The Situation Report

Even for a tax week, this one has managed to excel in getting increasingly sucky.

I won’t go into the income tax woes; everybody’s got those stories, mine are worse than some, better than others. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m a survivalist in movie matters and have been stocking up on movies for some time, just against a buying moratorium like that which is about to be enforced. I have a fallout shelter full of, not cans of beans, but DVDs.

Typos. Mainly I'm afraid of typos.

Typos. Mainly I’m afraid of typos.

No, other crap’s been going wrong out in the world. The saddest one is the shuttering of FearNet, which was a damned fine resource. I’m especially going to miss the reviews of Scott Weinberg, who is that rare critic that, while I may not have always agreed with him, was always enthusiastic and perceptive in his reviews, and was valuable in pointing the way to movies I might have otherwise passed over. I hope to hell he lands on his feet and gets a post somewhere else, because he deserves it.

Well, there’s not much I can do about that, except to send good thoughts his way and the way of many of my friends who have found themselves unemployed this year; I did that a few years ago and I don’t have to tell you how much it megasucked. Finding a new job when you’re over 50 is a thorny proposition, at best. I think my worst day there was being informed that I was not worthy of working at Walmart, for God’s sake.

flu15Making matters worse is the fact that my wife came down with the current flu two weeks ago, and it is one of those that just sets up shop in your lungs and hangs on, so constant coughing in the night is a given. Neither of us has gotten much sleep, and I’m exhausted enough that the damn bug has slipped through all the vitamins and supplements and set up shop in my mucus membranes, and when you work three part-time jobs, you literally do not have time to be sick.

This Friday is Good Friday. I expect to be unconscious for most, if not all, of it.

But enough bitching. Here’s some good news:

I am now a three-time Telly Award winner under my nom de guerre, Randall Williams. Honestly, I got really cynical choosing this last entry, and went for the cute animals. It worked:

But this is the one that cemented that, my story on a specific breed rescue organization:

But the one that started it all, the one I fought to have entered that first year? Zombies. Though a few cute dogs were included:

One of the better non-work things that I do, that I do not plug near enough, is the Daily Grindhouse Podcast, which I started doing again this year along with DG regulars Joe Cosby and Jon Abrams. Do you want to know more?

39919Episode #16 – Street Wars – Jamaa Fanaka’s last movie is a typically intriguing mix of solid exploitation tropes and painfully earnest social issues – earnest enough to keep you guessing. I think we were all surprised at how easily this came together for a first episode.

Episode # 17 Vigilante Force The under-appreciated George Armitage fights the American Revolution in vigilante terms in an odd thriller starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Kris Kristofferson. Mayhem ensues.

Episode #18 – Ghosthouse – It was Joe’s turn to pick a movie, and I believe my response to this was “Umberto Lenzi? You bastard.” A surprisingly restrained – until the very end – haunted house story that we fell on like hungry zombies. This was the first movie we universally trashed, and it felt good.

Episode #19 – Thriller: They Call Her One-EyeThis one was my choice, I admit. I had been meaning to see this since Synapse put out their limited edition of the uncut director’s version with the original sub-title, A Cruel Picture. Our first divisive picture – I recommended it (with caveats), Joe didn’t like it and Jon outright hated it. A really good episode, though, as we kick around why our opinions differ so much.

raw-force-1982Episode #20 – Raw Force – Edward R. Murphy only directed two movies, and trust me, this is the one you want to see, as it is insane from the first frame. This thing is like an exploitation smoothie with everything thrown into the blender, and then garnished with incompetence and cheap visual effects. Cannibals, boobies, bad kung fu, boobies, Cameron Mitchell, boobies, black magic, and finally, some boobies. And Fake Hitler backed up by The Village People. Code Red is supposedly working on a remastered version, and screw the IRS, I’m spending money on that. Needless to say, we have a ton of fun discussing it.

Episode #21 – Ganja and Hess – Hands down, our best episode so far. Mike White from The Projection Booth (pound for pound the best movie podcast out there) drops by to class up the joint as we mull over Bill Gunn’s moody, ethereal vampire movie.

Episode #22 – The Devil’s Express This is how I repaid Joe and Jon for Raw ForceThe Devil’s Express is another of those movies that seemingly has everything – monsters, murders, gang wars, good old bad old New York, Warhawk Tanzania, bad kung fu, Brother Theodore… we had a fun time picking this apart, but don’t be fooled. we loved this movie.

Episode #23 – The Twilight People –  This was Jon’s choice, because it was a Pam Grier movie he hadn’t seen. I could have warned him that this is not truly a Pam Grier movie, but… our Guest is Dr, Gangrene, who loves the movie, which is good, because someone has to. I like Eddie Romero movies… except for this one.

Well, this has taken me a thousand words and two hours closer to that lovely, lovely Friday and my bed. (Homer Simpson drooling sound) Beeeeeeeddddddddddddd….

 

 

 

The October Country Purge II

Oh God finally some actual time off quick write no don’t write relax watch a movie or something no that’s just making it worse but you just got this sweet Zatoichi box those 25 movies aren’t going to watch themselves shut up SHUT UP

stake-land-movie-posterStake Land is a movie that is apparently loved by many, and considered meh by others. My son sits in the former category; I am in the latter.

So there’s no zombie plague this time, it’s vampires, and young Martin (Connor Paolo) is saved by a vampire hunter known only as Mister (Nick Damici) when his family is slaughtered in the first wave. Mister takes Martin under his wing and the two go on a Northward journey, seeking a promised land known only as New Eden. Things happen on the way.

This is an attempt to make a fairly epic horror movie, and I applaud things like that. My problem with Stake Land lies not in the fact that the movie has taken several other movies and put them in a blender and then didn’t hit the button long enough. It’s I Am Legend crossed with The Road with a very healthy dollop of The Outlaw Josey Wales as Martin and Mister pick up a surrogate family along the way. My problem lies with the fact that the movie keeps trying to get an over-arcing plot started, then resolves it in five minutes. Episodic works for some movies, but not here. It also doesn’t help my temper that our characters keep finding fairly safe enclaves and then abandon them for the uncertain promise of New Eden, which may not even exist.

stake_land03The acting, however, is every bit as good as it needs to be and often better. Once again I find myself singling out Kelly McGillis for outstanding work in a genre picture. This will lead to people doing the Internet version of singing “Take My Breath Away” to me, as if this is clever or original. McGillis impresses me; she’s that rare actress who’s managed to get past the industry’s insistence on youth in its actresses, to do interesting, solid work. I had absolutely no desire to see We Are What We Are until I found out she was in it.

I can’t recommend Stake Land, but remember our mantra: Your Mileage May Vary. I use reviews as only vague indicators of what I might find interesting. I always have to see for myself.

The-Conjuring-2013-Movie-PosterI had wanted to see The Conjuring in theaters, but never managed to carve out the time. This works in my favor as I was able to work it in after some really tepid movies, which was a relief and a half, let me tell you. It does deliver, up to a point, and that point, I admit, may be my personal failing (or lack thereof). Confused yet? Let’s get underway:

The Conjuring is subtitled “Based on the True Case Files of The Warrens”, and by now we’ve learned that a combination of “Based on” and “True” applied to a movie can usually be translated as Hi, this is total bullshit, and that is especially true where the Warrens are concerned. There is an entire body of literature, online and off, about the veracity of The Amityville Horror. But you know what? I don’t care about that. I’m here to get scared, or at least heavily creeped out, and on that The Conjuring delivers. Up to that point.

the conjuring 1A very nice family, the Perrons. buy a lovely house, and faster than you can say “I can’t believe we could afford this”, weird things start to happen, eventually leading to Mrs. Perron (Lili Taylor) begging the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) to investigate. The movie has started out well enough with one of the Warren’s other cases, a possessed creepy-ass doll named Annabelle, and it continues to get even better as director James Wan delivers again and again on the setup-and-payoff scheme that somehow never quite manages to become mechanical.

Where The Conjuring scores big over the other modern major horror movie I watched in October, Sinister, comes down to one scene: Mrs. Perrone, investigating weird late night noises, moves through the house to investigate, and along the way turns on every single light in the house as she comes to it, a trick Ethan Hawke never managed to learn. It doesn’t do her any good, but at least she’s not an idiot.

THE CONJURINGI’m also going to give Conjuring props for taking paranormal research seriously. I love movies that do that – Legend of Hell House comes to mind. Paranormal research has been seriously shot in the foot by the popularity of “reality shows” on various cable channels, where you can watch bros in night vision scaring themselves in the dark. I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact approach in The Conjuring.

Well, it sounds like I loved it wholeheartedly, doesn’t it? And I did, up until the last fifteen minutes or so, when it decided it didn’t want to be a haunted house story anymore, it wanted to be The Exorcist. Which, with all the talk about demonic entities and  the Warren’s reporting to the Catholic church, I really should have expected.

Look, I don’t find The Exorcist scary. Okay, that first scene with the discovery of the statue of the demon, but after that, eh. I am one of the least religious people on the planet, so the possession of people by boogeymen and their casting out by hyper-prayer just leaves me cold.

Still enjoyed The Conjuring immensely, though. I knew I was going to have to see it after this teaser trailer:

l_37415_0bec18faI love it when the Criterion Collection puts out movies that must seem kind of marginal to the typical cineaste, but bless ’em, they do it often enough to be interesting. In October, one of their selections was Lewis Allen’s 1944 ghost story The Uninvited. In a story that is starting to sound familiar, brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) find a surprisingly affordable clifftop house in Cornwall that they move into, only to find the joint’s haunted, not only by a ghost, but by a living young girl (Gail Russell) whose mother died there.

Ray, of course, gloms onto the girl and romance blossoms, impeded by the girl’s cranky old grandfather (Donald Crisp), who has a valid point: whatever is haunting the house also seems intent on killing the girl. There’s a mystery at the root of The Uninvited, and the new tenants start to unravel it, aided by the village doctor, a shockingly young Alan Napier. Though there’s some goofy humor, there is also some serious dread in this flick, and it’s a grand way to spend 99 minutes.

Death-Ship-1980I had managed to forego Death Ship for 33 years – 33 years! – since its release, but the combination of a halfway decent review by Chad Plambeck and a $5.00 blu-ray steered me toward it. That “I always have to see for myself” dictum of earlier  really does bite me on the ass sometime.

George Kennedy is Captain Ashland, who is on his last voyage as the captain of a cruise ship because, basically, he is an asshole. Richard Crenna is First Mate Marshall, who will be taking over. Marshall’s wife and two children are on the voyage, too, so we can see that Ashland hates children and happy couples. Then the cruise ship is rammed by the titular Death boat, killing everybody except Ashland, Marshall and his family; Nick Mancuso (sorry, never caught his function) and his hottie; an older woman, Sylvia (Kate Reid); and Saul Rubinek, because someone has to be the first to die.

These survivors manage to get on the Death Ship, which begins to pick them off one by one. The delirious Ashland keeps hearing a voice telling him this is his new ship – in German. And there is your plot. Now for my litany of problems.

  1. If you fall in the ocean, you are dead. No saving throw.
  2. If we establish, several times, “It’s like the ship is alive! It’s trying to kill us all!” why does the hottie decide to take a shower? Besides the fact that she’s the hottie, I mean?
  3. When it comes to that, the hottie discovering that the shower is raining blood on her, not water: I get it, it’s blood, it’s gross, it probably smells bad. The door won’t open. But why the histrionics? It’s not like it’s acid, or it’s filling up the room.
  4. What the hell is the Marshall boy’s obsession with peeing?
  5. As if you didn’t already know, the boat is a “Nazi Interrogation Ship”. Were there such things? Isn’t that kind of inefficient?

There is precious little tension or even excitement here. Save the nudity, there is no reason this couldn’t have been a TV movie. The only death with any real punch is Mancuso’s, and that is largely due to his over-the-top acting. Not a criticism – I appreciated such a diversion at that point. The death of Kate Reid is barely seen, as her boil-consumed makeup  (which was good enough to make Fangoria) embarrassed the filmmakers or something.

Bah and double bah.

DE1I’ve downloaded a bunch of images of movie posters over the years, and one poster in particular surprised and intrigued me: The Devil’s Express, which was seemed to be a mix of horror, martial arts and blaxploitation. I can’t claim an encyclopedic knowledge of those genres, but I am fairly well-read, and I had never heard of this flick. There was also no info on it to be found on the IMDb, so intrigue grew into a low-level obsession.

So thank God for Code Red DVD and Diabolik.

We meet Luke (the musically named Warhawk Tanzania), a Harlem-based kung fu master and his rather skeevy student Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan). Luke and Rodan travel to Hong Kong (Central Park) so Luke can be certified to a higher level of mastery; during the final ceremony, Rodan steals an amulet that was keeping an ancient demon imprisoned. Said demon follows them to New York, where it finds things entirely too bright and too noisy, and it hides out in a subway, killing people at random. Meanwhile, Rodan ignores his sifu and continues his drug-dealing ways, eventually causing a turf war with a Chinese street gang, which is why the subway murders go undetected for so long. The demon finally kills Rodan, but that Asian street gang has already stolen the amulet and passed it to an ancient Chinese sage (who sports the worst makeup job evar), who guides Warhawk to fight the demon, and then takes the amulet back to China.

warhawk-tanzaniaThe reason I could never find any info on the movie is that, in order to capitalize on the success of Walter Hill’s The Warriors, the name was changed to Gang Wars, which is how it is listed in the IMDb. The gang war aspect of the plot is so prevalent that Warhawk all but vanishes from his own movie for some time, and sad to say, it’s no great loss. As a fighter, he’s certainly no Jim Kelly (hell, he’s barely even David Carradine), but he does have some presence. He’s better when he’s dissing honky cops and telling them he won’t subscribe to their “white legal ways” when he determines to avenge the death of his student. In the final (inevitably weak) fight scene with the demon, he does rock  sweet gold lamé overalls with matching boots, give him that.

The gang war segments are interspersed with the demon murder scenes, which have no real motive except demons like to be murderous dickweeds, I guess. There one scene where it drags off a rapist, which triggered a nasty Blood Beach flashback.

devils-expressThere are unexpected bright spots: when the demon possesses an innocent traveler to get to New York, when he arrives, the demon’s sensitivity to light is signified by painting huge eyeballs on the man’s eyelids, and having him stumble around. It works a lot better than it has any right to, until he gets too close to the camera. There is some swell footage of good old, bad old New York. And the priest who keeps showing up to say last rites over the bodies is none other than Brother Theodore. Just when you think “These guys hired Brother Theodore and totally wasted him,” Warhawk needs a distraction and Theodore cuts loose with some insane street preaching, and they’re smart enough to just let the cameras roll.

Blaxploitation/kung fu/monster movie. There was no way it was ever going to be as awesome as it sounds, but it is strangely entertaining.

Thanks to Halloween sales, I got my hands on the blu-rays for a late-period Hammer double feature I had not seen: Hands of the Ripper and Twins of Evil. The lack of earlier Hammer flicks on blu in the US is a continuing sore point with me, but if we finally get some Region A love in that respect, I hope Synapse Films has something to do with it, because boy, are these discs pretty. Hands  is flawless, Twins only slightly less so.

twinsThat carries over into the movies themselves. Twins is a fairly tepid affair, once again attempting to riff on Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”, as the cursed castle on the hill belongs to the Karnsteins, not the Draculas. The twins in question are the Collinson sisters, Mary and Madeleine, playing Maria and Frieda. After the death of their parents, they are unfortunate enough to be remanded to the care of their dour, neurotic puritan uncle, Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing),  who spends his evenings finding young girls to burn at the stake. The rebellious Frieda takes a shine to Count Karnstein, whom she sees as her ticket out of Gustav-ville. Unfortunately for her, Karnstein has recently resurrected the infamous Carmilla, who vampirized him and then conveniently left the movie.

Bereft of the talent that made their star rise though the 60s, Hammer is jobbing in people at this point and not just teasing the sexuality but employing full nudity. There’s really not much else to recommend this particular outing, except a bunch of familiar, welcome faces in the cast, including a sadly ailing Dennis Price in his final role, Kathleen Byron, and David Warbeck. I guess we could also count the sets recycled from Vampire Circus as a guest star, too.

hands_of_ripper_poster_01Hands of the Ripper is much the stronger movie, benefitting greatly from the strong direction of Peter Sasdy guiding an equally strong cast. Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) takes in the orphan waif Anna (Angharad Rees), after her fraudulent spiritualist foster mom is brutally murdered. Pritchard seeks to use this newfangled Freudian psychoanalysis to plumb the depths of Anna’s trauma, only to discover that under a particular set of circumstances – all too easily duplicated – she channels the spirit of her father, Jack the Ripper, and recreates the murder of her mother at his hands.

Porter is intriguing as he covers up murder after murder, determined to solve this mystery; at the beginning of the movie he is angrily planning to debunk the medium that Anna nails to a door with a fireplace poker, but by the end he has not only consulted another medium, but has come to believe that Anna truly is possessed. The realization comes far too late for either of them as events rush to a suitably tragic, yet impossibly bittersweet, resolution.

A strong cast and unique storyline carries the day here, allowing me to gloss over some problems like where the hell does Anna keep getting those knives or why there’s not more fallout from at least one of her trance-induced murders. It remains a solid movie overall, and good way to finally close out this massive piece of catch-up.

Now where’s that leftover turkey?