Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Friday, June 21, 2013

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)

Yes, I know, I'm an idiot for even imagining that there might be something entertaining to be found here. Imagine NOTLD3D, except shot on film. Pointless, boring, crushingly obvious and totally cheap. In my own defense there is a lot of opportunity here. As far as I'm concerened, if you can make a fun 3D thrill-ride out of a franchise that has run out of juice in years prior, like THE FINAL DESTINATION, you should abso-freaking-lutely be able to do that times two with a franchise like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. "Chainsaw" + "3D" should = "Magic". You'd have to be a complete inbred half-wit to screw that up. Please put your hands together for complete inbred half-wit director John Luessenhop. I'd blame screenwriter Adam Marcus, but I enjoyed his reworking of the FRIDAY THE 13th mythos, JASON GOES TO HELL (1993, particularly in it's extended grey-market form), and as he is credited with no less than five other writers, I don't think I can lay the blame entirely at his feet.

In an attempt to come up with an entirely new premise that not only brushes aside the previous sequels and remake, the filmmakers concoct an entirely new backstory that mixes footage from the original film with new footage. Now we have a quasi-Hatfield and McCoy family feud and the Sawyer family house is now located in a town and the family is apparently now made up of about half-a-dozen members of "Duck Dynasty". One of the townies, leads a mob on the Sawyer's place burning it to the ground, kicking defenseless mothers in the face and stealing a baby in the process. Yes, the Sawyers are no longer sphincter-shriveling cannibal kinfolk preying on the wayward traveler in the Texas outback, but something more akin to Mormons with bad table manners.

After reinventing history, the first 30 minutes is just the usual tween friends nonsense (or if you are a Rotten Tomatoes reviewer you would call it "character development"), with a goth hottie (Alexandra Daddario) who works as a butcher (as if!) inheriting her Grandmother's house in Texas, only to find out that she's been living with the folks that killed her real family who are... wait for it... the Sawyers! She and a couple of friends roadtrip down to Texas and along the way pick up a hitchhiker... who has nothing to do with anything. Also, she's Letherface's cousin and as it turns out, Letherface is still alive and well, and living in the basement of the house as some sort of gimp while gram had kept him out of trouble. So basically it's a "people trapped in a house with a gimp" movie for another 20 minutes, in which there's a bunch of running around and screaming but little else. Oh, I almost forgot. There is a lot of steel door slamming. This movie will never, ever let you forget that one of the most iconic scenes in Tobe Hooper's original was Leatherface slamming a sliding steel door. If that isn't enough, the film features plenty of other reminders including a shot of a dead armadillo in the road and a re-imagining of the deep freezer scene. Still not enough? How about cribbing moments from HALLOWEEN (1978) and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) too? Come to think of it, isn't the tag-line more than a little reminiscent of the JASON GOES TO HELL trailer?

Weirdly the movie feels like it is coming to an end at the 50 minute mark. Three of the four peeps escape the house, and in one of many incredibly stupid decisions this film makes, one dies from an ensuing auto accident... instead of being killed by, I dunno, maybe a chainsaw? And the other simply disappears until the end of the movie. In order to get things back in gear, we find out that the world's smallest carnival is taking place right next to the house! What are the odds? So desperate for something entertaining, you think "hey, Pruneface can carve up carnival peeps and that will be cool". I was starting to think of some sort of carnival massacre ala HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) and the second that I thought that, Leatherface simply intimidates some of the patrons with his chainsaw before running off into the woods! Cue leatherfacepalm.

As if the rampant refusal to do anything remotely interesting wasn't bad enough, these guys hired KNB to do the gore FX, which is awesome right? Then they decide to do most of gore with CG or worse, in what seems to be a new trend, covering up the latex work with CG! Here the CG is so bad, the Sy-Fy channel would think twice about airing it. Yeah, ok, maybe not, but it still looks like someone got a high-school kid with a red sharpie to draw blood on the frame. This is particularly grating when the big, climactic scene (which adds insult to injury after our goth chickie tosses Leatherface a chainsaw and quips "do your thang cuz") has the bad townie going into an industrial meatgrinder ala RAZORBACK and we get a bunch of sharpie marks that are supposed to be blood shooing out. I should point out that it was the deliberately hard-come-by NC-17 version that I viewed. We seem to have stepped back into the '80s here with an R-rated version that is shocking in its anemia. While many high-profile films over the past decade (2008's RAMBO comes to mind) have redefined the levels of graphic violence in an R-rated movie, apparently old grudges die hard at the MPAA. By modern standards, I'd say the level of gore in the NC-17 version is far lower than anything seen in say, CABIN IN THE WOODS (2011), however CABIN wasn't a horror movie (sorry band-wagon jumpers, that movie is a straight-up comedy without any pretension of actual horror). Even more odd is that I can pull out two TCM sequels from the draconian '80s era that sport more gore and creativity than this carcass.

It's not just the FX, but the entire film feels like the budget was cut after shooting began. It feels like pages were ripped out of the script, action scenes were cut, KNB were fired and long, dull "character" scenes were shot to pad the running time. What kind of scenes, you ask? How about a scene that blatantly panders to the inner-city crowd while expanding the running time? The good sheriff and the evil mayor are in an office with a police officer on the radio who is going to enter the Sawyer house and investigate. The hot-headed hick officer is looking for "any excuse" to use his firearm, which means you know he's dead meat. He slowly makes his way though dark hallways, occasionally glimpsing bones and severed body parts as he gets closer to Leatherface's lair (yes, he has a lair). Not only is it a long pointless scene, but the sentiments of a cop being some dipshit who can't wait to shoot someone is cynical at best when in this day and age we all know, regardless of race, you have a much better chance of being shot by some crazy motherfucker without a badge.

While that scene is rather politically incorrect, the filmmakers (in spite of knowing that they are doing an R-rated movie) go for the politically correct anti-nudity stand, having scenes that were clearly written with nudity in mind, shot with as little skin as possible, often awkwardly so. Cleavage can be leered at comfortably, but exposed naughty bits are a no-no. Our heroine has her shirt torn open at one point while chained up by the local yokels who don't take kindly to Sawyer kin, yet her shirt miraculously stays firmly attached to her torso, no matter how much she struggles with her bondage. In another scene the slutty-party girl stereotype is being hammered home, while she shows no skin, her lover (Heather's cheatin' boyfriend, played by Trey Songz) is frequently shown stripped to the waist with his boxers showing. Ok, I think I can see through the schizophrenic logic here: Female bodies are bad. Male bodies are good. I'm sure the Taliban would be pleased.

If it seems like I'm spending a lot of time bitching about gore and nudity, it is simply because without those exploitation staples your are left with an infuriatingly unambitious film that tries to both pander and be politically correct, but really doesn't seem to care enough to stick with it either way. At least some creative FX work for KNB would have provided some bright spots and quite frankly, boobs have always provided a great distraction in genre cinema. Even on its own terms it was difficult to find anything entertaining about the movie. When not wallowing in uninspired cliches (the corrupt mayor doesn't even pretend to be a nice guy) that take the movie nowhere, shlocky potential crops up every now and then, only to be cut down with complete indifference. The only reason I wanted to see it in the first place was because I had read that it had been shot stereoscopic. Damned if you can tell by watching it. Like many other aspects of the film, very little attempt is made to accentuate the elements that it is attempting to exploit. It may have been shot stereoscopic, but the cinematographer just shot it like a flat movie, much like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES. Either way, this saw is completely out of gas.

One of the production team's attempts at pre-release internet hype

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shark Attack Summer: THIS AIN'T JAWS XXX (2012)

While nothing screams "nerd fantasy" like having porn stars dressing up like iconic comic-book characters and banging like a barn door in a heavy wind, for my money porn parodies are best when they are lampooning (I said "poon") slightly higher-brow fare. Did I say "at their best"? What I meant to say was "have great potential", because I have yet to see one that actually manages to be a proper parody with the addition of porn. I hear tell STAR WARS XXX (2012) is strong with the farce, but I have yet to get around to seeing it. I have seen quite a bit of the admittedly impressive DVD menus, though.

Even though I haven't read the magazine in decades, through the ages Hustler has been more than just a "dirty" men's magazine. Larry Flint may have been a farmboy turned two-bit strip-club operator turned nudie mag publisher, but he (and his lawyers) are the people you should thank for being able to watch Hawkeye whip out his "special" arrow and shoot at She-Hulk's face in the privacy of your own home. The argument that Flint fought a bloody battle for one of our most distinguished of constitutional rights was purely in the interest of self preservation may be a legitimate one, but if you've actually read any of the stuff printed in between the pink bits, you will notice that Hustler was a men's magazine on the cutting edge. If Hunter S. Thompson had been whacked out on mescaline, cocaine and ether and mistaken Hugh Hefner's silken bedchambers for The Bunny Ranch, Hustler is the bastard child that would be born of that coupling. Too bad none of that edgy innovation can be found anywhere in Hustler's video productions.

Taking it's cues directly from Spielberg's classic, the movie starts with "kids" around a campfire, though before any skinny dipping will take place, a pair of partiers (Lily Labeau and real-life BF Danny Wylde) head off to a tent to do some dipping of their own. I'm not much for the plastic, surgically enhanced, glass-eyed wannabe Barbie dolls that pass for modern pornstars, I'm much more of a home-grown, girl-next-door kinda guy and Labeau has that quality. No tramp-stamp, no navel jewelry, no jaded "I'd whistle while I work, but I'm a fucking pornstar" attitude. She's fresh, clean and enthusiastic and that's pretty hot in my book. Matter of fact, it's pretty surprising to see enthusiasm (and real boobs) like that in a Hustler video and that's about the only thing this movie has going for it. Less than 20 minutes into the movie and you've seen the best that it has to offer when it comes to the XXX side of things. Of course, after the predictably routine oral / reverse cowgirl / spoon / missionary / cumshot, Labeau runs out into the pool, err, I mean surf, and is suddenly pulled under the rock-bottom computer generated waves. Might as well shut the damn movie off now. No? You want more? Ok, fine. But remember, you asked for it!

Because we are in a hurry to get this over with, director Stuart Canterbury (also responsible for the previous year's THIS AIN'T CONAN XXX), completely throws out any pretension of real filmmaking and simply dissolves in and out to get from scene to scene. No seques, no cut-aways, not even smash-cuts, just dissolves and fades from one scene to another. I imagine Stu would yell something like "What? You seen da friggin' JAWS movie, whaddaya want? Some sort of 'cohesive narrative'? Getda fugouta here!" I don't know why I imagine him with a Long Island accent, there is only one exterior shot that isn't a digital composite and it was clearly in California.

I have utter confidence in a mayor who needs a road map in order to find her municipality.
In the mayor's office Mayor Vaughn (Darcy Tyler) is having an argument with Chief Brody (Dale DaBone) about closing down the bitches - err, I mean beaches. Says the mayor, "Amity's a Summer town, if they don't swim here, they'll swim somewhere else" and "You yell shark and we got a huge panic on our hands". Aside from the sloppy grammar, as you can tell, this is just a cheap rehashing of key scenes from JAWS with sex scenes thrown in.

I know what you are thinking, here we have an excuse to have Brody stick it to the mayor! I mean with all of her fiery rhetoric (delivered with the same conviction as a married couple discussing who is going to do the dishes), you'd think she was itchin' for Brody to slip her the ol' Speckled Epaulette. No dice! Instead we get a scene on the beach in which a fake-boobed bottle blond (Phoenix Marie) does a strip-tease in public beach tent (when was the last time you've seen one of those?) and invites in the local lifeguard (Rocco Reed looking like he stole Jeremy Piven's around-the-house wig) for some by-the-numbers, porn-quota filling sex.

In another convenient sex change, Dr. Hooper is now played by Alexis Ford, which allows for the meeting between Mayor Vaughn to turn into a tepid girl-on-girl scene in the mayor's office. Ford is typically plastic looking, except for the fact that the make-up department only saw fit to spackle on the M.A.C. to her face and not to her incredibly pimply ass or her bruise-covered legs. All I could think about while being mesmerized by the sheer volume of bruises and scrapes on her lower torso was how much likker and other substances she must consume every night to get that way. I guess there is something to be said for the old, scratched up porn loops of yesteryear. The quality was so bad that it covered up all the track-marks and razor cuts on the more pathetic workers of the industry. Damn, that got awfully deep for a porn-parody review. Quick send in the clown!

With that over and done with we get a 10 second introduction to Quint (Evan Stone in a cheap wig with a cheaper accent) checking a harpoon gun against a CG background, shouting "you guys wouldn't know your twats from a tunafish sandwich!" Dissolve to meeting in mayors office... again.

At this point there sure hasn't been any sort of "parody" going on other than by definition: "parody: an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect." It's definitely an imitation, there is plenty of exaggeration, but I am hard pressed to see the comic effect other than perhaps to the hipsters who think that anything made in a sloppy, careless and cheap way is instantly hilarious. "Lookit that wig! It's so stooopid!" The closest we get to actual joke-writing are lines like when Brody is told the townies have killed the wrong shark: "25 feet, that's just great! That's a hell of a lot of fishsticks!" Bring your own muted horns for the scene in which Quint says that he is going to catch the shark by pulling out his willie and when the shark goes for it, he will stab it with a harpoon. The shark, that is, not his penis. A CG shark that looks about as photorealistic as an outtake from "South Park" jumps up and Hooper replies (wait for it)... "I think you're gonna need a bigger dick".

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your tolerance for 1990s era computer animation, there are far more clams than sharks in this parody and if you ever thought there should be a scene in which Quint sends Brody out to take watch so that he could get his crusty California Hornshark into Hooper's tidy whiteys this movie is there for you. Yes there is a scene where they compare scars and a re-interpretation of the song "Show Me the Way to Go Home" in which the phrase "I wanna go home" is changed to "I wanna get blown". This might actually have been funny except that is the only part of the song that is recited. It's like everyone forgot the lyrics and just decided to keep repeating that one line. Honestly how hard is it to come up with a XXX Weird Al-ized version? It certainly doesn't cost any money to write or shoot. I really don't think that's asking too much from something advertising itself as a spoof.

Annoyingly Charlie Lane shows up at the beginning of the DVD to ask people to buy the DVD and not to download it. Downloading makes her sad. Just like hurting cute animals. Personally I rented the disc (which was shipped in packaging made entirely from boot-crushed fluffy bunnies), but maybe if Hustler and Adam & Eve actually took the time and effort to make something that is not a cynically, sloppy mess, maybe people would actually want to buy the DVD or blu-ray. The European studio Private figured this out decades ago and has been raking in the dough ever since. Instead Hustler feels it should do exactly the opposite. As Tom Lehrer once said, "Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends on what you put into it." Doubly so for Hustler videos.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The XXX-Factor: SHE-HULK XXX (2013)

We once had a loyal reader on the blog who accused
us of being nothing but porn hounds thanks to our porn parody reviews. Truth is we only get two or three of these out in a year and have only done just over a dozen in our meager three years of existence. And, honestly, we do this as a public service for the masses who are curious about the state of porn spoofs, but not typically buy-curious (ah, boo yourself). Anyway, it has been nearly 8 full months since our last XXX review and it is time to (e)rectify that.

No joke, the most popular review on this blog is our look at THE AVENGERS XXX.  The write up still brings the hits day in and day out and we think it is safe to say it is mostly folks ogling at the pictures.  Also, there is the factor of former WWE superstar Chyna delving into the world of “legit” porn in her co-starring role as She-Hulk.  The point is that Axel Braun’s porn send up starring a former pro-wrestling female superstar might be just as popular as 2012’s biggest box office success.  So you knew it was only a matter of time before the director returned to such fertile ground.  The stand alone SHE-HULK parody project was quickly announced after the triumph of THE AVENGERS XXX with Chyna returning to the role.  Things got quiet for a while with some suspecting it wouldn’t actually happen.  Alas, the film finally hit DVD in the spring of 2013 via Vivid’s XXX Super Heroes line.

The movie wastes no time getting the action rolling as we open with Jennifer Walters (Gracie Glam) waking up in a hospital.  A detective by her side tells her she was shot in the back by some men working for crime boss Trask (yay canonical points!) and that she received a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner.  Asked what she last remembers, Walters recalls being in her law office working on a deal with another attorney (Mark Wood).  When he says her proposition is a “tough sell” she responds by saying, “I bet I can close this deal.”  So, yes, at one minute and thirty seconds into the film we get our first sex scene as Wood teaches Glam on the finer points of the penal system.  Yeah, I went there.

Following this spirited, nearly 25 minute sex session, we have another flashback where cousin Bruce (Richie Calhoun) shows up and says, “I need your help, Jen.”  He informs her that he is the Hulk and tells her of the havoc it has wrecked on his life (“Gamma rays and anger. It’s a bad combination.”).  He tells Jennifer just to warn her, but she offers her unwavering support by stating, “I would hate to live my life turning into a raging green monster every time I got angry.”  Uh oh, you just sealed your fate, honey.  As expected, the progression from here is she ends up getting shot (never shown onscreen) and then gets Bruce’s blood.

Back in the real world, a couple of mob goons hang out in the hospital lobby and pay off a nurse (Tara Lynn Fox) to distract the guard outside of Walters’ room.  Naturally, since this is an adult feature, that diversion involves her giving the guy a blowjob in the x-ray room. Following that ten minute oral scene, the thugs break into Jennifer’s hospital room and try to inject her with some fluid. She fights them off and the resulting anger morphs her into She-Hulk (Chyna), who promptly leaps out of the window and lands on the city’s green screen streets.  “Where am I supposed to go like this,” she wonders exposed in her torn gown.  She wanders the CGI streets for a bit before – in the finest computer effects of 1996 – morphing back into Jennifer Walters.  She is obviously confused by her situation (“The fuck am I going to do now?”) but all of her problems appear solved when she spots some posters on a wall touting an appearance by Mister Fantastic (Ryan Driller) and The Invisible Woman (Alexis Ford) of The Fantastic Four fame.  So Ms. Walters heads to their place with the hope that Mr. Fantastic can live up to his name and find a cure for her.  In She-Hulk form, she questions if he can help and he says he’ll see what he can do with a vial of her blood.  “That’s the last I’ll see of him for several days,” complains The Invisible Woman.  Seeing as this is a skin flick, you know that is code for “lesbian encounter” as The Invisible Woman decides to show She-Hulk her very visible naughty parts.

After this Sappho-centered session, Jennifer leaves the Fantastic’s home and is chloroformed by a green suited baddie hiding in the back of her car. She awakens in a warehouse strapped down to a surgery table.  Seems her kidnapper is Madame Hydra (Jennifer Dark), who is looking to harvest the She-Hulk’s blood in order to create a super army. When an underling (Alan Stafford) informs her their plan might work, Hydra makes him kneel before her and then shoves his head into her crotch.  Wow, talk about a hostile working environment.  This affords us sex scene number four as the two get it on down-and-dirty in the makeshift lab. Madame Hydra fans, you may now cross off “watch Madame Hydra have sex” off your bucket lists.

After Madame Hydra gets properly dehydrated, Jennifer changes into She-Hulk and breaks free from her restraints (all done off screen).  As she wanders around the building, She-Hulk runs into Hawkeye (Eric Masterson, reprising his THE AVENGERS XXX role) and says, “You’re that Avenger…Nighthawk?”  He corrects her and says he is setting up a West Coast faction of The Avengers and could use her.  Unsurprisingly, such a proposition leads to our next sex scene as Chyna and Masterson get it on.  Let’s just say all the bases are covered here.

Hawkeye finishes with a facial that makes me question his marksmanship.  He ends the scene with perhaps the film’s funniest line as he looks at She-Hulk and says, “Can you not tell Mockingbird about this?”  Haha, that is pretty damn good.  Anyway, now I’m getting into this movie’s groove.  I can’t wait to see how She-Hulk defeats Hydra, how Jennifer Walter’s gets her revenge on Trask, and how Mr. Fantastic uses his lab skills to save them both. Wait…what the hell is that on my TV?  Are those…no…it can’t be…END CREDITS!?! Fuck me.

Yup, the freakin’ movie is over.  Clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, SHE-HULK slams the door on the viewer just when things start to get good.  It is the porn equivalent of erectile dysfunction on your wedding night.  I’ve accused Axel Braun of being lazy before, but this one really takes the cake and makes earlier stuff like THE DARK KNIGHT XXX seem like a masterpiece in comparison. Now, as I’ve always said, the goal of porn (and the popular parody subgenre) is to get the viewers off.  And Braun will no doubt do that.  However, when powerhouse Vivid is touting you as the King of the porn parody, you better deliver. SHE-HULK is barely a film.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the obligatory “non-sex version” offered on the bonus disc.  This thing runs less than 15 minutes, which shows you that Braun and his team aren’t really trying when it comes to the parody department.  The script couldn’t have been more than ten pages.  Is it really that hard to envision a few extra scenes to at least make a cohesive movie?  I guess it is. Braun can’t even be bothered to have a scene showing Jennifer Walters getting shot. How freakin’ hard can that be?

Watching the film, I was just flooded with the sense of missed opportunities.  You’ve got the first porn appearance of Mister Fantastic and you can’t work in stretching joke?  Or, better yet, you can’t work in a gag where he uses his superhero ability to fling his dick across the house into the lesbian scene.  Yes, I know it might take a little more effort, but goddamn, the creativity level here is nil.  An even better example is the use of Chyna as the titular character.  Hehe, he said “tit.”  Is it too much to ask to have her actually have a fight scene where she beats down a few guys?  I know folks are tuning in to see her green body in action, but I’m sure the Amazonian market would be thrilled to have her squashing a few dudes in between.  And, once again, her two sex scene keep her in full costume and refuse to show off her breasts (you can see them getting painted green in the bonus features).

Sadly, all of this stuff undermines what Braun does right.  The casting is pretty good and the idea of having Gracie Glam as Jennifer Walters is a smart one.  Braun even earns points for casting Euro starlet Jennifer Dark (pictured left) as Madame Hydra, keeping true to the character’s Eastern European origins.  Not only is she hot, she’s totally into her scene. Yet Braun can’t even be bothered to have Hydra and Walters in the same room together. Nope, not even a scene where she threatens the subdued superhero.  It is pretty apparent Braun is working with a schedule of “get costume, film sex scene, slap together” filmmaking.  Sadly, this method just results in the biggest cash grab yet for Vivid.  I don’t expect them to pay attention to a review like this as their millions in the bank account will keep diverting their eyes.  But the porn parody subgenre – the great bastion for a little fun and creativity – is going to wither up and die if you keep treating it as nothing more than XXX cosplay.  Look, you have capable performers, great costumes and sets, and inventive behind-the-scenes players.  Let’s try to get back to the level of STAR WARS XXX.