Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Awesome Movie Trailers: The Shining (1980)

dir. Stanley Kubrick

I've probably posted this somewhere on this blog before but fuck it, it's the best horror trailer ever. I'll post it again.

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Prom Night (1980)

dir. Paul Lynch

Yes, motherfuckers, another fucking slasher movie. A while back I commented on the reassuring familiarity of these flicks. As with a fifties Western, you know exactly what you're gonna get with one of these movies. Usually we witness an introductory set-up and/or flashback scene in which a group of malicious and/or don't-give-a-shit douche-bag young'uns somehow scars and/or kills a person. If the person is scarred, he or she will come back to wreak havoc on those responsible. If he or she is killed, siblings and/or close friends will pick up the slack in the revenge department. Moral of the story, there's gonna be scarring of the emotional and/or physical variety and subsequently revenging aplenty.

Prom Night follows the same tried and true formula. Ye olde scream queen of yore Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Laurie Str- er, I mean Kim Hammond a high school-er who lost her younger sister at the hands of her malicious, though not necessarily murderous classmates at an earlier age during a game of hide and seek/terrify-the-shit-out-of-the-younger-kids-who-don't-know-any-better. Because prom queen Kim doesn't realize her friends took part in the unintentional murder [Side note: Her brother witnessed everything. He's the one who's gonna go crazy in six years and kill everyone at the school prom of the film's title. Yeah, that was a spoiler.], she willfully goes to the prom with one of the men responsible.

Prom Night was one in a string of profitable, early eighties, Jamie Lee Curtis starring, slasher flicks. Although not offering anything special (and certainly not as entertaining as Jamie Lee's other forays into the genre), Prom Night does hypnotize with its slasher movie sameness.

[Sorry for the brevity of this review. My writing partner and I have been going full force on some new screenplays lately and I didn't have enough time for something more substantial this week. Don't worry I'll inundate you with unnecessarily wordy, tangential reviews in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can enjoy previous reviews I wrote about the slasher movies Class Reunion Massacre and Slaughter High.]

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Favorite Credit Sequences: Malcolm X (1992)

dir. Spike Lee

Unfortunately, nothing in the subsequent 3 1/2 hours of this standard-issue biopic matches the audacity of its credit sequence.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Awesome Movie Trailers: Sisters (1973)

dir. Brian De Palma

I swear I'm gonna try to take a break from all the De Palma dick-sucking that's been going on up in here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Funhouse (1981)

dir. Tobe Hooper

[This review is part of Final Girl's Film Club.]

Most horror fans, including yours truly, regard Tobe Hooper as a man of wasted potential. Of course, when your breakout movie is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you've got nowhere to go but down. Lest any of you forget just how awesome this movie is, I urge you to go out and rewatch it immediately. Because I hadn't seen it in about ten years, I actually started to think that all the mountains of praise it had received over the years were probably unearned. Then I went ahead and rewatched it recently, and good fucking Christ, God, Mohamed, Buddha, L. Ron, Abraham tits it's still fucking amazing. No slasher film released since has even come close.

Incidentally, while rewatching Hooper's film I also had an epiphany that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the filmic equivalent of The Stooges (the band, not the gentlemen who slap each other). Let me explain by way of a completely unnecessary, waste-of-time horror film/rock history lesson. [Side note: I'm not as well-versed in music as I am in film history. I know full well going into the following analogies that my reasoning will be fraught with inconsistencies, logical flaws, and sometimes, just plain errors. I will proceed regardless, because fuck it.]

In 1960, Hitchcock radically altered the horror film landscape with his landmark Psycho. The old studio master brought the rapid-shooting, working on the cheap, TV directing methods he learned while working on Alfred Hitchcock Presents to the big screen with this horror film. He broke most of the rules of what a horror film could or should do—most notably killing the main character early on in the film [SPOILER ALERT: You just read a spoiler.] [Side note: Has anyone not yet seen or is unaware of what happens in Psycho. If so, I envy you in your first viewing.] Although Hitchcock brought a sleazy tone to this horror picture, Psycho is nevertheless marked by extremely competent, efficient, polished studio filmmaking. Hitchcock radically altered perceptions of what was acceptable in mainstream horror pictures.

What Psycho was to the horror films of the sixties, The Beatles were to contemporary pop. When these Liverpudlians arrived in America they dramatically altered what was acceptable in mainstream teenybopper rock. These musicians were given every resource at EMI's disposal to churn out literate, musically accomplished, polished pop songs. As with Psycho's relationship to the later film output of the decade, it is hard to overstate the importance of the Beatles on the musical landscape of the sixties.

Although I could come up with equivalents for other famous sixties groups lower on the totem pole as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and The Animals to other mainstream horror films such as The Innocents, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and The Haunting that is not what I am concerned with for the purpose of this discussion. Rather it is the lesser known garage groups of the sixties that will lead me to my totally arbitrary, pointless conclusion. But first a discussion of the lesser known, lower budget horror films of the era.

The drive-ins of the sixties were littered with the work of such exploitationeers as Herschell Gordon Lewis, Ray Dennis Steckler, and David F. Friedman. Of course, these men came from a film tradition far removed from Hitchcock's. They were born of the earlier cinema of attractions, particularly as practiced by the exploitation pioneers of the twenties and thirties. These directors didn't let their lack of budgets become a hindrance. These films (in which plots were almost always secondary) acted as vehicles for the sorts of show-stopping displays of smut and violence not suitable for mainstream fare. Although, as the sixties progressed, these films were becoming more and more grotesque, gore-filled, and nauseating for some tastes, most of them (many of Friedman's films excepted) still exhibited something of a playful tone. These were harmless entertainments with lots of titillating spectacle thrown at the screen—throwaway entertainment (I mean that in the nicest way possible).

Similarly, throughout the sixties, sometimes amateurish garage rock bands sprung up all over the country. Such groups as The Sonics, The Seeds, The Human Beinz, and The 13th Floor Elevators had an infectious love of the simple, straight-ahead rock and roll of the fifties. Musicianship wasn't as important as just getting out there and having some fun with the music. These groups weren't as interested in mold-breaking albums as in creating catchy singles. [On second thought, I don't think The 13th Floor Elevators necessarily belong in this group. I'd rather equate them with George Romero and Night of the Living Dead.]

Although The Stooges came from the same musical tradition as the numerous garage bands that preceded them, their shit stood out. In addition to creating darker lyrics and incorporating more musical traditions than their garage rock brethren, The Stooges just played it harder. The music of Fun House (hey, that's also the name of the movie I'm gonna review), for instance, is light years removed from The Standells' "Dirty Water".

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre holds a similar place in the horror cannon. Although, especially given its title, some at the time may have dismissed this film as exploitation trash, Hooper's picture was a completely different beast. Similar to The Stooges, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was fucking dangerous. Neither Hooper nor The Stooges played it safe. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is unnerving all the way through. Although the first kill doesn't occur until well into the film, it is so sudden that it still has the power to shock me. The Stooges and Hooper each brought knowledgeable, competent, expertise to their respective taboo breaking entertainment. The Stooges and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were also similarly influential on later art—The Stooges on punk, and Hooper's picture on slasher films.

Perhaps Hooper's later films suffer solely by comparison to his masterwork. He did still create some decent pictures, after all. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, although inferior to the first entry, does a great job of radically re-imagining a franchise. I haven't seen it since I was a youngun, but I remember Salem's Lot as being pretty spooky. Lifeforce has lots of boobage. Of all his later films, perhaps Eaten Alive is most in need of a reappraisal. As flawed as it is (and it is flawed like a motherfucker), this batshit film has got more craziness than most horror films could hope for.

[Side note: Wow, what a rambling mess. When I thunk all this up while drunkenly watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the other night, it seemed so much more coherent. Anyway, the caffeine's starting to wear off so I'm just gonna go ahead and start reviewing Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse now.]

One of the few Hooper films I had yet to see until now is his early eighties picture The Funhouse. With The Funhouse, Hooper explores the horror of the traveling carnival. Elizabeth Berridge (you may remember her breasts from Amadeus) stars as Amy Harper, a young gal looking for a good time with her new boy, gas station attendant Buzz Dawson (Cooper Huckabee) and a couple of friends at the carnival. [They're lesser characters. I don't need to bother telling you their names.] When this group of kids...actually, you know what, I've written about so many slasher films at this point that this is kind of boring now. Fuck it, I'm gonna review this movie from the perspective of the film's so-called villains.

The Funhouse centers on a group of sad circus performers who travels across the country, trying to scrape by one town at a time with the few bucks the overfed, well-to-do suburbanites can manage to throw their way. The Carnival owner's is a particularly tragic existence. His wife long dead, he is now left to tend to their overgrown, deformed, premature ejaculating, developmentally disabled, man-child. He probably wouldn't have such a hard time of it if he wasn't also stuck with the self-induced moral torture of relying on the exploitation of the corpse of his son's dead twin as a circus oddity to bring in a few extra bucks.

After landing in the newest town, the carnival folk, as per usual, just go through the motions. The magician (Brian De Palma discovery William Finley) is a drunk. The fortune teller (Sylvia Miles), having long ago performed for royalty, is now reduced to a bitter wreck, faking fortune-telling for stoned, snickering, douchey teens. All the performers want is to get through another day. Unfortunately for them, an over-privileged group of teens decides to break into the funhouse and camp there for the night. Not content with trespassing, the teens also rob the carnival till, depriving the depressed carnival folks of the chance to buy the liquor and Vicodin necessary to dull their pain.

Although the carnival owner makes every attempt to reach and reason with the teens, he is met with constant violence. Not only does the main teen Amy deride his offspring as being not even human, and thus incapable of being loved, she also kills the unfortunate creature. What a collection of assholes these teens are. This tragic story ends with the escape of Amy, unpunished for her crimes.

With The Funhouse, Hooper doesn’t break any new ground. He does create, however, an engaging, well executed slasher pic. Hooper also has some fun with the form. He opens with a semi-spoof of the then slasher film cliché of the killer POV shot, which also functions as a Psycho/Halloween homage. [For what it's worth, my favorite skewering of this trope is the opening scene to De Palma’s Blow Out.] Hooper also hearkens back to his work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The childlike deformed killer at the center of the film is a direct parallel to Leatherface. Although The Funhouse doesn't do anything to change my Hooper-had-a-lot-of-wasted-potential perceptions, it was a lot of fun.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Movies That Could Not Exist Today: The Running Man (1987)

dir. Paul Michael Glaser

The Plot: Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, an agent for the totalitarian government of the near future who is wrongfully imprisoned after he refuses to follow orders that he attack a group of defenseless women and children standing in line for food. After a daring jailbreak, Richards is captured yet again and given a lose/lose choice: either he return to jail or take part in the most popular reality game-show on the air, The Running Man. This is a no-holds barred competition in which three convicts must attempt to escape to freedom while being pursued by The Stalkers: a group of video game-esque villains/flaming, elaborately costumed, acid-inspired, musical theater characters. A joyful public bays for blood and makes bets on which convict will survive. It is Richard Dawson who steals the movie, of course, poking fun at his "Family Feud" hosting duties in his portrayal of the smarmy host of The Running Man, Damon Killian.

Why this movie couldn't exist today: Modern TV producers wouldn't force prisoners to take part in a Running Man program. They would simply post audition requests on facebook and craigslist. In a matter of hours, gorilla juiceheads would clog youtube with their audition videos, which would include clips of backyard wrestling antics, partying in clubs, doing belly-shots off a string of hoodrats, and culminating with direct-to-camera, barely literate speeches explaining why they would win the competition and bang more bitches than any of the other pussies in the contest.

[The trailer:]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Movies That Could Not Exist Today: Escape From New York (1981)

dir. John Carpenter

The Plot: In the near future New York has become such a cesspool of crime and decay that the government has quarantined it from the rest of the country and turned it into a prison colony for only the most savage criminals that our country has to offer. When the president goes and gets himself stuck on the island, it's up to renegade Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to enter and rescue the man. After being shipped to New York, Snake is in a race against time as he battles his way through various criminal factions and wrestling matches before he can finally reach said President.

Why this movie couldn't exist today: Very few convicts could afford the exorbitant rents in a Manhattan prison colony of today. Additionally, although it would seem that the exclusive Manhattan prison day care/early childhood growth and development center would be quite a draw to those criminals with children; the interview and selection process would be so rigorous as to deter these folks from committing crimes out of fear that, should they land in the Manhattan prison colony, their children wouldn't even get enrolled in the prestigious prison school.

[The trailer:]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Movies That Could Not Exist Today: Overboard (1987)

dir. Garry Marshall

The Plot: Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn star in one of the wackiest, most heartwarming Stockholm Syndrome comedies that the eighties produced. Kurt plays Dean Proffitt, a carpenter hired by rich bitch Joanna Stayton (Goldie Hawn) to do some work on her boat, who inevitably runs afoul of the haughty blue-blood. When Dean discovers sometime later that Joanna has fallen from her boat, gotten amnesia, and landed near his town he decides to exact revenge. He finds Joanna and convinces her that she's actually his wife. He then forces her to do such things as: raise his kids, clean his house, and have sex with him (Jesus Christ). Of course, Dean soon learns some valuable lessons about being a better person, and Joanna learns to be less uptight. Although Joanna escapes when she discovers the truth, she soon realizes that she actually loves Dean. The two reunite and live happily ever after.

Why this movie could not exist today: I am not familiar enough with law history to have a thorough understanding of whether kidnapping, rape, fraud, and forced labor statutes were just really lax in the eighties; but if Kurt's character tried any of that shit today he would be serving multiple concurrent life sentences.

[The trailer:]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movies That Could Not Exist Today: Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)

dir. Tommy Lee Wallace

The Plot: When John Carpenter was approached about producing a third Halloween film he initially balked at the idea, thinking the franchise had run its course. Eventually he relented, under the condition that the film not have any relation to the first two entries. Carpenter's eventual plan was a novel one. He would produce a Halloween film every year, each entry following a new, completely different story—basically a Twilight Zone style anthology series, except they would be doing it with movies. Because the first two films were so successful he got his way on the third picture. Still, I can't imagine this was an easy pitch. "Hey guys, remember the iconic killer of the first two Halloweens, basically the reason people came to the movies; let's replace him with a corporation that produces evil, killer Halloween masks." Of course, because this movie was such a bomb, a restraining order was issued against Carpenter, not allowing him to come within thirty feet of another Halloween movie. In hind-sight this was less a movie than a practical joke on a film studio.

Why this movie could not exist today: As we all know, due to the large public outcry over evil masks that resulted from this film's release, Congress outlawed batshit in 1983.

[The trailer:]

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Just Came

all over this fifties style trailer for Inception.

Body Double (1984)

dir. Brian De Palma

[Just a warning right from the get-go, although I'll attempt to be vague, I'm gonna be dropping spoilers left and right up in this bitch. Tread no further lest ye want this movie ruined.]

It's no secret up in these parts that I've got a hard-on for Brian De Palma. Given my current movie tastes, it's odd that I still hold him in such high regard. When I was younger I was much more fond of the sorts of films De Palma traffics in: clever, stylized, self-aware, movie deconstructions. As I've grown older, however, films of the invisible-style variety have become much more my taste. I am now more apt to revisit those films in which I have an emotional attachment to the characters and/or story. For some reason, though, I have never outgrown De Palma, a filmmaker who makes pains at every turn to showcase the artifice of filmed story-telling. His characters are frequently nothing more than devices in cleverly-plotted, twisty, turny thrillers.

Perhaps I just appreciate genuinely gifted directors. And De Palma is about as terrifyingly assured behind the camera as they come. He cleverly sends up movie conventions with the glee of a well-versed film-student whose got the chops to match his enthusiasm. He is clearly having a great time.

It was thus surprising to me when I realized I had never written much about Body Double, perhaps my favorite De Palma movie (I have a terrible memory). I did briefly mention at one time that Body Double was overshadowed by his previous effort Scarface. I could have sworn that I had written more about it but a search on my blog found nothing. No matter. Now I have a chance to write at length about De Palma's unheralded masterpiece.

It's always been my belief that De Palma made Body Double as a response to those critics who trashed his other movies for being gratuitously violent, misogynistic, Hitchcock knock-offs. With Body Double De Palma said, "You wanna see a gratuitously violent, misogynistic, Hitchcock knock-off? Here you fucking go. I've got both barrels full of the stuff and I'm gonna splooge it all over your face. There's not a goddamn thing you can do about it." [Wow, what an awful thing De Palma said in this thing I just made up.] Perhaps unsurprisingly, most critics assailed Body Double for much the same reasons they attacked his earlier work.

Aside from being an amalgam of Hitchcock films (most notably Rear Window and Vertigo), Body Double also borrows from such previous Hitchcock-homaging De Palma efforts as Sisters, Dressed to Kill and Blow Out. Body Double is just a whole mess of layers upon layers upon layers. Bill Maher look-alike Craig Wasson stars as Jake Scully, a down on his luck actor whose girlfriend is cheating on him. The cuckolded man is now forced to find a new place to live. Just when it looks like things can't get any worse, Jake gets fired from his low-budget vampire movie. Apparently it is not a plus for an actor to be claustrophobic when most of his screen time involves being stuck in a coffin.

Enter Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry), a kindly fellow actor who offers Jake a chance to crash at the Chemosphere while Sam jets off to Seattle for some play actin'. Sam also informs Jake that he can use the home's conveniently located telescope to spy on a lonely housewife across the way who puts on nightly strip/masturbation shows in front of her window. Although hesitant for a split-second, Jake soon goes full-on peeping-tom on that shit. Things soon go awry, then afoul, then askew, then all three when Jake notices that a creepy Indian is also infatuated with the woman in the window. Jake won't stand for that. He already called dibs on being a creepy stalker.

Of course, as is the case with all thrillers, Jake is always one step behind the increasingly fucked-up shit going on around him. After a little investigation, he discovers porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), a woman who's sure to have some answers. Jake attempts to befriend the promising young starlet by acting in a porn with her—perhaps the most gut-bustingly ridiculous porn scene/Frankie Goes to Hollywood music video ever filmed. Resembling no porn that has ever been filmed, this picture has elaborate choreography, set-design, and camera-work up the wazoo. [Side note: It's also a reference to the original gay, S&M club music video for "Relax".]

[The love-making film sequence]

Jake soon deceives Holly into believing that he's a successful porn producer in an attempt to pump her for information. We learn from their informative exchanges of all the things Holly refuses to do in porn: shaving her pussy, fisting, water-sports, facials, group sex, and girl-on-girl among other things. Stripping and engaging in vanilla man, woman sex are about the only things Holly will do. This all begs the question, of course: Just how did Holly become a porn-star? It would be like hiring a carpenter and finding out that he only likes to hammer nails. "Wait, but we'll need you to cut wood, sand, measure-"

"Sorry, I don't do any of that stuff. It's a little out there."

"Ok, I can respect that."

I guess it goes without saying that after this most recent viewing of Body Double (I last saw it about four years ago), I was quite struck by the sometimes humorous tone with which De Palma attacks the subject. Indeed Body Double works much better as a comedy than De Palma's later, nominal comedy The Bonfire of the Vanities. On this recent viewing, Body Double brought to mind the painstakingly-detailed genre homages/spoofs of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. De Palma freely bandies about and sometimes knowingly subverts not only then current thriller cliches but those which were long ago defunct. He uses rear-projection and other sorts of techniques that went out of fashion a generation earlier. De Palma also throws credible character development out the window. When Jake meets the woman he had so obviously been stalking, the two exchange just a few words before they make out and all but fuck on the beach. Plausibility is for losers. De Palma lays bare the absurd and troublingly sexist plot elements that so many other Hollywood thrillers unquestioningly throw at the audience. In De Palma's film we can't help but laugh at the obvious absurdity of it.

De Palma's exercise in artifice is also a comment on the plot. Without giving too much away, deception plays a central role here. As the poster and trailer declare, "You can't believe everything you see." Indeed, I might be wrong but I'm pretty sure the woman in the poster and the trailer for the film appears nowhere in the movie. Hell, the title is a reference to the filmic use of body doubles for nude scenes.

In addition to borrowing plot elements from Rear Window, De Palma's film is also thematically indebted to Hitchcock's picture. De Palma, though, takes the audience as voyeur theme of Rear Window and cranks it up to such a dizzily absurd degree that the sleaze factor can sometimes outweigh the film's entertainment value. Lest viewers become too put off, of course, they need only remind themselves of the cliche which De Palma so continuously, bluntly hammers home, "It's only a movie."

[The awesome trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Movies That Could Not Exist Today: Rear Window (1954)

dir. Alfred Hitchcock

The Plot: In one of Hitchock's best films, Jimmy Stewart plays L.B. Jeffries, a recently injured, wheelchair bound photographer, who is now confined to his New York apartment as he waits for his leg to heal. The voyeuristic Jeffries soon takes to spying on his neighbors, concocting elaborate back-stories for each of the individuals. It's all fun and games until he realizes that he may have witnessed a murder. Jeffries soon employs his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and nurse Stella (Thelma fucking Ritter) to uncover the potential crime. As with Hitchcock's previous inferior film Rope, Rear Window is confined to one room. We, of course, see the goings-on of other apartments, but we see everything through Jeffries' lens, so to speak. Aside from being a top-notch thriller Rear Window also acts as an examination of the voyeuristic nature of movie-going. In this film, Hitchcock implicates the audience in Jeffries' creepy peeping tom-ishness.

Why this movie could not exist today: Rather than devoting his time to spying on his neighbors for the chance at cheap, vicarious thrills; the bored, apartment bound Jeffries would spend his time jerking off to internet porn.

[Side note: Before anyone mentions it, yes I am aware of Disturbia. No, I haven't seen it because who gives a fuck.]

[The trailer:]