Thursday, February 25, 2010

Curtains (1983): or, A Madness to Her Method

Yes, my faithful congregants, The Vicar is back, and nearly in fighting shape after spending more than half of the year 2010 in chronic nerve-pinching pain. My ultimate recovery can doubtless be credited to all the prayers offered up for my healing by my caring and concerned parishioners--or else to the benefit of more than 400 years of scientific and medical advancement, the good fortune of being born in a first-world country and having a day job that offers insurance. But let's not split theological hairs!

While I was laid up and tripping on generic Vicodin last week, I finally got around to revisiting a relatively obscure cinematic slasher from the golden age of the subgenre: Richard Ciupka's debut effort from 1983, Curtains. This was one of those movies I remembered having enjoyed back in the burgeoning home-video boom times, and wondered how it would stand up after all these years.


In the flick's first act, hot-shit movie director Jonathan Stryker (played by delightfully menacing character actor John Vernon, last seen around the vicarage as the old gruff cop-cum-ventriloquist dummy in Killer Klowns from Outer Space) has rented out a theater to go over script ideas with his lover, super-famous method actress Samantha Sherwood (Cronenbergian baby-licker Samantha Eggar). Sam has acquired the rights to a play about a man-hating psycho named Audra, who in a climactic monologue verbally emasculates her cheating boyfriend before pumping him full of hot lead. She wants this to be her next star vehicle, but Stryker is not convinced she's quite got a handle on the insanity into which her character must fall in order to be believable. Whatchagonnado?

Well, if you ever had a sleepover at your friend Susan Strasberg's house and took acting tips from her dear old dad, yagonna get yourself committed to an insane asylum and spend the next several months figuring out what it's like to be a real-live looney! Sam and John think this is the best idea since Smell-o-Vision, and she pretends to try to murder him in front of the head of the psychiatric hospital, for authenticity's sake. Once she's in a straightjacket, Sam laughs with John about the boffo start to her method training, and he leaves her in the hospital to hone her craft.

Unfortunately their decision not to let the doctors know this is all theatrical research proves to be a SHOCKINGLY bad one. After a few weeks, the strain of listening to her dorm-mates gibber and screech starts to wear on poor Sam. John notices her performance getting better and better every time he visits, until finally he's so convinced that he callously moves on with the Audra project without her, leaving her committed so that she can get the help she now appears to actually need.

Purple Nurple Therapy: GO!

The idea of being the only sane person in the asylum is an affecting one--it's the old "but how can you prove you're NOT crazy?" dilemma. Ciupka evokes the dread and hopelessness well in these scenes, particularly when the still-sane Sam is confronted by her truly disturbed fellow patients--one of whom triumphantly hides her jigsaw puzzle pieces, one of whom comes back from shock therapy a mindless husk, and another who stages a manic tickle attack on the hapless actress! Sam seems stuck--after all, the doctors assume a smart crazy person will say anything to convince them she's not crazy, so how do you get around that?

Well, in this case you get around it with a daring and completely off-screen escape, aided by a faceless female friend. It happens fast: one minute Sam's in the asylum seething over John's betrayal, and the next she's in a hotel room with her unnamed, unclad companion, thanking her for the help in getting out. Like mine, your mind is probably jumping straight to the "unknown lesbian lover who will later be revealed as one of the principal characters" trope, but don't hold your breath. Having done her part to move the script along, the woman disappears, never to be seen again--or really at all.

We now move into Act II of the flick (seriously, even the end credits designate "Act I" and "Act II" personnel) , where we discover that Stryker is trying to cast Sam's replacement in the role of Audra. Not quite sure what he wants, the director has invited six starlets to his country estate for a Casting Weekend, which will doubtless be completely on the level and above-board, right? The memo to each girl to bring extra towels and moisturizer is surely just a standard rider.

One of the people in this photo had beans for dinner. Can you guess which one?

For a little while we follow a few of the prospective Audras as they prepare for the weekend. Chief among them are lower A-list actress Brooke Parsons (Linda Thorson), stand-up comic Patti O'Connor (Strange Brew's Lynne Griffin), and blonde sexpot Amanda Teuther (Deborah Burgess). Rounding out the group (and largely unexplored in this prologue) are figure-skater Christi Burns (Lesleh Donaldson, the superstitious heroine of1980's Funeral Home), dancer Laurian Summers (Anne Ditchburn), and musician/nympho Tara DeMillo (Sandee Currie).

After watching Patti deliver some of the un-funniest expository stand-up ever, we follow Amanda as she takes a bubble bath, drinks wine, and goes over the script in her apartment. Things take a turn for the SVU when a stocking-masked stalker invades her home and gets all rapey on her--but the tension dissipates when the attacker is revealed to be Amanda's boyfriend, the awesomely named Booth Savage. It seems Amanda's into the kinky stuff--though when Booth offers a sex fantasy based on video-game sensation PAC-MAN (I shit you not), even she gives him the ol' stinkeye.

She used to be a Tight End, but now she's a Wide Receiver

After ill-advisedly bedding down next to one of the creepiest life-sized free-standing toddler dolls ever made, Amanda has a nightmare: she's driving out to Stryker's house when she sees the aforementioned doll in the middle of the road, reaching out to her. Getting out of the car to investigate (like you do) she is grabbed by its lifeless claws while the car starts up and runs her over! If I was having dreams like that, I'd think about curtailing my rape-before-bedtime activities a bit. The point is moot, however, since shortly thereafter Amanda is stabbed to death in her living room by an unseen assailant, and poor Booth's unspoken Frogger-based sex fantasy goes forever unfulfilled.

This leaves an open spot at the mansion, and who should arrive to fill it but the original Audra herself, Sam Sherwood! Sam marches in like she owns the place, ruthlessly belittles the talents of the other actresses, and takes every chance she has to remind Stryker of the fact that he left her to rot in the looney bin. Jonathan tries his best to carry on the casting by having the girls participate in acting workshops in his dance studio--usually improvisations in which one girl is tasked to seduce Stryker without words, or two girls are paired up and challenged to seduce one another (sensing a theme)? Christi the ice-skater takes on a little extra credit assignment by actually having sex with Stryker later that night.

The next day Christi goes out to skate on a frozen pond near the mansion, and thanks to her Olympian dedication is rewarded with the most memorable death scene in the flick, as she finds Amanda's creepy doll buried in the snow! Moments later the killer, dressed in black and wearing a fantastically creepy old woman mask, skates toward her in slow-mo and hacks her with a scythe! I can see why this scene made such an impression on so many viewers--it really is quite creepy in a nightmare/funhouse way.

Death Came Skating

Things have been a little draggy up to this point--nearly an hour in and only two kills--but events pick up as we go barrelling toward our conclusion. Laurian does an interpretive dance that expresses the emotion one feels when being garotted, and Brooke finds an unwelcome surprise in her dressing room:

We're gonna need a bigger plunger.

Of course when Stryker comes to investigate the head is gone, and he comforts the hysterical actress by prescribing her a megadose of his penis. He's packing up the wedding tackle when the killer comes in and shoots both of them Audra-style, sending them flying out the window in a slow-mo double-defenestration--which is really the only way to do it.

Now it's time for the "heroine discovers all the dead bodies" scene, and here the director makes a bold choice by designating as heroine Tara DeMillo--a character who we as the audience still know absolutely NOTHING about! Somehow Tara stumbles into an alternate-dimension warehouse/funhouse/theatrical museum Stryker has on the premises, a real netherworld of old props and sets that reminded me a little of Mickey Rooney's pad in The Manipulator--but just a little. After finding a couple of corpses and being stalked by the old-lady-masked killer, Tara gets away by hiding in an air conditoning vent...OR DOES SHE?


Since there are only two characters left we figure one of them has to be the killer, right? Unless (spoiler coming......) they both are! As it turns out, Sam and Patti have been knocking off the competition, not working together as one would expect, but totally independent of one another--which is kind of a neat idea, but so out of nowhere as to be robbed of whatever effectiveness it might have had.

Curtains is not really that bad a movie, but it's no great shakes either. Ciupka does a good job with some of the scenes, particluarly in the madhouse, that show-stopping ice-skating attack, and the final other-dimensional tour through Theater Hell. The use of closing-curtain wipes on some transitions seemed a little cute, but I could forgive it for sheer ostentatiousness.

The problem is, with so many characters and so little time devoted to each one, it's really hard to care that much about what happens to any of them. Of the girls on the Designated Victim menu, Amanda is given the most backstory, and she's butchered before she even gets to the house, rendering all that time we spent with her pretty much pointless. Laurian gets maybe five lines total before her death, and Final Girl Tara gets even less attention before that last stalk-and-slash. Ciupka has a flair for suspense, it's clear, but the lack of character development really impairs the audience's ability to give a shit.

The Director appreciates constructive criticism.

The acting is hit and miss, as usual. Vernon is good playing the type of deadpan menacing character he always plays, and Eggar gets to chew the scenery like it was a foetal manifestation of her crippling psychoses...or something. The other actors are forgettable, but that's probably more a criticism of the script than of their thespian chops.

Also hurting the slasher-fan interest opportunities is the relative lack of gory kills--it's mostly stabbing and strangling, and one character (an actor-for-hire Stryker's invited to help with the workshops who doesn't get a single line I remember) dies completely offscreen. There are a couple of brief nude scenes, but nothing particularly worth noting.

One last note--Ciupka's name does not appear under the director's credit on screen; rather, the movie claims to be directed by Jonathan Stryker! Whether this is a meta in-joke or the director's way of distancing himself from a disappointing first flick is unclear.

I didn't hate Curtains, but I didn't love it, and there are many more entertaining slasher flicks from the period. The poster is great, the mask is creepy, and the opening concept could have been fun, but ultimately, I'm afraid, it's just not. 1.25 thumbs.



Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blu-Ray Review: Poultrygeist (2006), or, This Review Contains No Chicken-related Puns

Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears! (and your chicken nuggets) It is I, the Duke of DVD, come 'round once again like that old pair of stained underwear that you used to wipe your leaking dong off because you didn't realize you were out of bedside tissues before you commenced to playing tug of war with cyclops while watching 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray. Oh sure, you thought you had tucked the pair far enough under your stained mattress that you would never see it again, but your mom had to go change your sheets while cleaning, and now they're back, so stiff they could stand up on their own. Only this time I must temporarily change my moniker. For the length of this review, I shall be known as the Duke of Blu-Ray! That's right, blu-ray. That future-tech spinning disc designed to hold high resolution copies of the MADdest movies ever. Rest assured, dear readers, that I have a MAD one for you today!

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead comes to us from that most-beloved-by-the-Duke studio Troma. This time, Troma President Lloyd Kaufman himself is at the helm for what is surely the most fart, sex, and poop jokes ever packed into a movie. Have you ever sat back in your favorite overstuffed chair and thought "Hey, I wish someone, some enterprising individual with more balls than common sense, would craft a movie which involves lots of lesbian action, undead fisting, un-PC comments about suicide bombers, and wrap it all up with a heaping helping of chicken-related sight gags!"? Well, this is your lucky day, punk.

Cling tenaciously to my buttocks as we explore...

Our movie opens with what appears to be every 80's horror movie's cliched opening: two young people are having midnight sex at an Indian burial ground. Now, at the best of times this is quite dangerous, and in more normal movie fare would be the catalyst for all manner of undead goings-on. Instead, Kaufman turns your preconceptions on their head and has undead Native American arms come up to start grasping the coupling naked youngsters, and very quickly we have the first of what will be many fingers/hands inserting into anuses. The use of prosthetic butts in this movie deserves not only an Oscar, but a whole new Oscar category, to which Poultrygeist would be the only entrant.

"Oh baby, your hands are everywhere!"

Every single new scene threatens the use of either something going in or out of an anus, and often delivers on that threat. Before the young couple realize what is going on, an axe-wielding loon steps out of the shadows. The kids run off, leaving underwear behind. The axe-maniac first sniffs the girl's panties, but finds them repulsive. Moving on, he sniffs the dude's underwear, and then begins masturbating (with an obvious prosthetic cock). Suddenly, an arm comes from under the ground, through his anus (didn't see that coming, did ya?), out his mouth, grabs the underwear from his hands, then pulls them back through his body and down into the ground. This is in the first 10 minutes, folks.

"Come for the curse, stay for the food!"

We then cut to a half year later. It seems that a major fast food restaurant called "American Chicken Bunker" has purchased this land and has built a restaurant on it. Arby, the young guy from the opening scene, is returning from college. Arriving at the restaurant, he is greeted by a large group of protesters, holding such signs as "I Love Cock".

"I'm not sure what you lesbians are protesting here, but I support you!"

We also meet her girlfriend Micki, who is attached to a running joke throughout the film in which she is frequently mistaken for a man. We next get the movie's first song and dance number. That's right folks. Not content to have his movie be the most awesome movie ever, Lloyd Kaufman had to go the extra mile and make it into a musical! Another thing Kaufman likes to do is throw stereotypes into people's faces, and he does this quickly by parading out a drunken Native American who the protesters are using as a focus for their anti-corporate hate. This wont be the last stereotype used in the movie I'm thinkin'.

After the musical routine, Arby has scored a job with the American Chicken Bunker. The manager, named Denny, introduces him to another coworker named Carl Jr., whom Arby knew from school. Sensing a pattern with the naming scheme here folks? Other coworkers include Jose Paco Bell, a Latino frycook, and Humus, a burka-wearing cook that is routinely called names like Hamas and Al Jazeera. Jose Paco Bell discovers a box of mutated, pulsating eggs and when he cooks one and serves it, all hell breaks loose. Soon we have mutant chickens running around, one of them pushing Paco Bell into a meat grinder, where he is turned into a burger himself. A sentient burger, who talks with Arby letting him know what is going on and how to stop it.

"What do you mean 'Burkas aren't part of corporate dress code'?!"

Arby is too preoccupied with his girl being a militant lesbian, though. We get a dream sequence in which he is engaged in a threesome with the two girls, and then we get an extended song routine in which the two lesbians (plus about 8 other coeds) are all topless. One thing is for fucking certain: In a Troma film helmed by Mr. Kaufman, you don't have to wait long to see tits.

We next see the arrival of General Lee Roy, the company president. He woos the protesters into his good graces by a hilarious song routine and in no time the restaurant is packed with hungry chicken-lovers. Unfortunately for everyone, the Native American spirits are having none of it, and quickly infect the chicken. I must give props here to the myriad of humorous signs and labels on everything in the restaurant setting. From a drink on the menu called "Cluckwork Orange" to the hundreds of food labels on things in the back storage, the persons responsible for setting up all the, um, sets, deserve to have a pat on the back.

"Hey, I didn't ask for that much special sauce!"

I was constantly laughing at signs like "Instructions For Making The General's 2-Spice Secret Recipe: 1) Add Salt 2) Add Pepper 3) Deep Fry". From here the plots develops rather quickly. Lloyd Kaufman himself plays a grown-up Arby, who we assume has come back from the future somehow to warn Arby that his life is going to suck from there on out unless he leaves American Chicken Bunker. We don't know how Old Arby got there, and we don't care. What we do care about, however, is Lloyd Kaufman in a dress, wearing a g-string, doing a song and dance number. Yes, don't deny it, you DO care about such things!

Nothing says "good cinema" like high-pressure poop squirting.

Next up the chicken MADness continues. We have a grotesque scene involving an obese man (named Jared, supposedly of Subway fame, having fell off the wagon so to speak and gotten fat again) in a bathroom, spraying shit all over the walls. We have Carl Jr fucking a raw chicken carcass, which turns mutant and bites his dong, giving us the choice quotes: "Easy with the teeth! I was gonna pull out, it just felt so goooood!" In fact, this movie is choice quote heaven. Let us pause for a moment and pay homage to these gems:

"I was just trying to help him!"
"By fucking him to death with a mop?!"

"It's just like my granpappy used to say: 'Hey Junior, get over here with those matches! This cross ain't gonna burn itself!'"

"That's the thing about a chicken. It's got dead eyes. Black. Like a sex doll!"

"The chicken has declared jihad on us all!"

"Eat my meat you vegan whores!"

"How could I ever love someone that wants me to eat cock?!"

"I know him, we were on the debate team together in high school. I was anti-beastiality, he was pro!"

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, this movie is hilarious to the point of crying. Pretty soon all of the restaurant patrons are chicken zombies, complete with beaks and some feathers. We also have a full-blown mutant chicken, given birth to by General Lee Roy, who swells up like a giant human egg before bursting and spilling for the giant killer chicken. In a hilarious scene right out of some insane person's nightmare, we are whisked around the restaurant as the many zombie-fied chicken people kill, eat, and wax philosophic about various things.

"One Paco Bell burger, coming right up!"

We have an old lady zombie chicken who rips the face off a victim and begins to eat it, declaring "I know it's fattening, but I loooove the skin!" We have a big-tittied woman about to get eaten but when her top comes off she realizes her huge knockers are mesmerizing the chicken zombies and begins to go-go dance on the table top. You can't make this stuff up, people! Oh wait... you can if you are a Troma writer I suppose. At one point, a chicken zombie reaches through the rear end of a patron and pulls his balls out through his ass, then tosses the balls into the deep fryer.

"My momma warned me to not fuck chickens!"

Finally the zombie chicken menace is turned away by simply flipping the "Open" sign to "Closed". This doesn't work forever, though, and in the final scenes the zombie chickens are gunned down with a handy cache of M-16's that were in the restaurant. The giant mutant chicken is still about, as well as other zombie chickens, and so in a scene we saw coming from a long way off, Humus casts off her burka to reveal not only a hot bikini-clad body, but also a suicide bomber's C4 jacket, complete with hand-held trigger device. Troma knows no restraint!

It's, um... finger-lickin' good?

As Arby and Wendy flee the restaurant, Humus blows the whole thing up in a spectacular fireball. Arby and Wendy speed off, accompanied by a young girl that happened to escape with them. Arby gives the little girl a Miller Lite, which she proceeds to chug. In the final seconds, the little girl lays an egg, which causes them all to scream, which causes them to flip their car, which explodes in a massive fiery wreck! Fin.

Needless to say folks, this is easily one of the most crazy, fucked up, insane, balls-the-the-wall AWESOME movies I've ever had the pleasure of watching. No scene fell flat, no one was left unoffended, and no chicken left unkilled.

Now lets talk a bit about this new-fangled blu-ray medium. The picture quality for Poultrygeist was fairly outstanding, with only a blemish here and there. The disc itself is packed with features, including a full-blown making-of that is a must watch.

As per a lot of Troma releases, there is an introductory video (optional) with Lloyd as he talks about this first Troma blu-ray (or brown-ray, as he calls it) release. Not only that, but this is the first Troma movie in anamorphic widescreen! I could go on and on, gushing with praise for this movie. It has everything from a Ron Jeremy cameo to deep-fried testicles. What more could you possibly want?! Nothing, says I. Three Thumbs Way Up for this one, folks. See it. Now.

(Note: a copy of the Blu-Ray release of Poultrygeist was provided to MMMMMovies for review purposes.)

"Enjoy folks, there's plenty of mutated evil chicken to go around!"

The General, having an egg-cellent time.

Ladies and Gentleman, Lloyd Kaufman

"With tits like these, who needs a burka?"

"Easter Bunny, NOOOOOOOOOO!"


Friday, February 19, 2010

Vicarious Odds and Ends

If you've been following my Twitter Feed you know that I've been suffering/recuperating from an injury of late that has made it difficult for me to focus on my Vicarious Reviewing duties: vertebrae compression, pinched nerves, and physical therapy are involved, which anyone who's had them can testify as to their Amusement Park-like enjoyability. As to the cause--well, let's just say that my flail-swinging shoulder isn't what it used to be.

Still, I haven't been entirely idle:

1. Product Pimpage: ZOMG PAUL NASCHY SHIRT!

Here you see the Vicar modeling what has quickly become his favorite garment of all time, the just-released Paul Naschy tee from horror clothiers extraordinaire Fright-Rags. As you can see, it depicts a scene from The Mighty Mighty Molina's La Noche de Walpurgis, aka The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (reviewed by me here). It's a gorgeous piece of work, and even works in some other Naschy flicks at no extra cost: that background devil silhouette looks like it's from Inquisicion, for instance, and the werewolf and Countess designs seem more Night of the Werewolf than WWvVW, but this is by no means a complaint. Even though you can't hope to rock the Naschy Tee like I do, I still encourage you to click here and purchase your own. Do it. DO IT NOW!

2. In further moneyspending news, Code Red DVD recently announced their intent to re-issue one of the Vicar's and the Duke's favorite slashers, and the subject of our 100th review: 1982's MADMAN! Code Red previously did a bang-up job with another of my faves, Messiah of Evil, so this is good news indeed. Here's their press release on the subject--no solid word on release dates, though they do say "in time for Halloween." Keep watching the skies!

3. I watched Miike's GOZU the other night while tripping on generic Vicodin. Though given the viewing experience, it may have been a placebo. Anyway, I loved the Lynchian bar and hotel scenes, even more than that admittedly awesome ending. You have to hand it to the Japanese...

4. I also recently discovered that MMMMMovies has appeared in Fangoria Magazine, though only in ad copy. Still, I have to admit, that's pretty cool. If you see us mentioned anywhere outside the blogosphere, please let us know! ;)

And because I love you so much, a bonus Vicar pin-up.

Maybe he's born with it...

Stay tuned--the Duke has something up his sleeve for next week, I'm almost sure of it...


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mommy's Epitaph (1987): Or When The Cougar Prowls, The Rat Eats Well

Greetings and salutations, friends! Once more the skies blacken, dogs scurry with tucked tails through filthy alleys, the very young and very old cry without cause, and war crows from the Hinterlands gorge themselves on the fleshy eyes of mine enemies. That's right, the Duke of DVD is back once again to hold you face-down in the over-full bucket of cinematic offal, ignoring your futile thrashing until your movements subside, your legs weakly jerking as you finally give over to the awesome. As most of you, my loyal readers, know, I have been on a Mario Bava kick of late. Working away in subterranean dungeons, my brow furrowed in concentration, the cacophony of tortured moans echoing through the blackened halls, I labor with love, crafting these reviews for you so that you may enjoy one small slice of heaven before the weight of the world crushes your pitiful souls.

One cannot live by cake alone, however. Sometimes we must cast off the trappings of film royalty and delve into the chamberpot of the silver screen, picking up and examining choice nuggets, letting their odour fill our senses, perhaps touching the tip of our tongues to their surface to fully discern what makes them great. I speak, of course, of Troma; that shambling corpse of a movie studio that takes the term "shoestring", bends it over a rotting sofa, then rapes it repeatedly and messily. A cleansing of the palette is sometimes needed, and Troma serves this purpose like no other.

What festering abortion awaits us this time? Let us explore, shall we?

Mommy's Epitaph appears to have been filmed over a dull weekend by some hardcore Troma-ites who knew they had something special on their hands, and just went for it. It is the very definition of The Manifesto, and as you will see, brings the goods with gusto and verve. Our movie opens with a family arriving at their new digs. We have Forrest (Jimmy Williams), the doting father, and Martha (Delores Nascar(!)) the cougar in heat. Along with them we have Amy (Natasha Pavlovich) the 16 year old daughter, and the aged grandmother Virginia (Liz Kane). It seems the daughter is fairly unhappy with the family having to move and is worried about making new friends, etc. We cut to the next day as daddy drives her to school.

"Isn't it beautiful honey, our own private Idaho. Complete with plenty of backyard corpse burial room!"

Soon a painter arrives, having been hired by Martha to paint some of the bedrooms. It seems that Martha has an insatiable appetite for the menfolk. She wastes no time in slipping into a skimpy negligee and attempting to seduce the unsuspecting painter guy. Mr. Painter is having none of it, though, and rebuffs her efforts. She immediately gets furious and runs out of the room, returning moments later armed with a large kitchen knife! She repeatedly stabs the painter in the back before he turns around, slumping against the wall. A few more stabs to the chest and he's nearly done for, sliding down the wall with a look of horror on his face, but Martha isn't done, oh no!

"I wanted you to use paint on my walls, not blood, you heathen!"

Now, friends, up until this point in the film, I was fairly bored. Nothing much was happening, and my attention was slipping. The brutal stabbing was waking me up, but I wasn't impressed until, as the painter's body was sliding down the wall, Martha fucking slaps his face, leaving a bloody hand-print! That, my friends, is brilliance! A little coup de grace that punctuates any brutal stabbing. Now I was interested to see where things were going, and the film didn't let me down!

Next up we see poor Forest digging a shallow grave out in the back yard and burying the hapless painter. It seems he has had to cover up for his wife's murderous tendencies before, and has come to peace with the fact that he's married to a psychopath that he still loves and cares about. It also helps matters that Martha polishes his scepter after he showers off from his labors in the backyard. A little knob-gobbling goes a long way towards men accepting the fact that their significant other is a murdering cunt.

"Remember honey, you said that the next time you killed that I'd get to go in through the backdoor..."

The next day at school, Amy meets Wayne, a studly, bouffant-haired gump who excels at sports and general douchebaggery. It doesn't take a super genius to recognize he's cougar bait in waiting. Meanwhile, Forrest goes to see a local psychiatrist by the name of Shirley. He's going for his wife's sake, he tells her, and spouts out what will be the first of several awesome lines of dialogue in the movie: "You gotta help my wife, doc. See, she's got this thing for nightgowns..." The doc says she'll try to help but that she needs to see Martha to do so. Later that night, Amy is getting ready for bed when suddenly a filthy, bloodied man runs into her room and mumbles incoherently at her before running off. Screaming for help, Amy freaks as both her grandma and dad try to console her, saying she must have imagined it. That's when they notice the bloody hand-print on her shoulder!

"How in the blue fuck did you get your period on your shoulder?!"

It seems Mr. Painter wasn't quite as dead as we all previously thought, despite being stabbed multiple times in the back and chest (not to mention slapped and buried!). Forrest goes out to check the grave (which the painter took the time to fill back in after his exit). While kneeling over to check, the painter hacks him in the back with a pick axe! Poor Forrest, que lastima!

"Picky picky."

Out for more revenge, our heroic painter heads back into the house. Searching from room to room, he is confronted by Martha. Here we have some more awesome lines of dialogue, it plays out like this:

Martha: "I knew you couldn't stay away! I figured you would suffocate in the grave. God, you stink! Did the dog piss on you?"

Painter: "You BITCH!"

"Ugh, this is worse than those double-stuffed burritos I had last night!"

Then she pulls out a double barrel and blows out his stomach, launching him out the 2nd story window! Martha coolly walks over to the window and sneers down at his (for real this time) corpse. The three women of the house sit around the kitchen table to decide what to do. Amy wants a funeral for her dearly departed father, but Martha tells them all that this is out of the question, because the authorities would be notified. They instead opt for an in-house funeral, complete with black dresses and lots of candles. Dear old dad is laid out in his best suit on a bed. They cry, and Amy screams at her mother that she hates her.

Even brutal murders can be solved by a little family breakfast-time.

Cut to the next morning at breakfast and inexplicably everyone is all smiles. Martha offers to drive Amy to school, which she graciously accepts. Later that day, while Amy is off laughing and flirting like a whore with Wayne at school, Grandma and Martha are sitting out on the back porch of their house having cocktails. Out of nowhere, the good Doctor Shirley shows up. Pretending she's a neighbor welcoming the family to the 'hood, she quickly ingratiates herself with Martha and they become fast friends. We see them walking around the mall shopping, and then enjoying a light lunch. The doc starts gently prying into Martha's psyche, asking pointed questions about Amy and such. When the subject turns to how Amy is growing up and noticing men, Martha flies into a rage.

"So, I hear your mom likes to slobber on men's crotches..."

Things calm down, however, with the most awesome cameo ever. The callow-faced, mulleted visage of Warren (R.W. Munchkin(!!!!)) graces the screen, bidding the doctor hello. It seems he's a patient of the doc's and basically rats her out in front of Martha as being a doctor, which obviously rouses Martha's suspicions. Later the next day, Martha figures out that Dr. Shirley isn't a neighbor at all. Busted!

"Don't mind me, I'll just stand here being awesome."

Meanwhile, Amy and Wayne are planning to elope (taking Amy's grandma with them!). While they are planning naughty things, Shirley goes over to see Martha. Wandering through the dark house calling for her, Shirley is startled by the dog. As she's bending down to pet it, Martha comes out and hits her over the head with a crowbar!

Shirley plans to employ the Tijuana Diet in order to lose weight.

We cut to the basement, where a shirtless (though still wearing a bra) Dr. Shirley is tied up to the rafters, hanging. While she pleads to Martha to let her go, Martha presents a rat. That's right, a rat! It's very much a real live rat as she dangles it over the struggling Shirley. She lets it's front paws grasp and, um, paw at Shirley's exposed flesh before finally presenting us all with her awesome idea: putting the rat in a tin bucket, and then strapping the bucket onto Shirley's bare stomach. Now, this unto itself might be fairly unpleasant, but she goes the extra mile by using a fucking blowtorch to heat up the bucket, causing the heat-crazed rat to tunnel its way out through the path of least resistance! Shirley screams like the damned, which she now is unfortunately. The tunneling rat does its work, and we get a nice effect shot of it leaving a hole somewhere on Shirley's now-dead body.

"Despite all my rage, I'm still just a rat in a, um, cadaver."

Martha heads upstairs and finds Amy packing a suitcase as grandma watches. Furious, she locks Amy in her room. Wayne stops by trying to find Amy, but is rejected by Martha. Meanwhile, Granny knows she needs to get Martha out of the house, even for a little bit, in order to free Amy, so she pours out all of Martha's precious booze. Finding the cupboard bare, Martha heads out in the family truckster to find more. Grandma tries to free Amy but it ain't doin' so she goes to call 911. Before she can speak to anyone, however, Martha returns, not with booze, but with.... wait for it.... an electric knife turkey slicer! She goes to town on poor Granny, hacking and slashing until Grandma is a cooked goose.

Speaking of cooked goose, Wayne returns to rescue Amy. He tries to get some friendly talk going with Martha, playing along as it were. Martha of course tries to seduce him. Seeing that she's not getting anywhere, she leaves the room, finds a bucket, fills it with kerosene, comes back to where Wayne is, and dumps it over his head! She then proceeds to toss lighted matches at him as he dances around the room trying to avoid her. Finally, he sees an opening and lays Martha out with an uppercut to the jaw! He heads upstairs and kicks Amy's door down. They quickly flee the house and get out to the car.

Upon opening the driver's side door, however, Wayne and Amy are shocked to see Martha, who has apparently woken up from being punched out and has hidden in the backseat, just waiting on the couple. She smirks as she tosses a lit match at the unlucky Wayne, who goes up in flames faster than the Vicar's mummified albino walrus he kept around in his study until an errant spark from his fireplace immolated it. Amy screams, Martha laughs as Wayne burns to death.

"I signed up to attend Burning Man, not this!!"

We then see an increasingly tipsy Martha directing Amy to dig yet another grave in the backyard, this one meant for Wayne of course. While her back is turned, however, Amy strikes! She swings the shovel right at Martha's neck.... and it freeze-frames on us. At this point I thought the credits would roll, but oh no! The director has one more card up his sleeve.

We cut to Amy getting into the family car, bags packed. She buckles up and the camera pans around to show that her mother's corpse is sitting in the passenger seat, leaking blood everywhere. Amy has clearly been driven insane as she turns to her mother and has an imaginary conversation about where to next. Setting her sights on Salt Lake City (watch out Utah!), she drives away. Fin.

"Buckle up, ma! Oh, wait... never mind."

So what started out as a boring exercise in being boring turned out to have quite a bit to enjoy about it. Make no mistake, this is a Troma film. At one point a principal character trips over a power cord, looks back at the camera in fright, and then continues the scene. In another, the boom mike is clearly visible hovering over the actor's heads. However, the effects were done well, in particular the rat scene. The stabbings looked real enough, as did the shotgun blast to the stomach that ended the poor painter's day (and life). The acting was somewhat wooden for the most part, but I thought Delores Nascar (that's right, NASCAR) did fairly well, and Natasha Petrovich did well too. Speaking of her, two years after filming Mommy's Epitaph she would compete (and lose) in the Miss America pageant as Miss California. Unfortunately, she doesn't get her boobages out to play, but we can't have everything, now can we?

All in all, it was a budget effort, but a solid one that entertained me once the fireworks started. If it happens to cross your path (not likely, I know), then I suggest you sit back into your overstuffed chair, purse your lips thoughtfully, clutch your snifter of brandy in your claw-like hand, and chuckle with mirth as the Troma goodness washes over you. Mommy's Epitaph earns a solid 2 Thumbs Up from your beloved Duke. Any time you have a film wherein a stabbing victim earns an open-handed slap to the face post-stabbing, well, then, friends... you have something special.


Monday, February 15, 2010

A Few Thoughts on THE WOLFMAN (2010)

UPDATED 2/16/2010! Now with even MORE nitpicking! (See end of review)

Everyone around here knows (or should know by now) how important George Waggner's THE WOLF MAN (1941) is to your ever-lovin' Vicar, as both a piece of horror cinema history and a formative influence in my own personal journey that has led me to where I am today, which is to say right in front of your eyes spouting forth on the glories of all that is MAD at the movies. You also should know that I don't spend an awful lot of time writing about new-release movies on this blog, partly because I prefer to walk the ornate, psychedelically painted halls of 70s exploitation and neon-lit corridors of 80s sci-fi horror. However, because THE WOLF MAN is such an important movie to me, I felt it appropriate that I take a few minutes to talk about the Universal remake and my reaction to it.

The requisite disclaimer/spoiler warning: if you are planning to see Joe Johnston's THE WOLFMAN (2010) in the near future, I encourage you to skip this piece of writing and go in fresh; knowing as I do that cinematic enjoyment is an intensely personal rubric, and that one man's trash is another's treasure, I would hate to color someone's reaction when that person might otherwise have a great time with the movie. Which is not to say that I hated it--but I did have problems with it, which I plan to detail briefly below (along with the things I thought it did well). So caveat lector--don't say I didn't warn you.

The net by now is lousy with plot summaries and comparisons, so instead of subjecting you to all that, I think I'll just go through my likes and dislikes in list format. If you need a refresher on the original movie, I encourage you to check out my lengthy Halloween Monster Memories piece on THE WOLF MAN, seen here in October of 2008.

Things I liked about THE WOLFMAN (2010):

  • I thought the movie looked fantastic. The gloomy gothic of Talbot Manor and the surrounding perpetually fog-shrouded woods, the period costuming, the silver/grey color scheme that largely (and appropriately) called to mind both the black & white original and the silvery light of the moon--all gorgeous.
  • Rick Baker's makeup design for the Wolfman was, I thought, dead-on. Respectful to the original while updating it and making it more vicious and frightening--no complaints. I've read several places that they wanted Del Toro to be able to *act* under all that makeup, and I think they succeeded. And despite the sometimes iffy CG transitions, I did like the half-biped/half-quadriped locomotion of the creature.
  • I don't know if they were entirely intentional, but I think I spotted at least two nods to the werewolf lore of permanent Vicar hero Paul Naschy, which were greatly appreciated at least by me. First, they give lip service to the Naschylore that the werewolf can only be set free by someone who loves him, though thereafter they really don't go much further with it. And in a show-stopping massacre scene, there is a definite instance of Human Jerky a la Jacinto, which again had me smiling and nodding my head.
  • There were also a couple of definitely intentional nods to what I've always considered a tonal remake of The Wolf Man, i.e. American Werewolf in London, which Rick Baker also worked on of course. The first is the appearance early on of David Schofield, the Dart Player from the Slaughtered Lamb in AWIL, playing a similar pub-goer role. The second is the Wolfman's rampage in London, which despite period setting hits a lot of analogous notes as the Picadilly Circus sequence from the earlier flick. (Nota bene: Rick Baker himself makes a brief cameo as the first killed onscreen by a werewolf.)
  • That London rampage? Excellent. Again, there was some iffy CG tansitioning going on, but the werewolf going crazy on the steam-powered double-decker, taking off over the rooftops of London, and generally wreaking havoc? Fantastic, exciting stuff, imo.
  • Emily Blunt as Gwen Conliffe was probably hired because she looks so beautiful when she cries, as she's called upon to turn on the water-works in just about every scene. This is not a bad thing--she's gorgeous, believably bereaved and confused, and turns in my favorite performance of the flick.
  • I liked that the werewolf was so solid and weighty here--not light and airy like the vampires we see in modern flicks who barely seem to touch to floor. This creature rages, slams into things, knocks trees over, and makes a lot of noise. I appreciate that.
Things I didn't like quite so much:
  • One of the central themes for me of the whole werewolf mythos is the tragedy of a good man who is driven to do evil and cannot stop himself. Werewolf movies suffer, imo, when they forget this or give it short shrift. We get to see quite a lot of Lon Chaney Jr. being a good if misguided man in the original (too much, some might say), which makes his drive to kill all the more tragic. Benecio Del Toro's Lawrence Talbot *is* meant to be a good man, but his development as such is all done in shorthand. In fact, this is a problem with ALL the character develpment in the movie--rather than learning about the characters by how they interact, we get shorthand versions of their motivations, either through summarizing dialogue or flashbacks. Some viewers will like this better than the build-up of the original, but for me it just seemed lazy.
  • Speaking of lazy--those flashbacks and dream sequences. Far too many, far too often. I would have preferred sacrificing the scenes of Larry and Ben as kids for some more character development, perhaps using the same narrative but told by the characters rather than flashback. This would have helped Larry and Gwen's later relationship become more moving as well, I think. And that long dream sequence in the asylum? I know there's a similar scene at the carnival in the original, but the new one is bigger, longer, flashier, and dumber. I could have done with less of that.
  • Speaking of the asylum--wtf? This is probably my biggest problem with the flick--again, in the original, Larry murders the grave digger and becomes aware of his situation before anyone else. When he tries to convince his father and the town that he's a monster, no one belives him, thinking instead he's disturbed. Here, however, the townspeople light up their torches and march on the house demanding Larry's cursed hide BEFORE HE EVEN TRANSFORMS FOR THE FIRST TIME. There is NOBODY in the town who DOESN'T believe Larry is the Beast, and yet when they capture him after a huge massacre in which he does away with at least half a dozen townspeople and everyone sees him wolfed out, what do they do? SEND HIM TO THE ASYLUM for treatment. In the context of the original story in which Larry might well be a lunatic, that would work; but here it's just nonsensical.
  • The dialogue, frankly, was horrible. Del Toro, Hopkins, Blunt and Weaving do their best with what they have, but when your lines are MORE melodramatic and stilted than lines from your 60-year-old source material? You've got a major problem there.
  • We needed more gypsies. I mean, A LOT more gypsies.
And finally (MAJOR SPOILER HERE--TURN BACK NOW!)--the double-werewolf dynamic. I'm of two minds about this one--on the one hand, I LOVED the final battle in the burning Talbot manse, as it reminded me again of the monster mashes Naschy and I both love so well, and was exciting and interesting and bloody. On the other hand, it replaces the tension between Sir John and Larry in the 1941 flick--Dad thinks his son just needs to man-up and stop believing folklore--with "Dad is a remorselessly evil killing machine and wants his son to take the fall for him." I didn't mind the idea itself--I thought it could have been used a lot more effectively than it was, though. Also, I didn't like Hopkins' dead-eyed performance, while I understood the reasons for it.

I could go on for a while about the things I liked and didn't like (the nods to the original with the Wolf's Head Cane and dad's telescope, for instance), but I think that's enough for now. In all, I didn't think it was terrible, but I didn't think it was all that great either, and I believe the 3/5 star, "C" ratings you're seeing all over the net are probably about right.

Of course I fully cop to the fact that my love for the original may well color my enjoyment of the new one, and I might enjoy it more if I could just separate myself from Chaney and Rains and view the flick on its own merits. But I'm not so sure--there's a lot of flash at the expense of substance, which seems to be the curse of our blockbuster age.

Anyway, YMMV as always. I'll be interested to hear what other parishioners think.

The Vicar

EDITED TO ADD: As I've thought more about the film since my weekend viewing, another problem has occurred to me I wanted to add to this review. (And apologies to the blogs I've already posted this on in comment form--it takes me a while to get my thoughts in order sometimes.) One thing the new film misses that made the old film so compelling to me is Larry Talbot's crushing sense of guilt for having the blood of innocents on his hands. In the 1941 version this starts when Larry attends Bela the Gypsy's funeral and is clearly emotionally distraught at the idea he may have inadvertently killed a man and not a wolf--even though he's pretty sure he killed a wolf! Later, after the gravedigger's death, he's completely destroyed by the knowledge that every time the moon rises he'll go out and kill again--and worse, that no one around him will believe him or help him stop it.

In the new film, with the villagers mobbing up for his hide before he even wolfs out the first time, his later bloodshed seems less like wanton slaughter and more like self-defense. I never got the feeling that Del Toro's Talbot was that worried about having killed so many innocent people--rather, his torment seemed based on the fact that he was being hunted down by them. It's an important difference, I think, and works to the new film's detriment imo.

At the end of the day, though, the film is just okay--I guess I'm mostly disappointed b/c I was hoping it would be "great."


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vicious Lips (1987): or, It's Only Rock n' Roll

It's always a joy for me when, slogging through lists of titles on one of my Mill Creek public domain sets or Netflix instant trash movie suggestions, I come upon a previously unknown gem that hits just the right balance of absurdity and entertainment value to send me out smiling and enthusiastic to tell the world about the unguessed-at trash-treasure I've just been lucky enough to witness. It's one of those experiences that keeps me going here, week after week.

Unfortunately that "Eureka!" experience has its flipside: movies that on paper look like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy, geek out on, and rush to share with all my like-minded webfriendz, but in execution somehow fail to reach the promise of their synopses and even poster art. Such viewing experiences make me feel, if not duped, at least a little disheartened.

Case in point, today's movie: the 1987 rock n' roll/sci-fi fantasy Vicious Lips. An 80s-style interstellar all-girl synth-rock band struggles to get to their make-or-break gig across the galaxy, only to be pursued/harassed by a hairy Venusian Man-Beast that's stowed away on their spacecraft? I mean, just think of it: big hair, dayglo fashions, shameless Alien rip-offs all to the tune of terrifically earnest 80s power rock by a band called DROCK? Seriously, filmmakers, how do you fuck that up?

The movie starts out with all kinds of promise. We're dropped right in the middle of a backroom meeting at THE RADIOACTIVE DREAM, the hottest live-music night spot in the galaxy, where club owner Maxine Mortogo (Mary-Anne Graves) is putting her shiny, shiny boot down on a hapless manager whose band is a no-show due to a bad case of premature death. Maxine is a wonderful villainess, equal parts Cruella DeVille and Margaret from Liquid Sky, with a security staff composed of a Mr. Hyde-like major domo and an oiled, musclebound guard in a He-Man outfit. Unwilling to listen to the manager's lame excuses ("You didn't even give me 10 light years' notice!" Yeah, dude, that's fu--wait, what?), she promises to ruin him in time-honored "You'll never work in this universe again" fashion. His career prospects shot, the poor sod pulls out a blaster and does the same to his brainpan.

She's ready for her close-up

With a gray matter-leaking hole in her show schedule, Maxine calls up Matty Asher (Anthony Kentz), a small-time promoter who's been bugging her for a break. Matty manages the up-and-coming girl group The Vicious Lips, and of course jumps at the chance to play at The Dream. Unfortunately his lead singer, Ace Lucas, has just left the band to join rival group The Cruikshanks* (though she's run down by a taxi in the street before she gets the chance), leaving Matty one member short. As luck would have it a high school talent show is going on a few doors down from the Lips' gig, and there Matty discovers wide-eyed innocent Judy Jetson (seriously), whom he quickly recruits for the band's make-or-break gig.

*Try as I might, I can't see the connection between Vicious Lips and British caricaturist George Cruikshank--any ideas, parishioners?

So far, things have been very promising indeed. The set-design is total 80s music video sci-fi, all smoke machines and neon lighting. The shadowy club where the Lips play is also well drawn and filmed, exactly as you'd expect a futuristic slum-club to look. The whole thing has a pleasing Heavy Metal, comic-booky feel, from the triple-breasted hooker outside the club to the skeezy guy peeping at the girls through the wall in their dressing room only to get his eye gouged out in retaliation. At this point I admit I had high hopes.

They're vicious, all right

The other girls in The Lips don't warm to Judy initially, perhaps because Matty has her take the stage name "Ace Lucas" so that they don't have to change their promotional materials. Loyalty to their deceased bandmate makes the girls leery, particularly space-guitarist Mandoa (Shayne Farris), who looks like Blackie Lawless's teenage daughter. Judy/Ace's enthusiasm and ability eventual win over sensible bass player Bree Syn (Gina Calabrese) and drummer Wynzi Krodo (Linda Kerridge, last seen on MMMMMovies as the Marilyn Monroe clone in Fade to Black), however, and before you know it Matty has stolen a spaceship from a local parking garage to get the band to the gig on time.

While the band rehearses, Matty pilots them ineptly through a meteor field (complete with LED one-liners from the ship's computer), leading to an emergency crash landing on a desert planet. Unbeknownst to anyone on board, the ship's cargo is a Venusian Man-Beast slated for delivery to a prison planet, and the crash has enabled him to escape via the ship's air duct system. Much Alien rip-offery ensues, with the creature only shown in shadows or individual body parts (claws, back of head) as the girls get high on space grass and bicker about the new singer's questionable talent and loyalty. Matty goes walkabout to look for help, leaving the four spacegrrls at the mercy of the beast.

I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Moussed

It's here that things really go south for me enjoyment-wise, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the music video/rehearsal scenes, while enjoyable on their own, rob the movie of any forward momentum. Similarly energy draining are the long scenes of Matty crawling over featureless sand dunes, talking to himself in what is meant to be (but isn't) a humorous dramatic monologue. There's also far too much time given to repetitive ambition/tribulation stories from each of the band members (though this does give us the movie's best line: "I had sex with a Fungi Dwarf...That was really a low point."), and the threat of the Man-Beast is never used to build any appreciable suspense. When there's more energy in an argument between the girls about whether the new Ace will leave them too than is generated by an alien monster stalking them in the shadows, you know something's gone wrong.

When the monster FINALLY shows himself and the climax of the film begins, the viewer is in for more disappointment. I mean, the FX creators who actualized the Venusian Man-Beast makeup were given their own credit in the opening titles, so it's reasonable to expect that we're in for something special when he's finally revealed--if not something up to the H. R. Geiger coolness of the Alien, at least something over and above what we've seen in the flick up to now. But what do we get instead?

"It's so easy, easy, when everbody's trying to please me!"

That's right--a Geico caveman. :(

In a drug-induced panic Judy/Ace flees the ship across the burning sands, eventually ending up in a ruined resort complex, apparently built entirely of scrap sheet metal and clear plastic tarps. It seems this place was once "The Pleasure Planet," a vacation spot for interstellar tourists, but has fallen into disrepair and is now peopled by Mad Max-esque cannibal gangs. Unfortunately, that sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.

Blah blah blah, Judy/Ace starts having drug-visions (or are they?) of zombified members of the band chasing her, taunting her with her perceived disloyalty. The Man-Beast shows up, the rest of the band--magically unzombified--comes together to rescue her ("We're a band--we've got to stick together!"), and a dude in a tux shows up for no reason I could discern. Of course it turns out that this whole sequence was all a dream, as Judy/Ace wakes up in the dressing room of...well, The Dream. There's even a ham-fisted Wizard of Oz moment where the major domo (remember him?), who looks exactly like the Man-Beast--sends her off onstage. Naturally the Lips wow the crowd, and the movie ends decidedly upbeat.

Look's like it's Thriller night.

I don't mean to say the movie is completely without merit. As I said, early on there was some nice set design, revisited in the film's coda, and the cinematography is often quite effective in an 80s music video kind of way. Speaking of music videos, we also get to hear the band perform no less than three songs in their entirety, including the breakout hits "LUNAR MADNESS" and "Lips on the Moon" ("We are the witness to Tales of DOOM!"). On their own the songs are cheesetastic nostalgic time capsules, and I actually wouldn't mind having the soundtrack to go with my non-existent Killer Workout CD. (Help me internets! Where are these soundtracks?)

The acting is all over the place, as might be expected since for most of the performers this is either their sole movie credit or else one of a handful (Kerridge being the lone exception). Graves is great as Maxine, but appears far too seldom. Kentz as Matty reminds me of the sidekick from Doogie Howser MD, which I guess is okay. The Lips themselves are serviceable (ba-dump). The bulk of the movies weight falls on the shoulders of Dru-Anne Perry as Judy/Ace, and unfortunately she's not really up to the task--though I admit her resemblance to Vicar crush Jenny Wright and thick southern accent were somewhat appealing.

Viscous Lips

The main problem I had was that the movie broke rule #1: "Thou Shalt Not Be Boring." After a slam bang opening the movie bogs down terribly and never really gains any momentum. And for a flick that never aims higher than lightweight tongue-in-cheek sci-fi, that's absolutely deadly.

Still, it has its enjoyable moments, and I don't doubt that others might like it much more than I did. 1.25 thumbs. Watch it for the music, if at all, but don't say I didn't warn you.


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