Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fallen Angels: Slick But Still a Boring Mess

Fallen Angels boasts all the usual modern horror film visuals (i.e. clichés). Quick MTV edits, grim desaturated colors, gore, etc. Even so, the film is a boring mess.

Confused story. I don't think I would have known what was going on, except I'd read the DVD box before hand, and the characters kept filling me in on stuff they'd learned. (And I'd wonder: how did they figure that out? -- it's not in the film.)

Films opens with stereotypical drunken, horny teens. One's killed, another's kidnapped. Then we're at this prison about to be torn down. We find skeletons in the basement. The FBI comes in to investigate. Turns out many skeletons are over 100 years old.

People die. Some from demons, some from a killer. We find more skeletons. Killed by different people.

More people die, seemingly at random. In the end we learn it has something to do with 7 demons in charge of the 7 deadly sins. Yet I can't really figure out which thinly sketched character was supposed to be guilty of which sin.

Also, a mother is seeking her kidnapped daughter. And an FBI agent discusses his early years as a pastor in Mexico. Where some demon-possessed boy was killed by vigilante villagers.

The FBI agent/pastor also converses with a demon. This demon has really cheap makeup, like in a sitcom. He sounds like some whiny character from a Jerry Seinfeld episode.

I won't give a spoiler, but know that the ending is really unexpected, in a weird way. Not entertaining. Not gripping or anything horrific. Just out of the ballpark.

The production values are slick. But the acting is flat, and the writing is awful.

The best 7 deadly sins film is THE DEVIL WALKS AT MIDNIGHT, aka The Devil's Nightmare. An early 1970s Euro-horror film.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Communist Zombies

I've not been posting much lately, as I've been working on my book on horror films. Observations that might have been posted here are instead going into my book. More on that later.

In the meantime, here's a video about Communist Zombies (technically, Stalinist Zombies, but it's all the same):

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Caretaker: Not Scary, Not Funny

Turkey Ranch Productions sent me a review copy of The Caretaker, which is good a bad. It's nice to get a free horror DVD, but it obligates me to review it, which is bad if I didn't think much of it.

The Caretaker is a very short, very low budget affair. Only an hour and 17 minutes long (not including credits).

These generic teenagers meet outside a school dance on Halloween night. And they stay outside. We never go into the building and see the dance itself. (I said this was a low budget affair.)

How low budget? Only a few locations. Most of the film was shot at and around a farmhouse (a few rooms and a field) and inside a limo. Then brief scenes outside the Halloween dance, and in a girl's bedroom, and in a "gym" (it could have been the producer's basement.)

Anyway, the teens meet up outside the dance. The guys had rented a limo, and they take the girls to an abandoned farmhouse, where they'd planned to scare the girls. But it turns out their "scary story" of an insane caretaker is real ... and the caretaker has returned from the asylum (or wherever) that very night ... and, as you might guess, the body count mounts.

The DVD box's marketing is pretty brazen, calling The Caretaker a "classic teen scream." Based on what?

The box brags about the film's "ensemble cast of ridiculously good-looking kids." Well, no. They're good-looking, but only in a bland, generic sense. None of them display any charisma or outstanding beauty.

The cast's bland good looks are matched by their bland acting, as they mouth bland, flat writing.

The promo material that came with the DVD is accurate when it says the film is low on gore. It also positions The Caretaker as the next Scream, promising "laughs and camp."

Yes, it's low on gore. But it's also low on laughs.

The Caretaker is a numbingly unoriginal film, even by slasher standards. I suspect this may be intentional. As "camp," it probably hopes to satirize horror film clichés.

Bad choice. This film is not funny. And for good reason. These horror film clichés were old when Scream attempted to satirize them in 1996 (although Scream had more energy than The Caretaker). These clichés had already been targeted by 1981's Student Bodies.

There's nothing left for The Caretaker to satirize. Its targets are so old, I couldn't even find any attempted jokes until nearly an hour into the film, when the Jennifer Tilly character started talking extremely idiotically. I then thought, okay, I'm probably supposed to laugh at this. I can see how somebody might think this is funny, in an insipid sitcom sense.

Tilly's character is so dummied down, she just mugs for the camera, no real acting. Judd Nelson has a few minutes of screen time in a cameo.

I suspect (I'm guessing here) that the "jokes" are supposed to be that the characters (mostly teenagers) are stupid. But many horror films are already so full of stupid teenagers that "satirizing" stupid teenagers becomes difficult. The Caretaker's stupid teenagers aren't really any dumber than typical horror films' teenagers.

The Caretaker does attempt to "update" its story, such as when the teens say, "This happened in, like, ancient times. Like, the 1980s." (Ho! Ho! -- How that for belly laughs? It's about as funny and original as this film's dialog gets.)

There's nothing new in The Caretaker, either as satire or as horror.

It's an okay film, I guess. Horror completists may wish to check it out, provided they can get it dirt cheap in the bargin bin.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gargoyles Inconsistencies

I was watching Gargoyles, and some thoughts occur:

1. The introductory, voice-over monologue claims that gargoyles arise every 600 years -- though later in the film, the head gargoyle claims his group has not been alive for the last 500 years. He also claims that his group had only arisen (they hatch from eggs) a few weeks ago.

So then ... how is it that he knows English? And standard American English at that?

I mean, these gargoyles are based in the American southwest. There were no English speakers in the southwest even 500 years ago.

For that matter, where'd he get that European book which was apparently written in 1417?

2. Many gargoyles have beaks (the females also seem to have feathery fur). How come the head gargoyle has lips, no beak? Different races of gargoyles within the same hatch? But that's a pretty big anatomical difference.

Gargoyles is full of other inconsistencies and oddities, but why be picky? Many fine supernatural/horror TV movies were produced in the 1970s (most of which were produced for ABC), and Gargoyles ... is definitely one of them.

Hey, I like it. It's got cute Jennifer Salt (Sisters) and the late, great Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman of Dark Shadows). Gargoyles is not a great classic, but it's worth checking out.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

No "Last Girl" in House of Death

I had a stack of free DVDs before me. I get them because I'm eligible to vote for the SAG Awards. I began watching 3:10 to Yuma. I removed it after 5 minutes. I'll watch it another time.

Why watch some brand new, big-budget Hollywood studio release, when I can instead watch House of Death, a crappy, ultra-low budget 1981 slasher film that I'd only seen twice before?

And House of Death is as crappy as they come. I mean that in a good way (i.e., many, if not all, hardcore horror fans will be forgiving of its weak points, and still find things to enjoy). I did.

The film was shot in North Carolina, with a cast of unknowns (of which my favorite was "Sara", one of the earlier victims and played by Sharon Alley). It opens with a young couple killed while having sex. (How original is that?) Then there's nothing much for the next 40 minutes. Just "exposition" as we follow high school grads, soon to attend college, enjoying a last minute romp at a county fair. Lots of vapid chatter about sex and drugs and such.

Then Sara is killed. Only, this being a horror film, nobody notices that she's missing.

Well, these kids meet that night at a graveyard to share ghost stories. Another girl is killed, but again, nobody notices. Only one story is told before it starts to rain. The kids all run into an abandoned shack.

I guess this is the "house of death" of the film's title. It better be, because by now there's only about 10 - 15 minutes left in the film. And the body count has barely begun.

As if our slasher has suddenly realized the film's about to end, he suddenly starts kliing in earnest. Lots of dead kids, with the usual pointless clichés. (When some kids go looking for their friend, they find him dead and hanging upside down -- why do so many slashers hang their victims' bodies upside down?)

The remaining three kids return to the shack, our slasher coming after them. He breaks in and we see that it's... (I won't spoil it, but the identity of the killer is as arbitrary a "surprise" as in most slasher films). Anyway, he's killed by police before he can finish his job.

Three kids -- count 'em, three! -- survive. Two girls and a guy. Yes, one of the survivors was the requisite Good Girl. She should also have been the Last Girl. Unfortunately, our lazy slasher waited so long to get started, the film ran out before he could finish his craft.

And he was a pathetic-looking slasher indeed, once we saw him. Weak and mortal. Not at all the "uberpsycho" (my coinage) that is Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.

So add House of Death to those other slasher films I recently blogged about, the ones that are missing a Last Girl. Films such as Hide and Go Shriek and Splatter University. The more you examine horror's slasher subgenre, the more you realize that while a Last Girl was a common element, she was by no means universal.

House of Death was produced at E.O. studios, a North Carolina production house that was founded by Earl Owensby. Esquire did a story on him some 25 years ago, painting him as some sort of southern Roger Corman. Owensby also did A Day of Judgment and (I think) he may have been involved with Final Exam, though that film was shot in South Carolina.

Final Exam also has a pretty piss-poor looking slasher. Just some guy in a green army jacket, who doesn't look very tough.

I also recently re-watched The Prey, about a superhuman killer, his body burned long ago in a forest fire, who goes around killing campers. This film has been criticized for being padded with scenes of stock footage of nature, but I suppose that could be justified (i.e., the "theme" of this slasher film is that Nature is predatory, beast "preying" upon beast).

Hey, that fits with the title, no?

The Prey was distributed by Roger Corman's company, and features a cast of unknowns. It's not to be confused with English filmmaker Norman J. Warren's Prey (aka Alien Prey).

Prey is not among Warren's better work. His two best films are Inseminoid (aka Horror Planet) and the Suspiria-inspired Terror (a personal favorite, which I must have seen a dozen or so times over the last 25 years).

Monday, January 28, 2008

No "Last Girl" in Splatter University

I'm eligible to vote for the SAG Awards, but when I checked the ballot this year, it was full of films and TV shows that I'd never seen. Like, none of them!

But how can I be expected to see any of this stuff? I'm too busy watching horror movies, many of which I've seen several times already. Why just these past few weeks I re-watched The Haunting, Slaugther High (to name a few) and ... Splatter University!

Splatter University is one of the cheesiest, crappiest, lowest budgeted of the 1980s many cheesy, crappy, low budget slasher films -- yet I like it a lot!

I'm not sure why, but it's got ... something. Its low budget ambiance is similar to that of Don't Look in the Basement. Harsh lighting (no time to set up fill lights), a hollow echo in many of the scenes (no budget for sound blankets), and a no-name cast. Yet Splatter University is one of the few Troma productions which I enjoy -- this and Mother's Day.

What both these Troma films have is that their humor doesn't overwhelm the horror. Tromo is so low budget, their films are often produced in a campy, tongue-in-cheek style. Splatter University and Mother's Day both have that humor, yet the horror remains intact. You can't say that for most Troma films. In many Troma films, the camp kills the horror. (And usually, their films aren't even funny, because the filmmakers and cast are obviously having too much fun onscreen.)

Lloyd Kaufman told me in the summer of 1981 (when I very briefly worked for Troma) that he thought it was the humor that placed Mother's Day) above the typical splatter fare. I got the impression that Mr. Kaufman did not appreciate the horror genre that much; he seemed to hold a greater affection for comedy, and it shows in Troma's output.


If you haven't guessed this already, the Last Girl is (unexpectedly) killed at the end of Splatter University. Stabbed to death in an elevator. (Here she is in an earlier scene, at work, teaching at college).

So it seems that a number of 1980s slasher films (contrary to the cliché) did not have a Last Girl.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Problems with Final Destination 3

A script problem in Final Destination 3. During his sermon at a funeral, the minister says, "We are all equal in the eyes of death."

Student Ian McKinley (Chris Lemche, below) cynically replies that this is nonsense. That the recently deceased girls weren't even 18 years old, whereas Charles Manson made it to 70, Osama bin Laden is still alive, etc.

I sense that screenwriters Glen Morgan and James Wong agree with McKinley's position. Yet their dialog inadvertently supports the minister's position. Death takes the young and old, the innocent and guilty. Death does not judge us, or play favorites. Thus are we all "equal in the eyes of death."

I'm not sure if Morgan and Wong were aware that they wrote the minster as the accurate character, and McKinley as the one spouting nonsense. (Or maybe they did intend it that way, but I sense they intended the opposite of what they wrote).

Also, while watching Final Destination 3, I tried to determine its location. I guessed that it was set in the American northwest. Washington or Oregon, maybe. Then I saw a sign in the film that indicated that we were supposed to be in Pennsylvania. Oh, so that's what Pennsylvania looks like, I thought.

Then when we switched to the subway scene, I thought, I'll bet this is Canada. They often shoot "New York" subway scenes in Vancouver.

Sure enough, the end credits revealed that the film was shot in Vancouver. The northwest.

When will filmmakers realize that Canada does not look like everyplace in the U.S. Toronto does not look like New York. Vancouver does not look like Pennsylvania.

If you're going to shoot in Canada, set the story in Canada, and use Canada's unique locales (as David Cronenberg does so effectively), rather than trying to hide them so you can pretend it's someplace else.

Of course, Final Destination 3 is still enjoyable for its creative death scenes, especially the roller coaster opening.

I am surprised that New Line Cinema funded it. Isn't New Line owned by Time-Warner, which, being a huge corporation, owns some theme park interests? (Don't they all?) Didn't anyone consider that this film should hurt roller coaster attendance? (It certainly validates my avoidance of them!)