4.26.2009

"Constable, off with those pants!" : a massive influx of movie reviews

Did a bunch of 'em this time, even though I used so much space just ratfucking Dondi I think I could've left it at that and nobody would've called me lazy. Same for Killers Of The Sea. Booyah!

American Hardcore (C, 2006) Film documentary version of Stephen Blush’s excellent book chronicling the rise and decline of hardcore punk in America includes interviews with tons of people from classic 80’s punk bands, as well as vintage film clips that I’m surprised they could dig up (Void! Negative Approach! SSD! Flipper!). They cover most of the core bands, like Black Flag and Bad Brains and D.O.A., but some are conspicuous by their absence -- like where’s Government Issue, Husker Du, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, etc.? It’s incomplete, but face it: this is a movie for a very specific audience, and we’d still be wanting more of it if it was ten hours long. I’m already wishing for another volume of outtakes and more concert footage; this stuff is historical artifactage, it needs to be preserved somewhere. Some punks complained that the film (and the book) concentrated too much on the violence, but, face it, that was a part of the scene, and if you’re relating stories the violent incidents are going to stand out as interesting. The filmmakers obviously have done their homework and have a lot of passion for the subject. How infectious that is I can’t say, since I’m already heavily into the music -- I don’t know how drawn to this anyone would be if they weren’t interested in punk. But it’s well-made. Hype, the film about grunge, would make a good second feature for this, since that’s where history led.

Beach of the War Gods (C, 1973) aka Zhan Shen Tan, Blood Dragon. The Japanese are invading China and are headed for Li Town, demanding an exorbitant sum of money from the penniless villagers. Jimmy Wang Yu, looking all of twelve years old despite some press-on beard stubble, is a mysterious swordsman who can kill them by the dozens. Since a whole army is coming, though, he starts recruiting an army of super-warriors, including a sword salesman and a guy who has throwing knives strapped all over his body. They start training the villagers with swords and spears, but only have a week to get their little civilian army in fighting shape. The last almost-hour is constant gang fighting, nicely choreographed and complete with blood-spray. The end is legendary, and Wang Yu would repeat it in at least one other movie (I won’t tell you which one since you may have seen it and that’d spoil this one for you). One of the great kung fu flicks, and unfortunately pretty tough to track down; somebody should release this in a more widespread fashion, ‘cuz it’s worthy.

Bobby G. Can’t Swim (C, 1999) aka Drug Dealer. Bobby is a squirrelly, nothin’-happenin’ cokehead who happens across the score of his small-time life: some people he knows want to buy a whole kilo of cocaine. All Bobby has to do is get his hands on one and then he can make $15,000 on the markup. That’s not quite as easy as it sounds, though, because the buyers are amateur and skittish, and they get him in a tough spot with the dealer he’s buying the key from. If Bobby doesn’t bring the dealer his money in an hour, he’s going to be killed. Then Bobby gets hassled by the cops, loses the drugs, and has to pull off a hit-man killing to get enough money to pay off the dealer… but then the guy who set him up with the hit job doesn’t pay him for it, and real desperation sets in. Then Bobby finally finds some luck… but it may not all be the good kind. This film is very low-budget, but because the filmmaking is very confident the budget actually works in its favor, adding street-level authenticity. You get the sense that director/writer/star John-Luke Montias may have been channeling his desperation to get the film made into his portrayal of Bobby. It’s got a Mean Streets thing going (but non-derivative; most people making this film would have tried to ape Tarrantino or Guy Richie, but I can’t tell that Montias has ever heard of them -- and that’s a good thing) and manages to balance crime drama with an undercurrent of absurd humor (like when ever-scheming-but-na├»ve (or maybe even slightly good-hearted) Bobby accepts a “rare” bowling ball as payment for a deal and gets stuck kicking the silly thing around the streets); it reminds me of a Jason Starr novel (which is also a good thing). I found this for three bucks at Big Lots and took a chance on it, not expecting much, and it turned out to be a nice, unpretentious surprise.

DeadHouse (C, 2005) I mainly watched this because years before it was made I wrote an (unpublished) novel by the same name. I’m proud to say my plot bears no resemblance to theirs but I still want my title back. This is one of those generic shot-on-video horror cheapies that have been oversaturating the market lately, and it’s one of the many Texas Chainsaw-inspired ones. A carload of trendy twenty-somethings are on a road trip when they run into a family of butchers who are killing travelers for their meat. Fear gives the meat flavor, so they torture and terrorize them first, but not in any particularly original way. The cast is made up mostly of overweight nu-metal fans, and their “Leatherface” stand-in looks borrowed from Slipknot, complete with scary-clown mask, electrical tape on his arms, and duct tape on his clothes -- you know, all the stuff you’d take time to do if you were a fashion-conscious psycho. Everybody seems off-balance in this movie; bumping into a stick knocks one guy down, the Slipknot guy gets temporarily felled by a couple of taps from a yardstick-sized scrap of board, and a poke in the nuts leaves another killer incapacitated long enough for a girl to untie all her friends. The killers are so clumsy that the chase scenes that may up too much of the too-long running time don’t have much impact. Slipknot dude grasps for one girl like he’s trying to pick up a bar of soap, and she gets away easily. The main bad thing about the movie, though, is that you can’t hear much of the dialogue. It’s badly recorded to begin with, and then they bury it under omnipresent synth-pop. One not-terrible-but-not-special-either song with lyrics gets played over several scenes. The gore is the usual blood-splashed-around stuff. This isn’t the worst shot-on-video horror flick I’ve ever seen -- unfortunately it’s about dead-average -- but it’s hardly worth the time. It’s cheap enough, though, as part of the Catacomb of Creepshows 50-movie DVD pack.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (C, 1977) Bizarre cult item, popularized by comedian Patton Oswalt, who built an entire comedy bit around the mere fact that such a film exists. Even though I love the concept of Patton’s sequel, Rape Stove, this movie isn’t nearly as bad as Patton would have you believe. The film is intentionally absurd because it’s using dream-logic, like a filmed nightmare. And even though it’s played pretty straight, it does realize how wacky its premise is and has a sense of humor about itself (such as the scene where the bed gets a bottle of Pepto Bismol). Centuries ago, a demon built a bed in which to seduce a maiden, but he accidentally killed her and he wept tears of blood onto the bed, which gave it a weird form of life, and a constant hunger. Anything placed on the bed gets sucked into it (usually with a bunch of dissolving acid bubbles), where it gets digested. There are lots of scenes of digestion inside the bed, everything from apples to chicken legs to suitcases fizzing away in yellow liquid like a deep fryer. And, of course, people, or this wouldn’t be much of a horror film. The bed can also do magical things like transport the bones of the people it eats to the ground outside the castle, where roses grow over them. The movie is narrated by a man who’s trapped behind a painting in the bedroom. There’s not much plot, just people visiting the castle and being eaten by the bed, often after having nightmares while sleeping on it. When you have this much style you don’t need a lot of plot, though, and the film is artistically shot (though not too pretentious to use blood) and has some decent special effects. It’s not to be taken too seriously, but it’s no spoof, either, and it’s a lot better than the title would lead you to believe. Lots of surreal atmosphere and a definite originality makes up for the goofy premise and leisurely pacing, and some of the imagery -- while absurd -- is effectively horrific, such as a guy calmly watching his skeletonized hands fall apart. Patton’s routine is hilarious, but I’m not sure he’s seen the actual movie.


Dondi (B&W, 1961) Goshers, movie-review-reader buddies, this is as awful as you’ve heard! Usually you can’t trust the inept and pathetically-deranged Michael Medved for anything, but, for once, he was right about something when he gave this a Golden Turkey. Even the blind hand finds the grain, as they say. I’m still surprised he didn’t like it, though, since it does pay a lot of respect to God (“Mr. Big Buddy.”) When you can get Medved to dis a God-friendly film, you know it’s bad! A group of happy-go-lucky G.I. buddies stuck in Italy for Christmas take in a pathetic orphan named Dondi, who speaks just enough English to form highly annoying (though I’m sure they were scripted to be “cute”) sentences, such as “Buddies! Where are you? Is me, Dondi!” and "Is okay if I hungry too?" As portrayed by David Kory, who is to acting what an anvil is to swimming, Dondi appears brain-damaged. He mouth-breathes, incoherently projects his lines through his clogged nose, and has the expressionless black eyes of a stunned carp. You know that flat-effect stare that a sociopath gives you when you confront them? He has that perpetually. The G.I.’s (headed by David Jansen, who I suspect was being blackmailed to appear in this, possibly for killing a pregnant nun) head home on leave, all feeling guilty about leaving Dondi behind (even though they should have felt like a curse had been lifted). But, like a bad case of the syph, Dondi proves hard to get rid of. He stows away on their ship and his buddy-buddies sneakily manage to keep him hidden and fed (Dondi helps himself a lot in that regard by looming over people’s plates and drooling while they’re eating, or commenting “Is it okay if soup smelling good, Mr. Dealy-Buddy?” - he’s as subtle as prison rape, this kid). Just in case you miss any of the subtleties in the humor, the soundtrack prompts you with constant and obnoxious harmonica cues; it’s like some asshole’s doing an interpretive mouth-harp commentary track through the whole thing… and WILL NOT STOP, DAMN HIM! When they get to port, Dondi’s smuggled off in a duffel bag and promptly gets lost on the streets of New-York-Buddy. Descending on the city like a plague, he wanders around looking stoned and trying to get ladies out of televisions, trying to eat grapes off of people’s hats, spreading terror as he tries to climb the down escalator, misunderstanding elevators, or trying to pick fights with mannequins. Meanwhile all of New York is inexplicably falling in love with him, Patti Page is singing sappy songs about him, and everyone's dropping everything to write their congressmen to grant him citizenship (hmmm, maybe this is why Medved hates the movie - it’s pro-immigration!), when they don’t even know him. Walter Winchell even declares Dondi to be “Democracy itself!” The filmmakers actually have the temerity to try to wring sentiment out of this nursing-home-fire of a film. David Kory, with the emotional range of a pumpkin and all the charm of toilet backwash, really must be seen to be believed. Is it really so wrong to hate a child? Only as wrong as it is to hate an abscess. This was based on a forgotten newspaper comic strip; I guess they couldn’t get the rights to Mary Worth or Mark Trail. It’s awful but you should watch it anyway, because surely you have some sins to account for, and after this, you will feel cleansed. It’s a purgative, this film. Available on DVD-R from notavailableondvd.com (their print looks like a 3rd generation copy of an EP-speed taped TV broadcast, but considering Criterion isn’t likely to scrape this one off the curb, it’s probably as good as you’ll find). There were rumors of a sequel being made (Oh Shit, It’s Dondi would be a good title) and even a TV series, but that cataclysmic event fortunately never happened. And if anybody out there ever thinks of doing a remake… don’tdi!

Female Demon Ohyaku (B&W, 1968) aka Yoen Dokufuden Hannya No Ohyaku, Ohyaku: The Female Demon. First in the “Legends of the Poisonous Seductress” series, and the only one in black and white and also considered the first “Pinky Violence” film. Ohyaku survives an attempt by her prostitute mother to drown them both, and Ohyaku grows up to be a prostitute herself. She resents being used by men, though, and when she falls in love with a down-on-his-luck young samurai, she beings a life of crime. While trying to rob a gold shipment, they’re captured. Her boyfriend is killed and she’s tortured by being hung by her hair over a fire, and then is sent to prison. She swears to become a demon to get revenge, and has a demon tattooed on her back by a lesbian admirer. When Ohyaku does go for her vengeance, it’s cruel, ruthless, and bloody. Pretty surprising Japa-nasty is compelling and very well made, and it doesn’t balk at any cold-bloodedness. Ohyaku uses her beauty as well as her sword skill, and is amoral about tricking people into dire situations; a definite anti-heroine. Lone Wolf & Cub’s Tomisaburo Wakayama has a part as a crime boss.

The Golem (B&W, 1920) aka Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt Kam, The Golem: How He Came Into The World. An edict is passed in 16th century Prague, demanding that all Jews leave the city because they supposedly practice black magic. Oblivious to the irony of the act, Rabbi Loew builds a giant out of clay and uses black magic to bring it to life to protect the Jews from their persecutors. During a magic-circle ritual, the floating head of the demon Astaroth belches smoke which gives the Rabbi a magic word (AemAet, if you’d like to play along at home) that, when written down and stuck to the clay statue’s chest, gives it life. The Rabbi uses the Golem as a servant, having it chop wood and fetch water and groceries from the market, but then takes it to the king’s court, where it saves everyone from the wrath of God (in the form of a collapsing roof) when everyone laughs at the Rabbi’s magical infomercial about the history of Jews. In exchange for being saved, the king withdraws the edict. The troubles aren’t over, though, because the stars fall into bad alignment and the Golem becomes filled with Astaroth’s destructive rage. The Rabbi deactivates it, but his assistant revives it to make it deal with the guy his would-be girlfriend (the Rabbi’s daughter) is seeing. The angry Golem goes on a killing spree and abducts the Rabbi’s daughter and starts burning down the ghetto. Can the Jews stop the menace that formerly was their protector? An amazing-looking silent film with stylized, German-expressionistic sets and costumes, all masterfully photographed by Karl Freund. Director Paul Wegener also portrays the Golem, who looks really impressive even though his giant hair-helmet is a tad silly-looking. His lumbering movements and a scene with a child would prove to be a big influence on James Whales’s Frankenstein a decade later.

Harlem Rides The Range (B&W, 1939) All-black-cast Western looks crude from a technical side, but it does a better job of being entertaining than most of its white contemporaries. Thin, dapper-dressing singing cowboy Bob Blake and his always-hungry (at one point he eats a can of dog food!) sidekick Dusty take a break from riding and they discover bloodstains in a cabin. The owner of a radium mine was murdered there when he wouldn’t tell the location of the mine and sign it over to a crime boss. The bad guys take advantage of Blake’s losing a glove (shades of O.J.!)to pin the murder on him. That doesn’t work out, so the murdered man’s daughter is taken captive. Blake’s fallen in love with a picture of her, so he breaks out of jail to save her. Moves quickly (it better at 55 minutes long) and the plot stays more on-point than many creaky old oaters. There are a few scenes that would probably be considered stereotypical racism if they weren’t in an all-black movie (guys running around because they’re scared of ghosts, etc.) The picture on the DVD is so rough it looks like it was filmed in newsprint, but considering the rarity of the film I can deal with that.

Inglorious Bastards (C, 1978) aka Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato, Counterfeit Commandos, Deadly Mission, G. I. Bro, Hell’s Heroes, The Dirty Bastard. Spaghetti-war-flick blending of The Dirty Dozen (with just half that many guys) and Kelly’s Heroes sees a handful of criminal misfits who escape on their way to being court-martialed. There’s Fred Williamson, who accidentally killed a racist sergeant, Bo Svenson, a hotshot pilot who used his plane to visit a girlfriend in London, a long-haired scrounger who looks like a refugee from Black Sabbath, a sadistic jerk from the Chicago mob, a coward, and a German deserter. They’re all trying to escape to Switzerland, but on the way they kill a group of guys they think are Germans, but who are actually American paratroopers on their way to a secret mission. So our anti-heroes find themselves roped into a very dangerous mission, hijacking a train carrying V-2 rocket technology. It’s pretty standard plot wise, basically a vehicle for action scenes, which are pretty excellent stuff, and almost nonstop. Quentin Tarrantino was so impressed with this that he lifted the title for a war movie of his own. Directed by Italian crime film specialist Enzo G. Castellari.

Killers of the Sea (B&W, 1937) Incredibly bombastic narration (the most overblown I’ve ever heard) and some appalling racist “humor” make this 49-minute documentary a jaw-dropping experience. Based in Panama City, Florida, Captain Wallace Caswell is a constable and hunter of ocean predators that foul up the local fishing business. Caswell is described in heroic terms that would embarrass a god. He’s killed sharks with only a knife! He has muscles of steel! Even his binoculars are astoundingly wonderful (“they see far and clear!”). And he has a black cook named Evolution (“Look at Evolution, dark Evolution, humorous Evolution!”) who has a wooden leg and provides bug-eyed comedy relief that Steppin Fetchit would have passed up as too demeaning. Between fights with fish everybody dances around the boat to accordion music (“All week before going into action, Caswell likes to hear a jolly song, a salty sailorman tune! He’s a musical constable! So let the tune ring out with a shout and a fling!”) The first sea creature he goes after is hardly dangerous -- a bottlenose dolphin. (“The constable takes off his pants, a tell-tale sign! Trousers would never do for fish fighting! So when you see Caswell climbing out of those pants, that means the battle is about to begin, man versus monster!”) This is supposed to take place far out at sea but you can tell it’s staged in waist-deep water. When it gets away, the bastards harpoon it, and the narrator gushes about “fun.” For killing Flipper, one of the most lovable of all animals! I guess if they slapped a child they'd have a hoe-down. When the dolphin gets in the boat with a black sailor, the narrator says “That darkie sailor is having a whale of a time! What colored man ever dreamed of having a leviathan in his boat?” Then they harpoon a hammerhead shark, which keeps raising hell on the boat even after they cut its head half-off. Then Caswell goes after a tiger shark with only a knife, which looks like ill-advised showboating. When birds spot schools of fish, the narrator declares “We are guided by boobies!” How true that is. Then, they kill sea turtles (“Science says a sea turtle can live without a brain, as some international statesmen do!”) and a guy in a diving suit finds a sunken ship and a herd of octopus, which the narrator hates (“like a horrible symbol of sin… fantastically odious… unmitigated ferocity! The octopus is so fierce that the devil fish, when hungry, has been known to attack one of its own tentacles and devour its own arm!”) In the wreck is a skeleton and a chest, just in case you thought this wasn’t set up. A turtle and octopus attack and obviously-stuffed diving suit, so, knife in his teeth, Caswell dives in to save the day. The whole thing’s shot silent with occasional faked dialogue. At times you see the narrator at a desk staring off into space and talking. Truly jaw-dropping old curio that must be seen to be believed, with many obviously faked scenes. “Constable, off with those pants!” Available only as an oddly-chosen part of the Night Screams 50-movie DVD pack.

Madmen of Mandoras (B&W, 1968) aka The Amazing Mr. H, The Return of Mr. H. This is the film that was reworked and had newer footage (clumsily) added and was retitled to the much-more-exploitable They Saved Hitler’s Brain. Thanks to the miracle of low-budget DVD the original version is available again, and it’s a lot more comprehensible and seems less ridiculous, although it’s still pretty bad (mostly due to bad choices that retard the pacing). A couple get caught up in international intrigue when they’re whisked away to a small South American country, where a cabal of neo-Nazis are still taking orders from the reanimated head of Adolph Hitler, which is being kept alive in a fancy fish tank. Their main mission is to destroy the formula for the antidote to some super nerve-gas they’re planning to unleash. It’s hard to have much faith in their competence, though, when they can’t even get their swastikas to point in the right direction. There’s a lot of talk, and if you’re into extended shots of people getting into and out of cars and then driving around in the dark (no matter what time of the day they get into the car it’s dark when they drive; I guess the rear-projection needed a new bulb), then this is pornography for you. The Hitler head, blinking and smirking in a jar atop a Ham radio, is the highlight, but they don’t show it much, and you’re left with a lot of driving around. More dull-bad than funny-bad.

Mudhoney (B&W,1965) aka Mud Honey, Rope of Flesh, Rope, Rope of Love. Russ Meyer films this depression-era backwoods sex-and-violence like it’s the cover of a Erskine Caldwell paperback come to life. Calif McKinney is hitchhiking from Michigan to California and is so hard up for work that he takes an $8-a-month job at a farm of ill repute. His boss is a sadistic wife-beating drunk, and Calif soon has designs on his neglected wife. Meanwhile, the drunk is hanging around at the local whorehouse even though he’s got no money. He plans to steal his wife’s money once she inherits it from her ailing uncle, but the uncle decides she’d be better off with Calif. An evil fanatical preacher makes things even worse… and they don’t need any help in that regard, since the drunk is rapidly losing his sanity and becoming a homicidal maniac Meyer has a flair for backwoods grotesquerie, and makes this sleazy drama pretty much essential. Amazingly, Turner Classic Movies shows this from time to time.

Neither The Sea Nor The Sand (C, 1972) aka The Exorcism of Hugh. An unhappy woman meets a man on the Jersey shore (that’s Britain Jersey, not Sopranos Jersey) and is immediately smitten with him despite there being no reason to be, since he’s not all that handsome and has a cold, sullen personality. They have an affair, and while doing the obligatory romantic-movie running-down-the-beach scene he has a heart attack and dies. He promptly shows up again, though, and she never questions how or why, she’s just happy about it. He doesn’t talk anymore, just stares a lot. She manages to work around that, until he starts to rot, and his kisses almost make her throw up. The decay gets worse and she wants to break up, but he wants her to join him in death…. Very slow-moving and not very eventful, but it’s atmospheric and kinda creepy. It was very hard to see until they finally released it on DVD.

Quick-Draw Okatsu (C, 1969) aka Yoen Dokufuden: Hitokiri Okatsu. Trying to help her brother escape from gangsters, a female swordsmanship teacher is raped by a crime lord. Her father is tortured to death, upping the ante for vengeance. Escaping from a life of being a forced concubine with the help of a cute swordsgirl drifter, she sets out to avenge herself against her father’s killer. Tomisaburo Wakayama (wearing a sort of samurai-modified leisure suit) is a badass bounty hunter who’s after her. Second in the “Legends of the Poisonous Seductress” series (which I can’t really understand, since it bears no relation to the first - Female Demon Ohyaku) and is full of excellent and sometimes gory swordfighting.

Who Can Kill A Child? (C, 1976) aka Quien Puede Matar un a un Nino?, Island of the Damned, Death is Child’s Play, Island of Death, Lucifer’s Curse, The Killer’s Playground, Trapped, Would You Kill a Child? A couple vacationing in Spain decide to rent a boat for a side trip to a small island, which is supposed to be really charming. When they arrive, however, things are very strange. The streets and shops are deserted, and the only people around are weird, unfriendly children. The phones ring with someone speaking Dutch on the other end, and while trying to track down the caller the husband starts finding dead bodies and children using a dead adult as a pinata. He comes to the realization that the children have murdered all adults on the island, possibly as retaliation for all the pre-adolescent “collateral damage” that grown-ups kill in their wars. The wife is pregnant, so she might be spared the wrath of the kids, but any other adult left on the island will have to reconcile themselves to the idea of killing children in self-defence. If you’re accustomed to killer-kids movies being somewhat laughable (such as The Children or Devil Times Five), then you’ll be extra shocked at how incredible this filme is at building menace, tension, and dread; these kids are scary, and the film maintains a Night of the Living Dead sort of vibe, and wait for adults to try getting past them. The film leaves a lot unexplained, and is all the more effective for it. Very intense horror gratefully rescued from obscurity by DVD, and will hopefully become regarded as a classic, as it deserves. Fearless in its taboo-breaking and powerful in its ability to shock, a must see in Spanish horror, very well shot and directed.

The Woodland Haunting 2 (C, 2006) A homemade shot-on-video horror comedy that achieves absolutely nothing; it’s brutally unfunny, it damnsure ain’t scary, and what little story there is doesn’t really hang together well enough to even allow me to give it much of a synopsis. It’s something about an Elvis impersonator who researches psychic phenomena trying to investigate a house haunted by a certain Baker family, who lived on potatoes. Meanwhile, some woman (played by a guy in drag) is battling the forces of evil which come in the form of a Betty Boop doll, a flying tampon (still in its wrapper - they’re not that gross) and some green popcorn. At one point they briefly (and pointlessly) do a rip-off of The Ring, just to make another fart joke. Then Elvis gets chased briefly by a Sasquatch (which you don’t even see), simply because some goon making the movie mistakenly thought, “Boy, wouldn’t it be hilarious if Bigfoot chased Elvis?!” There’s also some tall, balding goober in sunglasses (who I believe is also the transvestite) whose voice is always slowed to “monster pitch” electronically, who shows up for no real reason to pad out running time by doing sit-ups, eating peanut butter, or talking on his cell phone. The filmmakers try hard, but they just seem to have no sense of humor or understand what makes something funny; it’s like they heard Elvis impersonators are supposed to be funny, so their movie will automatically be funny if they use this most-tired of ideas one more goddamned time. Or, just the mere sight of a Betty Boop doll or the idea of people eating potatoes is supposed to be comical. The only thing funny about the comedy is trying to figure out why somebody thought it was funny. It does try, which keeps the pacing (which still drags because they don’t seem to understand what’s interesting much more than they do what’s funny) under control, if you’re trying to play along with it. I wanted to work with it, but it just doesn’t let ya. Available cheap on the “Hostile Hauntings” DVD set.

No comments:

Post a Comment