Monday, August 18, 2014

Watch Your Back, Mickey Mouse

Sometimes the universe is just too generous. Sometimes you're browsing the internet with no real hopes of entertaining yourself when you come upon a Facebook post from friends who know you all too well urging you to abandon all duties and focus instead on acquiring a terrible shot-on-video Italian horror movie dubbed into earnest English about a haunted mummy theme park. 

You say to yourself, "sure, that SOUNDS great and all, but how do I know this "mummy theme park" movie is any good?

Then you find out that the title is, plainly and simply, "The Mummy Theme Park."

We live in a golden age. We really do. 

Quick Plot: Somewhere in Egypt, people are dressed in silly sparkly costumes and an earthquake happens. "One Week Later" (yes, there are quotation marks, the true sign of a lack of grammar knowledge/mind-game playing subtitler), a fashion photographer named Daniel and his horrid blond assistant are summoned across the world to document the opening of The Mummy Theme Park.

Yes, I did indeed just say "the opening of The Mummy Theme Park." You see, savvy reader, in addition to this being a movie about a mummy theme park and named so perfectly The Mummy Theme Park, the mummy theme park IN The Mummy Theme Park is called ever so succinctly, The Mummy Theme Park. Not Mummyworld. Not Mummy Studios or Mummy Center or Mummyland or Mummywood. Nope, nothing so misleading. It's just a mummy theme park. Why call it anything else but The Mummy Theme Park?

Obviously, I loved this movie.

I loved it even if it misused quotation marks and had a woman shaving her legs with a disposable razor and no shaving cream. Consider what else this movie has to offer:

- a fashion shoot that feels like a cross between Birdemic's extended model sequence and everything from every '80s movie ever

- every cast member that is Egyptian wearing copious amounts of glitter

- multiple girl fights

- a trying-on-clothes montage

The Mummy Theme Park in The Mummy Theme Park is, as you'd expect, adorably sad yet incredibly awesome. The concession stand features statue dispensers that let you tap a beer that pours out of a pharaoh's bronze beard. Because if there's one thing beer lovers ask for when they go to mummy theme parks, it's to drink a draft poured out of a pharaoh's bronze beard.

Such visual tricks are rather vital for a film that was apparently made without a screenwriter. We can thank Al Passeri for both producing and directing, but nowhere in the credits do we see the name of any man or woman cited as providing the story or script. There is, however, a brave soul who accepted the title of Dialouge Coach. No, I didn't mistype. There was a dialouge coach. 

Maybe that means something else in Egyptian or Italian.

High Point
Aside from EVERYTHING, the real MVP of The Mummy Theme Park is not actually the titular Mummy Theme Park but instead, the one uncredited actress who gets to play a super angry sexy dancer whose 'thing' is to constantly push the other harem girls out of her way and occasionally, smack them in such a manner that they swallow whatever they happen to be holding in their hands. This gal is all right.

Low Point
Really? It's The Mummy Theme Park. I refuse to answer that question

Lessons Learend
Egypt is rather a long way from the U.S.

When utilizing the adorable special effect that is the miniature, try to refrain from having full-sized actors and props anywhere near say, the miniature train set you have constructed if you're expecting your audience to believe it is life-size

Jars of dangerous acid are thankfully labeled 'dangerous acid' in mummy theme parks

The Winning Line
"It's time to put those skeletons back in the closet!”

Naturally, this is spoken when our hero(?) is battling a skeleton. It’s not the line itself that wins, but the conviction and pride with which it is spoken. Considering the film’s lack of a screenwriter or properly spelled dialogue coach, I have to believe that the poor uncredited voice actor dubbing the role was given something of free reign and came up with this triumphant pun with such excitement that I have to award it the victory.

Look, I’m not saying YOU should stop everything and find a copy of The Mummy Theme Park, but you--you know who you are, the one who’s been drooling ever since I revealed the name of the mummy theme park in The Mummy Theme Park was just The Mummy Theme Park--yeah, THAT guy should obviously stop everything and find a copy of The Mummy Theme Park. It’s exactly what you want from a movie called The Mummy Theme Park about a mummy theme park. Nothing less, nothing more. 

The universe is good.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What's the Buzz?

Every now and then, I remember to check out what Turner Classic Movies (better known as TCM) has airing at times when I’m not DVR’ing Jeopardy! or Step Up 3D for the nineteenth time. On one such occasion, I saw the intriguing title The Wasp Woman, written and directed by cult cinema’s official godfather, Roger Corman.   

Quick Plot: Janice Starlin is the founder and spokeswoman for a major cosmetics company that has hit a rough patch. To her investors, the cause is obvious: as the face of the brand, Janice’s fortysomething wrinkles are driving down sales. 

It’s a blow to her ego, but Janice doesn’t take such corporate insult lying down. When a controversial scientist named Eric Zinthrop walks in with a demonstration on the anti-aging effects of wasp jelly, Janice has volunteered herself to be its guinea pig before you can say Avon calling. 

As one might expect from any sci-fi monster movie made in 1959, said wasp jelly doesn’t quite succeed without a few side effects. In an age well before softly lit television commercials featuring happy people bike riding while a pleasant-voiced narrator speed talks through diarrheaconstipationimpotencenumbnesserectionslastinglongerthaneighthoursdrymouthinvoluntarybladderactiondepressionlossofappetiteweightgainandinsomecasesdeath, Janice has no one to blame but her own impatience. Sure, the initial facelift she gets from her first trial helps to instantly gain the confidence back from her board, but then Janice rushes the process before Zinthrop has the chance to warn her that, well, she might just turn into a wasp woman, she does indeed, turn into, a wasp woman.

If Masque of Red Death taught me one thing, it’s that Roger Corman is indeed capable of making an actual good movie. He just typically chose not to because such a goal costs valuable time and money.

Running barely an hour, The Wasp Woman feels like something in between a genuine attempt at filmmaking and a quick cash-in on The Fly. As Janice, Susan Cabot gives a strong, dedicated performance, taking the material perfectly seriously and in the process, creating a real person and unconventional villain. The basic theme of a woman who built a successful career only to have it questioned when her looks start to fade is extremely relevant half a century later, and Corman handles the concept with surprising restraint. For a nice stretch, I was predicting The Wasp Woman to reveal itself a hidden gem of the 1950s.

Then the movie ended.

I mean it: the clock struck one hour and the credits rolled. I guess Corman had another movie to make.

The shame of it is that The Wasp Woman had so much promise. Sure, the actual monster effects vary between being almost unsettling and somewhat laughable, but the underlying politics are prime material. Added to it is a minor subplot involving some of the male employees attempting to undermine Janice, something that could have easily lent itself to some interesting final showdowns. Instead, The Wasp Woman rushes to its conclusion, leaving plenty of potential in its nest.

High Points
Cabot really does give it her all, even when wearing a heavy wasp’s head and big ol’ antenna 

Low Points
Aforementioned race-to-the-finish-line ending

Lessons Learned
Friends don’t let their brilliant, daring, and one-of-a-kind scientists not keeping great records of their illegal research drive irresponsibly

‘Women’ is the excuse every man uses when he can’t find an answer

Just because side effects haven’t been joked about yet doesn’t mean they aren’t a serious danger

For a Corman joint, The Wasp Woman is more than decent. I was disappointed because I wanted more, which is generally a good sign for a film. No, this is no The Thing or Them!, but as a cheap '50s monster movie, the film makes for a fully watchable 60 minutes.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Found Shakeage

Break out your twig effigies and toss that map in the river! We’ve got some Blair Witchin’ en la casa.

Quick Plot: Teen siblings Christian and July Quintanilla like to film themselves investigating paranormal urban legends. This makes their Easter vacation to a secluded country home with their parents, little brother Jose, and lovable pit bull mix the ideal trip for their next installment since the surrounding land includes a maze supposedly haunted by a young spirit named Melinda. 

Naturally, Christian and July do as you do and embark on their cinematic mission to rouse Melinda and capture it on film. When their dog shows up mutilated at the bottom of a well and Jose goes missing, the Quintanillas must face some mysterious force armed only with night vision shaky cam.

Written and directed by Fernando Barreda Luna, 2010’s Atrocious is pretty much a typical found footage entry into the post-Paranormal Activity found footage boom. You get your 50 minutes or so of slightly ominous buildup followed by a chaotic, barely lit climax where all hell breaks loose and we’re left wondering why, when fleeing from a force of true evil, one never thinks to drop the added weight of a video camera.

I’ve come around on my stance on found footage filmmaking with a heavy dose of humility. Where at one point I found the very alliterative words frustrating, I now look at some of this recent generation’s strong output--Megan Is Missing, Skew, Grave Encounters to name a few--and realize that when done right, it’s simply another tool to tell a more immediate story.

The flip side is that when done poorly, the film is generally unwatchable.

Despite its easily usable title, Atrocious is not atrocious. It’s also not great, at least in my estimation. While I’m usually thankful for short running times, Atrocious actually needed more. The final chase is fairly effective, but the ultimate reveal (which I won’t spoil) comes, at least upon first viewing, out of nowhere. Considering the weight of said unrevealed reveal, there’s really no reason why the film’s first act couldn’t have set it up better.

High Points
In a world filled with obnoxious twentysomethings or bratty teens, it’s nice to have two adolescent lead characters who for the most part, seem like perfectly pleasant kids who get along well

Low Points
I understand the style of found footage and the rules it forces upon your camerawork. It probably SHOULD be shaky if your characters/directors of photography. And yet, your characters who are holding FLASHLIGHTS probably should just drop said cameras to better maximize their ‘running from something terrible’ skills. 

My point is, if you insist on being a slave to your format, make sure it makes sense within the scene. PARTICULARLY when the flip side is that it subjects your audience to the effects of motion sickness

Lessons Learned
Wide lens flashlights are great, but apparently, night vision on your 20 pound videocamera held is far superior

If you queue up Atrocious in a dark room and eliminate interruptions for 80 minutes, it may prove to be effective for some viewers. I could appreciate it after the fact, but while watching, I just found myself longing to see the same story told with professional camerawork. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

You Call That a Kangaroo? THIS Is a Kangaroo

It hardly seems like a full decade has passed since the success of a little movie called Saw signaled a change in theatrical horror. After the latter half of the '90s brought us mostly disappointing Scream knockoffs starring pretty WB Network twentysomethings who never met an R they couldn't PG-13, a new generation of filmgoers eagerly welcomed James Wan and Leigh Whannell's more mean-spirited (and far more blood covered) indie hit.

What this meant for the rest of the industry was that uncompromisingly gruesome violence was the new self-aware slasher. Like it or loathe it, the term 'torture porn' became shockingly household, especially after the success of Eli Roth's meta(ish) Hostel.

Filmed in Australia and loosely based on recent events, Greg McLean's Wolf Creek was quickly targeted by critics (the late great Roger Ebert and David Edelstein among them) as the epitome of this new and cruel subgenre. The fact that it had its wide release opening day on Christmas in the U.S. didn't help matters. Whether or not Wolf Creek fits the much debated categorization of torture porn, it's still hard to argue that it was one of the more brutal representatives.

Also, as some would say, one of its best.

Wolf Creek wasn’t a game changer, but the film was well-made enough to catch many a horror fan’s attention. Some eight years later, McLean apparently found some inspiration to pick up where he left off.

Quick Plot: A pair of jerky highway cops pull over a junky truck going decidedly under the speed limit. While their ticket-happy attitudes aren’t that admirable, they don’t quite warrant being shot in the head and/or burned alive.

Ah, the outback.

Mick Taylor is back in action, luring tourists to their extremely painful rape and death. We meet a pair of attractive young German backpackers who seem primed for the next 90 minutes of our time, only to instead (MILD SPOILER) bow out early and make way for Paul, a British university student who sort of resembles a Shia Labeouf with more presumed respect for musical theater.

Essentially, what we have here is Wolf Creek...again. Only this time, there are CGI kangaroos.

In 2005, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek was a refreshing entry into the horror scene. Sure, it stuck to fairly well-explored territory (attractive young people lured to their horrible deaths by an extremely powerful and charismatic sadist) but its execution was sharp enough that the film rose above its (if you want to say it) 'torture porn' brethren. McLean took his time skillfully building up his characters with nearly an hour's worth of seemingly mundane plotting, making it all the more jarring when they found themselves cowering at the hands of the outstandingly terrifying John Jarratt. There were minor twists on the typical slasher formula (the order of deaths, for example, violating what 40 years of genre cinema has standardized) to keep you guessing, along with the beautifully open and mysterious character that was the Australian outback.

I don't know what I wanted from a film called Wolf Creek 2, but I'm pretty sure what McLean made will be, for some, everything they hoped for. Jarratt's back with even more screen time to chew and spit out, this time leaning a little more towards latter day Freddy Krueger spouting wisecracks and puns as he destroys his prey. We are once again treated to some bait 'n switch victims, with plenty of innocent bystanders taking the brunt. Mick Taylor continues his personal war on tourism and reveals, probably to the glee to many, his Martyrs-like underground lair complete with an entire city's worth of tortured souls.

For me, this was far less exciting than it sounds.

McLean is, let it not be argued, good at making movies. He shoots his outback setting with admirable grandeur and terror, and paces his action in a way that feels quick but not rushed. It's just that for me, Wolf Creek 2 was just not a tale that I could invest in. I'd seen it before, just without the CGI kangaroos.

I could probably have gone on living without the CGI kangaroos.

High Points
Much like the first Wolf Creek, this film’s eagerness to keep you guessing about the identity of your final girl keeps the action interesting

Low Points
I normally love John Jarratt and thought his Mick Taylor was something truly special in Wolf Creek, but here, he just feels a little too much of a wisecracking jokester. Sure, he’s still doing terribly violent things to innocent people, but how many corpses laying around an endless dungeon can you pass by before it just feels like overkill?

Lessons Learned
Australian cops are also offended by the term 'pig'

Know your Australian folk songs. Love your Australian folk songs.

First rule of the outback: never ever stop

The second rule of the outback: never go there

If you loved Wolf Creek, there is little reason you won’t find some enjoyment from Wolf Creek 2. If you liked Wolf Creek and were hoping to see something new, well, CGI kangaroos are, I guess, new. The film left me rather cold, but it's hard to argue with McLean's skill behind the camera. I’d much rather see him explore new territory with his next film, but as horror sequels go, one generally expects much worse.

Monday, July 21, 2014

For Meat Lovers Only

I can't remember what made me seek out the Netflix Very Long Wait disc of Frightmare, other than, perhaps, the fact that this somewhat hard to find film WAS a Very Long Wait on Netflix. 

We covet what is just out of reach.

Quick Plot: A black-and-white prologue introduces us to Dorothy and Edmund, a married couple so in love that he fakes insanity to share her asylum sentence after she's caught killing and eating people. 

And you thought your parents were crazy.

Some years later, Edmund's eldest daughter Jackie is a grown woman attempting to care for her half-sister Debbie, a wild 15-year-old who might have inherited her mother (and Jackie's stepmother)'s taste for human flesh. Across the countryside, Edmund and Dorothy have been released to spend their golden years in complete sanity and peace.


Poor put upon Jackie learns the hard way that blended families can be cruel. As her psychologist boyfriend investigates her past, Jackie begins to suspect--pretty rightly--that Dorothy might not have been quite as cured as the hospital administration seemed to think. Using her skills as a tarot card reader, Dorothy begins luring new meals into her secluded home. 

You have to give it to the old broad: you can never be wrong telling someone's fortune if you're pretty certain the reading will end with you eating them.

Directed by Peter Walker, Frightmare is a fun if minor little horror film. As the wickedly murderous clairvoyant carnivore, Sheila Keats makes quite a special villain. Her buggy eyes,  cackling voice, and extreme enthusiasm for, you know, eating people is the kind of thing that makes any movie a little more fun. 

Other than that, Frightmare is fairly uneventful. There’s a nicely timed ambiguous ending, a few good axings, and most notably, an old lady eating people. 

It is quite simple to please me.

High Points
I'm a sucker for any film with an aggressively discordant score, and for that, Frightmare suits me just fine

Low Points
Perhaps I've been watching too much Season 5 of Buffy as of late, but MAN does this 15-year-old brat get under my skin

Lessons Learned
Being in an asylum for 15 years MUST cure you

It takes two to tarot 

Orphanage, convent, it's really all the same

Frightmare isn't necessarily worth its 'Long Wait' status on Netflix, but it was a fun enough little watch that will easily entertain those who enjoy British horror with a sense of humor. If it's in the cards, check it out. Otherwise, Killer's Moon is still streaming...