Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Catching up with 2011: The Ides of March

If it weren't for Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March would feel more like a great episode of television than a movie one really needs to go out of their way to see. Gosling is, as everyone knows by now, one of the best young actors working today (alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon I'm hard-pressed to find three better young actors working right now), and he really saves this movie from being pretty, "meh." Don't get me wrong, though, Clooney (who stars, directs, and co-writes) is more than adept at making this kind of cerebral, political thriller. Loosely based on the Howard Dean campaign of 2004, The Ides of March fits neatly into the type of film Clooney the director seems drawn to: movies about men of high intelligence and energy (and are somewhat idealistic) who have their worlds close in on them until they reach their breaking point. It's not that The Ides of March is ineffective or even bad; it's just that in the end, it's wholly forgettable. The film doesn't tell the viewer something they don't already know about the soul-crushing endeavor of working on a campaign (and politics in kind of reminded me of Charlie Wilson's War in this respect), but it is filled with great performances (the aforementioned Gosling, of course) from the likes of Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Max Minghella. It won't make any end-of-the-year lists, but it's certainly worth your 100 minutes when it comes out on DVD.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Catching up with 2011: 50/50

A disappointing movie for sure, 50/50 is only works on occasion and suffers, like most Seth Rogen vehicles, from a horrible small-minded view of women. The thing of it is, 50/50 – aside from being based on Rogen’s friend and screenwriter Will Reiser – shouldn’t have even been seen as a Seth Rogen movie (he’s barely in it), but here we are. It’s too bad because Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a damn fine performance that often steers clear of the dreaded “actor playing someone afflicted with cancer” clichés. I can’t say I can put myself in the shoes of the characters as the cancer plot didn’t really move me from a personal experience side of things. This left me focusing more on the lesser elements of the film – the elements that director Jonathan Levine seemed incapable of directing a different way – those moments that were so groan-inducing because they felt like they needed to be in a completely different Rogen vehicle, not one that tries to deal with the subject of cancer. Rogen’s character is so hateful in this movie. Not for a second does 50/50 take into consideration how someone having cancer affects those close to that person (it’s too tame and narrow-minded of a movie to think outside of its limitation), so when Levitt’s girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) has conflicting emotions about being with her boyfriend who has cancer she’s labeled as a whore or a slut or even worse by Rogen’s character. I think the film wants us to side with the “bro” Rogen, but all it did was make me hate his character even more. His character was so ugly and distracting that whenever he popped up on screen, I tuned out. The scene that epitomizes this is when Rogen’s character catches Levitt’s girlfriend kissing another guy, and he yells at her as she tried to explain to Levitt that he caught her and that he has hated her forever and that now he has the evidence that she is a bad person; yet, he’s the one who comes off as a bad person…a horrible person, really, and if it weren’t for Howard acting the hell out of the scene, it would just sit there as a really nasty moment in otherwise forgettable movie.

The movie loses its teeth by the end, anyhow, so I don’t think even a good performance from Rogen (who immediately goes into Rogen mode when we first see him with lines like, “You smell like you fucked the cast of The View” when commenting on the way Levitt smells) would have saved it. I didn’t even bother writing down the characters names, and I don’t even feel like doing a Google search for them; I haven’t even gotten into how shitty romantic subplot in this movie is and how horribly stilted a performance the always coma-inducing Anna Kendrick gives (not that’s she’s given much a character to begin with). That’s how little I care about this movie. What a waste.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Catching up with 2011: Super

If James Gunn’s (who made the pretty good Slither) Super had maintained the same tone as its opening five minutes, then the film would have been something. Sadly, however, Super is a hodgepodge of tones that never work. Its best elements – a great supporting performance by Kevin Bacon* as a slimy strip club owner being chief among them – seem like they belong in another movie. Rainn Wilson is fine as sadsack Frank who has a vision from God to tell crime to, “Shut up!” Wilson is a talented actor that always has a way of making the most outrageous things humorous because he keeps them grounded in a semblance of reality. Of course, this is evident in a lot of Dwight Schrute’s behavior on “The Office,” but in Super, there just isn’t any kind of thread that connects the darkly absurd elements together. Consider the scene where Frank dons a fake beard to get information for his first outing as The Crimson Bolt (the superhero he thinks God wants him to be)…this seems like something that is wholly Dwight Schrute and not the character Frank in this film. One of the main problems with the film – aside from the varying tones that never click – is Ellen Page. Here, Gunn seems to think that – much like the bizarrely graphic violence – having Page over enunciate her profanity (as if to show that she’s the anti-Juno or something) is somehow funny. I’m not averse to profanity, it can often make a scene funnier, but I hate it when filmmakers think that characters swearing, especially crassly and in front of kids or having characters go against type by swearing a lot, is just funny because it somehow it is “edgy” (look, there’s a reason why Kenny Powers works as a character on “Eastbound & Down” and the fact that he swears so much isn’t part of the reason).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Catching up with 2011: Our Idiot Brother

The first of many reviews where I attempt to get caught up with this year's movies. 

If I were in charge of handing out year-end awards for 2011, Paul Rudd would get Best Actor. Like an episode of “Parks and Recreation,” Our Idiot Brother is, to say it very plainly, a warm film that just plain made me feel good while I was watching it. Paul Rudd is the main reason why as Our Idiot Brother made me smile throughout its wonderfully brisk 90 minute running time thanks to the performance of the year. Here’s a Sundance film that seemed, based on the posters and ad campaign, as if it were going to illicit the usual “meh” response I think of whenever one of these types of movies comes out (the Little Miss Sunshine complex). However, despite first-time director Jesse Peretz being a little ho-hum with how safe he directs, always making sure that the film feels very Sundance-y, he wisely allows his cast to take control of the movie to create one of the warmest movies I’ve seen in a long time; there isn’t a cynical bone its body. It’s so nice in this era of nastiness that permeates from every recent comedy that a film can just exist and observe its characters without a hint of irony or mean-spiritedness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Favorite Albums of 2011

I’ve always preferred to keep my love of music within the margins of the industry. Even with something as marginalized (read: not mainstream) as the “indie scene,” I still prefer to find the niches within the niche. Sure, I could peruse the pages of and try to find whatever is the new cool thing to listen (I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work for me), but I’ve always enjoyed how organic music fandom can be, and when the love for a particular album and discovering an artist is a genuine thing, well, there’s nothing more exhilarating than that. I think more than any other medium music lends itself to this kind of enthusiasm; a type of fandom that is all at once exhilarating but rather daunting, too. The reason I think it’s a daunting is because I prefer to listen to music rather than lyrics, so I’ll have to sit with an album for months sometimes before I even form an opinion. It’s why I’m always reluctant to crawl out of my little nook, remove the earbuds of familiarity, and try something new. I like what I’ve always liked. I will stick with a band because it’s familiar or because I have a strong history tied to it. I will also seek other bands that tend to tour with the bands I like. It’s all very homogeneous, but it works for me. It’s why I was so grateful to be a part of Ed Howard’s music club this year; it opened my eyes to a variety of genres that I normally wouldn’t have tried (Jazz and Reggae specifically).

So, this year I really challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone, throw off the shackles of familiarity, and really try to branch out and try new music. What I found was a lot of my tastes zeroing in on the indie genre – I suppose my tastes, having always existed in the margins of mainstream music, would naturally steer themselves there – and I was surprised to find some non-post-hardcore/noise/guitar driven bands that I really liked.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oh, hey, readers...

Yes, my blogging habits recently have been about as maddening as trying to decipher Tommy Wiseau's dialogue, but I vow to change that soon. I'll have a post up soon on my favorite albums of the year. This is also the time of the year (now that I'm on winter break) where I don't have to worry about work, and I begin my annual immersion into catching up with all of the 2011 movies that I missed. I'll be posting some reviews shortly.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Postscript

 Creepy old lady says, "Don't forget to come back next year!"

Thanks to everyone that helped contribute a piece to this year's blogathon. I felt it went extremely well this year (even though I didn't have nearly as many people participate, but I'll glad trade that quantity for the quality of this year's pieces), and I can't wait to do it again next year. I've already got a list of movies to watch for next year (really good ones, too!); I hope you all will join me again. Thanks again for making this whole blogging thing so much to do.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Day Six

Happy Halloween, everyone! Check out my final post below. Keep sending in your links; I'll be updating this post throughout the day. Previous days contributions can be found after the jump.


Tim is back with his take on Demons 2. Check it out.

Simon Wright of Creatures of Light and Darkness returns with a great look at Italian soundtracks.

Stacia of She Blogs By Night takes a look at Argento's short films Jennifer and Pelts; two films he made for the television series "Masters of Horror." I have to admit, I haven't seen the made-for-Showtime series, but Stacia's coverage of these two short films makes me want to check it out.

Italian Horror Blogathon: The Sect (aka La setta, The Devil's Daughter)

I knew when I started this blogathon that I wanted to make sure I covered some stalwarts of the Italian horror subgenre. Everyone knows about Fulci and Argento (both have been covered with the first blogathon), but I always feel the urge to carry the torch for the lesser known, underappreciated Michele Soavi. Last blogathon I covered three of his four horror films – Stagefright, Cemetery Man, and The Church – and this year I knew I wanted to cover the other one: the much maligned The Sect. I also knew that I wanted some of these posts to coalesce a little bit more than the previous blogathon, and so I found it natural to talk about this film in light of my piece on Lamberto Bava’s Graveyard Disturbance, and how that film marked the end of bigger budget Italian horror movies. Made in 1991, The Sect had a budget of 2 million dollars (actually quite large at the time for Italian horror movies) and wasn’t much of a success. The film clocks in at almost two hours and seems to take itself way more seriously than Italian horror films of the past. However, I’ve always liked the film and feel that it is unfairly maligned when you compare to the weak attempts by contemporaries Argento (Trauma), Fulci (Demonia), Deodato (The Washing Machine), and Bava (Mask of the Demon) around that same time. Soavi, when compared to his contemporaries, was actually making the most interesting and innovative Italian horror films at that time and was reminding people why the subgenre had such an avid cult following to begin with.  In short: When Soavi came on the scene in 1987, he was the only making true Italian horror films (with one exception being Argento’s Opera which was released in 1987).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Cannibal Apocalypse (aka Apocalypse domani)

Released a year after Cannibal Holocaust and a year before Cannibal Ferox (Jess Franco’s Cannibals was in there, too) it’s safe to say that the‘70s and early ‘80s belonged to the cannibal subgenre. Antonio Margheriti – working under the oft-used pseudonym Anthony Dawson – never had much use for the horror genre as this was his only foray into visceral, exploitation horror film. He was more of a Gothic horror filmmaker with one of his most well known films being the 1964 film Castle of Blood (It's also much rumored that he directed Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and not Paul Morrisey). He was more of a genre filmmaker who specialized in those great Italian action films that were just knockoffs of more popular American films. Marghertiti – who cut his teeth working as an assistant with Sergio Leone – isn’t up to the tricks that Deodato and Lenzi used in their cannibal films; in fact, the word ‘cannibal’ in the title is a bit of misnomer as Cannibal Apocalypse doesn’t contain any of the racial insensitivity or cruelty to animals (or gut munching) that those infamous cannibal film have. It’s a nice, underrated film, and one that I am completely baffled by the DPP’s inclusion of it on their Video Nasty list.  Cannibal Apocalypse is an interesting amalgam of cannibal movie, Vietnam movie (its Italian title translates to “Apocalypse Tomorrow”), and Euro crime picture; it’s a sneaky-good Italian horror movie that more people need to see.  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: The Perfume of the Lady in Black (aka Il profumo della signora in nero)

Here is a capsule review on the VASTLY underrated film The Perfume of the Lady in Black that I wrote for Wonders in the Dark for their top 100 Horror Films countdown last year. The full list of films can be found here. Enjoy...and make sure to watch that trailer!

[Originally posted 9/13/10 at Wonders in the Dark]

When I was approached by Jamie to participate in this countdown I knew I wanted to make sure Italian horror got its due. And when Jamie told me his intentions for the countdown – a numerical listing of films with the intent to raise awareness rather than rank one better than another – I knew I wanted to shed some light onto some Italian horror movies that weren’t as well known as the staples (read: Argento, Bava, and Fulci) of the subgenre. These are films like The Short Night of the Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado) or The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati); films that have a cult following within a cult subgenre. One of the real joys about this particular sungenre is the hope that the more you watch the same old gialli over and over that just maybe this time you’ll un-mine some hidden gem. Case in point: Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black, a fantastic addition into the most hallowed halls of Italian horror.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Scorpion with Two Tails (aka Assassinio al cimitero Etrusco, Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery)

Trimmed down from a seven part mini-series, this extremely boring, late-era Sergio Martino film is a big disappointment. I can’t imagine this story being longer, but the fact that it was a part of a mini-series would explain the brief appearances by American genre actors John Saxon and Van Johnson. It also explains the inexplicable detour the film takes halfway through where it goes from supernatural horror movie to Italian crime movie. In the midst of all the heads being twisted every-which-way and maggots spewing from statues, there are drug film caricatures and heroine deals gone awry and all other kinds of exploitation film goodness. However, it never comes together for Martino and his longtime screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi as Scorpion with Two Tails (also known as Murder in an Etruscan Cemetery which sounds like the title for an episode of “Murder She Wrote”) is a crushing disappointment from one of my favorite Italian horror directors.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Graveyard Disturbance (aka A Night in a Cemetery, Una notte al cimitero)

Lamberto Bava’s Graveyard Disturbance is an interesting film in the history of Italian horror. Oh, not because it’s any good, but because it marks the death of quality, theatrical Italian horror films.  1987’s Graveyard Disturbance marked the first of four films that Lamberto Bava made (with the help of veteran genre screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti) for the Italian television series “Brivido Giallo.” What’s significant about this really, quite honestly, has nothing to do with Bava. Oh, Bava was a decent talent – a filmmaker who could obviously never live up to his father’s name – who worked early in his career as an apprentice (alongside Michele Soavi) for Dario Argento. Bava’s best film was the 1980 giallo Macabre; his Demons is a lot of fun, too. But back to what I was talking about: Italian horror circa 1987. Graveyard Disturbance came out the same year as Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and Dario Aregento’s Opera; two films that are wonderful examples of just what good Italian horror can accomplish; however, they also weren’t big success financially, and with the increasing popularity of television, the floundering Italian film business (American horror movies were making a ton more than the homemade products), and how cheap one could produce a movie for television, there would only be a couple more movies like them before we started getting more and more movies like Graveyard Disturbance.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Italian Horror Blogathon: Absurd (AKA Rosso Sangue, Anthropophagus II, Monster Hunter, The Grim Reaper 2)

One of the more notorious “Video Nasty” films that never made it off of the final list of 39 films banned by the DPP, Absurd is a film – like most Joe D’Amato films – where the viewer is left to wonder what all the fuss was about. Nothing about the film is particularly scary or obscene, and even though it is essentially a beat for beat remake of the first two Halloween pictures, there’s nothing remotely artistic or well-made about the film that warrants disgust at the fact that it was banned in the UK.  It is, however, helmed by the infamous Artistide Massacessi – better known to us Yanks as Joe D’Amato – and for that it has obtained a level of cult status as being inherently nasty because his name is attached to it. Now, sitting down to watch a Joe D’Amato film isn’t something you do all willy-nilly. It has to be pre-meditated, and, if you’re anything like me, this is an act that shows your unbridled love and enthusiasm for the genre. Because let’s face it: why else would one subject themselves to a D’Amato film? So it’s with that that I find it difficult to get a bead on Absurd. In no way is it good, but in the right frame of mind, it’s more than tolerable.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Italian Horror Blog-a-thon is tomorrow!

First post goes up around 7am Pacific. I'll also have a community post up for you to send links to; I'll update that post daily with what you all are writing about. Also, I'll be updating my own posts under the Italian Horror tab at towards the top of the page...check it out if you want to see what other Italian horror flicks I've written about.

I'm looking forward to reading what you all have to say.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Halloween-themed Quiz from SLATIFL

Dennis from Sergio Leone and the Inside Fly Rule has come up with another fun quiz...this time with a Halloween theme! This one is right up my alley.

First, a brief reminder that the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon is just a mere three days away. I hope you all have your posts ready. I'll be posting a community post here on Wednesday for everyone to send me links to their pieces via the comments section. Anyway, we're three days away. Should be fun!

My answers to the quiz follow the jump.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Color of Money

Head on over to Edward Copeland on Film to check out my latest on the 25th anniversary of The Color of Money:

The Color of Money is entertaining when it’s being a road picture instead of a derivative drama about the old versus the new; it’s at its best when we see it for what it really is: a story about a man’s soul being fed. Selling whiskey — “You’re sittin’ in it, and I’m wearing it” — has been very good to Eddie, but as he explains later in the film, “it’s tired.” Vincent awakens within him a chance to atone for 20 years of dormancy in the pool scene; a scene — a vocation, really — that truly defines Eddie and that gives him the most pleasure. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Italian Horror Blog-a-thon Returns!

When: October 26-31
Where: Here!
What to write about: Anything from Giallo to Zombies to bad knock-offs of more popular movies to really bad Exploitation long as it's horror and from Italy, it meets the criteria for this blog-a-thon.

More details and banners after the break...

Saturday, September 17, 2011


A quick note and apology:

If you're one of the few that read this blog, I apologize for the lack of content lately. Real life has intervened, and, well, right now it makes more sense to pay attention to the things that pay the bills. I promise things will pick up around here someday. For now, I have two pieces I'm writing for Edward Copeland (I'll link to them when they go up), there's still the music club (link is always on the right sidebar), and then there's Halloween. I do have something planned for Halloween, so be on the lookout for that announcement in the next couple of weeks. Again, sorry for the lack of content. Hopefully I have something to say soon and the time to say it...we'll see. See ya around.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Summer of Slash: The Final Terror

The Final Terror is yet another backwoods horror tale about a group of young college students who embark on a hiking trip only to be stalked by those pesky killers in the woods. However, what makes The Final Terror a great curiosity is the talent that worked on it. Like the ‘80s slasher, The Burning, Final Terror is really only sought out by horror fans because of the people involved in making the film and path their careers would take afterwards. The film was directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and stars Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano, and Adrian Zmed (!) in what basically amounts to just another run-of-the-mill backwoods slasher that’s trying to be Deliverance and Just Before Dawn. The performances are indeed good, and the direction by Davis is good enough (there are some sequences that hinted at his future skill for directing action scenes) with some memorable scenes near the end, but I had to obtain a copy of the movie from an old VHS that looked like it was a copy from a copy. The picture and sound were terrible, and I think that, even though it’s part of the charm of being a horror fan, the quality of the copy I had really made it hard for me to invest (if there was even anything to invest in) in the movie. The Final Terror doesn't produce any memorable kills or scares; it's just kind of there -- a perfect example of how so many filmmakers cut their teeth with the horror film. This film is nothing special and it's really nothing more than a curiosity of the subgenre for the most diehard fans.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer of Slash: Frightmare

This nihilistic British slasher had its day in its homeland as one of the most notorious horror films of the ‘70s. Pete Walker’s Frightmare is pretty boring throughout (I’m just not a huge fan of the British horror film), though, with the occasional creepy set-piece (especially the farmhouse) and funny gore moment that offset the rather banal narrative. Call it a push, I suppose; however, if there was one reason to push you over the the uncertainty it is the gonzo performance by Sheila Keith as a rabid, flesh-eating granny. Firghtmare is an interesting entry for its history as a “Nasty,” but it ultimately fails to engage the viewer until its final moments which are laced with nihilism that is definitely a jolt to the viewer.  Hindsight obviously makes one wonder what all the fuss in Britain was about (Walker even claims on the DVD commentary that he wasn’t really going for any kind of culture message film) in regards to the gore and the film’s “indecency”; however, there are enough good moments if you can get through the creaky narrative and the typical, 1970s British aesthetic that make Frightmare an interesting entry into the subgenre. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer of Slash: Hitcher in the Dark

Wow,what a movie! Umberto Lenzi directing under his “Oh boy are these American movies I’m making terrible” pseudonym (Humphrey Humbert) that he used for other “stellar” horror films such as Welcome to Spring Break returns with this 80 minute Ray-Bans and Winnebago commercial. Yes, this entire film consist of a creepo in a Winnebago who may or may not pick up hitchhikers on a regular basis (we only see him pick up one, the rest of the film he simply stalks a girl and kidnaps her) and kills them. Basic slasher premise, right? In the words of John Matrix, “WRONG!” Nothing happens in this movie. Nothing. The guy drives around wearing his Ray-Bans, kidnaps a girl and cuts her hair so that she looks like his former girlfriend (Lenzi trying to make his Vertigo, no doubt), while the girl's doofus boyfriend drives around in his Suzuki jeep looking for her…you know what, the whole film can be summed up by this compilation. Enjoy (WARNING: this is definitely NSFW).

God bless you, Lenzi!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer of Slash: Hell Night

A really fun (a theme this summer with the slasher films I’ve chosen) slasher about a group of college rushes who must endure what is known as “hell night.” What they don’t realize is that the abandoned Garth Manor where they must spend the night (on the very night its former tenant murdered his family 12 years ago, naturally) is still inhabited by someone. A mix between wacky Halloween goings-on (think Terror Train and April Fool’s Day) and good, cheesy pizza and beer fun (think any of the slashers I’ve covered so far this summer) and you get a good idea of what Hell Night is. There isn’t anything necessarily tense or scary about the film, but it’s earnestly made (seriously, there isn’t a hint of sarcasm here…something I really appreciate about these early ‘80s slasher films) and contains a good amount of cheese to keep you and your friends entertained. Plus, there’s Vince Van Patten walking around with his shirt off in ridiculous boxer shorts for most of the movie; he’s predictably slimy and you just can’t wait for him to get it. The film uses silence well as a set-up for all of the false scares before the real scares happen, and it uses its setting extremely well (it even looks nice considering its small budget), reminding me of Canadian slashers in that regard.

There isn’t a lot of gore (the film’s producers were already aware of the growing impatience from the MPAA in regards to violence in horror films), but I don’t think director Tom DeSimone really wanted to make that kind of a horror film; he takes more pleasure in his creepy setting and the pacing (the end is pretty well done despite its obvious cribbing from Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but hey, what horror movie hasn't shamelessly cribbed from those two seminal films?). DeSimone does a decent job letting things unfold as the wacky moments are well spaced-out between what are supposed to be the genuinely scary moments (I like that he doesn’t try to confuse the two and just keeps it simple); it’s just the right amount of craft and cheese as it has that early ‘80s horror aesthetic that I found appealing about The Boogeyman. It also kind of reminded me of another of my favorite gems from last year's project, Tourist Trap -- another early entry into the genre that didn't quite know what it wanted to be, but had really great, creepy moments interspersed between some really wacky ones. As long as you don’t take yourself too seriously (or the genre too seriously), Hell Night is definitely a fun entry into the genre that I highly recommend for slasher aficionados.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer of Slash: The Boogeyman (1980)

“They say that when you break a mirror, you unleash everything it’s seen.” That is your premise for this wacky, supernatural horror film that is more indebted to the slasher film than you would think (hence it appearing in this summer series). If you can get past the bizarre, somewhat grotesque opening (an opening that definitely earned its Video Nasty label, and something I don’t really want to type out), The Boogey Man settles into a pretty fun, goofy horror movie. The film has the charm of an early ‘80s horror movie that is so shamelessly ripping off more successful horror movies (I can count at least six different movies The Boogey Man is trying to be), and it if it weren’t for the horribly misplaced tone of the film’s opening, then The Boogey Man would be somewhat of a under-seen classic of the genre.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer of Slash: He Knows You're Alone

Released in 1980, He Knows You’re Alone is one of the very first slashers to be released by a major studio (MGM) in response to the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween. That’s about the only similarity it shares with that seminal horror film. It’s not that He Knows You’re Alone is a bad movie – it’s actually got some decent acting, and, for those interested, the tone and pacing of a giallio – it’s just that the film is on a whole pretty damn uninvolving as a thriller. There’s some good framing of the death scenes here. I mean, credit where credit is due: the murder scene where one of the girl’s is listening to music is so well paced and shot that it made me really want to like this movie…as did the subsequent shot of her head in a fish tank. There’s also a nice scene where Amy – our final girl who is being stalked by a killer who is murdering brides on their wedding night – is on an amusement park ride (The Scrambler!) that is pretty well done, too, but it’s cut too short before any tension can really build (and the subsequent haunted house scene is just too cheesy). And therein lays the biggest problem with He Knows You’re Alone: It feels like a TV movie at times. And that’s no surprise considering director Armand Mastroianni worked primarily in television working on shows like “Dark Shadows” and “Nightmare Café.”

But, like I said, there are things to like here. I like how they had no qualms about showing who the killer is in the first scene of the movie (and that’s what makes this film a slsher more than anything, the fact that there is no mystery who the killer is). There’s some good acting (it was a lot of fun watching a young Tom Hanks, not to mention James Rebhorn and Paul Gleason) going on here by its young stars Don Scardino and Caitlin O’ Heaney that definitely rises above the usual slasher film acting, and, finally, there’s a nice Goblin-y musical score to accompany the action in the film. But those elements aren’t enough to save this clunky 90+ minute attempt at a slasher movie. This clunkiness comes out most in the pacing of the film’s procedural moments (the straight horror scenes are pretty good), or in the way it strains too hard to be a meta horror film like when Tom Hanks’ character, a Psych major, talks about why people pay to be scared by horror movies, or when he talks about how when people go see movies like Psycho, they don’t want to take a shower, and then a few scenes later we have a character, for no reason, take a shower with Mastroianni finding a way to get a shot of the drain in there even though it doesn’t really fit. Obviously MGM and its director wanted to ape the success of Halloween with its minimalist take on terror (light gore, good use of widescreen, and minimalist musical score); however, He Knows You’re Alone is nowhere near as tense as Carpenter’s film (and it wasn’t nearly as successful, either). But, if you take the film as more of a suspense/thriller (it reminded me of Visiting Hours in this way) than a slasher, then you’re left with what is a pretty interesting, if wholly uninvolving, look into the strange era that was the post-Halloween and pre-Friday the 13th American horror film.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ken Russell: Crimes of Passion

Yes, I’m still doing this. Real life things like buying a home, finishing my masters degree, and getting a full-time job have derailed the momentum I had during the winter, but I am determined to finish this retrospective in the next couple of weeks. Enjoy.

One of the traits I’ve really come to admire about Ken Russell throughout this retrospective is that the man – who follows his own trajectory, studios be damned – seems like he wants to just make a movie, be done with it, and then move on to the next project. I don’t mean to suggest that Russell doesn’t have a personal investment in any of his films (although, some are obviously more personal than others), but I actually liken him to one of my favorite bands. Follow me here for a moment: the band I’m speaking of is called Portugal. The Man. They have a general philosophy about music and it goes something like this: the members of this Portland, OR band feel that time spent in the studio tinkering with an album can lead to stagnation – it can lead to a process where they, as musicians, begin to over-think things to the point where they don’t release anything at all. They embrace the idea that music is not perfect, and that they will always evolve (in ability, sound, influences, etc.) as musicians. I’ve read articles where the members of the band talk about how when they tour is the time they tinker with their material (I’ve seen them many times and they don’t adhere to any set list, and their songs always sound different live). Essentially, they believe that they should always be releasing and creating because the real work comes on the road (up until this year, they had released an album a year for their first four albums), and that once their album is done…it’s done; it’s time to move onto the next thing.

Okay, what does this have to do with Ken Russell? I thought of this example during my viewing of Crimes of Passion – Russell’s second, and final, American film. Here’s a film that’s less interesting than most Russell films tend to be; the film, as a whole, doesn’t come off as anything that is singularly Russell or important; it’s just a movie. This is Russell just creating something and then moving on from it towards his next project. That doesn’t make certain aspects of Crimes of Passion any more uninteresting than his previous American endeavor Altered States, and it also doesn’t mean that the film isn’t made with any less effort than his more “personal” films like Savage Messiah or Mahler (just like I can’t claim that one Portugal. The Man album is any less “personal” than the other just because they release one a year). Crimes of Passion seems like just another film for Russell; it reeks of a filmmaker just going through the motions. But that’s not to say that the film isn’t without the trademark Russell moments: ridiculous and insane visual charms that only a filmmaker like Russell can conjure up.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer of Slash: Cheerleader Camp

Like a bad amalgamation of drive-in comedies of the ‘80s (think G.O.R.P., King Frat, et al) and bad slasher movies (with the word camp in the title it’s pretty obvious which slasher movie this one is cribbing from), Cheerleader Camp is for the diehard slasher fan only. Most of the film is played as a wacky comedy with lots of gratuitous nudity while the horror parts aren’t worth talking about. Basically a crazed cheerleader who is somewhat of an outsider is knocking off cheerleaders at the annual camp for said cheerleaders. It’s all your basic, generic hack-and-slash set in the woods. Who is responsible for the murders? Could it be the big fat guy (who likes to eat bananas, you see, because he's a big ape...brilliant!) who's stuck in the wrong type of ‘80s movie? Could it be the misunderstood cheerleader whose dreams are convincing her that she’s the killer? Could it be the creepy town sheriff who likes to ogle the young ladies? Or, how about the crusty old camp groundskeeper, who, of course, in one scene watches the girls cheer while he's hosing something down and then the water sprays up into his face (never not funny)? Is it Leif Garrett?!? Does it really matter? No, it doesn’t, but like a lot of these types of so-bad-they're-good horror movies, it’s short and harmless; and hey, it has Leif Garrett in it, to boot! It’s also a lot of cheesy fun if you’re with a group of friends. Generic characters; gratuitous shots of boobs; bad cheers by Garrett and his big fat friend (pictured above), horrible gore effects, and everything else you’d expect in a late-era slasher movie. It’s everything that makes hating slashers so easy, and it’s everything I love about ‘em. Hang out with some friends and rip this movie apart; or, go spend your time doing something valuable and go see The Tree of Life…or do both…it’s not impossible to enjoy both extremes of the high-low spectrum. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some Quick Thoughts on Justified, Season 2

Note: these are just my quick thoughts on the second season; this is not a recap of the season. So, I will be referring to characters without really going in-depth on who they are in the context of the series. In other words, this is full of spoilers and should only be read by those that have finished the second season.

Graham Yost and company have found their own voice and rhythm in the second season of Justified, and they’ve really found the correct tone and setting for the show, too.  Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard (“Fire in the Hole), the first season felt like Yost and the writers doing their best Leonard karaoke routines. Only a few episodes from the first half of season one really felt fresh and energetic (I really liked the one with Alan Ruck as the dentist), and those were the ones that were more stand-alone, Leonard-esque episodes. But something started to happen with the last four episodes of season one: the show started to find its own voice, and the writers started to realize what they wanted to do with their two great characters, Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens. Some quick thoughts after the jump…

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 8: “The Divorce”

Expect things to be spoiled after the jump

When we left Cheryl and Larry in season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the former Mrs. David had a certain look on her face that screamed, “How did I get myself back into this mess.” Rest assured, though, there is no happiness for Larry (of course he bungles up the attempt to re-ignite the flame between him and Cheryl), and the beginning of season 8 lets the viewer know from the onset by naming the episode “The Divorce.” Now, what David as a writer is so good at is getting the audience to think the episode is about one thing, but in actuality showing us that it’s something completely different by episodes end. I was expecting Larry and Cheryl to finally end things, but I was laughing uproariously at the second divorce we witness in this episode.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer of Slash: Slaughter High

For a slasher from 1986, Slaughter High is better than it has any right to be. And the reason may be because the film doesn’t take itself seriously at all and contains just enough slasher cheese to make the 80 minutes go by in a flash. Sure, the film’s production isn’t that great, and the actors (mostly Brits doing a Yank’s accent) are universally awful, but there are enough clichés at play here to make this one go down easier than most slashers that take themselves too seriously. What struck me most about Slaughter High was that despite the necessary later-era slasher requirements – boobs, booze, and blood – there’s actually a well constructed chase scene at the end and a pretty damn bizarre musical score that makes the film standout above its peers. It’s also kind of dark; I mean, yes there are requisite false scares and the plot is the old chestnut of the prank gone awry causing people to die ten years later at a reunion, but I was surprised by the end of the film. There are no survivors in this film, no Final Girl, and really no explanation as to why such a cheesy movie contains such a nihilistic ending. This inconsistent tone actually lends the film a bit of eeriness that it otherwise doesn’t seem too interested in establishing. It’s part April Fool’s Day and part legitimate slasher. Now, the big reveal at the end helps explain this tinge of nihilism, but I was still shocked when a movie that seemed so content on just being another light-hearted slasher affair (especially for 1986, an era in the subgenre where EVRYTHING had been done to death) ended with no female survivors, a doctor getting a syringe in the eye, and the killer staring into the camera while he peels a chunk of skin off of his face. Despite its uneven tone, Slaughter High is still a pretty good slasher that didn’t piss me off with its cop-out ending. Plus, the opening 45 minutes is definitely a great piece of cheese that makes for a wonderful pizza and beer movie.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer of Slash returns!

Last summer I blatantly ripped off an idea from one of my favorite bloggers. Any horror fan knows that Tim Brayton's Summer of Blood series is one of the premier horror themed series in the blogoshpere, so I shamelessly ripped off (or, as I prefer, an homage) Tim's thematic idea in an attempt to tackle one of my favorite guilty-pleasure subgenres, the slasher film. If you look at the tab up at the top of the blog, you'll see my attempts at this last year. What I would like to do this year is keep it simple: slasher movies only (or, movies with slasher elements...I mixed in too many other types of horror films last year), short capsule reviews, and more obscure choices. Look for these reviews about two or three times a week. I hope you enjoy this series; it should be fun. The first two reviews -- Cheerleader Camp and Slaughter High (the latter surprisingly not terrible for a late era slasher film) -- will be up shortly.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wonder, Hope, and Love: Further thoughts on The Tree of Life

[Read my initial thoughts here] 

The Tree of Life is a film that elevates the soul. It reminds me of Whitman, Thoreau’s “Walden,” Faulkner’s “The Bear,” Rick Bass’ short stories, and Fellini’s 8 ½ (especially with the obvious hattip Malick gives the great Italian filmmaker at the end); all of these are works of art that are, in some way, about nostalgia, how we remember things, and how we can try to make sense of God and the world we live in through our connection to nature. I greatly admire these works of art for more than just their literary importance, brilliance, and amazing display of aesthetic; they all affect in me in the same way: I feel I see the world I live in differently after spending time with them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Record Club #2 -- Brand New

Understanding my love for The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me (the album name was based on the troubled singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston and the well-known psychological problems he faced/s) might be a little clearer when studied in the larger Brand New context. It’s also going to be a bit of a journey so hang with me. When I was in college, emo was all the rage. Now, one of the most criminal misnomers in all of music was labeling things emo that didn’t truly represent emo. There was, I assure you, some genuine emo music out there that sounds nothing like the bands that get labeled emo today. So, Brand New was pretty emo. Their first record, Your Favorite Weapon, contained all of the usual elements – pithy song titles (“Jude Law and a Semester Abroad”), “woe is me” pity songs, and “girls are evil” revenge songs – that you would come to expect from a run-of-the-mill emo band. However, there was something different buried beneath Brand New’s banal sound: the lyrics. Frontman Jesse Lacey and guitar player Vin Acardi (the latter who had a much reduced role until The Devil and God…but more on that later) weren’t content with being run-of-the-mill, so they peppered their songs with some honest lyrics that made the ho-hum sound of the songs stand out because you wanted to belt out these odd words.

After Your Favorite Weapon put Brand New on the map, they began work on their second album, Deja Entendu. Deja Entendu was an interesting attempt to reinvent themselves after just one album. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Lacey and co. show on their sophomore album great maturity musically (even if it still is pretty basic, not lending itself to many repeat listens, and still containing those long, pithy song titles like “I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t”), but it’s, again, in the lyrics that make the album seem a lot better than it is. Lacey’s words are so self-reflexive and self-deprecating on the album that it’s no wonder on the next album we find him at his nadir. Consider these words from “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light,” probably the best song on Deja Entendu:

I write more postcards than hooks/I read more maps than books/I feel like every chance to leave is another chance I should have took/ Every minute is a mile/I’ve never felt so hollow/I’m an old, abandoned church with broken pews and empty aisles/My secrets for a buck/Watch me as I cut myself wide open on this stage, oh I am paid to spill my guts/I won’t see home ‘till Spring/Oh, I would kill for the Atlantic, but I am paid to make girls panic while I sing.

All throughout their sophomore album, Brand New reflect on what it is to be popular in “the scene.” They admit to loving it (from the same song: “Know we do this ‘cause we care not for the thrill.”), but one gets the sense while listening to Deja Entendu that they weren’t doing it on their terms; that they wanted to be more than just people who make girls scream. You got the sense that they weren’t satisfied with how people viewed them as musicians. Lacey literally warns us of the change to come with the final song “Play Crack the Sky” where he sings “this is the end…” as a final nail in the Deja Entendu coffin. Things are going to be different.

And even though Deja Entendu was light years better musically than Your Favorite Weapon, they still had work to do and something to prove. This reflection and overall dissatisfaction with the process and workings of the music machine (and the inadequacies that the creators of that work feel during the process) would be fine-tuned during the next evolutionary step for the band – a three year-plus process of writing, recording, scrapping songs, and starting over anew – allowing them to come to terms with their imperfection and finally complete and release their magnum opus.