Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Disturbing Behavior (1998) movie poster

director David Nutter
viewed: 10/18/2017

Disturbing Behavior is one of a few Nineties’ big studio teen horror films that were almost great. Studio’s wanted semi-edgy stuff, but couldn’t produce something as original, pulpy, surprising or fun as Indie horror productions of the prior decades were.

It’s possible this film could have been better. Apparently director David Nutter (who had worked on The X-Files) had the film chopped down to its 83 minutes and a certain amount of its potential removed.

It’s horror/sci-fi as social critique. Small town kids are turning into perfect preppy angels with robotic speed and mannerisms and apparently it’s the adults who are implanting devices in their brains to “fix” them. They also indoctrinate them with something akin to Fox News as was done to Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

The cast is quite solid, with James Marsden, Katie Holmes, William Saddler, Steve Railsback, and stand-out Nick Stahl. It’s all pretty primal Nineties, from the styles to the soundtrack.

Disturbing Behavior is a quick-paced and amusingly satirical but not as clever or biting as it would like to have been. But still quite enjoyable.

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 10/16/2017

The Shiver of the Vampires is perhaps the most completely realized vision of Jean Rollin. In my opinion, that is.

Of his early films, Le viol du vampire (1968), La vampire nue (1970),  Requiem pour un vampire (1971) (all vampires, all the time), it’s as lush a production as he ever seemed to land, and also features another gorgeous Art Deco throwback movie poster, even nicer than La vampire nue.

On the surface, what’s really new? Naked vampires with sapphic leanings, elegant ruins inhabited, death and deathlessness, longing and desire. But at the same time it does differ. The soundtrack by Groupe Acanthus is certainly a-typical and kind of groovy. But that’s not it.

Rollin employs Bava-esque colored lighting , evoking a cheap but effective surrealism. The appearances of Isolde (Dominique), the vampire queen, first from a clock, then exploding from wall hangings, and (less effectively) dropping into a fireplace call to mind Jean Cocteau and the gorgeous simple effects in La Belle et la Bête (1946).

The story is the subversion of the heterosexual , or traditional married relationship. A freshly married man and wife arrive at the wife’s cousin’s castle only to find them dead. Well, dead and undead. Two mysterious nubile servants quietly run the show. But the wife is seduced away from her virginity as well as her husband’s grasp.

Rollin’s depictions of lesbian relationships is less purely exploitative and scopophilic. The women of his films escape their patriarchal worlds and find freedom and beauty in love between themselves. He’s nowhere as clear in his attitude toward male homosexuality, but maybe he’s frowns on all masculinity.

Ultimately, the heroes of the story are “the Renfields”, the unnamed lesbian servants, who overthrow not only the patriarchy at the end but overthrow the entire bourgeoisie.

I’ve watched Rollin’s vampire quartet over a four year span, in no particular order, so I would like to re-watch as a group sometime to better have a collective impression of the ideas and attitudes.

I do think this the best of the four, though I like them all.

 

The Man with Two Heads (1972)

The Man with Two Heads (1972) movie poster

director Andy Milligan
viewed: 10/15/2017

I always think of Mario Bava as the director/cinematographer/set designer who seems to do the most with the least. In that vein, Andy Milligan is perhaps the director who manages to do the least with the least.

That said, The Man with Two Heads is possibly the most competent of his films I’ve seen. The title is a marketing deke, disguising the fact that this is actually a pretty straight-up Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie made on the cheap.

It seems that Milligan aspires to Hammer-style horror in some of his period horror films. Made with fuck-all care at having no budget and using whatever locations he can to portray Victorian wherever.

Many have noted that the opening part of the film is fairly dull, if by the numbers, and not outrageously bad. Part of Milligan’s coup is having Denis DeMarne star as Jekyll/Hyde(Blood). Under camp make-up and pasted-on eyebrows, he gives a lurid portrayal of the venal villain, whose ruthless hatred unleashes radiant sadism. DeMarne may be no Fredric March, but he’s very good, very much in the vein of Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 classic.

And Milligan may be no Mamoulian, but as the film veers into the madness of Mr. Blood, his swirly camera swoops into an S&M phantasmagoria twisty and bizarre and for my money actually very effective.

Milligan continues to fascinate me. While many voice disappointment in The Man with Two Heads, in part because of its dull competence, it’s interestingly also a much less ironically enjoyable feat of cinema from one of the form’s most strange outsider artists.

Microwave Massacre (1983)

Microwave Massacre (1983) movie poster

director Wayne Berwick
viewed: 10/14/2017

Maybe this is not the best time to watch this sexploitation-cum-gore-comedy, Microwave Massacre. Today is awash in #metoo and the sickening details of Harvey Weinstein’s years of exploitation. For Exploitation film to be fun, it needs a bit more separation from reality…and time, perhaps.

Certainly there are far more salacious and extreme depictions of misogyny, but it’s there, fully baked-in if only nuked on high for 45 seconds. 

Jackie Vernon stars, truly a comic of his time, most certainly akin to Rodney Dangerfield or Jackie Mason, though deadpanning with New York Italian patter (and a voice many people only hear as Frosty the Snowman).

The whole shtick (and shtick it is) is about a poor slob whose wife has gone on into culinary experimentation with her massive new microwave, leaving Mr. Vernon starving for the simple pleasures in eating, comfort foods, etc. This poor guy is pushed to murdering his wife and eventually cannibalism.

It’s not all bad, not all good, but catching it right at this point made it a lot more cringe-inducing and challenging for ironic pleasures.

Great White (1981)

Great White (1981) movie poster

director Enzo G. Castellari
viewed: 10/09/2017

I was in middle school when Great White (a.k.a. The Last Shark) hit the Floridian movie screens. Me and my one friend at the time were possibly the only tweens totally stoked to see it. I remember the inflatable sharks they had, emblazoned with Great White.

That said, it’s not my recollection that I actually wound up seeing it.

This meta-dialogue probably tells you a lot about Enzo G. Castellari’s approach to film-making:

“Damn you can hardly make the shark out.”
“Use a little stock. No one will know the difference.”

Yes to what everyone has pointed out about this film, Vic Morrow’s “Quint” and his fractured accent. Yes, it’s more than derivative of Jaws. But, compared to Tentacles (1978), another Italian Jaws knock-off, it’s actually pretty entertaining. And I kind of like the big cresting shark head.

It was also fun flashing back on some of that vintage swimgear: Ocean Pacific, SunDek, Hobie. God, those were lame times.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) movie poster

director Denis Villeneuve
viewed: 10/09/2017 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

The film nerd world is seeing its deepest desires brought to light. A new Star Wars trilogy? Ridley Scott returning to Alien? A new Blade Runner movie?

As we have come to learn, you need to be careful what you wish for.

Unlike the others, commercial success has not overwhelmed Blade Runner 2049 yet. So we may not be awash in the franchise-ization of the beloved 1982 film. Which may well turn out to be a good thing.

First and foremost, it’s overlong, by a long shot. Its 163 minutes move slowly, steadily, intentionally. But in the end, it drags, perhaps where it most certainly shouldn’t.

Yes, it’s gorgeous. Villeneuve and Roger Deakins along with some very pretty production design absolutely craft a film worth looking at.

But what’s with all the giant naked ladies in advertising and ruined statuary? Issues of the film’s representations of women aside, I’ve cultivated a theory. When watching Alien Covenant earlier this year I began to wonder if Ridley Scott’s Alien movies and his Blade Runner movies were meant to exist in the same universe and timeline. And whether or not that is true, the statuary of Prometheus (2012) featured giant sized men. Is this somehow a feminine counterpart? Sure, this is Villeneuve’s film, but Scott is still executive producer.

I watched this with my son, who managed to sleep through the original when I showed it to him. So, he was a little confused about the story, but he wound up really liking the movie.

Still several days out I’ve not really come to a full conclusion. It’s a gorgeous spectacle, though a slow-moving performance. Still contemplating its meanings and ideas.

RoboCop 3 (1993)

RoboCop 3 (1993) movie poster

director Fred Dekker
viewed: 10/08/2017

Robocop 3 resulted in a major downgrade, not just losing Peter Weller, but toting an almost direct to video vibe. A lot of the blame has been thrown on director Fred Dekker (even by Dekker himself), but that isn’t totally fair. Dekker has his cool bona fides (House (1986), Night of the Creeps (1986), The Monster Squad (1987)) and he should keep them.

It’s a garbage pile, filled with cheap CGI (or as we called it in the Nineties: CGI). It’s not bereft of moments and elements. It swerves between (in a single scene even) from some pretty cool bits to some absurdly hilarious badness.

In this version of post-crime-ridden Detroit, it’s not just drugs and drug lords but punks. Apparently punks were very dangerous on 1993, who knew?

This film would burn writer Frank Miller on film for almost a decade. He’d return with his appreciation for fascism no longer embedded in satire and irony but embedded in right-wing politics and racism, homophobia, and sexism.

RoboCop 2 (1990)

RoboCop 2 (1990) movie poster

director Irvin Kershner
viewed: 10/07/2017

I saw Robocop 2 at a drive-in in 1990. At the time, I was kind of keened in to the role that Frank Miller had in the film, jumping from comics to screenplays.

I wasn’t aware that it was Irvin Kershner who directed it, the one man to deliver both a Star Wars film and a James Bond film, at the time. And it’s given the heft of a bigger budget project.

The film tries to be true to the Verhouven original, certainly tries to place its feet in its footprints. It’s not really surprising that it doesn’t fully achieve that, but I’d say that it still stays pretty interesting.

In 1990, I remember appreciating that continued pop culture satire. Was the original Robocop (1987) the first use of actual television personalities (Leeza Gibbons) flavoring the satire?

The highlight, I would say is Gabriel Damon as Hob (the kid), the nasty slicked-hair pre-pubescent miscreant. It’s the kind of perversity that this type of movie really needs. There are other elements about kids gone wild here, including a scene in an arcade where all the kids get pissed when told to go home and then the scene with the little league street gang. Not sure where to take all this

The thrust of the film is a take on the war on drugs, mixed in with some anti-privatization and some fascist iconography towards the end.

All in al it’s still very comic book-y. I quite enjoyed the pre-digital design and stop-motion robots, some wonderful shitty matte paintings. And Peter Weller and Nancy Allen.

Yeah, it’s not the first, but it’s pretty decent.

Splatter University (1984)

Splatter University (1984) movie poster

director Richard W. Haines
viewed: 10/06/2017

“St Trinian’s college
The next semester
Yesterday …”

When the text on the screen reads like a non-sequitur.

Early parts of Splatter University felt like Rock ‘n’ Roll High School minus the Ramones and everything else. But it plays out as sort of a slasher, sort of a mystery. One thing is for certain, the director had a thing for redheads.

Some people think it a very bad, terribly inept slasher. Others adore it. All I can tell you is that they are both right.

Alien Zone (1978)

Alien Zone (1978) movie poster

director Sharron Miller
viewed: 10/05/2017

Alien Zone (a.k.a. House of the Dead) might just be the best ever Oklahoma-filmed anthology horror film made in 1978.

Okay, it’s not terrific, but it’s also not at all badly filmed. The early going is a bit dark and murky and maybe it could use a restoration.

Whatever its shortcomings it is well-shot, sophisticated, written and produced. It’s not surprising that director Sharron Miller would go on to a pioneering career in Hollywood (mostly in television).  She clearly had pro-level chops. It would be interesting to read about the women that broke in Hollywood and the Director’s Guild glass ceilings.

And, yes, the first segment with the masked children is the stand-out.