Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Curtains (1983), or Girl Jealousy Kills Girl Love

Repost from 2010. This movie will finally be released in a modern format (Blu-Ray & DVD) on July 29th!

Dir. Richard Ciupka (a.k.a. Jonathan Stryker) || 1983 || Canada

The more I watch Curtains, the more odd I find that the film is. Canadian horror productions from the 1970s and 1980s as a whole tend to deal with adults more so than teenagers. Curtains is about being an aging actress and the treachery of the film business. It also has a weird level of meta to it, because the credits list the director as "Jonathan Stryker", which is also the name of the director within the film, played by John Vernon. The lead actress is played by Samantha Eggar, of Cronenberg's The Brood, playing an actress named Samantha. Samantha has bought a dramatic property named Audra, for her to star in and for Stryker to direct, since they seem to have a collaborative relationship of sorts (although more is implied as the film goes on). Audra seems to be an Ibsen-esque piece of work, and Samantha being the Method actress that she is, has  herself placed in a psychiatric hospital on some sort of indefinite basis so she can study the patients and find out what it is like to be mentally ill. There is a vague deal that Stryker will bail her out when the time comes, but as time wears on, he stops visiting her in the hospital and she finds out that he is holding auditions at his private residence for the weekend to find a new Audra. So although she has a mysterious friend break her out of the hospital, we never see any other instance of Samantha having friends or support.

Here we meet the other six or so aspiring actresses. While according to Wikipedia, their characters do have names, I swear I barely heard their names uttered within the film (but my copy of this film does have wonky sound). With the exception of one, all of the women look like Samantha. They all have dark hair, are pale, and are pretty. Therefore they are all interchangeable for the most part, but unlike in most slasher films, this seems to be done on purpose to display just how expendable they are. It is never said how old Samantha is, and although she is still very pretty, one can guess that she is perhaps 35 at the most. All of the women auditioning are in their early-mid 20s. So the aspiring actresses are more or less defined by what they were doing before they were called to audition. One is an ice skater, one is a serious actress like Samantha, one was a centerfold, one was a ballerina, and one is an unfunny comedienne who kind of dresses like Robin Williams circa Mork and Mindy. There is a sole blonde woman who is characterized by her love of acting out rape fantasies with her mustachioed boyfriend, but she is killed en route to the audition house.

As you can imagine, Stryker pits the women against each other, while at the same time sleeping with almost each and every one. Of course, after he sleeps with each one, they are killed by a figure in an ugly crone mask soon after. Some of his actions seem to be to get Samantha's attention, as if he is pushing her to go insane, like Audra. But as the film wears on, his actions seem more indicative that he is just selfish and on the misogynistic side. As the women begin to go missing, the remaining actresses tension levels go up, and Stryker uses that to get them to the apparent Audra-level as well. It is somewhat vague as to how the women feel about the other actresses going missing. While they are not overly snipping at each other and spend some nights hanging out together, their attempts at friendship are not unlike the awkward attempts at bonding and friendship made during early episodes of each season of shows like America's Next Top Model (however the words, "I am here to win, I am not here to make friends" are never uttered). There is want of human contact with people other than the creepy director, but no one acknowledges too much that they are in competition, or how unfair this audition process is. Still, no one calls the police, no one tries to leave the house, no one suspects that a killer is amongst them. During the day everyone continues with their audition exercises, including one instance where Stryker has the meek ballerina feeling up the woman who was in the centerfold. It is made clear at this point that this is not an audition process for Stryker, but a way to have sex with as many women as possible within one weekend. The fact that he is played by an actor who is middle-aged, balding, and paunchy does not help matters, as he seems to seduce the actresses by making them feel protected (while also verbally abusing them in some cases), and the actresses are inherently going to feel as if they cannot turn him down for sex for fear of losing the part. Only the centerfold sleeps with the younger attractive guy at the house, although it is never said what his role is or why he is at the house. Curtains is good for keeping the killer's identity a mystery until the end. Of course suspicion is placed on Stryker until he is killed, and Samantha because she disappears for a large portion of the film.

The ending is a twist, because we find that there are two killers. Samantha killed Stryker, and inadvertently the other serious actress after they had sex. She shot them, and they fell through a window. One of the other aspiring actresses as killed everyone else, and in the final scene kills Samantha after she tells her that she killed Stryker, that there will be no film now, and that she will wait patiently for the police, if you would be so kind as to call them. The irony is that Samantha killed Stryker in a crime of passion perhaps, but is not insane. She understands what she did, but her motives are somewhat unclear to the audience. Was it out of jealousy or was it because Stryker had left her in the psychiatric hospital, stolen the dramatic property she had bought for herself, and was going to place another actress in the role, thereby making it murder for revenge? Samantha is shown as to not having much issue with the other actresses, just Stryker. There is the small implication that she is not the first actress he has left in the dust, and that he will continue the pattern again if he does find another actress amongst these women. It is an attempt to end the cycle of abuse, if you will.

The aspiring actress uses the motif of creepy dolls the size of real toddlers to get the attention of some of her victims, including the blonde actress and most notoriously, the ice skater. While the use of the dolls is almost fleeting, it also implies that this is how the killer feels about herself and the other actresses, that they are dolls just being played with for the weekend, and that they will be put away as soon as Stryker is done with them.

The murderous aspiring actress' motives are just plain ambition, hunger for fame, and jealousy gone awry, for Stryker has barely paid attention to her the entire weekend, although that may be hard to do if  you are slipping out to murder the other actresses. She wanted the role of Audra enough that it drove her insane to have to compete with other actresses. Remember, the murder of the sole blonde actress was before the weekend auditions had started, so her actions were presumably pre-meditated. So this was her twisted response to the unfair audition process for the film, not protesting it, or even working hard in the auditions, such as they were. The sole instance that she comes to Stryker's attention and reluctant admiration is when she confronts him about his lack of attention towards her. Other than Samantha, she is the only other actress who confronts him in anger. While she is seen throughout the film as being the most friendly towards the other actresses, it displays how underhanded jealousy can be at times. These traits make her more of the equivalent to an Iago, even if she does not understand it.

The two killers give Curtains a strange and confused duality in their approaches to confronting problems with sexist men. While murder should not be endorsed as a way to solve problems anyway, Samantha goes for the source of the problem, Stryker; while the aspiring actress goes for the other victims of this problem.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Demons & Demons 2 (1985 & 1986)

Repost from 2009.

Demons (a.k.a. Demoni): Dir. Lamberto Bava || 1985 || Italy
Demons 2 (a.k.a. Demoni 2): Dir. Lamberto Bava || 1986 || Italy

It’s taken years and I probably had too many beers when I watched this for a third or fourth viewing this past weekend, but I think Demons is finally growing on me. Does it make any sense? No, it still doesn’t. Will I ever understand some of the academic theories around this movie? Not for awhile, but mostly because I’m thinking about the scene where the blond guy is riding a motorbike through a theater slashing at demons with a samurai sword. And how right after that, a helicopter magically falls through the ceiling. Or what that red haired chick dressed as a Irish pilgrim had to do with any of this. Same with the guy in the silver mask. Why do the blond guy and the silver mask guy look like characters from Mortal Kombat?

Demons is about an assorted group of people who are given tickets to a sneak preview for movie at this mysterious art deco-style theater. No one knows what the movie is about, but it turns out it’s a horror movie that seems to be about young archeologists on the search for a mask. A similar mask was in the lobby and one of the prostitutes attending the film with her pimp and co-worker puts it on, and is cut on the cheek. Something similar happens to a person in the movie, and all hell breaks loose.

I like Rosemary, the ground zero demon. She has hair like my middle school chorus teacher (or Rick James if you prefer). She is one badass demon.

The movie has a good, apocalyptic ending once you get past the goofy points that come before it. Also, a cameo appearance from the kid from Fulci’s The House by the Cemetary.

As far as Demons 2 goes, I want to like it, but it’s kind of a mess. I do not know whether or not it was supposed to be in continuity with the first movie. The first character we see is the guy (who looks like the result of what would happen if you mixed Michael Berryman’s genes with a young Rupert Everett’s) who played one of the coked up punk kids in the first movie, as a security guard for this building in the second movie. Also in this movie: the guy who played the pimp in the first movie, this time as the building’s very bossy/poor man’s Ken Foree-type personal trainer; and a young Asia Argento.

This time the demons are coming through the television in a show that most of the characters seem to be watching. The show may or may not be a documentary on what happened in the first movie, or it may be more of the movie or a sequel to the movie the people in the first Demons movie were watching. I honestly don’t know, and wish I did know. This time the ground zero demon is Sally, who has having a birthday party in her apartment. Sally is one of those needy friends who is a gigantic drama queen. She storms off into her room at one point while her friends are dancing to The Smiths, where she catches the show and the demon that somehow makes it out of the television.

Demons 2 is somewhat reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s Shivers. It is a film that takes place in a completely secure and locked down high-rise apartment building, meaning that the other inhabitants become infected really quickly, although mostly because blood is continuously seeping through the floors and pipes. That’s a terribly made building right there. Under more capable hands, the main story of the hunky physics major who is trying to save his pretty and pregnant wife, would be more compelling. Instead, you just root for them cos even as a demon, Sally is still pretty annoying.

The ending is also not particularly satisfying. It’s pretty disappointing actually. It’s almost as if the budget ran out. The film in general leaves a lot of unsettled stories, like, what happened to lil Asia Argento?

I don’t live in a large city, and it’s probably goofy for me to think about this just based on Shivers and Demons 2, but why would anyone think that having a self-contained building and/or a building where if something goes wrong, the building is completely locked down and impossible to get out of a good idea? Was this entire sub-subgenre of film based on The Towering Inferno, where “people trapped and in danger in a large building = entertainment”?

I can’t remember whether or not I’ve heard recently that Demons is up for a remake. It probably is, since at this point, one may as well believe that any horror movie made in the past 30 years is up for a remake. Unless the makers find even someone more incompetent than Lamberto Bava to be at the helm of these films, the remake(s) may not be that bad. Which I hate to say about Lamberto Bava, because his first film, Macabre, is actually pretty good. I want to think that for some reason, Demons and Demons 2 got seriously butchered at some point, but considering that both movies have been on video or DVD in America for at least 20 years, I find it hard to believe that there are better versions of these movies out there, versions that match the pretty good concept with good quality. Oh well.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Flicker by Theodore Roszak

Repost from 2009.

Theodore Roszak's 1991 novel Flicker concerns a young academic named Jonathan Gates and his spiraling obsession with an obscure German horror filmmaker named Max Castle. Castle was one of many Germans who came to Hollywood after World War I. Due to his obscure religion and the handlers from the religion that came along with him to Hollywood, Castle was eventually reduced to directing trashy, incoherent horror films after being dismissed as "difficult to work with." Castle was rumored to have died in a plane crash over the ocean at the age of 42. The novel follows Gates for roughly 20 years in his hunt for information about Castle, Castle's religion, and the lost or uncut versions of his films. Roszak does show off his history degrees by having Castle's religion tied to the Knights Templar, as well as being knowledgeable about film history. It is only when Gates begins to ironically preach about the films that are now considered cult classics, but were midnight movies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and how they are bringing about the downfall of the world does the novel start to lose hold. It is that Gates never resolves his opinion of the cult movies of the 1960s and 1970s, nor is self-aware enough to know that he is obsessed with them and that his work on Castle may have partially brought these films about (at least in this fictional world, Roszak almost fully ignores the real-world events of the 1960s and 1970s in the novel), as well as his obsession with a young director also in Castle's religion who is making nihilistic "cult"-type films. Roszak seems to be implying that these types of films will bring about the downfall of the world, either overtly or subtly, but if that is the message, then it is extremely muddled.

Roszak barely covers how the Vietnam War, the impeachment of Nixon, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and how these events effected the films of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is only treated in tertiary and occasionally humorous terms on why Gates was not drafted into the Vietnam War. But overall, these historic events are not given any coverage in Flicker. Considering that academic writing correlating the tragic events of the 1960s and 1970s with the edgier films of this time period did not emerge until the early-mid 1980s, Roszak may have cleverly averted the historical issues and their relation to films with good reason, considering the state Gates is narrating from by the end of the novel. Roszak makes a few clever set-ups throughout Flicker, things that are likely meant to annoy some readers for much of the novel, but eventually have some sort of pay-off. This includes Gates’ habit of sleeping with every woman that is introduced into the book. This aspect quickly became annoying to me, but Roszak has this as a part of the book for a reason, even if it is for purely contrasting reasons, as to eventually show how far Gates has become obsessed with Max Castle and his religion, the Orphans of the Storm.

Towards the end of the novel, he correctly equates himself to Joseph Cotten’s naïve character in The Third Man. Gates is perhaps not the most compelling or smartest character in the world, which is at a detriment to the story, whether it is an homage to The Third Man or not (side note: Orson Welles does make an appearance in the novel, as does John Huston via letter). While Flicker is in part a detective story (that takes about half of the book to get to), Gates spends the first half of the novel relying on one woman to teach him what he should think of film and film history. His obsession with Castle creates a break in this relationship, but he still trusts and relies on others too much, which is another factor in his downfall.

The character of Jonathan Gates may be a more modern take of Doctor Faustus. Gates does everything short of selling his soul to the Devil to acquire more knowledge on a single film director. It takes him around the world, and in the end, he loses what little he had to begin with. Like Faustus, Gates does not use his knowledge to benefit himself in any way. Although he is able to sleep with every woman he encounters, whereas Faustus is only given that option (such as it was in the sixteenth century), his friends encourage him to use his knowledge and his stature as an expert on this one director to gain tenure at UCLA, yet he continues this obsession because he thinks he can write a book once he figures everything out. His friends know that this obsession is going to lead to Gates’ end, and that according to the majority of the characters in this novel, searching for Castle’s films may not be the noblest cause to begin with. The main question Flicker seems to ask is if film has the ability to mask evil images and ideas either layered under the film’s main image in the print or within a film’s flicker, and if these “evil” images and ideas hidden within films can cause evil in people or in the world. Of course, this question is never resolved.

A stereotypical Robinson Crusoe device is used for the ending. It is a somewhat pampered Crusoe device, but a device nonetheless. Although I guess there are only so many ways to end a novel that heavily concerns conspiracy theories attached to a secret religion, but placing the narrator on an island is not the most compelling ending.

Flicker seems to have had an influence on a few films that have come out in the past few years. Cigarette Burns, one of the episodes in the first season of the television series Masters of Horror, concerned a young and troubled repertory film theater owner and his commissioned search for a film only screened once because it caused an entire audience to go insane and burn down the theater it was being screened in at a film festival. The search for the film of course leads the man on a dangerous path. Directed by John Carpenter, Cigarette Burns is both the most worthwhile episode in the Masters of Horror series and possibly the only worthwhile film Carpenter has made in the past 10-15 years. As a side note, Cigarette Burns was one of the first episodes of the 2-3 season series (at least if you count its major network-spinoff show Fear Itself), however, Masters of Horror got progressively worse from the end of its first season and into its second season. Carpenter’s second season episode, Pro-Life, is completely awful and preposterous. The recent DVD release The Hills Run Red follows a documentary film student and his friends as they try to hunt down the director and a print of a horror film called The Hills Run Red. The film was only screened once, immediately banned, and all prints were thought to be destroyed. While the first 45 minutes or so of The Hills Run Red are interesting in that it tries to subvert the typical horror film tropes, it fails in that the last 30-45 minutes return to other horror film tropes. It’s a shame really because the film, the film-within-the-film, and the film-within-within-the-film feature the creepy slasher Babyface. But The Hills Run Red and the documentary film inside of it do not focus on Babyface, and instead try to make the first two films a character drama, and a somewhat weak one at that. None of the characters are written or developed well enough to affect the audience when bad things start happening to them. This means that the filmmakers stuck to the biggest horror trope of them all. Not that sticking with Babyface would have likely been much better, but he was perhaps the only pitiable character in the films. Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglorious Basterds shares a theory that Flicker puts forth. Lt. Archie Hickox (played by Michael Fassbender), the British soldier and film critic espouses the theory that while German Expressionist films of the 1920s reflected German’s damaged psyche post-WWI, it also weakened them and allowed the rise of Hitler. Of course, Flicker adds to it that secret images and messages may have been added to these films to allow that.

What Jonathan Gates and the protagonist of The Hills Run Red have in common in that both seem to pursue their obsessions with their one “lost” film director as a hope that in the end, they will also find themselves. While this idea is directly expressed by the protagonist in The Hills Run Red, we’re not given enough background on him for it to be compelling or valid. The same idea is not directly expressed in Flicker, but it would make sense for a person like Gates, who basically spends half of the book in the shadow of a smarter and eventually more successful woman, to attach himself to a cause so he can find himself and achieve his own success. Gates really does not have much of a personality, is not very bright, and it is frankly hard to accept him as a character to follow for 600 pages.

When Jonathan Gates compares himself to Holly Valens, Joseph Cotten’s character in The Third Man, it is not a totally correct assessment. Holly’s quest in The Third Man is yes, naïve, but almost completely unselfish. He wants to clear his old friend’s name. Even when his old friend turns out not to be an upstanding citizen, Holly does what is considered the moral thing. Valens has his own career, and has not seen his friend Harry Lime for several years when The Third Man opens. Throughout the story, it is his intention to be the good old moralistic American hero in the film, not to find himself. Holly has the elements of being a lost man-child, although on the surface he is too old and too well-dressed for it by modern standards. He comes to Vienna for a job with Harry, although what sort of job is not revealed until much later. His only reason for seeking work is probably because he is bored with writing cheap pulp western novels, and because he misses his old friend. This displays a sharp contrast of the men and young men in Flicker and The Hills Run Red. The Third Man takes place after the end of World War II. Flicker opens in the late 1950s while Gates is in college, and American culture is changing just as much as film culture, with each affecting the other and vice versa (although Roszak does not acknowledge this). Film criticism, especially post-war European criticism is beginning to be taken seriously, and film studies programs are opening up at universities. Within a decade, it is okay for people to say things like “I’m trying to find myself.” Cut to almost a decade into the new millennium, and a young person’s search for the self becomes intertwined with the mega nerdy fanboy era and the need to discover and revive the most obscure film objects for glory and a place in obscure film history books, or at least Wikipedia. Reviving lost art, literature, and film is nothing new and often results into the formerly lost works becoming canon, especially if the works were by a member of a marginalized group of people (i.e., not white heterosexual males). Flicker, first published in 1991, predates the meteoric rise of director Quentin Tarantino, a man who has almost single-handedly revived obscure genre films and brought them to the public, albeit usually indirectly. Besides his former Quentin Tarantino presents video series, just his endorsement of an ultra obscure film will cause a cheapo DVD boxed set to be produced by a company willing to cash in without providing quality DVD transfers, but wanting to cram as many supposed-Tarantino-endorsed films as possible onto 3-4 discs and sell them all in a boxed set for $15-20 at Best Buy. Finding and reviving these films are for a niche market. How would one find themselves in such a project? It shows how much the world has changed since the 1940s that one has the ridiculous combination of privilege, egotism, and naïveté to believe that they can discover who they are by trying to uncover a “lost” film or director.

What Flicker merely touches on, and Cigarette Burns and Hills Run Red do not, is that it is normally works of art by marginalized peoples that become part of the canon after they have been rediscovered. Max Castle is somewhat marginalized because of his ancient, obscure, and secretive religion, and his religion’s dark influence over his films. But part of the conspiracy Jonathan Gates is trying to uncover in the novel is the Orphans of the Storm’s attempts to use film as a way to make their views become mainstream, and Gates’ work on Castle, conspiracy aside, does allow Castle’s work to become somewhat canon, even if on a cult level. Since all of the protagonists in these three stories succeed in their individual goals at a terrible price, these stories imply that searching for “lost” films for purely selfish or egotistical reasons is a path to destruction on its own, nevermind the films.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Girls Rock! (2008)

Repost from 2010.

Dirs. Arne Johnson & Shane King || 2008 || USA

Stories of the Rock 'n Roll Camp for Girls have always warmed the cockles of my dying post-riot grrrl heart. The documentary Girls Rock! is no exception. The film follows four girls aged between 8-18 as they spend a week at the original camp in Portland, Oregon in 2005 (the camp has since spread to have locations in other parts of the US - including Tennessee, NYC, and Washington, DC, if I remember correctly). The camp teaches the girls who attend to play instruments after they form bands (it seems as though the camp is split into two different age groups, so the eight year olds aren't playing with the high school girls) and they practice for a week that culminates in a bit show with an audience of 750 people. There are also workshops for self-defense and zines (barely shown because watching people cut and paste and do layouts is boring, plus you know, zines are forever the lowly art when compared to being in a band). Camp counselors include Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and Excuse 17, STS of The Need and Shemo, and Beth Ditto of The Gossip.

Each of the girls that the film follows has had some sort of serious issue in life. The youngest has divorced parents, has moved around a lot, has a baby brother with Down Syndrome, and is already experiencing chronic anxiety to the point where she misses school every other day. The oldest is a girl who used to be in a gang, has parents who deal with drug addiction and mental illness, and was living in a group home during filming. The film is actually pretty good in showing girls who come from different race and class backgrounds.

Interspersed throughout the film are statistics about self-esteem and body image for pre-adolescent and adolescent girls. Most of the studies are cited in the end credits of the film, but it's a little disheartening that most of the statistics are 20 years old, especially when juxtaposed against the subjects, like the eight year old with chronic anxiety issues, or the eleven year old who is already dealing with mean girls and frenemies (something I relate to - it still does not seem out in the open yet that it is possibly middle school that is a warzone, not high school).

Also interspersed are the retro short films about being a girl. This is something that always seems to be done in independent documentaries concerning DIY/punk rock feminism. There is one instance where the Le Tigre song "They Want Us to Make a Symphony Out of the Sound of Women Swallowing Their Own Tongues" is played over the stock footage that is surprisingly effective.

The only issue I had with the film is the sort of trite introduction where we get a quasi-history of late-20th century of the role of women in rock music. It plays like "everything was A-OK until Britney Spears came along!" Granted, this isn't a documentary on that time period, but like everything else, it wasn't that easy, or cut and dry. It was the Spice Girls' popularity in the mid-90s that begat the rise of boy bands, then Britney Spears, not to mention they left out the rise of macho bands like Limp Bizkit as a reaction to the women-friendly music that populated the 1990s. I definitely wouldn't blame Britney Spears, she has enough problems of her own that could possibly be correlated to some of the issues that this film discusses. Besides doesn't everyone know that musical styles are cyclical? Blaming a pop star just seems too easy and a total cop out, and frankly, isn't this what Eminem does on the majority of his records?

It seems like one of the forgotten lessons of riot grrrl was that it is unnecessary and un-feminist to hate on other women just because they do not belong to the same subculture as you. I was flipping through my copy of Bikini Kill #2 recently and there was something about how grrrls should not hate on other women for being cheerleaders or strippers or whatever because they are soldiers in the girl army too. I have a longtime zine buddy who recently closed her zine distro and who has often said that there are a lot of neo-riot grrrl zines that do have a lot of girl hate in them, and she wouldn't pick them up to sell at her distro.* In the film, one parent cries on camera because she loves how the camp teaches the girls how to get along, and that there are no mean girls.

Part II: It was all a dream, I used to read Sassy Magazine

What I liked about the camp in the film is that they hold mediator services for when the bands are fighting, which seems inevitable when you're put together with strangers and are in a sort of high-pressure creative environment. One band is fighting about changing the name, and the band with the eight year old is upset because she punched another member of the band (in a mis-use and misunderstanding about what the self-defense classes were about) and believes that she gets to make all the decisions because she is the lead singer. It's a good and perfectly understandable idea to have these mediator services. But to me, it also radically defies the promoted idea that once all women and/or feminists come together, everyone will get along and things will be okay. I've been through enough (mostly failed) feminist or feminist-driven collectives in the past 10 years of my life to know that isn't the case. It makes me wonder if the camp organizers feel the same way, since some of them were around in the original riot grrrl days through the semi-recent Ladyfest era. I think when it comes down to it, we're going to be humans with flaws first, no matter what. **

* See C's post on Jennifer's Body and the horror and feminist horror communities initial reactions.
** The only other recent work I've seen that does this is the Y: The Last Man series of graphic novels, written by Brian K. Vaughan, who works on Lost sometimes. It does make a good case that even if all the males in the world die, women are going to react in different ways, with different motivations.

There are now Ladies Rock Camps for women over 18 too. In Portland, and I think I've heard of one in NYC as well.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Repost from 2010. This series is still going on, albeit under a mixture of authors and with subtitle/sequel titles attached. I believe Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows also occasionally still participate in the series.

Written by Garth Ennis || Illustrated by Jacen Burrows || Avatar Press || 2008-2010, 9 issues

My initial interest in the recently completed 9-comic book series Crossed is pretty much a case of "don't judge a book by its cover" gone awry. I first saw Crossed at a comic book store in Los Angeles last summer, but didn't pick up the series (which was at issue #6 at the time) because they didn't have the first couple of issues. It looked like an interesting zombie comic. By the time I got home, I had forgotten the name, and didn't get around to trying to piece it together until November. Once successful (fanwikis are useful) I ordered the back issues online and from my local comic book store. Before I got each of my orders, I found out that Crossed was probably going to be different from most zombie comics (for one, it's not really a zombie comic in the same way a lot of people will say 28 Days Later is not a zombie movie)

It was probably not good that I got into Crossed after finishing the 10-volume Y: The Last Man graphic novel series. The apocalypse scenario in Y was that a sudden plague outbreak killed all males on the planet at once, except for one male human and his male monkey companion. It's a good, compelling series. Crossed, on the other hand, seems to be Garth Ennis thinking, "let's think of something worse than zombies or the worst case scenario for the world to end". The "crossed" are infected humans who do the worst things in their mind to inflict on and infect other humans. Most of it involves rape, which is one of the ways one can become infected. Men, women, children, the elderly, it doesn't matter (even if children are mostly shown being murdered rather than raped). It also involves mass murder, but that seems to be mostly in the background. Other infected blow up a nuclear facility. So the infected can think, even if it is mostly centered around hunting down or hurting humans. It is never revealed how the infection came to be, and the infected are called the "crossed" because of the scabby series of marks on their faces that form a cross.

The series follows a group of survivors from a diner as they try to make it out to the northwest, then Alaska (under the assumption that there will be fewer infected there, and if there are any, they will freeze soon enough - you know, the obligatory Max Brooks reference). The main characters are a guy and a single mother who assumes the leadership position because she knows how to defend herself (mostly due to being the survivor of an abusive marriage). There is little-to-no character development until late in the series, and the comic is mostly vignettes of fucked up situations the survivors get into while trying to stay away from the crossed. The group's numbers dwindle issue by issue until there are only five left by the final issue. The only character I found compelling was the underused Kitrick, a man who had to see his family murdered by the crossed while he was swimming at the beach.

If I don't sound enthusiastic, it's because other than the artwork by Jacen Burrows, which is what attracted me to the comic in the first place, there is nothing to be excited about in Crossed; unless you really like new, nihilistic endgame scenarios. Once the shock wears off, there is really nothing much to the series. It pretty much ends with the biggest zombie movie cliche line ever, which is "they're us and we're them", it's as if Garth Ennis wanted to remind people of the pain that was Diary of the Dead, or every badly written academic article on zombie movies. He tried to proceed the cliche with an explanation that the infected were the rapists, pedophiles, and terrorists of the world, but that was a gross disregard of his own work and the initial premise and setting of the story, especially when contrasted against Burrows' covers for the series, which depicted people being attacked by the infected in everyday situations (fast food joints, high school, police stations, airplanes). The series does not play well with what it seems to want to say, which is that all humans are capable of evil, regardless of whether they were good or bad people before this infection struck. It wavers on the subject quite often, but abandons it almost altogether late in the series, especially as the survivors become followed by one group of the crossed.

The collected volume of Crossed is supposed to come out in the next couple of months, if Avatar Press can stick to the deadline, which was another problem with this series coming out in a timely manner. The series will apparently continue under a new writer and artist soon.

- And I really need to learn not to stick with things after I learn how awful they are. The casual optimism of "oh, maybe it will get better" gets me nowhere everytime.

- There should also be a moratorium on using the line "they're us and we're them" and any variations thereof in all forms of writing on zombies and other formerly human creatures. Any sort of writer who uses it will get smacked with an automatic "F- -".

Update 03/14/10: Courtesy of a comment someone from Avatar Press left: the collected volume of Crossed should be in stores by April. My local comic book store is already taking pre-orders for the new series Crossed: Family Values, which I think is due in May.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004?)

Repost from 2010, when I was working on my undergrad thesis on the film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Dir. David Rosenbaum || 2004 || USA(?)

If you can withstand the first two minutes of the 2004 film The Picture of Dorian Gray without having to reach for whatever alcohol is handy, you are a stronger person than I am. This makes Pact with the Devil look like a masterpiece. The film tries to set the story in the mid-20th century with some vague notion that the Gray family was inherently cursed because Dorian's grandfather created the atom bomb. This notion is only vaguely and occasionally followed through in the film. The acting is horrible across the board, with the actors reciting lines from the novel in a wooden and unintentionally hilarious manner, as evidenced in the video above. The film becomes tedious within the last half-hour, when the fun and alcohol wear off. Unlike most of the other Dorian Gray adaptations, which at least make a point to either subtly or unsubtly point out Dorian's pansexuality, this adaptation's take on it is to mostly make Dorian a heterosexual cad ("I spoiled your bride on your wedding day!") involved in a hetero love triangle between the (female) painter Basil Ward and Harry Wotton; whilst having Josh Duhamel parade around in skimpy bikini briefs for 10 minutes of the film, with at least three of those minutes being shot over his ass while he's laying in bed. Also unlike the other adaptations which actually try to have the portrait done by a real artist on the production team, the painting in this one looks as though it was done by a first year art student whose strong suit is not painting. The degenerated portrait is pretty much James Cameron in a swimsuit (meant to be Dorian's grandfather, I think), not a hideous monster.

Unlike Pact with the Devil, or any other Dorian Gray adaptation, there is no good actor or interesting performance in the film to give comfort or make watching it somewhat worthwhile. Some people will want to watch this because of Josh Duhamel, but it's not a good reason because he is just as awful as all the other actors in this film. He's not even inoffensively passable, like he is in everything else he acts in. He even looks awful, with his badly dyed blond hair.

There is probably a lesson to be learned here, by the time I am done with this paper, since I generally avoid film adaptations of books. I get the feeling it's to just be happy when a film adaptation of a good novel is watchable at all. I think I am mostly happy that I did not choose the film adaptations of Dracula, which are numerous and are also likely to have more bad adaptations than good ones.

This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is only available on Youtube, via the playlist of favorite movies of what is likely a 15-year-old girl. After the conclusion of the movie, it goes immediately into a 3-year-old video preview of the Twilight film adaptation with some commentary, which I imagine is hell for some people, but was actually a passive improvement for me to listen to while I stared off into space for a few minutes. This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray has never been properly released because it's awful or maybe because Josh Duhamel is rich enough now to have it suppressed, but you can occasionally find an overpriced DVD version of it on Ebay or at libraries.

(Apologies if this post isn't very coherent. I have fairly coherent notes and drunk texts to a friend that I made while watching this last night, but these posts are increasingly becoming an excuse to vent.)

(Adverbs, motherfucker!)

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (II) (1997)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1997 || USA

According to Wikipedia, the reason why there has yet to be a Jurassic Park IV is because Steven Spielberg has yet to find a script he is satisfied with. One wonders why he did not use the same discretion for The Lost World: Jurassic Park II and I am assuming Jurassic Park III as well. The Lost World is a sequel that sort of chips away at any goodwill one has towards the first Jurassic Park film. It worst of all suffers from plotholes and having so many characters that one is never sure of some of the secondary character's names, nor why they are there to begin with.

In The Lost World, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced into a Ripley-like position of having to head a second exposition to the "Plan B Island" of the original Jurassic Park. His only reason is to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who fancies herself a Diane Fossey amongst dinosaurs; and who wants to prove that dinosaurs, T-Rexes in particular, did take care of their young instead of leaving them to fend for themselves not too long after birth. Along for the ride is a documentarian (Vince Vaughn), a beardless Toby from The West Wing (Richard Schiff); and inexplicably, Malcolm's pre-adolescent daughter, Kelly, because there always has to be at least one child in supreme danger in the Jurassic Park films. Kelly sneaks into a high-tech caravan in California, which is put on a boat that I am assuming was at sea for at least three days. Why Malcolm did not make sure his daughter did not get in a car or taxi with the nanny he wanted her to stay with while he went to the islands, I do not know. By the end of the film, she does get to kick a raptor through a window using her skills as a gymnast, so she fills that absurd purpose besides being the endangered child.

Not too long after arriving at the island, they do find Sarah, who is nearly killed by a stegosaurus while trying to photograph them. Malcolm is failing at trying to convince her to leave the island, and we learn more of Malcolm's bad boyfriend and fathering skills. Much like the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum does not do much; but in The Lost World he is not even allowed to be funny or charming. I guess PTSD does that to a man. Then helicopters arrive bringing a group of hunters to the island, courtesy of the new head of InGen, who I will call "British Bob Balaban". I do not know why this happens, but the hunters immediately proceed to hunt dinosaurs. Pete Postlethwaite is there to hunt a T-Rex, although no one ever considers how the hell you are supposed to haul a T-Rex back home. They capture some dinos, including a baby T-Rex. Vince Vaughn is there not only to document the island, but also serve as a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, so that night, he and Sarah free all the captured dinosaurs who then wreak havoc at the hunter's camp, destroying their equipment. He and Sarah can also work as Dinosaur Veterinarians, because they then take the injured baby T-Rex back to the caravan where they try to repair its leg until mama T-Rex arrives, knocking the caravan over a cliff after they give her the baby back. It's like a bad, overlong version of the Land Rover in the tree-scene from the first film. It's nice how Sarah proves her theory that T-Rexes cared for their young, but simultaneously forgets the damage it would cause to herself and others if she decided to treat an injured baby T-Rex. She also wears her jacket that is stained with baby T-Rex blood for the rest of the film, leading the mama T-Rex to the path of where her team and the hunters are going to try to get off the island since everyone's high-tech equipment is destroyed. Many deaths ensue. She really is no Dr. Grant or Dr. Sadler. We also learn that the Island B raptors do not know how to open doors, unlike the raptors in the original Jurassic Park. But they can dig holes under the doors like dogs!

The baby T-Rex is captured and brought to San Diego to be a part of a Jurassic Park exhibition at the San Diego Zoo, because British Bob Balaban never saw King Kong. Inexplicably, mama T-Rex manages to hijack a freighter ship and makes her way to San Diego just in time for the unveiling. Crappy jokes ensue, such as a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in MacBeth, Asian businessmen running down the street away from the T-Rex, and the 76 gas station logo ball careening past Malcolm's bitchin' vintage Cadillac.

Of course a film that I highly disdain brings me out of my blogging break. I think the only reason this film was made was because Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum needed to buy new vacation houses. I guess this film made Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare into slightly higher profiled actors, but that is not saying much. I think it would have been more interesting to watch how a T-Rex hijacked a freighter ship, including lowering itself into a cargo hole. Or watch Vince Vaughn work as both a Dinosaur Veterinarian and a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs (PETD).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made (2004)

Repost from 2010. I now realize that this movie is a listicle in moving image format.

Dir. ???? || 2004 || USA

The Netflix Autoplay function is a both a blessing and a curse, particularly for its latest platform on video game systems such as the Wii. The game systems versions give you a limited amount of options, which means you still have to rely on the Netflix website to add films you want to watch on the game systems. There is no search function on the Netflix Wii. While you can of course access your instant queue, it's not like the options on the game system is giving you a ton of good movies to choose from. You may see a few of the films from the Criterion Collection, some actual enjoyable films, and actually a lot of pretty good TV shows; but mostly, you're seeing stuff you've never heard of and/or some truly bad movies. So it's really the equivalent of walking through a Blockbuster video store, just without the entire walls featuring fifty copies of whatever last summer's big movie was. That and I get the feeling that even Blockbuster would not even carry some of these films.

The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made is a short "documentary" that is a list of yeah, the 50 worst movies ever made. It features no talking heads, just clips of these films with the occasional interesting factoid, such as the director of Robot Monster attempted suicide after realizing what a terrible film he made, or that Burt Reynolds auditioned for the lead role in The Crawling Hand twice, but was considered too terrible to be cast. The film mostly focuses on films from the 1940s through the mid-1980s, and at least a third of the films were films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 at some point (the narrator even sounds like J. Elvis Weinstein from MST3K and Cinematic Titanic, but it's not him). It lists no source as to where this list comes from or who decided that these were the worst films ever made. It lists Troll, but not Troll 2, which is known as being considerably worse. And the fact this was made in 2004 and cuts its choices off in the mid-1980s allows it to miss say, The Room, The Picture of Dorian Gray (2002/2004), Zombie Nation, Silent Night Deadly Night 2, and The Happening. Not even Manos: Hands of Fate is on the list. I kind of have to wonder if this list was partially based on what films they could get clips for.

The documentary holds a particular bias and disdain for bad films where the monster is just a guy in a cheap gorilla suit. The only film it claims to be "so bad it's good" is TNT Jackson, a blaxploitation-kung fu film from the 1970s. All in all, it is not a bad way to spend an hour watching if you're bored, and some of the film clips are kind of fun, but this is not a particularly groundbreaking documentary on bad films, or why people watch them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Padackles, I love you, but you're bringing me down. Also, if you keep this up, I'm really leaving you for Doctor Who.

Repost from 2010.

The Christmas Cottage (a.k.a Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas)
Dir. Michael Campus || 2008 || USA (seriously, what did you expect, does any other country have a guy who calls himself "The Painter of Light"?)

Dir. David Winkler || 2005 || USA

There needs to be some sort of Oracle-like Twitter or Facebook page that tells you in 140-160 characters just how bad a movie is before you watch it. It could say that a film is "worse than stepping in dog shit while you're already late for work, but not as bad as watching the cast of The Room simulate sex" (or vice versa, depending on your taste) and other vague things that would at least give an idea what one is in for when they watch certain films. Yeah, there is Google and reading blogs, but having something that could be sent as text message moments before you hit "play" is best. At the very least it would serve as an indicator of how many breaks you would have to take while watching the movie, or how much alcohol may be required to get through it. It would take a mass effort, and some sort of database, but someone should make this happen.

In stupid whims to best some of my more stupid and masochistic whims, for Bad Movie Night at my house, I watched The Christmas Cottage and Devour back-to-back because they star Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. I knew these films would be bad going in, and neither of these guys have great track records in their forays into film (Padalecki's is a tad better, even if they're mostly horror remakes). I'm no apologist, and I'm certainly not one of those Stans that harbors insane delusions that I'm going to marry them or that they're going to marry each other. Supernatural is a highly entertaining show and Padalecki and Ackles are very pretty men, and that's about as far as my interest goes.

I'm not sure much can be said about The Christmas Cottage. The Christmas Cottage is a film based on a Thomas Kinkade painting, or his life, or something. It falls somewhere between a wacky comedy about a quirky small town and your average Christmas movie that's about finding the true meaning of Christmas with a large dose of "we gotta save the *(insert structure here)*!". I think almost everyone but Padalecki and the people with actual acting honors were told that this was a comedy, and it sometimes seems as if the scenes were shot around Padalecki due to the high angle-reverse-angle shot and montage ratio. Marcia Gay Harden, Peter O'Toole and Ed Asner are there to give the film some sort of gravitas, but any attempts at gravitas or sentiment just makes things worse. There are so many subplots in this movie that after 20 minutes, it's not worth keeping up with.

The only scene of any worth is below, in a video response shot by Dustin Rowles of, and who provides his own laugh track. This is why Ackles is the only one who is allowed to cry in the Pretty Man Tears/"hell, let me tell you about my time there" scenes in Supernatural these past couple of seasons, while Padalecki just looks constipated.

Devour is something else, and I mean that in the most sarcastic and borderline abusive way possible, because this is a less watchable film than The Christmas Cottage. Someone should have informed Jensen Ackles that it's never a good sign when your co-stars are Shannyn Sossamon without her trademark short and sassy haircut, Dominique Swain, and a guy who looks like the result of Willie Aames, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Brad Dourif's spliced DNA; ergo, making Ackles the best looking person in the film. The plot of the film itself is the spliced DNA of The Omen and the numerous horror films about video games, websites or software that are evil and want to control you and make you question your reality (eXistenZ, Stay Alive). Like most films about evil video games, websites, or software, the filmmakers have nothing to say about the matter really and instead pull the "you're the son of Satan" card with some equally weak add-in about free will and a twist ending that revolves around incest. Instead of you know, maybe formulating an idea about why the film's particular video game, website, or software is evil or perhaps an allegory about how video games, the internet, or software may be evil in general, if you really want to try to state such a thing.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Jane Eyre (1944)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Robert Stevenson || 1944 || USA

Jane Eyre, while possibly one of my favorite books, is not a novel without some issues or critical debates that still surround it today, mostly in regards to feminist and post-colonial issues that surround Jane as well as Rochester's first wife, Bertha Mason, and Jane's cousin St. John's mission to India, which at the time the novel was written, was a colony of Great Britain.

The 1944 film adaptation of Jane Eyre does a pretty good job of cutting some of the fat away from the novel, although it takes some of the more Gothic elements away as well, such as Jane being locked away in the scary "red room" at her Aunt Reed's house before she is sent to Lowood School as a child. The entire St. John storyline is cut as well, which is a mixed blessing in the film. On the one hand, St. John is an insufferable and overly moral bore who tries to convince Jane to marry him solely to help him with his mission work in India. On the other hand, it is at the end of the St. John section of the novel where Jane comes into money and sees fit to attempt to return to Rochester as an equal. In the film, it is barely implied that Jane returns to Rochester with her own money because she is the last living heir of her Aunt Reed (whose brood was reduced to one child in the film, instead of three in the novel). Her redemption, so to speak, comes from caring for her dying aunt who was so terrible to her as a child.

Jane and Rochester's relationship is slightly less complicated than it is in the novel, although the film highlights Jane's need to befriend and be kind to the "friendless", Rochester does not put her through nearly so much testing before proposing to her. Rochester does not accuse Jane of being otherworldly nearly as much as he does in the novel either. The film does sort of bring into question why Jane would fall in love with Rochester to begin with, other than she is clearly the only woman he can trust, to an extent. Rochester is "friendless" and Jane can see a kinship there because she was orphaned and friendless for her entire life. But without St. John around as a comparison point to show why Rochester would be preferable, despite his faults, the film feels slightly rushed.

I did not realize until watching this film for a second time that Orson Welles is wearing a fake nose. It is quite distracting. I think Jane Eyre is one of those films that everyone seems to think Welles directed, although he did not. The night scenes are very shadow heavy and there are some disorienting slanted shadows and angles going on around the castle at times, but those call to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari slightly more than Citizen Kane.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Othello (2001)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Geoffrey Sax || 2001 || UK (made for TV)

The late 90s/early 00s were a time of modern day re-imaginings of William Shakespeare's plays. Hollywood in particular released at least three re-imaginings set in modern-day American high schools (although in the 1996 Romeo + Juliet, they were apparently home schooled). 2001's Othello cannot and should not be confused with O, also released in 2001. O takes place in an American high school and for some unknown reason stars Josh Hartnett in the Iago role, and the film revolves around the politics of high school basketball. 2001's Othello takes place in modern day London, revolves around the politics of Scotland Yard, and stars Christopher Eccleston in the Iago role (here re-christened as "Ben Jago").

Othello does not bother with attempting to adapt all of Shakespeare's language to the modern day. It comes in snippets, most notably from Jago. Scotland Yard is in turmoil because of while publicly stating that they plan to hire more Black and Asian officers, the commissioner is caught saying racist things right afterwards. In the meantime, Inspector John Othello has quelled a riot in a multiracial project he grew up in after a suspected Black drug dealer is beat to death by four white cops. Assistant Commissioner Jago, Othello's mentor, waits in the wings to receive the Police Commissioner position after the current one resigns. Othello, of course, gets it instead so Scotland Yard can basically kill two birds with one stone in a PR move. Jago plots his revenge on Othello, despite his claims of loving him, by planting doubts in Othello's mind as to the faithfulness of his new wife, Desi; and undermining the investigation of the four white cops who beat the suspected drug dealer to death.

It is a compelling, poignant, and fitting adaptation. However, I am not sure it will hold up well to a second viewing. While Christopher Eccleston does a pretty good job as Jago (and he probably kills this role on stage), his one soliloquy is shot as a hyper-edited temper tantrum in a hallway, which ends with Jago walking out of Scotland Yard and saying "well, that was dramatic, wasn't it?" to the camera. Constantly having Jago break the fourth wall does not seem as an attempt to make Jago charming or sympathetic, but it does make him come off as Bugs Bunny when Bugs says "ain't I a stinker?". Worst of all, Jago gets his wish by the end of the film. He is not hauled off and arrested, like in the play, and the sole source of comfort in the wake of all the bodies on the floor by the end (the death count is considerably less in this film). What the film is trying to say, I am not quite sure. Is it that manipulation is harder to prove in modern times? Is it that cunts are still running the world, to quote Jarvis Cocker? Evil will prevail? It is a depressing ending, made more so by the sinking feeling that I have that somewhere on the internet, someone has written fan fiction based on this film that has given Jago the "Draco in leather pants" treatment just because Eccleston was Doctor Who, a role where he divided his dramatic and apparent comedic talents well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

Repost from 2010. I think I only watched this because Misha Collins is briefly in it and this was at the height of my obsession with Supernatural...a show which I have not watched since 2011.

Dir. Jeff Lowell || 2008 || USA

Over Her Dead Body exemplifies the worst ideas and stereotypes I have of modern romantic comedies: that they are full of shrill, bland, unlikeable, and crazy people who I hope do not exist in real life. If I think about it too much, the idea that people pay $10 to see these things will make me an even bigger misanthrope than I already am.

Over Her Dead Body's plot is thus: Eva Longoria-Parker plays a bridezilla of sorts who gets crushed by her own ice sculpture on her wedding day. A year later, her still-despondent fiance, played by a slumming-it Paul Rudd, is convinced by his Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque sister to start dating again and to see this acquaintance of  hers that is a psychic caterer, played by Lake Bell. While a psychic connection sort of fails, the sister gives the psychic caterer bridezilla's diary so that she can convince Rudd that she is psychic and can speak to his dead fiancee. The psychic caterer and Rudd fall in love, Eva Longoria-as-a-ghost wreaks havoc on the psychic caterer and they are torn apart by the reveal of the diary thing, and it ends with a reunion in an airport after Longoria realizes that she would want her fiance to be happy.

Again, Lake Bell plays a psychic caterer. It is never explained how or why she thinks she has psychic powers, and all we ever learn is that she is a lapsed Catholic, because she calls her priest to perform an exorcism at one point. It is also never explained whether she gets catering customers by using her psychic powers to tell them which competitors will give them food poisoning.

It's a pretty boring movie, and I only laughed once because of one of Longoria's pranks. Everyone in this movie, with the exception of Stephen Root, is bland or unlikeable. Paul Rudd manages to be both bland and unlikeable, which is unusual for him because he tends to have a lively presence in his films. His character is not interesting or funny and he seems to kind of hate his job as a veterinarian. He is just there for two women to fight over, and there is no reason to fight over him. You can tell that he doesn't want to be in this film, and that this is either a favor or that he needs money to put his kid into a good school. Lake Bell seems to be trying, but she is always bland, and I for one am always confusing her with the equally odd-named Piper Perabo, or Amanda Peet. Eva Longoria is just playing an extension of her character on Desperate Housewives. Jason Biggs is around as Bell's bland and unfunny catering business partner, who is a straight guy pretending that he is gay because he is in love with Bell's character and has been for five years. Even his comic pratfalls are awful. Ugh.

Over Her Dead Body has perhaps two things going for it. Rudd's character does call out the antics of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl sister, and accuses her of doing crazy things just because she wants to prove that she is right (this includes, after the diary reveal, kidnapping her neighbor's cat to bring it to her brother, the veterinarian because she thinks this will break the ice and make him not be mad at her anymore). And the actress who plays the sister is of course a ringer for Zooey Deschanel. And when Rudd flees to the airport to stop the psychic caterer before she flies to Las Vegas for a weekend with her not-gay business partner/best friend, he ends up paying over $1200 just to get a ticket to the gate because he pisses off the ticket counter lady. Although it is never explained how or why these characters know which carrier and which gate their beloveds are at when these things happen in movies.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dolls (1987) & Child's Play (1988)

Repost from 2010.

Dolls: Dir. Stuart Gordon || 1987 || USA
Child's Play: Dir. Tom Holland || 1988 || USA

Released a year apart from each other, Dolls (1987) and Child's Play (1988) both feature children from broken homes whom no one believes, murderous dolls; and at the very least, light criticism or jabs at the toy industry, Child's Play moreso than Dolls. Child's Play is the darker of the two films, while Dolls is more of a campy fairytale.

Dolls is meant to be an odd fairytale of sorts, what with its wicked stepmother, magical house with an old couple, and overall message about not losing one's childlike wonder, even in the face of death and destruction. It's a little too gory at times to show to children, but maybe pre-teens may not be too scared by it. Overall it has a lighter and campier nature, setting the stage for all the other evil doll films that Charles Band would later produce via Full Moon Pictures. Band produced this and most of Stuart Gordon's films in the 80s and 90s. The story revolves around Judy, a little girl who is vacationing in Italy with her inattentive and borderline abusive father and her new wicked and wealthy stepmother. Their car gets stuck in the mud one evening and they along with a nice guy and two Madonna-wannabes, find a house belonging to two elderly dollmakers. Only Judy and Ralph the nice guy marvel at the dolls and toys, so as predicted, everyone else gets to encounter the darker side of the dolls as the night progresses. Dolls takes a light jab at the manufactured toy industry early on, but mostly plays up the inherent creepiness of older and handmade dolls. While I believe the film peaks 10 minutes in with the brilliant killer teddy bear scene, it is a fun film to watch.

Child's Play is an odd film with a few tonal shifts that veer from satire, horror, and a vague and somewhat gritty realism. While I have not seen all of Child's Play 2 and 3, I have seen the more recent sequels Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, which exist entirely on camp. The first film sets the tone a bit for the later films, especially in the beginning when the film shows the little boy watching the Good Guys cartoon that encourages children to beg their parents to buy the dolls and accessories, while he is already wearing Good Guys pajamas and eating their franchised cereal. The Good Guys dolls are clearly based on the My Buddy dolls that were popular in the 1980s and meant for little boys (the Kid Sister doll were meant for girls), although I don't remember if there was a cartoon associated with the doll. Those toys always seemed to be advertised to lonely children, without siblings or friends, and the film plays up that idea, as if a doll, even a large one, is a replacement for a friend or sibling.  Being that it is his birthday, he guilts his mother, who is a single widow that works at a department store, into buying him a Good Guys doll for his birthday. The dolls normally cost $100 (!!!), but his mother is able to buy one from a homeless guy in the alley of her store for the shocking low price of $30. It is after this scene that the film loses its elements of light satire and realism (because if the mom had been like mine, she just would have said, "no, I can't afford to buy you a doll that costs $100"), because of course, we all know that the doll the mother has bought is no ordinary doll, but a doll possessed with the soul of a serial killer who just happened to die in a shootout in a toy store the night before. Which, while kind of spooky, is also silly. I can see why the more recent films veered into pure camp, because killer doll movies are hard to take seriously.

Nonetheless, Child's Play doesn't go where I thought it would, which would be to have the other characters demonize the single working mom. That seemed to be a favorite past time of some groups in the 1980s, so score another one for the general open-mindedness of horror. The child is more demonized, at least by the other authority figures in the film; and he is placed in a psychiatric hospital. Mom eventually pieces it all together and convinces the cop to help (which he only does after being attacked by Chucky). It is also in the first film that the sequels are set up, since by the third act, Chucky begins his long and often interrupted quest to possess the soul of a human.

Child's Play has aged well, or better than it has any right to. I think it is due in part to having two Oscar-nominated actors in the cast, although you still have to wonder how the hell actors like Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif got into a film about a killer doll. This wasn't Sarandon's first time at the horror rodeo; but unless you count The Eyes of Laura Mars, it was for Dourif. And he since become one of the go-to guys for horror, although he still has roles in higher profile or higher quality films. The film also stars Catherine Hicks as the mother, and while she isn't bad, this is mostly amusing because she later went on to play the mom on the WB/CW Christian family drama series 7th Heaven.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Repost from 2011. This really is the most fucked up film of the series. I think I refused to re-watch it during my research two years ago, it was that bad.

Dir. Sally Mattison || 1990 || USA

Somewhat mercifully, we come to the last film in the Slumber Party Massacre series. John Carpenter once said that Halloween was not intended to become a series of films, but if he had had his way, each film would have been a different story with different characters, not just Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis, and an occasional Strode family member (granted, the one attempt to do this, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, failed and only since the late 90s or early 00s has it been praised). Slumber Party Massacre is proof that sometimes having the constant presence or link to the original film is for the better, because the only thing that links this series together is girls and large drills. Much to my sadness, the third film does not focus on a math and science team full of teenage girls, just so the series can tackle one more area where girls and women are under-represented. Slumber Party Massacre III also suffers from the inverse problem of the second film: awful first 50-60 minutes, decent last 20-30 minutes.

The basic story opens with a group of teenagers who look like they have not seen the inside of a high school for 5-15 years playing volleyball at the beach. A grungy, gothy Swede watches and the girls decide he is creepy; a clean-cut med student watches, and they decide he is cute. Such are the days before Alexander Skarsgard. The girls plan a slumber party for that night apparently because one of the girls is moving away soon. The boys plan to crash the party. There is also a creepy neighbor. If you think at least one guy sees the girls topless through the window and this all ends in a showdown inside the house, you would be correct.

This movie is very big on red herrings and Chekov's Gun. However, it fails on both and especially the latter. I almost wish this movie was about a girls' math and science team that could figure out how to rig a gigantic swordfish from a fixture within 30 seconds to maim the killer as soon as he enters the room. Otherwise, why mention and show the gigantic swordfish? This could almost be forgiven, because someone is killed with a realtor's post and a plug-in vibrator. There is a harpoon shot to the leg, but that's not as awesome as the possibility of swordfish through the gut. Someone just needs to write an adaptation of the Teen Girl Squad cartoons, where I do believe someone was "swordfish'd".

Is this film feminist? I guess it gets points for implied cunnilingus and the appearance of a vibrator*, and girls lasting longer than the boys in the fighting the killer department, but that's about it. This film also has the most useless cops since Black Christmas, the awful joke being that they ignore the calls that the girls make throughout the night, even after the first murder. But as soon as the creepy (white) neighbor dude calls, the police say they'll be right on it. Nevermind the fact that the killer in this film is just as psychotic as the one in the first film, killing one girl in the middle of the street, and one guy on the front porch fairly early on in the film. I guess slashers are supposed to mystify the notion that the suburbs are safer than the city, but this is a bit much. I find it a bit hard to believe that on any given Friday or Saturday night, all adults or parents on the block are out of town or having a date night. Of course, this film has some points against it as to why it might not be a feminist film afterall.


I mentioned in the post on the first Slumber Party Massacre film that in Carol Clover's book, she mentions in the afterword that the screenwriter of Slumber Party Massacre III changed the script  a bit after reading an early release of the first chapter of Clover's book. The film does go into psychology a bit more than the other two films, but in the offhand way that the first film does. The killer, Ken the med student, is the nephew of a cop who recently committed suicide. It is implied by one of the stupid cops that he may have committed suicide because he was gay. Perhaps not to make the film seem too homophobic, the second cop responds something along the lines of "that's not a reason to kill yourself." Like the rest of the series, sex is a psychological issue. Ken is either 1) impotent or 2) a a Ken doll. It's implied that Ken was molested by his uncle, who raised him after his parents died. Or something. But if that's the case, it's a homophobic line to take, equating homosexuality with wanting to molest children. There are a lot of gaps because Ken is psychotic, but he is more verbal than the killer from the first film. He says odd things to the girls as he attacks them. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film (or ever), the skinny girl with the Elvira hair, Maria, tries to appease him and get him to talk about what happened to him while he starts molesting her. The other girls just watch, although Ken has been blinded by bleach and has frequently been brained by lamps and other glass objects in the house. Maria does try to reach for a weapon while he's on top of her, but meets her death because she grabs for his crotch, thinking that it would appease him more. The surviving girls only use his blindness to their advantage after Maria is dead. Throughout the course of the last 20-30 minutes, the girls go out of their way to try to save or help one another, even if this usually means braining Ken with a large glass object while he looms over one of the other girls. So why the hell could no one help Maria while Ken was seriously looming over her? Is it because it is sort of implied that she's barely out of high school and working in seedy joints (either as a waitress or a stripper), being picked up by 50 year old men? Because she takes her clothes off? What? If the makers of the film went so far as to keep her alive until the last 5-10 minutes of the film, have her be clever enough to actually use some psychology on the killer, why not have her friends try to save her too? It tends to undermine the running theme of the series, which this film takes on more than the second film, which is girls helping each other in times of danger or need. Granted, the helping is futile in the series, but at least for Slumber Party Massacre III, the girls seem to make a better go of fighting and surviving longer than most.

The only other thing that could at the very least, link it to the first film is how absolutely devastated and shocked the girl who kills Ken looks after the other survivor girl stops her after she's driven the large drill into Ken's torso at least a dozen times, only to see that her best friend who was barely alive after Ken stabbed her, pass on next to him. It's not unlike Valerie in the first film. The irony is that the cops arrive after she has killed Ken for good, also not understanding that Ken managed to lock the girls inside the house so that they couldn't get out (save for one girl who threw herself through a glass patio door, only to injure herself before her murder). These films are not known for having stellar acting, but the lead actress does well in the final scene. You understand that this girl is not going to be all right ever again.

I say the last 20-30 minutes of Slumber Party Massacre III are decent because it's interesting, but almost interesting in a bad way just for all the messed up stuff that goes on. It really is a run-of-the-mill slasher film until the last half hour, then it drops one dude's disturbing psychological issues on you. Most other slasher series just dumped it on you in the first film, then stayed mindless for the rest of the series, however long it went on. Since there is very little consistency between the three Slumber Party Massacre films (other than how the second film is weakly linked to the first), it was as if the makers of each sequel was trying to re-invent the wheel in a slightly different fashion. Or they were just told by Roger Corman "I don't care as long as it has girls, tits, and a really big drill that serves as a metaphor for penises!"*

* What are words that are not going to help with the current onslaught my blog has gotten lately from porn site (spam)bots?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Deborah Brock || 1987 || USA

Slumber Party Massacre II is a weird amalgamation of the first film, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Driller Killer, with a healthy dose of a fear of losing one's virginity and/or penises, I'm not sure which. It's perhaps only notable for starring Crystal Bernard of the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Wings, the lady who played Veronica Sawyer's mom in Heathers, and a smattering of people who acted in slasher films throughout the mid-80s.

The film begins about five years after the first film, and focuses on Courtney, the little sister from the first film. Valerie's in a psychiatric hospital, and Courtney has a lot of nightmares about that night five years ago, but still functions as a normal teenager. She's even in a rock band with three other girls. And while their band only has one song, their song is better than everything else on the soundtrack, whose definition of "rock 'n' roll" is bad 1950s doo-wop songs filtered through the 1980s need to recreate such songs. The band decides to go to the singer's parents' new condo for the weekend to practice their song(s) for the upcoming school dance. Throughout the weekend, which is also Courtney's 17th birthday, her nightmares that concern a rocker dude with a gigantic drill on his guitar get worse.

If Slumber Party Massacre gets called a feminist horror film based on its little details, then the sequel cuts those little details by at least three-fourths. The girls in the film are in a decent band in a 80s Go-Gos-Bangles sort of way, and whether they are faking it or not, they're not bad with playing instruments (Crystal Bernard wrote a song for Paula Abdul around this time that appeared on her first album). The few boys in the film actually seem to enjoy watching the girls practice their song(s). SPMII is surprisingly less given to copious T&A shots, unlike the first film. Like the first film, there isn't too much shaming going on when one character just wants to have sex with her boyfriend, even if her boyfriend is the most annoying person in the film with his bad valley or surfer dude dialect. Also like the first film, most of the kids are pretty nice or normal and try to help each other when the killer finally shows up, even if their attempts are the most short and futile out of all the films. And despite how little goes on in the film, the sequel a bit better paced than the first film, although it is not as technically adventurous. The shots are quite boring; and there quite a lot of perspective and "play to the camera" shots, to the point where it seems as if they just called in actors one or two at at time to shoot or re-shoot.

Where SPMII fails story-wise however, is that for much of the film, it is unclear whether the killer rocker guy is real; and that he is an awful, unfunny rendition of Freddy Krueger prone to ridiculous dance moves, even whilst stalking the teens (what rockabilly breakdances?). The film often tips its hat to other slasher films. In the one holdover from the first film, Courtney's last name is "Bates", but the Devereaux household's name is changed to "Craven". Two police officers who stop by the condo are named "Krueger" and "Voorhees". I'm not sure if these references were considered clever in the 80s. SPMII is not the first 80s horror film to do this, but I find the references annoying as an audience member 20+ years later. Anyway, the film is too short to build up an obvious world or idea that the rocker dude can shift between the dream and real world, or why exactly he is stalking the Bates sisters and Courtney's friends. Or why he is a rocker with a drill on his guitar rather than something resembling the killer in the first film. I almost would have preferred a more obvious cop-out that the film seems to set up more as it goes on, which would make Courtney the killer. When Courtney dreams of the rocker, it is also when she is dreaming of Matt, her crush who resembles a poor man's Guy Pearce. It gives play to the idea that Courtney is secretly afraid of losing her virginity or is afraid of penises. The rocker hints that he has killed Valerie in the hospital and that he is the only guy that Courtney is meant to "go all the way" with. It makes no sense, but I guess Deborah Brock is no Rita Mae Brown in the writing skills department, or maybe something else was going on for the film's ending to be so haphazard. We're never told if Valerie has died in the psychiatric hospital. Valerie's fate in general is sad enough, so it would be nice to know if she is dead. The film has two or three endings that all infer slightly different things while setting it up for a sequel featuring the rocker again.

Slumber Party Massacre II is not a bad film for the first 50-60 of its 70 minutes. There is one instance of pretty good special effects where one girl's imagined pimple grows to cover most of her face, then explodes. It just has a very confused story with perhaps some mixed messages about sex.