Thursday, January 31, 2019

R.I.P.: Dick Miller

25 Dec 1928 – 30 Jan 2019

While we had planned to post something else today, we awoke to find out that one of our all-time favorite character actors, the American thespian treasure known as Dick Miller, entered the Great Nothingness yesterday. There was simply no way a passing like that can be ignored. 
A Bronx-born Christmas Day present to the world, Miller entered the film biz doing redface back in 1956 in the Roger Corman western Apache Woman (trailer). He quickly became a Corman regular and, as a result, became a favorite face for an inordinate amount of modern and contemporary movie directors, particularly those weaned and teethed in Corman productions. (Miller, for example, appears in every movie Joe Dante has made to date.)
A working thespian to the end, Miller's last film, the independent horror movie Hanukkah (trailer), starring fellow low culture thespian treasure Sid Haig, just finished production. In it, as in many of Miller's films, his character is named Walter Paisley in homage to his first truly great lead role, that of the loser killer artist/busboy Walter Paisley in Roger Corman's classic black comedy, A Bucket of Blood (1959).
Logic would dictate that anyone who is interested in a blog like a wasted life should be at least passingly familiar with Dick Miller as an actor. If not, we won't ask "What are you doing here?" but, instead, suggest that perhaps you check out the documentary That Guy Dick Miller, "a funny, candid, and upbeat look at Dick's career which spans six decades with more than 175 motion pictures, 4 television series and over 2000 television appearances."
As per the film's website, the documentary follows "Dick from his first big role in Bucket of Blood [to] The Terror (1963), on to Gremlins 1 (1984) & 2 (1990), New York New Year [sic] (1977), The Terminator (1984), Demon Knight (1995) to the Fame TV series (1982-87), and up to one of his latest roles in […] Burying the Ex (2014). He has worked for such noted directors as: Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Ernest Dickerson, Sam Fuller and Jonathan Kaplan, to name a few, and over the years, he has shared the screen with Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Boris Karloff, Ray Milan, Ray Milland, Jada Pinkett Smith, Julianna Margulies, Kim Novak, and David Carradine, and many more. There is a wealth of rare footage, photos and video, plus never before seen 8mm shots behind the scenes of movies little, and legendary. Film fans get rare glimpses into Dick's family, his early days in New York, the move to L.A., his struggles, his process and his artwork. Augmented by animation, illustration, and hundreds of clips, personal home movies, and 47 interviews – we can see why 'that guy's in everything!'"
Trailer to
That Guy Dick Miller:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Short Film: The Snow Man (USA, 1940)

In many places in the world, January is still a snowy winter month. And that is why we're presenting a winter-kind of short film. In theory, this film is set in the summer month of July, but snow is snow is snow, and snow is needed to make a snowman. Even an evil snowman. And before the caps melt and snowmen are but a legend of the past, here is short animated film that shows why kids and cute animals shouldn't play with snow. (Matches are more fun, anyways.)
The Snow Man was written and directed by John Foster (27 Nov 1886 – 16 Feb 1959) and Emanuel "Mannie" Davis (23 Jan 1894 – Oct 1975). In their lifetime, the two worked together on at least 126 cartoon shorts, if not possibly more. The Snow Man and Terrytoons' The Ghost Town (1944 / short film) are the only ones they did together to overtly feature any "horror" elements. 
The plot, as given at the Internet Archives facebook page: "An innocent frolic in the snow turns into a horrifyingly homicidal rampage. Nothing a little global warming can't solve, though."

Like weird old cartoons? Check out these other 20th-century cartoon shorts chosen in the past as a Short Film of the Month:
March 2010: The Skeleton Dance (USA, 1929)
Feb 2011: The Hangman (USA, 1964)
Jan 2013: Bimbo's Initiation (USA, 1931)
Oct 2013: Swing You Sinners! (USA, 1930)
Aug 2014: Balloon Land (USA, 1935)
Oct 2014: Hell's Bells (USA, 1929)
Sept 2015: A Short Vision (USA, 1956)
Feb 2017: Der Fuehrer's Face (USA, 1942)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Skenbart: En film om tåg / Illusive Tracks (Sweden, 2003)

(Spoilers) Skenbart: En film om tåg, which didn't really reach the English-speaking world (but for various film festivals, mostly LGBTQ) as Illusive Tracks, is an entertaining if slightly schizophrenic — and unjustly unknown — neo-noir farcical black comedy that truly deserves discovery outside of its home country of Sweden.
Set at Christmas time 1945, the movie revolves around the bumbling do-gooder, Gunnar (Gustaf Hammarsten of Brüno [2009 / trailer]), a Wittgenstein-reading editor of a small publishing house who has quit his job to go to Berlin to help with the post-war rebuilding efforts. Also on the Berlin Express he boards are a war-injured soldier (Robert Gustafsson), a ticketless Catholic doctor (Magnus Roosmann) out to murder his wife (although he would prefer that his mistress do the deed), the mistress Marie (Anna Björk) and the wife Karin (Kristina Törnqvist), a gay couple, two nuns and some two or three dozen war refugees on their way home. The movie interweaves a variety of narrative threads, but for the most part the focus is on the disastrous results of Gunnar's attempts to do good, which are not all that noir, and the noirish narrative of the murderous doctor and the two women in the doc's life. Of the two strands, the latter has the most interesting developments, while the former almost becomes predictable because one quickly comes to realize that if Gunnar is involved, it will go wrong.
To say the film is idiosyncratic is perhaps a bit of an understatement. To what extent the director Peter Dalle, who also wrote the script and took on the role of the train's almost-Teutonic acting, uptight conductor, consciously emulates the directorial and narrative playfulness of the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple [1984 / trailer], The Hudsucker Proxy [1994 / trailer], The Man Who Wasn't There [2001 / trailer], and so much more) is open to discussion, but the incongruent but well-conceived intermingling of B&W period setting, humor, crime and excellent cinematography often call the Hollywood auteur duo to mind. Dalle may not quite be of equal visual or narrative caliber, and his humor is often crasser (see: the excessive puking of the refugees), but his film is nevertheless a tightly scripted, highly creative farce that is both a visual pleasure and blackly funny.
That said, the tribulations of the soldier, like the results of Gunnar's attempts to do good, do become a bit predictable — whenever he appears, one comes to know his injuries will only increase — but the consistency of his bad luck and positive attitude only serve to make the humor of his last two appearances in the movie doubly as funny. Likewise, Gunnar's easy and nonjudgmental acceptance of the sexuality of Pompe (Gösta Ekman [28 July 1939 – 1 April 2017]) and Sixten (Lars Amble [10 Aug 1939 – 20 Aug 2015]), a gay couple whose closest equivalent is perhaps Martha and George of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966 / trailer), is extremely contemporary for a movie set in 1945 — but then, characters in many films often display attitudes that differ from those common to the temporal setting. Indeed, "realistic" is not an adjective usually bantered when talking of celluloid farces of this ilk.
Gunnar's clumsiness transcends imagination: literally, no act he does, good or otherwise, leaves those around him unharmed. And while one cannot help but feel sorry for him by the end of the film, his general clumsiness and disaster-proneness prove to be truly deadly: arguably, by the last scene, he has committed unintentional manslaughter by the dozen(s).
As for the murderous triangle of the doc and two women, the big twist at the end won't catch the more observant all that off guard, even if it might not really hold water all that tightly if one ruminates about all that must have transpired the days, weeks, months prior to the train's departure. The doc, in any event, is a truly repulsive person, and while for much of the movie one assumes his Christian justifications are merely blather he uses to control his mistress, by the end of the movie one realizes he is very much a "faithful" hypocrite. He would be a grotesque exaggeration were it not that he and his self-righteousness are a relatively realistic if unintentional (and biting) reflection of the contemporary religious right of America: evil, in the end, is only evil if "the others" do it. (Which is why Trump is truly making a rare truthful statement when he says that he could shoot someone and not lose voters/supporters.)
On occasion, Skenbart: En film om tåg calls to mind some of the better German Edgar Wallace thrillers of the early 1960s, though the question of "who dunnit?" is never as much in the forefront here as in those earlier movies. Still, some of the more obscure POV shots call back to similar shots found in, say, Wallace films as diverse as The Indian Scarf (1963) and The Hand of Power (1968), and the doctor, a fairly threatening figure in a Santa Claus mask, also bring to mind the masked killers found in those films and so many slashers since then. One scene is also a cute visual reference to Hitchcock's overrated Vertigo (1958 / trailer), while the setting as a whole recalls any number of earlier crime films or noirs set aboard a train, from (again) Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938 / trailer) to The Narrow Margin (1952 / trailer) to Lars von Trier's oddly forgotten Europa aka Zentropa (1991 / trailer), not to mention the first version of the classic murder-on-a-train tale, Murder on the Orient Express (1974 / trailer). Indeed, not only does the Orient Express make a quick cameo in the background during the closing scene, but much like in that movie, the premeditating murderer(s) of the movie remain unpunished.
It is a true shame that an obvious labor of love like Skenbart: En film om tåg remains so unknown and overlooked by the world. It is a film that should appeal to many, but is perhaps a bit too bizarre and blackly humorous (not to mention foreign) to draw in the masses, despite its great cinematography and entertaining narrative. In the end, what Skenbart: En film om tåg is above all else is a cult movie waiting to be discovered. Help make that happen.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Curse of the Puppet Master (USA, 1998)

(Also known as Puppet Master 6.) Many years ago, some filmmaker named Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator  [1985]) directed a flop, produced by Charles Band, entitled Dolls (1987 / trailer). Two years later, Band reanimated the basic idea of killer dolls in a direct-to-video flick called Puppet Master (1989 / trailer),* directed by David Schmoeller, the man behind the decidedly odd semi-classic Tourist Trap (1979). Puppet Master was not a flop, and so a direct-to-video/DVD franchise was born which, despite occasional excessively long periods of hibernation, has proven unkillable. (Indeed, just last year [2018], a non-canonical, extremely bloody, black comedy reboot entitled Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich [trailer], featuring a brief appearance by the great Udo Kier as a Nazi Andre Toulon, was released.)
* Guy Rolfe (27 Dec 1911 – 19 Oct 2003), the dollmaker in Dolls, even eventually took over the part of the titular Puppet Master, Andre Toulon, in Part III: Toulon's Revenge (1991 / trailer), Part IV (1993 / trailer), Part V: The Final Chapter (1994 / trailer) and Part VII: Retro Puppet Master (1999), after the actor of parts I & II (1990 / trailer), William Hickey (19 Sept 1927 – 29 June 1997), went to the great toy chest in the sky. 
Trailer to
Curse of the Puppet Master:
By the time part VI, Curse of the Puppet Master, rolled around, the franchise had been dormant for four years. Producer Charles Band and his father Albert Band (7 May 1924 – 14 June 2002, director of Zoltan, Hound of Dracula [1977 / trailer] and I Bury the Living [1958]) turned to the productive hackster David DeCoteau, who had previously directed the franchise's first and most popular prequel, Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991), to once again point the camera. (As he often does, DeCoteau hid behind a female nom de plume, "Victoria Sloan".) And although the final result proved to be this overtly cheap and uninteresting entry, Curse of the Puppet Master, the "movie" nevertheless proved popular enough for Band & Co to promptly sign DeCoteau up again for the following year's Retro Puppet Master (1999).
Pretty much a standalone movie with but the thinnest of narrative links to the previous Puppet Master flicks, Curse of the Puppet Master sees the puppets now in the possession of Dr. Magrew (George Peck, of Dawn of the Mummy [1981]), the proprietor of a Californian puppet museum. The very first scene, of Magrew driving out to an isolated rural location where he sets fire to a small crate within which faint screams can be heard, reveals an obscure fact that is visually reiterated numerous times in the movie: it never rains in Southern California, nor does it pour, but girl, don't they warn you, it thunders and lightnings, man, does it thunder and lightning … after sundown. 
Albert Hammond's
It Never Rains In Southern California:
Daddy and Son Band also hired "Benjamin Carr" (real name, Neal Marshall Stevens), the scriptwriter of The Brain (1996), to write the screenplay to Curse, but for whatever reason — too low pay, maybe? — Carr/Stevens didn't bother delivering an original script and, instead, more or less totally cribbed the script to Bernard L. Kowalski's* cult "nature's revenge" horror Sssssss (1973 / trailer), replacing that film's mad scientist's goal of creating a race of snake people with Dr. Magrew's desire to create killer puppets from people. But the semi-sexy daughter is still there (Emily Harrison as Jane Magrew), as is her love interest and male object of the Doctor's nefarious machinations — but whereas in Sssssss the male object is a brainy college grad, in Curse of the Puppet Master the male object is a modern Lennie Small (as in: see Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men) named Robert "Tank" Winsley (Josh Green of Spiders [2000 / trailer]).
* Admittedly, Sssssss (aka Ssssnake) is probably Kowalski's most enjoyable film, but the director is perhaps best remembered for his early no budget trash classics, Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) and Night of the Blood Beast (1958 / trailer). Unjustly forgotten within his directorial oeuvre, however, is the idiosyncratic TV western horror, Black Noon (1971 / full film).
Curse of the Puppet Master is an incredibly slow-moving flick that feels as padded as it does narratively thin. The repeated scenes of Robert diligently and carefully carving away at a new puppet are particularly annoying, as they look to be the same scene simply re-edited for repeated use. They are also made all the more pointless by the fact that although Robert is working on a wooden puppet, the puppet revealed at the film's climax is a metal robot. (One wonders how slipup that obvious makes its way into any film, even one that aims as low as this one.)
Filmed in a clear and clean video aesthetic, the movie's visuals offer little in way of building suspense or horror, and [intentional] humor is likewise nonexistent. Even the usually fun sight of killer puppets on the move is substantially dulled, as unlike in the other Puppet Master flicks, the full bodies of the puppets here aren't shown when they are supposedly on the move. The result is that they usually look as if someone is holding them off screen and bobbing them forward in some half-assed attempt to emulate a walking movement. The death count is relatively low and most of the killings are similarly uninspired, the highlight being of course the obvious money-shot kill of the über-asshole wannabe rapist Joey Carp (Michael D. Guerin) who, properly enough, has Blade slashing at his face while Tunneler drills away at his crotch. (Being a puppet, Tunneler should perhaps be forgiven for not knowing that pegging is done from the back.)
But if Joey is the movie's focal bad guy, he is in fact but one in a small litany of dislikable or morally questionable characters. Both Sheriff Garvey (Robert Donavan of The Hazing [2004] and Corpses [2004]) and Deputy Wayburn (Jason-Shane Scott of Return of the Killer Shrews [2012 / trailer]), for example, though ostensibly simply pursuing first a missing persons report and then a murder case, are less diligent representatives of law and order than position-abusing, violence-prone dickheads. Dr. Magrew, in turn, despite an appearance of benevolent friendliness and paternal attentiveness, is both duplicitous and conniving and utterly heartless, if not mad — but he is also at least a funny sight whenever he puts on his trench coat and hat and slouches off to do something despicable. (Sorely missing from his general appearance is a long moustache, one which he could have twirled whenever he stands around looking foreboding.)
While opposites are said to attract, the "romance" between Jane and Robert rings more of dramatic necessity than believability. Likewise, for a college grad, Jane is amazingly slow at figuring out that her Daddy done lied to her when he, in order to do his planned dirty deed with Robert, sends her away to pick up a non-existent package. The why and timing behind her returning to the forest to look into the burnt box she and Robert found previously is not exactly logical, either, as there is no obvious link between it and her Dad's lie. (Still, it does allow for the appearance of the Matt doll, perhaps the only truly unsettling sight of the movie — far more unsettling, in any event, than Robert's two mildly effective dream sequences.)
On the whole, despite or maybe because of its limited cast of characters, Curse of the Puppet Master feels both padded and oddly empty: its narrative progresses like spilled chilled molasses, and for all the predictability of the events they don't even manage to lead to an effective resolution, ending instead as if half the film material of the climax somehow got lost. (All tease, and then major PE.) It seems somehow beyond believability that a movie as uninteresting and dissatisfying as this one managed to revive the franchise.
Long Trailer Night —
Trailers to the first 10 Puppet Master films:

Friday, January 4, 2019

Best Films Watched in 2018

Photo above taken from the Cracked article

And thus another year has come to an end — but, unbelievably enough, the world hasn't. Like Rome, however, the world is burning, but we, instead of playing the violin prefer to watch movies — by choice "strange" films of any epoch, elder cinematic miscarriages, or straight-to-DVD abortions, preferable fished from a dumpster. 
In 2018 we posted 51 blog entries, but while we did indeed watch more movies than we wrote about, we only got around to scribbling a total of 23 of our typically "sub hack film reviews" [Connor Black, 2008]. (Here we must give mention to two movies that we saw, loved, but never had the time to write about — had we written about them, they would be presented below: Sugar Hill and Her Zombie Hitmen (1974 / trailer) and The Lobster [2016 / trailer]. As we will watch both films again someday, a review might still occur.) 
But now, as the New Year is still busy wiping off its placenta, it is time to say which flicks we saw and wrote about in 2018 were the "Best". 
"As always, the Short Films of the Month are automatically excluded from the list, if simply due to the fact that they since they were chosen as a Short Film of the Month they are also already recommended as memorable and worth watching." Nevertheless, we do give special mention to August's short film, the historical artifact Mickey Mouse in Vietnam (USA, 1968), June's artistic triumph The Nose (France, 1963), May's visually intriguing Neomorphus (Brazil, 2011), and February's disturbing Pica-Don (Japan, 1978).
In 2018, unlike so many previous years, we rather enjoyed a substantial number of the movies we watched. Still, some films that got a good review didn't make to this list: this list is for movies that are more than just "a fun film for an evening of beer and bong hits", though we do heartily recommend such evenings. Here are the movies that we didn't just enjoy, but that left a mark by shocking, impressing, or moving us (if only like a healthy bowel movement or well-used sex organ). 
As normal, the movies are not in an order of preference. Enjoy the list, and hit the linked title to get to the original review.

(Italy/USA, 1990)
A disasterpiece of unbelievable proportions, it truly deserves its infamy. It is fabulous. Imperative viewing. And don't forget the popcorn.

(USA, 1980)
A strange and often uncomfortable little film, obviously a directorial labor of love, and indefinitely better than most Christmas cinematic pap. Don't bother with a public domain copy, watch a good copy to get the full cinematic effect.

(USA, 1993)
A tasteless and forgotten comedy that successfully mirrors the American soul. Ripe for rediscovery.

(USA, 1977)
A prime slice of 70s trash from the independent auteur William Girdler (22 Oct 1947 – 21 Jan 1978), featuring Leslie Nielsen  (11 Feb 1926 – 28 Nov 2010) as an alpha asshole. Day of the Animals is not the best of Girdler's films, but it's still memorably enjoyable — and has a great cast. William Girdler's promising career ended when "he was killed in a helicopter crash in Manila, Philippines, on January 21, 1978, while scouting locations for his tenth film project".

(Germany, 1967)
1960s pop German krimi "based" on an Edgar Wallace book: totally ridiculous and total kitsch, but wonderfully fun. One almost never goes wrong with a mid-series Rialto Edgar Wallace production. Starring Joachim Fuchsberger (11 Mar 1927 — 11 Sept 2014).

(Italy, 1964)
A flawed B&W Italian semi-classic starring horror icon and total Babe of Yesteryear, Barbara Steele. B&W, Italian, horror movie, Barbara Steele — how could anyone not want to watch this movie? Technically, we shouldn't include the movie 'cause we had seen it before — but, hell, we were puberty-aged when we saw it. A whole 'nother life, not the one we have now.

(Germany, 2010)
German zombie movie that manages to be far more intriguing than the average contemporary zombie flick. (Dunno if the poster above was ever used or is just some fan poster, but we like it.)

(USA, 1982)
A prime slice of 80s trash from the independent auteur Larry Cohen. Not the best of his films — see: God Told Me To (1976 / trailer), with Richard Lynch (12 Feb 1936 – 19 June 2012) — but still one of his better ones. Time has been kind to this memorably enjoyable grindhouse classic.

Thanks to Skeptic Review for the original image.

This Year's Trump's Mushroom Penis Award
 for the Biggest Pile of Shite Watched in 2018 Goes to…

(USA, 2012)
For the second year in a row, a film by "director" Christopher Ray wins the award for the worst movie we watched in a year. (OK, we didn't bother to write about Zombie 4: After Death [1989 / trailer], starring Jeff Stryker, but then we did watch the shredded version so there was nothing we could really review. Had it been uncut, we might have sort of liked its terribleness. Stryker, by the way, is not uncut.)
Please, someone start a GoFundMe for enough money to pay Christopher Ray to never make another "movie". (Note: He also placed in 2017 for his turkey Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus [USA, 2010]), a marginally "better" movie than Shark Week.)
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