Movie Reviews 410 – Shock (1977)

October 11, 2019

In the mood for a vintage giallo this week I perused my movie library and was happy to find Shock (original Italian title Schock and released in North America as Beyond the Door II) by none other than director Mario Bava, the patriarch of the giallo maestro triumvirate (the others being Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci of course). Sadly this, one of his last films, was mediocre at best, and nothing comparable to any of his classics such as Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, or even the quirky Sci-Fi horror Planet of the Vampires. This despite the contribution of Daria Nicolodi in the starring role.

As a young family is moving into a house we sense that the wife Dora (Nicolodi) who seems quite familiar with the place is nonetheless not happy about the move. We soon learn that this is because she once lived there with her former husband Claudio, now deceased. Her distress is more than just a reminder of Claudio, but an actual apprehension of the house harboring some malevolent entity. Moving back in was her new husband Bruno’s (John Steiner) idea, one she only reluctantly accepted.

Their young son Marco (David Colin Jr.) seems quite taken with the house, especially the cellar and Dora can at least enjoy his amusement. That is until he starts muttering things like “Pigs, pigs, PIGS!” when his parents engage in any hanky-panky, or when he innocently tells his mom “Momma, I have to kill you”. But Dora’s worries are not confined to her son’s sudden odd behaviour. She starts seeing floating drawings, a razor laced piano playing by itself and even learns that Bruno, a pilot, briefly lost complete control of the plane he was flying at the same time Marco was having a psychotic episode at home. All her torment seems to be related to her troubled past husband who was a drug addict before he disappeared. But what exactly were the circumstances of that disappearance?

While there is a decent payoff when we learn the truth of what happened, the reliance on cheap scares and the wavering between Dora being insane and imagining all these events or Marco really being possessed gets stale fairly quick. Putting all the clues together it isn’t really all that hard to see where things end up going, at least in the big picture sense. However some of the details of the ‘big reveal’ were surprising.

Rating the movie itself I would have to say that it is more for die hard giallo fans than for casual horror lovers. My Blue Underground DVD did include a number of features that were somewhat interesting, the main one being an older Bava interview. A second interview where son Lamberto Bava describes working on the production and learning ‘the chops’ (literally and figuratively) was fascinating in that we know he was on his way to becoming a respected director himself, eventually directing the classic Demons.

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Movie Reviews 409 – Memories of Murder (2003)

October 4, 2019

Between the years 1986 and 1991 the South Korean city of Hwaseong experienced that country’s first serial killer. The series of 10 rapes and murders galvanized and terrorized the citizens. Memories of Murder is a dramatization of the investigation as told from the point of view of the two prime detectives who worked on the case.

Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is the first one the scene when a body is found wedged under ditch crossing in a field. A bumbling cop, he is prone to quickly jumping to incorrect conclusions while eager to be in the spotlight as the case advances. The discovery of a second victim brings detective Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul to help with the investigation. Methodical and quiet spoken he not only sheds light on new evidence but the fact that there has already been a third victim who hasn’t even been found yet. But the third victim is not the last in what becomes an interminable case.

Park and his willing partner and sidekick Cho resort to coercion and beating confessions, leaving Seo to mock their tactics and disprove their findings, which only ratchets up the tension between the two as the case wears on. While some clues including a rather strange modus operandi becomes evident, even crafty traps fail to capture the assailant. The key lies with a most unusual suspect, a retarded young boy who is being ‘trained’ by Park to provide a believable confession.

While the mystery itself if riveting enough, the complex relationships between the officers and the impact of the stress they are put under is just as much a part of the drama. Seo is the perfectionist unaccustomed to dealing with failure especially on such and important case while Park suffers from anxiety and his own ineffectiveness coupled with wife’s worries for him. But as time goes on a mutual respect develops but not without lingering effects from the prolonged investigation.

Despite the somber circumstances being portrayed, the film also includes a number of strangely comical scenes when it comes to Park and Jo’s antics such as one in which he discerns that since no evident non-victim hair was found on the bodies the perpetrator must be hairless. While I enjoyed this comedy as I watched the film I had no idea that this was based on true events. It was only while watching the DVD special features did I learn that the serial killings were not only real, but not solved at the time of filming, which makes the comic aspect somewhat morbid. Ironically, as did a bit more digging into the story I learned that the crime was solved only this past year.

Writer-director Joon-ho Bong would call again on actor Song Kang-ho to star in The Host shortly after this outing with equally entertaining results.

Movie Reviews 408 – Laura (1944)

September 28, 2019

I’ve been saving this one for quite a while as I’ve been plowing through tons for Film Noir this past year. While I can’t say Laura is my favorite – that’s still a toss up between All About Eve, Double Indemnity and Leave Her to Heaven – it clearly ranks as one of the best murder mysteries of the the era, which, being the heyday of the genre, makes it one of the best period.

There are so many unique aspects to the plot that I hardly know where to begin. From the very beginning voice over, we know that Laura (Gene Tierney at the top of her game and beauty) has been murdered and detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is already working on the case. The prime suspects are the two men who were very much in love with Laura and fighting for her affections. In one corner we have the cultured and respected Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a newspaper gossip columnist. Older than Laura but appealing from an intellectual point of view he has steered and looked after her for years. His nemesis for her heart is the brash young philanderer Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) whom Laura has had an on again, off again, engagement. But these two contenders loath one another beyond the battle for Laura’s love.

This is no mere whodunnit. While this begins as some love triangle gone too far, the triangle (such as it could be given that the love interest is dead) becomes a square as detective McPherson is clearly falling in love with the object of his inquest.  But the mystery goes one step further when Laura suddenly walks back into her apartment, oblivious to her own headline making murder. Aside from figuring out whose body was really found, Laura must now contend with the exposed events and revelations that have surfaced since her departure. And the victim now becomes a suspect in what was assumed to be her own murder.

Directed by Hollywood rebel Otto Preminger – while he gave us a litany of great films, for myself he will always be foremost remembered as the POW commandant in Stalag 17 – this film is brimming with delightful eccentricities. McPherson’s incessant need to pull out one of those old child toy dexterity puzzles (where you have a number of balls rolling across a flat cardboard with a few shallow holes and by gingerly tilting the toy the player tries to seat each ball into one of the holes). Then you have Lydecker doing all of his writing sitting naked in his bathtub with his typewriter on a platform. While I cannot be sure this could only have been an allusion to famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who had that habit in real life. (While your at it. do yourself a favor and watch Bryan Cranston’s Oscar winning performance in Trumbo.)

The performances are superb with Webb at his best, and a reminder that Price was a distinguished mainstream actor long before he became synonymous with horror. Although you would never know it Tierney was well on her way to mental instability that would soon end her career while filming this.

Film Noir at it’s best.

Movie Reviews 407 – Basket Case (1982)

September 20, 2019

The title of Frank Henenlotter‘s 1982 film Basket Case is not so much a double entendre as it is a triple one. It refers to an actual woven carrying basket seen throughout the film, the emotional instability of our protagonist who basically carries said basket with him at all times, and lastly it also references the aberrant contents of said basket.

The movie is about a young man, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) who has travelled to New York city to hunt down a group of individuals who long ago performed a backroom surgical operation on him, separating him his semi-formed twin growing along the side of his body. Despite living with “Belial” and forming a telepathic link with him, his father hated the outgrowth and blamed it on the death of Duane’s mother during the birth. The father had procured the services of three doctors to forcibly remove the growth and disposed of it in the trash where it was rescued by Duane. Now a young man, Duane is hunting down the doctors responsible with the aid of the diminutive yet powerful Belial to do the dirty work.

This is 80’s camp at it’s best.  Duane moves into a seedy 42nd second street hotel to seek out the last two targets on his list and this hotel provides ample odd interactions with the other denizens of the dump. Belial – Hebrew for The Devil -is an oversized deformed head with nothing more that two powerful arms and somewhat demonic hands. While mostly shot as a puppet or just a masked actor (strategically placed where the actor’s body can be hidden under something) there are a few scenes in which he is shown scampering about and for those some really cheesy, uneven stop-motion was used.

Things begin to go awry when Duane starts to date a secretary (Terri Susan Smith) behind Belial’s back. (Well if he had a back.) and triggering Belial’s anger when he and Sharon get too frisky. Turns out Belial wants to sow some oats of his own and not having the necessary appendage is not going to stop him. The scene where he exercises a bit of necrophilia is both disturbing and comic at the same time.

While there is plenty of slashing going on a blood, those are far from shocking. In fact, probably the most shocking scene is on in which Duane runs stark naked through the streets with some full frontal nudity. That odd filming choice is but one when it comes to pace and continuity. The film includes a rather lengthy flashback explaining the backstory which stands out as by the time we get to it late in the film we already know most of the story so it is only exposition.

Two sequels were made, Basket Case 2 (1990) And Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) but I have yet to watch those, only being lucky enough to find this movie for the first time because I recently set myself up with the free streaming provider Tubi to see what gems may be there. This certainly qualifies.

Movie Reviews 406 – Private Parts (1972)

September 14, 2019

If you were looking for a review of the Howard Stern biopic, you’re not going to find that here. The Private Parts we’ll be discussing here are quite different, though equally disturbing. Here, we’ll be indulging in director Paul Bartel’s Private Parts (so to speak). While he will forever be closer associated as the director of low brow classics Eating Raoul and Death Race 2000, Private Parts was Bartel’s first feature and shows some of the blemishes due to inexperience. But the film does entertain if you are looking for the niche it fills. Filmed in and around Manhattan’s seedy 42nd Street at the height of it’s sleez era, this rather tame slasher horror delivers more on eccentricity than any scare or comedy it intended.

Cheryl (Ayn Ruymen), a young runaway living with her best friend Judy in Los Angeles has an argument after being caught peeping on Judy and her boyfriend doing the horizontal. With nowhere else to go she heads to the Big Apple where her aunt Martha (Lucille Benson) owns a dilapidated hotel a stones throw from the dingy Peepshows, Adult magazine shops and other sordid dens of sin. Martha only reluctantly agrees to let Cheryl stay, but makes clear her distaste for any wanton lifestyles.

Cheryl encounters some of the eccentric boarders but takes a particular shine to George (John Ventantonio) a photographer loner, the one person her aunt has warned her to stay away from.

As she settles in to her new digs Cheryl continually hears questions about Alice, a former resident who suddenly disappeared. But it’s her developing womanhood that fills her mind and the enigmatic George becomes a lustfull obsession. Instead of being shocked and outraged when she finds peepholes in her room and shower, she purposely poses for her concealed audience.

An electrified key only discovered when Martha’s pet rat accidentally triggers it opens up a new world to Cheryl, those looking for Alice, and a few other mysterious disappearances. But those are nothing compared to be one big secret shared by Martha and George.

While the performances are nothing to write home about, it’s the sheer weirdness that captivates audiences here. Aunt Martha’s penchant to go to funerals – mostly for people she never knew. George’s inflated sex-doll which he fillls with water and to which he has tacked on a picture of Cheryl’s face which he cuddles to sleep. The old eccentric lady walking the halls and the priest who wears the collar by day but transforms in the sadomasochistic, leather bound homosexual by night.

Produced by Gene Corman, the brother of legendary B-movie producer/director Roger Corman, this film doesn’t get as much exposure as it should. While I can’t say it’s “must see” material no matter which genre peaks your interest, as a historical cult curiosity it is still worth a watch.

 

The Quantum Magician – Derek Künsken (2018)

September 7, 2019

The novels that have made the greatest impact to me are those that bring something new to the table at a conceptual level. Now you would think that when it comes to science fiction, this would be the norm, but actually, it’s rarer than you would think. Sure there are new races, strange and exotic planets, and gadgets by the handful, but presenting an actual novel concept remains rare.

As and example, reading Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep actually tripped me up and forced me to go back after reading a few pages because, for a minute, things did not make sense. And then it clicked. A game changer and all of a sudden I had to read the book from an entirely new perspective. The introduction of the new concept not only adds another layer to the story but forces you and the author to define new boundaries and break old ones.

While quantum computing has been a burgeoning topic in the electronic processing world, especially with the potential consequences to computer security (both pro and con), Derek Künsken’s debut novel The Quantum Magician imparts the notion of quantum states to sentient consciousness. But that is just the backdrop to a rollicking space opera where protagonist Belisarius Arjona, one of the Homo Quantus, leads a ragtag team of misfit recruits on a mercenary mission of galactic proportions. The operation must be performed under the noses of the Puppets, aliens that worship the Numen, the species responsible for multiple evolutionary branches they have created, Homo Quantus being just one of the cavalcade of characters in the novel.

Hired to aid the Union forces in their fight for independence from the Congregate (think evil empire), Bel is tasked to transport a dozen warships discreetly through a wormhole facing overwhelming odds. He recruits former accomplices and acquaintances that include an older, dying friend, a robot who believes he is Saint Matthew, a geneticist, an aquatic being, a mutant Puppet, and a playful natured rebellious female who likes to blow up things. Last but not least is Cassandra, another Homo Quantus who once had close ties to Bel.

This high rik venture also has a myriad of other aliens, complex relationships, trust and betrayal side plots and all based on hard science concepts like entangled particles in a slight-of-wormhole adventure with more than a few surprises along the way. Künsken has compared it to the movie The Sting (a big favorite of mine) wherein the overarching deception in the plot contains many other deceptions within the envelope. A fair enough assessment here but I would add that it includes a blend of assembled characters like The Dirty Dozen or even more that resembling Kelly’s Heroes.

The first of an intended two book series – the follow up The Quantum Garden is about to hit shelves – this can be easily read as a standalone without any cliffhanger leaving you pining for a conclusion.

Movie Reviews 405 – Seven Days in May (1963)

August 29, 2019

These are trying times when the president of the United States makes foreign policy changes on a whim, backs them up with preposterous untruths and delivers them incoherently on social media. More troubling is the evident pandering to a brutal Soviet dictator willing to openly exterminate any democratic challengers, and one who for all intents and purposes manipulated the election that delivered the US presidency via social media manipulation.

But what do you do? There are legal means that are not only available, but that have been used before to remove a president, if not by enacting impeachment, having them leave the post voluntarily before the inevitable (I’m looking at you “Tricky Dicky”!). But impeachment takes time and just like any other legal case require a substantial burden of proof. What happens when such a powerful figure puts the country and the world in actual danger and you don’t have the luxury of time to stop the threat?

Director John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May, based on the best selling novel by Charles W. Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, came at the height of the cold war’s nuclear proliferation and pits a maniacal general with White House ambitions against a president about to sign a controversial disarmament treaty.

With mere days to go before the agreement is in place and believing that the erosion of the country’s nuclear deterrent will be followed by an inevitable Russian invasion, Air Force general Scott (Burt Lancaster) secretly aligns all the brass of the other defence agencies to stage a coup by assassinating the President (Fredric March). One of his aides, Colonel “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas) comes across some bizarre coded messages that appear to be innocent petty betting between Scott and all the other generals on the upcoming Preakness Stakes horse race which he laughs off at first. But when he brings up the betting eyebrows begin to raise and he subsequently learns that a newly created unit, ECOMCON, is non-existent as far as official channels are concerned. While he cannot prove beyond a doubt Scott and the generals plans for an overthrow, he presents his findings to the President and his aide (Martin Balsam) and hope that they believe him.

While I have seen Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, another film political thriller wherein the position of the President is manipulated by foreign influence, this was my first screening of this film, but certainly not my last. Scripted by none other than the brilliant Rod Serling the film wastes little time on such things as gauging who is on one side or the other and whether or not the threat is real. Instead it builds intense suspense on uncovering all the facets of the staging of the coup and how the treat can dealt with, which is hardly a simple matter. The only slightly ineffective plot device (a red herring really) was the inclusion of Scott’s mistress (Ava Gardner) being dragged into the affair. But even that angle, while unconvincing, is masterfully scripted by Serling (or perhaps the novel’s authors). The point of patriotism is front and center, especially by the fact that Casey himself disagrees with the President’s stance on the treaty.

Eerily John F. Kennedy, a fan of Frankenheimer’s Candidate and this novel, accommodated the filming of segments in front of the actual White House, only to be assassinated himself and never lived to see the film. If that weren’t enough, I have this film on a Burt Lancaster box set which includes three other films, one being Executive Action, a film with a plot about carrying out the JFK assassination.

Fantastic film with a stellar cast even beyond those I’ve mentioned. Now I’m not in any way condoning this plot as a means to get rid of a certain clown currently occupying the oval office but at least it’ll take your mind off the sad state of affairs for two hours.

Death by Umbrella – C. Lombardo & J. Kirschner (2016)

August 20, 2019

You’ve heard of Death by a Thousand Cuts? Well how about death by one hundred horror movie weapons?

Almost since the birth of horror movies themselves have script writers and directors strived to provide yet another novel manner in which people can come to a gruesome end. In Death by Umbrella, authors Chris Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner have taken the pains to document one hundred of their favorite weapons of singular destruction in a range of films that run the gamut from the classics to some of the more obscure titles.

Despite a short bibliography, Lombardo and Kirschner are no mere wannabe scribes being the hosts of the Really Awful Movie Podcast, where they weekly dissect and serve up reviews of all manner of weird, shocking or simply outlandish films both old and new. Along the way they tabulated an assortment of tools, machinery, sporting goods, utensils, and gadgets that have been immortalized on celluloid to elicit screams and shudders as cast members bite the dust.

Whether a fairly knowledgeable giallo afficionado or a horror neophyte, readers will delight in either reliving some of our favorite kills such Damien on his tricycle rampage in The Omen, or discover previously unknown fodder like a shape shifting car in Super Hybrid. Did you know about the shish kebab skewering in Happy Birthday to Me? How about Linnea Quigley’s untimely deer antler demise in Silent Night, Deadly Night? They’re all here, and more. Much more as the authors have graciously added a number of honorable mentions in each of the seven chapters used to categorize the book.

Fittingly Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, one of the masters of low budget death dealing himself provides the foreword as the authors provide witty jokes and astute observations and brief synopsis of the films to accompany the blow by blow of the kills. I was especially glad to see some local favorite films that included Homicycle by Ottawa’s very own Brett Kelly (a film that I happen to be an uncredited extra in) and Crawler by Montreal’s Sv Bell. And yes, there are deaths by umbrella. More than one in fact.

I enjoyed the special emphasis on films featuring multiple odd deaths such as the seven deadly sins enacted by Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes while not spoiling some of the more delectable kills in movies such as Audition. I’ve always wanted to see The Town that Dreaded Sundown but more so now that I know there is a trombone-knife kill in it. Reading this tome also raised a few questions such as how did the authors know that strip clubs are not open on Christmas as per their cataloging of the electrified stripper pole in Santa’s Slay? (Research?)

I highly recommend this for all horror fans and to follow up the madness by tuning in on the Really Awful Movie Podcast in which I hope the authors are making yet another list for another book.

 

Movie Reviews 404 – Lifechanger (2018)

August 10, 2019

Lifechanger is one of those movies that begins in an odd way such that you know something is wrong or different and that you’re going to have to figure out what that premise is before the film really gets going. In this case we begin with a woman waking up in bed next to what appears to be her dead twin or a doppelganger. What throws us off is the nonchalant manner in which the woman reacts to the body, basically waking up and just carrying on. But then the narration from the point of view of the woman is that of a man’s voice and we soon learn what’s really going on.

The ‘woman’ has just adopted the body of the dead woman, much like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers manner. The entity is of course a man, one who has been tormented with an affliction in which he must reluctant kill others in order to survive. This affliction which he has lived with for many years necessitates a new body when the current form begins to rot. But the pace of the rot, long ago one in which he could maintain a body for over a year, has now sped up to the point that a new body is needed within days.

You would think that the affliction is the main point of the film but something overshadows even that in the mind of the suffering man. He is obsessed with Julia (Lora Burke), a woman he once loved but who he simply left in the middle of the night long ago as he needed to assimilate a new body. Unable to confront her with the truth he has been stalking her for years and often drops in the bar she frequents nightly. At times he interacts with her, whether as a male or female, but other times he just quietly sits afar only to observe what she is up to. As his transformations become more frequent and the local police begin to close in, he breaks when he sees she has taken a new boyfriend and decides to osmose the new beau Robert (Jack Foley) and finally confess to her.

I found the plot and pacing, while not altogether completely novel, engaging enough. It was both odd and interesting seeing the lead character (so to speak) taking on a parade of different personas externally if not internally. Those included a detective, an unfaithful doctor, and women at different times. But once the gist of where the film was going was determined the plot blemishes became grating at times. For one thing Julia comes off as a bit of floozy necessitated by the plot point of her regular nightly bar visits. While there clearly was an ongoing police investigation the common focal point of the bar and all it’s patrons seemed all too obvious but to the cops. The film adds a few nice touches like a dog that recognizes the man regardless of which body he inhabits and a minor plot device of how drugs can somewhat alleviate the onset of the rot.

So did this movie (to riff on the title) change my life? No. I wouldn’t call it a must see, but fair enough to warrant of view if you can get it.

Which brings me to the full disclosure of how I in fact got this film myself. It was given to me as a freebie from one of the distributors at a convention when I bought a number of other movies from the vendor and started a conversation that included me mentioning this blog. The film was provided with the promise of an unbiased review. I later fretted that I may hate the movie which would have made this difficult to write. A needless worry as I can honestly say that I enjoyed the film and would have not regretted purchasing it.

 

Movie Reviews 403 – Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

August 2, 2019

“Gotta have the leads”

That cryptic phrase is the essence of Glengarry Glen Ross, the film scripted by and based on David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. The ‘leads’ in this case are a coveted list of potential customers for a group of desperate real estate salesmen working in a branch office of a firm that has just cold-heartedly announced the least successful salesman that month will be shown out the door.

With the exception of Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who is on track to win a coveted Cadillac for best salesman that month, all the others in the office are already just barely clinging on when their office manager Williamson (Kevin Spacey) calls a surprise meeting to set the stage for Blake (Alec Baldwin), a hard nosed VP ‘from downtown’ to unleash the news that they have one week ‘get on the board’ with fresh sales. But before the meeting is over Blake taunts the men with a stack of prime new “Glengarry” leads that will only go to ‘closers’. Leads that the men desperately need.

The wretched salesmen include Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), once a high flying pitch man now pitifully recalling former glory days when in reality he can’t even afford the measly hundred dollars he bribes Williamson for a few of the new leads. Moss (Ed Harris) is the one with a chip on his shoulder constantly threatening to jump ship and join a competing firm. The only associate he can even have a non-combative discussion with is George (Alan Arkin) only because George is so low on self esteem and confidence himself most of his words are merely echoing what others say.

It’s all about the leads. The leads the men are handed are obsolete and hopeless, and they know it. Moss tempts George with a late night break-in to snatch the new leads which they can then sell to the competition. Shelley, tries to bribe Williamson for just a few new leads to get some sales back into the game. And while all this is happening, Roma slowly, masterfully works over a barfly (Jonathan Pryce) over drinks to land a sale, right under the noses of all the others.

The stellar cast is only outdone by the intricate, crisp dialogue in Mamet’s script. We have Blake’s expletive laced tirade against the salesforce which includes him bringing out an actual set of brass balls to embolden the men. Roma’s pitch is much more subtle with Pacino rambling nonsensically as he slowly but surely lures his mark. The one common thread spewed by each and every salesman are the litany of lies, deceit, maneuvering, foot-in-the-door tactics they unleash on potential prospects. It is both a delight and eye opening to hear the pitches coming from every conceivable angle for that almighty redeeming sale.

Come morning the men arrive at the office to find out that there has been a break in and, surprise, they leads have been stolen. Did Moss follow through on his plan to con George into breaking in? Did “The Machine” have more than mere luck with a huge overnight sale he flaunts in Willamson’s face? The already high strung office explodes with yet more bickering, threats and distress.

I never get tired of this drama. A jewel just as precious as those sacrosanct leads.