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 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 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"

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… 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.


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.