Thursday, May 29, 2008
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Beginning with a flashback that takes place in the early ‘60s, we see Eli and Caroline MacCleary (Ronny Cox and Bibi Besch) as a newly married couple en route to their honeymoon when they run afoul of car trouble on a deserted rural road (in the Deep South, natch). After Eli runs off alone to the nearest service station for help, his defenseless bride is dragged into the woods and sexually assaulted by an inhuman thing (kids, don't honeymoon in Mississippi!).
After this awkward incident, the narrative jumps ahead to the present day with the MacClearys worriedly attending to undetermined health problems with their seventeen year old son Michael (played by Paul Clemens) as the boy’s long-denied heritage is becoming sorely apparent. And by "sorely", I mean Michael’s suddenly taken to venturing out at night to put a major hurt on people. He also flares his nostrils a lot, which is real uncomfortable to watch.
As it turns out, the thing that raped Michael’s mother was a man-turned-monster called Billy Conners and Billy (through means never adequately explained by the script) is now sharing the mind and body of Michael in order to exact vengeance on those who originally brought Billy to his inhuman state. For reasons further unknown, this possession and Billy’s skin-shedding emergence from Michael is also linked to the lifecycle of the insect species known as the cicada. Go figure!
What follows is a more lurid version of ‘50s tales like I Was A Teenage Werewolf that addressed the angst and physical self-consciousness of adolescence in monster movie terms. There’s also a hint of Cronenbergian body horror involved as Michael’s ordeal calls to mind the transformations of Rabid, The Brood and The Fly.
As Michael situation becomes more and more dire and as those who fear the wrath of Billy Conner grow more desperate (a group that involves almost everyone in Nioba, Mississippi), the makers of The Beast Within are called upon to bust out some classic early ‘80s effects work. While lots of horror films in the early ‘80s used state-of-the-art means to accomplish previously impossible transformation effects – none exploited these effects with the quite the same gratuitous gusto as Tom Burman's work on The Beast Within. This is a film that stubbornly refuses to concede that less is more and it has the show-stopping on-camera transformation to prove it. The ads for this film dared audiences not to flee their seats during the last thirty minutes of The Beast Within and damn if the last thirty minutes of this movie don’t shovel on the horror as promised.
Director Phillipe Mora didn’t go on from The Beast Within to do much worthwhile, unfortunately, lending his talents to the likes of Howling II and Communion. But this tawdry little B-movie has a faithful following to this day. Tom Holland, later to go on to direct Fright Night and Child’s Play, wrote the script based on a novel by Edward Levy and while it isn’t a tremendous script (I’m guessing that Levy’s novel wasn’t anything special to start with), it has a nice skuzzy, Southern Gothic vibe to it and it duly piles on the grotesqueries.
The Beast Within is also blessed with a top-notch roster of character actors (the kind of predominantly older crew you never see in current horror movies) who lend conviction to even the most ridiculous moments. Besides Cox and Besch, there’s also L.Q. Jones, Luke Askew, and R.G. Armstrong. No matter how implausible the story gets, the seasoned cast keeps it real. Unfortunately, the one weak link is the Beast himself, relative newcomer Paul Clemens (who I remember from a Quincy episode from around that time but nothing else) who’s visibly overburdened by the chore of making the tormented teen an empathetic, yet frightening character.
Still, there’s a pall of grimness to The Beast Within that prevails over Clemens’ shaky performance. A lot of filmmakers would’ve flinched from following this pulp horror premise to its sorrowful end but Mora sticks to his guns. Few horror films can match the appalling denouement this film offers – a bitter conclusion that ends this silly rubber monster movie on a deeply tragic note.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Some movies should be kept top secret until maybe, I don't know, a few weeks before their release. I would say even a few days but I know that's unreasonable. And I don't mean they should be kept 'top-secret' in the sense that there's no test screenings or whatever. I mean that no one should know the movie is even being made. Because there's some movies that are just so promising and so exciting that once it's known that they're in production, it immediately puts other films that one might've otherwise enjoyed at an unfair disadvantage.
What I'm trying to say is that I don't know how I'm supposed to watch any movies between now and next July (that's right - not this July but July '09) and not have a mixed response to them. Because I'm pretty sure that films like The Happening, The Strangers, and Midnight Meat Train are not going to be in 3-D and that they also won't have any piranhas. I'm sorry but the fact is, knowing that Piranha 3-D (!!!) is coming out a whole year from this July is going to make it near impossible for me to settle for anything less until then. When I walk out of a movie like, say, The Dark Knight and someone asks me how it was, I might just have to impulsively punch them in the face and say "There was no piranhas in it, THAT'S how it was!"
To my mind, the Weinstein Co. should've kept this one under their hat for awhile. I mean, at least until this summer was over. After the summer, well, ok. That's do-able. After all, no one really expects a fall or winter movie to be a 3-D piranha movie. That just doesn't happen so I wouldn't hold it against those movies as much. But the summer? Come on!
Of course, we live in an age where it's considered gauche to be a film fan, a horror fan even, and to actually get excited about these kinds of things. I'll read about the announcement of a movie like Piranha 3-D, immediately flip out because it's the greatest news ever, and then go to the discussion boards to see the reaction only to see that this miracle news has been greeted with nothing but scorn and indifference. And I have to wonder, "Jesus, what planet am I living on? When did movie fans become such a bitter bunch?"
Tell me about Piranha 3-D and I'm already imaging what the poster will look like and what the cover shot for FANGORIA is going to be (my guess for the cover text: "They're Swimming Off The Screen!"), while the reaction of everyone from 'DarkChyld98' to 'myndtrapp' is "Eh, looks stupid. It's about fishes? Please! And 3-D? Really? How lame!" I don't know - maybe I'm some kind of anomaly. Or maybe I didn't get the memo that cool shit isn't cool anymore - but I'm sorry, if Piranha 3-D doesn't ring your bells then maybe horror movies just aren't your thing.
I don't care that this is a remake of a movie that's bound to remain the smarter and more satisfying of the two (well, of the three if you want to count the made-for-Showtime remake from 1995). And I don't care that the director (Alexandre Aja) hasn't made a movie yet that's really impressed me (although High Tension and the Hills Have Eyes remake do have their fans) because none of his previous movies were 3-D piranha movies. As far as I'm concerned, this has the potential to be the Greatest Movie Ever. Or at least it might be The Only Movie That Matters in the summer of '09. And listen, if nothing else it'll be the only 3-D piranha movie out in July '09 and that's nothing to sneeze at.
Whatever happens, they HAVE to go on to do a remake of James Cameron's sequel Piranha II: The Spawning. Because the only thing better than seeing piranha in 3-D is to see flying piranha in 3-D.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Blogger extraordinaire and all-around mystery man ‘Arbogast’ put out a suggestion recently for fellow bloggers to write about “one they might’ve saved” – to select a single horror movie victim that they would choose to snatch away from their tragic end. In mulling over the question, it occurred to me just how many deaths in horror movies have moved me over the years. Horror films are often accused of desensitizing their audience to suffering but I’ve found it to be just the opposite. I’m such a bleeding heart, in fact, that I couldn’t just stick to my top choice and instead went with a list of ten characters.
Over the years, scores of characters in horror films have died appalling deaths. Some by elaborate means, some involving primal fears like drowning or being buried alive. Some have died alone in darkness and some within the false safety of a crowd. And many have died begging for their lives. But in trying to determine who I'd save, I realized that it wasn't so much about the details of their demises or how much pain we watch them endure - some of my picks' last moments occurred off-camera - but the sense that a vibrant life was senselessly snuffed out when all it would've taken to save them was a nudge in another direction.
So here’s ten characters that, given the chance, I would’ve tried to rescue:
At least just prior to her death in Psycho, Marion Crane was able to enjoy a cathartic moment in which she seemed to be literally cleansing herself of her sins. But as her cinematic counterpart in Brian DePalma's Psycho riff, Angie Dickinson's sexually frustrated housewife Kate Miller enjoys an afternoon tryst only to learn - thanks to a doctor’s report she inadvertently comes across in the man's apartment - that the fellow museum goer she impulsively hopped into bed with has been diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhea. And that’s the last demeaning discovery Kate makes in this life as her next stop is the elevator in which she’s slashed to death by her cross-dressing therapist, played by Michael Caine.
Whatever personal failings Kate Miller might've had as a wife and mother, I just don't believe that anybody deserves to be killed by Michael Caine in drag.
9. Karen White (The Howling, 1981)
When it comes to modern werewolf movies, most horror fans line up at the altar of An American Werewolf in London. But for me, it's always been about The Howling. And a big part of the appeal of Joe Dante's movie lies with Dee Wallace Stone's performance as TV anchorwoman Karen White. That her on-air self-sacrifice on behalf of the truth at the film's conclusion ("I'm going to show you something...to make you believe!") goes unappreciated (they cut to a dog food commercial!) makes me wish she hadn't taken a bullet for a viewership unequipped to see her death as anything but an accomplished special effect.
8. Casey Becker (Scream, 1996)
The most heartbreaking detail of the opening scene in Scream is when Drew Barrymore's fatally stabbed Casey Becker removes her killer’s mask. Knowing that she recognizes who's done this to her but not being able to comprehend why this person has chosen to end her life makes her death especially poignant.
7. Annie Hayworth (The Birds, 1963)
As a kid, I thought Suzanne Pleshette was incredibly cool as schoolteacher Annie Hayworth and yet there was an underlying melancholy to the character in that this whip-smart woman had forsaken any chance at a full romantic life by continuing to live in Bodega Bay to pine away for Mitch Brenner. Annie's death is gut-wrenching, even though we never see it on camera. Just young Cathy Brenner's description of her teacher's final act of heroism is vivid enough:
"...All at once, the birds were everywhere. All at once, she pushed me inside and they covered her. Annie...she pushed me inside!"
6. Tracy Mills (Seven, 1995)
Thanks to Seven's instant entry into the pop culture lexicon, "What's in the box?" became fair game for parody material but I still feel sick at Tracy Mills' fate. This was a character that would’ve been so easy to save, if only anyone had suspected she was in danger.
5. Joanna Eberhart (The Stepford Wives, 1975)
I was confounded by the decision on the part of the filmmakers behind 2004's Stepford Wives remake to turn it into a tongue-in-cheek spoof. Even though the original had its share of dark humor, William Goldman's script (based on Ira Levin's novel) never sold Joanna's sadness short. It’s one of those movies where I can’t help but want to intervene on the heroine's behalf as - in collusion with her callow husband - the Stepford Men's plans for Joanna (well played by Katharine Ross) come to their fruition.
Entering into a romantic relationship with Norman Bates and then paying a lethal price for it might be considered by some to be a classic case of getting what you asked for (as no nonsense private investigator Tracy Venable says when she sees what's become of Maureen: "You dumb, stupid, naive girl..."). But I think the fragile romance that develops here between Norman and Diana Scarwid’s nun on the run could've gone the distance.
3. Alex Kintner (Jaws, 1975)
One of the most indelible moments in Jaws remains the sight of a shredded inflatable raft nudging against the shore, sans the young boy who was just on it moments before. When they say that Jaws kept people out of the water, for me they were talking exclusively about this scene. To see this boy ripped apart just a few feet away from shore and practically within arm's length of the other swimmers crowding the water deeply scared me as a kid. And really, this is a character that shouldn't have needed to be saved in the first place. If Sheriff Brody had been allowed to do his job, rather than play political ball, the beaches would've been closed.
2. Becky (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 1986)
It's true that some women have terrible instincts for choosing men, but they shouldn’t have to die for it. Tracy Arnold gives such a sensitive performance as Becky in Henry that she deflects the instinct to regard her as being too dumb to live. Instead, her decent heart and sincere interest in shy Henry make her uncommonly sympathetic. There could’ve been a modest future for this girl, if only she had been able to recognize Henry as a sociopath rather than mistaking him for a gentleman. In a film filled with wasted lives and butchered bodies, it's the final sight of a suitcase left like garbage on the side of the road as Henry drives off alone that proves he only has room for death in his heart.
1. Ruth Mayer (The Brood, 1979)
While it's the abused Candy Carveth who really needs to be saved in David Cronenberg's The Brood, it was the death of elementary school teacher Ruth Mayer that left me traumatized when I saw this film at an early age. When the Brood invade Ruth's classroom looking to bring Candy back to her mother at the Psycho-Plasmics institute, it seems as though the strong, capable Ruth (played by Susan Hogan) ought to be able to fend off their attack. After all, the Brood's sole previous victims were an old man and woman, both caught alone (and both slightly drunk) and unprepared to defend themselves.
My thanks to Arbogast for inspiring me to reflect on the many horror movie victims whose deaths left such an impression on me.
When I first saw The Blob as a kid, I just wanted to reach through the TV screen and knock that stick out of the old man's hands. Six simple words could've saved this idiot's life:
"Put it down, you damn fool!"
Friday, May 9, 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
All I know is this - if the action figure for Two-Face is true to this look, it might be the first of its kind to come with its own barf bag.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
It definitely makes sense to try and include the iconography of Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust in advertising his follow-up. I get that. But yet there's just something strange about a poster that uses one of the most notorious and appalling images I've ever seen in a film as part of its title font. I bet someone in the Cannibals camp must've been feeling proud when this concept dawned on them, though ("Hey, shouldn't the "I" be that chick with the pole rammed through her?"). And it just makes me wonder if there could be a whole alphabet of movie atrocities waiting to be discovered.
And where's the obvious tagline, by the way? Come on, with that Predator 2-esque shot overlooking the City of Angels, it can only mean that "They're In Town...And Looking For A Bite To Eat!"
Thursday, May 1, 2008
For horror fans, the early '90s were an often galling time (although I guess for horror fans, every time is an often galling time but anyhow...). Thanks to the stigma that horror had developed during the '80s, the filmmakers behind well-made, crowd-pleasing efforts such as Silence of the Lambs, Cape Fear and Misery demurred from using the horror label while ham-handed offerings like Ghost in the Machine, Brainscan and Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice were flying the flag for horror whether anyone wanted them to or not. But while these latter films didn't do the genre any favors, I'd like to show some attention to one of my favorites failures from this time - 1993's dog-eared tale of science gone wrong, Man's Best Friend.
When a movie gives you Lance Henriksen as a brilliant, driven, self-justifying douche bag of an animal experimenter, and you have him out to retrieve his (ahem!) pet project - an escaped super-canine named Max who has a laundry list of scientifically granted abilities and a potentially (ahem!!) hair-trigger temper, I'm already in. As Dr. Jarret, Henriksen walks over every other performer in the film, exploding at random moments in the interest of warning anyone in earshot about his missing mutt's imminent meltdown ("He is gonna SNAP!!").
But while Henriksen is coming apart before our eyes, his tail-wagging time bomb is comfortably curled up at the foot of Ally Sheedy's bed. Sheedy's character of TV reporter Lori Tanner is someone who desperately wants to score their big break and blowing the lid off animal abuse seems like the smart way to go. But after breaking into the EMAX facility after hours to film Henriksen's handiwork and show the world just how shitty Dr. Jarret treats the four-legged world, she lets Max out of his cage and ends up taking him home against the strongly-stated protests of Perry, her live-in boyfriend (played by Fredric Lehne - who recently had a recurring role on TV's Supernatural as the Yellow-Eyed Demon).
Max is essentially a furry Frankenstein's Monster - he's not evil, he's just more dog than the world can handle. And writer/director John Lafia (Child's Play 2) does a pretty good job of hitting all the bases that you'd want a killer dog movie to get to. Cats, mailmen, newspaper delivery boys and over-zealous pet control officers are all on Max's "to bite" list. Oh, and Max also makes time to show the neighborhood's lone hot collie what love is - although he doesn't do it gently.
If Man's Best Friend isn't all that it could've been (disappointingly, initial plans to have Max undergo a final transformation, revealing himself as a cyborg creation courtesy of FX wiz Kevin Yagher were scrapped during filming), it isn't just a sad little pup of a movie, either. To my mind, any movie where a dog pursues a cat up the side of a tree and then proceeds to swallow the living cat whole (apparently they must've given Max some anaconda genes, too!) is automatically a film of at least some merit.
But the clincher - and the scene that makes me wish that a Man's Best Friend 2 could've been in the cards somehow - is a scene late in the film where Max knocks poor Perry to the floor, proceeds to lift his leg over Perry's prone body and then, well, pees on his face. That'd be a hard thing for anyone to get over - even under the best of circumstances - but earlier in the film, Lafia established that Max's urine is so acidic that it could fry the paint off a fire hydrant. So one can imagine that a big honking faceful of it wouldn't exactly feel like butterfly kisses.
After his mutilation, Perry is removed by ambulance, never to be seen for the rest of the film. But my fondest wish for Man's Best Friend 2 was that Lehne could've returned as Perry, having survived his ordeal to become the world's foremost expert on the dangers of genetically altered canines - but yet with a new face something along these lines:
As corny as it sounds I do believe that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger and I really would've liked a definitive answer on whether having a man-sized fly regurgitate corrosive bile on you or having a dog spray their super-strength fire urine in your face is the better character builder.
Unfortunately, we'll never know - although if Perry's injuries forced him to utilize a seeing eye dog, I'd automatically have to give it to him. The combination of adversity and irony is just too hard to beat.