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El laberinto del fauno (2006)
The Civil War trilogy continues: from ghosts to creatures
Guillermo Del Toro has made quite a few extraordinary movies: his debut was Cronos, which sadly never got the attention it deserved and should've been added to at least a couple of Hall of Fames. When he released El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil's Backbone) in 2001 I was under the impression Del Toro had reached a point where he could no longer top himself... or could he?
Mixing personal movies for an in-crowd with movies for a bigger audience with a few personal touches (I'm thinking of Mimic, Blade II and Hellboy), Del Toro is quickly becoming a director one shouldn't avoid. Unless you don't like the supernatural at all...
El Laberinto del Fauno (a.k.a. Pan's Labyrinth) blew my mind, but I was all too aware that Del Toro added so much fantasy in this movie Fauno would not get the praise from audiences Espinazo had received. Initial reports proved me wrong, but these days the grapevine informs me of critical voices. This can only be classified as "a shame".
El Laberinto del Fauno tells the story of a young girl, Ofelia, who is on her way - with her pregnant mother - to her 'new father', Captain Vidal. Vidal is a vicious commanding officer, relentless against anyone he suspects is against him. Needless to say, Ofelia doesn't like him. This brings more worries to Ofelia's mind, which already had trouble coping with the war. El Laberinto is set in 1944, just after Franco's victory. Incapable of facing the real world, Ofelia invents her own. But Ofelia's imaginary world isn't a peaceful world, it's full of mythical creatures and monsters. A mirror world only slightly favourable to the cruel reality.
That is so quite special: at the same time we, the audience, get to see the world through Ofelia's eyes as well as experience a tale which is typical for wartime stories. As protesting against church and state could cost you dearly in times of war, your criticism had to be covered. And what better way to cover them than by creating a fable? The monsters in Ofelia's dream world are perfect representations of church and state, adding a thinly veiled layer to the movie.
The real world is also shown is all its bloody reality: people are tortured and executed in several cruel ways. When I saw the movie several people had to look away during certain scenes, occasionally accompanied by "eek" and "yuck" sounds.
Now, whereas El Laberinto manages to exist on several layers, not every layer will be equally obvious to audiences. El Laberinto del Fauno is the second movie in Del Toro's trilogy about the Spanish civil war. El Espinazo del Diablo, which was set in an orphanage with a ghost and an unexploded bomb, was the first part (2001) and 3993, a ghost story about 'the hostages left to fortune by the past' set in 1990's Spain and with connections with the Spanish Civil War in 1939, will close the trilogy in 2009.
I myself have been trained in literature and movies enough to see the allegories in El Laberinto, but I have heard of disappointed cinema-goers who didn't pick up on what the film is trying to show. That is why I deeply recommend El Laberinto del Fauno, but only after you've seen El Espinazo del Diablo, another Del Toro movie that never got the credits it deserved.
El Laberinto del Fauno is supported by a great cast: Ariadna Gil (Ofelia's mother) and Sergi Lopez (Vidal) should be familiar by now, Ivana Baquero (as the young Ofelia) is a nice discovery. Aside from directing it, Del Toro also wrote the script. The special effects are mind-blowing, even though some will probably look a bit outdated in a few years (filmmakers should always beware of trying the latest technologies). Then again, as this is a fable, it is not that bad when an effect will not look 100% realistically. Is El Laberinto del Fauno a perfect movie? No, almost but not completely. But is it the best and most original movie of 2006? Without a doubt!
The Secret Life of Words (2005)
Not the most social film in the world
I have a feeling this may be one of those movies like 'The Goddess of 1967', a movie people will either love (for its beauty) or hate (and claim it's hollow trash that pretends to be intellectual).
'La Vida' is a movie that's largely based on an oil rig. An explosion has occurred, killing one guy and badly injuring a man who tried to help. The problem is: where can you find a nurse that wants to work on an oil rig? Enter Hanna Amiran, a deaf girl who has worked in a factory for four years without taking a day off. Now Hanna has been forced by the unions to take some time off. Hanna, seemingly unaware of what a vacation is, books herself a stay in a shabby hotel and is eating Chinese food when she overhears a man who's working for the oil company: "Where can we find a nurse that wants to work on an oil rig?" Hanna goes up to him and says: "I'm a nurse."
Hanna is not the most social person in the world. That she's deaf is helpful: if she doesn't want to communicate she turns off her hearing aid. Which makes her an ideal person to work on an oil rig: the captain, the cook, the biologist... all of them are pretty introvert. The thing is: when a new person is brought to the oil rig, they do want to have some social contact. But not Hanna. She's even less revealing to Josef, the man she has to nurse. Josef is badly burnt and because of the fire has lost the ability to see for a couple of weeks. Not being able to see anything, he wants to talk the whole time. Which seems to upset Hanna. She tells him his name is Cora, she lies about the colour of her hair...
Throughout the movie you'll see the secretive layers of Josef and Hanna peel off. And all of it will come to a painful climax long before the movie ends.
One of the other people on the oil rig is Simon (Daniel Mays of 'Funland'), who's sent to study the waves violently bashing against the rigs. In his own time he also studies mussels (which are affected by the pollution) and hopes that one day when the oil has been pumped out of the sea the rigs will be used to make the water cleaner. That is the bit that makes me feel some will dismiss this movie as pretentious nonsense. Hanna's history, which I won't reveal, is also a heavy subject. And yes, maybe this movie wants too much, but Coixet does manage to find a setting to make her story work and enough setting to back it up convincingly.
Maybe the movie ends a bit too positive, but after what we've heard it's okay to lose reality and dream for the best.
Polley and Robbins are very good, as are the rest of the supporting cast. The childish voice-over you hear at the beginning and the end of the movie has raised a couple of questions on internet fora as to which character it is. Some of the comments on those fora made me want to see the movie again. Which, whatever way you put it, is always a good sign.
It's hard to describe this movie as we're not dealing with 'actions', but rather the 'aftermath of actions'. Which is why the movie is both silent and talkative. Which is why we're voyeurs trying to peel off the layers too. The best (and possibly the only) way to describe this movie is by using one word: intense.
Flawed but interesting plus a girl in a bear suit
"Kontroll" (I do not feel the need to translate the title) was the first Hungarian film at the Cannes Film Festival in 20 years. Either the film industry isn't exactly booming there or most films fail to reach a certain standard. I can't say I could name one Hungarian film, so I'm afraid we've neglected the region. I'm sure some good films must've been made there.
Nimrod Antal was the director and it's his feature debut. If you didn't know this, you could tell so by watching the film: a particular giveaway are the continuity mistakes (especially when the controllers chase Bootsie). Another continuity mistake: a subway train enters the station, it looks empty, the doors open and suddenly you find people inside. It's as if we were in an Asian horror film. But fear not, it's just a continuity problem.
Still, I did get the feeling Kontroll occasionally wanted to be an Asian horror film or a clever horror production from Hollywood. It's always a shame, because if you want to be hip, you end up being the opposite: a faker.
I also had a problem with the characters. Whereas I don't feel I always need to like the characters to appreciate a film, here it seems like you should have some sympathy for these controllers, but I just couldn't find any. Sure, they're constantly lamenting on how no one likes them, but give me a reason why we should find them likable.
The biggest flaw of the film (apart from trying to be hip) is the story. Or lack of. Kontroll has a few ideas (some good), put them in a blender and served us the mix. Sure, now we have mashed ingredients and something that resembles a dish, but I didn't think the mix tasted good. There's the story of these controllers (work), the fascinating girl (love), the mysterious deaths (horror). And though they did their best to interweave the elements, something is missing. I didn't feel a unity.
The love story is interesting. The idea of dressing up the mysterious girl in an animal suit is great and it works. Again, more could've been done with this character, but at least here you don't feel you're watching a flat character.
So, should you watch Kontroll? I would say "yes", Like Asia Argento's "Scarlet Diva" this film is an interesting mistake, but it does contain scenes that are worth checking out. If you're in a video store and need to find one more film (or, we try to keep up with our time, have enough GBs left to download another film this month), there are worse options. Yes, you will spot the continuity mistakes (I'm usually hopeless in that department and I spotted them easily). Yes, you'll feel the need to fast forward some bits. But yes, some scenes are nice and you'll enjoy them.
The movie came recommended to me and I don't think it can hold up to any expectation. I'm sure that if I'd found out about the film myself, I might've enjoyed it more. I still wouldn't think it was a great movie though.
In short, "Kontroll" is flawed but all praise to the bear suit.
Orca, the broth that wasn't spoiled
Depending on where you live, Orca is either shown all the time or never it all. The film has an incredibly bad reputation and in fact this does not really come as a surprise: this is a film by Michael Anderson, the director of Logan's Run (another film with a bad reputation). I'll try and explain why I think Orca worked for me.
It is very hard (or even impossible) to label Orca (also known as Orca: Killer Whale). What exactly is this film? It's a drama, a love story, an odyssey, a revenge film and then you haven't thrown in the scientific bits and its flirting with exploitation. Films that can't be labelled are often not very good. Compare it to the proverb "Too many cooks spoil the broth". If you try to flavour your film with ingredients of many genres, you often end up with a dinner that doesn't taste good at all. But just like there are cooks which are able to mingle the weirdest ingredients and end up with a yummy dish, some directors are talented enough to make a film that goes beyond genre conventions. Anderson is such a director. "Logan's Run" and "Orca" are both examples of genreless films. Logan's Run never decides whether it's a sci-fi adventure story or a love drama. Orca, as I mentioned above, has no clue whatsoever of what sort of a film it is. That is what makes the film so fragile. You're not supposed to expect anything when watching the film or you might end up bitterly disappointed.
The first images of Orca are extremely beautiful. We see a couple of orcas making out in the middle of the ocean. The sky is beautifully photographed and it gives you a fuzzy feeling. The first human being we see is Charlotte Rampling, diving and trying to avoid a shark. The sight of Charlotte Rampling is virtually always a sign you're watching a cult movie. In a filmography of over 65 films Rampling has starred in dozens of essential cult films (including the highly controversial The Night Porter). Furthermore, she's a good actress. Rampling's character blocks Richard Harris's attempt to kill the shark. He is a hunter, she is a biologist. Both are intrigued by each other: she would like to know how someone who's always at sea knows so little about his surroundings, he wants to know more about the orca they've seen. Harris ends up catching the female orca and (in one of the most painful scenes of the seventies) it turns out she was pregnant. The male orca is the perfect example of the lover who swears a pitiless revenge.
Though a lot of the scientific mumbojumbo in the film is apparently nonsense that just sounded good, the film's tagline gives you a good sense of what to expect: "The killer whale is one of the most intelligent creatures in the universe. Incredibly, he is the only animal other than man who kills for revenge. He has one mate, and if she is harmed by man, he will hunt down that person with a relentless, terrible vengeance - across seas, across time, across all obstacles."
Though Orca is mainly a revenge film and an almost mythical clash between two heavyweights (Harris and the orca), Anderson's film doesn't just show orca revenging his wife plus man hunting orca. I fear such a film would end up either boring or a rip-off of Jaws. Some have already dismissed Orca as a rip-off, but those viewers obviously didn't pick up on everything else in the film. The characters (even the orca) are not one-dimensional and so their personas are explored. That does stand in the way of a revenge tale, but Orca doesn't care. The film shows how characters cope with being in such a situation and therefore takes time to explore other parts of the characters. If you must, label it as a mythical drama.
The film is also helped by a wonderful soundtrack of Ennio Morricone. Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling are great in their roles and alongside them you have Bo Derek in her debut role (a few years before she'd become a sex symbol with films as 10 and Bolero). Bo Derek turned down the leading role in the King Kong remake, going for a mythical orca rather than a giant ape.
I hope I warmed you up for Orca. When you see it, do not forget this most important advice: do not expect anything. Just sit down and follow the myth. And who knows, you might enjoy it.
You're Still Not Fooling Anybody: Hate Song of Vengeance
"You're Still Not Fooling Anybody" opens with a clip of Kurt Loder reading out that Mike White's original tackling of QT (he ain't worth to get his name full credited here) was not allowed to be shown at the New York Underground Film Festival. "Who Do You Think You're Fooling?" aptly showed how QT ripped off a lesser known film, "City on Fire". And by ripping off, I mean that Mike White was able to compile 10 minutes of footage from both films and neatly juxtaposing them. Be amazed as the sound from "R. Dogs" is placed on top of the image of "City on Fire" (as Ringo Lam's film is in Cantonese, you can follow the story by reading the subtitles). Fitting like a glove, both films have robberies that go wrong, people shot in the stomach, a revelation about a character's profession and hit men approaching the building.
The MTV news clip included a statement from the so-called director (read: petty thief), saying he would look forward to watching "City on Fire" (original title: "Long Hu Feng Yun"). At this point White's title becomes prophetic: Who do you think you're fooling, QT? Yes, the teens who watch MTV News and haven't seen "Who do you think you're fooling?". But anyone who did see Mike White's short won't believe you.
After the MTV News segment "You're Still Not Fooling Anybody" continues with a split screen with on the left "Pulp Fiction" and on the right a series of films QT plagiarized. Or at least that is White's intention... the problem is that in "Pulp Fiction"'s case QT stole a lot of short scenes from lots of movies. So here we can question whether it is robbery or just a homage. The moment where the suitcase in "Kiss Me Deadly" is opened (the nuclear box of Pandora) is an iconic image in film history, which has inspired many directors: Alex Cox used it in the trunk scene in 'Repo Man', to name but one. That in "Pulp Fiction" a suitcase is opened can be seen as a nice nod to "Kiss Me Deadly", just like the scenes which bear resemblances to a.o. "Charley Varrick" and the cartoon "Three Little Bops". It's a bit more problematic for the Ezekiel paraphrase (from "The Bodyguard") and the adrenalin shot (from "American Boy"): as we are looking at over 30 seconds each of very similar footage, it's likelier to call this plagiarism. QT likes to use nods to other films (from "Kiss Me Deadly" to "Thriller - They Call Her One Eye") and there's nothing wrong with a few nods (the technique of 'sampling' is widely used in movies, music and literature). The title of this review is a nod to "Lady Snowblood" (a film QT plagiarized to the maximum in "Kill Bill"). However, if your film appears to be the same as another film for more than half a minute it may be questionable. When it's ten minutes, it's time someone called the cops.
I don't think "You're Still Not Fooling Anybody" should be seen as a short. In these days of the DVD it looks more like an extra, an appendix, a message to QT that Mike White still isn't fooled and that he still knows his cinematic history as well as QT. You're still stealing, QT, you're still not fooling anybody.
The human calculator vs. the heart of Hollywood
"Stand-In" was shown by the BBC as part of a Bogart season. As someone else mentioned in another comment, that's odd to say the least: while billed third, Humphrey Bogart can't have more than 20 minutes in this movie. "Stand-In" is a comedy. I gather that from the IMDb info and from the collection of moments in the film when I'm supposed to have laughed. I can't say I did. Maybe once or twice. At most.
Nevertheless, I'm glad the BBC showed this Bogart comedy and here's why. Even though the comedy bits may have been funny in 1937 (comedy standards tend to differ from era to era - although I can imagine people not being amused by this at the time either), "Stand-In" also spoofs the movie-making business. It's a bit better at that. They say imitation is a odd form of flattering. "Stand-In" both mocks and loves its subject. Atterbury Dodd is a mathematics-loving efficiency expert who has to investigate why Colossal Pictures is losing money instead of making it. He's the odd one out in town, learning that to every question there is but one answer: "This is the movie-making business." It's obvious from the start that Dodd will learn to respect and cherish the movie-making business, unlike most Hollywood films about the movie-making industry (which tend to treat Hollywood as a shark pool situated in either Sodom or Gomorrah). If you watch carefully, you will learn - just like Atterbury Dodd - that every movie you see is made by thousands of people you don't think about when you're in a darkened room (so always stay in your comfy seat till the credits are over, kids!).
So while as a comedy, "Stand-In" sucks and as a movie about the movies it is interesting, the pivotal reason to see the movie is the combination of Leslie Howard (Dodd) and Joan Blondell (Miss Plum). Not only does she educate him about the movie business, she also triggers him in another way: just like Dodd slowly realizes movies are made by people (not units), Miss Plum makes him realize he is merely a calculator in a human form rather than a living creature. Combine that idea with a chemistry that works and you have a movie that is still very watchable, even if you don't feel like laughing.
Joshû 701-gô: Sasori (1972)
The exploitation series that could
The "Women in prison" film is a subgenre with a nasty reputation and a devoted fanbase. Usually it's nudity and cruelty galore with a plot barely thin enough to veil the only reason to watch the film is to see the sadist and lesbian (or possibly the lesbian sadist) scenes. Whereas it's true that there are a few good prison films, most of them are only in it for the exploitation. Which is not necessarily a bad point: after all, most blockbusters are only in it for the explosions.
My first Female Convict movie was "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41". Purchased as it was released in a series of cult films, most of them were excellent enough to convince you to buy the ones you'd never heard of. To my disappointment the movie turned out to be a sequel, the second film in a series of four starring the ravishing Meiko Kaji as Prisoner 701. One year later Kaji would star as Lady Snowblood in the eponymous films that 'influenced' Tarantino quite a lot whilst shooting "Kill Bill". The Female Prisoner tune "Urami Bushi", written by the director and sung by Kaji, was used in both Kill Bill volumes.
Shunya Ito, director of Female Prisoner 701, directed only 8 movies in 26 years, surprisingly few if compared to the output of other Japanese directors such as Koji Wakamatsu and Seijun Suzuki or if you look at the visual flair displayed in Ito's films. Three out of the eight movies were Female Convict films.
If you haven't seen a W.I.P. (women in prison) film before or don't like the edgier films, "Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41" (the second one) is the one to go for. It's the most regular film of the series: most of the sequel takes place out of the prison and follows a group of escaped convicts who try to stay away from the guards who're chasing them. It may still be an exploitation film, but it's not really a W.I.P. film. But never mind your difficulty to find a label for the film: just file it under 'good'.
"Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion", the first film, is definitely exploitation, though it must be said it's a classy exploitation film. Sure, the film may start with an escape attempt by Matsu (Kaji) and another prisoner, but one doesn't have to look further than the titles to see this is exploitation cinema: naked women running up and down stairs whilst being watched by guards. But whereas there are a few traditional exploitation scenes (and some of those are pretty nasty), the film never gets tacky.
Visually a masterpiece (impressive visuals and sets), a strong lead, an excellent director, beautiful settings... this is one of the best exploitation films you'll get to see. If you are too afraid to venture into the dark waters of exploitation cinema, watch the sequel first. You won't know why Matsu is seen as such a threat to the prison or why she's imprisoned, but apart from these details you won't be deprived from an enjoyable ride and find yourself hungry to see the other three films. And if you dare, go straight to "Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion".
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
On October 10th...a Quest for Revenge is done over again
"Kill Bill vol. 1" in the IMDb's top 100 (right now it holds position n°56) is the biggest joke of the year. The only Tarantino film that should be allowed into the Top 100 is "Kill Bill vol. 2", in my opinion the first time Tarantino did more than steal from other movies.
The line between reference, homage and plagiarism is pretty thin indeed. When I first saw "Kill Bill 1" I thought it was a good film with lots of references to Quentin's favourite movies, the first Tarantino film that I could enjoy. Yet I was more hopeful for the second installment.
At the time I was surprised as to how many goofs I'd spotted in the film. I knew some were deliberately in there, but some were indeed mistakes. At the time I was able to enjoy lots of references.
All that changed last week... when I watched "Lady Snowblood". In my (bold and arrogant) opinion Tarantino has taken just too much out of this film to see it as a reference. Some examples: fight in the snow, dividing the film in chapters, the kill list, the cartoon (images in Lady Snowblood, anime in Kill Bill), the extreme education both the Lady and the Bride had to suffer (and while we're comparing: after seeing "Lady Snowblood", Beatrix's education looked like kindergarten), the big fight in an establishment (okay, the opponents weren't masked, but the next scene was set at a masked ball)... I'm sure I left out a few. As I was watching "Lady Snowblood", my respect for "Kill Bill 1" dropped by the minute. There are way too many comparable scenes for it to be a homage: the nicest I can be is say it's a remake. Oh, and I know that "Lady" and "Bill" aren't the only revenge films out there, but isn't it a coincidence that so many references are out there?
Which brings us to Meiko Kaji, the actress who starred as "Lady Snowblood" and "Female Convict Scorpion" (of which the song "Urami Bushi" can be enjoyed on Bill's soundtrack). It would be unfair to compare Lady Snowblood to The Bride, but life isn't fair, so here we go. While Uma Thurman does her best, a Meiko Kaji she ain't. Kaji had it in her to combine the looks of Venus and Medusa, which is pretty rare. By contrast, Uma Thurman's character resembles the Lady as much as Uma's version resembled the real Emma Peel.
As I mentioned before, I liked "Kill Bill vol 2" better. I know that the dialogues are pretty weak at times (a real problem for Tarantino, by the way), but it's the first time I could see this director do more than make references to films he liked. "Kill Bill 2" is made as an Italian western (Ennio Morricone has vowed to kill anyone who'll still call these films 'spaghetti westerns') and you sort of feel this as you watch the film. The other Tarantinos felt like juxtapositions of references, but in "Kill Bill 2" there's a story, a coathanger, that guides you through the film. If now Tarantino learns how to write interesting dialogues, he actually might be able to make an excellent film. As long as he learns that copying references only works as long as people haven't seen the real deal.
Now it just feels like you've watched "Psycho", the Gus van Sant version.
"I murdered a man..."
The English director Ken Hughes isn't the most known director in the world, though I seem to have watched three of his movies: "Casino Royale" (he was one of the five directors), "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Terror Eyes" (a.k.a. "Night School", an acceptable American take on the giallo phenomenon). Not that I knew this when I bought my copy of "Confession", which I found in the Extreme Sales section of my local megastore. The movie looked okay enough to spend 5 on (especially since it used to cost 30), so I bought "Confession". Also the names of Ken Hughes and Audrey Dalton vaguely rang a few bells. Research post-purchase informed me Dalton also starred in "The Monster That Challenged The World" and William Castle's "Mr. Sardonicus". There have been worse references.
"Confession" sounds a bit like Hitchcock's "I Confess" (released two years earlier), in that both movies feature a murder confessed in church and a priest who's bound by catholic law not to reveal what had been confessed. Even more striking is that both movies have been based on plays.
It would be wrong though to see "Confession" as only a copycat of the Hitchcock movie: only the theme is vaguely similar and the plot develops in different directions. For my money, "Confession" is the better film of the two, an incredibly underrated film which isn't easy to obtain (in 1994 Warner Bros released it on video in the UK, but that's the only version I've seen of the film).
The movie starts with a man confessing he's murdered a man. Why he confesses and why just that scene has been used to start the film will only be revealed half an hour later. After the credits we start with a flashback, where we watch how Louise welcomes her brother Mike who returned from a long stay in the US. Mike is portrayed by Sydney Chaplin who had an interesting career which kicked off with a Chaplin movie in 1952 ("Limelight") but ended with trashy horror like "Psycho Sisters" (1974) and "Satan's Cheerleaders" (1977). Why Mike has returned to England isn't quite clear, but he's always been someone who doesn't like to stay in one place for long. Though this time there might be another reason: Mike gets a phone call from somebody who demands his money. It's not long before somebody dies.
"Confession" doesn't work as a whodunit because we know who the murderer is. More interesting here is how all this affects the relationship between Mike and his family members. Equally interesting is the woman Mike meets in a bar (and how rude he is to her), but it's not completely clear to me what the writers tried to establish with these scenes. All in all this is a good movie and it's a shame the movie didn't get a better distribution.
Eco-horror zombie shocker
My videotape of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue is living proof of how Eurotrash a movie can be: not only do I find myself watching a Spanish/Italian film with an international group of actors filmed in the United Kingdom, I'm also watching the Belgian version: dubbed in French with Dutch subtitles. Yes, in just that one sentence I managed to include half of the European union (well, before the EU as it was before another ten countries joined in May 2004).
Let's try the other Eurotrash test: does the movie own a wide array And, like so many other European films from the seventies, this film comes along with an impressive collection of alternative titles: originally released as "Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti", the film is better known as "The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue", except in the US where "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie" was deemed a more appropriate title.
The working title was "Fin de semana para los muertos" and my Belgian tape goes by the name of "Le Massacre des Morts-Vivants" and the film is also known as "Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue", "Don't Open the Window", "No profanar el sueño de los muertos" and "Sleeping Corpses Lie".
In Italy, the ongoing attempts to cash in on the success of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" (released as "Zombi" in Italy) resulted in the alternative title "Zombi 3 (Da dove vieni?)", despite "Manchester Morgue" being four years older than Romero's classic. To complicate matters even further, there actually is a real "Zombi 3" (made in 1988) and in the US "Zombi Holocaust" was released as "Zombie 3", so make sure you don't pick up the wrong movie. (On a sidenote: the film Virus has both "Zombi 4" ànd "Zombi 5: Ultimate Nightmare" as alternative titles, which in a way is quite a remarkable achievement.)
"Manchester Morgue" tries to combine the subgenres of a zombie film with that of eco-horror. Even more surprising, the film is rather decent. The director is one Jorge Grau who wrote and directed 30 movies, most of them completely forgotten. Only two films have made the step to video and DVD, the other film being "Ceremonia sangrienta" (Grau's take on the Bathory story which also has an impressive set of alternative titles). None of his films have been released on DVD in Grau's home country Spain. All this makes it hard to say if Grau is a good director or not, but at least we're left with at least one good film.
You've probably seen the leads in other Italian cult classics: Ray Lovelock has played in over 60 films, the best known being "Macchie Solari" (a.k.a. "Autopsy"). Cristina Galbó played in many gialli and sleazy films (I haven't seen "Sex Life In A Women's Prison", but I wanna bet it's a bit of sleaze) of which "La Residencia" (by the director of "Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?") and "What have you done to Solange?" are the most acclaimed. Lovelock and Galbó are joined by Arthur Kennedy, whose filmography of over 80 films is worth looking up, if only to come across a bunch of classics (incl. "Elmer Gantry", "Fantastic Voyage" and "Lawrence of Arabia").
One of the most startling scenes in this film is the first scene: we see the main character leave his shop and for some reason the camera moves towards a painting and suddenly green concentric circles start flashing before your eyes. And while we're on the subject of flashing: after that first scene the movie treats us to a handful of urban views, one of which is a running woman who's running naked through town. The relevance of this scene is still completely unknown to me.
"Manchester Morgue" is a slow starter, it takes quite some time before Grau gets to the main story of the film: experimental pesticides have a slight side effect of bringing the dead back to life. As mentioned before, this rather silly concept is worked out so well it makes "Manchester Morgue" worth checking out (and not for the reasons you'd usually check out films with improbable plots, like "The Giant Claw"). Less convincing is the subplot that tries to convince us the pesticides also make babies become aggressive creatures. This subplot is downright silly and it's worked out so hastily it makes the movie lose some punch. After all "Manchester Morgue" manages to deliver quite a few punches: some zombie scenes are quite effective and overall the movie has a gritty quality, especially in the last part of the movie. If the combination of a zombie film with an ecological message already seemed a bit weird, you should be warned that Arthur Kennedy's role as a police inspector mainly functions to add a little detective flavour to the movie. At the same time the police angle helps and bothers this movie: it adds a bit of realism to the film, but it also bothers the plot from developing naturally.
"The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue" is an interesting film: it has its failures, but all in all it's astounding a movie that is such a melange of a handful of odd subgenres, manages to work in the end. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's definitely an essential cult classic.
obscure, relevant, good
"Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?" (I know there should be an inverted question mark at the beginning of the title, but try telling that to my keyboard) is an obscure Spanish cult movie from the Seventies. I say 'obscure' because the movie hasn't been seen or released that much, even though it has a good reputation. The biggest culprit here may be the film's subject: murdering children. The movie starts with several minutes of news footage, showing us how badly children have been treated, contrary to common belief that noone wants to harm children. There aren't many films that'll start with footage of WWII's concentration camps, wounded children in Vietnam and African infants starving to death. The accompanying soundtrack of children chanting seems awkward, almost perverse. After seven minutes of hard-hitting history lessons the movie starts with kids enjoying themselves at a beach. Up to the moment waves carry a woman's corpse to the shore. "Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?" has started: enjoy yourselves.
Like so many other European films from the Seventies, "Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?" (released in 1975) has more titles than anyone can remember: so far I've come across 'Who Could Harm A Child?', 'Who Can Kill A Child?', 'Could You Kill A Child?', 'Trapped', 'Island of the Damned', 'Island of the Dead', 'Scream' (I kid you not), 'Todliche Befehle aus dem All', 'Les Revoltés de l'An 2000', 'Killer's Playground' and 'Death is Child's Play'. One title better than the other, still Quién? doesn't manage to beat possibly the best movie title ever, "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" (Bob Clark's zombie movie made in 1972). Quién's director is Chicho Ibáñez-Serrador, the son of two actors who made two movies for the big screen and two for tv. Ever since, Ibáñez-Serrador has made his living directing tv shows. The other movie he made was "La Residencia" (1969), a sleazy thriller best known as "The House That Screamed".
Quién's protagonists are Lewis Fiander (Tom) and Prunella Ransome (Evelyn), a happily married couple enjoying their holidays. Ransome is best known for being in "Alfred The Great" and John Schlesinger's "Far From The Madding Crowd". Lewis Fiander has the best cult credentials from being in Hammer's underrated film "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" and the Phibes sequel, "Dr. Phibes Rises Again".
Back to our film. Tom decides to visit a nearby island he remembers visiting when he was very young. This is the biggest mistake they could've made. They take the boat to a little village that seems to be deserted. The ice cream is runny and there's noone in the pub. The couple can only spot a handful of kids. So what has happened? Where is everyone? You don't need too many clues to figure out that the children have started killing adults and there aren't that many left. Some people are killed onscreen and this is quite upsetting: to the children, murdering someone almost seems like a game. And perhaps it is.
I can't tell you more without revealing too much of the plot, but there are still a few things to be said. "Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?" is a horror movie, but don't expect it to be gory or you'll be disappointed. I'd describe it as psychological horror, which is why the few gory bits are all the more unsettling. The movie has been compared with "Children of the Corn", based on a Stephen King novel and many think King must have seen the Spanish movie before writing his book. This could have happened, but one shouldn't forget there have been more movies and books where children end up taking over the world from adults (some of John Wyndham's books spring to mind, especially "The Midwich Cuckoos" - made into two movies as "Village of the Damned"). "Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?" is a far better film than "Children of the Corn", so it's a damn shame the movie is only released on DVD by a Spanish label who couldn't see the use of adding subtitled to please the rest of the world. If you're lucky, you might find a French dubbed version of Quien? under the title of "Les Revoltés de l'An 2000", but you'll probably hear of the movie while reading a specialized cult movie magazine. Maybe that's part of the charm of the movie: that I myself own it twice, but only as a lame VHS copy of a copy dubbed in French and as a Spanish DVD without subtitles. I've seen the movie twice now and it isn't always easy to understand what it's about, but here we have a movie so clear in image language that it doesn't really matter you won't understand most of the dialogues (and to be honest, many scenes don't have dialogues as the couple find the only inhabitants of the village, the children, are far from talkative).
"Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?" does not need dialogue to be good. The film succeeds in being both entertaining (in the way psychological horror movies entertain) and asking an interesting question: what would happen if children stopped being innocent victims? So obscure, relevant and good: movies don't need much more to end up being cult.
Black Christmas (1974)
Sorority girls shouldn't play with mad killers
Best known for directing "Porky's", Bob Clark also directed "Porky's II", "Baby Geniuses" and "Baby Geniuses 2". To be fair, he's also the director of a decent zombie film with an excellent title: "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things". And of course of "Black Christmas", a film that has all good films should have: an inspired screenplay, good actors and excellent camera work.
Olivia Hussey is the star of the film. She was mainly cast and admired because of her leading role in Zeffirelli's version of "Romeo And Juliet". "Black Christmas" isn't the weirdest film Hussey is in: you can also spot her in Metzger's "The Cat And The Canary", Kinji Fukasaku's "Fukkatsu no hi" (a.k.a. "Virus") and "Turkey Shoot" (a.k.a. "Blood Camp Thatcher"). You'd almost be more surprised she recently played Mother Teresa. Olivia Hussey is excellent in "Black Christmas" as Jessica (Jess) Bradford, the pregnant and terrorized girl in the sorority house. Don't be put off by the fact that "Black Christmas" takes place in a sorority house: this isn't the sort of film where scantily-clad bimbos are chased by a maniac with a set of knives. The film actually bothered about something called 'plot' and most characters have (at least a little) depth. A welcome change.
Also noteworthy is the camera work. The hand-held camera allows us to look through the eyes of the killer, four years before John Carpenter's "Halloween" did the same thing. The cameraman had to climb up and down the occasional stairs, which often looks silly because of a hand-held camera, but "Black Christmas" does an okay job here.
Back to the cast: Keir Dullea ("2001: A Space Odyssey" and a handful of cult movies), Margot Kidder ("Superman" and "Sisters") and Art Hindle (best remembered for being in Cronenberg's "The Brood", but also in Clark's "Porky's" films) are just a few actors in a film where most people do at least a decent job. A special mention should be reserved for John Saxon (who starred in more cult films than one could name), who accepted the role of Lt. Fuller when the original actor (Edmond O'Brien) seemed unfit for the role. Saxon flew to Ontario and rushed to the set, just in time for his first scene (in the middle of the night).
One might argue why "Black Christmas" needed the subplot of the missing girl, but it's effectively used in a handful of scenes. The naive policeman is there for comic relief, but not the brainless sort of humour one often finds in horror films. If you look at the IMDb message board for "Black Christmas" (but don't do that before you've seen the film) you'll notice the film is vague enough about the identity of the killer, which allows the viewer to guess whether the killer is one of the main characters. So is (s)he? For the answer to that question, I refer you to "Black Christmas", one of the better horror films of the 1970s. Don't expect too much, just sit back and let the film work itself towards an exciting climax and finale.
No Such Thing (2001)
There's only trouble and (the monster's) desire
Many Hartley fans felt disappointed after seeing "No Such Thing" and I have to confess: to an extent, so did I. Mainly because, for some reason, this movie did not have the typical Hal Hartley feel (which you can find in all his other movies, from lighter pieces like "Trust" to genuine oddities like "Kimono"). Having read the Pocket Essential to the director's work, I understand that there had been some trouble with the producers and that it may have been the case that Hartley was forced to alter some parts of the movie. (And even the title! Disney threatened to be difficult if Hartley didn't change the original title of the film, "Monster", to something that wouldn't resemble the title of their movie, "Monsters Inc.".)
Another reason may be that Hal Hartley had to do without most of his regular cast. The only familiar lead (if you can recognize him) is Robert Burke in the shape of the monster. The other familiar 'Hartley' faces (Miho Nikaido, Bill Sage, James Urbaniak and Damien Young) only appear in cameos. Some have complained that Sarah Polley wasn't up to her usual standard of brilliance, but if there's someone who truly annoyed me, it's Balthasar Kormakur (Artaud) who clearly confused acting with behaving like a freak.
These missed opportunities aside, the movie is still decent. As long as you don't expect the movie to take itself that serious. This is less a satire than a mythological story. And doesn't mythology tend to have a more black and white approach to the characters than most satire does?
Hal Hartley seems to have found new inspiration in mythological stories. After the short "Kimono" and "No Such Thing" he wrote a libretto based on the Assyrian goddess "Inanna".
So yes, for some reason (the interferences?) the movie is a bit muddled, but the presence of the monster (in both dialogue and action) make up for most. In the end the movie is still quite enjoyable.
Raye makhfi (2001)
An election movie that deserves your vote
For what it's worth, if I'd been head of programming, I wouldn't have shown this film around 2 p.m., even though these days it seems we just should be glad to see this sort of film on TV in the first place. Set your video recorders if it's shown again. I know I will, if only because I missed the first 20 minutes.
Secret Ballot (or Raye Makhfi) is the story of a woman who travels to an island to get the inhabitants' votes. A soldier is told to accompany the election agent while she does her job. At first he's surprised to find out she's a woman, but they learn to appreciate each other.
Even though the political and feminist points of the film are powerful, in the end it's the visual style that's the biggest reason one should stay watching. There's a lot of candy you can treat your eyes to, from the camera work to the nearly surrealistic scenes (the ballot box dropping, the traffic lights).
Directed by Babak Payami and from an idea by the legendary Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Secret Ballot may lack essential elements to be called a masterpiece, but it's a very good movie with visual flair and a message that should be heard. It should be seen.
The Giant Claw (1957)
Big Bird's cousin
Before we start, may I say I hope you've already eaten when you're reading this. Why? Because, after I'd seen this film for the first time, the bird's look and sound made me want to eat chicken after the words 'The End' had appeared on the screen. So don't say you weren't warned.
Fred Sears might have directed "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (an okay film and one of the bigger examples for Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks"), but "The Giant Claw" is not that giant a film. Yes, it's a prehistoric monster that flies in the air, attacks planes and cities and occasionally treats itself to a man on a parachute. The beast is giant except in the scenes where it's considerably smaller, but who needs consistent proportions in a movie? Scary? It could have been, but not if the plot is hopelessly silly and the monster looks like like a puppet that ran away from Sesame Street.
Terror by Night (1946)
Holmes on the train
This Conan Doyle story has a big plus for a movie adaptation: the story takes place on a train.
Holmes has been asked to protect a famous jewel, the Star of Rhodesia, while the owner, Lady Margaret Carstairs, takes the train from London to Edinburgh. Of course Holmes cannot prevent the theft, nor is the thief (and murderer) able to get off the train. This is why train stories are among the best settings for a whodunnit: all the suspects are in their own compartments, noone can get off the train and, unlike a whodunnit in a closed room, the detective has more freedom to interrogate the suspects one by one. Of course, the whodunnits on train trips bring their own set of cliches: you can bet that someone will try and kill the detective by pushing him or her out of the train. Sadly Terror By Night isn't without those clichés and, what's worse, gives Nigel Bruce (as Holmes's sidekick Watson) too many chances to spoil the movie by cracking unfunny jokes.
Terror By Night only lasts 60 minutes, so the pace is fast enough to keep the viewer interested and the movie entertaining. The movie is in the skilled directing hands of Roy William Neill, who shot this film shortly before he died of a heart attack. Neill directed more than 100 films between 1917 and 1946, of which ten Sherlock Holmes films and movies with intriguing titles as Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943) and The Good Bad Girl. Apart from helming two Holmes films (this one and Dressed To Kill) he also directed the much praised film noir Black Angel (starring Peter Lorre) in the last year he lived. At least Roy William Neill left the planet in glory, a worthy end of a man who was born on a ship off the coasts of Ireland.
Rathbone vs. Atwill
Before joining director Neill on the set of "Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man" as the Mayor, Lionel Atwill played the arch-rival of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Moriarty, in this 1942 film. Atwill is a actor who can be admired in classic films as "The Vampire Bat" (1933), "Mysteries of the Wax Museum" (1933), "Mark of the Vampire" (1935) and "To Be Or Not To Be" (1942) to name but four. Atwill was an actor on stage as well as on the white screen, just like Basil Rathbone. Rathbone combined stage and screen work till he felt that his identification with the character of Sherlock Holmes was killing his film career: he went back to New York and the stage in 1946. Apart from a few narrations he only returned four times to a movie set in the next fifteen years. In 1962 Rathbone joined other legends Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in Roger Corman's classic Poe adaptation, "Tales of Terror". A handful of films followed until his death in 1967, an uneasy mixture of classics (Tourneur's "Comedy of Terrors" in 1964) and bubblegum pulp ("The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini" in 1966).
"The Secret Weapon" isn't set in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's times: the story is transferred to the 1940s and Holmes finds himself battling both Moriarty and the Nazis. This is rather weird at first, both because you don't expect Sherlock Holmes in the 20th century and because you don't want to confuse your detective entertainment with war propaganda. The propaganda scenes (especially the one at the end of the movie) sometimes harm the movie, but not as much as they harmed an earlier attempt to transfer Holmes to the 1940s ("Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror"). All in all it's living proof that the Sherlock Holmes stories can be timeless.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Laemmle shuffle
The Phantom of the Opera is a classic and probably doesn't need much introduction: even if you haven't seen this version, you've probably seen another version, read the book by Gaston Leroux or just heard about it. Did you know The Phantom is so famous they even made an action doll of him?
Now widely regarded as an all-time classic, the film was almost never released. The filming was painful, the assigned director Rupert Julian was an unbearable dictator who even bullied Lon Chaney, without a doubt the star of this production. Yes, if even after a pack of remakes (not to forget the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical version) this version is seen as the best version, this is mostly because of Chaney's fantastic performance. Chaney was an excellent actor, but still it's this movie that he's mostly remembered for. Like Lugosi will always be Dracula and Karloff always Frankenstein's Monster (and, to a lesser extent, the Mummy), Chaney is most of all Erik, Phantom of the Opera.
Chaney liked the part (and the opportunity) so much he wanted to star in the film, even though he wasn't too fond of Universal and producer Carl Laemmle.
Laemmle wasn't happy with Julian's work after seeing the preview and asked for additional shots (directed by comedy director Edward Sedgwick). The ending was altered - originally the mob found Erik lying dead on top of his organ -, Mary Philbin got more romantic scenes and intertitles were written for the new scenes. In April 1925, three months after the first version was finished, this second version was previewed in San Francisco, where the audience's reception was lukewarm at best and Laemmle demanded another version. Most of the new scenes (except for the climax) were thrown out and in came scenes with comedian Chester Conklin and new intertitles. When shown to Laemmle, he luckily hated the comedy scenes. They were thrown out, but the rest of this new version was good enough and this is how the movie finally premiered on September 6, 1925. It became a tremendous success (which makes it all the weirder that Universal let the copyright lapse in 1953. The timeless classic became public domain and the studio lost a fortune in royalties.) In 1929 Universal wanted to reissue the film, but decided talking sequences had to be added along with a new soundtrack and sound effects. Chaney was under contract at MGM by this time, so someone else dubbed him. Thousands of feet of footage were cut out to get the new version, other scenes were compressed or combined with other scenes. Virginia Pearson, who played diva Carlotta in 1925, became Carlotta's mother in 1929, thereby making her one of the fastest-aging women in the movie history.
And maybe you're wondering "Okay, so it's a classic, but is it good?". Well yes, it is (as I've mentioned before) even though Mary Philbin occasionally slips into overacting mode and Rupert Julian clearly isn't a great director. One of the best scenes in the film wasn't directed by him, but by Lon Chaney (while Julian was, allegedly, venting his rage somewhere else). This scene, the Ball scene, was shot in colour. It's not the only scene shot in colour, but the only one that made it to the final version.
Lon Chaney was also responsible for his own (fabulous) make-up. He never wanted to reveal how he did it, so we'll just admire it. The dramatic unmasking scene was so unusual for those days that distributors reported it had made people in the audience faint. (But that may just be promotional pep talk, one never knows.)
The Antwerp Killer (1983)
Movie manages to unity people: everyone agrees this is really really awful
It's not easy to find information on The Antwerp Killer. Maybe all those involved hoped memories of this film would slowly fade away. Bad luck for them as I managed to find a copy of a film most video stores don't (want to) own. Ever since I found it, many have either desperately asked me to lend it to them (some even reviewed it after viewing - see elsewhere on this page) or even more desperately begged me never to show it. At last another movie where everyone agrees: it's hard to find a bigger turkey. And to prove that point in case you're one of the millions who never saw the film, here are some examples:
* The movie opens with a girl who's stabbed by the killer. As the girl (it would be a stretch to call her 'actress') isn't really stabbed, fake blood is needed to shoot this scene. The fake blood is hidden in a small bag under her blouse and we see her press on her stomach to get the blood out of the bag. Okay, but what about the blood dripping out of her mouth? After all the scene was shot in a pretty dark alley. Oh, no problem, the 'actress' will just turn her head to the camera so we can enjoy the fake blood more. Splendid thinking there!
* In the second scene (the one after the credits - no use speaking of opening or end credits as the same credits are used in the beginning and end of the movie) the young man who discovered the body is arrested for doing something highly suspicious: apparently the people of Antwerp weren't allowed to "walk in dark streets" at night. See, movies always teach you something.
* Especially if a movie have scenes from news bulletins. But because this movie is evidently no-budget, this scene had to be faked and instead we can watch the heroine watch the news. The camera is placed behind the television set and all we see is her watching the news. All we hear is an actor pretending to be a news journalist. But how can this same actor pretend to be the correspondent too (let's not spend our budget on two voice-over actors if one can do the trick)? I'll tell you: by pinching his nose while he's speaking. The effect is staggering and so are the facts: the murdered girl in the news bulletin appears to be 22 in the beginning of the bulletin and 24 at the end. Did anyone ever check the script, I wonder.
* To protect our heroine from the Antwerp Killer, the police decide to lock up her in jail for a few nights. She doesn't like the idea and tries to run away, which leads to possibly the only movie chase INSIDE a police building. That's right, she runs around chairs and tables. Exciting is one description, mind-boggling another.
* There are plenty of horrible but laughable scenes left in this movie, even if it only lasts 51 minutes. And the only reason they got to 51 minutes was by inserting a dream sequence of 7 minutes (using almost all the footage from earlier and later in the movie) and filming 3 minutes of roofs and buildings in Antwerp. Why? To show the killer is somewhere out there. Oh, in that case it makes sense. Ermm.
* One more example of another scene that should be added to movie history is the scene at the docks. Before this scene the police officer is on the phone, talking to his superior and asks if the superior had heard about the 'tip off'. Apparently mobsters were going to sell drugs at the docks. Was the officer informed by underground connections? Nope, he read it on page 1 of the paper. Oh, the good old times when newspapers still told you where mobsters would meet! Then it's time for the scene at the docks. We see how something goes wrong with the transaction (one mobster simply drops the suitcase) and how smooth mobsters are at pulling their guns (one only needed 3 attempts).
"The Antwerp Killer"... let's start lobbying for a DVD release.
B. Monkey (1998)
A vision of escapism
The first time I saw "B. Monkey" (at the Ghent Film Festival in 1998), I was amazed at how many people had come to see this action movie starring Asia Argento. Of course it wasn't because of Asia's charismatic performances this movie was so popular, but because it was the latest film by Michael Radford, director of "Il Postino" (together with "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulin" the longest running movie in the last ten years - well, in Antwerp anyway). From "Il Postino" to "B. Monkey" was a weird step and perhaps one of the reasons why "B. Monkey" gets so many negative reviews.
I'm well aware that this movie is a male-oriented vision of escapism, but when the result is a movie like this, one wants to take a lot for granted.
"B. Monkey" was based on a novel by Andrew Davies who has been writing since the late 60s and has penned many scripts for well-known productions such as the script for the "Bridget Jones Diary" and the lesbian BBC drama "Tipping The Velvet". He knows how to tell a story and perhaps this is why, in my opinion, "B. Monkey" is so much better than the usual drama where a delinquent girl meets an honest man and decides to better her life (genders may be changed here). Even though you can predict the big lines of the story, you're still surprised at certain plot changes.
Alan (Wayne Wang favourite Jarid Harris) and Beatrice (Asia 'daughter of Argento) couldn't be further apart: she's a bank-robbing criminal, he teaches poor kids and has a jazz show on hospital radio. Once again something that makes you realize that this movie walks a thin line between good cinema and a third-rate tv's movie of the week. Believable acting by Harris, Argento and, not to forget, Rupert Everett helps the movie to stay on the right part of that thin line.
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)
It's not because you can't say it's horrible that it's any good.
First the good news: there are quite some good scenes in "The Rage: Carrie 2", unfortunately most of them are the inserted scenes from the original "Carrie". That's a little bit sad for Emily Bergl: the flashbacks make you aware that whereas Bergl is doing a good job, Sissy Spacek she ain't. (Speaking of which, will someone please cast Emily Bergl in a decent movie? In "The Rage: Carrie 2" you get the feeling that she might be a good actress, but so far - with stuff like "Happy Campers" - she hasn't been able to prove that.)
Apart from the flashbacks, "The Rage" also borrowed Amy Irving for the sequel. It's not sure why she's in this movie: they probably cast her because she'd be able to connect Rachel's 'problem' to Carrie's, but really, couldn't another psychologist make the link to telekinesis just as well as Sue Snell (who proves that it isn't because you threw tampons at a girl having her first period that you can't become a school's psychologist)?
It's almost as if "Carrie 2" wants to be compared to the original movie. Both films follow the same path, so you can predict that, just like "Carrie", the sequel will also have a scene where Rachel will punish all those who taunted her in a merciless way. "Carrie" is still famous for that finale where Brian de Palma showed you all in slow motion and a split screen. I'm not going to tell you how "Carrie 2" ends and whether everyone will die or not, but Rachel's revenge is filmed with a cheap special effect (comparable to the so-called drug trips in the 60s movies). You can only wonder why: did the makers of this film think they were doing as great a job as Brian de Palma that they absolutely wanted the constant references in? We can only hope not. "The Rage" disappoints you, even if you haven't seen the original or if you saw the original years ago. You can't say there aren't any original ideas in the film (e.g. the way Rachel's body changes when she's angry - as seen on the posters), but these original ideas are often ludicrous (why would her body change that way? Are we being prepared for "The Mutation: Carrie 3"?).
It's true that Robert Mandel (director of a.o. "F/X" and "The X-Files" pilot) left "The Rage" after creative differences and that Katt Shea (director of a.o. "Stripped To Kill" and "Stripped To Kill II") took over. Maybe that explains why "Carrie 2" feels uneven. Some scenes are actually quite good and some make you think that Rachel used her telekinesis 'gift' to make the script fly away. Sadly the script wasn't found anymore and they still had to shoot 65% of the film.
Mena Suvari has an interesting part here: disappointed after being dumped by her date, she jumps off the school building (if you blinked and missed that scene, don't worry and wait a while: it's constantly repeated). Her date, a football player, only deflowered her to score some points with his friends (literally). When Sue Snell tells the sheriff, he should arrest the boy because in a way this boy used an underage girl for sex. The sheriff replies that this would be far-fetched and adds: "Sue, are you sure you aren't still trying to save a girl who died twenty years ago?" I can't seem to shake the feeling that not many sheriffs would react that way, but that's just the way "The Rage: Carrie 2" is: full of far-fetched dialogues. Very likely the worst example of this is the scene in the English class (and by the way, can you really say - as the teacher does - that Romeo and Juliet died together?). If you want to see a movie where dialogue doesn't always make sense and your video store is out of badly translated Japanese films, then go and rent "The Rage: Carrie 2".
Teenage Monster (1958)
They say your 50th IMDb review should be special, so let's review "Teenage Monster"
Surprise, surprise... "Teenage Monster" isn't all that bad a sci-fi movie. Sure, the teenage monster is laughable: he doesn't look scary at all (just hairy) and you're left wondering if Gil Perkins decided to play a monster with a speech impediment or if he's trying to speak normally and the make-up is making him mumble. Anyway, the result is pretty hilarious. (I meant to say "scary", but the only word I could think of was "hilarious".)
But "Teenage Monster" is pretty educational: did you know what happens when a meteor strikes a father and his son? Well, I didn't! Apparently such a meteor strike kills a grown man, but not a child. However, the child will grow up with an exceptional amount of facial hair. Okay, so the plot seems to be ludicrous to non-existing at first, but give it a few minutes (not too many, the movie is only just over 60 minutes long) and see how scriptwriter Ray Buffum (also the man who penned "Teen-Age Crime Wave", "Brain from Planet Arous" and "Island of Lost Women") adds a few interesting touches to the script: see how the monster's mother tries to hide her son from the villagers (it doesn't help that the sheriff is in love with her) and how the monster is abused by another character. This may not sound too spectacular (and indeed it isn't), but do remember that most 50s sci-fi films offered you a cheesy monster and a dull story: "Teenage Monster", directed by Jacques R. Marquette (famous for directing "Teenage Monster" and ... oh, that's it?), at least tries to offer the viewer a compelling story. Compelling it isn't, but at least it keeps you from being bored and waiting for the next scene with the unconvincing monster.
What's for dinner tonight?
"Tarantula" is special for a lot of reasons. It's not just one of those 50s sci-fi films with giant monsters and questionable acting. "Tarantula" is, take or leave a few poorer scenes, a pretty good film directed by Jack Arnold, director of other sci-fi classics such as "Creature of the Black Lagoon" and "The Incredible Shrinking Man".
"Tarantula" has often been likened to "Them!", the giant ant movie made only one year earlier, but Jack Arnold denies "Them!" was an influence. And not just because here we have one spider doesn't exactly equal several giant ants. In most 50 sci-fis giant creatures were the result of nuclear tests and in many movies nothing more but an allegory: if you bear in mind that these movies were made in the McCarthy era, it's not difficult to see who the evil animals (or aliens) attacking good honest Americans were supposed to depict. Yes, kids, if we can get those Martians off our soil, we can sure handle the evil communists. "Tarantula"'s tarantula isn't gigantic because of a nuclear test going haywire, nor is the spider a KGB spy. The person we'll have to blame for this monster, is a professor who wanted to make sure your children's children would have something to eat. After all, the more people will walk on this planet, the less food there'll be per person or something along those lines. The solution is simple: make sure the animals grow in size. Now I can understand why he wanted to create bigger rabbits, but why the heck a giant tarantula? For a reason I won't reveal (but the answer does contain deformed faces - as predicted in the opening shot of the film) the tarantula, growing in size by the hour, manages to get loose and kill a few animals and even people (a nice example of painful irony).
Allright, so it's special, but is "Tarantula" a good film? Yes, the acting is not bad and the special effects deserve some praise: a few scenes aside, the effects are quite convincing. Nearly fifty years later the film is bound to lose some of its credibility, but overall it's a very decent piece of cinema. Not as good or known as "The Incredible Shrinking Man" or "Creature of the Black Lagoon", but well worth your time.
Gin gwai (2002)
Why I think this film was the best film of 2002 and why it's fair to say so
The internet is a wonderful invention: not only does it allow me to make you read my nonsense, but it's also a huge shopping mall. You know the story: you're bidding on an auction and want to lower the shipping costs by ordering a second DVD. You stumble onto a movie you never heard of and decide to have a go. Eventually you find yourself even more anxious to watch this extra film than the film you ordered in the first place.
What made me decide to buy "The Eye" (or "Jian Gui")? The DVD cover may have looked inviting, but it was the story of a girl who, after years of blindness, finally is able to see but sees more than she bargained for, that made me open my wallet again. This was a few months ago and "Jian Gui" had only just been released on DVD in Asia and I had yet to see a review of the film. I eagerly opened the tray of my DVD player and was extremely surprised: I saw a frightening film, one with atmosphere and staggering images.
You know how people tend to say that the internet has spoiled movie fun? Movie websites reveal all the trailers and spoilers you want and don't want to know. Before you get a chance to see a movie, the hype is already three steps ahead of you. Movie fans who are a generation older than me have great memories of how unprepared they were when they were confronted by "Night of the Living Dead". After watching "Jian Gui" I know what they mean: it feels great to be unaware of what you're going to see and to be overpowered by what you're witnessing. A few months later I still haven't dared to watch the film a second time: I'm afraid I'll be a bit disappointed even though I know that the movie is good enough to stand a second viewing. I've lent the film to a couple of friends and the worst reaction I've gotten so far is that the film is "good".
I do know that the film has some imperfections and if I really wanted to, I could nitpick on some details, but the truth is that I don't want to. The creepy atmosphere, the sudden scares, the beautiful photography... you just can't say this isn't a good film. Because you have no reason to say so and because I won't allow you.
Killer Crocodile (1989)
Inspired by movies like Jaws an Italian postman named Fabrizio de Angelis changed his name to Larry Ludman. De Angelis (or Ludman if you prefer) directed no less than 20 movies, including "Thunder I", "Thunder II", "Thunder III" and "Karate Warrior" (parts 1 to 5). "Killer Crocodile" is clearly inspired by "Jaws" and perhaps even (the slightly underrated) "Alligator", but shows you need more than being inspired to deliver a valid end product. "Killer Crocodile" jumped straight into my top 100 Worst Movies ever. Let's examine the evidence:
* According to the credits the crocodile was made and built by Giannetto di Rossi, the man who was responsible for the make up for certain Fulci movies (e.g. "Zombi 2"), for the mask for Di Caprio's "Man in the Iron Mask" and for the sound and effects for "Emanuelle in America" (effects?). He also directed no less than 2 films. The second being "Killer Crocodile 2". Di Rossi's crocodile looks like a big handbag floating on the water, about as scary as a tree branch. After seeing the movie, I'm convinced that a croc's mouth can be either wide open or closed, but nothing in between.
* Dubbing Italian films never really worked, but here the differences between Italian and English become painfully clear. To follow the movement of the actors' lips the dubbers need to utter sentences like "I don't believe that ... it is a good idea, ... yeah." Interesting way to ... speak,... eh?
* So why is there a killer crocodile? Well, you see, some "bad guy" dumped some waste near the water and hey presto, you have a giant crocodile. When a team of ecologists comes to check out the water samples, they see the barrels and one of them dares to investigate. He puts on a big white suit and goggles (thus giving us a chance to enjoy Gogglevision) and swims to the barrels. The man looks at his geigerteller and informs the rest of the crew that the waste is indeed radioactive. Something we couldn't have guessed by the big stickers with the word "RADIOACTIVE" on the barrels. The rest of the team tell him "not to stay there any longer". (They are bright, aren't they?) Yet somehow this brightness doesn't stop them from constantly falling in the water.
* Look out for the scene where a girl is attacked on the pier. She is clutching the wood not to fall in the water, but don't worry as a man comes to rescue her. Does he pull her up? No, he comes and hangs next to her and pushes her up. Not that clever after all as the crocodile comes by and devours him. Scary? Thanks to the budget, no. It looks like someone's pushing a big fake crocodile up and down as a third-rate actor falls in the water, after which spectacular event we see him floating in the water with croc jaws around his middle. After this snack the crocodile manages to speed to a different location in almost two seconds (one of the few times in the movie the beast is fast, it's ultrafast) and bites another man in the leg. For some reason, that explains the blood coming from the man's elbow. Or doesn't it?
I could go on with more evidence, but I don't want to spoil the plot or, more likely, your fun watching it. Go and see it, I know you want to...