The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat
Apr. 10th, 2019
11:46 am - For clarity's sake
Dieses Werk oder dieser Inhalt ist unter einer Creative Commons-Lizenz lizenziert.
(This blog is licensed under a Creative-Commons-Licence).
Oct. 23rd, 2016
06:29 pm - Dead Girls (1990)
Brooke (Ilene B. Singer), the younger sister of Gina – aka Berta Beirut – main songwriter of death-themed manufactured all girls with a boy drummer rock band Deadgirls, is the only survivor of an attempted group suicide inspired by the band’s music (it’s just that bad). Gina, plagued by curious nightmares, decides that the thing to do is to visit her old home, have hilariously dramatic shouting matches with her crazy bigoted aunt and the local preacher who also happens to own a pair of most disturbing eyebrows, and pack up her little sister, an obnoxious nurse any sane person would have fired after five minutes, her bickering band consisting of total weirdoes, and their porn-moustached security guy, to drive off to a cabin in the woods, so that Brooke can get some rest.
Which just might sound like a rather dubious idea even if you ignore the fact that the Deadgirls are also followed by a killer in a skull mask wearing a stylish hat who finds inspiration for his murder weapons in their song lyrics.
Ah, it does take a certain mind set to enjoy the beauty and horror of late 80s/early 90s direct-to-video ultra-cheapo horror that may or may not have been shot on video but certainly looks that way. One really needs to leave useless concepts like good taste out of the picture for ninety minutes or so, learn to respect a film that keeps everyone correctly in frame as technically sound (and enjoy every filmmaking trick that goes beyond this as an example of Art), and roll with amateur acting, a dubious script, and so on and so forth.
If you can’t, yet still watch this stuff, the only thing it’ll ever get you is the opportunity to call perfectly innocent movies “the worst film ever” on the IMDB.
This doesn’t mean there’s no good or bad in direct-to-video horror in this style, but what’s good to one person actually in the market for enjoying this sort of thing at all might still look very bad indeed to another one. Some of us who enjoy this stuff go in for the gore, others for bizarre dialogue, again others for films that break as many rules of filmmaking as humanly possible.
Me, I’ve found joy in every single one of these things, but what can really get me about one of these films is a display of enthusiasm. Which, finally, brings me back to Dennis Devine’s (who is still shooting cheap horror, surprisingly enough) Dead Girls, a cheapo slasher that oozes enthusiasm throughout most of its running time, with nary a second in it that isn’t in the business of having fun – be it with the awesome mixture of naivety and sarcasm about the shock rock business of the first ten minutes or so (including a “Yugoslavian journalist” who dresses like a cliché librarian), the bizarre nature of a band whose members include a heavily armed survivalist gal who’ll philosophize about “the void” as well as karma later on and a brother/sister duo with a heavy incestual vibe, or the absurd yet awesome series of plot twists based on the fact that most everyone in the film is absolutely bonkers the whole thing ends on.
In between, there are strangely likeable acting performances, a handful of killings made by a guy who looks a bit like Rorschach, some impressively awkward sexy times, one of the worst acting portrayals of a mentally disabled man I’ve ever had the joy to see, moments of editing perhaps done with an axe, surprise moments of authentically atmospheric shots or even scenes, dialogue that’s too snarkily funny to be called dumb, and from time to time outbreaks of hysterically dramatic acting of exactly the overdone amateurish type that can truly warm my heart.
I have no idea what more I could ask of a film.
Oct. 22nd, 2016
08:04 pm - In short: Babysitter Wanted (2008)
Young catholic Angie Albright (Sarah Thompson) has just left her home town and her mother (Nana Visitor in a tiny cameo) to study art history in a decidedly unglamorous city quite some ways away. There’s obviously a degree of culture shock involved for Angie. However, culture shock just might not be the only reason for the fact that ever since she’s left home she feels as if somebody is watching her, stalking her – at least, the audience sees the shadow of a large man (Monty Bane) lurking around her, and we’re not watching Haute Tension.
Because she’s poor, Angie has to take up work basically the moment she arrives in town. A babysitting gig somewhere in the rural outskirts is just the ticket. And whatever could go wrong when babysitting Sam (Kai Caster), the little son of Violet (Kristen Dalton) and Jim Stanton (Bruce Thomas)? Well, for one, someone might just decide to upgrade from stalking to something more dangerous. But there are also other, more unexpected directions from where death might strike at our heroine.
Jonas Barnes’s and Michael Manasseri’s Babysitter Wanted is a rather ideal Halloween kind of horror movie, with a plot that seems inspired by urban legends and creepypasta – or in the very least shows the same spirit. So this isn’t the deep and thoughtful kind of horror but the sort of thing that mostly wants to create a fun thrill ride of a time for its audience. It does so exceedingly well, too, which is of course the most important point when taking this approach to horror. You don’t want to end up with a film that wants to be fun but doesn’t deliver – unlike with films that aim for depth, there’s no “interesting” for a thrill ride that doesn’t work.
Not being a deep film doesn’t mean it’s a stupid one, though – the directing duo has put quite a bit of love and care into the look and feel of things. There’s a late 70s/early 80s (that is, before neon colours) look to the film, with the appropriate muted yet present colours (unlike the more typical 2008 look of colours so muted a film is nearly colourless) that to my eyes tend to give a film a gritty and real feel. The editing is as tight as it should be in a film effectively using many a traditional trick of suspense and thriller cinema, and the directors build tension quickly and well.
I also found myself very much enjoying the film’s two-third twist. It’s not exactly surprising (except for Angie who doesn’t know she’s in a horror film) but the film handles it and the following scenes with such a disarming sense of sardonic and macabre humour, the twist becomes fun instead of trite. The twist also inspires Bruce Thomas to a performance that finds the sweet spot between the funny and the creepy.
All of this turns what could be an exercise in taking an audience to places it has been before a dozen times and bore it to desperation into a fun, fast, and clever low budget horror film.
Oct. 21st, 2016
08:38 pm - Past Misdeeds: Deadly Manor (1990)
Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
A group of ex-teenagers is planning a nice outdoors vacation at a lake with a quite unpronounceable name, situated, it seems, somewhere in the deep dark woods of New York State.
The friends pick up the shady yet helpful hitchhiker Jack (Clark Tufts). The new-found acquaintance informs them that they have gotten themselves a little lost and are still hours away from their destination. Everybody's getting a bit cranky and stressed out now, and the odious comic relief is beginning to get to them too, so the friends decide to look for a place to hole up in for the night.
After a bit of driving, they do indeed find an old, dark and seemingly abandoned house in the middle of the woods (as you do) and decide to try their luck there.
It's a peculiar place. What must once have been the building's garden is now dominated by a wrecked car that is propped up on a marble slab as if it were some sort of shrine. One of the friends, Helen (Claudia Franjul), is prone to hunches - and would be a clear candidate for being the final girl in most other slashers - and declines categorically to enter the house that frightens her with its "aura of evil". Her friends, not even her boyfriend Tony (Greg Rhodes), don't care much about what she says, so Helen decides to make her way back to the road in the hope to hitch a ride with one of the millions of cars that must be driving around in the woods. That's the last anyone will see of her alive.
The rest of the merry band decides to break into the house through its barn. Inside, the place is even more peculiar than from the outside. In a cellar that connects the barn to the main house are two empty coffins, yet that's still not enough to dissuade the rather dense friends from getting the hell away from there.
The main house isn't any less creepy. Most of its walls are plastered with (frequently nude) photos of a dark-haired woman (Jennifer Delora) in strangely disquieting poses. A little later, the friends find a cupboard full of human scalps.
It also seems as if someone had been living in the house just the day before. Still, they being in a horror film and all, the young people decide to stay the night. It's cold outside after all, and who wants to sleep in a car?
It's not a very good decision. Throughout the night, ever more peculiar things begin to happen. Someone uses the horn of the enshrined car outside, a coffin opens, Tony finds a photo album full of pictures of the neatly posed corpses of bikers and then dreams (but is it a dream?) of having sex with the creepy woman from walls. A masked woman sneaks around. A crack opens in one of the walls. And finally, someone starts to murder the friends.
Deadly Manor is the next to last film in the long and difficult career of Spanish genre film specialist Jose Ramon Larraz (probably best known for the most disturbing of all Lesbian vampire films, Vampyres). At this late point in his career, Larraz had the usual problems of interesting genre filmmakers of his generation in scratching together enough money to realize any movie at all, so making something that could be interpreted as a slasher movie must have sounded like a good idea at that time to him and his producers. Commercially speaking, it wasn't. The film turned out to be a hard sell to distributors and was never widely seen.
It's quite a shame, really, because Larraz does a few interesting thing with the tired slasher movie formula. Of course, getting surprising inside the context of the slasher isn't too difficult a proposition. The sub-genre is so heavily codified, so set in its ways that even the most minimal of variations feels fresh and exciting - at least to someone who has inflicted as many of these films on himself as I have over the years. A film like this one, in which what would be the final girl dies early on, and in which people die in an order that goes quite against slasher rules, feels like a real breath of fresh air.
Larraz also adds neat little flourishes of realism (for a slasher movie), with scenes of body transportation that seem to hint at the director putting a bit of thought into the logistics of his killings.
The logistics of dragging bodies around aren't the only thing Larraz has put a bit more thought into than usual in this sub-genre. I wouldn't go as far as to call the film's characters deep, but where the usual slasher kiddie is just a one-note victim, the characters here show signs of being people. Except for their staying in the house of doom, they even tend to act halfway believably. The acting is quite alright too, and only helps to strengthen this aspect of the film.
Of course, being a bit better thought-through than the typical late-period slasher movie doesn't make a movie that interesting for anyone outside of the genre completist. Surprisingly enough (or not, when you keep the experience of its director in mind), Deadly Manor has a lot more going for it than just that.
Although parts of the film are trying to be a little more believable than usual, the other half of the film, what I'd call its heart, comes from a completely different direction. Larraz, old hand at the slow, slow build-up of atmosphere and the cinema of the weird, seems to have set his mind onto the re-weirdification of the slasher formula. Too many films of the sub-genre are satisfied with just fulfilling the requirements of formula, losing the ability to be truly disquieting in the process and not getting much (by 1990 not even an audience anymore) in exchange. Larraz' film isn't. Instead, the director piles on the strangeness once his characters have left the prosaic world and entered the house, giving his movie a very dream-like/nightmarish mood slasher movies seldom consciously try to evoke. There's something about the way Larraz films his old dark house, branches scratching against windows and the photos that fill the house that puts the film as much into the tradition of the director's older European horror movies as in that of the slasher. One could also argue that the interest in mood before anything else closely connects the film to proto-slasher movies like Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the earliest full-grown slashers like Halloween, and that might well be true.
Still, I think even that part of the American slasher tradition is only a thin veneer of paint put on top of something strange and frightening very much Larraz' own.
This, however, is only Deadly Manor's strength if you want it to be. Go in expecting a quick revue of kills and excitement, and you will probably be terribly disappointed by the film's sedate pacing, and its insistence on creating a mood of the weird more than one of outright horror. But if you give the film a chance at being the more personal creature it is, you can find much to like in it.
Oct. 20th, 2016
A few days after his happy adventures in Jeepers Creepers, and just a day before the end of his 23-day eating orgy, the Creeper (Jonathan Breck) naps the younger son of of farmer Jack Taggart (Ray Wise). Take note, for Jack’ll build a custom harpoon cannon later on.
But before we get to Jack and his harpoon cannon, we get to witness the monster’s stalking of and attacks on a busload of jocks and three cheerleaders. I can barely tell these people apart, except that some guys are black, one white dude with little pig eyes is a racist and a homophobe, and one of the cheerleaders (Nicki Aycox) develops some clairvoyant powers to take care of exposition duties. There’s a bit of a sidestep into would-be Lord of the Flies territory that doesn’t even manage the standard of early The 100, and a bit of monster fighting until the film devolves/culminates in about half an hour of increasingly silly action sequences featuring Ray “Harpoon Farmer” Wise.
Usually, I’m all for sequels that aren’t exact copies of their originals, and I’m most certainly for them escalating things appropriately. Alas, the second Jeepers Creepers, again directed and – unfortunately - this time around also written by Victor Salva, is the kind of sequel that throws the baby out with the bathwater, completely misunderstanding and ignoring what was good about the first film and mostly doing the opposite. Which leads to a slightly more upmarket SyFy Original movie, and a film I probably would have enjoyed more if it – being a sequel – had not automatically invited direct comparison to the first film.
So where the first Jeepers was a film that used its monster as a mystery with increasingly bizarre powers, whose mixture of the generic and the very strange turns it into something threatening and surprising the sequel treats it as a permanently flying, mugging – Freddy Krueger style wise-cracking can’t be far off – dude in a monster suit off-handedly taking on a busload of non-entities that can replace the first one’s siblings only in number and getting into a harpoon fight with a just as wildly mugging Ray Wise (whom I buy about as much as a farmer as I’d buy myself in the role). Where the first film is actually creepy and clever, this one starts silly and becomes outright stupid early on, culminating in the whole harpoon fight sequence, which has to be seen to be believed.
Now, I’m not saying it’s not fun watching this kind of nonsense – it certainly is, particularly since Salva may not care about recreating anything of the mood of the first film but sure as hell still knows how to shoot a pretty looking picture – it’s just that this sort of nonsense is a terrible sequel to Jeepers Creepers.
Oct. 19th, 2016
07:02 pm - Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Siblings Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) are road-tripping through Florida. After a nasty encounter with a peculiar looking truck, they accidentally witness the shadowy driver (Jonathan Breck) dropping what might very well be a packaged human body into a large pipe beside an abandoned church, driving off again afterwards. Especially Darry is pretty sure the bundle was indeed a human being; he manages to convince Trish to have a look inside.
So down the pipe Darry drops. Below, there’s a serial killer arts and crafts cave, with numerous prepared dead bodies plastered to the ceiling and wells. And the bundle? Well, it does indeed contain a young guy who dies in Darry’s arms. Surprisingly enough, the siblings manage to get away scot free, and – unlike quite a few horror movie characters – the first thing they think about is informing the police. Unfortunately, this unprecedented example of sense won’t save them from a very bad night, for the driver isn’t just your run-of-the-mill serial killer, but a supernatural threat deeply unimpressed by quotidian problems like armed police officers. Worse still, the thing has gotten a nose full of the siblings’ smell, and it very much likes what it smells on one of them.
Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers is a long-time personal favourite of mine I’ve somehow (like a lot of long-time personal favourites, actually) never gotten around to writing up. At the time when this came out, the more mainstream parts of horror were still very much doing the whole pseudo-ironic teen slasher thing we can – and do – blame Wes Craven’s Scream for, with lots of films that were very intent on demonstrating their ironic superiority over their own material instead of putting work into improving the things they were feeling so damn superior about. These weren’t happy horror movie fan times for me, I have to admit.
So Jeepers Creepers, a film bathed in love for traditional horror things from the 50s to the 70s that didn’t feel the need to get all ironic about everything and instead delivered a clever, fun, and creepy monster movie while still showing quite a bit of knowledge of the genre it was working in, just not so much of it that it couldn’t move anymore, felt like a breath of fresh (well, appropriately mouldy) air to me. In fact, it still does, particularly since a lot of what Salva does with it is based on a fine eye for detail that has let the film age well. Or rather, standing somewhat outside of what was typical for the genre of its period, Jeepers Creepers has something of a timeless quality to it.
There is, still, quite a bit of genre love on display, it’s just not primarily used as a basis for jokes but seems to spurn the film on to do things a bit better than would be typical, acknowledging things on eye level. So this is a film where the heroine has enough genre knowledge to know that the killer is going to get up again once hit by a car and proceeds to drive over him again and again, but it is one which plays the scene straight instead of just pointing out the trope to the audience yet still using it unchanged.
Apart from this, Salva does many things just right: the sibling squabbles between Trish and Darry actually read as believable instead as annoying and manage to tell us more about the closeness between the two than long, melodramatic “I love you, brother/sister” exchanges would; the monster is creepy, creative and a bit silly, while staying original and unobvious; Florida here feels very Southern Gothic, the kind of place where a random clairvoyant and bodypart-stealing monsters make sense; and the set and production design is beautiful, atmospheric, and feels just right, the film embracing the dream-like and slightly off whole-heartedly. Which turns Jeepers Creepers into a small classic in my book.
Oct. 18th, 2016
aka The Neon Dead
When Allison (Marie Barker) encounters a zombie in the bathroom of her freshly inherited house, she follows the suggestion of an annoying girl scout to call in paranormal exterminators Desmond (Greg Garrison) and Jake (Dylan Schettina). Given that Desmond and Jake have day jobs in a combined video and grocery store (the USA are weird, and what’s a video store?) you wouldn’t expect them to be all that great at their other job.
But surprisingly enough, zombie number one is quickly dispatched. Unfortunately, Allison’s house has more than just a little zombie problem, for there’s a veritable invasion of the undead serving a demon certainly not called Xanax (it’s Z’athax, actually) who’d really rather like to achieve world domination, and it’s the all the fault of one of Allison’s black magician ancestors. Fortunately, Allison herself is tougher than expected and together with the paranormal investigators (well, one of them, and one paranormal investigator head) she just might be able to save the world. There’s also a “romance” involved, but let’s not talk about that.
Unlike a lot of indie horror comedies that bow before the altar of 80s and early 90s horror, Torey Haas’s Invasion of the Undead generally manages to hit the spot where things aren’t trapped in perpetual wackiness. That isn’t to say the film isn’t silly, but it’s silly in a personable and likeable way that seems to have little interest in being ironic about genre conventions nor in being completely random nor in doing that long drawn-out comedy style based on general awkwardness and a lack of punch lines I honestly don’t get. So, while I found myself not laughing uproariously at everything here, the film did provoke a series of little grins, smiles, and even chuckles, all packed into a very cute little 80s horror tale, the proper blue and red (and a little green) lighting, cheap yet fun special effects and performances that are mostly likeable.
It may sound like a strange sort of praise for a horror comedy, but Invasion is a pretty charming little film, sweet even in its bloodier jokes, and completely lacking in the cynicism more typical of horror comedies. If the film were a teenager, I’d call it a great kid and lend it some horror novels.
Oct. 17th, 2016
Oct. 16th, 2016
Relationship-troubled couple Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) are driving across the USA, bringing the car of Michelle’s dad to Florida. Right now, they are smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, Texas.
Some time after passing a police investigation digging up a mass grave, they end up at a gas station in the middle of the desert, meet a reasonably friendly and charming cowboy (Viggo Mortensen) and find themselves threatened with a shotgun by the crazy gas station owner (Joe Unger), which drives them to flight on a rather suspect road, chased by someone in a truck who throws a dead dog at them. Then follows a hectic attempt to change one of their car’s tires with only a flashlight for lighting; and a head on collision with the car of the improbable Benny (Ken Foree, hooray). Improbable, because he’s a black survivalist, and an actually decent guy to boot. Be that as it may, this is a very bad place for anyone to crash one’s car, and soon everyone is hunted by good old Leatherface (R.A. Mihailoff) and his new and improved cannibal family. Unpleasantness ensues.
I think Jeff Burr’s sequel to/reboot of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre based on a script by David J. Schow (perhaps known to you as the guy who coined the term Splatterpunk, and a pretty fine writer of fiction) is rather unfairly maligned. Of course, this film doesn’t have the visceral punch of Hooper’s original, and it didn’t change (or try to change) the direction of the horror film as a whole, but then, if I’d set the hurdle a genre film has to jump this high, I’d hardly ever get to enjoy one. For a New Line Cinema – “the place where horror franchises go to die” was their motto, I believe - horror sequel this is surprisingly engaging stuff.
I’ve read in various places online (hopefully not all working from the same wrong source) that Schow’s initial concept for the script was to treat the plot as the truth behind the urban legend that then created the Hooper original, which explains why Leatherface here has a new family that sort of but not completely resembles the old one, and why the parallels and nods towards the original play out as they do. It doesn’t explain a starting text scroll that suggests the first film did indeed happen (Schow, the scroll, and I prefer to pretend the Hooper’s second TCM never happened, which is good for everyone’s sanity), but I’d bet that’s just useless studio meddling, particularly since the “truth behind the massacre” idea makes perfect sense if you ignore that scroll. In any case, Schow delivers a playful but generally not campy variation of the original, including some elements that look glaringly late-80s/early 90s horror to my eyes. This works particularly well in the film’s first half or so, somewhat less so – yet still enough - in the finale when things become a bit too late-80s/early 90s action movie to be taken seriously anymore, and not at all in the pretty damn stupid final five minutes. But all in all the plot makes sense, and the film flows.
It does so of course also because Jeff Burr is one of the truly capable journeyman filmmakers of this particular time in the genre, with a nice hand for suspense – and much of Leatherface is focused on suspense and hits thriller beats more than strict horror ones – and the ability and knowledge to shoot relatively generic scenes in ways that aren’t always totally generic and obvious. This may not sound like much of an achievement but it really puts Leatherface miles above most horror sequels of its time. It feels like the work of people with a degree of respect for their audience and the genre they are working in, and that’s not at all something you can expect from any kind of sequel.
If I were in a criticizing mind, I’d remark that the glossy sheen of filmmaking of this time doesn’t jibe too well with the grime the material asks for but I’m not in that kind of mood tonight.
Oct. 15th, 2016
09:05 pm - In short: Sleepwalker (1984)
Well-off siblings Alex (Bill Douglas) and Marion (Heather Page) Britain – subtle, the subtext is not – live and loathe each other in a rather broken home out somewhere in the country. Alex suffers from sleepwalking attacks coupled with violent outbursts, and Marion clearly isn’t a fountain of mental stability either. Tonight, Marion has invited Angela Paradise (Joanna David) – clearly friend of the Victorian adage that women should be seen and not heard and probably not seen either - and her utterly vile upperclass yuppie husband Richard (Nickolas Grace) for dinner and to stay the night. Marion befriended Angela “in the hospital”, and Angela is clearly feeling the need to do Marion some kind of good turn.
Dinner doesn’t go terribly well: Richard might just be the shittiest product of Thatcherite yuppiedom imaginable – with a side-line in homophobia – which makes Alex as a proponent of gentility liberalism quite, quite angry; Marion flirts outrageously with Richard (eww) and uses every opportunity to antagonize her brother with hints at their past the others can only vaguely comprehend; Angela pretends everything’s perfectly alright; and Alex grows increasingly unhinged.
So it’s not much of a surprise the following night will end in a bloodbath.
Saxon Logan’s long lost Sleepwalker is really quite the thing, and nearly as brilliant as its more excitable proponents suggest it to be. Some of the film’s strength is certainly drawn from the conciseness that comes from it being a fifty minute short feature, so there’s no space for filler or time for losing focus, and Logan certainly doesn’t ever lose it.
This is obviously very much a film of its time, mind you, a film that wears (a perfectly appropriate to the times and place) anger on its sleeves and whose politics are generally as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face. But then, some things are better spoken of unsubtly and with great vigour, which Sleepwalker does.
It is rather difficult to dislike a film that starts out as an angry – and sometimes also quite funny – rant at 80s conservatism (under whose children we of course still suffer) with added bits and bobs that remind me of the sub-genre of the giallo that mostly concerns itself with unpleasant rich people being violent and shitty to one another, and ends as a blue-lit slasher that nicely nods in the direction of Dario Argento’s kind of giallo. It’s even more difficult to dislike it when it is note for note so good at all this genre-mixing, providing what could be chaos with aesthetic unity, style and panache.
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