Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Fest Recap: Day Three

 Summer Fest 6 has come to a close! It was a fun ride while it lasted, but now boring things like work have to come back and assert themselves. Still, it was nice to spend the weekend in a hermetically sealed dome of B-Movies with willing victims participants. Despite a brief technical hiccup that cut our list of movies from four to three, I'd say things closed out with a bang. Let's take a look, shall we?

 From Hell It Came!

 Year of Production: 1957

 What's the Haps, Cap?: On a tropical island somewhere in the Pacific, science collides with tribal practices (badly), and it's going to cost Kimo (Gregg Palmer) his life. When the American physicians fail to save the tribe's Chief, Kimo's father, from infection, witch doctor Tano (Robert Swann) and new Chief Maranka (Baynes Barron) seize the opportunity to accuse Kimo of betraying his people and sentence him to death. With his wife, Korey (Suzanne Ridgeway), conspiring with Tano and Maranka, Kimo has no hope and vows to avenge this injustice from the grave. He will become Tabonga, the resurrected spirit of vengeance!

 Who's the Hero: I guess it would be the American scientists, although they really make things worse, if you ask me. Not by failing to convince the tribe to let them help with inoculations, but by removing Tabonga from Kimo's grave, nursing it back to health, and shooting it with an experimental drug that makes it stronger! Oh, I suppose I should introduce these geniuses of "science": there's Doctor William Arnold (Tod Andrews), Professor Clark (John McNamara), and Eddie (Mark Sheeler), an Army Sergeant who helps with the radio and protection. Eventually Doctor Terry Mason (Tina Carver) arrives, but don't think you're going to get some impressive show of gender equality here. This is the 1950s, and Dr. Mason is strictly in the movie so that William can try to woo her away from her life of science and instead marry him and move back to the states. Tellingly, Mason is the one who foolishly helps nurse Tabonga back to life after they accidentally kill it, and is (SPOILER) inexplicably also dragged away near the end of the film. That'll teach you to be interested in work instead of housewife-ry, young woman!

 Hold On, Tree Monster?: Yep. The primary appeal of From Hell It Came is that the monster is a dude in a tree outfit. It has a face kind of like the trees in The Wizard of Oz, but with all the mobility of, well, a tree. The legs kind of work, but whoever made the suit didn't bother to put in arms that function above the elbows, so Tabonga comically grasps at anything and barely manages to make contact. Because of the limited visibility in the suit, Tabonga is constantly hitting branches with its head, and when it isn't shaking people to death, it casually drops them in quicksand.

 Bad Science: Not satisfied with Tabonga just being a native superstition / supernatural form of vengeance, our "scientists" surmise that its existence could be a side effect of atomic bomb testing (like in Attack of the Crab Monsters). Sure enough, when they put the ridiculously over-sized tree monster on the operating table, his blood is "highly radioactive," and yet they make no effort to avoid direct contact. Mason's experimental serum has never been tested on anything larger than small animals, but she's wanted to "try it on a human," so a tree monster is basically the same, right?

 Other Bad Ideas: Other than the tree monster? Well, most of the "tribe" is comprised of white actors pretending not to be. The Witch Doctor's Brooklyn accent is hard to miss, but then again his ability to throw a spear at Tabonga should also be hard to miss, but he's off by a mile. There's the persistent casual sexism, which is almost as bad as Dr. Chet Walker's ass slap in Creature with the Atom Brain. Almost everything that happens in From Hell It Came seems like a bad idea.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Geiger Counter, Casual Sexism, Tropical Setting, Questionable Science, Monsters That Hate Radios, Movies Made in the Same Year.

 Final Prognosis: From Hell It Came is the sort of movie that makes it clear from moment one that you're in for a half baked movie. It's goofy, filled with inconsistent logic, and has one of the goofiest monsters you're going to see. If you don't mind the sometimes astonishing level of patronizing sexism on display, it can be an enjoyable romp as a B-movie.


 Year of Production: 1971

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Mad Scientist Dr. Leopold (Marshall Grauer) is planning on taking over the world by transforming all living creatures into Catfish, starting with himself. Who will stop him? Will he find a Bride of Catfish Man? Will he at least stop wandering around and do something? Will anybody stop wandering around and do something? Will you watch this movie in the non-MST3k version (The Blood Waters of Dr. Z)? Should you?

 Who's the Hero: We spend the first, oh, thirty minutes with Dr. Leopold as he walks around - the beach, his lab, some buildings outside of his lab - and then he turns into Catfish Man, and we follow him some more. But he IS the villain, so I guess our heroes are supposed to be Sherriff Lou Krantz (Paul Galloway) and the INPIT Team of Martha Walsh (Sanna Ringhaver) and Walker Stevens (Dave Dickerson). Those are probably not porn names, if you ask me, but I might be wrong. Anyway, I prefer to think of our hero as Rex (Gerald Cruse), who is a marine biologist inexplicably working for the BFE, FL police department. The Sheriff is perfectly content to sit on the job, and the INPIT investigators don't show up until an hour or so in. Of course, we don't actually know Rex's name until the INPIT team gets there, or maybe I didn't hear the Sheriff say it. He's the only person making a concerted effort to put the pieces together about the mysterious murders and appearances of Catfish all over town.

 Bad Science: Oh goodness, where to start... I'm still not sure exactly how Dr. Leopold's serum turned him into a Catfish Man, and why he can turn anything else into a Catfish by using a spray bottle(!). But that happens. Only his attempt to turn "Girl Camper" (Nancy Lien) into his first bride fails miserably. Everything else seems to go according to his very clearly written out circular calendar. But moving away from that, I'd like to point out that at the end of the film, when apparently the serum involves some radiation, Walker Stevens holds a Geiger Counter out like a metal detector into the air, assuming that will lead him to the source. And then he gets it wet, and is bitten by a water moccasin, but continues walking. I'm positive that in one shot he was right in from of Dr. Leopold / Catfish Man, but then he just keeps going. Oh, and the title refers to elements Za and At, which are the catalysts for Leopold's stupid transformation.

 Other Bad Ideas: Never hire a secretary as your lead female protagonist, unless you really want to show off her shorthand note taking. It's better than her line delivery, for sure. Generally speaking, don't have everybody just wander around for the entire movie, often with interior monologues that would make HAL 9000 sound thrilling by comparison. Never have chase scenes where nobody bothers running, ever. Seriously, this makes the car chase in Mitchell look like Bullitt. I'm pretty sure the drugstore that Catfish Man breaks into was deserted, but whatever works for you. And then there are the hippies and casual racism in 1970s Florida, which leads me to...

 What the Hell Did I Just See / Hear?: Let's cover the hippies first. So the Sheriff has locked down town, declared Marshall Law, etc. He gets wind that some hippies are having a stupid hippie jam session and goes to clear it out, but when he gets there, the stupid song about Jesus wins him over. He taps along in what's clearly a different location while the hippies sing and have a flute solo, and then the merry gang marches back to the police station, still singing, and the Sheriff locks them up, "for your own safety." And they let him do it! But that's not the strangest moment in Zaat. There are plenty of strange moments, but the one that stands out for me is what has to be an unscripted bit of dialogue caught on film where a citizen refers to the Sheriff as a "n****r lover". Oh, did I not mention that Rex was black? The only black character in the entire movie? Well, he is, and nobody in the movie seemed to car at all except for this one guy. If that's unscripted, it's bad, but if, by some chance, somebody wrote that? Wow. I mean, just, wow.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Evil Scientists, German Doctors, Geiger Counter, Questionable Science, Boring Main Characters,

 Final Prognosis: Zaat! is a very leisurely movie to be so liberal with its exclamation points. I'd be hard pressed to call anything in this movie "exciting" or even "slumber rousing," although more people made it through this than Destroyer. If you can get past the beginning, where Dr. Leopold is meandering around his lab, beyond the interminable voice-overs, the transformation is pretty funny, and the spray bottle is really funny. Then it kind of gets boring again, but the casual racism in INPIT help mitigate that. The climax of the film takes 20 minutes, and most of that is people walking through a swamp. I'm really not sure how Dave Dickerson didn't end up being bit by that water moccasin. The ending is surprisingly dark, but by the time you get there it's more of a "what?" reaction than anything else. Oh well, the hippies seemed to be okay with being arrested. Good job, hippies.

 Sleepaway Camp

 Year of Production: 1983

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Angela (Felissa Rose) has been living with her aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) after her father and brother were killed in a boating accident. Aunt Martha is insisting that both cousins attend Camp Arawak this summer, and despite her obvious misgivings, the mostly silent and totally withdrawn Angela goes along. Camp Arawak is, it turns out, a melting pot of perverts, bullies, and sleazeballs, and as Angela navigates the hierarchy of summer camp, someone is killing the people who wrong her, one by one...

 Who's the Hero: It's kind of hard to call Angela the "hero" of Sleepaway Camp: she's catatonic for the first half of the film, and only speaks when Paul (Christopher Collet) shows interest in her. Ricky is kind of our dual-protagonist, and other than them, camp counselors Ronnie (Paul DeAngelo) and Gene (Frank Trent Saladino) are the only non-sleazebag characters. Everybody else, from scumbag owner Mel (Mike Kellin), child molesting cook Artie (Owen Hughes), and tag team "Queen B's" Judy (Karen Fields) and Meg (Katherine Kamhi) have "kill me" signs hanging from their necks. And boy, oh boy, do they get theirs.

 Bad Science: I'm pretty sure that, even if you were seriously allergic to bees, what happens in that bathroom stall could never actually happen to someone. I'm not going to weigh in on the hair curler kill - if that's enough to (SPOILER) kill Judy, then fair enough. Also, while I'm not going to spoil the ending, I'm just going to point out that, like everybody else, Angela is wearing short shorts throughout the movie. If you know how it ends, you know what that means.

 Other Bad Ideas: While watching Sleepaway Camp again, I forgot that most of the people in this movie are roughly the age they're playing, which makes it all the creepier that we're watching 13-16 year olds in various states of undress. To be fair, most of the skin in Sleepaway Camp comes from the older (male) campers, who were probably 18, but it's hard not to feel a little uncomfortable watching the movie. Remember as well that the final scene (again, not SPOILING here) involves 14 year old Angela. 14. That some "To Catch a Predator" shit right there. As to actual, in movie, bad ideas, let's just say that Aunt Martha takes the cake and leave it at that. Her "plan" might be the worst idea in the many Bad Ideas of Summer Fest. I suppose you could argue that making a slasher movie that's mostly just about summer camp is questionable, but it works in its own way. But killing the little kids? (SPOILER) Not cool, Robert Hiltzik. Not cool.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Gratudity, Vehicular Chicanery, Flashbacks, Space Cockroaches (nah, just kidding - there weren't many recurring themes this time around).

 Final Prognosis: Speaking as a fan of Sleepaway Camp, there's no arguing that the ending is the only reason horror fans remember this film at all. It's kind of like Meatballs with random murders interspersed throughout, which isn't always a bad thing, but you're definitely better going with The Burning for summer camp slashers. I mean, we did at Summer Fest IIISleepaway Camp has a decidedly off-kilter tone, which keeps it strange enough to get you through the softball scene and the capture the flag scene. Everything with Aunt Martha is so bizarre that it skates right up to the edge of "camp" (no pun intended). In retrospect, it's easy to forget that this movie is about really young teens and pre-teens, which makes things more disturbing. Why would Meg have the hots for Mel, who is easily three times her age (at least)?  Still, it's miles better than Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3, which are better as slasher movies but not really anything else. Not offense to Hiltzik, but I'm going to refrain from mentioning Return to Sleepaway Camp. The only reason I haven't SPOILED Sleepaway Camp as I do so frequently with other movies is that if you're going to see it, it's better not to be prepared for the last scene. I'm just saying, is all.

 Overall, I'm going to give Summer Fest 6 a "Pass" in the "Pass / Fail" grading system implemented by Cap'n Howdy. There were low points, and there were high points. Fortunately, the high points outweighed the lows, or most people slept through the real stinkers. Please don't ask me what Cranpire was thinking during Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II, or why he insisted I include that tidbit in the review. You'd have to ask him, and I bet he's already forgotten.

 I'll see you all in October for Horror Fest IX: Howdy Goes To Hell!

Summer Fest Recap: Day Two (Part Two)

 So it's late, and everybody's heading out in order to crash. Some of them didn't make it through the last movie of the night, and that's probably for the best. I'll give you as good a recap as I can using the not-at-all patented "breakdown" list format, and then I'm going to pass out. There's still a Summer Fest Sunday to do...

 Deadly Prey

 Year of Production: 1987

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Col. John Hogan (David Campbell) has gone rogue, and is training a hand-picked group of elite soldiers to serve as mercenaries for hire. Hogan doesn't believe in "practice" drills, so he kidnaps people off of the street and brings them to his base (75 miles south of Los Angeles) for a "most dangerous game" scenario. His financier, Michaelson (Troy Donahue) doesn't approve, but Hogan believes only the best will do. When he's unsatisfied with the latest "target," he sends his right hand man, Lt. Thornton (Fritz Matthews) to find someone who might be a real challenge. Little do Hogan and Thornton know they've found more than a formidable target... they brought back the Deadly Prey!

 Who's the Hero: That would be Mike Danton (Ted Prior), who is taking the garbage out when Thornton and some goons pull up in an unmarked van, grab him, and drive away. Danton isn't just some dude taking out the trash, though - he's a one man army. It doesn't take Mike long to make mince meat out of the soldiers hunting him, and when Hogan realizes who they took, things get personal. Danton was Hogan's protégé back in "the war," and the Colonel will do anything necessary to keep our hero from ruining his operation.

 Bad Science: Apparently, you can trigger C4 using nothing but a tripwire. No explosives needed, if I understand the trap than Danton sets up late in the film. Other than that, it's just a series of somewhat questionable physics involving his other traps, including ones he sets and then doesn't use until much, much later in the film.

 Other Bad Ideas: Don't kidnap a guy in front of his house in broad daylight, and especially not Mike Danton. If you're going to have "hillbillies" in your movie, it might help if they sounded like hillbillies, even if it is California. Train your soldiers how to shoot before you send them out hunting, because these guys couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. It's embarrassing. Speaking of embarrassing, Ted Prior may have some of the worst line delivery this side of Samurai Cop's Matt Hannon. His "kill one-liners" consist of "die!" and... uh, "die!" I gather that he's the star because his brother, director David A. Prior (Killer Workout) wanted to showcase his, uh, skills (that or his ability to run around the woods barefoot and in short shorts), but yeah, not the best showcase for him. (A cursory check on IMDB informs me that Ted Prior was also in Killer Workout, Surf Nazis Must Die, and Sledgehammer prior to Deadly Prey).

 Previous Summer Fest Connection: As you may have noticed just above, David A. Prior and Ted Prior were involved in Summer Fest 5's Killer Workout, and so was Fritz Matthews. A different David Campbell appears to be in respective films - maybe Prior had a fondness for the name. Somewhat surprisingly, neither Troy Donahue (Michaelson) nor Cameron Mitchell (Danton's father-in-law) have been in movies shown at previous fests, despite their prolific filmographies dating back to the 1950s. However, reading their IMDB pages, I now have some good ideas for next year...

 Best Nickname for a Character in Deadly Prey: goes to Fritz Weaver, who looks like he was hired because of his resemblance to a certain WWF super star. Accordingly, he got the nickname "Mildly Marty Pepper" early on. The name stuck.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Films Released in the Same Year, Explosions in Close Proximity to Actors, Vehicular Chicanery, Gratudity (just Danton, really).

 Final Prognosis: I can't hate a movie too much when the protagonist cuts a dude's arm off and then beats him to death with it. There are so many improbably stupid things that happen, including Danton walking(?) home and then coming back, setting up traps that would only come in handy in very specific circumstances, or not using a gun until the end of the movie. At one point he seeks cover from gunfire behind a tree he's clearly wider than. Troy Donahue's acting had us convinced he was just a producer that wanted a part in the film. I haven't even mentioned Dantons wife, Jaimy (Suzzane Tara), because if there's anybody who really gets a raw deal in this movie, it's her. Even Sybill (Dawn Abraham), Hogan's other sidekick, has more to do in the movie than Jaimy does. Deadly Prey isn't by any means an action classic, but it's a lot of fun.

 Savage Beach

 Year of Production: 1989

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Well, let's see... our favorite secret agents / tour guides / pilots / couriers / Playboy Bunnies Donna (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) are back after having adventures in Hard Ticket to Hawaii and Picasso Trigger. They're sent to check up on some shenanigans involving the military, a potential coup in the Phillippines, and Japanese gold that went missing during World War II. There's espionage, backstabbing, and a missing soldier who has been living alone for forty years... on SAVAGE BEACH!!!!

 Who's the Hero: Donna and Taryn are presumably our protagonists, but in typical Andy Sidaris (Return to Savage Beach) fashion, the plot is twisted in more ways than a pretzel, so we spend most of the middle of the movie away from them. That turns out to be fine, because despite the size of Hawaii's islands (where the film takes place), it takes Donna and Taryn two days to fly - and crash land - on Savage Beach. That's plenty of time to meet the military personnel who are infiltrated by the CIA and want to help a Leftist rebel (Rodrigo Obregon) take over the government of the Phillippines, but not before he hooks up with porn star Teri Weigel. Twice - once in his hotel room and then again in his limo. Also, there's the rest of Donna and Taryn's team, whose names I've honestly forgotten: let's guess they're Rocky (Lisa London) and Pattycakes (Patty Duffek), and uh, the guy who runs it (either Bruce Christian or Shane Abeline). Names aren't something you really remember while watching Andy Sidaris films, despite his love for overcomplicated tales of espionage. I haven't even mentioned go-to Asian Bad Guy Sidekick Al Leong (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) who has a semi-major role as another interested party in the missing gold.

 Bad Science: Science doesn't really factor into Andy Sidaris films. If you wanted to pick nits, there's no way a single engine plane could make it for two days straight of flying, especially when the engine catches on fire in a storm. At least, I think that's what happened. I don't exactly remember, but I also think they weren't using the metal detector correctly. A 5 1/2 floppy drive couldn't hold the kind of software that Computer Control Corporation needs to locate the island where the gold is, but maybe the disc just had the coordinates?

 Other Bad Ideas: It would be very, very easy to criticize this movie for its many digressions and unnecessarily complicated story (did I mention there's a flashback in the middle of the movie?), but that's kind of why you watch Andy Sidaris movies. That, and the excessive, comical overuse of gratuitous nudity. Why do Donna and Taryn need to take off their shirts while flying and put on new ones? Because boobs. Why are Pattycakes and Rocky sleeping next to the hot tub? So they can take their tops off and change clothes when the boss calls. Obviously. The only thing that Sidaris likes more than mammaries are explosions, of which there are plenty. He stages an opening sequence where the girls bust a drug smuggling operation (heroin hidden in pineapples) just so the bad guys can drive off in a van that blows up. If you like explosions and boobs, then you saw Andy Sidaris movies on Cinemax when you were in middle school. As an adult, it's almost absurd how flimsy the excuses are to get any actress topless. Almost as absurd as how seriously the plot takes itself for a glorified T&A movie.

 Wait, Didn't You Mention a Japanese Soldier on Savage Beach?: I did. Thanks for remembering. He's wearing terrible "old age" makeup and follows Donna and Taryn around on the island, which is where everybody converges for the big finale. He becomes protective of Taryn, apparently because he recognizes her as the child in a photo he's been carrying since World War II. From the American soldier he dishonorably killed. But kept the photo. His fellow soldiers committed hara kiri and walked into the ocean, respectively. But not him. He kept a photo. A color photo. From World War II. Because, boobs. Obviously.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Gratudity, Explosions in Close Proximity to Actors, Vehicular Chicanery, Tropical Setting, Flashbacks.

 Final Prognosis: The most fun to be had watching an Andy Sidaris film as an adult is to see it with women, who are often baffled that his films even exist. Their commentary on the film was almost as funny as seeing the myriad of lame excuses to disrobe, or comparably dumb excuses to blow things up. I'm not saying Sidaris is a one-trick pony (more like two), but he always finds new and stupid ways to use those tricks when there's no logical reason to. I also wasn't aware that there were more Donna and Taryn adventures, so after Hard Ticket to Hawaii, it seemed necessary to continue their story. I guess we'll have to watch Picasso Trigger at next year's Bad Movie Night, because Return to Savage Beach is less plot and more or less just softcore porn. That's not what we're looking for - it's early Sidaris or bust. Pun intended.

 Godzilla on Monster Island

 Year of Production: 1972

 What's the Haps, Cap?: I already reviewed this movie. Not that long ago. You can read it here, as it's pretty amusing, if I say so myself (and I do.

 Who's the Hero: See above link.

 Bad Science: Space Cockroaches. 'Nuff Said.

 Other Bad Ideas: Again, Space Cockroaches. Need I say more?

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Space Cockroaches.

 Final Prognosis: I'm really at a loss as to why Space Cockroaches isn't enough to explain why Godzilla on Monster Island was a "no-brainer" inclusion into Summer Fest.

 Super Secret Trappening - Ninja III: The Domination

 Year of Production: 1984

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Similarly to Godzilla on Monster Island, Ninja III: The Domination has been covered before (it was the showcase feature of last year's Summer Fest), so I will accordingly link it here.

 Who's the Hero: In case you didn't click the link (and you should), I'll just say that Christie (Lucinda Dickie), is both an aerobics instructor AND a Lineman (Linewoman?). And a possessed ninja. Her creepo cop boyfriend / back hair aficionado Billy (Jordan Bennett) also counts, I guess, since Christie is technically also the villain. Plus Sho Kosugi (Himself) is a good ninja, because only a ninja can stop a ninja. Something like that.

 Bad Science: We're talking about a movie where an arcade game called Bouncer that looks exactly like Diner Dash uses lasers to hypnotize Christie so a floating sword can come out of her closet. I don't think "science" really factors in here.

 Other Bad Ideas: Worst use of V8 ever. Or is it best? Also, back and shoulder hair dude - keep that shirt on. Seriously, it's disgusting. You're already questionable enough not helping Christie fight off rapists and then arresting her just to get a date out of the deal. Get that shit waxed, or never take your shirt off. Ever.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Southwestern Locations, Ninja, Attempted Exorcism, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes, Surprisingly Violent.

 Final Prognosis: People were really worried about this year's Trappening. It's understandable, because of what a "Trappening" is, but also because they know I have Things up my sleeve. Nobody wants to watch Things again. Barrett argued he'd rather watch Things for the first time than see The Happening again, and wouldn't believe the assurances of everyone who had seen Things that he would, in fact, not. One person even put his shoes on when I suggested it might be Things, but this was a "nice" Trappening. I'm not always a sadist. Sometimes that just ends up being the next movie, which brings us to...


 Year of Production: 1988

 What's the Haps, Cap?: After the execution of Ivan Moser (Lyle Alzado) goes awry, a prison riot breaks out, a fire starts, and the whole institution is shut down. Moser goes missing, and the prison is gutted. 18 months later, an exploitation film crew sets up shop in the facility to film a "women in prison" cheapie, but someone... or some thing, is taking them out, one by one. Can the film's writer and stuntwoman solve the mystery before the killer claims them?

 Who's the Hero: That'd be the aforementioned writer, David Harris (Clayton Rohner) and stuntwoman, Susan Malone (Deborah Foreman), who are on the periphery of the production. In addition to putting up with a frustrated director (Anthony Hopkins) and a temperamental "star" (Lannie Garrett), they have to contend with a recently renovated electric chair - courtesy of FX man "Rewire" (Jim Turner). And, Susan has a mystery admirer, quite possibly the same person mutilating the cast, crew, and former Warden (Pat Mahoney). Will they figure out if Moser is alive? Or how he survived if he is? Will I even care by the time they do?

 Anthony Perkins? Not that Anthony Perkins: Oh yes, that one. It's one of his last roles, and not a great one to go out on. Not only is Perkins phoning it in as the director of the film within a film, he's not sitting in the electric chair when Susan tries to save him. The guy doesn't even look like Perkins. Don't come in thinking he'll save the movie for you - that'd be a Norman Bates and Switch (zing!).

 Bad Science: It's pretty clear nobody involved in Destroyer had the slightest idea how an electric chair works. When Shocker does a better job, you know you're in trouble. Beyond that, the power situation in the prison has some pretty questionable rules, and I'm not even sure where the underground parking garage is supposed to lead. Other than that, I guess we can chalk most of it up to "slasher movie tropes."

 Other Bad Ideas: Let's start with "filming in a prison with a botched execution where the body was never recovered." We can end there, too.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Explosions in Close Proximity to Actors, Gratudity, Movies Made in the Same Year, Fake Out Dream Sequences.

 Final Prognosis: I was really excited to see Destroyer, based on its awesome poster and trailer. It seemed like an even sleazier version of Shocker or The Horror Show, but instead it's just crap. Ivan Moser's "one liners" are mostly limited to "Bitch!" and he can't even pull off the Maniac Cop knock-off scenes late in the film. The "twist" is pretty lame (SPOILER the janitor is his dad and hid him in the basement) and anybody that hadn't left before the movie was over was asleep halfway in. I got so bored that I started cleaning. It's not totally unwatchable like, say, Suburban Sasquatch, but Destroyer comes pretty close. Fortunately, almost everybody split after Ninja III: The Domination, so nobody had to know that Day Two ended with an unwelcome stinker. I had such high hopes, too...

 Ah well, tomorrow is another day. Well, technically, it's just later today. I need to sleep. Like now. See you in a few hours...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Summer Fest Recap: Day Two (Part One)

 We're heading into the second stretch of Summer Fest movies for Saturday, but before that happens, let me catch you up on what we've been enjoying (or, enduring) so far...

 Attack of the Crab Monsters

 Year of Production: 1957

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Scientists land on a remote island in the Pacific, where they predecessors mysteriously vanished. In fact, there's nothing on the island other than seagulls and crabs. Almost immediately after setting ashore, the Navy plane that transported them explodes during takeoff and they find the radio isn't functional. Oh, and something in the water decapitated a seaman with almost no effort. They'd better find out what happened before the constant earthquakes reduce the island to nothing... and that's the least of their concerns.

 Who's the Hero?: Well, everybody takes turns being incompetent or simply not interested in the bizarre circumstances surrounding them, but the last three alive are Hank Chapman (Russell Johnson), Dale Drewer (Richard Garland), and Martha Hunter (Pamela Duncan). They represent the "radio engineer" and "biologist" divisions, respectively. There's also the botanist, Jules Devereaux (Mel Welles), the nuclear expert, Dr. Karl Weigand (Leslie Bradley), and Dr. James Carson, who, uh... I don't remember. I think he's the one with the severely cleft chin. It doesn't much matter, because director Roger Corman is moving at such a breakneck pace that only the audience seems to know what's supposed to be happening on-screen. The characters sure don't seem to care: Weigand tells the others that he has a theory but doesn't want to tell them "right now."

 Oh, there are also a couple of other seamen who are in charge of the dynamite and grenades:  Ron Fellows (Beach Dickerson)  and Jack Sommers (Tony Miller). One of them embodies the stereotypes about men "in the Navy," although nothing is ever mentioned about it. I guess that would fall under the "surprisingly progressive" category, if Attack of the Crab Monsters had anything to be surprisingly progressive about otherwise.

 Bad Science: Where to start? Well, it is suggested the titular monsters have inherited the ability to become mercurial in composition, and thusly can't be harmed by conventional weapons (unless it's convenient for Corman). They also consume their victims and absorb their memories, which allows them to communicate via radio signal into anything metal. This is how they draw the otherwise sensible scientists to their doom (when they aren't doing that themselves). They hate electricity for some reason - the explanation is a doozy - and there's lots of mumbo jumbo explanations for how any of this could happen. Most of it is tied to the fact that the island is south of Bikini Atoll, and that the nuclear fallout caused the crabs to "evolve."

 Other Bad Ideas: Generally speaking, if you tell your fellow scientists not to climb the rope DOWN into a hole created by earthquakes, you shouldn't ask them to climb UP the same rope ten minutes later. Maybe that's just me. Also listening to the disembodied voices of your colleagues who only contact you in the middle of the night and want you to go to the caves is not smart. And this is after they know that the crabs are in the cave. Corman is known for shooting fast and loose, so it's almost pointless to continue listing decisions that are in direct contradiction to characters just saw / experienced. Instead I'll point out that Attack of the Crab Monsters has some very good gore for 1957 - the first death is by decapitation, and later the botanist (with his outrageous French accent) loses a hand - all on camera.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Geiger Counter, Monsters That Hate Radios, Questionable Science, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes, German Doctors, Crab-related Chicanery, Surprisingly Violent.

 Final Prognosis: Sure, it would be very easy to pick apart the many things about Attack of the Crab Monsters that don't make sense. The lazy screenwriting, the lapses in judgment by just about everybody, or the crab monsters, but the movie is so much fun you don't really mind. Even as a young filmmaker, Roger Corman knew how to deliver the thrills with a good gimmick, even if it didn't make a lick of sense. The kills are pretty violent and the ending is pretty dour. What's not to enjoy?

 Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

 Year of Production: 1987

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) is a wild child, even for 1957: on Prom night, she drops by the church for "confession," and prepares for her inevitable crowning of "Prom Queen." When her boyfriend, Billy (Steve Atkinson) finds Mary Lou making out with Buddy Cooper (Robert Lewis), he takes his revenge by ruining her crowning. Unfortunately, his stink bomb sets her on fire, and Mary Lou is never crowned. But that's not going to stop Mary Lou from finding a way to come back and take revenge...

 Who's the Hero?: Unfortunately, it's not Mary Lou. Nope, it's Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon), who may go down in film history as the most boring protagonist in horror films. During the film, one Summer Fest attendee asked "why did they put a blank sheet of paper on the screen" during a close up of Vicki. She's so boring that even when (SPOILER) Vicki opens the "trunk of exposition" and is possessed by Mary Lou that you can barely tell the difference in the character. There's only one reason I can think of that the producers and director went with Lyon, and I can boil it down to three words: full frontal nudity. I suppose that Michael Ironside as the adult Bill might also qualify - it does, at least, explain why a high school senior has such pronounced balding patterns.

 Bad Science: Not really that much. Maybe when Josh (Brock Simpson, who is somehow in all four Prom Night movies) is killed by electricity coming out of the monitor of his computer. It's hard to say, because Mary Lou is using her evil powers to punish him for changing the votes. Mostly, Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II doesn't bother with "science."

 Other Bad Ideas: Trying to make a sequel to Prom Night that has nothing to do with the movie Prom Night is probably the one I should mention first. Hello, Mary Lou is more of a rip-off of Carrie, but with strong, persistent references to the Nightmare on Elm Street films (of which Part 3 would be coming out roughly around the same time), but other than including Brock Simpson, there's nothing beyond the title to suggest it's related to Prom Night. I hate to continually pick on Wendy Lyon, but she has such a lack of presence that it's actually a relief when Mary Lou bursts through her body (shades of Nightmare on Elm Street 2) and takes over for the end of the movie. The shower scene where Vicki prances around naked makes Gratudity seem tame by comparison, but it doesn't make Vicki any more interesting. Also, technically speaking, it rips off the end of Scanners by way of the ending of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

 Unusually Progressive Moment: An integrated prom in 1957. I'll chalk this up to the film being made in Canada, but I'm guessing it's supposed to be somewhere in middle America, so that was notable. Also, Mary Lou apparently swings both ways, if the school shower sequence is any indication.

 Something Cranpire Asked Me to Tell You: He wants you to know that, following the surprising inclusion of an integrated prom in the 1950s, he decided to count all of the "black people" in Hello, Mary Lou. There were 26.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Religious Imagery, Gratudity, Vehicular Chicanery, Flashbacks, Killing the Most Interesting Character Off Too Early, Boring Main Character, Psychic Powers, Fake Out Dream Sequences, Attempted Exorcism.

 Final Prognosis: There are a lot of great kills in Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II, including a fake-out, Final Destination-esque murder of Vicki's friend Jess (Beth Gondek), moments after we find out she's pregnant. The aforementioned naked Mary Lou crushes a girl with her locker, which is a nice way to close out that scene. There are some good visual effects, but wow is Vicki a walking piece of toast. It's hard to recommend this movie, even as silly and campy as it can be, because you have to spend most of it with a protagonist that sucks the life out of every scene she's in. Approach with caution - the 80s cheese is frequently off-set by Vicki.

 Suburban Sasquatch

 Year of Production: 2004

 What's the Haps, Cap?: A sasquatch is roaming around the woods outside of a suburb, killing people because that's what they do. A reporter teams up with a Native American warrior to stop him. Arms are torn asunder. Bad acting prevails.

 Who's the Hero?: I guess the reporter and the warrior. We gave up on the plot after about 13 minutes.

 Bad Science: Probably? Again, after 10 minutes of excruciating amateur acting, we skipped around to the sasquatch kills and then moved to the next movie.

 Other Bad Ideas: Making this movie.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Surprisingly Violent, Choosing a Movie Nobody Wanted to Finish.

 Final Prognosis: Look, I wanted to give Suburban Sasquatch the benefit of the doubt and watch the whole thing. Summer Fest has long been home to the no-budget, backyard splatter films. Sometimes you get an instant classic like Blood Car. Sometimes you get a more ambitious, but less successful, good try like Rise of the Animals. And sometimes you get Suburban Sasquatch, that tries to cram long dialogue scenes in with people who can't act. That conversation in the "newspaper office" that goes on forever was the straw that broke the camel's back. The "sasquatch" (guy in the ape costume) and the extremely violent kills very funny. The awful "day for night" at the beginning was pretty funny. But it wasn't enough to keep us from getting bored very quickly, so Suburban Sasquatch joins ThanksKilling 3 in the "Fest Killer" pile.

 Creepshow 2

 Year of Production: 1987

 What's the Haps, Cap?: The sequel to George Romero and Stephen King's Creepshow tells three tales - "Old Chief Wood'nhead," about a Native American statue that avenges the death of his owners, "The Raft," which follows four college students who go swimming in the wrong lake, and "The Hitchhiker," about a woman who can't seem to shake a pesky hitchhiker, even after she accidentally kills him.

 Who's the Hero?: I guess Billy (Domenick John) from the live action / animated prologue, who reads Creepshow, and maybe The Creep  (Tom Savini, and voice of Joe Silver), who provides us with Tales from the Crypt-esque transitions between stories.

 Bad Science: There's no way a car would run after the abuse Annie (Lois Chiles) puts it through in "The Hitchhiker." Also, if you drove 50 miles to the abandoned lake and left your car running with the doors open and music blaring, there's no way it would still be on the next morning.

 Other Bad Ideas: Making a sequel to Creepshow where Stephen King is minimally involved and George Romero isn't directing. Oh, and story-wise, spending the first twenty minutes of the film setting up the characters of Ray and Martha Spruce (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour) in "Old Chief Wood'nhead" and then killing off the villains in a five minute montage to close out the segment. It really stops Creepshow 2 dead in its tracks before it has time to get going. The other two segments aren't that bad, but the first one takes forever to go anywhere and then skips right through the best part. Story-wise, almost everything everybody does is a bad decision - why try to swim back to the shore farthest away from you when there's a much closer option that also has a path leading away from it? Why drive your car into the woods twice to shake an undead hitchhiker? How did you get to the raft without getting that joint wet?

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Gratudity, Movies Made in the Same Year, Vehicular Chicanery, Southwestern Locations, Surprisingly Violent, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes.

 Final Prognosis: There's a reason that most people don't talk about Creepshow 2: it just isn't very good. Cranpire realized halfway through the first segment that he'd never seen it, and by the end I'm not sure he was better off having experienced the film. Everything about Creepshow 2 feels low rent, from the animated segments to the story structure to the "well, I guess we're done" ending. There's almost no point to having Tom Savini play the live action Creep, because you can't hear him, and the animated version looks nothing like the makeup. If I hadn't shown Creepshow at an earlier Fest, that would have easily taken the place of Creepshow 2, the definition of "the law of diminishing returns."

 And now it's time to launch into a double feature of action schlock, followed by some kaiju action, a surprise Trappening, and then we'll close it out with a slasher flick that looks like another Shocker. Well, a Cap'n can hope, right?

Summer Fest Recap: Day One

 Greetings, virtual Summer Fest-ers! Welcome to Cap'n Howdy's handy recap-o-rama-rama, covering all of your Hyde Park Summer Fest Massacre Part 6 needs!

 This year I'm going to try something a little different in covering the films watched during the Fest. Instead of full write-ups that take much longer and give away too much, I'm going to appropriate the structure of "Hamlet Week" from a few years ago to give you some idea how these movies work in tandem with each other. Fest entries often have some shared elements, and you'll find that many selections this year overlap in the most unusual ways.

 We started the Fest with:

 Creature with the Atom Brain

 Year of Production: 1955

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Gangster Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger) wants revenge on men who betrayed him, so he forces ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gay) to reanimate the dead using radioactive blood and electrodes implanted in the brain. They are controlled by Buchanan's voice and take vengeance on his enemies. Police are baffled and eventually declare Marshal Law on "Our City."

 Who's the Hero?: Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning), who works in the police laboratory, along with his brother(?) Capt. Dave Harris (S. John Launer). They try to work out the source of the radiation and the common element between murders, until (SPOILER) Buchanan kills Dave and uses him to get to the targets in police custody. Dave also shows up at Chet's house, confuses his wife, Joyce (Angela Stevens), and daughter Penny (Linda Bennett). Zombie Dave breaks Penny's doll, presumably because, in death, he's a jerk.

 Bad Science: Chet mixes up a radioactive concoction in the police laboratory using chemicals on his desk to prove that the blood they found wasn't blood. Buchanan and Steigg's highly radioactive lab is accessed through a plastic tunnel that's open on both sides and is attached to a door that anybody could open at any time. Planes specially rigged to detect high amounts of radiation repeatedly fly over Steigg's "shed" and never find anything. The device that controls Steigg's zombies kinda looks like The Tingler.

 Other Bad Ideas:  Chet jumps out of a car moving at high speeds and shows no signs of injury. He also shares confidential police investigation information with Joyce, who then tells Zombie Dave / Buchanan everything needed to kill men in protective custody. Nobody notices the obvious scars from brain surgery. Buchanan's suit is too big. Never give your producers a role that requires them to say more than one line of dialogue. Other characters calling Dr. Chet Walker "Joe" throughout the film.

 Unusually Progressive Moments: Penny gives her girl doll a boy's name, and argues with Dr. Chet Walker when he protests. This is offset by Chet's casual ass-slap of Joyce when he comes home from work. The Ex-Nazi scientist objects to Buchanan's plan and wanted to use his experiments for good, although it's not clear how.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Geiger Counter, Questionable Science, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes, Marshal Law, Monsters That Hate Radios, Explosions in Close Proximity to Actors, German Doctors.

 Final Prognosis: Creature with the Atom Brain starts off with a bang, becomes a boring procedural, and then has a surprisingly violent conclusion. Lots of bad science and examples of 1950s casual sexism. We're continually introduced to characters by seeing their name and job title on an office door. It wasn't clear that Dr. Chet Walker was the hero until about halfway in, but the ending kind of makes up for the lackluster mid-section. It's always nice to start the Fest with some Bad Science.

 Remote Control

 Year of Production: 1988

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Aliens are using a videotape called "Remote Control" to beam a signal to Earth. Anyone who watches the tape is driven to murder, and only two video store clerks can save the day...

 Who's the Hero?: Cosmo (Kevin Dillon), Georgie (Christopher Wynne), and later on, Belinda (Deborah Goodrich). Jennifer Tilly appears briefly as Allegra (with a truly 80s hairdo), but is killed by Victor (Frank Beddor), Belinda's boyfriend. Oops, SPOILER.

 Bad Science: Ummmm the aliens also try to send their signal through a plastic antenna in the "Remote Control" store display?

Other Bad Ideas: Cosmo kills a police officer, steals his car, and wonders why people are chasing him. When our heroes discover the company responsible for Remote Control (run by Asians, plus the grandpa from TerrorVision) has a truck full of tapes with a delivery list, they follow the list but don't destroy the tapes inside. Cosmo tries to woo Belinda by watching a dubbed version of Truffaut's Stolen Kisses, and it doesn't work out for him. Never give Cosmo a gun - he's a terrible video store employee, but a great killer.

Uniquely 80s Moments: Other than everything about Jennifer Tilly in the movie? Well, Remote Control is about video stores and tapes, so if you tune out of the movie, there are many opportunities to get lost in background details. Posters and VHS artwork are just about everywhere in the film, and director Jeff Lieberman (Squirm, Satan's Little Helper) and his production designers have a great eye for finding weird juxtapositions. In what other movie would you find a copy of Tess next to the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice? Also, every video store in Los Angeles had the poster for House, according to this movie. Make sure to check out the Retro club, which for 1988 is anything but.

 Wait, Did You Say All the Villains Are Asian?: According to the IMDB trivia, Lieberman did this as a tribute to Japanese sci-fi movies from the 1950s and 60s, so I guess that's... okay? I should point out the Main villains are Asian - lots of possessed people are just normal 1980s Caucasians.

Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Aliens, Films Released in the Same Year, Explosions, Mind Control, Killing the Most Interesting Character Off Too Early, Boring Main Character, Vehicular Chicanery.

 Interesting Sidenote: During Remote Control, not a single person could name one other movie Kevin Dillon had been in. I forbade the use of IMDB until after the film was over, at which point we realized how many he had been in that we had seen. Still, without looking it up, name one.

Final Prognosis: Remote Control is an amusing sibling to TerrorVision. It's not quite as campy, and Kevin Dillon has about as much charisma in this film as a toaster, but it moves at a brisk pace, is unusual enough to keep you invested, and has a ton of background details to smooth over the bumps. The only way to get it at the moment is to order it from the director (like I did), but if you like TerrorVision, it's worth considering.

 The Visitor

 Year of Production: 1979

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Uh... Well, have you ever seen The Omen? It's kind of like that, except not.

 Who's the Hero?: Well, I guess maybe the title character, played by director John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). He's from outer space, and after interrupting Space Jesus (Franco Nero)'s story about the evil General Sateen, he flies - via Eastern Airlines - to Atlanta to hang out on rooftops with a bunch of bald dudes. Eventually he starts stalking Katy Collins (Paige Conner), the improbably Southern daughter of Barbara Collins (Joanne Neil) and Dr. Sam Collins (Sam Peckinpah). Katy is also somehow the progeny of Sateen, and has psychic powers that she uses to mess with basketball players and people ice skating. Oh, and she has a pet falcon, that she keeps inside of their apartment.

 What the Hell is This Movie???: I know, right? Nothing about The Visitor makes any sense, and I'm not even halfway through the setup of the plot. Barbara is divorced from Sam and is dating Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen), who owns The Atlanta Rebels basketball team and is also part of a secret cabal of Sateen worshipers run by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer), who want him to impregnate Barbara with a boy, because that would be better than Katy. Also, when Katy accidentally(?) shoots her mother in the spine during a birthday party, a nanny / housekeeper (Shelley Winters) comes in and slaps the living hell out of Katy. Detective Jake Dunham (Glenn Ford) is investigating the shooting, until Katy calls him a pervert and the falcon causes some serious vehicular mayhem. Did I mention that most of this paragraph happens before the halfway point of The Visitor?

Bad Science: Take a look at the first two entries. See anything that sounds remotely plausible in there? I guess after Raymond fails and Dr. Walker sends him away, the cabal stages an "alien invasion" that results in Barbara being pregnant (how she drives while paralyzed and without hand controls isn't even addressed), so she has to go to Sam for an abortion. Peckinpah was so drunk that most of his scene is dubbed, with random cutaways to cover points where they clearly had no usable footage. I guess the worst science involves Huston, who stands on the roof and makes lights appear. He also takes a plane from outer space to Atlanta, and can't seem to walk down stairs in a timely fashion.

 Other Bad Ideas: Well, when the Italian producer and director decided they didn't like the screenwriter's rip-off of The Omen, they continued changing it and eventually fired the writer. The music is jarringly inappropriate for almost every scene, but my favorite is what we dubbed the "walking up the stairs" theme for the titular character. It's so bombastic and juxtaposed with, I kid you not, walking up stairs. Nothing else. We couldn't wait to hear it again. The final scene, where pigeons and a few doves attack Katy, features one of the fakest looking plastic birds I've ever seen. The Visitor is pretty much just one Bad Idea after another.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Aliens, Evil Scientists, Animal Related Mayhem, Psychic Powers, Southern Accents, Vehicular Chicanery.

 Final Prognosis: I'd be hard pressed to call The Visitor a good, or even competent movie. It's almost impossible to follow in any way, so you're better off not trying to figure out what's happening or why. However, as movie watching experiences go, there's really nothing quite like The Visitor. It starts out like a realized version of Jodorowsky's Dune, and just gets weirder from there. Just be prepared to say "What?!" a lot, and collapse into fits of uncontrollable laughter.

 Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight

 Year of Production: 1995

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Brayker (William Sadler) is a man on the run. He's somewhere in New Mexico, in a high speed chase with Billy Zane (Billy Zane) in hot pursuit. Brayker runs out of gas and decides to bring a gun to a car fight in the middle of the road, which works about as well as you would think it might. But somehow both of them survive and Brayker sneaks into Wormwood, NM, where he tries to steal a car, but some dumb kid (Ryan Sean O'Donohue) rats him out. He has some wino booze with wino "Uncle" Willy (Dick Miller) and decides to crash at a motel that used to be a church. He meets the owner (CCH Pounder), a prostitute (Brenda Bakke), a mailman (Charles Fleischer), and Jeryline (Jada Pinkett), who is on work release and cleans the stoves (badly). When Billy Zane and two cops (Gary Farmer and John Schuck) show up shortly after Roach (Thomas Haden Church), we hit the magic number on Brayker's palm, and... demons.

 Who's the Hero?: I guess that'd be Brayker, although nobody seems to agree with that until almost everybody is dead. One could make an argument that the Cryptkeeper (John Kassir) is our hero, since he's presenting this here movie, but if it's not Brayker, I guess it's Jesus. SPOILER if you say that out loud 45 seconds before the first flashback, like Cranpire did.

 Wait... Jesus?: Yeah, but not Space Jesus. Just regular old crucified Jesus. His blood is what the first Demon Knight captures in a "key" to the universe that Demons want. The blood protects you and prevents Demons from crossing thresholds. Demon blood, on the other hand, makes more Demons. Or, at least, Billy Zane blood does anyway. It's the same color as what I imagine the radioactive blood in Creature with the Atom Brain would look like.

 And You're Saying Billy Zane Plays Himself?: I can understand your confusion, but we can all pretend he's more like the boring characters he plays in Titanic or The Phantom if you prefer. I'd like to think that the dude who is practically gnawing on the scenery in Demon Knight is the REAL Billy Zane, and that he had one opportunity to let loose and just be himself. Even if the rest of the cast weren't a "who's who" of "that guy!" Demon Knight would be a no brainer just to watch Zane own the screen.

 Bad Science: None that I can think of. Maybe Brayker surviving the car explosion. I get why Billy Zane survived, but not so much Brayker. Demon Knights are surprisingly when it comes to injuries. Also, when Zane punches through the Sherriff's skull (SPOILER), his arm gets stuck, which seems more plausible than when Jason Voorhees does it. Roach also lets someone hook jumper cables to his nipples - that doesn't seem safe.

 Other Bad Ideas: Well, Billy Zane uses his demon powers to lure people into doing his bidding - also known as turning them into Demons who try to steal they key. Uncle Willy is lured in by Zane as a bartender and surrounded by topless woman and at least one porn star. Since Willy is a lush, I don't even know why he needed the women, but Gratudity sells, right? Roach doesn't even try to make a deal, he just gives the damn thing to Billy Zane, because Brayker is "kinda bossy." At least we get to see Billy Zane pop a sponge out of his mouth. I can't leave this section without mentioning how unhygienic Jeryline is for (SPOILER) covering herself with the blood in the key just to kill Billy Zane's buzz when she (DOUBLE SPOILER) takes over as Demon Knight. I mean, yeah, Jesus and stuff, but that's blood going back millenia. Gross. Also, it came from (TRIPLE SPOILER) Brayker's heart, and (QUADRUPLE SPOILER) Demon Possessed Kid's Gene Simmons Tongue had been all up in there. Not very sanitary, if you ask me.

 Uniquely 90s Moments: The opening credits / car chase play over Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot." If there's a better time capsule of something that was cool for one year and one year only, that'll do it. I guess there's another post-grunge song that plays during the credits, but I already forgot what it was.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Gratudity, Vehicular Chicanery, Mind Control, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes, Southwestern Locations, Religious Imagery

 Final Prognosis: As Tales from the Crypt movies go, I still prefer the Amicus version from the 1970s, but if it's post-TV show, I'm going with Demon Knight over Bordello of Blood. This is far and away the best thing Billy Zane ever did, and he owns every moment he's on screen. It's cool to go back and see a pre-Big Willie Style Jada Pinkett take control of the movie, or that someone built a film around William Sadler. The cast is so much fun because you don't usually get to see any of them showcased, let alone all of them (this was almost ten years before Sideways, and if you say "I liked Thomas Haden Church on Ned and Stacey," you're lying. Maybe Wings - I know Cranpire likes Wings.) Anyway, Demon Knight is just fun, and if you somehow think "Ernest Dickerson... why do I know that name" after the "directed by" credit, it's because he was Spike Lee's cinematographer. The director of Demon Knight shot Do the Right Thing. And that's a good thing.

 Join us tomorrow for even more Summer Fest madness, gang! We have so many movies to come...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

It's the (Second) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 At one point, the Cap'n used to update the Blogorium to let everybody know when Horror Fests and Summer Fests were. That was back in the days before I was (vaguely) active in "social media," and the Blogorium was the best place to tell friends about it. And then I could create "events" and what not, and I kinda drifted away from "social" updates here in order to focus on reviews. After the fact, I'd put recaps up, but people visiting this blog didn't know when Fests where happening.

 Well, let's rectify that today. This weekend brings The Hyde Park Summer Fest Massacre Part 6(66), the seventh year of July film festival mayhem*. It promises to be a madcap extravaganza of the strange, the unusual, and the "what?!"; I've spent the better part of the year putting together the precise combination of B-Movies, slasher flicks, low-rent action films, and general "what the hell was that?" entries, and this year looks to be another wild one.

 This year, we'll be digging into:

Godzilla on Monster Island (aka Godzilla vs. Gigan)

A Special Mystery Movie

  Reviews / recaps will be up as quickly as I can get them online next week, but the entire weekend (starting Friday) will be devoted to movies. I'll also cram in as many trailers, interstitials, and crazy finds as I can (including our dear friend, Dr. Re-Animator). We aren't as young as we used to be, so we can't stay up until the crack of dawn. Ah, the days of Summer Fest 2, when we watched Shark Attack 3: Megalodon and Friday the 13th Part 2 until the sun came up. Still, we'll go as late as people with kids and 30-somethings can before we nod off.

 Summer Fest is (and always has been) a little different from Horror Fest, in that I'm open to watching more than strictly horror films. In the past few years we've tried to branch out from cult films to include action movies, science fiction, and Z-Grade schlock, all with great success. We don't pretend to be Mystery Science Theater 3000, but we aren't afraid to react to what's happening on screen, so keep that in mind. Try to keep conversation on-topic with the film, however.

 If you would rather experience Summer Fest vicariously, or would just like to know more about previous Fests, what the general atmosphere is like, check out the list of films here, or coverage here:

 Horror Fest (Summer Edition) (aka Summer Fest 1)

 Summer Fest 2

 The Greensboro Summer Fest Massacre Part 3

 Summer Fest 4 (Supplemental)

 The Cary Summer Fest Massacre Part 4

 The Hyde Park Summer Fest Massacre Part 5

 Also, Horror Fest: A People's History (Parts One and Two), which covers all Fests.

 Please forgive the writing in earlier recaps: not only was I writing between films, but my style was... evolving. The trade off in later years is immediacy in favor of quality.

 It's going to be a wild one, so if we see you there, be prepared!

 * Summer Fest 4 had to be pushed back a year because of work commitments, so there are "Supplemental" and "Official" versions, hence the numerical inconsistency. Think of it like The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror, if you like.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blogorium Review: Under the Skin

 At the outset, I'm going to warn you that the best way to watch Under the Skin is to know as little about the film as possible. The film's trailers are deliberately vague precisely because Under the Skin is meant to be experienced rather than explained. By necessity, in order to review it at all, I'm going to have to be more specific about the narrative (such as it is) than you might want to know about going in. From here on out, consider everything covered to fall under MILD SPOILERS.

 I've waited a long time for a new Jonathan Glazer movie: after Sexy Beast in 2000, he took four years to follow-up with Birth, and ten years later, we have his third film. I hope this is not indicative of a Donna Tartt-esque pattern of project gestation time, but if Under the Skin is any indication, the wait may be worth it. Not too long ago, I mentioned that Spider Baby might be the strangest film I've seen in a long time, precisely because of how matter-of-factly it treats the bizarre Merrye family. Under the Skin is not necessarily "strange," but it has its share of haunting, surreal imagery that still floats in and out of my head. The trailer has been described as "Lynch-ian," and the movie lives up to that promise (it reminded me of parts of Eraserhead more than once), but I want to clear up a certain misconception about what the term "Lynch-ian" means before we go any further. It's relevant to Under the Skin, which is why I'm including it in this review.

 There is an assumption, mostly by people who know David Lynch third hand or by a dissociative reputation, that "Lynch-ian" just means "weird." They believe that his films are weird for weird's sake, that his editing techniques and use of juxtaposition serve no real purpose, and that Lynch is just interested in being as strange as possible for no other reason than he can be. If that seems far fetched a claim, watch something like "David Lynch's Return of the Jedi" and tell me that's not exactly how the creator of that video presents the film as "re-envisioned" by the director. In truth, David Lynch's Return of the Jedi would probably be more like David Lynch's Dune, which may or may not be a good thing.

 Are Lynch's films abstract at times? Oh yes. Do they rely on seemingly random imagery presented without context? I wouldn't argue that's the case at times. Is it, at times, difficult to suss out what the intent of this imagery is? Of course. Lynch doesn't help by dodging questions about meaning, or by attributing it to a byproduct of Transcendental Meditation, but the amount of time and effort he puts into seemingly "random" and "weird" imagery points to means to an end, even if we aren't sure what the ends are. Maybe he isn't either. Maybe he is, and he's just playing coy. At any rate, weird for weird's sake is either a total misunderstanding or a cynical dismissal of what makes something "Lynch-ian."

 This brings me back to Under the Skin, which is filled with visual tics and images that suggest, but often never explain. Glazer seems content to introduce a concept in the film and explore it in its bare minimum, instead leaving much of the heavy lifting to the audience. If you like films that are puzzles, ones that present the pieces but don't tell you how they fit together, Under the Skin excels at that. Perhaps reading the book by Michael Faber would help with interpreting Glazer and Walter Campbell's adaptation. Perhaps not. I haven't read the book, although I'm certainly more interested in doing so now. At the moment, I'm still digesting what I have seen, what tantalizing clues I'm not putting in the right places. Here is, from a first go, my "reading" of Under the Skin, such as it is.

 At bare minimum, we know this from the beginning of the film: aliens are on Earth, and they're using our skin to infiltrate and conduct experiments. Well, maybe the second part. They're definitely using Scarlett Johansson's character (unlisted in the credits - most of the characters say their names, but I'll go with Glazer's preference) as a decoy to draw in men, take them "home," and sink them into a black oil-like substance. We get one glimpse of what happens after that, and given the reveal at the end, I have a pretty good idea what we're seeing. She has a mission to collect men who are single, who have no families or close friends, and who won't be missed. When she's found the perfect specimen and lured him into her "trap," a motorcycle riding "clean up man" takes care of the loose ends.

 Glazer does an interesting about face, particularly considering the amount of nudity from Johansson in the film I wasn't expecting. The"male gaze" is on display near the very beginning - when Johansson either takes over for the last "agent" or simply removes the clothes of a dead woman - slowly gives way to another sort of gaze. I hesitate to call it "feminine" because she's clearly not playing a human, and it implies that the male objectification operates in the exact same way that the "male gaze" does. It's more of an "alien gaze," although her entire purpose is to draw men in using their "male gaze" - critical in drawing them to follow her into the Black Room and by extension, their doom.

 As the film goes on, it becomes clearer that the aliens, or at least Johansson, don't really understand humanity past a utilitarian purpose. Beyond the parameters of her mission, she has no idea how to react to people, and becomes visibly uncomfortable when included in a group of women heading to a club. Unable to leave the building, she becomes frantic, and only settles down when she accidentally meets her "target." At other points, she seems confused about tripping on a sidewalk, attempting to eat food, and the sight of blood. The meaning of that scene, in particular, isn't clear until the very end of the film, when the title finally makes sense.

 Under the Skin has a few genuinely disturbing moments resulting from the alien "disconnect" from emotions. One in particular is still unnerving: while chatting up a potential victim, the vacationing swimmer notices a family being pulled into the rough tidal waters. He tries to save them, and, failing that, at least bring the husband back to shore. He brings him back, but is too winded to stop the man from swimming back out to his doom. Johansson stands there, dispassionately observing the tragedy, and while the tourist is struggling to stand, she knocks him out with a rock. As she drags him back to her van, mixed in with the roar of the ocean are the screams of the family's toddler, sitting by himself a few yards away. Johansson never acknowledges the child - he's not essential to the mission, and when the cyclist turns up later to remove the evidence, he also leaves the crying child. The last time we see the toddler is as the light is fading and the tide advances. It's a rather bleak view of humanity's worth from the eyes of outsiders.

 Her first moment of what could be called "pity" involves a man with severe facial deformities, although I'm still not exactly sure what the aftermath of that sequence suggests. Johansson lures him in, as she has with every other man in the coastal region of Scotland they've set up shop, but there's a hiccup. I think. I'm not sure, but it's the first and only time we see one of the aliens until the end of the film, and the cross-fading (reminiscent of the beginning of Eraserhead) suggests its communicating with Johansson. She leaves and is startled by the mirror at the bottom of the stairs, presumably noticing "herself" for the first time. When she goes outside, he's no longer ensnared, but is standing outside of her flat, naked. As he walks through the brush to get home, the motorcycle alien is dispatched and they meet, to an unhappy end. Was her selection rejected by the higher-ups because of his face? Did she have a moment of doubt and free him? It's up to interpretation, but clearly the situation required a hasty clean-up.

 That scene is the catalyst for the last section of Under the Skin, which anybody who has seen a movie about aliens pretending to be human will have some idea what follows. It's the only point where I began to question exactly where Glazer was going with the film (mostly when she's in the woods), although the role reversal between Johansson and the logger quickly became apparent. The use of a specific music cue makes it clear, but that, in and of itself, is a setup for a bigger misdirect. In the final moments of the film, at least one mystery makes much more sense (hint: it involves what the title specifically means) and explains the sudden ending to her fascination with actual sexuality - rather than the temptation of it as a means to their ends. Despite slight misgivings, I think the final moments make Under the Skin more potent and illuminate some mysteries and deepen others.

 If you take to Under the Skin - and some may not - it's almost certain it won't be a "one time" movie. I'm already looking forward to watching it again, to pick up on additional clues that point towards the end of the film, as well as to pick apart the symbolic images that make up the pre-title sequence. After more people have seen it (and I hope, if you read this far, you at least saw it beforehand), this review might merit revisiting and a more openly SPOILER-friendly discussion. But, for now, I'm going to avoid getting to specific, and allow audiences to discover Under the Skin for themselves. It's a striking film, visually, and one open to interpretation. "Lynch-ian" in the best sense, or is it "Glazer-ian"?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Blogorium Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

 It's a relief to be able to think of Jim Jarmusch fondly again. As unfair as it is to judge a director I like harshly by one movie, I couldn't get the bitter taste of Limits of Control out of my mouth for a long time, and it inexplicably tainted his earlier films, many of which I really enjoy. For five years, it lingered, festering and rotting, annoying me with an "art-y for its own sake" construction, and I suddenly didn't feel like watching Ghost Dog or Down by Law. There's no "there" there in Limits of Control - the film is strictly an exercise of the director drawing attention to how clever his ideas are, with no characters or narrative to draw from. A lack of narrative isn't especially new for Jarmusch - in fact, it's usually a selling point. But lack of characters? Can you imagine Dead Man without the oddball supporting cast to balance out Johnny Depp? Coffee and Cigarettes at all?

 Thankfully, five years later, Jim Jarmusch returns to characters, and from a most unlikely (for him) literary source: vampires. But I wasn't worried. I can't explain why, but despite the fact that we've been seeing watered down bloodsuckers for the last half decade (or more), something about the idea of Jarmusch and vampires felt right. It was a gamble that paid off, because Only Lovers Left Alive is easily his best film since Ghost Dog and completely wipes Limits of Control off the ledger. Everything that fans have come to expect from Jarmusch is in there: the aimless story, the location as musical backdrop, the off-kilter humor, and most importantly, memorable characters.

 When we meet Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam (Tom Hiddleston), we don't know anything about them other than they abide messy abodes. The camera hovers above them, spinning like a 45 as Jarmusch makes his way to their faces, the soundtrack booming. If you haven't seen the trailer, I suppose there's a good chance you wouldn't know they were vampires, at least until Eve leaves her apartment in Tangier to visit a night café. She's waiting patiently for an old friend (John Hurt), and when she says his name, Christopher Marlowe, I guess the jig is up for people going in blind. Yes, that would be "the" Christopher Marlowe, and yes, he's a vampire. He has a nice supply of "the good stuff" that he's happy to share with Eve, but please don't say his name out loud.

 Just writing this, I feel like I'm making Only Lovers Left Alive out to be a very obvious and stupid sounding movie, which it isn't. Jarmusch doesn't play coy about Adam and Eve* - they are vampires, they are old, and there's a lot of unspoken history between them. Taken out of the context of the movie, I could understand how it might sound clever in a bad way, but it's presented so matter-of-factly in the story that it's hard not to take in stride. Eve is so easygoing, and Adam so morose, that you worry they're just going to be "types," but then Jarmusch brings them together and Only Lovers Left Alive shifts into a love story.

 Marlowe asks Eve why she and Adam don't live together if they've been married as long as they have been, but it seems pretty clear when she leaves Tangier to visit him in the U.S. that they have a long history together. They can be together and apart, and Jarmusch doesn't give any explicit reason why they're comfortable half a world away. There's no tragedy or disagreement hanging over the narrative - it just is, and you accept it the same way you do the conceit that they're vampires. Like many Jarmusch films, the why is less important. It gets in the way of what is.

 As he has in the past, Jarmusch sets Only Lovers Left Alive in a city known for its musical history. In this instance, it's Detroit, where Adam sets up shop in an abandoned part of town (the city's current financial calamity is another critical part of the story) and makes music in anonymity. At least, relative anonymity. He has Ian (Anton Yelchin) bring him recording equipment, instruments and, in one special request, a bullet made of wood. That doesn't amount to much more than a MacGuffin, but it's behind what brings Eve back to Adam. He's sick of the "zombies" (what vampires call humans) and is irritated that his music is finding an audience, despite his efforts to mask his identity. She brings him solace, and when the two of them come together, their facades crumble at bit. It turns out that Adam is also something of an amateur scientist and mechanic, who sets up his own sustainable energy for the house and who tinkers with old equipment. During a Skype (?) chat, he transfers the laptop signal to an old television. It's something he enjoys doing.

 Most of the time they drive around Detroit, and he takes her to the Detroit Theater (now a parking lot) and offers to show her the Motown Museum ("I'm more of a Staxx girl," she professes), but Eve is awfully impressed when Adam pulls up in front of Jack White's childhood home. If there's a singularly Jim Jarmusch-y moment in the film, that has to be it, but fans of Mystery Train should enjoy the thematic bridge. Their reunion is short lived, because dreams involving Eve's sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turn out to be her way of announcing a visit. Ava doesn't care much about protocol like entering a home without permission and doesn't care much about personal space - she's more than happy to tear through Adam's supply of blood. She's not a very welcome guest, by either of them. It's hinted that they haven't seen her in more than a hundred years, and that it didn't end well "in Paris," and she doesn't seem to have changed much.

 True to form, she wastes no time in aggravating Adam and testing the patience of her sister, who tries to give her the benefit of the doubt. They make quite a trio, with their dark sunglasses and gloves, hanging out at the back of a club watching some band play (at her insistence), with Ian in tow, clueless to what's in the flask they're passing around ("is that Jaegermeister?"). By the end of the following day, she's worn out her welcome and insured they can't stay in Detroit, but they're the "boring, pretentious assholes." Her parting gift, so to speak (other than a SPOILER I'll leave out) is to leave Adam with a broken Gibson guitar from 1905, one that Eve had only recently identified the age of. It's no wonder that he was wary to find Ava had invited herself in the night before. Kids...

 Lest you worry that things get to dour and "goth" with vampires in the picture, you needn't worry: Only Lovers Left Alive is frequently very funny, in an off-beat way. Much of it comes from Adam's source for blood in Detroit, played by Jeffrey Wright. I'd tell you his name, but the setup and payoff of his name tag and the one Adam is wearing is too good to spoil here. When Adam needs blood, he pulls his scraggly black hair back into a ponytail, puts on scrubs, a stethoscope, and walks into the local hospital. The other doctors give him an askew glance, but don't say anything. However, in order to maintain a sense of mystery, Adam puts on his sunglasses when he walks into the blood lab, and he looks ridiculous. Jarmusch holds on the image of Adam trying to look intimidating as if to say, "dude, who are you kidding?" and Wright's character reacts accordingly.

 Yelchin and Wasikowska also provide varying degrees of comic relief, although Hiddleston gets most of the laughs as he tries to humor Eve and handle Ava with anything more than exasperation. His carefully constructed persona collapses completely with his wife and sister-in-law dragging him to a club, and Hiddleston knows exactly when to play the laugh. It would be easy to say he's simply playing a variation on Loki in Only Lovers Left Alive, but I don't think that's quite the case. Adam is more a creature of habit than Loki is, more comfortable in his carefully controlled environment. By the end of the film that environment has been completely shattered, and there's a humorous inevitability to the final shot. Swinton plays the moment perfectly, but that's consistent with her performance in the entire film. As Eve, she carries herself with a natural ease at all times that Adam desperately wants to have. Watching her subtle facial shifts around Ava is also fascinating - Adam is disdainful, but Eve is cautious, nervous even.

 In all honestly, I could have spent another hour with Eve and Adam, but I'm happy to have what's there. Only Lovers Left Alive restores the character to the Jim Jarmusch character study, and you don't mind watching a movie where the main characters drive around Detroit or hang out on the couch most of the time. Really, it's a lot of fun. The soundtrack is great, the actors are having fun, and Jarmusch brings just the right balance of directorial flourish and musical fetishism to the proceedings that I'm having a hard time finding things to complain about. There are more bad vampire movies and shows out there than good ones, it often feels like, so it's nice to add another film to the "positive" category. If you want to see a vampire movie where nothing really happens that you'll enjoy, check out Only Lovers Left Alive. Unless you like sparkly things or need someone to say the word "vampire" every ten minutes. You won't find that here.

 * Jarmusch did not, apparently, intend for audiences to assumed they were "the" Adam and Eve, but the IMDB trivia page erroneously refers to them being based on Mark Twain's satirical excerpts from the "diaries" of Adam and Eve, which ARE about "that" Adam and Eve. Twain also appears as a photograph on the wall of acquaintances in Adam's apartment.