Friday, April 22, 2016

Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer (Canada, 2007)


The feature-film directorial début of Canadian director Jon Knautz, the title of this horror comedy is of course an obvious homage to a far more successful movie (1992 / trailer) and series (1997-2003 / trailer) featuring everyone's favorite blonde-haired, ditzy vampire slayer(s). And much like that film, and less like the series, Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer is a mildly diverting piece of fluff that offers occasional entertainment but is far from being either a masterpiece or even imperative viewing. In this regard, perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie — if one ignores the truly embarrassing framing sequence that, while obviously meant as a joke, is far less funny than it is both subconsciously racist and an overt example of the white savior syndrome — is that the flick obviously had so much more potential, and thus comes across as underdeveloped.
The basic plot involves the loser plumber Jack Brooks, who, as a result of being the only survivor when his family was slaughtered by a monster during a childhood camping trip, has some serious anger management problems. By the end of the movie, however, our plumber inadvertently finds a perfect outlet for his inner-anger as well as his purpose in life. And, of course, the film earns its title.

As played by the not unattractive Trevor Matthews, Brooks is more uptight and prone to uncontrolled rants or smoldering silence than he is, say, an entertaining and loquacious buffoon like Ash (see: Army of the Darkness [1992 / trailer]). Thus, though he occasionally does make a drily humorous statement, he is not truly entertaining or particularly likable. Indeed, if he is sympathetic at all, it is because most of those around him — his bitchy blonde girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten of Fear of the Dark [2003 / German trailer]), an annoyingly touchy-feely stoner classmate John (James A. Woods) — are so obnoxiously dislikable. 
But for being such a dud of a personality, the movie spends way too much time on him before finally unleashing the monsters, the gore, the humor, the fun. So, while the movie does feature some amusing horror and monster slaying, particularly 55 minutes into the events, it delivers far less than one is led to expect by the film's title and the DVD's comic-book-like cover. And therein lies the rub that makes the movie so disappointing on the whole.
Giving credit where credit is due, the obviously low-budget movie uses no CGI, relying instead on good old make-up, rubber, and ketchup. The results are variable — the monster of the framing sequence looks like a rubber suit, as does the Jabba-the-Hut-looking demon Prof. Gordon Crowley (Robert Englund) mutates into — but cheesy effects do fit well into horror comedies, this one too. The limited number of mobile demons that Brooks ends up facing off in the high school, on the other hand, are a bit more "realistic" and owe their look more to the possessed of Demons (1985 / trailer) and Demons II (1986 / trailer) than rubber casting.

Whenever the demon shit hits the fan, director Knautz does a good job at keeping everything moving and bloody; indeed, his direction is better than his weak if tightly plotted script. (How tightly plotted? He even explains how the demon heart came to be buried in Prof. Gordon Crowley's back yard. And, actually, the revelation leads up to one of the best dialogue exchanges in the whole film.) And if the various characters are all relatively one-note in nature, the cast is obviously game and give their best across the board. Indeed, Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer comes across as such a labor of love one really ends up wishing that the movie was better than it is. But the simple fact is, it is slow to get moving, the real laughs (like most of the gore) start too late, and most laughs really aren't that deep.

The true flaw with Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer is not that the movie is truly bad, it's just that there are funnier ones out there. We really expected a lot more than it gave, and were thus disappointed. Go in with low expectations, and you will probably actually find it relatively entertaining. We went in with high expectations and, well, sometimes found ourselves gazing into our beer bottle.

Director Jon Knautz has since gone out to direct a variety of serious (independent) horror feature films — Goddess of Love (2015 / trailer), Girl House (2014 / trailer) and The Shrine (2010 / trailer) — that haven't made waves, but all look interesting.
Used in the movie —
Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea:

Friday, April 15, 2016

Detour (USA, 2003)



"Oh hell woman! It's time you open yo eyes! We're a million miles from dick, Cashie's trippin' and we got some kinda freak stalkin' us! ... and you're tellin' me ... that I'M over-reacting?"
Loopz / Yo-Man (Aaron Buer)

(Spoilers.) Aka Hell's Highway and Cannibal Detour. No, we're not talking about a remake of the 1945 Poverty Row masterpiece Detour (trailer / full film) directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starring Tom Neal and Ann Savage, which was already pointlessly remade in 1992 by Wade Williams (starring Tom Neal Jr.). Nor, for that matter, are we talking about the long-forgotten, public domain, pre-code chain gang crime drama from 1932 entitled Hell's Highway (full film) starring a bunch of equally long-forgotten names — Richard Dix (18 July 1893 – 20 Sept 1949), Rochelle Elizabeth Hudson (6 March 1916 – 17 Jan 1972), and C. Henry Gordon (17 June 1883 – 3 Dec 1940), anyone? — and directed by "the largely forgotten" Rowland Brown (6 Nov 1900 – 6 May 1963). The movie at hand here is the totally unknown rip-off of The Hills Have Eyes (1977 / trailer) written and directed by the still-unknown Steve Taylor, and starring a bunch of names that will never be known, much less forgotten. (OK, supposedly cult fave Tiffany Shepis is somewhere in the flick, but we missed her.)
Our DVD says the movie is presented by The Asylum, and indeed it follows the typical Asylum business model of rewriting and remaking bigger-budgeted films to cash in on the publicity of the "real" movie, so in all likelihood Detour is, alone due to the date of its release, more of a rip-off of Wrong Turn (2003 / trailer) than the popular Wes Craven flick that laid the groundwork for both of these and many other movies (and also got remade [trailer] 3 years after this flick here came out).
Here, instead of a typically dysfunctional American family confronted by a family of killer cannibals on their way through the desert — or a variety of young couples in the backwoods of Buttfuck, Nowhere, who run into a family of misshapen killer cannibals — we have a group of over-aged, high-school party animals returning from a desert rave who, when making a detour to find a legendary peyote patch, run into an extended family (?) of peyote-freaking cannibals. (Yep, in the end, Detour is actually an anti-drug film, but it manages to hide its message so effectively that you almost don't notice it.)
To say Detour is a good movie would be a lie. Oddly enough, however, though a mass of badly constructed plot developments, truly crappy make-up, and almost no tension or logic, we sort of found the movie mildly entertaining and almost effective at times in a Z-movie way. We will definitely never watch it again, and would be hard-placed to recommend it, but, well, we can't say we hated it. There were simply a few too many things we sort of enjoyed.
But one thing we really didn't like, however, was the character Loopz aka Lawrence (Aaron Buer), whom we nicknamed "Yo" in our minds: he gains special notice for being the stupidest, most pointless, gangsta-talking white guy ever found in a movie, direct-to-video or not. (That he survives somehow echoes real life: those who deserve to die, never do. Why else is Trump still alive?) The rest of the fodder was, for the most part, far more believable as characters.
Not that there weren't enough other failures in the narrative to induce the occasional unintentional guffaw: our loudest came with the Molotov Cocktail from nowhere, followed by the hilarious glued-on hair of the big bad guy. Aside from guffaws, there are also a good number of groaners in the movie: for example, when Michelle (Jessica Osfar) and Lee (Ryan De'Rouen) go hiking up a hill to try to get a signal for their mobile phones (they have sex, which allows for some tit-flashing, so they die), or when Neil (Brent Taylor of Starkweather [2004 / trailer]) not only drops his gun but runs straight down the middle of the road when being pursued by a pick-up truck instead of suddenly sprinting left or right or off the fucking road (he dies).
OK, so what did we like? Well, the cinematography is occasionally okay and the use of filters effective; also, the opening rave was edited and colored in a manner that (barring the brief intercut scenes of dismemberment) was extremely reminiscent of the X-fused raves we used to go to. And, for a change, the movie managed to believably present the fodder as either friends or acquaintances, and thus their reactions to the given situations sometimes achieved a mild verisimilitude. We also liked that the person with the biggest balls was a woman — Tara (Ashley Reed) — and while it does in the end take the joint effort of the three survivors to survive, she is the driving force. Likewise, the death of Lee was rather funny (and not badly shot), and Michelle's demise did hurt to watch.
Detour gets more things wrong than it gets right and misses many an opportunity to be a better movie, and its low budget is as obvious as its script is full of holes. Still, for a grade-Z movie it passes quickly enough and manages not only not to piss you off too often, but to keep you mildly interested. But don't think we're actually recommending it...
 

"I love big, hairy, man ass!"
Loopz / Yo-Man (Aaron Buer)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Beneath Still Waters (Spain, 2005)

 

Beneath Still Waters is an emphatically serious Spanish-lensed horror movie based on a 1989 novel of the same name by Matthew Costello. The tale is clearly Lovecraftian when reduced to it intrinsic plotline — an unseen evil lowers unseen, biding its time (40 years, actually) to escape and wreak havoc — and possibly even includes aspects that might have made a good movie. But a good movie this is not.
True, there are worse films out there, but there are also many better ones, more memorable ones, more interesting ones. This one here, on the whole, is simply another disappointment from the film's director, Brian Yuzna, who long ago burst onto the horror movie scene with the highly entertaining, flawed and once overly-praised but now unjustly forgotten slice of 80s horror entitled Society (1989 / trailer). Yuzna quickly became (along with Stuart Gordon, with whom he regularly collaborates) one of the great white hopes of contemporary horror, and since his second directorial effort, the bloody but funny sequel Bride of the Re-Animator (1990 / trailer), his activities (as producer, writer and/or director) in the independent horror scene have been extremely regular but uneven. Nevertheless, he remains a name to be respected ... or at least we like to think that, even though we do slowly have our doubts that he'll ever direct another good film that doesn't have "Re-animator" in its title.
Regrettably, Beneath Still Waters, despite some notable shock scenes, a few rare moments of suspense, and some other mildly entertaining aspects, is definitely one of Yuzna's minor works and is also decisively uninteresting. In fact, three days after having watched it, were it not for the notes we took while screening the DVD, we wouldn't be able to remember anything about the movie — other than the fact that some of the special effects (particularly the underwater scenes) are decidedly dodgy, and that Susana (Pilar Soto) reveals, in her mildly memorable nighttime nude scene in which she gets porked and eaten by a half-rotten waterlogged zombie, that her implants are of the unrealistically immobile type. (Really, though: even if you were miserably sad about how your unsung love drowned in a lake, would you stand around when his rotting, partially dismembered body rises out of the water and, instead of running away, let him mount you for a midnight fuck?)
The movie opens, like the book, with two young boys going to explore and play in the fenced-off town of Marienbad, which is due to be flooded by the rising waters of the  new damn. But they stumble upon an unexpected cellar full of chained-up people, and soon one person, Mordecai (Patrick Gordon), is freed and one boy is dead — and the movie jumps forward to the present day. The evil freed that day seems to have slumbered all those decades deep beneath the sea, or somewhere, and now, on the eve of the local celebration of the creation of the man-made lake and resulting tourist industry, is suddenly getting ornery.
Why the evil waited so long to get active is never really made clear, but then, there are many aspects of the tale that don't really hold water when looked at. For example, the book that our scuba-diving hero Dan Quarry (Michael McKell of Outpost 3: Rise of the Spetsnaz [2013 / trailer]) and O [2014 / trailer]) decides to throw into the fire to destroy the evil: one can only wonder how he came to know that was the magic solution, and why it wasn't done 40 years earlier by those who originally set out to destroy the evil. (Indeed, they still could have sunk the village, but with the knowledge that the evil was really dead and not just sunken.) And even if the new village possessed having a wild orgy was fun to watch, why were the main characters not likewise possessed? Why is the evil so selective in who it kills along the way — a drunkard, a boyfriend, one diver, but not the others? Seriously: the black demon-gunk in the water is killing people left and right, but when it envelopes scuba-diving Dan he survives unscathed and later only comments about some strong water currents? These are but a few of many "Huh?" questions that arise and never get answered as the meandering tale full disparate and badly integrated horror interludes slowly unfolds to nowhere interesting.
If you get down to it, the best thing about the movie are the babes, none of whom will ever win any acting awards. OK, tertiary character Susana with the immobile boobs is only interesting in that her naked death is grotty but laughable, but main gal-in-danger Clara Borgia (Charlotte Salt of The Hoarder [2015 / trailer]) is a hot tamale, and her mom Teresa Borgia (Raquel Meroño of The Mark [2003 / trailer] and Dagon [2001 / trailer]) is a total MILF. But Beneath Still Waters isn't a soft-core sex film and neither babe gets naked much less has any sex scenes, and while eye candy is always appreciated it doesn't do all that much to make the dullness between the occasional gore interludes all that less boring.
In the end, Beneath Still Waters is a forgettable and pointless movie that really could have been so much more.
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