Monday, October 28, 2013

Monstrous Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching to Get Into the Holiday Spirit, and So Should You! Or not.

Last House on Dead End Street (1978) is another one of those movies that was always spoken of in hushed tones in my little glut of horror and grue fanatics while growing up. Of course, this was all based on what we'd read and rumor as none of us had actually seen it. And now, with that hurdle finally cleared, I can say the film's notorious reputation is fairly well-earned but might also be a tad counter-productive in the 'expectations be a bitch' department. The plot itself of a Manson-esque clan of filmmakers taking revenge on those trying to exploit their product by making them the victims of their latest production (a snuff movie) is very thin and, well, kinda dumb; but the lurid execution and the resulting sleazy verisimilitude trample these concerns resulting in something rather queasy and disquieting. (And I only watched the 78 minute theatrical cut. I can only imagine what I missed in the 90 minute version and boggle as to what the original 175 minute epic looked like.) Rumor has it that writer, producer and director Roger Watkins was high on speed through the whole thing. And from what I saw, yeah, he probably was. (Watkins kinda looks like Bill Hader and dresses like a Ramone, ergo, I shall always refer to him as Hader Ramone.) Glad to have finally crossed it off the list. Probably won't be revisiting it anytime soon, but definitely worth a look for those others similarly afflicted with affection for these kind of gonzoid genre films.

Note to the makers of Evil Dead (2013). I know your heart was in the right place. I do not doubt that for one second. But! You are probably in trouble when the opening prologue seems like a lot more interesting movie than your movie proper. The grue is there, definitely, but the whole climax was dumber than a bag of deadites. Never connected with any character. In fact, kinda lost track of most of them, resulting in a lot of "oh, yeah, that guy/gal." Sorely missing the empathy and humor fusion of its originator. By no means terrible, but not very good either.

Whether you believe the validity of the 'based on actual events' disclaimer or not, The Conjuring (2013) is an extremely well executed fright flick, which follows a pair of infamous ghost-hunters, Ed and Lorraine Warren, on their second most famous case involving a family trapped in an apparently evil house hell bent on destroying them all. The director, the production design, and the actors were all on the same 'less is more' page, meaning what you think you see and hear sometimes can be more frightening. And this slow-burn approach also allows those moments when the film shows its F/X hand to have much more punch. (I especially felt good for Lili Taylor as the possessed mom, who recovers nicely from her other disastrous trip into the paranormal. This time, it really WAS all about the family.) It's easy to see why the film struck such a chord at the box-office as those of us who grew up in the 1970s can easily see this is just The Amityville Horror, which was The Blair Witch Project of its day, all over again.

Speaking of The Amityville Horror, I followed up The Conjuring with the fascinating documentary, My Amityville Horror (2012), which centers around Daniel Lutz, the eldest son of the family who allegedly lived through a month of sheer terror after moving into what was to become one of cinema's most infamous anthropomorphic abodes, trying to come to terms with what happened back in 1975. Again, whether you believe in the supernatural or not, as it unfolds, this sadly pathetic (-- not disgustingly pathetic, mind you,) tale of a man still clinging to something so hard, and so fiercely, whose story has been told again and again, and reinforced again and again, a story that changes ever so slightly to appease any question to its validity or contradiction, becomes less about something paranormally evil and more about the psychological denial over a mother's betrayal and failure to protect her children from their abusive stepfather. Yeah, the seething hatred Daniel has for George Lutz is palpable in this thing, and the doc really paints an awful (and downright sinister) picture of him, and Kathy, too, who, to be fair, are no longer around to defend themselves. There is a moment in the doc where Daniel betrays his whole story, too, with a visit to a now doddering Lorraine Warren, one of the paranormal investigators who tried to help back '76, who comes off as bit of a Cuckoo bird, and Daniel clandestinely looks into the camera with a smirk and comments on how 'f@ckin nuts' she is. There are other slip-ups, too, which only confirms that something horrible probably did happen in that house in Amityville, but sadly, something all too real and grounded in reality.

From the Depths of YouTube, I also stumbled upon a series of slashers movies ripped right off their old VHS tapes. Up first, with Freeway Maniac (1989), I probably should have known better by now than to be suckered in by a blurb that promises a psycho-killer stalking the production of a Z-grade sci-fi epic, but, eh? The second warning came when I saw The Cannon Group in the credits. (Sure, the Go-Go Boys made some great crap, but they're slasher knock-offs are a whole 'nother level of excruciating. And by 1989, the company was merely a shell of its former self, evidenced by this fine piece of cinema. Also noted during the credits, The Doors Robby Krieger did the music.) And so, bracing for the worst, my precautions soon proved completely justified. Terrible, and stupid, and stupidly terrible, the film's biggest problem is with the way it's clumsily set up, with the killer way over here, while the film, starring the object of his homicidal obsession, is being made way, way, way over there. And then, the movie takes its own sweet time bringing them together with a series of fairly risible found-object murder vignettes on the road in-between. Sadly, the throwaway bits on the production of the Larry Blamire-esque Star Trek knock-off is actually kinda funny and interesting; too bad they had to ruin it by focusing on that other idiot with the chainsaw.

And then there's Spine (1986), a direct to video, and shot on video, feature that can't quite decide if it wants to be serial slasher movie, a police procedural, or a fairly skeevy fetish video as some lunatic with a mother fixation takes out his homicidal rages on a rapid succession of trussed up nurses, leaving the audience to sift through the resulting stool sample, looking for something, anything, to latch onto. Appears to have been made by some broadcast studio technicians with delusions of grandeur. (The credits were done with the built in chyron of the video camera.) The cast is uniformly awful (it trumpets one of its starlets who played a cannibal in the original The Hills Have Eyes), there's some yuks to be had at the inept gang of police investigators, and then prepare to chuck something at the screen when the precognitive ending rolls around. The only thing worth recommending is the killer's signature look, meaning his large, mirrored, aviator glasses, which gives the viewer plenty of reflected glimpses of the cameraman and most of the crew. Beyond that, move along. Nothing to see here.

Escaping the YouTube rabbit hole, I also managed to catch You're Next (2011). Not all that terrible a retread as far as these body count/spam in a cabin things go, where a family gathering is interrupted by masked intruders and are bumped off most gruesomely. Basically Agatha Christie for the SAW generation, I did like how even though when facing imminent death, familial axes and pissing contests are still grinding and drizzling away. Props also for showing how a clear head and sound thinking can totally derail one of these otherwise all too 'neat' attacks. (It also helps immensely when one of the potential victims and designated Final Girl knows the SAS Survival Handbook both backwards and forwards. And is there like a certain sect of surfers who hire out for this kinda stuff?) Double extra points (I honestly openly cheered) over how our heroine made triple-doople damn sure each attacker was well and truly and lethally out of the game. (Lots of head-pulping in this thing.) And triple-extra points for letting those who are most assuredly dead stay that way. I didn't even mind them trotting out the tired old "whoops" twist on top of the other three car twist pile-up at the end. Nothing all that new, but I dug it.  

And then, from serial slashers and vengeful ghosts we move onto some bona fide monster movies. And you know you're in for something truly special when the filmmakers go out of their way to tell you their film is 'A true story based on actual events' on three -- THREE -- separate occasions during the opening credits. (No. Really. It's true.) Somewhere in South America, a factory has been polluting a nearby lake, breeding some hideous beast with a healthy apetite for premarital smoochers. (No. Really. It's true.) Some locals and hippies do their best to close the beaches but fail. You all know this drill by now. And Monstroid (1980) is amazing, folks. SEE! Barbie Dolls munched in half! SEE! John Carradine cashing a paycheck! SEE! One of the most adorable sea monsters ever! Just SEE! Monstroid as soon as possible. (No. Really. It's true.)  

So, apparently, somebody in Connecticut saw Trilogy of Terror and thought, 'Hey, if one killer doll was terrifying, imagine a whole island full of midget, barely articulate Cabbage Patch Zuni warriors', who then conned several friends into giving up a weekend to have those dolls thrown at them, borrowed a relative's camera, all baked on med-low for about 80 minutes, and created quite the cheeze casserole of ever-escalating YOU HAVE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME?!? Recommendation: Cut yourself off a piece of Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985) and enjoy as soon as possible. 

As a self-proclaimed Sasquatch Cinema aficionado I kinda walked blindly into Night of the Demon (1980) and, as the saying goes, I never knew what hit me -- make that stomped on me. What boils down to Bigfoot the 13th, the movie kinda plays out like an incoherent retelling of what would happen if Shriek of the Mutilated and The Legend of Boggy Creek had a baby, cinematically speaking, which is kind of amazing and terrifying at the exact same time in a nulling and voiding the Universe sense. Here, a college professor leads a pack of students into the wilderness to find the elusive creature, which turns out to be vengeful forest spirit who buzzsaws through several folks via flashbacks inside of flashbacks, flash-sideways and flash-whatevers (-- the scene with the biker getting his nuts ripped off is when I officially surrendered on all coherency fronts). Seriously. And deliriously, you'd just randomly cut from one scene to people we've never met, they'd bump into Bigfoot, die horribly, and then crash-cut back to the campsite and someone verbally finishing the horrid tale until it all comes to a screeching halt with one of the nastiest cast massacres of recent memory. Quite possibly one of the most baffling movie watching experiences I've ever endured, Night of the Demon is truly magnificent. 

Now, I didn't think anything could possibly top Night of the Demon for sheer 'What the @#%* was thatitude.' And then I watched Winterbeast (1991), where, somewhat improbably, we breach a whole 'nother level of eyegittyeyegittyeyegitty. The plot: When several people die rather ridiculously, a park ranger, his staff, and a storekeeper learn that ancient Indian spirits are manifesting through several totems (I think) to seek revenge on anyone who treads upon or generally defiles their holy mountain (by, say, stripping in a cabin), and so, they must convince the local lodge owner to shut down, who refuses. More deaths and mayhem ensue. I honestly have no idea on this film's history but it feels like at least four different student films (shot in three different decades on six different brands of film-stock) spliced together with a dozen or so F/X test loops for a grand total of an hour and half of sheer mounting absurdity executed with a colossally staggering scale of incompetence. This two-punch combo may grate or grow tiresome for some, and this thing really shits itself in the last ten minutes when what little cohesive plot there was was finally beaten senseless and left for dead altogether; and yet, with each misstep, with each inexplicable stop-motion monster attack, with every bad edit, with every botched sound-effect, and with every quantum leap in plot logic, there's just something about Winterbeast that is absolutely mesmerizing. There's even a few glimmers of ... not talent, by any means, but some fairly effective F/X moments, make-up effects, and camerawork. Truly amazing. And how I missed this one for so long is beyond me. But found it I have, and to you, my fellow B-Movie Brethren, I say, forget The Room, forget Birdemic, and to hell with Sharknado. Get your hands on a copy of this as soon as possible. Don't believe me? Just ask Amazon:

Told ya!


b piper said...

Kinda-sorta interesting (and extremely belated) backstory on WINTERBEAST: This was the product of a would-be filmmaker/hustler in the Boston area who showed his footage to a small time distributor and conned him out of a few thousand in completion money. What he didn't tell him was that the movie, expected to be delivered in 16mm, was actually shot in Super 8mm, so he attempted to reshoot the entire movie in 16 over a weekend! His wife wouldn't let him shoot the stop motion at home so he snuck into a studio he had access to and shot these sequences in roughly an hour each. The result is WINTERBEAST, which so disgusted the distributor that he wrote off his investment as a total loss and washed his hands of the deal.

W.B. Kelso said...

That would make total sense. The film is kinda amazing in a "What the hell is going on?!?" boondoggle.

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