Friday, March 27, 2009

Xtro (1982)

A friend and I stumbled on this oddity not long ago. He was clicking around on the web as I was watching in a half-distracted manner when he found a creepy little clip of a couple driving down a secluded road. The headlights of their car light up a monster walking across the street in a strange, inverted way. We found out that the footage was pulled from a movie heretofore unknown to us, Xtro, a video nasty that had been banned in Britain due to a shocking scene in which a woman gives birth to a full-grown man (more on that later). What tickled my friend (and sent him on a fevered mission to call every store in town in hopes of scoring us a copy) was that Xtro was not only a horror movie, but a SCI-FI HORROR movie that featured aliens--he’s an incurable devotee of all things extra-terrestrial. I’m not so much, but the clip was more than enough to pique my interest and reminiscent of an earlier favorite of mine, John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. It was shaping up to be my favorite kind of discovery--an old movie I have never heard of that, through some serendipitous turn of events, suddenly appears in my life. When it turns out to be a gem, the feeling derived is nothing short of, at the risk of using a tired metaphor, unearthing buried treasure.

A still from the clip that inspired the search.

My friend’s telephone canvassing of the city turned up nary a copy. With all possible avenues exhausted, we would be forced to wait. I jumped on eBay and scored two copies on the cheap. It was in the hands of the U.S Postal Service. Was Xtro worth the wait?

My buddy’s girlfriend joined us for the first screening. Despite our palm-rubbing anticipation of the viewing, we made a couple of mistakes. First of all, we started the movie too late in the evening--it was pushing midnight. Secondly, we had stocked up on beer, otherwise known as “go night-night juice” when coupled with the late showing of a movie (falling asleep during a movie for me is no indication’s of its quality; I’ve been known to watch some of my most favorite movies over a span of two or three nights). For the first half an hour our eyes were riveted to the screen, the beers were riveted to our hands, and I can only imagine the this-is-awesome facial expressions we wore on our faces.

A still from the 1995 Fox special "Alien Dentistry (Fact or Fiction?)"

Xtro’s strength in the beginning comes from its piling on of shocking, surreal images. Shot on a shoestring budget, the bizarre abduction scene works on a so-jarring-I'm-gonna-have-to-believe-it level. Sam Phillips (Phillip Sayer) is in the yard, playing with his son. He tries to throw a stick over the house, day snaps to night, a strange light appears in the sky, a harsh wind blows, and that’s the last we see of daddy for three years. Tony (Simon Nash) is left with some abandonment issues that not even Analise, his French nanny (played by the lovely Miriam D’abo,) can alleviate. There’s also the freaky alien by the roadside that had originally enticed us, as well as the footage that got Xtro banned in the first place--the alien rape scene which results in the victim giving birth to a fully grown Sam Phillips. This isn’t a traditional rape; the victim, a la Alien, finds herself with a rather gross and slimy alien appendage attached to her mouth as a means of impregnation. The woman then goes through the shortest gestation period ever captured, a shortcut which she more than makes up for with the mother of all painful births--something we see echoed onscreen twenty years later with Takashi Miike’s surreal Yakuza flick Gozu.

An au pair to draw to.

I should add that Analise gets the only witty line of dialogue in the entire film. When young Tony awakens in the middle of the night covered in blood, a doctor is summoned. Finding no sign of injury, he hints that Tony might benefit from psychiatric help. This fiesty frenchwoman rushes to Tony's aid, making it clear that the doctor's suggestion is not a welcome one. "All that a doctor can think of is another doctor," she scoffs.

The film comes apart a bit once the action slows down and we get into the exposition. When Sam tries to rejoin the family, he is met with resistance [partly because he can offer no explanation for his three year walkabout, partly because he has been displaced by a photographer vying for the love of Rachel (Bernice Stegers,) his wife].

A peek behind the scenes of the glamorous world of foot modeling.

Sam confides in his son Tony (who bears an uncanny resemblance to yours truly when I was a lad, and, I should add, plays a mean game of Connect Four, a perennial battleground between my sister and I when we were kids) that he has returned for him. He chases Tony down and sucks on his shoulder, leaving a nasty, exaggerated mosquito bite. This, he tells him, will prepare his body for life on the new planet. It was at around this point during the first screening when the three of us opted for a nap on the couch. On second viewing, I can see that the beer and the late hour weren’t entirely to blame, because the story starts to go slack here. Details about the alien planet and the aliens’ reasons for abducting Sam are glossed over. It’s also unclear as to why they’d make the interplanetary voyage once again so that Sam could pick up his little boy. All facts point to the aliens as being a predatory bunch, with little regard for human safety or fuzzy feelings, so this little trip to unite father and son seems far-flung.

Go for the glory, go for the score. Go for it: Connect Four!

Tony’s exploration of his nascent powers also alter the tone of the film too much for my taste. Particularly the scenes in which he brings to life some of his favorite toys. I found that they took up too much time, particularly his clown companion, who I kept wishing would just get the eff out of the film. I’m not a fan of clowns--I’m not one of those people who fashionably claims to be afraid of them--but I don’t much care for their aesthetic . . . Especially when shoehorned into what could otherwise be a serviceable little sci-fi horror flick.

There is something about this picture that I find inherently repellent, so much so that I may not be able to revisit my blog until subsequent posts have pushed it off the main page.

Though a good deal of the steam has been dispersed by the conclusion, it does pick up somewhat, though not enough to redeem it entirely. There is some good imagery as father and son are picked up by the spacecraft and the coda at the end in which Rachel discovers a tub full of pulsating alien eggs has a nice oneiric feel. All in all, it was worth the two bucks plus shipping I spent, but, ultimately it leaves me with the feeling that it could have been so much more.

So, while the viewing left me puzzled, I was glad to have written the bulk of the review before visiting the DVD extras. In a fifteen minute long interview, director Harry Bromley Davenport did not have many nice things to say about his own movies (he directed two sequels as well). Since Xtro was his first film, he admits that in the excitement, he and his collaborators went a little apeshit when it came to adding story elements--particularly the black panther that appears a few times in the movie. Turns out it was one of the producers, I believe, that insisted on it, much to HBD's dismay (because of the expense, and, also, like what the hell is a black panther doing in an alien movie set in Great Britain?). While these diversions ranged from puzzling (as in the case of the panther) to downright irritating (as in the case of the clown) they weren't enough to merit a pan. Xtro does suffer from some sloppy plotting, though, for the most part, a coherent story can be extracted from the film. Rather than the panther, the clown, and the toy soldier come to life--none of which really add to the scare count because effective scares in the movie are all directly related to the extraterrestrial--I would have like to have been given more detail about the more fascinating aspects of the story (i.e. why exactly Tony's body would have to be altered for life on another planet, what life on that other planet is like, why was it important to go back for Tony, etc.). It's easy to understand why the film has earned a modest cult following. The stretches of weirdness are enough to keep any viewer amused between the scare scenes that become increasingly fewer and further between.

This could be a kick-ass scene in a Black Roses video, but in Xtro it just plain don't work.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Snake of June (2002)

This is my first foray into the work of Shinya Tsukamoto, probably most famous for his body-horror classic, Tetsuo (1989). I started here for no better reason than the copy on the back of the DVD box has always intrigued me, though for some reason I kept putting off watching it. Tsukamoto has a reputation for weirdness and A Snake of June (Rokugatsu no hebi) has more than a little--though at times I found myself wanting more. The more surreal passages of the film tend to come and go quickly and we are spirited back to the gritty, rain-soaked land of the film’s story. While the basic story arc is more realistic, it is hardly pleasant territory.

Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) is a young woman working as a counselor for a suicide prevention hotline. She is quick to prescribe such advice to her callers as “find what you want to do in life” as a remedy for vanquishing thoughts of self-immolation. She lives at home with her husband Shikehigo (Yuji Kohtari,) a man who could easily be mistaken for her father. The couple live a kind of sexless existence--they do not even sleep in the same room. In fact, I was convinced that Shikehigo was Rinko’s father until an envelope shows up for her, with a warning stating that it should be kept secret from her husband.

Inside the envelope are a series of photographs of Rinko, dressed in a very short skirt, gallivanting about the city--a venture that ends with her presumably masturbating in a fountain. Soon thereafter the calls start and the blackmail begins.

The blackmailer insists that Rinko more or less recreates the events in the photographs, which Rinko swears was an isolated incident, if he is to turn over the negatives. There are a couple of cruel twists that the blackmailer adds. The scene in which Rinko walks through a shopping mall in her short skirt can be rather difficult to watch--the woman is obviously suffering as she attracts more than her share of unwanted attention. The camera tends to linger closely on Rinko's sweat-dappled face, giving the sequence an uncomfortable, claustrophobic feeling. And greater indignities follow.

Once Rinko’s ordeal is over, Shikehigo must face his own trial at the hands of the blackmailer. It is here, at about the film’s forty-five minute mark, that a turn for the weird is taken. At a few points in the film I found myself wondering if what I was seeing was actually happening in the world of the film or if they were projections of a character’s imagination. But as I stated earlier, these deviations from reality are short (but not necessarily sweet).

There are many more revelations, minor and major, but for now I’m going to leave the plot dangling right where it is because I don’t want to spoil too much. I think there’s a lot to chew on thematically here. Rinko, though she leads a life of work and sexual repression, lets her wild side come out--and for that she is roundly punished. What was first a turn-on for her is transformed into a humiliation when the blackmailer forces her to relive the events on his terms. He claims he is doing her a favor by getting her in touch with what she really wants--in a sense, he’s force-feeding her own advice to the would-be suicides right back to her and, while it makes perfectly good sense, this medicine isn’t always so palatable as it’s going down--there’s no spoonful of sugar here. Advice is easy to dispense but hard to follow.

It’s impossible to write any more without dealing with the small abnormality on Rinko’s breast that the photographer/blackmailer notices before even Rinko’s husband does. He urges her to go to the doctor. A diagnosis of breast cancer is confirmed, and we learn that the blackmailer himself is dying as well, presumably from stomach cancer. When Rinko’s cancer goes untreated, the blackmailer becomes enraged and administers a vicious beating to Shikehigo. Perhaps it’s the blackmailer after all who has Rinko’s greatest interests at heart. He challenges her to get in touch with her deepest desires (this movie should be of great interest to Freudians or anyone interested in psychoanalysis) and to undergo the surgery that will mar her beauty but ultimately save her life. What Rinko really does want out of life is greater sexual freedom . . . and because she can’t fulfill those desires with her husband, she is forced to get her fix in other ways.

Rinko and the blackmailer have been handed a death sentence and this mortality salience causes them to act in different ways. Rinko puts her timidity on a shelf on her subsequent short-skirted outings. She is now a confident woman, a bombshell that draws the eye of everyone in the vicinity. The blackmailer, well, he has become a blackmailer, someone willing to commit horrendous crimes against an otherwise timid young woman. The realization of death, then, causes people to act on their darker impulses, you might say. It may seem this way--just look at terror management theory from social psychology. But when you look again, you have to admit that the blackmailer may care more deeply about Rinko than her own husband does. And Rinko having a sex drive is certainly no crime--the real crime is in that she, as a woman but also as a human being, has been taught over and over again to not act out on her sexual impulses. The irony, or perhaps the beauty, in all of this, is that these strange and criminal events do force Rinko and Shikehigo into each others arms so that they can engage in some good old-fashioned screwing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Black Roses (1988)

This just in! Rock 'n' Roll Horror reviews continue with Black Roses.

Black Roses begins in medias res--in medias res of one of the lamest rock concerts ever committed to film, featuring a coterie of wailing demons with guitars and microphones delivering a bass-drum-thumpin’ rendition of the Black Roses megahit, “Me Against the World” as a throng of musical-appreciatingly-challenged fans go ape-poopy. How did the world devolve into such a state in which demons are an acceptable form of entertainment? More puzzlingly, how did music of this foul stripe ever become popular outside the realm of fiction? Now that your brain is sufficiently tickled, the filmmakers rewind the narrative, to the Lamborghini-powered arrival of the Black Roses to the blink-and-you-miss-it Podunk shithole town of Mill Basin.

"Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree . . . "

What does Black Roses have going for it that Hard Rock Zombies doesn’t? Well, let’s take a look at the featured bands. The Black Roses are better than the band in Hard Rock Zombies for two reasons: 1) The Black Roses went through the trouble of naming their band. 2) They are slightly better musicians. In fact, I can easily imagine Black Roses being played on the radio alongside acts such as Poison and Motley Crue--that is to say that they blow muledick.

"Check out my hairy pits!"

As far as story is concerned, Black Roses is more coherent, although there is a great deal of fuzziness in terms of the intent of the band. They seem intent on evil, sure, by I for one wanted to know a bit more (well, actually I wanted to know quite a bit less, but that would hardly have suited the purpose of this review). It goes a little something like this: The Black Roses bring their leather-clad brand of mayhem to Mill Basin and the parents get their panties in a bunch over their corrupting influence. A meeting is held to try and stop the rock, and it seems as if the concert is going to be called off. The voice of reason comes not in the form of Jello Biafra, but the Mayor of Mill Basin, who reminds the lynch-mob-in-the-making that all rock and roll is rebellious and that the teens of Mill Basin are not being exposed to anything other than an updated version of Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly (which is true, if the word “updated” means “infused with vast amounts of suck”).

The International Symbol for B.J.

Caught in the middle of this generational battle is Mr. Moorhouse (John Martin), a man of such hunky proportions that he could easily replace Brawny on a roll of paper towels and consumers would nary bat an eye. He’s also a veritable wunderkind with his students--he’s the cool teacher that isn’t afraid to toss around terms like “bass-ackwards.” He is universally loved by his students because he isn’t afraid to “talk turkey.” Every joke he cracks is met with a chorus of laughter in which every single student is a participant. He is heavy into writers such as Whitman and Emerson and, while his lessons start out with a seemingly valid premise, they quickly detach themselves from the flat earth upon which they were founded and float away into an ether of nonsense and detours (one can imagine Mr. Moorhouse as being of the type of teacher whose lesson plans were easily derailed by students who posed questions designed to lead him away from the curriculum).

How could I possibly detract from this man's beauty with a caption?

While it is doubtless that Mr. Moorhouse cares deeply about his students, I’m not entirely sure that he’s much of a teacher. Student Johnny Pratt (Frank Deitz) is bursting with an incredible amount of youthful angst and exuberance for a twenty-eight year old--this is perhaps exacerbated by the questionable relationship between Moorhouse and Johnny’s love interest, Julie Windham (Karen Planden). In a scene strangely reminiscent of West Side Story, Johnny hangs off of lampposts and pours his heart out to Julie, jibing her for her crush on their dreamy hunkboat of a teacher. Johnny proclaims that the best way to deal with the nebulous swarm of emotions churning within his heart is to “paint the town red.” He then steals a can of red house paint and begins to apply it to the middle of the street. Now, either Johnny was sick the week that Mr. Moorhouse gave his lesson on metaphor or Mr. Moorhouse just plum forgot to teach it. At any rate, Johnny has shown himself to be the perfect candidate for hard-rock fandom.

"I'm sorry but I'm incapable of abstract thought. Hand me the brush, will you?"

The youth of the town get their way and the Black Roses are permitted to perform. The local chapter of the PMRC shows up to monitor things and Damien (Sal Viviano--I know, Damien, right? What an original name for a dude that turns out to be evil!) looking like an incredibly wholesome rocker who matches milk consumption and hairspray application ounce-for-ounce, takes the stage and says something terribly innocent such as, “I’d like to sing you all a little song about my hometown.” The axeman begins an arpeggio through a heavy chorus effect, and the schmaltz begins. Satisfied that the Black Roses are nothing more than a bunch of cuddly hairdos in blousy shirts, parents, teachers, and all other authority figures leave THIRTY SECONDS INTO THE FIRST SONG. This proves to be a bad idea because the band breaks into “Rock Invasion,” and “Rock Invasion” is a much better song, because it casts some sort of wacky spell on the teenagers in the audience.

"And now I'd like to kick off the set with an entirely non-demon-related song."

From what I could gather, this spell does a few things. It makes unattractive, middle-aged men desirable in the eyes of teenage rock fans (and, yes, chalk this one up as another movie featuring a game of strip poker). It also causes teenagers to become all gross looking and murderous. Most frighteningly, it causes teenagers to become fans of the Black Roses.

I just can't decide who's prettier . . .

The rest of the movie features Mr. Moorhouse locked in an epic struggle between good and evil, hoping to rescue the souls of his students. Some highlights: Vincent Pastore (of Sopranos fame) plays some dude’s father and delivers what I have got to believe is his first onscreen “va fangul.” Julie, fed up with Moorhouse’s lecture on Whitman delivers this little gem: “Why do we have to study all of these dead writers? I mean there’s a poet alive today that writes rings around them: Damien.” (For some reason, the idea of song lyrics presented as a form of poetry has always made me cringe. Certainly there are good song lyrics to be found--certainly not from the Black Roses--but when you strip the melody away, they almost never could stand on their own as something you’d want to read). There is a conversation between Damien (Sal Viviano) and Moorhouse in which Damien says, “I’ve known your soul for a long time.” Are these mortal enemies or is Damien trying to get Moorhouse into the sack? Perhaps my favorite scene takes place between Mr. Moorhouse and his girlfriend Priscilla. He shows up at her house and, without provocation, she immediately lights into him for his love of his students and for doing nothing more with his life than being a high school English teacher. Naturally, an argument ensues and Mr. Moorhouse delivers this parting shot: “I’m going home.” (Turns away, pauses, turns back to Priscilla) “Or maybe to a bar. Yeah. Whichever I pass first.”

A demon with a taste for Pussy.

Why do I love this scene so much? Part of the reason is undoubtedly because Mr. Moorhouse, the Mozart-listening, poetry-appreciating, renaissance man, seems to be far too chill to ever allow himself to become tethered to such a harpy as Priscilla. Finally we are allowed to see the fallible, human side of Mr. Matt Moorhouse.

"Hey, Moorhouse. Tom Selleck called. He wants his aesthetic back."

Even as the action of Black Roses picks up, I found myself becoming bored. The exposed puppet rods and corny costumes could not hold my interest. Mr. Moorhouse is the best thing that this movie has going for it. The horror elements (as weak as they are) could be stripped away entirely and this movie could instead be a character study of Matt Moorhouse, a denim and flannel kind of guy with a big comfy mustache, a man who indeed could achieve greatness in the larger arenas of life, but who is content to teach his class in Mill Basin, his little chunk of paradise. For Matt Moorhouse, it’s all about the kids.




Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sole Survivor (1983)

Sole Survivor does more than an adequate job of conveying a sense of loneliness throughout the opening sequence. The montage of empty streets, traffic lights winking red and green, and desolate window displays is quietly unsettling and puts the viewer in the proper mindset for what is essentially a quiet picture, punctuated by moments of terror. Denise Watson (Anita Skinner, who is really good at looking seductively to the side and has a nice Gaylen Ross-like quality about her) finds herself unscathed after her airplane goes down, taking everybody else on board along with it. What seems to be an incredible stroke of luck turns soon into a nightmare. It seems that she has been overlooked on Death’s laundry list, and that he’s sending his minions, in the form of the newly-dead, out to get her. (Comparisons to the much-later-in-arriving Final Destination are inevitable--a similarity that the manufacturers of the DVD are quick to point out on the box art.)

"At least now I won't have to fight for these armrests."

Overall, I must say that I was impressed with the film. The dialogue, especially that coming out of the mouth of Denise, is strong. She is an assertive woman, quick-witted, and--once she has brushed off the dust of the plane crash--doesn’t hesitate to ask out her dreamboat of a doctor (played by Brian Richardson). There is a seeming lack of introspection on her part; she is quick to get back to work, producing coffee commercials reminiscent of the Taster’s Choice variety so prominent in the early 80’s.

"You're going to feel a little prick."
"Doctor, I hardly know you."

"Taster's Choice? You're soaking in it."

Cast in the lead of Denise’s java ads is Carla Davis (Caren L. Larkey). Carla is an aging fading beach movie starlet who no one takes seriously. Complicating matters, Carla has psychic powers--she understands Denise’s predicament perhaps better than anyone else, and is roundly met with resistance. When dead people start showing up and try to shuffle Denise off of the old mortal coil, Denise is at first unwilling to heed Carla’s warning--she is written off as a former prima donna unable to cope with her waning stardom. But the dead keep coming nevertheless, and when the full import of Carla’s warning finally dawns on Denise, it is too late.

Seriously, I should be flogged for even considering using "I see dead people" as a caption.

"Seven days! Oh, sorry, wrong number . . . "

Sole Survivor is not a perfect film. The dialogue that I found so fresh in the beginning deteriorates after a half an hour or so--as if the screenwriter ran out of steam and lost some control over his craft. There are some 80s movie cliches as well: A round of strip poker (this would be an interesting study, Strip Poker in Horror Movies and Sex Comedies of the 1980s. The 70s were all about streaking, but the 80s belong to strip poker) and Denise’s over-sexed party-girl neighbor and her new-age valley girl sidekick (who probably thinks Denise’s problems have something to do with bad vibes) detract from the tone of quiet menace that pervades Sole Survivor. It’s obvious these secondary characters are included to up the body count (and perhaps to tack on some minutes to the running time,) but part of me wishes it had been handled differently. Denise and her neighbor seem an unlikely pair. Denise is a career woman and Kristy (Robin Davidson) is far younger and preoccupied with teenage things--which, like a guilty daughter, she tries to keep hidden from Denise. I wondered what in their relationship kept them together . . . But perhaps I’ve just answered my own question in that these people are driven together by loneliness, that they are all marking time until death.

"Don't mind Randy. He's always horny."

Valley Girls outshone by a sweet-ass clock.

Who knows what you'll find in McGelligot's Pool!

The scares in the movie are few but nicely handled. My favorite comes early, in the form of a slow, silent tracking shot through the wreckage of the airplane. Bodies are strewn about, Denise sits unscathed in her seat, plane parts and fires punctuate the landscape. The camera lingers on a man torn in half. As the dead man inexplicably opens his eyes and alarm clock rings loudly and we see that we have been in the dreaming mind of psychic Carla Davis. It’s no cheap smash-cut, but a slow atmospheric build, a combination of sound (or lack thereof) and pictures, that builds to the unexpected. And I for one will take that any day.

The Gallery of Creepy-Ass Mannequins

All in all, I’ll chalk this one up as a success. The film was shot for little money with a cast of virtual unknowns--it is quite obviously a labor of love rather than a product of the studio system. I’m no judge of acting, but I found that most of the cast turned in pretty decent performances (with the obvious exception of the morgue man). I was sad to see Denise go. She was a perfect example of death denial, so ready to jump back into her life after the mother of all wake-up calls. Perhaps the best that we can do is form whatever relationships we can and hope to press on. To push away the idea that the end is near is all that we can do if we want to lead a happy, productive life. And if you ever have a near-miss, be sure to watch your back for a while, just to make sure that the bullet you dodged really didn’t have your name on it. Then you can get back to selling that coffee.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Bit of Aw-Shucks, Just-Folks, Home-Spun Philosophisin’

It may be true that all of my snark and shit-talk is nothing more than an elaborately-woven suit of chain mail worn to protect a sensitive soul. This particular form of expression, blogging about creative works that could bear the highly-frickin'-subjective label “garbage,” did not at first seem to me to be a viable means of self-discovery (as opposed to, say, keeping a journal, writing poetry, or depicting traumatic moments from your childhood in the medium of Crayola on paper,) but here I go a-self discoverin’. What brand of masochist would thrust upon himself the onus that I have chosen? Some days I feel that this project is a form of self-flagellation and that I should stop it altogether and, say, learn to love myself or something. Sure, it can be fun to tear movies to shreds, but I’d be lying if I said that I did not press on with this sometimes rather frustrating task bearing a small flicker of hope that I will stumble upon a gem. These gems can appear in one of two ways: 1) A movie will be so godawful that it will provide the viewer with buckets full of unintentional comedy. 2) A movie will actually be good. I’ll take the latter any day (especially since I don’t always have the luxury of watching these with a couch full of friends and a fridge full of beer--I love my dog, but she doesn’t always get my jokes . . . And try to get her to pay attention to anything in which rabies or werewolves don’t figure heavily into the plot). Laughing at some of these movies sometimes makes me feel as if I’m picking on someone less fortunate--it’s like giving a dyslexic a hard time for having trouble reading. It’s just not cool. Give me a good movie any day. I’m only human--who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise?

And while it is true that I do seek out material for the blog in the lower reaches of the high-art/low-art dichotomy, I do not sit down to watch every movie with Garbage Day in mind (Bresson’s Pickpocket, which I watched recently, may not be my favorite movie in the world--I did like it--is obviously not appropriate subject matter for Garbage Day. Number one, it’s a respected and influential film. Number two, I certainly wouldn’t, in this particular instance, go against the general consensus and slap the label “garbage” on it). I guess like anyone else I need time to switch off, to watch simply for the sake of watching . . . I am by no means a workaholic, but I sometimes marvel at my decision to turn something that has every potential to be a passive, mindless activity into a form of responsibility and work.

I have a tendency to skew toward negativity. It’s only natural that I see this blog as a facet of this trait. I think of D.T. Suzuki’s interpretation of Zen Buddhism, that it is a means of negating everything until only one thing remains--an affirmation. It is a means of experiencing the positive through an ongoing negation--of cutting through the bullshit and getting down to the nitty-gritty. Destroy everything and see what remains . . . a difficult concept to grasp, perhaps, especially because it’s easily misinterpreted as being a form of nihilism. Absolute negativity is certainly not the aim of zen, nor is it the aim of Garbage Day (if you look at Samantha’s reviews you’ll soon see, sweetheart that she is, how quickly she’ll recommend a book or movie in spite of its tremendous shortcomings). Let’s not forget that eternal positive waiting at the bottom. This is, after all, a celebration of all things garbage-y, although I must admit that I may not be as quick as Samantha to throw on the party hat and start tossing confetti (but, in my defense, Hellgate and Hard Rock Zombies back-to-back was one hell of a test of my stamina). There is something beautiful, something exquisitely human, in the reach and miss, in the way that what we accomplish is never quite exactly what we set out to do--this little essay is no exception. All creative endeavors are of one degree or another an exercise in vanity. Sometimes it adds to the charm (like John Fasano’s balance of bad rock and cheesy horror in his self-penned Black Roses--are we seeing flashes of Fasano in the hunky, literate Mr. Moorhouse?) and sometimes it just goes over the top (as in John Fasano’s direction of Jon Mikl Thor’s self-congratulatory and falsely clever script for Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare--we are definitely treated to a more than a heapin’ helpin’ of the psyche of Mikl Thor, who plays the role of hero, rock star, and godlike weaver of metaphysical mind-fucks all rolled into one). It’s a fine line, but sometimes there’s nothing quite as satisfying as not pulling any punches when it comes to punishing such breaches of filmmaker-viewer etiquette.

All right . . . that’s enough navel-gazing for now. More reviews are on the way--including (you guessed it) a positive one!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hard Rock Zombies (1985)

Hard Rock Zombies is jump-kicking off a series of rock 'n' roll horror movie reviews here at Garbage Day! I consider this particular subgenre is a petri dish smeared with a culture that is more than conducive to producing mass amounts of, well, garbage. After all, what could possibly be worse than movies? Music! Put the two together and you're booked front row center for a two-night engagement at the Suckdome, located in the heart of smoggy Unpleasant Viewingville, USA. After revisiting the nightmare that is Hellgate, I was perhaps hoping to settle down to a nice, crappy movie, something more along the lines of The Paperboy. No masterpiece there, in fact an utter piece of crap, but a piece of crap that does the viewer the service of following one basic premise to an organic, Canadian conclusion.

A Hard-On's Day's Night

One of the things that makes these movies so entertaining is the bands they feature--and in that department Hard Rock Zombies does not fail to deliver. A cliched group of 80's cheese-rockers takes the stage and tears it up in grand we-look-like-early-Dokken-but-
sound-like-Bob-Seger style. "Shake, shake, shake," purrs the smoky-voiced and velvety-mustachioed frontman Jessie (E.J. Curse). "Shake it, baby," he adds. We are not spared one second of the song--it's like one of those music videos before they became cinematic, back when it was good enough to have a band on a stage lip-synching to their record in a venue packed with extras. Are they really gonna play the entire mediocre song? you ask yourself. You bet your leather pants they are! This movie has more padding than a Victoria's Secret Angel bra.

"Sign me arse, guv'na?"

After the show, the band is mobbed by some of the most unenthusiastic fans ever put to film (fortunately, they are willing to let the members sign various naughty parts of their anatomy). One of these methadone cases takes the lead singer aside and delivers a dire warning: Don't play your next gig in Grand Guignol (the oh-so-cleverly-named next town on their tour). Bad shit will go down. But the band is determined to press on in the name of rock 'n' roll, and for that you cannot help but give them mad respect--especially when they roll into Grand Guignol and we see that the town is such a blink-and-you-miss-it Podunk shithole that any band with an ounce of self-respect would avoid it like a groupie with a case of crotch crickets (and perhaps it is this self-loathing, buried so deeply beneath the band's sleek, sexthletic exterior, that I find so endearing--think of a Woody Allen soul trapped in a a Sammy Hagar body). The town, filled with the requisite rubes and yokels, does not take kindly to the band's appearance. But our heroes are unfazed and, determined to let their freak flags fly, stage an impromptu rock parade straight through the center of town. It is here that the talents of one of the band members (who I shall refer to for the purposes of this review as Mr. White Pants) really shine. Mr. White Pants is a skilled juggler, skateboarder, and pantomime. (Again, the viewer is forced to wonder, are they really going to play the entire fucking song? You bet your microphone stand with bandanas tied all over it they are! In the first fifteen minutes of the movie alone no fewer than six have been dedicated to musical numbers that do nothing to advance the plot).

"I like music, skateboarding, and pantomime . . . but my real passion is being a complete cheese-dick."

When the show does eventually go down, it does so in a rather improbable venue--they are booked to play outside of a large, dilapidated house (with only a handful of the local weirdos in attendance). It's clear that the band needs to do two things right away: 1) Fire their manager. 2) Stop sucking. Preferably in reverse order.

Someone throw a bucket of water on these guys!

Fortunately the performance is sabotaged and the band is electrocuted during their performance. Unfortunately, they survive. Fortunately, the young groupie's prophecy comes true and the band members do end up being murdered one by one. Thank god we won't have to put up with any more of their antics. Oh, wait--if this movie is going follow through on the premise put forth by its title (there has been little to indicate thus far that it will) we haven't seen the last of these butt-rockers.

Mr. White Pants, we hardly knew ye.

The problem that a movie like Hard Rock Zombies poses in its scattershot plotting is that it makes writing a structured review a nearly impossible task. It suffers from the same plot problem as Hellgate--it goes off in a million directions, unsure of what type of movie it really wants to be. There's so much that I want to point out, like the ridiculous reveal that takes place forty-two minutes in--that the old man who heads the creepy household is none other than a reanimated Adolf Hitler. Yes, folks, Hard Rock Zombies is also a Nazi zombie flick, and a terrible one at that.

"Once I make sure my head is on straight, I'm going to make this movie suck even harder."

There's also the great ZZ-Top-video-style camera work of the hitchhiking woman that appears at several points throughout the movie (and plays a role similar to the ghostly hitchhiker who seduced Ron Palillo in Hellgate).

"She's got le-yegs!"

And once the band crawls out of their shallow graves (there's seriously only like two inches of dirt thrown on top of these clowns,) they emerge and walk in a sort of rhythmic, jerky shamble, as if marching to some kick-ass Bonham drum beat from the beyond that only zombies of the hard rock variety are permitted to hear.

And what self-respecting cock-rock band's repertoire would be complete without a cheese-dripping ballad? The viewer is treated to the band's latest panty-moistener, "Cassie," named after the frizzy-headed bearer of bad tidings and subsequent love interest of the lead singer. Are they really, truly going to make us listen to the entire fucking song? you, in spite of your dawning realization that they haven't felt the need to rein in their musical numbers in the past so why should they start now, ask yourself. You bet your bottomless can of Aqua Net they are!

Nuts in White Satin.

Odds 'n' ends: Early in the film there's some sort of Were-Woodchuck in a rocking chair that the director is awfully fond of smash-cutting to for no good reason. The gratuitous use of a midget. Creepy old people sex scene where the grandchildren ask to watch, and are allowed. The town hall meeting that abruptly shifts the tone of the film to satire (of the type that falls flat on its face). The band also seems to have two bass players, the lead singer and some dude who just plays bass. There's often no sign of a guitarist.

A Were-Woodchuck armed with a switchblade: The only foe worthy of a flaming hatchet.

To say that Hard Rock Zombies makes The Paperboy look like, say, The Shining would be giving Hard Rock Zombies far too much credit. Hard Rock Zombies makes The Paperboy look like some yet-to-be-made horror movie, tentatively titled The Best Horror Movie of All Time, that will feature well-developed, believable characters, will be beautifully photographed, well-scripted, immaculately paced, and, most importantly, will scare the bejeezus out of any and all who dare to watch, from the nubilest of newbies to the most jaded veteran of the genre. I hate Hard Rock Zombies. There is only one rational way for me to deal with Hard Rock Zombies. I will wait until Tuesday of next week. On that day I will get up early in the morning, put on my best blue sweater, and walk down the suburban street on which Hard Rock Zombies resides. Then, as Hard Rock Zombies is moving its trash cans to the curb, I will get its attention by making the following observation: "Garbage day!" Then, once Hard Rock Zombies looks up and sees me standing in the middle of the street, I will raise the revolver I hold in my hand. Hard Rock Zombies will say "no!" but I will not heed its plea. I will shoot Hard Rock Zombies down. Then I will take a minute to admire the gun in my hand and laugh. There is something funny about this metal object, something funny about what I am doing, something that has to do with something horrible that happened in my past. I will look at the gun and laugh. I will laugh.

We should be so lucky . . .