Monday, June 18, 2012
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 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.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
The Movie: Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) does not have a happy family life. His estranged and very emotionally disturbed wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar) has been viciously fighting him for custody of their five year-old daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds). However, Frank hasn’t actually seen Nola for a while because she is currently a patient at the Soma Free Clinic, under the care of Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed of Royal Flash).
Raglan, bestselling author of the Shape of Rage, has pioneered a new psychiatric technique he calls ‘Psychoplasmics.’ In the opening scene, Raglan and his prize patient, Mike (Gary McKeehan), demonstrate it in action. Psychoplasmics is basically a combination of role-playing and mind over matter. Raglan acts the part of an individual the patient has reasons to have hostile feelings toward, and encourages the patient to channel those hostile feelings into psychosomatic effects. In Mike’s case, when Raglan plays the role of his abusive and domineering father, Mike manifests his emotions as burns and blisters all over his body.
Frank’s real problems begin when he finds scratches and bruises on Candice after she comes home from one of her weekend visits with her mother; something Raglan has instated as part of Nola’s treatment. He confronts Raglan about it, threatening to end Candice’s visits unless Raglan can ensure her safety. Raglan counters by maintaining that Candice is a necessary part of Nola’s treatment; and that he can use his position as a respected psychiatrist to take custody away from Frank. Frank’s lawyer confirms that Raglan can do this; and his only real option is to find a way to prove that Raglan is a dangerous charlatan.
Seeking to do just that, Frank comes into contact with Jan Hartog (Robert Silverman), a former patient of Raglan who is also preparing a lawsuit against the doctor. In Jan’s case, he blames Raglan and Psychoplasmics for the lymphatic sarcoma that is slowly killing him. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing on the home front. Frank leaves Candice with his mother in law (Nuala Fitzgerald), who, ironically, he’s much closer to than Nola is; and Candice gets a front row seat when a small figure breaks into the house and brutally beats her grandmother to death.
When Frank’s father in law (Henry Beckman) comes for the funeral, and stops by the house; he, too, gets killed by the small figure, who was still hiding inside. Frank gets attacked when he goes looking for the man, but the creature inexplicably dies halfway through. And ‘creature’ is the best way to describe the attacker. It looks something like a mutated dwarf, but the police surgeon who performs the autopsy find traits that indicate it’s not even human. In fact, in many ways the thing seems only halfway formed. Most disturbing, though; even with all its deformities the creature bears a strong resemblance to Candice.
Soon after the second murder, Jan informs Frank that Raglan has inexplicably closed his clinic and dismissed all the patients; all except Nola. Raglan, meanwhile, knows far more than he’s telling and is having second thoughts about Psychoplasmics. Mind over matter is probably not the best thing to teach clinically unstable individuals. It’s bad enough with someone like Mike; who internalizes all his anger and hatred and manifests it as personal injuries. Nola, however, externalizes her negative emotions. Considering how spiteful, vindictive and unstable Nola is, who knows what she is capable of?
The Review: It’s another double feature today. This time around I’m reviewing an offering from each of the two “Demented Davids” of Hollywood; Messers Cronenberg and Lynch, respectively. First off, Cronenberg’s film.
A while back I met with a friend to eat dinner and watch some movies; I was in charge of bringing the movies. My choice wound up being a double feature of the Brood with the Last American Virgin. For the full details of why that was a very bad idea, read my May, 2010, review of the latter film after you’re finished with this one. However, the short of it is that despite the two movies coming from very different genres, they share a basic theme.
While David Cronenberg has branched out some as a director, he’s probably most well known for his horror movies. Cronenberg approaches horror in a way that I haven’t seen fully duplicated from any other director. Especially in his early movies, Cronenberg presents horrors that are biological, psychological, medical and physiological all rolled into one; a screwed up mind mixed with an equally screwed up body, usually due at least in part to some kind of medical experiment or treatment. On top of all that, there’s always a very icky sexual vibe as well. The end result is visceral horror on multiple levels that is nearly always cringe-inducing. My father maintains that it was Croenenberg’s version of the Fly that permanently turned him off the horror genre; and I have no trouble seeing why.
I would describe the Brood as a very male horror movie. Now, I know what you probably think I mean by that; and you would be very wrong. This is no crude, exploitative jiggle-fest. I describe the Brood as ‘male’ because it is entirely from a male point of view. The horror of this film is based entirely around those traits that men find terrifying about women.
Nola Carveth is every man’s ultimate female nightmare written large. Psychologically she is fickle, petty, insecure, vindictive, irrational and prone to mood swings. Physically; the climactic scene where we are finally given a clear look at the changes Psychoplasmics has made to her evokes pretty much all the elements of reproduction and female anatomy that make men uncomfortable, and then amplifies them to nearly unbearable levels.
Now, I think the charges of misogyny that this movie has received over the years are unfair. To stave off any potential criticisms from readers, I will first point out a few things about myself. Pretty much my entire life, I have had far more close female friends and associates than I have had male ones. I tend to be attracted to intelligent, strong-willed women. Hell, considering the female relations I grew up with; if I hadn’t rejected at an early age all the sexist crap society teaches, I’d be missing far more than just my pointer finger and four wisdom teeth. In short, my defense of this movie and its points is not due to any kind of hatred or disrespect for the fairer sex.
Cronenberg wrote and made the Brood as a way to deal with an issue in his personal life; a particularly nasty divorce and custody battle. I don’t think he was trying to make any real conscious point; except possibly for one small thing which I will get to shortly. Watching the Brood, it’s very clear that this is the work of a man who is using his art to try and purge his personal demons. As an artist who uses the exact same tactic to contend with my own demons, let me tell you; said demons are never pretty when you drag them into the light.
What gives the Brood its visceral charge and makes it so effective is the authenticity of its subject matter. I’m sure all heterosexual males have had to deal with most, of not all, of the issues Cronenberg addresses in this movie on some level. Gods know I have. There are some major differences between the sexes; and when these relationship issues go south it can get really nasty. I’m aware that men aren’t entirely innocent on the matter; but the thing is that I was born male, it’s all I’ve ever known, so I only have a full understanding of the male side of the equation. I think it would be particularly interesting to see a horror movie directed by a woman that addresses all the things women find terrifying about men. If any of my readers knows of such a movie, please let me know.
Apart from his deft employment of the sex and gender issues involved and his great talent for creating multi-layered visceral horror; Cronenberg effectively uses one other element to make the Brood so effective, his characters. On the whole, his cast of characters is just human seeming and complex enough that there is no problem believing in and sympathizing with them. Frank is the movie’s stand-in for Cronenberg himself, so of course he’s going to be sympathetic. However, he’s not perfect. Frank is essentially an ordinary man caught in a very nasty situation. He’s desperately trying to do the right thing; but unfortunately for him, he’s in a situation where it’s extremely hard, if not downright impossible at times, to know what the right thing is. Therefore, fair or not; whether or not it’s even possible for Frank to truly get it right, he’s inevitably going to screw up.
Probably the best example of this would be Frank’s quickly curtailed interest in Candace’s school teacher, Ruth Mayer (Susan Hogan). Now, technically Frank’s still married to Nola; but it’s clear that this became a sham of a marriage long before she checked into Soma Free. It makes sense that Frank would be interested in someone else, particularly if there’s some potential for reciprocation. Unfortunately for Frank, this is swiftly ended as soon as Ruth realizes just how complicated Frank’s life truly is. Unfortunately for everyone involved, particularly Ruth; nobody is aware of just what Nola’s capable of until it’s too late.
Just as Frank isn’t exactly a hero in the traditional sense, Dr. Raglan isn’t exactly a villain. It’s true that he’s somewhat blind and arrogant; and it’s also true that he screws up and screws up catastrophically. However, Raglan isn’t irredeemable, and he eventually comes to realize just how much he’s screwed up. What’s more, he makes a major sacrifice to help Frank save Candace.
With our final two major characters, Nola and Candace, we come to that one potentially intentional issue I alluded to earlier. That issue is abuse; specifically the cyclical nature of abuse. I don’t know how much of its presence in the Brood is due to a conscious intention of making a point by Cronenberg and how much of it is just that it was on his mind due to recent events, but like everything else in this movie he handles it very well.
While Nola is obviously the villain of the movie, we are given definite reasons for why she is so angry, insecure and full of hate. In the scenes of her treatments with Doctor Raglan, we come to understand that that Nola was an abuse victim. She talks about being physically and emotionally abused by her mother, and about how her father just turned his back on it. In that tragic yet inevitable cycle, Nola the abuse victim has become an abuser. In fact, she brings it up at one point, telling Raglan that Frank’s “afraid that I’m turning into my mother. And he’s afraid that I’m trying to turn Candace into Baby Nola.”
And that brings us to the character of Candace. Now, Candace really doesn’t have much to do in this movie; which makes sense considering that she’s only five. However, she is a very obvious and blatant element in it. Candace is the innocent victim in this whole, horrible mess; a passive pawn to be fought viciously over and kidnapped. Much of the suspense of the Brood comes not just from whether Frank will be able to protect Candace from the danger or not; but also from what kind of effect the movie’s horrors will have on the little girl. The last shot, just before the credits, leaves us in no doubt that poor Candace has not come out of this unscathed.
So, in conclusion; the Brood is a very personal, very raw, and very effective little horror movie that audiences with a Y chromosome, in particular, will find extremely disturbing. If you have a serious interest in the horror genre, the Brood is a movie you have to see. However, unless you’re a serious masochist, I would not suggest watching this one for enjoyment.
The Movie: Fred Madison (Bill Pullman, of Spaceballs and Independence Day), a saxophone player at a jazz club, is having insecurity issues with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette in a brunette wig). Making issues more complicate are the unmarked envelopes starting to regularly appear on their doorstep. In the envelopes are videotapes, which seem to have been taken from inside their house while they sleep.
Then one night, at a party held by one of Renee’s friends, Fred has a bizarre encounter with a rather creepy man (Robert Blake). Among other things, the man claims to be in Fred’s house; and loans him his portable phone to have him call to confirm it. The next morning, Fred receives another videotape; this one showing him brutally murdering his wife. He is charged for the crime and sentenced to death row.
But a weird thing happens to Fred one night in his cell. He starts having peculiar visions, and then suddenly he isn’t Fred Madison anymore. Instead, the cell now holds Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty); a young auto mechanic with a head wound and no idea how he wound up in the cell. Pete is released to his family, and starts trying to go back to his old life.
But Pete’s problems are only beginning. Local gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia of Innocent Blood) has a lovely young mistress named Alice (Patricia Arquette without a wig), who immediately initiates an affair with Pete. That’s when it all starts to go to Hell…
“I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened."
My second offering for my “Demented Davids” double feature comes from David Lynch. Lynch is a director who has pretty much made his name on movies that you walk out of thinking “what the hell did I just watch? And why am I so disturbed?” Lynch is every bit as disturbing and transgressive as Cronenberg, but in his own unique way. Whereas Cronenberg combines several different approaches to horror into one gooey, visceral nightmare; Lynch operates by playing with your head. In the worlds David Lynch presents us with the dividing lines between the realms of the subconscious and the waking world are very blurry indeed, if they even exist at all. Lynch has a real knack for wringing fear out of inanimate objects, meaning out of the most inconsequential events, and of combining a sense of cosmic helplessness with one of very personal horror.
Play along with me for a few minutes, because I’m going to offer my own personal analysis of this movie. I think that all of Lost Highway takes place in Fred Madison’s mind. I think that the quote I begin this review with, a throwaway line where Madison is explaining to the police why he doesn’t like video cameras, is our biggest clue for what’s going on. Due to jealousy, obsession, and sexual frustration; Madison did something so horrible that he is unable to face up to it. That’s why he turns into Pete halfway through; if he’s Pete Dayton, then he can’t have committed Fred Madison’s crimes, now can he? However, Madison’s unwillingness and inability to face up to his past just leaves him repeating the same mistakes over and over again; no matter who he thinks he is at the time.
Now, believe it or not that wasn’t the spoiler it might seem like at first. As I said; that was just my personal interpretation of the movie, and Lost Highway is a movie that you can interpret any number of ways. It’s my understanding that the cast members each had a very different idea of what movie they were making. Lynch drops all sorts of clues throughout; but he’s always been very big on his audiences figuring it all out for themselves.
Secondly, Lost Highway, like most of Lynch’s films, is not so much a movie to be watched as it is an experience to get through. It’s less about structured story than it is about the raw emotional experience. It’s easy to get confused and lost. However, if you pay attention you will feel something. I, personally, think that the scene where Fred meets the Mystery Man at the party is one of the downright creepiest scenes I have ever seen in a movie. Likewise; you will definitely be empathizing with the feelings of lust, desire, obsession, jealousy, and frustration that these characters project, even if you don’t quite get the context.
So in conclusion, Lost Highway is a trangressive little movie that takes you far beyond your comfortable life and makes even the most innocuous things seem terrifying. A true, living nightmare up on the screen; and a mind-fuck par excellence.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
The Movie: The sexually insatiable Queen of the South Sea brings in hordes of handsome young men to feed her enormous appetites; but unfortunately, they tend not to survive them. Asking if there is any man who can satisfy her, the Queen receives her answer in the form of a new suitor. Said suitor not only does well in bed; he finishes by grabbing a rather nasty looking eel that falls out from between her legs, then turns it into a knife. The Queen demands that the man return the eel, the source of her power, to her in its true form; but the man instead demands that she stop the killings. The Queen refuses, and promises to bring horrible revenge upon his great-granddaughter. Then she stomps into the ocean.
We are then brought to the modern day; or at least the modern day as of when this movie was made, where we are introduced to Tania Wilson (the lovely Barbara Anne Constable, also the film’s makeup lady, in what, sadly, appears to be her only movie role); an American anthropology student. Tania has come to do her thesis on the Queen of the South Seas. In a dusty old bookshop she finds a dusty old book of dark legends; and despite the warnings of said book’s dusty old owner, she reads it and discovers the spot where the Queen’s palace is said to have stood before a volcanic eruption sent it to the bottom of the sea.
Of course, Tania hires a boat and heads out there. Ignoring the further warnings of the two sailors piloting the boat, Tania goes deep sea diving. Unfortunately for her and the sailors, this is indeed the remains of the Queen of the South Sea’s palace. The sailors are drowned in a freak squall; and Tania finds herself tied up on the Queen’s bed where a very familiar eel suddenly appears and enters her body (don’t ask). Possessing Tania’s body; the Queen stomps, naked, out of the waves and seduces her first two victims, a pair of losers on the beach.
Our hero, Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart, in what is apparently also his only movie role), is an American police officer who works the homicide division in Jakarta (Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Indonesia and the U.S. have a police exchange program?), and tries to forget about the tragic loss of his wife a few years back. Well, is he in for a distraction today. First Max is brought to the city morgue to examine some fresh murder victims; three men who appear to have had their penises bitten off by an eel. Let that be a lesson for my male readers; beware of sexual advances from strange women, no matter how attractive they are.
Next is an incident at the local mall. The Sea Queen has procured an Uzi from somewhere and is gunning down just about everyone in her path. She is particularly fixated upon eliminating Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker in, you guessed it, her only movie role), a young and upcoming pop star. Max and Erica are thrown together when Max attends a club where Erica’s performing, and the goddess makes an extremely public attempt to eliminate her.
Will Max and Erica’s growing love help them get over their respective, tragic pasts? Will they live long enough to find out? Why is the sea goddess so determined to kill Erica? Where is she getting all of these guns from? Do we really want to know the answer to that last question? And if nothing, from conventional guns to tanks and helicopters, is able to harm her; how will our heroes send this bitch goddess back to the hell that spawned her?
The Review: Probably the biggest reward that comes from being a rabid fan of B-movies is the discovery of something that is truly, mind-bogglingly, other; something you not only don’t see in mainstream films, but that you wouldn’t expect to in a million years. And I don’t just mean the subject matter, either. Location, cultural context, budget, the director’s imagination and how all these elements are employed all have a major impact. And, while it might be a tad unrealistic to expect to find something conventionally “good,” there’s some really fun crap out there if you’re only willing to look.
Lady Terminator comes from (and I’m no expert, so take this with a grain of salt) around the tail end of a period of history in Indonesia; where the government declared that for every five foreign films imported into the country, one had to be made domestically. This stimulated a period of economic growth, and established a domestic film industry in a culture that, until recently, didn’t have one. Of course, exploitation movies were the biggest money makers; as well as being relatively easy to make on the budget that was available.
The result was a blend of local cultural, mythological and folkloric elements with Western movie-making and exploitation sensibilities. Lady Terminator is, indeed, an Indonesian remake of James Cameron’s the Terminator. However, just a glance at my synopsis will show you that this is not merely a slavish plagiarisation of the more well-known movie. This is partly due to the fact that there was no way the studio could recreate a Hollywood blockbuster; they didn’t have anywhere near the budget for it. However, as the director was probably thinking more of home consumption than of international sales, it was made with a mind toward different cultural sensibilities.
In all honestly, there’s not too much to analyze about the movie Lady Terminator itself. It’s your classic, brainless, B-exploitation movie. You just watch this for fun, not to get anything serious out of it. However, there is one curious note I picked up. The documentary on Indonesian films that was included on the DVD said that the character of the Queen of the South Seas became a very popular one in Indonesian horror films of the time. If she’s usually portrayed anything like she is in Lady Terminator; that says some rather disturbing things about the view of women in this culture.
For the most part, one comes to Lady Terminator for the traditional exploitation elements; the gratuitous female nudity and nearly non-stop explosions. However, there is another fun aspect to this film. The director’s attempts to fit as many elements of its American namesake as possible into the film makes for a surprisingly fun and rousing game of ‘find the Terminator references.’ What’s more, if you’re familiar enough with Cameron’s film, it’s neat to see the different spins that Lady Terminator puts on its borrowed elements.
For example, the character of Max McNeil, our fill-in for the male lead of Terminator. In Lady Terminator he’s in a very different position. In the former movie the hero is essentially alone against a hostile world. He not only has to fight the title monster, he has to deal with a police precinct who is convinced that he is a criminal and a madman. However, Max is one of the police; and therefore has the whole department at his back. Of course, they’re every bit as able to handle the monster as the police in the original movie; but at least he and Erica have a lot more bodies between them and their persecutor. I also find it kind of amusing that unlike the hero of Terminator, who couldn’t convince the police that he wasn’t crazy; in this movie it’s Max’s fellow cops who are trying to convince him that there’s something supernatural here, and Max who won’t believe it.
Then there’s our title monster. Whereas Schwarzenegger played a completely emotionless, inhuman machine; the Sea Queen shows some very definite emotions as she stalks our heroes. Of course, there’s all the men she seduces. Then there’s one of my favorite parts, where she’s angrily banging on the dashboard of the car she’s been chasing the heroes in for most of the movie; which is finally starting to react to all the abuse it’s received. Lady Terminator also recreates the cringe-inducing scene where the Terminator cuts out one of his damaged eyes; except in her case she just runs it under the tap and puts it back in, amusingly into the wrong socket.
So in conclusion, Lady Terminator is a definite low-budget, B-exploitation movie; that combines the elements of a well-known American blockbuster with its own cultural references, and is packed with wall to wall explosions and gratuitous nudity. Of course, that is why it’s such a fun movie to watch. You won’t get anything serious or profound here; but this is a must-see for any fan of low-budget, non-Hollywood exploitation cinema.