Showing posts with label source unmentionable. Show all posts
Showing posts with label source unmentionable. 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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

La Horde/The Horde, 28 Days Later, and the division of heroines

Repost from 2011.

Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology || Jennifer K. Stuller || 2010
28 Days Later || Dir. Danny Boyle || 2003 || UK
La Horde/The Horde || Dirs. Benjamin Rocher & Yannick Dahan || 2009 || France

I recently finished a book by Jennifer K. Stuller called Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Despite the somewhat academic-y title, it's a breezy read, primarily because Stuller never takes sides in the debates over whether female heroines should be nurturing and sexual while still being protective, or not (i.e., the lone wolf stereotype); at least when these debates are brought up. The book of course covers Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Alias, The Sarah Jane Chronicles, blaxploitation films; and in a radical turn, Dark Angel, the series starring Jessica Alba. Most of these shows and films did allow the main female characters to have romantic and sexual relationships while still fighting for good. So it is only when discussing these shows or movies that Stuller takes the former side rather than the latter.

This crossover has maybe not quite yet made it into film, perhaps because TV is episodic and you get to know characters of the course of several seasons, if you're lucky; and of course you want to see characters develop relationships with each other in some form. When 28 Days Later came out nine years ago, feminist zinester friends of mine seemed to bemoan the fact that once at the military compound and/or she falls in love with Jim, Selena is not much of a fighter anymore and is made fun of by the military men when she attempts to. She is forced to shift over to protect herself and the much younger Hannah over the dreadful fate that looms over them (i.e., rape and forced motherhood). The problem with this argument is that it ignored the fact that Selena was not a superhuman warrior, she was not prepped to become one, and she was not trained by any secret force. She is just a human who had to put up a very cold facade to deal with an ugly situation. The only hint we're given to Selena's life pre-outbreak is that she "qualifies as a chemist!" While I'm sure she would put up a very good fight if she had to battle a dozen or so military officers with a machete, she would probably be defeated. In the scene where she and Mark give Jim the exposition in the subway convenience store, she is the only one who does not share what she had to go through to survive (the actress who played Selena, Naomie Harris, said that she made up the backstory that Selena had to kill her entire family when they became infected, including a 3-year-old brother). This doesn't explain why the recently convalescent Jim sprightly takes down the military group when he is a whisper-thin thing of a man, but it is Jim's story. In battle mode, he's like the wind, and perhaps uses his smallness to his advantage. Then again, he was a bike courier and those dudes are tough. There was an alternate ending or two for Jim. One being that he died from his gunshot wound, the other being a completely alternate storyline where Jim gives himself up by transfusing all his blood to the infected Frank, bypassing the entire military compound storyline. The latter was not shot, just storyboarded.

In zombie films, there is a divide. It can be pinpointed to the two different portrayals of Barbara in the 1968 and 1990 versions of Night of the Living Dead. 1968 Barbara, as portrayed by Judith O'Dea, was completely useless, but dealt with the new situation as some people would, which would be to have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, it's cool that in 2011 people are so inured to the fictionalized zombie world that they think that they could survive if zombies or something similar were to actually happen, but it's just a thought. See civilization and everyone you know fall apart or die, and realize that you actually have never held a weapon in your life, and we'll see what happens. 1990 Barbara, as portrayed by professional stuntwoman Patricia Tallman, becomes the hardcore version of Barbara. She breaks down at first, but becomes an almost cold and emotionless fighter. Tony Todd's Ben is more emotional in this film - he is more prone to crying. This isn't to say that Barbara won't break down later, but she shoots a fellow survivor in cold blood just because he is an asshole. There is no middle ground with the Barbaras in these two films.

Aurore in The Horde is closer to 1990 Barbara, despite being a whisper-thin (and braless) thing of a French woman. However, unlike Selena, she has had combat training because she is a cop. The Horde revolves around a small group of corrupt cops who invade a rundown building in the projects outside of Paris, seeking revenge upon a group of immigrant drug dealers who killed a fellow cop who was undercover. Not too long after the cops come upon the dealers, they realize a zombie infection has broken out. Not just within the dealers' apartment and the building, but also in Paris. The remaining dealers and cops must band together to try to find a way out of the building alive. There is a high level of distrust going on, especially from the dealers, as well as Aurore. Aurore early on is yelled at for crying, and the blame is placed on her for having the undercover cop killed, since she told him that she was pregnant with his child. It is implied that she did this just to mess with his head. She is given immediate care of the other wounded cop who has been shot in the leg.

Aurore and the wounded cop are soon separated from the rest of the group. It is soon displayed that Aurore is not someone you want to trifle with. She kills a zombie by repeatedly punching it in the head and body, then overturning a refrigerator onto it. She nearly kills the other cop, after he expresses some sympathy for her. The plot, character, and motivations in The Horde are not the most well-written. We don't know why Aurore suddenly flips and turns into a mercenary. It is likely that she has taken a lot of shit over the years for being a female cop, but why flip now? Even after the other characters notice the change in her, they still treat her as someone to be protected, when they perhaps should be more afraid that she will kill them all (and the group is soon small enough where she could). She particularly has it out for the leader of the dealers, Adewale, who she believes murdered the father of her child. The most reasonable member of both groups, Adewale is a Nigerian immigrant and refugee from the violence there, along with his more tempestuous younger brother Bol. He is the only member of the group who seems to have some sort of respect for the dead. Yet, he tends to patronize Aurore by calling her "dear", even after she has threatened his life.

The Horde is a pretty good film. Not as good as I thought it would be, but better than most. It is interesting because of the characters of Adewale and Aurore, as well as the fact that the characters tend to fight the zombies in hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes this is because there are no weapons, sometimes it is by choice. Aurore especially seems to thrive in crushing zombie heads. However, it is frustrating to watch the characters learn, then almost immediately forget that the zombies stay down if you shoot them in the head (not unlike the doctor in The Beyond). The zombies run in this one, adding to the tension. They also strangely hoard bodies. These are all interesting elements, but not enough is done with them. It is as if the filmmakers did not know whether to make a zombie action film or something a bit more human like the old Romero movies or the 28...Later series.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Austenland (2013) and Romantic Fantasy vs. Historical Fact vs. the 21st Century

The facial expression of the foot servant on the left...

My name is Sarah and I studied literature in undergrad, particularly 19th-early 20th Century British and American literature, and Southern literature.

Austenland (2013, Dir. Jerusha Hess) is a fun, cute movie that only seems to peripherally deal with fandom, fluctuating Austenmania, theme parks or theme vacation packages, and dating in the 21st century simply because it is trying to shoehorn in all of those subjects in at once. Keri Russell plays a woman in her 30s who has had an obsession with Pride & Prejudice and particularly Mr. Darcy since she was a teenager. This has been to the detriment of forming a real relationship with any man. Under the old “you’re not getting any younger” bit (which is mercifully short), she decides to kill her savings and take a vacation to Austenland in England, which may or may not have been advertised to her as a role-playing game where guests form real relationships by the end.* It is one of the many confusing areas of the film, for both the audience and for Jane, Russell’s character.

Austenland harps on how simpler things were in the late 18th century, although they really were not. Austen’s novels tend to display that relationships were no less complicated during the Regency era, just by having to live by the Regency standards of manners and morals alone. The film does not comment much on why in Pride & Prejudice and to a lesser extent, Sense & Sensibility, there were mothers obsessed with having their daughters married off: due to primogeniture laws back then, women could not own land or much of anything really - sometimes in the worst cases, not even a claim to their own children. So if the father dies, the wife and the children - whether the children are young or just unmarried - are at the mercy of a male heir, whether it is the oldest son, a son from a previous marriage that the husband had, or a distant cousin. In the best-to-okay standards, as in Sense & Sensibility, they were given an allowance and a cottage to live in. Austen’s novels function as a criticism of sorts for those laws. Mrs. Bennet would not be so damn silly if her future was more secure and she were allowed to keep her house after Mr. Bennet dies.

The film lightly comments on a class system in place during the Regency era, one that remains in place at the vacation estate. Because she could not afford a more expensive package, Jane is excluded from certain activities and is given a room in the servant’s quarters. Although the film treads over this fact of life in the 18th Century, it injects more 21st Century subjectivity into the film once Jane decides to control her own fate in her vacation, despite her status at the estate. But this is undermined when Jane begins to understand the facades on top of facades for the vacation, she learns that the romantic interest she was given was from the one man who seems to be meant for the women who cannot afford the “premium” package vacation. The film maintains the Mr. Darcy/Colonel Brandon vs. caddish character dichotomy (+/- annoying and silly male character also always present in Austen's novels), although it always keeps it on a fine line. This is partially helped by casting Bret McKenzie, because you really cannot help either seeing him as the sweet and shy Bret on Flight of the Conchords or as the guy who wrote “Man or Muppet”. The film simultaneously reflects and deflects, deconstructs and reconstructs, the idea that romance is a construct and often fantasy often propelled by novels and films. The prologue takes the deflection end to an exaggerated level where Austenland is turned into a bonafide themepark with rides and live shows performed by the gorgeous Captain East/soap opera actor.

It might have been even funnier if the prologue featured expansions into Charles Dickens, Bronte sisters, and Thomas Hardy vacation packages or themeparks. A Wuthering Heights vacation package, where everyone quickly learns that the novel is actually horrific, not romantic. In Austenland, Jennifer Coolidge plays a woman who only has seen the Austen film and TV adaptations and has never read the novels. It is my understanding, while I have only seen one Wuthering Heights adaptation (the 1960s BBC version with a young Ian McShane as Heathcliff), that the Olivier version is why some people see it as a romantic story.** Think of the soul crushing possibilities!

*Alternately, the vacation package can be read as a form of male prostitution - they are there to fulfill a mostly romantic fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. The foot servants, as pictured above, tend to be hunky types, and it is mostly male "actors" at the estate. Although the guests and actors are charged to behave in Regency mode, of course it is strongly implied that some guests and actors deviate at various levels.

**Although I have not seen the adaptation with Laurence Olivier, I will venture to guess that Heathcliff's abusive tendencies were mostly squashed for that adaptation due to the Production Code in place at the time.

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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Amy Holden-Jones || 1982 || USA

For the next month, I'm going to be writing about the Slumber Party Massacre series of films, along with Sorority House Massacre. The Slumber Party Massacre series, along with the first Sorority House Massacre film, were all written and directed by women. The films were also distributed by two Roger Corman companies, New World, then Concorde (or New Concorde). Corman also produced all but the first Slumber Party Massacre film.

Slumber Party Massacre is considered the godmother of feminist horror films. Some credit it as being the inspiration for Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in Modern Horror Film, although the film is mentioned only a few times throughout the course of the book (Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and I Spit on Your Grave are given more consideration). The film is notable as being  the first slasher film written and directed by women. Feminist author Rita Mae Brown co-wrote the script with Amy Holden Jones, who also directed. The film focuses on a group of high school girls that are on the basketball team together who have a slumber party for "old times sake" while the lead girl, Trish Devereaux's parents are out of town. Of course, that very weekend, a serial killer has escaped from prison. Brown and Jones intended it as a parody of slasher films, which in 1982, was still doing well as a genre, although there were already at least two parodies out, Student Bodies and Wacko. At some point, Jones decided to shoot the film as straight-forward, although there are a few amusing moments throughout the film. Brown later disowned the film claiming that the film added more to the problem rather than turning slasher films on its head, while Jones claims in the documentary Going to Pieces: the Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film that she remains proud of the film.

I think the feminism, as well as the horror and the humor in Slumber Party Massacre is more in the little details rather than the big picture. Upon second viewing, I forgot how T&A filled this film is, and between watching the second film and reading a little about the third film so far, it is my understanding that the T&A becomes less gratuitious and copious as the series wears on. Since the first SPM comes roughly 14 years after the height of the Second Wave feminist movement, it's a bit bizarre having to wonder if the braless-ness is due to feminism or due to wanting to appeal to guys. In retrospect, it seems like one of the rare times feminism and sex appeal intersect, but in the odd realm of the time before Third Wave feminism where people were sometimes more comfortably combining the two (of course this makes me wonder why bra burning is still not considered a tenet of feminism, whereas not shaving and constantly talking about not shaving is considered a rite of passage for most baby feminists). Watching the basketball scene early on in the film, I noticed both the braless-ness (logically, wouldn't that chafe while playing sports?) and that the actresses were perhaps not that great at pretending to play basketball, although most of the actresses are tall. Even with all the bouncing and nudity, the film still occasionally carries the air of an old Summer's Eve commercial.

Then there are the other little details. Besides the fact the film is about a girls basketball team, which is rare not just in horror films, but in other types of films; the film also features a telephone repairwoman and a general handywoman. All the girls seem obsessed with sports statistics, a point driven home quite often throughout the film. The most petite member of the team flips her much larger boyfriend after he sneaks up on her. The ostracized new girl, Valerie, and her younger sister Courtney, read Playgirl while occasionally keeping an eye on Trish's house (signaling that Brown and/or Jones are not anti-porn feminists). Trish did invite Valerie over, but Valerie overheard the snobby petite girl saying mean things about her and declined the invitation. These scenes sort of play as the anti-Carrie, displaying that some teenage girls can be nice and appreciative towards classmates who are talented and pretty and not make everything a competition.

The thing that has stood out for me with both viewings is that once they understand that a killer has been hanging around the house, characters both inside of the house and outside of the house make a valiant attempt to work together so as many people as possible are saved. The two goofy male classmates of the girls who came to the house to spy on the party seem to understand that in their attempt to go find help outside of the house, that they may not make it back alive. They're normal dorky teenage boys, they do not pretend to have machismo. Valerie has an intuition that something is not right and calls their coach as well as checks out the house herself, both from afar and eventually, up close. The film has this communal feel to it in these scenes as well as earlier ones where the girls do not fall trap to the usual horror trope of "I'll be right back, I'm gonna go check out the fusebox in the garage" by having everyone go check the fusebox together. Yeah, the kids do fall victim anyway due to things like not locking the garage door and not keeping all the window and doors in the house closed and locked, but there are interesting attempts to buck the tropes a little.

The humor in the film is somewhat amusing. Throughout the film, there are sort of faux-jump scares. They do not work, but I'm not sure that they were intended to most of the time. This mostly consists of assorted male (and sometimes female) characters coming up behind one of the girls and inadvertently scaring them. The weirdest attempts at humor come towards the end of the film, as one of the girls decides that fear makes her hungry and that eating will make her feel better, and she starts eating a slice of pizza atop the dead pizza delivery guy, much to the disgust of the other girls. There's also the scene where a girl searches for a suitable deadly and threatening tool in the basement, and charges up the stairs with a plugged-in circular saw.

I was flipping through my copy of Clover's book, and she mentions in the afterword that a lot of horror filmmakers do read Freud, and that some other directors had changed their films a bit after reading the first and early-released chapter of her book, including the director of Slumber Party Massacre III. So yes, everyone knows that the drill that the killer uses is one absurdly huge phallic symbol. As is the machete that one of the girls uses to dispatch the killer. While I haven't read Clover's book in years, I have the vague remembrance that she discusses the sort of fluid sexualities of most slasher film killers. I think the killer in SPM is perhaps no exception. Yes, he kills a couple of women at first, but for a good stretch of the film, he mostly kills males. However, there is the feeling that he is killing the males just to be able to get to the girls easier. The killer is psychotic to the point where he kills a person in a front yard, so he is pretty single-minded in his pursuit of the girls. I don't think he is telling the males that they are pretty and that he loves them and that is why he has to kill them, but then again, Brown and Jones do not have him utter a word until the final scene of the film.

Slumber Party Massacre is not the greatest slasher film, but it is an interesting one and deserves its place in horror history. The characters are likeable. The way the film is shot is gritty and more technically adventurous than most female directors' first films. While perhaps not a straight parody, it has a lot of different details to it and it was attempting to buck the tropes a decade or two before the most recent horror trend of neo-slashers playing with the tropes and usually with middling success.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Film Still Friday: I Know Who Killed Me || 2007 || Dir. Chris Sivertson || USA

From that brief moment in I Know Who Killed Me where you think that the film could seriously go into some seriously grotesque, hilarious territory. This image is verging on painterly, and is similar to Chuck Close's paintings in the 1960s and 1970s.

Proposal for a new genre title: Lohsploitation.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What I have been watching lately: Jean Rollin, Red State, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story...

Repost from November 2011.
I should be working on papers right now, although I took an extension on them for Winter Break because of intermittent severe headaches and vision problems leftover from my concussion in October. I have no control over when they happen, and unfortunately they keep happening when I want or need to write or do research. My papers, as I predicted in October, are on Jean Rollin, classical French film theory, and I also have one on Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon that I have been sitting on, unfinished, since the day before my concussion. I have been on a French film and surrealist bender this quarter. I have been watching a lot of Jean Rollin's films this year and this past month. While my paper will only be focusing on The Rape of the Vampire and The Night of the Hunted (one of his three "zombie" films), I have still been watching anything of his that interests me or that I can get my hands on. The only one of his films that I cannot recommend at any level is Zombie Lake, which oddly enough, is his fairly straight zombie picture...I say "fairly straight" because it does have a story line where one of the Nazi zombies has reunited with his pre-teen daughter...although the Nazis were assassinated during of course, World War II by the villagers, and the film seems to take place in 1980, which makes no sense if the daughter is ten years old. Zombie Lake was also one of Rollin's lowest budgeted pictures, and that's saying something if you have ever seen any of his movies or read much on his films. It is one of the few Rollin pictures where you can tell that it seemed impossible to make the most of what little money there was.

Yeah, I don't know either. At least the Italians made their zombies look all arts & craftsy, what with the papier mache faces.

I think I discovered Rollin at a good point, considering for the past couple of years or so, I have been quite bored with horror at times. While Rollin has his obsessions that anyone will notice if they watch enough of his films, including how entrenched he is in surrealism well after its time as an art movement was over; I like how unconventional his films are. His endings are rarely happy and even if certain films end relatively well for the characters, there is still a sense of melancholia or even a looming sense of death. 

Speaking of unconventional horror films, I watched Red State last weekend. I am not a Kevin Smith megafan. I liked his movies when I was a teenager, but now I tend to see every other one if it sounds kind of interesting. Red State is not a perfect film - it is not subtle in its message, it's final message is kind of mixed, Melissa Leo's acting was over the top, and the opening scene at the high school bugs me to no end because that is not how a public school teacher acts in any era; but it is unconventional. It is almost like Full Metal Jacket how abruptly it switches gears, tone, and the characters we follow. Who we expect to live just based on horror conventions, likeability, or even logic is defied. The only other good thing I can say about the film is that John Goodman is awesome in it. I have missed seeing John Goodman in movies.

I have been watching a lot of bad TV this past week since last Monday night I had the worst headache I have had since hitting my head. My doctor says it is okay if I watch stupid things. So I was bedridden for a couple of days watching nothing but the second season of The Walking Dead so far and whatever episodes of American Horror Story I could find on Hulu. 

I was not a total fan of the first season of The Walking Dead. I maintain that the first episode was wonderful. But if I have to remain diplomatic at some level, I will say that the even numbered episodes were terrible, while the odd ones were better. Other than Rick being Sheriff Exposition for the first five minutes of the second season premiere, the first episode of this season was pretty good. Unfortunately, it has become tedious and like a spinning tire*. I look forward to this week's episode if it means opening up the zombie barn and maybe losing a few more characters. The series likes to project things, then take several episodes, if perhaps another season to get to the issue and/or resolve it. Lori's pregnancy for example. What is being projected this year from the main characters and secondary or even tertiary characters is Rick's leadership, the issue of neglect, and the idea of splitting up the group. Shane and Andrea, obviously. Daryl in last week's episode (and Daryl truly needs to ditch the group, even if it means taking boring old Carol), and in the second episode, T-Dog, even if he reneges on the idea later. What I find weird about T-Dog's "fever" thoughts is that he is right - he, Dale, and sometimes even Glenn are sidelined because of their age (Dale) and races (T-Dog and Glenn). Women on this show are sidelined altogether. The Walking Dead is not exactly Lost, where we learn about each character every week. Granted, Lost was not a perfect show either and harped on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle for several seasons, but at least each character got his or her individual episodes! And maybe The Walking Dead is going in that direction a bit this season, where we followed Shane and his adventure to get medical supplies to help Carl, and last week's episode with Daryl in the woods, but it was too little and did not establish much beyond what we already knew: Shane is likely deranged, and Daryl is a badass...and oh, he's not as racist as his brother Merle because he has saved T-Dog at least three times by now**. I think they fired last season's writers and replaced them with even worse writers. But yeah, the group will at least temporarily disband before the season is over. And maybe Lori will finally tell Rick about her pregnancy and/or her time with Shane, and maybe The Walking Dead will finally have a Maury Povich-based episode. And I guess Daryl better watch it since characters played by noted indie character actors do not live forever on this show, as this season has shown yet again.

We know that Shane is crazy because of the shaved head, vacant stare, mouth agape, and furrowed brow.
American Horror Story is at least fun-bad and thoroughly entertaining. It is truly the most batshit live-action television show I have ever seen. The pregnant wife eats a brain like it's no thing! There is a teenage boy stuck in 1994 who frequently speaks of Kurt Cobain (just Kurt Cobain, never Nirvana), Quentin Tarantino, Al Pacino, and Robert DeNiro; and the depressed neo-Blossom Russo-dressed teenage daughter of the family nevernever asks him his opinion on the more recent and terrible movies Pacino and DeNiro have been in! I have never been one for haunted house stories, but American Horror Story takes your average haunted house story and amps it up several times over and then combines it with at least one other horror story or trope every week, usually more than one! It is hard to say if there is a bigger meaning to this show, I doubt it even knows. The classmate who told me about this show said it was Ryan Murphy's gay revenge on America. We keep discovering the lives of the previous inhabitants who are now ghosts of the house. There is the drunk surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-mad scientist and his wife, two nursing students, a gay couple, a woman who was raped, the pregnant mistress maybe, the male redheaded twins...but we also have the people from the home invasion episode, and rubber man who may or may not be a ghost. I mean, I guess redheads have been persecuted throughout society. Some people believe that everyone on this show is a ghost! We will eventually find out that the house was built on an Native American burial ground, because why not?

American Horror Story is also fun because most episodes feature at least one "hey, it's that guy!/lady!" moment. 

Rubber Man, Rubber Man. Does whatever a rubber can...except not.
* Yesterday, I read this post at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog that discusses how bloodthirsty zombie movie fans and movie characters are these days. I would not say that I am a bloodthirsty zombie fan or that the characters on The Walking Dead are bloodthirsty (although that is another inconsistency, especially with Rick). I would like The Walking Dead to be a watchable show that like in the first episode, does consider that the zombies were people once. Overall, I would like a good story and some characters I could care about and who are maybe more thoughtful or intelligent. The only thing The Walking Dead has been somewhat good at displaying is the tried-and-true story method of humans being just as dangerous to humans as zombies are, if not more so.

** 2011 seems to be the year of the (good) redneck in horror. I finally saw Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a couple of weeks ago because it surprisingly came to the indie theater in town (I guess because it takes place in West Virginia, and I live about 40 minutes away from the West Virginia state line now). I was worried that it would not meet my expectations because I have been anticipating this movie for almost two years, but I also had no idea what the film was about past the trailer. It was a good, fun movie that was surprisingly sweet and had some interesting twists to the story and characters. And yes, the film was quite gory at times. So there are surprises out there every once in awhile. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

What I've been watching lately in four sentences or less

Repost from 2011.


The Fall of the House of Usher (1929 || Dir. Jean Epstein || France)
Not nearly as surrealist as some would have you believe.

Blood and Roses (1960 || Dir. Roger Vadim || France)
A slightly more heteronormative-incestuous take on Carmilla, but still interesting.

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966 || Dir. Robert Bresson || France)
Poor donkey.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011 || Dir. Joe Johnston || USA)
The most watchable and fun out of the Marvel Studios films released this year. No daddy issues ('sup, Thor?), and it doesn't take itself too seriously ('sup, X-Men: First Class?). It honestly has Cap jumping a ramp on a motorcycle, away from an exploding Nazi camp. Cap runs away from explosions quite a few times in the film, so it almost cancels out the terrible creepiness of the first 30 minutes consisting of Chris Evans being made to appear shorter and skinnier through CGI.

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962 || Dir. Jess Franco ||France-Spain)
Jess Franco's first film, a slightly sleazier retread on Eyes without a Face. It's not a very entertaining retread and the era it takes place in is indeterminable.

The Spirits of the Dead (1968 || Dirs. Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini || France-Italy)
European artsy-sleazy takes on Poe stories with pretty people? Bet you didn't know Fellini could do head decapitations, did you? I would like to frame most of the shots in Fellini's segment "Toby Dammit" and put it on my wall because that man could do Technicolor. The anthology is pretty good, although Malle's story isn't that great except for being able to look at Alain Delon and a brunette Brigitte Bardot.

Faceless (1987 || Dir. Jess Franco || France-Spain)
Another retread of Eyes without a Face by Jess Franco, this one being better, if a bit repetitive and drawn out. There are nods to The Awful Dr. Orloff.

Flyboys (2006 || Dir. Tony Bill || USA)
A dull movie that takes itself too seriously, despite what the trailer would have you believe sometimes (i.e., guy running away from explosion on top of a zeppelin). I fast-forwarded through much of the last hour and was a better person for doing that. Someone should have told James Franco that there were no frosted hair tips during World War I.

Punisher: War Zone (2008 || Dir. Lexi Alexander || USA)
The most comic book out of all comic book movies - the colors, the over-the-top violence and characters (complete with bad NYC accents for the villains), the cinematography  - all comic book. Sometimes the film drags a little, but then there's another insane set piece. 

Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984 || Dir. Edmund Purdom || UK)
I watched this because the guy who played the dean in Pieces stars and directed this movie. I guess if the idea of a serial killer killing people in Santa suits sounds good, check it out. Otherwise, I can't recommend it because that's really all the film is: killing Santas and some police procedural - it's as if the movie was being written as it was filmed. This movie makes Silent Night, Deadly Night look profound.

Burnt Offerings (1976 || Dir. Dan Curtis || USA)
Many of the daytime scenes were very washed out looking and I am not totally sure why. It's perhaps better than most haunted house movies, if a little slow sometimes (this is a high compliment from me, considering that I've never been one for haunted house films). The ending is quite good and dark.

C.H.U.D. (1984 || Dir. Douglas Cheek || USA)
Not a terribly bonkers horror film, but it has a good "future stars" cast, good special effects, and it fits in well with other early 1980s gritty NYC horror films.

Children of the Corn (1984 || Dir. Fritz Kiersch || USA)
While I haven't read the short story since I was probably 12, this is not a good movie. It's like a moralistic, somewhat dull, and ballsless version of Who Could Kill a Child?. The film also has this bizarre dichotomy of the two good, non-cult children being cute, while the majority of the children in the cult are either awkward-looking or ugly.

The Bride Wore Black (1968 || Dir. Francois Truffaut || France)
Bet you didn't know that Truffaut did semi-Hitchcockian revenge films, did you? This is not a bloody film, but quite clever.