The Great Texas Snow-In

Sure. Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy. Ice and (minimal) snow shut down the city for two days. But you see, that doesn’t happen around here. Sure, there’s trucks to spread sand on bridges, but not many of them – they’re not needed that often. I don’t think you can even buy snow tires south of Dallas/Fort Worth (and maybe not there). Every video of a car crash due to ice is usually somewhere that has some experience with those conditions. Don’t get me started on what it would be like here, where driver considerations of safety and sanity go out the window when it rains.

I remember briefly reading how to put snow chains on a car back in high school, during driver’s ed class. There was no practical exercise, of course. It was as exotic an experience as learning the proper way to don lacquered samurai armor. Like algebra, it was believed that no use for it would be found in our adult lives.

So a long weekend – for me, two days in a row is a long weekend – turned into a four day unpaid vacation. Well, sometimes, all you can do is watch movies, right?

God help me, the first movie was Roller Blade.

Now, a couple of Crapfests ago, Erik broke us all with The Roller Blade Seven, which is the second sequel to this. Doing a bit of research, I got the impression that the earlier movies were well-regarded, and like a fool, I checked that out.

Post-apocalypse, we are informed that it is the Second Great Dark Age. Some semblance of peace is kept by the roller skating Bod Sisters and the police force of the Good Marshall (Jeff Hutchinson). The motto “Skate or Die” is pretty much proven by the murder of a guy on foot in the first few minutes. The killer is a mercenary (Shaun Michelle) who is sent by the villainous Dr. Saticoy (Robby Taylor) – or, to be precise, his literal right-hand man, a hand puppet – to infiltrate the Bod Sisters and steal their power source, a pre-apocalypse gizmo that will power his rocket cycle to reach an isolated automated factory that is still producing energy weapons (incidentally, he doesn’t tell us this until an hour into the movie, because I don’t think the writers knew up to that point, either).

“Curse you, Direct-To-Video Reed Richards!”

That is a half hour worth of plot spread unevenly over 88 minutes. The remainder is filler, and it feels like improvised filler. There is occasional cleverness, like all of Marshall Goodman’s lines sounding like they had been written by whoever did the King James version of the Bible, but that may also be me clutching at straws while I drown in DTV crap. I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of Michelle Bauer, who was apparently paying back some favors at the time? If that implies to you there is some full frontal nudity, you are correct. I gave the movie a half-star on Letterboxd, and that is largely thanks to my beloved Michelle.

So what do I decide to follow that up with? The Snowman, of course. Really, it seemed kind of climatically necessary.

Yes, this movie was universally excoriated when it was released. And that is the sort of movie I have to check out, because, you know, oftimes people are just wrong. This is a case in point. The Snowman is not terrible, it’s just aggressively mediocre.

We’re in Norway. Michael Fassbender is formerly well-regarded police detective Harry Hole, who is currently in the midst of a long drunken spree. His superior is tired of covering for him, but also ignores Hole’s protestations of “All I need is a case.” Hole manages to slide into a visiting officer’s case, leading him to a serial killer who’s been operating for years – and has also contacted him with a cryptic letter even before he started investigating.

This is based on a long-running mystery series by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø – in fact, the seventh book in the series – and apparently deviates from that book quite a bit. Folks I know who enjoyed the book were rather dismayed. Its production history is somewhat tortured; it started production in Norway (to take advantage of a state funding program to promote filming in the country), then moved to London, for whatever reasons.

I’m hamstrung in any critique by not reading the book; what I can say is that the movie is deadeningly predictable. Any questions I had were answered an hour later, and none of those had anything to do with the plot. They were questions like “What does this alarmingly puffy-faced Val Kilmer have to do with anything?” and “When will we get to see more goateed Toby Jones?” I will admit the Kilmer one is little unfair, as he was apparently recovering from cancer treatment at the time. But that’s some problematic storytelling, and I wasn’t encouraged to spread any spackle on the gaps. I suppose the movie did make me care enough to go “Oh come on!” when the coincidences and conveniences started piling up toward the end. I do wonder about the killer’s fondness for Hot Butter’s song “Popcorn” – is that in the book, or is it an attempt to co-opt a cultural relic, as Zodiac did with Donvan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”.

I am pretty bemused that The Snowman managed to make me feel ambivalent toward Fassbender, an actor I generally admire, and make one of the most beautiful countries on Earth look dreary.

The opening scene (aka “The Secret Origin of The Snowman) is the best sequence in the movie. Featuring Chloë Sevigny, it is bleakly affecting. I just wish the rest of the movie lived up to it.

Man, that’s a pretty exciting trailer. Odd how much of it’s not actually in the movie.

In the interest of actually wrapping up the post for this week, we’ll end up with the next entry in this Trip through Hell: I suddenly remember that Tarsem Singh did a Greek mythology movie called Immortals that just sort of vanished, and I wondered why. Why it was so rapidly forgotten, I mean, not why he made the movie, though that turned out to be a fairly cogent question as well. Because it doesn’t have that much to do with Greek mythology, and more to do with 300. I mean, there it is, right on the box: “From the Producers of 300“.

Tremendous cast. Henry Cavill, ripped to the gills after months of training, plays Theseus (who’s kind of turned into the generic Greek hero over the last few decades, hasn’t he?). John Hurt is Zeus in human form, who’s been training Theseus. Mickey Rourke is the villainous King Hyperion, conquering everything with his horde and tearing it apart to find the Epirus Bow, a weapon that does not exist anywhere in the Greek myths, but is the only thing that can release the imprisoned Titans and destroy the world or some damned thing. Theseus is Zeus’s trump card that he hopes will somehow save the world.

Zeus in his celestial form is Luke Evans, and, in fact, all the gods are young, beautiful, and have lifetime memberships to Planet Fitness. Despite Zeus’ training of Theseus, it is apparently God Law that the pantheon will not interfere in the affairs of Man, which is the first instance where it occurred to me that I wasn’t exactly dealing with Bulfinch’s Mythology, or even someone who had read the Classics Illustrated version.

Just when it seems that Immortals is going to cut loose with the mythological grandiosity, it undercuts itself. Both of Theseus’ big fights – with the movie’s version of the Minotaur and the final confrontation with Hyperion – are gritty mano a mano hand-to-hand fights which is fine (if boring) – but the first appears after the discovery of the Epirus Bow, which has no bearing on the ensuing fight, and you keep waiting for the Chekov’s Gun rule to kick in. You will, in fact, be waiting for that for-freaking-ever, because Theseus gets to use it once before losing it. The Titans will be released, and that’s it for the Magic McGuffin. There is also a pitched battle in a long corridor from a hardened gate blown apart by the Bow, giving Immortals its Thermopylae with an added touch of Helm’s Deep from The Two Towers.

It has its moments, like a gorily effective sequence where Ares defies Zeus and literally destroys a group of Hyperion’s troops that are about to kill Theseus. But they are so few and seemingly horned-in to an unengaging and derivative story – and not even derivative of the mythology it’s attempting to exploit – that the whole enterprise feels like nearly two hours of wasted, misguided energy.

I finally rebelled and determined to watch some movies of (harrumph) quality… but we’ll have to leave that for next week. We’ve thawed out and I’ve got a ton of work to catch up on.

 

 

 

 

January again?

It’s been a strange trip to this post. My wife, Lisa, caught The Cough in early December. After Christmas, I caught it too. I was lucky – the worst of it for me was over in a couple of days, thanks to megadoses of vitamins, I’m sure. She didn’t improve though. We still had to get my son, Max, back to college over New Year’s, and we were both so sick that we wound up staying in the college town an extra day. As I write this, Lisa is now in the hospital with pneumonia. As I can’t do anything but leave her to the doctors and nurses, I guess I’ll just write. After all, I ponied up the cash to renew my domain and ad-free account – not using it would be stupider on my part than usual.

I travel light when taking Max to school, which bit me on the butt this time with the unexpected layover, but I had, at least, brought my Kindle Fire with me. That, combined with the LaQuinta respectably fast wi-fi allowed me to start my 100 Films, and it was all the fault of the 80s All Over podcast. Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg had exclaimed about Contraband, mentioned that it was on Amazon Prime, and since I’d had no idea that Lucio Fulci had made an organized crime drama…

Fabio Testi plays Luca Di Angelo, who with his brother Mickey (Enrico Maisto) runs the cigarette bootlegging racket in Naples. Someone starts trying to muscle in on their business, even to the point of murdering Mickey. Another Neapolitan gangster is suspected, but in truth it’s a vicious French drug gang led by The Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzuffi), who wants to take over Di Angelo’s smuggling operating for his heroin. Lots of people die.

There are parts of the movie that are extremely interesting; it makes the point that the economy in Naples is so depressed that practically everyone, in some way, depends on the black market. The resistance of old school criminals to drug trafficking is going to be very familiar to anyone who’s seen The Godfather, as is the sequence when The Marsigliese starts killing off all the capos – though not during a baptism, nor all at the same time. It’s all the work of one very busy – and speedy – assassin. The bloodletting in Godfather was shocking and fairly realistic, but we’re talking Fulci here. When a guy gets the back of his head blown off, we’re going to linger on it. When a woman tries to rip off The Marsigliese and he takes a blowtorch to her face, that is going to take a while. And let’s not forget a fairly graphic rape scene.

There seems to be a fair amount of involvement of actual criminals in the making of the picture, which would explain the bizarre climax where older gangsters come out of retirement with their favorite weapons to put paid to The Marsigliese and his gang. It’s not a great movie – dang, Luca is one of the stupidest heroes I’ve seen in a long time – but it is fairly entertaining and has some lovely cinematography.

I then watched Xmoor, but I need that for Hubrisween, so you’re just going to have to wait.

I followed up Xmoor with Hell House LLC, another Prime movie that had come highly recommended by my friend and fellow horror fan Rodney. It’s a found footage movie, so go ahead and get the jeers out of your system. I don’t mind them, personally. Found footage movies, that is. I hate jeers.

The setup is this: in a Halloween haunted house attraction, something goes wrong on opening night, and fifteen people die mysteriously, including four of the five people who organized it. The incident is pretty much hushed up except for the footage one attendee uploaded to YouTube. A group of filmmakers investigate, and manage to find the sole surviving member of Hell House LLC, Sarah (Ryan Jennifer Jones). After several years of seclusion, she’s finally ready to talk, and she brings with her all the video footage shot during the creation of the House.

We get introduced to the company in the course of the tapes, and they got several of these haunted houses under their belts. This is an attempt to grow the company outside New York City, and they take over an abandoned hotel in (snerk) Abaddon, NY. It does seem like an ideal locale, and it is rather interesting to watch the group brainstorm the haunted house tour, which will end up in the basement. The group’s leader, Alex (Danny Bellini) isn’t too worried about the fact that the basement comes complete with pentagrams chalked on the walls. Not operating in their home town, the group moves into the hotel and begin to work on cranking up the scary in the first floor, and installing cameras to ensure safety (and more coverage for our found footage).

Clowns. Why did it have to be clowns.

Needless to say, weird stuff starts happening. Sarah is sleepwalking. Props start moving by themselves. The local actors hired have heard, um, stories about the place. Bad stories.

This is all cut together with Sarah’s interviews, along with interviews shot by the investigating crew, and some other attendee footage for the climatic opening night. A lot of the stuff building up to that night is really creepily effective, and the fact that it all takes place in an environment that has been engineered to be scary just makes it worse. The cast is engaging and real, and there is only one instance I can point to where the found footage concept is cheated. I found the reveal on the opening night catastrophe a bit underwhelming, but the stuff leading up to it is so good I didn’t mind. And even after that reveal, the movie is going to continue screwing with you.

I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of lackluster found footage movies out there. Hell House LLC ain’t one of them. It’s really good, folks.

Fast forward a few days. We’ll spare you the exhausting drive home. No surprise, our Friday show was cancelled, so let’s see what’s available… huh. Beyond Skyline. I hear that’s crazy.

It is, in fact, kinda crazy.

Frank Grillo is Mark, a tough police detective whose son Trent (Jonny Weston) has wound up on the wrong side of the law again. An old colleague of Mark’s (Jacob Vargas) lets him go for old time’s sake, but makes it clear this is the last time. An attempt at reconciliation between the two on the subway is interrupted by an alien invasion. Enormous motherships hover over the city, broadcasting a blue light that hypnotizes almost everyone and levitates them into waiting holds (that’s about all you need to know from the first movie). Trent gets hit by the blue light not once, but three times, with Mark, apparently one of the few immune, pulling him back each time, until finally they get pulled into the ship.

Now inside, we find that the aliens are harvesting (in a pretty grisly fashion) the brains from captured humans and plugging them into robot bodies, still hypnotized by the blue light, to create a zombie robot horde. Significantly, the more times you resisted the blue light, the more immune you become; Mark is himself rescued by a robot who’s broken the hold of the aliens and needs him to help his still-human wife give birth. One other wrinkle: the first pulse of the blue light has somehow altered the fetus in situ, engendering fast growth (the mom is only three months pregnant when she gives birth to a fully developed baby) and the child has strange powers that the aliens fear. Mark promises the transformed father to get his daughter out of the ship.

You know, like Kill Bill Vol. 1Beyond Skyline really feels like a tender valentine to me and the movies I love. Past the whole alien invasion thing, the scenes inside the ship have an undeniably horrific edge. The freed robot sabotages the ship, causing it to crash in southeast Asia, where Mark and another survivor, Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) run into a drug warlord (IKO UWAIS!!!!) who’s going to have to go to war with the aliens, too. Where Iko goes, so must Yayan Ruhian, who must have it in his contract that he must always die in the most intense fight choreography you have ever seen. Which means, that’s right, just when you thought Beyond Skyline had blended in almost all of my favorite genres, it went ahead and threw in The Raid movies, too. And on top of that, two giant things start pounding the crap out of each other.

Whatever else you may say about Beyond Skyline, it’s not boring. It feels like one of those crazy-ass action movies you chanced onto at two o’clock in the morning on Cinemax, but with actual money.

Let’s see if I can bring this in.

My pal Dave, a couple years back, was dissed by younger hipster actors for not being familiar with the films of Rene Laloux, probably while they were huffing avocados through their Vapemeister 3000s. Laloux’s primary fame on these shores comes from Fantastic Planet, an animated movie I’ve never particularly cared for. It’s pretty, but is, as Danny Bowe’s once said of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, “French as fuck.” Still, I’m down for animated movies. So I followed up Beyond Skyline with Time Masters.

I was not expecting a Moebius movie.

Now, Jean Giraud did not write the story – that’s the work of equally French writer Stefan Wul, but he did design it. Giraud was an artist who could knock you square in the eyes with his work and make you thank him profusely for the experience. Time Masters is still French as fuck.

A young boy, Piel, is marooned on the planet Perdide. His dying father radios an old comrade, Jaffar, to rescue Piel. Jaffar immediately interrupts his current journey to set out for Perdide, much to the displeasure of his passenger, a prince who is escaping some justice on his home planet. Trouble is, in the vastness of space, it will take Jaffar a month to get there.  They can communicate with the boy via a subspace radio, and have to help him survive via instruction. The Prince will try to get Piel to “accidentally” kill himself, there are guys with wings and Time Masters. It’s all French as fuck.

He’s probably smoking a Gauloise

Yes, it does feel like one of Moebius’ Metal Hurlant serials in animated form. The animation style is much more traditional than the nearly-decade previous Fantastic Planet, and often it doesn’t serve Moebius’ work as well as you’d hope. Still worth seeking out for its French-as-fuckness.

There I did it! First real blog post of the year! Four movies into The List! I’ll correct the spelling errors tomorrow! 30!

The War on Crapsmas

“Hey, guys! Wanna do a Crapfest?”

At the best of times, getting people together for one of these festivals of fail is an exercise akin to nailing mercury to the wall; during the holidays, it should be something ideally headed up by Ethan Hunt. Well, I must have wanted to do something impossible this month, because I had early warning of a Saturday night off, and everyone actually agreed on the date – it was like a Christmas miracle, but the wrong lesson got learned at the end.

Roll Call of the Wretched: Myself, son Max, Host David, Erik, Rick, Paul, Alan (who brought some fiendish Swedish concoction that, when heated, quadrupled in alcoholic content or something). Way too much sugary crap (provided by myself, the resident diabetic), some amazing white queso infused with pork found by Rick in the wild, and the return of Erik’s incredible burrito bowls, providing actual food that probably wouldn’t kill us.

David started out the horror with the first Spider-Man movie ever made. No, not the 1977 pilot for the TV series. In 1969 Donald F. Glut made this 11 minute short, the last of his amateur films before he went pro. As far as these things go, it’s not bad, especially for 1969, when the height of homemade special effects was scratching the film to produce lightning. Especially sterling work is provided by the Mego Spider-Man action figure. Alright, it’s a doll, but don’t tell it that. The 25 year-old Glut himself plays Spider-Man, in a suit he made himself.

I can’t get over how it looks and feels like an extra on a Something Weird DVD.

Erick kept up the Marvel vibe with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and you either immediately know what I’m talking about, or you have avoided all comics-related entertainment since the Glut Spider-Man. This is before Nick Fury became Samuel L. Jackson in both the Ultimate comics line and MCU, so he is played by David Hasselhoff.

This failed 1998 TV pilot sidesteps a lot of problems that the comic Nick had in the 80s, mainly his WWII adventures leading the Howling Commandos (you’ll note the MCU walked away from that, whistling tunelessly, as well). This TV Fury quit SHIELD after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he had put paid to Baron Von Strucker and his Deathshead Virus. In Fury’s absence (digging for gold in the Yukon, or some damned thing that keeps him shirtless), Strucker’s children steal his frozen corpse and use it to reconstruct the Virus. How this is done, and why Strucker was frozen remain mysteries to me.

Oh, hey, an LMD – wonder if that’ll get used at some point.

Some of our pals from the comic are there – Gabe is now the Head Scientist, Val is there to slow the movie down to the proper length with recriminations of their past relationship, and Quartermain to get killed in the first five minutes. I never liked him, anyway. The David Goyer script involves stopping the Struckers from launching a missile full of Deathshead at Manhattan, and it still hurts to see a missile launcher aimed at the World Trade Center.

Hasselhoff’s not bad, but he’s also playing the Silver Age Fury, who got by simply bulling his way through everything because he was NICK FURY, and that behavior gets him poisoned thirty minutes in, giving us TWO countdowns. The TV miniatures of SHIELD craft (and the legendary Helicarrier, very obviously an aircraft carrier model perched on a jet platform) are of at least Charles Band quality. In all, it was the high point of the evening, and we led off with it. Besides frequent cries of “Oooh! You just got Hoffed!” the other continuing motif was swearing Ms. Von Strucker was in Showgirls.

After this, Dave called me into the hallway to confer. The others howled that we were plotting against them. We weren’t, but it was fun to make them think we were. He was merely asking what my choice was, and wanting to play his first. Sure, I said, why not. In the meantime, I played something I had stumbled across on the Internets, perfect, I thought, for our venue, and short enough to allow some bathroom stops and grazing.

I swear to you, I had never before heard of Naked News, but every single participant that night – including my son – had apparently found it the day after the World Wide Web opened for business.

That’s one of the things that happen as you get older, I guess. As far as that goes, I still have no idea how Snapchat works.

Anyway, we proceeded with Dave’s choice. An Andy Sidaris movie. We had been asked about Sidaris before, why we hadn’t shown any of his flicks. (There’s our audience in a nutshell) It wasn’t the Sidaris I expected, either – this one was chosen seemingly on the sheer number of Playmates involved – four. This was… Savage Beach.

There are at least three plotlines running through Savage Beach, and while all those eventually intersect, getting to that intersection is kind of bewildering, especially when one story suddenly goes back to WWII. Two of our Playmates are charged with getting some antiserum to a remote island ahead of a storm, miss their escape window and wind up crashing on a remote island. In a more typical Sidaris movie, this would involve some skinny-dipping, but apparently we got all we were going to get in an early hot tub scene with the other two Playmates. Well, we do get a “We better get out of these wet clothes” included in the trailer below.

This island ties in to our WWII plotline because there’s still a Japanese soldier there, guarding some War Gold. The other two plotlines involve various people also looking for that gold, and one of these groups has Al Leong, so you know they’re the bad guys.

Yep, these are bad guys, all right.

As convoluted and chockablock with plot as this is, it still had to inject some filler to pad out the running time, and it’s not of the hot tub variety, either. More like the “Pre-Flight Checklist: Step 1 of 86” variety. In fact, the stranded Japanese soldier’s explanation of how we all got to this point is told twice – once in Japanese, and once in the translation. Our connoisseurs of sleazery, Paul and Erik, opined it was a lesser Sidaris offering, and as Paul is the one we looked to for what was excised from Dave’s abominably bowdlerized Showgirls, I tend to believe him.

Wait, was that Teri Weigel? <= running joke

Then it was my turn. I had offered it, and Rick enthusiastically bit at the bait, which should have made everyone else wary. 1975’s If You Don’t Stop It… You’ll Go Blind!

Sadly, YouTube is bereft of trailers for this movie, which is unsurprising. It’s a collection of skits dramatizing dirty jokes that were ancient during the reign of Diocletian, and possibly originated with Confucius. There were several of these skit movies during the 70s, making use of the relaxed cinema standards toward nudity. Probably the most famous of the first wave is The Groove Tube, which didn’t rely on joke books purchased in a bus station for its script. I honestly don’t remember that much about Tunnelvision. The best of them is Kentucky Fried Movie. The worst  is Jokes My Folks Never Told Me, which Dave has foisted on us several years ago. I’m not saying If You Don’t Stop It was retaliation for that, but I am saying don’t expect a Scorpio to just forget shit like that. This movie was successful enough to spawn a sequel (but then, so did Savage Beach)… Can I just Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses, and I distinctly remember seeing TV commercials for that one. The 70s, everybody!

If You Don’t Stop It takes more care to shoot its skits than Jokes, but that doesn’t make the jokes any better. They even laid down money for Uschi Digard and Pat McCormick. There are at least two Kissinger jokes and a Watergate reference. I almost expected the same howls of protest that eventually got Ms. Nymphet’s Zap-In tossed off the screen. Frankly, when I previewed it, I almost scratched it off the list, and then this scene happened:

Holy shit, it’s a musical. The Deal was Sealed. It even ends with another song, cementing my damnation with my fellows.

And pissing Dave off. He stormed into the next room, and came back with Teen Witch. There were many howls from the gathering, whining that they were being caught in the crossfire between the two of us. Wasn’t the first time, now, was it?

Yes, that’s Zelda Rubenstein from Poltergeist, whom they apparently thought could give the movie some gravitas, but nooooooo. They do get their money’s worth out of Shelly Berman, who somehow keeps his teaching job after disrobing for his class due to Louise’s voodoo. Additional weirdness is provided from the casting of Near Dark‘s Joshua Miller as the little brother and Dick Sargent as The Dad With A Thousand Weird Sweaters.

I’m not really sure who he was trying to hurt with this; it’s pretty harmless. That trailer lays out the entire movie before you; there, now you don’t have to watch it. I’m pretty sure it was the impromptu musical number in the girl’s locker room, apropos of nothing (“I Like Boys” by Elizabeth and The Weirz) that caused the connection.

The movie really reeks of Cinemax at 9:30 in the morning. And I’m grateful the trailer left in the part where Louise straight up murders a would-be date rapist. Well, probably not murder, but it did help us make it through the rest of the movie thinking she did, and might go all Carrie White on us at any moment.

Who am I kidding, I know who Dave was trying to hurt. It was Rick, because he knew the music would make his skin crawl. Speaking of which, here’s the best part of the movie:

So there I was, trying to figure out what to follow that with. I wasn’t harmed at all by Teen Witch, and thought hm, maybe we should do something halfway entertaining, but no, Dave wanted to see the movie with “The guy with the teeth!” “The what?” “THE GUY WITH THE TEETH! That you just found!” and through the Swedish alcohol fuzz I finally figured out what he meant.

This is going to require some exposition.

Over on the Twitter, I follow @DistortedKiwi, a pal from the old B-Movie Message Board Days. He uses his account to mainly post movie posters, and one day he came up with this one. Look at it. Just look at it.

Good gravy. There is no way the movie it represents is possibly 10% as awesome as that poster. The Empire Strikes Back is not as cool as that poster. If you want a soul-crushing illustration for the concept of certain disappointment, it is that poster.

I had to have it.

I was sincerely worried that we would be lost because we hadn’t seen Zodiac 1, but that wasn’t the reason we were lost.

I posted it on our e-mail chain, and the response was “This movie looks awesome” which is only to be expected, as it does. Then I explained the sad legacy of Tomas Tang and Godfrey Ho and their frankensteined ninja movies and how that heritage of horror is now carried on by Joseph Lai (and Bob Chan, which is the alias Godfrey Ho is going by these days). In short, shoot a little extra footage, insert it into a movie you bought for cheap that is no longer moving units, and TAH DAH! New movie! Make sure that new footage includes anglo actors, so you can sell it overseas! Also, maybe change the series name from “Zodiac Power” to “Zodiac America”. That’ll fool ’em for sure!

So. Here we are.

The older movie here is 1979’s The Young Dragon, which is most notable as the acting debut of James Lew, who would later turn up in… Savage Beach. Synchronicity, bitches! This is all about opium, which the bad guys in the 1988 footage want to export into Hong Kong. The square-headed snarly guy is Father Mitchell, who wanders the land monotoning homilies and destroying evil when the homilies don’t work. To my consternation, he is not named Zodiac America. Nobody in this movie is named Zodiac America, or any variation thereof. There is also no redhead, no green warrior wielding two swords, nor a monkey with a red cape. I am particularly upset by the lack of a monkey in a red cape.

Surely someone is named Zodiac in THIS movie!

There are two hopping vampires (not the crowd depicted in the poster) that the head 1988 bad guy (who apparently bought the hopping vampire franchise from an Asian version of Vic Diaz earlier) uses against Father Squarehead, but ho ho, the cross works just as well as yellow prayer scrolls! (Also, these were the most acrobatic hopping vampires I have seen, but it is far too late to demand any sort of quality or consistency from Evil Destroyer)

The fighting is actually pretty good in both movies, though the 1979 stuff is a bit hamstrung by being cropped for 4:3 video release. I appreciate the fact that they actually tried to cut together a dialogue scene between 1979 Bad Guy and 1988 Bad Guy, even though the two men are not in the same room, decade, or possibly even continent. Doesn’t make me resent the lack of a monkey in a cape any less, though. Even the Clown Ninjas couldn’t do that.

Evil was not the only thing destroyed – the audience was as well. Rick was intensely curious about the R-rated cut of Gums I carry around with me, and and after his constant cries of “You’re only doing this so Freeman can’t show Gums!” he finally got his wish. Speed past five minutes of man-dong aimed at the screen, and Rick was moaning that he had made a terrible mistake. Gums is the porn parody of Jaws, in case you hadn’t polluted your mind with such impure things, about a renegade mermaid sucking the life out of swimming men via the appropriate organ. The sad thing is the snowflakes in attendance demanded the movie get pulled before it truly got weird. Way before Brother Theodore showed up as the Quint character. Wusses.

We must speak again of that movie some day.

That was it, they groaned. No, we do not care about the Rider of the Skulls and his battle against a $1.25 werewolf. We’re leaving now. You fiends.

Ha. See you next year, suckers!

 

December Already

There is an odd perceptual trick that as you get older, time goes by faster. This phenomenon likely has its roots in the crush of past experience pressing up against the present moment, with a constant increase in supposedly adult matters burning away your time. I suppose the current administration was the solution for that, as there were instances when time ground to a maddening crawl, like a perpetual few seconds just before the impact of a car crash. Hurricane Harvey was only three months ago; it feels more like a year.

Life definitely feels like a circus act where you’re pressed up against a board and some idiot with a blindfold keeps throwing knives at you. December’s always hectic, and I doubt it’s going to calm down until the year is nearly over. Maybe not even then.

I think you’re getting at least one more post out of me this year. In the meantime – since I have a few minutes to catch my breath – here’s the few movies I’ve had the chance to watch:

The Limehouse Golem is based on a Peter Ackroyd novel, and delights in moving the timeline back and forth as Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is a sacrificial detective set up by Scotland Yard to investigate the Limehouse Golem murders, a series of bloody mutilations that predate and outdo Jack the Ripper for sheer ghoulishness. His investigations run counter to the murder trial of music hall star Lizzy Cree (Olivia Cooke), whose poisoned husband seems a very likely suspect for the Golem.

The world of the English music hall wasn’t something I was expecting to be immersed in when I started the movie, and that was a pleasant surprise. Douglas Booth, as music hall superstar Dan Leno, is a continuing thread through the story as it unfolds, enabling the unique story structure. I’ve not read Ackroyd’s novel, but that structure feels uniquely literary, and director Juan Carlos Medina pulls it off well. While I can’t hand it an enthusiastic recommendation, I can still say it’s definitely worth a look. If you’ve not had your fill of Edwardian murder mysteries, you can certainly do far worse.

I finally watched Atomic Blonde, and I’m sort of glad I didn’t get over my animosity toward theaters to see it. It’s a pretty good retro spy movie, taking place just before and during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an asskicking troubleshooter for MI5 tasked with finding a wristwatch containing microfilm with the names and records of every agent on both sides of the Cold War, including a double agent known only as Satchel. She meets up with the local handler, Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone native in a big way. She spends most of the movie getting the crap kicked out of her, but you should see the other guy(s). What’s left of them, anyway.

Let’s be frank, Charlize Theron just plain owns me, and has for years. She is incredible as the agent James Bond would rightly be afraid of – except incredible doesn’t really cover it, she is credible in the role. Great supporting cast, too – John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan. Incredible soundtrack. Great editing. Pretty much what you would expect from David Leitch, who was one of the directors of the original John Wick.

My only real complaint is that the movie feels over-extended at nearly two hours, giving me far too much time to figure out the true identity of Satchel. Minor complaint. Some directors would have stretched it out to two and a half hours.

That same day I saw Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, so I must have been in the mood for a fight. If you dug on the 45 minute long battle scene that ended 13 Assassins, good news! This is basically a movie-length version of that! In the very first segment, Manji (Takiya Kimura) informs a mob of about a hundred lowlife bounty hunters – who just slaughtered a girl for fun – that he is going to kill each and every one of them. And does. As he lays dying from his wounds, he is infected by bloodworms, which will heal any wound, even rejoining severed limbs to his body.

As Blade is based on a long-running manga series, I don’t know if there is ever a good reason given why a mysterious old woman gives Manji this curse/blessing – it still hurts when he gets injured, and the healing is far from instantaneous. He just can’t die from his wounds. He eventually takes up the cause of young Rin (Hana Sugasaki), whose family was killed by a group of rogue martial artists who want to take over the Imperial Guard (a ploy familiar to fans of “rule the world of martial arts” movies). The story gets somewhat involved from there, with plots, counterplots, a bloodworm poison that significantly slows down Manji’s healing, many colorful opponents, and my second two exhausted, bloody combatants still taking each other on fight scene in one day.

Overall, I liked it, but I wanted to love it. Miike’s samurai flicks are really good, though – see it and make your own decisions.

I watched two more movies, but I promised the review for one to Daily Grindhouse, so you’re going to have to be satisfied by closing things out with S&M Hunter.

I’m always downloading movie trailer collections and watching them at my leisure; one group was some movies available from PinkEiga, which specializes in Japanese “Pink” movies – so called because they involve nudity. That’s a subject that has a Wikipedia page all to itself, so I’ll direct you there for the broader picture. Pun definitely not intended, by the way. S&M Hunter caught my eye with its outrageous stylization and definite kinkiness (it’s right there in the title, after all), so I sought it out.

A man comes to “The Pleasure Dungeon” and chooses to whip a submissive dressed (briefly) as a nun until she faints. The Dungeon Master states “You are not a true sadist. I can see it in your eyes.” (Never mind that both men are wearing sunglasses) It turns out that new customer has a massive hate on for women because he’s gay and his lover has been kidnapped by a high school girl gang and is being used as their sex slave. Enter the dungeon’s superhero, S&M Hunter, dressed as a priest with a skull eyepatch, who agrees to rescue the boy. His super power is an amazing – and like all super powers, essentially impossible – mastery of rope tricks and the fact that every woman he is up against gets pleasure from the act of being tied up.

S&M Hunter would be classified in the realm of “Pinkie Violence”, I guess, but the whole setup is so silly and over the top that it comes off as a lighter parody of that genre. S&M Hunter has his own spaghetti western theme song. The Hunter’s archenemy feels it necessary to dress up in a gestapo uniform, complete with Nazi flag. The Dungeon Master has all the good lines. It’s only an hour long.

I was considering this for a Crapfest entry. But. It still remains a sex film, and that’s a level of tawdry I’m not willing to subject the fest to – titillation is fine, but S&M Hunter, while not explicit, still crosses that line. It is a pretty subversive entry in that genre, though, as the only truly loving, normal relationship is the homosexual one. Here, have a censored version of the trailer that sent me on this odd sidetrip:

Things only get busier from here on out. Hope to see you betwixt Christmas and New Years, if some moron doesn’t get us all killed. Happy Holidays, everybody, as possible.

 

Z: The Zodiac Killer (1971)

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After four weeks of dwelling on the fantastic, I suppose it’s only fitting to wind down with something bordering on the all-too-real. I’m lying, of course, there is no really good reason to return to the hellscape of real life, but we’re at the letter Z, there’s no way I’m watching Zaat again (maybe next year), so here we are.

You don’t have to be a David Fincher fan to know about the Zodiac murders of the late 60s, but that’s probably a better excuse than being a true crime freak (or, like me, a constituent of Ted Cruz). I’m going to have to cop to the sick fascination angle (well, that and trying to vote him out of office). The Zodiac murders and the Manson family were impossible to avoid on the news at the time, and they were that decade’s proof that the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Robert Graysmith’s book in 1986 allowed me to get a fuller picture of the case, and would also come in pretty handy when watching not only Fincher’s 2007 flick, but also Tom Hanson’s more contemporaneous 1971 movie.

Grover and his toupee. “Don’t touch the hair!”

We’ve got some zero-budget recreations of the first two Zodiac killings intercut with the lives of two suspects: Jerry (Hal Reed) a put-upon postal worker, and Grover (Bob Jones) a divorced truck driver who likes to put on a toupee and cruise the local bars in the guise of a successful businessman. Grover’s got a temper on him, and is under a lot of stress, so you can be sure he isn’t the Zodiac. In fact the movie gets rid of him via suicide by cop at about the 40 minute mark and yep, Jerry – who raises bunnies in his basement – he’s the Zodiac.

SPOILER: NOT THE ZODIAC

(I was frankly disappointed it wasn’t 50s kid show host Doodles Weaver)

The point at which this is discovered is one of the better scenes, beginning with a tight shot of his mouth during a whispered phone call to the police to let them know they got the wrong guy, gradually pulling back as he gets more agitated, hangs up and launches into an amazing unhinged speech that’s pretty much taken from Zodiac’s letters to the press. After this the movie becomes a series of vignettes of Jerry being a likable, helpful guy alternating with more of the Zodiac murders. Eventually they run out of confirmed Zodiac kills and start improvising. We find out Jerry’s father is in a mental hospital and is quite violent, make of that what you will.

Jerry and his friends.

The final scene is Jerry walking down the street, as his voiceover reminds you he still hasn’t been caught, and there are lots more like him. Maybe you pass them when you walk down the street. Maybe they’re sitting behind you at this theater. See you around. Mwoo-ha-ha.

Tom Hanson’s lack of a budget is apparent in almost every frame, but that doesn’t stop him from getting the occasional fantastic shot. The matter-of-factness of the simple approach this lack of money requires actually causes some of the murders to be quite disturbing, and a whole lot can be accomplished with enthusiasm and a knife with a collapsible blade. It plays like a low budget regional horror movie because that’s exactly what it is. After a certain point it starts to feel like a dry run for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Yet the most intriguing part of the movie isn’t even on the screen: The movie’s premiere had a contest sponsored by Kawasaki. A motorcycle would be awarded to the best answer to “I believe the Zodiac kills because…”Hanson had handwriting experts poring over the entry cards, looking for a match to Zodiac’s letters. I have no idea if Hanson even cleared this with the cops, who were getting hammered by the public at the time. There’s a reason Dirty Harry was a monster hit; Scorpio was a thinly-veiled substitute for Zodiac, and Harry Callahan was everybody else.

Whether or not you want to check out The Zodiac Killer is going to depend on your tolerance for/interest in extremely low-budget filmmaking and attendant acting shortcomings, a historical context that is gobsmacking, or needing to see something that is basically Toxic Masculinity: The Movie. Cuz holy jeezum, those guys – all of them – are real jerks.

Buy The Zodiac Killer on Amazon

X: X-Cross (2007)

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Last Hubrisween I ran out of Xtro movies and had to resort to the Blank Scrabble Tile rule and substitute a movie with a number for X (The 7th Victim, if you’re too lazy to search). Then, while casting my nets wider for this year’s movies, I came upon this entry from Japan. How fortuitous!

Shiyori (Nao Matsushita) and Aiko (Ami Suzuki) are headed to a remote hot springs spa to get away from it all. Shiyori is trying to get over a bad breakup with her first love, Asimiya (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi). The two girls couldn’t be more dissimilar, typified by their cell phones: Shiyori’s is plain and unadorned, Aiko’s is blinged out to the max and probably weighs five pounds from the excess decoration.

I use this distinction as we will find cell phones are central to the story.

Ashikari village is at the top of a mountain; the cabins for the patrons are quite nice, but the villagers all seem to be various forms of twisted and vaguely sinister. Some friction grows between the two girls – the free-wheeling Aiko with her many lovers versus Shiyori’s mourning for her sole, unfaithful boyfriend. The two separate, and as you might suppose, this is where the trouble truly begins (particularly since Aiko calls someone on that sparkly phone to report that everything is “going as scheduled”).

Shiyori finds a phone in the closet of their cabin and answers a call from the brother of the phone’s previous owner, whose fate we saw in the film’s opening. The brother (Nozomu Iwao) fills us in on the necessary backstory. Ashikari has a dark history, a logging village that in olden times went to the hideous extreme of chopping off their wives’ left leg to keep them from running away while they were at work; this mania soon extended to any traveling women unlucky enough to wander into the area. Ashikari is now home to a full-blown cult that lures in women with the hot springs, cuts off their leg, then worships their mummified remains as goddesses. They also cut the tendons in their own left legs, which makes running after the escaping Shiyori a bit ungainly.

So this sounds rather like an Asian version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and it might have turned out that way, but there are various twists with the modern technology of cell phones that add layers of paranoia and doubt to what might have been a simple chase movie. Also, Aoki is having problems of her own: the jilted girlfriend of one of her former lovers, Reika (Ayuko Iwane), dressed like a goth Lolita from hell, has tracked her there and is determined to murder her with scissors, which adds an entirely different kind of weirdness and tension to the story.

The director is Kenta Fukusaku, and that last name should be familiar to you: his father was Kinji Fukusaku, a towering presence in Japanese cinema, from The Yakuza Papers movies to The Green Slime to Tora! Tora! Tora! to Battle Royale. Kenta wrote the screenplay to that one, and took over the directoral reins on the sequel when his father passed away (the sequel is, shall we say, not loved). His career since has been rather speckled; X-Cross was preceded by a Sukeban Deka movie and followed by a string of movies that hover around the 6.5 stars rating on IMDb, when they have a rating at all. He hasn’t had his breakout hit on these shores yet, and that’s a pity, because I really enjoyed X-Cross.

Though it doesn’t reach true Christopher Nolan levels, Fukusaku does mess with the timeline to show us what is happening in the parallel stories of our two stars, literally rewinding the footage to show us where we are, event-wise, even providing a couple of laughs along the way. The best part for me is when odd details in one girl’s sequence are explained in the other girl’s flashback, so I guess I should have invoked Tarantino rather than Nolan.

Generally I liked X-Cross not because it transcends its genre – it doesn’t – but because just when I think I have it figured it makes me say things like, “Holy shit, where did that crazy Reika get a five-foot pair of scissors?”

Buy X-Cross on Amazon

 

W: Wither (2012)

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Wither was mentioned to me when it first came out as “a Swedish Evil Dead” to which my response was yeah, okay, cool as it was entered in the Infinite Watchlist until I had need/time/desire to track it down and watch it.  And I have to say that I wasn’t expecting that description to be quite so literal.

High hopes at the beginning, as we find a hunter searching through a rainstorm for someone named Lisa. He finds her – apparently his daughter – but someone is chewing on her. He shoots that someone in the head, and they get back up anyway.

Credits.

We are now going to go into setup mode for the next twenty minutes, as we meet our seven young cannon fodder characters as they prepare for a weekend at a remote cabin: four women, three men (Lisa Henni, Amanda Renberg, Jessica Blomkvist, Anna Henriksson, Patrik Almkvist, Patrick Saxe, and Max Walmo). The father of our male lead, Aldi (Almkvist), who owns some property in those woods, found this cabin, seemingly abandoned, for his son’s outing.

Seven characters might seem a lot for a horror movie, but then, since it’s a horror movie, we can be pretty sure that most of them won’t be around for the end credits. Especially since they seem to keep making the requisite dubious choices that make such movies possible. The first being Marie (Blomkvist), boosted into the locked cabin (to supposedly surprise Aldi at the front door) deciding to, instead, investigate the mysterious cellar she finds dug under the cabin.

This is Dubious Choice Prime that makes the rest of the movie possible, you see.

Instead of finding a recording raising ancient Sumerian demons, there is some kind of legendary race that lives underground, and gazing into their eyes allows them to swallow your soul, you see, and it’s not ten minutes later that Marie goes all white-eyed and bitey. The hunter from the opening (Ralf Beck) drops by to give us the backstory, and to advise that they burn Marie (like he did his wife and daughter, who had also found that basement). And oh, yeah, anybody who gets bitten or has possessed blood slopped on them will get infected, too. So right away we are able to go, okay, you and you, and that list will get expanded thanks to further dubious choices.

The FX are practical, gory and frequent. Marie’s goopy transformation doesn’t even wait for the half-hour mark, and after that the movie is pretty much non-stop – the only problem is that what is happening is so damned familiar. It manages to etch out a bit of identity by having the cat-and-mouse between the possessed and still-human take place in a two-story house, but otherwise, this really is Evil Dead without the very real weirdness Raimi and party brought to the proceedings.

Writer/directors Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund (who also double as camera, sound, and FX men) know their genre chops well, and Wither is a well-made movie on all those fronts. The actors all get a chance to be scary (and speaking as an actor, we love that shit). If I had never seen Evil Dead, I would have really gotten into this movie – but I have, and therefore all I can say is, good job everybody! But I do really wish you’d brought just a little something else to distinguish yourselves from your inspiration.

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