Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Listomania: Thomas' March Meh-ness 2014

So many stinkers, so little time! Here are a few that didn't quite make full write-ups and in spite of the fact that in general we tend to wallow in our bad movies like hogs in a mud puddle. Actually, only two of them are films that I doubt I'll ever sit through again. Should be pretty easy to spot them.
Oh, and for the record, there are no April Fool's jokes in here, as much as it may sound like it.

KOMMISSARIE SPACK (2010): The title translates as DETECTIVE FAT, but if you are as nerdy as we are, you will get that it's a spoof of Sweden's Detective Martin Beck. More specifically the series of TV movies BECK that has run on Swedish television for no less than 12 years. Detective Marten Spack (popular Swedish actor Leif Andrée) and his angry college Grunvald Karlsson (Johan Hedenberg who you may remember from the 2012 JOHAN FALK movies) are knee deep in a serial suicide spree. After investigating a crime scene in which a man is impaled with everything from knives and forks to a pepper-grinder and a bootleg dvd in his own kitchen, Spack comes to the conclusion that it is a suicide brought on by the fact that his potatoes o' gratin turned out dry due to a lack of cream. Seriously, as someone who has made, and been subjected to, dry potatoes o' gratin, I can totally buy into this theory.

As it turns out the bootleg DVD is the clue they need to discover that it is in fact an underworld execution tied to a black market movie ring. The portrayal of the DVD factory with stripped down employees wearing respirator masks is one of the better moments in the film, as is Grunvald's emotional breakdown in which he confesses that his pent-up aggression is due to a traumatic childhood betrayal over a KARATE KID video.

If you are unfamiliar with the Martin Beck character, you will probably find this movie staggeringly unfunny (except for the bits that echo NCIS and CSI). If you are familiar with the BECK series, you will find it only half that. Clearly inspired by the NAKED GUN series (if about 20 years late), director Fredde Granberg emulates the style of the BECK show with hand-held camera work and lots of silence, while throwing in scads of late era Zucker brothers gags, that all ends up feeling jarringly mismatched. On the one hand we have some very clever moments of spoofery, such as the bit where Spack's whip-smart female colleague (Cecilia Frode) uses a computer to get a break in the case by enhancing a surveillance video in multiple steps that allow them to read a crumpled note in a suspects pocket, on the other hand we some very unsubtle pratfalls and grossout humor. For example there's a throwaway gags such as a bit where they pull into a crime scene, hitting a dog who is comically knocked out of frame, then a bit where Spack's neckbrace-clad neighbor offers him a bong hit and falls off of his balcony. I guess the producers wanted the movie to be successful in Finland. It's not quite the masterpiece it should have been, but it's still plenty of fun.

HILL 171 (1987): One of those movies I've had for decades and never watched. Why? I have no idea. I mean it's a Filipino action flick and the box looks cool, what's the hold up? In recent years I've seen people talk about it being an ultra-violent action flick and even mention it in the same breath as the classic SPARROW UNIT (1987). I'm here to tell you, those bastards lie.

Obviously shot without a script, the vague plot (which is pretty much ignored except for the beginning and end of the movie) is about an army officer who gets together a team of old army friends to "find the dope factory and blow it up." I know, some of the obscure military jargon may be hard to navigate, but if you stick with it, you'll be in for... some bad comedy. One guy is called Tarzan because he can climb a tree and runs around in a rather skimpy loincloth (while wearing a powder blue sweater and tie), another is an expert knife thrower, then there is an expert boxer, an expert runner away, and of course the expert sharp-shooter who likes his likker. As the boss says "if he wasn't such a drunk, he'd be the best!" Uhh, yeah, I think it's a great idea to recruit a blind drunk with a firearm. What could go wrong? Not much apparently as the whole blowing up the factory thing seems to be forgotten for the next hour or so with the guys digging in an empty field in what the boss claims to be an attempt to "find the factory"! Is it buried underground?

Accidental destruction of a TV
leads to a severe case of blackface.
Then there's a big scene where they go to a dance hall, get in a big fight and err... accidentally kiss each other. Right. Now we're going to blow something up... please? Nope. Now we are going to have a lengthy subplot with the guys and a bunch of recruits breaking rocks with picks. The recruits get disgruntled because essentially the army buddies are pricks and there's a lot of drama that leads to a fight. Eventually they do finally get around to finding the "factory" (a couple of huts) and nothing is blown up. I should point out that these fight scenes are not even remotely in the realm of Rey Malonzo or even Weng Weng. They are sloppy, barely choreographed affairs that rely on a lot of haymakers and leaping.

The movie opens with a scene in which some cops kill a bunch of guys in a field and then dig into the sacks of rice they were hauling. They think something might be odd about the sacks (good reason to kill a dozen men) and one pulls out what looks like a handful of dandelion stems and declares it to be marijuana! With this kind of attention to detail, you know you are in for something special, but what it doesn't prepare you for is the wacky comedy that is so lame and cartoonish that I understand that the Three Stooges walked out half way through the picture.

SPLIT (1988): How is it that this utterly innovative, starkly original, low-budget mindwarp hasn't gotten more press over the years? Back in the days of renting movies based simply on the fact that I hadn't seen them, I stumbled across this ambitious, sci-fi, head-trip made by amateurs. I loved it, my friends hated it. My friends were stupid.

A young homeless man named Starker (Timothy Dwight) with buck teeth appears to be a few clowns short of a circus. He rants wildly about the people who are spying on him and swatting at invisible pests. Suddenly we find out there are people spying on him. Two men watch his ranting in a computer lab wondering why he is wearing fake teeth. To their horror the men discover that they don't have a file on this nutbar and issue orders to track him down and tag him like Marlin Perkins on a safari. The catch is, Starker is actually not a loony, paranoid homeless dude. Well, he is homeless, but since they really are out to get him, he's not a crazy paranoid. Starker has strategically placed stashes of clothing around the city so that he can slip off the grid, so to speak, and evade the agency that is tracking all of humanity. This agency is run by a Director (Chris Shaw, who wrote and directed), who is being kept alive by an elaborate machine that slows his degeneration down until he can perfect a process that will turn him into a cyborg. At this point you are probably thinking "damn, that sounds pretty wild, but it must be a straightforward hunt and chase flick." You would be wrong.

This movie takes so many sharp left hand turns that if you don't pay rapt attention you'll get lost faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Starker is the ultimate non-conformist who manages to attract the other bizarre denizens of the city including a pretentious artist (John J. Flynn) who has his mind blown when Starker explains the secrets of the world and utters the immortal line "Anchovies... who's going to can anchovies? Society could crumble." Starker also hooks up with a seemingly normal waitress, Susan (Joan Bechtel), who is convinced that Starker is crazy and dangerous.

I don't want to give away too much, it's actually better if you go into this movie cold and ride the wave to crazy island, but even with the spoilers I've let drop, there is so much more weird, psychedelic strangeness where that came from, I openly challenge you to find anything that comes close. It's so ambitious and so imaginative it is one of the great injustices of the universe that this is Shaw's only film, aside from one other editing gig and one other acting gig.

THE REGENERATED MAN (1994): I've always been a big fan of the classic, low-rent monster flick DEADLY SPAWN (1983) and its surprisingly underrated sequel METAMORPHOSIS: THE ALIEN FACTOR (1990), but for some reason I have never seen any of Ted Bohus' work following those gems. Bohus got his start working on a pair of Don Dohler flicks FIEND (1980) and NIGHTBEAST (1982). With those four films heading up his resume, THE REGENERATED MAN should be a masterpiece, right? Right?

Oh good lord, say goodbye to your loved ones because you may not be returning from this mission. The plot concerns a scientist (Arthur Lundquist) who works in what appears to be a small corner of someone's bedroom developing a tissue re-animation serum (yes, it glows green). One night he is attacked in his lab by some Long Island lunkheads who are trying to rob the place of "valuable stuff", but since there are none, settle for forcing the doc to drink his own medicine. Before you can say "together again", the good doc is transforming by night into a shar pei demon thing who can't really move around very well, but can shoot people with his finger bones. "Fair enough" I hear you say. I know, nothing wrong with that as such, but for some reason Bohus is like every kid on the East Coast and is obsessed with The Three Stooges to the point where he has people acting like they are in some screwball comedy. No slapstick, but the same style of voice acting and dialogue.

Bohus lives out Freud's
wunscherfüllung theory via cinema
In one scene three thugs are intimidating and attempting to rape a girl walking home with groceries to her child. This is played for laughs (nothing funnier than the harassment and attempted rape of a single mother) and features Bohus himself as one of the thugs! In another scene he's got a completely random guy being shaken down by '30s era mobsters (for laughs) for a full 10 minutes before the Regenerated Dude shows up and kills the mobsters by shooting his finger bones at them. The scene just goes on and on and on and it's not even remotely funny. He also kind rips off the "tied to this fucking chair" bit from THE THING, which is pretty much criminal.

Adding insult to injury, the production values are lower on this picture than anything Bohus has done previously, and if you've seen FIEND, you know that's saying something! Shot on video in tiny re-purposed sets, not only are the special effects unexciting, but they are pretty minimal too. Even worse, the final set-piece is done via CGI that embarrassingly bad even for its day. Well, I wanted to find out what happened to Ted Bohus and sadly, I found out.

MONSTERHUNTERS (2009): I am a sucker for good kid flicks, particularly if they are horror themed. I don't think I'll get much argument if I talked up classics like BLACKBEARD'S GHOST (1969) and THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987), but I also enjoyed CORALINE (2009) and PARANORMAN (2012) quite a bit too. So given the opportunity to see a Danish pre-pubescent monster-comedy, how can I say no? That kind of reasoning has led me astray far too often.

Ollie (Carl Winther) is the weak-kneed 12 year old brother of 8 year old horror movie obsessed Lasse (Toke Lars Bjarke). After their grandfather tells them tall tales of his days as a monsterhunter, the boys find a secret basement in their house complete with monster hunting gear and the special freezer that gramps alleged contained the shadowbeast. The local bully (Joshua Berman) opens up the freezer and the CGI smoke monster escapes, possessing people and making them behave in ways that are very un-Danish... Belching, farting, eating unhealthy foods, being sexually aggressive and putting everyone around them in harms way. So, basically, Americans. The creature can replicate as well, which means that soon the town is possessed by crazy people and only the kids can stop them, via liquid nitrogen sprayers. Not exactly a bad film, but squarely aimed at its target audience with only a few jokes aimed at adults (the mother is a shrink who has a nude male statue right next to her patient couch). That wouldn't really be so bad if there were some interesting monsters, but instead we get low-grade CGI black smoke and freezing effects that were stale by the end of the '90s. A real missed opportunity.

ZAAT (1971): I am completely baffled how it is 2013 and I had never seen this movie before and was only prompted into viewing it because Jon Kitley's birthday cake paid homage to it (made by non-professional baker Dawn Kitley). True story (see pic below).

Alternately numbingly dull and spectacularly bad, I can't even imagine that this was made with a straight face. A shuffling, bed-head scientist who mumbles his own internal dialogue decides that he has just had it with the world (they are insane, not him!) and he will get revenge and maybe some nookie if he turns himself into a giant, amphibious fish-monster. Also he's going to put some of his special formula (kept in a spray bottle) in Florida's water to mutate the fish. Damn, I always knew there was something in the water down there. We know all about his plans as he has them drawn (literally) out on what appears to be a zodiac wheel, but is in fact his own giant advent calendar. There's a wedge for transforming himself, there's a wedge for killing his ex-boss, there's a wedge for kidnapping a bikini-clad swimmer and transforming her into Mrs. Zaat via what appears to be a giant fry basket in a radioactive hot-tub. Things go rapidly downhill from there and our mopey misanthrope discovers that being a giant leech creature with a hit list ain't the bed of roses it's cracked up to be.

This movie is spectacularly shoddy and cash-strapped, but for some reason, or because of that, it manages to mesmerize the viewer much like Montag the Magnificent before busting out his chainsaw. It may leave you on the floor in pieces, but oh, what a spectacle to behold! Shot in black and white on location in Jacksonville, Florida, writer-director-producer Don Barton shockingly never made another film but still managed to leave an indelible impression. So much so, that it was (briefly) immortalized in cake in Aurora, Illinois. Is there any higher honor, I ask you?

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