Monday, May 25, 2009

Short Film: Cousin by Adam Elliot

 
If you haven't heard of Adam Elliot yet, you might soon. Currently living in Melbourne, Australia, with his partner Dan Doherty, he was born down under on 2 January 1972, where he eventually went to the Victorian College of the Arts to study animation.
His first short film, Uncle (1996), the first of a trilogy of narratives based on his family, won an Australian Film Institute award, as did both the follow-up films in the series, Cousin (1998) and Brother (1999). Indeed, Adam’s films have collectively won over 100 awards at the 500-plus film festivals where they’ve been screened, and it is easy to understand why. In 2003, his 23-minute-long claymation film Harvie Krumpet won an Academy Award in 2003 and in 2009 Mary & Max, his first feature-length (and extremely idiosyncratic) animation film (trailer), was selected as the opening film at Sundance.
His animation films are beautifully made, technically charming reflections of aspects of private lives that generally go unnoticed or ignored. A far cry from Saturday morning television in very sense, they are quirky, cute, tragic, funny, poignant and charming. Here is Cousin, the second of his family trilogy. It has been chosen to be featured not because it is the "best" of the three – indeed, they are all equally great – but simply because it is the first of his films that I had the pleasure of seeing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Deep in the Woods / Promenons-nous dans les bis (France, 2000)

(Trailer.) Two years after his prize winning horror short Opus 66 (1998), director Lionel Delplanque's proves in his first full-length horror film that he has more than what it takes to make an engrossing, effective and even beautiful horror film.
Promenons-nous dans les bis is a French take on body-count films, and visually it is probably one of the most aesthetic Euro-horror flicks since Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness (1971). And, in view of the general lack of acceptance it has been met with in the US, much like Kümel's film, it'll probably take years for Deep in the Woods to get the reputation it deserves. Much like many of the films of Dario Argento or Mario Bava, the Italian masters of blood-drenched cinematographic eye candy, Deep in the Woods is a prime example of style overcoming content – though talking about content in regards to slasher films is a bit of an oxymoron.
The movie's present lack of following can hardly be attributed simply to its bad dubbing. The mistake might possibly lie in part to its packaging: Packaged like a typically brainless by-the-number teen horror film ala Urban Legend (1998/trailer), Valantine (2001/trailer) and hundreds of other straight-to-video fodder, complete with the mandatory group photo of all victims to be, the orientation of the presentation is towards people who like their blood unadulterated, their films without plot or atmosphere or style or irony. This makes about as much sense as trying to sell Delicatessen (1991) as a post-apocalyptic film. True, Delicatessen is indeed a post-apocalyptic film, but face it, people who like Cyborg (1989) or 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983) are not going to like that modern French masterpiece from 1991. Deep in the Woods might have too many blatant structural and narrative mistakes towards its resolution – including an unbelievably inept and badly staged final scene – to merit being called a masterpiece, but Delphlanque's film is definitely something different, something new, something beautiful, something special. And definitely not something for the average masses who think that The X-Files or Lost are (or were) alternative, non-mainstream entertainment.
Actually, some of the flaws in the story could possibly not be flaws but rather much too subtle swipes at the stereotypical conventions of the genre. (A situation much like that of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001/trailer), in which he took the piss out of the conventions with such a straight face that all irony died and the end product became not only an example of what it tried to satirise, but a truly unbearably bad example as well). The best example of this in Deep in the Woods is probably the cop (Michel Muller), whose brief appearances leave the viewers scratching their heads. He serves no real purpose other than to be the cop that shows up in every film, to be yet another suspect and (eventual) victim and to set up one of the funniest ironic jokes in the film: Of course he tells everyone not to leave the house (since a rapist-murderer has been followed to the area), but no sooner is he gone than do four of the characters promptly go outside and wander around in the wood, one by one drifting off and disappearing. (No way in hell the director is serious here – hell, he doesn't even bother showing them leave the house, but simply cuts directly to the forest.)
Against all trained expectations, no one dies out there at this point, though we do get treated to a quick scene of the beautifully muscular back and butt of Wilfried (Vincent Lecoeur) as he bonks the beautiful and mute Jeanne (Alexia Stresi). Like most Euro horror, the viewer is treated to a bit more sex and flesh and (what the prudish call) decadence than the average American product. Aside from some full frontal female nudity complete with non-silicon breasts and bush, there is a brief lesbian love scene and some prolonged homoerotic (and one-sided) flirting between the eccentric Baron Axel de Fersen (François Berléand) and Wilfried. And if the victims of the average slasher films are generally faceless stereotypes introduced simply to die, Delphlanque plays with this concept by populating his film primarily with highly attractive "fuckables" with interchangeable personalities. As we all know, beauty is only skin deep; (s)he who is seen as likable and as an asshole changes scene to scene, the anonymity of their background being emphasised through their equal attractiveness, a trick that also serves to make them all equally suspect of being the murderer – at least until the given character dies. (In truth, however, one could also argue that the conventions of the genre are all so stereotypical that they simply gain an irony when they are filmed from a slightly different slant – which, of course, is one of the main aspects behind the average Kevin Williamson script.)
Deep in the Woods opens with a wonderful tracking shot through a keyhole and into a room where a mother is reading Little Red Riding Hood as goodnight story. In a scene that can only be taken as a tribute to Dario Argento's classic opening scene of Deep Red / Profondo Rosso (1975/trailer), momma does not live long. Aside from setting the stylistic and visual tone of the film, this scene also introduces the reoccurring theme of the classic fairy tale which runs throughout the film. The five victims-to-be are all young actors hired by the wheelchair-bound Baron Fersen to stage a private production of Little Red Riding Hood for the birthday of his decidedly disturbed young nephew Nicolas (Thibault Truffert). Soon after hearing on the radio that a rapist-murderer is believed to be in the area they arrive at the enormous and remote estate, located in the midst of an immense forest. The housekeeper is gone for the night, so they are alone with the eccentric Baron, the autistic Nicolas and the Baron's equally odd gamekeeper Stéphane (Denis Lavant). Their performance over, the Baron soon disappears, his bed bloody, and soon they begin to die one by one, killed by a mysterious person wearing the wolf costume from their own production. Who is the murderer? A stranger or perhaps one of themselves? Who will survive and how can they escape?
Delphlanque plays with the classic questions and situations of the body-count film with style, injecting his film with both atmosphere and a claustrophobic feeling (despite the immense nature of the locations) and more than a little blood. Almost gothic in tone, Deep in the Wood does fall apart towards the end, especially after it begins to concentrate on Sophie (Clotilde Courau), but on the whole it retains a visual aesthetic that is not only seldom found in an English-language mainstream production but is also an appreciatable change from the norm. The murder in the shower alone is worth the price of admission, as is the battery acid in the face followed by an animal trap in the chest.
For all its flaws, Deep in the Wood is definitely a film worth seeing. One can only hope that one day the film will finally be recognized as an unfoundedly ignored and under-seen prime example of contemporary Euro-horror. Odd that since Deep in the Woods Delplanque has only made one other film, an aesthetic but odd (and totally forgotten) political thriller entitled President (2006).

Succubus (Spain, 1968)

She loved the games men played with death, when death must win. As though the slain man’s blood and breath revived Faustine – and you. Lorna, are Faustine.

As a Jess Franco film, it is a given that Necronomicon (trailer) – as it was originally entitled before being re-titled Succubus for release in English-speaking countries – will engender either high praise or great verbal derision. Franco’s filmography over the generations, which veers from finally made high horror to senseless and badly made porn, tends to separate the men from the boys, the nay-sayers from the yay-sayers, the vegetarians from the meat-eaters, the Republicans from the Democrats.
In other words, his films decisively separate the masses – or at least the select few that watch more than one of his films. And Succubus – or Geträumte Sünden ("Dreamed Sins"), as it is entitled in German-speaking lands – is no exception. In today’s world, it is a love it or leave it film – as it may have been when it was originally released in 1968 at a time when foreign-tongued (western) Europe was still considered sexually decadent by the United States where (according to Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce in their book The Necronomicon Files) an "American men’s magazine" described the Succubus as "a film that makes I am Curious Yellow (1967) look like a Walt Disney production".
A hyperbolic statement today, needless to say. Perhaps back then Succubus might have actually seemed so, but by today’s standards Succubus is rather tame, incredibly pretentious and much too caught up in its own conviction of being avant-garde... which doesn’t mean that it cannot still be enjoyed. It only means that to enjoy Succubus, the film should probably be watched neither too late at night nor after too many beers, for it is a less than invigorating or exceptionally fascinating film and can easily put a person to sleep (indeed, more than one of those watching it at a recent late-night screening did exactly that).
The script to the film is indeed credited to one Pier A. Caminnecci, who is also briefly on hand as the character Hermann and likewise functioned as the film’s producer, but according to The Necronomicon Files "Franco essentially used no script while shooting Necronomicon, simply making it up as he went along". A believable accusation, for the film's dreamy mixture of reality-as-a-dream and dream-as-reality does seem particularly disjointed, but then the narrative progression of the movie owes more to the logic of Luis Bunuel’s L’age d’or (1930) or Un chien andalou (1929) than traditional cinematic narrative.
Although originally entitled after H.P. Lovecraft’s legendary (non-existent) book Necronomicon, the film has no other connection to the famed writer’s fictional manual of the Black Arts. Instead, the film a dreamy and semi-sequential narrative of the sexual predilections and experiences of Lorna (Janine Reynaud), the star of a seamy S&M nightclub act that is on the tamer side of a Grand Guingol performance. Like a bisexual spider Lorna spins her web of seductivity and allure, enamoring her victims into her open arms before delivering the killer blow: first a man (Howard Vernon) with whom she plays a game of word association as they are in the process of getting down and dirty, and then the beautiful Bella Olga (Nathalie Nort), whose demise she hastens with the assistance of a roomful of somnambulant fashion manikins. By the end of the film, before being lead back into the castle where she has "always lived" by a man that could well be the devil personally, she also inadvertently kills her S&M co-stars and, finally, her conniving nightclub-managing lover-boy William (Jack Tayler).
The action moves from Portugal to Berlin and back to Portugal, and just what is real and what is not interweaves in a series of set pieces that vary in intention and effectiveness. As Lorna, Janine Reynaud, a former model, not only sports a pleasant 60s figure and some pleasantly pert puffies, but also looks fabulous in her Karl Lagerfeld outfits – as long as the camera doesn't get to close to her surprisingly ravished face. (In that sense she looks convincingly dissipated but fails, in close-up, to truly exude the supposed magnetic sexual allure that those around her continually feel.)
According to the website Movie House, Franco himself admits "that most people, including himself, don't understand it". The statement is pretty extreme, for the film can indeed be more-or-less deciphered, but the question is whether or not one should bother trying. In regards to surrealistic sexually transgressional cinema, Succubus might be an early and thus noteworthy example, but it is also one that has aged badly. Indeed, in regard to this particular genre of formerly avant-garde cinema, Jess Franco was far more successful five years later with his more linear but nonetheless equally oblique Virgin among the Living Dead (1973) which, oddly enough, hasn’t aged quite as badly.

The White Spider / Die Weisse Spinne (Germany, 1963)

In the U.S., the prolific English writer Edgar Wallace is relatively unknown (despite being one of the creators of King Kong), but in Europe his work has a definite cult status. But while his written works are still available as cheap paperbacks and as reprints in regularly published pulp magazines, what most Europeans think of when they hear his name are the numerous English/ German/Italian/Danish co-productions filmed over a twenty-odd year span beginning in 1959 with the movie Der Frosch mit der Maske / The Fellowship of the Frog, directed by Harold Reinl.
The films still rerun regularly on afternoon and late night television to relative good ratings in Germany. Always enjoyable to watch, Edgar Wallace films, especially those filmed in black and white, generally play like campy, over-the-top film noir peppered regularly with violent deaths and featuring convoluted plots full of inconsistencies and holes. Most take place in London (though usually filmed in Hamburg, Berlin and Copenhagen) and feature many of the same actors and actresses, especially Eddi Arent and Klaus Kinski, have some of the wildest soundtracks ever heard (thanks to, usually, Peter Thomas, Gerd Wilden and Martin Böttcher). Some of the best B&W Wallaces are from director Harold Reinl, who also helmed The White Spider. Reinl, who had a properly Wallace-like ending in 1986 when his second wife stabbed him to death in Spain, usually also featured his then wife, actress Karin Dor, as the lead female in the films he directed. This is true too in The White Spider, but contrary to popular misconception, this film is not an actual Edgar Wallace film, despite the familiar cast, director and music style. Not only is this film not a Railto Production – Rialto being the company that made all the "real" Wallace films – but this film isn't even based on a Wallace story. Rather, the plot is taken from Louis Wilton-Weinert’s (long forgotten) pulp Die Weisse Spinne, but as filmed by Reinl, the movie qualifies as the real thing in every way but for fact. True, Klaus Kinski and Eddi Arent might not be there, but everyone and everything else is.
Opening with a suicide that might not actually be one, Karin Dor plays Muriel, the film’s damsel in distress, the surviving wife of the said suicide. Joachim Fuchsberger turns up as an ex-con that decides to help her, only to be revealed at the end (as happens in many a real Wallace film) as the mysterious detective in charge of the case. Just who is who, who did what, and why something is done is never clear most of the time, even as the body count mounts, but after 3 or 4 garrottings and knifings, it is revealed that the White Spider is not a huge underground syndicate as believed. Rather, it is but one man, a master of disguise who wants nothing more in the world than to disappear and live happily ever after with Muriel. (Sounds like a good reason to kill so many people to me.)
Similarly to a real Wallace film, logic has no place in this film, but in comparison to a normal Wallace production of the time, The White Spider is exceptionally over the top, verging almost on surrealism at times. An acquired taste for non-Europeans, a brave soul might want to sit back, light up a roach and giggle his way through this illogical, delightfully camp homage. In truth, however, one doesn’t really have to be stoned to find this film entertaining.
Amongst the numerous features shared by The White Spider and the actual Rialto productions is the excellent soundtrack, supplied by Peter Thomas, Germany’s answer to Henry Mancini. Unlike Mancini, however, most of Thomas’ musical compositions lean toward the noticeably weird. At his worst, Thomas creates cheesy cocktail music for overage gigolos. At his best, as in the Wallace films or in Raumschiff Orion, the obscure German cult sci-fi TV series from the early 1960s, Thomas composed Incredibly Strange Music at its beat-driven best. His soundtracks are always worth taking a chance on, the older being the better.
As for Harold Reinl, his name is far from a household name but in Germany he is fondly remembered as the man behind most of the Winnetou films. Required viewing for German children, those films are based on the novels of Karol May, Germany’s prolific western author, and feature the muscular, good looking and child molesting Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand, a good white man who always helps or is helped by the films’ lead Indian, Winnetou. Fans of obscure horror, however, might know Reinl for the seldom seen but often praised film The Blood Demon (1967) and The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967) – or, perhaps, his entries in the German Jerry Cotton and Dr. Mabuse films of the 60s – but most Americans over 30 have probably only seen one film of his, the classic disinformation documentary Chariots of the Gods (1970), based on Erich von Däniken’s equally cheesy book of the same name that, now forgotten, lines the bookshelves of Salivation Armies across the US.

For those interested in the films of Edgar Wallace and other crime films from Germany’s underrated b-film heydays (namely, the 60s to 70s), Holger Haase has a nice blog called “Halo, hier spricht…”.

Bug Buster (USA, 1998)

The concept of purposefully making a cult movie is a relatively new one. Say, before the original Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975/trailer), most cult movies were simply exceptional or twisted visions that somehow achieved that cult-worthy otherness that elevated them to their special statues. That is why, once upon a time, when talking of cult movies, The Wizard of Oz (1939) could be mentioned in the same breath as Behind the Green Door (1972), Reefer Madness (1936), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959/trailer), El Topo (1970), Detour (1945), Eraserhead (1977) or Pink Flamingos (1972). Regardless of their individual roots or genre, they were not consciously made to be cult, but were made due to the vision of those involved and only achieved their cult status later.
Over the years, however, in part due to the success and eventual mainstream acceptance of “cult movie” as a genre in itself, the concept of making a movie specifically as a cult movie has achieved increasing popularity, especially among the filmmakers of the lower budget realm. But if nothing else, the multitudes of consciously culty films have served little more than to show how hard it is to actually make a cult film on purpose: for every Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) or Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), there are far more films like Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town (1991) or, even worse, films like Bug Buster (1998).
Filmed at Big Bear Lake in California, Bug Buster is tofu sold as sirloin, oregano as maryjane, water as vodka, 1 inch as 10 inches. In other words, Lorenzo Doumani's “movie” is a majorly disappointing example of false advertising: Instead of the wild and wacky cult killer bug flick, it's a disjointed, unfunny, badly written and badly acted piece of crap. Hell, it even manages to make Lorenzo Doumani's other consciously culty film The Misery Brothers (1995/trailer) seem like a laugh-filled masterpiece in comparison (but then, any film that has Lou Ferrigno queening it up in a skintight black bodysuit is OK in my book). Bug Buster opens much like that other big budgeted and better cockroach film Mimic (1997/trailer) in that the state government makes an unwise decision to end a plague of cockroaches and, as a result, sometime later mutant cockroaches are running wild (in Mimic, they used mutated cockroaches to put an end to plague-carrying roaches, in Bug Buster, an untested chemical to save crops and jobs). Thirteen years later, along the basic plotline of Jaws (1975), Shannon Griffen (Katherine Heigl – not half as good as she was in Bride of Chucky (trailer) that same year) and her parents Gil (Love Boat’s Bernie Kopell) and Cammie (Anne Lockhart) move to the quiet lakeside town of Mountview to run a hotel just in time for a plague of killer cockroaches and centipedes to break out. (The cockroaches look oddly similar to those in that other killer cockroach film They Nest (2000/trailer), which is both scarier and funnier than Bug Buster – guess both film had the same supplier.) Shannon starts getting touchy-feely with Steve (David Lipper), a local, and shortly after her parents get eaten by the bugs – something she gets over amazingly quickly – Deputy Bo (Ty O'Neal) calls in the crazed Vietnam Vet vermin exterminator General George S. Merlin (Randy Quaid) to rid the now-quarantined town of the killer cockroaches. (A character type played the next year with greater effectiveness and humor, and far less histrionics, by John Goodman in Arachnophobia.) The clues lead everyone to the local abandoned gold mine where they face off first with the traitorous town sheriff (James Doohan, who never managed a respectable career after Star Trek) and then a six-foot killer momma cockroach. Steve is killed, but the rest survive and all is well that ends well until Shannon finally leaves town and is confronted with the horrible possibility of a sequel!
What’s wrong with Bug Buster? Well, just about everything. Neither funny nor scary, the script is full of plot holes and the acting is uneven across the board. Characters are less likable than they are simply supposed to be liked, and the cheap production values are only underscored by the incompetent direction. Scenes – of buggies crawling from the lake in the rain and of Shannon going orgasmic as cockroaches crawl over her sleeping body – are repeated too often, the nudity barometer is at zero and the gucky gore is too low and too quick when finally shown. Bug Buster is not only far from being a cult movie, it is a tedious piece of crap that is light-years away from even being a watchable movie.

Películas para no dormir: La culpa (Spain, 2006)

Películas para no dormir: La culpa or, as it is called in non-Spanish speaking countries, Blame, is one of six Spanish television films that are now available on DVD as part of the film collection entitled 6 Films to Keep You Awake. Comparable to the US series Master of Horrors, this Spanish series saw a variety of interesting and recognizable genre names, including Jaume Balagueró, Álex de la Iglesia, and Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, helm full-length television horror films. If the last of the three names mentioned doesn’t automatically ring a bell, it is because unlike the former two upstarts – who have been making waves for the last ten years or so – Uruguayan-born Senior Serrador has spent the last 30-odd years in the nether regions of Spanish television (which is actually were he came from in the first place), and thus has hardly made a splash in a bathtub, much less any waves. But before he so ignobly returned to and disappeared into the Boob Tube, he raised his head twice to make two legendary Eurotrash horror films that still enjoy great popularity and praise today: ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? / Who Can Kill A Child (1976) and La Residencia / The House That Screamed (1969).
The time frame of Blame is indecipherable: It could be now, it could be 30 years ago. Assuming that the abortions are illegal – and considering what is done to the mysteriously murdered patient, the practice must indeed be illegal – the events must be pre-1985 (which is when abortion was decriminalized in Spain); assuming that the abortions are illegal only because the pregnancies were not due to rape or there was no severe fetal malformation, then the time span could be anywhere from 1985 to 2006, the latter date being when the film was made. (The breadth of legal abortions was expanded in 2008, following a nationwide strike by clinics after some 25 doctors and patients were arrested following a series of raids on abortion clinics.) In any case, the storyline unfolds in Madrid at a time when abortion (and lesbianism, for that matter) is obviously still a thing of shame, done in secrecy and after dark.
Blame opens just as does many a murder mystery, with the covered body of a woman being dragged along the floor and leaving a trail of smeared blood. Later in the film, it must be assumed that the body is that of the mysterious (and absent) "Christine", but this thread of the story – like that of the mysterious guck on the stairwell and the religiously fanatic neighbors – is completely forgotten by the film’s end. The crux of the film revolves around the unwed mother and nurse named Gloria (Montse Mostaza) and her young child Vicky (Alejandra Lorenzo) and Gloria’s colleague Dr. Ana Torres (Nieve de Medina), who offers to let Gloria and Vicky come live with her in her big house where she runs a gynecological practice. In return, Gloria should assist in the practice in the afternoon after work. Soon, however, Gloria learns that Ana is not only a lesbian carrying a flame for her, but that Ana also expects Gloria to help perform first-trimester abortions. Gloria is definitely not into tuna and, obviously also ignorant about birth control, is soon pregnant once again. Ana gives her an ultimatum: terminate the baby or terminate the living situation. After she finally chooses the former, the aborted fetus disappears just as Vicky begins to carry around and talk to a tin box. Wracked with guilt, Gloria chooses to bow out and leave the house during the next abortion, returning just in time to find Ana feeding the body of the mysteriously murdered young girl into the building’s incinerator. Could the unknown murderer also be the thief of Ana’s aborted fetus? Could it be little Vicky? The religious spinster next door? And what are all those strange noises in the attic?
Not surprisingly, Blame very much has the feel of classic Eurotrash cinema, due to, among other things, its languid pacing, its general aura, its color scheme, its oddly sordid take on both lesbianism and abortion, the loose ends in the storyline and the depressing non-ending. Indeed, the only things that differentiate Blame from any given superior Eurosleaze classic of yesteryear is Blame's total lack of naked flesh, soft-core sex and copious blood. A shame, actually, for all three would have helped make Blame a much better film, for as good as the film might be, it nonetheless exhibits an out-of-date morality and fascination for the supposed sleaziness of lesbianism and abortion that cries for a far trashier treatment than the film is given. True, Blame is wonderfully creepy, but the creepy tone of the film is actually somewhat misplaced, for despite all its ghostly red herrings, the film is anything but a ghost story. It is a psychological horror story, the key points of which are very much based on traditional anti-abortion and anti-lesbian stances – stances that, as mentioned before, were usually given the full sleaze treatment in the fine films of yesteryear instead of the restraint shown in Blame.
Still, even without T&A, sex and excess bloodshed, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador works so hard at making both lesbianism and abortion into symbols of squalid, disquieting horror that he actually achieves an in-the-end superfluous sleazy feel to the scattered, character-driven plotline, a plotline that picks up and drops threads like an epileptic before reaching its unexpected climax. And although Blame does suffer from some off-putting morality and a diffuse script, the depressing final scene and Vicky’s plaintive final line of "There’s nothing there, Mama" does indeed leave an effective feeling of doomed and tragic horror.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Flaxy Martin (USA, 1949)

Walter Colby (Zachary Scott) is the pompous, self-righteous lawyer of mobster Hap Ritchie (Douglas Kennedy) who is sick of getting Hap's henchmen off the hook all the time. Flaxy Martin (Virginia Mayo) is a hard as nails two-faced bitch pretending to be in love with Walter but who is actually simply another tool of Hap's. When Peggy (Helen Westcott), a false witness hired by Flaxy and Hap to supply the killer Caesar (Jack Overman) with an alibi, tries to blackmail for more money, Flaxy and Caesar kill her. Walter, in a fit of chivalry, decides to confess to the murder to save Flaxy from jail, but a new false witness destroys his manslaughter defense and he gets sent up for twenty years. Escaping, he finds rest with Nora Carson (Dorothy Malone), a nice country librarian but in no time flat, Roper (Elisha Cook, Jr.) finds Walter. Soon, he and Nora are handcuffed together, watching their grave being dug. They escape and make it back to town, where Walter goes out on his mission of revenge. Finding Caesar dead, Walter almost gets dusted by Roper, who ends up doing a nose dive off the side of a building. Finally, at he big showdown at Flaxy's, the Blond Poison (as the film is titled in Germany) tries to double-cross both Walter and Hap but ends up getting caught just as she is wiping her finger prints off the gun she used to shoot Hap. Walter, $40,000.00 in his pocket, tries to convince Nora to disappear with him, but she refuses even as she declares her love, stating she doesn't want to run, for running takes you nowhere. She leaves him, Walter grumbles a bit before deciding that true love will survive the two years he'll probably have to go to jail. Flaxy Martin ends with a nice little shot of the two holding hands as they walk into the police station, the camera coming in close on the two halves of a separated pair of handcuffs that they each wear.
A quick moving little film that entertains without wallowing in its message, full of familiar faces that are fun to see. Modesto-born Richard L. Bare is hardly a familiar name in films, as he seldom made feature films. When he did, they were low budgeters like Flaxy Martin or This Side of the Law (1950) or bombs like his legendary last film, Wicked, Wicked (1973). In his twilight years, Bare did a lot of television work, but for much of life his most regular directorial activity was a never-ending series of shorts that began with So You Want to Give Up Smoking (1942) and ended with So Your Wife Wants to Work (1956).
A calm director not given to visual tricks or experimentation, Bare's solid, no-nonsense approach is a great asset for Flaxy Martin. The film is no undiscovered classic, but it is definitely a well-made ride that keeps going quick enough for one to ignore the one or two unbelievable aspects of its relatively direct, uncomplicated script. Scriptwriter David Lang rode off into the sunset after this film, never again writing a script that didn't feature a horse, a six shooter and chaps, but Flaxy Martin is tight enough to make one think that he gave up crime dramas much too early. Special mention much be given to the music, an exceptionally striking, at times almost classical score by William Lava, a composer of stock music and for b-films who spent his last decades doing the music for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck shorts.
The cast is a fine one, featuring numerous familiar faces with forgotten names. The title character, actually a secondary character in the movie itself, is played by Virginia Mayo, who comes across like a satanic combination of Mamie Van Doren and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Most people remember her as the mole in White Heat (1949), but fans of bad cinema tend to think first of the legendary The Silver Chalice (1954) and Castle of Evil (1966). Mayo would've probably had a more active career in her twilight years had she not chosen to eschew television work. Lead lady number two, the good girl, is Dorothy Malone. Her striking eyes flash in many a forgotten film, her career being long but unspectacular, her roles always shorter the better the film. As late as 1992 she was to be seen in a small part as Hazel Dobkins in Basic Instinct. Elisha Cook, Jr. is there for the ride, doing one of his patented turns as Roper, a killer whose bravado matches the size of his gun, and character actor Douglas Kennedy is once again the heavy, pretending to be Robert Ryan.
The weakest aspect of the film is actually the much too smooth Zachary Scott as Walter Colby. Scott, who died of a malignant brain tumor in his home town of Austin on October 3rd, 1965, is an oddly dislikable hero. Slick, loud, self-righteous and full of himself, he is much too conceited a person for the viewer to sympathize with. Why Nora falls for him is a bit hard to understand, for he is not a pleasant guest and looks like a cheap film star. That he would even suggest taking the rap for Virginia is also hard to swallow, for despite his constant pledges of how much he loves her, only a retard would suggest something like that. Why Hap didn't simply have him shot in the first place instead of sending him up (and thus giving him a good reason to sing, if he wanted to) is also a bit unrealistic. Still, Flaxy Martin doesn't bore and is quick, and that is what counts.

Runaway (USA, 1984)

(Trailer.) Ever a good man with words while alive, novelist/scriptwriter/filmmaker and former all around nice guy Michael Crichton's first line in his autobiography states: "It's not very easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw." True, perhaps, but it is probably easier to do than to stay awake for this whole film. Eleven years after exploring the subject of robots gone wrong in the entertaining movie Westworld (1973), which he also wrote and directed, the man returned to the subject again to write and direct this crappy movie, which was probably already badly dated at the time of its release.
In Westworld the robots were actually androids, which might explain why they still seem effective more than 30 years after the movie's original release. In Runaway, the robots look more like little erecto-set constructions with wires and flashing lights and, unlike the droids of Westworld, they hardly elicit more than a sigh or giggle when they go out of control. Even the nasty ones, the little spiders with malevolent needles that explode look less scary than they do like some teenager's 30-year-old science project. Assuming that the film supposedly takes place in some future when robots have taken over many service sectors as well as the traditional roles of housewives and maids, everyone looks spectacularly 80s. And not only do the female cops even still wear skirts, but women in general are still more or less the weaker sex or a boy toy. If that wasn't bad enough, Runaway also suffers some miserable casting. As the cop Ramsay, Tom Selleck runs through most of the movie looking like some reject from the Village People who suffers an incredibly bad taste in glasses. Not only that, but he also looks amazingly older than he did 15 years later when he romanced Kevin Kline in In & Out (1997). His female partner Thompson is played by Cynthia Rhodes, who had boogied her butt in those cinema masterpieces Flashdance (1983) and Staying Alive (1983) and later earned worldwide, everlasting fame as Patrick Swayze's dancing love interest in Dirty Dancing (1987). In Runaway, she projects all the charisma and talent that would be expected of a person whose renown and career has been so everlastingly long. Charles Luther, the bad guy of the movie, is overplayed by Gene Simmons, who obviously hadn't learned much about acting six years previously in his first foray in the field, the laughably entertaining television turd KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978). The only halfway descent turn is done by Kirstie Alley, who eventually gets a knife in her neck and goes swimming. Still relatively young, three years away from her regular role on Cheers and many years away from all that body bloating personal stress success brings, she still looked good in her dress even if she did sometimes look like she didn't know what the fuck was happening.
Next to the script and direction and acting, the worst aspect of the film is possibly its soundtrack, supplied by Hollywood's most busy composer Jerry Goldsmith. A man capable of composing tunes as catchy as the theme to Our Man Flint (1966) and as soothing as The Russia House (1990), he seems to have had hearing problems while working on this film score. Arguably, one could describe the soundtrack as a noble but failed attempt at using electronics to suggest technology and the future. Unarguable, however, is the fact that it sucks.
And what exactly happens in the movie? Well, nothing exciting. Thompson and Ramsay find out that Charles Luther has a bunch of chips that converts nice little robots into killers and spend the rest of the film hunting him down. Luther has a nasty gun that shoots exploding bullets that are programmed to follow the individual body heat of each given target, and when he doesn't use that he uses the little exploding spider-like robots. There is some other stuff about the plans to the chips that Ramsay ends up getting a hold of which results in Luther kidnapping his son and then there is a boring climactic scene at a building site before Ramsay kisses his partner and goes home with her to fuck her brains out.... In every way, Runaway is as exciting as it sounds. Take my advice, if you ever see it playing somewhere, well, run away. (The film is indeed worthy of this joke.)

The Hazing (USA, 2004)

Trailer. The Hazing, re-titled Dead Scared for its European release, came out the same year as director Rolfe Kanefsky's less successful direct-to-DVD zombie comedy Corpses and has gotten about the same amount of genre attention. A shame, really, for The Hazing is one darn-tooting fun film and really deserves a broader audience than it has had to date, for it succeeds where many a similar film has failed: To successfully tread the fine line between suspense and fun.
Someone on IMDB describes the flick as "Evil Dead meets Scream", and the description is not all that far off, although to compare The Hazing to Scream does Kanefsky's film disservice, for his film is far less a mainstream product than the Wes Craven film. But, like Scream, The Hazing does go intentionally for horror-based laughs and also displays a postmodern knowledge of the horror genre; unlike Scream, however, The Hazing has true low budget balls and, like the true films of the Golden Age of Grime, is both willing to show tits and takes some scenes to the extreme (the Chinese Ghost Story (1987/trailer) inspired tongue scene, for example, and the mass murder in the hospital).
The basic script is less plagiarized from two "classics" of the 80s – namely, Evil Dead (1981/trailer) and Hell Night (1981) – than liberally used as an obvious homage, much like many a scene in Slither (2006/trailer), another fine homage to the Golden Age of Grindhouse. (Indeed, not only is Evil Dead referred to at one point in the movie, but as part of the hazing they even have to obtain a Bruce Campbell photo; Kanefsky definitely wanted his source known.)
As in Hell Night, a group of wanna-be pledges for Sigma Si and Delta Pi have to spend Halloween night in a deserted haunted house; and, as in Evil Dead, an ancient book of spells causes the possession and/or deaths of various protagonists as they fight to survive. But unlike the two named films from 1981, The Hazing is high on the intentional laughs. Opening with an explanation of the history of the evil book, The Hazing moves on to a scene of a sexpot student named Jill (Brooke Burke, who does don a cute harem outfit but never shows as much as she does in the picture to the left) purring to Professor Kapps (Brad Dourif, fine as always) about all that she would do to get a good grade. Obviously offended by this offer of sex for grades, Kapps, the current owner of the book, knocks her dead so as to use her to realize a spell in the book.
Meanwhile, across town, the five students being hazed are sent out in full costume – Delia (Nectar Rose) in a hilarious but sexy bunny outfit, Marsha Glazer (Tiffany Shepis) is a silver skintight sci-fi jumpsuit, the guys in something or other but in no way half as memorably hot – on a scavenger hunt to gather a variety of objects, including Kapps' book. Unluckily, the thieving of the book goes wrong and they sorta accidentally kill the professor, fleeing the scene of the crime (and the dead bodies they found in his cellar). Later, when all are gathered at the house, the demonized spirit of Kapps manages to get the door to hell opened and takes possession of Doug (Philip Andrew). (A minor flaw in the story is that considering the power he obviously has – what, with his ability to lengthen tongues and turn people into manikins – he could more or less simply have gotten rid of everyone with a snap of the fingers; but had he done so, of course, there would have been no story left to film.) The rest of the film features a rising body count as the the wanna-be survivors attempt to defeat the body-hopping demon and survive the night. And whatdyaknow: some of them actually do so!
Plus points of The Hazing, besides the hot chicks – two of which actually show mammary glands, a rare sight in the horror films of today – include its quick pace, some better than average acting (if Tiffany Shepis's acting continues to improve as it is, she’s gonna have a long career ahead of her), likable characters with real personality, some surprisingly topnotch production values for such a low budget flick, and intentional humor that works. The hospital scene is great, as is the previously mentioned scene of tongue-fun, and the ax in the head was an unexpected surprise...
The Hazing delivers 100% pure natural boobage (perhaps Brooke Burke is an exception, but since she remains covered, she doesn’t count) and 100% low budget trash film fun, and is as satisfying as some of the best of the generation of films it pays homage to. So, crack that beer open, light up that spliff and watch it – now! And for those of you that think scream queen Tiffany Shepis is hot, wait until you see that Nectar Rose in her bunny outfit.

Una de Zombis (Spain, 2003)

The plot of Una de Zombies, to abbreviate the description on the back DVD cover, concerns two "losers", Aijón and Caspas, who decide to make a zombie film but slowly find their film coming to life around them. In itself, the movie does sort of follow that basic premise, but the filmmakers are much too convinced of their cleverness and as a result regurgitate one hell of a train wreck of a cinematic accident. A low budget horror comedy with splatter elements, Una de Zombies not only verges on being laughless, but the dramaturgical confusion of the flick is also almost headache inducing and the gore interludes, though bloody, are relatively sparse. But then, the flick is actually less a zombie movie than a long-winded and confusing rumination on inspiration and the creative process couched within the framework of a zombie film. Regrettably, neither the director (Miguel Ángel Lamata) nor his co-scriptwriter Miguel Ángel Aijón – who plays the geeky Aijón – have a solid grasp of either filmmaking nor scriptwriting, which are two fatal mangles to have if one wants to attempt a low-budget, Tarantinoesque narrative that interweaves and moves across time frames and realities. That this film tied with Dead & Breakfast at the 2004 Weekend of Fear Nuremburg in Germany for the "Audience Award" can only indicate that the jury was rigged or a Butterfly Ballot was used, for Una de Zombies is probably one of the least satisfying efforts to come out of Spain in a long time, light-years from being anywhere as good as, say, 1993's Acción Mutante (which, by the way, had a substantially lower budget).
Actually, there are some nice jokes in the film – for example, the extent to which Carla (Mayte Navales) is willing to drop everything whenever she hears the script is almost finished or virtually every scene involving Aijón's interaction with his father and/or mother – but such scenes are padded by so much extraneously and strenuously narrative confusion and patently unfunny "funny" stuff that even the stuff that works almost fails. Other plus points of the film include one nude short nude scene that reveals Carla's natural charms, a secondary hot babe (who, regrettably, doesn't get naked), a blond zombie killer that deserves to be in a good film, and... and... Well, actually, that's about it when it comes to plus points.
Una de Zombies is not a film worth watching and, in turn, is not really a film worth writing about. End of review.
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