Friday 21 February 2014

Basking In The Cesspool Of Filth #21

Deadly Spawn (1982 - Douglas McKeown) - By just about any definition of the term, this is a bad movie. Timelines are screwed up, character motivations and actions don't make sense, the overdubbing is poor, the science guy completely misunderstands the scientific method, and a raft of other things make this yet another cheapo 'B' movie to throw into one of those "50 Sci-Fi Classics" DVD sets that cost about $20. And yet, there's something here...It's a mix of a great non-cgi monster (obviously patterned after Alien since this came out only a few years after that game changer) and several interesting shots and editing decisions that give the movie a smidge more momentum and fun than your run-of-the-mill "why did you even bother" affair. And of course, a few non-intentionally hilarious moments too.

Body Snatchers (1993 - Abel Ferrara) - Despite a wide range of acting styles (from stilted to slightly psychotic), Ferrara's take on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers works pretty well. He immediately puts a different spin on the whole concept by setting it on a military base (and having that central location seed other bases with the eggs that replicate the humans they attach to), but there's also a strong command of atmosphere and just the right amount of alien reveals. If the tone isn't always spot on (since the acting and rather bad overdubbing - on par with some of the lesser Italian horrors - kills it in spots), the overall effect is quite fine thank you very much. And Meg Tilly is a standout as the sexy young mother, the vacant replacement and the shrieking accuser.

The Church (1989 - Michele Soavi) - This Dario Argento produced demonic tale (based on one of his own stories) slowly but surely becomes a slog. It contains some finely realized moments and scenes, but is a complete mess of a story with no defined characters and worse acting than the previous two movies already listed here (again, that poor post-synching of audio absolutely destroys any semblance of human qualities for each and every person in the film). At some point, you lose interest in the demons and witches long ago buried beneath the church and begin hoping for some kind of apocalyptic event to give a good reason to shut everyone up. Which all leads to the worst thing I can say about it in the end - it's rather dull.

The Stuff (1985 - Larry Cohen) - For the most part The Stuff knows exactly what it is and what it's going for - it knows it's goofy (one might even call it a cheesefest), tries for some broad satire and isn't really meant to be scary or frightening. It mostly achieves all of this, but it's occasionally pretty hard to get past the "Southern" accent and mannerisms of Michael Moriarty's ex-FBI agent. Perhaps it's my years of watching old Law & Order reruns, but it's hard to take his character in either a serious or comic vein. It has all the standard features of your basic 80s "bad" horror - terrible children actors, extras who seem not to understand the basics of human behaviour and the confidence to ensure that each and every person will always do the stupidest thing possible at just about every decision point. Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino ("No more of your liberal remarks!") give, um, odd performances in small roles, and it is mostly kind of fun (apart from Moriarty), but I'm a bit mystified at some of the love I've seen for the film. I get why people gravitate to silly films whether they are completely missing the intended mark or not, but this seems to fall so squarely in between good and bad that I'm a bit surprised it caught anyone's attention.

A Baffling Moment - "Deadly Spawn"

Despite pretty cool practical effects (mostly for the alien creatures), much of Deadly Spawn is baffling at times. Not really much more than your average cheap monster B-movie, but there is one short little snippet that confuses me and has made me laugh each and every one of the 30-40 times I've watched it so far. For some odd reason, the line reading given by the female character - as she sees her nephew Pete still alive after an alien attack - sounds all the world like a constipated Popeye on helium:

It shouldn't be that funny to me, but it is. Mostly because I just don't understand the rationale...Did the filmmakers really feel that we might think that anyone outside a 2 foot radius might have heard that cricket squeak? Was this really the best take on set or in the overdubbing session in studio? If so, what the hell did the other ones sound like? Why does this scene exist???

I'm baffled. Terribly amused, but also very baffled.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Scribblings Of A Random Nature #26

One of these days I'll come up with a snazzier title for these randomly timed posts...

Runaway Train (1985- Andrey Konchalovskiy) - A movie's got to be doing something right when it can survive the kind of performance that Eric Roberts gives here. Not that the escaped convict role he plays requires lots of shades of grey, but Roberts is completely uninteresting and shows contempt for the concept of subtlety. Granted, Jon Voight isn't exactly fine tuning his character either, but he fully embraces his lifelong convict role and relishes every moment he gets on screen. And that makes him interesting. Mix that in with the stunning winter scenery and great action sequences aboard the train without brakes, and you have a damn entertaining film.

Sweet Charity (1969 - Bob Fosse) - As I mentioned when I discussed Cabaret last year, Bob Fosse's first directorial effort was somewhat of a mixed bag of random tricks cobbled together under the guise of a retelling of Nights Of Cabiria. There are some wonderfully creative and entertaining moments in the film - in particular some of the dance sequences are strikingly original - but it just gets weighted down by goofiness. The humour is a bit cringeworthy, Shirley MacLaine is way too broad at times (there's a lot of mugging for the camera) and Fosse gets too wrapped up playing with little directorial gimmicks. From the moment one musical sequence would end, I couldn't wait until another began - partially because I wondered what new choreography he would come up with for the next song, but mostly because the stuff in between wasn't doing a damn thing for me.

The Visitor (1979 - Michael J. Paradise) - This one has received a lot of talk recently due to being released by Drafthouse Films and getting touted as one of the more "batshit crazy" late 70s Italian productions. It certainly lives up to be a bit on the WTF side of things, but not enough to make it much more than a curio and mildly entertaining during some of its really poorly thought out moments (like when the 8 year-old girl shoots her mother in the back after throwing the gun she just received as a present onto a table). With a cast including John Huston, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Shelly Winters (fully into her annoying 70s period), Mel Ferrer and Sam Peckinpah (!), it's hugely hampered by overdubbing and two pretty awful performances by the main mother and daughter characters in the film. Sure that opening is wonderfully goofy, there are tons of steals from other movies (including a hall of mirrors sequence that looks good for about 20 seconds and then devolves) and that foot chase between the girl and Huston makes no goddamn sense, but in the end it's really just a badly constructed and often dull movie.

Puzzle (2009 - Natalia Smirnoff) - Whereas The Visitor manages to be dull despite great potential, Puzzle takes an awfully simple premise - a 50 year-old Argentinian woman starts solving picture puzzles and looks to compete for the national title - but makes it firmly engaging all the way through. Though that premise is really all there is to the main story, the film is about this woman's re-awakening to joy in life. She has fallen into a life of servitude to her husband and two older sons (at the start of the movie she is hard at work in the kitchen and serving guests at a party...which ends up being her own birthday celebration) and struggles with hiding her new passion along with the practice sessions she has with her new partner. She starts to assert herself a bit more, begins to appreciate some of the little things in life that have been escaping her previously and manages to find the missing pieces of her life..