Monday, October 12, 2015

The Children (1980)

Written by: Carlton J. Albright and Edward Terry
Directed by: Max Kalmanowicz
Martin Shakar as John Freemont
Gil Rogers as Sheriff Billy Hart
Gale Garnett as Cathy Freemont

Since everyone is all abuzz over Cooties right now, I thought I'd hop in the ol' Wayback Machine and bring you some killer children that pack just as much bite without the guffaws. Well, not intentional guffaws, anyway. I'm sure I'm not surprising any of you with the fact that killer child movies are nothing new. They definitely fell by the wayside for a couple decades for the most part, which is too bad, but in the early 80's there were a handful of them. What's even more surprising is that all the ones I've seen are pretty decent! Sure, none of them are ever going to be regarded as classics, but come on, Devil Times Five is a good little horror flick. Who Can Kill A Child? is a little boring and pretentious, but it still has some damn effective scenes. Tonight's movie is certainly the silliest one of these things I've seen, but even it manages to pack a punch when the cards are down.

There's something so deliciously transgressive about killer kid movies, even if they're not any good. Just the fact that there are filmmakers ready and willing to go there in the first place is enough to gain a bit of respect from me. Violence against a child is typically the last taboo your average movie will break. Kill the mom, kill the dad, kill the cat, whatever, but the moment someone overtly murders a kid the censors bring the hammer down and people freak out. Now, I have kids and I'm not saying I enjoy seeing kids hurt. What I do enjoy is a group of filmmakers who are either daring enough or tasteless enough to say, “You know what? Fuck it. Kids are monsters. Let's chop the little bastards up”, and then dive into it with gusto. The same is true with any kind of flaunting of proscripted subject matter. Of course, there have to be some redeeming qualities to the movie. Plenty of filmmakers with as much talent as the Koch brothers have morals are just out to shock for shock's sake, and that's boring. There does need to be a story and an attempt to engage the audience by some manner other than triggering a gag reflex. If all these ingredients are there, then chances are I'm gonna be happy chowing down on whatever exploitation pie (because pie is better than cake, that's why) you're ready to serve me.

Our story starts on the site of a nuclear reactor. Two maintenance men are out checking pipes and valves and other maintenancey things, but it's nearly time to punch out for the day and cold beer is calling louder than duty. If they'd done their jobs this would be a short industrial training film and not a horror movie, so the two bozos don't notice a faulty fitting leaking some kind of steaming gunk onto the ground. The gunk leaks and leaks and pretty soon a huge cloud of yellow toxic gas is floating down the road and wouldn't you know it, school just let out. To let us know how sweet tempered these kids were before they got gassed, we meet them happily on their way home from a hard day of learning, singing a song in unison about how much they all love their bus driver! Now, my bus driver as a kid was a wonderful guy and pretty much everyone liked him, but I don't recall ever going to these lengths.

Whatever happened in that gas cloud was clearly nothing good, because not long afterward Sheriff Billy Hart finds the bus abandoned on the road by the local cemetery. Hart gets on the horn to Deputy Harry and Molly, the town dispatcher-cum-grocery-clerk. It's a great little bit of small town charm there that the old lady who calls out the cops does it from a CB radio behind the grocery store co-op counter. Supermarkets and convenience stores have all but killed this kind of shop, but if you live in a rural area like I do, there are still a few around to be found. I love places like these, and if you have one near you, you should definitely shop there instead of Target or wherever. Keep it local, people! All right, that's my Message for the day. Back to the movie.

Hart sends Harry to the outskirts of town with a couple of deputized good ol' boys (one of whom is Peter Maloney, a.k.a. Bennings from John Carpenter's The Thing!) while the sheriff himself goes around to the houses of various children with the dual purpose of looking for clues and the unpleasant task of informing every parent in town that their kids are missing.

No one has seen or heard from their children since they left for school. Then the charred bodies of adults start turning up, and it's not long before the Sheriff and his friend John Freemont, father of one of the missing children, put all the pieces together. The kids have somehow been transformed by the cloud into nuclear-powered zombies who microwave their victims to death! Only after Freemont's remaining youngest son has been horribly cooked to death do they discover that to stop the atomic zombie children, they have to chop their hands off. Cue a whole lot of kids getting hacked to pieces with axes and swords. But did they stop the spread of the atomic zombie child plague in time?

Aside from its willingness to graphically murder the shit out of a whole bunch of little kids, this movie has one other great strength that I admire. Those of you who've been reading here for a while know that I love my cheesy pulp horror paperbacks every bit as much as I love my horror movies. Every time I hit a used bookstore, the first thing I do after checking for old Virgin and Target Doctor Who books is hit the horror section and grab everything with a monster on the cover (and any Ramsey Campbell books I don't yet have, because he's my favorite horror author and you should all read his stuff). Something those 70's and 80's vintage horror novels do frequently to pad 40 pages of story into a 200-plus page full length novel is to spend most of the middle section of the book introducing characters just to kill them off and up the body count. These characters generally get anywhere from three to ten pages of backstory and action in the book before the giant leeches slurp them down or the land-walking jellyfish melt them to a screaming puddle of goop, or the giant lizard catches them using a phone booth in the wrong part of the desert. Do that seven or eight times and you've just doubled the length of your book.

Children does this during the sequence of Sheriff Hart going around asking the parents if they've seen their kids. For such a small town, its made up of quite a bunch of eclectic characters in the best pulp horror tradition. One single mom lives with her much younger girlfriend, much to the sheriff's disapproval (the movie never comes right out and says what's supposed to be going on here, but it comes across loud and clear). One crazy rich lush is sitting by the pool in nothing but her bikini bottom, drinking and flagrantly smoking pot in front of Hart while her muscle twink boyfriend lifts weights beside her. When she's told her daughter is missing along with a whole busload of other kids, she becomes very excited at the prospect of a mass kidnapping because their town is usually so boring. And of course there were the good ol' boys and the grocery store lady/police dispatcher from earlier, along with a few others. The characters are all no more than brief sketches, but unlike so many of these movies where you can barely tell anyone apart except by the ways they get killed, here each character is given such a distinct personality that even if you don't remember everyone's name, you instantly recognize them and know what part they're playing in the story. What it takes clumsy hack authors fifty or more pages to do in the exact same type of story, this movie does with astonishing efficiency in just a few minutes of screen time.

I've never seen such a low-budget throw-away movie pull this trick off so well. The Children is an absolutely perfect film translation of what it's like reading those horror paperbacks, and for that reason alone, it's worth checking out. It's a fun, fast-paced flick with an unusual plot and some unexpectedly brutal violence. A fine way to spend a chilly fall afternoon.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Green Inferno (2015)

Written by: Guillermo Amoedo, Eli Roth
Directed by: Eli Roth
Lorenza Izzo as Justine
Ariel Levy as Alejandro
Daryl Sabara as Lars
Ramon Llao as the Bald Headhunter

Cabin Fever was released right at the end of the Scream-driven teeny bopper PG-13ification of mainstream horror. It came out only a year after Valentine. I hadn't heard much about it before its release, and I don't even remember seeing a trailer on TV. When Malorie and I went to the theater to see it, I think we just wound up going because it was an R-rated horror movie that wasn't another tired cleaned-up slasher wannabe with a cast of WB Network stars. When the credits were done rolling, I walked out of the theater with the biggest smile on my face. Horror was back! Cabin Fever was a breath of putrid, blood-scented air. This Eli Roth kid was clearly someone to watch, and I eagerly awaited his next movie.

Fast forward three years to me standing in line for Hostel on opening night. Fast forward another 90 minutes into the future, when I wanted to hunt Roth down and punch him in the dick. Roth clearly only had the one good movie in him. He has an OK track record as a producer, and has cameos in some great stuff, but every time his name is on something as a writer and/or director, it's guaranteed to be only slightly less painful than scrubbing your eyes with sandpaper soaked in lemon juice.

So when I heard Roth was making his own version of the great Italian cannibal movies of the late 70's and early 80's, I was skeptical. On the one hand, it was Eli Roth. On the other hand, it was a new cannibal movie. That's a pretty serious bit of subject matter. There couldn't really be much room for him to blow his trademark frat boy douchebro jizz all over everything, could there? And then my favorite piece of news about the production; Roth showed the tribe featured in the movie his copy of Cannibal Holocaust so he could show them the kind of thing he was trying to do, and they thought it was funny. Yeesh. The movie wound up being released theatrically over a year later than was intended because the original distribution company hit some financial rocks, and the prolonged wait added to my morbid curiosity. Of course it wasn't going to be as good as Cannibal Holocaust, or even Cannibal Ferox, but surely it would be at least as entertaining as some of the second-tier flicks like Slave of the Cannibal God, right?

Then he started talking about how this movie was his stab at so-called “social justice warriors”. Now, that had a lot of people up in arms but I wasn't one of them. Anyone who has the gall to call themselves a warrior because they tweet about things that make them stamp their feet and spill their Starbucks all over their designer clothes deserves to be fucking eaten. I was discussing this with Brother Ferox the day before the movie, and we were talking about how there is legitimate criticism to be made of activists out to save the world who can't be bothered to fully educate themselves about or listen to the people they think they're saving. Not only that, but a cannibal movie is just about the Platonic ideal of film genres in which to make such a statement intelligently. The cannibal movie template lends itself extraordinarily well to commenting on the perils of not being smart or patient enough to understand the complexities of engaging with other cultures, especially one as alien to the tech-addicted Millenial children of a privileged upper-middle class as a stone-age tribe in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest who have never seen white people but figure they might taste good. Of course, the key word there is “intelligently”. It would take some talent and finesse to balance the commentary with the cannibal carnage, and Roth makes movies with a fucking sledgehammer. Still, it was just possible that in trying to be the most obnoxious jackass he can be, Roth might have stumbled ass-backwards into some progressive socio-political statements. It's also possible that my dog will spontaneously teach himself to speak English, learn astrophysics, and build a TARDIS. Take a guess as to which scenario I find to be more likely.

Justine (played by Lorenza Izzo, Roth's real-life wife) is a college freshman in New York City at the University of We'll Pretend I Paid That Much Attention. She is awakened by the sounds of a protest on the campus lawn, which draws her to the window. The noise also rouses her roommate Kaycee (Played by Sky Ferreira giving what might be the single worst performance I've ever seen in a theatrically released movie. Seriously, there are better performances in The Room, and I'm not just talking about Greg Sestero.), who is much less admiring of the protesters than Justine is. We'll spend the next ten minutes or so listening to her nasal whine berating the greasy hippies and talking about how they all deserve to die because they're utterly worthless for actually giving a shit about anything. Even if you hadn't heard all the stuff about Roth wanting to stick it to “social justice warriors” (I can't bring myself to type that phrase without the quotation marks because that feels like validating it and it's just so goddamn stupid it kinda makes me want to punch a hippy myself), it becomes apparent pretty quickly that Kaycee is meant to be the voice of the filmmakers as well as the audience's viewpoint character. Even though we never see her again after the activist group leaves for Peru, her fork-scraping-on-a-plate voice echoes through every scene, moaning, “I told you so.”

Justine keeps making googly crush eyes at the group's leader, Alejandro, and this fact does not go unnoticed. He sends one of the other members, Jonah, to deliver an invitation to join them at a restaurant where they will be planning their next activity. She's skeptical at first, and makes the mistake of making a smart-ass comment about their hunger strike which causes Alejandro to kick her out. She tracks him down the next day to apologize and ask for a second chance, which she is so magnanimously given by the visibly manipulative and smarmy Alejandro.

As we will find out later, it would have been better for Justine if he had just been stringing her along to get in her pants. Alejandro has come by some intelligence about a Peruvian energy company bulldozing part of the rainforest to get at some rich natural gas deposits. It seems the ground beneath a particular patch of jungle is just lousy with the stuff, and right near the surface so it's cheaply and easily accessible too. Problem is, the deposits are located directly beneath the village of a tribe that has never made contact with the outside world before. It sometimes doesn't go very well in such situations even when first contact is made by missionaries and humanitarian organizations, so it's bound to go poorly for the natives when a squadron of bulldozers escorted by the energy company's private mercenary army come storming out of the trees. Alejandro's plan is for the group to be dropped off just outside the work camp, where they will disguise themselves in stolen uniforms. This should buy them enough time to infiltrate the camp and chain themselves to the trees and equipment before anyone notices anything fishy. A satellite link on their phones will be simulcasting the whole thing to every social media platform in the Western world, which will serve to not only to expose the energy company's illegal activity but to prevent them from being murdered outright by the mercenaries.

All goes according to plan until Justine finds she can't get her padlock to close. No one can hear her cries for help in the ensuing din after the workers realize they're under some form of attack, and since there's nothing holding her in place, she is immediately dragged away from her tree and put on her knees in the dirt with a gun to her head. When she hears Alejandro encouraging the guard to shoot her on camera for the world to see, she realizes that the broken padlock was not a mistake. Far from reciprocating her youthful crush, Alejandro brought her along as bait because her father is a lawyer who works for the United Nations and she was the perfect dupe.

Nonetheless, the ploy works and the workers and mercenaries are forced to abandon their operation. On the flight back out of the jungle, everyone is in a highly celebratory mood. Everyone, that is, except for Justine. She's understandably furious at not just Alejandro for double crossing her, but at everyone else for not being just as furious with him as she is. Even Jonah, the closest thing she has to a friend in the group, can't do anything to assuage her anger. The revels are brought down along with the plane when the engine conks out not far from the site of their protest action, and those unlucky enough to survive the crash are about to find out that those natives they were so desperate to save don't feel the same way towards them.

Up until this point, the movie had been dull and annoying, but had done nothing to truly earn my ire. After all, a good many of the old school cannibal movies have a good sized chunk of boring nothing before the carnage kicks in. Starting here, however, Roth proves once again by emulating something he loves that he doesn't have a goddamn clue how or why the things he loves work. There are exactly two effective scenes in this movie, both of which Roth almost immediately undercuts because he just can't leave well enough alone.

Not long after the crash survivors are caged, the natives come for their first victim. Jonah is led out of the pen and up to a big stone altar. Everyone is being very nice to him so he thinks maybe things are going to turn out all right, but those of us in the audience who have seen these things before know he will be very unhappy in a minute. The sequence of Jonah being hacked up for barbecue is incredibly gruesome; every bit the equal of the ickiest thing the Italians ever threw at us, not counting the animal mutilations. All throughout the rest of the movie, nearly the whole audience kept up a low conversation-level chatter with whoever they were there with. This usually results in me yelling at people to shut the fuck up, but honestly Green Inferno sucks so much it didn't even bother me, and anyone who knows the murderous hatred I have for people who disrupt movies will tell you that is really saying something. This scene, though, made them all shut up. For just a few minutes, the theater was silent enough that I heard the boyfriend of one of the maybe 16- or 17-year-old girls down front who spent the whole movie giggling and texting asking if she wanted to go home.

All right, I thought. Finally this motherfucker is going to kick it into high gear and deliver what I came to see after all! Wouldn't you know it, bare minutes later Roth shits away all that wonderful visceral tension he just built up. Literally. The very next scene centers around a diarrhea joke that makes the one in Dumb and Dumber look subtle by comparison. Most people will say cannibal movies would be better off without the animal snuff footage. They're probably not wrong, but it's such an entrenched part of the genre that I just shake my head and roll with it, even if I don't like it. It's a cheap and nasty shock tactic, but it certainly produces the desired effect. The one thing that I absolutely cannot abide in a cannibal movie, which I never knew until now because all the classic directors who made them were smart enough not to try so it never even occurred to me, is comedy.

Virtually every other genre of horror has some wiggle room for laughs, but not cannibal movies. There's a big difference between being holed up in a building under siege by the living dead or whatever, and being held in a tiny pen waiting to be eaten. Sieges are long and stressful and boring, and one of our most primal instincts is to relieve stress by laughter. But being penned up for food is not the same thing. Cannibal movies should be 100% grueling, nail-chewing, hair-pulling, intense, terrifying survival instinct that never lets up until the credits roll. Again, there was an opportunity to say something about the collapse of social norms in such a situation and make the shit scene uncomfortable and unpleasant and nauseating, which would fit right in and add a great deal to the movie. Needless to say, a full minute of exaggerated fart and splat noises while everyone mugs for the camera and all the native kids wave their hands in front of their faces does not accomplish that.

The movie never once bothers to even try to earn back the respect it got and so quickly lost. Lots of shitty CGI arrows and bullets hitting people, and that's about it. This is a cannibal movie, man! One scene of nasty butchery is not going to cut it! The one other massive punch the movie has been winding up for since the first ten minutes, dealing with female genital mutilation, it pulls at the last minute. Before you say Roth probably had to cut it to get an R rating, he has gone on record as saying the movie you see is the movie he intended to release, with not one concession made to the MPAA. I believe that he really just had no idea what he had given himself to work with, because he's a great big clod.

The other scene that Roth really sticks the landing on is the ending. It's that great classic cannibal ending of the sole survivor denying any cannibal activity and retconning her story to have all the rest of the group killed in the plane crash. It makes every bit as little sense here as it has any other time, but something about the way it plays out feels totally authentic to the old school cannibal movies. It's the only scene in the whole movie that does. Of course, there's a stupid sequel-setup credits cookie that completely ruins it.

Roth might be a better filmmaker if he had any restraint. He always goes a step too far, and I don't mean in a good way, pushing the envelope of shocks and really trying to gut-punch his audience. Every time he hits a crescendo, he has to take it over the top. He's like a singer who always tries to belt every note and has no control. You have to have the quiet moments to appreciate the loud moments, and you have to make sure you keep the reins super tight on the loud moments or you go completely out of key.

Roth likes the movies we like, and I think he genuinely is trying to make movies like them and do something good. It's just that unlike other filmmakers such as Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino, who do the same thing, he's a big ol' doofus who doesn't have half enough talent to do the job.

At least he does try to get the noobies in on the classic stuff and not pretend that he's the one who came up with this idea. There's a required viewing list at the end of the credits naming a whole bunch of Italian cannibal movies. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the movie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Kibakichi (2004)


Written by: Mugi Kamio
Directed by: Tomo'O Haraguchi
Ryuji Harada as Kibakichi
Nozomi Ando as Kikyo

Around the world, few warriors are more revered than the samurai. Around the world, few monsters are more feared than the werewolf (don't let the fact that making a decent movie about them seems to be a virtually insurmountable task fool you). Of course it's perfectly logical then that a werewolf samurai would be just about the most badass thing anyone could think of, right? Well, probably. Lay on, MacGruff....

For centuries in Japan, humankind and yokai lived peacefully side by side. As technology advanced and things like firearms were developed, humans found that they no longer needed the help of the physically superior monsters. The political climate turned ugly as it always does for a minority who suddenly finds it has outlived its usefulness, and a new government arose on a platform of human supremacy and issued a decree that men would use their new weaponry and far greater numbers to wipe the yokai from the face of the earth. The monsters were nearly driven to extinction, but a few survived by taking the forms of humans and hiding in remote places to avoid discovery.

Enter Kibakichi, a wandering ronin with a haunted past (I don't think there are any other kind, really). He arrives at a small village to take shelter for the night, and is greeted by the welcoming committee while crossing the creek at the outskirts of town. And by greeted I mean attacked, and by welcoming committee I mean a group of vicious kappa. He dispatches them easily enough with his sword and enters the village, which is run by a man named Onizo.

Kibakichi goes to a tavern for refreshment and the locals waste no time in inviting him to partake in their town's two primary businesses, gambling and prostitutes. He passes on the room with pay-per-screw, but gladly sits down at the gaming table. His winning streak quickly draws the attention of Onizo. The house is rigged, and Kibakichi has been winning against it without cheating. Onizo has been looking for someone possessed of great luck to be their champion. You see, as we already guessed and Kibakichi is about to find out, the village is populated entirely by yokai. They feed upon the destitute dregs of society, and the occasional criminal scum or political enemy of Yamayi-sama, a local official with big ambitions.

Kibakichi warns the yokai chief to be wary of the humans. He learned that the hard way when he invited some lost humans back to the village of his people for food and shelter. They returned with an army and slaughtered them all except two. One is Kibakichi, obviously. The other is a wolf woman named Anju, who has spent the entire time between the slaughter of the wolf village and now searching for Kibakichi to kill him. She does finally track him to Onizo's village, where she throws a boomerang at him, misses, gives up, and disappears. Not too terribly bent on revenge after all, I guess.

The flashback we get to the wolf village is interesting. All the other yokai have hidden themselves as traditional Japanese villagers. What we see of the wolves when they're in human form – their clothes and face paint, mostly – suggests an older culture like the Ainu.

The Ainu people are the indigenous population of Japan, located primarily in the northern and central parts of the archipelago. There are also some Ainu in Kamchatka and some nearby islands, but not nearly so many as are in Japan. There are still Ainu in Hokkaido today, although they have mostly disappeared from the main island of Honshu. Official census numbers of just how many true Ainu are still in Japan are fuzzy at best. The official estimate is something like 25,000, but due to centuries of intermarriage and people hiding their identities to avoid racial discrimination, it is thought that the true number is more likely pushing a quarter of a million.

Akira Ifukube, master composer of all the greatest kaiju movie scores, was from Hokkaido and from an early age was fascinated by the Ainu and their culture. He was especially interested in the rhythms and melodies of Ainu folk music, which bears some resemblance with Native American music. Many other points of their culture share similarities with other northern indigenous cultures such as the Inuit as well. In fact, far from being isolated in Japan, Ainu are also found in Russia. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine a great diaspora of ancient northern cultures thousands of years ago, crossing land bridges to spread out across the entire northern hemisphere, taking with them the songs and stories and clothing and art of the original group. Over time, these things all evolved to more naturally fit in with the new environments the people found themselves in, but still retain enough cultural DNA to be recognizable even across centuries and thousands of miles.

As is the sad lot of native cultures the world over, the Ainu were treated like utter dog shit by both the Japanese and the Russians. It was only in 2008 that the Japanese Diet passed a resolution recognizing the Ainu as the indigenous people of Japan, and to end the racial discrimination of hundreds of years, ranging from forced poverty to slavery to genocidal slaughter both by active murder and infection with diseases like smallpox (we Americans don't have a monopoly on being horrible to the people we steal land from, after all). In a 2010 census of Russia, around 100 people attempted to identify as ethnic Ainu and found their enrollments rewritten to list them as either Kamchadal or just not having any specific descent at all. Basically, they were told they didn't even count as real people. They are still not allowed the hunting and fishing rights that Russia grants to all its other indigenous tribes in its northern lands.

No wonder the yokai chose to hide as ethnic Japanese rather than Ainu, and also why Kibakichi is so leery of trusting the humans again despite Onizo's wishes. As an Ainu werewolf, he's got two major strikes against him! Not all the humans are evil, of course. Kikyo is Onizo's adopted human daughter, whom he took in as an orphaned child and raised as his own. Onizo seems to think Yamayi-sama will keep his word because he knows that yokai and humans can live in harmony, with Kikyo as his evidence. We wouldn't have much of a movie if Onizo was right, though, would we?

Yamayi-sama is not only planning to wipe out the yokai village to gain favor with the Emperor, but to mount a full-scale coup once he has an in at the capital and take over the entire country. Through connections in Europe, he has recently come into possession of an arsenal the likes of which has never been seen in Japan before. Grenades, firearms, and the crowning glory, a Gatling gun, will put him at the top of the food chain no matter how many swordsmen come against him. His men need practice with the unfamiliar weapons, though, and what better way to get it than blowing away a few dozen monsters who have outlived their usefulness?

In the end, Onizo's idealistic nature results in the massacre of nearly his entire village. Yamayi-sama rolls into town tossing grenades hither and yon, and cutting people down like ripe wheat with his Gatling gun. Monsters they may be, but they are not fighters by any means. Even the terrifying-looking spider women masquerading as prostitutes to dine on unwary johns are only ambush predators. They have no real offensive weapons, especially in the face of a hail of bullets and shrapnel.

I'm sure some of you are saying, “Hang on a minute, didn't you say this was a movie about a samurai werewolf?” Indeed I did, and it's about time for Kibakichi to get fuzzy. He's not your standard Western-style werewolf, though. Full moons are not required. His wolf powers are more of the Incredible Hulk variety, where extreme emotional responses bring out the beast. Seeing fifty or sixty of what pass for friends in Kibakichi's solitary and haunted life blown to pieces in front of your eyes would be pretty extreme and emotional, no?

In wolf form, he's somewhere between Waldemar Daninsky and the upright, long-snouted creatures of The Howling. He's still bipedal, furred all over and with great big sticky-upy ears, but with a flat human face that still shows the actor's features, albeit under a good deal of latex appliances that make him look more snarly. When he starts mowing down Yamayi-sama's men, the scoundrel decides the only way to fight big ugly fire is with more big ugly fire. He somehow has a yokai of his own under his control – a great big cyclops thing, that really gives Kibakichi a workout. They have a wonderfully kinetic fight, throwing each other through walls and demolishing entire buildings, before Kibakichi finallly puts paid to the other beast. Kaiju fans will note that in wolf form, Kibakichi uses the Toho King Kong roar, while Cyclops uses an amalgamation of Titanosaurus and Megalon roars. They don't even bother to pitch shift them to try and hide the theft.

Finally it's only Yamayi-sama and Kibakichi left standing, and our hero has a hell of a time trying to outrun both the Gatling gun and a barrage of grenades, until he ducks in under the hail of fire like a star quarterback dodging tackles, and swipes Yamayi-sama's head off with one powerful blow of his mighty claws. If the arterial spray (there are quite a few of those in this movie) wasn't enough for you, he was about to throw another grenade when he was beheaded. Corpses not being renowned for their muscle control, his dead hand drops the pinless grenade and gets blasted into Jell-O before his knees hit the dirt.

Those coming to this movie looking (like I was the first time) for a bonkers horror/action movie with a sword wielding wolf man kicking ass for 90 minutes are going to be disappointed. However, if you're in the mood for a solid if generic samurai movie, interspersed with the occasional horror trappings, and featuring an extremely satisfying climactic battle with monsters, swords, explosions, and machine guns, look no further.

If you still need more, there is a sequel, but it looks like it had about half the budget for monster costumes and sets as this one did. It's got maybe a little more arterial spray, and a few decent character moments, but overall it's pretty boring and the final battle is every bit as stupid as this one is fun. 

Now go see what trees my furry fellows are barking up:

Checkpoint Telstar - The Bat People
The Terrible Claw Reviews - Sssssss
The Tomb of Anubis - Romasanta
Web of the Big Damn Spider - Summer School
Las Peliculas de Terror - The Beast Within

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ghoul (2012)

Written by: William M. Miller, based on a novel by Brian Keene
Directed by: Gregory Wilson
Nolan Gould as Timmy Graco
Trevor Harker as Barry Smeltzer
Jacob Bila as Doug Keiser

On this installment of Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theatre...

You may remember me raving about a movie called Spring a few weeks back. No, nothing has changed about that. It's still a movie full of great beauty and imagination and you need it in your life yesterday. On the disc were several trailers which looked intriguing enough on their own, and based on the quality of the following film, I was definitely interested in checking out. One of them was Why Don't You Play In Hell?, which I have since heard some good stuff about. The other was Ghoul. Now, on its own merits this trailer probably wouldn't have registered with me, but after the first few seconds it dawned on me that this movie was based on a book that I happened to have read last fall and quite enjoyed so I was excited to check out the movie. It felt like someone offered me some really good chocolate, and then hung me by the ankles and shit directly up my nose.

Brian Keene's Ghoul is the tale of three best friends dealing with their personal demons one summer. Timmy's grandfather dies, Barry's dad's abusive alcoholism reaches new heights, and Doug's mom gets drunk and has her way with him because his dad left and she went so far around the bend she met herself coming back the other way holding a pair of He-Man underoos in one hand and a bottle of Absolut in the other. As if all that wasn't bad enough, there's a real life demon living in the cemetery, and thanks to a steady diet of horror comics the boys are the only ones in town credulous enough regarding monster lore to do anything about it. It's the kind of story Stephen King is a master of.

Since I finally started to find some purchase as a writer within the last year, I'm loath to be too critical of other writers' work who are obviously talented but a little rough here and there. I've been writing stories since I knew how to put words together. I have vivid memories of having to go to work at the bank with my mom occasionally as a very young kid after doctor's visits and such, and entertaining myself by sitting down at an empty desk with a typewriter and writing stories about dinosaurs. After something like two and a half decades of working on my craft, I can still barely make my way through a short story, let alone a novel. I'm a hell of an idea man if I do say so myself, and I've been told I write good dialog, but in the realm of character development I'm awful, and I'm so impatient to get from one bit of action to the next that I have precious little talent for structure. Point is, I know how herculean a task actually sitting down and finishing a novel is for someone who actually cares about what they're doing, and Keene is fairly prolific so good on him. That said, Ghoul certainly falls short of King-level greatness, but it's definitely a fun read that packs a punch where it should and earns the right to talk about such horrible topics as drunken wife beating and sexual abuse without coming off like shock for shock's sake.

It's a damn shame then that the movie ABSOLUTELY FUCKING SUCKS!

Most of the main plot points are hit. Not everything, as you would expect from an 80 minute adaptation of a 300+ page novel, but enough to let you know what's going on. I was expecting them to maybe gloss over the nasty Doug/Doug's mom stuff but it's there, albeit not nearly as focused on as it is in the book. But then a scene came up that I didn't remember from the book. Some bullshit about how Barry's dad is a nasty alcoholic because he used to be in charge of some guys at the local mine years ago, and made one guy go to work when his wife wasn't feeling well so she drowned their twin babies and hung herself because I guess that's better than having to change diapers when you have the flu. As stupid as that is, it's setting up something even more stupid.

THERE IS NO FUCKING GHOUL! I don't give a shit about spoiling the ending because in case you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm encouraging you to skip this piece of crap movie and read the book instead. I had my suspicions that something was up, and finally about ten seconds before the reveal there was a flash of two effigies in the lair representing the murdered twins and I yelled, “OH FUCK YOU, MOVIE!” so loud I scared the dogs. Yes, the guy who lost his family went insane and has been living all these years under the cemetery in a warren of tunnels that were apparently dug by really fucking big gophers or something. You see, it makes sense in the book because there was an ancient supernatural creature causing all of this. In the book, Barry's dad is in thrall to the thing and helps it cover its tracks in return for jewelry it takes from the buried corpses. In the movie, Barry's dad still gets the loot, except it makes no goddamn sense for a crazy feral man to be able to hold him in thrall much less reward him with treasure! If he's supposed to be operating out of guilt, fine, but leave it at that. They even leave in the stuff about the ancient marker with the occult runes on it being broken, which is what allows the creature to wake up and start killing again in the first place. WHY THE GODDAMN FUCK WOULD YOU LEAVE THAT IN IF YOU WEREN'T GOING TO HAVE A MONSTER!? It just acts as a bullshit red herring to make you all excited for a monster which never shows up, but otherwise it makes no fucking sense at all! AAAARGH!

What's worse, Timmy has dreams about the ghoul, so they even created a monster makeup and then had it all be in the kid's head! Granted it looked like something out of an episode of Goosebumps, but it's still a hell of a lot better than some asshole covered in moss stabbing people with a knife! And as one extra little fuck you to the people who read the book and came to the movie hoping for a faithful adaptation, mossy asshole sometimes drops a very cobwebby-looking net on his victims before stabbing them. In the book, the creature extrudes a sort of cobweb stuff all over its lair and its victims. So clearly the screenwriter read the book, and this whole thing was just him telling Brian Keene's fans to go fuck themselves. I blame the writer particularly because the director also helmed the film adaptation of Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door, which was really good (except for the idiotic “Deep Thoughts With Jack Handy” bookend pieces). I have a feeling what we're dealing with is a competent filmmaker who just shoots what he's given, and he didn't know any better that this movie was supposed to have an actual monster in it. If he did, fuck him too, but since he's done at least one other thing that was really good, I'm willing to give him the benefit of doubt.

If I were Brian Keene I'd be absolutely furious about this movie.

Another thing I wish I'd known beforehand is that this was a made for TV movie. It was made for Chiller, whatever that's worth, but now I have no desire to ever see anything else from that channel. I'd rather watch a dumbass Sci-Fi Original from Asylum than an infuriating heap of festering shit like this.

William M. Miller, Fenrir is going to use your dick for a chew toy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Octobertures Kickstarter

Yeah, yeah, I'll get back to the reviews soon enough. But there's so much great stuff coming up that I would be remiss in not telling all my lovely readers about. You've all read my ravings about how awesome the concerts at G-Fest the last couple years have been. Well, John DeSentis, the conductor of said concerts, is putting together a CD of brand new studio recordings of music from classic horror, science fiction, and fantasy movies for release this October. If you're here reading this blog, then you probably love all those things as much as I do. You also probably love the music from those movies (and if you don't, then what kind of philistine are you!?). That being the case, you definitely want to hear what John will do with all that great music. The man is a master of his art and this project will blow your brain clean out of your ears. Thing is, you gotta help him get it off the ground first.

So click here and set the clock ticking for that time-lapse brain explosion this fall!

Shallow Water Kickstarter

Some of you may remember the greatest Batman movie ever made. No, I'm not talking about any of that libertarian Ayn Rand wankery with Christian Bale that everyone creams their shorts over. I'm talking about Batman: Dead End, where he fights goddamn Aliens and Predator. Well, the man who made that brilliant bit of film is looking for help to fund his new project, an eco-horror movie called Shallow Water. Using 100% practical creature effects he designed, this flick has one of the coolest movie monsters I've seen in decades. I've pitched in to help fund it because I really want to see this movie get made. If you're here reading this blog, chances are this is a thing you would want to happen as well. So hit the link below, watch the video, check out all the great perk levels, and chip in. Even if it's just a few bucks, every little bit counts. Let's do our part to keep independent horror going strong and get this awesome-looking movie on our screens!

Click on over and feed the monster!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Amazon Jail (1982)

Written by: Alfredo Palacios, Oswaldo de Oliveira
Directed by: Oswaldo de Oliveira
Sandra Graffi as Betty
Elys Cardoso as Liz
Sergio Hingst as Edgar
Elizabeth Hartmann as Helena

There is very little information to be found about Oswaldo de Oliveira. Well, the one we care about anyway. There's a pretty famous soccer coach with the same name, but I daresay you're not here reading this right now because you're interested in who kicks the most GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLS! Nope, unless you read Portuguese, just about all that's out there for our boy is year of birth (1931), year of death (1990), and filmography (a lot of weird crap).

My introduction to Oliveira's oeuvre was the ferociously nasty Bare Behind Bars, which is the cinematic equivalent of jumping down a Slip 'N' Slide covered with rusty nails and rotten meat. That's sort of like going into the specialty hot sauce store and starting with the Nuclear Inferno of Satan's Molten Wedding Tackle Spackle. You're only going to have less searing oil on your tongue from there on out.

Tonight's movie is actually not a women in prison movie, but more of a white slavery movie. We meet the first of our two antagonists, Edgar, arranging for a couple of rich business types to come to his villa and sample his wares. Those wares are mulheres (the original title of the movie is actually Curral de Mulheres, which makes a lot more sense than Amazon Jail), who have been tricked into coming to Edgar's plantation for job interviews only to be tossed in a big wooden stockade and surrounded by guards and dogs. They're managed by Helena, his inevitably bisexual...wife? Lover? Sister? Fuck, I don't know what their relationship is supposed to be. It's weird, like everything else in this movie. Anyway, she's sent to hand pick some girls to put on a show for the rich guys that night so they can make their purchasing decisions after having done their due diligence, which in this case means being slapped around by a bunch of shapely buttocks.

The girls are strangely unafraid despite their completely powerless position. There isn't a single one of them who acts even a little scared that they might be facing all the tortures that a bunch of greasy old fat guys could visit upon them. One is compliant on the grounds that being in the harem of a rich guy at least means a nice house and good food and jewelery, and it's sure better than being stuck in a pen in some weirdo's back yard. The rest of their attitudes range from indifferent to “go fuck yourself”.

Speaking of buttocks, I hope the mere existence of them is enough to hold your attention for a good five or ten minutes, because that's all you're going to be looking at. After Edgar has plied the men with drinks, Helena brings in the cream of the crop, decked out in thongs, pasties, and not much else. A lone and seriously overworked drummer bops out a sassy dance beat while the girls parade around the table and jiggle and the greasy old men fondle to their congested hearts' content. Not since Ed Wood's Orgy of the Dead has a display of theoretically seductive bouncing flesh been this boring. At least this one has relative brevity going for it.

While all this is going on, Betty, the main instigator of insubordination among the captive women, is having quite uncomfortable and impractical looking – but apparently quite exciting nonetheless – sex with Edgar's nephew (I think his name is Tod, or Ted, or something. It was a little hard to make out.) through the wooden posts that comprise the bars of her prison. Tod/Ted hasn't been part of Edgar's operation for long, you see, and while he hasn't openly revolted against his uncle's business practices, Betty is doing a pretty good job of convincing him to help her and the girls escape so he can bang her on a nice comfy bed somewhere without getting dick splinters.

The next day a new batch of women is brought in, and one of them, Liz, is even more of a rebellious badass than Betty. Edgar's birthday party is coming up, and they concoct a plan to use the impending bacchanalia as a diversion for an escape. They'll all be expected to provide the party entertainment so obviously a mass exodus is out of the question, but it should be plenty easy to slip one girl out a window. If they can hold their captors' attention long enough, the hope is that she'll have enough of a head start on the guards and their dogs that she can get to the authorities and bring help.

Everything is going swimmingly until the dogs start barking and the girl's escape is noticed far too early in the plan. She does manage to stay ahead of her pursuers until the next day, when she runs across three girls skinny dipping in a quiet little bend in the river overlooked by a scenic waterfall. The guards catch her before she can make the urgency of her problem clear, and sure enough all four of them wind up back in the compound.

Now there was no way the men could have recaptured their quarry unseen, so their options were either kill or kidnap the other three women, and they made the best of a bad situation. At least the boss got some more stock, right? But every good predator knows you don't shit where you eat, and these three were local girls with boyfriends who notice they've gone missing by the end of the same day.

Back at Edgar's place, everyone is in a state of panic over when the cops will show up. Well, everyone but Edgar. I think he believes his outlandish mustache will come to life and protect him like a furry Daimajin. It's like watching a soap opera seeing how many different contingency escape plans Helena has cooked up with various people. Edgar, George, one of the slave girls, probably one of the damn dogs too for all we know. None of them ever have a chance to come to fruition, however, because Betty and Liz have cooked up a new escape plan that involves getting a couple of the guards drunk with a bottle of cheap rum smuggled to them by Edgar's nephew and then while they're sleepy and near the door of the stockade, immolating them with a Molotov cocktail that has roughly the explosive energy of a daisy cutter bomb. Tod/Ted even joins the fight by blowing up Edgar's Jeep when he and Helena try to get away from the compound.

Once the girls are out in the jungle, they realize only half their struggle is over. Now they have to manage a days-long hike through the Amazon rainforest with no food, water, tools, or any kind of supplies in order to reach civilization. At one point they come across a rock face with dozens of bird nests, and decide to raid them for eggs. One of the girls gets bitten by a snake, and the journey is held up while they try to make her as comfortable as they can while they figure out what to do. The girl's condition gets worse and worse until it becomes clear she's not making it out of the jungle alive. Liz puts her out of her misery with a gun stolen from one of the guards in the movie's one truly impactful and even somewhat poignant scene. The terrified look in the girl's eyes, her pleas that she doesn't want to die, juxtaposed against the massive jungle surrounding them and the hopelessness of her situation, is potent stuff.

Fortunately the movie stops taking itself seriously almost immediately as the girls stumble across a mining camp run by a slightly insane ex-priest and his legion of brainwashed gay lovers led by his turbo-queer black valet who overacts his part so hard I was worried the poor guy was going to hurt himself. Most of the men are gay purely by dint of being stuck in the jungle with nothing but an ocean of dicks around them, and the addition of a bunch of barely clothed and reasonably attractive women stirs things up enough for Fabulous Jim Jones that he cooks up a plan to kill the women in a big gay blood orgy the next night. Those boyfriends who've spent the whole movie ineffectually stumbling around the jungle finally show up, and the shit hits the canopy.

It's hard to believe that the guy who made Bare Behind Bars could go back to more or less the same well and come up with something as lighthearted and fluffy as Amazon Jail. Granted, we're talking about a very specific value of lighthearted and fluffy here, but I swear this movie is intended to be more of a comedy than anything. The acting is broad and hammy and over the top even for a movie like this, and I don't think all of the humor is unintentional. It's also not terribly funny, but you can't have everything. At least it's sleazy enough to keep the audience from falling asleep for the most part. If you're an exploitation completist who just can't rest until they've seen every smutty, sleazy movie they can conceivably get their hands on, you'll definitely see worse than Amazon Jail. At the very worst, you're not going to wish you could recapture the 90 minutes you spent on it. That said, if you're only going to see one Oswaldo de Oliveira movie, I suggest you not make it this one.