14 December 2014

TEETH/2007


After sitting through Killer Pussy only a couple weeks ago I was not certain I was up to another vagina dentata film so soon. In fact I had passed over this a few times at the local DVD store and when I did pick it up I figured I was basically “taking one for the team”to just have something to watch and review as is often the case with me and horror films. I never get what I am expecting or what the cover promises. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised (in a ghastly sort of way) and it is really the type of horror-genre film I am starting to like more and more. That is, one with a ample amount of humor and wit to the story line as opposed to nihilistic angst and depression. Okay, nihilism and depression are scary in that "deep thinking" sort of way and seeing a bunch of moody depressed teenagers offed by a psycho is actually entertaining. But Teeth had that type of gory, sexy charm that films by Brian Yuzna once had, before he moved to Europe and started to make films that now seem so, well, European.
While the movie has all the trappings of a dark comedy make no mistakes about this 2007 black comedy, it is a horror movie.There is gore and severed penises aplenty here and I certainly found my knees defensively clamping together more often than during the silly Killer Pussy. The story follows the innocently beautiful and religiously abstinent Dawn O’Keefe (Jess Weixler) who is sexually unaware of her body in all aspects. However we already know something is amiss since her family lives in the shadow of a smoking nuclear power plant and once something happened to her step-brother Brad’s finger (John Hensley) while he “diddled” her in the familiy's plastic swimming pool. He still carries the scar and reflects on what actually happened "that day". I watched the film Shutter the following night and it starred the freaky looking Von Dohlen in yet another slimy role. He does a fine job hope here and I want to see him in more things.

Dawn is committed to the sexual abstinence group called The Promise and yet something changes after she meets new member Tobey (Hal Appleman) and soon she is actually having near sexual fantasies about him. Of course in the fantasy she imagines that they are married first, sweet girl. She and Tobey return to a “lovers pond” they had visited with friends form the group earlier and while making out in a hidden cave Tobey shows what jerks nice guys really are and after whining he has not even jerked off since Easter he pins her down and enters her… and well… chomp. Dawn is almost as panicked stricken as Tobey (and mind you that is a very big almost) as they both stare at the bloody weiner on the cave floor. Tobey flees the cave and is found later dead in the pond, having bled to death in the pond.

Dawn is soon surfing the net and reading about the myth of vagina dentata, or the toothed vagina, and to rule out any doubts she goes to see a sleazy gynecologist who is remarking in one scene about how tight she is and then gawking at his bloody fingers lying all over the floor the next. Dawn is distraught and finds comfort in seemingly safe classmate Ryan (Ashley Springer). Like any likable, shy guy he gives Dawn some sedatives and booze to calm her nerves and then soon is sporting some finger tickler vibrator and has Dawn convinced he is the “hero” she needs to control the fangs down-under. During sex she is relaxed and nothing chewy happens and she realizes she can have some control if she wants. Of course nice guy Ryan is actually the slime ball all men inherently are (at least in these sort of movies or else how will anyone get their Johnson’s bit off) and while bragging on the phone to his pal that he nailed the hottest celibate in the school Dawns gets pissed and clamps down on arrogant Ryan then spits him out.
She next sets the sites of her pearly whites on her misanthropic death-rocker step brother Brad who recently just let her mom die rather than interrupt his hobby of sodomizing his girlfriend and calling 911. In one of the best scenes in movie poor Brad must watch as his faithful Rottweiler makes a snack out of his mangled tallywacker but coughs back up the pierced glands. Yikes. In the final scenes Dawn sits in a car at a Motel 6 type establishment with the greatest dirty old man ever set to celluloid. After becoming increasingly annoyed she turns and gives the camera and knowing and sinister smile. A smile that probably signals a sequel with a more focused and revenge motivated Dawn being in complete control of the situations.
Look, this thing could have gone a couple different ways and perhaps still succeeded. Director/writer Micthell Licthenstein could have made it into a total gory, body count spoof or a soul searching existential horror flick (thank God he did not do that) but he took a sort of middle ground and pulled it all off for the most part. Once comedy becomes part of the equation a little leeway can be given for plot idiosyncrasies that more serious films cannot sustain. The acting is really excellent all the way around as is the photography and score. The camera does not flinch on severed penis shots and one shot of a blood gushing dick stump I had captured for my review I deemed too much for my readers still possessed of some modicum of decency to have to look at. The humor helps it succeed, but it never becomes a brainless farce. I give it 3 1/2 skulls as I can hardly go higher on a horror-comedy, with rare exceptions like Shawn of the Dead perhaps. I definitely prefer it to some of the gloomier horror films I have endured lately such as The Strangers.




The banned TEETH poster.

KILLER PUSSY-SEXUAL PARASITE/2004

I am not sure that there is a thriving Vagina Dentata sub-genre in horror films, but the film Teeth was released in 2007 (review coming right up). What could possibly be said positive about a film where girls have vaginas with teeth that emasculate men by the truck load is beyond me, but there seems to be a small market for this since Sexual Parasite was released in 2004 and is discussed here under the name it is more commonly known title, Killer Pussy (Kieseichu "Kiraa Pusshii"). I think a suitable term for this type of film would be “splatterotica”. That is, extremely violent and extremely sexually explicit films with the two areas typically overlapping in sometimes uncomfortable ways. No one does this with more gusto and national pride than the current wave of Japanese filmmakers, or more often, “video” makers as this film, like so many others, was shot on video and it looks like it.


The plot is standard horror movie formula from chapter one of the introductory textbook. Explorers in the Amazon (could be any exotic region) bring back a parasitic monster to the so called civilized world. They ignore all the warnings of the local witch doctor of course. The monster is later released by a group of sexually promiscuous teenagers and they are picked off one at a time. And as is typical for new horror films there is no final survivor. That, my friends, is the framework from which this and 90% of modern horror films operate. What makes the newer horror film watchable or unwatchable is the creative originality of the deaths and the size of the teenage girls boobs. The boobs are no problem here and the death sequences are simply gory Japanese style deaths, meaning there are lots of dangling entrails and syrupy looking blood. Of course the parasitic monster is located in the vaginas of the females in the film. There are “creative” camera shots of the beast slithering through the vaginal canal to chump on its next meal, usually the weiner of some doofy Japanese teenage boy.


There is nothing really all that original here and while the title may sound enticing (well, it did to me anyway) the movie is really pretty awful and unless you have a blog where you watch drek like this just to review it and further alienate yourself from society I see no reason to go out of your way to see it. I downloaded it from a peer to peer site and was able to find subtitles online easily though it seems most people are watching it this without subs. How they can follow the plot intricacies without subs is beyond me. I do not set my standards too high when I watch any modern movie with the word “pussy” in the title but I had hoped that there might be some effort here to try and live up to the title. Director/writer Takao Nakano seemed to realize that the title alone who lure in enough curiosity seekers and opted to make a film devoid of plot experimentation, decent camera work, acceptable acting or one genuine surprise.

As is the case with most newer low budget Japanese horror films the emphasis is on gore and things disgusting, such as globs of female sexual secretions that people keep slipping in. Instead of oil wrestling we are treated to scenes of lovely Japanese girls “wrestling” in slimy blood and slimy secretions. One girl is strangled with her own entails in one “shocking” scene. The monster is really phony looking and all the questions a movie like this brings up are not even attempted to be answered. All the better. The film only runs about an hour and it seemed longer. The girls are "chunky" little Asians who don't mind showing off their assets but that is about all I can say for this one. Certainly one for the guys to watch alone and not with your wives or girl friends, unless she is Lorena Bobbit.


Killer Pussy Dance Scene



INCIDENT IN LAKE COUNTY/1998

 Alien Abductions: Incident in Lake County is a docudrama style movie made for the UPN network and produced by Dave Clark. It is directed by  Dean Alioto and has an actual cast listing at the end of the film, even giving credits for the actors who played the aliens. The film had a budget and special effects crew.  Why do I mention all this? Well there is more to this little film than may first meet the eye and one thing is that some people actually believe it is real footage of an actual abduction. Others at least believe it is a re-filming by Alioto of an actual video taken of the abduction of the entire McPherson family somewhere in the backwoods of Montana one night (and is also said to be based on an abduction incident in Hopkinsville Kentucy). I have not  read about Alioto himself claiming that he saw some original video tape of the "real" abduction but once you enter the realm of alien abductions and the people who believe in them you have entered into the world of the die hard true believer and what a truly scary world that is. The show has some of the feel of those “could it have really happened” docudramas like The Blair Witch Project and predates Blair by about a year. On that note and the fact that the project was a pretty successful show for UPN and generated a “controversy” that still lingers to this day I will give some credit. That being said I hate these kinds of films usually and I had to fast forward through this one to get to the end. The live tape footage –sometimes “found footage” for these types of films, meaning a video tape of an “actual event” is found later by some one else later- is sprinkled with commentaries by various experts and one, a film maker, makes the comment about how the people in the tape (and I paraphrase) could not be actors and that there is really no plot line to speak of. This is supposed to make the film sound even more authentic. Of course the people are actors. You can see their names listed on IMDB and Wikipedia with the characters they played, but they are just incredibly bad actors and the lack of plot  is simply the  result of the lack of writing skills on the part of the filmmakers themselves (the script being attributed  to Alioto, story,  and Paul Chitilik, teleplay).

I just could not stand this film. It is much the same as a couple other found footage films I watched recently Paranormal Activities and The Last Exorcism (both have been reviewed and will be posted up here soon), in that the films are shot from the perspective of someone holding a video camera and either intentionally or unintentionally taping events that will later come to challenge the sensibilities of the viewer and shake even the opinions of the most hardened skeptic. Well, that seems to be what they are trying to do and I doubt the filmmakers are taking too much of what they are doing seriously. There is a no budget quality to the projects and the simple reality is you can tell that these are simply bad actors in these things reciting lines from a bad script. Yet there seems to be quite a few people who totally believe in the whole alien abduction myth and are convinced if someone disagrees with them then that person is part of a vast and intricate conspiracy to cover up the mountains of evidence out there…somewhere. If they are not duped into that fallacious mode of thinking from listening to too much Art Bell then they at least fall for a goofy ass movie and consider it scary as hell. You doubt me? Here is a quote –unedited because not even I can make this many mistakes- from a reviewer at IMDB:

Well, I'm actually sitting here, now in 2006, actually scared more than half to death , I'm on my own, the film finished about 10 minutes ago its 1.10am, and Wow...am I scared! Apart from still shaking ( I don't like horror films at the best of times ), it was a really really good film, the screenplay and acting of all the characters was too perfection ( apart from the Black guy, his performance let things down I think ) The imagination and initiative of the scrip to make it seem like it was not plotted was one to be reckoned with, a truly amazing, spine-shivering film. I still have tingles going round my body..I doubt I will sleep tonight!


First of all I thought the “black guy” did okay myself. But what the hell was this guy smoking or snorting! I could barely stay awake and I think I honestly spent 10 minutes of actual viewing time as I fast forwarded through this mess to just get it over with. “Spine shivering”! Never heard of that before, just like “tingles going round my body”, so we can conclude  from his inability to remember simple cliches that this guy is a doof-ball and we can also safely assume that he believes in actual alien abductions. Just like the people who found The Last Exorcism scary probably believe in demonic possession or powerful satanic communities, or people who couldn’t sleep after Paranormal Activities probably actually believe in, er, eh, whatever it is people like that believe in. Some people are trying to defend this film against debunkers, believing it is somehow true or based on something true, like the whole alien autopsy hoax. I don’t think this film was ever meant to be a hoax. I think the filmmakers were just making a docudrama of an urban legend and it turned into some sort of Orson Welles War of the Worlds situation where gullible ass people will simply believe anything. Okay, so what is my opinion on alien abductions then? They don’t happen! Aliens aren’t taking people aboard space craft. Lost time is experienced by brain dead people. Aliens aren’t dissecting cattle and implanting little triangles into people’s shoulders. None of this is happening. Aliens aren’t even flying around the swamps of Alabama at night probing hillbilly’s anuses. Crop circles? Hoaxes. How many? 100%. There is not one crop circle that is not the product of a human being somewhere. No one has ESP or can remote view. Okay, that being said I still like a good scary flick and I am able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy a film like Close Encounters or The Exorcist. With a movie like this I can’t suspend my disbelief that anyone could possibly believe it could be true or even be unable to sleep after seeing it. What is wrong with humanity? Here is a short quote from Amazon.com:

“Everything in the film is quite believable:”

What movie was this yoyo watching? Not the same amateurish dribble I had to fast forward through. And he says “everything”. I will counter that with a reasoned and calculated reply and say that NOTHING in this mess is believable, including the fact that someone put up the 1.2 million dollars for the film’s budget (to quote Alioto in an article I read). It has the feel of the X-Files and supposedly some of the X-Files special effects guys helped Alioto out. Hey look, some people loved it. Why listen to a cantankerous old cynic like me. Check it out for yourself (keep your thumb on the fast forward) if you can find it. Seems a bit hard to locate but I seem to have a knack (or curse) for finding this obscure stuff. It is a boring terrible film but others differ in their views it seems. Maybe you will agree with this other reviewer from Amazon.com:

It's brilliantly produced in all of its ultrarealistic facets. Had this film garnered a theatrical release and been played up and marketed in an underground Blair Witch fashion, I believe it would have made a killing at the box office. I dare you to watch this film alone late at night.

I dare you watch it alone at night and try to stay awake.

LET ME IN/2010/HAMMER

“Finally, those who worry about that dreaded cinematic dirty word, “Americanization,” are going to likely feel justified in their fears. Let Me In is indisputably a shiny and polished Hollywood product…”

“ …Tomas Alfredson made art out of Let The Right One In. Alfredson took the slow-burn pace of Lindqvist’s script and created some stunning Mise-en-scéne, certainly the best I’ve seen from modern vampire movies. Let The Right One In moved slowly, had little dialogue and even less ambient music, but every frame told a distinct story and every scene alluded to so much more than what was simply on the surface.”
Screen Rant

I wanted to open my take on the most excellent film Let Me In with these quotes from the Screen Rant website not only because I disagree with them but the general tone of the comments are fine samples of the way movie bloggers often write when they compare American cinema to European cinema. They just can’t avoid terms like “mise-en-scene” (here made more pretentious by the inclusion of the adjective “stunning”) as if simply because a director or cinematographer is American they can’t possibly properly frame a shot. And that “…every scene alluded to so much more than what was simply on the surface.” is a little too much to swallow. It is gilding the lily a wee bit too much for me. Now, let me be clear, I thought Let the Right One In was one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time . I have seen it about three times and plan on watching it again soon with the wife. But the return of Hammer  production -which is, of course, a British/European company- is as good as the original if not better, and that is saying a lot. However, I am not going to dismiss the remake as even slightly inferior on the grounds that it was “…a shiny and polished Hollywood product…”. Yea, who wants to see a polished film, and yes, the American version is much more polished and tight. My feeling about the matter has been that it is not that European films are so much better than American ones but that American films are no worse than European ones. And I tend to really  enjoy European cinema quite a bit,  all those  subtle existential nuances American filmmakers are incapable of, but I have never seen it as superior. Just because the director may drink his tea with his pinky extended does not make him a genius. Now that I have gotten that out of my system lets look at this excellent American remake of an excellent European film. Or to be more precise, the American adaptation of the Swedish vampire novel  Låt den Rätte Komma, by John Ajvide Lindqvist –who also wrote the screenplay for the original film- that translates into something akin to the titles of the two films. The article will not be a qualitative comparison of the two films since both are equally excellent and highly recommended.

Let Me In tells the story of two lonely young teens named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Grace Mortez) whose paths crossed a snowy and desolate apartment project in Los Alamos New Mexico, the birth place of the atomic bomb. Owen is scrawny kid with a dark imagination and is the target of school bullies. Of course in both films we immediately see where things are heading with the geeky, weird kid and the pack of alpha-males who make his life a living hell. His parents are going through a divorce and his dad is absent from his life and his mother is either drinking or quoting the Bible all of the time and neither parent ever seems available to Owen. This is the backdrop in which he meets Chloe one night in the apartment complex playground while Owen is stabbing a tree with his new pocket knife. They do not hit it off well and both lay claim to the playground but soon a mutual interest in puzzles –like that damnable Rubik’s cube- form a bond between the two brooding loners. While Owen is a strange lad and spends his time alone peeping on his neighbors with a telescope and wearing a freaky plastic mask his issues pales in comparison to Abby’s, who lives with a man old enough to be her father but we find not is not her father and we never really find out who he is except that she has remained 12 years old while he has aged from the time they knew each other as kids. We are not really sure if Abby is even a girl and a couple deliberately scenes add to this ambivalence in the storyline. In the book –which I have not read but would like to if I can find it in some form here in China, which I doubt- it seems that Abby was in fact a boy at one time who was castrated when he was 12 years old, the same age he/she became a vampire. The relationship, in the book, between Abby and the older man (Eli in the original film and book) is a little more seedy than the films deal with, with the man actually being a pedophile that Eli traps into serving her/him. Both film versions felt this was a bit over the top (rightfully so I think) and the original film let the relationship unexplained while the remake explored it from an audience friendly angle. The man is never named in the film though Abby makes it clear to Owen that he is not her father.


It takes some time for Owen to discover that  his eccentric new friend Abby is a actually vampire and in the meantime the bond between them strengthens as both suffer challenges in their lives. Owen with the bullies and Abby with the loss of her “father” while he is out collecting blood for her. Abby is soon forced into going on risky nocturnal hunts on her own and Owen’s interaction with the bullies gets more complicated after, on Abby’s advice, he stands up to them and wallops the leader up alongside his ear with a pole. A detective (Elias Koteas) is not really sure what is going on with the strange recent spat of deaths in Los Alamos and suspect a satanic cult. He becomes aware of Abby’s presence and soon suspect more is going on than he can understand. Owen is forced in a scene in deciding between helping save the detective’s life or helping Abby feed. I think we know what choice he makes. The film concludes with Abby and Owen leaving Los Alamos together and we are reminded of a shot showing a photo strip picture of Abby and “father” when he was a boy no older than Owen and perhaps faced a similar moment of decision in his life. We never know how old Abby is though the book, I understand, suggests she is between two and three hundred years old. We never know how she became a vampire though I have read of deleted scenes in Let Me In that offered some suggestion. The mystery of not knowing these details makes the film more, than less, engaging. The story keeps true to the original film and there are no surprise twists really. Director Matt Reeves does a fine, if not superb, job despite apprehensions by many that he could not really pull it off after his found footage, big monster film Cloverfield.

Hammer producer Simon Oakes stated that Let Me In became a project long before the original film became so popular. Thinking the original might just remain an underground hit in Europe he felt the needed a retelling for a wider audience. There was some shock after the original became so popular but the production went forward anyway and has met with some harsh criticism from fans of the original, some who even refuse to see the new version. If that if the take some reader have then that is too bad since the remake is a fine film and in a rare case of film making does not over shadow the original in some negative way. Some shots –like the swimming pool scene at the end- are done with reverence to the original. Some else could have been done with the new version but Reeves seems to acknowledge he cannot add to perfection. I have read online that the book contains another film’s worth of material and yet I really hope there is not a sequel, either from Hollywood and Hammer or from Sweden. I haveseldom  seen two films so worthy of simply being left alone as they are. The acting between the young leads in Let Me In is darkly wonderful. The cinematography and effects word fine and the CGI is not overdone and, in my view, works well. There are those who feel any CGI is bad CGI and I am not from that school. The score works with the film and the selection of the deserts of New Mexico as a substitute for the bleak Swedish winter is amazingly effective. It is a great film I can’t say enough about. See ‘em both. But I am not worried at all about saying that Let Me In is the more entertaining (i.e. more “polished”), even if ever so slightly, of the two films.




THE GRAVES/2009 /TONY TODD/BILL MOSELEY

The Graves director, Brian Pulido, is known in the comic book world as the creator of Lady Death and the Chaos comic book line. In the movie world he is now known as the creator of a total piece of crap movie called The Graves. And Pulido wastes little opportunity in promoting himself when in one scene one of the female leads holds up a copy of Lady Death while being video taped by her sister in a comic book store –with copies of other comic books Pulido is connected with behind her- before they both head out on a road trip through the deserts of Arizona. One sister is Megan Graves (Claire Grant) and the other is Abby Graves (Jillian Murray). Ergo the film’s title; The Graves. Pretty damned clever, eh?  Megan is the older and ‘stronger’ sister while Abby is the more whiney and dependent younger sister. Of course anyone who has evolved past a single celled organism and seen even half a dozen of these “survival” type horror films will anticipate the weaker character being the survivor and becoming even stronger than the character whose shadow they lived in all their lives. Right off the bat I had problems with the sisters because try as I might I found I did not like either one of them enough to care if either survived or not at the film’s end. So many modern horror films are stocked with characters so grumpy, anti-social and depressed that one begins to see the killer as some sort of redeemer really. The psychotic killer can’t be much worse than the cranky, spoiled teenagers they are killing off and for me that can be a problem in a film. I guess it is easier to write unlikable characters than likable ones. The sisters are so stereotyped as far as modern female horror leads go (or sometimes female leads period). They angrily flaunt their jugs and cast aspersions on each other and everyone they run into along the way to see the “world’s biggest thermometer”. Of course they are soon deriding and being condescending to rednecks and hillbillies in the truck stops along the way as big city folk always do in these films and in the process pissing off said rednecks.

In one such truck stop they run into the reverend Abraham Stockton played by Tony Todd in what amounts to another cameo role in a horror film by him really. He is on screen more here than in films like, lets say, the deplorable Murder-Set-Pieces and more deplorable (if possible) Hatchet, which also featured a cameo by the has been who never was Robert Englund. I am not sure what this recent trend in low budget horror is about, taking someone who should be on the screen as a central character and paying them enough money for half a day’s work then plastering their names on the DVD cover to dupe gullible people into paying money for it. Hey, I was duped into this one and I just downloaded it for free and feel ripped off. Todd is okay here as the clichéd evil Christian minister we have seen a million times in these films and yet we just don’t see enough of him for his his performance to matter. At the diner the girls are told by a waitress to check out the local attraction called Skull City. Seems this is much cooler than the world’s biggest thermometer, if that is humanly conceivable. And here is another problem (among too many to mention) I have with this film, and that is the very existence of this road trip, which is nothing more than a formulaic vehicle to get the girls into some weird backwoods area and have inbred weirdos stalk and try to kill them. They are from the “big city” of Phoenix (I think) and the idea that they would suddenly want to drive into the desert dregs of Arizona before Megan heads off to New York City for school in order to do some sisterly bonding is absurd. All the more absurd since all we are treated to is nothing but sibling squabbles from the get go. Another cliché from modern horror films; a group –or sometimes just a couple- of people who loathe either all decide it might cool to go on a road trip in one car together or sleep in a small cabin in the mountains together and go nuts observing one another’s idiosyncrasies. I don’t know. Call me old school. I don’t want to drive across a hot desert with some one I tend to spend all my time arguing with and fantasizing about murdering slowly anyway.


So I wonder if it would come as any surprise and ruin the film if I told you that Skull City is loaded with a hillbilly family of psychos who tend to kill off all the people who go there to check it out? The Atwood family run Skull City and see it as no major issue to kill off the paying guests. Jonah Atwood wears welding goggles or something and has a lot of mixed feelings about killing people all the time. He is like the alcoholic is always swearing off drinking and will stop tomorrow. His brother is Caleb Atwood – or Cookie to his friends and family- and he has little remorse about his calling in life. And why would he? He is played by none other than the crown prince of hillbilly lunatics himself, Bill Moseley. This is the type of role Moseley can play in his sleep and he does it well enough but like Tony Todd he is simply not on the screen long enough. In fact his character, and Jonah’s for that matter, is killed off way too easily. There is even a scene where he has the girls in his proverbial clutches and would have no problem killing them, but decides it might be more gaming to let them have a running start and then have him go looking for them. Oh come on. This has nothing to do with Moseley’s character but has everything to do with crappy writing. This might work in a comic book but in this film it was so obvious Pulido just did not know what else to do to keep the story moving.

MORTUARY/2005/TOBE HOOPER

I will say from the beginning that I was disappointed in this film but there was an upside  to the experience actually. It rekindled my interest in Tobe Hooper and I am rounding up a few of his films I have not seen before such as Toolbox Murders (reviewed here as well) and Eaten Alive. Just never got around to seeing them. And I like a lot of his stuff that other people tend to pan regularly such as Lifeforce and Invaders from Mars. Nice looking and stylized films with some small story issues but good movies as far as I am concerned. So I was recently in the mood for a horror film and saw The Mortuary listed on an Internet thing of movies here in China. It is called PPTV and is basically mostly pirated -but not all I found out- movies with Chinese subtitles (and sometimes dubbed Chinese language) but I can get a bunch of movies off of it and what them on the iPad in bed with my earphones. What lives of quiet desperation some of us lead, right? I did not expect this movie to be great and I was right. But this was made by Tobe Hooper, whose career has been spotty at best but usually turns out something worth sitting through even when it is sub-standard. But he, along with the writers of 2004’s Toolbox Murders, really missed the mark with this film that seems more on the level of a first time horror filmmaker’s efforts than a man who has worked with Steven Spielberg and with one movie about inbred cannibal  hicks in Texas helped to redefine the road modern horror would travel down.

There seems to be mixed feelings about this one online and some people defend it as a fun movie not to be taken seriously. They seem to using Hooper’s penchant for well timed dark humor as a basis for their arguments but they are simply gilding the lily here. The film is not clever or comical and any laughs are unintentional and are at the expense of the filmmakers and actors themselves. And while I feel CGI effects for horror is the way of the future whether we like it or not I also feel those effects need to be done well if not perfectly to please the masses. Now I wonder just how much Spielberg actually had over the excellent special effects in Poltergeist since the effects in this one rank among some of the worst I have ever seen in a horror film. Okay, I have seen much worse, but again I expect more from Hooper than this mess. The special effects were worse than stuff I have seen on TV shows. Add these problems to a script that had some potential but ultimately sells out scene after scene and you have a really disappointing film by a guy who was reported have gotten back on top of his game with Toolbox Murders. One blogger tries to defend the ending and gave a long argument for his reasons, but the ending is a sell not and not a clever twist like he argues it to be. Just because something is “unexpected” does not make it clever or original. Sometimes unexpected means the filmmakers had no idea what the hell they were doing and took the obvious easy way out to just end a troubled film.

And what is this troubled film about? The story itself seems to offer possibilities. Nothing fantastic but at least a middle of the road Hooper film could have been achieved, and a mediocre Hooper film can still be better than the competition. Recently widowed Leslie Doyle (Denise Crosby of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Pet Semetary) packs up and moves her kids Jonathan and little sister Jamie (Dan Byrd –who delivers a solid performance- and Stephanie Patton) across the country to some desolate town in the California desert to work as the town’s mortician. She has been studying mortician science and what a lucky break for here. The Fowler Mortuary is ridiculously dilapidated to the point of being absurd. Sure, run down and atmospheric is the only way to go, but the house is simply too decrepit to believe. To make things worse sewage is being pushed up into the surrounding yard (which is simply dirt), caused by the recent torrential rains, the heaviest rains in some fifty we are informed. Even more annoying than the house and gooey shit over the yard is the laughing gimp of a real estate agent Mr. Barstow (Adam Gierasch) who cackles and snickers his way through every scene. What was up with this guy? At what point did Hooper think that this actor’s performance was something to not criticize? It is simply annoying and in the end bad acting, but not the type of bad acting you can ignore. Other obligatory strange characters include the stuttering sheriff who wants to make sure there are “no more graveyard babies” made in the cemetery and some angry punk kids who sit in the diner and make Jonathan’s life miserable. To make his life more bearable though he also meets the attractive but stereotypically angst ridden Liz (Alexndra Adi) and her gay pal Grady (Rocky Marquette) and the trio hit off.

TOOLBOX MURDERS/2004/TOBE HOOPER

Tobe Hooper's 2004’s Toolbox Murders is a pretty loose remake of the 1978 Video Nasty and slasher prototype by Dennis Donnelly. The film was considered a return of sorts to the big time by Hooper fans but if you go into it with those expectations you may be sorely disappointed. If you set your standards a bit lower and realize Hooper can make a decent film that does not have to pale in the shadow of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre you may enjoy the ride a little more. Hooper collaborates with Mortuary (and Crocodile, a film I have never really wanted to see) writers Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. The slasher genre is not one that lends itself to much originality and the films are expected to be derivative of themselves and often they get mired down in “clever” references to other more well known films. They either fall into the category of spoof or attempt at something serious and TBM falls into the latter category. Of course there is ultimately something a little comical about all slasher films and TBM can’t escape the genre curse. The idea of a masked, remorseless killer who is all but indestructible and beyond capture (even when he is living in a maze located inside the walls of an apartment complex in Los Angeles) is a little silly after you have seen about a hundred of these things at least. But in the end I enjoyed the film but there are problems to be sure and the film may have been a high point for Hooper and fans in an otherwise waning film career, but in the end it is a just another masked slasher film. And if you accept it as that you will be okay. If you go in with the attitude of “this better be great cos’ Tobe Hooper directed it!” then you will join the legions of viewers who all but hate the film. I, like I said, enjoyed it and felt Hooper did a good enough job and that most slasher film fans will not be disappointed.

Nell and Steven Barrows (Angela Bettis and Brent Roam) move into their room at the Lussman Arms (the now demolished Ambassador Hotel used in hundreds of films over the decades, including David Fincher’s Se7en) and are soon beset upon by a host of strange characters including their landlord, oddball neighbors and a fairly obviously deranged handyman who must have come pretty cheap to the landlord who is always talking of the buildings eccentric charm while avoiding doing necessary repairs. The room is cheap since there are renovations going on, and said renovations have riled up another occupant of the Lussman Arms, a guy we come to know as Coffin Baby and who lives in a rather large complex of rooms hidden inside the walls of the apartments. The complex of rooms that go from floor to floor have gone undetected all this time, and since anybody nicknamed Coffin Baby is going to be a banana or two short of a bushel he has been busy killing of tenants for decades and storing their bodies in various places behind the walls. In fact it seems that in the character of Coffin Baby we have found the actual killer of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, whose old room just happens to be Nell and Stevens. There is some strange sub-plot that is not explored too deeply about Coffin Baby being involved in the occult and so explaining, sort of, why the building is adorned with mysterious symbols that provide him with immortality. So there is a supernatural twist to things and I tend to not like supernatural serial killers and slashers. Call me old fashioned. I think in the end a good killer just needs a butcher knife or pair of panty-hose and he is good to go. No need for the Necronomicon.

The killings begin right off the bat and pretty little Mrs. Rob Zombie, Sheri Moon, herself is the first victim and is beaten effectively enough with claw hammer. As the title suggests the murders occur by various construction tools and industrial solvents. The death scenes are fairly gory and some of the freakiest stuff Hooper has set to film. Really, his films have been fairly tame in the death scene departments since The Texas Chainsaw massacre II. The film suffers from not enough mayhem really and too much of Nell unraveling the mystery of disappearing neighbors and the buildings arcane history. The pace is not bad at all but there is not much to pace at times. Hooper delivers in the areas of camerawork, odd characters and, one of his trademarks, creepy psycho dwelling places. Coffin Baby’s digs harken back to the underground maze of the macabre from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II but does not come off, to me anyway, as a reference or homage.


So not the big comeback film Hooper fans had hoped it would be but still a lot better than what was around the corner with Mortuary. The character of Coffin Baby is left unexplained enough to open the door to a sequel, which is now out but without Mr. Hooper at the helm and the trailer I saw online did not make me anxious to track it down. I tend to like Hooper’s work and this is no exception. Not a great film by any stretch if you’re setting the bar too high but better than most slasher type films. I will probably watch it again some day and that is as a good a recommendation as any film can get from me. (NOTE: I finally got a copy of the Coffin Baby sequael and watched about ten minutes of it before turning off in boredom and disgust. Don't waste your time.)


BEREAVEMENT/2010

Bereavement, by 3rd time director Stevan Mena, is not as bad as many reviews I read online make it out to be. If you are not a horror/slasher fan you will no doubt dislike it, and if you are a horror/slasher fan who has become overly jaded and bored with the same psycho-killer formula being repeated over and over ad nauseum for the past forty some years then you will be equally or more disappointed. But if you go into it not expecting much new in the storyline department and can cope with a few let downs in terms of characters doing ludicrous things to propel the plot along and an inexplicable ending then you should enjoy the film. The direction is fairly tight and is a step above Mena’s Malevolence, which features the serial killer Martin Bristol as an adult. In fact, I had not yet seen Malevolence when I saw Bereavement and had no idea who Martin Bristol was or that Bereavement was a prequel to that film. I think that actually helped me to enjoy Bereavement a bit more than had I seen the first film and known that young, kidnapped Martin was being groomed by the psychotic Graham Sutter into becoming the monster he would evolve into in Malevolence.

Young Martin Bristol (Spencer List) suffers from some rare condition that prevents him from feeling injuries of any type. He is kidnapped from his swing set by Sutter and kept in the barn of Sutter’s pig farm/abbattoir where his spends his impressionable boyhood years watching Sutter torture and murder young women he abducts from surrounding areas around his rural Pennsylvania home. His home is a derelict old slaughter house that police never figure is worth checking out during the five years of Martin’s disappearance, nor does the constant disappearances of several local young women seem to warrant much concern. Even in downtown New York some detective with time on his hands would connect the dots and think “hey we gotta seral killer on our hands here” but beautiful girls vanishing from a farming community seems to be the norm here. And this is where the film starts to have problems of course. It is not with the acting which is pretty good by the leads (including Michael Biehn, Alexandra Daddario, John Savage –who yet again plays some sort of handicapped person, a role he has perfected since The Deerhunter- and Brett Rickaby as Sutter) nor with the direction or fine cinematography by Macco Cappetta, but with the odd plot gaps and incongruities that have become part and parcel with slasher films in general. That being said the film is still better than many of the new slasher stuff which are borrowing more and more from films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel than from the masked slasher stuff from the 80’s, though Martin Bistol does wear a hood in Malevolence. Like Hostel many of the death scenes go on a bit too long, and watching women being tortured and slowly stabbed to death is not really scary. It is unnerving and unsettling but not scary in the way I prefer a horror movie to feel. Also I have problems, and have mentioned this before , with the bleak, fatalistic endings of modern horror movies. I am not trying to give away the ending and yet how can I avoid it when I say at least one decent person should survive. It is not really a “clever” twist ending to have every half way likable person in the film killed off.


The film tries to explore why a young and innocent Martin Bristol became the killer he becomes in Malevolence and on some levels it succeeds at that. Some people say it did not, but it certainly did better than, lets say, the newer Texas Chainsaw Massacre films explaining the origins of Leather Face, as if we need to even know that. Another problem might be with the lead character of Allison (Daddario) who plays the sullen and morose, angst ridden teenage girl who leaves the big city for the country and brings her life weary, whiny attitude along with her. Had she met Edward Cullen along the way things would have worked out better no doubt. Of course what other type of female character would work in this sort of story? I guess this winds up becoming the best of all possible worlds and yet it get s a bit annoying at times. And Daddario seems too mature to play the (I believe) 17 year old high school girl Allison. And while I have no major issues as a guy with seeing her massive jugs and erect nipples in tank tops as she sits on the bed chatting with her uncle (Biehn) and aunt it just did not seem all that believable. And I do not go into these sorts of film looking for everything to be 100% believable of course. But I think we are, as a horror culture, long past are the days of gratuitous nudity or erect nipples and boobage.

Like Malevolence Mena also scores the film and I think does a better job this time around. Martin Bistol is not a horrible entry to the elite community of super slashers and I have a sense we will be seeing a couple more films with his character in them. The film is well shot and the editing and pace are not unbearable. I am not a whimp but I did not like some of the protracted torture and death sequences but I have seen worse. There is a fine line that separates, in my view, a decent horror/slasher film from a cheap gore film. Bereavement does not cross that line really and there is definite talent involved with the project. Slasher fans will enjoy it. Cynics and weak stomachs will not.

THE VAGRANT/1992/BILL PAXTON

I caught this film on a thing here in China called PPTV on our iPad. It is some sort of streaming software and has TV shows and movies of different sorts that have had Chinese subtitles added to them. I did not expect much from this film as the user ratings were a bit low really –as they are on IMBD- but I was really surprised and enjoyed this effective little black comedy and thriller from Director Chris Walas (more known really for his special effects work) and producer Mel Brooks. The film stars one of my favorite actors Bill Paxton as yuppie analyst Graham Krakowski who is certain he is going to that big promotion at the office he works at and so purchases a home. The place is a fixer-upper but Graham is pretty sure things are going to work out and even his gold-digging girl friend Edie (Mitzi Kapture) should be pleased. What Graham does not realize is that the house comes with it own homeless vagrant who refuses to leave or let Graham have any peace. Graham is quickly revolted by the one-eyed bum (played to full creepy effectiveness by Marshall Bell) and becomes obsessed with knowing where the vagrant is at all times. He is constantly calling 9-11 with complaints and soon realizes the guy must have some sort of access to his house. He goes into a state of near paranoia as he sets up a security system in his house and is not sure at times if he is dreaming when he sees the creep in his house at night.

Things get more complicated and tense for Graham when he begins to wonder not only if the bum is a local serial killer but whether he himself is the killer and the bum is a figment of some sort of psychosis he is suffering. Detective Barfuss (played by Michael Ironside in a rare and well done comedy role) does not believe there is any vagrant and is sure Graham really is the very serial killer he has been searching for. Well of course things only get worse and worse for Graham and things with the girlfriend don’t work out. Nor does the coveted promotion after his horny real estate agent is found in his refrigerator in a serving tray. He manages to garner the mercy of a jury and avoids murder charges and ends up a white trash trailer park manager. But of course the vagrant is not done with him as there is more to the bum than simply being a homeless derelict. The film is really well done and Bill Paxton in particular is great in one scene after another as the tormented yuppie who has no clue as to why his once predictable life is now one nightmare after another. Check it out.


THE THING/2011

I just finally had the chance to watch the new version of The Thing and over all I really did not find it to be that terrible a film. I can surely recommend it, but the movie certainly, for me, has the issue of remakes lingering in the front of my brain at the moment. I am reading through a book called American Horror Film; The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium by Steffen Hanke who deals with various dilemmas facing American horror films not the least being the sudden rash of films that are high tech but low brow remakes either of Asian horror films or, more recently, of older more successful and influential American films. Someone should tell Mr. Hanke though that film books with rambling 27 page introductions is another one of the new millennium’s concerns as well. No doubt American horror, once the innovator and standard bearer of the genre, is in a creative slump. The reliance on remakes, on the one hand, and shoddy straight to DVD drivel on the other does not help matters much and the whole remake issue is something I want to explore as a topic in another article later, but the issue cannot be side-stepped with this 2011 remake (or prequel more accurately) of the 1982 classic by John Carpenter. I would easily go so far as to say this was Carpenter’s best film and if I pressed to name my all-time favorite horror/sci-fi film -I feel the movie is a successful melding of the horror and sci-fi genres, much like Ridley Scott’s Alien was- I would not hesitate to name The Thing.

There is an element in some reviews on online of acting like films like The Thing is some sort sacred matter and to redo it even as a prequel (a euphemism of sorts for remake in this case since some scenes are obviously meant to be modern redoings of the same scenes from Carpenter’s film) is tantamount to heresy. The problem here is that Carpenter’s film itself is a remake, and one that was not received with open arms when it was first released and not it did it fare well at the box office when originally released. Many people felt there was no way the movie could top Howard Hawk’s original film, 1951’s The Thing From Another World. As time has gone on I think people would say that Carpenter’s film did not in fact “top” Hawke’s film (which is also a great movie in every sense) but it took the same story and retold it in a new a way and added to the story by not only making it in color –though there is nothing wrong with the original’s black and white- but by also adding then state of the art special effects by Rob Bottin and a classic music score by Carpenter and Ennio Morricone. Carpenter did with his version of The Thing what any filmmaker worth his weight in salt is supposed to do with a remake, and that is make the story his own and take it to a new level. Not one that has to outdo the original but at least equal it in some sense.

And now my two cents worth on the raging debate on the Internet these days: does the new The Thing at least equal its predecessors in retelling the story of a hostile alien life form that can take on the appearance of creature it absorbs, those creatures currently being dogs and humans stationed at some remote and ultimately claustrophobic base somewhere in Antarctica. Well, my answer is that, no it does not match up to either Carpenter’s or Hawke’s films. It falls short. But is it a bad movie and one that should be avoided or loathed? I would say it is an okay movie, entertaining enough for the times we live in when half way decent horror fare is typically lacking. Of course where this article is going to be heading eventually is in dealing with yet another culprit damaging modern day horror films, and that is the murky matter of CGI effects. Carpenter used what was then state of the art special effects in creating still outstanding scenes in his movie that was simply not possible in the original. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. has the same right to push the effects of the new version into the 21st century, and the film may have not worked without CGI in some capacity, but is newer always better and were the CGI effects overused? I had read before seeing the film that the filmmakers had opted to use only minimal CGI effects but all I saw were computer effects. I will get to that a little later on and share my feelings about it, but for now lets look at the basic storyline. And as always, if you hate spoilers you had best skip the next paragraph or two. I, too, hate to read them but I love to write them. I will try to keep them at a minimum however. I will just introduce the general story then critique afterwards.

Mary Elizabeth Winsted plays paleoanthropologist Kate Lloyd who is offered the chance to fly to Antarctica by one Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to examine the remains of what turns out to be an alien creature that has been frozen in the ice for about 100,000 years. She is soon at a Norwegian base surrounded by chauvinistic Norwegian guys and one other female. Later some Americans (including Joel Edgerton as Sam Carter) arrive to mix things up a bit and to allow more of the film’s dialog to be spoken in English. As well as the alien creature there is a huge space craft buried under the thick ice and snow. The creature is transported in a block of ice back to the Norwegian base where further tests reveal the creature’s cells are still alive. The creature wastes little time in bursting free of the ice and since we know the Thing can assume the appearance of other life forms we can safely assume that soon enough some people at the base are not who they appear to be. Sure enough people we least suspect start mutating into a monster that makes quick work of its victims one way or the other. Either by simply killing them or by absorbing them and thereby taking on its victim’s appearance. Paranoia mounts and nobody is sure who is and who is not themselves or actually the space alien that is intent on killing or absorbing everybody at the frozen base. To make matters worse a serious Antarctic storm is blowing in and no one can leave the base until the creature and its imitations are isolated. There are chases by the creature and confrontations between the crew in the building where they are all huddled for survival, but by the film’s final scenes the action shifts to the interior of the space craft itself. The film ends in a way that is supposed to open the door to the John Carpenter film but I am not so sure about that as there seems to be some loose ends in my opinion. If this movie is actually a prequel then a few scenes in the other film are left completely unexplained and I will touch on those but not make a major issue out of it all.