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Friday, January 28, 2022

The Scary of Sixty-First


 

The Scary of Sixty-First
Dasha Nekrasova
2021


Much like The Pizzagate Massacre (2020), The Scary of Sixty-First uses recent news and the cycle of conspiracy that has engulfed large portions of the planet to spin a tale of human frailty and the darkest parts of the human psyche. Like Pizzagate Massacre, The Scary of Sixty-First wears the veneer of an exploitation film but underneath it is both a character study and an art film. How successful it is at either of those things depends on your tolerance for unlikable characters and unsolvable mysteries. So, you know, it’s kind of like real life.

 

"I heard it was built by some guy named Ivo Shandor."
 

The film concerns itself with two women, Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown), who move into an apartment reportedly once owned by the infamous and mysteriously dead, Jeffrey Epstein. A woman, (Dasha Nekrasova), shows up at the front door telling the pair about their apartment’s history and drawing them into her own private obsession. Epstein, connected to lots of rich and powerful people and an alleged child sex trafficker, haunts this film. His very existence is the horrifying black hole that our characters find themselves tumbling into shortly after settling into their new home. 


There isn’t much in the way of plot in The Scary of Sixty-First, this is a film that exists primarily through tone and moments of shock. There is a gloominess that immediately makes itself known but is often tempered with a little black humor.  The film does deal with the horror of child sex trafficking in its own strange way, it never pulls back from the absolute disturbing nature of what happened but it mixes it with characters’ lives in a way comes across more like a possession or haunting. I can’t say that The Scary of Sixty-First is tasteful in its handling of abuse, but it absolutely condemns it.

 

"Why does this rug smell like Fritos?"
 

I have seen some criticism of the acting in the movie, but personally I feel that these unusual performances are entirely in keeping with the off-kilter atmosphere of the film. Our leads are under psychic assault almost from the first frame and are drawn into extreme behavior. In some ways it feels like the performances of a David Lynch film, especially in the peculiar, stilted way that characters speak. It is a stylistic choice rather than a lack of skill on the part of the film makers.

 

The Scary of Sixty-First and The Pizzagate Massacre form an interesting double feature of recent traumatic elements of the news cycle as seen through the intersection of exploitation and art films. There is a sheen of pitch-black humor in the face of human darkness but as you burrow down towards whatever lies at that center of our hearts it becomes tragic and unknowable. It’s not an easy watch but it is a compelling one and in that respect The Scary of Sixty-First is successful.

Friday, January 21, 2022

The Pizzagate Massacre

 

The Pizzagate Massacre
2020
John Valley


Initially upon finding The Pizzagate Massacre I assumed from the poster and trailer that it would be an ultra-exploitative trash film in the vein of Troma’s output. Not one to be deterred by tastelessness, I was very curious just how it would handle the subject matter and just how far it would go. For the uninitiated (although I don’t know how that can be at this point), Pizzagate was a once popular conspiracy that the basement of a pizza restaurant was in fact where secret rituals were being held by celebrities and politicians who are in fact lizard people that drink the blood of infants. It’s loopy nonsense that has set an entire nation on fire and has resulted in real life deaths.

 
So why not make a movie about it? That’s exploitation 101.

 

"Thin crust is a deep state conspiracy."
 

So, it came as a surprise that the movie approaches its characters as real people caught up in their desperate lives, where reaching out to a conspiracy is a way to contextualize their powerlessness. They have real emotions underpinning their actions no matter how absurd (or deadly) the entire the situation becomes. The movie is a comedy upfront, but things become and more dire as our leads find their quest spiraling into chaos.


Karen Black (Alexandria Payne) is an intern at a conspiracy news channel and almost immediately falls for the ranting of popular host, Terri Lee (Lee Edd). She decides to film a documentary about what is really going on in the basement of a Texas pizza joint named Toots Pizza. She enlists the help of a local militia member named Duncan Plump (Tinus Seaux) who just happens to be the son of infamous cult leader David Koresh. The pair begin their road trip to reveal the truth to the world.

 

"No, it's fine. This is just marinara on my hand."
 

Tinus imbues Duncan with a real humanity and that is no small task considering the character is a conspiracy driven former white nationalist with an incredibly murky outlook on the world. What emerges from underneath that is a sad, scared person who is desperately in search of a cause that will absolve him of his past wrongs, but he is only capable of digging himself in deeper. Karen is much more of blank slate. She seems to willingly believe anything put in front of her, whether it is a questionable news show or a very questionable road trip companion. Underneath though, there is something more sinister, an opportunist who’s only real aim is accomplish her goals at any cost.


I could look upon The Pizzagate Massacre as update of sorts to Falling Down (1993), where instead of a white man raging against the loss of privilege he expected to enjoy, we are given two people who are desperate to find the one thing that could make their lives (and in their skewed idealism, the entire world) a better place. I expected the movie to tease us with the possibility of actual lizard people but to do so would justify all the horrors that take place. We make the horrors, and that responsibility can not be passed on to some inhuman thing.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Alien Vows


Alien Vows
1996
Michael Ricks


Alien Vows is basically I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) albeit with a layer of sleaze and gore that to make it more palatable for the direct to video market of the 1990s. It is also far more uncharitable to its women characters than its 1950s counterpart. Sadly, that cruelty ramps up to the point where Alien Vows burns through its cheap charm and becomes something unpleasant, which is too bad, since it could have been a (very) minor cult gem.

 
The completely unoriginal plot follows a group of turtleneck wearing aliens as they land on Earth and prepare to find a suitable woman to impregnate with their DNA. What seems like a simple plan becomes over complicated as they a) have one of their own disguise themselves as a human and b) kill all women who can’t have children. The b part of the plan is mysterious because I don’t how this this helps them in any way and only serves to draw attention to their whole operation. An alien hunter (William Cook) gets involved in the whole and mess eventually.

"No, this is really my hair. What are you talking about?"
 

This movie primarily exists to serve up tits and blood, in this respect it is successful as there plenty of both on display. The gore effects are simple, relegated to copious amounts of the blood splashed on actors. The aliens use a simple and cost effective telekinesis to kill their targets. The alien costumes themselves look surprisingly good when lit correctly but fail to impress when shot in bright light. The less said about the miniature work and the Super Soakers disguised as ray guns the better.


Alien Vows attempts to bring some romantic tension between the alien hunter and Cindy (Charleen McCrory) the woman being chased down by the aliens for her fertility. There is no chemistry and it’s just a lot of watching two people sitting on a blanket in the desert while trying not to laugh at the alien hunter’s unfortunate extensions.

The perfect pick-up line.
 

The movie falls into a rhythm of the aliens killing random people with telekinesis, some sex scenes and flat dialog. Nothing particularly great going on here other than taking joy in some low rent exploitation. Near the end of the film, things take an ugly twist when a character is raped and pointlessly murdered for no other reason than to give the male character some righteous anger when going into the final showdown. This whole sequence drains the film of any fun it might have been having prior. Sure, they walk back a lot of it by the end the movie but the damage is done.


Alien Vows is a disaster that could have at least been a fun disaster but make some very unfortunate story choices late in the third act in an attempt to up the tension. I can’t recommend sitting through this entire film. Find some clips, check out the aliens murdering people in the streets and then go watch I Married a Monster from Outer Space. It’s a much better film.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Death Forest


 

Death Forest
2014
Masataka Ichimi


Movies based on video games are usually dismissed outright, but to be fair, their track record is not great. For every one that approaches quality like Silent Hill (2006) we get a dozen things as terrible as House of the Dead (2003). Death Forest is a video game movie (actually five video game movies) based on one of the most over used tropes in video games, where the player is forced to run around and gather objects while something pursues them. So, we are at the crossroads of two things with very spurious claims of quality and we should expect a complete train wreck? Right? 

Joker (2019)
 

Well…sorta?


Death Forest is very cheaply made and looks it. It mostly takes place in some nondescript woods and a few run-down locations. The direction makes the most of these empty and decrepit spaces, evoking an eerie hollowness. The flat lighting and barely there music makes for a minimalist spooky atmosphere. This is something I’ve always like about the direct to video J-Horror boom of the 90s-00s, using these preexisting spaces with such a naturalistic direction gives the outrĂ© horror and casual violence a much sharper feel.


The main characters are a band of interchangeable and annoying twenty-somethings. They engage in a level of casual cruelty with each other that makes me wonder why they are even friends in the first place. I understand that they are positioned to be fodder for the world’s grossest Pac-Man impersonator, but that doesn’t make it much fun to sit around with them while we wait for the monsters to show up. The only redeemable character is Kazuki Uchida (Daijiro Kawaoka), who actually has a motivation and a background. Thankfully he becomes a reoccurring character throughout the series.


"Bro, back up, I'm trying to play Missile Command."
 

The real star of Death Forest is Yoshie, a massive floating head that likes to chomp anyone who wanders into the forest. She is accompanied by a gang of naked white skinned zombies sporting monstrous grins on their faces. As absurd as Yoshie is, the movie uses her strange appearance and speed to make her feel like a real threat. The Stalkers,are her band of white skinned shuffling zombies who also manage to come across both comical and threatening simultaneously. This film is built on low expectations and if it couldn’t deliver on its monsters it was going to be an abject failure. Thankfully, Death Forest manages to meet its low bar.


So, in its own low-key way, Death Forest works as a video game adaptation. It take all the elements present in the game, fleshes them out into a simple narrative that works on film and then proceeds to deliver a little spooky atmosphere and some bloodletting. Great video game movies are difficult to realize but mostly passable ones seem well with the realm of possibility, especially if they include a giant floating ghost head chowing down on people.
 

Friday, December 31, 2021

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century

 

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century
1977
Gianfranco Parolini


Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century is a wonderfully absurd cash-in on both the Bigfoot craze of the 1970s and the big budget remake of King Kong (1976). The movie moves from goofy moment to goofy moment with an abandon that makes it into a comedy on the level of Airplane (1980) at times. There is a refreshing lack of realism and rationality (and skill) on display during its runtime as the movie bounces between back and forth between violent monster flick and silly kiddie fare.


There is something very cartoonish about the opening act where a wealthy entrepreneur attempts to transport and thaw out a huge icebound figure who looks like he’s been dragged out of a nearby Scooby-Doo cartoon. What they do manage to unfreeze is a giant man with fantastic hair. Kaiju moves are almost always stretching suspension of disbelief. Monster costuming bridges that gap between real and unreal, so when this Yeti looks just like a guy with a mane of blonde hair it becomes increasingly difficult to take anything seriously.

 

"Get this guy a towel!"
 

Not that this movie seems terribly interested in being serious (until it does). The Yeti takes a liking to a collie who seems more disinterested than frightened. He also makes a woman comb is his luscious hair with a giant fish skeleton and shows an affinity for hairspray. This mirrors virtually any version of King Kong where early on, Kong and whatever woman he’s run off with have bonded over some minor adventure, but here, it’s taken to a level of absurdity. The movie keeps insisting that he Yeti has a hard time breathing because of… I’m not really sure. Presumably the air is much thinner way up in the Himalayas where he lives, so coming down to ground level he should be giddy from oxygen density, but the opposite happens here. Thankfully the movie at no point attempts to engage in anything like accurate science so I’m going to let this one slide.


As is tradition in giant monster movies, the size of the Yeti varies greatly as the movie progresses. Sometimes he’s 20 feet tall and others he seems to tower well over 50. The Yeti is brought to life through large scale props and optical effects. It is never brought to life convincingly, but after a while this becomes part of the charm of the whole affair.

 

"Thanks for the towel!"
  

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century is a silly mess, it is neither a good monster movie nor a good children’s film. Despite its many flaws, the movie glides by from moment to moment in such a carefree way that it is difficult to not get caught up in the fun. Sure it is shoddily made and needed several more passes on the script before it could have become something good, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable experience.


With the 2020s being the way they are a visit to the Giant of the 20th Century really is a nice place to visit.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Man Beast

 

Man Beast
1956
Jerry Warren

"I'd shoot one day on this stuff and throw it together...I was in the business to make money. I never, ever tried in any way to compete, or to make something worthwhile. I only did enough to get by, so they would buy it, so it would play, and so I'd get a few dollars. It's not very fair to the public, I guess, but that was my attitude...You didn't have to go all out and make a really good picture." – Jerry Warren

Let’s talk about Jerry Warren. I hate every one of his films. They are boring. They are shot poorly. They are acted poorly. Half the time, he takes a perfectly serviceable film from another country and makes it far worse by chopping it up and editing in his own dull scenes like some kind of coma inducing Godfrey Ho. If Jerry Warren had been born a few decades later he would have been pumping out artless crap for the Syfy Channel. His movies don’t bore me to sleep they bore me to rage. A unique skill granted, but ‘pissing off some trans girl sixty-five years into the future’ isn’t the most useful ability. Still, Mr. Warren is an auteur in that respect.  

 

"Oh, you're eating this fucking churro, pal."
 

That said, Man Beast is the Jerry Warren movie I hate the least (insofar as such things can be measured). It’s his first film, so there at least appears to some effort put into the story. Connie Hayward (Virgina Manyor) mounts an expedition to try and find her brother who vanished on an earlier trip to the Himalayas to discover the Yeti. Along the way, the group meets a very strange person by the name of Varga (George Skaff) who offers to help, but is obviously up to no good. 


(One plot element that seems to come up more often than not in Yeti films is the Yeti stealing human women to mate with. It’s weird and gross. Stop it. )


Look it’s not much, but we have definable goals for the protagonists, a mysterious threat, and even a plot complication with a traitor in midst of the heroes. These are all things that will vanish from Warren’s oeuvre soon enough so enjoy them while you can. I can even appreciate the guerilla tactics Warren used to get this film made, from making up fake names to fill out the cast to climbing fences to film on other studios' sets, that is the kind of fun passion that makes filmmaking interesting. In the end Warren was in it for the money and not in the Roger Corman way where he fostered dozens of artists in the process.

"I'm just saying it would be better if you got
swell hat like the rest of us."



I guess if you’re the kind of person who thinks voluntarily watching anything Jerry Warren made is a good idea, then I would watch Man Beast. It is a step above something like The Creeping Terror (1964), but only just so. Man Beast is the only Jerry Warren film I will damn with faint praise rather than loud anger.
 

It’s an Xmas miracle.



Friday, December 17, 2021

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman
1957
Val Guest


Stop me if you’ve heard this one, a bunch of scientists and adventures are heading up the Himalayas to find the fabled Yeti. Things got wrong a lot of people die in the process. There’s a lot of fighting amongst the humans who turn out to be the real monsters after all.


What’s different this time around? This time there is a lot of skill in front of and behind the camera. For starters this is a Hammer production, so it carries with it a higher level of quality than similar productions of the time. The script is written by Nigel Kneale, the creator of the Quatermass series, The Stone Tapes (1972), and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), among others. It stars Peter Cushing and Forrest Tucker accomplished actors who can give fantastical material some weight.

 

"OK, try not to set this grave on fire too."
 

With Kneale writing the script this is more than just another monster movie, although he would go on to create more intricate blends of science-fiction and horror, you can see those elements at play here. One of the strongest elements of the script is how it slowly pulls back the curtain on who or what the Yeti are and why they act like they do. The Yeti in this film aren’t just monsters, they are uniquely alien beings.


A monster movie can’t exist on just it’s monsters, it needs compelling characters too, Peter Cushing is Dr. John Rollason, a mild-mannered British scientist who has been making a extended stay at a monastery along with this wife, Helen (Maureen Connell). He finds himself paired up with a brash American explorer named Dr. Tom Friend played by Forrest Tucker. These two characters butt heads on the regular and it keeps things lively as they slowly close in on the domain of the Yeti. Even though he’s a ruthless opportunist, Dr. Friend is given a spark of humanity all the way up to his inevitable end.

 

"I think it's looking for a manicure."
 

Out of all the Yeti movies I have seen up to this point this definitely the one with the highest aspirations. There aren’t any screaming women being carried off by monsters or exploitative gore, however it is staid almost to a fault. This was based on a BBC teleplay with many of the same actors and much like that studio bound production, there’s quite a bit of standing around and talking. To The Abominable Snowman’s credit, its large budget allows for some impressive sets such as the monastery feels large and lived in. Snow, typically a difficult thing to make realistic on screen, looks good here as well. You never get a full look at the Yeti until near the finale when you see its face, a moment that is used for maximum impact and moment of humanity that is unexpected. 


The Abominable Snowman
is not the most exciting yeti movie, but it the most intelligent and well crafted of the particular subgenre of science-fiction and horror. If you enjoy the work of Nigel Kneale this is not his best work but even lesser Kneale is interesting storytelling.