Wednesday, November 1, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Cloverfield

With so many people in the area still without power we weren't sure if we'd see very few trick-or-treaters or be inundated this year. It ended up at 83 - which is only a few less than last year and only 7 less than our all time high. A lot of younger kids this year and no teenagers, which seems like a change.

Warm-up movies during the waves of people included our usual House of Wax and we also decided to watch the original Frankenstein for the first time in years. (The last time we saw it was in the theater, actually, which was a weird realization.) I put on Frogs while we at a late dinner, just so Moe could see a young Sam Elliot.

Then it was time to settle in for the last movie of 31 Days, 2017 edition. I felt bad about last year's choice - Phantasm - as it was a selfish one and I don't think Moe liked it much. This year I let her choose and - out of a group that included Bram Stoker's Dracula and Fright Night - she chose:

Cloverfield (2008)
I have a blu-ray of Cloverfield that I've never watched. I think I got it as part of a 'buy 2, get 1 free' promotion, but I'm not sure what the other films were. (Maybe Dark City and In the Mouth of Madness?) I was happy to have Cloverfield - I remembered enjoying it when it was released - but I've just never been in the mood to watch it again. If I'm in the mood for found footage I'm generally looking for something smaller and rougher. If I'm in the mood for some kaiju action I'm looking to see the monsters - preferably monsters fighting each other.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I hadn't seen the movie in a while and wasn't really in the mood to watch it last night. (I was leaning more toward Fright Night, actually.) Sometimes that really colors your appreciation of a movie - and sometimes the movie flips your mood around and you end up enjoying it despite yourself. Which was it this time?

The Medium
The blu-ray mentioned earlier. It's as good as you can expect for a found-footage movie from 2008. (Okay, maybe better than you'd expect - somebody sprang for the really good camera.)

The Movie
Cloverfield is basically a Godzilla movie from the point of view of the people running away and screaming "Godzilla!" Giant monster attacks New York City, group of people tries to rescue a friend and escape. The gimmick is that it's all seen through a hand-held camera. Found footage kaiju film kinda sums it up.

Wait. Is this a prequel to Escape From New York?

The movie is elevated from your standard found footage fare on a couple of fronts - first, it actually takes the time to build a bit of a relationship with the characters. Even the cameraman - Hud - gets some character moments, which is something of a rarity in found footage movies. The cameraman is never focused on - otherwise you'll start to wonder why this person is still shooting video. Second - this movie had a budget. I know that sounds stupid - all movies have a budget - but I mean it had a BUDGET. Like $25 million worth of budget. So no dodgy CGI monster that shows up and ruins all the atmosphere in the last ten minutes.

I do miss everyone screaming "Godzilla" though.

The plot is still pretty threadbare - there's just not enough room to develop a real deep story when the rationale you're running with is "he was filming testimonials at a going-away party and is still filming things for... uh, posterity." It boils down to "guy realizes the woman he loves is in jeopardy, heads into danger to save her." The filmmakers do employ a pretty cool trick to add some depth - the tape used in the camera has been used before, and as Hud stops and starts recording the camera rolls the tape a few seconds forward, allowing us glimpses of the film that was recorded previously. It's not a lot, but it provides a few character notes that helps make some choices more believable.

"So you're still filming because you're basically an idiot?
Okay, I actually buy that."

A giant monster movie stands or falls on the quality of its monster, and on this front Cloverfield succeeds quite well. I remember being disappointed when I saw it in the theater because I never got a clear view of the monster. This actually ends up working to the films advantage, because it's much more realistic and terrifying to see a giant limb come down on a car in front of you or to see tank shells exploding against a the side of a creature mostly obscured by buildings. The few glimpses of the entire monster - primarily from a helicopter - are slightly disappointing. A scene in which the characters are moving between two buildings toppled against each other while the monster approaches is, in comparison, pretty freakin' awesome.

Did you see that?!! Did you guys see that?

The cinematography suffers from a certain inconsistency. Sometimes it's pretty obvious that the camera is being held by an amateur - the shakiness so bad that some people suffered nausea and migraines in the theater - and sometimes is just as obviously being held by a pro that manages to make sure all the important bits are in-frame and in-focus just when they need to be. I'm so used to that sort of shifting quality in other found-footage movies at this point that I barely registered the changes (though I did have to look away from the screen during the escape from the Brooklyn Bridge).

This was also shaky - but awesome.

The ending falls down a bit, as is the case with almost all found footage movies. I would have ended it with the final monster attack, myself - but I understand that it would undercut the whole "footage found in Central Park by the military" wraparound element. Still, I was way more invested in Hud than I was in Rob and Beth, despite the bits of previously taped content, and I felt his loss a little more than the others.

Salud, Hud. You deserved better.

One sidebar - when this movie came out it was seven years after 9/11 and I felt that connection far more keenly back then. The shots of collapsing buildings, dust and crowds running for safety had a distinctly different weight to them when I first saw them. I never imagined that there would be enough of a distance from those events that seeing visual reminders of them would have less of an emotional impact - but here it is, and I wasn't immediately flashing back to that day. Weird.

The Bottom Line
Cloverfield is actually a much better movie than I remembered. I went in with a bad attitude and ended up engaged with the characters and their plight and enjoying the monster and the disaster movie vibe. I think I've always put this film on a level below some of my favorite found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project or [REC] and it totally deserves to be up there with them.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Found Footage 3D: in 3D

Found Footage 3D: In 3D (2016)
I'd seen this pop up on Shudder earlier in the month and had toyed with the idea of watching it, even thought it had the 'in 2D' notice on the listing. Then Calliope reviewed it and I decided it could wait.

And then last night I noticed that there were three different versions - the 2D one and two different 3D versions! One was for 3D TVs, which I don't have. The other, though - the other was for use with those red/blue 3D glasses. I was fairly sure we had some pairs of those from one thing or another, so that decided my course for the evening. Which was spending HOURS looking for a pair of 3D glasses that actually worked with the damn movie.

After going through every possible place in the house I ended up with three different pairs. The most recent (branding says it was for a Monsters vs Aliens TV special) didn't work at all - the colors were too dark. A pair from an ancient 3D video game was close, but still didn't quite work. In the end I used a pair of glasses from the WildC.A.T.S. vs X-Men 3D comic, taped to my glasses. It probably wasn't perfect, but it worked well enough.

The Medium

The Movie
Crew making a found footage horror movie goes to remote, supposedly haunted location. Falls afoul of real ghost/demon. Everybody dies. Your pretty standard found footage setup, really.

Only it's in 3D!

"I'm not saying it's in 3D. But it's in 3D."

Yeah, I know, it doesn't make sense - but at least the filmmakers are self-aware enough to note this as part of the film. It's a very meta horror movie, with a lot of commentary on found footage and horror movies in general. Lots of pronouncements like "if you don't have a good reason for them to still be carrying the camera in the third act, the whole thing falls apart." It's a little too smug about its meta-awareness for my taste, but it at least takes the time to build characters and relationships and doesn't get too dodgy with the CGI. (That it's usually on a small screen in the background probably helps with that.)

No, fish-eye does not count as dodgy CGI

The 3D aspect is actually quite fun for a good chunk of the movie. Yeah, it doesn't really make sense (whatever their excuse) to have them using 3D cameras, but once the illusion of depth on the screen kicks in you kinda give things a pass. It's in 3D! Look, that hand is coming right out at you! And to be fair - that IS their excuse. That the gimmick itself is entertaining enough that audiences will give it a pass. And I did. For a while.

The biggest issue with 3D and a found footage horror movie is that when things are dark - and they're always freakin' dark in a horror movie - it becomes absolutely useless. You're straining your eyes trying to pick out any glimpse of something that might possibly be in 3D - and when they go for the jump scare it's so brief that, again, the 3D is useless. Whole swaths of Found Footage 3D was annoying for this reason.

Which parts of this scene are in 3D?

Additionally, the 3D is inconsistent. Sometimes objects in the extreme foreground were just surrounded by blue and red halos instead of being in 3D. Parts of other objects or people would have the red/blue missing in spots, leading to bright lines and halos (I thought I was getting a migraine for part of one scene). This might be down to the glasses I used - though they worked fine for many scenes - but I'm not sure what other options viewers might have. (Apparently Shudder sent out some glasses to a few people - I'm wondering if those offered a better quality experience.)

Still better than those that got 'shovel in the face' vision glasses.

As for the film itself, it's a slightly above average found footage horror movie. It's meta-awareness makes for some fun bits and allows it to sell some hoary found footage cliches that would otherwise cause you to groan. The final bit does get gloriously violent, but here again the limitations of the 3D format become apparent, because fast action does not translate well to a 3D experience. The sequence also goes on too long and, as a result, ends up feeling anticlimactic.

The Bottom Line
Found Footage 3D is to be commended for trying a couple of new things with the genre, not the least of which being using actual 3D. As a film aside from the gimmick it's merely a bit above average, elevated mostly by its self-awareness and a decent cast.

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Wild Beasts

Still catching up from the weekend. My second Creature Feature flick was:

Wild Beasts (1984)
Since I've been doing 31 Days I've always done a Creature Feature weekend that (mostly) consisted of 70's era 'animal attack' movies, like Piranha, Frogs and Kingdom of the Spiders. There's a particular style to these things that I enjoy (and enjoy making fun of) and they feel like a spiritual successor to the giant bug movies of the 1950's - replacing radiation with pollution/destruction of the environment. (And being much cheaper, as the animals are generally life-sized - except for Burt I. Gordon flicks.)

It also seems like a very American genre. (Although Australia makes a play with The Long Weekend and any number of killer croc movies.) I'm not sure why that is, beyond the widespread cultural awareness of pollution and the environment that the 70's had. I still remember the 'crying indian' ads, for instance. For whatever the reason, most - if not all - of the 70's 'nature rebels' films I've seen so far have been American. So when I saw there was an Italian entry (albeit late - it's from 1984), I just had to replace my original pick (Bert I. Gordon's Food of the Gods).

Fair warning - Wild Beasts was directed by Franco Prosperi of Mondo Cane fame. There are several scenes of real animal deaths/attacks that are disturbing (particularly a sequence of rats burning alive). These are legit horrifying and if you think that those will bother you in any way, I urge you to avoid watching the film. (They're still bothering me now.)

The Medium
Streaming on Shudder.

The Movie
The opening sequences of Wild Beasts treat us to a wailing 80's sax on the soundtrack and alternating visuals of a big European city, sewage and gray water running through open channels, and animals at a local zoo. It's cut like an 80's music video and does the job of conflating all of those elements into your expectations. Animals will be affected by pollution and get loose in the big city. The film does not disappoint on that front.

PCP gets into the water supply, animals go crazy, technology fails and suddenly roaming gangs of elephnants are strangling people with their trunks and stomping on their heads. I'm not kidding. That happens.

If it wasn't for the real animal deaths/woundings I think this would end up being one of my favorite 'guilty pleasure' films. It's terrible and awesome in equal measure. You get scenes of a cheetah chasing a convertible, rats eating a couple in a car, a tiger eating a priest in a subway car full of screaming people and a polar bear calmly stalking two children down a school hallway. It's just full of stuff that makes you go "did I really just see elephants cause a plane crash?" Yes, yes you did.

You also get to hear lines like, "What do you mean you can't find elephants? You know what elephants are? They're elephants, not lice!" And "She's not crazy, she's being chased by a cheetah!"

There is a nominal plot line involving a zookeeper and his cop buddy/chauffer and a reporter who happens to be the worst parent on earth, but really it's just so we have a few recognizable faces to give us plot details while the animals run through a street fair or attack a dance class.

The animal attacks are all at night and are staged and shot in a way that makes them far more effective than most films in the genre. There is something amazing about seeing a cheetah just roaming the streets of a shopping district. (You get the sense the cat is just as freaked out by all the mannequins as I would be.) The actors are also often in the same shot with the animals, which adds a sense of danger that the quick-cut or racked focus shot doesn't accomplish in other films.

In most American animal attack films the intransigence and incompetence of the authorities is what allows the attacks to propagate, but in Italy the police station is futuristic (for the 80's), including a glass wall with calculations.( Apparently police cars are organized via complex orbital mechanics in Italy.) This allows them to get the warning out pretty quickly and the authorities in general seem competent - albeit stretched thin in the face of attacks and a power outage (caused by those elephants and the plane crash earlier).

In addition to the animal attacks there are car chases, plane crashes, explosions and knife attacks. It's like a weird combination of animal attack film and disaster movie. The plot point about the PCP comes late in the film and is followed immediately by... it wearing off. The animals start to go docile just as most animal attack films are gearing up. But don't worry, things aren't over quite yet.

You see, the children in the dance class have all been drinking the water as well.

Bottom Line
Wild Beasts alternates between being hilarious, effective and disturbing. I really wish the filmmakers hadn't used killed real animals or used them in such disturbing situations, because the film doesn't need it, and their inclusion means I can't really recommend or enjoy it.

Monday, October 30, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Squirm

I did manage to get my Creature Feature in, but as usual, I'm behind. Here's the writeup for the first. Hopefully have the second (along with tonight's film) tomorrow:

Squirm (1976)

 Squirm is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. It's not really a good movie - it looks cheap, the acting is... earnest, I guess is the best you can say for it. The monster is, well, it's worms. Not really high on the 'scare the crap out of you' meter - somewhere above slugs and bunny rabbits, though, and I've watched (if not enjoyed) films with those as the monsters. The hero is the most nebishy nebish who ever ordered an egg cream, the 'hothouse flower' love interest is more 'backyard flower garden' and the sheriff is slimier than the worms.

No, I can't really recommend Squirm, and yet I've been looking forward to watching it again. I think I like the way it plays things straight, despite the subject matter and general cheap feel. It's unwilling to make fun of its cast or the story as a whole. In some films that dogged seriousness can be a detriment, weighing things down and leaving you unable to even enjoy making fun of it (sorry, Night of the Lepus). In other films it seems to add to the fun and makes you feel like "it's not the best, but I think it was the best they could do." They're taking the work seriously, but not themselves.

The Medium
I tried the Midnight Pulp app, streaming via Chromecast. The quality was surprisingly good for that setup, though it's not a film that will win any cinematography awards.

The Movie
Somewhere along the coast of Georgia an intense storm causes power outages all over the town of Fly Creek. The high voltage power lines lying on the ground cause the local worm population to begin crawling out of the ground. Meanwhile, a love triangle develops between local girl Geri, her neighbor (and apprentice worm farmer) Roger, and city-boy Mick. Soon Mick and Geri are finding skeletons in backyards, worms in egg creams and possible sexual tension (though it may just be the heat). The electricity is making the worms crazy, you see, and these worms have teeth! Well, a few of them, anyway.

The worms are way more disturbing than the invertebrates in Slugs - and the way bloodworms eject their mouths in order to bite is reminiscent of the creatures in the underrated Deep Rising. Unfortunately, these are normal sized worms and, while disgusting, it's hard to take them seriously as a menace. At least in limited numbers.

Geri and Mick try and figure out what's going on - Mick even enlists Geri's younger sister Alma in a little B&E at the local dentist to try and identify a skull - but darned if the worms (and their victims) seem to keep disappearing just as the local sheriff shows up. The sleazy law man (always on the make) takes an instant dislike to Mick and would do more than threaten - if he had any ambition, energy, charisma or modicum of talent.

At some point Geri, Roger and Mick all go fishing for some reason - I really can't remember why Mick set it up - and Mick is bitten by a worm. When he leaves to get patched up (and commit that felony I mentioned earlier) Roger takes advantage of the alone time with Geri to get all rape-y. However, Geri manages to shove him off and he gets a face full of worms before running off. (He also manages to knock out Mick along the way - using a gently tossed sheet of plywood.)

All this is leading to nightfall, when the enraged worms finally start an all-out attack. Yes - the masses of roiling, pink tubes look like what they probably are - rubber worms - but in vast numbers it has an unsettling, Blobb-like quality. The last 15-20 minutes are the best of the film as Roger attacks along with the worms and the sheriff gets his comeuppance. One memorable sequence includes worms coming out of a shower head - leading to a "too-full closet" moment as a veritable wall of squirming pink comes falling out of an open door.

Despite some pretty intensive infrastructure being destroyed - including a giant steel tower - one guy manages to get the electricity on the next day, presumably saving the rest of the town and - dare I say it - the rest of the country. I wish he'd come up here to Maine where there's roughly 400,000 people without power today.

The Bottom Line
Yes it's cheap. Yes it's cheezy. Yes it spends way too much time trying to make Don Scardino into a heroic action figure. Still, Squirm has a low-budget charm that reminds me of similar films, like Frogs or Day of the Animals. And Roger's 'worm-face' makeup is actually pretty good. So if you watch it and don't like it - well, I told you it was bad. If you watch it and you DO like it - I promise I won't tell anybody.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Final Terror

The Final Terror (1983)
I get recommendations for films all the time (Megapython vs Gateroid, for instance) . Generally people are trying to find something truly offbeat or different that might appeal to my love of the odd and strange (I own Messiah of Evil on Blu-ray, as an example). Sometimes they're trying to shock me. Sometimes they just really want to share a film they loved. I try to make an effort to at least find these films and watch them when I can. I've found a few new favorites that way.

To be clear, The Final Terror is not a film I've had recommended to me.

No, the film I THOUGHT I was watching is a film called Just Before Dawn (a film by the writer/director of Squirm, Jeff Lieberman). I'd been told two things - that it was a pretty decent entry in the 'hillbilly slasher' sub-genre and that "the final girl shoves her hand all the way down a guys throat!"

Well, with references like that, it had to go on the list.

Except I never did put it on the list. It jangled around in the back of my head along with other things like "Wasn't there a movie about alien abductions in the Allagash you wanted to see?" and "Did anyone ever make a movie of Edward Levy's Came a Spider?" I remembered that there was a slasher film set in the woods by a director I knew, and that was all that stuck.

Well, The Final Terror manages to tick all those boxes - slasher, woods, director I know (The Fugitive's Andrew Davis) - and I honestly didn't realize it wasn't the same film until the final reveal, as I had done no research ahead of time. I'll have to admit to a bit of disappointment - there's nothing in The Final Terror that even comes close to someone shoving their hand down someone's throat - but it was a decent enough entry in the 80's slasher genre.

I know! I was disappointed too.

The Medium
Streaming on Shudder.

The Movie
The Final Terror starts off inauspiciously with a pretty standard slasher sequence. Man and woman crash a bike on a remote dirt road. Girl heads out to find ranger station while injured guy waits. When the girl returns from the empty ranger station the guy is nowhere to be found... until his bloody corpse suddenly drops into view from the trees. Running, screaming, yadda yadda. This is Friday the 13th Part 3 level material except, you know, without the craftsmanship.

"I don't even see the plot anymore, it's just 'cut throat,' 'gut stab,' 'decapitation.'"

The rest of the film is substantially better, however, albeit rough in the way only a low budget 80's horror picture can be (dim cinematography, shaky camera work, 'natural' dialogue). We're introduced to a group of young park rangers that are headed up country to clear some debris around the streams and paths in the park. There are a lot of familiar faces in this group - Adrian Zmed, Daryl Hannah, Mark Metcalf, Joe Pantoliano and Rachel Ward - and the level of acting is generally pretty high. (There's a little too much - 'be jerks to each other and fight' nonsense, but I attribute that to the screenplay.)

Eggar (Pantoliano), the driver and mechanic and all-around asshole, tries to convince the group not to go that far up the river, telling the rest of the crew stories about people lost and killed up the area. He's kind of a jackass, though, and nobody much listens to what he has to say. They send him off to take the boats further down river and meet them the next day.

Yeah, he looks trustworthy.

The first night Boone (Lewis Smith) tells a 'spooky' story about a local girl who was raped by her stepfather and escaped into the woods from a mental institution after giving birth. Later, Nate (Ernest Harden Jr) and Zorch (John Friedrich) prank the new guy, Marco (Zmed) by leaving him deep in the woods. When Marco hasn't turned up the next morning they whole crew separates to search for him.

Yeah, I've been on this Boy Scout camping trip.
This is just the reaction to the latrine.

There's pretty standard rural slasher stuff to follow. The overgrown shack with bloody animal parts, the couple having sex that's attacked by a mysterious figure, the severed head that acts like a cat amongst pigeons and sends the crew scrambling down the river to get away from a killer. There's even the clues in the cabin that act as a red herring for who's really responsible.

Little Red Riding Hood! She's always hated the Big Bad Wolf!

Elevating the film from the standard slasher stuff are two things: the characters are (generally) more capable and less 'split up' stupid than usual, and the setting - the Redwood National and State Parks - is beautiful. There are also fewer deaths than usual - giving you more time to get involved with the characters and invested in their survival. Don't get me wrong - they're still pretty thinly written - but when one of them is slashed in the throat (during a time when they panic and one of them is separated) I was really rooting for them to save her.

"What do you mean, 'don't immediately go to the obvious trap?'
What kind of movie do you think you're in?"

The final confrontation (and twist) is a bit underwhelming in execution (especially when I was expecting a 'reach in and grab their esophagus' moment), but the setting is pretty fantastic. The crew choose to face their attacker in the rotting ruins of a fallen redwood and the director makes good use of the enormous trees.

The Bottom Line
The Final Terror is an above average slasher-flick-by-way-of-Deliverance, elevated mostly by the acting and the setting. It's worth a look if you like slasher films - especially in terms of what it does differently - but it's not some hidden classic, nor is it offbeat enough to become a 'guilty pleasure.'

Friday, October 27, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
The classic "giant monster attacks a city" movie (Gojira wouldn't be released until the following year). Also Ray Harryhausen's first solo joint. Those looking for the kind of subtext about atomic fears and science unleashed that later giant monster/bug movies would sprinkle on like that "Salt Bae" guy putting salt on a steak will be sorely disappointed here. Yes, the creature is set free by a hydrogen bomb, but that's the only function of the device. There's no further reference or use of it. It's an action movie, as much of a ride as the rollercoaster the Beast destroys in the final act.

The Beast was one of the earliest giant monster movies I ever saw, and for much of my life his design - by the inimitable Ray Harryhausen - was my platonic ideal of the giant monster. Enormous, scaly, and with a tendency to munch on humans like a moviegoer munching on popcorn. Other, later, monsters ended up supplanting him in my affections (sorry Rhedosaurus - Godzilla's got atomic breath), but he's still my first kaiju love.

How can you not love that face?

The Medium
At some point I bought a super-cheap DVD with both The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and Them! on it. I lend it out once and a while and it happened to rotate back in while I was casting about for something familiar and old-fashioned to watch. I've since gotten Them! on blu-ray, but haven't picked up Beast yet.

The Movie
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms starts off with a narration introducing us to some kind of a scientific test in the arctic. (I love that this is called Operation Experiment, which sounds like it should be its own 50's monster movie.) It becomes clear that this is a hydrogen bomb test. The stock footage of ice breaking up and melting under the effect of the explosion has a different impact now than it did when I first saw it. While taking readings after the blast two scientists see a giant monster, though only one, Tom Nesbitt, survives to tell the tale.

"Global warming sucks."

He isn't initially believed, of course, but with a string of strange events - boat sinkings, the destruction of a lighthouse (Maine shout-out!), and some crushed buildings - and the corroboration of a witness, Nesbitt manages to get the backing of paleontologist Thurgood Elson and his assistant, Lee Hunter. Together they plot the sightings on a map and Elson opines that the Beast may be heading to New York, where the fossil remains of a similar creature have been found.

"I have the sudden urge to do something stupid and suicidal."

Soon the military is dangling the elder scientist like fishing lure into the deep waters of the Hudson River Canyon. Sure enough, the beast shows - unfortunately for Elson and his pilot, the monster seems to have an appetite for diving bells. Not long after that the Beast comes ashore in Manhattan.

There are a ton of things that will be familiar to you from Beast's spiritual successors. The boats sunk by the monster, the map on which the sinkings (and other 'mysterious' happenings) are plotted out, the insistence by scientist on studying the creature, the military lining up it's hardware to fight the thing, all the running and screaming. Even the creature somehow disappearing during the day - where the hell does it go, anyway? Bloomingdales?

Probably just seeing the sites - hey, that's Brooklyn Bridge!

One thing I'd forgotten was the plot point about the creature's toxic blood. Unlike some other giant saurians I could mention, the Beast is actually vulnerable to the military hardware - bazookas, anyway. However, it turns out that its blood carries deadly prehistoric pathogens - and any large-scale destruction of the beast would result in a massive outbreak, possibly killing millions. This makes the obvious solution - blow the crap out of it - unfeasible. Which leads us to SCIENCE! saving the day - specifically a radioactive isotope that will (apparently) burn the creature up from the inside out.

That's right. We killed the creature with heartburn.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
' strength is in its monster, and any time Harryhausen's work is on the screen it's magic. From the attack on the lighthouse (lifted directly from Ray Bradbury's short story on which the film is based, "The Fog Horn") through the initial landing in New York City, the stop motion work is fantastic. The surrounding story of Nesbitt, his growing relationship with Lee, and his attempts to get the authorities (including a pre Thing From Another World Kenneth Toby) to listen to him are decent as well, though not as much fun.

The big set piece of the monster attacking Coney Island (it seems particularly pissed at a rollercoaster) is excellent as well - though the irony of using radiation to destroy a monster let loose by radiation seems lost on the filmmakers. I still prefer the scenes in Manhattan - including the famous scene of the Beast eating a policeman - as the work Harryhausen does to integrate the monster with the building and people is just outstanding.

Eat more people! Man, now I feel like a bad person...

The Bottom Line
The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a classic monster movie and the inspiration for a slew of 1950's creature features (some better, lots worse) . Worth seeing for some of Ray Harryhausen's best work, even if black and white giant monsters aren't your usual thing.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Bruce Campbell as Elvis. Ozzie Davis as JFK. Directed by Don Coscarelli from a story by Joe R. Lansdale. It's safe to say I ran, rather than walked, to get a DVD of this film when it came out. I'd been hearing about it on and off for at least a year at that point, and had pretty high expectations.

I remember being disappointed.

Watching it a second time I realized that because the characters are based on larger than life people I'd expected the film to be bigger. It's a very small movie, and I mean that in a good way. Intimate. Just one location, a handful of characters and it all take place over a few days - maybe a week. It's also less about the final confrontation with a mummy - yeah, there's a mummy - and more about the loss of dignity, meaning and control that a person faces when old age finally squats on their chest and takes a Cleveland steamer all over their life.

Sorry. There's something about Joe R. Lansdales stuff that makes me want to write like that.

Anyway, once I let go of my expectations I found myself loving the film. It's a bizarre story, no question - a mummy stealing souls at a rest home with a geriatric Elvis and (maybe) JFK the only ones to face him down? How do you even sell that to a studio? Just getting the film made has to engender some respect. That Coscarelli (Phantasm, John Dies at the End) manages to squeeze some genuine character and pathos out of that setup is pretty miraculous.

The Medium
I've got the original release DVD (not the Scream Factory Blu-ray or the special edition with the miniature Elvis jacket). It's completely serviceable - though I do kinda wish I had the jacket. For streaming choices... looks like it's only available on iTunes in the US.

The Movie
Elvis never died. Seriously. He switched with an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff back in the 1970's, after getting tired of the fame, the drugs and the emptiness of life. Now he's living in a retirement home in East Texas, contemplating age, illness, impotence and generally facing the end of life with apathy and a pecker with a growth on it.

"Didja have to tell them about the pecker thing?"

A good chunk of the early part of the film is spent with Elvis in despair. He can barely bother to pay attention to the goings on in his room. Bruce Campbell is excellent as the King in the winter of his life, able to pull off pathetic and charismatic at the same time. You could almost believe he was Elvis.

It's not all twilight-years naval gazing, however. There's something sinister going on in The Shady Rest Convalescent Home. They've got an almighty big bug infestation for one. And someone is leaving Egyptian hieroglyphic graffiti in the guest bathrooms. Oh, and people keep dying. Yeah, it's a 'retirement' home' - but more than normal. Probably.

"There once was a young man from Cairo...'"

The only person who's willing to talk to Elvis (or "Mr. Haff," if you're the nurse who's stuck rubbing ointment on that growth I mentioned earlier) is his friend Jack, who's the living embodiment of every JFK theory - and some you haven't heard of. Like the ones where Lyndon Johnson kept a piece of JFK's brain and then dyed Kennedy's skin and dumped him on the street as a black man. Ozzie Davis is actually my favorite part of this movie, and I would have loved to see more of him as JFK.

And maybe less of little Elvis.

Jack has a ton of books on the occult - including the Every Man and Woman's Guide to the Soul - and he's fairly sure there's some kinda soul-sucker haunting Shady Rest. Quite how he makes the leap to it being a mummy that's sucking souls out of people's assholes... well, I'm not quite clear on that. Suffice it to say his suspicions are proven correct when Elvis sees the mummy - inexplicably dressed up as a cowboy - wandering the halls.

I think he just likes the aesthetic.

Given a purpose again, Elvis (and Jack) rise to the occasion, planning to confront the mummy ("some kinda... Bubb Ho-tep") with a walker, a motorized wheelchair and a hand sprayer filled with rubbing alcohol.

And a screen full of badass-ness. That's a word, right?

It's both as stupid as it sounds and oh so much better than that. I love Ozzie Davis and Bruce Campbell together, they're like an old comedy duo. Elvis' struggle to find a reason to go on has some decent dramatic heft. There's also some super-dodgy special effects (the scarab looks like a windup toy) and a middle act as saggy as 'Fat Elvis.' For me, though, Bubba Ho-Tep manages to entertain in spite of its shortcomings (and maybe a little bit because of them).

The Bottom Line
Bruce Campbell as Elvis. Ozzie Davis as JFK. Directed by Don Coscarelli from a story by Joe R. Lansdale. Yeah, just go see it.