Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Silent, but deadly

Movie • HÄXAN • 1922
Blown away. I wasn’t sure if this picture was going to be an exclusive film buff fave or enjoyable by anyone. Now I know better. Haxan is a must see. It’s entertaining enough to keep the interest of anyone who needs to be fooled into watching something educational. Though Haxan means witch, witches should not be considered to be ‘monsters’ while in fact this is a monster movie. The monsters are the inquisition of men who tortured and burned accused witches.
“The Witch” is told in seven parts, each giving more insight into the portrayal, treatment, and history of witches and accused witches through the ages. Part I was a 15 minute lesson on the history of our relationship with the universe around us. I was drawn in immediately with the superb sets and models used to illustrate the subtitles.
Not knowing what the intent of the director had been, I was confused with the portrayal of the witches. I had earlier figured this film to be a lesson in our absurdity for our foolish beliefs. The tone of the subtitles implied how ridiculous some of the customs regarding witches were. It seems to me these men of power planted the seeds to nurture rumors and bizarre superstitions into the thorny vines of accusation. They sure “knew” a lot about how witches went about doing their nasty deeds. Boiling cat feces and dove hearts by moonlight would certainly soften anyone’s heart (while nauseating them because you put a drop in their drink). I don’t see how this would be a love potion, and I think that was the point.
I imagined those seeing this silent moving picture when it was first released as a generation of somewhat enlightened populace. Maybe they needed the nudge of this film as pier pressure to show them the ridiculous nature of their ancestors’ folly.
See Haxan for the documentary value, but don’t miss the amazing costume designs and effects. There is a particular stop-motion scene involving coins that will have you doing back flips. Benjamin Christensen certainly understood the bounds of his medium, and he stretched them like taffy.
Most impressive was the segment describing the functions of some torture devises. Near the end of this, Benjamin Christensen allows one of his actresses the honor of experiencing one for herself upon her insistence.
This Reveue de Jitters is dedicated to the over 8 million accused witches who were needlessly murdered in a holocaust that lasted for centuries.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro

Movie • SAMSON vs. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (aka: Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro) • 1961
Samson, or Santo as the fans cheer his name (the movie is dubbed in English, but the crowd still cheers in Spanish) is a masked wrestler in Mexico. I never heard of him before, but I learned he did a Frankenstein movie too. I’m going to have to look that one up. I found this one on the local college television station for CUNY (The City University of New York). Searching the internet, I found out Samson vs The Vampire Women is available on a DVD with a few other movies as a bargain DVD. That was a relief because when I heard the sound quality and saw the reel changes were so evident and choppy I was afraid they might have broadcast it from film. You never know how old college equipment is. At least the movie has been digitized if not restored. It’s an antique worth seeing.
The opening has us in a mausoleum for a group of vampire women and their wrestler bodyguards. They awaken after 200 years of slumber, and crikey, do they look like they still need rest. They went with pancake batter makeup for the dried mummy look. It was so creepy I should have watched it for breakfast. Unlike the old Universal films, they didn’t try to sex up the monsters… that is until they were able to get some blood and face cream. Suddenly, with poor transition, these hideous women with 200 year bed-head looked like Greek goddesses with fangs.
The vampire women need to collect their queen’s successor, a descendant from a past queen. They intend to let her rule the vampire women, but daddy won’t have it. If you ask me, she missed out on a great opportunity. The queen of the darned, my good friend LilyBat would have jumped at the chance.
If you are a fan of modern entertainment wrestling, there are several treats. I had no idea how much wrestling has not changed in the past 50 years! It’s basically the same. Tag team cheaters, fake punches, loud drops to the mat, and so on. I suppose the question of who Santo was must have been as mysterious as the Lone Ranger or Batman, so they had a scene where he was about to be unmasked. Oooooh, the drama! For whatever reason, though Santo fights for justice in public, he still fights in the ring for cheers and belts. Also, for whatever reason, one of the vampire bodyguards takes the place of Santo’s opponent, and fights him in the ring. Santo ends up turning the tables, and unmasking his foe who, again, for whatever reason looks like a werewolf when the mask comes off. I guess it was for dramatic effect but bullocks, they should have just made him look like a bat or something… oh, wait. Was that supposed to be a bat face?
All said, this was a fun picture to watch — right down to the vampire goons running with their arms spread and holding their capes like kiddies pretending to fly. I was a little miffed at the end with the way he did away with the vampires. All they wanted was their queen, and they were treated like vermin. I almost lost my eel pie. Well, butter sticks, it was still too much fun to miss!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back to back brilliance

Movies (Double Feature) • GRINDHOUSE • PLANET TERROR / DEATH PROOF • 2007
It was important to me that I review these movies together because the mood of the the two films together along with the fake trailers is part of the art. Quentin Tarantino has explained that it’s about the experience of the grindhouse double feature that he was raised on. I’m a television buff, so it was an entertaining and educating experience to know why these films were put together this way. Truth be told, I’ve seen Death Proof as a stand alone as well; and though I still loved it, there was no comparison to seeing the two together in the theater last year. Watching them together again for only the second time on cable, I was smashed! This double feature is a box of Raisinets sprinkled in your buttery popcorn.
Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof) team up well, and though the movies have very little in common aside from a few nods to each other using the same actors and similar characters, they work together like ice cream on cake. The formula is à la mode, and I hope we see this team-up again.
Be ready for some serious splatter gore that goes way over the top in Planet Terror. I got super thirsty when those watermelons were exploding all over the place. I was suddenly in the mood to open a can of cherry-pie filling too. Rose McGowan is absolutely brill in her portrayal of the go-go dancing stand up comedian, Cherry Darling. Her quivering lips and teary face at the end of the opening credits were straight out of exploitation films of the 70’s. She played in both films, with completely different roles, and convinced me in both the lost heroine who faces adversity, and the blond girly-girl who faces the dashboard.
Kudos th Stacy Ferguson (Fergie) too. I wasn’t sure what to expect from her presence originally; but her short screen time along with what I am sure was excellent direction gave her the opportunity to shine.
The soundtracks were appropriately balanced. My favorite part to note was the section in Planet Terror where our old friend Kyle Reese from The Terminator (Michael Biehn) shows up as the sheriff. The music turns reminiscent of the 80’s synthesizer music we hear in the original Terminator movie, and similar sci-fi/action movies of the time. It was a better nod than the typical Wilhelm Scream. The other note (and I always love QT’s soundtrack compilations of buried treasures) is the scripted mention of a great song to close your eyes to and swing your head (perfect for crashing your car). The song, Hold Tight by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch (get it right) was that momentous scene and song combination that Quentin Tarantino is famous for.
The girl power theme in Death Proof was unmistakable. You’ll get choked up after the thrills and kills when vengeance pays a visit. I was introduced to several new heroines to idolize. Not to take away from the perfection of Rosario Dawson and her excellent delivery of all QT’s lines (and that her character’s name was Abernathy), but Rose McGowan, of course, is the most famous. That’s why I was happy to see QT wasn’t afraid to make fun of her a bit. Pay close attention to the scene when she’s “driven home.” There will be a close up of the duck hood ornament on Stuntman Mike’s car. Immediately afterward we see a comparison of McGowan’s scrunched ski-slope nose. It was especially cute.
This review has gone on too long. I hope it’s somewhat cohesive. Last thing: Don’t watch these pictures without the trailers. You would hate to miss teasers for Machete, Werewolf Women of the SS (a fake film by Rob Zombie), Thanksgiving, and Don’t. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t!

PS. Who is Chris Simonson, and is he another one of those Waiting for Godot references?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Punch knocked me out

The pic above looks like Betty Bones.

Movie • DOLLS • 1987
I admit I went into this with a notion that it would be really bad. Probably if I had seen it when it was first released I would have laughed all the way home. I didn’t have an appreciation for 80’s horror in the 80’s — or at least very little of it impressed me.
But like time healing wounds, years can make bad movies good. The thing is Dolls was actually pretty good… in a fun way. Not in an award winning way.
A horrible pop and a terrible step-mummie are driving through England on holiday, reluctantly toting the dad’s daughter along. If you don’t love the opening scene with the ferocious Teddy then you may as well watch something else. Teddy was adorable!
The family gets stuck in the mud and head for the conveniently located mansion for cover from the storm. A cheeky Madonna wannabe punk and her crony also intrude along with their hitcher-picker-upper. The gracious ancient couple who live in the mansion have ulterior motives, of course — as do the faux punks. They’re sticking around to nick a wallet, and swipe some anti-cues. That’s antiques for the rest of us.
It takes a while for a good scene to show up after Teddy, but I squealed every time the dolls did their thing. This picture was a wonderful surprise, so don’t be afraid of the dark — be afraid of what’s in the dark. At night toys come to life, but you have nothing to fear if you are a child at heart. Toys are loyal, and that’s a fact.

PS. Now I get it! The little tot’s name was Judy, and the old man gave her a doll named Punch. Punch & Judy!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The brother is Grimly

Book • WICKED NURSERY RHYMES • Gris Grimly • 2003
Another book I found at the 2008 NYC ComiCon at the Baby Tattoo Books booth. I’ve been a fan of Gris Grimly’s art for some time now, so I feel ashamed I missed this one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Grimly’s art is ink and watercolor with a style all its own. The sticky figures are like haunted doll creatures from the pages of a 200 year old children’s book. The lighting and muted color bring a certain mood that draws you into the Grimly’s world. Once there, you’ll never want to leave. Delicious!
In Wicked Nursery Rhymes, Gris Grimly revisits familiar places, and tells the stories of old nursery rhymes from a new perspective. Jack and Jill was particularly clever.
If you like the art of Jhonen Vasquez, Tim Burton and Edward Gorey you will absolutely adore Gris Grimly! He is fave of mine, and I want to squeeze him to death.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ragnar got my heart

Book • GOT YOUR NOSE! • Brandon Ragnar Johnson • 2004
This was one of the books I found at the 2008 NYC ComiCon at the Baby Tattoo Books booth. I mentioned in that blog entry that I’d be telling you about some of those books, and it’s about time I got started.
Ragnar is an artist who has talent for yummy images. Got Your Nose is a tale of two brothers named Horace and Borris. Horace is good and Borris is bad — so bad, in fact, that he finds it necessary to snag his schnoz. What follows are the antics of the brothers with Borris’ tricks, and Horace’s attempts to recover his nose.
The playful scenarios are the perfect premises for Ragnar’s wonderful art. The simple colors evoke a world where expression moves the pages, and animates the still pictures. Borris is particularly handsome. I’m absolutely convinced that LilyBat has a crush on him.
Got Your Nose is good for all ages. There’s nothing in it that would scare mummies and pops away.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Witch way to the exit?

Movie • THE COVENANT • 2006
I must apologize for the string of bad movies I’ve reviewed recently. I blame the programming on cable these days. I’m going to have to hit my DVD collection if I really want to tell you about great movies. Contemporary horror is lackluster, and uninspired. Not enough camp goes unintentionally into monsters these days.
Okay, so this one was eye candy at least. The effects were superb, but it was again, just a visual thing. No great story here; and the only thing to have fun with was the Real World cast of beauties and hams.
The Covenant started of with promising music during the opening credits. Rob Zombie always gets my interest. And here is where you find the good spider coming out of the body scene. Much better than the one mentioned in my Urban Legends: Bloody Mary review. The constant moody weather was contrived, and predictable. How do these kids get so tan when the weather is always so bad?
The families of Ipswich formed a covenant years ago, and kept a silent pact to hide their magic abilities. The “Sons of Ipswich” are not witches, they are practically Jedi Knights in their abilities. It’s way over the top. Very The Lost Boys. Hey, by the way — can we come up with a better word that “darkling” for the baddies?
If you can’t stand a second of this picture, just sit through the Thelma & Louise - Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang scene so you have something you can really complain about.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Thrilling cheese of terror too!

A woman appears in three different horror tales that play more like Twilight Zone or Creepshow episodes. Maybe even Tales From the Crypt

1 The Graveyard Rats
In the first, the cheesy Lifetime style character interaction can make you want to turn it off, but it's worth seeing through to the end. You’d think the “monster” is the crotchety old man since he is a real meanie, but instead it's large, creepy rats with cute red eyes. I won’t tell you how it comes to that point, but you'll love to see the demise of the last character alive in this one. Death scenes can be really yummy sometimes.

2 Bobby
The music struck me in this one. Very 70s television terror sounding. I knew when the mommy was demanding “Return my son who drowned by accident!” in a personally prepared, but professional looking ritual that he was not going to be Howie Mandel’s Bobby. What contrived writing. I love it! The acting in this episode is even more over the top than the first one, but somehow Bobby manages to seem creeptacular and scary. The ending isn’t so twisted, because you suspect something’s up all along; but you won't expect what flavor of cheese it is.

3 He Who Kills
Based on the Zuni Doll from the short story “Prey” by Richard Matheson (possibly best known for “I am Legend” which was adapted to Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price).
What begins like an episode of Miami Vice finishes like a retelling of Puppet Master. The Zuni doll houses the spirit of a warrior from an extinct tribe of African cannibals. His spirit might be full of vinegar, but this doll is the most handsome creature I've seen in a long time. He may have sounded like Animal from the Muppets, but he had the murderous energy of a Tiki with a blender for a heart.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I shrink, therefore I am

Book • THE (Incredible) SHRINKING MAN • 1956
The original Richard Matheson book was printed in 1956, and titled The Shrinking Man. It was then adapted for film in 1957. Most reprints were subsequently called The Incredible Shrinking Man. The copy I read was from TOR books, and had some extra short stories in the back. Do yourself a favor. If you read any Richard Matheson books, get one with some short stories in the back. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll see that he’s written a lot of the stories you know already.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen this picture, so I thought I should adore the book. Richard Matheson is one of my favorite authors, so it’s a wonder I never read it before. I devoured each page like a spring fruit torte, and I didn’t share a single slice.
Matheson’s talent for story telling keeps you in the moment through the entire book. The main character, Scott describes his predicament with such detail you believe Matheson has experienced shrinking himself. And not just physical details. The book is so engrossing because he pulls you in so well by showing you how shrinking affects Scott emotionally and egotistically. The behavior of the people around him changes due to his changing stature. It’s only normal that your daughter would treat you like a doll if you were that size. It makes sense that a couple’s love-life would suffer, that bullies would treat you like a freak.
This book will remain on the front of my shelf so I will remember to read it again. I can’t remember how the movie ends, but I was completely satisfied with the book’s ending. I wouldn’t want to spoil it, but suffice it to say you choose whether it was a happy ending or not.
Go ahead and shrink into your favorite cozy space. You won’t get up until you’ve finished the whole thing.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stinky Mothra balls

The title alone lets you know you are in for a two hour commercial for plush Mothra toys. You really have to be a TOHO Pictures fan, and even then, you have to specifically like what they have done long after the 1970s. Even the original Mothra song was better when it was a tribal island song with a drum beat. Now it's a world music pop song that takes itself way too seriously. Crikey!
And what happened to the tiny twins? Now it's three fairy chicks, one who looks like an evil Lily Tomlin, and two who ride a dove-sized moth named, wait for it… Fairy. They even fight with swords. Their costumes look like they're from the Japanese Ice Capades.
Thank goodness King Ghidorah comes along to steal all the children (and the show). He’s looking really spiffy with his new buck racks. But can someone tell me how many different origins this golden three-headed dragon has? It seems he works for every evil alien race, comes from a number of different planets, and always comes back to earth looking for trouble. Can’t he bother some other peaceful planet?
Mothra, now a time traveling giant moth with electric eyes that shoot assorted beams of power goes back 130 million years to fight a younger, slimmer version of King Ghidorah. Think it sounds a bit like The Terminator? Mothra even looks like a T-3000 model Mothinator when she's in transit!
Mothra seems to fair no better at kicking King Ghidorah’s butt in prehistoric time when dinosaurs are made of clay. She should just say, “uncle,” and call it a movie. Thank goodness for her ancestors’ magic silly string. Mothra is reborn 130 million years later in present day to defeat King Ghidorah once and for all… or at least until Rebirth of Mothra IV.
Sadly, I loved the original character from Godzilla. Like a moth to a flame it would have been better to burn out than fade away.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The beast of shallow plotlines

There is a weird educational film narration that you get in the beginning of this picture. Then it goes south. Literally.
You better like westerns, or better yet south westerns before you consider spending an hour watching this film before you ever get a glimpse of the beast. I'm not talking about tension build up either. They hardly spend a few minutes letting you know that there is a beast to worry about. More time and dialogue is spent building up the tension between the Americano rancher, Jimmy and partner, Filipe versus the black market rancher, Enrique than telling the story of the beast.
If you can get past stereotyped characters like Pancho the drunk and his son Panchito, you might be able to swallow the love connection between Enrique's girlfriend and Jimmy, the Americano rancher, but why are we fusing two different genres that don't match?
Eventually you get to see the beast. The effects are not stellar or award-winning, but I did notice a few moments where the film projected live action synched well with the stop motion animation of the tyrannosaurus. Yep, the beast is just a tyrannosaurus rex with a Gene Simmons tongue and a bloody lip. Ever see Land of the Lost? This guy must have been left over from their model closet. Add a little red paint and a few cattle corpses, and you've got The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Good for a goof.
Bring your own sweets. Just because it's black and white, doesn’t mean it’s a cookie.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I know what you did 30 years ago

Haven’t these urban legends all been put to film already? I don’t wnt to review any more bad movies, but here goes:
If you are going to nick scenes from movies that have been done, then crikey, don’t do them poorly! The spiders under the skin scene, the tanning bed death — they were already done better. These scenes were already done. Why try it again with FX interns and no budget?
A few things I noticed that might catch your fancy were these: The funny scene in class when the science teacher is talking about gorillas, the edit goes to one of the jocks in class. The timing was perfect, and made me snicker. The other is the blatant Scooby Doo hippie van when the picture turns into a wh0-dunnit mystery adventure looking for clues. And finally, early on there is a mention of Candyman. I’m not sure if it was a shameless plug or a dig on the series.
Avoid this pooh at all costs. You won’t have to face the atrocious Grudge/Ringu/Exorcist visual references.