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!

Aug 30, 2010

Film Club: Hellbound

My friends, when this...

...and the name Yoram Globus appeared on my screen at the beginning of Hellbound, everything felt right in the world- right, and decidedly 1985. Now, if you're all "What's the bigs?", then let me tell you: The Cannon Group and Golan-Globus Productions were responsible for a huge chunk of genre output in the late 70s-late 80s, action flicks in particular. From Lifeforce to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from American Ninja to American Ninja V, from Breakin' to Electric Boogaloo, from He-Man to every Chuck Norris opus, Cannon simply IS the eighties to a lot of movie nerds, myself included.

hit in 1994, after Menahem Golan left Golan-Globus Productions, and it's terrible, terrible, which I mean it's the most awesome thing I'll never watch again. Well, okay- it's not truly awesome, but it's so thoroughly drenched in the essence of awesome that it's a bit hard to tell the difference. It's like the shittiest frozen pizza- you may make a note (mentally or literally) that you'll never buy that brand again...and yet, it's pizza and therefore it's still better than anything that's not pizza.

Oh...fine. Hellbound is crap on a crap stick and there's no getting around it. My love of Cannon, though, makes me a total crap denier. Or not a denier, exactly, but my view can be summed up thusly: yes, it's awful, but it's a Cannon film. So, it's awful but I don't really care. I'll never watch it again, but when I talk about it, I'll probably say things like "Oh, Hellbound was great! You should totally watch it." I'm not sure what kind of person that makes me- obviously not one who can be trusted, but there you go.

Hellbound opens with a text crawl, which lets you know that shit is about to get epic up in here. It begins with "The legend says..." and tells of Prosatanos, an emissary of Satan who's going to bring Hell to Earth and blah blah blah. What legend, exactly? It's THE legend, and that's good enough!

To reinforce the epicness, the action starts during the Crusades, with Knights Templar and King Richard the Lionheart on horseback, heading off to stop Prosatanos know, doing everything the text crawl said he was going to do. They seal him up in a tomb and smash his scepter. There are monster-types in Satanic robes to be defeated, and I begin to think this movie is going to rule my world.

Fast-forward to 1951! The tomb is raided (not by Lara Croft, unfortunately) and Prosatanos is set free.

Fast-forward to Chuck Norris, A.D. and the seedy neon-lit streets of Chicago. Norris is Sergeant Shatter (YES I SAID SERGEANT SHATTER), a tough cop, and he's partnered up with Jackson, a Rick James/Whoopi Goldberg-hybrid stereotype who has GOT to be one of the most irritating characters ever put on any screen of any kind, anywhere. Ever. I hated him. I would rather watch a remake of My Dinner with Andre starring Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Masssacre and Shelly from Friday the 13th Part 3 than suffer through another second of Jackson's antics.

Anyway, here's what we get in Chicago that had me excited...and mind you, we've already seen Knights Templar. This all just reinforced my hopes that Hellbound would become master of all my children days.
  • a hooker, with a HORRENDOUSLY dubbed voice, who gets all chiropractical on herself
  • said hooker, defenestrated
  • Prosatanos, looking a bit like Phantasm's Reggie Banister, acting a lot like Silent Night, Deadly Night 2's Eric Freeman
  • A heart ripped out of a chest
  • Chuck Norris kicking the shit out of a dude wearing a snakeskin tanktop
  • Antiquities kept in fannypacks
  • A hardass police captain who surely would have been more at home raping female convicts with broomhandles in some women-in-prison exploitation flick
  • Chuck Norris in a high-waisted, shoulder-padded teal suit

I mean...I mean...SEE WHAT I MEAN? Hellbound could do no wrong, but then suddenly it started doing everything wrong. I got a return of "utter disappointment" on my investment of "high expectations" which rivaled that one Christmas where I had totally convinced myself that my parents got me a huge TV- these were the days when having your own TV was still a big effing deal, and I knew for sure that the big box under the tree was a television just for me- but then it turned out to be...I don't even know what it was. I unwrapped it and found it was not a TV, but, like, a blanket. I was crushed for five minutes! Hellbound brought back those feelings, but my state of crushed-dom continues, even several five minuteses later.

I don't know what happened. How did things go so wrong, when they were going oh-so right? Well, maybe I do know what happened: Hellbound got a bit zany. Madcap, even, as our Chicago cops trotted the globe all the way to Israel to figure out the deal with Prosatanos's scepter pieces. There was this...this...piano music and one-car car chases and street urchins and too much Jackson and not enough demons. Granted, any Jackson was too much Jackson, but the minions of Satan were so nonexistent that I had to get my Clara Peller on and bust out a "Where's the demons?" once or twice. For reals, Hellbound could have been the best movie in the history of things that could have been, but lo, the middle hour was just. So. Bad.

And then the last ten minutes happened and suddenly Chuck Norris was slo-mo punching and kicking an emissary of Satan and I thought YES. Yes, this is what I wanted all along. It's all I wanted from Hellbound- well, Chuck Norris beating up demons and maybe an explosion.

Then I got an explosion, as Prosatanos- showing his true, rubber demon face!- exploded all over a tomb in a shower of sparks and smoke. The only way it could have been better was if Jackson had exploded as well. Or instead. Or if he was never there to begin with.

Ah well. Things are rarely as good as we dream them to be, and Hellbound is no exception. By which I mean Hellbound was great! You should totally watch it.

Film Club Coolies, y'all!
Mondo Bizarro
Cinema Gonzo
I Will Devour Your Content
Haiku Film Reviews
The Horror Digest
From Midnight, With Love
Aphorisms and Ectoplasm
Scarina's Scary Vault of Scariness
From Beyond Depraved!

Aug 27, 2010

awesome movie poster friday - the FILM CLUB edition PART TWO!

Hey humans, this Monday is Film Club Day! Don't forget to watch the Chuck Norris vs demons extravaganza Hellbound and send me a link to your review! I apologize in advance if it stinks.

In honor of the prestigious day, I present to you the second AMPF that commemorates the FGFC. The first can be found here. After posting these, I have this wicked urge to watch something involving lasers. I hope Mr. Norris busts some out to battle Satan!

Aaaahhh the old woman in the bed!

From my review: "There's a dude in a lizard suit, the worst fake ice you'll ever hope to see, a jacked-up medicine man midget, decapitations, typewriters with souls, and a naked Susan Strasberg sitting on a floating bed shooting lasers at a big eye. Sometimes, my friends, all is right with the world." Still so very true.

I think this movie deserves better posters, although I like the simplicity of #2.

What the world needs now is more movies about hot naked space vampires, don't you think? Most of these posters are better if you make a "pew pew pew" laser noise whilst looking at them.

Aug 26, 2010

Father Was a Dracula

Dracula's Daughter (1936) was produced by Universal Studios as a sequel to their smash hit Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi as the titular bloodsucker. Despite its ties to Dracula and its tenuous basis in Bram Stoker's short story "Dracula's Guest", Dracula's Daughter is perhaps best known as the first lesbian vampire film.

Gloria Holden stars as Countess Marya Zaleska, who claims to know, the daughter of Count Dracula. When she learns that Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) has slain her vampire father, Marya is relieved- she's convinced that his death will mean her release from her insatiable bloodlust. She steals his body from the local morgue and burns it, thrilled at the prospect of being "free forever" and finally able to "live as a woman in the world of the living". Her manservant Sandor (Irving Pichel), however, convinces her that she will never be free from the curse; soon Zaleska prowls the dark streets of London once more, in search of victims. As her hope turns to despair, the Countess seeks the aid of psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger) as attempts to pit "the strength of the human mind against the power of darkness".

These obsessive desires of Zaleska can be viewed as veiled references to any number of things, including drug use and, yes, homosexuality. While Universal apparently acknowledged the hints of lesbianism (and even banked on it in the film's marketing campaigns- "Save the women of London from Dracula's Daughter!"), they are only that- hints. They're extremely subtle hints you have to keep your eyes peeled for as you bear in mind the period in which the film was made. There's no touching in the film- hell, Zaleska never bares fangs and any biting, if in fact there actually is any, occurs off-screen. The scene with the heaviest indicators occurs when the Countess brings a young girl, Lili (Nan Grey), back to her studio to "model" for a painting. Lili drops the shoulders of her dress as Marya attempts to bewitch her with her patented soulful gaze / sparkling ring combo; Lili grows uncomfortable and attempts to flee, but her fate has been sealed. Is she genuinely taken with Lili, or is she just a hungry vampire? After all, she also "seduces" male victims the same way. In a later scene, Zaleska almost puts the bite on Dr. Garth's assistant Janet (Marguerite Churchill), whom she's kidnapped- and who, it should be noted, does NOT willingly succumb to the Countess's charms. Zaleska slowly...slowly...SLOWLY inches closer to Janet's neck, but she's interrupted before there's any contact by the arrival of Garth who, incidentally, is the one the Countess longs to be with for eternity. This desire, however, is borne of a "cure me or be stuck with me forever" attitude rather than the experience of true love. So. Lesbian subtext? Sure, it's there if you're looking for it- which, umm, I suppose is why it's called "subtext". It's also more negative than it is steamy- don't forget, Zaleska needs to be cured of her "affliction".

Even if it weren't a film that provokes speculation and discussion, Dracula's Daughter would still be an enjoyable example of Universal's gothic horror. The streets of London are all cobblestones and shadows, while Zaleska's haunt is all shadows and cobwebs. Gloria Holden is appropriately mesmerizing as the Countess- her reluctance to play a role she feared would hinder her burgeoning career (as Lugosi complained of Dracula) informs her performance with a haughty discomfort that relays Zaleska's discomfort well. There's an ample amount of comic relief in the film, particularly early on when some cowardly cops have to deal with the bodies of Renfield and Dracula.

There's a terrific article and analysis of the film over at And You Call Yourself a Scientist!, which is where I got most of these awesome screencaps. Hat tip for the post title to Adam Ross of the late DVD Panache.

Aug 25, 2010

EXORCISM MOVIES: a flowchart

The Last Exorcism opens this Friday. Are you worried that with all the possession-flavored movies on the market, you'll be mired in head-spinning and puking to the point where you can't tell your Regans from your Emily Roses from your Nells? It's understandable- you're not alone. That's why I made this flowchart to help everyone figure things out. Because I care!

EDITED TO ADD: No, I did not include every possession/exorcism movie ever made in this chart, thank you, I realize that. Like lists, when I post these things they're meant to be pleasant, horror-centric, time-wasting diversions that, perhaps, start discussion. They're not meant to be all-inclusive.

click to embiggen

wednesday comix: VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #19

Hey. Remember that time I talked about a comic book I inked called Vincent Price Presents? Back in April? And how you could order it through Previews? Hmm? DO YOU?

Well, all these months later, the book is sitting on comic book store shelves everywhere, or at least somewhere! Here is photographic evidence pointing to its existence; the thumb belongs to Brent Schoonover, the man who wrote and penciled the durn thing.

No, my name is not on the cover. I don't know who Montemarasomethingsomething is- the colorist? If you pick one up, then you can tell me! According to The Legend of Vincent Price Presents #19, my name wasn't included whatsoever in the draft copy of the book. Pfft, inkers. Always overlooked. *tear*

Anyway. There are some pages up in all their inky, colorless glory at my personal website- right here, man. Hooray comics!

bated breath

If you were on any horror-related websites yesterday (well, except this one), you may have caught wind that Jovanka Vuckovic has launched the website for her forthcoming short film The Captured Bird. The movie, a "dark fable about a little girl who has to face her own very literal demons after taking a wrong turn", has been been hailed by my brain as "something I cannot fucking wait to see".

As an avid fan of Jovanka's work at Rue Morgue Magazine and of...well, of Jovanka herself, I'd be practically salivating over seeing any one of her creations onscreen, but The Captured Bird looks to be an astonishing debut, an ambitious myth- and monster-filled fantasy to be executive produced by a man who knows more than a little about such things: Guillermo del Toro. “Jovanka's vision has been honed to perfection and combines true poetry with savage instinct,” says del Toro. “[It’s] lyrical and brutal. Just what the doctor ordered.”

Yeah, not a bad person to have on your team your first- or, hell...any time out. Jovanka's tenure at Rue Morgue put her in touch with innumerable horror luminaries, and now that she's becoming a filmmaker, she's got her own pep squad featuring the likes of George Romero and Stuart Gordon. Their support is evidenced by quotes that grace the film's website, and it's fantastic to see them so enthusiastic about...yeah, I'll say it: a horror film written and directed by a woman. Sure, we could rattle off a list of horror movies directed by women- some, like Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark and Mary Harron's American Psycho, are often cited as some of the genre's finest. But are there any women out there who could be considered (to use a hoity-toity term) dark auteurs? There are countless women making movies in the indie horror world. When talking about the genre's true heavy-hitters, the ones who conjure up images and feelings and memories at the mention of their names, the ones who have a style so personal that they essentially become their own genres ("a Dario Argento film", anyone?)...are there any women? Maybe. Maybe I just don't know who they are. Maybe in five years it'll be different and we'll have a list of names thanks to Jovanka and others of her ilk: the women who, as I said, are toiling away in the indie world to bring their visions to life (umm, not to put too much pressure on anyone, of course). In a perfect world of filmmaking, gender wouldn't matter. A woman wouldn't have to be called a "female director"- she could just be, you know, a director.

The Captured Bird's website promises to offer a wealth of information in the months leading up to the film's projected 2012 film festival tour, including interviews, a call for donations, an on-set live feed, and a blog from Vuckovic which will detail her journey as a burgeoning filmmaker. "Like" the movie on Facebook and follow it all on Twitter. Get excited for this, horror fans. I am.

Aug 20, 2010

awesome movie poster friday - the UNDERRATED edition!

As the title of this edition may let on, I find that the following movies are vastly underrated- criminally overlooked, even! Sure, we hardcore horror nuts might know about 'em or talk about 'em, but...won't someone think of the children? How are the softcore horror nuts supposed to know about these if we don't spread the gospel? SPREAD IT! SPREAD IT I SAY!

Okay...this is getting weird. Anyway.

Candyman (1992)

"Candyman? Say wuuuuut?"- yeah, I know how you do. Look, we've all seen Candyman and maybe we all like Candyman. Some of us even love Candyman. Yet...somehow it's neglected when great horror movies are discussed. Is it because it hit during the Great Horror Drought (c. 1987-1996)? Is it because it's lumped in with slasher flicks when it's really so much more? I don't know. I don't have all the answers, so get off my damn back with your damn questions! I admit: it's one of my favorite horror movies, but I'm always forgetting about it...but then maybe I've just trained myself to be that way so Candyman doesn't get me.

Paperhouse (1988)

One of the coolest, most imaginative genre films is one you've perhaps never seen, thanks to the fact that it's never been given a proper DVD release in the US and it's pricy to come by on VHS. This spare, creepy film about a sickly girl who can dream herself into the worlds she draws was directed by Bernard Rose, who also directed Candyman. Hmm...

Look, I made my case for Messiah of Evil earlier today, so what else can I say? Okay, I can say this: check out the second ad here, which uses one of Messiah's alternate titles...and the tagline from Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Oh, misleading so crazy!

When this cult classic was released on DVD not too long ago, some people were all "Eh, I don't see what the big deal is." Let's shun those people!

Ah, one of the first movies I reviewed here on Final Girl...way back when I didn't know what I was doing and most of you weren't even born yet. That's okay- we all learn and grow. Crappy writing on a nascent horror blog doesn't change the fact that Alice, Sweet Alice is an exercise, sweet exercise in terrifying, perverse slasher filmmaking that will leave your teeth feeling scuzzy and your face rocked off into the atmosphere.

I can't blame you if you've yet to get on board with this sorta-zombie flick from Jean Rollin- why, I'm but a recent convert myself. Therefore, you get a 6-month grace period (STARTING NOW) to check it out before you are SHUNNED.

Just kidding. I'll only shun you behind your back, I swear!

PS: If you haven't seen the film, a warning: the middle poster miiiiiight be a liiiiiiittle which I mean it totally is.

PPS: This movie deserves better posters. I think the first is actually a DVD cover, and the third is...well, what's it trying to convey? That there are giants running amok, or perhaps that the woman is very tiny? Are they implying there's some sort of weird Dr. Moreau-style fusing of humans and fruit- some Fruit of the Loomening, if you will- to be found in the film? There isn't, although I might be into that. DON'T JUDGE ME.

"No one will hear you scream!"

Y'all. Y'ALL. I have a new mission in life, and that is to get the whole entire world (which includes YOU) to acknowledge Messiah of Evil (1973) as the GD horror classic that it is. When someone out there declares it "list-making time" and everyone is all, "Oooh, I love this movie and that one and THIS movie totally gives me the creeps!", Messiah of Evil sits home alone, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting to be put on a list or two or all. The lists come and go, but Messiah's phone never rings. It softly cries itself to sleep, wondering what it has to do to get some attention from horror fans. Does it have to put out? Oh baby, it puts out like you would not believe, from the tagline ("Terror you won't want to remember- in a film you won't be able to forget!") on down, and I will ignore it no longer! People who like great horror movies UNITE!

Arletty (Marianna Hill) heads to the sleepy seaside town of Point Dume to search for her missing father, an artist from whom she'd been estranged for some time. When she arrives, she quickly realizes that something's just not right in Point Dume. The locals are either incoherent, frighteningly odd, or simply not at all helpful.

As she hangs out at her father's studio, she finds diaries and papers documenting what could only be described as his descent into madness. She meets Thom (Michael Greer) and his traveling companions Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford) when they arrive unannounced at the studio. Thom and Arletty dig deeper into the mystery and learn of the legend of the Blood Moon that appears over Point Dume, while Laura and Toni grow irritated that they no longer have a hold over Thom's affections.

Oh yeah, and something has caused the residents of Point Dume to turn into bloodthirsty zombie-ghoul things.

Sorry if that's all a little vague, but then Messiah of Evil is a little vague. There's a plot there to figure out, sure, but Messiah is one of those films that comes together slowly. It's more about atmosphere and feeling than it is about explaining everything away or giving concrete answers. It's got the same sort of hazy, dream-like quality that Let's Scare Jessica to Death has, and though it's ostensibly a zombie film, Messiah is definitely much closer kin to Jessica than it is to anything in Romero's oeuvre. The bookend voiceover narration in particular will likely thrill Jessica-heads.

The big star of Messiah of Evil, however, is undoubtedly the cinematography of Stephen M. Katz. Sub-par copies of the film have been floating around forever, the picture cropped into the wrong aspect ratio, the colors muddied to the point of darkness. Code Red released a special 35th Anniversary Edition DVD, restoring the picture to all its technicolor, 2.35:1 glory. It is fucking LUSCIOUS, a feast for the eyes and the pants. Messiah of Evil bears a style that, in my opinion, puts it in the same family as Argento's Suspiria- it's truly a lick-the-screen-worthy film.

While I'm all about a visceral slasher flick or any manner of outrageous animals running amok, evocative horror movies tend to dig the deepest into my psyche. They're not so much an assault on the senses as they are quiet burrowers, working their way under my skin, rendering me tense before I even realize it. Messiah of Evil is absolutely one of those films: it perfectly captures the feeling of the uncanny as we're introduced to some of the residents of Point Dume- they're off. They're stilted and not-quite-right, much like the town itself. It's too quiet, particularly at night when the streets are empty and the only sound is the buzzing of a neon sign. Both Toni and Laura walk around town, only to quickly discover that they're not alone and that they're very much in danger. These two sequences are incredibly shudder-inducing: Laura wanders into an empty grocery store only to discover some townfolk huddled over a freezer, dining on raw meat. After a moment, they notice her...

Toni, meanwhile, sits alone in a movie theater. The seats behind her slowly fill up with townspeople in a set piece reminiscent of the famous playground scene from Hitchcock's The Birds. It is pure bone-chilling awesome.

What a gem. I loved this movie, plain and simple. If you love gorgeous, creepy mood pieces, you're in for a treat. Check it out and spread the word- just be sure to pick up Code Red's superior 35th Anniversary Edition if you do. The next time you make a list of amazing horror flicks, don't forget Messiah of Evil. You don't want it to cry, do you?