Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ebola Syndrome (1996)

Written by: Ting Chau
Directed by: Herman Yau
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Kai
Meng Lo as the Boss
Yeung-Ming Wan as Yeung

I don't remember exactly where I first read about ebola, but I know it was around junior high school when all the computers got wired up with this newfangled thing called the internet and we spent every study hall and free period just roaming around search engines hoping to find something cool that wouldn't set off content alarms. James Lileks's Gallery of Regrettable Foods was a big hit as was the Institute for the Easily Amused. And then we discovered that if you searched through Yahoo's pre-sorted website categories, there was a tab marked “Humor.” And if you clicked that there were subcategories of humor, and among them another tab marked “Tasteless.” Readers of a certain age know exactly where this is going. Who can forget one of the earliest – and still one of the greatest – webcomics, “Mr. T Ate My Balls” and its many spinoffs and copycats (and now I realize that the world, whether it knows it or not, needs a Cinemasochist Apocalypse Ate My Balls strip)? Surely I'm not the only one out there who clubbed a seal for world peace. It's where I learned that John Denver's favorite drink is Ocean Spray. And somewhere in this warped mess that probably helps explain the parts of my sense of humor that aren't accounted for by Monty Python, Red Green, and MST3K, there must have been a page devoted to ebola, because I distinctly remember the phrase, “So many nifty special effects in one little package of RNA”, although I can't remember now where I saw it.

So now I feel a little bit like Elias from Clerks 2, as he boasts about how he's positioned with the perfect online handle. Except instead of expecting to get massive amounts of pussy because there's a live-action Transformers movie coming out and his handle is Optimus Prime, I'm expecting the NSA to come smashing through my door because I've been ebolamonk since I was about 16. I swear I didn't do it, guys!

That brings us to tonight's movie. I won't delve too deep into the specifics of Cat III Hong Kong movies, as it's been done better elsewhere. I'll just say that they're unlike any other type of exploitation movie you've ever seen. They'll give you whiplash trying to keep up with the tone changes from horror to sex to comedy to any combination of the three and back again. They pack enough gristly punch and are filled with enough weird shit to turn the stomach of your average movie goer, but they can be a frustrating experience if all you're looking for is visceral thrills because they often take lengthy departures from angry witches turning people into giant schlongs or disgruntled employees raping everyone they see full of ebola, to engage in fairly boring drama or comedy that is frequently abrasively unfunny to Western audiences (at least those Western audiences who wish everyone involved in making those fucking Grown Ups movies would wind up on the receiving end of a vengeful cock full of hemorrhagic fever).

Herman Yau is an insanely prolific director, most famous for either Human Pork Buns: The Untold Story, or the recent Ip Man movies, or both, depending on the kind of film circles you run in. It's pretty amazing what a guy can do with a little money and a high-def camera because those Ip Man movies look like a million bucks and the aforementioned flicks as well as tonight's movie...well...

The scene is set when we meet Kai screwing his boss's wife. The boss comes home early and catches them at it, threatening to cut off Kai's dick with a pair of scissors (threats of dick violence are a recurring theme). Feigning subservience, Kai offers to cut his own dick off so the great boss doesn't have to lower himself to such an unworthy task. The boss, so sure of his dominance, hands Kai the scissors. This, as you may imagine, goes poorly for all involved. Kai slaughters nearly the whole family and is just about to set the boss's young daughter on fire after dousing her with some kind of accelerant when he's interrupted by a delivery man, or maybe a concerned neighbor, or something. A lot of the characters aren't named often if at all and IMDB is nearly useless for this movie.

Ten years later, Kai is hiding from the law in Johannesburg, working as a cook at a Chinese restaurant. He splits his time pretty evenly between getting in fights with his current boss's wife and getting drunk while complaining to the one person who can stomach his company enough to be considered a friend that he's tired of fucking the same whore every night but none of the other ones in town will give him the time of day. After an unsuccessful attempt at soliciting some nookie gets him kicked out of the bar, he returns to his crummy little apartment above the restaurant, cuts a slit in a porkchop, and fucks it while he listens to his boss boffing his wife in the apartment next door. The scene where returns to the kitchen with the pork chop, sniffs it, rubs it around in his hands a little to thin out the spooge and tosses it back in the fridge is one of the funniest parts of the movie.

I know what you're thinking. Didn't he say the comedy in this kind of movie usually wasn't funny? Yes, I did say that, and when I watched this flick for the first time a couple of years back, I remember thinking it was slow and boring and unfunny. This is why watching subtitled movies while hammered out of your skull isn't a good idea. Ebola Syndrome is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, you kind of have to be a horrible asshole to see the humor in the situations, but...well...have you met me?

Anyway, the real trouble starts when one day Kai's boss decides he's tired of the Afrikaner butcher he usually buys his meat from ripping him off. He somehow got a tip that a nearby Zulu tribe sells livestock for a much more reasonable price, and so he and Kai set off into the bush to buy some pigs. On the way there they see a clearly ill woman stumbling around near a riverbank, and since she's topless and Kai's an enormous perv, he wants the boss to stop so they can fuck her. Bossman is all business though, and it's off to the village they go. Half the village appears to be dead, and half the living population looks like they'll be joining the stiff brigade sooner than later, but a cheap pig is a cheap pig, and before long they're bouncing back down the dirt road with some hogs in the back of the pickup.

When Kai manages to ram the truck into a tree, he and the boss have a row and he storms off into the bush. And then he storms into an entirely different kind of bush when he finds that woman from earlier passed out by the riverbank. Credit where it's due, Kai's first response is the normal human one of trying to wake her up, and when that fails, to move her out of the sun so he can get help. Then his hand brushes one of her breasts and he decides, what the hell, might as well rock out with my cock out! Before Kai can finish railing the unconscious woman, she vomits a stream of infected puke into his face and passes the deadliest disease known to man on to him.

Wouldn't you know it though, he's one of the lucky few who are immune. As if being a violent, sex-starved pervert with a persecution complex wasn't enough, when he gets over the fever he's sweating out on the boss's couch he'll be Typhoid Barry to boot. And that little girl he almost burned at the beginning? She's now an airline hostess, and spotted him at the restaurant while waiting for her next flight. She didn't recognize him outright, but she has a sort of psychic link that make her smell blood and toss her cookies every time she's near him. That should be handy for her cop boyfriend to track Kai with once he returns to Hong Kong to begin his rampage of scrotum gravy and boogers and spit. You know, because the trail of melted corpses was so inconspicuous.

Aside from being repugnantly funny (Kai running through the streets of Hong Kong threatening to cut himself with a knife and screaming, “EEEEBOLAAAA! EEEEEBOOOOOOLA!” is hysterical), the South African portion of the movie is also extremely racist. That being the case, I figured for sure that when I looked it up I would find that the Zulu lived nowhere near Johannesburg. Turns out I was wrong, stupid American that I am. That means that someone involved in this stupid, hateful little movie actually took the time to do a little geography. Compare this to American cinema, where half the time we can't even get our own geography right in our movies, let alone someone else's. The remake of The Crazies, set near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was actually partially shot there AND THEY STILL GOT ALMOST ALL THE DETAILS WRONG! How in the fuck do you even do that!? They showed fields that looked like the fucking Dust Bowl and claimed the whole area would die if they didn't irrigate it with the infected water. We haven't had a drought like that in my lifetime, my dad's lifetime, hell, probably my grandpa's lifetime, and the Cedar Valley is a massive floodplain! How do you spend that many weeks shooting a movie IN IOWA, ABOUT A FARMING COMMUNITY, AND NEVER ACTUALLY TALK TO A GODDAMN FARMER!?!?

Ok, aneurism over. I'll leave you with this. Ebola Syndrome is a nasty, vicious exploitation movie full of rape and cannibalism and child murder and lots of talking about dick violence. If you look at it from a slightly different angle, it's also a sobering meditation on why it's a good thing superpowers aren't real, because if they were, you know damn well the great majority of the people who lucked into them would be a lot more like Kai than Kal-El.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Digital Harvest

For those weirdos among you who aren't incurable paper hoarders, Dead Harvest is now available as an e-book.  Hit the link below and download massive amounts of horror.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales

Ladies and gentleworms, boils and ghouls, I'm putridly proud and pleased as pus to present -- OW!  Hey!  OK, OK, I'll  cut out the Uncle Creepy schtick, stop throwing things!  Sheesh.
Anyway, I'm thrilled to announce that my short story called "Putting the Ground to Sleep" is included in Dead Harvest, a massive horror anthology with some big names that I'm lucky as hell to be a part of.  It's my first published work outside of the various websites that I've worked on over the years, and it's pretty damn exciting.
So click the link below and celebrate your participation in our weak, limping democracy by treating yourself to this monolith of the macabre!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Suckling (1990)

Written by: Francis Teri
Directed by: Francis Teri
Frank Rivera as someone
Marie Michaels as someone
Some other people as characters (can you tell the internet credits are a little spotty on this one?)

I can't think of any more gleefully gross exploitation movie plot than “aborted fetus gets flushed down a toilet, lands in a puddle of toxic waste, and turns into a marauding monster”. When I read about it in the coming-soon-to-video section of Fangoria years ago, I certainly knew I had to see it. I honestly can't remember where I eventually found a copy, although the amusingly inaccurate SCIENCE FICTION genre sticker on the box suggests an ex-rental copy. The sticker is of an unfamiliar style, so I assume I found it at one of the giant video tape liquidation sales that would pop up in the mall once or twice a year. Man, those things were a fucking goldmine. One day you'd go to get a giant cookie (really about the only reason to ever go to our mall anymore, except the cookies have gotten smaller and more expensive, so they're not the temptation they once were) and one of the vacant storefronts would have sprouted table upon table, row upon row of VHS castoffs from rental stores across the country.

Anyway, the last thing you would expect is a movie with that story to, all things considered, show some restraint and actually attempt to succeed in creating some actual drama and tension. No, I take that back. That would be the second to last thing you would expect. The very last thing you would expect is that the movie would, to the extent the limits of its budget and talent of the cast and filmmakers allowed, succeed. But don't worry, there's still some gross baby monster stuff. Just not as much as I would have liked. Wow, I never thought I would find myself wishing for more horrible fetus monster action.

We meet a boy and his girlfriend, whose names were barely ever spoken, and when they were they got absorbed into the muffled audio of the tape and the horrible screeching of the ancient elliptical machine I use to keep myself in some semblance of shape. They arrive at a huge, run-down house in some forgotten corner of Brooklyn, which does double duty as a whorehouse and illegal abortion clinic. The girl is adamant that she's going to carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption, and that she's only going to talk to Big Mama, the madam-cum(huh huh huh)-OB-G-DIE!-N, to placate her boyfriend. Of course, things don't go as planned or this would be a short movie, so Big Mama drugs her, performs the abortion (“Good lord, this is the biggest second term pregnancy I've ever seen!” she exclaims of the fetus she pulls out of the visibly-not-pregnant-at-all girl), and sends her simpleton Girl Friday to flush the thing down the shitter. The little bundle of unwanted joy lands in a puddle of toxic waste leaking into the storm drain from a barrel out behind the house (being from the rural Midwest, I just assume everyone has one of those in New York City) and of course immediately begins to increase in size and grow huge bone-shard praying mantis arms, like you do.

Back in the house, the girl is coming to from her Kool-Aid sedative, tension is rising amongst the secondary cast members like Big Mama's son Axel and the Black Ex-Military Security Guy Whose Name I Also Didn't Catch. One of the hookers goes with Girl Friday to flush her third abortion down the can when the prehensile umbilical tentacle of the Suckling shoots out of the toilet and decapitates Girl Friday. At this point, you're probably thinking we're in for some seriously wacky, tacky, disgusting shit. Would you believe me if I told you that, with the exception of a scene at the very end of the movie, we're pretty much done plumbing the depths of tastelessness the movie bothers with? The Suckling grows to full adult size in what turns out to be a pretty impressive monster suit considering how cheap this flick must have been, surrounds the house with an unbreakable placenta cocoon to keep its prey from escaping, and starts picking off the rest of the characters.

It's interesting that the first to die is the black guy. Interesting in that he doesn't die first because he's the black guy in a cheap horror movie. He dies because he's the only competent character and if he wasn't killed off everyone else would have survived. When the Suckling comes through the wall and grabs him, he's just disarmed the unstable Axel, gotten everyone to stop bickering momentarily, and is about to take his rightful place as leader of this motley group. Usually I write off observations like this as me giving too much credit to stupid coincidences in shitty movies, but there's just enough intelligence on display here to make me think Francis Teri was attempting to play with genre conventions a bit.

We're given enough back story on everyone else to know they're essentially useless. The boyfriend is basically just a kid, and despite coming up with some helpful suggestions like making a battering ram out of a weightlifting set, nothing he tries actually works, and let's not forget this whole mess is his fault to begin with; Big Mama is a clever enough woman to create her own little slum empire, but for all that it's still just a slum; the prostitutes, while shown to have some bonds of friendship and loyalty for each other, are still junkie whores at the end of the day; the one client who gets trapped in the house is a caricature of upper middle class white Republican snobbery, he talks big until he actually has to be brave and decent and then he's just a worthless pile of shit; and Axel is fresh out of his umpteenth stint in prison and is clearly a mentally unstable testosterone case. The only one in the whole place who stands a chance of fighting off the monster and getting everyone out alive is the ex-army security guard. It's hinted at that some shady stuff in his past has kept him from getting a real job despite his veteran status. That and, you know, he's black. He's clearly not happy with his lot in life, and is the only character in the flick to be a decent person in any way. So of course he has to die, because we want to see the rest of these miserable pukes killed off and the one competent, intelligent, genuinely good character is standing between them and the toxic waste sewage fetus. Bravo to Mr. Teri for that.

Of course, everyone eventually dies except for the girl, and she doesn't exactly escape unscathed. What happens to her, you really should see for yourself. I had to rewind it a couple of times to make sure I saw it right. Just don't have a beverage in your mouth at the point where the creature kills its father and starts advancing on its mother, because about two seconds later you're going to be choking on it.

Even on a dime store budget, fake blood can't possibly be that cost prohibitive. There's no way they spent so much on the monster they didn't have enough left over for a few gallons of corn syrup. A movie that starts out with the premise of an angry mutant aborted fetus killing those who have done it wrong should be absolutely the most disgusting and tasteless thing ever put on film. This thing should be Shaun Hutson level reprehensible. Unfortunately, once the monster reaches its full size, the horror elements become pretty tame and paint-by-numbers. There's very little gore, although there is a pretty nifty stop-motion severed hand crawling around at one point. It's obvious that Francis Teri was trying to lift this movie above the gutter-level expectations of its audience (the box states that the movie was compared favorably to Alien and Die Hard, but I'm guessing the only person who ever made that comparison was Teri). Most of the time I would applaud that attempt, and honestly there are times when the writing stops being terrible and the actors dial back the ham and it really does work for a few moments, but when you make a movie like this, you shouldn't strive above the gutter, you should fucking wallow in it. Go ahead and try to make a statement if you want, but don't make it with a polite note in carefully written cursive on classy stationery, splash it all over the goddamn walls with buckets of blood and slime.

I think maybe Teri realized that too late to do anything about the final cut, because the end credits are interspersed with a completely random and impressively gruesome FX scene shot outside the house, where two passersby witness a person staggering around the yard while the flesh melts off their skeleton. It's cool, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and it's too little too late to make up for the dearth of grand guignol in the main body of the picture.

It's a fun flick and definitely worth a watch. Just make sure you go in with tempered expectations and are prepared for a large chunk of mostly bloodless, mostly monsterless, but not completely terrible character drama in between the crazy bits.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fighting the Good Fight for Net Neutrality

Because I'm computer stupid (there's a reason I do this from Blogger), I can't even get a simple cut and paste widget to work.  There's supposed to be a spinning loading wheel graphic going on right here, with some other stuff, which links to sign a petition to tell the FCC to tell Comhugecoglomeratecast to go fuck themselves and let us have our damn pornography internet the way God Al Gore Nyarlathotep intended.  A whole bunch of people are running this all day September 10th, but since a)I can't get the thing to work and b)I'm not going to be up til midnight because some of us have jobs to get to in the morning, I'm just going to post a link you can click to sign the petition.


Seriously, do something.  It's just a petition, it won't bite.  I know we usually just talk about silly movies here, but this is some serious stuff.  If the communications giants get their way, it might take longer than your lunch break to load this blog to read, and then what would you do while you ate your processed microwaved irradiated pre-chewed food substance product?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Exterminator 2 (1984)

Written by: Mark Buntzman and William Sachs
Directed by: Mark Buntzman
Robert Ginty as John Eastland
Mario van Peebles as X
Frankie Faison as Be Gee
Deborah Geffner as Caroline

Despite the fact that the two movies bear only the slightest resemblance to each other, I could never keep Exterminator 2 and Executioner Part II straight in my head. Probably because virtually all of that similarity is in the titles. Thus it was that when I put this DVD in the player to get ready for this round table, I was convinced I was about to see a vigilante hero shoving grenades down rapists' pants for 90 minutes, despite the fact that I couldn't remember Mario van Peebles having anything to do with it. Turns out I had it wrong, and this is the Cannon-ized, Death Wish-ified sequel to 1980's Exterminator. I believe that confusion is intentional on the part of the makers of Executioner Part II, as there is no Executioner Part I, and Executioner Part II is almost certainly a cash grab at some of the box office for this higher profile picture that came out the same year.

I'm not really sure how Cannon Films came to be making a sequel to a movie that came out four years previous (I didn't have time to listen to the commentary before going to press with this, it's possible the beans are spilled therein) and wasn't a monstrous hit to begin with, but I imagine it had more than a little to do with the fact that their Death Wish series was raking in the bucks. They had already been doing those for a decade by this point, and Bronson wasn't getting any younger, so I'm sure it seemed like a good idea to have another franchiseable vigilante character in the stable, and any name recognition is better than none at all. Problem is, Paul Kersey is a likeable, sympathetic everyman character who is forced to extreme action because outside forces back him into a corner. So was John Eastland the first time around. In this installment, Eastland is a gigantic loser who manages to get everyone around him killed because he's absolutely fucking terrible at being a vigilante.

The streets of New York have been relatively crime free for four years. The threat of fiery death from the vigilante known as the Exterminator has sent most of the thugs packing to safer territory. However, there's a new kingpin in town. His name is X, he dresses like one of the more outlandish pro-wrestlers at the height of their mania for wacky costumes, and he's organizing every two-bit hood rat in the city into a highly efficient criminal army to take back what he feels are their streets.

Meanwhile, John Eastland hasn't held a steady job in four years, but somehow he manages to belong to a members-only nightclub that offers free beer and the debatable allure of a middle-aged Broadway failure doing spazzy step-aerobics to terrible synth pop without ever removing a single article of clothing. One night he hears a robbery in progress on the police scanner, and discovers some thugs have killed the owners of a small convenience store. The thugs get toasted, and soon the word is out that the Executioner is back. X is furious that his revolution is in danger of being over before it starts, and so the hunt is on for the man behind the welding mask. Too bad for all involved, John just hooked up with Caroline the club dancer and got a job with Be Gee the freelance garbage truck driver. Now X will have some soft spots to strike at to bring John down.

The biggest problem with this movie is that the bad guy gets all the good humanizing moments. We spend far more time getting to know X than we do Eastman. Granted, this is a sequel, but it's a sequel four years after the original. The only character development we get with John before he basically becomes a slasher for the last half of the movie is that he has no job because of reasons. He starts up a relationship with Caroline for the sole purpose of having her killed off to up the stakes at the end, but there's no real chemistry or feeling of interest generated in the audience. Compare that to X's impassioned speech about his men not deserving to die because they never had a chance at a real life and have to fight for survival – never mind that they killed an innocent old couple and that it certainly wasn't their first violent crime – and you kinda start to wonder why you're supposed to root for the bum with the flamethrower. Well, it's because he wears an Army jacket, stupid. That's shorthand for “hero”, even if our hero's big happy moment before things go south is drunk driving a garbage truck he barely knows how to handle through crowded city streets so he can get laid.

Thinking about it that way, this almost becomes an anti-vigilante movie, with the villain being the deeper character and the ostensible hero becoming, as I said earlier, almost a slasher figure. Granted the criminals are still criminals, but at least their faces aren't hidden behind masks the whole time. Take away the hero's face and he becomes an inhuman engine of destruction. Put that engine up against a guy who can make speeches that can almost turn you sympathetic to violent thugs, and you really are left wondering whose side you're supposed to take. Except you're not at all, because they killed Caroline and Be Gee, and John was in the Army, and he has a totally boss garbage truck he converted into a tank!

No, of course the movie doesn't really have layers like that. It's a Cannon Films vigilante action movie ferchrissakes! The reason it seems so disjointed is that there was barely two weeks of prep time from, “Hey, we're gonna make this movie”, to “Hey, start making that movie.” Mark Buntzman, who was a producer on the first Exterminator, wrote the original script and shot the original cut of the flick. The Cannon boys didn't like the way it ended, with Caroline surviving (once again, it's a Cannon vigilante movie, if the women aren't all raped and dead by the end of the second act, you did it wrong) and even saving John and getting the final, killing shot on X, so they called in William Sachs to “fix” things, which I have to assume made them considerably worse since the guy who worked on the first movie probably had a much better handle on how things should go.

At least it had a cool garbage truck. And Irwin Keyes's character from the original magically coming back to life.

Cinemasochist Apocalypse is simply the glass of orange juice in the complete breakfast of the Cannon Fodder roundtable, honoring the recently departed Menahem Golan, and discussing the films of Golan-Globus and Cannon Films. You can read more at your local library, and at these other fine sites. But you don't have to take my word for it.

Terrible Claw Reviews:  Lifeforce

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Proxy (2013)

Written by: Kevin Donner and Zack Parker
Directed by: Zack Parker
Alexia Rasmussen as Esther Woodhouse
Alexa Havins as Melanie Michaels
Kristina Klebe as Anika Baron

This is going to be short and sweet.

A woman named Esther, just weeks away from her due date, is attacked on her way home from an OB/GYN appointment. The assailant ambushes her as she passes an alley, knocks her unconscious with a brick and drags her out of sight of the street, then proceeds to smash in her pregnant belly with the brick.

Upon awakening in the hospital, Esther meets with a social worker who informs her that since she has no close friends or family (she was fertilized with a selection from a sperm bank), it will be very important for her to find a support group outside, since once she leaves the hospital the doctors and social workers there will move on to the next internal case and can provide her with no more help.

After a couple of rough days, she finds a support group for victims of violent crimes. And then things go totally apeshit crazy.

That is literally all I can tell you about the movie without ruining everything, and the above takes up ten, maybe fifteen minutes tops of the two hour run time. Proxy is a deftly woven tapestry of insanity. Zack Parker masterfully paces the movie, assaulting the viewer with one WHAT THE HOLY FUCKING SHIT!? moment after another without things ever feeling bogged down by plot twists, or having too long a stretch between them. Just when you think you've got a handle on things, you find out that in fact you do not, and it's much, much worse than you suspected.

Top notch performances all around too. Again, I can't say much about what specifically is good about each performance because it will ruin things, and this is definitely a movie you need to see cold to get the full effect. Just trust me, they're great.

There you have it. One of the best horror movies of the year. I can't even think offhand of one that tops it, so maybe THE best horror movie of the year. Go see Proxy right now. Don't even read the last sentence. Seriously, what the hell are you still doing here?