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Friday, November 17, 2017

JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)

 The pantheon's seeds are planted.

The DC Extended Universe soldiers on in the wake of the poorly-received excesses of MAN OF STEEL (2013), BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), and the appalling SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), as well as the delight that was WONDER WOMAN (2017), and what it gives us with JUSTICE LEAGUE is yet another very flawed effort.

I'm not even going to bother going into great detail on the story since the movie's only purpose is to hurriedly throw the assorted superheroes together. All you really need to know is that Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) seek to cobble together a team of fellow super-folk to take on the invading forces of Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), an extra-dimensional conqueror of worlds who tried to take over the Earth ages ago but was thwarted by the joint efforts of the Amazons, the Atlanteans, and mortal men. As for the nascent Justice League, the Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) are recruited and they take the fight to the invaders. It soon becomes apparent that they are seriously outgunned, so they need to revive the deceased Superman (Henry Cavill) — whom you may recall was killed during the final act of  BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE — to grant them the raw power they need in order to kick Steppenwolf to the other-dimensional curb. That's pretty much it.

JUSTICE LEAGUE is very obviously intended to fast-track the DCEU into Marvel movie territory, only without the well-planned slow roll-out that allowed moviegoers to get to know the characters and worlds of Marvel over what is as of this writing almost a decade and a total of seventeen interconnected films. Marvel took the time to weave an involved tapestry, a strategy that raked in the cash like a motherfucker, so the Distinguished Competition naturally wanted in on the windfall, but they allowed greed to cloud their judgment when it came to telling coherent stories and having the most basic understanding of long-established iconic characters. Most of the DCEU films are clearly the victims of horrendous editing and studio interference with the vision of a given film's director, and JUSTICE LEAGUE is no different, but in this case the reasons for the film's snags are easy to pinpoint. Director Zack Snyder left the production to deal with a genuinely awful family tragedy, so writer/director Joss Whedon was brought in to take the reins, and his pedigree as the helmer of the mega-hit that was Marvel's THE AVENGERS in theory made him the perfect guy to handle the screen debut of DC's flagship superhero team. Unfortunately, Snyder's "dark" take on the DCEU works in direct opposition to Whedon's more lighthearted and quippy approach to scripting and storytelling, and it's jarringly obvious as to which director handled which sequences. And on top of that, the studio's head handed down a corporate mandate that the film must run no longer than two hours, so it bears all of the earmarks of having a lot of material excised to bring it all in within that time restraint. But enough about the behind-the-scenes mishegoss. Here are some notes that get straight to addressing some key points:

  • The film is entertaining but it is by no means great, and the plot and villain are almost totally irrelevant, as the film's only goal is to throw the Justice League together as quickly as possible. No lie, the plot and the villain are truly beside the point. The audience is there to see heroes that they love banding together onscreen to kick truckloads of ass and we do get that, but it's all just a by-product of a narrative that is merely perfunctory. The heavily CGI-rendered Steppenwolf could not possibly be less-interesting as a threat, and he's arguably the most "Who cares?" villain in a modern superhero movie since Malekith in THOR: THE DARK WORLD, which is saying a lot. The film would have been better served if he had not been in it at all and instead the team got together over lunch and just hung out talking. 
  • The film is CGI-overdosed up the ass and as a result the film is pretty much like watching a 2-hour videogame. If CGI were a natural resource, the world's CGI mines would pretty much be empty in the wake of this movie's production. Nearly everything is shot in front of a green screen and a lot of character stuff is rendered in effects that could easily have used several more months of refinement. For example, Steppenwolf's aforementioned artificiality, the awful look of the Para-Demons, and Cyborg's atrocious-looking body.
  • Perhaps in response to the criticism of how his basic character was previously mishandled, this film is a much-needed course-correction for Superman. Once he's back from the grave, he displays an identifiable personality for the first time in Henry Cavill's three turns in the role, and it's good to see Superman smile. And one question has nagged at me since the ending of BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, and that's how in hell will it be explained to the world that Superman is back from the dead, and where the hell had Clark Kent concurrently fucked off to when Superman fell? Clark had a job and an apartment, plus he was buried and even had a gravestone, so what's up with that?
  • Amy Adams continues to be totally miscast as what gets my vote as the worst Lois Lane in the character's nearly 70 years of being portrayed in live-action. She has no real presence and serves almost no purpose in the narrative other than to be the romantic interest that she's been since 1938. It says a lot that I didn't give a shit when Lois and Clark are reunited after his resurrection, but instead I got genuinely choked-up when Superman was reunited with his overjoyed mother (Diane Lane).
  • The Amazons have taken a gigantic leap backward in interpretation in the six months (or so) since the release of WONDER WOMAN. Instead of being the tough-as-nails warriors that we met and marveled at in that film, this time around they've been redesigned and attired in garb that would have been right at home on a generic heavy metal album cover or as found airbrushed on the side of some stoner dude's bitchin' van/shaggin' wagon. And considering how hardcore they were seen when fighting in WONDER WOMAN, they came off a a bunch of damp squibs here. It reeked of what many of us feared they would be like if handled from the point of view of the dreaded "male gaze," and it disappointed me as a guy who loves and appreciates female fierceness.
  • As expected, Diana, in the wake of her inaugural flick's rousing acclaim, is given much of the spotlight and whenever she's in action, we get to see the very definition of the term "ass-kicker." Superman may be the team's undisputed powerhouse, but Diana is absolutely the one you would NOT want to face in a fight involving actual combat skills. But, much like the aforementioned gripe about the treatment of her sisters, Diana is often viewed through the male gaze, which does a great disservice to audiences seeing her first and foremost as the hero that she is. There are a lot of shots that place Gal Gadot's admittedly toothsome bum in the frame's foreground, along with some that could be considered brief "upskirt" fan service, and Diana's choices in civilian wear that seemed at odds with what we know of her character. Yes, Diana is a world-class beauty, but did she ever strike anyone as the type who would rock her off-duty attire with the sensibility of a Manhattan fashionista? There's also a a bit I'd like to address in which Diana is pushed out of possibly lethal harm's way by the Flash during a battle sequence, and in tackling her he lands on top of her with his face lodged in her cleavage. He gets off of her at hyper-speed and awkwardly/nervously looks in every possible direction, except directly at her, while she picks herself up. Some female critics have complained about that moment being gratuitous and juvenile, but when one considers this version of the Flash's self-admitted social awkwardness, I did not find it offensive or gratuitous at all, and instead felt his childlike reaction was the polar opposite of lustful or a case of Benny Hill-esque "sauce." And Diana herself did not react at all, which speaks for itself. 
  • I'm not totally sold on this interpretation of the Flash as a character. He's a Flash we have not seen before, though he does seem to bear traces of the Wally West iteration's goofiness, and I may be wrong about this but this interpretation of the character, in the way he's written and played seems like he may have Aspergers or be what some would call high-functioning autistic. Pay attention to how he describes himself and how he communicates when he meets Bruce Wayne and you'll see what I mean. It's intriguing, especially for those of us with loved ones who have that way of interacting with the world. That said, the depiction of his super-speed is AWESOME, despite what some critics have describes as him "running funny." I was not put off by it at all and was reminded of the long, arcing gestures of Olympic speed skaters.
  • I'm mixed in my feelings on Aquaman. He's a tad too "dude/bro" for me and in no way resembles any version of the character that I've ever encountered. That said, Jason Momoa's personality comes through and is apparently a real crowd-pleaser, so I'm probably in the minority with this opinion.
  • Aquaman's wife/queen in the comics, Mera (played by Amber Heard), has a brief appearance during an underwater battle scene, and I liked her a hell of a lot more than I liked Aquaman. We even get to see her use her hydro-kinetic abilities, so I'm now really looking forward to spending more time with her in Aquaman's upcoming solo film.
  • Cyborg, though utilized intelligently, did nothing for me, which has always been the case with the character whenever I've encountered him outside of his context as a member of the comics' Teen Titans (as opposed to his completely different comedic version in the popular cartoons for kiddies). Hopefully more will be done with him in future installments.
  • Ben Affleck, one of the sole saving graces of BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, reprises his take on Bruce Wayne/Batman with aplomb, and this time is clearly seen as a fragile lump of meat and bones when teamed with a pack of teammates who all have actual superpowers and are in some cases outright nigh-indestructible demi-gods.
  • There are two points in the narrative in which both Batman and Superman's secret identities are outed in front of several witnesses, and yet no one seems to notice or remark about it. In Batman's case, it could be glossed over by it happening when Aquaman blabs it in front of several Icelandic fishing villagers who don't speak English (with the notable exception of a previously-seen translator who was not present at the time), but when Superman resurrects, he does so in the presence of the other heroes (who knew anyway, so no problem there) and some members of the Metropolis police department, who cannot possibly have missed Lois Lane directly addressing him as "Clark." I call sloppy writing.
  • There are two scenes after the story proper, so stick around. The first happens just after the cast credits and is something done just for fun, but the scene at the very end of the credits is a major setup for future events, which is all I'm saying...
So what we get at the end of JUSTICE LEAGUE is essentially a narrative placeholder that serves to get our heroes together via the McGuffin of an inconsequential baddie in a story that plays out like watching your kids play with their action figures. There's little meat to the tale, but it is at least fun to watch if you just want to see super-people bashing the crap out of CGI bug-men. It's an improvement over all of the preceding DCEU films, with the notable exception of WONDER WOMAN, and hopefully this soft course-correction for the brand moving forward will see the subsequent helmers forgetting about mining Jack Kirby's Fourth World/New Gods material or maybe saving it for later down the line, and instead turning its focus to threats that would be more familiar to the civilian/non-comics-reading audience. (Which the Easter egg at the end  of the film is absolutely hinting at.)

Theatrical teaser poster.

Friday, November 03, 2017

MORE FUN AT THE LOCAL POPEYE'S

Beware the eyes that hypnotize...

I had not had Popeye's chicken in a few weeks, so I went to the good one on Flatbush Avenue for a wings combo. I arrived a little after 3:30pm, so the lines were long with people arriving either after school or just as some jobs were letting out for the day. I waited patiently for my turn and I was clearly visible, being my usual shaven-pated and black gi-clad self, but that did not stop a brazen boy of perhaps ten or eleven years old from strolling right past everyone who had waited patiently and situating himself right at the cashier, where I was about to be attended to. He stood there, the very picture of arrogance, cash in hand, and noticed me looking directly at him with disapproval. He looked me up and down and then exclaimed "Whatchoo lookin' at, NIGGER???" 

There was a brief moment when time itself stood still, and rather than say anything by way of response, I summoned my inner Lamont Cranston and met the arrogant little fuck's gaze with an unflinching death glare that bored directly into his frontal lobe and telepathically communicated to him, "You are naught but a dog whose attempts at barking are heard as feeble yips." The tension was thick as all of the adults noted the non-verbal exchange and waited to see what I would do. As has been proven innumerable times in the past, I can verbally throw down with the best of them, however my stare was unrelenting as I waited for the wee turd to open his mouth again and it became quite clear that he had received my mind-to-mind dressing down of him. Finally, his eyes widened, he looked me up and down again, sheepishly swallowed, and slowly backed away. As I moved up to place my order, the other adults on line voiced their approval and vicarious triumph. 

And you had better believe the little piss-ant was as polite as could be when placing his own order.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 31: PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)

The dead rise.

What more can be said about PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, the legendarily bad magnum opus of the equally legendary cross-dressing filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr.? Long considered to be "the worst film ever made," the film has gone on to become a perennial on late-night TV and in film festivals at revival houses, all thanks to its weighty reputation. Everything you've heard about it is true, such as the nonsensical script, shoddy zero-budget sets, acting that mostly would not pass muster in a junior high school stage production, the infamous "special" effects that feature pie plate flying saucers very visibly suspended from fishing wire, and the tragic fact that this was the final film of horror icon Bela Lugosi, who by this time in his career had been all but forgotten and eked out a living as villains in Grade-Z schlock while hiding his heroin addiction. But is PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE truly deserving of its crown as the worst movie of all time? My own answer to that query is a resounding "no." Allow me to explain.

So it ain't THUNDERBIRDS-quality. Eat a bag of dicks.

PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE tells the story of the titular extraterrestrial scheme that, after eight previous attempts at contacting us, involves raising the recently-dead in hope that we will finally stop ignoring the aliens' communications and take them seriously. An airline pilot, a number of cops, and assorted representatives of America's military all come together to take the presumed fight to the spacemen, but what they do not expect is that the aliens genuinely come in peace, with the intent to warn us that our current rate of progress with the technology of war could lead to the discovery of a super-weapon that could (somehow) ignite sunlight itself and therefore destroy the universe. Such power should be avoided and must not fall into the hands of a race as immature and "stupid" as ours, but the Earthmen, in a move that basically proves the aliens' opinion of us to be correct, beat the shit out of the alien duo who are running Plan 9 and sabotage their flying saucer, which, after the Earthlings escape, bursts into flames and explodes over Burbank. Thus is Plan 9 thwarted, but a space station full of aliens remains in orbit, possibly readying to launch Plan 10...

Sure, it's a cheapjack production that was made with a very dodgy of competency on all fronts,  which admittedly makes the film easy to laugh at, but when looked at with Ed Wood's intentions in mind, the film is not merely another in the endless parade of B-movies fit only for mockery. If anything, it's commendable for giving it the old college try while working with resources that could barely allow one to purchase a KFC family bucket. Wood's sincerity is evident in every frame, and of sincerity automatically translated into artistic talent, Ed Wood would be considered right up there with the likes of Kurosawa or Scorsese. He made a number of films that are undeniable turds, but while many of their contemporaries in the schlock niche were designed solely to be cranked out in order to separate audiences from their hard-earned cash, Wood clearly possessed an artistic vision that was influenced by classic horror imagery and film noir aesthetics.

I first became aware of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE by name at the tail-end of my ninth grade year (1980), when I read Michael and Harry Medved's book on bad movies, THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS. It was a followup to the previous THE FIFTY WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME (1978) — an admittedly fun book that also called the authors' taste in films into question, as the majority of the cited films were nowhere near being worthy of inclusion in so dubious a roster, with several of them being legitimately good — and it was divided into categories voted on by readers of the the previous volume, with the final category being a search for the very worst film ever made. Though still somewhat obscure at the time PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE reportedly won by a landslide, allegedly cited by viewers who had seen it at Jesus o'clock in the morning during late-night movie showcases on TV. 

The GOLDEN TURKEY book, as you can well imagine, was a life-changer of a book for me and was absolutely one of the influences that set me on the path of the armchair schlock cinema student/historian, so I was quite eager to someday see PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE for myself. Having read numerous books on sci-fi and horror movies, as well as having absorbed information from the pages of FAMOUS MONSTER OF FILMLAND magazine and others of its ilk, I recognized some of PLAN 9's now-iconic imagery, such as the creepy reanimated forms of Vampira and Tor Johnson, but I had no idea that the film itself was hailed as the end-all/be-all of celluloid disasters.

The reanimated Vampira stalks the night.

Upon learning of the movie's rep, I pined to see it, but it was not until Norwalk, CT's legendary Sono Cinema ran the first of its fan-favorite bad movie festivals that I had the opportunity. The place was packed that night and the air was thick with a haze of marijuana smoke, so the ambience could not have been more appropriate. As the film unspooled across the screen, I have to admit that I found it hilarious, and there was even a memorable moment where one of the characters notes a strange emanation from a nearby by exclaiming "What's that light?" immediately after which the film caught fire  and the audience howled with laughter as the image visibly melted on the screen. (It was repaired in short order.)

In the years following that first screening, I saw the film numerous times and it has since become one of my go-to comfort DVDs that I sit through for perhaps two or three screenings per year. For me the film holds an unintentional childlike innocence that's bolstered by its creator's worn-on-his-sleeve adoration of the spooky, atmospheric monster flicks of his youth, and though he failed at imbuing the movie with anything that comes close to genuine scares, he at least put the time and effort into crafting an eerie midnight landscape that brings to mind a live-action Charles Addams cartoon. (That is, when he was not unconvincingly shooting daylight for night.)

Bela's final curtain call.

And the icing on the cake is the casting of Bela Lugosi as a hapless old man who, while grieving for his recently deceased young wife, is himself hit by a car (which happens offscreen, though we hear it) and brought back from the dead by the aliens. Lugosi's presence in the film is short and features no dialogue, but he's depicted in all of his caped Dracula glory in a couple of memorable shots, and it's evident that the director had him in place as the perfect accent in his love letter to classic horror.

So, laugh at PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Such a reaction is wholly understandable. Just bear in mind the artistic aspirations and intent that drove its crafting, and perhaps you, like me, will come to see it as the heartfelt little gem that it is. And as for it being considered "the worst film of all time?" I call bullshit on that. Off the top of my head I can think of 20 or more films that outstrip it in that regard, and I'm not even talking strictly about vintage movies. I've seen huge-budgeted modern films that bear none of the charm and fun contained in PLAN 9's  80 minutes. STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE? Disappointing from Frame One and waaaay worse than this. STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE? PROMETHEUS? Turgid as hell, insulting to the audience's intelligence, and concrete proof that amazing visuals cannot hide terrible acting and a script written with a broken crayon stuffed up a chimpanzee's ass. BATMAN V SUPERMAN? Despite Ben Affleck's fun take on Batman and Gal Gadot's debut as Wonder Woman, the film was a structural and scripting mess that was brutalized in the final edit. I could go on, but I will always defend PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE for its integrity in the face of all of its many deficiencies. And did any of those other films inspire a tribute song by the Misfits? I dare say not.


Poster from the theatrical release.

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 30: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) Unrated Version

The great American vacation gone horribly, horribly wrong.

PROLOGUE: Scientists in anti-radiation suits check a barren desert area for radiation levels and are promptly murdered, after which their corpses are dragged away behind a pickup truck, for purposes unknown...

The Carter family — uber-Republican ex-cop and manly man "Big" Bob (Ted Levine, best known as Buffalo Bill in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), his religious wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), eldest daughter Lynn (Vinessa Shaw), teenagers Brenda (Emilie de Ravin) and Bobby (Dan Byrd), Ethel's baby Catherine (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi) and Ethel's milquetoast cellphone salesman husband and lone Democrat, Doug Bukowsi (Aaron Stanford) — are driving through New Mexico en route to San Diego to celebrate Bob and Ethel's silver anniversary. They stop at a remote gas station run by scurvy redneck Jeb (Tom Bower), who advises them of a shortcut through the local hills that he says will shave several hours off of their journey. What the Carters do not know is that Jeb has been the reluctant ally of a clan of inbred mutants, a group descended from miners who were thought dead after the government destroyed their homes in an area designated for nuclear testing, and when Jeb thinks that Lynn has seen his satchel full of loot stolen from previous waylaid travelers, he directs them into the clutches of the mutants in order to protect his own ass. The Carters drive for a while and their tires are punctured by concealed spikes, which leaves them and their towed camper stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no mobile phone signal and little likelihood of rescue. Thus it is decided that Big Bob and the much-put-upon "pussy" Doug will go off in search of help, with Bob heading back to the gas station and Doug continuing along the alleged shortcut road in search of a hoped-for town.

The family's German Shepherds, Beauty and Beast, twig early to the fact that they are not alone, and when Beauty escapes from the camper in pursuit of the interlopers, she is killed and eviscerated, with her corpse displaying all the signs of it having been done by a knife-wielding human and not some desert predator. Young Bobby gives chase and finds the poor dog, but stumbles and falls, which knocks him out for a few hours, during which time he is observed by the shy and terrified Ruby (Laura Ortiz), a sympathetic member of the mutant clan. Bobby eventually comes to and makes his way back to the camper but does not tell the women about the fate of Beauty. As night falls, Bob arrives at the gas station and falls into the hands of the mutants, while Doug returns to the camper and tells the family that he has found an abandoned town in the middle of a huge crater — which was obviously where a nuclear test had been detonated — and the place is crowded with vehicles that we, the audience, realize once belonged to other unlucky travelers. So, with everyone on edge and now aware of what Bobby witnessed, the family settles in and attempts to sleep. And then the mutants arrive, handing out a home invasion marked by immolation, shootings, rape, forced suckling at Lynn's milk-bearing breast, and the kidnapping of the baby for food. Those of the family who survive ready for a private little war, fortifying the trailer should the mutants return, and Doug, the worm having turned, taking Beast into the mutants' town to retrieve wee Catherine.

Home is where the heart is...forcibly ripped from your chest and saved for dinner.

This update of the 1977 grindhouse classic is one of the rare handful of remakes that's actually an improvement over the original, bringing to the mix a solid budget, far better direction and cinematography, tight acting from all involved, and no padding to fill out the running time (one of the original's biggest flaws), while retaining most of the plot highlights that made the 1977 so shocking and memorable for its era. As for the DVD's unrated content, I didn't think there was anything egregious enough to warrant anything stronger than an "R." Yes, there is plenty of graphic violence and gore, and the infamous rape scene is re-staged, but it's done tastefully and without even a glimpse of nudity, so why this had to be edited down for theatrical release is beyond me. Anyway, the result is gripping and plays like a particularly nasty cautionary tale told around a campfire. Watch this version and you just might trade in your copy of the 1977 version at a used DVD store (like I did the other day).

Cover image for the DVD release.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 29: WEREWOLVES ON THE LOOSE!!!

DISCLAIMER!!! Folks: we're friends here, right? So honesty is a must, and to tell you the truth. I just got back from a really good, booze-fuelled karaoke party in Midtown Manhattan, featuring two dear friends who moved away a while a ago — and one of whom is recently engaged — and paid for on a corporate tab, so I am fucking smashed on copious amounts of tequila and Sapporo, so I came home in not condition to write a new and coherent 31 DAYS entry. Thus, I  drag out this essay from a few years back. Werewolves are my favorite, so please curt me some slack. And,  jus so you can see it, here's me as my lycanthropic alter-ego, Bunchewolf,  at the aforementioned paty, knocking "Thunderball" out of the karaoke park, complete with the tesiticular crush that allows for the final super-sustained note.


Bunchewolf gets his Tom Jones on.

So please forgive me for the Curevo-driven diversion from schedule. (Hey, YOU try writing coherently at length while FUBAR on cactus juice! Fred Flintstone, you're not fooling anyone!!_

If you're a fan of horror movies you probably have a favorite monster genre that floats your boat, a particular flavor for which you'd be willing to sit through innumerable pieces of outright shit in order to find one halfway decent flick. For many it's vampires and their seductive allure, for others it's the gustatory frisson found in tales of flesh-eating zombies, and still others groove on the slaughterhouse rampages of boogeymen like Jason Voorhees and Michael Meyers. But for Yer Bunche, it's all about the werewolves, baby.

What is it that so appeals to me about the lusty lycanthrope? Shit, I think I just answered my own question: the werewolf is a creature of the basest, most primal lusts — the lust for killing, the lust for sex, the lust to protect its territory, the lust to consume warm, bloody flesh — each something clearly identifiable and understandable as the needs of an animal, something wild and untamed that garners its power from nature itself, rather than denying the natural order by being some reanimated corpse with an agenda. Vampires, for all their elegance, are a mostly bunch of aristocratic, poncy douchebags who most people forget are fucking corpses, and corpses are not exactly known for their pleasant bouquet. I always get grossed out whenever I see some horny suckface putting the moves on a hypnotized, heaving-bosomed cutie who's oblivious to his reeking charms, and while the actual bloodsucking can be read as metaphorical Osh-Osh, I'm way too literal-minded for that and can't help but picture Count Douchebagula's fetid member about to go to work in the Good Place. "Yecch," to say the least (although I've gotta admit that Frank Langella's Dracula was a pretty sexy guy).

The rapaciousness of the werewolf is far less steeped in treachery and mystical date rape tactics than that of the velvet-caped revenant. No less deadly or without quantifiable side effects, certainly, but far more honest in the way of a dog who dislikes you for no apparent reason taking a chunk out of your ass. The werewolf’s all about the indomitability of nature, and vampires, zombies, and other such critters fly in the face of that, which is perhaps what gives them their power, the threat of the expired refusing to be dead as we understand that state of being, and that animate expression of death seeking either to mind-control us, feed on our lifeblood, or feast upon our living flesh to fuel their aimless, undead march.

The werewolf, on the other hand, is as uncontrollable and unpredictable as a natural force while also being a fusion of “civilized” humanity with the primal, and seldom can the two find a harmonious middle ground. The typical protagonist in lupine lore does not embrace the loss of control that accompanies the transformative gift and instead seeks a cure, or, since treatments for lycanthropy are apparently few and far between, they seek death but can’t work up the gumption to off themselves, either from the urge for simple self-preservation, or through some aspect of their curse that also seeks to stay alive. Any way you cut it, the tales of those thus afflicted seldom end well, and that may also be a key to their appeal: a person unwittingly thrust into a supernatural state of great power and animal drives that they can’t hope to comprehend or master, often losing themselves to their lupine side and becoming perceived as a thing of evil, by others and themselves, only to face an inevitable and tragic end that scars the lives of their loved ones.

I can totally relate to that, having done some pretty out of control shit over the years, but I groove on the wolf more for its potential for a connection with the natural world in a way that man has long ago left behind. In legendary tales of werewolfism it’s a frequent given that the shape-shifter has full control over his actions and the moments of transformation, and is not merely a slave to the influence of lunar cycles. Imagine the freedom in that state, the sharpness of the senses, the supple power of a beast built for mastery of its environment, the innate hunting skills of a born predator, and the ability to return to one’s place within human society with the ease of doffing an overcoat…

That would simply be awesome.

So I’m fascinated with all tales of the wolf-folk, be they works of prose, comic books — the standout in that medium would be Alan Moore’s classic SWAMP THING issue with “The Curse,” a story that examines the connection between the lycanthropic cycle and the menstrual cycle — or movies, and speaking as a lover of such stuff I’m here to offer you a guide to the essential cinematic works in the field. And one thing that surprised me while coming up with a list for this piece was how few truly good or even notable werewolf flicks there are, so when you see a good one cherish it and let me know about it in case of the unlikely chance I may not have seen it.

THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935)

The first of Universal’s werewolf movies, this one’s interesting today mostly as a curiosity since it really doesn’t grip the viewer as earlier entries in the studio’s legendary horror cycle did. You read and hear about Universal’s versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy again and again, but Henry Hull’s turn as the unfortunate Dr. Glendon is often overlooked due the film’s wildly uneven script that frequently loses sight of its own point (the werewolf) in favor of “local color” character bits that were more appropriate in THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, both films steeped in a certain fey campiness. Other than its historical significance, THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON is notable for Dr. Yogami — white guy Warner Oland in one of his many portrayals of an Asian — a scientist who covets the rare Marifisa Lupina plant, s specimen found by Dr. Glendon that provides a temporary cure for lycanthropy, a condition that Yogami passed on to an unsuspecting Glendon during the attack that gets the story rolling. Yogami is a thoughtful man, but his need for the cure overrules his morals and makes for a terrific performance.

THE WOLF MAN (1941)

The template for most werewolf flicks to follow, this was the last truly great film in the Universal horror cycle, and screenwriter Kurt Siodmak’s script introduced many elements into the lore of the werewolf that we now take as rote, namely the silver bullet thing and the strict adherence to the full moon connection rather than merely a nighttime or willed occurrence. Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot became an iconic character for his hangdog manner and anguish over his homicidal case of five o’ clock shadow, returning in several sequels and spinoffs, but none of those have even an ounce of the strong story meat found in this initial installment. Oh, and if the sequels are any indication, being a werewolf pretty much renders you immortal, so you’d better get used to an existence of tearing out people’s throats and waking up naked and confused in some strange part of town (although Larry always wakes up clothed, yet sans footwear).

And as you probably noticed in these sensationalistic publicity stills, there's definitely a correlation between sex and violence in this film since Larry's doomed to kill his fiancée. Hey, back in the days you couldn't get away with a werewolf rape scene — you'd still have a hard time with that one even now — implied or otherwise, so titillating stills like these were about as questionable as it got.

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957)

A couple of lapses into hokey, overage juvenile delinquent movie territory notwithstanding, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF offers up a fun and mildly creepy metaphor for the horrors and pains of adolescence, and wouldn't be the last lycanthropy flick to tackle that theme. Michael (BONANZA, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) Landon stars as a J.D. with an irrationally explosive temper who undergoes prescribed psychiatric treatment in an attempt to curb his hair-trigger aggression, only to end up in the “care” of a mad psychiatrist who uses hypnotic regression to send him down the evolutionary chain to become an actual werewolf whenever he hears bells (how a werewolf fits into mankind’s evolutionary tree I won’t even begin to theorize). The poor bastard goes on a killing spree before his doom, and the film contains one of the most effective werewolf-on-the-hunt moments in film: the werewolf prowls his high school after hours,

ending up in the gym and encountering a girl practicing moves on the uneven parallel bars. As she executes a move that inverts her visual perspective, she comes face-to-face, upside-down, with the slavering monster.

Terrified, she falls to the floor and attempts to escape, but no dice.

Not a great movie, but definitely worth at least a one-time viewing.

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)

Surprisingly the only werewolf flick to come out of the venerable Hammer Studios stable, this one stars my man Oliver Reed as Leon, the result of a forgotten dungeon inmate’s rape of a mute serving girl, an unwanted child born on Christmas day while his mother dies bringing him into the world. Since a child sharing the birthday of Jesus is “an insult to heaven,” Leon’s doomed from the start, and as he grows up he exhibits behavioral and physical traits that mark him as a werewolf in the making, and then he falls in love with a girl betrothed to another…

Oliver Reed, on any given day at the pub.

Tragic all the way, it’s interesting that Leon’s troubles come not from being bitten or from some Satanic pact, but from the fact that little baby Jesus apparently has birthday attention issues.

THE HOWLING (1981)

The first of 1981’s back-to-back landmark wolf-out flicks, THE HOWLING strays a bit from the source novel but is a terrific horror story nonetheless. When a TV new reporter agrees to meet a stalker/serial killer in a scurvy porno emporium, she witnesses something so traumatic that she succumbs to amnesia. Her therapist (Patrick MacNee of THE AVENGERS) sends her to “the Colony,” an upstate Californian retreat where he works with an odd assortment of patients. Once there, things take a turn for the truly weird, and to say more would ruin things for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll just shut up right here and now.

Loaded with in-jokes for the horror movie junkies in the audience and bolstered by Rob Bottin’s excellent werewolf designs and effects, THE HOWLING stands as an exemplary entry in the genre that is not to be missed. Plus, the flick earns special points for the late Elizabeth Brooks as Marsha,

the nymphomaniac sister of the serial killer who’s enough to cause a line to form of guys who couldn’t wait for her to put the bite on them. "AAAAWWOOOOOOOOO," indeed! And you have to love the Germans for coming up with a poster campaign for the film that features werewolf rape as its main image:

I mean, talk about lurid!

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

Rearing its shaggy head four months after THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON upped the lycanthropic ante by having a studio budget, picturesque UK locations, the toothsome and talented Jenny Agutter, and FX badass Rick Baker on the makeup/creature effects, so how could it lose? Frankly, it didn’t, and over twenty-five years after the fact it still vies with THE HOWLING for top position in the hearts of most werewolf mavens (hell, I paid to see it three nights in a row when it came out!). David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are two American tourists trekking on foot across the British countryside who, against the advice of the creepy, tight-lipped locals, wander off the roads and into the moors where they fall prey to…well, you have a pretty good idea if you’ve read this far into this post. Dunne’s character doesn’t survive the attack, while Naughton awakens in a London hospital under the care of a mouth-watering nurse (Agutter), and is visited by the mangled corpse of his best buddy. His buddy warns him that he’s now a werewolf and must kill himself before the next full moon, but if Naughton had killed himself the movie would have been about twenty minutes long and pissed off an audience that came expecting some righteous monster action, so you can guess the rest.

Very entertaining and engaging from start to finish, some find its blend of humor and horror to be somewhat jarring and as a result feel that film is deeply flawed by a schizophrenic tome, but I totally disagree with that assessment; THE HOWLING is also quite amusing — admittedly, provided you get the jokes — but no one ever bitches about it being a mess, so I guess you’ll just have to judge AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON for yourself. And it gets extra special points for Griffin Dunne as Jack, the most cheerful mangled and steadily decomposing corpse you’ll ever see.

Griffin Dunne as Jack: if ever there was a supporting role that completely steals the film it's in, this is it.

WOLF (1997)

This story of a middle-aged man's werewolf-bitten transformation from a fading light at a big publishing house into the literal alpha wolf greatly appealed to me for being pretty much what might have happened if THE WOLF MAN's Larry Talbot embraced lycathropy as the gift that it could be, but its blend of low key horror and romance didn't sit well with everyone. I recommend it, but don't check it out in hope of finding major scares, gore, or even a spectacular transformation sequence despite Rick Baker again lending his skills to the proceedings. Jack Nicholson's werewolf is very much a throwback to the hairy guy in slacks and a button-down shirt prevalent in werewolf movies until the special effects kick in the ass of 1981, and while Jack's look has it's detractors I must admit that it takes me back to the days of CREATURE FEATURES watched on my old B/W televison when I was little, only in a mildly R-rated version.

Jack Nicholson's modern day descendant of Larry Talbot.

GINGER SNAPS (2000)

This Canadian entry is proof of what can be done with a low budget and a hell of a lot of talent and intelligence. Drawing once more upon the lycanthropy/horrors of puberty theme, GINGER SNAPS deals with two uber-morbid and very close high school-age sisters, a pair of creepy misfits who, like good old Carrie White, have yet to have their first periods. The older of the two, Ginger, finally starts her menstrual cycle, but has the misfortune of that event coinciding with local animal attacks that turn out to be the work of a particularly savage werewolf. The monster catches her newly bloody scent and, in a scene intended to look and feel like a rape (according to the film’s co-scriptwriter), mauls the living shit out of her. Ginger survives and in no time flat begins to exhibit a hitherto unseen level of aggression, both socially and sexually — keep in mind that lycanthropy is a communicable disease — to say nothing of such undeniable signs of wolfing out as getting furry in odd places, her teeth becoming more suited to tearing flesh, and the tail that she’s sprouted from out of nowhere. Her younger sister realizes what’s happening, and sets out to cure her sister, and if that doesn’t work…

Sorry, but there are some things Pamprin just ain't made to handle.

One of the rare werewolf movies from a female perspective, GINGER SNAPS is highly recommended for its genuine scares, well-handled lycanthropy/puberty metaphor, and its wicked DeGRASSI HIGH MEETS THE HOWLING sensibility. And the first sequel’s actually pretty good!

DOG SOLDIERS (2002)

A gene-splicing of werewolf movie conventions and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, this is one kickass mamma-jamma! If GINGER SNAPS is the “girls” werewolf movie, then DOG SOLDIERS is its testosterone-fueled analog, and Jesus H. Christ is it fun! A bunch of soldiers on maneuvers in some UK backswoods realize they’re being hunted by a pack of very big, very nasty werewolves, so they hole up in a remote house and wait for sunup while attempting to weather an ultra-violent lycanthropic siege.

That’s pretty much it, and it reminds me of what I would have come up with, playing with my G.I. Joes in the backyard when I was eight, provided Hasbro had made an adventure set that included werewolves. Sheer adrenalin and spewing gore set this one in the top ranks of the genre.

CURSED (2005)

Plagued with production nightmares that made it take forever to make it to the screen, CURSED is not a great movie by any means, a fact that wasn’t helped by the studio cutting most of the gore and violence to ensure a PG-13 theatrical release. Well, I didn’t even think of wasting my cash on that version and instead waited for the unrated DVD, but the movie is still pretty pedestrian if not for the following items of note:
  • Christina Ricci as a girl about to become a werewolf. What’s not to like?
  • The spectacular sight of Shannon Elizabeth being torn in half at the waist by a ravening beast.
  • A very funny sequence involving a female werewolf who takes umbrage at being called “fat.”
Anyway, that’s it for my list, but do you have any suggestions? Please write in if you do! And, no, I didn’t forget THE WOLFEN or THE COMPANY OF WOLVES; I didn’t include them because the monsters in THE WOLFEN aren’t werewolves, and THE COMPANY OF WOLVES was frilly, pretentious horseshit. So there.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 28: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965)

Grade A cheesy 1960's-style weirdness.

The horror genre, almost more than any other, is replete with schlocky Grade-Z crap designed to part the consumer from its hard-earned cash, and sometimes flicks of that nature can be a lot of goofball fun. One such example is FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER. It looks and feels like something an eight-year-old would have dreamed up, had they the resources at their disposal with which ti realize it, only after a short while it begins to feel like it's being viewed while in the grip of a high fever.

Say it ain't so!

The plot, such as it is, involves Martians showing up in Puerto Rico in order to kidnap Earth females in the wake of all but one of their own women dying out due to an atomic war. 

Them gaw-damn Martians...Stealin' our wimmin...

It's stuff we've seen eleventy-jillion times before, only this time the aliens are kinda/sorta challenged by Col. Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly),  a human-looking android astronaut whose brain and the left side if his face are damaged when his spacecraft crash-lands in Puerto Rico. 

Our Frankenstein, ladies and gentlemen.

Now a monster on the (meager) rampage, Frank eventually runs into the alien abductors, kicks their asses, frees the nearly-nekkid chicks, battles Mull, the titular atomic mutation from Mars, and then heroically sacrifices himself when blowing up the Martians' flying saucer. THE END.

The extraterrestrial fabulousness of Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell, later known as Amazing Larry in PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE).

Bringing to mind a more competently-made answer to PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), this film bears no suspense, scares, or even gore, but what it does have is that certain mid-1060's "camp' flavor that just simply happens and is mostly impossible to pre-plan or replicate. And while horny Martians making off with bikini-clad Puerto Ricans with (sort of) Frankenstein thrown into the mix is goofy enough, the film goes that extra mile by including the Martian leader's right-hand man, Dr. Nadir, as played to fey perfection by Lou Cutell, who would later turn up in Tim Burton's debut feature, PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985), as the briefly-seen but unforgettable Amazing Larry.

Yeah. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER is as bizarre a departure from the expected Frankensteinian tropes as FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965) was (though neither as good not as entertaining), but it's a fun way to pass seventy-nine minutes, provided one has a well-packed bong and a few six-packs close at hand.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Friday, October 27, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 27: HALLOWEEN (2007)

"Jesus H. Christ, this movie is a piece of shit... And I was in the live-action FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, so I know what I'm talking about!!!

When looking at the international cinema of horror, from Day One of film the viewer has been treated to whatever the culture that created any given movie finds scary. Old creepiness dusted off from an indigenous base of rich myths and legends brought to moving, visceral life on the big screen; the Chinese have their hopping vampires, the Japanese roll out tales of tragic ghosts and hostile nature spirits, the Spanish give us lusty werewolves and the Catholic scares of the undead Knights Templar, Italy expresses a singularly gustatory horror with its epics of flesh-eating, Britain revels in the fairytale-like excesses of Hammer Studios' Gothic monster rallies, and so on. That's all a bit of a generalization, but the point I'm trying to make is that each of these cultures has been around for a loooooong time and have accumulated a deep and resonant bestiary of goblins, golems, vampires, and what have you, while America is still a relatively young country with a culture that mixes and matches its elements from the innumerable races, religions, and cultures that have settled here over the past couple of hundred years, and does not necessarily have the same kind of myth base that other lands possess. Our earliest horror icons, particularly the familiar monsters and miscreants found in the Universal horror cycle of the 1930's and 1940's, were mostly European in inspiration and setting — Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the Wolfman being the most prominent examples — but the uniquely American flavor of horror didn't really surface until the advent of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO in 1960.



A cinema and genre milestone.

Seen by many as the true proto-slasher film, PSYCHO's crawly weirdness and intensely horrifying revelation of what deviant and homicidal behavior might lurk just beneath the placid, "aw, shucks" banality of modern day America struck a chord, especially since it was inspired by the true-life case of infamous cannibal/necrophile/murderer Ed Gein. Gein's arrest in 1957 exposed the nation to an unspeakable horror that absolutely no one at the time was ready for, and thus were sown the seeds of a new, uniquely American bogeyman: the twisted killer who dwells among us, with us none the wiser until it's too late.


PSYCHO's success opened a floodgate of would-be copycat shockers, and as times changed and the country had its eyes opened — and to some extent desensitized — by the brutality of the Vietnam conflict, the American horror audience accepted and in many ways embraced an escalating level of gore and gross-out theatrics that shocked minds who could see sights of mind-bending awfulness on the nightly news. The upped ante of mainstream shock reached its early-1970's apex with the religion-driven extremes of THE EXORCIST (1973), and once you've seen an apple-cheeked twelve-year-old girl cuss like a sailor, piss all over the living room carpet, vomit torrents of split pea soup, and — my favorite — sunder her nether regions with a bloody crucifix while screaming, "LET JESUS FUCK YOU!!!," where else can you really go after that?

John Carpenter provided an answer in 1978 with the original HALLOWEEN, a lean, taut tale of "the Boogeyman," here named Michael Meyers, that brought back genuine suspense and an overwhelming feeling of impending dread to the horror arena.



Phase 2 in the evolution of slasher films.

It was scary as a motherfucker and kept the gore to an absolute minimum, all the while providing the simplest of stories. In a nutshell, it can be summed up as simply as "the Boogeyman comes to town on Halloween and kills a bunch of horny teenagers," but that paper-thin setup, in this instance anyway, was used to maximum effect, executed with artistry and intelligence, and has deservedly gone on to be a cinematic classic.


Then FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) ripped off the killer-and-kids scenario, only substituting graphic gore and violence for real scares and behind-the-camera competence, and in the process making a mint at the box office during a period dominated by teen coming-of-age dreck, post-disco musicals, and feeble STAR WARS ripoffs.



The low-budget bloodbath that launched countless sequels and imitators, and that was one of the defining flavors of 1980's cinema. (For better or worse.)

The unexpected success of FRIDAY THE 13TH did not go unnoticed and in no time the sequel machine got into gear, but since the killer in the first film was beyond all shadow of a doubt beheaded and therefore unrevivable, the creators had to come up with something new in the form of Jason Voorhees, a hydrocephalic drowning-victim whose story was told in the first flick. Jason went through the homicidal motions in the utterly perfunctory FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981) and gained a definitive look when he donned a hockey mask in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 (1982), after which he joined Michael Meyers as a voiceless, personality-void horror icon that's more of a malevolent force of both nature and twisted, puritanical anti-sex "morality." These unstoppable juggernauts of supernatural carnage had no explanation per se, they simply existed to kill, and no matter how many times they were shot, stabbed, immolated, or, in one particularly memorable example, blown to pieces with a grenade launcher, these monsters kept right on coming. Literally, the spirit of serial murder writ large, Michael and Jason — and Freddy Krueger a bit later — were terrifying (despite piss poor scripts and incompetent filmmaking) not just because of their seemingly never-ending killing sprees, but because of their very lack of any reason for their rampages. They were as unknowable and merciless as a hurricane, and equally impossible to control, and therein lay their power. If you're looking for depth or pathos in your bogeymen, don't look to Michael or Jason because their sole purpose is to offer up the most simple, direct, and downright visceral scare possible, with no bullshit involved.


Which brings me, in a rather round-about way, to Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of HALLOWEEN.

The only legitimate reason for filmmakers to do a remake of a classic film is to in some way reinterpret or improve the source material for a contemporary generation. That said, Rob Zombie — the most ridiculous director's moniker of all time, and, yes, I know he's been known by it since his days as the frontman for White Zombie — has done neither, simultaneously desecrating the modern slasher genre's Rosetta Stone and churning out a faceless, soulless, by-the-numbers entry that is staggering in both predictability and listlessness.

Taking the basic template of John Carpenter's 1978 landmark, Zombie — I feel like an idiot simply writing that name — spends the first forty (or so) minutes of the flick showing us the squalid home life and day to day existence of the young Michael Meyers, a childhood anti-wonderland defined bystereotypical trailer trash dysfunction, alcoholism, verbal and physical abuse, a mean and slutty older sister, adolescent animal-slayings, sadistic school bullies, and a mother whose career as a stripper is the only source of family income. Young Michael is also really into Halloween and spends a lot of time creating disturbing masks, facades that when donned allow Michael's inner rage to be expressed. Then Halloween rolls around and Michael begins his homicidal career by murdering one of his schoolyard tormentors in the woods, after which he's ready to go out trick-or-treating with his walking STD of a sister as his escort. But when his slutty sister decides she'd rather get fucked by a scurvy-looking swain and leaves Michael to fend for himself, the lad stews until he snaps, killing everyone in his family save for his mother and infant sister. Locked up and placed under the psychiatric care of Dr. Loomis — played by Malcolm McDowell, my favorite actor, in another in a long line of utterly thankless roles that waste his immense talents — Michael soon stops talking and begins a fifteen-year stint in the rubber room, his only outlet for expression being his mask-making hobby.

Years pass, and on one fateful night Michael escapes from the institution. He soon finds himself at a pestilent truck stop where he murders Ken Foree (the cool black guy from the original DAWN OF THE DEAD) and steals his gas station attendant jumpsuit, after which he stops off at his long-abandoned boyhood home to retrieve his trademark William Shatner mask — yes, you read that right; for those who did not already know, the famous Michael Meyers pullover is the likeness of STAR TREK's Captain Kirk — and a butcher knife, and from that point on the movie is a beat-by-beat remake of the 1978 original.

I have to admit that the setup of Michael's evil had me interested during the family dysfunction bits, but then Zombie — damn it, man, your name is Robert Cummings! Use it, for fuck's sake!!! — shovels on layer after layer of his trademark cruelty, the same kind of shit that made both HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and the inexplicably well-touted THE DEVIL'S REJECTS so stunningly unpleasant, to say nothing of boring, and with that he lost me. But what do I know? It seems that the contemporary horror audience willingly forgoes actual scares, instead shelling out cash to see flicks like SAW and HOSTEL, both in the vanguard of the odious "torture-as-horror" sub-genre, so this version of HALLOWEEN may just be exactly what the contemporary fan wants to see, namely a series of pointless, gory killings that aren't hampered by anything so unnecessary as any hint of real suspense or an actual story getting in the way of the bloodletting and titties.

And, yes, I know I just described nearly every slasher film ever made, especially those unleashed in the wake of FRIDAY THE 13TH, but none of those films had any pretensions of being anything other than assembly line low-budget, cynical gore shows out to make a quick buck, whereas much of the current R-rated horror cinema tries to be perceived as "tapping into the dark corners of the modern zeitgeist and revealing ourselves to be the greatest horror" or some such shit, while casting garden variety sadists as the new bogeymen.

Zombie's HALLOWEEN reduces Michael Meyers' supernatural elements to nil, a castrating de-mystification that leaves him an all-too-understandable product of the havoc wrought by the horrors he endured as a child, even attempting to get the viewers to sympathize with him, which is one of the most ill-advised "re-imaginings" I've ever witnessed. Zombie apparently has some sort of affinity for serial killers and sadists, as was so cheerfully demonstrated in his two previous efforts, but while those films were not really meant to be taken seriously, HALLOWEEN strives to present real emotion and sadness, two things that Zombie is utterly incapable of providing. After a promising setup, Zombie pisses away everything he'd built by simply — and lazily — aping the original film, but those of us who've seen the template suffer all the more because we know just how good the source was, to say nothing of it actually being scary.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the point of horror movies to scare the audience, hence the name "horror movie?" Well lemme tell ya something, bunkie: Rob Zombie has succeeded in making a horror movie with absolutely no suspense whatsoever and no trace of even one legitimate scare, instead seeking to get us not to notice his sheer lack of talent as a director by pouring on the gore. Once Michael's got his mask on, the film cruises along on auto pilot. It's sort of like sitting through a dull refresher course on a subject that you long ago memorized and now must rehash in the pursuit of some form of certification. All that's onscreen is a monument to one man's hubris and buying into the undeserved critical and fan accolades based on two less-than-mediocre features that preceded it. The wan restaging that unspools barely maintains one's interest, save for the task of morbidly stacking up the remake against its progenitor, a process of evaluation that leaves Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN standing exposed as a would-be porn star out to eclipse John Holmes as the biggest cock ever seen, yet pitifully wielding a two-inch dick like it was a baseball bat.

Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN is an almost total waste of time, and was also a make-or-break film for me. Having absolutely hated HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, I was ready to write of Zombie's films for good, but when it was announced that he'd had the King Kong-sized balls to remake one of the greatest horror films ever made, I just had to see for myself if he could actually do something worthwhile. Well, his take on HALLOWEEN merely confirms that I should have followed my gut and given it a miss, and that Rob Zombie can barely direct a turd out of his own asshole, let alone a feature film. Some of you out there may still be intrigued after what I've just had to say, but I'm telling you flat-out that the film is a major disappointment, or would have been if I had ever liked any of the director's other work. It's just a big waste of time and isn't even worth sitting through whenever it pops up on cable.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2017-Day 26: DOCTOR WHO "THE ARK IN SPACE" (1975)

When the human body becomes an alien incubator.

Time: The far future. 
Location: The Nerva Beacon, a space station orbiting planet Earth.

The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen), and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) randomly arrive via the TARDIS — the Doctor's time/space-traversing vehicle — on a seemingly deserted space station orbiting Earth. 

The Doctor (Tom Baker) marvels at the frozen survivors of the human race, his favorite species.

After exploring  the facility and noting that something had damaged assorted station functions, the travelers discover several hundred cryogenically preserved human beings, along with the long-dead corpse of a large insectoid creature. Upon reviving the station's first med-tech, Vira (Wendy Williams), the Doctor and friends are informed that the Nerva Beacon contains genetically-screened pairs of ideal humans that were placed in orbital stasis in advance of solar flares that would scorch the planet. The plan was for the sleepers to awaken after five-thousand years and reclaim the Earth, but, thanks to the unexplained systems damage, they overslept by several thousand years. The station's captain, Noah (Kenton Moore), is also awakened, but while he warmly greets Vira, his assigned pair-mate, he perceives the Doctor and his companions as threats and treats them with open and uncharacteristic hostility. It soon becomes apparent that the station was long ago breached by the Wirrn, a species of sentient insects that lived in deep space but required planets upon which to establish breeding colonies, and indigenous mammals to serve as hosts for their larvae. While the survivors on the Nerva Beacon slept, other spacecraft were launched from Earth and sent deep into the galaxy in search of other suitable worlds, and some of them chanced upon the Wirrn's breeding ground, which they wiped out. That drove the desperate insects back into space in search of new breeding areas and host fodder, where they found both objectives in the form of the Nerva station. The dead Wirrn was a queen and she managed to infect Noah and another crew member as they slept, and Noah is beginning to metamorphose into something other than human...

The insidious reproductive cycle of the Wirrn meets Homo Sapiens.

The Wirrn are also revealed to absorb the knowledge of the creatures they gestate within, but until now they only had access to lesser life forms. If the Wirrn succeed in gestating within the station's sleepers, the Wirrn will become technologically capable and seize the Earth as the launching point from which to begin a campaign of interstellar colonization/conquest. Needless to say, the Doctor and the active humans cannot allow that to come to pass...

An adult Wirrn.

Coming just after the lackluster "Robot" (Tom Baker's inaugural serial as the Doctor), "The Ark in Space" marks the first of several truly great stories from Baker's legendary and lengthy run as our favorite Timelord. The isolated location with no chance for outside help is the perfect setting for this tale, harking back as it does to the "base under siege" trope that became the show's stock in trade during the era of the Second Doctor, and the Wirrn and their creepy reproductive cycle really get under the viewer's skin. (Pun intended.)

Noah (Kenton Moore), on the way to no longer being human.

The story also brings to mind that seminal work of British sci-fi/horror, THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955), aka THE CREEPING UNKNOWN (which was adapted to the cinema from an acclaimed 1953 television serial), which dealt with an astronaut returning from a space mission and changing into a hideous and deadly alien organism. But what's most interesting about watching "The Ark in Space" today is noting how similar many of its plot elements are to 1979's ALIEN, one of the all-time masterpieces of sci-fi/horror fusion, which came four years after this serial first aired. I'd like to think that the makers of ALIEN didn't see this story and shamelessly crib from it — after all, some of the roots of ALIEN can be seen as far back as the script for DARK STAR (1974), which was co-written by Dan O'Bannon, who went on to write the screenplay for ALIEN — but the similarities are too glaring to ignore...

Whatever the case may be, "The Ark in Space" is absolutely recommended to those who prefer their DOCTOR WHO old school and scary, and for ALIEN junkies who'd like to see an earlier take on similar material (other than 1958's IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE).

Packaging art for the DVD release.