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!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Satan's Little Helper (2004)

Let me tell you about a terrible way to choose a movie on Netflix: Step 1) Open the ‘horror’ section. Step 2) Continually scroll until you have loaded every possible option. Step 3) Wildly scroll up and down the list and land on one at random. In using this selection method, you run the risk of having to watch Satan’s Little Helper.

I wanted to do a Netflix good-or-garbage review, but there are just so many possible choices on Netflix that I completely psyched myself out and decided to pick at random. I deserved what I got for such indecision, but I do regret that I kind of forced Rob to watch it with me.

The entire plot of Satan’s Little Helper is predicated on the notion that on Halloween, everyone becomes incapable of believing that anything is actually wrong, instead assuming that all bad acts are just part of some larger performance art of the holiday. A man dressed as Satan is arranging a corpse on a porch swing in broad daylight? Now he’s hanging a FULLY ALIVE elderly woman with a noose in front of her house? Oh, your friend who is a middle-aged adult woman comes to a Halloween party visibly upset and taped from mouth to hips with packing tape, mummy-style? Well, it IS Halloween so…I’m sure that’s fine. Nothing to see here. 

I’d like to try to sum up the plot in fewer than 250 words because that’s really all I can muster for this particular piece of art: there’s this shitty little kid named Dougie who is obsessed with a video game called “Satan’s Little Helper” (which features graphics whose quality rival those of this blog) wherein you kill people and dogs, I guess, to score points. He plays this on a generic handheld gaming system.

Dougie has a crush on his hot sister but is pissed to find out that she has a boyfriend—who, by the way, has serious daddy issues—and rebels by befriending a silent man in a Goatman-type of costume who is arranging a corpse on a front porch in broad daylight as described above, believing him to be the Satan of the game. Apparently this means that GameSatan has the ability to kill people without consequence. After all, it’s just a game. This last bit requires an extreme stretch of the imagination because we are never told that Dougie has any sort of mental problems that would actually allow him to believe this. The kid’s dumb, but come on. For nearly half the movie, the sister Jenna believes Satan to be her boyfriend Alex in costume, which makes total sense because Satan has about 6 inches and 80 pounds on Alex. Seems legit. There are five total cops in this film and Satan kills them all, then chaos reigns supreme. I think it may be an indictment of a video game violence-obsessed culture but truly I can't be sure. It was extremely stupid. 

242 words…not bad!

I did some research on this movie after watching it, and was surprised to see a number of positive reviews. People thought it was really funny and original. I am here to tell you that those people are wrong. I can get down with horror comedy, but I think my issue with Satan’s Little Helper was that at no point did I laugh (except perhaps the awkwardly delivered line, “and Jesus is Satan!”) because I was just kind of dumbfounded. I basically spent all 90 minutes like this:

Am I missing something? Am I not fun? I guess I just don’t feel that stupid always reads as funny and maybe that’s my loss. Anyway, this movie weirdly stars people you might know from other things: Amanda Plummer, who has been in a number of things including Pulp Fiction, The Fisher King and So I Married an Axe Murderer (one of Rob’s personal favorites) and Katheryn Winnick, whom I think is actually pretty great on the History Channel series “Vikings”. None of them are particularly good in this. Is that part of the joke? People on the internet seem to think so. 

I’m not saying that Satan’s Little Helper was without its moments: the house number of this family of big dumb stupids is 66, and upon entering the house with Dougie, Satan casually spray paints a third 6 on the doorjamb.

Satan does not speak a single line throughout the entire movie and communicates solely in gestures and boob-grabs (lots of boob-grabs). He gives a number of other characters in the downtown area the finger, which I guess is sort of funny in its stupidity…right? I guess? It’s okay. It's decent.

All in all, I just could not get behind this one. At one point Rob asked me for clarification on a plot point that he missed, and I realized that I’d missed it too because I’d just been staring at some pretzels. If I can’t even focus for 90 minutes on a movie in which a serial killer dresses as Satan on Halloween and murders a bunch of people—a pretty great concept!—then how can I ever recommend it to you? 

In the question of Netflix good or garbage, this one is basically recycling. You want better things for it, but you know you still have to put it out at the curb.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Descent (2005)

You guys, I love this movie. It has so many stellar things going for it: an entirely female cast of relative unknowns who all kill it in their respective roles, it is shot absolutely beautifully and it is legitimately terrifying in both a claustrophobic tension way and a getting-one’s-throat-ripped-out-by-monsters way.

Horror movies almost never have all-female casts. In fact, horror movie are almost never very kind to women. There is certainly the trope of the Last Woman Standing but more often than not, women in horror have throughout history tended to exist chiefly as monster food. Google isn’t turning up much info in the way of all-female horror casts—though I did break my rule of never reading the comments to find this gem: “They already made one. It was called Beaches.”—other than The Descent.

Shot in the UK with primarily European actors, The Descent is about a group of thrill-seeking ladies who enter into a large cave system somewhere in the southern United States, get lost and are stalked by a tribe of underground dwelling monsters. Fittingly, I watched this movie with my lady movie/gaming friends who, like me, are somewhat less-than-thrill-seeking. As the women in the film descended into the narrow, horrible, claustrophobic cave tunnel, we quizzed each other on whether we’d prefer to go skydiving or caving. This was meant in a “if you were forced to do one of these activities which one would you hate less?” kind of way. I had a tough time with this scenario because why can’t I just stay home? Or go swimming at the community pool or maybe play a game of pickup soccer? That’s about as adventurous as I get (for the record, everyone but Kelly picked skydiving. No thanks, cave.)

I am a fairly claustrophobic person, probably as a result of being the younger sister of a bully who did things like folding me into a sofa bed, putting the cushions on it and flopping down.  I went to a haunted house several years ago that had one of those inflatable pressure tunnel things and had a panic attack. On the other side of the tunnel was an actor with a chainsaw and when I came stumbling out, wheezing and flailing, he started to rev the chainsaw and then was like, “oh, shit” and backed away. Small spaces are just not for me and there is a several minute sequence in the beginning of the second act of The Descent in which our protagonist Sarah gets stuck crawling through a very narrow tunnel that is beginning to collapse and it makes me want to die... or at least spend some time casually breathing into a paper bag.

After the narrow tunnel collapses and nearly kills Sarah, we learn that the group’s organizer, an overly smug alpha female named Juno, has taken everyone into an unexplored portion of the caves. No one knows they are there and they are trapped. Interpersonal feuding ensues (I am really minimizing the personal aspects of the plot, but it's a pretty entertaining arc and it also uses one of my favorite horror movie tropes: Something Bad Happened About One Year Ago, Give or Take.)

Much of the second act is the group trying to find their way through the caves, including a disgusto broken leg/exposed bone scene. Really cringeworthy. The budget of this movie was practically nothing (something like $3.5M) and it still looks so, so good, particularly in these scenes. It was filmed on a sound stage in the UK which is actually stunning--the cave looks so real and so imposing. The women are [carabining? rapelling? I’m not sure what the proper term would be] across large gaping chasms in the cave and the camera swoops around them, showing them dangling precariously from every angle, giving you a vertigo sensation and really making you feel that they are 1) in serious danger and 2) total badasses.  It’s also lit beautifully—you really believe that they are in pitch darkness throughout; it’s not like that horror movie thing where someone flicks open a Zippo and suddenly an entire room is cast in light. The portrayal of the darkness really adds to the claustrophobia effect, and I grab for my paper bag again. 

I don’t have any actual numbers on this, but I feel like this movie goes on for at least 70 of its 99 minutes without showing you a single monster. These humanoid creatures have evolved to live underground and crawl about on all fours but are spectacularly buff and fast, and attack by tearing at your insides. They are definitely frightening, but I honestly feel that they are secondary to the cave itself as the scariest threat of the film.

 The ‘crawlers’, as they’re called, are predators who hunt by sound like bats but can’t seem to sense their prey in any other way. I remember seeing this movie in the theater when it was released in the US and then going home to write a semi-snarky review somewhere on the internet about how it was just a liiiiittle absurd to think that creatures who live only in darkness and thus, lose their sense of sight, wouldn't also evolve into a stronger sense of smell to find their prey. That was eight years ago, though, and I no longer care about such plot points as long as stuff is scary. Also apparently bats can’t smell either, so who knows?

Luckily for our cast of cavers, the crawlers can’t differentiate between the feel of a rock and of human skin, nor can they sense fire (I truly am trying hard not to be snarky about this), because there is a pretty great scary scene where our heroine Sarah lies still on a rock while her torch burns nearby and one duder crawls right over her. I realize that in this depiction, the crawler looks like a weird laughing albino monkey man but I promise that they look better on screen. 

This scene comes pretty much back to back with my other favorite scene, in which Sarah fights a crawler in this disgusting pit of blood in the cave and emerges victorious, at which point (IRL) Amanda asked Kelly, “so would you rather skydive or swim in a pit of blood?”

We watched the DVD unrated director’s cut, which had a completely different—and darker and better—ending scene than the theatrical release. I highly, highly recommend tracking down this version of the movie because you will not regret it, I promise. It doesn't appear to be available on Netflix streaming but you can get the disc if you, unlike me, haven’t had a copy of Harry & the Hendersons for like well over a year. You can also stream it for just a couple bucks on Amazon or Google Play. You could also torrent it if you are an internet thief but I will tell you in a very stern voice that I am NOT currently torrenting The Descent Part 2 right now. I’m not.

I mean, I’m probably not. Well, I’ll let you know how it is.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

YouTube Presents: B-Movie Sundays, part 2 of 2: Clownhouse (1989)

Oof, Clownhouse.
Where to begin? It should be noted that I watched this back-to-back with Mausoleum because the internet is addictive and I need more hobbies. I would describe it first and foremost as not nearly as fun as Mausoleum and significantly more disturbing. Like Mausoleum, it is available on YouTube (link).

The film revolves around a trio of preteen to teenage brothers who could really benefit from increased parental supervision—this definitely feels like an indictment of the late 80’s latchkey kid-ism. The first few shots of the movie depict these young boys in tightie whities and eventually shows one of their bare butts. It’s pretty uncomfortable; I turned to Rob and said, “this is really pedophilic and also not a movie you could ever make today.” As it turns out, the director Victor Salvo was molesting the youngest of the actors on set and would eventually go to jail for it. So, that’s pretty much as horrible as it gets. Salvo would go on to direct Powder and the Jeepers Creepers franchise after his release from prison, so it’s nice that he didn’t let being an awful human get in the way of his career. Guh.

Anyway…Clownhouse. The movie itself is kind of madness. The premise is that this kid Casey is afraid of clowns and pretty much everything else, and his oldest brother Randy (played by an actor* whom Rob recognized as a character with one line from the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, which made me a little sad) is basically a dickhole, and the middle brother Geoffrey is overly protective of Casey. Their dad, much like the husband in Mausoleum, seems to be a busy important businessman who is never seen but is spoken to on the phone. Is this an accepted horror movie trope? The unavailable business patriarch? If not, it should be. About 15 minutes into this movie, their mom straight up disappears. They keep referencing the fact that she won’t be home but we are never told why.
*Editor’s note: I had written most of the draft for this post before I told my very knowledgeable and hilarious friend Amanda (who writes an excellent blog at The Film Stage) about this movie, and she was like, “isn’t that Sam Rockwell?” and I was like, “yeah, I didn’t really know who he was,” and she was like “SAM ROCKWELL HAS BEEN IN EVERYTHING!” which a cursory IMDB search proves that to be true. You guys, this is why I write this blog: because I am a goddamn expert.

Meanwhile at the local asylum for the criminally insane, which is conveniently located a few blocks from the teens’ home—their house is giant, maybe it was purchased really cheaply because of this proximity?—three inmates have escaped. We are to learn nothing about them—not their names, not why they were incarcerated, not their motivations, nothing. In fact, I could be wrong but I don’t believe that any of the three of them utters a single line and they are on screen for a good 70% of this movie.

 After breaking out, the lunatics head to the local circus where Casey had earlier been frightened by a clown, causing him to run out of the circus tent and thus humiliate himself in front of THE WHOLE TOWN. I love how in horror movies, this kind of shit always happens in front of THE WHOLE TOWN. So effective in terms of shame. Anyway, you can see where this is going: the lunatics kill the real clowns, who are innocently just trying to slam some whiskey after the show, and take their clown gear.

(true story: it took me an extra day to finish this post because I was like “WHAT DOES A CIRCUS TENT LOOK LIKE?" Answer: NOT THAT.)

Why would they kill the clowns and take their identities, you ask? They don’t try to assimilate anywhere in the circus or the town as clowns so really, it doesn’t matter why! In fact, I sort of feel like that should be the tagline of this movie: IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY.

Speaking of things that have no actual cause, the three lunatic-fringe clowns then cruise over to the enormous home where the three boys are alone and seemingly just decide to kill them. Why? IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY. The clowns are actually pretty scary, though—I don't normally do this but I wanted to include an actual still from the film so you can see for yourself. This is the leader of the lunatic clowns, impersonating local folk hero clown Cheezo.

Why is the image of a clown waving so horrifying?

The clowns chase these kids pretty much up and down the block and around their house. These kids, I swear—I know that I have never been chased by a bad guy in my own home so it’s hard for me to say what exactly I’d do, but recently one of my cats caught a bird (in my house! it broke in by pecking a hole in an upstairs window screen) and when I went to see what all the commotion was, I guess I surprised the cat and he opened his mouth, releasing a terrifying flying creature that came RIGHT AT ME. I thought it was a bat and I turned heel and ran right out the front door. NOT UP THE STAIRS.

Why are people always running up the stairs? There is no escape from there! You are trapping yourselves! I don’t even care if you die at that point.

Another day, another horror movie where I have decided that people deserve to die. Am I a bad person for thinking that? I couldn’t tell you, but I guess I would actually recommend Clownhouse if only because clowns are the worst possible things on the planet and because stuff that's free is the best. You're welcome!

Monday, August 25, 2014

YouTube Presents: B-Movie Sundays, part 1 of 2*: Mausoleum (1983)

Sometimes I worry about the kind of person I am.

There’s something to be said about being someone who really enjoys horror in general—does it mean that you tend towards being a darker, more cynical person? Behavioral science has long looked at what makes some people gravitate towards horror, and it often has to do with the adrenaline rush of fear. I am certainly not a ‘thrillseeker’ by any means and I won’t set foot into a haunted house (let alone PAY for it, jesus) but I can really get down with the fear that comes from watching fictional people get messed up by some supernatural being. I want them to get messed up.

Maybe it’s aging that makes a person more cynical, though. I remember the first time I saw Scream at age 13, how I felt so desperately that I did not want to see Drew Barrymore’s character die.

Now I watch horror movies all the time and just kinda wait for the characters to die. Most of the time, I even feel like they deserve it. To me, there is no subgenre where this is truer than B-movies, specifically of the 70’s and 80’s.

Holy shit. You guys, holy shit. I want to talk about Mausoleum (1983) but I seriously cannot even figure out where to start. It was recommended to me by my friend Allen, who has made several appearances on this blog by virtue of being 1) a horror aficionado, 2) a wonderful human and 3) one of the only people to give a shit about the blog, and he extolled one of its greatest virtues: it is available in its entirety on YouTube (link). I Googled it to find the YouTube link (why not go to YouTube and search for it there? BECAUSE GOOGLE IS FOR EVERYTHING.) and just saw the first two lines of the Wikipedia result: “Mausoleum is a 1983 supernatural horror film directed by Michael Dugan and starring former Playboy Bunny Bobbie Bresee.” Oh. Oh good. Michael Dugan doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page but, according to IMDB, has something in development for 2015 called “Chubby Chasers.”  (This paragraph was brought to you by: websites of the internet!)

It is certainly apt that Wikipedia plugs our girl Bobbie as “former Playboy bunny” because she is straight up nude for at least 45% of this movie, which truly makes it kind of hard to illustrate. Her character is Susan, a housewife to a very busy important businessman who does a lot of important business involving “contracts” and “signatures”. Her biggest problems are that she’s pretty bored, and she’s like MEGA HOT so all dudes are pretty much always hitting on her. Oh, and she’s possessed by the devil because she went into her family’s mausoleum as a child and the only way she can be released from this possession is by placing a crown of thorns on her head (all in all, not that difficult of a task). So I mean, that does complicate matters. Susan is normally a very sweet, vacant girl but when the devil inside her rears its ugly head, her feathered bangs fall away from her forehead and she bares her Playboy bunny teeth and her eyes glow otherworldly green.

Susan’s husband Oliver is dumber than a sack of wet mice. At one point in the movie, he’s told by her psychiatrist that she’s possessed by the devil and, hey, maybe you might not want to get too close to her. He goes home, finds her in the bathtub (boobs) and in the course of their conversation asks her, “What’s gotten into you, anyway?” DUDE, IT’S THE DEVIL, THAT OTHER GUY JUST TOLD YOU.  Then he hugs her with intent to bone. At that point, you kind of deserve it, right? Also, I should make it clear that apparently this is a sexy devil (not the college girl Halloween costume) because this devil wants to bone down with and then kill every man in sight. How? Sometimes with a brutal face clawing, sometimes by dangling them over the balcony at the mall and sometimes with BOOB-DEMONS. This woman’s boobs turned into demons as she got out of the bathtub. BOOB. DEMONS. They moved and snarled and everything, god bless America.


 I should also take this opportunity to point out that Susan's family surname is Nemod and it took me literally half the movie to figure out why.

Mausoleum is really really fun and is absolutely worth your free on YouTube, even though it ends with the weirdest, most perplexing “twist” in the final scene. I cannot figure out what in the world they were trying to do there so if you’ve seen it and would like to offer an opinion, please post it in the comments. I just do not understand.

*The reason this post is titled as part 1 of 2 is because when Mausoleum ended, YouTube suggested that I might also be interested in Clownhouse (1989). AND BOY, WAS I INTERESTED. I was going to put them together into one post but I feel like maybe Mausoleum is enough to chew on for right now. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Jug Face (2013)

After the last two movies which I basically raved about, I thought I should throw you a stinker from Netflix: Jug Face.
This movie clocks in at only an hour and twelve minutes and it still took me three sittings to get through. I would like to tell you that breaking it into chunks took away some of the tension but I feel pretty confident in saying that there’s truly no tension to speak of. It generally follows the horror movie trope of “throw a bunch of weird shit at the viewer and slowly reveal what it means”, which is fine! Except that none of the weird shit is particularly good shit.

Let me start with the Netflix short description: “A pregnant teen tries to flee her backwoods community when she learns she's to be sacrificed to a monstrous beast that lives in a pit near her town.” Okay, that actually sounds promising! A beast in a pit! Sacrificing children! These are things I can get right behind. I am wholeheartedly willing to suspend my disbelief at the fact that this rural insular community is worshipping a hole in the ground—and not even a massive gaping fissure in the earth, just a lil hole, about four feet across and six feet deep with some brown water in the bottom.


Okay, fine, disbelief suspended. So this community worships the pit, and sometimes the pit demands sacrifices. If the pit does not receive the sacrifice of the person it selects, it will then kill at will until it gets the specific person it has requested. How do the townspeople determine who to sacrifice? Well you see, the pit speaks to a mentally handicapped man whose name I believed to be Dwayne but according to the internet, it was actually Dawai. Everyone had terrible southern accents in this movie—or more accurately, they had them about 80% of the time except when they forgot and dropped them—so you can forgive my error. The pit tells Dawai who to sacrifice and then he (in a daze? I guess?) makes clay jugs with the sacrificial lamb’s face upon them. Hence Jug Face. I will admit it was difficult for me to keep a straight face when our protagonist, pregnant teen Ada, tells her grandfather, “I think I’m the next Jug Face!”

This seems to have been a problem for the props department on this film, because the jug does kind of look like Ada, but it also looks a lot like everyone else in the movie. In one scene, as part of an effort to protect Ada from being sacrificed, Dawai makes a jug of another member of the community: an overweight guy in his early-to-mid-twenties. That one looks like Ada too. When he reveals it to the community, they all gasped because it told them who would be sacrificed but I was like, “wait, who is that supposed to be?”

Whatever. I have written about 500 words on this movie so far and have yet to mention that Ada is pregnant courtesy of her brother Jessaby (JESSABY!) and that Netflix lied, there is no monstrous beast in the pit. When people are killed by the pit, we never actually see it—the camera just kind of twirls around and you hear shouting and then see their innards scattered about.

Oh! There’s also a boy that Ada calls “the shunned boy” and he seems to appear only to her, and might be dead? I think he’s dead. He may also be an agent of the pit, but I can’t be sure. He appears only to deliver scintillating dialogue like this.
                Ada: What if I don’t want to die, though?
                Boy: You must.

I wrote that in my notes with the word “lol” immediately underneath. In fact, rather than trying to piece together anything in this movie, I’m just going to transcribe portions of my notes below.

  •           I feel like it’s a bad sign when every person who worked on the movie is credited in the opening sequence.
  •           Why would you bone standing up in the woods? There’s…grass everywhere.
  •           This guy (Dawai) looks like he should be an extra in a movie about the founding of Apple, Inc.
  •           Apparently even weird religious zealot backwoodsers drink moonshine. They’re…just like us?
  •           Should I rewind this to figure out if this girl is boning her brother?
  •           Oh, yup, boning her brother.
  •           I actually hate everyone in this movie and don’t care if they die.

In the Netflix good or garbage category, this one is solidly

Monday, August 18, 2014

You're Next (2011)

On the topic of growing pains (we weren’t talking about growing pains, I know. This is how you write an opening sentence; writing majors can feel free to take notes), I was talking to my friend Rob about my frustration with what I want to do with this blog. I’m not reviewing, or recapping, or even rating horror movies, so what am I doing? I feel like I’m basically just saying HEY CHECK IT OUT THIS HAPPENED AND I DREW IT IN A RUDIMENTARY MANNER USING FREE SOFTWARE THAT CAME WITH YOUR PC OKAY BYE! and that’s not really all that fulfilling for me, and I can’t imagine that it is that exciting to look at either. Rob said to me, “the thing with horror movies is discerning the good ones from the straight-to-DVD-or-Netflix shit ones” which I thought was a really great point. The world, particularly the Netflix world, is just teeming with terrible horror movies and I feel like I could be a valuable resource to you in sussing them out. That means, however, that this blog is just going to have to have spoilers from time to time, and you can just

(my GOD am I good at the internet!)

The other night, I had the pleasure of watching You’re Next with my excellent lady friends Tara and Kelly (and excellent lady friend dog, Penny). You’re Next is a slasher that falls a bit in the vein of The Strangers but with more deaths and more comedy that takes place in a family’s isolated mountain home. Tara had previously described the plot to me while we were staying at her family’s isolated mountain home—I  will never return there, thank you—and said that she basically had her fingers over her eyes for a large portion of the film. And for good reason! This movie has a number of really good jump scares that get you even though you know goddamn well they are going to get you, and they come as soon as the opening scene. They definitely got Kelly, anyway.

The setup is simple: really wealthy parents buy a vacation home and invite their three sons, one daughter and each of the kids’ significant others to spend a weekend there for the parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. This is ideal because with ten characters at its disposal, a movie can really get the body count up there quickly. The children have stereotypically bougie names (one of the—intentionally? I can’t be sure—funniest moments in the movie is at the very beginning, when our protagonist son accidentally frightens his father and the father exclaims, “Crispin!!” to reveal his name for the first time. CRISPIN. Actually, I just Googled it and it looks like his name is actually Crispian. I can’t abide by that weird extra A, so it’s gotta go. “Crispin!”) They are all dressed appropriately as “wealthy people”; I imagine that the working title of this film was Rich People Wear a lot of Collars.

One by one, we meet each of the couples and prepare to watch them die. I feel basically nothing towards them at this point so, you know, let the bloodshed begin. One death comes via crossbow, which I feel is a totally underutilized weapon in horror films. (At one point, a character refers to crossbow ammunition as an arrow and Tara audibly scoffed and said, "it's a BOLT." Ladies who play D&D...we know what we're talking about.)

 You are supposed to feel some kinship towards Crispin’s girlfriend Erin, but she’s a tall, thin, beautiful Australian woman so, no, we don't have a ton in common. Anyway, the killers roll up to the house dressed in animal masks, which I absolutely LOVE. This really got me in The Strangers, too—killers wearing blank-faced masks instantly increase the creepiness.

You see, that’s a lamb. I feel real, actual shame at the amount of time I spent on that compared to how it looks…maybe I should stick with drawing Glenn.

Incidentally, that same mask is totally worn by WWE wrestler Erick Rowan of the Wyatt Family, whom I saw live at the Royal Rumble in Pittsburgh this year. Pro wrestling, D&D, horror...with interests as cool and fascinating and feminine as mine, it’s a wonder the boys aren’t kicking down my door. Guys back off, I’m married, okay?

You’re Next is gross and jumpy and engaging, but on top of all that, it’s actually really funny. It has to be, since the characters are wildly unsympathetic and the premise itself is fairly unoriginal. I sometimes have a problem with the horror-comedy genre because I like to know whether something is supposed to be funny or if I’m actually just laughing at a filmmaker’s expense, and You’re Next kind of toes that line. The tall thin beautiful Australian woman, as it turns out, is an extremely capable killer and manages to fight back against the home invaders, beating one to death and concocting traps to maim others in a grotesque Home Alone-style scenario. When asked how she’s able to do all this, she tosses off a line about being raised on a survivalist compound in Australia and you’re supposed to be like, “oh yeah totally, it’s Australia…anything is possible…?” Things like that are so blatantly dumb that I have to assume that is intentional, right?

Anyway, to address the Netflix “good or garbage?” question, this one definitely falls under good. It’s fairly scary, fairly gory, fairly funny and all-around fun. Would watch again. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Halloween (1978)

Hi, remember me?? I used to write this blog where I watched horror movies and then reviewed them via crappy MS Paint drawings? Well, then winter happened and I warded off the crippling depression by mainlining episodes of both the hilarious bad movie podcast How Did This Get Made? and the hilarious bad movie television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I just felt like everyone was doing a better job with movie commentary than I was. Today I was listening to an old episode of another excellent podcast, Judge John Hodgman, in which a guy was attempting to compile a list of his top 100 horror films of all time and I thought to myself, “Hey, I should do some kind of project involving horror films! Maybe I can even put my rarely-used journalism degree to work,” then I remembered that I’m still paying for this URL.

So here we are, time to pick up this project again. I don’t want you to be alarmed but since I stopped drawing egotistical portraits of myself for this blog last fall, I grew my hair out and stopped flat-ironing it, so please accept this new egotistical portrait of myself.

Glenn still looks the same/is still a shithead.

Since this blog is obvs all about me, I wanted to do a movie that holds particular importance to me to revive it. I went with one of my all-time favorites: Halloween. I mentioned in the previous entry that I bought a VHS copy of Halloween at a Blockbuster sale and it really changed me. When I say that it changed me, I mean that it ruined me deep inside and made me unable to feel real love and real empathy. Michael Myers is that good.

 I recently watched a documentary about the making of Halloween that included a bit of trivia about how the movie was originally presented to studio execs without the iconic music and it really wasn’t terribly scary at all. John Carpenter composed and overlaid the chilling score (it’s in 5/4! Great time signature.) and the movie itself became the truly terrifying work it is. It’s perfect. In homage to this, I would like you to please hit play on the following video and listen to the score while you read this post. It’s only 2:36 though, so, you know… scroll quickly.

 Is this one of the scariest films of all time? My personal feeling is that it’s certainly in my top five, and you could argue that it really spawned the aesthetic of the stalking killers in the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises as well. If nothing else, it gave us the “virgins will live!” trope which I hold so near and dear to my heart. If you know me in real life, you know that despite the fact that I am happily married, I am abstaining from such lewd activities just in case I am ever forced to subvert a malevolent force of some kind. It’s just an investment in my future. I’m not trying to die.

Michael Myers’ now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t appearances as he stalks our protagonist (Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut) are just one of the ways Carpenter built fear and suspense and paranoia throughout the second act. My favorite of these moments is one of his first appearances in Haddonfield:

Okay, so this is weird. I drew that picture from my memory of the scene and then thought I should google it to see if I was anywhere near the likeness I was aiming for. This is a still from the original scene:

I know the first thing you noticed was my completely implausible perspective (I also have a degree in art history, which means that I can easily recognize my errors but feel no real compulsion to correct them) but otherwise, look how close that is! That’s a testament to the power of this movie—that image is completely stuck in my brain and probably will be forever. (It is close, right? Tell me it’s close. TELL ME I’M AN ARTIST.)

That’s not, however, my favorite moment of the movie. That comes in the third act, when Michael Myers has begun his assault on the misbehaving teens and (spoiler alert) kills Bob, the boyfriend of promiscuous Linda (spoiler alert 2: boobs in this scene) who wears those sort of creepy/molesty late 1970s tortoiseshell eyeglasses that were also worn by at least one of your weird uncles when you were a kid. Michael Myers appears in the doorway of the bedroom, dressed as a ghost in a sheet but wearing Bob’s glasses over the eye holes and of course, proceeds to brutally murder Linda. The point of Michael Myers is that he’s completely unrelatable—a psychotic and inhumane monster—and yet he does this thing that’s actually sort of funny for the audience, even though the end result is the death of a chesty protagonist.

I don’t want to say too much about this movie because 1) if you’ve never seen it, why are you even reading this blog? Go watch it immediately; and 2) if you have seen it, you probably love it and know it pretty damn well so why would I bother describing it to you? The third act continues in all its eerie glory and climaxes into one of my favorite endings in horror history—an ending that kept me up at night. It leads perfectly into the sequel, which starts off strong and then really kind of gets lost in the middle if my memory serves me correctly –but let’s not get too far into that now so I can review it later.

Hey guys! I wrote a recap! I drew some MS Paint pictures! Here’s to hoping I can keep it up. One thing that’s certainly motivating to me is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the namesake of this blog, is running at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room from August 22-30 and I CANNOT WAIT to see it on the big screen. For more info, go here and please support your local arts organizations.