Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dawn of the Mummy (1981)

Beginning at roughly 3000 years ago, the pharoah Surferman (or something along those lines as it was hard to tell the exact pronunciation) has died and is entombed into his memorial spot with his slave laborers buried alive beside him. I don't care how good the dental plan was, their union really dropped the ball with that one. Anyway, as was the custom at the time, a high priestess sets a curse on the burial spot that would ensure that if it was ever desecrated, then Surferman and his army of the undead would rise again and kill any that cross their paths.

Fast forward to present day where an arrogant white American treasure hunter, who is clearly unconcerned about the rapidly disintegrating world viewpoint against arrogant white Americans, decides to blow the hell out of Surferman's tomb in search of the gold buried within. This seems odd as the monument is not exactly majestic; amounting to little more than a dank pit entered through a hole in the side of a hill, but then I would guess those pyramid-shaped ones were likely cleaned out years ago. The treasure hunter and his resident assistants are warned by an old woman of the curse, but presume she must be crazy as someone has obviously blackened out some of her teeth with a Sharpie.

Naturally, this all leads to a random 80's NYC montage though it is in the daylight ensuring that the ratio of drug dealers and prostitutes to normal people is decidedly low. Here we meet a variety of lovely ladies all rushing to catch a flight to Cairo for a fashion shoot. It would seem like someone was playing fast and loose with the budget on this one as not a single stationary scene takes place here which may just account for the meandering first hour of the film where practically nothing happens.

And this is where the complaining begins as Surferman and his minions take freaking forever to wake up. Admittedly, there is fun to be had as one ponders the fact that the model's Jeep gets a flat and they are shown fixing it, but then in the next scene are all suddenly riding horses...that they found the middle of the desert. Later, they will run afoul of the treasure hunter and his pals and after being shot at by them, will immediately barge into Surferman's tomb and insist that their photo shoot take place there. Because strangers with guns who just tried to kill you are easily intimidated by anorexic women and their equally feminine photogs. Credit, however, to the lone male model who inhales a truly heroic amount of weed via a hookah found in town.

Eventually, Surferman (resembling one who has had their flesh torn off and is then dipped in milk chocolate) does shake off the cobwebs and seek his due vengeance. The last half hour is an eye gouging, skin ripping, mutilating and eviscerating good time and yes, most definitely worth the wait. I am even willing to ignore the fact that Surferman and his friends are able to almost simultaneously be in town and at the fashion shoot campground despite the fact that there was clearly a huge distance between the two as set early on. The gore really is just that satisfying.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Best of 2010?

About a year ago, when this site was in its infancy (insert joke here about how childish it usually still is), I compiled a Top Ten list of my favorite horror films of 2009. Admittedly, this was not an easy task though I consider at least the first four to all be exceptional examples of horror done right. Looking back at this past year, however, I am hard pressed to come up with a single movie that I would deem as such. This can't possibly be right...right?

To be fair, my main interests in horror continue to be in discovering (or rediscovering) movies from several decades ago and therefore I do not go out of my way to hit the multiplex with each new Hollywood endeavor nor do I scour about trying to track down all the best of the independents when they find a release, but the crop that I have caught in 2010 have been underwhelming, to say the least.

There was the usual ho-hum remakes (The Crazies, NOES) and sequels (RE4, which I really only saw because my buddy insisted that IMAX 3D would make it worthwhile...not so much). Throw in the overhyped (Human Centipede, Frozen) and series' I tuned out long ago (who is still watching these Saw movies?) along with the old masters whose outings pale in comparison to their earlier work (Giallo, Survival of the Dead) and those which sounded more interesting than they turned out to be (Burning Bright, Altitude) and there is really not much worth celebrating.

This is not to say it was all entirely awful, but frankly, it makes me a little sad to think Piranha 3D would top any list I might attempt to sort out. By all means, people, correct me if I am wrong here. I would be more than happy to eat crow if there were examples of decent horror that I missed along the way because as it stands now, I've got nothing for you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Devil Times Five (1974)

A transport van slides out on an icy road and rolls down a hill, expelling several children of varying ages. They immediately band together and trek through the winter wilderness until reaching a large cabin being used as a company retreat for a CEO and his top advisors and spouses to discuss an expansion of their psychiatric wards (how coincidental). The driver of the van wakes in the aftermath and frantically seeks out the children; finding them just as they reach the villa and paying a dear price because of it. The children regroup and are taken in by the vacationers who soon begin to realize this ragtag bunch may not be as innocent as they appear to be.

Ever see your mother half-consumed by piranhas and then dragged naked through the snow by a gang of sociopathic children? Leif Garrett has as he was cast as one of the kiddie killers alongside his real life mother playing one of our victims. I bring this up not only because knowing this fact makes the movie that much more enjoyable upon viewing, but also to illustrate how Devil Times Five refreshingly does not pull any punches simply because children are involved. Credit to overzealous stage parenting perhaps, but horror too often seems to get held back when wee ones are thrown into the mix and this made for a nice change of pace. Now there are probably not any "Helen Lovejoys" that read this blog, but just in case, in my defense, I would imagine that your average child working on a production and being able to see it from the backstage perspective would be more likely to not be frightened as those of us purposely scaring ourselves silly as we scoured late night cable long after the parents went to bed. I think I turned out okay (no counter arguments, please). Nonetheless, I am sidetracking myself here so allow me to reel my thoughts back in. Devil Times Five is fucking brutal. Okay, moving on.

On the flipside, I almost hasten to highlight the faults as they are miniscule, but in the interest of full disclosure, the score of Devil Times Five is consistently distracting as it would have played better accompanying a soapy melodrama than this nasty little slice of horror and there are some odd choices made in terms of film speed (See, even the complaints are a bit atypical). The opening wreck is clearly sped up to give the impression that the van was moving considerably faster than it was which just comes off as cartoonish. I almost expected a puff of kicked up dust to linger behind it ala the Roadrunner. This is thusly offset by half of the killings taking place is super slow motion including one that is the only black and white scene in the movie. What was that terrible movie about the 50s sitcom world that gets colorized when everyone starts screwing? And they were trying to be artsy. Come on, Devil Times Five, you're better than that.

Of course, I shiver to think what this means for the future of my half-written but eerily similar screenplay, Ghoul to the Square Root of 9, or The Circumference of a Witch, The Denominator, X=Death!, I could go on for days...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Bubba, a hulking adult male with the mind of a child is the best friend to 10 year old Marylee which does not sit well with some of the locals. We find the (jealous?) evil postman spying on them in a field of wildflowers and scowling when Marylee plants an innocent peck on Bubba's cheek. He quickly drives off to consult other like-minded folks weary of what Bubba is supposedly capable of doing. Unfortunately for our simple minded friend, Marylee soon finds herself at the receiving end of a dog attack to which Bubba saves her from, but is incapable of explaining when he brings her body back to her mother. And in what might be the most destructive game of 'Telephone' ever, the wannabe vigilantes hear that Bubba has murdered Marylee and track him to his favorite hideout inside the shell of a scarecrow just off his mama's property. Bubba is gunned down by the hillbilly firing squad mere seconds before news comes over the CB that Marylee is alive and was actually attacked by the dog. A farce of a trial leads to a complete acquittal for the men responsible for Bubba's death, leaving both his mother and the DA fuming. But as Mama states as she is dragged out of court, "Justice comes in many forms..."

What if television networks still produced features like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Bad Ronald (1974), the original V mini-series, etc.? Not that I am one to question the entertainment value of fat people running on treadmills or the other "talents" of ordinary folks that clog the airwaves these days, but I do miss the event moments that TV used to be interested in creating. Everything now just feels so safe and easily manufactured, not that this has much to do with anything here except for the fact that it leaves me more time for my Netflix queue and burgeoning VHS collection.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a rather solid effort that makes great use of the constraints of broadcasting on network TV. Bloody violence was clearly not going to fly and so the filmmakers needed to focus entirely on atmosphere, setting tone, building suspense; all of which Dark Night excels at. Perhaps the purveyors of the modern slew of PG-13 horror that I railed against a few posts back should take notice (if they even care about making a solid product in between their work shooting hip hop videos).

This is not to say that Dark Night is without fault though the quibbles are minor. I would have liked to see a bit more set up of the vigilantes as we learn little of them prior to Bubba's killing. The scene where they drive through town to round each other up for the hunt comes off as far too well-planned than the chaotic situation would have called for. Without so much as a word, each man immediately springs into action when they see the pickup approaching as if it were a forgone conclusion that they would one day have to execute the town simpleton.

As noted above, the trial is also a bit ridiculous as the judge dismisses all charges due to lack of evidence. Despite the fact that there was the testimony of Bubba's mother that these men all but told her their intentions just before the killing and the fact that Bubba had 21 gunshots in him with a planted pitchfork wrapped around his hand after death as his only means of defense. Of course, this ignores the fact that both of his arms were looped through ropes on the scarecrow stand like a retarded Jesus, making the pitchfork all but useless even if he was brandishing it at the time. Granted, the law of this land is far from perfect, but my expectation that the judge was in cahoots with the men never does come to fruition leaving a bizarrely simple scene that clearly was done so to just move the plot along.

The greatest of the missed opportunities comes later though when the postman and Bubba's mother get into an argument which ends with her telling him that she "sees the way he looks at that little girl." Could Bubba have died so gruesomely in part because the leader of the vigilante group was acting out on the shame and guilt he felt for lusting after children? It is an interesting conceit that unfortunately never comes up again even when the postman confronts Marylee alone in the hallway outside the Halloween dance. It could have been a very disturbing scene, but no, instead he merely grills her about Bubba's ghost in another "just moving the plot along" scenario. And this is where Dark Night falters a bit as the very basic plot of revenge could have easily gave way to some of these hinted at but never realized additions.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Night Train To Terror (1985)

How does one profit off of three barely released and completely ignored features? If you answered, cut them all to a third of their runtime and package them together into an anthology centered around God and Satan trading souls aboard a train whose only other occupants are a terrible rock band performing for themselves, then you've already seen this and frankly, that's cheating. You should be ashamed of yourself. It is a rather ingenious plan from a marketing standpoint though a bit of a sucker punch to any discerning horror fans that need their movies to make sense. For those that may be wondering, the three films in question are Cataclysm (1980), Carnival of Fools (1983) and Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992), all of which will hopefully be reviewed in their entirety at some point here as they each possess interesting qualities. The only problem being that I have now essentially seen all of their "greatest hits" and will be left with nothing more than exposition and character development; the two components of basic filmmaking that Night Train of Terror completely disregards.

And this is where it gets difficult to review as each new scene in each story is missing integral connecting scenes that explain how characters got to where they are, where new characters came from, why that one guy is suddenly dead, you know, stuff that usually helps progress the story along. The first tale, to the best of my deciphering, involves a playboy, who under a doctor's hypnosis, lures easy women back to their hospital so that Bull from TV's Night Court can lop off their body parts and sell them to medical schools around the globe. Highlights include a lobotomized patient performing unnecessary surgery, several paper mache severed heads (much thanks to whatever elementary school art class provided their services here) and Bull from TV's Night Court sweating profusely (if you're into that sort of thing).

Our middle story begins with a romance between a college student and the girl he falls for while watching her perform in a pornographic video (ain't love grand?). He tracks her down but is then swept into the Death Club that she participates in. Basically, Flatliners (1990) except with obscenely complicated traps including a Harryhausen-esque deadly beetle and a wrecking ball on a slowly dwindling rope swinging above the club members who are all in sleeping bags for some reason. There is also what may be the longest electrocution death of all time. This is definitely one to track down.

The final tale is perhaps the most convoluted of all as a demon masquerades as a young man that never ages. After the mysterious death of a concentration camp survivor, a detective discovers that this young man has had a huge impact on every major war the world has ever known. With the assistance of a defrocked monk (great band name) and the wife of an author whose latest work declares "God is Dead," (only post-dating Nietzsche by about a century), they set out to bring this purveyor of evil down once and for all. A bit of a let down even with more stop motion lunacy to spice things up.

As for the bookender, we find God and Satan waxing philosophically without ever really saying anything and a performance of the same song at the beginning, end and in between each tale by our soon to be rocking out in hell bandmates. At one point, the lead singer even yells out, "Again, from the top," to which we, the audience, must always reply, "Dear God, No!" Though to be fair, the same lead singer's corpse somehow holds the breakdancing pose he was performing even after the train crashes. Impressive.

So to sum it all up in a way that only this movie can be, allow me to severely edit my final thought. Night Train to Terror is ............... movie ............... experience.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Stepfather (2009)

Less a review than a mild rant on the preposterous advent of teen friendly, studio forced PG-13 horror that seems to be increasingly gaining in popularity. Bear in mind that this is neither a condemnation of all horror that falls outside the R-rated realm as there are numerous examples of successes (though most seem to have come before PG-13 even existed as an option), nor do I require buckets of blood to consider a horror outing worth my time. This is merely one example of how I have lost all faith in modern mainstream horror.

The opening scene to The Stepfather remake all but apes the standout original as we see a man slowly transforming his appearance before the bathroom mirror and then picking up his suitcases and calmly walking out the door to his former home. The original Terry O'Quinn vehicle sets the mood for the rest of the film perfectly as the camera pans down the staircase and reveals the aftermath of a chaotic and bloody struggle that arose when this madman was too often disappointed by the shortcomings of what he needs to consider "the perfect family." It is a quick flash that is kept at a distance and yet it sends enough of a jolt right from the outset to reel in any suspect-minded viewers.

The far more pedestrian remake takes a slightly different route as the man meanders a bit once he has adequately changed his looks, even going so far as to prepare himself a quick breakfast. He then surveys the rest of the ground floor level of the home and stops to ponder on each of his four victims, scattered across different rooms. For each of the recently deceased (three of whom are small children), we get a close up look at their splayed and slightly bluish-hued bodies in the earliest stages of decomposition. I think one could argue that this alone is far more damaging and exploitative than the far shot of the original, but I digress. The man soon vacates, after the prerequisite jump scare as he recalls charging after one of the children, and the viewer is left believing that he must have poisoned or suffocated each one while they slept, based on the set up.

But, no. As we immediately learn in the next scene while detectives discuss the not so grisly findings, the family was killed "by multiple stabbings and blunt force trauma." Strange, as there was not a single drop of blood anywhere in the home aside from a nick on the man's face from when he was shaving. Oh...the horror. Congratulations, movie, you just eliminated any bit of credibility you may have had in the first three minutes.

Continued viewing past this point then illustrates the same safe approach taken to sexuality as Amber Heard (as the new family's oldest son's girlfriend) is given nothing much to do other than prance around in skimpy bikinis and as night falls, mostly just her underwear. Therefore, providing just enough stimulation for masturbatory fantasies for the kids who need mom and dad to pick them up after the show, courtesy of your friends at Sony Pictures and the MPAA.

It is a sad state of affairs indeed which quite clearly explains why I find myself swiftly retreating back to the glory days of the 1970-80's as much as I do.