Monday, 22 September 2008

Ill-Advised Remake Monday: Day of the Dead

First things first; while this film is certainly ill-advised on almost every level, I'm not sure it qualifies as a remake. There are some zombies, there are some soldiers, there is a scientist called Logan, and a soldier called Rhodes, and a semi-sentient zombie called...wait for it...Bud (See? Get it? Not 'Bub'? Get it? See? I believe it was around about this point I started bleeding from the ears...), but actual remake? Possibly not. It has as much of 28 Days Later (fast zombies, jittery fast-shutter camerawork), The Crazies (military fail to control icky outbreak) and the original Night of the Living Dead (disposable teen couple, squabbling marrieds) as it does the original Day.

Plot? Umm....Military quarantine a town in Colorado, all the cast tries not to get eaten; some fail. Mina Suvari is the shortest soldier in the military. Your hapless correspondent wonders why Ving Rhames now qualifies for the Brad Dourif billing ('AND Ving Rhames'), until I realise it's one of those got-him-for-three days show-up-and-die overgrown cameos (the sort of thing Rob Zombie has 5 or 6 of, and one of them is Danny Trejo); one facial expression, a messy special effect, and his agent's phone number visibly protruding from his fatigues pocket. The only other major black character just has to be a cool, gun-toting, slang-talking street kid with a self-sacrificing heart of gold and absolutely-god-forbid-NO romantic interest in his tiny blonde superior officer. The not-Bub resembles Robbie Benson. People get poorly, get very poorly, go a bit blank, then turn into pasty, screaming meth-heads with a taste for cerebellum tartare. Who, after a brief cheap-CG phase. turn into blobs of black oily glop when set on fire.

And while I'm on the subject, what the hell is it with the fast zombies? How come, right up to the mid-90s, zombification made you dull and slow-moving, and now it suddenly has the same effect as a cocktail of steroids, Red Bull and PCP? Even the zombie chorus-line in Thriller, funky movers to a decomposing man, were not what you could call...speedy. Somewhere, I'm sure, there is a highly-academic paper to be written on the subject, but it'd need one of those doctorate-y horror people, and since my highest qualification is a Retail NVQ (Level 2), this is not that place and I am not that person...

In summary; not the worst film I've ever seen...not even the worst film with 'Day of the Dead' in the title (see 'Day of the Dead 2: Contagium' sometime, if you ever feel as though you have too many brain cells and need to lose a few)...Watch it if you want to appreciate the original more, if you like to feel the warm glow of familiarity, or if you just can't get enough gun-toting blondes, shouty soldiers and infected people...and the last copy of Planet Terror is taken.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

My Favourite Genre...

I have to admit that my favourite genre, or I should probably say sub-genre, is your rural killer movie. Backwoods slashers, inbred families, good ol' boys vs city types, and the city boys a-comin' off worse. In a word...Hicksploitation. Whether it's because I'm from the suburbs, and therefore don't have to take a side in the eternal country-vs-city fight, or whether it's a result of being brought up in a succession of dull British towns, and finding everything American exotic and exciting (I remember being fascinated that you Americans have a chain of shops called 'Piggly Wiggly'...and you don't think that's at all odd?), but I do love them. Of course, they are basically an American thing; here in the UK we just don't have the room. There was that episode of Torchwood with the Welsh Valleys cannibals, but everyone south of Pontypridd or east of Swansea thought that was a documentary...Internationally, there are a few interesting Australian entries like The Cars that Ate Paris, and Wolf Creek, and from Europe there's Calvaire, and I've heard interesting things about this new French film Frontieres...but for me, to have the backwoods slasher in its true form you need Interstates and 'Gas, Food, Lodging' signs.

And, in that spirit; ten signs that you're watching a hicksploitationer:

  1. Stupid city people: The most common formula tends to be one or two teenage/college age couples and a boat-anchor hanger-on (relative, stoner who owns the van, one of the girls' whiny best friend). Increasingly of late, the girls will tend to wear vest tops with no bra; said top to generally be light-coloured and end up splattered with someone's blood, not necessarily that of the wearer. Occasionally a film will have a lone female, very rarely a lone male, and once in a great while (Deliverance, basically) a group of men. Mild recreational drug use, and distribution of one character note per person is usually seen, as a chance to make the victims 'human' (annoying) before the movie stops pissing about and gets to the kills.
  2. Stupid country people: Overalls optional; number of fingers variable. Generally just as creepy-looking as your antagonist(s)/cannibal(s)/guy(s) with power tools, and just as likely to have a gutted teenager in the shed, but usually just there for the orthodontically challenged contrast with the tanned, vitamin-ed, flouride-in-the-water-ed city types. Likely to also fall under point #3:
  3. The guy at the Gas Station: He's in on it; of COURSE he fucking is. He may be all smiles and barbecue, but he just wants to dump you in a sack and take you back to the creepy house. What do you think the barbecue is, anyway, when you haven't seen a cow in 200 miles?
  4. Useless law enforcement: Whether dumb and horny enough to fall for the voluptuous horror of Karen Black (House of 1000 Corpses), or Head-Satanist-takes-off-hood-and-OMG!-It's-the-sheriff!!11! ('surprise' ending of every small-town Devil-worship TVfilm that was ever made), anyone wearing a badge will not help you here. Especially if you're a pinko Commie longhair faggot collegeboy city type; which, let's face it, is all of them.
  5. No phones: since the ubiquity of the mobile phone, harder to make the 'killer cuts the phone line/lines down in the storm/'oh, no, Missy, we don't have no phone out here' sound convincing. Now films have to be set in the 10 square miles of the country with no coverage, or in the 1970s, to prevent the audience wondering why the characters don't whip out their iPhone, call for help, and end the movie in 10 minutes. A 'period' '70s setting also has its advantages in that it allows the costume designer to break out the tank-tops and hotpants, and the writer to haul out what I'm going to charitably describe as 'pre-feminist' attitudes with only a modicum of audience eye-rolling.
  6. 'They moved away the highway': I confess, I claim no knowledge of the complex decision-making process that covers major road placement in the United States, but it seems to me that there would be a lot less trouble if you just put the road where you wanted it to go in the first place. Do you people not plan ANYTHING? In the US, do roads just...happen? It seems to me that moving roads causes a lot of trouble for the small towns who suddenly get no passing trade, and leave the inhabitants therein with nothing to do all day except go crazy, build waxworks and have sex with their relatives. Leading us neatly to points #7 and #8:
  7. Unnatural relations: apparently every country in the world has an area about whom the same sorts of jokes are told; 'where men are men and sheep are nervous', '"Let me introduce you to my mother, my cousin and my sister; her name's Ethel"'. Odd families. Marrying farm animals, dead people; anything suffixed -philia, basically. Family trees with a few less branches than they, perhaps, ought to have. I too have tried to work out the family dynamic of the Leatherface clan in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series; so, if Grandpa is Grandpa, and Grandma's upstairs, then is the Gas Man Dad? And where's Mom? And the platehead guy in the sequel? And where exactly does Matthew McConaghey fit into all of this? Then I had to go and get coffee and paracetamol, and I never did get back to getting it worked out. Anyway, like I say, also point #8:
  8. Creative impulses: you know, country-style handicrafts are not all quilting and corn dollies, whatever Martha Stewart says. Your rural slasher will tend to have a sideline in anything from eerie, possibly ambulatory, waxworks (Tourist Trap) to eerie, made-from-dead-people waxworks (House of Wax remake), to...ahem...'found objects', which avant garde stylings might find them a place in some ritzy Manhattan gallery, if they could only get an agent. Also, if the world was ready for an artiste using the medium 'human skin, chicken bones, innards and the occasional face'...That isn't Damien Hirst.
  9. Cannibalism: yes; long pig. Considering the ease of modern intensive farming methods, not to mention the comparatively-long maturation period of the average human and the low body weight of most of the tank-top girls in these movies (not to mention the fuss they make; all the screaming and running around and all), you would think it would just be easier to raise, you know, actual pigs. Still, cannibalism does seem, from my highly unscientific what-films-spring-to-mind-right-now statistics, to be one of the most popular reasons for preying on the passing tourist. Perhaps, though, we just don't get to see all the occasions when the anthropophages lucked out to a bus full of an outing of the Texan chapter of the BBWs society, which kept them going for a whole winter.
  10. Country people hate you: That's what it boils down to, really; whether you're Northern, 'hippie', 'Liberal', female, 'college boy', draft dodger, 'city type', or just come from more than 15 miles away, they hate you and they want you dead. You come down here with your fancy talk and your 10-dollar words and your shiny car and your tank tops and your teeth...#spit#...and you think you can do what ev' you want? This ain't the way we do things down here...boy...
Ahem. Well, you get the point. So, I'm going to be commencing a fairly-irregular series of reviews of my favourite 'Don't get off the highway' films. As irregular as everything is around here. At least it should give me a break from all those awful remakes I've got lined up for Mondays. Just to whet your appetite, follow the link for the theme song from what is probably one of the Ur-texts of the genre; the Northern-hating, banjo-playing, spiked-barrel-rolling 2000 Maniacs:

All together now: 'The South's gonna rise again...'

Monday, 23 June 2008

Ill-Advised Remake Monday: The Wicker Man

I'm kicking off my semi-regular-when-I-can-be-bothered series of 'Ill-Advised Remake Mondays', with the Neil Labute remake of The Wicker Man. Yes, I know that it's a large, slow target, and it's very easy to mock it, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't, or make it any less fun when one does. Also, I've had a bad day at work, so I need to make cheap jokes about bees; indulge me.

Now, readers of this blog may already be familiar with the original; Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Edward Woodward, human sacrifice and the concept of martyrdom, ideological battle between paganism and Christianity; bleak, almost existential fatalistic ending: right? Well...fuck all that for the remake; this film's all about the bees, baby. Well, bees...and bitches; because, see, right, the Summerislers in this new version are beekeepers (the island has been resited to somewhere off New England, as far as I can tell, so no more of the original's apple orchards maintained by a fluke of the Gulf Stream); and, like bees, you know, have a queen, and like all the men are like drones, see? So it's like a metaphor, cause the women are all in charge and stuff and...Fear not, gentle reader; I have not had a lobotomy over the course of the last paragraph; I am merely trying to put myself in the mental place where I find the endless fucking hive/bee/drone/queen references clever and interesting, rather than thuddingly obvious and dull. Thanks, Neil, but do you think you could keep the subtext, you know, UNDER the text? Rather than writing it on a cricket bat and hitting me in the face with it? I'd be ever so obliged to you.

When the film isn't chucking CG bees at you, it's tubthumping a hysterical 'OMG! Women in charge!!1!!' motif; yes, give women a sniff of power and all they really want to do is reduce men to shambling heavy labourers and sperm donors. I'm not saying that necessarily ISN'T what we want to do...Seriously, I'm not even going to call this as misogyny; it's too stupid and ill-formed for that. Not that the men come out of it any better; morons, cowed by bitches.

All the plot inconsistencies of the original, that become evident after a few viewings when you're used to the shock of the ending, come screaming out at you in this one; if it's necessary for the conspiracy to keep a person alive, why would they deliberately put them in enough peril to kill them...TWICE? So EVERYONE on the island is in on the conspiracy, and is just fine about it? And, sorry but; what do they get out of it, again? Christopher Lee's Summerisle looked like a bloody good laugh; drink, running around bonfires naked, costumes, a bit of a sing-song; Ellen Burstyn's overgrown hive looks about as much fun as an afternoon at a New Age Fayre, drinking wheatgrass and listening to a tabor. Actually, slightly less fun than that.

However, in the fine old Joel-era MST3K tradition; let's find something nice to say about the movie...

...scenery was nice; fields, trees, whatnot.

...It's always good to see Ellen Burstyn in a film (even if it is while wearing a nightie and a faceful of leftover-from-Braveheart woad).

...the climactic scene where a character is placed inside a human-shaped structure (I'm being coy for the one lost Peruvian tribe untouched by civilisation who haven't seen this or the original yet), by being hoisted up between the legs into the body cavity is a nice touch, in its unsubtle way.

There: 3 nice things, and 3 more than this film deserves; now I deserve a RAMchip and a lie-down. If you are wondering why I haven't mentioned Nicolas Cage's performance...honestly, I thought it was kinder not to. Wild At Heart was a long, long time ago.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

If the mousse tastes chalky, don't eat it

Here at the Bloody Chamber Finishing School for Fallen Young Ladies of Delicate Constitution, we have a varied curriculum. Between handicrafts lessons from Professor Hewitt, and poetry classes with Dr Poelzig, it's a wonder the little darlings find the time to misbehave. We try to equip our girls with invaluable life lessons drawn from the most reliable souce imaginable; horror films, because films never lie.

Today's lesson is drawn from the late Sixties/God is Dead/puerperal psychosis classic Rosemary's Baby:

Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington? Well, don't let her MARRY an actor, either. Rosemary's husband, Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) may seem cool and hip, he may be about to go off and make a load of films with Peter Falk and accidentally invent Steve Buscemi's directing career, but all he really wants is to rent out your reproductive system to the creepy old neighbourhood Satanists for their glowing-eyed anti-Messiah in exchange for a part on Broadway. Never a flicker of guilt, either; at least the geek in Stepford Wives who's part-exchanging his wife for a big-tittied housekeeper/fuckbot has a moment of sitting-in-the-dark-nursing a Scotch angst, but Mr Method can't wait to escape motor oil tv adverts for a showy part in one of those worthy sub-Whose Life Is It Anyway 'issues' plays that never get to Broadway anymore for all the Producers revivals, and so much the better for it if you want my opinion. And, if some rival actor has to get blinded, a few people killed, and your emotionally fragile wife to gestate Lucifer, well...too bad all around.

Men; pfft.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Please God tell me I'm not dreaming this...

Tell me that you can see it too...please?

I did actually do the cartoon thing where you rub your eyes in disbelief the first time I saw this; my delicate eyes have seen a few strange sights in their time, but...Steve Martin (apparently still in his Little Shop of Horrors persona/character/costume) 'singing' a Beatles song while accompanied by a chorus of high-stepping androgynous brainwashed 'Boy' and 'Girl' Scouts? And then having an optically-enhanced reflex-hammer fight with Peter Frampton? While the Bee Gees get their arses kicked by some kung fu fighting nurses...

Actually, I only wish this was the most headfucking scene in the film; let's just say: Donald Pleasance in a wig as a music mogul; Frankie Howerd (ask your Gran) singing 'When I'm 64'...The Bee Gees (again) in ballsachingly tight satin trousers. Personally, I could comfortably have spent a lifetime without ever being forced to contemplate the exact outlines of Robin Gibb's batch; and I don't think I'm alone in that.

Although...if you think of this scene at least as some kind of lithium-induced mad dream experienced by one of the minor characters in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, then it does have a sort of internal logic to it...However, for the scene where George Burns 'vocalises' (I can't make myself type 'sings') Digging A Hole...I have no excuse.

Director Michael Schultz (who is apparently still working in TV), I salute you, if only for being at the right place at the right time; that precise moment in the 70s where a shitload of money, a never-again cast, some actually-fairly-good songs and a ton of drugs combined to make a perfect storm of 70's-ness.

Overall, it's a film that transcends mere human notions of 'Good' and 'Bad' purely by virtue of leaving my 'Whatthefuck-o-meter' needle buried solidly in the red for the entire running time, and that counts for a lot here at Chamber Towers. It's on DVD (Region 1 NTSC only, sadly); make yourself a triple-bill with 'Tommy' and 'Phantom of the Paradise' (or the Rocky Horror Picture Show if you must), and pretend as though High School Musical never happened...

Sunday, 24 February 2008

He's not Nosferatu; he's a very naughty boy

I'm going to try to not have this blog just be about men I want to jump...

...I'm going to fail.

First; the obligatory infodump. 'Martin' was directed by George Romero in 1977, made in Pittsburgh on 16mm, with a cast consisting mostly of Romero's family and friends, supplemented with a few local professional actors.

The eponymous Martin comes to town to stay with Tada Cuda, an elderly relative and his niece Christina (played by Mrs George Romero, Christine Forrest) in the rundown former steelworking community of Braddock, Pennsylvania. There's some indication that he might have been forced to leave his previous home, and it seems hard to believe that anyone would voluntarily move TO Braddock; the only people we see are old or unhappy, Christina's boyfriend (Special Effects legend Tom Savini) is leaving town to get work, and even the church holds Mass in what looks like a building site since they can't afford to repair the building (as if they didn't have enough problems, the parish priest is George Romero himself; smoking cigarettes, drinking and REALLY digging 'The Exorcist').

No-one really knows what to make of Martin. To Tata Cuda he's an 84-year-old vampire, who needs to be redeemed and then staked; to Christina he's a confused kid; to Mrs Santini, the lonely housewife he meets while making deliveries for Cuda's deli, he's a combination of sex toy and surrogate child. To the sarcastic DJ on the phone-in show he calls, Martin is 'The Count'; another late-night loser good for a few jokes. Martin, though, KNOWS that he's a vampire; we see him in black-and-white maybe-fantasies-maybe-memories as a puffy-shirted demon lover, seducing women and fleeing from torch-wielding villagers. In the here-and-now, Martin's not nearly so glamorous; delivering groceries, failing to make eye-contact, and occasionally drugging women and opening their veins with razor blades.

The classic missing-the-point question to ask about Martin he REALLY a vampire? Well, he'd say he was...and he does drink the blood of his victims...but this is a Romero film, and there's nothing supernatural here; Martin sleeps, goes out in daylight, has sex, doesn't have fangs or fear garlic, and is just as susceptible to being hurt as anyone. He does magic tricks, throws away Cuda's crucifix, and dresses up as Dracula (complete with plastic fangs and fancy-dress cape) to scare the old man.

My opinion on what he is, is that he's just a lonely, sad boy, with a troubled past. I'd say that he needs to get out more and get a woman, except that he does and...well, I won't spoil the ending if you haven't seen it, but things don't work out too well all round.

Now, Martin is played by John Amplas, who was in his late twenties at the time, though he looks about 19, and is every inch the Myspace cutie(can you tell I have a crush?), with his floppy hair, striped shirt, and faraway gaze; yes, who would have thought that George Romero, as well as inventing slow-moving zombies, alternative cinema and non-race-specific casting, also invented emo? He's an engaging actor with a convincing awkwardness and vulnerability that somehow makes you forget that Martin is technically a serial killer, and a predator on women. He appeared a few other films, mostly Romero's; in Knightriders as one of cinema's few non-homicidal-thoughts-inducing mimes, a few years later and a few pounds heavier in Day of the Dead, unrecognisable under a ton of makeup in Creepshow, and (not for Romero) as a backwoods fanatic in a sheriff's uniform in Midnight (one of the ever-popular stay-away-from-the-country-cause-they're-all-moonshine-swillin'
-inbred-psychos genre; that never goes out of fashion). I understand he does a lot of stage work and teaches theatre in Pittsburgh, and he turned 51 the day after I started writing this post; 25th February. Happy (belated because I'm a lazy slacker) Birthday John; I hope you know that you have a little corner of vampire film history, and you looked better in that puffy shirt than Tom Cruise did; Lestat be buggered...

Now, would I recommend 'Martin'? Not to everyone...I'd recommend it to you if you're in the mood for something a little slow, a bit different and with a melancholy atmosphere that will probably stay with you for a while. It's not especially bloody, and it does get a little bit unfocused and wandering towards the end, but if the ending doesn't hit you like a sledgehammer then...I have nothing else to say to you.

Martin Madahas: And that's another thing about those movies. Vampires always have ladies. Sometimes lots of ladies. Well, that's wrong too! You don't need all that.

Radio Talk Show Host: Ah,ha,ha,ha, you don't need that?

Martin Madahas: No, you really don't. I mean, if the magic part was real and you could make them do whatever you wanted to...

Radio Talk Show Host: Ha,ha,oh,yeah!

Martin Madahas: Well, that would be different. In real life, in real life you can't get people to do what you want them to do.

La Debut...

Mostly, horror films. Mostly. Films, anyway. One per day-ish, until I get bored, or a life, or run out of good films. Then I'll have to start on the bad ones. Oh, and also actors; the 'character' type, mainly. Possibly also some pictures of kittens, or knitting or something. Still, mostly the films.

Right; get started, shall we?