PSA: Godzilla Vs. Hedorah (1971), or Trippy Stuff, Dude…

15 12 2009

Okay, this one is just for me. It’s been a long 12 months, and I need a movie for me every now and then. This is one of the silliest movies I could come up with, and it really has no place on any list anywhere for anything. But damn it, I wanted something that would make me laugh! I will watch The Departed tomorrow! I promise!

At the beginning of the 70s, Godzilla was already over a decade old, and so Toho Productions, makers of fine rubber monster costumes, felt it was time for a change. So they gave the reins of the character to the young bloods, the wild ones in Japanese cinema, to try and revitalize it. But, as the apathy of the mid 70s had not yet kicked in, people were still very much into making protest and message movies. So Toho allowed Godzilla to make a trippy, experimental message movie about the dangers of polluting!!! It’s chiefly about what would happen if the sludge from Tokyo Harbor came to life and attacked the city. The monster is named Hedorah by the young boy who discovers it, who also wishes that Godzilla, protector/destroyer of the city of Tokyo, will stop him. Looking like a gray melted plastic taco with terrifying eyes, Hedorah flies around…polluting things, and killing plenty of civilians, who probably caused its existence, so who cares? In the end, as usual, only the big green guy can take care of the city he loves so much by taking matters into his own hands. But with Hedorah’s horrible power of self-duplication and acidic excretions, is there any way for Godzilla to combat the fiendish beast of our own design?

Godzilla Vs. Hedorah is absolutely reviled in the Godzilla community. Most people think it is the weakest link in the entire 50 year saga of the character. I think this might be a lot of inexperience talking, though, because anyone who has seen a really bad Godzilla movie knows that they’re not anything to even laugh about. This is a hilarious fucking movie though!!!! Director Yoshimitsu Banno somehow combined the most popular genres of early 70s Japanese film into one handy amalgam. It starts out with an environment-friendly theme song about finding a solution to stop pollution, then we’re in a psychedelic jazz club getting high with some Japanese guys tripping balls. Then we’re off to hanging out with an environmentally conscious kid who teaches us about pollution and solar systems with the power of Japanese animation! Then, more psychedelia, followed by some horror elements when Hedorah starts violently turning people into gray human soup. And then finally, finally, we get some Godzilla around 45 minutes in. Almost forget it was a Godzilla movie? Me too. Such is the power of Banno’s amazing genre-defying film.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, the worst part of a Godzilla movie, if you’ve ever seen one, is the people. You’ll have them in any Godzilla movie; they’re basically mandatory filler for Toho Productions, who don’t think apparently that men wrestling in rubber monster suits for 90 minutes will keep our attention. And yet, to keep us rapt with attention, we have to watch a bunch of mouth-breathing amateurs prattle about how nice things are pre-Godzilla and how bad they are post-Godzilla. But this film actually takes steps to make the human characters interesting. My favorite people are the skeevy discotheque characters who are too high to notice that pollution is killing Mother Nature. At one point, one of the guys in the club has a bad trip, and everyone around him start wearing fish masks!!! Symbolic, of course, of the lack of fish in the sea, and how they’re all on land now due to pollution! Brilliant!!! And the kid who notices this pollution is something else! He’s hyper-streetwise! All the adults are stupidly unaware of why Hedorah has come to destroy them, but only little Johnny the know-nothing kid had the prescience to know that if you dump enough medical waste near the electric company, you’re bound to bring something to life!

As far as the fighting goes, I give it a solid B. Most people complain about how it takes Godzilla so long to defeat Hedorah, but the way I see it, the longer I don’t have to deal with people and can focus on monsters with powers, the better. Hedorah has the evil pollution attack, which is pretty deadly, and can fly, but for some reason also has laser beams in his eyes (???). Was that really necessary? “Okay, this plant monster, he’ll have vines to wrap up Godzilla, he’ll have some pollen to make him sleepy, and, you know what? Give him a drill arm. Just one drill arm.” Godzilla has his usual, and that should be enough to stop one Hedorah, but Hedorah’s secret weapon is the fact that it can divide and turn into multiple Hedorahs for fun and sport. This makes it more for Godzilla to take control of the battle, and so he falters a bit more than usual.

This is one of those movies where you have to look past the obvious crap exterior to really love it. It’s an environmentally, trippy Godzilla from the 70s who like to listen to prog rock and get wasted while staving off bad trips all the time. It’s really weird, but it’s endearing. I laugh often in Godzilla Vs. Hedorah; if it’s not the costumes the goofy humans, or the ridiculous musical stings,¬† it’s something, and I can get behind an environment pic that gets us to chuckle. I think, when given a chance, you will like it, especially when compared to some of the suckier ones of the decade (try Godzilla Vs. Megalon). I give Godzilla Vs. Hedorah 7 gray melted plastic tacos out of 10!

Tomorrow I promise to do The Departed! Until then!

I leave you with the inspiring anti-pollution song “Save the Earth” from Godzilla Vs. Hedorah, whose influence can still be felt today! Take it away, lovely Japanese lady!





Network (1976), or Syndicated Madness

2 12 2009

Thanks to Jason for recommending this film to me! It was a joy to watch this, and it’s always good to know you’re not the only one out there who has seen something. Even though it’s considered a classic, that doesn’t mean anyone in your town has seen it!

Sidney Lumet’s classic look into the executive mindset of 1970s television begins with a firing. Howard Beale, long-running anchor for UBS television network. He’s been loyal to the network for decades, but none of that seems to matter to the executives. Depressed and angry beyond consolation, he spouts out angrily at the end of a broadcast that he will commit suicide live on camera. The execs decide to pull him from the line-up immediately, but not before one final broadcast so that he might leave with some dignity. Beale’s last night on the air, though, is far from dignified, however, as he spews an angry rant at his bosses, the network, and society in general. While the executives are outraged, they soon find that the ratings have skyrocketed, and Beale’s vitriol seems to be just what America is looking for. One young producer named Diana Christensen, sees Beale’s antics as a chance to change the face of the network by merging entertainment with news. She starts planning a new show with real political extremists to hype up ratings while simultaneously building up Beale to be something gaudy and psychotic. They give him his own show and bill him as a mad prophet, allowing him to vent his psychotic frustrations on the air for all his new-found fans to eat up. Will Christensen succeed with her plans to turn the media into even more of a spectacle? Will Beale go too far with his diatribes? Will any of this insanity ever stop as long as the ratings are good?

Network is an eerie forerunner to the future. In a day and age where entertainers like Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, and Rush Limbaugh steer the news like oarsmen on an unmoored boat ride to Who-Knows-Where, Network seems even more relevant than ever before! It’s a story about the lunatics running the asylum, but the administrators still come by to watch the insanity and reap their reward from the duped and the swindled. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, Oscar-winning writer of The Hospital, it’s a hilarious, frightening, and completely unpredictable look at the world of the modern media machine, and how news quickly turns to firebrand tactics at the flick of the switch, and how ratings are the bottom line in American broadcasting. Well written, punchy dialog takes this film from great to excellent, and with legendary lines like, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”, its a story that’s cemented in the annals of cinema forever.

A fantastic cast gives Network its real power. Peter Finch is the spirit behind this film. He plays Howard Beale to uproarious effect, the news anchor who totally loses it and becomes beloved by America for it. This was his last role before his death, and he remains only one of two people to ever receive a posthumous Oscar for acting. He really sells himself as a man pushed over the edge. He seems so normal in the beginning, but perhaps he was crazy the whole time, because the utter strangeness in his performance during the clip above really makes me question who this character is. Faye Dunaway is delightfully campy as Diana Christensen, the producer from hell who is determined to shake things up in UBS. She has an agenda, she has a plan, and even though at times she gets in over her head, she is one vicious lady. Dunaway plays her rough, mean, and close to the chest, frightening any man in the scene with her a little bit. I like it. I also enjoyed William Holden as Schumacher, the news division President of UBS. He’s the reliable old guard character that Holden played so well in his later years. Holden makes him brazen, unshakable, but emotionally genuine, especially when it comes to the treatment and exploitation of his old buddy Howard Beale. And remember how Jason mentioned a young Robert Duvall in this when he recommended this? He’s here, and he’s damn good as Christensen’s boss, Frank Hackett. He was authoritative even back then! He’s a pushover for Dunaway’s Christensen, but I wouldn’t want to disobey an order from him, because Duvall looks like he would bust someone’s jaw in his sprightly youthful frame and his character’s rough demeanor.

Damn it, watch Network! I think it’s definitely top-notch, a true American classic that has grown even more relevant as time has gone on. The madness inherent in our 24-hour news networks resembles all-too vividly Howard Beale’s shock-value entertainment news, and so hopefully the prophetic ending of Network, while highly unlikely, does not come to resemble our present in any day and age. It’s exceptionally acted, well-written, and immaculately shot, and for that I give Network 10 Mad Prophets out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Stay with me, folks! The Machinist is coming up!

P.S- On a side note, I like Jon Stewart, and think he’s hilarious. But he is not a real news outlet, so I felt compelled to use him as an example.





THX 1138 (1971), or Whatever Happened To THX 1137?

25 11 2009

Can you imagine a world without George Lucas? I imagine there are some people who try to envision that scenario every day, but it’s not easy. George Lucas has changed the face of cinema forever, and while it’s debatable whether we’re much better off for it, I think it’s important to acknowledge all that he’s done. American Graffiti, Star Wars, Indiana Jones… okay, that’s pretty much it, but Star Wars is big enough for 10 movies. His influence is undeniable in the annals of the modern day mainstream action or sci-fi film, and he’s world renowned for his innovations in make-up, special effects, and sound design. But long before any of that, Lucas was just a struggling nobody, looking to make a buck off one of the ideas he had in film school. THX 1138 is George Lucas’s debut as a filmmaker, and it showcases what might have been if he had directed more than 6 movies in a 40 year long career. It’s daring, insightful, and, for all it’s faults, it’s entertaining, the real mark of a Lucas film.

It’s, yet again, THE FUTURE!!! Man has screwed himself yet again by creating a society where emotions are strictly controlled and obstructive rules crush originality and individualism. Underground, they work and toil in total seclusion, away from the possibilities and wonder of nature and the beauty of the sun. One of these poor dopes of the future is named THX 1138, and he works in a nuclear production line of some sort, and his life is misery. He does the same thing day in and day out, and his entire life is controlled by the drugs he is indoctrinated into taking and the propaganda that plays on the overhead 24 hours a day. It’s a depressing outlook for him, and it seems he’ll spend the rest of his life in a boring jumpsuit doing the same activity over and over until he dies, until one day his female roommate decides to stop taking her meds. Her entire life changes, and she decides that THX needs to feel this as well, so she starts feeding him placebos to ween him off the emotion-dampening meds. When he finally awakens from his self-imposed coma, he begins to have real zest and desire again. He and his roommate begin talking of escaping the underground to go live away from the oppressive society, as well as their baser desires for one another (i.e. they have dirty 70s sex off-screen). But almost immediately after all this coitus and crazy talk, they’re arrested for their heinous crimes against the state. Thus begins THX’s breaking away from the status quo. After his arrest, he begins a transformation that will see him through the labyrinth of underground tunnels all the way to his escape. He cannot handle the underground society and needs freedom. But what will the government be willing to do to keep him from seeing that freedom he craves?

Robert Duvall IS THX 1138. What a total shift from everything he’s ever done. Take a moment to look at his filmography. Go ahead. No, seriously, go look.

Go.

Hmm…

You back yet? Okay, did you see any other sci-fi films? And those TV shows from the 60s don’t count! This is Duvall as you’ve never seen him before; he’s fit, he’s young, and he’s ready to stop taking his future meds!!! THX is Lucas’s ultimate symbol of artistic expression, and his vision of how the artist should react in modern Hollywood when demands are made of their work. Duvall slyly understands this, and makes the character something that anyone can relate to, by reminding American audiences of their innate desire for freedom. It’s a good move, and it works well in this case.

Lucas, on somewhat of a shoestring budget, crafts a rather terrifying future that we are forced to consider. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not even that original, but Lucas does one thing well despite it all, and that is make the movie look good. The effects have a lot of thought put into them, and they border on the disorienting. Lucas’s dystopia is filled with disembodied voices commanding many things from its inhabitants, so there is a lot of chatter in the air that you’ll have to get used to. The city looks pretty good for ’71, and the sets are depressingly claustrophobic, which I’m sure was the desired effect. My favorite set piece though is the Sanctioned Deity. It’s Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing, and it’s had a particular resonance with me. Here’s the image:

Christ Giving His Blessing

Christ Giving His Blessing

Kinda freaky, huh? Jesus, Caucasian for some reason, staring at you like he wants to eat you. It weirds me out a little bit, I won’t lie.

So if you want to watch a movie with your family this Thanksgiving with Donald Pleasence as a vengeful techie reciting speeches from Richard Nixon, Robert Duvall as a guy who just wants to roll around in the grass and get laid, and George Lucas with a passion you’ve never seen him with before, THX 1138 is your best bet, you upstanding family man, you. It’s not very long, the message isn’t very crisp, and the final sequence can get a little repetitive, but it’s decent entertainment that has something to say, and there’s never really enough of that nowadays. It makes me want to see more of this guy’s filmography, but unfortunately I think I’ve seen the rest of his films about 5000 times over by now. Oh, well. Check this out if you want something new and technically innovative for its time. I give THX 1138 7 1/2 disarming Jesus portraits out of 10.

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving! Give me a good recommendation, and I will watch it! Goregirl gave me a fantastic one, but I still need more movies to see before the end of the year!





Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (1979), or What Beautiful Music They Make

31 10 2009

Well, folks, I’ve saved the best for last on this Cinematronica horror movie outing I’ve been tentatively referring to as OH MY GOD! THERE’S A DEAD BODY IN MY DVD PLAYER! SOMEBODY CALL THE POLICE!!! We’ve seen thrillers, slashers, paranormal films, and monster movies. Now we come to Halloween night, and if any of you have decided to sit back, relax, and watch a scary movie with your family and friends, make it this one. This remake of the 1922 German Dracula re-imagining, created by Werner Herzog himself and starring the legendary Klaus Kinski, is one for the books. It’s eerie, it’s creepy, it’s frightening, and it captures all the original feel and flavor of the Murnau original. But it does the original even one better by adding Kinski as Count Orlok, who was the most intense actor of his generation. If you watch this movie tonight, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Okay, basically, the original Nosferatu was a German rip-off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with really only the names changed to ensure they would not be sued. So it follows, almost to the letter, the events of the Stoker vampire tale. Here, though, the names have all been¬† re-replaced, and are now the names from the Bram Stoker tale. An estate agent named Jonathan Harker has made a lucrative deal recently with a man known as Count Dracula who wishes to buy a castle in Wismar. To complete the deal, Harker leaves for Transylvania, Romania to where the Count lives. After being unnerved by a panicky local populace in Transylvania, he goes and has a meeting with the Count, who is a terror to behold. With a thin white body, claw-like hands, long, sharp teeth like a predator’s, and a completely sleek head, he is seemingly not of this earth. But after Harker speaks to him, he comes to feel for this man, who is lonely and very courteous to his guest. After a meeting in which he catches a glimpse of a small portrait of Lucy, Harker’s wife, he instantly agrees to purchase the property. It seems all cut and dry, but Harker begins to have nightmares while he stays there of the Count, and his wife Lucy, back in Wismar, begins to have terrors of her own. Things don’t get any better as Dracula makes his move toward Wismar, as the crew of the ship moving him begins to die off mysteriously, Harker’s employer Renfield, is stricken with a violent madness, and Wismar itself slowly faces the grip of death as Dracula’s arrival becomes a harbinger of a massive shrink in the population. Who can stop this strange menace that seems to emanate from the hand of the inhuman Count? And will it be at the risk of their very soul if they try?

This is such a good remake. Everything that was so mesmerizing about the original is turned up to 11, and even the details Herzog took a liberty with are exceptional. One of my favorite things he changes here is the humanization of Dracula. He’s not some inhuman beast like the 1922 version; here, you get the sense that he despises himself and what he is, and that makes it so much more fulfilling when the blood starts flowing because you almost felt sorry for him. The distant look in his eyes when he speaks of his nature is an emotional highlight in this film. Herzog really reinforces his reputation as one of Germany’s finest directors here.

The cast is excellent. Stupendous, even. With Kinski as the anchor of the film, it’s hard to fail. His silent intensity is absolutely phenomenal. When he speaks, it resonates with the age of centuries, a lifetime comprised of lifetimes, and it is a wonder to be in the presence of the monster. And he is a monster. Because nothing is more heartbreaking than the one who stabs you in the back after you part from a handshake. I feel for Dracula, I really do. He has a sadness, imbued in him by Kinski, that is so palpable that I could see myself weeping for him. But he is, in the end, a villain, and not only because he must be. There’s something in him that wishes death, invites the cry of the fall upon himself. He is a beast, we the prey, and we two were never meant to be so close. I also enjoyed the acting of Isabelle Adjani, who plays the plucky and strong Lucy. The character is a vast improvement over the original, and Adjani is more than apt for the part. Lucy is stronger and more relatable, and she is also a lot smarter than the dumb-as-rocks character in the silent film. I like her involvement a lot, and it can’t be said that she isn’t just absolutely radiant.

But let’s not forget that this is a horror, and I was certainly frightened by more than a few scenes. Every time Kinski is on screen, he has that barely hinged demeanor that makes you feel that all bets are off. Look at the clip above and tell me that every second he and Lucy are alone together is not just torture. Renfield is also a scary bastard. At one point he actually freaks out and bites a cow!!! His eyes are priceless, and it’s a highlight of the film. The score by rock band Popol Vuh adds considerably to the mysterious theme of the film. It feels at times that we fall into this movie, as one falls into the subconscious when slumber comes upon us, and Popol Vuh blurs that line between the dream and the reality very well with their intensive score.

A great remake that needs to be lifted high on the ramparts. It might be the best movie I’ve seen from this Halloween bunch, and I’ve seen some amazing movies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better vampire movie PERIOD, and if you have any idea just how many of those there are, you know that’s a serious statement. I love it; it’s scary, atmospheric, emotional, and well-made. Kinski and Herzog together made a pairing that defied conventions, but exceeded any expectations, and this, their second film together, is a watershed moment when their cohesiveness peaked in so many ways. I think you’ll like it a lot; I give Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht 10 bitten livestock out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Happy Halloween, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my little movie marathon! Tomorrow it’s back to brass tacks with a movie that I think everyone can relate to; Songs From the Second Floor! Until then!!!





The Devils (1971), or The Horrors Of Organized Religion

28 10 2009

Well, folks, welcome to another scare-tastic edition of HORROR MOVIES THAT ARE CURRENTLY ON MY HARD DRIVE (PROBABLY ILLEGALLY) THAT ARE VERY FITTING FOR THIS HALLOWEEN SEASON! Today is a movie that is unreasonably hard to find in America. Despite its power as a modern masterpiece of terror and suspense, because of its intense sexual nature it has been constantly ignored by many as a simple exploitation film and has been denied a mass-produced American DVD. But if you can find a copy, no matter the quality, you’re in for a real Halloween treat today, because The Devils, despite its ill repute, is a masterful film about religious fanaticism that is both awe-inspiring and down-right spooky. Ken Russell put much of his mind and soul into this film, and it shows in every gripping, gut-wrenching moment of this film.

Set in the 17th century, we follow the tyrannical sweep of the fanatical Cardinal Richelieu throughout the frightened French countryside. He has convinced King Louis XIII to destroy the local defenses around the cities of France to prevent those damn Protestants from uprising and usurping the Catholics. Louis thinks it’s fine, but he tells the Cardinal he musn’t destroy the defenses of the city of Loudon, as he made a personal promise to the governor. Unfortunately for Loudon , the governor has recently perished, leaving it in the hands of Urbain Grandier, a well-regarded priest. He’s stirring up a lot of trouble in town among the ladies due to his highly sexy 17th century nature, and he’s making the rounds with a couple high-profile dames. One of whom, Madeline du Brou, he marries in a simple secret ceremony. This enrages a deformed nun named Sister Jeanne, a hunchback who has a deep lust for Grandier, and wants it really bad from him, going so far as to superimpose him on Jesus’ body in her sexual fantasies (!!!). When the government comes in and demands the fortifications be destroyed, Grandier has to keep his wits about him and do what he can to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, this turns out to be nigh impossible when it is revealed that Sister Jeanne has accused Grandier of witchcraft, as well as seduction of her convent, two devastating charges against him. The church begins to turn on the one man who can save the city, but when the church turns on you in the 17th century, there’s really no recovering. And when a mentally unstable inquisitor named Father Pierre Barre comes in to investigate, the entire sad state of affairs devolves into psychotic religious fervor that threatens the entire town of Loudon.

The Devils is an engrossing, terrifying film about power and control in a number of different aspects. Louis just wants to control absolutely without acting, the despotic Cardinal wants control over the Protestants, Sister Jeanne wants control over Grandier’s heart, and Father Barre just wants to the power over the life and death of men. And meanwhile, Grandier, played by a brilliant Oliver Reed in one of his finest performances, is having power constantly taken away from him by forces beyond his control. The world these characters live in is a brutish, fatalistic vision of the past that seeks to damn the audience while it simultaneously damns all of its main characters.

If you need any proof that this film is frightening, simply take into account the fact that this film is set in a time when the Catholic Church held all the lives of the Western world by the throat. If that thought doesn’t chill you to the bone, perhaps you haven’t reckoned that concept long enough. While there are a number of scenes in this film that over-exaggerate the fervor of the day (the ritualistic orgy outside an exorcism, a nun masturbating with the femur of a heretic (!!!)) it’s really, sadly, not all that far off. This is a film where people are punished for ALLEGED WITCHCRAFT with forced enemas and punished for “CONFIRMED” WITCHCRAFT by burning at the stake! It’s easy to look from our ivory tower of relative religious tolerance in 2009’s America and say that faith has a relevant, important place in today’s society, but if the God that speaks to Christians today is the same God that spoke to Christians back then, then maybe we should all take a look at our moral priorities while God gets a forced enema to shut his fucking mouth for a second.

Is that not scary enough for ya? How about some intense Grand Guignol action? This is not only a personal message film by madcap director Ken Russell, but it’s also a visually arresting one that brings back to mind the exotic imagery of his later film, Altered States. It’s a beautifully crafted horror with creepy imagery abounding. Sister Jeanne, played by Vanessa Redgrave in a breakout performance, is creepy all by herself, the way she flirts back and forth with her own twisted demons. The use of skulls and demonic faces, flickering and flashing on the screen, is also a nice touch in some of the transition shots. I love how they framed Father Barre in some of the interrogation scenes; he feels at times to be a demon from another world, a frothing lunatic with a sincere love for pain and death. Ken Russell designed this withe the idea to inflict some real fear, and I think he succeeds; he did with me at least.

There are a number of proclivities to The Devils that makes it a very special movie. It’s dark, it’s piercing, and it has that moral lucidity that can only come from a director who’s not afraid to point a finger and declare everyone to be wrong. And everybody IS wrong in The Devils. You might not even like its hero, Grandier, because Oliver Reed isn’t exactly known for his Downy softness. But you will think nonetheless, and when I think during an intense horror movie, I come up with some of my best ideas. So check it out if you can find it. It’s quite a disturbing film with a number of graphic scenes you won’t soon forget. I give The Devils 9 1/2 charred femur marital aids out of 10! A high recommendation! Click this link if you’re interested in purchasing The Devils on Amazon, one of this movie’s only (legal) outlets!

Gird your loins, everyone! I have The Others coming up tomorrow! Until then!





The Sentinel (1977), or Closing The Door

24 10 2009

Have you heard of this movie? The answer to that’s probably ‘no’, since I’ve never heard anyone in my entire life so much as mention it. It was a modestly budgeted supernatural horror from ’77 that carried a mind-boggling amount of star power, but not a lot of word-of-mouth here in the States. Directed by Michael Winner of Death Wish fame, The Sentinel has a pretty scary concept, an abrupt style that is just as jump-inducing as any loud music sting you could throw at an audience, and a claustrophobic soundtrack that feels like a spider building its web in your innards. If the cast were just a little more worthwhile, I would be calling this an undiscovered classic.

In a tiny posh neighborhood of Brooklyn, a young girl named Allison has just closed a deal on a super-cool rental house divided into apartments. She’s a famous fashion model with a few too many neuroses, and needs to be by herself for a while. She’s had a rough time with life, and has attempted suicide twice in her life already, and now, leaving her friends, her family, and her Roman Catholic faith behind her, she’s trying to get on with herself and start healing. But what her real estate agent doesn’t tell her about the apartment is that there are some odd neighbors in the apartments around her that aren’t all they seem. At the top floor lives a mysterious blind priest named Father Halloran, an old man with a shady past who just sits in his room all day looking out t the window. Another neighbor, a mysterious old man named Charles Chazen, comes to Allison one night and invites her to his cat’s birthday party (???) where she can meet all her other neighbors. Needless to say, he’s kind of bizarre, and Allison is unnerved by him. The longer she stays in the apartment, the more her mental and physical health deteriorates, and the more she is haunted by the painful memories of her past. And of the present, when she begins to see visions of mysterious, disfigured people mindlessly roaming the halls and corridors of her building. All this is compounded by the fact that when she asks her real estate agent about her other neighbors, she shocks Allison by telling her that the only other neighbor she has is the blind priest (!!!). So who is Charles Chazen? Who are the strange people who inhabit the building at night? Can she find out before it’s too late?

Good movie, although somewhat of a diatribe for the reawakening of the Catholic faith. Is it just me, or has anyone ever noticed that most horror movies with a religious message always tend to terrify people into piety? As if to say, “You better come back to the Catholic Church, or the Devil is going to rip your face off and use it as a decorative napkin!” Anyway, The Sentinel is a film that tends to think that less is more, and I agree. We really don’t see all that much of the horror and terror in Allison’s apartment, unless you count Burgess Meredith’s intense graying countenance as Charles Chazen. There’s a lot of that. But all the oddities and apparitions in the apartment are mostly left to the imagination as to what they could be. But when they show you the horror, get ready for some intensity. The one scene that everyone mentions online about this movie is really in-your-face, and just shock-and-awes my nerves. Allison’s investigating¬† a dark room, and before she can actually walk into a room, some scary guy just walks with intention in front of her and crosses the room. Not that kind of thriller walk, where the film speed downplays the quickness of the character; this guy power-walks in front of her, and if you’ve ever had someone walk right up to you that fast, but it’s a little jarring. Here, it’s fucking heart-pounding, because you don’t even know who or what it is.

It’s kind of hard to comment about the special effects and make-up. Considering I don’t know exactly what the things in the apartment are, I don’t really know how good they look comparatively. But they do look scary, that’s for sure. They’re very pale, their skin is textured and disfigured, and they each have some unique characteristic to them that makes them individually eerie. This film has come under fire in their past for a particular scene in which some of the “neighbors” are played by circus “freaks” and side-show carnival folk. And while I don’t think that part was in particularly good taste, it’s a lot less demeaning than their day-jobs (“Come one, come all, to take a look at the FREAKS!”) and it does add something to the scene’s climax. They’re not being beaten to death by Burgess Meredith with a rusty steel pipe or anything, so I don’t think it was the worst call in the world to make on Michael Winner’s part.

Speaking of Burgess Meredith, he’s the gleaming ball of sunshine in this otherwise lackluster cast. He plays Charles Chazen, the shady guy who might just be a bit more than your friendly neighborhood cat person. He’s creepy, freaky, and all-together perfect with his low, growling voice and his bulldog face. Everyone else, though, suffers from deer-in-headlights syndrome. Allison is played by Christina Raines, and she looks rather confused as to how she’s supposed to act. Her role, such as it is, is interesting, but she has all the subtlety of a grilled cheese sandwich to the face. But she’s just the tip of the iceberg. Would you believe Christopher Walken is in this movie? That’s right; Christopher “I Have A Chicken” Walken is Detective Rizzo, a guy who’s investigating the odd occurrences as a favor. He’s still in Young Walken mode, before he went full-on applesauce insane, so he’s pretty tame here. He’s actually kind of boring, really, so he gets no thumbs-up from me. John Carradine makes a brief cameo as the blind priest Father Halloran, but he’s in it for only a few seconds, so he’s more of a set piece than an actual character. Martin Balsam is here too! And Ava Gardner! And Jeff Goldblum! But nobody is really that great! It’s really all about the Meredith here, a testament to his career that he could still act circles around people in his old age.

So a bland cast mars an otherwise great feature. The Sentinel is good supernatural haunted-house story that anyone can just sit back and watch without a care in the world. It’s spooky, it’s thrilling, and if you can get past the glaring religious message, it’s quite entertaining. There aren’t a lot of movies like this, so if you don’t try it once, you might really be missing out. It will make the perfect accessory for a dark October night snuggled up on the couch as the night moves slowly upon the world like waves on the sands. I give The Sentinel 7 1/2 power-walking demons out of 10. Check it out!

Whew! Almost caught up! Keep checking back with me for my review of Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant! Until then!!!





I Spit On Your Grave (1978), or Deliverance Redux

21 10 2009

Okay, before you just click off the website for my even briefest mention of this searingly controversial film, hear me out for a second. Ever since I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman) came out in 1978, people have been enraged over the content of this film. Its explicit depictions of rape have been the suject of a lot of heated debate over whether or not it is exploitative of women or the sexually-graphic rape scenes. Now, I think anyone will admit that rape is not a fun thing to think about, talk about, and especially watch because of its absolutely reprehensible nature, and so on a certain level I can see how any filmed depiction of a woman being forced to do ANYTHING should be heavily scrutinized for fear of lifting the severity of the act in any way, shape, or form. After seeing I Spit On Your Grave with my own eyes, and in my own expert opinion as an unlicensed and totally irresponsible movie reviewer, I have to say that I didn’t find it to be either exploitative or inappropriate in the slightest. Most people would want to avoid this little shocker horror film and watch something a tad more light-hearted this Halloween season, but if you’re up for something a bit more serious in terms of tone (like murder isn’t serious!) then maybe this low-budget slasher will be up your alley.

Directed by Israeli shock-meister Meir Zarchi, I Spit On Your Grave is about the unfortunate happenstance of a young woman from NYC who rents a summer house in the country to start writing her first novel. Her name is Jennifer, and she’s just getting settled in to the slow pace of country life, relaxing in a hammock, lounging about in pajamas, and row-boating, when she is attacked by a group of four young country bumpkins. They want to get their mentally feeble friend Matthew laid, so they decide to attack this isolated young woman and give him his first time. He’s a little nervous, though, so one of the other friends assaults her sexually. Once he’s finished, they let her go. She runs, beaten and bloodied, through the woods, lost and confused as to where to go. She happens upon a clearing, at which time the young brutes catch up with her and rape her AGAIN. The hillbillies let her walk away again, and this time she makes it all the way to her house, where she almost makes it to the phone to call the police. Before that happens, though, the hillbillies are back at the house for more. They take her again, until they’ve completely had their fill. They make their escape, telling idiot Matthew that he has to kill her. Being a total coward, though, he fakes it by smearing some of her blood on a knife and telling them that he stabbed her in the heart. That was their first and final mistake, because the traumatized but plucky survivor Jennifer picks herself up, washes herself off, and begins to plan her revenge. She refuses to take such a violent affront lying down, and will go to any lengths to exact bloody, bloody retribution on the sick, twisted bastards who assaulted her.

I Spit On Your Grave is not a great, crusading giant of a film that seeks to stamp out rape everywhere. But it’s also not a sickening example of torture-porn taken to its horrifying, logical conclusion. It’s just your average slasher movie from the 70s with a strong message attached. Enemies of the film, like long-time hero of mine Roger Ebert, will say that it seeks to degrade women in a misogynistic spree of violence and sexual battery. But to say that completely misses the point of the slasher genre, which is to reward woman, in the form of the Final Girl, and her triumph against the big, ugly monster. Horror directors as artists, for the most part, wholly respect women, possibly more than they respect men. We’re asked as an audience member (or even just as a human being) not to root for the bumpkins and their horrible agenda; unless the film was about how cool it was to abuse a woman, or how rape is somehow admissible in the director’s eyes, there is no shred of misogyny to be found in I Spit On Your Grave.

As I said, though, it’s still, other than the harrowing scenes in the beginning, a typical slasher from the Jimmy Carter years. There are a lot of dull scenes involving the idiot country boys just hanging around in the wilderness talking about boobs and vaginae, Jennifer (played by a beautiful and exceedingly strong Camille Keaton) looking vengefully out into the ether, and WAY too many of idiot extraordinaire Matthew, who is so unappealing that I think he pops in and out of this dimension like a flickering bulb to toy with us from his fortress on Planet Bland. I understand that every slasher flick has to have some filler, but this is more painful to sit through than usual somehow.

Still, Zarchi, in key moments, captivates us and leaves us locked in, unable to look away, though we want to with all of our might. The vicious rape is an obvious example, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who turned away midway through; people will either stop it as soon as it starts, or go all the way to the end. But the revenge scenes are just as compelling. Jennifer’s revenge on Matthew is not only brutal, but rather surprising. I didn’t think she would go the route she did, but I’m glad she did. And the death of the leader, Johnny, is fucking awesome! As he bleeds out in the bathroom, Jennifer listens to a song from Manon Lescaut and rocks back in a rocking chair, to the world’s delight.

Pretty good, all things considered. It’s not a towering monument in the horror industry, but it’s a film that should most definitely, and will definitely, be remembered for years to come. Whether you think Zarchi is a masochistic pig for creating this low-key slasher or not, the man has to be respected for creating a tension and a realism that isn’t present in many of the era’s horror. With absolutely no soundtrack, a penchant for not looking away, and an M.O. that can be read loud and clear from the back of the video video box, I Spit On Your Grave is something to tackle if you don’t mind things getting a little heavy on these chilly October nights. I give it 7 Planet Blands out of 10. You go, girl!

Tomorrow we have another horror film to meditate on, but I need to see what I have in my collection! I’ll fill you in later on what I decide!





The Brood (1979), or The Agony Of The Self

20 10 2009

Hey, everyone! Welcome back to another frightening edition of MOVIES I’M WATCHING CURRENTLY THAT FIT THE HALLOWEEN MOTIF WITH THEIR SCARY IMAGES AND THEMES! Today we revisit that master of surrealist science-fiction psychodrama, David Cronenberg. The Brood was his first success, and it was a measure of the style and psychological substance that was soon to follow. It was a dark, edgy film about the nature of parenthood, and its bizarre effects on the patients of a maverick psychotherapist. Often considered one of the most frightening movies ever made, it has a reputation that certainly precedes it. My experience with it was one to remember; I haven’t been so visually assaulted with terror since, well, my last Cronenberg review.

Dr. Hal Raglan is not your average shrink. He’s also somewhat of a mad scientist. He’s created a new form of therapy called “Psychoplasmics”, wherein he tells his patients to just let loose with their negative emotions. It’s effective, possibly too effective. It causes physical manifestations on the body of the patient, depending on the diagnosis. Sometimes it’s as minor as welts, sometimes it’s as bad as a tumor. In one particular case, a woman named Nola is having a very undesirable effect from the treatment. It’s undesirable because her “psychoplasmics” are completely out of control. This is obviously distressing to her daughter, Candice, and her husband, Frank, who really don’t know much about what is going on with her. And to make matters worse, a group of bizarre children have been assaulting their family since Nola started the treatment; they’re mysterious, deformed, and angry, and they have some connection with the treatment. Can Frank and daughter Candice cope with the change they see in Nola? Will they be able to survive the onslaught of the horrific, strange children? And will Frank be able to get any answers out of Dr. Raglan?

This is a movie that really gets in your head and stays there. The Brood is very methodical in its madness, but its methods are for you to figure out. There is very little here that speaks in obvious, “Let me explain it for you” dialog. You really have to attack this movie mentally, as it will try and attack you, for maximum movie pleasure. I always enjoy a movie that gets you participating, and The Brood will have you talking about its meaning, its themes, and its symbolism afterwards. From the first gripping scene to the last obfuscated minute, you will be pulled in by Cronenberg’s depth of style.

And he is such a consummate visual storyteller. Even if you don’t always know what the visions mean, you understand on a baser level what he’s trying to say. This concept of “psychoplasmics” really set up Cronenberg to be able to do the amazing things he can do with the special effects. The strange marks all over Dr. Halgar’s patients suggest what Cronenberg’s career would confirm; that he is a man with utterly devastating imagination. The children themselves have this air of disturbed psyche about them, and that is wildly apparent when they start going insane. The scene where one of the children attacks Candice’s grandmother is just spectacular; when he leaves the bloody hand-prints on the stair rails, you know that you’re in the hands of a good director.

Oliver Reed was fated to play the mysterious role of Dr. Halgar. He has such a villainous streak in him as an actor, and Dr. Halgar is a villainous fellow indeed, so it only fits. His lines are delivered like a letter from your worst enemy, with a sneer and a flippant disregard for anyone. Reed really was good at what he did. Art Hindle plays Concerned Father and Husband of the Year, Frank Carveth. I really liked this guy; he has an earnestness that goes a long way into making him superbly amiable. Even when he sees the mother of his child lick a foetus clean (!!!), there’s still a part of him that says, “But that’s my WIFE!” And kudos to Samantha Eggar, by the way, for pplaying the difficult role of Nola. She does a great job here, ans she’s got a hard character to play; I mean. she’s not exactly a bad guy. She’s just disturbed. It’s the “psychoplasmics” she employs that really messes everything up, and if that wasn’t in play, she’d just be another mother with mental issues. Admittedly, she might have more problems than most, as you begin to see about midway through the film, but I still feel kinda bad for her.

So this is another good Cronenberg movie. Possibly better than one of my favorites by him, Scanners. There’s a definite malevolent presence to this film that’s unique in Cronenberg’s oeuvre. It comes from a deep inner pain that he must have been feeling, because this movie screams in agony at times so loud one can hardly hear anything else. You’ll know what I mean when you see it, and you’ll look at the man in a while new way once you’ve seen this. Another good horror movie to spice up the Halloween season with. It’s scary as Hell, and has some subtext to boot; what more could you ask for? I give The Brood 8 1/2 bloody hand-prints out of 10!

Tomorrow we go out into the backwoods for I Spit On Your Grave! Until then!





The Last Detail (1973), or Magic Jack, Otis The Amazing, And Randy The Magnificent

7 10 2009

You gotta give it to Jack Nicholson; when he’s good, he’s really good. I remember quite vividly seeing a preview for The Bucket List a little while back and thinking to myself, “Wow, Jack Nicholson acts like a geriatric character in a King Vidor flick nowadays! That movie looks like it’ll blow hard!” and heartily laughing to nobody because they none of my friends caught my witty King Vidor reference. But seeing today’s feature, The Last Detail, reminds me why Nicholson is not only a household name, but a real powerhouse when he wants to be. The Last Detail is what movies used to be, and still have the potential to be; edgy, in your face, and dangerous. A searing indictment of authority as well as a thoughtful look at the fruitlessness of youthful rebellion, The Last Detail glances across the cloying gulf of time and silently judges our moral character, wondering just how much we’ve learned in 30 years. I appreciate the confrontation from the past, as well as what it was trying to say in its present.

It begins with a simple theft. Young US Navy sailor Larry Meadows decides to make a bid for stealing $40 from the Commandant’s wife. It fails, he is caught, and for his insubordination, the fellow is given 8 years (!!!) in a Naval prison in New Hampshire. Pretty strict, huh? So Meadows is being escorted to the prison by two older sailors named Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky and “Mule” Mulhall. The pair isn’t exactly the best for the job of getting this job done by the book, though, because Buddusky finds this sentence egregious. He actually takes a liking to Meadows and decides to live it up with him for the week they have to complete the assignment, spending their per diem on booze and women. The three live fast and hard, snubbing their nose at the powers-that-be while getting lost in the big city. Meadows learns a lot on their trip, and the boys really open up to him as a friend, but when he decides to make a break for it, their loyalties to each other and the Navy are questioned.

What an interesting, meandering movie! It’s a buddy movie mixed with a message movie mixed with a journey movie, and all these things come together to make it a good movie. Based on a novel by Daniel Ponicsan, The Last Detail endures as a powerful movie that transcends its decade with its openly rebellious nature and its well-written, enthralling organic dialog. And it is QUITE organic, often brought up in the 70s as an example of Hollywood going “too far”. Some classics include:

Meadows: Drop your socks and grab your cocks, we’re going to a party.

Buddusky: If this kid gets pussy out of this, I’ll eat my flat hat. (!)

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Mulhall: Tell you what, mister citizen bartender. You can take your beers and shove ’em up your ass sideways. Can you dig it?

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Buddusky: You know what I like most about this uniform? The way it makes your dick look. (!!)

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Meadows (checking out a porn mag): Are they really doing that when they take that picture?

Buddusky: Well kid, there’s more things in this life than you can possibly imagine. I knew a whore once in Wilmington. She had a glass eye… used to take it out and wink people off for a dollar. (!!!!!!)

Well, don’t that just beat all! Just like a real sailor! It’s all about the rapport between the three leads. Otis Young plays Mulhall, the semi-serious black sailor with a sense of responsibility. I love how cool this dude is! It’s like the Navy enlisted Shaft! He’s a really wise fellow for a young Navy enlisted man, and some of Otis Young’s scenes really belie his age. Randy Quaid, so young here, is Meadows, and plays it with a sheepishness and a vulnerability that I’ve never seen from him before, and probably will never again. He’s actually pretty fantastic, and he reminds me of Lenny from Of Mice and Men.

But everyone remembers this movie because of Jack. Jack is the man here. I love Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky. He reminds me of a cool older brother; dispensing home-spun advice about women, beer, and life, while never admitting fault or a lack of knowledge. He’s ALWAYS got something to say here, and that’s the persona that made him a star. There’s something about that eye-rolling, cigar-smoking, profanity-using young bastard that will remain in the memory of Hollywood as long as it lives. Nicholson was a real Hollywood bad-boy, giving aging A-list ne’er-do-wells like Peter O’Toole and Marlon Brando runs for their money with his sadistic charm and his filthy, filthy mouth. Roles like this and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest defined his trademark sarcasm as well as his flashes of brilliance that would come less and less often in later years.

Hal Ashby created a winner with this one. He really helped define the movie-making process of directors’ rule in the 70s with films like Shampoo, Coming Home, Being There, and, of course, The Last Detail. There hasn’t been a movie in recent memory to come out with such a unique feeling to it, with such an air of adventure and fresh rebellion, to my knowledge, and if you know of one, please point me in its nearest direction. Randy Quaid, Otis Young, and Jack Nicholson gel together exceedingly well, and with dynamite sequences like the prayer scene in the clip above, or the infamous bartender fight, you might want to take the time to discover this one. I give The Last Detail 9 wink-jobs out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I take a look at a movie I needed to do a review of a LOOONNNGGG time ago. Get ready for my belated review of Inglourious Basterds! Until then!





The Warriors (1979), or Can YOU Dig It?

2 08 2009

Whatever happened to the days of colorful, exciting gang warfare? Whatever happened to the days where a gang called the Satchmos or the Rufflebums could rule a Borough of New York with an iron first by doing little more than dressing street appropriate and carrying melee weapons? It seems that nobody cares how fashionable you are when you’re doing illicit street activities, but rather how much firepower you have, and when all you have is a bat with nails in it and a broken beer bottle to defend your turf, you’re kind of powerless against anyone with a gun. Nowadays, its just Bloods and Crips, Bloods and Crips, with a little Latin Kings thrown in their for variety. No cool outfits, no badass battles. Just boom-boom-dead, click-click-coroner. Today’s feature, the cult classic The Warriors, brings us back to that magical moment in the late 70s when it was okay to be in a gang and not be armed to the teeth. A time of honor, a time of courage, a time of brutal street violence.

The time: 1979. The place: New York City. The Gramercy Riffs, NYC’s most powerful gang, has called a meeting of all the street gangs. Their leader, Cyrus, urges the gangs to unite as one, telling them that they outnumber the police 3 to 1, and could sack the city easily. But chaos breaks loose when a member of the evil Rogues shoots Cyrus, grabbing the attention of the NYPD. In the ensuing chaos the Rogues shift the blame to an unassuming gang called The Warriors. Everybody is pissed at the Warriors now, and their leader is overwhelmed and probably dead after the hubbub. So the second-in-command, Swan, leads them back home to their turf in Coney Island. Along the way, every gang in town is looking to demolish them, and the only way it looks like they’re going to make it home is by making a trail of bodies all the way back.

The Warriors is set up like a video game. It’s actually a perfect action-brawler template. To get home the Warriors have to fight successively harder gangs until finally they fight the gang that started the whole mess. What a great idea! Seriously, I had a blast watching this. The concept is the best. Fashionable street gangs with afros beating the hell out of each other. Where can you go wrong? It’s dynamic, it’s fresh, it’s something that had never really been done before.

Directed by Walter Hill, famous for 48 Hrs., this is an aesthetic roller coaster ride through the almost dystopian streets of late-70s New York. I can honestly imagine it being like this, though, if you’ve seen the photos or watched the documentaries, but it still doesn’t even seem real. The trashed subways, the brazen street violence, the filthy streets; all of it seems to erupt on the screen like an angry city, full of agitated people. Perhaps I’m reading a lot into it, but it’s still an effective film to evoke a certain time and place.

The gangs are the most important thing, though, and they are pretty fun. The Turnball ACs (shaved heads), The Lizzies (all female), The Baseball Furies (baseball-themed), all of these gangs were well thought-out and fleshed out. Everybody has their niche, their theme-related snide remarks to The Warriors, and their own special gang attacks. It’s like Double Dragon with actual names and corresponding personalities to the various street gangs. If you like brawling gang-on-gang action, but with distinct outfits to remind you who the good guys and bad guys are, The Warriors is one step ahead of you.

It’s not perfect. It’s pretty superficial, the acting is only average, and the soundtrack is even more dated than the outfits. But The Warriors succeeds by having a fun that emanates from its very concept. Combine that with an interesting peek into the world of cliche 70s street gangs, and you have one entertaining movie! Check it out wherever old movies are sold! This could be one of your favorite action movies and you don’t even know it! I recommend it, with a stirring 7 1/2 Turnball ACs out of 10! CAN YOU DIG IT?

Tomorrow we celebrate the Fouth of July a little late with Independence Day! Until then!!!