Read! And watch things! Do this now! Yeah!

Mixed bag of stuff today, and kinda brief ‘cuz I was busy with other stuff (such as reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, which I believe is based on a Metallica song!)

First, I finished a book I wanna recommend:

The Star Rover - Jack London (aka The Jacket)
If all the Jack London you’ve been exposed to are his dog stories, this philosophical/psychological/mystical head-trip may come as a bit of a surprise. An agronomy professor is sent to prison where he ends up in solitary confinement and is tortured by being tightly bound for days in an extreme version of a straightjacket, which squeezes him so hard his heart and lungs can barely work. Due to knowledge gained from coded, tapped-out conversations with his neighbors in solitary, he learns how to withstand the tortures by leaving his body, astrally projecting himself and revisiting past lives. These past lives are presented as a series of Robert E. Howard-style adventures (this book was a huge influence on Howard) in which he was a swordsman in France, a Robinson-Crusoe-type castaway on a desert island, a Viking visiting the Roman Empire during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, a sailor who lived with natives and married a Korean princess, a boy who was killed in a massacre by Mormons (London apparently hated Mormons if this section is any evidence), and myriad other pasts. Throughout it all his ability to withstand torture (and his refusal to confess to hiding dynamite that never existed but he was accused of smuggling into the prison) vexes San Quentin’s evil warden to extremes. Brilliant, un-put-down able philosophical novel whose only flaw is that the past-life sections (which are great in and of themselves) seem less interesting when compared to the happenings in the prison. London focuses on the story but deftly weaves in psychological theory (the mind-body dichotomy) and philosophy (the eternal interconnectedness of mankind). *** ½

Then a few movies I watched…

Cynic, The Rat, and the Fist, The (C, 1977) aka Il Cinico, L’infame, il Violento. I’m not certain who’s supposed to be who in this pseudo-sequel to Rome Armed To The Teeth, but the blondest guy in Italian cinema, Maurizio Merli, is a tough cop caught between warring mob bosses The Chinaman (a looking-much-different-than-usual Tomas Milian) and sadistic John Saxon. When Merli is targeted for a hit by the gangs, he’s wounded and the department decides to fake his death and send him on vacation. He’s not very good at vacationing, though, and his interference with mob activity soon clues them in that he’s still alive. They try to find time in their own violent squabbling to remedy that situation, but Merli just focuses on bringing them all down. More fist-and-gunfights than you can keep track of, amidst sicker scenes like leg-breakings and Saxon whacking golf balls at a guy’s face before siccing dogs on him, various women getting slapped around, and other nihilistic viciousness. Great, sought-after Italian crime title snuck out onto DVD as part of the cheap Mafia Kingpin Collection set.

King *@#!! Frat (C, 1979) aka King Frat, Delta House, Campus King. If you haven’t already guessed this, I have somewhat of a fondness for the really, really stupid. And so I giggled a lot at this Animal House wannabe, not because it’s funny (it ain’t), but because it’s so goddamn STUPID. In the opening, members of Pi Kappa Delta are riding around the campus at Yellowstream University (and if you don’t think that’s funny this movie’s sense of humor holds little for you) in a hearse, sticking their asses out the windows at anyone they see. Their Bluto-Blutarsky figure, named “Grossout” (who’s obviously over 40), farts at the university president, who promptly dies. (If this doesn’t delight you, just go ahead and watch something else because there is no hope). Just to be racially offensive, there’s an Indian (from the Kissawong tribe, tee-fuckin’-hee) in the frat named “Chief Latrine.” He does a lot of dances and speaks broken English. Grossout decides to win beer money for the frat by entering a farting contest, but he loses to a girl because he “draws mud.” And that’s considered the high point of the film. Other highlights include crashing the president’s funeral and blowing pot smoke through the church’s ventilation system to get everyone stoned, so they can steal his corpse… which they promptly put on a toilet, because this movie has no idea what to do with anyone or anything beyond something involving a toilet. Then there’s a costume party and they steal a rival frat’s statue (of a boy with a huge penis) and hide it from a bumbling cop who keeps opening closets full of beer cans. Then a guy in a gorilla suit gets stuck inside a girl during sex, and they try to get a virginal pledge laid (it‘s like they only remembered sex in the last half hour). Throughout it all, Grossout drools food on himself, belches, farts, and takes a dump every ten minutes, like that’s a Greek chorus for the narrative. The frat house is a masterpiece of filth, looking nastier than the worst truck-stop restroom in the universe. All the budget must’ve gone toward grime. Unless the digestive process is a source of great glee for you, the funniest thing about this film is that the people who made it thought this stuff would be funny. But, admittedly, that’s funny enough, because it’s such a brutal stillbirth that its failures become fascinating. This is such an embarrassing film that I wouldn’t be surprised if every member of the cast was in the Witness Protection Program now, although -- oddly enough -- John DiSanti, who played Grossout, went on to play the psycho in Eyes of a Stranger, where he was pretty creepy and didn’t pass gas once (at least not audibly). The oft-repeated bouncy theme song just emphasizes how moronic it all is and makes things a lot worse. Pretty entertaining for all the wrong reasons, so you may want to seek it out. Or you can skip it and fart for yourself and make your own sequel, which might be funnier.

Mahakaal (C, 1993) aka The Monster, Time of Death. If you like Nightmare on Elm Street but think it would be improved by lots of musical numbers and horrible, horrible comedy, the Ramsay brothers of Bollywood are all over it for ya. A series of nightmares are plaguing (and killing) Anita and her friends, dreams in which a knife-fingered-glove-wielding killer with a ravaged face (and a skaggy mullet that’s the only thing stopping him from looking just like Freddy) stalk them through basements. Most of the dreams are stolen whole cloth from Wes Craven’s original, and most of what the film originates is clumsily-stuffed in, unrelated bits with heroic college boys (and one bizarre, overly-obnoxious comedian named Johnny Lever who seems to be some weird mid-morph between “Beat It” era Michael Jackson and George Lopez; he‘s had a very prolific career in India, so maybe the humor just doesn‘t translate well) beating up thugs who are rude to girls, people going on picnics, and, of course, musical numbers involving songs with lyrics such as “I’m so lucky to have your love” repeated over and over until you wish to tear out your own liver so you can ram it down your gullet, suffocate, and expire into the peaceful death that doesn't include such songs. The Elm Street story is Hindu’ed up a bit by having the Freddy guy (called Shakaal) be a practitioner of black magic and use traditional Indian motifs (such as cobras) in his attacks. The special effects tend toward the simple and hokey and the gore is minor, but they do a lot of colorful lighting and smoke and tricked-out set design. They also throw in a possession angle, and, oddly enough, a guillotine. It’s wacky and silly but still about as imaginative as anything so totally derivative can get. Johnny Lever’s exaggerated “comedic” mannerisms are far creepier than the “scary” scenes could ever be. Some of the music used in Night of the Living Dead shows up at one point. Available on Mondo Macabro’s Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 3.

Paranormal Activity
(C, 2009) It was about time for the next Blair Witch Project, and this is it; another simple concept with a “less is more” approach that effectively exploit’s the audience’s imagination for maximum impact. Filmed on a budget lower than Blair Witch and proving that all those “Pendulum Pictures” 50-pack movies have no excuse for sucking so bad, the whole film takes place in an apartment, with a brief early-morning foray into the back yard. An apartment is being plagued by poltergeist-like activity, the source of which appears to be a demonic presence that’s followed a girl since she was a child. Her boyfriend is overenthusiastic about getting as much of the activity on tape as he can, so he provokes the presence to increase its activity. It obliges him and they soon regret it. The film’s all shot from one camera, often stationary, and often while the actors are sleeping. Most of what happens is simple and subtle (doors moving, lights going on, sounds from other rooms) but intensity builds nicely and then stays constant. There is a slight over reliance on “jump scares,” but they work, and they movie also focuses on creepiness. It has a very good sense of what works and hits it pretty consistently. This movie made it to national theatres through word of mouth and people demanding it, so we’re lucky it got released. It makes me wish similar films like Ghostwatch, The Collingswood Story, and The St. Francisville Experiment (a lot of people hated that one but I liked it, so sue me) had also gotten that chance, even though Paranormal Activity is better than those. Audiences reported problems sleeping because the film scared them so badly. It didn’t affect me that strongly, but I still think it lived up to the hype, and definitely wasn’t a disappointment. There are two alternate endings; I like one of those a little better than the one they ended up using for the theatrical release (under Steven Spielberg’s recommendation).

Rome Armed To The Teeth (C, 1976) aka Roma A Mano Armata, Assault With A Deadly Weapon, Brutal Justice, Tough Ones. Franco-Nero-lookalike Maurizo Merli is a cop who’s frustrated by having to stick to the book while a crime wave is turning Rome into a slaughterhouse. Speaking of slaughterhouses, hunchbacked hoodlum Tomas Milian works in one, and Merli brings him in to beat information out of him, but he outsmarts them and has his gang terrorize witnesses. In a scene stolen from The Girl Hunters, Merli makes Milian swallow a bullet… which he saves after he craps it out and plans to shoot Merli with. Evil-faced Ivan Rassimov is also on hand to force his girlfriend to take heroin. Milian does all kinds of psychotic things, such as hijacking ambulances and provides plenty of excuses for fist fights, gun battles, and car chases. All the action eventually races past the plot a bit, but that’s not a bad thing in these kinds of films. Available as part of the low-budget Mafia Kingpin Collection DVD set, along with a related film, The Cynic, The Rat, and the Fist. Under the Assault With A Deadly Weapon Aquarius Releasing retitle (hosted by Sybil Danning), this one was a staple at skangier video stores on VHS; the skull-headed policeman on the cover usually got it shelved as a horror movie, even though it’s solidly in the Italian polezi genre.

Badass music score, too... check it out.

1 comment:

  1. As always, rad post that gives me lots of good fodder for read/see-this-now lists (they're getting loooong). I too saw Paranormal Activity and liked it very much. It really does well with the less-is-more thing. My wife and I were both a little skittish the first night after seeing it but not enough to interrupt sleep. Speaking of which, how did these two people go back to sleep so easily with all the hurly-burly going on? I know horror flicks require even more suspension of disbelief, but that's a harder sell with stuff like this, I think. Didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the movie, tho. The dragging-down-the-hall and the last frame were creep-o-rific.

    I keep thinking it would be funny to do a version of this movie with more realistic people instead of young cutie pies. How about a gigantically fat couple with sleep apnea and/or the worst snoring ever? Or a crotchity insomniac who rarely gives the 'geist time to work its magic?