Thursday, March 19, 2009

Short Film: Malice in Wonderland

Had Sigmund Freud been around in the late 1960s and been a sugar-cube-eating hippy filmmaker of animated films, he might have made shorts like this Malice in Wonderland, Vince Collins' animated masterpiece and fine example of drugged-out psychedelia sexualis. This tripped out, nightmarish version of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is not a product of the 1960s, however, but is actually from 1982. It is just one of many short visual overdoses that the filmmaker has made since he began his career as an unknown animated filmmaker, a career – and oeuvre of work – that really deserves far more attention than it gets. Vince Collins is still alive and kicking today in San Francisco, and has an entertainingly caustic page on MySpace.

Fido (Canada, 2006)

(Trailer.) Andrew Currie reveals a fine directorial hand and vision in his first theatrical release, a Canadian-produced zombie comedy entitled Fido (2006). The film is but one of many that has appeared due to the recent resurged wave of popularity of gut-munching zombies that followed Danny Boyle’s non-zombie zombie film 28 Days Later (2002/trailer) and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead (trailer), a popularity that quickly also carried over to the comic take on the topic, as is evidenced by the success of such fine films as Shawn of the Dead (2004/trailer) and Slither (2006/trailer). But while the two latter zombie comedies owe more to postmodernist b-movie sensibilities and a healthy respect to George Romero and David Cronenberg, Fido's sensibility is shaped by a weird amalgamation of Pleasantville (1998/trailer) and the innocence of such films as Lassie (1954) or even the first zombie comedy of them all (and eternal guilty pleasure), Zombies on Broadway (1945). Fido is very much the mutant offspring of Leave It to Beaver (1957-63), The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) and The Night of the Living Dead (1968/trailer), liberally influenced by Father Doesn’t Know Best (1954-60), a television show that surely must exist in some alternative universe somewhere.
Fido more-or-less takes up where Shawn of the Dead leaves off, with the domestication of zombies as menial servants, but moves everything back to the Technicolor ideal of Middle America 1950s when intact families lived in suburban house with white picket fences and men earned the money while the dissatisfied housewives did the housework – at least they did if their husbands were too stingy (or zombie-phobic) to acquire an in-house zombie from Zomcom, the firm that created the collar that subdues the zombie hunger for live flesh and now controls the distribution rights of the living dead. The Zombie Wars are long over, and across America people live happily in fenced-in enclaves of safety, forever alert for the moment that Granddaddy drops dead of a heart attack on the front lawn and little Dick and Jane have to shoot him through the head instead of running away with their dog Spot. (And to ensure that they can do just that, shooting is part of their schooling, where the song they sing during class has such memorable lines as: "In the brain and not the chest. Head shots are the very best.") Timmy Robinson (K'Sun Ray) is the school geek, the skinny boy prone to ask questions that cause uncomfortable silences, the outsider classmate that even the town's Scouts beat-up on. When Mr. Bottoms (Henry Czerny), the head of security at Zomcom, and his family move in across the street, Timmy's mom Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) decides she no longer wants to be the only one on the block without a house zombie, so she orders Fido (Billy Connolly) – much to the displeasure of her husband Bill (Dylan Baker), who still hasn't gotten over having to kill his own dad when he went zombie and tried to eat his son. Since then, Bill has just never been able to get close to people, something under which both his wife and son suffer. Slowly but surely, the curious, gentle and friendly Fido begins to win over the hearts of both Timmy and Helen, for as dead as Fido is physically, he is still more alive than the living, breathing Bill. The big problem is that Fido's collar doesn’t always work right, and soon he makes the bitchy old lady next door dinner. But even though Timmy manages to bump off and bury his newly zombified neighbour, one mistake leads to another and Timmy and Helen lose the most-liked man of their house when Fido is recalled by Zomcom. Timmy undertakes to rescue Fido with the help of his neighbour Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson), who is particularly understanding about how attached one can become to one's zombie. But Mr. Bottoms catches Timmy in the act and locks him outside the fence in the dead zone. Can anyone, alive (his Dad) or dead (Fido), save Timmy?
That the film is an oddity goes without saying, but it is also a damn lot of intelligent fun. Although not exactly kiddy viewing, it is hardly as bloody as Shawn of the Dead or Dead & Breakfast (2004/trailer) and can thus easily be enjoyed even by those not prone to horror films. Fido has a skewering and skewered but dead-on satiric eye that takes the piss out of a lot more than just zombies and/or traditional family values. Aided by excellent production values, fine (at times sublime) acting and well thought-out script, Fido is a smart comedy that even stupid people can enjoy.

Zombie Lake / Le Lac des morts vivants (France, 1981)

Founded in 1937, by the 70s Eurociné was one of Europe's most active and exploitive trash film manufacturers. Still regurgitating an occasional film today, the company was most productive from the late-60s well into the 80s, when it spit out one low-budget Eurosleaze project after the other involving such honoured (?) names as Brigitte Lahaie, Lina Romay, Howard Vernon, Paul Naschy, Georges Montgomery, Christina Von Blanc, Jess Franco and Jean Rollen. The last two are the "creative team" behind this 1981 film, Le Lac des morts vivants, an infamous turkey better known by its international title Zombie Lake, although Jess Franco is reputed to have bailed from the project early on. He nonetheless is credited for the script, which is supposedly based on a story by Julián Esteban, who had written the demurely titled Franco film Sexo caníbal the year before.
Jumping on the bandwagon of the then-current popularity of gut-munching zombies instigated by the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the innumerable Italian rip-offs that soon followed, Zombie Lake cribs the basic concept of water-logged, homicidal zombie Nazis from the much better Shock Waves (1977) and moves the action from the Caribbean to the French countryside, where the legendary cuisine – and all those European nymphets that are so happy to get naked at the drop of a hat – simply makes the zombie Nazis much more hungry. (The following year Franco was to dry the gut-munching un-dead National Socialists out and move them into the desert for the equally notorious Oases of the Living Dead.)
In what looks to be the late-70s (going by the clothes, hairstyles, cars, interiors, signs, etc) but should be about 1957 (in accordance to the plot), a small town in France is suffering from a nearby cursed lake populated by zombie Nazis. It seems the lake is a once-sacred location that only allows eternal rest to the dead that are burned and enter the lake as ashes. At the end of WWII, however, local partisans ambush and kill a group of retreating Germans and throw their bodies into the lake whole. Thus, the Nazi dead can never rest and rise up occasionally in search of French food. Often they need not even leave the lake, for the superficially calm waters entice all young nubiles that pass-by to strip down to full-frontal shots and swim. (Thus giving the viewer some nice swimming bush shots when the green-faced Nazis start groping the girls from the bottom of the swimming pool where the “lake” scenes were obviously shot.) The blonde Nazi zombie eventually stumbles into the bedroom of 12-year-old Helena (played by Anouchka, the daughter of Eurociné's CEO Daniel Lesoeur) and they both figure out that they're related: He was bonking her collaborationist mother, who died when she was born. So when the other zombies try to make lunch out of her while the two are out for an afternoon stroll, he protects her, and as repayment little Helena collaborates with the villagers to destroy all zombies.
Zombie Lake is reputed to be a truly and incredulously incompetent piece of visual flotsam, and there is little more one can add to that, other than that to describe the film as such is actually a massive understatement. In comparison to Zombie Lake, every other bad film in the world surely must look like a piece of cinematic art. The script, which is not only padded excessively but is full of characters that disappear and events that lead nowhere, is an underdeveloped mess that makes more sense on paper than on the screen. Furthermore, the acting and direction and editing and make up are hilariously incompetent – in truth, there really isn't anything about the film that in any way gives an inkling of any professional experience or cinematic values.
True, the girls get naked a lot – basically, whenever they are about to die – but even this slight vicarious thrill is outweighed by the pain Zombie Lake inflicts upon one's retinal senses and intellect. (Were a copy of Playboy not both much more continuously enjoyable but intelligent as well?) Of course, the unbelievably extreme ineptitude of the project does also make Zombie Lake a relatively funny film, but one can only laugh so long at mental retardation before one starts doubting one's own self and sense. By the end of the film, one can't help but feel a sense of relief that it has finally ended.
Legend has it that Jean Rollin was brought in the last minute to make the film after Franco bailed, and that the master of French lesbian vampire cinema had but two weeks to cobble the film together. Were it not that Rollin actually has a small throwaway (and padding) part in the film as an investigating policeman from Paris, his involvement could be doubted, for little in Zombie Lake evidences Rollin's usual poetic touch – but then, perhaps he simply drank too much with the inebriated-looking townspeople that populate the film.

Shutter (Thailand, 2004)

(Spoilers ahead. And since the original Thai version of the film is such a good movie, maybe you should just skip the review for now and watch the film first.)

Now that the Hollywood PG-13 version of Shutter (2008/trailer) has hit the screen to almost unanimous derision it is time to go back and take a look at the film it is based on, a truly scary and well-made Thai horror film from 2004 entitled – what else but? – Shutter. Dunno just how bad (or, perhaps, good) the US version is, as I have yet to see it, but I do know that the original Thai flick, once I got over the early hit-and-run scene that initially cost all my sympathy for the two main characters (but later proves key to understanding them and their fates), scared the heebeegeebees out of me more than once and, in the end, impressed me by both its effectiveness and unpredictability – not to mention that the film also has one of the most ironically horrifying final shots ever caught on film.
The young photographer Tun (Ananda Everingham) and Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) are on their way home from a wedding party when Jane, the driver, accidently runs over a woman who appears from nowhere. In shock, Tun convinces Jane to drive on, and they leave the lifeless body in the road. As the guilt slowly gnaws at Jane's conscience, a ghostly figure begins to appear in Tun's photographs, in their dreams and in their daily life. Returning to the scene of the accident, they find out that no dead body was reported or found. The occurrences get increasingly scary and physically real as they delve deeper, and soon Tun's four friends of the wedding are all dead by suicide – the last one taking his life right in front of Tun's eyes. Jane finds out that the ghost is that of a young woman named Natre (Achita Sikamana), an odd and lonely student that Tun was seeing while he was studying. Could there be something more behind Natre's haunting than simple unrequited love? And why did she drive his friends to suicide?
First time directors (and scriptwriters) Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom supposedly were inspired to their story after seeing some photographs of a 1973 riot in Bangkok during which 77 protestors were killed. In a variety of the photographs, unexplainable ghostly images were to be seen, a phenomenon commonly known as "spirit photography". In Shutter, the concept of “spirit photography” is taken a step further, and the ghostly images that initially appear in the photographs taken by the film’s protagonists quickly take a far more physical form, terrifying the young couple in the typically Asian form of a long-haired white ghost which, as expected, glides along upside down at one point and, less expectedly, in other scenes spits out blood and teeth over a textbook or slithers along the side window of a moving car. But whereas the ghosts found in Ringu (1998/trailer), Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) and untold other Asian films could actually whisk you dead away or physically harm you, the ghost of Shutter is far more of the spectral type: She is less a hands-on representation of horror that kills than a nightmarishly corporal form of karma. And, indeed, as the last shot of the film reveals: Living with guilt on your shoulders can be worse than death.
If there is a flaw in the original Shutter, it is one that is probably based more on cultural differences that a (PC) Westerner cannot understand than on narrative failure: Perhaps, in Thailand, it is indeed worse to be caught on film being raped than it is to be caught on film as being the rapist (as in inferred by the rapists' request to be photographed in the act). Shutter is an excellent horror film that is as equally scary as it is – in the end – saddening. Hollywood may have fucked up with the remake, but the original version pays out in spades.

Sukkubus - Die Nacht der Dämonen (Germany 2000)

A bunch of losers get together to call up demons and they call up a succubus that takes over the body of the best looking girl, blows her tits up to silicon-overdose size before killing all the rest but for one guy named Tobias (Dirk Vorndamme) who harbours the reincarnation soul of some asshole she wants to call up from the dead to assist her in killing her succubus sister so that she can reclaim her once envious spot in hell. In hell, some second rate demon wants to climb up the corporate ladder with the help vintage bottled soul, while his dimwit helper gets enamoured by a fallen angel. Some other stuff happens, too, but not much…
Sukkubus - Die Nacht der Dämonen is the first film of Robert Block, who went on four years later to direct one other equally unknown film in 2004 entitled Der VIII Grad (which translates into The Eighth Degree) and has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth since then. A horror comedy, the little over an hour long flick feels very much like a student film or the weekend project of a bunch of amateur "thespians." While much of the bad acting – especially that of Robert Block as Devil Robe – can be overlooked as being simply "hammy," more than once some of the actors simply have a hard time keeping a straight face. This might indicate that they had fun making the film, but it doesn’t make the film more fun for the viewer. (It also doesn’t help any that most of the actors were dubbed by someone else than the actors themselves.) The computer animation isn't much better, but is much easier to forgive: Who, after all, really expects a Z-budget film to have top-notch CGI? (Look at Van Helsing (2004/trailer): It had a real budget, but the CGI suck anyways.) As for the muppet characters, they are no better or worse than what one once saw on Farscape (1999-2003), but in all truth, they sucked there, too.
Sukkubus - Die Nacht der Dämonen (which translates, in case you can’t figure it out, into Succubus - The Night of the Demons) would be a really lame film if it weren’t so obvious that its lameness is pretty much intentional. As it is, it’s a tacky, direly acted film that also has a couple of good laughs, cheesy effects, third-rate make-up and real (and fake) tits. In other words, if you really have nothing else to watch you could do a lot worse – you could get stuck watching What Women Want (2000/trailer), for example – but still, even at 65 minutes, the film is a little too long.

Highway to Hell (USA, 1992)

(Trailer.) One of those forgotten films that has a rap much worse than it deserves, Ate de Jong's Highway to Hell is actually a cult film waiting to be rediscovered, a low budget hodgepodge of disparate ideas that works better than one would think, much like the earlier, bigger budgeted and arguably more saccharine black comedy Beetle Juice (1988/trailer). Indeed, though the script seems a bit thrown together, Highway to Hell still shows a lot of creativity and gets some good laughs as well as serving up an occasional dose of decent horror. The small size of its budget is obvious everywhere, but it only helps add to the charm. Of course, people who like smooth, by-the-number Hollywood product are not going to like an unpolished and flawed jewel like this, but for the rest of us, Highway to Hell will be a fun ride. How can you hate a film that presents hell as the land of the Road Warrior (1981/trailer) suffering major Volkswagen beetle traffic jams, an army of highway clean-up men who all look like Andy Warhol, and a donut shop populated by nothing but undead cops?
True, the film never quit reaches the delirious heights and gore of the similarly tasteless, hit-and-miss black comedy Idle Hands (1999/trailer), but as an early predecessor, Highway to Hell delivers more than enough. Likewise, some of the effects have indeed aged and the blood flow is low, but the dialogue is at least both funny and consistent, even if the story seems to jump around a bit. (Scriptwriter Brian Helgeland has since gone on to much more respectable things, such as L.A. Confidential (1997/trailer), Conspiracy Theory (1997), Payback (1999) and A Knight's Tale (2001/trailer) – the latter two he even directed as well.)
Filmed in Arizona and Utah, Highway to Hell stars a young and less annoying than usual Kristy Swanson as Rachel, Rob Lowe's brother (and Hilary Swank's ex-husband) Chad Lowe as Charlie, and the attractively sleazy Patrick Bergen as Beezle, the most likable Satan ever filmed. An at-the-time relatively unknown Ben Stiller makes a few mini-appearances, and the long forgotten Lita Ford – anyone remember The Runaways? – and Gilbert Gottfried also pop up for the ride, the latter as Hitler.
Charlie and Rachel, two teenagers in love, are off for Vegas where they want to get married. Driving a wreck of a car, they take an old, deserted side road and stop for gas at a station run by Sam (Richard Farnsworth), an old geezer that seems to have few screws loose. He warns them not to stop the car between the two Joshua Trees up ahead no matter what, but of course they do, and up pops Hellcop (C. J. Graham), who rips the door off the car, knocks Charlie around a bit, kidnaps Rachel and disappears into a vortex of light. Charlie rushes back to Sam who first fills out the story a bit by explaining that like his own gal years past, Rachel has been taken to hell as Satan's bride. He supplies Charlie with a shotgun, ammunition, a souped-up classic car and soon thereafter Charlie is in hell on the heels of his sweetheart. Oddly enough, until the final chase scene, the most help he gets along the way comes from Satan himself, in the guise of Beezle, the Satanic Mechanic (an obvious reference to the great classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975/trailer)).
Satan's assistance is easy to understand if you consider his belief in his own omniscience and his probable need or desire for entertainment, but the sudden assistance of Sam's old gal Clara (Pamela Gidley) is less understandable – though one could put it down to some inexplicable need for redemption or a simple pique fit of jealousy. And, the moral lesson of the movie? That becomes clear when we learn along the way that Rachel (and, most likely, Charlie) is a virgin. Since Satan only kidnaps virgins, had they only had a little pre-marital fun, the whole situation probably wouldn't have happened. Thus, kiddies, keep this in mind: If you fuck, you won't go to hell!

Diler Indian Jones / Anji (India, 2004)

Kodi Ramakrishna’s Anji (2004) is a three-hour Tollywood film – not Bollywood, not Kollywood, but Tollywood; an important difference, OK? – starring Chiranjeevi, one of the most popular Tollywood stars of India. (Like many a star both there and in the USA, he has now gone into politics.) A big budget extravaganza that ladles huge helping from films as diverse as Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (1984), I.J. & the Last Crusade (1989), Crocodile Dundee (1986/trailer) and The Shadow (1994/trailer), Anji was released here in Germany on DVD as Diler Indian Jones after it was edited down to 103 minutes for Western consumption.
The first thing to go to make the flick shorter were the song-and-dance interludes, which is a shame, for not only can Chiranjeevi – whose body shape comes closer to that of Jack Black than Harrison Ford – actually shake his booty pretty damn well, but the inanely out-of-place dance interludes are usually one of the things that makes films like this fun. It’s also a shame that they didn’t cut more of the dialog, for the disjointed narrative is extremely talk-heavy and drags between the big action and/or special effects sequences. Due to the foreboding, suspense-laden background music that often drones in the background of any given dialog scene, the viewer is always kept expectant of something happening, but once too often nothing does.
True, for the Western Joe the Hindu background and foreign locations do lend the flick a certain exotic feel, but exoticism can only go so far. Who knows what the film Anja is like, but Dilar, for all its special effects and occasionally top-notch action scenes, is a snoozer – as might be expected from a film that needs five minutes of narration alone to even open the film.

Not that the story is easy to follow even with the introduction. But the basic plot does seem to be as follows (though no guarantee of accuracy is given): Once every 72 years, when the Akasa Ganga flows from the skies into the Aatmalingam – which looks like a golden Faberge Egg – the egg can bestow the divine powers of Shiva upon those who possess it. In 1932, a young man named Bhatia (Bhupinder Singh) attempts to gain possession of it but is foiled by a huge CGI cobra and the flying dagger last seen lobotomizing John Lone in The Shadow. In 2004, as a 99-year-old evil industrialist, he is still seeking the egg, and readily does anything to get it – including kill. He has a professor who has located the egg killed, but not before the good scholar sends his valuable notes to his beautiful niece Swapna (Namrata Sirodkar) who, not knowing the man is dead, promptly flies from the US to India to search for him in the area of Uravakonda. Endangered, she is inadvertently saved by Anji (Chiranjeevi), a good guy living in the forest with his mentor Sivanna (Nagababu), an Ayurvedic (a form of Indian medicine man) raising a bunch of orphans. In no short time, they have the Aatmalingam. After killing Sivanna, Bhatia forces Anji – think I.J. & the Last Crusade but replace Indiana’s father with an orphan – to help him achieve Shiva’s powers. Can Bhatia be stopped? Can the little girl be saved? Why is no one dancing?
More than anything else, at least by Western standards, Diler is a children’s film in which the action is much closer to the original live action Masters of the Universe (1987/trailer) in its general immaturity than, say, to The Princess Bride (1987/trailer) with its multiple layers of enjoyability. Diler features an at times indecipherable plot line, uneven acting and fake beards, a clear line between good and evil, (for the most part) very little blood, violence of TV film intensity, and a main bad guy whose comic acting style ruins almost every scene he appears in – including, regrettably, the final big special effects showdown in which Lord Shiva himself makes a guest appearance. But even a scene as impressive as that one does little other than to once again reveal that while big special effects might guarantee good film sequences, they do not guarantee a good film.

Tremors (USA, 1990)

(Trailer.) A modern classic that has brought two straight-to-video sequels and one prequel in its wake, all of which are entertaining in their own derivative way but none of which ever reach the same level of fun and originality that Tremors does. And while all the films have their own supporters and detractors, the original film alone seems to find universal acceptance as one fun film. Rightly so, for Tremors is probably one of the best B-films of its time, a fine homage to and modernization of the classic Jack Arnold monster movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s. (Hard to believe that director Ron Underwood went on to direct such uninteresting crap as City Slickers (1991/trailer) and the remake of Mighty Joe Young (1998).) Like the Arnold films of yesteryear, and befitting the film’s PG-13 rating, the body count in Tremors is surprisingly low – roughly ten deaths, including all the road workers – and both the blood flow and vocabulary surprisingly light.
Infused with some great dialog and entertaining stereotypes, the story development in Tremors starts early and speeds along at a nifty pace, its 95 minute running time being quickly over. The film is not particularly scary, but it does have more than its share of suspense and the worms are surprisingly realistic. Tremors is likewise ably assisted by some great acting, especially from Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon as the two local loser handymen that first discover the worms, and from Michael Gross and Reba McEntire as Burt and Heather Gummer, the local survivalists with a basement arsenal and personalized license plates reading “UZI 4U”. (Are all the characters in Tremors stereotypes? Well, yes they are – but face it, in real life, a town like Perfection would be inhabited only by stereotypes anyway.) As good as Gross and McEntire are, Bacon and Ward steal the film, for they play so well off each other that their friendship seems as real as it is believable.
Perfection is a wisp of a desert town with a population of 14 and declining. Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) are two locals that survive doing odd jobs. Feeling that life is passing them by, they decide the time has come to leave but before they get very far they come to realize that a mad killer must be on the loose. With the only road out of town blocked, telephone lines dead and surrounded by mountains that make radio communication impossible they try to get out of town on horses and soon discover that there are 30-foot-long man-eating worms on the scene. Along with Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), the mandatory female interest, they barely manage to make it back to Perfection, and soon afterwards whole town ends up stranded on the roofs of their buildings when the worms invite themselves for lunch. Blind, the creatures are attracted to vibrations and have undying patience, not to mention a certain amount of intelligence. When the worms begin to purposely weaken the foundations of the buildings, a desperate escape is undertaken…

Webs (USA, 2003)

Webs, a television flick in North America, was released over here in Europe as a DVD release, and its nifty cover art, absolutely inane plot description, and the fact that it features a total has-been in the lead role (ever hear of a guy named "Richard Grieco"?) really gives one hope that the flick would be fun funny, trashy and possibly even sleazy ride. Talk about deceptive packaging! Damn, one would think that David Wu, the man who edited such Hong Kong classics as A Chinese Ghost Story (1987/trailer), The Bride with White Hair (1993) and Once a Thief (1991/trailer) would at least have a slight idea on how to direct a mildly interesting or visually exciting film—but: Nope! He is a much better editor than director.
Webs is one dull excursion into third-rate filmmaking, as badly scripted as it is directed, as badly directed as it is edited, as badly edited as it is acted. To give credit where it is due, at least a lot of black goo splatters every time some spider-dude gets impaled or shot or slashed, and the computer generated spider queen looks pretty nifty, but everything else—including the laughable fake buckteeth the spider-dudes wear—are an embarrassment to bad filmmaking. Who greenlights this crap?
OK, that the concept of the film got the go is understandable; what is not understandable, however, is how a script so full of illogical holes ever got accepted. One queen spider—that our hero manages to kill near the end—is responsible for the end of the alternative-universe world, a world in which (theoretically) any number of countries could've dropped an atom bomb to ensure the total destruction of a non-flying spider? Spider-dudes with a super-sense of smell and vibrations that continually walk past hiding good guys? Unfathomable adoration of an elderly scientist that is actually responsible for bringing the queen spider into the world? A common electrician that figures out how to (temporarily) repair machinery from notes that read like "Stephan Hawkins and stuff"? We’re talking true cinematic and dramatic incompetence here—but regrettably, the project displays just enough professional competence to prevent it from becoming bad enough to be good and, since it's a TV film, there ain’t no T&A either. Barf in a big fucking way!!!
The plot? OK, I’ll tell everything, so you really have no reason to watch it.
An unrealistic team of four electricians—Why unrealistic? They're in Chicago and only one of them is Afro-American—is going through an abandoned house being prepared for demolition (a scene that gives Grieco some truly inane philosophical meandering about the passage of time) and stumble upon a secret room that just happens to contain an atom-powered inter-dimensional doorway. Whoops! Into the beam they do go and before they can say "Beam me up, Scotty" they are transported to the magic Land of Oz where Dorothy is waiting for them, naked, clean shaven and with silicon mega-garbanzos, arms open wide and ready for a gang bang...
Uh, wait a minute, that's the plot that should've been. Instead, in the plot that is, the alternative universe is actually just a mirror image of the same 5 or 6 locations in Chicago. The world has been conquered by spider queen that came over with the guy who first built the portal; she eats females as food and enslaves the men by changing them into spider-dudes, while the few human survivors left play hide and seek until they get eaten or made into spider-drones themselves. Run, Grieco, run! Run, other characters, run! This way! That way! Back this way! And back that way! Die, secondary character, die! Die, everybody, die! Everybody, that is, but the girl and Grieco, who manage to re-enter the dimension portal after Grieco kills the spider queen and there is no longer any real reason to leave—not that it takes them back to the safety of our Chicago. No, in an ending reminiscent of the much more fun and entertaining (and bigger budgeted) Deep Rising (1998), one knows that they are going to die—like they fucking should.
Images used are borrowed from Agressions Animales and Grusel Seite.

Undertaking Betty (UK, 2002)

(Trailer.) Undertaking Betty, a romantic comedy, tells the tale of one Betty Rhys-Jones (Brenda Blethyn), the unassuming and well-to-do housewife of the womanizing and unsympathetic town counsellor Hugh Rhys-Jones (Robert Pugh) in a small Welsh town. She falls in love with the local undertaker, Boris Plots (Alfred Molina), while organizing the funeral of her mother-in-law from hell Dilys Rhys-Jones (Menna Trussler), who has choked to death on bran flakes. Boris, an unassuming man, has experienced but two major disappointments in his life: His undying love since childhood for Betty, and the fact that he never became a ballroom dancer. While Hugh Rhys-Jones is out bonking his secretary Meredith Mainwaring (Naomi Watts), Boris and Betty virtually dance into each other’s hearts, but Betty, being the refined woman that she is, is unable to divorce her husband. So the two of them decide that Betty must die – or at least be assumed dead – and be buried, and then they can go off dancing into the sunset. Complications include the town’s other undertaker, an American named Frank Featherbed (Christopher Walken), a showman at heart that specializes in “showy” funerals and would like nothing more than to get rid of the opposition. Just when everything seems to be working out, Betty finds out not only that her husband was a philandering pig but that Meredith even tried to poison her. With that, the cruise ship to warmer waters gets delayed…
Undertaking Betty (2002) is yet another mild and pleasant piece of well-acted comic fluff from Nick Hurran, an English specialist for, well, lightweight and well-acted comic fluff. Sometimes his films are a little more tragically humorous, as is Girls' Night (1998), sometimes they are a bit more brainless, as is Virtual Sexuality (1999/trailer), but in general his films are rather well made and tend to raise chuckles and smiles without usually trying the patience of the viewer. Undertaking Betty (aka Plots with a View) is no exception, and anyone who enjoyed Brenda Blethyn in Saving Grace (2000/trailer) – a delightful piece of fluff in which the highly sheltered and freshly widowed main character turns to pot cultivation to make ends meet – will probably find this quaint film about a wronged woman finding love with a dancing undertaker as equally likable (with or without the assistance of a joint while watching).
To give credit where credit is due, the dance sequences as well as the method with which they are segued into the narration work amazingly well, and it very quickly becomes easy to believe that Betty and Boris are so much in love that they would indeed undertake such an inane plan to achieve their freedom together. The film does go a bit overboard towards the end and dives too deeply into the farcical, but hell, it’s not like Undertaking Betty has a social message. It is a pleasant, funny film and a painless way to spend the evening at home with the wife without necessarily having to watch a gag-reflex-inducing woman's film like, say (gag, puke) What Women Want (2000/trailer).

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