Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Review: Frankenhooker (1990)

By Mark Wilkinson

This movie has all the right parts in all the right places.

 Since his breakout midnight movie basket case, there were not many voices more distinctive in '80s horror than Frank Henenlotter. His movies feel like no others of the period, they are consistently gross, funny and completely outrageous. Henenlotter's body of work may not be well-made in the classical sense, but you have to admit, they're pretty damn original.

 When his fiancĂ©e dies in a freak lawnmower accident that reduces her to a tossed human salad, medical student and wannabe mad scientist Jeff Franken hatches an appropriately bizarre scheme to bring her back to life. He saves her head and salvages parts from various ladies of the night to construct a new body. As you would expect, things go horribly wrong during the resurrection process. Instead of restoring the girl he once knew, the experiment transforms our hero's dismembered lover into an unholy amalgamation of all the hookers he used for parts, with an angry muscle bulging Filipino pimp now on the look-out for his missing hookers.

 As you’d expect from the movie title and ridiculous plot description, the acting in this movie is every bit as overblown and campy as you could imagine. It's manic, it's inflated and at times, just down right awful. (I'm looking at you Zorro). Nevertheless, it works for the story being told.
James Lorinz delivers an interesting performance as the protagonist Jeffrey Franken. Although he does manage to provide some amusing monologues and deliver some of the best deadpan jokes of the movie, he seems like he’s ad-libbing almost every scene he’s in and never fails to ham it up whenever the opportunity arises. The best way to describe his performance would be to Imagine Herbert West (Re-Animator) being portrayed by Darren-oh-my-god-Ewing (Troll 2). Patty Mullen manages to bring forward a somewhat remarkable and charming quality to her character Shelley. However, it’s her exaggerated portrayal of the titular character that exhibits the fun and energetic temperament of the movie. It's when this character is finally awakened and we watch her awkwardly walk around the grimy back streets of New York, subways and seedy motels, decked out in her mammoth platform shoes that the movie begins to operate at full steam until the end credits.

 Cinematographer Robert Baldwin along with Henenlotter do an excellent job in creating an equally demented world for these characters to live in. They manage to showcase a consistently creative visual in an extraordinarily dark and appealing way. From the charming production design that emblazons its budget in every set piece throughout the movie, to the way they manage to capture the seedy backdrops of the big apple, they manage to transport you into this deranged world that feels like it has been caked in filth.

 One of my favourite things is when a gloriously trashy work of art hides its more serious themes behind a trashy veneer. There’s a deft criticism on the ways in which men commodify female beauty, stripping it down into component pieces to be fetishized and objectified. Jeffrey refashions the love of his life, reclaiming her from death’s cold embrace. However, that’s not enough, since he’s going to all this trouble he might as well make some aesthetic improvements and create his perfect woman whilst he’s at it. It's with this underlying tongue in cheek type of dark humour that the movie really unveils  itself and reveals that underneath its exploitative and seedy facade, the movie is in fact, egalitarian in spirit.

 A humorous retelling of the classic Frankenstein story, only with hookers, pimps, and a grimy setting, this movie is absurdly entertaining. While sleazy and full of nudity, Henenlotter manages to keep the film's tone light and fun. Frankenhooker finds the director pushing the envelope further with a brighter, wilder sense of visual design and storytelling. This is a living cartoon, a trash opera. It’s a shambling creature in itself...the head of John Waters stitched onto the torso of Stuart Gordon, fused with cut-up pieces of early Peter Jackson. The film manages to generate a kind of compassion that very few films pertaining to the subject matter of running over a woman with lawnmowers and blowing up prostitutes with super crack in order to stitch all their remains together and bring back your lover ever have.   

 Frankenhooker is in no way a masterpiece, it is a down and dirty flick, it is also however, an absolutely delightful and fun one.

 In the words of Bill Murray "If you only see one movie this year, it should be FRANKENHOOKER".

Frankenhooker Is Available Now On Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Frankenhooker (1990) Trailer

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Jackson Three - Braindead (1992)

Braindead (1992)
By Caroline Rennox

‘I know what to do, I've read the comics! Total... bodily... dismemberment!’
 Braindead will never make it into any list of the greatest films ever made but it’s been a favourite of mine since I first saw it, taped it off the telly and re-watched over and over. Notorious as one of the bloodiest films ever made the film is equal parts hilarious and shockingly gruesome and I will recommend it relentlessly to anyone within earshot.
 Set in 1950’s Wellington, the film follows spineless downtrodden Lionel Cosgrove. Smothered by his despotic, overbearing mother Vera and surreptitiously trying to pursue a relationship with local shopgirl Paquita. His mother, disapproving of Lionel spending time with any woman that isn’t her, follows the two on a date to Wellington zoo where she’s bitten by the evil Sumatran rat monkey and succumbs in a few hours to it’s deadly bite. With his mother now undead and dangerously contagious, Lionel tries simultaneously to protect Paquita and hide his gory secret from the world. Unfortunately for him, in this film dark secrets contaminate everything they touch and the truth will force its way to the surface in the bloodiest way imaginable.
 Braindead takes great delight in playing around with the standard tropes of the zombie outbreak movie and mines great comedy from giving its main undead cast their own ridiculous subplots. Vera’s first victim is local Nurse McTavish, who spends the rest of the movie with her head held on by a thread at the neck, and gives birth to the horrific baby Selwyn after bumping rotten uglies with zombified Father McGruder. McGruder has one of the funniest scenes in the movie in which he uses his kung-fu skills to take out some local thugs and spends most of the undead existence trying to create more undead spawn with Nurse McTavish . Rock’n’roll hoodlum Void is turned after making the mistake of pissing on Vera’s grave and his hatred of milquetoast Lionel is so great that his individual body parts - guts included - try their best to hunt down our hero at the movie’s end.
 The gloriously over the top last half hour features a house party organised by Lionel’s pervy Uncle Les, in which every partygoer eventually succumbs to the zombie plague after Lionel mistakenly pumps his mother and her victims full of animal stimulant. The whole sequence is an incredibly bloody exercise in coming up with the most inventive ways to despatch the panicking horde. Flesh is stripped from still kicking leg bones, full ribcages are torn from living bodies and baby Selwyn bursts entirely through one screaming woman’s head.
 The horde is finally destroyed in a scene featuring the Kiwi contribution to iconic horror weapons - the lawnmower. Fully tooled up Lionel tears through the crowd in one of the bloodiest horror scenes ever filmed. By the end the floor is a puddle of blood, Lionel is dripping head to toe and surrounded by a mound of quivering body parts. It’s a fantastic scene and one of the finest pieces of zombie destruction ever filmed.
 Baptised in gore and bolstered by the discovery of what really happened to his long dead father, Lionel finally faces down his now monstrously deformed mother. In a hilariously literal depiction of smotherly love, Vera traps Lionel inside her grotesquely inflated womb before he bursts out, reborn as a man free of his mother and her secrets and ready to ride off into the sunset with his equally blood-soaked beloved.
 The film is a step up from the previous two in every way, featuring an immensely quotable script, a cast that’s seemingly game for anything and some spectacularly gory effects courtesy of future Weta Workshop co-founder Richard Taylor. Blessed this time with a proper budget, the film even finished ahead of schedule and Jackson used the spare time and money to film a ridiculous slapstick scene where baby Selwyn takes a trip to the park. If nothing else, that scene is an indication of the great fun and creativity driving the film.
 The last of Jackson’s horror comedies before he made Heavenly Creatures, Forgotten Silver and The Frighteners, before he stepped off into blockbuster success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Braindead is a fitting farewell to his splatter cycle. If nothing else, it’s the film that gives me hope that Jackson can recover from his Hollywood burnout and we’ll once again see the creativity and invention that make his early films such a joy to watch.

Braindead Is Available On Dvd, Blu-Ray And Digital Now

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Braindead (1992) Trailer

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Jackson Three - Meet The Feebles (1989)

Meet the Feebles (1989)
By Caroline Rennox

                                                     ‘Not your average, ordinary people.’

 Re-watching Meet the Feebles was a bit of strange experience. I’m sure I had fond memories of watching it first time round but watching it again, there was very little to enjoy.
The film features the same hallmarks of the other early Jackson movies in that goes full out to provoke laughter and disgust in equal measure from its audience. There’s a rabbit with an STD, a literal muckraking journalist bluebottle and a knife-throwing frog suffering from flashbacks to ‘Nam, but these basic ideas never seem to be fleshed out into actual jokes. Like many Muppets parodies - see ‘The Fuzz’ - the film seems to rely on a dark and distasteful version of Hensons’ sweet-natured dreamers as being inherently funny.
 Like Bad Taste, the general plot of the film is pretty straightforward - The Feebles’ cast are trying to put on a show to save the company but everything keeps going wrong. The main storyline follows Heidi the hippo - once the star of the show but now an overweight, has-been with a dated routine. Bullied and laughed at behind her back, Heidi eventually snaps and murders the whole cast with a machine gun in the film’s bloody finale.
Maybe it’s the fact that the movie is so visually un-appealing which sucks a bit of the joy out of it for me. Much of the film is dark and distinctly under-lit. Movies which rely so heavily on puppetry and practical effects are notoriously difficult, and it may that some of the dim and hazy look to the film is just covering the seams.

 There are a few bright spots to be had - Sebastian the fox’s showstopping musical number about the joys of sodomy did earn a bit of a giggle from me but then it does feature huge phallic columns spurting glitter all over the stage. The entire thing is ridiculously over the top and it helps that he’s one of the few characters who aren’t completely irredeemable.
Overall the film is clearly the weakest of the three. The script was re-written rather hastily at the last minute and the cumbersome effects led to the whole thing going over budget and over schedule - a familiar story for anyone who saw the similarly disappointing Hobbit trilogy. technically ambitious but ultimately not fulfilling.
 The film does have a bit of a cult following and whether or not it’s funny is obviously highly subjective. Jackson has described the film as a savage satire but for me any satirical point is lost amidst the need to shock more than anything else. While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, I would say it’s worth watching even purely out of curiosity. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover that aardvark on bovine nasal porn is the hilarious kink you never knew you had.

Meet The Feebles (1989) Trailer

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Jackson Three - Bad Taste (1987)

 By Caroline Rennox 

 Starting way back in the 1980’s, long before the Hobbit trilogy had sucked out all of his will to live, Peter Jackson made some of the goriest, most defiantly stupid movies ever to have been committed to film. Movies with an anarchic inventiveness that don’t just want to test the audience’s stomach for gore but to make sure they have a laugh while doing it. A trashy trio that form the gory playground where the director honed his craft.
 Is there one film to rule them all? I set out on a re watch to find out...
Bad Taste (1987)

‘Like a visit from a planet full of Charlie Mansons!’
 Your enjoyment of Bad Taste is dependent entirely on your ability to stomach copious amounts of blood, guts and vomit and your appreciation for absurd slapstick comedy. If you like a bit of a giggle with your gore, you’ll find there’s plenty here for the horror comedy connoisseur.
 Jackson’s first feature film is a low-budget labour of love that was directed, shot, edited and (partially) acted all by the man himself. All props and special effects were created by Jackson, from the fake guns and gore to the grotesque alien invaders, with some of the alien deformity famously coming from the fact that the masks didn’t quite fit in his mum’s oven.
 Filming took place over an incredible four years, shot on the odd weekends when the cast of Jackson and his mates were free.The film was financed entirely by Jackson, until the New Zealand Film Commission, impressed with the existing footage, stumped up the funds to finish the movie.. With the success of the film resting on his shoulders, this is the kind of dedication that you only see from a movie-maker out to prove himself.
 The film’s plot evolved as shooting went on, based on a desire to include all the very best, most gory ideas for set-pieces, but the basic story is pretty simple: alien employees of Crumb’s Crunchy Delights have come to Earth to use humanity as a new source of fast food and it’s up to the four weirdos of the Astro Investigation and Defence Service to stop them.
Dereks don’t run.
 There’s not much depth to the film - you could maybe squint and a see a little bit of satire in just how disposable head honcho Lord Crumb considers humanity and his own literally blue-collared workers to be in the pursuit of profit but you’d be missing the point. The plot only really exists as a frame in which to fit as many ridiculous, disgusting, slapstick gags as are possible into 90 minutes.       
 No head is blown off without buckets of offal flying into the camera, no bullet wound complete without blood squirting directly into someone’s eye and there’s a palpable glee in the escalation of gore and violence right up until team psycho Derek (one of Jackson’s three roles in the movie) uses a chainsaw to carve himself a passage directly through an entire alien body. The sense of escalation threads it way through the film from the stripped down, hand-held openings shots, clambering over set and scenery, to the explosive, special effects extravaganza of the finale.
 Watching the film again several years after I first saw it, much of the fun comes from watching Jackson clearly trying to outdo each scene with the next, not least with his own, unhinged performance as Derek. Bad Taste holds up impressively well for a first movie and is full of enough genuine laughs that it’s still a definite must-watch for any fans of splatter comedy.
 There’s no fat on this one, get some mates round, have a laugh and sink your teeth in.

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Bad Taste (1987) VHS Trailer

Friday, July 13, 2018

Review: Dead-End Drive-In (1986)

By Mark Wilkinson

 Dead End Drive-In sets up its world right from the beginning, it showcases a dystopian future where crime is rampant, the economy ravaged and cars are considered precious commodities. Life in Australia is falling apart. Roving gangs threaten innocents. Rival salvage companies fight for increasingly rare car parts. A clean-cut boy named “Crabs” borrows his brother’s classic Chevy to take his best girl Carmen to the local drive-in. During the movie, his wheels are stolen, stranding the kids at the theatre overnight. In the morning they find out that the drive-in is actually a concentration camp for youths and ne’er-do-wells who come for the movie and are tricked into staying forever. Crabs refuses to give in. He scours the camp for the car parts necessary to fix his ride, facing off against the drive-in’s scummy owner, a colourful group of thugs and corrupt police.

 The movie follows a formula many of these lower budget action movies take on: kick off loud and fast with a big action sequence, take the next hour to hang out with the character and give us a reason to care about the last 20 minutes where we get a series of action set pieces for an explosive finale. It’s a formula that is make or break based on that middle hour of movie, where action is at a minimum. Thankfully, Dead End Drive-In succeeds where similar movies of this ilk would fail. What keeps the pace moving is the wonderful world it is able to build in its simple setting and the colourful characters it fills the drive-in with. Crabs is a likable enough lead, albeit a bit of a weeny. A scrawny kid, that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. An outcast in every sense of the word. There is enough plot for him to work through to keep the downtime of the film thoroughly entertaining, with some very well-done car action at the bookends of the film. Dead End Drive-In certainly isn’t short of ideas to keep your attention during its lean 88-minute run time.

 The amazing production design is really where this movie begins to stand out and the world that they are able to create on such a small budget. The clothes, the make-up, the punk-rock hairstyles, the location designs, the use of graffiti and paint, the consistent fire throughout, all the vehicles that are shown, including that gorgeous red Chevy convertible. All of this is perfectly exemplified by the wonderful visual talents of cinematographer Paul Murphy. His photography throughout is nothing short of beauty, creating a remarkably lived-in world and never leaving a single frame underused. Right from the opening credits, he captures perfectly a beautiful hazy-orange--polluted skyline that bespeaks how much of a broken society world that this movie lives in. He manages to give the film a grungy midnight look of a 80s music video. Moreover, my favourite visual however is the way he captures the neon-lit, Star Drive-In sign. Its forever shown beaming so brightly in that polluted night sky, like a gaudy north star guiding the unemployed, reprobates and the destitute towards it. It's brightly lit stature is both a welcoming sign for potential new vagrants yet is also a constant reminder to everyone inside that they are stuck there.

 Although its exaggerated satire, there is so much fear and resentment aimed towards the youth in this movie. They are portrayed as nothing more than deadbeat punks, who are literally burning the old earth to make way for their own (everything is always on fire in this movie) when really, teenagers/young adults are mostly just lost and insecure individuals looking for some guidance, not imprisonment and to be spoon-fed trash. This is really where Dead-End Drive-In begins to unveil that it has a surprisingly large amount to say. The general idea of a post-apocalyptic drive-in as a refugee camp for the unruly youth, is an interesting concept on its own. However, the remarkable added touch of making the prisoners happy to accept their incarceration because the compound offers an endless supply of junk food, trashy B-movies, new wave music and drugs elevates this movie to profound social commentary.

 The burn outs that now live within the drive-in turn their disabled cars into cost-effective studio apartments. They decide to literally stew in their own means of escape, instead of seeming remotely interested in escaping. They seem to focus mainly on drinking, gossiping and fighting and to just carry on with their meaningless, dead-end lives despite the electric fences and eruption of a totalitarian police state. This is such a hyper-stylised tale of a generation held prisoner by consumerism. The system of Big Brother in Orwell’s “1984” is here repositioned as a neon-lit helpful hand rather than a brutal fist, but still a society imprisoned, and being constantly reminded that there is no escape.

 Our hero crabs journey touches on some Kafka-lite territory. His attempts to escape are met with endless conversations about why he can’t. Things always seem to get worse for him and the two-steps-forward-one-step-back occurrences give the whole thing a sort of Aesop’s’ quality; just as he finds two replacement wheels for his Chevy, he runs out of petrol; just as he siphons the petrol from a police van, his engine gets stolen. Crabs becomes increasingly frustrated yet is shown to still be driven to escape, Carmen on the other hand seems relatively content. She starts making friends and increasingly baffled by Crabs’ attempts to escape and bemused as he maintains the car, which she has now long since stopped regarding as anything other than where she now resides.

 Lastly, if there was one issue that I could imagine being rather problematic for audiences, it would definitely be the campy acting. This is sadly where Dead end drive will likely lose a lot of its audience. Its understandably easy to reject a movie based on over the top acting. However, watching how expertly Brian Trenchard Smith directs every other aspect of the movie, it’s clear that the acting is an active choice. He manages to keep the energy and the tone exactly the same throughout the entire movie and never backs down. he commits to his choice until the end and this is something I can’t help but respect.

 Nevertheless, I implore you to seek out Dead-End Drive-In. Come for the funny accents, the car chases and beautiful cinematography. Stay for the social commentary that is as relevant today as it was back then. And let the manic, punk-fuelled energy immerse you throughout. This is pure joy, this is balls-out fun. This is, trash cinema!

Dead-End Drive-In Is Available Now On Arrow Video Blu-Ray

Dead-End Drive-In (1986) Trailer