Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer Fest 7 Recap (Day Two Part One): Without Warning, Tremors, Deadly Eyes, and Blood Car

 We kicked off Day Two of Summer Fest 7 by watching Without Warning, which is Predator before Predator came out. I guess that's a SPOILER if you somehow found yourself watching Without Warning (or It Came Without Warning) and didn't see the cover art or read the back of the case. Or look slightly to the right of this paragraph. But since I'm SPOILING it anyway, it's a tall alien, also played by Kevin Peter Hall (Harry and the Hendersons) who hunts humans for sport, or food, or... something. He keeps them in the "Department of Water" shack out by the dam outside of, uh, *mumblemumbletown* and uses starfish-like projectiles to kill his prey. They attach to you and pump you full of yellow liquid that kill you, or something. Hard to say, because you can survive it if you cut one off quickly enough, as we learn not once but twice. As for how they operate, thing of a cross between a Nerf Disc Shooter, a Facehugger, and that yellow embalming fluid the Tall Man uses.

 Without Warning is mostly notable for the fact that it features "paycheck" performances from Martin Landau and Jack Palance, who are a long way from Mission: Impossible and Shane here, and would be another decade or so before they were picking up "you're still alive" Oscars for City Slickers and Ed Wood. Fortunately, both are playing different variations of gonzo in the film: Landau is a veteran of, uh, the Korean War, I guess. He says at some point he'd been in the military for 27 years, and this is 1982 we're talking about, so he'd be a little old to have gone crazy in Vietnam. But he's crazy, and he's already seen the alien, so nobody believes him. Also he later kills the Sherriff for no apparent reason and steals his car to prove the alien is real. Hey, I told you all SPOILER warnings were done with, here. He eventually blows up the alien in the shack.

 By comparison, Palance is just playing creepy as the hunter who owns the only gas station in town that our presumed protagonists are visiting (two of them are killed, leaving the "backup" couple to be our heroes, I guess, but they're so vanilla that you're happy to have Palance and Landau chewing the scenery). He's not afraid of the starfish weapons because he cuts them off with a knife (both times) and also keeps one in an empty jar he has on his desk. I'm not sure if it's creepier to imagine he just has an open jar of formaldehyde or that he puts the starfish in his moonshine. Either way, it gets loose and that is in no way brought up again. It's okay, because Palance is menacing and growly and Landau is near hysterical for most of Without Warning, which is pretty much what you'll need to get by.

 Without Warning adheres to what I'd call "The Boogens" rule of not showing the monster until the very end, not because it successfully builds tension, but because you'd never be able to watch the movie seriously if you saw it earlier. If we're simply ignoring the fact that the primary antagonist of Without Warning looks like every "alien" costume you've ever seen in Party City, you're still going to laugh at the fact that it appears to be wearing a combination of mesh and a fishing net. I guess most of the budget went to the starfish, because the alien has a very limited range of facial expressions (at times it looks like a leftover from a cheaper episode of The Outer Limits), and for most of its onscreen time, it stands next to the shed, doing nothing. However, the explosive finale made it clear to me that I had seen this movie a long time ago on television, probably without much context, because the image of the stationary alien next to the exploding shed is a familiar one. I really didn't recall Cameron Mitchell (Raw Force, Deadly Prey) being in the movie for, oh, five minutes, nor did I remember the dumb Boy Scout subplot that was vaguely reminiscent of Beware! The Blob, however...

 In the planning stages of Summer Fest 7, somebody asked me if Tremors had ever made it into the lineup before, and for some reason the answer was "no". I don't really know why, because it is a great fit for a Saturday afternoon - a leisurely, funny movie about giant worms in the desert that wreak havoc on a small town. The kind of movie they don't really make anymore - unless, I guess, you count the three (soon to be four) Tremors sequels - one where the protagonists are a couple of knucklehead handymen (played by Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon). It's an amiable sort of film, the kind that plays for years and years on TNT or TBS, and at least two people at the Fest knew it so well they were quoting lines before they happened. To be honest, I don't think I had seen Tremors in years, but I remembered most of the beats of the story (such as they are), and was able to enjoy small surprises, like forgetting that Victor Wong (Egg Shen from Big Trouble in Little China) was the opportunistic owner of the only store in Perfection (Population: 14).

 Tremors is the kind of movie that's so much fun that you don't really notice how quickly everything happens. I mean, there are giant, blind, albino worms that somehow have "worm vision" - or at least, a camera angle devoted to showing us its ability to move through dirt - and we just take it an go with it. There's a seismologist, so good enough. Valentine (Bacon) and Earl (Ward) aren't especially good at doing anything (as is evidenced by the fact that Bacon is having a hell of a time hammering wire into a fence at the beginning of the film, but they're so fun to follow around that you don't much care. Almost all of the "killing people we don't know" is dispensed in the first thirty minutes. Other than Walter Chang (Wong) - SPOILER - that is. But it doesn't even matter, because then we get to spend some time with the Gummers - Heather (Reba McEntire) and Burt (Michael Gross, who has been in every sequel to date). They're gun loving nuts who manage to kill one of the Graboids (actually name) with the comically massive arsenal of weapons in their basement. But they listen to Val and Earl and leave their fortified home to hide on rocks in the middle of the desert, where they can go dynamite fishing. And then stampeding. It all works out in the end, practicality be damned. It doesn't really matter, as I said, because Tremors is so damn fun to watch.

 After Tremors, it only made sense to continue the "nature gone wild" trend with Deadly Eyes, which is one of the strangest movies you're likely to see. Not because you haven't seen dogs playing "giant" versions of rodents before (thanks, Killer Shrews), but because so much of the movie is obsessed with being a romantic comedy about a high school gym coach and an EPA inspector. In between seeing Dachshunds bounding around, pretending to be giant rats that eat Scatman Crothers (SPOILER), there's uncomfortable flirting between the coach and one of his students, the "meet cute" in the hospital where her son (a star basketball player) ends up after a rat bites his hand, and the "misunderstanding" about whether he's porking the cheerleader who wants to jump his bones. Oh, and he's divorced and has a young son who is in the living room while all of this is happening. It doesn't matter in the end because they're all eaten by rats, in one of the bleakest final shots this side of Frank Darabont's The Mist.

 Hey, I said "SPOILER"! But seriously, the focus in Deadly Eyes is all over the place, as the film tries to develop every character at the expense of the fact that there are giant rats in the New York City Subway (or is it Toronto?). Yes, they look suspiciously like happy Dachshunds with "rat" costumes, but why do I care about the scene where the cheerleader comes into the locker room and finds the coach just coming out of the shower and he nakedly discusses why they can't do anything? If I followed the film correctly, there's not really a reason the rats are growing to enormous size, because the rice they've been eating at the dock wasn't irradiated or anything - it was just not up to safety codes. I clearly missed the part about Scatman Crothers working for the EPA as a narc who takes jobs working for serial polluters, but again, it doesn't matter because the rats eat him. Like they eat everybody else. And they cut the power on the subway. How did they cut the power? Game over, man.

 And then there was Blood Car. I'm not sure what to say about Blood Car that hasn't already been said here and here, other than maybe to mention that there's a Last Tango in Paris reference that I'd somehow forgotten about. It's been a while since I watched Blood Car, which isn't okay, now that I think about it, but sometimes you get caught up with other movies, you know? Luckily for the Cap'n, less people in the room had seen it than I thought, which absolutely made up for that. I particularly liked the question "is he always this crazy or did something happen before I got here?" directed at the protagonist. It's also much funnier watching Blood Car since Veep has been on the air, because in a lot of odd ways, Anna Chlumsky's character lays the groundwork for her part in the show. Or maybe I'm projecting... yeah, that must be it.

 Okay, so it's time for The Trappening... and only I know what it is! Stay tuned, masochists!

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