Archive for the Weird Movies Category

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bizarro Movies, Enigmatic Films, Experimental Films, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Mind Experiments!, Something Different, Weird Movies with tags , , , , on April 16, 2013 by knifefighter

UPSTREAM COLOR
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

upstream_color_xlgBack in 2004, director Shane Carruth made his debut feature, PRIMER. It was a little indie film about four guys trying to start their own computer company in a garage, and mysterious storage lockers, and time travel. The movie is told in such a way that you only figure it out a little at a time, but it was a terrific first film, and it made Carruth a director to look for. Unfortunately, it took him until 2013 to release his second film, UPSTREAM COLOR, and it is in very limited release in just a few cities. I hope it’s not as long a wait for his next one.

For some reason, I just like the title itself. UPSTREAM COLOR. Just a really cool name for a movie. So what is it actually about? Well, that’s a little tougher to explain. But I’ll try.

Carruth has a talent for enigmatic films that you need to really think about. In this vein, he’s a lot like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, although Carruth’s films are nothing like theirs. How much you’ll enjoy UPSTREAM COLOR depends on how strongly you feel you have to have all the answers, and how open you are to new experiences.

UPSTREAM COLOR begins with some kids drinking some weird concoction made from little grubs harvested from plants by a mysterious guy. Is he some kind of mad scientist, or something else entirely? When the kids drink the liquid, they are able to read each other’s minds – or it looks that way. When one kid tries to hit another, the other one is able to know exactly how to deflect the blow. Two other kids close their eyes and do the exact same hand movements in synch. What exactly are these grubs?

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The guy then kidnaps a woman at a bar named Kris (Amy Seimetz, who is actually quite striking in some scenes), using a Taser. He makes her ingest one of the grub/worms and then brings her back to a house where he proceeds to brainwash her. He convinces her that ice water is most wonderful reward she can get, simply by telling her it is so. He tells her she cannot look into his face, because it is made of the same material that makes up the sun, and it is too bright to look at. He makes her copy out long passages from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”  and fold the papers into links to a giant paper chain. He also gets her to take out a loan on her house and withdraw all of her money from the bank and give it to him.

At one point, when she’s in bed, she sees worms running under her skin, and tries to remove them with a kitchen knife.

We are then introduced to another odd gentleman, called simply The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) in the credits. He performs an odd operation on Kris involving her and a small pig, the grafting of some of the pig’s flesh onto Kris’s body, and what looks like a blood transfusion between them. The Sampler also runs a pig farm, presumably stocked with pigs that have been used in similar operations. The Sampler gets his name because when he isn’t tending to his pig farm, he is wandering around the woods with a microphone and a synthesizer, recording all kinds of strange noises and sampling them to play back later.

After her bank account is drained, Kris gets away and tries to adjust to normal life again, but it’s hard to go back. She loses her job, and her personality becomes almost robotic. It is then that she meets Jeff (director Carruth) on a commuter train and they begin having conversations that eventually lead to a romantic relationship. And then she begins to realize that maybe Jeff has experienced a similar abduction in his past, because he has the same kind of knife marks on his leg that she does…

So what do Thoreau, pigs and the ingesting of strange worms have to do with each other? You’ll have to see UPSTREAM COLOR for yourself, and it may take some work to figure it out. UPSTREAM COLOR is the kind of movie that does not provide ready answers, but that’s okay. There are so many movies that try to explain every little detail of what’s going on, that it’s a relief sometimes to find a movie like this, that refuses to make it easy. I’m still not one hundred percent sure about every aspect of the movie, but I do know that I found the film to be very compelling, and I’m sure I’ll see it again at some point.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) undergoes a strange abduction in Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) experiences a strange abduction in Shane Carruth’s UPSTREAM COLOR.

The direction by Carruth (who also wrote the script) is quite good, as is the cinematography (which, it turns out, is also by Carruth). It’s a visually interesting film, with minimal dialogue in its first half, and yet it might just captivate you from the moment it begins. Just go in expecting something completely different, and you won’t be disappointed. This is not like the typical Hollywood film. It’s another animal entirely.

And for that reason, because it plays by its own rules, I give UPSTREAM COLOR three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives UPSTREAM COLOR ~three and a half knives.

BRANDED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Dystopian Futures, Giant Monsters, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites!, Satire, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: BRANDED (2012)
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: L.L. SOARES is walking down a street in Moscow, when he sees a bunch of people running)

LS: What are you running from!

PEOPLE (speaking in Russian): Brand Names are trying to kill us.

(They are pursued by giant signs for MCDONALD’S and COCA-COLA. Watching this, LS scratches his head)

LS: Well folks, this is going to be a weird one.

I left the theater after seeing the new movie BRANDED, and I was scratching my head then, too. I am going to try to explain this one, but it’s not going to be easy. I am also going to have two ratings this time around. One for mainstream, normal audiences, and another for people who like movies that are especially…weird. Because BRANDED is not going to appeal to everyone. I’m still not even sure what I think of it.

First off, when I saw the trailer for BRANDED, I thought it was a science fiction movie where weird aliens were using brand name products and advertising to control and feed off us. I went in expecting scary flick set in a future where everything is out of control. (See the BRANDED trailer, here).

But, sitting through the first 45 minutes or so, I thought I walked into the wrong movie. Because nothing horrific happens; nothing bizarre takes place. Instead, we get a pretty standard story about an advertising firm in Moscow. Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard) gets out of the debt of a failed advertising agency when an American businessman named Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor) buys him out and hires him for his new firm. In return, Bob asks Misha to record everything he sees when dealing with their clients. As Misha describes it, he’s kind of an “advertising spy,” and the whole thing is a little odd to him. But he’s doing well. He’s winning advertising awards, making lots of money, and hovering near a promotion. The one thing Bob insists is that Misha not get involved with his daughter, Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who has an eye for him. Misha says he won’t, but of course, he dives headlong into a passionate love affair with her. Bob goes nuts and fires him.

Meanwhile, a group of fast food CEOs are at a conference table in some kind of mountain retreat to see a kind of advertising demigod, called the Marketing Guru here (and played by Max Von Sydow), complaining that their profits are dwindling and people don’t seem to want fast food anymore. The Guru tells them he has a plan to turn their fortunes around. Instead of their changing to meet the needs of the world, the world will change to become more reliant on their products. They will make it “cool” to be fat, and burger joints will become desirable again. It sounds far-fetched, but it begins to work. They start out in three “third world” markets to test it out. One of these is Russia, where Misha is.

Fired from his job, Misha becomes the producer of a reality show Abby is putting on Russian television. It involves finding an overweight girl and having her undergo a series of surgeries to become thin. But something goes wrong, and she falls into a coma during the procedure. Public outcry causes the police to arrest Abby and Misha for a while.

Misha (Ed Stoppard) and Abby (Leelee Sobieski) are lovers in a world gone mad. Or is it just Misha who has gone mad?

After he gets out of jail, Misha decides to leave the city and herd cows for a living. Several years pass.

Eventually, Abby finds him again, but he has changed. After trying to convince him to come back with her to the city, and failing, she leaves.

It is up to this point that I was very puzzled about BRANDED. Just what kind of movie was this? Where were the strange monsters/aliens from the trailer? Was this just a straight-forward drama about advertising and disillusionment?

Misha has a dream. In this dream, he is told how to build a bizarre platform/altar to perform an ancient pagan ritual that involves the slaughter of a red cow. When he does it for real, he is overwhelmed by the power of the ritual and passes out. Abby comes back for him and brings him home to Moscow with her.

It is in this part of the movie that things start to change from normal to just plain weird.

Because of the ritual, Misha can now see “the truth” that no one else sees. And what he sees is living brand names that are controlling our lives and desires. Misha finds a very different world than the one he left. A fast food franchise called The Burger dominates the world. A majority of the planet’s inhabitants are now extremely obese (of course, Misha and Abby are still thin and attractive). Misha even finds out that Abby gave birth to a son he didn’t know he had – a dim-witted, obese little boy who is always asking for money for hamburgers.

Misha begins to freak out because he sees the “living brands” everywhere. They are horrible, gigantic monsters that attach themselves to every human being, and hover like behemoths above the city. Misha thinks he is going insane and almost kills himself. Abby and his son leave him. But then he has a change of heart and  goes back into advertising, intent on using his newfound knowledge of living, breathing brand names—the monsters —to start a war between the monsters. He begins by taking on a vegetarian Chinese food chain as a client, and taking aim at the creatures behind The Burger.

From here, the movie just gets stranger.

What the hell is going on in BRANDED?
“Don’t ask me.”

There are some interesting images in BRANDED. From that strange cow-slaughtering ritual (that seems like something out of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film) to the huge, balloon-like CGI monsters that Misha sees, sitting on the roofs of all the tall buildings in Moscow. There’s a weird scene where Misha walks out on a balcony during a rainstorm and just starts screaming all of a sudden. And there’s another strange scene where all of the advertising in Moscow disappears, making it look like an ancient city again.

Needless to say, BRANDED is not for everyone. It is not a conventional, normal narrative film. There is a narrator who pops up every once awhile to give us voice-over explanations of what is going on (the voice of Mariya Ignatova). And I think it’s trying to be more of a satire on the advertising business than a literal science fiction/horror film.

There weren’t a lot of people at the showing of BRANDED I went to. It hasn’t had a very strong promotional campaign—and after seeing the movie, I can see why. Several people in the audience I saw BRANDED with walked out half-way through. Many of the people who stayed were shouting at the screen by the end.

But I can’t say I didn’t like BRANDED. I’m a big fan of strange cinema, from the movies of David Lynch and Jodorowsky, to surreal odysseys like BEYOND THE BLACK  RAINBOW (2010),  to oddities like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003). So BRANDED struck a chord in me. I’m actually surprised a movie this quirky got a fairly wide release in movie theaters.

The acting, for the most part, is pretty good. I like Jeffrey Tambor (probably best known for his roles on the TV shows ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), and Leelee Sobieski (previously in JOY RIDE, 2001, and the awful remake of THE WICKER MAN, 2006)  is pretty good in this one (didn’t she seem to disappear from acting for a while?). Ed Stoppard (also in THE LITTLE VAMPIRE, 2000, and NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS, 2010)  as Misha is the heart of the movie, and keeps you watching throughout. And how can you not love an appearance by the legendary Max Von Sydow? The script and the direction on the other hand are very strange. It took two people to direct this one – Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain in their English feature film debut – and they both wrote the script as well. The production values are a little stilted at times. The CGI monsters are so unreal and weird looking, that it makes them look both very fake and sort of disturbing.

It’s rated R, but aside from a few f-bombs, there’s no real reason for the rating. Even during the movie’s most passionate sex scene, Stoppard and Sobieski keep their clothes on.

For mainstream audiences, I give this movie one and a half knives. I don’t think most people will like it. It’s just too strange. And I wasn’t even sure if I liked it at first.

For people who dig really weird movies, I’d give it three and a half knives. Just because it’s so off the map. A movie so far removed from the kinds of films Hollywood is doing that it deserves a look as a curiosity. Like going to an old fashioned freak show.

Personally, I think I liked it. But like BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, which I saw earlier this year, I can’t tell if it’s a bad movie made by inept directors, or a low-budget masterpiece that simply didn’t have the money to match its big ambitions. And therefore, it kind of ends up somewhere between the two extremes of bad and good.

I guess you can tell, based on this description of the film, whether or not it sounds intriguing to you. So it’s up to you whether you’ll be seeking this one out on Netflix when the time comes.

(LS’s cell phone rings)

LS: Hello?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It’s Michael. Where are you?

LS: I’m in Moscow. Where are you?

MA: Madrid.

LS: So I guess it’s an International Monday here at Cinema Knife Fight.

MA: So how is it there?

LS: A little weird. I’m reviewing the movie BRANDED. But, aside from a Coca-Cola sign ripping some people to shreds, it’s pretty quiet.

MA: Okay, meet you back at headquarters. See you next week.

LS: Later.

(The camera follows LS as he continues to walk down the city street. He suddenly raises an umbrella and opens it up, just in time to protect himself from a downpour of blood as a giant monstrous BURGER KING devours some customers)

-THE END-

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

For Normal Audiences, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~ one and a half knives.

For assorted weirdos and people who appreciate strange films, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~three and a half knives.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bizarro Movies, Cult Movies, Experimental Films, Highly Stylized Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Mind Experiments!, Paranormal, Psychedelic Films, Telekinesis, Visions of Hell, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2012 by knifefighter

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

After watching Ridley Scott’s new blockbuster, PROMETHEUS, I took a train to the other side of town to see a movie that was, in many ways, its complete opposite. Low-budget, often badly acted, and just plain bizarre, Panos Cosmatos’ new film, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a viewing experience of a completely different sort. But I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t like it. There were some parts of it that I liked very much.

Supposedly made in 2010, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW has recently been doing the midnight movie circuit in some cities. I originally saw it listed as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival a month or so ago. I’d wanted to see it, but couldn’t. And now it’s back for a few weekend showings at a local art theater. So, for many people, it’s a new release. I know, for me it was. I also know that, based on the title alone, and a brief synopsis that highlighted a psychedelic storyline, I really had to see this one for myself.

The movie begins with an instructional video from Dr. Mercurio Arboria, for the Arboria Institute, which promotes emotional happiness and peace of mind. Supposedly, a visit to the foundation will include pharmacology, meditation and other fun stuff, in a regimen designed to help people find true inner happiness. Sounds pleasant enough. This video looked a bit dated and reminded me of the instructional videos that were made by the Dharma Initiative on the TV series LOST. Kind of an interesting way to start things off.

The movie’s credits begin, showing a giant, pulsating eyeball, with the actors and crews’ names coming forth from the eye’s pupil. It’s actually a cool opening credit sequence, and a cool image overall. I thought it was a good sign this was going to be a lot of fun.

Then the movie starts. It’s 1983. The foundation is being run by Dr. Arboria’s associate, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). But strangely, despite that cool promotional video, there’s only one patient in the whole building—or, if there are more patients, we never see them. The patient’s name is Elena (Eva Allan), and she’s a young girl around 19 or 20, who is dressed in a hospital gown and has long, brunette hair (she almost looks like those long-haired ghosts from movies like THE RING and THE GRUDGE). Elena does not speak, and appears to be in some kind of depressed/almost comatose state. Each day she is brought into a room to sit on a plastic seat, while in another, facing room, separated by a sheet of Plexiglas, Dr. Nyle talks to her. He talks and talks, but she never responds. He must have a lot of time to spend trying to help her, since there don’t seem to be any other patients for him to attend to.

For the first half of the film, this takes up most of the time. Elena is repeatedly brought into the room, Dr. Nyle repeatedly talks to her and gets no response. There are point-of-view shots of us going down an orange, antiseptic hallway. Its repetition seems almost aggravating at times. The dialogue is actually kind of silly, and the acting isn’t very good. There were more than a few times when I laughed out loud. Everyone else in the audience was quiet. I don’t think they appreciated the movie’s goofiness.

A few times, Dr. Nyle goes home to his wife Rosemary (Marilyn Norry), whom he either lectures or ignores. When she speaks, he makes goofy faces. There doesn’t seem much of a point to what’s going on.

Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) controls everything in the Arboria Institute.            Or does he? (from BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW)

There is a female nurse who clearly dislikes Elena. And we eventually learn that Elena has CARRIE-like telekinetic powers. There are also strange robots, that look like men in space suits with television screens in their bellies, called Sentionauts (it says so on the computer screen that activates them). They patrol the foundation’s halls after hours, especially if Elena leaves her room.

Then, about half-way through, something happens. We go back to 1966. Dr. Arboria, along with a female assistant, are shown in reverse negative (everything is strikingly white, and we can barely see people’s features). Dr. Nyle is prepped to enter another dimension, or at least that’s what it seemed to me. All white, he submerges himself in a giant puddle of inky blackness, and goes out the other side, where he turns different colors and his skin melts!! When he comes back, he is transformed. Slimy and black with ooze, he infects the female assistant, and she gives birth to a baby, before she suddenly dies. Could this baby be Elena? (!).

Back in 1983, Dr. Arboria, the head of the foundation, has become an drooling invalid/drug addict, who isn’t capable of doing much for himself. Dr. Nyle has to look after him, and even administer his heroin (morphine?) injections. Dr. Nyle has the true power at the institute and he clearly likes to manipulate those around him.

At one point, Dr. Nyle has kind of a breakdown and removes his wig (revealing a shiny bald head) and puts on a strange leather suit. While he is gone, Elena attempts to escape the facility.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a mixed bag, but I could definitely see it becoming a cult movie over time. Parts of it are so bad, it made me think of movies like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, and I think RAINBOW could benefit from an audience that interacts with it. It might make for a much more enjoyable experience. There are other times when the imagery is actually pretty interesting. But never once did I feel that the movie lived up to the promise of that great title—except maybe for the very strange events that occur in 1966.

The music, by Jeremy Schmidt, is mostly a droning synthesizer score, and it does get repetitive at times, but overall, it works. There are even parts where it gets more animated. The music was one of my favorite parts of the film, and definitely complemented the psychedelic feel of the proceedings.

The over-use of different kinds of filters in the film, and negative effects, seem like an amateur’s attempts at creating otherworldly visuals—or someone trying to transcend a miniscule budget—and there are moments when it feels like a student fim. There are also lots of close-ups on inanimate objects that go on a little too long. Despite the fact that it really is not a very good movie, there were parts of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW that I enjoyed despite myself, and, as I said, there are several times when I found myself laughing—even though that probably was not what the director intended.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, for the most part, might be one of those “so bad they’re good” movies for a new generation. It plays things completely straight (to its benefit), but is probably campy enough to attract a rabid audience.  I haven’t seen anything this odd (and yet enjoyable) in a long time, and it reminded me how movies like this were much easier to find in the 1970s and 80s. It made me miss those times.

A movie like this is hard to rate, because it’s clearly not meant to be a normal, mainstream narrative film. And, even as I write this, I find myself enjoying the movie now more, in retrospect, than when I was sitting in the theater. Despite its very obvious flaws, I give BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, two and a half knives. And I’m sure its imagery will grow on me over time and this rating will improve…..

This might just be the kind of film that deserves to be revisited on Blu-ray.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

L.L. Soares gives BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW~ two and a half knives! But it’s such an odd movie, that rating may change over time.

RUBBER (2010)

Posted in 2011, Bizarro Movies, Campy Movies, Dark Comedies, Indie Horror, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , on December 30, 2011 by knifefighter

RUBBER (2010)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 

Some movies straddle the line between the absurd and the just plain silly, and it’s a tough line to walk. RUBBER tries this feat, and while it’s not a complete failure, it has a really hard time keeping its balance.

RUBBER is the story a discarded rubber tire that comes to life. One day it simply lifts itself up and starts rolling around the desert, overcoming everything in its path until it comes upon a rabbit. At this point, it starts to rumble and vibrate, and the rabbit explodes! The tire learns how to harness this psychokinetic power until it works its way up the food chain and can eventually cause human beings’ heads to explode (like something out of Cronenberg’s SCANNERS, 1981).

In the meantime, the tire falls in love with a nameless woman (Roxane Mesquida) and follows her around, leaving a trail of corpses along the way.

There is a “movie within a movie” subplot. As the movie begins, a group of people have been dumped in the middle of the desert with binoculars. They are supposed to be “the audience” and watch the tire as it becomes sentient and then goes about its killing spree. At one point, the audience is fed some poisoned turkey, and the “actors” finally feel like they can stop the movie since no one is watching, but one lone spectator in a wheelchair (Wings Hauser) survives, and they have to go on with the show, begrudgingly.

The movie has a lot of fun with narrative and point of view, and the self-awareness on the part of the characters can be funny at times, but it can also be annoying. For most of its running time, I didn’t care for RUBBER all that much. But by the end, the concept had grown on me a bit, and I didn’t hate it completely. That said, RUBBER is far from a home run. It’s the kind of movie that thinks it is much more clever than it actually is.

And (seemingly) endless scenes of the tire rolling along don’t help.

I did, however, enjoy the character of Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella), who early on gives a speech about how every movie has something in it that doesn’t necessarily make sense – something that has “no reason” – but while I liked him, I didn’t like the rest of the cast, and the film itself, as much.

Director Quentin Dupieux should at least be commended for trying to do something completely different. The “idea” of this movie is pretty clever, in a “bizarro” kind of way. Unfortunately, the movie itself is not as good as its initial idea. It’s too much of a one-note joke.

I really wanted to like this one, but, I was left wanting something more.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

This poster looks so cool, it's better than the actual movie.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: FIEND (1980)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2011, B-Movies, Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Paranormal, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Supernatural, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , on November 9, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
So Bad It’s . . . Not Good or Bad…. Just … Hmmmmm …
By Nick Cato

Faithful readers of this fine column have heard me mention Staten Island’s (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema. The more my suburban memory is refreshed, the more I realize just how many amazing double features were shown there during the early 80s—1982 being out of control.

And in 1982, the Fox Twin introduced me to the wacky world of low-budget film maker Don Dohler. Among Don’s nearly-unwatchable achievements are the painfully bad THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978) and NIGHTBEAST (1982), both which feature unconvincing monsters and acting that’d make H.G. Lewis blush. But in 1980, Don ALMOST got it right, and the result has been debated by underground horror fans since its release.

FIEND (1980) was re-released in 1982 with the gruesome DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (another film originally released in 1980), in one seriously uneven double-bill. After two years of seeing stills from FIEND in horror magazines and fanzines, I was thrilled to finally catch it. DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE was first, and a more brutal R-rated film would never be released (how this one hit American theaters unrated is anyone’s guess). Its depraved scenes of some lunatic killing women in his fire-proof basement with a flame thrower had the theater screaming out loud, and the film managed to work even despite its PSYCHO-inspired conclusion.

After a brief intermission, FIEND hit the screen, and within the first five minutes I can recall at least six people walking out…not due to anything disturbing, but due to a “special effect” so cheesy, it’s amazing any of us stayed for the rest. But I’m glad I did. Kind of.

Some red “spirit” is seen floating around a dark graveyard in the aforementioned special effect. It enters a grave and reanimates some 70s-looking guy, complete with big mustache and ugly sports jacket. Just WHY this happens is never explained, but we now have the title creature who—instead of eating flesh or drinking blood—decides to buy a large house in Maryland where he opens a music school!

(BRIEF PAUSE FOR MY MENTAL STABILITY: It’s my interest in plots like these that have caused me to age at an unusual rate and lose friends. Now back to the review.)

The FIEND takes the name Eric Longfellow, and spends a lot of film time wandering around the front yard of his new home where his neighbors stare at him with odd expressions. It should be pointed out that Longfellow, played by Don Dohler regular Don Leifert, does a fine job here and gives off a truly eerie vibe.

We’re eventually clued in as to just why Longfellow is a FIEND and not a ZOMBIE: if he doesn’t take other people’s “life forces” on a regular basis, he starts to grow old. When fully charged, Longfellow looks to be about 35-40 years old. But as he ages, the cheap special effects attempt to make him look like he’s in his 80s. The unique angle of the FIEND is how this freshly-risen creature kills his victims: by strangulation!  When the FIEND chokes some poor soul, his body glows the same shade of ghastly red that reanimated him in the first place. And while this could’ve been a real laugh-riot (especially with the below-grade-Z effects), there’s a certain sense of dread and some decent atmosphere that makes these sequences work.

A couple of nosey, goody-two-shoes neighbors eventually begin to suspect there’s something weird about their new neighbor, and decide to investigate. (The one thing I laughed at by the middle of the film was the absence of students or any actual music playing in Longfellow’s home academy…perhaps this is what caused suspicion in his neighbors?).

FIEND is a seriously flawed film, but worth a look if only for Leifert’s fine performance as the soulless title monster, and some unusually solid atmosphere for a low budget picture. But as fans of B-horror know, there’s stretches of boredom here that will challenge even the most jaded of trash film junkies. But if you can get through these areas, FIEND isn’t too bad a time (and it didn’t help seeing this after DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE, a superior film on every level).

(NOTE: In researching this film, I discovered FIEND star Don Liefert had passed away just recently in 2010. Hopefully his rest won’t be interrupted by a tacky-looking, malevolent spirit…)

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

 Showing his early 80s horror-film colleagues you don’t need sharp weapons to be effective,
the FIEND (the late Dan Liefert) takes another soul.

(Note: Because there wasn’t a Suburban Grindhouse Memories column last Thursday, Nick agreed to write a new one this week, as well as his regular column again for next Thursday)

Transmissions to Earth: THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, 70s Horror, Campy Movies, Cannibalism, Family Secrets, Gore!, Grindhouse, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Madness, Psychos, Trasmissions to Earth, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2011 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH: THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1973)
By L.L. Soares

"No Admittance During the Last Ten Minutes of This Movie"

Poor Billy Townsend. He’s just a young guy who wants to find a girlfriend and have a normal life. But his Dad won’t let him.

There are low-budget films, but 1973’s THREE ON A MEATHOOK looks so low-budget at times that it looks like someone’s home movies. Despite this, it’s still able to tell a story (a quality not all horror movies today can boast) and I have to admit, it’s downright funny at times (although unintentionally so).

The movie begins like a hundred other horror movies from the 70s. Four girls go to an island for a fun weekend, and their car breaks down in the middle of the woods, and night is falling. A kid in a truck named Billy (James Pickett) happens by and tells them he can’t fix their car, but they’re welcome to come stay at his house overnight until the local garage opens up in the morning. A crack of thunder convinces the girls to take him up on his offer. Besides, he’s a cute young guy. What harm can there be in staying at his house?

When they get to Billy’s house, the boy’s father (Charles Kissinger) demands that he “get upstairs” where the man lectures his son about “You know what happens when you’re around girls!” And Billy denying it and saying it’s not true.

"Not for the Bloody Mary for Lunch Bunch!"

The girls settle into their rooms and Billy brings a blanket and a pillow out to the shed outside. And then, something awful happens. Someone kills all the girls! The sexy blonde, taking a bath, gets stabbed. The other three girls get blown away by a shotgun. The next morning, Pa yells at Billy about “Look what you done!” but Billy has no memory of doing anything. As far as he knows, he was out in the shed, sleeping peacefully. But he goes inside and sees the horrible ways the girls were murdered and he’s dumbfounded by it all.

“You go into town and get some supplies, go see a movie, and I’ll take care of things here,” Pa says, assuring poor Billy that everything is going to be all right.

Billy goes to town, where he sees THE GRADUATE (1967) and then goes to a bar where he sits alone and drinks a lot. Then we see over 10 minutes of a band called American Xpress playing cheesy 70s rock onstage with occasional quick flashes back to Billy drinking.

A waitress named Sherry (Sherry Steiner) takes pity on him and asks what’s bothering him. He won’t tell her, but it’s obvious he’s a troubled lad. When he drinks too much and almost gets hauled away to the drunk tank by the police, Sherry takes him back to her place instead. He wakes up naked and asks her if they “did it,” but she assures him they didn’t. They spend the rest of the day together, and Billy thinks he’s falling in love.

He tells her about his farm and Sherry asks if she can come visit him the following Sunday. “I’ve never been on a farm before.” Billy says yes and then goes back home.

Okay, here’s where the questions start. Billy just brought four girls home and they were killed horribly. And this girl he likes asks to come over a week later and he says “Yeah, okay!” What’s up with that? You’d think he would be terrified to bring any more girls home, especially ones he likes. Is this kid an idiot?

Pa Townshend isn’t too happy to hear there are more visitors coming, and he tries to talk Billy out of it, but Billy won’t hear of it. During the week, Billy does his chores, and sometimes Pa goes into a shed he has padlocked (Billy never goes in there). Pa also is a “good cook” according to Billy and makes some very tasty “veal” dish.

Sherry comes out to visit the following Sunday. She brings her friend Becky (Madelyn Buzzard) with her. The three of them play in the cornfield and when Sherry and Billy get some time alone, they really seem to be falling for each other. Of course, something horrible happens that night, and the “secret” of the Townsend farm is revealed.

Only someone with a single-digit I.Q. wouldn’t see where this one was going early on. It’s pretty clear who the killer is from the get-go. And his reason for killing is pretty goofy. The ending to this one will at least make you laugh out loud.

With really fake-looking gore effects and mostly bad acting (there are even a few instances where the screen just goes blank for no reason), THREE ON THE MEATHOOK has one of those great grindhouse titles that is better than the actual movie. This one was written and directed by William Girdler, who went on to make such camp classics as the demonic-possession flick, ABBY (1974), the JAWS-on-land horror rip-off GRIZZLY (1976) and the goofy movie version of Graham Masterton’s Native American spirit-possession story, THE MANITOU (1978), all of which are worthy of being reviewed for this column at some point. He even directed the great Pam Grier in 1975’s  SHEBA, BABY!

"Don't Lose Your Head!" An example of the cutting-edge effects in 1973's THREE ON A MEATHOOK!

THREE ON A MEATHOOK is one of those movies that is so bad, you’ll be glad you saw it. Now let’s have some of that meat Pa’s been cooking. I hear it’s very tasting stuff.

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

THE BEAVER

Posted in 2011, LL Soares Reviews, Strange Cinema, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , on May 10, 2011 by knifefighter

Movie Review by L.L. Soares

So, at the end of April, I asked the staff of Cinema Knife Fight if anyone wanted to review the new Jodie Foster movie, THE BEAVER, starring Mel Gibson. Sure, it’s not horror, but it looked so damned weird, we had to get a review for CKF. Of course, nobody wanted to see it, so it fell to me.

After all of the scandals and bad behavior in real life, Mel Gibson has become repugnant to a lot of people, and I can understand that.  The guy is just plain ugly from an emotional standpoint. But, in the spirit of separating the man from his work, I wanted to give THE BEAVER a fair trial.

I’m actually glad I saw it. But it is one of the most bizarre films I’ve seen in a long time. Especially considering the level of actors involved in the project.

Mel Gibson plays Walter Black, the CEO of Jerry Co. (a toy company). You would think the guy who runs a toy company would be happy, but he’s not. In fact, he’s been severely depressed for a few years when the story opens, and when he gets home from work, he doesn’t do much else except crawl into bed and sleep. I have never seen Gibson look so sad and weary in a movie before. He’s completely convincing as someone suffering from depression, and it almost made me wonder if, after all that’s happened to him in the news lately, if maybe he wasn’t acting.

His family is at the end of its rope. Walter’s wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster, who also directed), has asked him to leave. His son Porter (Anton Yelchin), hates his father so much, that he has an entire wall full of yellow sticky notes telling him what mannerisms the two of them share – there were about 51 of them by last count – and which he is determined to get rid of after he graduates. The youngest son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) still loves and looks up to his dad, but has no idea what’s happening to him.

So Walter leaves, and goes to a hotel room, where he can drink himself into oblivion. And he decides he’s finally hit rock bottom, and it’s time to kill himself. He ties himself to a shower curtain rod, which isn’t any good (it breaks) and then then decides to jump off the balcony and finally put an end to it all, when a voice stops him. A voice that sounds an awful lot like Michael Caine.

It’s The Beaver. A big, furry hand puppet that Walter has packed in with his belongings when he left his family. We have no idea why he took it. But now, attached to his hand, it slowly seems to take on a life of its own. Walter begins to completely express himself through the puppet (which is just disturbing, because you see Gibson’s lips move, when we’re supposed to be looking at the puppet). He even brings it into his everyday life. Walter hands out cards to people telling them that the puppet is a therapeutic tool to deal with depression, and most people buy into it. So much so, that his life actually begins to change.

The people at his company, which is in financial jeopardy, think he’s nuts at first, but eventually get motivated by his new vigor. Even his second-in-command (Cherry Jones) begins to trust his instincts – or rather, those of The Beaver, who seems to know just what to do to pull the struggling company out of the red.

Walter gets a second chance with his wife and family- and forms a strong bond with his youngest son – all thanks to the funny puppet with the Cockney accent. Everyone is very patient with Walter, letting him do what he has to do to get healthy again. But everyone has their limits.

Meanwhile, son Porter makes money on the side writing term papers for other kids at school and gets a chance to write the graduation speech for the class valedictorian, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl he’s loved from afar but never approached before. She has written 400 pages of notes, but can’t edit it down into a coherent speech, so she hires Porter to write it for her. As a result of his trying to get to know her (to write the speech in “her voice”), they begin a relationship.

The entire tone of THE BEAVER is one of extreme sadness. Everyone in this movie is in pain, and everyone seems to have devastating secrets of their own. The feel of it reminded me of Sam Mendes’s AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) in a lot of ways. Not only have I never seen Mel look this weary and worn out, but Jodie Foster looks tired and sad throughout the film as well. It’s certainly not the kind of movie you go to see to cheer yourself up.

Not once did I believe that The Beaver puppet was a healthy thing. It just seemed like the next stage of utter madness, and the fact that people seemed to accept it and Walter’s use of it in everyday life just seemed extremely odd to me. He doesn’t seem to be getting better using it to communicate with the world around him. It just seems to be another way to distance himself from it all and push himself deeper into insanity.

Sitting through THE BEAVER, I found myself wondering who this movie was made for. I can’t imagine many audience members would find this movie enjoyable. As for me, I went to see it because, based on the trailer, I thought this movie looked like a train wreck, and I wasn’t wrong. But I’m not really sure if I think it’s a work of demented genius, or a very sad cry for help.

Jodie Foster has proven herself a capable, smart director in the past, and this movie is just so unusual and weird that it’s hard to understand what attracted her to this material. And Mel Gibson seems to lay his soul bare in a few scenes. He really does look tired of living in THE BEAVER – it’s a completely believable performance.

The storyline between Porter and Norah seemed just as bleak at times. These were two lost souls crying out in the vacuum, finally coming across each other. At times, Porter really irritated me, but even so, for the most part, he seemed real enough. Norah, on the other hand, wasn’t as easy to accept. Her character is just as sad and lost as the rest of the cast, and yet she’s the head of her class, and the head cheerleader at school. And yet you never see her hanging out with anyone else. You never see her sitting with other girls in the cafeteria. She seems completely isolated for someone who is supposed to be so popular. And it’s baffling. Despite this, I liked Lawrence’s performance a lot. I just didn’t feel like she was as popular as the movie kept telling us she was.

As it goes along, THE BEAVER treads some very dark ground. And if I’m making it sound pretty bleak, that’s because it is. Which means that most people reading this review will probably not want to see it. And those who are appalled at Mel Gibson and his real life antics aren’t going to be won over by this movie.

I have a hard time recommending this one, because most people won’t enjoy it.And yet, it’s so strange, so thoroughly drenched in a kind of soul-weary sadness, that I find myself wondering if it will grow on me over time. If I’ll continue to look back on it and find it becoming more meaningful the more I think about it.

I give it two and a half knives.

-END-

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE BEAVERtwo and a half knives!