Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Short Film: Kung Fury (Sweden, 2015)

The plot description as found on the  Kung Fury homepage: "Miami Police Department detective and martial artist Kung Fury time travels from the 1980s to World War II to kill Adolf Hitler, a.k.a. 'Kung Führer', and revenge his friend's death at the hands of the Nazi leader. An error in the time machine sends him further back to the Viking Age."
Written, directed and starring David Sandberg. OK, so you've probably heard of this flick before — who cares? When we caught this trashy and hilarious homage to crappy 80s action flicks, we peed our britches in laughter. Good enough reason for us to choose this 30-minute masterpiece of intentional ridiculousness as our Short Film of the Month for July.
Kung Fury was crowdfunded through Kickstarter, and since its release has been such a success that a feature-length version is now in the works (or at least in the talks). Watch it and laugh — and then watch the music video to David Hasselhoff's song for the flick, True Survivor, below.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Return to Horror High (USA, 1987)


Long ago, 41 years ago to be exact, the unknown director Larry N. Stouffer released Horror High (1974 / trailer), a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Goes to High School flick that proved to be rather a success despite, going by word of mouth, being rather run of the mill.* Thirteen years later, a sequel in name only finally followed, Return to Horror High, a film that nowadays is famous primarily for being the feature-film début of some actor named George Clooney, whose appearance in the film — as Oliver, the first to die — ends after about five minutes. (Let it be said: he has more and longer hair, and he does have the same smile, but he totally lacks the innate charisma that he began to exude around the time of From Dusk Till Dawn [1996 / trailer].)
* Still, Horror High can't be all that bad, seeing that it features Austin Stoker (of the original Assault on Precinct 13 [1976 / trailer] and the William Girdler disasterpieces Abby [1974 / trailer], The Zebra Killer [1974 / trailer] and Sheba, Baby [1975 / trailer]) in his hunkadelic prime.
But as we have never seen Horror High, we've decided to review Return to Horror High on its own merits as a stand-alone movie. And, indeed, there is little of a teenage Dr. Jekyll in this movie here, which is about a film crew showing up at the high school of the first film, Crippen High, to shoot a movie based on the original murders only to — apparently — get bumped off one by one.
We have to admit that when we popped this baby into the DVD player, we were surprised to realize, the minute the bonkable Brady sister Marcia (Maureen Denise McCormick in her coked-out phase) appeared onscreen in the part of a cop — the characterization of which seems to consist of the channeling of a subconscious dominatrix that gets hornier with the more blood seen — that we had seen this flick years ago, either when it first came out or, more likely, while it was part of a double or triple feature at some second or third-run grindhouse. We can even remember: way back then, we totally hated Return to Horror High.
Well, times change. By the end of the film we knew why we had once hated Return to Horror High — it falls totally apart during the last W.T.F. five minutes — but this time around we rather found the rest of it fun. In the right state of mind, the film might still be a confusing mess by the end, but it is rather enjoyable as a horror farce and comedy filled with good dialog and mildly familiar faces including, aside from McCormick (Skatetown, U.S.A. [1979 / trailer] and Snow White: A Deadly Summer [2012 / trailer]): Vince "Dr. Ben Casey" Edwards (Space Raiders [1983], Motorama [1991 / trailer], Cellar Dweller [1988 / trailer] and The Fear [1995 / trailer]*), Andy Romano (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini [1966 / trailer] and Welcome to Arrow Beach [1974 / trailer]), and the great character actor Alex Rocco, who just died last week (18 July 2015) and can be found somewhere in too many good films to count (including   Smokin' Aces [2006 / trailer],  Blood Mania [1970 / trailer], Stanley [1972 / trailer], Lady in White [1988 / trailer], Entity [1982 / trailer], Motorpsycho  [1965 / scene, co-starring Haji],  The St. Valentine's Day Massacre [1967 / trailer], Brute Corps [1971 / trailer], Bonnie's Kids [1973 / trailer], Detroit 9000 [1973 / trailer], Three the Hard Way [1974 / trailer, starring Jim Kelly] and Freebie and the Bean [1974 / trailer].
* We saw and reviewed the sequel to this flick, The Fear: Resurrection  (1999) — it blows feces.
But let's get to Return to Horror High itself, which, for years, has been denigrated as being one of the most confusing messes ever made. When the film opens, the cops — including Officer Tyler (McCormick) and Det. Richard Birnbaum (Edwards) — arrive on the scene in time to gather together the various body parts of all the dead. From there, Return to Horror High goes meta before the concept of meta even existed, its storyline transversing multiple temporal and narrative levels that interblend to the point that you often no longer know whether you're watching the present, the film being filmed, the "real" past that the film-in-film is based on, a dream sequence, or whatever.
Regrettably, while the non-linear structure is intriguing, the filmmakers never really master the full integration of all levels, which makes it easy to understand why so many people don't like the movie. Still, the cross-level narration does offer a few good laughs and really isn't as confusing as its reputation makes it out to be, providing you pay attention (or, Allah forbid, watch it twice). Its biggest flaw is simply the movie's impossible ending: the big (and inanely impracticable) twist involving the film crew is too stupid to even be funny, negates many of the past events, and multiplies the dozen of loose ends and impossibilities.
True, the satire of the un-killable killer works better here than in, say, Stagefright (1987), where the joke fails because it comes across as serious, but the major twist of the ending is neither effective as a joke nor plausible (if one can even talk of plausibility in a slasher film). It comes across as an insult to the viewer, or as a sign that the four credited scriptwriters (Bill Froehlich, Mark Lisson, Dana Escalante and Greg H. Sims) simply didn't know how to end the movie. Not surprisingly, an aspect of the plot itself — that the screenplay of the film-in-film is being made up and constantly changed along the way — comes across as probably mirroring the real movie shoot itself: one can't help but wonder whether the full plot of Return to Horror High was even known as the movie was being filmed.
For that, however, the four scriptwriters do put some truly funny dialog and characterization into the movie. Alex Rocco as the producer who knows he's making trash definitely shines in both regards, while McCormick's cop is a highpoint of physical characterization: both are consistent in garnering the most laughs (or at least giggles) and being the most enjoyable characters. But even the two relatively faceless heroes — Callie Cassidy / Sarah Walker / Susan (Lori Lethin of Bloody Birthday [1981 / trailer] and The Prey [1984 / trailer]) and Steve (Brendan Hughes, also seen somewhere in Sundown [1989 / trailer], The Howling IV: The Freak Show [1991 / trailer] and  To Die For [1988 / trailer]) — occasionally garner a good and intentional laugh along the way.
Likewise enjoyable, of course, is the inordinately high amount of — Holy Beanbags, Batman! — 100% natural breastage. If you look carefully, there's even some Afro-American honeymelons in the background of the girl's locker room scene, as big of a rarity in exploitation films back then as now. (Why don't the exploitation flicks of today have this enjoyable feature, regardless of the skin color? And why, when they do, must it always be plastic? And will full male frontals ever return? Rhetorical questions, one and all — but these are the kind of questions that enter in our mind during our Koran study group.)
Yes, Return to Horror High is confusing and, yes, the ending sucks, but time has been kind to the movie. It may be disjointed, but it is funny, and aside from the plethora of naked natural mambos it doesn't always skimp on the gore. Likewise, the equally eccentric soundtrack (by Stacy Widelitz) is surprisingly effective and experimental, if not also occasionally a bit too heavy on 80s synth.
In the end, Return to Horror High is way better than many a serious slasher of greater popularity and standing. We'd watch it again, at any rate, which we wouldn't say of a lot of other bodycounters we've watched and reviewed at A Wasted Life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Alive (Japan, 2002)


Some movies make it really difficult to remain awake until the end, and this is one such movie. It seemed like an eternity until the final credits of this tedious flick began to roll, and the most eloquent and just statement of quality given by the group of guys that watched this thing with us was the long and particular stinky fart one let out as the final credits ran. (Amazing how fast a group lulled into total lethargy can suddenly come to life again.)
Alive is one of those kinds of films that, in order to make sense or advance the nonsensically ridiculous plot, at any given time some character stands still and pontificates in extreme detail so as to advance a story that would otherwise remain incomprehensible. ("You think you are the only one? Well, in the Northwest corner of Southern Africa, we found an albino Peruvian transgender cow with blue toenails who, after repainting them pink, led us to a stream that went west until it went east and after 130 days, 23 hours, 5 minutes and 59 seconds it ate our housemaid before revealing that if we pull our earlobes while eating peanut butter our penises will develop breasts! That's why...")
And what is the plot? Well, in what seems to be some dystopian future, some condemned man named Tenshu (Hideo Sakaki), who killed the six rapists of his girlfriend (and supposedly her as well), survives his execution and, like in an anorexic version of Let's Make A Deal, is given the choice of going through Door Number Two or sitting on the chair again. He takes the door and awakens in a big, dark, escape-proof industrial-looking room with another chair survivor, the decidedly homicidal Gondoh (Tetta Sugimoto), and they spend the rest of the movie fist fucking each other.
Naw, just kidding about the last bit, though it might've made for a more mesmerizing movie. Instead, they squabble and fight and are subjected to psychological mindgames and aural torture and then suddenly a mysterious woman with bad hair — Yurika (Ryô, also found in Casshern [2004]) — is revealed to be there as well. She is possessed by a super-powered alien lifeform called the Isomer, which transfers hosts only when the new host acts upon murderous instincts, and all three are part of a mysterious governmental experiment run by bad-hair babe's perfectly coiffured sister (Koyuki, of the original version of Pulse [2001 / trailer]) that is suddenly commandeered by a particularly amoral special forces man and his minions...

Alive is based on a popular manga comic from 1999 by the highly successful manga artist Tsutomu Takahash (who, according to Wikipedia, "is well-liked and popular due to his sense of humor and his looks"), but we have no idea how true the film is to the book. But what we do know is that this sci-fi, prison-set chamber play comes across as if a half-dozen stoned manga authors gathered together to brainstorm and put every single idea that was preceded with the phrase "Wouldn't it be cool if..." into the final script, even if the idea was only that at some point some character tosses a half-eaten chicken leg over his shoulder. (Yes, that happens.) As a result, one or two or a dozen inconsistencies and stupidities work their way into the almost somnambulist script — like the fact that the big bad special forces arrive by car & truck but, as revealed in the final scene, the whole science base is deep underground in the middle of the ocean. Or that a guy that gets impaled through the heart stays alive so as to give his gun to another guy and say "Kill me" (yes, the other guy shoots him — in the thigh, by the look of it). Or that Yurika is revealed, when un-possessed, to be soooo sensitive that a possession based on "murderous instinct" becomes a ridiculous idea. Or, or, or — snore.

Once the special forces show up, the philosophical meandering tossed aside, and Tenshu goes super, the flick does get a bit more interesting for a second or two here and there, but it nevertheless never truly becomes engrossing or suspenseful in any way. It simply drags on, and even the slow motion, CGI-enhanced Matrix (1999 / trailer)-like fight scenes — possibly intended as highlights — come across as if filmed on a low budget, without either workmanship or concern, and then cut with dull scissors. The Frankenstein-Isomer looks sorta cool, at least until he goes all doe-eyed and wimpy, and a couple of sudden deaths are good for a giggle, but for the life of us we really don't know why the Isomer never springs over to the amoral head special forces man, for he truly comes across as the person in the movie with the most homicidal intentions.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Alive is that it tries so hard to build atmosphere, and even transpires in an atmospheric setting, but in the end never truly has any. But, to give credit where credit is due: the movie's techno-laced electro-chill soundtrack is actually pretty good — too good for the movie, if you get down to it. It has aged well, unlike the movie or the movie's special effects, assuming one or the other or both were ever in any way even seen as good in the first place.

Snore, snore, snore — bore.
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