The Descent Part 2 (2009)

The Descent Part 2 (2009) movie poster

director Jon Harris
viewed: 05/16/2015

You know something extremely rare happened here for me.  having just re-watched The Descent (2005), H watched The Descent Part 2 (2009) with Clara at her behest.  The weird thing?  I had totally and utterly forgotten that I had seen the sequel before.  I not only had forgotten it before we started watching it, but nowhere through the film did I suddenly get jarred to recall that I’d watched it before.

For a movie I only watched five years ago, I’d say that that is something.

In writing about it before, I sort of hit the nail on the head.  It picks up right after the first one, lacks the surprise element that the original developed so well, and while it was not directed by Neil Marshall, the original film’s director, it’s actually reasonably decent for a sequel of lesser quality.

Clara agreed.

Now, I wonder if I’ll remember having watched it again.

The Descent (2005)

The Descent (2005) movie poster

director Neil Marshall
viewed: 05/16/2015

The Descent (2005) was one of the more noteworthy modern horror films that I recall having seen in the past decade.  Frankly, it doesn’t come up a lot in life.  Director Neil Marshall went from promising director to one lacking great consistency.  I think he’s currently working on episodes of Game of Thrones, which actually seems like a good fit for him.

Anyways, I asked Clara if she was interested in watching a horror film and she said yes, so I suggested this one, which I recalled to be good.

It’s the story of an all-female sextet of cave divers for whom the exploration of an unknown cave system in the Appalachian Mountains goes awry.  And then gets invaded by some creepy crawlers.

One of the most interesting things about the film is that the creatures don’t show up until the final third of the movie, making their initial appearance that much more surprising and shocking.  Frankly, Clara was getting a bit scared.  She started asking if we could “not finish the film”, though I coaxed her through it.  By the end of the film, she was wanting to watch the sequel.

I still think that this is one of the better horror films of the century so far.  It’s not perfect but it’s original, and it’s crafted with a real build up to the eventual weird horror and mystery.  It does have some feminist quality to it as well, starring six strong women against a horde of evil, blind bat-men.

To each his own.

The Tin Drum (1979)

The Tin Drum (1979) movie poster

director Volker Schlöndorff
viewed: 05/08/2015

I’m going through my biggest lag in time and backlog of films to write about for some years of late.  I’ve been somewhat uninspired on the writing front, no reflection on the movies I’ve been watching, more my own state of being.

Case in point here, Volker Schlöndorff’s 1979 adaptation of Günter Grass’s novel of The Tin Drum.  I first saw this movie on cable in the 1980’s.  I think it was one of my first foreign films that I’d seen, or at least one of the first foreign films that I’d seen that really had a significant impact on me.  NAot sure, but I can imagine having heard of it through Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel’s At the Movies show.  Either way, it really struck me.

The strangeness of the film, the story of Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent), a boy who at the age of three decides to stop growing and stay small forever, all in  the rising shadow of Nazi Germany.  Highly metaphorical and to a large extent stylized with aspects of magical realism, the film is full of vivid and weird images and striking and powerful ideas.

I went on in life to read Grass’s novel, which is also brilliant, in fact featuring much more than is even entailed in this nearly three hour film.  I’ve highly recommended it over the years and still do.  Grass, of course, much later in life owned up to being a member of the Waffen SS, his greatest crime being in hiding that fact for so long and taking his particular moral stance.  I don’t think that it shortchanges the novel or the film, but adds layers on the outside of the whole of the context.

I watched The Tin Drum with my kids, with whom I had discussed the film for a few years, especially in contexts of other films that dealt with similar time periods and subject matters.  Oddly enough, they were somewhat ambivalent about the film.  It is indeed very long and strange and harsh in ways, but I kind of assumed they would enjoy it more.  Maybe they are too young for it.

David Bennent, 11 years old at the time of the film, is a strange and amazing figure, with his intense eyes and mien.  Really, he is the film’s utter coup in casting.

A pretty great film, I would say.

Horror Express (1972)

Horror Express (1972) movie poster

director Eugenio Martín
viewed: 02/02/2015

I’d started to watch Horror Express a couple of times (as it’s available on HuluPlus) but the version is not letterboxed and actually looks like it was stored in an elementary school AV room for the past 40 years.  It’s blotchy, blurry, and looks like hell.

From what I’ve read, though, there is a reason for this.  The film is in the public domain and even the main copy of the film that made it to the States in the 1970’s was like some bad dupe print to begin with.  I can’t find the article in which I read that, but it led me to believe that I might have to truly struggle to find a better copy of it.

It’s a shame because it’s a quite compelling low-budget horror film, made in Spain starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Telly Savalas, and if that weren’t enough for you, it’s actually an adaptation of “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, the basis of The Thing from Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s great re-make of that film, The Thing (1982).

But what’s interesting is the shift in the story.  Set in 1906, the film takes place on a Trans-Siberian Express train on which Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) has placed this huge crate with a frozen specimen of a man-ape found in a glacier.  Evil things happen when people look into the box.  Their brains smooth out and their eyes white over, their whole entire being erased, sucked up into this strange corpse creature.  And when it gets loose, it manages to move into other people, morphing and absorbing knowledge.

There is another cool part when Cushing and Lee take samples of the creature’s eye and are able to see images burned into the retina of the last thing it saw when it died and then glimpses of Earth from outer space, images of this alien being before it crashed to Earth and was left behind, inhabiting the brain of whatever creature it can take hold in.

The picture (literally) is a muddle and munge.  I don’t know what an excellent print of this film would look like, but the badness of this image saturates the film with cheapness and cheesiness, which belies the strangely interesting charms of the story.  It really is pretty cool, this movie.  It’s also kind of terrible and looks awful.

It’s a cult film for good reason.  I ended up kind of liking it, myself.  Great poster, too.

Hobgoblins (1988)

Hobgoblins (1988) movie poster

director Rick Sloane
viewed: 10/31/2014

Rick Sloane’s 1988 creature feature comedy Hobgoblins has made some lists of “Worst Movies of All Time”.  And yeah, sure it’s bad.  It’s also partially comedic, so differentiating between intentional comedy and unintentional comedy in the movie about mischievous alien critters running amok is a little harder to utterly discern.

That’s not to say that the comedy itself isn’t also bad or anything.  It’s just a finer line to hew to in understanding the jokes in which you laugh “at them” rather than “with them”.  Because if you are laughing “with them”, is that not in some sense a sign of film-maker’s success rather than failure?

Maybe Hobgoblins was hedging its bets in its production.  It’s a pretty hard to fathom scenario.  For thirty years on a more or less abandoned movie studio lot, four alien beings have been locked in a vault.  The security guard on duty all this time has kept them under wraps, but why he hasn’t actually killed them?  Are they benign or malevolent?  It seems the latter.

When the creatures aren’t attacking a person straight on, they are manipulating the person’s hidden desires, creating a false reality where their dreams are fulfilled, usually in a setting that will lead to their death.  So, yes, it’s fair to say these Gremlins (1984) knock-offs are never 100% cute and good but rather 100% pretty bad.

The newest security guard is tasked with chasing the critters down when they escape (oddly enough in all of greater Los Angeles, they head for his house where his terrible and unlikable friends are hanging out.  The nuttiness that ensues is weird, poorly conceived nonsense.  And the hobgoblin puppets probably did set puppetry back several decades.

It’s bad.  Yes.  Sure it’s bad.  But is it actually worse than Night Train to Terror (1985)?  It is not.  And for the moment at least, I think I’ve found my barometer of bad.  Because if you’re going to do some MST3K or Rifftrax thing, Hobgoblins might be more juicy for you with lots of little things to joke and yammer about.  But it’s actually, for as bad as it is, successfully comedic in some parts.  It underscores my belief that the best bad movies are the ones made with true desire for quality, sincerity in mien whether horror or comedy, really trying to do something worthwhile and failing freakishly, miserably.

If you are hedging your bets, getting some laughs at your own potential expense, on purpose, your movie isn’t as much of an out and out failure.  It doesn’t make it better, per se, but at the same time, I would argue that the worst crime a film can have is to be boring.  Entertainment values have different measuring poles.

And for my money, Hobgoblins is bad, but I would suggest that the filmmakers knew it while they were making it and had some fun with it.  And as bad as it is, it’s not as bad as others.  Doesn’t make my list.

 

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Eyes Without a Face (1960) movie poster

director Georges Franju
viewed: 10/20/2014

Georges Franju’s great Eyes Without a Face.  What can I say?  It’s great.

The story of a mad doctor murdering young women to steal the skin from their faces to replace his own daughter’s damaged visage.  It inspired any number of other films from Jess Franco to John Carpenter to most recently perhaps,Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (2011).  It’s still an amazing artifact all on its own.

I first heard of it from Billy Idol’s song “Eyes Without a Face”.   It took me years to finally see it.  And jeez, that was a long time ago now too.

I don’t have much to add at the moment.  Great movie.

Pieces (1982)

 

Pieces (1982) movie poster

director Juan Piquer Simón
viewed: 10/11/2014

One of the more laughably bad slashers, I would say.

It opens with a pretty amusing prologue about a boy putting together a jigsaw puzzle of a naked woman when his mom discovers him and admonishes him.  He doesn’t take this well and gets an axe and hacks her up.  This little boy would grow up to be….a killer, but also one of the mystery members on campus whose predilection for chainsaws as murder device somehow connects him back to this whole jigsaw puzzle thing.

Really, it’s pretty funny.  There are some super weird non sequitur moments that suggest that this could be a truly great bad movie.

Released by Grindhouse Releasing, it was available on HuluPlus streaming.  Not sure why they go for the fullscreen (same was the case of their DVD for I Drink Your Blood (1970) but I disagree with the presentation.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987) movie poster

director Donald G. Jackson, R. J. Kizer
viewed: 09/29/2014

It’s probably safe to say that any movie starring pro-wrestling star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is a cult film.  But it’s also safe (and perhaps surprising) to realize that he made two genuinely significant cult films.

Most people know of They Live (1988), the John Carpenter horror/sci-fi satire that features Piper in a prolonged wrestling-style street fight and trippy Ray-Bans that allow one to see the creepy real skeleton faces of the invading alien force.  But how many people know of Hell Comes to Frogtown?

Believe me, I’m pretty well read up on movies, and cult films are a genre (or a spectrum of genres) of which I like to think I’m pretty well-versed.  But it wasn’t all that long ago that I read the title Hell Comes to Frogtown and thought “What?!!”

Post-nuclear apocalypse films were a definite thing up through the 1980’s and a lot of pretty great cult movies of the period feature some post-apocalyptic science fiction scenario.  But the premise of Hell Comes to Frogtown is one of the more random ideas that ever served the genre.  After the nuclear war has decimated humankind, leaving most people infertile, the only other emergent race on the planet are these evolved frog people.  They have grotesque frog faces, but otherwise humanoid bodies.  And maybe three penises.

Piper plays Sam Hell, who at the beginning of the film is being held for sexual assault.  The first big plot twist is that when they find that the sexual assault resulted in the pregnancy of the girl, he is exonerated and consigned by the military for his prodigious potency to be used to impregnate all fertile women (humanity’s last best chance for survival.)  He’s given an electrified chastity belt codpiece to gird his now “government property” loins and led off into the field to find some babes.

Only the babes have been kidnapped by some of the frogs and so Piper and team have to infiltrate Frogtown (Hell has to Go to Frogtown) to try to get those nubile gals back.

So, there is this quite distasteful theme running through the film about sex and assault and ownership of ones sexuality.  It’s hard not to gape at that stuff.  The film’s overall tone is action/comedy/boobs, and Piper really plays along quite well throughout.

I don’t know what else to tell you about it.  I’ve been meaning to revisit They Live for some time, having seen it in the theater back in the day and not realizing how much of the comedy was intentional…I don’t know.  I know it bears re-watching.  Clearly, it would be a prime double feature here with Frogtown.  Which, by the way, spawned a sequel in 1993 that none of the original cast, albeit a very cheap cast to begin with, returned for.  That is a curious thing in itself.

Okay, one post-script here: The film was director by Donald G. Jackson, who is credited as “the Ed Wood of the video era,” known for his “Zen Filmmaking” style which includes shooting without a script.  I say this because it bears more investigation.

Rewind This! (2013)

Rewind This! (2013) movie poster

director Josh Johnson
viewed: 09/26/2014

Technology, the constant, incessant march of technology.  That is an ever-growing reality of modern life.  If you think of how profoundly technology evolved in the 20th century alone, the jump to the automobile, the airplane, the atom, DNA, there are almost too many major discoveries and inventions that completely and utterly changed the world in such vast turns that no single other century in recorded history could compare.  Of course, what I’m saying has been said, so I won’t belabor the point.

But we are also a generation of obsolescent technology.  The things that come and the things that go.  Honestly, in some ways, I think nothing ever truly goes away.

The subject of Rewind This! is VHS, the explosion of that technology, the impact it had on culture and movies, and its strange place in the hearts of some seriously hardcore collectors and archivists today.  And certainly there is a story here for certain.

VHS changed media distribution in huge ways.  It wasn’t necessarily the invention of home media for film, but it democratized it and delivered it to virtually every home in most modern countries.  It changed the way people watched film, not only in the privacy of their own homes but the accessibility of content changed the landscape forever.  And the markets it created gave birth to a strange array of opportunism in the movie industry (as well as other video only industries).

What is actually the most relevant and interesting to me is how this speaks to the contemporary present, now several major evolutionary steps beyond VHS.  In many ways, the VHS revolution presaged the era of content on demand, of distribution channels, the idea of “owning” content, and the eventual scrum by corporations to vie in this arena ever onward.  It was a time that didn’t foresee our present, though our present is very informed by this past.

The thing is, the film is focused on people who FREAKING LOVE VHS.  Like its analog charm, compared to vinyl LPs was some great masterstep of technology.  Many of the interviewees and talking heads are collector nerds of the highest order, who have a profound passion for the form.

But I have to agree with the one guy in the film who basically says that VHS was very important but it was basically a really crappy format.  It won out over the competing BETA format which was considered superior, simply because you could record on it for much longer, a quantity over quality thing, which goes against most media arguments, I would think.

Some argue further that some content “only exists on VHS” and so it needs to be preserved.  I don’t know how true this argument is.  It seems weird and sort of unlikely.  Even a film that was distributed “straight to video” was typically shot on film.  And even the ones that were shot on video, you’d still go to the originals if you could find them, not the dupe tapes…right?  Though I know that film preservation finds many of its jewels on cheaper 16mm or worse copies of films.  So who knows?

It’s an interesting world and an interesting time and for those reasons too, an interesting film.  I think anyone interested in film, particularly over the past 40 years would find something here to glom onto.

It made me think that it would be a good pairing with the comedy Be Kind Rewind (2008), which I have never seen, but know inspired the whole “Swede” film thing, which is pretty amusing.  That is a true video double feature.

Night Caller from Outer Space (1965)

Night Caller from Outer Space (1965) movie poster

director John Gilling
viewed: 09/21/2014

I just did something that I had literally never done before: watched a movie streaming on my computer.  Radical, huh?

I’m the first to admit that I’m a snob or elitist about how I like to watch movies.  First best scenario would be the big screen, in a cinema.  Second, settling at home with a reasonable screen, in my case an older, once top of the line old tube television.  If the film isn’t in letterbox format, without interruptions, I’ll only suffer it in a pinch.  I’ve disdained watching films on airplanes for decades now.

It so happens that Hulu Plus has a handful of films that (even with a paid account) you can only watch on a computer.  Sure, if I had a more modern television, I’m sure that I could still get the image to show up on a bigger screen, but I don’t.  So, for me, there is this small subset of movies that I want to see that I cannot see if I don’t watch them streaming on my computer.

And it took me this wild moment (quite the life I lead, eh?) that I decided to finally watch Night Caller from Outer Space, a British sci-fi thriller from 1965 on my laptop.

It’s another solid genre film from a country less associated with the genre than perhaps they should be.  British horror and science fiction, the non-Hammer films anyways, offer quite a broad gamut of thrills and adventure and a decidedly different approach than the Americans.

In Night Caller, which stars American John Saxon, an object falls from space, what seems like some massive asteroid or something but turns out to be this odd silicon-based orb that has unusual properties, like mucking with all radio waves and emitting potent forms of radiation.  Oh, yes, and transmitting to Earth a creature from a moon of Jupiter, here to abduct our women, especially women you subscribe to “Bikini Girl” magazine.

In Night Caller, it’s the little things that make the film so interesting.  A great scene with the mother and father of one of the abducted girls is played for comic humor in the dialog and odd mannerisms of the couple.   And then there’s Aubrey Morris as the sleazy and suggestive bookstore operator in a fantastic character role.

Okay, the ending is a little bit of a let-down, a little anti-climax, but in the meantime several characters that seem like they are the center of the movie are cut down in their primes.

Oh yeah, and that croony ballad, “The Night Caller” sung by Mark Richardson.  Weird, odd, cool.