Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Strange Weather We're Having

Films: The Devil’s Rain
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Sometimes you just can’t explain a movie. That’s certainly the case with The Devil’s Rain, a low-budget horror movie with substantially goofy special effects that has an absolutely staggering cast list. I have no idea what the budget for this was, but most of it had to be the cast. That said, it’s worth noting that Ernest Borgnine has stated that this was made with Mafia money and that he never got paid for his work on the film.

So let’s talk about that cast for a moment. Ernest Borgnine is a stand-out, but much of the rest of the cast is stellar as well. William Shatner! Tom Skerritt! Ida Goddam Lupino! Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn! John Travolta in an early role! And arch-fiend Anton LeVay himself as a satanic high priest. I have absolutely no explanation for any of this.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Cold Reception, Too

Films: Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt)
Format: DVD from Earlville Library on the new portable.

There are times when I watch something, get to the end, and really wonder what the hell I’m going to say about it. Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt in the original Norwegian) is one of those films. This is the sort of film that, when it finishes, feels like you haven’t really seen anything at all. It’s almost entirely transparent in that respect. There isn’t so much a plot as there is a series of consecutive events, many of which involve a killer with a pickaxe. And then, a touch more than 90 minutes after it starts, the credits roll, and not a single person’s life is different in any meaningful way.

A group of five young people head out to the middle of nowhere to go snowboarding, because (surprise, surprise) winter sports are a big deal in Norway. Our five are Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), her boyfriend Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen), newly minted couple Ingunn (Viktoria Winge) and Mikal (Endre Martin Midtstigen), and fifth wheel Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen). They get to a completely out of the way part of the mountain and start down. And, just like mom always said, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. In this case, it’s Morten Tobias, who takes a bad spill and breaks his leg.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck

Films: The Fearless Vampire Killers (Dance of the Vampires)
Format: DVD from North Suburban Library District through interlibrary loan on various players.

I didn’t realize how successful Roman Polanski’s comedy/horror film The Fearless Vampire Killers (originally titled Dance of the Vampires and sometimes accompanied with the subtitle Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck, hence the title of this review) really was. There’s a musical version of it originally in German that played on Broadway. It’s also, as far as I know, Polanski’s only dip into comedy. That’s honestly probably a good thing, because this is not a comedy that has aged well.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though. The comedy hasn’t aged well. The rest of the movie actually has, more or less. The Fearless Vampire Killers is not that funny, and the humor it contains doesn’t translate to the modern age very well. But without the comedy, it’s still not a bad little vampire movie. It’s not great by any stretch, but it’s not bad.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Blood is Thicker...

Films: Ganja & Hess
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

Sometimes, you do yourself a disservice seeing things out of order. That’s absolutely the case with me and Ganja & Hess (called Blood Couple in a disowned recut version, and sometimes called Black Vampire). This is very much the second version of this story I’ve seen, and kind of the third. Spike Lee remade this film as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, not one of his better films. There are also a lot of aspects of this in the film Thirst, which is probably the best version of the basic story. It also came out less than a year after Blacula, which will naturally have some similarities. But Ganja & Hess is the first, but the last that I’ve seen. And so I’m naturally going to compare this to other versions of the same story unfairly. What feels derivative here is only derivative in my own mind.

Ganja & Hess is a low-budget experimental horror film. It’s also the second and final starring role for Duane Jones, most famous for his first role in Night of the Living Dead. There are no zombies in this movie. Instead, this is a kind of vampire film. These are not traditional vampires, but they have many of the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses we have come to expect from the bloodsuckers of lore.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Home, Not Alone

Films: The Collector (2009)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I got an Amazon Fire for Father’s Day, which will be one of the ways I end up watching a lot of streaming movies in the future. The Collector may be the first movie I’ve reviewed with this viewing method, but it’s not the first movie I watched on this device. I broke it in with something better and far less odious.

The horror world has a number of subgenres. For instance, there is the torture porn subgenre, of which I am very much not a fan. There’s also the home invasion subgenre, which has a surprisingly large number of films in it. The Collector from 2009 (not to be confused with the vastly superior film of the same name from the ‘60s) is a bit of both. It’s also a film that requires a vast amount of suspension of disbelief. To make The Collector work in your head, you have to make a lot of allowances for what is happening on the screen. This is a reverse of Home Alone, where the home intruder has managed to set up a number of dangerous and potentially lethal booby traps. How? When did he find the time to do this? Shut up and turn your brain off and watch the movie.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Harder Candy

Films: Promising Young Woman
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Revenge movies are a very particular thing. Typically, if you have a revenge picture written about a woman by a man, you get something like I Spit on Your Grave--cheap, tawdry, and filled with a lot of gratuitous and unpleasant nudity. Sometimes, you might get something more like Last House on the Left, which is still unpleasant, although with some moral message. Years ago, a woman writing this story might pen something closer to The Girl Most Likely to…, which gets rid of a lot of the gratuitous nastiness and is both darker and funnier. In the “Me Too” era, though, we get Promising Young Woman.

Promising Young Woman feels like the natural extension of the Me Too Movement. While there are moments here that are darkly comic, this is a film that is deadly serious at its core and that is focused not just on the concept of toxic masculinity, but on the reaction to it. Cassie Thomas (Carrie Mulligan) is a medical school drop-out now working a dead-end job in a coffee shop with Gail (Laverne Cox). At night, she pursues her real job. Cassie spends her time in bars and nightclubs pretending to be drunk, waiting to get picked up by predatory men, and then revealing the fact that she is completely sober to them as they try to take advantage of her.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, June 2021

Well, here we are in July, the year just about half done. This year is going by very quickly, it seems, and as good as my intentions are for putting up reviews (and even watching movies) are always far better than my reality. Only three movies off the list this month. As always, hope for better next month.

What I’ve Caught Up With, June 2021:
Film: The Parallax View (1974)

The middle film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy” is by far the darkest. Where Klute has something approaching a Hollywood resolution and All the President’s Men ends with something like closure on a real-world scandal, The Parallax View is a film that plays into the worst of conspiracy thinking. It is reminiscent in many ways of films like Three Days of the Condor. This is a dark film, appropriate for the time, and playing into those same dark ideas of conspiracy and a dark cabal running the world and committing political assassination almost at will. For some reason, this was overlooked come Oscar time and received no nominations. I have no idea how we live in a world where that is true.

Film: The Dish (2000)

I genuinely like this movie so damn much. When asked to recommend something that people don’t know, The Dish is my go-to. It’s genuinely funny, has great characters and a really good story. It helps that I’m a NASA nerd, and this is about the first moon landing. Specifically, it’s about the radio telescope in a little town in Australia that helped broadcast Apollo 11’s signals, and about the men who run it. Many of the actors didn’t do a lot else, and that actually helps it, because it makes them so believable in these roles. It also has one of the best music jokes of the last several decades. Track this down—you won’t be disappointed.

Film: Bad Boys 2 (2003)

Danny Butterman would be disappointed in me that I hadn’t seen Bad Boys 2 before now (I have seen Point Break), but there it is. And now, having watched Bad Boys and then this, I have to wonder why I bothered. I know that people like this movie a lot, but this is every bad stereotype and every possible cop movie trope shoved into two movies. It’s misogynistic and surprisingly racist for a movie starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Loosely connected explosions and gun battles matched with anti-gay “jokes” makes for an unpleasant watch, at least for me. Whoosah.