Friday, November 30, 2012

The Video Dead (1987) Review

The Video Dead poster
Director: Robert Scott
Stars: Michael St. Michaels, Roxanna Augesen
Genre: Horror, Zombie, B-Movie

The Video Dead is such a fine example of '80s B-movie horror.

So there's this television right? And zombies come out of it. Why? I don't know, it's a fucking TV that zombies come out of, just shut up and watch that shit. So these zombies proceed in doing what zombies to best: make character cliches try to survive their 2 mile-per-hour wrath!

There's really no use in explaining the plot. You can read the film's title and guess what it's about and I'm sure you'd be pretty spot on. It's extremely similar to 1986's TerrorVision.

Though the plot is quite silly, I actually thought the zombies themselves were awesome. Not only do they look great, the make-up and effects are fantastic, but they go a bit further than your stereotypical zombies. For one thing they don't eat brains or flesh. Unlike Romero zombies for instance, the zombies in The Video Dead actually think they're alive. But when they see people who aren't zombies it makes them mad because that's what they want to be; alive. So the zombies kill anything that is living because...they're jealous and they want to kill them so they can maintain their delusion that they're alive. It's actually pretty damn cool.

You can even point a mirror at the zombies and it has a similar effect to when you point a cross at a vampire. The zombie sees their reflection and because they hate to see what they become, and because it doesn't fit with the delusion that they're alive, they run away.

To kill the zombies, since they think they're alive, you don't have to kill their brain or anything, all you have to do is make the zombies think you killed them. The zombies, as the film explains, don't actually feel pain or aren't even susceptible to pain. But since they think they're alive all you have to do is simulate the act of killing them, e.g., shooting them in the chest with an arrow, and the zombie will think they are actually dying. So it's a completely psychological thing. Anything that thinks it's alive, will think, based on pre-conceived notions, that certain things will kill them. The zombies in this film are fucking awesome. 

a zombie from the Video Dead

Unfortunately everything else is a bit lackluster.

The acting is all amateur. It's not completely awful, just nothing very great. All the characters are silly, the plot is silly. It's a very campy film, and can provide with plenty of unintentional laughs. 

A zombie coming out of the television in The Video Dead

The zombies are cool but everything else is what you'd expect from an '80s low-budget horror movie. The Video Dead is like the perfect example of the independent industry of the VHS generation. Watch it. It's fun. The zombies are awesome and most of the mediocre stuff will make you laugh. Also, there's chainsaw-wielding zombies. Oh, and at one point all the zombies sit down and eat dinner...and then decide they want to go dancing. It's actually pretty hilarious.

3/5 stars

Purchase The Video Dead on Amazon: DVD - VHS - Combo-Pack

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Last House on the Left (1972) Review

The Last House on the Left 1972 posterDirector: Wes Craven
Stars: Sandra Cassel, David Hess, Lucy Grantham
Genre: Horror, Exploitation, Rape and Revenge

Not only is The Last House on the Left the debut of legendary horror director Wes Craven, who went on to create the likes of The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream, but this is also the debut of Sean S. Cunningham, another respected name in horror, who serves as Producer here and later went on to direct Friday the 13th.

The plot concerns two girls who are kidnapped by psychotic rapists and murderers. That's all I will say, because anymore may potentially ruin the charm of that first viewing. It's not like the plot is of much importance here though anyway.

The plot is actually based on, and heavily inspired by, Ingmar Bergman's 1960 film, The Virgin Spring.

All the actors here are unknowns and for many of them this was their only film. That's how I like my gritty horror flicks, especially the exploitation ones. It adds to the realism and makes the characters feel distinct and rare, rather than seeing, oh I don't know, Rock Hudson or Johnny Depp in a film, unknowns make the experience a bit more special, a bit more personal. However, a side effect of unknown actors is the actual quality of the acting, which is pretty mediocre in The Last House on the Left, and can arguably detract from the feel of realism that amateur actors can potentially provide.

The two kidnapped girls in here, Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham, are very foxy, as is Jeramie Rain as the seductive Sadie. David Hess, who went on to have a somewhat respectable career in film, plays a typical goon, accompanied by Fred Lincoln (a producer for pornographic films at the time) and Marc Sheffler. Richard Towers plays the dad and the very beautiful Cynthia Carr plays the mother. None of their acting is really anything special, except for maybe Sandra Cassel and Lucy Grantham who occasionally manage to convey a believable sense of fear, hopelessness, and terror.

David Hess, Jeramie Rain, Fred Lincoln in The Last House on the Left

The film is known for its disturbing nature, and was really the only thing the film set out to do (see the original trailer here) but I can't say that I was disturbed much. Of course the film won't have the same effect on me as it did to people in 1972, and I've probably become extremely desensitized to many things by way of watching a potentially unhealthy amount of horror films, but The Last House on the Left really didn't do anything for me at all. Night of the Living Dead, which was released four years earlier, managed to disturb me a bit and provided a much better feel of gritty realism. Blood Feast, released nearly a decade before, managed to gross me out more. Hell, even The Virgin Spring from a dozen years earlier, of which The Last House on the Left is supposed to be a hardcore rendition of, managed to affect me in a more emotional way and even disturb me more. So what is it that The Last House failed to do that the others did?

Rape in The Last House on the Left

It doesn't take itself seriously. Which can sometimes be a good things for movies (see: every Troma film ever), but not when you're attempting realism or trying to create a disturbing atmosphere. The whole buddy cop subplot is just so ridiculous and unfitting to the film that it largely detracts from everything else. At times even the music in the film feels completely out of place (though I'll get to the soundtrack shortly). It feels as if The Last House on the Left wasn't sure if it wanted to be a campy B-movie horror comedy or a gritty Night of the Living Dead-esque horror film. So what we're left with is something in between the two...which just doesn't work at all. It doesn't take itself seriously but it pretends to be serious.

It's a shame too, because there are some fine examples of comedy done right in The Last House on the Left. Take for example the bit where the mother asks the girl what her parents do for a living, "They're in the iron and steal business," replies the girl. "Iron and steel both together? How unusual," the mother remarks. "Well, my mother irons and my father steals," says the girl, the punchline to the joke. You see? That was genuinely funny. The joke was set up and led me on, kept me just as ignorant as the mother in the film thinking her parents made metals, and then the punchline made me laugh. That was funny and fit the film well without detracting from the horror and brutality of the film. I even found the frog part to be pretty funny. But the physical comedy parts, that's a fine example of how to not do comedy right in a film of this nature.

The physical comedy bits weren't even done particularly well. I'd even go so far as to say that the 1980 film Mother's Day, which is essentially just a Last House rip-off, actually implemented the slapstick comedy duo much better.

Dinner table in The Last House on the Left

There are some genuinely great scenes in here though. The scene with Mari in the lake is stunning, the scene with Sadie in the pool is great, the graveyard scene was alright, the final showdown in the house is pretty cool, or the dream sequence. And everyone loves some good ole' oral castration, am I right? Unfortunately this isn't frequent enough and left me only wanting more and with a great sense of missed potential.

A lot of people complain about the soundtrack, not that it's bad or poorly produced, just that it doesn't suit the film. (You have songs like this playing half the time). I didn't think it was too bad. Only one or two times did I consciously acknowledge that it felt a bit misplaced. They obviously wanted the soundtrack to contrast the events in the film, with upbeat tunes playing while murderers drive around with kidnapped girls in their trunk, or soothing ballads playing during rape scenes. It's a technique that, though we're fairly familiar with now, wasn't very popular at the time. So for that I do give some credit, though their delivery wasn't all it could have been. The slapstick nature of the two police officers was obviously included to contrast all the torture, but unfortunately that just flat out didn't work well for the film.

For the most part though I thought the soundtrack was really good. Just listen to the song "Road Leads to Nowhere" also known as "Wait for the Rain" which I could hardly believe was actually part of the original score for the film. That is a legitimately awesome song and David Hess (who both starred in and composed the film) should be applauded on his fine composition work. Not only is the song good, but it's implementation into the film is done superbly. It suits the film's theme and is played in all the right parts. Then there's another awesome one, "Now You're All Alone" which plays right after Mari's friend is murdered and right after she is raped. It's pretty effective music if you ask me. That all being said, in retrospect and despite some questionable musical parts, the soundtrack really is superb and one of the best I've heard in such a film. 

Mari in The Last House on the Left

Overall it is an enjoyable film that has its amazing moments, its awful moments, its dull and its exciting moments. Worth the watch. 

3/5 stars
+Has some great scenes
+Awesome soundtrack (though a tad silly at times)
+Can occasionally manage to be genuine
-Unfitting slapstick
-Not very disturbing
-A bad mix of B-movie camp with gritty exploitation horror

Purchase The Last House on the Left on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - VHSStream (Free)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Psycho (1960) Review

Hitchcock's Psycho 1960 poster
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Everyone knows about Psycho. One of the great Alfred Hitchcock's most recognizable films. It's a classic, but does it deserve to be? Fuck yes, it does. But I'll still be the first to point out its many flaws.

The film is about a woman who steals $40,000 and goes to run off with her secret boyfriend. But, she gets more than she bargained for when she becomes entangled with a psychotic killer that leads to a string of mysteries.

First off I must point out this film's historical significance. Psycho pushed the limits of the amount of sex and violence that could be shown in a Hollywood film, and hell, in film in general. It practically invented the slasher genre and helped shape the not only the horror genre, but all of film as we know it. Hitchcock must be respected for this. He could have continued on making typical Hitchcock films, that were of course good but just more of the same. Instead he did something different. When production company after production company turned him down for funding and doubted his success, did he give up? No, he wrote the checks himself. That, ladies and gentleman, is a fucking passionate man.

In this film Hitchcock got back to the basics. He had a much smaller budget and thus had to do things a bit differently than he was used to. He had to use his own crew from his television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He had to shoot the film fast and with limited supplies and cast/crew. Hitchcock's films had been shot in color long before Psycho, but here, due to budget, it had to be shot in black and white.

I just love that Alfred Hitchcock himself, the most popular and respected and successful director of his time, and arguably of all time, even had to struggle to make a film because his idea was so rebellious that no one wanted to support him.

Psycho truly is a revolutionary film.

Norman Bates' parlor in Psycho

As expected from a Hitchcock film, the dialogue here is excellent. Most of the suspense lies in the conversations. Norman Bates trying to lie to a detective provides incredible amounts of tension and is nearly nerve-racking. It's not very often when a film's dialogue is just as intense as any action scene. Amazing.

And the Norman Bates character really steals the show. Played to perfection by Anthony Perkins, Bates is definitely one of the greatest characters put to the screen. Slightly based on Ed Gein, but he really is a completely unique character. He can be odd, quirky, comforting, nice, evil, scary; he's a character with tons of dimensions all fitted together seamlessly.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho

There's tons of memorable scenes in here. Of course the shower scene being the most recognizable. From the opening to Bates' last line of the film, it's all very superb. In fact, the last line of the film is probably my favorite part.

The film's atmosphere is really great, and complimented by a great soundtrack. I'm glad the film was shot in black and white because I feel it definitely helps the atmosphere. I love the Gothic look to the Bates home.

The plot is fairly good, well-crafted at least. There are some cheesy parts. Like the stair falling scene or even the shower scene may seem a bit silly by today's standards. But that isn't really a big deal.

I would have liked if the characters were more developed. The only really memorable character here is Norman Bates and perhaps the girl. I just think the others felt a bit generic and could have benefited from a bit more development.

The Bates house in Psycho

I don't mind the conclusion to the film, but I hate the ending. Allow me to elaborate. When the end climax happens, it's great. When we get the last murder and the twist at the end, fabulous. But when the psychoanalyst comes on screen and basically explains the entire film to us as if we're children, that's just a major no no for film. I mean, he literally comes out and explains it as if it were an analysis of the the film. It's stupid. Last scene with the psychoanalyst shouldn't have been there.

Psycho may be the most important Hitchcock film, but quite honestly I don't think it's the best Hitchcock film.

Janet Leigh in the shower in Psycho

A very important film and a very enjoyable film. But without the great character and performance of Norman Bates or the historical significance, this film would have a significantly lower score.

4/5 stars

Purchase Psycho on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream - Hitchcock Essentials Collection

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nowhere (1997)

Nowhere posterDirector: Gregg Araki
Stars: James Duval, Kathleen Robertson, Christina Applegate, Heather Graham
Genre: Black Comedy, Surrealism, Drama, Satire

What in the world can I even say about this film? What in the world even is this film? I don't know. It's the third and final film in Araki's Teenage Apocalypse trilogy, the first two being Totally Fucked Up (1993) and The Doom Generation (1995). This one is definitely the craziest of the lot.

It's really just about some teenagers dealing with relationship/sexual/whatever problems, but all the meanwhile there are reptilians from outer space abducting people and tons of crazy stuff going on. The entire film is very surreal. 

As with the other films in the trilogy, there is an apocalyptic overture and it is constantly hinted that the world is about to end. Personally I love this atmosphere and it adds a real sense of dread and nothingness to the films. Nothing really makes sense in this film, it's as if the fabrics of reality are being torn, with weird camera angles and shots that constantly cut in and out. Tons of odd and surreal things happen, like aliens, or even just really odd behavior.

All the sets, or places where the scenes are shot, are very bizarre, even more so than in The Doom Generation. Walls are often covered in polka dots or writing or anything else you can imagine. It's a very stylish film actually, and even the costume design has a very twisted and odd fashion to it. It definitely helps set the weird factor of the film and makes it very visually pleasing in the process. 

It has a very '90s feel to it, but also manages to have a retro, futuristic and entirely unique presentation as well.

To me the film tries, and succeeds in, truly capturing the feeling of adolescence. Being a teenager is confusing, weird, depressing, and very often makes completely no sense and feels as if the world is ending. Gregg Araki captures those feeling and presents them on screen perfectly, perhaps in this film more than any of his others. He manages to makes the surreal dramatic and realistic. I think anybody who remembers growing up can relate to this film and admit that it captures the anxiety of being a kid. I have no problem calling this film genius. 

James Duval and friends in Nowhere

Also, this film, and I exaggerate only slightly, has the greatest ending in cinematic history. Ever of all time, ever. It's brilliant. [Spoiler:] Also, it tells us that no matter how good your life seems to be getting, and just when things appear normal, it really never stops being weird and confusing.

The soundtrack is awesome (of course it is, it's an Araki film). You have Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Coil, Radiohead, The The, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Hole, Marilyn Manson, and more.

An example of superb set design in Nowhere

James Duval plays the lead role, returning from the past two films in the trilogy, and he does a great job as usual. Charm to watch.

"God help me" from Nowhere

There are a ton of cameos and early appearances in here, and you'll probably recognize a lot of faces. Traci Lords, Rose McGowan, Debi Mazar, Denise Richards, Shannen Doherty, Gibby Haynes, Charlotte Rae, Jordan Ladd, Jaason Simmons, Eve Plumb, Christopher Knight, John Ritter, and tons more. Yeah, there's a lot.

An alien from Nowhere

If you're not sure whether or not to watch this, know this: in this film, Nowhere, a man beats another man to death with a can of chicken noodle soup. Cinematic first, anyone? Also space aliens. And great cinematography and art direction. Do I really have to say anymore? 

5/5 stars
+Great atmosphere, set & costume design and imagery; visually pleasing and stylish
+Great cinematography
+Captures the confusion of adolescence
+Awesome ending
+Tons of great actors

Purchase Nowhere on Amazon: DVD - VHS

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tartuffe (1925) Review

Tartuffe poster
Director: F.W. Murnau
Stars: Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, Lil Dagover
Genre: German Expressionism, Satire, Drama

Tartuffe, also commonly written as Tartüff, really impressed me. It's one of Murnau's lesser known films, and I expected a good film from him nonetheless since he's a wonderful director, but I was surprised just how good it actually was. Very, very good. 

The film is about a grandson who reveals to his grandfather that his housemaid is deceiving him in order to inherit his fortunes. The way the grandson reveals this to his grandfather is by showing him a film, based on Moliere's play, Tartuffe. It's a very early example of a film within a film. The film within a film is reminiscent of what was happening in the grandfather's real life. The film within a film is about a man who worships another religious man, only to find out that he is not quite the saint he thought him to be.

The film serves as an obvious allegory to the hypocrisy and blindness of religion. Like Moliere's original play in the 1600's, when Tartuffe was released in the 1920's it caused a bit of outrage, mostly from religious groups. 

The man, Tartuffe, played by Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh, Faust, Waxworks, The Last Command, The Blue Angel), represents religion. Tartuffe's blind follower and admirer, Orgon, played by Werner Krauss (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), represents just that: blind followers of religion.

The film deals with religion's hypocrisies, illogicality, and manipulations. To me, the film's basic message was that when you take a closer look at religion, and when you see its true essence, i.e., when you realize its hypocrisies and whatnot,  it is in fact a very ugly thing, and once you see this, you no longer support it. It portrays religion to be very calculating and insincere.

Tartuffe and Orgon always have their little bibles (or psalm books?) with them and they're constantly reading them, but when they read them they put the book right in front of their face and literally have their noses on the book. I like to think that this is suggesting that when you always have a bible in front of your face, or when you hold religion too closely, it makes you blind and prevents you from seeing what is right in front of you.

Emil Jannings and Lil Dagover in Tartuffe

Religious criticisms aside, the film has other good things going for it. The sets are pretty good for one thing. The film within a film's sets in particular are nice. It has a very 18th century look...kind of a Victorian feel. The sets aren't overly extravagant and it's not as stylized as you may expect an Expressionist film to be, but still nice. 

The legendary Karl Freund is the cinematographer and this is definitely some of his best work. There's some really cool shots in here and even some that were way ahead of its time. You may not recognize Karl Freund by name, but if you've ever watched The Golem or The Last Laugh or Michael or Metropolis or Dracula or Key Largo, then you're familiar with his work. And that's only naming a few, this guy has been the cinematographer on tons of great films.

Great cinematography in F.W. Murnau's Tartuffe

The film managed to keep me intently interested the entire time. Albeit it's a shorter film, but it's also pretty slow and silent films tend to put me to sleep if there isn't much happening. Not Tartuffe, it kept me very awake. I credit this to a great story (adapted by Carl Mayer), great acting, and great characterization.

Seriously, all the characters here are fascinating and well portrayed. We have some big name actors of the genre in here too; Emil Jannings, who was in tons of films of the time, and you may recognize Werner Krauss and Lil Dagover from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. They all do a great job, and though there is a bit of over-acting, as you should expect in a silent film, it's actually pretty tame acting compared to a lot of other films.

Still from F.W. Murnau's Tartuffe 1925

In the version I watched the soundtrack was pretty good. There was no color tinting but that really didn't matter; most of the film takes place in the same place anyway.

There are many parallels drawn between this film and Murnau's earlier work, Nosferatu. In Tartuffe it is not a mythological bloodsucker, but one of reality, one we've all encountered. And again, as in Nosferatu, it is his wife that must sacrifice herself to save her husband.

Oh, and I almost forgot, early on in the film a character looks directly at the camera and talks to the audience. One of the earliest example of breaking the fourth wall that I've thus seen. Also, there's some POV cleavage shots. Murnau was a genius. 

Candle Tartuffe

If you're a fan of F.W. Murnau or of German Expressionism, Tartuffe is well worth the watch and a very overlooked film of the genre. 

4.5/5 stars

Purchase Tartuffe on Amazon: DVD

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hot Rods to Hell (1967) Review

Director: John Brahm
Stars: Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain, Mimsy Farmer
Genre: Action, Exploitation

A pretty cheesy exploitation thriller from the late '60s.

It's about a very "square" family who, when moving into a new town, are targeted by a group of young hoodlums who harass the family on the road. They follow them with their cars, box them in, run them off the road, and a bunch of other stuff that is really pretty tame in retrospect.

It was produced by Sam Katzman (The Corpse Vanishes, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and was originally intended to be a television movie, but was deemed "too intense for TV viewers" and instead had a fairly successful theatrical release.

I would hardly call the film intense, but then again this is coming from a guy that has watched movies that would probably give people in the '60s heart-attacks. Times surely have changed. There's not much violence in here at all, and certainly no gore or anything like that. There's some implied off-screen sex and some skimpy looking girls but nothing explicit.

But, it's very early exploitation so its tameness can be forgiven. However, there were tons of exploitation-y hot rod films released in the '50s, many of which I prefer to this. One cannot help but to think of The Fast and the Furious or Motor Psycho or The Choppers or Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, all exploitation films that did what Hot Rods to Hell did, better than Hot Rods to Hell did it, and before Hot Rods to Hell did it.

All the film's value really comes from how funny it is. You have your typical '60s middle-class Dad and family and all their moral conversations. Then there's the hooligans with the hot rods, who are pretty unintimidating and just as cheesy as the family. It can be pretty damn hilarious at times, simply for its high camp, cheesy dialogue, and the squarest people the 1960s could find. 

Dana Andrews and family in Hot Rods to Hell

It's certainly not Dana Andrews' best work; in fact all the acting here is pretty awful. But it adds to the camp value.

The soundtrack wasn't too bad. All the cars definitely looked cool enough and the road cinematography and car tricks were pretty solid too. 

The cars in Hot Rods to Hell

It's definitely worth the watch if you're into this kind of stuff (high camp, exploitation, so-bad-it's-good). There's just a lot of better stuff out there that can provide the same enjoyment. Also, apparently Micky Rooney's son (Micky Rooney, Jr.) is in here...

2.5/5 stars

Purchase Hot Rods to Hell on Amazon: DVD - Cult Camp Classics Collection

Friday, November 23, 2012

ThanksKilling (2009) Review

ThanksKilling poster
Director: Jordan Downey
Stars: Chuck Lamb, Wanda Lust
Genre: Comedy, Horror

Back in 2009 I was sitting down browsing through the Netflix Instant service when I came across ThanksKilling. I read the synopsis and I just had to watch it. This film sparked my interest in so-bad-it's-good B-movies. I figured, in honor of Thanksgiving, I'd watch it again.

As far as plot goes it's basically just about a 500 year old turkey who goes around killing college kids and their parents. Really, that's all there is to it.

The characters are genre stereotypes, their acting is just as bad, the effects get an A for Effort but are nothing new. The film fits neatly into the genre of new wave B-movie horror comedies that are so self-aware and obviously aim for the so-bad-its-good appeal. It's a trend that has been going pretty strong this century. ThanksKilling, however, I found to be one of the more enjoyable ones.

Everything is intentional. The film knows it sucks. The director knows it sucks. The actors know it sucks. It sucks. The film never takes itself seriously and constantly jokes about its own stupidity. And obviously it's not a horror film in the true sense of the word. It's not scary at all. It's a comedy. This is something you have to except if you want to enjoy it.

The jokes themselves aren't too funny. They're the typical jokes you always see in these type of films. However, the situational humor is hilarious. Just watching a turkey wearing a human mask and getting kids to believe he's their father is absurdly entertaining. The turkey himself is also pretty hilarious, with constant foul language (get it? get it? foul, like fowl! Because he's a turkey!). The turkey is constantly calling people faggots and whatnot and quite honestly it's pretty funny to watch a turkey call someone a faggot.

ThanksKilling turkey wearing a human mask

It's mostly that forced, cheap humor, but there are some genuinely funny moments. I laughed pretty much throughout the entire thing. 

It was filmed on a budget of $3,500 so you shouldn't expect much. It's an obviously amateur film. This is not the type of film you watch for cinematic merit or artistic value.

ThanksKilling sheriff in a turkey suit

The effects were decently done, especially given the crew's limitations and lack of experience. There's a fair amount of gore in here. The turkey is just a hand puppet, and it's laughably bad.

ThanksKilling turkey puppet

I can't really critique something that is purposely bad. So all I can say it go watch it, know what your getting in to, don't expect anything amazing, and hopefully you'll enjoy yourself. It's only an hour and a few minutes so it's a quick watch.

Also check out my review for the sequel, ThanksKilling 3 (they skipped the second one).

3.5/5 stars

Purchase ThanksKilling on Amazon: DVD - Stream

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mother's Day (1980) Review

Mother's Day posterDirector: Charles Kaufman
Stars: Nancy Hendrickson, Rose Ross, Holden McGuire
Genre: Horror, Exploitation

I probably enjoyed this movie way more than I should have. It's a Troma film, and an early one at that, so I obviously didn't go into it expecting anything amazing, but I was surprised just how much fun it was.

It's about these three friends (all girls) who go out camping in the woods. Two redneck brothers kidnap them and bring them home to their mother, who the brothers worship. They're all sadistic as hell, even the old lady mother. Definitely an example of Hixploitation. Anyway, the girls must fight their way to safety, and it has a kind of Rape & Revenge edge to it.

Of course it doesn't have a great plot, of course the acting is amateur, of course it's a very obviously low-budget film. That's Troma for ya. This was an earlier Troma release though. I like to classify it as Pre-Toxic Avenger. Before they were making blatant horror-comedies, they made films like this, that had a much more exploitation feel to it. Mother's Day was obviously influenced by the likes of Last House on the Left or Day of the Woman (I Spit on Your Grave).

There is a sense of humor present though. You can tell they didn't take themselves too seriously while they were making it. This is most evidenced in the redneck brothers; they're Troma characters through and through. If you're familiar with Troma films and have that sick sense of humor then you'll definitely find some enjoyment in here. 

I also love how this film has absolutely nothing to do with Mother's Day (as in the holiday). It's name was obviously trying to appeal to the trend that was going on after Halloween was released, of holiday themed slashers.

I think this movie might also hold the record for most upskirt shots on camera. Seriously, you see up the girls' skirts at least once a minute. I can't say it's unwelcomed though. Also for some reason the redneck, Ike, reminded me a lot of Robert from Everybody Loves that weird?

Ike in Mother's Day

Oh, and the ending is awesome. Seriously, that ending really satisfied me and left me with a huge smile on my face.

The soundtrack is a typical horror score, with music placed accordingly to add tension and whatnot. However, there is one notable song in here. "I Think We're Alone Now" performed by Tommy James & the Shondells. Most are probably, like me, more familiar with the later cover version by '80s pop-singer Tiffany. That song is a guilty pleasure of mine (the Tiffany version) and I always thought it'd be great in a horror movie. It was cool to hear it in here.

The effects (which are most prominent in the latter half of the film) are decent enough. Lots of blood mostly. The kills are pretty cool too. Gorehounds will be amused.

Kissing a dead girl in Mother's Day

There's not much to say about Mother's Day; if you know what you're getting into it's a pretty fun ride. Check it out. There's also, oddly enough, a remake to this film made under the same title.

3/5 stars

Purchase Mother's Day on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) Review

Assault on Precinct 13 posterDirector: John Carpenter
Stars: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Tony Burton
Genre: Action, Thriller

Assault on Precinct 13 was John Carpenter's second film (after the very low-budget Dark Star two years earlier) and, boy, what a film it is.

The plot is simple enough. A Los Angeles street gang named Street Thunder target a precinct that is in the process of being closed down. Inside the precinct there is only one police officer, two secretaries, and two prisoners, and they must work together to hold off the waves of endless gang members.

The film has been called a mix between Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and Carpenter has admitted to being influenced by both. If you think about it, Assault is basically a zombie movie. You have the survivors inside trying to hold off the infinite flow of unknown, expendable antagonists

As with many well-executed zombie films, the large group of enemies outside does make you feel a bit scared. How the hell are these few people going to survive against all of them? you'll find yourself wondering. The street gang is pretty intimidating; they're great in number, they're silent, and they have no fear of death. 

There's some great suspense and tension present and the drama between the people in the precinct is great. You never know if you can trust the prisoners, so there's this ever-present sense of unease. Will the prisoners take advantage of the situation and kill the cop? There's a lot of wonderment and unpredictability in this film. 

The soundtrack is amazing, composed by John carpenter himself. I'd recommend watching Assault on Precinct 13 simply for the great score and theme music. It's a wonderful electronic sound, something that wasn't very popular at the time. 

Street Thunder gang members in Assault on Precinct 13

There's plenty of violence in here. The film doesn't hold back. There's cops getting killed, little girls receiving the wrong flavor of ice cream (and then getting killed), and plenty to satisfy any fan of violence.

There's some interesting cinematography here and the acting is great. The actors are all mostly unknowns, but Austin Stoker's great performance as a police officer and Darwin Joston's great portrayal of a memorable character are as good, if not better, than anything coming out of Hollywood at the time. 

Assault on Precinct 13 1976

John Carpenter took a low budget, a handful of unknown actors, and made a classic. Contains elements from action films, westerns, and even elements from horror films. It should satisfy fans of all genres.

4/5 stars

Purchase Assault on Precinct 13 on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream - Soundtrack

Monday, November 19, 2012

Faust (1926) Review

Director: F.W. Murnau
Stars: Gosta Ekman, Emil Jannings, William Dieterle
Genre: German Expressionism, Fantasy

Massive, and wholly accurate, spoilers to follow

One day an angel was really bored so he decided to make a bet with Satan (angels have a bit of a gambling problem). The bet has something to do with something doesn't matter. 

So there's this plague or something and this old guy Faust really wants to save everyone but he can't. So what does he do? Summon the dark lord Mephisto of course. Mephisto tries to get him to sell his soul for some awesome wizard powers and stuff but Faust refuses. But, Mephisto tricks him by saying that he could have a one day free trial of the powers, no strings attached. (It's kind of like how magazines or Netflix trick you with the one month free trial but then make it really hard for you to cancel the subscription without ending up having to pay). 

So Faust accepts the one day deal. The first thing Faust does is become a young man, because all he really wanted to do was get laid. So, young Faust goes out to find some hoes. He finds one and brings her back to his place. But, just as he's about to hit that Mephisto tells him that one day is almost over! Bummer. But Faust is like "Yo, fuck it, whatever. You can have my soul, just let me hit this right quick." Thus selling his soul to the devil. Faust was obviously thinking with his penis. 

Faust taps that ass and then after his dick softens up he realizes that that pussy probably wasn't worth the eternal damnation of his soul. But, Faust is the type of guy who makes the best of a situation. "I'm young and I have the power of Hell at my disposal. Might as well live it up, YOLO!" says Faust. 

Then they fly around for a bit and Mephisto is like "Hey, aren't these special effects really great? And these sets are amazing. We're way ahead of our time!" 

So then what does Faust do? Goes out to find some more hoes of course. Faust immediately goes for a young, innocent virgin girl and tells Mephisto to make her his. But even Mephisto, the evil demon that he is, is like "Yo, son, chill out. There's plenty of other bitches around here whose lives already suck that you can get with."

But, Faust wants that young, tight pussy. "Damn, nigga," Faust tells Mephisto, "It's like Biggie Smalls said, 'I like 'em young, fresh and clean, with no hair in between. Know what I mean?'"

So Mephisto uses his devil magic to get the virgin girl to fall in love with Faust, because, ya know, who needs honest, pure, true love? 

Oh, yeah, and then Mephisto gropes some old lady and mixes her a drink that makes her shit her pants or fart or something. Then Mephisto proceeds to go and cock block Faust and Faust is all like "Shit, nigga."

So while Faust is getting it on with that girl, Mephisto kills her mother and then goes to the girl's brother and tells him that his sister is a whore...and then Mephisto kills him too. 

As the brother lies there dying, his siter by his side, he calls his sister a wanton, which I'm guessing is a derivative word coming from the chinese food Wonton dumplings (in the olden days nobody liked Asians so they would use their food as insults). 

The entire town hates the girl now and thinks she's a slut. She goes insane for a brief moment when she thinks that her mother is a chair. 

Now, thanks to Faust, the girl has no family and is homeless. Well, actually Faust got her pregnant (they didn't have condoms back then, and I guess she wasn't on the pill) so both her and her newborn baby get to live on the freezing cold streets. None of the villagers will help her or even her dying baby, because, you know, stupid whores and their stupid babies deserve it, right? At this point the girl, Gretchen (that's her name by the way, I just remembered), is pretty mentally unstable. She hallucinates that there is a baby's crib but it's actually just snow and she ends up killing her baby. 

When the villagers find that she killed her baby they get all pissed off (because apparently they actually cared about the baby's well-being) and burn her at the stake as punishment. But Faust comes and rescues her, right? Nah. Mephisto turned Faust back into an old man and by the time he got there she was already on fire. 

But, nonetheless, old man Faust throws himself in the fire with her, and if we'd of been able to hear Gretchen over her burning flesh then I'm sure she probably said something along the lines of "LOL WUT?"

So, somehow she realizes that the old man is actually Faust, but keep in mind she was mentally unstable so who knows if it was actually even Faust. And even though Faust killed her entire family, ruined her life, and got her killed, she still loves him and they kiss as they burn to death. 

So you'd think that now Faust's soul will go to hell, because he made that whole deal with the devil, right? Well, not quite. As convenient plot-device angel explains: There is only one word that can break the pact and that word is LOVE (even if it's manipulated and insincere love that was achieved by the use of evil demon magic). Unfortunately, Mephisto couldn't afford a lawyer because I'm sure that whole LOVE bullshit would have never held up in court. 

So Gretchen and Faust get to go to heaven and I guess Gretchen will stay under the evil love spell forever and always love Faust no matter what! And Faust doesn't have to face the consequences of his actions! YAY!

And that's pretty much it. THE END. 

Things I learned from watching Faust:
1. Religious things, e.g., holy statues or crosses, force Mephisto to make funny faces.
2. Don't ever trust free trials on the internet.
3. Pussy > Soul. 
4. If the Devil wants to give you devil powers in trade for your soul, make the deal because you can fuck all the bitches and then just use the devil powers to force some girl to fall in love with you and then go to heaven because the power of love always triumphs.

+Very awesome sets and atmosphere. Truly stunning. 
+Great actors
+Fantastic directing and cinematography from F.W. Murnau and Carl Hoffmann
+Ahead of its time special effects that still look awesome to this day
+Awesome and creepy introduction of the Mephisto character
-Stupid, illogical story. I was never a fan of the Faust story but this isn't even a good adaptation. 
-Typical religious themes that don't fit into my philosophy or set of morals, therefore rendering it less entertaining, just as a religious man would find less satisfaction in a film that denounces religion. 
-Bad and unbelievable characters, bad character development, bad character continuity
-Has virtually nothing going for it besides its visuals. 

Purchase a mediocre, overrated movie on Amazon!: DVD - VHS
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