buncha movies 'n' a couple books

Nothing wildly original is occurring to me, but I'm still striving to be a workhorse, so I figured I’d toss a few reviews in here. Haven't proofread them much so they're probably sloppy. God, I hope so... messy is charmin'. If I could figure out a way to put feedback and reverb into prose, I'd do it. Eerrrreeeegggh.

First some movies:

Book Of Stone (C, 1969) aka El Libro de Piedra. Tragically obscure horror film from Mexico in which a woman is hired as a nanny to a little girl named Sylvia, who many consider mentally ill. The girl has a friend named Hugo who no one else ever sees. They think she’s formed an imaginary friend around a centuries-old statue of a little boy holding a huge book, but certain events (the recovery a necklace she lost in a river, prediction of events, knowledge of a long-destroyed Austrian town Hugo supposedly hails from) lead the nanny to believe that Hugo might be real, or that the statue is actually the petrified body of a wizard’s son, who was left to guard his father’s book of black magic spells. When little Sylvia starts making voodoo dolls (that work) and drawing pentagrams on the floor, they fear that Hugo is teaching her things, or perhaps possessing her, and things get dangerous. Atmospheric and creepy horror (some have compared it to The Innocents, which is apt) that rates highly on the scary scale (especially when that damn little Hugo starts showing up!) but has somehow slipped under the radar to such a degree that I can’t find mention of it in any horror reference book. That’s a shame, because this one really deserves to be seen, and I hope some DVD company will make the discovery and release it. It’s currently available as a DVD-R from notavailableondvd.com and you’re encouraged to go there and snag it. When you come across something this classic and nobody’s ever heard of it, you have to wonder what else may be luring out there, unseen. Chilling final shot.

Bryan Loves You (C, 2008) Yeah, well, I hate Bryan. The title of this no-budget, shot-on-video horror flick is very original and intriguing (I love horror titles that don’t sound like horror titles), but, alas, the goodness ends there. When reputable actors like George Wendt and Tony Todd showed up on screen, I became concerned about how their careers were doing, because this thing is a boring fucking mess that almost defies viewing. Lloyd Kaufmann, from Troma, also makes an appearance, like anybody gives a fuck if that jerk-off is around or not. Purporting to be “found footage” of a videotape a psychotherapist made to document a cult spreading in his town, it also includes bits supposedly shot by security cameras. The cult centers around a supposed messiah named Bryan, who was murdered by “the devil,” whose name is Tansy. Members of the Bryan cult often wear expressionless white masks with cracks painted on them, and deaths and insanity surround them. The psychotherapist is eventually institutionalized because people claim he’s crazy They try subjecting him to therapy that’s also indoctrination into the overbearing Bryan cult, which has no tolerance for nonbelievers. He tries to escape and eventually broken out by a resistance group of unbelievers. Living amidst the Baptist Taliban of the South, I can relate to his situation, but it’s still incredibly boring and so poorly told that it borders on nonsense. The camera lingers forever on the most uninteresting things imaginable (at one point the guy sets the camera down and we look at an easy chair in an empty house for over a minute) and the horrifying, disturbing, gruesome stuff Tony Todd’s grave warning prolog promised never shows up. The ending is a total non-ending, too, so your patience isn’t even rewarded with a payoff. When you combine hard-to-follow filmmaking with a hard-to-stay-interested-in storyline, you get something like this. I could probably have lived with it if it was on some cheapo 50-movie box set, but it’s ten frickin’ bucks, and I was sad to see it released by the once-mighty Anchor Bay. Anchor Bay, what the hell happened to you? The commentary track shuts off 15 minutes before it’s done with a fake assault, but I suspect the truth is that not even the filmmakers felt like sitting through it. Borrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnnnnng.

Cannibal Curse (C, 1987) aka Curse, Chu Nv Jiang. Wacky Hong Kong witchcraft flick. First, a young woman married to an evil letch in a wheelchair tries to find a way out of her terrible situation by having a witch marry her to her secret lover’s corpse. Then, apparently reincarnated, she seeks his reincarnated form. Meanwhile, her cousin gets mixed up with a laughing sorcerer who looks like an Asian version of Bootsy Collins, who runs a tribe of cannibalistic dwarfs. The sorcerer helps her win her man (even though he turns out to be married) on the promise that she give him her body. She doesn’t keep her end of the bargain, so he casts a snake spell on her lover. A Taoist priest tries to battle the evil sorcerer but is overwhelmed, so his virgin daughter tries to get revenge by having sex with the sorcerer (which consists of him sucking her toes and then puking up frogs and worms while snakes slither out of his split-open belly). Despite some lurid craziness, particularly at the climax, this would be tedious under the best of circumstances… and the Video Asia DVD is far from the best circumstances. The copy they used on the Grindhouse Experience Presents Eye On Horror set is in Chinese, and the soundtrack has a horrible echo problem throughout. The subtitles are badly translated, and are mostly unreadable since they’re off the bottom of the screen. If your DVD player has a shrink-screen option, that helps. Also very handy is the fast-forward button, or, better yet, eject.

Ghostwatch (C, 1992) A big scary Halloween prank the BBC played on the United Kingdom, which provoked some controversial panic (and even got written up in the British Medical Journal for having caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children). Shot documentary-style and presented as a live newscast, using actual BBC newscasters as actors, this is a supposedly-live feed from an extremely haunted house, and the supernatural activity (perpetrated by a spirit called “Pipes,” because a little girl misunderstood her mom’s explanation of the poltergeist’s knocking sounds as being “pipes”) escalates, enters the BBC studios, and supposedly spreads through the broadcast into the homes of viewers across the country. The film expertly manipulates the tension, building intensity, then providing some relief by revealing an apparent hoax… right before everything gets even more horrific, involving possession and spreading the phenomena around until no place seems safe, including your own living room. The film uses a lot of subtlety, not showing you much, just giving you some brief, almost-subliminal glimpses of the ghost. By the end this thing’s DAMN scary and that’s even when you know it’s not real; I can’t even imagine how badly freaked out the original viewers who got War of the Worlds-ed with this thing must have been. And the filmmakers wanted to mess with them even further by hiding high pitched noises in the soundtrack, which would be inaudible to humans but would make your pets go running around the house! This thing needs an official U.S. DVD release badly (I got a DVD-R from notavailableondvd.com) but so far it’s only on region 2. I believe you can watch it online in pieces at YouTube. See it any way you can, because this predecessor to Blair Witch-style horror really delivers.

Kill Them All And Come Back Alone (C, 1968) aka Ammazzali Tutti E Torna Solo, Go Kill Everybody And Come Back Alone. Action-packed Spaghetti Western in which Chuck Connors is contracted by the Confederacy to put together a “Dirty Half Dozen”-style team of unusually-talented mercenaries capable of stealing a fortune in gold coins that the Yankees are hiding inside sticks of dynamite. Chuck’s team is made up of a super-strong guy named Bogard, an Indian/Mexican knife expert creatively named Blade, a pole-vaulting acrobat called The Kid, a dynamite expert named Deker who uses an air-gun bazooka that looks like a banjo, a gun expert named Hoagy, and a ruthless spy named Lynch. Connors is directed to kill everyone else on his team once the mission is completed. He betrays them, all right, but doesn’t kill them, which could prove to be a mistake. In fact, he’s kind of lucky when he and the rest of them are captured and sent to a Union labor camp. O’ course they eventually escape and scramble to be the last man standing with the gold. Good stuff directed by Enzo G. Castellari.

Let The Right One In (C, 2008) aka Lat den ratte komma in. A wimpy picked-on 12-year-old named Oskar finds a new friend in Eli, the creepy weird girl next door. She can work Rubik’s cubes almost instantly, doesn’t seem to feel the cold, and sometimes has a nasty smell, but since all the kids in his school are hateful to him he still falls instantly in love with the repellent girl. He doesn’t know that Eil is actually a vampire, and her father has been murdering and draining people to keep her fed. It’s a very well-made film (although it backs up my theory that everybody believes slow pacing and sterile atmosphere instantly means art) and is very highly-praised, and I can understand reasons why even though I’ve got to admit I’m not sure what the big deal is. There’s nothing even slightly unpredictable in the story and it went exactly where I thought it would, and the characters and situations are comic-bookish and patently manipulative. That may sound like I’m dogging the film, but I’m not; I liked it fine, even though I’m pretty worn out with the tired, done-to-death vampire genre, and think they did a great job with it. I just don’t know why it’s special: we’ve seen this story before in everything from Little Shop of Horrors to Basket Case. I guess it grabbed people who are into adolescent-alienation-love-stories more than I am, because I thought they overdid the shmaltz a bit. I do like that they left some things vague (is the guy killing for Eli her father? Or did he start when he was Oskar’s age? Is she even a girl?). Still, this may be the least-glowing review of it you’ll find, and I’m still telling you it’s really good and you should see it, so, there you go.

The Punisher: War Zone (C, 2008) aka The Punisher 2, The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank. After the Thomas Jane film that de-emphasized action, this sequel dispensed with plot for the most part and got a new Punisher (Ray Stevenson). I like Thomas Jane but he wasn’t really right for the part; Ray is better, but Dolph Lundgren is still my hands-down favorite. I’m in a vast minority on this one, but thought Dolph’s non-acting really worked for the character. Anyway, this one gives you the origin of Jigsaw, and sees the usually-absolutist Punisher facing a moral crisis when eh mistakenly kills an FBI agent. Jigsaw and his homicidal maniac brother Loonie Bin Jim go after the Punisher… which is convenient since he’s also looking for them anyway. What’s not so convenient is that Jigsaw has recruited all the criminals into the city into one big army intent on killing the Punisher. This movie had one aspect that annoyed me to the point of distraction : some fashionista fool in wardrobe mistakenly thought it’d be cool-looking if the Punisher had a big funnel-like collar on his coat, almost like one of those things the vet puts on your dog to keep him from gnawing at his wounds. It’s like a spacesuit with the helmet off, so he always looks like a guy peeking out of a manhole. I guess it’s supposed to be body armor, but if that’s the case, why not a helmet, too? He never wears that collar thing in the comics… because he’d look like a clown there, too. Anyway, it’s so stupid-looking it compromises the bad-assedness of the movie… which is less than some of the comics, anway. There’s still a ridiculous amount of graphic violence but someone seemed intent on showing Frank Castle’s softer side, having him interact with little girls and what-not. Some of the mayhem is silly, too, such as hanging upside down from a chandelier and letting recoil spin you around. Probably fun, might look nifty, but the accuracy of your fire would be zilch-nada-fuckall. Anyway, this still isn’t perfect and you’re still better off with the comics, but it’s not bad.

Punk’s Not Dead (C, 2007) Documentary on punk rock is amazingly comprehensive; no band gets covered for more than a few seconds because they interviewed and got footage of so many of them, from the classic to the obscure, from the really important bands that built the genre to the pop-punk posers who (however sincerely) cashed in and capitalized on it, to little bands in strange little place in the world who are probably getting the entirety of their 15 seconds of fame right here. I’m not even going to try to name all the bands because it’s so exhaustive and the movie’s not really about any of them, but just about punk rock as a whole -- how it was born, grew, mutated, and still lives and thrives in various forms, from mall bands to hardcore units that are still very much underground. If you’re not a punk this is an education, and if you are it’s a celebration; I felt happy just recognizing so much of the music (at least until they got to the mall band section). Well-made and perfect for viewers with short attention spans.

Sinful Dwarf, The (C, 1973) aka Abducted Bride, Dvaergen. Twisted sex sickie in which a scar-faced former showgirl and her crippled dwarf son (Torben, host of a children’s TV show in Denmark, who looks like Jack Black’s Mini-Me) run a boarding house with a brothel in the attic. The women staffing the brothel aren’t willing participants; they’ve been abducted and hooked on heroin, and occasionally get whipped. A young couple of meager means unwittingly rent a room there until they can find someplace better, and they get spied on by the always-leering-and-smiling dwarf while his mother and her old friend get drunk and sing show tunes all day, and the white-slave harem suffer from smack-jonesing. The dwarf and his mom are also involved in smuggling heroin in teddy bears. Eventually the wife of the renting couple figures out something’s going on and that gets her chained up in the attic as part of the prostitute stable. Even though they make it look like she’s run away, her husband gets a clue. Can he rescue her from the perverted hell she’s landed in? Crude and highly unpleasant film looks like it was mostly shot in some dirty basement, and dwells on lots of full-frontal nudity and Torben’s ability to make disturbing faces. The fact that he giggles and plays with toys whenever he’s not mistreating women makes it all worse. This was a really-seen “holy grail” film for a lot of exploitation movie fans, but once it was released on DVD and they got to see how soulless and mean-spirited it is, they usually learned to be careful what they wish for. No gore but disturbing, especially to people who have a fear of dwarfs (as ridiculous as that is).

There Will Be Blood (C, 2007) aka Oil! When this movie first came out I thought it was going to be some kind of blatant Saw ripoff, since the title is one of Saw II’s promo lines. It’s a weird title, especially since it’s an adaptation of a book by a major author (Oil by Upton Sinclair). Daniel Day Lewis is an ambitious oil man who’s misanthropically building an empire even at the cost of his humanity. At first he’s pretty single-minded but still has sparks of kindness (adopting the son of a friend killed in an on-the-job accident) and can be charming, even if psychopathically, but the more successful he gets the colder her becomes. As a foil he has an ambitious young preacher/ faith healer who’s trying to build an empire of his own, and his aggression is more passive but nearly as nasty. The conflict between the two heats up when the oil man’s son is stricken deaf in an accident, which also starts Lewis’s alienation from his son, and escalates it against the rest of the world. The fierce (and unreasonable) competitive nature in him increases his misery the more successful he gets, until his fortune becomes a hell. This is a very well-made (if overly slowpaced) film and watching Lewis’s performance (he really does seem more at home at the beginning of the 20th century than in the 21st) is the drive of the film. It was a major Oscar contender, and it is a great film, but it’s flawed in that Lewis’ actions never really seem to stem from anything or are built from anything. He seems to just occasionally snap into actions without real motivation, and that weakens the message. Sometimes the artistic nature of the film also becomes self-conscious and false. But despite this it’s a great-looking film and it’s oddly more absorbing than anything so long and uneventful has a right to be. The cinematography’s great and helps you stay locked-on even though there are long stretches with no dialogue. A bit overrated but definitely worth a look.

What We Do Is Secret (C, 2008) Biopic about Darby Crash and the Germs is pretty well done and appropriately messy, just like the Germs’ music and Darby’s brief life. Shane West does a good job depicting Darby, although if you’ve ever seen any live footage of the Real Darby, West cleans his performances up a good bit and makes him more articulate. It barely touches on Darby’s Machiavellian tendencies and his plans for cultish world conquest, and it also nearly avoids any mention of Darby’s latent homosexuality, which was some contributing factor to Darby’s destructiveness and suicide. These things being left out robs the film of much potential depth, and what you’re mainly left with is a tale of struggling and barely competent band who amassed a huge following despite being banned from every venue in town, and how Darby took a lot of drugs and didn’t seem to really know what he wanted to do with his band and his fame, despite all of his talk of five-year-plans and assurances that he knew what he was doing. Best suited for Germs fans; even though it’s very well-acted and almost perfectly cast, it’s pretty much the same story you’ve heard before (be it from punk rock or stuff like Bad Company’s “Shooting Star”) and isn’t likely to intrigue many people who aren’t punk fans.

As a bonus, a few books….

A Dull Roar: What I Did On My Summer Deracination 2006
- Henry Rollins, 2.13.61, 2006. Today I’d told myself I was going to read some Henry James today (I hate Henry James but I still force myself to read some every once in a while just as a discipline exercise), but I veered off and read a much more entertaining Henry instead… which is ironic, ‘cuz Rollins’ life seems to be one big long discipline exercise and he derailed me from mine. I’m not quite done with it yet but I’m far enough to review it. If you’ve read any of his journals before, you know what to expect from this one. He is obsessive and revisits the same topics over and over again; he’s pretty much the Greta Garbo of punk rock with the constant “I want to be alone” shtick, and if I had a nickel for every time he defensively writes “I don’t hate people” (trying to convince himself more than us, I think) then this book would have been free. Yet despite this repetitive stuff, I can hardly put the book down, just like his other books. This one covers his work on the movie Wrong Turn 2, his IFC TV show, and a tour the reunited Rollins band did in support of X. Tours for Henry involve a helluva lot of physical training, and that’s detailed, too, as is his righteous anger at the Bush administration. And, as often happens, there’s a lot of Henry’s fascination with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night. I think he’s secretly trying to convince me to read that book. If you haven’t liked his other books you won’t like this one, either, but as for me, I always like spending time with good ol’ Hank. *** ½

A Feast Of Snakes - Harry Crews, Scribners Paperbacks, 1976. Redneck slice of life… if you really want to call that a life. A big rattlesnake roundup in Mystic, Georgia is the scene of all sorts of degenerate tragedy (or what might be tragic if the people it was happening to were worth a damn) when dissatisfaction catches up with some of the locals. One guy gets his dick cut off by a demented would-be girlfriend with a snake fixation. Another guy, Joe Lon Mackey, figures out that his glory days were over when he was done with high school football, and the sullen anger inspired by all he has left is set to explode. And his soulless father is not faring much better with his dog-fighting business, and Joe Lon’s girlfriends are still obsessed with baton twirling even though their high school majorette careers are over, too. This is a well-written, existential drama of hellish lives, everyday horror, and black humor, and even though it’s an unflattering picture of the South there’s a lot more truth in it (about certain segments of Southern society, at least) than many would like to admit. *** ½

1 comment:

  1. Great post, as always. I just saw Let the Right One In, and I loved it. That climactic pool scene at the end absolutely kicked my ass. Every single would-be director who wants to make a horror film should be forced to watch this scene so they'll know better what to show on screen and (way more importantly) what NOT to show on screen for maximimum effect. Also: if anyone reads this who will then go watch ...Right One..., do yourself a favor and watch the Swedish version with English subtitles. The English-overdub version is hard to take seriously. Also also: There Will Be Blood is one bona fide badass flick, and (sorry for the running theme) its closing scene is one of the best of all time. Whew.