Posts Tagged ‘Coming of age

10
Oct
15

The Beast Within (1982)

beastwithinposterI’m not quite sure where to begin with The Beast Within. I sort of assumed, just by its name, that it was a werewolf movie, but it’s not that at all. After having watched it, I’m still not exactly sure what it’s all about. I also assumed that Ronny Cox would play a huge dick in it, because that’s what Ronny Cox does. But he doesn’t! He plays a normal dude! In fact, he plays a dad very concerned about his son. See what happens when you assume? Anyway, I’m not sure The Beast Within will overturn all your expectations, but it certainly is different than your typical horror flick.

The plot is super convoluted, which is one of the film’s shortcomings. If I were to go in-depth not only would this be a 2,000-word blog post, it would also be rife with spoilers. So I’ll do my best to keep it short and sweet. During their honeymoon, Caroline and Eli (Cox) MacLeary run into some car trouble. Eli runs to get help, leaving Caroline and their dog with the car. The dog sees something in the woods (because everyone has car trouble while they’re near the spooky woods) and bolts. Caroline of course goes after the dog, and is mauled and raped by someone… or something.

Caroline and Eli do some digging.

Caroline and Eli do some digging.

Seventeen years later, their son Michael is having some serious medical issues. Fearing they might be genetic, the couple must come to terms with the fact that Michael is the result of Caroline’s rape. So like any loving pair of parents they head to the town where it all went down to look for any information on Michael’s biological father. When they get there, they are confronted with nothing but spooky folks who refuse to cooperate, or even acknowledge that anything bad ever happened in their town. Luckily, Caroline finds a lead while fishing through the library’s old newspapers. Strangely enough, the folks tied to Caroline’s mysterious lead start dying horfiffic deaths, and Michael is becoming less and less like himself…

Yowza, this movie is so all over the place, and so strange! As I said before, the plot is circuitous and confusing and just generally batshitty, and it’s more than a little distracting. I think if it had been simplified even just a little bit, it

The beast within finally comes out...

The beast within finally comes out…

would have made a world of difference. That being said, I still admire how much this movie tries to cram into its 98 minutes, and I certainly didn’t find myself bored or exasperated by it, and for me that’s always a bonus. It even has stuff it wants to say about small-town nepotism and the beasts we all become once we grow into adults, even if it’s done a little clumsily. The performances are all pretty good too; even old Ronny Cox is convincing as a normal dude, which I never thought I’d say. But probably the best thing The Beast Within has got going for it is the practical special effects; damn, that shit looks good.

Apologies for this rather ambiguous post, but I don’t want to give too much away. This movie was fun in large part because I didn’t know what to expect, and I hate it when I accidentally fall down the trap of wasting paragraph upon paragraph detailing the plot. I think this movie is definitely worth your time, so long as you have patience enough to deal with a rather mystifying plot and a weird obsession with locusts.

20
Sep
15

Alice (1988)

Alice peeping some such horror in her

Alice peeping some such horror in her “wonderland.”

Having seen Jan Švankmajer’s Faust and Little Otiknaturally I was curious to see what the animation genius would do with a story like Alice in Wonderland. So, one hot day this June (yeah, I got a big backlog of movies to write up, what of it! I have a life don’t you know!) some friends and I sat down to watch his Alice. It’s sort of exactly what I expected.

There isn’t much reason to go into the plot; I’d venture to say most folks are familiar, at least on some level, with Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Švankmajer doesn’t deviate too much from the original ideas of the text, it’s his interpretation that’s wildly different than anything you’ve probably seen before. When I think of Alice in Wonderland I must admit I envision the Disney cartoon from 1951: a prim and proper English girl falls asleep and dreams of a strange land with rushing rabbits, cheshire cats and evil queens.

Tiny Alice wades through a dank and dingy room, on her way to lord knows where.

Tiny Alice wades through a dank and dingy room, on her way to lord knows where.

While Švankmajer keeps most aspects of the original intact, it’s their presentation he toys with. Instead of a pristine English countryside, our Alice is living in a dirtier, more dangerous place. Rather than the vibrant colors of the Disney cartoon, Švankmajer paints the picture in dim shades of brown and gray where everything is in a state of disrepair and decay. Alice walks around this “wonderland” where doorknobs and handles consistently break off, and the rabbit she follows isn’t a manifestation of a cute, living bunny, it is instead a reanimated taxidermy piece that constantly needs to patch himself up!

If you’re familiar with Švankmajer, it should come as no surprise that the visual effects and animation in this film are fantastic. I love watching his work. But, god damn this movie felt like it was about twice as long as it should have been, and it clocks in at only eighty-four minutes! Something about the pacing is really off, and I hate to say it makes watching the film almost feel like a

Queen of Hearts to Taxidermy Bunny: OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

Queen of Hearts to Taxidermy Bunny: OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

chore. I’d like it better maybe if it were broken up into segments so I could consume it piece-by-piece rather than sitting down and watching the whole thing at a go. It wasn’t just me, a few of my pals watching it felt the same way too. I can’t put my finger on it but the film has a sleepy quality that really makes it difficult to get through. Perhaps it’s because so much of the film goes by without any background music?

Anyway, even though it’s a little tough to get through for some of us (Q had no problems; loved it – he is more patient than me!) I am not sorry to have watched it. I’d even recommend this to the right kind of person. It is definitely a film worth seeing, especially if you’ve never seen any of Švankmajer’s work and have a thing for Alice in Wonderland adaptations. But of all three I’ve seen, I’d have to say I liked Little Otik the most. Of course, that may just be because it was the first film of his I’d ever seen, and what the dude can do is pretty darn impressive.

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.

06
Apr
15

Amer (2009)

AmerposterIt’s been said many times before, mostly because it’s true: either you give a shit about Giallo or you don’t. I’m hardly an expert on the genre, but in my dabbling I think I’ve sampled enough to know this much about myself: I wish I liked them more. They are so dang stylish and beautiful to look at, but often times the circuitous mystery plot loses my interest and I find myself appeased only by bright-colored gore, which frankly gets old after a while. It’s possible I blew my Giallo load by watching too many of them in a short period of time, causing their plots, directors and titles to get jumbled into a hot, Italian mess. But then comes along Amer, a beautiful homage to the genre that makes me want to revisit all those old movies anew.

Amer doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of; it relies much more on style to tell its tale. It is centered around Ana during three pivotal moments in each stage of her life. Each segment takes place in or around her family’s creepy, old mansion overlooking the seaside. In the first, Ana discovers her nanny/housekeeper/old-lady-who-makes-her-food is also a witch, her dead grandfather maybe isn’t so dead, and her parents having sex. In the second, the adolescent Ana (and her jealous mother) are painfully aware of her budding sexuality, and a trip into town turns into a clear rape threat as her

It seems as though someone is always watching Ana.

It seems as though someone is always watching Ana.

flirting with a boy her own age drags her into the territory of some leather-bound bikers who can’t help but lick their chops as the wind creeps up Ana’s very short dress. In the final sequence, Ana returns home to the now-dilapidated mansion, presumably after her parents have passed away. The taxi driver who drives her there ogles her through the rear-view mirror, and Ana seems both excited and distraught by the palpable sexuality in the vehicle.

Though there isn’t really a plot, Amer is compelling and intriguing throughout. There is barely any dialogue, and so we are guessing at each character’s motivations, fears and desires, which is a large part of the fun, and kept me engaged and excited for each new turn. The film’s directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani pull out all the stops, nodding to every genre convention you can possibly

Adolescent Ana

Adolescent Ana

imagine, straight down to a score loaded with tracks from old Italian films. Even still, the tale they present here is more interesting than any Giallo I can ever remember seeing, and though a story of a vaguely threatened woman is not at all original, presenting it within the confines of this genre works really well. Nearly every scene oozes eroticism and about as much sexual suggestion as a Georgia O’Keefe painting, but there is very little sex or nudity; instead we are faced mostly with voyeurism and fluids that aren’t bodily, but may as well be.

I can imagine watching this film with no background in Giallo and finding myself very confused indeed! But I think the reason why I liked this film so much is because it

Adult Ana

Adult Ana

takes everything I like about Gialli and eschews the confusing plot, allowing the viewer to focus on the interior of the main character rather than a million plot threads and unnecessary characters. I suppose the real question is, though, can someone go into this movie with no knowledge of such films and still enjoy it? I think the answer is yes, with many, many qualifications. Most notably, don’t watch this if you’re really interested in a story. While, yes, there is a story here, I can imagine a great many folks saying nothing happened in this movie at all. Anyway, what story there is definitely plays second fiddle to the images that tell it. In fact, I’m certain Cattet and Forzani chose this subject matter because it lends itself so well to such imagery. If nothing else, Amer is a beautifully crafted film; that much can’t be denied. Personally, I think it’s worth watching for that reason alone. Bottom line: Cattet and Forzani know what they are doing, and I don’t think they care if you like it or not. Me? I love it.

13
Nov
14

Therese and Isabelle (1968)

thereseandisabelleposterThe Netflix queue is an evil beast, especially when you have an ever-growing collection at home that’s always fighting for a spot amongst your rented discs. On top of that, when over half of your disc queue is “Very Long Wait,” you just never have any idea which disc Netflix will decide is going to arrive in your mailbox next. This is how we end up with movies I don’t care to watch, and frankly don’t even remember queuing. Such is the story of Therese and Isabelle, a disc that sat in our living room for nearly a year before we decided to break the seal on it. As I removed it from the red envelope I said to Q: “Wouldn’t it be funny if it was the wrong disc?”

Well, it wasn’t the wrong disc, but the disc was nearly split in half and, needless to say, totally unplayable. That’s what I get for breaking my rule of always checking the disc as soon as it comes in the mail! So after we got the replacement disc, we carved out two hours to watch the damn thing and I have to admit I wasn’t all that excited about it, which may have colored how I felt about the film ultimately.

The film is set in a (French? Swiss? Let’s just go with European) boarding school. Therese, now a grown woman, goes to the school on a Sunday presumably for nostalgic reasons. No one is at the school, so she roams around the grounds and the classrooms alone. The camera follows her gaze as she begins to remember her sexual awakening with her classmate, Isabelle. They meet, they become close, they become really close, and then (SPOILER ALERT!) Isabelle disappears without a trace and Therese never sees her again, solidifying an already disturbing pattern of people leaving Therese hanging out to dry.

You guessed it, Therese & Isabelle.

You guessed it, Therese & Isabelle.

The film is adapted from a book of the same name, and some of the steamiest parts of it aren’t the sex scenes themselves, but rather narration that accompanies them, which I assume is taken directly from the book. The narration will surely make you blush far more than any of the nudity the film’s relatively chaste sex scenes have to offer! Still, the steamy action scenes are few and far between, and unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have much to offer.

The film does do some interesting things with time; often we start off seeing present-day Therese looking at a present-day school, and the camera will pan around her to show us the school of her youth. Additionally there are some beautiful shots of the school grounds, which remind me an awful lot of the hotel grounds in Last Year at Marienbad. Aside from that, I can’t really say much else positive about it. It moves at a snail’s pace, and its 118-minute running time doesn’t help its case out at all. Since I have an interest in early, light smut I’m glad I watched this, and I’m not going to give up on Radley Metzger, but for anyone else who is interested I’d say you’re probably safe to skip out on this one. If it’s dirty girl-on-girl action you’re looking for, my guess is the book will deliver on that much more than the film did!

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.

05
Oct
14

Society (1989)

In keeping with the golly-gee-80’s-horror-movies-had-great-special-effects theme, Day 5 of 31 Days of Horror continues with Brian Yuzna’s directorial debut, Society. Usually when I hear Yuzna’s name, I cringe just a little bit. I haven’t seen too much of his stuff, and judging by the internet’s opinion, what I have seen is not the good stuff. The Dentist comes to mind as one big fat mistake. But hey, we all make mistakes, and everyone deserves a second (third, fourth) chance, right?
The perfect Beverly Hills family

The perfect Beverly Hills family

Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) is a rich teen living in Beverly Hills, but he’s always had the sense that he doesn’t quite belong there – not amongst his friends, and especially not his family. The older he gets, the more he starts to believe that he’s adopted. His parents seem to have a special affinity with his sister Jenny that they just don’t share with him. Right around the time of Jenny’s coming-out party, the situation seems to come to a head. His shrink doesn’t really have much advice to offer him, except to pump him full of drugs and tell him that he’s paranoid. All that paranoia starts to gel when a friend of his takes a tape recording of his family, where they say some very strange and shocking things to one another, alluding to family orgies and cannibalism! But when Bill plays the tape for his therapist, it just sounds like a normal, wholesome family conversation about how sad everyone is Bill can’t make Jenny’s party. Either there’s an intricate conspiracy going on or young Bill is losing his mind!

Hell-bent on discovering the truth, Bill charges home unexpectedly only to find his family involved in some very outrageous behavior. This movie has one of the most surprising and bizarre endings I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know too much about what to expect when I started watching it, so its desire to shock worked 100% on me. What starts off as a pretty normal teen coming-of-age movie ends with one of the most gloriously gooey and disgusting scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you are sensitive to viscous fluids you might want to keep a blindfold handy. 
Mama's got a brand new hand

Mama’s got a brand new hand

It’s difficult to continue writing about Society without giving away some of its best secrets, so if you haven’t seen it and you like surprises, read no further. What Bill finds at this party is all of Beverly Hills’ most elite nouveau riche preparing to dine upon the lower classes, literally sucking the life out of the poor. Screaming Mad George’s special effects are a sight to behold; something like twenty minutes of pure gross-out slimy excess that makes the whole film worth watching (because admittedly, the first half of the film seems to drag a bit). Turns out his parents aren’t his parents at all, and that Bill was reared from childhood to serve as a special feast for the rich. Comparisons to John Carpenter’s They Live are not unfounded; it’s basically the same message, only here the rich are simply a different, superior species than you and me instead of aliens! 

It probably comes as no surprise to those of you acquainted with my politics that I loved the ending. Just like They Live, the film’s commentary on life in Reagan’s America is just as relevant today; perhaps even more so. We live in a

I'm glad she's not *my* sister

I’m glad she’s not *my* sister

time where corporations merge and grow to gargantuan, powerful proportions, paying their CEOs 300 times what they pay the automatons that work on the bottom rung. The idea that behind closed doors these privileged assholes literally feast on our flesh is depressing and hilarious at the same time. I think that particularly is what I like so much about its presentation: it is so gloriously excessive that we can’t help but laugh, even if the meaning behind it is painfully true. 

Though the special effects are awesome, the rest of the movie is weighed down by its inherent b-ness; the acting leaves something to be desired, the pacing is a bit frustrating and the soundtrack is noticeably shitty – in fact, I think a new score would improve this movie a whole bunch. But the film’s ultimate message and special effects make up for all of this. Another aspect I really liked about this movie is that it is a coming-of-age film from a boy’s perspective. For some reason, it seems all the coming-of-age stuff I’ve seen in the last few years revolves around girls and their first period, so a boy finding out he was born into a family of flesh-eaters is refreshing, to say the least. 



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