Thursday, February 26, 2009

Face Soup and Other Discomforts - The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

The House Where Evil Dwells was a disappointment, in that it wasn’t a laugh riot from start to finish. I already knew going in that it wasn’t very good, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. Now I know. It’s about a couple who move into a house in Japan where a double murder-suicide occurred, and them dealing with the ghosts left over from the crime. It’s kind of the same premise as Ju-on, but where that movie is definitely horror, The House Where Evil Dwells is sometimes funny, but mostly drama, I guess. It’s weirdly boring yet still watchable, and it’s not scary – even in the most liberal sense of the word. I think it was supposed to be, which, if that’s the case, well…good job all around. NOT.

The makers of Onibaba would be pissed.

There weren’t too many flat out horrible parts to the movie – I actually thought the acting was quite good – but nothing really happened to anyone besides the occasional weird possession, and for some reason, the filmmakers decided to show the ghosts as transparent-looking people with goofy makeup on. There’s no atmosphere to speak of, and only one scene could possibly be construed as “horror.” It involves giant crabs on wires and a girl being put in the hospital from a fall from a tree about 8 feet in the air. Brittle bones, I guess. Oh, I almost forgot about the ghostly face in the girl’s soup, which elicited the Spock-like logical reaction, “There’s a horrible face in my soup,” followed by her father’s plead to “eat your soup for daddy.” What the fuck? Either daddy put the face in the soup, or he has quite the high tolerance for bizarre phrases.

Alright, since there’s no atmospheric horror going on, how about gore? Eh…there are two beheadings and a limb cut off, but they’re really nothing to write home about. Well, on second thought, one beheading featured an amazing prop head with a giraffe neck that seemed to be spring-loaded to fly off at the exact opposite angle it was cut from. Being able to frame advance the whole thing didn’t do the scene any favors, really, but I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when it happened.

The evolution of a poorly (or awesomely) simulated murder.

One thing that struck me really odd was the lack of communication between, well, anyone. Both the husband and wife see the ghosts, but they never talk about it with each other. It’s like every encounter was their own special little moment, and sense be damned if they weren’t going to share them. Although, I wouldn’t be running to my spouse to tell them that a weirdo in a kimono was standing there pointing at me repeatedly, either. If they were dripping blood or something, maybe. But besides that, the ghosts also made a mask fall on the coffee table, tipped over a bowl of soup, and slammed a sword in a table. 

One thing The House Where Evil Dwells has going for it is Susan George. More specifically, her boobies. Actually, that’s not very fair. She’s a good actress, and did an admirable job with the material she had to work with. If anything, I think she did too good a job in the scenes that were supposed to be emotional. Case in point: a scene where she gets into an argument with her husband and they yell a few things at each other. She then starts crying and says they always argue, and she just wants to stop. I’d normally agree, but that was the only instance of the two arguing in the whole movie. There’s not any kind of build up or release of emotion…that is, if that’s what they were going for. Who knows, maybe I’m just expecting too much from a movie that included a plot-forwarding (riiiiight) sex scene with the exquisite George.

Dirty Mary in the flesh.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the awful but great kung-fu fight at the end. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then I’d submit this clip as an equivalent to about ten million pictures, or 10,000,000,000 words, respectively.

Here's the trailer, even though I didn't bother watching it. I caught about 2 seconds of some awful "trailer guy" voice, but that's as far as I got.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The evil that mice do! Review-Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Aaah....potential! This one had it in spades. After years of doing nothing but family friendly fare, Disney decided to grow a pair and venture into darker territory. The 80's saw Mouse & Company churning out more adult oriented stories like "The Black Hole" and "Something Wicked this Way Comes" with varying degrees of success. "The Watcher in the Woods" was one of their first attempts to rise above the cartoon crowd. They had high hopes for it, and one executive was even quoted as saying "this could be our Exorcist!" That was probably setting the bar a little too high, and even though "Watcher" didn't soar to great box office heights, it has become somewhat of a beloved cult film since its release almost three decades ago. It's a ghost story with a sci-fi twist that entertains, but doesn't quite deliver the goods in the end. (of which there are many)

Directed by John Hough, (Legend of Hell House) "Watcher" is the story of Jan Curtis (Lynn Holly Johnson) a teenage girl who has just moved to the English countryside with her family. They rent an old house in the woods from Mrs. Aylwood (the legendary Bette Davis) and settle in. Jan soon learns about a mystery concerning Mrs. Aylwood's daughter Karen and becomes obsessed. It seems that thirty years earlier, Karen and three of her friends were in an old church in the forest performing a seance during a solar eclipse. A bolt of lighting hits the building and her companions flee, and when they return, Karen is no longer there. Did she run away or simply vanish into thin air? Nobody knows for sure, but Jan sees ghostly images of Karen pleading for help in mirrors and window panes. Strange things are definately afoot, and even Jan's sister Ellie is acting a little weird claiming that a voice told her to name her new puppy Nerak. (just spell that backwards) Jan also feels like someone.....or something is watching her family from the dark woods. Is it the ghost of Karen or something even more sinister? Only Jan can unravel the details and discover the truth, and she must do so before the next solar eclipse which happens to be soon!

Now she truly has Bette Davis eyes!
This movie used to freak me out a little bit when I was younger, and I'm happy to say that after re-watching the "Watcher," it still holds up to a certain degree. I was fascinated to learn that this film had been cut to shreds by the time it got a theatrical release. There were several different endings, and an opening credit sequence that was cut because it was deemed too dark for Disney which doesn't really make sense because they were actively searching for this type of material.

Legend has it that Disney desperately wanted this film to coincide with Bette Davis's 50th anniversary in film so an elaborate F/X sequence that revealed the watcher and brought the plot to conclusion was shot, but not finished so they could release it in time. The first attempt to screen the movie showed a little of the original ending, but the studio hated it and it was re-shot without John Hough. The new ending is what most fans of the picture are familiar with. All fans of "The Watcher in the Woods" could hope for is that someday a director's cut would be released with the true vision of the film intact. We almost got our prayers answered.......almost.

the image of Karen Aylwood in the mirror
Anchor Bay is one of my favorite DVD companies and they usually release their titles with much love and attention. (Dirty Mary & Crazy Larry....Evil Dead II) Most of the time you can bank on having a classic flick loaded up on DVD with crazy extras and commentaries that hardcore enthusiasts demand, but unfortunately Anchor Bay had to work with Disney on this release. They originally planned to have John Hough assemble his director's cut and also have the theatrical cut available across a two disc set, but Disney would not cooperate to make this happen. They claimed they couldn't find the footage in the vaults, and I also have a feeling that they didn't want to be associated with this dark material anymore. What you do get IS a worthy attempt to bring some of that original gloominess to the table. There is commentary by John Hough, as well as a twenty page booklet of interviews with the original cast. The original ending is there and you can watch it seperately in all of its unfinished glory, although I actually prefer the theatrical one after seeing it. Disney countered with their own DVD release minus the basically it sucks. If you wish to track it down I recommend the Anchor Bay disc which has strangely vanished out of print just like Karen!

Disney doom...gloom...and drowning..

the original watcher revealed...

It's truly a shame that Disney will go after unique material only to see it butchered up to fit the the image they are comfortable with. Why bother at all in the first place? Either you want something outside the box or you don' should be just that simple! I guess I'll never understand the politics and red tape involved with producing a studio picture, but come on Mickey!..... Take your pooper scooper to the back yard and clean up all those direct to DVD dog turd sequels you've been laying and leave the supernatural stuff to the people who really want something different!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Anime Afterthoughts - Satoshi Kon, Round 2

In this, round 2 of my Satoshi Kon retrospective, I’ll be talking about two more of his feature films: Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress. They’re both vastly different from the films I talked about in Round 1, but the overall quality and care is as present as ever. So enough with my blabbing, and let’s get on to the films themselves.

Tokyo Godfathers is thematically much more straightforward than either of the previous films I talked about, Paprika and Perfect Blue. Where both Paprika and Perfect Blue dealt with altered perceptions of reality, this time Satoshi Kon went for a more traditional tale in the way the story unfolds. Hana, Gin and Miyuki are three homeless people who start the film off scrounging around for food and whatever else they can find in a trash heap. Besides an assortment of old books and the like, they stumble upon an abandoned baby in a basket. Hana decides to raise the baby herself, much to the protests of Gin and Miyuki. After all, how could some homeless people, who can barely take care of themselves, raise a baby? That’s a good question, and one that she ponders until she comes to her senses and starts to track down the parents of the unwanted infant. The three set off on their journey with barely a clue, and little chance of finding the baby’s maternal parents. Along the way, we gradually find out how each of them came to be in the position life has put them in, and it’s in these discoveries that Tokyo Godfathers really shines.

I really cared for Hana, Gin and Miyuki, and once again found myself lauding Satoshi Kon as a director capable of telling stories that rival that of any live action film. There’s no melodrama; in fact, the story is rather simple. But within the confines of the plot are three separate, but very moving accounts of how a person’s life can be rendered useless, only to be redeemed by a chance occurrence and, possibly, some kind of divine intervention. The emotional investment here is really high, and it’s a rare thing to occur in an animated movie, at least for me. Often times, action or visuals make up the most important bits of anime, but with Tokyo Godfathers, the characters are the most important part of the film. It’s heartwarming, funny and sad all at once, and pretty much a perfect blend of every kind of emotion one could hope to experience in a drama. You’ll have to excuse the narrator in the trailer below – he kind of sucks, but what can you do. Just forget he’s there and it’ll do just fine.

Like Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress is a dramatic character piece. The story is about a film crew that goes to interview Chiyoko, a retired actress who, in her later years, has lived in seclusion in her mountain home, seldomly entertaining any visitors. What starts as just an interview turns into a deep reflection on Chiyoko’s life, and how a single moment early on defined how she lived. The film shares a similar theme with Tokyo Godfathers, in that chance coincidences can have deeper meanings and make lasting impacts on peoples’ lives. The bulk of the film plays out as two parallel stories – that of the movies Chiyoko played in, and her actual life. The two narratives intertwine and play off of each other to create a single over-arching story, and Chiyoko’s life is shown to have been defined by something simple, yet immensely important from her past.

The main interviewer also has a part in Chiyoko’s past, and as she tells the story of her life, the film crew is seen actively taking part in her tale. They physically interact with Chiyoko in the past, and their interactions carry over into the present. Maybe they were just acting out her past during the interview, but whichever way you choose to interpret it, it’s a really unique and interesting way to give perspective to the story. Millennium Actress is an emotional film, and Chiyoko’s struggles and aspirations are always at the forefront of every situation. As is customary with every Satoshi Kon film, the animation is beautiful, and the locations are as much a part of the film as the story. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but Kon really knows how to engage the viewer in every aspect of storytelling, and Millennium Actress is no exception. Devoting a lifetime to finding one person, no matter the obstacles, takes a kind of determination that is usually not realistically sustainable. The film explores that very theme, and the notion of chasing a shadow is shared by more than one person. Millennium Actress is a moving depiction of life’s pursuits, and how those pursuits dictate the person you ultimately become. Again, the trailer is below, with – of course – crappy American narration. Yippy.

Well, that about does it for my Satoshi Kon retrospective, and leaves me with only one more creation of his to explore. The serial anime Paranoia Agent is all that’s left for me to talk about, and I’ll get around to it eventually. It’s kind of hard to get a hold of, so I’m not sure when that will be. But if you want to get started watching his work, any one of his films will do the trick. I honestly can’t recommend one over another, as they’re all exceptional for vastly different reasons. Just pick one and go from there. And when you do, I hope you take away at least a fraction of what I did from the emotional journeys he lays out for you to experience.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Trip to the Torture Factory - Hell (2005)

While I haven’t seen many movies that deal with the physical place of hell itself – and I haven’t had the pleasure of going, either – I’d imagine it’s a lot harder to get out of there than Hell makes it seem. Sure, there’s a lot of gnashing of teeth (and pulling them out), liquid lava down the gullet and the like, but really, all you have to do is punch a few people and keep running. At least that’s how some of the characters in this movie did it. As an aside, the torture masters in hell really make a shitty sailor’s knot, too.

Willy Wonka's magical room of reincarnated soul bubbles. Reach heaven with a single gulp.

The story starts off with a group of people getting ready to go on some kind of journalistic endeavor. They’re introduced one at a time, and some of them are pretty good people. Some (one, really) are dicks, and as I’ve mentioned previously, we all know what happens to dicks. Anyways, after the character build-up is out of the way, they all get in the van and take off for wherever. Their trip is shorter than expected, though, when they get into an auto accident and find themselves instantly transported to the land of lollipops and rainbows. Razor lollipops and flaming rainbows, but what’s the difference, really? Right from the beginning, there was something familiar about this place. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for a while, but then it suddenly dawned on me. It’s the fucking Outworld from Mortal Kombat. Not that the filmmakers ripped it off or anything, but man, I was waiting for Shao Kahn to fly down and impale someone at any moment.

Midway's royalty check - panorama view.

Alas, there’s no Goro showdown, but the fresh captives do find themselves battling hell’s soldiers (who look like a cross between the flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz and extras from Battlefield Earth), flesh-eating children, deceptive sirens, and a lot of walking. I mean, some fucked up shit does happen to them, but as they wander about, it seems that everyone else in hell is hopelessly incapable of escape. Also, the main characters are apparently the only new residents of the netherworld, because all the other tortured souls look a bit worse for wear. I’d surmise that’s to be expected, really. If only they’d known to just run away, but oh well…sucks to be them. And it really does suck to be anyone around the dick I talked about in my second paragraph. This guy is self-serving at best, and downright loathsome the rest of the time. He even dooms a friend to the fate of being ripped to shreds by the aforementioned flesh-eating children. So fuck him. I waited patiently for him to slip up, and boy did he ever. I’ll leave you to ponder his fate, but it’s pretty worthy of his douchiness. I liked everyone else, though. They weren’t all one-dimensional characters; they each had their faults, but they all possessed some redeeming qualities. It’s too bad I never really figured out exactly why they all ended up in hell, then. Huh. Why not, I guess.

No, really...go ahead. Do them both. They won't eat your face or anything.

Besides the familiar motif, I also think hell isn’t a place that you can just wander around until you find the magical portal back to earth. I would guess that once you’re there, you’re fucked. Unless, of course, you were sent there for no apparent reason, and you jump back into the blue spirally vortex of rebirth. 90% of the time, that does the trick every time. The overlord of hell doesn’t seem to do much about that seemingly glaring design flaw except speak in Sanskrit and sit on his fat ass, which is a good thing for everyone involved in the movie. You see, the way death and rebirth works is this: you stand in line next to the vortex of rebirth, take a number and wait. Probably for a fucking long time. When it’s your turn, you eat a little black ball and drink some shit, which allows you to be reincarnated and forget all your past memories, respectively. Nice. Or, as the journalistic endeavourers did, simply run and jump in. No one ever said you had to have a PhD to run hell.

I’m not really being overly critical of the movie. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The premise is just a tad silly (but still done in a cool way), and while there are definitely gruesome acts being done, the movie never dwells on them. You really only see the tortures briefly when compared to the length of the movie, which clocks in at 124 minutes. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, since you get the picture pretty quickly, and yea…hell is a sucky place to be. It’s a cool movie, though, and while it didn’t set my world on fire (ha), I’d recommend it to anyone who likes horror and/or interesting concepts. I have to say they did a damn good job with the trailer, which I have below. It’s pretty kick ass.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Trilogy Completed: Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness (1996) and Misa the Dark Angel (1997)

I previously reviewed Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness, and decided to withhold final judgment until I watched all three films in the trilogy. Well, I watched them all, and here are my thoughts as promised. Since I’m reviewing two movies, I’ll truncate the length of my usual reviews so that you can actually make it to the end without falling asleep or going into a boredom induced coma. However, in order to get the whole picture, I strongly recommend checking out my review of the first film before reading any further. Or, you could skip all of this and go directly to the bottom for a nice little surprise.

Eko Eko Azarak II: Birth of the Wizard

As it turns out, the sequel to Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness is actually what I was hoping the first film would be. Birth of the Wizard is a prequel, and as such, it addresses most of the story related concerns I had with Wizard of Darkness. My main problem with Wizard of Darkness was the uselessness of Misa while her friends were being systematically killed in diabolical ways. She was supposed to know all sorts of things about magic, but when it came down to it, she either really sucked at it or just didn’t know what the hell she was doing. But since Birth of the Wizard is a prequel, the story deals with how Misa got tangled up in all this magic business in the first place. About a hundred years ago, there was a small village of magic users. One of the villagers named Kirie died somehow, and her husband used a forbidden spell to bring her back to life. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my many years of movie watching, it’s that bringing someone back from the dead is usually a really dumb idea. Sure, it works, but as an added effect, the person you bring back will probably also want to kill you and/or rip the face off of everyone they meet. And guess what? That’s exactly what happens here. After killing most of the villagers, Kirie goes into a hundred year sleep. While she’s gone, the remaining villagers decide that her husband needs to be around to stop her when she comes back to kill the heroine of the trilogy, Misa Kuroi. I guess since he’s a bona-fide wizard, he knows how to stay alive that long. The film doesn’t go into that, but hey, he's a wizard. I can deal with that.

Sadly, so far neither film has explained why Misa is so important, or why she’s the supposed ultimate magic user. Again, I can only hope the next film delves even further into her back story. As it stands, though, Birth of the Wizard is a much, much better film than Wizard of Darkness. It’s a lot more exciting; throughout the film, Misa and Kirie’s husband are stalked by the resurrected Kirie. The cool part is that Kirie can inhabit the bodies of anyone she chooses, so she’s seen as a police chief, a gynecology doctor (I think?), and, lastly, Misa’s best friend. Now that I think about it, this film has a lot in common with The Terminator. The story plays out almost identically, but with magic spells and resurrected demons instead of 12 gauge auto-loaders and robots from the future. I’m not saying Birth of the Wizard is anywhere near as good as The Terminator; I just think it’s interesting how many parallels the film draws to Arnold’s opus. The influence of James Cameron is far-reaching, indeed. Despite this being a fairly low budget film, the special effects are pretty nifty. They’re nothing that will leave your jaw dropped, but I thought they had a kind of trippy quality that low budget movies have when there are creative people working behind them. Every aspect of Birth of the Wizard is better than its predecessor, period. If you want to start watching the trilogy, you should really start with this one. But then again, you’ll be watching the first film afterwards, and that would be pretty disappointing. I guess it would be disappointing either way, though, so you might as well start off with the better film so as to keep your interest piqued. If nothing else, at least you can see a high school girl’s face get ripped clean off. Good times.

Eko Eko Azarak III: Misa the Dark Angel

Once again, I was disappointed that I never found out how or why Misa came to possess her powers. It’s like they knew I was expecting it, so they purposefully left out the one thing I wanted most. You know, that’s probably not true, since Misa the Dark Angel sported a new director, Katsuhito Ueno, and it looks like that’s the only movie he’s ever done. I suppose one is better than none, and it might as well be the second best film in the Eko Eko Azarak trilogy. I say second best because I enjoyed Birth of the Wizard a lot more than this one and the first film, but there are still some things to like here. The story picks up at a seemingly random time in Misa’s life; she’s already been going around solving supernatural mysteries for a while, and this film sees her go to yet another high school where a bizarre death occurred. She joins the school’s drama club in hopes of getting closer to the people she thinks might be involved in some way. It’s a little slow to get going, but once it does, I was fairly entertained. There are creepy occult people, a sacrifice of 7 girls to be made, and a final confrontation between Misa and the dark forces at work. Sound familiar? That’s because it takes a lot of cues from Wizard of Darkness, only there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on. Yes, it’s still about a bunch of high schoolers trapped in a building together just trying to survive. The difference here is the much creepier atmosphere, and Misa actually kicks ass this time. The action scenes aren’t particularly well done, but at least she stabs and roundhouse kicks some occult worshippers. There are also some genuinely cool ideas being thrown around, though, such as the way all the girls meet their respective makers. The occult leader has to kill the girls in the meanest way possible for each person. For example, one of the girls is a neat freak, so she gets a lot of mud and green shit drenched all over her while she’s running down a corridor. Then, she opens a door and finds a bathtub full of nice, clean water. She gets in the tub and starts washing away all the dirt and grime, only to then find it full of disgusting slime. I think overall, more could have been done with the concept, but that one scene played out very well. There’s not much else to say about this one, though. It takes the general premise of the first film, and adds better atmosphere and a more mature Misa.

As a whole, I can’t really recommend this trilogy. I think you’d be best served by ignoring the first film and just watching Birth of the Wizard and Misa the Dark Angel. But if you only want to see the best this story has to offer, Birth of the Wizard is the way to go. An engaging plot (like I said, very Terminator-esque), likable characters and some good gore allow the film to stand head and shoulders above the other two offerings. The one thing these films lack is anything more than a very thin thread linking them all together. There’s no real continuation of the plot between any of them; they all seem to just take the general premise, and proceed to make shit up for each film. I just noticed that there are apparently, like, three or so more movies after these in the Eko Eko Azarak cannon, and even a TV series. I’m not going anywhere near those, and I’d advise you to do the same. I mean, once you get to the sixth film in any franchise, what redeeming qualities does it usually have? Exactly. And double yikes for the TV series.

If you didn’t notice, there are no trailers to accompany my two reviews. The reason for that is the one for Birth of the Wizard blew ass, and there simply wasn’t one on the Misa the Dark Angel DVD at all. But as it turns out, that curse was a blessing in disguise. While I won’t be showing you any more clips of Eko Eko Azarak, I do have three trailers that I couldn’t be more privileged to share with you. All three were on the Misa the Dark Angel DVD and, holy shit…just watch them. I’ll probably be reviewing each one at some point. You’ll see why.

These things seem to have been made with Powerpoint or some shit, and I wouldn't ask for anything more.

Reborn From Hell: Samurai Armageddon

Tits, lots of samurai showdowns, some kind of human/catapillar-like metamorphosis, and the dude from Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Yes, please.


"In this park, I will have strange tropical animals. Bwuahahahahaha!!!"

Zero Woman

"Killing will light up the true nature of the woman."
Fuckin' A, it will.

(I didn't really truncate anything, did I?)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Just some super slasher love for some other movie killers!

Our favorite goalie mask sporting killer is back (or back to the beginning) for another round of naked teen evisceration and I hear it's actually getting some decent reviews. In honor of the big V man's triumphant return, I decided to compose a list and give props to some of the other guys that the slasher genre has produced over the years. It's just a showcase of some of my favorite movie fiends in no particular order.........enjoy!

Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 1986)

Rooker plays the titular character based on real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Kind of like the Dark Knight's Joker, he has no motivation.......he just kills for shits and giggles. Henry and his roomate Otis take you on a murder and rape rollercoaster ride that will make you feel absolutely disgusted with yourself for watching. The most frightening thing about Henry is that we know there are sick bastards like this prowling our neighborhoods and sizing up their next victims.

Michael Rooker as Henry

Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding- 1000 Corpses and Devil's Rejects)

They cannot be reasoned with, and due to insane amounts of crystal meth, they cannot feel pain. They are rednecks and they frighten the dog-shit out of me. If you have ever been to an off the beaten path gas station in the turd-hole deep south, you might know what I am talking about. There are people out there with no hair, no teeth, and no realization that the civil war is over just waiting to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. People like Captain Spaulding. Just buy your fucking gas and leave.......don't eat his chicken.....don't use the toilet.......just hold your water and piss on the side of the road. If pay at the pump is is highly recommended. Nuff said!

gas station guy + clown makeup = might be a redneck

Bill Moseley (Otis B. Driftwood- 1000 Corpses and Devil's Rejects)

As if clown makeup wearing gas pumping rednecks wasn't enough, they also breed. Otis B. Driftwood is the son of Sir Captain Spaulding, and this guy is a chip right off the ole southern block. I actually have nightmares about this guy and the things that he is capable of. Catch him in a good mood and he may only blow the brains out the back of your head with a gun. But if he's feeling rather pissed off and playful, he's more likely to skin your face off with a knife while you are still alive and wear it for the rest of the day. He also sleeps with dead cheerleaders, and not even Dateline's Chris Hansen could come up with a show to catch this predator. He is the devil....and he's here to do the devil's work.

Don't fuck with Otis

Bill Moseley (Chop Top-Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 1986)
Another southern fried creation courtesy of Bill Moseley. What can I say about Chop-Top? He's a Vietnam vet with a metal plate in his head. He likes to scrape the flesh around the plate with a coat hanger........cook for a few seconds with his trusty bic lighter.....then wah lah! He gets a tasty treat that's fun to eat. If a self cannibalizing psycho who will beat your head in with a hammer doesn't scare you, then maybe the fact that Leatherface is his brother will!

Lick my plate you dog dick!

? (as potato sack Jason-Friday the 13th Part II 1981)
Who really gives a shit about which actor plays Jason? He never has any lines anyways. Potato sack Jason gets a mention for being the first time he truly had the camp to himself. Plus at this point in the series, he was still human. So when last one alive girl kicks him in the balls......amazingly.....he goes down. Everybody loves the hockey mask, but I prefer the sack! My only question is what kind of dumb shit only cuts out one eyehole in his potato sack psycho mask? He would have much better teen stalking vision with two. Idiot!

for future reference, 2 eyes are better than 1

Beatrice Dalle (La Femme-Inside 2007)
If you have not seen "Inside" then shame on the muther-fuckin-you! Don't ever call yourself a horror fan again. La Femme takes the Michael Meyers approach skulking in the shadows while waiting for the perfect moment to strike. She doesn't really want to kill her prey.......she just wants to cut a nine month pregnant mother's baby out of her womb, and if she dies as a result.......bonus.

Yes.....this is a woman

? (monster- The Funhouse 1981)
The only thing creepier than rednecks are redneck carnival people. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the dumb fuck teens in this flick who decide it would be a great idea to spend the night hiding in a carnie funhouse. In case you have not been following since the beginning of the list.....lets review. 1) Rednecks are scary. 2) They often breed. Now another thing you have to know is that rednecks often breed with members of their own family. This results in the inbred redneck man monster that terrorizes the kids in the funhouse. They deserve gruesome fates for their most illogical movie stupidity that they put on display.

I am my own uncle
That's it.......feel free to add something you feel is worthy to be on this list!

David Cronenberg + Denzel Washington = SOLID GOLD.

I'm sure you've all heard the news by now: David Cronenberg is working on a new film starring Denzel Washington and (possibly) Tom Cruise in a spy flick based on a book series by Robert Ludlum. It's called The Materese Circle, and there's not much I can add to this already bad ass piece of news, except to tell you all that David Cronenberg is one of the greatest living directors of the past two-plus decades. Seriously; Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, yadda yadda - you get the picture. And his recent turn as a major Hollywood filmmaker has been nothing but fantastic. A History of Violence and Eastern Promises showed he has the maturity to make damn good drama, while still keeping the edge that made his name a staple among serious film lovers. I'm sorry if I'm not really telling you anything you don't already know; I just felt like sharing my enthusiasm for his work, and I can't wait for The Materese Circle to surface in theaters (whenever that is). Viva la Cronenberg!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Did you ever see a dream walking?...Well I did.... - Coraline (2009)

Being a kid is one of the most wonderful times we will ever know in our lives. The world was full of promise, everything seemed fresh and new, and we looked ahead to all those privileges adulthood would bring us one day. But there was a downside as well. We often times got condescending treatment from parents, were always told what to do and when to do it, and had basically zero privacy for the first several years of life. I'm sure many children around the world at one time or another have wished for another Mom and Dad to spoil them rotten and give in to their every whim and desire. As the tagline implies in "Coraline" careful what you wish for.

If you ever wondered what would happen to a kid who has their wish for "other parents" answered by the powers that be, then this is the dream.......or nightmare for you. Coraline is directed by the stop animation guru Henry Selick who was also responsible for 93's "Nightmare Before Christmas" and you better believe that this is some of the most amazing eye candy you will ever set your peepers on. The fact that you can see it in 3-D puts a nice cherry on this awesome sundae. I really must not go into any of the plot details, but I will say the stellar voice cast is filled with the likes of Ian McShane, Dakota Fanning, and Teri Hatcher. This is a great film, but it must be seen in the theaters in 3-D to fully appreciate the artistry at work. It's a smart tale that kids and adults will enjoy with equal enthusiasm. I'm serious.......don't wait.......see it on the big screen as soon as you can! It will take you back to the time in your life where anything is possible and dreams do indeed come true.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Where's a Witch When You Need One? - Eko Eko Azarak (1995)

I didn’t know what to expect going into Eko Eko Azarak. What little I knew about it sounded interesting, but early to mid-‘90’s Japanese horror runs quite the gamut in terms of quality; a lot of it low budget, and while this film is no exception, it was decent enough for what it was. The director, Shimako Sato, hasn’t done much else besides Eko Eko Akarak and its sequel, Birth of the Wizard. He did direct Onimusha Tactics and a movie sequence in Resident Evil: Code Veronica, so that’s pretty interesting. Eko Eko Azarak isn’t what I would consider great horror, but it does have some cool sequences of death and dismemberment. I didn’t fall asleep during the movie, so that’s something to check off the list.

Eko Eko Azarak is the first film in a trilogy about Misa Kuroi, a high school girl who’s also a witch. She practices black magic, but how she came about receiving her training, I have no idea. There’s literally no set up of her character. The movie starts out with her having just transferred to a new school, and for one reason or another, evil druids are following her around. Apparently, they want to resurrect Lucifer and use his powers to take over the world. Original, it’s not. Entertaining? So-so. Being the first movie in the trilogy, I would have expected it to tell me something about just what the hell is going on, but I guess that would be too easy. The only thing this movie tells of the back story is that Misa has been fighting evil for a while now – she’s had run-ins with druids and the like at previous high schools – and she seems used to the idea of people being killed by way of magical, bloody shenanigans. Alright, but why is any of this happening? I wish I knew. There’s something about murders being committed around the city, and each murder spot corresponds to a point in a pentagram if you were to connect the dots. And it just so happens that the school Misa transfers to at the beginning of the movie is right smack in the middle of the evil drawing of death. I’m going to chalk that one up to being extremely convenient, since the movie doesn’t give me any real reason for it to be there. It simply is, and Misa transfers there to, in her own words, “protect everyone from evil.” Why would the evil druids need to sacrifice 13 school children? Especially since the first scene involves a seemingly random chick running for her life from the voodoo doll-wielding, hooded bastards. Maybe they just hate women and get their rocks off by beheading them with flying metal beams. To each his own, I guess. The whole plot is hastily put together, and reeks of the filmmakers just needing any old idea that would involve a bunch of kids getting trapped in their school.

Once Misa and her new misfortunate friends get trapped together, the movie actually starts. While it’s true they’re hunted a few at a time by an unseen, magical force, it’s not very suspenseful. I knew who the culprit was pretty much from the beginning, and the “surprise” twist at the end didn’t do much to make me think better of the obviousness of it all. I will say there are a couple good deaths, but a couple out of about a dozen doesn’t really add up to much. One thing that could have been done better was the way everyone was trapped inside the school. I liked the idea – no doors or windows will open, and in the off chance one does, it only leads back into the classroom where it all started. Sadly, this cool scenario wasn’t used nearly as much and to as great effect as it should have been. Oh well, at least there’s still Misa, who’s a practiced witch, right? Well, yes and no. The movie sets her up as someone who’s seen all of this before, but in reality she’s about as useless as everyone else. The only difference between them is that Misa has a little more information on what’s happening. Her powers are being blocked by the evil, so all she can really do is run around, staring indifferently as her mates are being helplessly killed off. You’re doing a bang-up job, seasoned veteran of the occult. Eventually, as these things usually go, it’s down to just her and the evil force behind all the madness and mayhem. They engage in a pretty weak axe fight, and I even predicted the method of the final death blow way before it actually happened. I hate shit like that. Ah, but wait – the evildoer who just got axed wasn’t behind it after all! So another confrontation is set up, and what takes place is, as far as I could discern, wholly nonsensical. I honestly don’t know how Misa survived. Her nemesis made a voodoo doll in her image, and it gets blown away like sand, along with Misa herself. But then some confusing shit happens, and I was left to sit there and say “what the fuck?” to myself while the credits rolled. I won’t say exactly what happens, just in case you decide to give this film a go. I wouldn’t recommend against it, since the film’s sequel looks like it has a lot more promise, and it might even explain some of the back story. Overall, Eko Eko Azarak isn’t a bad movie; it just isn’t very engaging, and the shortcomings of the story sometimes render its events suspenseless and, frankly, rather boring. I’ll hold off recommending the series until I finish up the trilogy, and when I do so, I’ll write up my impressions of it as a whole. Sorry for the lackluster ending to my review, but sometimes life imitates art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Way, Way Better Than You'd Expect - Bubba Ho-tep (2002)

I’m going to get the premise of Bubba Ho-tep out of the way right now. Elvis (Bruce fucking Campbell) didn’t die, and instead lives a pretty crappy life in a nursing home. JFK(Ossie Davis) wasn’t assassinated, either, and shares a home with the King. If you know who Ossie Davis is, you might be wondering how he could be playing John F. Kennedy. Yes, Davis is black, and yes, JFK is black in this film. The unlikely duo of Elvis and JFK do battle with an undead mummy for the souls of the nursing home residents. End of synopsis. Don’t stop reading yet, please. Just hear me out. I knew of this film since its release in 2002, but it’s one that I just never got around to watching. Bruce Campbell is obviously awesome, and Don Coscarelli (director of The Beastmaster and Phantasm) has been known to turn out some entertaining stuff. But I wasn’t prepared for just how well made this film actually is. From what I’ve described so far, the camp factor would seem to be pretty fucking high, but it is, in fact, surprisingly non-existent. Instead, it’s almost like a Coen brothers film with a completely ludicrous plot.

There’s not a whole lot of set up for either Elvis or JFK. I won’t spoil the reason Elvis is in a nursing home, but it’s pretty cool how they explained that one away. JFK’s situation is a bit less interesting, as you could probably guess how he ended up there: some kind of government conspiracy that included the changing of his skin pigment. Also, he says there’s sand inside his head. So far, so good. A large chunk of the first half of the film just shows how their lives have turned out, and it would actually have worked pretty well as a straight character piece. But then the weird shit starts happening. Elvis is attacked by what I can only guess are scarab beetles, and afterwards, JFK explains that a mummy is on the loose, sucking the souls of their helpless elderly neighbors. This all sounds pretty stupid, but I swear to you that it’s done in such a way that you almost forget how ridiculous it all really is. Parts of the film remind me of Barton Fink – long, dark hallways give off a foreboding vibe, and mixed within the dramatic stance of the film is some genuinely funny dialogue.

But this being a Don Coscarelli film, it wouldn’t be complete without its fair share of horror. Once Elvis learns of the nefarious soul-sucking mummy, the character drama that took place for the last hour quickly fades, and the film turns into a man vs. monster flick. But instead of meatheads and hot chicks, the heroes are elderly, near immobile former American icons. I hate to keep bringing this up, but I really want you to believe me when I say Bubba Ho-tep is well made. The first sighting of the mummy is really cool and creepy, and while there isn’t much more to the horror aspect, what little is shown is damn good. The film wraps up with a showdown between Elvis and the mummy, and it entails one of them being set on fire, and a flying wheelchair. We’re obviously dealing with a duel of epic proportions here. But who wins the showdown, and why is there a thousand-year-old mummy rummaging through a nursing home in the first place? You’ll have to watch Bubba Ho-tep to find out, and I really, really hope you do. It’s probably the best thing Bruce Campbell has done in a long time (Evil Dead notwithstanding, and the sequels were good, campy fun), and I think you’ll be surprised at just how much the film entertains you. It’s not the be all, end all of horror movies by any stretch, but as an interesting mix of dramatic comedy and some creepy goings-on, it’s pretty unique in its own right. The only thing missing, sadly, is Bruce Campbell actually singing something by the King. But with a sequel already in the works, there’s hope still. But I can’t say the sequel will be anywhere near as good as this. It’s called Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires, so, yea. Make of that what you will. Bubba Ho-tep, on the other hand, is a fantastic little gem that totally deserves your complete and immediate attention.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review - Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983); AKA "Raiders Impossible"

Back in the 80's, there was a movie production company called Cannon Films. They were kind of like the low budget little brother to the bigger Hollywood studios, and anything Tinseltown could do, Cannon could do better!(but not really) They mostly imitated whatever trend was popular at the time. For example, Stallone and Rambo drew "First Blood", but Cannon had Chuck Norris "Missing in Action." For every "Dirty Harry", there was a crappier "Death Wish" sequel.....and so on. It's no surprise that when "Raiders of the Lost Ark" became a box office smash and introduced us to Indiana Jones, Cannon jumped on the adventure bandwagon with 1983's "Treasure of the Four Crowns" The lost ark might have had Nazi face melting, but Four Crowns had laser head explosions blasting at you in "Wondervision 3-D" top that Indy!

Snakes...why did it have to be 3-D?

The big boys had Harrison Ford, but Cannon had Tony Anthony as J.T. Striker. (they named him Striker because B.J. Ballsmasher was unavailable)He's a treasure hunter and soldier of fortune whose quest has him putting together a team of thieves to steal some magic crowns from an evil cult leader named Brother Jonas. The good guys have one was destroyed centuries that leaves two for our heroes to nab. The museum wants the remaining two crowns in their collection because legend has it that they contain a power that can either cure the world of all disease or unleash an unholy force that will put Hell right smack on Earth!

Indiana had bigger balls......

But Striker's balls were on fire!

The heist section in the third act is where "Crowns" really shines. Doctor Jones had to pass through booby trapped passages with spikes, arrows, and self destructing temples to get the golden idol....ha....a piece of cake compared to what Striker's party must overcome. Their only advantage is that the cult is being distracted from crown security by their annual recruitment ceremony, so this gives them easy access to the chamber where the treasure is being stored. Once inside the chamber they must cross a pressure sensitive floor, an electric gate in the middle of the room, laser alarm beams, and a booby trapped pedestal. How are they supposed to pull this off when they can't even touch the fucking floor? Each of the team members comes with a unique skill. There's Rick the climbing expert, Liz the trapeze artist, and Socrates the circus strong man. During the planning stages they figure out that there is just a precious few feet of safe space close to the ceiling that will allow them to bypass the security. It's actually a pretty cool sequence, and they did it years before Tom Cruise dangled on wires in "Mission Impossible."

Striker on wires during the "impossible" mission...

Of course there is a price to be paid for disturbing the treasure and using it for evil purposes. The climactic climax unleashes hellfire on all the bad guys.....and some of the good guys as well! Now FX wise......some of it is not that impressive. You can clearly see things floating around on visible wires and Cannon didn't have the budget that Paramount had with "Raiders." But, if you were able to see this in 3-D with all the crap popping off the screen, you would have been entertained. 3-D can make a bad movie enjoyable (see the Friday the 13th part 3-D dvd), and when you have a stuntman with duel flame throwers slathering fire all over the place, that's pretty damn awesome....third dimension or not!

Punishment for disturbing the crowns...

Striker and the duel flame of doom.....

an evil cult leader who just can't win!

Now I'll freely admit that "Raiders" is the far superior film, but this is an entertaining slice of lowball cinema. It was directed by Italian director Ferdinando Baldi, who was responsible for quite a few spaghetti westerns back in the day. As far as the musical score goes, it has the honor of being done by the legendary maestro Ennio Morricone. That alone gives it high marks in my books! I wish there was easier access to this film for those who might be interested. Unfortunately all I have is a bootleg VHS copy and I could'nt believe that it still played after sitting in a garage for twenty years. Perhaps a new Indiana Jones film could see the leather jacketed hero rescuing "Treasure of the Four Crowns" from the vault of video obscurity doom! Hell, it couldn't be any worse than his last adventure.

Liz agrees and gives "Crowns" the thumbs up!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Think you're safe in your home? Think again! - THEM (2006)

My dad called me the other day to touch base and talk about what's been going on in his world. The tone in his voice was a little off.....something was not right. All my life I've known him to be a fairly cocky individual who seemed to be able to handle any situation life throws at him, but during this conversation he sounded disturbed. He told me that he recently left his home to get some things from the big deal.......just gone for about an hour, but when he came back he discovered that his home had been invaded.......and the intruders were still there! Luckily, his return scared off the guilty party and they took off leaving him to deal with the wreckage. The thieves took over twenty thousand dollars worth of valuables from my father and left the house ransacked. I'm thankful he survived unharmed and that the criminals were only after material things, but what if they weren't? What if they were only motivated by the thrill of invading another person's life and home? This brings me to 2006's "THEM"....a great little French chiller that will have you double checking your doors and windows and proudly posting that ADT sign in your yard.

Directed by David Moreau...."THEM" is the tale of Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and her lover Lucas (Michael Cohen) who just want to settle down and have a relaxing weekend at their remote country home. After dinner and a little television, the couple call it an evening and go to bed for a nice long sleep. Their slumber is short lived after Clementine wakes up to strange noises coming from downstairs. Lucas goes to investigate and finds the television turned back on, their car out front is running, and headlights are blaring through the windows at him. After realizing that they are not alone and the house is surrounded by multiple assailants, Lucas accidentally injures himself and retreats upstairs to be with Clementine. The couple barricade themselves in their bedroom and attempt to formulate a plan to deal with THEM. Are they robbers?.....Are they murderers? The answer will definitely surprise you.

Clementine.....just taking a little peek at THEM

The film runs at a brisk pace clocking in at just about 77 minutes. Believe me when I tell you that after the initial set time is wasted in delivering thrill after thrill. The couple's house is almost like a character itself. It's huge and partly under construction, which gives us eerie moments including a cat and mouse chase through a labyrinth like attic adorned with hanging plastic sheets. Clem and Lucas are smart heroes and easy to root for. They know it's better to cut their losses and run instead of trying to defend the house against overwhelming odds. I hate it when characters do stupid things that make me yell at the screen in frustration! (see 08's The Strangers...where two people in a similar situation have their backs to the wall with a loaded shotgun and still fuck it up!) You only have two characters in this story so you need to be able to side with them and hope they survive the night.

Lucas to Clementine..."you go first darling"

I'm a first time home owner and I can tell you it's a beautiful feeling of accomplishment. My home is my's where I live......relax.....and build memories in. I never want to go through the experience of having my sanctuary violated. Hopefully for only happens in the movies.

Combing the Streets of Sin - Hardcore (1979)

Hardcore porn and religious beliefs don’t usually mix, and for good reason. They’re diametrically opposite in every regard; so when the worlds of sex and God clash, it can be quite shocking. At least it was for Jack VanDorn(George C. Scott), a Midwestern businessman whose daughter goes missing while on a church-sponsored outing. VanDorn hires a private detective to find her, and when he does, it’s in about the worst place anyone would want their daughter to be. It turns out she ran away to go into the porn industry, and VanDorn sets off to get her back. As I mentioned, he’s a deeply religious man, and you would think he wouldn’t have the fortitude to sink into the seedy underbelly of depravity and sin, but you would be wrong. He’s a man on a mission, and putting up with the filth he finds along the way is a small price to pay to make sure his daughter is safe.

VanDorn starts his journey in a way you would expect him to, by blindly asking questions to anyone with their tits hanging out. And also as you would expect, that doesn’t get him very far. He spends a lot of time getting acquainted with various massage parlors and nudie bars, and at first, his frustration is written all over his face. He knows he doesn’t belong is places like this, but what else can he do? The police didn’t lift a finger to help, and the detective he hired turned out to be just as useless. After getting his face slammed into the side of a car, he decides to take a more stealthy approach by pretending to be an adult film producer. He has a photo of one of the guys who was in a movie with his daughter, so he holds auditions to try and catch the dirty bastard and get her whereabouts from him. But one clue only leads to another, and another, and yet another. His search seems to be getting him nowhere until he finds a hooker who might know where she is. He pays her to help him look, and one thing leads to another, and he eventually finds out she’s begun appearing in snuff films. But will he find her? And if he does, what then?

There are definitely a lot of naked bodies in this film, but it doesn’t show anything very explicit. That’s not the point. We can all guess the kind of things that go on where VanDorn is occupying his time, and we see glimpses of it everywhere. But the story doesn’t dwell on such things. It’s more about VanDorn’s relentless journey into a foreign world; a world he has no knowledge of, but still he trudges though it, hoping to find the light at the end of the tunnel. The frustration previously on his face slowly turns into a calm determination, and while his religious background will always be a part of him, he knows sticking to a moral high ground will only hurt his chances of finding his daughter. It’s a role that could easily lean too far one way or the other. Playing the pissed off father too heavily could throw any sympathy toward the character out the window. On the other hand, portraying VanDorn as too hopeless and lost would make the progress in his search seem unbelievable. Luckily, George C. Scott is a god among men, and he balances the two personality traits with the ease of a tightrope walker. He’s equal parts enraged yet calm, vengeful but still vulnerable, and his performance is as good as anything he’s ever done.

Hardcore is the second feature from director Paul Schrader, and he handles the material with the same balance that George C. Scott brings to Jack VanDorn. There are some disgusting people in this film, but not everyone is shown as such. For instance, the hooker that VanDorn enlists in his search seems to be a good person, and it’s nice to see the film be more even-handed in its portrayal of its characters. There seems to be a thread linking a lot of the films I’ve talked about recently; stories focused more on the pursuer instead of the pursued, and I think this angle really helps carry interest through to the end. And in this instance, taking the journey solely with VanDorn allowed me to feel his pain every step of the way. I think the ending was a little rushed, and could have used about 20 more minutes to really make the impact Schrader was going for, but again, the journey was what engaged me, not the outcome. And it’s a journey I’d recommend you take as soon as possible.

( Sorry, but I couldn't find a trailer on Youtube for this film, and the dvd doesn't even have one on it. If anyone can find an embeddable link to one, let me know...)