Monday, October 25, 2010

31 Days of Curses!

Buddha Man's Halloween Costumes!

More reviews, now featuring BM's costume yays and nays...

Love the naughty nurse! LOVE IT!

Martin  (Laurel Entertainment, 1978) Writer/director George Romero brings his unique vision and social commentary to the vampire mythos with this horror movie. We meet Martin (John Amplas) as he is being sent from the Midwest to live with his aged cousin in Pittsburgh. On the train he attacks a woman in her sleeping compartment with a drugged needle and razor blade, drinking the woman's blood, though it is not clear if he kills her. When Martin steps off the train in Pittsburgh, his cousin, the formidable Tata Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) immediately pronounces Martin "nosferatu" or undead creature. He tells Martin he is well aware of Martin's curse and that he means to stop it. Cuda's granddaughter Christine also lives with them, and she thinks Cuda is crazy because of his suspicions about Martin. However, Martin tells Christine he is 84 years old but that he has no supernatural powers, which he calls magic. The age thing seems impossible but would explain why he and the elderly Cuda are cousins. Christine doesn't believe Martin, but fears he is unstable from listening to Tata Cuda's rants. From there we watch as Martin continues to live the life of a fangless vampire, stalking people and using razor blades to drink their blood. He also takes to calling a radio talk show where he becomes a minor celebrity of the local airwaves, called the Count by the cynical host who doesn't believe anything Martin says but loves the sensationalism for his ratings. It is never clear if Martin really is or isn't a true vampire, but the distinction is kind of moot since he is definitely attacking people and drinking their blood. This is an absorbing movie, mixing real drama of lower middle class life in the 70's with the usual Romero social commentary and the horror aspects. It is low budget and rather deliberately paced, but keeps your attention throughout. Romero directs well, interspersing old fashioned black and white vampire movie scenes that seem to be Martin's fantasies (or are they memories?) at key points along the way, and letting the rest of the movie play out in quiet, almost documentary like fashion. The cast is unknown but decent, including Romero himself as a local priest not hip to the old ways of Tata Cuda, and makeup man Tom Savini as Christine's not very pleasant boyfriend. This was also the first time Romero and Savini worked together behind the scenes as well, and Savini provides some fine if somewhat low key gore effects. If you've enjoyed any of Romero's other movies like Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead, or you don't mind slower paced horror fare, definitely give this one a look!

That's funny! I don't think the dog agrees.

Part of the 2010 Halloween Film Festival

The Devil Within Her  (The Rank Organisation, 1975)  A solid British cast does their damnedest to put this Satanic horror flick over. Joan Collins (TV's Dynasty) plays an ex stripper about to have a baby with her new husband Ralph Bates (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde). We open in the delivery room as the doctor ("guest star" Donald Pleasence -  Halloween '78) has issues getting the baby out, intoning "this one doesn't want to be born!" (which echoes the film's British title I Don't Want to Be Born!) But Dr. Don's persistent and he soon yanks the 12 lb (!) chugger into the world. But there's something strange about the baby...mom and dad are uneasy around him...his visitors find themselves scratched and bleeding when they get too close...things in his room move around, almost as if he was getting out of his crib... Finally Joan confides to best friend Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me) that she fears the baby might be possessed...by the DEVIL! {cue flashback} For some reason, Joan's stripper act consisted of her not getting naked onstage and hanging out with a dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon - a former Oompa Loompa!). Joan had  incredible popularity in her job, because there's nothing a man likes seeing in his strip show better than a clothed stripper cavorting with a little man. Backstage after her last performance due to her recent wedding and "delicate condition", Joan gets in that one scene from all of her 70's pictures where she briefly runs around in underwear with a garter belt and black thigh highs (despite that underwear not featuring in the stripper outfit of the previous scene or the street clothes in the next). Hercules joins her and decides this would be a good time to make a move on ol' Joan, you know, after she's wed and pregnant. Weirdly, she turns him down, prompting a big rage from the little man, who then bellows a curse on her unborn child, which promptly works. Too bad he didn't ask for lots of money, or a few inches in height instead...
    Now the baby gives everybody the heebie-jeebies, including his nanny (Hilary Mason - Dolls), and Gino's sister (Eileen Atkins - Gosford Park), who's also a sister. Nun, that is. And then people start to die; first in what seem to be mysterious accidents, later in full on hunt-and-kill murders involving gardening tools, ropes, and blades. Can anyone get this kid some exorcize?

Joan Collins and Eileen Atkins look over the damage inflicted by
Joan's baby, which Atkins is nun too pleased about. She just hopes
he won't make a habit of it.
Actually, that whole "devil" thing is a tiny bit misleading despite the American title. Because although he invokes Ol' Scratch in his curse - the whole magilla can be blamed on Hercules, as the climax makes very clear. On paper, this seems like it could have been a fairly serious and possibly scary little flick. What ended up on screen is a supremely silly 70's shocker about a baby possessed by a petulant and murderous dwarf. Kudos to every single member of the cast for playing it 100% straight, which makes this flick as watchable as it is. It's crazy goofy, but if all of the actors had been winking and nudging throughout it would have grown completely tiresome rather quickly. It is a good cast too, from the familiar faces of Collins, Bates, Munro and Pleasence (in the movie a good deal for a "guest star") to the lesser lights among the British cast. But it is that quartet who bring this one over the finish line: Collins chews the scenery in her inimitable style; Bates amuses with his weird Italian accent (or is he dubbed?); Munro is gorgeous (of course) and Pleasence lends his usual authority and gets the best and most graphic death scene. Then there's the Baby. He's only shown staring up out of the crib 95% of the time, but the shots are edited well and he does have a (slight) air of menace. Less successful are Joan's visions of the baby turning into Hercules briefly, as the shots of Claydon swaddled in the baby's blankets and leering are pretty damned silly. Thankfully, they never once try to show the baby out of the crib wielding any of the weapons he uses, because that might just have killed me with laughter. Instead, the little tyke's always just offscreen. But you know he's there, a tiny baby swinging a shovel or tying a noose, so it's still pretty funny. So I can't say it's a good movie, but I was thoroughly entertained by it. If it sounds good, maybe you would be too, so give it a look!

Part of the 2010 Halloween Film Festival

The Rats  (20th Century Fox, 2001) Vincent Spano (Over the Edge '79) and Mädchen Amick (TV's Twin Peaks) star in this standard issue "Nature Runs Amok" movie made for TV but on tape in an R rated version with a smidgen of nudity (huzzah!) Amick is Sue, a go-getting junior exec at the swank Garson's department store (think Nordstrom's) in New York City. The store starts to have a small rat problem, so rodent expert and eliminator Jack (Spano) is brought in for consultation. It turns out the store's small rat problem is really the city's big rat problem. It all ties in to a genetic testing lab in midtown, and something in Garson's that drives the rats crazy. But no one wants to listen or believe Sue or Jack, so they, together with Jack's assistant Ty (Shawn Michael Howard - Men of Honor) team up to find a way to stop the rodents before the completely overrun the city.

The very latest in rat hunting sewer wear, by Anne Klein.

Normally it's one picture per picture, but I couldn't resist adding this one.
What's going on in it? Watch The Rats and you'll see.
This one is not bad at all, if you can get past the goofy idea that a low level department store management type like Amick plays would throw in with Spano's character to the point where she joins the boys in her high heels in the sewers and tunnels under the store looking for rats. If you let that go, this is a decent movie, well directed by John Lafia (Child's Play 2). Spano and Amick are personable leads, there's a goodly amount of rat action, and most refreshingly, there are lots and lots of real rats on display supplemented by some CGI as opposed to most movies of this type of late which go the other way. A couple of demerits for having the final solution be carried out in the wrong order for maximum safety but the correct order for maximum climactic thrills; and for dropping the whole subplot about the rats' bites being dangerously infective right about the time the leads start getting bitten. But if you like a good "chew 'em up and spit 'em out" movie, The Rats is a fairly safe bet.


Sands of Oblivion  (Starz Productions, 2007)  We open in 1923 as director Cecil B. DeMille (Dan Castellaneta - Homer J. Simpson himself!) has just wrapped his silent epic The Ten Commandments. For the shoot, DeMille had elaborate sets constructed in the desert area outside Hollywood.  As the movie is wrapped he wants those sets buried forever, which is all actually true, and remains a little mysterious. The movie runs with this idea, and in their version DeMille has filled the sets with real ancient Egyptian artifacts, some possibly obtained in less than honest ways. And it turns out one of the antiquities used as set dressing contains an evil force that is waiting...to kill! So the powerful director has the sets covered in thousands of tons of sand, as the young child of one of his crew members looks on. Eighty years later, that boy has grown into grizzled old guy George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke - and still a solid screen presence here at 82!) spending his remaining time with his grandson Mark (Victor Webster - Surrogates) hunting for those long lost sets. Their hunt intersects a university archeological dig headed by Alice (Morena Baccarin - TV's Firefly) and she and Mark reluctantly team up to continue the quest. They finally find the set pieces, but poor ol' George is dealt a mortal wound moments later, and soon after that a big shaggy Anubis-looking monster is on the loose, killing anyone it can get its claws on. Matters are further complicated by the arrival of Alice's ex Jesse (Adam Baldwin - TV's Chuck and Baccarin's Firefly co-star) who has his own agenda and a fair amount of Screen Weaseldom to bring to the party. And who is that mysterious old British guy (John Aniston - longtime Days of Our Lives villain and father of Jennifer!) who's hanging around?

Anubis? Looks more like Anoldbis to me...
Starting off with that eclectic cast, which also includes Richard Kind (TV's Spin City), this creature feature has a fair amount going for it. There are some solid moments and good sequences, starting with the opening set in 1923. Castellaneta would not be the first person I'd think of when casting the role of Cecil B. DEMille, but a look at pictures of the director in the early 20's show that Castellaneta is actually a good physical choice, and he plays the role seriously and well for his brief time onscreen. When we move to the modern day, we get some George Kennedy, and even though his role is a short one, it's marvelous to see him looking fairly hale and a bit hearty. After Kennedy checks out, the movie shifts into more of a chase flick with sporadic monster attacks which veers from somewhat serious to very tongue in cheek, and the transition is not smooth. Director David Flores also lets his pace lag. There's a fair amount going on throughout the movie, but there's not a lot of verve. The effects are pretty good, with a mostly animatronic beastie whose attacks come sometimes with a bit of whomp 'em, other times with some not bad digital trickery (swarms of locusts, or my fave - wall paintings that come to 2-D life and attack). In the end, this one would squeak by if you're really into monster flicks, or if you were a big Firefly fan, others would probably be well advised to move on.

I have come to the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

And always remember - two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

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