Monday, September 28, 2009

Short Film: Bambi Meets Godzilla (USA, 1969)

Here is a legendary film that for years everyone had heard of but few people ever had the chance to see. Needless to say, has changed that. But once upon a time, this film was mentioned in reverie by folks that refused to actually tell what happens in the film — other than that, well, Bambi meets Godzilla. But then, with a running length of roughly 1.5 minutes, there really isn’t all that much to tell, other than it is a fun classic that everyone should see at least once in their life. Bambi Meets Godzilla is all setup for a final punch line, and as such remains one of the shortest and funniest films ever made.Often misappropriately called Bambi vs. Godzilla, the film was made in 1969 by Marv Newland, a student at the Art Center of Design in Pasadena. (And not in L.A., OK folks?). Supposedly the first film to come out of Art Center, the Marv's film was a quick solution for a term project when he realized that his initially intended film, a live action film, wouldn't be finished on time. According to popular legend, at the time he made Bambi Meets Godzilla he was living in an apartment rented from Adriana Caselotti, who had supplied the voice to Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937/trailer). Seeing that she was active in real estate, the legend could well be true — and could well also explain why Marv was inspired to use a Disney icon in his film. (Why he chose Bambi rather than Snow White is easy to surmise: Bambi is a lot easier to draw than Snow White.)Supposedly it took him a full two weeks to complete the film, but considering the simplicity of the animation and shortness of the film, he probably worked on the film between distractions — as everyone tends to do in art school, as anyone who went to an art school can tell you. In any event, he managed to make a classic "underground" short, which is a lot more than many an other filmmaker has ever managed to do. His film is, of course, an homage to two favorites of childhood: Walt Disney's Bambi (1942/trailer) and Ishirô Honda's allegory of the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Gojira (1954/trailer), a film better known to most English speakers in its re-edited version starring a closeted Raymond Burr, Godzilla (1956/trailer). If the music and sound effects sound familiar, it's because the pleasant classical music is the highly familiar overture from Gioacchino Rossini’s opera William Tell, while the sound to the climactic confrontation is the final reverberating note of The Beatles' A Day in the Life.Following the world premiere of Bambi Meets Godzilla at Art Center and Marv's eventual graduation, Marv went into television commercials before leaving La La Land for Canada in 1970. Eventually settling in Vancouver, he founded the animation film company International Rocket Ship in 1975, which oddly enough does not seem to have an internet presence. Among the most renowned projects that he worked on in the years since Bambi Meets Godzilla are the two Gary Larson TV animated films, Tales from the Far Side (1994) and Tales from the Far Side II (1997), two under-appreciated masterpieces of animated humor. (Click here for roughly the first ten minutes of the first film.) In general, however, Marve seems to keep a low profile.
Like so many a successful film, Bambi Meets Godzilla has since been followed by a sequel entitled Son of Bambi Meets Godzilla (1999). The film, written and directed by Eric Fernandes, was made without the involvement of either Marv Newland or Walt Disney (or Ishirô Honda, for that matter), which sorely shows. A mere few seconds longer than the film its follows, its computer animation might be a primitive as Marv's original line drawings but it lacks the freshness and fun of the first film.
Enjoy this early classic of no-budget filmmaking.

From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (USA, 2000)

Needless to say, as in the case of most sequels and prequels, it is arguable that a film like this one isn't really needed and adds little new to the overall story. That said, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter is a nifty piece of trash filmmaking that, while never surpassing the original, still entertains in its own way. Had the original never been made, this film would have been a minor if but pleasant alternative.
True, aside from its obvious bigger budget, part one is definitely the superior film, being much crazier, more extreme, more cynical and simply better made, acted and directed than The Hangman's Daughter, but this pre-quel has enough spark and juice to stand on its own as good, entertaining trash. Shot in South Africa, The Hangman's Daughter supposedly had a budget of $10 million dollars, half of that of the original, but some sources say that the $10 Million was actually the budget of both Part 2 (
The Hangman's Daughter) and 3 (Texas Blood Money [1999/trailer]) together – which is easy to believe at times, especially with the CGI.
The story takes place in Mexico around 1913, some 80+ years before that of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996/trailer) and ostensibly narrates how Santanico Pandemonium, originally played by Salma Hayek, comes to be the queen of the vampires. The actual origin of the vampires in general is never explained, but Santanico seems to have been product of a vampire-human mating, though the how and when the human dad and the vamp mom did the down and dirty is not gone into in any detail.
The story structure is 100% the same as From Dusk Till Dawn in that the first half of the film narrates how a variety of anti-heroes and hanger-ons end up at the Titty Twister (in this case called "La Tetilla Del Diablo" – or, translated, The Devil's Nipple) while the second half is a gore-fest of vampires feasting and desperate fighting. But now, before all the fangs get bared and the guts start spilling, instead of white trash terrorizing RV tourists in America, we have a violent, over-the-top spaghetti western. (In fact, one idea – that of the hanging rope being shot apart just as a man is hanged – is lifted directly from the classic Leone/Eastwood western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly [1966/trailer]. On the other hand, another idea, that of blades that pop out from the tip of boots, is taken from From Russia with Love [1963/trailer].) Director P.J. Pesce probably got the job because of his previous film, the similarly direct to video western The Desperate Trail (1994), which also has its own moments of fun excess.
The tale of The Hangman's Daughter is structured loosely around the actual disappearance of the famed American caustic wit, writer and alcoholic Ambrose Bierce, who, as any decent student of American literature knows, disappeared into the sunset of Mexico and supposition when he road off to join the revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa. (Whether or not he ever made it is not revealed in the final, released version of this film, but in the first cut of The Hangman's Daughter he was revealed as having become a vampire.) Bierce is well-played by Michael Parks, a regularly employed but forgotten great white hope of the 1960s who started his career with a splash imitating James Dean in the trash-classic The Idol (1966) before his career eventually devolved into stuff like The Private Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1977). (Now he is another definition of what one calls a "cult actor.") Passing through a tiny fart of a town, he witnesses how the hanging of Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi) gets foiled through the assistance of Catherine Reese (Jordana Spiro) and how Madrid and Esmeralda (Ara Celi), the titular hangman's daughter, ride away through a rain of bullets. Later, the stagecoach he is sharing with the bible-thumpers Mary (pre-crack Rebecca Gayheart) and John Newlie (Lennie Loftin) gets robbed by Madrid and his men. Through a variety of contrivances, the three stranded passengers end up at La Tetilla Del Diablo, followed soon after first by Madrid, Esmeralda and company and then by the Hangman (Temuera Morrison) and his men (with Reese in tow) as well as an assortment of others stragglers. (Including the mandatory African American, Orlando Jones as Ezra Traylor, a fuller brush man.)
As in all three films, Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) is the bartender, but this time we also have Sonia Braga as Quixtla along for the ride. The vampire mother to the human hangman father, Braga is both excellently cast and one damned sexy 50 year old – in fact, until she turns all monster like, she actually looks to be one damned fuckable old lady and displays all the dangerous sexuality and magnetism that Hayak had in the original and Ara Celi lacks in this one. The blood of a barroom brawl is the trigger for the vampires to cut loose, and the rest of The Hangman's Daughter features the disparate survivors fighting to survive and dying off one by one before the last survivors ride off, leaving the converted Esmeralda as the new queen of the vampires. The film's last shot is a virtual exact copy of that of the original From Dusk Till Dawn, showing the ruin of the Aztec (Incan? Mayan? Olmec?) temple descending down from the back of the bar.
In general, the character's are not that likable, but they do at least have individual personalities. The violence is high but not as hilariously over the top as in the first film, though the scene in which a vampire gets his testicles kicked out does reach a new high point in tasteless ideas. All in all, The Hangman's Daughter is a fine B film full of irredeemable violence and gore that holds up well either as a sequel/prequel or simply as a film in its own right. It deserves more than the ignominious realm of straight to video and forgotten films that it has been relegated to.

Raiders of the Damned (USA, 2005)

Raiders of the Damned, from 2005, is (unsurprisingly enough) the only film of director Milko Davis, a director that was probably so busy searching for his anus while on set that he forgot he was making a film…. The result is a film that has a great and promising (if derivative) title that promises a lot but that is also a film in search of a coherent plot or story, populated by actors in search of talent. But to put all the blame of Davis is perhaps unfair, for as inept as his directorial skills seem to be, he did not toss together the supposed film script. If there really was one – the film comes across more like a half-dozen half-baked ideas tossed together in some semblance of order – then the writer Mike Ezell must carry some of the blame for this incoherent mess. Raiders of the Damned is indeed one of those rare films that gives bad films a bad name – at the moment. Truth be told, the film simply hasn’t aged enough. In another 15 years, when it looks as vintage as it does incompetent, this film could easily become an example of classically bad film, along the lines of Robot Monster (1953/trailer) or Santa Claus Conquers Mars (1964/trailer/full movie on Internet Archives). But right now, in 2009, a mere four years since this thing went straight to DVD, Raiders of the Damned still stinks.
The core concept of Raiders of the Damned is a crossbreed of two popular low-budget genres, the post-apocalyptic and zombie film. During some future war a viral weapon named Agent-9X was used; it killed the body but not the brain, so the world is now populated by thinking, flesh-eating zombies – or at least it is on the other side of a humongous wall. (Although the zombies all seem to be on the other side of the wall and people can obviously walk around above ground without being infected, the few human survivors – mostly military and scientists in white coats – seem to prefer living below ground in bunkers.) Dr. Wells (Elijah Murphy) and his assistant Stephanie (Amanda Scheutzow) fly over the wall in a helicopter to experiment with a new zombie-killing chemical, but when they fly too low they get shot down with a catapult and are captured by the zombies, who are under the command of the zombie Colonel Crow (Thomas Martwick – who is much too young to be a general). Crow avowed aim is that he wants Wells’ help in finding an agent to stop the gradual decay of the living dead bodies, but truth be told, he really simply wants to pork Stephanie (who ends up spending most of the rest of the film in a wedding dress). Back in the bunker, whacked-out Dr. Lewis (Richard "Yes, I can sink even lower than Webs (2003)" Grieco) sends out a rescue team consisting of squad leader Crenshaw (Gary Sirchia), Gena Kane (Laura Zoe Quist), Trejo (Laurie Clemens) and Flex (J.C. Austin). Using some sort of anti-matter distortion device (!), they pass through the wall and go search and destroy. Despite supposedly being professional soldiers, they can’t even seem to be able to tie a knot, which results in Flex having to carry Trejo around until the film has been padded enough for her to be able to walk normally again (as for Flex, although he is strong enough to carry her around, most of the time thereafter he is continually winded and taking rests – at least he does until he dies). Whatever.
The rest of the film, like everything leading up to this point of the non-action, alternates between more nonsense and hogwash and offers no concept of continuity or logic or anything that remotely indicates that a brain or talent was involved in the production, but it is exactly this total lack of any redeeming factors or ability that makes Raiders of the Damned in any way entertaining. It is its total ineptitude that makes it amusing, if only slightly so. There is so much too trash about this "film" that to do so would take longer than to watch the movie itself. Still, give it another couple of years and it could probably be shown as a double feature with any number of Golden Turkey classics…
Raiders of the Damned does get a single plus point for having the best use of a spoon scene since the one in Deranged (1974), but aside from that the two films are in no way comparable.

A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (USA, 1985)

In retrospect, it seems almost unbelievable that Wes Craven needed three years to find a producer for the original Nightmare on Elm Street (1984/trailer). A year before the concept even entered the vocabulary of the general public via the publication in 1985 of Stephan La Berge's study of the subject in his (aptly titled) book Lucid Dreaming, Craven took the basic concept one horrific step further and created the immortal character Freddy Krueger, a dead child molester inhabiting the dreams and killing the children of the adults that had secretly burnt him to death in retribution for his horrendous crimes against nature. As everyone knows, Craven's film was the beginning of a horror franchise rivaled only by those begun by John Carpenter with Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham with Friday The 13th (1980). And like those two series have already had, Craven's character is due for a revamp soon...
But before that happens, let's take a look at the least successful entry in the original franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, the second feature-length film of b-film stalwart director Jack Sholder, who went on to lense such faves as The Hidden (1987/trailer) and Arachnid (2001/trailer).
Whatever the unknown reason might be — a bad contract, probably — Craven was not part of this film, the second of way too many films as well as a short-lived television series (and, as mentioned before, an upcoming revamping of the franchise). The then relatively inexperienced Jack Shoulder was pulled in to direct instead, despite his rather inauspicious debut three years earlier with Alone in the Dark (1982/trailer), a film whose cheese factor has helped it age well enough. The scriptwriting chores of Freddy's Revenge were handed over to the likewise inexperienced David Chaskin. The end result: an early entry of the franchise that is generally considered the worst in the series — and in many ways, it is. In the end, the failure of the film didn't really hurt Shoulder's career as an exploitation and straight-to-DVD director, but Chaskin disappeared from the industry despite his later "better" film scripts for the entertainingly artsy Tibor Takics film I, Madman (1989/trailer) and the equally entertainingly but hilariously trashy The Curse (1987/trailer).
Although made a mere year after Craven's classic slasher, the events in Freddy's Revenge unfold five years after the demise of Langenkamp, Depp, et all. The Walsh family has moved into the house on Elm Street, and the teenage son Jesse (badly acted by Mark Patton), wearing much too much eyeliner and spending a noticeably extreme amount of time in ugly underwear, is suffering from nasty nightmares. Mommy Webber (Hope Lange, who dealt with a much friendlier supernatural entity in the old television show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) is at a loss about what to do, while the incompetent Daddy Webber (Clu Gulager) is simply convinced that his son is a drug-taking delinquent. Along the way, aside from an uncontrollable heating system that keeps them sweating, the family suffers such terrifying events as a spontaneously combusting toaster and rabid, exploding love-birds. It seems that Freddy (Robert Englund, of course) is out to possess Jesse's body so that he can crossover into the real world and kill anyone and everyone. As Freddy says to Jesse in one of the film's few truly scary scenes, "You've got the body, I've got the brains." Eventually, Jesse/Freddy slices up the school's decidedly S&M oriented gym teacher (Marshall Bell) during a steaming gym shower scene and, after trying to broaden Jesse's concept of cunnilingus, Freddy eventually cubes Jesse's washboard-bellied buddy Ron Grady (Robert Rusler) before attempting to boil some dozen teenagers in a swimming pool. Jesse's gal Lisa Webber (Kim Myers, who looks like a young Meryl Streep but lacks the latter's thespian abilities) runs off after her possessed heartthrob and, in the end, love prevails and all is well that ends well — or so it seems until the final expected twist ending.
A lot has been made in the past about the supposed homosexual undercurrent of Freddy's Revenge, and though the filmmakers have supposedly gone on record as saying it wasn't on purpose, one tends to think that they are lying. Not only is there a remarkable dearth of jiggling babes for a teen-oriented horror film of the time, but the undercurrents are obvious everywhere. From the Coach's obvious sexual predilection to the constant scenes of young men in underwear and manly buns to the unidentified small carton seen briefly in Jesse's closet with the word PROBE printed on it, much in this film exhibits a preference for the backdoor rather than the front. Likewise, it is easy to interpret Jesse's slow possession as symbolizing the gradual realization of his own sexuality, and his flight from his horrific first sexual encounter with Lisa as a personification of the horror many a young homosexual feels when they first try to fit in the sexual boundaries of heterosexual middle-class America. Moreover, when Jesse flees from Lisa, he goes straight to his good looking (and boxer-clad) pal Ron, asking if he can spend the night there. Regrettably, any interpretation of Freddy's Revenge in this regards reveals a rather homophobic stance on part of the filmmakers, be they themselves gay or not. Jesse's sexuality is a killer monster out to destroy everything and everyone, almost a 3-D personification of AIDS as a walking and talking but deadly creature — hardly a positive presentation of alternative sexualities. (No wonder the filmmakers deny any homosexual subtext.)
Actually, undercurrents and interpretations aside, to simply say that Freddy's Revenge is a bad film is taking the easy way out. Much like Halloween Three: Season of the Witch (1983/trailer), the film isn't really as thoroughly gawd-awful as it is out of place. Had either films been made separately from the respective series they were tied to and without the name association, they might have been enjoyable for their own merits. As it is, stuck solidly amongst the other films and, at least in the case of Freddy's Revenge, utilizing some of the same characters, the films stick out like leprous thumbs and bomb accordingly.
Still, there are some good scares to be found in Freddy's Revenge. The one in which Jesse awakes tucking-in his little sister only to discover that he is wearing Freddy's glove is a shock, and the scene in which Freddy pops out of Jesse's stomach is, well, nicely gut wrenching. Likewise, everyone has to cringe when the monster tongue pops out of Jesse's mouth while he's slowly kissing his way down Lisa's stomach towards her love box. And, of course, the bus ride which opens the film is hilariously enjoyable, even if it doesn't scare much. Unluckily, most of what happens in between is rather uninteresting or badly dated — the hilarious dated bar scene (it screams "This is the 80s!!!") being the best (worst?) example, the pool party being the worst (best?).
Still, if you are one of the few, the odd, the queer who haven't yet seen a Nightmare film, there are many better ones in the series, the first one still remaining the best.
For the best on-line presentation on the sexuality of this flick (which I discovered long after I wrote this review, and from whence the photo to the left was borrowed), see the entry at Freddy In Space. OK, the article does reek slightly of unacknowledged homophobia, but face it, most heterosexual men have an illogical fear of gaydom that brings out this attitude. Well, my brethren breeders, just so you know: banana might not be as much fun as tuna with a side of melons, but it is better than an empty plate.

Mustang Sally's Horror House (USA, 2006)

The biggest waste of time since the last time I was forced to watch Oprah. Don’t know what writer and director Iren Koster was trying to do when he wrote and directed this fifth-rate and amateurish car wreck, but unless he was really trying to make total crap, he failed in spades. Which is an inexcusable fucking shame, for it is beyond unforgivable that a film with such a nifty title and basic concept could be so gawd-awful and dreary. Die, Iren Koster, die — you deserve it.
And now the plot — in detail, with spoilers (on purpose), so that you have no reason to waste your time and money on this piece of straight-to-DVD digital shit.
Josh Henderson (Mark Parrish) leaves the house of his bitchy aunt one morning and gathers (as is normal, one surmises) with his various small town friends at the local diner (the cook is played by none other than the untalented director Iren Koster himself), where they overhear a couple of easy-rider wannabes talking about Mustang Sally’s place, the hot whorehouse they just wet their wicks at. Before you know it, out of boredom the six dudes decide to go buy some poontang. There is a lot of inane dialog exchanged between them which is supposed to be funny in a Porky’s (1982/trailer) or Road Trip (2000) kind of way, but without any of the Shakespearean linguistic depths of the of those older two films. Getting to Mustang Sally’s, they are greeted by Mustang Sally herself (played by Elizabeth Daily, who normally does and should stay with voice-over work), and instead of running away in terror of her collagen lips and unsightly bellybutton (her tummy, oddly enough, looks slightly Ethiopian, in a bloated sort of way) stick around for an interminable scene of bad acting in which they each get paired off with various business ladies of varying attractiveness but all featuring the same lack of thespian abilities.
Little do the young loaded guns know it’s all a plot of revenge: many years ago, their fathers raped Mustang Sally and got away with it unpunished; now they must pay for the sins of their fathers. In the course of the night, they all (more or less) die at the hands of the hookers — a few of the ladies die, too, but more than one simply suddenly disappears from the screen when no longer needed to fill the running time. But wait! The bigger twist is still to come: Josh is actually in on the plan! Mustang Sally is really his mother, and his hooker of the evening, Caressa (Lindsey Labrum), is actually his main squeeze. The film ends with the three and the easy-rider wannabes riding off into the sunset together…
It is virtually beyond comprehension how a film about a bordello full of homicidal business ladies could be as dull, unfunny, unbloody, overly clothed and uninteresting as Mustang Sally's Horror House is. The script is almost non-existent, much like the characterization and plot development. Not that the lack of those three basic qualities has ever stood in the way of the creation of an entertaining final product when garnished with the proper amount of sleaze, blood or simple gall, but the film lacks all that as well. Of the hard-working ladies, only three show breast — and they do so, so fleetingly that they might well be nuns instead of hookers. Unbelievably enough, the one with the most silicon — Titianna (Joni Kempner) — never gets out of her Victoria's Secrets. As for the guys, most look like they could have a good future in gay porn, but going by their acting abilities they might not want to endanger their day jobs. Special note must be given to the soundtrack (also by Koster, who supposedly graduated from Julliard — guess that place ain’t what it used to be either), which sounds for the most part a synth score lifted from a budgetless 80s horror film — only any given budgetless 80s horror film has a lot more to offer than this flick.
Neither sleazy nor entertaining nor funny nor interesting nor scary nor really cheesy nor in any way watchable, Mustang Sally's is the type of film that give fans of true trash the feeling that yes, maybe watching films like this is indeed a waste of one’s life. Sacrifice your kitty to the gods and pray that Iren Koster never makes another film.

Les Rivières pourpres / The Crimson River (France, 2000)

(Spoilers.) Entertaining, finely made French trash from Mathieu Kassovitz — the dude behind the badly made American trash, Gothika (2003/trailer) — that is great fun to watch and effectively thrilling but which falls apart completely the minute you start to try to figure everything out. Les Rivières pourpres is so nicely made that one almost wishes that the subtitles were to blame for such an illogical, hole-filled story, but truth be told, the faults lie all in the script and nowhere else. So ignore the lack of logic and enjoy the film for what it is: a well-made, big-budget, lightly gore-laden thriller with a couple of France's biggest and most appealing stars, Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel.
Les Rivières pourpres begins with Commissaire Pierre Niémans (Reno) showing up in some small French elite university town located in the French Alps upon the discovery of a mutilated body: the university's librarian has been found hanging by a rope off the side of a glacier, his body lacerated, his hands cut off, his eyes missing and the sockets filled with water. With the help of Fanny Fereira (Nadia Farès), the woman who discovered the first body, a second body is soon found embedded in a block of ice in a glacier cave. Meanwhile, in another town, the pot-smoking Lieutenant Max Kerkérian (Vincent Cassel) realizes that his investigation into the desecration of a child's grave and the break-in at a school's records room are connected. After a rather entertainingly laughable and totally out of place but well choreographed fight with some skinheads — that, in real life, supposedly made Cassel's nose even more crooked when it got broken by a miscalculated swing — the information he gains leads him straight to the university, where the man he is looking for turns out to be the second dead body.
The two mismatched cops meet, fall passionately in love and spend the rest of the film having graphic sex with each other.... Naw, not really — but it did catch your attention, didn't it?
Actually, the two mismatched cops meet and end up more or less joining forces to solve the case. Along the way another man gets killed and crucified, Niémans is pointedly not shot to death (instead the unknown, faceless murderer shoots around the cowering, helpless cop), and the son of the university director dies when he unsuccessfully tries to run the cops' car off the road. The two Frenchmen discover that for untold generations the university has been implementing the Nazi concept of breeding a super race by selective breeding, adding new blood occasionally by exchanging healthy local babies with the inbred idiots born to the "master race" of the university. (The offspring sort of seems to negate the concept, doesn't it? And how many children must a given student couple have to ensure a decent enrollment?) Seemingly irrefutable evidence is suddenly discovered proving to the two the very thing the viewer thinks they knew all along: Fanny is the killer! Off they run to the big hoedown high on a mountain, where the real surprise secret is finally revealed and a bloody showdown ends with the three survivors being covered by a massive avalanche.
Perhaps the novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé on which the film is based has fewer gaps in logic and a better, watertight story, but the movie definitely falls completely apart the last 10 minutes. Sure the unexpected revelation is a surprise, but the surprise is as equally illogical as it is unexpected. And the snow avalanche might be thrillingly presented, but it still seems completely out of place to the rest of the film — and against all realistic odds, all survive to walk away. But, for all its flaws the film is a jolly well shot and good suspenseful ride, so who really cares that the script is about as tight as an elephant's vagina? The cinematography is a treat for the eyes, often weaving deeply towards the realm of a horror films, and the direction is crisp and effective. If nothing else, Les Rivières pourpres is in no way a boring film. Nowadays, that is an accomplishment.
Les Rivières pourpres was followed a sequel Les rivières pourpres II - Les anges de l'apocalypse / Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse (trailer) four years later that made even less sense and had even less logic, but it too makes for a fine evening of high class low brow entertainment. Love them Ninja monks.

Baja la Piel / Under The Skin (Peru, 1996)

An interesting but flawed film from Peru, heavily influenced by Hitchcock, which proudly wearing its influence on its sleeve. Though a German/Spanish/Peruvian production, director Francisco J. Lombardi is a true blue third worlder, having been born in Peru’s most southerly major town Tacna exactly twenty years after the town voted to return to Peru (from Chile) in 1929. (Tacna had become part of Chile in 1880 during The War of the Pacific.) The film itself however takes place today in some unnamed coastal town of Northern Peru, though, in truth, it could be almost anywhere along the coast.
The film opens with a truly typical sight of Peru, that of barefooted street kids dressed in shorts playing a game of soccer amidst the squalor of one the country’s numerous squatted settlements (a slightly more settled one, seeing that the houses are of dirt bricks and not straw mats). The ball gets kicked into a pile of trash and the boy fetching it stumbles upon the head of a dead young man, the fourth victim of some unknown serial killer working in the area who kills and beheads his victims, all youths in their early twenties. The provincial police chief is under pressure from the mayor of the town to do something quick, before the murders can ruin the upcoming regional festival. Into the picture appears Marina, the new pathologist, in whom the police chief promptly goes gaga for. With her help he pinpoints a local archaeologist from the museum as the murderer, but just when everything should be going well, things fall apart. Marina proves herself to have an uncontrollably hot box and promptly dumps the chief to screw around with the mayor’s obnoxious stud son, the police chief accidentally runs over his beloved dog and the archaeologist hangs himself in his jail cell. Suddenly, in the well of his misery, the chief sees a bloody way to solve all of his problems at the same time...
One film source claims that Augusto Cabada, the scriptwriter of Baja la Piel, was inspired by Doytoyevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment, but considering how little guilt the lead character feels in the end, the inspiration is obviously slight — if at all.
Admittedly enough, Bajo la piel is a well directed film with excellent cinematography with the type of convoluted script featuring all the unexpected twist and turns one expects in a film from a film-making Hitchcock fan such as Brian de Palma. The ending is especially a treat, the black humor hitting nicely below the belt. But something just ain’t right. Bingen Mendizabal’s musical score is terrible, washing loudly over any scene of importance in an overly emphatic wave that often destroys the very mood it should be accentuating. None of the characters are particularly likable, the police chief being a premature ejaculating brown noser for most of the film and Marina being little more than a moody, good-looking bitch. And Lombardi’s use of unrealistic Incan ruins can only be forgiven when viewed as being some sort of allusion to Hitchcock’s often equally unreal set pieces, like his Mount Rushmore sequence in North by Northwest (1959/trailer). Still, one has to considerably bend one’s view of reality to accept the concept that any Incan ruins in Peru would be empty enough for a couple to screw on a sacrificial alter, no matter how quickly the guy shoots his load. That said, one should probably nonetheless give this film some slack. Peru is not exactly the film making capital of the world — or third world, for that matter — and all in all, flawed or not, Baja la piel still has more good features than most Hollywood slop. Or than manyDe Palma films, to tell the truth. It's nihilism, for example, is truly exemplary.

Perkins' 14 (USA, 2009)

Definitely not the sequel to Ocean's 13 (2007/trailer).
On the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of his young son and 13 other local children of Stone Cove, Maine, a remote and broken Dwayne Hopper (Patrick O'Kane) appears for night shift at his job as a police at the front desk. His home life has long been a wreck, and he is visibly estranged from his wife Janine (Mihaela Mihut) and their Goth teenage daughter Daisy (Shayla Beesley). In the jail cells are Felicity (Katherine Pawlak), a hooker, and Ronald Perkins (Richard Brake), who was picked up on a traffics violation. His curiosity piqued by Perkins statements, Hopper does some research of a steadily increasing illegal nature into the man’s background, becoming convinced that Perkins is the person behind the disappearance of the 14 children some 10 years earlier.
And indeed, Perkins is the man: harboring a deep-seated need for revenging what he sees as the disinterest of the world in the double murder of his parents when he was a child, he kidnapped the children 10 years ago as part of a dastardly plan of revenge that reaches its climax that very night when, as a result of Hopper’s activities, 14 wild, drug-pumped and crazed teenagers, after 10 torturous years in cages in Perkins basement, are let loose upon and cut a violent, blood-drenched swath through the town. Hopper barely manages to save his daughter and her boyfriend — but not their fellow Goth friends (all of which are virtual satires of the philosophizing teenager) — from being ripped apart at the local Goth hang out, a deserted amusement area.
The three then manage to pick up Janine from the local seedy motel where she has barely managed to defend herself from an attack that cost her fuck-buddy his life. Among the 14 devil kids roaming the streets, Hopper recognizes his son — is there any way to reach him, to bring him back to reality? The group takes refuge in the local police station but the number of the survivors steadily diminishes after some of the killer kids break in, everything culminating in a depressing ending that is perhaps the only logical conclusion to all that precedes it….
Perkins' 14 is one of a series of films developed online at in which writers submitted story concepts for possible development. The idea for Perkins' 14 came from Jeremy Donaldson — who plays Sam, the 2nd victim of the 14 killers — and was then scripted by Lane Shadgett. The choice of Craig Singer, who previously helmed a couple of entertaining comic, entertaining third-rate Tarantinoesque thrillers — namely, Dead Dogs Lie (2001) and A Good Night to Die (2003/trailer), as director might seem a bit odd at first, but the good man obviously has much more up his sleeve than Tarantino imitations, for Perkins' 14 is a relentless, bloody, disheartening and effective horror film that keeps the viewer at the edge of their seat for most of its somewhat overlong 95 minutes. And while one might carp that Perkins sure takes his time to exact his revenge, in truth his motivation and patience is really no different to that found in any number of slasher films in which the killer is formed by some emotionally catastrophic event and then waits an untold number of years before exacting his revenge — like (to name but a few) the mother in the original Friday the 13th (1980/trailer), the brother in Prom Night (1980/trailer), or the killers in either version of My Bloody Valentine (1981 & 2009).
OK, some basic facts of small town life have to be ignored or forgotten to fully accept the events that play out — the biggest being that for a small New England town there seems to be an amazing dearth of citizens with weapons. (Who knows, maybe they don’t have deer season in Maine — Not!) Likewise, is there a police station in the world without a weapons depo? And where is the rest of the world — and why does no one contact it? And why doesn’t it send in troops or at least the State Police? And how small can a town be that has a busy, teeming street, as seen when Hopper walks to work, but can be ripped apart in no short order by a mere 14 wildly psychopathic killers? And why, towards the end of the film, do the savagely animalistic kids suddenly begin to show a conniving and deadly intelligence (and calmness) in their activities that in no way corresponds with their earlier hungry and bloodthirsty rage? Likewise, as always the individuals of the group keep doing things that result in their deaths that no sane person in such a situation would normally do, be it to simply sit and stare until the killer cuts one’s throat, explore a dark and stinking secret passageway, investigate a strange noise while going to the bathroom alone, or simply stand there and cry as someone calmly takes the gun out of your hand and shoots you in the head.
But luckily, Perkins 14 is so effective in its narrative, direction and visual shocks that most flaws come to mind only after the film is over, not while it is flickering across the screen. The acting is a bit uneven — Patrick O'Kane is particularly weak as Hopper — but Richard Brake deserves some praise for the way he plays Perkins: he is truly frightening and disgusting in a cold, calm and collected manner, repulsive in a way that reminds one of a supercilious, child-molesting clergyman.
Perkins' 14 could easily have been cut by about 10 minutes, which would have substantially increased the film's effectiveness, but it is a credit that must be noted that the film, despite its obvious excessive length, still keeps the viewer’s tense attention and also delivers some good suspense and scares. (And it sure ain’t stingy when it comes to blood and guts, either.) A hellish, grisly and depressing ride, Perkins' 14 is well worth checking out... and gives one reason to hope that the other films might also be well worth watching.

The Racket (USA, 1951)

A less than satisfying, supposed "classic" Film Noir that stars some of the biggest names most typical to similar genre films of that era, but that lacks in virtually any tension, visual flare or directional ingenuity. RKO’s top man Howard Hughes must have been sleeping when he decided to produce this thing, a remake of a film he had already produced once before in 1928. The script itself, while neatly tied together, is dry, clichéd and unexciting, despite having been penned by scriptwriter W.R. Burnett, who also wrote the scripts for such classics as Scarface (1932/trailer) and High Sierra (1941/trailer).
As directed by John Cromwell, a man whose directorial career goes as far back as the third version of The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Racket exhibits none of the talent featured the year before in Cromwell’s camp classic, women-behind-bars noir, Caged (1950/trailer). Dreary, predictable and tedious, The Racket features Robert Mitchum as the good guy (as to be expected), Robert Ryan as the bad guy (also to be expected) and Lizabeth Scott as the hardened nightclub singer gangster moll who sees the light (as to be expected). Mitchum sleepwalks through his role as Capt. McQuigg, the honest cop forever stymied in his attempts to stop crime by a corrupt city government headed by the city’s top bad guy, Nick Scanlon (Ryan). Ryan plays the gangster as such an over-the-top hothead that it quickly becomes hard to believe that he could’ve ever reached his position in the first place. Scott’s roll as Irene, the pawn Mitchum initially uses to bring Nick down, is actually a totally superfluous character, and she acts it as badly and unconvincingly as she always does. The whole film comes across as a well made, sterile mistake, completely pointless and existing for no reason other than to employ a bunch of names and give them rent money. The Racket does well to prove that no, even back then they didn't always make 'em like they used to...

The Wisher (Canada, 2002)

Mary Ryan (a very skinny Liane Balaban) is a typical female high school dweebie who gets her sexual kicks from horror films (as she tells the school shrink at one point). But the films cause her to sleepwalk and have nasty nightmares (the best one of which opens the film). Forbidden by her choleric dad (Iain MacLean) to see any more nasty films, she sneaks off with her two best friends to the local multiplex to catch the latest, box-office-busting horror film, The Wisher and puke up her dinner — but not before she, in an obnoxious hissy fit, wishes her daddy would just go away.
Daddy catches on that she is at the multiplex, and in a fit of rage he hops in the car to go get her but dies in a car accident after he swerves to avoid a darkly clad figure. Soon Mary starts having the paranoid feeling that she is being followed by no one else than the Wisher, but since no one but her ever sees the killer goth Nightmare-on-Elm-Street fan with glass shards taped to his fingers everyone writes Mary’s hysteria off as sublimated guilt. She inadvertently makes two more wishes, and *POOF!*, Debbie (Siri Baruc) one of her only two friends loses her tongue and the hot, blonde, prick-teasing bitch of the school (Melissa “Token Tits” Repka) gets slashed. Scary!!! (Not.)
Even after she and her last remaining friend Kara (Andrea Runge) get confronted with the Wisher, they can’t convince anybody that the killer is real, so they have to stop him themselves. But how? With the killer playing “Knock-Knock” at their front door, they begin an illegal computer download of the popular film to find out how to kill the Wisher — but darn it! The computer crashes….
The Wisher really doesn’t really cut the mustard at all as a body-count film: More people die in an average PG adventure flick than this lame and bloodless PG-13 visual hemorrhoid. Hell, of the three victims, only one really dies, while it is never really make it clear if the token tits of the film actually dies from being slashed. (Oddly enough, the girl who loses her tongue but definitely survives must have not seen who did it to her, for she never confirms Mary's insistence that the Wisher is responsible.) But to simply complain that The Wisher isn’t really a body count film fails to tell the full truth about the film, which is that it's more or less an unwatchable piece of shit.
Perhaps the only true surprising aspect of The Wisher — aka Spliced — is that it isn’t an Alan Smithee film. But then, in all truth the flaws of the 2002 film are due less to Gavin Wilding’s direction than the hair-brained, underdeveloped and third-rate screenplay supplied by Ellen Cook. That she hasn’t yet had another screen credit is hardly surprising; what is surprising is that she even has this one. The Wisher belongs up next to Do You Wanna Know A Secret (2001/trailer) on the shelf of half-assed, totally misfired slashers.
Sorta a shame, actually, for the acting isn’t really all that bad — except, glaringly enough, for the films token heart-throb casting: Drew Lachey (formerly of the boy group 98 Degrees) as the lame romantic interest and (alongside the school shrink played by the late Ron Silver) main red herring. Lachey is an unconvincing high-school student (unless he failed about 10 times), but he is an even less convincing red herring since the true killer is so obvious that they might as well had him wearing a “I’m the killer” sign. (Much like the how one knew who the killer was in Mortuary [1983/groovy trailer that has nothing to do with the film] because he was the only character who listened to classical music, in The Wisher the musical taste of one minor character promptly stamps him as the killer.)
For a change at least most of the characters (aside from Lachey) are played by actors that sort of look like they might really be high-schoolers, but since when do high schools have their own indoor swimming pools? And do today’s high-school students really take fuck-breaks in deserted rooms? (In truth, they obviously do, going by this story. In any event, the sexless fuck-break scene is an advantage to the film for it supplies the mandatory tits of the film (seen left).) As for the downloading speed of a movie during the film’s climax, it goes beyond satire and straight to ludicrousness. And how the hell does the Wisher-dude beam himself about town so quickly, easily and anonymously? Why didn’t the girls just run over him with the car when they had the chance? (And who buys these kids such great, expensive hot rods?) And little symbols like the one representing The-Artist-Formally-Known-As-Prince are supposed to induce cinema viewers to puke and/or kill or see the same stupid movie over and over and over and over…?
The DVD, by the way, comes with an alternative ending that is just as stupid as the actual open-end ending.
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