Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fido (2006)

The Movie: A cloud of interstellar dust has hit the Earth, causing the dead to rise as ravenous, flesh-eating zombies. This triggered the Zombie Wars, where humanity was forced to fight for its survival. However, as in the “Real World,” it took a powerful corporation to save the human race.

Zomcon came up with several innovations to insure the survival of humanity. First it determined that destroying the head will also destroy the zombie, making them much easier to fight. Second, Zomcon created the perimeter fences to surround and secure the communities; keeping out any walking corpses. Finally, and most importantly, Zomcon created the zombie control collar. These collars dampen the zombies’ hunger for human flesh, rendering them docile and controllable. Thanks to Zomcon, the greatest threat to humanity is now its greatest consumer status item; and the citizens of America are able to live and thrive in Zomcon maintained utopias.

Except that it isn’t all safe. The lingering space dust ensures that any unattended corpse will quickly rise up again as a threat to the living. Outside the community, the wild zombies continue to seek a way past the defensive perimeter. From within, there is always the risk of a control collar malfunctioning, instantly causing a formerly obedient servant to revert back to a ravenous monster. Of course, there are also the non-compliant subversives who are a threat to every community. Zomcon ensures that they are rendered harmless by exiling them to the Wild Zone.

Enter our hero, Timmy Robinson (Kesun Loder); an ordinary pre-pubescent boy. However, he is just old enough to start feeling the puppy love for his new neighbor and classmate, Cindy Bottoms (Alexia Fast). Timmy is also rather intelligent and perceptive; just enough so that he can see that his world isn’t as perfect as those around him want to believe, but he lacks the maturity and world experience to categorize it. This marks him out as “the weird kid,” and generally leaves him lonely, isolated, and bullied.

His home life isn’t much better; what with his status and appearance obsessed mother (Carrie-Anne Moss, a long way from Trinity in the Matrix), and his emotionally distant, death-obsessed, zombie-phobic father (the ubiquitous Dylan Baker of the second two Spiderman movies and the Cell). Then there are strange characters in his life such as his skeevy neighbor Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson), who has an eyebrow-raising relationship with Tammy (Sonja Bennett), his hot teenage girl zombie.

But the arrival of the new neighbors is going to change the lives of Timmy and his family in more ways than one. Cindy’s father (Henry Czerny) happens to be the new Zomcon head of security for Timmy’s town. His mother, in an attempt to get in right with the new neighbors, goes against her husband’s wishes and buys the family a zombie (Billy Connolly). Timmy quickly bonds with the zombie and dubs him “Fido.”

Unfortunately, trouble starts when Fido’s collar gets damaged and he winds up eating Mrs. Henderson (Mary Black), the nasty old woman who lives across the street. Timmy’s attempt to cover it up only brings on greater problems. Mr. Bottoms, a vicious and single-minded son-of-a-bitch, is determined to find a scapegoat…

The Review:

Now, I don’t want you to think that what we did was normal or alright in any way.”
-Helen Robinson

Io Saturnalia! Merry Christmas! Happy Yule, Chanukah, Kwanza, or whatever Winter Solstice holiday you celebrate! One of the sure signs of the arrival of this time of year is the glut of feel-good family movies. Always one to put my oar into the water, for my contribution I present you with my review for Fido; a sweet, uplifting little tale of a boy and his zombie that can probably best be described as Lassie Come Home meets Dawn of the Dead.

Even though it is often labeled as such, Fido is not a horror movie; at least not of the visceral kind you find with genre horror. Instead, Fido’s horror leans toward the political. At its core, Fido is a satire. The world of the movie harkens back to an age that most people these days look upon with nostalgia and rose-colored glasses. On its surface, with a few exceptions, this world looks like the idyllic 1950s small town we see in reruns of shows like Leave it to Beaver; bright colors, consumer goods, peaceful neighborhoods and mostly well-behaved young people.

However, like actual 1950s America, there is a dark shadow to the world of Fido as well. The people who idealize this era tend to forget that it was also the time of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and a general sense of paranoia. While everybody expends their energies to keeping up an appearance of prosperity and contentment; there is still the often unvoiced fear of a Them that is out to take what they have. And bizarrely, even as it uses 1950s aesthetics, Fido also holds a mirror to post-9/11 America as well. Our Them is Islamic terrorists instead of Communists or zombies, but we continue to maintain the paranoid mindset of an outside enemy infiltrating our homes. In fact, Zomcon presents us with a great metaphor for where our society is headed (if it’s not already there); an entrenched, overly powerful corporate sector that simultaneously promises to provide us with everything we need while waving societal boogiemen in our face to scare us into not opposing them.

A lot of thought and effort went into building the society that the movie’s characters inhabit, to fascinating and terrifying effect. Guns are not only allowed at school, but their use is part of the curriculum. Old people aren’t afforded respect anymore; in fact they’re viewed as a threat, since they could potentially die and rise as a zombie at any time. And proper funerals in the world of Fido are as prohibitively costly as attending a good college is in our society. One suspects that Zomcon purposefully set it up this way. After all, zombies are now an extremely lucrative resource, despite their inherent danger; and too many proper funerals would cut into Zomcon’s profits.

Some of my favorite scenes in this movie are just shots of the world the characters live in. There are shots of sunny days in the park, complete with picnics and kids playing ball, while the household zombie carries the parasol or walks the dog. There are propagandist newsreels, which aside from the zombie content could have come right out of 1950s America. There’s a typical day at school, where the children practice with their rifles. Then there’s one of the scenes I like the best; where several zombies, under the supervision of a Zomcon minder, attempt to deliver the milk and newspapers.

As longtime readers of this blog are probably aware of, I love good characters and character development. Fortunately; in Fido, like in the original Romero zombie movies it simultaneously spoofs and pays homage to, the main focus of the movie is on the human characters. Most of the main characters are far better developed than one would expect them to be. Many of them are presented so that we first see them one way, but as the movie goes on we start to see different sides to them and get a better idea of who they are and why.

Timmy’s parents are great examples. His mom starts out looking like your typical, appearances obsessed ‘50s housewife. However, she winds up bonding with Fido as well, and becomes one of Timmy’s biggest allies in regards to him. Also, from the beginning we get some strong hints that Timmy’s father isn’t the one in charge of the family. His father, meanwhile, comes across as emotionally distant, insecure, and something of an asshole. However; as we are gradually shown, there are valid reasons for this. In fact, it eventually becomes clear that he really does love his son; and by the end Mr. Robinson actually redeems himself.

Mr. Theopolis is another great character. Our first looks at him are from the viewpoint of the rest of the community, as a somewhat sleazy degenerate. It might be noted that in most of his early appearances he comes across looking (I sincerely doubt coincidentally) like a young Huge Hefner. However, Theopolis is the first individual to notice that Timmy needs help, and immediately offers it. By the end of the movie Theopolis voluntarily winds up going above and beyond for Timmy and his family. And finally, we eventually start getting some looks at his and Tammy’s relationship that show it to be far more than what everyone thinks it is. By the end the impression is of something that is sweet and healthy, albeit still very unconventional.

The child characters don’t have quite as much range; but they're fairly simple to begin with and don’t need it. The child actors do very well; Timmy is both convincing and sympathetic, and Cindy is wonderful as the girl next door who is pretty much the exact opposite of the stereotypical girl next door. In fact, age her a decade or two and you’d have the woman of my dreams. The villain also isn’t anywhere near as complex, but he’s convincing enough. One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the knowledge that there are men exactly like him in this world.

Fido also works very well as both a satire and a black comedy. Surprisingly, it’s actually a very sweet and uplifting little movie; but the dark humor leavens it enough so that the sweetness doesn’t trigger your gag reflex. I’ve been trying to get my family to watch it for a while, but they hear “zombies” and automatically make assumptions. Sigh. Overall, Fido works as both a very fun and uplifting little movie and as a razor-sharp satire on much of what is wrong with our society.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Mask (1994)

The Movie: Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) is a decent guy with an unhappy life. He is a good man and tries to do the right thing. Unfortunately, he’s rather repressed and has a hard time standing up for himself. As a result, the world tends to use him as a combination doormat/kickball/chew toy; if it bothers to notice his existence at all.

Stanley’s life changes in a major way when a club outing with his best friend and coworker, Charlie (the late Richard Jeni), through a perfect storm of unfortunate events, becomes the worst night of his life. A brief flirtation with jumping off a bridge and ending it all lands Stanley into possession of a strange Scandinavian mask. Stanley quickly discovers that the mask has bizarre powers; that whenever he puts it on it changes him and brings out the emotions he has long repressed. Suddenly he is able to affect the world around him, stand up to those who bully him, and romance Tina (Cameron Diaz in her first starring role), the beautiful bank customer who is the woman of Stanley’s dreams.

Unfortunately, the freedom that the mask provides comes with its own set of problems. Whenever Stanley wears it, he loses restraint. When Stanley robs the bank where he works, he winds up making two enemies. One is police Detective Kellaway (Peter Riegert of Animal House), who immediately becomes suspicious of Stanley and is determined to catch him.

Worse, however, is Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene of Pulp Fiction). A vicious and ruthless gangster, Dorian has been plotting to usurp the city’s main crime boss for some time. Unfortunately, funding for his plan revolves around a robbery on Stanley’s bank; and Stanley has beaten him to the punch. It also doesn’t help matters that Tina happens to be Dorian’s girlfriend. Dorian is determined to get revenge on Stanley; and he has big plans for the mask and its powers…

The Review:

This is incredible! With these powers I could be… A SUPER HERO!!! I could fight crime, protect the innocent, WORK FOR WORLD PEACE!!! But first…"
-Stanley Ipkiss

The Mask has long occupied one of the top spots on my list of all-time favorite movies. By “long” I mean since late junior high school, almost two decades at this point. I can think of three specific reasons for why this particular movie has held my enjoyment for so long. The first and probably biggest reason is, at its core, very simple; the Mask is a wish fulfillment movie that covers pretty much every major fantasy I have ever had that I would publicly admit to. What’s more; since I have no trouble identifying with the protagonist, this film is always a major morale boost for me when I have to deal with my own personal issues.

The second major reason I enjoy this movie so much came up in fairly recent years; I find the nature of the mask itself to be particularly fascinating. What is a mask? It is an object that hides what you truly are. However, the mask of this movie’s title, though we have to call it a “mask” for lack of a better term, performs the exact opposite function. Instead of hiding an individual’s true nature, this mask drags it to the surface.

Ironically, it’s the character who emphatically does not believe in the mask’s powers who provides the exposition for what it is. Psychologist Dr. Arthur Neuman (played by actor, comedian, author and right-wing shill Ben Stine) is first seen when Stanley catches him on a television talk show discussing his new book. He explains that we all metaphorically wear masks; that people employ socially acceptable fronts to hide who they truly are and what they truly desire. Later on, after Stanley discovers that whenever he wears the item in question said masks come right off, he goes to the doctor for help. Dr. Neuman doesn’t believe Stanley’s story about the mask, but his last words to Stanley are a far greater insight about it than he will ever know. When Stanley asks advice on whether he should meet Tina as either himself or the Mask; Dr. Neuman answers “go as yourself and as the Mask, because they are both one and the same beautiful person.”

The changes wrought on the two characters who wear the mask bear this out. When Stanley Ipkiss wears the mask, he turns into something that’s a combination of the charming seducer and a character out of the cartoons he loves so much. Also, because he does have a lot of pent up anger and frustration at the rest of the world, he tends to be obnoxious and/or destructive. Stanley conjures up weird, Loony Toon-style gag items such as giant mallets and tiny horns that can shatter glass. He bounces out of windows, swallows exploding dynamite, robs the bank where he works, and generally goes out of his way to annoy people.

However, Stanley is, at heart, a good man despite his pent up frustration; and his powers and actions tend to reflect this. In general, his actions are more intended to scare and annoy than they are to actually hurt others. As an example, in my favorite scene, Stanley finds himself cornered by a huge mob of police officers. His response; he summons up music, leads them into a huge dance number, and then escapes while they are distracted having fun. There are only two scenes where he goes outside this dynamic. However, the closing battle is open-ended enough that the villain might still be alive; just somewhere else. As for Stanley’s revenge on the car mechanics who take advantage of him; can any of us say we wouldn’t do the same if we were in his place?

Jim Carrey does wonderfully as Stanley Ipkiss. In fact, while the Mask came out at a time when the thought of Carrey doing serious roles was generally considered laughable; Carrey’s acting is probably what draws me the most. He has since proved that he can do a serious role, and rather well; but I have long thought that Jim Carrey is at his best as an ordinary guy finding himself in an extraordinary situation. Most people come to the Mask to see Jim Carrey as Stanley Ipkiss’ id run amuck, and he does to great in that role; but I come to it to see Carrey as Stanley Ipkiss.

The villain, Dorian Tyrell, provides the other extreme. On the surface, Dorian is a very handsome, charming man. However, underneath he is vicious and cruel. After seeing Tyrell in action, it’s no surprise that the mask turns him into something out of a horror movie, with powers to match. Overall, I think that Greene provides us with a good villain for us to boo and cheer his downfall.

The third and final reason why I love the Mask so much is that it’s just a fun and well made movie. The rest of the cast and characters are also, overall, wonderful. This is Cameron Diaz’s first movie role, and it’s easy to why she got to where she is today. There’s also a clever little bit of role-reversal with the two female characters, where the “femme fatale” actually turns out to be a decent lady, while the “good girl” is the one who winds up stabbing Stanley in the back. Jeni provides a fun and likable character as Stanley’s best friend; Charlie obviously does care about Stanley, but he tends to be oblivious to what’s going on. Detective Kellaway and his rather clueless partner, Doyle, provide a fun humorist/straight man team. And finally there’s Milo, Stanley’s loyal dog; who is at least as intelligent as his master, and who gets to briefly wear the mask himself.

The setting for the movie is also a lot of fun. Edge City is a combination of a contemporary city and the archetypal Naked City of noir. There are lots of fun little anachronistic touches, such as Stanley’s zoot suit when he puts on the mask, that harken back to that genre. Along with that is the music; the soundtrack is big band swing, and all by itself is worth seeing this movie for.

In the end, the Mask is a fun little wish fulfillment fantasy. It has a good cast, a fun storyline, great dialogue, and a few scenes that have to be seen to be believed. I revere Jim Carry for this movie alone.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fascination (1979)

The Movie: After a successful robbery, professional thief Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire) betrays his companions and runs off with the stolen gold himself. The bandits chase him to an isolated chateau, where he takes refuge. However, he quickly finds that he is not alone.

It turns out that there are two women currently residing in the chateau; Eva (the talented, lovely, and terrifying Brigitte Lahaie of Faceless and Night of the Hunted) and Elisabeth (Franca Mai). They claim to be servants preparing the house for the arrival of their mistress the next day. The two women at first play the part of the innocents scared of the big bad bandit and his gun, but a discerning eye will notice that they seem a bit too relaxed. After allowing themselves to be locked up, and using the chance for a lesbian interlude; they return to confront Marc again, all pretenses dropped this time. Important life lesson I learned from movies: if everything should indicate that you are in control of a situation, and yet the other people involved act otherwise; carefully reconsider everything because you aren’t in control.

After playing a few power games to determine who is in control (which Marc, poor bastard, never realizes he’s lost), the women are suddenly very obliging and offer him hospitality. They tell him they can provide him with food, safety from his former comrades, a place to rest, and sexual favors from Eva. Marc eagerly partakes in all of them. Most important life lesson I gained from horror movies: if something seems too good to be true, chances are it probably is. They also tell him about a special event that night.

However, Elisabeth quietly tells Marc she has fallen for him; and that he needs to leave now, because if he stays after dark it will mean his death. Marc disregards Elisabeth’s increasing warnings and stays, still nurturing the illusion that he is in control of the situation. The inevitable finally comes, but admittedly it arrives in an unexpected manner…

The Review:

It has been a little over a year since I’ve reviewed a film by the late Jean Rollin, hence my choice for today’s review. Fascination is perhaps one of Rollin’s better known flicks, as well as one of his movies that is more comprehensible to a mainstream audience. The bare bones of the plot are very simple and basic in and of themselves; when we are finally told what is specifically going on with the chateau’s owners, it has the potential to be a letdown it’s so simple. However, with a good cast and his flair for the dramatically bizarre, Rollin is able to create a very arresting little movie.

The character of Marc is something that would probably torpedo most mainstream movies; he’s a very unlikable protagonist. Playing an asshole character is a thankless position; if you do it well people associate you with the asshole you play, but if you do it poorly you are a bad actor. Marc, in short, is not just an arrogant asshole; he’s also such an idiot that he makes Darwin Awards contestants look smart. I would find it completely unbelievable if I didn’t follow politics.

I would be the first to admit that I tend to be very oblivious and bad at picking things up, particularly when it comes to social cues. However, I’m pretty sure even I could take a hint when it comes in the form of a direct “if you aren’t gone by nightfall you are going to be killed.” Likewise, a woman going outside to negotiate with dangerous people who she couldn’t possibly be a match against; yet who comes back in unharmed with a bloody scythe slung over her shoulder, should be a sign to anyone that he has stumbled into a very bad situation. Finally there is the character of Helene, the leader of the coven of women who arrives at nightfall. Fanny Magier probably has more presence in this movie than anyone else except Brigitte Lahaie, and it’s very clear at first glance that this is not a woman you want to mess with if you don’t want something extremely nasty and painful to happen to you. When the inevitable finally happens to Marc, I find it not so much a tragedy as some much needed chlorine for the gene pool.

However, the fact that Marc is so unlikeable is not the poison to the movie it probably would be elsewhere. I know I usually harp on how these movies only work when you can like and/or identify with the protagonist(s); but Fascination is the exception that proves the rule. Rollin’s movies aren’t your typical films; they are not character driven, and aren’t necessarily about the protagonist. In fact, Marc is in many ways a plot device more than a character. He personally is not important, but the situation he’s in is.

And the situation is plenty nightmarish in and of itself. Rollin makes expert use of setting and atmosphere to bring us into one of his dreamlike realms. The credits, where Lahaie and Mai dance on a bridge to the eerie tune from old phonograph; and the opening scene, where two rich women visit a butcher shop to drink ox blood prevent anemia; are both beautifully staged and just off-kilter enough to prevent the audience from being at ease. And I can’t stress enough the scene where the chateau’s guest arrive; where with just lighting and a mildly threatening music score Rollin makes high class women in turn of the twentieth century attire seem far more scary and dangerous than they probably should.

Then there is the nature of the villains, themselves. Rollin plays with one of his favorite movie themes, vampirism; but very differently from other movies on the subject. First of all these are very human vampires, with nothing supernatural about them at all; something I actually find much scarier to contemplate. Also, these are not the tragically beautiful vampires pop culture is saturated with these days. These women are beautiful, but this is the kind of beauty that is there to lure in victims.

The cast, as I stated earlier, is wonderful. Of course, as you probably expect, I’m probably going to gush more about Brigitte Lahaie more than the others. As usual she is perfect in this role, both gorgeous and terrifying in equal measures. Particularly iconic for fans of European cult cinema is the scene where she cuts down the bandits with a scythe while only wearing a black cloak; successfully imitating the Grim Reaper in a way that is not at all coincidental. When Lahaie goes into full psychotic mode it is terrifying in a way no American movie psycho can match; utterly silent, but intense, determined, and in a way that makes it obvious that she is relishing the bloodshed. No, I still don’t know why I have a thing for women who scare the living hell out of me.

Franca Mai, while not having quite the sheer screen presence of Lahaie or Magier, still has enough to give an effective performance. She actually has some scenes where she comes across as subtly (and not so subtly) scary in her own right. What’s more, she is beautiful and fully able to portray her character.

In conclusion, Fascination is very much a Jean Rollin picture, but still fairly different from the movies he had made up to that point. Rollin makes excellent use of the setting, lights and atmosphere; bringing us once more to a realm that exists just past the borders of the world we know. The cast is wonderful; and for trash movie lovers there is some bloodshed alongside truly beautiful women who show a lot of bare skin. If you’re a fan of European cult cinema, or just looking for something different, you should definitely check Fascination out.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Night of the Demons (2009)

The Movie: It is Halloween night in New Orleans. Creepy Goth/party-girl Angela (the lovely Shannon Elizabeth of American Pie fame) is deeply in need of money, and as a last ditch effort throws a huge Halloween bash at the Broussard Mansion; a house with a dark past and darker stories surrounding it. As the pre-credits flashback shows us; Evangeline Broussard (Tatyana Kanavka) threw a party which ended with her hanging herself and her six guests disappearing mysteriously.

Among the contemporary party guests are Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther), a longtime friend of Angela and her two friends; Lily (Doira Baird) and Maddie (Monica Keena of Freddy vs. Jason). Once at the party, the ladies bump into a few more familiar faces; Maddie’s ex, Colin (Edward Furlong, who you may remember as John Conner from Terminator 2: Judgment Day), who is dealing drugs in a last-ditch effort to make enough money to keep the local drug lord from killing him; Lily’s estranged, but still missed ex, Dex (Michael Copon); and his best friend, Jason (John F. Beach). However, the personal drama and wild debauchery are rudely interrupted when the police arrive and shut the party down. The seven friends are the last to leave, and find themselves locked in the house.

Searching for an exit, they stumble across a secret room, which contains six skeletons. Angela speculates (all too accurately, as it turns out) that these are the remains of Evangeline Broussard’s ill-fated guests. She also receives a nasty bite on the hand when she reaches for a gold tooth.

That bite is the beginning of the end for the party-goers. It turns out that Ms. Broussard inadvertently summoned up some particularly nasty demons at her party, and now one of them has been transmitted into Angela. Quickly, the majority of the group is brutally killed and possessed; and the real party begins as the few humans remaining try desperately to survive the night.

The Review: Happy Halloween dear readers! Or, for my fellow Pagans, happy Samhain. This has always been one of my favorite holidays, even beating out Christmas in recent years, which has recently sunk to the level of Valentine’s Day for me. So, in my blog’s own humble recognition of the holiday, I present my current review.
Technically, Night of the Demons is a remake of the movie of the same title which I reviewed last Halloween. As a result, a little comparing and contrasting will be in order. However, nowhere near as much as you might think. While there is a bit of borrowing, as well as some winks and nods to the original, Night of the Demons is, overall, very much its own movie. If you want to know what I said about the original, read my October, 2010 review and then come back for this one. If not, you should still have no problems making sense of this review.

Getting it out of the way first, the elements taken from the original aren’t very much. It does use the basic bare-bones plot, but that plot was a few millennia old when Evil Dead used it in 1981, much less seven years later for the original Night of the Demons. There is also a small nod to the original in the form of a very short cameo by Linnea Quigley at the very beginning.

Otherwise, with one exception, the elements borrowed from the original are mainly minor cosmetic ones, such as the names of characters. The one exception is where Night of the Demons uses one of the original’s most effective scare scenes. The scene with Linnea Quigley and the lipstick in the original always makes me shudder; but the remake doesn’t just borrow that scene, it actually one-ups it. My only response to that is “good show.” Also, “bleeeechh!”

As for being a movie in its own right, I can probably best sum up Night of the Demons as a decent, well-made, and effective little horror movie. First and most importantly, the makers of this movie, unlike so many self-proclaimed makers of horror films these days, knew first and foremost that they were making a horror movie. In fact, in this element they were a little more effective than in the original movie.

The second major element makers of this movie got right were the protagonists. While they aren’t exactly three-dimensional, our heroes are a far cry from being one-dimensional caricatures, either. While lightly done so, they are all fleshed out just enough that we can see them as living, breathing human beings. This makes them identifiable and sympathetic enough that we care about what happens to them. Hell, there was even one character who I kept looking at and thinking “oh gods, that’s me!” Considering said character’s traits that I was identifying with, it wasn’t exactly flattering for me or him. Still, it drew me in further.

What’s more, the protagonists are actually fairly smart. They’re not geniuses, and they do make mistakes, but said mistakes are the kind you can expect your average human being to make in similar circumstances. This is one important detail that so many moviemakers employing the slasher mold don’t get; contestants for the Darwin Awards getting killed in surreally bizarre ways by a wisecracking killer isn’t scary, it’s cartoonish. Now, relatively intelligent and competent individuals who, for the most part, rise as much as they can to the situation yet still fall? That’s scary.

The script is actually pretty clever in how it sets the protagonists up. We in the audience have a basic idea what they are in for simply because we know we’re watching a horror movie; but they don’t, nor do they have any reason to. The early signs of the trouble to come are all presented in ways that are easily rationalized and dismissed.

An arm attacks Maddie through the bathroom mirror? She’s at a party where various intoxicants are flowing freely, Halloween is the time for those kinds of pranks, and Suzanne tells her that it’s something Angela would do. Her ending thought on the incident is to wonder how Angela did it. Angela coming on to Dex a little too aggressively during a game of spin the bottle? Suzanne did warn Maddie and Lily to keep Angela away from any men they were after. Gate locked so they can’t leave? It was probably the police, who didn’t know anyone was left. By the time it’s obvious that something weird is going on, it’s way too late to do much about it.

Then there’s how obvious it is just how outmatched our heroes are by the demons. These things are deadly, and the movie makes that very clear. And, even though the heroes are provided some aid, none of it is the magic bullet it might be in other ways. The wall of exposition (a literal wall; a maid survived the original night by covering the walls of a room with protective wards, and she also wrote everything she knew as well) provides a few answers, but only enough so that we and the protagonists know a) what they are up against and b) what the stakes are. The demons do, it turns out, have a weakness; and one readily obtainable in the house. It is, however, limited. And even if the demons can’t get into the warded room, that doesn’t keep them from dripping blood down the walls to wash away the wards (in an oddly effective scene), or creating fake daylight to lure the heroes out.

So ultimately, we wind up spending ninety minutes with people we can identify with and/or care about on some level as they try to deal with a situation that is far outside their experience. And in the end, isn’t that what a good horror story is supposed to be? Night of the Demons was obviously intended as a real horror movie, so much effort went into it. While there is humor, there is none of the self-referential, “aren’t we clever?” winking we’ve come to expect these days. The majority of the humor is at the beginning, and quite a bit of it is actually clever. I particularly like the spin the bottle scene. However, once the demons start striking, whatever humor there is present is of the very blackest sort.

The demons themselves are pretty damn scary. As in the original movie, I still think they’re at their scariest when they look perfectly human except for minor things like briefly glowing eyes or unusual behavior. However, the effects and actors here present us with things that are straight out of a nightmare. They work.

Finally, I have to mention the soundtrack. The music here, as opposed to the films that throw in extraneous pop songs just to sell them, actually adds to the atmosphere of the movie. It’s goth-rock and heavy metal, admittedly an acquired taste, but I find it effective.

So in conclusion, Night of the Demons is a fun, effective and scary film which, despite its status as a remake, comes out as a decent and well made movie in its own right. And in the end, can you really ask for much more?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bowfinger (1999)

The Movie: “Bobby” Bowfinger (Steve Martin); head of the small, going nowhere, Bowfinger International Films, has one lifetime dream; make movies. Unfortunately, he has pretty much been locked out of the system his whole life and his dream constantly denied. Having recently come upon his last shot; a script written by his accountant, Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle), for a low-budget science fiction thriller called Chubby Rain, Bowfinger decides to go for it.

Bowfinger gathers up Afrim and his other associates to make the movie; including Dave (Jamie Kennedy), his assistant; Carol (the ubiquitous Christine Baranski), an aging actress; and Slater (Kohl Sudduth), a teenage slacker in the body of a twenty-something. Unfortunately, there are problems from the beginning. While Bowfinger is able to convince the big studio executive Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey Jr.), to promise to distribute his film, that promise comes with a catch; the film has to include the hot action star Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). Of course, Ramsey refuses to give Bowfinger the time of day.

Desperate, Bowfinger decides to shoot the film anyway, but in a way so that Ramsey doesn’t know that he’s starring in the movie. Inevitably, complications spring up surrounding those involved in the film. There’s the fact that due to severe budget restraints, nearly all of the film equipment is “borrowed” by Dave from the studio where he works. Daisy (Heather Graham), the woman Bowfinger hires to be Ramsey’s love interest in the film, may be the sweet young thing off the bus from Ohio with stars in her eyes; but she’s sure figured out pretty quickly how to use sex to get her way. Then there’s Jiff (Murphy again), the amiable and good natured, yet slow witted, young man hired as a Kit Ramsey look-alike; who has a bigger connection to the star than anyone realizes.

However, the biggest complication is Kit Ramsey himself. Ramsey is mentally and emotionally unstable; and the mysterious happenings that are suddenly springing up around him are starting to drive him over the edge. MindHead (the Church of Scientology, but with enough superficial details changed that they can’t sue), the organization backing Ramsey, is really starting to worry about what’s happening with their cash cow…

The Review:
It’s due back every night by five, or it’s a felony."

For me, one of life’s more interesting (in the positive sense of the word) experiences is the discovery that something I’ve long enjoyed can be enjoyed and appreciated on levels that I was previously unaware of. That is my experience with the movie Bowfinger. I first saw it when it came out at the very end of my high school years, and I found it to be an immensely clever and funny movie. My parents even gave me a VHS copy for my eighteenth birthday, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it. However, at the time I just knew it as a clever and funny movie. In the decade-plus since I have learned a lot about Hollywood and the movie industry; partly due to my fascination with movies, partly due to my knack for picking up random bits of trivia. I still like and enjoy Bowfinger as much as I ever did; but now understanding a lot of the references, I find that I appreciate it much more than I did when I first saw it.

Bowfinger is a satirical riff on Hollywood written by Steve Martin. Considering Martin was an industry insider for roughly thirty-something years by the time he made this movie, he would have been intimately familiar with all of Hollywood’s ins and outs. As a comedian, he also had the instinct to determine what the industry’s most ridiculous aspects were, and how he could go about skewering them.

Probably the thing I find most notable about Bowfinger these days is its all-around tone of moral ambiguity. An interesting thing I have learned about morals and ethics is that oftentimes the official moral and/or ethical codes of conduct for a system aren’t made with everyone’s well-being in mind, despite what the code’s supporters would have you believe. Instead, they are established with the specific goal of making sure that those on top remain in control, while outsiders and those on the bottom rungs of the ladder stay in their place. This is very notable in the entertainment industry, whether you’re talking Hollywood or music. It’s why I don’t shed any tears whenever the heads of these industries whine that internet downloading and so called “pirates” are destroying them; the way they’ve stacked the deck in their favor, there’s no way it will cause them any serious harm, however much some of us might want to hope. Their unreasonable junkyard dog attitudes toward the issue stem not from legitimate grievances, but because they cannot stand the idea of something from what they consider to be their domain to be anywhere outside their total control.

This is what Bobby Bowfinger is up against. Bowfinger has a simple life goal, he wants to make movies. He never mentions a desire for laurels or accolades, doesn’t want to win an Oscar; he just wants to be able to make his own movies. Unfortunately, Bowfinger is locked outside the system, and as a result that dream has been stymied. It’s clear from the view we get of him and his house during the opening credits that Bowfinger has spent his life jumping through every legitimate hoop he could, some of them probably multiple times. Chubby Rain is probably Bowfinger’s last chance to obtain his dream, and he is determined to do it. Unfortunately, by this point he is well aware that there is no way he will be able to do it by legitimate means.

What I love about this aspect of the film is the fact that even though Bowfinger violates every “professional” Hollywood ethic, even though he does some things that seem to violate my own personal codes of conduct, everybody involved comes out ahead as a result. For example, my favorite part of the movie is a sub-plot involving his film crew. To get a film crew, Bowfinger and some of his associates go down to the U.S.-Mexico border and round up some immigrants fleeing from the border patrol. The Mexicans are mostly part of the background, but we get to see their transformation none the less. At the start it seems like Bowfinger is just exploiting these men; it’s clear that they have no idea what is going on. However, as the movie goes on, we witness them learning to run the equipment, discussing movies, and in other ways growing much more competent in their unexpected craft. The last time we see them, it is clear that they are much better off having worked for Bobby Bowfinger than they would have been otherwise.

This applies to all of the major characters too. It is because of all of Bowfinger’s dirty deeds, not in spite of them, that he and his longtime associates are finally able to obtain their dream of making movies. Bowfinger exploits Daisy in many ways to get his movie made (although I find I can’t fault him too much for that, considering how much she exploits everyone around her on her own); but at the end it’s clear that even if she hasn’t quite reached the heights of stardom she’s been after, Bowfinger has put her into a position where it’s probably only a matter of time. And as for Jiff; it’s apparent that while he’s too good natured to let it affect him too much, it’s been difficult for him always being in his brother’s shadow. Bowfinger does wind up exploiting Jiff’s connection to Kit Ramsey to finish the movie, but in return Jiff gets what he’s always wanted; a group of people who love and value him for who he is, not who he’s related to (which, ironically and perversely, is exactly what he finds with Bowfinger and his crew), and the opportunity for him to shine on his own humble merits.

Even Kit Ramsey and the heads of MindHead, the individuals who arguably most deserve to get screwed over (and who would argue they were the most screwed over by Bowfinger), ultimately benefit from Bowfinger’s actions. Kit winds up the star of another successful film that further cements his status as a prominent action star. And of course, as MindHead’s major cash cow, what benefits Kit also benefits them. The only real damage Bowfinger does to these people is to their pride, they were beaten at their own game by individuals they hold in contempt.

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy bookend each other as the headliners of Bowfinger. They both are amazing physical comedians with wonderful facial expressions. However, they also both add their own individual contributions to the movie. Martin gets the chance to break away from the idiot characters that he is known for; and while Bobby Bowfinger is definitely a Steve Martin character, he is also very different from what Martin’s usual type leads us to expect.

Murphy, meanwhile, is amazing in the dual roles of Kit and Jiff Ramsey. Whether as the mentally unstable prima donna, or the good natured but slow witted geek, Murphy plays both roles to perfection. In fact, while he is uncredited, I cannot help but feel that Murphy had some input on the script for these two characters, so well does he fit them. Heather Graham, meanwhile, gives the impression that she is thoroughly enjoying her role as Daisy.

Ultimately, Bowfinger works well on several levels. At its most basic, it is an extremely funny and clever David and Goliath story where the underdogs come out on top in the end. However, if you know anything about Hollywood and the entertainment industry, it is also an extremely sharp satire on the inner workings of those two unhallowed institutions. A great movie, definitely worth watching multiple times.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

The Movie: In the year 2127, aboard the Space Station Minos; the station’s builder, Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay, who also plays his ancestors in this movie) works on a mysterious project involving a familiar (at least to those who watch this movie series) box. However, he is interrupted by a group of soldiers. His recent behavior, evacuating the station, re-routing the power, has worried the corporation that owns the structure. The soldiers, led by the psychiatrist Rimmer (Christine Harnos), have been sent to relieve Merchant of his command and determine the extent of his insanity.

Desperate to make her understand the importance of what he is doing, Merchant explains his family history to Rimmer. In the Eighteenth Century an ancestor of his, a toymaker named Phillip L’Merchant, was commissioned by Duc de L’Isle (Mickey Cottrell), a degenerate aristocrat and black magician, to make a box. He then discovered what the box is for; as the magician and his apprentice, Jacques (Adam Scott), killed a girl they lured to their mansion and used her skin to house the demon princess Angelique (Valentina Vargas), who they employed the box to summon.

Guilt-stricken over what he had unleashed, L’Merchant started a design for a device to destroy the demons his box summoned. Unfortunately, he was caught when he attempted to steal the box back and killed by Angelique. He left behind a pregnant wife, but his bloodline was forever cursed by the incident; its fate entangled with that of the box.

In 1996, John Merchant was a very talented and well-off architect with a wife (Kim Myers of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2) and young son. Unfortunately, his most recent and celebrated work was the office building that we saw at the end of Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth, its design definitely influenced by the puzzle box. Worse, he started suffering graphic dreams about Angelique; and the demoness became aware of him and his work. Things went pear-shaped when she turned up in person.

Using a man she picked up as a sacrifice, Angelique recovered the box from the building’s foundations and summoned the arch-demon “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley in his iconic role) to Earth. Unfortunately for her, Hell changed a lot since she was last there, and Pinhead had his own ideas about how to get Merchant to finish opening a permanent portal. Unfortunately for Merchant and his family, they were placed firmly in the middle of this power struggle. John’s attempt to employ his ancestor’s plan against the demons failed, and he got killed; although his wife was able to send them back to Hell.

Now, Paul has been having the dreams; and he has resolved to finish his ancestor’s work and sever the tie between his bloodline and Hell. He used L’Merchant’s plans to build the space station as a huge trap for the demons. Already his plan is in motion, but unfortunately it was interrupted by the arrival of the soldiers. Now the demons are loose on the station…

The Review:

Hell is more ordered since your time, Princess; and much less amusing.”

I often get asked why I enjoy the horror genre so much. It’s a legitimate question, hence this current double feature. In reviewing these two movies, I seek to explore what, exactly, it is that I get out of horror.

At its core, the horror genre is about an unpleasant little truth that all of us have to face at some point in our lives; we are not in control. Horror stories always center around the protagonists finding themselves in a situation that is outside of their immediate control, and what, if anything, they do to try to gain that control back. In an uncertain world, it can be greatly comforting to vicariously deal with that uncertainty. It can also be immensely cathartic because, unlike the “Real World,” in genre horror sometimes the evil is defeated, if only for a short while.

Believe it or not, Hellraiser: Bloodline is a movie that I find extremely comforting, and that I watch sometimes when I feel the need for something uplifting. The simple reason why is pretty much expounded upon above; it is a movie about a man who seeks to take back his life from the horrors that are attached to it. What’s more, the ways that said horrors are attached to his life in the first place are ones I can identify with on some level.

The theme of family and lineage is one that particularly resonates with me. As I’m sure we’re all well aware of, family is a mixed blessing at the very best of times. On the plus side, you are forever part of something and nothing you do can ever separate you from it completely. On the down side however, you are forever part of something and nothing you do can ever separate you from it completely.

Even the very best and healthiest of families have dark shadows, whether or not its members are consciously aware of them. The thing about a lineage is you never actually choose to be a part of it; which means that you are going to be affected by things you never had anything to do with in the first place. Exodus 34-7 reads: “I will visit the iniquity of the fathers unto the children, unto the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generations.” Now I can remember a story I read a long time ago where the hero, reflecting upon his own problems, thinks of this verse. He then comments that he doesn’t feel that it is the ravings of an evil god, but merely an observation on how long the repercussions of a destructive act can resonate.

There is a lot of truth to this point of view. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my own family; and in many ways I am extremely lucky in that regard. However, as I have learned more and more about my parents’ families since high school, I have come to realize certain things. Among others, that familial issues from three or four generations ago are still affecting my parents, and by extension myself and my two siblings; and will probably continue to influence any children we might have.

It gets even worse when you start on genetic lineage. As our understanding of genetics grows, you have to wonder how much control you actually have over who you are and what kind of life you lead. Having come into several genetic inheritances over the past decade, I can attest that it can be every bit as bad as a demonic curse on the family line. In fact, sometimes I cannot help but wonder if I wouldn’t prefer the demons. So as you can see, I greatly identify with Paul Merchant and his ancestors. What’s more, the idea of separating oneself from one’s genetic heritage, whether it’s a demonic curse or a tendency towards cancer, is one that greatly appeals to me.

Hellraiser: Bloodline was not well received, and I can see what some of the reasons why are. First of all is in the treatment of the Cenobites; as presented in this movie they fall far afield of Clive Barker’s original vision of them. In the original novella they were not simple demons from Hell at all. Instead, they were human beings who figured out how to lock themselves away in their own pocket dimension so that they could experiment with pleasure and sensation. Unfortunately, an eternity of these experimentations combined with no limits on what they can do have turned them into serious sado-masochists.

What’s more, in their original guise the Cenobites are not evil; or at least on a black and white scale they would be a very dark shade of grey. They have a sense of honor and justice, twisted though it might be. They have no real desire to interact with humanity, preferring to stay in their own realm flagellating each other. Most importantly, they don’t torture people out of any real cruelty; their sensations of pleasure and pain are so screwed up that they think they’re giving their victims what they truly want.

The cosmology of Bloodline is very different, but I still find it fascinating. The vision of Hell that it presents is one that I find refreshingly different, and extremely disturbing. The common perception of Hell is of a chaotic place; one of dark temptations where the demons, at least, live in a state of perverse glee at the torture of their human victims. Angelique is definitely a demon of that brand of Hell, a tempter and a promiser of dark pleasures.

However, when Angelique calls up “Pinhead” for the first time, her reaction to his appearance tells us plainly that he’s not what she expected. His explanation (see the quote I begin this review with), and his subsequent actions and philosophy suggest just how far it has left her behind in her time on Earth. The Hell insinuated by Bloodline is not a demonic playground of perverse and sadistic delights, but an impersonal corporate machine. It exists and functions solely for its own existence and function, and even the minions that keep it running get no real pleasure or reward for their efforts. Take note just how Angelique has changed when she reappears in the last chapter of the movie, after about a century or two in this new Hell.

The two main villains are definitely the best characters in the movie, due largely to the actors who play them. Vargas is wonderful as a succubus; usually sexy, but able to be terrifying and threatening at the same time. Bradley, as usual, has such presence that he commands the lion’s share of attention whenever he’s on screen. His presentation of this Lord of the Damned is imperious, threatening, and not a little formidable.

What’s more, Bradley adds a bit more personality to the role than it might otherwise have. Pinhead in Bloodline displays a sense of humor; not the slapstick one that was justifiably derided in the previous sequel, but an ironic one so dry and deadpan it’s easy to miss. Also, Bradley is able to convey large amounts of dialogue with just his facial expressions. Probably my favorite part of this film is a brief shot of his face at the end of the second chapter, when he is being sucked back to Hell but just before he lets out the inevitable scream of impotent thwarted rage, where his expression says very clearly “Brother, here we go again. Sigh, might as well get the formalities out of the way.”

Another reason Bloodline got derided by audiences was the space setting. True, it was made during a period where just about every flagging horror franchise was placing their villain in outer space. However, unlike the other franchises this movie’s use of the setting actually works. For one thing, the space setting is only a very small part of the movie; for another, the space station comes across as a rather fitting setting for the Cenobites.

Also, the setting provides one of the more intriguing aspects of the storyline; in the form of the hero’s one advantage against his foes. Paul never actually confronts the demons directly; undoubtedly having learned from his ancestors’ examples that going toe to toe with them is suicide. When he solves the box he uses a remote controlled robot to do it; and the demons are obviously puzzled when they arrive. Likewise, in the two confrontations he has with Pinhead, Paul is able to use the stations tech to distract the demon from what he is actually doing. This provides the setup for the climax, which I think is very well done.

Admittedly, there are a few criticisms that Bloodline is deserving of. Most of the rest of the cast isn’t as good as they should be. Ramsay’s talents range from not great to adequate, and Harnos really doesn’t provide much at all.
However, I think that this movie’s biggest flaw lies at the feet of its producers.

The man who wrote and directed it had a very ambitious storyline laid out, but the studio changed much of the script behind his back. Many of the good points come across as not as good as they should have been, largely because of unreached potential and the sense that something important is missing. Likewise, there are a few scenes that were obviously just put in because somebody decided that they needed to be there for it to be a horror movie. The most grievous example is where the soldiers are being picked off just before the climax. We’re never given the chance to know them as human beings, and the scenes of them falling prey to the demons mostly play out like an assembly line.

But for all its flaws, I still rather like Hellraiser: Bloodline. It’s not the best movie ever made, but it’s definitely worth the occasional watch and has its good points. Most of all, the storyline itself is one that I, personally, find rather uplifting and inspiring; and the longer I live the more I find uplifting and inspiring to be necessary, whatever the source.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The Movie: It’s Fourth of July weekend and Frank (James Karen of Mulholland Drive and Poltergeist), of the Uneeda Medical Supply Warehouse in Louisville Kentucky, is staying after work to show Freddy (Thom Mathews), the new stock boy, the ropes. After seeing the wonders of the place; the skeletons, the prosthetics, the split dogs sold to veterinarian schools, the single human cadaver currently in the freezer; Freddy asks Frank what the weirdest thing he’s ever seen on the job is. Frank tells him.

Apparently the old horror movie Night of the Living Dead is based on a real event. The army commissioned the Darrow Chemical Company to create a chemical, 345 Trioxin, to use in the growing War on Drugs. A canister spilled and its contents seeped into the morgue, causing some of the corpses to move around. The army packed up the animate corpses and contaminated dirt and loaded them into canisters to be shipped back to Darrow Chemical for testing. However, in a “typical army fuck-up,” the canisters were mixed up with another order and shipped to the Uneeda warehouse instead. They’ve sat in the basement for almost a decade and a half now.

Of course, Frank offers to show Freddy the canisters. To demonstrate how sturdy the Army Core of Engineer’s work is, Frank slaps one of the canisters, immediately causing it to rupture. Both men get a face-full of Trioxin gas and pass out, while the ventilation system disperses the gas throughout the warehouse. When they wake up, Frank and Freddy are feeling extremely sick; and the dead inventory are all much more lively now, particularly the corpse in the deep freeze.

Frank calls Burt (the venerable and prolific Clu Gulager), the owner of the warehouse, about the problem. The three men start by trying to destroy the animated corpse, but that task is nowhere near as easy as the original movie would have you believe. All they manage is to restrain it and cut it into many squirming pieces. But Burt gets another idea, take their problem to his friend Ernie (Don Calfa, of Weekend at Bernie’s and Chopper Chicks in Zombietown), the mortician of the Resurrection Cemetery funeral home just across the street. Ernie runs a crematorium, and maybe they could use it to destroy all the evidence; problem solved.

Ernie is talked into it, and the body goes up in smoke. Unfortunately that brings a whole new set of unforeseen complications; the corpse is saturated with Trioxin. The toxic smoke seeds the clouds, causing a massive downpour on the cemetery. Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) and their friends are partying in the cemetery, waiting for him to get off work. This puts them in the perfect position to witness the acidic rainfall and the cemetery living up to its name. The animated corpses that result are not only nearly indestructible, but they are also fast, agile, and intelligent. They seek to eat the brains of the living, because the endorphins mask the pain of rotting for a while.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Freddy and Frank aren’t doing too well either. In fact, the paramedics called in say that they’re technically dead, except that they’re still conscious. There is one possible solution, the contact number on the army canisters. However, this being the organization that had the Trioxin created in the first place, it is doubtful their solution will be pleasing for those involved…

The Review:

"The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations"
-Opening Scrawl

Here is part two of my double feature on what I get out of the horror genre. As I mentioned in my previous review, I find the horror genre extremely cathartic because it vicariously explores the theme of not being in control of one’s life. However, there is more than one way to achieve that catharsis. This film is probably the opposite side of the coin in that regard from the one I previously reviewed. Whereas Hellraiser: Bloodline is a movie that I watch when I need some hope that it is possible to regain control of a seemingly hopeless situation; Return of the Living Dead is what I watch when I’m in the mood to explore and revel in just how bad it could possibly get.

Return of the Living Dead is one of those rare horror-comedies that manages to get it right. In fact, for me it stands alongside Re-animator at the pinnacle of successful horror-comedies. Return’s humor is of the blackest sort; it’s the laugh that comes from knowing that it’s all going to Hell, but appreciating how ridiculous it all is anyway. In fact, Return employs its humor and horror elements in a way that I rarely see used, much less used successfully; they feed into each other. The more horrifying things get, the more comically absurd they get, and vice versa. In particular, the scenes where Frank and Freddy discover what has happened with the split dogs, and where they and Burt are trying unsuccessfully to destroy the first re-animated cadaver, are ones where I find myself simultaneously laughing and cringing.

The driving theme of Return of the Living Dead can probably be summed up thusly: it may not be as bad as it could possibly get, but it soon will be. The whole plot is basically one long series of examples of Murphy’s Law in action. No matter what the situation, or how it might first appear, things rapidly go all wrong. Just in the pre-credits section, where Frank first ruptures the canister by slapping it, all the way to the apocalyptic ending (which, the movie makes clear, is very far away from the end of the actual event); we are placed in an atmosphere where we know for certain that nothing will turn out right. Even in the minor events, a feeling of doom and gloom hangs over everything, and we know instinctively that they will end very badly for our protagonists.

And yet despite the atmosphere of doom and gloom, we cannot help but laugh. Terrifying as it is, there is just something really absurd about the world we know coming crashing down. Some of the humor is very blatant; the eye chart in the Uneeda warehouse office that reads “Burt is a slave driver and a son of a bitch…” (it goes on but I can’t read the rest), for example. However, an equal amount of it is very deadpan, sometimes to the point where you might miss it if you’re not paying attention.

Return of the Living Dead is very much a product of its time; the dark depths of the Reagan Era when the twin horrors of Mutually Assured (nuclear) Destruction and Right-wing insanity hung over this country like a cloud of doom. However, more and more I find it fits equally well in this day and age, what with the ongoing “War on Terror.” Having just passed the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks as of this writing; I cannot help but reflect how our foreign policy has gone in a full circle since that terrible event, greatly compounding the damage from it. But that’s a rant I’ll spare you for another time.

Anyway, due to the political influences on this movie resulting from the era in which it was made, there are all sorts of nasty satirical touches in it. The fact that the two main authority figures are named Burt and Ernie, for example, cannot be a coincidence. There’s also the fact that Ernie is listening to Wagner when we first meet him; and that he carries a handgun which he pulls automatically at any excuse. Of course, it poses more potential harm to him and the other protagonists than it ever does to the true threat. And of course, finally, there is the whole theme of “the Proper Authorities are not your friends.” Admittedly it does come straight from the Romero movies that Return is paying homage to, but it also fits right in to the political atmosphere of the time.

Probably the movie’s greatest strength is its cast and characters. All of the characters, while lightly sketched for the most part, come across as at least somewhat believable as a fully fleshed-out human being. There are no square-jawed heroes in this flick, no wise authority figures who have the answer. Instead , we have completely ordinary human beings caught in an extremely extraordinary situation that they have almost no frame of reference for. And, unlike most horror movies, they act as real people would. All the characters do stupid things, but their actions are plausibly stupid, not moronically suicidal. Likewise all of the characters freak out about the situation at some point, but most also have something to contribute to the attempt at a solution as well. The fact that they are completely powerless to affect it at all is hardly their fault.

All of the cast do a great job of portraying a believable human being. Aside from the characters I just mentioned, even the ones playing the punks of Freddy and Tina’s group of friends come across as individuals. Mark Venturini’s Suicide may come off as a “designated asshole” archetype of the genre, but his dialogue reveals that there is legitimate reason for this behavior; and he even shows a bit of nobility when he (albeit unintentionally) sacrifices himself trying to save Tina. The lovely Linnea Quigley, in the role that earned her her crown as Queen of the Scream Queens; is very convincing as the tough-talking, death-obsessed Trash, whose façade collapses as soon as the fewmats really start hitting the windmill. It should also be said that the scene nearly everyone takes away from this movie, with good reason, is the one where she does a striptease on top of a crypt. Finally, the sexy Jewel Shepherd as the bitchy Casey reminds me of a lot of women I have known from high school on out. Sadly she never does a striptease in this movie, on a crypt or otherwise; but if that’s what you’re after she has some other movies that will scratch that itch for you.

In general, the special effects, while coming across as fake-looking in a few parts, are mostly top notch. If you aren’t inured to gore, don’t watch this movie while eating. The soundtrack is wonderful; the punk-rock songs used fully complimenting the action on screen. The script is very well written; and the movie as a whole is so full of little touches, such as the eye chart I mentioned above, that it’s impossible to catch them all on a single viewing. Above all, there is a manic energy about the whole thing that drives you inexorably to its conclusion. And as for said conclusion; while “wait, it’s not over yet” type endings are par for the course for the horror genre, this one flows organically and legitimately from what has happened earlier in the film.

So in conclusion, Return of the Living Dead is a hell of a movie experience; well written, well casted, and very well made. Hilarious and horrifying, gory and gleeful, and driven by a demented yet irresistible energy; never has watching the world get dragged to Hell been this much fun.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

The Movie: The year is 1948 and everyone uses magic. Well, not quite everyone. Detective H. Phillip Lovecraft (the prolific Fred Ward) absolutely refuses to use it, despite its constant presence and the pressure from everyone around him. That refusal is going to severely handicap him in his latest case.

Uber-rich scholar Amos Hackshaw (David Warner, of many films including the Omen and In the Mouth of Madness) wants Lovecraft to hunt down some stolen property for him. His former chauffer Larry Willis (Lee Tergesen) has stolen the prime book in his collection; a volume on esoteric magics called the Necronomicon. What’s more, Hackshaw needs it back by midnight two nights hence.

The first lead Lovecraft gets a hold of leads him to the club the Dunwich Room; which it turns out is owned by Harry Bordon (Clancy Brown, from Starship Troopers and Highlander, as well as the T.V. series Carnivale), a two-bit crime boss who also happens to be Phil’s old partner on the police force. Even more awkward is the presence of Connie Stone (the prolific Julianne Moore), the femme fatale headliner for the club and Phil’s ex-girlfriend. The more he searches, the more Phil gets drawn into the sinister web of intrigue building up around the book; having to contend with zombie leg breakers, gargoyle hit men, summoned demons, and Olivia (Alexandra Powers), Hackshaw’s hot-to-trot sixteen year-old daughter. All of this is building up to a dark ritual that may destroy the world.

Phil does, however, have an ally in his landlady, Mrs. Kropotkin (Arnetia Walker); a no-nonsense Voudoun practicing witch. Kropotkin is determined to get Phil through the mess with the Necronomicon intact; and the fact that her help isn’t exactly desired is entirely beside the point. However, even with her unwanted assistance; can Phil Lovecraft stand against the rising darkness?

The Review:

It started with a woman. It always starts with a woman…"

I am very tempted to say “not bad for a made-for-TV movie.” However, I will not say that; as it would be both a major understatement and a grave disservice to the movie in question. Cast a Deadly Spell is an HBO made movie, and it’s pretty damn good. I won’t say it’s the best movie ever made; or anything near. Still, it is very well made and, above all, it is a lot of fun.

In essence, Cast a Deadly Spell is two things; it is a noir detective story, and it is a tribute to the great horror author H.P. Lovecraft, in that order. In the latter category, it is only really a tribute. Various names from Lovecraft’s work appear, as does his famous plot formula of black magicians seeking to summon forgotten evil gods back into our world. Cthulhu, Lovecraft’s most famous creation, makes a brief appearance at the climax. And finally, of course, the author’s name is present in the name of our hero.

However, it is as a noir that Cast a Deadly Spell really works. Except for the inclusion of the supernatural, it would fit right into the classic noir’s of the 1940s. All the archetypes are here; the hardboiled detective who won’t compromise his principals, the rich degenerate, the gangster, the femme fatale. The usual themes are very much present as well. The theme of getting by without selling one’s soul is our hero’s primary motivation; albeit presented much more literally than usual. Then again, I find myself more of the opinion as time goes on that Faust got a much better deal than contemporary society is willing to offer me, or most other people. There is also the important theme of moral ambiguity; particularly where a truly immoral act is what winds up saving the day.

The plot’s structure also lines up perfectly with the plot of a classic noir detective story. In all the major particulars, the plot is by the numbers. However, it’s in the little details where this movie comes into its own. The world which the characters inhabit is beautifully crafted, to the point where one could almost believe that it exists. The inclusion of magic and the supernatural also allows some truly fun little details; such as the gremlin infested boarding house where Lovecraft begins his investigation, or the scene at the police station where the hooker in the holding cell reveals a set of vampire fangs. These are just little details that aren’t important to the main plot, but they help reinforce the sense of a living, breathing world.

I particularly admire how the movie handles the subject of magic, itself. As a student of mythology and folklore for most of my life, I have come across many systems of magic. Now, despite what Disney has led us to believe, there is not a single pre-twentieth century system of magic that is simply “wave the wand, say the words, and ‘poof’ it happens.” In fact, every system of magic I have come across is every bit as cause and effect as contemporary Western science. Admittedly it usually works along different principals; Voodoun magic, for example, involves knowing who the right spirits are for the situation and how to get in their good graces; but there is always a system behind it.

Now, Cast a Deadly Spell never actually explains the system behind its magic, but it presents it in a way to suggest that there is something behind it. If you watch the magic-using characters, you will often notice them doing some seemingly odd, and or pointless gesture before the actual magic starts. As an example, in one scene where Harry has his henchman, Tugwell (Raymond O’ Conner of Halloween 4 and Doctor Alien), pay off a flunky that they intend to double cross; Tugwell sucks on the little package that has his “payment” inside. A short time after, when Tugwell corners him in a public restroom to finish him off, it’s the package and its contents that are used to kill the man, giving him a very nasty death by paper cut.

Another way I think the movie employs the subject of magic very well is how it is presented in society at large. It is clear that in this world, magic is the latest Big Thing, and much like Western science in our world all the way back to the Industrial Revolution, there are good and bad sides to this. On the one hand, there’s no denying that it works. However, much like science, the majority of the characters don’t really understand it even though they use it constantly. In our history there have been many examples of how this state of affairs can be misused and exploited to the advantage of a few individuals; Social Darwinism, Dianetics, and Creationism/Intelligent Design to name but a few. This is echoed in Cast a Deadly Spell with the constant refrain of “it’s the way of the future.” And yet, we can often see the limitations even if the other characters can’t. In one of my favorite scenes, Lovecraft’s case takes him to one of the postwar tract suburbs that were going up at this time in history. The saleslady eagerly emphasizes how they are built entirely by magic; but the zombie workmen demonstrate, far better than any line of dialogue could, how just because something is the latest technique, it doesn’t necessarily make it the best one.

Probably the character with the healthiest attitude toward magic is Mrs. Kropotkin. On the one hand, being a witch herself, she does use it. In fact, the very first thing we see after the credits is her performing a divination ritual. There is also a scene late in the movie where she corner’s Lovecraft, orders him to give her his hand, and then puts a charmed bracelet on it. When he protests that he doesn’t use the stuff, she merely responds “I know, that’s why I locked it on.” Kropotkin then proceeds to tell Lovecraft, rather bluntly, that he is a moron for his attitude toward white magic; but he needs what she is providing him, and she’s going to make sure he gets it, whatever he might think of the arrangement.

On the other hand, Kropotkin, unlike the other magic-using characters we meet, does not feel that magic is an end in and of itself. Her reaction to Lovecraft initially asking her about the Necronomicon makes it clear that there are some lines she will not cross. Probably more notable, she’s probably the only magic-user we never see employing magic for minor tricks like making things float or lighting cigarettes. At the end she is gathering supplies to help Lovecraft with his injuries, and when he asks what’s in one bottle she answers that it’s rubbing alcohol, and gives the caveat “I’m a witch, but I’m not a fanatic.”

I must confess that Mrs. Kropotkin is my favorite character. A large part of it is because Walker does such a wonderful job with the character, but also her relationship with Lovecraft kind of reminds me of my own with my little sister. My sister is a major control freak, but she’s right often enough that it’s dangerous to reject her advice out of hand. I find myself identifying with Lovecraft in the scenes where he deals with Kropotkin; it’s extremely irritating that she sticks her nose in, but he’s always grateful for it in the end.

So, in all, Cast a Deadly Spell is a good movie. One small warning, the box might make you think it’s a lighthearted comedy (that certainly happened with several people I showed it to). It’s not; while it does have a sense of humor it’s mostly a very dry, deadpan one. Still, this movie is a lot of fun and definitely worth watching if you can find it. So why the hell’s it not out on DVD yet?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

The Movie: In the future, an epidemic of organ failures devastated humanity. Our species was almost wiped out, but for Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino of GoodFellas and the Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet). Largo started the company GeneCo, which replaced the problem organs with healthy ones. Cosmetic surgery became very popular as a result. Unfortunately, there is the inevitable Faustian clause to the company’s services; GeneCo was able to use its position to become, essentially, a legal loan-sharking operation. If you are unable to pay up on your new organs, GeneCo will send a repo man to come and repossess the property. It’s every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

GeneCo also created an extremely addictive painkiller called Zydrate. However, the lowlifes of society have discovered that Zydrate can be extracted from corpses. Combined with GeneCo’s policy on organs, it is insured that a thriving black market makes grave robbing a very profitable enterprise; despite the fact that GeneCo can, and does, legally kill anyone who tries to buy or sell the products illegitimately.

Our story takes place many years after this sorry state of affairs began. On the one hand we have seventeen year-old Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega, of the Spy Kids movies), who has suffered her whole life from a debilitating blood disease. Her mother died at her birth, and her father, Nathan (Anthony Stewert Head, best known for his role in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series); overcome by guilt, grief and obsession, has done his best to keep her locked away from the rest of the world. He’s also been careful to keep his career as a repo man secret from his daughter.

On the other hand we have Mr. Rotti Largo, who has discovered that he is terminally ill. The worst part, for him, is the succession of GeneCo. Rotti does have three children, but they are humiliatingly dysfunctional and, he feels, unfit to inherit. Amber Sweet (the notorious Paris Hilton), is thoroughly addicted to cosmetic surgery and black market Zydrate. Luigi (Bill Moseley of Texas Chansaw Massacre 2 and the Devil’s Rejects), well… let’s just say that to describe him as having anger issues and homicidal tendencies would be grossly understating the issue. Finally, loutish Pavi (Nivek Ogre), has a nasty tendency to, among other things, steal other people’s faces so he can wear them himself.

The two issues collide when Shilo comes to Rotti’s attention. There is far more to her mother’s death than Nathan is willing to admit to, or is even aware of. Also, the two men have a rather nasty history together; far more than that of Nathan working as Rotti’s hatchet man. Rotti sees in Shilo the chance to kill two birds with one stone; find a competent heir for GeneCo, and pay back an old grudge. Unknowingly, Shilo becomes a puppet in a sick game as she desperately tries to find out the truth of her life. It will all come to a head at the big Genetic Opera…

The Movie: For a long time I have had many people telling me I need to see Repo! The Genetic Opera. A friend even loaned me a copy that I had every intention of watching. But you know how it goes; various other things pile up and you keep on putting it off. Finally, I made a point of sitting down to watch. So what was my verdict?

This will probably sound cliché, but Repo! is unlike anything I have ever seen. It consists of elements that would seem to be contradictory, even paradoxically so. Genre wise, Repo! is in turn horror, dystopian science fiction, black comedy/satire, and opera. It is simultaneously beautiful and repulsive, terrifying and gleeful, tragic and perversely hilarious. And yet, all of these disparate elements blend together seamlessly into a mutually coherent whole. This, this movie, is why I consistently search outside the mainstream for my entertainment.

First there is the look of the movie. Repo! employs comic book panels, live action, CGI, and a smidgeon of conventional animation to tell its story. The feel of the setting is mostly Victorian-gothic, and yet the science fiction setting allows it to play with those tropes a bit, throwing delightful bits of anachronism into the mix. In some places, the setting feels removed completely from the conventional time stream. As an example, one of the touches that came to my attention were the portraits of Shilo’s mother that filled her house; they look every bit the stereotype Victorian portrait, except that they are 3D-looking holograms.

Then there’s the music. I, personally, have minimal experience with opera; yet the structure of Repo! fits perfectly the little bit I do know about the art form. Normally I’m not into musicals, but such is the music woven into the makeup of the film that it seems a perfectly natural part of it. Even in a seemingly unsuitable scene for a song number; such as a corporate hatchet man repossessing somebody’s spine, it seems to make perfect sense that said hatchet man would be singing about his situation while he does it.

The final part of Repo! is the cast and characters. While the setup, props and sets and style are all amazing, it is the characters that this film is truly about. Repo! provides us with some truly fascinating individuals (albeit, usually “fascinating” in the exact same way one would find a horrible train wreck fascinating), and it is the people who play them who make the film work. It would not work at all with a less than stellar cast; but fortunately this is never an issue.

It falls to Alexa Vega, as Shilo, to carry most of the film’s weight. All of the major plot points revolve around her as the only true innocent in this twisted web she finds herself trapped in. For the movie to work at all Shilo has to likeable, identifiable and sympathetic. Vega delivers on this in spades. What’s more, I didn’t recognize Vega at all while watching Repo!. There was a small voice in the back of my mind screaming that I should know her from somewhere, but it wasn’t until I saw her name in the ending credits that it clicked. As I’ve mentioned before, I have the utmost respect for actors who can get so far into their role that we forget we are watching them instead of their characters. Vega has talent, and it is my sincere hope that she continues to move on to bigger and better things.

Like so many other people, I mostly know Anthony Head from his role as Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, even in that role he displayed diverse and varied talents. Repo! gives Head a chance to employ them all, something which he never fails to do. Head does a remarkable job of displaying a truly multifaceted character. On the one hand, Nathan Wallace is undeniably a monster; and neither Head nor the script do anything to downplay that. However, he is also a human being, and as we get to know how he became what he is, we find him deserving of our sympathy even as we are repulsed by his actions. This is a very difficult balance to nail accurately, but both Head and the script do just that.

The true villains of this piece are equally captivating. Sorvino is perfect as Rotti, the architect of most of this world’s misery. He is the archetypal corporate gangster; brutal, greedy, vindictive, and completely uncaring about whom he hurts to get what he wants. However, even Rotti isn’t a completely two-dimensional caricature. Amazingly, Rotti Largo is practically tailor made to be a villain that I hate and love to hate; and yet there are a few scenes where a very small part of me cannot help but feel the tiniest bit of sympathy for him. That’s pretty remarkable.

One of the people who suggested this movie to me said that it’s one of the rare instances where I would actually want to see Paris Hilton. Believe it or not (and I still don’t), she was telling the truth. Hilton is great as a spoiled, rich brat. Admittedly, one could make a legitimate argument about typecasting in this case, but the woman also has some talent as a singer. Moseley and Ogre are also good as second-tier villains.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Terrance Zdunich in his role as the unnamed criminal (the credits just have him listed as “Graverobber”) who is Repo!’s Greek chorus. The man is definitely a dark and sinister figure, yet he proves to be no actual threat to Shilo. Instead he serves her (and us in the audience) as a guide to the twisted world in which they live. He also helps keep the audience abreast of the major plot developments. Zdunich does a wonderful job; and in some ways reminds me of the M.C. character in Cabaret, who plays a similar role.

In conclusion, Repo! the Genetic Opera is a gory, nightmarish, tragic, hilarious, and very well done example of the art form. It is well put together, with a great cast and script. Truly a work of demented genius, I would love to see more work from the guy who originally created it.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Wicker Man (1973)

The Movie: Sergeant Neil Howie of the West Highland Police (television actor Edward Woodward) travels by seaplane to Summerisle, a small island off the coast of Scotland. Howie comes on official business; he has received an anonymous letter about the disappearance of Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper), a local girl. It would appear that a horrible fate may have befallen her, and Sergeant Howie is determined to get to the bottom of it.

But it is not going to be easy. The inhabitants of Summerisle are very unhelpful, and at times even seem to be blocking his investigations. What’s more, Howie is a devout Christian and something of a bigot. The people of Summerisle are openly Pagan, and Sergeant Howie is even more angered and disgusted by their beliefs and lifestyle than he is by the potential fate of the missing girl.

The islanders’ upcoming spring celebration has Howie convinced that a horrible fate awaits Rowan; and he is determined to find her before it happens. Unfortunately, his bigotry and intolerance leaves him blind to the dark destiny that he is being led to himself…

The Review:
"The little old beetle goes 'round and 'round. Always the same way, y'see, until it ends up right up tight to the nail. Poor old thing!"-Daisy Pringle (a little girl at school)

The Wicker Man is a true classic of a movie; one that has received, quite deservingly, much admiration over the years since its release. And yet, it is a film that was almost lost. Throughout the early years of its existence, The Wicker Man was owned by individuals who neither knew nor cared what kind of treasure they had; and it was only through the devotion of the movie’s makers that it has received the recognition it deserves. For all the depressing details, look at the review for this movie on the site And You Call Yourself a Scientist, which you will find on my link to the B-Masters’ Cabal.

Unfortunately, due to this, parts of the original movie were lost. There is a restored version (which, unfortunately, I have yet to see), but even that, I understand, is missing a little bit of the running time. The version I am reviewing is, by necessity, the truncated version of the film. It really says something that even in its truncated state; Wicker Man is still an extremely moving and effective work.

At this point I must warn that to analyze this movie any further, I will have to give some serious spoilers. Admittedly, the big reveal at the end was spoiled for me long before there was an internet (yes, I am that old); and yet I still found the movie incredibly effective. Still, if you haven’t seen Wicker Man; and more so, if you are one of the rare individuals who don’t know how it ends; stop reading this, watch the movie, and then come back to see what I have to say about it. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. This is your final warning.

Okay, here we go. In place of the typical horror movie tropes of build-up and then scare; the Wicker Man uses two very clever examples of cinematic sleight of hand to convey its horror. Actually, I don’t think I have ever seen another horror movie that employs the specific techniques Wicker Man does.

The first bit of sleight of hand is with the atmosphere and the build up to the horror. The majority of the running time of the film consists of what seem to be the typical buildups to horror that we would expect. There is the set up, and we go through it waiting for the pay-off; but it always ends up at best, anti-climactic, and at worst a very tasteless joke. As an example, there is a scene late in the film where our “hero” has taken it upon himself to do a house to house search; barging into homes and businesses and opening everything he can find. At one point he opens a wardrobe, and the body of a little girl falls out. However, after he has started to examine her, the “corpse” giggles, gets up, and runs off laughing.

What this does is subconsciously condition the viewer so that eventually, on some level, we expect that nothing serious will happen. This continues to the final build up at the very end, which is the one time the movie plays it straight. Having been conditioned to expect yet another anti-climax, the seriousness of this final outcome packs far more of a punch than it would have if all of the build-ups had paid off like we’d been led to expect.

However, at the same time these anti-climactic help to continuously build a very subtle but palpable tone of unease. From almost the beginning we get the sense of being a traveler in a foreign culture (and make no mistake, Summerisle may be technically under Sergeant Howie’s jurisdiction, but for all intents and purposes it is very much a different country entirely); one that seems oddly familiar and yet disconcertingly alien. While the symbols that are very much in evidence may be known to us, they are consistently outside to cultural context we are used to seeing them in. This sense of the alien combined with the very real fact that a child has disappeared sets a tone of dread; even as we are conditioned not to expect something truly terrible to happen, there is still a part of us expecting it.

The other bit of sleight of hand that makes Wicker Man so effective is in its characters. This is a movie with no true heroes, where all of the individuals we are involved with are disconcertingly ambiguous in their motivations. There are a few elements of Sergeant Howie’s circumstances that evoke our sympathies at first. The sense of being a fish out of water in a strange culture is something all of us can identify with on some level; ditto how galling it is that the locals very clearly don’t take him seriously, and are even blatantly trying to push his buttons much of the time.

However, our sympathy for the good sergeant fades very quickly. Howie proves to be one of those small-minded bigots who is utterly convinced that he, and he alone, has the lock on Truth and faith. What’s more, he feels that it’s his duty to bludgeon them into anyone who thinks differently. And whenever he fails to bludgeon the locals with his religion, he’ll attempt to bludgeon them with his civil authority and his search for Rowan instead. There are also a few parts that reveal him to be a bit of a hypocrite as well. It’s not long before I’m actually praying for something horrible to happen to him.

The locals seem just the opposite. They generally come across as happy and good natured, and at many points it’s hard not to admire and envy their lifestyle. We very quickly grow very sympathetic to their plight of having this asshole outsider barge into their community and attempt to bully them. However, there is that sense of dread we cannot help but feel. There’s also the character of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), the community leader, who it becomes obvious is every bit as bigoted as Howie, just in the opposite direction.

Still, for most of the movie our main feelings tend to be sympathy for the locals and disgust for Sergeant Howie. It’s when we reach the horrifying climax that those opinions are brutally reversed. We may have been praying for something horrible to happen to the sergeant, but he certainly doesn’t deserve what does happen to him. And the villagers, who for the most part come across as, at worst, harmlessly eccentric; suddenly reveal a true and unexpected viciousness.

Probably what makes the Wicker Man most effective is that, aside from the subtly growing unease and the one true scene of horror at the end, it really doesn’t feel like a horror movie at all. Nearly all the movie, including that concluding scene, are in bright sunlight; the setting is a “quaint” little village in the middle of some truly beautiful landscape; and there is much humor and singing throughout it. The interesting thing about the latter two elements is that they do not seem intrusive at all; they are very much a part of the setting.

The singing is a part of the culture depicted, and illustrates the natives’ lifestyles very well (plus gives Howie one more thing to irritate him, what with the ribald and graphically sexual lyrics). In fact, it is a very large part of what I find to be the most effective scene of the movie, where Willow (the lovely Britt Eckland, of Royal Flash), the innkeeper’s daughter, is attempting to seduce the good sergeant in his bed from her room. The song being sung weaves a spell over the proceedings that, combined with the wonderful performances of Ekland and her body double, creates one of the most erotic and arousing scenes I have ever seen on film.

Likewise, the humor adds to the plot and the characters. Probably the part I found funniest was the expression on Sergeant Howie’s face when he steps into the girls’ classroom of the schoolhouse to find their teacher (Diane Cliento) teaching them a lesson on what the maypole represents (hint, it’s a long shaft with a knob on top, and it is a symbol of fertility). And that thing about the humor is that it also really adds to the atmosphere, and helps to throw us further off kilter as we get into what’s really going on.

In conclusion, the Wicker Man is a true movie classic. It is very well made, I cannot think of a single criticism to apply to it; and even in the truncated form which is all that’s been available to most of us for so long, it’s still pretty damn impressive. It’s also one of those movies where I notice something new every time I watch. Hopefully you will have discovered this for yourself before reading this, but even if you haven’t you should go find a copy and watch.