Spontaneous Combustion (1990)

Spontaneous Combustion (1990) movie poster

director Tobe Hooper
viewed: 09/15/2018

America’s first nuclear family, as the test subjects are called, gives birth to a latent mutant son, some 35 years after their own demise by the titular occurence. Tobe Hooper’s ambitious but not ambitiously budgeted or perhaps able 1990 sci-fi/horror thriller, Spontaneous Combustion, seems kind of personal given the age of the protagonist Sam (Brad Dourif), and his own personal situation in the Nuclear Age.

It’s truly a mixed bag of a film, with so much focus on the set up, that the contemporary story dangles more loosely in time and import. The movie’s unevenness spans production quality, direction and even FX.  The FX, gleefully CGI-free vary from weak to pretty cool, and maybe that’s the whole film’s trouble.

Why is it that Dourif only stumbles on his abilities at age 35. Is the trigger his learning of his hidden parentage? Of the cabal around him to hide his origins?

While you might wish for more, it’s still a pretty interesting little picture.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

This is a good article. Follow the link for more information. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) movie poster

director Robert Wiene
viewed: 09/15/2018 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

As a kid, I’d read of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as being “the first ever horror film” and long desired to see it. It wasn’t until my first film class in junior college that I heard the term German Expressionism and came to realize that term more accurately described the numerous German silent films I had longed to see.

Robert Wiene’s 1920 film utilizes wild, literally Expressionistic set designs to stage the foremost and “quintessential” Expressionist film out there. And initially, I was pretty disappointed that other classics of Expressionism didn’t use as much crazy set-design and make-up as Wiene and company employ here. Much like the poster, it’s as if Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” came to life, in the film the lurid color translated to black and white, chiaroscuro, shapes and forms.

This viewing of Caligari was a special show at the Castro Theatre, accompanied by the Club Foot Orchestra, part of a day-long performance of their “greatest hits” alongside other classics of silent cinema. This was the only showing my son and I hit.

Species II (1998)

Species II (1998) movie poster

director Peter Medak
viewed: 09/14/2018

Species II tries to make things interesting by flipping the gender of the “specie” humanoid sex alien in question. This also flips a significant element of the original: keeping Natasha Henstridge locked up and clad throughout the bulk of the film.

That said, Species II is pretty big on sex and gore for 1998. The latter of which features a good mixture of digital and practical effects, meaning lots of the practical and a modicum of the less pleasing digital.

Peter Medak delivers what is pretty heartily a B-movie, not exactly Medak’s wheelhouse, but a reasonable journeyman effort. Though not so hot with the occasional slo-mo.

What was with all the product placement and branding (Sprint, Pepsi) on the rocket at the beginning?

Groove (2000)

Groove (2000) movie poster

director Greg Harrison
viewed: 09/13/2018

I was not feeling Groove. It was not in my heart.

From 2000, Groove attempts the capture rave culture in the San Francisco of its day. But really, it tries to tell a handful of stories about people who go to the rave and how it shapes their experience.

I have lived in SF since 1990, so I had hoped to catch glimpses of the city, perhaps see an aspect of place and time. It starts with the technology of the day: iMacs, PDAs w/styli, that awful modem noise…but it abandons anything that feels truly interesting pretty quickly.

It’s not exactly immersive, though everyone is on drugs (or rather, acting like they’re on drugs). The only authentic vibe is the DJs and the music itself.

Hadn’t this all moved out to Burning Man by 2000?

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) movie poster

director Alfred Sole
viewed: 09/12/2018

Alice, Sweet Alice is a vivid, well-shot and well-edited giallo-tinged proto-slasher shot on location in Paterson, NJ. Set for some reason in 1961, the Catholic Church looms large over the lives of a divorced mother and her two daughters, 12 year old Alice (Paula E. Sheppard) and 9 year old Karen (Brooke Shields).

With long brown hair, the girls could almost be twins, but Karen is the pretty goody-goody and Alice, well, she’s got a lot of anger issues. Brooke Shields was a child, but Sheppard, an intense young lady who could pass as a child was 19. The children are all too real, fighting and taunting and cruel and whiny.

Alice shows signs of psychological disturbance even before the killing starts. The film is loaded with insinuated child abuse and its psychological fallout, played out against the backdrop of Catholicism and a very dreary New Jersey.

“This kid is nuts!”

In the end, it’s maybe more brilliant, emotional and lurid, than logical. But Alice, Sweet Alice feels psychologically real and manages shocks along the way.

Three final points:
1. This would make a total double feature with Paterson (2016).
2. You’ve got to read the bio of Alphonso DeNoble, the obese and sleazy landlord. Such a strange and tragic life! 
3. If anything, the one movie that this really reckoned of for me was The Bad Seed, in a variety of ways.

Cards of Death (1986)

Cards of Death (1986)

director Will MacMillan
viewed: 09/10/2018

How many more “lost” films, so obscure that hardly anybody knew that they were even lost, will come out from the crevices? Cards of Death spent its brief moment in the sun on video in Japan before being re-released and given new life in 2014.

Cards of Death is a moderately high concept shot-on-video 80s horror flick that features levels of sophistication in many areas: story, aesthetics, acting, editing, FX.  That this Los Angeles production never got a U.S. release for 28 years is kind of astounding.

An underground club (of sorts) deals (ha!) in death and violence and weirdness, doled out through Tarot poker(?) eventually attracts the attention of detectives. Its heightened oddity started to remind me of a Herschel Gordon Lewis movie.

How exactly do you measure something like this? “SOV masterpiece” was in my notes.

Creature of Destruction (1967)

Creature of Destruction (1967) movie poster

director Larry Buchanan
viewed: 09/09/2018

Creature of Destruction, another Larry Buchanan B-TV-movie re-make of an AIP B-picture original  (1956’s The She Creature, in this case), pervades low rent atmosphere. Now, I’m no expert, but and it might not be saying much, but this might be the best Larry Buchanan feature out there.

I’d call it exactly half-decent, if you’re wondering what I mean. Les Tremayne is pretty good as Dr. John Basso, the hypnosis showman who puts his captive/psychic slave Doreena (Pat Delaney) into a state that evokes a primitive fish/reptile creature who starts a-killin’.

It’s not just a gill-man picture in this way but taps into the weird devolution sci-fi sub-genre in which past lives and pre-history is inherent in humans and can be triggered into primordial monsterhood.

Also notable is the Scotty McKay Quintet performing a few numbers. McKay was an obscure rockabilly figure who apparently briefly was in the Blue Caps before going solo and also apparently dying very young. Here, Scotty McKay even gets murdalized by the Creature of Destruction. Ironically achieving vague eternal life through obscure trash cinema.

D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage (1981)

D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage (1981) movie poster

director Lech Kowalski
viewed: 09/08/2018

“Where Were You In ’77?” was the musical question and title of a 1985 Sex Pistols (bootleg) live record. And I’ll quote my old friend Var in his response to someone verbally asking that question mid-Eighties: “Right behind you in live for Star Wars!”

This is one of the powers of documentary. You weren’t there (most likely), but someone with a movie camera was.  In this case, the someone with a camera was Lech Kowalski and the result is D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage.

As selective as the sequences and the mishmash of the editing, for all eternity now we have a glimpse into the heyday of U.K. punk and the disastrous U.S. tour of the Sex Pistols in 1978.

It’s not just the bands. There are fascinating sights and sounds of the audience members, in particular the Atlanta, Georgia crowd making what they can and will of imported punk rock. This even includes an anti-smut crusader.

There’s also a solid gold performance by Poly Styrene and X-ray Spex. The Dead Boys, Generation X, and Sham 69.

Cinema is our one transport to such scenes.

Spookies (1986)

Spookies (1986) movie poster

directors  Genie Joseph, Brendan Faulkner, Thomas Doran
viewed: 09/08/2018

In this haunted house, anything goes. And goes and goes and goes

Spookies is a  movie with 3 directors and 30 times the ideas as well as a pretty eclectic approach to horror. It also features oodles of ambitious if not top notch designs and effects.

Lacking rhyme or reason never suited a movie better. You honestly don’t know what may come next.

And there is good reason behind this film’s jambalaya essence and being, as well explained in this oral history of the film’s construction, a cautionary tale of movie-making at The Dissolve. You don’t need to read it to appreciate the film, but this film’s particular existence will certainly make more sense to you if you do.

Liquid Sky (1982)

Liquid Sky (1982) movie poster

director  Slava Tsukerman
viewed: 09/07/2018

I hadn’t seen Liquid Sky in over 30 years. I caught it more than once as a midnight movie in the early-to-mid Eighties. And the vinyl soundtrack passed from friend to friend through high school.

Aesthetically, it’s like Blade Runner on good drugs and a low budget.

Heroin, orgasms, euphoria as energy, art, pretension, performance, aliens, NYC, sexuality, plurality, and the colors…oh, the colors. Opiate molecules,  receptors in the brain. Hallucinatory.

New York City, but from above.

“This fucking city is really something.”

And Anne Carlisle. Writer-director-composer Slava Tsukerman’s brilliant casting of Carlisle playing both Jimmy and Margaret (though also sort of confusing) is a total stand-out. And that soundtrack, dissonant bleeps and bloops and her rhythm box.

Idiosyncratic genius.