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!

No comments: