The Alchemist Cookbook (2016)

The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) movie poster

director Joel Potrykus
viewed: 12/29/2017

Interesting and off-beat, The Alchemist Cookbook is not bad. Though there are only a couple of characters, the narrative is intentionally oblique. Which I usually like. But here it feels like something is missing.

I don’t know.

Succubus (1968)

Succubus (1968) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 12/29/2017

It’s worth noting that it was LSD that opened Federico Fellini to his embrace of surreal fantasy.

Janine Reynaud, who would go onto star in Jess Franco’s Sadist Erotica and Kiss Me Monster, leads here in Succubus, Franco’s great leap from Spanish cinematic censorship into pop avant-garde. That and tapping deeply into his own obsessions and eccentricities.

S&M theater, the most Jess Franco of Jess Franco scenarios opens this picture which blues into slightly trippy surrealism and free association nonsense. Quite evocative if also kind of tedious, Succubus isn’t so much Franco’s 8 1/2, but might be quite formative in his rapacious cinematic outpouring.

Screamers (1995)

Screamers (1995) movie poster

director Christian Duguay
viewed: 12/16/2017

1995’s Screamers has got a lot going for it, so its failure is kinda disappointing.  Though highly bastardized, the plot emanated from a Philip K. Dick story, the first version of the script by Dan O’Bannon. And you’ve got Peter Weller, still warm from his RoboCop movies. And the story is kind of interesting, with these evolving killing machines.

Screamers is such a 90’s movie, in its strengths and weaknesses, the latter being not just poor execution but a reliance on non-top of the line digital effects in an era when top of the line digital effects already look dated and cheap.

I saw this back in the day, and I think my feelings about it are about the same.

“It’s not an animal, it’s an upgrade.”

The Wraith (1986)

The Wraith (1986) movie poster

director Mike Marvin
viewed: 12/16/2017

I think I’ve found the inspiration for every episode of Regular Show. Creator J. G. Quintel’s entire aesthetic is based on the 1980’s: pumpin’ hair rock numbers, supernatural or extraterrestrial intrigue, and cars. While there are doubtless many such touchpoints, 1986’s The Wraith has it all in spades.

Kicking off with an awesome opening of celestial lights zooming across the the high desert cactus-studded night, it almost seems like The Wraith is going to be good stuff. When all that culminates into a motorcycle-helmeted figure and fantasy racing car, I guess unless you’re J.G. Quintel, you’re going to wind up disappointed.

It’s got an interesting cast. Two of Hollywood’s now insane tweakers, Charlie Sheen and Randy Quaid appear, the latter a decent actor. There’s also Nick Cassavetes and Sherilyn Fenn, but the best performance is by Clint Howard’s hair.

While it’s definitely not great, I liked aspects of The Wraith. The specificity of its locations, the desert roads, the burger shop, the swimming hole, the airplane graveyard, all offer a character to the enterprise. I could imagine someone who saw this at a certain point in their life finding it to be their favorite movie (I’m looking at you, J.G. Quintel!!!)

For the rest of us? Who knows?

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

director Shinya Tsukamoto
viewed: 12/06/2017

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s bombast bomb blast of body horror surrealist industrial phantasmagoria, Tetsuo: The Iron Man not only holds up almost 30 years later, but in my viewing, is even better.

The last time I saw Tetsuo was in film school back in the Nineties. Though visual images, ideas, and impressions were deeply emblazoned on my brain, I had really forgotten what a radical visual effects, editing, and pacing of the film. Also, how little explication is given to the narrative.

I love moviemaking that incorporates so much such tactile techniques. This is totally 16mm film and from the stop-motion animations and other pre-digital effects, you can almost feel the crew making this with their hands on the actual film. When editing was editing actual celluloid strips of photo-exposed images.

Brilliant.

Slime City (1988)

Slime City (1988)

director Greg Lamberson
viewed: 11/29/2017

“Flesh Control”

Slime City clearly owes its body horror inspiration to Cronenberg’s The Fly, but it’s glorious effects  are straight up Street Trash colors. This Incredibly Melting Man is not quite Rick Baker level but some cool cheap gloopy gloop melting slime effects.

This low-budget, New York-shot horror film has some real character. The Frank Henenlotter connection is interesting, but highlights the fact that Slime City doesn’t quite have Henenlotter’s gleeful mordant humor.

Props to the prostitute, not with a heart of gold but a stomach of iron, to pull off his gluey bandages and still wanting to get it on with him.

But, yeah, that Black Knight-esque finale really seals the deal. When the head cracks open and the brain pops out and starts crawling around…that is the stuff of which dreams are made.

Blood Rage (1987)

Blood Rage (1987) VHS cover

director John Grissmer
viewed: 11/26/2017

While it’s hard to imagine Louise Lasser giving anyone an Oedipal complex, the “blood rage” in Blood Rage seems predicated over her fornication. It’s kind of hysterical how after his initial hatchet killings at the drive-in, how nonchalantly Terry implicates his twin Todd for the murders.

You know, Lasser is pretty much in her own movie here, one she apparently thinks is directed by John Cassavetes or something, not a low-budget Florida slasher due to languish on video until rediscovered years later by fans of obscure and off-beat bloody shenanigans. Her performance is so out of place in the film, it adds a strange flavor to the whole Thanksgiving smorgasbord.

Outside of Lasser’s virtually surreal performance, Mark Soper is actually pretty good in his dual role as Todd and Terry. I also kind of liked Lisa Randall as Andrea(?), the gal who just wants to party.

Beyond that, Blood Rage, does sport a seriously excellent gore game.

Forgoing the oft-quoted “cranberry sauce” line, I’ll up my personal favorite: “You’re going to hurt my kitty!”

Faces of Death (1978)

Faces of Death (1978) VHS cover

director  Conan LeCilaire
viewed: 11/18/2017

In the 1980’s, having seen Faces of Death was de rigeur for any horror fan. It was one of the most outré things on most family video store movie racks. As far as Exploitation goes, it might have been the video era’s greatest success.

The bait-and-switch of veritable horrors with hammy fakes fit is well within the carny sideshow tease and titillate. The reality, though, was always cheapened by the fake. And it still is. The voice over doesn’t help though it’s strangely politically progressive.

But these days much worse is readily available on the internet. So, out of the context of its reputation and the scrutiny of fake to realism, where does Faces of Death stand now?

It’s definitely in the Mondo mold, and I imagine that is the best way to categorize it today. It shares with Mondo the faux documentary style, the all-knowing narrator moralizing the stuff, the mixture of real life violence and staged material, especially the use of gruesome animal sequences that set the table and tone for verity and horror.

I d say that it’s flaws start with its structure, a seeming randomness that fails to sense its own strengths and weaknesses. It ends up meandering and working through no pattern of development. Interestingly, the music seems an ironic commentary throughout. Which might help to explain the mind-boggling credit sequence and song.

I appreciate Exploitation movies, though I doubt I need to re-watch this again ever. It’s still eerie and gross.

The Night of the Devils (1972)

The Night of the Devils (1972) movie poster

director  Giorgio Ferroni
viewed: 10/29/2017

The Family of the Vourdalak, a novel by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy  (the “other Tolstoy”), is the source material for Giorgio Ferroni’s The Night of the Devils. It’s also known for being the source material of the “I Wurdulak” segment of Mario Bava’s fantastic Black Sabbath (1963).

Yeah, I know, everybody knows that or can look that up on Wikipedia.

I actually don’t have a lot to offer here that others have not said already. The Night of the Devils is a different flavor of Italian vampirism, salted with its variant folklore. There is something strange and hard to put one’s finger on about modernizing the story to the then present day 1970’s. It’s sort of dislocated, like having stepped into a dream (or nightmare) of more Gothic times. It also features some very evocative effects on top of it all.

Well worth seeing.

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) movie poster

director  Ed Adlum
viewed: 10/21/2017

Invasion of the Blood Farmers is some legitimate trash cinema. Written by director Ed Adlum and co-scribe Ed Kelleher, edited by Michael Findlay (the two Eds also wrote Findlay’s abominably amazing Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), it’s got psychotronic pedigree.

Wonderfully stiff acting right out of Ed Wood. It also begs comparison to other low budget auteurs such as Andy Milligan or Al Adamson, maybe with a little prime H.G. Lewis thrown in.

“The more I scrub this bloodstain the bigger it gets!” – some dude scrubbing a bloodstain from the floor of a bar

The leads could be the prototypes for Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror they are so bland and ludicrous. Says the Brad to his Janet, “You’re just a pushover for pathologists!” This because both this Brad and Janet’s father are medical guys working at home on some strange multiplying blood. Ultimately it turns out that it’s all due to some literal blood farmers who are part of some weird druidic blood cult.

It’s the kind of bad that is so close to intentional comedy that you may wonder if there was intent of seriousness here at all.