Archive for March, 2012

Cinema Knife Fight: COMING ATTRACTIONS – APRIL 2012

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Comedies, Coming Attractions, Edgar Allen Poe, Hit Men, Horror, Vampires with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS
APRIL 2012
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A mysterious cabin in the woods. Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares cautiously approach the structure.)

LS: What are we being so cautious for? We’re horror writers! We love freakish cabins like that!

MA: It’s not the cabin I’m worried about.

LS: What, then?

MA: Shh! I’m worried about those guys! (points to a stone wall to the right of the cabin, and sitting on the wall are the new Three Stooges.)

LS (shudders): Yikes! They are scary! I love the Stooges, but the new movie coming out this month has me terrified!

MA: Me, too! Let’s get to the cabin quick!

(They run to the cabin, LS pulls the dilapidated door off its hinges, and both writers enter. The inside of the cabin is dark and spooky.)

LS (smiles): There’s no place like home!

MA: I’d turn on a light but then we’d be forced to see what’s inside this place. (to camera) I know, without light, how can you see us? Gotta love dramatic license.

LS: Lights? We don’t need no stinkin’ lights!

MA: Anyway, welcome to this month’s COMING ATTRACTIONS column, the column where we preview the movies we’ll be reviewing this April.

Up first, on April 6, it’s AMERICAN REUNION. There’s a good chance one of our staff writers will be covering this one.

LS: I hope so. I didn’t mind the first AMERICAN PIE movie back in 1999, but the characters weren’t good enough to launch a bunch of sequels. For some reason, the trailer for AMERICAN REUNION looked really annoying to me. The only good news is, this is supposedly the last film of the series. Unless it does boffo box-office, and then, I’m sure, the franchise will be resurrected.

On April 13—Friday the 13th! —we’ll be bringing you reviews of three new movies. First up, it’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. This one could go either way. It looks like it starts out as a typical “bunch of kids go to stay in a deserted cabin in the woods” movie. We’ve seen that before—too many times, actually—in everything from FRIDAY THE 13th sequels to the EVIL DEAD movies to Eli Roth’s CABIN FEVER (2002). And lots of bad movies. The thing about this one, though, is that it’s supposed to take this clichéd set-up and do an interesting new spin on it. We’ll see.

MA: I’m not sure what to think of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. The trailer didn’t really do much for me. I am glad however, that we get to review a new horror movie. There really haven’t been many horror movies so far in 2012.

It’s written and directed by Drew Goddard, the man who wrote CLOVERFIELD (2008), so this is a good thing. However, it’s also the first time Goddard is directing a movie, so, we’ll see. It’s also written by Josh Whedon, who has a long and varied resume and has written, among other things, TOY STORY (1995) and ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997).

LS: That’s what you know Joss Whedon from?

MA: I don’t know Josh Whedon from a hole in the wall. I’m just listing some of his movie credits.

LS: I’m guessing you weren’t a fan of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997 – 2003) and ANGEL (1999 – 2004) TV-series. Because those are what made him a household name. Man, could you think of lamer credits to mention?

MA: They’re his movie credits.

LS: Yeah, but who cares about those credits! He’s known for BUFFY and ANGEL!

With talent like Goddard and Whedon involved, I’m thinking CABIN IN THE WOODS has a good shot at being a pleasant surprise. I hope so, at least.

MA: It features a mainly young cast, including THOR himself, Chris Hemsworth. The cast also includes veteran actor Richard Jenkins, who we saw recently in LET ME IN (2010).

LS: And, for Whedon fans, there are two familiar faces from Whedon’s underrated series, DOLLHOUSE (2009 – 2010)– Fran Kranz (who played Topher Brink on the series) and Amy Acker (who played Dr. Saunders, and was also “Fred” on ANGEL).

MA:The same weekend we’ll also be reviewing the new big screen update of THE THREE STOOGES—a film I’m looking forward to only because I’m a huge Three Stooges fan. I have to admit, based on the movie’s trailers, I don’t think this one is going to be so hot, but you never know. You can always hope, right?

(There is a commotion outside the window. The Three Stooges, wearing carpenter overalls, begin hammering on the outside wall.)

LS: Hey! Keep it down! We’re working in here!

CURLY: We’re workin out here!

LARRY: Say, they can’t tell us to be quiet! We’ve got a job to do!

MOE: So what are we standing around out here talking for? Let’s get working! (slaps the other two)

CURLY: I’ll work when I’m ready!

MOE (hits Curly on head with a hammer): Are you ready?

CURLY: I’m ready!

(They return to hammering the walls.)

MA: Guys, we really are working—. (A cream pie suddenly hits MA in the face. LS laughs at him, and then a cream pie hits him in the face as well.)

MA: We’d better stop this routine now. It’s almost as bad as the new movie trailer.

LS: At least the cream pie is tasty! It’s coconut cream!

MA: Chris Diamantopoulos plays Moe, Sean Hayes plays Larry, and Will Sasso plays Curly. Sean Hayes, who plays Larry, is of course known for the TV show WILL AND GRACE (1998-2006), on which he played Jack. Interestingly enough, Hayes also played Jerry Lewis in the TV movie MARTIN AND LEWIS (2002).

LS: And Will Sasso was a regular on MAD TV from 1997 to 2009, and was also in the short-lived William Shatner series $#*! My Dad Says (2010 – 2011). But who is Chris Diamantopolous?

MA: Most of his work has been on TV so far. Shows like THE STARTER WIFE, 24 and UP ALL NIGHT. In fact, all three of these guys built their careers on television, so THE THREE STOOGES might finally make them movie stars.

LS: Or might not.

MA: THE THREE STOOGES was written and directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, otherwise known as the Farrelly brothers, and they’ve been responsible for some pretty good comedies over the years, including THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998) and DUMB AND DUMBER (1994).

LS: I also like their movie KINGPIN (1996) a lot. But they’ve also made their share of duds, too. Based on the trailers, I’d say this might be a bit painful to sit through. But I’d be really happy if it surprised me.

MA: Heck, Larry David is even on hand, as Sister Mary-Mengele. Take that for what it’s worth!

LS: Somehow that doesn’t reassure me.

MA: The science fiction adventure LOCKOUT also opens on April 13, and we most likely will have one of our talented staff writers covering this one. It doesn’t do a whole lot for me, as it looks like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) in space!

LS: Yeah, I’m not going to be too sad that we can’t review LOCKOUT. It does look like a rip-off of ESCAPE, except, instead of Kurt Russell as the cool Snake Plissken, we have Guy Pearce as some ultra-cool dude named Snow. (yawns)

On April 20, THE MOTH DIARIES opens to a limited release. I don’t know much about this one, and there’s a good chance it won’t even be playing near us. At first, I thought it might have something to do with that Richard Gere movie, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002), but I think it’s actually about vampires. If it comes near me, I’ll try to review it.

MA: I’d say chances are incredibly slim it will be playing anywhere near me.

Since we don’t expect THE MOTH DIARIES to make it to my neck of the woods, most likely we’ll be bringing you a DVD review, and right now it looks like our feature will be STAKE LAND (2010).

STAKE LAND looks like ZOMBIELAND (2009), but with vampires instead of zombies, and without the laughs.

LS: So basically it doesn’t look like ZOMBIELAND at all.

MA (laughing): No.

Actually, it does, in that the world is being overrun, but by vampires, not zombies. I thought the preview looked halfway decent.

LS: STAKE LAND is another one of those movies, like YELLOWBRICKROAD that came out on DVD last year and got a lot of buzz, so I’m interested in seeing it. Hopefully it’s better than YELLOWBRICKROAD, though. That one was a disappointment.

On April 27, we’ll be reviewing THE RAVEN. This one reminds me a bit of the new SHERLOCK HOLMES movies that Robert Downey Jr. has been doing, because it looks like another case of a cerebral character from the 1800s being turned into an action star for mass consumption. Except this time it’s a real historical figure.

MA: Real historical figures transformed into action stars? Where else have I heard that concept before?

LS: Well, there’s another movie coming in June called ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER.

MA: Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I’m on the fence about THE RAVEN. I like the concept, the idea of Edgar Allan Poe solving murders and chasing down a crazed killer who’s basing his crimes on Poe’s stories, and the film looks atmospheric. While I’m not a huge John Cusack fan, he is a very good actor, and so he should be fine as Poe, but for some reason, this one’s not exciting me. I guess because I haven’t seen or read anything about it that seems to imply that it will be really special.

LS: I like Cusack, but, seriously, I don’t know why they didn’t cast Jeffrey Combs in the role instead. Most people will remember Combs from his iconic role as Herbert West, the RE-ANIMATOR (1985), but he also played Poe on an episode of the Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR, and also played the role in a one-man stage show. Seems to me he has pretty much made Poe his own. Cusack seems like a bit of a letdown in comparison, because, in the trailers at least, he seems more like John Cusack that Edgar Allan Poe.

MA: I’ll also be reviewing the latest Jason Statham action pic, SAFE, which also opens on April 27. I guess I’ll be doing that one by myself. I’ve become a Jason Statham fan the past few years, as I’ve enjoyed his recent performances, and so I’m looking forward to SAFE, even if it looks like just another action movie. I’m hoping Statham’s presence will lift it above the fray.

So, that’s April in a nutshell. Not the most exciting month, in terms of big movies, but that’ll change in May.

LS: Yep, there are some blockbusters on the way in May. (Sticks his head out the window where the Three Stooges are working.) You guys have any more cream pies?

CURLY: Soitantly!

MOE: Would you like another cream pie?

LS: Of course. They were delicious.

MOE: Boys, let’s give the man another pie.

(They fire Three pies at LS, who ducks, and all three pies hit MA. LS laughs.

LS: I just love the Three Stooges, don’t you?

MA (wiping pie from his face): Oh yeah. They’re a riot.

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 60s Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Outer Space, Science Fiction, The Future, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-til-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

In the past few months, I’ve written about the Gamma One films, from Italian bubble gum sci-fi maestro Antonio Margheriti.   After THE SNOW DEVILS (1967) and WILD, WILD PLANET (1965), came the WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966).  At least, that’s how they were released in Italy.  In the U.S., the releases of the movies were as mixed up as the plotlines, but it seems as if they were all unleashed upon American drive-ins in the years noted above.  Don’t worry; you don’t have to watch them in order to ride the candy-colored wave of Sixties goodness.

WAR OF THE PLANETS begins with a tedious, yet ominous, voice-over that says little more than it is New Year’s Eve and there are nasty things in space. There are visions of little toy space stations and cars and monorail trains.  Much of this footage is repurposed from other Gamma One films, even the bubble car pulling up to a station and letting out a space captain, Dubois.  He claims he hasn’t been celebrating yet, but he sees strange green lights in the night sky that resemble nothing more than a glow-in-the-dark lava lamp.  Suddenly, he is enveloped in green light, which makes him walk, zombie-like, up a spiral staircase, because, you know, they still don’t have elevators in the future.

At Earth headquarters, we see that one space station has been engulfed in green lights, and communications have been cut off on other stations as well.  But, who cares?  Over the intercom, we hear, “Headquarters, are you ready for the super space spectacular from Gamma One?”  Well, of course we are!  Then we see a rather sad ballet in zero gravity space to the accompaniment of an accordion playing Aud Lang Syne.  Meanwhile, within the Gamma One space station, we get groovy electronic disco music and wild go-go dancing by women in weird muu-muus and kinky boots.  Connie Gomez, once again played by the lovely and bitter Lisa Gastoni (WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965 and GIDGET GOES TO ROME, 1963) is purposefully ignoring Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russell reprising his role from WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965) at the party.  Hunky Jake Jakowitz (handsome and young Franco Nero from WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965 and DJANGO, 1966) is also there, and he cheers as a couple dozen space-suited astronauts spell out ‘Happy New Year’ with their bodies in space.  There’s more 1960s dancing that looks like a combination of square dancing and disco.  Also, some rather sexist butt-grabbing and pinching of lady officers.

Connie is invited to space station Alpha Two to teach all the women karate, but she’s distracted when Delta Two’s communication goes down after “negative Geiger readings” are taken.  What?!  Something is cutting off all the Earth’s space stations one at a time!  Sadly, this means the party is over and all the guests are shuffled into pods by a guide with gravity-defying breasts.  They are to return to Earth.  Once the civilians are gone, a ship is sent to DeltaTwo to investigate.  First, though, Connie and Mike have a romantic tiff, and he puts her in her place and she seems to enjoy it.  One spaceman has too much to drink, gets “drunker than a minor on Mars,” and starts whooping and flying around Gamma One like Superman on crystal meth.

Miniatures from WAR OF THE PLANETS!

Meanwhile, on Delta Two, that eerie green light is back, and the investigating team finds the inhabitants of the space station frozen in place, or at least as frozen as actors can stand.  They tend to wobble a bit.  And are those communication devices they’re speaking into really hair dryers?  Yes, yes they are.  The radiation levels are “crazy,” but the investigators still walk around without their helmets.  They discover some of the frozen people are actually alive, including half-naked girls in a locker room!  Yowza!  The commander shouts, “Scramble!  Retro!  Retro!  Retro!”  Green lights that have shape to them attack.  “They’re more than lights!” the commander shouts, shooting off his zap gun.  “They’re things!  They’re things!”  Then, silence.

Gamma One is ordered to evacuate, but Mike and a small group of renegades remain behind to determine what happened.  On Earth, Dubois is commanded by a voice in his head to destroy the Institute For Advanced Sciences.  He fights the voice, but finally gives in, and his breath is smoking from his mouth, as if he were breathing on a cold day.  He’s possessed by the lava lamp!

Within hours, the green space lights arrive at Gamma One, and Commander Mike yells, “Retro, everyone!  Retro!”  Is he referring to the look of the film?  What is this ‘retro’ everyone keeps shouting about?  The aliens enter the station as a green mist.  Lasers, or at least kiddie toy zap guns that shoot sparks, can’t stop them.  When the lights touch the men, they freeze in place.  The creatures also take the convenient shape of gas from a fire extinguisher, or at least that’s what they look like.  Somehow, Commander Mike shoos the green beings from the station.  I have no clue how.  It seemed like he just closed a few doors at ten second intervals.

After getting a dressing-down by his father, the general-in-chief on Earth, Mike sees the ‘bodies’ of several green light victims.  They are apparently chock full of cobalt and radiation.  Several more scientists are taken over by the light creatures, and Connie Gomez says, “This is starting to make sense.”  To her, I say, “It is?  Phooey!”  The Earth’s skies are covered now in alien green lava lamp lights!  Just then, Dubois appears, still arguing with his inner alien.  The being speaks to the group, “I am an emissary.  We come as friends.  All will join our world.”  Commander Mike says, “He’s gone Galaxy!”

The aliens have taken over all radiation on Earth, and they want humans to become like them, members of a single mind from Mars, like a hive of bees.  Dubois informs the Gamma One team that a few of their best and brightest must go into space with him for some reason or another.  This, of course, means Mike and Jake to the rescue!  With laser guns hidden in their jackets, they launch into space where the light creatures take over their ship.  Meanwhile, Connie Gomez becomes possessed and she’s going with Mike and Jake!

A rare calm moment in WAR OF THE PLANETS.

They head straight for Mars, where there just happens to be a uranium mine.  Mike says, “Uranium?  Radiation!”  It’s good that the hero is so intelligent.  After a Martian feast, the group discovers an active volcano where many of the missing people from other space stations seem to be lounging unconscious.  Magma, fog waterfalls, magic vaults, a huge battle (well, huge for THIS budget), and more are a part of the grand finale.

Even with this much plot, WAR OF THE PLANETS runs a bit too long, with a few too many slow stretches to make it as great as the other two Gamma One films, but it still holds a whacked-out fascination for any viewer.  The horribly dated hair and costumes and music and bad dubbing, and the Playmobile-like miniature special effects, all lend a surreal quality to the film that keeps it watchable at worst and a true hoot at its best.  It’s also pretty interesting to watch Franco Nero in his best role in the series, just before he would hit the big time with DJANGO (1966) and CAMELOT(1967),  He was a magnetic young actor, whether spouting scientific gibberish or just standing around and looking handsome, and you can really see his development here.  Tony Russel makes for a fun hero: stalwart, determined, tanned of face and with rock-hard silver fox hair.   Lisa Gastoni isn’t given much to do in this one, but she looks terrific doing it!  Plus, I swear the song over the end credits is a version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rogers and Hammerstein.

WAR OF THE PLANETS is another fun space romp from the twisted mind of Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson), who also helmed the wild movies ALIEN FROM THE DEEP(1989), YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983), CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), KILLER FISH (1979), WEB OF THE SPIDER (1971), and the utterly nutty LIGHTNING BOLT (1966).  All of these are Bizarre Bijou fodder, and they’re all a lot of fun.  Margheriti obviously enjoyed himself, playing behind the camera like a little kid.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Gamma One films, where all the props and miniatures look just like plastic toys in a sandbox.  That sense of child-like glee is infectious, even when the movies are less than stellar.

There was one more Gamma One film, but it was produced by Toho Studios in Japan, had all new actors and characters, and featured the greatest theme song of all time—THE GREEN SLIME (1968).

WAR OF THE PLANETS gets two and a half disco square dances out of four and is available in a great print from Warner Archive.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

THE DEAD (2010)

Posted in 2012, Exotic Locales, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, The Distracted Critic, Zombies with tags , , , , , on March 28, 2012 by knifefighter

THE DEAD
Movie Review by Paul McMahon—“The Distracted Critic”

I first heard of THE DEAD when newcomer Howard Ford, co-director with his brother Jon Ford, took over a vacant booth for the last day of a horror convention I attended. He hung gorgeous posters and personally handed out boxes of printed swag while chatting with everyone who stopped by. He also set up a monitor looping the trailer for the film.

The trailer is what caught my eye. Stunning African landscapes, juxtaposed with old school shambling zombies, gave the film a hardcore vibe. Every time I passed the table, that little screen would suck me in again. From the crowds that gathered all afternoon, I think the look of the trailer caught a lot of people’s attention.

The plot is pretty straightforward. A man survives a plane crash in zombie-infested Africa and roams the countryside in search of another plane to fly himself to America and rescue his family. He meets an AWOL African soldier who has learned that his son was taken to a rescue camp and is traveling the 200 miles north to be with him. The two inter-continental dads stay together, helping each other to survive.

It’s a road movie with zombies.

Rob Freeman (lots of TV roles, most notably Coach Quigley on SMALLVILLE) plays the American, Lieutenant Brian Murphy, as standoffish and stoic. He claims to be a mechanic. Prince David Oseia (apparently in his first major role) plays the African, Sergeant Daniel Dembele, as slightly less standoffish while a smidgen more stoic. He declares that “mechanic” means “mercenary” and the American offers no argument.

At times, these two seem to be having a contest to prove which of them can bring less emotion to their part. I realize that being soldiers, they would both have been trained to mask their feelings, but a little quiver when Brian mentions his long-dead son or a tense look away when Daniel is forced to pour the last of his water into their truck’s radiator would’ve gone a long way. Emotionally, it comes off pretty flat.

The plot doesn’t do anything unusual, doesn’t veer anyplace we don’t expect. Like most movies, it has its “clunker” moments—coincidental timings and God-in-the-machine rescues—but the weak spots in the script are balanced by what the Ford brothers do well.

Running zombies don’t allow tension to build, nor the time to create dread.

Zombies from the Ford Brothers' movie, THE DEAD (2010).

Running zombies give you bursts of panic and characters moving too fast to plan or strategize, who rely on luck to save them. Slow-moving zombies offer different choices. With them, suspense can be built more meaningfully. Can the hero repair the truck before he’s overwhelmed? Can he dart out of a sticky situation before they close ranks, boxing him in? The Ford brothers use the shambling pace to great effect. Some of their choreography harkens back to Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).

Another place the film excels is the absolutely stunning use of the African landscape. The scenery is gorgeous, and the Ford brothers use the arid bleakness of the location to enhance the story. When is the last time you saw a horror film that wouldn’t be out of place on an Oscar list for cinematography?

The last thing that really strikes you is the sheer number of African amputees who portray zombies in this film. The concept isn’t unheard of—SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982), even MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975), have used amputees for visual effect—but here the onslaught is constant, giving these zombies a consistently realistic feel that compounds the creepiness as the film rolls on.

Aside from losing a point for the flat acting and uninspired storyline, the movie loses another point for stomping on a pet peeve of mine– the “Sleight of Hand Start.” This is when the opening shot of the film depicts a sliver of events near the bleakest point in the story and then jumps back in time to when it all began. It’s a filmmaker’s device that has a place (THE USUAL SUSPECTS [1995] leaps to mind), but lately it’s been used to compensate for a director’s (or producer’s) lack of confidence in the story.

In THE DEAD, we open with a whiskery man in black wandering the desert, popping zombies and picking their pockets. After this “flash forward” the movie opens with the words “The Last Evacuation – Somewhere over West Africa…” and we’re on an overcrowded plane, the pilots are fighting a massive power loss, one of the passengers has been bitten and is dying, and our man in black is in the shadows, clean-shaven and wearing pristine cammies. The pilot says: “We’re going down now!” and the plane hits the ocean.

The scene digs right in and makes you want to know what happens next. It’s possible the Ford brothers worried that the dark and crowded plane would set the wrong visual tone for the wide open shots of desert and sky that dominate the rest of the film, but that seems like a lame reason to muck up the continuity of the film. Especially when the real opening scene was so strong.

There are faults, but THE DEAD is a gorgeous film that does what it sets out to do. I look forward to the next project Howard and Jon Ford tackle. They can only get better from here.

Three stars, with four timeouts.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

444: LAST DAY ON EARTH!

Posted in 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Art Movies, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2012 by knifefighter

444: LAST DAYS ON EARTH (2011)
The End comes Quietly in Abel Ferrara’s Latest
Movie Review by Nick Cato

From 1979’s notorious DRILLER KILLER to 1990s KING OF NEW YORK, right up to 2007’s GO GO TALES, director Abel Ferrara has never been afraid to give his own spin on things.  That fine tradition continues in 4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH (2011), a laid-back yet deep look at the apocalypse through the eyes of a Manhattan couple.

Skye (played by Ferrara’s real life girlfriend, Shanyn Leigh) is a young artist who shares her lower east side loft with boyfriend Cisco (Willem DaFoe).  Their loft features laptop computers and a flat screen TV broadcasting news reports and religious programs regarding earth’s fate: according to a local news station, the ozone layer has been damaged far worse than anyone had thought, and at precisely 4:44 a.m. the next morning, the entire world will end.

Skye deals with the news through her latest painting, which at first seems like a Jackson Pollock-inspired piece, but eventually turns into her own view of the circle-of-life.  Cisco manages to contact his teenage daughter via Skype, only to have a final argument with his ex-wife which leads to a fight with Skye.  A former junkie, Cisco then risks his two years of sobriety by visiting his former dealer and an old drug buddy (Paul Hipp).  It’s a heart-felt moment and features a cameo by Natasha Leonne.

Cisco and Skye are Buddhists, and we see clips of the Dali Lama and other Buddhist teachers on their TV, providing comfort in the face of death.  Ferrara’s use of TV clips (especially a Charlie Rose interview with Al Gore) have the feel of propaganda, but they eventually work fine in telling us what’s going on.

The film’s best sequence comes when Cicso and Skye have Chinese food delivered.  The young Chinese delivery boy is apparently scared and depressed, and when asked if he needs anything, he asks for Skype.  Cisco lends him his laptop, and the delivery boy contacts his mother and family for the last time, and although they speak in Chinese, it’s easy to figure out their feelings. As he leaves the loft, Skye—herself without family in New York—hugs him and thanks him for being part of her life.  It’s a desperate, touching, and quirky moment that’s rarely seen in modern cinema.

4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH, like Lars Von Trier’s MELONCHOLIA (2011), is another offering in a recent trend of independent, quiet-minded end-of-the-world films.  In place of big budget special effects and noisy explosions, Ferrara slowly exposes his character’s lives, letting the audience experience what they do in subtle layers.  The most disturbing thing in Ferrara’s apocalypse is the seemingly routine way most people take things: cabs still run, street people go about their old ways, and it seems as if only a handful of New Yorkers are aware of just how close to the end they are.

With it’s positive messages of acceptance and forgiveness, 4:44 is a colorful take on the end times, featuring fine performances and much food for thought.

3 out of 4 knives.

(Currently in limited theatrical release and available on select Pay Per View channels)

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Cisco (Willem DaFoe) is comforted by the Dali Lama via TV just hours before the world ends in 4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH


THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Plot Twists, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2012 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: Two men sit behind a long desk. One is L.L. SOARES, wearing a huge blue wig that is teased so that it towers above his head. MICHAEL ARRUDA is wearing eye make-up and a hat that looks like a small skyscraper. As we zoom in on them, the two men are laughing)

LS: That was a good one, Michael. (to audience) Welcome back, everyone, to the 74th Annual Hunger Games. I am here with Michael Arruda, giving you the latest updates from the arena.

MA: I have to admit, I was a little leery about coming to the Capitol, but it’s turned out to be quite a nice experience. The lovely food, avant-garde fashions, luxurious living quarters. Delightful.

LS: Well, we are the guest commentators this year, and the Capitol knows how to take care of its guests. A big shout out to President Snow. Thanks again, Big Guy.

MA: So why don’t you tell the good people about our movie this week.

LS: Movie? Oh you mean THE HUNGER GAMES themselves! I can most certainly bring everyone up to speed.

After an uprising in what was once North America (now called Panem), where the various districts rose up against the Capitol, the rebellion is squashed, and, in remembrance, each year each district must give up two kids—a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18—to compete in the Hunger Games. It’s kind of the Capitol’s way reminding the districts who’s boss, and keeping them in line. Everyone watches the Hunger Games on television and each district desperately wants their champions or “tributes” to win. If they win, the district gets plentiful food for the year.

MA:  When people—and there were many—recommended I read the book THE HUNGER GAMES, it was exactly this story that prevented me from reading it. I just didn’t find it believable. It just seemed too far-fetched and imaginary, and because of this I didn’t think I’d find it all that compelling.

LS: I found myself wondering at first, why would the Districts put up with this? Why would they willingly sacrifice their children? And then I easily dispelled that doubt. We have our own version of this, after all. It’s called war.

MA: Well, this might be the only negative thing I’ll say about tonight’s movie, THE HUNGER GAMES, because, to my surprise, I did find it compelling. I really liked this movie, but more on that later. Right now, back to the story.

LS:  Always interrupting my plot summaries. Jeesh! (smiles broadly) It’s a good thing the audience enjoys our banter so much, or I’d wring your scrawny neck. (laughs).

When the story opens, we become aware of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl in District 12. She sneaks outside the fence that surrounds the area to hunt for wild game —something that is considered illegal—but since she sells some of her catches to the Peacekeepers, and the Mayor himself, the authorities turn a blind eye. Katniss hunts with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a long-time companion who is as good at hunting as she is. Every year, there is an event called The Reaping, where all the children who are of eligible age are gathered up, and the names of each year’s tributes are pulled from a fishbowl. In District 12, this is done by the glamorous Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).

MA: Yes, Elizabeth Banks is nearly unrecognizable made up as the colorful Effie.

LS: I know. Isn’t it wonderful?  So this year is the first year that Katniss’s young sister Primrose (Willow Shields), called “Prim,” is old enough to be in the Reaping. Since she’s only 12, the odds are she won’t be chosen, but when her name does come up, Katniss volunteers to take her place in order to protect her.

MA: You know, I think we’d all seen this scene in the movie’s trailer, and yet, somehow, it still worked. For me, this was a sign early on that this movie was going to be better than I expected.

LS: The way Katniss sacrifices herself in place of her young sister is quite compelling! I know my heart went out to her, as I am sure yours did.

The other tribute, the boy one, is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who has had a crush on Katniss from afar for most of their childhoods.

The two of them are whisked to the Capitol—this shining diamond of a city—to prepare for the Games, under the watchful eye of Effie and, of course, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) who was the last person from District 12 to ever win the Games. He has since grown old and surly and has quite the taste for alcohol. That was 30 years ago, after all!

MA: Haymitch is a change-of-pace role for Harrelson, as he’s actually a pretty nice guy as the movie goes on, and I think Harrelson did a great job.

LS: Harrelson has played nice guys before. Did you forget 2009’s ZOMBIELAND so soon?

MA:  Yeah, but that nice guy liked to blow zombies’ heads off.  He was a little bit different than Haymitch.

LS:  Katniss and Peeta are also provided with a “stylist” named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), whose job is to give the two tributes a memorable entrance as the pre-game segment begins, and make them attractive to rich viewers who may become their “sponsors” and send them necessary items when the actual Games begin.

The tributes are also interviewed by the master of ceremonies, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) who tries to bring out a little of each one’s personality.

Then, after a few days of training, the Games begin.

MA: And what exactly are the Hunger Games again?

LS: The Hunger Games are a battle to the death! Where each District has sent two representatives to kill or be killed. All of them must fight to the death until only one tribute is left standing, and that person will then be crowned the victor! Isn’t that exciting?

And there are also the Gamemakers who control the arena and can do things like control the weather and cause disasters to strike—like a random forest fire, say. The Gamemakers are represented in the movie version by Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) who we see orchestrating things from a control room behind the scenes. I don’t remember Crane being in the novel version, the Gamemakers there were mysterious behind-the-scenes types whose moves—like those of chess players—were always strategic in making the Games more dramatic. I’m not sure I care very much for Seneca here, although it does give us another point of view of the Games that we didn’t have in the book. And there is a scene involving Seneca and some berries that is rather poetic….

MA: It’s like a great big futuristic version of the TV series SURVIVOR, except instead of voting each other off, the players kill each other.

LS: Exactly! And how many times have we wishes the contestants in SURVIVOR could knock each other off? The Hunger Games are a win-win in comparison!

The movie is based on the popular novel by Suzanne Collins, who also helped to write the screenplay, and the movie is mostly faithful to her book. They do change things here and there to condense events or save time. For example, in the novel, there is a big deal about Katniss trying to find water once the Games begin, and she almost dies of dehydration, but in the movie she finds water pretty quickly and with minimal discomfort. While I understand most of the changes, not all of them work for me.

MA: I didn’t read the book—.

LS: Not necessary, my good man! The movie will guide you through this terrain quite well, regardless.

MA:  I know. I was about to say that I understood pretty much everything in the movie, and better yet, I liked it. I liked it a lot.

LS:  Although, I must point out that, as is almost always the case, the book is actually smarter and more satisfying than the film in some ways.

MA: On the other hand, to all the moviegoers out there like me who haven’t read the book—.

LS:  All three of you.

MA:  Ha ha. To all of you who haven’t read the book, the movie stands on its own. It’s a highly entertaining flick, and you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy it.

LS:  I’m just saying the book is better than the movie, that’s all.

And so we watch as Katniss tries to stay alive in a vast forest that has its own dangers aside from the other kids who are looking to kill her. Oh yes, I forgot to mention. During the pre-game interview, Peeta lets on to the viewers that he had had a crush on Katniss since they were children. The show plays up this “star-crossed lovers” aspect, and I must say, the audience and the sponsors seem to just eat it up. So we’re always leery of the moment when Katniss has to “remove” Peeta from the game. Or will it be vice versa?

MA: It’s all so riveting!

LS: Let’s take a look at the actors, shall we? First off, we’ve got Jennifer Lawrence portraying Katniss, and I have to say, she does a remarkable job here.

MA: Yes, one of the best things about THE HUNGER GAMES is there is some major star power going on here. It’s got a terrific cast, really impressive, and at the top of the list, you’ve got Jennifer Lawrence in a knock-out performance as Katniss.

LS: Katniss is the one who is the heroine of this story, so it’s important that she sympathetic and believable, and Lawrence brings those qualities and more to the role. I really thought she was the heart and soul of this movie. What a wonderful job of casting. Lawrence makes us believe she actually is Katniss Everdeen as the story unfolds. Some people may remember her equally impressive acting job in the movie WINTER’S BONE (2010). She was also quite good as the young Mystique in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). I’ve become quite fond of Ms. Lawrence.

MA: I completely agree, and I liked her much better here than as Mystique in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. She’s completely believable in this role.

LS: The rest of the cast is also quite good.

MA:  The rest of the cast is excellent.

LS:  Standouts include Stanley Tucci as the very plastic yet dynamic Caesar Flickerman. He balances sincerity and artificiality quite splendidly here, with his flashing white teeth. I can’t imagine that anyone does not know who Tucci is, but just in case, we most recently saw him as Dr. Abraham Erskine in last year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.

MA:  I thought Tucci gave the best performance in the movie. I really liked his flamboyant Caesar Flickerman. From his commentary on the Games, to his hosting the interviews, Flickerman was a captivating character. He was Steve Colbert crossed with Liberace.

LS: Yes, you and I can only hope to be as good at providing color commentary for the Games as he is. He is the gold standard for emcees here at the Capitol.

I’m also a big fan of Woody Harrelson, and he does a fine job as Haymitch here, even if he plays the role a little more seriously than the drunken buffoon we first see in the novel (although he gets quite serious as time goes on there as well).

MA:  I thought Harrelson was great. He really makes Haymitch—a guy who starts off seeming like a useless drunk—likeable.

LS: Ahh—but not so useless. In the novel, when we first see him, he falls off a platform and vomits on himself. But there’s no sign of that Haymitch here. In fact, when Peeta tries to knock a drink out of his hand early on, he shows that he still has the reflexes of a warrior, even if he long ago went to seed.

And Donald Sutherland is suitably menacing as President Snow, even though it’s a role that Sutherland could have easily done in his sleep, if he had to.

MA:  Donald Sutherland as President Snow was as icy cold as his character’s name. There was something sinister and chilling about Sutherland’s portrayal, and while you’re right that he could have done this in his sleep, I thought he was terrific in these scenes. He creeped me out.

LS:  I also liked musician Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s compassionate stylist. And I think many of the other kids were quite good, especially Josh Hutcherson as Peeta; Amandla Sternberg as Rue, a 12-year-old girl from District 11 who bonds with Katniss at one point; and Alexander Ludwig as Cato, the most vicious of the other tributes out to get Katniss.

(The screen behind them suddenly fills with the face of NICK CATO)

NC (seems confused): Cato? Did someone say Cato?

LS: Ahh, it’s our illustrious Nick Cato, author of the Suburban Grindhouse Memories column here at cinemaknifefight.com

MA: Hi, Nick.

NC: I thought I heard you guys mention me.

LS: No, Nick. We were talking about the character “Cato” from THE HUNGER GAMES. We’re in the middle of our review here.

(MA waves to NC from behind the desk)

NC: Oh, okay. I was just going to say that….

(The screen goes blank when LS presses a button)

LS: Now, no more interruptions. Back to our wonderful review! What were you going to say about the cast, Michael?

MA: I agree. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta definitely grew on me as the movie went along. I thought his character might become kind of a jerk, based upon his early scenes, but he’s not this way at all, and he grows more likeable as the story goes on.

And as you said, Amandla Sternberg is also quite good as the cute Rue.

And while Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the guy who runs the Games from behind the scenes, doesn’t really do a whole lot but look dark and dashing in his black suit, he does dark and dashing well, and he’s more memorable here than he was in last month’s GONE, where he played a cop who also happened to be—surprise, surprise—dark and dashing.

LS: The direction by Gary Ross is quite good, if unspectacular. He sticks to the book fairly closely for the most part, and doesn’t give us too much in the way of surprises. But hey, sometimes a faithful adaptation is just what the doctor ordered. Ross previously directed the films SEABISCUIT (2003) and the interesting PLEASANTVILLE (1998).

MA:  I thought Ross did a nice job, too. I thought he got the pacing right. For a long movie—2 hours and 22 minutes, to be exact—it didn’t drag one iota. It also caught my interest and had me hooked long before the actual Games even start, and once they start, the film gets even better. Honestly, I was really impressed. I went in really expecting not to be wowed by this movie, but it succeeded in delivering the goods.

LS: Two hours and 22 minutes? Yes, it never seemed that long at all. It moves at a very nice pace.

I liked THE HUNGER GAMES, especially Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. I wasn’t particularly dazzled by it, but I found it to be a solid story, done well. I give it three knives.

And what is your verdict, Michael?

MA:  I liked it even better than you, which surprises the hell out of me.

I still don’t buy the plot.  A society where children are forced to fight to the death in Games that are televised nationwide still comes off as pure fantasy to me, and I’m not a fan of pure fantasy. I like some realism.

However, that being said, the movie takes this outlandish story and makes it believable. I believed in the onscreen events I was watching, and as such, I was moved by them.

LS: Actually, this isn’t the first time we have been treated to such a concept in the movies. The Japanese cult film, BATTLE ROYALE (2000), also based on a popular novel—in Japan, at least—also treads similar ground. In that one, a class of school kids is brought to an island where they must fight to the death, with only one victor. However, THE HUNGER GAMES is different enough to avoid being a mere cover version. THE HUNGER GAMES, in comparison, is very American, and the backstory about the Capitol, and the glitz of the Games themselves, all give us a very home-grown feel to the proceedings. And Katniss is such a wonderfully memorable character.

MA: THE HUNGER GAMES works on multiple levels. First and foremost, its tale of games in which children must kill each other, whether I buy that as a concept or not, works because the characters in this story know only one of them is coming out alive, and they make you feel their anxiety and their fear over what is about to take place. This works very well in the movie. I believed that these kids were scared, and I believed that to survive, they would kill each other, and they do.

LS: Well, that’s just one. What are the other levels, Michael? I, for one, saw it as an allegory for war. And a certain scene with berries, involving Peeta and Katniss, reminded me a bit of the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, there are lots of other levels that the movie (and book) delves into as the story goes along.

MA: Now, THE HUNGER GAMES is rated PG-13, and so while some may argue that the killing scenes are neat and sanitary, I thought in spite of the fact that they weren’t gory and bloody, they were sufficiently brutal and effective. These killing scenes aren’t pleasant. And they help make this movie work.

LS: Yes, the violence is well done. I found that THE HUNGER GAMES maintains a certain edge that is lacking in other young adult franchises—the TWILIGHT series springs instantly to mind—and I found it particularly pleasing for that reason.

MA:  I definitely agree with you there.  If only the TWILIGHT series had an edge! And before my showing of THE HUNGER GAMES, they just had to show the preview for the final TWILIGHT movie too, coming out on November 16.  Start the countdown!  Ugh!  At least we’ll be able to celebrate that there won’t be any more TWILIGHT movies after that!

LS:  Well, there’ll be more HUNGER GAMES movies.  Just as the book was the first part of a trilogy, it’s quite clear at the end of THE HUNGER GAMES movie that there’s more to come. And you just know this movie is going to be a big enough hit to give a green light to sequels.

MA: There are also some neat scenes showing the reactions of people in the Districts, including parents of slain children, who rebel, and have to be suppressed by futuristic riot police. Scenes like this keep the story real. There are real families tortured by the deaths of these kids.

The movie also works on the media level, and it’s actually this part of the story that I buy more than the actual Games story. See, I believe that the public would actually watch a show where people really killed each other. I’m just not sure I believe in a government that would allow it. Most brutal governments are uncivilized and they don’t possess the imagination necessary for pulling a spectacle like THE HUNGER GAMES off. Thankfully.

LS: Speak for yourself, Michael. I for one, love to be entertained!

MA: But the show part of it all, I buy, and it’s this media aspect of THE HUNGER GAMES that I found disturbing. I believe people would watch this stuff. And I thought the whole spectacle of the interview show hosted by Stanley Tucci was dead on. If ever a show like this were to exist, it would be like that.

LS: I agree whole-heartedly, my friend (grins for the cameras).

MA: THE HUNGER GAMES was creative and different enough to hold my interest throughout. I was into this story long before the Games started. Once they start, things really get moving, as you don’t know who is going to survive, and it’s not like so-and-so loses and they get voted off. They get killed. Brutally. It truly heightens the suspense. It really works.

One thing that didn’t work, and this is a minor quibble, is that the vicious animal creatures at the end of the movie are so obviously fake—another poor example of CGI— they’re laughable, which is too bad, because the rest of the movie isn’t. But they’re not a big part of the film, so their presence doesn’t ruin it.

LS: I must agree with you there. The “muttations,” as they are called in the book, aren’t very convincing here. Also, in the book, there is a major secret about them that is never mentioned in the movie. But you’re right. I thought they seemed tacked on, and looked rather silly.

MA: I was completely impressed, and entertained from start to finish! I give THE HUNGER GAMES three and a half knives.

 

See, this is what I hoped for from JOHN CARTER. Go in with low expectations, come out impressed. That one didn’t do it for me, but THE HUNGER GAMES, to my surprise, did.

LS (smiles wider): Well, I for one continue to defend JOHN CARTER as a very good movie that just failed to find its target audience. If only the marketing campaign had been a bit more focused….

MA: But, alas, we’re not talking about JOHN CARTER here. So back to the matter at hand. THE HUNGER GAMES is one time where the movie lives up to the hype.

So, that wraps things up here. We’ll see you next—-

LS:  Shh!   They’re making an announcement. Listen.

VOICE:  A special announcement. There’s been a change in the rules for today’s Hunger Games. As part of the festivities, only one co-host will be allowed to survive and continue with the show. This will be the only announcement.

MA:  Hmm. That kinda changes things, doesn’t it?

LS:  Not really. It’s just like old times.

(MA dives for a sword, while LS snags an axe. The two Cinema Knife Fighters lunge at each other, screaming with fury, as the camera FADES TO BLACK.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE HUNGER GAMES ~three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE HUNGER GAMES ~three knives.

Transmissions to Earth: THE VULTURE (1967)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1960s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bad Acting, British Horror, Hard To Find Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Mutants!, Mystery, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on March 23, 2012 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth: THE VULTURE (1967)
(Obscure) Movie Review by L.L. Soares

It’s been awhile since I wrote an installment of TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH, where I’ve been focusing on strange and often overlooked movies, but I recently saw a flick that fit this column perfectly. Too bad it isn’t very good.

THE VULTURE is an odd little British film from 1967, directed by Lawrence Huntington, whose first movie was way back in 1930 (AFTER MANY YEARS) and who directed most of his movies in the 40s and 50s with titles like WOMEN AREN’T ANGELS (1943) and THERE WAS A YOUNG LADY (1953). His specialty seemed to be low-budget mysteries and noir wannabes. The fact that nothing he did was all that famous is certainly a bad sign. THE VULTURE was Huntington’s last film as director, and a foray into horror and science fiction that is neither very horrific or very scientific, although it pretends to be.

It begins with a woman walking through an old  graveyard at night and seeing a grave open up, followed by the sound of flapping wings above her. The incident scares her so much to faints and her hair turns white (!). We find out later, when she recovers from “shock” in the hospital, that what she saw was a “great black bird with the head of a man.” Of course, nobody believes her. That is, until Dr. Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton) comes to Cornwall, England to visit his wife’s uncle Brian Stroud (Broderick Crawford) and gets wind of the strange occurence. Lutens is a man of science (back home in America he is part of the “Atomic Program”) and finds the story too irresistible to ignore, despite the fact that everyone around him thinks he’s nuts to pursue it. Everyone except his wife Trudy (Diane Clare), of course.

There is a strange parchment that tells of a curse placed upon the Stroud family by Frances Read, a sailor who owned a mansion a hundred years ago and who had a pet vulture he brought back from Easter Island. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Read was buried alive with his pet, vowing revenge on the descendants of the Strouds, which in current time include tycoon Brian, his brother Edward Stroud (Gordon Sterne) and Trudy Lutens, in that order. They are all marked for death.

There are also a few suspicious characters including Melcher, the Sexton (Edward Caddick) who sneaks around warning people not to interfere with the curse, and a German antiquarian expert named Professor Hans Koniglich (Akim Tamiroff) who walks with two canes after a “bad fall” and who finds Dr. Lutens’s theories about the mystery to be quite fascinating.

The incident at the gravesite turns out to include the theft of a box of ancient gold coins from the opened grave, and the “scientific” explanation of events that involve an experiment in teleportation (like THE FLY, 1958) and someone’s atoms being combined with those of the corpse of Frances Read and his pet vulture. And, like THE FLY, it involves someone who has acquired the appendages of an animal, in this case, the titular vulture.

The mystery isn’t all that hard to figure out, even if it does make no sense.The acting for the most part runs the gamut for serviceable to atrocious—with character actors Crawford (best known as the star of the TV series HIGHWAY PATROL from 1955 to 1959)  and Tamiroff, who had previously been in tons of the movies, including the Orson Welles films MR. ARKADIN (1955) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) being the big draws here.

The “horror” scenes, being what they are, occur mostly off camera, but we do occasionally hear the flapping of giant wings and see the talons of some giant bird swooping down and grabbing people, to carry them away to their doom. The talons are especially awful-looking and stiff, like they were made of papier mache. The Vulture himself, when his identity is finally revealed, is onscreen for mere seconds—the giant bird with the human head (and hands) —and isn’t convincing at all.

There aren’t any scares to be found in THE VULTURE, and the plot moves pretty slowly for the most part. The effects are dismal, and the “scientific” explanation is laughably absurd. So there isn’t much to recommend this movie. It is pretty hard to find, though, and I’d seen stills from it years ago and was always curious to find out what the movie was actually about. Of course, these kinds of movies rarely are as good as you’re lead to believe, and this one is no exception. THE VULTURE is pretty forgettable, except for some scenes of goofy dialogue and the completely silly solution to the not-so-chilling mystery.

Not worth the effort it took to finally track it down, but at least I finally saw it.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

THE VULTURE
91 minutes
Directed and Written by Lawrence Huntington
Starring: Robert Hutton, Akim Tamiroff, Broderick Crawford and Diane Clare

Beware! THE VULTURE will get you if you don't watch out!

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: DRIVE-IN MASSACRE (1976)

Posted in 70s Horror, Drive-in Movies, Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , on March 22, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Great Title—But That’s About It!
By Nick Cato

Just before the home video boom of the early 80s, there was a minor outbreak of 70s horror films being re-released theatrically, usually on double bills with a new feature.  Before most of us had VCRs, I was lucky enough to see the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and a host of others on the big screen in glorious re-releases, and I still wonder if this wasn’t some kind of testing stage for upcoming home video companies to see what forgotten trash they could repackage for VHS.  Or something.

I can’t recall what new slasher epic was the main feature (I’m thinking it was HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983)?), because my excitement was for the opening film, DRIVE-IN MASSACRE, a 1976 or 1977 (depending on who you believe) oddity that was promised to be released soon on VHS within the pages of FANGORIA magazine.  Having no idea what to expect, the title alone got my juices flowing, as did the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE-type opening sequence.  But it wasn’t long before the suburban audience in attendance at the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema were openly insulting the talentless cast of this nearly gore-less slasher flick (but now that I think about it, considering this was originally released in 1976/7, just before the outbreak of “slasher” films, perhaps the producers of this dreck were looking at it as a murder mystery?  Who knows?)

For some reason that’s never explained, a psycho is stalking people at a California drive-in theater.  For another unknown reason, the killer’s weapon of choice is a long sword, which he uses to decapitate his (or her, we’re never told) first victims, one as he leans out of his car to adjust the volume box (NOTE TO KIDDIES WHO NEVER WENT TO A DRIVE IN: volume boxes were located outside your car’s window, although they usually attached right to the window itself.  Perhaps not in California?).  I’m thinking the killer could’ve been an escaped schizophrenic ninja?  Nah…whoever “wrote” this screenplay didn’t bother with a standard plot, let alone something as cool as a schizophrenic ninja.  For gorehounds, this is the only kill in the film that even shows a bit of sauce; otherwise, DRIVE-IN MASSACRE has about as much on-screen violence as CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968).

Thank goodness for the two hefty cops who are on the case.  The comic relief they provide is the sole reason any exploitation completest might even bother to seek this out (unless you get off on the sight of an ugly janitor with big, fake jewelry and a sports coat that’d make Bozo the Clown commit suicide).  The detectives get nowhere after questioning the theater’s owner in what has to be one of the worst dialogue exchanges ever captured on film.  The theater owner also offers a few laughs, as he HATES everyone he’s asked about: I’m assuming the Klan themselves would deem him too hateful to join their organization.  In-between a couple of lame kill scenes, our pudgy officers decide to dress in drag in an attempt to find the killer: just WHY they decide to do this is anyone’s guess, but it leads to a couple of giggles and filler chase scenes.  WHY do all these low budget films pad themselves with chase scenes?  And WHY are they never exciting (one chase takes place inside of a dimly lit warehouse and is shot so slowly several audience members took the opportunity to refill their sodas or visit the restrooms.  I’m thinking a few just gave up and left).

Along with a horrendous soundtrack (including an opening soft-rock song that was too lame to be included on any old K-TEL compilation album), DRIVE-IN MASSACRE ends with an attempt to scare us by claiming the killer has never been caught…and that he might be in the theater you’re currently in…sitting right next to YOU!

Good grief…why do I continue to be fascinated with this junk?

(WARNING: Horror of horrors!  DRIVE-IN MASSACRE is slated for a remake with filming to commence in the fall of 2012.  Ut oh…)

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Robert E. Pearson stars as Austin, the funkiest janitor in horror film history. Robert went to that Drive-In in the sky in 2009.