Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Zombeavers (2014)

Written by: Al Kaplan, Jordan Rubin, Jon Kaplan
Directed by: Jordan Rubin
Cortney Palm as Zoe
Rachel Melvin as Mary
Lexi Atkins as Jenn

If there are two things almost every serious horror fan is sick to death of these days, it's stupid self-aware ironic Sci-Fi Channel/Asylum killer animal movies and goddamn zombies. Of course, sometimes writing off entire genres can come back to bite you in the ass by making you miss out on a good flick. Luckily I also have no taste and very little self-control, so even though I have no interest in the latest Sharktacondapusasaurusrexadactylarantula movie, the idea of zombie beavers was just too ridiculous for me not to give it a chance. And hey, the zombeavers are practical effects, so that's a plus.

I knew I had made a good choice from the very first scene, during which two slacker truck drivers (played by comedian Bill Burr and, I shit you not, John Mayer) hauling a load of toxic waste (I sincerely hope the people charged with moving that stuff around in real life are considerably more competent than these two) hit a deer because they're too busy texting and sharing bizarre sex stories. They're worried enough about the damage to their truck that they don't notice one of the barrels was jarred loose in the impact and rolled into the lake they're driving past. A funny and efficient setup that leads to a delightful animated credits sequence that would have let the movie skate by on that alone even if the rest of it sucked.

Now we meet our main characters, Mary, Zoe and Jenn. The three are sorority sisters, and are on the way to a cabin owned by Mary's cousins. No points for guessing it's the same lake the barrel of toxic gunk fell into a few minutes back. The vacation was originally going to be a three-couple sexathon, but Jenn discovered her boyfriend Sam cheated on her so Mary changed the guest list to girls only at the last minute. Zoe, the requisite oversexed bitchy one, also brought her dog.
The girls go swimming their first day at the cabin, where they spot a beaver lodge covered with green crud, and have a run-in with a local trapper named Smyth. He's a great character, whom we're never really supposed to be sure if the girls are safe with or not. Rex Linn plays him perfectly, and trying to figure him out is one of the highlights of the movie.

That night the girls are playing some slumber party games when they're interrupted by a loud bang at the front door. Zoe goes to investigate, but it turns out to be just the girls' boyfriends, Tommy and Buck. Except they brought along Sam. Awkward tension ensues as Jenn and Sam sit on the couch and fight about his infidelity while they listen to their friends having sex in the bedrooms. Awkward tension is broken by the appearance of what they assume to be a rabid beaver in the bathroom. Tommy beats it nearly in half with a bat and they toss it outside in a garbage bag.

The next morning, everyone decides to go for a swim. The bag on the porch is torn open and the beaver carcass is missing, but they write it off as a wild animal scavenging its supper. Things change quickly when the swimmers are surrounded by a gaggle of ravenous undead beavers. Jenn, who refused to get in the water with her scum of an ex, hauls ass back to the cabin to call for help. Unfortunately for her, the beavers chewed through the phone line, the cabin is remote enough to get no cell reception, and that bisected beaver carcass is neither as inanimate nor as eaten by scavengers as they had thought. Shortly after the rest of the group get back to the cabin (Sam further proves what an utter douche he is by using Zoe's dog for bait), they find themselves surrounded by an army of zombeavers, summoned by the one Jenn pinned to the counter with a knife slapping its tail against the cutting board. Things continue to get worse and worse for the kids until Smyth arrives with a truck load of guns and it seems they're rescued. Unfortunately, it seems the beavers have seen Creature from the Black Lagoon. What's worse, a bite or scratch from one of these little bastards works much the same way as it would from a human zombie. Notice I said much the same, not just the same.

I was expecting to have to lodge a complaint against this movie and the filmmakers, and I was dam glad to have been proven wrong.

Go ahead and finish mentally punching me in the groin, I'll wait.

Horror comedies are a notoriously difficult thing to pull off. They're frequently a fallback device used by lazy morons who don't know how to make a serious movie be any good, and figure a few dick jokes, naming some characters after famous horror directors, and misquoting a few lines of dialog from better movies will be funny enough to make the audience not notice that their movie sucks more dicks than a cheap hooker who hasn't had any meth in a week. Thankfully that's not the case here. Sure, it's not all roses. We're reminded about a dozen times too many that Rubin and the Kaplans know “beaver” can be a double entendre. Other than that though, the jokes mostly work really well, be they dialog (Sam, delivering the line deadly serious: “Guys, we can't turn on each other right now. That's just what the beavers would want!”) or be they sight gag (the Whack-a-Mole scene...holy shit the Whack-a-Mole scene).

Not only is the movie surprisingly funny, it's unexpectedly well thought out. As much care as was taken making sure most of the jokes worked, an equal amount of care was taken on the structure of the script. A great deal of the material is setup for things that pay off later, and not just from a punchline standpoint. The filmmakers made sure their story made sense (and that they actually had a story), flowed well, and that we gave a damn about the characters (and just as much credit for this last goes to the actors, who all put in some fine work). There are some nice twists and turns of character that make our protagonists come to life in nuanced and multi-dimensional ways that you don't often see in this type of movie. Some of the scare scenes even have a bit of a kick to them. No matter how intentionally silly the beaver puppets look, being attacked by animals in the woods is one of the most ancient and deep-seated fears in the history of mankind, and even the clumsiest filmmaker would have a hard time making glowing eyes in the dark just outside your windows not look at least a little creepy.

You'll also want to stay through the end credits. From the fun outtakes, to the silly lounge music theme song, to the (literal) stinger scene, it's all worth a look. And keep an eye out for the No Animals Were Harmed disclaimer.

There you have it. Zombeavers is that rarest of animals, a horror comedy that works as both things. The emphasis is definitely more on the comedy side of things, but there's enough gore splattered around to keep the hardcore fiends happy too. If you've been hankerin' for some yuks with your yucks and other recent entries in the subgenre like WolfCop left you feeling a little cold, check this one out. I think you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Written by: Larry Cohen
Directed by: William Lustig
Robert Davi as Detective Sean McKinney
Claudia Christian as Susan Riley
Robert Z'Dar as Matt Cordell
Leo Rossi as Turkell

We have here an example of that rare bird, the sequel that represents a significant improvement over its original source material (hell, even Lustig himself says so in interviews!). The first Maniac Cop was plagued with a confused, meandering script that left all the wrong things unexplained. While that's not a terribly uncommon complaint among low-rent horror flicks, when a script is written by someone like Larry Cohen who has such an impressive filmography to his credit, it makes the whole thing go down a lot harder. Handling the directorial duties, Bill Lustig managed to capture the grimy squalor of pre-Disneyfication New York in such a way that he brings out a certain strange beauty in it. Being visually interesting, however, wasn't enough to keep the audience from noticing the script needed more clean up work than a 42nd Street porno theater.

When we last left Officer Matt Cordell, he was flying off a pier, pinned to the seat of a van by a pole that had been impaled through his chest. Of course, that kind of thing is never enough to keep even a slightly financially successful horror character down, and so as the camera pans up from the bay and around a junkyard what I assume is later that night, the lights of an old police cruiser come on and the car speeds off into the darkness. We didn't get to see who got behind the wheel, but this is one piece of withheld information in these movies I can appreciate. I love a good inference. It lets you know the filmmakers aren't assuming their audiences are idiots, and you'd have to be one not to figure out that it was none other than the Maniac Cop driving that car.

Meanwhile, officers Forrest and Mallory are ordered by Deputy Commissioner Edward Doyle to undergo a psychological evaluation by the department shrink Dr. Susan Riley. He's sick and tired of the pair sitting in his office demanding a continuation of the hunt for Cordell, who Doyle insists has been rotting peacefully in his grave for years. Forrest eventually relents, realizing that no one is going to listen to him and he has better things to do than spend his days in Riley's office and getting suspended or even fired. Mallory, on the other hand, sticks to her story and refuses to let it go. Riley begins to realize there might be something other than the ooperzootics to blame for Mallory's seemingly mad story when Forrest turns up dead from a huge puncture wound to the throat, and the old blind newspaper vendor who was the only witness telling her that when he briefly touched the killer's hand, it felt like the frozen dead bodies he shared a foxhole with in the war instead of living flesh.

After she and Mallory are pursued by a huge cop with a horribly mutilated face and Mallory is killed while Riley barely survives a car chase while dangling out the window and handcuffed to the steering wheel (this sequence is worth the price of admission alone, right up there with some of the most insane Australian car stunt work), she's ready to believe the stories about Cordell are true. She also finds an ally in Detective Sean McKinney, who has been trying to convince Doyle that whether or not there's a vengeful zombie walking the streets, someone is out there dressed as a cop murdering people. He's been handling a lot of the cases himself, and whoever is responsible is making the citizens of New York more scared of cops than actual criminals. If something other than sweeping it under the rug isn't done about the situation, New York's finest are going to have a full-blown civil war on their hands.

McKinney and Riley get a lead after a stripper comes to the station reporting that she was nearly murdered by a psycho called Turkell before he was interrupted by two beat cops. Before they could arrest him, a third cop showed up on the scene. You get the fabulous no-prize if you guess who it was. Now Cordell seems to be running around with a psycho who targets strippers and prostitutes, so at least they have a slightly more concrete lead to follow.

After arresting Turkell at strip joint, they hope to get some information out of him, but all he'll say is that his friend will come and bust him out. Sure enough, in a scene that makes the police station attack in Terminator look like a skit from Sesame Street, Cordell shows up and blows away half the police force before breaking Turkell and all his cellmates out. One of those cellmates was destined for Sing Sing, and Cordell grabs his transfer papers as a way to get them past the gates of death row so he can get revenge on the stooges who killed him on the orders of the corrupt politicians who sent him up the river. What's more, once those few men are out of the way, Cordell is going to recruit an army of the most dangerous criminals in New York State and lay siege to the city.

Somewhere along the line, McKinney either became an expert in revenge zombie lore or is just flying by the seat of his pants. I'm inclined to lean toward the latter, since his plan to prevent the city from being overrun by murderers and rapists directed by an angry undead cop is basically to have Doyle show up at the gates of Sing Sing with a loudspeaker, apologize for being a dick, and ask Cordell nicely to stop.

I'm going to have to get hold of the Blu ray for this one because I'd love to hear Cohen and Lustig explain just what the hell they were trying to do. In what I assume was an attempt to clear up some of the hoodoo stuff from the last movie, they've streamlined Cordell's story a little bit. This time there's no mention of what brought him back at all beyond Riley guessing he just miraculously got better from multiple ruptured organs and massive blood loss while the coroner wasn't looking and got up and walked away. I realize there was never any more satisfactory explanation as to why Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers were unstoppable killing machines, but for some reason the usual slasher bullshit just doesn't fit in this case. Cordell is far more intelligent and resourceful a monster than other invulnerable murderers, and it just seems like he deserves a little better back story.

Even more aggravating is that Cohen dropped the angle from the first movie that Cordell was known for his use of excessive force and record of police brutality while he was on the force, suggesting that perhaps he wasn't entirely innocent of whatever crimes landed him in Sing Sing in the first place. Here, McKinney explicitly states that he was a good cop, which makes his penchant for murdering other good cops and innocent civilians while rescuing serial killers from jail even more baffling.

But hey, no one ever watched a slasher movie for the compelling story, right? We love these things for the mayhem, and holy shit but this movie delivers in spades. Besides the aforementioned car chase where Claudia Christian's stunt double goes flying down a highway getting sideswiped by other vehicles while tied by one wrist to the steering wheel and hanging out the goddamn window, and the slaughter in the precinct house, there are two other massive stunt set pieces. One involves an armored prisoner transport bus and more exploding cop cars than all the Smokey and the Bandit movies put together, and the other is the climactic brawl in Sing Sing where everyone is on fucking fire! That fight scene alone took three days to shoot. Sure, the story can get bogged down in its own bullshit sometimes, but these sequences more than make up for it.

It boggles my mind that this movie was released directly to home video. I can't think of a better example of how far DTV horror flicks have fallen. Just think of the massive amounts of hard work that were put into the action scenes in Maniac Cop 2. Not just the obvious things like the stunt people putting their lives in danger—although that's certainly at the top of the list—but how much work the entire crew put in. Getting permits and insurance, choreographing the stunts, the pressure to keep the crew safe through these phenomenally dangerous stunts that must have had Bill Lustig sweating bullets the entire time...people put their all into creating an exciting, gory, action packed horror movie for their fans. Now we get Tara Reid, tongue firmly in spray-tanned cheek, swinging chainsaws at CGI sharks in front of a green screen and it sells because audiences these days really are idiots, and irony is so much easier than risking life and limb for something you actually give a shit about.

Monday, May 4, 2015

StageFright (1987)

Written by: George Eastman (yes, that one), Sheila Goldberg
Directed by: Michele Soavi
David Brandon as Peter
Barbara Cupisti as Alicia
Clain Parker as Irving Wallace

I was helping hetero life partner Bob start work on a fence for his new house today, and on the way to pick up some more tools we drove by the old gymnasium/theater where we spent many hours during high-school working on plays. Lots of great memories in that place, from blasting Monster Magnet and White Zombie over the PA while we were building sets, to scaring the shit out of fellow cast members in the shadowy backstage area with my fairly gruesome makeup as Jonathan in Arsenic and Old Lace (I do so love telling people I once shared a role with Boris Karloff). Fortunately for us, we never got locked in the place at the mercy of a lunatic. The most danger we faced in there from shop tools was playing mumblety-peg with a power drill. In hindsight, perhaps not the wisest choice we ever made.

Tonight's feature is the directorial debut of the great—if not terribly prolific—Michele Soavi. After serving various roles on productions by Italian horror heavies like Joe D'Amato (who was one of the producers on StageFright) and Dario Argento, Soavi spread his directorial wings and lensed a script by George Eastman (there's a photo of him made up as the monstrous killer from Anthropophagous in one of the dressing rooms if you're looking closely) and, at a time when the slasher flick was in its death throes in America, showed the idea-starved yanks how it was done and turned out one of, if not the best examples of the genre ever made.

The movie opens during rehearsal for a play called The Night Owl, about a killer of prostitutes who stalks the streets wearing a seriously unsettling owl mask. Oh, and it's a sort of ballet/musical hybrid production. It doesn't sound all that strange on paper, but it's very surreal when you see it. The director of the piece is a temperamental visionary named Peter, who keeps insisting on making changes in order to up the sexual ante and create a piece of challenging and shocking art. Money man Ferrari isn't so sure about adding a scene where the corpse of a murdered hooker played by leading lady Alice comes back to life and gives the owl man a simulated blow job during a saxophone solo by a Marilyn Monroe lookalike (see, I told you it was weird), but for the most part he's happy to leave Peter alone to create as long as he's seen a return on his investment when the last curtain falls.

During a scene where a bunch of other street people toss her corpse (adding to the strange atmosphere, the body is a seemingly intentionally obvious mannequin when it's tossed and slams into the stage and reverts to being Alice when the camera focuses on her again) into the air and watch it crash back to the ground, Alice injures her ankle. Betty the wardrobe girl talks her into ducking out to get her ankle looked at by a doctor since she doesn't have another scene coming up for a while, and with a logic that you only find in Italian horror flicks, takes her to an insane asylum since it's the closest place with M.D. on the door and a doctor is a doctor, right?

While they're at the clinic, they happen to walk past the room of Irving Wallace. Well, it's not so much a room as an old-fashioned jail cell similar to the ones you see on The Andy Griffith Show. You wouldn't think being displayed like Otis the town drunk would be very conducive to recuperation from a psychotic break, but what do I know? Anyway, Wallace is also an actor and went insane a few years ago and killed a bunch of his co-stars, and unbeknownst to Betty and Alice, he kills an orderly and slips out of the clinic to follow them back to the theater.

Shortly after their return, Betty is found in the parking lot with a pickaxe buried in her face and everyone is understandably freaked out. Rather than let everyone go, Peter demands they lock themselves in the theater to continue work on the play. It seems like a crazy demand at first, but in a surprising bit of character development for a movie like this, Peter shows that his drive isn't the single-minded mania it appears to be at first. Yes, he wants to make great art and be famous for it, but he also knows that this ragamuffin band of losers he's directing may well be eating out of Dumpsters by the end of the month—himself included—if he can't make the show a success for them. Of course, the idea to change the identity of the killer from a monstrous but anonymous owl man to none other than Irving Wallace could prove to be an unfortunate bit of irony.

While there are some unexpected moments of thought put into the script, such as the reveal that Peter isn't entirely the cold hearted bastard we're first led to believe (at least until we see again later that yeah, he really is), it's really the visual aspect of the movie that makes it stand out from the crowd. Soavi clearly paid attention during his time with the masters, Argento in particular. There are a lot of visual cues that wouldn't look out of place in a movie from Argento's heyday. And of course, no great Italian horror movie would be complete without ripping off some of Bava's insane lighting schemes.

There's also a surprising amount of gore for a slasher flick. Even the European ones usually weren't too terribly gruesome compared to, say, cannibal or zombie flicks. It's even more shocking here because the movie's more than half over and several people are already dead by the time the gore really starts flying, so you're not expecting it any more by the time the power tools come out.

Perhaps the one aspect of Italian horror cinema that works against this particular movie is the use of dream logic to make the movie seem more like a nightmare. Sure, the whole thing is dripping with rich and bizarre imagery, but none of the events we see suggest the rules of reality don't apply to what's going on. At least, that holds true until the very end. The last shot of the movie diminished some of the impact of what had come before. Well, it did for me anyway. I know other people who love it, so your mileage may vary.

Even so, the ending is but a minor misstep. If you're a fan of horror in general, and slasher movies in particular, you definitely need this one in your collection. It's not terribly obscure and it's been available on DVD for a while, but Blue Underground's Blu-ray release is definitely the way to go to see this one. There are far shittier slasher movies that are far better known than StageFright, and that's a damn shame. It's definitely in the top echelon of the genre, even if that does seem like damning with faint praise.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atlas Sucked

Written by: Assholes
Directed by: Incompetents
Starring: A lot of embarrassed people collecting a check, and a few shitbirds who jumped on board this project because they agree with the utterly vile politics it espouses.

Most of us have unfortunately had one or another of Ayn Rand's sociopathic political wank fantasies crammed down our throats at some point in our lives. If you made it through both high school and college without being asked to write a book report to Rand's estate telling them just how awesome Rand was for a chance to win a scholarship (which you shouldn't be begging for anyway, you worthless sniveling moocher!), you're luckier than I. In our case, it was The Fountainhead we were forced to choke down like a Thai hooker gagging on Rush Limbaugh's sweaty scrotum. I even suffered the indignity of my favorite teacher telling me she was so excited for us to read the book because I reminded her of Howard Rourke! Right around the point he rapes his girlfriend and smashes one of her priceless pieces of statuary just because he feels like it, I started to wonder why she thought so little of me. At any rate, once was enough and I never read any more of Rand's poorly written idiocy, but when I heard there was a new movie based on her most prominent book coming out, and that every new bit of news suggested it was going to be a colossal train wreck, obviously I got excited. Check the header, folks. It doesn't say Cinemasochist for nothing.

For those unfamiliar with the story, I'll give you a quick rundown. Taxes on big business and the depletion of natural resources have made all methods of commercial transportation but rail too expensive to be practical any longer. Railroad magnate Dagny Taggart and steel magnate Henry Reardon team up to monopolize commercial transportation with the help of a magic engine abandoned in a factory by a mysterious figure named John Galt, who appears to be kidnapping all the great businessmen of America. Pretty soon, the evil government has taxed and nationalized the country to a standstill, and Taggart and Reardon follow the trail of breadcrumbs all the way to a Tea Party wonderland surrounded by a magic force field, where Galt and all the other CEOs can enjoy the fruits of their labor and give each other handjobs and sulk about how much it sucks to pay taxes and have to give all their hard earned money to people who actually work hard to earn their money.

If you said to yourself something to the effect of, “Wait a minute, a bunch of people living together in a moneyless barter-based economy where everyone is in some way an equally productive member of society sounds a lot more like a socialist commune than a right-wing fantasy camp”, you have a lot more common sense than Ayn Rand or anyone who has ever agreed with anything that ever drooled from her worthless fingertips. Although it's entirely possible she was the world's greatest con artist and spent every waking minute of her life laughing her ass off at all the rubes she duped while collecting the social security checks they helped pay for. That would explain why her books were so awful. You don't have to try very hard to write good fiction when your audience is comprised entirely of village idiots. They could have been written in crayon with half the letters backwards and it wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows.

Unbeknownst to many (including me), a film version of Atlas Shrugged has loomed over the movie going public like a precariously balanced mountain of dog shit, threatening to topple into our laps and ruin our dinners, since 1972. At first it was just a series of scripts that got blue balls for one reason or other, but within the last couple of decades it's been reported that over $20 million has been spent on aborted versions by various producers. So before we even get to 2010, when producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow began shooting just to be under production mere months before their film option lapsed (and to the surprise of absolutely no one the resulting product is considerably worse than Roger Corman's Fantastic Four movie made under similar circumstances), the budget of a reasonably funded independent movie had already been blown (no doubt with plenty of applications filed for local filming tax credits along the way).

After the first movie failed to make back much more than a quarter of its budget and got soundly trounced by critics and audiences alike, a private debt sale was required to raise enough money to start shooting part 2, which failed even harder than the first. Aglialoro refused to screen it for critics because he questioned their integrity. Of course it's the fault of the evil Jews who run Hollywood that no one likes your fuck-awful movies, John. Despite having a slightly larger budget than the first installment, part 2 looks even cheaper and shittier than its predecessor. Yet despite the Mighty Hand of the Free Market knocking Aglialoro and Co's dicks in the dirt twice, they refused to listen to the voice of their god, whose gospel they claim to be preaching, and went ahead on and made the third and final movie anyway. Almost half a million dollars of the $5 million budget was begged from a Kickstarter campaign, proving once again that no one who actually likes Ayn Rand has even the smallest inkling of a sense of irony or self-awareness. The movie made back less than twice what was raised from the Kickstarter campaign, this time failing to make back even one fifth of its total budget. And lo, the Free Market did speak, and yea it said unto the followers of the false prophetess, “Eat a bag of dicks.”

Upon the release of the second movie, myself, hetero life-partner Bob, and long-time reviewing compatriot Fistula sat down and watched the first two back to back. When the third one finally came out, we knew there was nothing for it than to watch all three in a row for some serious DEEP HURTING. Rounding out the cast with Rich and Jacob, we prepared ourselves to look into the mouth of hell. Or at least FOX News, which is about the same thing, really. Rich dropped the (TOTALLY LEGITIMATE) DVDs off at work Friday afternoon in case he was late to the party. Discs were labeled 1-3, with 1 having WHY scrawled across it in the handwriting of a broken man.

Knowing full well that both Tim at Checkpoint Telstar and El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours (whenever he gets around to doing them, and I know the siren song will get to him eventually) will both do a far better job of writing proper reviews of the movies, this is going to be more of a chronicle of our pain. I had my computer on my lap through the whole ordeal typing notes. Settling in with a bottle of Schlitz (I thought it appropriate to tackle these turd burgers with a simple, blue-collar beer) and a tumbler of Woodford Reserve (I know, I know, but Rich brought the bourbon and I'm not going to say no to that), we begin our descent into badness.

Either Bob or Fistula (the verdict is still out, I'll let them rochambeau for credit) had a good zinger early on when, much like the first movie at B-Fest, everyone is talking more than paying attention and you can't hear yourself think, we were yapping over a lot of the dialog. “If you turn the subtitles on it just says, 'Get a fucking job you mooching piece of shit'.”

So, because it's the government's fault that multi-billion dollar companies destroyed the world's natural resources to the point that gasoline is forty-some dollars a gallon, trains are now the only feasible method of transportation. I wonder if Rand knows the railroad started as a huge government handout.

Blah blah boring boardroom power struggles and sibling rivalry...ah here we go! Reardon Steel's cocknozzle CEO gleefully throwing away memos from what I can only assume are steel working unions. Who needs happy, productive, well-paid and competent workers?

Pain level: 2. At this point we were paying more attention to the boxes of Wheat Thins Bob brought as a snack than we were the movie.

$20,000 a ton to re-rail an ENTIRE FUCKING RAILROAD!? Do the filmmakers have any idea how much a rail weighs? Ok, the average piece of finished railroad steel weighs 139 pounds per three foot length. For the sake of keeping this simple, since I don't have a map of Taggart Rail lines, we'll assume they're running one line from border to border of Colorado, 280 miles. This would require 492,800 pieces of 3 foot rail x 2 (it's not a monorail, remember), which gives us 985,600 pieces of rail. Multiply by your 139 pounds and you get 136,998,400, divide by 2000 pounds and we're at 684,992 tons, x $20,000 for a grand total of $1,369,984,000.00. Now, I realize Reardon's magical alloy is supposed to be lighter than steel, but they're also not laying a single straight line of the stuff. Hell, we know for a fact they had to build at least one bridge out of it too! So that already immense dollar figure is probably short by half, at least. And that's purely the cost of the rail material, not taking into account ties, spikes, frogs, switches, fuel burned by machinery, and the wages paid to those pesky mooching workers! The actual expenditure of this project could easily be ten times that figure or more. Asylum Films pictures put more thought and effort into the dimensional continuity of their monsters than the makers of Atlas Shrugged did on the economics of their fucking economics movie!

Ultra futuristic year of 2016, commercial airlines and trucking are dead. Rail is the only way to go. Funny since the people who love Ayn Rand philosophy are the ones who've been keeping us thirty years behind the rest of the world's rail technology.

So all the businessmen hate the guy who got the steel monopoly, just because they didn't invent unobtainium first? Are these supposed to be the people we're angry at, or rooting for? They're just as greedy and ruthless as Henry Reardon, they're just acting pissy because he beat them. Wait, aren't Galt and his followers just acting pissy because they don't like the way the world works? Why are these dudes any different? Oh, right, because they want the government to step in with anti-monopoly laws rather than just destroy the entire world's economy in a fit of pique.

Nationalization literally made ore disappear from Mexican mines? It's like they took every ridiculously hyperbolic thing FOX News and all the rest of the GOP pundits say about what will happen if the government is allowed to run any kind of program and took them at face value. It's amazing these people are even able to pour their own cereal in the morning.

Pain level: 3. Still trying to accept the fact that our heroine's name is Dagny Taggart.

Oh, the irony of a story about disappearance of natural resources made by drooling moron conservatives who blame it on having to pay taxes without ever examining the massive implications of what they're saying.

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company begging for work on the roadside with a sandwich board is probably my favorite hilariously earnest and utterly stupid image in a trilogy that is composed of pretty much nothing but hilariously earnest stupidity. Are you fucking kidding me? What does his resume say, “Ability to squander massive amounts of money on nothing, expert at committing tax fraud, no actual work experience”?

I'm a complicated man, and no one understands me but my money. GALT! You're daaaamn straight.

Showing huge teams of workmen doing the re-railing operation...DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THE IMAGES YOU ARE PUTTING IN YOUR FILM!? THESE PEOPLE ARE UNION WORKERS! I suppose they see the workers as nothing but another tool for the mighty CEOs of the world, but the complete and utter lack of self-awareness is just galling. To say the movers and shakers of the world are the only ones who contribute, only to show the hard working people required to put their plans into action just seconds later...I give up.

State Science Institute? Wait a minute...S.S.I.? Is Super Robot Red Baron going to have to fight John Galt and his army of evil robots? This may turn out to be a lot more entertaining than we previously suspected.

Pain level: 5. Realizing that I'm getting all worked up over Galt being a secret identity of the devious Professor Deviler for nothing. The closest I'm going to get to a giant robot in this movie is the crappy CG animated train.

Their train goes 250 miles an hour. Faster than any train has ever gone in this country. Shame on us, really. America! Where transportation is slower and less efficient than anywhere else in the world. Go Galt!

Pay people according to their needs rather than their contributions. So...the CEO's get fucking nothing and the people who do all the actual work make seven figures a year? Ugh. Fuck Teabaggers. Please, every Fortune 500 CEO go Galt and leave the rest of us to do things properly.

They discovered Galt's perpetual motion engine just sitting on a shelf in an abandoned warehouse. It's basically a thermos with a few bits of copper wire soldered to it. I've seen more advanced-looking pieces of tech in 60's Doctor Who. And of course they instantly understand the principles of its counfoundedly complex operation. How do the heads of a rail line and a steel company have a working knowledge of theoretical particle physics?

The oil baron left his oil fields as he found them before he went Galt. Which, for those of you with enough sense to not be watching along at home means he set fire to them before he left. So...you found it a blasted, flaming hellscape filled with toxic smoke did you, you fucking douchebazooka? I guess we shouldn't be surprised that a member of the I Got Mine So Fuck The Rest Of You party would implement a literal scorched earth policy as one final temper tantrum before stamping off to pout in his top secret tree fort.

Part 2

The Iron Alliance (or the three whiny steel barons who turned class traitor and became pro-government lobbyists) have come around, and now want to use the Galt Engine. They will use it to fuel their own mecha-robo, the Offshore Accountant.

All the characters are played by different actors. Dr. Stadler, previously an Indian, is now a bald white guy, and Laurent the Vampire has gained a foot of height and about a hundred pounds of muscle. It's OK, Guy Who Took Laurent the Vampire's part, you'll be in Godzilla in a few years so you have something awesome to put on your resume.

Government took over Wyatt Whateverthefuck's fossil fuel empire and hasn't produced single a lump of coal. Any other movie you'd think that was meant to be a dramatic exaggeration but you get the feeling these filmmakers don't have a self-aware bone in their bodies and mean it literally.

Wait a minute, Galt abducts a concert pianist? What the fuck are the millionaire CEOs going to do with a concert pianist in their Secret Treefort of Dickbaggery? Use him for target practice? How is he going to contribute anything meaningful to their communist...uh...I mean, totally right-wing Libertarian utopia?

Why the fuck would you have walls to your bedroom made of glass? That seems counterproductive. After a long night of drinking and you just want to get to bed, you're going to end up bleeding to death. I've had nights where I had trouble making it with nothing between me and the bed but air.

Do you see two assholes or a vase?
Reardon beats the law by arguing well and he can just do whatever the fuck he wants? How is he our hero? And how goddamn useless is the justice system supposed to be? ::watches five minutes of news from any given day:: Right, every bit as useless as it is in real life. The only reason this seems unrealistic is that he wasn't getting away with murdering a black guy on video in front of a hundred witnesses.

Michael Gross! Wait a minute, there are no Graboids in this boardroom! Can we shut this piece of shit off and watch Tremors instead, please?

Pain level: 4. Despite wishing I was watching an awesome monster movie instead of this garbage, I at least can take some solace in knowing not all the cool character actors showing up in these things are doing it out of some kind of ideological imperative. I know Gross is an anti-gun pacifist, so I seriously doubt his political views match up with much if any of the gobsmacking idiocy on display here.

I love how the shorter production schedule shows, even though they had more money. In the first one, we see actual railroad crews with huge machines laying ties and track and moving earth, and in the second one it's a team of four guys with tongs pulling up the condemned Reardon steel track and putting it in the back of a pickup truck.

Hearing the name of a character called Mr. Mouch pronounced for the first time. Me and Bob simultaneously: IT'S PRONOUCNED MOOCH!!! And this is how you can tell we've been friends for a looooong time.

So we're supposed to be pissed because the government is doing to the neocons what they've been doing to their workers for decades basically since Grover Norquist took over the GOP. Not so much fun when the shoe full of spiders is on the other foot, is it guys?

Pain level: 7. Four beers and two glasses of whiskey in and IT'S NOT GETTING ANY BETTER.

All the rich people die suffocating and on fire when they run a coal burning train through a mountain tunnel and it gets trapped halfway through. Jacob's response: GOOD! He's turning mean and bitter. Clearly we're rubbing off on him. Reminds me of Heartbeeps at B-Fest. YOU'ER GONNA DIE, BITCH, AND I'M GONNA WATCH!

Reardon is so torn up over the destruction and thinks if only he could have been there to help. Right. If Reardon had been able to help out he'd be out there holding the switch down with his own mighty CEO hands so the great rich people wouldn't die in the fiery crash LIKE THEY FUCKING DESERVE TO.

OK, so fossil fuels are so expensive that nothing but trains are feasible, and they're trying to rescue the trapped rich people by trains, except we saw in the last movie many massive industrial vehicles that burn enormous amounts of fossil fuels being used to re-rail the entire Taggart line with Reardon steel that AAAAARRRRRGH WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK!?

Pain level: 7. At this point I'm not sure if it's the alcohol or the movie making my vision blur.

So the government is both shadow conspiracy efficient and completely incompetent and bungling? Make up your mind!

Wait, now Taggart is hijacking a small plane? Majored in business, minored in theoretical physics, got a pilot's license in her spare time. Suuuure.

Uhh...so in 2016 fossil fuels have made commercial air travel all but impossible, yet personal VTOL aircraft are now a thing?

Ooh, it's like the end of 2001, except I understand it completely and really don't want to. My God, it's full of shit...

Part 3: The Shittening

The ones who needed the money most were the ones who got paid the most? What the fuck!? When has this happened in the history of the world, ever? For that matter, how could this be construed in any way as a bad thing? Will this actually happen next year? I sure as shit hope so, because there are a lot of Blu-rays and records and comic books and Godzilla toys I don't have yet and I could use a new car.


I'm really disappointed Reb Brown isn't playing John Galt for some reason. I think if he shrieked his entire speech at the top of his lungs while exchanging laser fire with Jon Stewart in a high-speed floor waxer chase this would be a lot more entertaining.

Pain level. 6: The time it took to change discs and open another beer gave me a minute to rest and drop my blood pressure a couple points.

THANKS OBAMACARE. When the government started making medical decisions for me...LIKE THEY DID NEVER.

Actual dialog: “This is a diagnostic device I developed here in Atlantis. Every doctor should have one.” Subtext: “But I won't share, so fuck them.” I feel I should point out once again that this movie's protagonists are a bunch of people who create devices seemingly on a daily basis that could change every country in the world into clean, healthy, productive places to live, but they refuse to do anything for the common good because there's nothing in it for them but massive, unholy amounts of riches which they're afraid the government will take away, so everyone should just build their own damn magic engines. And yes, I understand that neurosurgeons are phenomenally intelligent and talented people—in one very specialized field. I do not buy for a second that this qualifies them to be able to build functioning tricorders out of spare junk drawer parts in their free time.

You know what it's like to build something and how little recognition you get for it? Like making enough money to live ten lifetimes comfortably? That's not enough recognition? What, you want to wake up to a fucking blowjob every day? Fuck you people.

What the hell is an actress doing in Galtland? Was she forced to appear in a bunch of Federal PSAs against her will? The more you d'oh!

Oh, because he's a Robin Hood for rich people and he's a worthless fucking cunt. That's why we're not watching a Ragnar the Pirate movie. Fuck that guy too. I shouldn't be surprised. Although I think the filmmakers aren't real clear on what Robin Hood did. Ragnar isn't taking from the poor and giving to the rich, he's sinking ships loaded with the copper desperately needed to rebuild America's infrastructure. So he didn't just go on strike and take some great invention with him, he's actively trying to make the problem worse. Shouldn't that make him a villain even in the Galt cultists' eyes? Oh, right, I'm thinking about it again. I keep forgetting that it stops working if you think about it. Good thing the audience for this are a bunch of slavering idiots.

I'm glad they're giving us introductions to who the hell these characters are for the third movie since they look nothing like the people from the first two. They should just all wear name tags.

“So, John Galt, do you do all the maintenance on your Land Rover yourself?” “Hahaha, no, when it breaks down I just buy a new one!”

People have a right to a living, which CEOs are required to give them. Well, right on the first count any way. Unless you're looking at the world through Nestle's eyes, in which case you can eat a dick. Wait, no, you're not even entitled to a dick. And you better not think you're going to get any water to boil that dick in, unless you buy it in a bottle from us with some powdered milk. Good grief, this is fucked up on so many levels.

Pain level: 8. Didn't take long for the ultrastupid to build up momentum.

Crude but lethal devices AREN'T CROWD CONTROL! That's called murdering people. S.S.I. clearly needs Red Baron. He'd Elec-Trigger these Galt cultists back to the Stone Age.

Grapefruit special just doesn't have the same ring to it as Orange Blossom Special. [editor's note: I have absolutely no idea what this is supposed to mean because I was pretty hammered when I wrote it and I didn't leave any explanation for myself, but I like it as a non sequitur, so I'm leaving it in.]

They're going to decide how to save the harvest over dinner. They being CEOs, not actual farmers. Of course those peons couldn't possibly be trusted with the survival of most of the world's economic structure like they have been basically since commodities could be traded in large quantities on more than a town-to-town basis. I will fucking kill you all.

Sacrifice Minnesota. Do you fuckers understand agriculture at all? You do realize what part of the country all your food comes from, right? Sacrifice them to what? You want to rely on local farmers in the Northeast to pick up the slack!? Now, ignoring for a moment the obvious fact that you can't just grow any old crop any old where with identical results due to things like soil composition and climate and stuff that fucking third graders understand, let's look at some statistics, shall we? Now, these numbers are based on 2004 cash receipts for wheat because that's the first chart I found and I don't want to waste my entire day off looking this stuff up, so we're a little out of date, but it's not going to change so drastically from year that the basic idea here won't hold up. I'll grant you Minnesota isn't our frontline producer when it comes to wheat—North Dakota and Kansas are the undisputed kings there—so at least the filmmakers have some sense of scale in this in that they, probably purely by accident, didn't pick one of the big ones. Still, the idea that the Northeastern farmers are going to pick up the slack is, like every single other thing about these shitburger movies, completely and utterly stupid. According to those 2004 numbers, Minnesota produced 341,037 bushels of wheat, or around 4.62% of the nation's crop for that year. Of the thirteen states in the Northeast region, only five of them produced any appreciable amounts of wheat at all, Maryland leading the pack with 27,565 bushels (.37%) and West Virginia bringing up the rear with a meager 863 bushels (.01%). All five put together only turned out 62,500 bushels. For those of you with calculators and ten seconds on your hands, that means Minnesota produces almost five and a half times more wheat than all the producing Northeastern states combined. And remember, fossil fuels are so scarce and expensive that it's all but impossible to run any large vehicles like combines, tractors, and semi trucks, which probably means most of the farming in this movie's poorly thought out world is done by hand and by horse. Also, since they're expecting the Northeastern farmers to “pick up the slack” at the last minute for this year's harvest, that means they're counting on them to be able to pull five and a half times their regular annual crop out of their asses. Good luck, guys. You're going to have a rough fall.

Pain level: 10. Showing ignorance about farmers is the absolute #1 surefire way to induce a series of painful and debilitating rage aneurysms in this guy right here.

The ignorance level is so deep as to be almost immeasurable. The sonar is still waiting for the first ping to come back.

Find me five more than mid-level executives who ever invented anything. I dare you.

Even the Galt motor isn't played by the same motor movie after movie. It keeps growing and getting glowy bits added on. This may be the only part of the movie that actually shows a budgetary improvement from movie to movie. This time it at least looks like an acceptably vague piece of sci-fi tech. Once again, I'd like to point out that this magic engine could make the world a better place for everyone almost immediately. Not only would no one ever have to die of heat stroke or freeze to death or not have clean water again, it would literally save the planet as fossil fuels would be rendered obsolete overnight. This means that giving the engine to the people of the world would, in fact, also be a self-serving act because if humanity goes extinct due to catastrophic climate change, Galt and his merry band of assholes will all die too. But that would require anyone who buys into Rand's philosophy to actually think their actions through to their final outcome rather than throwing a temper tantrum like a spoiled toddler who wants some candy RIGHT NOW. What am I saying, I'm sure they abducted the one guy at NASA who builds all the spacecraft single-handedly while all the lazy moochers watch, and he's even now constructing them a ship shaped like a giant middle finger which will blast off just as the lava and the floods and the hurricanes reach Dickweed Gulch in a great heroic action sequence. And of course it has lots and lots of portholes so they can watch the huddled masses die horribly as they fly away into space only to realize that they have nowhere else to go and have to start drawing straws to see who gets eaten first so they can conserve oxygen until their giant middle finger crashes into the sun because no one will volunteer to steer the damn thing because why should he have to steer the ship for everyone else and they should all just get their own ships instead of being a bunch of lazy moochers. The end. Please?

I will never ask another man to live his life for me, nor will I live my life for another. In other words, I will never do anything useful ever, and I destroyed my world-saving engine because the gubmint wanted it. Fuck you, Galt, you worthless cock monger.

Dagny gives orders to a bunch of grubby rail workers and she and Galt immediately go to a closet to fuck. Are we supposed to infer that they literally get off on telling poor people what to do?

You know, at the end of the day, this is something of a fantasy for us liberals too. Let all the Randoids go Galt and be assholes to each other in a magic valley somewhere. While they're all arguing over whether Sean Hannity could beat up Glenn Beck or the other way around, we could fill the valley in with concrete or fire ants or something.

We're told the Taggart bridge succumbed to regulation over footage of a bridge collapsing. Are we supposed to take that as the bridge literally fell over due to regular safety inspections?

And as our heroes fly away in a helicopter powered by puppy breath (remember, no fossil fuels except when it's convenient to the plot) and lights and power all over the country go out and millions upon millions of people die as the world is plunged irreversibly into a Mad Max-style spiral of social and structural decay, I invite you to consider that this is meant to be a happy ending.

That's it. I'm spent. Happy Tax Day, everyone.

Be sure to check out Checkpoint Telstar's reviews as part of this Atlas Sucked Tax Day Reviewathon. It was going to be a full roundtable, but everyone else had the common sense to say no. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Undead Legacy

Hankerin' for a hunk of flesh? Check out this new zombie anthology, featuring a story by my friend Andrew Bell.  He's a killer writer, with whom I was honored to share the pages of Dead Harvest last fall. He assures me that this tome will satisfy the most avid gore hound, so it fits right in around here. My copy is currently being packed in salt and shipped to my great hall in a sturdy coffin to ensure no harm comes to the handlers.
Keep America strong, support independent horror!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Animal (2014)

Written by: Thommy Hutson and Catherine Trillo
Directed by: Brett Simmons
Elizabeth Gillies as Mandy
Keke Palmer as Alissa
Thorsten Kaye as Carl

Tonight on Wasting My Time So You Don't Have To Theatre, we present Animal for your consideration. This flick should have been called Lazy Bullshit Shortcuts instead. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised considering how much time and effort clearly went into thinking up such a clever title. It's like a big neon sign saying, “We didn't even fucking try!” right at the beginning of the movie.

I suppose I could tell you what it's about, but I imagine just by being told there's a horror movie called Animal, you already wrote a better one in your head in the time it took me to finish typing this sentence. Oh, very well. Two couples and the inevitable quirky fifth wheel friend go into the woods for a hiking trip. Alissa and Jeff are siblings, and Jeff's girlfriend Mandy is Alissa's best friend. Then there's Alissa's complete non-entity of a boyfriend Matt, and Sean, the aforementioned quirky guy. Mandy is whiny and hates hiking. Alissa is black and Jeff is not because instant diversity! Sean is gay, which is actually important later because he and Jeff were having an affair except that the movie didn't take the time to earn the right to that kind of interesting character moment and then it just gets completely ignored like Lisa's mom's breast cancer in The Room.

About an hour into their hike, Mandy's whining is interrupted by Jeff being eaten by some kind of monster. The rest of them flee blindly through the woods until they luck across a cabin occupied by some people we saw running from the monster in the opening scene. Vicky and Carl are trying to keep the place barricaded against the thing getting in, and Douglas is the requisite asshole who has realized that he doesn't need to outrun the monster, just his friends.

There is much made of checking the barricades for weak spots and reinforcing them. This draws the audience's attention to the fact that the barricades are slats of scrap wood nailed across missing windows with gaps between them at least a food wide and that they are, in fact, nothing but one giant weak spot, as illustrated by the monster effortlessly punching through them whenever the script calls for it. I was going to blame the production designer for that until I realized it was probably an intentional choice on the director's part so he could get some good shots of the monster lurking behind the squabbling characters so the audience would see it coming just before whatever stupid, repetitive argument the characters were having this time got interrupted by someone being eviscerated. You know, just so we can fully appreciate how clever he is. If that was the case, the PD should have swatted the director on the nose with a rolled up magazine and sent him to a corner to think about what he had done.

Eventually everyone is killed but Mandy and Alissa, and even though Alissa is the badass outdoors chick who has repeatedly stated her intention of killing the monster in revenge for her brother and boyfriend, she gets killed and Mandy is the lone survivor because she's the pretty white girl and is pregnant. Fuck you, movie.

Bland characters, paint-by-numbers plots, and passive racism are all things we horror fans are used to. Doesn't mean we have to enjoy putting up with them, but if the monster is handled right, watching a group of personality-free ciphers getting mauled can be enjoyable. Unfortunately, the ball was so thoroughly and comprehensively dropped on this one that I can't think of a single nice thing to say about the movie other than the monster had an interesting face. It's got hints of both insect and rodent, which is neat, but it still looks far too similar to the monsters from Feast. Couple that with the fact that the thing's body is clearly just some recycled monster suits from Feast (FX artist Gary Tunnicliffe worked on both movies), and this just draws the viewer's attention to the fact that, despite a few small changes, even the usually reliable Tunnicliffe was phoning it in and re-using old designs.

Even the sound design of the thing is lazy, just throwing in a bunch of generic monster roars that you'll recognize from dozens of other movies without bothering to make sure it sounds at all like something that would come out of a creature of this size and shape. The only sound it makes that comes off as remotely plausible is the coughing bark it makes as it calls out to its brethren in the surrounding woods that there's an easy buffet of thinly-sketched morons thoughtfully packed into a flimsy plywood box for their dining convenience.

Before our first glimpse of the creature, Sean brings up the Ohio Howl, which is supposedly a recording of a sasquatch moaning in the bayous of Louisiana (just kidding, it's in Ohio). Like his gay fling with Jeff and Lisa's mom's breast cancer, it's never mentioned again, but no other clue as to what the creature could be is ever dropped. One mention of an obscure Bigfoot recording that most people aren't familiar with is our entire backstory? Are we supposed to infer that these creatures are responsible for the Bigfood legend, then? That doesn’t make much sense considering it's no larger than a human and we even get several clear looks at its feet (yet another misstep to add to the list, as it looks like the thing is wearing shower shoes).

It's unlikely the thing is supposed to be some sort of escaped genetic experiment rather than a naturally occurring but previously undiscovered animal. It's right there in the title, after all. It's like the writers and director saw The Descent and wanted their own race of creatures hidden from mankind until now picking off spunky characters in the woods. Yes, there's more than one of the things. Trust me, I didn't spoil any surprises. Even the dullest of wits would have seen that plot twist coming a mile away. That doesn't matter anyway, because they forgot one key element that made the creatures from The Descent work; they evolved and lived in an uncharted cave system in the middle of nowhere and only came out periodically in small groups to hunt wild game. Sure, they had a few human victims now and again, but cavers go missing all the time and the Appalachian wilderness isn't a very forgiving place. Also, they looked like things that could have reasonably evolved in nature had a group of hominids been trapped underground and survived long enough to adapt over generations to thrive there.

Here, Hutson, Trillo, and Simmons are asking us to buy into a race of scaly humanoid rats with faces made of teeth, which are highly aggressive and voracious predators, breeding and hunting (and presumably dying and leaving remains, unless they bury their dead, but this piece of shit movie doesn't deserve to have the audience do that much work for it) in a forest so heavily used by hikers and campers as to have clearly marked and groomed trails, NO MORE THAN A COUPLE OF HOURS' WALK FROM A FUCKING HIGHWAY! AAARGH!

There was a time not long ago when the home video market was so flooded with fuck-awful Nintendo 64-grade CGI creature flicks that making a monster movie with a good old-fashioned practical effects man-in-a-suit monster was enough of a novelty to carry a lousy flick that would otherwise be dismissed as just another piece of crap. Unfortunately for the makers of tonight's movie, that time has long passed. The anti-CGI backlash has brought with it a wave of good, and a few great, monster flicks in the last decade and a half, and we fans once again find ourselves spoiled for choice. There is absolutely no reason to settle for half-assed shit like this anymore.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pig Hunt (2008)

Written by: Robert Mailer Anderson, Zack Anderson
Directed by: James Isaac
Travis Aaron Wade as John Hickman
Tina Huang as Brooks
Howard Johnson, Jr. as Ben
Jason Foster as Jake

I don't know why pigs aren't used as monsters in more movies. They can be goddamn terrifying. My uncle is a pig farmer, and I can remember when we were little my cousins and I were always warned to stay away from the boar pen. When most people think of pigs, they think of cute little market pigs (which can still mess you up pretty good in the right circumstances), but these were big mean breeding boars that probably weighed six or seven hundred pounds and still had their tusks. We were warned to stay away from them not because they might trample us, or they might bite us, but that they might eat us alive. Pigs don't fuck around.

There are plenty of movies that have pigs in them, of course. Hannibal has trained hunting pigs, Paul Naschy's Human Beasts has some pig violence in it, and of course there's the movie called Pigs, which actually has very little pig action and is boring as hell. As far as I know, though, there are only a small handful of movies where pigs are the featured monster. There's the French eco-horror movie Prey (which could have done with more pig action), the South Korean black comedy Chawz (which could have done with being a better movie), the brilliant Australian flick Razorback (one of my all-time favorite horror movies), and tonight's movie.

Pig Hunt is a close second for the best killer pig movie out there, and when the only thing leading you is Razorback, that's high praise indeed. For those of you who have already seen Pig Hunt, you might wonder why I speak so highly of it when just a few sentences ago I was complaining about Prey not having enough pigs in it. After all, the monster hog in Pig Hunt only shows up for the last ten minutes or so of movie. Well, you almost never see the titular beast in Razorback either. Telling a good story with the rest of the movie makes all the difference in the world while you're waiting for the monster to show up.

John, his artist girlfriend Brooks, and his three friends Ben (who looks and sounds so much like Keith David I was surprised to learn they're not related), Wayne and Quincy, are traveling from San Francisco to a remote rural town in Northern California called Boonville to stay at his uncle's cabin and hunt wild pigs (which really do plague that part of the country ever since they were introduced to the area by Russian immigrants). It's a little unclear as to the military status of the group. John wears dog tags, but they're his uncle's (although it took listening to the DVD commentary for me to figure that out). Wayne wears one of those digitized-looking camouflage jackets that are currently in use, but there were no name, rank or unit patches to signify it was anything but a surplus store purchase. Ben, on the other hand, wears head to toe camo, but of a dated variety not in use any more. He's definitely wearing it just because he thinks it makes him look cool, which makes his, “Semper Fi” salute and donation of a dollar to a homeless Viet Nam vet petting a dead puppy really make you root for the pig.

If that and the opening credits playing over the painting “Liberation of Baghdad” by Sandow Birk didn't tip you off, this flick has a very strong anti-war thread running through it, specifically aimed at the Bush administration's monumental clusterfuck in Iraq. Indeed, the basic synopsis of the plot is a bunch of unprepared and under-equipped people with far too much confidence for their own good dive into a situation they don't fully understand and things go horrifically wrong. Sound familiar? It's only been on the news almost every night for the last thirteen years and we're still cleaning up the mess.

Anyway, the first hint of trouble comes when the group stop for gas at a little convenience store (run by blues legend Charlie Musselwhite, in the first of two great musical cameos!). Also making use of the facilities are the nameless Hippie Stranger and a few members of his harem of dope farming cult girls. When the Stranger pulls a huge gurhka blade to save Brooks from a rattlesnake. John shoots the snake with his crossbow before the Stranger can dispatch it, and of course Ben takes the knife as a threat and pulls his big macho Dirty Harry gun to show what a badass he is. In the first of several times American swinging-dick gun culture gets cut off at the knees, the Stranger claims his blade is never drawn without tasting blood. Ben retorts that his gun isn't either, to which the Stranger replies by slicing his arm open, wiping the blood on their car window, and drawing a smiley face in it. Ben holsters his weapon un-blooded and they hightail it the hell out of there.

Eventually they find John's uncle's cabin, which was clearly home to a mind broken by PTSD for a long time before being abandoned. In addition to pig bones and wreckage of hunting gear everywhere, the walls are plastered with articles on the Iraq war and graffiti written in what looks to be blood, with slogans like FALSE FLAG. The place is in no condition for visitors, so they camp in the yard for the night and wake to be greeted by two locals named Jake and Ricky.

Now, the obvious thing to want to call these two is rednecks, but this doesn't take place in the south. One could argue that redneck is a state of mind and that people from Northern California could be rednecks just as well as people from Texas, but producer and co-writer Robert Mailer is insistent on not calling them that. Being a Boonville native (much of the movie was shot in the woods near his home), he says in the commentary that after a generation of their young men came back broken from the war to find the economy had gone to shit and all their jobs were gone, there wasn't much for any of them to do but grow dope and smoke dope and get drunk and shoot pigs. As with any impoverished rural area, a lot of the population live pretty rough and are very self-sufficient when it comes to living off the land. Given how much shit they give John and his friends about serving in the war, it's obvious these two have really seen the violence Ben idolizes in his ignorance, and they don't have the time of day for false machismo. The only one of the group they seem to like at all at first is Quincy, the foppish foodie and camp cook. He doesn't pretend to be tough and he makes good coffee, which is good enough for Jake and Ricky.

Since everyone is out in the woods for the same reason—pig hunting—the two groups join together, and as they trek along we get to know Jake and Ricky a little better. Sure, they may be tweaky alcoholic coke-heads, but it quickly becomes clear that the Deliverance vibe we get from their first appearance was a ruse. They're just some good ol' boys out in the woods looking to get wasted and shoot some pigs. The first attempt goes pear shaped rather quickly, when Jake blows a pig call and they're ambushed by rather more pigs than they expected. Wayne gets kneecapped by a stray tusk, and when the chaos finally settles down, they only got one pig to show for it. Just before Ben can make the killing shot with his revolver, Ricky steps in and hacks the pig to death with a California hook (a rather innocuous nickname for a grappling iron duct-taped to a baseball bat). “Kill guns are for pussies,” he sneers.

As Ricky field dresses the pig, he discovers something alarming. It doesn't have the layer of fatty armor under the skin that most wild pigs have. In fact, aside from the sizable tusks and it already being as large as an adult pig, anatomically it's barely more than a piglet. This, coupled with the ominous signs posted around the forest reading “Death Walks On All Fours” and Quincy's discovery of a trio of half-eaten emus (Apparently there were several real hippie communes around Boonville that raised emus for meat, but the birds got loose and now run wild in the woods along with the pigs. It's not unusual in that area to be awakened in the middle of the night by an emu pecking at your door. They wanted emus stalking the group like the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park as yet another threat, but it proved to be too expensive.), suggest there may be some truth to the legend of the Ripper, a 3,000 pound monster boar that John's uncle had become obsessed with before he died (we know he was actually eaten by the thing because we saw it happen in the opening scene).

Things keep getting worse when they stumble across a huge marijuana plantation. Jake and Ricky unload a bunch of big garbage bags and start picking. John objects (why he doesn't just walk away and leave them to it I have no idea), and when Ricky tries to shoot him with his own crossbow, Ben finally makes some use of that gun he keeps waving around and puts a slug in Ricky's chest.

Jake runs back home to fetch the rest of his clan, and the chase is on. Quincy is killed by the hillbillies, but Ben is saved by the intervention of the Hippie Stranger. At first he thinks he really lucked out, being nursed by a bunch of pretty nekkid cult girls who ply him with dope and boobies. You can see the questions start to form in his mind when they start drawing symbols on him with wet ashes. And then he gets led out into big pen out back where Wayne is tied to a wall with one of his legs chewed off, and whispers to Ben, “It's eating me.” John and Brooks find the hippie compound not long after, followed closely by Jake, and then the manure really hits the fan. I mean, the movie's called Pig Hunt. Did you really think the Ripper wasn't going to be real?

Thankfully for practical effects fans, the Ripper is real both senses of the word. Not a single CG shot was used to bring the monster pig to life. He's a 100% physical effect, combining two guys in a big furry body suit stuck together like a pantomime horse (admittedly not entirely effective even in the brief glimpse we get of it) and an animatronic head that, while not exactly realistic in the same way that Bruce the shark didn't look exactly like a great white, is expressive and nasty looking and fantastic.

I said before that Charlie Musselwhite was the first of two great musical cameos. The second is the insane backwoods preacher at the head of Jake and Ricky's clan, played by none other than Les Claypool. Les happened to be walking through the building where the special effects guys were sculpting the giant pig and got curious, as anyone would. When he found out they were making it for a monster movie, he got excited and said he had to be in it. When Les Claypool asks to be in your movie, you damn well say yes. He also did a great theme tune called “The Boonville Stomp”, as well as a lot of the incidental music. It's this bizarre, unique and totally perfect music that, for me anyway, helps the movie to stand apart from the crowd, much like Russell Mulcahy's music video-inspired visual aesthetic did for Razorback. Without either thing, you'd still have a great horror movie, but it's that extra ingredient that really makes it special.