Friday, May 28, 2010

Turkey Shoot (aka Escape 2000) (1982)

In the not to distant future (actually no one ever references the time period that I recall, but that is how these things usually work...the U.S. release suggests 2000 so we'll just go with that), a totalitarian state rounds up 'deviants' and sends them to labor camps for re-education and behavior modification. The whole of the action takes place within Camp 47, known for its "success" rate and the lack of overpopulation issues that trouble other camps. Success means death as those in charge of Camp 47 are far more concerned with inflicting their sadistic desires on the prisoners than in fulfilling any particular ethos. This leads to a (most dangerous) game where a select few prisoners are hunted for sport in the grounds surrounding the camp by its top brass and high ranking government officials in for a visit. This includes one gentleman who brings along a fanged wolfman with serpentine eyes to act as his sidekick (way out of left field, to say the least). In the end, the tables are turned as the prisoners successfully overpower their hunters and wage a full-scale battle against the camp leading to a government sanctioned wipeout of the entire facility with the use of napalm bombs...and yet our heroes survive somehow.

Turkey Shoot is one of several Ozploitation films highlighted in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2009) that I caught last year. It comes recommended for some truly insane stories (one being the use of live ammo during a cat and mouse chase scene in Turkey Shoot for no discernible reason) and if nothing else, it will increase your Netflix queue considerably.

As for the film itself, it falls somewhere in between being too exploitative to be taken as a serious dystopian allegory, but then not nearly enough to throughly enjoy from a sensationalist point of view. The movie (at least for me) smartly eschews a through explanation of the politics behind how this totalitarian state came to be, seeing as most attempts for related fare tend to be rather broad and generic (V for Vendetta, as one example). And for the most part, the action (which is what I'm paying for) is unrelenting and suitably graphic, including Olivia Hussey chopping off one of the goon's hands. Needless to say, she's a long way from Juliet.

Still, the main premise is treated all too seriously considering the rather hammy acting, spurts of excessive violence and the odd addition of the wolfman character. There is fun to be had, but I will likely stick with this guy for all my Australian produced bleak future needs.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sender (1982)

A young man wakes on the side of the road and proceeds to stroll into a lake with a letter jacket full of rocks (something that will stick out later as we learn he is a momma's boy shut-in with uncontrollable telepathic powers so it is unlikely he was also any high school's star receiver). He is rescued and transported to a mental health facility with no memory of who he is or why specifically he wanted to kill himself. Dr. Farmer, a resident psychologist takes to him until she finds him snooping around her house one night. The problem is that John Doe 83, as he is referred to, was in the locked down facility all night and could not have escaped.

A quick note: He is referred to as John Doe 83 despite the fact that I counted maybe 7 residents in the entire facility. Granted, maybe they never recycled names and there were at some point 82 other nameless loons, but I digress...

Clearly, there is something special about John though Dr. Farmer's main interest remains figuring out who he really is. Presumably, this mystery would be solved as his mother shows up in Farmer's office one night, but she is rather obtuse and then leaves suddenly. I really don't know if this is spoiler material or not, but seeing as I can't imagine anyone not figuring it out immediately, let me just say, the mother is dead. Dr. Farmer is not so quick to notice though as they have several strange encounters before she finally picks it up.

Meanwhile, John Doe's issue seems to be that his dreams and the emotions that cause them become real and affect those around him without his control. This leads to mass chaos within the mental ward throughout the film and allows the extras to stretch their acting chops with the classic "crazed mental patient" routine. There is one fantastic scene where the head doctor goes against Farmer's wishes and attempts shock therapy on John Doe leading to everyone in the room being catapulted back away from him in super slow motion (Nevermind that the Matrix movies tried to ruin it for everyone; slow motion can be used effectively).

As a whole, I cannot really recommend The Sender. There is a long lull in the middle part of the film where I was basically checking my watch to see how long it would take Dr. Farmer to catch up to what was evident early on and then there really was not even a definitive conclusion. John Doe must resist his mother's ghost from luring him into death and does so, but then is immediately released from the hospital despite the fact that he still has those uncontrollable dreams that cause serious havoc unchecked. The hospital's new motto: "Just go bother someone else now..."

I also forgot to mention the religious subtext as John's mother apparently thought he was the second coming of Jesus Christ because of his abilities though I guess its only fair as the film also completely forgot about this by the third act.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

City of the Living Dead (1980)

The suicide of a priest in a New England cemetery somehow opens a gate of hell and subsequently unleashes the dead on the town of Dunwich. A reporter and a psychic girl he rescues from being buried alive (with a pickax to the front of the coffin that she is in...don't those things open from the side?) must find the city before All Saints Day as this is when all of the dead will return. Once there, they team with a local psychiatrist and a patient to locate the demonized priest and destroy him.

There really isn't a great sense of urgency with the ghouls of City of the Living Dead. Granted, they do seem to enjoy a good brain squeeze (awesome, by the way, makes me wish more movie zombies had such hand strength), yet they seem to be just as comfortable lying motionless on someone's kitchen floor or simply messing with people through shattered glass wall bleedings and maggot showers (of course, it is in these details that Fulci is so rightfully esteemed).

I've really never been much of a gorehound. It isn't so much the graphic imagery that bothers me, but rather that the efforts put into this aspect of a movie more often than not seem to overshadow the actual story. All the same, I've always had a soft spot for Fulci (even if I think his best films are the more giallo-minded ones) and therefore am more willing to ignore the occasional odd pacing or unexplained bits that inevitably arise.

How were the ghouls able to transport themselves telepathically? Why did even the recently deceased have faces that resembled pizza with the cheese pulled off? What was with the brain squeezing (again, awesome), but still, that is some serious strength for the rapidly deteriorating dead? Does any of this even matter?

No, it does not.

Also, continuing on this subject of gore for the sake of gore, kudos to the boyfriend who somehow doesn't lose his lunch when his girl slowly and methodically spits up most of her intestines and internal organs from within the relatively cramped space of a 2 seater automobile. Too bad for him his actual reaction was not to run like hell.


This is basically what 12 years of Catholic school upbringing looked like to me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tourist Trap (1979)

A group of young friends' car breaks down outside a secluded oasis/roadside museum attraction. Naturally, the ladies decide to skinny dip to pass the time (even the prudish, Little House on the Prairie extra...which when compared with the other halter topped, short shorts wearing girls makes for the easiest game of 'Guess the Final Girl' ever), but alas, in a stunning reversal of the expected, they all remain underwater up to the neck the whole time. Don't worry, it gets stranger. Meanwhile, the proprietor comes along to run them off his property, but then ends up insisting that they take his truck up to the main grounds when he learns that they are stranded.

Once within the museum, the kids learn that their friendly host is also a bit of an odd duck. Not to mention that they should have been at least a bit suspicious about his propensity for trying to separate them. While the owner and the only male traveler go back to work on the car (you know, the place they just left), one of the girls decides to check out the old manor behind the shop that the owner specifically told them to stay away from (so, yeah, she's dead). It turns out that there may be someone else on the property with a penchant for creepy masks that remind of Leatherface's cross-dressing and makeup fiasco from TCM: The Next Generation. He also has the ability to psychically manipulate his surroundings, including the dozens of mannequins in every room of the manor.

This is where Tourist Trap excels. Mannequins are inherently creepy, but this is all amplified here by some great staging and stellar use of sound effects. Take the opening death scene of the first character who broke off from the group (and who is seldom mentioned of again...guess they weren't much of friends). He finds himself locked within a room with some truly ghastly mannequins popping out of closets and bursting through windows, all laughing maniacally. He runs back to the door he came through where he is bombarded by flying objects littered throughout the room including a jagged lead pipe that rips into his stomach. At this point, the movie goes silent as he reels in pain until a dripping sound slowly builds of his blood draining through the pipe. There are a number of eclectic choices like this made throughout Tourist Trap setting it apart from your more standard slasher or supernatural (or both) flicks.

I feel like my reviews are always better when the movie is bad. Maybe next time.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

W-O-W. I did not see this coming. A truly gripping, complex outing that improves upon the original Nightmare in every way. Genuine scares that for once in modern horror do not feel contrived, but with subtle nuances that both pay tribute to the series, as well as, open up a refreshing new chapter that can be built upon to ultimately surpass the last.

No, I'm just fucking with you. It was...not completely awful. As usual with films of this particular ilk, I would have preferred a sequel to starting over, but then, I am not exactly the target demographic. One thing I do want to note, if you are going to "re-imagine" a basic storyline, then do not include watered down versions of every classic scene from the source material. Create your own...or at least try.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

New Nightmare (1994)

A demonic force has decided to use the visage of Freddy Krueger to enter our world with its actions corresponding with a script that Wes Craven is writing to bring the franchise back. Heather Langenkamp (as herself) is experiencing Freddy-related dreams in her real life while dealing with a stalker who calls to recite the ever familiar nursery rhyme (1..2..). She is offered the lead role in the new Nightmare feature and soon after deaths surrounding the picture start to occur. As she investigates further, she realizes that other old cast members are having the same issues and her young son is afraid to sleep because of something that visits his room each night.

Craven must have been pretty disgusted with how his creation was perverted over the course of five sequels. Well, either that or he realized that no one was paying much attention to his output leading up to New Nightmare (personally, I think People Under the Stairs (1991) is his best film though I question if the campiness of it all was really intentional). Whatever it may have been, he returned to put the Nightmare series to bed once and for least for a few years.

Such a waste. A solid premise that could have wrapped up a longstanding slasher franchise in the best way possible is wasted by the truly awful decision to focus almost entirely on the 'mother who will do anything to save her child' angle. Yawn. There was so much potential with these actors actually having to face off against the demon that made their careers, but instead they are either unnecessary to the story (how come John Saxon wasn't being affected by the demon the way every other character was?) or written out halfway through (Robert Englund actually leaves a phone message to let us know he is going to completely disappear without explanation). Show of hands, who wouldn't want to see Robert Englund have to take on Freddy?

But no, instead we have yet another doe-eyed, slightly creepy horror movie child who turns every serious moment he is given into unintended comedy. I am not usually one to pick on eight year olds, but seriously, this kid was awful. I blame Craven as much as anything as you need to know your limits when it comes to child actors as good ones tend to be few and far between and some of the things he had this kid doing (the gravelly-voiced "Never sleep again") was never going to work. And really, why should I care? It just seems like Craven got lazy when his original vision of bringing back those that started it all to actually face an evil on par with Freddy wasn't coming together, so he threw in some run of the mill child in peril nonsense.

There are other issues that arose: a lack of any kind of history about the demon masquerading as Freddy trying to enter our world, that damn freeway scene (I can suspend disbelief as well as anyone, but if the money/technology is not there, do something else), demon Freddy's glossy finish. Seriously, he looks like his skin just got buffed and waxed and though it is difficult to tell because of the trenchcoat, I swear this Freddy is wearing leather pants. Let that sink in for a minute. Leather. Pants.

There are a number of nice nods to the original Nightmare. I will give it that.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddy has been awful busy since his failed attempt at fatherhood as Springwood has just one teen left and the adults are experiencing mass psychosis due to the disappearance of all their children. We learn this in the only feasible way possible to start the final(?) chapter of a horror franchise, that is, through computer animated statistics. Anyway, Freddy releases the last surviving kid into the outside world to unwittingly bring back his now adult daughter and as an added bonus, some stowaway teens that are trying to escape the group home they are stuck at in the next town over.

Once back in Springwood, the runaways are ordered to take the van straight back to the home (Hey, just because they were trying to flee by hiding in the back doesn't mean they'll still run when you hand over the keys, right?), but Freddy has them running in circles as Springwood is trapped by some sort of dream forcefield. It took six films, but at least somebody finally tried getting the hell outta Dodge, even if they weren't necessarily running from anything just yet. They decide to hole up on Elm street until morning while Maggie (Freddy's daughter) and John Doe teenager try to figure out the shared connection they seem to have with the town. This proves to be difficult as literally the entire town has gone wacko. We know this because every single citizen talks to imaginary children. I think it's safe to assume the screenwriters did not minor in Psychology.

Anyway, most of the teens are disposed of in properly madcap fashion before Freddy possesses the body of his daughter, as this is the only route by which he can escape Springwood. His plan is a fresh start in another Ohio suburb and it will be up to Maggie and another volunteer doctor, who got a dream therapy book from the library and therefore is now an expert, to save the rest of the youth in the group home.

I really cannot justify myself here as it goes against everything I have been railing about the last few sequels, but I kind of like Freddy's Dead. It may just be that it transcends its awfulness (and it is awful in practically every regard) into the arena of cheese cinema at its finest.

To be fair, the premise of properly ending a franchise that has had little cohesiveness through the first five entries is a difficult one. We are treated to several scenes of Fred Krueger before his death with some typical choices (Yes, we all know serial killers start by abusing animals) and a few portraits of him as a doting father. It is not unreasonable to project a child killer in this way as there have been real life examples of family men who have done hideous things to strangers, but the necessity really is not there. There is nothing about her presence or actions that mark his defeat in any specific fashion. She acts as every other final girl has by throwing everything she could get her hands on at him (Ninja stars? Really?) and coming out on top. As well, there is nothing "final" about his death other than those ridiculous floating snakehead things coming out of him (an explanation for how he came to be Freddy was all but impossible to satisfy, but still, what they came up with was pretty weak).

Nevertheless, I was entertained yet again by this entry. If only I could figure out why...


Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 5: The Dream Child (1989)

In yet another continuation of the story from the previous entry, Alice is back and graduating from Springwood High with the other survivor of Dream Master, her bland jock-o boyfriend, Dan. They also have acquired a new set of friends who somehow have no idea who Freddy is or that Alice and Dan have a habit of getting those around them wasted. Maybe they transferred in Senior year or were on study abroad programs the first time around. Of course, Alice is starting to have nightmares again though Freddy does not appear in them early on and time seems to keep slipping for her as she will end up in the dream world while awake. Freddy is lurking but too weak to penetrate Alice's dreams therefore he is using the dreams of the fetus growing inside of her to try to get back into the game. That's right, Freddy has baby fever and Alice is having to juggle holding him off and the prospect of being an unwed, teenage mother...heavy stuff. Meanwhile, she does get guidance within the dream world from both Freddy's mother and the 6 year old version of her unborn son (huh?) which really just boiled down to "too many cooks in the kitchen."

Dream Child is definitely a step back in the right direction as Dream Master was tepid, at best. There are some really outstanding set pieces built around the various dream worlds inhabited here and even when it gets a bit goofy (the Freddy-cycle), its still pretty striking. Characterization is better as the kids do have some substance to them and die in ways that are fitting to their specific personality traits as Freddy has always exploited when at his best.

Still, many questions linger due to another overly complex, but ill-explained story line. Why is Freddy capable of infiltrating Alice's fetus dreams? How does he use this to get to her and her friend's dreams? There is a tacked on sub-plot with Freddy trying to take control of her child by feeding it souls and an even more unnecessary turn with Freddy's mother and her remains having to be put to rest properly...for reasons still unsubstantiated. This seems to be coming up throughout the series, but it really is so much better to keep it simple especially when the alternative is consistently heavy on ideas with little to no follow through.

Then, there's the obvious hot button issue at stake here. I was genuinely surprised it was brought up at all, even if the discussion was quickly discarded. I speak, of course, of the Big A, little -bortion. Alice has seen Freddy kill her brother, the father of said fetus (whose death she credits with not considering the option), several of her friends and who is now again acting as a threat to everyone that remains in her life. And in the end, more people die due to her decision. I don't mind saying it...seriously, Alice, pretty fucking selfish.