Friday, May 14, 2021

Fried Barry

Fried Barry
Ryan Kruger

Fried Barry does not have much of a plot. Much like Barry himself it lurches from moment to moment seemingly without reason, only to have previous experiences slowly build and connect into a story. This is not without purpose. The film is here to put us in the mindset of an alien and an alien often on drugs to boot. A loose story like that with an unreliable and not entirely human narrator could easily fall into chaos, but Fried Barry is guided by a surprising core of kindness underneath all the flash and bodily fluids.

Barry (Gary Green) is a heroin addicted mess of a human being. When he’s not shooting up, he’s yelling at his wife or looking for somewhere to shoot up. Luckily for everyone, Barry is abducted and probed by aliens, who decide to take his body for a ride. This new and improved Barry is silent, somehow irresistibly attractive to women, and unendingly sweet in his own distant way. Barry crosses paths with gangsters, lonely women, drug dealers, and even a child abductor, all without having a clue about what he’s really doing. In that respect Barry is more human than we expect.

Our hero.

Fried Barry is an assault on the senses moving from the run down and dingy confines of a heron den, to the flashing lights and heavy bass of an alien space craft, the film tonally and visually changes at any given moment. For a film about heavy drug use, featuring puking, a giant boner, and a chainsaw fight, Fried Barry is often silly and occasionally even charming. Among the grime of the city there are flashes of brilliant neon and strobing lights. The entire alien abduction sequence is slick looking and gorgeous, a reminder that every moment of this film is considered and crafted to a fine point.

The score of Fried Barry by composer and performer Haezer is as much of a character as Barry himself. Like the narrative, it shifts from subtle tonal ambience to heavy techno beats. Like the imagery, the score is masterful in the way it controls the energy from scene to scene only to explode in a frenzy of noise. With a lesser score this film would be no where nearly as dynamic.

Laser hair removal really stings.

The most shocking thing about Fried Barry at how sweet it is at the core. The opening scenes prepared me for something dour and a little mean. Barry is not a good person, the people he associates are not good people, and the place he exists is unpleasant. Post abduction, Barry is a blank slate. He spends most of his time gawping at things and wandering around, but when he acts, it is to try and help someone or make things around him a little better.  The being inhabiting Barry is alien and unknowable except for the fact that it is kind. 

In the end a heroin addicted alien sex fiend is the most human character of all. I love it. An amazing film and film and one of my favorites of 2021.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Meatcleaver Massacre

Meatcleaver Massacre (aka The Hollywood Meatcleaver Massacre aka Evil Force)
Even Lee

Meatcleaver Massacre touts Christopher Lee as its big draw. This is a lie. Yes, Christopher Lee is in it, but also, he’s not. Mr. Lee opens and closes the movie with long rambling speeches about demons and the occult. He is not interested in what he is saying, and it shows. I am certain this was something left off of his sizzle reel. In fact, these opening and closing segments where not originally filmed for Meatcleaver Massacre but were added after the fact. Not an auspicious start (or end) for this movie but nothing can really prepare you for what is coming.

"I don't know what I"m doing in the movie either."

After what I can only describe as the world’s most evil slide show, Professor Cantrell (James Habif) an expert in the occult and demons, heads home to his family. Some disgruntled students(?) get drunk in a van, drive to his house and murder his family for no reason that is ever actually explained. They all wear an identical patch on their jackets, are they supposed to be a cult or a gang? We are never told in a movie that is not interested in explaining anything at all.

After the unexpected murder of the professor’s family (that is totally devoid of a meat cleaver by the way), we get down to the bulk of the film in which the near catatonic professor is summoning demons to dispatch the killers. From there we get this band of the murderers doing random things, stopping those things to go do other random things, having nightmares, and then getting killed in a gory fashion. Repeat this cycle till the end of the movie.

It sounds like a disaster and it is, but the atmosphere it generates is so dreamlike yet grimy, it creates an undoubtedly compelling little film. Events just happen with no real explanation and end just abruptly.  A suicide is interrupted by work, a man just stops having sex and goes home, and a man gets electrocuted in series of events I still do not quite grasp. We even get a monster at the climax with looks like a Bigfoot covered in seaweed. Like the rest of this movie, it is odd more than frightening. After this nightmare we visit Christopher Lee again, who goes on far too long about occult conventions and mysteries. Even an actor of his caliber cannot elevate this material and Lee is only barely trying here.

The smell of this thing is incredible.

Meatcleaver Massacre is not what I expected from the title, and that is an understatement. Should you watch it? If you are looking for a straightforward slasher or demonic possession movie, you’re going to be bored and annoyed.  If you like things slow and confusing but somehow compellingly weird at the same time, then you will certainly find some things to enjoy here. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Amanda and the Alien

Amanda and the Alien
Jon Kroll

After leaving its mate behind and stealing the form of a woman named, Connie Flores (Alex Meneses). Amanda (Nicole Eggert) notices this non-Connie acting strangely in a coffee shop and immediately grasps that she is  an alien.  As the alien continues to eat and become people, Amanda ends up falling in love with it. Now she must make sure the alien makes it to its rendezvous point before government agents track it down and kill it.

Amanda and the Alien is basically the film Starman (1984) except with more sex scenes and an alien love interest that regularly murders people and assumes their identities. The story is wrapped up in a lot of silly lowbrow comedy and it rarely allows for the time or thought to dwell on the larger aspects of what's happening. Despite its shallowness, Amanda and  the Alien does manage some rather progressive views, especially by 1995 standards.

"So, what are you wearing?" "You really don't want to know."

There are a couple of elements that make Amanda and the Alien worth checking out. I do enjoy the way that Amanda immediately figures out that the odd person in the coffee shop is an alien in disguise and it never phases her. After some initial awkwardness with showing this visitor how to take a shower, she never treats the alien very differently in its various forms. There’s a little gay panic subtext later in the film, almost inescapable in this era but it is an ugly mark on an otherwise decent film.

Secondly, while most of the humor falls flat there are some very odd jokes in the form of line deliveries that work well. Michael Dorn and Stacy Keech are obviously slumming it here but also appear to be having a lot of fun engaging in all the featherweight nonsense. Dorn in particular is fantastic as a single-minded agent who’s very odd around the edges. Many of the smaller jokes work quite well and keep the staid plot from killing the momentum. These range from an unusually good cup of coffee to a freaking Shakespeare joke. 

"It's our economy sized starship."

This is a low budget made for Showtime film, so the effects are appropriately cheap. The practical alien and tentacle effects look decent even today, but that bane of the 1990s, morphing, looked terrible then and does so now. Thankfully, this isn’t a special effects heavy film so most of it can be overlooked.

There is a darker undertone in this film that is only touched on but if it could have been explored it would have made for more interesting finished product. For starters, the alien is killing people to eat them and assume their form. The film takes a little time to paint these victims as jerks so that you don’t need to feel bad about them dying, but the fact is that this being kills and eats people to survive. The murky morality of it all is interesting and exploring how Amanda’s detachment from people allows her to still be in love with this being would open whole avenues of narrative.

Amanda and the Alien is a serviceable sex comedy that has a few touches that make it interesting. Give it a go if for nothing else than to see Michael Dorn do some fun comedic acting. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Son of Dracula

Son of Dracula
Freddie Francis

What a strange movie.

Son of Dracula is a vampire movie with Ringo Starr playing Merlin. Right there that sentence should be enough to give you a moment’s pause. It sounds like it’s going to be a silly movie probably fueled by cocaine, too much money and artistic hubris. It is, but not in the way I anticipated. I expected this film to largely be a goof, an inside joke between a bunch of ex-hippies. It is exactly this, but it also tries to be a reasonable facsimile of real Dracula movie, somewhere between a Hammer film and late Universal cycle monster mashups like House of Dracula (1945).

Dracula (his appearance a nod to Nosferatu (1922)) gets staked in his own castle. The vampire hunters discover his bride asleep and pregnant. Cut to 100 years later and the son of Dracula, Count Downe (ugh) played by Harry Nilsson is set to take the throne as king of the underworld. His pal Merlin (Ringo Starr) is attempting to find the exact time it needs to happen. Count Downe (gah) begins having second thoughts when he falls in love with a young woman named Amber (Suzanna Leigh).

Fun Fact: Ring Starr did not know he was making a movie.

First thing's first, if you’re going to make a Dracula movie, you get veteran of numerous Hammer and Amicus horror films, Freddie Francis to direct. He creates a spooky atmosphere filled with gloomy gothic locations and mixes with modern spaces (by 1974 standards) in a way that does its best to compliment the story’s mix of classic horror tropes and then current ideals of peace and love born out of the 1960s. Count Downe (yeah, I know) is introduced as a monster lunging out of the dark to bite an unsuspecting gas station attendant and the scene wouldn’t look out of place in a more traditional horror movie. The songs are a mix of acid rock and glittering singer/songwriter stylings. As separate elements they work fine but the entirety never gels as a single aesthetic.

Harry Nilsson as Count Downe (boooo) is the weak link in the production. He’s never compelling or magnetic in the way a Dracula should be, he just seems bored and a little sad. It is difficult to understand why anyone would fall for him. Thankfully, the movie seems to recognize this as well and offers a magical explanation why Amber would even be interested in him. Since this movie is equally about honoring and subverting traditional monster movies, I suppose making Dracula a wet blanket could be a part of that, but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable view.

"I am an alluring creature of the night... I guess."

What to make of this film? For all its set-up it feels like it is going to more of a spoof than anything, but its aims are far more earnest. Like most modern vampire stories, Son of Dracula is a romance at heart and this film finds exactly that at its climax when we are whisked off to a floaty hippie ending with dazzling lights and exclamations of cosmic love. This part of the film is pure 1974.

What a strange movie.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Unseen Evil

Unseen Evil (aka The Unbelievable)
Jay Woelfel

A college professor and small group hire a native guide to help locate an ancient burial ground. It turns out they have actually come to rob the place blind of its extraordinary treasures. Something monstrous and unseen awakens when they do.

Unseen Evil is the kind of shelf filler that you might expect to have found at your local rental place. It contains that most of cost saving of monsters, the invisible kind. Since this was 1999, Unseen Evil features some very primitive (and also cost saving) CGI. So, right at the start Unseen Evil looks like it is going to be another dated and dull bit of rental fodder. It turns out it is very dated looking, but it also manages to be entertaining despite itself. Go into it with some lowered expectations and you might be pleasantly surprised.

"Ooh a wheat penny!"

Unseen Evil pulls in a surprisingly strong cast and the uses them in unusual ways. It has b-move stalwarts Tim Thomerson as a horny park ranger and Richard Hatch as the head of the nefarious expedition to steal native artifacts. We also get Cindy Pena as the native and local guide, Dana, along with Mike (Frank Ruotolo), and Williams (Jere Jon).  Everyone does a decent job with what they are given, and in what I feel like is influenced by the popularity of Tarantino films around this time, our gang of would-be tomb raiders are more than happy to pull pistols on each other in a constantly twisting series of allegiances.

If Unseen Evil has one thing going for it, is a level of unpredictability in who is going to get killed and when. The standard format for most monster films is to have the cast picked off one at a time and it usually is not so difficult to figure out who is going to die and in what order. Unseen Evil manages to buck this order just a little, but it is enough to give the story a little more spark than it would have otherwise. It isn’t much but by the standards of VHS fare from this era, I will take what I can get.

"Ooh a wheat penny!"

The mostly invisible monster of Unseen Evil is exactly what you’re going to expect. It is a stiffly animated CGI creature. You never really get a clear sense of what it looks like or how big it is. Most of the time it is invisible and when it does make an appearance it is a transparent mess of textures. If you’re here for any kind of satisfying creature action, I would definitely look somewhere else. The creature does come with a mildly interesting background involving a Native American tribe and flying saucers. 

Unseen Evil isn’t a great film by any standards, but it does manage to rise (very) slightly above the rest. If you have a taste for ephemeral movies that will relegated to the dark corners where obsessives lurk (Hi, there.) maybe give it at try.


Friday, April 9, 2021

Frankenstein 1970

Frankenstein 1970
Howard W. Koch

Much like How to Make to a Monster (1958) which came out in the same year, Frankenstein 1970 takes a self-reflexive look at popular monsters of time. Frankenstein 1970 never goes as far as How to Make a Monster but does open with a fun narrative trick as we watch what we think is a by now rote scene of Frankenstein’s monster chasing a woman into a lake to murder her. Someone off screen yells cut and the shot is pulled back to reveal that we are in fact watching a Frankenstein movie being filmed.

The legend of Frankenstein gets quite update here, Victor Frankenstein was a real person who really did experiment with creating life from dead bodies. Only here his descendant was co-opted by the Nazis, tortured, and forced to work for them. Now permanently injured and running low on funds he takes money from a film crew looking to create a celebration of the original Frankenstein’s work. Frankenstein's lab is modernized complete with atomic reactor and other more high-tech elements at his disposal. He even has the original monster with which he hopes to get working again. 

"I think perhaps you need to start moisturizing."

Frankenstein's motives and history are much more compelling than anything the paper-thin characters of the film crew have to offer. It is thankful that Boris Karloff puts on such a compelling performance while we wait around for the good doctor to finally get to harvesting their organs for his monster. Frankenstein 1970 is not particularly gruesome, you do see the odd body part here and there, but it largely plays things safe. The monster itself is a mixed bag. I particularly liked it when it has just a skull head but later it lumbers around wrapped in bandages and with what looks like a giant pillowcase on its head. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares.

Aside from the opening a few scenes shot on location most of the film takes place in Frankenstein’s castle complete with caves, and his lab. It makes good use of the widescreen format making everything lusher and grander where it could easily could have looked cheap and small. For a film allegedly shot for $110,000 (about $1,000,000 in 2021 dollars) it looks and sounds good. The score is typical bombastic stuff you find in many movies of the 1950s and I didn’t find it particularly interesting. Along with the updating of Frankenstein’s life and his tools I wonder if a more modernized soundtrack with a Theremin or other electronic sounds would have been more appropriate and memorable.

This Charmin squeezes you.

Frankenstein 1970 is a small film with just enough engaging elements to keep you watching through its runtime. The final moment is strong idea executed poorly. Frankenstein’s need to create is given a poignant reason but it feels almost like an afterthought rather than the shocking climax it should have been. Still, the film is worth a look, especially to see Boris Karloff late in his career deliver another fun performance.

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Arrival

The Arrival
David Schmoeller

The Arrival shows a lot of promise from the start. We are introduced to Max Page on his 72nd birthday, a blue glowing meteor crashes into Earth and we are off to our story, or so we think. In defiance of most b-movie conventions where efficiency is the goal, The Arrival takes it time in getting around to engaging its central premise. It is not wasted time either, we spend it getting to know Max Page (Robert Sampson/Joseph Culp) as he undergoes his transformation from old man to middle aged vampire.

The Arrival sets up a lot of interesting concepts. We have Max’s slow descent into vampirism coupled with his increasing alien nature. The most intriguing element is Max’s reoccurring dream of a strange woman in all white environments that often involve blood. Both elements are introduced early on and serve to lift the story up above most direct to video films of the time, both visually and narratively. It is a pity they are all but forgotten by the end of the film.

Old Man Gawps at Cloud

After what looks to be a slow burn to get to the blood drinking, The Arrival starts to make big time jumps so that we can get to a young Max as he meets up with various women, seduces them and then slices them open with a scalpel to get to their delicious blood. He’s also become extremely strong and very resistant to bullets. Max’s characterization falls apart at this stage. Half the time he’s a cold machine who acts the Terminator without the charm and the rest of the time he’s a warm caring guy who can save children from car accidents and fall in love with a nurse he met earlier.

There is seemingly no pattern or narrative tell as to why this happens. A key element to tracking Max down comes from the fact that he’s attracted to estrogen and I think it would be easy to tie his increasingly strange behavior to when he gets hungry, but the story is too muddled to pull this off. By the time John Saxon’s detective gets involved the film turns into basically another story of a serial killer and the woman he loves. The police procedural takes over and we get a convoluted means of stopping Max which amounts to poisoning him and then shooting him a whole bunch.

Thelma and Louise and... Steve

Aside from an effective final moment the entire alien element of the film feels wasted. Max’s newfound youth, the visions he has, and even his growing alien nature are all intriguing but eventually they are all eschewed for yet another detective drama. I was waiting for further alien things from him, perhaps even some kind of final transformation but nothing like that ever comes. The third act is well paced but it feels like a letdown after what set everything in motion. A man in the throws of alien induced vampirism is a great premise and if anyone if look for something remake, The Arrival is a good place to start.