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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Frozen Scream (USA, 1975)

People with no budget and talent make something like Carnival of Souls (1962 / trailer  / full fantastic film); people with no budget and no talent make something like Frozen Scream.
The latter, a truly obscure flick of which we had never heard before, found its way into our DVD player primarily because it was on the flipside of our The Red Monks (1988 / trailer) DVD and we wanted to see both sides before we try (probably unsuccessfully) to unload the DVD to some unsuspecting sucker on eBay.
Since that night that we popped the DVD into our outdated but preferred mode of film-screening technology, we've learned a bit more about the cinematic monstrosity to which we subjected our eyes: once banned as "video nasty" in Great Britain for about the length of time it takes to pee, the resulting guilt-by-association is the movie's only true claim to fame and the only reason that it has survived its 15 seconds of infamy and is still mildly remembered today. Indeed, were more people to see this movie, it would surely gain the non-reputation it deserves and disappear, instead of hanging around like the malignant, cancerous "cult film" it supposedly is.
Then again, perhaps not: as Frozen Scream is one of those movies that is so bad, so incompetent, so unbelievably what-the-fuck that it makes most Ed Wood films look professional in comparison. One is tempted to simply write it off as "what-were-they-thinking, oh-they-needed-a-tax-deduction" trash, but, in truth, although an unbelievably inept film, Frozen Scream displays an earnestness shared by all those involved that, regardless of the respective lack of talent, makes the viewer realize that the people involved in the project were probably truly serious about it. Serious or not, however, it isn't surprising that it took the movie's director, Frank Roach, another nine years before he ever made another "movie", his last, Nomad Rider (1984 / scene). (Let us pray to Allah that he makes no other.)
The true mover-and-shaker behind Frozen Scream seems to have been Renee Harmon (18 May 1927 — 26 November 2006), seen above, who co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in the movie as Dr. Lil Stanhope. Renee Harmon was a "buxom and attractive" acting and screenwriting teacher and author — buy her books Film Producing: Low Budget Films That Sell, Teaching a Young Actor: How to Train Children of All Ages for Success in Movies, TV, and Commercials, Film Directing: Killer Style and Cutting Edge Technique, How to Audition for Movies & TV, and The Beginning Filmmaker's Guide to a Successful First Film on Amazon — who, going by the movies she had a hand in, was working in a field for which she had no talent. (See the other projects she took part in, Al Adamson's  Cinderella 2000 [1977 / trailer] and William Sachs' Van Nuys Blvd. [1979 / trailer] — the two best films on her resume — and those she wrote & produced & acted in, The Executioner, Part II [1984 / a trailer of kinds / full disaster], Hell Riders [1984 / scene], Lady Street Fighter [1985], and Night of Terror aka Escape From The Insane Asylum [1986 / scene] for further proof of her noteworthy sub-psychotronic Z-talents.)
The best thing that can be said about Renee Harmon, actually, is that the accent she exhibits throughout Frozen Scream, which we assume is her real accent seeing that she was born and raised in Germany, is almost as thick as that of Uschi Dirgart. Unlike Harmon, however, Dirgart at least also usually displayed other more-appealing factors in the trash she participated in, including a natural charisma that was often still fully palpable even when she was dressed. Here in Frozen Scream, though, Harmon displays as little natural charisma as she does flesh or talent — she, like everything in the movie, is a train wreck of terribleness that is as repulsive as it is insanely and inexplicably fascinating. That so few involved ever went on to do anything else is not surprising; what is amazing, however, is that one — Wolf Muser (Caged in Paradiso [1990 / theme & final credits]) — did, and is still active today as a character actor, if rarely.
The plot, as far as we could tell, revolves around two doctors with bad accents, Dr. Lil Stanhope (Renee Harmon) and Dr. Sven Johnsson (Lee James of The Female Bunch [1971 / trailer]), who are involved in nefarious experiments to achieve immortality. When hubby Tom (Wolf Muser) dies, wife Ann (Lynne Kocol) gets back together with ex-boyfriend Kevin (Thomas McGowan of Die Hard Dracula [1998 / trailer]) to find out the truth about ... something. Some people die, other people are revived, there's a love story, a priest, indiscriminate murders, parties, dream sequences, flashbacks, and enough surreal behavior and out-of-the-blue turns in the storyline to make for one incomprehensible film. What's more, as if the movie wasn't disjointed enough, it is then made all the more incomprehensible by an occasional, subsequently-added clarifying voiceover of one character, Kevin McGuire, that clarifies nothing and only makes the movie more confusing. There are bursts of badly staged "gory" killings, most of which don't have anything to do with the plot itself — guess being immortal makes you kill-happy — and one fabulous death by dancing at a party where everyone continues dancing and partying despite a dead blonde (Sunny Bartholomew). Mix all that with crappy acting, incomprehensible montage and editing, grade-school directorial skills, and a total lack of compositional skills and you have one astonishing and muddled piece of celluloid flotsam.
Frozen Scream gives meaning to the word bizarre, if unintentionally, and is entertaining only as a sum of its various incompetencies. As such, Frozen Scream is also a rare, one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, but of the kind that can only be recommended to fans of bad films. Perhaps, in the end, it doesn't make you laugh as much as a film as bad as this one should, but it definitely does leave you open-mouthed and amazed that anything this terrible could be committed to celluloid.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nowhere to Hide / Injeong sajeong bol geot eobtda (Korea, 1999)

Here's an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie that gives you the feeling you should like it more than it actually makes itself likable. Available in two versions, the original Korean version at 112 minutes and an international version at 97, we watched the latter and came away with two main feelings: one, the movie is surely better on the big screen than the small, and two, it's way too long (even when shorn of the extra 15 minutes). We also found the main actor playing Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) unbearable and almost one-note, but the color, composition, cinematography, and visuals do compensate a bit for his half-assed imitation of a walking ape.
Nowhere to Hide opens with a high-contrast B&W scene that is actually emblematic of all that which is good and bad in the movie. In its cinematic seductiveness, it calls to mind the pop artiness often practiced by the Japanese director Suzuki Seijun in films like his classic Tokyo Drifter (1966 / trailer), if doped by speed, and in doing so really raises one's expectations — despite Woo's obnoxiously ridiculous swagger. Visually, most of the movie also continues to display the director's audaciousness and fine eye, but flash and dazzle alone and no story makes Jack a dull boy. And much like how even the most beautiful person in the world begins to get on one's nerve if they have no brain but like to talk, after about 15 minutes Nowhere to Hide begins to feel like a zipless fuck that is overstaying his or her welcome.
The opening scene really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie — though one could argue it presents the "character" of the lead policeman — and comes across a bit as if it were simply tacked on to stretch the running time, which makes it all the more odd that Nowhere to Hide was cut for its international release. After this stroboscopic sock 'em and shoot 'em scene, the movie moves to the main plot, but the plot is reduced to the point of inconsequentiality: bad guy introduced, bad guy chased, bad guy finally caught. It is — as the movie's final scene faintly refers, when the female lead (Choi Ji-Woo) walks past Woo and totally ignores him — an anorexic reduction of the bare bones of The Third Man (1949 / trailer) and a thousand other bad-guy-pursued films. But whereas in most films one scene follows the other and build towards a final, most of the various scenes of Nowhere to Hide seem to all stand alone with but the most gossamer of interlinkage. And as good as the scenes might be, once too often one really wishes that the obviously highly visually adroit director Myung-se Lee also had as much talent at scriptwriting and directing actors and had put a bit more time into the story and the direction of the performers instead of just constantly wowing us with his optical finesse.
After the pop-arty but pointless opening scene, the bare-bones story begins with a well-shot scene of a murder on an outside open stairwell that deserves brownie points not only for the excellence with which it is both set up and executed, but also for getting away with using the Bee Gees' Holiday without seeming stupid. (Why the "mysterious [killer] Sungmin" — an excellent Ahn Sung-Ki — should choose to involve so many minions in a job he could well have done himself does seem a bit odd, however.)
From there, we're introduced to the violent world of the Incheon police as they take a real "hands-on approach" to solving the murder, which proves to be part of drug underworld war. Some leads are followed, others are skipped over via a text board stating "so-and-so many days later" that gets shot full of bullets before the next impressively shot or dazzling scene commences. Often, like the naked child molester in the police station or the long drive to another town, the scenes are so extraneous to the story one wonders why they are even there. (To the director, we can only say: learn to kill your darlings.) Even Woo's visit to his sis, which can be at least written off as character development, seems extraneous simply for the fact that when a plot is as lean as in Nowhere to Hide — it's way leaner than that of Walter Hill's Driver (1978 / trailer), which says a lot — character development is fat. Why spend time on that when, if you are going to add padding, the story could way better use some decent inter-seaming?
When watching Nowhere to Hide on the flatscreen, and even on one of larger than average size, it quickly becomes obvious that the movie was not made for the device. It is a movie for the cinema, for the big screen, and on such a screen it is surely a visual overdose of great power, one with enough punch that its other flaws become secondary, perhaps even immaterial. But not many people have a home cinema, so the flaws — above all: uneven acting, a disjointed story, and one too many chase scenes — become noticeable and the film almost dull in its redundancies. The result, as we said: an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie that gives you the feeling you should like it more than it actually makes itself likable. (Try, if you might, to imagine a spicy beef burrito with dollops and dollops of spice, but no beef.)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...