movie reviews - the all-shit edition!

Another lazy blog post, just mining reviews out of one of the giant notebooks. This time I focused entirely on terrible movies.

An American Haunting (C, 2005) Pathetic horror film based on the supposed-true story of the Bell Witch, a supernatural even that took place in 1800’s Tennessee. After taking financial advantage of a local woman who’s supposed to be a witch, John Bell and his daughter are tormented by an unseen, malevolent spirit… and that’s pretty much it. The book (which was a bogus “found manuscript” deal, but interesting at least) had a lot more to it, such as the spirit talking, taking hundreds of visitors, etc. This dispenses with all that and becomes one tiresome, plotless, cliché-filled poltergeist attack that has the cheap over-glossed, overproduced look of something filmed for the Hallmark Channel. There is not even one remotely original aspect about this film. It’s all a lot of noise and screaming that tries to substitute for suspense or scares, and it uses CGI as a crutch, re-creating stuff seen in other movies (glimpsed shapes, a Holly-Hobbie monster-dealie who looks like a Grudge leftover). There’s also the usual prowling subjective camera, glowing blue nighttime scenes, overuse of lightning flashes, bad editing to make things jump out and then disappear, the film fading to black and white or blue or negative to the point of distraction. This movie flashes and bounces around so much it looks like it was filmed inside a pinball machine. I was excited about seeing this one but it ended up being such a conglomerate of done-to-death crap that I actually felt insulted by it. Doubly irritating is the fact that the DVD brags of being “unrated” but contains nothing that would get it past a PG rating. The fact that the director spent all his commentary time on the DVD discussing the marketing of the film and bitching prissily and bitterly about critics is pretty telling; I don’t think this guy had anything on his mind but creating a marketable product, and fuck-you to the movie fans who wanted anything that hadn’t been done before. The movie does have a decent cast -- Sissy Spacek (ironically now playing the mother to a Carrie-like girl) and Donald Sutherland (who deserves better material than having to deliver lines like “There’s something evil here!”) and James D’Arcy do their best to elevate this pablum, and young Rachel Hurd-Wood as Betsy Bell does an admirable job. Anyway, since I liked the book and was looking forward to seeing this, I was majorly disappointed to get this TV-movie-looking bundle of worn-out clichés, and I felt like the filmmakers had real contempt for the viewer, hyping this piece of shit. If you haven’t seen as many horror movies or have any expectations of it you may be more tolerant of it than I was, but basically this was a compilation of everything I’m sick of seeing in modern horror films. In fact, if you make horror movies, you should watch this to learn what you shouldn’t do. The director’s prissy bitch-out of movie critics (which he offers in lieu of a commentary track) almost makes you feel sorry for him, because he’s revealing a lot more about himself than he intended. I wouldn’t hire this guy to direct a YouTube vid.

Bad Girls Do Cry (B&W, 1965) …and so will you, with tears of boredom if you struggle to watch this man-they-were-easily-titillated-back-then fest, which was filmed in 1954 but not released until about 10 years later. A not-terribly-bright girl named Sally Downs (like the syndrome), played by stripper Misty Ayers, goes to a new town and wanders from place to place, dressing, undressing, and posing a lot between the processes of dressing and undressing. First she undresses and takes a relentlessly uneventful bath, then gets a job, is hired for a modeling gig by a guy whose whole job interview consists of getting her to hike up her skirt (“it’s okay, that’s how they can tell”), and while changing clothes (again) she’s attacked by a mob-looking guy who drugs her and forces her to work for an escort service (that apparently caters to men who are into retarded chicks). There’s a catfight, followed by a date with Tommy Cole, a guy who’s been teased for not going to whorehouses. After an interminable amount of time spent fiddling with his tie while she brushes her hair, nothing happens. There’s some comedy involving a drunk madam that’s of the type I thought went out when they quit making Pathe shorts. Back to Tommy and Sally, who kiss. Tommy seems to have Taxi Driver syndrome and wants to rescue Sally, but the mob isn’t going to give her up that easily. Meanwhile, other whores try to have dates, which consist of a guy sitting there while the girl dances the hucharacha (I don’t know if that’s a real name for a real dance but that’s what it looks like it ought to be called). Tommy tries to drive a car (let out the clutch, igmo!) and fights with a hood who shoots at him. Luckily, Tommy hides behind a telephone pole, which totally thwarts the guy… until he tricks Tommy into coming out. This movie desperately tries to fill 59 minutes of running time with about 8 minutes of story, which means everything is drawn out forever, from lighting a cigarette to opening the mail. It was shot silent, and they spared themselves having to synch lip movements by always keeping the camera on the listener during conversations. Unfortunately, that seems to be the extent of their cleverness. There are no dream sequences, but that harp riff that usually signals you’re going into one is heard a lot. This is the kind of junk you imagine Eddie Haskel on Leave It To Beaver sneaking out to see. Wait for a remake instead.

New Barbarians (C, 1982) aka Nuovi Barbari, Metropolis 2000, Warriors of the Wasteland. In the stupid future, everyone will dress in goofy outlandish white clothes, drive crappy modified weapon-equipped Death Race 2000 cars that sound like vacuum cleaners, and shoot each other with wimpy-looking guns that make sparks and tapping-the-guy wire-with-a-hammer noises. George Eastman is “one,” the leader of a violent scavenger gang. Along comes this road warrior dude (who really should be doing comedy ‘cuz he looks like what Eugene Levy might look like if he plucked his eyebrows) who drives a car with a big bubble on top and air conditioner hoses all over it. His mechanic is that weird blonde kid who was in House By The Cemetery and every other Italian movie that was made in the early 80’s. The road warrior guy’s name is Scorpion, and he’s the mortal enemy of One and his Templars. Fred Williamson wears a headband and gold disco armor; he looks like he raided the dressing room of some incarnation of The Gap Band or Funkadelic. He shoots explosive arrows and helps the Scorpion protect a bunch of religious idiots from the Templars, who want to wipe out religion since it caused the nuclear war in the first place. The Templars capture Scorpion and almost butt-rape him in their weird plexiglass/colored-lights compound, but then they get distracted. Some other guys drag Scorpion around until Fred blows them up with arrows, which at least provides this lame fest with a little unimpressive gore. If you have a fetish for shoulder pads then this is your movie. Director Enzo G. Castellari’s 1990: The Bronx Warriors was a trash classic, but this one is just terrible. Fred “The Ham” Williamson’s acting couldn’t be worse (you can see him concentrating on enunciating words, and he takes that Shatner thing past the red line). I’m a fan of his, but jeez. The costumes are so impractical you can’t believe anyone would wear them (at one point you see a space suit with clear plexiglass breasts) and contain so much plastic sheeting I bet the actors all got rashes. All of the stunts look like nothing but choreographed stunts. The weapons and cars all look weak and silly (somebody must’ve cut them a helluva deal on clear plastic domes ‘cuz they’re on everything). Our hero mostly drives around cutting doughnuts for no reason, and the final shot looks like some bizarre commercial for NAMBLA. Most of the budget must have gone for aluminum foil and silver spray paint, and it seems to have been filmed in a junkyard for industrial air conditioning parts. Most apocalypse Italian sci-fi is bad, but this abuses the priviledge. You can get a nice DVD of this or be smart, save money, and find it in a cheap multi-pack instead -- it’s on several. Get some smartass friends to watch it with you. You’ll need ‘em.

Phantom Killer, The (B&W, 1943) Dumb waste-of-time B-movie remake of The Sphinx, in which a young D. A. doggedly pursues a deaf-mute philanthropist who he’s certain murdered a guy, even though witnesses swear he was somewhere else at the time. Mantan Moreland (who’s not in the movie long enough to rescue it) even swears the supposed deaf-mute talked to him. The D.A.’s pretty reporter girlfriend interviews the deaf-mute and believes he’s innocent, because she was interviewing him at the time another murder happened. And o’ course there’s no way he could be in two places at once, could he? If you can’t figure out the trick that’s going on in this one you may officially count yourself among the world’s truly stupid people. I thought it was something else because I thought they surely couldn’t be so obvious, but, nope, they had no shame. Often sold as a horror movie but it couldn’t be further from that. Directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine.

Poor Pretty Eddie (C, 1975) aka Black Vengeance, Heartbreak Motel, Redneck County Rape. The lady with the baby-talk surname, Leslie Uggams, has car trouble while on vacation and ends up at a backwoods motel full of weirdoes. Eddie is a narcissistic idiot who wants to be another Elvis. Shelly Winters drinks a lot and tries to seduce Eddie even though he doesn’t give her much encouragement. Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family) looms around and is quietly menacing, and the unbeatable hick pairing of Slim Pickens and Dub Taylor show up just to wallop you over the head with local color. Although Eddie spends much of his time running around in a sequined jumpsuit and finding himself irresistible, he finds time to rape Leslie (a scene tastelessly intercut with scenes of dog breeding). She reacts to this as if it were just really rude behavior rather than something traumatic, but still plans to get out of there as soon as possible and fantasizes about killing Eddie. Instead, another redneck tries to have his way with her, Eddie catches them, and he beats her up and rapes her again. The local sheriff (Pickens) is just titillated by the whole thing when she tries to press charges. Eddie’s solution for making things right is to insist on marrying her. Leslie’s less than thrilled. Weird hick-town melodrama usually gets marketed as a horror movie even though it’s not really. The ‘70’s filmmaking adds a little ambiance, but it’s still junk that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and I’m not a big fan of rape scenes, even when they’re badly filmed.

Twister’s Revenge (C, 1987) I thought it’d be impossible to make a monster-truck movie that could insult the intelligence of its intended audience, but fuck me if I don’t think Bill Rebane’s done gone ‘n’ done it! This video diaper-stuffing is so moronic it could get Dukes of Hazard fans to say “This movie’s kinda stupid.” This is the film that answers the question that absolutely nobody wanted answered: “What if that car from Knight Rider was a monster truck?” For some reason a guy and his tech-whiz fiance decide to put a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of artificial intelligence equipment into their monster truck, Mr. Twister. Three total dumbass auto mechanics decide they should steal it, and lowbrow idiotic mayhem ensues, with things blowing up, people running around in sped-up-like-a-silent-movie footage, and general behavior that makes you embarrassed to be part of the same species that created this. The human driver and the truck argue and exchange lame quips as they try to find the fiance, who’s been kidnapped. Meanwhile the would-be truck thieves are blowing up their own cars with rocket launchers and falling into outhouse pits. Everybody shoots guns a lot without hitting anything. People in cars or houses flattened by the truck emerge dirty but uninjured, kinda like Wile E. Coyote after a bomb goes off. Eventually a tank is brought in to go after the truck, but even that isn’t very interesting. Top it all off with the same 80’s music score that backed every generic direct-to-video movie back then and you’re left with a feculent mess that should only be viewed in the company of smartass-remark-making friends. Maybe the worst film of one of the all-time worst directors. At least you can get it really cheap as part of the 50-movie Drive-In Classics box set (it’s not listed on the back but was a last-minute swap for Fiend).

UFO Target Earth (C, 1974) aka Target Earth. Dry sci-fi has a researcher teaming up with a psychic to investigate UFO sightings in the backwoods. They determine that a flying saucer that lost power during a solar eclipse years earlier is still lying at the bottom of a lake. They philosophize about it, set up equipment that draws graphs we’re supposed to be impressed with because we have no clue what they’re supposed to mean, and then everyone gets fascinated by images on TV (they’re supposed to be pure-energy aliens but they look like what happens when you aim a video camera at its own monitor) which makes everyone babble a lot of hippie-sounding nonsense (“Fears create forms! Your fears create the forms you see! Cast them aside!” “It is you we seek. We are beyond the jaws of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind and bends upon itself to become the truth.”) Astoundingly boring no-budget junk that seems to have been plotted by some people who were tripping on ‘shrooms and thought they were making something profound. The dialogue is forced and artificial pretension by some Brainy Smurf who probably wanted to be writing mission statements instead. Maybe if you were completely baked you’d get something out of this waste of time but since I don’t do that shit I can’t swear to it. Available on the Nightmare Worlds 50 movie DVD set, or you could just eat some bad clams.

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