Friday, April 21, 2017

Short Film: Rotting Hill (New Zealand, 2012)

Ah! True love! How we all hope to have it. And as this little short reveals, you never know when you might finally find it. Here's 5 minutes of zombie horror romance from New Zealand, a country on our bucket list, that manages to reveal that love and romance isn't dead, even if everything else is.
Rotting Hill is one of 12 short films that Auckland-resident James Cunningham, born 1973, has made to date.  It is "a live-action CGI short film from Media Design School's Advanced 3D Productions. The short was produced in 12 weeks and features 22 digital effects shots. [mediadesignschool.com]" 
The actors: the farmer is played by Bruce Hopkins, whom we can only assume is familiar to us because he appeared as Gamling in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002 / trailer) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003 / trailer). The male romantic lead, named "Garry" according to the imdb, is played by Jason Smith, while the female romantic lead, "Lizzy", is played by Anna Hutchison, recently seen in Wrecker (2015 / trailer) but possibly better known from her appearance in that international hit, The Cabin in the Woods (2012 / trailer).

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (Canada, 1976)



"You should see the way the fire lights up your hair. All yellow and gold. [coughing] Such lovely hair."
Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen)

1976 was a busy year for Jodie Foster, at that time a child actress previously known (if at all) primarily for her television work. Alone in that bicentennial year, she flickered across the silver screen in five movies: the forgotten Echoes of Summer (1976 / snore), the perennial kiddy flick Freaky Friday (1976 / trailer), the extremely odd Alan Parker movie Bugsy Malone (1976 / trailer), Martin Scorsese's early classic Taxi Driver (1976 / trailer), and this low-key thriller, a film that Foster herself is known not to particularly like. Much like Alice Sweet Alice (1976 / trailer) two years later, which also sold itself as an "evil kid" flick, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane seemed to be playing in every drive-in theater in the US when it was released.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, however, is not just some updated take on the classic Bad Seed (1956 / trailer) formula. Adapted for the screen by Laird Koenig from his novel of the same name published two years earlier in 1974, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is pretty much anything but a horror thriller about an innately evil and homicidal little girl, despite featuring a pubescent girl that commits homicide. Rather, it is far more a psychological thriller about a young girl forced by those she should be able to trust — adults, be it her deceased father, the landlord or the landlord's adult son — to undertake extreme measures to ensure an independence and lifestyle she knows and wants, and was arguably perhaps even trained (brainwashed?) to desire by her dear, departed daddy. 
Some Background Music as You Read –
Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op 11
 (Piano: Claudio Arrau):
In that sense, the true "monsters" of the movie are the adults (seen and unseen) of the movie, and here we would include her own father: whether one has a child of exceptional intelligence or not — and unquestionably Foster's character Ryan appears to be a kind of rudderless child prodigy — a parent who teaches their child to go over dead bodies to maintain independence is a failed parent, possibly far more so than any alcoholic tart out for an inheritance…
But is he worse, one can't help but wonder, than a manipulative child molester like Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen), who is only interested in finding a new under-age receptacle for his body fluids? (In connection to this, it must be said that it is extremely odd and very 70s that a movie that presents a paedophile as the villain would also include a gratuitous nude scene of a 13-year-old. True, the stand-in for Foster for that scene was her 21-year-old sister, but the scene nevertheless drips of hypocrisy, especially since it could have easily been filmed in such a way that one needn't see that even a supposed 13-year-old can fail the pencil test.)

At the beginning of The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, there are already two dead, though we see neither death: Daddy Lester Jacobs has committed suicide, leaving his daughter to fend for herself alone.  She, in turn, only wants to be treated like an adult and live her life as she sees fit — which means alone at home, parentless, and not going to public school — and will go over bodies to do so, a reaction less adult than psychotic, and short-sighted in that she never considers what lies ahead after the buffer (financial and rental) that her father set up is gone. And though she tries hard to maintain the pretence that he is alive, a variety of adults continue to invade her space, including  her manipulative mega-bitch landlord and town mover & shaker Mrs. Hallet (Alexis "Ice Princess" Smith of The Two Mrs. Carrolls [1947 / trailer] and Split Second [1948 / trailer]), who basically forces herself to discover the body of Ryan's greedy-tart mother and, in her panic, causes her own death. A pointed change from the novel: when adapting the screenplay from his own book, Laird Koenig altered the circumstances of Mrs. Hallet's death, the first on-screen, removing it from Ryan's hands and making it an accident, thus ensuring that the young girl remains a bit more sympathetic than she probably would have had she been presented as 100% calculating killer. And somewhere along the way, she does manage to gain one's sympathy — to an extent.

A tightly scripted little thriller with of few characters, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is immensely intriguing but nevertheless skirts the unbelievable more than once. A murderous 13-year-old, in the end, is easy enough to swallow — perhaps even more so now than in 1976 — but the idea that no one in a small town other than the two evil Hallets ever notices that Ryan doesn't go to school doesn't cut it, nor is it easy to believe that Ryan's eventual significant other Mario (Scott Jacoby of Bad Ronald [1974 / trailer]* and Return to Horror High [1987 / trailer]), gimp-legged or not, would: 1) be so willing so quickly to assist her in destroying evidence and hiding bodies, and 2) be such a master at disguise and acting that he could fool a policeman (his own cousin) into believing that he's Ryan's father, Lester. Easier to believe, considering the time of the movie, is that a known pedophile like Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen of Badlands [1973 / trailer], Truth or Consequences, N.M. [1997 / trailer] and Spawn [1997 / trailer]) could, perhaps, remain a free man.
* Ranked #90 in David Hofstede's book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, Bad Ronald remains a pleasant memory to all those who saw it as a kid.

Speaking of the policeman, nice guy Officer Miglioriti (the singer, pianist, and songwriter Mort Shuman [12 Nov 1936 — 2 Nov 1991], co-writer of Viva Las Vegas, Sweets for My Sweet, Save The Last Dance For Me and others) is less a real character than a broadly acted joke. Amidst all the low-key characterizations that populate the movie, he comes across totally out of place and seriously rips the viewer out of the film's rhythm whenever he appears. His sitcom-level performance is a glaring and unconvincing contrast to both that of Sheen, who is so oily and disgusting that one could easily believe he isn't acting, and Foster, whose distant, aloof performance catches her character perfectly, right down to when the first cracks appear after letting Mario enter and become part of her hermetic existence.

Occasionally effective, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is less a horror or suspense film than an oddly paced and plotted drama, and while it is interesting viewing, it is hardly imperative. But its open-ended ending is definitely a strength to what is, in the end, an extremely tragic movie. It would seem that no matter what might transpire in the aftermath of the events of the final scene, Ryan is caught in a trap.
Eleven years later co-stars Martin Sheen and Jodie Foster both appeared in Siesta (1987 / trailer), another one of her odder projects.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Biohazard (USA, 1985)

The name Fred Olan Ray is familiar if not legendary to anyone mildly interested in the B-films of the 80s and 90s. Had he been around 50 years earlier, without doubt he would've been a staple director of Poverty Row along the lines of William Beaudine (15 Jan 1892 – 18 Mar 1970) or the oddly less-reviled (and familiar) Sam Newfield (6 Dec 1899 – 10 Nov 1964), for Ray makes his movies quick and cheap and, one could assume, were it not for Biohazard's post credit sequence, with but one shot.
And speaking of the low budget programmers of Poverty Row, when watching this movie here, we couldn't help but think of the Bela Lugosi flick The Corpse Vanishes (1942 / trailer), directed by another forgotten B-flick director, William Fox (9 March 1895 – 30 June 1958), if only for the fact that we recently screened that now-ancient second-feature cheapie. But as different as Fox's film is from that of Ray, there are some similarities, the biggest being that both are basically nonsensical sci-fi horror films. In The Corpse Vanishes, a "mad scientist" (Bela Lugosi) uses science and the "fluids" of virginal brides to keep his wife alive — sounds like science to us — and, in Biohazard, a government scientist uses a psychic and scientific equipment to pull objects to Earth from other dimensions or maybe space. Plots ridiculousa extraordinarous, one and all.
Needless to say, like the plots, the acting of both films is equally noteworthy as terrible. And then there is the matter of budget — neither film had one — and the use of over-the-hill stars: The Corpse Vanishes has Lugosi, Biohazard has Also Ray and Angelique Pettyjohn, not to mention an appearance by the totally forgotten and unrecognizable Carroll Borland (25 Feb 1914 – 3 Feb 1994), a visually iconic influence of yesteryear in her final film appearance. (She played Bela Lugosi's mute daughter in Mark of the Vampire [1935 / trailer] and thus influenced the look of everyone from Vampira [11 Dec 1922 – 10 Jan 2008] to Lily Munster [Yvonne De Carlo, 1 Sept 1922 – 8 Jan 2007] to Elvira. We would call that influential.)
What sets the two movies apart, however, aside from 43 years and B&W vs. color and the B&B — breasts and blood — of the newer movie, is the time length. The Corpse Vanishes, as a second feature, runs a brisk 64 minutes, unpadded, and as slow and idiotic as it is, it zips by quickly enough to not overstay its welcome. That cannot be said of Biohazard, which in its essence is a color second-feature filmed at a time when there were no second features and thus, at 80-odd minutes in length, with padding, both drags and overstays its welcome — extremely, and that despite some naked rib cushions, light gore, and the fact that at least 10 minutes of the running time consists of both funny and unfunny bloopers intercut into the final credits. To say that Biohazard is a total snoozer is a bit of an understatement: the direction is much closer to being petrified than just static which, added to the dark cinematography, non-story, and thespian inability, makes it a bit hard to remain awake through the whole movie.

Which doesn't mean it isn't occasionally laughably entertaining, for films this bad generally do at least offer an unintentional laugh or two or three, and Biohazard is no exception in this regard. Nothing about the story really makes sense or logic, from the start to the end, and too much comes across as superfluous: the opening scene of two guys lost in the desert, obvious padding; the death of the guy "fixing" the wire in the desert, inconsequential to the tale and obvious filler; a secret underground laboratory doing top secret experiments but protected by one soldier (with a non-military standard haircut), obvious budget deficiency; interlude with neighbors and bathtub, obvious attempt to up the titty-quota… the list of occasionally entertaining flaws goes on and on and on, but the timespan between them also seems to go on and on and on, which definitely subtracts from the light laughs.
 
In Maitland McDonagh's book Filmmaking on the Fringe, Fred Olan Ray actually and inexplicably seems somewhat proud of what, in the end, comes across a bit like a student film. He reveals that, unemployed after shooting Scalps (1983 / trailer), he "put together" Biohazard while working at a lab doing the edge-coding of dailies, and mentions how he found Angelique "stripping at the Body Shop" down on Sunset — at a time when stripping was not yet seen as a reflection of New Feminism. And though it might not look it, the lab scenes were shot using the leftover sets of the spaceship from Roger Corman's Android (1982 / trailer),* which we remember perhaps incorrectly as a sweet movie. And while Ray states that Biohazard "was the first time we had done something that came out looking like a real movie," wethinks he doth overestimate too much.
* Sets, in turn, originally cobbled together from Corman's sci-fi sleaze classics Forbidden World (1982 / trailer) and Galaxy of Terror (1982 / trailer).
It is perhaps worth noting, at a trivia level, that Ray's then 5-year-old son Christopher donned the plastic suit to play the pint-sized killer alien. As for the rest of the actors, Aldo Ray is unrecognizable and probably breathed a sizable sigh of relief when he finally left the set. Mentioning his work with F.O.R. in an interview over at LeBeau's Blog, Aldo once said, "He'd give me $1000 in cash, pay my expenses, and I'd do a day's work. Somebody showed me one of his cassettes — 'starring Aldo Ray' — but it was just a one-day job.... I needed money at the time, and Fred knew I needed a buck, so I did it. He exploited me, yeah, but I was ripe for it."
And so was Pettyjohn, obviously enough: although she did already have a minor list of cult-worthy films to her resume at the time of Biohazard — including Hell's Belles (1969 / trailer), The G.I. Executioner (1971 / trailer), The Curious Female (1970 / trailer), Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968 / trailer), and Jim Wynorski's Lost Empire (1984 / trailer) — by the time of Biohazard, she had also occasionally paid her rent by sucking sausage and playing salami sandwich in titles such as Titillation (1982 / NSFW), Stalag 69 (1982 / NSFW), and Body Talk (1984). Oddly enough, however, as the psychic Lisa Martyn, one of the main roles, she never gets fully naked, though her nipples do say "Hi" over the top of her bra during and after a man-mauling-mammeries scene; at the supposed age of 42, she still looks oddly MILFy despite her typically horrendous wig. Pettyjohn proves to the best actor of the movie, which really isn't saying all that much, but her entire presence is seriously damaged by her horrendous wig.
Still, to give the best feature of the movie credit, Biohazard does have a wonderful WTF ending, times two. It's a shame that everything else leading up to it is poorly made and dull. Pacing was obviously a concept the director did not see necessary to incorporate in his movie, but then, as the bloopers reveal during the final credits, everyone involved seems to have known that they were in a pile of shit, so maybe he didn't care.
 
Biohazard was followed ten years later by the non-sequel Biohazard: The Alien Force (1995 / trailer), known to be of equal non-quality. We won't be watching that one.
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