Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rebirth of Cheese

Thanks to the wonders of The Internet, long-since-forgotten movies have become the revered icons they've always deserved to be. Below are some short clips from some of my favorite scenes of cheesy old flicks, recently revitalized by YouTube.

First up is Troll 2 - which is an inexplicable title, as the movie contains no trolls. This movie is a diamond in the rough of bad movies, and has recently spawned a documentary: "Best Worst Movie".

Next we have Ricky's infamous Garbage Day massacre from Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 - the remake to a movie which should have never existed in the first place. Ricky's acting ranges from psychotically over-the-top to robotically deadpan, with no middle ground whatsoever.

Finally, there's Enter the Ninja. One of the dime-a-dozen samurai-sploitation movies that were pumped out in the 70's. We see in this powerhouse scene, however, that this one is a cut above the rest. Enjoy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Murder Party

So I've taken a long hiatus from blogging. I've been devoting a lot of time to pet projects. For example - this ant that I've MSpainted to look like a pirate:

I also have a meal worm dressed like a clown and chiggers dressed as mobsters.

But onto the real meat of this post.
Murder Party is difficult for me to review because it's genuinely a good movie. That's not my forte. It's well written, sporting some immersive dialogue, its well shot, its got a Predator reference and it takes stabs at all the right kinds of people. Big thanks to the very talented digital artist Michael Oshins for turning me onto this awesome flick. Horror fan or not, if you can deal with the violence, you will find something to enjoy in this movie.

Our hero, Christopher Hawley, is easily relatable for one reason or another, though he's a bit of an extreme headcase. He's antisocial, awkward, probably not respected by his peers and more than likely really into D&D. On one of his bleak walks from his boring job to his boring home, he spots a note addressed to no one in particular: "You're invited to a Murder Party!" He doesn't think twice about any obvious sinister connotations this message could have, he's overwhelmed with joy to be participating in anything social. He whips up his best pumpkin raisin bread, makes an impressive-looking suit of armor from his best stash of cardboard and heads to the other end of town.
Once he arrives at the address, which happens to be an abandoned warehouse in the middle of a ghost-town industrial district, he is greeted with surprise by his costumed hosts. After a brief introduction they, (surprise!) attempt to MURDER him! The attempt is foiled, however, by a meddling pull-chain and they decide instead to bind Christopher and discuss how exactly they want to go about the murder. Something becomes apparent in their discussion: these people are by no means professionals - they're not even murderers. These people are artists, or more accurately "artists", who are attempting to join the ranks of the avante garde by aestheticizing murder. They are the kind of full-of-bologna creative minds that try to be so esoteric and high-minded that they just end up looking like clichés of themselves. Murder Party does an excellent job poking fun of this demographic. They fawn over people who use the word "jejune" and come up with names like "Valediction in Black" for nonsensical video art pieces wherein a woman is being pelted with uncooked hot dogs.

Christopher remains unhurt throughout the ordeal, which is more than you can say for his unfortunate captors. Like Sky, the zombie cheerleader, who falls over woozily from an allergic reaction to pumpkin bread and impales her skull on a stainless steel tube (in a playfully lighthearted fashion). That scene is a great example of the modern-day blood-and-guts slapstick featured in this movie. But actually, Murder Party isn't just a slapstick slasher. For a movie about a group of people dressed like monsters and villains intent on murdering an innocent, the movie features a surprising amount of high-quality, understated humor. It's not a visually stunning movie, despite being well-shot, it mainly takes place in one room. The main things to appreciate about this movie are the layered dialogue and subtle, hushed interjections. It's legitimately my second favorite movie I've reviewed (second to A Tale of Two Sisters) and it certainly warrants a few viewings.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

So I admittedly didn’t want to write about this one, in fact I said I never would – but I’m a pushover and people complained to me so I’m going for it. Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a “cautionary romantic thriller” that was written, directed and produced by misogynist creep and child exploiter James Nguyen (pronounced something like nwin). I don’t want to spend much time on this review because the movie is a complete train wreck - and that’s coming from a guy who had nothing but praise for a movie about evil marshmallow fluff from space. I’m going to let the trailer do most of the work for me. When watching this baffling pile of garbage, I want you to keep in mind that this is lifted directly from the movie. Nothing was edited. The sequence of shots is EXACTLY the same in the movie. (Also turn your volume DOWN)

Looks like someone pirated a copy of KidPix. You may have noticed that some birds are dive-bombing and exploding; it’s best to ignore this as it never gets explained, explored or even mentioned. But it does lead to one of two conclusions about Mr. Nguyen: either he anticipated that the audience would ignore or just roll with the idea, or he believes exploding to accepted bird behavior.

You may be surprised now to learn that this is a special-effects driven movie. The seagulls you watched inexplicably hovering and spinning and dive-bombing with bizarre broken movement is the apex of what Birdemic has to offer. This is obvious to me, however, since I’ve sat through this colossal atrocity and can rule out plot and dialogue as redeeming factors.

I stated before that this movie is “cautionary”. It’s a warning for those of you who think Global Warming is no real threat. As Mr. Nguyen sees it you’re dead wrong. He asserts that Global Warming could send birds into frenzy, blowing up gas stations, attacking people in cars and generally soldiering violently against environmental corruption. This, of course, is fucking batshit insane. I hope you don’t need me to explain why, because I’m not going to waste my time – and my time is worthless.

The one compliment I can give Birdemic is that it’s unique – and it has received praise for this. But then, that's not really a compliment. I mean, being bent over a pickle barrel and raped by Donkey Kong can be chalked up as a unique experience, but it’s by no means pleasant.

So if you’re an unbalanced masochist, see Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Hell, see it twenty times, go to town. But for everyone else, avoid it at all costs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Slime City

I’m shocked that I’ve never even heard mention of this one until now. It epitomizes everything I love about 80’s horror. It’s a movie that’s completely aware of its tongue-in-cheek cheesiness, never holding back on the blood, guts, and oozing pustules. In all respects goes as far over-the-top as a horror movie can go – prime 80’s excess. Big thanks to blogger and fledgling filmmaker Emily Tomasik, who introduced me to this treasure. Check out her blog, it’s full of neat animation ideas and kooky/adorable monsters that are at the very least tangentially related to this blog.

When we meet Alex, our hero, he is prissy and unlikable. This probably isn’t meant to come through in his character, but I want to make it clear this dude is a total nancy. Everyone in his new apartment building seems to think he’s on the up and up, though. He’s a young artist in a happy relationship with a sweet, wholesome girl; he’s good to his friends, well-mannered; he’s an all-around straight shooter. His new neighbors are taken verbatim out of the book of 80’s stereotypes: We have Nicole, a leather-and-fishnet clad metal chick and Cher’s doppelganger, and Roman, a new wave poet who could easily be recast without notice by a corpse in a Flock of Seagulls haircut. From the get go, they exhibit strange habits: They take their trash out at bizarre hours, and the occasional blood-curdling scream rings out from inside the building.

They seem nice enough however, if a little quirky, to Alex. Roman, who occupies the loft above him, makes nice with our hero and invites him over for dinner. Always open to new experiences, Alex eats the questionable looking green goo that’s set out in front of him and polishes it off with a tall glass of iridescent elixir brewed by a long-since-dead alchemist. Later on, in an elixir induced stupor, he slips out of Roman’s, shuffling toward Nicole’s apartment. Approaching her, he succumbs to lust and engages in a few seconds of really uncomfortable looking dry-humping before slipping into unconsciousness. He awakes from a lucid dream state confused, irate and covered in mucus. After stumbling out of bed and wandering through the city, his mood only intensifies and the mucus situation worsens. Urine-colored slime oozes out of pulsing blisters on his forehead and chin, his body is entirely glossed over.

The make-up and effects are top-notch. To reiterate a point I keep making: you can argue that the style of this era’s gore movie make-up doesn’t look realistic, but then you’d be missing the point. Ultra-real CG gore ends up looking more sterile, less stylized and certainly less obscene, so what’s the point? It’s utterly tame compared to the vomit-inducing splendor of Slime City. When done right, gritty make-up driven gore can turn obscenity into an art form: this is achieved in the film’s totally fucking gross final scenes.

The other aspect of Slime City which I adored was its humor. Whether you believe it to be an unintentionally botched attempt at making a proper horror movie or a well-executed camp masterpiece, you can appreciate the off-beat humor the movie offers. I’m more toward the latter; I’m certain the film crew were fully aware of the cheese, whether you’re talking about the fumblingly awkward acting in every murder scene, or the obvious use of hot dog links as intestines. In a similar vein to Street Trash, Re-Animator and the Troma legacy, Slime City features so much low-brow grit and repulsiveness that it ironically becomes high-brow, esoteric humor. It’s certainly something to appreciate - this brand of humor is exclusive to these kinds of “serio-comic gore sagas”.

The green substance and the elixir turn Alex into a psycho killer; they’ve caused him to enter into a vicious cycle of depravity, murder and slime. Alex is hopelessly hooked on the stuff, though – in fact, he reveals with a wicked grin “I like what’s happening to me.” When watching, it’s easy to see that on a deeper level this movie is making a statement on drug addiction and the dark avenues it can rapidly send a perfectly good person down. And though it makes sense, just as Friday the 13th can be seen as a statement on abstinence, it’s not necessary to consider. These kinds of movies are generally pretty light on the deep messages - rather than ending in intervention, Alex’s addiction ends with decapitation and brain-mashing. Slime City is less about morals and more about tongue-in-cheek goo and gore. Personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Behind the Mask - The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is an outstanding tribute and dissection of the Golden Age Slasher; films such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, which over the past thirty years gave us some of the most iconic killers in horror history. This film, however, is far more light-hearted and humorous in nature, lovingly parodying the genre as it picks it apart. The focus is on Leslie Vernon - heir to the legacy which began with Myers, Voorhees and Krueger - and the three-person news crew documenting his rise as the new supernatural serial killer. Despite his trade, Leslie seems like a warm and approachable young man, fond of magic tricks, turtles and practical jokes. When he talks about his methods, he does so with an innocent smile and a friendly disposition.

“You have no idea how much cardio I have to do. It’s ridiculous.”

“Why so much?”

“…well you know that move where you look like you’re walking? And everyone else is running their asses off? And I gotta keep up with ‘em? It’s tough.”

Leslie invites the crew into his dilapidated home to matter-of-factly explain his legend: He was born a bastard in the town of Glen Echo. It was there that the community roited, allegedly murdering him as a boy by throwing him over a cliff and into a freezing river. He will now return to seek vengeance upon Glen Echo’s people. His upcoming haunting is being meticulously planned about a month before the anniversary of his death, when the local teenagers will dare to stay overnight in the Vernons’ abandoned farmhouse.

Leslie continually brings up concepts which should be familiar to anyone who’s seen a Halloween or Friday the 13th movie. He takes the crew out scouting at the local high school for a prime group of teenagers to terrorize: a few athletes with healthy libidos, the slower-acting stoners who will be good to “pad his numbers” later on and finally the virginal “survivor girl”. He takes the crew on a “fly-by” to psychically torture his survivor girl, sets up a “red herring” by murdering the kindly librarian who befriended her (played by Zelda Rubenstein of Poltergeist in a particularly great scene), and first confronts his “Ahab”, the stalwart hero who is predestined to try and stop him (played by Robert Englund, better known as Freddy Krueger).

Then comes the night of Leslie’s haunting: At the abandoned farmhouse where the local teens have gathered, Leslie decides to part ways with the crew. They have a good deal of footage already and Leslie doesn’t want to deal with the extra baggage while he’s slaying, so the documentary is cut abruptly and without a sound conclusion.

But one of the best aspects of Behind the Mask is the way it transitions in style. Though initially a mockumentary, the film slips seamlessly in and out of the genre it parodies; all of the Slasher conventions that are politely discussed in interviews for the better part of the movie become shockingly real for the news crew when moral conflict forces them to intervene in Leslie’s systematic killing spree.

Though Behind the Mask is intriguing and humorous under its own merits, making it certainly enjoyable to most, I have to highly recommend this movie to any fan of the classic Slashers.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Suspension of Disbelief and Mock-Doc Horror

I talked about how cheesy-looking gore can trigger a gut reaction of revulsion, but maybe sometimes the audience needs to do some work to appreciate a scary movie. A friend of mine told me that she went to see Paranormal Activity with a few friends and laughed out loud for the duration of the film. When I watched it in my apartment I nearly shit my pants. Am I really that much of a weenie? I ended up watching it again with friends, including this aforementioned friend, and realized that the two of us had very different viewing methods, the main difference being that I watched the movie. She would glance around the room, look at her phone every few minutes, strike up conversations with people. No wonder she wasn't scared - she wasn't absorbed (though my weenieness is still up for debate).

When you only glance at the screen for a little while before getting sucked back into reality, you’re unconsciously assuring yourself that what’s on the screen isn’t real. And when you have that disbelief, you won't be very thrilled. Maybe you can get through something like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle that way, but little else.

Suspension of disbelief is a fancy way of saying that in order for anything that deals with the fantastic to entertain you, you need to trash your notions of reality and accept anything the film throws at you. This is a major part of what makes horror movies effective and absorptive, but its up to the audience to willingly forget about reality. What's great about mockumentary horror (or POV horror) movies like Paranormal Activity is that they are designed to make suspending disbelief feel natural.

They feature no-name actors

When we can’t tie a name to the face it makes it easier for us to view them as real people. It’s just more difficult to picture Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox legitimately being haunted by demons. When The Blair Witch Project was released, it was marketed as an actual documentary with real people, and that uncertainty made it all the more thrilling. At this point we know better, but even with the knowledge that it was a hoax, it still works.

Nothing scarier than nothing

Again, the men and women behind The Blair Witch Project realized this. What’s genuinely scary is subjective: when we can’t see the beast that’s antagonizing our heroes, we can picture it to be as creepy as we can possibly imagine. And, when considering the budget these films typically have, its much better to have nothing on film than a monster that looks like a Garbage Pail Kid reject.

Letting the audience let their guard down

This tactic isn’t exclusive to mockumentaries, but it’s definitely worth mentioning since it's put to use with the daytime/nighttime shifts in Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project. In my opinion, though, no film pulled this off better than REC, a Spanish horror mock-doc about a late-night TV crew who become quarantined in an apartment complex infested with rabid residents. You spend ninety-five percent of this movie thinking “Rabies, I get the picture. This isn’t so scary,” and then, once you feel safe and secure, BAM! The scariness factor is amped up nine levels. Pretty sneaky - and definitely effective.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Sisters

You can’t ignore horror from the East. “J-horror” and “K-horror” have changed the landscape of horror movies in the past ten years; films like Ringu and Ju-On flaunted an intensely creepy atmosphere that more recent Hollywood horror attempted to exploit. With the slew of Asian films coming out within a small frame of time, it’s easy for one that’s truly worth watching to slip under the radar. A Tale of Two Sisters features a lot of the conventions that we’ve come to expect from this subgenre, but there’s more to this Korean film than just a spooky ghost story.

I’m actually a bit torn writing about this one, since I don’t consider it straight-up horror. It’s got definite horror elements - an old house that creaks and groans at night, ghosts that crawl with disjointed movements, some jump scares here and there – but A Tale of Two Sisters is definitely a psychological thriller and drama before anything else.

The film itself is allegedly based on an old ghost story, “Janghwa Hongreyon-jon,” though not much is adapted. In the story, the two sisters are ghosts who kill whoever dares enter their accursed home, whereas in the movie, they are less murderous and incorporeal and more just two sisters. They depend on one another a great deal: Su-Yeong is taciturn and non-confrontational; Su-mi acts as her protector. The two move in to their father’s massive lakeside home, clasping hands tightly as their stepmother, Eun-joo, greets them with forced enthusiasm.

The house’s aesthetics help create the atmosphere: The deep reds and blues; stark color contrasts; the gothic-goes-to-japan architecture - it’s all very lovely in daylight. But when bedtime rolls around and shadows creep in, the empty house feels grim and foreboding - like Korea’s answer to The Shining. Su-Yeong’s door opens, creaking louder and louder (this is the loudest creaking door in existence). She pulls the sheets over her face as pale fingers inch out of the darkness. Down the hall, Su-mi hears a shambling at the foot of her bed. She peeks to see a white figure dragging her body across the floor. With a jerk, the figure pulls herself up the bed post and positions herself, hair obscuring her face and mouth agape, over a cowering Su-mi. Su-Yeong crawls into bed with her sister, and after these horrific visions, the two sleep together. The entire cast of Predator would be kept awake by that sort of thing, but they manage to go to sleep.

As the story progresses, Eun-joo’s actions become increasingly excessive: she constantly and viciously harasses Su-Yeong and has an outburst of complete insanity at a dinner party. All the while the father is distant, never uttering a word of his wife’s bizarre behavior. The characters motivations and many plot details are a mystery; hints are dropped with clever directing, but the film is intended to keep the viewer in the dark until its closing moments. Although it may get confusing, and though there is a supernatural element, ultimately everything falls into place.

In the end though, you won’t walk away from this movie feeling scared or grossed-out or any of those other feelings you probably associate with horror movies – A Tale of Two Sisters is tragic. It’s gorgeous, artful, atmospheric and none of the things that you would expect a horror film to be. It definitely should not be passed up. (If you have something against foreign movies or subtitles, you can watch the Hollywood remake, The Uninvited, though I wouldn’t because I hear it’s a real turd of a movie.)

-Also: The main theme fits the tone of the movie perfectly.