Monday, May 23, 2016

Gnats! Movie fundraiser for Prescribed Films

So my buddies over at Attack of the Killer Podcast are also filmmakers, and they're gearing up to shoot their new movie this summer. It's called Gnats!, and is a spoof of 70's nature strikes back movies. But I'll let Insane Mike himself tell you all about it:

There you go, fiends. Time to put your money where your mandibles are and support independent horror! Tell 'em Ragnarok sent you and maybe they'll keep letting me ruin their podcast.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Watching horror movies with my kids

When this roundtable was suggested, I gave it some thought and decided to give it a pass. I had already reviewed my gateway genre movie, and although I did do a brief search for bizarre foreign children's movies just so I could write about something weird, my heart wasn't really in it. Most of the things I like that are aimed at a younger audience (Something Wicked This Way Comes or The Black Hole, for example) are just too well known for me to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. And let's face it, unless it's kaiju, kiddie fare just ain't what we do around here.

Right around the time everyone was confirming their movie picks and the first couple of reviews were trickling in to the group, I had mentioned on Facebook that my son had been on a Chucky kick and my daughter had wanted to see more gleefully mean-spirited carnage, so we'd spent the weekend watching Child's Play 2 and 3, as well as Final Destination 4 and 5 (and yes, I know it's called The Final Destination, and no, I don't care, and yes, I think it should have been FIVnal Destination and the last one should have been called 5nal Destination). Good ol' Chad Plambeck had the notion that rather than a traditional movie review, I should join the party by writing a piece about my take on movies and parenting and watching horror flicks with my kids.

Growing up, I wasn't allowed to watch R rated movies. PG-13 was on the fence, depending on the subject matter. If you think that stopped me from watching them, I have a lovely piece of oceanfront property in Montana you might be interested in. Nights spent at the houses of friends with more lenient parents were gifts from the movie gods. I saw Predator at the house of a babysitter who had cable. I didn't care that something was wrong with it and the sound didn't work, I watched the whole thing silent and was absolutely enthralled. Best of all, mom and dad had no idea that “unrated” and G weren't essentially the same thing. I've expounded upon this more in my Creepozoids review. I got to see classics like Night of the Living Dead at the home of the Bruesewitzes; family friends who loved horror. I vividly remember Sandy reacting like I'd slapped a kitten when I told her I'd never seen John Carpenter's The Thing. Guess what I got for my 12th birthday? Boy was that an eye-opener.

Point is, by hook or by crook, I got my horror fix no matter the restrictions placed on me at home. Make something forbidden and it only enhances the temptation. It was a strange atmosphere of encouragement and proscription. I could watch any 50's sci-fi, Ray Harryhausen, or kaiju movie I wanted. They were, after all, free of objectionable material, and fed my love of monsters. Every birthday or Christmas there was practically guaranteed to be a new Video Treasures or Goodtimes Home Video tape with new rubber suited wonders for my eager eyes. What my folks didn't understand was, how could someone who loved monsters as much as I did let it stop there? They even had a hand in my obsession with horror movies, although until I told them about it recently, they didn't realize it. Along with Godzilla movies, they would occasionally rent the Jaws flicks for me and even watched them with me a few times. Dad would get a great kick out of sitting behind me, waiting for the music to crescendo or the shark to make a sudden appearance to claim a victim, and then grab my shoulders and yell, scaring the bejeezus out of me. Except instead of being truly afraid or making me upset, it just enhanced my love of those movies. I learned to anticipate the jolt of fear, and to roll with the thrill of it. It's a hoary old cliché, but kids enjoy being scared in the safety of their home. Confronting fear that can be dealt with in a comfortable and familiar environment sometimes makes it easier to deal with the real fears encountered out in the world.

I come at the question of what entertainment is suitable for my children from the completely opposite side of the table, obviously. Far from looking at horror as something to be shunned as garbage that children need protecting from, I eat, sleep, and breathe it. To paraphrase Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (another one the kids and I watched recently), “Horror is my life!” One of the things I looked forward to about having kids was being able to share the things I love with them, and hoping they took to at least some of it as much as I did. Of course, you can't start them out on Italian gut munchers and 70's exploitation. At 9 and 11 (although an exceptionally mature 9 and 11, and those of you who know them know that's not just parental bragging), they're still a good few years off watching the really nasty stuff.

Basically my only two blanket restrictions are explicit sex (also explicitly crude talk about sex – it's going to be a good long while before they get to see Deadpool) and especially sexualized violence. I don't mind if they see a bit of nudity. We're all nekkid under our clothes, after all. I was always on the filthy hippy liberal side of the, “Why is it OK to show violence on TV but not sex?” argument until I was actually put in a position where I had to give it some thought. Kids learn about death early. Pets die, great grandparents die, when they're quite young. They know how to cope with it. It's a simple concept with easily grasped consequences. It takes a lot longer for a mind to develop to the point of being able to comprehend the deep personal and social implications and repercussions attached to sex, which could make it frightening in the not-fun way and maybe cause serious hangups down the road. We've had “the talk” with them, of course, read books to them about it and the like, but seeing it portrayed in an exploitative way in a movie is so far removed from real life that it's difficult to explain. “A monster just ate that guy” is a lot easier for a kid to get their head around. Kids' stories from the very earliest ages feature monsters eating people. It's, “Fee fi fo fum,” not, “Fee fi fo suck my cock.”

There are a frustratingly large number of movies which contain but a small amount of this objectionable material, which I am nonetheless forced to remove from my repertoire of movies to share with the kids, including some of my absolute favorites and things that I know they would enjoy. One such example reared its head just the other night, when my friend John came up to stay the night and we watched Razorback after the kids went to bed. Now, Razorback is one of my favorite movies. The only Jaws knockoff that's very nearly as good as Jaws and one of the few movies I consider to be shot-perfect, that there's nothing you could change about it to make it any better. Unfortunately, there's a scene of threatened but unfulfilled rape that is nonetheless carried off in such a brutal and straightforward manner that I don't feel the kids need to be exposed to such unpleasant and realistic violence, even if it is all only performances. My daughter told me only just today that sometimes she feels afraid that supporters of Donald Trump may hurt her if they know she doesn't agree with them. It broke my heart that someone as young as she is can sense the culture of hatred and violence that currently pervades our country. I see no point in making that worse with something that is intended to be entertainment.

Gore, on the other hand, is easy. From a very young age, I always made sure they knew that anything in a movie was make-believe. At the end of the day, these actors get up off the ground and wash off the fake blood and go home to have dinner with their families. They accepted that, and never once have I had a problem with them being upset by gore in a movie.

It's also important to know your kids' limits. You don't want to sit them down in front of something they're not ready for. For a long time, both the kids were terrified of Chucky. They wouldn't even look at the spines of the DVDs on the shelf. So those movies were reserved for after they were in bed. Beez took the plunge first, unsurprisingly. She's always been daddy's little horror fiend. Not long after, Phoenix decided he wanted to give it a shot. He'd seen some Friday the 13th and Halloween entries – had gotten his feet wet in the shallow end with some of the more harmless fare – and felt he was ready to see the killer doll in action. I've always made sure they understand that these movies are intended to be scary, and that there's nothing to be ashamed of if they do get scared and want to turn it off. Oddly enough, the only time either one of them has ever gotten disturbed enough to want to shut something off was an episode of the TV show Lost Tapes.

It's interesting to watch how their tastes have developed. Phoenix is into the franchise horror: Jason, Freddy, Michael, any character with a back story and a bunch of sequels. Beez goes for quality over quantity, and seems to have acquired my love of anything with a monster in it. Her favorite movie is Dog Soldiers. She even wrote it on a “learn about your classmates” type worksheet for her new school year that got hung up in the classroom. I've watched it more times on her request than I have of my own volition, although I'm not complaining. Honorable mentions include Ginger Snaps, Critters, Alien, and Frozen (she is a nine-year-old girl, after all). She's more like me in that she'll try just about anything once. If she doesn't like it, no harm no foul. Phoenix, on the other hand, takes after his mom, and is very set in his ways. It's like pulling teeth to get him to try something new if it's not on his own terms, but almost every time I've convinced him to give something a shot, he's loved it. He's also much more into comedy, so if a movie has a humorous bent, it goes a long way towards his enjoyment of it (I knew he'd like Texas Chainsaw, but I knew he'd love Texas Chainsaw 2). We recently watched Bad Taste, and I thought he was going to bust a gut when the sheep went kerblooie.

I think it's worked out pretty well. I get to share the things I love with my kids, and I have two people who I can hang out and watch movies with any time. They're even turning into quite the little movie critics. While we were watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Beez came up with this little gem all on her own during the dinner scene, ten dollar words and all: “I think gender is important in this genre. If it was a guy in this scene it wouldn't be as scary. Guys are stronger and so you'd expect him to escape. With a girl, you root for her more, and you're not as sure she'll get away so there's more suspense. It also makes you more excited for her when she does get away and wins over a bunch of guys.” I'll wager that's more thought than most third graders put into their movie watching experience. Horror is good for the mind.

It's also a good bonding experience. The kids have both said many times I'm the coolest dad they know. Now, that certainly makes me feel good but it's by no means why I want to watch these movies with them. It's something I love and I know they can handle it and will love it too. If they were of a more sensitive constitution I would never consider having these movies on, if there was a chance they would be upset by them. I'm just a lucky dad to have such awesome kids with whom I can share my artistic passions.

I struggled like hell to figure out what to say in this piece. It's still not what I'd like it to be. When I'm just blabbing about movies, any old thing will do most of the time. Since it's about my kids, I feel like it should be my magnum opus – the greatest thing I'll ever write. They are, after all, the greatest thing I will ever contribute to the world. But at some point you just have to publish and move on. I think what I'd like to do is leave it open ended. This obviously isn't the last word on the subject. They're young yet, and we've got a long way to go in our journey together. If you have questions or comments about anything I've said, or think of things I didn't cover that you'd like to hear addressed, let me know. If and when I get enough material, I'll do another piece, and we'll continue this conversation about parenting and kids and horror movies, because in the end, I realize that's what this is. Not one article. Not even a series of articles. It's a conversation, and one that needs to be had, because everyone's parenting style, and everyone's kids, are different. Just make sure they get to see some monster movies.

But you don't have to take my word for it:
Checkpoint Telstar: Time Bandits 
Micro-Brewed Reviews: The Magic Serpent 
Psychoplasmics: The Gate 
Seeker of Schlock: Spider-Man 
The Terrible Claw Reviews: Gamera vs. Viras 
Web of the Big Damn Spider: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Attack of the Killer Podcast - Bears

Once again I join the Attack of the Killer Podcast crew, this time to discuss killer bear movies. Pack your tent, roll up your sleeping bag, and make sure you hang your food up high in a tree!

Attack of the Killer Podcast: Bear Attack

Friday, April 29, 2016

Attack of the Killer Podcast

You've probably noticed the link to these guys off to the side there for some time now. I was recently invited to join in the fun. I'll be back on from time to time, whenever they'll have me, so I'll be promoting those episodes here between my regular reviews. I encourage you to listen to all of them though. These cats put on a good show. Enjoy!

Attack of the Killer Podcast: Freaks and Mutants

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Bees (1978)

Written by: Alfredo Zacharias
Directed by: Alfredo Zacharias
John Saxon as John Norman (no, not the guy who wrote the Gor novels)
Angel Tompkins as Sandra Miller
John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Hummel
Claudio Brook as Dr. Miller

In the early 1950s, a biologist named Warwick Kerr crossbred several species of European honey bee with the African honey bee in an attempt to create a new species of bee more suited to the hot climates of South and Central America than the various European varieties then being used across the Americas. Tropical environments tended to slow down the European bees – being accustomed to more temperate conditions – and restricted their productivity. The experiment worked. Kerr's Africanised honey bee hybrids could function perfectly well in conditions that would keep European species huddled in their hives, and produced a significantly larger amount of honey as a result.

In October of 1957, a visiting beekeeper removed the queen excluder screens from the Apis mellifera hives because he thought they were interfering with the workers' ability to move around and do their work. 26 queens escaped quarantine with swarms, and the Africanised bees quickly spread across South and Central America. Because the hybrids were able to breed with any European variety of bee, many hives were taken over either by a forced invasion where Apis mellifera swarms entered European hives and killed the queens, or by drones joining mating flights and impregnating European queens, the result of which is almost always Africainsed offspring.

For the next twenty years, Apis mellifera spread across South and Central America, earning a reputation for ferocity that far outstripped its reputation for making shitloads of honey. Africanised bees guard their hives much more aggressively, and in a much wider defensive zone, than other kinds of bees. They also designate a greater number of guard bees than other species. They are easily agitated and react poorly to even small amounts of stress, abandoning their hives to swarm and find a quieter place to live. They also have a nasty habit of chasing perceived threats up to half a mile from their hive before they'll give up the chase and go home. They attack and sting in such great numbers that even people who are not prone to allergic reactions from stings can suffer from hypertension, and even respiratory and renal failure, resulting in death. Yes, a killer bee attack can pump you so full of venom it actually overloads your kidneys.

It's understandable, then, that there would be a bit of a scare as the swarms kept creeping closer and closer to the southern border of the United States. Despite the fact that deaths from killer bee attacks number in the high ones or twos per year, they're pretty scary deaths and the public love a good panic. Hollywood is not known for sitting back and waiting to see what will happen when there's a good scare going on, so inevitably there were killer bee movies thrown into production as soon as the topic made the news. There weren't as many of them as you'd think, probably because the most high-profile one of the bunch was a tremendous flop.

As far as I know, the earliest killer bee movie was 1966's The Deadly Bees, from England. It's best known for being featured on MST3K, and it's generally pretty stodgy and boring. There was at least one TV movie about killer bees, the cleverly titled The Killer Bees from 1974. But by far the most famous killer bee movie is Irwin Allen's The Swarm from 1978. Tonight's movie was actually going to beat Allen's megabudget opus to the screen, but Warner Brothers paid the filmmakers a substantial amount of money to postpone the release of The Bees and prevent competition between the two. Turns out Warner Brothers should have hung on to that money, because it might have represented a considerable amount of their profits.

The Bees was originally supposed to be a Jack Hill movie, but the producers decided to go with Alfredo Zacharias presumably because he came a good deal cheaper. He got the inspiration for his version of the movie after his son gave him a jar of Africanised bee honey as a gift. Zacharias made the film with a largely Mexican crew and supporting cast, shooting an English and Spanish version simultaneously for a more successful international release because he believed poor dubbing work would keep audiences from taking the movie seriously. This would be an obvious place to make a joke about how the dubbing would be the last thing he needed to worry about having that effect, but you know what? I'm not going to do that because I believe to do so would be entirely missing the point in this case. Despite the main theme of environmentalism being completely sincere, it's obvious the main cast had an absolute blast making this movie and it translates to an incredibly fun viewing experience.

John Saxon, Sandra Miller, and John Carradine have an easygoing and natural chemistry that you don't see too often in movies. Sure they're all capable of good, and even great performances, but there are plenty of great performances that feel like nothing more than that: performances. Here, the three leads have such an unaffected affection for each other that you can't help but smile whenever they're on screen together.

I'm a huge John Carradine fan. I'll happily watch anything he's in, even if it's just a cameo like Night Train to Mundo Fine. The man never fails to entertain me. As much as I love the work of Saxon and Miller in this, Carradine is the shining star here. Even so near the end of his life, in one of his last major roles (by this point Carradine was mostly appearing in bit parts for a day's work, but he features heavily in The Bees, to the movie's great benefit), crippled by arthritis and in constant pain, his portrayal of Dr. Sigmund Hummel glows with life and the energy of a much younger man. His eyes always have a twinkle in them, there's always a spring in his step, and he revels in delivering his absurd dialog with a cartoonish German accent.

The budget was obviously nothing like what Irwin Allen had to work with, and yet the special effects mostly come off looking as good as anything in The Swarm (with the notable exception of when the bees are represented by fans blowing flurries of what looks like crumbled up cork at the enthusiastically flailing actors).

Out story begins as a father and son break into an apiary. The father explains that when one is poor and has many children, one must bring home much honey to feed them (apparently he's raising a family of bears). Dear ol' dad has heard that the Americans keep their best honey locked up, but he and his son quickly learn the real reason for the extra security on these hives. They are, of course, occupied by killer bees which make short work of the intruders.

The next morning, Dr. Miller's breakfast is interrupted by an angry mob of torch bearing villagers who demand an explanation for the attack on the two honey thieves. The fact that Claudio Brook was a highly respected Mexican actor capable of speaking flawless English makes the fact that he talks to the villagers by shouting at them very slowly in heavily accented pidgin English even funnier. He almost has them convinced that he needs more time to turn the “devil bee” into a good bee, when poor old dad, still lumpy from all his stings, dumps his dead son on the ground for all to see. A riot ensues, the compound is destroyed, and Dr. Miller is stung to death by the bees while trying to rescue his notes from the fire.

We now meet Dr. John Norman, trying to convince a conference of United Nations officials that their countries should be joining in the effort to stop the advance of killer bees because some day they could all be affected. They all dismiss his claims and act tough until Dr. Sigmund Hummel knocks a jar full of bees onto the floor to make a point. The officials all have a fit when they think they're under attack by killer bees. There aren't nearly enough bees in the jar to be dangerous, but they cut the legs out from under the various delegates' tough talk well enough.

Later that night, Sandra Miller arrives at Dr. Norman's apartment building. A couple of thugs try to mug her in the elevator, but get an unpleasant surprise when they find out the hard way the strange looking case she's carrying contains not valuables but the last captive members of Dr. Miller's killer bee hives (side note – Is there a single 70's movie featuring street toughs where at least one of them isn't wearing a stocking cap placed jauntily atop his head without covering his ears at all? And does that drive anyone else as crazy as it does me?).

She ends up spending the night since she's been traveling nonstop from Mexico after witnessing her husband killed and her home burned to the ground, and is completely exhausted. Dr. Hummel arrives in the morning, and we come to discover he's her uncle. The trio bond over breakfast, and begin working together to solve the killer bee problem.

Meanwhile, ConHugeCo Honey International Enterprises Holdings Limited is scheming to smuggle some of the escaped bees into the United States since John, Sandra, and Sigmund refused their offer to work with them in domesticating the bees. They send an agent to bribe one of their under-the-table business contacts into smuggling bees in some kind of ridiculous belt contraption. This part of the movie is actually really poorly put together and it's a little difficult to figure out what's going on unless you're paying close attention, but basically the belt failed and the bees got loose on the plane, which made an emergency landing. The bees escape, and in an undefined but obviously very short amount of time, there's a swarm big enough to blot out the sun over a beach, which results in some of the most delightfully hammy reaction shots ever committed to film.

The massive swarm takes up residence in a cave somewhere, and again, it's a little difficult to figure out what's going on, but from what I pieced together, the cave is very near a gigantic radio telescope that gives off tremendous amounts of radiation which could potentially alter the bees' genetic makeup in unforeseen ways. Or something science-y like that. I won't spoil any more for you. Just go bask in all the cheesy, ridiculous glory of The Bees.

I'm so, so glad I finally bought this. When Vinegar Syndrome release the Blu ray a few months ago, I passed. And I kept seeing it, and I kept passing. I love a good Nature Run Amok movie, but how many different ways can you do the killer bee formula? The Swarm can be fun, but it's way too long. The Deadly Bees is a great MST3K episode but it's a goddamn boring piece of crap on its own. Did the world really need yet another killer bee movie? Actually, yes. This one, and only this one.

Killer bees finally arrived in the United States in 1985, in the San Joaquin Valley in California. It's suspected they arrived hidden in a shipment of oil drilling pipe. I remember as a kid seeing the occasional killer bee scare piece on the news, and checking out “scary animal” books from the school library that made me terrified of killer bees and various other creatures that nature was clearly sending to kill us all. Of course, anything much north of the Arkansas/Missouri border was too cold for the little fuckers, and living in Iowa I had nothing at all to worry about, but when you're six or seven years old, you don't think of things like that. You'd have had no better luck convincing me that killer bees weren't mere minutes away than you would have had convincing me that I didn't see a hodag in the grove behind my house one rainy night (I totally did).

The panic eventually subsided, although for some reason in recent years there have been a spate of new and presumably terrible killer bee movies. I feel safe in saying you can probably skip all of them. I know I have. For that matter, you can keep your Michael Caine and his marvelous Eye Bee, and no, I haven't seen the dog's meat. There's only one killer bee movie that has my heart, and if you give it a chance, it just might capture yours too.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Indigenous (2014)

Written by: Max Roberts
Directed by: Alastair Orr
Lindsey McKeon as Steph
Zachary Soetenga as Scott
Sofia Pernas as Elena
Pierson Fode as Trevor
Jamie Anderson as Charlie
Juanxo Villaverde as Julio
Laura Penuela as Carmen

I was tempted to kick off this review by proclaiming it another episode of Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theater, but I changed my mind just as I started writing. I realized I didn't hate this movie enough to write it off completely. That's not to say you should bother watching it unless you're a chupacabra completist who absolutely can't live without watching everything related to the goat sucking South American demon. This flick, while not exactly boring, has nothing to offer but some nice scenery and a few good ideas that it never follows through on, which is incredibly frustrating.

A group of friends of indeterminate age decide to have one last big vacation together before adult life separates them forever, so they head to Panama for some surfing and jungle hiking. Once there, they befriend some Panamanians at a club and hear about a waterfall hidden deep in a part of the jungle known only to the locals, and decide that they simply have to end their vacation by filling their unguarded genitalia with foreign parasites and bacteria. Despite warnings from Julio that the patch of jungle where the waterfall is located has become unsafe recently for some unspecified reason, they hitch a ride there first thing the next morning with Carmen as their guide. Of course, the reason that part of the jungle is unsafe is that it's full of monsters.

The movie opens with a Blair Witch-style panicked video of a single person lost and in danger. Then we jump back to the beginning of the narrative and see Scott and Steph getting ready to meet their friends in Panama, who have sent them a video greeting telling them to get their asses in gear and join the party. Most of their packing and preparation, as well as the flight and leaving the airport in Panama, are shown via the perspective of Scott's camera, so right off the bat we're set up to expect this is a found footage movie. Done right, found footage can be a tremendously effective storytelling format. Laugh if you will, but by and large the Paranormal Activity franchise are some pretty solid spook shows, and of course The Bay and Europa Report are excellent movies. Unfortunately, most found footage movies are nearly unwatchable piles of crap, and I didn't like my chances with this one. Then, after about ten minutes, the movie gives up on that angle and switches to a traditional narrative. There is a reason for all the found footage stuff, but it's the biggest offender of those wasted ideas I was talking about earlier. More on that in a bit.

The characters are such generic, underdeveloped cyphers that I can't tell if they come off that way because of the performances or the way they were written. Considering most of the cast are fairly seasoned actors, I'm guessing it's more the writer's fault. Elena and Charlie have just opened a fancy restaurant together, with her being the entrepreneur and him the chef. There's some tension over her taking all the credit because she's the public face of the business, but then they just never mention it again. Steph repeatedly talks about being accepted into veterinarian school like she's going to Harvard, suggesting that it's going to be important to the plot somehow, and then they just never mention it again. You get the idea. It's like this isn't a finished script, but a template from a screenwriting software program that the writer just plugged character and location names into, hit “print”, and called it a day.

Which brings us back to that found footage angle. When Scott splashes his call for help across all of his social media platforms, the video goes viral. Suddenly the Panamanian government's attempts to quietly extract the lost Americans from the jungle and not put a huge chupacabra-shaped black mark on their tourism trade turns into a multinational rescue mission. The creature chasing them is caught on video as the helicopter comes in for extraction, with the result that every alleged cryptid sighting in history and video going back to the Patterson footage is up for serious re-evaluation with open minds, and hundreds of monster hunters across the globe renewing efforts with full funding to find the answers they seek.

The end. Just as the movie acts like it's going to get interesting for a moment, it ends. Now, I realize this is a low budget flick and they couldn't exactly afford to make a second half of the movie showing a worldwide cryptid hunt, but I've seen cheaper movies do more with less. There's no reason that with a few more passes on the script they couldn't have said some interesting things without having to spend a ton of money. Hell, I just re-watched Larry Fessenden's excellent The Last Winter recently, and that's a thoughtful and terrifying eco-horror apocalypse movie where the world ends and all you ever see of the end of humanity as we know it is a few ghostly caribou and a woman standing in a puddle at the end! It's all in the sound design and the ominous subject matter.

If this turned out to be the proof-of-concept movie to raise funds for bigger and better things as the beginning of a franchise of modern cryptid movies with bigger budgets, better scripts, and more action, I would be able to forgive the movie's shortcomings a lot more easily. I realize that's almost certainly wishful thinking, but you never know. That is certainly something I'd love to see. As it is, I'd just settle for a little more explanation of the monsters. Why did the chupacabra suddenly take up residence in that part of the jungle? There are some very vague hints that the reason the Darien Gap was never developed wasn't that it's a virtually impassable swamp, but that it was teeming with monsters. This is contradicted by statements from Julio and Carmen that the area of jungle containing the waterfall was considered a paradise as recently as their childhood, and that the place was frequented by many locals up until just a few years previously when people suddenly started disappearing. So did the monsters move in because of the ready food supply? Were they disturbed from hibernation by logging or other industrial operations in the jungle? Were they driven from their usual habitat by hunting or an invasive species?

In the end, it's just another generic monster movie that spends no time on the interesting parts, way too much time with the boring, obnoxious characters, and features a monster that turns out to be just another lame third-generation knockoff of the creatures from The Descent. I love that movie; it deserves to be influential, and in its own context the design of the monsters make perfect sense. Inevitably, almost every wanna-be horror director who was inspired by it took away all the wrong lessons and they all seem to think that Descent's undeniable mojo comes solely from the look of the creatures, and not from the tight script, great performances, and white-knuckle tense direction.

But hey, at least it's better than Animal.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Uninvited (1988)

Written by: Greydon Clark
Directed by: Greydon Clark
George Kennedy as Mike Harvey
Toni Hudson as Rachel
Eric Larson as Martin
Alex Cord as Walter
Clu Gulager as Albert

George Kennedy has died. Another living legend lost to us while Republican politicians who make the woods witch from Pumpnkinhead look like the epitome of health and vitality continue to corrode the morals and ethics of our country by promoting family values while sending dick pics to terrified underage sex slaves to fritter away the time before they vote down the democratic senator filibustering for all he's worth to allow the American people to get more than a head cold without going bankrupt from medical bills.

This artless segue brings me to my next point, which is that this is definitely a Republican horror movie. So often genre flicks are accused of having a right wing bent. Have sex out of wedlock and you die, etc. Well, this flick is one in which the human villains are multimillionaire capitalists who get busted for embezzling tax-free money from the banking system and go on the run, only to have a mutant creature hunt them down and kill them one by one. Defraud out of taxlock and you die. Donald Trump's worst nightmare, except instead of financial lawyers, the thing hunting his worthless carcass is an escaped lab animal; a cat made out of cancer to be precise. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Two scientists (one of whom is played by our auteur du crap himself, Greydon Clark), are about to perform exploratory surgery on one of their lab animals. It seems the floofy orange cat has developed a strange tumor as a result of whatever experiments they had been performing on it, and they need to find out of it's benign or not. The cat, however, has other ideas, and skedaddles as they're transferring it to the examination table. They panic and immediately order the entire building to be put on radiation lock down. You'd think if they were going to be working with such a dangerous subject they'd be wearing some kind of protective gear, or at least bother to close the goddamn lab door, but I guess that's why I'm not a scientist.

When radiation-suited guards finally corner the cat (which has been yowling non-stop since it first appeared on screen in that way that anyone who has ever spent any length of time around cats knows they never actually do) in a stair well, it barfs up another cat, this one all lumpy and horribly deformed, which slaughters every one of the heavily armed men in a matter of seconds. Yes, you read that right. The tumor growing in our malicious moggy wasn't just any old neoplasm, it was a whole new creature, able to detach itself and leave its host to attack, then crawl back inside Mewford T. Pusser when its grisly errands are done. Despite the “radiation lock down”, which amounted to little more than closing the doors of the parking garage, the kitty manages to escape after re-ingesting its passenger, which looks not a little bit like Donald Trump before his concubines slather him with fake tan lotion in the morning like the Warboys suiting up Immortan Joe.

Meanwhile, we meet Bobbie and Suzanne, two girls out on the town. They appear to have run out of money in a fancy part of whatever city they're supposed to be in, and find themselves caught in the rain carrying what little luggage they have and dressed in little more than bikinis and shawls. Coming upon the inviting lights of an upscale hotel, they decide to go in and spend a few minutes in the lobby out of the rain until security kicks them out. Instead, they meet the owner of the hotel Walter “Wall Street” Graham. Credit to actor Alex Cord, Graham seems convincingly and genuinely nice to the girls, until he invites them to a party on his private yacht the next day. That sets off some scumbag alarms, all right. He's called away from their dinner to deal with some bit of business, and the girls are left to their own devices in the hotel until the following day.

That bit of business arrived at the hotel in the form of George Kennedy, riding in the coolest old limousine you've ever seen. Renting that thing and paying for Kennedy's appearance must have been half the budget. As it turns out, Graham is involved in worse things than trying to trap a couple of young girls on his rape barge. Mike Harvey (Kennedy) is pissed because he and Graham have been embezzling a fortune from somewhere or other, and their man on the inside who has been facilitating the operation is getting cold feet. They execute the poor bastard by drowning him, and decide that it's time to get out while the getting is good.

The next day, the girls meet a trio of guys at a beach front bistro and invite them along to the party as backup in case Graham tries to get handsy with them. Needless to say, Graham isn't pleased with the extra party guests, Harvey even less so. They're about to send them back to shore in the launch with Graham's right-hand man Albert, when they are informed that the SEC are onto them, and since the authorities are on their way right now, there's no time to get rid of the extra kids. They'll just have to make like life is peachy and do away with the surplus cargo once they're in international waters. Of course, we wouldn't have much of a movie if they just took off on the boat and that was the end of it. There's one more stowaway on that boat, and as everyone is about to find out, it's a lot more dangerous than a couple of slimy businessmen.

I was surprised to learn that Greydon Clark has only directed 20 movies, at least according to the IMDB. I always thought he was a b-movie filmmaker of the Fred Olen Ray variety, cranking out a movie or two every year, with hundreds to his name. Of course, Ray's movies are generally far more entertaining than Clark's, but there are a lot of super prolific b-movie directors whose output is considerably worse. I don't know why he hasn't gotten more work. He doesn't have a particularly unique style – his movies are virtually indistinguishable from any one of thousands of other direct-to-video movies from the 80's and 90's – but the movies of his that I've seen are produced with a competent and workmanlike level of skill. Sure, there are all the usual pitfalls of low budget film making; sometimes shoddy effects, less than stellar performances from some of the actors, continuity problems (I'm looking at you, sheriff who gets shot and slides down a wall twice in Final Justice), etc. But on the whole, Clark's movies are a lot easier to sit through than some of the crap we've all endured.

This movie is no exception. The various puppets used to represent the creature are uneven at best. The thing changes size throughout the movie, but I think that was intentional rather than a continuity screw up. The bigger hand puppet versions that have a little more detail look a lot better than the little one that comes out of the other cat's mouth, and the less said about the toy boat sinking at the end, the better. Where the FX really stand out in this flick are the gore scenes. The best one is when the creature rips Mike Harvey's heel and Achilles tendon to pieces, but there are several other bits involving lots of spraying goo and pulsating air bladders that look pretty gnarly as well.

The performances, even from the actors playing the kids, are pretty decent. Eric Larson as Martin is the best one of that bunch. The rest of the younger cast manage not to veer too far into, “Holy shit that guy is so annoying, please kill him RIGHT NOW!” territory, but some of them do nudge up against it from time to time.

Of course, the best of the lot are Alex Cord, Clu Gulager, an George Kennedy, although George seems to be pretty bored through most of the movie, probably just waiting for his check to clear so he could get the hell out of there. He does perk up some during his final scenes, where the cat monster damn near tears his foot off, and he winds up poisoned by its bite and dying in agony with pulsating boils oozing pus all over his body.

I know we're supposed to be doing this as a tribute to Kennedy, and this counts in that it is a movie which he appeared in, but damn if Clu Gulager doesn't steal the whole show. Of course, he steals most of the shows he's in. I fucking love that guy, and you should too. He's great here as Alfred, the put-upon manservant of Walter Graham. During the parts where he's forced to do awful things against his will, like help with murders and disposing of bodies, he injects some real pathos into the role and you feel sorry for him. Later on he gets drunk to try and forget the things he's seen and done and will likely have to do again in the future, and his goofing around is a nice reprieve from the rest of the movie until his super-hammy death. He also for some reason is wearing this ridiculous set of false teeth that stick out of his mouth, and between that and the way he plays the part, Alfred puts me in mind of what would happen if Harold from The Red Green Show wound up being a criminal henchman.

There you have it. I'm sure some of my compatriots will delve deeper into the story of the man, the myth, the legend, George Kennedy, taking a look at some of his bigger and better roles and with a greater knowledge of the action and Western genres he more often than not was known for working in. We here at Cinemasochist Apocalypse just wanted to balance that out by reminding you that he also once got mauled by a lumpy sock puppet cat monster. You're welcome.

This review is a part of Petroni Fide, a round table tribute to the late great George Kennedy. Hit the links below to see what my cohort of Kennedy fans have to say about George's other appearances.

Checkpoint Telstar: The Human Factor
Psychoplasmics: Delta Force
The Terrible Claw Reviews: Demonwarp
3B Theater: Nightmare At Noon