yendi: (Jason)
Uncle Sam. 1997. Directed by William Lustig. Written by Larry Cohen. Released by Blue Underground.

Halloween and Easter abound with themed horror movies. Valentine's Day and April Fool's Day have a couple of flicks built around them. But July 4? Unless you count a certain wretchedly awful Devlin/Emmerich flick as horror, Independence Day doesn't exactly bring to mind anything scary. Alas, the 1997 movie Uncle Sam, although built around the holiday, won't do much to make people dread fireworks and barbecues. And that's a shame, because the movie has a solid creative pedigree and some decent actors.

We start with the friendly-fire death of Sam Harper in Iraq. After a bizarre sequence in which his burnt body snaps the neck of the soldier who rescues him and shoots another officer, he gets shipped back home to a nice small town where everyone is a Wacky Hippy Liberal straight our of Eric Cartman's worst nightmares. The teacher is an anti-war draft-dodger. The teenagers all disrespect the flag. The lawyer dating the dead guy's sister is a scummy tax-evading attorney. The local politician is a sleazebag. Everyone is a hypocrite. Naturally, this is a town just begging for a Dittohead right-wing zombie to come in, cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war.

For reasons that are never explained, but have something to do with it being necessary to move the plot along (as well as the fact that it allows a character named Sam to become the killer), a group of kids burns a flag, bringing Sam back to life. He'd been stored at the home of his sister and her young son (who, although of elementary school age, lives on one of those sucky communities where they have school year-round), and he happens to wake up just as a random Peeping Tom wearing an Uncle Sam costume while walking on stilts comes by*. Instead of finding yet another naked chick, the Peeping Tom finds the reanimated remains of a soldier, as well as some garden shears. Now our villain has an appropriate costume for the holidays. Woohoo!

I should pause for now and note that the movie spends about forty minutes exploring the town before offering us this first kill. In many horror movies, this is a good thing, as it allows us to meet the cast, care about them, and discover important facts that will enhance the plot. Here, however, we get nothing but the cliches I named above, with stereotypical "liberals" speaking out against The First Gulf War, God, Apple Pie, and everything else American. The only characters given any sort of "depth" are Sam's nephew Jody (who wants to be just like his uncle when he grows up**), and Grizzled War Vet Jed, who eventually reveals the dark secret that Sam was, actually, just a psychotic, racist xenophobe who joined the army to kill people. He also beat his wife and his sister. Fulfilling Bill O'Reilly's masturbation fantasies*** is just a side effect; his real motivation is pure hate.

Anyway, since there's only about half an hour left in the movie by the time Sam really starts his killing spree, things move along quickly. The teacher goes to find the hatchet for a kid's George Washington costume, and, sure enough, finds it embedded in his face (which is always the first place I look). The sleazy lawyer gets shot while dressed as Abe Lincoln****. A local bully, while cheating in a potato sack race*****, coincidentally falls down the world's longest hill****** and ends up right in front of Uncle Sam, who does the patriotic thing and chops his head off. A pothead gets burnt to death on a barbecue. Anyone who offends the proper right-wing sensibilities of our psychotic zombie, from politicians to folks who make fun of the national anthem, bites it, with deaths ranging from being buried alive to having fireworks shoved down their gullets.

Eventually, Jody and his introduced-in-the-final-act wheelchair-bound-and-mysteriously-psychic best friend, along with Grizzled War Vet Jed, realize that Sam's gone too far, and decide that they need to off him. Fortunately, the town has a working cannon, complete with exploding cannonballs*******. They lure Uncle Sam into range, and kaboom! But wait! Jody gets That Look at the end of the movie, the one that says that, "hey, the little kid who was the hero has now turned into a psychopath, and will probably commence his own holiday-themed killing spree." Oh noes!

I can't even begin to touch on everything stupid in this movie. The mysteriously-psychic best friend for example, injured himself while playing with firecrackers last year. But he's blind (which makes sense) and wheelchair-bound (which doesn't). The fact that burning a flag somehow raises up a dead wife-beating xenophobe soldier, instead of a soldier who might really care about that flag. School in July. You name it, it pretty much makes no sense in this film.

The cast, which includes faves like Isaac Hayes, Robert Forster, Timothy Bottoms, William Smith, Bo Hopkins, and PJ Soles, is better than the material they're handed, but David 'Shark' Fralick*******, as the titular killer, is terrible, managing to be neither interesting nor menacing throughout. Christopher Ogden, as his nephew, turns in one of the worst child actor performances to date, and only the 1999 release of Star Wars: Episode 1 saves him from going down as the least engaging child actor of the '90s.

If Uncle Sam were simply a no-name direct-to-DVD release, it would suck aplenty on its own. But what makes this film even worse is that it's written by Larry Cohen, who has given the world such b-movie classics as The Stuff, Q, and Phonebooth. And it's directed by William Lustig, who gave us yesterday's Maniac, as well as teaming with Cohen on Maniac Cop. In fairness, the blame here falls at the feet of Cohen, whose script is laughably bad, with characters barely moving past the most overdone and outlandish archetypes, plot details that seem to have been chosen randomly, and almost unbearably bad dialogue. With that to work with, Lustig crafts some decent action sequences, but few that really have any sense of originality. A better writer might have managed to make this a "skew both sides of the political debate" movie, or at least a good horror flick, but Cohen is simultaneously ham-handed and unable to focus his attention, thus causing the movie to fail on all levels. Uncle Sam is worth renting for the MST3K value, but there are many, many better ways to celebrate the Fourth of July than to watch this piece of crap.

*Yes, this is a movie with a random Peeping Tom who walks around on stilts while wearing an Uncle Sam costume. After the already-illogical opening sequence, it's clear that this script has the logical consistency of a Troma film, without the sense of irony.

**Aim high, kid. Aim high.

***The ones that don't involve falafel or loofahs, that is.

****History repeats itself!

*****Yes, there are few depths to which the townsfolk here won't sink. Also, the potato sack race appears to be about four miles long, with tons of convenient blind spots in the woods.

******You almost expect him to shout, "as you wish," as he goes tumbling down.

*******Yes, exploding cannonballs. Even though the cannon is clearly launching traditional solid-metal balls.

********Seriously. That's how he's credited everywhere. Check the IMDB.
yendi: (Jason)
Maniac. 1980. Directed by William Lustig. Written by Joe Spinell and C. A. Rosenberg. Distributed by Blue Underground.

As I've mentioned before, there are few films that really disturb me. Plenty can startle me with jump scares (cheap or otherwise) or gross me out. But only a handful actually leave me with a feeling of dread after I've watched them. Maniac, the barebones 1980 film best known for inspiring that damned song from Flashdance*, disturbs the hell out of me. It's not because of the complicated plot, certainly; 90% of Maniac consists of our titular character either stalking and killing women, or sitting in his room in a schizophrenic haze. The remaining 10% focuses on the "love story," and there's not that much going on there.

What makes it creepy is a combination of the brutal, graphic kills, and the unmasked nature of the killer himself. Frank Zito isn't a masked automaton like Michael or Jason, a hidden killer like Pamela Vorhees or The New York Ripper, or a misshapen goon like Freddy. He's a guy who looks just like someone you might pass on the street. So when he kills women, he connects with the audience in a way that other kills are never meant to. Watching him kill, like watching Henry kill in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, doesn't allow the audience to disassociate from him the way we've come to expect in slashers.

The plot's as simple as can be: Frank Zito is a loner with severe schizophrenia who lives in an apartment filled with mannequins**. He periodically goes out and kills women in horrible ways, and then scalps them, adding their scalps to his mannequins. Eventually, he starts dating a woman, but that doesn't stop him from killing. At the end of the movie, he loses it completely, and either believes he's attacked by his mannequins, or really is attacked by them. That's it.

Okay, in fairness, we get at least something of an explanation for Frank's motives: he was abused by his mother while growing up. But that was the same motivation given to Kane in See No Evil, an equally plotless and violent movie. Maniac clearly has other things driving it (other than, you know, the complete and utter lack of Kane).

Part of it, of course, is the brutal, effective effects of Tom Savini. Savini's long been a master of gore, but his work in Maniac is amongst his best work, with every graphic stabbing coming across as utterly realistic. Perhaps the most memorable death in the entire movie actually features Savini (as "Disco Boy") dying onscreen, with Zito blasting his brains out with a shotgun. It's filmed in slow motion, and never once seems anything but real (this is the scene that Gene Siskel -- an otherwise professional film critic -- allegedly walked out on, putting him into the Joel Siegel "unprofessional fucktard" box for a day***). Although Dawn of the Dead and the original Friday the 13th are the movies on which Savini gained his reputation, Maniac, to me, is the movie that best (and most horrifyingly) shows his talents. If anything, it might be the one film in which he goes too far, as the sheer realism of the deaths is one of the many tools that removes the usual escapist disassociation audiences get to experience.

William Lustig, directing his first non-porn movie, also gets a lot of the credit, as he keeps a low-budget, borderline-amateur feel going throughout; it creates the closest I've seen to the urban legend of the snuff film*****. In perhaps his finest directorial moment******, we see Zito in an extended scene stalking an unnamed nurse through an abandoned subway station and into a restroom. It's a scene that was "paid tribute to*******" in the gas station sequence of High Tension, and is one of the better suspense sequences in the history of the genre. The character-driven moments -- including Zito romancing a photographer******** -- aren't quite as exciting, alas.

I can't say, even after multiple viewings, if I like Maniac or not. It's not a good film (certainly), but it's that rare, genuinely transgressive movie that forces the viewer into a truly uncomfortable position of empathy (if never sympathy) for the killer, while still keeping the murders themselves brutal and unforgivable. The late Joe Spinell's performance (off his own story, with a screenwriting assist from C.A. Rosenberg) is perfectly on-target, and his charisma carries the film during those sequences that aren't relying on Savini's effects. Maniac isn't a film for everyone, but fans of the slasher genre do owe it to themselves to see it, if only for the huge influence it continues to hold over the genre today.

*Really. So when you hear, "She's a maniac, maniac, I knoooooo-ow, and she's dancing like she's never danced befoooore," assuming that by "dancing," they mean, "killing." And that by "she," they mean, "Joe Spinell."

**None of whom look like Kim Cattrall.

***In fairness, this story could well be apocryphal, and Siskel, unlike the late Siegal, proved that he wasn't a moron plenty of times in his life****.

****Also, in case you were wondering, I started this review before Siegal died. But dying doesn't make him any smarter, and stomping out of the Clerks 2 screening is still, sadly, the defining moment of his career.

*****Yes, they are urban legends, dammit! See Snopes.

******As we'll discuss tomorrow, this is damning with faint praise, as Lustig has had few fine directorial moments.

*******Hackspeak for "swiped."

********Played by Caroline Munro, the first woman ever killed onscreen by James Bond.
yendi: (Michael 2)
Q. So, what happened?

A. Work, mild depression, and inertia. Throw in some burnout, too.

Q. Still planning on finishing the series?

A. Yup.

Q. But there are fewer than 167 weekdays left in the year!

A. You are correct!

Q. So, what gives?

A. Well, I plan to do the honorable thing here and cheat. You'll see some reviews go up on weekends. And I might even post two in one day.

Q. That wouldn't exactly be 261 distinct days, then, would it?

A. No. You can apply for a refund at the box office.

Q. What about your plan to review a "must have" movie on the first of each month?

A. Well, since I missed that opportunity in June, and since even I can't argue that The Blob qualifies as a "must have," that obviously won't happen. That said, expect to see me tag certain movies as essential horror flicks, but I cant promise those on any sort of schedule.
yendi: (Freddy)
The Blob. 1988. Directed by Chuck Russell. Written by Russell and Frank Darabont. Distributed by Sony.

Most of my favorite horror remakes have one thing in common: They're not remakes. 1982's The Thing, 2003's Dawn of the Dead, et cetera, are new spins on an older theme, with little more than a one-line description ("alien attacks Antarctic researchers" or "survivors fight off zombies in a mall"). Meanwhile, remakes like The Hills Have Eyes, The Fog, and Psycho* have stuck to the general outline of the original films, much to their detriment.
But there are exceptions**, and the 1988 remake of The Blob is one of my favorite remakes.

As a kid, I adored the original Blob (and cited it as my favorite monster movie at the 1950s monster movie panel at Arisia this year). It's a great concept: a meteorite lands on earth, releasing a small blob***. A old man finds it, and gets attacked by the Blob for his troubles. Two kids stumble across the man and take him to the doctor, but the Blob eats the old man and grows, eventually attacking a bunch of folks in the town movie theatre before, in the denouement, the teens realize that the Blob is vulnerable to cold, and they freeze the monster, putting it on ice just like Han Solo in carbonite. As the Blob eats the victims, it grows, with each victim essentially becoming a part of the amorphous killing machine. Unlike the Toho movies, there was never a sense that this monster was a man in disguise. And unlike the "giant animal" movies, there was never any sense that this was a creature created with cheap f/x. What we got here was something purely, primally scary.

That said, it's not a perfect movie. Hell, its not really even a good movie. Like even the best of the low-budget monster films of the era, the acting leaves something to be desired, with even Steve McQueen turning in a performance that's a lot more earnest than believable. And the f/x, of course, are fine by '50s standards, but don't offer much flexibility. Much of what makes it enjoyable is that utter cheesiness inherent in the low-budget indie film, but that sort of charm doesn't hold up well over time.

The remake definitely features better acting and special effects, but those two changes alone wouldn't be enough to make it worth two hours of your time. No, there's a lot more to this one:

1. To begin with, there's the complete subversion of the traditional good-guy hero role. As in the original movie, we're introduced to a Nice Boy and Girl (Paul and Meg), who discover The Blob after it's claimed its first victim. Everything about the first third of the movie suggests that, once again, they'll be the heroes who save the day. Right up until Paul walks into a hospital office and gets a face-full of Blob****, and all of a sudden, the updated Steve McQueen character is dead. So who steps in? Bad boy Brian, who, in a traditional horror outline, would be an early nemesis and later ally, but would eventually die heroically at the end of the second reel*****, allowing the hero his glory in the final act. Not here. Out of nowhere, Brian is thrust into the role of reluctant hero, helping Meg try to save the town.

2. We also get a mad preacher. Mad preachers make anything better, of course******. But here, the mad Reverend Meeker, spouting about how the End Times are upon us, is played by the incomparable Del Close*******. That alone is worth the price of admission. The fact that he seems to want to actually bring about the apocalypse was amusing enough when it was filmed, and now works as a clear (and disturbing) model for Dubya and his fellow fundies. Close is both hysterical and creepy throughout, and his final scene, in which we see him storing a small piece of the Blob in a jar, just waiting for the opportunity to launch the sequel bring about his vision, is the perfect ending to the film.

3. The Blob itself is now, thanks to some great f/x work, simultaneously malevolent and still completely and utterly alien. Somehow, without any sort of facial expression whatsoever, the creature still manages to clearly relish destroying the humans it consumes. It helps that the Blob is now capable of extruding tentacles, grabbing prey from a distance instead of slowly oozing over to them. But even when perfectly still, The Blob, with its bright red color and eerie glow, simply projects menace.

4. And there are the deaths themselves. The Blob is every bit as memorable a killer as Jason or Freddy, but two early deaths stand out. The dishwasher at the local diner thinks he's dealing with a simple clogged drain. Soon enough, however, he realizes that something much more dangerous is lurking down there, and he's grabbed by the arm and simultaneously pulled into the drain and digested (go watch that scene here, and be thankful I spent the time to find this version, instead of the easier-to-find version that someone decided to dub with Slayer music on the mistaken assumption that Slayer can actually improve, well, anything). Shortly thereafter, the diner's owner, Fran, thinks that she's escaped, so she hits a phone booth to call the cops, only to find. . .oh, fuck it. Just hit Youtube and check it out yourself. And there are plenty of other wonderful moments, from the offing of heroic Paul to the deaths of two Lovers Lane kids to the massacre at the movie theatre to a late scene in the sewers in which we see the rats get picked off one by one as the Blob hunts down the surviving humans.

5. Shawnee Smith is simply breathtaking as the heroine. If all you know her from are the awful, awful, awful, awful Saw movies********, you don't know how good she can be when her character is actually believable and interesting. Her "cheerleader forced to fight evil" shtick easily predates Kristy Swanson's, and her mix of fortitude and fear come across as utterly believable.

Those are the five best things about the movie, but there's plenty more to like. The rest of the cast is solid, including Kevin "Drama" Dillon as the reluctant hero, and supporting appearances by Art LeFleur, Candy Clark, and Erika Eleniak, whose off-screen death leads to one of my favorite scenes. The addition of a government conspiracy to the plotline might reek of cliche, but it works in this movie, nicely placing the townies in a position of not being able to rely on anyone beyond their borders. And how can you not love a movie that lists "Blob Wranglers" in the credits?

The script, by Frank "Shawshank Redemption" Darabont and Chuck Russell, is sharp and just self-aware enough to be entertaining. Russell, whose early work is much better than recent crap like Bless the Child and The Scorpion King, does a damned fine job here, juggling a large cast nicely, and never letting the action or the gore get in the way of the story itself.

The 1988 remake of The Blob isn't a classic of the genre, but its certainly one of the better horror flicks to hit the market during the horror doldrums of the late-'80s/early '90s. It's got enough f/x, gore, and action to satisfy almost any fan from that side of the horror aisle, while throwing in enough twists, sharp dialogue, and interesting characters to keep the movie engaging throughout.

*A reminder: Every time someone slaps Gus Van Sant for making this movie, an angel gets its wings.

**I'll discuss more of these later this week and next.

***What? You expected E.T.?

****"Face-full of Blob" could also be the name of a really, really, really disturbing slashfic involving Fred Dukes.

*****In fairness, the town's deputy police officer fills this role instead.

******Seriously. The director's cut of Field of Dreams featuring Preacher Roe? Priceless.

*******And if you don't know who he is, stop reading right now, go grab a copy of Guru, as well as any issues you can dig up of the amazing comic book Wasteland, and then enjoy knowing all about this mad genius before watching this movie again.

********Which are, incidentally, awful.
yendi: (Jason)
Night of the Demons 2. 1994. Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Written by Joe Augustyn. Distributed by Republic Pictures.

For those who missed it, I posted the review of the first Night of the Demons, complete with lipstick-eating nipple, very late on Friday night. As in, it was only still Friday in California and other points on Pacific Time and beyond. You probably don't need to know much about the first movie to read this review, other than the fact that a demon eats a tube of lipstick with her nipple, presumably turning it into an unholy demonic weapon, and that demons love girl-on-girl action.

The second movie is made (and takes place) six years later. Amazingly enough, both the writer and the star of the first movie were available to make this one.

We start with the two dumbest missionaries ever, heading to the abandoned Hull House of the first movie. It's utterly decrepit, with broken windows, weeds growing everywhere, and a broken "no trespassing" sign. Naturally, they decide to check it out anyway, and when the door mysteriously opens, they head inside. They fail to see the glowing eyes hovering in the hallway, and just as they're ready to give up, who other than Angela from the last movie appears, looking human. They ask her if she's been saved, and mention that the end of the world is nigh. Naturally, Angela agrees, and offers them cake. On following her, they notice that the cake is a wedding cake with the bride and groom in a puddle of blood, and that there's a coffin in the kitchen. They finally realize that this place is creepy, but it's too late. The door slams shut, and Angela points out that the cake was devil's food cake* as she morphs into a monster and slashes them to death.

Now we get to meet the rest of the future victims, all of whom are Catholic School students. We get a few minutes of boys spying on girls getting ready for bed (and, thus, lots of breast shots to please those of you who have absolutely no interest in pirates dismemberments), and then we see a few girls sitting around, telling scary stories. And what story are they telling? Yep, the plot of the first movie. Turns out that the only body never found was Angela's, and we're told that's because she descended straight into Hell, where she has sex with Satan**.

Once the girls go to bed, we get a dream sequence, with Mouse, the quiet, repressed girl, dreaming of Angela coming to her bed. As Angela turns into a demon and rips off Mouse's jaw, we learn that Mouse is Angela's younger sister. She wakes up screaming, but at least her jaw is still intact.

Over the next few scenes, we get a few more tidbits of exposition and character moments:

- The Halloween dance is that night, and the new head priest has cautioned the ruler-swinging head nun to be a little more lax this year.

- Mouse's parents got a "creepy Halloween card" last year, supposedly with Angela's signature on it. They committed suicide that night.

- The one apparently-nice boy carries a book with a pentagram on it. In plain sight. He wants to be a demonologist when he grows up.

- The bitchiest of the girls, Shirley, swipes said book.

- All of the main characters (other than Mouse and the Nice Boy) get grounded because two of them were dry-humping on a tennis court***.

- The nice boy attempts to summon a demon in the church (because he knows it's "safe"), almost gets attacked by Angela, and gets caught and grounded by the head priest.

- Shirley decides to throw a party at Hull House, and brings Mouse (who isn't told where they're going, and insists on staying in the car when she realizes the destination).

Once at the house, we get some cheap Evil Dead rip-off moments, with the first-person spirit wandering the hallways. The kids, of course, split up to wander the house. And Bibi, the nicest of the girls other than Mouse, finds a tube of lipstick in the medicine cabinet. She's about to try it on**** when her boyfriend Johnny interrupts her. And, of course, we get lots more bogus scares, with shots of Angela watching Bibi and Johnny having sex, and random shots of scary demons around the corner from the other guests. Meanwhile, the budding demonologist back at the school has found the party invitation, and a dropout stoner friend of Shirley's scares Mouse and chases her into the house.

Now, we finally find out what kind of party Shirley has in mind.

See, Shirley learned a lot from that book she stole from the demon-studying kid, and she and two of the scummier guys are planning a sacrifice. They're about to stab Mouse, when one of the other guys (being only a minor-league scumbag) breaks it up, only to get stabbed himself! Oh no! But wait, it's okay. It was a fake knife!

But we get Evil Dead-cam anyway, and Mouse screams and says that she saw Angela. After the group finds a pile of maggots, they all agree that it's time to leave, but two of them need to go pee first*****. The girl sees a face in the toilet, which convinces her that she can hold it in. But the guy (the dropout from before) relieves himself against a wall outside. As he finishes, he sees what he assumes is Shirley and follows her. As he heads up the stairs, he realizes that it's really another brunette -- Angela -- and falls down the stairs when he sees her demonic face. She jumps on him and sticks her long, black tongue down his throat, and he gets possessed even as the demon continues to dry hump his body. Metaphoriffic!

The rest of the crew decides to leave him behind (he did, after all, get there on his own). As they drive away, secure in the knowledge that anything evil at Hull House can't follow them because of the "underground river" that keeps evil at bay, Bibi pulls out that lipstick again. She's about to put it on, but thinks there's something alive in there, and freaks out. Shirley grabs the lipstick and puts it on******.

Meanwhile, the head nun and priest have been alerted to the party by Kid Demonologist. They call the sheriff even as the kids sneak back into school. Four of the returning kids decide to sneak into the dance from which they've been banned, while two more pair up for sex and Mouse heads to her room to mope.

And now, an hour into the movie, we finally get to see one of the girls get possessed.

Shirley hits the bathroom before the dance, and decides to touch-up her lipstick. As she does so, something leaps out of the tube at her, and she drops the tube of lipstick on the floor. The door won't open, though, and the lipstick craws out of the tube, forming a two-foot slimy tentacle that, sure enough, climbs up Shirley's skirt and (presumably) plants itself inside her. She sighs and falls to the ground, and the lipstick tube starts leaking dry ice fog. Which coalesces into Angela, who starts making out with Shirley because, as established in part one, that's what demons do.

Shortly after, back at the dance (which has gotten out of control, since none of the chaperones are around*******), in walks Angela in a slinky black dress and fishnets (and, needless to say, looking human instead of demonic). She starts dancing on the table, mesmerizing all of the boys (including Bibi's boyfriend Johnny) even as Shirley and her boyfriend practice some dirty dancing of their own in the corner. As Angela is about to grab Johnny and kiss him, the nun finally returns and recognizes that Angela's not a student. The nun loses Angela in the crowd, but the real fun's about to happen with Shirley.

Shirley rips off her top and offers to let her boyfriend grab a feel. Even as the nun spots this and shouts "stop this hellishness," the boyfriend can't resist, and as he reaches in, the breasts turn into putty and grab his hand! And they burn it with acid, because that's what hellish mutated demon breasts do. Everyone else runs and screams as Shirley's breasts re-shape themselves and she snaps the neck of her poor lover. As most of the kids head for the chapel, Bibi and her boyfriend wrestle with Shirley for a bit before Kid Demonologist and the nun force the demon away with a cross.

They figure out that the lipstick was the source that allowed Angela out of Hull House, then decide that the priest needs to be called to give the dead boy his last rites and that the folks in the chapel need to be calmed. Meanwhile, the nun goes "to prepare." And this is where she shows that she's the Coolest Nun Ever. She's got an assortment of holy weapons, including crosses, a rosary-whip (which doubles as rosary nunchucks, pun possibly intended), and lots of rulers (preferred weapon of nuns everywhere). Kid Demonologist, meanwhile, has a vat of holy water, lots of water balloons, and some super-soakers.

But wait! Remember the two students who went off to have sex? They're busy making out in a van, unaware of all this. And as they go at it, we see a demonic hand reach up from between the seat and reach into the guy's pants. Demonic handjob! He assumes it's his girlfriend******** , and she assumes that his moans mean that she's a really good kisser. Eventually, they realize what's going on, and look down to see the demon hand, which waves to them. They run, but Angela ambushes them and chops off the boy's head with a machete. The girl runs into Shirley, and doesn't realize that her friend is a demon until Shirley grabs her and they engage in the Hot Lesbian Demonsex.

Back at the school, Mouse gets a visit from Angela (looking human), who tells Mouse how much she missed her. And Bibi and Johnny are both away from the chapel, the former searching for Mouse and her other friends, the latter searching for Bibi. They get attacked by the girl who was just demonized, but the nun and Kid Demonologist save them and pour holy water down the demon's throat. This unpossesses the girl, and the kids take her to the chapel. We also learn that the body of Shirley's boyfriend has vanished.

We see Angela and her two possessed male friends drive away with an oblivious Mouse, and the rest of the heroes regroup outside. The priest hasn't seen any of the demons, and is skeptical about the events, but they all head off to Hull House and split into two demon-hunting groups. The nun, Bibi, and Johnny get split into separate rooms by slamming doors, and Angela smacks Johnny through a window and onto a pile of hay..

Meanwhile, the priest gets stabbed by the newly-possessed body of Shirley's boyfriend before Kid Demonologist can spray the latter with holy water. As the demon melts away (since he was already dead when possessed, he presumably couldn't be turned human again), Angela comes and chases the boy away.

Outside, we see that Bibi's boyfriend isn't dead yet! He wakes up to see his decapitated buddy playing basketball with his own head. After the usual quips, Deapitated Guy almost kills his former best friend, and only a convenient holy water balloon from Kid Demonologist saves the day. The two boys run off, only to get ambushed by the drop out (remember him?), who hits Kid Demonologist in the head with a spiked club before running away. Before he dies, Kid Demonologist gets his friend to pour holy water on him, and tells him that he thinks that Angela's plan is to sacrifice her sister.

Upstairs, Bibi is attacked by the dropout, only to be saved by the rosary-nunchuck-wielding nun who chases him away. They're both attacked, however, by Shirley and the priest, and only Bibi's boyfriend and some water balloons save them and melt the two demons away*********. The dropout returns, only to get killed by a water balloon to the crotch. That leaves, of course, only Angela. And our heroes find her with Mouse on a table, unconscious and ready to be sacrificed.

Angela chops off the head of the nun and gets rid of Johnny and Bibi's weapons with newly found demonic telekinesis. But the nun used the old "fake habit" trick and is still alive! Angela offers to let the nun exchange herself for Mouse, and the nun accepts. As the others look on, Angela has Mouse ready to chop off the nun's head, but the nun reminds the girl to remember her faith, and, not surprisingly, Mouse instead stabs her sister. The nun then grabs the supersoaker filled with holy water and finishes off the job.

But wait! As the four survivors attempt to leave, Angela attacks again, all of a sudden in the form of a naga! She whips them with her tail, and is about to bite Mouse, when Johnny kicks the wood out of a window, allowing the sunlight to enter in the form of a cross! Angela burns up, and everyone is saved!

But, of course, at the very end, some random chick at the school finds the lipstick, opens it up, and a CGI snake shoots out of it as we cut to credits.

I had no illusions that Night of the Demons 2 would be any good. A direct-to-video sequel to a movie from six years earlier certainly doesn't offer much promise. But the movie actually delivers a lot more plot than the first one -- which was nothing more than an excuse to watch folks in a haunted house get picked off -- did. It also takes the interesting route of letting both religious characters (Mouse and the strict nun) and rebellious ones (the other surviving kids) survive. It's also surprisingly gender-imbalanced, as only two women -- Shirley and one of the missionaries -- dies, as opposed to six males (everyone but Johnny). In fact, Bibi smokes, has sex (and bares her breasts more than any other character), and curses, and is still clearly the heroine and "good girl" of this movie. It's a nice break from tradition.

Credit goes to the cast, who manage to be a lot more likable than expected in this genre. Amelia Kinkade, reprising her role as Angela, manages to shift from sweet to amazingly sexy (her dance at the party is worth watching at least once) to utterly evil. Jennifer Rhodes (best known as Grams on Charmed) steals scenes as the nun, and Cristi Harris, as Bibi, is striking. We also get an early appearance of Christine Taylor, the model best known as Marcia Brady and Mrs. Ben Stiller. On the male side of the cast, Rod McCary and Tremors alumnus Robert Jayne both do solid jobs.

Director Brian Trenchard-Smith is a veteran of crappy films (from Turkey Shoot to Leprechaun 3 to Megadiddo: The Omega Code 2. He'll never be a master, but he's basically competent enough to move things along. Returning writer Joe Augustyn has improved in the six years since the first movie, although he also won't exactly go down as a genre master when all is said and done. The f/x (other than the awful CG shots involving the lipstick) are well-done by the crew, lead by Joel Harlow.

Night of the Demons 2 doesn't break much new ground, but if you're looking for a fun little movie that hits most of the direct-to-video cliches head on, it's worth wasting ninety minutes on.

*Demons love girl-on-girl action and bad puns.

**"Probably sitting on his big spike," to use the words of one of the girls.

***Can you tell that the screenwriter was desperate to move things forward and find an excuse to get his characters to Hull House?

****Question for those of you who wear lipstick: Would you try on a tube of lipstick you'd found in an old abandoned house? Forget the possibility of demons, and just think about hygiene here.

*****Yes, this entire movie hinges on a bathroom break. And yes, they're only a short drive from their school. Even I, with a bladder the size of a walnut, can wait a few minutes.

******Again, what the fuck? This is the '90s. Has no one heard of cooties? I mean, even if it doesn't have a warning label reading, "warning: this might have been inserted into a demon's nipple," it's still a bad idea.

*******As far as I can tell, the only adults at the entire school are the too-permissive priest and the too-strict nun.

********Which means that demons have very soft skin, I guess; there's clearly a lot of lotion in Hell.

*********Although you'd think that Shirley, who was possessed while alive, would revert back to human. Oh no, a continuity error! That, or having a demonic two-foot piece of lipstick crawl into your coochie kills you. Which it very well might.
yendi: (Michael)
Night of the Demons. 1988. Directed by Kevin Tenney. Written by Joe Augustyn. Released by Republic.

I remember looking at the box for Night of the Demons for years at the local video store, debating whether to rent it or not. On the one hand, the movie looked craptastic, and dealt with a horror genre (demonic possession) that had never interested me. On the other, it had that wonderful tagline: "Angela is having a party, Jason and Freddy are too scared to come. But you'll have a hell of a time." Yeah, any video box that dares the viewer to be braver than Freddy and Jason is making a bold claim.

In the end, this Evil Dead wannabe doesn't offer a ton in the way of scares, but it does offer one of the most memorable scenes in the already-memorable career of Linnea Quigley. About a third of the way into the movie, Quigley's character, Suzanne, has been possessed by a demon, and is acting a little. . . off. After drawing on her face with her lipstick, she takes off her top* and starts drawing on her breasts with the lipstick as well. Eventually, after spiraling around her left breast for a while, she takes the lipstick tube and sticks it into her nipple, slowly inserting it all the way in, where it vanishes and the nipple magically seals itself up! The best part? Linnea's alone as she does this, not trying to creep out (or turn on) any of the other characters.

The phrase "lipstick-eating nipple" don't trip off the tongue like "bull penis," but it's still one of those things you don't expect to see in a movie.

Anyway, in case you're wondering about the plot, I already told you: It's an Evil Dead wannabe. And really, it's about as sophisticated, plot-wise, as that other movie. Want a longer summary? Okay. Angela and Suzanne, two "teenagers**," are holding a Halloween party at an old abandoned house that might or might not be haunted (and which is named Hull House, presumably because Shirley Jackson's estate would be less likely to sue than if they used "Hill House"). They invite the usual group of cliches -- the slut, the fat asshole, the nice girl, etc -- and after the barest of introductions to the characters, we get the expected seance, complete with weird effects. Soon enough, our girls Angela and Suzanne are possessed (and making out, because everyone knows that's why demons possess humans in the first place). As possessees, they usually look like zombies, but can also appear totally human if it'll help get them close to someone.

Once they finish with all their warm-up acts (which, aside from the lesbian demon scenes and the lipstick-eating nipple, also include a scene in which Angela sticks her hands into a fireplace and shows them off to one of the guys, and one in which she dances to the hot jams of Bauhaus), the killing begins. Of course, the killing also involves sex. The fat guy, thinking he's about the score with Angela, gets his face bitten off for his troubles (and gets possessed in the process). Lovers having sex in a coffin get surprised, with the woman*** getting her neck snapped, and the guy getting the coffin lid bashed against him dozens of times, severing his arm. We also get one guy seduced by Quigley, who then proceeds to turn all demonic while riding him and poke her fingers into his eyes. Others are more typical -- a woman thrown off a roof (and, per horror movie requirements, landing on the one car with someone in it), a guy impaled, etc.

Eventually, we learn that (stealing yet another idea from the Evil Dead series) the demons want everyone dead by dawn, and surviving until then all it takes to make it out of the movie alive. Of course, with demonic possession, it's tough to survive, but after a night of many hardships, the nice girl and the black guy are the only ones to make it out alive. Yes, the black character actually survives! This probably isn't the first slasher-style**** movie in which this has happened, but it's definitely something that wasn't common in the '80s. Just to cap things off, we get a finale featuring an old woman killing her husband by baking razor blades into his pie*****. Yes, this movie really does have everything.

Night of the Demons is one of those perfectly amusing guilty pleasures that horror fans need to see at least once. The cast is mostly talent-free, the director (Kevin Tenney, of Witchboard fame) needs serious tutorials in lighting and editing******, and the dialogue is just terrible. But it's gloriously fun. The really bad f/x, terrible acting, occasionally innovative kills and scares, and sheer stupidity of Night of the Demons combine to make a great group view or MST3K, if not a great movie.

*I suspect that Quigley is contractually obligated to take off her top in every one of her movies.

**Really, why were folks surprised by folks like Ian Ziering and Gabrielle Carteris on Beverly Hills 90210 when horror movies had thirty-somethings playing teens for years?

***Played by the same girl who played A-Rab in Sleepaway Camp III. She can't act that well, but she's good at dying.

****Although it's not a slasher, the entire framework of Night of the Demons is built around traditional slasher motifs, right down to the sex=death concept and the body count.

*****In fairness, he was seen at the beginning of the movie slipping razors into apples to hand out to the kids. And his wife used those selfsame apples to bake the pie, but there's no doubt she did it on purpose.

******As well as in "not ripping off Sam Raimi."
yendi: (Freddy)
Wishcraft. 2002. Directed by Richard Wenk under the pseudonym Danny Graves. Written by Larry Katz. Distributed by HBO Home Video.

Wishcraft is notable for two things:

First, it's still the best movie ever featuring a bull penis in a pivotal role*.

Second, it's one of the more bizarre meldings of horror subgenres that I can recall. It's a combination of a slasher movie, a teen romance, and a supernatural thriller. It fails to succeed on any of these levels, but it's still a vaguely interesting mess.

Before I talk about what works, a brief summary:

There's this geeky kid named Brett Bumpers**. And he gets a lucky bull penis in the mail one day with a note explaining that the bull penis will grant him three wishes. Naturally, he doesn't believe it, but since he figures that he has nothing to lose, he wishes that Samantha, the hottie on whom he's desperately crushed for years, would go to the dance with him. Sure enough, the magical bull penis comes through***, and she steps out with him instead of her boyfriend. Of course, that wish wears off after the dance, so he ups the ante the next time to wish for her to fall in love with him.

Meanwhile, kids are getting killed off in bizarre ways. Kids who are in Brett and Samantha's class. One each time he makes a wish, implying that their deaths are the "cost" of the wishing bull penis. And when Brett's best friend steals the bull penis, he and Brett discover that only Brett's wishes come true with the bull penis (we later learn that the bull penis only has power when it is freely given to someone else). And Brett also starts to have second thoughts about forcing a woman to fall in love with him via a magical bull penis. Eventually, Brett and the few surviving teenagers learn that the bull penis was actually given to him by a teacher, who felt that Brett was his natural heir. We get a big climactic fight, and the good guys win. But even though she's been freed from the spell of the bull penis, Samantha realizes that a nerdy boy who pines after her and is willing to use a magic bull penis to bend her will is much more desirable than the jocks she used to date, so the two teens end up together and happy anyway.

Okay, so Wishcraft isn't exactly a great movie. But mixing the supernatural strength of the killer into a traditional slasher/teen romance plotline added a nice twist. And I'm a big fan of two of the murders:

The first is the bowling ball murder. One of the school jerks gets kidnapped and knocked out. When he wakes up, he's buried up to his head in a field, and a mostly-unseen person starts rolling bowling balls at him. Really really hard. At first (before it was revealed that the killer had wished for super strength), I was a bit skeptical, but once I accepted that the killer wasn't a normal human, I could buy it as a fun kill. Bowling balls need to be used as weapons more often.

The second is a hanging death on a deserted street. The killer nicely gets the poor girl into the noose****, but she shows more perseverance than a typical victim, grabbing the rope and attempting to climb it. It's a nicely-drawn out scene that ends when the killer jumps and puts all his weight on her legs, dragging her down and snapping her neck.

Yeah, both are over the top, but they're both stylishly filmed and fun.

There's not much else that's "good" in this movie, but there's a lot of bad stuff to enjoy. Not least of these is the performance given by noted thespian Meat Loaf Aday as the local law enforcement. It's hard to tell if his performance is supposed to be a satire of bad small-town cops, or if he's actually attempting to give a sincere and earnest performance. Meat Loaf is perfectly adequate when cast in the right role, but Wishcraft is no Rocky Horror or Fight Club.

We get more stunt casting, and unlike the stunt casting in Wishmaster, there seems to be little logic behind it. There's Allyce Beasley as Brett's mom, showing just how far the former Agnes DiPesto has fallen. And we have Zelda Rubenstein, of Poltergeist fame, randomly appearing as a coroner. The cast is rounded out by A.J. Buckley (CSI: NY's nerdy lab tech Adam) as the goofy best friend, Michael Weston (Private Dancer on the most recent season of Scrubs) as hero Brett Bumpers, and the always gorgeous Alexandra Holden as object of desire Samantha. All are decent enough in their roles, if nothing special.

Director "Danny Graves*****" does a ok job throughout the movie, but has trouble really merging the disparate elements; it's hard to buy the elaborate murder sequences in light of someone who could just kill people by snapping their necks, and who doesn't have any particular desire to get caught. Plus, the motive offered is weak, at best, especially given the lack of decent development given to the character.

Wishcraft, in spite of the prominent presence of the bull penis, isn't the most memorable movie. The attempt to mix genres is laudable, but the execution ends up mediocre at best, and I found the happy ending insulting and annoying. But the interesting kills along the way, although far from impressive on a gore or f/x level, are well-crafted, and probably make Wishcraft worth at least catching on cable. Plus, how many movies provide this much bull penis?

*Although I have high hopes for Bull Penis: The Dick Cheney Story.

**Really. "Brett Bumpers." With a name like that and a bull penis, you'd figure that this movie would fit into another genre entirely.

***I'm pretty sure, incidentally, that this review contains more occurrences of the phrase of "bull penis" than anything else I've ever written. Put together.

****Which, being dangled from a traffic light, must have taken a hell of a lot to set up.

*****Not the relief pitcher. Also, not his real name. The director is actually Richard Wenk, best known for Vamp, that classic Grace Jones vampire film. I'm not sure which movie he's ashamed of.
yendi: (Michael)
Wes Craven Presents: Wishmaster. 1997. Directed by Robert Kurtzman. Written by Peter Akins. Released by Roadshow Entertainment.

There are three words that scare the hell out of me when I see them associated with a movie: "Wes Craven Presents." Like many directors, Craven has lent his name to a few movies directed by others to help bolster ticket sales. However, Craven either has the worst taste in the world, or is cynically willing to throw his name on any project that sends him a hefty check. Either way, the words "Wes Craven Presents" have come to be synonymous for "crappy movie." Granted, Craven himself has had his lapses*, but these movies are unbelievably crappy.

Wes Craven Presents Wishmaster might be the best of the lot, mainly due to gimmicky (but fun) casting and a concept that's actually got some potential (even if it's completely wasted here). It does offer some decent special effects, and if you can get past the awful, awful plot contrivances, there are a few amusing kills.

We start with. . . narration! But it's by Angus Scrimm, so that's okay. Angus tells us that when God created the universe, the fire He used gave birth to a race of evil creatures known as djinn. Anyone who wakes the djinn is given three wishes, and once the third wish is granted, the "unholy legions" of djinn will be released to rule the earth. In other words, God doesn't just play dice with the universe; He also plays some sort of fucked-up game that's essentially rigged for humanity to lose.

Just to show us that Angus isn't kidding, we start back in historically-accurate Persia, where a djinn grants the second of three wishes to a sultan. The djinn twists a request to show him wonders into all sorts of gruesome and awful murders (with folks turning into snakes, getting their skeletons ripped out, spontaneously combusting, etc.). We don't see any cats and dogs living together, but I assure you that there's mass hysteria. Naturally, the sultan's all ready to make his third wish (to cancel the second one) when, in a twist quite possibly never seen before in movies**, his grand vizier turns out to be wise and good, and casts a spell that traps the djinn in a stone. The world is saved, for now.

Let's stop and talk about the premise here. If any human frees a djinn, that djinn will perform three wishes, then open up the portal to hell (or wherever djinn live), thus destroying the world. Even though the human making the wish has no way to know the consequences. And in the thousands of years of history, it's never happened. This can mean only one of two things: Either the Persian djinn is the only one ever freed, or the djinn are a monumentally stupid group of people who couldn't win a game of tic-tac-toe if you spotted them two "X"s. Also, it means that for the first few million years of the planet's existence, the djinn were screwed, as humans weren't capable of making coherent wishes. Sucks to be them.

Anyway, in the present day, a rich man played by Robert Englund is importing a bunch of artifacts. A drunken dockworker screws up and ends up dropping a crate on poor Ted Raimi, and the jewel pops loose. A trip to a pawn shop and then a geological research lab later, and it's in the hands of the lovely Alex, played by Tammy Lauren (a good thing if, like me, you were one of six fans of Martial Law) before the cast was rejiggered). Alex rubs the jewel, which makes the djinn eight kinds of happy, but she then runs off to play basketball, and for some reason***, the djinn stays in the jewel to hang out or something.

Naturally, Alex's fellow geologist decides to do some work on the gem, and naturally enough, attempting to apply science to a magical gem causes a massive explosion! As the scientist lies dying on the floor, he hears a disembodied voice ask if he wishes the pain would go away, and he says yes. The djinn does, indeed, make his pain go away. And this is where we get the other "twist" in the power of the djinn; djinn also grant wishes to everyone they meet, not just the person who frees them. But for other people, they gain power over the wisher's immortal soul, and absorbing the soul (which the djinn can do at any time after the wish is granted) give the djinn extra power.

Thus, the djinn joins the platypus on the "what the fuck was God thinking?" list.

Anyway, now that the djinn's been let out of the bottle jewel, he goes around and commits random acts of wish-fulfillment. A saleswoman who wishes to remain eternally beautiful gets turned into a mannequin. A homeless guy wishes that an asshole store clerk would die of cancer, and the poor clerk turns into a choking, tumor-laden mess in seconds. While this is happening, Alex gets random flashes showing the djinn, as her freeing him has created some sort of weird psychic connection.

The next chunk of the movie consists of Tammy getting exposition from a Professor of Explaining Background Facts to Protagonists, and the Djinn tracking Alex down. This section includes a confrontation with a doorman played by Kane "Jason Vorhees" Hodder, who, tough guy that he is, wishes to see the djinn get through him. The djinn then turns Hodder into a part of the glass door, and promptly goes through him, shattering him in the process. We also get to see a man's jaw ripped off when a cop wishes that a criminal would finally do something in front of witnesses and get caught. I do have to give them f/x points for both of these kills, even if they're poorly and gratuitously woven into the plot.

After the djinn confronts Alex and manages to get two wishes out of her, we move to the denouement, a party at the penthouse owned by Robert Englund's character. In a scene that pushes even the "logic" of the djinn, our titular villain gets past this building's doorman (played by Tony "Candyman" Todd) by talking him into wishing for a chance to escape, and then chaining the sucker in a tank filled with water. After all, Houdini was able to escape from that setup, so the wish was honored. In another life, the djinn was likely a used car salesman.

At the party, we get a near-repeat of the opening scene, with Englund wishing for an unforgettable party, and the djinn honoring the wish with a ton of special effects gimmicks, like living statues, more flames, piano wires decapitating people****, etc. Eventually, Alex realizes that the solution is to use her third wish to wish that the events at the dock never happened, which causes none of the other wishes to happen, and the stone is never discovered. Yes, the world is saved because of a variation of a time travel paradox.

Although Wishmaster is a bad, bad movie, it's as much fun as a bad movie can be. Director Robert Kurtzman doesn't have much in the way of directorial talent, but he's a veteran f/x man, and this movie is a showcase for all sorts of gruesome stuff. The opening five minutes alone are worth seeing for any fan of the genre. There are also tons of horror in-jokes, from the stunt casting (which also includes genre vets like Reggie Bannister, George "Buck" Flower, Rico Ross, and Joseph Pilato) to characters with names like Derleth, Beaumont, Etchison, and Clegg.

But cute in-jokes and solid f/x will only take you so far. Screenwriter Peter Atkins is the man who gave us Hellraisers 3 and 4*****, and although this plot is certainly better than the ones from those movies, there are still logic holes miles wide here, and the dialogue is pretty universally terrible. Kurtzman has great talent as an f/x artist, but he doesn't show much promise in terms of his abilities to pace a film or get much out of his cast. Lead Andrew Divoff (who I'm happy as hell to see on Lost) is fun, but no one in the cast gives much more than an average performance.

Overall, Wes Craven Presents Wishmaster might be the best movie with "Wes Craven Presents" at the front of the title******, and it's certainly leagues better than any of the three sequels. But it's far from good, and should probably only be rented once to catch the gimmicky death scenes.

*The Hills Have Eyes 2, for example. Complete with dog flashback.

**Seriously. Is there any better way to convince an audience that you're evil than to be a grand vizier?

***Okay, it's because he's weakened from being trapped in there. But really, that just strikes me as lame.

****The piano wire victim is director Robert Kurtzman.

*****He also wrote Hellraiser 2, but that was off a story and consult with Barker.

******And the recent DVD reissue dropped the "Wes Craven Presents" from the box, although it still appears in the opening credits.
yendi: (Michael 2)
The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Bill Lancaster. Released by Universal.

A reminder: As always (even when I'm behind) the beginning of the month signifies a look at one of the true classics of the genre. Today, we're looking at The Thing*.

This, folks, is why I'm occasionally willing to give remakes a chance. In fact, The Thing is similar in pedigree to yesterday's abomination, Village of the Damned. The original movie is a minor classic of the genre, based on a differently-titled work by one of the true greats of the sci-fi genre (in this case, "Who Goes There?" by John Campbell). But unlike his Village of the Damned, Carpenter's take on The Thing manages to surpass the original movie** (and stays truer to the original story). The resulting film is a masterpiece of paranoia that's also an absolutely thrilling and graphic movie at the same time.

The plot: at a remote Antarctic research station, a group of American scientists are surprised when researchers at a nearby Norwegian station fly their helicopter in pursuit of a dog. After shooting at it and trying to kill the canine with grenades, they land the chopper and chase the dog on foot. One of the attackers dies when he drops his grenade***, and the other is put down when he attempts to follow the dog into the American camp and shoots one of the American researchers.

The researchers check out the other camp, and find the power out, and the assorted bodies of a bunch of the foreign researchers, some of them extraordinarily bloody and gutted. They also find a body that's so mangled and burnt that it barely looks human. Meanwhile, that cute little pup goes into a room back at the base, getting the attention of one of the researchers (seen silhouetted, so we don't know who it is).

That night, the dog from the other camp is put in the kennel, where it turns into something nasty and tentacled. It proceeds to attack the other dogs, and when the humans come running, they find a chaotic mess, with the mutated creature absorbing the other canines, and one puppy escaping into the night. Faced with the ghastly beast into which the dogs are mutating, the humans manage to overcome their shock and burn the monster.

The doctor does some research, and we see that the cells of the alien Thing are capable of completely taking over dog cells, as well as human ones. What the doc doesn't reveal to the others is the computer-generated theory that a member of the team is likely infected. And that if the infection makes it back to warmer climates, that the entire world could become infected.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the charred remains of the creature aren't as dead as everyone thought. After one researcher stumbles upon his buddy being absorbed, everyone witnesses the Thing taking the form of their compatriot. The burn this one and leave the remains to freeze in out the snow, but there's a sense that this isn't the end.

And sure enough, over the course of the next hour, we get treated to a onslaught of paranoid moments, punctuated by moments of extreme violence as the Thing picks off the assorted members of the crew. Finally, as the final four survivors realize that the alien cannot be allowed to escape and that it's trying to build a ship, they plant explosives. They destroy the ship, but as they attempt to destroy the base itself in an attempt to freeze the alien, two of them are picked off. The survivors manage to destroy the generator, and McReady and Childs (our two survivors), knowing that they'll freeze to death, wait to die, still uncertain if the other one might be the Thing itself.

The Thing is just one of those perfect movies in which everything clicks. The plot's been done before (and since), but this movie finds the sweet spot, getting everything right. What makes it work?

1. The screenplay. Would you believe that this was written by the late Bill Lancaster? Lancaster wrote exactly two other movies: The Bad News Bears and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan. Who knew he had this in him? Every paranoid line of dialogue here is just perfect, with the screenplay never resorting to silly quips, but focusing on the true terror and incomprehensibility of the situation.

2. The cast. Kurt Russell (sporting a wild man's beard), Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, and Richard Masur all do fine jobs, as do the supporting players. As is always the case with the best horror flicks, no one here thinks they're above the material, and the group of veteran character actors delivers every line perfectly. The large cast of characters manages to come to life thanks to them, a crucial element in setting the tone of the movie.

2.5. The gender divide of the cast. Notice that there are no female cast members (not counting the voice of Adrienne Barbeau as the computer). That is a deliberate choice by Carpenter and Lancaster that dumps the traditional horror movie romantic subplot. A few other movies have tried this****, but I can't think of many horror flicks prior to The Thing that so completely subverted this genre tradition.

3. The f/x. Rob Bottin and his crew do an amazing job here. Nothing beats "that scene." I'm talking about the moment when one doomed character, assuming his buddy is having a heart attack, attempts to use a defibrillator. As he reaches down, the patient's chest opens up into a giant maw which bites off the hands of the scientist. Then, as Kurt Russell sprays the monster with a flame thrower, the head of the monster sneaks off the body, forming spider legs and attempting to run. One character's reaction is the exact same as mine: "You've gotta be fucking kidding."

Every gory scene here is as convincing (if not more so) than any $150 million big-budget CGI film nowadays. And the gore here never feels gratuitous. In fact, it does exactly what gore is supposed to do (but rarely accomplishes); it helps convey a genuine sense of horror and fear.

4. The score. Ennio Morricone. 'Nuff said.

5. Carpenter himself. The man has the golden touch here*****, mixing all the elements he has into an overpowering movie that somehow combines shocking and graphic scenes with the most genuine sense of filmed paranoia I've ever witnessed. He also wisely chooses to not overwhelm the audience with excess information. We never find out if the Thing is genuinely evil, if it truly understands the humans it's mimicking, or which (if any) of the assorted metaphors the titular creature so easily embodies (AIDS, Reagan-era conformity, societal violence, etc) is the primary one. Hell, we don't even find out if the good guys "win," or if the Thing manages to escape. We're in much the same situation as the characters themselves; the answers don't matter s long as folks are simply trying to survive, or to save the rest of the world. Carpenter hits on all cylinders here, and creates a claustrophobic classic.

The Thing is about as good as it gets, folks. If you somehow haven't seen it, add it to your list now.


* Which means the beginning of the month also signifies a movie title that pre-pubescent boys (and those who think like them) can giggle at because it sounds like a phallic euphemism.

**Which was directed by Howard Hawks, not exactly a nobody. ETA: As noted by [livejournal.com profile] scalzi, it was Christian Nyby who actually directed the movie, with Hawks in as producer, uncredited screenwriter, and likely "assisting" with some directorial duties.

***What's amazing about this is that the scene never comes off as silly or slapstick. It's just a poor bastard dying a stupid and unlucky death.

****The Descent is one of the better examples.

*****Creatively, that is. Financially, the movie was a flop. Opening against Blade Runner didn't help. Opening while E.T. is still in the theatres made it even worse.
yendi: (Freddy)
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars. 2001. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis. Distributed by Sony.

No, it's not a theme week here. I just picked two shitty John Carpenter movies in a row, that's all. And believe me, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is a very crappy movie, one that hopefully represents the nadir of his career*.

But the amazing thing about this movie is that it could have been worse.

You see, the saving grace of the film is the cast. And the lead, Natasha Henstridge (of Species fame) does a fine job. But she was an emergency replacement for the originally-cast lead: Courtney Love. Nothing screams "action heroine" like "Courtney Love." Well, assuming you drop the final "e" in "heroine."

Anyway, back to the movie. Quick plot summary: Carpenter plagiarizes his own Assault on Precinct 13**, swipes the "hardened criminal is the only hope for a bunch of folks on another planet" routine from Pitch Black, and runs it through the Generic Flashback Framing Sequence Machine to shake things up a bit.

Want a slightly more detailed description? Okay. A group of Martian cops head out to a small Martian town to pick up a hardened criminal named Riddick Desolation Williams***. When they get to the town, they find that almost everyone has been killed in horrible, nasty, messy ways, and there are decapitated bodies everywhere. Quicker than you can say, "hey, Pam Grier's character is wandering off on her own," the group discovers that there are still plenty of people alive. For a value of "alive" that includes "possessed by evil Martian spirits and turned into ravenous killing machines", that is.

The assaults take up most of the rest of the movie, as the characters (a mix of cops and convicts) get picked off one-by-one, get possessed, argue, make out, and eventually end up in a showdown on a train. Along the way, we meet "Big Papa Mars," who is the head bad guy****. He looks suspiciously like Marilyn Manson, but instead of dating Evan Rachel Wood, he just stands there, yells, and throws sharp objects. Eventually, we're left with two survivors, the Plucky Cop and Riddick Desolation Williams. Just as the flashbacks end, the main Martian base gets invaded. As we fade to the credits, our two survivors prepare to fight.

See? Don't you wish I'd stuck with my original summary?

The possessed folks in this movie simply aren't terrifying. They're inarticulate, brutal, and efficient, to be fair. Alas, that makes them no different than the villains in Assault on Precinct 13, and other than some body piercing, screaming, and gratuitously gory killings, there's not much of a difference. What Assault had going for it, though, was an impending sense of doom and a generally creepy vibe to the nature of the assault itself. Carpenter throws that all away in favor of non-stop action, and it's an awful, awful idea, undercutting any potential that the Martians have of being scary in the least.

As I said, the cast here is surprisingly good, and they do their best to save the film. But no matter how many solid folks you put here -- and the cast here includes Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, Pam Grier, and Joanna Cassidy -- when you've got a script with nary an original moment in it*****, there's nothing they can do other than avoid making it worse. Carpenter (along with Larry Sulkis, who the IMDB claims went uncredited for Village of the Damned******) wrote the script himself, so he can't even blame whatever hack handed him the script.

Making things worse, Carpenter had the bright idea to hire Anthrax to do the score. I like their music well enough, but it doesn't exactly help with the mood. Carpenter would have been better off going back to the well and ripping off his Assault on Precinct 13 music, which was tailor-made for this plotline.

There are a few good fight sequences, but nothing good enough to justify sitting through the movie. Ditto the f/x, which are decent enough, but far from impressive enough to save the film.

The saddest thing about John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is that it's the worst of the big three 2000-01 Mars films. Sucking more than Mission to Mars and Red Planet takes a lot. Carpenter's lack of vision, talent, and even anything resembling effort over the last fifteen years is a minor tragedy. Crap like this from an unknown director would simply end up debuting on the Sci-Fi Channel, but seeing Carpenter's name attached to it is disgraceful.

*Because if next year's Psychopath, his first big-screen project in seven years, sucks more than this movie, he might as well just retire.

**There's a disturbing trend of great '70s directors doing this as their talent seeps away. For another example, check out Mel Brooks as he swipes the "camera crashes through the window" gag from High Anxiety for the vastly inferior Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

***His brothers are named Devastation Williams, Clusterfuck Williams, and Jesus Fucking Christ What a Mess Williams. The parents still wonder where they went wrong.

****We know his name because he's listed in the credits. Like all the possessed Martians, all he does is scream.

*****Okay, we do get the Mars is Matriarchy thing going on, but other than hamfisted attempts to equate female rule with lesbianism (complete with girl-on-girl sexual harassment) it never goes anywhere.

******To be fair, I wouldn't want credit for that, either.
yendi: (Michael 2)
John Carpenter's Vampires. 1998. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Don Jakoby.

How many things can I hate about one movie? In the case of John Carpenter's Vampires, a hell of a lot. More than it probably deserves, even. Let's count:

1. Let's start with the fact that it went from being John Steakley's Vampire$ to being John Carpenter's Vampires. The original novel was a minor little classic, a nifty story about a gang of mercenaries who fight and kill vampires for money. There are lots of well-developed, well thought-out characters who are all interesting. The movie barely even bothers with the plotline from the book and instead simply goes off into a generic and boring chase movie with predictable twiss.

2. Let's stick with that title. The more John Carpenter started to add his name to movie titles, the worse his movies got. It was bad enough with John Carpenter's Village of the Damned, and it got worse with John Carpenter's Escape From LA. By the time John Carpenter's Vampires came out, the movie titles were all about his ego. And his name had become synonymous with "hack director who shows just a shadow of his former talent."

3. Daniel Baldwin. Let's face it: The number of non-Alec projects from the Baldwin brothers that don't suck numbers four*. And Daniel gives an unspeakably bad performance here as Montoya, a trash-talking, woman-beating scuzzball. When he's not the epitome of male rage, he's mumbling his way through the movie, looking like he's too hung-over to even bother learning his lines. Which probably explains why he has a far-away look on his face most of the time; reading lines off a TelePrompTer can be difficult.

4. Sheryl Lee. She's never given a better performance than when she was dead, wrapped in plastic. Alas, here, she's expected to actually do stuff. Granted, most of that includes lying there looking terrified. But there are junior-high actresses in their first leading role who could put in more effort and give a better performance than Lee does here**.

5. Don Jakoby. This is the man who gave the world Double Team, the classic pairing of Jon Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman. 'nuff said***.

6. Thomas Ian Griffith. If the Big Bad Vampire is boring, the entire movie pretty much falls apart. I don't doubt that Griffith has some fans, but I honestly can't tell the difference between him and any of the other generic three-named actors (Thomas Ian Nichols? Seann William Scott? Sean Patrick Thomas? John Wilkes Booth?) What little is memorable about the vamp is in his backstory (he's the First Vampire, and also former priest, and thus his undead life is laced with irony, like vampiric rain on your wedding day), but Griffith brings nothing new to the role here.

7. The plot. Yeah, let's talk about what passes for a story here. Here's the sitch: An elite group of vampire hunters in the employ of the Vatican is celebrating a hard day's work by getting liquored up and throwing a nice little orgy with some prostitutes. They do so at night, in a nearby motel, and are thus completely shocked when the vampire lord they missed tracks them down and kills almost all of them (even their priest). The only survivors are Jack Crow (the cynical leader of the bunch), his #2 man Montoya (the Baldwin of the bunch), and Katrina (the "hooker who has been bitten" of the bunch. These three manage to escape, because the vampire waited until nearly dawn to attack**** and because Montoya shoots the vamp in the face.

They regroup with the Catholic Church's Official Vampire Killer Supervisory Cardinel, who gives them a new emergency replacement priest to replace the one killed at the motel. Our merry little gang of hunters then tracks down the Big Bad Vampire, only to find out that the reason the vamp seems to know what's going on is that the Official Vampire Killer Supervisory Cardinal is a traitor. See, he's decided that it's better to get eternal life from a vampire than from God, and he's willing to conduct a spell that will turn the vampire prince into a daywalker*****. Somewhere along the way, Montoya gets bitten, which causes him to mumble and sweat even more. Eventually, the new priest shoots the Cardinal****** and Crow cracks open a roof on the vamp just as the sun rises. Montoya and Katrina are given a head-start to Mexico before they transform into vamps, and the credits roll.

Yeah, that lousy plot was what John Carpenter wasted our time on. Did I mention that the evil Cardinal was played by Maximilian Schell? Because I just want to make sure you all realize just how obvious his betrayal was. Not that it wouldn't have been obvious in other circumstances, since, you know, Crow's entire team was dead

Anyway, in fairness, the movie doesn't completely suck*******. There are a few things worth mentioning:

1. The opening scene. The entire opening ten minutes, featuring the search for the vamps in an old house and the team's capture and slaughter of them, is top-notch. It's also not only the most faithfully-adapted scene in the entire movie, but the only one that surpasses the novel.

2. James Woods. Okay, he chews the scenery in every scene, but what did you expect? He's still fun to watch, and he appears to be the only person on the entire set who was actually having fun.

3. The fight choreography during the ending. The ending itself was by-the-numbers, and Carpenter's attempts to merge a few Western motifs into other genres don't even break any ground in his own oeuvre (see Assault on Precinct 13 -- the good one -- and Escape from New York). But the gun battles are still nicely done, and Carpenter's camerawork (something that should serve as a model to the current hypercutting trendsetters) keeps things focused nicely.

Much as I hate John Carpenter's Vampires, it's far from his worst movie, and had this come from some unknown up-and-comer, I'd rightly talk about how much promise it has. But it fails to deliver (in spite of good source material and a solid star), and even within Carpenter's pedigree, it's sad watching a film like this and knowing just how much better it could be.



*Homicide: Life on the Street, The Usual Suspects, Flatliners, and Backdraft. And the first person to suggest that Bio-Dome or Virus belongs on this list gets slapped. Although I did like Daniel in "Cleaver."

**Although, since the part is that of a prostitute, it's probably a good thing that they didn't cast a junior-high actress.

***Yes, he's associated with some better movies, but his best work was all co-written with Dan O'Bannon.

****Yes, everyone in this movie has the tactical knowledge and skillset of a brain-damaged dingo on acid.

*****Just like Blade would be if he were skinny, white, and evil.

******A little-known Church rule says that if you shoot your Cardinal, you get to take his place.

*******Look, the "suck" puns when referring to a vampire movie are as overused as Paris Hilton. Sometimes, I just have to describe a movie as sucking because it does, not because I can make a really obvious pun.
yendi: (Michael)
Street Zombies. 1993. Directed by J.R. Bookwalter. Written by Bookwalter and David Wagner. Released by Tempe Entertainment.

(Note: This movie was released under the names Street Zombies and Ozone. Although the DVD currently out uses the latter name, I'm using the former name because A) it's slightly better, and B) the director reportedly hates it, and he deserves to suffer)

There are different degrees of bad film. There's the camp film, the film that tries to do something original and fails, the "so bad it's good" movie, the Uwe Boll Tax Shelter Flop, the by-the-numbers copycat, et cetera. And then there's the "how the fuck could any studio waste even a bloody nickel distributing this awful piece of shit?" movie. Street Zombies is one of the best examples of this particular breed of bad movie. And by "bad," I mean "unspeakably awful".

Of course, it's written and directed by J.R. Bookwalter, whose resume includes such classics as Robot Ninja, Zombie Cop, and Kingdom of the Vampire*. He's basically a poor man's David Decoteau**, but he lacks the vision that his one-time mentor has shown. Street Zombies, incidentally, was originally released as Ozone, but I'm assuming that it was renamed to try to leech some business from cult hit Street Trash. It's not like either title is a winner.

We start with a junkie going to his dealer for a hit. His dealer gives him some new drug, and, of course, the first hit's free. When the junkie goes home, he melts the crack-like (but black) rocks he got and injects the liquid into his veins. That's when he discovers that the first hit is the only hit. Because after a few seconds, his neck swells up and his head explodes! Oh no! Cut to the opening credits.

We now meet up with two vice cops on a stakeout, Crocket and Tubbs Mike and Eddie. They're staking out that drug dealer (whose name is Richter, not to be confused with any homophonically identical X-Factor members) and they catch him in middle of a deal. Naturally, a shootout occurs, and Richter gets hit. While Mike runs after Richter's customer***, Eddie goes to search Richter's body for more drugs. Alas, Richter isn't dead yet, and he stabs Eddie in the arm with a syringe (which, even though the plunger never gets pushed, presumably puts the drugs into Eddie's body, possibly through the magic of filmmaking).

Meanwhile, Mike is still chasing down the junkie****, and he heads into an abandoned-looking building. Of course, instead of a junkie, he finds a zombie! We get the usual cliches here, as he yells at the zombie, threatens it, shoots it, and finally realizes that he's up against something really nasty. As he backs away, another zombie sneaks up on Mike and cuts off his hand with what has to be the world's most oddly-shaped diamond. Well, it looks like a shard of glass, but we all know that there's no way typical window glass could cut through a bone that easily, so I'm guessing it's really a diamond.

Anyway, Mike runs away, leaving his hand behind (poor hand). He barricades himself inside a closet, but the zombies soon break in, and we fade back to the original crime scene.

Eddie's captain is busy chewing Eddie out about how he handled the case. At no point does anyone seem to worry much that Mike is missing, likely because in this police department, cops go off on sudden benders just to cope with the pain of being in a movie this bad. Or something.

Back at the station, Eddie gets chewed out some more in a typical "rebel cop/hardass lieutenant" scene leading to Eddie's suspension, and then Eddie goes into the bathroom, where his face melts. Really. After $12 worth of f/x shots, Eddie wakes up to realize that it was just a dream. Well, the face-melting part, at least.

Now, in case you weren't paying attention, before his nightmare, Eddie got stabbed with a mystery syringe. So you'd think that he'd see a doctor. I fact, you'd think that departmental regulations would require it. Then again, that might cut the rest of the movie short, and although that would truly be a blessing, it ain't happening.

Eddie heads back to the building where Mike vanished, but instead of his partner, he finds a zombie. This zombie asks Eddie if he's "transformed," and says that he smells like a "brother." Now, granted, Eddie is black, but the zombie isn't, so we're probably meant to believe that Eddie gives off a zombie vibe, just like Laura Bush. Eddie eventually encounters movie cliche #238 and falls through some rotten floorboards, where he finds a few dead bodies that he doesn't bother reporting to anyone.

Eddie then checks out Mike's apartment, where he bullies his way past the landlady. The answering machine contains -- get this -- a message for Eddie, from a zombie! And the zombie says that he'll tear out Eddie's intestines. That's way more interesting than the messages I get on my answering machine.

As Eddie gets back into his car, a cop comes up and tells him that they need him back at the station. When Eddie gets out of his car, the cop attacks him. It's a zombie cop! Eddie kicks him in his zombie crotch and throws him into the parking lot, where a car conveniently speeds by at about 70 MPH and squashes his head. The $28 spent on that scene pretty much takes care of the gore budget for this movie.

Naturally, Eddie heads to a local seedy country bar next. Why? Because that's the set piece that the director wanted to use! After meeting yet another junkie shooting up with Ozone, the folks at the bar capture Eddie, take off his shirt, and make him fight another black guy with a weird saw/axe hybrid weapon. Yes, a bunch of country music loving white folks are having two black guys fight in their basement. I'm not sure if there's supposed to be racial commentary here or what. It's not something that's ever addressed again. Or even explained.

Anyway, Eddie wins the fight and escapes into the vast network of catacombs underneath the bar. He meets up with a woman named Justine who starts licking Eddie's syringe stab-wound. And this, of course, leads to the FREAKY ZOMBIE SEX!

See, as they start to get hot and heavy, a layer of slime forms over both of their faces, and they mutate and develop massive puss blisters on their faces. This turns out to be both of their kinks*****, and they do the nasty as they make horrible squelching sounds. Eventually, Eddie wakes up again and, repulsed by what he'd done, or dreamed, or whatever, runs away.

He now encounters the Worst Pinhead Impersonator Ever. See, there are three "punk" zombies******. And one of them has about six nails stuck in his bald head. It's like he wanted to become Pinhead, but ran out of nails before he could finish, and then got distracted or something. Anyway, he and his buddies threaten Eddie, who runs away and finally calls his department. He then discovers that he's wanted for the death of the zombie patrolman. You know, the one who was run over by someone else entirely?

Meanwhile at the morgue, Richter (the drug dealer) has come back to life, and naturally, he kills the coroner and his assistant. Which wouldn't be so bad if he didn't do it while naked. Yes, we get lots of NAKED ZOMBIE ASS during this scene.

The next few minutes are a giant clusterfuck (moreso than the previous hour). Eddie gets captured, Squeaky (remember him?) dies, zombies shoot each other for no good reason, Eddie escapes, Eddie is recaptured, and time is wasted. Eventually, Eddie is brought before the drug dealer from the opening scene. Who has mutated into Jabba the Hutt. Really. It's a naked fat mutant in a chair. Jabba taunts Eddie and then has him thrown into a cell.

Naturally, Eddie escapes (by overpowering his guard), and comes across a cell with Mike in it. Hey, he found his partner! We can all go home! Alas, Mike is mutating into something that spews rotten milk, so Eddie runs away. And finds Justine. It's like a fucking convention here! Aparantly, while in the throes of their slimy passion, Eddie and Justine didn't use protection, and she's knocked up. And zombie babies, as we know from Dead Alive, have a short gestation period. She gives birth to a wrinkled piece of slimy plastic that looks at Eddie and says, "Daddy." Eddie's paternal instincts do not kick in here.

Instead, he runs away and finds Jabba and Richter. He shoots them, to no avail. So he shoots them again, just to be sure. He finally runs away, and escapes to the "Ammo Room." Really. The room has a fucking sign on it saying "Ammo Room." The mind boggles.

The Ammo Room contains almost no ammo, but it does have a gun, some bombs, and some dynamtite. Maybe it should have been called the "Demolition Room." Or the "Deus Ex Machina Room".

Eddie kills one zombie with an explosion, but Richter comes after him and mutates even more, with his face turning blue for no good reason. Eddie eventually slams the door on Richter's head enough times to keep the zombie down for good.

We finally get the Big Confrontation, in which Jabba taunts Eddie again and brags that he can't be hurt. He even slits open his own stomach just to prove it. This is exactly what Eddie was waiting for, and the cop runs up to Jabba and shoves the bomb into the wound. Jabba played right into his hands! As Eddie runs away (seeding dynamite behind him) the place explodes, and the world is safe.

We then get an incomprehensible ending in which Eddie is accused of killing dozens of people. He defends his actions, saying they were zombies, and out of nowhere, we cut to Richter, looking mostly human (with a few scars) saying that Eddie will come around, and then laughing maniacally. Cut to credits.

Trust me, after watching Street Zombies, I long for the sweet, well-written screenplay of something like American Psycho 2. This film is a Troma-level mess, without the Troma-level fun. What's truly incomprehensible is how a movie this bad could be made without anyone involved realizing just how bad it is. I'd complain about things like the lack of explanation for the distribution of Ozone, but frankly, any additional information would have made the movie longer. And that would have been awful. The screenplay is just pathetic, the effects are awful, and no one here -- not even lead James Black, the only person here you might have seen in anything -- can act. I genuinely resent every second I spent watching this travesty. Street Zombies is only safely out of the IMDB bottom 100 films of all time because too few folks have seen it.

Street Zombies is a god-awful waste of time, the sort of nonsensical movie that makes anyone with even an ounce of love for genuinely good horror flicks want to wash out their brains with something better. Which would include almost anything. Someday, J.R. Bookwalter will stop securing financing for his films, and the fifty bucks he loses out on will go to support a more talented writer and director.


*As well as overrated cult "classic" The Dead Next Door.

**Of Sorority Babes in the Slime Ball Bowl-a-Rama fame.

***Ah, the war on drugs. Or bad directing. Would even the most hardened of narcs be that worried about a junkie when there's a perfectly good drug dealer wounded on the street?

****Whose name, incidentally, is Squeaky. Seriously. It would be one thing if all of the characters were named after second-rate wannabe assassins, but as far as I can tell, this is the only one.

*****There's someone for everyone.

******If I'm going to put "punk" in quotes, I should probably do the same for "zombies," since these are the least zombie-like zombies ever. But I'll stick with the idea that all of the bad guys are supposed to be zombies for now.
yendi: (Michael)
American Psycho 2: All-American Girl. 2002. Directed by Morgan J. Freeman. Written by Alex Singer and Karen Craig. Released by Lion's Gate.


The first American Psycho was a surprisingly good movie, one that exceeded the quality of the book on which it was based*. It was a witty little satire that delightfully skewered the business world of the late '80s, and it pretty much shifted Christian Bale from second banana to star (even if he tried to derail it with stuff like Reign of Fire and Shaft). It's also a movie that in no way, shape, or form merits a sequel. So, naturally, the good folks at Lion's Gate decided to greenlight one anyway.

American Psycho 2: All-American Girl is everything that first movie isn't. There's an attempt at black humor, but the satire that so smartly drove the first movie is missing here, replaced by a by-the-numbers slasher with a few vaguely interesting twists.

There's not much plot here. See, Patrick Bateman, the killer from the first movie, went on this date with a hot babysitter who dragged her charge along on the date. Naturally, he tied both of them up, but the twelve-year-old scamp escaped her bonds and killed Bateman. As a result, she's been obsessed with Bateman (and psychotics in general) ever since, and has become every bit the psychopath he was. Oh, and she's now a college student named Rachel Newman, studying criminology under one of the country's most famous profilers**.

The professor's TA is leaving to head off to Quantico to join the FBI, so naturally there's an opening for a TA. And, of course, our smart little freshman wants the position, even though that's not realistic, given the fact that she's in her first semester of college and that the hotshot professor is much likelier to give the position to one of three other candidates. Those candidates include a rich kid with lots of influence at the college, a girl who's sleeping with the professor, and a smart guy who might just be as twisted as Rachel herself.

Needless to say, all three folks in her way, as well as the departmental secretary who won't accept Rachel's paperwork, die in horrible ways. Including strangulation by condom***. And the only person who catches on is Rachel's shrink****, who tries to warn the profiler, but it's too late. Eventually, in a denouement that seems to run for about an hour, we get a dead profiler, we discover that the real Rachel Newman is actually dead (and that our "heroine" has a severe case of Tom Ripley syndrome), and we see things end with a fatal car crash!

But wait! Sometime later, the psychiatrist (now a nationally-renowned author) is speaking at Quantico when a trainee with the same name as the old teaching assistant comes up to get her book signed. But wait! It's actually Rachel, and she survived!

There's a lot to hate about this movie, but there are three things that stand out in particular.

The first of these what AP2 does to the original movie. We see Patrick Bateman killed by a twelve-year-old. Even ignoring the idea that a kid is somehow able to outsmart a devious psychopath (something even more annoying here than in crap like the Home Alone films), there's the whole notion of treating Bateman like just some typical killer. Half the point of the first movie is that the entire sequence of killings could be taking place entirely inside Bateman's head.

But AP2 doesn't stop there when it comes to disrespecting the first movie. This "sequel" doesn't even seem to be cut from the same genre. I wouldn't be surprised to find that there was a crappy screenplay called "All-American Girl" sitting in the drawer of some Lion's Gate exec, and that exec decided to toss off a stupid flashback sequence to tie it to the first movie. But none of the dark humor or social commentary of the first movie are seen here. It's as if the director and writer thought that the first movie was actually about a bunch of murders, instead of a look at the effects of greed and materialism on the human psyche.

The second sin here is the casting of Mila Kunis as the killer. She's cute enough in a very limited role on That '70s Show and (in an even more limited role) on Family Guy but as an actress who's actually expected to express emotion and convincingly play a character, she's utterly dreadful. We're talking worse than the crappiest of the crappy Full Moon actresses. So, given an actress who can't deliver a single line, why not have her character offer voice-over narration throughout? The screenplay blows (more on this below), but Kunis could make David Mamet dialogue sound like it was written by Uwe Boll.

And if Kunis weren't bad enough, we come to the third fatal flaw in this film: William Shatner. Look, I'm all about the ironic Shatner love. Free Enterprise is one of my favorite movies, and his unique blend of bad and Shakespearean acting can work wonderfully in the proper circumstances. But playing an FBI profiler and criminology professor just isn't one of them. We're supposed to believe that his character has depth and intelligence. Shatner might be deep and intelligent, but he can't convey either one very well, and he looks like he doesn't know what he's supposed to do with his role here.

And those are just the big flaws. The screenplay, even after accounting for the sins against the first movie, still blows. Screenwriters Alex Sanger and Karen Craig made their debut with this stinker, and between them, they've only gotten one more bomb made (the direct-to-TV Kristy Swanson vehicle Forbidden Secrets, written by Craig). Nice as it is to give first-time screenwriters a chance, it's even nicer to give good screenwriters (regardless of experience) a chance. When the best line of dialogue comes while murdering someone with a condom*****, there's not much there. They get some mild points for the core concept of Rachel's character (that she's a sociopath who will kill her way to the top and then help capture other sociopaths), but the end result isn't exactly Dexter.

I can only assume that director Morgan J. Freeman scored this gig because some studio exec assumed he was the Oscar-winning actor. I can only imagine how disappointed they were to realize their mistake. In fairness, Freeman avoids the sloppy cutting and editing so prevalent amongst direct-to-video horror releases, but he fails to coax anything from his cast, and if there's nothing terrible in most of his direction, there's nothing inspired here, either.

There are a few small bright spots in the cast, notably Geraint Wyn-Davies as the psychiatrist. He actually puts some serious effort into his acting here, but manages to not give in to his tendency to chew scenery (see Cube 2). And Lindy Booth, always a solid genre performer, has some nice moments as Rachel's friend/competitor before getting killed off. But they can't do much to save this stinker. American Psycho 2: All-American Girl is a waste of time, and as bad a sequel as you're going to find anywhere.

*It helps that Bret Easton Ellis, as overrated a writer as you'll find, didn't craft the screenplay.

**Yes, season 3 of Veronica Mars is just a rip-off of American Psycho 2.

***Note: Trojan brand condoms are not rated for strangulation, and might burst during use. Using a condom to strangle someone will not prevent the spread of HIV or sexually transmitted diseases.

****No, she isn't seeing a shrink because she realizes that she's nuts. She's seeing a shrink because the shrink is the best friend of the profiling professor. It's like a screwball comedy's plotline got mixed up with the slasher movie's screenplay.

*****"Ribbed for her pleasure."
yendi: (Jason)
Ghoulies. 1985. Directed by Luca Bercovici. Written by Luca Bercovici and Jeffrey Levy. Distributed by Empire Pictures.

I admit it: For years, all I knew about Ghoulies was that it looked like a cheap Gremlins rip-off, and that it featured the fakest looking monster ever coming out of a toilet. The tagline read, "they'll get you in the end," which was a nice touch. I didn't get around to seeing Ghoulies until the early '90s, and imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was actually a craptastic demon/possession movie that had shoehorned in the titular monsters as a way to leech some of the success of Gremlins.

We start with Michael Des Barres performing a Satanic ritual. Immediately afterwards, Robert Palmer leaves Power Station and Des Barres is given the lead singer gig. Wait. It's not a documentary. Turns out this is just a standard "give me power" ritual, and through a series of miscommunications, his infant son doesn't get sacrificed, but his wife does. And as a nasty-looking creature bursts out of her chest and the assorted Satanic worshippers react in horror and/or delight*, the little baby gets taken away to grow up and lead a normal life.

Until, twenty-five years later, he inherits the house from his now-dead dad. His name's Jonathan, btw, and his girlfriend, Rebecca, comes along with him. We get the usual stuff as they explore the house, meeting the creepy-looking caretaker named Wolfgang, finding the grave of Jonathan's late father Malcolm*, and finding old papers outlining Satanic rituals.

Jonathan, intrigued by his dad's hobby, quickly takes it up himself, and we get some scenes of him looking through the papers, with Rebecca seeming oblivious.

Eventually, they decide to throw a party. Because you can't have an '80s movie without a party, and you can't have an '80s movie party without stereotypes. The guys are typical horndogs and the girls are typical bimbos, and, since the movie is PG-13, it's an entirely uninteresting party to watch. But it does extend the movie, which is really all that matters from the director's perspective.

But then we get the after-party, when a handful of folks (including Mariska Hargitay in the role that made her famous***) agree to help Jonathan perform a seance. Like every seance ever performed in a movie, nothing seems to have happened at first, but all of a sudden, a short puppet creature materializes! Yay, it's our first Ghoulie! Not that it does anything, but hey, at least something's happened.

Anyway, Jonathan decides that he wants to quit school to become a full-time Ghoulie Summoner, although he tells Rebecca it's to "work on the house." That work includes things like indoor lightning-bolt spells, summoning up rainstorms, and talking like he's possessed by the spirit of his not-completely-dead dad. This last one results in his acting weird, wearing ugly robes, and creeping out Rebecca.

Eventually, Jonathan summons up a horde of Ghoulies (none of whom attack anyone yet; they just pretty much hang around all day doing nothing and giggling maniacally), and Rebecca finally grows a spine and chews Jonathan out. He begs her to stay and promises that he'll stop with the magic, and that he'd just been curious about his father's work. She buys it****, and Jonathan goes right back to his magic-summoning ways. In fact, he goes out and summons two midgets! With skullcaps! Named Grizzel and Greedigut! Seriously -- if you don't believe me, check out the imdb.

The midgets are there to do Jonathan's bidding, and they ask him what he wants. Naturally, he asks for world peace power, and they tell him that the only way he can gain power is by holding another seance. So he brings back his friends, who are either doing enough drugs******, bewitched, or just plain stupid enough to agree to the ritual even though there are strange and otherworldly creatures sitting right there.

The ritual involves levitation, sunglasses, glowing eyes, and about thirty seconds of concerted screaming by everyone. In the middle of it, we see Malcolm emerge from his grave! And he's screaming along with the ritual too! Oh, hell, I can't even begin to describe how fucked-up this one is. Just go watch the clip and see for yourself.

Anyway, now that Malcolm is back, Jonathan is 100% less possessed than he'd been earlier. Turns out the entire movie was all about Malcolm using his son to bring himself back from the grave. Now that he's alive (or undead), Malcolm takes control of all the Ghoulies (including Grizzel and Greedigut) and has them murder all of Jonathan's houseguests. Even Rebecca. The murders are bunched together and boring in a PG-13 sort of way. We do get a disturbing scene in which an attractive female seduces one himbo, only to snake out her tongue and strangle him******* even as she turns back into Malcolm.

Naturally, the movie ends with a father-son showdown. And Malcolm, of course, is much stronger than Jonathan, and ready to send his son off to Satan, when, out of nowhere, the caretaker arrives to save the day!

Really.

Yes, the creepy caretaker isn't a minion of Malcolm. Nope. He's a great and powerful sorcerer who did absolutely bugfuck nothing to stop any of the horrible shit that's already gone down, even though he's been here the entire time. But now he'll save the day! The caretaker and Malcolm lock up in a Staring Contest of Doom, with lightning bolts shooting between their eyes. Eventually, they both blow up, because that's happens when sorcerers get into staring contests********. And, as would befit any deus ex machina ending, all of Malcolm's friends come back to life! Jonathan promises to never practice black magic again, and they all drive off happily ever after (with no complaints from anyone about Jonathan having kinda gotten them killed). But wait! There are Ghoulies stowed away in the back of Jonathan's car! Aaagh! And fade to credits.

God, does Ghoulies suck. Even ignoring the false advertising and implication that the Ghoulies themselves would be relevant to the plot (when anyone can tell just how clearly they were jammed into an existing screenplay), we've got a terrible and unoriginal possession plotline (see Corman's The Haunted Palace for one obvious source) and almost no good dialogue. The lead cast consists mostly of unknowns, with the exceptions being Des Barres and the late Jack Nance (as the caretaker). Other than Nance, there's not much talent here.

Empire Pictures -- the predecessor to Full Moon that was also run by Charles Band -- released a number of good films in the '80s, including Re-Animator, Trancers, and Dungeonmaster (okay, the last isn't good, but it's fun). Ghoulies, alas, is a bad screenplay mixed with a cynical attempt to ride Joe Dante's coattails, and the fact that it inspired three sequels (all of which, admittedly, are better than the original) is sad. Unless you're desperate for something to MST3K, avoid this one.


*It's not that some of them are just High Unholy Days Satanists who never expected anything bad to happen; it's that they're all bad actors.

**Rebecca: "It looks like some sort of grave." Truly the mistress of the obvious. I'm assuming there's also a scene on the editing room floor with her at the entrance to the house, going, "it looks like some sort of doorway."

***Well, I suppose some folks would argue in favor of Law and Order: SVU. As if an Emmy award means anything these days

****If this were a better movie, I'd note the potential for subtext here, with Jonathan's magical rituals being symbolic of abusing Rebecca. But it's not a better movie. Not at all. Forget secondary meaning and subtext; Ghoulies barely has a grasp of basic storytelling*****.

*****Also, in fairness, Jonathan eventually just casts magic spells on Rebecca to keep her from arguing with him, so her qualms about magic are pretty much pointless in the next few scenes.

******This is during the '80s, remember?

*******To its credit, this movie predates A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors by a couple of years.

********Don't ask what happens when they play Rock-Paper-Scissors.
yendi: (Freddy)
Chopping Mall. 1986. Directed by Jim Wynorski. Written by Wynorski and Steve Mitchell. Distributed by Lion's Gate.

A while back, I reviewed The Thing Below, and rightly called that travesty one of the worst movies ever made. Director Jim Wynorski has been around for a while, however, and one of his earliest efforts, Chopping Mall, is a modern classic. Which isn't to say it's good. But Chopping Mall is A) very '80s in every way imaginable*, and B) short. False advertising warning: It features absolutely no chopping, although it is, indeed, set in a mall.

The plot: Folks at the Park Plaza Mall (a shopping center very likely located somewhere in Canada), have decided to replace their $5-an-hour rent-a-cops with robots. This makes perfect sense in a world in which robots are available from grocery store vending machines. Which, given the quality of the security bots, is likely where they were acquired. See, they're big, they're dumb, and they're very susceptible to electricity. That said, they're actually military surplus, but they're completely safe, according the mall's management. The robots are managed by a pair of generic computer science nerds (who also, presumably, are paid more than $5 an hour). The 'bots are set to patrol the mall after closing, when the mall's automatic doors also lock anyone who has snuck in inside the mall with the security-bots. This mall exists in one of those special cities that appears to not have a fire code.

Meanwhile, a bunch of teen and slightly-post-teen employees are planning a party at the mall. There are four couples. Three of them are the typical teen party couples, there to get drunk and have sex. The fourth consists of one of the clerks at the furniture store (because the teens need a good place to hook up) and his less-than-willing live date. Since they're just going to party in the store (and they have mall employee ID cards), they figure they don't have to worry about the 'bots, and after all, the robots aren't lethal, so what could go wrong? So they just party until the morning.

Or not. The movie is short, but it's not that short**.

Sure enough, a convenient lightning strike hits the mall, frying the computer system and causing the robots to turn into their proper psychotic selves. They quickly identify the two computer nerds as enemies, and dispatch them and the mall's janitor. Once two of the teens leave to grab some snacks, the robots spot them, and kill them. Naturally, it spots the intruders inside the store, and the chase is on. Over the course of the next twenty minute or so, the three security bots chase down the eight teens, with casualties on both sides, until the two survivors (amazingly enough, the nerdy guy and his date) finally make it out alive, victorious over the evil robots.

What makes this movie actually watchable? It's certainly not the robot effects (imagine Short Circuit's Number 5, only without the charm or realism), the plot (a blatant rip-off of the 1973 James Brolin vehicle Trapped), or the directing (remember, this is Wynorski before he perfected his skills in later works like The Thing Below). But there's a lot that's worthwhile here:

1. Barbara Crampton. Topless, even. Yes, we get Re-Animator and daytime soap starlet Crampton! And if she's not an Oscar-winning actress, she's more than good enough to hold her own in a film like this.

2. Keli Maroney. Y'all have seen Night of the Comet, right?

3. Dick Miller. Because every '80s genre movie needs a cameo by him.

4. An exploding head! As Scanners has shown us, exploding heads make everything better! And we get a surprisingly good one here, as the first female victim gets her head blown up real good. As far as I can tell, the entire f/x budget for the movie was spent on this one scene***.

5. The sweet scenes with Allison and Ferdy falling in love as they watch old genre movies. Yay, nerd romance!

6. The utter cheese factor of the robots. It's not just that they make the robots of Short Circuit and Robocop look amazing. They make the robots from The Black Hole and Lost in Space seem like high-tech automatons. Also, after killing folks, they say, "Thank you. Have a nice day." Polite killer robots are always a good thing.

7. The fat guy in the restaurant. "More butter, please." Actually, the entire greasy spoon diner, complete with posters for movies like Slumber Party Massacre, might have been the best setting in the movie.

8. The robots, again. Because I forgot to mention that they can go up escalators.

9. The Day the Earth Stood Still references. If you can't make a good movie, at least make references to a good movie.

10. Cameos by the characters from Eating Raoul. Why? Who cares? It's just bizarre enough to be amusing.

Part of the reason that I enjoy this movie (bad as it is) is that it takes a largely sci-fi concept and re-casts it in a slasher framework. The robots even give us an old-fashioned throat-slashing as they pick off the kids. Like any good cheese-fest****, it doesn't take itself seriously, and if it's not exactly a brilliant comedy as a result, at least it's enjoyable enough, and ends after 77 minutes, with no pointless padding. Chopping Mall is far from a work of genius, but it's a good way to kill an hour late at night.

*In fact, the crappy '80s effects are way better than the f/x from The Thing Below.

**Yes, I've recycled this joke, too. Last time. I promise.

***Which wouldn't be a bad thing, except, y'know, it's a movie about robots.

****This was produced by Roger Corman.
yendi: (Jason)
(Note: This is last Friday's review, which is late entirely because I'm a fuck-up. Today's review will be posted this evening)

Twitch of the Death Nerve (aka Bay of Blood). 1971.Directed by Mario Bava. Written by Bava and Felippo Ottoni. Released by Hallmark Releasing Corp in the US.

Since I've already reviewed all the existing Friday the 13th movies, let's spend this special day looking at the movie that was so much of an influence on the first two Friday the 13th movies*. I first saw this movie in the video store under the name Bay of Blood, but I much prefer Twitch of the Death Nerve as a movie name.

For those who aren't familiar with Giallo, a very quick oversimplification: Giallo** is an Italian film genre that began as a variation on Noir, but which very quickly shifted into an extremely gory take on the thriller. Although the modern slasher traces its origins partially to this genre, the "whodunit" overtones of Giallo, as well as the borderline fetishization of some of the murder sequences and the attention paid to color and music, tend to be unique to the Italian genre. The late Mario Bava was one of the masters of Giallo (as well as a few other horror subgenres), and if Twitch of the Death Nerve is far from his masterpiece, it's still an essential film for horror fans on either side of the Atlantic.

That said, plot is the least important element here.

What little plot we get takes place near the beginning, as we see Isa Miranda in a wheelchair! Yes, one of the great Italian actresses of all time appears for just long enough to wander through her house and get hanged! We cut back to see the murderer, who's just some guy, only for someone else to slit his throat! Yes, it's that sort of film, folks.

In fact, the next hour is basically one long kill-fest. See, there's a whole bunch of heirs fighting over the land that Isa left (the titular Bay of Blood), and a few horny teenagers heading out there for a swim. And someone is killing them all off. And, well, that's it. As Giallos go, this isn't exactly Tenebre. In fact, what we pretty much have here is the emergence of the slasher from the Giallo.

And that emergence is pretty damned literal. Consider these two sequences:

In Twitch of the Death Nerve, one teenager, vaguely aware that something is amiss (his girlfriend has just been killed, but he still thinks she's off swimming), opens the door to his cabin, only to receive a machete in the face. The murderer then makes his way into the cabin, where a pair of teens are having sex on the bed. He makes his way up to them and impales them on a spear, shifting their throes of passion to death throes.

In Friday the 13th, Part 2, a teenager, vaguely aware that something's wrong (he's heard some odd noises), opens the door to his cabin, only to receive a machete in the face. The killer then makes his way into the cabin, where a pair of teens are having sex on the bed. He makes his way up to them and impales them on a spear, shifting their throes of passion to death throes.

In fairness, the sequence in Friday the 13th Part 2 is more stylized (the machete-faced teen, Mark, is wheelchair-bound, and when he dies, his chair goes rolling down a long set of outdoor stairs). But there's no doubt that the entire sequence (including the most famous kill in the early Friday the 13th movies) was lifted from Bava's earlier film.

We do get some actual plot along the way, as one possibly motive for the killings is the opposition to unfettered land development shown by a few of the characters. Others, however, are clearly all about the greed, and the money involved really is enough motive to make anyone (other than the dead folks) a possible suspect. Between new heirs popping up, backstabbings and double-crosses, and an apparent complete lack of law enforcement anywhere near the Bay, no one ever has any reason to believe that they're safe.

Most of the rest of the herd gets thinned with the usual set of stabbings and choppings (a phony fortune teller gets her head chopped off in one of the more graphic -- if not realistic -- sequences), with some mild "since you're alive, you must be the killer" paranoia influencing the few survivors. In this case, it's not necessarily paranoia, as almost everyone was planning the death of at least one of the other characters. The twist ending here is that the two survivors, knowing that any and all rival claims to the inheritance have been eliminated, come home and die when their young children shoot them with a shotgun. Ah, irony.

Twitch of the Death Nerve might not be a great film, but it's the inspiration for the entire body count/slasher subgenre. We get gory kill after gory kill, and if the gore itself is rather lame (Tom Savini could do better blood than this with one hand tied behind his back, and I've never seen a faker looking decapitation sequence), it's a lot more graphic than most '70s movies offered.

It's hard to judge the acting, in light of the clearly-poor dubbing we're subjected to, but overacting, confusion, and lack of training translate well enough. It's hard to imagine that anyone here, other than Isa Miranda, had anything of a significant film career. Bava's direction, though, is superb, as we get groundbreaking (at the time) P.O.V. shots (only partially swiped from Peeping Tom), misdirection (swiped from Hitchcock, but given Bava's own unique twist), and some great outdoor imagery.

The slasher genre would go on to lose the complexity of the plotline (even the ones that attempt to provide motives and backstory don't go for anything as complicated as the multi-layered land-grab/inheritance plotline we get here), and also reduce the number of killers. But, along with Psycho and Halloween, pretty much every slasher made in the '80s can trace it roots to Twitch of the Death Nerve***, and any fan of slashers owes it to themselves to see this at least once.

*By which I mean, the first two movies pretty much ripped off every stylish murder.

**Which comes from the Italian for "yellow," (the color of typical pulp paperbacks in Italy), not "Jello."

***At some point, I want to make a horror movie called Twitch of the Dead Nerd. Just because.
yendi: (Freddy)
Jack Frost. 1996. Written and directed by Michael Cooney. Released by Allumination.

[Warning: This review is one of the few this year featuring a film with a significant rape scene.]

One of my great plans, if I ever find myself with a near-infinite amount of money, is to place the DVD of 1996's Jack Frost inside every case currently containing the 1998 Michael Keaton film of the same name. Both Jack Frosts are about people who come back as snowmen; otherwise, they have little in common. But the 1996 version is far and away the superior film*. It has everything you could want out of a movie, from bad puns to the worst recipe for oatmeal ever invented.

See, there's this really nasty serial killer named -- wait for it -- Jack Frost. Really. And he's being transported in the usual secure van that prisoners in movies always escape from. Sure enough, he kills the guard and is on his way to freedom when the van crashes into a truck. A truck filled with evil chemicals! And they melt him away. Yay! The world's saved!

Oh, wait. It's not. Because this isn't a ten-minute film.

Instead, Jack becomes a walking, talking, and murdering snowman! Who'd have thunk it? Just imagine if his name had been Johnny Fire; would he have become a giant ball of flame when he hit the chemicals? And if he was named Andy Raggedy, would have have become a floppy killer doll?

Anyway, by an amazing coincidence, Jack has ended up in the quiet little mountain town of Snowmonton. Snowmonton just happens to be the "snowman capital of the world," which is pretty damned sad, especially given the generic quality of the snowmen we see. You'd think that whatever city Calvin and his tiger Hobbes live in would be the capital.

But not only does Jack end up in a town where there are dozens of other snowmen**, but Sam, the sheriff who'd originally caught him, also happens to live here. What a perfect place to end up!

We spend a few minutes meeting Sam, his wife and son, and a few assorted townsfolk. There's the usual bumbling deputy, a horny teenager, and a bunch of folks planning on competing in the snowman-building contest, which appears to be the only thing to do in this town.We also learn that an old man was found dead last night with his neck broken. Yep, we've got a mutant killer snowman on the loose.

Instead of just hunting down and killing the sheriff and his family, Jack decides to take things slowly and stake out his potential victims. He has the ability to turn into snow and move through snow drifts, which helps him get around. He also has other powers, which we'll get into later.

Sam's wife and daughter come home to find a generic faceless snowman in their front yard. Naturally, they assume that someone started to build it for them and got bored***, so the kid gets a carrot from the house and finishes building Jack. As he's enjoying his creative success, the local bully comes up and starts bossing him around. Yes, the bully is harassing the sheriff's son in his own back yard! Billy the Bully cuts off Jack's head and taunts the kid, telling him to get out of the way so he and his friends can go sledding. But Jack gets revenge, knocking Billy down just as a member of Billy's gang is sledding by. Thanks to the world's sharpest sled, Billy gets decapitated.

Naturally, only Ryan, the son of the sheriff, saw what happened, and no one believes him. In fact, they all think that he's the one who knocked Billy down. Billy's dad yells at the sheriff a bit, and the coroner comes by and carries Billy away in two bags (including a tiny one for his head).

That night, Billy's dad also yells at Billy's slutty sister, played by Shannon Elizabeth. She stalks out, and when Dad pops out for a smoke, he gets surprised by Jack, who asks him for a smoke. While Dad tries to figure out who's playing a practical joke on him, that innocuous snowman grabs Dad's axe**** and shoves the axe handle down his throat. He tosses off a quick pun -- "I axed you for a cigarette" -- before moving on.

For some reason, Jack has decided to stalk the rest of Billy's family, instead of the guy he's actually pissed at. Mom's next. Jack uses his amazing melting powers -- an amazing f/x show accomplished by showing a puddle of water on the floor -- and then reforms behind the older woman. Before she can realize what's happening, he chokes her with some Christmas lights, shoves (and breaks) a glass ornament in her mouth, beats her face into a box of ornaments, and then wraps her up into the Christmas tree.

The police have no leads, other than spotting a puddle of water left at the scene. But we now meet Agent Manners and Agent Stone, FBI folks offering their assistance, who clearly know something about what's going on. The stupid deputy also meets his maker, or at least his killer, as he finds the road blocked by a snowman. When he gets out to knock it out of the way, he finds that the snowman is gone, and before he can react, the snowman has reformed in the car. Yes, Jack Frost can drive!

Later, just to prove that everyone handles grief differently, Billy's sister has decided that she needs some nice romantic nookie. So she and the town horndog head over to the sheriff's house because, well, um, it's a great place to get killed, I guess. Sis heads up to the bathroom to dry her hair. Um. Yeah. Because it's a great way to not hear any sounds of people being killed downstairs. Speaking of which, Jack finally pays a visit to the house of his nemesis, and ends up confronting the horndog instead. The kid tries to fight the snowman by stabbing it, but that technique, amazingly enough, completely fails. Jack shows us yet another new power -- icicle launching! He shoots one icicle to pin the kid to the wall, and another to spike him in the forehead.

And now, Shannon Elizabeth does her thing and takes off her clothes. Yes, now that her hair is dry, she takes a bath. Sure.

And now, we get the companion piece to Sam Raimi's infamous tree-rape scene from Evil Dead. Yes, we get snowman-rape. Unlike Evil Dead, this isn't a movie about scaring the hell out of you, either. This is a comedy. That said, FWIW, there's nothing explicitly graphic here, and most of what happens is implied, not shown*****. I could snark at the idea of a snowman being fully functional (programmed in multiple techniques) or note the lack of taste involved in making such a scene, but in the end, the very fact that there's a snowman rape scene pretty much says everything by itself.

Now that Billy's entire family is dead, Jack can get back to his original mission: tracking down the guy who captured him years ago. When Jack confronts Sam, the Sheriff realizes that this is the same guy he captured, and that Manners and Stone are somehow involved in whatever mad experiment caused Jack to mutate. But he doesn't have time to worry about this, as Jack's attacking Sam and his remaining deputies at the police station. They melt him with a hairdryer, and then burn the police station down with flaming aerosol cans.

Alas, Jack reforms****** and comes after Sam and the other folks hiding in the town church. But they greet him armed with a fleet of hairdryers! I have no idea where the hell they got the extension cords for all of them, but they manage. And they force him into the furnace room, where Jack melts away to nothing. And thus, the evil is defeated.

Except, you know, not. Because even a universe in which a man can become a mutant killer snowman capable of shooting icicles, driving cars, and having sex, the laws of physics still apply. Well, some of them. At least, all the ones that deal with steam and condensation. As everyone but the FBI agents scatters, Jack once again re-forms, and attacks Agent Manners, biting and slashing his face. We cut to the outside, where Sam sees Agent Stone stumble out of the church, gagging, and eventually spitting out a stream of snow that forms into Jack.

Jack confronts Sam and his son, and, with no other choice left, Sam throws his oatmeal at the snowman. And it hurts him!

Wait, what?

See, the thing is, Sam's son Ryan prepared the oatmeal. And being the sort of kid who is both well-intentioned and really fucking stupid, he put antifreeze in the oatmeal. Because he wanted his dad to stay warm.

Seriously.

In other words, Jack Frost probably saved Sam's life, because otherwise, he'd have been poisoned by his idiot son.

Anyway, Jack's hurt, but he's not out. So Sam has his buddy gather all the antifreeze he can find while he distracts Jack. Eventually, Sam gets stabbed by Jack on the second floor of the town whorehouse, but his buddy has pulled a pickup truck in whose bed dozens of gallons of antifreeze have been poured. Sam grabs Jack and leaps out the window, melting the snowman into nothingness. When the severed arm of Jack attacks Ryan, Sam throws his kid into the antifreeze as well. Both Sam and Ryan are just fine after their antifreeze baths, in case anyone was curious.

Jack Frost is a terrible movie, with weak acting, awful effects, and a plot that manages to be complicated and stupid at the same time. But it's still, somehow, a fun late-night film. Part of that is because of the constant one-liners and gimmicky murders, but a good part of it is the simply "so bad it's good" nature of the movie. Writer-director Michael Cooney has shown remarkable improvement over the years, with this film's sequel and Identity (which he wrote) both showing a much better sense of pacing and character, but even his early work is a lot of fun and a solid guilty pleasure.

*I've already reviewed the sequel, in case the concept sounds familiar.

**Although none of the other snowmen can walk around and kill people.

***In fairness, this is a better assumption than the idea that a vengeful mutant killer snowman is stalking them. I mean, I love to criticize stupid moves in horror movies, but if you spend your entire life looking over your shoulder for a mutant killer snowman, you're not going to have too much fun.

****Which he used for firewood. It's not completely random.

*****In fact, it was only after I realized that the carrot nose had drifted towards another part of Jack's body that I was sure it wasn't just the snowman crushing her to death.

******Throwing off his best line as he does so. With his head attached to where his arm should be, he shouts, "Look, I'm a Picasso."
yendi: (Michael 2)
Dead Mary. 2007. Directed by Robert Wilson. Written by Peter Sheldrick and Christopher Warre Smets. Released by235 Films.


You'd think that people would have learned by now not to go to remote cabins in the woods. Hell, not to go into the woods at all. Or anywhere else that isn't an urban center. It doesn't matter if we're talking Cabin Fever, The Blair Witch Project, The Hills Have Eyes, or even Deliverance. If the place doesn't have cell phone reception, late-night sushi bars, and at least one major sports team, it's not fit for mankind.

Even if they're dumb enough to go into the woods, most folks surely know better than to play some "silly" game that promises to summon up a malevolent spirit, right?

Unfortunately, horror movies have a bad habit of being populated by characters who don't know that they're in a horror movie, and by the time they realize what's going on, it's too late to worry about such basic mistakes. And Dead Mary, today's movie, does a nice job of taking two horror cliches and squeezing some surprisingly original moments out of them.

We start with Dominique Swain in a car, sitting by the side of a country road. We get about three minutes of her looking in the glove compartment, sitting with her feet out the car window, and just looking bored. Now, I certainly can stare at Dominique Swain for three minutes at a time (and have, in fact, done so), but this is a sure sign that this is going to be a slow-paced movie. Eventually, a guy approaches, and we learn that Kim (Swain's character) and this guy -- her now-ex-boyfriend Matt -- have broken up, but that they're still headed to a remote cabin to spend time with their old college friends. They'd run out of gas en route, and he'd hiked to a deserted gas station to fuel up.

Over the next half-hour, we meet the entire gang, and there's surprisingly little horror. And by "little horror," I actually mean "no horror at all." This would be great if the movie were giving us a bunch of well-developed, interesting characters with fascinating backstories. Alas, these are seven generic late-twentysomething folks, still drinking and smoking pot, hooking up and breaking up, and fighting and backstabbing*. The married couple is having issues; The beatnik-looking guy has a young (barely out of college) girlfriend who doesn't get along with the other girls; the eighth friend, Tom, never shows up; otherwise, nothing much happens other than lots of drinking and whining.

But once the angst and tension have gotten too thick, they decide to play a game called "Dead Mary," which, amazingly enough, is exactly like "Bloody Mary," only with a different name. Because there were two movies named Bloody Mary last year, and the third Urban Legends movie also bore that subtitle. So by naming the game (and the movie) "Dead Mary," they're being original**.

Anyway, Mary is an evil spirit who will "breathe death into you," if you say her name while looking into the mirror while alone in the bathroom at night. Bet you didn't see that coming, right? Turns out that in this case, that means that "summoning" her actually causes her to possess one of the folks randomly and turn them into a killer (thus cribbing from Night of the Demons and, more recently, The Hazing). Needless to say, the friends will soon learn this the hard way.

Sure enough, later that night, Matt wakes up and hears a noise. Naturally, he grabs a golf club as a weapon and heads outside and into the woods to investigate***. After the usual false scares (this is another scene that just drags out), he eventually runs into a brunette, but we can't tell which of the two brunettes it is. He says,"hi," and we fade out of the scene.

Only to fade back in to one of the brunettes, a girl named Lily who is the newest member of the group (by virtue of having just started dating one of the guys), running into the cabin in hysterics. Eventually, it comes out that she was outside, and saw Eve (the other brunette) and Matt together in the woods, and then she saw Eve kill Matt. Everyone is skeptical, but they investigate, and sure enough, Matt's dead and mutilated in the woods. And while the rest of the gang is deciding what to do, Kim screams in terror, claiming that Matt grabbed her! Wait, could this somehow turn into a zombie flick?

Why yes, it most certainly can!

Well, not really. Matt grabs the leg of one of his buddies (for one of the few jump scares in the film), then sits up. But he's of the Deadite persuasion of undead creature, able to hold full conversations and retain full memories of his life, and naturally, he starts taunting his friends, revealing dark secrets about them (one slept with the other's wife!), and making vague threats about how bad things are going to get. Eventually, Kim has had enough, and she whales on him with a shovel. Kim and Eve decide that Lily is responsible, and chase her down, while the two remaining guys fight each other based on their dead friend's accusations. Before we get any resolution to the chaos, we fade to black, then to the sunrise.

The next day, the cars are dead, Lily is tied up and gagged in the closet****, and the rest of them decide to burn Matt's body. They follow this up with some good, classic horror movie paranoia, debating what to do, who to blame, and whether any of them could also be walking corpses (after all, lesser injuries might not be visible). They angst and debate for a while, and question each other about how long they were alone in the bathroom during the Dead Mary game. Finally, the cameraman gets bored and fades to black, coming back at sunset to show them still moping about the cabin, too paranoid to go out into the woods, too paranoid to be alone.

They finally start manufacturing some weapons, and Eve and one of the guys, Dash, head outside to the woodshed looking for weapons. When Eve follows Dash inside (even though they've agreed to stay apart), and then grabs a small rake, we know that Lily was telling the truth, and Eve's really the killer*****! Dash isn't a complete moron, though, and he whacks Eve a shovel as she attacks him. Alas, Eve is already dead, so it doesn't do much good, especially when she grows fangs and bites poor Dash to death.

Of course, no one else sees this, so when Eve runs screaming for "help," after stabbing herself in the side with the rake, no one has any reason to believe that Dash wasn't really the killer. To prevent Dash's wife from going into hysterics, they don't go back to the house to tell her what happened. They tie Dash up, and we then get a fucking brilliant scene in which the remaining guy, Baker, tries to torture the undead Dash to find out why Dash and the other animated folks are doing this. It's brutal, funny, and perfectly acted. Dash makes threats about the apocalypse, and how even those who survive will be fucked for life, constantly afraid of their dead friends coming after them. Baker finally stalks out.

At this point, Baker notes to Eve and Kim that no one else is around the cabin area. No campers, water skiers, etc. Matt never saw anyone at the gas station when he went to refuel the car, and their friend Tom never made it up there. He thinks that the entire area is in danger, and gets Eve and Kim to go with him, leaving Amber (Dash's widow) to guard Lily, who is still trapped in the closet (just like R. Kelly and Tom Cruise). Lily has gotten out of her gag, though, and she tries to convince Amber that Eve is a threat to Kim and Baker. She convinces Amber (who is sitting in the bedroom guarding the closet door) that Eve must have snuck into her room and changed clothes after killing Matt, and that Amber should check it out as proof.

When Amber leaves, Lily, who has gotten free of her bonds, is able to force her way out of the closet. Alas, as she tries to sneak out, Amber beans her with a shovel! But Amber's not evil, merely misguided, and as she sits there in shock over what she's done, she hears Dash calling for her.

Back in the woods, as Kim leads the way through the rainstorm, she hears a grunt. When she turns around, she sees that Eve is attempting to strangle Baker!

We cut back to the cabin, however, where Amber follows the sound of Dash's voice to the shed. He's still tied up, but his wounds are all healed. He tells Amber that Kim and Baker captured Eve and tied him up, and Amber's all ready to free him when she finally questions why the living dead would just tie him up. As he realizes that she's not buying it, he starts taunting her with news of all the affairs he had while he was still alive. She finally gets some lighter fluid and takes care of her ex-husband once and for all.

We cut to a wounded Baker, running through the woods. He gets to the cabin, where Lily (who was only knocked out by that shovel hit, it turns out), won't let him in. He begs, but when she asks if Eve bit him, he simply says, "good girl," and as he passes away, Lily finally tells him that she loves him. Awww!

Kim finally shows up, although we still don't know if she's living or dead. She buries the shovel in Baker, then asks Lily to let her in, but Lily wisely says no. Kim asks about the fire at the shed, and Lily says that Amber left after setting it. So it's just the two of them. Kim drags Baker's body away, and we fade out until dawn.

As dawn breaks, Eve makes it back to the cabin, coming across Baker's slowly-healing body. As she looks up at Kim, she mentions smelling gas. Kim pulls out the flare gun she'd grabbed from Matt's car earlier and points it at the two undead. Eve asks Kim and Lily what they'll do if they're the only ones left alive in the world, and then taunts Kim by saying that she slept with Matt. As she pulls the trigger, Kim says, "we broke up," and we fade to credits.

Dead Mary is everything Cabin Fever should have been. It's a suspenseful horror movie that treads familiar ground, then manages to surprise the viewer with sudden bursts in new directions. The most obvious inspiration for it isn't any of the recent horror flicks, but Carpenter's The Thing. We only meet seven characters throughout the entire movie, and their sense of paranoia and fear is as much a part of the film as any direct threats posed by the zombies (none of whom, other than Eve, ever end up posing a physical threat to the living). Like the Deadites from the Evil Dead movies (another clear inspiration), the bad guys also accomplish much by their constant taunting of the victims; the secrets they reveal serve to undermine and demoralize them as much as the physical dangers.

I also like the lack of answers we get here. We never do discover if "Dead Mary" has possessed Eve, or if there's some sort of supernatural plague affecting the entire world, or if it's something else entirely. Likewise, we don't know what happens to Amber, or if burning the dead does any good, or what happens to Lily and Kim after the credits roll. Given the lack of cell phone coverage or televisions/internet at the cabin, there's no way the characters would know most of this, and it's perfectly fine not letting the audience find out, either.

The entire cast is solid. Swain is always fun to watch (although she's aging poorly -- I was surprised to find that at 25, she's younger than the character she plays) , but I was surprised at just how good her co-stars -- Marie-Josée Colburn, Steven McCarthy, and Maggie Castle, in particular -- were. There are many theatrical releases with performances half as good than this straight-to-dvd film.

Director Robert Wilson, on only his second feature, does a nice job of avoiding cliches (almost no fake jump-scares at all!) and keeping his cast acting believable. There are a few disjointed moments (the ten-second scene in which Eve attacks Baker), and some slow bits early on, but things pick up nicely. Writers Peter Sheldrick and Christopher Warre Smets provide a solid script that, once it dives into the meat of the horror, is constantly entertaining. If the movie as a whole is derivative of many of the classics, Dead Mary still ends up as a surprisingly fun and intense guilty pleasure. Highly recommended.


*It's like St. Elmo's Fire. Only with more killing. And less John Parr.

**Other movies from the same studio include The Legend of Drowsy Hollow, George the Ripper, and The Night Before All-Saints Day.

***He does not, technically, wear a neon sign saying, "please kill me." But really, even if you don't know you're in a horror movie, you know better than to do this.

****Not in the happy fun way.

*****Not much of a surprise. When one character accuses another, it pretty much narrows the list of suspects down to two.
yendi: (Jason)
Warlock. 1989. Directed by Steve Miner. Written by David Twohy. Released by Trimark (because original studio New World declared bankruptcy before the film could be released).

Nothing scores as many points in a typical game of Buzzword Bingo as "synergy." It's a horribly overused word that's crept into the vocabulary of every pointy-hair in the nation. Which is a shame; it was a damned good word before it got beaten to death by legions of clueless executives and marketers.

Warlock is a perfect example of cinematic synergy. The screenplay is derivative, mixing mediocre dialogue into a plotline that swipes from almost every mid-'80s genre hit, with only some good character work saving it. The cast, featuring scenery-chewing performances by Julian Sands* and Richard E. Grant, actually attempts to put the emotional weight on poor Lori Singer, whose "aging" throughout is not helped by the f/x department. Only solid work from journeyman horror director Steve Miner helps -- wait for it -- synergize this into a surprisingly good little film.

We start in Seventeenth Century Boston, where minions of Satan could be locked in towers without worrying about complaints that their civil rights had been violated. One of them, the Warlock***, is in the tower, calmly awaiting his execution while chained up from head to toe. The local witch hunter, having caught him, decides to taunt him a bit, but Warlock**** has faith that Satan will rescue him, and sure enough, a time vortex comes along and takes him away. Naturally, the witch hunter isn't going to let his quarry escape, and he jumps into the vortex after his prey. In most movies, this would be an act of utter stupidity, but the witch hunter, Giles Redferne*****, is the hero, so he lives.

What happens when you jump through an ancient Satanic portal? You end up in LA, of course! Like anyone didn't see that one coming.

Warlock ends up crashing through the window of a waitress named Kassandra and the appropriately named "Soon-to-be-dead Gay Male Roommate," although Kassandra calls him Chaz. Naturally, they decide to let him rest on the couch, and while Kassandra is away waiting tables, Warlock wakes up, sees that Chaz somehow has an old ring that used to belong to him, and gets revenge by french kissing him to death. Because when Warlocks do tongue action, it involves biting. And then spitting the severed tongue into a skillet.

Warlock next goes to a fake medium******, who decides that Warlock is hot, and therefore worth trying to con. She does her usual shtick, but is surprised to find herself really possessed by one of Satan's minions. Warlock gets his unholy mission: there's an old book called the Grand Grimoire, and it contains the true name of God. And if you read God's name backwards, he gets sent back to the fifth dimension the world will come to an end. Naturally, the book's been broken up into three pieces and scattered around the globe. This means we've got a Warlock Road Trip! Warlock, incidentally, gets to use the severed eyes of the medium to help him find the book pieces.

Meanwhile, Redferne has finally made it to the future, and he confronts Kassandra and asks her about the blood in her house, making a compass out of a small bit of Warlock's blood. Kassandra, however, thinks there's something strange about a guy wearing furs and talking like a Ren Fest reject, so she calls the cops and has him arrested. Alas, Warlock has discovered that the first section of the Grimoire is hidden in Chaz's coffee table, and breaks back into the apartment. Not only does he take the book, but he casts a spell on Kassandra to make her age twenty years each night.

Naturally, Kassandra is perturbed, and she decides that the only thing to do is bail Redferne out of jail and go on a road trip after Warlock.

Most of the rest of the movie is solidly predictable, but well-done. Warlock almost gets everything he needs to end the world, causing lots of mayhem en route. A churchyard confrontation leads to a climactic battle in which Warlock goes to Hell*******. We get lots of jokes involving anachronisms and "fish out of water" moments featuring the folks from the past. We also get some great interactions between Kassandra and Redferne. My favorite of these is when Kassandra (a high-school drop-out) is shocked that someone from 300 years ago (and the New World) knows that the world is actually round. Alas, it's mixed with cliched crap like, "let's tarry not," that make me want to smack someone.

Along the way, there are some good moments (including one in which Redferne encounters his own grave in a Boston cemetery), some genuinely threatening moments (Sands menaces a farm family quite convincingly, and his encounter with a preacher and his wife is a high point), some good use of assorted warlock myths (milk going bad when he's around, etc), and some awful special effects.

There's also something surprising: Character development. Kassandra grows from being a shallow airhead into a true heroine. Of course, stripping her of her youthful good looks (or, at least, putting a few dollops of makeup on her and pretending that she's older) helps, as she's forced to rely on her other talents. But her character rises to the eventual challenges she faces gradually, getting a little bit stronger and tougher with each horror she's forced to encounter. Likewise, Redferne, in his quest, develops a sense of compassion to go with his righteousness, as each of the heroes helps the other one grow. Wisely, although there's clearly sexual tension between the leads, they never follow up on it, allowing the quest to save the world to remain the focus of the film.

Sands may not technically give a good performance here (or anywhere), but his overacting is just perfect for the role of Warlock. He conveys pure, malevolent evil, the kind that would gladly kill a child to make a potion or unmake all of creation. He doesn't grow as a character, but he isn't supposed to. He's just an evil fucker, something that needs to be stopped for the good of mankind.

Screenwriter David Twohy would go on to give us some damned good films (like The Fugitive and Pitch Black), and some utter crap (Waterworld, G.I. Jane). His work here is solidly in the middle, with swipes from Terminator, Highlander, and even Midnight Run overshadowing what little story there is here. And he certainly doesn't yet have an ear for dialogue. But his characters are well fleshed-out, and he avoids some common cliches quite nicely.

Director Steve Miner is the real hero here, however, taking that screenplay and turning it into a surprisingly exciting and consistently engaging movie. Although I've liked most of his movies (not counting any movies featuring C. Thomas Howell pretending to be black), he does a lot more here with a lot less. Lori Singer does give one of her better performances as Kassandra, and Richard E. Grant, although guilty of overacting all too often, has good chemistry with her. Jerry Goldsmith's score is forgettable, but it seldom gets in the way of the movie. Likewise, the F/X are pretty terrible, but are rarely so central to the movie that this is a huge problem.

Warlock inspired two sequels, which I might snark at later in this series (the immediate sequel is mediocre, but the third film is surprisingly watchable). But on its own, the first movie is a damned fun guilty pleasure, and one that's aged better than most '80s supernatural movies.


*Warlock, incidentally, was made shortly after Room With a View, when there was some sort of rumor that Sands would go on to become a quality A-list actor (even though he'd already made Vibes by this point), instead of the genre mediocrity he became**.

**And yes, I know that a lot of you really like Sands. But he's the male equivalent of Brinke Stevens. Get past the looks (and the British accent, which need not equal "classy" or "talented,"), and he's there because he looks real pretty.

***Not to be confused with Magus's son.

****Honestly, I'm not totally sure if it's a name or a title. Or both. Maybe his name is Warlock Warlock. Or Warlock the Warlock. Or Warlock Warlock the Warlock.

*****Thankfully, we never see where the Redferne grows. It's not that kind of movie.

******Yeah, I know. But this is a movie with warlocks and stuff, so it's not as redundant as it seems.

*******Not Los Angeles again.
yendi: (Freddy)
Bad Taste. 1989. Written and directed by Peter Jackson. Distributed on DVD by Anchor Bay.

This will be a short one. Some movies just don't need super-long reviews.

Last week, I reviewed Killer Klowns From Outer Space, one of the most accurately titled films ever. Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson's debut film, Bad Taste, most definitely belongs in the same pile . It's easily the best alien-invasion movie set in New Zealand made by Jackson. Ever.

The plot? Heh. Let's not overuse the film school words here. What we have here is an alien gross-out clusterfuck. A bunch of aliens, led by "Lord Crumb," have invaded and destroyed a small New Zealand town. They plan to ship humans to an interstellar fast-food chain. The four members of the Astro-Investigation and Defense Service* fight to defeat the aliens and take back the town. People and aliens die. There's gore. Lots of it. The good guys win. Yay, Earth!

Bad Taste isn't about story. Or plot. Or even characters (unless you like 'em painted in very broad strokes). It's about gross-outs and death.

In fact, there are really only two things most people remember about this movie, and rightly so:

1. Derek and his leaky brains. One of the psychopathic members of AIDS, after a few moments of torturing an alien**, ends up falling over a cliff. His skull fractures, but he somehow survives, with bits of his brain falling out. His brain continues to leak throughout the entire film, and he continues to shove his brains back into his skull (when he notices).

2. The vomit-drinking scene. In all the movies I've seen, there are no scenes I have more trouble watching. I can handle the ear-in-the-porridge in Dead Alive. I can take the woodchipper in Fargo. I'm just fine with the ear-cutting in Resevoir Dogs, the crotch-ripping in Sin City, and the splinter going into the eye in Zombi. Hell, I can even handle watching John Travolta pretending to be straight in film after film. But this scene makes me turn away.

The idea? The aliens have a ritual involving puking into a bowl***. Then they drink from it. One of our heroes, pretending to be an alien, has to drink the vomit to avoid being detected. And he does so (and even likes it). It doesn't matter how obviously fake it is; it's still unbelievably gross. I cannot eat before watching this scene. Just unbelievable.

The rest of the movie is more of the same. Aliens get shot, stabbed, chainsawed, and otherwise mutilated. A severed head gets kicked out a window. Another alien gets shot and drips blood into the glass he's holding. A errant bazooka shot blows up a sheep. All the fun stuff you should expect from the man who brought us Lord of the Rings.

Bad Taste isn't good. It's not even as lovingly bad as Killer Klowns From Outer Space. It's a gorefest with some slapstick humor. Jackson, as writer and director, comes up with some good dialogue and sight gags, but he's not even aiming for the sort of plot coherence that later films like Meet the Feebles would show. Bad Taste is a great film for gorehounds and for Jackson completists, but it's probably the one Jackson film from his pre-Hollywood days that can be safely left out of your library.

*Yes, the heroes all fight for AIDS. No, it's not symbolic of anything. And I'd have liked to have seen a group called the Astro-Investigation and Defense Association, so they could break into opera while fighting.

**Both Derek and his victim are played by Peter Jackson, who, as an actor, is a damned fine director.

***The puke, incidentally, is fluorescent blue. This does not make it any less disgusting.

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