Monthly Archives: October 2010

30 Days of Madness, Day 30: Sugar Hill

Sugar Hill (1974) Written by Tim Kelly. Directed by Paul Maslansky. Starring Marki Bey, Don Pedro Colley.

Marki Bey is Sugar Hill.

Sugar Hill is a decently entertaining blaxploitation zombie flick. Diana Hill’s fiancée is murdered by a business competitor who wants to take over his lucrative Club Haiti. Hill calls on the god Baron Samedi and his army of zombies to help her take revenge on the gangsters. Samedi cries, “Awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!” to his undead minions, former Guinean slaves who rise from their graves to do their master’s bidding. From there it gets all, “Hey Whitie, you and your punk friends killed my man!” Marki Bey is ferociously foxy as Diana “Sugar” Hill, and Don Pedro Colley is delightfully deranged as the Baron Samedi. Here is how the villains bite the dust (spoiler alert, obviously):

Don Pedro Colley is Baron Samedi.

Henchman #1: Death by machetes at the hands of the zombie horde. His body is found first. His head is found later.

Henchman #2: Death by hogs. Thrown into the pen by the zombies, the other white meat eats the other other white meat. Mm-mmm. “I hope they’re into white trash.”

Henchman #3: Death by dagger–by his own hand, but not of his own will. His heart later shows up on his boss’s doorstep.

Henchman #4: Death by razor blade–drawn across the throat of his voodoo doll.

"I said a hip, hop, the hippie to the hippie to the hip hip hop and ya don't stop...."

Henchman #5: Death by snakes. The zombies shut him up in coffin full of snakes. Non-poisonous snakes. Non-poisonous snakes that make rattling sounds without rattles.

Henchman #6: Death by asphyxiation. Choked to death by zombies on a table in a massage parlor.

The boss: Death by… quicksand? Okay….

The boss’s girlfriend: Taken as a prize by Baron Samedi to be his new bride.

My Netflix rating: It’s actually a fairly well-made hour-and-a-half diversion, but 2 stars (out of 5) seems reasonable.

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People

Shakes and Lefty are back, and Shakes doesn’t seem to like the latest movie.

Attack of the Puppet People (1958) Written by George Worthing Yates & Bert I. Gordon. Directed by Gordon. Starring John Agar, John Hoyt, June Kenney.

Bert I. Gordon is notorious for his cheesy sci-fi/fantasy/horror flicks. I’ve already written about him in my review of Empire of the Ants, so I won’t go into much detail here except to say that Attack of the Puppet People is better than the rest of his films that I’ve seen but still not what I would call a good movie. The story (screenplay by George Worthing Yates, who also wrote one of my favorite 1950s sci-fi flicks, Them!) involves John Hoyt as a doll-maker who has some real loneliness issues and has devised a method of shrinking people down to doll-size so he can always have company.

According to the trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, it was “rushed into production by American International and Bert I. Gordon to ride the success of Universal-International’s The Incredible Shrinking Man.” All I can say about that is, I’m not surprised, nor am I surprised that not much has changed in Hollywood in this regard in the past 50 years. Writer Richard Matheson and director Jack Arnold’s adaptation of Matheson’s novel The Shrinking Man is one of the greatest sci-fi films of the 1950s. Attack of the Puppet People is a lame coattail-rider.

I didn’t take as many notes as I usually do on cheesy movies like this, but here are the few I did write down:

–I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had to deal with John Agar this month. Thankfully, here he is nowhere near as annoying as he was in The Mole People (a favorite of mine from Mystery Science Theater 3000). Still, in his first scene he immediately earns my contempt. Something about his face just makes me want to slap it around. (If that’s a latent rip-off of something Elmore Leonard once wrote, I apologize.) How his obnoxiousness lands him a date with the woman whose face he brays into like a jackass in their first scene together is beyond me.

–The woman, incidentally, is June Kenney from the movie Bloodlust, another MST3K favorite.

–Gordon’s two protagonists (Agar and Kenney) go on a date at the drive-in, where they are watching yet another MST3K favorite of mine (and Gordon’s previous film), The Amazing Colossal Man. We get to watch almost an entire scene from that movie. Way to pad out the running time, Gordon. Has anyone ever done such a thing, featured their own previous film in their immediate next film, before or since this? Even Spielberg never sank to such depths of self-promotion.

–Gordon is known for films that use the effect of superimposing one image over another to create the illusion of abnormally-sized creatures. Somehow it works better here, in which he shows shrunken people against a giant world, than it does in his other films where he shows giants. Still not the best special effects in the world, though. The limitations become more prominent toward the end, when the effects shots start to pile up. There are some real perspective problems throughout, but never so obvious as when Agar and Kenney are being chased through the streets by a rat. Unless New York City has rats half the size of automobiles. (Then again, this might be more accurate than I thought….)

My Netflix rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 28: Cat’s Eye

Cat’s Eye (1985) Written by Stephen King. Directed by Lewis Teague. Starring Drew Barrymore.

First aliens, then trolls... no wonder she went a little nuts.

Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (or as I like to call it, Stephen King’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey) is an anthology film containing three very different stories, each linked by a cat who is traveling the country on a quest to find a little girl (played by Drew Barrymore) who is supernaturally calling to him to save her from some unknown danger. It is written by Stephen King and directed by Lewis Teague, who had directed the film adaptation of King’s Cujo two years earlier. As with King’s writings in general, the stories contained here are hit-and-miss. If you pay attention to the opening credits, you’ll see that Alan Silvestri composed the score. How he could produce this awful score–an example of 80s-synth at its worst–as well as the wonderful score to Back to the Future in the same year, is a mystery.

After an opening sequence in which we are introduced to our hero the Cat as he flees a rabid St. Bernard and almost gets run over by a car named Christine (I am not making this up), the Cat rides a ferry to New York City, where he has a vision of Drew Barrymore calling to him from a department store window seconds before getting cat-napped by a large man. This leads us into the first segment, in which James Woods (apparently before he became a decent actor) goes to a company called Quitters Incorporated to help him quit smoking. The company is run by Alan King, who locks Woods in his office and shows him the Cat being tortured by electric shock behind a glass window. This is what will happen to Woods’ wife (played by a sublimely beautiful actress named Mary D’Arcy, who sadly has only a handful of TV roles besides this) and daughter (played by a frumpily disguised Drew Barrymore in her second, less high-profile role in the film) if he doesn’t follow through on quitting cigarettes. King also says they might have his wife raped if he doesn’t comply. (I swear I’m not making this up.)

Our hero the Cat must be a Jack Finney fan.

This whole first segment is an exercise in lunacy. This is what David Fincher’s The Game might look like if it turned out to be one long, bizarre anti-smoking ad–complete with James Rebhorn, too! Without going further into this nonsense, there is an altercation in King’s office that allows the Cat to escape. The Cat hitches a ride in the back of a pickup to Atlantic City, where he has a close call trying to cross a busy road while two men exiting a casino place bets on whether or not he’ll survive. When he makes it across, he is adopted by the man who bet on his survival and won, and who takes him home to his penthouse.

This man, named Cressner, is apparently a wealthy tycoon whose wife is having an affair with Robert Hays. Cressner’s goons (Mike Starr and Charles S. Dutton!) kindnap Hays and bring him back to Cressner’s apartment, where Cressner forces him to play a little “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket”-style game. If Hays can make it all the way around the ledge on the outside of Cressner’s high-rise penthouse without falling, Cressner will give him his wife and a bag full of money. The Cat is merely a bystander through most of what follows, as some pretty good suspense is generated while Hays makes his way around the outside of the high-rise. Another altercation toward the end gives the Cat its escape to continue its quest to find Drew Barrymore. This sequence is a pretty good suspense short, even if it does have a truly terrible special effects shot at the end.

Well, now I know what I'll be dreaming about tonight.

In the third and final story, the Cat has made his way south to Wilmington, NC, where he finally tracks down Drew Barrymore. But just as he finds her, he notices another creature has found her as well. The creature, whom we can hear but only see as a POV-shot, runs into Barrymore’s house past her parents and up into Barrymore’s room, unseen by the family. The Cat gives chase, but cannot find the little POV monster. Barrymore begs her parents to let her keep General, as she names the Cat, but her mother has misgivings, repeating an old folk tale about cats stealing the breath from little girls as they sleep.

(Barrymore’s Mom is also shown reading Pet Sematary before going to sleep at night. I read Pet Sematary. I had to take a break for about a week halfway through that book, because it got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I would see the face of that zombie cat.)

And so Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were inspired to write "The Battle of Barrymore."

To make a long story short, the POV monster turns out to be a troll who hides in the walls of Barrymore’s bedroom and comes out at night to cause her harm. Only Barrymore and the Cat know about it–her parents, of course, think she’s only having nightmares. There is some really good special effects work in this segment, particularly the creature effects used to create the creepy little troll. It comes to a showdown between Troll and Cat, and though it gets a bit silly, it is the most entertaining story of the three. It’s also more rewarding, since by this point the Cat’s quest has become the plot thread you really want to see fulfilled. It ends on a scene that is far more suspenseful than it has any right being.

If I were rating each of these segments separately, I’d have to rate the first segment with 1 star out of 5. It’s awful, and only gets more awful the further it goes. But the second and third segments were both interesting and entertaining, and I’d probably give them each 3 stars. And I also found myself invested in the connecting story of the Cat.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 27: The Washingtonians

 

The Washingtonians (2007) Directed by Peter Medak.

“The Washingtonians” is yet another entry into Mick Garris’s Masters of Horror. As I wrote in my Day 5 review of “The Black Cat,” Masters of Horror ran for two seasons on Showtime from 2005 to 2007–two seasons of 13 episodes each, appropriately–and each of these hour-long episodes was a stand-alone horror mini-movie, helmed by a director known for previous work within the horror genre.

It's understandable that this poster might make you think this could be an interesting movie. It's not.

Apparently director Peter Medak’s claims to the title “Master of Horror” are Species II and The Changeling, neither of which I’ve seen. But if they’re anything close to the quality on display here, then they must be awful. Also, ”The Washingtonians” stars Johnathon Schaech, who also co-wrote the teleplay with Richard Chizmar. These two had previously written (and Schaech had starred in) the straight-to-video classic Road House 2: Last Call. Based on a short story by Bentley Little, the premise of “The Washingtonians” is that George Washington was actually a homicidal cannibal, and thus the entirety of our American history is a lie.

The weirdest thing about “The Washingtonians” is that I had no idea it was supposed to be a comedy until about halfway through. This was supposed to be a comedy, right? I mean, it wasn’t funny or anything, but I get that it was supposed to be. Actually, I’m really not sure if it was supposed to be a comedy or not. I do know that, as a horror film, it was supposed to be scary. At least, I think it was supposed to be scary. Okay, I’m not sure if it was supposed to be scary either. But it was supposed to make me stop and think about things–things like America, and history, and how much I should really trust the government. That is what they were going for, right? (As you can see, I have no idea what they were trying to go for.)

Anyway, what I am positively sure about is that there are a lot of scary things in the world, and “The Washingtonians” was good enough to bring these things to my attention. So here is:

The Washingtonian Guide To Things That Are Scary:

1. Owls. If you want your movie to be scary, just open on an owl. It doesn’t matter what kind, or whether the sound it makes matches the species, as long as it hoots and is an owl.

2. Dark roads. Dark roads are scary, especially at night and especially if there is an owl.

3. Hitch-hiking. Never go hitch-hiking. It’s dangerous. Especially on dark roads at night. And most especially if there is an owl.

4. Hoofbeats. If you’re hitch-hiking at night, and you hear hoofbeats, run, because nothing good comes on horseback in the middle of the night.

5. Ice cream cones. They melt and get all over your face, and then your mom has to clean you up even though you’re ten years old and should be able to wipe your own face by now.

6. Guys talking politics on the radio. Never, ever listen to guys talking politics on the radio. You will lose brain cells.

7. Old houses. Especially old houses bathed in sunlight on a beautiful summer day.

8. Old dudes dressed in Colonel Sanders clothes asleep in rocking chairs. Why would you ever touch one of those?

9. Even scarier, an old dude dressed in Colonel Sanders clothes suddenly being jolted out of slumber because you touched him.

Trick or treat for toothbrushes!

10. A guy with huge teeth getting all up in your grill.

11. Southern accents. They may seem inviting…

12. Lollipops. If a stranger pulls a lollipop out of his pocket and offers it to you, do not accept. Even if it’s his favorite flavor, cherry.

13. Bathrooms. God help you if you have to use one.

14. Basements. Don’t wander into the basement, especially if you’re trying to find the bathroom which you were just told is down the hall.

15. Painted portraits of dead historical figures. They tend to hide in the dark with a swath of light across their eyes, just in case you ever wander down into the basement because you had to use the bathroom and have an extremely bad sense of direction.

16. Forks carved out of the bones of children. I know this one seems counterintuitive, but trust me.

17. Funerals.

18. Old people. Especially in packs. Especially at funerals.

19. Bowties. (“A cravat’s supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why would you want to trust a man whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?” David Mamet knows what’s what.)

20. One-dollar bills. Especially in close-up. You can tell that dead president is hiding something behind his pursed expression.

21. This musical score, and every single scene and image it accompanies.

22. Pale men on horseback.

23. Diners.

24. Waitresses who work at diners.

25. The entire State of Virginia.

26. The sound of a heartbeat. This always means something bad is about to happen. Or, possibly, that you over-exerted yourself and need to take some deep breaths and sit down for awhile.

27. Or it could mean there is an actual heart that has been cut out and is still beating, sitting on your kitchen table.

28. Being asleep. Never fall asleep or something horrible might happen.

29. Being awake. Never wake up or something horrible might happen.

"Arrr-rruff. Mad dog! Heh-heh!"

30. The acting in this movie.

31. Remembering that Johnathon Schaech was once upon a time in That Thing You Do!, and realizing that you might also only ever do one thing worth remembering in your career.

32. Bran flakes. Boxes of bran flakes occasionally come with things other than bran flakes inside. (In fact, as further evidenced in Arachnophobia, pretty much any box of food should be considered suspect at all times.)

33. Historians. They are just a bunch of filthy liars. Fear them. Fear facts. Fear history in all forms.

34. Virginity. It only means you taste better.

35. People doing impressions of Jack Nicholson from The Shining.

36. Dinner parties. Oh, those horrible dinner parties.

37. Ugly art.

38. Wooden teeth. They’re not just to make you look pretty.

39. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”–which is actually a Civil War song, but whatever.

40. People doing impressions of Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men.

41. Chinese stereotypes.

42. George W. Bush. He’s still out there. Somewhere.

43. This entire script.

44. Last, but most especially, George Washington and anyone who likes to dress up like George Washington. Hide your children. These people would like nothing better than to eat their flesh and carve dinner utensils from their bones. You’ve been warned.

My Netflix rating: 1 star (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Directed by Eugène Lourié.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, based on the 1951 short story by Ray Bradbury, was the first post-nuclear monster movie and, alongside Them! of 1954, one of the best. A team of nuclear physicists performing a test with the hydrogen bomb in the Arctic unwittingly release a prehistoric beast locked in the ice for 100 million years. It makes its way down the eastern coast of North America ending up–guess where!–in New York City.

"I want to beeee a paaaart of it...!"

One of the things that always bothers me about mid-century movies like this is how maddeningly rational everyone fancies themselves. “You saw a giant beast? Come now, Doctor, next you’ll be telling me you saw flying saucers!” And I do have one major question: Why do giant creatures in these old movies make it their goal in life to automatically destroy every man-made structure they come across?

This was Eugène Lourié’s first time helming a film amidst a career in art direction, and he shows himself capable. There are a bunch of writers credited on this project, making authorship harder than usual to ascertain. Cast-wise, the only thing I want to be sure and mention is to look out for a young Lee Van Cleef (more than a decade before his starring roles in the iconic spaghetti Westerns For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) as the sharp-shooter at the end.

But The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms isn’t about who wrote it or who starred in it or even who directed it. It’s about Ray Harryhausen and his spectacular stop-motion creature effects. From Mighty Joe Young in 1949 to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad to Jason and the Argonauts (one of my all-time favorites) to One Million Years B.C. (where the spectacle of his visual effects had major competition from a bikini-clad Raquel Welch) to the original Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen’s name has become synonymous with jaw-dropping visual effects. He is truly one of the greatest visual effects artists in cinema history.

The final scene in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms may not make a lick of sense, but it is so cool to look at, I didn’t care.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 25: Empire of the Ants

Empire of the Ants (1977) Written by Jack Turley & Bert I. Gordon. Directed by Gordon.

Oh boy, this was a bad one. Empire of the Ants is supposedly based on the H.G. Wells short story of the same name, though they have nothing in common but uncommon ants. Director Bert I. Gordon apparently holds the distinction of having the most movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. His films include The Food of the Gods (another H.G. Wells story), Earth vs. the Spider, and, featured in one of my personal favorite episodes of MST3K, The Amazing Colossal Man. Here are some of my notes on Empire of the Ants (spoiler alert):

Steve, your damn dog won’t get his head away from my crotch again!

–The film opens with a documentary-style voice-over telling us all kinds of scientific stuff about ants, followed by some kookoo-bananas stuff that sounds vaguely scary. “This is the ant. Treat it with respect.” I endeavor to treat all my ants with respect, and my uncles as well. Thank you!

–Here’s a choice bit from the opening narration: “Pheromones give an order than can not be disobeyed.” Well, that absolves me of an awful lot!

–Did humans ever really just cruise around dumping barrels full of radioactive waste into the ocean? (Yeah, we probably did.)

–I can’t decide which of these the musical score is ripping off more: Jaws or The Twilight Zone.

–The radioactive waste looks a lot like T-1000 in liquid metal form.

–Why would ants go out of their way to the edge of the ocean to splash around in metallic radioactive waste?

–We spend about 15 minutes mingling at some weird beach cocktail reception with characters I don’t like. At least it’s realistic, because it’s just as unbearable as spending 15 minutes mingling with real people at a real cocktail party.

The ants are always watching you!

–Here is the most ridiculous aspect of a movie full of ridiculousness: the ant-vision. There are several shots from the perspective of the mutated ants. It’s like looking through a pile of PVC piping.

–So, this amazing tropical resort they’re at, the beauty of which they keep commenting on? Looks a lot like an Ohio State Park, only with more palm trees and less nice scenery.

–In true monster-movie fashion, when a person sees a giant ant coming toward them, they just stand there and scream.

–The ant noises vacillate between goofy 1950s-era space age effects, cicada sounds, and women screaming. I imagine the cicada bit freaked out many a child who saw this movie and then heard the same noise coming from the trees in his backyard. As for the sound effect of a screaming woman, that gets real confusing, when the ants are attacking a woman and they are the ones screaming like a girl.

–Here’s how I imagine the director got the emotional response he was looking for out of his protagonist Joe: “Alright, you’re looking at the trees, and the trees are covered in ants the size of horses. I want you to look… mildly perplexed.”

–The most hilarious scene in the film: The group is running through the woods. They hear the sound of the ants. They stop to listen to determine where the sound is coming from. The leader looks around a bit, points, and says, “There!”–at the half-dozen giant ants swarming three feet away.

–You don’t have to outrun the ants. You just have to outrun the old couple. (And two more problems here: Why is no one overly concerned about letting the old couple fall behind? And hadn’t anyone working on this movie ever actually seen an ant move? They’re kinda fast.)

–I suddenly realize I am watching a scene I remember from my childhood, one that scared me, when the old folks leave the building they’re hiding in only to find it covered with giant ants. I must have repressed that memory.

If this were Kevin Costner, he might be saying, “My boat.”

–EVERYBODY in this movie is a huge downer. I swear, every character gets a “My life was such crap… and now this is happening!” monologue.

–The visual effects are occasionally believable but frequently terrible.

–I have to say that watching ants fight other ants is awesome. When I was in Belize I witnessed one of the most incredible acts of nature I’d ever seen. If you can imagine an aerial view of an entire battlefield, it was like that–I was looking down upon a battlefield, maybe three feet by two, upon which were at least three different species of ant and two species of wasp, all locked in an epic battle. Ants fighting ants, wasp-dive-bombers… it was like witnessing the Battle of Five Armies complete with the Great Eagles of the northern mountains! (I’m a nerd.)

–Just when you thought it was as bad as it could get, you find that ants have systematically enslaved humanity in the nearby town. They’d been doing it for weeks. How they did this when they only came into contact with the toxic waste the previous day? Well, I guess those are some bad-ass time-travelling ants.

My Netflix rating: 2 stars (out of 5) for the cheesy fun of it.

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) Written by Charles Beaumont & R. Wright Campbell. Directed by Roger Corman. Starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston.

The personification of the Red Death is one of the story's most interesting elements.

The Masque of the Red Death is adapted from the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, with elements of another of Poe’s short stories, “Hop-Frog,” included as a subplot, starring Vincent Price as Prospero. This is my second film this month adapted from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, and though surprisingly well-directed in a classic 1960s style by Roger Corman, Masque falls far short of the quality of Stuart Gordon’s “The Black Cat.” (Interestingly, this is also the second film from this month’s viewings, after The Phantom of the Opera, to draw inspiration from Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”)

The art direction and cinematography deliver designs and color schemes very pleasing to the eye–with “much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm,” as Poe himself wrote, and “much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might [excite] disgust.” In this way, the film captures the spirit of Poe’s vision. The script is well-written with plenty of memorable dialogue, and the cast, led by Price, is well to the task.

My issues with the film are largely with its supernatural embellishments upon the original story. In the film, Prospero is depicted as a satanist, and the plot elements involving satanism tend to become tiresome in places. Furthermore, the overly theatrical ending does not begin to rival the horrific impact of the climax of Poe’s original short story.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

30 Days of Madness, Day 23: Fido

Fido (2006) Written by Robert Chomiak, Andrew Currie & Dennis Heaton. Directed by Andrew Currie. Starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, Dylan Baker, K’Sun Ray, Henry Czerny, Tim Blake Nelson.

Dad likes a good funeral, as long as there is a separate head coffin.

Fido sort of picks up where Shaun of the Dead left things, with zombies being assimilated back into society as manual laborers–if Shaun of the Dead had ended in 1950s American suburbia. This film mixes two of my favorite things: it’s a zombie flick with a 1950s retro-aesthetic. And I love that the film opens with a schoolroom full of kids being shown a black-and-white educational short film reel about the “zombie war” and its causes and effects. It’s a clever way to bring the audience up to speed and set up the premise–a world where zombies are an part of everyday life.

Timmy’s father wants nothing to do with him and his mother gives him only the pretense of attention–she’s actually more worried about how his being bullied or his response to his father’s neglect affects the neighbors’ perception of her than about his feelings. Timmy also has a lot of questions about zombies that most seem afraid or embarrassed about. So when mom buys their first zombie, Timmy soon goes from seeing it as a thing to liking it as a pet to developing something closer to a human relationship with it. (It soon becomes clear that naming the kid “Timmy” is a Lassie reference.) Even Mom starts taking an interest.

I have to say that Carrie-Anne Moss is positively smoldering in this film.

Carrie-Ann Moss, Dylan Baker, Henry Czerny, and Tim Blake Nelson are all great in their roles as typical 1950s adults dealing with the usual 1950s issues of status, public intimacy, repressed emotions, corporate loyalty, and zombiphobia. And of course, there is Billy Connolly, walking (or maybe shuffling) the fine line between zombie and human.

My only quibbles with Fido are that the climactic scene at Zomcon headquarters needed to be more thought out–perhaps they were cramming to keep it close to a 90-minute running time–and that the child actors tend to be distracting, either not well-cast or not well-directed. Other than that, it’s a great movie and goes immediately into my zombie movie canon.

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 22: The Last House on the Left

The Last House on the Left (1972) Written & directed by Wes Craven.

Part of the film's notorious marketing campaign.

I was expecting The Last House on the Left to be difficult to watch based on what I knew of its subject matter (rape, torture, murder) and the bits and pieces I had seen years ago. I wasn’t expecting it to be difficult to watch because it’s a poorly made piece of garbage. Here are some of my notes on the film:

–The title, The Last House on the Left, doesn’t really have anything to do with the movie.

–Music: awful. This includes the killers’ upbeat folk-rock theme song that actually features lyrics about taking some girls into the woods and torturing and killing them. This also includes the tender ballad playing during the most graphic of the multiple rape scenes.

–Bad acting all around. I’m talking, like, get-your-friends-to-act-in-your-movie bad.

–No girl with a half-functioning brain stem would be running along the road while being chased by killers and then decide to run deeper into the woods, especially when she knows how close she is to the house where there might be people.

–The police are totally incompetent–cartoonishly incompetent. This incompetent police duo is actually played as the comic relief at the same time that the rape and torture scenes are being intercut.

–In the scene where the girl’s parents find her, she is still moving around and looking at them. One literal second after this, the father pronounces that she is dead and there is nothing they can do. Are you freaking kidding me?

–This is one of the most amateurish, juvenile-fantasy horror films I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I actually have liked other films from the same director. How did Wes Craven come from this?

–The end of the film, when the parents take revenge on the killers, made me think, “This is what would probably happen if Kevin McCallister ever found his teenage daughter raped and murdered and then conveniently had the perpetrators staying in his house.”

After reading the trivia for this film on the Internet Movie Database, I was not surprised to read that the actors who played the killers improvised a lot of their dialogue. (I would not be surprised to learn that this film did not, in fact, have any script at all, between the horrendous dialogue and the way 20 minutes of plot are dragged out over an 84-minute running time.) I was surprised to find that one of the actors considers this film the worst he’s ever done. I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t just previously discovered he went on to direct and/or star in some 300+ porn flicks.

I really am very surprised by just how bad a movie this was. I hear so much praise for it in horror circles. I would not be surprised to find that the 2009 remake was the better film.

My Netflix rating: 1 star (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 21: Ringu

Ringu (1998) Screenplay by Hiroshi Takahashi. Directed by Hideo Nakata. Starring Katsumi Muramatsu, Hiroyuki Sanada.

Ringu is a fine horror flick, but I think I actually like the American version better.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

[Editor's note: Yeah, so I realize now that I never went back and finished this article. Doing this every day for 30 days straight, there are going to be some neglectful moments like this. Perhaps I'll revisit this in the future.]