Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: Pigs (1972)

By Caroline Rennox

 Maybe it was all those ads in Veganuary or maybe it was pure guilt over my repeated failures since to give up the bacon butty, king of the breakfasts, but for whatever reason, when I saw 88 Films’ reissue of Marc Lawrence’s Pigs (aka Daddy’s Deadly Darling, aka The 13th Pig aka Horror Farm aka…), I just had to grab a copy.

 Pigs promises a lot with it’s garish cover- scenes of porcine carnage, people being torn limb-from-limb in a frenzy of piggly-wiggly mayhem. What it delivers instead is something totally different, an idiosyncratic little gem that mixes its murder-lust with a little bit of mysticism, and creates a twisted fairy-tale replete with mad old witches, dangerous woods and a wolf in sheep’s clothing…

 The film opens with the formerly Great Zambini (played by writer and director, Marc Lawrence) sitting in a barn with some poor corpse, monologuing about how he’s had to keep feeding his pigs man-flesh since they, um, ‘accidentally’ got a taste for it after eating a hobo who’d fallen asleep in a nearby field. The scene is a great introduction to the ambiguity that runs through the film- Did Zambini kill this guy to feed to his pigs? Is it the guilt making him explain himself, or madness?

 The next scene introduces Lynn Webster, a gal who’s the very definition of ‘troubled but cute’. We meet her dressed in a nurse’s uniform, driving like all hell’s a coming to the tune of an annoyingly catchy little hippy number. She stashes the outfit before heading into town where she stumbles into a nice little waitressing job in a cafe run by local weirdo and pig owner, the Great Zambini.

 What follows is a nice little series of setups and subverted expectations. Everything we learn about Zambini suggest he’s feeding those pigs something fresher than meat from the local mortuary slab. Lynn gets a garish warning that ‘he ain’t’ been right’ since a trapeze accident that left him clinically dead for several minutes,  a warning followed up by Lynn’s lurid nightmare of Zambini cutting her face over-and-over again.

 Zambini’s weird shut-in neighbours keep making complaints to the local sheriff that the pigs are roaming around at night terrorising people. When it gets back to Zambini they appear to receive a terrifying visit from the Great man himself- in shabby circus regalia, threatening them to keep their mouths shut. A bizarre warning from the local homicidal pig farmer or just the delusion of two hysterical old women?

 While the film does it’s level best to convince us of Zambini’s sinister nature, we’re painted a different picture with young Lynn. The tear-filled phone-calls home to her worried father lead you to believe that she’s some kind of hippy caricature – a free-spirit who ran away from her ‘totally square’ parents. She makes quite the impression on the men of the town and is soon out on a date with a local Lothario, but he is frantically rebuffed when tries to take advantage of her all alone in his pickup truck. Her true nature is revealed when she later lures him back to her room and slices him to ribbons. Zambini is, of course, happy to help her dispose of this tasty meal for his pigs and does so again when she offs the psychiatrist sent to track her down by the facility she escaped from. Blinded by her sweet exterior to Lynn’s true nature, or overcome by his obsession with his pigs, their joining of forces is the beginning of their downfall and ultimate fate as tasty pig-feed.

 The movie plays around with a lot of horror cliches. Zambini’s an obvious choice for a tragic monster but maybe he’s just a poor, brain-damaged ex-circus perform who loves his pigs too much not to feed them their favourite food. If the townfolk had ever managed to get their mob together I’m sure we would’ve seen pitchforks and torches galore.

 Lynn could easily have been just another pyscho-killer, but her genuine distress and confusion about what’s really happening, along with the bluntly explained tragic backstory, don’t really make her the type of horror movie killer that you get a kick out of watching.

 The movie’s original title is ‘The 13th Pig’, which is one of those titles that only makes sense once you’ve got to the end. The local mortician’s only real part in the movie is to tell us that the ancient Egyptians worshipped pigs. Zambini’s weird neighbours insist over and over to the sheriff that he’s killing people to turn them into pigs. The final scene of the movie see’s Zambnini’s pigs rounded up to be taken to another farm and, lo and behold, there’s an extra pig! It’s not a great payoff since the whole mystical sideplot is, like most of the other plot-threads, a little half-baked, but it adds a satisfying extra layer of to the whole groovy weirdo vibe of the movie.

 The 88 Film reissue and the Troma distribution hint that this is, by design or by compromise, an exploitation movie (see also the lurid cover for fooling poor saps like me) but it doesn’t really deliver on the gratuitous tits and gore that genre might suggest. For the life of me, despite my disappointment at the lack of glorious carnage, something about this one tickled my heart-strings. I kept imagining an early 00’s indie remake: Zooey Deschanel as the quirky mystery-girl with a secret; Alan Alda as the weird old grump with a heart of gold; the boring suburban town too mainstream to accept them and their passion for murdering people. Wouldn’t ‘Garden State’ have been improved with a little more murder?

 Despite the truly ear-piercing soundtrack of screeching swine, despite the fact that it doesn’t quite deliver on that awesome poster, something about this movie just clicked for me. Sometimes that’s all it take and ‘Pigs’ has earned a spot on my ever decreasing shelf space. Written, directed and starring one man, it’s a peek inside his head and maybe the implications of that are horrifying enough all on their own.

Pigs Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Pigs (1972) Trailer

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Review: The Fly (1986)

By Mark Wilkinson 

"I'm an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it."

A remake/re-envisioning of the 1958 film of the same name. This time around through the twisted mind's eye of David Cronenberg. The Fly is essentially a two-handed tragic romance, between the brilliant scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldlbum) and journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis). When he asks her back to his lab to show her his latest project--teleportation--she is immediately drawn to the eccentric genius, as they begin a budding romance. One night, an intoxicated and jealous Seth, decides to become the first human to test out his Telepods. The teleportation is a success; however, the audience is shown that a regular house fly got into the Telepod with him. Seth is now becoming...Brundlefly.

 While this is probably the most commercial of David Cronenberg’s films, that doesn’t stop it from being his greatest. It's effervescent with ideas. Much like Brundle when he first comes out the teleporter, you can sense Cronenberg's energy - his need for telling this story. The Fly is perfectly suited for the king of body-horror, as he brings out all the stops for this masterpiece of gross-out cinema. What’s more important than the grotesque effects, however, is the focus on strong characters and their evolution throughout the story, which has always been Cronenberg’s real strong-suit. Howard Shore’s score lifts the film to transcendent heights, giving the film an operatic feeling, truly befitting its tragic tale of a man crushed by his own hubris. Cronenberg fully delivers with The Fly, the places he takes it to are so deep, so dark and so painfully human, that it still feels so real and kicks like a mule.
 Cronenberg has always been criticized for being rather misogynistic. This is a claim that I’ve never agreed with. However, he acknowledges his reputation and makes a bold decision to have the movie be told from Davis's character perspective, not Goldblum's. This is not just a story about misunderstood male genius, but simply the human wish to be more than we are. Geena Davis is remarkable as our heroine Ronnie. She puts in such a commanding performance, bringing great emotional range and complexity to her character who maintains strong, sensitive and independent throughout the film, with the last 20 minutes or so giving her great opportunities to really express the tragedy of their situation through some fantastically depressing and traumatized acting. Goldblum here is also off the scale. Cronenberg wrenches this man's soul out into the camera. It's uninhibited, it's lunatic, and also involves being covered in prosthetics for a good proportion of screen time. Every line, hand gesture and eyeroll is vintage Goldblum, yet suits the character perfectly. Goldblum truly sells the slow and tragic transformation he goes through as the evolution of the creature grows throughout the film. Until the moment that they slough off in bursts of milky puss, Brundle’s eyes are always glinting brightly behind his gnarled diseased flesh. That ever-present humanity throughout his nightmarish metamorphosis is one of the many aspects that make The Fly such a tragic film.

 The auteur gives flesh, blood and literal presence to the slow and insidious decomposition of our souls, like a cancerous disease that gradually eats away at our bodies and minds. Science may temporarily endow us with expanded strength and stamina, but at the end of the day, everyone will one day be buried six feet under. No one will recognize you when you're rotting. A man who creates an insect-monster of himself is a perfect metaphor for this, as well as the age-old effort of messing with forbidden science. It’s also perfect material for the horror genre. It visualizes our finite existence in such goopy, molecular terms, but also vividly fuses the cerebral with the visceral in ways that few horror films ever thoughtfully balance. This is Cronenberg firing on all cylinders, with great casting, beautiful cinematography and lighting, fantastic set design and top-notch practical effects.

 The effects and visuals in this movie are just incredible. Much like Brundle and the fly, the make-up seems to fuse with Goldblum for this performance. The slowly growing stages of his transformation are subtle at first, but still just as off-putting and disgusting as the ones towards the end when he's in full fly mode and you really FEEL Ronnie's horror at seeing this because, even though it's now just a puppet on screen, you 100% believe this is still Seth. You've seen him gradually turn into this monstrous creature before your very eyes - which, ultimately, is the magic of horror films. And The Fly pulls that trick perfectly. The gory practical effects never feel exploitative or out of place, only serving to enhance the emotional resonance and sadness of the story. The Fly tells its story visually rather than verbally in all the right ways, and the film around those special effects gives them real, tragic life. Simple. Effective. Brutal.

 The Fly is a gooey masterpiece of disgust and decay. It is the epitome of the term ‘body-horror’, an oozy and grotesque fairytale that drips with disease and spectacular gore. Behind all the vomit, slime, crumbling bodies, and hideous fly mutations, Cronenberg offers a harrowing meditation on what coming to terms with our mortality looks and feels like. This is a story about dying, about becoming other. It's about the horror of metamorphosis, how our bodies and minds slowly decay over time, and how age betrays us till we cease to look recognizable. It's also about confronting the death of someone close to you, and the grief and agony that unfolds there. Cronenberg's ability to imagine the biological implications of death in such repulsive visual language works as a complimentary magic trick to how he then disguises the entire premise as mad scientist horror fare. Not only does this movie stand alongside John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) as one of the best remakes ever made. This is one of the best horror movies ever put to screen. 
Be afraid, be very afraid.

The Fly Is Available Now On Blu Ray

The Fly (1986) Trailer

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Review: Fright Night (1985)

By Mark Wilkinson

Welcome, To Fright Night!
 1985, A few years before The Lost Boys and Near Dark were released and vampires became cool. Tom Holland released a movie that perfectly encapsulates 80s horror. Fright Night is a thrilling and humorous tale concerning horror-loving teenager Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) discovering that his new neighbor, suave and sophisticated Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, and his attempts to thwart the ghoulish newcomer with a little help from his friends and his longtime vampire hunter hero.

 From the opening shot of a full moon, a single howl lets you know you’re in for a treat. The hints of folklore and mythology come quick, letting the audience know what’s to come. With Fright Night, Holland perfectly blends elements of horror, mystery, comedy and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and reference toward classic horror, but what makes "Fright Night" work is that it has FUN with the genre without ever becoming condescending to it. And what fun it is. The film moves at a great, economic pace, and is filled with some amazing practical effects, A particular highlight is how deliciously gory the film is -- and there are some real standout spooks here, none of which rely on jump scares but on anticipation. It’s thrilling with a slow-paced eerie atmosphere, building tension in a way that is certain even though it takes it’s time. It’s more than evident that Holland spent a good deal of time watching Hammer films. The times have changed for these midnight movies though, allowing them to become darker, sexier and bloodier.

 It's easy to dismiss Fright Night as a simple vampire movie. On its surface it's a story about a young man and an old man battling a vampire, with the youth trying to save the one he loves and the elder trying to find meaning in his wasted life. However, these simple concepts are the blood slicked portals through which a deeper meaning can be found. This is a film about relationships, coming of age and sexual awakening. There's the skin-deep level in which Charlie and Amy flirt with losing their virginity. There's the romanticized, sexy dangerous fantasy of Amy and Dandridge, Evil Eds self-reflection and the pseudo father son relationship between Charlie and Peter Vincent. Most importantly, however is how each of the character's relates to the central dilemma and how their various actions produce a menagerie of results. While Charlie's friend Evil chooses to embrace the darkness in order to feel whole and embrace his outcome, Peter Vincent chooses to fight it for the exact same reason. Dandridge gives his would be killers a plethora of opportunities to escape and only truly commits to non-essential violence when pressured. Both Vincent and Dandridge spend the bulk of the narrative trying to avoid conflicts in favor of living out their existences in relative peace, despite the vampire having to kill and Vincent being a faded star desperate for the limelight. Everyone in Holland's world is a loner and it's how each one uses their individuality that makes Fright Night quite a unique horror experience.

 The charm and charisma of the Fright Night cast is one of the main reasons for its success. Swapping cape for a turtleneck, Chris Sarandon's magnetic allure as the undead creature of the night Jerry Dandridge is presented here as a lost soul, tormented by his past who straddles the divide between menace and charm in every interaction. He embodies every trait a vampire should. He's sensual, alluring, menacing, petty, witty and he turns into a mean monster when he's pissed. Roddy McDowall is gloriously over the top as " vampire expert Peter Vincent, fully enjoying himself as a hammy amalgamation of the men he took his name, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. McDowall just brings an air of class, maturity, and wit to the proceedings. William Ragsdale does an excellent job portraying the lead hormonal teen Charlie, whose erotic predispositions are abruptly shattered by a real-life nightmare, taking the pituitary output to a lizard brain level of self-preservation. Charlie's transition from hapless victim to fierce vampire hunter is aided by some amazing makeup work from Ken Diaz, which allows the viewer to visually chart Charlie's progression throughout the movie. Amanda Bearse is great too as Charley's love interest Amy, who becomes enticed under Jerry's hypnotic charms. She starts off as the typical doe-eyed teenager but gradually becomes more mature and voluptuous during her vampiric transformation towards the end. And of course, there’s Stephen Geoffreys as Charley’s best friend Evil Ed. His performance will either entertain or enrage you--it differs from person to person. Either way, his woeful battle with life and who he is, is an essay in itself.

 Tom Holland executes his vision with finesse, delivering an atmospheric cinematic artistry that generates so much charm and warmth with its semi-light-meets-semi-earnest tone. With its nicely stuffed story, solid scares, and neatly drawn characters, the film will always stand out as a completely satisfying tribute to the movies of yesteryear. Many people bemoan today that they don’t make horror movies like they did back in the 80s. When this is a movie that wholeheartedly in 1985 thought--"they don’t make movies like they used to". This is one of those films that sums up exactly what I love about the 80s. There is a charm and an honesty that would make it painfully cheesy and stupid in any other era, but in the 80s, it's solid gold. It was a time of reflection and admiration for the ancient scrolls, a time of change but also a time of resurgence, Fright Night" is a fast-paced film, the movie sprints out of the gate and rarely lets up creating a frenetic, dizzying pace as we watch a bumbling teen, try and fend off against a crafty nemesis who's ahead of him at every turn.

Fright Night Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Fright Night (1985) Trailer

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Review: Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988)

By Caroline Rennox

“In the latter days of the 20th century, there arose a difference of opinion… “

 The trailer for Hell Comes to Frogtown goes out of its way to remind you that this is a bad movie. Do you like classy, artful movies about life’s deep philosophical conundrums? Turn around pal, this movie ain’t for you. It touts the crazy plot and cheesy acting as the worst you’ll ever see in a way that sounds an awful lot like someone trying really hard to convince you they don’t care what you think because they’re totally doing all of this ironically. Or maybe they just knew that the promise of an hour and a half of pure trash would be an irresistible lure to a certain kind of movie-lover. Well, consider me lured.

 The movie takes place in a future ravaged by a nuclear war, where the surviving wildlife has been mutated into walking, talking parodies of humanity. (Just the amphibians though- nothing weird.) The titular Sam Hell is a drifter and serial impregnator, tracked down by the matriarchal Medtech- seemingly the governing body of this post-apocalyptic future- who want to us his rare super-fertility for the good of mankind. First though, they trap his valuable equipment in a chastity belt rigged to explode if he tries to escape and send him on a mission to prove himself- head into Frogtown and rescue five fertile women kidnapped by the evil Commander Toty.

 The plot is, of course, just an excuse for a series of weird and bizarrely hilarious events to torment Roddy Piper’s beefcake hero with. He gets electro-shocked in the groin more times than is reasonable from people who consider his junk to be valuable treasure. He has to fend off the attentions of their amorous amphibian spy who is aiding them in the rescue and later, having being caught by Toty’s second-in-command Bull, he is saved at the last minute from a chainsaw based castration when the terrifying device runs out of fuel. It’s like a ‘Carry-On’ movie but with a lot more violence. And frogs.

 Not all of the comedy set-pieces centre on Sam. Sandahl Bergman does a great job in her role as the straight-laced Nurse Spangle- dedicated to debasing herself for the cause, whether by her ridiculous regulation-compliant fake-seduction of Sam or by posing as his scantily-clad captive in a ploy to get into Frogtown. She’s all long limbs and elbows, adding a self-conscious awkwardness to everything she does, including a hilarious scene where Spangle has to come up with a sexy dance to help Commander Toty’s ‘three snakes’ get in the mood. It’s a performance that lifts her character from more than just eye candy and she’s a big part of what made this movie work for me.

 That the film looks pretty great is another definite point in its favour. You can definitely tell the budget wasn’t astronomical, with only really a small number of locations and smoke-drenched sets used, but the creature effects are actually quite impressive, with inside-frog Arabella as a grotesque stand out. There’s a variety to the mutant effects that gives the other Frogtown inhabitants a sense of individuality that makes the world seem a little more realised.

 The movie takes a great delight in parodying the kind of adolescent fantasies that these kind of movies often present- where a tough loner travels the wasteland, fighting the bad guys and winning the sexy gratitude of damsels in distress. Sam is, of course, neutralised by the all-female organisation that captures him but they’re all pretty desperate to jump his bones. Gruff soldier Centinella, who comes along on the rescue mission, jumps into bed with Sam on their first night making camp and Nurse Spangle’s recommendation for treating a traumatised escapee bride is for Sam to give his best shot at impregnating the poor woman. And it works! Her thousand yard stare is cured after a session with Sam’s superjunk and she’s suddenly well enough to skip back to Med-tech headquarters.

 The film has a kind of weird attitude to women and sex that’s hard to pin down. Yes, Toty is kidnapping ladies to satisfy his ‘three snakes’ but he’s enough of a gentlefrog to get them in the mood with a ritual involving lots of candles and silky scarves. The final badguy (spoilers!) turns out to be the cop from the start, now known as Count Sodom, who is angry at Sam for knocking up his little girl but even more furious at the this new world order where women call the shots in regards to procreation. Even Sam himself turns out to be something of a classic romantic hero, hiding his tragic past behind rippling pecs and some truly cheesy one-liners. Squint and you can see him on the cover of a very weird Mills & Boon.
 Donald G Jackson went on to make a whole string of movies set in the same Frogtown universe, although with none of the original cast and not much of whatever magic it is that makes Hell Comes to Frogtown work. Maybe this isn’t a great movie but hitting that cinematic sweet-spot where bad becomes trashy genius isn’t as easy as you might think. Sometimes that leftfield inspiration that drives a man to make a whole string of movies where a guy fights frogs in a post-apocalyptic desert, crystallizes into a cult masterpiece- a slimy green addition to the trash canon. Welcome to Frogtown.

Hell Comes To Frogtown Is Available Now On Blu Ray.

Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988) Trailer

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

By Mark Wilkinson
The Saw Is Family.

 Set thirteen years after the first film’s eponymous slaughter in the Texas farmhouse. The Sawyer family have escaped their crimes. Still roaming freely, continuing to kill across the state. On their tail however, is former Texas Ranger “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) who is investigating the disappearance of his niece and nephew, Sally and Franklin (characters from the first movie). He crosses paths with Texas DJ "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams), who is broadcasting one night when two obnoxious college students call in and appear to be murdered on air by someone wielding a chainsaw. The buzz---as it would seem--is back!

 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre--the very definition of horror. A spellbinding nightmare. After such an iconic masterpiece, it would seem obvious that no one - not even Hooper - could repeat the same trick with the same ingredients and create something as horrifying for the sequel. Tobe understood that. Why even make just a copy of its predecessor? Instead of only atmospheric terror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 emphasizes the black comedy side of the original with the buzz of chainsaws and icky gore. The bits of dark humor certainly were there in the first film, but many minds barely registered any of that, as they were too busy digesting the intense brutality on screen.

 With the ridiculous level of gore and the cartoonishly comedic tone, it’s easy to understand why many people rejected The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 at the time of its release (many still do). It is unlike any other horror sequel. Sure, many horror sequels have departed from their predecessors, however there is possibly no bigger shift between two horror movies in the same franchise than between Texas chainsaw 1 and 2. Hooper's original is a sweaty, claustrophobic masterpiece that’s terrifying, specifically because of its documentary-like immediacy. It doesn't feel so much like a movie as it does, some horrible thing that someone accidentally caught on camera, a quality that gives it a sense of danger. The sequel, on the other hand, also directed by Hooper and written by L.M. Kit Carson (screenwriter of Paris, Texas), goes off in a very different direction. It's much more black comedy than horror.

 As a product of the ’80s, the movie really cranks up the gore. the tone of the movie makes the violence much more uncomfortable because it's taking place within the context of a scene that's simultaneously comic and horrifying, garishly photographed and shrill. This film is a deranged and twisted return to Texas, full of uncomfortable emotions. Simultaneously disgusting and brutally hilarious, you can’t help but fall in love with the unique weirdness of this mad "devil's playground" that switches all the time from laughter to deeply disturbing feelings in a heartbeat. This is the magic of Texas Chainsaw 2: it never lets you settle into a groove, never lets you get comfortable, yet makes us laugh at things that are truly horrifying, disturbing and nightmarish.

 There aren’t many actors that could deliver the campy lunacy and urge to catch the crazy cannibals as Dennis Hopper does in his role as the former Texas Marshall "Lefty", who tries to solve the case with the authority of a bad-ass action star. Dennis Hopper used to claim this was the worst movie he ever made. This is a bummer for a lot of reasons, not the least of which because it suggests he forgot ever starring in Super Mario Bros. Mainly though, it’s because he's terrific in the movie. Completely dialed into its lunatic frequency and creating a "hero" that's every bit as weird and maniacal as the villains and causing just as much evil as good.

 Caroline Williams “Stretch” is the movie's real MVP though, as she is firstly, grounded and strong -- the kind of woman who puts herself on the line to play the tapes of the Sawyers' latest murder on the air -- but by the end has completely given in to terror. Stretch is just as strong as any final girl -- she's a fighter and a survivor -- but her reaction to everything that happens is understandably, abject terror. However, she never loses the presence of the strong-willed woman we get to see in the beginning and before the end. We see her utilize and flip the misogyny of females that was represented in horror at the time (the camera will frequently search for "suggestive" angles, when our attention turns to her). She escapes death by mastering her sexuality, remaining courageous, even when in complete danger and treated as an object of Leatherface’s Freudian projections. She judges the sexually disordered Leatherface, neutralizing him with her expectations of orgasmic pleasure. Crushing the sexually frustrated male that tries to reclaim his masculinity with over-compensating power tools.

 Many people claim that this movie tries to ruin one of the all-time scariest movie characters Leatherface, by turning him into a horny teenager with discipline problems. Sure, Bill Johnson's performance under the mask is sillier and spazzier than Gunnar Hansen's, but so is the movie in which he's appearing in. It's different, sure, but I personally enjoy the way he’s represented in this movie. Again, it’s just down to personal preference, here he’s portrayed almost like an unpredictable, over sized teenager, throwing tantrums in the shape of chainsaws. He's the youngest brother who is clumsy, truculent and who, in his way, just happens to discover his first teen-crush. Given more of a "gentle giant" feel, even if such a thing is possible when that involves him putting a skin mask on his love interest's face to protect her.

 I truly wish there were more sequels like this, ones that are willing to take huge risks instead of trying to remake the original, this is an ambitious cult classic that dares to bend the rules rather than cater to the whims of expectations. Just like the original, this film is absolutely gleeful in its repulsiveness, even if it's a lot less terrifying in this context. It is a special dish that excites, entertains, disturbs and amuses, sometimes all of those at the same time. Hooper tackles them in a wonderful manner without completely abandoning the original Chainsaw's petrifying magic. It’s an exceptional campy action horror comedy. Instead of giving the fans what they wanted to see, Hooper made the film he wanted to make. By purposefully subverting expectations, Hooper ended up capturing the spirit of the 80s in exactly the way the first film did for the 70s. He Turned down the gritty, grimy realism, and cranked up the camp to 11. Made the Sawyer family into businessmen, who literally chew people up and spit them out to achieve their ends. Dropped the scream queen who survives purely by luck of the draw, and opted for a final girl who fights back, both with chainsaws and sexuality.

 Horror sequels don't get any trashier or greater than this.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) Trailer

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: A Boy And His Dog (1975)

What You Are in the Wasteland

 The fantastical allure of the post apocalyptic world is the same as that of the orphaned hero found in so many children’s stories. The world of the wasteland is free of the burdens and responsibilities of everyday life- no jobs, no bills, no rules but those you make. It’s a fantasy where the harsh glare of atomic fallout starkly divides into light and shadow, and where survivors are either hard-fought heroes or despicable villains. A Boy and his Dog is not that fantasy.

 The film lays it’s cards on the table pretty quickly. We are introduced to our Boy, Vic, and his telepathic Dog, Blood, as Vic eager to pick up the leftover scraps from the gang rape of some poor wasteland survivor. Waiting until the raiders have left, lest they become that night’s dinner, Blood admonishes Vic for risking their lives for a cut of the action. Alas, the victim is already dead and Vic laments what a shame it is that they cut her up - she could’ve been used a couple more times! “Ah, war is hell” comes the grim punchline from Blood. Cue the twangy upbeat country music.

 In this grim and morbidly comic movie, Vic and Blood’s strange relationship is, unsurprisingly, the main focus. Blood’s human-sensing telepathy has left him unable to forage and hunt for his own food and Vic is on an unending quest to find a woman and get laid. Driven by these twin urges, the pair are led eventually to Quilla, a woman from the subterranean world of the ‘Down Under’ who blows Vic’s mind with her lust for consensual sex and talk of this strange thing called ‘love’. Naturally, she’s a honeytrap.

 Leaving an injured Blood up top, Vic follows her to the bizarre world of the vault-dwellers. A nightmarish parody of 1960’s Americana replete with star spangled flags, marching bands and homecoming queens. The people of the Down Under use garish makeup to hide their sickly faces and a veneer of polite, traditional respectability to hide a brutally enforced regime where you can be executed for ‘lack of respect, wrong attitude and failure to obey authority’. Their stunted recreation of conservative America turns out to be a little stale in other ways too- they lured Vic down not to civilize him, but to use his (presumably irradiated) sperm to repopulate their dwindling society. Quilla, too, turns out to be more than she seems- less the helpless, naive victim and more of an icy, scheming bitch, who hastily drags Vic into an escape plan when her bloody coup also fails to bear any fruit.

 The film takes its time to show us other micro-societies that have formed in the wake of the apocalypse. In the tiny capitalist world of the bartertown- boasting both brothel and movie theatre- we see its patrons give up hard-scavenged food to watch crude black and white movies that show a glamorised version of the sex and violence that dominate their lives. An encounter with a wasteland ‘king’, drawn through the desert on a chariot replete with minstrel, harem and slaves is a further mocking indictment of humanity’s bluntly unimaginative predilection for repeating its mistakes.

 Visually the movie is full of all the imagery that is now visual shorthand for ‘post-nuclear apocalypse’: dusty buildings and clothing both cobbled together out of the scraps of the wasteland; the demented, pressure-cooker world of the vaults and the dusty, sun-bleached over-world that has you blinking phantom grit out of your eyes. The film is an acknowledged influence on such iconic series as George Miller’s Mad Max movies, and the Fallout videogames and though A Boy and His Dog is a little smaller in scope than either of those, it’s influence has been far-reaching.

 The film is based on a short story by legendarily cantankerous genre writer Harlan Ellison, who partially wrote the script until he suffered an attack of writer’s block. Notoriously, he hated the last line of the film but there are other significant deviations within it which alter the one of the story being told.

 Ellison’s Quilla is the naive pawn of the Down Under’s tyrannical society that movie-Quilla pretends to be. She’s a prisoner, waiting to be married off to some waiting suitor, who escapes with Vic because their brief liaison has inspired her to rattle the bars of her cage. Both she and Vic take their morality from the broken societies that raised them- his an unsophisticated world of animalistic brutality and hers a hypocritical facade of respectability and repression.

 Movie-Quilla, on the other hand, is a classic preppy bitch, manipulating the helpless boys around her with only the thought of replacing the Down Under’s ruling party with her own. Vic’s fate in the movie version of the Down Under is both horrifying and hilarious- no stud-duty for him, instead he’s strapped to a milking machine with each deposit carefully labelled and gifted to the line of young brides queuing up to ‘marry’ him. Movie-Quilla only rescues Vic from this torture so she can use his brutal nature to help her rise to the top of the pile but her plan is de-railed and the two make a hasty escape back to the wasteland above.

 It’s from here that the movie reaches its famously bleak conclusion. Vic is reunited with a starving, wounded Blood. Quilla whines on in the background like a spoiled brat about how ‘if he loved her’ Vic should abandon the mangy cur, whilst Vic himself makes apologetic pleas for forgiveness to his dying friend. The movie fades to black and we open on a new morning, with Vic and a much perkier Blood heading off into the sunset. Chipper after his hearty meal, Blood muses on the choices of the departed third wheel- "Well, I'd say she certainly had marvelous judgement, Albert, if not particularly good taste.

 Ellison rejected the ending of the film, describing the last line as ‘moronic, hateful and chauvinist’ and he wasn’t alone in his condemnation. Feminist and fellow new-wave science fiction writer Joanna Russ wrote that she could not support the move because she would not be ‘complicit in her own murder’ and lamented the loss of the subtle ambiguity present in the original short story. There’s definitely an irony in the way the movie happily plays with jokes about rape, murder and cannibalism but balks at using any of the profanity of the original- Hollywood respectability would fit right in with the Down Under’s society.

 Ellisons’ work often features unlikeable, downright nasty characters but for all his distrust of the idea that humanity’s default setting is good and wholesome, he does have faith in the ability of individuals to make the right choices on their own. Ellison’s Vic comes back changed by his journey into the underworld. Reflecting on his choice at the end Vic is reminded that Quilla said he didn’t understand love but, sure he did, ‘a boy loves his dog’.

 For all it’s adolescent humour and for all it lacks the subtlety of the original story, A Boy and His Dog is a trashy (and trash-filled) classic that leaves you with plenty to think over. We need stories without easy answers, that aren’t just hero fantasies where we can forget that the brutality of the wasteland is the same driving force as in the society that created it. Vic doesn’t come away from his adventure an unadulterated hero but he is changed enough to recognise his own capacity for love and his ability to sacrifice for it. Maybe that’s enough to hold out hope for humanity a little longer. Character, after all, is what you are in the wasteland.

A Boy And His Dog (1975) Trailer

Monday, August 27, 2018

Review: Miracle Mile (1989)

By Mark Wilkinson

Listen, i'm just a guy that picked up the phone.

 Miracle Mile Follows the tale of Harry Washello. A hopeless romantic who meets the woman of his dreams Julie and they fall completely in love within the few hours they spend together, strolling through the LA landscape in a hazy daze of 80’s summery love. They arrange to meet up again at midnight outside Julie’s work when her shift finishes. Harry however, manages to oversleep from his nap due to a power cut in his hotel, he finally wakes up after 3am and frantically dashes to the cafe hoping he hasn’t ruined his chances with his perfect woman. As you might expect, disheartened Julie has long gone when he arrives. He tries calling her in the phone booth outside, but to no avail. Moments later the phone starts to ring and Harry instinctively goes back and takes the call. It’s not Julie on the other end though, but a shaken young soldier named Chip who’s allegedly calling from a missile silo in North Dakota. Chip has misdialled and believes he’s talking to his father, frantically imparting some devastating news, nuclear missiles are on their way in approximately 70 minutes. There’s a sound of gunfire on the line and then Chip is silenced. Shocked and unsure if the caller was genuine or a sick prank caller. What ensues is a Kafkaesque journey through the barren early morning streets of Los Angeles, where anything and everything goes, as Harry sets out to find Julie and escape L.A. whilst also trying to make sense of all the escalating madness, all in the span of some of the most bizarre, heart-stopping hour-and-twenty-minutes ever put to film.

 And what a delightful anxiety-riddled batch of madness it is, all brought to life through Steve Jarnatt’s excellent direction, Theo van de Sande’s eye-catching cinematography and the implementation of a constricted time window. Miracle mile has some of the most confident and consistent styles I've seen put to film. It's a fever dream of music, tension and bright and popping colours that efficiently and flawlessly create a world of ever-present menace, paranoia and anxiety; constantly yet subtlety cranking up the absurdity as the possibility of the worlds-end draws near. De Jarnatt completely understands how to use every frame of his film and how to extract everything from LA and the strip of Miracle Mile, aiding it to carve out the movies distinct personality. Tangerine Dream's completely mesmerising and sparkling score pulsates almost constantly, replicating our heartbeats whilst also venturing into some powerful synthesized soundscapes that help accentuate just how wonderfully strange this night is.

 One of the strongest parts of the movie is the colourful and lively characters that are on display throughout. The aforementioned couple of harry and Julie are adorably endearing, yet it's the amazing cast of eccentrics (played by almost every amazing character-actor from the 80’s) that they encounter amidst the chaos of the films runtime that really bring forward the movies frantic and fun spirit. Although the movie never rests in order to spend time on character development or narrative development, they are still there in abundance - this is a film that is purposeful and surgical in every single frame it uses. It's committed to a confrontation with fate, and when heroics become increasingly silly and unsustainable, we see the characters, especially Harry, contend with the monumentality of the inevitable. It is a story about romance in the face of the apocalypse, a tale about missed chances and the significance of one's individual happiness in the face of mankind's greatest catastrophe. Rich in emotional resonance Neck-deep in the feel of hopeless, late-night scrambling’s and boiling over with tension.

 Although its tone and general mood veer towards the area of nihilism, there’s an ever-running sense of optimism and hope lying underneath the hysteria. Present solely in the characters of Harry and Julie, full of heart and infatuation for one another, who serve as the perfect counterweight to the madness presented on screen. They embody that one magical feeling that makes humans so unique and the one thing to remember mankind by--Love. Love may just be the decisive factor for humanity, an aspect which has the ability to change people altogether, especially considering a scenario like the inevitable doom of the human race, a time of survival and thinking solely for oneself. Love is still possible, it happens during the best of times, yet also the worst of times, including humanity’s final hour.

 Miracle Mile is, in its purest form, a devastating film, one that brings to the forefront of its audience the insanity the universe can thrust upon us at any given moment, but it’s also one which tells its viewers that, whatever outcome fate may bring us to, there’s nothing to fear so long as we are surrounded by the people we love, as well as the drive to live our lives to the fullest extent. It’s a tragedy, but it’s one where humanity will be remembered not for its selfishness in the midst of madness and chaos but instead their innate ability to live, love, and care for one another. It's beautiful, fun, sweet and also emotionally devastating. Furthermore, it is without a doubt, unforgettable.

Miracle Mile Is Available Now On Blu Ray

Miracle Mile (1989) Trailer