Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pulse (1988)

(Not to be confused with any J-Horror or insanely terrible American remake of said J-Horror)

David (Joey Lawrence, just a few years prior to coining THE monosyllabic catchphrase of the 90s) goes to stay with his father and stepmother in suburban California for the summer. This happens to coincide with the neighbor across the street going "crazy" after his wife's death and tearing apart his house before frying himself on open power lines. Or did he? You see, there's a new electrical current in town and it is people...about something. Maybe it finally just got fed up with all the juicing we've been doing for years; saw too many of its kind reduced to sparks from all the technological wonders of 1988, it's hard to say (namely, because the movie doesn't bother with an explanation). The problem for David and his family is that the power line from their recently departed neighbor runs right into their home and that refrigerator sure seems to be making some funny noises now...

Pulse is one of those movies I had seen bits and pieces of on any number of lazy Sundays throughout my childhood as it seemed to play endlessly on one of the pay movie stations. I would like to once again publicly thank my father for having the insight and questionable moral compass to employ one of those old cable signal descrambler boxes in our living room which allowed my love of horror to grow (not to mention my supreme appreciation for women fostered by countless hours spent with the Spice channel). Many an afternoon and late evening were wiled away in front of the ol' picture box which may have played a part in how spooky I found this film to be when I did catch an airing. I had already acquired a sense of mild dread from the natural creaking of houses and the hiss of appliances that would randomly sound off and Pulse played to those fears effectively.

The story is rather mundane; mixing a struggling family dynamic (as father and son deal with issues that arise when parents are recently separated) and that of a small boy who cannot make anyone believe that there is something sinister at work within the home. We get a purposely creepy home inspector who speaks vaguely about the evils of electricity that he has encountered (and who completely disappears about halfway through the picture). And then there is the shower scene, which remained my most vivid memory of this film from so many years ago. The stepmother, who is slowly coming to the realization that something may be amiss, decides the best course of action in dealing with the situation is to bathe in the middle of the day. Unfortunately for her, the electrical current commandeers the water heater, spraying her with scalding hot water while she screams and writhes in agony. One might question how the current kept her from sliding open the glass doors to get out of the stream or why her husband does not even try to open them from his end before chucking a lamp as hard as he can through the glass, effectively spraying her with dozens of pointy shards. Or how as she is carted off by paramedics, her face is completely exposed and not even a little red, but these are minor trifles. The point is, it used to scare me when I was 10, but failed to hold up all that well over time.

Where Pulse does succeed mostly is in its final act when father and son come together to fight back. It strikes at an interesting conundrum as one's home is, to many, the culmination of a life in order. People, Americans especially, take a great deal of pride in the space that they provide for their families and will defend it when called to do so. Besides that, the basic need for shelter is important to recognize. Where does one go when they cannot go home? Now, I can certainly see how the more discerning horror fan might question the entertainment value of a character checking a dryer's lint trap for strange noises; it is a bit of a tough sell, but there is enough tension built up here accompanied by a supremely eerie score to merit a mild recommendation. Though, again, better suited for any of you that might be still shopping in the Juniors section, or at least capable of going into Pulse with that kind of mindset.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mausoleum (1983)

Following her mother's untimely death, 10 year old Susan runs off to find solace within a glowing, green-fogged mausoleum (Quick, somebody build this kid a treehouse.). Twenty years later, Susan is married and trying to go about her life though she continues to see the same therapist she has since childhood for what he characterizes as her "schizophrenic delusions." Unfortunately, her problems dig a bit deeper than that as her body is now routinely taken over by the demon within her and used to seduce unsuspecting servicemen before violently murdering them. This takes place mostly within the home that Susan shares with her husband which I think begs the question; who is cleaning up the aftermath? Not that I needed a scene of a demon mopping the floor, but it does get pretty grisly and Susan doesn't remember a thing so she's no help.

Her husband Oliver does begin to notice that Susan is acting strangely and consults her therapist who is able to draw the demon out with hypnosis. He in turn consults a demonologist who just happens to have a diary regarding Susan's ancestry and the curse that befalls the first born daughter of each generation. This seems to me to be a perfectly good excuse to have cut the bloodline by this point (seeing as it apparently goes back to the 1600s), but to no avail. Luckily for everyone involved, the diary also gives a step by step procedure for exorcising the demon which involves a crown of thorns that is kept at the mausoleum in which the demon usually resides. Does Superman store kryptonite in his apartment? Yeah, there's a reason for that.

Possession-themed horror films have never greatly appealed to me, if only because I am not really afraid of little girls or the elderly, at least on their own. Ever walked a passage of a retirement home with all the dying strewn about the hallway in their wheelchairs? Unsettling. Nevertheless, Mausoleum switches it up a bit by focusing on a young and sexually appealing woman who is able to use her feminine instincts to draw in her prey. Prepare yourself as this does take up a significant about of the running time as Oliver is constantly gone to work, leaving Susan's demon little to occupy itself with other than that.

I will leave it up to you to determine how offended one should be by the fact that our protagonists employ both a Hispanic gardener (and say things referring to him like, "You know how they are.") and an old black maid who has a "comical" scene where she bolts from the house upon learning of Susan's possession that only Walt Disney could have appreciated. On the plus side, upon full transformation, Susan's demon has angry beast heads where her tits used to be, so I guess that about evens us out.

Bouts of ultraviolence and mostly nonsensical. I begrudgingly approve.

(This has nothing to do with the movie. It just came up when I searched for "Mausoleum" in Google Images to add the poster art. Enjoy.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Psychomania (1973)

The Living Dead are a biker gang in a small English town. They wile away their days riding their bikes in circles around what might be the solidified rock remains of witches and hassling local shop keeps and food vendors. But their leader, Tom, is fed up with his mortal soul and decides to kill himself and come back with the indestructible power of Satan coursing through his veins. This is apparently accomplished by worshipping frogs and entering a room in his folk's manor that no one has entered since his father died there 18 years previous. Upon his return, Tom sets about convincing the rest of the Living Dead members to off themselves so that they make reek unholy havoc together. Be warned local grocers, your end cap display of canned vegetables will never be the same again.

I may be coming off as a bit harsh within the synopsis, but Psychomania is actually pretty great. There is hardly a dull moment and it is readily apparent that the filmmakers were not taking themselves too seriously. Chalk it up to poor research, but I was expecting a far more dire and bloody event.

It is very much a film of its time (not that I am all that well-versed on 1970's Britain) as the set and costume designs quite clearly illustrate. I almost half expected The Kelly Affair to show up at a local club on their European tour. This plays well with the underlying dark humor as it would be difficult to take Psychomania seriously had it gone for a more somber tone. While it starts quickly enough, the movie really gets going once Tom plunges to his death. The funeral itself has great flair as Tom is buried upright on his bike while a fellow Living Dead member regales us with a cheesy folk song about "riding free." It doesn't take long after that for Tom to burst screaming out of his grave (always a great scene made even better by the inclusion of him atop his deathcycle).

I made light of the gang's crimes in the description above and there remains a rather strange dichotomy after they return as ghouls as they continue to ride their bikes through shop aisles and create what can only be described as a mild nuisance, but then they also take to compiling a pretty hefty body count along the way. We see almost none of this action as the movie routinely shows just the bloodless aftermath which again was likely the right choice considering the overall tone throughout.

There are also a few choice chase scenes that considering the budget are insanely well done. Interesting camera angles coupled with the weaving of the roadways and some pretty heavy traffic make it all the more exciting and in contrast to the rather pedestrian camerawork that is presented during the non-action scenes. Kudos, as well, to a rather hilarious montage of the lesser gang members doing themselves in; my favorite being the one stripped to his skivvies and dragging a thick chain and weights around his ankle to the local riverbed.

Now, I can't say that I totally understood how returning from the dead worked here. Apparently, one just has to really believe they will return so don't go crossing your fingers at the last second if you decide to give it a go. This invariably made me think of another slightly better known film about the power of belief and of Dorothy clicking her heels together, "I will return from the dead, I will return from the dead...Hail Satan!" But then, that particular movie might not be quite so esteemed as it is had they gone that route.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Curtains (1983)

Six budding actresses of varying age and skills have been invited to a large manor deep in the woods for a casting session held by Jon Stryker, a renowned director intent on finding the perfect study for the lead role in his next picture. What these girls do not know is that Stryker had already promised the role to Samantha Sherwood, a famed thespian who was so determined to understand her character that with the help of Stryker got herself committed to an insane asylum, as the role is that of a woman gone quite mad. Stryker decides to leave her institutionalized once he loses faith in her ability to adequately portray his heroine. When Sherwood learns of the impending casting call, she escapes and sets her sights on reclaiming the coveted role by any means necessary.

Talk about your classy slasher. There is an air of superiority present throughout Curtains that almost made me feel less than worthy as I downed a few Bud Lights through its runtime. These are not your typical oversexed teenage victims, but rather a man and women of distinction, who admittedly are not above giving up a bit of flesh to get what they desire. Like I said, classy. It's almost a shame that one of them decides to take it up a notch and don a part wizard, part decrepit old woman mask while they cut up the competition. I guess that's what you call "slashing your way to the top."

Curtains was rife with production problems including having to recast a lead role halfway through and therefore reshooting several scenes and a nervous studio demanding significant cuts that ultimately leave a number of holes throughout the story. Most noticeably with the character of Matthew who is barely introduced when the girls first arrive (his reason for being there is never explicitly stated), frolics with one of the ladies in the hot tub and then is never seen or heard from again. This is especially shameful as there are pieces of what could have been a really great film. This is not to say remains of Curtains is without its flaws. There are a few scene shifts that employ what can only be called 'curtain wipe' and in my occasionally humble opinion, John Vernon is woefully miscast as the cold, but subdued director. Not once do we get the hands shaking, wild eyed Vernon that he is so adapt at nor does he ever tell anyone to "Go fuck an iceberg," (kudos to you if you know where that comes from), but seriously, he plays it so cool that a cardboard cut out version of him could have been placed in several scenes without me noticing.

As it stands, Curtains remains an interesting relic of its time and like so many others from the era, exploits the spookiness inherent in both dolls and mannequins despite neither having much of anything to do with the plot. The mannequins especially as one girl seeks shelter inside a prop warehouse that just so happens to store dozens of them; all hanging from the neck with makeshift nooses which seems like an odd and needlessly complicated storage solution.

A little humor never hurts either, especially with two of the hopefuls supposedly being a champion figure skater and dancer who both have scenes that showcase how little skating and dancing experience the actual actresses have. As well, I couldn't help dwelling on the scenes inside the insane asylum. How did the actors cast to play crazy determine how they should act given that our lead was supposed to be researching crazy to act crazy in the production within the production? Probably getting a little too meta here. Moving on...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pigs! (1972)

(Who is this woman? How did the pigs get shark's teeth? Wouldn't a "cannibal pig" only eat other pigs? Damn you, misleading posters.)

MAN RAPES DAUGHTER; DIES OF KNIFE WOUNDS, or so reads the headline of the local gazette to open Pigs! It seems like an integral part of the story may be missing though. In fact, Lynn, the abused daughter, does attack and kill her father and is immediately sent to an insane asylum as she has no memory of the event and in a running theme to the movie, will be constantly asking for her Daddy. Not long after though (we still haven't even gotten to the opening credits) she will escape while the attending nurse sneaks away for a tryst with one of the doctors, who might I add share one of the least convincing stage kisses I think I have seen...nothing but mashed faces.

Anyway, Lynn hits the open highway just long enough to pull into an unnamed little town and respond to a job posting at the Zambrini residence. Zambrini has a few problems of his own, namely, his pigs that developed a need for human flesh after some drunk allegedly passed out in their pen. Again, it seems like some information is missing here as this would suggest that a pig will literally eat anything you put in front of it and then need to eat only that one thing for the rest of its life. I guess we'll just go with it. Unfortunately, he really isn't very adapt at keeping this secret as the whole town seems to know about it which leads to the best (unintentional) gag of the film as the only skeptical citizen of this whole burg is the town sheriff who responds to complaints about Zambrini digging up graves and preparing the flesh for his pigs by stating, "I don't think there is any law about feeding corpses to pigs." You might want to double-check that, Chief.

Meanwhile, Lynn becomes the talk of the town and is sought after by just about every red-blooded male residing there. Of course, the abuse Lynn suffered at the hands of her father makes her mighty dangerous whenever another man tries to have his way with her. Soon enough, the slop buckets are filled to the brim while the sheriff very, very slowly realizes the town's population dwindling.

The lightning fast pace of the first few minutes (which could have easily made up the whole first act) immediately slows to a caterpillar's crawl once we reach the pig farm. Fair enough, as I will happily wade through a poorly crafted narrative to get to all those lovely shots of pigs tearing into humans that danced in my mind prior to viewing. Still waiting. Not that there aren't a few fun moments, like when the investigator trying to track down our escaped mental patient goes into the cafe and orders "a slice of yellow pie," Ummm...Banana Cream? Lemon Meringue? Whatever cowardice tastes like? We may never know. As well, there is a strange theory that is thrown out midway through about how the consumed bodies become pigs or that eating human flesh turns the pigs into some kind of zombie pig hybrid. It is not well fleshed out and if the whole point was that the pigs were supposed to be figurative and the insatiably sex-starved males were in fact the Pigs! the title suggests, then it was not adequately explained. But I think I'm giving the movie too much credit here. It is called Pigs! There's an exclamation point! Show me pigs!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

A young boy witnesses his father's death at the hands of a killer toy that was left for him on their doorstep. The experience leaves the boy so traumatized that he is unable to speak. It really doesn't help when someone keeps leaving more presents for him and he is accosted by a department store Santa. Meanwhile, an old toy shop owner and his bug-eyed teenage son carry on a rather odd relationship and a drifter rolls into town intent on keeping tabs on everyone. But the question remains, what does an 8 year old boy do to make so many mortal enemies?

I have now viewed the entire Silent Night, Deadly Night series and am only slightly worse for wear because of it. If anything, this final installment at least has something to do with Christmas (unlike the last entry) and finds a way to successfully fit in an insane naked robot sequence to rival all other naked robot sequences (but we'll get to that in a minute).

Truth be told, The Toy Maker is a bit slow to start after the initial death of the father. On top of his vocalization problems, Derek will also not go back into his room as he is terrified of all toys now. This leads to an odd sequence where he sees a commercial for the same toy that killed his father despite the fact that he 1. had been watching a VHS tape of the old Rambo cartoon which it somehow interrupted and 2. once we discover who is producing the toys that kill and why; it is obvious that a commercial never would have been produced for any of them. All the same, Mom is not much help at all as her only solution to his issues are to buy him new toys and take Derek to see ask for more toys.

This is where we meet the old shop keep Petto and his son Pino (I'll give you all a second to see if those names stick out for any reason). They make for quite a pair and quite honestly, should have been the real focus of this entire picture. Or maybe the obnoxious neighbor kid who digs one of the phantom presents out of the trash and finds a pair of rocket skates that send him flying into traffic or even the 45 seconds we get of Clint Howard as a random store Santa. The point being that The Toy Maker only slows down when we are forced to check back in with our protagonist and his mother in its feeble attempts to tie this whole thing together.

Did I mention that a babysitter and her hot shit boyfriend all but get eviscerated by a swarm of army men, superhero action figures and RC cars? Or Pino, who is in fact the naked robot with a remarkably human face but the body of a 5'9 Ken doll (and yes, he does have the same anatomical issues). Pino kills his creator (isn't that always the way?) and decides he would like to join our Mother and son clan which in his defense, he has blown a few circuits by this point. And what better way to impress your prospective foster parent than by ramming your "Ken bump" into the woman's crotch while repeating "I love you, Mommy," over and over again. Nevertheless, guess who stupidly gets killed off a few moments later and who ends up surviving this mess.

Dig that poster though.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Sorority Row (2009)

A prank gone awry leads to several sorority sisters covering up the death of one of their own. You can guess the rest.

Does the pleasure derived from a viewing experience change significantly when the viewer absolutely despises every potential victim (which in this case occurs right about the time the opening credits cease)? To be fair, our heroines are all tied to the (accidental) murder and cover up involving their friend so pathos was likely to be in short supply anyway, but come on now movie, what do you expect of me when every character is irrepressibly vile and contemptuous while possessing not a single iota of genuine humanity? Were the makers of Sorority Row so clueless about the slasher genre that they somehow believed that its fans want nothing more than to bask in the bloody set pieces that spring up around long bouts of inane, bitchy banter? If so, than they failed in that regard as well as the deaths are neither gratuitous nor inventive enough to forgive glossing over some of the most basic tenets of storytelling. Unless you consider putting glasses on "the smart one" or consistently highlighting how one of the girls is sluttier than the rest as proper character development, then all that is left for a suitable viewing experience is buckets of blood and gore which never do come.

Everything else is exactly what you would expect from a post-Scream mainstream slasher right down to the multiple red herrings that lead to a killer's identity that so flimsily ties to the rest of the film it is borderline insulting. I am going to spoil this one for you though spoil is likely too strong of a word here. The killer turns out to be one of the girl's boyfriends who is so concerned that her mistake will affect his family's good name (dear old Dad is a US Senator) that he sets out to kill the dozen or so people that may have knowledge of the event. The only thing more unbelievable than that reveal is the fact that Rumer Willis' character gets hit on twice during the movie. Damn, I think the bitchiness rubbed off.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

In a post-apocalyptic world, the remaining few are split up into two factions: those that have fled underground to avoid the ravages of nuclear fallout and the scavengers who have remained on the surface. Our story here unfolds around one particular band of survivors who pretty well encompass exactly what we've come to expect from the extensive library of Mad Max retreads. That being brash and violent punks whose commitment to fashion forward thinking despite the Earth being almost completely decimated is staggering. Fine leathers, silk scarves and yellow jump suits...and this is just the men. They roll into a deserted city and immediately scope the area for any hostile beings which essentially boils down to one of the gang literally riding his motorcycle about 20 feet ahead of the pack and then circling back. Unfortunately for our anti-heroes, the enemy here is hiding in plain sight.

They decide to hole up in an abandoned tavern/boardinghouse/bio-dome, seeing as it has a sophisticated gardening center that is able to grow vegetation that the soil will no longer cultivate, as well as, a water filtration system that appears to be made out of excess parts lifted from the set of TV's Double Dare. This would seem to be a model set-up for our barbarians of the new world order to exploit except for all those bodies lying around that appear to have been feasted upon.

What begins as another cheap Italian rip-off of one sub-genre quickly morphs into an equally cheap Italian rip-off of another...and yes, that is what I consider to be high praise. To be fair, Rats: Night of Terror is an awful film, even within the relatively low standards that should be applied here. The vast majority of the time is spent with poorly-constructed characters doing completely asinine things that only further hurt their survival chances. The music score does not ever seem to fit (and if history is any indicator, could very well have been lifted from any number of other films) and honestly, you just cant make standard footage of rat colonies climbing all over one another all that menacing. The fact that most of the attacks involve someone off camera dumping a box of rats onto one of the scavengers does not help, nor that the actors were clearly attempting to hold as many of the vermin to their bodies as possible to give the effect of being attacked.

Alas, there remains a few select scenes that are most definitely worth the price of admission. As is usually the case, I will refrain from spoiling too much here though they involve the rats burrowing into human carcasses and manipulating the bodies in ways that made me sad it took as long as it did in my lifetime to see something like that. I will also say that the ending left me in equal measure both numb with shock and giddy like a schoolgirl. Utterly fantastic nonsense.


Worth noting: The prologue to the film states that all FIVE continents were destroyed by the nuclear warheads. I guess I can see forgetting Antarctica, but that still leaves a remainder...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)

(In true exploitation style, the artwork does not really match the all.)

A young girl accepts a ride with two brothers when her car breaks down and is swiftly taken to their out of the way house and introduced to the other "pets" that live in the basement. Frank is the morose and protective older brother who initially shows no interest in the girls as they are intended to be playmates for John who has the mental capacity of a child. However, they both do little to nothing without the approval of the matriarch of the manor, lovingly referred to as Momma. And Momma will do anything to keep her boys close to home.

Now that's a lurid title. Perhaps a little too much so as the US DVD was released as simply Girls in Chains which seems like an unnecessary exclusion even if it is true that there isn't a single pleated plaid skirt to be found anywhere in the film. As it stands, though, this movie is far less exploitative than similar abduction fare from the era. Personally, I found this to be a pleasant surprise as some other films that revel in the sexual violence usually just get my mind wandering as to if the filmmakers were more interested in getting their rocks off than anything else (and if they expected the same from their viewers...sorry, not my cup of tea).

Most of the action revolves around John prodding at the girls as they play 'Doctor' and even when Frank does lose control with one of them he clearly takes no pleasure from it. Momma has most definitely done a number on both of her boys which is highlighted in the most integral scene of the film when they flashback to Frank bringing the girl he loves home to meet Momma and inform her of their impending nuptials. It does not take long for Momma to pridefully explain to his once future bride that they have been having an incestuous affair for several years and then invites her to watch next time she comes around. Admittedly, it was a tad confusing to think that adult Frank was healthy enough to succeed at a relationship with another woman, but it does provide for the most darkly humorous moment in the film.

The success of Schoolgirls in Chains lies mainly in its ability to draw empathy for both the victims and their captors. This really should not be possible but I'll be damned if the brothers are not deserving of at least a bit of pity. Outside of the pivotal scene explained above, we do not get much more in the way of how Momma has indoctrinated her boys to loathe women as they do outside of her insistence that young girls are evil and want only to hurt their mother. More than anything, it is in the performances of the actors that we see how damaged the brothers are. Quiet, nuanced roles in an imprisoned woman's exploitation flick? Stranger things have happened.