Tuesday, February 2, 2016

B-Fest 2016 Part 2: What A Lovely Day

Friday morning saw our entire group gather – and rather overwhelm, as this year saw a bumper crop of our crew in town – at the Omega for B-Fest Power Breakfast. In the run-up to eating nothing but snack food out of a cooler for 24 hours, getting one last solid meal in your stomach is always a good idea. In this case, the meal is so solid I usually end up not being hungry again until well into the Fest itself. The Omega does a mean chopped steak and eggs. And a mean everything else, really. That place is just awesome in general. I had the pleasure of taking my friends there after that King Diamond concert I mentioned previously, and the only thing better than their reactions to the complimentary coffee cake were their reactions to the rest of the food.

After breakfast, Santo, Jessica, Bill, Lisa, Fistula, Ferox, Jacob, and Carl all caravaned out to Berwyn to hit up Horrobles and Reel Art. If you find yourself in the area, you should definitely stop in and check these places out. Owned by different people but located next door to each other, Horrorbles carries horror merchandise (bet you couldn't have figured that out from just the name) while Reel Art caters to comics, pop culture and science fiction. I had to limit myself to just a Bemular figure from Reel Art, because Horrorbles was having a sale on their large NECA figures, so I wound up trying to figure out how to fit a 1/4 scale Xenomorph into the back of Santo's van along with all our coolers and various other Fest luggage.

On the way back into Evanston, the various car loads split up, and the bunch in Santo's van decided to stop for supper at the first place we saw. This wound up being an Ethiopian restaurant, which displeased me greatly. Now, those who have been following me for a while know I'm a relatively adventurous eater. Provided it's not rotten or still moving or lutefisk, I'll try just about anything once, so you might be wondering why going here would disappoint me. Well, it's because the place smelled amazing and the food all looked absolutely delicious and I've never tried Ethiopian food before, so of course I was still so full from the heaping mound of protein from breakfast that I couldn't even think about trying to put away an entire entree. I settled for some chilled cucumber and yogurt soup with mint and honey from the appetizer menu. I can't remember what it was called, but it was fantastic. There's a two day black metal and beer festival hosted by Hammerheart Brewing called Ostarablot coming up this spring in Minneapolis, and there's an Ethiopian place right near the venue, so I'm looking forward to trying some more of the cuisine before getting my face melted off.

Onward to Norris Auditorium. The place was packed by the time we got there, just half an hour before the movies were to start. I have a feeling they may have oversold the tickets this year, because I don't remember it ever being quite this cramped before. Oh well. I got my aisle seat near the back so it all worked out. I got to take part in my second favorite gag of the Fest before the movies even started. Right as they were about to roll The Adventures of Hercules, Tim, Mike, Fistula and myself ran up on stage with a couple cans of edible silver cake spray paint. Some of you may remember the customer reviews for this product on Amazon going viral shortly after Mad Max: Fury Road came out, almost all of them being from Immortan Joe and his Half-Life Warboys. We all blasted our teeth shiny and chrome and roared, “WITNESS ME!” to the crowd before running back to our seats to chants of WITNESS!

Movie time. First up was the even loopier sequel to the already pretty fucking loopy Lou Ferrigno Hercules flick from Cannon. If you thought the stop-motion robot monsters in the first one were ridiculous, just you wait until you see Hercules and King Minos turn into Pink Floyd laserium versions of King Kong and the T-rex and wage their final battle for the fate of the world in a laser light show among the stars. It's even dumber when you realize that they literally just rotoscoped the footage from the battle in the original King Kong. I thought El Santo was going to burst a blood vessel laughing.

If the cake paint gag was my second favorite joke of the fest, my first hands down came during this movie. Someone with a great deal more artistic talent than I had made some large signs in the style of the old Batman TV show, reading BIFF!, POW!, ZOCKO!, and the like to hold up on the screen every time Hercules punched something, except they were written in Greek. Genius. They also had a beautifully drawn picture of Mothra to hold up every time the twin fairy oracle appeared.

Next up was the Italian Qatermass wanna-be, Caltiki the Immortal Monster. I quite like this movie. It's beautifully and atmospherically photographed by Mario Bava, has some surprisingly gruesome deaths for its time, and features some great miniature practical effects during the climax with flamethrower tanks fighting the blob monster. Unfortunately, it's not really a good B-Fest movie since up to the point of that final battle, next to nothing actually happens except a lot of Bullshit 50s Science Jargon ™. You don't want your crowd falling asleep to the movie in the number two slot, so it's a good thing that next up was Americathon.

I'd never even heard of this movie until I saw it on the schedule for this year, but what a fun surprise it was! In the near future, an imbecilic president played by John Ritter has brought the country to the brink of financial ruin. With a super wealthy Native American casino owner about to call in his debt of four billion dollars, the president's emergency cabinet meeting decides to hold a month-long telethon to raise the money. An opposing faction from within the administration, who feels America's time has come and gone and wants to see us fall into the hands of the United Hebrab Nation (yes, the Hebrews and the Arabs have finally made peace and that's what they decided to call themselves), who are waiting in the wings to buy us up after the bankruptcy. Against all odds, the telethon is a success and the country is saved. This one is a real hoot. Have some friends over, drink some beers, and have yourselves an Americathon party.

Following that blast of insanity was the much more sedated Calling Dr. Death, one of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s Inner Sanctum Mystery movies. So sedated, in fact, that Chaney's entire inner monologue, of which there is a great deal, is whispered to himself. A lot of people cleared out during this one, getting a head start on finding a place to sleep through the over night lineup. I stuck around out of curiosity because I'd never seen one of these before, and found it to be an agreeable experience. We knocked out some fun jokes at the movie's expense, and I enjoyed the movie too. Also, Patricia Morison is a knockout.

I hung back and watched the Wizard of Speed and Time stompers from the seats again. It's just not as much fun without Malorie there to stomp with me. There was some difficulty getting the crunchy and well-used print to play a second time, resulting in some strange warped images and sounds coming from the projection system. Since they never seem to do any shorts any more (I for one would like to see the return of What Is Communism?), Wizard is our only holdover from the film days. Granted, going digital opens the Fest up to a great deal more options for choosing movies, but playing everything on DVD is just too coldly efficient. I miss the days when a film break would elicit cheers from the crowd, followed by boos when they got it fixed. Some of the charm definitely went out of the event when the film days passed us by. Maybe some year some eager and enthusiastic new A&O crew will reinstate it for old times' sake. Although this year's A&O bunch were fantastic, but more on that later.

I stuck around for Plan 9 again this year, sitting in the back to watch it with Fistula and Ferox for the first time in fourteen years. That was a good feeling. The old band, back together again.

The blaxploitation slot this year was once again dominated by none other than the great and mighty Rudy Ray Moore, and his Dolemite sequel, The Human Tornado. This movie is nuttier than a bad of mixed nuts, and I love it to pieces. I couldn't wait to see the crowd's reaction to it, and it certainly seemed like everyone else loved it as much as I do. Unfortunately, the late night on Thursday was starting to catch up with me, and I had to tap out and miss the last half hour. At least I got to sleep through fucking Garbage Pail Kids. Fuck Anthony Newley.

I woke up in time to catch the last few minutes of Moon Zero Two, which I've seen before but didn't remember a thing about because it's so boring. It looks nice, though.

My first full movie post-nap was the KO Brothers' sponsorship, Low Blow, starring Leo Fong. Fong claims to have been trained by Bruce Lee, although after watching him barely do any fighting during the movie, and what little he did being pretty uninspired, I rather suspect his being “trained” by Bruce Lee was the equivalent of Chino Marino from the Deftones constantly bothering Mike Patton to do a side project with him and getting rejected every time because he's an obnoxious dork. Fong just figured he spent enough time irritating Lee by calling him up and following him around begging to be trained, that he must have learned at least a little something from him that he could make the claim in a movie. The first half of this flick takes forever to find its feet and figure out what the hell kind of movie it's going to be. Is it a cult movie? Is it a detective movie? Is it a kung fu movie? Eventually all the elements gel together, round about the time Fong beats up a bunch of thugs on an abandoned farm and throws one of them into a pile of random puppies before cutting the roof off their car with a gigantic angle grinder he finds laying on the ground. It's too bad the cult stuff never really went anywhere, as that was the most entertaining part of the movie. I'm pretty sure Cameron Mitchell didn't even know where he was during the filming, and Akosua Busia, who played his second in command, seems to believe she's in a much better movie than she really is. At first I thought she was ferociously chewing the scenery, but then I realized that no, she's just actually a good actress and just appears to be overdoing it because everyone else in the movie looks like they're about to fall asleep. If the first half of the movie almost put me back to sleep, the second half was like a cinematic energy drink. By the time this thing was over I was wide awake and ready to rock for the rest of the Fest.

There were a lot of unknowns for me in this year's lineup, and The 5th Musketeer was no different. I like a good adventure where swashes are buckled and chandeliers are swung from and duels are fought with swords, so I was ready to give this one a chance. When the first name in the credits was Sylvia Kristel, the movie had my attention. Then Ursula Andress. Then Alan Hale, Jr. and Beau Bridges. What the hell!? And music by Riz “Cannibal Holocaust” Ortolani! OK, movie, let's do this! The general consensus was that this movie just turned out to be too good for B-Fest, and I can see why. It had fantastic production value, fine performances from everyone (including a visibly intoxicated Kristel). But like I said, I enjoy a good adventure story, so I had a good time with this one in spite of its apparent quality.

Any disappointment in the previous entries was completely forgotten once Roar hit the screen. This movie must be seen to be believed. Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren bough a lion preserve in Africa, and to prove to the world that the lions, tigers, leopards, and various other big cats living there were snuggly kitties rather than vicious killers, they shot a movie there. A movie that is 90 minutes of Marshall, Hedren, daughter Melanie Griffith, her two brothers, and several of the preserve's staff being brutally mauled, laughing it off as the cats just wanting to play while blood pours from their wounds. At one point you can actually hear Griffith's scalp tear while a lioness is chewing on her. The day after B-Fest, this movie sold out on Amazon. They probably have more in stock by now. You should really get a copy. It's sheer insanity.

After that heaping helping of crazy, almost anything would be a letdown. Doubly so if it's a deeply boring movie about roller derby that promises to be fun in the first five minutes, and then immediately turns into a relationship drama where no one's even wearing goddamn skates! If they'd shot the whole thing on wheels, Kansas City Bomber might have been worth a watch. As it is, this is like some godawful horseshit frat rock band like Breaking Benjamin following Strapping Young Lad on a concert bill.

Fortunately, the last movie of the Fest ramped the crazy back up to 11 and then snapped the knob off the amp. Sponsored by none other than Captain Telstar (he's gotta teach stuff), who introduced the movie onstage by saying, “The first fifteen seconds are a little slow, and then a pterosaur belly flops onto a highway in front of a bus full of kids which causes an earthquake and then Hong Kong explodes. After that, things get nutty,” the audience was treated to one of my favorite loony flicks of all time, Super Infra-Man. Basically, Runme and Run Run Shaw caught an episode of Kamen Rider on TV one day and said, “Ooh, ooh, us too!” Then they took a shitload of speed and got really drunk and made this testament to cosmic insanity. I can't even count how many times I made my parents rent this for me when I was a kid, and I'd watch it multiple times every time I had the tape, probably just to make sure I really had seen what I thought I was seeing. Mount Devil explodes to reveal the secret base of Princess Dragon Mom, who, with her army of prehistoric mutant monsters, intends to take over the world. The only thing standing in her way is a cybernetic superhero called Infra-Man, and his ultimate weapon, the Thunderball Fists. Yes, you can have such a thing. I love showing this movie to people who have never seen it and watching it melt their brains.

After the Fest was over, some of this year's new A&O team were asking people about their experience at the doors. We stopped and talked to them for a while about how this started out being about the movies for all of us, but over the years as we got to know each other, it had become more like a family reunion, and about all the little traditions we have now that surround the event. They seemed genuinely interested and excited to be a part of this great thing called B-Fest. Many of them were even in the theater watching the movies for quite a bit of the show. It's great to have people who actually care about B-Fest running things again. Several times in recent years it felt like the organizers had drawn the short straws or got stuck doing it for extra credit or something and really didn't want to be there. This year, I think we've made some converts.

Once we'd all cleaned the nerd funk off ourselves (and it was mighty this year, since the air conditioning in the auditorium didn't get turned on until halfway through the Fest) and had our Portillo's Italian beef and hotdog repast, Santo, Jessica, Fistula, Ferox and I headed downtown for some top shelf bourbon at Delilah's. It had been a few years since any of us had gone, and we were wondering if we had all gotten too old to be able to do something like that after the battle of will that is B-Fest. So we glued in our dentures extra tight, oiled up the wheels on our Zimmer frames, took an extra dose of Metamucil, and set off. Turns out we were feeling unusually spry this year, and had a nice relaxing evening drinking excellent whiskey and hollering at each other over the din of the bar.

Since I wasn't driving back home into the teeth of a massive winter storm for the first time in three years, I stuck around a little later so I could have breakfast at Marilyn's with the few remaining Festers. Over bacon Belgian waffles and omelets, we recounted our favorite memories from this year and said our fond farewells. It always takes forever to get here, and it's always over before you're ready. Until next year, my friends.

May Tor bless you and keep you.
May Criswell make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May Bela lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

B-Fest 2016 Part 1: What A Day

This year my original B-Fest crew was reunited in the theater for the first time since 2002, although we didn't make the trip together. Hard to believe it was fourteen years ago we first set out with no plan and no money, only a vague idea of where we were going, watched 24 hours of delirious b-movies and then had an even more delirious drive home immediately after the last set of credits wrapped. Fistula and Ferox arrived Thursday night, but I rolled out Wednesday morning this year. After getting my car unloaded and receiving another delightful box of books from Tim, at the behest of Jacob Smith and Natasha Haney we headed to a wrestling themed burger joint called the Squared Circle for supper. I have no strong feelings toward wrestling one way or the other, but I do have strong feelings about delicious hamburgers, and in that regard the place didn't disappoint. Their idea of what johnny corn is differed from any other experience I've had with it, but if you ever wondered whether or not deep-frying corn on the cob and then drenching it in garlic butter was a good idea I can assure you it is.

A post-dining trip to Myopic Books yielded up one of John Norman's even-numbered Gor books. For some reason, every time I run across these things in the wild, they're always the odd numbered ones. Now I have 1,3,4,5, and 7. They also had volumes 10 and 13 on the shelf, but I suspect my journeys through the land of Gor aren't going to get that far so I left them for some other Cabbot (Cabbot! Cabbot! Cabbot!? Cabbot? Cabbot!!! Cabbot! Cabbot. Cabbot, Cabbot!?!?!) fanatic to enjoy.

Thursday saw us wandering over to Seven Brothers for breakfast, and I finally stopped and got some pastries from the bakery we walk by every year and I always say I'm going in but never do. Turns out I'm a moron for not having done so earlier, it was delicious. Then to the L station with Captain Telstar (he's gotta teach stuff), Kelvin Hatle, Melissa Kaercher, Lisa Mary, and first time Fest attender Bill Smiley to grab a train to a train to a bus to the Lincoln Park Zoo. As with the Brookfield last year, most of the large outdoor animals were in winter storage, but there was plenty of stuff inside to look at. The otters were hiding, but I got my cute fuzzy fix when I turned the corner and found myself face to face with a fennec fox. I think my dog Richard needs one to pal around with.

I also got to see a gorilla take a whiz from 20 feet off the ground, a baby Colobus monkey annoying the hell out of its parents by using their tails like tire swings, and some of the rarest birds in the world.

We missed out going to Glen's Diner, the phenomenal seafood place we hit a couple of years ago, because we got a late start and had to be on the train back to the hotel by 5 before our transit passes expired. The zoo left us with not enough time to eat downtown, but just enough for an impromptu ramble through a store called Hollywood Mirror that we walked past on the way to the train station. It's a vintage clothing/memorabilia/toy store, with a heavy emphasis on the clothes. Not being into this kind of fashion (if it doesn't have a cool band or a monster on it, it's probably not going in my closet), I was content to not move far from the door and just look at the fiberglass hammerhead shark on the wall until I noticed everyone clustered in a corner on the opposite side of the store. Then I realized that what they were looking at were some display cases that contained a dazzling array of Ultraman and Kamen Rider figures. Uh oh.

I wound up with a small figure of Chandora from Ultraman and a 6 inch Bandai figure of Dino Tank from Ultraseven, both very reasonably priced. After paying, I noticed another customer digging through some crates on the floor. What the hell, I thought, and started digging too. I asked how much the stuff in the crates cost, and trying not to let on I was too excited, I wound up getting a figure of Nurse, the weird golden dragon robot/UFO thing from Ultraseven for fifty cents! My theory is that because it looks so unlike any other Ultra foe, the owners didn't realize what it was and just tossed it in with all the broken Power Rangers and old Happy Meal toys. Whatever the reason, that score made up for the lack of fresh catch fish in my belly.

On the ride back, someone asked Tim and I if we were brothers. In some alternate universe, I'd like to think we are.

We grabbed a bite at the Palace, a killer Chinese place in walking distance of the hotel, and then went back to change into our hideous jackets for the Hala Kahiki. Since the place is a throwback to the jet set age when people thought Hawaiian kitsch was a legitimate style of interior decorating, Tim had the idea that as many of us as possible should wear horrid old suit jackets and ties that look like they were made from various types of upholstery. He found several jackets in my size in Michigan thrift stores, but by the time I had made my choice from the photos, my top pick was gone. Sometimes things work out, though, because when he went back to pick it up, in its place was this nuclear meltdown of a jacket.

This photo doesn't do the awfulness true justice. You just have to see it in person. Preferably from behind a lead shield.

It wound up being a little tight in the shoulders and short in the sleeves, which just added to the awfulness. Capping it off was a tie that I'm pretty sure began life as someone's great aunt's couch, with a color scheme that made it look like I'd limited my diet to nothing but brightly dyed children's cereals for the last month and then vomited down the front of my shirt. Fruity drinks were consumed, good times were had, and then back to the hotel to drink and watch movies in the lobby.

Back in November, some friends and I went to Chicago to see King Diamond play the Aragon Ballroom. One of the best shows I've ever seen. We stayed at the Best Western then too, and the desk clerk remembered me. He was supposed to have gone to the show himself but got called into work at the last minute. On the way home, we stopped at a liquor store where I picked up a bottle of beer called Absence of Light, which is a chocolate peanut butter stout, and is one of the best beers I've ever had. We hit another Binny's on the way back from the train station and I bought them out of Absence of Light, which I then got to share with and make converts of Mike Bockoven and Matt Campbell while we all watched Tarkan vs. the Vikings in the lobby and had fun blowing the clerks' minds with that and Gymkata.

Thence to bed, for on the morrow we would watch movies historic on the B-Fest road.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Water Power (1976)

Written by: Shaun Costello
Directed by: Shaun Costello
Jamie Gillis as Burt
John Buco as Jack Gallagher
C.J. Laing as Irena Murray

Ever since I took a new job where I'm on the road a lot, I decided it was finally time to get into podcasts. Among the shows I now subscribe to is a phenomenal one called The Projection Booth. They cover an enormously wide range of movies, from acclaimed serious movies like Sorcerer to b-movie dreck like Manos: The Hands of Fate and everything in between. Host Mike White gets tons of great interviews with the cast and crew of the movies they cover, which is really what puts Projection Booth a cut above the rest. Recently they did an episode on one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies, Phase IV. They are also responsible for bringing tonight's movie to my attention, and this tells you how truly wide a swath they cut through the world of cinema.

Water Power is a Mafia-funded grindhouse hardcore porno movie loosely based on the real-life case of Michael Kenyon, a.k.a the Illinois Enema Bandit, who gave forcible enemas to girls on one of the campuses of the University of Illinois until he was caught and jailed. Jamie Gillis even went so far as to attempt to interview Kenyon to prepare for the role. Kenyon was, unsurprisingly, not interested in helping an actor pretend to be him jerking off on girls shitting themselves in bathtubs.

Burt is a lonely, sexually frustrated man. He's a greasy recluse who lives in an apartment with nothing but a bed, a telescope for spying on his cute neighbor, and pages from hardcore pornographic magazines pinned to his walls, which might go some way toward explaining why he has a hard time getting a date. After a perusal of a porno mag so well-used it's surprising that it's not just one big, congealed page leaves him bored and limp, Burt decides to see if his neighbor is home yet. She is, but inconsiderately refuses to stand in front of the window naked. Clearly if Burt wants to please his cyclopean trouser demon tonight he'll have to take matters into someone else's hands, so he heads downtown to find a brothel.

He gets an introductory offer discount blow job, but still doesn't feel like he got quite what he needed. He goes to talk with the manager about specials, which is when he first hears about the high colonic. As it happens, there's one being administered on the premises at that very moment, so Burt goes to see what all the fuss is about. In what you would think is one of the weirdest scenes in the movie, but is in fact just barely warming up, a “doctor” who is way too into his work gives an enema to a young woman who seems to be something of a hellion, and the enema is supposed to cleanse her of foul humours and make her more balanced and well-behaved. Why exactly someone would be brought to a brothel as a fix for unruly behavior, your guess is as good as mine. The whole time he's shoving the tube up her ass and infusing her intestines with soap and water, he's going on and on about the wonderful properties of the enema and all the tools of the trade, and getting more and more wild-eyed and excited. When she finally expels the full liter of water he shot into her butt, he blows his load all over his nurse's face. Burt cums in his pants out in the hallway too, and from that moment on, he is a died-in-the-wool congregation member in the Church of the Enema.

He starts buying all the enema magazines he can get his hands on (there used to be a magazine for everything back before the internet rendered them obsolete) and even buying some equipment to perform them at home. Then comes the second major turning point in Burt's weird and lonely existence. He sees his neighbor come home and gets ready to enjoy some quiet one-on-one time when he sees she's brought a man home with her. He watches with growing dismay as they have sex, and he decides then and there that the reason all the women who won't give him the time of day act that way not because he's a twitchy leering weirdo, but because they're dirty inside, and that if he just cleaned them all out with his trusty enema kit the whole world would be one big love fest. Of course, they're going to take a little convincing.

As soon as the man leaves, Burt breaks into the woman's apartment and gives her an enema at gunpoint. Now, the enema given to the girl at the brothel was a surprisingly clean affair. Sure, there may have been a couple of little chunks floating in that bedpan at the end, but it was still mostly clear water. This time we are subjected to the sight of this poor woman on her hands and knees in her bathtub spraying thick, liquid shit all over her legs and feet while Burt stands over her and jerks off onto her ass. It was at this point that I thought to myself, Jamie Gillis is a real pro to be able to get off standing in the middle of that rancid mess. Either that, or he was really fucking weird in real life too. From what little information I have about him, I think it may be a case of a little bit of both.

I think I'm going to stop the synopsis there, because honestly, there isn't really a lot more to the movie than that. Just a couple more sex scenes, and another, even more disgusting enema scene involving two girls so you get twice the spraying shit. I will say that rather than having Burt captured by the police at the end, he escapes so we can get the amusing closing caption that the Enema Bandit is still at large, and the next person to get a gunpoint colon hosing could be YOU!

There are not a lot of movies that live up to the level of scummy sleaze you build up in your head upon hearing what they're about. This is one of those rare cases where it totally does, and maybe even gets worse with repeated viewings. The first time I watched it, I inflicted it on a couple of friends so we were talking and laughing over it so I missed a couple of the finer plot points. Watched solo and sober the second time for review purposes, the enema rape scenes go from joke fodder to extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences. Granted they should be, but they just go on and on, and with the actual performers involved in the hardcore sex unlike other X-rated cuts of exploitation movies that use obviously different sex performers, it brings things a lot closer to reality than I would like. Especially that first one where Burt goes after his neighbor. It's not the most brutal or violent rape scene I've seen in a movie by a long chalk, but it's definitely one of the ickiest.

One last thing; as with most movies of this sort, there are several cuts. The version I'm advertising below is a legitimate DVD, but it's the American edit of the movie, which features a little less enema and shorter versions of a couple of less important dialog scenes. There is a fan-made Ultimate Enema Edit floating around the dark bowers of man's digital domain, which is the version I viewed for this review. The extra footage is, I believe, from the German edit of the movie. The video quality of the reinstated material is noticeably worse than the rest of the movie, which looks way better than a movie like this has any right to. Credit to Shaun Costello. He may have made smut, but he was a talented filmmaker who worked wonders with the limited resources he had, and he made some technically proficient smut. Oddly, the audio quality of the foreign market footage is considerably clearer and richer than the American footage.

This one's definitely not for everyone, but I think it's safe to say any of the audience for this site is going to hear “grindhouse enema bandit porno” and think “must-see”. Enjoy, fiends. I'll see you all again in a couple of weeks after B-Fest.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Centipede Horror (1982)

Written by: Suet Ming Chan
Directed by: Keith Li
Starring: Some actors, and a bunch of bugs.

Have you seen Austin Powers 3? Do you remember the only funny joke in the movie, with the subtitles that keep showing up over a background that completely wipes them out? Imagine that, but it goes on for the entire movie, and it isn't funny. That's the experience I had watching tonight's movie. Maybe a third of the subtitles were actually legible, and they tended to go by so fast that I couldn't get through them all even when they were if there was more than one or two lines of dialog being represented at one time. As a result, I don't have a damn clue who any of the actors in this movie are, or what any of the characters' names are. I apologize for being the Ugly American here, but I've got nothing. At least half the reviews on IMDB are either for the wrong movie or are an elaborately organized prank. They praise the movie as being the most disturbing thing the reviewers have ever seen, haunting them days or even weeks after viewing. They also all mention an actress whose name doesn't appear anywhere in the cast list (which unhelpfully has no corresponding character names) and talk about events that clearly have no correlation with those of Centipede Horror, so their reliability is roughly that of Donald Trump saying Latino voters love him (this joke best used before November 8, 2016). I'd really love to see whatever movie they're talking about, though. It sounds awesome.

I bought this flick from a little print-on-demand company called Apprehensive Films, sort of like a Warner Archive for weird sleaze. They did a pretty nice job putting the disc together, adding a trailer and a short film. Probably not worth the full $20 asking price, but on sale for $11 I don't feel swindled. At least they put some effort into it. It even came with a little taste of the exploitation advertising experience, with cover copy hailing it as the most notorious nature run amok (spelled “amuck”) movie ever made, and a quote from Sam Raimi saying it's the most disgusting film he's ever seen. Either Raimi hasn't seen many movies or this is an outright fabrication, and my money's on the latter, considering it's not even a nature run “amuck” movie. It is, in fact, a more appropriate selection for the recent vengeful witches round table than the movie I wound up picking, but we'll get to that in due time.

A young woman enters her brother's study and asks him for permission to go on a holiday with her friend to South East Asia (it's almost certainly supposed to be Thailand for reasons I'll explain in a bit, but whenever you can actually make out the subtitles, they always just say SE Asia). He refuses, saying their mother had forbidden them from ever going there. She persists, saying it'll only be for a few days, and he relents on the condition that she wear a special amulet passed down from their grandfather, which is meant to protect the family from evil.

We see just how effective that amulet is in short order. Not even a day after arriving at their holiday destination, the girls spot a street vendor selling grass jelly (just like grandma used to mulch) and run over to buy a bowl, because who can pass up delicious grass jelly? The vendor spots sis's amulet and it clearly upsets him. As soon as the two are out of sight around the corner, he scarpers back to his hut to start whipping up some evil. When the girls wander off the path during a guided tour through a plantation, they are set upon by dozens of gigantic centipedes. The friend dies on the spot, but sister manages to survive a few more days in the hospital – long enough for mom to find out and send brother down to see what happened and try to save his sister.

He fails miserably to do the latter, but runs into an old school friend while he's there and figures maybe she can at least help him manage the former. Everyone he tries to talk to becomes very reluctant to talk to him once they find out his family name, and it starts to dawn on him that what happened to his sister wasn't a fluke; that she had been specifically targeted because of her family and it all hinges on something that happened while his grandfather lived there decades ago.

Turns out granddad married the grass jelly vendor's daughter way back when, and was given that amulet as a wedding gift. See, selling grass jelly is just his day job. After hours he's an extremely powerful sorcerer, and he was suspicious of the Hong Kong hot shot who wanted his darling daughter's hand in marriage. Sure enough, just as soon as she got a bun in the oven, gramps started making time with the village hussy, and the missus followed him to her house one night to give them a bit of the ol' coitus interruptus. In the course of trying to apologize to his bride and reject his mistress in front of her so she knew he really really meant it, he had the lousy luck of managing to push both of them into walls so hard he cracked their skulls and killed them. In full-on panic mode now, gramps set fire to the house and got the hell out of Dodge, with the old wizard vowing that anyone from that family who ever dared set foot in “SE Asia” again would be on the receiving end of the nastiest spell he could cook up. Naturally, this involves centipedes.

Now brother's school friend has been taken over by the sorcerer's magic, he's honor bound to avenge his sister's death, and the race is on to find a sorcerer powerful enough and willing enough to help him break the curse so his sister's soul can find peace and his family's name can be cleared of bad mojo. But will a band of ghost chicken marionettes be enough to stop the most powerful black magic in all of Thailand? How about that head burrowing cobra that shoots out of the protective amulet? Tune in to the creepy crawly finale of Centipede Horror to find out!

If memory serves from some articles I read on the topic years ago (and if I'm fucking this up and you know it, please feel free to correct me – I like to have good information in these things), Chinese horror movies set in Thailand are sort of the HK equivalent of backwoods hillbilly horror here in the States. The southeastern part of Asia, and especially Thailand, is considered to be both culturally backward and full of strange and mystical things by the Chinese. A civilized person from Hong Kong going there is like some city slicker Yankee from New York City heading to the backwoods of Alabama for a vacation. One ends in pig squeals and banjo picking and the other ends in barfing up centipedes, but the idea is essentially the same even if the specifics differ.

As with Black Magic, the warped stuff is primarily concentrated at the beginning and end of the movie, although this one does boast a few extra bits of lunacy and gruesomeness throughout. The big difference is, while Black Magic filled the time in between with an aggressively boring and unfunny romantic comedy of sorts, Centipede Horror actually tells an engaging story. There's a well-paced and steadily building journey of discovery as brother tries to track down his sister's killer and the truth about their grandfather. Every time it seems like he's reached a dead end and the story is about to stall, another new twist or character or clue arrives to keep things moving. If you don't mind the often barely legible subtitles, and you curb your expectations on seeing fountains of gore and crazy optical effect magic battles, this isn't a bad way to spend an evening.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Black Magic (1975)

Written by: Kuang Ni (as Hong Ngai)
Directed by: Ho Meng-Hua
Lung Ti as Xu Nuo
Lieh Lo as Lang Jiajie
Feng Ku as Shan Jianmi

Back in the early 2000s, a company called Celestial Pictures Limited started distributing Shaw Brothers movies through Image Entertainment. They put out some pretty decent discs; not always a lot in the way of bonus features but the packaging looked good and usually the movies did too. They also had some nifty extras, like if you mailed in a receipt you could get free T-shirts and posters. I have a Bloody Brothers shirt around here somewhere, and a full-size reproduction of the theatrical one-sheet for tonight's movie. It's a boss poster. The movie? Well...

If you're anything like me, you see a movie called Black Magic with the Shaw Brothers logo on it and you're going to go into it with a certain set of rather high expectations regarding the amount of lunacy that is about to get poured into your lap. Most days, you would walk away with your expectations fully satisfied, but tonight's movie is just not up to the challenge for some reason. With no supplemental materials on the disc, and almost no online information that I could find, it's difficult to know why the typically reliable studio made such a dud out of what seems like a surefire slam-dunk idea. My guess is budgetary restrictions, as what few special effects are on display look incredibly cheap even by 70's Chinese exploitation movie standards, but I'll leave that to one of my more knowledgeable Shaw Brothers historian friends to determine.

Things start off promisingly enough, with a woman coming to see the wizard Shan Jianmi. Her husband is cheating on her, and she wants both him and his new girlfriend bumped off. Rather than hire a hit man or just do the deed herself, she wants it to be both more painful than anything she could devise and completely unprovable by the authorities, so a black magic curse it is. Shan slices up a dead body he just happens to have handy and cooks the head and a big chunk of flesh (very real flesh – by the look of it I'm guessing Feng Ku was hacking up a pig carcass in this scene) before making dolls of the cheating couple and forcing them to have a very confused magic-driven fuck before he starts stabbing them full of pins.

The next day, some neighbors discover the bodies of the two lovers and before long quite a crowd has gathered around to rubberneck at the nekkid dead people. A wandering Taoist priest happens by and immediately recognizes the work of his dastardly old enemy, so he sends a counter-spell zooming back along the invisible trails the evil magic left behind. Shan is nearly crushed to death when his shack collapses, but he manages to defend himself long enough to escape into the river.

We cut abruptly to what we won't know is supposed to be decades later until we see Shan again in a while. His hair is now gray, so presumably a good many years have gone by since the opening scenes, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Unfortunately, I'm terrible with Chinese names. The pronunciations and spellings are different enough that in a lot of cases, just because someone's name is said a whole bunch during the movie doesn't mean I'm going to have a damn clue who they are looking at the credits. This means there's going to be a lot of me describing people by character traits. I apologize in advance.

Xu Nuo is a handsome construction worker who has a loving but plain girlfriend who he is engaged to. When he arrives to pick up Plain Girlfriend from her teaching job, she gets quite angry with him because she finds an expensive makeup compact belonging to another woman in his car. Xu has another suitor, you see. A Predatory Rich Widow has set her sights on him, and dropped the compact into his car in a bid to make Plain Girlfriend jealous. She certainly makes a fuss about it, despite the obvious fact that Xu wants nothing to do with Predatory Rich Widow and is faithful to her.

Meanwhile, Broke Loser is making his umpteenth unwelcome attempt to win Predatory Rich Widow's affections. He's waiting by her pool when she gets home from trying to sabotage Xu's relationship, and she smashes the hell out of his car with a couple of big stones for his trouble. Meeting up at a noodle stand with his friend, Talks With His Mouth Full, Broke Loser learns of a wizard in the woods outside of town who might be able to help him with a love spell. Sure enough, it's none other than Shan Jianmi, and he's willing to help Broke Loser for considerably more money than the poor sap can afford. He manages to convince Shan of his ability to pay once Predatory Rich Widow is in love with him, though. She's loaded, and will be more than happy to give her new beau the money to pay the wizard.

Shan agrees to work the spell, and sure enough, just a few nights later Broke Loser is in bed with PRW and banging away with yuan signs in his eyes. His luck is about to run out, though. Shan knew he was unable and presumably unwilling to pay for the spell, so he designed it to wear off when the night was over. Broke Loser finds himself in the awkward position of having to explain that he hired a wizard to get him into PRW's pants, but once she gets over her disgust at having given up the goods to this greasy weasel she has an idea. If Shan's magic works on her, surely it will work on Xu as well, and she's got more than enough money to pay for a proper spell.

If you're thinking it's about time to gear up for some more magical craziness, get ready for disappointment. Aside from Shan squeezing milk out of a couple of womens' breasts (it's an ingredient for his magic potions), the movie becomes a mind-numbingly dull soap opera for the next hour and change, with Shan making Xu fall in love with PRW, making PRW give him some side nookie because he's starting to wonder why he's settling for a measley 100,000 yuan when he could just keep her and her fortune to himself, and finally casting a death spell on Plain Girlfriend, who is about to become Plain Wife.
Then Taoist Priest re-enters the picture, and we get the magical showdown we've been waiting the whole movie to see. Even then, it doesn't last very long and it's not nearly loopy enough to make up for the excruciating romantic drama we've been forced to sit through to get there. It does, however, have some pretty gross worms and slime pouring out of Plain Wife when the Taoist Priest exorcises the death spell from her, and has the distinction of featuring the shittiest looking animated laser beams I have ever seen in a movie. That's gotta count for something, right?

While it might not all be terribly interesting most of the time, the movie certainly does have black magic in it. Two different varieties, in fact. Taoist black magic, which is the variety the priest uses against Shan, involves lots of magic words and what translates as something like “ghost keeping”. Typically there are five main ghosts or spirits called upon to perform various different magical tasks. That's why all the shittily animated magical bolts summoned by the priest come from out of the sky while he's just making mystical hand gestures and muttering.

The type of magic used by Shan is called Gong Tau, and is considered to be much more dangerous and evil. It is more concerned with making noxious concoctions out of ingredients derived from plants, animals, and insects. These potions are added to food or drink, as in the movie, although people believe that in practice, more powerful practitioners of Gong Tau can actually make the essence of the potion travel through thin air and enter the victim's body that way. Spells inflicted with Gong Tau can be exorcised through a painful and rather icky process which often involves the victim barfing up large quantities of bugs or worms, so the slimy puddles of worms in the movie are actually an authentic part of Asian black magic lore, not just an added extra bit of nastiness like Fulci and his maggots. Gong Tau spells can also be removed by rubbing a chicken egg on the victim's body, which absorbs the spell and is often found to be full of worms. I didn't find any mention of stabbing a piece of hollow bamboo into the victim and tapping them like a Vermont maple full of mucus and bugs though, but that is definitely more cinematic and interesting than an egg. Words of power written on a special type of paper, which is often yellow, are also a common practice in this type of magic, which is why Shan is plastering the things all over his shack when the priest tries to destroy him at the beginning of the movie.

So there you have it. If the women don't find you funny, they should at least find you educational. Hit the links below and enjoy what the rest of the cinematic coven have cooked up in their celluloid cauldrons.

 Checkpoint Telstar: Witchfinder General
Microbrew Reviews: Midnight Offerings
Psychoplasmics: Don't Torture A Duckling
The Terrible Claw Reviews: The Haunted Palace 
Web of the Big Damn Spider:  Ator the Fighting Eagle


Monday, October 12, 2015

The Children (1980)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Green Inferno (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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