Monday, July 10, 2006

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Paul Morrissey directs this shlockfest version of the story of Dr. Frankenstein, complete with gallons of fake blood, a duo of creepy children and the legendary Joe Dallasandro as the frequently unclothed servant to the mistress of the house.

This particular Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) is trying to create two "zombie" monsters from assembled body parts at the same time - a man and a woman, from which he intends to breed a master race. It's all very Mary Shelley meets Friedrich Nietzsche.

The finest (and most revolting) moment comes when he climbs atop the platform containing the female creation. She, not yet brought to life, has an open wound across her abdomen, revealing some of her inner organs. The good doctor proceeds to mount the body and merrily hump away, but not before ordering his assistant to avert his gaze. When finished, he tosses off one of the greatest lines of dialogue in movie history: "In order to understand death, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder." So true, Herr Doktor. So true.

Recommended to Warhol fanatics, necrophiliac aristocrats and people who like seeing long, lingering close-ups of Joe Dallasandro's ass.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The (New) Movies That Were 2005

The films that were new to me in 2005 - totaling 135 - are noted below. Films I actually saw in a theater span the spectrum from Saw II to Brokeback Mountain to The Big Parade. Most of them were DVD and cable fodder. It was a good year:

The Beatniks
Back from Hell
Lady Gangster
Behave Yourself!
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Party Monster
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
Matrix Reloaded
Matrix Revolutions
Parting Glances
The Broken Hearts Club
Latter Days
Relax…It's Just Sex
Cowboys & Angels
My Own Private Idaho
O Fantasma
But I'm a Cheerleader
The Raspberry Reich
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Angels in America
La Dolce Vita
Igby Goes Down
Rebel Without a Cause
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nine Dead Gay Guys
Burnt Offerings
The People vs. Larry Flynt
National Velvet
Eating Out
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Scarlet Street
Touch of Pink
A Place in the Sun
The 24th Day
The Glass Menagerie
The Big Parade
Beau Brummell
From Dusk Till Dawn
The Virgin Queen
Mysterious Skin
Death on the Nile
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
The Last Seduction
Johnny English
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Lord of Illusions
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
No Ordinary Love
The Celluloid Closet
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Leaving Metropolis
Hegwig and the Angry Inch
Rio Bravo
The Forsaken
The 25th Hour
A River Runs Through It
Song of the Thin Man
Mulholland Falls
Big Fish
Puce Moment
White Heat
Rabbit's Moon
Eaux d'artifice
Kustom Kar Kommandos
The Substitute
The Seniors
Batman & Robin
Multiple Maniacs
The Medallion
The Rundown
Starsky & Hutch
The Butterfly Effect
Scorpio Rising
The Pope of Greenwich Village
Party Girl
Trembling Before G-d
Saw II
The Wicker Man
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Wicker Park
Easy Rider
Dead Man
Thunder Road
The Little Foxes
The Letter
To Die For
That's Entertainment!
That's Entertainment, Part II
It Happened to Jane
Coal Miner's Daughter
The Golem
The Balloonatic
Seven Chances
Now, Voyager
Drugstore Cowboy
The Wiz
The Godfather: Part III
The Island of Dr. Moreau
Bullets over Broadway
Dinner Rush
The Big Sleep
West Side Story
City Lights
The Great Dictator
The Tramp and the Dictator
Vanity Fair
Brokeback Mountain
We Were Soldiers

The Movies That Were 2005 (Again)

The film chronicle for 2005 is now officially divided between those that I've seen before and those that were originals. Here is the chronological list of re-views from last year. A few re-re-views can be noted by the diligent list investigator:

The Last Unicorn
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Napoleon Dynamite
The Harrad Experiment
Desperate Living
Not Another Teen Movie
Napoleon Dynamite
Cecil B. Demented
Divine Trash
Desperate Living
Hot Shots!
The Road Warrior
Pulp Fiction
Eye of the Beholder
The Way of the Gun
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Female Trouble
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
A Dirty Shame
Desperate Living
Scary Movie 2
Starship Troopers
Female Trouble
Donnie Brasco
Cecil B. Demented
Divine Trash
Blazing Saddles
The Truman Show
A Dirty Shame
Logan's Run

Saturday, March 04, 2006

If It's in Black and White, It's Not in Bad Taste

Turner Classic Movies is currently showing the film adaptation of William Golding's frequently-assigned-in-high-school-lit-class novel Lord of the Flies (1963). Given the state of undress the 12 year old characters find themselves in, I assume this one is a favorite down at NAMBLA headquarters. A dozen scantily-clad boys on a tropical island? It's Blue Lagoon for pedophiles - which is saying something, considering how young Brooke Shields and Christipher Atkins themselves were.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Back from Hell (1993)

Best line:
Fr. Aaron [to devil-worshipping assassin]: "I've got a message for you. Tell Satan to kiss my blacks ass!" [shoots guy in chest with shotgun].

You might have seen this film under its alternate title, Demon Apocalypse. But probably not. The short story goes something like this: wannabe actor (Larry DuBois) sells his soul to Satan, welshes on the terms of the deal, and is pursued by the wrath of Hell in retribution. Simple, right? WRONG! The very same week that the forces of darkness are trying to avenge this particular case of diabolical cold feet, Satan himself is planning the end times battle royale to take over all of earth. It's like feuding with your girlfriend, landlord, local law enforcement, and atomic terrorists all in the same week.

Jack (DuBois) is not alone, though. His childhood friend Aaron (Shawn Scarbrough), now a priest, starts the movie on his way to fulfill Jack's mysterious request to confess. Upon arriving at an abandoned farm building on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Father Aaron is subjected to perhaps the most horrifying, spectacle that the infernal fires could create: stilted, flat dialogue from the sulfurous pits of lameness itself. Jack describes direct contact with the devil, human sacrifice, multiple murders and the looming apocalypse with less energy and emotion than the average person uses ordering a drink. On the cinematic vice front, however, he does smoke a couple of cigarettes and take swig from a plastic half gallon bottle of cheap vodka, so at least MADD and the American Legacy Foundation think the movie is truly evil.

After sleep-walking through the backstory and shooting a couple of possessed cops, Jack and Father Aaron decide that cooling their heels in a building full of potentially reanimated corpses is not the best plan of action, especially when evil is making a play for control of the planet. They jump into the father's sensible ride and head out through the Michigan countryside.

Along the way, Father Aaron decides to stop at his aunt's house to make sure she hasn't fallen victim to the burgeoning minions of evil in the neighborhood. Upon arriving, they confront a heavy-set weirdo wearing a tight-fitting orange t-shirt (who I swear is an uncredited Horatio Sanz), subdue him with heavy objects and poorly-knotting rope, and settle in to await the return of the missing aunt.

While Jack is occupied with raiding the fridge for frozen microwave appetizers and a stray can of Coors banquet beer, Father Aaron is seeking inspiration from the Bible on his aunt's living room table. Leafing through, his face is suddenly palmed by a black-nailed demon hand thrust straight out of the pages of the Bible itself! He wrestles with the hand, still sticking out of the holy pages, blundering back and forth across the room. Keeping its metaphorical eyes on the prize, the demon hand works its way down from his face to his neck, then saucily to his crotch. The Father grimaces in agony as the taloned claw twists his junk all out of priestly shape. Aaron briefly considers a nearby knife as a weapon, but wisely reconsidering chooses a wooden meat tenderizing mallet instead. Wisely because, just like in a Tom & Jerry cartoon, the hand lets go and falls away just as he brings down the mallet on his midsection. Bastard devils! Cut to the Father still grimacing, as he and Jack bond over pilfered booze while they watch the accursed book burn in the fireplace.

There's no rest for the contractually wicked, however, so our star-crossed duo is soon back on the road, making their way to the exact location where Jack signed his original blood. They soon pull up and being walking through an open field to the special spot. Upon arriving they discover a Satanic altar bristling with deadly weapons and realize: It's on. What follows is a disjointed series of attacks by anonymous assailants clad in black clothes and face masks, each bearing a different weapon, each repelled by Jack (knife) and Father Aaron (chainsaw) in turn. Severed limbs, spilled guts and a seemingly endless stream of squirting blood flash across the screen in an exquisitely unconvincing parade of gore. Somehow the flow of blood always seems to hit them directly in the eyes; these guys get more bodily fluid sprayed in their faces than a dozen porno actresses.

Having dispatched the oddly ninja-like foot soldiers of darkness, our heroes repair to their original destination and find Jack's old friend Azzagras, the High Priest of Satan (Matt Hundley) standing in the doorway of yet another dilapidated farm building. He's here to fill Jack in on current events and give him a little career counseling relevant to the impending new Luciferian world. Of course we all know how superstitious High Priests of Satan can be, so he demands that Father Aaron skeddadle while the big boys talk among themselves. Having been unceremoniously dismissed, a suddenly weary Father Aaron wanders around the back of the building and slumps against the wall for a quick nap.

The good father falls into a fitful sleep, conjuring up disturbing dreams of negative exposure stock footage. Imagine you're having the same dream: It seems you're wandering through the woods, except the sky is black and the trees are white! Could this be a vision of an evil new world, or a simple matter of checking the wrong box on the film lab order form? With a budget as low as this one, either could be equally terrifying.

Jerked out of sleep by his nightmares, Father Aaron begins to wander away from the building, looking for...something. He soon reaches a small bridge over a swift-slowing muddy river. As he gazes into its swirling eddies, his reverie is shattered by yet another ninja/devil minion. They battle, they wrestle. Father Aaron spots a conveniently placed shotgun at the end of the bridge, only to get his calf sliced into by his assailant's machete. Limping now, he finally makes it and levels the pump action into place, uttering the line above. Ka-blammie. Relieved at his triumph, the Father limps back to the middle of the bridge where the dying attacker leans precariously against the railing. He reaches out and pulls off bad guy's hood only to reveal...I'll let you guess (Hint: there are only two main characters in this movie, and Father Aaron is not looking at his own face). Fin.

Strangely, neither of the two leads seems to have done any other film work, before or after. I suppose that someone with any experience whatsoever would had to have been better than these guys, while once you've been in a movie this bad, there's no point in trying to top it. Writer/director/"Maniac with Ax" Matt Jaissle, however, did go on to such projects as 1997's The Necro Files, for which he served as producer, director, editor, cinematographer, composer, special effects supervisor, and the voice of Frank the police dispatcher. In case you're wondering what that one was about, let's just note that the working title was Psycho Zombie Love Butcher.

Back from Hell may have been an amateurish bore festooned with cow intestines, but at least it stayed true to its Michigan setting: a copy of the Detroit News with a fake headline and an empty can of Faygo orange soda are shown in the opening scene sequence. Recommended to residents of 8 Mile, Juggalos, and Catholic priests who have discovered that spiritual power, too, can come from the barrel of a gun.

The Movies That Were 2004

Inspired by Dennis, I've tried to reconstruct a list of all the movies I saw this year. Unlike him I wasn't keeping track as I went along, so the list will be a little sketchy. Re-viewings are marked with an X:

10 Things I Hate About You X
28 Days Later
A Dirty Shame
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Alien vs. Predator
American History X X
American Pie X
Attack of the Giant Leeches
Behind Enemy Lines
Beyond Evil
Bikini Med School
Birth of a Nation
Blade Runner X
Cecil B. Demented X
Children of Dune
Clue X
Cruel Intentions X
Dangerous Beauty X
Desperate Living
Devil's Advocate X
Devil's Nightmare
Die Sister, Die!
Divine Trash
Donnie Brasco
Election X
Female Trouble
Gattaca X
Get Real X
Getting Wasted
Hairspray X
Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle
High Plains Drifter X
Horror Hotel
Incoming Freshmen
Kids X
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels X
Logan's Run X
Magnum Force
Mallrats X
Mean Girls
Minority Report
Motel Hell
Murder by Death X
Napoleon Dynamite
National Lampoon's Van Wilder
National Treasure
Never Been Kissed
Not Another Teen Movie
Office Space X
Pale Rider X
Pecker X
Pink Flamingos
Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Pitch Black X
Polyester X
Project Vampire
Pump up the Volume X
Red Dawn X
Reign of Fire
She's All That
Shrek 2
Silicon Towers
Sisters of Death
SLC Punk X
Spider Man
Spider Man 2
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace X
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones X
Star Wars: A New Hope X
Supernova X
Taxi Driver
Teenage Crime Wave
The 13th Floor X
The Apostate
The Big Lebowski
The Harrad Experiment
The House at the Edge of the Park
The Matrix X
The Perfect Score
Titan A.E.
Toga Party
Wing Commander

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Horror Hotel (1960)

This film, also billed as The City of the Dead, has a finer pedigree than most of my selections, co-starring as it does horror legend Christopher Lee, known best to today's moviegoing kids as Count Dooku from Attack of the Clones and Saruman from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Even his presence, however, can't change this cliched, predictable re-hash of the Salem witchcraft legend into anything special.

Let's rush through the plot, just as the writers must have. Earnest college student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is fascinated by the pet topic of her favorite professor, Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee): witchcraft in early New England. Much to the derision of her boyfriend and classmate Bill (Tom Naylor), Prof. Driscoll seems to believe that the tales of witches and their craft were more than just hysteria and superstition - that pacts with Satan really were entered into, and that witches actually made blood sacrifices to the Dard Lord.

Nan decides to research her term paper on witchcraft over the winter school holiday at a real, honest-to-goodness creepy old New England village. Driscoll steers her toward the hamlet of Whitewood, Massachusetts, which we later discover is his home town. Nan promises skeptical boyfriend Bill and protective college professor brother Richard to return in two weeks to attend the birthday party of a mutual friend.

Upon arriving in Whitewood, she encounters weirdness at every turn, including the inexplicable unfriendliness of innkeeper Mrs. Newliss (Patricia Jessel). It seems Nan has arrived at the "Raven's Inn" on one of the two most important dates on the witches' calendar, one of the two festivals upon which they need to sacrifice the blood of a young maiden to appease the Devil and prolong their unholy lives. Wait a minute; Nan is a young maiden. And her witch-obsessed professor directed her to this town on exactly this night. Hmmmm.

After hearing droning chants coming from the basement and discovering a dead bird in her hotel room bureau, Nan decides to investigate the clumsily-hidden trap door in the floor of her room. After a fretful trip down a cobwebbed stone stairway, she encounters the big surprise: a room full of the town's inhabitants dressed in robes, celebrating a Black Mass. Nan is grabbed, thrown on a stone slab, and a knife brought down to her neck. After all, that's what happens to snoopy young coeds in weird small towns.

Cut immediately to a shot of party guests slicing a birthday cake and celebrating with noisemakers. Nan's boyfriend and brother are alarmed at her no-show status at the party and inform the police. As always, the police are worthless, which requires Richard and Bill to mount their own amatuer investigations. Will they discover the town's dark secret before the next young woman is lured to her doom and sacrificed to the King of Hell? As it turns out, yes. When confronted by the shadow of a cross in the cemetary the coven members burst into flame and are destroyed. New girl in town Patricia (Betta St. John) is saved at the last second and all is wrapped up neatly.

Now for the atmospherics. Whitewood is by far the mistiest town on earth. The boggy heaths of Scotland look like the Atacama desert compared to this place. The mist/fog starts about a mile out of town and continues throughout every outdoor space, frequently over waist height. Why no one seems to think this is the least bit odd, even people who have never been to the town and freely remark on other odd things, still puzzles me. The presence of unexplained mist has been a horror movie cliche for a long time (see the Treehouse of Horror VIII segment "Fly vs. Fly"), but this is just ridiculous.

The film also lost a little on the suspense factor once it became blindingly obvious that Nan was, in fact, to be the town's sacrifical victim. She picks up an elderly hitchhiking gentleman with a disquieting manner up the road, only to have him vanish from the car as soon as they make it into town. Could that old man have been - gasp - the Devil himself checking out the goods? Only someone with a double-digit IQ could tell for sure. Worse yet is a scene where Nan wanders into an antique store operated by recent transplant Patricia Russell who has moved to town to care for her aging, blind grandfather. Nan announces the object of her research trip, upon which Patricia produces a valuable volume of lost and forgotten witchlore. Reading through a random passage, they learn that in order to conduct an effective sacrifice, witches must acquire some special, very personal possession of the intended victim. In the very next sentence, Patricia admires Nan's locket bracelet and Nan acknowledges that yes, it is a very special personal possession of hers. If plot developments were telegraphed any faster they'd violate the Theory of Relativity.

Recommended to warlocks, H.P. Lovecraft fanatics, and fog fetishists.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Motel Hell (1980)

The "rural terror" genre is done to near-perfection in this tale of wayward motorists, smoked meats and gurgling heads planted in the garden.

The folksy brother-and-sister proprietors of the rural Motel Hello, Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and Ida Smith (Nancy Parsons), not only provide an out-of-the-way place to stay for travelers, but they run a company called Farmer Vincent's Smoked Meats which turns out an array of jerky and other vaguely sausagey products. Customers just can't get enough of that smokey gamey flavor; could it be that their curious appeal lies in a secret ingredient?

We soon discover that all is not harmless twangs and cornpone humor in this neck of the woods when a Mindy Cohn-esque Ida, clad in bulge-hugging denim overalls, repairs to the vegetable garden, where we see a row of small burlap sacks sprouting from the ground. When the bags begin swaying and producing wet moaning sounds, the Smiths' secret is revealed: they've been burying the still-living bodies of car crash victims up to their necks in the soil in preparation for including them in their celebrated meat products. Naturally they've severed their vocal cords first, so they can't call out for help. It never pays to be careless in the smoked meat business.

We see how the whole scam works in deatil when Vincent lays out a series of bear traps across the nearby road, waiting for late-night drivers to be forced into a ditch. Speeding along the highway is none other than a van full of pot-smoking hippie rock musicians, billed on the side of the van as "Ivan and the Terribles." Just as the Smiths' had planned, the van overturns and the dazed/unconscious members of the band are soon prepared for planting, along with the requisite throat surgery. The cannibalistic smoked meat business seems as successful as ever.

Like many family farms and small businesses these days, however, the Farmer Vincent line of pork'n'person treats is threatened. Once craggy, gray-haired Vincent falls for the much younger wife of one of his vehicular victims, his estranged little brother Bruce (Paul Linke), now a cop, decides to intervene. Since running away from the Smith home at age 11, Bruce has harbored dark suspicions about his family. Too young to have learned the horrible secret before leaving home, he dimly begins to process the relevant clues, such as a nearby man-made lake where Vincent and Ida have sunk a couple hundred wrecked cars. Could he, like the rest of town, have unwittingly snacked on their former occupants?

Soon even the paunchy, slow-witted Bruce makes up his mind to confront his deranged siblings and save the day in a climactic showdown with Vincent in the butchering shed. Just as Vince is about to finish up with the reckless band members recently retrieved from garden-tenderizing and now hung torso by torso with care, his little brother bursts into the scene. Each combatant finds his way to the most appropriate weapon at hand, and they are soon engaged in one of the most swashbuckling chainsaw fights in cinematic history. As in all truly life-affirming films, the doughy forces of local law enforcement triumph over the weathered forces of homicidal pork snack products.

Cast notes: Leading man Rory Calhoun had a long and mostly successful career specializing in gritty western roles such as Four Guns to the Border (1954) and Apache Territory (1958), though he also appeared opposite Betty Grable as a handsome forest ranger in 1953's How to Marry a Millionaire. Nancy Parsons, of course, is famous to generations of horny teenagers as Beulah Balbricker from the Porky's franchise. Also making brief appearances are semi-famous rock DJ Wolfman Jack as a sleazy televangelist (is there any other kind?) and John Ratzenberger, later of Cheers fame, as the drummer for Ivan and the Terribles.

The film mixes some truly filthy and bizarre scenes with plenty of oddball weirdness and fortunately, never takes itself very seriously. It's a genre parody that never becomes too knowing and self-referential and therefore manages to be truly entertaining. Recommended to horror fans, meat product enthusiasts and psychotic motel managers.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Beyond Evil (1980)

What to do when your asshole best friend involves you in a shady business deal abroad and puts you and your wife up in a haunted mansion stalked by the ghost of a Satan-worshipping Portuguese virago? According to the promo text, all you can do is try to STAY ALIVE!

Beyond Evil is your typical overwrought ghost story with its dramatic tension built off of the musical accompaniment of creepy strings, crashing kettle drums, and the throaty off-camera whisperings of 'demon' voices. Throw in some early visual effects and green rays blazing forth from characters' eyeballs and you've pretty much got the general idea.

The premise seems harmless enough: Sleazeball property developer Del Giorgio (Michael Dante) is building a hospital in an unnamed South Pacific island and invites his doormat best friend and structural engineer Larry Andrews (John Saxon) to join the project. Of course Larry brings his new wife Barbara (Lynda Day George) with him. Did we mention that the greasy Del and kind-hearted Barbara used to be an item? The stage is set for an awkward sexual triangle, but there is worse mojo waiting around the corner.

In an effort to impress his ex-girlfriend/best friend's new wife, Del arranges for the purchase of a giant colonial mansion outisde of town for the new couple, all for no money down and with rock bottom monthly payments. The only catch know.

It seems this particular haunting is courtesy of Alma Martin (Janice Lynde), a beautiful woman bethrothed sight-unseen to a wealthy island merchant a hundred years ago. His philandering ways and contempt for their marraige drive her (naturally) to the practice of black magic and a pact with Satan. When her disgusting husband decides to murder her before her powers become too great, he employs some I'm-sorry-it'll-never-happen-again sweet talk to lower her defenses and a carafe of poisoned wine to get the actual job done. Unfortunately, he was unaware of the depth of her alliance with the devil, who fulfills his part of the bargain by resurrecting Alma just as her husband is about to inter her body in the estate's crypt. She throttles him, them disappears permanently into the spirit world.

Well, it doesn't take a Gothic novelist to see what's going to happen to a woman forced to spend all day in a huge isolated house with an unsavory past. Alma Martin's spirit begins possessing Barbara's mind and body, acting through her to kill off the other main characters. It starts small, with the spirit forcing Barbara to stab her own hand with a knife (something Alma used to do for fun, since her psychic powers allowed her to heal herself instantly). Then inexplicable car crashes and industrial accidents down at the construction site - in addition to Barbara's bizarre moody behavior - begin to make her husband Larry suspect something not of this world may be to blame after all.

Just as Larry discovers best friend Del's dead body in a ravine not far from his own house and things seem to be spinnging out of control, he turns in desperation to local 'healer,' spirit guide and psychic surgeon Doctor Solomen (David Opatoshu). Having shunned the assistance of Solomen and his daughter Lea (Anne Marisse) previously as 'hocus-pocus' and 'mumbo-jumbo,' he finally asks for their help is exorcizing Alma Martin's spirit from his wife's body. In a climactic scene full of chaotic camera work, inhuman moaning and screaming, and rapid makeup changes, the spirit is finally cast out.

Interesting note about the lead John Saxon - he's been in more crappy movies than most people have even seen (over 120) and in true Hollywood fashion, changed his name to his extremely non-ethnic performing name from the decidedly swarthy-sounding Carmine Orrico.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Gummo (1997)

The world of Gummo has been described as "bleak," but that doesn't nearly do it justice; this film makes Roger and Me look like Oklahoma!. Set in the small town squalor of Xenia, Ohio, the movie features the progress of sullen teens Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) as they bike their way through town, killing stray cats with their air rifles. In an ever-expanding circle of perversity, they sell the dead cats to a restaurant-supply middleman, use the proceeds to buy sexual favors from what appears to be a mentally retarded woman, and eventually murder the grandmother of their teenage rival in the cat-killing business. All part of an average day in writer/director Harmony Korine's version of Xenia. Along the way we are also presented with the casual racism of a bunch of shirtless beer-swilling hicks, an arm-wrestling contest that degenerates into a drunken brawl with the kitchen furniture, and Solomon taking a bath in water that looks like untreated sewage. Bon appetit.

Try as I might, I can't find any real ideas beneath all of this willful perversity, except perhaps that all people in small towns are poor, ignorant rednecks who deserve the lives of cultureless filth in which they find themselves. This message is colored in part by the fact that liking Gummo (and films like it) is a kind of badge of hipster credibility - it you liked something this unusual and shocking to middle-brow sensibilities, you must be cool. To some perhaps, but just because something is outside the mainstream doesn't make it good. The real reason I think it works for hip urban types is because it represents a kind of aesthetic nightmare. The mullets! The baggy sweatpants with holes in them! That horrible floral print sofa! These people are evil not for any real moral transgressions, but for their unforgivable ugliness.

Finally, going into this I didn't realize that Xenia, Ohio was a real town. The "City of Hospitality" describes itself as "a church community" (strike one against them is the hipster ledger right there) that offers "a wholesome, enjoyable atmosphere to live, work, and grow in." The town recently celebrated its bicentennial, though one imagines mentions of its claim to cinematic fame were few.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Devil or Angel?

I've made up my mind. I'm prouder than Aleister Crowley sinking his sharpened teeth into a new girlfriend to be one of Best Buy's "devil" customers. Yes, Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson has fallen under the Svengali spell of a marketing consultant who has advised him that actively discouraging up to 20% of the chain's customers from walking in the door will be good for the bottom line. He doesn't like people who buy loss-leader DVDs but never purchase plasma screen TVs, you see. Not surprisingly, this has created a minor backlash in the geek community, prompting ads such as this one from Dell: "At Dell, We Love All Our Customers. Even the Ones Best Buy Doesn't." Meeeow.

On the other hand, the anti-devil message hasn't percolated down the ranks quite yet, as their current Thanksgiving weekend "5 DVDs for $25" promotion demonstrates. The highly reputable news sources of the interweb would have us believe that, "To deter devils, [Best Buy] is cutting back on promotions and sales tactics that tend to draw them and culling them from marketing lists." With these goals in mind, I'd say selling popular DVD titles for $5 might be counterproductive. I was all set to take advantage of this deal myself, except that by lazily waiting until Saturday to show up at my local Best Buy at Tyson's Corner, I ended up with an unfortunate selection: it was all Joe Versus the Volcano and Boiler Room and no Blade Runner or Pale Rider. Looks like serious deviltry requires a bit more discipline. I did, however, score Donnie Brasco and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels for $9.99 each, which ain't half bad.

Monday, November 22, 2004

National Treasure (2004)

I'm going to swim against the critical tide and come out in favor of National Treasure. Yes, there are lots of action/heist movie cliches, and the pacing is uneven, but the film had some real ideas behind it as well. Reviewers seem to be focusing on the similarity to The Da Vince Code and the Indiana Jones franchise and ignoring the honest, patriotic message at the center of the film: natural rights and American exceptionalism. Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) waxes poetic about the lines from the preamble to the Declaration denouncing tyranny because he has a passion for the ideals of the Founders, not because he's wild for the Crusader/Freemason treasure. The treasure itself is a metaphor for political power. The Masons hid the treasure because it was too great for any man, even a king, to possess. If it was known to exist the struggle over it would only create more violence and death. The same is true of political power (or supreme executive authority, as the peasants would put it). Sovereign authority is too great a treasure for one man - even an enlightened one - to possess. When the American Revolution came, the treasure was hidden and the political power was dispersed.

All that said, the one thing that annoys the hell out of me about reading harsh reviews is when the reviews get the details wrong. For example, Stephan Holden's review in The New York Times: "The Knights of Templar, some of whom were Founding Fathers, supposedly left a trail of coded clues that begins on a frozen ship north of the Arctic Circle and ends in the bowels of Lower Manhattan under a crumbling system of dumbwaiters." First of all, it's Knights Templar, or Knights of the Temple, not "Knights of Templar." Second, the Founders in question were Freemasons, the inheritors of the Templar horde, not Knights themselves. Thirdly, the location under Trinity Church in Manhattan is actually a huge 200-year old shaft with a circling staircase and a massive series of mechanical moving platforms which one of the characters facetiously compares to dumbwaiters when the characters first see them. And then there's his description of the treasure itself: "...the ultimate jackpot is a subterranean nest of dusty museum tchotchkes that the movie passes off as priceless Egyptian artifacts." They aren't all from Egypt - those are just the oldest ones nearest the entrance. Also near the entrance are lost scrolls from the library of Alexandria, hardly "dusty museum tchotchkes." Sloppy.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Die Sister, Die! (1972)

This one opens with a thin trail of blood trickling off of a wrist into a small puddle on the floor, which marks the high point of actual (as opposed to dreamed) gore in the movie. Not surprisingly, the advertising promised rather more thrills than the movie itself delivered, especially in the case of the 1-sheet posters which depict an attractive young woman in a revealing red dress running in terror toward the viewer, with the tagline "Go ahead and scream Amanda - it can't help you now!" Audiences were no doubt chagrined to learn that the Amanda in question was 61-year old Edith Atwater, bearing a passing resemblence to Stephanie Cole's Diana Trent character from the British TV series Waiting for God. Thankfully, we are spared the sight of Ms. Atwater in the dress in question.

Atwater plays Amanda, a moody heiress with some love/hate issues revolving around her dead father. Her brother, Edward (Jack Ging), a would-be playboy, resents the control Amanda holds over the family finances and plots to eliminate her. He rushes to her house and feigns sadness in front of the family physician upon learning that she had tried to commit suicide (hers was the bloody wrist in the opening scene), but only as a gambit to put himself above suspicion when he actually does try to get rid of her. Makes perfect sense, right?

But for a plan as feindish as his, one needs a well-preserved 38-year old barmaid with a sordid tale to tell. So he tracks down Esther Harper (Antoinette Bower) to a steakhouse cocktail lounge, where he confronts her with her past: she was once a nurse for an elderly millionaire who she eventually married and who left her his entire fortune (remember, Anna Nicole Smith was only five years old when this movie was released). Sadly, the unnamed nonegenarian's family intervened and screwed her out the the millions, ruining her budding nursing career in the process. Clearly, she's perfect for the job, which will involve only making sure Amanda's next suicide attempt is successful, not actually killing her.

The scene is set, until Esther meets Amanda and is taken aback by her haughty sarcastic tone and emotional vulnerability. She pulls the condescending bitch act, yet is still bracingly honest. Amanda suspects a plot from the beginning and announces "Don't play games with me, Esther, I play for keeps." Nevertheless, everything seems to be going according to plan until longtime family retainer Mrs. Gonzalez spills the beans on the third sibling, an absent younger sister who was allegedly her father's favorite, but who took off for points unknown so soon after her father's death she didn't even stick around for the funeral. When Esther discovers that her bedroom, formerly inhabited by the missing sister, is still full of her clothes, momentos, and photo albums, questions begin stirring in her brain.

The standout acting really comes from Edith Atwater, who does a great job as the arrogant WASP dowager. Balancing her out is Jack Ging, who looks (and acts) like a parody of William Shatner. Antoinette Bower spends her best moments looking wide-eyed and emotionally conflicted. Of course they're all upstaged by a fantasy/nightmare sequence which involves horror effects so crude and exaggerated they would make Herschell Gordown Lewis hang his head in shame. At one point Amanda literally tears another person's head off with her bare hands, throwing it at the wall where it shatters like ceramic.

I recommend Die Sister, Die! for students of film marketing as a case study on how insanely a promotional campaign can diverge from a film's actual content and themes, and to people with a fetish for rich, sarcastic senior citizens.

Portland is Punished: No Critics Allowed

Perhaps assuming that any professional reviewer would pan it just to avoid being mocked by his colleagues, the promo team for Seed of Chucky explicitly banned all movie reviewers from a recent advance screening in Portland. A screening that was otherwise open to the public. Well, we can see where this is going, and the result was M.E. Russell's entertaining column in The Oregonian which ends with what is actually a pretty favorable review. It also reminds us that Don Mancini managed to find a role for John Waters, so now you have to go see it.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Incoming Freshmen (1979)

It's Boobapalooza '79 when the kids of Incoming Freshmen spend their golden college years partying hard and shunning bras. This aggressively shameless soft core T'n'A crowd pleaser treats us to everything from a lecture by a naked ROTC instructor to a frat party being entertained by a blues-rock band wearing goat masks. The movie advances on two parallel tracks: the main story of innocent small-town coed Jane (Ashley Vaughn) being gradually corrupted by her slutty roommate Viv (Leslie Blalock) and that of the tribulations of neurotic, sexually repressed history professor L.P. Bilbo (B.M. Culpepper). Jane starts out dedicated to her long-distance high school sweetheart, only to have her heart broken when her best friend back home hooks up with Mr. Perfect the first week of college, leaving an opening for roommate Viv to introduce her to her own boyfriend's best friend, Randy (Richard Harriman, looking very much like a young Dave Barry). At the same time Prof. Bilbo has trouble keeping his attention on his teaching as he spend more of every class mentally undressing his female students.

Events come to a head the weekend of the big football game when Viv persuades Jane that they should ditch their respective boyfriends and hit a swingin' frat party by themselves. Everybody has fun, lots of tits are shown, and morbidly obese Prof. Bilbo shows up dressed in a white suit and announces his newfound goal of getting "funky." Uber-slut character Maxine "The Machine" (Georgia Harrell), clad only in an extremely revealing gold lame one-piece looks down the pants of a delighted nerd and announces "What, all that meat and no potatoes?" before dragging him back to the nearest bedroom. The film ends with what is essentially a take-a-number gang bang in which the walrus-like history professor takes on one svelte college girl after another, culminating, in the last few seconds, with plain Jane herself. Not too worry, though - Dave Barry Jr. has managed to meet the tube top-wearing girl he had fantasized about earlier in the movie. So everybody ends up happy, in one way or another.

Incoming Freshmen has a couple of good aspects - the comedy value of the extremely dated apparel (tight jeans, bellbottoms, tall white tube socks with brightly colored rings at the top) and the thick southern accents sported by virtually every cast member, except for Jane's Dave Barry-like boyfriend. These people make The Dukes of Hazzard sound like Masterpiece Theater. The poorly-aging trashiness of the era is palpable; the scene where roommates Jane and Viv go on a double date to the local disco is so intensely 70s it could power a time machine. Recommended to fans of That 70s Show and long-term freebase addicts. Oh yeah, and to people who like tits.

Daddy-O (1959)

When cliched 50s slang meets portly, massage-loving master criminals, you know you've entered...The Daddy-O Zone. In one of the most tepid films to ever include the Eisenhower-era scandal trifecta of murder, drag racing, and dope dealing, Dick Contino plays Daddy-O, a.k.a. Phil Sandifer a.k.a. Pete Plum. He's a former circus-joining runaway who traded in the three rings for a steady gig truck driving, with the inexplicable sideline as a singer of mildly scandalous rock 'n' roll tunes (didn't Elvis make the same movie as some point?).

Goaded into a hot rod showdown by fiery sex kitten Jana (Sandra Giles), he is seen by a nightwatchman driving recklessly while not far away his best friend ("some guys have brothers - I had Sonny") is being forced off another road to his death. While he manages to correct the cops' initial theory fingering him as the killer, he does lose his job, his license to drive, and is placed on probation for his hot rodding ways. Naturally, this leaves him open for a shady job offer from the cigar-loving drug importer and all around plus-size sybarite, Sidney Chillas (Bruno VeSota). The rest involves what was clearly intended to be a Usual Suspects-level labryinth of crime drama plotting, but unfolds like someone unrolling a soggy carpet. You discover that the nearsighted meathead at the gym who wouldn't let Daddy-O empty his dead best friend's locker is - hold on there - hiding something! And yes, Bond villianesque criminal Chillas is indeed smuggling drugs into the country from Mexico. What did you think the small, valuable package that everyone wanted to get their hands on was? Did they expect us to think someone pounded the Maltese Falcon into a rectangle and wrapped it in brown paper?

The film, of course, does have its moments. Leading man Contino has an early performance on stage at a local bar where bottled beer and below-the-knee knit skirts are the rule of the evening. Singing the decided non-hit "Rock Candy Baby" he manages to perform in the higest waisted pants in film history. The belt-line of these black slacks are mere inches from his armpits - memorably parodied on the MST3K episode dedicated to this movie. Fans of restaurants that look like the food they serve will also appreciate a cameo by legendary L.A. hot dog stand Tail O' the Pup, featured lovingly in Rick Sebak's documentary tribute to ground hog anus, A Hot Dog Program. For those reasons, and for the fact that Chillas had a full-size steam room (but not a bathroom) as part of his office suite, I give 1959's Daddy-O a polite nod.