Saturday, December 18, 2010

NEW STUFF: THE CARPENTER (1988)

I have absolutely no fucking idea what is REALLY going on in this movie, and anyone else who claims to is lying. Someone needs to throw this one into a think tank for a while. It's a little slow moving, but this thing is littered with odd details that I'm sure contain some symbolism that will blow my fucking mind. Something lurks. I just don't know what exactly.

Based on the actual box cover, I kind of expected this would be along the lines of a z-grade version of Peter Weir's "The Plumber," but padded with titties and driller killer action from an overbearing handyman who practically takes over a home. Granted, you do get some righteous side-boob, but the movie itself is a confusing psychological horror film about a wife who has a nervous breakdown and winds up in a country dream house with her infidel husband after a short stay in the nut house. You never really know what the reality of the situation is, but I'm going to speculate that this is intended to be a supernatural thriller from the perspective of an unreliable protagonist. All that really matters though is that this stars one of the most amazing men to ever live, Wings Hauser, whom many will remember as Ramrod from the phenomenal "Vice Squad." Here's a series of clips featuring the nutjob wife and Hauser as the phantom Carpenter. This is the stuff that nonsense is made of.

CONCRETE ANGELS (1987)

Well, the photography has some high points, but otherwise this is a blithering piece of shit that aspires to nuzzle amongst the ranks of “The Outsiders” and “The Wanderers.” This is the drabbest coming of age story that’s ever defied viewing. Anne Frank’s bio “The Hiding Place” has more joy-of-life sentiment to it for fuck’s sake. It’s not that there’s anything offensive about this movie, and that’s exactly the problem. What this movie needed was some drugs, a stabbing, some rape, or shit, how about some domestic abuse? The obstacles in this movie are so fey that you cannot respect the characters as they stumble and whine. The story is limp and unhappy, bereft of adolescent anxiety, with an underdose of angst, and a bunch of greaser punks that stand around bitching like unemployed step dads. I wanted sex, violence, and a sense of awe, but by the end of this non-event I just wanted one of these dipshits to put a zip gun to their temple and end it.

Set in 1964, Ontario, Canada, the story revolves around a wop, a mick, a kike, and an anglophile, with ambitions of ducking their ne’er-do-well fate for rock stardom. Beatlemania has reached a fever pitch, and the Fab Four are set to play the Maple Leaf garden in just a few weeks. Local rock station CHUK has announced a battle of the bands contest to determine who will have the honor of opening the monumental occasion. Our story’s central figure is Bello, the son of fresh Italian immigrants, who spends most of his time hanging out at his bisexual black sheep uncle’s pool hall. Just a side note here, if the uncle had raped the Jew drummer kid, this would have been an incredible movie. While Bello and his friends are dedicated to winning the battle of the bands contest, another hoodlum set insists that they’re wasting their time and should join their fencing operation. In the end, Bello and company lose the competition and bitterly gravitate toward their criminal careers. The film’s final note is less than hopeful, and the already unlikable protagonist is left in the dark without any sort of redemption or ambition to make something better of himself. But you can hardly call it a bummer because the film has failed to make you give a shit anyway.

The movie owes a great deal to a production designer who actually achieves the period, but unfortunately the effort is wasted on a meandering script that lacks real events. Nothing really significant happens. Focus on Bello squanders the ethnic differences between he and the other characters, and we are spared only small glimpses into their home lives. The one primary element that’s lacking is a real sense of youthful comradery between the band mates. None of these guys even have a sense of humor. No one gets drunk. No one gets laid. No one has any fucking fun. Nothing really happens. All together, this mess goes in one eye and out the other, tracking depression through your skull like a brat does mud on a rainy day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NEW STUFF: THE BRAIN (1988)

Delivered by Ed Hunt, the man behind the documentary "UFOs Are Real," "The Brain" doesn't stray from the vein of alien overlord conspiracies. David Gale, whom most will remember from "Re-Animator," plays a self-help therapist with a popular television show, which is actually being used to filter brain waves from a hostile alien entity. Naturally, like in most eighties movies, it's up to a teenage asshole to save the day. This ALSO actually qualifies as a Christmas movie, as it transpires during the holiday and the backdrop is littered with tons of tinsel rope and other shitty decorations. This is a MUST SEE!

FORBIDDEN SUN (1989)

I don’t want to come off like I’m bragging or anything, but for the lot I’ve been dealt I have accomplished some pretty incredible things with my life so far. But after sitting through the first fifteen minutes of “Forbidden Sun” I realized my bucket list has one glaring omission: I have never fucked a teenage gymnast.

This one unfolds like a condensed season of some soap opera, but surprisingly atmospheric location and unique score defibrillate the proceedings. After arriving at an all-girl’s school for gymnasts for her summer semester, American athlete Paula makes fast friends with the other rambunctious students. Ample time is spent introducing the cast of quirky but nubile girls. There’s also a Clue-style lineup of red herrings, any of whom could be the perpetrator who nabs and sexually assaults Paula during a group jog. Circumstantial evidence leads the girls to presume that the rape was committed by a local helping hand, Ulysses. After the cops on Crete pretty much proclaim that Paula was asking for it by being so fucking fine, the girls decide to take vengeance into their own hands in a completely inexplicable fashion.

One of the primary characters in the film is Jane, an emotionally unstable Texas transplant, who’s also carrying on a secret romance with the school’s gym instructor. Jane is also preoccupied with an ancient Cretan ritual known as the bull dance, where a gymnast vaults onto the back of a bull by his horns. The themes of this ridiculous feat are touched upon numerous times throughout the film. Jane herself decides she wants to incorporate a bull into one of her routines and has a brass bull head commissioned for the stunt. So, after Paula gets raped, the girls lure the suspected Ulysses back to their gym on the island, trick him into putting the bull head on, and then knock him around. Exactly how this suits the crime is beyond me, but Ulysses is eventually cleared anyway and the girls turn him loose. When Jane discovers her gym instructor beau is fucking the school’s head mistress, played by Lauren Hutton, she pins the rape and the bull head on him, which by the way, is some Sci-Fi channel bullshit. Given the choice of banging either a muscular, seventeen year-old girl that can do the splits while standing on her head or some gap-toothed mummy, most guys would roll the statutory dice without blinking. Anyway, this all builds toward an incredibly bizarre TV Carnage-worthy ending. It’s like Xanadu on mescaline.

In all, this is competently made with some okay acting from an unbalanced script that makes waste of jail bait. The true identity of the rapist is sadly obvious, though, so it’s a Luke warm waiting game with some unintentional laughs rather than a slow cooker.

Monday, December 6, 2010

TONGS: A CHINATOWN STORY (ACADEMY ENTERTAINMENT - 1986)


A little history lesson before I begin: during the 19th century gold rush and railroad boom, Chinese immigrants who poured into the country in search of better opportunities were pretty much considered the lowest form of ethnicity, and were often bullied by blacks, Mexicans, and whites. As a result, many formed support groups known as Tongs. Even though most Chinese had the intention of returning home to their families after achieving their goals, many decided to stay in America. To this day, Tongs are still a pivotal part of most Asian-American communities.
Imagine a sub-par John Woo drama assembled under the atmosphere of an “ABC After School Special,” and you have “Tongs: A Chinatown Story.” The strange vibe is enough to compel you to watch on toward the end, but it’s simply not enough to absorb the bad brunt of the fundamental story telling problems which surface during its second half.
The first half of the movie focuses on fresh Hong Kong arrival Danny Lee, played by Simon Yam, and his brother Paul, living with their poverty-stricken uncle in Chinatown. Danny’s a clean cut kid focused on the straight and narrow. On the other hand, his drug smuggling brother has no intention of following his Uncle’s blue collar example. Danny enters high school, and it doesn’t take long before he clashes with a local gang known as The Red Eagles. Danny covers for the Eagles in one instance, stashing a knife that’s been used in a stabbing, but he shuns the gang when they attempt to embrace him, which leads to all sorts of tension. Following a violent clash, Danny leads a brutal retaliation against the gang that gets him noticed by Mr. Chen, the Eagles’ benefactor. Instead of having Danny killed, he offers him a cut of his territory, much to the chagrin of the other gang. From here, the story shifts from gang violence in schools to a larger scale crime drama. While the first half is quickly paced, the rest of the story is rushed to the point of vagueness. The final moments of the film have a bizarre, open-ended feel. Unfortunately, the film just isn’t quality enough to warrant the extra hour it would need to tell its story. The fight sequences are alarmingly poor, and every other element of production amounts to balsa wood. Nevertheless, it’s hard not appreciate such a sincere effort, and this trans-Pacific production creates an atmosphere that is downright weird enough to qualify as fascinating. There’s even a midget to augment this movie’s already-strange aura.
Shot on location in New Yok City, “Tongs” was directed by Hong Kong superman Philip Chan, who was known as a pop singer before joining the Royal Hong Kong Police Force in the 70s. As an inspector, he foiled several high profile cases which contributed to his popularity. In 1976, Chan was prompted to write the script for “Jumping Ash,” a film about cops battling a drug ring. After the film proved to be a success, Chan resigned from the force to pursue a career in the film industry. Since then he’s dabbled in a little bit of everything. Most fans of Hong Kong cinema will instantly recognize Chan from his numerous notable film appearances. He’s even crossed over into American entertainment several times over the years, appearing in films such as “Blood Sport,” and “Double Impact.” He even had a reoccurring role on the television show “Dallas.” By the way, none of the guys on the box are in this movie, which sucks because I was really stoked about the fat shirtless guy in the leather jacket.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NEW STUFF: BUG (1975)

A beautiful fucking movie about an earthquake that unleashes a prehistoric breed of pyro-sparking roaches, which invade a small town and burn shit down. Written and produced by shock master William Castle, this was also unfortunately the last film he worked on before he passed away in 1977. According to IMDb trivia, Castle actually wanted to trick this one out by outfitting theaters with brushes under the seats, which would run against patrons legs during key scenes to help along the heebie jeebies. Unfortunately, he didn't get his wish, but he did advertise that they had taken out a million dollar life insurance policy on the movie's star -- a hissing cockroach named Hercules.

NEW STUFF: SYBIL DANNING’S ADVENTURE VIDEO: SPACE 1999 – JOURNEY THROUGH THE BLACK SUN (1986)

What the fuck is going on here? Whose idea was this? What drugs are to credit?

NEW STUFF: SLEAZEMANIA - "SPECIAL EDITION" (1985)

Compiled by trash culture shaman Johnny Legend, the "Sleazemania" series was like a set of Psychotronic training wheels to my degenerate friends and I. These tapes, along with Jonathan Ross's "Incredibly Strange Film Show," were my two stone slabs of gospel.


They were the divining rod which defined what cult was at a time when most video stores didn't even HAVE a cult section. Basically consisting of trailers sandwiched between odd-ball Drive-In ads, "Sleazemania" gave us a format that a lot of my friends and I would later use. Most of us had libraries we'd dubbed from the video stores in our areas, and from there we'd ghetto edit several features and dozens of fucked up trailers together onto an SLP tape using two VHS decks, like a mix-tape. Then we'd exchange the tapes through the mail, sharing films we couldn't find in our area. There was an element of friendly competitiveness amongst us, as each of us tried to out-do the other by compiling the weirdest, most fucked up shit they could.

I had almost completely forgotten about the "Sleazemania" stuff until I ran across the "Special Edition" tape at a sidewalk sale this weekend. Brought back some good memories.

Not from the Special Edition I don't think, but here's an example of some of the stuff you'd find on these tapes. Here's a trailer for the HG Lewis JD shlocker, "Just For The Hell Of It."


NEW STUFF: FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964)

Fuck CGI. I will take the tangibility of Harryhausen's stop motion over that computer generated garbage ANY fucking day. Fuck man, I even prefer rubber suits stomping on models to that shit because of its realism. No matter how cheap something may be, if it's organic, it's king. Anyway, this is one of those fantastical little films that I was shown at an early age that I cannot wait to one day show my children. Those little faggots better like this shit, too, or else.

NEW STUFF: THE INVISIBLE KID (1988)

Jay Underwood plays an invisible molester out for revenge here, and it's totally a comedy. In the vein of "School Spirit" and "Zapped!," some of the stuff the character does with his powers would be completely questionable by today's standards. The concept of a bullied nerd sneaking into the girl's shower room being played for laughs would go over like a Ted Bundy T-shirt at a battered women's shelter now a'days. Irreverent sex humor was met at the gates of the 90s by two PC Nazis in pink jack boots wielding penis-shaped batons, and promptly drudged like a mouthy house wife. This movie contains a legendary girls locker room scene that would never fly in this day and age. I've never actually seen this one. I hate Jay Underwood, but I also like tits and Brother Theodore. Quite the conundrum.

NEW STUFF: KILL CRAZY (1989)

This kind of bullshit is right up my alley. Kind of like "Surviving The Game" meets "Rambo," five Nam vets on a weekend pass from the state hospital wind up on a camping trip that turns into "The Most Dangerous Game." Writer and director David Heavener also STARS as vet Puckett, who returns to the jungles of his mind and goes KILL CRAZY on the motherfuckers who have backed him against a wall.

"Vietnam was only practice. Now the real war starts."

NEW STUFF: HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971)

Pretty boss Hammer flick continues the Ripper legacy by virtue of a the White Chapel slasher's blood line. When the Ripper's wee daughter witnesses dear old dad rip and rend her mother, it leaves a deep impression on her subconscious which occasionally sends a violent eruption to the surface of her psyche years later. Could it be the spirit of dear old dad controlling her during her murderous blackouts, or is it just bad genes? This was one of the last really luscious looking films Hammer produced. After entering the seventies a lot of the Hammer films tend to look pale, and lack that overly saturated color of their sixties productions. Underrated and unsung, "Hands of the Ripper" verges on proto-slasher with a little more grit to the gruesomeness than you normally see from Hammer. Killer performances cinch this as must see. This was also directed by Peter Sasdy, who directed my favorite of the Hammer Dracula films, "Taste the Blood of Dracula."

Friday, December 3, 2010

LAST MAN STANDING (1987)

This is a brutal let down when you consider that it was helmed by the guy who delivered “Food of the Gods 2.” I suspect this film reflects a pang of autobiographical yearning on Damian Lee’s part, as he was at one time a bare knuckle fighter, but this thing is bogged down by ambitions of becoming a sensitive piece of art. Somewhere inside this movie’s morbidly obese husk chokes the heart of a true action film. The subject is somewhat personal to Lee, prompting a more serious treatment of the material than it actually deserves. I’m not calling the guy out on a failed volley into fine cinema. I’m just saying this movie tries too hard to be something it’s not instead of devoting ample time to bone crunching action.

This tangled mess stars Vernon Wells, who’s best know for mainly playing bad guy rolls (most notably Wez from “The Road Warrior”). Here, Wells trades in his head of dick for a heart of gold, portraying the kindly but troubled Roo, a past his prime brawler who’s wasted his better years slugging it out in an illegal fight club known as “the circle.” When friend and manager Casper (William Sanderson) cajoles Roo into retiring before he winds up with a curdled brain, Circle fight promoter Napoleon’s business nose dives. Casper employs Roo down at his boxing gym, and while mopping up spit and scrubbing toilets, a romance develops between him and woefully unattractive Tom girl mechanic, Charlie. Her old man’s got a gambling problem though, and coincidentally owes Napoleon big time. Napoleon promises to forgive his debts though if Roo will step into the Circle one last time to fight his new champion, Cannon.

Ironically, this is a fight drama where the fights themselves actually contain no drama whatsoever. The wins and losses merely exist to move the story along, but the fights themselves are just kind of there. Imagine a porno where they just kind of gloss over the fuck scenes to get to the plot. That’s what you get here.

So, Roo goes down for Cannon like a drunken prom queen, and this is when the story becomes unnecessarily convoluted. Napoleon is also grooming legit prize fighter Razor Jones, who jumps ship for better management opportunities. There’s a rivalry between Razor and Roo that really doesn’t quite work within the context of the film. He’s one of the main antagonists, but he never gets ample time to develop as a character. He just shows up occasionally and acts like Morris Day. Now, throughout the film, Roo has been plagued by a series of laughable flashbacks, which hint at his troubled past. We eventually learn that Roo went through eight years of electroshock therapy after killing some dude in a bar fight. Enter Tenny, a corrupt cop who takes kickbacks from Napoleon in exchange for a blind eye. Tenny is unhappy with how poorly his take has been, so he threatens to throw Roo back in a padded room if he doesn’t come out of retirement. There’s just too much plot at this point, and I’m even leaving some shit out, but eventually all these flaccid points are braided together pathetically and the movie ends.

Now, I’m a forgiving man. I have an absolute adoration for the atrocious. But even atrocities can be completely charming in their own way. Take Vernon Wells for instance. He just awful in this movie, but he’s so terrible that he evokes the same sort of sympathy you feel anytime you see a dead tabby on the side of the road, only funnier. Wells is actually charismatic, so he’s still likable in spite of how bad he is. However, I draw the line at boring. I like to define dull as the ultimate absence of violence and boobs. This noir flop totally qualifies as dull. Dudes rent low budget crap like this because they want to see titties, explosions, and dudes getting their hearts punched through their spines. If they wanted human drama they’d just get married. Thumbs down.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

BLIND FEAR (ACADEMY ENTERTAINMENT - 1989)

The Academy Entertainment tradition of late-wave Canadian noir continues in this middle-of-the-road “Home Alone”-esque thriller, starring Shelley Hack (Charlie’s Angels) as a blind woman trapped in an Inn with a trio of armored car thieves. While the premise holds a ton of promise, the author of “Blind Fear” does not seem to understand that it takes more than the sheer goodness of a concept in order for a movie to succeed. The ending is kind of cool, and some of the action beats soundly, but the bulk of the movie is overpoweringly dull filler. After watching Hack stumble around in the dark and knock shit over for a collective forty-five minutes, what eventual good there is doesn’t even matter. You ever bang some really hot chick and she doesn’t think she really has to move or anything simply because she's blessing you by letting you even touch her? Well, “Blind Fear” functions in much the same way. It relies on having a good concept, but never really does anything special with it.

Hack plays Erika Breen, the blind switch board operator of a rustic hotel that’s just been bought out, leaving her displaced and without a job. On the eve of the purchase, Erika finds herself stranded at the Inn when her cousin calls to tell her that he won’t be able to pick her up until the next afternoon. Boozy German ground’s keeper Lasky (Jan Rubes) refuses to leave her alone in the old, forsaken building and insists on keeping her company. Shortly after Lasky orders a pizza, kill-crazy stick-up man Ed and his accomplices crash the party. Erika keeps out of sight, and the invaders, who’ve just knocked over an armored car, decide to hole up the hotel while awaiting their mysterious benefactor, Heinneman (Géza Kovács). So, the pizza finally arrives, and in a plot detail that’s so stupid it might be genius, Ed deduces there must be someone else in the Hotel because half of the pizza does not have any anchovies. After all, “not everyone likes anchovies.” A storm rolls in, and the band of back biting thieves grow more paranoid toward one another during their search for Erika, who uses her familiarity with the property along with her heightened senses to depose of the criminals. The second half of the film also finally manages to evoke some sort of atmosphere, as the first portion is completely bereft of vibe. Eventually, the bad guys are done away with, and we’re treated to a nice plot twist that answers some questions while leaving a few others open.

There are some competent and creative people on board this production, but there are other elements that completely sabotage anything that might remotely resemble quality. The film is primarily confined to the hotel, and the sets look good, but then composer Michael Melvoin drags us back to B-grade reality with a crushingly bad synth score. I cannot begin to list the multitude of B-films from this period that would have come across more impressively if they had either used a more organic score, or no music at all.

There are some decent performances here in spite of the fact that the cast are fed a mediocre script. In particular, the charismatic Kim Coates shines like a proto-Elijah Wood in the role of Ed. Hack, too, is convincing as the bumbling blind Breen. Perhaps the best thing about the movie, though, is the creative use of lighting. However, the fact that Academy recorded this in EP mode reduces what is actually ambient, nuanced light to mere dimness. All of this is compounded by some awkwardly abrupt edits toward the film's last quarter.

And of course, I cannot end this review without touching upon the box. Another great hack job by the artistically impaired marketing goofs at Academy. First off, none of the people on the cover are actually in this movie. The chick on the box is actually way finer than Shelley Hack and about ten years younger to boot. Also, I love that she is wearing tinted glasses, because all blind people wear that shit while tapping the ground with their white cane. And second, the tag line – not exactly accurate: “She’s blind. She’s Beautiful. She thinks she’s alone.” Alright, yeah, she’s blind. I’ll even let you have beautiful. But at no point does she ever think she’s alone. That’s just bullshit. Seriously, it says a lot when the dude who comes up with your taglines hasn’t seen the movie.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NEW STUFF: HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)

I was finishing up a purchase at a local game shop this weekend when I lifted my head and saw an odd shaped box on the shelf behind the clerk. My eyes adjusted, and I probably jumped a little when I spotted the U.S.A. Home Video logo on what was an obvious big box VHS tape. The thing was sitting there, face-out, stuffed between a bunch of odd-duck games. I asked the clerk how much he was asking. He grabbed the box, tossed it on the counter, and shrugged, "two bucks?" Sold, Confederate!

Cain and Abel meet sword and sorcery in "Hawk the Slayer," and Jack Palance plays the heavy. After his brother Volton (Palance) kills his fiancée, Hawk assembles a rainbow coalition of warriors to carry out a mission of vengeance. This is an amazing piece of shit!


NEW STUFF: SAVAGE BEACH (1989)

More Andy Sidaris goodness, featuring "babes, braun, and bullets." "Savage Beach" is the sequel to the incredible "Hard Ticket to Hawaii."

NEW STUFF: PATRICK (1978)

"Who is Patrick? Is he '170 pounds of limp meat hanging off a comatose brain?' Or is he a diabolic force with mysterious powers?"
This has been on my wishlist for a long time, but I'd held out until I found just the right copy. Browsing a local record shop's VHS shelves this past week, I finally ran across a HarmonyVision copy of "Patrick" for just five bucks. Not in bad shape, either. This Australian horror film centers on a sinister comatose patient who manipulates his surroundings through powerful telekinesis. Directed by Richard Franklin, the man behind "Road Games," "Link," and the wildly underrated "Psycho 2," the film features a soundtrack by either Brian May or Goblin, depending on what version you wind up with.


Also available exclusively on HarmonyVision, "STONER!"

NEW STUFF: AMERICA 3000 (1986)

Found an absolutely pristine copy of this Cannon release at a used book store this past week for a whopping two dollars. After America bombs itself back to the stone age, Amazon women rule the wastelands and dudes are relegated to cheap labor and sex. In other words, not much has changed.

GIRLS RIOT (1983)

In spite of what the box art may promise, you will spill no seed to explicit scenes of scantily clad inmates violating lady guards with billy clubs. The closest thing we get to rioting in this film is an artful protest involving white grease paint and down feathers. I can understand why this movie is routinely savaged by cult film fans, but it’s the distributors’ fault for stuffing a lamb in wolf skin. If you don’t hold the film itself accountable for the box's false pretense, you still a get very watchable new wave JD drama.

The story doesn’t take place in a detention center of any sort, but instead focuses on the relationships occurring within a state home for troubled young girls, all of whom have been placed there by displeased parents. There is no solitary confinement. There are no rubber hoses. There are however a few community shower scenes, which might be redeeming if it weren’t for the fact that most of the girls are more distinct looking than they are attractive. In other words, they aren’t quite up to exploitation par. But once again, this isn’t really an exploitation film in spite of its marketing.

After an amusing bout of word association which introduces several of our main characters, the story begins as the girls form a folk singing barricade to permit the escape of young Agnes, who is spirited away by a pimp promising her the sky. During a grittier moment, which is more reserved than it could have been, the pimp takes Agnes to the construction site of what will be their skyscraper penthouse. He takes her to the top of the building, where a horde of weathered construction workers await her, all huddled around a rape mattress. After all is said and done, she gets her cut. That’s about as dark as it gets, and from this point on things brighten up, but remain just as colorful.

The rest of the story follows an ambitious social worker, Andrea, who begins work at the home. While the emotionally troubled head mistress of the school prefers to take a strict and clinical approach to handling the girls, Andrea is far more humane and her gentle nature is often taken advantage of. In fact, one girl in particular, Sonya, mistakes Andrea’s routine kindness for romantic affection, which causes all sorts of complications. Elke, the alpha girl of the group, initially resents Andrea, but over the course of the story they develop a bond.

Andrea takes interest in withdrawn newcomer Heidi around the same time thoroughly defeated gang bang bait Agnes returns. Heidi is obsessed with a powerful father figure, which prompts Andrea to take a risk and visit the young girl’s mother, who turns out to be a stripper that’s connected to the pimp that fed Agnes to the construction workers at the film’s start. The pimp apparently has express interest in Heidi as a commodity, and her mother put her in the home to keep her pure. The pimp follows Andrea back to the school to set up a finale where Agnes attempts to lead Heidi into the clutches of the pimp. However, Elke tips Andrea off and the plot is thwarted.

Released under Academy Entertainment's Acorn Video brand, the dub is actually better than average. Well shot, well acted, and with some surreal imagery, “Girls Riot” tastefully attempts to create a social awareness of exactly what is happening to our youth, in the same vein as “Christiane F.” and “Over the Edge,” though it’s nowhere near as good. The bulk of the story focuses on character development. Some of the arcs may seem pointless, but they actually serve to advance the on-screen relationships quite seamlessly. Unfortunately, the film’s finale fizzles and ultimately overshadows what really is some very good character work. So far as teen drama goes, this is a pretty likable movie that doesn’t deserve a lot of the crap it gets.

SKULL: A NIGHT OF TERROR! (1987)

Well, it starts off with some promise. Right off the bat, a naked Nadia Capone molests her ex-city cop husband Robert whilst he twitches through nightmare memories of accidentally shooting a prostitute in peril. Apparently, the killing turned Bob into a bed wetter, and he's since relocate wife and children to a farm house, far away from the "terrible" thing he's done. Robert’s actually a cold skinned douche, presumably altered after taking another life, though this idea is never properly explored. He’s lost touch with his wife, and in his spare time he’s diddling his blowhard deputy partner’s significant other. Prior to learning all this, we’re introduced to Skull, a supposedly badass serial killer with an eye patch who’s absolutely terrified of the dark.

Conveniently, Robert and his partner have been assigned the task of transporting Skull and two of his cronies after a botched prison escape. En route, they spot a female motorist in distress, and since Robert is a philandering asshole he decides to pull over and get her digits. But this scene is just a clever trap schemed up by Skull’s woman, who frees the prisoner who flee in a hail of gunfire.

Skull and company stumble upon Robert and family’s farm and stake the joint out. The deputies make way back the house and get trounced by the convicts. Robert decides to play possum and builds some makeshift armor ala Ned Kelly. From there, he picks off Skull’s lackeys one-by-one, leading up to an ultimate showdown with the one-eyed ringleader.

All in all, this is a fairly painless 70s-styled action revenge flick, with both good and terrible things about it. The bare bones story itself is solid. Skull, with all his twitchy quirks, is an enjoyable update of the film noir villain. Robert’s ultimate armor-clad revenge is well played out. But one of the main problems here is that Robert is almost as unlikable as the men terrorizing his family. Even after he ultimately redeems himself by saving the day there’s still not much to the guy. The bad things about this movie may very well be better than the good things though. This thing is peppered with plenty of “what the fuck” moments. The dialog in particular is so random and inopportune at times that it’s pretty fucking hilarious. For example, as Robert and his deputy Neil make way back to the farmhouse, Neil laments:

Neil: Why the hell’d you have to go and buy a barn so far out for?

Robert: I wanted to be near the hot springs.

Neil: No hot springs around here.

Robert: I was misinformed.

The villains are tapped from the vein of unintentional hilarity. Sure, they may take turns raping and beating their victims like typical “Death Wish” heavies, but their use of James Cagney vernacular makes them seem less threatening. In particular, Skull’s abuse of the word “copper” nearly reduces him to mere cartoon.

Not great, but it certainly redeems itself when things go to hell. Despite whatever the director’s intentions may have been, this certainly will appease connoisseurs of cornball action flicks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

WISHLIST: BATTLETRUCK (1982)

I would like a Battletruck for Christmas, please. Or just a copy of "Battletruck." Either way.

PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE (1989)

I haven’t slept in nearly twenty-two hours, so you know this review is going to be super clean. My brain and eyes are infested with the fog of sleep deprivation, but there is no more proper state of mind for revisiting “Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge” than this one. This cinematic orphan bastard is probably only really familiar to the 90s breed of Jolt-addicted insomniac masturbator, and they were probably introduced to it via Rhonda Shear.

Over the last century, Gaston LeRoux’s depressive tale of revenge has been splayed out and re-imagined countless times by producers who’ve taken absurd liberty with the material, but seldom with any variation on the setting or period. You can stomp on this movie’s head all you like, and the concept of transplanting the vengeful Eric from musty old Opera house to a staple of modern American life may seem cheesy if not blasphemous to some, but it is at least an original twist.

After scoring a job during the Midwood Mall’s soft opening, average teenager Melody is recognized by sleuthing photographer, Peter, who places her as the victim of a grizzly arson the year prior. Melody’s boyfriend, Eric, perished in the insidious inferno, and despite the fact that she described the attacker responsible for setting the blaze, there was never any real investigation into the matter. Peter is not only interested in Melody’s case, but in Melody herself as well. However, she’s still kind of getting over her ex.

Shortly after starting her job, Melody starts receiving strange gifts which suggest that Eric might have survived the blaze. At the same time, the mall’s sleazy owner, Posner, averts catastrophe by covering up the grizzly murders of several security guards at the hands of some shadowy slasher. For this, Posner has a left hand man he plants on security staff, who also happens to be the arsonist Melody saw torch Eric’s place.

It doesn’t take a brain trust to realize what happened the previous year. Eric’s parents were apparently the last hold outs in the neighborhood where Midwood Mall was eventually built. When they refused to move, Posner had the place torched. Eric somehow survived the fire and is back for revenge, hence the movie’s unnecessary sub-title.

Now, I’m not gonna lie to you good people: this thing’s plot holes are so gaped they could pass another twenty Duggar kids. But I just can’t comprehend the wrath people feel toward a film of this nature’s problems. Really, how dignified can a movie called “Phantom of the Mall” be? A respectful treatment of this concept would amount to putting a jet pack on a mongoloid. Jet packs are cool, but it's a retard, so what would be the point anyway? I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the people who made this movie knew that the very foundation of this whole thing was absurd. Would anyone have given them kudos if they’d gotten all Coppola on this thing? Movies like these don’t benefit from a more austere approach. They’re just supposed to be fun in much the same way Looney Tunes are fun. Do these same nudniks whine about the lack of realism when it comes to Elmer Fudd’s injuries, too? Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the whackiness.

There ARE a few things that really bother me about the movie, but it has more to do with the actual packaging than the film itself. Mainly it relates to the box art. Did they REALLY need to super impose Eric’s burnt-up ass right on the front of the box? A major selling point of any Phantom film is eventually seeing just how fucked up he is under that mask. You don’t give away Rocky Dennis on the poster when you can charge the yokels a nickel a gander to get inside. Another thing that bugs me is the bullshit cliff notes sub-title, which I’ve already mentioned: “Eric’s Revenge”… yeah? No shit? Thanks!

All the other stuff which seems to piss most people off really makes the movie great for me, though. Eric almost comes off as a proto-Darkman in this movie. He’s half-Batman, half-slasher. One of the more absurd elements of the movie is Eric’s lair located under the mall, where he does Tae Bo and lifts weights. Apparently, this cave was where he kept all his gym equipment prior to the fire, and the land developers just never really noticed. He has since outfitted his lair with a plethora of security monitors, which he uses to spy on Melody. You get the impression that most of his resources are gleaned from night time mall scavenging, but that doesn’t quite explain where he gets a lot of his stuff.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the Latin piano player in the mall. We see him in the background of several scenes, serenading latte slurping trophy wives. Late one night, when leaving work, Melody is attacked by a ski-masked rapist, whom Eric wounds with a crossbow. A little later on in the movie, the piano player takes a bathroom break and reveals the cross bow wound. It ties together nicely. But then Eric kills the dude with a king cobra. Where the fuck does he get a king cobra? No idea, but I’m not going to complain.

Another great moment comes when Peter decides that the only way to prove Eric is alive is by digging up his grave. So of course, he and Melody head on down the local cemetery, dig about four feet down and discover that Eric’s casket is indeed empty. Why a family that could afford a plot and headstone would bury an empty casket without a body in it is beyond me, but fuck it, let’s just go with it.

The film’s finale revolves around a demolition bomb planted in the bowels of the mall. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if Eric works for the CIA. How else are you going to fake your death and wind up with a bunch of plastique? Still, my favorite “what the fuck” moment in this movie is when Eric, faced with Posner, the man responsible for burning his house down, pulls a fully operational flame thrower off of a sporting good’s store wall and torches the dude.

But these aren’t problems for me. These are accents. This is some gourmet shit. A real problem for me is why they cast Kari Whitman as Melody instead of the much hotter Kimber Sissons, who is relegated to the supporting role of friend. Whitman’s not that pretty and they use a body double for all her nude scenes. One look at Kimber, though, and you know she’d do nasty things for money, least of all show us her cans. You see, the beauty of a woman is naturally in proportion to just how batshit crazy she is. This is a scientific fact. The more beautiful a woman is, the more terrible she is, and the more likely she is to do really freaky shit.

Melody’s character also turns out to be a pretty shallow bitch. She spends a majority of the movie incessantly emphasizing how she isn’t quite over her ex yet, but she abruptly develops feelings for Peter the minute she sees just how fucked up Eric's face really is. Sure, Peter may have less scar tissue, but Eric knows kung fu, has a Batcave, and a killer hook up at the mall. He was obviously into her, as he spends most of his time pillaging gifts and saving her ingrate ass from inept rapists. Meanwhile, Peter the photographer is kind of a dick. For example: Eric and Peter have a physical altercation during which Melody reveals that she loves Peter. Upon hearing this Eric stops kicking Peter’s ass, and he conveys a glimmer of understanding and sympathy toward his ex-girlfriend. Of course, Peter takes advantage of this vulnerable moment by knocking Eric’s skull into a coffee table. What an asshole.

Here’s another example of Peter's douchebaggery: at the end, the mall blows up, and Melody and Peter watch it burn while in each other’s arms. Check out Peter’s dickhead remark.

Melody: Looks like Eric got what he wanted.

Peter: Yeah? I did better than that. I got you.

What is this, a competition all of the sudden? Seriously, what a smug prick this guy is. I was almost waiting for him to suggest that the best medicine for getting over a murdered boyfriend is by taking nude photos.

There's also a surprisingly strong car chase scene which takes place in the mall's parking garage. I'm pretty sure they killed a bystander while filming the sequence, which is probably where most of the budget went.

Of course, this film is probably most noteworthy for featuring a young Pauly Shore as Buzz, a frogurt clerk who uncovers an inconsequential "They Live" style conspiracy plot involving subliminal messages hidden in the mall’s muzack.

Morgan Fairchild also appears as the mayor of Midwood, while genre enthusiasts will appreciate "Dawn of the Dead" alumni Ken Foree’s return to a mall setting. Since I’m insane, I was more excited about the fact that Tim Fridley, who plays Cort in "Friday the 13th part 6: Jason Lives!” appears as Posner’s fuckface son.

This film is also notable in that it features the relatively obscure piece of shit song, “Is There A Phantom In The Mall” by The Vandals, who sound like they're doing their best to imitate The Damned. The song, which is bad to begin with, is really ill-placed, too, which makes for a seemingly abrupt and unintentionally hilarious lead into the credits.

This movie is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of mini-golf. It’s just too innocent to hate. If you’re one of those assholes looking for a real nine-hole game, stay away from the wind mill on top of astroturf. It’s just that fucking simple.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CALL FREDDY!

Not exactly VHS related, but completely in the spirit of my VHS Summers. Did anyone else rack up a phone bill that got their ass beat as a kid by calling this number?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR

All the elements of reality have once again pulled a train on me this month. I only mention this because I feel terribly guilty for avoiding this blog during one of its most relevant months. Halloween is without a doubt my favorite holiday, mostly because television programming takes a vacation from sucking shit. Even if AMC does decide to show the crappiest “Friday the 13th” sequel on repeat, I still appreciate the fact that they're trying. But there's a lot more to my affinity toward the holiday than morbid TV.

A good friend of mine recently vocalized his excitement over the approaching Christmas holiday, an awareness which seems to shift closer inward every year, like a goddamn polar ice cap. Stores seem to bring out the fake trees and lights a little earlier than they did previously. I don't mind Christmas. I admit to my inherently materialistic nature, and I certainly don't mind celebrating it. I like “things” and “stuff.”

I come from a scattered family, and every member keeps their distance from behind Berlin-style walls of violent dysfunction. But over the years, various charitable souls have invited me into their Christmas gatherings out of pity, providing me with up-close observations of how somewhat normal families operate during the holiday. My general experience has been that most people are absolutely miserable during the Christmas holiday.

So many people drive themselves to the brink of breakdown trying to color inside the lines in order to live up to some Rockwellian standard of what that holiday is supposed to be about. It's a bunch of assholes forced together by the thinnest of all bonds – blood – who can't stand each other the rest of the year. The company of family is a hollow token you're forced to insult your so-called loved ones with out of tradition. Genetics is a poor basis for a bond. Most anyone given the option of hanging out with friends versus family will go with their buddies without a second thought. Phoniness is a pivotal ingredient in making Christmas SEEM great. It is a holiday which requires costumes of its own, only these facades are transparent and therefore far less interesting than what you see during Halloween.

I always thought Halloween belonged to people who had nothing, because it requires little more than ingenuity to celebrate. It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like because everyone is hidden beneath some gruesome mantle and, regardless of nationality or relation, we're all roving the streets together in a gleeful mass while strangers actually hand out gratuities.

Christmas, on the other hand, forces people to cloister themselves away from their real friendships and relationships to spend time with people they're bound to by genetics. Then you have a suicide rate bolstered by poor work-a-day saps who can't provide the extravagant holiday image that media outlets mash everyone's face into. It is a tooth-nashing reminder to the have-nots as to who exactly they are and what they don't have. And then there's the music. Fuck, that ear-gougingly awful fucking music that could turn any poor retail clerk into a Manchurian Candidate-style maniac. You can write the most mediocre gobbledegook ever, and insert something about the three wise men or Santa Clause fucking your mom, and it will be transformed into a sacred cow . Who doesn't want to dawn a Santa suit, grab a fucking fire axe, and head on down to the orphanage after hearing some fat bitch sing about how she wants Santa to bring her a boyfriend for the holiday for the three-hundreth-and-sixty-eighth fucking time. The only people who sing during Halloween are hatchet-faced pagan broads with shitty Celtic tattoos and saggy nudity, and they usually do that out in the woods, far away from me.

I enjoyed Halloween during childhood and adolescence, but as adulthood has crept in, there have been fewer opportunities to indulge in holiday activities. In fact, I've worked every Hallow's Eve for the last eight years. Most people don't want to work on Halloween, and so I'm the guy who shells the grenade so to speak. It will probably stay that way until I have a child to live vicariously through. In fact, one of my main ambitions in life is to sire a child whom I can take trick or treating. I can come off as gruff, sure, but I romanticize as much as I hate. After recently writing a review for the 1986 film “The Quest,” I kept thinking ahead to a time when I might have a kid, and what I would expose them to during this season. While I might have been watching shit like “Caligula” and “The Beyond” at age ten, I certainly wouldn't subject my child to that stuff. In fact, I arrived upon the conclusion that I'd probably guard what my kid saw like any real parent should.

So, several times over the past few weeks, I've found myself pouring over my shelves, looking for titles that I thought might be appropriate viewing for kids, and I've compiled a list of family-safe Halloween features. None of these films contains moments that might be mutually awkward for child and parent to sit through together. They're also not child-proofed, either. There's a lot of entertainment geared toward children which relies on in-your-face bells and whistles designed only to engage by virtue of distraction. These films are actually smart enough to engage not only a kid, but also keep the parent entertained. I'm sure some parent out there might actually appreciate this effort. These follow in no particular order of value, and some of them also have nostalgic value to them. And if you have any titles you think ought to be included, feel free mention them in the comment section.


THE 'BURBS (1988)

Most would probably argue against me when I say that this is easily Joe Dante's finest film. For me, "Gremlins" can't touch this movie's hem. This is one of those films where nearly every element of production clicks into place to assemble what I personally feel is a paramount success in terms of cinema.

This is basically a story about the mental illness complacency begets. Over the course of Ray Petersen's (Tom Hanks) stay-at-home vacation, he slowly begins to buy into his neighbors' paranoia that new arrivals The Klopeks are up to something sinister in that basement of theirs. He struggles to rationalize the things he sees and hears, but ultimately winds up joining a crusade to expose the new neighbors as bomb building commie ghouls. The movie culminates in frantic finale worthy of Peter Sellers.

Right off the bat, this film automatically benefits from being shot on Universal Studios' back lot. The houses and streets you see in this film have been utilized so frequently over the years, from "The Munsters" to "Psycho," that they're almost always instantly recognizable. The location smacks of nostalgic vibe. Other than that, Dante takes ample opportunity to pay tribute to the horror genre and some of his favorite directors. Sergio Leone is paid a heavy homage, as Dante reenacts famous shots from "Once Upon A Time In The West," which are compounded by a Morricone-themed score.

The chemistry between the cast, particularly between Dern, Ducommun, Hanks, and Carrie Fisher crackles pretty viciously any time a combination of the four is on screen. Ultimately, the timing and flow of their interactions is what really sells this movie.


THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966)

In full-on Fife mode, Don Knotts plays Luther Heggs, an overly ambitious low-man on the totem pole of a local news paper office. Eager to get into the reporting game, Heggs reluctantly accepts an assignment to spend the night in the old Simmins mansion, where twenty years before a gruesome murder occurred. Rumor has it that the joint is haunted, and it quickly lives up to its reputation once Luther sets up camp. Naturally hilarity ensues, and Knotts is absolutely amazing to watch as he reacts like a flesh cartoon to bleeding paintings and phantom organ playing.

Heggs emerges a hero to the local town's people, but when he's sued for libel by the owners of the estate, he can't quite seem to get the ghosts he saw earlier to show up on command. With a little tenacity and romantic motivation, Luther digs deeper and unravels the mysteries of the Simmins mansion.

Knotts is obviously king here, but you'll also find more rich atmosphere courtesy once again of the Universal Studios backlot.


ANNA TO THE INFINITE POWER (1983)

This well-done eighties thriller has probably gone unsung due to the fact that it's subject was ahead of its time. Anna Hart struggles against her nasty nature while never questioning her talents until an uncanny doppelganger pops up on a news report about a plane crash. Soon, Anna and her brother, played by Mark Patton, begin to question Anna's exact origins, which leads them to uncover a clone experiment, which also involves a new mysterious neighbor, with whom Anna has friction. The basic feel is along the lines of Disney's Watcher In The Woods,” but it's basically “The Boys From Brazil” for teenage girls. This flick is packed with a creepy, tense atmosphere which is only heightened by a current of incestuous energy between the sibling characters, which was probably unintentional.

I could only find some crappy fan made trailer for the film online, so instead I'm just gonna post the odd-ball opening credits to the film featuring the wonderful "Anna's Reverie."


THE CHANGELING (1980)

A fantastic accomplishment in the realm of horror cinema, “The Changeling,” stars George C. Scott, who dominate any "mentally anguished father" roles that at this point with all the ferocity of the Normandy invasion. This film manages to achieve an unnerving atmosphere without ever giving you much more than noise. Following freakish tragedy, composer John Russell (Scott) rents an isolated, palatial mansion where he is to accomplish some work. He soon finds that he is not the sole occupant, though. Compelled by the seemingly supernatural circumstances of his new living situation, Russell pries into the history of the house, and unearths skeletons which threaten to shatter the reality of the estate's politically prominent owner. Truly one of the greatest supernatural thrillers of all time, accomplishing strides in terms of atmosphere with little more than simple sound and excellent camera work.


MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)

Three words: fuck Tim Burton. This is an awesome family-oriented stop motion feature, "starring" a bevy of the familiar Universal Studios monsters. Dr. Frankenstein is ready to retire and intends on naming his successor, which prompts infamous associates to converge on his island, each with the hope that they'll be the lucky one. However, the doctor has a replacement in mind: a distant and mediocre relative, Felix Flankin. This, of course, creates an animosity between the Nerdtacular Felix and the other monsters, which leads to a finale of catastrophic proportion. Fabulous voice performances from the likes of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller put this thing over the top. This thing DRIPS total vibe.


THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

Some people will tell you that this movie was never not considered high camp, but I know for a fact that a few theater seats were completely soaked in urine after the ground's keeper's wife makes her initial on-screen appearance. I'm not saying this is a legitimately frightening film by any means. In fact, it comes off as rather innocent, but it's still completely lovable and entertaining.


Vincent Price stars as Frederick Loren, a wealthy business man who gathers a handful of desperate individuals together for a ghost party lock-in. Anyone who manages to survive what the night brings will be ten thousand dollars richer by morning. Once locked in, Mr. Loren's money grubbing harlot wife is found hanged, and the fun really begins as unseen forces menace the party goers.

Directed by master of movie house gimmickry William Castle, this is probably not the best example of what he was capable of achieving as a film maker, but strangely it's still one of his best films because it's a shit ton of fun. This is also the first Castle movie I ever saw, so it has a prominent lot on my memory lane. As for personal favorites, it's a random toss-up between “Straight-Jacket,” “Homicidal,” “Macabre.” You really can't go wrong with a William Castle flick.


DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973)

The next victim in the remake trend, this made for TV film is easily one of my most prized tapes. We're talking the big box USA Home Video release, here. The story is basic: young hot-shot couple inherit a Victorian mansion, move in, and start moving shit around, which naturally unearths some things best left covered up. The wife, who is often left her own designs by her workaholic husband, comes off as an attention starved nut when she starts seeing small demonic creatures scurrying throughout the house like common vermin. The ending is without a doubt one of the most memorable I have ever seen. Strangely, the seventies period of TV films yielded a series of highly effective horror outings which easily compete with what was showing on big screens at the time. In many instances, television horror was startlingly inventive and therefore refreshing.


GARGOYLES (1972)

"Gargoyles" is yet another badass TV movie with some great makeup and a genuinely eerie vibe. Cornel Wilde appears in this one, but really, Bernie Casey, who plays the chief gargoyle in this movie, is the true star here. Basically, more assholes start digging up shit they shouldn't be. In this case, a family of paleontologists are called into investigate some bizarre remains, and upon disturbing its resting place seem to invite the wrath of a hive of gargoyles.

I couldn't find a trailer, but you can watch the entire film on YouTube. Here's the first part of the film, which I'm sure should hold most anyone's interest.


LADY IN WHITE (1988)

I have a vague recollection of meeting director Frank LaLoggia at a Los Angeles Fangoria horror convention the year this film came out. He was promoting the film and signing posters at a table while a trailer for “Lady In White” looped on a nearby television. Even at ten, I KNEW who he was, as I was familiar with his coming of age Anti-Christ flick, “Fear No Evil.” He acknowledged me, but I remained shy. He signed a poster for me, and I learned there was a screening going on that night. And so I went. The film almost immediately became a favorite, and I would eagerly hoist it upon friends once it became available on tape.

In what is purported to be a somewhat autobiographical tale, “Lady In White” is a passionate celebration of childhood preoccupations, urban mythology, and home. It's obviously something that was shot from the heart, and LaLoggia did a fantastic job of creating a nostalgic atmosphere on a extremely low budget. This is a testament to a truly talented man, and the fact that he never found prominence as a mainstream director is just one of the scarlet letters on Hollywood's petticoat which ultimately helps spell out “condemned.”

Set amidst the 1960s climate of racial tension, the story follows young Frankie Scarlotti (Lukas Haas) as he attempts to free the spirit of a little girl who was murdered in the cloak room of the old school house years earlier.

After being locked in the cloak room overnight by a pair of precocious pranksters, Frankie witnesses the ghostly reenactment of a murder, and soon finds himself faced with the living killer. The murderer thrusts Frankie into the ether, where he once again meets the ghostly victim, who pleads with Frankie to help her find her mother. Frankie is revived from this near-death experience by his father, and soon finds himself bound to the spirit of the victim. Shortly after, a media blitz ensues when the school's black janitor is accused of attacking Frankie and for all the murders which have occurred at the school over the years. This suspect, however, is obviously an easy out for a stumped police department. As tensions boil, Frankie sets out to help the spirit he encountered in the cloak room, which not only leads him to the legendary lady in white, who haunts the town's cliffs, but also toward unmasking the killer's true identity.

The film does have a few flaws. It does borrow heavily, both cinematically and thematically from “To Kill A Mocking Bird,” and there are some painfully ill choices in terms of the film's score. However, LaLoggia weaves such an overpowerfing atmosphere that these things can easily be forgiven. Performances by a fantastic cast, a miraculous production design which captures the very essence of Normal Rockwell's Americana, and beautiful photography smother any other minor afflictions.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

THE QUEST (1986)

This Charter Entertainment release may be geared toward family audiences, but to any one of us who, as children, rode our bikes into the wild overgrowth behind our towns to investigate urban myths, this film will stoke a warm grin. In spite of flaws, "The Quest" does capture the wholesome spirit of and entrance into puberty, where we experience our first taste of independence, but haven’t quite abused it enough to diminish our innocence. There’s still wonder, curiosity, the suspicion that there might be something truly strange out there, waiting to grab us, and there is no disbelief to suspend.

I was introduced to this Aussie export via the Disney Channel as a kid. After seeing the ads, which featured "E.T.'s" Henry Thomas skulking around the outback on the heels of some unidentified aquatic creature, I bought a blank tape and sat in front of the VCR on premier night with my fingers on “record” and “play.” After that, "The Quest" became a preferred soundtrack for bed time for a lengthy period. It may seem odd that I’d select such a morbid topic to nod off to, but I’d spent the bulk of my young life forcing myself to sleep while listening to domestic squabbling, gang fights, and sirens. By contrast, anything of a fantastic nature was a welcome escape. Plus, at one point kids were encouraged to use their imagination to illustrate what might be lingering in the dark spaces under their beds and in their closets. Kids used to be fascinated by the possibility of monsters, ghosts, and aliens. These days, the kid who's in love with Frankenstein and the Wolf Man is considered unsophisticated. The modern child has been reprogrammed to become a more practical creature, surpassing the period of imagination, and passing directly into the realm of responsibility. Kids are pushed to grow too fast now, and concepts of play, which are integral with respect to healthy growth and development, have been replaced with concerns of stranger danger. Kids these days are far too paranoid to have fun. They don't take risks like they used to. Sometimes safe sucks, and this is a film that definitely celebrates an inquisitive spirit that our youth have abandoned. The bare bones of the story told here emphasizes the importance of exploration and simple curiosity. Something like this would never get made today, for fear that the influence would send kids diving to the bottom of their local watering hole with fish bowls on their heads. Sure, a few kids may drown in the process, but those would be acceptable losses when you consider what good, socially, comes from encouraging the latest generation to question all authority.

I’m always reluctant to revisit childhood favorites. Years later, the adult me is usually disappointed in the film and I wind up losing respect for my childhood self. This particular movie has faired a little better than most, though. While I sat through this film the other day, I continually imagined that if I had a child during this particular season, that I would definitely put them in front of this film, and hope I’d done a decent enough job as a parent that they’d appreciate something like this. I was sitting through much worse than this at a young age, but all the decapitation and bare breasts still didn’t diminish my appreciation for the concept. After all, it was the sort of adventure I was searching for after school every day. I can safely recommend this to parents looking for something on the spookier side for their children around Halloween. There may be an occasional “brown word,” but otherwise, you can feel at ease while watching this with your kids.

The film makes the most of its scenery, focusing so frequently on wild life and wind blown foliage that I forgot this was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, the man behind Ozploitation classic "Dead End Drive-In." The perspective seems so nature-obsessive that one would assume the director was completely alien to the country’s landscapes. Other than that, my embittered perspective still acknowledges that this is an effectively atmospheric production.

Equal parts Huck Finn and Hardy Boy, Cody (Thomas) is an American orphan adapting to life in a rural Australian town after his father’s best friend, Gaza (Tony Barry), has been awarded custody. Gaza, an eccentric mechanic, relates to the boy’s ingenuity, and takes a hands-off approach while rearing the boy, which leads to mechanically inclined misadventures which haven’t done much to endear Cody to the town elders.

One day, while exploring the wilds, Cody, along with friends Wendy and Jane, experience a disruption in the water, which leads to the discovery of a body. Town speculation runs wild as to what might have happened to the poor bloke out at the pond known as Devil’s Knobb, but only Cody seems interested in delving deeper. Despite the fact that his interests ruffle town folk feathers, our protagonist pursues the mystery and soon uncovers the truth behind the mysterious Aboriginal myth known as the Donkagine.

I couldn’t find a trailer, but you can check out the whole film on YouTube, in multiple parts, starting here:

The adult in me acknowledges that most of the performances are likable to great, and it’s well-shot, but there are a few problems. This film could have benefited tremendously by losing twenty minutes of utterly pointless bullshit. For instance, Cody takes a downstream excursion to visit the legendary Charlie Pride, an aborigines man who is closely tied to magic. The whole thing turns out to be a beautifully shot speed bump. We learn nothing about the Donkagine or anything else for that matter. It's a complete waste of time that doesn't do anything other than disrupt the story. But once we get past all that crap, it's smooth sailing toward a satisfying payoff. Unfortunately, the film doesn't end when it should, and we're treated to a final scene that almost ruins the whole movie.

SPOILER ahead for those who give a shit.

Basically, Cody winds up discovering that the Donkagine is actually an abandoned mining crane, and the granite at the Pond’s floor secretes a steady flow of oxygen, which creates an air pocket that sends the weed-covered machinery rearing toward the surface for several moments a day to create the illusion of a water beast. Cody's discovery is a triumph of the analytical, scientific mind over the hysteria of superstition. The final scene almost seems placed in the interest of political correctness, as aboriginal Charlie Pride appears over Devil’s Knobb and uses his black man’s magic to send all the surrounding man-made garbage to the murky depths of the pond. They couldn’t just let the story sit as a moral tale about questioning out-dated authority or putting your faith in logic and science. Instead, they had to tack some apologist epilogue onto the end, so no one could possibly extract the message that savages have ridiculous beliefs. It's totally fucking stupid. Other than that, though, "The Quest" is a useful family-safe thriller in the vein of stuff like "The Explorers" and "Anna to the Infinite Power."

Oh yeah, the Charter release also includes a trailer for the Raimi/Coen brothers collaboration, "Crimewave," which Bruce Campbell has lamented as his worst film to date. Not sure if he said that before or after “The Man with the Screaming Brain,” though.