Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cinemasochism: BEYOND FEAR (1993)

Quite possibly one of the worst movies I have ever seen. No, really.

Yeah, sure there are all these people running around talking about how they are "bad movie experts" and cite examples such as THE DEVIL'S RAIN (1975) and BRAIN DAMAGE (1988), at which point I send them e-mailed threats of kicking their asses in an organized boxing match at the location of their choosing. They lump great movies in with stuff like AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997) and HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003). Yes, those last two are terrible movies, but they at least sport a level of editing and cinematography that is professionally competent and when it comes down to it, the script is really the only thing that irredeemably wretched. These schmucks truly don't know what a "bad" movie is.

Mimi Lesseos started her career in martial arts (kickboxing and judo) at the age of 16. Starting in 1980 she trained under Fabulous Moolah as a professional wrestler and spent the next 14 years in the AWA and the LPWA under the name "Magnificent Mimi". Lesseos then became an International Full Contact Martial Arts champion. In addition, she is easy enough on the eyes to be featured in the December 1989 issue of Playboy. If that isn't colossal potential for a badass film-career, I don't know what is.

Unfortunately Lesseos decided to take her talents and instead of putting them in someone else's hands, she would start her own production company. I commend her for the initiative, but clearly she would have been better off working for Godfrey Ho.

Lesseos plays Tipper Taylor, a mountain-climbing tour guide (a guide for tourists) who works with an older black man named... uhhh... Sammy (Verrel Reed). They don't go so far as to have him eat watermelon, but they do bust out the old negro wisdom shtick that I was pretty sure died in the '60s. Piling into the tour bus we have a wimpy guy (Robert Axelrod) with a video camera in bickering relationship with his obese wife who stuffs her face with twinkies when she gets mad; the newlyweds who have a falling out after the wife finds out that her cracker husband slept with two hookers during his bachelor party (says the husband about why the wife is mad: "it's a Korean thing"); and a few other losers that are just there as killer fodder. Ha! Fools! None of them get killed, they presumably live out their annoyingly mundane lives for perpetuity.

After arriving at their cabins (which looks like a cheap motel in Los Angeles), Vince decides to go out at night and peep in everybody's windows with his video camera. One of the rooms he peeps into is two ex-cons, Boar (Wayne Bower) and Jack (Brogan Young) trying to get it on with a hooker who is very annoyed that two guys want to do it with her at once. I'm no expert on the subject, but it's surprising to me that this would be an issue, but it is. She keeps pushing Jack away saying "one at a time!" until Jack finally snaps and beats her to death. This may sound shocking, but it is completely laughable. There is no nudity and the "beating" is basically the girl getting thrown against a wall where she pulls the old wrasllin' move where she slaps the wall with her hands and pretends to hit her head. Unfortunately the camera angles are so poorly chosen in this film, it is blatantly obvious that her head didn't even come six inches near the wall.

The cons realize that Vince was peeping on them with a camcorder, but he gives them the slip, meaning that they will have to follow the tour van in the morning to get the tape and silence Vince. You'd think this would lead to a game of cat and mouse on dangerous grounds in the mountains, but instead we get a massive amount of padding. Instead of action we get lots of rock climbing (of heights of up to 14 inches!), lots of couples discussing their relationship problems, a long scene of everyone slowly crossing a stream, people walking and walking, some of the most boring dialogue ever committed to film, and worst of all no real choreography or rehearsals. There are a couple of quick fights and if you think you hate the bad editing of hand-held shots in Hollywood movies, you ain't seen nothing! There is a scene where Lesseos runs up from behind a bad guy and does a flying dropkick right into the middle of his back. It looks pretty good, but the camera is placed so that the action crops Lesseo off the screen a bit. Even worse (or better, depending on your point of view), that shot is cut in right after we see the fat girl running through the woods dressed in a similar plaid shirt. This creates the impression the it was the fat girl doing the flying drop kick. No offense to plus sized ladies, but this is utterly hilarious. I should point out that this is during the only big fight scene which is at the 76 minute mark of the 83 minute film!

So careless and budget strapped is the production that they shoot scenes after completely losing the light making the screen a mess of dark smudges. They also shoot scenes covered in dense fog that limits visibility so much that the only way we know they didn't shoot it on a soundstage in front of a grey panel is that everyone is having a really bad hair day. It looks like it was shot on 16mm, but the sides of the image are so badly cropped that in many scenes the only reason you know the person isn't talking to himself is because there is a brim of a hat or the tip of a nose on the edge of the screen. Then again everything about it is so poorly done that it may have actually been framed that way!

Better send the kids
out of the room for this one!
In another example of pointless filmmaking, they decide they need some nudity (presumably to help sell the title). So they have Lessos take off her shirt in a tent, except it looks like a body double, her side is to the camera, it's shot through mosquito netting and it's at night! Seriously why even bother? Perhaps it's just one of the many attempts to pad the film out to feature length. In addition to all the walking and "climbing" we have long scenes of mundane things such as Taylor slowly calling out names and handing out keys to every member of the tour, one at a time. Don't miss the exciting scene in which there is some discussion about who will load the luggage on the van and then we have to watch everyone load their fucking luggage on the van! Not convinced? How about a riveting scene in which Sammy mumbles incoherently to himself while assembling a pile of leaves that he will use as a bed. Of course once settled in his futon of frond, he realizes that he forgot to put on his knit hat and we have to watch him dig it out, put it on his head, move it around till it's just right then lay back down. I don't know how I'm going to explain the claw marks on my living room walls to my landlord.

This is Lesseo's fourth film and it's shocking just how amateur it is. Of course, it's not really her fault as veteran actor Robert F. Lyons uses this as his second directorial effort and this is Michael Matzdorff's first time out as an editor. Though Lyons only got one more directing gig after this, Matzdorff went on to have a career as an editor and honestly I can't imagine why. It is said that good editing is unnoticeable to the audience. Here the editing is so noticeable that I feel wracked with guilt over comments I have made in the past about Nick Millard's ham-fisted "style". Every camera angle is wrong, cuts are jarring, continuity is an afterthought. Granted entire scenes are made in the editing room and that can only be blamed on the director. For instance, there is a scene where they are going to have the bad guy throw a girl off of a cliff and she's supposed to catch hold of a ledge on the way down. So they show the guy swinging her to the edge of the cliff, cut to a close up of him letting go of her jacket and then cutting to a close up of her face next to some rocks with her arms over her head. Then cut to the cast standing near the cliff screaming "hang on"! In this very same scene we are supposed to have Lesseos fighting the bad guy, then suddenly she stops fighting him and is inserted into the scene standing in front of a rock wall shouting lines. Obviously the director fucked up and they had to reshoot some footage of Lesseos shouting after the production had wrapped. I mean, they couldn't have done this intentionally... they couldn't have.

In spite of this being one of the worst films ever made, I'll have to give Lesseos another shot. She did work with Joseph Merhi at the helm on several occasions and even if they are not good films, I know that at the very least, Merhi will not be screwing up when it comes to camera angles and editing.

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