Monday, July 31, 2017

The Movie You Were Thinking of When I Reviewed Dolls, or Thoughts on Puppet Master

If you’ve ever watched The Muppet Movie (1979) and thought it needed tiny knives and a non-cute, supernatural slasher agenda, then do I have a movie for you.  These are not your mother’s Muppets in Puppet Master (1989), though they do have their own distinct personalities and a strangely familiar charm like more dangerous versions of Kermit and Fozzie.  Brought to life by an ancient Egyptian scroll like the original 1932 Mummy, they’re investigated by a team of kinky psychics in Bodega Bay including Paul LeMat from American Graffiti (1973) and Strange Invaders (1983) staying at an Art Deco hotel in Bodega Bay.
Employing stop motion techniques reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen and actual, analog puppetry (animatronics is just a high-tech name a string-less marionette), the puppets aren’t technically scary (unless you’re vermiphobic) despite the unarguably winning combination with 80’s gore, but that doesn’t make their scenes any less compelling or cool to watch.  Much like the Westworld reboot, I think it’s human nature to fear the creations we make in our own image, and it’s always fun to watch them run amuck.
The puppets introduced included Blade, with a face (according to the filmmakers) inspired by Klaus Kinski, the leader of the puppet gang; armed with a knife he’s a traditional killer in black but so tiny and cute.  Jester, with a twisty Rubrik’s Cube head, he’s the emotional one of the group and non-murdery.  Pinhead, with a tiny head and giant hands, he’s the muscle who likes to punch and strangle.  Tunneler has a drill head and a Nazi uniform (the Nazi connection would be explained or elaborated on in future sequels) while Leech Woman is a sexy brunette Barbie that spits leeches (duh). 
Watch out for the Barbara Crampton cameo as a carnival mark with a loser boyfriend.  To date there have been 8 sequels and a reboot set in Nazi Germany, all of which I plan on watching and reviewing, because 1, I like a challenge and 2, I can’t get enough of those cute killer puppets.








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Sunday, July 30, 2017

an ASMR ghost story



one weird night in hawaii...




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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Killer Punk Rock Action Figures From the 80’s, or Thoughts on Dolls

Not to be confused with Puppet Master (1989), Dolls (1987) is a cautionary story, or a modern fairy tale complete with a spooky mansion in the woods and an evil stepmother.  And because it’s set in the 80’s, the filmmakers throw a couple punk rock girls into the mix to attract the teen audience, as if the premise of killer dolls wasn’t enough. 
From director Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator (1985) takes a comic, almost slapstick elements juxtaposed against the popping eyeballs and ankle slashing as Judy, a 7 year-old with an over-active imagination and fantasies of slaughtering her parents take refuge from a storm in a convenient gothic mansion filled with antique dolls.  Along with the aforementioned evil stepmother, Judy is accompanied by her distant father, Isabel and Enid, a couple hitchhiking punk rock girls and Ralph, a friendly traveler.   Their hosts are Gabriel and Hillary, a witch/warlock couple that transforms evil humans into dolls, and there are a lot of dolls in the house…
The dolls come alive at night, much like the Zuni Fetish doll, and the special effects accomplished by a combination of stop motion and actual puppetry.  The movie could easily have been a Twilight Zone episode if you toned down the gore and filmed it in black and white.  Ralph drives an implausible but very cool vintage 1945 MG, and it’s worth staying to the end just to see that car.

I remember reading in an interview that when author Anne Rice lived in New Orleans she bought an entire mansion to house her antique doll collection, and I often wonder if she was in some way laterally inspired by this movie.  Watch out for Bunty Bailey, from the Take on Me video by A-ha (1985) as Isabel, one of the punk rock girls, and the director’s wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as Rosemary, the evil stepmother.






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Friday, July 28, 2017

Haunted By Memories and Actual Ghosts, or Thoughts on Lake Mungo



Written and directed by Australian Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo (2008) is a pseudo-documentary; an assembly of narratives and footage is used to build a story, and a tiny supernatural element is introduced until it fills the entire film with a profound sense of dread.  Subtle, literally haunting, and very unsettling, Lake Mungo tells the story of the accidental drowning of sixteen year-old Alice, and how her friends, family, neighbors and community cope with that loss.  Of course this is a ghost story, but not the one you expect; there’s a twist, a particularly clever one, and I’m more than a little bit mad at myself for not seeing it coming.
There’s no mystery to solve in an accidental death, but we as an audience are conditioned from decades of movies and TV shows to look for one.  Lake Mungo is a collage of news footage, interviews, family photos, secret diaries and sex tapes (it’s a modern movie and a reflection of the world we live in) that paints a portrait of Alice that is all the more remarkable when you remember that it’s actually a movie.  Most of the scenes improvised, which aids in the unscripted, found footage aspect of the film and lulls the audience into a false complicity.  We’re predisposed to believe this story because it looks real, it sounds true, and the filmmakers are happy to use that foundation to throw in some genuinely spooky stuff.
The movie has been compared to the louder, more obvious Paranormal Activity (2007) but a more intuitve comparison would be a thoughtful crime drama like Broadchurch (2013), where the death of a child tears apart a small town, or the gold standard for creepy small town murders, Twin Peaks  (1990).  Again, (no spoiler), Lake Mungo is not a murder mystery; it’s merely the story of a family dealing with loss, and finding a ghost.









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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition, or I Watched Assassin's Creed, So You Don’t Have To

You should know by now that I’m no gamer, but that doesn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the Resident Evil franchise or Silent Hill (2006).  That being said, I’m always worried that I’m missing nuances in movies based on video games, hidden jokes and insights that go over my head because I haven’t spent hours ctrl-arrow right clicking (I really don’t know what you guys do) characters across virtual landscapes, killing people and collecting gold coins.  And those misgivings were confirmed with Assassin's Creed (2016), an overly complicated, humorless movie involving genetic memory to justify the fight scenes set in 15th Century Spain and a ridiculously over-qualified cast that should, collectively, be ashamed of themselves.
Take The Da Vinci Code (2006), The Matrix (1999) and any parkour action movie, let’s pick District B13 (2004), and mash them up into a movie that is somehow less than the sum of its parts, and you’ll approach the Assassin’s Creed Movie Experience.  While the trailer may highlight the fight scenes it’s not exactly an action film, nor is it a steampunk metaphysical conspiracy thriller (the filmmakers really needed to choose a lane).

Michael Fassbinder, a quality actor that lends a certain gravitas to any role he inhabits, does his best as Callum Lynch, the death row ex-con descendant of Aguilar de Nerha, a 15th Century Spanish assassin who was fighting the Knights Templar and the Spanish Inquisition.  Callum has access to Aguilar’s memories via a brain implant and some fancy VR technology, which allows him to fight.  There’s a modern day conspiracy involving Jeremy Irons as Alan Rikkin, mysterious billionaire CEO and Marion Cotillard as his daughter Sofia.  I rarely watch a movie and think the game has got to be better than this, but hey, there’s a first time for everything.








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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seven Sisters and A Swimming Pool, or Thoughts on The House on Sorority Row


At its core the 80’s slasher genre is essentially a murder mystery that focuses on the killer, with the added benefits of a younger cast to attract the newly discovered teen market and graphic, state of the art murders where the camera doesn’t pull away, and The House on Sorority Row (1983) is a perfect example.  Have the murders off-screen and age the cast a couple decades and you could have a Hitchcock movie, or a Columbo episode.   Instead you get a sorority house at the start of summer, a big party, and a prank that goes horribly wrong (as they often do in this kind of movie).
There are no hockey masks in The House on Sorority Row but it’s still a peak 80’s experience, with a well-developed plot and some memorable murders, including a severed head in the toilet scene that elevated the movie to cult status.  Watch out for Eileen Davidson (the blonde with the gun and the waterbed), who went on to become a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills on Bravo.  And there was a remake with Carrie Fisher and Rumer Willis in 2009, because of course there was.












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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Seeing The Monsters All Around Us, or Thoughts on From Beyond



There’s an essential Lovecraftian theme concerning the nameless horrors all around us that remain invisible for the most part, and in From Beyond (1986) those wacky Miskatonic scientists find a way to stimulate the pineal gland or third eye so they can see these creatures.  The bad news is, the creatures can also see them.   Jeffrey Combs portrays Crawford Tillinghast, and with a name like that you can be certain the character was lifted directly from the 1920 short story of the same name.  He’s the assistant for Dr. Edward Praetorius, a brilliant physicist with a sex dungeon (the movie is an unapologetically hard R and loosely based on the aforementioned Lovecraft story).
Barbara Crampton is Dr. McMichaels, psychiatrist for the DA who wants to recreate the experiment and Ken Foree from the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Knightriders (1981) as homicide detective Bubba Brown.  Directed by Stuart Gordon, From Beyond is a lateral sequel to his Re-Animator (1985, which as you know also featured Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton), and aided in large part by the magnificent Bernard Hermann-esque orchestral soundtrack by Richard Band, who would go on to write the theme for Stargate SG-1.  And watch out for the director’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, featured in Re-Animator (1985) and Dolls (1987) as Dr. Bloch (a reference to author Robert Bloch, the writer of Psycho, and a member of the Lovecraft Circle).
H.P. Lovecraft has become synonymous with wordy gothic horror, but upon closer reading he’s technically a science fiction writer; most of the horrific events he relates have some alien, otherworldly, non-supernatural origin, usually revealed at the end as some arcane and unknowable secret that drives the narrator mad.  And if this review didn’t drive you mad, check out last week’s Lurking Fear (1994) for a disappointing Lovecraft adaptation that will.








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Monday, July 24, 2017

CGI Ape-ocolypse Now, or Thoughts on War For the Planet of the Apes

Apes are already an endangered species; we’ve treated them horribly in real life, so why should War For the Planet of the Apes (2017) be any different, even though it’s a fight for survival between a new apex predator and, well, us?  The humans are suffering from a degenerative virus that will take away their speech and lower their intelligence in future generations while that same virus is raising up the so-called lower primates.  It’s like an ironic punishment from the Greek Gods, for our sins of hubris and over-reliance on CGI instead of good screenwriting and well-constructed plots.  You know, stories, you remember what those were like, you remember when stories were important.
But in the meantime we get to see monkeys riding horses, which is always entertaining, except what we’re really seeing is Andy Serkis in a gimp suit, riding a horse (and now that you mention it, there's no guarantee that you're even seeing a real horse).  The filmmakers have been so defensive about this new art form and how the human element shows through all these layers of digital artifice in interviews, but who are they really trying to convince?  They’re like the tailors from The Emperor’s New Clothes sewing beautiful suits from invisible thread.
All cinema is based on deception, acting is lying on a professional scale, but there’s an inherent unreality to digital art, it’s disposable and momentary; that’s why the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park (1993) look so dated and fake now.  Though I suppose we don’t have to ever worry about hitting the uncanny valley with monkeys because those faces will never be as familiar to us as our own.  But these digital ape faces will never have the charm and nuance of a human face covered with latex and yak-hair.  Compare Lake, a computer accurate chimp portrayed by Sarah Canning in this movie against Lisa Marie or Helena Bonham Carter in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, or Kim Novak in the original 1968 version and tell me who would you rather watch onscreen?  Who is more interesting as a character?  You can see their humanity in traditional makeup; in obvious ways like through the eyes but also subtle cues from motions and gestures.  Those motions and gestures might be captured into algorithms, but you can’t replicate the eyes, because digital characters have no soul.
The original Planet of the Apes (1968) was a heavy-handed but entertaining metaphor for the Civil Rights movement, whereas this franchise isn’t really a metaphor for anything, only another example how modern audiences are easily entertained by expensive digital tricks.  I blame the rise of the video game culture, but what do I know. 









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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Arachnophobia With James Tiberius Hooker, or Thoughts on Kingdom of The Spiders

Pop culture icon William Shatner did his best in the 70’s to leave the Federation in the dust by guest starring in other classic TV shows like Ironside, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo and Kung Fu.  The problem was that he couldn’t get away from his essential Shatner-ness, the qualities he brought to every role he inhabited; his inherent vanity, his insistence on doing his own stunts and of course, the hair.  It wasn’t until late in his career that he began embracing his image and having fun with it, but in Kingdom of The Spiders (1977) he portrayed Rack Hansen, a cowboy veterinarian who is (of course) popular with the ladies while still finding the time to fight off the spider invasion of his small Arizona town.
Rack investigates the mysterious death of a calf, and calls in a fancy lady scientist from Flagstaff.  The mayor is worried about a quarantine, which would shut down the county fair, and if this movie is beginning to sound like Jaws (1975) with spiders, you’re not wrong.  It’s interesting that the filmmakers went to great effort to make the humble tarantula threatening by using 5000 of them (according to Wikipedia), instead of going the route of giant mutated spiders, which the title implies.
Watch out for Woody Strode from Spartacus (1960) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) as Walter Colby, the farmer with the dead calf.








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Friday, July 21, 2017

More Like Lurking Schlock, or I Watched Lurking Fear, So You Don’t Have To

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1984) notwithstanding, H.P. Lovecraft is notoriously difficult to adapt into film, and director C. Courtney Joyner’s Lurking Fear (1994) is a prime example of what can go wrong.  Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear (1922), in the sense that the movie keeps some of the same names and settings, and the general plot involving subterranean CHUDS living under a cemetery, the movie struggles to update the story with grave-robbing ex-cons, an action movie sequence to blow up said cemetery and a confusing sub-plot involving some Miami Vice bad guys smuggling drugs across state lines in corpses.
With a shaky script, not-great performances, but not hammy enough to circle around and become memorable, I would say that to describe the special effects and general tone of the movie as Lucio Fulci-esque is charitable, but basically accurate.  The good news is the movie features Jeffrey Combs from Re-Animator (1984), Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser (1987) and Vincent Schiavelli from everything, ranging from guest appearances on The X-Files to Batman Returns (1992) and Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (1992, and a far better adaptation that you should be watching).  Check out his IMDb page, he was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).
I don’t make any secret of my passion for all things Lovecraft, and he remains to this day, unlike say, Stephen King and Clive Barker, an author that I can re-read and still enjoy.  His stories reveal his love of pre-Revolutionary New England, in particular his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, gothic terror and most of all, his accomplished administration of arcane utterances in his eldritch narratives of things unspeakable.  It’s Lovecraft’s language that keeps him relevant, it’s an increasingly and deliberately difficult read for contemporary audiences, and yet it is the primary reason that, along with Shakespeare, Dickens and Poe, he needs to be read.  Reading Lovecraft is like climbing a mountain or running a marathon, it’s not easy but there’s a sense of accomplishment and inspiration when you finish.  Plus you get more details on the unspeakable evils that dwell in the nether edges of imagination where even death is a dream.








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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Alien Moss, Underwater Zombies and Then There’s Fluffy, or Thoughts on Creepshow


George A. Romero’s Creepshow (1982), a collection of six Stephen King stories is an 80’s classic, in spite of the Batman ’66 aesthetics, splashes of color, split screens and animated frame segments to emphasize the comic book origins.  Juxtaposed against Tom Savini’s brilliant zombie and creature makeups, the directorial choice comes across as distracting, though perfectly suited for the smaller screen of late night cable, so what do I know.  While directed by George A. Romero, the movie is primarily remembered as a Stephen King fest, who in addition to writing the screenplay, also starred in one of the segments.
After a difficult to watch child abuse introduction (another questionable directorial decision, there’s nothing like introducing actual real-life horror into a horror movie) that establishes the comic book framework, the movie takes us into the first story with Father’s Day about another abusive father who comes back to life and bakes a special cake.  Watch out for Ed Harris with hair (well, some hair) as Hank, the disco cowboy boyfriend, and the John Amplas from Martin 1979) cameo as Zombie Nathan.
The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill showcases Stephen King’s awkward but sincere and enthusiastic portrayal of the titular character.  Essentially a one-man show, but regrettably not interesting enough as an actor to carry the plot, Jordy Verrill learns you should never taste the green goo inside any meteor that crashes in front of your hovel.
You know the only thing I love more than a good pun is a bad one, and Something to Tide You Over feature Leslie Nielsen in one of his last serious roles (he had just starred in Airplane! 1982) as a murderous husband.  He drowns his cheating wife, Gaylen Ross, Fran from Dawn of the Dead (1978) along with her lover Ted Danson, only to have an awkward late night knock on the door.
My all-time favorite, or what I like to call Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962) But With Actual Monsters, The Crate features Hal Holbrook as sedate university professor Henry Northrup and Adrienne Barbeau as Wilma, his loud, alcoholic faculty wife and literal hot 80’s mess.  Henry finds an unopened specimen crate under the stairs that seems to have the answer to all his problems.  I never explain my titles, but Tom Savini nicknamed the monster “Fluffy”.  (There, are you happy?  The things I do for you people).
Not for the katsaridaphobic, They’re Creeping Up on You is another one-man show (unless you count all the roaches) featuring EG Marshall as a reclusive millionaire with a germ phobia living in a hermetically sealed, high tech penthouse.  Not withstanding Stephen King’s shaky performance, this is the weakest segment.  It might have played better if it had been moved somewhere in the middle, and The Crate had closed the feature.
Watch out for the Tom Savini cameo as Garbage Man #2 during the wraparound story, and 10-year-old Joe King, better known these days as author Joe Hill as Billy, the son who kills his abusive father, John Carpenter collaborator Tom Atkins, with a voodoo doll.  (Is that a spoiler?  Dude, it’s a 35-year-old movie).  It’s not George A. Romero’s best movie, but it was a commercial success, and generated a mainstream popularity that led to the Tales of the Darkside TV series (1983), and Monkey Shines (1988).












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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When You Think You’re a Vampire, or Thoughts on George A. Romero’s Martin



George A. Romero’s most cinematic film, Martin (1978) is a Hitchcock-esque horror thriller that follows a modern vampire serial killer.  John Amplas, with a 70’s Johnny Depp sullen teen vibe portrays the title character, who claims to be 85 and born in 1892 and victim of a family curse, and lives with his Uncle Cuda who insists on calling him Nosferatu and hanging up garlic in the doorways.  It’s hard to have sympathy for Martin because he’s an actual serial killer who drugs women and bathes in their blood (in the days before DNA and forensic science).  He is methodical in his planning, or stalking, but awkward and withdrawn in most social situations.  It’s almost as if he comes alive only when he’s killing, and then retreats once again, back into his lonely shell.
The movie is in color, but there are ambiguous black and white flashbacks or fantasies, where the director leaves it up to the viewer as to whether there’s something supernatural going on, or he’s just another teen killer with a blood fetish.  Reminiscent of Psycho (1960) in both subject matter and tone, Martin holds a well deserved 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is arguably his best film if we discount Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Watch out for Tom Savini’s cameo as Arthur, Martin’s cousin Christina’s boyfriend.







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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Non-Zombie (so, Living?) Moto-Knights of the Round Table, or Thoughts on George A. Romero’s Knightriders



Hey, do you like motorcycle movies?  Did you just see John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981)?  Well, do I have the movie for you!  I would have entitled this post "George A. Romero’s Easy Rider Excalibur", but it seemed disrespectful or at the very least discourteous coming on the heels of one of my favorite director’s untimely but regrettably not unexpected demise (1944-2017).
Knightriders (1981) showed a confusing side of director George A. Romero; it’s not a parody, not a comedy, not an action movie, just a straight-up romantic drama with motorcycle stunts about a King Arthur themed renaissance troop.  His zombie movies always had a political message at their core, and while Knightriders was released in 1981 it still carried that essential 60’s idealism of creating a better world by looking toward the past and embracing the values of courtly love and knightly honor.
Ed Harris, currently the Man in Black in Westworld is King William, the leader of the renaissance troop that jousts with motorcycles, while special effects guru Tom Savini is his rival Morgan, the black knight.  In addition to Merlin, the movie includes a Friar Tuck and Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead (1978) as Little John (I told you it was confusing).  Also with Patricia Tallman, Lyta Alexander from Babylon 5 and 90’s Barbara from Night of The Living Dead (1990, directed by Tom Savini, an I would assume they met on this film), as Julie, a teen who runs away with one of the knights.
Watch out for the Stephen King cameo, working on Creepshow (1982) with the director he makes an appearance in the crowd as “Hoagie Man”, along with his wife Tabitha, in his big screen debut. 











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