“I guess that I thought that me being both a manicurist and a psychotic killer would turn a guy off.”
“I hate grapes! I can’t stand grapes! I loathe grapes! All kinds of grapes. I hate purple grapes. I hate green grapes. I hate grapes with seeds. I hate grapes without seeds. I hate them peeled and non-peeled. I hate grapes in bunches, one at a time, or in groups of twos and threes. I fucking hate grapes!”
Hmmm. The first warning came from Aaron when Gorman Bechard’s Psychos in Love started to play, and I quote, “I don’t think this is supposed to be a good movie.” Well, there’s an understatement!
What sounded like a bizarre winner — two serial killers who find love over mutual hatred for grapes and mankind — turned out to be a dud. Sure, the weirdness and the DIY aspect of this movie are cool. Angela Nicholas emits a weird Molly Ringwald gone bad vibe that’s truly funny.
However, the whole plot is one dumb joke repeated over and over. It doesn’t go anywhere. Now that I reread the premise, I’m not at all surprised that this is so bad. Gory, cheap, boring, and stupid, this is an hour and a half that I’ll never get back. My only consolation is that I was half crocked when I watched it.
With Carmine Capobianco, Patti Chambers, Carla Bragoli, Carrie Gordon, Debi Thibeault, Cecelia Wilde, Robert Suttile, Lum Chang Pang, Danny Noyes, Herb Klinger, Wally Gribauskas, Peach Gribauskas, Ed Powers, Frank Christopher
“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare.”
“Look what your brother did to the door! Ain’t he got no pride in his home?”
— Old Man
I didn’t expect much when I sat down for the low budget slasher classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie that somehow escaped me all these years. I’ve got to admit, it’s not bad.
The premise is simple: five friends in their 20s, three guys and two girls, are driving a van on a road trip through rural Texas in the summer. The purpose of the trip is to check on a few dearly departed relatives of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her disabled brother, Franklin (Paul Alan Partain), after a gruesome grave robbery in the town where they grew up. It’s very Scooby Doo.
They pick up a crazy hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) outside a slaughterhouse who grosses them all out talking about killing cattle with a sledgehammer. He passes around a few photos of some he finished off himself. He’s dirty, scabby, and jittery. He snaps a photo no one asked him to, then has the nerve to charge them two bucks for it. He invites them over for dinner (head cheese) with his family before he cuts his hand with a pocketknife. Freaked, they pull over and throw his nasty ass out.
That’s not the worst of it — it’s just the beginning. Working from a screenplay he wrote with Kim Henkel, director Tobe Hooper taps into something pretty fucked up here. Mixing hicks with chainsaws is unsettling enough, but “Leatherface” (Gunnar Hansen), the masked executioner behind that sliding freezer door, is truly frightening. So is decomposing “grandfather” (John Dugan). When you stop to think about it, so is a gas station barbeque.
All the essential elements of horror are here: characters stranded in the middle of nowhere, empty houses, no phones or gas, bugs, bones, rotting corpses, chases in the dark, falling down, power tools as weapons, kidnapping, a faceless menace, and a bunch of blood.
Cinematographer Daniel Pearl creates some surprisingly artful shots, particularly on the highway, in a sunflower patch, and a scene with feathers. They look great. The artful moments, however, are far and few between. The pacing is strange: the first four victims are picked off in quick succession, leaving just Burns, who has nothing to do but run around and scream for nearly the entire second half. Even after all she goes through, no one needs that. Still, for all its flaws, I winced, I snickered, I looked away in disgust. But I saw the whole thing through to the end — no pun intended.
I hate to spoil the ending, but contrary to the movie poster…none of this is true.
With Allen Danziger, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Jim Siedow, John Larroquette
Distribution: Bryanston Pictures (USA), Astral Films (Canada), New Gold Entertainment (Italy), Succéfilm AB (Sweden), Jugendfilm-Verleih (West Germany), Bac Films (France), New Line Cinema (USA), René Chateau Productions (France), Filmways Australasian Distributors (Australia)
“We must get rid of that bitch of an American girl. Vanish! She must vanish! Make her disappear! Understand? Vanish! She must vanish. She must die! Die! Die!”
— Madame Blanc
Dario Argento’s cult classic Suspiria is a perplexing film, and not because it’s scary. It’s pretty ridiculous, tongue and cheekiness aside.
Cowritten by Argento with Daria Nicolodi from Thomas DeQuincey’s 1845 essay “Suspiria de Profundis,” the plot is prosaic: American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) enrolls at “the most famous school of dance in Europe,” the fictitious Tanz Dance Academy in Freiburg, Germany. Suzy notices immediately that something about the place isn’t quite right — maybe it’s the two students who are murdered the night she arrives. It doesn’t take long for Suzy to discover that the school is a front for something far more nefarious. Except for a few good lines here and there, the writing is terrible. The acting is even worse. The two exceptions are Alida Valli as Miss Tanner and Joan Bennett as Madame Blanc, both of whom deliver fabulously campy performances as women of power at the school.
None of this matters, though, because this isn’t Suspiria’s raison d’être. No, Suspiria is a sensory masterpiece that places style way ahead of substance. In other words, it’s eye candy.
Argento expresses his vision through his imagery, and it’s unforgettably dazzling and unique. From the opening titles to the last scene, Argento shocks, thrills, and seduces with color, light, shadow, and surreal imagery. His sets are elegant and fake, and his blood is even faker. He lights the screen with bright reds and glowing blues (when it’s not all black from night), and he keeps the perspective distorted to create a trippy dissonance. Plus, he throws in a number of creepy psychological menaces, from maggots to a dog attack to a treacherous room-size wire dustbunny. Luciano Tovoli’s camera work perfectly articulates Argento’s vision.
This is what Suspiria is all about:
The soundtrack by Goblin is a nice touch, and it goes far in creating the mood here.
For all its flaws — and there are many — Suspiria is a memorable film. We caught a digital restoration of the original print, which is five or six minutes longer. A zealous audience member engaged us in a discussion as we left the theater. He told us that Suspiria is the first of a trilogy known as “The Three Mothers,” and he enthusiastically recommended the second film, Inferno. I’ll see it someday, but it’s not a priority.
With Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosé, Barbara Magnolfi, Susanna Javicoli, Eva Axén, Rudolf Schündler, Udo Kier, Margherita Horowitz, Jacopo Mariani, Fulvio Mingozzi, Franca Scagnetti, Renato Scarpa, Serafina Scorceletti, Giuseppe Transocchi, Renata Zamengo
I’ve started a few Stephen King novels during my life, but I’ve never finished reading any of them. I have, however, seen enough movies based on his books to know what I’m getting into.
It is director Andy Muschietti’s take on King’s 1986 novel, which incidentally came out on my 16th birthday. Scary. It tells the story of a group of bullied junior high outcasts who go after a deranged clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) one summer, the Summer of 1989, after he kills stuttering Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), the fall before.
Pennywise lives in the sewer of their small town (Derry, Maine) and resurfaces every 27 years to prey on children through their worst fears.
The screenplay, written by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman, is only part of the book — presumably to allow for a sequel. It starts out well enough in the same sweet nostalgic way as, oh, Stand by Me. Muschietti gets deatils of the time period mostly right: the Cure and New Kids on the Block were big in ’89 (even though the former’s “Six Different Ways” was two albums and a compilation earlier), and the reference to Molly Ringwald fits. He goes full on Steven Spielberg, however, about halfway through, turning It into The Goonies with the kids’ “losers club” and all the action switching to a dark cavernous underground sewer. This is to say, It gets cheesy after awhile.
The kids are all decent actors, and they keep It moving along. Sadly, though, there aren’t any real surprises here. More creepy and icky than outright frightening, Muschietti relies greatly on special effects; they’re good and a lot of work went into them, but they get tiresome after awhile. Plus, some editing would’ve been a good idea; It is too long.
As It is, it’s not a stinker. However, I wasn’t moved by It, either. It is a big budget Hollywood movie aiming to be a blockbuster, and that’s It.
With Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Beverly Marsh, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Nicholas Hamilton, Jake Sim, Logan Thompson, Owen Teague, Stephen Bogaert, Stuart Hughes, Geoffrey Pounsett, Pip Dwyer, Elizabeth Saunders, Ari Cohen, Anthony Ulc, Javier Botet, Katie Lunman, Carter Musselman, Tatum Lee
Production: New Line Cinema, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions
In his latest film, peer pressure horror comedy Mon Mon Mon Monsters [報告老師! 怪怪怪怪物!] [Bào Gào Lǎo Shī! Guài Guài Guài Guài Wù!], writer/director Giddens Ko takes us on a wild ride that leaves us pondering who the real mosters are. He subtly gives us his answer in the title.
High school student Lin Shu-wei (Deng Yu-kai) is a neo maxi zoom dweebie with a masochistic edge. Why else would he tolerate the constant flying bits of paper, chairs pulled out from under him, and general teenage tomfoolery directed at him?
Lin becomes the target of Bully Ren-hao (Kent Tsai), a closet psychopath who relentlessly dreams up new ways to torment him. Ren-hao has two flunkies, Liao Kuo-feng (James Lai) and Yeh Wei-chu (Tao Meng) who do his bidding. Ren-hao’s girlfriend, Wu Si-hua (Bonnie Liang), contributes to the hell — never removing her star-studded headset as she snaps photos with her iPhone.
A pacificst teacher (Carolyn Chen) has an idea to get the boys on common ground: she assigns the four of them to community service feeding senile elderlies at a decrepit old age home that looks like something straight out of Blade Runner. Lin has a bad feeling about it, and he’s right: in the process of robbing an old man, the boys corner and capture a flesh-eating female beast (Lin Pei-hsin) they find roaming around.
They take her to an abandoned recreation center, where they chain her up and torture her with light, fire, and starvation. Lin reluctantly goes along with it, but he reaches a point where he either has to put up or shut up. Meanwhile, the beast’s protective and pissed off older sister (Eugenie Liu) is looking for her. This is where Lin is put to the test: does he have any character, and can he stay true to it?
Despite inconsistent pacing, Mon Mon Mon Monsters is overall engaging. Ko has something to say about the moral fabric of today’s youth, but he says it in a mostly lighthearted way. The acting is solid all around, which is pretty amazing for a slasher flick. The “monsters” are sweet in their own way. It’s smart to show them right off the bat rather than let us wonder what they look like; they come off as more human than the teenagers in this movie.
The special effects are pretty good, and the way Ko plays with light and color is downright spectacular. Quite a few scenes here are magnificent even if they’re cheesy and gory (that scene on the bus is fabulous, as are the scene where the teacher ignites in the gym and pretty much any of the scenes in the recreation center). Underneath all the blood and hate is a truth about the social ladder.
With Kai Ko, Vivian Sung, Emerson Tsai, Phil Hou, Bruce Hung
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Rusty Cundieff’s anthology Tales from the Hood is a good idea: four vignettes of black life presented as horror stories — so, a horror flick with a message, more commentary than a “scary movie.” I see why Spike Lee attached his name to it (as executive producer).
Cundieff and cowriter Darin Scott pick material topics that still resonate more than 20 years later: racism, police brutality, domestic abuse, drugs, and black-on-black violence. The messages are strong, but unfortunately the writing always isn’t.
The best segment is “Hard Core Convert,” which is also the closer. Jerome a.k.a. Crazy K (Lamont Bentley) is a drug dealer shot in a gang hit. He wakes up in a Kafkaesue prison, where a stern nurse (Lira Angel) subjects him to rehabilitation methods straight from A Clockwork Orange. This particular piece and the way it’s executed are both powerful and memorable.
The second segment, “Boys Do Get Bruised,” takes on domestic abuse. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. The other two segments, “Rogue Cop Revelation” and “KKK Comeuppance,” fall flat.
Tales from the Hood targets the right notes, but it misses many of them. For one thing, the approach here is really heavy-handed. Plus, the impact is diluted by the silly bit that frames the stories: a funeral home in South Central Los Angeles run by weirdo Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III). He tells the four stories to three “gangstas,” Ball (De’aundre Bonds), Bulldog (Samuel Monroe Jr.), and Stack (Joe Torry), who stumble into the home looking for drugs. I could have done without this device — it served as a distraction more than anything.
With Wings Hauser, Tom Wright, Anthony Griffith, Michael Massee, Duane Whitaker, David Alan Grier, Brandon Hammond, Rusty Cundieff, Paula Jai Parker, Corbin Bernsen, Roger Guenveur Smith, Art Evans, Rosalind Cash, Chris Edwards , Troy Cartwright, Brenden Jefferson, Tim Hutchinson, John A. Cundieff, Bobby McGee, Christina Cundieff, Ricky Harris, Darin Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Scotty Brulee, Ryan Williams, Kamau Holloway, Tasha Johnson
“Shit, wrists are for girls. I’m slitting my throat.”
— Ginger Fitzgerald
Puberty is tough enough without your older sister turning into a werewolf. Just ask 15-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins), who with her sib, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), stages gory death scenes and takes pictures of them, like a pair of morose Cindy Shermans. When they were kids, they made a pact to die together. Their classmates think they’re weird.
A run-in with mean girl Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton) sparks a war. Walking through the woods on their way to exact revenge one October night with a full moon, Ginger gets her first period. She also gets attacked by a mysterious and savage beast — the same one responsible for eviscerating all the dogs in the neighborhood.
Ginger turns increasingly feral over the next few days, growing more aggressive and sexual. Her wounds, which heal almost immediately, are sprouting hair. Oh yeah, she’s also developing what appears to be…a tail?
Brigitte, or “B,” connects with cute, brooding dope dealer Sam (Kris Lemche), who struck and killed the beast while he was driving his van down the road where it ran after it attacked Gretchen. He’s got a recipe for what might be the cure. The clock is ticking as Gretchen gets farther out of control, and Halloween — with another full moon — approaches.
On paper — all I had going into it because I’d never heard of it — John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps sounds dubious at best. The premise seems trite. The part about the period sounds stupid, and the analogy to “becoming a lady” is obvious.
Turns out, Ginger Snaps is surprisingly good. Incorporating familiar elements of teen movies and splatter flicks, Fawcett, who wrote the screenplay with Karen Walton, pushes the “suspension of disbelief” envelope. He knows just when to stop, though. There’s quite a bit of gore here. The special effects are dated but effective nonetheless.
What really sells this film, though, is the acting: Perkins and Isabelle evoke a warmth to their relationship despite their offputting personalities and a fierceness to their bond. They’re totally believable as sisters. The final scene, which involves only them, is downright sad. Crushing, even.
With Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss, John Bourgeois, Peter Keleghan, Christopher Redman, Lindsay Leese, Wendii Fulford, Pak-Kong Ho, Lucy Lawless
Production: Motion International, Copperheart Entertainment, Water Pictures, Lions Gate Films, Oddbod Productions, TVA International
Distribution: Motion International (Canada), Unapix Entertainment Productions (USA), Lions Gate Films
“Oh, no tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering!”
— “Pinhead” (the Lead Cenobite)
Roger Ebert famously derided Clive Barker’s directorial debut, the sadomasochistic horror classic Hellraiser, calling it “without wit, style, or reason” for its “bankruptcy of imagination” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/hellraiser-1987). Well, talk about tearing your soul apart!
Hellraiser isn’t particularly scary, but it is creepy and fucking weird. I certainly don’t find it lacking wit, style, or imagination; quite the opposite. It’s a ridiculous, kinky, and bloody telenovela. Based on Barker’s short novel The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser takes the idea of something in the attic to a place no one else has.
Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) have a strained marriage. After leaving Manhattan to go live in his abandoned boyhood home somewhere on the Atlantic coast, Julia finds Larry’s brother — who’s her ex lover — Frank (Sean Chapman in the flashbacks and Oliver Smith in the present) reanimated without skin in the attic. The movie doesn’t explain it, but the novel does: Larry cuts his hand and drips blood onto the attic floor, right where Frank’s comeshot dried up in the floorboards. Nice.
An unrelenting hedonist, Frank lost his body and soul to demons in his quest for sexual gratification. It started with an antique puzzle box that opened a portal to hell and summoned the Cenobites, led by “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley), the apparent spokesman for the motley foursome. Now, Frank needs blood, which is where Julia comes in. Too bad Frank’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), keeps getting in the way.
The special effects look cheap and the plot is choppy. It isn’t clear at first whether the cuts to Frank and Julia getting it on are flashbacks or fantasy, so this detail could have been done better. Nonetheless, Hellraiser is totally engrossing (and at points, just gross). Barker makes a silly story bizarre enough to keep you interested in what happens next. Higgins effectively channels a tortured melodramatic ’50s B-movie damsel in distress. And her big ’80s hair and sunglasses are fabulous!
Perhaps the best thing Hellraiser has going for it, though, is its twisted sense of humor: all of this happens — and will happen again — because Frank thinks with his dick. Now that’s funny.
With Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Grace Kirby, Robert Hines, Anthony Allen, Leon Davis, Michael Cassidy, Frank Baker, Kenneth Nelson, Gay Baynes, Dave Atkins, Oliver Parker
Production: Cinemarque Entertainment BV, Film Futures, Rivdel Films
Distribution: New World Pictures (USA), Entertainment Film Distributors (UK), Highlight Film (West Germany), Paraiso Films S.A. (Spain), Prooptiki (Greece), Roadshow Film Distributors (Australia), Toei Classic (Japan), Vestron Benelux (Netherlands)
“Now, I have something to tell you…I’m not like other guys.”
— Michael Jackson
A very young Michael Jackson on a date with…his girlfriend (Ola Ray)? Jackson playing a werewolf, a zombie, and a lizard-eyed creature? Vincent Price reading an outro? Bad ’80s hair? You know it’s thriller, thriller night!
It’s not his best song, but Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a fucking cool video. It features all the showmanship he’s known for — the dancing, the weirdness, the bigness of the whole thing, that red jacket and those white socks, oh and a setting in the midst of seedy urban decay, this time a cemetery apparently somewhere downtown. Directed by John Landis, Thriller is clever: what starts as a cheesy horror movie turns out to be…a cheesy horror movie. Loaded with references to Night of the Living Dead and An American Werewolf in London,Thriller demonstrates that Jackson actually had a sense of humor.
I don’t put a music video on my blog every day. In fact, Michael Jackson’s Thriller is (so far) the only one. Why? In my quest to see as much as possible on the Library of Congress National Film Registry, I am obligated to include the final single and title track from the legendary pop star’s massive blockbuster album Thriller (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thriller_(Michael_Jackson_album) ). The song was not written by Jackson — Rod Temperton came up with it.
This video truly was a “seismic shift” — longer, more dramatic, and reaching beyond the song, it proved that music videos could be more than promotional clips; they literally could be little movies — or as here, bona fide events — that attract a huge audience, and thus worthy of a big budget. I can cite a number of artists who followed the template that Jackson set with Thriller.
With Marcea Lane, Kim Blank, Lorraine Fields, Tony Fields, Michele Simmons, Vincent Peters, Michael Peters, Vincent Paterson, Michael De Lorenzo, Ben Lokey, John Command, Richard Gaines, Mark Sellers, Suzan Stadner, Diane Geroni, Suga Pop
Max Fleischer’s Snow-White is nothing like Walt Disney’s — and that’s good. Fleischer offers a dark, edgy, and weirdly trippy death-focused version of the story most know from Disney. He “staffs” this short with characters from his Betty Boop cartoons.
Betty Boop (Mae Questel) — as Snow White — is off to a bad start when a magic mirror with Cab Calloway in it tells the Evil Queen (Questel), who looks and acts a lot like Olive Oyl, that Betty is “the fairest in the land.” The Queen orders her flunkies, Bimbo and Ko-Ko the Clown, to kill Betty — off with her head!
Bimbo and Ko-Ko don’t really want to hurt Betty. They take her to the forest, where she escapes by jumping into a river that freezes her into a box that looks like a coffin and carries her down a hill to the seven dwarves. Meanwhile, Bimbo and Ko-Ko fall into a hole and land in a cave where the Queen is. She turns them into monsters as they sing a blues number.
The Queen asks the mirror again who the fairest in the land is, and this time the mirror explodes into a puff of smoke that puts her face to face with Betty. Things don’t end well for the Queen.
Roland C. Crandall’s animation is rough and jagged and kind of jumpy, giving the whole thing a nervous energy and a sketchy vibe. He loads this cartoon with ghosts, skeletons, armored executioners, and other creepy goblins. Ko-Ko dancing to “St. James Infirmary Blues” is rotoscoped from footage of Calloway performing the song. This Snow-White has a Cajun flavor to it. It’s an interesting approach.