Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pieces (1982) - Juan Piquer Simón

"You don't have to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre!" Co-written by the late great Joe D'amato, author of such hits as 1980's Black Orgasm and '79's Pleasure Shop on 7th Avenue, and not to mention the director of the infamous Porno Holocaust, Pieces is predictably trashy. But oh, 'tis a veritable Rembrandt of trash!

Pieces opens in 1942 (or rather, an alternate 1942 reality in which Boston is located in Spain, and you can bitch about the Patriots over touch-tone phones) with an uptight mom walking in on her young son putting together a puzzle ... a filthy, dirty, naked lady puzzle! She understandably goes batshit crazy (slow-mo mirror-smashin' crazy) and starts tearing the kid's room apart in a blind filth search. The boy can only see this getting worse through puberty and does his mom the favour of axing her face in half. And that's just the intro!

Pieces is great because it throws one big horror film cliché out the window: instead of giving us a smart, innocent, likable heroine to survive through the chainsaw madness, we get Kendall, an all around dumbass and against-all-odds campus stud. He inexplicably goes from number one suspect to honourary police officer, and still finds time to nail every campus cutie who crosses his path. One of them even promises to try to contain her pleasure by offering to gag herself, (though truthfully we kinda want to do it for her). Kendall becomes the right-hand man of detective Christopher George, the go-to guy for campus history and information, and bodyguard of the pro-tennis-playing undercover policewoman who happens to be George's future wife IRL. But don't let our hatred for the casanova-cum-cop mislead you, gentle readers: by our troth, this film is near-flawless in its executions.

While Pieces is trash from beginning to end, its kills are among the best in the business. The film opens with axe murder, progresses through chainsaw dismemberments, and throws in various kills of opportunity and plenty of blood on tits (our favourite!). Though one college co-ed claims "the most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed," stabbing an annoying journalist on one comes a close second. Perhaps most brilliantly, the film ends with a Frankenstein of decomposing lady parts who robs Kendall of his manhood. Yes.

The kills more than compensate for all the nonsense that falls between. And just when things start to drag, there's some hilarious racism in the form of a kung-fu professor (Daisy: "what was his thesis?") attacking the lady cop, who later delivers an oscar-winning cry of fear and frustration: "Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!"

No doubt you are wondering where you can find this horrortastic cinematic gem. Look no further than the screen before you: Pieces is available in its entirety on YouTube.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE (2007) - Crispin Hellion Glover

crispin glover is an extremely high-functioning insane person. what distinguishes him from those merely skinning dipping in the cross-contaminated gene pools of bleeding hearts and artists and hollywood eccentrics is a conceptual drive stuck deliberately in neutral. this is not to say his projects don't go anywhere; rather, their momentum and direction are neither guided nor overdetermined. concept is both the means and the ends, and the concepts are - in a word - fucked. we love crispin glover because he's the arch wizard of screwball. everything he produces is perfectly consistent within his own conceptual paradigm, and if nothing else, the worlds he creates make sane people really uncomfortable (we are, after all, speaking of the mind that brought us "clowny clown clown"). so where talent does what it can, genius does what it must, and crispin hellion glover is a rare genius indeed.

fortunately for us, madhattery loves company. instead of retreating into the intricacies of his own brains, glover seeks out other screwballs with whom to make movies ... screwballs like steven c stewart. steven c stewart was a man with talent, frustration, and severe cerebral palsy whose rapunzel fetish and deep-seated misogyny came to a head in the original script for it is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. under glover's production, direction, and proceeds from charlie's angels, stewart plays the satanic hero-villain in his own made-for-tv after-school-special pornographic horrorshow.

to say it is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE is difficult to watch misrepresents not only the film, but also notions of both difficulty and watching. wheelchairs, murder, and necrophilia aside, the film challenges the gaze because it forces audiences with even the most indelicate of sensibilities to spend 74 minutes looking at that from which we are socialised to avert our eyes. watching actors engage with and respond normally to someone both physically and verbally inarticulate bothers us. the sexual expression of people with disabilities makes us laugh. and frankly, we don't know what to do with a retarded serial killer with a semi-flaccid penis who flops around atop hot, naked, dead girls. but when he runs over the neck of one with his wheelchair, we know we've got our money's worth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rare Exports (2010) - Jalmari Helander

finding out the truth about santa claus is a childhood rite of passage from faith and naïveté to a much healthier state of misanthropic skepticism. once we dispense with the lies our parents tell us, we unshackle ourselves from the narratives into which we were unwittingly born and can revel in a more solipsistic human condition. years later, we share self-congratulatory chuckles at christmas parties when we reveal to some n00b that the morbidly obese senior citizen in the red velour tracksuit sporting facial hair from movembers decades past is, in fact, the corporatised creation of coca-cola (nevermind what's mixed in this plastic cup of jack). eventually people we know have children of their own and we're forced to play along as they repeat the process, set their kids up for utter disillusionment with the world, and - worst of all - send us pictures of their offspring getting manhandled by ex-cons in cos-play.

but what if santa was real? better: what if nordic mythology was real, and santa was actually the giant goat-headed devil-spawn of a mightily pissed-off odin who gets his kicks eviscerating the local fauna and boiling the towns-children alive? the standard holiday cinema classics would be replaced with films like rare exports, for one. and well they should! first the scandies saved vampires; now, they've saved christmas. and bless them, every one.

our brave young hero Pietari breaches the borderlands of his village one afternoon and discovers that the one true santa claus has been ice-boxed beneath the breath-taking korvatunturi mountains, and some ill-advised americans are trying to exhume him. Pietari digs out the mythology textbooks, realises santa is not to be fucked with, and alongside his stocking sets a bear-trap with care. one of the traps snares a catatonic old naked dude, some towns-children disappear, and Pietari devises a plan to save christmas, his village, and the world. throw in some pig slaughter, old man junk, and redemption of the father by the son, and you get one of the greatest stories ever told.

rare exports is kinda perfect: beautifully filmed, refreshingly original, and bloody heart-warming - a holiday classic for the whole family. no really, i want to watch this with my parents ... right after it's a wonderful life. it fills christmas with magic again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saw: The Franchise (2004-2010)

saw has never been my gig. though i caught the first film in theatre and have a vague recollection of watching the second in someone's basement, i wasn't among the throngs of teenagers at the hallowe'en weekend opening nights because a) i had better things to do with my hallowe'en weekends, and b) i wasn't a teenager. i'm too old for nü horror, and too jaded for a new franchise. while torture porn isn't exactly lost on me (i dug hostel enough to see it twice), the new generation of north american horror seems designed for an impatient audience of ADD delta-betas lacking knowledge of and/or respect for the canon. but as the recent release of saw VII threatens to be its final installment, we figured we'd give the franchise a looksee - you know, just to check out what the kids are watching these days. and though i sat down with fists primed for shaking, turns out this shit ain't bad. it's not good, mind you, but i was entertained enough not to shout at anyone to get the fuck off my lawn.

Part I (2004) - James Wan
my initial interest in the first saw film was somewhat unprecedented for the horror genre: the actors. or rather, one actor in particular: cary elwes. aside from the obvious draw of blood, i watched saw because it starred the *other* man in black. and while he doesn't disappoint, exactly - he's badass, beginning to end (and VII comes full circle) - westley, or dr gordon or whatever, is a bit of a dick who kinda deserves what's coming. this movie has other things i like too, like dioramas, and boobytraps like in the goonies, and people having to saw through their own ankles like in the original mad max. the reasonably predictable ending reveals john kramer as the jigsaw maestro and not-quite-dead guy in the middle, whose backstory and motivations aren't especially interesting. cancer kills. by the end, i have only one unanswered question: is there a movie in which danny glover doesn't play a cop?

Part II (2005) - Darren Lynn Bousman
the second installment opens with a bang, some whimpers, and a lot of screaming. as if the first film's reverse bear trap wasn't terrifying enough, this one has a full face death mask of nails. i call it a pokey. part II stars a lady cop from star trek: nemesis, a poor man's mark wahlberg [cpt rocket: "daisy, you realise that's donnie wahlberg, right?"], and a room full of people i hate so much that the absence of any will to live is rather relieving. all's well that ends unexpectedly well, and i'm in. okay, i'll play this game. next!

Part III (2006) - Darren Lynn Bousman
if i woke up in a hospital stuck with needles and electrodes connected to medical equipment i don't understand even when my brain isn't clouded with coma- and chemical-related confusion, i probably wouldn't just unplug myself to go in search of some answers. replace tubes and wires with hooks and chains, and i guarantee i'm not going anywhere without some serious contemplation and assessment of the situation. evidently saw victims disagree. i'm similarly unnerved by people wearing animal heads, so this recurring pigface thing is terrifying. and in this installment the pigs keep coming, eventually dumping their rancid guts onto people for drowning purposes ... ewww. points for gross creativity. and for frozen icepop tits! but the films are starting to feel like episodes of CSI and the forgiveness narrative tastes like jesus-flavoured kool-aid. moving along.

Part IV (2007) - Darren Lynn Bousman
cpt rocket is already convinced saw is a better franchise than friday the 13th, but i'm a classicist, so i ... wait, was that some dead dude's junk? the full autopsy scene is deliciously graphic, but unfortunately, jigsaw's postmortem dickballs aren't enough to distract me from the franchise's increasingly disturbing humanism (it's no coincidence that its goriest moment isn't a trap, but rather a mundane medical procedure). cherish your life. the premise of part IV is too impassioned for this level of intricate ret-conning and i'm highly irritated by the flashback narrative and fancy editing. inexplicably, the pawns (not the players) in this installment take a turn for the sexually perverse, from kiddie-madam to fat pasty rapist, and the excessive video clips of the hotel sicko's extracurricular activities are upsettingly beside the point (again i wonder at the current trend of incidental sexual violence). i wish sir psycho sexbeast's antics weren't the only scary thing in this flick, but part IV is more confusing than compelling, and the franchise's weakest link.

Part V (2008) - David Hackl
at last, a new direction, and a new director to guide the way. hackl resurrects the dioramas and group dynamism, giving saw the kickstart it needs. part V momentarily returns to franchise badassery and gusto when agent strahm trachs himself - that's hard - but the film looses steam in its vacillation between prisoner dilemma and CSI cop drama, and its tired moralism permeates both: "if we've learned anything it's that human life is sacred and should be cherished." it's starting to grate on my misanthropic nerves. these people are assholes, and aren't worth the redemptive effort. bored now. needs more cowbell, more blood, and more darla.

Part VI (2009) - Kevin Greutert
part VI attempts to correct hackl's directorial weaknesses with a show + tell narrative, but rather than a case of too little too late, it's mostly redundant because this installment is far more linear than its predecessors. the scenario is topical, and everyone's happy to see the "umbrella health" (haha!) insurance brokers struggle to offer up their pound of flesh ... and bone. the tests and contraptions lose their steampunk aesthetic, and are instead reminiscent of a funhouse of horrors. the merry-go-round is particularly ingenious. i am uncertain as to where our sympathies are to lie, however, when the test subject is such a douchebag that we just want him to fail and take everyone else with him.

Part VII (2010) - Kevin Greutert
finally someone sticks it to infidelity! in public, no less! the opening kill is innovative - all bright shiny and new. same goes for the final player: a self-help scam artist no one knows or cares about. so while the franchise has previously toyed with unwinnable games (amanda's tests were designed to fail), we like that this dude loses every round. it's refreshing to watch someone suck at life despite the will to live it. the humanist tub so vehemently thumped throughout the franchise is lessened by the audience's utter lack of engagement with these characters. the series ends with some deep gratification: we finally see the reverse bear trap snap, the man in black returns, and hoffman's game ends where the franchise begins. but why the fuck was this in 3D?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hausu (1977) - Nobuhiko Obayashi

like lewis carroll's alice's adventures in wonderland, nobuhiko obayashi's hausu is based on the ludicrous daydreams of an ADD girl-child with too much imagination on her hands. we may be made of sugar, spice, and other nice things, but i've often suspected that our insides run on spiders and coal. and apparently i'm not alone: carroll's exploitation of little liddel seduces readers, filmmakers, and the more lewdly speculative members of the literary community; obayashi's "gorgeous" daughter seduces her virgin girlfriends and feeds them to crazy aunt elizabeth báthory and her hungry house on haunted hill.

although this sounds like the perfect recipe for a japanese horrorfest, the film is also composed - and i quote the subtitles directly - of "chocolate, candy, bread, love, and dreams." a gaggle of schoolgirls on summer vacation travel through painted landscapes via happy train and magic bus to a village populated by singing cobblers and other shopkeepers of the musical theatre variety whose jazz-hands fail to point out the dangers that lurk behind the walls of what appears to be the only house in town. everything turns topsy-turvy once the girls go inside: auntie's a nutter, the house is a death-trap, and blanche the cat shoots green laserbeams out of its eyes.

distributor janus films calls hausu "an episode of scooby doo as directed by dario argento." they're not wrong. while the house tries to gobble up the visitors in an effort to feed the starved libido of its owner - jilted of the joys of her wedding night by WWII - the giggling girls get their shit together and go kung-fu nancy drew on its ass. fortunately, their scooby skillz prove little match for the appetites of auntie unhinged. there is no way to describe the mayhem that ensues.

Mac's decapitated head rises up from a well to bite Fantasy's backside, Sweet strips and leaves behind her suspicious-smelling skivvies in a pile of malevolent mattresses, and skeletons dance to a romantic piano number played by Melody's severed fingers while Gorgeous plays dress-up in her dead mother's wedding clothes. "this is ridiculous!" states the Prof, and we can only nod in fourth-wall agreement as the house devours its inhabitants in increasingly surreal scenarios. the promise of rescue is thwarted when the girls' heartthrob teacher, en route to the house, gets into an argument with a watermelon vendor over which is the superior fruit and dissembles into a pile of that which he defends. this shit is, indeed, bananas. b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

the night goes tits up for the girls after this - a point rather aptly driven home with appropriate visual representation. but naked underdeveloped teens is perhaps the least of obayashi's achievements in 1970s film production. his techniques are actually brilliant. clever cuts, soft-focus slo-mo, animation, and avant garde special effects enable obayashi to visually realise the potential of his plot. inside and out, this house is genius.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - Samuel Bayer

in the eighties, childhood development was synonymous with the cultivation of a particular sensibility accustomed to darkness, depravity, and indelicacy. from the goonies to the garbage pail kids, labyrinth to the lost boys, evil abounded and we young things were acutely aware of what lurked in the shadows or under the stairs. it was height of horror in the youthful imagination and the heyday of the slasher franchise, and yr humble narrator grew up grimly fiendish as a result. though much of my movie time was spent accordingly, i never lived on elm street. little chaingun was a born sceptic; newly human and strangely literal, i hadn't patience for tales of mystics, messiahs, or a man who could kill me in my dreams. freddy krueger wasn't scary, and neither were his movies.

flash forward twenty years: the film industry is flooded with remakes and reboots, michael bay has already exploited the essence of my childhood, i have zero investment in this franchise, and expect nothing from some combination thereof. so while it wasn't exactly difficult not to disappoint me, i was still surprised to find myself not hating every second of the new nightmare.

take, for example, the cast. it's full of people i like: john connor (thomas dekker) from the sarah connor chronicles, father justin (clancy brown) of carnivàle, and even beaver/cassidy (kyle gallner) from veronica mars (you may remember him from such trailers as the haunting in connecticut - that shit's been on every dvd i've rented in the past year). but nevermind all that, freddy krueger is played by fucking rorschach!

jackie earle haley brought residual pedophilia to watchmen, and then brought the watchmen to elm street when he returned to pedophilia. his résumé couldn't be more perfect. freddy krueger was only ever creepy to me as a sexual predator - a far more formidable foe than anything from a dream. michael meyers is a Shape, jason voorhees a retard, both something bordering on evil incarnate in their absence of humanity. freddy, on the other hand, is a bad man with a bad touch, and his lechery is all he has going for him. without it, he's just an ugly edward scissorhands with similarly poor table manners.

unlike its predecessors, this nightmare is aurally stunning. the ambient noise of the boiler room is reminiscent of terminator, the jump rope song (more familiar to me in its adaptation by buffy's "gentlemen") resonates appropriately, and freddy's nails across various chalkboards and other surfaces is successfully unnerving. the soundscape is good enough to compensate for the movie's ridiculous plot-holes, and it renders terrifying what is otherwise largely trite and mundane.

the main problem with the elm street series is that it just isn't scary, and the remake doesn't do much to correct this. the nightmare isn't nightmarish enough - it doesn't live up to its surrealist potential due to utter lack of imagination. that said, there are some random pleasing bits that interrupt the predictability characteristic of the franchise, including the tossing about of some far-too-clothed blonde in a manner worthy of the exorcist (and hence better than the original), her later reappearance as a barbie in a blood-bag, and a rather heavy-handed nod to pulp fiction. oh, and the final shot is rad.

it's almost good enough to make me want to watch the rest of the franchise. almost.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Låt den rätte komma in (2008) - Tomas Alfredson

when vladimir nabokov's lolita was reissued in north america by vintage in 1989, vanity fair declared it "the only convincing love story of our century." they weren't wrong. love has long since gone the way of letters and laudanum because our emotionally bankrupt time lacks the requisite investment and interest. monogamy is the new queer (you heard it here first) and i love yous, if not outright lies we tell each other and ourselves, are confessions wielded like knives to hurt someone or get something we want, which, generally speaking, ain't worth having. so what's more convincing than a bumbling pederast with delusions of agency who throws himself at the feet and the mercy of a sadistic schoolgirl in heart-shaped sunglasses?

i believe in love like i believe in vampires: yearn though i might for sanguine youth and an immortally emo soul, i know it's bullshit beginning to end. let the right one in, however, does an amazing job of momentarily convincing me otherwise. on both counts.

love and vampires are the rightful property of 12-year-old scandies who don't know any better. and while that ignorance is far from bliss - it's fraught with domestic fissure, schoolyard violence, and a ludicrous amount of snow - oskar and eli turn everyday ugliness into such beauty that it's impossible not to believe just a little. and the kids know their canon! these vamps don't sparkle in the sunshine, and whatever thresholds this film otherwise crosses, doorways remain sacred. the gore is gorgeous, the characters compelling, and the story brings even the most cynical of audiences to its cinematic knees. tension and anxiety build while the jaded and logical parts of you that remain unconvinced remind you that this is all just wishful thinking ... the more you believe, the more obvious it becomes that everything is going to end terribly.

hold fast to yr hope.