching position at the Butte County Institute for Special Education, where he continues his research using his pupils as test subjects. He has devised a serum (Algernon-9, named, of course for the famous book Flowers for Algernon) that he injects into the hypothalamus of the brain, vastly increasing the subject's mental capacity. Meaning, that no longer will the students be limited by their handicap.
Sounds like a real humanitarian doesn't he? It's just too bad about those side effects...
Meanwhile, the Butte County Sheriff Department has it's hands full with a peeping Tom known only as the Weenie Wagger, and an LSD ring operating out of the local elementary school. Little do they know that their investigation into the mysterious pervert will inadvertently lead them to the missing Doctor. But not necessarily quick enough.
Sure, Dr. Stern's patients initially showed amazing progress, their mental capacity growing by leaps and bounds. But remember those side effects I mentioned? It seems that after this first stage of progression, the patients suffer from a swelling of the brain and tumors, leading into insanity that culminates finally in violence and acts of cannibalism. Their hearts stop, and their bodies clinically die...but their brains refuse to admit it.
Are we talking zombies here?
You're damned right we are. And within two shakes of a lamb's ass, there's a full-scale undead epidemic in town...like you didn't see that coming.
Okay, so it's not a greatly original film. And yes, the acting is distractingly sub-par at times. But, somewhere along the way, the acting either improved or I just grew less discerning. Either way, by the film's end, I didn't even notice. With a film of this budget, you have to expect the usual downfalls. Which is why I was quite pleasantly surprised with this effort. Forgetting the acting woes, and the occasional issues with the sound, the gore effects were well-done in that classic, DIY sort of way; The scoring was good and pretty effective; And the editing was, believe it or not, pretty damn great, with some slow-motion effects, fades, cuts, and interesting camera angles that defies the shortcomings we have come to expect. The spot-on parody of a drive-in theater snack bar ad before the film started was particularly inspired, as was the pointless (but awesome) LSD trip that played out like a throwback to the drugsploitation films of the late 'sixties and early 'seventies.
Those of you who are a little more PC-minded than this film's target audience shouldn't fret too much. After a few cheap pot-shots at the Special Education pupils, they receive the serum and there's no more "Laugh-at-the-Short-Bussers" routine. But there's still plenty to offend, plenty to gross you out, plenty to make you laugh out loud in that "I-Can't-Believe-They're-Saying-That" sort of way.
If the Farrelly Brothers had discovered that their funding had been lost, then took a few magic mushrooms and stayed up all night watching Robin Williams in Awakenings before deciding to make a quick horror movie, that film would probably turn out something like Retardead.
The film doesn't take itself too seriously, which can be both helpful or a hindrance, depending on your point of view. But by the time the movie ends, it's evident that the filmmaker's weren't trying to rewrite the rules of horror. They weren't trying to make a modern classic. Quite the opposite, in fact. They were trying, quite successfully I might add, to take it back to the Old School set forth by the low-budget splatter films of decades long past.
Living Dead Girlz (above), writers/directors Rick Popko and Dan West, if nothing else, know all the right people.
But in all the good ways.
The Brain Damage DVD release of Retardead drops on June 2, 2009. Visit the official website, read more about it at the IMDB, or pre-order it today!
I don't know about you, but I'm dying to get my hands on one of those human finger necklaces!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
In the small town of Milburn, New York, four aging men meet weekly for a round table of whiskey, cigars, and ghost stories. They call themselves the Chowder Society, but it seems someone or something else calls them playthings.
An outside force is playing them like puppets, bringing them horrendous nightmares of both the sleeping and waking variety. On a vote, the Chowder Society decides to call in a ringer from California, a nephew of one of the society's members and author of a well-known horror novel. Surely a man that could write like that must be an expert in such matters. It's his imagination that brings these dark forces into focus, however, gives them a face and gives them a name.
Together they realize that these forces aren't something new. They are very, very old and each one of them has already dealt with them previously in life, in one guise or another. And now their past has come back to them.
In Straub's fourth novel (his breakthrough work), I must confess that even this fan was a bit skeptical at first. It didn't seem to have that tone, that style, that trademarked genius that lets you know you are reading a Peter Straub novel. But as the pages wore on, it became clear that if this wasn't genius, it definitely contained seedlings of the genius that Straub would eventually become. Taking a handful of seemingly different tales and crafting them into a single novel is like a seamstress taking a thousand threads and weaving them into a blanket. You can't really appreciate the product until it is complete, but oh, how you love to watch them work.
The characters were, for the most part, rich and textured with a full and colorful back story which all came into play, and if I were hard pressed to nitpick, I would only be able to come up with the length. Weighing in at 483 pages, it may have been scaled down a bit, but once you get rolling, you probably won't even notice.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The Holy Mountain
(La Montaña sagrada)
Written and Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
The Thief...Horácio Salinas
The Written Woman...Zamira Saunders
The Alchemist...Alejandro Jodorowsky
Following director Alejandro Jodorowsky's brilliant epic El Topo, he had gained a fair amount of underground notoriety--enough that his next work, Holy Mountain, was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein of ABKCO, with financial assistance by Yoko Ono and John Lennon. This film is said to be based on both "The Ascent of Mt. Carmel" by St. John of the Cross and the unfinished work "Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing" by Rene Daumal.
A thief is found unconscious in the desert by a a tribe of naked children. Perhaps because of his unmistakable physical similarities to Jesus Christ, he is tied to a cross in a sort of mock-crucifixion. He quickly frees himself, scares off his attackers, and befriends a quadruple amputee with dwarfism (damn, this fellow can't get any breaks). The two of them attend a showing of the Great Toad and Chameleon Circus, until the thief is kidnapped by manufacturers of religious icons and used to make a mold for their statues of Christ. He dispatches of them in a very un-Christ-like way, and then escapes back into town, where a large number of people are gathered around a tower. A large hook containing a bag of gold has been lowered from the top of the tower, and the thief, smelling a score, latches himself onto the hook and ascends to the top.
Once there, he finds a modern day alchemist who can turn feces into gold. The alchemist inducts the thief into a secret organization of people who have great power and great wealth, among who he sticks out like a sore thumb. But money and power simply isn't enough for these people, as they do not have immortality. This is something they want desperately to change, and intend to do so by conquering the titular Holy Mountain on Lotus Island, but first they must give up their money and their social status, becoming monks of a seemingly Buddhist variety.
Every scene in this film has some sort of symbolic surrealism in it, every flicker of film practically a work of art in and of itself, overflowing with grotesque and bizarre imagery. Say what you want about Jodorowsky, the man is a hell of a director. Every one of his films is like somebody gave Salvador Dali a secret key to Universal Studios and let him run wild. For those of you who can't enjoy the story, I challenge you to not at least enjoy the scenery.
I have heard it claimed that much of the symbolism in the film is sacrilegious--for example, the scene in which the thief eats the face off of a statue of Jesus. But isn't 'eating the flesh of our savior' exactly what people are said to do at communion? And if the alchemist's tower isn't the Tower of Babel, then I don't know what it is. Concentrate hard enough and watch without judgment, and you'll see allegories every step of the way. This isn't sacrilege...and it's not just weirdness for weirdness sake, either. It all means something...all of it.
Which is why the ending is such a cruel joke. I won't go into specifics here, but suffice it to say that at the apex of their journey, it is revealed that it was all a sham. Not just the voyage, but the very film itself, and all of the hidden "meanings" we've racked up along the way.
Pretty damned beautiful, too.
"Our bees make honey, but your flies make shit."
Friday, May 8, 2009
Attack Of The Giant Leeches
Written by Leo Gordon
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
Produced by Gene & Roger Corman
Ken Clark .... Steve Benton
Jan Shepard .... Nan Greyson
Tyler McVey .... Doc Greyson
Yvette Vickers .... Liz Walker
Michael Emmet .... Cal Moulton
Gene Roth .... Sheriff Kovis
A moonshine-slurping farmer stumbles upon a monstrous “critter” along the shoreline of a swamp and shoots it with his trusty shotgun. It falls into the water and sinks back to the bottom of the swamp. When he recounts the story to his buddies, they only laugh at him in disbelief but when the farmer is found dead by Steve, a ranger who patrols the swamp, it seems perhaps there was a bit of truth to his tale after all.
The town doctor examines the farmer's body and notices that it has peculiar marks on it, like those the suction cups of an octopus or squid might leave behind. But there's no saltwater for miles…so it must be something else.
More and more locals wind up missing or dead, and so after multiple unsuccessful attempts to locate the culprits, Steve dons scuba gear and hunts them out for some hand-to-hand combat while half the town watches safely from the sidelines.
Unlike most 50's/60's horror films that don't show you the monster until the final reel, this one shows you the monster before the opening credits even begin to roll! And what creatures they are! As is to be expected, the giant leeches are obviously men in poorly constructed rubber suits that barely cover the oxygen tanks strapped to the actors' backs.
The print is scratched and worn in a few places but for the most part quite clear, and despite the shortcomings of the special effects, Attack Of The Giant Leeches remains a fun piece of late-night drive-in cheese.
Come on in…the water's fine.
Black & White
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Directed by Stan Winston
Based on a poem by Ed Justin
Lance Henriksen .... Ed Harley
Matthew Hurley .... Billy Harley
Brian Bremer .... Bunt
Florence Schauffler .... Haggis
"According to the legend, if one man does something bad to another man--it's got to be real bad, like killing--then that other man can have Pumpkinhead conjured up to take revenge."
Or so tells us Bunt, a possibly inbred local boy in the small bumpkin town of Bradley Mountain.
Widowed farmer and grocery merchant Ed Harley--played by Lance Henriksen of Aliens and TVs Millennium--and his young son Billy live in a decrepit backwoods house with their faithful dog Gypsy. Everything is peaceful and copacetic, although from the very beginning it's obvious that all they have left in this world is each other. Not that either of them are complaining. As is the norm, Billy goes down to Harley Grocery with his father to run the store after breakfast, at around the same time that a group of hotshot city kids--comprised equally of sensitive-types who are sympathetic to the "po' white plight" and stereotypical asshole thugs--are arriving in their flashy automobiles. They're here to stay in one of their parents' cabins, and apparently, to raise hell around the countryside on their dirt bikes. Right away, Gypsy has a grudge against them, which could be foreshadowing but instead becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For, you see, Gypsy runs out into the field where the kids are riding their bikes, and Billy of course runs right out after him. In dramatic slow motion, we see him hit and killed, like in a Scooby Doo cartoon, all because of those meddlesome kids and that damned dog.
After the kids scatter, and Ed gives the one left behind a look that quite clearly says "Lance Henriksen is not someone to fuck with," he takes his son to an old woman in the mountains who is said to have special powers. Her name is Haggis, which is a fitting name, because she is definitely a hag of the worst kind and lives in the spookiest cabin ever caught on film that appears to have been built out of whichever branches happened to have fallen from the tree. At Ed's insistence, Haggis conjures up Pumpkinhead--"Cruel, devious, purest venom ...VENGEANCE!"--to get a little payback. Haggis warns him that there is a great price to pay for such a deed, but Ed chooses not to heed her warning.
I won't tell you what the "great price" was, and I won't give away the ending, but I will tell you this: It was excellent.
This is a genuine horror film that doesn't have to rely on horny teenagers and age-old clichés for its thrills. Lance Henriksen is not only possessor of the world's craggiest face, but he is also one hell of an actor, and the relationship with his son is utterly believable and touching. Quite an achievement seeing as how Billy dies so early in the film. And although some of the city kids' acting could be poor and overdone at times, it simply adds to the enjoyment of seeing them killed off. The director does a fine job with atmosphere, especially the use of shadows and fog, although the electrical storm that seems to follow old Pump around could be considered a bit much. The film was also brilliantly scored, at times flaring up with an electric bluegrass vibe that was befitting.
Definitely a classic.
"That old woman scares the piss out of me!"
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Devil Has Seven Faces
Directed by Osvaldo Civirani
Carroll Baker...Julie Harrison
Stephen Boyd...Dave Barton
George Hilton...Tony Shane
Julie Harrison is a translator who finds herself in a bit of a pickle when some dangerous double-crossed jewel thieves mistake her for her devious identical twin sister Mary. After a failed kidnapping, Julie's new friends Dave Barton--a playboy lawyer--and Tony Shane--a playboy racecar driver--get quite intimately involved. But how long can the trio outrun their pursuers who have proved that they're quite willing to kill for what they want, and are more than willing to do so again?
The thieves, Julie and her friends, and the previous owner of the stolen jewel are all out to discover the truth, each for their own reasons. Who will find it first, and who's really the bad guy here?
This sleek and sexy crime drama looks and feels typical of its time and genre: convoluted and slow moving plot, multiple ambiguous characters and POVs, lush colors and stylistic sets, beautiful women in mod fashions and miniskirts, all set to deep instrumentals and a chanteuse-heavy soundtrack.
All this makes for good retro fun with just a tinge of sleaze, but unfortunately, except for a few false scares and a car chase (obviously injected only to speed up the film), there just aren't very many thrills along the way. There are, though, a number of plot-twists towards the end. That's the giallo, for you: they always begin charming, lose steam, and then redeem themselves in the end.
It was films like this that inspired Tarantino's Jackie Brown, so fans of this ilk may want to give it a go.
ALSO KNOWN AS: Il Diavolo a Sette Facce; The Devil With Seven Faces
Italian (English Dubbed)
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
EDIT 12.19.12: Jukebox no longer seems to be working. Please keep moving. Nothing to see here.
Louis Collins-Mississippi John Hurt
Stack O'Lee Blues--Mississippi John Hurt
Lord Randall--Ewan MacColl Pretty Polly--B.F. Shelton I took a shot of cocaine, and I shot that woman down!
Louis Collins-Mississippi John Hurt
Stack O'Lee Blues--Mississippi John Hurt
Lord Randall--Ewan MacColl Pretty Polly--B.F. Shelton I took a shot of cocaine, and I shot that woman down!
Monday, May 4, 2009
Troma's Edge TV: Volume 1
Troma's Edge TV was a 30 minute television series from Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Studios that unfortunately ran very late on Friday nights and only on the United Kingdom's popular Channel 4 and later on Australia's Comedy Channel. Hosted primarily by Lloyd Kaufman himself, horror hipster Trent Haaga and the nicely naughty “Super-Tromette” Bullimia, it wasn't quite reality programming and wasn't quite sketch comedy. Using Troma's patented blend of simulated sex, real nudity and over-the-top gore, we were treated to slightly twisted but genuine social commentary. Each episode had a designated theme with pieces that revolved around that topic and regular features such as “Tromette of the Week” and “The Weekly TIT (Troma Intelligence Test.)”
Being as how the show was only broadcast overseas, the rest of us never had the opportunity to see it—not that it would ever be considered suitable for American television anyway. Many fans hoped that the complete run of 20 episodes would find a fresh home on DVD, but as of yet only 10 episodes have been released on two different single disc editions entitled, Too Hot For Troma's Edge TV.
If you're a Troma-hater, don't expect to enjoy this show simply because it touches on social issues that might interest you. It is still Troma, so it is all dealt with in an entirely silly and decidedly low-brow approach. Half the time they don't truly seem to have a point to make regarding either side of the issue but rather just aim for a chuckle. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Fans will be thrilled with the show and should be happy to know that the Toxic Avenger and Sergeant Kabukiman make a few scattered appearances throughout. Enjoy!
As always, the standout episodes are marked with an asterisk.
Episode 9: The Sex Episode*
The Troma Team takes a stab at prostitution, safe sex, STD's, masturbation, multiple orgasms and more. Clips from 1983's The First Turn On are shown as well as a “Dial-A-Snatch” television commercial.
Episode 11: The Family Episode
Family values, Father-Son and Mother-Daughter relationships, orphans, and the importance of a good support system are all covered here, as well as another type of family: the mafia. Clips from 1980's Mother's Day and 1999's Terror Firmer are shown.
Episode 12: The Drug Episode*
The link between drug use and other forms of violent crime is explored and the government's multi-million dollar “War On Drugs” is poked fun at. We visit a crack den of sorts and see a fight between rival opium dealers in Chinatown. Scenes from 1998's Buttcrack are shown.
Episode 19: The Horror Episode*
Don't make the same mistake that Trent Haaga did: It's horror, not whore. Regardless, this was probably the most enjoyable episode on the disc. We're given a tour of both the famous Forrest J. Ackerman's “Ackermuseum” and “The Death Museum.” There are Tromatic spoofs of Psycho and Scream, commentary on the state of horror films today and whether or not violence in the media has detrimental effects on the world's youth.
Episode 20: The War Episode
The art of war is poked and prodded in this episode, touching on America's obsession with military action, registering for the draft, a salute to vets, and the Gulf War Syndrome. Scenes from 1988's Troma's War and 1999's Terror Firmer are shown, as well as a cult recruitment commercial. Probably the most controversial of all the episodes covered here and, in my eyes, definitely the least enjoyable (for unrelated reasons.)
The DVD does have a small smattering of extra features, the most important being the titular Too Hot For TV scenes that were cut, including a truly brutal beating administered to one of the Troma kids by a psychotic S&M mistress.
United States (For the United Kingdom)
Sunday, May 3, 2009
The Undertaker and His Pals
Written & Directed by T.L.P. Swicegood
Ray Dannis .... The Undertaker
A series of mutilation murders have terrorized the town for quite some time now, each one perpetrated by a group of three masked bikers clad in black leather. Private investigator Harry Glass has been far too wrapped up in his playboy lifestyle to care one way or the other until his secretary/lover Anne Poultry becomes their next victim. At the crime scene, Harry is approached by a Mr. Mort, the undertaker and owner of Shady Rest Funeral Home (with a sign outside that states “We Accept Trading Stamps”) and offered their budget funeral for $144.98. Quite a bargain, and, broke as he is, Harry accepts.
Times must be tough all over. The dim-witted Spike and his mad surgeon friend Doc own the crappy diner not far from Harry's office. They have found that the price of meat has increased to a wallet-shattering level and decided to take the matter into their own hands, striking up a deal with their good friend the undertaker.
What exactly is going on here? Well, the day after one young Miss Lamb was found murdered, the diner's special of the day was “Leg Of Lamb,” and after Anne Poultry was killed, the special was “Chicken Breast.” Get it?
Mort, Spike and Doc cavort around town on their motorcycles seeking out characters with goofy names and murder them. Doc and Spike serve parts of their victims at the diner, and Mort shows up at the scene and scores the funeral gig. When Harry Glass stumbles upon what's going on, he vows to see the demise of the murderers. He sees it, all right, but has absolutely nothing to do with it.
Blood Feast for the greasy spoon set, only infinitely less enjoyable in that sub-par, so-bad-it's-good kind of way. The Undertaker and His Pals is billed as a great shock film of the 60s, but the truth is that it's just a low-budget black comedy with absolutely no laughs. Kind of like British sitcoms.
The star of the film is unfortunately the soundtrack, full of saxophone solos and jazzy up tempo numbers direct from the Happy Hipster Handbook. If only the rest of the movie had something to offer. On the plus side, clocking in at just over an hour, this travesty will be over before you know it.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Mental Trips Through Electrical Blips
The Dreamachine was invented in 1959 by poet Brion Gysin and mathematician Ian Sommerville. It all began when Gysin was on his way to spend the holidays with a friend at an artists' colony. He recounted the experience in a journal entry dated December 21, 1958:
“Had a transcendental storm of color visions today in the bus going to Marseilles. We ran through a long avenue of trees and I closed my eyes against the setting sun. An overwhelming flood of intensely bright patterns in supernatural colors exploded behind my eyelids: A dimensional kaleidoscope whirling out through space. I was swept out of time. I was out in a world of infinite number. The vision stopped abruptly when we left the trees. Was that a vision? What happened to me?”
When Ian Sommerville heard of this, he suggested that Gysin read a book entitled The Living Brain by W. Grey Walter, in which the phenomenon of “flicker” is explained. The descriptions and effects of the experiments performed by Walter touched a nerve with Gysin. He wrote back to Sommerville and asked him “How can we make it at home?”
Sommerville set to work and soon created a prototype, which wasn't much beyond “a slotted cardboard cylinder which turns over a gramophone at 78 rpm with a lightbulb inside.” He told Gysin:
“You look at it with your eyes shut and the flicker plays over your eyelids. Visions start with a kaleidoscope of colors on a plane in front of the eyes and gradually becomes more complex and beautiful, breaking like surf on a shore until whole patterns of color are pounding to get in. After awhile the visions were permanently behind my eyes and I was in the middle of the whole scene with limitless patterns being generated around me. There was an almost unbearable feeling of spatial movement for a while but it was well worth getting through for I found that when it stopped I was high above earth in a universal blaze of glory. Afterward I found that my perceptions of the world around had increased very notably. All conceptions of being dragged or tired had dropped away.”
In no time at all, Ian Sommerville and Brion Gysin began making them and exhibiting them around Paris. William S. Burroughs championed the invention and relied on it heavily for inspiration to his bizarre novels. Gysin would later finalize the design, perfecting the slits in the tubes so that the flicker would occur eight to thirteen times a second, which is the optimal speed.
How does it work? A conscious person's brain functions at 4 to 8 hertz per second but when the high speed flicker of the Dreamachine strikes closed eyelids, it overrides the waking signal and sends a 10 hertz impulse to the brain, imitating the same wavelength the brain operates on when dreaming.
The use of “flicker” to achieve these visions predates Sommerville and Gysin, possibly going all the way back to the days of the Bible. Some believe that the Old Testament's reference to the “Tree of Knowledge” (Genesis 2:9) is a veiled description of the same occurrence that had happened to Brion Gysin on his way to Marseilles.
Johannes Trithemisu (1562-1516), an Abbot of Germany's Benedictine monastery, published a series of manuals on how to speak to angels, entitled Steganography. In order to communicate with these holy beings, one was to memorize and recite these passages with their eyes closed, faces close enough to burning religious candles that the light from the flames danced upon their eyelids.
And even Nostradamus was known to use the flicker method at times. On sunny days he would climb to the highest point he could find and lie down, waving his fingers before his closed eyes until the visions came. Many of his famous prophecies were reached through this very method.
And what of today? Why can't one just walk into the local drug store and pick up a Dreamachine? Chances are that people are afraid of the machine, not trusting what they don't understand. The long term effects are unknown and the machine should be used with caution or not at all, especially if you suffer from epilepsy or mental instability. There are a few sources online where you can purchase a Dreamachine of your own or you can buy the plans and build one yourself.
Venture forward bravely, and let me know what you see.
Friday, May 1, 2009
People Under The Stairs
Written & Directed by Wes Craven
Brandon Quintin Adams .... Fool
Everett McGill .... Dad
Wendy Robie .... Mom
A.J. Langer .... Alice
Ving Rhames .... Leroy
Sean Whalen .... Roach
Jeremy Roberts .... Spenser
I was but a wee Metro when this film first came out, and macabre juvenile that I was, I loved it. In fact, I distinctly remember seeing this in the theater at least three times. So when I stumbled across a bargain-bin video edition recently, I shelled out the five bones to re-live a bit of my childhood. Would the film live up to the legendary status my young mind had built it up to?
But that didn't stop me from enjoying the hell out of this movie.
The premise is this: Fool, who lives with his ailing mom and his promiscuous sister in a ghetto tenement building, is talked into assisting in a robbery by Big Black Leroy and his Little Cracker Companion Spenser. Their target is the family that owns the building, as well as half of the real estate in their neighborhood. Word on the street is that the family is housing a king's ransom in gold coins, and Leroy wants his cut of the bounty. The three of them break into the house and are assaulted by a homicidal housewife, a sadomasochistic husband, a blood thirsty pooch, a veritable barrage of booby traps, and of course the people under the stairs. Fool finds the money, all right, but comes to discover that he can't get out. Nobody has ever got out.
As you can probably surmise, there's something seriously wrong with this family: S&M, bondage, abuse, kidnapping, incest, and a whole slew of freaks under the stairs (and in the cellar, and in the walls, and in the fireplace, and in the heating ducts, etc.) It's all here. What's NOT here, however, is a believable script, good acting, or a blueprint to this impossible house. The genuine thrills are few and far between, the general premise is ludicrous, and the whole thing feels as if Wes Craven was pandering to an audience too young to even see the film.
And yet, despite this, People Under The Stairs inexplicably still holds a special place in my heart, twisted little black thing that it is. I mean, come on. How can you not love a tongueless albino freak like little Roach?
"I don't want to see another cop or cookie in my life. I don't know which one makes me sicker. "