FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Apr 30, 2007

Film Club: Prince of Darkness

As you could probably guess, I've seen many horror films. I grew up watching them, and my intake kicked into high gear once I started reviewing movies here at Final Girl. Though I have an indomitable hope that there are still countless awesome, scary horror films I've yet to see, sometimes it's hard to keep the dream alive. Seriously, watching too much utter crap like The Cavern or The Last Slumber Party is enough to give anyone pause. I get envious when I encounter people who enjoy scary movies but have yet to see the classics; if someone tells me they haven't seen Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I have memories of seeing those films for the first time and how much they kicked (and still kick) my ass. "Le sigh," I think to myself, "How many horror movies are left for me to discover that will rock my face like Mount Rushmore? Have I seen it all? Is there no hope?"

Yes, I think "Le sigh". I won the French Award in high school and I try to maintain my skills. It obviously also adds a touch of class to my lamenting.

The point of all this is that Prince of Darkness (1987), this month's Film Club pick, was a great find. Getting your hands on some prime John Carpenter goodness for the first time is like finding out you have an eccentric rich great-great uncle who you never met but he just died and left you a million dollars- even if you have to spend the night in a haunted castle in Transylvania to collect it. Gawd I hope I have an eccentric rich great-great uncle.

An elderly priest dies clutching The Littlest Treasure Chest. Inside the chest is a key which unlocks the door to a super secret underground church...which houses an ancient container filled with swirling green goo...which has something to do with something evil...which is...the Prince of Darkness! Eyyarrgh!

Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence of Halloween, and yes the character's name is really Father Loomis- Carpenter certainly isn't above paying himself homage) seeks the aid of theoretical physicist Professor Birack (Carpenter alum Victor Wong) and his crack team of Super Grad Students as he tries to solve the mystery of the green goo and defeat whatever evil is afoot. Can science and religion work together to save the world?

It's a testament to Carpenter's skills as a storyteller (he wrote the film under the name Martin Quatermass, an homage to Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale) that we take the film seriously at all. The fact that the "Anti-God", the threat to all mankind, looks like something you'd find on a shelf at Spencer's Gifts (next to the static electricity globe, of course) and yet we're not laughing at it is amazing. The truth of the matter is, Prince of Darkness is frightening enough to rank with Carpenter's best work.

Despite the "we totally need to save the world from the fucking apocalypse" plotline, Prince is surprisingly small in scope. The film takes place over a day or two, almost exclusively in the small church where the Super Grad Students set up their headquarters. They're essentially held prisoner there when the church is surrounded by murderous, zombified homeless people (led by none other than shock rocker Alice Cooper), and eventually the Super Grad Students must battle each other as the green goo infects them one by one, turning them into murderous, zombified Super Grad Students. The set-up is reminiscent of earlier Carpenter films such as Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing, and Carpenter's love of westerns shines through again.

Prince also reminded me of Halloween in that it really takes its time to get to the "goods", building mood and an atmosphere of dread all the way. Professor Birack gives a speech early on about our perhaps-faulty perceptions of reality that echoes the talk of fate in Halloween; there are also plenty of visual omens throughout that we don't immediately comprehend. Sure, the homeless people start acting weird...

...but, you know, they're homeless, so of course they're acting weird. I mean, that's how people get to be homeless, right? They're weird? When the sun and the moon begin acting weird, we really know things are gonna get hinky.

There's plenty to be found in Prince of Darkness that's simply great horror, from the Bugs of the Apocalypse to some truly terrifying kill sequences to a far creepier than it has any right to be recurring dream sequence, which may in fact be a video broadcast from the future. Again, it's a ludicrous idea that, in lesser hands, would be completely ineffectual. Carpenter knows to keep the horror subtle, however, and the damn dream sequence got to me every time I saw it.

It's odd that the film doesn't go where you'd expect it to go; with all the talk of God and Anti-God and evil taking over the world an bringing on eternal darkness, you might think the film would turn into a bombastic, over-the-top battle of good vs evil with lots of wind and flashing lights and explosions. Carpenter doesn't take that approach, however, and as I said, he keeps things subtle and he keeps things small. The film doesn't end so much with a bang as it does with a whimper, but that's why it works. Everyone knows that atmosphere is more effective in the long run than a jump scare. That's not to say that Prince of Darkness is all build-up and no delivery, however; it's simply that it delivers the way Halloween delivers, in a way that will stay with you.

Consider my face rocked, much as Jameson Parker's face is rocked in a way that ensures him a spot in a future installment of Moustaches of Horror.

Give it up for the Film Club Coolies:

$7 Popcorn

Askewed Views
Craig Moorhead
Chuck Wilson
Chadwick Saxelid
Lazy Eye Theatre
Mermaid Heather

If you've got a review up, let me know in the comments and I'll add you to the Cool List. Thanks for playing, kids!

Apr 28, 2007


Goin' off the rails on the Remake Train

has the lowdown on a whole slew of remakes:

- The Last House on the Left, to be produced by Wes Craven himself, is shaping up to be "as scary but not as brutal". It's in the script stage at this point, so things could change, but the words "less brutal" will probably piss off a lot of people. Not me, however. Call me a bad horror fan if you will, but Last House is one of those films I've assiduously avoided. On the one hand, it's considered a classic and I should probably see it; on the other hand, I'm not into watching people get raped.

- Dante Tomaselli is slated to remake Alfred Sole's super-creepy Catholic-flavored slasher Alice, Sweet Alice. I have no problem with this, although I hope they keep the killer's outfit exactly the way it was in the original- it was really fucking scary.

Upon reading his name, I thought "Oh sure, OK, Dante Tomaselli"- then I looked him up on imdb and realized I've never seen anything he's made. I did learn, however, that's he's Alfred Sole's cousin, he saw Alice when he was young and it scared the crap out of him, he loves horror movies, and he casts actors from horror films past in his movies- people like Ellen Sandweiss (Evil Dead) and Judith O'Dea (Night of the Living Dead). This remake might be good, fingers crossed.

-It seems that Armand Mastroianni is interested in remaking his own film, the 1980 bridal slasher He Knows You're Alone. Err, ok.

I hate stuff, but then I love stuff

Head over to The Horror Blog to find out what crazy horror-related crap Roundtable contributors own that they'd like to be buried with. Gawd, I try not to get attached to stuff, but then...some stuff is just so cool, you know? What memorabilia is near and dear to your hearts?

Film Club's a-comin'

Remember, Monday's the day I'll be talking about John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. Watch it this weekend, review it if you have a site, contribute in the comments here if you don't. If you just sit there like a bump on a log while the Film Club does its thing, surely you will be a fool to be pitied.

Apr 27, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 10

I've had the DVD of the 1978 made-for-TV flick Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell sitting on my shelf forever; I'd been saving it for a special occasion, you see, the way others might save the "good" china or a box of boob-shaped pasta. What...specialer occasion is there than the end of Animals Run Amok Week 2, I ask you? None! None specialer! Though the bar for evil dog movies had already been set somewhat high by Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, I was still looking forward to this movie like crazy. Let's face it, Satan trumps Dracula. And after countless days of anticipation, did Devil Dog live up to the hype created in my head? Well, ask yourself...does anything?

Yes, sometimes things DO! Geez, don't be so bitter and cynical.

One fine sunny afternoon, a creepy bunch of people show up at a kennel, looking for that perfect bitch who's ready to breed. As a savvy DVD box reader, I knew that these creepy people were in fact satanists and were looking for a dog to sire pups from Hell; immediately I wondered how the dog was going to get pregnant. All sorts of terrible thoughts ran through my head as I reimagined the "This is no dream! This is really happening!" sequence from Rosemary's my great relief, however, there's only a simple ceremony. The wind howls! The sky turns red! The dog barks! It is...pregnant!

On another fine sunny afternoon, Mike and Betty Barry (Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux) come home to find their dog Skipper dead in the road. A neighbor rushes over and claims to have seen the terrible accident: Skipper was run over by a big black station wagon with a yellow sign in the back that read SATAN'S MINIONS ON BOARD. OK, that's not entirely true. The dog was hit by a big black station wagon though, which just made me laugh. The Satanmobile is a damn station wagon.

Barry kids Charlie and Bonnie (Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, who were both in the Witch Mountain movies- Escape to and Return From- and can you believe Devil Dog has reunited the Witch Mountain kids and omigod how awesome is that?) don't have to mourn Skipper for long; soon enough a fruit truck pulls up outside the family home, offering fruit and puppies. Eeeeeevil puppies! Bonnie immediately falls in love with one pup- she names him Lucky and brings him home.

Lucky soon begins Zoltan-esque displays of power, meaning he stares and his eyes glow. Maria, the Barry's housekeeper, suspects something is hinky with the pooch- she begs Mike to get rid of Lucky, saying "He gives me a scary feeling all over!" Shockingly, Mike doesn't think this is enough evidence to get rid of the family pet. When Maria and Lucky are left alone, however, it's on...meaning Lucky stares, Maria clutches her crucifix necklace, Lucky stares some more, and Maria sets herself on fire when her robes hit her evil-wardin' candles. Eyyaaagh!

We fast forward a year in which apparently nothing much happens. Lucky is all grown up now, and it's The Parents Barry who are beginning to suspect that the dog is eeeeevil. With the power of his stare, Lucky almost forces Mike to thrust his own hand into the spinning blades of a lawn mower! Bad dog! And in a sequence that's nothing short of absolutely fucking hysterical, Betty faces off with Lucky. By "faces off with Lucky", I mean that every time Betty looks up from her magazine, Lucky has...gasp! choke!...moved closer!

After this terrifying showdown (yes, that's all that happens), Betty and the kids start acting awfully weird. The kids are lippy and sullen, and Betty has started smoking. Lucky kicks things into high gear by killing a neighbor and his dog- well, we can assume the dead bodies are Lucky's doing, I suppose, though all the dog actually does is stare.

Betty and Mike get a visit from Charlie's guidance counselor Miles (Ken Kercheval, yes, of Dallas, so you know I was psyched), who expresses concern for Charlie's outrageous behavior- it seems The Son Barry cheated his way to the class presidency! He's becoming corrupt! Mike expresses concern, while Betty, who's becoming corrupt herself, expresses get the fuck out of my house you nosy bastard. Later that night, Lucky takes off for Miles's house- the shots of the dog running down the street are shown in slow motion and are accompanied by "oooOOOooo" music so you know it's supposed to be scary. When Lucky arrives, there's a puff of smoke and he transforms into...a different breed of dog with horns and a Tina Turner wig.

Well, Miles is frightened anyway, and he runs out into the road only to get creamed by a car.

OK, now Mike is totally convinced that his family is being weird and all these people are dying because of the dog. He goes investigating and finds his family's Super Secret Satan Clubhouse (no nuns allowed!) in the attic. He family proclaims innocence...I mean, whoever heard of satanists who wear jammie jams?

Mike is not convinced though, and fearing he's next on Lucky's hit list, he seeks the guidance of some broad who owns an occult bookstore. She hands him a pamphlet titled "So You Think Your Family Members Are Satanists..." (I wish) and tells him to try The Ultimate Satan Test: hold a mirror up to a sleeping person's face; if the reflection shows a gnarly face, the sleeping person is in cahoots with The Devil! If'n his wife and kids and dog truly are in cahoots, Mike will need to travel to Ecuador because...umm...the demon possessing his family will be...umm...Ecuadorian. Yeah, it made no sense. Anyway, Mike goes home and administers the test...

Uh oh! Bonnie's not looking so sweet!

Mike heads off to Ecuador, and just by sheer coincidence his cabdriver happens to have a great-grandfather who's a shaman or something and knows all about this demon shit. Mike finds the shaman, who is very wise and decked out in a sweet snowboarding hat.

The shaman advises Mike to let him give Mike a tattoo on his hand that can be used to defeat the Devil Dog by...showing it to the dog; he also advises Mike to do the Dew.

With his bitchin' new palm tat, Mike returns to the US and has a final showdown with Lucky. Lucky gets his Tina Turner on, Mike shows off his tattoo, and Lucky disappears in the "flames".

Hooray! Mike has saved the day...or has he? There were ten puppies in that litter! Where are the other nine satanic dogs? Could one be in...your house? Could your dog be a...DEVIL DOG?

OK, let me just paraphrase the late great film critic Pauline Kael for a moment here: this movie is absolutely as stupid as it sounds. Putting aside the whole "hound of Hell" idea and its inherent ridiculousness for a moment, this movie really does not deliver the goods. I mean, I'm not trying to tell Satan's minions how to do their job or anything, but the damn dog doesn't even bite anyone! Come on! All he does is stare. Stare stare stare and pant. Sure, when he goes into Tina Turner mode he bares he teeth, but...he only bares his teeth! I realize this is a made-for-TV venture, but that's no excuse- I've seen scarier episodes of Antiques Roadshow.

But at the beginning of this review, didn't I say that Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell lived up to the hype I'd created for it? Yes I did- and the movie did live up to all my expectations. I knew it would be stupid, and I hoped it would be fun. Goals met! Seriously, I defy any one of you to sit straight-faced through the Betty-Lucky showdown sequence. Click here for the trailer- you can't tell me you don't want to see this movie, even if you know it sucks! There's a satanist in sunglasses for crying out loud!

Apr 26, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 9

In 1976, Nigel Kneale, the creator behind the sci-fi franchise Quatermass and the superior made-for-TV ghost story The Woman in Black, brought Beasts to Britain's ITV. Beasts- a series comprising six teleplays of...well, man vs. beast stories- was aired only once and has recently become available on DVD in the UK. I, for one, truly believe that We Are the World and thus I own a region-free DVD player which allows me to partake in all manner of goodies from around the globe. I'm like Benetton come to life, you might say.

Today I watched the Beasts episode "During Barty's Party", and it's nothing short of an effective exercise in the philosophy less is more. In a nutshell, middle-class couple Roger and Angela Trescott (Anthony Bate and Elizabeth Sellars) find themselves under attack from a massive swarm of rats who have undergone a sudden evolutionary leap- they're immune to poisons, they're intelligent, and they no longer fear mankind.

Trapped in their home as the rats begin to chew their way through the floorboards, Roger and Angela slowly begin to panic. Angela calls in to the radio program "Barty's Party"- the DJ has been giving regular updates about the aggressive multitudes of rats- to summon help. Before Barty can determine her location, however, the phone line goes dead. Then the electricity goes out and we're left to wonder at the fate of Roger and Angela as the squealing and gnawing of the rats becomes deafening.

What's amazing about "During Barty's Party" is that it manages to be a terrifying animal attack story, but we never see the animals- we only hear them. Early on, there's the sound of one rat gnawing on something underneath the floorboards; while this is a nuisance, it's hardly frightening. By the end of the show, however, it sounds as if thousands of rats are thisclose to chewing their way into the house and subsequently chewing their way into Roger and Angela. The herd follows the panicked couple from room to room and the floor begins to shake, and all Roger and Angela can really do is wait for the inevitable.

Obviously the fantastic sound effects have a huge bearing on the success of "During Barty's Party", but even more so it works because of the performances. Anthony Bate transforms from a calm, in-control businessman to a panicked wreck as the infestation grows- he futilely pounds on the floor to drive the rats away, and it seems that Roger is the prototype for Bart Hughes (Peter Weller) in Of Unknown Origin. Elizabeth Sellars is amazing as well, particularly during her telephone conversations with the DJ.

See how easy it can be? It's a terrifying killer rat story with a rat budget of zero. When you've got great writing and acting, these horror stories practically make themselves. Long live region-free DVD!

Apr 25, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 8

Whoever would have thought that the second word to come to mind after watching Jeff "Just Before Dawn" Lieberman's 1976 killer-worm epic Squirm would be "charming"? What a surprise. The first word that came to mind, of course, was "fucking ewww!"- and yes, I realize that's two words, but I'm a girl and therefore I can't do math. Back to the point, however- yeah. Squirm is sort of charming, as it blends a Hardy Boys-style teen mystery/romance with some gross-out horror. It's not always successful and Squirm is far more 'fun' than it is 'good', but I dug it nonetheless.

The film begins with a silent text crawl informing us that everything we are about to see really happened- no, really:
Late in the evening of September 29, 1975, a sudden electrical storm struck a rural sea coast area of Georgia. Power lines, felled by high winds, sent hundreds of thousands of volts surging into the muddy ground, cutting off all electricity to the small secluded town of Fly Creek. During the period that followed the storm, the citizens of Fly Creek experienced what scientists believe to be one of the most bizarre freaks of nature ever recorded. This is the story...
Of course, this didn't really happen, but you know, even though claims of "true story!" in horror are almost always fake (I'm looking at you, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Blair Witch Project), I adore it as a cinematic conceit. Given the notion that maybe this did happen, or that it even could happen makes the proceedings just a wee bit more exciting. I kind of like the idea of living in a world where, as Ben Franklin predicted it could hundreds of years ago, electricity might turn worms into ravenous man-eating monsters who wreak havoc on a small-town. I like the idea of living in a world where Leatherface might be real much less so, but I think you get my drift nonetheless.

Mick (Don Scardino) is a New York City boy who takes a bus all the way to Fly Creek, Georgia to visit his new girlfriend Geri (Patricia Pearcy, sporting a southern accent so fake it's hilarious) and to hit some antique shops. He arrives the morning after the big thunderstorm as the citizens of Fly Creek are busy repairing broken windows and dealing with the power outages. What no one knows, however, is that the downed electrical wires are zapping the ground and pissing off the worms- and trust me, honey, you DO NOT want to piss off the worms...especially the blood worms, who bare their fangs and scream in righteous fury! Yes, the worms scream, and director Lieberman doesn't skimp on giving the worms their dramatic close-ups. Fucking ewww!

Geri borrows a truck- a truck full of worms!- from local simpleton worm farmer Roger (R.A. Dow) so she can take Mick into town. As Geri heads off in search of ice, Mick heads into a diner and asks for an egg cream. Oh, City Mouse, acting all stuck-up and asking for a weird beverage is not the way to endear yourself to the locals. Mick gets his drink, however, and upon commencing the sippage, he realizes his drink is Chunky Garden Style. Dropping the glass and exclaiming "Hey! There's a worm in my egg cream!", Mick stirs up all kinds of indignation in the diner owner, who claims innocence, and the local douchebag sheriff, who immediately wants Mick run out of town.

The teens return the truck to Roger, who promptly gets a scolding from his mean old dad Willie (Carl Dagenhart)- it seems that while Mick and Geri were off having Adventures in Ice and Egg Creams, some 100,000 worms escaped from the back of the truck. Mick and Geri apologize and head off to Mr Beardsley's in pursuit of Adventures in Antiquing. Mr Beardsley is nowhere to be found...or is he? No one knows for sure, but there is a skeleton on his property- who could it be?

Mick gets his Murder, She Wrote on and eventually figures out everything: the skeleton is, in fact, the remains of Mr Beardsley...the worms have gone totally cuckoo nutso because of the electricity in the ground and are killing the denizens of Fly Creek...the only thing that seems to fend them off is the light- but nighttime is coming on quick! Whatever shall they do?

After the sun sets, the worms do some major damage, most notably to poor Worm Farmer Willie and his son Roger...payback, maybe? In one of the grosser sequences, Mick discovers why he hears a squish squish sound in Willie's chest instead of a heartbeat:

Roger, meanwhile, gets attacked by worms and somehow lives. The worms burrow into his face- yeah, fucking ewww!- and Roger becomes...I don't know, Super Worm Man Roger or something. He keeps coming back to chase after Geri, the girl of his dreams who had the nerve to fall for a smart city boy instead of a simple worm farmer.

During the night, the worms take over Geri's house, crawling in from everywhere- including the shower head, in a scene that made me think "Aww, I remember my Play-Doh Fun Factory. That sure Wow, truth in advertising!"

And when I say "the worms take over Geri's house", I mean "No really, they really fucking take over the house!"- there are thousands and thousands of worms everywhere, filling rooms, moving in undulating waves, and generally being really gross.

Obviously there's a B-Movie horror side to Squirm, as I've showed you, but where does the "charming" come in? It's all in the characters. While the inferior acting prevents Squirm from becoming a movie on par with Tremors (1990), I still found the characters all terribly likable. I was pleased when Geri's "big city boyfriend" shows up and instead of the good-looking hunk you'd expect, Mick is a total nerd. I liked the blossoming romance between the Mick and Geri, and I found Geri's gawky kid sister Alma (Fran Higgins) sadly believable as she tries to impress Mick by sharing her pot with him and wearing inappropriate shoes she can't really handle.

It's the acting that holds Squirm back from being a great blend of horror, mystery, and black comedy. All the elements are there, sort of, but it never quite meshes together in a cohesive package. It's still a sweet movie with screaming worms, though, so how can you beat that?

Apr 24, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 7

Wow! Who knew that at some point during Animals Run Amok Week 2 I'd actually watch a movie that's good? Certainly not me! Lo and behold, however, today I watched the low-budget Australian gem Long Weekend (1978), and lo and behold again- as I said, it was good. During the course of the film, I pinched myself several times to make sure I wasn't dreaming; then I slapped myself for getting a little too "fresh" with the pinches. As you can well imagine, I'm not about to be slapped around by anyone, so I kicked myself in the ya-ya sisterhood and lemme tell ya, that put an end to the shenanigans right quick.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a bitter yuppie couple who, along with their dog Cricket, head out to Moonda Beach for a long weekend (omigod that's the name of the movie). The pair have been fighting incessantly as of late, and Peter hopes this little camping trip will do them some good. Marcia loathes the outdoors, however, and thinks they'd be better off at a luxury hotel. Fight, squabble, quibble, bitch- Marcia and Peter are unpleasant people who clearly loathe each other, and it seems doubtful even to my always-optimistic eyes that a mere weekend will be enough to fix whatever's causing their problems. I mean, what's the first thing Peter does when he unwraps his new shotgun slingshot water pistol rifle?

Yeah, I think it'll take more than some s'mores to fix that marriage.

They head off on holiday regardless, and before long they demonstrate a casual disregard for everything but themselves as they abuse the environment in countless ways- they litter, Peter runs over a kangaroo when not paying attention to the road, Marcia suffocates ants in a cloud of insecticide when they're attracted to the couple's garbage, Peter chops down a tree for no reason other than "why not?", he shoots his gun for the fun of shooting his gun, and Marcia takes (and eventually smashes) an eagle's egg.

After reading that litany of offenses, you might think that Peter and Marcia are engaging in completely outrageous behavior, but really they're not; their actions are so casual, like the tossing of a lit cigarette out a car window, that it's behavior we've seen in real life countless times- perhaps even engaged in ourselves. However, man does not rule over Moonda Beach- the animals do, and eventually Peter and Marcia pay for their recklessness.

Again, Long Weekend surprises as it doesn't become your typical over-the-top animal revenge flick. Sure, the animals do take revenge, but the film takes a long time getting to that point, and we're treated to a spooky, almost supernatural story in the meantime.

To maximize its low budget to the greatest effect, Long Weekend was shot in Panavision, the same aspect ratio famously utilized by John Carpenter in Halloween. Here, director Colin Eggleston uses the technique to give the film gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot, from the beach and surf to the wildlife to the scariest damn woods I've seen since The Blair Witch Project. It was a real pleasure to watch a movie that simply looked nice for a change.

I mentioned The Blair Witch Project, and there were definitely times I found myself wondering if Long Weekend had any influence on the Blair Witch creators. For example, on their way to Moonda Beach (and later, their way out), Peter and Marcia become lost- they pass the same tree again and again despite the fact that they've been traveling a linear path. Moonda Beach is an eerie place, and as I said throughout the film it seems as though there might be something supernatural about it- it's foreboding, isolated, and according to the locals at the gas station where Peter and Marcia make a pit stop, it doesn't even exist. Eggleston effectively uses sound and light to create an atmosphere full of dread, and I just ate it right up. There are unidentifiable howls and cries in the night, there's a dead sea cow (Peter shoots it, mistaking it for a shark) that keeps reappearing in various places, and a fantasically creepy sequence when Peter, searching for a van he saw parked on the beach earlier, stumbles across an abandoned campsite, complete with an child's tea party that's overgrown with brush.

Long Weekend is undoubtedly more of a character study with horrific elements more than it is a straight-up horror film or a true animals run amok flick. Over the course of the film, we slowly come to realize the basis for Peter and Marcia's marital strife, and to be honest, they're not very likable people- but that doesn't make them uninteresting to watch. The film centers on two people in little more than one location, and the fact that such a conceit is tolerable at all owes a great debt to the deft direction, the beautiful cinematography, and the actors themselves.

If you're the type of viewer who watches, say, Let's Scare Jessica to Death or fellow Aussie export Picnic at Hanging Rock and you find yourself saying "Is something going to happen already?", then please- steer clear of Long Weekend. This film is not jump cuts and blood sprays- this film is mood, dread, atmosphere, and the "payoff", such as it is, doesn't come until the very end. To some folks, that's called "boring" me, however, that's called "I don't even care that there's no outrageous amok-ening because this movie was awesomely spooky". I'll get back to the outrageousness tomorrow, when toxic waste or something makes animals all big or something.

Apr 23, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 6

Slugs (1988) is the kind of movie that has absolutely nothing to hide. If, upon putting the film in your DVD player, you find yourself wondering if Slugs will be a good movie or a bad movie, you don't have to wait long to get your answer; in fact, the very first scene and the very first line tell you all you need to know. As the film opens, a young woman chooses this moment:

to say to her boyfriend "So, you weren't kidding when you said we were going fishing, huh?" What, she didn't pick up on any of the other clues? Like when he said "We're going fishing!"? Or when he loaded the fishing gear into the car? Or when he drove to the lake? Maybe when he took the fishing gear out of the car and walked over to the lake? Or when they got in the boat and started rowing? How about when he sat down and cast his line? Yeah, that's when it finally sunk in!

What these opening moments tell you is that the best you can hope for from Slugs is that it's a good-bad movie. Clearly, it will make no sense. it a good-bad movie? Oh yes...I think it is.

The plot is simple, and it's a storyline as old as time itself: toxic waste turns harmless garden slugs into "giant" (they keep calling the slugs "giant", but...they're not) man-eaters. It's up to a variety of bitter civil servants, such as the town Health Inspector and the town Sanitation Supervisor, to save the day.

What goes oh so wrong- and oh so right- in Slugs? Let's see...the acting is atrocious and the dialogue is far worse, although there are some true gems in there:

"You ain't got the authority to declare Happy Birthday! Not in this town!"

"When I get back, how 'bout if we get naked...and get crazy?"

Sometimes I thought that the film was trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but the longer it went on, the less likely that seemed. The soundtrack is generally inappropriate and sounds as if it's lifted from a '70s TV show, the direction is just plain odd: there are countless 5-10 second random scenes sprinkled throughout, and the solution to the slug problem will ultimately cause far more damage to the town and its inhabitants than the man-eating slugs ever could. I know these all sound like negatives, but Slugs sports a lethal combination- lethal to my willpower, that is- of ineptness and '80s cheese, including (but not limited to) '80s-style dancing and the most repulsive mullet ever captured on film.

Slugs also bears the dubious honor of being, without a doubt, the grossest animals run amok movie I've ever seen. There's people stepping in pools of slugs, there's exploding eyeballs, there's decomposition, limbs cut off, goo, blood, and all manner of on-screen disgustingness. While the effects do, at times, look really fake, on plenty of occasions I found myself sporting the unpleasant pinched face of an upper-crust British nobleman who's just been approached by a poor person. This movie is barftastic.

What can I really tell you? Slugs is terrible, but also terribly fun. And really, isn't the world divided into two kinds of people? Yes, it is: those who want to see a film called Slugs, and those who don't. If you're on the fence, however, perhaps one or more of these stills will get you to choose a side:

Come on, that last picture is fucking GOLD. Where do your loyalties lie? You're either with me or against me!

Apr 21, 2007

Have no fear...

...or should I say, have a lot of fear? Either way, rest assured that the Animals Run Amok Week 2 festivities will pick up again on Monday and run all week. Animals of all kinds have tried to take over the world so many times, you see, and I want to see every attempt.

In remake news- what other kind of horror news is there, lately?- a hot tip from reader Michelle has let it be known that my beloved April Fool's Day is the next up at the plate. It's not even worth getting in a tizzy over, as it seems The Powers That Be are hellbent on remaking every single horror movie ever. In spring 2010, be sure to look for the remake of Rob Zombie's Halloween remake!

The April Fool's Day updating is being helmed by the Butcher brothers, who brought audiences the After Dark Movie Fest entry The Hamiltons. What's with all the brother duos making movies? Where are the sister duos? Come on, ladies, let's get it the fuck together. April Fool's Day was a box office flop; it hit screens as the slasher flick heyday was coming to an end, and audiences didn't much care for the twist ending. Audiences are so dumb sometimes. Will the remake keep the twist? Or will it feature the legendary as-yet-unseen third act?

The greatest thing I'm wishing for out of this remake would be a deluxe DVD release of the original film, this time around with commentary from stars Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Deborah Goodrich, and Clayton Rohner. See, the cast was a huge factor in the original film's effectiveness. Let's see you match that, remake! I pity the fool who gets cast as Muffy/Buffy.

Apr 20, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 5

In the wake of Steven Spielberg's masterful Jaws came a slew of lesser cash-ins, such as Orca and Pirahna. In 1976, the late director William "Day of the Animals" Girdler took the Jaws template out into the forest and gave audiences Grizzly- a film that so parallels its predecessor that it wears the tagline "Jaws with claws!" with pride. Where Spielberg's film was as much a dramatic character study as it was a thriller, however, Girdler's effort fits squarely in the drive-in exploitation realm.

In a side-by-side comparison, it's amazing how much Girdler (along with writers David Sheldon and Harvey Flaxman) aped Jaws. In both films, an animal (abnormally large for its species) goes on the attack in an area frequented by the public. The animals are tracked down chiefly by three men- a humble 'everyman' who acts as the authority figure, a kooky scientist who is more interested than studying the animal than in killing it, and an even kookier pilot/captain who tells harrowing stories about run-ins with the animal's brothers-in-arms. In both films, our 'everyman' protagonist (Roy Scheider as Sheriff Brody in Jaws, Christopher George as head ranger Kelly in Grizzly) faces bureaucratic opposition when he suggests closing down an area in the interests of public safety. In each movie we also get animal-eye-view-cam, layman hunting posses, a young woman who gets attacked whilst frolicking naked in the water (in Grizzly, a park ranger takes time out from the bear hunt to "soak her feet", which means stripping down to her bra and panties)...hell, Girdler even lifts Sheriff Brody's drunk scene! And I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say that each film has a rather...explosive ending.

Despite the similarities between the characters of each film, this is the area where Grizzly completely lacks the Jaws magic. The men in Grizzly are extremely one-dimensional, and in the end we don't care about any of them. While they're all cardboard cut-outs, the women fare worse: relegated to the background at best, dismissed entirely at worst. For example, as Ranger Kelly and pilot Don (Andrew Prine) discuss tracking the bear via his movement patterns:

KELLY: Well, he likes women and he keeps moving.
DON: Sounds like me, always trawling. Say, what about that filly you been ridin'?

As I said earlier, Grizzly is undoubtedly a piece of schlocky, exploitation cinema- and this is where Girdler delivers the goods. When the bear attacks, the blood really flies. There are decapitations, dismemberment- why, Girdler even has the balls to have the bear attack a child, then toss his newly bloody-stumped body to the ground. That's sort of delightfully tasteless- yet it's not quite as tasteless as it could have been, were the kid not clearly enjoying the bear attack. It's super fun huggy time!

Despite the fact that our resident naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) tells us that the bear is well over 15 feet tall and weighs around a whopping 2000 pounds, the bear never seems really scary. For every shot of the bear acting formidable, like this...

...there's a shot of the bear acting all cute, like this:

The audience never gets a true grasp on his size, because there's never any spatial relationship between the bear and his victims- when bear and man are together in a shot, it's very obviously man-in-a-bear-suit and man together in a shot. That kind of shortcoming is part of what makes these movies so much fun; unfortunately, Grizzly isn't very much fun. It lacks that certain mojo that puts similar films- such as Kingdom of the Spiders- into the realm of over-the-top awesomeness.

Of course, it doesn't help matters when the "enemy" doesn't incite terror in the audience or in the actors. Maybe I took in too much Dan Haggerty and pal when I was a kid, I don't know- but at the end of the film, when Christopher George busts out the rocket launcher (yes, I said rocket launcher), I found myself quoting Rodney King- I mean...can't we all just get along?

Apr 19, 2007

Animals Run Amok Week 2: breaking news!


Thanks to Steven of The Horror Blog for cluing me into a post over at Cinematical about the upcoming let's hope it falls through all the way to the deepest bowels of Hell, Naomi Watts or no Naomi Watts remake of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Why on Earth would anyone want to remake The Birds? Ignore the fact that this is Michael Bay we're talking about, who already took a giant dump on the legacy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Why, they're remaking it because they've got a brand new angle to explore! Says Cathy Schulman of Mandalay Pictures:
We think we have a very contemporary take. In the original, the birds just showed up, and it was kind of like, why are the birds here? This time, there's a reason why they're here and (people) have had something to do with it. There's an environmental slant to what could create nature fighting back.
Now, most people seem to be up in arms over the basic...sort of...ridiculousness of that idea, not to mention the fact that yeah, no shit- the birds in the original movie attacked without reason and there was no explanation...and that's partially why film is so damn frightening.

My point of contention, however, is that an "environmental slant" isn't a "contemporary take" at all- it's a theme that's been explored in animals run amok movies from Day of the Animals to Kingdom of the Spiders to virtually everything in between. Please, someone send a copy of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" to Mandalay Pictures stat!

Unless, of course, by "contemporary take" she meant a "30-year-old take".

Animals Run Amok Week 2: Day 4

Oh baby, do I love disaster movies with all-star casts. I love the overacting, I love the ridiculousness, I love the elaborate set pieces, and I love any movie that can bring together such disparate performers as Jimmie Walker, Martha Raye, Charo, and Alain Delon (see Concorde: Airport '79 for that particular lineup). When I see the names "Irwin Allen" and/or "Arthur Hailey" attached to a film, I know I just need to settle in and enjoy the bloated spectacle as it unfolds before me. My love of disaster movies with all-star casts and my love of animals run amok movies crashed head first into each other and became one with Irwin Allen's The Swarm (1978). Boy, I haven't enjoyed bloating this much- and with a running time of about 160 minutes, The Swarm is nothing if not bloated- since The Great Salsa Con Queso Binge of 1996! At the risk of sounding like Kool-Aid Man, I just have to say...OH YEAH!

Every once in a while, the major networks still have a go at the disaster movie with an all-star cast, most recently with that one- whatever it was called- about the hurricane and the tornado having a baby which becomes a Category 54635736723147 storm and will it be the end of the world? Of course, "all-star cast" doesn't really apply to these films- not the way it used to. I understand budgetary constraints (particularly in the made-for-TV realm), but now we have to settle for Kim Delaney, someone from CSI who's not William Petersen or Marg Helgenberger, and if we're lucky, Richard Masur. But look at the names attached to The Swarm! Look at them, I say!

- Michael Caine
- Henry Fonda
- Richard Widmark
- Olivia DeHavilland
- Katharine Ross
- Patty Duke...ASTIN!
- Fred a bowtie!
- Jose Ferrer (yes, I just saw him in Zoltan!)
- Richard Chamberlain
- Bradford Dillman (yes, I just saw him in Bug!)
- Ben Johnson
- Slim Pickens
- Lee Grant (stern and cranky as always)

Now that's mega-watt star power!

A massive swarm of African Killer Bees has finally made good on all its promises and started attacking the United States. The bees begin their assault in Texas by killing virtually everyone inside an ICBM base. They move on to attack picnickers and citizens of quaint little Marysville- a town whose annual flower festival is about to start. Of all the rotten luck! After kicking Marysville's ass, the swarm decides to take over Houston. Can Super Entomologist Michael Caine and his crack team of scientists defeat the bees? CAN THEY?

That's the story of The Swarm in a nutshell. Now then, let's take a closer look and examine all the things that make this film so lovably awful, shall we?

- The venom of the African Killer Bee is so powerful that a mere 4 stings is enough to kill a kill a man DEAD! Should one be fortunate enough to survive, however, one must then battle one's own mind as one is beset by hallucinations of giant bees.

- Katharine Ross is simply the worst doctor ever. In one instance, she sits next to a patient's bed and the patient flatlines. Instead of actually doing anything, Katharine Ross leaves and fetches another doctor, who uses a stethoscope and that's that. In another instance of someone flatlining in her presence, she again leaves the room. She comes back with an oxygen mask- which would work swell if the person was breathing. When the hell was CPR invented? Probably before 1978.

- The most hilarious because it's supposed to be tragic and touching sequence occurs when the bees invade Marysville, particularly when they attack the school. Before the attack, we see a kid with an oversized lollipop annoy both Fred MacMurray and the audience:

Later, the camera zooms in slowly on the same kid- now dead!- and his bee-covered lollipop. We all shed a tear...of laughter.

- Someone who's not laughing, however, is Olivia DeHavilland- the bees and the dead children sprinkled all over the schoolyard cause her to lose her shit, overact, and let out a melodramatic "NOOO!" that remained unparalleled in cinema until Darth Vader's "NOOO!" in Revenge of the Sith:

- Michael Caine, entomologist, and Richard Widmark, Air Force general, shout through every single conversation they have together. In fact, Michael Caine goes crazy quite often and yells most of his lines in an odd, halting fashion.

WIDMARK: Better a few American bees than a lot of American people!
CAINE: The honeybee is vital to the environment! Every year in America! They pollinate 6 billion dollars worth of CROPS!

- I have never seen a romance as straight from nowhere as in The Swarm. We see absolutely no indications that Michael Caine and Katharine Ross are falling in love, yet on the second day of the proceedings, Michael Caine quips "You're the best thing that's happened to me in all this"- as opposed to the thousands and thousands of fatalities, I suppose. Even more ludicrous, however, is that Patty Duke- who lost her fiance mere days ago in the initial bee attack- gives birth to their child and falls in love with her doctor as she's being wheeled out of the delivery room.

- A great moment to look out for: as the swarm approaches, Michael Caine casually glances at his watch before calmly telling Katharine Ross to run.

- Richard Chamberlain heads to a nuclear power plant to warn them of the imminent bee attack. The bees do attack the plant- Richard Chamberlain is covered in bees, flailing around, and then the plant explodes. However, the editing makes it seem that Richard Chamberlain himself has exploded, causing the building to go.

- There are so many awesome AWESOME lines of dialogue in the movie...

"I never dreamed it would be the bees. They've always been our friend."

"I always credit my enemy- no matter what he may be- with equal intelligence"

"Who would have thought bees would be the first alien force to invade America?"

"Houston on fire...will history blame me? Or the BEES?"

- Evacuees from Marysville are being taken out of town via train. The bees attack the train- which derails. And rolls down a hillside. And explodes. And is very much a model train.

- Michael Caine is reluctant to use pesticides or poisons on the swarm, fearing the effect it will have on the environment. His final solution? Cover the Gulf of Mexico with a humongous oil slick. Lure the bees out to the Gulf with sound, then set the Gulf of Mexico on fire. He and Katharine Ross watch it burn...aww, how romantic.

- The film ends with a wonderfully patriotic and xenophobic disclaimer:
The African Killer Bee portrayed in this film bears absolutely no relationship to the industrious, hardworking American Honeybee to which we are indebted for pollinating vital crops that feed our nation.
In your face, African Killer Bee! USA! USA! USA!

- The DVD contains a 1978 documentary about the making of the film, which is incredibly fearmongering. The Swarm isn't fiction- it's a prediction! The bees are coming! They're coming to kill us all! Patty Duke is the sole voice of dissent- she doesn't think the bees are coming at all, but if they do show up, she'll take a vacation somewhere else. I love Patty Duke.

The Swarm is 2-and-a-half hours of all-star, all-bee fun and excitement. It's like a birthday wish come true! USA! USA! USA!