Saturday, 9 November 2013

Black Moon (1975)

Boyfriend and I have a "happy place": Video Difference, a 24-hour, 3-storey DVD rental outlet (yes, they still exist) on Quinpool Street. It's a cineaste's paradise. They stock every movie under the sun and, if you request a movie under the moon, they will move heaven and earth to get it for you. I have applied for a job there numerous times but, despite my excellent GPA, my film studies minor, and my university film studies prize, they have never so much as called me in for an interview, and I've been forced to seek genuinely gainful employment instead.

On any given weekend, often in the wee hours of the morning, Boyfriend and I may be found at Video Difference, perusing racks of Criterion movies, sending staff to dig into the deep archives, and generally having a delightful time renting movies we've never heard of, hoping to discover an unknown masterpiece. But while I've rented films from Video Difference that wound up on my All-Time Greatest Movies Hit List (Belle du Jour, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Viridiana) my recent luck has been terrible. In the last month or so I've taken home Black Orpheus, which was utterly boring; Haxan, which was just OK; and most recently Black Moon (Louis Malle, 1975), which, I don't know, maybe I should stop renting movies I don't know anything about altogether.

The only thing that kept me on the couch watching Black Moon, and not doing anything, anything else, was the fact that my nails were drying. My manicure is now perfect, but in the immortal words of Kim Kardashian, is it worth it?

The answer is no.
The film opens with an extended shot of a badger on a highway. ("Ladies and gentlemen, an art movie," Boyfriend observed, prophetically.) The badger is then run over by a car. In the car is Lily (Cathryn Harrison: Rex Harrison's granddaughter, sources say, although what Rex Harrison was doing allowing his progeny to sully the family name in tripe like this is mysterious indeed). Lily drives through the countryside, trying to avoid the guerilla warfare being fought by armies divided along gender lines (one of only two interesting ideas this film ever has; the other is daisies that scream when you step on them).

Lily stumbles upon a farmhouse in the country, inhabited by a crazy old woman, twincestuous adult siblings, and about two dozen naked children (whose elders, once again, should never have allowed them to feature in this film). Various utterly stupid and frustrating events happen for no fucking reason. A unicorn (well, a very fat Shetland pony with a horn affixed to its head) appears and Lily follows it all over. Lily throws a half-dozen alarm clocks out a window. The Goler twins and their birthday-suited offspring perform selections from a Wagner opera. People breast-feed one another. Lily helps bury a dead soldier and then, in an act no way loaded with obvious and heavy-handed symbolism, allows a garter snake to slither between her legs. This is more or less the blessed end, after an hour and forty minutes of unbearable nonsense.

Lily also falls all the time in this movie. Like, she must have an inner ear problem or something.
At first, this movie comes across as an extended metaphor for sexual abuse. Then, it starts coming across as an extended metaphor for sexual abuse, produced by someone who didn't know anything about film-making. Then, you finally realize that it's not an extended metaphor for anything, except the importance of being more careful what movies you take home from Video Difference.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. This is hard to explain. Sometimes, bad movies happen to good film-makers. This is easier to explain, but just as frustrating. "At the time of release, Black Moon received mixed reviews and vanished into obscurity," says Wikipedia. Good, and I wish it had stayed there instead of being resurrected under the Criterion label. They're handing those things out like candy.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Haxan (1922)

Haxan (Benjamin Christensen, 1922) is a silent black and white Swedish documentary on witchcraft from the 1920s. Kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Double double.
There's not much point giving a plot breakdown for Haxan. There isn't really a plot, as such, just interlinking episodes connected by factual background information. We see some bad medieval ladies casting spells and partying with Satan. We see a couple witch trials. We jump to the modern era and Christensen makes his case (probably progressive in the 20s) that witchcraft was really mental illness. The film ends with the abrupt accusation "SLUT", which is apparently Swedish for "The End".

I was really rooting for Haxan, really ready to like it, if only because "so I saw this awesome silent Swedish documentary on witchcraft"would be such a great way to start a conversation. Unfortunately, it hasn't aged well. Both the documentary and horror genres were in their infancy in the 20s, and Christensen isn't particularly prophetic on either front.

I love silent movies and think they're often unfairly criticized, but there's a lot to criticize here: the inconsistent acting, the occasionally ludicrous costumes, fact that nothing, literally nothing, happens for the first quarter-hour. The biggest problem is that no one on Haxan seems to have realized that what you don't see, or only think you see, is much scarier than what you do see. Every time Christensen fills his frame with cavorting demons and leering devils (and he's very fond of this) they get further from scary and closer to cute.

Whee!
Finally, the Wagner score Criterion chose to accompany this film was apparently true to authorial intent, but that doesn't make it easier for a modern audience to take seriously. I can't be the only one who hears certain melodies and immediately thinks of Bugs Bunny sitting on a pony, batting his eyelashes.

If you were a teenage boy in the 1920s, Haxan would have been a good way to see naked girls. Beyond that, it's hard to recommend.

Monday, 14 October 2013

White Zombie (1932)

White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932), which Wikipedia claims is Hollywood's first zombie flick, is ruthlessly, remorselessly stupid (thus setting the bar for a lot of zombie flicks).

A film that cannot be saved by Bela Lugosi in a tux.
Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron), the 1930s' most annoying newlyweds-to-be, have arrived in Haiti for their destination wedding. Inconveniently, every male they meet immediately lusts after Madeleine, who is apparently the only woman in a 100-mile radius. Madeleine's list of would-be suitors includes annoying plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who teams up with annoying voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi; yes, the character's name is actually Murder) to zombify Madeleine. This is not difficult because Madeleine barely has two brain cells to rub together. Once Madeleine is zombified our heroes and villains run all over Haiti fighting for her while she wanders around looking stunned. The appropriate parties are dispatched in convenient ways, Madeleine is apparently de-zombified (though it's not easy to tell) and we, the audience, have wasted an hour of our lives.

Most of the reviews I've read for White Zombie blast the acting, which is unfair. The performances are dated (they're not bad, they just veer into the more melodramatic silent style), but they're solid. White Zombie's real problem is that these actors have nothing to work with (except, in Bellamy's case, some funky vintage costumes). Bland script, boring characters, dumb cinematography. And although I hate to shoot fish in barrels, this film is as cringe-inducingly racist as you might expect of a 1930s movie called White Zombie. A product of its time, perhaps, but there are still some absolutely squirm-worthy moments.

Some people enjoy a good bad movie. I am one of them. If you go into White Zombie knowing that it's a curio, not a classic, you might have a good time. Or you could just, you know, watch something that's actually good. Do what you want, I guess.

"HOW DID I GET STUCK IN THIS CUP?"
SCENE STEALER: There's not much to salvage in White Zombie, but Bela Lugosi does his fighting best. Fresh off of 1931's Dracula, Lugosi was probably used to being the coolest person in the room. Still, even he can't pull off those ginormous prosthetic eyebrows. For real, it looks like twin caterpillars crawled onto his face and died.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

Went to see The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013) with my friend Shannon last week. As we left the theatre, some dudebro ahead of us enthusiastically informed his buddy "dude, that was fucking sick." And I was like:

Dude, no. No, dude. No, dude, no.
This? This passes for "fucking sick" nowadays? The last half-century brought us The Exorcist, Cannibal Holocaust, the Blood Trilogy, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre -- and come 2013, The Conjuring qualifies as "fucking sick"? Stop this decade. I'm getting off. This isn't fucking sick. This is a big budget version of that episode of The Waltons with a poltergeist.

Shucks howdy.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Pumpkinhead (1988)

I must say I was disappointed that the demonic baddie in Pumpkinhead (Stan Winston, 1988) didn't actually have a pumpkin for a head.

He had a head for a head.
When country bumpkin Ed Harley's (Lance Henriksen) cherubic little boy is run down by teenagers on motorcycles (details at eleven), Harley turns to swamp witch Haggis (Florence Schauffer) to help him wreak revenge. Using remains disinterred from a nearby pumpkin patch, Haggis calls forth a hell demon (the "Pumpkinhead") and unleashes it on the hapless teens. Said adolescents are picked off one by one until they realize that Harley and the Pumpkinhead share a magical connection. Then they do the logical thing and riddle Harley with bullets, and both he and the Pumpkinhead drop dead.

Pumpkinhead is sort of a deeply okay movie. It's not really bad (and indeed it's much better than a movie called Pumpkinhead has any right to be). It does some interesting stuff. The lighting and colour are gorgeous (there's a really striking orange/blue palette). Plus, it's a cool about-face the film pulls with its POV, starting with Ed Harley as protagonist, then switching gears halfway through to follow the imperiled teens. Generally, though, Pumpkinhead doesn't do much that a thousand other horror movies haven't done before and after, both better and worse.

The middle of the road is a dangerous place for a horror movie. The worst entries in the genre often wind up as popular as, or even more popular than, the best: look at Friday the 13th (a terrible film). There's something unique enjoyable about bad horror: the Sears catalog model woodenly reciting her lines, the monkey-with-a-typewriter script, the jump scare you see coming for ten minutes. There's a place in the annals of film for bad horror. But mediocrity? That's less sellable. (It's worth noting that Pumpkinhead got three sequels, though. Why? Who watched them?)

No Bain, no gain.
FINAL GIRL: Tracy, played by Cynthia Bain. She's unremarkable. Most of this movie's teenagers are just corn-fed, interchangeable Pumpkinhead fodder.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)

Yes, I'm back and boy howdy, do I have a movie for you. Today Black Cat Reviews tackles Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (Don Edmonds, 1975).

(Quick note -- I'm not really sure how it works to put a trigger warning on something, but I think probably trigger warning on this. Possible all of the trigger warnings on this. If you're squicked out by, well, anything, move along.)

"I want to talk to my agent."


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Quills (2000)

Quills (Philip Kaufman, 2000) is  one of those movies that I'll never recommend to anybody in person because I'd be too afraid of what they'd think of me. But it is great, and I do recommend it, if you have a strong stomach.

"Paint me like one of your French girls."
Confined to a cell at Charenton Asylum, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) still manages to smuggle out smut for public consumption, transporting his pornographic manuscripts in the basket of complicit laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet). Unfortunately, his latest bestseller attracts the ire of Napoleon himself (Ron Cook: you know it's Napoleon because his feet don't touch the ground when he sits down). Said dictator sends the respectable Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to crack down on the crackpots. Royer-Collard doesn't like the "treatments" Charenton's Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) is utilizing: fresh air! Civilized conversation! Art therapy! When de Sade dares pen a piece satirizing Royer-Collard's jailbait bride, Charenton's overseers conspire to limit the Marquis's creative outlets. De Sade takes this as a challenge, and when the battle between madness, sanity, sex and religion is over, there are no survivors -- those who don't literally die are so broken that they are different people altogether.

Look, history assholes, Quills isn't real history. It doesn't even pretend to be real history, and nobody with the critical faculties of a five-year-old could mistake it for real history. It's a parable; the historical elements are a shorthand. The movie doesn't have to waste time establishing who Geoffrey Rush's character is: they just go "this is the Marquis de Sade" and you know everything you need to know. Structurally, it's less historical fiction than fairy tale. Three times, the Marquis manages to produce manuscripts in his room without pen or paper, like Hansel figuring out how to mark the path home without stones. Like so many fairy tales, Quills has a definite moral, but I don't think that having a moral is a mark against a film, as long as the filmmakers are honest about it. Subtlety, I'm sure the Marquis would agree, is an overrated virtue.

Hellooooooooo, Abbe!
SCENE STEALER: I will always love Joaquin Phoenix no matter how crazy he insists on being. This guy is one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. When is Joaquin Phoenix not great, you might ask -- well, the answer is never. Have you seen him in Walk the Line?

Heeeeeere's Johnny.

I mean come on.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Ladyhawke (1985)

To the tune of the Trogdor the Burninator song:

ISABEAU!!!!!
ISABEAU!!!!!

ISABEAU WAS A LADY
SHE... SHE WAS A LADY HAWK
OR MAYBE SHE WAS JUST... A HAWK
BUT SHE WAS STILL ISABEAU!!!!!!
ISABEAU!!!!!!

No grass-roofed cottages are immolated in Ladyhawke (Richard Donner, 1985) but it's still a damn good time.

Yeah, yeah, hawk looks like a lady.
Phillipe "The Mouse" Gaston (Matthew Broderick) escapes from the dungeons of Aquila only to be kidnapped and forced into indentured semi-squiredom by knight errant Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer). Navarre requires Phillipe's assistance on his kamikaze quest to break into Aquila and confront its resident bishop (John Wood). Turns out said Bishop had the erstwhile hots for Navarre's wife Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) and, when she spurned him, he made the de riguer deal with the devil. Now Isabeau is a hawk by day, and Navarre a wolf by night: eternally together, eternally apart. The curse can only be broken if the Bishop looks upon Isabeau and Navarre together, in their human forms: but since one or the other is always transmogrified, that's impossible. Right? Right?! (Spoiler: not impossible, but takes roughly the length of a feature-length film to accomplish).

Ladyhawke has all the ingredients of a fantasy classic, but it never quite gets cooking. It's all just swash swash buckle buckle, and the nuances of this story require a more subtle approach. Now and again, we get hints of the kind of melancholy poetry that would have elevated Ladyhawke out of the sword-and-sorcery slums -- an intriguingly bizarre love triangle, for instance, is hinted at when Philippe takes it upon himself to deliver fabricated "messages" from one lover to the other. It escalates when Isabeau, in her hawk form, chooses to perch on Phillipe's wrist instead of Navarre's. Soon Philippe has the human Isabeau alone in a stable for some quality rufty tufty (get your mind out of the gutter, it's a dance). But the romantic angle which powers the film is eventually abandoned for standard-issue knights in armor swinging blades at each other. Maybe the writers didn't want to deal with polyamorous bestiality (and who can blame them, really).

Similarly, treacherous plot holes litter the narrative -- how much human personality and memory remains in Navarre and Isabeau's animal forms is inconsistent at best, and most worryingly, the fount and limits of the Bishop's powers aren't really established. I mean, if the curse gets lifted, great, but what's to stop him from just casting it again?

Everytime I look at you I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue
So, yeah. A masterpiece it's decidedly not, but Ladyhawke has its charms. The casting is inspired. Rutger Hauer's still channeling Blade Runner's Roy Baty, and so he turns what could have been an insipid romantic lead into an unstable weirdo: even in moments of contemplation or profound tenderness, you always get the sense that Navarre's just seconds away from squeezing out someone's eyeballs. Matthew Broderick's in full-on Dark Ages Ferris Bueller mode (his running commentary is delivered upwards to God instead of outwards to the audience, but the tenor is the same). Michelle Pfeiffer's Isabeau is alabaster perfection, pretty on the inside and the outside, and Leo McKern gets a fun turn as drunken priest Father Imperius. The human/animal transformations have just the right amount of cheese. And the soundtrack is so Eighties. Like, super Eighties. Alan Parsons. For real. Some people think this ruins the movie, but I think it's a selling point. If I wanted verisimilitude, I'd read a history book. Now shut up and give me the synth.

I am not a hawk! I am a... human being!
SCENE STEALER: Was any woman ever as beautiful as Michelle Pfeiffer in Ladyhawke? Her face is just... flabbergasting. Like, holy shit. I don't usually like to respond to the hard work an actress puts into a role with "OH MY GOD SHE'S SO PRETTY" but... oh my god, she's so pretty. Like, you kind of have to see it to believe it.

What's with the hair, though? It's more soccer mom than damsel in distress. Part of the Bishop's curse, perhaps -- explained in a scene that ended up on the cutting room floor? Yeah, that must be it.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979) is in every regard inferior to Walter Hill's true opus, Streets of Fire (1984). And yet Streets of Fire languishes forgotten while The Warriors has hot coals of hipster cred heaped upon its undeserving head. It's enough to drive a girl to drink. But my wine rack is empty, so I'm going to write a review instead.

Rock rock. Rockaway Beach.
The titular Warriors are a teenage street gang in a dystopic NYC overrun by teenage street gangs (in 1979, New York City basically was a textbook dytopia, so that's a little less creative than it sounds). When a gangland conference held in hostile territory goes awry, the Warriors are faced with the impossible-seeming task of returning to Coney Island, their claimed stomping grounds. Leader Swan (Michael Beck) indefatigably shepherds his charges through convenience stores and subways, evading or trouncing enemy gangs of hot lesbians and Little League players. Finally, as the sun rises on the Warriors stealing their own personal home base, we hear the cry that has gone down in cinematic history: villainous Luther (David Patrick Kelly) sing-songing "Warrrrrrriors, come out to plaaaaaaaay...." Surprisingly little comes of his invitation, and the movie's over ten minutes later.

The Warriors is not a bad movie. It has its selling points. The plot is endearingly asinine, the costumes approach A Clockwork Orange in their impractical, bizzaro charm, and Lynne Thigpen's red-hot, ice-cool disc jockey -- shot exclusively in extreme close-up -- is the most tantalizing pair of lips since The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's also really cool to see so many PoCs in a film from the Seventies, although the fact that they're all playing delinquents makes it a little less progressive.

My real problem with this movie is it's the same thing over and over. Turf war, rinse, repeat. Also, if you have any feminist proclivities whatsoever, The Warriors will make multiple attempts to piss you off. I'm not complaining that there's not a strong enough female presence in the movie -- let's be realistic, the Bechtel Test exists for a reason -- but every time they encounter double X chromosomes, the Warriors respond by immediately attempting seduction, with as much or as little force as they judge necessary to the occasion. The one female character who is not merely a target of the Warriors' erotic ambitions, the tiresomely shrill Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), is lambasted by Swan for being insufficiently virginal. Listen, Warriors, I know that you're busy guys with a lot on your plate, but you might want to check that virgin/whore complex and sexual double standard!

Basically, The Warriors is an okay movie, but life is short and who has time for an okay movie? Massively overrated. Watch Streets of Fire instead.

Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still....
SCENE STEALER: Lynne Thigpen as the DJ/narrator who delivers her running commentary on the Warriors' journey in a low, flirty purr. Later, Lynne Thigpen was the Chief.

You ain't gettin' away this time, Carmen!!!
When I was three years old, the Chief was the woman I admired most in the world, aside from Anne of Green Gables and my mother. I don't want to get maudlin or anything, but Thigpen died quite tragically young almost exactly ten years ago, and... just... when I think of her chirping "this is the Chief, signing off"... is there... something in my eye? Also she was born on my birthday. December 22. Sagittarius/Capricorn cusp! Lynne Thigpen, I love you. : (

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Craft (1996)

I can't think of anything better than returning to a movie you loved as a kid and discovering it's still awesome now that you've grown up. That's exactly what happened when I re-watched The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996) for probably the first time since I was an angst-ridden fourteen-year-old. Way to go, littler me, for your superior taste in cinema when everyone around you was knee-deep in inferior offerings from that weird mid-90s witchcraft craze! The Craft is a feminist horror parable, a grand guignol Breakfast Club -- three quarters girl power, one quarter black magic -- and a decade and change later, it's still wickedly good.

This comes right before the naked pillow fight.
Sarah (Robin Tunney) has what the 90s referred to as "issues." After a violent outburst, her parents relocate to sunny California so she can start anew. (Since this is exactly the setup for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I'd like to believe the two stories exist in the same universe and our starring coven was this close to a run-in with the chosen one.) Sarah picks the "bitches of Eastwick" for her new BFFs: Nancy (Fairuza Balk channeling Marilyn Manson), Bonnie (Neve Campbell channeling Hester Prynne), and Rochelle (Rachel True channeling someone's pet rock.) These girls are kneesock-deep in the dark arts, and after token hesitancy, Sarah's happy to help wreak revenge on their enemies: shallow blondes, callous jocks, and negligent parents soon pay for the pain they've inflicted on our heroines. Perhaps not unexpectedly, however, the girls' absolute power corrupts them absolutely, and Sarah is compelled to stop her out-of-control friends in an epic metaphysical catfight with Nancy. Snakes are thrown. Mirrors are broken. It's an Evanescence music video of a time. You can probably guess how it ends.

The Craft gets so much stuff right that it's just boggling. I've never seen a movie about teenagers where the teenagers acted so much like teenagers. The conversations, the moods, the preoccupations are pitch-perfect: when Bonnie sees the scars running the length of Sarah's wrists and murmurs, awed, "you even did it the right way" it's heartbreaking, and hilarious, and oh, so very high school. Present here are the awkward conversations with nosy bus drivers, the sleepovers that flip-flopped from giggles to tears, the bizarre, poignant affectations: Nancy, keeps a hangman's noose in her locker. I had a friend who did that. Maybe it was life imitating art, maybe it was art imitating life, but it rang true for me.

Unfortunately, The Craft's third act descends into creepy-crawly chaos, undermining the very thing that makes the rest of the movie so effective: would these girls, whose friendship was strong enough to catch the attention of the gods, whose power and purity turned them into avenging angels wreaking havoc in the hallways, turn on each other over something as boring as a boy? What a disappointing end to a film that starts out reveling in the twisted feminine other-ness of its antiheroines. Some producer somewhere is to blame. Still, the sour conclusion didn't stop me from watching, and re-watching, and re-watching this movie in my own salad days. The Craft is required viewing for black sheep of any age.

"Is this a DAGGER I see before me?"
SCENE STEALER: Fairuza Balk. Be still, my heart. Why wasn't Fairuza Balk in everything, ever? Let's take a short Fairuza Balk tour:


Fairuza Balk in Return to Oz, a movie which gave everyone, everywhere, nightmares.


Fairuza Balk in Almost Famous, a movie which gave everyone, everywhere, a heartwarming feeling.


Fairuza Balk.


Fairuza Balk!

There's a scene in The Craft where Nancy snuggles with a dead manatee and Fairuza Balk even manages to pull that off, almost.


Or maybe it was a narwhal. Whatever. Fairuza Balk for president!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Scream 2 (1997)

As much as I revel in discovering some new piece of celluloid trash, I tend to stay away from sequels in general and especially horror sequels. It just seems too easy. But I (have you heard this one before?) found Scream 2 (Wes Craven, 1997) on VHS and felt obligated to check it out, since the original Scream so roundly exceeded my expectations. I am subsequently obliged to report that Scream 2 not only exceeded my expectations (which were, to be fair, minimal), but succeeded -- and failed -- in ways even more intriguing than the original Scream.

Let's scream again like we did last summer.
Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is trying to lie low and put her bloody, final-girl past behind her by becoming a drama student at Windsor College (having been a theatre major myself I can confirm that this is indeed a speedy path to probable irrelevance). Unfortunately, yellow journalist Gale Weathers's (Courteney Cox) tell-all book about the Woodsboro murders has been adapted into a film called Stab, the premiere of which spurs a spurt of copycat killings. Sidney carts around Windsor watching her friends get murdered and being very pretentious until she decides enough is enough and dispatches the new Ghostface (until sequels three and four, anyway). The end, ish.

Scream 2 is so fucking smart it just doesn't know what to do with itself. It's a veritable pinata of defied expectations. The first kill, as lovingly lingered over as any in the canon, is a guy (Phil, played by House's Omar Epps). Take that, Laura Mulvey! The second kill (Jada Pinkett Smith as the brassy-sassy Maureen) eschews dark alleys and grimy basements for a crowded movie premiere. Then Buffy Cici (Sarah Michelle Gellar) leads a come-at-me-bro list of sequel cliches (not all of which Scream 2 avoids, but good of them to admit it up front). The meta shenanigans slow down a little during the bloody middle, but they're back for the climax (which is satisfying as ever).

I will say that Scream 2 wasn't quite as much fun as Scream, partly because I had a little more time to get attached to the main characters and wasn't quite as keen to see them die horribly. But it's a sequel that, in its own right, is better than a whole lot of standalone horror flicks I've seen. So, basically, go see it... that's all I wanted to say, folks. Except that I wish people would put Sarah Michelle Gellar in movies again. (Have you seen her in Girl Talk? Tragi-adorable).

"Who, us?"

FINAL GIRL: I think the first two Screams might actually be unique in having not one final girl, but a team (final sisters, if you will): Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers. I love what the idea of "Final Girls", plural, does to the there-can-be-only-one implicit misogyny in the concept of the last girl standing... especially because demure, virginal Sidney and brash, narcissistic Gale are so obviously playing for opposing teams (moral-wise) that it is necessary that they come to blows at least once per film.

Totally, utterly necessary.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Frightmare (2000)

As baseline production values in commercial cinema improve, the goalpost for quality moves. Therefore, you need to adjust bad movies for inflation, just like currency. The special effects in King Kong (1933) are objectively inferior to those in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), but judged in its creative context, the former is a better movie. I bring this up only because, properly adjusted for cinematic "inflation", Frightmare (Ash Smith, 2000) might be the worst movie I've ever seen.

Yeah, I went there.
What is the plot of Frightmare? I watched it twenty-four hours ago and I've already forgotten. There are some teenagers in a town called Sugar Hill trying to finance their spring break in the Cayman Islands through a haunted house fundraiser.... there's renegade psychopath called the "Conscience Killer"... there's a rave... a car breaks down... there are extended shots of cockroaches crawling around on the floor of an abandoned house... nope, I've got nothing.

I've never seen most of the movies popularly held up as the "worst ever" (The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, Troll 2, etc.), so I'm by no means the ultimate authority on bad movies. But Frightmare, you know... it's really, really bad. And it's bad in that adorable early 2000s way: the "hardcore" typeface on the intro credits, the NIN-lite background music, the needless zoom shots, handheld camera footage, and jump cuts. Frightmare wants to be 3/4 Scream and 1/4 I Know What You Did Last Summer, with the power tool dance from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre thrown in for good measure: but it's actually eerily like what would happen if the creative team responsible for the "Piracy: It's a Crime" ads were asked to make a feature length horror film.

I got Frightmare on VHS and paid twenty cents for it, which feels right in retrospect. I can't in good faith recommend it, but it had its moments (and - gore warning! - a hilariously accurate one-liner from the killer).

Some mornings I feel like that too.
FINAL GIRL: Shanda Besler as Sarah Falls. Shanda had a career after Frightmare, but she had to change her name to do it.