I missed last week because I went on a fool's errand to Jackson to look for an out-of-print book I got neurotically obsessed with, and the resultant lack of sleep totalled me out and robbed me of Sunday completely. The trip wasn't a total wash, though, because I scored a whole lot more Big Lots movies that might one day get reviewed in a post like this-here-'un.
Also finished two books this weekend that may get reviewed sometime; The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot (romances are far out of my standard thing but I'm trying to expand, and the strength of the writing left me far more impressed with this thing than I figured I'd be; some day I may actually read fucking Middlemarch!) and Come Closer by Sara Gran, which is a really great and creepy, atmospheric short horror novel. I had to order a copy from England because the American hardback is pretty expensive for a book you can read in just a couple of hours, but it's worth it and you should seek it out.
Now for the reviews:
Carriers (C, 2009) Four young adults try to escape a viral outbreak by hitting the road, but find little luck. The countryside’s been rendered almost empty by the incurable and highly-contagious pandemic, and the few people they do meet are desperate and can’t be trusted. Even the uninfected are dangerous because people are willing to kill for supplies or out of a fear of contagion, and everyone has to take desperate measures to survive. Simple, small-scale apocalyptic film does a good job of staying engaging and capturing a bleak atmosphere with just a few abandoned locations and minimal special effects.
House of the Devil (C, 2009) Brilliant retro-horror that looks like a 70’s grind house film, without appearing to make any effort to do so; it doesn’t try, it just does it. A college student is desperate for money to pay for a new apartment, so she inquires about a babysitting job she finds posted on a campus bulletin board. The job throws up red flags from the beginning due to weird behavior from the clients, and it gets even stranger when she arrives at the house and the creepy couple tell her that she won’t be looking after a child but an old lady. She wants to back out but they promise her that she probably won’t even see the old lady, and they offer her $400 because they’re very anxious to go watch a lunar eclipse. Once she’s left alone, she gets more hints that something’s wrong with the whole deal. The film skillfully sets up the situation and then smoothly winds up the tension without forcing it or giving in to the temptation of speeding things up, and the creepiness gradually turns into full-blown horror. More proof that big budgets aren’t necessary for great horror, and in fact often get in the way. Standout scarefest that deserves a wide audience. A few children who only like rollercoaster-ride movies have complained that this is boring, but for anyone who really likes the genre it’s a slow-burner; it builds and pays off and then hangs with you a while. Supposedly you can watch it online for free, but here's the trailer anyway.
House on Sorority Row, The (C, 1983) aka House of Evil, Seven Sisters. Some sorority girls (under the corruptive leadership of the always-wickedly-fetching Eileen Davidson) pull a prank on their mean ol’ house mother that goes wrong and ends up killing her. They don’t want to ruin their upcoming party so they hide the body in the skangy pool and go about their business. That trick didn’t work for the people who tried it in Diabolique and it doesn’t work for these girls, either, because soon the body’s missing and someone’s murdering the sisters with the old lady’s bird-headed cane. When I first saw this on cable back in the 80’s I didn’t think it stacked up well against other slasher films because, other than a head that ends up in a toilet, there’s not much gore. The lack of bowhead blood is still a weakness, but now that gore’s not my only criteria, this plays a lot better and manages to create some decent suspense and a few scares. Remade in 2009 as Sorority Row.
Whole thing online starting here.
Inglourious Basterds (C, 2009) Quentin Tarantino WWI film bears his usual over-the-top semi goofiness, with Brad Pitt playing the hillbilly leader of a squad of Jewish Americans who terrorize the Germans with their brutal tactics. They get involved in a plot to burn up much of the German high command while they’re attending the premiere of a propaganda film (a ridiculous thing that Quentin let Eli Roth direct in a rumored homonepotism deal; Eli also worked out a lot and plays “the Bear Jew“). The movie’s very good and would have been great if Quentin had any self-discipline or anyone had the balls to tell him “no”; as has become the norm, he gets too in love with his own dialogue and it spoils the alchemy with the pacing, changing too much gold to lead. The film’s also hampered by a great deal of subtitling, which would be fine if they hadn’t made them far too small and of a color that blends into the background, rendering a lot of the film an endurance test in eyestrain. Other than these drawbacks, and a total-fantasy ending that might piss you off if you demand accuracy to any degree, there’s a lot to like, including a sinisterly-suave “Jew Hunter” named Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz) whose every scene is intense as hell with no apparent effort made to force it (an example of when Tarrantino’s dialogue works perfectly). Pitt is broad-brushed and ludicrous, but is a lot of fun because of it. The plot’s good, but the promised action is very sporadic and spread thin to make more room for dialogue scenes; it’s a long game with a short highlight reel. The Basterds really get kind of a small role in the film and there’s more espionage than battle. Killing Nazis is great, so they could’ve spent more time doing it… but the action scenes that are there are very well-done, and Tarrantino isn’t shy about the gore. Definitely worth seeing, just not quite the ass-kicking machine than the marketing (and the title stole from Enzo Castellari’s film) promised.
In The Folds of the Flesh (C, 1970) aka Nelle Pieghe Della Carne. I guess if you start out your movie with a Freud quote you can just do any ol’ thing and hope people will assume it’s symbolic and over their heads. The script for this Italian giallo must’ve been written in Rorschach blots, because any sense you can find in the plot will have to be imposed on it by the viewers. Some people staying at a villa randomly engage in murders, which barely seem to interest them, much less alarm each other. A guy strangles a German shepherd that digs up a skull, then a girl knifes a man and her friends dissolve the body in an acid bath. People have sex while listening to tapes of the sex they had the night before. A girl decapitates a guy with a sword because he pulls off her wig. They have a pet vulture, but an ex-con named Pascal (Fernando Sancho, who you’ll recognize if you watch Spaghetti Westerns at all) shoots it when he comes over to terrorize them and rape the girls. There are Nazi flashbacks and gun battles and psychedelic optical effects. More people show up and have flashbacks to their childhoods and people have weird revelations about who their parents are. Basically, everybody in the movie is completely crazy, and that’s why nothing can be expected to make any sense. After a while you just give up and watch the TV the way a dog probably does -- as just a bunch of moving images. It’s not boring, but it is nonsense. Revelations at the end try to clear up a few things, but the attempt is like charging Hell with a mouthful of spit.
Jennifer’s Body (C, 2009) Jennifer (Megan Fox) is the hottest girl in her small town of Devil’s Kettle, and she and her plainer best friend Needy (short for Anita) live normal high-school lives until Jennifer is sacrificed to Satan by a band (wimpy indie emo shit for a change, giving metal a break), who are stupid enough to mistake her for a virgin. The ritual doesn’t go well and Jennifer comes back to life with a demon inside her. And the demon gives her recuperative Wolverine-X-Man powers (and makes her even more beautiful) as long as she keeps eating boys. She has little trouble luring them to secluded locations so she can maul them like a lioness. Needy learns what’s going on and researches a way to stop her, but that’s not an easy thing to do. The movie has a surprisingly good first hour or so, including some impressively creepy scenes, but in the last half hour it veers a little further into the preposterous and gets a few too many horror-comedy elements, with Jennifer and Needy swapping hipster one-liners during their showdown. It’s not enough to ruin the movie or anything, but god I hate when they do shit like that. There’s a little social commentary buried in it to give it enough depth to keep it from being dismissed as just another junky horror film, and Diablo Cody’s quirky dialogue and the equally-quirky direction help give it some style (until they overplay their hand, anyway), so it’s better than I expected, and it isn’t just a “Megan Fox vehicle.” Not that there’d be anything wrong with that; she’s a beautiful idiot.
I wanted the other trailer (which had the immortal line "It smells like Thai food in here... have you guys been fucking?" ) but that seems to be gone...
Moontide (B&W, 1942) A hard-drinking, nomadic French sailor named Bobo (the funny-haired Jean Gabin) rescues suicidal Ida Lupino when she tries to drown herself in the ocean. The two fall in love and get married, but their bliss is complicated by Bobo’s parasitic friend Tiny, who wants to eliminate Lupino so he can keep Bobo under his control. Tiny tries to use a murder that Bobo thinks he committed during a drunken blackout against them, but when Lupino figures out the truth behind the killing, things get dangerous. Marketed on DVD as a film noir, but it’s much closer to a romance with a few noirish elements. It’s well-filmed, though, although set-bound enough to look a little surreal, and any movie with Ida Lupino is worth watching. Gabin puts in a great happy-go-lucky performance, even though he proved to be way too French to have much of a career in America. Claude Rains plays their never-sleeping friend, Nutsy. You have to admire the panche of the filmmakers for setting a romantic drama in a waterfront bait-shack.
Here's a scene. Christ, I love Ida Lupino... she's not the most beautiful woman ever, but she just seems super-cool...
Public Enemies (C, 2009) Quality gangster saga centering on the exploits of John Dillinger, who’s played with some restraint by Johnny Depp. Dillinger learns from big-time hold-up men in prison, and when he breaks out he and his gang apply military tactics and weapons to bank robbery, which soon makes Dillinger public enemy #1, and the target of top G-Man Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). Dillinger forms an attachment to a girl he meets and she’s eventually caught by the feds, which puts Dillinger in a difficult position because he has a code about not leaving any of his friends hanging. The focus of the movie slowly shifts from Dillinger to the law enforcement side of the equations, as he starts running out of options. He starts losing support of the crime syndicate as their attention shifts to more profitable and less violent organized crime, and guys like Dillinger become undesirable to them because he attracts unwanted attention and is enough of a menace to allow the feds to be granted new powers. Dillinger’s is an oft-filmed story, but this one’s giving a high-class treatment (without stiffing you on any gunfights; watching a guy riddle cars with a BAR kicks all the ass you could ever want) and is a standout among them. Stylish direction by Michael Mann.
The aforementioned Browning Automatic Rifle scene:
Rollercoaster (C, 1977) Often lumped in with the disaster film cycle, but it’s got more in common with Dirty Harry; it shares an actor (Harry Guardino, plus William Prince from The Gauntlet has a small part), has a Lalo Schifrin score, and a plot involving a clean-cut terrorist trying to blackmail society for money not to commit his crimes. A brilliant electronics/demolitions expert (Timothy Bottoms) is blowing up rollercoasters at amusement parks and outwitting all attempts to foil him. A safety inspector (George Segal, whose character‘s name is Harry - see, I‘m onto something here!), whose previous main problem was giving up cigarettes, tries to catch him, and even ends up playing bag-man-runaround like Clint had to do. Segal is smart, but Bottoms may be his match. Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda are on hand to yell at Segal a lot (seems his inability to go by the book causes friction with his superiors, just like… somebody else!), and there’s a lot of P.O. V. shots from the rollercoasters (which were probably really kick-ass in the theater since this was one of the few films released in “Sensurround,” i.e. extra speakers). No major surprises, but a pretty good and well-done suspense flick, with an especially good performance by Segal. Also look for a very young Helen Hunt in her first role, and a concert by forgotten pop band Sparks (it was originally supposed to be the Bay City Rollers, but luckily we were spared that horror).
Rundown (C, 2003) aka Welcome to the Jungle, Call of the Wild, Heldorado. BDAM (Big Dumb Action Movie) that helped established The Rock as the next big action hero (Arnold Schwarenegger even has a cameo, symbolically walking out as The Rock walks in), which he was before he traded it in early to be the next big Di$ney icon. The Rock is a reluctant Transporter type who’s sent into the Amazon jungle to find and retrieve the son of his mobster boss, only taking the mission because he needs money to open his own restaurant (so you can smell what The Rock is cooking). The son is an amateur archaeologist who’s after a famed Indian statuette called “the Gato.” Local crime lord Christopher Walken is using local natives to run his massive strip-mining operation, and a band of rebels is combating him to free all the people, and they, too, want this Gato idol. The struggle for this treasure results in lots of silly, comedic action, with The Rock being a (relatively) peace-loving fella who doesn’t like guns in order to keep the violence down to the money-making PG-13 sweet spot. This is the kind of action movie where a guy can tumble about two miles down the side of a mountain (ripping chunks out of trees that he hits), get attacked by vicious (and horny) monkeys, survive a massive cave-in, and go through numerous gunfights and fistfights in which he’s outnumbered ten to one and suffer no more damage than a superficial doesn’t-even-need-a-band-aid scratch to show for it. Entertaining and nonstop but it’s a cartoon made flesh.