Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Listomania: Thomas' Summer Blizzard of Odd 2015

THE STRANGE SON OF THE SHERIFF (1982): For those of us who live for weird westerns, this Mexican oddity may not be one of the most outlandish, but it certainly lives up to its title.

Set in (as the title card tells us) "West 1890", cold-hearted, iron-fisted Sheriff Jackson (Eric del Castillo) must deliver his own son during an eclipse because the local doctor died of the plague and the doc in the closest town (Mario Almada) has the entire population dying on him. To the sheriff's horror, his son is born deformed. The sheriff keeps his son chained up in a room for seven years until the doctor that refused to help deliver the child comes into town. As it turns out the child is conjoined twins who the sheriff has named "Fred-Eric" (or Frederick). Blaming the doctor for his misfortune, he orders him at gunpoint to separate the twins in spite of the dangers of losing one. Eric dies during the operation and Fred is brought up on his own. The only catch is that Fred is convinced that Eric is still with them and responsible for some odd events, even taking the vengeful father of a hanged son to his grave. A grave on which the sheriff refused to place a cross. This discovery lands the sheriff in court where he is tried for the murder of his son. And this is only the halfway point! Eric's ghost torments people and generally causes a ruckus, occasionally possessing Fred.

Director Fernando DurĂ¡n Rojas, a veteran of over 100 Mexican films, is clearly hampered by a low budget that mainly went into a few bits of cel animation and a set that shakes like an earthquake hit it during some of the supernatural sequences. For the most part he delivers workman-like direction, but occasionally throws in a good, atmospheric shot. Regardless of the technical aspect, if you are looking for strange, this it definitely is. The story is surprisingly unpredictable veering at one point into a courtroom drama before centering its focus back on the supernatural. One of the interesting things about it is Rojas' harsh portrayal of the sheriff hanging a 19 year-old boy in the beginning of the film. The crowd watching the event are clearly shocked and saddened by the event, which is an unusual stance to take in a Western. Usually the concept of a sheriff is rather polarized. The law is right, unless the sheriff is evil in which case justice must be meted out. Here the sheriff is not so much evil, but rather unyielding and selfish, which he realizes before he dies. La Vengadora herself, Rosa Gloria Chagoyan, shows up for a small but important role as the headmistress of an orphanage. Not a classic by any means, but it is an interesting horror/western oddity.

NEZULLA THE RAT MONSTER (2002): What? You've never heard of this one? Me neither, and there is a reason for that. Direct to video Japanese efforts can be hit or miss. A whole lot of miss if the modern goofy/gore shot on video outings aren't your thing. This semi-throwback to the "trapped in a building with a monster" subgenre of the '80s sure seems like a great idea, but writer-director Kanta Tagawa's one and done effort is everything that is wrong with Japanese DTV in 90 minutes.

A group of "American" soldiers, who look oddly Japanese and speak English phonetically, meet up with a Japanese scientist at an abandoned American research lab (in Japan) that is believed to be ground zero for a virus that makes people look like they have plastic novelty vomit stuck to their faces. While the soldiers throw temper-tantrums and generally behave like bratty two-year-olds, they suddenly come to discover that one of their ranks, a catty Japanese woman (who is supposedly American, never speaks English and likes to laugh at her own evilness) is on her own mission. She being the only one who knows about the mutant rat. Apparently the rest of the soldiers have been briefed that they are hunting down regular lab animals. This begs the question, why did they feel it was necessary to bring crates of heavy ordinance?

Apparently the virus that was created in the lab mutated one of the lab rats into an eight foot tall, bipedal reject from a '70s kaiju film, complete with head that waggles side-to-side while it waddles after helpless victims. This actually sounds better than it really is. The bulk of the movie, in addition to the arguing soldiers and a lone noble Japanese warrior who is proudly hunting the monster with a sword, staring death in the face, concerns an angst-ridden doctor who is being forced to intern the afflicted populace and is unable to treat the victims due to military quarantine rules and is secretly in love with his nurse who is secretly in love with him. Oh, the fucking pathos.

I can't fault the movie for putting all of its budget into the monster, but the abandoned building location wears thin fast when you have minimal monster scenes and all of the attacks happen either off screen or just have an actor stand with the monster behind them appearing to give the character a shoulder massage. Apparently they couldn't afford to rent expensive prop weapons either because in an early scene we discover that the crazy traitor has filled their heavy ordinance boxes with wooden logs! Again, why even have them in the first place? This squarely falls under the heading "missed opportunity" and it kind of feels like this label wouldn't bother those involved.

RED EAGLE (2010): Just like America has Batman, Thailand has a vigilante superhero in Red Eagle. Spanning decades of novels, TV and movies, this is the modern updating of the mythos from Wisit Sasanatieng, director of the pop-art western TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (2000).

While a politician has turned into a nuke loving dictator after running as an anti-nuke liberal, a vigilante known as The Red Eagle has been brutally annihilating members of the underworld. None of this comfy, cozy tying the crims up for the cops. Nope, Red Eagle has no problem shooting and chopping up over a dozen thugs during a drug deal gone awry. Leaving his calling card at every bloodbath, the cops (a mismatched thai and sikh) are conflicted about whether he should be given a medal or arrested. When Red turns his sights on sorting out two-faced politicians who are involved in unconscionable deeds such as child prostitution and nuclear energy, the pressure is on to nail him. Meanwhile the largest underworld syndicate in the world, the Matulee, who wear demonic masks to hide their identities and have developed a serum that injects flesh-eating nanobots into the victims bloodstream, decide that they have had enough of The Red Eagle and get their own masked assassin The Black Devil.

The film definitely takes a hit for quite a bit of painfully bad CG effects and a script that throws so much at the wall that only those who know the original novels, TV shows and movies will get all of the seemingly random bits of imagery, dialogue and character moments, that just seem poorly fleshed out to the rest of us. On the other hand, there is none of this winky, intentionally campy crap that we have to put up with in so many modern genre movies. It's dark, bloody, fast paced and completely comicbook loony. There is so much straight-faced absurdity taken directly from comic book tradition, that it seems a little cartoony at first. Once you settle into the groove you can enjoy the amusing comic book cliches such as a plucky female reporter is the love interest and the only one who knows Red Eagle's identity, and a sequence where someone took the time to freeze a time-bomb in a block of ice prior to a showdown in an ice-house! That's what comic book villains do, it's not like they have real jobs. Oddly the film ends with a "to be continued" which five years later, it sadly still hasn't been.

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