Archive for the VIOLENCE! Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

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 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes on DEADLY PREY (1987)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 80s Movies, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Exotic Locales, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Fun, Tough Guys!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on June 6, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

DEADLY PREY (1987)

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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 till 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.

The 1980’s offered a veritable cornucopia of action heroes at the drive-ins and the grindhouses.  If you had a good set of muscles, an unidentifiable accent, and a glorious mullet, you could star in your own action movie.  We saw the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Rutger Hauer, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Oliver Gruner, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and, of course, Arnold Schwartzenegger.  You also got Ted Prior.  “Who?” you may ask.

Ted Prior’s brother, David Prior, was one of the owners of Action International Pictures (you know, the other AIP that made ultra-low-budget flicks).  When you are also the head screenwriter and director for the studio, what do you do to help your family?  You make them into action stars, foisting them onto the general public like huge slabs of meat.  With mullets.  Ted had starred in a few other low budget movies, including SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), KILLER WORKOUT (1987), and SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987), all of which I recommend, but his career was stalled in direct-to-video-Hell.  David wrote a screenplay for him, a FIRST BLOOD (1982) rip-off called DEADLY PREY (1987).  Shot on the extremely cheap, this must be one of the greatest bad movies of all time, the kind you can watch dozens of times with friends and (hopefully) a few cases of beer.  You will never forget it.

We open on a man in rags, fleeing from a small group of what look like National Reserve members in a thin forest.  As the terrible synth music pounds away, the rock-band-meets-military-looking group close in on the man, shooting and throwing hand grenades. One of the hunters shoves a gun into his navel, claiming, “You’re dead meat, fat boy.”  The fat boy hits him with a rock, knocking him out, but soon a black-tank-top-wearing, Rayban-sporting, mulleted guy shoots him and then shoots the poor jerk he hit with the rock!

David Campbell (KILLZONE, 1985, THE KILLING MACHINE, 1994) plays Colonel Hogan, who recruits men who like to hunt other men for fun, recruiting them for his own private army of mercenaries.  However, they need practice, so they randomly kidnap people so the new recruits can stalk and kill them through the aforementioned thin forest.  He tells Black Tank Top Guy to go find another victim, “a mean one this time!”

This prey fights back!

This prey fights back!

Mike Danton (Ted Prior), complete with the greatest mullet ever sported in any movie, is awakened by his wife Jaimy (terribly played by Suzanne Tara).  Half asleep, he takes out the garbage wearing tiny cut-offs and a long sleeved t-shirt.  The evil dudes hit him over the head and throw him in a van as Jaimy watches.  She runs inside and calls – no, not the police – her father, played by the great Cameron Mitchell (CAROUSEL, 1956, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, 1978, NIGHTMARE IN WAX, 1979, WITHOUT WARNING, 1980, and over 225 more movies and TV shows!).  He’s an ex-cop, and he tells Jaimy he’ll see what he can do.  The actress playing Jaimy can barely remember her lines.  She is truly dreadful, and Cameron Mitchell just looks like he wants to strangle this bimbo, like he is yearning for the times when he co-starred with Jayne Mansfield.

Meanwhile, Col. Hogan gets a visit from the man who pays the bills, Don Michaelson, played by the a sleep-walking, barely awake Troy Donohue (A SUMMER PLACE, 1959, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD,-1965, and CRY BABY,-1990 ), who gives Hogan three months to get these mercenaries trained…”Or else!”

Black Tank Top Guy has taken Mike Danton’s shirt away, leaving him in just his cut-offs.  He growls, “Run.”  Mike growls, “You’re gonna die.”  But, he does run, and the rest of the movie is pretty much Mike running from these mercenary-wannabes and setting traps and killing them off by what seems like the hundreds!  You see, Mike Danton was a Vietnam Vet ex Green Beret (never mind that he looks about twenty-three years old).  He starts leaping out of bushes, and from behind trees, stabbing them one at a time until only one man is left alive.  He questions the terrified man, and it turns out Mike knows Col. Hogan. 

Another group of soldiers is sent out after Mike, looking suspiciously like the actors in the first group.  I think they could only pay twenty stuntmen, so they just keep reappearing.  This time, Mike is hurling sharpened sticks and twigs at them, killing them like flies.  Curiously, he never takes their guns so he could shoot at his enemies.

More than once, Mike is four feet off the ground in a tree with no leaves and nobody sees him until he leaps on them.  Sometimes, he wears a little garland of leaves as a disguise, but sheesh, people!  Look up sometimes…or at least raise your eyes.  You’re supposed to be soldiers!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Coming across a couple dozen bodies, Col. Hogan remarks, “I know this style.  Mike Danton?”  Black Tank Top asks, “You know him?”  Of course, the music swells, and the Colonel answers, “Know him?  I trained him.”  Cue audience groaning.

Meanwhile, Mike drowns some guys, pops out of hiding holes in the ground to growl at people, shove more twigs through men’s chests, snap his dislocated shoulder back into place, eat a live worm for nourishment (ew), and, in one of the greatest scenes in movie history, he rolls a bunch of obviously Styrofoam boulders off a ridge at a mercenary.  The rocks miss the dude, but he looks around, probably embarrassed, and then just falls over dead.  I suppose the boulders scared him into a heart attack!

There’s even a touching part where Jaimy sits by her fire at home, yearning for her husband, while Mike sits by a fire, roasting a rat he’s caught.  Ah, romance!

Mike sneaks up on Hogan and threatens him, though he doesn’t look too scary in those cute little cut-offs.  Instead of killing the head bad guy, he talks some trash then leaves him alive so he can return to the woods and slaughter a few hundred more mercenaries.  If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t seen Mike Danton in action.  This movie must have one of the highest body counts in the history of crappy action flicks. 

At one point, a mercenary actually shoots Mike, but his pecs deflect the bullets.  There’s also a Rambo-esque scene in which Mike rises up with a machine gun from the water and blasts ten men away. 

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

Yes, Jaimy’s going to get kidnapped.  Yes, her father will try to infiltrate the compound.  Yes, one of the mercenaries will switch sides to help Mike because he saved him back in Nam.  No, nobody ever does call the cops, who could’ve easily handled the situation. 

But who needs cops when you have Mike Danton?

DEADLY PREY is chock-full of bad acting, hilariously clichéd dialogue, dubbed gunshots,  ridiculous fight scenes, terrible synthesizer music, headbands galore, continuity errors (the director couldn’t keep track of who was dying either, as bodies move position and the same soldiers keep popping up), and mullets galore.  There’s really nothing good in it—and that’s what makes it so ludicrously wonderful!  Everyone acts like they’re making SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), the screenplay delivered with such gravitas and earnestness that it ratchets the film up to a whole new level of awful.  A glorious level!  I mean, there’s this huge compound with tanks and trucks and helicopters everywhere, located seventy five miles from Los Angeles, and nobody’s suspicious?  Mike fights five bad guys, but when we cut back to them there are now seven and when we cut back again there are five!  Not to mention the speech Cameron Mitchell gives about the way the rich treat the poor in a vain attempt to add some kind of theme to the film.  Or the trap Mike sets in which a soldier steps into a lasso, the rope tightens around his foot, pulls him across the ground, and then flings him into a tree full of spikes!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

And according to IMDB, later this year, Ted Prior and David Campbell will be reuniting for a sequel, DEADLIEST PREY!  Be still my heart! 

I wonder if he can still fit into those cut-offs?

I give DEADLY PREY three and a half mullets out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Gore!, Highly Stylized Films, Independent Cinema, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies, Vampires, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by knifefighter

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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For fans of vampire movies, these have been trying times. The TWILIGHT movies have pretty much defanged undead bloodsuckers for the time being, and aside from a few indie flicks, there hasn’t been a lot of hope that vampires will regain their former glory.

The new independent film KISS THE DAMNED tries to correct this, but unfortunately it’s just not strong enough to do the heavy lifting required to save the genre. That said, it’s a pleasant enough film regardless.

Josephine de La Baume stars as Djuna (pronounced Juna—“The D is silent,” as Jamie Foxx would say), a modern-day lady of mystery who sleeps during the day and comes out at night. She seems a little too eager to avoid contact with other people, but this intrigues screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) when they first see each other in a video store. She immediately feels uncomfortable when he returns her gaze, and flees the store, but he follows her outside. After some heated make-out sessions get cut short (Djuna is determined not to let things go too far), Paolo refuses to just walk away and demands to know why she won’t let their relationship go any further. At this point, she relents, and draws him into her world. Unfortunately, this involves him getting a couple of fangs in his throat, and being “turned” into something not quite human.

But Paolo is cool with losing his humanity, and seems to be the perfect mate for Djuna, who has been lonely for decades and hasn’t had someone to share her “life” with for way too long. Their love affair seems to be going in a good direction, until Djuna’s sister Mimi (a very sexy Roxane Mesquida) shows up.

Where Djuna is mature and afraid to get too close to anyone, Mimi is more reckless and violent. Djuna has sworn off hunting humans to get the blood she needs and has turned to animals, something she tries to instill in Paolo as well, but Mimi just doesn’t consider it dinner unless it’s running on two legs.

Mimi has come to stay with her sister for a week, while her “new place” in Phoenix (some kind of vampire version of rehab) is being readied for  her. The house the three of them “live” in is owned by another vampire, the successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis, another standout here) who seems determined to give the wild child Mimi a second chance. Djuna, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her sister and finds the new arrangement completely unsatisfactory, especially since she’s trying to start a new relationship with newbie vampire Paolo and all.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead, after some strenuous sex, in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Of course, Mimi shows that Xenia’s trust in her was misguided, and Djuna was right all along, but not before she turns all of their lives upside down. One scene, where Mimi even tricks the totally-in-control Xenia into breaking one of her rules, is especially riveting.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is clearly a homage to the kind of European vampire film that was prevalent in the 70s and 80s, by filmmakers like the French master Jean Rollin (who gave us such classics as 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and FASCINATION, 1979), Spanish director Jess Franco (who gave us the classic VAMPYROS LESBOS, 1971) and Harry Kumel (Belgian director of the unforgettable DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971). Most, if not all, of these kinds of movies focused on female vampires with European accents. From the stylized cinematography by Tobias Datum to the original score by Steven Hufsteter, KISS OF THE DAMNED clearly wears its influences on its sleeve and is intent on “bringing sexy back” to the vampire genre.

Director Xan Cassavetes (full name Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of indie legend John Cassavetes) does a good job here, capturing the mood and the inherent claustrophobia of the nighttime blood-drinking set. Xan previously directed the documentary Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, about one of the first pay cable stations to focus exclusively on art films in California and its many devoted followers, and acted in such films as ALPHA DOG (2006) and, when she was younger, some of her father’s films like A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) and MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971).

The cast emphasizes the European flavor of the proceedings. French actress Josephine de La Baume was previously in movies like ONE DAY (2011) and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (also 2011). Roxane Mesquida, also from France, was previously in such diverse films as the Catherine Breillat films FAT GIRL (2001) and SEX IS A COMEDY (2002), as well as Greg Araki’s KABOOM (2010) and Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER (also 2010).

American actor Milo Ventimiglia will probably be most familiar here to American audiences, mainly for playing Peter Petrelli in the TV series HEROES (2006 -2010). He’s also been in some interesting independent flicks since, like the horror film PATHOLOGY (2008), which I liked a lot. With a dark beard and smoldering eyes, Ventimiglia is a strong presence here, and holds his own quite well with the attractive women he plays opposite. There’s also a small turn by actor Michael Rappaport (COP LAND, 1997, and DEEP BLUE SEA, 1999) as Paolo’s clueless agent, Ben, who shows up unannounced at one point, wanting to see how Paolo’s latest screenplay is coming.

I’m a fan of the kinds of movies Xan Cassavetes is clearly trying to recapture here, and I think she does a pretty good job evoking the same sense of time and place, but I never had the feeling that KISS OF THE DAMNED was adding anything new to the genre. It all seemed like things we’ve seen before, and while it’s a stylish throwback to the days when vampire films were both sexy and chilling, it doesn’t have enough of an original voice to stand out.

Still, I’d rather see something as visually appetizing as KISS OF THE DAMNED than a hundred TWILIGHTs, so I don’t want to be too negative. I just wish it had been more ambitious and tried to do something different with this kind of storyline. As KISS OF THE DAMNED ended, I found myself wanting more of these characters, and at the same time realizing that they really didn’t have all that much to say.

I give KISS OF THE DAMNED, three knives. Not perfect, but it will still wash the foul taste of TWILIGHT out of your mouth.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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LL Soares gives KISS OF THE DAMNED ~three knives.

SIGHTSEERS (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bad Behavior, Dark Comedies, Independent Cinema, Serial Killers, Unusual Films, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by knifefighter

SIGHTSEERS (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Sightseers Poster NZ.inddBen Wheatley’s 2011 movie KILL LIST was my favorite film in 2012 (of course it took a year for it to finally get a theatrical release—and a very limited one at that—in America). So when I saw that his next movie, SIGHTSEERS (2012), was coming, I had to check it out. While I don’t think it’s in the same league as KILL LIST, I enjoyed it a lot, and was happy to see it get a real theatrical release, even if it will be hard to find for people who don’t have access to art house theaters.

SIGHTSEERS is Wheatley is a slightly more jovial mood. While it’s a comedy, it’s a very dark one. It’s the story of Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram). They’ve been dating for about three months when they decide to pack up the RV and go on a sightseeing tour of the countryside for a week.

Tina lives with her mum, Carol (Eileen Davies), an unpleasant old woman who still blames Tina for the unfortunate death of their dog, Poppy (when the movie opens, Carol is looking at pictures of Poppy and screaming in a shrill grief-stricken voice). Carol pretends to be much more frail than she is, to keep Tina close, and since Tina is Carol’s caretaker, it’s amazing that she’s allowed to go on this holiday at all, considering how guilty old Carol makes her daughter feel about just about everything. But once Tina gets out on the open road with Chris, things go smashingly…

Well, not really.

The trouble begins when Chris backs up and purposely hits a litterbug who earlier shared a tour bus with them. This kind of a casual murder shocks Tina at first (Chris claims it was all an accident and that he was horrified by it all, when they speak to the police), but she eventually warms to his way of dealing with annoying people. As they hit the various points on their itinerary, they also leave a trail of bodies in their wake (a man who says he will report them for not cleaning up after their dog; someone who is rude to them; a girl who comes on to Chris when Tina is in the ladies’ room, etc.), and we slowly realize that Chris may have been a serial killer all along, and Tina is more than happy to become his apprentice. After all, the people they kill deserve it, don’t they?

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

Along the way, they acquire a new dog that looks an awful lot like the deceased Poppy (the new one is called Banjo) and a nice new camera. And Tina realizes that she may have just found her soul mate after all.

SIGHTSEERS has a pretty simple premise and carries out its carnage in a light-hearted way. Whether you find Tina and Chris amusing or annoying may vary, but I found myself really liking the duo, even if I often disagreed with their actions. At first, it seems like they’re doing what they do for clear-cut (if extreme) moral reasons (well, Tina might be a little bit dumber than Chris, so it takes a little bit for her to catch on), but as their reasons for killing become more and more petty, it’s more difficult to root for them. But they’re so likable, you just might find yourself cheering them on, despite yourself.

The script is by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Amy Jump (she also co-wrote KILL LIST with Wheatley). It’s a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes, and Lowe and Oram are quite good in their roles here.

While I do not consider it to be a major work like the still amazing KILL LIST, I do think that SIGHTSEERS makes Wheatley a director still worth watching, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SIGHTSEERS ~three knives.

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Transmissions to Earth: THE ABCs OF DEATH (2012)

Posted in 2013, Anthology Films, Asian Horror, Body Horror, Controverisal Films, Dystopian Futures, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Surgical Horror, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH

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presents

THE ABCs of DEATH
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The concept is in an interesting one, give 26 filmmakers $5,000 each to make a short film, roughly about five minutes long (some more, some less). The only caveat being that it has to be about death in some way. So we’ve got maybe the most ambitious horror anthology film so far, on the heels of some good ones like THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011) and V/H/S (2012). But with 26 shorts, it’s not the easiest film to review, so a critic inevitably has to stick to the highlights.

The structure is as follows: a short film plays, followed by the screen going to red, and the name of the film (and the director’s name) spelled out in children’s blocks. While trying to guess who did what is part of the fun (unfortunately, I haven’t heard of a lot of the directors here, so I guess it wasn’t that much fun), I would have preferred if the film names and directors had appeared before each film, but C’est la vie.

The movie begins with Nacho Vigalonodo’s “A for Apocalypse,” where a woman attempts to kill her bedridden husband for past sins, first by stabbing him, then throwing hot grease in his face and bonking him on the head several times with the oversized frying pan. Unfortunately, he won’t die, and just stares at her, while we hear the sounds of cars crashing outside their apartment window. It’s an interesting enough start.

As the movie unfolds we’ll be treated to everything from disturbing films to dark comedies, from traditional animation to Claymation, from Japanese surrealism to South American grit. The list of directors includes people from all over the world, and it’s interesting to see what each of them comes up with. The other thing about anthology films is that, if you don’t like what you’re watching, there will always be a new one starting soon enough.

As for highlights, the more squirm-inducing entries come to mind first. These include Timo Tjahjanto’s “L for Libido,” which involves men being forced to partake in a kind of “circle jerk to the death,” where what they have to watch (and get aroused by) gets more and more disturbing. This one, which comes right about at the middle of the overall movie, might just be the roughest of the bunch. Close contenders include Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight,” where a boxer fights it out with a vicious dog, while spectators shout and gamble on the outcome (all in slow motion), and Xavier Gens’s “X is for XXL,” where an unattractive, overweight woman who yearns to be like the pretty girl on the TV commercials she keeps seeing, subjects herself to a very radical diet involving an electric carving knife. Ti West’s “M is for Miscarriage” is another one with a killer last scene that will leave an impression.

A scene from the intense "D is for Dogfight."

A scene from the intense “D is for Dogfight.”

I also liked Ernesto Diaz Espinoza’s twisted “C is for Cycle,” Bruno Forazni’s self-explanatory “O is for Orgasm,” and Jake West’s hi-octane entry,“S is for Speed.”

More light-hearted and/or stranger fare includes: “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier,” by Thomas Cappelen Malling, a fun, live-action cartoon where an anthropomorphic dog (dressed like a British aviator) sits at a table next to the stage at a strip club, while an enemy (Nazi) cat woman’s act gets more and more lethal; Noboru Iguchi’s installment, “F is for Fart,” where a Japanese girl’s crush on her teacher leads to an odd exploration of bodily gases that come in various colors; the final short, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” which involves naked Japanese people eating sushi and shouting as the world comes to an end; and “T is for Toilet,” by Lee Hardcastle, where Claymation parents who are trying to get their young son to use the toilet for the first time are in for a nightmare.

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon "H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier."

A scene from the twisted live-action cartoon “H is for Hydraulic Emulsifier.”

One of the more visually impressive entries is “V for Vagitus,” by Kaare Andrews, taking place in a dystopian future where procreation is against the law, but you can earn “special privlidges” if you join the police force.

Some disappointments include Ben Wheatley’s “U is for Unearthed” shown from the point of view of a monster (vampire?) – it had the distinctive look of Wheatley movies like the brilliant THE KILL LIST (2011), and I guessed who it was immediately, but the short itself was pretty much a throwaway and I wanted something more ambitious from such a talented director. Also, with “R is for Removed” by Srdjan Spasojevic (who also directed 2010’s controversial A SERBIAN FILM), I was expecting something with a real wallop, instead getting something more surreal and strange – a burn victim’s skin is peeled off by doctors section by section, and immersed in fluid that reveals the skin is really strips of celluloid from a movie reel. And “B for Bigfoot,” by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, doesn’t even really have a Bigfoot in it (it should have been called “B for Boogieman,” instead).

"T is for Toilet"

“T is for Toilet”

I hate to jump around so much, but that’s the way you remember these films: some are instantly memorable while others you might forgot soon after watching the movie. For the most part, there aren’t many total duds here. There are exceptional installments, and then ones that are just okay (even the “disappointments” I listed above weren’t completely awful). And I liked the way that there were so many tones and styles and flavors, like visiting a visual Baskin Robbins.

If you’re a fan of anthology horror films, there’s a lot to like about THE ABCs OF DEATH, and you should check it out. You’re bound to find several installments that you really like.

It would just be too difficult to list every single short and rate it individually, but overall, I give the movie three knives.

(This movie is currently in very limited theatrical release and is also available on cable OnDemand in some markets.)

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE ABCs OF DEATH  ~three knives.

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Bikini Girls, Compelling Cinema, Controverisal Films, Crime Films, Exploitation Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, Hot Chick Movies, Independent Cinema, James Franco, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by knifefighter

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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If you think this is going to be just another Spring Break teen sex comedy, then you are in for a surprise. SPRING BREAKERS is another kind of animal altogether, and it’s the kind of pop/art hybrid that will be playing at your local arthouse theater, as well as the nearby multiplex. The arthouse crowd will have some idea what they’re in for, as soon as they see the director’s name, Harmony Korine. The multiplex audience will have no clue, and might just get their heads blown.

So who is Harmoney Korine, you ask? Well, when he was 19, he wrote the screenplay for the movie KIDS (1995), still probably the most notorious project he’s been associated with. But he went on to become a director in his own right, with weirdo masterpieces under his belt like 1997’s GUMMO and 1999’s JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, two movies that will seriously screw with your head. The last movie of his I saw in a theater was 2007’s MISTER LONELY, which is about a Michael Jackson impersonator who goes to live on an island populated by nothing but celebrity impersonators, and there’s Werner Herzog as a skydiving priest. I think there were five people in the audience when I saw it. In contrast, the theater was pretty packed when I saw SPRING BREAKERS.

SPRING BREAKERS is an underground film with above-ground stars, and what an interesting collection of celebs we have.

The movie begins with four girls wanting to go to Spring Break and escape from their boring lives as hard-working college students, but they don’t have enough money for the trip. Fed up with being deprived of fun, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens, who your kids might know from Disney fare like 2006’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and the TV series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY), Brit (Ashley Benson, currently playing Hanna on the ABC FAMILY series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS)  and Cotty (Rachel Korine, who also happens to be Mrs. Harmony Korine, and who was in the previously mentioned MISTER LONELY, among other films), decide they are going to Florida for the time of their lives, no matter what. So they don some ski masks and rob the local chicken shack, armed with a realistic looking water pistol and a heavy duty hammer. They get enough money for the trip, and bring their virginal friend Faith (Selena Gomez, another Disney star, from the series THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE) along for the ride. Faith is sweet and religious and doesn’t seem like the other girls at all, but she goes along for the ride, even after she finds out how they got the money.

Once in sunny Florida, the girls go wild, and then some, everyone but Faith, who has some naïve idea of this being a chance to bond with her girlfriends, when the others are just thinking about drugs and sex and booze.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

When a particularly out-of-control party they are at gets busted by the cops, the girls end up in jail. Without money for bail, they are rescued by a rapper, drug dealer, and gun hoarder named Alien (James Franco, who we saw just a couple of weeks ago as OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). With his corn rows, tattoos and mouth grille, Franco is a force of nature here, and steals every scene he is in.

Alien (“My real name is Al, but I’m out of this world”) is so much the polar opposite of OZ that it’s amazing this is the same guy, and yet Franco works his magic without having to try. Just what does he want in return for springing these cute college girls from the hoosegow? Well, Faith gets so scared thinking about that one that she takes the next bus home (no big loss, since she was the least interesting girl anyway), and the other three find that chicken shack robbery to be just the start of their life of crime, as they take part in a violent crime spree, this time with Alien leading the way.

SPRING BREAKERS is chock full of bikinis, bongs and guns. There’s also lots of Spring Break nudity (although  Rachel Korine is the only one of the main girls to really let it all hang out), and violence. So if you go into the theater expecting to just see some typical drunken behavior, you’re going to be in for a surprise.

Korine’s direction (he also wrote the screenplay) is all quirky and cool, shooting some scenes in slow-motion with musical accompaniment by Skrillex (along with Cliff Martinez, they did the soundtrack). Mainstream audiences might be scratching their heads by the time the end credits roll, but I was completely hypnotized by this one. As a long time Korine fan, I would have seen this one anyway, but the added pleasure of a rip-roaring, bigger than life James Franco, and good performances by the girls, just multiplies the pleasures.

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The girls turn in good performances. I really liked Rachel Korine a lot  as Cotty, the most uninhibited one of the group, and Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens turn in super-intense performances as the two most violent ones, a dynamic duo who even scare Franco in one scene. (Hudgens may have gained fame on the Disney Channel, but she was also in the controversial movie THIRTEEN in 2003 and was in the slightly edgy but ultimately disappointing SUCKER PUNCH in 2011. So she’s not completely new to this “edgy” thing.  As for Benson, she’s my favorite of the female leads here, hands down).

By the time Alien starts taking the girls on missions to rob other college kids at gunpoint (and a wedding!), and Alien’s arch-enemy Archie (Gucci Mane) feels he needs to put Alien in his place and starts some violence that needs payback, we have reached the point of no return, and the drunken parties have become a faint memory, replaced by the barrel of an AK-47.

One especially fun (and demented) scene features the three bad girls in pink ski masks singing along with Alien (who is playing piano beside his swimming pool) as they do a group rendition of Britney Spears’ song “Everytime.”

If the Disney girls climbed aboard this project to change their images, they succeeded,  and Harmony Korine succeeded in churning out his first potential hit with mainstream audiences since he wrote KIDS back in the 90s. And like KIDSSPRING BREAKERS will probably seem like a horror flick to some parents (especially of daughters), a nightmare about what could happen during those Spring Break vacations.

SPRING BREAKERS is big and loud and out of control. And I found myself really digging it. In fact, this might just be my favorite movie of 2013 so far.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SPRING BREAKERS ~three and a half knives.

BULLET IN THE HEAD (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Buddy Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Intense Movies, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Sylvester Stallone!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013)
By Michael Arruda

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This movie earns its title and then some.

BULLET TO THE HEAD is one brutal action flick, featuring more bullets to the head than a Corleone family reunion.

James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a hit man who hates cops, mostly because he’s spent his life in and out of jail and doesn’t trust anybody, cops included, as he’s seen his share of crooked law enforcement officers in his day.  After he and his partner finish a hit, they are double-crossed by the folks who hired them, who send in a hit man of their own, an ex-military beast of a man named Keegan (Jason Momoa, who was CONAN THE BARBARIAN in the 2011 reboot of that franchise), who promptly slays Bonomo’s partner—- displaying some vicious knife work— but fails to complete the job, as Bonomo turns the tables on him, sending him fleeing from the scene with his tail between his legs, at least for the time being.

It turns out that the man Bonomo and his partner killed was an ex-cop from D.C.   The man’s former partner Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives in New Orleans to investigate his death, and his investigation leads him to Bonomo.  Kwon wants more than just Bonomo.  He wants the men who hired him, because he wants to get to bottom of the whole sordid affair by taking down the men at the top.  Bonomo wants these men too, because they killed his partner, tried to kill him, and never paid him his money.

Bullet to the Head

Faster than you can say buddy cop movie, Bonomo and Kwon find themselves working together to find the men behind the murders.  The trail leads them to a slick lawyer, Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), who throws huge parties where beautiful women prance around in their birthday suits, and to the man he works for, Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a baddie who went to the Lex Luthor school of villainy, as he’s obsessed with purchasing real estate.

Morel of course hires Keegan to kill both Bonomo and Taylor, and when that plan fails, he sends Keegan to kidnap  Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), for leverage, since Bonomo and Taylor have in their possession a flash drive containing incriminating information against Morel.

As you might expect, Bonomo doesn’t like having his daughter kidnapped, setting the stage for a confrontation between Bonomo and Keegan that is worth the price of admission.

I really liked BULLET TO THE HEAD.  In the triumvirate of recent action movies I’ve seen the past month— Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013), Jason Statham in PARKER (2013), and now Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD, I liked BULLET TO THE HEAD the best, as it’s the most complete movie of the three.  That being said, I liked Statham’s take on the character of Parker a lot, with his unique set of rules and sense of honor, and so I liked PARKER just about as much as BULLET, but in terms of sheer brutality, BULLET TO THE HEAD takes the prize.

Sylvester Stallone, at his age, 66, still makes for one convincing bad ass tough guy, and when he looks at Jason Momoa’s Keegan at the end of the film and says “I’m going to kill you,” the audience believes him.  Rarely has Stallone played a colder killer than Bonomo.

The deaths are up close and personal.  Director Walter Hill, a veteran of these buddy cop movies, going back to the 1980s with films like 48 HOURS (1982), with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, brings the camera in close for some jarring execution style murders that are actually quite wince-inducing.  I found myself looking away a few times, and the two gentlemen in the seats in front of me, not tiny men by any means, jumped on a couple of occasions.

There are also some memorable fight scenes in this one, as again, Stallone still looks like he can really bring it.  The concluding bout between Stallone and Jason Momoa is every bit as good as the clash between Stallone and Van Damme at the end of THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012).  One of my gripes about the concluding hand to hand fight in THE LAST STAND was that Schwarzenegger’s opponent looked so wimpy.  Not so here.  Momoa looks like he could handle both Stallone and Schwarzenegger at the same time.

Speaking of Momoa, he’s quite impressive as the unstoppable killer Keegan, and he delivers one of the better performances in the movie.  Often these big tough guy villain roles come off like robots, but Momoa’s Keegan is infused with personality.

Sarah Shahi is also very good as Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa.  She’s a tattoo artist who moonlights as a doctor, helping her dad patch up his buddies from their various bullet and knife wounds.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Robert Morel, the guy in a suit pulling all the strings, played a similar bad guy role in KILLER ELITE (2011), making life miserable in that movie for Jason Statham and Robert De Niro.  Akinnuoye-Agbaje, you might remember, played Mr. Eko on the TV show LOST. 

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Christian Slater is sufficiently slimy as shady lawyer Marcus Baptiste, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen Slater do before.

Perhaps the only weak link in the movie is Sung Kang as Stallone’s cop buddy Taylor Kwon.   Kang’s acting is decent enough, but the clean-cut pretty boy Kwon stands out like a bright cheery light in an otherwise dark gritty movie.  I would have preferred a Mark Wahlberg-type in the role.

The screenplay by Alessandro Camon is a winner.  While the plot is nothing more than your standard buddy action flick, an excuse, really, to allow Sylvester Stallone to make tough guy wisecracks and beat up on the bad guys—and because Stallone is so good at this, it lifts the material above what it otherwise might have been without him— there were still some nuances to the story which I really enjoyed.

I liked the character development of the hit man Keegan.  As we learn more about what makes him tick, we find out that he’s driven by a sense of honor more than the almighty dollar, and when his boss Morel shows no loyalty to the men he employs—he’s only interested in money— this doesn’t sit well with Keegan.  Keegan actually cares about the men who work alongside him.  Of course, he also loves killing.

The story also does a good job convincing us that Stallone and Kang want to work together.  At first, I thought, no way, Stallone’s Bonomo hates cops, so there’s no way I’m going to believe he’d want to work with Kang’s Kwon, but screenwriter Camon succeeds in pulling this off.   In one instance, for example, old school Bonomo is clearly impressed with the wealth of information Kwon has at his fingertips on his smart phone and realizes the advantages of working with the officer outweigh his personal disdain for his profession.

BULLET TO THE HEAD is a completely satisfying action thriller.  It’s brutal, dark, and intense from its opening execution scene to its closing clash featuring Stallone and Momoa going at each other with axes.

Sure, its buddy action movie plot offers little we haven’t seen before, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in ferocity.

I give it three knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives BULLET TO THE HEAD ~three knives.