Monday, December 24, 2012

Gremlins (1984)

The Movie: It’s almost Christmas, and amateur inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) is in Chinatown looking for something special to give his son, Billy (Zach Galligan). In a small, out of the way shop filled with exotic and mysterious items, Randall finds an adorable, furry, little creature the shop’s ancient owner (Keye Luke) calls a “mogwai.” The old man refuses to sell the mogwai, saying that it takes a lot of responsibility and that he doesn’t feel Randall is up to it. However, the shop owner’s grandson (John Louie) is determined to make the sale and sells Randall the creature “under the counter.” He also tells him that there are three rules for the mogwai that it’s utterly imperative that he follow.

It’s very immediately apparent what the reason for the first rule, keep the creature away from all light, is; bright light is extremely painful, even deadly, for the mogwai. The second rule, don’t let him anywhere near water, is broken by accident not long after; and once again the reason is immediately apparent. Water causes the mogwai to reproduce parthenogenecally; the smallest bit of moisture and they’re worse than rabbits on fertility drugs.

However, it is the breaking of the third rule; don’t feed the creatures after midnight, which produces the most serious repercussions. If a mogwai is fed after midnight, it undergoes a transformation into a vicious, scaly, demonic and mean-spirited little monster. After a few accidents, Billy inadvertently overruns his hometown with the things. Now it’s up to him to put an end to them before they destroy the town entirely.

The Review: Io Saturnalia! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Or whatever Solstice holiday you, my readers, happen to be celebrating right now, I sincerely hope it’s a good one. Admittedly, I really don’t like the holiday season, due to all the hype and clamor for it that starts months before hand. However, I do enjoy and celebrate the holiday itself in my own fashion; and part of that involves putting my own form of recognition for it on this blog.

Gremlins is a movie that doesn’t fit comfortably into any single popularly recognized genre. First of all, as Roger Ebert so succinctly pointed out in his review of the film, Gremlins has a very fairy tale core to its central plot. If you read classic fairy and folktales (and I mean in their original form, long before the Victorians and Walt Disney got their sticky paws on them), one of the core plots of so many of these stories is that the hero is given rules for some kind of magic that he must follow; and then we are show exactly what happens when those rules get broken.

Secondly, and flowing organically from the fairy tale premise, Gremlins has many elements from the horror genre. I know it might seem a bit tame to regular fans of horror movies; but for the very young and/or those individuals who don’t consume a steady diet of them, there is plenty to this movie that can come across as scary, and possibly even traumatizing. In fact, Gremlins is one of the specific movies that inspired the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating; as it’s deemed not quite bad enough for an R rating, but too disturbing for younger viewers who might watch a PG rated movie. I cannot help but notice that despite its role in that decision, Gremlins kept its original PG rating. However, I’m sure that this decision was made with the best of judgment; and that to even hint that it might be due to the fact that Gremlins was a big-budget movie from one of the major studios would just be petty and mean-spirited.

Thirdly, the plot and setting for Gremlins borrow much of their composition from the countless Norman Rockwell-esqe Christmas specials that breed like flies at this time of year. Nearly the entire movie takes place in archetypal small-town America. This is the type of town where everyone knows everyone else, and you even call the sheriff by his first name. There’s Dorie’s Tavern where, as Kate (Phoebe Cates of Paradise and Fast Times at Ridgemont High), the movie’s love interest, points out; “that’s where everyone’s dad proposed to their mom.” Pete (prolific ‘80s child star Corey Feldman, of the Lost Boys and a few Friday the 13th entries), the kid who works at the local Christmas tree lot, can come over to Billy’s house and read his comic books, even though Billy is in his 20s, without anyone thinking anything of it. Billy’s father perfectly fits the archetype of the absent-minded inventor, with his various dysfunctional inventions scattered all over the house. There’s even an Ebenezer Scrooge/Mr. Potter character in the form of Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday), who threatens to spoil everyone’s Christmas.

Finally, there are the comedic elements. Gremlins is, among a great many other things, an extremely funny movie. A good deal of the humor is absurdist and referential. For example, one of my favorite scenes has Mr. Peltzer calling his wife from the inventers’ convention he’s attending and telling her that it turns out the other inventers are “a bit more advanced than [he] expected.” In the background we can see the time machine from the movie of the same name, as well as Robby the Robot from the Forbidden Planet. However, quite a bit of it is rather dark, and even mean spirited; such as when grinchy Mrs. Deagle storms out with a pitcher of water to soak the carolers she hears in her yard, and is shocked to discover that said carolers are a pack of gremlins, all dressed up and singing.

The thing is, you would think that all these disparate genre elements would not fit easily together; and they don’t. However, that’s really what makes the movie work. Gremlins is an extremely impressive and complex juggling act, one that gets all of its considerable energy from the friction and frission that result from the interactions of the various ill-fitting genre conventions. If you think about it, there is very little difference between humor and horror; it’s possible for the same situation to inspire both. The script and direction are constantly juggling these two things masterfully, switching constantly between making us laugh, making us scream, and occasionally making us want to do both. It is an extremely tough stunt to pull off, and even the sequel doesn’t come anywhere close to managing it.

For me, one of the absolute best aspects of movie is the whole situation of Norman Rockwell Christmas meets Hollywood horror. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I find that I tire of the holiday kitsch and schmaltz very quickly; so I actually find it quite relieving and therapeutic to see it all dragged down under a tide of green, scaly catastrophe. It’s just so much fun, in a warped, schadenfreuden way, to see this stereotypically wholesome all-American town get ripped to shreds. And there are even a few extremely dark elements that go far beyond being fun; top of the list for most people who’ve seen this movie probably being the part where Kate explains to Billy why she hates Christmas so much. I don't know about you, but I find that a little bile is just the thing for washing down all that over-saturated sweetness.

The one final element that I feel I should comment on is Gizmo, the original mogwai Mr. Peltzer brings home. For the most part he, personally, isn’t a very big part of Gremlins. Even though he does strike the final victory blow at the end, up until that point he doesn’t really do anything of significance; and more than anything else just serves as the movie’s McGuffin. I also find that while he’s extremely sweet and cuddly, he’s the only mogwai that is. Even before their post-midnight feeding, all of Gizmo’s spawn are, without exception, mean-spirited little brats. This might come from one of the darker, earlier drafts of Gremlins. Apparently in the earlier drafts of the movie there was no Stripe (the main villain and leader of the other gremlins); but Gizmo, himself, was supposed to transform and fill that role. However, Steven Spielberg (who executive-produced Gremlins), no doubt seeing cute, cuddly, toy cash-ins, insisted that Gizmo be kept cute and cuddly all throughout the movie.

One final thing I noticed about Gizmo, he seems to be the most abused character in the whole movie. He’s constantly thrown, knocked around and exposed to bright light; and that’s just by accident by the ignorant humans who’ve taken possession of him. Of course, once his spawn change it gets much worse. There’s even a scene where they tie him to a dart board and throw darts at him; which apparently was put together for the film crew, who found the Gizmo puppets extremely difficult and frustrating to work with.

Overall, though, I really like this movie. It’s dark, twisted, and a lot of fun in a sick sort of way. Particularly with how I’ve come to feel about the Christmas season, this is a movie that can appeal to the Grinch in all of us. Forget It’s a Wonderful Life, as far as I’m concerned Gremlins is the ultimate feel-good holiday movie.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Stuff (1985)

The Movie: A new dessert called “the Stuff” has hit the markets and become extremely popular. It’s a white, creamy substance served in pint containers like ice cream. The Stuff is delicious, and is very low in fat or calories. As the ad campaign says, after the first bite you literally can’t get enough.

The Stuff is so popular that the industries that make other desserts are worried. The heads of the ice cream industry gather together to take matters into their own hands. Their plan is to hire the notorious industrial spy and saboteur, David “Mo” Rutherford (the extremely prolific Michael Moriarty), to discover the secret behind the Stuff for them.

And boy does good old Mo have his work cut out for him. The corporation behind the Stuff is notoriously secretive about their product, much like Coca Cola. Attempts at lab analysis fail utterly to reveal the ingredients. But the worst part is probably when Mo gradually starts to discover what the Stuff really is.

You see, the Stuff isn’t so much a food product as it is a parasitic organism, possibly with some sentience. It’s not just great tasting, it’s addictive; and if you eat it for a certain period of time it will start controlling your brain. Finally, those pounds you’ve been losing since you started eating the Stuff aren’t due to it being low in calories; it’s due to the fact that it’s eating you from the inside, gradually hollowing your body out into a shell that can be controlled like a puppet.

Mo has exactly three allies in his fight to put an end to the Stuff: Chocolate Chip Charlie (the equally prolific Garrett Morris), another dessert mogul who’s been put out of business by the popularity of the Stuff; Nicole (singer-actress Andrea Marcovicci), the woman behind the ad campaign for the Stuff; and Jason (Scott Bloom), a young boy who stumbled onto the Stuff’s true nature when he was witness to what it did to his family. Unfortunately, Mo’s rather checkered past has ensured that it’s near impossible for him to bring in any outside help. How to four people put an end to an extremely popular product, and one that has the backing of a major corporation at that?

The Review:

I kinda like the sight of blood, but this is disgusting!"
-Col Malcolm Grommett Spears

Tis the season yet again; and while the Stuff is definitely not a Christmas movie, it sure does tap into the spirit of the holiday. The Stuff is technically labeled a horror movie, but it is also a satire; and like all good satires the truly horrifying parts of it are where it’s hard to tell the difference between movie plot and real life. It is scary how little corporation driven consumerism has changed in the past three decades.

This is especially so in how many truly dangerous products are legally sold to us every day. You can probably think of the obvious ones, such as tobacco and alcohol. However, if you look closer you’ll notice that it also applies to things we take for granted as being safe, such as our food. I know a lot of people who regularly consume sugary snack foods like soda; or fattening items such as potato chips. Worse, corporations like Monsanto have so defanged any food regulation that they’re able to load down supposedly healthy foods like bread with more sugar and calories than any of us need; all just to shove more money into the already bulging pockets of a small handful of individuals.

I’m not being self-righteous here; I will freely admit that I love to eat, have a major sweet tooth, and am a caffeine addict. It’s just so scary that these days few of us know or care where our food really comes from, and unscrupulous individuals are able to take advantage of that to make money. There are always people who will do anything they think they can get away with for money. I honestly don’t find the idea of a parasitic organism being mass marketed as a dessert to be far beyond the realm of possibility at all.

Note how the villains of the movie work. They don’t eat the Stuff themselves, being well aware of what it is. However, they are more than willing to sell it to the public anyway. As far as they’re concerned, it’s just business, so it’s perfectly legit. And even in the end, when the true nature of their product becomes publicly known; they plan a way that they can continue to sell it.

One of the elements I find fascinating about the Stuff is the nature of its protagonists; they’re not only a major part of this corrupt system, they’re examples of the people who arguably make it so screwed up. Nicole is behind the ad campaign and corporate branding for the Stuff; she even gave it its name. ‘Mo’ Rutherford can be seen as even worse; his entire living is made off the infighting, sleazy tricks and dirty deals that the corporate world runs on.

I find Mo to be a particularly intriguing character, both due to the script and to Moriarty’s playing of the role. He can probably be summed up best in a line that he delivers at the very beginning of the movie. When one of his new employers makes the observation that he doesn’t think Mo is as dumb as he appears to be, Mo just smiles sweetly and answers “no one is as dumb as I appear to be.” Nearly the entire movie, with only a rare few moments when he lets the mask slip, Mo acts like an amiable dufus. He’s the kind of guy who is constantly making stupid mistakes and majorly insulting social faux pas. However, it’s impossible to be offended because he’s obviously too stupid to know any better; in fact it’s kind of charming much of the time. Yet, even while his words and physical cues mark him as a charming idiot, all of his actions and decisions show the truly competent and ruthless individual he really is.

These two are obviously nobody’s idea of heroes. And yet, when the time comes where they realize just what is at stake, when they need to do the right thing; both of them rise to the occasion. And it’s not just putting an end to the Stuff either. Mo picks up Jason for purely mercenary reasons; he read a newspaper article about the boy’s rampage at a grocery store, puts two and two together, and figures that he’ll be useful to his task. However, it’s notable that throughout the movie, even when Jason is no longer of any practical use to Mo, Mo still goes out of his way to take care of the kid. The amazing thing is, this seeming contradiction is played out smoothly and convincingly. There’s no Hallmark moment marking a change of heart, Mo and Natalie just show that despite all the warts on their character, they are still capable of doing the right thing. For a rather cynical satire on corporate consumerism (try saying that five times fast), the Stuff displays a surprisingly positive view of human nature through its heroes.

There is a third character who plays to the movie’s recurring theme of unlikely individuals thrust into heroic roles; except that this one is more an antihero. Once Mo and Nicole have seen the facility where the Stuff is produced, their only option for outside help is one Col Malcolm Grommett Spears (Paul Sorvino of Repo! The Genetic Opera), a former military man and Right-wing militia leader. Now, Spears fits pretty much all of the stereotypes for the extreme Right; he’s a bigot, a racist, a Commie baiter, paradoxically uber-patriotic yet rabidly anti-government (I never got that), and he displays that remarkable mixture of extreme arrogance and paranoid insecurity we see so often with the Right. It just occurred to me, this character type is something else that hasn’t changed much, if at all, in the past three decades.

The Stuff is obviously not sympathetic to Spears or his views; the character is played for a combination of laughs and derision. Still, Spears is almost entirely responsible for the heroes prevailing in the end. Also, it should be noted that he goes out of his way to help Nicole and Jason when they are in trouble.

In all, for a fun little movie with a premise that could be seen as ridiculous; the Stuff, like any good satire, gets so much that’s right on the nose, even decades after it was made. The commercials for the Stuff that we see throughout the movie, while obviously very 1980s, are not at all different from the commercials we are shown today. The basic message is the same: ‘be one of the crowd by buying this product.’ The villains are not at all dissimilar from the corporate heads you can hear about in the news. Even the inevitable kicker ending is something I find all too convincing, based on what I know about human nature. Think Prohibition, or the War on Drugs; which is essentially Prohibition mk2.

Finally, the element I probably love the most about the Stuff is its characters. The heroes are very flawed individuals, and the movie makes no bones about that fact. However, they come through in the end, and in a very believable way. I find believably complex, flawed and quirky characters to be remarkable in any more or less mainstream movie, never mind a low-budget horror flick.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Compare and Contrast: Halloween (1978 & 2007)

The Movie (1978): Haddonfield Illinois, Halloween night, 1963; six year-old Michael Myers (Will Sandin) inexplicably grabs a kitchen knife and stabs his teenage sister, Judith (Sandy Johnson), to death with it. Fifteen years later, the night before Halloween, Doctor Sam Loomis (the late Donald Pleasence) is driving to the hospital for the criminally insane to prepare Michael (now played alternately by Tony Moran and Nick Castle) for a court hearing. It’s clear that the good doctor doesn’t even consider Michael human; and as he explains to the nurse with him, he’s only doing this because it’s the law. If he had his way, Michael would remain behind bars with no chance of release.

Unfortunately, things are worse than he fears. When they arrive, they notice that some of the patients are out and wandering the grounds. Michael happens to be one of them, and in the confusion he steals the car and drives off. Knowing where Michael is headed, Dr. Loomis gets to Haddonfield as fast as he can; where he simultaneously works to find his runaway patient and convince the sheriff (Charles Cyphers) what kind of danger his town is in.

Meanwhile, teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in her first movie role) is preparing for her Halloween night babysitting gig. Unknown to her, Laurie has caught the attention of Michael Myers, who for unknown reasons fixates on her. All day Laurie notices that someone seems to be following her. However, it’s when the sun goes down that Michael will truly begin his rampage. Can Laurie survive the night?

The Movie (2007): Ten year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) has a hellish home life. He loves his mother (Sherri Moon Zombie), but she works as a stripper to hold the rest of the family together. Her live-in boyfriend, Ronnie (William Forsyth) is a bullying asshole, and Michael is picked on mercilessly at school. Already unstable at our introduction to him, Michael goes on a rampage; killing Ronnie, as well as his older sister, Judith (Hannah R. Hall) and her boyfriend (Adam Weisman). Michael is sent to a facility; but despite the efforts of psychiatrist Doctor Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, who appeared on this blog earlier in Royal Flash and Class of 1999), he only grows worse, retreating inside himself, killing a nurse and becoming obsessed with masks.

Fifteen years later, Michael escapes and heads back to his home town. Dr. Loomis heads after him and tries to enlist Sheriff Brackett’s (Brad Dourif) help. Meanwhile, Michael begins his rampage. You see, Michael has a very specific goal in mind; aside from killing everyone he comes across, I mean. Unknown to her, teenaged Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is actually Michael’s long lost baby sister. He is determined to find her; and gods help whoever gets in his way.

Compare and Contrast:

Happy Halloween, Samhain, All Souls Eve, or whatever holiday it is that you celebrate! Halloween is my favorite holiday; and this review is my own small way of recognizing it. Also, I feel I should probably point out that this is my 69th posting on this blog. Feel free to cut loose with the immature jokes; I know I will.

I never thought I’d be reviewing Halloween on this blog. This isn’t a knock against the movie; I’m fully with the large number of people who consider it a genre classic. My one criterion for the movies I review for this blog is that I have to feel that I have something legitimate to say about the movie in question, and that I’m not just parroting an observation or opinion that many others have made. Halloween came out a few years before I was born, and I didn’t get around to seeing it until late adolescence. During that time it was embraced as a classic by just about everyone, including some critics who normally wouldn’t piss on a horror or slasher flick if it was on fire. Considering that, and just how simple and basic a movie Halloween is, there is no way I am able to add anything original to the discussion.

Then a few years back, the musician Rob Zombie decided to film his own version of Halloween, and this provided the opportunity for me to approach the first film by comparing and contrasting it with its remake. I still don’t expect to produce anything truly original; but I hope to at least come up with something that doesn’t feel like it’s been premasticated by hundreds of individuals before me.

If I had to sum up Zombie’s remake in one word, that word would be ‘unfortunate.’ Said remake already had several strikes against it coming out of the gate. First of all, Halloween may have its flaws in parts, but ultimately the whole stands so well on its own merits that there’s no need for a remake. Secondly, even if you dispute my first reason, there’s really nothing to base a remake on. Halloween is such a simple, basic and bare-bones movie that there’s very little, if any, of it to remake. On top of that is the fact that when Friday the 13th (whose main inspiration, I might add, was Halloween) came out in 1980 and opened the door to that decade’s slasher boom, the subgenre it spawned pretty much strip-mined Halloween of whatever elements there might have been for a remake.

The end result is something I’ve seen in so many other unnecessary remakes; the director has one movie in mind that he wants to make, but considering that he’s remaking another film, he feels that he has to take a certain amount of plot detail out of the original material. The outcome is a bloated, schizophrenic merging of two different movies that can’t ever decide what it ultimately wants to be, and is constantly pulling itself in two very different directions at once. Now, lest anyone thinks this review is going to degenerate into Rob Zombie bashing; let me state for the record that I think Zombie has some real talent and promise as a director, he just hasn’t come into his own yet. Also, and I am not the first person to make this observation, he really needs to start shooting his own movies instead of just remaking his old favorites.

The place to start comparing Halloween with its remake is in the general tone and spirit of the two movies. The original film made by John Carpenter is, at its core, a classic campfire story played out on screen. It is a very simple, basic, bare-bones story with a single purpose. As such, it doesn’t have much in the way of character development or complex plot twists; but that’s not a problem. After all; you don’t tell a campfire ghost story for great character development, you tell it to scare the living hell out of your friends.

As for the movie’s world and the nature of its horror, Halloween is very much in the ‘outside evil invades the normal’ brand of horror. There is a place in this world for the horrors, which we will discuss shortly when I talk about Michael Myers; but ultimately Haddonfield is a nice, normal community filled with ordinary people. Also, it should be noted that the horror, when it does strike, is of the very impersonal sort. The movie presents it very dispassionately, and there’s no rhyme or reason given for why it’s happening; which is a large part of why it’s so effectively scary.

Whereas the original film is in the spirit of a classic campfire scary story, the remake is very much in the spirit of the glut of slashers Halloween helped spawn in the following decade, as well as the nihilistically brutal exploitation films of its own decade. Something I’ve noticed about Zombie’s movies is his tendency to wallow in gore, nudity and violence. Notice how in the original there is only the tiniest bit of nudity and nary a drop of blood, even in the scenes that should call for rivers of the stuff.

What’s more, Zombie revels in the carnage and brutality on screen. As opposed to Carpenter’s straightforward and dispassionate depictions of violence, Zombie piles it on and drags it out. To a certain extent, the violence and brutality is an intrinsic part of the world that Zombie creates. Related to this is his propensity to populate it with unlikeable characters. Now, I can understand the reasoning behind this; considering his celebratory attitude toward the carnage, it’s not fun to watch characters we like get slaughtered. However, I’ve noticed that the few truly likeable characters Zombie provides us with get eliminated so brutally and efficiently that the most hardnosed social-Darwinist would thoroughly approve. The end result is a world where you have to wonder why there aren’t more Michael Myers types rampaging about.

Carpenter’s Michael Myers is a total enigma; we are given no reason why he acts the way he does. The opening scene of the death of Judith Myers is shown to us entirely through a tracking shot from his point of view; and it is presented to us as a shock, a successful one, that the brutal crime we just witnessed was committed by a six year-old. When he goes on the spree that the movie centers around, his actions are no less cryptic. The only thing Laurie does for him to become so fixated on her is to walk onto the steps of his old house (which, unknown to her, he is hiding in) to put a key under the doorstep. There’s no indication of any emotion when he commits his crimes. Anger, revenge, even a love of cruelty; these are motives we all can identify with on some level. However, the completely emotionless way in which we see Michael kill; that’s alien. Even Doctor Loomis, the psychiatrist who worked Michael all his life can only describe him as “evil.”

And yet there are a few hints to Michael’s nature in some of the dialogue. “It was the boogeyman,” sobs Laurie to Doctor Loomis, who solemnly answers “as a matter of fact, it was.” “Every town has something like this,” the cemetery caretaker tells Doctor Loomis as he takes him to see Judith’s grave. Considering the nature of the story being told the characters work more as archetypes than people. And in that light Michael comes across, not as just one more pissed-off movie psycho, but as a kind of avatar for all the horrible things that are always going on just below the surface, but that society as a whole prefers not to acknowledge. The randomness and nonsensical nature of his actions, his lack of emotion, his seeming inability to be killed; all of it speaks to our subconscious fear of events we can’t understand or control. The blank mask he wears is actually his true nature on display; and it’s significant that Michael never kills unless he’s wearing it.

The Michael Myers of the remake is very different. When we are introduced to the ten year-old who becomes the movie’s villain, he’s already a broken human being and a ticking time-bomb ready to go off any moment. He loves his mother, but she constantly has to work; and the nature of her job ensures he gets a lot of scorn and harassment. Her live-in boyfriend is a useless bum and a cruel asshole who’s always tormenting and insulting Michael. Judith Myers fits every stereotype of the catty teenage slut. Even school isn’t an escape, because there the bullies wait for him. This Michael Myers is a natural offshoot of the kind of toxic world Rob Zombie creates that I discussed earlier. After the briefest of looks at his home life the question isn’t why Michael goes off the way he does, the question is why it took him this long.

Admittedly, some character development could have made for an interesting killer. Unfortunately, Zombie hasn’t quite gotten character development down. Ultimately, this Michael Myers is very much in the Jason Voorhies mold; a seemingly unstoppable killer who, for no good reason, randomly slaughters every single person within ten feet of him. Even the original Michael Myers didn’t try to kill everyone who caught his eye.

Laurie Strode, more than Dr. Loomis, or even Michael Myers himself, is the focus of the original’s story. There are some other characters, and some events that don’t directly involve her; but Halloween is primarily the story about her encounter with Michael Myers and how she deals with it. The result of this is that Laurie is the character who we get to know the most, and who is the most developed.

The Laurie Strode of the original is probably one of the most positive and convincing depictions of a teenager I have ever seen in popular media. She is intelligent, good natured, dependent, competent and responsible. In fact, the movie puts as much effort toward establishing these traits as it does the threat Michael Myers poses. Laurie is exactly the kind of babysitter you would want for your kids; and, judging from the scenes of her interacting with her charges, exactly the kind of babysitter most kids would want to have.

However, Laurie is a far cry from the unbearable, squeaky-clean ‘good girl’ caricature Hollywood has led us to expect. There is one scene where she shares a joint with a friend. Also, it’s made clear through her dialogue that she does think about boys and sex; she’s just too shy to do anything about it. Ultimately, Laurie comes across as a character nearly all of us could believe in, identify with, sympathize with, and enjoy associating with.

In fact, one of the movie’s better touches is that these same traits that make us want Laurie to survive are the exact things that allow her to do just that. The intelligence, competence and responsibility she displays earlier are what allow her to keep her head and do what’s necessary; even when she’s going through hell and freaking out. However, the emphasis on these traits does produce one of the movie’s major missteps; specifically in regard to her friends. While it’s clear that Laurie’s friends are supposed to present a contrast to her responsible nature, the end result is one-dimensional, sex-crazed caricatures of teenagers of the kind we normally see in slasher movies. Since Laurie is the focus of the movie it’s not as big a mistake as it could be, but it’s still noticeable.

The Laurie of Zombie’s remake is a much inferior character. Compton is cute, and she does every bit as well as could be asked of her with the available material, but I can’t think of her as Laurie Strode. Now, I have no problems with the actress, I could see Compton as a decent Laurie; my problem is with the script she was given. Part of the problem comes from the fact that we aren’t able to get to know her as well; the emphasis on misguided character development for Michael and Dr. Loomis insures that she gets sidelined.

The other problem is that this isn’t a very believable or sympathetic portrayal of a teenager, maybe a step or two above Laurie’s friends in the original Halloween. Zombie’s version of Laurie Strode isn’t too different from the catty, smart-assed, shallow teenage bimbos that are so prevalent in popular culture today. Perhaps the biggest misstep is in her interactions with the children she babysits. Instead of the easy rapport Curtis’ Laurie has with her charges, Compton’s interactions with them have a note of mild antagonism. I do understand babysitter burnout, all too well, but it detracts from making her a likeable character. You do feel sympathy for Compton’s Laurie Strode; considering what she goes through that’s inevitable if you have a heart at all. However, you feel no more for her than you would for any teenager in her situation.

The character of Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis, like the rest of the original move, is extremely simple; more archetype than flesh and blood human. All we are told about his past is that he is the psychiatrist who worked with Michael Myers for the last fifteen years. However, for the purpose of the story that’s all we really need to know.

In essence, Dr. Loomis is obsessive, fanatical devotion to a cause. His one and only motivation is to stop Michael from doing harm. Pleasence was a very talented actor with an extremely long list of film roles under his belt by this time, which shows in just how well he is able to believably sell this one-note character.

McDowell’s Dr. Loomis is very different. This is a man who has pretty much based his whole life on working with Michael Myers, and has lost everything else as a result. Watching him, I got the impression that this Loomis didn’t wasn’t trying to stop Michael out of any sense of duty, but because there was really nothing else left for him. Again, this could have made for some intriguing twists; and McDowell is a very talented and experienced actor. Unfortunately, this is another potentially good idea that falls to Zombie’s lack of talent in creating characters.

So in the end, the original Halloween is a true genre classic. It is a simple, bare-bones campfire scary story very effectively played on screen. The remake is yet one more in an unneeded line of remakes; a bloated and schizophrenic attempt to mix two very different movie concepts. Rob Zombie shows some talent as a director; but please Rob, try to make something original.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sugar Cookies (1973)

The Movie: While playing a sick power game, sleazy adult movie producer Max Pavell (George Shannon) winds up shooting and killing his star actress, Alta (Lynn Lowry of David Cronenberg’s Shivers: They Came from Within). However, he is able to get her death passed off as a suicide with the help of his business partner, Camilla (the amazing and prolific Mary Woronov of Eating Raoul and Nomads, among a great many other movies), who serves as his alibi. But Camilla isn’t helping Max out of love or kindness. She and Alta were lovers, and Camilla is determined to be the one to make Max pay.

Camilla sees her chance in Julie Kent (Lynn Lowry again); a sweet, innocent young thing looking to get ahead, who just happens to be the spitting image of the late Alta. Camilla takes Julie under her wing, seducing her and molding her into Alta’s double. Her plan is to lure Max in so that she can use Julie for her revenge…

The Review:

Of all the varied phrases in the English language, the one I have probably come to loath the most is “you have to play the game.” In short, that to get by you have to jump through all the hoops presented to you no matter how pointless, arbitrary or destructive they might be. I really hate these kinds of games; in large part because, at best, they are pointless, just there to stroke somebody’s ego in a superficial way, and at worst they are incredibly destructive. More to the point, when human interactions are already an unfathomable morass for you, they make it even more difficult to get by. The majority of the worst gamesters I’ve had to deal with will become indignant and deny that’s what they’re doing when directly confronted with their bullshit, and I’m sure quite a few of them even believe their own protestations; so it inevitably gets to the point where it’s near impossible to distinguish between somebody seriously trying to convey something important to you, and yet another set of arbitrary hoops you’re expected to jump through. And trust me, once you realize you’ve made that mistake it’s always way too late to do anything about it.

Events of this past summer have ensured that I’ve lost all tolerance for games, bullshit, and people trying to manipulate me. Among a great many other things, it’s why I’ve been mostly going out of my way to avoid coverage of the presidential election; even though normally I’d be morbidly fascinated with it. Unfortunately, if you deal with people at all it’s impossible to avoid those things; particularly when you hold a job that’s eyeballs-deep in them. However, my protestations about having to play these pointless and destructive games usually get me the same result; “that’s the way things are, you’ve got to play the game.” Well, one of my main, life-long coping mechanisms when dealing with life issues is to turn to a story; in this case Sugar Cookies, a movie all about manipulation and playing games with peoples’ lives. And, as it seems to have become my practice to inflict my current psychological and emotional traumas on my readers, I decided to write a review on it.

When I first saw Sugar Cookies, I went in only knowing two things for sure; that it was an exploitation movie, and more importantly that it stars Mary Woronov. For quite a while now Mary Woronov has been my all-time favorite actress. She started making movies sometime in the 1960s, and to my knowledge she still is. To my knowledge she’s only done B and cult movies, but in those circles she’s been a mainstay for decades. Now, Woronov is not conventionally pretty, but she is very strikingly attractive; and I’m sure that and her willingness to do nude scenes has had a very strong impact on her fanbase. However, that is not why she’s my favorite actress; I’ve run across way too many good looking ‘actresses’ whose sole talent is displaying their physical assets. No, the reason why I hold Woronov in such high regard, and why she’s been able to stay around for so long, is because she’s got far more than her looks to fall back on.

Simply put, Woronov has a talent and a presence that I have seen on few other performers. She’s easily recognizable, but at the same time she can give her all to a character to the point where you believe in said character anyway. It’s my personal opinion that Woronov is at her absolute best in villainous roles; but out of all the movies I have seen her in I can only think of one where she wasn’t an absolute delight to watch.

Going into Sugar Cookies, I was sure that Woronov would be the absolute best part of the movie. It turns out I was right, but that’s not a knock against the movie itself; the majority of Sugar Cookies'plot revolves around Camilla and her scheme for revenge. I recently discovered that Woronov’s then-husband directed the movie, and rewrote the screenplay with her in mind for the role. She wasn’t amused, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, she gives a wonderful performance as Camilla.

Camilla is a truly fascinating character, as all good villains are. It’s pretty clear what she is, but every so often we are shown another aspect of her character that makes us wonder if we may have misjudged her. Woronov plays her as manipulative, imperious, charming and ruthless; although there is also something touching about her love for Alta, even though it seems more like obsession at times. My favorite part of this movie, in what should probably come as a surprise to none of my regular readers, is a particular line of dialogue. The scene where she is being questioned by a policeman about the night of Alta’s murder; where he’s trying to be delicate about it but she in turn is just blunt and obviously trying to keep him on his toes, is a wonderful exchange. “Were you on intimate terms with this guy?” “You mean, did we fuck.” “(weary, exasperated voice) Oh, my god.” I’m not going to repeat the whole dialogue to you, but I just love it, particularly the concluding line of it. Partly it’s very cleverly written, but a large amount of what I enjoy so much about it is Woronov’s delivery.

Another strong aspect of the film and its cast is that Woronov and Lowry have such great chemistry together. Lynn Lowery is obviously in her 20s; but she has the kind of face that, judging by it alone, you could easily believe she was someone a lot younger. Lowery is as utterly convincing as the innocent as Woronov is as the predator. Watching the two of them together is, in many ways, like watching a complicated dance. Observing the steps Camilla takes to seduce and manipulate the girl is utterly fascinating; albeit the warped fascination one gets at an oncoming accident.

A word should probably be said at this point about the exploitation elements, and particularly the lesbianism element. In the commentary Lloyd Kaufman (who produced the movie and wrote the original screenplay) makes a big deal about the lesbianism, but I actually found it to be a very minor part of the film, and actually rather classily done. Right up front, lesbianism in and of itself has never done anything for me; ever since a certain double date in high school my attitude toward other people’s sex lives can be summed up “if it doesn’t involve me, really not interested.” However, I found the romance and sex scenes both convincing and personally effective. They are framed much the way a typical romantic scene would be framed and, while they are rather graphic, there’s none of the leering and zooming in on certain parts of the anatomy one would come to expect. In fact, at times I was almost convinced that Camilla was serious about her feelings; I definitely was about Julie.

And honestly, I never thought about Camilla as “a lesbian, who happens to be named Camilla,” but as “Camilla, who happens to be a lesbian.” The way the character comes across, both in the script and in Woronov’s delivery, I’m sure that Camilla wouldn’t be any different if she was straight. Obviously Sugar Cookies was conceived and presented as an exploitation movie, but there’s quite a bit of character development as well.

The parts of the movie that don’t directly involve Camilla generally vary from good to not so good. There’s a sub-plot involving Max, his ex-wife (Monique van Vooren) and her younger brother, Gus (Daniel Sador), who calls Max “Uncle Max” and has an unhealthy attraction to him; that probably could have been written out. The only two reasons I can think of for the sub-plot is to provide odious comedy relief, and to further establish Max as a manipulative slimebag. In the latter the movie succeeds; I actually felt rather sympathetic toward Gus. In the former, as is expected, it fails majorly.

Ultimately though, Sugar Cookies is about Max and Camilla; two predatory individuals who play sick games using other people as pieces. As I said at the beginning of this review, I really hate these kinds of games. However, unlike so many other movies that romanticize, cutsify and outright excuse them (for one prime example, see my review for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), Sugar Cookies is direct and honest about how destructive this kind of behavior is. Our introduction to this story is Alta’s death, and that sets the tone for what’s going on. Since the only way to get ahead in this environment is to “Play the Game,” individuals like Max and Camilla, who hold the advantages positions, have a ready source of victims.

But though we, the viewers, are drawn into these sick power games; we are never asked to emulate or glorify them. In fact, I think that the greatest mark in Sugar Cookies'favor is that nobody wins in the end. Alta is sacrificed on the altar of Max’s ego and sadism, and Julie on the altar of Camilla’s revenge. Max is destroyed by Camilla. Camilla gets her revenge, but even she doesn’t ‘win.’ The film ends on an ambiguous note that strongly suggests that “Playing the Game” is going to catch up with Camilla very soon, if it hasn’t already.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Motel Hell (1980)

The Movie: Farmer Vincent Smith (Rory Calhoun) and his sister, Ida (Nancy Parsons), are the local financial success story. First, they own and run the Motel Hell (actually the Motel Hello, but the o on the sign is constantly on the fritz). Secondly, Farmer Vincent is something of a local celebrity for his smoked meat products. Vincent prepares his meats in a special way that makes it taste different from other meats. Actually, the secret to that is in the meat itself. As his slogan goes, “it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”

You see, Vincent and Ida maintain a secret garden; one very different from the garden in the beloved children’s classic of that name. At night, they waylay travelers and bring them back. Then they bury them up to their neck in the garden, use their home surgery skills to slit their vocal chords (really kids, don’t try this at home), and fatten them up with a high protein and starch confection. Once they’ve fattened up enough, the “stock” are humanely killed, butchered, smoked, and mixed with the pork to create Vincent’s meats.

On his latest “hunt” Vincent crashes a motorcycle carrying Terry (Nina Axelrod) and her boyfriend, Bo (Everett Creach). Bo is packed off to the garden, but Vincent brings Terry home and has Ida patch her up. When she awakens, Vincent explains to her that Bo died in the crash and he buried him. Vincent and Ida’s younger brother, Bruce (Paul Linke), who also happens to be the local sheriff, confirms that this is legal in extenuating circumstances.

As Terry stays at the hotel, she and Vincent start falling for each other; not too surprising considering Vincent’s charm, her looks, and the obvious age difference between her and her last boyfriend. They even start planning to get married. However, Ida and Bruce feel that this is a very bad idea.

Ida’s motives are partly out of jealousy. However, she also knows that they will have to reveal to Terry their business; and she doesn’t think that will go too well. Her solution is to try and quietly off Terry.

Bruce’s motives, on the other hand, are all jealousy. He’s fallen for Terry himself, but she’s not interested. Bruce isn’t in on the long-pig procurement aspect of his siblings’ business, and he’s determined to show Terry that Vincent is bad for her. While Bruce may be a bit of a jackass, he’s also a fairly competent detective; and Vincent has recently made a few mistakes that could potentially lead back to him and Ida. And as if the family squabbles weren’t enough; there’s also the fritters-to-be out in the garden, determined to escape and take revenge for their captivity…

The Review:

Meat’s meat and a man’s got to eat!"

There are some major differences between urban and rural settings. I know that’s stating the obvious; but oftentimes, as with so much else, it doesn’t really hit you until you’re confronted with it directly. I have had lots of experience with both kinds of areas in my life. My dad’s side of the family is from New York, around the city, so I’ve taken many trips there. However, my adolescence was spent in an Idaho farming town. And finally, I have lived the last seven years in Boise, which is composed of a rather odd mixture of the urban and the rural.

One of the things I find interesting is how the residents of urban and rural areas tend to mythologise each other. In popular culture the two settings get idealized and demonized constantly. Even a passing interest in the horror genre will give you plenty of examples of the latter; there are actually official subgenres for urban and rural horror. The 1970s saw a major glut of movies from the rural horror subgenre; the most well known being the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Hills Have Eyes. However, they were followed by Motel Hell which, while it passes itself off as a horror movie; is actually a spoof not only poking fun at the rural horror subgenre, but at the popular view of rural culture in general.

The movie’s major turnaround of the tropes would have to be the nature of its villains. Now, while rural cannibalism was hardly a new subject by the time Motel Hell was made; these are no backwoods degenerates a la the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Instead Vincent and Ida, Vincent in particular, represent the idealized view of the American farmer. Vincent is hardworking, and obviously very proud of what he does. Family ties are clearly very important, and it’s suggested that Vincent’s family has owned that property for some generations. Vincent is also a very religious man and, if you disregard the whole murderous cannibal thing, a very moral one as well. In fact, he regards his long-pig manufacturing as a moral task. As he explains, two of the world’s biggest problems are too many people and not enough food. By killing some people and feeding them to others, Vincent is helping solve both problems at once. Hey, it makes as much sense as most of the moral rationalizations I’ve heard over the years; and a great deal more than some.

Motel Hell has a good cast, including Wolfman Jack doing a walk-on as an excitable preacher. However, it’s Calhoun and Parsons who really steal the movie. Calhoun is wonderful as a twisted Norman Rockwell creation gone wrong. Parsons is almost as good; her role as Ida switches from sweet and fun to kind of creepy and back. Also, the two actors play off each other magnificently; it’s all too easy to believe that these two are siblings who have known each other for a long time.

The movie does another interesting thing with the characters in a reversal at the end. Throughout the movie, while Vincent is obviously the villain; he’s entirely too likeable and fun for us to dislike him very much. Bruce, on the other hand, is built up as something of jackass who it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for. And yet at the climactic fight, Bruce is suddenly thrust into the role of hero, and we are asked to cheer for him against Vincent. And yet, somehow it works. Every time I watch this movie I love and enjoy the character of Vincent and think nasty things about Bruce, but I’m always cheering on the latter man at the end nonetheless. Not only that, but the dialogue of the two men at the denouement shows that despite all that has happens, things still aren’t entirely black and white in their relationship.

A really funny thing about Motel Hell is the fact that it displays old-fashioned sensibilities despite the more modern horror movie subject matter. It doesn’t have much in regards to the exploitation elements we would expect. There is a small bit of gratuitous female nudity, but the gore is almost completely absent. The majority of the horrible things going on are hinted at, but not directly shown to us. Also, it’s full of all sorts of old fashioned movie elements; the prime example being the climactic (chainsaw) duel between the hero and villain while the heroine is strapped to a conveyer belt that slowly but surely carries her toward the meat cutter. That one’s been a staple since at least the movie serials of the early 20th century, if not further back.

Ultimately, if I were asked to sum up Motel Hell in one word, the word I would use is “fun.” While it passes itself off as a horror movie, and even has some effectively suspenseful parts, I would define Motel Hell as more a comedy than a horror film. It’s obvious that nobody is taking the material seriously, but the majority of the time it’s played with a straight face with only the occasional wink and a nod, such as the ridiculous swinger couple who show up at the motel at one point, to indicate to the less observant viewer what the real intention is. Everyone seems to be having a great time, particularly our two leads; and the script and dialogue display a truly demented wit. In short, this is one you watch when you’re just in the mood for a good time, albeit one that’s a bit twisted.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Demolition Man (1993)

The Movie: It’s 1996 Los Angeles, and crime has gotten so bad that violent criminals are able to isolate sections of the city for themselves. Case in point, psychopath Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes of the Blade franchise), who has recently kidnapped a busload of hostages who were unfortunate enough to blunder into his neck of the woods. Going against orders, John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone of Deathrace 2000 and the Rambo franchise), a cop with the nickname “the Demolition Man” due to the massive property damage he’s in the habit of causing during the pursuit of his job, leads a crew to rescue them. Unfortunately, during the confrontation Phoenix blows up the building where he’s been hiding. The bodies of the hostages are found in the rubble, and both men are sentenced to cryogenic imprisonment.

Flash forward to the year 2032. Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara have merged into the uber –city San Angeles. The new society is pacifistic and peaceful; violence has been unheard of for decades, and nearly all the “vices” we take for granted today are outlawed. Police Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) is dissatisfied. She has long been fascinated by the excitement of late 20th-century history, something she feels is lacking in her job and her life. While there is a rebellion group, known as the Scraps, their activities are limited to stealing food and graffitiing buildings. As we are shown early on, the technology of the society makes the latter crime something of an exercise in futility. In short, Huxley longs for some excitement. Well, you know what they say about careful what you wish for…

Simon Phoenix is brought out of the freezer for parole, and somehow manages to escape. He immediately goes on a violent rampage. The police being helpless to deal with somebody like Phoenix, they unthaw the man who originally brought him in. Unfortunately, when Spartan has his first reunion with Phoenix, he finds him to be even more deadly than he remembers. It also gradually becomes clear that Phoenix’s release is connected to the highest levels of the city government. However, worse than Phoenix, John Spartan has to figure out how to navigate this crazy society he’s woken up into; and Phoenix seems a step or two ahead of him on that…

The Review:
Look, you can’t take away peoples’ right to be assholes.”
-Simon Phoenix

It’s very easy to go into Demolition Man thinking it’s just another big, dumb, Reagan-era spawned action flick. That’s certainly how it plays out for the first ten minutes. The audience is dropped right into the clichéd setup, complete with gunfire, explosions, innocents in danger, reckless stunts and a scene-chewing madman. However, once our two heavies are put in the freezer and the credits have rolled, that’s when you start to realize how much the joke was on you. The change is so sudden it’s possible to believe you just switched movies for a moment.

Demolition Man is simultaneously a satire on society and a spoof on the action movies of the era. What starts out looking like yet another big, dumb exercise in gratuitous violence actually turns out to be rather smart, witty, and at times even a bit subtle. At least, as subtle as one can expect of a spawn of the Reagan-era action flick to be. What’s more, unlike the majority of so-called spoofs and satires put out by Hollywood the humor doesn’t feel forced. It’s clear that the whole cast is in on the joke, but they still play straight; or at least with tongue firmly held in cheek.

The society presented by the satire portion of the movie is wonderful, and a source of many laughs. It’s pretty much Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World, but without any of the sex and drugs. In fact, both of those things are banned; sex is done through a sort of virtual reality device. You can get ticketed and fined for swearing. Most of the foods and other diversions we take for granted are also banned. In fact, one of my favorite lines is where Huxley is listing off for Spartan what all is now banned by law. And no, the fact that Sandra Bullock’s character shares a last name with the author of Brave New World is not coincidence.

Now, considering the current political climate of the United States and people’s natural tendency to read things into fiction, it’s all too easy to read contemporary politics into this movie; so I’ll just get that part out of the way. Many people are probably going to take the very simplistic view of San Angeles being the end result of the Right’s “Big Government” boogeyman. I make no secret about being somewhat Left-leaning in my views, but after a certain point I find both sides equally ridiculous. Also, it’s been my experience that despite the claims of the Right, both ends of the spectrum seek government regulation; the difference is in what they want to regulate. The Left tends to think the government should regulate the public sphere, while the Right tends to want government to regulate the private sphere.

With that in mind, I can see political nightmares from both ends of the spectrum in Demolition Man’s San Angeles. From the Right’s end we can see the regulation of food and products. From the Left, there is the legislation of morals. Also, there is one part where we learn that Taco Bell has won the Free Market Darwinism that the Right is so fond of and now controls all restaurants in this society. What’s that? Sounds too ridiculous? Well, I can tell you that Boise State University holds many of their events at the Taco Bell Arena; and that is far from the only corporate sponsorship of a private concern that I have run across.

The core lesson of the dystopian society subgenre as a whole is that all human society is inherently flawed; and therefore we as citizens must ever be aware of our society’s flaws lest they turn it into something nightmarish. If you look at history you’ll notice that all the countries today that are bywords for dysfunctional societies; Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China and the Taliban, to name but a few; came into being because enough people saw them as a better alternative to what they currently had. It’s a lesson that I hope my species will eventually learn; preferably before my country finishes its transformation into a corporate oligarchy.

On the action movie spoof side, Demolition Man is able to use this ridiculous society to poke fun at the tropes of the genre and turn them on their heads. For example, there is the near-universal trope that the police are completely useless to deal with the villain. Well, in this movie that’s multiplied by a hundred. “We’re police officers,” protests one officer after the department realizes what they’re up against with Simon Phoenix, “we’re not trained to handle this kind of violence!” Or, there’s one of my favorite parts where Spartan reprimands Huxley “hurting people’s not a good thing!” Then suddenly he pauses, as if remembering what genre he’s in, and amends “well, sometimes it is.”

Sylvester Stallone does a great job as John Spartan. On the one hand, he plays the whole fish out of water role very well. More so, however, Stallone has some good comedic timing. Admittedly, with the roles he’s been shoehorned into over the years he hasn’t had much opportunity to demonstrate it; but he does in Demolition Man. I can’t see Stallone doing standup; but the man has a real knack for straight-faced delivery and playing off the disparity between what he’s saying and how he’s saying it.

Most action movie psychos are the same, but Simon Phoenix is your action movie psycho’s action movie psycho. Snipes doesn’t chew scenery in Demolition Man, he gnaws through it like a buzz saw. He also gives the impression that he’s having the time of his life doing it.

I tend to be ambivalent about Sandra Bullock. I have seen her in both good and crappy roles, and her acting has matched. However, she is enjoyable as Huxley. For one thing; as the character who knows the most about the 20th Century, she serves both Spartan and the audience as a guide to the movie’s setting. Among other things, this gives her plenty of opportunities to deliver some great lines.

The other major thing about Huxley is that she’s not the helpless, screaming, useless individual that the love interests of these kinds of movies tend to be. What makes that really interesting is that Demolition Man actually could have gotten away with it. After all, all of Huxley’s colleagues, male and female, are that way; why should she be any different? And yet, when the violence fires up, Huxley proves more than capable of handling herself. Spartan squares off against Phoenix alone of course, that’s just how these movies go. However, for the most part Huxley actually works beside Spartan as more or less an equal partner in fighting the villain. It’s sad that a movie should deserve kudos for making its heroine competent, but there you go.

So in conclusion, Demolition Man is a fun satire and spoof on action movies, with good acting and great dialogue. It also has more than enough gunfights, explosions and general testosterone poisoning for any action fans. There are at least one or two fairly brutal parts, warning to the squeamish; but overall this is just a fun, and even halfway intelligent, little movie.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Better Off Dead (1985)

The Movie: Lane Meyer (John Cusack) is a normal, everyday teenager who wants to make the school ski team. Unfortunately, despite the support of Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong of Revenge of the Nerds), his wanna-be druggie best friend, he fails. What really makes it a terrible day, however, is that his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss of A Nightmare on Elm Street) dumps him for Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier); the asshole head of the team.

Lane is devastated. Not knowing what else to do, he alternates between massively humiliating attempts to win her back and equally humiliating attempts to kill himself. However, he has a whole lot more to deal with than just heartbreak and his ex’s asshole new boyfriend. Psychotic paper boys, math class, a pair of drag-racer brothers who are always gunning for Lane when he’s on the road, his family and a fast food job; all these things and more conspire to make Lane’s life even more difficult and complicated.

Lane does, however, have a potential savior. Monique Junot (Diane Franklin of the Last American Virgin), the French foreign exchange student staying across the street, may know how to help Lane out of his slump. Unfortunately, in return Lane will have to rescue her from his socially inept neighbor, Ricky (Daniel Schneider), and Ricky’s domineering mother (Laura Waterbury). And then, of course, there’s still Stalin to deal with…

The Review:
“…and dying when you’re not really sick is really sick, you know? Really.”
-Charles De Mar

As American culture has this major obsession with youth, it’s probably not much of a surprise that Hollywood pumps out so many movies about adolescence. Admittedly, it is a truly interesting (in the Chinese sense of the word) time of life; on one hand it’s such a small period of time compared to the rest of one’s lifespan that it’s barely a blip, and yet what happens during this period greatly influences the rest of your life. I don’t care for nostalgia, and yet even I spend a lot of time focusing on this gaping ulcer on the consciousness. However, I have seen very few movies that accurately depict this most traumatic of periods. In fact, off the top of my head I can only name two; and the fact that they both star Diane Franklin is probably a coincidence. The first is the Last American Virgin; look up the review I wrote on that one if you’re curious. The second is our current offering: Better Off Dead; a movie that shows high school almost exactly as I remember it. Except that I never hooked up with a hot foreign exchange student. Le sigh.

Better Off Dead is, on first appearance, a very bizarre little film. The thing you have to understand to truly appreciate what is going on is that, ultimately, this movie is almost entirely shown from Lane Meyer’s point of view. In fact, even though he may seem to be depicted as a third-person character, he is very much shown in the first-person.

The back of my VHS box starts out describing Better Off Dead thusly: “Writer/director Savage Steve Holland says Better Off Dead is semi-autobiographical. After his high school love ditched him, he picked up an 8-milimeter camera and made some depressing movies that had the exact opposite effect on his friends-they laughed.” And that pretty much sums up the spirit of the film; it’s basically a movie about how a teenager would view his own life and place in the world. It’s weird, melodramatic, ridiculous, and over the top; but that’s really how teenagers perceive the world.

The world Lane inhabits is a bizarre, surreal place full of characters and events that seldom, if ever, make any kind of sense. There’s the psychotic paperboy, the part of this movie everyone seems to remember, who’s always screaming about his two dollars. There’s Lane’s mother, who’s incredibly bad cooking has a life of its own. There are the two Korean brothers who are always after Lane to drag race; one of them doesn’t speak English and the other learned his English from Howard Cosell. I would be negligent if I didn’t mention Charles De Mar; he can’t actually get real drugs, so instead he snorts things like jello and “pure snow” (it’s exactly what it sounds like).

My favorite part of the movie is Lane’s little brother, Badger. We never actually hear Badger speak, but he’s always ordering stuff through the mail. And here’s the thing; unlike in this world, everything he orders, whether it’s the “toy” laser gun, the book on how to pick up trashy women or the kit to build a rocket ship from household items, everything works exactly as it’s supposed to.

Of course, the crux of the movie is Lane’s breakup and how he gets over it; which I find all too authentic. Adolescence is when your hormones truly kick start, so emotions feel far more intense during the teenage years. Having your heart broken at this time of life is truly traumatic. Not that it ever gets any easier. Now, I have always maintained, as it’s the experience I’ve usually gone through, that the worst thing possible is to be passed up by a love interest for somebody who you cannot help but like and respect. However, it’s really no improvement to be discarded for an obvious creep. I’ve recently made a lot of inquiries as to why women go for creeps and assholes. I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

Roy Stalin is obviously a caricature (his last name’s Stalin for Pan’s sake); but as I mentioned earlier this movie is almost entirely from Lane’s perspective, and of course the guy who takes your girlfriend from you is automatically an asshole. It’s also notable that Lane and Beth’s relationship isn’t exactly healthy already. She’s rearing to jump ship for the first guy she thinks makes a better candidate; while the looks we get at Lane’s bedroom at the very beginning of the movie, particularly his closet, shows us that Lane has some problems with obsession.

After Lane gets dumped, he goes through the period where he simultaneously tries to turn back the clock, heal, forget, and/or escape. I think we’ve all been here, and the movie depicts it all too accurately. There’s the urge to fill that void in our life by automatically scooping up someone else; note Lane’s ill-advised and disastrous pass at the girl who dates the entire basketball team. There’s the attempts to just escape entirely; i.e. Lane’s humiliating suicide attempts. Lane attempts to win Beth back several times; which all, of course, end humiliatingly for him. And then there is the attempt to forget all about it while the rest of the world seems determined to rub it in your face. A scene I find particularly hilarious, because it so resonates with me, is when Lane is driving to school and every station he turns the radio to is playing a breakup song.

The conclusion to this nasty little triangle is actually kind of clever. Depending on how vindictive you are, it’s possible to see it as either the perfect revenge, or just as simple wish fulfillment. As the movie goes on, our views of Beth hint that she’s really starting to have second thoughts about taking up with Roy. At the end, when Lane shows what he’s really worth, she decides she wants him back after all. Unfortunately for Beth, however, by this time Lane’s gotten over her and moved on.

It is two individuals who are ultimately responsible for getting Lane through his heartbreak. The first is Charles De Mar; who, for all of his quirks, pretty much stands by and aids Lane the entire time. The other, of course, is Monique.

Better Off Dead was my introduction to Diane Franklin. After having seen her in this and several other movies, I am firmly of the view that she is an extremely talented and versatile actress. For one thing; while I’m, sadly, not familiar enough with French and its dialects to know how accurate her accent is, I found it rather jarring when I started seeing her in other movies where she speaks American English without any accent whatsoever.

And Franklin does a great job of establishing the character of Monique. For one thing, Monique doesn’t speak English for most of the movie. If you’re the stereotypical, monolinguistic ugly American (guilty), this means she might as well not be speaking at all. And yet, even so, Franklin does such a good job with facial expressions and body language that you know exactly who Monique is just the same. Also, I think the way she says “kick his ass” is so hot. Yeah, I’m obsessive.

As for where Monique fits into the story, she’s the one who provides Lane with what he really needs to get out of his funk. While it’s clear she has her eye on him from the beginning, it isn’t until late in the movie when they become more than platonic friends. All the while, it is Monique who pushes Lane to get out of his little cocoon of misery, who makes him face the world, and who, ultimately, shows Lane that he can succeed. While Monique is probably going to have to go back to France eventually, it’s clear that this is probably going to be a healthy relationship while it lasts. It does not, however, mean that all of Lane and Monique’s troubles are behind them; as our last view of them shows.

Finally, I must point out the character of Monique’s obnoxious host family; Ricky Smith and his mother. I find Ricky kind of interesting; partly because I’ve known many people a lot like him, but largely because the movie shows him in a halfway sympathetic light. Ricky is socially inept; and he would be a royal pain in the ass to deal with on a regular basis. However, the movie depicts him more as pitiful than repulsive. In fact, Ricky even finds somebody for himself at the end.

So, Better Off Dead; it’s bizarre, surreal, absurd, ridiculous and very strange. In short, it’s an almost perfect movie depiction of adolescence, and it’s a lot of fun.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dagon (2001)

The Movie: Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden) has been suffering strange, reoccurring nightmares recently. They involve the bottom of the ocean; bizarre, inhuman ruins; and a beautiful mermaid (Macarena Gomez) with a mouthful of fangs. Said dreams are disrupting his current vacation; a boat trip taken with his girlfriend, Barbara (Raquel Merono), and their friends Vicki (Birgit Bofarull), and Howard (Brendan Price), off the coast of Spain to celebrate their newly gained wealth from the stock market.

Unfortunately, things are about to get a whole lot worse than nightmares. A freak storm crashes the boat on a rock, leaving Vicki badly wounded and the vessel stuck. Paul and Barbara make their way to the little village on the nearby shore for help; but Paul gets separated from his friends, and they inexplicably disappear.

Paul finds the little fishing village of Imbocca a strange and terrifying place. The people are unfriendly, and seem to bear a variety of deformities; and worse yet, quickly seem determined to kill him. Trapped in Imbocca with the hostile natives, Paul desperately seeks word of his friends and a way out.

However, that’s far from the worst of it. The drunken derelict, Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal), tells Paul the history of Imbocca; a few generations back the village suffered from a fish shortage. In desperation, the people turned to the worship of Dagon; a demon-god from the depths of the ocean. Their descendents, Imbocca’s current inhabitants, are both fanatical worshippers, and half human offspring, of Dagon.

But what really complicates things for Paul is when he meets Uxia; high priestess of Dagon, and the mermaid who’s been turning up in his nightmares. As Paul is drawn deeper and deeper into the darkness that is Imbocca, it turns out that he has a far more personal connection to the horrible place than he could ever have suspected…

The Review:

Two possibilities…"

It’s long been accepted as true, to the point of cliché, that to be a good artist one must suffer. As many of those who have followed my writings, particularly my most recent entries on my Living Nightmares blog (there’s a link on my profile if you’re interested), for the past two and a half months have probably guessed, I have recently had reason to reflect on the subject. Ultimately, I disagree with that conclusion; although I can see how it might be reached.

I am of the view that it’s not the suffering that produces artistic talent; I doubt there’s a single one of my readers who hasn’t encountered some really bad “art” that somebody made about their suffering, particularly if you have any familiarity with the Goth or Emo scenes. I think the suffering comes into it because it is such a human universal. All of us, with no exception, suffer to some degree during the course of our lives. Art provides a particularly effective channel for the negative feelings that come with suffering while still keeping it somewhat socially acceptable. In fact, I have to wonder if that isn’t the whole reason art came into being in the first place; symbolically raging against that obnoxious fellow tribesman on the wall of the cave instead of clubbing him over the head and pissing off the rest of the clan for it.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a pulp writer around the beginning of the 20th century. He had a profound effect on the areas of horror and science fiction, and a slightly lesser but still significant effect on fantasy. Also, it’s pretty obvious just from reading his works (backed up by accounts of people who knew him) that the man had major issues and neuroses. Most of the horrors in his body of work touch upon a particular list of issues and subjects that strongly affected him on an emotional level.

Lovecraft is probably best known for his “cosmic horror,” a term he coined to describe a subgenre of horror based around living in an actively hostile or lethally indifferent universe. The majority of his most famous horrors are dangerous to us humans in the exact same way that we are to ants. While it is extremely bad when they notice us and decide to meddle in our puny little lives; the far more likely outcome is that they will simply step on us without ever realizing that they have done so, or even that we were ever there to be stepped on in the first place. Unfortunately, while this subgenre can create extremely effective written stories when done right; it presents some major difficulties when it comes to trying to translate the horrors to a visual medium such as movies.

Fortunately for makers and fans of movies, however, Lovecraft wrote some more “down to Earth” horror stories as well. The movie Dagon is based, not, as we might expect, on the short story of the same name; but on the novella the Shadow Over Innsmouth, one of his best and most well known works. Shadow Over Innsmouth , aside from being a very effective horror story, also contains a large amount of the personal fears and issues that Lovecraft regularly included in his stories; sins of the past coming back to plague future generations, fear of age, xenophobia, bad blood, tainted family heritage, the ocean and all that dwells in it, the list goes on.

Another interesting thing that appeared in much of Lovecraft’s work was an amazing collection of hang-ups about sex. Now, Lovecraft was, at least as far as his writing was concerned, the quintessential Victorian gentleman, albeit a generation or two late; and therefore kept sexual matters extremely discrete. He only had one story, the Thing on the Doorstep, that even had anything like a main female character; although considering the story centers around the fact that it’s really her father possessing her body, there is plenty of room for argument whether that really counts. Still, if you look just below the surface of much of Lovecraft’s work you’ll notice a lot of focus on unnatural breeding and unhealthy family heritage’s. Shadow Over Innsmouth, again, is probably his best known example of this theme, the inhabitants of this decaying city all being half-human hybrids who mate with repulsive sea creatures. I must note an interesting discrepancy here between Dagon and its source material; the movie goes the traditional exploitation route where the women are used as breeding vessels for the horror, whereas in the novella (and at least one or two other stories where Innsmouth is mentioned) Lovecraft’s setup is men who are forced to take inhuman wives.

Dagon was put together by the same team who made the twistedly delightful Re-animator, but they are two very different movies. Dagon, in many ways, is a much more reserved and, ultimately, mature, work. There is humor, but it’s far more subtle and straight-faced. Likewise, unlike the older movie, Dagon slowly but surely builds up to its exploitation friendly elements instead of letting them right out of the gate. During the course of the movie, we in the audience learn about Imbocca with Paul; starting out with subtle yet disturbing hints about what’s going on, and gradually building up to the terrifying truth. When we first meet the people of Imbocca, for the most part they just seem creepy humans, mostly covered up, with maybe a few small deformities to show that something’s not right; one guy has webbed hands, one guy has gills, none of them seem to blink. Seriously, watch the actors carefully, they really don’t blink. It’s incredibly creepy.

However, as the plot goes on we are witness to an ever growing catalogue of deformities; tentacles, inability to walk upright, etc. It is only by the end that we get to see the full glory of these freakish monstrosities. Similarly, the gore, when it does come, is pretty gruesome; but we don’t actually get it until late in the film, when we’ve been witness to various clues about what’s going to happen, making the actual scene even more effective.

In Paul Marsh we have a very sympathetic and identifiable protagonist. However, looking at other reviews on the internet I have found a general dislike for him. I suspect that this is because Paul is a bit too identifiable for most viewers. Since we tend to watch these kinds of movies for escape; we oftentimes come to expect a hero who’s more like a fantasy ideal of ourselves. In Paul, we get a hero who’s a lot more like what we’d actually be like in the same situation than most of us are comfortable with.

Paul is not the uber-confident action hero so many Hollywood movies would make him; he’s a spastic geek who’s well aware that he’s in over his head. When Paul tries action-movie type stunts, they tend to do him at least as much harm as good. For example, in one scene early on Paul escapes an attack on his motel room by the classic action-movie stunt of jumping from his window and through a glass ceiling. The end result; he twists his ankle and limps for the rest of the movie. Or, there’s another scene where he’s struggling with one of the creatures and head butts it. It works, but Paul’s opponent is not the only one clutching its head in pain. In short, Paul gets a lot more beaten up throughout the course of the movie, and suffers a lot more of the consequences, than a lifetime of exposure to Hollywood has lead us to expect.

Likewise, Paul pretty much blunders through most of the film. He makes mistakes, he dithers, and he does some pretty stupid things. Personally, I’m sure that what happens when he tries to hotwire a car would be the very best-case scenario were I to attempt it. He is able to finally rise to the events, but only competently, never in a cinematically easy or simple matter.

I felt that the character of Barbara was also well done. Admittedly, she only appears for a small portion of the movie, but she’s a far cry from the helpless, simpering heroines we usually see. In a few parts she’s actually stronger and more competent than Paul.

The final character that really caught my attention was Uxia. Macarena Gomez is simultaneously dead sexy and downright creepy in the role; the original siren who you know is bad for you, but you are drawn to nevertheless. Gods help me; I’d happily go for Gomez tentacles or no tentacles.

The final thing I’d like to draw attention to is the general atmosphere and setting of the film. Dagon perfectly inspires the feeling of being caught in a hostile location where you are completely out of your depth. The little village used, for starters, is subtlely modified so that on first site it’s very easy to believe that inhuman creatures live here. The makeup effect on the Imboccans, and the noises they make, are also wonderfully creepy. The soundtrack is effectively eerie, especially one number used in several spots that turns one of Lovecraft’s nonsensical cries to the Old Ones into a kind of Gregorian chant. Finally, in what I thought was a clever touch, the Imboccans don’t speak Spanish, but Galician. Galician is similar to Spanish, but it’s actually a language in and of itself, albeit one not used so much anymore. This insures that if you have any familiarity with Spanish, hearing the villagers speak will sound kind of alien.

In conclusion, Dagon is, to my mind, the best Lovecraft movie adaptation made thus far. It covers the main points of its source story perfectly, with only a few cosmetic differences; Lovecraft might have a little trouble with some of the modern horror movie techniques, but I think he would approve. Dagon also works very well as a stand-alone horror movie. It is extremely well made, effective, and scary on multiple levels. Another must-see if you’re at all serious about horror.

Monday, June 18, 2012

the Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

The Movie: Young bride Susan (Maribel Martin) and her new, unnamed, husband (Simon Andreu of Beyond Re-Animator) are headed to a hotel for their honeymoon; after which they will move into his castle estate where he grew up, but hasn’t been to for years. Unfortunately, the hotel is spoiled for Susan with two unpleasant encounters right off the bat. The first is when she spots a disturbing, predatory looking blonde (Alexandra Bastedo of Casino Royale) watching her from a car as she enters the motel. The second is when she gets to her room and has a very violent fantasy about her husband jumping out of the closet, a stocking over his head, tearing off her wedding dress and brutally raping her. When hubby gets back from parking the car, she convinces him to cut their stay at the hotel and just head right to his estate.

At the estate, things look to be improving for Susan at first. She automatically gets on well with the estate’s two servants (Angel Lombarte and Montserrat Julio) and their twelve year-old daughter, Carol (Maria Rosa-Rodriguez). However, when the couple retires for the night, she looks out the window and sees a strange woman dressed like a bride roaming the estate grounds. Then, when the couple consummates their marriage, hubby shocks his new bride by ripping off her dress just like he did in her vision. As the next few days pass we kind of have to wonder if Susan is precognitive, because hubby turns out to be a domineering prick with a very definite sadistic streak. Naturally, Susan starts having second and third thoughts about the whole marriage thing.

One day Susan asks Carol why there are no portraits of female family members. Carol answers that there are, but they’re all in the cellar; hubby’s grandfather put them there in a fit of rage when his wife tried to poison him and then ran off to Paris. Carol shows them to Susan, and one particularly catches her attention. The face of the portrait has been cut out, but it shows a woman in a wedding dress. One hand holds a distinctive looking knife, and the other has rings on all the fingers, the stones all turned inwards. The little plaque on the portrait has the name Mircalla Karstein; and strangely, while it has a birth date, the death date is missing.

Hubby arrives at that time and offers to tell Susan all about “Crazy Aunt Mircalla.” Mircalla married an ancestor of his two centuries ago, but stabbed him to death on their wedding night when he tried to make her do something “unspeakable.” They found her slumped over the body in her wedding dress, clutching the knife, comatose but not dead. After two years they just decided to bury her at the now-ruined chapel in the woods behind the estate. Now, all that’s there are some water damaged bones.

However, that very night the dreams start. Susan dreams that the bride she saw on her first night (who she and the movie audience now recognize as both the blonde at the hotel and Mircalla Karstein) comes to her bedroom. The woman gives her a knife, the same one from the portrait, and exhorts her to use it on her husband before biting Susan on the neck. Susan’s husband tries to convince her it was all a dream, but that doesn’t explain the appearance of the knife in Susan’s bed. She begs her husband to hide it where she can’t find it.

However, the next night Mircalla again visits Susan’s dreams. This time she leads Mircalla to the grandfather clock in the hall, and removes the knife from under the clock face. The two women then go back to Susan’s sleeping husband and go to town on him with the knife. When Susan wakes up, she leads hubby to the clock and shows him the knife. However, that only raises further questions; because hubby didn’t hide it in the clock.

Hubby tries to bury the knife on an isolated beach. However, in the process he discovers a woman buried in the sand, wearing nothing but a scuba mask and rings with the stones turned inward. At a loss, hubby takes her home and puts her up; but Susan and the woman immediately recognize each other. Now, hubby is growing disturbed and jealous over the closeness between his wife and their guest. Meanwhile, Susan has bottled up a ton of festering, negative feelings regarding her husband; and Mircalla actively works to pull the cork on them. Things are about to get really ugly really fast…

The Review:
The good ones are those who are content to dream what the wicked actually practice."

For the curiosity of some of my more astute readers, I will confirm that yes, all of the movies I have reviewed this month share a general theme. And no, I’d rather not elaborate on the whys of it. I’d prefer to just jump into the review.

The above quote is shown to us just before the opening credits roll on Blood Spattered Bride, and then quoted again by one of the characters later on. I feel that the quote from Plato perfectly sums up this rather nasty little movie. Something I’ve long noted in Spanish horror cinema, particularly from this time period, is a sense of negative emotions, long suppressed and left to fester, suddenly bubbling to the surface in all their toxic glory. Historically this makes sense. This period saw the end of Francisco Franco’s decades long repressive, fascist regime; and a period like this in any culture would see a lot of nasty, festering emotions suddenly free to break forth, not to mention a need to channel them.

However, the seething mess of unhealthy emotions on display here is far more personal than just the emotional atmosphere of the culture in which the movie was made. What we are shown is no less than the total collapse of a relationship that has been decaying from within for a long time. The bond between Susan and her husband is obviously a shaky one from the very beginning, and gets more so as the movie progresses. While some of the issues on display are probably derived from Spanish culture of the time, most of them are pretty universal; at least in the West. So much of what happens in Blood Spattered Bride resonates with my own life experiences. Admittedly, I’ve never had a relationship that got anywhere near as bad as this one does; but considering how all my attempts at a love life seem to end up, it’s probably only a matter of time.

One of the ways in which the movie gets it right is that both sides are at fault. Starting very early on, it’s made very clear that hubby is a grade-A prick weasel. He’s domineering, possessive, jealous, cruel, and self-centered. The movie leaves it vague how much of this Susan has been consciously aware of beforehand (although she had to be a least somewhat subconsciously aware of it, considering her hallucination at the beginning), but we are quickly led to understand and sympathize with her doubts and her growing desire to escape her situation.

Some doubt is even left as how much choice Susan (and, to a lesser extent, hubby) had or felt she had in the marriage. A scene where the husband is talking to the doctor he had brought in to help is wife reveals that he and Susan knew each other from childhood, and that their parents had always been close. This suggests that the marriage may not have been his and Susan’s choice, that it was something preordained by their families for most, if not all, of their lives.

Another set of clues comes up in the fact that hubby’s family tree has had a pretty hostile and conflicted relationship with its female members. What with Mircalla Karstein and that nasty incident with hubby’s grandparents, you have to wonder what other skeletons are in the closet involving his female ancestors. There is a suggestion that the atmosphere hubby grew up in was very hostile toward the female sex; and that that’s a large part of why he turned out the way he did.

However, as I stated, Susan is not without fault either; although in the early part of the film she is a lot more sympathetic. It’s clear from the start that she’s uncertain about this; that fantasy/hallucination/whatever the hell it was at the beginning is definitely a big, red, neon warning sign in my book. As the movie goes on it becomes clear that Susan is feeling more and more helpless about her situation; and as with anyone else in a situation where they feel helpless, this generates all sorts of negative feelings that, without a healthy channel for them, collect and fester into something far worse.

Susan is obviously torn between how she feels and how she thinks she’s supposed to feel. In the scenes where she tells her husband that she really doesn’t hate him, she loves him; it’s clear that she’s really trying to convince herself. Then comes the next part of any unhealthy relationship, the games. Hubby starts out, but Susan tries to regain some power for herself by playing destructive games of her own. Just watch their interactions at about the middle of the movie; this isn’t the behavior of people who truly love each other, this is two people who are trying to make each other jump through their destructive hoops for their own sick pleasures.

Mircalla Karstein is an interesting villain due to the fact that she’s not actually the cause of the couple’s woes; she’s just the catalyst that fully unleashes them. If this were anything like a healthy marriage Mircalla would have a lot less power over Susan; but by the time Mircalla becomes an active player in the situation, Susan is already eager for a way to strike out at her husband, however much she might try to deny it at first.

Hubby doesn’t help the situation any, either. Probably the perfect signal for the oncoming storm is the scene right after the couple has had dinner with their new guest, and the three are now gathered in the parlor. Hubby is talking, trying to impress the two women; and the women are very clearly ignoring him for each other. Hubby eventually notices this, and just as clearly resents being ignored. Following that scene, as Susan and Mircalla visibly grow closer; it’s obvious that hubby is clearly upset not over the threat to his life (which, to be honest, he probably either doesn’t believe or is unaware of), but that his wife has somebody whose company she so plainly prefers to his.

When the inevitable blowup finally comes it hits badly in a major shitstorm of hostile emotions that pretty much destroys everyone even tangentially involved. In the flurry of violence that follows, even the most innocent bystanders get sucked in and destroyed. The movie and its ugly situation climax in a pretty brutal ending; but apparently it was fairly tame compared to how the director really wanted to end it.

On all technical points, the Blood Spattered Bride is well made. The filmwork makes excellent use of the beautiful, gothic looking scenery in evidence. Admittedly, the movie does start out slow; but it uses that time to build up the plot, making it all the more effective when the ball starts rolling. Also, the movie is nowhere near as exploitative as one would expect. There is female nudity, but the most graphic is at the very beginning. Considering that, for the story’s purposes, it very obviously supposed to be exploitatively sexual; I don’t find it all that sleazy or off-putting at all. For most of the movie, the nudity is actually rather reserved. Ditto the blood; the movie doesn’t use the blood and violence if it doesn’t have to, but when it does it doesn’t skimp.

So in conclusion; the Blood Spattered Bride is a very well made and effective little European vampire film that is really about pent up emotions and destructive relationships. I really have to wonder what issues the director was going through when he wrote it. Very much worth watching if you’re in the mood for a slightly less exploitative, slightly more cerebral eurohorror flick.