Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Conquest of the Planet of the Buddha Man!

Golden reviews from a little golden head...

All films are from the 2010 Halloween Film Festival

Isle of the Dead/Bedlam (RKO, 1945/RKO, 1946)  Boris Karloff stars in this double feature for producer Val Lewton(paired up on the same DVD). In Isle he plays General Nikolas Pherides, a ramrod career military man so inflexible he pushes a subordinate into honorable suicide for a minor infraction in the opening scene. In 1912 Greece, Pherides and a few others - including Alan Napier (Alfred on TV's Batman) and Jason Robards, Sr. - make their way to a small island nearby that is mostly a graveyard. They all show up for various reasons, but then all find themselves stuck on the island for the same reason: plague. To make matters worse, Boris's wife's body has disappeared from the crypt, putting the old soldier on edge, and one old woman in the group is working hard to convince the others that one of the other women quarantined with them is really a vorvolakas, a Grecian vampire/werewolf combo. Tension ensues.

Boris checks Ellen Drew for vorvolakasism.
In Bedlam, Boris is Master George Sims, who runs the asylum known, rather coincidentally, as Bedlam. Much more in villainous mode here, Karloff takes a shine to the haughty young Nell Bowen (Anna Lee - Momma Quartermain on TVs General Hospital for decades) and when she spurns his advances, connives to get her committed to his none-too-gentle care in Bedlam, an asylum so dank and teeming with the violent and crazed its name has gone on to become synonymous with calamitous brouhahas ever since.

Boris is delighted to see that Anna Lee threw scissors.
Both films were directed by Mark Robson, a fine director, but they are considered Val Lewton pictures, as the producer really ran his own shows no matter who was calling 'Cut!' behind the camera. As such, they are of course deliberately paced and much more interested in pulling fear from your imagination than showing you awful things. And of these two pictures, only Isle can be considered a fright film, as Bedlam is instead a melodrama with some scary touches. Both are well worth watching, if only for Karloff alone; but where I thought Bedlam was pretty good, I really liked Isle of the Dead. They each run a bit over an hour and feature very familiar faces in the supporting cast (like Skelton Knaggs in Isle and Ian Wolfe in Bedlam) so they are both recommended. Give 'em a try!

The Silent Scream  (American Cinema, 1980)  Here's another one of the scarepics released in the wake of Halloween that I somehow missed seeing for thirty years! I don't know how that could happen, but I don't think it ever played at Toler Cinema, which was about the only theater I could get my parents to drop me off at on a Sunday afternoon in 1980; it never played Showtime in the early-to-mid 80's; and I never managed to find it on VHS, though it was released in that format at some point. And it had a pretty scary trailer that gave away no secrets. Nonetheless, I finally found it! And this one might have some major spoilers, so proceed only if you don't mind that. Scotty (Rebecca Balding - The Boogens) is a college freshman dismayed to find there's no room in the dorms for her. Taking her search for living space to the streets of Los Angeles, she finally finds a spot in the Engels manse, a rather imposing old house on a big hill on the coast. She finds the owner's son Mason more than a little weird, and his mom sure does stick to her room a lot, but the price is right and her new roommates Dori, Jack, and Peter are all pretty cool. But there's someone else in that mansion. Someone unseen. Someone who likes to get out at night. Then one of the roommates is slashed to death on the nearby beach, bringing cops Cameron Mitchell and Avery Schreiber (!) onto the case, but they're not that much help since the murder didn't happen in the house. Can Scotty solve the mystery before she finds "Terror So Sudden There is No Time to Scream?"

They could have been the Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald of the 80's.
Well, the filmmakers tried. They really tried. The movie is fairly well mounted, there's some very nice camerawork, the actors all give credible performances, and there are a couple of creepy moments. But in the end this doesn't hold together all that well. There are stories on the internet that this was shot first in 1977, then extensively reshot in 1979 after major rewrites by Ken and Jim Wheat (Lies, one of the TV Ewok movies, and The Birds II: Land's End), leaving only about 15% of the original shoot in the final film. Maybe that's why the flick feels strangely choppy for a movie that moves pretty slowly. There are also a few too many echoes of Psycho sprinkled throughout, and for a movie trying to present a mystery, too bad there's one performer in the opening credits who is nowhere to be seen for the first hour. I wonder who that unseen killer is? Still, if you don't mind slasher pics that take their time building a single digit body count or you're an 80's horror completist, this is out now on DVD and can be streamed on Netflix. All others need not apply.

Halloween II  (Dimension, 2009)  SPOILERS APLENTY AHEAD! After stating that he would never make a sequel to his "reimagining" of Halloween in 2007, Rob Zombie promptly started work on part 2 after Dimension made it clear they were going to make a sequel with or without him. Apparently he didn't want anyone to come along and make a crappy sequel to his movie. But before that, as a part of trying to ensure there would be no sequel, at the end of the first movie Zombie had his lead actress shoot her tormentor in the forehead with a .357 Magnum while sitting on his chest. Seems like it might be a mite difficult to bounce back from; but Zombie's a clever lad, he's bound to come up with a solid twist to show how Michael Myers survived. (He had to have survived, by the way, because Zombie finds no fright in the supernatural, only in white trash people who scream at each other until one of them hacks the rest up with a large blade. So no zombie/supernatural force/Samhain legends here.)
    Before that, the movie actually starts off on a strong note as a bruised, broken, and bleeding Laurie (Scout Straight Out of Compton again) wanders aimlessly through the streets of Haddonfield Illinois after killing Michael Myers. (Really. She killed him. There's no denying it.) She is soon found by Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif, turning in the finest acting in the film) and is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Ah ha. So it appears that again, despite internet reports to the contrary, Zombie is remaking the original Halloween II. Speaking of Laurie, when she gets to the hospital she looks like a cherry popsicle from all the blood (which is coming from where by this point?) so while they get her cleaned up we pop over to the ambulance carting Michael Myers' body to the morgue. (Because he's dead. Seriously. Large caliber bullet + forehead shielded only by latex mask = dead guy in latex mask) Well, then it's put up or shut up time. What can Zombie do to get Myers up and at 'em? How about...the ambulance hits a cow! (!?!?) And it must be a magical cow, because it splatters the ambulance from hell to breakfast, and then Michael Myers calmly climbs out of the back (where he was lying dead - I've never been less kidding), kills the vaguely surviving ambulance guy and sets right out for the hospital. And this time, he's directed around by a vision of his mom, a white horse, and himself as a kid, (but it's a different actor, not quite so girly looking this time.)
    Shortly after that, Laurie wakes up, finds the hospital empty, then looks down and sees all the bloody bodies on the floor just as Michael comes around the corner. Wow, we're wasting no time with this remake. Where's Mrs. Alves? Mr. Garrett? Dr. Mixter? Nurse Jill? Bud, for cripes sake? Dead on the floor apparently, leaving a lot of running time for a chase around the hospital. Then a half hour into the movie, Zombie completely loses his damn mind and has Laurie wake up from the nightmare she's been having!!! So thirty minutes in, and we find out nothing we have seen so far has been the movie's reality, but instead a whole cloth-never happened-jettison it and lose nothing-why was it even there wasting my time in the first place DREAM SEQUENCE!! While we sit wishing we could have our half hour back, magical cow notwithstanding, the movie now goes ahead and actually begins.

This may not be so much symbolic imagining as a memory of mom's
most popular routine at the strip club. Ewwww!
    It is "Two Years Later." Laurie, portrayed in the first film as an unlikable obnoxious loser has somehow become even worse - now she's an insufferably whiny unlikable obnoxious loser who lives with Sheriff Brackett and his daughter Annie (the lovely Danielle Harris) - who also survived that horrible movie  er, night, two years previously. Annie seems to be pretty much back to normal, but Laurie just sits and whines and cries about how terrible the world is, not just to anyone who'll listen, but to anyone in earshot. Including animals. Her therapist (Margot Kidder - nice to see her) is paid to listen to her, but Annie is pretty sick of hearing it, so she yells back. A lot.
    Between these strident screaming scenes with more F bombs than a Tarantino family reunion, we spend another indefensibly huge chunk of the movie's running time cutting over to Doctor Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, fairly disinterested from the performance we get), who has turned into a celebrity A-hole promoting his new book about Michael Myers, set to be released on Halloween Day. Ah! Halloween! Relevancy! Eventually, and in no particular order: it is revealed that no one has any sympathy for Laurie not because she is beyond annoying (which she is) but because no one thinks Michael Myers is alive, even though his body disappeared from where Laurie left it after she shot him in the face; Michael Myers (healthy and walking around despite being blasted in the forehead by a cannon with NO explanation how he lived, as what we saw earlier was a DREAM) makes his way back to Haddonfield where he walks around without his mask (!) for a long time while listening to mom talk and talk and talk before ruining Halloween for several people, including my old buddy Dan Roebuck and eventually Laurie and her new pals; Annie finds she does not have the same luck twice; Loomis manages to hide a secret from everyone until his book is on the shelf in bookstores, and it's the same secret revealed in the first version of Halloween II; said secret makes everyone flip out when they find out; Loomis just kind of shows up in Haddonfield; and the whole thing climaxes in a really silly looking movie shack in the middle of a field, and features Michael again removing his mask (!) and talking (!!). Wow. What the hell was that all about?
    Don't ask me, I just work here. Apparently, the director's cut I watched is VERY different from the theatrical version for no discernible reason. The theatrical version takes place one year later, which makes more sense - why would Michael skip the intervening Halloween? Was he too busy for an annual rampage? Also, apparently Laurie is more likable (though obviously no better acted as Compton is useless in this role) until the heat turns up in the later reels. But regardless of any of that, this is just not a good movie. You could watch Bambi and it would be a better Halloween movie than this was. There's not a note of John Carpenter's masterful theme music until the end credits, which makes you realize how much you missed it across the previous 120 minutes. There are a lot of kills, and they are fairly graphic and nasty, but so what? This Michael Myers is still just a Terminator in a mask, as he still bursts through walls, and at one point flips a car over with his bare hands! And you may have noticed - I'm a little hung up on the whole thing where Michael Myers was extremely killed in the first movie, but walking around in this one. Well, if you are a filmmaker who makes it clear the supernatural is not a part of the universe you've created, then have a character supernaturally survive a death that you specifically engineered to not be survivable, I'm a'gonna call you on it, loudly and often. And lastly: while I'm glad Mr. and Mrs. Zombie like working together, after the early flashback scenes of Momma Myers visiting Junior (in the dream, natch) Sherri probably should have gone and cashed her check as the white queen thing is just goofy and heavy handed.
    As I said earlier, apparently Zombie didn't want anyone to come along and make a crappy sequel to his movie, so he did it himself.

And with that, I take my leave of you. And always remember: Goldfinger doesn't expect you to talk. He expects you to DIE!

No comments:

Post a Comment