Monday, October 13, 2014

The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Just as I went into Antichrist prepared to hate it, I went into The Town that Dreaded Sundown prepared to love it. I was cruising through Netflix (this is truly how I imagine my movie-watching life—I am quite literally cruising through the digital kingdom of Netflix in a convertible, perhaps with a scarf in my hair? I don’t really imagine this.) when I saw the cover art and decided that it was actually my new favorite movie of all time and I had never even seen it.

Look at that. Look at it! It’s perfect. It’s everything I want in a movie.

That is a promotional poster for the movie; the Netflix cover art is the same image but is missing the ominous words at the top and the film information at the bottom. You can see how this would be extremely attractive to me: the frightening-but-obviously-low-budget figure looming out of scale over the town, the use of dusk imagery, the unnecessary quotation marks because I am quite sure that is the title of the movie without needing the punctuation, just everything. It is truly nothing short of perfection.

The movie itself is certainly short of perfection but enjoyable nonetheless. It’s set in 1946 Texarkana, a town on the Texas/Arkansas border which, boy howdy, sounds like an absolutely terrible place to live. It is most definitely a terrible place to live in the spring of that year when cars parked on lovers' lanes are being randomly attacked by an unknown hooded assailant.

The first assault takes place in the opening scenes of the film. It seems like your fairly average maniac-attacks-teens-in-a-parked-car scene but I became aware that I was clenching my fists like I was really anxious. Then I realized that there was no soundtrack or effects or anything—it was just the sound of a woman screaming over and over and over into an otherwise silent backdrop, which was really unnerving. I thought, “oh man, this movie is going to be super scary!”

I was wrong. Eventually I came to realize that the lack of a soundtrack in that scene was most likely a production mistake as opposed to a conscious atmospheric choice because several scenes later, our strong sensitive police deputy is chasing the bad guy in what we are told to believe is a rainy night setting, but half of the cuts in the scene are to broad daylight, sunny and clear. He even uses a flashlight during the daylight cuts! Seriously, you couldn’t have waited eight hours to shoot this 45 seconds of footage? I mean, I guess not. They don't even try to hide it.

The police in this movie are dumb as a bag of hammers, they really are. The deputy reports to the sheriff, who has about six lines in the movie. Two of these lines were so good I felt compelled to write them down: “Captain, we ain’t got nothin’!” and “We haven’t been able to come up with a damn thing!” so that gives you a pretty good idea of his worth. Because he’s so useless, they bring in the most famous Texas Ranger in all the land who, spoiler alert, is also pretty useless. In fact, the middle hour of this film is basically a police procedural which is kind of insane because they don’t collect a single shred of evidence. Not one.

“Wow,” you must be thinking to yourself. “This killer must be good. He must be really good at covering his tracks.” NOPE. Well, the police seem to think so. In fact, the Famous Ranger says to the deputy, “This guy doesn’t make any mistakes!” except that uh, yes, he does. Ultimately he attacks eight people and kills five. That’s a 62.5% kill rate. He leaves more than 1/3 of his victims alive. He is also seen by police on two separate occasions, though they are unable to stop him. These are not the traits of a killer who is uncatchable AND YET, the police are unable to find any sort of clues to point them in any direction whatsoever. We are supposed to be identifying with the police, but they are portrayed as a bunch of bumbling morons. The film also weirdly devotes a total of about 25 minutes to comic relief in the form of a cop called Sparkplug, played by the director. Five full minutes are devoted to Sparkplug losing a set of car keys. There are some weird choices.

The killer himself is fairly frightening—a hulking man with a sack over his head, peering through crudely-cut eyeholes. My only real beef with him is that, through another strange directorial or acting choice, he is constantly doing this labored, heavy breathing into the sack in such a way that he’s sucking the fabric into and out of his mouth and it’s SO weird and distracting. I kept worrying that he was going to suffocate.

I made a gif, I think I can retire from this blog now. 

I can’t believe I am this deep into this review and I have yet to mention that Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island is in this movie and she is great. It’s a shame that Dawn Wells was probably so well-known for that wholesome television role that I imagine it was difficult for her to get other work, because she could have had a career as a scream queen—I really thought she did a nice job in her few minutes of camera time in which she screams a bunch, gets shot in the face twice, cries, rolls around in the dirt, falls down, etc. Probably not how she imagined life off the island, huh? Man, that was a joke so bad I feel compelled to leave it in here to shame myself.

Mary Ann is not the only great thing about The Town that Dreaded Sundown, though. I have to say, this movie had one of my favorite kills in all the movies I’ve reviewed here so far: the Phantom Killer, as he comes to be known, has captured a high school couple immediately after the prom, and the young lady happened to be the trombone player in the band. After tying her up with her arms around the trunk of a tree, the killer fastens a knife to the end of the slide on the trombone and repeatedly stabs her. It’s sort of a hilarious scene, though, because he doesn’t just stab her with the end of the slide—he puts the brass mouthpiece up to his mask as though he’s playing the trombone even though there’s no mouth-hole in the sack and it's totally unnecessary. It’s wonderful.

I didn’t know until I did some research after watching The Town that Dreaded Sundown that it was based on a true story (I know, they are all based on a true story) but this one actually stuck fairly closely to the real life events of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, including the bit about several victims being left alive. I definitely went down the internet rabbit hole reading about the actual crimes of the Texarkana phantom and man, they were pretty brutal. That brings me to my next point:
I also didn't know that this film was just remade and that the remake is just about to be released (or was just recently released, I'm unclear), which was probably why it just popped up on Netflix. This particular remake was apparently conceived and produced by Ryan Murphy, the co-creator of 'American Horror Story', so I am guessing that any degree of subtlety that was exercised in the 1976 original will be off the table entirely. Given how much I liked this version and how much I guiltily enjoy AHS, I’ll probably check out the reboot when I have an opportunity. 

The Town that Dreaded Sundown: not my new favorite as expected by the cover art, but definitely not a letdown! Would recommend.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Antichrist (2009)

Kristina told me this was the date movie of the year; I thought this was going to be one where the people kiss in the rain and that real handsome dude is like, “if you’re a bird then I’m a bird” and then she gets Alzheimer’s or something? Antichrist? No? That’s what? The Notebook? Shit.

Honestly, I came into Antichrist pretty well-prepared to hate it. Several months ago, Kristina told me that she had really liked Lars Von Trier’s Melancolia and wanted to see Antichrist and I agreed to watch it with her, but then we found that Nymphomaniac vols 1 & 2 were going to be playing at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ so we just saw those instead. And boy, did I wish I was dead.

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. Nymphomaniac vol. 1 is kind of a fun porno and Christian Slater is always welcome in my life. Vol. 2 was like having your nether regions sandblasted and then jumping into a salt bath with the open wound. Nope nope nope nope. We’re not here to discuss Nymphomaniac, but please keep in mind that it is 86 hours long and Kristina and I just saw both volumes in recent months. Because of this, I honestly feel as though I have spent literal weeks of my life watching Charlotte Gainsbourg weep, writhe and get boned. I just cannot anymore, so much so that I have to wonder if anyone has ever had sex with LVT. It seems as though he found out about the mechanics of sex and became FASCINATED and that’s as far as it went until he decided that all kinds of terrible things can happen to people’s genitals.

Here are the good things about Antichrist: it is undeniably beautiful—every single shot. The first act is absolutely heart-wrenching. It is sort of fascinating that the two characters of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are the only characters in the entire film (less their dead son). When the fox LITERALLY SAYS “chaos reeeeiiiigns” to Willem Dafoe I lol-ed for like three straight minutes. When blood comes out of Willem Dafoe’s peepee I clapped my hands over my face then lol-ed for like five straight minutes.

Here are the bad things about Antichrist: pretty much everything else. A person who really likes this movie recently described it as “a slow burner” which I guess is a positive spin on something that I would call extremely tedious. I had trouble getting lost in it; I ate a bunch of soup, thought about what I was going to wear to work the next day, went to the bathroom twice, and so on. At one point I asked Kristina, “wait, why is this woman afraid of the grass? Because her kid died?” and she said, “because he asked her where she’d feel most vulnerable? Women are weak, see?” and that’s really how the first 75% of the film feels. Things certainly shift in the third act and I won’t spoil them here, but at no point is there a favorable treatment of the “She” character.

There’s plenty of internet space devoted to arguing over whether Lars Von Trier is or is not a misogynist so I’ll not spend more of it here except to point out that part of the budget of this film was spent on the hiring of a ‘misogyny specialist.’ K.

Look, it’s obvious that my tastes in horror run to the lowbrow and the silly, the tasteless and the shallow. Antichrist is not really any of these things…it’s artsy and I guess it’s deep. But I don’t want to watch horror to debate whether it’s misogynistic, you know? To get real with you for a second, -turns chair around and sits down backwards, AC Slater-style- I have to deal with misogyny in many aspects of my daily life. I am a female financial advisor. I am a female sports fan. I am a woman who lives in a city who sometimes has the audacity to walk on public streets. I know people who tell me not to be soooo sensitive. Quite frankly, I want horror to be an escape from reality, not another reason to reflect on it and another avenue in which I have to defend my feelings. Ahem. Because this feels too real for my blog where I make terrible jokes and terrible cartoons in a terrible image creating program, -turns chair back around and sits like a reasonable person- this is also kind of why I refuse to go to haunted houses around Halloween even though they ought to be right up my alley…it’s too goddamn real for me! I like to keep horror as a bizarro fantasy world of killer clowns and crazed rednecks and murderous home invaders on a screen far, far away from me…not shit that is actually real and in my face and possibly going to touch me even though I know they are not allowed to touch me.

So, Antichrist. You can see this if you like to talk about stuff and feel real feelings, or if you enjoy genital mutilation (you sick freak.) And since there was not a single scene that I felt like I could reasonably illustrate for this blog, please enjoy this rendering of Kristina and me eating soup. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Black Sunday (1960)

Let me begin this post with one thing that I feel fairly confident in saying even though I am pretty sure it makes me sounds like a xenophobe and I truly don't mean it to: Russians are sort of crazy. As I was watching Black Sunday, a film about a reanimated Russian vampire witch, my next door neighbor who is Russian and very large and also crazy was seemingly hosting a Wrestlemaniac-style event in his living room that was seriously causing every dish in the cupboards in my kitchen to rattle. This was at 8:45 on a Sunday evening. Russians are kinda nuts.

Black Sunday, aka La Maschera del Demonio (The Mask of Satan) is an Italian film that is supposed to be based on the Gogol short story “Viy”, but the two works really have almost nothing in common except the aforementioned theme of Russians being crazy and the additional motif that women are bitches who will stop at nothing to murder your shit. Fair enough. In fact, Black Sunday is kind of a hilarious representation of what Italians think Russians are. To wit, here are the names of some of characters in the film:
Andre (this is actually my Russian neighbor’s name, so there’s that)

To be fair though, it’s actually pretty goddamn scary. There’s something about this era of film which lends itself to being creepy but not scary (with the exception of the swimming scene from Creature from the Black Lagoon that terrifies me to this day, although you could easily make the argument that Black Sunday is a different animal altogether anyway) but I think that Black Sunday is actually legitimately scary. 

Let me backtrack. The film opens on an inquisition of a stone cold fox (Barbara Steele, in the role that launched her career and also apparently made her not afraid of Italians anymore? Because that was a thing for her?) named Princess Asa. She along with her servant (the supercreep Javuto) have been accused by her brother, the Prince of Moldavia, of colluding with Satan as a witch AND a vampire and totally sucking people’s blood and generally being a badass. She is sentenced to death and they brand her with the letter S for Satan. Apparently this sequence is shortened in the American version, but it’s still really explicit for 1960. Then they place a spiked mask over her face and SMASH IT WITH A GIANT HAMMER. In 1960!! The approach of the mask to her face from her POV is one of the best visuals of the film.

This is really how frightening and dramatic and powerful it looked; this is my art, and it is dangerous.

Fast forward two centuries and we have to spend some time with these two dumb doctors on their way to a conference via horse and wagon when they encounter the haunted crypt of Princess Asa. The older of the two acts like such a fool in the crypt, waving his arms around at a bat that is seriously the size of Glenn,

eventually breaking the stone cross that hangs over the body of Asa so as to protect the world from her coming back to haunt it, then shoots the bat, takes the mask off her face, cuts his hand, bleeds onto her bare face, then leaves. WHY ARE BUSINESS TRAVELERS SUCH DUMMIES? You tell me, I do not know.

The doctor’s blood brings her back to life and you had better believe she is ready to exact some revenge on her brother’s ancestors, including her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great niece Katia, also played by Barbara Steele.

Black Sunday is full of great imagery: foggy forests (that’s pretty much all the Eastern Bloc countries are, right?), a man being burned alive in a great hall fireplace (apparently this was also cut down for content in the American version from the Italian version—in the Italian version, you see the skin peel off his face. I feel like I could have dealt with that but I guess I am just a wimpy American after all), Asa’s face that is riddled with holes from the spiked mask but still adorned with PERFECT cat-eyeliner makeup.

Speaking of which! When Princess Asa telepathically orders her servant Javuto to rise from the grave, he crawls from the earth and pops his mask of Satan off his face like the cap from a beer bottle and all these oozy shreds of gunk come off with it. It is seriously gross. I love it.

The final gross scene is at the climax of the movie (why am I only telling you about the gross scenes? Because it’s my blog, suckers) when the evil witch Asa is about to drink an unconscious Katia’s blood but then sees this gaudy cross Katia’s been wearing the whole movie and it stops her. Just then the younger doctor bursts into the room and Asa convinces him that she is actually Katia and that he should kill Asa by staking her through the eyeball (director Mario Bava’s highly entertaining version of a stake through a vampire’s heart). The younger doctor is just about to do it when he too recognizes the gaudy cross, turns to Asa, pulls open her robe (the best way to identify a woman is her boobs, naturally) and reveals  A DISGUSTING DECAYING CHEST CAVITY AND IT IS AWESOME.

Apparently there is a decent amount of censorship in this version of the movie—a total of about three minutes is gone from the American version. I hunted for any videos online to share them with you and could only come up with some useful stills here. Some of what was supposed to be cut is in the Netflix version (such as the garden conversation where Andre gives Katia the most posi pep talk of all time) and some is not (such as where Vajda’s face burns off in the fire). What can you do? Apparently Asa’s line, “You too can find the joy and happiness of Hades!” was changed to “You too can find the joy and happiness of hating!” which is hilarious to me because I hate a lot of stuff, like the St. Louis Cardinals, ketchup, people who think they are funny but are just repeating stuff they read on Twitter, and snow. I do feel real joy and happiness! I am truly with you, Asa.

Several years ago, I made an Excel spreadsheet of every classic horror movie I owned in various forms and in various box sets, sorted it by date and promised myself I’d work through them chronologically. Black Sunday was on the list but obviously towards the end since it’s from 1960 and I never made it anywhere near it because I kept falling asleep in the 1930s and making deals with myself where I wouldn’t have to restart The World Gone Mad and things like that, and eventually just gave up the whole project. I’m really glad I finally got to it though because it’s truly a great watch. Available on Netflix and seemingly all over the internet for free, it’s definitely worth your 87 minutes. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Grave Encounters (2011)

Hi guys, and welcome to the first installment of a new series on this blog called “Movies Rob Wants to Watch.” He has sent me an email with three more MRWTW and they are all pretty much the same movie as this one so buckle up babies—this shit’s about to get paranormal!

I was bothered by something while watching the Canadian horror production Grave Encounters: the lead actor looked SO familiar to me but I could not place him. My cousin Vicky is an occupational therapist which is practically a doctor and she says that everyone Googling everything on their smartphones all the time instead of trying to remember things is going to give us all Alzheimer’s so I didn’t look it up and instead just racked my brain trying to figure out where I knew him from. I had just about decided that he was just a thinner, Canadian, cut-rate version of Dean from 'Supernatural' when around the 23-minute mark I remembered what I knew him from: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. I had seen this before.

Have you done this before? I mean, seen a movie so unmemorable that it took a significant portion of the film to actually trigger the memory of having seen it already? If so, please post the movie in the comments-- I am interested to see what movies are so dull they couldn't even stick in your brain. This is actually the second time I’ve déjà vu-ed a crappy horror film; the first one was a real shitshow on OnDemand called Grave Dancers and I honestly didn’t remember it until ten minutes before the end when they trotted out a pyromaniac child dancing in a room of fire. Either I watch way too many terrible movies or I already have a memory disorder as per Dr. Vicky’s prediction.

Anyway, Grave Encounters. This is a movie about a paranormal investigation television show gone terribly wrong inside an abandoned psychiatric hospital. Like 99% of horror filmed in 2011, it is found-footage style which makes me want to put a Dramamine patch behind my ear because I’m your grandma.

A cast and crew of four men and one woman are locked inside the hospital overnight after a tour of the supposedly haunted facilities. They set up a bunch of steady cams and then walk around doing various paranormal activity testing to try to stir up some ghostly moments. Eventually some scary-ish stuff happens, then the caretaker doesn’t come back to let them out as planned, then more scary-ish stuff happens, then they break through the front door and instead of finding the outside, they find another hallway.

First, certainly the abandoned psychiatric hospital scenario has been played out on a number of occasions, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a lot that can be done with it. It’s a terrifying concept but Grave Encounters really falls flat with it. Like, just parade out a variety of crazed ghosts and sadistic doctors and I’ll probably be scared. Don’t try to convince me that it’s a portal for Canadian demons, and definitely don’t do both of those things. And MOST DEFINITELY don’t do both those things AND have someone’s death occur via a disappearance into a mysterious fog AND have the building have the ability to shapeshift AND have no one die until like the 70th minute.

I feel like the writing/directing duo of Grave Encounters (the Vicious Brothers—not brothers, questionably vicious, definitely Canadian)wrote everything they knew about horror movies onto slips of paper and threw them into a hat, then instead of picking out random pieces they just dumped them onto the floor and used them all. Here are some highlights:

      Every good movie using a psychiatric hospital has to have a room with writing all over the wall, right? This one has it, and it has in big letters:

That is actually what it says. In the movie. These are definitely Metallica lyrics, right? Like post-rehab-James-Hetfield Metallica lyrics? 

At one point, a member of the crew wakes up with words scratched into the skin on her back. Kinda spooky, and at first I thought it said “HELP” like, “help me, I am a patient in this hospital and am living in terrible conditions and these doctors want to stick a needle in my eye!” Nope. It seriously says “HELLO.” ‘Sup, buddy?

I am desperately trying to remember actual physical threats to the characters in this movie. There are a few scenes where demon-like creatures come at them (but don’t seem to do any damage?) and of course the aforementioned scene where someone is just whisked away in a cloud of smoke but otherwise, they are few and far between. For instance, in one scene a bunch of hands inexplicably come through the ceiling (15 feet above the characters’ heads) and that’s about it. Again, ‘sup?

Obviously this movie is fairly unmemorable, since I didn't remember it.

I’d be remiss without pointing out some enjoyable parts of this one: the changing building scared me in a claustrophobic way…in the third act, our intrepid crew believes they have found roof access but the stairwell ends in a completely sealed wall, and that kind of gave me the shivers. The ‘medium’ character is a decent comic relief. There is a scene where a ghost doctor gives a ghost patient a lobotomy which caused me to remember a phrase that my Uncle Frank always used to say: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy” and I said that to Rob like I’d made it up so he thought I was really funny and I liked that (Uncle Frank didn’t make it up either). So, you know, that’s something.

Lucky you guys though, at the top of the list of MRWTW is Grave Encounters 2! I am like 99% sure I have not seen that (and 99% sure that no one else has, either). 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wrestlemaniac (2006)

I am by nature a lover of many things that are traditionally considered to be in poor taste: bad movies, terrible puns, pro wrestling—you get the gist. It was my very lucky day when I found a film that combined all of these things (with some other…well, less enjoyable tasteless qualities like misogyny and racism) into one film not even long enough to be considered feature-length: Wrestlemaniac!

Clocking in at 75 minutes (that’s 1.25 episodes of ‘Law & Order’ on cable for those of you who, like me, use episodes of ‘Law & Order’ as a timekeeping mechanism) and also known as El Mascarado Massacre, this film is blissfully free in its entirety on Youtube (link). At the time of my viewing, it had a mere 298,220 views and one lone comment reading, “stupid movie~beside the chicks” so I knew I was in for a treat, particularly considering that in this world, a video of a baby panda sneezing can rack up more than 209 MILLION views.

I chose Wrestlemaniac solely based on its name and its free-ness on YouTube, and was really pleasantly surprised when the final actor credited during the opening sequence was Rey Misterio. If you’ve seen any WWE in the last 10-15 years, you may be familiar with Rey Mysterio Jr., who is inexplicably the nephew, not son, of Rey Misterio. I do not understand this naming convention. I cannot claim to know why there is a variation in spelling, either. Wrestling moves in mysterious ways, you know? It’s best not to question. Anyway, Rey Misterio the elder was very much a legend in Mexico in the 70s and 80s and trained his nephew, who is a pretty big talent within WWE, so I was excited.

Let me give you the premise of this film: six people set out in a van to Mexico to film a very low-budget porno. All of these people are big dumb dummies and I’m not sure who we’re supposed to like. There is, of course, the trope of 20 minutes with jerks but since this movie is shorter than a weekly episode of 'The Biggest Loser,' we are mercifully given a reprieve to make it about a solid ten minutes of character development. This is more than enough to decide that these people are big dumb dummies and I really don’t care about them. There is the Alpha Male, the Fat Guy, the Stoner Guy and three blonde porno actresses. I was not planning to refer to any of them by name to show how little I care about their impending doom, but I realized that two of them were named Debbie and Dallas. Nothing like a shout out to classic porn, right? The third is named Daisy and you need not remember that because she doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. She begins the movie passed out in the van. 

She wakes up, stumbles into the porno shoot, pulls out a boob, barfs, is murdered. Just like that. That's Daisy's character arc. 

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. The dumdums naturally get lost and really fantastic, thoughtful dialogue ensues. Regarding finding their way to Cabo:

Alpha Male: Aren’t you Mexican?
Fat Guy: Yeah but I was born in Seattle, dude.
Alpha Male: (pause) Whatever, still Mexican. I know you could find your way to a taco stand

That’s pretty much Alpha Male’s ‘tude for the duration of his onscreen time. He stops the van at a rickety old gas station and they speak with the proprietor, who tells them of a nearby ghost town called La Sangre de Dios—which our Mexican character referenced above translates as “The Blood of Christ.” No sir, I took Spanish 4 in high school and I am fairly certain that would be La Sangre de Cristo and that dios means god... but whatever. This town has been abandoned because of a maniacal pro wrestler who, from what I could gather from the disjointed plot of this film, has gone bonkers and killed everyone in sight. Now he lives there alone—the luchador Mascarado (the masked man, I think? I don’t quite recall from the aforementioned Spanish 4 experience, lo siento Señora Glaser!)

As you may have guessed, Rey Misterio is Mascarado. His first two kills are of our most expendable characters (Stoner Guy and Barfing Daisy, who dashes off the porno set to barf and for reasons I cannot understand, runs about 350 yards before she slams her bare feet into a bunch of broken glass and then is murdered.) When the body of Stoner Guy is found, we see that his face has been peeled off his skull, which is actually a pretty excellent touch.

Mascarado comes for the rest of our intrepid porn crew less Dallas, who has set to repair the van that Alpha Male has wrecked—her dad’s a mechanic, see?—so she is basically oblivious to all of this. Alpha Male dies a decent gory death, his ugly mug smashed into brick by the back of his hair like a face to a turnbuckle. It is also in this scene that I first noticed the imaginative camera work to distract from the fact that Rey Misterio is only 5’9”. He’s pretty jacked in this movie, but it’s a little bit hard to be afraid of a villain who is significantly shorter than some of his victims. This is accomplished through a lot of killer-POV shots and also some creative backlighting.

Anyway, Fat Guy and Debbie discover Mascarado’s killing room in which he has crudely fashioned a wrestling ring out of rope and rusty barrels and the walls are covered with stretched, grotesque faces that have been removed from Mascarado’s victims.

Fat Guy realizes that Mascarado is playing by the rules of wrestling: in Mexican wrestling, unmasking a rival luchador is the ultimate humiliation that only occurs after a major loss. He puts on the luchador mask that he has been carrying around for reasons that are not explained to the audience and prepares for his own squared circle bout with the killer Mascarado.

Eventually Dallas fixes the van and then has a protracted chase scene with Mascarado. I would not normally do this, but I am going to describe for you, shot-for-shot, the end of the movie (I get it, this is a major spoiler, but were you really going to watch Wrestlemaniac? Be honest with yourselves. If so, skip the next two paragraphs.)

Daisy is told that she needs to remove Mascarado’s luchador mask and that will be the end of him forever because of the humiliation, presumably? This of course makes no sense because we have previously been told that he had been given “50 lobotomies and they didn’t work for shit” and I would imagine that the medical professionals involved took his mask off for these procedures. It’s unclear. Anyway, Daisy smacks him in the back with a board full of nails and then brutally impales him with a 5-foot long, 2-inch wide length of metal pipe that really ought to kill him. She reaches over to remove his mask but he grabs her arm, Carrie-style, and she runs out of the room, leaving him impaled and alone.

She makes it to the exit of the building and collapses on the floor in tears because she is a whiner. An unseen force blows the doors open and we can see that the van is parked just outside, headlights on. A renewed Daisy stands up. As mysteriously (misteriously? I’m sorry, I can’t help myself) as they opened, the doors swing closed. Daisy bursts through them, rushing towards the van and screaming. Suddenly she slows, stops, and looks down. Now she is impaled by the pipe and she slumps to the ground. WHAT. The next and final shot of the movie is Rey Misterio driving away in the van, listening to some country song. WHAT. I have no explanation for this-- I guess it's just another "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHY!" moment in horror.

I am also 1300 words into a review of a movie that probably had fewer than 1300 words of dialogue so I really need to wrap it up. In summation, this movie was most definitely so bad it was good. So much of the budget must have been spent on fake blood. One of the deaths is by a backbreaker, a classic wrestling move. Much like Barfing Daisy, Rey Misterio also has no lines and it truly doesn't matter at all. It’s great. Do yourself a favor and spend 1.25 ‘Law & Order’ episodes on Wrestlemaniac. One of these days I'll review something for you that's actually good--until then, WRESTLEMANIAAAAAC!!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

House (1986)

So. I could swear that at least one person recommended House to me as “really really scary.” It had also been languishing in my Netflix streaming queue for quite some time so I figured I’d give it a shot. About halfway through the movie, I started to feel like maybe I had missed something. I paused it and did a quick IMDB search, turning up a 1977 Japanese film by the same name which I think was probably the actual recommendation I received. Guys, when you recommend me something, please make sure I write it down. I’m the worst.

 Actually, I really don’t care that this was likely the wrong movie because I LOVED IT. First, let me tell you this: I feel that it would be a lie by omission if I did not tell you that I watched this movie while under the influence of barbiturates. It sounds like a fun recreational thing—or does it? I’m unsure—but it’s really just a migraine med that also has caffeine in it, presumably to counteract the barbiturate effect. Like all good Italian babies, I used to be given coffee in a sippy cup (it’s seriously stunning that I am a solid 5’8”) so I am pretty immune to caffeine at this point in my life and so this particular med still slightly messes me up in an “I’ve never seen ‘em fing” kind of way.

Oh wait, there they go.

So this may have possibly influenced my enjoyment of the film, just a little bit. As an added result, my initial notes about the movie are just bizarre scattered observations. Among them:

- This grocery delivery boy has a big butt and I’m pretty into it (I WROTE THAT ON A PIECE OF PAPER)
- Did Roger really just put something into the microwave for 30 minutes? Is he trying to grow a giant tumor?
- Roger is sort of studly even though he wears an excessively low V-neck sweater that is tucked into slacks to hang out and take out the garbage. I know it’s 1986 but c’mon.

Do you like how I always use the same clouds to indicate that someone is outside? I’m such a great artist, I really am.

There are also a few references to my excitement that both Norm from 'Cheers' and Bull from 'Night Court' feature prominently in this film. This is my real life in 2014. On barbiturates.

Roger, our protagonist, is a horror writer for whom things are going terribly wrong. His son mysteriously disappeared, his marriage fell apart and the aunt who raised him has recently committed suicide by hanging. Roger inherits her giant old house (where he grew up, and where his son went missing) and moves back in to work on his next book, which is a memoir of his experiences in Vietnam (which no one seems to want to read). Weird stuff starts happening, there is a giant monster thing in the bedroom closet and Norm lives next door and just wants to hang out and drink High Life.

I had gone into this with the expectation that it would be “really really scary” so I was surprised to find that this was, in fact, a horror comedy. I did not realize it was such until the scene in which Roger’s ex-wife Sandy turns up at his front door and then shapeshifts into a rubbery, jowly, grotesque yet feminine monster and it’s goddamn hilarious.

To defeat this monster, Roger cuts her into pieces and buries her all over the backyard only to have her hand dug up by Norm’s golden retriever. The hand sticks around until Roger flushes it down the toilet which, as the owner of a very old house, made me extremely nervous about the plumbing but made for an excellent visual.

Ultimately Roger realizes that the house has taken his son—a fact that his aunt told him at the time of the disappearance but everyone wrote off as being crazy—and is able to find him by smashing the bathroom mirror and crawling into this insane pit in the house. Here he realizes that his son was kidnapped by the undead entity of his old army buddy from Vietnam (Bull!) who begrudges Roger for not being able to mercy-kill him when he was wounded in action and instead allowing him to be captured and tortured by enemy forces. He appears as a crazy undead skeleton soldier D&D looking thing and I absolutely love him.

Good news though, Roger is able to defeat him and the house by no longer being afraid, a theme that has JUST NOW arisen in the 88th minute of the film, and his son is rescued from the clutches of undead army Bull. This house is clean.

You’d think this would pretty much wrap up the movie but I have several unanswered questions. 1) Why was the aunt being haunted into killing herself? She didn’t leave Bull out to die. 2) Who were the other monsters in the house? There was the Sandy monster and the closet monster that I referenced earlier, and also a couple smaller monsters that tried to kidnap a neighbor’s young child that Roger is weirdly babysitting and BATHING, which is so upsetting that I won’t even get into it. 3) Why is being unafraid all it takes to defeat these monsters? That seems like a cop out.

Regardless of the loose ends and fairly chintzy special effects, and the fact that I was expecting a different movie entirely, House was super fun. I really loved this and would definitely watch it again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Hole (2001)

Since I’ve been doing this blog a bit more regularly, I’m trying to write at least part of a post pretty quickly afterward watching the movie. That has not been the case for the film that my horror lady friends and I watched this past week, The Hole (2001). Also the end of this post is going to spoil the end of the movie, so if you have any plans on ever watching this one, skip this post entirely please. 

Let me start with a few simple facts:
- This is not to be confused with The Hole (2009), a self-described “3D thriller that explores the fears and secrets buried deep within the human mind.”
- This is also not to be confused with The Hole (1998), described by Wikipedia as a Taiwanese drama-musical.
- This is a British film that, while set in 2001, screams 1996. That part is pretty excellent. There is a giant inflatable pink chair made of translucent plastic that I swear I saw in the Claire’s store at the Ross Park Mall in the mid-90s. 
- Thora Birch portrays the main female character and she does a serviceable British accent for at least 85% of the movie.
- This is one of Keira Knightley’s first movie roles and she is, of course, perfectly British.
- For a few days afterward, a series of emails and texts went back and forth between us trying to figure out some of the plot points, which is a little bit odd because (see next point)
- This movie was not good.
- Partway through, I commented that “this is like the shitty Rashomon of horror” which was, even with the qualifier “shitty”, still a fairly generous statement.

The movie begins with a cold open in which we see Thora Birch—whose character’s name is irrelevant because I will refer to her only as Thora Birch—staggering down a road, covered in blood. A missing persons sign flaps from a telephone pole. She lurches into what appears to be a school and screams. We see that she is covered in wounds and very agitated even before a doctor tries to examine her in the OB-GYN way which causes her to freak out.

From there, we are treated to 20 minutes of backstory: Thora Birch is a mean girl in this prep school; she’s in love with this guy Mike who is the son of an American rock star and recently became single; she’s BFFs with both this weird sociopathic guy Martin and the beautiful but vapid Frankie (Knightley). Thora Birch realizes that Mike doesn’t even know she exists (the quintessential teenage pain) and Martin says he can help her. He takes her, Frankie, Mike and Mike’s toadie Geoffrey to this World War II bunker in the middle of the woods where they can have a three-day party because they have somehow managed to bail on a field trip to Wales. On the third day Martin is supposed to come and let them out…but he never arrives. They are trapped in the bunker.

Okay, first major issue. Being locked in this underground hideout was clearly meant to give you a feeling of claustrophobia except that the bunker is legit bigger than my house. It contains a separate bathroom that has multiple urinals. There’s a balcony. It’s not even a remotely small space, and I felt like that was a huge missed opportunity.

Eventually we realize that we are in a flashback as told by Thora Birch to the lady cop who is working on her missing persons case. We then meet the lady cop's partner, whom I mention only because we decided he looked like a weird combination of Jay Mohr and Dave Coulier. It was uncanny. Is this bunker made of………wood?? Anyway, Thora Birch tells a version of the story that basically could never have happened in a million years, which leads into a different version of the story but now it’s being narrated by Martin, who has been brought in for questioning about the matter.

You know, the more I’m thinking about this the less I feel like trying to explain what actually happened/ how we came about it and instead I am just going to complain.

Nobody dies a scary death. All three of the deaths that happen in the bunker and the one death that happens outside the bunker are pretty dull. One character seriously just dies of heart failure in the middle of night off-camera. Like, imagine you’re a horror screenwriter and you’re like “Yes, yes, good, now we need this character to die…what is scary, what is scary…hmm…ah yes! A cardiopulmonary failure! That’ll get ‘em! That gets ‘em every time!”  *clears off spot on bookshelf for Oscar*

The one character that dies outside of the bunker is pushed off a footbridge into raging waters... but this person is also CASUALLY SITTING ON THE EDGE OF A BRIDGE WITH THE PERSON HE KNOWS TO BE THE KILLER.  JUST WHISTLING AWAY HERE ON THE EDGE OF A BRIDGE. What! What! There is no real suspense, we don’t even see him get pushed off (this movie seems to have blown its entire budget on Thora Birch, who apparently pulled down seven figures for her role and thus they could not afford to make a dummy to toss over the edge.)

Even the death of “hunky” Mike, a moment that is seemingly meant to be the denouement of the story, is actually pretty lame. I am putting hunky in quotes because in several scenes in this movie, he looks like he’s wearing a wig that may have been worn in a high school production of Spartacus. It’s not a good look. In fact, nothing about Mike is good and he is most definitely not worth all the trouble that Thora Birch goes to in order to seduce him. He doesn't even participate in the full frontal nudity scene involving Geoffrey that appears in a flashback. Oh, did I not mention there is full frontal male nudity in this movie? God bless you, British cinema.

In the case of Netflix good or garbage, it’s hard for me to come down on either side of the line with The Hole. It’s definitely not a good movie, but it’s not garbage either. It’s not scary, it’s not particularly violent and there’s no real suspense—it’s almost more of a weird crime drama than anything else. We discussed it quite a bit afterwards but I don’t know if that’s because it was thought-provoking (which seems unlikely) or because there were so many bizarre red herrings in the story. It did incorporate something you don't see very often in horror, which is a woman as the villain, so that was actually pretty fun. Ultimately, I guess you’re on your own with this one-- I am no help to you whatsoever. Sorry boutcha!