Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nicole Cushing on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

I am happy to have Nicole Cushing here with us contributing a piece. Nicole is the author of a story that holds it own among greats like Carlton Mellick III and Neil Gaiman in the recent John Skipp edited Werewolves and Shapeshifters anthology and of the New Bizarro Author Series book How to Eat Fried Furries that has been attracting a lot of attention and deserves all of it. She also bested me in sheer weirdness at this year's Ultimate Bizarro Showdown. I thought I could do offputting emotional terrorism but Nicole, as the Bionic Cow Pope, converted a lot of heathens that day. Here is her amazing, indepth sociopolitical analysis of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.


The Martians Have A Dirty Bomb, And It's Name is Droppo by Nicole Cushing

In my book, How To Eat Fried Furries,one tale describes a mafia plot to assassinate Santa Claus. So you'll excuse the fact that I yawned at the comparatively-nonviolent kidnapping peril Saint Nick faces at the hands of Martian terrorists.
Truth be told, I yawned throughout the whole thing. I've seen this film before, in its incarnation as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But this time, in the spirit of the Dollar Bin Massacre, I watched the unaltered version of the film I'd purchased from a genuine Dollar Bin about a year ago. And, yes, I lived to tell the tale (never before have Joel and the bots been so missed).
But, hey...it's all too easy to take a look at this film and point out its flaws. The continuity errors (sometimes the Martians are green-skinned, other times they appear Caucasian). Use of military stock footage that even Ed Wood might declare gratuitous padding. Martians who look like bush-league rasslers wearing helmets adorned with spare parts from a 1962 Hoover vacuum cleaner.
But I come not to condemn this film, but to praise it. Yes, you read correctly. Praise it.
Maybe it only looks dreadful, superficially. What if we scratch the surface? Look a the subtext. Friends...I come to you today prepared to re-write the history of film criticism by announcing the discovery of an entire new interpretation of Santa Claus Versus The Martians; an interpretation based on an appreciation for a deep, hiterto-ungrasped symbolism.
Moreover, I proffer this thesis: Santa Claus Versus The Martians is not only a film rich in symbolism, but it also is a magic film; influenced by the Ghost of Nostradamus, which foretells the outcome of Iran's grab for nuclear weapons.
Think I'm psychotic? Funny. The five-trunked topiary elephant said the same thing. In Portugese. But before you label me “mad” or even “a little strange”...consider the merits of my argument.
To whit – consider the players...
The Earth children (Betty and Billy Foster) who enjoy material abundance, television, and freedom of thought because they have Santa Claus. Symbolically, these are the Americans and/or the state of Israel.
Santa Claus, who flies through the sky in a sleigh rumored to run on rocket fuel, who delivers material abundance to those who bessech his favor. Who lives in a frozen, desolate wasteland of eternal (read: “nuclear”) winter. Symbolically, Santa represents nuclear weapons.
The Martians, who look “different” and are dressed all alike, must (according to dominant cultural norms and prejudices in the U.S.) represent foreigners. But not just any foreigners. The hard-liners in Martian society (Voldar) as well as the non-hardline, devoutly religious (Chochem) wear facial hair, while more-or-less secular moderates (Kimar) are clean-shaven.
Therefore, the Martians are symbolically, the Islamic Republic of Iran, circa 2010. Given this interpretation of the film, what can we predict about the future?
Well, we know that there will be a Martian (Iranian) grab for Western (Earth) nuclear secrets (Santa). We know that, in fact, the Martians will obtain Santa, and reverse-engineer their own, slightly bastardized version, Droppo (a dirty bomb). However, we also know that, in the end, the Iranian hardliners will be toppled by a coalition of pro-Western forces (Billy & Betty) and Iranian moderates (Kimar) who employ a surgical air strike (barrage of bubbles, ping-pong balls, and model airplanes) to effect a regime change. Droppo (the dirty bomb) stays on Mars, but only under the “benevolent”, pro-Western (read: corrupt puppet) dictator Kimar (second coming of the Shah).
And now everyone has nuclear weapons! How's that for a happy ending, kids!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bizarro author Kirk Jones on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Kirk Jones is a writer in Eraserhead Press' New Bizarro Author Series. He is the author of the book Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, a book, which halfway through it, I can tell you is one of the freshest, most innovative damn books you'll ever read. You could wait for Santa to bring it to you, or, if you've been really bad this year (and I know you have, you sassy little thing) you can buy it HERE


Here is what he has to say about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians:

Only one thing can definitively be said about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is that it is a movie. Whether it is a good or bad movie, that is a subjective matter. Here's my take on it:

Lines are uttered with the finesse of a cat clumsily scattering kitty litter over its shit in an open-topped box, in that more misses than hits the spot. In the vein of this simile, the dialogue leaves you with a foul taste in your mouth that resonates in the mind for hours afterwards. In that respect, the movie is memorable.
To quote the leader of Mars in the film, Kimar, "it goes deeper than that."
The ingenuity featured in this piece parallels that which must have been required to cultivate frozen ice in Antarctica. An example: the martian months, rather than conventional earth months, are reconstrued.

Elder: what time of year is it now?
Kimar: It is the middle of Septober.

Septober, which I can only assume is the time of year preceded by Nosober, a month in which martians, plied with rum and eggnog, decide to dedicate a considerable budget to terrible movies that feature multiple words spliced together to create a semblance of what martian language would sound like.
I should say movies that feature one word spliced together, because Septober is about where the unique linguistic and cultural attributes of Mars end. Strangely enough, though the Martians speak as if advanced millennia beyond the peon-like earthlings, they derive all terminology from the English language. Perhaps Im being earth-centric, however. But seriously, Septober is about as far as it goes in terms of drawing linguistic distinction between the martians and the earth dwellers. What's worse, their "advanced" spacecrafts look like toilet paper rolls glued to a Styrofoam plate.
With enough stock footage of airplanes to choke a horse, a slapstick martian that reminds me of the bastard child of Bob Denver and Gomer Pyle, a Santa Claus who can't decide quite how to render his "ho ho ho's" and martians that look like they have a ridgeback horse dildo attached to their helmets, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is . . . a movie

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hang up that Mistletoe, Soon You'll Hear Ho Ho Ho

Hello, Dollarbin Masochists! I've spent the last five months disemboweling sparkly emomonsters with a chainsaw so that you can enjoy the holidays. Where's my fuckin' parade? They're impossible to catch! They bounce through the treetops, they need only the slightest amount of cloud cover to endure the sun! Ingrates. Now that I've fought the minions of the Mormon AIDSmonger to a standstill, we can talk about something important: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. If you haven't seen this gem , you're missing out on one of those wonderful hybrids of miracle and disaster that come together to form a true camp classic. Discussing this film will be Nicole Cushing, Author of How to Eat Fried Furries, Kirk Jones author of Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, Jordan Krall, author of a baffling defense of Tom Atkins and Leza, author of...Dollarbin Massacre. Also me, but I'll be bitching about He-Man mostly. And maybe Alf. Prepare for a holiday roundup of thoughtprovoking takes on the film that made a generation of children believe you can sleep in the woods with a light jacket in the middle of December with no consequences but fun intergalactic hijinks.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ten things you should watch instead of Twilight

Okay, I flat out suck, people. It's hot, I'm feeling lazy and stressed and I'm about six days late posting an article that was my idea to begin with. I apologize, fellow Dollarbin Masochists for my indolence. Here are my ten alternatives to Twilight.


Top Three Vampire Movies

Horror of Dracula

I will not apologize for the glut of Hammer films on my lists. Dollarbin Massacre is committed to cultural diversity. If you look at the sampling of shit that’s been reviewed here, you’ll see that we’re pretty openminded. So, where are the Asian vampires, where is Rockula, Love at First Bite, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t or (INSERT KITSCHY VAMPIRE TREASURE HERE)? Somewhere the fuck else, that’s where. I take vampires pretty seriously. They are a serious and nasty threat to our wellbeing and strongwilled, smokingjacketed heroes need to take up their stakes and crucifixes to put an end to the undead menace. The moment I knew this was so was at the age of five or six when I first saw Christopher Lee in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

I remembered Dracula Has Risen from the Grave pretty loosely over the years, but there were images from it that stayed with me for some time, bodies in a churchbell, glowing red eyes and one tall, thin badass predator who will not take no for an answer. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave had quite an impression on me. Dracula was awesome. Dracula was something to be feared.

Weeks later, I saw an earlier Hammer Dracula that gave me another new lease on the world and a new perspective on the character. I cannot say enough how much I love Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula. He is not a suave gentleman , he is a bloodthirsty barbarian, the man that Stoker said claimed to be a descendant of Attilla the Hun with pride. A hell of a supervillain. It would take a real hero to cross swords with somebody like that. It would take a wirey nerd who wore exquisite smoking jackets and jumped on the furniture. Horror of Dracula is amazing because it reminds us of something important. There are ruthless bastards with big fangs out there and they want to ruin everything, they want to take away our loved ones and poison the world with their malice. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest nerd or fancypants on the planet, if you’ve got knowledge, drive and heart, you can stand up to it.

Mark of the Vampire

This movie has a lot of strikes against it. A lot of the acting is needlessly over-the-top, some of the set pieces are confusing, the dialogue is stunted and the less said about this movie’s absurd plot, the better. The central conceit of Mark of the Vampire is a truly idiotic one and the resolution of the film’s mysteries makes even less sense than an actual vampire attack would. So why is this masterclass in bad writing one of my top three vampire movies?

Three answers: history, atmosphere and Bela Lugosi. There are better Lugosi performances. Better by far. In The Black Cat, The Raven, Murders at the Rue Morgue, Son of Frankenstein and Island of Lost Souls, we see Bela’s best work, oozing with pain, torment and madness as well as malice. But those movies aren’t what people think of first when they think of Lugosi. They think of vampires and they think of somebody who defined horror acting. When we see Lugosi in this movie, we see a vampire, an angel of cold hunger, a haunting moving tableau from our collective Jungian haunted house. He barely appears, he barely says a word but Lugosi is more vampiric than he ever was as Dracula.

It would be a travesty of me to forget to mention the great Carroll Borland. Morticia, Ingrid Pitt, Elvira, that Goth cashier at the grocery store who you find yourself shyly staring at, admiring her dark clothes and neopagan jewelry...all of them owe a little something to Carroll Borland. She matches Lugosi, she makes him up his game and she proves a perfect complement to his role. She’s amazing to watch. And so is Mark of the Vampire.

The Vampire Lovers

Since I’ve breached the subject of great vampiresses, I must bring up this movie. Every time I watch this movie I find myself thinking “damn, I really don’t watch this enough.” If you have seen this, you know what I mean. This is not the first movie you reach for when you decide to watch a vampire movie or the first one you think of, but it’s a great one and it screams for your attention and asks you with sweet succubus whispers “why don’t you watch me more?”

Why not? Because this movie is too rich of a delight to take in often. Although each time you see it, it wants you to enjoy it more frequently, it is a bloodsoaked dessert, a rich plate of enchanted crackfudge that will own your soul. Its leads are gorgeous, its costumes both period and timeless and its visuals frequently surreal and haunting. There is lesbianism, there is blood, dancing with Hecate and Kali. Le Belle Dame Sans Merci shall have you in thrall. Ingrid Pitt is a sinister siren of the highest and the tender naifs she seduces exude a wideeyed vulnerability that seems to be coquettishly mocking the viewer. It’s sexy, it’s rich, it’s just about too much, it enslaves and captivates the senses. All you can do is succumb.

Honorable Mention

Black Sabbath

Mario Bava’s classic makes honorable mention solely on the technicality that only the second of the film’s three segments is about a vampire. But what a vampire it is! In Bava’s adaptation of the story the Family of the Wurdalak, Boris Karloff plays a patriarch coming home from hunting a traditional Slavic monster as one of them. In my opinion, he makes one of the scariest vampires on film. Incest, blasphemy and raw inhumanity fill his haunting words. If you want to see the true nature of the folkloric vampire, watch Black Sabbath and see the hungry revenant in its natural state.

Salem’s Lot

The childhood trauma train hath pulled into the station. I slept with a crucifix under my pillow for a week because of this movie. The German Expressionist inspired vampire makeup of this movie is very impressive, embodying the concept of vampirism as a plague. Salem’s Lot combines the talents of Stephen King and Tobe Hooper, coming together on their common ground and that common ground is America. Nobody captures the violence of the American psyche like Tobe Hooper and nobody does smalltown horror like Stephen King. It’s a match made in Hell and Salem’s Lot takes you right there.

The Wolfman

I was thinking I might find something to replace this because it’s also on Leza’s list. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to include this movie, no matter how many other times it might get mentioned. Like Horror of Dracula, this movie has a special place in my heart for personal reasons. My grandfather suffered from bipolar disorder. About as severe as it got. The kind of bipolar that enslaved Lord Byron and Virginia Woolf, a disease that turned a man into something else, as inescapable as old age, fate, death taxes. And I knew it was hereditary. When I saw Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman, I saw a kindred spirit, a man who through no fault of his own was doomed to lose control. I looked at him and I saw somebody who knew that every person’s a monster and every monster’s a person. I would be a liar if I said that this movie made it easy to deal with living with a person with a crippling mental illness and growing up with the same sickness (though thankfully less severe), but at least I knew somebody understood. The Wolfman is a beautiful movie about human nature and living with one’s inner darkness and it’s moving to see Claude Rains and Evelyn Ankers remaining faithful to this beast until the end, letting love conquer fear. A movie that captures the things we find running through the primeval forest of the psyche like few others can.

Curse of the Werewolf

Curse of the Werewolf is in some ways very similar to The Wolfman. Tragedy, confrontations with the beast within, a strange gothic landscape that feels oddly timeless. While it lurks the magnetism of Lon Chaney Jr., the anguish and concern of Claude Rains or the beatific tenderness of Evelyn Ankers, this movie has a lot going for it, enough to be in my top three even with similarities to a blatantly superior film. What Curse of the Werewolf has going for it that The Wolfman lacks is an edge that you could say Hammer films had over most Universal monster movies and that’s intensity. Certain Universal efforts like The Black Cat and The Raven can match Hammer in perverse subtext but these aren’t really spoken of in the same breath as The Wolfman and the Frankenstein and Dracula efforts. You might think that the only edge a werewolf movie made by Hammer would have over Universal would be the potential for bloodletting, which is something werewolves do in spades. But it’s not just gore.

Curse of the Werewolf begins with a palace maid raped by a lycanthropic drifter. Which is a little much for Universal. Not long after, we see that the bastard child of this union has been tearing up goats. That’s some intensity. Larry Talbot’s curse is bad and not altogether his fault, but Curse of the Werewolf takes it up a notch, to a meaner kind of predestination, a story of a young man that never gets a fair shake at innocence. The child grows up to be Oliver Reed. And we get an unpleasant upgrade from Larry Talbot. You take Larry Talbot’s pain and you heap rage, madness and a hint that this man dying inside that might just take everybody else with him. Larry Talbot shows it sucks to be a werewolf, Oliver Reed hints that it might suck to be human, too.

Monster On Campus

This is not a werewolf movie in the strictest sense of the word, but it’s about everything a werewolf movie is about, a man getting bitten by something and then entering a state of devolution, ending up cursed and unable to control his actions. The cool thing about Monster on Campus for me is how it’s a bridge between two different ages of Universal horror. Universal studios horror didn’t die at the end of Dracula. It stayed strong in the atomic age, as evidenced by Jack Arnold’s classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Like Creature, Monster on Campus is also a Jack Arnold movie, also concerns the missing link between modern and primitive man and is also great. The dialogue is cheesy and the characterization a little weak, but it makes a good statement about mankind confronted with its darkside and the caveman monster is very werewolf like.

Another cool thing about this movie is a pop culture connection that might be a coincidence or it might have been a very cool nod to an underappreciate sci fi gem. The scientist turned caveman hero of Monster on Campus is named Donald Blake, which is also the secret identity of Thor from the Marvel comics. Could it have been that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby saw this movie and subconsciously spotted a connection between their hero, a modern man that had become one with something ancient and deadly that would leave his life spinning out of control is it a weird coincidence? Possibly the latter. Either way, it’s a cool piece of geeklore.

Honorable Mentions

Werewolf vs. The Vampire Women
I’m putting this movie as my honorable mention because I’ve only seen a couple of Paul Naschy werewolf movies and this is my favorite of them. The gothic atmosphere and the makeup are almost comically intense, Naschy’s deadly serious disposition and often unwarranted angst made him an awesome camp actor who just plain brought it in the role of Waldemar Daninsky. He was just really cool.

Track of the Moonbeast

Even for an MST3K movie, this is bad, from its terrible opening during which a pretty straightforward practical joke involving hiding behind a mask is explained to death to its performance by brand x countryfried folkie Frank Larrabee. But, there are things to like about this too. Just as Monster on Campus hearkens back to Gothic themes with its atomic age werewolf story, so too Track of the Moonbeast, made in the 70s, hearken back to Jack Arnold’s and Ed Wood’s films and the idea of a weredinosaur, poorly executed though it might have been is great for your inner ten year old.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Twilight is Stoopid, y'all.

JORDAN KRALL'S TAKE ON THE WHOLE TWILIGHT THING....

So I read the first TWILIGHT BOOK.

See, one of my students wanted to read it and so I had to read it WITH him. It was beyond my control. Now, it was pretty much crap. But it was for 14 year old girls so I can give it a pass... sort of. If that's how it was, being a book just for teen girls, well, okay. But this Twilight thing has become a phenomenon for no reason. Adult women are drooling all over Edward and Jacob (but of course, that's totally okay even though the characters are under 18. Those women aren't deviants. They aren't lusting after Miley Cyrus, after all).

I don't get it.

But I tried. I watched some of the first movie and had to turn it off in stunned anger and confusion. I hate movies that try so hard to force you to feel some sort of emotion like those "tear jerkers" I hate to watch but my wife can't get enough of. Romantic movies do this all the time. Twilight is worse because they are playing with millions of teenage minds, giving them the fantasy of having two "hot" guys after them. It's the fantasy of every sad, unattractive girl with no personality.

I would have preferred they end the series with it all being Bella's dream. She wakes up and realizes she's still unpopular and that no boy would come close to her with a ten-foot pool. Then an ugly vampire pops into her room, tells Bella her poetry sucks and then drains her of her blood. Then an even uglier werewolf comes in and ravages her, telling Bella those fake goth bands she listens to suck. Then the werewolf kills her while singing Bela Lugosi's Dead.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Here's some movies that are better than Twilight.

1.) DRACULA (1931) Two words: Bela Legosi.

2.) HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Three words: Christopher Fuckin’ Lee

3.) SON OF DRACULA (1943). Four words: Lon Fuckin’ Chaney Jr.

4.) DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). Five words: Gloria Smokin’ Fuckin’ Hot Holden

5.) THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1974) Six words: Shit! Dracula Has Fuckin’ Biological Weapons!

There’s more of course.
THE LOST BOYS with the brilliant performances by the two Coreys.
NEAR DARK with one of the greatest vampire set pieces set to a Cramps song ever.

What else is better than Twilight? Hmm.. how about EVERY FUCKING VAMPIRE FLICK MADE BY BOTH UNIVERSAL AND HAMMER STUDIOS? Yes, even DRACULA AD 1972.

If I talk about this any longer I’m going to start getting pissed. Edward from Twilight has the facial structure of a circus freak and Jacob looks as dumb as the dumbest rock. Girls find those two wankers attractive? That’s a sad generation, I’ll tell you. If I was into dudes, I’d take elderly Christopher Lee over those two ass-clowns.

And werewolves? Pass over TWILIGHT and move onto SILVER BULLET with Corey Haim or any of the UNIVERSAL wolfman flicks. Hell, I’d even suggest THE HOWLING II which even has the aforementioned Christopher Lee as well as some gratuitous boob-shots of Sybil Danning.

So there's my two cents. I guess you can criticize me for not getting through the whole film or watching the other ones. So what? At least I can say I didn't waste my time. If you've watched these movies, let me ask you something. Do you KNOW we have a limited time on this earth?

Fucking Twilight. Why the hell am I even discussing this? Garret, what the hell did you get me into?

Friday, July 2, 2010

When Vampires Had Balls by Nick Cato

When Vampires had BALLS by Nick Cato

When Dracula (Christopher Lee) managed to con a Catholic Priest to help him do his bidding in 1968's DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (not to mention threatening he'd also marry his niece), my young mind was alerted to the fact that vampires--while cool--aren't the "nicest" creatures out there. After all, they live on human blood, they live to fulfill their own darkest desires, as they are basically MONSTERS. The Dracula portrayed by Christopher Lee was a classy, intelligent gent who was always a hit with the ladies...but at heart he was the embodiment of evil. His cape was blacker than death. It didn't sparkle. He had BALLS.

The confused young title character of George A. Romero's MARTIN (1977) didn't sparkle, either. Convinced he's a vampire with a lust for blood, Martin (played with wonderful gloom by John Amplas) makes his own set of metal fangs, and being a nerd with limited seduction skills, uses an old-school razor blade to open his victim's veins. He lives and dies (in one of the goriest stakings ever filmed) as a true vampire. A vampire that had BALLS.
Female vampires have balls, too. Take for example Jean Rollin's FASCINATION (1979), where 2 lesbo vamps lure people into their blood drinking cult at an isolated mansion. Sure, they seduce everyone who come within their grasp and parade around nekkid, but they're not lovey-dubby multiplex skanks: they're high-class, gothic MONSTERS bent on doing what vamps do best...feed on grade-A plasma. Elizabeth and Eva (played by Franca Mai and the amazing Brigette Lahaie) may be a couple of hotties (especially under Rollins' killer cinematography), but like venus fly traps, their beauty is only a front. They're vampires with BALLS who don't sparkle.

And if you want to see how a vampire with BALLS can ruin your honeymoon, check out the 1962 Italian classic SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES. Dieter Eppler's portrayal of the blood-crazed vampire may be a bit campy by today's standards, but he wasn't afraid to ruin what should have been one poor couple's happiest time as newlyweds. As a bonus, our main vampire is killed by a piece of iron fence and turns to gray ash. Even in death this monstrous womanizer didn't sparkle...because he was a V A M P I R E.
With BALLS.
Okay...time to go hand some of these DVDs out in front of my local multiplex...

LEZA'S TOP THREE VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF MOVIES

VAMPIRES

VAMPYR-1932-THEODOR DREYER

This movie has incredible atmosphere. I know that word gets thrown around a lot. But in this case it is palatable. Remember the cursed videotape in The Ring? Vampyr is that movie, in the flesh.
When you watch this movie, you enter a surrealistic vacuum, where the ordinary passage of time and the traditional rules of causality have little relevance. This film is so masterfully shot that it is easy to forget that a person was behind the camera, despite the innovative, artful angles and the best shadow play outside of a German expressionist movie. This film sucks you in. The thick atmosphere of Gothic gloom and claustrophobia, of dislocation and irreality is unshakeable, even hours after a viewing. It sticks with you. It nags you with feelings of unrest and existential malaise.
The only thing I can recall affecting me in a similar way was Robert W. Chambers collection of short stories entitled The King in Yellow, and certain H.P. Lovecraft passages.
It is the unnameable horror of something that is alien and yet horribly familiar. It is the atmosphere of unrest. David Lynch's Eraserhead also manages to pull off this sort of cacophony of distress quite masterfully. But Vampyr has something Eraserhead does not. True, unshakable, gut freezing eeriness. It is a true original and it is infinitely re-viewable since its one of those movies that seems to reshuffle itself every time you see it.

SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE-E.ELIAS MEHIGE-2000

This movie has an interesting concept that actually works. John Malkovich plays F. W. Murnau, the director who will stop at nothing to make his masterpiece, Nosferatu. He does not even shrink from hiring a real vampire to bring authenticity to his film. Who cares if his staff is in danger, the film must be completed. Willem Dafoe plays Max Schreck, the creepiest vampire I have ever seen. He's ugly, he's a creep, and he doesn’t try to hide it.
I love this film because of the parallels it draws between the obsession of the artist, the drug addict and, of course, the vampire. The power struggle between director and vampire is ironic and intense, as is Murnau's deadly struggle with heroin addiction and his drive to make this film no matter who or what is destroyed along the way. This film is truly inspiring and chilling as well as beautifully shot, with great reverence for its source material. Re-created shots from Nosferatu are especially rewarding and pitch perfect.

THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE-DON SHARP-1963

This film is like The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Eyes Wide Shut, in 1963 Hammer style, of course.
A young couple, on their honeymoon end up shacking up at a near abandoned motel, when they run out of petrol, which just happens to be next door to a wealthy family of vampires who take advantage of the cartoonishly proper and naive young couple. They are seduced by the seemingly elegant family, who wine and dine them till they manage to separate the two and take the woman for themselves and leave the poor man, confused, utterly disoriented, and hung over after being plowed down with champagne.
This film is elegant, deliciously satirical, sadistically twisted and genuinely eerie. The costumes and sets are rich confections of velvet and spirals(respectively), the nights are foggy and moonlit, the encounters with the blood-drinkers, brutal. This is classic Hammer at its best.
“It often happens in life that the most beautiful things are made from the most unpromising of materials.” The patriarch vampire bitterly notes when giving the guests a tour of his home, mourning his existence inside its metaphorical coffin.
Their seduction of Marianne is soulless and clinically choreographed, using the son as bait. They take advantage of the fact that the newlyweds are so young and uncertain of themselves and each other.
Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) plays the only nemesis of this powerful vampire clan. After his own daughter was claimed by them, he tirelessly watches and does what he can to put back down their newly risen vampire ladies. Tormented by his pain, he's often drunk, and the townspeople assume him to be a lost cause. With such an uncertain adversary and such a perfect pair of vampire bait walking blissfully unaware into their doom, the air of hopelessness is powerful throughout much of the film, adding to the palpable fear and claustrophobia. The inn itself is haunted by the memory of the innkeeper's lost daughter. Another victim of the vampires. It is mentioned how they own the land and there is very little anyone can do against them.
These vampires are able to go about during the day, but only if it is overcast. Mercifully, they do not “sparkle”.

HONORABLE MENTION

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN-TOMAS ALFREDSON-2008
This haunting and gritty gem set in Stockholm really breaks the traditional mold. The vampire, in this case, is a 12 year old girl, Eli, who is more alone than any girl could be. She meets a boy her age, Oskar, who has been bullied and is becoming increasingly alienated. They slowly warm up to each other and form a touching bond that is challenged by his discovery of her true monstrous nature. This story resonates and is shot beautifully in the barren wintry landscape of the city.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT-DAVID SLADE-2007
This was an innovative and refreshing treatment of vampires set in a natural state of perpetual night, in Alaska. The movie had a cool noir vibe and was very stylishly shot. I was also very happy with the look and the brutality of these tough vampires. They seemed somehow more primal, more like something out of our folkloric or mythic past. I loved the artwork in the comic as well, and was pleasantly surprised at how closely the director came to capturing that vibe and look despite the lack of Ben Templesmith's extraordinary artwork.

WEREWOLVES

THE WOLF MAN-GEORGE WAGGONER-1942

This will always be the quintessential werewolf film to me. The moody cinematography is impeccable. But I think its greatest power lies in the achingly human portrayal of a man losing the battle with the beast within by the lumbering, awkward, and always lovable Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the returning estranged son and new heir to the Talbot estate, as a result of the tragic and accidental death of his brother.
Estrangement, a big theme for monsters of all kinds, is established right off, as son a father attempt to patch up after years of absence. You get the feeling, though, that Larry Talbot is never going to fit in anywhere. He is a man followed by shadows he can never shake. Yet he is charming, especially in his moments of supreme awkwardness, as in his first meeting with Gwen(Evelyn Ankers). He is about as subtle as the wolf in Little Red riding Hood in his attempts to seduce her. She is annoyed, affronted, but yet is amused, even a bit seduced, despite herself. Even when he confesses to her, later that night, that he has been peeping at her through her bedroom window with a telescope, she doesn't tell him to get lost, despite the fact that she's engaged.
There is a great air of sadness to this film. A pervasive gloom that is not heavy handed, but it is heavyhearted and somehow almost elemental. This is about a man, alone with his curse. There is no cure and he must face his beast and try his best to not harm those he loves. He must face the judgments of the ignorant and ill informed townspeople, he must hide his pain even though it consumes him. And he must exist in a state he barely understands the nature of.
Lon Chaney embodies the noble qualities of wolves as well as the monstrous. His instinct to protect his own is, in fact, what leads him to being bitten by Bela, the werewolf fortuneteller played by Bela Lugosi. He has an honest and loving heart that he practically wears on his sleeve. Perhaps this is his biggest mistake, but yet it is also his salvation, not for his life, but for his soul. He can't win, though, he's screwed no matter what. As Gwen's fiancee observes: “There is something very tragic about that man.” I think we can all identify with someone who is not entirely beast or man, good or bad, just all too human, cursed and blessed whether we like it or not. Screw Jacob and Edward, Larry Talbot is the original tragic heartthrob.


WOLF-MIKE NICHOLS-1994

I appreciate the freshness and honesty with which Mike Nichols tackles the idea of a man turning into a werewolf within a sociological context. When the office politics of a major publishing house cause aging editor in chief Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) to get kicked to the curb in lieu of his much more dishonest and cutthroat protegee Stewart Swinton(James Spader), followed by the discovery that his wife has been sleeping with Stewart, it kicks off a hell of a midlife crisis, and brings out strength and rage he never knew he had, as his whole life spirals out of control.
The bite of the wolf is not entirely a curse for Will. In fact, it enables him to see past the illusions that had barred his success against his backstabbing colleagues in the past. No longer self-doubting, he goes after what he wants. He is essentially quite human, and in fact, the “curse” of the wolf has a humanizing effect upon him. When the animal begins to take him over, he realizes how numb and false he and everyone else around him had become, in a way, this film is about how much socialization robs us of our raw humanity. Initially, Will is a man who plays by the rules(even if they make no sense), a man who debases himself as a matter of course. When the wolf begins to take hold, Will begins to grow a pair, much to everyone's surprise.
Mike Nichols biting social satire is something to sink you teeth into. But inevitably, with the good and the noble also come the darker aspects of the beast trailing close behind. The predator, the murderer inside struggles for dominance also as the light (Will)and dark(Stewart) personifications of the wolf struggle against each other for the woman they both desire(Michelle Pfieiffer). The nature of the man colors the nature of the beast.

CAT PEOPLE-JACQUES TOURNEUR-1942

Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a perfectly nice Serbian girl. All she wants is a normal life, but that is not to be. Descendant from a race of evil cat people she can keep her murderous instincts bottled up, but not forever. Trouble comes to her life when she falls in love with a nice young gentleman named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). She is terrified that passion will bring out the beast that has for so long remained dormant.
Her only comfort is her regular visits to to local zoo, where she stares at the black panther for hours, sometimes sketching him, sometimes just watching. Most animals are terrified of her, but the panther doesn't complain.
At the end of his rope, her new husband sends her to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, he is more interested in her as a specimen and parrots her husbands words, that it is all in her head. He is also developing a fetishistic obsession with her to boot.
When she sees her husband eating out with his friend, Alice, she snaps. In a spiraling series of events that lead to her own demise, the beast takes hold till the bitter end.
This tragic story about a misunderstood woman at war with her dark side will always be one of relevance, just as evocative and powerful today as it was in 1942. It is an atmospheric and haunting psychological and spiritual exploration of the dark side of the moon we carry within.

HONORABLE MENTION

WEREWOLF OF LONDON-STEWARD WALKER-1935
Despite the cheesy werewolf makeup I find this to be so classy and haunting that I forgive it for that. I like the focus on the moon flower, who's quest leads Dr. Glendon(Henry Hull) to being bitten, and which he then grows with the aid of artificial light. This is the ultimate civilized man succumbing to his obsessions and coming unraveled, owing perhaps more to Jekyll and Hyde and even Victor Frankenstein, than anything having to do with lycanthropy.

THE COMPANY OF WOLVES-NEIL JORDAN-1994
Though heavy-handed and overly decadent I still find this to be a delicious feast for the eyes. Angela Carter's dark retelling of the Red Riding Hood myth is exciting, irreverent, and thick with dark fairy tale atmosphere.

Dollarbin Massacre Guide to Vampires and Werewolves: Introduction

Wow! It seems like another Twilight movie is upon us. And you know what that means: millions of braindead cultural naifs will get a good glimpse into what vampires and werewolves aren't. And some of you out there, who are parents, friends or homosexual partners with these naifs will be subjected to stunted dialogue, sparkling, hairless waxed chests and monsters less threatening than those on Sesame Street. But, you are not powerless. You have duct tape. You have DVD players. You have rope. And you can not only enjoy yourself but you can educate these poor dipshits regarding monster culture if you show your loved one you care by restraining them and subjecting them to the Dollarbin Massacre crew's favorite vampire and werewolf movies. Helping us help your bound,gagged loved one will be Nick Cato, author of Don of the Dead and host of Lair of the Yak. So keep your eyes on Dollarbin Massacre over the next few days and you'll find out what our favorite vampire and werewolf films are.





Still better than the Twilight series.

By the way, Dollarbin Masochist Jordan Krall has been nominated for the Wonderland Book Award, the award for excellence in Bizarro fiction for his book Fistful of Feet. Congratulations, Jordan!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eric Mays might have some kind of weird marsupial fetish

One day, with no provocation at all, author Eric Mays of Naked Metamorphosis and The Authors Speak series of interviews sent me a review of supersonic turkey Kangaroo Jack. As supersonic turkeys go, this one could kick the shit out of The Giant Claw, both the movie and the giant claw itself, whatever that thing is supposed to be. This after I told him "we review good movies here, dammit!" I just don't understand this guy. First, he besmirches the good name of Vincent Price and Lionel Atwill and now this. It's just unsettling.

Here it is: Kangaroo Jack reviewed by Eric Mays

Australia has given us some mighty big personalities and some mighty big films. Paul Hogan, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, and Hugh Jackman are all larger than life examples of the rustic Australian breed. Films like “Gallipoli” and “Mad Max” tackle vengeance and courage. But the island continent may not be able to handle its largest star. Or, what should be the resounding champ.

On the surface it may be mocked as a family friendly piece of tripe. But, like onions, parfaits, and the Earth itself, it has layers. This is more than just a clich├ęd kiddie flick. This is, by far, one of the most original masterpieces ever shot on film. And it should be recognized in the annals as such.

“Kangaroo Jack” is based on an urban legend about two kids from Boston hitting a kangaroo while vacationing in the outback. After hitting the marsupial with their Land Rover, they dressed it up in a Red Sox jacket and snapped photographs of it. Obviously, the kangaroo was not deceased, merely unconscious, and it hopped into the Aussie wild, still adorning the Sox jacket.

That’s a just a very one dimensional story. It would take a true writing genius to transform an urban legend into such a notable classic. Enter one Steve Bing, writer of Missing in Action 2 and an episode of “Married with Children” entitled “Desperately Seeking Miss October”. Mr. Bing is a comic genius capable of truly great things. He takes the simple concept and transforms it into a comedic masterpiece featuring the mafia, two hapless guys, and the aforementioned ‘roo.

Headlined by Jerry O’Connell (who has not been in better form since “Stand By Me”) and Anthony Anderson (who also displays the comic timing that rivals Groucho Marx), “Kangaroo Jack” deals with the horrors that befall two individuals when they get caught up in the mob. Charlie and Louis have a “job” to do for Mr. “Sal” Maggio (Oscar-winner Christopher Walken, rekindling the chops that brought him that award for “The Deer Hunter”). That job? Deliver 50,000 dollars to Australia.

However, that $50,000 is swiped by a rogue kangaroo, as you may have expected. By trading the Red Sox jacket for $50,000, screenwriter Steve Bing has placed us in a higher stakes game of intrigue that movies lack these days.

And producer Jerry Bruckheimer has taken the concept (which may sound somewhat recycled) and brought in the absolute best. 3-time Oscar winner Dyan Cannon, soon-to-be Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (nominated in 2008 for “Revolutionary Road”), and director David McNally, of the overlooked and underrated “Coyote Ugly” (seriously, where was Piper Perabo’s and John Goodman’s Oscar nom?). And after the success of “Snow Dogs”, Bruckheimer makes a bold choice in using CGI to make the kangaroo talks. A risk? Perhaps. But it pays in dividends.

It seems troubling to say that all this movie lacks is the appropriate audience, but it’s that good. The movie is filled with gems that more contemporary films lack. Take for instance this line from Anthony Anderson: “We’re just having a very intimate, non-gay moment”. Hilarity! Or Jerry O’Connell’s matter-of-fact way of stating the obvious, while adding a sense of dread, when he declares: “I just got my ass kicked by a marsupial.”

Sure, it seems like this is appropriate for the pre-pubescent set. Think what you will. That age group gets things that others could only dream of. If you watch – really watch – then you’ll find depth, intelligence, and the best use of “Rapper’s Delight” ever used in film. “Kangaroo Jack” should be recognized as the “Citizen Kane” of kangaroo films.

4.5 stars out of 5

P.S
Congratulations, Eric on being the sole entrant and winner of the Legumeman Books Kangaroo Jackstravaganza. Enjoy your prizes. In retrospect, perhaps if I had called it the Kangaroo Jackoff it would have had more interest. Hindsight's 20/20 I guess.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Does it Suck: the Spirit REBUTTAL

I love Frank Miller. I even like some of his recent work (TDKSA is really good as a cyberpunk story with capes, but I agree that All-Star was a bad idea). All his stuff up to Sin City was the cutting edge of its time and now sits as part of the comicverse canon. Miller brings a very specific style to the table, so I guess I enjoy that style even when it's not executed perfectly. The Spirit isn't executed very well at all, but if you already like Miller's style (and you have to be VERY lame not to), you're already on board.

Miller has a vague background in film, and his comics have always had a cinematic quality. But the Spirit is the first time he's been in total control. I think he wanted to create a real homage to Eisner and the comic book medium in general. Say what you want about him, but Frank Miller knows the history and mechanics of the comic medium like the back of his hand. That might have worked against him, because what he made was a movie that’s exactly like a comic. That’s the only problem with it. It drags on when you try to watch it all at once, but taken apart, the segments are actually pretty good. Comics are about bursts of story in serialized segments, keeping the reader interested enough to wait for the next episode. But like I said, that's the problem. The movie fails to deliver a strong overarching narrative because it acts too much like a comic strip. But the cinematography is great and the scenes all work as individual parts of a greater whole. It's just that that whole doesn't come together very well as a movie. It doesn't work as a narrative arc. It works in small bursts of flashy style.

What we wind up seeing is a lot of really cool looking scenes that would've worked really well as a serialized web series. Instead it's all mashed together as a movie. C'est la vie. You still get disposable clone stooges, slapstick Loony Tunes-like violence, ancient artifacts with Indiana Jones-ish powers, huge guns, macho guys, hot chicks, and Samuel L Jackson dressed up as a cowboy, a pimp, a nazi, AND a samurai. It’s a modern mixture of all those weird comics that Frank Miller must have read when he was a kid. It's not true to Eisner's original vision of the Spirit, but it's updated. Miller's stuff always seems to exist in weird worlds that are a mixture of several eras. And yes, the acting is terrible. Everyone's hamming it up, either intentionally or not. But they're working with Frank Miller's trademark noirish dialogue and snarky turns of phrase, so I think that's forgivable. It serves the overall style.

And one more thing. You can't have a Spirit movie without femme fatales like Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansen, or the chick “Castle”. And as hot and sexy and dangerous as these girls are, the movie has a family-friendly vibe that’s only there so it will appeal to a larger audience. Look, i understand this. Making movies is a business, after all. But "family friendly" works against Miller’s custom style. What makes his work great is that it’s bleak and gritty and NEVER pulls punches. In fact, if the Spirit had included more boobies and gore and cursing, we could’ve had our first grindhouse superhero movie.

Does it suck? No. The visual style of this movie is too good to just throw it away. And the strange mixture of styles makes it unique, even among Miller's other movies. Maybe Frank Miller's getting old. I hope not. He still owes us a good sequel to Sin City.

Does it Suck:The Spirit

Does everybody remember back when Frank Miller was awesome? I was like 6, but I've read the output from that time and he sure was awesome. Introducing Elektra, adding much needed grit to Daredevil and Batman, creating Sin City. Frank Miller was great, a man, a master of Neonoir. If 1986 Frank Miller were to direct a film version of Will Eisner's The Spirit, superhero movies in the 80s and 90s wouldn't have been such braindead lowbudget affairs. 1986 Frank Miller would have made people think twice about offering Tim Burton Batman...instead of making people think twice about letting Frank Miller make a movie as they did when The Spirit came out. This is a Spirit movie by the Frank Miller that brought us Dark Knight Strikes Back and All Star Batman and Robin. A Frank Miller that has lost his fucking mind.
The Spirit is a "movie" "adaptation" of the great Will Eisner's COMIC (all in caps because it's that great of a COMIC) about a bluesuited vigilante (in the movie his suit is not blue) who can't stop falling for the wrong dames and solves crimes of a surprisingly gritty nature. Sometimes there were stories where The Spirit didn't even appear, intriguing contemporary fables that were well ahead of their time. The Spirit's lead Gabriel Macht makes me wish Miller had adapted one of these. If The Spirit COMIC didn't need The Spirit, why does a movie of The Spirit? When God was rolling up Gabriel Macht for the great Dungeons and Dragons game called life, he got a 3 for Charisma. Gabriel Macht is as charsimatic as...anybody who gets what having 3 Charisma means and why it makes you uncharismatic. Gabriel Macht is horrendously dull. A better choice might have been anybody people have heard of.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the villain, The Octopus, who wears white gloves, has a huge cache of weapons and hates The Spirit because he does. Samuel L. Jackson is not bad in this, but he's pretty damn awkward. As awkward as Gabriel Macht? No. Gabriel Macht is as awkward as your third grade teacher catching you masturbating...at her husband's funeral. And her husband is the King of England. And also your dad. And you're masturbating to a picture of her. Gabriel Macht sucks. Samuel L. Jackson's okay, I guess. Better than the shitty, shitty Gabriel Macht.
Assisting Samuel L. Jackson is a who's who of fine ladies that can't act. Meaning Scarlett Johannsen and Salma Hayek. At least I think Salma Hayek's assisting him. I don't really know where she came from or what the hell she's up to, like Jack Nance's character in Dune...or anybody in Dune if you haven't read the book. I would add Eva Mendes to this list but for the fact that Eva Mendes is not even remotely fine and she only assists him sometimes since she's a femme fatale and she has trouble choosing sides. These actresses do their best-which is awful.
The Spirit should be a fun Neonoir cartoon that's a great homage to a comics legend. Instead, this movie makes me think that Frank Miller must be grateful that Will Eisner is probably in Heaven so that his revenant won't track down Frank Miller and strangle him to death. So, guest contributor David W. Barbee: Does it Suck?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS- Crazy-Ass Bitches, Tits and Chainsaw Mayhem



Sharon Stone once was quoted in a book called Vamps as saying "If you have a vagina and a point of view, that's a deadly combination." Megan Fox seconds that with the brain bleeding assertion that breasts are "smart bombs", you just need to locate your target, aim and shoot, turning boys brains to mush, in the recent chick horror flick Jennifer's Body. It sounds stupid, but unfortunately (for guys) it's all too true. In fact, in a recent scientific study at the University of Valencia in Spain, it was proven that a certain hormone (Cortisol) that is released when a man is alone with a beautiful woman for about five minutes is shown to have connections to heart disease. The hormone floods stronger if the man perceives the woman to be "out of his league". Ouch! Love hurts!

The horror film genre is replete with women paying the price for being, well, women, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, fucking the wrong guy, running naked up the wrong fucking stairs with their tits flapping all over the place like giant glistening knife targets. Doe-eyed lambs to the slaughter.

Fred Olen Ray's 1988 cult grindhouse classic Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a refreshing inversion of this common predicament. In this case it is men who fall prey to a cult of psychotic bloodlusty chainsaw-wielding lunatics who masquerade as hookers simply 'cause they know guys are suckers for a great set of tits and the promise of something more.

Hell hath no fury like these whorish harpies. Welcome to Hollywood, California; home of crazy cults and crazy damn broads. Jayne Mansfield, Church of Satan anyone? Frances Farmer, eat your heart out. You never seen crazy like these bitches. They are dedicated to their cause. After all, those ancient Egyptian god's ain't gonna feed themselves, you know!





Now these hookers have soul! They're no golddigging trollops, or desperate, teary-eyed teen runaways who will do anything for a bit of smack, turning tricks to survive. These girls are on a mission, and they're committed. They know guys need a little Tender Fucking Care.

This is a great raunchy burlesque show of a movie, replete with dirty puns, lame gags, and lots of blood splattered T&A. This is the kind of movie that you watch in the back of a tent in the bad side of town after the nudie show. It owes much to the brilliant transgressive abandon of Herschell Gordon Lewis and to nonsensical camp gold in the tradition of lovable pervert and misanthrope Ed Wood.

The format is noir. The delivery is bad minstrel show and porn-caliber acting (off, but enthusiastic). All the chicks in this movie give amazing jaw dropping performances. Michelle McLean as the head maneater Mercedes, is a heartless vicious bitch with a great rack. She plays her part to the hilt, with great camp cartoon villainess vamp glee. Esther Elise as her accomplice, Lisa also plays the camp diva villainess card to the hilt. Linnea Quigley is adorable and hilariously spunky as the supposedly ditzy teenage runaway, Samantha Kelso, the cause for our humble narrator and private eye, Jack Chandler, getting sucked in to this bizarre vortex of perversion and manslaughter.

Nothing is quite what it seems, and by the time you have arrived at the grand finale you will feel like you have been drugged and woke up at one fucked up party. You'll swear you'll never accept a drink from a suspiciously excited chick with a great rack, named Mercedes, who assures you with deadpan emphasis that she's gonna fuck your brains out and that she's a real scream, once you get to know her(wink, wink). Watch out for those crazy broads, they'll tear your fucking heart out and eat it with some salt and pepper (or chop you up into little pieces for their gods, take you pick, you'll taste delicious to them either way).

Overseeing this band of wild ladies of the mean LA streets is Gunnar Hansen, (legendary as maniac juggernaut Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)who plays the part of their lofty-minded cult leader with deadpan straight face, resulting in great camp ironic perfection.

Laugh your ass off hilarious, bizarre and deliciously tasteless, this movie is sure to please the sassmouthed pervert in us all. But don't say I didn't warn you, if you watch this movie on drugs you will feel twice as stoned as you really are and before you know it you'll be tied up and at the mercy of a band of crazy-ass broads with great racks! Keep a tight hold on those family jewels and don't let anyone called Mercedes buy you any drinks with names like "The Screaming Orgasm", tempting as this might sound.

Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper:Who Gets Stuck With All the Bad Luck?

Subject A:Howard the Duck



A duck caught in a world that he did not create. Irascible, frustrated, a citizen of the most warped and chaotic corner of the Marvel Universe, in a situation he has little control over.

Subject B: Daffy Duck

A petulant, sarcastic, hapless individual, tormented by hunters, rabbits and martians. Trapped in a cartoon, one time manipulated by an insane animator who turned out to be none other than his rabbit nemesis. Irascible, frustrated, a citizen of a universe so looney it's part of its name, in a situation he has no control over.



Subject C: Donald Duck

A pantsless cuckold and a cauldron of seething rage. He is mad at this girlfriend, at his nephews, at local chipmunks, at his mentally challenged anthropoid dog friend. Irascible, frustrated, an angry man in a place where anger is either comical or the province of villains.



Why, you might ask, am I providing you with half-assed psychological profiles of cartoon ducks? It seems weird even for me. Well, I'm doing this because people that watch Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper might think that the killer's tendency to talk like a cartoon duck is weird and stupid. They might think Fulci is being weird for weird's sake or creepy for creepy's sake and while it's weird and it's creepy, it makes perfect sense. Okay, maybe my standards for "perfect sense" have atrophied over the years but the cartoon duck thing still works artistically. It's a valid metaphor. Really. New York Ripper is a gory police procedural/giallo about a guy that commits egregiously violent acts on women and taunts the police by talking like a duck and it makes sense for him to do so, not just in the context of the plot but in the context of artistic choices.

If it doesn't impress that somebody pulled this off, I'd like to see what kind of cinematic voodoo earns your respect. Anyway, New York Ripper begins in broad daylight, like many Fulci movies do. Lucio Fulci seems to have a vendetta against people going out during the day. You'll get stabbed, you'll get raped, you'll get eaten by a zombie on a boat. Get a job as a third shift Speedway clerk, it's the only way you'll be safe. An old man is walking his golden retriever near the Brooklyn Bridge. It is a sweet scene, one you know is not going to last. The movie proves you right when the dog finds a rotted hand.

When we get to the police precinct, we meet the cop investigating the severed hand found by dog case. When anybody finds a severed hand, it's serious business but when it's an adorable dog, the cops jump to action interviewing the murder victim's insufferable landlady in true police procedural fashion. It's unsettling that a severed hand is involved in this because Lieutenant Williams, the man in charge of the case, does not seem much like a real cop, he seems like a TV cop. His every line of dialogue feels fake and transparent down to his weird "I don't want people to find out that deep down I care about things" demeanor.

First time I watched this, I was left wondering why it was that this grisly murder was being solved by such a flat protagonist, such a cop show caricature. Second time I watched it, I asked a different question. Why is it we trivialized and sanitized murder for so long in our police procedurals and cop shows? Before the disgusting forensics show trend that now dominates the genre, cop shows depicted how we wanted crime to be, we wanted it to be smooth, we wanted it to be gore free and we wanted it to happen well outside our backyards. The police procedural was safe place for us, a refuge...like cartoons. Whether the fake cop show veneer is that way on purpose or unintentionally, Fulci has put shards of glass in a great American comfort food. Did you ever see an episode of Kojak where a woman was ripped open on a ferry?

When the ferry murder occurs, it becomes very clear that we're in a New York where even in broad daylight gruesome and immoral things are happening and nobody is safe. The police procedural has been transplanted into the New York of Driller Killer and Ms.45 and when Lucio Fulci's working in Ferrara country, we're going to witness some epically fucked up shit. A trenchcoated woman watches a live sex show as a creepy bastard watches her watching it, taking in her masturbatory ecstasy and voyeuristic thrill. The woman in the show goes from degrading herself on stage to being alone in the dark, is grabbed the sketchy guy, is stabbed brutally with a broken bottle and is killed. Fulci seems to be saying that humiliation and degradation lead to death. It is obvious that misogyny breeds killers but not so obvious that the loss of women's dignity will lead often to the loss of their lives. When we take away dignity, we create violence.

Which brings me to the duck. The killer quacks and talks like a cartoon as he is killing and after the murders, calls Lieutenant Williams while speaking in his duck voice. It seems silly and offputting for the sake of being offputting, but as I said there's a reason for it in the plot and a reason for the artistic choice. All the cartoon ducks I mentioned face a lack of dignity, a lack of restraint and a lack of capacity to deal with their chaotic surroundings. In a New York where everybody shows signs of perversion (Williams makes time with a prostitute, the arrogant bastard psychologist that helps him on the case buys a gay porno magazine, probably a huge deal in an Italian movie from 1982) with poverty and hyperstimulation everywhere things are worse than in the Disney, Marvel or Warner Brothers worlds, there are all the frustrations but none of the safety and warmth and none of the censorship. Donald Duck would no doubt have a criminal record in early 80s New York, as would Daffy and even Howard (and Howard knows Spiderman). The killings are not simple Freudian murders but motivated by a kind of poetic psychology as we tend to see in gialli. The world is absurd and unfair and filthy and he has to vent his frustration somehow.

Female sexuality is something we've always sought to control and moderate. If it gets out of hand, it can be perceived as intimidating, wild and a source of disorder and a way of squandering a powerful gift of which men are in awe. The New York of New York Ripper is choked in sexual kudzu and thus is an aberration, one that is particularly painful for a man like the murderer in New York Ripper. The intricacies of his motivation are so novel that I don't wish to spoil them, based in part in the out of control sexuality around him but, as I said it's not that simple.

New York Ripper is a film to be experienced, not to be described, which is why I find myself a bit inarticulate in discussing its plot points and breaking down its scenes and more comfortable talking about theme and atmosphere The sexuality and the gore and the strangeness make it a giallo every bit as fascinating as Argento's best but possessing a wholly unique atmosphere combining grindhouse sleaze with copshow cliche.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

BRAIN MATTER JACKPOT: On David Schwartz’s "Las Vegas Bloodbath"

LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH
A Schwartz Kirby Mayhugh Dalton Production © 1989

Special Appearance by Tina Prunty and the Beautiful Lady Oil Wrestlers.

Allow me to defend my defense of the movie LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH.

Unlike my argument for HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH, I do not think that LVBB is a great film. It’s not even a good film. Hell, I might go as far as to say it’s not even a film at all.

It’s shot-on-video and from the 1980s. If you have any idea what I’m talking about, well then…..you know what I’m talking about. Lower your standards, grab a friend, and crack open the vodka.

It took me about a year to watch this movie. But wait… here I am talking about it, suggesting that you give the movie a chance. Let me explain.

When I popped this DVD in, I spent about ten minutes in awe. LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH tore my brain out with grainy claws and squeezed it through a cheap slot machine. Ching, ching, ching. Brain matter jackpot.

The first scene is of our anti-hero (played by Ari Levin who went on to star in nothing else but he did produce one episode of TAXICAB CONFESSIONS) talking on the phone. He looks like a cross between Lurch, Greg Brady, and Ronald McDonald without the clown make-up. In other words, he’s pretty handsome in a creepy manager-of-a-fast-food-restaurant sort of way. For the remainder of this review, I’ll be referring to the guy as Ari and not his character’s name (Sam Butler). Why? I don’t know.

It’s obvious there was no script. Instead, the director gave Ari a rough outline of what to say and then pressed RECORD. This is pretty consistent throughout LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH. I guess you sort of have to respect the director for that. He’s anything if not consistent. Besides, why waste the paper?

So Ari leaves the office and goes home driving the red sports car he bought for his pregnant wife… only to find his wife in bed with a really ugly cop (or security guard, I can’t remember). We also find out this ugly cop is a Speedo man. It’s all pretty disgusting. Ari even sniffs the guy’s shoes. Don’t ask.

Anyway, so Ari walks in on his wife’s infidelity and shoots them both with the cop’s gun. This is aided by badly timed gunshots courtesy of an inept sound editor. Who am I kidding? Sound editor? That’s like saying this movie had an advertising campaign.

Ari completely fucking loses his marbles and leaves. He drives around the Las Vegas strip in broad daylight, batshit fucking crazy, talking to himself about how all women are alike, they don’t deserve to live, blah blah blah.

Then Ari finds a hooker. Hallelujah. So it begins. Holy shit.

This “actress” is the stiffest I’ve ever seen so she may very well be a real hooker. Good for Ari. Anyway, he’s driving her around and some guy in another car gives them the finger. Now, it’s obvious that some jackass saw the “film crew” in the car and decided it’d be funny to yell something. Anyway, our fearless cast decides to not let the fourth wall be broken and so they roll with it and the hooker asks what the guy’s problem was. Ari’s response is “I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t like daytime whores!”

How do you respond to something like that? The answer is: you don’t.

The hooker ignores it. You’d think she’d get the hint. Ari is acting so goddamn creepy, strange, and aggressive, even the most desperate prostitute would have bailed out by now. How many red flags do you need before you realize that Mr. Ari Levin is bad news?

I can’t leave that “daytime whores” line alone. It’s brilliant. I’m sure Ari made it up on the spot or maybe the director/cameraman/producer/writer in the backseat told him to say it… but whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s one of my all time favorite movie lines. My best friend and I still quote it from time to time. It’s one of those lines that, after hearing it, you cannot forget. You don’t want to forget. Daytime whores. Daytime whores. You want to know why your boss didn’t give you that raise? Maybe he doesn’t like daytime whores. Wanna know why your boyfriend didn’t call you back? He doesn’t like daytime whores. Daytime whores.

So it’s 11 minutes and 50 seconds in and I just had to stop it. I had to wait until my friend and I could watch it together. It was something you just cannot watch alone. It’s like a wedding. You need a partner or else it’s a pointless endeavor.

Fast forward a year later. He and I get to watch the rest of LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH.

Okay, so if you are still with me up to this point, kudos. But I’ll be honest with you. The first half is pretty brutal. It’s like a tooth extraction in slow motion.

Ari takes our hooker behind a motel in broad daylight and ties her up. The weird thing is, she lets him do it. This fucker is beyond creepy yet this whore is just too damn trusting.

Just when she thinks he’s a nice guy, he pulls out his wife’s decapitated head and says, “I’ll make you a deal. You give me head and I’ll give YOU head.”

And he kills our poor prostitute. I’m not really spoiling anything. Everyone knows he’s going to do it except for that whore.

Ari goes on a little killing spree and then he stumbles upon our other main characters, the most boring group of women ever assembled for any movie. We, the viewer, are subjected to the worst baby shower ever. It’s a disgusting scene of women eating donuts, drinking milk, playing cards, and spewing out inane chit-chat. They also model some bathing suits. I never knew women in bikinis could be so erection-shattering. All this goes on while Ari lurks outside.

This scene is where most people would turn the movie off and understandably so. It’s fucking boring. It’s made worse by the fact that it was recorded on VHS. It’s sort of like watching a stranger’s home videos from 1989. But with fewer camera angles and less zooming.

Twenty minutes into this party (yes, I said 20 MINUTES), they turn on the TV to watch themselves. So we’re treated to the cheapest sports show ever: the so-called Beautiful Lady Oil Wrestlers (or as the TV calls them: The Ladies of B.L.O.W. which translates to The Ladies of Beautiful Ladies Oil Wrestlers). This could potentially be sexy but it’s anything but. To call these ladies oil wrestlers is an insult to wrestlers everywhere. It’s also an insult to ladies not to mention oil.

Then the party gets REAL exciting because the pizza comes. And so the girls…they eat the pizza. We hear every disgusting chew, every lip smack. Anyone with a food fetish will love this shit. I didn’t.

Stay with me…Stay with me…

Because then Ari comes in. Fucking finally! I never thought I’d be so happy to see that Lurch-looking motherfucker.

Now the real pain begins, Danny Boy.

The rest of the movie is some of the most over-the-top misogynistic violence I’ve seen in an 80s flick. What he does to the pregnant woman…. Shit. You will just have to rent this movie for yourself. My jaw dropped. I never knew Ari had it in him. One hint: the walls are covered in what looks like white paper. It’s one poor set piece after another but in a strange mind-numbing way, it works.

At 77 minutes LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH is pretty short. I guess the director wasn’t that much of a sadist. (Unfortunately I think it’s an edited version because I saw a scene somewhere on the internet which Ari shoots some guy’s fingers off and that wasn’t in my copy. Honestly, though, if this movie was any longer…. Let’s just not think about it.)

In closing, I’m sort of defending LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH but not for the same reasons why I defend movies like HALLOWEEN 3 and THE KARATE KID PART 3. This movie is just so uneven and contains scenes that are pretty surprising that it’s worth a look. The 20+ minute baby shower scene is an exercise in endurance. Sometimes I wonder if the director did it on purpose… to weed out the weak minds that would shut the movie off at that point. (If you could sit through THIS SHIT, then you can sit through ANYTHING). If so, it’s a sick kind of genius. Okay, not really but I’d have to respect his sadism.

LAS VEGAS BLOODBATH is a badly made movie even for one shot on video. Just compare it to the pretty well-made SOV flick VIDEO VIOLENCE to see what I’m talking about.

Should you see this movie? Yeah, probably. You should probably get a root canal, too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Does it Suck? BATTLEFIELD EARTH (Krall's Answer)

What if I asked you to watch BATTLEFIELD EARTH? Would you do it? No, of course not. Why? Because you'd know I was joking. Well, guess what?

Kevin Shamel didn't know Garrett Cook was joking and because of that, Kevin actually spent 118 minutes of his life watching this piece of shit.

Hey, Kevin, guess what? Garrett Cook is dressed up at Ashton Kutcher and is going to run into your room any minute. Wait for it……waaaaait for it……

Does It Suck- Guest Author Kevin Shamel on Battlefield Earth

Alien Travoltalogues or, How to Wreck Real Pulp Fiction or, I Still Like Battlefield Earth, Even Though I Can’t Tell You Why

Let’s take a look at L. Ron Hubbard. Now pulp fiction. Now L. Ron Hubbard. Pulp. L. Ron. Pulp. L. Ron. Pulp. L. Ron. Scientology.

Oops. How did THAT get in there?

That is exactly the only real problem with the movie, Battlefield Earth. Well, that and the platform boots and dreadlocks. And big rubbery werewolf hands. And man-animals flying jet fighters so damned well after no real training. All right. Mostly, it’s the Travoltalogues that really do it. Which brings us back to pulp fiction.

Now, I’m okay with Travolta. He was funny in Welcome Back Kotter. There’s these parts on the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction where he talks about French Big Macs that tells me that some good music is coming up. I like that.

I didn’t really like how he took over Battlefield Earth. This movie is constantly being called the worst movie ever. People blame L. Ron Hubbard. People blame the poor guy who wrote the screenplay. People even blame Scientology. I say blame Travolta. I especially say that since I just read an article by the guy who wrote the screenplay, J.D. Shapiro, and that’s what he says to do. Screenwriter Apologizes

The story of Battlefield Earth is pretty cool. I read it when I was a teenager. It’s about a typical young dude a thousand years from now named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (but in the movie he’s just Jonnie and he’s somehow far less important than the alien played by Travolta). His tribe of barely surviving humans live in the mountains, barely surviving. Our hero lives near enough to the evil jerks who conquered the Earth called the Psychlos and when he goes adventuring, he’s captured by them.

The aliens came generations before, and most humans are dead. Most of the planet is abandoned. All cities have been in ruin for a thousand years. The Psychlos have a big dome encasing Denver pumped full of their atmosphere so as to remain comfy while their human slaves build them a nice place to live. The Psychlos are there to mine gold and other riches. But they can’t send radioactive stuff to their planet, which is in a different universe, and therefore has different elements. Their air reacts violently with radioactive materials.

Jonnie ends up being a personal slave of one wicked alien named Terl (played generously by Travolta), learns all about Psychlos and other aliens and then he manipulates the evil jerk into helping him learn how to destroy the Psychlos and free the humans. The book is pure entertainment. With some stuff about how psychiatry is stupid, because it was written by L. Ron Hubbard. But it’s a great story of the old pulp science fiction style, and the movie could have stayed in that set and really, really rocked.

It did not, of course. It went with slow motion running and shooting, dreadlocks, bad teeth, and gimmicky camera angles.

As it is, knowing the whole story, I still like the movie.

It’s big budget. It’s got decent looking spacecraft, the planet Psychlo looks cool floating all purply in space. The weapons and the FX surrounding them are rad. The scenery is almost pretty realistic sometimes.

The platform boots suck. But the aliens are supposed to be really tall, so I forgave that. It was harder to forgive the big rubbery werewolf hands, but when Travolta’s hairy fingers weren’t wobbling around while he gave some speech about nothing in grandiose, fake alien drunkenness, I could almost forget they were gloves. Travolta’s wife’s alien head was a bit rubbery looking, too. Thankfully, her wolf hands were normal sized. And gloved.

The movie was pretty silly as far as time passage and its effects on things. The fact that books weren’t dust after a thousand years, and that machines like flight simulators worked and there was electricity everywhere the plotting humans went (in the week they had to prepare to take over Denver from their alien overlords and destroy an entire planet) was sorta silly. In the book, there was much more to do to get into Fort Knox than open a door. And it was pretty hard getting planes working again, if I recall.

I’m supposed to be defending this movie, I know. It’s a difficult. It’s probably a bit like trying to defend Scientology to a Protestant who’s seen a documentary about it produced by a curious Mormon who went undercover for a billion years with the SeaOrg. I like the movie, despite knowing there’s more to it than it even says.

Okay. So if you can get past the ridiculousness of the Travoltalogues, the skipping-over of important details for those diatribes, the silliness of savages flying around F-15s after a few days in an ancient flight simulator, and the fact that the movie ends (pretty ridiculously) long before the book ended, and only hinted at what the book went on to say, it’s a pretty fun movie to watch by yourself late at night eating a stash of candy and drinking rootbeer while you’re really, really stoned.

Damn. Why do I like this movie?

Read the book.- Kevin Shamel

Does it Suck: Battlefield Earth

What can I say about Karl Freund's Mad Love? First of all, I can say that it's one of my favorite horror films, one of ten or so movies that I would call perfect horror films. When I saw Mad Love, it was a revelation of the power and beauty of a genre and a vision of raw potential. I was spellbound, surprised and at times, frightened, which does not happen all that often, particularly when watching vintage horror. While I love it, there are usually not things present that actually scare me. I watch vintage horror to journey into a dark, smoky, mysterious place, to sort of walk among the dead. The necropolis is not usually somewhere I go to be frightened, but at times I'm surprised and Mad Love was one of those times.

Mad Love begins at a Grand Guignol play, like vintage horror itself, it's stagey, it's histrionic and for a contemporary viewer it's tame, but there's something truly unsavory about this play. It elicits a little chill. Until you see Peter Lorre's Doctor Gogol watching the show, handkerchief in hand. He's bald, he's perverse and he's obsessed with the movie's heroine, the play's lead actress, Yvonne (portrayed by Frances Drake). The chill gets bigger. There aren't many actors that do "just plain wrong" like Peter Lorre and in Mad Love, he's at the top of his game. And here, I will make an "Eaten Alive is better than TCM in some ways" style declaration of gleeful horror geek blasphemy: he's better in Mad Love than he is in M. He is obsessed with Yvonne, maddened that she's leaving the show to get married and is not afraid of invading her personal and sexual space. The only person that finds him creepier than she does is the viewer. He even goes so far as to purchase a wax statue of her for company.

A desperate tortured, sexually obsessed lunatic who believes that the world owes him for healing people, Gogol is a deep and complex villain, repulsive and sympathetic all at once. When Yvonne's husband, pianist Stephen Orlac (played with a surprising lack of over-the-top bluster by Colin Clive) has his hands mangled in a train crash, Yvonne has to go to her obsessed fan for help, appealing to the kindness in his nature and his love for her. The tortured doctor agrees, giving Stephen the hands of an executed criminal, which he exploits later. I don't want to spoil the plot of this rollercoaster of the macabre too much, but it turns into a story about perverse creativity. Doctor Gogol turns from sexual deviant to mad artgod, the creator of a monster, the animator in his twisted mind of Yvonne's statue with whom he falls in love. The film reflects on the power of horror, of art and of the twisted imagination in a nightmarish climax. Mad Love is brilliant. I recommend it to everyone.

Battlefield Earth, however, fucking blows. I recommend it to nobody. Martiniloving former Sweathog and author of Rotten Little Animals Kevin Shamel likes Battlefield Earth. Buy his books so he will get more money, with which he can buy DVDs of good movies. Kevin Shamel: Battlefield Earth. Does it suck?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Scythes, Shotguns, Whores, and Crocodiles: The Face of Insanity in Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE

Garrett's and Leza's eloquent tributes to EATEN ALIVE are difficult acts to follow so please try to tolerate my scattershot appreciation for this film.

Okay, you Texas Chainsaw fanboy freaks, listen up and prepare to put me on your “to-be-chainsawed” list.

In many ways, EATEN ALIVE is better than TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Holy shit. Did I really just say that?

Yeah, I did.

I’m not downplaying the influence of TCM or saying it’s not a great film. It is. But from an entertainment point of view, EATEN ALIVE delivers more bang for your buck, more mentally unstable creepiness, and more layers of perversity.

What TCM has going for it was its grittiness. It has a raw quality that makes you feel as if you might be watching real footage. EATEN ALIVE is similar yet it goes to the next level, reaching an almost supernatural quality of claustrophobic insanity until the movie ends and you are left in a state of curdled shock. There are no happy endings in Tobe Hooper’s world.

It starts off with a shot of the full moon accompanied by the opening credits and synth music that sounds like it was performed by lazy (but demented) circus monkeys. And just in case you’re wondering: Yes, there is a monkey in this film.

The star of this flick is Neville Brand, a veteran television actor, plays the role of whore-hating Judd who runs the Starlight Hotel. He throws himself into this role until you think he’s just about to burst. The movie wouldn’t have worked without him and thanks to Hooper’s direction, we have a film that’s pretty close to being a 70s masterpiece of horror.

We get a pretty close glimpse into Judd’s insanity, better than most horror movies give us. Brand’s scenes are so intense that it makes me think that it had originally been intended as a character study. Then maybe Hooper said, “Fuck it, let’s add a crocodile,” and chaos ensued.

Another star of this movie is Robert Englund (best known for his performance in 1975’s SLASHED DREAMS) in the role of Buck. He makes famous the line, “My name’s Buck….etc” which was stolen, uh, I mean, borrowed by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill. Anyway, it’s Englund at his finest.

The character of Miss Hattie is unintentionally creepy, dressed like some sort of mummified blackjack dealer. Just imagine one of those creepy old ladies who always want to give you some hard candy out of her purse and end up handing you one that was wrapped up in a used tissue. That’s the kind of chill she sends down my spine. I also thought it would turn out that she was a man in drag by the end of the movie. Much to my confusion, that wasn’t the case.

Anyway.

What holds EATEN ALIVE back from being a masterpiece are some of the interior scenes. A few of them (especially those in the whorehouse and police station) just look too cheap even for a low budget Hooper movie.

The best scenes are those outside Judd’s dilapidated hotel. The crazed discordant lighting and the overabundance of fog seem to be taken from a Mario Bava movie albeit one that was filmed on the cheap. When combined with the fucked-up synth soundtrack, things get unnerving to say the least especially when Judd’s chasing people with a giant scythe or feeding them to his crocodile.

I truly believe that this film does not get the appreciation it deserves and has been overshadowed by TCM which, though a great movie, lacks the vision of EATEN ALIVE.

Judd is a much more intriguing character than any of the clan from the first TCM. His insanity is real and three-dimensional. Even though we don’t necessarily relate to him, we do feel a level of sympathy. People might say that this detracts from Judd’s ability to scare us but that’s not the case. It allows us to feel tension on both ends. We want to tell the hopeless victims to get the hell out of the Starlight Hotel but we are also directing our concern to Judd until we find ourselves quietly talking to the television, “Come on, Judd, don’t do it. Don’t do it, this time, man, come on! You can control yourself!”

Oh and yeah, Judd feeds people to his pet crocodile. That’s probably what people remember most about this movie. I’m not going to lie to you: the crocodile looks pretty fake but come on, you have to respect Hooper’s integrity. He wanted do include a man-eating crocodile and by God he did it. He’d revisit similar themes in a movie he made more than 20 years later, 2000’s CROCODILE, a straight-to-video disappointment.

Though it lacks the realism of TCM, this movie is perfect example of horror that can be both creepy and fun. Sure, it’s as sloppy as a whorehouse floor but therein lies its charm and if you can’t appreciate that, well, then you should be fed to a horny crocodile.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Eaten Alive-Tobe Hooper's Twisted Fable of Savagery-Leza

A little girl risks being murdered by a man with a scythe and eaten by a crocodile just because she runs after her little fluffy white dog, Snoopy, who was just a tad too inquisitive for his own good.
A teenage runaway with a mass of golden curls that halo her young face, her soft lips, her frightened big blue eyes gets turned out into the wilderness of a backwoods little southern town, for not being sexually compliant.

This isn't Grimm's fairy tales. We are not in Russia or Transylvania. This is the American South, not so long ago.

A deranged war veteran runs a motel, and exists primarily in his own little corner of hell, with his monkey(who dies about 15 minutes into the movie) and his crocodile who ate his leg and he says will never die, is older than anything, and came all the way from Africa.

This town has much to offer. It's got a brothel called Miss Hattie's, run by Miss Hattie(Carolyn Jones aka. Morticia from tv's The Addams Family) the Starlight Motel, run by Judd, the vet with the crocodile who talks to himself and can't seem to go without killing someone for more than five minutes(especially them purty sinful girls), then there's the dive bar where everyone hangs out, and there's the perfunctory police station.

This is the world you enter when you watch Tobe Hooper's unsung masterpiece of mayhem and madness. It is a labyrinth where the center is a devouring man-eating crocodile. There is no safe haven. The most pleasant place, all things considered, is probably the whorehouse.
This perpetual hellscape is lit garishly and vibrantly in various shades of red, blue and green. At no moment does it seem like things have gone back to reality. The atmosphere is unhinged, claustrophobic, savage and primal throughout. Background noise is composed of a jungle sound wall of bestial grunts and calls, interspersed with unsettling dislocation at seemingly random junctures. Mournful country songs fill the air.

After a chilling and haunting shot of a very full moon, the film shifts to a closeup of a metallic sun on the silver belt buckle being unsnapped by the infamous Buck(Robert Englund). The first word you hear are "Name's Buck and I'm rarin' to fuck!", belted out eagerly. Next you see the frightened recipient of these words and advances. She looks lost, terrified and helpless. She wants to just get it over with. He assures her, he's in no rush, he's paid for a full hour. He wants to try something a little different and tells her to get on her knees. Once she realizes what he wants she struggles and begs him not to. He continues to try to force himself upon her, till her frantic screams attract the attention of the madam. Miss Hattie is really annoyed. Not with Buck(who is her best client) but with the girl. She apologizes to Buck and offers his two of her best ladies for free. The girl, she berates for her ungratefulness for her charity and calls her a slut because she won't work. She turns her away in utter disgust. This sets the moral precedent for the rest of the film.

Any feeling of initial relief you might feel for this girl, who has narrowly escaped a life of degradation and prostitution, is washed away the minute she sets out on her way to the Starlight Motel. She wades through what looks like a rampant jungle and, as she comes upon the brokendown sign to the Starlight Motel, you begin to see there is really no way out of this shithole town. She barely lasts five minutes in Judd's company. Once he realizes where she's coming from, his desires become inflamed, which in turn, sparks his rage, and she's dead and fed to the crocodile before you know it.

The next guests are dysfunctional family. A desperate mother(Marilyn Burns aka. survivor of TCM and world champion screamer) trying to keep them all together, a husband who seems stoned on something and is ranting nonsense and barking like a dog as their little girl cries her eyes out all night about her dog who gets eaten by the crocodile that lives in the swamp surrounding the motel almost the moment they arrive. Mother and daughter are both in agony and fighting for their life throughout most of the film. Mother is trying to break free, stripped down to her white underwear and tied to her bed, mouth taped shut with duct tape, and her daughter is crawling around under the motel, trying to hide from Judd and eventually the crocodile.

Next comes the sister of the teenage runaway, with her father. Being the only characters who seem at all normal, they seem strange and out of place. Almost like cardboard cutouts among a demented band of cirque de soleil rejects. Judd is truly nervous for the first time, and, reminiscent of Norman Bates being confronted by Marion's boyfriend, awkwardly avoids too much verbal exchange and eye contact with the distraught father of the young woman he's just murdered and fed to his croc after fondling.

Father and daughter resolve to go to the police station, which also seems rather absurd and useless in this town. Sure enough, you find the police chief is chummy with Miss Hattie, and, even though he's annoyed by the trouble Buck stirs up around him, treats him more like a drunken buddy than a threat to anyone's safety.

You feel like you are literally underground in this world of perpetual night and artificial light. It reminds me more of The Funhouse than TCM in its atmosphere, which is colorful, oddly humorous, permeated by the feelings that you have stepped onto the wrong side of the tracks. You have entered the realm of the freaks, the social regects, the perverts and the madmen. They all coexist in a sort of harmony that you will never understand. A brotherhood of depravity. They survive like animals, knowing that in this world, you either eat or you will be eaten alive no matter how pretty, innocent, pure, or noble you might be.

Cult Classic: Garrett Cook on Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive

So last night I watched the reprehensible Vacancy, a film that I think is aptly named because of its aweinspiring emptiness. All I could think while watching Vacancy, as I thought while watching Slashed Dreams, as I thought while watching Leza watch House of Wax was how much better Hooper's Eaten Alive is. In certain ways, I think it might even be better than Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Funhouse. It's not that it's particularly coherent in its plot or structure or it's full of amazing performances or it wears its ideas on its sleeve, in fact it's kind of the opposite. Eaten Alive is primordial cinematic ooze, a cauldron of unrefined genius that is ugly and naturalistic in a way that few things are.

Eaten Alive begins with Robert Englund, in a superbly creepy and funny turn as Buck, a redneck lothario who is "raring to fuck" about to anally punish a poor runaway prostitute. She refuses, gets kicked out and has to stay the night at the Starlight Hotel, a rundown pit of a place run by the clearly insane Judd, a deranged veteran who keeps a crocodile as a pet. Judd recognizes her as a prostitute for the nearby brothel and kills her, feeding her to the crocodile. Funny that it's not the life of sin that leads to her getting killed, but her decision NOT to lead a life of sin. It's all at once an homage to Psycho's famous reversal of protagonists and a harsh lesson about life in Tobe Hooper's America.

This sets the tone for the movie. It reminds us that we do not live in a world of heroes and villains but in one that simultaneously more complex and simpler, more nuanced and more elemental. In the world of Eaten Alive, you see things that you're not supposed to see when you sit down to watch a movie. You aren't supposed to see a woman punished for leaving a life of prostitution (hell, it seems like she's punished for not wanting anal, ladies take note) you're not supposed to see an adorable dog eaten by a crocodile, a sheriff being generally civil to a madam played by a beloved television icon (Carolyn Jones) or the same sheriff letting Robert Englund buy drinks for an underage girl and take her out of the bar obviously for sex, you're not supposed to see the terminally ill father of this poor runaway killed with a scythe. From watching Eaten Alive, you almost think you're simply not supposed to see Eaten Alive.

Eaten Alive says things about America that even the most jaded of us don't want to hear. Basically, Eaten Alive says that America is a place where whorehouses struggle with death cults and ethics vanish if we travel just a few miles out of our way. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a shocking movie but at its heart, it's still a traditional Red Ridinghood narrative. Eaten Alive is crueler than that. The character we spend most of our time with in Eaten Alive exists in a cocoon of traditionalism and backwardness, further even than the Sawyer family of the TCM films. The Sawyers are mourning a lost way of life and trying to eat. Judd has taken the primitivism further. The crocodile is not a pet but a god, the excuse for every bad thing he does, a thing to worship to fear and to feed, to harvest souls for. The leap between simple cannibalism and creation of a redneck death god is a pretty big one and a pretty shocking one.

Quite a statement to make about the American landscape. Our jingoism, our fears, our inability to communicate our feelings and our attachment to our violent past render us stunted and backward, as the Tao Te Ching would say "companions of death". Our desire to make life simple can make life disgusting and brutal, something we see in all the best redneck horror, but best pointed out in the character of Judd, a pathetic loser with a religious dedication to the scaly abomination that took his leg, because it's powerful because it's old, enduring, dependable and able to show the interlopers what's what.

Typically in the arts, when we're presented with a bad example, we're presented with a good one, every Goofus does after all have a Gallant. Is it the sheriff with his politeness and "go with the flow" attitude? Is it the runaway's father who gets killed? Is it Marilyn Burns who is tied to the bed for most of the movie? The crying little girl who crawls under the place to escape the crocodile? Who do we turn to? In Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper seems to suggest that fortitude is the only virtue we can count on and need to live by. In Eaten Alive, he might be saying the same thing, that the most we can hope for is to overcome life's shit and understand we live in a predatory nation that would have no problem chomping us up like so many adorable dogs. There are no heroes in the face of the surrogate reaper, only brave victims.

To me, great horror is about revealing to people something that hurts them to the very core. Eaten Alive does that, with its views on America, human nature and life. It makes me stop and wonder what I can do to prove the person who made these statements wrong and how we can make a world where these things aren't true and IF we can make a world where these things aren't true. For this reason, Eaten Alive is ugly, scary and brilliant, genuinely unsettling. I love it and would recommend it to anybody seeking to explore the redneck horror genre or to expose the American South as the perverted brothel and swamprat death cauldron that it is. Also, maybe it will make your significant other think twice about anal sex. I hope someday Eaten Alive is considered the equal to TCM because it's a whole lot scarier and a lot less simple, which is an important thing for it to be, since we sure as hell don't want to be like Judd.