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.