Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Paul Lynde Post-Holiday Special Video Daily Double!

 Greeting, Lynde-ucationeers! Cap'n Howdy has a very special Video Daily Double for you today. If you don't know who Paul Lynde is, I'm not surprised, but I am very disappointed in you. But, since I'm no sourpuss, I'll help you out with today's educational film. There's only one today, because it's a little bit longer and I can't imagine you'll be able to focus on anything else once you've finished!

 To the education mobile!


 Today's film (in three parts) is called Public Transport: Who Needs It?, and it stars Paul Lynde. Even if you don't know who he is, I bet you'll figure it out immediately. It's impossible not to know who he is as soon as you see him. Also, something about the relative merits of public transportation, which comes in handy for you city Educationeers who want to go somewhere during the upcoming winter break (SPOILER: that means YOU need it.)


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Horror Fest VII: Cap'n Howdy's New Nightmare Trailer Sunday


The Boogens


The Mutilator


Mark of the Vampire

Return of the Vampire

The Cabin in the Woods

Horror Fest VII Day Two: The Cabin in the Woods

 Oh, kiddos! I know! I sure thought that this year, of all years, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was going to make it! But it got bumped... for Moontrap. Yeah, let's just blame Moontrap for it and not my inability to stay up late any more.

 Once upon a time, believe it or not, Horror and Summer Fests were and ALL NIGHT activity. No joke. There was a time, when the Cap'n and friends were younger than they are now, when I could actually watch movies until six or seven in the morning, go to bed, wake up five hours later, and start all over. Seriously, though: I have hazy memories of watching Friday the 13th Part 2 as the sun was coming up during Summer Fest or nudging Neil and Cranpire to wake up as Shark Attack 3: Megalodon reached its absurd crescendo (and if you've seen the movie, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about) at six thirty in the morning. That used to happen.

 But not so much any more. Now we're older than we used to be, and it's much, much harder to keep things going past midnight. Three is usually the threshold, even on a weekend, and when everybody else takes off, it's difficult to talk myself into pushing that extra mile, even for you, dear readers.

 So Cap'n Howdy is a lame-o and you aren't going to get the Halloween III: Season of the Witch write-up you were so desperately hoping for. Or the one for The Silent Scream (featuring The Boogens' Rebecca Balding). If you'd like I can repost my review of The Woman in Black and we can pretend folks stayed awake for it. Because, believe me, if they had, they wouldn't have slept at all that night. Hell, if The Boogens hadn't happened, there's a good chance V/H/S could have ruined some golden slumbers on Friday. But that's what horror movies are supposed to do, dammit! They're supposed to scare the crap out of you and keep you up all night. That and Hobo Bug Juice, but with less vomiting on the former and probably more on the latter.

 There's a reason they don't make Mountain Dew: Game Fuel Orange any more, and I'd like to think it's because someone found out we were mixing it with Wild Irish Rose and putting it in Styrofoam cups for your endurance pleasure. That's surely why nobody makes Sunkists Floats anymore - TripWIR was too much for any one human to handle.


 Where was I? Oh yes, the closing film of Horror Fest VII - Cap'n Howdy's New Nightmare, which surprisingly didn't feature a single Nightmare on Elm Street film (partly because we watched Part 4 - The Dream Master during Summerfest 4). I am here to add a few thoughts to The Cabin in the Woods, mostly to my initial write-up, which gave Four Reasons to See The Cabin in the Woods (Again), which I did.

 Tonight was actually the fourth time I've seen the film (the fifth if you count watching it with the commentary). I saw it again in theaters, and then on home video and Blu-Ray (clearly the same thing so ask no follow up questions there) and I took advantage of the "pause" button to scour the background for details. And while I still haven't found the Unicorn Tapestry (and I will!), I did see a lot of the other triggers for various monsters (including what I believe would unleash the Dismemberment Goblins, the evil doctors, and possibly the sexy witches that we'll see when The Cabin in the Woods makes its way to Skinemax).

 I guess I forgot to mention this when I did the original write-up of The Cabin in the Woods, but the very first time I saw it there was some grousing online about what the "electrical disruption" was that prevented the cave-in and how it came from "upstairs." It was a plot point people seemed to believe was abandoned or never really explained in favor of getting Marty and Dana into the facility and unleashing the monsters. However, the second time I saw the movie it was abundantly clear what happened, and there was no secretive conspiracy being used to undermine the facility from within.

 So "upstairs" is the cabin and the entire area surrounding it, and since the electrical disturbance happens after Marty disappears, it's pretty clear that the wires he was playing around with that lead him to find the elevator are what prevents the cave-in from happening. There's no reason to resolve that story downstairs because the characters it impacts don't meet Marty until it's too late, so it's entirely up to the audience to put it together. Sneaky...

 I still feel like the film is more a commentary on horror in the abstract than attributable to any single film, and that it models itself more on Scooby Doo character tropes than a particular horror film or series, but that doesn't bother me. Most of the horror theory I read in college and continue to study now begins with broad notions and pulls portions of specific films in as it suits them (for example, the idea that "Final Girls" have gender ambiguous names, which I'm sorry, but how many guys do you know named Laurie, Nancy, or Alice - Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, the "big three" for Final Girl theory). It's okay that The Cabin in the Woods is more "about" horror in general than it is about a specific set of tropes you see over and over again. Believe me, I spent the whole weekend watching horror movies and The Cabin in the Woods meta-narrative doesn't map onto any of them, even The Mutilator.

 Still, it's a clever idea and it has something to say about audiences and our relationship to the films we watch, which puts it ten to twenty notches above, say, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, which talks a lot ABOUT horror tropes but doesn't really have anything to say about them (other than to make up a trope - the "Ahab" - that only exists in the Halloween films).

 Alas, kiddos, it's pushing 2 in the morning, and as much as I'd like to wax the philosophic about this, the Cap'n is no spring chicken anymore. I'm older, and wiser, especially enough to know better than to ever take on the McGangbang Challenge again... that took years off of my life!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Horror Fest VII Day Two: Bela Lugosi Triple Feature

 One of the things the Cap'n doesn't do as much as I'd like to during Horror Fest is showcase older horror movies. Oh sure, every now and then I'll throw in something from the 50s or 60s, but they're few and far between, and in all honesty, I first came to be a fan of horror films because of a friend of my father's. He used to tape AMC's Monster Fest for me, back when AMC showed movies without interruption and had Robert Osborne providing information before the films (in other words, when AMC was Turner Classic Movies), and they used to have Universal Classic Monster triple features on Saturdays. I still have those tapes, with Dracula and Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, and my personal favorite at the time, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. They would even have non-Universal films like King Kong, and that's how I slowly made my venture into watching "scary" movies.

 It's my own doing, but I've never really shared that experience with Horror Fest audiences. In fact, the only movie with Bela Lugosi I've ever shown at a Fest was Plan 9 from Outer Space, which a) barely has any Lugosi in it and b) was used as a key example of why I found M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening so amusing. So it seemed like seven years in, it was time to give classic horror it's due.

 I chose three Bela Lugosi vampire films - Dracula, Mark of the Vampire, and Return of the Vampire -  because there's an interesting through line for the first two and the third one is clearly designed to use the name recognition of the second, but also because they're all better than one might expect in their own right. Lugosi tends to get the short shrift of the classic horror stars, in part because he worked a lot, and a lot of the films he worked on weren't very good, but also because these days he's as associated with Ed Wood as he is with playing Count Dracula, and not in a good way. It's a shame, because there are a lot of very good Bela Lugosi films (The Black Cat, The Raven) or roles where he plays a fine supporting role (Son of Frankenstein). Still, I thought it would be fun to have a vampire triptych, so let's take a look at that, shall we?


 If it's all right with you, I'm going to spend the least amount of time on Tod Browning's Dracula, because I suspect that's the film most of you have seen. Dracula did, after all, start the Universal Classic Monster craze (even if Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera preceded it by several years), and while it's a looser adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel than some might like, Browning's macabre sensibilities and atmospheric lighting and set design do make it memorable.

 And, of course, there's Lugosi as Dracula, who loves his "children of the night" and "never drink(s)... wine." Reprising the role that made him famous on the stage, Lugosi's gaze and Hungarian accent make him instantly memorable to anyone who has ever seen the film. Both menacing and alluring, repulsive and erotic, Dracula benefits immensely from Lugosi's presence, keeping the rather dull second half and abrupt conclusion palatable.


"Vampires in the twentieth century? Don't be ridiculous!"

 Four years later, Lugosi and Browning would join forces again for Mark of the Vampire, a film that begins in a similar fashion to Dracula. In a village (this time in Czechoslovakia rather than Romania), the villagers live in fear of the bats who roam at night, convinced they are the vampire minions of Count Mora (Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carol Borland). When the local Doctor Doskil (Donald Meek) is called in to investigate the death of Sir Karell (Holmes Herbert), his immediate reaction to the bite marks on Karell's neck is that a vampire attacked him and drained his blood, much to the disbelief of Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill).

 Meanwhile, Baron Otto (Jean Hersholt) is charged with taking care of the estate, including the impending nuptials of Karell's daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) to Fedor (Henry Wadsworth), both of whom appear to be the new targets of Count Mora and Luna. With the arrival of Professor Zeller (Lionel Barrymore) comes the promise of saving the family from this vampire curse, and from the castle they've abandoned, even as Mora resurrects Karell to join his undead cabal.

 For most of the film this seems to be where Mark of the Vampire is going, until it takes an abrupt turn with about fifteen minutes to go, and to say anymore risks massive SPOILER territory. So I'm going to mark the next section accordingly and if you don't want to know what the twist in Mark of the Vampire is, I'll meet you in the Return of the Vampire section.


 It turns out, in a very unusual transition, that there ARE no vampires. Professor Zeller, in an attempt to trick Baron Otto into confessing to the murder of Sir Karell, constructed an elaborate ruse involving Count Mora, Luna, and an undead Karell in order to hypnotize the Baron. Everyone, with the exception of Fedor, is in on the hoax, we're led to believe (or need to believe if you want to accept the sudden shift in narrative and tone). Mora and Luna are actually actors hired to play the vampires, playing into the Baron's superstitious nature, and Irena goes along, despite her reservations. To be fair, the Professor is exploiting her father's death and using a look-a-like that she needs to pretend is her father as they re-enact the night of his murder. It is a little tasteless.

 The twist is a little difficult to reconcile because so much of the film involves characters who must have known that this was a hoax (especially, as we learn, because the Professor arrives a year AFTER Karell's death) but disappear shortly after the twist is revealed (in particular I'm thinking of the Maid, who comes in as part of the Professor's plan, it would seem, but either doesn't know that Luna and Mora aren't vampires or is very good at playing scared for characters who are in on the ruse. There are a number of scenes that have nothing to do with the Baron that advance the vampire story, misleading the audience until very late in the film.

 After we discover what the film is really about, Browning wraps things up nicely with a few scenes of our heroes celebrating, and then Mora joking to Luna that he should be the lead vampire next time, much to her amusement.



 "It looks like the Jerries dug up his grave for us!"

 Lugosi returns to the cape and fangs, this time for Columbia (Dracula was for Universal and Mark of the Vampire for MGM) in Return of the Vampire, which is more than just a way to clue in audiences that their favorite bloodsucker was back from the grave. Again not playing Dracula, this time Lugosi is Armand Tesla, an eighteenth century expert on the occult turned walking dead. With his werewolf sidekick Andreas (Matt Willis), he is terrorizing the Ainsley institute in London, 1918.

 Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescort), with the help of Doctor Walter Saunders (Gilbert Emery), seek to stop Tesla after he attacks Saunder's daughter Nicki (Sherlee Collier) and before he can reach her son John (Donald Dewar). They track down Tesla to his tomb and manage to drive a stake through his heart, freeing Andreas from his servitude, and Ainsley takes the former wolf man back to her institute to rehabilitate him.

 Twenty three years later, Saunders dies in a train crash and Sir Fredrick Fleet (Miles Mander) of Scotland Yard comes into possession of his diaries. Needless to say, he's not pleased with the idea of Lady Ainsley driving a stake into someone's heart, and orders an investigation of her actions. Unfortunately, the Nazis are bombing London, and during one of the Luftwaffe air raids, they blow open the unmarked grave Saunders and Ainsley moved Tesla to. Two gravediggers unwittingly remove the stake from his heart and re-bury the vampire, but he returns.

 To Return of the Vampire's credit, when Tesla comes back, he isn't content simply to be a vampire in London. No, he wants revenge on Lady Ainsley for stealing twenty three years, and he starts by finding Andreas and transforming him back into a wolf (a talking wolf, but I'll overlook that), but using his servant's association with the Lady to his advantage. After Andreas kills the real scientist, Tesla poses as Doctor Hugo Bruckner, a scientist smuggled out of a concentration camp and back into London, who Ainsley provides unfettered access to her facilities. Tesla sets his sights on ruining the wedding of the now adult John Ainsley (Roland Varno) and Nicki Saunders (Nina Foch) as his ultimate revenge...

 I wasn't expecting too much from Return of the Vampire - the 1943 (IMDB says 1944) production seemed suspiciously like a cash-in on Lugosi's decade plus affiliation with Dracula (even Mark of the Vampire was from 1935), but the film cleverly uses World War II to its advantage, and the bombed out portions of London become the setting of a very different sort of vampire film. It also helps that Tesla has a plan and implements it, rather than wandering around aimlessly finding victims (like Mora in Mark of the Vampire). The struggle between Ainsley and Tesla is as interesting as the back and forth between Van Helsing and Dracula, and while the resolution is largely out of their hands, there is at least one great scene showcasing their battle of wills.

 It's certainly a better constructed film than I was expecting, with the opening section of the film being a surprising prologue / flashback designed to set the stakes before we're even aware that Return of the Vampire is going to leap to (roughly) present day. Like Mark of the Vampire, it openly acknowledges the difficulty for authorities (in this case, Scotland Yard) to believe such a fantastic story, but as Fleet and his detectives discover, the evidence is hard to ignore, even when it points to werewolves and vampires.

 This trifecta proves to me that classic horror films have as much of a place in Horror Fest as the more contemporary fare, and in the future I resolve to include more of it for everybody to see. But for now, it's time to close out with a very recent film indeed, The Cabin in the Woods.

Horror Fest VII Day Two: The Mutilator

 So... The Mutilator. What the hell was that?

 I don't know if you remember Sleepaway Camp, or have even seen Sleepaway Camp (which you clearly should, if you haven't), but it has a prologue and some really bizarre flashbacks during the movie that slowly hint that Angela is in fact a dude (SPOILER), something revealed at the very end of the film.

 Nothing that outlandish happens in The Mutilator, but it does have an opening every bit as inexplicably odd and an ending that's up there with Pieces in the "Wait! That can't happen! What the hell?" category. Also, I guess it might help to have seen Pieces so that the last sentence was in any way relevant to what I was talking about. Oh well, if you'd been at Horror Fest V, you would have seen Pieces, and if you wanted to watch Sleepaway Camp I can only assume you would have already. If not, I guess you could watch them and then read the rest of this review, even though I'm not really going to mention either film again.

 So The Mutilator (written and directed by Buddy Cooper) begins with young Ed Jr. (Trace Cooper) and his mother (Pamela Weddle Cooper) getting ready of Jack Sr. (Jack Chatham - and I know that should say Ed Sr, but I'm sticking with what IMDB says)'s birthday. Ed Jr. decides he's going to clean all of his father's guns while his mother makes a cake, and like the genius he is he also pulls the trigger, accidentally killing his mother. Oh sure, technically it's his father's fault for keeping a loaded rifle in an unlocked cabinet where his kid could accidentally kill his mother, but Ed Jr. is clearly an idiot.

 Anyway, so Jack Sr. comes home, tries to kill Ed Jr., then drags his dead wife into the study where his guns are, pours himself a drink, and then pours a drink for his dead wife. He also tapes the "For Your Birthday, All Cleaned By Me" sign that Ed Jr. put on his gun case to her body. Just because, I guess. And then we hear police sirens while the kid stares on (did he call the cops?).

 From this promising beginning, we leap forward ten years or so, when college-aged Ed Jr (Matt Mitler) is sitting in the local hangout arcade / pizza joint with his friends, deciding what to do for Fall Break. When his father inexplicably calls him AT THE arcade / pizza joint, to tell him that he has to come to Jack Sr.'s beach condo to "close it up for the winter," Ralph (Bill Hitchcock), Sue (Connie Rogers), Mike (Morey Lampley), and Linda (Frances "related to Claude" Raines) talk him into letting them come along to party for Fall Break. They also bring along Ralph's girlfriend  Pam (Ruth Martinez), so everybody can pair up and have sex. Well, almost everybody, anyway.

 When they arrive at the beach condo (in Atlantic City, NC, which means the college is probably ECU since they complain about not being close to the beach and they have southern accents that come and go) it's already unlocked. Little do they know that Jack Sr., aka "The Mutilator" is planning on killing all of them, and pretty much anybody else.

 This begs the question: was he just planning on killing his son and it's just a bonus that Ed Jr. brought five friends, or was Jack Sr. just insanely over-prepared for his murder rampage. Considering that he never says a word to his son, or really anyone else ever (including at the beginning of the film), it's hard to know what his motives are.

 The condo is filled with his trophies of previous kills and Ed Jr. mentions he's hunted everything except for humans (foreshadowing) so we can kind of guess what Jack Sr. is planning, especially since it's not long before we see him hiding in the garage downstairs, cradling his battle axe and dreaming about murdering his son (as a child). He is, however, not much of a mutilator, although there's a reason for that I'll get to in a moment. See, Jack Sr. does drown somebody, and he uses a motor boat to rip someone's guts out, and he also decapitates a police officer ("special appearance by" Ben Moore), but it isn't until much later in the film that he does anything that would qualify as "mutilating." That said, when he does it's a real doozy. I mean, I've seen some creative kills with a hook before, but this one takes the cake by a long shot.

 So I mentioned the whole "mutilator" thing, in part because the title of the movie wasn't The Mutilator until it came out on VHS. Prior to that, it was called Fall Break, which explains the lengthy title song that plays over the credits while the gang is driving from unnamed college (ECU) to unnamed beach (Atlantic City, NC) which is also the least slasher movie theme song you're ever going to hear:

 So I guess by 1985 maybe Buddy Cooper and company decided that Fall Break wasn't a sufficient holiday to make the title of a slasher flick, so the film was renamed The Mutilator. I can't say for certain whether one is better than the other, but it's a weird movie indeed. In addition to all of the strange dialogue ("you're more likely to get struck by lightning on the beach" while the moon is visible in the background) or the fact that these wild college kids spend most of their time playing Monopoly and a version of Blind Man's Bluff that looks suspiciously like Hide and Seek mashed together with Sardines, interspersed with some gratudity and a killer that unlocks the door to the kitchen so he can sneak back into the condo he has the keys to later that night... look, a lot of The Mutilator doesn't make any sense. And that's part of the charm, even if it isn't very good. I found it strangely entertaining in the same way that Splatter University is. Now that doesn't make it good, but it makes it watchable, and I'll take watchable over Moontrap any day.

 Also, the killer is cut in half at the end but still manages to stay alive long enough to chop off a cop's leg before dying, just for kicks. Spoiler.

Horror Fest VII Day One: The Boogens and Moontrap

 Forgive the shortness of the following reviews but here at Blogorium headquarters it's getting a little late... okay, much later than that to be honest, and I don't have much to add to The Boogens beyond what I wrote here and here.

 Moontrap, well, let's just say that there's not much that ever needs to be said about that movie, but I'll give it the old college try.

 But first, a few random thoughts on The Boogens: I watched it tonight with two people who hadn't seen the film before, hadn't ever heard of it, and most importantly didn't know what a Boogens looks like (yes, I am assuming that since the old man just calls them Boogens that the singular is also Boogens and if necessary the plural is Boogenses). They both confirmed what I and everybody who ever reviewed this film firmly believes: that if you knew what the creatures looked like at any point before the end of the film, you wouldn't be able to pay attention to the story at all. You'd be too busy waiting for the next time you saw a Boogens, so you could laugh at it (or, as they agreed, think it looks kind of adorable).

 While it's a long held belief in horror that the less you see of the monster, the more effective the film is (Alien, Jaws, Halloween), The Boogens relies entirely on the fact that it's creature is so goofy looking that there's no way to show it before the very end of the film. Without knowing that your creature is a half turtle / half octopus with saber-tooth tiger incisors, you're able to be vaguely invested in the story of Mark, Roger, Trish, and Jessica. Even Tiger, the stupid dog that everybody hates (including the main characters) has some level of empathy when he (SPOILER) gets it.

 Also, because I don't think I mentioned it last time, we spend a while trying to suss out where Silver City, Colorado was (because it doesn't exist and Trish would have to drive four hours to get back to Denver if they were in Silver City, New Mexico - the closest actual place) but the movie was film in Park City, Utah. I've mentioned the fact that The Boogens feels like a porno with all of the sex scenes removed (or tamed down) but it was nice to have someone else point out that so many parts of the movie have dialogue that sounds like a set-up for getting down only to cut to the next scene. I still contend that there's a This Ain't The Boogens: A XXX Parody out there somewhere.

 Finally, Rebecca Balding (Trish) was also in The Silent Scream, and Anne-Marie Martin (Jessica) was in Prom Night, Halloween II, The Young Ones, and most importantly, Sledge Hammer. Fred McCarren (Mark), in addition to looking like a long lost Duplass brother, was in Xanadu, and Jeff Harlan (Roger) was in Auto Focus and did voic-eover work for Batman Beyond. Jon Lormer had quite a prolific career doing television and film before playing Greenwalt, the old man (actual credit) in The Boogens, but chances are you either remember him as Professor Dactyl on Batman or as the old man who wants his birthday cake in Creepshow. Clearly the former over the latter.

 Okay so I had a lot more to say about The Boogens than I thought I would, which is good because Moontrap is pretty terrible. Well, by "pretty" I mean "really" and by "terrible" I mean "borderline unwatchable." While it's not uncommon to have conversations during the movie, I rarely get into a long discussion of the relative merits of Prometheus at the expense of the film at hand. Sure enough, we realized that we'd been ignoring Moontrap and, little to our surprise, we hadn't missed a thing.

 Written by Tex Ragsdale (which I assumed was a pseudonym for the person who really wrote this and realized how horrible it was, but apparently it's not) and directed by Robert Dyke (who is a real person that worked on miniatures for Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn), Moontrap is the nonsensical story of Colonel Jason Grant (Walter Koenig) and his flight partner Ray Tanner (Bruce Campbell) - nicknamed "Einstein" and "The Penetrator," if you were curious - two NASA pilots is the presumably near-future that come across a derelict spacecraft in Earth's orbit. It's from the moon, specifically the "Prometheus Crater" (you can see how the discussion started, I hope), and contain the corpse of a 14,000 year old mummified human astronaut, as well as a pod housing a robot. The robot escapes the NASA underground lab and uses the corpse to become a Cylon knock-off (that, or if you prefer, something the modern Battlestar Galactica ripped off in their Centurion design) that Jason and Ray help destroy.

 Ray and Jason are then allowed to fly to the moon to discover the origin of this ship, where they find a giant pyramid and a preserved woman named Mera (Leigh Lombardi) who doesn't speak English or understand why two astronauts are carrying space Uzis, but doesn't really seem to care and joins them. The robots, in the meantime, steal their lunar lander, kill Ray, and leave Jason alone to have sex with Mera in his handy space igloo, before capturing them and taking them on their ship to Earth to unleash an army of killer robots that will assimilate humanity and wipe them out.

 Wait... maybe I'm getting this all wrong. Maybe Prometheus and Battlestar Galactica ripped off Moontrap, and not only that but Tex Ragsdale and Robert Dyke beat Star Trek: The Next Generation to the punch with the whole "Borg" thing. Or maybe Moontrap is a sloppy mess of screenwriting where one plot point rarely leads to another, characters do next to nothing that makes sense, and depending on whether the budget can handle it or not, there is or is not sound in space. There is definitely Walter Koenig voice-over that's used in order to trick us into thinking he's saying something while floating around the derelict ship. I know that much, because his mouth isn't moving but he's clearly addressing Ray and not the audience.

 We watched Moontrap because of a request, and I like to entertain requests when possible, but this certainly was just as bad as I remembered it being. Maybe worse.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Horro Fest VII Day One: V/H/S

 We decided to kick off Horror Fest with something I've been wanting to see for a while now, the "found footage" anthology film V/H/S. Normally the Cap'n isn't a fan of the "found footage" genre - the only two I've really enjoyed were The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield - but I thought the premise sounded interesting and one of the directors involved was Ti West. As you know, as a fan of The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, I'm on board with anything West has a hand in directing. Also, the Cap'n is a sucker for anthologies.

 The film is broken up into five segments, with a wrap around story that actually advances as the film goes on (which isn't often the case in anthology films):

 "Tape 56" - from director Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die), a group of hooligans who like to videotape themselves exposing women and vandalizing property are hired to break into an old man's house and steal a videocassette. The only problem is that once they get there, the old man is dead and they don't know which tape to steal, so they watch the following stories:

 "Amateur Night" - from director Dave Bruckner (The Signal), three friends head out for a night of drunken sex with camera glasses in tow, but when they bring the wrong girl back to their motel room, the party takes a dark and twisted direction.

 "Second Honeymoon" - from Ti West (The Roost), a couple is sightseeing in Colorado and Arizona when a strange woman begins following them around, and eventually visiting them in their motel room, while they sleep...

 "Tuesday the 17th" - from Glenn McQuaid (I Sell the Dead), a young woman brings her friends up to a lake she visited last year, but her plans may not be as innocent as partying and smoking pot...

 "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily when She was Younger" - from Joe Swanberg (LOL), Emily and her husband are separated while he's in medical school, but she's having trouble dealing with noises in her apartment and a strange bump on her arm...

 "10/31/98" - from Radio Silence (Mountain Devil Prank Fails Horribly), a guy dressed as a nannycam bear and his friends arrive at the wrong house for a Halloween party, and instead find something more disturbing in the attic. When they intervene, they realize what they stopped wasn't the worst thing that could happen on Halloween...

 I'd heard positive and negative reactions to V/H/S, and I guess I can understand both. People prone to motion sickness from "found footage" movies may as well steer clear, as you'll be ill from the opening shots and it's not going to get any better. The ways that the stories use videotaped footage are, for the most part, clever, although I'd love to hear anybody's explanation of who would videotape a Skype conversation using a camcorder so that the wraparound story characters could watch it. But, if you're willing to overlook certain logical inconsistencies, I guess that for the most part they work.

 The "video glasses" in "Amateur Night" are probably the most successful because they limit our perspective in such a way that the ending is a surprise and it generally explains the age-old "why don't they just turn the camera off" question. This also works in "Second Honeymoon" and "10/31/98"'s favor, and "Tuesday the 17th" relies on keeping the camera rolling to reveal the killer. It's really just the Skype gimmick in "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She was Younger" that strains logic.

 Like most anthologies, there are a mixture of good segments, weaker sections, and one or two really impressive moments that help others to stand out. The ending of "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily" manages to elevate the story beyond a retread of Paranormal Activity territory. The fact that the characters in "Tape 56" are all loathsome assholes is overcome with the slow realization that watching these tapes are causing them to disappear one by one (although the reason isn't necessarily clear until the end), and great makeup effects and a gonzo ending help "Amateur Night" overcome its otherwise uninteresting protagonists. It will also make you second guess any girl who ever tells you "I like you" after a few drinks...

 I suppose that while I didn't necessarily like how lopsided "Tuesday the 17th" was in setting up the story before becoming an all out gorefest, the way the killer is handled was inventive and made the best use of the "videotaped" gimmick.

 Of all of the segments, "10/31/98" was probably my favorite, which is appropriate as they save it for last, after even "Tape 56" reaches its conclusion. When things move from suggested creepiness to all out special effects bonanza (handled really well considering it needed to be integrated with camcorder level video images), the segment earns the aimless first section, and the conclusion is satisfying and appropriately dark.

 Oddly, while West's "Second Honeymoon" suffers from the least motion-sickness inducing camerawork, it may be the most abrupt story conclusion and compared to the other entries is possibly the least satisfying. The "home invasion" elements are quite creepy, and West builds tension in appropriately slow pace, dropping hints about what's coming, but even more so than in The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, the conclusion is too rushed to be satisfying. I understand what he was trying to do, but the twist comes about so quickly and ends immediately afterward, leaving little time to digest what just happened. It doesn't seem unfair that the guy watching that tape says "what the hell was that?" when it ends.

 Is V/H/S going to be for everybody? Probably not. It is a better-than-average anthology movie, which I count as a plus, and as I said mostly makes the best of the "found footage" gimmick, but not all of the segments are good enough to sustain the runtime, even if some of their conceits help keep audiences engaged. I can't really say that it transcends either the "found footage" or anthology subgenre, and it's going to make some of you feel very queasy well before "Amateur Night" kicks into high gear, so consider this a conditional recommendation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gobble Gobble with the Video Daily Double!

 Greetings, Education-Pioneers! Cap'n Howdy back with a very special Video Daily Double just in time for Thanksgiving! That's right, it's tomorrow, and while you're away from school getting ready for all of your extended family to come over and take up the TV space, here are some educational films from days gone by to help you adjust. After all, coming in and taking over people's space is what Thanksgiving is really about!

 Watch these films and be thankful!


 Our first film, A Day of Thanksgiving, should help you reflect on what you're thankful for tomorrow. Let's hope you're not thankful for brazen shopping madness.

Our second film, Dining Together, will help you learn how to eat your Thanksgiving dinner without being a slob or drunkenly ruining everything. And I know you would drunkenly ruin things if left to your own devices, Educationeers!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blogorium Review: The Man with the Iron Fists

 Expectations are a funny thing sometimes, especially if you live in some kind of film geek "bubble." I didn't realize I lived inside of said "bubble," but the generally blase reaction to RZA's long talked about, long-in-the-making kung fu epic The Man with the Iron Fists, it seems clear to me that very few people were excited about the movie. Or at least, as excited as I thought they would be. This may come as a surprise to Blogorium readers, but the Cap'n is fairly well versed in the Wu Tang Clan, and while not as well versed in chop sockey cinema, I do have an appreciation for how seriously the RZA takes the genre. When you surprise a film scholar with your knowledge about the Shaw Brothers, the Shaolin Temple, and Eastern philosophy (as RZA does on the commentary for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), then your long gestating entry into kung fu movies isn't just a lark.

 And The Man with the Iron Fists is more than just a series of winking references to Enter the Dragon, King Boxer, and 5 Deadly Venoms although you are going to see all of those and a lot more even before Gordon Liu shows up*. RZA integrates Buddhist philosophy into a serious back story of how Blacksmith (RZA) escapes a misunderstanding that ruins his "freed slave" status in the U.S. and washes him up in 19th century China, where he learns to embrace his Buddha nature and then the art of Chi and pressure points in fighting. This comes in handy when he was to fight Brass Body (Dave "The Wrong Side of Town" Bautista), but I'd better not explain how because that would be a SPOILER, just like how Blacksmith becomes the title character.


 Maybe it's the Eli Roth factor that caused people to tune out of logically being excited. Look, I get that many people hate Eli Roth and Eli Roth movies even though when I talk to them it seems like they've never seen his movies. Okay, so Cabin Fever is a tonal mess and kind of fails to be funny or scary when it needs to be, but hating the Hostel movies sight unseen is a little silly. Technically, because they center around and organization that captures people and auctions them off to be killed (by torture), Hostel and Hostel Part II get wrapped up in the "torture porn" category with the shitty Saw films. My problem with that snap judgment by people who have only heard the term "torture porn" is that the Hostel films, unlike the Saw movies, don't give you torture sequences you want to cheer during. In fact, they make you squirm and feel a little gross, even the second or third time. I laughed the first time I saw the prosthetic eye dangling in the first Hostel, but the second time I saw it I felt bad for that girl and was kinda queasy.

 Anyway the point I'm getting at is that people don't seem to like Eli Roth not because of what they've seen him do, but what they decided about what they didn't see. And maybe you thought he was loud and obnoxious in Inglourious Basterds (which he's supposed to be) and in Death Proof (okay, no argument here) or you just don't like the other movies he produced or his public persona or something. When I get to my Argo review later on we'll be covering similar territory vis a vis Ben Affleck, but I guess the "Screenplay By The RZA and Eli Roth" is turning a lot of people away for some reason. It's silly, because you're missing out.


 In addition to Blacksmith and Brass Body, there are a bunch of other crazy characters inhabiting Jungle Village, both in and outside of the Pink Blosson brothel. To start with, there are the clans: the Lion Clan, Wolf Clan, Hyena Clan, Jackal Clan, and maybe I just misunderstood Wolf clan but it seemed like there was a Rat clan too. Most of the movie is about the Lion Clan, who are given the task of protecting a shipment of gold. Gold Lion (Chen Kuan-tai), their leader is murdered by Silver Lion (Byron Mann), who takes over with his lieutenant Bronze Lion (Cung Le) and plan to steal the money for themselves.

 Silver Lion, like pretty much every other clan member in Jungle Village, hires the Blacksmith (real name Thaddeus Smith - see what they did there?) to make weapons for them, so when they find out that he might be assisting Gold Lion's son Zen-Yi, the X Blade (Rick Yune) in claiming vengeance with a suit of retractable knives, they don't take it too well. All the Blacksmith wants is to leave Jungle Village with Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works at the Pink Blossom, but that's probably not going to work out so well for them. Or anybody else when Silver Lion hires Brass Body to kill Zen-Yi.

 Meanwhile, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe, clearly having a great time) shows up at the Pink Blossom and surrounds himself with women for some good old fashioned debauchery, mostly not involving his gun that also seems to be a rotating blade (or is it the other way around). Also, the gold is being protected by the Gemini Killers (Andrew Lin and Grace Huang), who the Lion Clan decides to take down despite their impressive ability to work together in interlocking fighting styles.

 I feel like I'm not even scratching the surface of the film (which is actually pretty easy to follow) because Lady Blossom (Lucy Liu) is also a major part of the story, for reasons both apparent and also slightly surprising (unless you saw the trailer), and the Lion Clan has another secret ally who fires poisoned darts of mercury (also designed by the Blacksmith) and I'm basically not mentioning Wolf and Hyena Clan who are pretty important until Brass Body shows up.

 Overall I have to say I was pretty entertained by The Man with the Iron Fists, although I have to admit I was underwhelmed by some of the fight scenes. Not all, but some. Whether as a result of budget or because of time, some of them are shot in a haphazard way that undermines the action and choreography, or just don't have the impact they ought to (the end of the Blacksmith / Brass Body fight in particular lacks energy). It's a shame, too, because some of the fight scenes are really entertaining: the Gemini Killers vs the Lion Clan, Brass Body vs Zen-Yi, Zen-Yi vs the Wolf Clan, Jack Knife vs... well, I can't tell you that one, Silver Lion vs Zen-Yi, Lady Blossom and Bronze Lion. It's just that the camera is too close sometimes.

 While I would like to give special props to Russell Crowe for making a guy as sleazy as Jack Knife seem appealing and for clearly embracing the spirit of Ol' Dirty Bastard in order to play this role, since I don't get to talk about Dave Bautista much (read: ever), it is fair to point out that he steals the show as the heavy. I never really feared Silver Lion or Bronze Lion or even Abbott (SPOILER) but Brass Body just enters the film and starts tearing things up. He's unstoppable and he knows he's unstoppable so Brass Body just does whatever he wants to do. When you meet him the first him, he playfully picks up all of the children in the street and carries them around, and you think "hey, maybe this guy isn't so bad" until he tosses them aside with no effort (it's actually funnier looking than I'm making it sound) to talk to Silver Lion. Bautista needs to be in more movies of a non-DTV nature, because he has the same kind of charisma as a Dwayne Johnson, but he seems less genial and more menacing.

 So The Man with the Iron Fists is pretty good, not perfect, but not some hack-y attempt to cash in on fans of kung fu movies. RZA clearly takes this seriously and he did the best he could with a limited budget and relatively novice directing skills and I think he succeeded in a lot of ways. I think that he can and should make more movies and that they're going to get even better as he goes along, but this is far from the "disappointment" that I kept hearing after it came out. So yeah, it isn't perfect, and it's not going to supplant many Shaw Brothers movies in your "what chop sockey flick should we watch tonight" conversation, but I think many geeky types (especially of the Wu Tang Clan variety) will find there's a lot to like about The Man with the Iron Fists. Find a theater that serves beer, or I guess get it on Blu-Ray in a few months, kick back with some cold ones, and enjoy seeing a guy get his head punched off.

 * To be fair, the Enter the Dragon reference is very well done and you don't necessarily see it coming until it happens.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Adaptations of Philip K. Dick (Part One)

Blade Runner ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep")

Total Recall ("We Can Remember It for You Wholesale")

Screamers ("The Second Variety")

Impostor ("The Impostor")

Minority Report


A Scanner Darkly

Next ("The Golden Man")

Radio Free Albemuth

The Adjustment Bureau ("The Adjustment Team")

Total Recall (2012) ("We Can Remember It for You Wholesale")

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blogorium Review: The Campaign

 Now that we've come to the end of the 2012 election cycle, it's as good a time as any to look back at The Campaign, a mostly funny, sometimes amusing, but ultimately toothless critique of our current political system. Don't get me wrong about whether The Campaign is funny: you will laugh, and at times loudly, but it aspires to be more than that, and I'm not convinced it succeeds.

  Democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is preparing to run for his fifth (unopposed) term for North Carolina's (nonexistent) 14th District when the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) decide they need someone to run against him. The Motch brothers want to in-source Chinese labor for sweatshops in NC, so they turn to the man-child son of Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox), Marty (Zach Galifianakis). Marty runs the tourism center in the small town Brady's 14th District represents* and is, at best, as clueless as he is spineless - in other words, the perfect puppet for the Motch brothers.

   From here on out I think you can figure out what happens as the two candidates clash and the dirt stars flying. If you're familiar with any of Ferrell's post-Anchorman films, you have a strong idea of the filthy jokes and strong language to come, juxtaposed with Galifiankis' awkward phrasing and effete Southern accent (in fact, he's basically playing his fictional brother Seth Galifianakis). The Campaign brings together both styles and the middle of the movie is basically a game of one-upsmanship, and is fitfully amusing. I probably don't need to explain why Huggins' nickname in school was "tickleshits," but if that made you chuckle even slightly, I suspect you'll laugh during the film. You've probably seen the part of the trailer when Cam Brady punches a baby, which you'd think director Jay Roach (Austin Powers) would merely suggest, but no - we get a full on, Neo-punching-Agent-Smith, slow motion baby punch shot. And yes, perhaps shamefully, the Cap'n laughed.

 In truth, while I enjoyed both Galifianakis and Ferrell - who is playing more John Edwards than George W. -  The Campaign's best roles go to Huggins and Brady's campaign managers, played by Dylan McDermott and Jason Sudeikis.While Sudeikis, as Mitch, is mostly reacting to Brady systematically dismantling his own election, McDermott rolls in like a tornado and reorganizes every aspect of Huggins life to make him more palatable for voters, down to the dogs he owns. While the familiarity of The Campaign's leads provide appropriate schtick, the supporting roles make more of a lasting impression.

 As to the thinly disguised Koch brother surrogates or the even less veiled political commentary about money corrupting elections to further corporate agendas, well, it's there. Roach and screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell never seem to figure out what to do with the "message" of the film, and the ending is basically a mea culpa, a watered down Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moral stand that sends the film out with a whimper. I don't really know that The Campaign needed to explicitly state its message beyond lampooning how ridiculous the current political system is, but it did. The result is a comedy that's fitfully amusing most of the time but that overreaches as it winds down, probably not to its benefit.

 Since the election's done and hopefully most of the vitriol will have faded from your memory by the time you see The Campaign, it might be a little more palatable, and the film would make for a fine rental if you're looking for a comedy where you know basically what to expect. You'll get that, as long as you don't mind a small lecture near the end. There are plenty of dirty jokes along the way, so that has to count for something, right?

* According to IMDB, The Campaign was filmed in New Orleans, so it's hard to say which North Carolina town it's supposed to be subbing for. Since most of the film's audience doesn't live in the state, it doesn't matter, but the Cap'n - and for that matter, Galifianakis - are a little more familiar with the location, so I thought I'd check.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Think Before You Act with the Video Daily Double!

 Good day to you all, Educationeers! As we come out of election cycle and return to normal life, I have the feeling that some of you are full of beans and want to take it out on property that isn't yours, or otherwise misbehave. So let's take a look at why you should take a step back and sort things out with today's Video Daily Double!

 Reflect before you wreck!


Our first film, Destruction: Fun or Dumb?, takes a close look at whether your wanton hooliganism is acceptable, and why. Spoiler Alert: It's not.

 Our second film, The Procrastinator, reminds you that thinking carefully is important, but don't think so much you don't do anything. Mixed messages from the Cap'n? Maybe, but life is tricky, so deal with it kiddos!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Democratic Process is Hard at Work with Today's Video Daily Double!

 Greetings, Vote-u-cationeers! Well, the Cap'n understands that you're a little young to be voting, or to possibly even understand what happened yesterday. That's okay, because today's Video Daily Double is here to help out provide some clarity on how the electoral process works so that you can feel caught up with your parents and older brothers and sisters!

 Watch and learn!


 Our first film, Behind the Freedom Curtain, might have another agenda, but don't let selling voting machinery dissuade you from learning how this particular voting machinery makes the process smoother. Clearly it does!

 Our second film, Democracy, should help explain how our system of governance works, and why voting is helpful. Just not as helpful as voting machinery. Wow that's some fancy machinery!

Monday, November 5, 2012

(Mis)Adventures in Projectioneering: Why You Never, EVER, Want to Drop a Print

 Greetings, blogorium readers. Cap'n Howdy is finally back to a semi-regular updating schedule after a long three week run of moving and flying halfway across the country for a wedding. If you were wondering, I did get to watch a few movies during that hectic sabbatical, as well as the period in which I didn't have TV or internet, and I'll catch you up on those soon.

 Until we get to that, the other time not consumed in airports or moving dusty boxes involved being at work, and luckily for you I just happen to have a new adventure in projectioneering. It's not one I'd ever wish on any of you (if you are also a projectionist), but let's look at it as a valuable lesson in why you should be very careful when moving a print.

 As I've mentioned before, the theatre I work in uses older projectors and is in almost no way digital. Accordingly, we play 35mm prints of films, which need to be loaded onto platters. They arrive in reels, so when we get the boxes, we "build" the print to a platter and then "break down" said print to return to the manufacturer.

 If we're lucky, the print stays on the platter attached to the screen we build it to (for example, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master has been in the same auditorium for the last month or so), but more often than not, we need to move the print. This means physically lifting the film (which is wrapped around a core) and carrying it to the screen it needs to be playing in.

 To do this, you need two to three clamps to ensure that the film stays in place and doesn't collapse onto the ground, appropriately termed "dropping a print." You NEVER want to drop a print, especially one that's still playing, because it means cancelling the showings for the rest of the day while you attempt to undo the calamity you brought upon the audience and your coworkers.

 So on Friday night, while attempting to move a print off of the platter to make room for the movie I'd just finished building that took its place, one of the clamps came loose and... blammo. The print fell sideways, unspooling, and generally looking like a disaster on the floor. In my shame, I didn't take a picture of what it looked like, but the short version was that it looked unfixable.

 Now, not to excuse what I did, but it is worth pointing out that the print in question (I'm not going to say what it was but I can assure you that you've never heard of it) was one designated to be "broken down" on Saturday, so the calamitous nature of my screw up was somewhat muted. I told management, they responded as reasonably as they could (I mean, you should NEVER drop a print, no matter what), and then it sat on the floor for two days.

 Allow me to clarify: we had several things that really needed to be done immediately and because only two or three senior projectionists know how to fix a dropped print, it wasn't the highest priority, but when I came in on Sunday and saw three projectionists were working (one in the booth and two downstairs) - one of whom knew how to fix it as he was our manager - we decided to spend a healthy portion of the afternoon preparing the dropped print to be "broken down."

 From this point on, I do have pictures, because I really wanted you to understand how much of a mess I made and why it took three projectionists working together for two hours to fix it:

 So that's one part of the mess. After we'd separated the print into "mostly intact" portions (one is visible in the upper right hand corner) and separated them with a splicer, we were left with the middle, which was a jumbled knot of no-goodness that needed to be fed to the make up / break down tray by hand. But before we could do that, we needed to untangle the pile to prevent bigger knots from forming, thereby breaking everything we'd been working to fix.

 Don't let the cheery demeanor fool you - he's just happy because he hasn't started untangling the mess yet. Also notice the splicer on the floor (we had to make four cuts in the film to allow us room to untangle the knots) and that the film is running from projector 3 to projector 1, where the break down tray is.

 Yeah, that should give you some idea of how much of a giant cluster of film he had to untangle. It took two of us about an hour while the third projectionist (in the distance) began rewinding the "intact" parts back to their cannisters.

 Knots! No more knots!!!! The RAGE!!!!! And it's all my fault. Sorry guys.


Here we are, being shamed by a projectionist who came in for a later shift downstairs, who has the good sense not to drop a print. Or he may have just been upstairs to check the projectionist log, but clearly there's some contempt for my chicanery.

 The good news is that with some elbow grease, a painful attention to detail, and being very, VERY patient in pulling on thread of film slowly until there were no more kinks, we managed to fix my mess and break down the print. I hope that our efforts give you some idea of how terribly important it is to be careful when moving a print, even one going away, because it takes considerable time as long to fix it as it does to take an extra ten seconds to make sure the clamp is actually secure. You NEVER want to drop a print, and now I know why firsthand.

 Post-script: The following day we learned that we might have to rebuild it because people were calling to find out if it was still showing. 

 No, really.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Joel and Ethan Coen (Part One)

Blood Simple

Raising Arizona

Miller's Crossing

Barton Fink

The Hudsucker Proxy


The Big Lebowski

O Brother, Where Art Thou?