Monday, August 20, 2012
Monday, August 13, 2012
Amishenanigans - Deadly Blessing Review
Stacie at Final Girl has chosen Wes Craven's 1981 shocker Deadly Blessing as her Film Club pick this month, so let's get to it.
This came out during the dawn of the slasher era, but I was still too young to gain access to R-rated movies, so I had to rely on my friends' older siblings' opinions to find out just how badly I was missing out. In this case, the verdict was pretty dire. "It sucked." said the jaded senior-high set. Shamefully, I trusted this assessment so implicitly, that I'd never bother to track the movie down and judge it for myself. The gospel of the roller-rinkers had been set down, and like an unquestioning buggy-riding bumpkin, I SHUNNED THIS MOVIE.
Too bad, because it's actually the shit. You've got Oscar-winners acting badly,bankable television stars acting like lunatics, and a young, cherubic Sharon Stone acting like, well, nowadays Sharon Stone. Add in a dash of gratuitous cheesecake and the stage should be set for a campy cult classic, right? Well, not at first. For the first hour, Deadly Blessing feeds us a few animal-icks, and one really good jump-scare, but overall, the buildup is awfully light on tension.
BUT!!! Then comes the final half hour and HOLY CRAP does the (S)hittite ever hit the fan.
Menacing Van Art!
Lamps! Bedposts! Shotguns!
Mace in the FACE!
What IN HELL. This movie should be famous for its last act. I won't spoil it, but imagine cramming Charlie's Angels, The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, Sleepaway Camp, and Little House on the Prairie into a Moulinex and leaving it on purée for ten minutes. That's the flavor you'll end up with. Maybe it's not to everyone's taste, but I frankly ate that shit up. Thanks, Final Girl. I have seen the deadly, blessed light.
Remembering Gail Russell
I watched an old gothic spooker called The Uninvited the other night, and was struck by Gail Russell's beauty and naturalistic performance style. Sadly, she struggled in life with alcohol addiction, and died alone at the terribly young age of 36. Imagine if Warner Bros. or MGM had done Wondy back in the earliest days of her comic appearances - who better than Miss Russell to play the Amazonian ingénue? Tell me what you think....("the skirt can be discarded if it proves cumbersome") Click for full-length view.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Final Girl Stacie Ponder's Film Club pick for February was a bit of a curveball; I don't always participate, so I could be wrong here, but this one seemed like an atypical choice for the FGFC. First of all, it's brand new (I'd never heard of it until twelve hours ago), and second-of-all, it's pretty slick. If you've been following along at home, you'll know that most FG flick picks aren't slick...so much as...apt to be obscure and timeworn. Splendid gems for the most part, but usually in need of a good polishing. Frozen (2010), on the other hand, is fresh from the oven. Or icebox, in this case.
The set-up is basically the engine that powers every phase of the plot: three college kids become stuck on an immobile ski lift, stranded above a wolf-harried mountain, and attempt to survive with only their wits and their mitts left to them. (Spoiler! - they lose both really, really, quickly)
Directed by Adam Green of Hatchet fame, and featuring a cast of young horror veterans - Emma Bell (Walking Dead), Shawn Ashmore (The Ruins), and Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead), Frozen is a deceptively simple modern thriller with admittedly minor scope, but keenly whetted for maximum audience impact. It's refreshing in its light touch - the melodrama is kept in check, there are few false notes in the character's interactions, and the tension and ultimate climax resolve organically. Also? No obvious reliance on CGI. These days, that's a laudable rarity.
So while the movie does an adequate job of keeping the audience caring about the characters' predicament and maintains a fairly decent pace, it suffers a bit from its ostensible antecedents. To wit; 2003's Open Water was a mostly grim slog through the last hours of a callow relationship doomed to evisceration by stupidity, recrimination, and bitey sharks. There is that same problem here. Mathematically, this fatalistic narrative equation can yield only a small number possible outcomes. The setup requires at least one sacrifice, so during the second and third acts, we're left expecting either one or both of the remaining characters to a) live, or b) die.
Perhaps paradoxically, by narrowing the focus by a third, the emotional stakes are equally divested. We care about this group of kids, (and they're presented as a unit, not a predictably killable crew of Hodder-fodder), but individually, as the three become separate, the dynamic spins away. It creates tension, but it's also an obvious, glaring tell for the audience - a familiar keyframe.
Early on, Frozen namechecks Jaws as a foreshadowing tool. A fear of being torn apart by predators is horribly realized for one, and you can't help but wonder if a Final Destination style outcome waits in kind for the others. When Bell's character declares her fear of burning to death, I half expected her to horribly combust while attempting to light a makeshift flare using her cigarette lighter and a length of ultra-flammable fleece from her jacket lining. Was it a coincidence that the jumping Trade Center workers of 9/11 were also mentioned? Were we supposed to anticipate the dubious irony of a flaming frost-bite victim falling to her death from the less-than-lofty heights of a mundane chairlift? I hope not, and I'm glad it didn't go there (although Ms. Bell is slated to appear in the upcoming Final Destination installment, so...hmm)
Frozen also owes some of its frosty DNA to the haunting and tragic Wind Chill, a comparison which is maybe unfairly apples & oranges of me, but I think deserves a mention. Frozen also got me thinking of the raft sequence in Creepshow 2. The escape plans devised as a kid (in case of a monster sighting) when lying on that raft in the middle of the lake at the cottage are no different, really, than the contingencies imagined after the ski-lift swings to a juddering halt on a Sunday in February over the treacherous Pinball Run.
As far as contingencies go, the majority of the viewers I'm sure formulated their own strategies while watching this, and those strategies would in all probability fail just as spectacularly as the panicked and element-numbed trio from the film's did. In fact, I'm willing to bet my season lift-pass that the Mythbusters devote an entire episode to alpine survival, punctuating each practical demonstration with abundant clips from Frozen to underscore their "kids, don't try this at home" mantra. ("Watch what happens to Buster's legs as we drop him onto a frozen hillside from a height of sixty feet!")
Ultimately, Frozen's glacial charms are more than enough to outweigh its shortcomings, and the final result is about nine million degrees more sizzling than what I would've expected from the helmer of the fucking Hatchet films.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
A Package Arrives!
About a week ago, I had a dream in which my left foot was in need of some expensive surgery only offered by an exclusive hospital in Geneva. As I couldn't afford both the procedure and the transatlantic airfare, my doctor came up with a cunningly simple workaround - he sawed it off at the ankle and bade the receptionist to express-mail it to Switzerland. Then he gave me some crutches and told me to go home and wait. The latter half of the dream had me hobbling about restlessly, listening for the postman's heavy step at the front path. A package finally appeared, and I tore open the bubble-wrapped envelope with relief. My foot was repaired and ready to go. Full postage paid. Unfortunately - much like the Swedes and their damnable Ikea deliveries - the Swiss surgeons had neglected to include English instructions for re-attachment. I was, if you'll excuse the pun, stumped.
Anticipation is a potent thing. Whether manifesting as barely perceived butterflies in our waking lives, or powerful presentiments of slumbering wish fulfillment, the promise of a thing yet to come; assigned but unknowable, awarded yet unclaimable, can yield the sweetest of torments. And so it was this dread anticipation which did accompany my discovery of a manila-sleeved enigma stuffed in the mailbox Monday evening. Was it a foot, you ask? Better, my friends. Better and bloodier. It was my pre-ordered copy of
The wait is over!
Many of you are familiar with the works of Stacie Ponder, professional graphic artist and tireless authoress of Final Girl. What you may not know is that last year, in the paltry span of two days, she made a near feature-length film with her own resources pretty much single-handedly. And let me tell you, it's good.
Befitting bugsplat on Google's road camera heading to Ludlow.
Krista (Lark) is looking to put some distance between her and a physically abusive spouse. We see her car arrive at a bleak desert motel in Ludlow, CA. Unpacking her meager belongings (and a seemingly endless cache of cheap vodka), she checks in to room #8.
Early on, we're introduced to Krista's constant companions: her collection of welts and bruises, her cellphone, and a rapidly-diminishing supply of assorted painkillers and anti-depressants. Ominously, each of these fairweather friends are prone to exhibit diametrically opposite functions; the bruises are both painful reminders of her past and a lifesaving catalyst for change, the phone is her lifeline to the future, as well as a dangerous connection to her abuser, and the pills will cushion her emotional trauma even as they confound her ability to cope with it. It's not just Krista who is at a crossroads - everything in her inventory possesses a dualistic, potentially malignant nature.
Ponder shows us a lot of her broken heroine's psychosexual history and the frightening depth of her instability in the hour that follows, perhaps documenting only a few minutes of Krista's downward spiral, perhaps a few days. The overall effect is designed to disorient, so further plot details become entirely subject to the viewer's sympathies. One does sympathize, however, make no mistake. Shannon Lark does a fantastic job of riveting the viewer to Krista's lonely plight, allowing us enough distance to judge her terrible choices, even as we commiserate, feeling every shock, punch and indignity.
In the highly enjoyable commentary, Stacie cites Friedkin's Bug and Polanski's Repulsion as Ludlow's thematic godparents. Myself, I would be surprised if audiences weren't also reminded of Carnival of Souls (the doomed heroine, inexorably drawn to an abandoned location), Mulholland Drive (a damaged woman's delusional reinvention of characters and events), and even a hint of Konami's second installment in the Silent Hill series, populated by self-destructive penitents trapped in their own private purgatories.
Very much in keeping with Ludlow's elegiac flavor is James Barry's original music. It is not the typical fare of no-budget independent works, and adds tremendously to the film's emotional impact. Rounding out the cast is Elissa Dowling (in two roles), and Ned Christensen as Steve, the silent, stalking Shade of Krista's subconscious.
Stacie has been reviewing and discussing films for the better half of a decade, now. She's absorbed an uncanny, almost encyclopedic knowledge of suspense and horror, and amassed legions of fans in the process. Her critical aim is true. And so here's the thing: unlike your typical backyard-zombie movie, fledgling filmmaker, Stacie had a HUGE task ahead of her. How do you craft a story - with no budget to speak of - that's going to satisfy genre fans who've seen everything? More importantly, how will you maintain credibility as a connoisseur to such a jaded and sophisticated audience? Today's fans have seen every cliché, every cheap convention and lazy contrivance there is, and this genre is rife with them, even the old pros like Romero and Hooper have fallen prey to them. We complain loudly and bitterly over the crap that tries to pass for art, and the trite shorthand that usurps true storytelling. "I could make a movie ten times better than this!" we say with the contempt that attends absolute certainty. With this in mind, the pressure to make something that isn't an exercise in hackneyed futility must have been monumental for Miss Ponder.
It's with great appreciation and relief that I'm able to say that not only did she show courage in the attempt, but incredible deftness in the execution. Ludlow is a triumph.
Monday, August 30, 2010
The Hellbound Fart
You all know Stacie Ponder from Final Girl, don't you? Her Film Club is the cat's pajamas. The lady has an unerring sense of taste, an uncanny nose for schlock, and a unique gift for picking just the right horror flicks month after month.
So I'm giving her a pass on this one, and instead blaming the disgustingly apocalyptic heat.
This thing is just tedious. But since this is supposed to be a review instead of a heatstroke-fueled grouse, here's the rundown: Chuck portrays a Chicago detective nonsensically named Sgt. Frank Shatter. Presumably Frank Shatter is a moniker designed to confer an acuity for shattering bones, but in my estimation it's what you call a guy who quite frankly shits his pants in the past tense.
Voluminously beshatted and stratospherically waisted PANTS!
To digress just a bit - I just fucking don't get Chuck Norris, I never have. Ok, he's believable as a diminutive bearded fellow with a penchant for flailing about with his lower limbs, but hell, SO WAS MICHAEL FLATLEY back in the day. The guy's head is 30% larger than it ought to be, his shoulders seem scarcely broad enough to support even a normal-sized noggin, and his trunk and musculature befit an octogenarian (funny enough, I liked "The Octagon"). He's never managed charisma or gravitas in any of his roles, and it just amazes me how he acquired this nutty fanbase that somehow sees a badass under that baby beard and those birthing hips.
Ugh. So, it's time to wrap this up - the thermometer's climbing. Chuck Norris and his embarrassing stereotype of a black sidekick are on the hunt for a Satanic toady with ridiculous hair (actually, he's in good company) who wants to gather the pieces of a broken sceptre and raise the Devil. They end up in Israel (because production decided it was cheaper than Iraq, I guess?) and archaeology happens, and the devil dude with the wacky gurning and basso profundo dubbing, and then Chuck + roundhouse kick, + roundhouse kick = THE END.
So much bad hair.
So much bad acting (and obviously, hair).
Let's not and say we did.
This godawful shitpile is worse than all the worst parts of Dead Heat, Lethal Weapon, End of Days and Sister Act and right now I'm so hot and sticky I could cry.
My soiled diapers are still more slimming than Chuck Norris' slacks.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Lucio ad nauseum
Has it really been a year since my last post? It has! So much to catch up on! Let's see...I had a birthday! And...that's pretty much it. If you're wondering what manner of eldritch incantation finally awakened me from my ancient slumber, it was none other than the Final Girl Film Club pick for this month, to wit - "The Gates of Hell" (AKA "City of the Living Dead") Great choice, Stacie. Just for that, here's an animated GIF just for you.
Who can name all four of those iconic broads?
Anyway, for the sake of those unfamiliar with the basic plot of GoH, here's the rundown: during an ill-considered séance, a woman (Catriona MacColl) named Mary Woodhouse ((not to be confused with Mary Whitehouse, bellicose British busybody, distinguished Doctor Who detractor and all-around Anglian alarmist) clairvoyantly witnesses a priest's suicide in the churchyard of a New England town called Dunwich. The shock of the vision triggers morbid catatonia, so before anyone can even wipe the drool from her chin, she's pronounced dead and without so much as a by-your-leave (or a post-mortem), is planted six feet under. Fortunately for Mary, a nosy reporter (Christopher George) happens by before her dirt nap turns permanent. At the behest of her magnificently coiffured medium (think Rhea Perlman as SHAFT), Mary and Peter travel to New England with some vaguely-articulated plans of closing a gateway to the City of the Dead.
This old collar is dying for a little accessorizing...
Meanwhile, in Dunwitch we meet some of the locals, none of whom are particularly interesting except Bob, the town pariah and pervert (played to the squirrely hilt by Italian splatter mainstay Giovanni Radice). We learn that the town's ancestors were witch hunters (a plot point that adds up to zero, btw), and that supernatural goings-on are definitely afoot.
It doesn't take long before the town's population dwindles dramatically thanks to the murderous spectre of the dead priest, or in Bob's case, a drill through the face via industrial lathe.
Bob, getting some much-needed colour in his cheeks.
When Peter and Mary (Paul probably figured that leaving on a jet plane was a prudent course of action. Well played, Paul) FINALLY arrive in Dunwich following an unbelievably leisurely road-trip, the dead are a-walkin' and the maggots are a-flyin'. Seriously, Fulci interrupts one of the few moments of essential exposition with a whirlwind of WORMS. We're talking Cloudy With A Chance of Maggots here. Damn, if only today's directors had the clout and/or nerve to glue live squirming maggots to the faces of their four principal actors. I can almost hear Fulci instructing his crew in his thick Italian accent "Worms first! Actors second! Story last!"
Ultimately, the remaining characters band together and come up with a plan to find the final resting place of the priest, dig up his body, and do something to it in order to close the hell-gate. It's never made very clear, and frankly the whole grave-desecration thing seems counterintuitive in regards to closing infernal portals and such, but what the hell do I know? I'm a Unitarian. I'll not spoil the ending, suffice it to say that a) this is a Fulci flick, and b) by the time the credits roll. there's scarcely a zombie in Dunwich with an empty tummy.
Overall, one helluva great movie. I'm not being sentimental here, either; the f/x sequences are show-stoppers, the soundtrack and ambient sounds are unsettling and often way OTT (at various points, the hooting of a Kookaburra!), the plot. thin and incidental, moves along at a brisk pace, and the actors emote gamely, though the dubbing can be pretty jarring. The shambling undead are back in fine form here, too. Some of them teleport, which really cuts down on the shambling time, and decreases your odds of outwalking 'em exponentially. One spry cadaver, violating about a dozen Zombie Union rules, actually jumps down Jackie Chan-style from atop a thirty-foot fence. Totally badass.
They say Fulci unofficially counted Gates of Hell as the first entry in a potential series known to fans as the "Seven Gates Trilogy". The follow-up was "The Beyond" released a year later in 1981, but a third movie sadly never materialized. When people talk about this director's work, the time period under discussion usually centers around the early eighties in general, and four films in particular. I've made a handy little comparison chart which shows some commonalities between the "Big Four", and how they stack up. Everyone has their favorites, obviously, so there are no "winners" here, except you, dear reader. For your elucidation I present the Fun Fulci Factsheet. (Humor me and click it.)
So many common elements! Obviously, the primary link is Catriona MacColl, who starred in all but Zombi. She makes for a fiesty, albeit oft-overlooked Final Girl. And then there's Lucio himself, who brought all these wonderful gutmunching epics to life. When the dead do rise (and they will, dammit), I hope Fulci picks up right where he left off...
Saturday, March 28, 2009
How Not to Decorate
Final Girl's Film Club pick this month is Italian splatter-maestro Lucio Fulci's 1981 gut-wrenching, optic-nerve-abusing thriller "The Beyond".
Unlike his long-treasured films such as "Zombie", "Gates of Hell", and "House by the Cemetery", this one is considered something of a lost classic, due to the sketchy availability of the notoriously censored video version (released in the murky 80's as "Seven Doors of Death"). This is unfortunate, as it stacks up technically pretty impressively next to his more well-known works - too bad I'm a little long in the tooth to really appreciate it on a truly visceral level. What a shame, because this sucker does not want for viscera.
Since its restoration, The Beyond has been praised as a masterpiece. I'm not disputing this, and no offence to my fellow Fulciphiles, but after two viewings it still hasn't had much of an impact on me. I just can't come up with much to say about this movie besides the fact that it's definitely faster-paced than HBTC, marginally less coherent than GoH, and nowhere near as unsettling as Zombie. The set-pieces are very effective, Catriona MacColl is fetching as always, and the music doesn't completely trample the mood. Is Fulci in top form here? Absolutely. Yet somehow it all feels a bit empty. Or maybe it's just me that's empty. Not to be gross here, but I've got a nasty flu and...well.
So in light of my present inability to formulate any kind of sincere commentary (thanks Nyquil!), I'm turning this review over to my esteemed pals* from across the pond - a pair of recent Toronto émigrés who never lack for opinion (solicited or otherwise) - those shrewd-eyed Scotch stylistas - Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan!
Watch 'em on HGTV
"When decorating a large space, such as a vintage hotel, avoid repeating the same colour scheme in every nook and cranny. Sepias, browns and beiges are great for warming up a space, but too much of the same will soon have your guests reaching for the pitchforks and torches!"
"Don't let dark, dingy spaces turn your luncheon into a lynching. A smart, decorative wall hanging can redirect the eye away from the shadows and onto that striking hand-crafted focal point."
"Contractors - can't live without them; can't kill them. Well you could, but it's cheaper in the long run to just hire the right ones. Always check for references, never sign a blank cheque (or a carte blanche, for that matter), and never pay out a lot of money up-front. That way, those malingering painters and plumbers can never take you to the cleaners!"
"MIRRORS! Not only fab from a vanity perspective, they also can be used to visually double the size of your smallest room. Position them opposite windows to brighten up a sitting room or piano parlour. Unless your name's Ray Charles, why entertain in the dark?"
"Speaking of light, if you've got no natural source for it, don't be gloomy. Put a little of your budget toward recessed lighting panels. They more than pay for themselves when you look at the finished product. The effect is so cheery and relaxing, your guests won't want to leave!"
"Stripes will grow on you! As I'm always pointing out to Justin, stripes truly are slimming. But when applying this tip to a room, use horizontal stripes. They'll make you feel cosy and ensconced, as if cocooned in a snug silk blanket."
"Red and white. A favourite partnership of ours for many years. In its various mergings it can be 1950s scarlet meets pure perfect snow, or decadent crimson wed with soft creamy beige. Executed properly, this timeless pairing will help elicit a wonderfully stylish scheme. And our favourite red and white combination? That's simple: raspberry and cream – the mouth watering pairing is pretty much foolproof where design is concerned."
"When considering the bathroom, la salle de bain doesn't have to be the bane of your house. Here's a tip to keep everything stylish, safe and sanitary: create a non-slip surface beside the tub by installing a pattern of mini-mosaic tiles. As for the tub itself, a family heirloom like this clogged, filthy claw-foot antique may well prove more of a hair-loom in the end. Unless your idea of luxury is soaking in a stew of turn-of-the century germs, heave it in the trash and start fresh."
"When decorating, always make sure the eye has somewhere to go."
"Och, Colin, it's the Drapes of Wrath! Spare yourselves (and us) the shame of ruffled curtains. These ghastly things look like the discarded bloomers of a frontier saloon girl. Do you really want to be dressing your windows in a pair of old knickers that's been mounted by the entire U.S. Cavalry?"
"Ever wonder why we use red in our kitchens so much? Simple. In the Colin and Justin colour dictionary, red is the ideal shade for digestion. It's true."
"French doors are indispensable. They create a lot of flow and really open things up."
"Fun project: DRIBBLE ART! Just paint a canvas to suit your scheme. Next, spoon blobs of latex – in a complementary tone – along the top and allow gravity to do the rest. Hang, and enjoy. Simple, eh?"
"Justin, they're speechless."
"As they should be. Our mission isn't just about spreading the gospel of good taste, it's also about enlightenment. Look at them, Colin. Pure rapture."
"What's happened to their eyes?
They're sort of marbleized, aren't they? Like fine Italian porcelain."
"Hmmm, yes quite subtle, but very sheik. They're learning, Colin."
"Who knew style could be contagious?"
"Actually, I did. My interior design thesis was..."
"Oh, here we go. More twaddle from your psych major days..."
"Colin, the fact that I'm the better designer isn't something you should feel threatened by. Besides, green is a terrible colour for you."
"The older designer. Not better, older."
"By a year. Not even that."
"So...who d'you think would win a no-holds-barred cage match - Schweick or Dr. Freudstein?"
"What on earth are you faffing on about?"
*Editor's note: C&J are not my pals. Nor have I ever even actually technically met them. :(