Archive for May, 2010

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD

Posted in 2010, Apocalyptic Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Sequels, Zombie Movies with tags , , , , on May 31, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A beautiful field of green with sprawling hills in the background. Birds are singing everywhere. A woman rides by on horseback. We close in on MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES taking a leisurely walk through the field.)

MA: Welcome! We’re here in this field to review the new George Romero movie SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, which could have been titled, 1001 NEW WAYS TO KILL A ZOMBIE.

LS: 1001? I only counted eight ways, except for the always reliable bullet to the head, which gets old real quick.

MA: In this film, we see fire extinguishers used on zombies, flare guns, even people fishing for zombies. All good ways to off a zombie, but in this day and age, when zombies seem to be popping up on our movie screens with alarming regularity, it’s not enough.

LS (counting on hand): That’s THREE ways.

MA: Haven’t you ever heard of hyperbole?

(Suddenly a horde of ZOMBIES surrounds them)

MA: For example, say you’re having a picnic, and you’re only armed with condiments, like mustard and ketchup. We found that mustard works best, especially the spicy brown kind. Observe.

(MA approaches a zombie and places a container of spicy mustard at his lips. Zombie takes container and begins sucking down contents. His face turns beet red, yellow smoke pours from his ears, and then his head explodes.)

MA: See.

LS: I dunno. I eat that kind of mustard all the time and it never hurt me none. What about this? Let’s say you’re out for a summer evening stroll with your girl, and all you have on you is your trusty mallet. (Turns and swings mallet at zombie, crushing its head.)

MA: Smashing! Say you’re in the middle of spring cleaning, doing a little vacuuming. (Approaches a vacuum set up on a strip of rug.) This works very nicely. (Turns on vacuum, begins to vacuum rug as a zombie approaches. MA hoists vacuum up and aims it at zombie’s head. The vacuum sucks its head clear off!)

LS: Wow, that vacuum really sucks! Or, you might be enjoying a nice game of mini-golf. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck behind slow poke-zombies on a mini-golf course. (Lifts golf club.) Four! (Swings club and knocks heads of four zombies in a row.)

MA: Basically, there’s pretty much nothing you can’t use to kill a zombie. That being said, you still want to avoid being bit by one. (MA & LS scurry across field away from zombies.) Okay, since they’re not exactly fleet of foot, we should be in good shape to get our review done here. Shall I begin?

LS (Imitating Curly from the Three Stooges): Soitinly!

MA: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is the latest zombie movie by the king of zombie movie-making, George A. Romero, the guy who really set off the zombie craze way back with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). While zombie movies existed before then, the way we view zombies in the movies today began with that movie.

LS: Y’know, I’m a fan of the old kind of zombies, too. The voodoo kind. Romero’s creatures were originally meant to be called “ghouls” but instead got tagged with the name zombie – and when people think of zombies now, they think of the Romero kind. But the two are completely different.

MA: Yes, like the Bela Lugosi movie WHITE ZOMBIE (1932). I love those movies too.

When SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD begins, the majority of the human race has already been turned into zombies. On a rural island off the coast of Delaware, Patrick O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) has decided that it’s up to him to take a leadership role and protect the inhabitants of the island. So he goes around with a band of his merry men shooting all the zombies in the head. This makes perfect sense, but his arch enemy on the island, Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick) has decided otherwise.

LS (imitating Jerry Seinfeld): I found myself wondering, “Who ARE these silly people?”

MA: It seems, Muldoon and O’Flynn have been feuding on the island for years, and it’s Muldoon’s take that if they wait long enough, a cure will be found and the zombies will return to their human form, which I think is flawed logic, since these folks are already dead, but more on that later. Anyway, it’s Muldoon’s method of choice to chain the zombies and keep them alive rather than shoot them in the head, and so he and his bigger band of men banish O’Flynn from the island.

With all the Irish names and accents, and the green country scenery, it really looks like the action is taking place in Ireland, not on some island off the coast of Delaware!

LS: I agree. I almost expected the movie to turn into an Irish Spring commercial, with singing zombies!

MA: Anyway, the action switches to Philadelphia, where we meet a group of four soldiers led by Sarge Crocket (Alan Van Sprang), a character we also saw in Romero’s last zombie movie, DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007). This group is wandering the land, trying to stay alive. After they save a resourceful teenage boy (Devon Bostick) from a group of savage rednecks, they cross paths with the banished Patrick O’Flynn, who convinces them to go to his island in order to find that better place to live.

LS (laughs): Yeah, “convinces” them after they kill all his men in a shootout. As for a better place to live – of course, O’Flynn has his own agenda, which is to return home from exile to get revenge on old Seamus, with the help of some well-armed soldiers.

MA: When they get to the island, they are shot at by Muldoon’s men, and Crocket is wounded and one of his men is killed. This sets up the climactic confrontation between O’Flynn, Crocket, and their people, against Muldoon and his men. What do the zombies have to do with all this? In terms of story, not a whole heck of a lot. They’re around so they can be killed in all sorts of ways. Of course, they’re also the central reason for the most present rift between O’Flynn and Muldoon.

I found SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD surprisingly entertaining. In terms of story and character development, I thought it was well written by George Romero. He was in his element for sure.

LS: Are you sure we saw the same movie?

MA: Well, you raise an interesting point. You saw it on the big screen at the movies, and I saw it on cable television on OnDemand. since it was released there the same day it hit theaters. And while I doubt that in itself would make THAT much of a difference, I do have a beef with Comcast, which is that this a brand new movie–which I had to pay for– and it wasn’t a widescreen print. I think that’s a rip-off. But, on the other hand, maybe the movie worked better up close and personal!

Like I was saying, I liked the characters a lot, as well as the acting performances. My favorite character and performance was Alan Van Sprang as Sarge Crocket. He was a convincing hero, and he got to deliver lots of cool lines.

LS: Yeah, Sarge was okay. One in a long line of military/mercenary heroes who pop up a lot in Romero’s zombie movies.

MA: Kenneth Welsh also turned in a good performance as Patrick O’Flynn. The rest of the acting was also very good.

LS: Are you kidding me? I thought this movie had the weakest cast Romero has used in a long time. He usually works with unknown and even amateur actors, due to budget constraints, and sometimes it adds to the whole documentary feel of his flicks. This time around, I thought the cast was one of his weakest and their spouting of dialogue was so stilted it had me laughing several times.

MA: I thought they were good, especially compared to a lot of the low budget performances I see on DVD these days.

But even better here was the writing by George Romero. These characters as written were interesting and fun to watch. At one point in the movie, Crocket says of O’Flynn, “Why do I like you so much?” I found myself asking the same question, about all the characters, and the answer was because of some good writing!

LS (scratches head): Are you SURE we saw the same movie? I’m a hardcore Romero fan, but I thought this was the weakest script by him yet. The dialogue was downright silly at times. And with the stilted acting, it seemed more campy than serious.

MA: Well, it WAS campy. Did you think that was unintentional?

LS: I hate to say it, but yes, I think it was meant to be serious.

MA: I didn’t think that at all. I had the feeling throughout that it was supposed to be campy.

There are a lot of neat scenes and images in SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD as well. I thought the image of zombies swimming underwater was a good one and rather creepy, which was rare in a film that truly isn’t all that scary.

LS: Lucio Fulci did the underwater zombies decades ago in his DAWN OF THE DEAD rip-off ZOMBIE (1979). So it’s not that original.

MA: Still, there are lots of memorable sequences. At one point we see moaning zombie heads on impaled sticks, put there by those scary rednecks, which makes the point that some humans are worse than zombies.

LS: The heads on the sticks thing was a very cool image. Even in his worst movies, Romero delivers a few cool images.

MA: While SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is an entertaining movie, what it ultimately has working against it is its own zombie formula, which has grown old and predictable. It’s not fresh, not scary, and the creative killings of the zombies serve almost as a self-parody.

LS: You can say that again. Killing zombies has become almost boring at this point. Which is an awful thing to say! And no way are there enough creative ways to kill them this time around.

MA: At times, I thought I was watching ZOMBIELAND (2009). Now, ZOMBIELAND was funnier, as it was supposed to be funny, but the feel of SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD was often similar, and when you go back to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it’s oh so very different. That movie was scary. This one is not.

LS: ZOMBIELAND was much better than SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. Which is downright depressing, considering Romero is the originator of all this stuff.

MA: But this doesn’t take away from the fact that SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is a very entertaining movie. It’s well-written, the zombie sequences are done the way you expect Romero to do them, with guts and pizzazz, it’s got some really memorable characters, and the acting from all the players is really good. It even goes a little “deep” in terms of story, with the debate over can the zombies be saved.

I did find this a flawed argument, however. I mean, these folks are already dead, so if there’s a cure, then what happens? They just die?

LS: I didn’t get this at all. Even if they were cured of their need to eat human flesh, they’d still be dead people. What exactly would be a “cure” for such creatures? And the whole experiment Muldoon does, to try to get zombies to eat animals instead of people, is simply pointless. So what if they ate animals instead? They’d still be dumb-ass monsters. This entire plotline is pointless.

MA: Maybe they would come back to life as a new life form, a “post-zombie” creature.

LS: Romero already did this before, when he had the Dr. Logan & Bub storyline in DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). And these zombies were no way as smart as Bub.

The only way I found this movie entertaining was to laugh at. Its logic was flawed, the characters were hokey, and the dialogue often quite goofy. O’Flynn and Muldoon seem like stereotypes who walked off the set of THE QUIET MAN (1952).

(PATRICK O’FLYNN pops up from the tall grass, shaking with anger)

O’FLYNN: Gosh and Begora! How dare ye accuse me of being a stereotype! I’d hit ye with me box of Lucky Charms if I weren’t late for the pub!

LS: When I left this movie, I found myself wondering if for once I actually hated a George Romero movie. This really bummed me out. The guy is an idol of mine, and obviously you go into an idol’s movies wanting to love them.

Who knew George Romero would become the new George Lucas? Remember back when Lucas made his very first STAR WARS trilogy? They were revered as these science fiction masterpieces.

MA: Well, the first two films were. I think the slump began with RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983).

LS: And then, years later, he came back with his second trilogy and people were very angry and disappointed. Well, I used to laugh, cuz my favorite trilogy, Romero’s original three Dead films (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and the underrated DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)) were three great movies that were never tainted by bad sequels.

Until now, that is. Now, that Romero went and made his own second trilogy.

I still say the first of the new batch, LAND OF THE DEAD (2005), is a really fun ride, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. It wasn’t in the same league with the first three films at all, but hell, after 20 years of waiting, I was thrilled to have even a flawed Romero zombie flick.

DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) seemed to be a step down. It felt different from Romero’s other zombie movies, kind of cold and forgettable. Except for the Amish zombie killer – who was easily the best thing in the entire movie – there’s not a lot that stayed with me about DIARY.

MA: Would you like a tissue to dab the tears out of your eyes?

LS: SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD is just 90 minutes of hokum. I didn’t care for the characters or their plotlines for the most part. The only characters I really liked at all were the women – Tomboy (Athena Karkanis), the only woman in among the soldiers, who I thought had real presence (but not a lot to do). And O’Flynn’s rebellious daughter, Jane (Kaltheen Munroe). The rest of the characters just seemed one-dimensional to me.

I used to laugh at STAR WARS fans for the way Lucas screwed up the second trilogy. Now the STAR WARS fans are laughing at me.

(In the background, zombies are suddenly dressed up like STAR WARS characters, rolling on the ground in fits of uncontrollable laughter.)

MA (shaking head): You zombies better watch yourselves, or I might just come after you with this! (Waves a container of horseradish.)

In terms of this movie, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, it is what it is, a zombie movie way late in the zombie career of George Romero, and so while originality and scares are lacking, the story, characters, and bang-for-your-buck entertainment value are all there in their walking dead glory, and so I give SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD 3 Knives.

LS: I guess I expect more from a George Romero movie. Personally, I wish he’d just stop making zombie movies and go back to more diverse flicks like his vampire masterpiece, MARTIN (1977). I’m guessing he keeps making new zombie movies because that’s the only thing he can get funding for, but he just turned 70, and I’d hate to remember him for something like SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. I’m hoping he has one more masterpiece left in him.

I didn’t like this one. Not the plot, not the characters, not the goofy dialogue. Even the movie’s “big messages” were actually rather puny. But for the sake of camp value, I’ll give it one and a half stars. Although it breaks my heart to do it.

MA: Here, have a whole box of tissues.

Well, obviously, I liked it better than you did, mostly because I’m not as big a Romero fan as you are, and my expectations weren’t as high. So, my message to the folks out there is simple: Don’t expect anything groundbreaking, but do expect to be entertained.

(LS moans)

(Gunshots ring out, and a group of armed men approach, firing their rifles.)

MEN: Look! Zombies! Kill them!

MA: Wait, we’re not zombies! LL, stop moaning! They think we’re zombies!

(Gunshots fill the air))

(CUT TO: another part of the field, where moaning zombie heads are impaled on spikes. In front, are the impaled heads of LS and MA.)

MA HEAD: Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

LS HEAD (moaning): Why did you let me down, George Romero?

MA HEAD: Well, folks, I guess that about does it for this week’s column. We’ll see you next time.

(LS HEAD continues to sob)

MA HEAD: Damn! I have to sneeze. This isn’t going to be pretty. Hurry up and fade to black already. (Rears back to sneeze.) Aa—aaa—aaa—ch—!

Fade to Black.

—END—

Michael Arruda gives this movie 3 Knives

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L.L. Soares gives this movie 1 and a half Knives

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© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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FAREWELL, DENNIS HOPPER

Posted in 2010, Obituaries and Appreciations with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2010 by knifefighter

Farewell Dennis Hopper: An Appreciation
by L.L. Soares

This being a movie site, we take it personally when a cinema great dies, and Dennis Hopper was one of the greats. That’s not to say all his movies – and all his roles – were great. There were some clunkers in there as well. But Hopper almost always rose above his material, and certainly left a lasting impression on those who followed his career.

Dennis Hopper died yesterday (May 29, 2010) after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 74, and worked right up to the end.  In the last few months, he was mostly in the media because of his illness and because of a very ugly divorce with his wife. Let’s hope he’s finally at peace and free of pain.

Hopper’s career spanned  over 50 years and countless movies and television roles. Toward the end, he was a regular on the Showtime series CRASH, based on the Oscar-winning movie (not the superior David Cronenberg film of the same name).

Just some of his finest moments include:

  • Being in two James Dean films – REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (19556),  where he played one of the “goons” who harassed Dean’s character, and  also Dean’s final film, the Texas oil epic GIANT (1956). Dean only made three theatrical films, and he’s still an iconic figure in film history. Hopper was also a good friend of Dean’s offscreen.
  • NIGHT TIDE (1961) – a underrated little gem directed by Curtis Harrington, where Hopper played a man who falls in love with a mermaid. It was actually a bit darker and more melancholy than it sounds.
  • He had roles in tons of television shows during the 50s and 60s, especially lots of westerns, including the big ones like GUNSMOKE, BONANAZA and THE RIFLEMAN
  • He was an astronaut in the alien/vampire movie QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966) also directed by Curtis Harrington (and produced by Roger Corman)
  • He was in psychedelic films like Roger Corman’s LSD film THE TRIP (1967) and the Monkees’ movie HEAD (1968), both written by Jack Nicholson. And it was no secret that Hopper used a lot of drugs in his real life, too. But he sobered up in the 1980s, and had a big career resurgence soon after that.
  • He directed and co-wrote EASY RIDER (1969), arguably the most important counter-culture movie of the 1960s, where he and Peter Fonda rode cross country on motorcycles, meeting some interesting characters along the way. If Hopper had stopped making movies after EASY RIDER, he still would have earned his place in movie history.
  • He had roles in some of the biggest movies of all time, including COOL HAND LUKE (1967), TRUE GRIT (1969), APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), as well as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, WATERWORLD (1995)
  • He was in foreign films, like Wim Wenders’s THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977), playing Tom Ripley from the Patricia Highsmith books.
  • He was “Lefty” – tracking down the evil Sawyer family with vengeance on his mind – in Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)
  • He played Frank Booth in David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece, BLUE VELVET. Frank was a psychopathic drug lord in a small town, part of the seedy underbelly that most people didn’t see. His deranged, intense performance made Booth one of the most memorable villains in movie history.
  • He starred in cool little indie movies like PARIS TROUT (1991), RED ROCK WEST (1993), BASQUIAT (1996), and JESUS’ SON (1999), just to name a few.
  • He was Clifford Worley in the underrated TRUE ROMANCE (1993), written by Quentin Tarantino
  • He did voices for popular video games like GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY (2002).
  • He was one of the stars of George A. Romero’s big “comeback” movie in 2005, the zombie flick LAND OF THE DEAD.

And that’s just some of his work. Hopper is gone now, and we’ll miss him. But we’ve got a lot of movies to remind us just how cool he was.

Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET – maybe Dennis Hopper’s greatest role ever.

In the Spooklight: THE FURY

Posted in 2010, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , on May 28, 2010 by knifefighter

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE FURY
by Michael Arruda

THE FURY (1978) starring Kirk Douglas (Michael Douglas’ dad and a screen legend long before Michael started acting) is one of director Brian De Palma’s more satisfying thrillers.

Brian De Palma has enjoyed a long and successful career, and while there are those who only know him as the director of SCARFACE (1983) (you remember, Al Pacino and a scene with a certain chainsaw?) those of us in the horror genre know him as a director of very stylish thrillers, such as CARRIE (1976) and DRESSED TO KILL (1980).  THE FURY isn’t his most famous film, but it’s one of his best.

Now, the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but story’s not the forte of a Brian De Palma movie.  His films are about style, and in that regard, THE FURY doesn’t disappoint.  It’s also quite violent and gory.  We have blood spurting from people’s eyes, heads through windshields, and its signature scene, an entire body exploding, shown from multiple angles several times over.  Of course, the visuals aren’t up to today’s standards, and the exploding body looks fake, but it’s still a bloody good show!

Kirk Douglas plays a government agent whose son Robin (Andrew Stevens) has special psychokinetic powers.  The son is kidnapped, by Douglas’ best friend, no less, the head of this secret government organization, played with nice coldness by John Cassavetes.  Why they actually want Robin and his powers is never clearly explained.

The film’s plot follows Douglas’ efforts to find and rescue his son while staying ahead of Cassavetes’ henchmen who are out to kill him.  To find his son, Douglas seeks the help of another young person with psychokinetic powers, Gillian (Amy Irving), who also happens to possess the power to make people bleed just by touching them.

The film is full of well-crafted suspense scenes, and while I wouldn’t call it scary, it’s certainly entertaining throughout.

THE FURY has a great cast, led by Kirk Douglas and John Cassavetes, but also includes topnotch performances by Carrie Snodgress and Charles Durning in supporting roles.  There’s also a young Dennis Franz and a very young Daryl Hannah, in fact, it’s her film debut.

John Williams wrote the powerful music score.

And while I really enjoy watching Kirk Douglas on screen, and he does steal most of the scenes he’s in, THE FURY really belongs to director De Palma.  There’s some great chase scenes, good use of slow motion photography, which I usually hate, but here it works well, and lots of fine humorous touches.  My favorite is Douglas’ encounter with “Mother Knuckles.”

John Farris wrote the screenplay based on his novel, and he does a terrific job fleshing out his characters.  That’s always been one of my favorite parts of THE FURY.  We really get inside the characters’ heads.  We feel Gillian’s anxiety, for example, at possessing such deadly power.  The same goes for Carrie Snodgress’ character and her motives for helping Douglas, and of course, the John Cassavetes character, who’s one of my favorite horror movie villains.

It’s not a four star classic like THE EXORCIST (1973), it doesn’t have a following like THE OMEN (1976), but THE FURY is slick, entertaining, and fun.  Filled with talent from all angles, good directing, acting, writing, music, the whole package, THE FURY is a well crafted thriller well worth two hours of your time.

Plus it gives new meaning to the old jingle, “reach out and touch someone.”  Reach out and touch someone, and make them bleed.  Better keep some band aids handy!

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: FUNERAL HOME!

Posted in Grindhouse, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , on May 27, 2010 by knifefighter

SUBRUBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 5:
“Norman Bates Shoulda Sued…”
by Nick Cato


August, 1982.  Horror fans my age were looking for one last kick before entering our freshman year of high school.  Many of us wouldn’t own a VCR for at least another year.  The slasher-film craze was in full effect, but a film that seemingly came out of nowhere began its kamikaze advertising campaign on late night television:

The TV commercial featured a zoom-out of the poster (see above image) with a man’s voice saying something like “Funeral Home is so shocking we can’t even show you ONE SECOND of what goes on in it!  We DARE you to see FUNERAL HOME!”  Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find this clip anywhere on the web…I’m curious to see if it’s included on any DVD editions as an extra.

Needless to say, FUNERAL HOME turned out to be another fine example of false advertising.  But being pre-freshman (and horror fans who didn’t need much conning), my friends and I hit the theater on opening night (at Staten Island’s now defunct Rae Twin Cinema) and one of my buddies (the only non-horror fan of the group) still isn’t talking to me, even though I offered to pay his bus fare home.

FUNERAL HOME turned out to be a tedious, slow-moving turd about some girl who goes to her grandmother’s small town to help her open a new bed and breakfast business.  The place has been converted from Granny’s old family business, the town’s funeral home (cue PSYCHO-music).  Not long after the granddaughter arrives, she hears her Granny talking to herself and to her husband as if he were still alive. Yep, Granddad’s been dead a while but Granny refuses to believe it (at this point—even at my young age—I rolled my eyes and came within 5 seconds of leaving the theater).

I remember the audience kept laughing over the fact this new “tourist home” seemed continually crowded, because the small town it was situated in had only one attraction of even partial interest: a lake, where the film’s ONLY excuse for it’s R-rating takes place (a bloated corpse is seen drifting by a startled swimmer–come to think of it, the film could have been rated PG with no problem!).  One thing about a suburban (and urban) grindhouse in New York: if you’re lost or missed anything happening on screen, just be patient; it’s only a matter of time before some loud-mouthed schmuck (who hasn’t read a book since SEE JANE RUN) who’s as lost as you are openly asks what’s going on as if he’s sitting in his living room.  And SOMEONE’s bound to answer louder than the asker just to shut the guy up (just wait till my forthcoming review of 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS to see this rude cinematic practice taken to its limit).

Back to FUNERAL HOME: Between the great (false) TV commercial and the creepy poster we stared at for a half hour waiting to get in to the sold-out theater, we had expected some kind of zombie film.  What we got was 90 minutes of complete boredom, broken up only by a few unintentionally funny scenes of Granny’s mentally challenged groundskeeper that, to this day, make me wonder if he wasn’t a truly mentally challenged person (and, if not, the man should have received some kind of bad-film acting award).  And to make matters worse, my early suspicions came true during the films completely suspense-free climax: FUNERAL HOME was basically some kind of “homage” to PSYCHO (1960), complete with the granddaughter discovering Gramps’s rotted corpse as Grandma chases her through the basement. If memory serves right, someone even slaps the room’s lamp, sending the lighting into swing mode, creating a blasphemous PSYCHO-finale rip-off (NOT homage!) that must’ve made Hitchcock roll over and puke in his coffin.

With its complete absence of gore, nudity, profanity, suspense, AND plot, the producers of FUNERAL HOME had pure audacity advertising this PG-rated snooze-fest as an R-rated horror film.  But thanks to some well-timed popcorn-throwing at Gramps’s corpse (had someone come to an earlier show that day?) and some funny commentary from my fellow suburbanites, I still had a much better time than I would a couple years later at ZOMBIE ISLAND MASSACRE (see my earlier column for details).

If anyone happens to locate the aforementioned TV trailer, please post a link here—and if any PSYCHO fans rent this out of curiosity, remember to drink a 4-pack of Red Bull beforehand.

-END-

© Copyright 2010 by Nick Cato

A Farewell to LOST

Posted in 2010, TV Shows with tags , on May 25, 2010 by knifefighter

A FAREWELL TO LOST
by L.L. Soares

I’m not sure what most of the hardcore fans of LOST thought of the final two-and-a-half hour episode. But as someone who watched the show since Day One, and stuck with it through the times when it seemed to lose its way, I found the ending to be predictable, yet solid. And at least it had an actual ending.

I was never a fanatic for the show. I thought it was smart and interesting (especially its riffs on physics – the riffs on philosophy didn’t seem as clever). And it was one of the rare shows that handled time travel in a way that wasn’t a complete bore (The show HEROES, for example, had a great first season, but “jumped the shark” as soon as Hiro went back in time to ancient Japan – which completely killed the show’s forward momentum – something that the series never really recovered from).

By the end, I even found myself liking characters I’d normally detested. Like Desmond. I never liked him and found his constant uttering of the word “Brutha” to be more than a little irritating. By the end, I not only had a change of heart about him, but I almost found his “Bruthas” kind of endearing. Also, Charlie. By the end I didn’t really like him, but I didn’t dislike him as much as I did earlier in the show’s history. Which is odd, because as a rock star character, I should have liked him. Then again, maybe it was Dominic Moneghan I didn’t like.

The final night began with a two hour recap of the entire six seasons. This was quite a feat in itself, but it worked well. The recap alternated between clips of the show, and members of the cast and crew talking about a particular character or storyline. It actually did a good job of refreshing my memory about a few things that had happened early on – and tying a lot of things together, showing how some seemingly trivial things in the beginning actually did link to the final outcome, and the show wasn’t a bunch of random events after all.

Throughout the night, too, they aired emails and notes from reviewers/fans saying stuff like “Gee, I’ll miss this show.” A little hokey, but considering the rabid fan-base, it was a nice touch. My favorites were “I never understood Trekkies until I became a Lostie” and, a sad one, “The last six years have been my longest sustained relationship, sorry to see it end” (or something to that effect).

Then it got to the final episode itself. As I said, it didn’t have a lot of surprises. We knew that good would overcome evil (unfortunately, because I thought the Man in Black was a much more interesting character than Jacob). Jack temporarily became Jacob’s replacement. The MIB was vanquished, and the world was saved from imminent destruction (Rats!). In an alternate timeline, where the plane never crashed, Desmond and Hurley gathered together everyone who had been on the island, so even in the world where the crash didn’t happen, these people find each other. As they do, each person (or at least most of them) seems to have some kind of epiphany where they finally remember the time they were on the island – like they suddenly have access to a keyhole where they can look in on this alternate world.

Between flashbacks, flash forwards (where we got to see glimpses of the future before it happened), to flash-sideways (the alternate history version where the plane didn’t crash), the show did a lot of screwing around with time. And then there was a whole season where characters constantly popped in and out of time, due to a strange time warp on the island. You would think all this jumping around and alternate possibilities would get irritating or boring, but I stuck with it, and found some of it actually rewarding as a reviewer. The show used these devices in very interesting ways.

And then there were the different “tribes” throughout the show. The castaways. Who eventually became aware of “The Others” – people who were already living on the island when Oceanic Flight 815 crashed – and who were rather hostile toward these newcomers. There was the Dharma Initiative (scientists in the 1950s and 60s who were on the island to study its strange magnetic anomalies). Eventually, the Dharmas were wiped out by the Others, but they left behind equipment and a series of underground bunkers. One of which contained Desmond when we first meet him.

At one point, some of the main characters even got off the island and returned to civilization (The Oceanic Six), but they still felt an overriding compulsion to go back.

And that’s not even the end of the stories within stories. In this final season, we found out there were people on the island even before that. A pregnant woman washes up onshore, and is found by another woman with suspicious motives. The pregnant woman gives birth to two boys. After the mother gives birth, she is killed by the woman who acted as her midwife. She then adopts the boys as her own. One grows up to be Jacob, the other, the Man in Black (who is never really given a name for some reason).

Their family dynamic is interesting.  The Man in Black (MIB) is obviously the favored child, yet he rebels. Jacob, always trying to earn his “mother’s” love, is the “good” son. At one point a ship crashes onto the island – the original Others – and the MIB  leaves his family to join them, hearing tales of worlds beyond the island. Jacob stays behind with “mom” and later inherits her mission when she dies – that of protecting the island.

The MIB is actually the one who kills their adopted mother (when she sabotages his escape from the island), and Jacob gets revenge by hurling his brother into the maw of a cave that emits bright light (the “heart” of the island). We’re not sure what happens to him there, but it appears that the MIB dies and this releases the notorious “smoke monster” that we’ve seen throughout the series. The monster is able to take on the appearance of anyone who has died, and mostly appears as the MIB.

When the MIB  finally gets his revenge and kills Jacob (he can’t do it directly and has to trick Ben into doing it), a replacement must be found to protect the island and its glowing heart. Which is the main story of LOST in a nutshell. The castaways were the potential replacements, who were eliminated either through death or circumstance from being in the running for Jacob’s job. (Of course, even when Jacob is supposedly dead, he’s not completely gone, since his “ghost” hangs around to pick his successor).

And then there are the terrific characters. Jack, the doctor with father issues; Sawyer whose main goal was to get revenge on the con-man who swindled his family and led to his parents’ murder/suicide; Kate, who killed her abusive stepdad and had been on the plane as a fugitive being brought to justice; Hurly, the overweight man-child whose role in all this became more important as the series progressed; Locke, the paralysed man who suddenly found he could walk after the plane crash, and who became a major player as the series progressed; Ben, the ruthless leader of the Others, who fluctuated between acts of pure evil, and acts of unexpected compassion; and Richard, the eternally young servant of Jacob’s who sought to keep the machinations of the island in motion.

And these are only a few of the many characters whose lives we got to explore throughout the series. Through flashbacks to their former lives, their actions on the island, and their fates in the future and in the alternate earth, the show did an extraordinary job of fleshing out a large amount of characters, and yet never once did it seem confusing or tedious. You always knew what was going on if you paid attention – you just didn’t always know “why” all this was happening, until the end.

Being able to juggle so many characters, storylines, and possibilities was what made LOST such a worthwhile show. It’s why I stuck with it, even though the rough patches. And I found the ending satisfying for the most part. Not much happened at the end that we didn’t see coming, but it all came full circle, and closure was achieved without the viewers feeling cheated.

As the island storyline and the “flash-sideways” storyline finally converge at the end of the series finale,  Jack dies in the “real world” of the island (leaving Hurley to be the new Jacob, with Ben as his helper), and everyone gets back together in the flash-sideways storyline for a reunion in what turns out to be the afterlife (at what point did the flash-sideways storyline become heaven? Or was it that way all along?). It brings up more possible questions, but at the same time makes perfect sense and feels like a real ending.

After six years, you actually felt that maybe you didn’t waste all the time you’d invested in watching the series. Which, in itself, is incredibly rare in broadcast television.

© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares

A Special Introduction

Posted in Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 by knifefighter

(THE SCENE: a green field in Fairy Tale Land. Three little pigs are dancing the jig. Little Red Riding Hood is showing some leg. And Little Miss Muffet steps back as the Spider tap dances with all eight feet. It’s a happy place.)

(LL SOARES, painted green, is tending to his sheep, when he comes upon MICHAEL ARRUDA)

LS (speaks in a Scottish accent): There you are, Donkey! I was looking all over fer you. We have a movie to review, don’t yer know.

MA (close-up on his face shows he’s wearing a donkey costume): Movie to review?  Oh, goodie!  In this get-up, that means I can make wise cracks and call you names like fat and green.   Uh oh.  I don’t feel so good.

LS: What are ye talkin about, Donkey?  Yer the one who wanted to review SHREK FOREVER AFTER this week. Don’t bale on me now.

MA: I’m not joking around. Something’s wrong. I don’t feel right.

(The Three Little Pigs gawk and giggle)

LS: Get outta here, before I make Bacon Bits out of ye!

(The Pigs flee in terror)

LS (Puts on black-framed glasses and loses the Scottish accent): Hmmmm,  I  see what you mean. You don’t look very good.(LS steps back to reveal that there are actually THREE donkeys, all joined together in a living chain, crawling in the grass. MS is the first segment of the chain.)

MA:  What happened to me?

LS: What happened to you?  Simple.  You agreed not to review SHREK this week – but review THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE instead.

(Ominous music and screams as the scene FADES TO BLACK)

(Slowly, light filters back in, and the whirr of a projector is heard. Words flash across the screen)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (THE FIRST SEQUENCE)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(scroll down for the complete review)

THE HUMAN CENTIPDEDE

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Extreme Movies, Horror with tags , , , , on May 24, 2010 by knifefighter

(And then light fills the room)

(MICHAEL ARRUDA wakes up to fine himself tied to a hospital bed. As he struggles with his bonds, LL SOARES stands over him, dressed in a lab coat and preparing a syringe)

MA: The things I do for this column!

LS (wielding syringe): This won’t hurt a bit.

MA: Shouldn’t you be doing something else right about now, like starting our review?  I’d start it myself, but I’m a little tied up.

LS: Very well. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a horror film that has been getting a lot of attention lately. Mostly because it’s one of the few movies that actually lives up to its hype (and its title).

MA:  Not so fast.  I wouldn’t agree that it lives up to its hype.  It does live up to its title, though.  There IS a human centipede in this flick, after all.

LS:  The story is simple enough. Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), the world’s foremost surgeon specializing in the separation of conjoined twins, is now retired to a house in the middle of the German countryside, where he continues to operate – but now his patients are random people that he drugs and abducts. When we first see him, he is following a trucker into the woods, carrying a rifle that shoots tranquilizer darts.

MA:  Yes, Dr. Heiter is VERY creepy.  He’s one weird-looking dude.  He looks sort of like— an insect, doesn’t he?  And that’s probably done on purpose.

LS:  His next “subjects” are two American girls, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) who get a flat tire and end up going to Dr. Heiter’s house to ask for help. How many times have we seen this scenario before! It’s been done to death! He then drugs them and ties them up in his basement.

Deciding that the large, hefty truck driver won’t do, Dr. Heiter goes out to get a replacement. He returns with Japanese man, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), who does not speak English.

Dr. Heiter then shows the three of them a slideshow, telling them exactly what they are in for.

MA:  I think this is one of the scariest scenes in the movie.  Hearing him explain his insane plan so matter-of-factly while they look on helplessly was excruciating.

LS:  Yes, the slideshow is quite effective.  In the past, he separated Siamese twins. But now, he wants to “create instead of destroy.” His goal is to join three humans together into a living conga line. A HUMAN CENTIPEDE!

(Cue OMINIOUS MUSIC)

MA: Did you hear that?

LS:  Of course.

MA:  What’s that about?

LS: It’s just for dramatic effect. Herr Doctor explains his procedure in excruciating detail. He will be sewing the three of them together into one creature that shares one gastric system. Mouths will be sewn into anuses, and faces will be sliced open to fit snugly. His captives react by screaming their heads off.  Of course, this is the only reaction that makes sense.

MA: Actually, at first the girls try to communicate with him, asking him why he’s doing this and to let them go, while Katsuro hurls insults at him in Japanese and tries to escape, but the doctor ignores their pleas.  Then, yes, they proceed to scream their heads off.

LS:  In this case, the title tells it all. This movie not only delivers the goods, it does the job well. All of the actors do a great job. And it’s not just a series of shocks; there’s actually a good story here. Sure, it’s not the most pleasant of tales, but it will certainly get a reaction out of you. And isn’t that what good horror is supposed to do? Make you feel something! Even if it is revulsion and fear!!

MA: Why are you shouting?

LS: Am I? The actual human centipede itself is quite a disturbing image, made even more so when the pathetic creature tries to escape on its own.

What makes this movie work so well is its deathly serious tone. With this kind of subject matter, this movie could have been silly. But the human centipede is not a joke. It is the culmination of Dr. Heiter’s research and experimentation. How such a creature could benefit mankind, we never really learn. Instead, the doctor seems bent on doing this, simply because he can.

MA:  I wasn’t all that excited by THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, but surprise, surprise, I didn’t hate it, nor was I all that turned off by it.  I actually didn’t find it as disturbing as I expected.

You’re right when you say the title says it all.  When you see a movie called THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, you expect to see a human centipede, and to that end, since a human centipede appears in the movie, the movie satisfies.  But this in itself doesn’t make a good movie.  It’s akin to going to a freak show at a circus.  “See the human centipede!”  Okay, we see it.  Now, what?  It’s the “now, what?” where this movie stumbles.

(Jeff Goldblum slithers into the room as BRUNDLE FLY. He crawls up the walls, looking on)

BRUNDLE FLY: Human centipede? What about a good, old-fashioned human FLY? It’s not like anyone’s been banging down my door to give me work.

LS: Wrong movie.

MA:  Yeah, but he’s from a movie that didn’t have trouble with the “now, what?”

LS (to BRUNDLE FLY): You have to go now.

BRUNDLE FLY: Are you kidding me? I go wherever I want. And right now, I wanna…

(LS takes out a gigantic fly swatter and squashes BRUNDLE FLY against the wall. Bug guts splatter LS and MA)

LS (tastes goo): Mmmm, not bad. Lemon meringue! Want some?

MA: No.

LS: You miss out on all of life’s delicacies.  Mmm.  A crunchy part.

MA:  I’m going to continue with the review now.

LS (chews):  Please do.

MA:  If you’re going to tell a story about a brilliant mad scientist hell-bent on creating a human centipede, you could at least be a creative storyteller and offer us a reason why.    Why do it?  The answer to this question is never really given, and as a result, we’re never really allowed inside the doctor’s head.

There are hints.  It certainly appears as if Dr. Heiter gets off sexually on his medical experiments.  He exhibits orgasmic pleasure at times over his creation and over controlling it.  Also, early on in the film he says “I hate human beings.”  So, maybe he’s out to screw the human race.  It’s possible, but the truth is, we just don’t know.

Ultimately, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a variation of the FRANKENSTEIN story.  Now, in the best Frankenstein movies, we’re offered either a compelling interpretation of the monster (Boris Karloff) or of the doctor (Peter Cushing).  We bought into these characters because we were allowed inside their minds and hearts.  We knew what made them tick.

In Karloff’s case, we felt his monster’s loneliness and how awful it was for him to be hated and feared by every human being he came across.  With Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, we saw how dedicated he was to his work.  He was so determined to succeed in creating life that he even committed murder to steal the brain of a genius in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).  We knew why he was doing this.  He was obsessed with creating life, and there was nothing more important in his life than this quest.

LS: Hmmm, very interesting you should bring up Dr. Frankenstein. I actually thought Dr. Heiter and Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein had much in common. They’re both rather sadistic gentlemen who do not have much respect for human life. People are only important as guinea pigs. So I thought you could appreciate Dr. Heiter’s experiments.

MA:   One of Cushing’s strengths as an actor was he could play both sides of the fence, good and evil, even with the same character.  His Victor Frankenstein in the Hammer Films could be villainous, but he instilled a passion into the character that was so strong you actually bought into what he was doing, and as a result, you liked him for it.  Cushing made you root for a murderer.  That’s impressive.

LS:  Root for a murderer? Hmm. Perhaps you’re not such a nice guy after all.



MA:  Dr. Heiter has as much passion as a lab rat.  And I wouldn’t describe Cushing’s Baron as sadistic.  He never got off on other people’s misery.

LS: How can you be sure? He certainly didn’t hesitate to make people suffer.

MA: I’m so sure because of Cushing’s performances in these films.  He left little doubt about where his Baron’s motivations lay.  Here, in THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, we don’t know why Dr. Heiter is doing what he’s doing.   This lack of information weakens his character and makes him one dimensional and not all that exciting.

LS: I don’t agree. We do know why he is doing this. Because he has an insane dream and is sure he can make it a reality.

MA:  Really?  Well, what is it?  What’s his dream?  To create a human centipede?

LS: YES, DAMMIT!

MA:  What the hell is the point of that?  To improve the human condition?  I don’t think so!

LS: Why would he want to improve the human condition if he “hates people?”

MA: Give me a reason why this operation is necessary, and I’ll buy into it more.

I had the same problem with the three characters who share the misfortune of becoming the human centipede.  We never really find out what it’s like to be them, other than it’s horrible.  And it’s horrible because we can see with our own eyes that it’s horrible.  But what are these characters really thinking, what are they really feeling, connected the way they are?  As disturbing as this movie is, writer/director Tom Six never gets down and dirty and up close as to what it’s like to be a human centipede.  I wanted to know.  Ultimately, they exist only to be victims.

LS: They may be victims, but you care about them. The horrors they endure are disturbing because you really feel for these people. In the brief time we get to know them, we know exactly what they’re thinking.

MA:  What are they thinking?  Other than “This is friggin awful!”  I didn’t get anything else.  Now, there may not be anything else, but that’s my point.  They’re just victims, and that didn’t do much for me.

LS: Isn’t that motivation enough? These people aren’t very complex because they’re only thinking about one thing in the time we see them– STAYING ALIVE. They communicate their fear and desperation mostly in their faces and their groans. Why do you need it spelled out any more than that?

And their suffering affects us. Even, Katsuro , who doesn’t speak their language and has no idea what is happening to him – is completely sympathetic, because you can feel the complete terror he’s going through, trying to understand what the hell is going on here.

MA:  I thought these feelings were obvious.  I would have felt the same way had I seen a still picture of them.

While there were a few suspenseful scenes, with my favorite being when Lindsay escapes and ends up in the swimming pool, for the most part, I thought the scares in this film fell flat.  Unlike you, I didn’t think the story was so hot. I found it all rather cold and uninspiring, like a medical lab.  I also thought the pacing in the second half was dreadfully slow.

LS: I didn’t think this movie was slow at all. It grips you from start to end. Not once did I look at a clock. I was completely absorbed in these people and their plight.

MA:  Take the scene when the police detectives come to the house, for example, and our friendly neighborhood human centipede is in the cellar screaming for help.  That should have been an exciting sequence, but it generates very little suspense.  I mean, the police even leave the house to get a search warrant— talk about ruining the pacing—, and when they do, we’re not privy to any of their chatter.  Are they calling for back-up?  Are they afraid for their lives?  And Dr. Heiter’s reaction is completely unbelievable.  He’s thinking he’s going to use these police officers as part of his next experiment.  Right.  Kill a couple of police officers.  Nice one.  Hey, doc, don’t you think that might put a damper on your reclusive lifestyle, bring you a little heat at the end of the day?

LS: Of course he isn’t rational. That’s because he’s a friggin NUT. And, as a famous surgeon, he’s probably been catered to most of his adult life and thinks he can do anything he wants.

MA: There are some other weaknesses in the story as well.  You already mentioned the flat tire bit.  I also had a problem with the women discovering the doctor’s home in the woods by chance.  I didn’t think that was very believable.  I’m not a big fan of things happening in stories by accident.  I thought this was a weak plot device.

LS: I agree with you there. Why can’t these mad scientists find a new way to get victims? People whose cars break down in rain storms are just tiresome at this point. At least in the very beginning, when Dr. Heiter pursues his first victim with the tranquilizer gun, I thought this might be a nice change of pace.

MA: As a drama and a horror story, this movie just doesn’t deliver.  I found it weak.  It reminded me of reading a newspaper article.  Like “Did you read that story about the doctor who created a human centipede?  Wasn’t that awful?”  You bet.  And that’s what the film is saying too, but the trouble is, it’s not saying anything else.

While I found the movie intense at times, disturbing at others, and even downright scary in parts, as a whole, I just didn’t find it all that compelling.  I thought it lacked a creative spark, and as a result, wasn’t a complete package.  I liked the first half better than the second half, and by the end of the movie, I found myself just not caring all that much.

I give THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE two Knives.  If you’re into horrid curiosities, you might find this one worth your time, but if you prefer strong tales of horror and suspense, this one doesn’t cut it.

(LS lifts a scalpel from a tray and holds it above MA.)

LS:  Doesn’t cut it? What unfortunate choices of words.

MA:  Aren’t I clever?

LS:  I heartily recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys extreme horror films. The movie we reviewed last week, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, didn’t live up to its title at all. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE does not have this problem. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a very effective horror film. I give it three and a half knives.

MA:  You’re just knife-happy!

LS:  That’s not so good for you!

MA: We’re done with the review now. You can put the scalpel down and untie me.

LS: Not so fast! I’m feeling creative. And we’ve still got those donkeys in the other room.

MA:  A room full of asses.  Sounds like a political convention.

(A loud bell fills the air)

LS: THE ICE CREAM MAN IS HERE! Woo-hoo! See you later.

(LS drops the scalpel and rushes out of the room. MA struggles to untie himself.)

MA:  Well, I guess that’s it for this week, folks. See you next time here at Cinema Knife Fight.

(MA continues to struggle)

MA (shouting): You better get me an Italian Ice!

—END–

Michael Arruda gives THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE two knives

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LL Soares gives THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE three and a half knives:

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© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares