Posts Tagged ‘Be careful what you wish for

29
Apr
17

The Love Witch (2016)

Dear friends, I’m out of practice. Like way, way out of practice. But a movie like Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is enough to get me hopping back into the game. I mean, a blog called schlockwave couldn’t in good conscience not write about this campy homage to sixties sexploitation.

Life can be a fairy tale, if you just give your Prince Charming everything he wants!

What do men want? Elaine, The Love Witch knows: “Just a pretty woman to love; to take care of them.”  Fresh off the loss of her husband Jerry (they couldn’t prove she killed him) she’s ready to explore the sea for bigger, better fish. Using sex magick she woos all sorts of men, only to discover they’re never as good as they seem. In fact, she dazzles them so much she turns them into whimpering crybabies – and Elaine has no time for crybabies!

This film is gorgeous. It’s shot on 35mm and the colors pop amazingly. I want to live in Elaine’s technicolor world. You spend 90% of the time immersed in the 1960’s – the props and clothes are spot on (not to mention to die for – my GOD I want every decanter in this film), until Elaine’s friend Trish pulls out a cell phone, or you see a modern Subaru next to a classic

Wiccans know how to party – naked, and in a circle.

car. The acting and pacing is also pretty-well perfectly matched to any classic sexploitation horror flick you can think of. It’s obvious Anna Biller has done her homework (and though I have not yet seen Viva it’s pretty darn high on my list now).

I admit when it was over, I knew that I’d enjoyed it – but I wasn’t sure if I loved it or not. It seemed strange to me that there were anachronisms like cell phones and new cars in this world that was obviously painstakingly made to look like another time and place. I’d also wondered exactly what it was trying to say – was there a coherent message?

After giving it some thought, I’ve at least interpreted it in a way that does make me love it, and makes me want to see it a second time. We’re never quite sure what Elaine’s real motivation is. Sure, we know

Congratulations?

it’s love but what does that mean, and why? We know that Elaine was berated by her husband, humiliated by her father, and schooled into the world of sex magick by a dude. A bunch of different dudes expecting different things out of a woman, and a woman feeling conflicted trying to fulfill all these different roles? Add to that the confusion and conflict between Elaine and Trish – each one wants to be like the other – until they realize they don’t. Think of how much easier it would be for these women to navigate social expectations if only they could support each-other instead of hide behind jealousy and lies? These problems are timeless and persistent, and perhaps those anachronisms are saying that though we feel modern, we’re still stuck in the same old world where women are subjugated rather than celebrated.

This movie is well worth a watch. It is beautiful, hilarious and even shocking at times. I am loving all these flicks paying tribute to the beauty (and idiocy) of exploitation horror. This, The Editor, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – love them all. Keep them coming!

14
Oct
15

Pet Sematary (1989)

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is one of those flicks that was always on cable while I was growing up. How many times I’d seen it as a youngster either in full or in part I have no idea, but the only thing that really left an impression on me was the name Gage. Seriously, who names their kid Gage? Anyway, I remembered the film being in ‘good enough’ territory and worthy of a revisit as an adult, so we hit it up for this year’s 31 Days of Horror.

It's always nice wen King makes a special appearance.

It’s always nice when King makes a special appearance.

Louis and Rachel (Denise Crosby) Creed move to a new house in Maine, where Louis has gotten a job teaching medicine at the local university. Their young daughter Ellie and her cat Church look like prime horror targets, but maybe not so much as their toddler son Gage. It’s pretty clear within the first five minutes of this flick that someone is getting hit by a truck before this movie is over. See, the Creeds’ new home is situated on a road frequently traveled by speeding semis. Their friendly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) politely warns them to keep an eye on their cat as a result.

Fred Gwynne is the one true highlight of this movie. Too bad he's underused!

Fred Gwynne is the one true highlight of this movie. Too bad he’s underused!

But fast trucks aren’t the only spooky thing about their new digs; just down the path in the backyard there’s a creepy-ass cemetery. Crandall explains that this cemetery was built by the kids who owned the countless pets that fell victim to speeding trucks on the road. Since this is podunk Maine, we can’t expect the kids to know how to spell, so the name of the place is actually Pet Sematary. Ok?

So a few short days after starting his new job, Louis is confronted with his first human victim of the speeding trucks, Victor Pascow. The kid somehow knows his name and spouts warnings about life and death or something, and then he dies. Shaken up and weirded out, Louis bids his family adieu as Rachel takes the kids to see her parents for Thanksgiving (her dad really hates Louis so he decides not to go). Of course this is a perfect time for Church to get killed by a truck, no? Crandall finds the cat’s corpse in his yard, and breaks the bad news to Louis. But, he says, there may be a way around having to be honest with your kid and telling her what a dumb shit you are for letting the cat run into the road…

Ancient burial grounds are pretty cool looking amirite?

Ancient burial grounds are pretty cool looking amirite?

That’s right. The same shit Pascow warned Louis about is what Crandall is about to show him right now: the real cemetery, some sacred-ass earth which is of course formerly a Native American burial ground. Word on the street is you bury something here, and it won’t stay dead. It comes back. Sure, it’s evil and might kill you and you’re seriously fucking with the balance of the universe, but that’s so much better than being honest with your kid, right?

I thought I wasn’t going to give the whole plot away, but maybe I am. So the cat comes back, and is mean and evil, and somewhere along the line we learn that Rachel had to deal with a sick sister as she was growing up and it made her afraid of confronting death or something. Which is exactly what she’s going to have to do when her kid gets nailed by a truck. Unless of course humans can be buried in the sacred ground and come back to life? Hmmm…

The story of Rachel's sister Zelda seems to be there just so we can have some scary shots of her being scary. At least the make-up is good?

The story of Rachel’s sister Zelda seems to be there just so we can have some scary shots of her being scary. At least the make-up is good?

Look, I haven’t read the book, or any King beyond a handful of short stories, so I can’t speak to how well this is adapted. But I can say that this movie is pretty much shit. I just have absolutely no empathy for any of the characters. The actor that plays Louis, Dale Midkiff, seems as though he is sleepwalking through the role. You’d think a guy whose entire family falls apart and watches some shit come back to life would have some real emotion to display, but no. This guy is like a tree trunk. It is seriously painful to watch.

And let’s talk about Rachel for a second. I think Denise Crosby does a fine job playing her, but she is made so unlikeable and unsympathetic, I really don’t give a shit that her family was basically abusive while she was growing up, or that she’s going through a lot of trauma with a dead kid of her own. She is written like an irritating, one-dimensional mother; you know, the kind of woman you might see at buybuyBABY shopping for the most expensive stroller, and being really, really loud about it.

Denise Crosby pretty much has this look for the whole movie. And whoever's responsible for her wardrobe should be forced to pay her damages.

Denise Crosby pretty much has this look for the whole movie. And whoever’s responsible for her wardrobe should be forced to pay her damages.

In terms of characters, Fred Gwynne’s Jud Crandall is the only saving grace, but even he isn’t given enough time to explain his motivations but for a two-minute indulgence in exposition. I guess a lot of people really take a shining to Victor Pascow, who I forgot to mention spends the rest of the movie as a ghost trying to guide these idiot characters into doing smart things instead of dumb things. Honestly, I kind of felt his presence was annoying. But, uh, the make-up looked good.

I can see some truly interesting things hiding in this movie, which leads me to believe the book probably has a shit-ton more to offer than the shit piled on the screen here. Then again, Stephen King does have the screenplay writing credit, so who knows. The movie obviously tries to tackle a family’s pain in dealing with loss, but either the actors or the writing, or maybe just the two of them together, can’t make it work. There are similar problems with Rachel’s death issues; obviously we are meant to feel bad for Rachel and the crap she dealt with as a child, and how difficult it is for her to come to terms with death as an adult. But the character in the film is so god damn shrill and annoying, I don’t give two shits about how difficult anything is for her. I just want her to shut up.

You know, sometimes I sit down and start writing about a movie I’ve watched, and it isn’t apparent to me just how much I disliked it until I’m done. And, wow, I guess I really hated Pet Sematary. There are a few redeeming factors, and some legitimately scary moments, but for the most part this movie is insufferable. There are far better King adaptations out there, some of which I’ll be writing up later on this month, so stay tuned!

13
Oct
15

The Invisible Man (1933)

invisiblemanposterWhile I would undoubtedly call myself a fan of horror films, I am by no means an expert. There are many, many holes in my horror knowledge, in part because I got started late, and in part because there is just so much stuff out there. The good news is, every year has an October, and October is just the perfect time to fill in some of those holes. When thinking about which movies to pick for 31 Days of Horror this year, James Whale’s The Invisible Man was one of the first to spring to mind.

Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) is a dedicated scientist working under Dr. Cranley’s tutelage. He and his colleague Dr. Arthur Kemp both have taken a shine to Cranley’s daughter, Flora. It seems as though Flora and Griffin have a thing going on, but even so, he can’t help but feel inadequate. Compared to Kemp, he is poor, and worries that he won’t be able to adequately provide for Flora should they ever marry. This is probably only part of Griffin’s motivation for perfecting a serum that turns him invisible, thereby giving him incredible power and the ability to take over the world!

Well, it's tough to eat through all those bandages.

Well, it’s tough to eat through all those bandages.

The only trouble with the serum? He can’t perfect the antidote. So he moseys on over to an inn during a snowstorm and demands a room. The crowd there is a little taken aback, and Jenny Hall (Una O’Connor) the lady of the establishment doesn’t quite know how to deal with his temper, or the fact that he’s covered in bandages. But they leave the man to his work for a few days. But he is soon behind on rent and still hasn’t figured out the antidote situation. Here, Griffin’s anger gets the best of him, and he storms out of the place leaving a few poor, injured souls behind.

So, he goes to the only place he can think of for help: Kemp’s home. But rather than being apologetic and asking for help, Griffin threatens Kemp if he doesn’t do as he says. Kemp tries his best to get Cranley and the police involved, but they are no match for a crazed, arrogant invisible man. Or are they?

Una O'Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

Una O’Connor has no idea what to do with this invisible man!

This movie is so much fun. I should have known; everything else I’ve watched by Whale has had both a darkness and a sense of humor about it, and this film is no exception. Dr. Jack Griffin is only slightly sympathetic; only in the scenes with Flora where we see his vulnerability to we feel anything like pity towards the guy. The rest of the time he is incredibly bombastic and pompous, which leads to a lot of hilarious moments, frankly. But the best and funniest moments are those with Una O’Connor, who also delighted me in Bride of Frankenstein. While I guess you could call her performance a bit over-the-top, I think it definitely adds to the air of incredulity that’s already present in this film. I mean, how would you react if there was an invisible man running about?

But aside from all that stuff, what’s really impressive to me here is of course the special effects. Sure, you can see a wire here and there, but that’s not the point. Nor does it detract from the ultimate effect: it really looks like that bike is riding itself, for instance. I’m no expert in the evolution of movie effects, but I know that what these guys did here was really damn impressive for 1933. Hell, it’s impressive to me even

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

The Invisible Man taunts his victims!

today. I could take a million stills from this movie that made me say “wow, that looks so cool!” Just knowing how hard the effects crew must have worked to make the film look this way leaves me super impressed with the final output.

So, yeah, The Invisible Man is funny, impressive and also quite scary, when you think about its implications. As I’m sure I’ve said before, sometimes old-timey flicks are a hard sell for me. I typically have difficulty getting into the brains of characters from older movies, especially the female characters. Sure enough, Flora the love interest is just about as damsel-in-distressy as you’d expect from a 1933 flick. Even so, the insertion of humor in this movie really helps alleviate some of those issues for me. The lightened tone is a good reminder that not everything is so darn serious, and doesn’t have to be read that way. If you’re a horror fan, I definitely recommend this. A great watch!

12
Oct
15

Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball (2007)

Just a little over three years ago, I packed a bag and housesat in the middle-of-nowhere Montana for six weeks. With not much else to do, Q and I decided we’d watch at least a movie a day. Montana was also the catalyst for me to start blogging again; I’d actually started this blog a few years before that but let it languish, wilt and die. Anyway, we brought a giant binder of DVDs with us, and many DVDs went unwatched (like I said, giant binder). It occurred to us that October would be a fine time to pluck Nic Roeg’s Puffball: The Devil’s Eyeball from the binder and watch it.

Set in the Irish countryside, Puffball centers around Liffey, a young and successful architect who has taken on a project renovating an old, dilapidated cottage. She and her boyfriend Richard are eager to get started, when he unfortunately gets called away on business in New York. Luckily, they bone on an ancient rock (which is actually an altar to Odin, as explained by Donald Sutherland) before he heads out of town. Unluckily, the condom breaks. While Richard’s away, Liffey discovers she is pregnant, and she is not happy about it.

A slice of country heaven.

A slice of country heaven.

She has more than that to be unhappy about, though. Liffey’s closest neighbors are well-versed in ancient Druidic magic. Molly, the matriarch of the family, believes the baby Liffey is pregnant with was actually meant for her own daughter, Mabs (Miranda Richardson), who has been trying to get pregnant with a little boy for quite some time now, for reasons the film will cram down your throat. It’s not working out, and the local doctor refuses her fertility treatments saying she’s just too old to be a new mum. But Molly isn’t worried, she is fairly certain that her knowledge of magic, coupled with Mabs’ daughter Audrey’s natural powers can get the baby back to the right family. A little penis mushroom here, a little tainted alcohol there and voila! The baby will be in the right womb.

Nosy neighbors.

Nosy neighbors.

Well, unfortunately Molly and her witchy cohorts aren’t as in tune with Liffey’s pregnancy situation as they think. The lines get a little crossed, and their meddling causes some seriously bad mojo for everyone involved. Most of this is happening without Liffey even realizing it. But, in the end, Liffey decides to keep her baby, much to Mabs’ dismay, which leads to a very unsettling argument/labor situation that is DEFINITELY not something you want to watch if you are eight months pregnant!

Too old to breed.

Too old to breed.

I’m still not sure how I really feel about this movie. It definitely made me very uncomfortable, but how much of that has to do with my own pregnancy and imminent labor I can’t be sure. Certainly the idea that there are forces outside of us working to influence the outcome of a pregnancy is a terrifying one. What I for sure don’t like is the insatiable I-need-a-baby-now attitude that defines Miranda Richardson’s character. Sure, the film makes no bones about why Mabs feels this way, and I guess this was necessary to contrast Liffey’s I-definitely-don’t-want-a-baby-but-oops-accidentally-got-pregnant thing, but it really made me feel as though the filmmakers, or perhaps Fay Weldon, the author of the novel on which the film is based, think there are only two categories of women: those who wish to spawn, and those who don’t. That sort of dichotomy leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Life-changing sonogram.

Life-changing sonogram.

I have other problems with the film as well, but I’m afraid they’re mostly due to the budget Roeg had to work with. The film is very cheaply shot and reminds me of a throw-away television production. Sometimes I’m able to overlook stuff like this, but here I found the cheapness distracting. I also felt a lot of the special effects, which were also distractingly cheap, were used in very heavy-handed ways. I am sure there are other ways to convey a fire from back in the day to a film’s audience than showing the present-day object with flames overlaid on top. Over and over again. Oy. We get it.

Somewhere deep inside Puffball there is a good movie. Maybe even a great movie. But as it is now, I am not sure I liked it very much at all. It is thought-provoking, which is of course a positive thing, but there are so many smaller problems with the film that they take away from my ultimate read of the thing. Also, don’t be too excited to see Donald Sutherland’s name in the credits; he is only in two short scenes and that made me sad, too. For the most part though, the other actors do a good job of pulling their weight; they just don’t have much to pull.

29
Aug
15

Fat Girl (2001)

Anaïs getting her banana split on, while she watches her sister Elena get her make-out on. Awkward...

Anaïs getting her banana split on, while she watches her sister Elena get her make-out on. Awkward…

Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl is a difficult, unnerving, uncomfortable film. I’d never seen any of Breillat’s work previously, I’d only read that she was a “controversial” director. After watching Fat Girl it’s pretty obvious why the film community has slapped that label on her. This had been on the to-watch list for, oh, three years before we finally got around to it. It’s not exactly high up on the list for Saturday night entertainment, unless you’re in a particular mood to be challenged and made to feel totally gross.

The film is about two sisters. Elena is a freshly postpubescent beauty, ready to explore her sexuality, but only with someone she loves. Her younger sister Anaïs is anxious for a roll in the hay, too, but she thinks it’d be more ideal to lose her virginity to someone she didn’t really care about. Anaïs is also fat, certainly something Breillat is not about to let her audience forget: the film is peppered with scenes of Anaïs eating: a banana split while her sister makes out with an older boy at a local cafe, a huge plate of food at breakfast compared to everyone else’s more modest helpings, and my

There there sister, this piece of bread will make you feel better.

There there sister, this piece of bread will make you feel better.

favorite, a scene of Elena feeding her a piece of bread to make her feel better.

Their family is on a beach vacation. Ah, beach vacations during the coming-of-age times always result in such drama, don’t they? Elena “falls in love” with Fernando, the aforementioned older boy who sneaks into their cabin at night and convinces Elena to go much further sexually than she’s ready for – all while Anaïs is jealously watching. Elena’s affair strains her already contentious relationship with Anaïs; the two seem to routinely switch between hating each-other and desperately needing one-another. I think it’s fair to say they depend on one-another more than not, as it is clear through the family scenes Mom and Dad have better things to do than concern themselves with the lives of their daughters.

So much about this movie stings! I myself have never been a skinny beauty, so all those scenes of Anaïs eating her jealousy away really cut to the core. That’s not to say the film is made for any particular demographic; watching Elena in bed with Fernando is just as cutting and cringe-worthy. Even further, watching the two girls hurt each-other is hard to watch for anyone. Worst of all though, is the shocking ending that comes out of

Elena learning to navigate her feminine wiles.

Elena learning to navigate her feminine wiles.

nowhere. Yes, I’m going to bait you like that – of course I’m not going to tell you what happens. But, my god Catherine B, that is some cold-ass shit!

Even though it is painful, or perhaps because it is, I really liked this movie. What good is a movie if it doesn’t evoke some sort of strong emotion, right? I like how Breillat makes it a point to get into the heads of both of these girls, proving the world is no better a place for a young beauty than it is for a Fat Girl. We all have our struggles, and they’re all different, and that’s what makes it so damn hard to understand another person’s motivations, even if they’re family. Fat Girl is definitely not for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for a challenge, it is more than worth a watch; it is a very good film indeed.

27
Jun
15

The Guest (2014)

One of the best things I’ve done in recent memory is join the facebook group for the podcast The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema. Not only is it a group filled with folks who love my kinda movies, everyone is like, civil. So, in addition to sharing pics from your favorite flicks, or trying to get a handle on whether or not a particular movie is worth watching, the floor is open for some real, in-depth discussion of film instead of, you know, shit flinging. I strongly encourage you to listen to the podcast! Anyway, it is due to this fine group of Gents that I was first introduced to the film The Guest. Indeed, not a day went by for about a week or two when I didn’t see a post about it. Naturally, I had to check it out. I am so very glad I did.

Hello, David.

Hello, David.

Spencer and Laura (Sheila Kelly, whom I immediately recognized as Debbie with the earrings from SinglesPeterson are regrouping from the death of their son Caleb, a soldier who died in Afghanistan. Their two remaining kids, Luke and Anna (Maika Monroe, It Follows) are coping with it in their own strange ways as well. But things get a little spooky when a strange visitor stops by. David (Dan Stevens, apparently from Downton Abbey but I don’t watch that shit so… whatever) knocks on the door one morning, claiming to have known Caleb from Afghanistan. At first Laura is a little skeptical, but when she recognizes David from a picture of Caleb with some of his buddies, she’s rather excited to get the opportunity to know the guy. After all, what parent wouldn’t want the chance to learn about their son’s last days?

Maika Monroe ain't got no time for this David guy.

Maika Monroe ain’t got no time for this David guy.

Naturally, the other family members are pretty put off by David’s presence, but one by one they all seem to be taken with his charm. Dad finally shares some beers with David and gripes about the woes of working for a manager half his age; Luke learns how to beat the shit out of his bullies, and even Anna enjoys herself with him at a party. But soon, Anna starts to recognize some inconsistencies in David’s story, and starts to do some digging…

Dude, if my High School had a Halloween dance this hot, I'd never have left.

Dude, if my High School had a Halloween dance this hot, I’d never have left.

The Guest is one of those movies where it’s really best to go in knowing as little as possible. It packs some pretty big surprises and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Like, seriously, Q said he was so nervous not knowing what the expect next that it made him nauseous. Now that’s an achievement! You’re never quite sure which direction the movie will go, or the extent to which it will go there, and it unnerves the shit out of you. It is tremendous fun to watch, it looks gorgeous, and the fucking soundtrack is killer. After I watched this, I sent out a handful of text messages demanding friends seek it out immediately.

Of course, a movie like this is definitely not for everyone. If you like a cookie cutter action flick, or a predictable horror movie or whatever, this might not be your cup of tea. Seriously, the greatest joy this movie has to offer is how much it keeps you guessing. Its other joys though are pretty great as well. I can’t recommend this enough. Check it out dudes!

08
Feb
15

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996)

kithposterA truly great comedy film is a difficult thing to find. The odds of finding an acceptably entertaining comedy are only slightly higher than the likelihood that any given horror movie will actually scare you. But finding a comedy that makes you laugh throughout the whole film, for years and years after you’ve seen it the first time? And one that only seems smarter the more you see it? That’s like climbing Mt. Everest and, you know, surviving. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed and laughed during a first-time watch of a comedy, only to show it to someone and realize: holy shit, this movie sucks. So naturally, when I feel I’ve found that needle in the haystack, it shoots right up to the top tier of my favorite films. Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy is just such a film.

Look, I won’t deny growing up a relatively privileged kid. I had everything a kid could want or need, but perhaps more important than anything (except maybe a mother’s unconditional love), I had cable. Shit, I’ll do you one better: I had HBO. I was watching the Kids in the Hall sketch comedy show before I had any damn clue what their jokes were on about. For the uninitiated, at its core the Kids in the Hall are five Canadian guys who write and perform sketch comedy. They play most, if not all of the characters in their sketches, which naturally means half the time they’re in drag. Growing up with their quirky brand of comedy probably predisposes me to appreciating their film more than the average Joe would. I do have it on good authority though that folks who have never really ‘got’ the Kids‘ sketch comedy can (and some even do!) appreciate the film to the fullest.

God damn the pusher scientists!

God damn the pusher scientists!

The plot is simple: Roritor Pharmaceuticals’ research department is about to get gutted. After spending a great deal of time on top of the Big Pharma heap as the geniuses behind stummies, a prozac-like pill that you can pop like candy whenever you feel a bit down, they’re now facing the possibility of bankruptcy. Don Roritor, the ruthless madman behind the company, is personally interviewing each scientist about their research; not only is he out to separate the wheat from the chaff, but he is also on the lookout for a hot, new, marketable drug, like, yesterday. When they get to Chris Cooper, they find out that he and his team have discovered a drug that will cure depression. Though they’re still in the early stages of testing, Cooper is pushed into a corner: tell them the drug is ready, or he and his entire team get the axe. So naturally, he lies and says it’s ready to go.

Gleemonex, as the drug is soon dubbed by Roritor’s wacky marketing executive Cisco, works by latching onto a patient’s happiest memory. For instance, test subject Mrs. Hurdicure reminisces in the happiness of her last

Mrs. Hurdicure, a.k.a. patient 957, is reluctant to take the new drug.

Mrs. Hurdicure, a.k.a. patient 957, is reluctant to take the new drug.

Christmas, when her lovely family came to visit… for 30 seconds. She is the first of millions of Americans to “cure” their depression by reliving their happiest memories, which honestly folks, are all pretty damn pathetic. Sadly, it’s just a matter of time before the unfortunate side effects take hold…

I truly believe Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy to be one of the smartest, funniest comedies I’ve ever seen. I am quite honestly astounded that it’s not more highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes (38%?!) or IMDb (6.8). Not only are the laughs consistent, but as I said before, it really holds up over time. Almost 20 years on, the subject matter is still relevant; perhaps even more so now than ever, what with Big Pharma growing so ubiquitous we simply take it for granted. But the Kids’ take on Big Pharma is just a small slice of the biting commentary it has to offer on our fucked-up society, but I must admit it’s my favorite part.

Ah, the perks of corporate rulership.

Ah, the perks of corporate rulership.

For as long as I’ve watched Kids in the Hall, they’ve been mocking businessmen. From the sketch where a young boy brings home a Businessman to his mother hoping to keep it as a pet to the one where businessman-Bruce literally rips his heart out of his chest and pours coffee on it to keep it ticking, the subject is obviously one the Kids are quite familiar with, and frankly, very good at making jokes about. But with an hour and a half running time to work with, the Kids have a serious field day with it, not only mocking what an asshole corporate bigwigs tend to be (this one evidently resembling Lorne Michaels more than just a little bit), but exactly how dangerous and reckless it can be to keep one’s eye on nothing but the company’s bottom line.

The Kids of course don’t stop there, they have plenty to say about how pathetic all our lives are. The characters that inhabit the world of Brain Candy are naturally pretty miserable, but not outrageously so; most of them strongly resemble folks we know in real life. Our narrator, a nasty old curmudgeon who drives a taxi seems to be the only guy who really understands that you can’t have happiness without sadness. But all that makes it sound like the film is preachy; it isn’t. Sure it’s got something important to say, but I don’t think you can have good, lasting comedy without cultural commentary. The bottom line is, of course, whether or not the movie will make you laugh. The only way to know that is to watch it yourselves, I suppose, so get to it.

29
Oct
14

House II: The Second Story (1987)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Perhaps ten years ago, I got into a conversation with a co-worker about Weekend at Bernie’s II (1993). I listened incredulously to his description of the plot: a voodoo witch puts a curse on Bernie’s corpse, such that it dances towards a buried treasure whenever music plays near it. The hapless friends tasked in the first movie with pretending their friend is still alive now are tasked with keeping the world from finding out that their friend is a boogieing zombie. It seemed hard to believe that there was a movie out there that would live up to the promise that description offered for over-the-top hijinx. When a while later I got my hands on a copy, I found out that, indeed, Weekend at Bernie’s II didn’t. A while later, though, I found myself in a situation where I was watching through a healthy backlog of movies at a clip, and made a double feature of the Sean Cunningham-produced House (1986) and House II: The Second Story. While House didn’t do a lot for me (it couldn’t settle on a tone, and seemed like its best bits were done better in Evil Dead II — sorry, Fred Dekker!), House II was a revelation: THIS was the zombie buddy-comedy that I’d been hoping for all this time… the Weekend at Bernie’s II  that delivered on its promise. We watched it again for Katy’s first time as the 25th movie in the 31 Days of Horror.

house 2 thai

A Thai poster. Not as cool as the disembodied hand ringing the doorbellon the VHS jacket, but more in line with what this flick holds in store…

In the 1950s, a couple that lives in a creepy house give their baby away for safekeeping just minutes before a nightmarish figure (voiced by Fred Welker, using the same voice he used for Darkseid on Super Friends) kills them both. In October of 1986, that baby, now grown, comes back to claim his birthright. He is Jesse McLaughlin, an up-and-coming artist, and he and his music-biz girlfriend Kate have come to make the family mansion into their new home away from the city. Before too long, they’re joined by Jesse’s meathead “entrepreneur” best friend Charlie (Fright Night‘s jonathan Stark) and his aspirant rockstar girlfriend. After only a few minutes have passed in screentime, Jesse explains that he’s named for his great-great grandfather, who was a bandit in the old west, and who built the house they now live in. Seems the elder Jesse had found one of the legendary Mayan crystal skulls along with his partner,  the ominously-named Slim Razor. When great-great Jesse absconded with the skull, Slim felt he’d been cheated. The younger Jesse and Charlie figure that there are big bucks in it for them if they can find the skull, and rashly decide it must have been buried with the elder Jesse. Why not dig him up? So they do, the night before Halloween… and that’s when the REAL fun begins.

Look! It´s a prehistoric bird...

Jesse, Charlie, and a prehistroric bird

I won’t say too much more, but it should come as no surprise that the elder Jesse isn’t dead at all — he’s been kept alive by the mystic powers of the skull, and is played delightfully by Royal Dano. Grandpa Jesse explains that the house has been designed as a temple for the skull, and that it acts as a gateway to alternate universes. They all have to work to keep it out of the wrong hands… This state of affairs — zombie grandfather, dimensional gateways — is something the fellows decide is best kept from an increasingly incensed Kate (who’s being egged on by her lecherous asshole boss, played by a young Bill Mahr), and leads to all sorts of wacky cross-time adventures. This movie at times feels like the pilot for an especially zany Sunday-afternoon adventure show of the sort produced by Sam Raimi in the ’90s, by way of a multiple-camera sitcom of the same period. It’s stupid, and even childish, but never really mean-spirited or cruel.  It gets away with its increasingly outrageous twists through charm and goodwill, and some moments that feel really heartfelt in the midst of the silliness. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that Slim continues to be a threat, but Cheers‘ John Ratzenberger’s guest appearance as an electrician with a helpful sideline comes as an unexpected delight. While, sure, it isn’t horror in the strictest sense, this seemed like a nice break from the gialli that we’d most recently consumed. Even Katy, who holds the ’86 House in high regard, was charmed by this one.

onset_house2

The whole House II gang… at least, all the regular humans

Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, scary, or intellectual here — it’s dumb laughs. But, like the Japanese House (1977) that I prefer to imagine this is the sequel to — this movie has nothing to do eith either other than its loose haunted house premise — this film is made all the better by virtue of its light spirit and easy demeanor.

17
Oct
14

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

allcheerleadersdieposterFor day 16 of 31 Days of Horror, we picked Lucky McKee’s All Cheerleaders Die. This one somehow managed to totally skirt my radar; I hadn’t even heard of it until Q suggested we mine the Netflix instant queue to make up for the fact that the movie we really wanted to see that night, The Babadook, had sold out (though I was pissed, at least people are still going to the movies). I haven’t seen a lot of McKee’s stuff, but I loved Maylot, and his offering for Masters of Horror, Sick Girl was a bright shining light in a series that was more often dull than not. So, I was excited to give this one a shot.

When the film started, I thought we were going to be in for a rough, unpleasant ride. Our main girl Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is filming her best friend Lexi to find out what it’s like to be the captain of the cheerleading team, evidently for some school project. As stereotypes might predict, Lexi is an over-confident, air-headed bitch. Why Maddy, an apparently thoughtful, dorkish girl is her best friend I still don’t quite understand. Anyway, during filming one practice while Lexi is trying to show us her best stuff, the team drops her straight on her head, and she snaps her neck and dies. I worried the whole movie was going to be seen through Maddy’s lens, but thankfully after Lexi’s accident (or was it?) the movie carries on (mostly) without Maddy’s camera.

Maddy doesn’t believe Lexi’s death was accidental, so she aims to spend her senior year destroying the lives of those she holds responsible. The two who will feel her wrath most are Terry, Lexi’s ex-boyfriend and captain of the football team, and Tracy, the new captain of the cheerleading team and Terry’s new squeeze. A smart and resourceful girl, Maddy knows the best way to wreak havoc is from within, so she tries out for the cheerleading team. After all, everyone knows there’s an open spot…

For the first half or so, All Cheerleaders Die is a seemingly normal movie. We know from the title alone that something is going to go horribly, terribly wrong with Maddy’s plot, but I’ll be damned if I could’ve guessed the direction McKee would take this flick. Turns out Maddy’s obsessive, Wiccan ex-girlfriend Leena is not willing to let her go, despite the potential consequences. After an altercation between the football team and the cheerleaders causes a terrible car accident in which all the girls die, Leena whips out her Wicca and brings the girls back to life with magic stones. But resurrection comes at a terrible price, and the girls turn into blood-sucking zombie vampire things.

Boy oh boy, people seem to hate this movie! I read a few reviews after watching it and I’ve got to say, I don’t understand where all the vitriol and disappointment comes from. Since when did we start taking horror-comedies so damn seriously? I thought it was pleasantly surprising, original and funny. Looks like only 40% of viewers agree with me. A lot of folks seem turned off by the juxtaposition of the film’s apparent feminist plot with its objectification of the female characters. Sure, there’s an awful lot of scenes with women wearing revealing cheerleading uniforms, but my guess is that’s because they’re cheerleaders. Anyway, I feel like the baring of female flesh implicates the audience far more than it does the director; it’s almost teasing us, daring us to admit we’re a little turned on when we know we shouldn’t be. When Tracy walks into a stranger’s home in her underwear begging for something to eat, both the man and the audience are horrified by her newfound hunger and her unabashed urge to sate it, while also having our own base animal urges tickled. Nothing is neither more frightening nor hot than an empowered young woman, no?

I also don’t think the naysayers give enough credit to McKee’s treatment of stereotypes. At first the cheerleaders do seem pretty damn vapid, but I ended up sympathizing with all of them by the end of the movie. Just like everyone else they each have their own unique set of fears, hopes, dreams and idiosyncrasies. They’re just fucked-up high-school kids like everyone else at their school, it’s just easier for them to hide behind the assumptions the rest of society’s already made about how they should behave. I think it is fair to say that Maddy comes to the same realization as the rest of us do; these bitches aren’t so bad after all. My one beef is how unceremoniously most of them are dispatched by the end of the film. I suppose the purpose of that is to show us how our society is structured in such a way that the strongest man will always beat out the strongest of women, even if they are blood-sucking monsters. The men are treated far less kindly, I’d say; Terry’s captain is one cruel mother fucker, and his “boys” are pretty much trapped under his yoke. The one sympathetic boy tries to leave the team, but is forced to relent as Terry beats the shit out of him. There’s pretty much no redemption for the men in All Cheerleaders Die.

This is, of course, one of those movies that only a small group of people will appreciate. It is irreverent, offensive, gory and exploitative. It certainly isn’t meant for mass-consumption; a run-of-the-mill cheerleader slasher this is not, and thank the Wiccan gods for that. Fair warning that some of the special effects are quite cheesy (those glowing stones aren’t fooling anyone), but I’m willing to forgive that small piece of the puzzle. I found this so surprisingly delightful, and it gives me hope that all those bad reviews I read of The Woman are written by the same people who wrote bad reviews of this flick. At the very least, if this sounds appealing to you in any way, shape or form it is worth giving it a chance; you’ll at least have something to think about.

15
Oct
14

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

littlegirlposterDay 14’s selection for 31 Days of Horror is another flick I’m hesitant to call horror. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane certainly has some creepy elements you’d find in a horror movie, but I feel it is better labeled a mystery/suspense/thriller. Even those might be a little strong, though; honestly it’s kind of a hard movie to pinpoint. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a “good thing.”

Jodie Foster plays Rynn, a precocious thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her famous poet father in a rented house in the country. Strange thing about dad, though: he won’t even come out of his study to celebrate Rynn’s birthday, which happens to fall on Halloween. Instead, she lights the candles on her birthday cake all alone. When the landlord’s son Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen) stops by with a lame excuse involving his kids and trick-or-treating, Rynn is not happy to see him. He keeps asking where her father is, and she insists he can’t be disturbed while he’s working. Frank musn’t be too concerned, because he lamely attempts to grope Rynn right before hightailing it outta there.

Rynn's birthday cake.

Rynn’s birthday cake.

So, right off the bat we are faced with a few troubling issues, namely Frank is a pedophile and Rynn’s father, if he’s around at all, obviously isn’t around enough to protect her. However, it’s pretty clear from the first interaction that Rynn, though she may only be thirteen years old, is quite capable of thinking fast and taking care of herself. Still, things get a little dicier when Mrs. Hallet comes snooping around, presumably looking for jelly jars in the cellar, though it seems pretty clear she’s far more interested in judging Rynn and her father. Mrs. Hallet may be a mean old bitch, but Rynn’s reaction to her asking to get to the cellar for the jelly jars is a resounding and over-the-top “NO.” Mrs. Hallet is beside herself with anger, and vows to report Rynn to the school board for not being at school, among other things. And again, where the hell is Rynn’s dad?

Rynn & Mrs. Hallet standoff.

Rynn & Mrs. Hallet standoff.

There’s a lot going on in Little Girl, and I really don’t want to spoil it; it is definitely a movie that is better the less you know about it going in the first time. I knew pretty much zip going in and I have to say I was really impressed with it. Jodie Foster, it should come as no surprise, is fantastic in this role; who better to cast as a thirteen-year-old that is wise beyond her years than an actress who is herself wise beyond her years? Throughout the movie we know that Rynn is keeping secrets, and even in the moment when she is at her most vulnerable and shares those secrets with a new friend, we still wonder if there isn’t more she’s hiding, or worse still if she’s intentionally lying. Foster does an excellent job at keeping us wondering; especially at the end of the flick. Martin Sheen also plays a fantastic creep! I truly hated his character and desperately wanted him to suffer.

I really dug this movie. I must reiterate that it is not exactly a horror movie, so if you’re looking for gore of any kind, you just aren’t going to find it (except for a bit of animal cruelty, which I’m sure no one will take pleasure in). What you will find is a feeling of suspense unlike most films; rather than focused on the plot, the suspense in Little Girl is more focused on Rynn’s character and whether or not we’ll actually find out her true nature. I felt so engaged with this movie from beginning to end, and remembered what a rare occurrence that actually is. Definitely check this one out.




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