Saturday, October 25, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 20: Troll Hunter (2010)

With so many mythical and legendary monsters in the world, it's amazing that so few actually get featured in films on a regular basis. We tend to see the same few creatures like vampires, werewolves, demons, and ghosts. Films that feature other monsters of legend are much sparser.

What about goblins? No love for banshees? Don't forget fairies--have you actually heard about some of the terrifying shit they get into?

And of course, there are trolls.

Not the infuriating, often racist or misogynistic variety found on message boards and in article comments. No, I mean the real deal: big ugly suckers that challenge billy goats for the use of bridges and turn to stone in sunlight. There really haven't many troll horror movies that I can think of. There's pretty much Troll and this movie.

[Troll 2 is about goblins, so that doesn't count]

I bet if I told you that there was a movie about a man who hunts trolls, you wouldn't immediately guess that it was a found footage movie. Yet that is precisely what Troll Hunter is. Thankfully, it's a good found footage movie.

We open with a title card from a Norwegian television company explaining that they received the following footage anonymously. At first it was thought to be a sick joke, but to the best of their experts' determinations, the footage is genuine.

Three film students--Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), the director; Johanna (Johanna Mørck), the sound engineer; and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen)--are tracking a man they think is a bear poacher. Wherever they go they're a few steps behind the mysterious Hans (Otto Jespersen). At the latest bear kill they interview Finn Haugen (Hans Morten Hansen), head of the Norwegian Wildlife Board. Finn is rather hilariously anxious to dismiss the claims of local hunters that the bear tracks aren't normal. So something is already not adding up.

The trio catches up to Hans as he boards a ferry, but he is not interested in talking to them. Following him to his campsite, they wait until he leaves after dark and follow his land rover to a gate where a sign warning passersby to keep out because it's a blast area. Ignoring the sign, they open the gate, drive until their small car can't handle the roads and they continue on foot. Johanna is hearing strange, animalistic noises through her boom mic, and then there are strange flashes of light in the forest ahead of them. Suddenly Hans, carrying a huge flash bulb, bursts out of the brush. He takes one look at them and hollers, "Troll!"

The trio don't bother to question him about what the hell he was on about until after they've stopped running in terror. Thomas got separated and when Hans reappears with Thomas, the young man explains that something in the darkness grabbed him and bit him on the shoulder. He didn't see what, though. Hans tends to Thomas's wounds, ignores the questions about why he was shouting about trolls, and urges them to ride back with him. They quickly realize they have no choice when they find their car turned on its side, covered in a viscous slime, and its tires missing--apparently torn right off the wheel rims.

After they finally get Hans to admit that he really did mean "troll", they convince him to let them follow him. He agrees under the condition that they listen to his every request. The next night he takes them out but first asks if any of them are Christian, since the trolls will react violently to the smell of Christian blood. None of them are, but Hans still instructs them to go down to a mountain stream, bathe themselves, and then rub something he calls "troll stench" on their clothes to mask their human smell. They reluctantly agree.

Hans carries the flash bulb into the woods as the trio follow. He explains that the "flash gun" is a sun lamp, since UV light kills all trolls. Some turn to stone and others explode. They find some troll tracks, specifically trees torn apart and urine everywhere. Hans calls someone on the phone, explaining he has a "Ringlefinch" that has gotten chased out of its territory, is marking like crazy, and is acting weird. Whoever's on the other end suggests they'll need a blood sample to determine why. Hans doesn't like the sound of that and explains to the others that he was talking to a veterinarian.

Once they reach a clearing, Hans promises to flush the troll toward them. Johanna, Thomas, and Kalle begin to wonder if he's playing a prank on them until they hear the weird noises and see the flashes of light again. Hans comes running back, exclaiming that he's rousted the wrong troll and it's a "Tosserlad." As it turns out, a "Tosserlad" is about two stories tall, with skin like tree bark and three heads. (Well, one real head and two "protuberances", we'll later find out) That's all the students need to see before they bolt into the woods. Johanna gets separated bu the others make it Hans's car, where Hans gets up on the roof and shines a bright UV spotlight onto the troll--which promptly turns to stone. Johanna turns up, unharmed and excited like the others.
"Suddenly, I think he wasn't kidding about trolls."
Hans is annoyed because one of the group must be a Christian, per the troll's reaction to them. Thomas confesses he sang in a choir as a child but he doesn't believe now, and that satisfies Hans well enough.

Hans breaks the troll into gravel with hammers, jackhammers, and explosives. Come daybreak, a car pulls up and out pops Finn. He is not pleased by the sight of the camera. And then a van pulls up full of Polish workers who brought a dead bear--only it's the wrong kind of bear. Finn grumpily sets abut making fake tracks to the bear's corpse, as this is apparently the official cover story for troll attacks. And two German tourists are missing, which may be the fault of that Ringlefinch that Hans is tracking.

Over breakfast Hans explains that being a troll hunter is a government job as part of the TSS (Troll Security Service), complete with "slayed troll" forms, and that it's a fairly thankless one. Which is part of why he doesn't care if the fact that trolls are real gets out to the public. He's been disenfranchised with the job since the 1970s, when he was sent to eliminate all the trolls in a designated habitat because there was a public tunnel being built--even though the job usually only requires the killing of trolls that venture into human territory.

Hans goes over the various types of trolls with the group, specifically the two main varieties: woodland trolls and mountain trolls. There are variious subgroups but they're all basically predators, all mammals, all vulnerable to sunlight, and all terribly stupid. So stupid that Hans once saw one try to eat its own tail.

Hans tracks his Ringlefinch to a bridge where he uses two sheep and a goat as bait. (Why they weren't all goats is beyond me) Hans then dons some clunky homemade armor and grabs a giant syringe, intent on using it to get a blood sample. When the Ringlefinch takes the bait and eats one sheep, Hans lets the other animals go and uses a bucket full of Christian man's blood to lure the troll onto the bridge.

And no, we do not find out how he got that bucket of blood.

The Ringlefinch is smaller than the Tosserlad and is missing an arm, but it still easily knocks Hans out and tries to gnaw on his head. Hans survives, though, and after regaining consciousness he follows the Ringlefinch back under the bridge--and then the crew finds out what it looks when a troll that explodes is hit with sunlight.
"People buy them when they're little and cute, then release them under bridges when they get big."
But Hans got his blood sample and takes it to the veternarian. Then it's off to a farm where some trees were mysteriously uprooted. Per Hans it appears to be the work of a pack of Mountain Kings, or Dovregubben. He tracks the trolls to an abandoned mine that the Dovregubben are using as their lair. The lair is empty, but unfortunately the trolls return unexpectedly. The group is trapped in a small crevice where the trolls can't see them. And then Kalle starts to panic and rub all the group's "troll stench" on himself until it runs out. You see, Kalle is a Christian and didn't think to mention it until now.

Well, his panicking means that he's sweating and that means that the trolls can smell him. Hans uses is flash gun to stun the trolls long enogh for the group to flee--but Kalle is weighed down by the camera that he didn't think to drop and ends up in the back. So we have a pretty good idea what happens to him when the camera suddenly stops short of the mine entrance and the safety of the dawn sunlight outside and we hear roars, screams, and crunching just before the camera falls to the ground below and cuts off.

"Rar! Trolls hate raves!"
When the camera comes back on the lens is cracked. Hans says he'll go back in later to kill all the trolls but he understands if the other two don't want to follow him onto the next leg of his mission. However, apparently seeing their friend eaten by trolls is not enough to dissuade Johanna and Thomas from seeing this thing through.

A new camera operator--and camera--is brought in, in the person of Malica (Urmila Berg-Domaas). Malica is a Muslim but Hans shrugs and says he's not sure how trolls will react to that. Off-camera, Thomas catches Mallica up on what they're really doing, since she was recruited under the assumption the crew was tracking musk-oxen. Malica is understandably skeptical, but goes along with it.

Hans heads into one of the big troll territories high in the tundra, certain that this one is where the trouble started. He explains that the high-tension towers on the edge of the territory are really electric fences to keep the trolls in. And, as the group settles in to a cabin inside the troll territory, Hans reveals he thinks that the cause of all the trouble may be a Jotnar, the biggest of the trolls. Hans gets a call from the vet--the Ringlefinch had rabies, and no doubt so did all the other trolls that have been displaced by the Jotnar. Not only does this mean that they maybe they're about to run afoul of a giant, rabid troll: it means Thomas has rabies from that bite he got.

There's no time to take him to a hospital, however. In one of the film's best shots, the group sees out the cabin window that the rabid 200-foot tall Jotnar is approaching their position. The sun is rising soon, but will it be soon enough? Can Hans kill it with his weapons or is it too much even for that? This is a found footage movie, after all, so there's no guarantee they'll survive...

"Holy crap. Is it too late to volunteer to hunt gnomes instead?"
Found footage films always start with a test that the film must pass in order to keep the viewer engaged: why the hell is somebody filming this and why would they keep filming? As discussed in a previous example of the format, if you fail to answer these questions adequately, you pull the audience out of your story.

Troll Hunter succeeds because it gives acceptable answers to those two questions by making the story about a film crew. It then succeeds past then because of the strength of its concept and characters. Oh, sure, the students are almost non-existent as far as characterization goes. But we're not really here for them, we're here for Hans and he is a fantastic character. Otto Jespersen, apparently a well-known comedian in Norway, imbues Hans with a very complex yet simple personality. Hans is weary of his duty but soldiers on and does it the best he can. He seems serious most of the time, yet there's an unmistakable under-current of humor to him as well.

We're also here for the trolls, which understandably we don't see all that often. But when we do, they're marvelous. All of them are based on folk drawings of trolls, and in the case of the Mountain Kings, they look like something Jim Henson might have created. They look really good, too, never looking like they just escaped from the SyFy Channel. Amusingly their very traditional nature makes them unique--we've all seen trolls that look like these, but never chasing a film crew around!

As a found footage film, it also never wears out its welcome. The shaky cam is kept to an almost unreasonable minimum and the film makes certain to film as much of the gorgeous Norwegian countryside as it can.

The film is also notable for the fact that, while it contains a lot of comedy, it never treats its material as a straight up joke. Making this film a zany, madcap romp wouldn't fit and the filmmakers realize this and balance the humor accordingly. I mean, how many found footage films in American cinema have ended on a joke that wasn't mean-spirited in some way?

I can't recommend this film highly enough.

This concludes day 20 of HubrisWeen! Check out what the other maniacs chose for T by clicking the banner above.

Friday, October 24, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 19: Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Making a sequel to a slasher movie is always a bit of a trick. Most slasher films end with the killer being unambiguously killed, after all, so where do you go from there? Sometimes you just make something completely unrelated that has the same title or, thanks to the advent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, you decide to bring your killer back via supernatural means.

And then there's times when you make a direct sequel that ostensibly has the final girl from the last film facing a new threat that is a supernatural greaser wielding a guitar with a drill at the end.

"Wait, what?" You read that right. The first Slumber Party Massacre was notable in that screenwriter (and famed feminist mystery writer) Rita Mae Brown intended it as a spoof of slasher films with a male killer wielding a giant drill. Its premise alone is an obvious joke, yet either the film's director Amy Holden Jones or its producer Roger Corman (yes, this HusbrisWeen is positively filthy with Corman productions and I make zero apologies) decided to film the screenplay dead serious. Near as I can tell, however, they made no actual changes to it in order to make it less comedic but merely played it straight.

When it came time to make a sequel, Corman was apparently more open to humor as this film is goofy as all get out.

[A note before we begin: The Slumber Party Massacre is unique among slasher "franchises" as all three entries in the series--I'm not counting an apparent 4th film because it does not share the title--are directed by women. Amusingly, this is no way reduces the "male gaze" you expect from a slasher film]

The film opens with a young woman (Crystal Bernard, for anyone who felt their life was sorely lacking "slasher movie where the blonde woman from Wings is the final girl") in bed dreaming in a way that seems more like a romantic film, particularly with music--until we see that her dreams include flashbacks to the first film as well as images of a woman in a mental hospital and a strange figure of a greaser in black leather fringe (the amazingly named, or pseudonymed, Atanas Ilitch) wielding a guitar with a drill on the end of it.

"I figured this way I could work construction while playing in a rock band."
We quickly find out that the young woman is Courtney Bates, the youngest of the two sisters who survived the first film. Like her elder sister she is played by a different actress and struggles with psychological issues as a result of surviving the rampage of a psychopath and subsequently killing him. Unlike her sister, she is not institutionalized--she just has horrible dreams now and then. Her mother, Mrs. Bates (Jennifer Rhodes, in case you felt your life was sorely lacking "slasher movie where the grandmother from Charmed was the final girl's mom") is concerned as they talk over breakfast, but Courtney is managing. At any rate, it's time for her to head to school.

Courtney encounters a dead white pigeon on the sidewalk as she heads to school, but her friend Amy (Kimberly McArthur, a former playmate whose "no nudity" clause in her contract almost feels like a joke the movie is playing) shows up to drive her the rest of the way so she doesn't dwell on it as long as she might have. And after school, we see that Crystal plays in an all-girl rock band with Amy, Sally (Heidi Kozak), and Sheila (Juliette Cummins). And holy crap is there a lot of late 80s fashion on display with this group. Crystal gets a little bit flustered when Matt (Patrick Lowe) shows up to watch them practice.

We then learn that all the girls have been invited to Sheila's parents' new condo for the weekend, with no parental supervision. Matt will be there and Crystal is definitely excited about that prospect. Though she's not sure that her mom will let her go. In fact, at dinner her mother tells her that they've finally been cleared to go visit her sister at the mental hospital that weekend. However, Courtney manages to convince her mother that it's important that the band practice all weekend for a talent competition coming up--plus it's her birthday that weekend, after all. Her mother buys it, though obviously she's a bit disappointed that Courtney doesn't want to visit her sister.

Oh, but her sister visits Courtney. In her dreams, that is. As Courtney dozes in the car on the way to the condo, Valerie (Cindy Eilbacher) appears to her, clearly terrified, imploring her little sister, "Don't go." When Courtney asks where she isn't supposed to go, Valerie replies, "Don't go all the way." And then the greaser attacks Valerie with his drill guitar.

So Courtney's weekend is off to a shaky start. Still, that night the sharing of corn dogs and some champagne stolen from Sheila's father's "booze closet" and Rock'n'Roll High School on the TV (though, unsurprisingly, the music coming from the TV is not The Ramones) helps Courtney to join in the frivolity. Soon it's all pillow fights, flying feathers, spraying champagne, and Sheila topless. (She is, interestingly, the only one to get naked in any way--not sure if by clause or by design) About this time, the other guys who were invited, Amy's boyfriend Jeff (Scott Westmoreland) and Sheila's boyfriend T.J. (Joel Hoffman) show up and peek in the windows, remarking, "I didn't know girls did stuff like this!"

Predictably, they try to false scare the girls by sneaking in the unlocked back door and having Jeff play dead with a kitchen knife tucked under his arm. There's the expected reactions of disgusted annoyance, followed by laughing it off. And for Courtney's benefit it's confirmed that Matt will arrive sometime tomorrow.

The next day, as the group hangs around the pool, Courtney is feeling terrible and trying to shake off a headache. Seeing her hamburger turn into a severed human hand does nothing to improve her outlook. T.J. claims he can fix her headache, but what he actually means is that he wants a chance to do an impression of a fire-and-brimstone preacher healing a rube and then throws her into the pool. She promptly loses consciousness, is overwhelmed by visions of the greaser, and only Jeff's quick action saves her from drowning. T.J. is apologetic, but understandably the group is annoyed with him.

They remain remarkably patient with Courtney, though, especially given how few of them know her history. So when she opens the fridge and is attacked by an animate raw chicken (!) that gushes ichor from its neck stump, they try to assure that she only thought she was attacked by the now utterly immobile chicken because it fell out too fast. Then Courtney hallucinates her bath overflowing with blood, and then when Sally comes to check on Courtney she sees the pimple that Sally is complaining of consume the girl's entire face before she explodes. When Courtney claims she just saw Sally die, the group gives her claim a surprising amount of credence.

Of course, it helps that Sally is no longer anywhere to be found, the cars are all accounted for, and the garbage compactor that nobody can recall turning on is crushing something that crunches loudly. Rather than stopping the compactor and checking to see if it's just chicken bones, they call the cops. Officers Kreuger (Michael Delano, who took over the Dick Miller role in the Jim Wynorski remake of Not of This Earth) and Voorhies (Hamilton Mitchell), are less than impressed by Courtney's story. (And yes, those are their names and spellings of same) They're even less impressed when Sally walks in the door, having apparently just walked to the store to buy zit cream after Courtney interrupted their conversation by having a screaming fit.

Naturally, this means the cops are going to be less than receptive should anything actually happen. Courtney is up in her room, worrying about her mental state, when Matt comes in with a birthday cake. After some conversation, the two apparently have sex--and it will surprise nobody that this is the "all the way" that Valerie warned of. This somehow makes the greaser take corporeal form and he immediately drills Matt through the chest. When Courtney insists he isn't real, that he's just a dream--the greaser decides that waving Matt's severed arm in her face and dropping it on the birthday cake should vouch for his "not a dream" credentials.

Well, that's pretty compelling evidence: you gotta hand it to him.
When Courtney runs down the stairs, the greaser follows and attacks the group. T.J. is injured by the drill and he and Sheila flee out the back door. Sally was behind the drum set and finds herself trapped, while Courtney, Amy, and Jeff hide in the kitchen and Jeff tries to use the wall phone to call for help. Unfortunately, Sally manages to escape the drum set only find herself pinned against the wall by the kitchen door--and that's the wall the phone is on when the drill comes through the wall, covered in Sally's blood.

The three flee, but the keys to the cars are in the kitchen and they forgot them. So they have to go back. Meanwhile, Sheila and T.J. go to an occupied house for help, but the greaser finds them and advances as the person inside is playing classical music too loudly to hear their frantic pleas. Sheila gets her arm slashed and is forced to leave T.J. to be killed. The owner of the house finally sticks his head out and then grumbles about "damn kids" after he sees nobody because T.J.'s body is just out of sight.

Jeff, Amy, and Courtney find the keys--and Sally's body. They take one of the cars, but it won't start. It finally does start and they drive off...but nobody checked the backseat. Jeff helpfully hits the brake instead of the accelerator as the drill tears through his guts, and it's back to the condo for Amy and Courtney, who barricade themselves in a bedroom by putting a dresser in front of the door. Sheila finds her way back as well, but only just ahead of the greaser. The greaser then...launches into a rock song / dance number. Yes, really.

Hearing Sheila's screams, the other two begin unbarricading the door. However, as the still-singing and dancing greaser decides to advance on his victim, they realize he's also there and put the dresser right back. (Interestingly, a sequence where the protagonists debate saving a victim before deciding on leaving them to die happens in all three films, though at least here they can't see the victim to know how easily they could have saved her as in the third film) The greaser drills through Sheila--and through the dresser. Courtney and Amy flee through the window onto the roof. The greaser is also on the roof behind them (!) playing his guitar and cackling, but not actively pursuing them.

The two survivors make it to a construction site, and evade the greaser's drill by inches during one of his attacks, where he growls, "I can't get no...satisfaction." However, as they weave through support beams and such, the greaser slashes Amy's back with the drill. So even though they successfully flee from him, he's able to follow the blood and find them again. Amy falls off the near-top floor of the building, and as Courtney tries to pull her up the greaser slashes at her--and Amy falls to her death.

Courtney cries over her friends' deaths, but then sees the greaser watching her and dragging on a cigarette. "She broke my heart so she had to die," he says, resignedly and then repeats, "She had to die." Courtney has had enough of this leather clad greaseball and finds an acetylene torch at the top of the structure and lights it. When the greaser lands on the platform before her, she touches him with the flame--and he bursts into a huge fireball, before plunging to his death. Man, don't use napalm for hair gel next time.

The next morning, there's the usual ambulances and police. But as Courtney examines Amy's body being carried off on a stretcher, Amy's eyes pop open and she laughs with the greaser's voice. Courtney wakes up in bed with Matt. It was all a dream! Except, when she kisses him with relief, he turns into the greaser...and Courtney wakes up in a mental hospital room. As she screams, a giant drill bit tears through the floor of a blatantly obvious miniature of the room. The End.

Wow. Wow. There are very few slasher movies who so relentlessly refuse to make sense as Slumber Party Massacre II. I don't know whether to call it dream logic, sloppy filmmaking, or both. I mean, for starters, there are not many slasher films where the killer doesn't actually claim any victims until the third act. For another, who the hell is the killer supposed to be? Or what, for that matter?

The greaser here playing The Driller Killer, per the credits, bears no resemblance to the mental patient who drilled his way through the first film's cast. So he's not some kind of "vengeance from the grave" killer, like Freddy Krueger. He's not some copycat killer because he plainly does not exist in reality until Courtney somehow calls him forth by losing her virginity--if he ever actually does exist, that is. That double-dream twist at the end is like something from Phantasm, but, you know, extra stupid.

Honestly, I have not watched the commentary track for the film as yet so maybe I'm just stating precisely what the intent was--but the Driller Killer here seems more like a physical manifestation of female sexuality anxiety, particularly around losing her virginity. I mean, he appears by literally destroying the man who took her virginity and taking his place--and I do know, thanks to the IMDb that Matt and the killer were initially going to be the same actor--and then destroying all of her friends. He's an exaggerated representation of a man getting what he wants from a woman before calling her a slut and driving away her friends by making them think the same way. And his weapon is a drill, which wasn't exactly a subtle Freudian gag in the first film--but add it to the end of a guitar, wielded by an obvious "cock-rocker" (he quotes The Rolling Stones, for fuck's sake), and I'm unable to think of any intention other than a psychosexual one.

Or maybe I'm giving the film too much credit and it just wanted to be a silly, goofy movie that people would go see or rent and then tell their friends, "You have to see this shit, man!"

It also may not be immediately obvious that I love this goofy ass film. And the lion's share of that love rests at the feet of Atanas Ilitch, who is having such a blast as the greaser version of The Driller Killer that it might be illegal. He chews the scenery and cuts a rug, usually in the same shot. He's never honestly menacing, but he's so damn much fun you don't care.

Deeper meaning or not, this film is a blast and at about 75 minutes it really doesn't wear out its welcome. Plus, how many other movies feature someone attacked by a raw chicken?

Thus concludes day 19 of HubrisWeen. Check out the other "S" reviews by clicking the banner above.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 18: Rogue (2007)

"What, another killer crocodile film? Wasn't one enough for a month? Does this reviewer hate himself?" Ah, but you see, there's a major twist here.

This is a good killer crocodile film.

I hear you scoff. Surely I must have misspoken. A good killer crocodile movie is rarer than a reliable bigfoot sighting. You're right to be suspicious. However, I'm not telling stories. This is the real deal: a killer crocodile movie that doesn't suck!

We open with a little mood-setting wildlife footage of the sublime Australian Outback set to aboriginal chanting. This might as well be a video for the Australian tourism board, which is good since the rest of the film won't be. We're quickly reminded of why we're here when a water buffalo goes to get a drink--and a barely-glimpsed crocodile grabs it and drags it under the water, leaving only ripples.

American travel writer, Pete McKell (Michael Vartan) arrives at a small town in the outback. He's come there for an article he's writing, but he's in a foul mood because the airline lost his luggage--including his computer that he needs to write his article. He relays this to his editor via a cell phone, while waiting for the seemingly friendly bloke behind the counter of the pub he wandered into to fix him a cappuccino. Wadering the pub to get a decent signal, Pete finds himself confronted with a wall full of articles about killer crocodiles--including a photo of a twelve-year-old boy pulled out of the stomach of a croc. Pete's call drops and his complaint of, "The service here sucks," is overheard and misunderstood by the barkeep, who drops a dead fly in Pete's cappuccino in retaliation for the perceived insult.

Luckily for Pete, the capuccino is apparently awful enough that he discards it without swallowing the dead fly. And it's on to the riverboat tour that is apparently his reason for being there. The tour is run by Kate Ryan (Radha Mitchell!) and her "business partner", Kevin. (Her dog) Along for the tour are Irish tourist Gwen (Celia Ireland); American couple Everett (Robert Taylor) and Mary Ellen (Caroline Brazier); British family Allen (Geoff Morell), Elizabeth (Heather Mitchell), and their daughter Sherry (Mia Wasikowska, in one of her earliest roles); Australian Russell (John Jarratt), who has secretly brought ashes to scatter; and lastly Simon (Stephen Curry), also Australian.

The tour goes as expected, at first. Kate gets to explain a lot of facts about saltwater crocodiles on the way, the group sees one being fed by another tour and lunging several feet into the air to catch the offered meat. Kate assures the group that the crocs don't attack anything bigger than themselves, so they won't bother her boat. That rule doesn't apply to two local assholes in a motorboat, Neil (Sam Worthington, still a couple years away from his brief and inexplicable super stardom) and Collin (Damien Richardson), who decide to interrupt the tour. Based on the dialogue between them, I'd wager Kate not only knows both of them, but also used to date Neil. When Kate tells them to bugger off, Everett and Pete back her up--with Neil sarcastically labelling them "John Wayne" and "four-eyes", respectively. But Kate gets rid of them by effectively playing chicken, which results in Neil falling overboard. Though, despite an underwater POV shot staring up at him, he makes it back into his boat unharmed.

However, just as the tour is turning back, Everett spies a distress flare further up river--and then everyone sees a second one. Since Kate's radio doesn't work where they are, she is under obligation to go and investigate and provide aid if possible. After they go a few miles further up river there seems to be no sign of anyone who needs help, so Kate is about to follow Pete's suggestion of turning back. However, she then notices the boat that is just barely visible above water, already capsized and sinking with no sign of its occupants--and then a dark shape in the water rams the boat and punches a hole in it.

In a typical bit of horror movie desperation that seems smart but actually is the worst possible decision, Kate beaches the boat on the nearest dry land--an island in the middle of the river. It's only after they all file onto the island that Russell points out that they're in a tidal river, and based on the trees on their island, it's going to be underwater in a matter of hours. Russell panics and starts to swim for the river bank, reasoning that somebody needs to take the risk, but Everett stops him. The group is distracted because Simon gets a weak signal on the portable radio and they all turn to him--leaving their backs to Everett.

And before anyone can make sense of it, there's a splash and Everett has vanished--and a scaly tail breaks the surface of the water where he was standing before disappearing. This is the point where Rogue had me hooked because how many other movies of this type would have their first victim's demise be filmed with such horrifying subtlety?

Things continue to get worse, as the flares and other emergency supplies were on the back of the boat and have already floated away. Oh, and the signal Simon got? Music. Which turns out to be courtesy of Neil and Collin blaring music over the radio frequency as they approach the island and cruise in circles around it like jackasses. As they hover just out of earshot, mocking the group's frantic waving, it's Collin who realizes that something's wrong--just in time for their boat to be struck from below and go flying. Neil makes it to the island. Collin never resurfaces.

So our crocodile has already eaten two people that we know of, not counting the poor bastard who shot the flare. And Neil and Kate have figured out that the croc is acting territorial, which means that it was trying to warn them out of its territory when it attacked the boats. Only they didn't take the hint and that's got to be making it mad. And the fact that these flagrant trespassers are fragile, defenseless, and edible? Well, that means it's definitely going to be back. With dark falling and the tide rising, that means that our heroes are running out of options that don't involve being a crocodile's dinner.

"Look, I hate Captain Hook, too! You want Hook? I can get you Hook!'
I think I'll stop here as I really do think Rogue should be experienced and, while few of its developments are earthshattering in any way, they're delivered magnificently enough that I don't feel like spoiling them.

The film, despite it's "Dimension: EXTREME" release on American DVD that declares it "Unrated" in bloody letters, is much more of an old school horror movie. There's no nudity and there is surprisingly little gore. The film wants to scare you, not disgust you. It's mostly successful in that, too. The crocodile is barely visible until the very last section of the film, when two of the film's survivors find themselves in the crocodile's lair for the end game. We only need to know it's there, not see it. And the use of quick glimpses and the film's soundtrack--which sounds like Bernard Herrmann had been the one hired to score Jaws--do a marvelous job at building suspense.

The crocodile is largely CGI, but it's mostly convincing CGI. There's an actual attempt to give the creature mass, for one--observe it hauling its bulk out of the water for a nap in its lair--and it actually looks like the real deal. I mean, they actually replicated the pattern of the osteoderms on a saltwater crocodile's neck! It also behaves like an animal, not just a monster, which helps immensely.

I also have to give kudos to the film for not just blowing the crocodile up, like so many other Jaws rip-offs I could name. (Although, given the film's title, I once amused myself by imagining it starring a Sarah Palin parody and ending with her imitating the annoying reporter from the aforementioned other killer crocodile film and swimming into the croc's mouth with lit dynamite) Granted, I highly doubt the creature's vanquisher could have survived the method used to kill it, but that's not the only blatant instance of "hero's death battle exemption" in the film.

I highly recommend Rogue. It's not just a good killer crocodile film, which is amazing enough on its own, but it's a genuinely good horror film. I mean, my girlfriend even enjoyed it and she was not pleased that the dog doesn't make it to the end credits, which incidentally roll under "Never Smile at a Crocodile."

Sorry, Kevin. Dogs almost never survive.

That concludes day 18. Go check out the other R entries by clicking the banner above.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 17: Quatermass and The Pit (1967)

Where do we--humans, that is--come from?

Religion has one answer, science has another. Some accept religion's answer and reject science's, some do the opposite. Some accept parts of one answer and reject parts of another. Some try to make both answers fit, others try to label religion's answer as science's and call it a day.

But what if neither answer really was quite right? What if they both really did only have part of the answer and needed to be put together to get the whole?

Suppose humans were created by a higher power, but as a result of controlled evolution. Suppose again that that higher power was not God, but actually something we might call--without much hyperbole--the Devil?

An expansion of the London Underground is being built at Hobbs End, when one of the construction workers discovers a skull amongst the dirt and rocks being borne away from the excavation on a conveyor belt. Initial panic at finding evidence of a murder fades when they realize that the skull is too big and ape-like to be human, and furthermore it appears to be a fossil. However, their plans to just set it aside and continue on are waylaid by discovering an entire skeleton of the same variety.

In fact, the ground under Hobbs End appears to be littered with these humanoid skeletons and so paleontologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) and his assistant Barbara Judd (the magnificent Barbara Shelley) are called in to supervise the extraction of these skeletons, which are surely a hugely valuable find. Dr. Roney gives a press conference announcing that the find is incredibly extraordinary because they've carbon tested the skeletons and they date back to five million years at least, which puts them at a stage of development way beyond previously known humanoids.

Roney unveils a clay model of what the humanoid apes probably looked like, based on the bones. He explains to the press that he needs their help because there's going to be a lot of public pressure to resume operations on the underground. Roney wants the press to emphasize the importance of their find to the public, to convince them that the excavation should be allowed to continue.

Unfortuately for Roney, something else is going to ruin his dig. One of the excavators tells Barbara that she has come across some sort of pipe in her digging. The public works rep that walks over with Barbara is puzzled because there aren't supposed to be any pipes there. However, there is one possibility...

The Army sets up a sign reading "Danger: Unexploded Bomb" as an EOD unit is sent in. Don't worry, we won't be following one of them around for the whole movie. It's assumed that the object is an unexploded bomb from the Blitz. However, when one EOD officer goes to put his magnetic microphone on the object to listen to its innards--it doesn't stick. Holding the mic in place, all he can determine is that the bomb isn't ticking. He's completely flummoxed, though. Roney, already a bit impatient with the EOD team tramping all over his dig, suggests that the EOD officer is too young to have had Wartime experience. The EOD officer, somewhat irritatedly, assures Roney he will be calling in a second opinion.

Said second opinion comes in the form of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), who is currently busy in a meeting with the British Rocket Group. The British Rocket Group, as you would know if you had seen the previous two Quatermass films, is the brainchild of Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir, taking over from Brian Donlevy who played the role in the two preceding films). Quatermass is not happy at having to meet with Breen because the crux of the meeting is that the BRG is to be tasked with developing missile bases that can be placed on the moon. Breen will therefore be working with Quatermass to achieve this and there's no point in Quatermass arguing the point because the order came down from on high.

Breen invites Quatermass to dinner to try and win the scientist over, but he gets the message about Hobbs End and invites Quatermass to join him on a brief detour. Quatermass immediately becomes intrigued by the object that has been partially uncovered, which Breen labels an experimental V-Weapon. The first hole in Breen's explanation shows itself when the EOD team finds another ape skull buried beneath part of the object. Roney is called in and he excitedly extracts it, saying it's even better preserved than the others they've found. Quatermass asks Breen exactly how he thinks a V-Weapon could have landed on top of a fragile fossil without damaging it.

Roney also makes this realization as Barbara is helping him to clean the mud off the skull. How could the thing in the pit be a bomb or a rocket from the last war and be so gingerly nestled amongst fossils? Another curious thing turns up when Breen is going over the civil records of the Blitz in Hobbs End: not only were the only bombs incendiaries, they only did structural damage because the houses on the street were abandoned. Breen says they had been evacuated, but the policeman who brought over the records explains to Quatermass that actually they had been empty years before Hitler had anything to do with their vacancy.

You see, the policeman grew up in the area so he knows that the houses were abandoned because of strange noises and things being seen. The usual ghost stories. The policeman goes to show Barbara and Quatermass one of the houses, warning it's not safe. However, inside the house the combination of a door moving on its own and Barbara's discovery of what look like clawmarks in the walls so terrifies the policeman that he rushes outside, explaining away his panic as succumbing to the heat in the house.

Quatermass tells Breen he wants to stick around for the investigation of the "bomb." That's fine with Breen, who advises the object should be fully uncovered by the next day. And then Barbara observes an old street sign. The street used to be Hob's Lane. As Barbara informs Quatermass, "Hob used to be a nickname for The Devil."

Quatermass goes to visit Roney's lab at a local museum. Roney is currently doing an experiment with some equipment designed to map brain functions, which is currently being used on a volunteer whose cranial dimensions correspond to those of a particular human ancestor. Roney wants to do the same for the Hobbs End apes, but no human he knows of has the same skull dimensions. Quatermass asks Roney if the apes were terrestrial, to which Roney replies that they most definitely were. So if that mystery object was a space vessel, that theoretically rules them out as its passengers.

Heading back to the dig, Quatermass runs into Barbara who has collected a lot of newspaper reports about the incidents at Hobbs End over many decades. All of them refer to a small figure, like a hideous dwarf that could leap through walls. Most of them occurred during construction of the original Hobbs End underground station. Quatermass scoffs at first, but then finds himself intrigued. Following the trail leads them all the way to Latin archives in Westminster Abbey. What they find is that the stories of little ghosts and goblins emerge always at the same time as the ground above the object is disturbed--from charcoal burners uprooting big trees, to a well being dug, to the construction of a station.

Quatermass isn't sure what to do with this information as yet but he returns to the dig site to find that the object has fully uncovered, and it sure as hell looks like a spaceship. Breen has one of the EOD technicians run an acetylene torch on one part of the hull for five minutes--and not only does it not cut through, but the spot isn't even warm to the touch. Quatermass suggests Breen get a borazon drill, which is harder than diamond, and then Quatermass gets a bit smug, pointing out to the skeptical Breen that the material that made this object is every rocket engineers dream: the Germans didn't build something this extraordinary and then forget the recipe.

There's a hollow chamber in the object, but an EOD officer warns Quatermass to wear gloves. Touching the inside with bare hands left several of the EOD techs with something like mild frostbite, even though the hull is not even cold. And inside, Quatermass notices there's a symbol etched into what appears to be a bulkhead separating the hollow chamber from the head of the "rocket." The symbol has six sides, but Quatermass identifies it as a "pentagon" (!) and says it's one of the symbols used in ancient magic. Which would be a pentangle, not a pentagon--and that still doesn't change the fact that the symbol is clearly a hexagon.

I guess nobody noticed that the props department had screwed up until it was too late and they just kept the existing dialogue?

At any rate, Quatermass goes to talk to Barbara, who has just arrived, when there comes a scream from the soldier sent to remove some equipment from the hollow chamber. The man is found cowering in a corner, claiming he saw a figure that came at him and then went through the wall. When he describes it, Barabara recognizes it as the same "hideous dwarf" described for centuries.

Breen gets his borazon drill and its civilian operator, Sladden (Duncan Lamont). The drill is plugged into a generator in case of an explosion, should the other side of the bulkhead be a warhead. As Breen and Quatermass watch, Sladden's drill fails three times to even scratch the bulkhead by the "pentagon." The third time, however, the attempt is accompanied by a loud vibrating whine that makes all three men physically ill. Roney turns up with Barbara and when a shaken Quatermass tells him about the pentagon, Roney loks inside and then calls the others in: there's a hole in the bulkhead where Sladden was drilling.

Sladden points out the hole is way bigger than his drill bit and looks melted, just as the bulkhead mysteriously disintegrates--and Breen, Quatermass, and Roney are confronted by a spectacular sight: three insectoid creatures with horns and toothy grins sitting inside a honeycomb structure.

"We come in peace, put down the can of Raid."
The creatures are clearly dead, but letting the outside air into the sealed chamber causes the creatures and the structures housing them to rapidly decay. Roney sends the soldiers to get empty sandbags and planks and he loads the quickly rotting arthropods onto them and temporarily sprays them with a sealant so they'll hold together until he can get them to the lab. The structures, which Quatermass presumes to be a control apparatus, have completely fallen to powder before Barbara can even get in to photograph the "cockpit." Breen insists that Quatermass is mad to believe that this is an alien vessel, but he's unable to offer a rational explanation.

At the lab, as Roney and Quatermass examine the arthropods, it becomes clear that they are not of earthly origin. The tripod arrangement of their legs suggests that clearly enough and they seem to have been adapted to a planet with much lower gravity and oxygen--perhaps a world that's dead now, but five million years ago had life. Between that and the unmistakable fact that the creatures' very appearance can be seen in gargoyles, cave paintings, and the Judeo-Christian image of The Devil, Quatermass and Roney come to a single conclusion:

What they've found are Martians. What's more, the humanoid apes and the Martians are connected. The Martians, knowing their world was dying, visited Earth and took back specimens of a Pliocene ape. Using any number of technologies they tried to instill their consciousness into the minds of these apes, intending to "colonize" Earth. But they must have been too late, and whatever faculties they passed on became dormant in all but a few of the humans that evolved as a result of their actions. The ship and the ape fossils could be the result of an accident, where they all died after crashing into the swampy area that Hobbs End used to be.

Quatermass tells most of this--minus the guided human evolution part--to the press. His bosses are furious, and hearing his whole theory does nothing to make them happier. Unfortunately, being the man who saved the Earth from two separate alien invasions apparently doesn't give you any sway in London. The government goes with Breen's explanation--the rocket is a German propaganda weapon designed to terrify England with taxidermied hoaxes, to make them think that the Martians have landed. The weapon was just uncovered too late to create the appropriate panic.

Never mind that this explanation actually requires more suspension of disbelief than the ship and the arthropods being of alien origin, it becomes the official story and the ship is declared safe for public viewing over Quatermass's strong objections.

His objections become even stronger when Sladden, returning to retrieve his drill from the dig that night is suddenly overcome with some kind of hallucination that is accompanied by a windstorm that picks up and throws all objects in near proximity to the stricken man. Sladen runs through the streets of London, causing destruction and confusion, until he collapses in a church yard. When Quatermass and Barbara go to see him, we get one of my favorite scenes.

It's my favorite because it relies so much on imagination and line delivery. Sladden describes what he saw--hordes of the Martians, leaping in and out of a dark purple sky. Sladden knew he was one of the Martians. Sladden passes out, exhausted, and the strange psychic windstorm briefly kicks up again. Quatermass realizes that this must be a race memory, a vision of life on Mars. The thing in the pit, after absorbing energy from the electronics around it. can trigger this vision as well as those latent faculties--like telekinesis. But they must have proof of this to stop things from going pear-shaped when the government foolishly allows the public access to the craft.

But even when he does have proof to offer--via rigging Roney's brain scan device to record what the brain sees to record the vision, which turns out to be a race purge of the Martian hives to kill off all those considered "different" and undesirable--the big wigs aren't going to listen. And before you know it, the ship has come alive, a holographic projection of the Devil is floating the sky above Hobbs End, and London is being torn apart by people whose Martian genes have been switched on and sent them on a telekinetic, genocidal rampage to kill any who are immune. And worse, one of those people joining in the rampage is Quatermass himself!

I referred to the climax of Quatermass and The Pit when reviewing Lifeforce with good reason. It's impossible to not see the latter film as taking influence from the former in its climactic destruction of London. And what a climax it is, with unsettling images like a stone-faced mob cornering a terrified man and killing him with telekinetically launched rubble, or the floating image of the Martian in the London sky.

This is one of my all-time favorite films. The whole film is marvelously paced, especially considering it was condensing a 6-part miniseries made up of half hour episodes into a brisk 90-odd minutes. The screenplay largely plays fair with its characters and concept, and it builds to a magnificent--if rather abruptly resolved--climax of destruction. The performances are amazing, with Andrew Keir's Professor Challenger-like Quatermass and Barbara Shelley's quick-witted and inquisitive heroine being particular standouts. James Donald is also compelling as Roney and Julian Glover was clearly having a grand time playing, in his own words, "the obligatory asshole" of the film.

Where the film falters is in the sequence I only briefly alluded to earlier. In a film that largely exists in the "real" world of the time when it was produced, suddenly having a machine that can record visual footage of dreams or visions is completely jarring. Especially given that the only purpose of the machine is to show us a sequence that worked best when it was merely described. The special effects that Hammer could provide on the film's budget would always have been woefully unequipped to portray the Martians in the midst of a telekinetic ethnic cleansing, and the stiff miniature models and obvious kitty litter they toss about are not remotely obscured by covering the black and white image with static. It doesn't even ultimately add anything to the story because it's just one more thing the authorities choose to ignore.

Aside from that misstep, though, this is a wonderful film and I highly recommend it. Especially if you want to see the central conceit of Prometheus done by filmmakers who actually knew what they were doing.

I don't know about you, but I'll take alien locust demons over "huge, albino muscle-twinks" any day of the week.

Thus concludes Day 17. Click the banner to check out what my fellow maniacs chose.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 16: Please Don't Eat My Mother (1973)

When people say, "They don't make 'em like they used to," it's usually a safe bet that they aren't referring to pornographic films. And yet, the saying holds just as true if they are.

While porn parodies still exist, it was not until very recently that they began actually having some modicum of focus on story and plot. And even among those that do, you're looking at "This Ain't Pacific Rim XXX" not something only vaguely related like "Kaiju of Love." I mean, if I didn't tell you that Please Don't Eat My Mother was an adult parody/remake of Roger Corman's The Little Shop of Horrors (this being before it was retooled into a beloved musical), how would you know from its title alone?

Even beyond that, they don't make porn flicks like this any more for another reason. Softcore porn is still a thing, yes, which one can argue that this film qualifies as. But that's nothing but actors grinding on each other in ways that vaguely simulate sex while making sure we see nothing but breasts and buttocks from any of the performers, male or female. No, this film manages to fall somewhere between that kind of fare and the harder stuff: fully naked people grinding on each other in ways that vaguely simulate sex despite the fact we are given graphic evidence that neither person involved is even aroused.

So, you know, maybe it's for the best that they don't make them like this any more.

The film opens with a couple sitting in a parked car. The woman (Flora Wiesel, one of the few bump & grinders that IMDb wishes to give credit to) is a bit nervous since apparently the man is married and someone could see them. Little do they know they're being watched by our, uh, "hero" for the evening, Henry Fudd (Buck Kartalian, a character actor you've probably seen in actual "legitimate" films, but everyone needs to eat). Henry is a creep in a hideous sweater who loves to watch rutting couples on his lunch break from whatever the hell his job is.

God, you're a creep.
Anyways, his lunch break apparently ends before the couple does much more than some heavy petting outside the clothes. On his way to work or from work, I don't even know, Henry stops by a florist shop when he hears a strange plant making gurgling, almost talking sounds. He is immediately accosted by the gay hate crime (Art Hedburg, who looks vaguely like Graham Chapman without the talent) who runs the shop. Naturally, the florist rubs himself all over Henry because gay men are instantly attracted to anyone with male parts.

Henry, convinced the plant can talk--despite it being obviously constructed of cotton balls, pipe cleaners, and construction paper--buys it from the florist and heads home. At home, his mother, Clarice Fudd (Lynn Lundgren) is waiting for him, chatting away on the phone to one of her friends about ungrateful her son is. This kind of undercuts the title a bit, because Henry hates his mother the whole time. There'd be more comedy potential if his mother was a sweet old woman who had no idea that her son was a peeping tom hiding murderous plants in his bedroom.

Then again, this film wouldn't know how to do comedy if it were invited to an orgy at the Friar's Club.

Not a picture from the Low-Budget Audrey 2 tumblr.
Henry settles into his room with the plant and feeds it some plant food that the florist gave him. Whereupon the plant begins to actually talk with a woman's voice (nope, no idea who's doing the voice), but Henry isn't present to hear. We next see Henry heading to his lunch break spot, annoyed that another pervert has set up shop to watch the couple in the car, though he quickly sits down next to the guy and shares his lunch while trying to keep the guy from groping him in excitement.

Yes, it's the same couple in the car. And they're still at the point of just starting to undress. Every time Henry catches sight of them throughout the first half of the film, they are only a little further in the process of having sex. So either they are taking days to have sex, or they're caught in some kind of a time loop.

Later on, Henry catches his mother snooping in his room--which is full of nude pin-ups and Playboy issues, of course--and shoves her out. And during this exchange, Clarice tells Henry, "Don't blame me, I didn't make you Jewish! That was your father!" Exhausted from the argument--and maybe from trying to parse what the hell that statement means--Henry takes a nap in a chair by the plant and wakes up when he realizes the plant is talking to him. The plant, who will later be called Eve, asks Henry for more of the plant food and "something that buzzes." So Henry goes fly-hunting, spies on the horny couple locked in the time loop some more, and then returns to find that Eve has grown into a terrible puppet. He feeds her the flies but accidentally feeds her a frog, which she now wants more of.

And then we're introduced to one of the weirdest running gags in the film as, after Henry spies on the couple some more and returns with more frogs, Eve begins spewing colored smoke from her mouth (!) after eating all the frogs. Based on the reaction of Henry and the voiceover work, this is apparently supposed to be her burping or farting, but it makes no damn sense.

Clarice is becoming suspicious of Henry because she swears she hears a woman in his room. And then Eve hears a dog and decides she wants Henry to bring her dogs. So Henry gets a job at the local pound and Eve grows into her final stage, a tall puppet with eyelashes. Though naturally we cut away from Henry feeding her a dog because there's no way for the largely immobile prop to move enough to eat anything.

After feeding her more dogs and cats, Henry puts his foot down when Eve expresses a desire to eat the woman in one of Henry's centerfolds. Of course, once Henry loses his job at the pound, he gets into an angry shouting match with Eve--and Clarice barges into Henry's room trying to find the woman he's keeping. There's an argument about how Henry is sick of her "always kvetching", because he's Jewish, you see--and then Eve promptly eats Henry's mother.

We're about 50 minutes into a 90-odd minute movie and the title has already been rendered inaccurate. Especially since Henry never even begs Eve not to eat his mother. He just reacts with horror for a moment and worries he'll be arrested, but Eve convinces him it's all okay. After all, "Have you ever heard of a plant being arrested?"

I can only imagine how that would go over with a jury. "Your honor, my client did not kill his mother--his carnivorous, talking plant did. He's totally innocent."

Henry's attempts to convince his mother's friend over the phone that she went to visit her dying sister results in a painfully unfunny "comic" police detective, Officer O'Columbus (an uncredited as well as unfunny Carl Monson), coming to visit him. O'Columbus is introduced with what I swear is the Dragnet theme being played on a casio--as if his explicit references to the show and Adam-12 were too subtle. At any rate, O'Columbus is interrupted in his attempts to determine if Henry is "one of them preeverts" by hearing Eve speak. O'Columbus asks if that's Clarice talking and Henry, being a moron, doesn't just say, "Yes."

So, O'Columbus enters Henry's room and, one quick cut later, he is disappearing into the plant puppet feet-first so he can give a note to Henry to take to his wife. Exit awful comic character, stage plant puppet. Eve is disgusted because apparently men don't taste good to her. And, in an almost funny running gag, she keeps spitting up the cop's gun and badge only for Henry to keep tossing them back to her.

By this time Henry has found a new couple locked in a bang loop, since the car couple finally achieved the climax that apparently freed them. This couple is getting it on in a park on a blanket. I mention this because it will actually become "relevant" later. In the mean time, Eve is craving more woman flesh so Henry calls up a friend who can get call girls (which raises all kinds of questions) and says he's hiring a girl for his big brother who is currently bed-ridden. He literally hangs up the phone when the doorbell rings and he comments, "That was fast!" Well, that's what happens when you hire call girls from Jimmy John's.

The call girl (Alice Friedland) walks in, promptly puts the moves on Henry (?!) but then spurns him because the price for her to screw him is way out of his grasp. Then she goes into Henry's bedroom, tells him there's no free shows--and promptly gets undressed without actually closing the door, so Henry can watch via a hallway mirror. The call girl spends the whole scene calling out for "Big Brother Fudd," which is exactly as unerotic as it sounds. Finally, after showing us her naked body from all sides, she gets eaten offscreen by Eve. Cue first instance of Eve saying, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," whilst billowing smoke.

Then Eve confides in Henry that she's craving something other than food. She's craving sex. (Oh, no) Henry is confused and then quickly gets excited. (Oh, please, no) After all, he reasons, they've become very close (No) and become even more than friends. (No, God NO) And then, Buck Kartalian is forced to amorously grab onto a plant puppet and dry hump it.

One of the worst aspects of this whole movie is that Kartalian, despite knowing he's playing the role of "schlub who never gets to take part in the action" in a porn flick, actually gives the role his all. So you already feel terrible for him even before he tries to fuck a plant.

Eve is not amused by Henry's attempt to mate with her and gently explains to Henry that he's not what she is looking for and they should keep their relationship friendly. (As my horrified girlfriend remarked, "Did...did he just get 'friendzoned' by a plant?!") She needs a male plant to do that. So Henry goes to the florist, using the gun and badge to pretend to be a cop (?!), and finds that he has another specimen of the same plant that is strangely identical to baby Eve. Out of earshot of the florist, Henry asks if the plant is male. "Friend or foe?" the plant responds in a man's voice, before confirming it's male once Henry identifies himself as "friend." The plant tells Henry how to con the florist into buying the plant cheap and then, as they walk away, the plant says, "Those [slur for gay men that used to mean a bundle of sticks] make me sick!"

So, let's see, this film is misogynistic, antisemitic, and homophobic. I can only assume it's not racist because they ran out of time.

The male plant, Adam, quickly grows into a puppet identical to Eve's second stage and it is revealed that while Eve only eats women, Adam only eats men. Naturally. So Henry takes his gun and uses it to interrupt the couple in the park, who had finally gotten to the sex part after several days of working up to it. He takes them back home and feeds them to the plants. Now Adam and Even both say, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" Because if it's not funny once, it's even less funny twice. Then Henry tries to shoot himself after hearing the sounds of Adam and Eve having sex (hey, save some bullets for the audience, jerk) but finds that the revolver's bullets don't fire. In one of the few moments of almost humor, the gun actually fires when Henry points it at the wall in disgust.

Seriously, high school drama departments would reject these puppets.
That evening, Henry goes for a walk and peers into the bedroom of a couple who have just returned from a night at the erotic cinema. The IMDb credits the couple as Harry (Ric Lutze) and Harry's Wife (Rene Bond), but I'll just call her Rene. At any rate, they have sex while Henry watches incredibly conspicuously from the window. I guess being in a bedroom spares them the time loop effect as they go from start to finish in one sequence. As they bask in the afterglow, two things happen: One, I realize that Harry is largely hairless above the waist but his legs are so covered in dark, curly hair that he looks like a Satyr; Two, Harry asks, "Was your climax more intense than last time?"

Oh, honey, if you have to ask...

Bizarrely, that question is asked because Harry has been working on improving his talent and, apparently, size. When he decides that Rene is just telling him what he wants to hear he turns violent (!) and asks where his gun is (!) while putting his hideous boxer briefs back on. Only Rene has the gun, which naturally looks a lot like the one O'Columbus left Henry with, and Rene shoots Henry dead.

Well. That was a thing that happened.

"What have I done?" Rene weeps. "You killed him," Henry says aloud. Rene looks at Henry now and, without the slightest trace of alarm, says, "Yeah, I did. Who the Hell are you?" Henry convinces her that he is a helpful neighbor and can dispose of Harry's body. She happily shoves Harry out the window to Henry. Except we next see Henry dragging the corpse into his bedroom with Rene in tow, wearing such a flimsy negligee that even her clearly fake breasts won't stay in for more than a matter of seconds. Apparently Henry told her about Adam on the way (!) and Adam happily greets her and then eats her dead husband.

Rene reacts by pouncing on Henry (!) and pulling off his sweater to reveal an even uglier sweater benea--oh God that's not a sweater. And here we discover that Henry didn't bother to mention Eve to Rene, because after she strips naked she walks right over to Eve and while Henry is stripping down to black socks. red briefs, and a white undershirt (Gah! My eyes!), Eve promptly devours Rene. Having been deprived of his only chance at a woman who would willing bone him, Henry goes to grab the gun--but returning to his room to find that Eve has given birth to lots of baby plants (all which are already in pots!) causes him to react in joy (!) and cradle the plants lovingly.

Cut to the florist, tied up and gagged in plain view as Henry gives away the baby plants for free to anyone who will take them. And we end with footage of the city and the sound of the plants eating and eating. Cue "THE END????" card.

You know, the original film of The Little Shop of Horrors doesn't end with the implication that Audrey Junior is going to take over the world after it eats Seymour, as in the musical (and the Director's Cut of the movie version of the musical). This film does end with that implication. I really hope that was a coincidence.

Though I'm really glad the musical version didn't exist yet. Had this film tried to be a musical it surely would have been even worse.

Really, though, this one fails on every level. Nobody who came to this film for the titillation factor is going to want to sit through all the painfully unfunny comedy (though I will admit there is a funny gag about Eve wanting to eat an elephant), and the sex scenes are pretty much as unerotic as you can get. There's a saying that if you watch five minutes of pornography, you want to have sex right now; but if you watch ten minutes of it you never want to have sex again. Well, that goes double for softcore porn like this. I strongly advise not watching it with anyone you intend to have sex with afterwards because it will kill the mood almost as thoroughly as realizing that the performers in something truly obscene that you're watching are your parents.

I honestly can't even say who the audience for this could be, beyond those who are just drawn to the world of sexploitation films regardless of quality. Maybe in 1973 it was hot stuff, but you can color me skeptical even on that score.

The sad thing is that this doesn't even rank in the top ten worst films that I've ever seen. Contemplate that on the Tree of Woe. And don't you dare try to hump the tree, you "preevert"!

Thus concludes day 16 of HubrisWeen. Check out the other "P" reviews by clicking the banner above.

Ya preevert.

Monday, October 20, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 15: Oculus (2014)

One of the curious aspects of human nature is that, if there is a rational explanation and a supernatural one—we tend to prefer the supernatural one. Surely humanity is not capable of such evil: the devil must have influenced us! That man couldn’t have killed his whole family because he was a cruel sadist: he was influenced by a demon!

It’s no doubt because supernatural evil is more comforting. It allows us to believe that humanity itself is basically good, but we are vulnerable to outside sources of evil.

Much as we would like to believe that outside evil exists, when it comes time to put that into practice our faith tends to vaporize—particularly in the legal system. A man claiming on the stand that he was possessed by a demon when he murdered three children is, at best, going to be seen as attempting an insanity plea. After all, a criminal case requires evidence and supernatural evil conveniently does not leave any.

So when ten-year-old Tim Russell (Garrett Ryan) shot and killed his father, Alan (Rory Cochrane), in defense of himself and his 13-year-old sister, Kaylie (Annalise Basso), it’s no surprise that his version of the events was concluded to be a psychological defense mechanism. Tim was committed until his 21st birthday and his sister was left to the foster system.

Tim (now Brenton Thwaites) has made impressive strides in accepting the reality of what happened over the intervening eleven years. When he tells Dr. Graham (Miguel Sandoval) about his recurring dreams about the night he killed his father, he reveals that lately the dream has changed. Now, after Tim and his sister flee from their gun-wielding father, only to run afoul of a spectral woman with silvery eyes (Kate Siegel)—the figure that then corners them with the gun is no longer their father, but Tim himself.

Dr. Graham concludes that this means Tim has finally accepted his responsibility. He recommends that Tim be discharged, and so he is. However, Dr. Graham warns Tim that reuniting with is sister may be a mixed blessing. Kaylie hasn’t had the same psychological treatment for the past decade, so she has had to deal with the tragedy in a different way. Dr. Graham encourages Tim to work on repairing the bond with his sister, but to be protective of his own recovery.

Speak of the Devil, Kaylie (Karen Gillan, sadly sporting an American accent—albeit a very good one) is meeting her fiancé, Michael (James Lafferty), at the auction house they both work for. Up for auction today is a rather sinister-looking antique mirror, and Kaylie eyes it with apprehension. When it’s sold, she seems to relax and then says goodbye to her fiancé so she can go pick up Tim.

It isn’t long after the two get caught up over dinner that Kaylie reveals she’s not just eager to have her brother back. See, she’s finally found it, and she reminds Tim of the promise they made in the wake of their parents’ deaths to kill it when they were older.

Oh yes, Alan Russell was not a single father when his son killed him in self-defense, or at least not up until right before his death. The movie actually begins to tell two different stories at this point, interwoven.—the present and the events leading up to the deaths of their parents.

In 2002, Alan and Marie (Katee Sackhoff), moved into a new home with their two children. Evidently, this was part of a push for a new business Alan was to be running out of this new home. Precisely what this business was is never fully elaborated on, but Alan felt it justified sprucing up his home office—by hanging a familiar antique mirror on the wall.

The mirror is what Kaylie is so excited to kill, naturally. She made sure that the auction house purchased the mirror for sale and—under pretense of having the crack in the mirror’s glass repaired—she has smuggled it into their old house. Tim doesn’t know this when he agrees to meet her there, and thus finds that she has set up a full paranormal battleground in their father’s old office. She has banks of cameras hooked to computers, thermostats, alarm clocks to ensure that Tim and Kaylie eat and hydrate regularly, dozens of houseplants, a Boston terrier in a kennel to serve as a guinea pig, and—most importantly—a “kill switch.” Said kill switch is a boat anchor suspended from the ceiling, weighed down by barbells, and triggered by a kitchen timer. No electricity is involved, Kaylie emphasizes: the mirror is placed in the path of this makeshift pendulum. If it wants to survive, it has to keep them alive to reset the timer.

"On a very special episode of Antiques Roadshow, we determine if your family heirloom is housing a malevolent entity."
Kaylie begins by addressing the cameras to give backstory on the dreaded mirror. No one knows where it came from originally, but everywhere it has gone, calamity has followed. People have died of dehydration in their bathtubs, murdered their children, or committed suicide. Everywhere it has hung, plants have died and pets have gone missing. And, in 2002, the Russells were the last family to own it—months before Alan Russell tortured and killed Marie Russell before being shot by his son in self-defense.

This is where Tim explodes. He was, effectively, heckling Kaylie throughout her presentation to the cameras by pointing out that none of this was conclusive evidence of an evil mirror—but bringing it back home and threatening his own recovery is too much. While Kaylie may still cling to the idea of an evil mirror influencing their father’s behavior, Tim has long since come to terms with the fact that their parents had a bad marriage and as a result their father was having an affair and, at some point, he turned violent and sadistic.

The two siblings argue loudly and violently. Kaylie remembers their dog mysteriously disappearing after being locked in the office with the mirror, but Tim counters that the dog fell ill and was taken to be put down. The spectral woman Kaylie saw whispering to their father in his office was just his mistress, and all their plants died because of water problems. After Kaylie essentially attempts to feed the Boston terrier to the mirror, Tim has had enough and lets the dog go. Kaylie tries to stop him, but is too late and the dog has already fled far off down the street.

This takes the two out of the room for only a few minutes, but when they return all the cameras have been moved face-to-face and all the plants are dead. When Kaylie pulls up the footage from a third camera, the two watch themselves move the cameras around while obliviously carrying on with their argument. This is too much for Tim and he rushes outside and dials Dr. Graham, desperately seeking help interpreting this event...

...only for Kaylie to suddenly shake him out of a stupor, sitting on the floor outside the old office. Tim never left the house, he just thought he did. The mirror wanted him to think that. Kaylie is triumphant, since it's pretty clear that there is no rational explanation for what just happened. The mirror is evil and it shall be destroyed.

Except how do you destroy something that can make you completely unable to trust any of your senses?

Mirrors are, without question, one of those completely innocuous parts of life that are also somehow intensely creepy. We've all had some moment where we expected the face in the mirror to move of its own accord, right? Well, what would you do if it did?

Oculus taps into that irrational fear quite nicely and, what's more, it's actually a very intelligent film. That's especially surprising given you don't expect an intelligent horror film to have the "WWE Studios" logo before it!
Sorry, nobody tries to suplex the mirror.
Yet that's what we get. It sets up its rules and it plays fair by them--though the brilliance of its rules is that they amount to, "This mirror is evil and can make you believe anything it wants you to, and it can make you do anything it wants you to." With such broad rules in place, it's hard to mess up and suddenly have the mirror do something it explicitly was said that it cannot.

The film's intelligence also lies in the fact that, for a good third of its running time, it is a two-person play where Kaylie and Tim argue back and forth about what exactly happened to their family--even using conflicting versions of the same flashback to illustrate their points. Both are convincing in their own way, though naturally it is Kaylie's version of events that wins out.

Personally, I feel that is the film's greatest weakness. We all know that the mirror must be actually evil, of course, but it would have been nice to maintain some doubt for a bit longer. I really enjoyed the interplay between the supernatural and the rational.

So how does Oculus compare to the average modern horror flick? Like its brethren it does tend to rely overmuch on loud noises and jump scares, but they never feel cheap. Far better is that it relies on fostering doubt in its audience about what is really happening.

When Kaylie set down that light bulb and that apple, which one did she really bite into? When they're outside, looking in at themselves standing between the mirror and the anchor, are they really? Is the person Kaylie killed, thinking they were a projection of the mirror, actually there? Some of these questions are answered, some aren't--and others maybe we only thought were answered. How could we ever know for sure?

For my own part, I enjoyed the film. That its focus was mainly on two people in one room, with flashbacks to illustrate the story of their first encounter with the mirror whilst they confront it again, really helps to build interest in the characters instead of making them just expendable meat. And everyone in the film puts in great performances, including the child actors in the flashbacks.

Is Oculus an instant horror classic? I wouldn't go that far. I don't think it's an especially memorable film, ultimately. It gets under your skin while you watch it, but it doesn't really stay with you. it's also not something I'm eager to watch again and again. However, it's a great movie for an afternoon or evening of ghost stories. I would recommend it, just maybe not as enthusiastically as some other horror movies.

I highly caution against watching it around mirrors, though. Don't give those bastards any ideas.

Hey, we've made it to day 15! Click on the banner above to see what everyone else chose.