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
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
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.
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.
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?