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!

Z: Zombie (1979)

Hubrisween 3 BlackClick ^^ for Hubrisween Central, here for our Letterboxd page

“When you do an A-Z horror movie challenge, you’re likely going to end up with zombies.”

– Tim Lehnerer, probably

zombie posterWell, this is about the most blatant personification of that statement, isn’t it? No second word, no number, no nothing. Just: ZOMBIE.

Yeah, I’ll stop you right there, because you’re about to inform poor ignorant me that this actually does have a number, it’s really called Zombie 2 because it was a sequel to Dawn of the Dead which was a big hit in Europe but it was called Zombie there and shouldn’t you know more about horror movies before you try writing about them?

Listen, troll (I would have to reply), if you were paying attention you would know that the movie is called Zombi 2 (no final e) and for some reason Zombies 2 in the international trailers and it was never a sequel to Dawn of the Dead and was, in fact, written several months before Dawn‘s European release but that was some nice low-hanging publicity fruit, wasn’t it, especially since this production company had a better lawyer than Dario Argento, and thus was paved the way for Zombie numbers 3-8 and every other crap Italian zombie film throughout eternity.

So there. Troll.

1279240863_Zombie_Flesh_Eaters_1979_1I saw Zombie in probably semi-ideal circumstances for me, which is to say I saw it on a double bill with Blood Beach at a drive-in on a warm Texas night (Zombie kept cropping up at drive-ins with different dance partners for several years). That was 35 years ago, and it was with some interest I put the Blue Underground blu-ray into the player for a return bout. (Movie Challenges like this are largely about making me watch movies I haven’t seen, but I do make an exception for anything I haven’t seen in 20 years, like The Quatermass XperimentZombie definitely qualified.)

So stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an apparently abandoned sailing ship drifts into New York Harbor, causing all sorts of traffic problems until the harbor patrol boards it and finds a) rotting food, b) a chewed-up hand, c) the fattest zombie you have ever seen. (Guillermo del Toro: “You just know he ate everybody else on the boat.”) After biting out one cop’s throat, Tubby is shot several times and falls into the bay.

zombie+flesh+eaters+ss+roomThese are the circumstances that bring together Anne (Tisa Farrow), the daughter of the owner of that boat, and Peter (Ian McCulloch), a reporter. They have a meet cute while searching the boat under the nose of a police guard, during which Peter finds an undelivered letter from Anne’s father, who is dying of some terrible disease on a Caribbean island called Matool.

Flying to St. Thomas, the only boat they can find to take them to Matool – “a cursed island” – are working vacationers Brian and Susan (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) who are spending two months sailing the islands and doing underwater photography. This will become significant when Susan goes scuba diving to get the day’s pics within sight of Matool and runs into an underwater zombie, who, in one of the movie’s signature scenes, has a fistfight with a shark, and loses that fist.

shark-vs_zombie-1(One of the many interesting factoids on the disc’s extras is the Underwater Zombie and “Shark Trainer” is Ramón Bravo, an underwater photographer of no small repute, best known for Tinterero!)

So our four “Americans” make it to Matool but bend their propeller, meaning Brian and Susan can’t dump Anne and Peter there, as was their original intent. They meet up with the island’s physician, Doctor Menard (Richard Johnson) who is not only fighting some sort of plague, but is also trying to find a scientific explanation for the zombies that have been cropping up lately. One of the few island natives that has stayed faithful to the doctor (Dakar) fills us in that a new witch doctor has been getting everybody worked up, and they all gone to the island’s interior to bang on drums and wake the dead.

zombie3Which is all the explanation you’re going to get, so just ride with it. That’s okay, we came to see a movie whose poster was some rotten corpse with worms in its eyes and the slogan WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU, and it has to be admitted that the movie in its last half gets down to that business with gusto.

This is generally pointed to as director Lucio Fulci’s first horror movie (if you don’t count some highly-regarded gialli). His output to this point had been all over the genre map, but this one pretty much locked him into the creepshow stuff for the 80s and 90s. Now what surprised me in this re-visit so many years later is how well-made this movie is. That projector trying to cut through the humid Texas night air and subsequent VHS releases in pan-and-scan did Zombie absolutely no favors. Fulci knows where to put his camera and how to get bang for his comparatively few bucks on the screen, and the blu-ray is an absolute revelation in that regard.

The low budget also necessitates a different look to the zombies, which helps the movie achieve its own identity. A reliance on clay instead of latex actually helps these revenants look like they just clawed their way out of the ground.

zombi-2-04I bet you thought I was going to talk about the splinter-through-the-eyeball scene (damage to eyeballs seems a particular motif for Fulci). Everybody talks about the splinter-through-the-eyeball scene. It’s still grueling, even when you know it’s coming, but another factoid dropped was Zombie played in Italy with an intermission, as was the custom, and I had forgotten the splinter-through-the-eyeball happens at the halfway point. Think about that being what you took out into the lobby with you.

They probably didn’t sell much gelato during that intermission.

Another thing which helped immensely with this re-visit: being able to turn on the original Italian language track with English subtitles. Fulci’s movies have had some of the worst English dub tracks I have ever had to endure, and subconsciously that drags down the perceived quality of the movie.

zombi4When I logged my re-watch of Zombie on Letterboxd, I knew that I had entered it earlier in my relationship with the site, but it was amusing to see that when I did so, I had rated the movie four stars out of five; I stand by that rating, but I don’t remember holding it in such high regard (due to washed-out projection and VHS dubs). So it is satisfying in that way that you see an old friend for the first time in years, and you say, “You look great!” and mean it.

Buy ZOMBIE on Amazon