Archive for the Strange Cinema Category

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

Posted in 2013, Demons, Devil Movies, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Monster Babies, Nightmares, Rob Zombie Films, Strange Cinema, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by knifefighter

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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I’ve been a fan of Rob Zombie’s for quite a long time now. First his music, then his movies when he started directing, beginning with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), which I liked a lot, and then THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), which I pretty much loved. Then he made his two movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise (2007 and 2009), and while they had some good moments, they were disappointments over all. So I’ve been really itching to see him back to making low budget films based on his own characters. The HALLOWEEN stuff just wasn’t a good fit.

His new movie, THE LORDS OF SALEM, is a step in the right direction.

Gone is the studio oppression. And a lower budget means Rob can stay true to his vision. So just what is his vision for LORDS OF SALEM? Well, I better add a disclaimer. Not everyone is going to dig this movie. But I had a lot of fun with it.

It begins in 1692 Salem, Mass. with the coven of Margaret Morgan (an almost unrecognizable Meg Foster, who was also in John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, 1988, and a lot more movies and TV series). Margaret is a genuine Satan-worshipping, baby killing monster of a witch. No Mother-Earth loving Wiccan is she. When she cuts open a pregnant woman, in order to sacrifice her child to Satan, Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne (Andrew Prine, star of lots of cool 70s flicks like SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES, 1971) has her and her coven rounded up and executed for their crimes. But, of course, Margaret curses Hawthorne and his bloodline before she dies.

Skip to modern-day Salem, Mass., where the Reverend’s descendent, Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie), is a recovering drug addict and a DJ at a local radio station, along with Herman Jackson (Ken Foree, who you’ve got to remember from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978) and Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips, looking a lot like a stand-in for Rob Zombie, he was most recently in the above-average revenge movie FASTER, 2010). The three of them do a “morning zoo” type show during the late night hours, and things get weird when they get a visit from a death metal singer named Count Gorgann (Torsten Voges), who goes on a blasphemous rant about his philosophy of life. Things get even weirder when a mysterious vinyl record shows up for Heidi in an antique wooden box, addressed simply from “The Lords.” The music it plays has a very strange effect on Heidi and some of the women of Salem who hear it.

The-Lords-of-Salem-poster #2There’s also Heidi’s deceptively friendly landlady, Lacy (Judy Geeson, TO SIR WITH LOVE, 1967) and her “sisters” Sonny (Dee Wallace, whose resume includes such classic films as the original HILLS HAVE EYES, 1977, E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, 1982, CUJO, 1983, and more recently in Chris Sivertson’s adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s THE LOST, 2006) and Megan (Patricia Quinn, Magenta herself from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975). These three ladies would fit in just fine in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, if you know what I mean. They set Margaret Morgan’s curse into modern-day action.

The curse manifests itself in Room # 5 of the house where Heidi lives – an apartment long empty (and presumably un-rentable) that has now become some kind of portal into Hell, complete with a very strange-looking dwarf monster in a rubber suit at one point (the scenes with this dwarf demon are equally funny—because of the low-budget look of the monster —and weird, but actually work in a bizarre way). As Whitey slowly becomes aware of his true feelings for Heidi, he tries to save her. Also in heroic mode is Bruce Davison (WILLARD, 1971 and THE CRUCIBLE, 1996), as a writer and expert on historical witchcraft who is a guest on Heidi’s radio show, and figures out what is going on. But they’re up against some particularly formidable nasties.

There’s a scene towards the end that is pure Rob Zombie, a series of images that play out as a prolonged acid trip, and it’s stuff like this that makes THE LORDS OF SALEM so enjoyable. Yesterday, Michael Arruda and I reviewed the new Tom Cruise movie, OBLIVION, and opined that, despite the huge budget, the movie was kind of hollow because of a weak story, and a sanitized feel. THE LORDS OF SALEM is the exact opposite of something like OBLIVION. With a very low budget, Rob has to be more creative in putting his vision onscreen (thus that funny-looking demon) , and yet, because it is such a personal vision—and he has such a unique style—LORDS just seems more satisfying. Where OBLIVION is sterile and perfectly manicured, LORDS is dirty and depraved— coming at us warts-and-all—but that’s fine, because this is a horror movie after all.

There are parts of this movie that reminded me of Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968, an inevitable comparison), and some of the flashbacks from the 1600s had a slightly BLACK SUNDAY (1960) feel to them; there’s also a bit of the insanity from something like Andzej Zulawksi’s 1981 film, POSSESSION (that crazy dwarf demon) and the films of Alejandro Jodorowksy. The acting is mostly right on, especially Sheri Moon Zombie, who is becoming quite an effective leading lady for this kind of thing. There are some scenes that have her doing very bizarre things, but she’s a trooper, and you truly care about her character (frankly, I wanted an even deeper look at her life before the curse kicks in). I found myself wishing that more directors would use her in their movies (although Mr. Zombie has been giving her some plum roles over the years, it’s not just because she’s his wife –  she has actually done a good job with them).

I would have had liked to see more of Ken Foree’s character (we only get a taste of what he can do as an actor here), and Jeff Daniel Phillips and Bruce Davison are good as the forces of good (I’m actually a big fan of Davison, and have been since the original WILLARD, and was happy to see him here, as well as the great Andrew Prine in what is, unfortunately, little more than a cameo). And the witches—well, they’re just terrific here, and probably the main reason to see the movie (aside from Sheri).

There’s also a very strong 70s feel to the movie, starting with the opening credits-on, which should come as no surprise to fans of his films. Zombie has been strongly influenced by the horror films of the 1970s, which is just fine with me. I consider the 70s to be one of the two main golden ages of cinema, the other being the 1930s. And, like some of the witch films from the 70s, there are some clichés of the genre here, but there’s also enough originality to keep things fresh.

THE LORDS OF SALEM is in limited release right now (only one theater in my area was showing it, so it’s not going to be easy for some people to find), but it deserves a wider audience. Also, before the movie was released, a book came out by Rob Zombie (with B.K. Evenson), which is a novelization of the film. Or rather, it is based on the first version of the script, before budgetary constraints forced Zombie to change a lot to save money. Reading the novel, which is presumably what he originally intended to do on film, it’s fun to compare this to what actually got made. I’m about 100 pages into the book, and already there are some interesting changes between his original concept and the finished film.

The novel version of THE LORDS OF SALEM is also available now.

The novel version of THE LORDS OF SALEM is also available now.

Since the HALLOWEEN films, I have been eager to see Rob Zombie go back to his roots and give us something that was truly his own. He really should try to avoid directing remakes of other people’s films. His style is just too idiosyncratic to be used to present other people’s ideas. Like a Jodorowsky or a David Lynch, his best work is that which originates with him.

As I said before, a lot of people might not enjoy this movie as much as I did. The attempts at characterization might be a little slow for some people, and Zombie’s style during the weird stuff might be too bizarre for them. But for me, everything kind of clicked, and I was really pulled into this film. I loved the feel of it, the strong sense of atmosphere, and the imagery here. I do not think it is Rob Zombie’s best work (that remains THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), but after two steps back, this is a big step forward toward getting him back on track in making the kinds of movies only he can make, and I hope he gives us many more films in the future.

Welcome back, Rob. I give this one three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE LORDS OF SALEM ~three and a half knives.

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THE COMEDY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Cult Movies, Dark Comedies, Disturbing Cinema, Independent Cinema, Satire, Something Different, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by knifefighter

THE COMEDY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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As THE COMEDY opens, a guy named Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is having a drunken party with his friends, which evolves into nudity and outrageous behavior. This occurs during the opening credits. It’s a good introduction to this man and his world of debauchery and idiocy.

When we next see Swanson, he is verbally harassing his father’s male nurse (Seth Koen), whose lack of reaction reveals that he’s endured this many times before. Swanson’s father is in a coma in his bed at home, and Swanson is clearly conflicted about his father’s condition. This conflict lasts a few minutes. Then he goes out for a day of mayhem.

This involves such weirdness as walking by a group of landscapers working on someone’s yard and suddenly chipping in to help. When the house’s owners come outside, he takes advantage of the fact that the workers can’t speak English, and pretends to be their supervisor and asks if his men can take a dip in the pool, creating a really awkward moment until the owners agree. At this point, Swanson just goes along his merry way, having accomplished a moment of anarchy. Later, he ends up in a bar where he is the only white customer, saying offensive things that could lead to a beatdown. Later still, he and his friends harass a cab driver for not having a working radio, and partake in some sophomoric behavior inside a church.

Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.
Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.

Just about everything Swanson does is meant to offend and piss off someone. To put it in a nutshell, Swanson’s behavior shows that he is a complete asshole, and the title of the movie has an ironic ring to it, because while some parts of this movie are funny, just as many parts are uncomfortable and even unpleasant. This is not really a comedy, after all.

Swanson lives on a boat, and spends most of his time drinking (and often puking overboard). He does whatever strikes him at a given moment, like suddenly entering a restaurant and applying for a job as a dishwasher (even though he’s about 40). It’s clear that he is well off and doesn’t need to work, yet he does these things on a lark, knowing that if he grows bored, he can always just walk away.

Somehow, despite his arrested development, Swanson is able to get girls. He “seduces” one woman at a party with banter about how feudalism could have worked if given more of a chance, and that Hitler may have had some good ideas “if you take away the killing part.” Another woman, who he meets at his dishwasher job (the first time they meet, he tells her he’s a registered sex offender), ends up back at his boat and he watches with mild curiosity as she unexpectedly has an epileptic fit.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

He also, surprisingly, has lots of friends, all of whom seem as idiotic as he is. These include Eric Wareheim (Heidecker’s cohort on the late night Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC, AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!), stand-up comic Neil Hamburger and musician James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame).

So it’s not like Swanson is an isolated loner with no friends or girlfriends. He’s found lots of like-minded people to hang out with. And yet, he appears to have complete disdain for people in general and the world around him. He has no desire to work a real job (and clearly doesn’t have to) and has no desire to take on any kind of responsibility.

By the end of the movie, chances are good that you will want to punch Swanson in the face. And you’ll wonder why someone doesn’t punch his lights out every day of his life.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself liking this movie.

I’ve always enjoyed comedians who sought to make their audiences squirm more than laugh, and THE COMEDY is this kind of comedy. It’s not laugh-out-loud kind of stuff (although there were a couple of times when I did laugh); it’s more like, “how much can Swanson get away with before someone decks him” kind of humor. Director Rick Alverson does a great job of making this work. Without a skilled director at the helm, this movie could easily have deteriorated into the story of a really annoying guy, which would just be a waste of time. There are scenes when you actually wonder whether or not everyone onscreen is “in” on the joke (like that scene in the barroom, where you can feel the tension building up, the more Swanson talks). And despite his complete obnoxiousness, there are moments when you feel something for Swanson as a human being, even if most of the time that feeling is repulsion.

Tim Heidecker is amazing (and fearless) in the lead role here, and he seems to be the perfect choice for this kind of thing. His Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series with Eric Wareheim is known for its bizarre, off-the-wall style that is often more weird than funny. But if you haven’t seen that show—or aren’t aware of it—then you’ll have an even better reaction to THE COMEDY.

 Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

You may like this movie; chances are more likely that you will completely hate it. But it will get a reaction out of you. And director Alverson has stated that that was his main mission in making THE COMEDY, to get a reaction out of moviegoers who are usually lulled to sleep by brainless blockbusters. If you “get” what’s going on here and enjoy your humor especially dark, you might see this as a work of bizarre brilliance. If you don’t “get” it, you may want to jump through the screen and kick Swanson’s butt. But be forewarned, you will have a reaction. That is guaranteed.

So Alverson’s mission is a clear success.

I hesitate to rate this one.  I enjoyed it in a perverse way—but then again, I’ve always had an affinity for unlikable characters —but I bet most of the people reading this review would hate it.  So instead of a rating, let’s just say, if this sounds like something you’d want to see, see it. If not, then you will probably avoid it anyway.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

This Year’s Christmas Turkey Review: BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Animals Attack, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a True Story, CGI, Cult Movies, Disaster Films, Horror, Indie Horror, Just Plain Bad, Man vs. Nature, Message Movies, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 25, 2012 by knifefighter

A Special Christmas Day Movie Review

BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)
Review By L.L. Soares

birdemicCover

Ever since PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), started showing up on critics’ “Worst Movies of all Time” lists, people have been on the lookout for comparable bad cinema, and it’s not hard to find.  But movies that are truly bad and yet very entertaining aren’t always so forthcoming. In recent years, we’ve seen some great examples of “So Bad It’s Good” cinema with films like TROLL 2 (1990) and Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003).

For the past year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010) and how it deserves a place in the bad movie pantheon. I’ve been reluctant to check it out for some reason (what could be better than THE ROOM?), but figured that the time had come to finally subject myself to this one. And, it actually does a good job living up to its hype. It’s certainly bad, and yet it’s also quite enjoyably bad.

Directed by James Nguyen (who also wrote the screenplay), BIRDEMIC is what he calls a “romantic thriller,” in that the movie really starts out like a romantic film, but, as it progresses, the “thriller” elements make themselves known. In this case, the thriller elements amount to a low-budget “homage” to Alfred Hitchock’s classic, THE BIRDS, but with only birds of prey (eagles, hawks, falcons) involved.

The film begins by introducing us to Rod (Alan Bagh), a telemarketer who is waiting for that big day when someone buys the company he works for a fortune, and he can cash in his stock options and retire young.  The thing is, Rod has a little trouble expressing his emotions, because he talks in the same monotone whether he is talking about stock options or declaring his love for someone (do you think it could be the fault of Bagh’s awful acting?). This guy just doesn’t show enthusiasm or passion very well.

So, his job is going well (and guess what company gets bought up by a rich parent company soon afterwards?), but Rod is lonely. One day, while eating breakfast in his usual diner, he notices that a girl at another table, Natalie (Whitney Moore), looks familiar and goes to meet her outside after she leaves. He gives her the line, “Don’t I know you from someplace?” and immediately your eyes will start rolling in your head, except she says, “Hey, yeah, you do look familiar.” Turns out they went to high school together, where she was pretty and popular, and he was probably invisible (she has no clue they were in the same English class back then).

Natalie is now a fashion model, and at first it looks like Rod is irritating her, but she soon gives him her number and suddenly shows interest. He says he’ll call her.

When his dream of early retirement becomes a reality, Natalie is the first person Rod calls (while he seems to be friendly with a guy at his job, I guess he doesn’t have a lot of friends). They go out to dinner and find themselves falling for each other. This is the romance part of the film.

About 30 minutes in, however, something goes wrong. After a chaste few dates, they decide to finally go to a motel together (although she leaves her underwear on and he’s fully dressed in their “love scene”). When they wake up the next day (still in their clothes!), there are birds screeching outside their window, trying to get in.

What the hell is going on? It seems that some of the world’s birds have suddenly turned deadly. The reason that most of the characters in this movie give for this scary turn of events is global warming. In fact, before the birds show up, Rod and Natalie double-date with another couple and go to the movies. What do they see? The Al Gore documentary AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006). Not very heavy-handed, is it?

Rod and Natalie wait until the birds go away before they leave the motel room. They find another couple downstairs who have survived as well and, armed only with clothes hangers, somehow make it to a SUV alive and drive away.  The birds hover above, constantly screeching. We never see them actually bite anyone, but after they hover around you long enough, you’ll end up on the ground, bleeding. Probably with your eyes poked out. Scary stuff!

With a seemingly unlimited supply of ammunition, the survivors drive around, shooting at the birds, hitting a lot of them (they spurt blood and drop to the ground, kind of like in a video game). Eventually they save two kids whose parents have been killed by the birds, and they just drive around, trying to figure out what to do next, and where to go. But nowhere seems safe.

Along the way, they try to save people in trouble. One particularly hilarious scene involves a double-decker bus where the birds have trapped some passengers who are screaming for help. Our heroes stop and Rod starts shooting at the birds (they just start shooting in the direction of the bus, but somehow don’t break any of the windows or hurt any of the people inside), while some of the others go inside to grab the people in there and pull them out. Turns out they were better off inside the bus. Once outside, the people who have been “saved” get splashed with some kind of liquid by the birds (bird poop?) and start to scream and disintegrate as if they’ve been doused with acid. So much for saving the day!

Sometimes you just shouldn't get out of the bus. Just asking these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t get out of the bus. Just ask these unlucky souls from BIRDEMIC.

We’re also never sure how many people are left in the world. Most of the time, Rod and Natalie and their “friends” drive around empty highways with no signs of other people. We think they’re the last people left on Earth. Then they’ll be parked somewhere, and we’ll see tons of cars driving by in the distance (oops!). So is this the end of the world or not??

Another funny scene involves them getting to a gas station where a guy who can barely speak English tells them that because of the gas shortage it will cost them a hundred dollars a gallon! Instead of just shooting the guy, they pay him, but drive away in the middle of pumping the gas when some birds show up. Soon afterwards, a guy in a cowboy hat (Joe Teixeira) pretends to have car trouble. When they pull over to help him, he holds them up, pointing a gun and demanding their gas. Rod goes in the back to get an extra gas container. The guy takes it and is immediately killed by a low-flying bird that slits his throat with its beak. He drops the container of gas and—instead of grabbing it and putting it back in the car—Rod just leaves it there and runs back to the driver’s seat and drives away. Maybe five minutes later, they run out of gas! Duh!

They stop at a few places, and this gives them a chance to hear some words of wisdom, as cheesy characters pop out of nowhere to pontificate about the consequences of global warming. These include a doctor wearing a surgical mask named Dr. Jones (Rick Camp), who goes on to explain what’s going on (that global warming crap again). Later, they come across a character called “the Treehugger” (Stephen Gustavson), some weird hippie guy who lives in a treehouse up in some redwoods and who speaks for the trees (what is he, the Lorax?).

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

If they hover around you and screech for ten minutes, you are probably doomed.

The acting is just short of abysmal. Whitney Moore as Natalie is easily the most talented one here. But male lead Alan Bagh as Rod is just laughably bad in every scene he’s in. Even funnier is an interview on the disk (one of the extras) where director James Nguyen speaks glowingly to a (really bad) interviewer on cable access television about how good BIRDEMIC is. You just know that after it became a cult classic for being so bad, he probably went the Tommy Wiseau route, declaring that he made the movie so bad on purpose. That it was meant to be a comedy. But here, in this interview, Nguyen is pretty serious and talks as if BIRDEMIC is a really important message movie.

Oh yeah, and there is an appearance by a big-name actor in this one. It’s Tippi Hedren in some footage from an earlier James Nguyen movie, JULIE AND JACK (2003), that is used again here in a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. How’s that for star power? The thing is, I watched the movie twice, and I still can’t tell you where the scene is.

With bad acting, lame-ass gunfire (it’s obvious the guns are fake and little CGI blasts show up around the nozzles when they’re fired, along with sound effects), really pathetic CGI birds (the screeching alone will drive you mad) and a script that gives you more belly laughs than life lessons, BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR  is a completely inept, but thoroughly entertaining, journey in the land of truly awful cinema.

And if you’re good in 2013, Santa might just bring you a special treat called BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION, which is rumored to be coming out next year.

What are you waiting for? Go check this one out. As William Carl would say in his “Bill’s Bizarre Bijou” column, “You won’t believe your eyes!” Especially if they’re pecked out by CGI birds.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

Coming to an abandoned theater near you in 2013.

RUBIN AND ED (1991)

Posted in 2012, Buddy Movies, Comedies, Cult Movies, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Strange Cinema, Weird Ones with tags , , , , , , on September 14, 2012 by knifefighter

“WEIRD ONES” Presents:
RUBIN AND ED (1991)
Movie Review by L. L. Soares

Back when David Letterman had a show that aired at 12:30 at night on NBC called Late Night with David Letterman (this is before his CBS “Late Show”),  actor Crispin Glover went on the show one night and almost hit Dave with a karate kick. Crispin was dressed in tight pants, had long hair, and wore huge platform shoes. This kick led to Glover being kicked off the show, but he came back the next night to explain that he wasn’t  really a psychopath, he was simply playing a character from his latest movie. That character was Rubin Farr from the 1991 flick, RUBIN AND ED, which he was promoting at the time.

Crispin Glover’s infamous appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman,” where he dressed as his character, Rubin Farr.

I remember that show (back then I used to tape Letterman’s show at night and watch it the next day after work), and Glover was definitely a highlight of Dave’s run on NBC. On his second night, when Crispin “apologized,” they showed a clip of the film, showing Rubin hallucinating that his beloved cat, Simon, was water skiing. The scene ends with Rubin saying, “My cat can eat a whole watermelon.”

For years, that was the only part of RUBIN AND ED that I had ever seen. It is a movie that is notoriously hard to find and has been out of print for decades. The only way I was able to see it was to find an old VHS copy on Ebay. But I wish someone would re-release this on DVD. It’s exceedingly strange, and Crispin fans will definitely get a “kick” out of it.

The story begins with Ed Tuttle (Howard Hesseman, who played DJ “Johnny Fever” on the original WKRP in Cincinnati from 1978 – 1982), a down-on-his-luck schmo, attending a seminar by a motivational speaker named Mr. Busta (Michael Greene). The message is  the “Power of Positive Real Estate.” Ed then goes out on the street, trying to get other people to go to the seminar. Now that he’s on Mr. Busta’s payroll, and even gets to use the company car, Ed calls his ex-wife, Rula (Karen Black) and tries to convince her that he’s finally successful (his lack of cash is why she left), but she doesn’t buy it. In her book, it’s once a loser, always a loser, and she’s not interested in giving Ed a second chance.

Howard Hesseman as loser Ed Tuttle.

Enter Rubin Farr (Glover), an oddball with long hair, tight clothes and very big shoes. He lives in a big brick motel owned by his mother (Anna Louise-Daniels) where he just stays in his room all day, playing Mahler on his turntable and squeaking a rubber mouse that used to belong to his cat, Simon. Rubin’s mother pulls the plug on his record player, saying that he won’t get it back until he goes outside and makes a friend. Just one friend. If he can get this friend to come over the house for dinner (so Mom can see he or she exists), then he can have his music back.

Rubin reluctantly goes out into the world, where he bumps into Ed handing out flyers and trying to get people to attend the motivational seminar. Everyone ignores him and walks past, except for Rubin, who gives Ed odd answers to his questions, but seems like a possible customer. Rubin says he’ll go to the seminar if Ed comes and picks him up at his mother’s motel. Ed, eager to finally make a “sale,” says yes and they arrange to meet at Rubin’s room at 6pm.

Crispin Glover as Rubin.

When Ed gets there, Rubin won’t leave at first (he wants to wait for his mother to get home, so she can see his “friend”), but then Ed finds something odd when he looks in the refrigerator for ice. He finds a dead cat, frozen solid in the freezer. At first Rubin freaks out (“Don’t you dare touch my cat!”) but then realizes that, since Ed has a car, he can give him a ride out to the desert, where he wants to bury his cat. Ed, desperate to show his boss he’s made at least one prospective sale, agrees.

Rubin gets to the car first, gets behind the wheel, and drives. When they get close to the seminar place (Ed is giving him directions), Rubin drives past it and just keeps going, for hours, until they reach the desert.

They keep going until the car breaks down. Then Rubin, who is carrying around his frozen cat Simon in a cooler, can’t decide where he wants to bury his pet. Every time he starts digging a hole in the sand, he changes his mind. Ed, meanwhile, is losing patience as he follows Rubin around the desert. And, since this is the time before cell phones, and they’re in the middle of nowhere, there is a chance they could end up dead.

They both have moments where they hallucinate in the desert (Ed hallucinates about his ex-wife—she’s all he seems to think about, aside from the motivational seminars—imagining her wanting him back. Rubin sees a swimsuit model from his calendar at home (Brittney Lewis), and of course, his cat. In one scene—the one they showed back on Late Night with David Letterman— a hallucination shows Rubin floating on the ocean in a rubber tire watching Simon water-ski (the motor boat is driven by the swimsuit model). There’s also a funny part where Rubin ends up in a cave, and when he hears his voice echo, he thinks it’s the “Echo People” talking to him.

A still from the infamous “Water-Skiing Cat” sequence.

Will they ever get out of the desert? Will Rubin ever find a spot good enough to buy his cat? Will Ed ever get Rubin to attend one of the motivational seminars? Well, you have to see RUBIN AND ED to find out – if you can find a copy.

Some of the movie is funny in the way that will make you laugh. But just as much of it, if not more, is funny strange. I’m not really sure who this movie was made for (it certainly wasn’t a hit back in 1991), it’s too strange to appeal to mainstream audiences, but it will definitely appeal to fans of Glover. It’s just the kind of weirdness you’d expect him to be in. With his long, stringy hair and strange clothes, Rubin is a classic Glover character. Hesseman is also good as Ed, with his giant toupee. I always wondered why Hesseman wasn’t a bigger star, and I guess because he appeared in movies like this one.

Director Trent Harris is also known for another odd cult movie called THE BEAVER TRILOGY (2000). It’s made up of three short films. The first one (from 1979) is a straight-on documentary piece about a kid Harris meets from Beaver, Utah, who does impersonations. The kid, who calls himself “Groovin’ Gary,” begs Harris to come to his hometown talent show and see him perform. He says that one of his impersonations is of Olivia Newton-John. Intrigued, Harris brings his film crew to the talent show, where they watch in horror as Gary comes out onstage in full Olivia drag and performs for an audience of conservative, small-town people. Harris was so enthralled by this kid that he remade the story in a fictional version —sticking pretty closely to the first movie, the short documentary—except this time starring a young Sean Penn as “Groovin’ Larry.” Penn does a good job impersonating the kid. In the third short film that makes up THE BEAVER TRILOGY, Crispin Glover plays “Larry,” and we once again go through the same story, except this time it is called “The Orkly Kid”(from 1985)  and has more of a story to it, including a backstory and some insight into “Larry’s” life outside of the documentary footage. Strange, but strangely fascinating, THE BEAVER TRILOGY is worth checking out as well (and is just as difficult to find).

Whether RUBIN AND ED is worth hunting down depends on how much of a fan of Crispin Glover and/or strange cinema you are. But this one really should be saved from obscurity. It’s an oddball classic.

© Copyright 2012 by L. L. Soares

YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Enigmatic Films, Indie Horror, Innovative Movies, Strange Cinema, Supernatural with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by knifefighter

(Note: the original plan was to review SILENT HOUSE today and YELLOWBRICKROAD next Monday, but the SILENT HOUSE review has been postponed until next week, instead.)

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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A trail in the middle of the woods in rural New Hampshire. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are following the path through the forest, as music is heard over the horizon)

LS: Why are we here again? I hate hiking and camping and crap like that.

MA: We’re here to review the movie YELLOWBRICKROAD, which was made in 2010, but got some buzz on the independent horror movie circuit in 2011. I figured it was about time we reviewed it for Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I agree with you, but did we really have to come out here in the middle of nowhere to do it?

MA: Well, the movie is about a trail in the middle of the woods, just like this one. So it seemed appropriate enough to me. Besides, as a New Hampshire resident, it gave me a chance to get out and explore some of the nearby flora and fauna.

LS: Next time, just take a book out of the library (slaps neck). Damn mosquitos.

MA: Naw, why read a book when you can actually be in the great outdoors? This is a wonderful setting for a review.

LS: If you say so. And what is that awful racket? That music is just irritating! I didn’t ask for a soundtrack.

MA: It’s part of the mystery of the trail. What is the YELLOWBRICKROAD and where does it lead to? Spooky, huh?

LS: Not really.

MA:  I agree.

LS:  Y’know, I just realized that I really hate nature.

MA: Why don’t you give us a synopsis of the movie’s plot. It will get your mind off the hiking.

LS: Okay. When YELLOWBRICKROAD opens, we learn about the residents of Friar, New Hampshire.  In the 1940s, the entire town just picked up and walked out into the woods to follow a trail, leaving their homes and belongings behind. The majority of them disappeared completely, but a few were found frozen to death or murdered. Only one guy came back alive (there’s eerie old audio of him being questioned about it). No one knows what happened, but the search party that went looking for them set up a marker for the trail with a stone that reads: Yellowbrickroad. Just like the magical path in THE WIZARD OF OZ  (1939).

MA:  I actually liked that eerie old audio.  It was one of the few things about this movie I actually found creepy.

LS:  Yeah, that was pretty cool. Too bad it only lasts a few minutes.

The whole thing was hushed up for 60 years or so, until the files on it were declassified, which is where the modern-day storyline begins. Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) plans to write a book about the incident, and begins by picking up the recently declassified documents to use as a starting point. His plan is to find the trail, walk it himself, and try to determine what happened to those people back in the 40s.

He doesn’t go alone. He brings along his wife, Melissa (Anessa Ramsey), who will co-author the book with him; Daryl and Erin Luger (Clark and Cassidy Freeman), another couple who will be drawing maps along the way (the trail is not on any known map); there’s also a representative of the U.S. Forestry Service named Cy Banbridge (Sam Elmore); Teddy and Melissa’s intern, Jill Bateman (Tara Giodano); and a psychologist named Walter Myrick (Alex Draper), who is a friend of the Barnes’ and goes along to monitor everyone’s sanity. He is constantly filming people in the group and asking them to do things like reciting the alphabet backwards, speaking gibberish until he says stop, and other weird stuff, to keep track of everyone’s lucidity as the journey continues.

When they get to Friar, none of the locals will talk to them, and they seem to resent the fact that Teddy and his group are so interested in this particular bit of history. So Teddy figures they might as well just start off by finding the path. He checks the coordinates that are listed in the declassified files for the start point, and  they end up at a movie theater in the middle of downtown Friar. They figure this can’t be right, since it’s not in the woods. So right off the bat, things are a little mixed up.

A local girl who works at the theater named Liv (Laura Heisler), is the only local who will talk to Teddy, and she agrees to help them find the path, as long as she can go along. They agree, and she takes them to the real starting point—at the edge of the forest—where the stone with the word “yellowbrickroad” carved into it sits, waiting for them.

The rest of the movie is pretty much a bunch of people hiking through the woods.

MA:  Wow.  That’s exciting.  Not.

LS:  Except the deeper they go, the stranger things get. First off, it’s not long before they hear some weird music in the woods—at times it sounds like an old-time swing band and other times like voices singing—and it gets louder as they keep walking. At one point it gets REALLY loud. There doesn’t seem to be any earthly source for the music. Also, all of their tracking equipment seems to go haywire—the arms of their compass spin out of control, their GPS unit tells them they are first in Alaska, and then in Florence, Italy— but they’re still in the woods of New Hampshire.

Also, we learn why Walter tagged along, since everyone begins to slowly show signs of madness as the trek proceeds. To the point where some characters erupt in violent rages, and the rest lose their way and can’t figure out how to go back to civilization.

What exactly is this path and where does it lead? Those are the questions the movie seeks to answer for the remainder of its running time, as everyone’s sanity appears to break further and further down. And things start to get a little scary. Or at least, they try to.

I actually thought the idea behind YELLOWBRICKROAD, of a strange path where people get hooked and are forced to follow it to the end, was a pretty interesting one.

MA:  I agree.  I loved the premise.  But—.

LS:  Yeah, the premise is at least original and I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it before. And for that reason I found myself really wanting to like this movie.

MA:  Again, I agree.

LS:  However, there are long stretches where characters are just walking through the woods and things don’t really get interesting until the end—where I was expecting a terrific payoff. But instead, all I got was disappointed.

MA:  Ditto.

LS:  I guess you’re supposed to interpret the ending for yourself, and I was able to do that, but at the same time, I didn’t find it very satisfying. And I’m sure a lot of people will just find it confusing, and a complete letdown.

MA:  I found it extremely confusing, from start to finish.  To me, this film never really established its identity.  Is it a creepy ghost movie?  A documentary-style horror flick a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)?  A study in psychology, where the characters simply lose it and turn on each other?  It’s a little bit of all of these, particularly the latter, but it never really takes what it has and runs with it.  As a result, it ends up being one long unexciting trek into the woods.

LS:  It did remind me a lot of BLAIR WITCH at times, although it is not filmed in the “found footage” documentary style of that movie. If you remember, in BLAIR WITCH, the characters went looking for something supernatural in the woods and lost their way as well, and started acting weirder as it all went on. But, aside from those superficial similarities, YELLOWBRICKROAD had the potential to be something truly different. And it all hinges on what we find at the end of the road. And honestly, the answer just isn’t very compelling.

The acting is okay for the most part, but I wasn’t blown away by anyone’s performance. They suited the story well enough, but I wish there had been a more dynamic character or two to keep the story from dragging. Even though Teddy appears to be the main character early on, by the middle of the movie, nobody is really the lead character, and there’s no one person who is a strong presence. I even got a couple of characters mixed up a few times because of this.

The accent used by Laura Heisler for Liv was supposed to be a New Hampshire accent, but I found it pretty irritating. Did is sound authentic to you, Michael?

MA:  No!  It sounded like a botched fake Boston accent.  It was extremely irritating.

LS: I thought so. I’ve never heard someone from New Hampshire talk like that. It was just weird.

MA: I’m with you about the acting, although I did like Alex Draper as Walter, the psychologist.  I thought he was an interesting character, even though he didn’t do a whole lot.  The rest of the characters all seemed like they would be interesting if we had got to know them.  I didn’t think the screenplay by writers/directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton did a good job fleshing these characters out.

LS:  The location of the woods is okay (hell, it worked for BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, too), but gets tiresome rather quickly, because it all looks the same (which makes sense, because it makes you believe it when characters get lost), at the same time, it’s not very interesting visually.

TREE WITH A FACE: Who are you calling tiresome?  Trees are exciting!

MA:  Really?  I don’t think I’ve ever met an exciting tree.

TREE:  You don’t get out very much then.

MA:  Well, I’m out now.  Do something exciting.

TREE:  That’s too much pressure.  I can’t be put on the spot like that.  I’m too self-conscious.

LS (produces an ax):  We might need some fire wood later. How’s that for excitement?

TREE:  You’re just mean!

LS:  Yes I am, and I’m also the guy holding the ax, so why don’t you stop bugging us and let us go on with our review?

TREE:  The next time you need shade, don’t come crying to me!

LS:  The next time I need shade I won’t be here. I’ll be in my air-conditioned apartment.

MA:  Alright you two.  Let’s get back to the movie.

LS:  Sure.

The use of sound effects is a big plus in this movie. The otherworldly “music” everyone hears is the only soundtrack to the film, and it is kind of creepy, although, the more you hear it, the more you get used to it. It is used well, though, and does add a sense of atmosphere and foreboding to the movie.

MA:  I started out liking this effect, but as it went on, I just found it annoying.  I found this tinny music which sounded like something you’d hear played on an amusement park speaker irritating and aggravating, which I guess was supposed to be the point, because it starts to drive the characters crazy, but strangely, I didn’t find it creepy.

And that’s something this movie continually lacked, establishing a sense of creepiness.  Nearly everything that happens to these folks in the woods, I found annoying rather than scary.  I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.  I was sitting there thinking, will someone turn off that flippin music?  It’s giving me a headache.

They hear the music, they have no explanation for it, and so they just go on and try to ignore it.  That makes sense, except as a person watching this story, I wanted to know what the music is, and so I wished someone in the movie would make an attempt to figure it out.  But no, it just plays on and on, and our investigative team simply walks on, deeper and deeper into the woods.  I sat there asking myself, where the hell are these people going?

LS:  When we finally get to see some violence, I found it kind of laughable. One scene where a character attacks another character and pulls off her leg had me laughing out loud—it just looked so… fake.

MA:  It was incredibly fake-looking!  It was extremely disappointing.  For a movie that has generated this much buzz, I was surprised that such a poorly executed scene like that was in the film.  Amateurish.

LS:  And when characters who go insane start talking about the need they have to hurt someone, it just struck me as kind of goofy, rather than scary. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that there is maybe one scary moment in the whole movie (involving a cave) but it still had me laughing, because I guess I’m just jaded.

MA:  I think the fact that film just wasn’t scary had more to do with your laughing than your being jaded.  It’s true.  It was goofy after a while.

(LS and MA see some apples growing nearby)

LS: An apple tree! After all this walking, I sure am hungry. And I love apples.

(LS grabs and apple and pulls it free)

SECOND TREE WITH A FACE: How dare you! Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: Another talking tree! But this one reminds me a lot of one we saw back in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

SECOND TREE: That’s because I am from Oz, genius. But someone dug me up and transplanted me here, to this boring place.

MA: So you don’t like it here?

SECOND TREE: Are you kidding? None of the other trees will talk to me, and nothing happens here! Nothing but that grating “music,” that is giving me a migraine. Can’t you guys dig me up again and take me with you? You can bring me back to Oz! I’ll even curl up my roots to help you.

LS: What the hell are we going to dig with, our hands? Besides, I don’t know how to get to the Oz you’re talking about. But I can take you to a prison called OZ.

SECOND TREE: Ahhh, forget it.

LS (to MA): You know, if there had been some talking trees in YELLOWBRICKROAD, I would have liked it better. (bites into apple)

(SECOND TREE cries out in pain)

LS: Did that hurt you? Me eating this apple?

SECOND TREE: Yes, it did.

(LS takes another bite, and the TREE cries out)

MA: Stop it! The racket he’s making is worse than that stupid music.

LS (throws apple on the ground): Okay, okay. But I’m still hungry. Maybe I can catch a rabbit or a woodchuck or something.

MA: Can we just finish the review?

LS:  Okay.

The ending just seemed to me like Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton (who co-directed the movie and co-wrote the script), couldn’t imagine something really cool to end things with, so they went with something enigmatic/ominous. And it just made me yawn. There were so many other, better ways this movie could have ended.

MA:  I agree

LS: I give it an A for effort and originality, but a C- for execution. Or something like that. In total, I give YELLOWBRICKROAD, two knives. And I’m being generous here.

MA:  You liked it more than I did.  I was sitting there thinking, “This movie generated a lot of buzz?  This movie?”

Again, I liked the premise, so I thought this movie had lots of potential, and I thought the preview trailer looked very creepy, so I had some high hopes for this one, but it let me down big time.

I think some character development would have helped.  For example, our lead investigator, Teddy, says he’s obsessed with this legend.  Why?  We don’t know anything about him which would explain why he’s so interested in solving this mystery.  Does he love mysteries?  Did something similar once happen to him or someone he knew?  Is he somehow associated with the town?  But we’re not offered any kind of background information that might make Teddy and his investigation more interesting.

The film is incredibly ambiguous.  Now some people like to make the argument that if a movie is confusing, it’ll turn people off and they won’t like it, just because they have to think.  Now, I don’t mind an ambiguous movie, and I certainly have nothing against movies that make you think.  But here, there doesn’t seem to be much to think about.

I only have one question about this story, and it’s the only question that was on my mind during the movie:  what happened to all those people who disappeared in 1940?  And related to that question is this one, what happened to the characters in this movie?  Neither one of these is satisfactorily answered by the movie, so when all is said and done, I still have no idea what happened to these people.

LS: Actually, the movie does give you a hint where those people from 1940 ended up, but it only lasted a second, and I can’t explain it to you without spoiling the ending. So forget it.

MA: Yeah, but that’s what I’m talking about.  A blink-and-you-missed it “hint” doesn’t satisfactorily answer the question.

Plus, nothing in this movie captured my imagination and made me want to watch it again and look for clues that I may have missed the first time.  It was like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle that didn’t provide enough numbers.  Where’s the fun in that?  You want to be able to solve the damn thing!

Beyond its unique premise, YELLOWBRICKROAD has nothing else to offer.  It’s not creepy, it’s not scary, it’s not really gory; it’s simply annoying and irritating.  Without understanding what was going on, I just couldn’t get into it. Had it at least been eerie, I would have possibly looked past the fact that it had a confusing story, but I wasn’t scared at all during this one.

For a movie that generated so much buzz, I was very disappointed with YELLOWBRICKROAD.  I think Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton’s script was mostly to blame, rather than their direction, because had the story been more cleverly conceived, had there been some meat on those bones, they might have had something.

LS: Yeah, it was a completely missed opportunity. Which is frustrating as hell when you’re in the audience and you’re a writer, like we are. We could have come up with a so much more clever ending to this thing! But nobody throws money at us to make a movie.

MA: I give YELLOWBRICKROAD one and a half knives.

Now that we’re done, can someone shut off that damn music!

LS:  I’ve done better than anyone in the movie, because I’ve just discovered where the music is coming from.

MA:  Where?

LS:  Up  there.  (points above them to a hill in the middle of the forest. On the hill is a DJ spinning records. On either side of him are giant sunflowers that are obviously amplifiers. The DJ is so caught up in what he’s doing, his eyes are closed and he doesn’t notice LS and MA)

MA:  Shall we?

LS:  Let’s do it.

(LS produces a sling shot, MA hands him a big rock, and LS shoots the rock at the DJ. Knocking him out. LS and  MA high five each other when the music stops. But, suddenly, a few minutes later, the music starts playing again.)

MA:  Now, that’s creepy!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives YELLOWBRICKROAD ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives YELLOWBRICKROAD ~two knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: WILD WILD PLANET! (1965)

Posted in 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Cable movies, Clones!, Mutants!, Outer Space, Science Fiction, Strange Cinema, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

WILD, WILD PLANET (1965)

“It’s a mod, mod, mod world!”

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!

Continuing with my series of reviews of the Italian space opera “Gamma I” series, directed by the great Antonio Margheriti (YOR HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE, 1983; KILLER FISH, 1979; CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, 1981), I want to take a gander at WILD, WILD PLANET (1965). WWP was made at the same time as SNOW DEVILS (see previous Bill’s Bizarre Bijou), WAR OF THE PLANETS, and Il PIANETA ERRANTE, but it was released in America first to astounded little kids everywhere and their groaning  and grinning parents. It actually comes second in the Gamma I quadrilogy. Confused?  Not as much as you will be after watching this fabulously kitschy movie.

Gamma I, if you recall, is a space station positioned above the Earth, spinning lazily on a wire, but WILD, WILD PLANET starts with various model shots of toy cars in toy cities and toy rockets shooting into space while elevator music mixed with weird Theremin sounds plays in the background and the yellow credits roll. A trio of astronauts climbs from the toy rocket and float gracefully over to Gamma I. Hey, they’re on strings, too!

Inside the twirling station,  a professor conducts bio-experiments concerning living organs and shrunken body parts, most of which are encased in big tubes. Commander Mike Halstead, this time played by Tony Russel (SWORD OF DAMASCUS – 1964 and the voice of Django in the English-dubbed DJANGO, 1966), doesn’t like having such gruesome experiments performed on his ship. He doesn’t want supermen; he’s “satisfied with people the way they are…I’m a person, not a bunch of meat!”  They’re expecting guests, but quite a few of them have mysteriously disappeared.

We are the introduced to the lovely Lt. Connie Gomez, this time played by Lisa Gastoni (MESSALLINA VS. THE SON OF HERCULES, 1964 and WAR OF THE PLANETS,1966), who is teaching a judo class to a large group of people. Two men discussing her say, “She’s a perfect specimen!”  “Specimen?  She’s one hundred percent woman and one hundred percent for our commander.”  Turns out the admirer is Mr. Nurmi from The Corporations. We instantly know he’s bad, because he’s wearing dark sunglasses and black leather coat. He promptly moves in on Connie, dropping sexual innuendos like handkerchiefs until she agrees to go to dinner with him. Nurmi is portrayed by Massimo Serato, star of DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) and AUTOPSY (1975). After he leaves, Lt. Jake (the great Franco Nero, star of the cult classic DJANGO,1966; as well as  CAMELOT, 1967; CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN, 1971; and ENTER THE NINJA (1981) all the way to last year’s CARS 2!)  tries to schmooze Miss Gomez, and is rebuffed by a judo chop to the belly.

Big hair and bald clones - oh my!

Dinner is held in a room where many inhabitants of the station dance wildly to 60s disco music wearing Technicolor clothing. Mr. Nurmi may be a jerk, but he can cut a rug!  After discovering Lt. Gomez is going to Earth for a vacation, he tries to get her to go with him as a guest of The Corporations. After getting drunk, Connie gives a speech about how women are “obviously different from men,” then she decides to go with Nurmi on his dream vacation.

A letter comes, and Commander Halstead and Jake find out another scientist has gone missing. On Earth, a mob of towering-haired women in flimsy gowns and aqua blue eye shadow are given their orders by an even bigger-haired Amazon and a bald man in black sunglasses and a black rain poncho. They go to a house where an Opie Griffith look-a-like is peering through a microscope. The bald man whips his poncho around the kid and something awful happens beneath it. The kid is shrunk to doll-size and put in a small suitcase!  Soon, other scientists and politicians are similarly diminished and snatched.

Halstead and Gomez arrive on Earth and drive around in a little bubble-car discussing their relationship like characters in a Noel Coward play. Nurmi takes Gomez to a nightclub where people in butterfly costumes pretend to dance around each other badly. Ah, romance among the La Dolce Vita.

Baldie tries to shrink another scientist, which is interrupted by a little girl witness, who screams, “Grandpa!  Grandpa!” and is promptly strangled by one of the big-haired beauties. The scientist, now midget sized, scrambles away on his little legs. The female assassin informs the bald poncho-wearer that he has failed. She stabs him, and he promptly disappears from view. The woman hurries away in one of those cool bubble cars.

Gamma I investigates the disappearances, led by Commander Halstead, the granite-chinned, ever-tanned Tony Russel. When the midget scientist is found in a coma, our heroes discover a bevy of beauties and poncho-wearing men are working for The Corporations (they always say it as if capitalized). And Lt. Gomez is their latest victim!

Tony Russel and Franco Nero to the rescue in WILD WILD PLANET!

When a woman and bald man are spotted at an airport, a plucky cop shoots a ‘red tracer’ on their car so they can be spotted. This tracer is a disc that shoots out pink smoke all over the place, and Commander Halstead follows it, swooping down in his candy-colored spaceship. It’s so slow; you’d think you could walk faster than these guys drive and fly around. Of course, there’s nobody in the escape car when they retrieve it. They do discover a small briefcase with three teeny-tiny people in it, and they’re still breathing.

Gomez is shown around the evil lair of The Corporations, where they clone bald men in sunglasses and wear bright polyester pantsuits during down-time. She discovers a shower that drips blood in her room (ooh!  Can I have one of those?)

Meanwhile, Commander Halstead and his fellow spacemen find one of the bald clones, who, when stripped naked, has four fused-on arms and cat’s eyes!  Somehow, they discover the whereabouts of the Amazons (please don’t ask me how), and the three men invade their hotel room. This leads to a five minute knock-down, drag out fight between three women in see-through nighties and bikinis and stiletto heels, and our Commander and his two best men. They really go after each other, and Halstead shouts, “Watch out for those gadgets on their chests!”  When one gets stabbed by what looks like a comb, she disappears, leaving only the salmon-colored nightie behind her. They discover books left behind with the names of everyone who’s been kidnapped and everyone who will be. Halstead is disappointed to find he is not listed.

And we’re back in the nightclub where 101 Strings are playing, and people dressed like butterflies in capes chase each other, and the audience watches enraptured. I like to think they can’t believe how crappy the entertainment is, but this is an Italian nightclub in the cinema of the 1960s, so that’s kind of a given.

The plot gets more than a little muddled, but it boils down to the evil scientist wanting to meld Connie Gomez with himself, thus creating the first ‘perfect’ human being. His plans are interrupted by Halstead and his space rangers, and they do battle in a huge room full of a blood-like substance. The pool bursts, flooding everything in the red stuff. Funny story; a pipe cracked on the set, and nearby residents in Rome turned on their water taps to find all their water tinged red by the food coloring.  Try explaining that to your local plumber.

Will the good guys triumph over the evil Mr. Nurmi?  Do you even have to ask?

More mod clothing, hair, sunglasses, and furniture than you could throw a Barbarella at, WILD, WILD PLANET is oodles of 60s fun. The music and dancing will have you rolling on the floor, and the toy-like miniature cities and space stations only add to the innocent fun. Not to mention, the plastic toy guns that shoot out a foot of sparks and flames!  Where can I get one?

The movie moves swiftly, much faster than SNOW DEVILS, and there are plenty of whacky actions sequences to keep your attention when you’re not wiping tears of laughter from your eyes. And when was the last time you heard a superior officer call his subordinate ‘Helium Head?’  You also get a cosmic room of mirrors, a basement full of mutants, more stunning women than you can imagine in one movie, and a really nifty performance by an astonishingly good-looking young Franco Nero. The cast as a whole will never win any Oscars, but they all get it. They really roll with the campy silliness of the movie, so the performances actually work.  Any kids (or anyone on mind-altering drugs) are going to fall in love with this flick. Even as an adult, I’d take its immature charms over the big budget sci-fi product Hollywood’s been producing lately.

WILD, WILD PLANET is available on a nicely restored DVD from Warner Brother Archive.

I give WILD, WILD PLANET three midget scientists out of four.

© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl

Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Asian Horror, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Garrett Cook Articles, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Japanese Cinema, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , on October 26, 2011 by knifefighter

Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)
DVD Review by Garrett Cook

The Haunted House story is one of the oldest, most archetypal horror narratives. We’ve always felt certain places are weird, or frightening, or that history has not yet cleaned up the ground on which we’re treading. This narrative has been used to great effect many times, in Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” in Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” in Robert Marasco’s “Burnt Offerings,” in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” and in too many other horror novels for me to list. The Haunted House is a cliché environment that nonetheless encourages writers and filmmakers alike to innovate. Interesting how an old, hokey, primal story has given birth to so much creativity and can always find new ways to generate fright and shock.

And although there have been more than enough duds in the genre, such as the atrocious NINE LIVES (2002) starring Paris Hilton and the rather dull TV mini-series, ROSE RED (2002), I personally am always excited when I get a chance to see a new, unique Haunted House story. Hearkens back to the first shudder-inducing time I saw POLTERGEIST (1982), or the first time when I stared in wide-eyed awe as Robert Wise reminded me just how beautiful a horror film can be when I first saw THE HAUNTING (1963) on TV. You too should be excited. Because the haunted house movie I’m going to discuss here is a fresh take among fresh takes, a film that holds the distinction of not only being an innovation in Haunted House narratives, but one of the weirdest damn cult movies in history.

Nobuhiko Ohbyashi’s HAUSU starts with the Haunted House narrative. Seven plucky teenage girls go on a trip to the country to visit one girl’s aunt. The house is not what it seems to be. The aunt is not what she seems to be. And maybe the girl is not what she seems to be. Not a bad start. It’s a movie most horror fans would shell out to see around Halloween. It doesn’t necessarily scream “Criterion Material” though. As with THE HAUNTING (1963), THE INNOCENTS (1961) and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(1959), HAUSU only starts there, at a place where too many horror movies are content to stop.

From the moment HAUSU begins, you know you’re not going to get what the film’s premise says you’re going to. The eccentric sequence coupled with a cryptic flashback should be a hint.  This, coupled with the  overly schmaltzy music and the ridiculously caricatured girls make you immediately wonder what’s going on. The tone is confusing. And also quite disquieting. If this isn’t a put-on of some kind, then Ohbyashi has not seen a horror film before, or for that matter, has not seen high school girls. These girls and their school are a cartoon, a sanitized, simplified, padded version of reality meant for children.

When Gorgeous, the protagonist, goes to see her father, you really get a sense that something is not right. For one thing, the view outside his window is a blatant matte painting, a bright, cheery falsehood that makes no pretense of being real. But things start going south for gorgeous immediately. Although her  new stepmother looks angelic, Gorgeous has been living in a fairy tale and stepmothers get the short end of the stick in fairy tales. Gorgeous  flees to return to her creepy shrine of a room to bathe in the idyllic light of her memories and talk to her dead mother’s photo. And she decides to inquire after her aunt.

Her aunt okays the visit, so she heads out to the country, with her teenage friends Sweet, Fantasy, Mac, Kung Fu, Prof and Melody, each one named for a single prominent characteristic that defines their character. Their journey is cloaked in mellow saccharine rock, a la Scooby Doo or The Banana Splits. They’re also treated to a black and white flashback…for which the girls provide running commentary. The flashback goes on right outside the bus windows, which is an unlikely place for a flashback. Of course, haunted houses are all about those stuck in the past. Like Gorgeous. You’re left wondering, are they heading for a country house or heading into the heart of her memory? Regardless of what goes on, you can be certain this is not a movie about creaking Gothic mansions, or about teenage girls roaming around having fun. While HAUSU engages the core of the haunted house movie and the core of the Saturday morning cartoon and the teen comedy, it is completely different from any of these genres and something sinister is floating around in it.

At the house they meet Gorgeous’ sinister witchy aunt. And from here things go madder. A weirder film unfolds. A film that’s actually something of a horror film. Not a horror film that will meet any kind of expectations you would have of a horror film, but a horror film nonetheless. It’s funny, scary, eerie and wildly unpredictable. The transition occurs when the perpetually hungry Mac’s head comes out of a well to try and eat the supposedly over imaginative Fantasy. How someone’s imagination can be overactive in a world as strange as that of HAUSU is a baffling question, but nonetheless, the girls simply assume that Fantasy is hallucinating, having an acid trip within this acid trip.

HAUSU’s transformation is similar to that which occurs in Takashi Miike’s AUDITION (1999). AUDITION starts off as a romantic comedy and then transforms into brutal torture porn. HAUSU starts off as a cartoon and turns into something that defies description, a movie composed almost entirely of surprises, with a resolution as surprising as it is cryptic. You watch these very pleasant girls faced with many ironic but weird perils that will surely kill them all. The movie has, by this point already made you forget what you signed on for. If AUDITION’s genre-bending ways did not offend or annoy you, then you’re probably sharp enough to play along with HAUSU. HAUSU is one of those movies where you might as well be staring at static if you’re not willing to play its game, accept the mutability of reality and genre and the lack of convention. If you’ve got smart, adventurous friends, it could be a nice addition to your Halloween party.

HAUSU brings out truths about films, artifice, memory, growing up and the horror genre. It reveals a lot about Haunted Houses and the Haunted House narrative without pandering, without characters openly discussing the movie’s themes, which is something that happens a little bit too often in Haunted House narratives. As great as Elisha Cook’s introduction to William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is, it could be argued that it’s a bit preachy and smacks you in the face with the movie’s message. As great as THE HAUNTING is, the handy dandy parapsychologist somewhat spoils things. HAUSU has no handy dandy parapsychologist. Only very confrontational expressionism.

Ghosts in the HOUSE (HAUSU) make for a wild time.

Criterion has given this movie the DVD release it deserves. Its menu, packaging and booklet are attractive and contribute to the movie’s cult mystique. It’s something you should be proud of owning and a badge of honor for the weird film buff. Included on the disc is a “Making of” type special that includes an interview with the director and a short film. For those of you who own Blu-ray players, this bright, colorful explosion of art horror chaos would be a nice thing to own. I’m sure it looks fantastic. This cult classic does not disappoint, especially if you’re some kind of freak. It haunts my DVD shelf and should have a chance to haunt yours as well.

© Copyright 2011 by Garrett Cook