Sunday, September 4, 2011

Listomania!: Will's August 2011 viewings

Hey, I’m totally going to steal…uh, I mean, contribute to Tom’s Listomania idea.  Just to give some old favorites and new exposures some love, even if it isn’t 1,500 words.  Here are some flicks I watched in August (the good ones are in no particular order as they all rocked).  Let’s get the rough stuff out of the way first with the “Why? Why? WHY???” award going to…

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD (2010) – John Carpenter is my favorite director and I think his period of films from 1974 to 1988 is pretty much unrivaled in modern genre filmmaking.  So, naturally, it began to sting when his efforts started to slide.  His last theatrical feature, GHOSTS OF MARS (2001), was a decade ago and the only thing done in between were two terrible episodes of MASTERS OF HORROR and lots of interviews where he basically said, “Just give me my fuckin’ paycheck while you remake my films.”  Well, this is the end of the line with Carpenter doing a work-for-hire gig on this thoroughly unexceptional film. Inexplicably set in the 1960s (there is no reason for it to be), the film focuses on Kristen (Amber Heard), who is sentenced to the titular location after trying to burn down a house.  Also in this ward are four other girls with various mental issues.  Oh, and there is a ghost with long black hair (straight out of a 90s Japanese horror flick) out to kill them all.  I can’t begin to tell you how average this film is.  One the plus side, it is well shot and all the female leads are good.  However, had Carpenter's name not been on the credits, you would never know he had made this.  It could have been swapped with any AfterDark or FrightFest title and you couldn’t tell the difference.  It is like Carpenter has been taken over by someone else.  A great man from Carpenter’s past once asked, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know it was really me?”  One way would be to have any hints of style or mood that Carpenter is known for, none of which is on display here.  How sad is it that the man who made HALLOWEEN is now aping the pulse-flattening work of kids today and I have to endure it TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!  On the plus side, he still hasn't reached the depths Argento has plummeted to.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s move onto the good stuff.

PSYCHO II (1983) – Can you believe my mom took my friend and me to see this when I was just 8-years-old? Thanks mom!  Despite the protests of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles), Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is released from a mental institution after 23 years and moves back to managing his motel. Along the way he picks up a roommate in Mary (Meg Tilly), but things start to get ugly real fast. Norman starts getting calls from his "mother" and she is leaving threatening notes telling him to "get that slut out of his house." I honestly can't think of a better crafted horror sequel than this. Writer Tom Holland creates an incredible mystery that not only is thrilling, but carries on the logical progression of time between the two films. Even more astonishing is he is able to also create a modern "body count" picture within these confines, effectively letting Universal have the best of both worlds. Director Richard Franklin actually befriended Hitchcock in the 1970s, so he knows better than to try and copy any of the first film's memorable moments. He is a master of suspense though and this movie has some great set ups (including one that is still ripped off today) and a classic finale. This is helped greatly by an excellent Jerry Goldsmith score and ace camerawork by Dean Cundy.  The cast is perfect all around with Perkins doing an exceptional job as the still-crazy-after-all-these-years Norman.

TROLLHUNTER (2010) - Three college-age journalist kids secretly follow a guy named Hans (Otto Jespersen), who they believe is illegally poaching bears in the Norwegian mountains after some tourists are killed. The title tells you what he is really after. Yes, trolls are real and Hans it he only guy in the country employed by TSS (Troll Security Service) to keep the monsters in check if they leave their designated homes. Watched this last night and really enjoyed it. As much as I can't stand "found footage" shaky-cam stuff, this did a really clever spin on it with the story and pulls it off amazingly. Seriously, the troll effects are stunning and director André Øvredal films each sighting in a unique way that gives the best impact. This was all accomplished on a budget of $3 million, embarrassing Hollywood and even folks like SyFy for their "we can't do anything decent for that amount" low standards. One of the more interesting aspects is when Hans complains about his job and the bureaucracy of TSS to the camera crew. The film also has some really funny dark comedy bits. The end is a bit of a letdown, but you know it is coming since this opens with the standard "we found this mystery footage" crawl. Sadly, the director has quickly sold his soul and is now working on a big budget Hollywood remake.  Why?

THE LAST OF THE KNUCKLEMEN (1979) – This Aussie flick is an adaptation of a play that focuses on a group of several men working at a isolated mining company. They are all burnouts or misfits who sit around to drink, play cards and gamble away their little savings. Self-appointed leader is Pansy (Michael Preston, who is probably sitting and waiting for Mick Jagger bio pic to be greenlit) who is constantly butting heads with everyone, most notably knuckleman Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy). A knuckleman is pretty much a foreman who also has license to whoop anybody's ass if they get out of line. Intrigue arrives when young Tom (Peter Hehir) comes on the job and he may or may not be the infamous "Karate Bandit." This is really good stuff and one of the more unique examples of Ozploitation male bonding I've seen. The writing is very sharp and director Tim Burstall showcases some glorious deserted locations. The acting is great from everyone, but if the film belongs to anyone it is Kennedy as the gruff but likable physical enforcer. He is the last of the hardmen and delivers his lines with the appropriate vigor ("5 minutes after you walk down that road, I won't even remember you were alive, Pansy. That's how much I care about you!"). Also with Michael Caton, Michael Duffield, Steve Bisley (of MAD MAX and THE CHAIN REACTION), and Steve Rackman (Donk from the CROCODILE DUNDEE films).

DEAD MOUTAINEER’S HOTEL (1979) – Tom reviewed this one earlier here and I agree with everything he said.  This is definitely some moody sci-fi stuff and easily the best film I’ve seen from Estonia.  Okay, it’s the only film I’ve seen from there.  I think.  The mystery is suitably compelling and the location is really stunning (think a Motel 8 version of The Overlook from THE SHINING).  I really liked the lead actor Uldis Pucitis as he reminded me of Jerry Cotton actor George Nader.  There is also a really good electronic score and this haunting song by Sven Grünberg.  Definitely the best Estonian synthesizer rock I’ve heard…you know the rest.

Finally, the winner of the “I would have hated this in 1996, but enjoyed it now” award goes to:

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996) - Before Roger Corman sold his soul to SyFy for a buck and an executive producer credit, he sold it to Showtime a decade earlier with their "Roger Corman presents" series. This involved throwing some of his new New Concorde flicks on the cable channel as exclusive premieres. Also involved were remakes of some Corman-produced classics including PIRANHA, NOT OF THIS EARTH (again), A BUCKET OF BLOOD (with Anthony Michael Hall!), THE WASP WOMAN, and this. Fisherman Wade Parker (Robert Carradine) finds being a single father of a 16-year-old (Danielle Weeks) hellbent on dating environmentalist Matt (Robert Walker) isn't the worst thing in the world when genetically mutated monsters start attacking folks. After his daughter is snatched, Wade must team up with Matt and scientist Dr. Drake (Emma Samms, a long way from DYNASTY) to stop the beasts.

I was hoping this would be different enough from the original that I could pretend it was the never-delivered HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP 2: THE NEXT GENERATION. Alas, I can't do that because Corman manages to outcheap himself by reusing lots of footage from the original (the carnival climax from the first film is shown almost in its entirety). Had I seen this when it originally aired, I would have hated it. Even watching it now it is only so-so due to its general cheapness (get a load at the bar set; and it appears they only made two monster suits). But it is amazing what godawful SyFy and Asylum flicks will do to your B-movie sensibilities. The HUMANOIDS remake is gory and features nudity (strangely, the US DVD cuts all of this out), so I am somewhat satisfied. And the cast actually gives a damn. Well, with one small exception. Walker, previously seen in CLUELESS (1995), gives one of the worst performances I've seen in a while. Seriously, this kid is awful with his constant shouting of nearly every line. Director Jeff Yonis cut his teeth in the Corman factory on one of the many BLOODFIST sequels and keeps the action moving fast enough. Look for Clint Howard, an unrecognizable Season Hubley and Bert Remsen in small supporting roles.

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