So what’s going to be my first new movie of 2017? Er … yes a messed up little horror comedy that’s gained quite a lot of word of mouth. Sitting down to this I really had very little idea of what I was in for … and having sat through it, I’m still not entirely sure what I just witnessed.
A father and son run a dodgy disco-themed tourist walk in their local Los Angeles neighbourhood. One day a woman (Elizabeth De Razzo) attracts the attention of the dim-witted son (Sky Eloba) who asks her out, much to the jealousy of his weird, possessive father (Michael St Michaels). So sets forth a bizarre love triangle that takes place whilst a freaky strangler stalks victims at night whilst covered head to toe in grease. Yeah, this is not your average movie.
Director Jim Hosking has certainly created a next level weird-fest here and delivers a fairly stylish looking movie on the whole. With several weird performances, even weirder characters and situations, this is the sort of movie you either watch and get something out of in a ‘what is this shit’ kind of way or you turn it off after a few minutes. There really is no other way of approaching it. It has a bonkers soundtrack that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard (complete with chipmunks-like speeded up voices and an ominous pounding jazz theme tune) and an atmosphere of a hallucinogenic acid trip nightmare. It’s a hard film to categorize but think Troma or grindhouse and you’ll have an idea what this is going for. So what you get is plenty of gratuitous nudity (not a good thing, unless old man penis is your thing) and plenty of sick ideas and a smattering of gore. Yet it never really lets loose, and well, for such a premise should have really been a lot sicker and a lot gorier to leave any sort of impact on this viewer.
As it stands this was an occasionally comical and entirely unique experience that whilst not really doing anything all that memorable … I’m still happy to say I’ve seen.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of visionary director Nicolas Winding Refn’s last movie, Only God Forgives … a movie whilst stylistically impressive didn’t draw me in at all. However I do consider the acclaimed Drive a bit of a cult classic. So on a film-lover’s basis I’ll always give this guy a day in court. This latest effort is sort of an amalgamation of influences but I suppose most closely resembles Black Swan, swapping the ballet scene for fashion. Elle Fanning plays a young model newly arrived in Los Angeles and hoping to get discovered. There she befriends makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and gets a gig working for agency executive Christina Hendricks. However as her angelic natural beauty starts to catch the eye of several high profile photographers and designers, she attracts the jealously of fellow models.
This is a striking looking movie. Refn’s eye for beautiful / macabre imagery is perfectly suited to the subject and we get a very artistic, at times freaky but always interesting ‘experience’ that clearly borrows from the likes of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and to a heavy extent Dario Argento … with clear nods to Suspiria. Add to this an equally effective soundtrack with plenty of industrial-electronic beats enhancing the images. The plot which is fairly simple goes to some very dark, surprising places and has a stand out turn from Fanning who continues to be an actress to watch. One of my growing faves, Jena Malone is also very good (will she live down ‘that’ scene?). We also get an appearance from Keanu Reeves as a creepy hotel manager. A Winding Refn movie is not for everyone I’ll add … he goes to some pretty shocking extremes here and it all gets rather messed up towards the end, as his movies usually do – but here the twist is a little bonkers and left me feeling a bit pushed out of the experience, almost like Refn was trying to shock for sake of shock rather than concluding on something all that effective or convincing.
However as a bold observation of a very superficial industry where youth and beauty are used and thrown away easily – I still found this both disturbing and intriguing … but not quite the sum of its exceptional looking ‘parts’.
For me director John Carpenter has been one of the greatest genre film makers probably since Roger Corman, and through the late seventies to late eighties had a streak of classic movie after classic movie. Who can argue with his pedigree when he’s made such entries as Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China? The fact he also composes all the music for his movies as well just shows a dedication to his craft.
This 1983 effort may not get the same kind of love as the aforementioned titles but still has a status as once again another decent, if rather low-rent adaptation of a Stephen King novel. The quirky tale of a high school nerd, Arnie (Keith Gordon) who stumbles upon a 1957 Plymouth Fury in an old man’s back yard and decides to buy it and restore it to it’s former glory. Said shiny red car named Christine, of course soon changes Arnie’s persona from the nerdy victim to a somewhat cooler kid about town, attracting not only the hot girl in school but also the attention of a group of bullies. The only thing is, Christine has a bit of a mind of her own and quickly get’s protective of Arnie and jealous of anyone who tries to take him away.
Of course it’s a bit dated and the acting is passable at best, and well, everyone (especially the bullies) looks way too old to be in high school. That being said as a master of the genre, Carpenter still fills the movie with assured direction, solid atmosphere and some effective moments (the attack on the gas station, the final showdown). The mixture of Carpenter’s own synth soundtrack and 50’s rock ‘n’ roll songs also works a treat. I’d have liked it to have got a bit more violent as the kills are tame as hell … even for the time this was made. The plot also jumps from one thing to another with this viewer not really getting that invested in Arnie’s descent into madness, and well Harry Dean Stanton’s detective just seems to wonder into the movie like he’s walked onto the wrong set. But for an old-school horror, this was fun, inoffensive stuff and I’m glad I’ve finally seen it.
The Blu-ray from Indicator comes with a detailed booklet that covers not only the movie but also the director’s influences throughout his career. What looks to be a new documentary is also on the disk, split over several parts with interviews with John Carpenter as well as several cast members, as is an audio commentary from Carpenter and lead actor Keith Gordon. Add to this a handful of deleted scenes, a photo gallery and an isolated score. The image quality whilst not amazing pops with Christine’s bright red paint work and overall is very pleasing. We also get the soundtrack in a choice of the original 2.0 or a more than welcome 5.1 even if surrounds aren’t really used. Top notch treatment then for a worthwhile, but not exactly essential entry in both Stephen King movie adaptations and Carpenter’s filmography.
I like Rob Zombie, at least as far as his intentions are concerned. The execution, not so much but for me he has still delivered some effective movies with a grindhouse, video-nasty feel many horrors ignore in place of glossy production values and pretty actors. As fairly typical for a Rob Zombie movie a group of travelling carnival-types (included Mrs Zombie herself, Sheri Moon Zombie as well as a few other Zombie regulars), find themselves kidnapped by a mysterious organization and thrown into a deadly game, involving an increasingly psychotic bunch of killers and a cat and mouse night of survival.
The poster art and the trailer promised so much, with some freaky, stand-out images and what appeared to be Rob Zombie back on gruesome form after a poorly realised Halloween sequel and a diversion into the supernatural with the (rather good) Lords of Salem. So let the red stuff flow! Yes we get some inspired creations, from a Nazi midget, a Harlequin knock-off and well, Zombie’s version of The Joker in the shape of Doom Head (Richard Brake) – easily the star of the show. Acting is passable and how things play out fairly predictable, but still fun if you’re into unlikable idiots getting bumped off one by one in increasingly gory ways. Zombie doesn’t hold back in such regard and we get beheadings, a graphic throat slit and some fun with chainsaws! However, the editing is so crazy at times that it’s occasionally difficult to tell what’s going on … but with a good feeling of unease and tension throughout … I was still glued.
Sad then that the movie lacks anything resembling a new idea … even for Zombie (we saw very similar fair in House of 1000 Corpses). Yet it all looks good, Zombie certainly proving he has an eye for iconic imagery and can shoot a scene with genuine skill – but when what’s happening is simply rinse and repeat violence with little creativity, it all starts to get a bit boring. That ending also was begging for a twist – but no, we don’t even get that, finishing everything on a whimper rather than a scream.
I was certainly intrigued by this concept. A malevolent spirit that disappears in direct light but is deadly in the dark, who seems to be haunting a small family, that of a single mother and her little boy. When said boy turns to his older, rebellious sister for help after one too many strange goings on, soon an investigation ensues … subsequently causing the family to look into their own past in the process.
Whilst fairly simple in it’s idea I did find this pretty unnerving throughout what with an evil spirit seemingly capable of jumping out from any darkened corner or darkened room. The maker’s had a field-day with this idea and I certainly got a kick out of the various ways the idea was explored, complete with an effective ‘shooting at the ghost’ sequence. However the frights don’t exactly come thick and fast and rely a little too much on loud noises and character reactions more than being scary in their own right … which they are but the other stuff dilutes the experience somewhat. Also I wasn’t keen on the occasional times the spirit spoke … again diluting the scariness by giving it too much character (the remake of ‘Ring’ had a similar misstep).
The casting is pretty decent, although only Maria Bello is recognisable but suitably unhinged as the troubled mother. I also thought the young actor playing the boy was above average. Add to this a complex turn from Teresa Palmer who manages to be more than a typical, moody twenty-something. The final act is also solid and full of action with some novel twists on the concept. But I did hope for a bit more light to be shed on the spirit’s origins, which sadly is ignored in place of a rather ballsy ending. So despite good intentions, this doesn’t quite reinvent the horror movie and is a bit too Hollywood with some of its scares … but regardless this was still a suitably creepy and entertaining experience.