Thursday, March 31, 2016

Short Film: How to Undress in Front of Your Husband (USA, 1937)

Poster thanks to The Cinema Masochist.

"I think this worry is about over, though. In a few moments, Trixie will fold up like a dump truck and call it a day. Yes, I was right. The dreadnought is about to drop anchor."
Narrator (Albert Van Antwerp)

Another early "educational" blast from the past by those classic purveyors of road show sleaze, the great Dwain Esper (director) and his wife, Hildegarde Stadie ("adaptation"), the dynamic duo who also brought us one of our favorite "guilty pleasures", Maniac (1934). Maniac was one of the many movies we saw in 2013, and one of the select few that made it to our list of Ten Best in 2013. (And what a list it was, that year!) We even recommended this short here in our review of that slab of sublime celluloid trash, but we feel it time to finally present How to Undress in Front of Your Husband as our Film of the Month. Hard to believe that something this quaint was ever considered scandalous. It was made the same year as Esper & Stadie's other "educational" short How to Take a Bath, which, aside from supposedly featuring the same two leads, has entered the realm of the Lost Film (please check your attic).
Enjoy of Short Film of the Month for March 2016 —
How to Undress in Front of Your Husband:

As Dangerous Minds explains it, "The short film you’re about to take a look at is more than just a cheap, extraordinarily sexist exploitation film from 1937. Indeed, How to Undress in Front of Your Husband is most certainly that, but if you can put the stupidity of the attitudes expressed in the film aside momentarily, you’ll notice that it also happens to be surrounded by a bunch of weird, perhaps even interesting facts. Case in point: It involves the huckster distributer of  Reefer Madness (1936 / trailer / full film / remake [2005] trailer) and his salacious screen writing wife, the film bears a mysterious similarity to a LIFE magazine article featuring photos of ex-burlesque stripper, June St. Clair made in the same year, one of the lead characters (such as there are characters) is the fourth wife of John Barrymore and the other lead character was an ahead-of-her-time suffragette."
The wife of John Barrymore, his fourth and last, is of course Elaine Barrie (née Jacobs; 16 Jul 1915 — 1 Mar 2003); he was 37 years older and an alcoholic when they married. Her only known feature-film credit is Midnight (1939 / trailer), with her husband; later, she spent many years living as a "designer" on Haiti. 
The other lead character, the full-figured "ahead-of-her-time suffragette" shown above, is Trixie Friganza (born Delia O'Callahan, 29 Nov 1870 — 27 Feb 1955), a one-time popular vaudevillian artist and stage actress who ended her years mostly forgotten and teaching at a convent school, which she also left all her worldly goods. According to Wikipedia, "During the height of her career, she used her fame to promote social, civic, and political issues of importance, such as self-love and the Suffragist movement." Friganza's appearance here is perhaps a bit sad, as it was in the twilight of her career (she was soon forced to retire due to health reasons), and while her (at the time politically incorrect) stage comedy act was built around her physical shortcomings, the film is more than degrading in its treatment of her, a woman who deserves more remembrance than she ever has received.
Trixie Friganza "sings"
The Girl from Honolulu:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Trailers of Promise: Mad Monster Party (USA, 1967)

Directed by Jules Bass. Jules Bass (born 16 September 1935) was one half of Rankin/Bass Productions, Inc., a US American production he founded on September 14, 1960, as Videocraft International, with his partner Arthur Rankin, Jr. (19 July 1924—30, Jan 2014). Rankin/Bass specialized in stop-motion features (usually for TV) made using their self-named "Animagic" technique, though they also made an occasional live action or traditional animated movie. Most baby-boomers and elder Gen-Xers are familiar with one or another of their movies, above all the 1964 stop-motion TV production Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (remix trailer), which was at one point as much of an annual TV tradition as the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz (1939 / trailer). [As we no longer live the US, we have no idea if either film is still a traditional annual broadcast.]
Trailer to
Mad Monster Party:
Mad Monster Party is one of their rare stop-motion, feature-film productions, starring the voices (and likenesses) Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller. The project was probably spurred by the TV popularity of campy monsters, as exemplified by series such as The Addams Family (1964-66) and The Munsters (1964-66). The great Harvey Kurtzman, of Mad magazine and EC comics, had a hand in writing the script; popular if unsupported rumor has Forrest J. Ackerman involved in the script as well. Interesting trivia: this was the last project associated with Frankenstein that Boris Karloff took part in, 36 years after gaining fame by playing the monster in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931 / trailer).
This movie seems to now be a popular cult film, but we only stumbled upon it a few weeks ago. And while the trailer does pique our interest, it is the two music videos found further below that really make us want to see the movie. After years of neglect, within the last decade it has enjoyed a couple of remastered releases on DVD, most recently by Lionsgate. The film was released on Blu-ray on September 4, 2012.
Mad Monster Party:
The plot, as found at TCM: "Aging Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Karloff), who lives on a Caribbean island with his monster, his wife (Phyllis Diller of The Boneyard [1991]), and his ward, Francesca (Gale Garnett of The Children [1980 / trailer]), discovers the secret of total destruction, thus completing research that began with the discovery of the secret of creation. He decides to hold a convention for the world's most renowned monsters so that he may choose a successor to lead the Worldwide Organization of Monsters and to inherit his secret. The guests include Dracula, The Werewolf, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, It, Yetch (a Peter Lorre characterization), The Invisible Man (as played by Claude Rains), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, Quasimodo (as played by Charles Laughton), and King Kong. Felix Flanken (Allen Swift), Frankenstein's supposedly normal nephew, kept in ignorance of the proceedings, falls in love with Francesca, unaware that she is one of his uncle's mechanical creations. Intrigue follows intrigue as the monsters try to surpass one another to gain the prestigious position. Francesca meets with a surprise when Felix's identity is revealed."
In 1972, Rankin/Bass released the animation TV movie The Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters (1972 / trailer), a prequel of sorts to the original. The soundtrack was released in 1998 by Percepto.
The Mummy 
by Little Tibia and the Fibias

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Zombeavers (USA, 2014)

Let's get down to it, you can't really fault a movie with a title like Zombeavers 'cause, like what? You expect the directorial talent of Orson Welles and don't find it? You miss the thespian abilities of actors like Meryl Streep or Samuel L. Jackson? The tight scriptwriting of the Coen Brothers? Jesus Christ, we're talking about a movie entitled Zombeavers, not cinematic fine art.
With a title like Zombeavers, you know what you're getting: trash that aims to be brainless, bloody, and funny entertainment. The only question is whether the flick sucks (it doesn't) or is any fun (it is, mostly). Zombeavers might be flawed, and it isn't anywhere near as brilliant as the classic bloodbath comedies Brain Dead (1992 / German trailer), the eternally underrated Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010), or even the lesser classic Return of the Living Dead (1985 / trailer), but it is far more fun than tedious and, oddly enough, has a lot of charm. It definitely gets two thumbs up from us.
But then again, we did watch this movie a week after we tortured ourselves with another teen exploiter with an equally ridiculous title, Teenage Caveman (2002), so perhaps our enjoyment of Zombeavers was tempered by the vile experience of the earlier film. Both shared many elements aside from the idiotic titles: young protagonists, exploitive nudity, sex, bad acting, an obvious low budget, violence, and gore. But whereas the older film generated nary a laugh and left us feeling oddly filthy, Zombeavers kept us in a good mood from the go, surprised us more than once, and all its sex and nudity was so ridiculous that it worked more as a source of off-color humor than as ephebophiliac exploitation (the girls at least look like young adults). People may die left and right, but rather unlike Teenage Caveman, Zombeavers isn't really a mean movie — despite scenes like that of a bloodily bitten-off male appendage of personality-forming importance.
The plot is typically mundane: three college gal-pals of equal attractiveness but varying annoyance, Mary (Rachel Melvin of Boo [2005]), Zoe (Cortney Palm of Silent Night [2012 / trailer]), and Jenn (Lexi Atkins), depart for a weekend alone at a cabin owned by Mary's cousin located next to a beaver-damned lake. Though meant as weekend for the gals, boyfriends current and soon-to-be past, Buck (Hutch Dano), Tommy (Jake Weary of Altitude [2012 / trailer] and It Follows [2014 / trailer]), and Sam (Peter Gilroy), show up and the fodder number rises to six college students, plus two neighbors, a dog or two, and a local hunter, Smyth (Rex Linn). As for the beavers, a funny pre-credit sequence reveals their origin: the typical lost canister of some mysterious chemical.
In other words, nothing overly creative or new about the basic setting, but the fun comes with what they do within this generic framework. The opening scene leading up to the loss of the canister, for example, has some surprisingly intelligent and funny dialog culminating in a bumper full of blood. This in turn segues into a surprisingly well-made credit sequence (inspired, perhaps by the credit sequence of Catch Me If You Can [2002 / trailer]) which, combined with the prologue opening scene, does a lot to raise one's expectations.
True, when then we meet our heroines we are promptly confronted with acting and dialogue so bad that one fears that the worst expectations might prove founded, but luckily the next relatively weak 10 minutes fly past quickly enough and Zombeavers catches the curve and becomes surprisingly entertaining and enjoyable. And best of all: it is ridiculously funny without being completely stupid.
Though there are a few highpoints of gore humor — e.g., the ending of the opening sequence, a lesbian-come-on scene gone wrong, and the previously mentioned male appendage scene — Zombeavers is far less bloody than it could've been. In general, but for the prolog conversation between the two delivery men losers, the situational or visual jokes work better than those based on dialog. Logic doesn't really play all that important of a role, and all characterization is based cardboard stereotypes and archetypes, but had the film concentrated on either it would probably have been far less entertaining.
A major plus point is the total lack of CGI and, in turn, reliance on entertainingly cheesy animatronic models for the beavers, which in all truth are about as convincing as the rug-wearing dogs in the trash classic, The Killer Shrews (1959). (Unlike in that entertaining flick, however, the beavers here aren't meant to be taken seriously.) About the only times the effects don't really work on either a cheesy or gory level are in the nighttime scenes of a yard full of glowing eyes: here, the achieved look actually looks as if it were not intentional.
As a whole, Zombeavers's 77 minutes go by at a pleasant pace. The film doesn't overstay its welcome, but also doesn't feel rushed. The narrative just throws in everything expected (and a few things more) without meandering. Most of the humor won't win any awards, but as puerile as it often is, it still makes you laugh, giggle, or at least smile, even as you cringe at the thought of what is transpiring. And for being such one-note characters, a few actually become likeable; something due, perhaps, to the fact that as characters, most seem to actually care about each other.
Zombeavers: the title reveals the intelligence of the concept, but not how much fun the movie is. There are better blood-drenched zomcoms there — re: Peter Jackson's Brain Dead — but this one here is perfectly acceptable for a fun evening. Grab the beer, chips, and joint and enjoy a movie that delivers exactly what it promises. (How often does that happen in this modern world?)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Grabbers (Ireland/GB, 2012)

We like to drink. And we know many other people who like to drink. And when we all go out drinking together, we generally have a great time: we're witty and funny and party hardy and life is grand. That is how it is on the side of the bar that drinks, not serves. But on the side that serves, well, in another life that lasted some 15 years, 10 of which was spent serving the drinks the other 5 were spent hiring and firing those who served them — we learned something: drunk people aren't funny. At least, not if you're not drunk, too. (Luckily, in Berlin, at least in the bars we worked in, drunken bartenders were employable and socially acceptable.)
But we weren't drunk when we watched Grabbers, a comedy monster film, with five similarly sober friends. And though we drank while watching, we never actually got drunk — or at least not drunk enough to enjoy this movie. Seldom were any of us more bored, and seldom have we laughed less.
Grabbers, the basic plot of which involves a remote Irish town that has to drink themselves into a drunken stupor to survive the onslaught of the titular monsters from outer space, which happen to be alergic to alcohol, is one dud of a movie: predictable from start to finish, almost never scary or in any way tense, thin on laughs, and full of unfunny drunken people.
Which isn't to say Grabbers doesn't have a few plus points. For one, it features Bronagh Gallagher (Botched [2007 / trailer] and Malice in Wonderland [2009 / trailer]) in a secondary role with a Betty Page haircut; we would have liked the film even less had she not been present, regardless of how minor her part.* Secondly, it has some truly fine cinematography and the landscape is fabulous — but then, the landscape of Ireland is fabulous, so that must be seen more as a credit to the country and not to this movie. (Believe us: if you've never driven through Ireland, do so; you might decide to move there.) Ditto with the great accents: the Irish lilt is always a pleasure to listen to, but again, this a credit to the land and not the movie. But other than the above three aspects, there is little to recommend in this predictable, almost trite, and definitely neither funny — OK, we did laugh when Dr. Adam Smith (Russell Tovey of Blackwood [2014 / trailer]) went flying through the air, but that was over half-way into the movie already — nor scary monster film.
* Her little exchange about renting the bridal suite reminded me of an exchange I had many years ago in Cork, but in reverse, in a sense. Having travelled through Ireland for 14 days with an Irishwoman friend — as in, non-sexual friendship — we arrived in Cork late in the evening and managed to find a bed & breakfast. When the lady of the house was showing us the room, the first room after 10 days in which the beds were separate, a fact that made both me and my friend happy, the proprietress suddenly chimed out with that fabulous accent: "Should I push the two beds together in case you want to commit a mortal sin?"
Were we in any way forgiving, we might also mention that the editing and lighting are first-rate, the CGI not shabby, the blocking and cinematography professional, and some of the acting (up until they play "drunk") is mildly good — but who gives a shit when the movie, as a whole, fails so miserably? It actually hurt now and then to see the good points wasted in a movie that was so predictable, so completely unoriginal. Hell, in the first scene that Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) has her coffee prepared by Garda Ciarán O'Shea (Richard Coyle of Outpost: Black Sun [2012 / trailer] and Franklyn [2008]), you already know they're going to end up a couple.
Why? Because the screenplay is by the number and has all the creativity of the pitch that was probably given: "Well, see, we take Tremors (1990 / trailer) and make the graboids into rolling octopuses called grabbers that drink blood, and move the setting from ugly Buttfuck USA to beautiful Buttfuck Ireland because the Irish like to drink and drunks are funny." Whoever green-lighted this thing must have been drunk is all that we can say.
How and why Grabbers gets so many good reviews is beyond us, and actually says less about the quality of the movie than the ease with which the masses are satisfied. Major bomb. Not funny. Total waste of time. Want a good, semi-contemporary monster movie? Go for Tremors — or, with less monster but with a similarly pro-drug attitude (yes, alcohol is a drug), the funny and suspensful teen horror flick, The Faculty (1998 / trailer). Or, if it's just suspense you want, Splinter (2008). But skip Grabbers. We sure wish we had.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Art of the Devil II / Long khong (Thailand, 2005)

One of two follow-up movies to Tanit Jitnukul's original horror movie of the same name (2004 / trailer), Art of the Devil ll is a titular sequel only and is completely unrelated to the first film. (Art of the Devil III [2008 / trailer], in turn, while likewise only titularly related to Art I, is a prequel to this movie.) The shared narrative aspect of all three horror films, all of which were highly successful in their homeland but haven't exactly gained much notice elsewhere, is that of black magic.
That said, let's take a closer look at the film at hand, which was pulled from our pile of "mystery DVDs" (i.e., don't when or why or how it was procured) and watched last week with an audience of four. Art of the Devil ll also elicited four different reactions: one person said "That sucked"; another dismissed it with "That was gross"; a third said "That was an enjoyably bad movie"; and lastly came the protestation, "Hey, it was a pretty good flick". We were the protesting party. For: "Sucked" it did not, "gross" it often was, and a "bad movie" in the sense of psychotronic fun or fun crap like Showgirls (1995 / trailer) or The Hottie and the Nottie (2008 / trailer) it is most definitely not. And we ourselves at least founds the movie often rather horrific.
True, The Art of the Devil II may be low-culture trash, as body-count and other genre films generally are, but it is also interesting in many ways and easily retains viewer interest, and not just because of the exotic factor. (This alone makes it way better than most movies out there, and not just genre films.) Like many Asian films the editing sometimes overly streamlines the narrative, not only moving the story forward in jumps but also resulting in gaps that require some quick and creative thinking on the part of the viewer. Still, considering that the movie was directed by seven directors (Pasith Buranajan, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Isara Nadee, Seree Phongnithi, Yosapong Polsap, Putipong Saisikaew and Art Thamthrakul), Art of the Devil ll is not only surprisingly coherent, but the acting passable to excellent. In this regard, the evil woman of the film, the total MILF teacher Mrs. Panor (Napakpapha Nakprasitte), excels: sexy throughout, she succeeds at different points to convey likability, pain, seductiveness, bitchiness, pure evil — in other words, the full gamut needed to become a convincing character. It is not surprising that she was nominated for acting awards that year by both the Bangkok Critics Assembly as well as the Thailand National Film Association. (The various no names that play the fodder don't excel in any way, but considering that dubbing usually makes bad actors even worse and they merely come across as weak, they do a perfectly acceptable job.)
The basic plot of Art of the Devil ll has little to do with art, other than that there are a few obscure references to tattoos and the MILF also has some devilish body art. The basic plot involves a group of students returning to their countryside home after two years in the big city for the funeral of the father of their friend, Ta (Namo Tongkumnerd, also of Art of the Devil III and 407 Dark Flight 3D [2014 / trailer]), who stayed behind in the backwaters of Thailand. But things are not as they seem in them there backwaters, and come nightfall the realization comes that the sins of the past are now demanding their due. 
Ghosts and dead people play a part in a moral tail that is anything but gore lite and that also (Thank god!) lacks the Asian (e.g., Japanese and Korean) obsession with long-haired ghosts. The moral to the tale is a simple one: don't fuck around with black magic. Black magic, however, is the shared sin of all those in the movie, and they pay dearly for their sins; the dark arts are even at the foundation of the final twist of the movie, a twist that we for one did not see coming. (Indeed, a slow-dawning twist of Art of the Devil ll is the realization that the evil MILF was, basically, driven to madness and evil by all those around her, and that she became what she is due to desperation caused by factors that she had no control of. Be careful of what you create, we must say.)
The horror in Art of the Devil ll is of the illogical supernatural type, in that the way it manifests itself is often more nightmarishly inane than fully understandable. Much like, say, in the great granddaddy of all Gothic horror novels, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, in which the about-to-marry Conrad dies by being crushed by a gigantic helmet falling from the sky, there is often no logical explanation why something happens or why some die in a specific way, other than it is supernatural. Two deaths that perfectly exemplify this would be the first one, in which a man (whom we later learn was the local gym teacher) suffers fishhooks emerging from beneath his skin, and the death of Ko [Pavarit Wongpanitch], who suffers a similar fate, only this time it's living lizards that bloodily and fatally force themselves out from under his skin. Bloody, but why fishhooks or lizards? Especially since the evil MILF generally seems to prefer a more hands-on or at least direct approach. But then, black magic and revenge follows no logic but its own.
Amidst all the many gore highlights are other events that are more mundane but nonetheless effectively horrific, as exemplified by the scene in which the group suddenly realize that their half-eaten evening meal is made from their missing friend Noot [Chanida Suriyakompon]. (The scene of granny eating the cat, on the other hand, is more laughable, both because the cat looks so fake and because of Ta's reaction. [He says something to the effect "She's hungry, but a little confused."]) Occasionally, there are moments of unexpectedly subtlety, as in the scene following that in which the group lights incense to ward off evil spirits.
Despite its graphic and gory opening scene, Art of the Devil ll is perhaps a little slow to start, but once the college students are underway and the first brown-tinged flashback kicks in, the movie definitely begins to intrigue. The time-jumping narration works surprisingly well, and the revelations the flashbacks disclose often add an unexpected viewpoint to the events, if not a kick in the gut to the viewer's sympathies at the given point in the movie. (More than one person in the movie has a dark secret, you might say.) The blood-spattered scenes and shocks are often unnerving and cringingly effective, at best both painful and nightmarish. (And not for the squeamish, as the movie often waltzes deep into the sphere of torture porn.) And considering how prudish the young couple Kim (Hataiwan Ngamsukonpusit) and Por (Akarin Siwapornpitak) are at the start of the movie — they barely manage to kiss each other's cheeks — sex plays a huge role in the movie, which features scenes not only of the MILF teacher getting it on with a variety of men, but also infers both a lesbian relationship between two of the group as well as the oral rape of the young students, both female and male, by the gym teacher. (Never graphic, but always unequivocal.) The final twist is not necessarily to be seen in advance — as we've already mentioned, we sure didn't see it coming — but is nevertheless extremely consequent to the black tale told.
Karma is a bitch — and Art of the Devil ll is bitchin'!
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