Thursday, October 15, 2020

Daily Grind

We finally decided to watch Grindhouse: Planet Terror (2007), and I don't know why we waited. As I'm sure you know, Grindhouse was a double bill B-movie extravaganza, with one movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, and this one by Robert Rodriguez.

It starts with stripper Rose McGowan quitting her job and getting stuck at a lonesome BBQ joint run by Jeff Fahey. By coincidence, her old boyfriend, Freddy Rodriguez (no relation) comes by in his "Wray's Wreckage" truck - but his friends call him "El Raye". 

Meanwhile, a bunch of soldiers led by civilian (?) Bruce Willis are picking up a mysterious gas from Naveen Andrews. When it goes sideways and some one is about to get their balls chopped off, that someone releases the gas, and everyone starts going crazy and eating each other. Seems bad.

Meanwhile again, Dr. Josh Brolin and his cold wife Marley Shelton are on the night shift at the hospital. They begin to notice people coming in with scratches that become necrotic as the patients become aggressive and bitey. 

Eventually McGowan gets a scratch on her leg and has to come in to get it amputated. If you've seen the poster, you know that eventually she gets a machine gun prosthetic. 

This is a good old-fashioned stupid gore fest. And by old-fashioned I mean the film is scratched and there's a reel missing (handy for "With a leap they were free" cliffhanger solutions). There is a trailer and the classic "Our Feature Presentation" bumper. The trailer was for Machete, which looked so good, they actually made it. 

So, a total ball. Freddy makes a great hero - just a working stiff with an ex-stripper ex-girlfriend who busts his chops, but he steps up when he needs to. Also, he is a firearms expert who never misses - and the police won't let him have a gun for most of the movie. In fact, they cuff him for about the first half. McGowan is a stripper with a lot of useless talents that actually come in handy. The Brolin/Shelton subplot was maybe more than we needed, and I have no idea what we were supposed to think of Fahey's BBQ. Everyone said it was the best in Texas, but no one would touch it. Except maybe the zombies.

Also, Bruce Willis is not in most of the movie, so it's even got that going for it.

Should we watch the other half of the double bill. Deathproof? I think we like Rodriguez more thar we like Tarantino.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Normal Pair

Although I am the Queue Master, I do let Ms. Spenser have some input, especially during OctoBoo. And speaking of found footage, she suggested Paranormal Activity (2007).

PA is about a young couple. He (Micah Sloat) has just bought a fancy video camera, partly just because it's a fun toy. But she (Katie Featherston) has been haunted since childhood by a mysterious presence, and he thinks he might be able to detect something with the camera. So he sets it up in the bedroom to monitor the house while they sleep.

Katie invites a psychic over, and he says he thinks it isn't a ghost, but a demon. This calls for a whole different skill set. He recommends a demonologist, but Micah doesn't take it seriously and won't call. Meanwhile the camera is picking up a few things while they sleep. It starts with little things - noises, a door swinging, but gets more and more scary. 

As Micah discovers these things reviewing the tapes, his attitude is more, hey cool, than oh shit. He shouts at the demon, asks what it wants, and suggests they use a Ouija board to contact it. The psychic specifically said no Ouija boards - that's just inviting the demon in. So what does Micah do?

Of course, things get worse and worse, and they call the demonologist - who is out of the country for the week. They call the psychic back, and he won't even go into the house, due to the bad vibes. And then things get really scary.

It's interesting what you can do with a camcorder and a couple of characters. Some of the shots and styles of this movie are now kind of cliches - like the fast forward scenes of the couple in bed, until something spooky happens. But it's also kind of a good story: Katie and Micah have moved to Santa Barbara from Nebraska, maybe so she can get away from her troubled past. He is a day-trader, rich enough to buy a big house and expensive electronics. He is also kind of a dick, not taking Katie's fear seriously (also trying to get her to make a sex tape). 

However, I don't buy one of the central premises of the movie: that trying to film demons causes them to become more bold and present. I thought that trying to record them made them shy. Or is that only ghosts?

Monday, October 12, 2020

Mountains of Madness

We saw a preview for Devil's Pass (2013), and Ms. Spenser said that she loves Arctic horror - or in this case, Ural mountain horror. So we queued it up for Horrorween.

It's set up as a documentary about an incident (real-life) where several Russian climbers died at a pass in the Ural mountains. Or maybe it's found footage, from the attempt to make a documentary. Anyway, a group of college kids are studying the "Dyatlov Pass" incident, and decide to go to Russia and make a documentary about it. They have the leaders, male and female, sexy sound girl (chosen by smarmy leader for her looks), and two student climbers, who had summited all over the US and the rest of the world. After a few treks in snowshoes, they are ready for Russia. 

Actually, you get the feeling they are totally NOT ready for Russia, and it will kill them. And you might be ok with that.

They get to Russia, and look for the surviving member of the original party, who was committed to an asylum. The guards don't let them in - they never bothered to like make an appointment - and tell them the guy is dead. But they see someone holding a sign up in the window. Too bad they don't read Cyrillic.

And so on. They get to the mountain, and surprisingly, that's not what gets them killed. In fact they make it to the pass days early, for some weird reason. Also, all of their navigational equipment is going haywire. Then they find a door into the mountain. It locks from the outside, but it isn't locked just frozen shut. Then the government shows up and starts shooting at them.

There is a real body count, and the dead are not necessarily who you are hoping for. There is an explanation for the mystery (and the new mysteries), but I don't know how important it is. The found footage part sees less and less important as the movie goes on. I don't know why director Renny Harlin bothered with it. I guess it kept costs down.

Still, this was a good basic horror in the snow, with pleasantly unlikable characters and a gory last act. We had no complaints.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Theater of Madness

What would Spooktober be without some Vincent Price. We queued Theater of Blood / Madhouse (1973), a nice theatrical double bill.

Theater of Blood starts with a theater critic being called on to visit a building of which he is part owner, to help the police evict some vagrants. Said vagrants kill said critics, and the police turn out to be actors. It was a setup by actor Edward Lionheart, Vincent Price. He was supposed to be dead, but was only in hiding, due to his humiliation at never winning a critics award. After the murder, he takes the corpse into a derelict theater and recites the "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech from Julius Caesar

His plan is to kill all of his critics in a manner based on a Shakespearean play. This is a great conceit, when you remember how gruesome some of Shakespeare's murders are. For instance, Robert Morley is fed pies baked from his darling doggies, as in Titus Andronicus

He is aided by the vagrants, billed in the credits as Meth Drinkers (methylated spirits) and a mod young man with a horseshoe mustache and dark glasses. Ms. Spenser said "Diana Rigg" as soon as she saw him - and so he was. Ms. Rigg (who died around the week we watched this) played Price's daughter, who dressed in male drag to help her daddy.

In Madhouse, Price plays Paul Toomes, an actor who plays Doctor Death in a horror franchise. At a party where he is announcing his engagement to a a young starlet, a porno film producer reveals that she has made films for him. Price is enraged, and later, when she is alone, a figure in the costume of Dr. D murders her. Price comes to her room to apologize for flying off the handle, and finds her dead. Even he doesn't know if he did it.

He is acquitted of the crime, but commits himself to the titular madhouse.

When he is released, his friend, actor and Dr. Death screenwriter Peter Cushing takes him home. He tells him about a Dr. Death TV series in the works - produced by the porno producer from the party. Price isn't thrilled, but could use the work, and his friend needs the money. Especially because his wife has been disfigured in a car fire, gone mad and started to hang out with a collection of tarantulas. (I don't think this has anything to do with the plot, but is creepy as heck.)

As the production proceeds, people keep dying in ways inspired by Dr. Death movies. We, the audience, see the masked and caped Dr. Death, but is it Price or not? Not even he knows.

So, two theatrical thrillers with murders inspired by plays or movies. Each has a classic co-star as well. Actually, Madhouse has film clips of Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone as well. Maybe not as much fun as the Dr. Phibes movies, which are the inspiration for these, it seems, but creepy enough.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Walking My Vampire Back Home

We went into A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) with exactly this much information: Iranian vampire movie. 

It is filmed in black and white, usually at night, in a rundown Iranian town called Bad City. A rather cool young man, Arash Marandi, is looking after his heroin addicted father (who also likes to gamble and visit prostitutes). His pimp and pusher, Dominic Rains, shows up to demand payment, and takes Arash's Mustang convertible. 

Later, the pimp (who looks like an Ali G. character) is on his way home from roughing up a prostitute (Mozhan Mamo). He sees a woman in a chador on a dark street, and she silently follows him to his place. There, as he is trying to seduce him, she bites his finger off, kills him and drinks his blood. We also see her menace a little boy, but not kill him. She does take his skateboard.

Arash shows up to try to get his car back, sees the body, but mostly sees a brief case full of money and drugs, which he leaves with. He quits his job as gardener and starts dealing. He tries to hang out with some rich girls, and one of them pressures him into doing E with them - then blow him off when he tries to get romantic. (One of the other girls is the director, Ana Lily Amirpour. Look for the skeleton costume.)

The girl in the chador is skateboarding down a deserted street when she runs into a heavily tripping Arash, staring at a streetlight. They share a moment, and she tries to take him home, but he can't quite walk. So she loads him onto the board and off they go.

At her place, she puts a record on and they stand together - slowly, slowly, he reaches out to touch her, and they finally kiss. 

But can a poor but somewhat dishonest son of an addict find happiness with a girl vampire? Well, probably not - happiness is hard to find in Bad City. But maybe something.

This is a great movie. It's a very personal movie for Amirpour, who is Iranian, and has a very indie look, but was actually made in California, with lots of Americans behind the camera. I suppose this makes sense, because I doubt this will play in Iran any time soon. Also, very surreal and has a great soundtrack. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

When the Haunter Gets Captured by the Game

Haunter (2013) is another ghost story that's right in our (my) zone - small scale, not too scary, young female protagonist, clever twist. The twist is, it's from the point of view of the ghost.

It stars Abigail Breslin, a teenaged girl with a nice family - Mom Michelle Nolden, Dad Peter Outerbridge, and little brother Peter daCunha. It's the Sunday before her birthday, and she is slouching around with her walkman on (it's the 80s, you see) and giving everybody attitude about how everything is the same every day, and will be tomorrow as well. And she's right, the next day she wakes up on the same day. But this isn't Happy Death Day. You see, she's already dead, and she knows it. 

When she is in her bedroom practicing Peter and the Wolf on her clarinet, she starts to get flashes of another girl, from another time, who also plays clarinet. That girl, Eleanor Zichy, is still alive, living in the same house. Breslin, technically, is haunting her. But she's not worried about ghosts, she's worried becuase her father is an abusive jerk going psycho working on the family car. 

This live girl tells Breslin where to find a certain scrapbook, which details a series of murders that have taken place in the house, going back to the 1890s (?). However, a scary pale man (Stephen McHattie) warns her not to investigate any more. The closer she looks, the more awful her family will become - her own father will become abusive (and start working on the car). And it's true. The only way to get the family back to the loop of a not-so-bad Sunday is to ignore what she's learning.

Of course, she doesn't do that at all. She finds the hidden door, the hidden cellar, the hidden past. She sees it all in a sort of sepia-toned, shadowy vignetted color old-timey movie of the origin of the whole problem. And you bet she kicks its ass.

This is nicely low-budget - one set, the house (ghosts can't leave the house where they died). It's a Canadian production, with Canadian actors, except for Breslin, who was in Little Miss Sunshine. I'm not sure the premise is used as well as it could be, but it worked for me anyways. The last act, when it gets really scary, is also a little silly, but that can be a problem with these movies. Still, I enjoyed it, but Ms. Spenser thought it was too silly and not scary enough. Since we're programming horror all October, I'm sure I'll get her sooner or later.

If I Had Ever Been Here Before

I remembered Déjà Vu (2006) from previews and after seeing Don't Let Go, figured we should try it out. Same general idea - cop sees into the past and tries to solve a past crime.

In this one, the cop is Denzel Washington. A ferry in New Orleans is blown up and ATF agent Washington is on the case. He is recruited into a secret project by Adam Goldberg, who has a high-powered surveillance setup that can see into the past - SPOILER. He claims it uses artificial intelligence to process satellite imagery to give a detailed image, and that it can only show you what happened 4 days ago. You can't fast forward or rewind. It takes a while, but Washington figures it out - it's a time TV.

They can use it to focus on anything they want, but since they can't go back, they've got to be sure to focus on the right things. Washington begins to think that ferry passenger Paula Patton is the key, partly intuition, partly she's cute. He goes to her apartment and finds out that someone is trying to buy her truck. He also find "You can save her" on her fridge in magnetic letters. And he has left a message to her on her answering machine.

When Washington figures out that the time tv is really a window, he convinces the scientists to send his past self a note. Unfortunately, he leaves the office before it arrives. His partner follows up on it (in the past) and gets shot. The guy getting away is probably related to the terror incident, but he has left the range of the system. So Washington has to take a mobile unit with a virtual reality display and chase him (in the past) through the highways of the present, in a very silly and unsafe for civilians car chase. Well, this was directed by Tony Scott.

Well, you can guess what comes next - he goes back in time to catch the bomber, who we now know is disturbed wannabe soldier Jim Caviezel. Also, maybe to get with Patton. In a breakneck race against time, they head to the ferry - no time to alert the police, they only have an hour and a half! And they are 90 minutes away! In New Orleans traffic! Will they make it? 

Come on, it's time travel. It almost doesn't matter.

This turned out to be sillier (as in illogical) than I expected. The scriptwriters claim it was airtight before Scott messed it up. Still, Washington is pretty magnetic, as the investigator who sees right to the core of the matter, and expects everyone to get onboard or let him do his thing. Also, New Orleans.