Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Terror Toons


This is a really screwed up film... on many levels. Wow, where does one start? First of all this film looks like it was filmed with a home camcorder, the characters are beyond surrealistic and totally unbelievable, the concept is really weird, and the acting is some of the worst ever caught on celluloid. Anyway, the story is about how Satan discovers the amazing qualities of a popular modern item we all know as a DVD. He creates a monstrous cartoon character (mostly played by a guy in a costume) called Dr. Carnage and his sidekick, a ravenous monkey named Max Assassin, and places them on DVD's and drops one in everyone's mailbox (I guess since AOL always did that, he thought could too). Some weird chick with breasts big enough to be classified as weapons of mass destruction, that also looks 35 years old but acts like a 6 year old, finds one in her mailbox and decides to play it out of childish boredom. Meanwhile, her parents (consisting of an obvious man in drag with a voice like John Wayne) are going out of town for the weekend and put her older sister in charge. Somehow as if planned, the "older" sister looks much much younger than the "younger" sister. Anyway, the older sis invites some friends over, some boys, some liquor, what have you, and has a party. Little sister with boobs so big they have separate zip codes, is watching what looks like a stupid cartoon about a mad doctor and his rabid pet monkey. Suddenly, Dr Carnage and Max Assassin leap from the TV and extract very cartoonish (and strikingly gruesome) ways of killing everyone. All the cartoon cliches are used... safe dropped on the head, sawed in half, spine ripped out, TNT explosives, etc. Live action is mixed with cheap cartoon overlay and computer effects, some of which are truly hilarious and deserve really good drugs. As expected this movie is extremely colorful, being about cartoons and all, but this is as gory as can be expected when a safe falls on your head. In a real cartoon, their head came out flat, they blew on their thumbs and everything pops out into place. But here, when a safe falls on you, you're squashed beyond recognition, your guts are coming out and brain matter is staining the wall. All through the night, everyone gets it in a different way. Monday when "Mom" and Dad return, they find the house a mess and body parts everywhere. The drag queen mom goes into a totally hilarious spastic fit that was so side-splittingly funny that it was almost worth sitting through this cheap piece of crap! And, I serious stretch the word "almost".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Short Films of David Lynch


Before David Lynch made his first full length feature film, the cult classic "Eraserhead", he produced several short films during his early years using different filming styles and techniques. Most of them are only a few minutes long and don't make much sense. Even Lynch himself has a hard time describing them and has only the faintest recollection of what he was thinking at the time and what he was trying to portray. Fortunately, these rare gems that show us how the creative genius that is David Lynch came to be, have been gathered together, dusted off and put together on one DVD. Now if we could only get John Waters to do the same thing with his early short films.

Six Men Getting Sick Six Times:

Filmed in 1967 with a cost of $200. Lynch made his first short film after gazing at a painting on display. A door opened and a stray breeze made the painting move a little. This inspired him to make a "moving painting". He built a sculpture screen 6X8 and animated a surrealistic image of what looks like six figures that move slightly, then puke. This sequence repeats six times and has a (very annoying) looping siren sound track. The final product is about 3-4 minutes long. A gentlemen named H. Barton Wasserman saw this piece of artwork, loved the idea and offered David Lynch $1000 to make one for him. Lynch bought a new camera with half the money and used the other half to film a new piece. He filmed over 100 ft of footage only to find out that there was a problem with the camera and all the footage was ruined and completely unusable. Fortunately, the buyer took pity on Lynch and gave him a little more money and said "Just give me a print". The result was his second short film, The Alphabet.



The Alphabet:

David Lynch was married to a girl named Peggy at the time, who was an exceptional painter and he used her talents to make most of this short film. Lynch got the inspiration for this film one night when Peggy's niece woke up from a nightmare where she was frantically repeating the alphabet. Filmed half live and half animated, letters appear (a capital A even gives birth to a bunch of little lower case a's) and change. A girl (played by Peggy Lynch) writhes around in bloody sheets, reciting the alphabet, blood red flows from her mouth and eyes in an otherwise completely monochromatic atmosphere. The soundtrack is mainly an operatic male singing and wind sounds. Approximately 4 minutes long. Very gothic, very nightmarish.



The Grandmother:

After completing "The Alphabet", David Lynch had been "bitten by the bug" and immediately started putting together another project titled "The Grandmother". The script was very dense and very short, a trait that we soon learned came with most of David Lynch's movie scripts. Lynch was already in the process of making Eraserhead (almost a hobby, taking over five years to complete) for over a year and the money had run out. Lynch applied for a grant from the American Film Institute, not at all expecting to get it. The scripts for both movies were submitted and surprisingly, he got the grant which was eventually used for the shorter of the two films (Eraserhead was over 90 minutes and The Grandmother was only 23 minutes). The Grandmother was finished in 1970 and quickly gained notoriety and very much displayed what was to be known as David Lynch's gothic personal style. It begins with some stop-motion animation using photo cutouts. A man, woman and child are "born" from the earth, the man attacks the child, which is the opening to the film's theme in live action. The story is told through imagery and has probably a total of six words said throughout the entire film. Basically, a young boy that has very neglectful and abusive parents yearns for love and affection. After getting his ass whipped for pissing the bed, the young boy pours dirt on his bed and plants a seed of some kind. He "waters" it daily and grows a disgusting looking plant that "gives birth" to an old lady. She turns out to be a grandmother figure towards the child. All is well, apparently the grandmother has no problem with the kid wetting his bed (we see it colored yellow against a mostly monochromatic background). One day the grandmother starts to "malfunction" and goes flipping out all around the room. The kid goes to his parents for help, but is met with abuse. The grandmother disappears. Next we see the kid strolling through a cemetery and he runs into the grandmother there, they both scream, kid goes home... The End. What does it all mean? I don't even think David Lynch knows for sure.



The Amputee:

Filmed in 1973, The Amputee exists in only two takes on two different types of film tape. The American Film Institute was looking into buying a large quantity of a particular kind of film tape and since there were two major brands being made at the time, both were tested using the same scene to see which looked better. Lynch asked if he could film whatever he wanted and was given permission to do so as long as it was exactly the same scene. With the freedom to do what he wanted, he scripted a scene where a male nurse (played by Lynch) is cleaning and dressing the wounds of a woman who has recently had both of her legs amputated. The woman (played by Catherine Coulson which we all grew to love as "The Log Lady" from Twin Peaks) is busy writing a letter or novel of some kind and pays absolutely no attention to the nurse who is about to puke because oozy crap is flowing out of her wounds. The first take had the better quality, but the second take is much funnier. Much more ooz than in the first one and the actress is clearly on the verge of laughing. Catherine Coulson who plays the amputee, was married to Jack Nance at the time. Jack Nance who played Henry in Eraserhead and Pete Martell on Twin Peaks was married to Coulson when Eraserhead and The Amputee were being filmed. They were reunited several years later when both had major roles on the hit series Twin Peaks.



The Cowboy and the Frenchman:

After Blue Velvet was released, David Lynch took a vacation in Paris. While there, he was approached by an associate about a TV series about how Americans see the French. David originally declined because he didn't really feel that it was something that could be done in what was becoming an ever evolving personal film style of his, which was very artful, abstract and gothic (everything this film wasn't supposed to be). Six different directors were chosen to make a short film that could possibly end up being the pilot to a new TV series. David Lynch went home and did some thinking about the offer and thought that maybe he could make a film with this theme. He should have stuck with his gut instinct, because this film really sucks and is my least favorite of the entire collection. Basically the story goes as such... Four ranch hands are sitting around chewin' "Tabaccee" and out of nowhere, a Frenchman comes staggering out of the forest carrying a suitcase with all the french essentials, such as wine, cheese, snails, perfume etc. Eventually, the group is joined by three women, who only dance around and have no apparent purpose for being there. Also a choir of three other women break in every now and then to sing a single verse and then back to the "story". When David Lynch presented his version of the pilot, he was greeted with the insult "Great, two cliches for the price of one". Needless to say, his version wasn't chosen. Can't say that I blame them, it really was bad and had a theme that I don't think Lynch could lower himself enough to even attempt to make this kind of crap. I think he felt a need for a more artful kind of work and a little more freedom when it came to his artistic integrity. But hey, it was worth a try.



Lumiere:

In the late 90's, Lumiere Brothers Incorporated., a large producer of TV and movie cameras, was doing an experiment with an antique camera. The camera was made of wood and had a crank. This camera was passed around to a few different directors. Each individual director was to produce 55 seconds of footage with the camera. Also there were some restrictions enforced: you could have no more than three takes, and once you got the crank turning, it couldn't be stopped until the film was over. In the short 55 seconds that David Lynch had, we see quick flashes of events such as... cops finding a dead body on the lawn, people crying, fire, and a naked woman in a large aquarium tank. If allowed more time, this film could have had some promise.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me


Shortly after the cancellation of the hit television series known as Twin Peaks, fans still yearned for more. A year after the cancellation of the show, a prequel was made to help tie up some of the loose ends left by the series. Unfortunately, it created more questions than answers. The film didn't do very well, at least not in comparison to the cult phenomenon that emerged from the success of the TV series. It had more than a few strikes against it. A typical David Lynch (who abandoned the show in it's second season, yet returned to film the prequel movie) maneuver was to film as much footage as possible and then piece it all together later on. Over five hours of footage was filmed, yet was cut down to a mere two hours, leaving a tremendous amount of plot holes. Talk is in the air about a re-release of the film with the deleted footage returned. Maybe then, we can make better sense of the movie. Another strike against this film is the absence of all but a small handful of actors that were in the series. Most of them either declined to be in the movie or had other scheduling conflicts. A main character of the show, Donna Hayward, played by Lara Flynn Boyle, cited scheduling conflicts as well, but wide rumor has it that she just didn't want to do the nude scenes to be included in the movie. Therefore, since Donna Hayward was a critical part of the story, the part was recast with Moira Kelly, which confused a lot of people. Being a monster fan of the show, I found the movie quite a work of art and was able to (mostly) understand what was happening. As everyone who's seen the show knows, the story begins with the murder of Prom Queen Laura Palmer. The series builds momentum as the hunt for Laura's killer leads us face to face with the underbelly of the town and about how everyone in Twin Peaks has a secret. The first 17 out of 29 total episodes deals with the Laura Palmer case. The events leading up to Laura's death are slowly but surely revealed. The movie is more or less the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life, verbatim with what was described in the series. Another fault of the movie was that Sheryl Lee was already 25 when she played Laura Palmer who is only supposed to be 17 years old, and when playing out the tawdry secret life she lived, Sheryl Lee could almost pass for 30-something. Another complaint that many people have about the movie was that it was too "in your face", which was a stark contrast to the show where everything was bubbling just under the surface, the allure of everything being so secretive. I never really found this to be a fault though. I mean I loved the secrets of the town and all but this film was supposed to be about Laura's demise, which included drug abuse, prostitution, sexual promiscuity and bondage. So of course it's gonna be tawdry, because that's who Laura was. The audience craved for more information involving Laura Palmer, but when they got it, all they did was bitch about it. I'm positive that this movie could stand alone without having seen the series because that's how I saw it. One night a friend of mine rented it, I'd never seen the show before but was still able to understand what it was about and loved it. Like the show, it was well written and very clever. Granted a few things made more sense after watching the series, but if you don't have an extra 30 hours to watch the series, the movie does just fine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Even though this movie is rather popular and competes with The Exorcist for the coveted title of the scariest movie ever made, it is still a cult classic. It was shot on a shoestring budget and under deplorable conditions. This was Tobe Hooper's first attempt at film making and does a rather good job all things considered. Through this film he became more and more popular and eventually began to get work on much bigger and better projects, such as Poltergeist which became one of Hollywood's greatest successes. The story goes as such... A series of graves in a local cemetery have been robbed and parts of corpses have been used to create gruesome sculptures. A group of friends, including Sally and her younger wheelchair bound brother Franklin, learn of the grave robbing and decide to take a road trip to the cemetery to see if their grandfathers grave has been one of the graves that were violated. Fortunately it was not, but while in town (hardly a town, it's in the middle of nowhere and has maybe three house and a population of ten) they decide to check out their grandfather's house nearby, which is decrepit and hasn't been lived in for some time. Before reaching the house, they pick up the hitchhiker from hell. Some weird greasy guy with a birthmark the size of Rhode Island on his face (probably the result of several generations of inbreeding). He babbles about working at the slaughterhouse and making "head cheese". He then takes a picture of Franklin, burns it and still manages to take a slice of Franklin's arm with a razor before being kicked out of the van. The group stops by a gas station along the way because the tank is empty. The station is out of gas, but at least they have some righteous BBQ. While visiting Gramps old house they notice strange things, like bird bones hanging from strings (very Blair Witch). Kirk and Pam (part of the group and friends of Sally and Franklin, there's also Jerry who is Sally's boyfriend) go down to a nearby watering hole only to find it dried out (much like everything else in Texas during the summer). They hear a generator and follow the sound to a large house close to Gramps old place. Kirk knocks but gets no answer. He enters the house and gets bashed in the head by a giant man wearing a skinned human face as a mask. When Kirk doesn't return Pam goes looking for him. She enters the house, then trips over something and lands in a disgusting room full of bones and feathers. Human skulls and rotting animals hang from strings. Human bones have been used to decorate everything from walls to furniture. Halfway into shock, Pam pukes and tries to run, but she too gets caught by the huge man with the leather face (even though this characters name is never revealed, he ultimately became known simply as Leatherface). Pam is dragged off and hung on a meat hook, she then has the pleasure of watching Leatherface turn her boyfriend into hamburger meat with a chainsaw. Sally's boyfriend Jerry goes looking for Kirk and Pam. He comes across the neighboring house with intentions of asking if anyone had seen his friends around. Jerry finds Pam's body in a freezer and is then greeted with tremendous blow to the head, inflicted again by Leatherface. When dusk arrives and no one is anywhere to be found, Sally and Franklin go looking for them. Out of the woods jumps Leatherface again. This time it's Franklin that gets it (by the way, despite the movie's title, this is the only killing actually performed with a chainsaw. Kirk was dismembered with a chainsaw, but was actually killed by a blow to the head). Sally (a damn good screamer!) runs back to the gas station with Leatherface closing in on her and hysterically lands in the arms of the station manager. The gas station manager (a creepy little BBQ cook) explains that he has no phone and goes outside to have a look. Meanwhile inside the station, Sally sees his BBQ turning over a fire. The meat looks suspiciously like human body parts, arms and legs mostly. The manager returns with a broom and beats the hell out of Sally before dragging her back to the house where he lives with Leatherface and the weirder than weird hitchhiker. Upon arriving home, the cook bitches at the hitchhiker to stay away from that damn graveyard (evidently it was hitchhiker that was making the cemetery sculptures). Poor Sally, who has long since passed out from fright, now awakens into a living nightmare. She comes to, tied to a chair, surrounded by the most disgusting dining room ever conceived. There are lamps made of human bones and skins. Rotting meat is all over the place. And all three cretins that we have been introduced to, are all sitting at the table with her, having their "supper". The more she screams, the more the "family" loves it. Creepier still, Leatherface now has makeup on his leather mask. For real, I'm talking frosty blue eyeshadow and ruby red lipstick. Truly bizarre, sort of as if Hannibal Lecter and Divine had a child. Indeed a very good argument for birth control. Anyway, Sally's screams and pleas for release only feed this "family's" appetite for horrification. We soon learn that there is a fourth member of this family of sub-humanoid cretins... a grandfather that though still alive, looks like he's about 175 years old. After wheeling Grampa to the table, Leatherface cuts Sally's finger and lets Grampa suck on it for a while. Apparently Grampa also worked at the slaughterhouse and was regarded as quite a pro at what he did. Forcing Sally to kneel before a bucket, Grampa is handed a large hammer and tries many times to hit her. He strikes her enough times to bloody her head but not enough to kill her. In the midst of the commotion, the hitchhiker goes for the hammer and Sally manages to struggle free. She runs and bursts her way through a window, plummeting into the early morning light, after a night of pure hell. Hitchhiker runs after her, stabbing her repeatedly until she is completely covered in blood. She makes it to the road where a huge semi runs the hitchhiker over. Unfortunately, Leatherface is still closing in on her. The man driving the semi tries to help, he throws a wrench and smacks Leatherface on the noggin', causing him to land on the ground with his chainsaw gnawing on his leg. Another truck comes by and with all the strength she has left, Sally manages to crawl into the back of the truck and screams for the driver to go go go. The movie ends with Leatherface wildly swinging his chainsaw in the air, showing frustration at having lost his prey. And poor Sally is in the back of the truck, hysterically laughing her way to the nearest funny farm. This film actually has the prestige of being accepted into the official Museum of Modern Art. There is also a plethora of great trivia surrounding the making of this film. To name a few... the meat in the dinner scene was real and rapidly making all the actors sick with it's atrocious stink of decomposition. As Sally runs through the woods in search of help, we see that her clothing is torn and she has bloody cuts all over her. This wasn't faked, she actually ran through the woods and all the bloody cuts were real. When they slice Sally's finger in order to feed Grampa, the fake blood tube in the knife got clogged and rather than fix it, they actually sliced Marilyn Burns (Sally) finger. To keep with the continuity of the film Gunnar Hanson (Leatherface) was not allowed to wash his clothes and therefore began to smell so badly that the other actors would stay as far away from him as possible when not filming. This film was made in August when the heat in Texas is almost unbearable, making strenuous acting difficult and causing the meat on the table to rot much faster and stink much worse. Almost every actor in the film said that if offered another acting job working with director Tobe Hooper, they would most assuredly turn it down. This film, along with Psycho, is loosely based on the actions of serial killer/cannibal/necrophiliac/all around weirdo Ed Gein. This lead to the boasting that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was actually based on a true story, though only about 5% of it was taken from the Ed Gein case. The rest is purely fictional. Regardless, this movie is a masterpiece and is very effective at installing pure terror into it's viewers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Anthropophagus



Yet another "video nasty" filmed in Greece that has been relatively unknown for years (at least in english), until a recent DVD release. There aren't many gore scenes, but when you get to them, they are extremely effective and worth waiting for. The story is for the most part is a psychological thriller dealing with the results of the disintegration of a decent family man into a cannibalistic monster. Generally, the story is this... A young couple are seen on the beach of a Grecian island, the girl goes swimming while the boy starts jammin' with his headphones. The girl comes across what looks like a boat adrift with no occupants. Upon inspection, she lets out a horrendous scream and is attacked by something under the water. Subsequently, her boyfriend has his head split open with a machete by an unknown wet, blood dripping entity. Meanwhile, on a cable car ride, a young girl named Julie (played by Tisa Farrow, Mia Farrows sister, I'm not for certain, but their likenesses are so close that I would bet money on them being identical twins) makes friends with a group of young people touring the Greek Islands. She explains that she babysits a Greek couples blind child during the summer and in return the couple pays for her vacation. She asks if she can tag along since some friends of hers are missing (the young couple that were slaughtered on the beach) and she doesn't have a ride to the island. Since the group's tour will bring them in close proximity of the island in question, they happily agree to help her get to her destination. A woman in the group named Carol is a Tarot card reader and quickly discovers that danger lurks ahead. A pregnant woman named Maggie gets her cards read, only to find that she has all blank cards (no future). carol also predicts that death is imminent if they set foot on this island. They arrive at the island. Maggie sprains her ankle and has to stay on the boat and rest, the others leave to explore the island which seems totally deserted with the exception of a mysterious woman that warns them to go away. Meanwhile, on the boat, poor Maggie pulls a bucket of water from the side of the boat, only to discover that it contains a severed head, she screams and is dragged away by "someone". After finding the island deserted, they inspect Julie's friends house. It also seems deserted, but upon inspecting the cellar, they find the couples daughter Ariette hiding in a wine barrel, stabbing at anything that comes near. She talks of her parents being killed and that she knew where "it" was because "it" smelled of blood. As the others are looking for signs of what happened, the guy watching Ariette is attacked and has a chunk bitten out of his neck by an unknown monster. Upon exploring the island, the group comes across a large house that belonged to a prominent family on the island. Flashback sequence: a man, his wife, and their child are in a lifeboat that has gone adrift. The child has died from exposure and dad begins to see him as dinner. The mother is repulsed by the idea, the father loses it and kills her. We are lead to believe that he eventually ate them both (this is no doubt what the female swimmer in the beginning of the film was screaming about). They find a diary about the incident written by the father's sister who has gone insane because of "what happened" (we are given hints that "what happened" isn't necessarily the boating incident where her brother ate his family). Mystery woman hangs herself from the top staircase of the large house that the group is now taking shelter in, we soon learn that the mystery woman was actually the sister that had written the diary. Julie and Ariette decide to stay at the house while the others go check on Maggie. Julie continues reading the diary and reads how her (the nutty sister) brother became "the beast". Apparently, after having to eat his wife and child he went completely insane and once rescued and returned, he began to kill and cannibalize the entire island. His sister who has now become quite a nut too, has tried to hide her brothers depravity by hiding all the victims (only some are partially eaten, most were drained of blood) in the large house. A reference made in the diary hinted that the bodies were hidden in the foyer of the house. Julie finds a large mirror that seems to be covering a door. She smashes the window and finds a room containing the dead population of the islands occupants. On the search for Maggie, the group discovers that she isn't on the boat. They spread out looking for her. Maggie's boyfriend finds her hiding in a cave and she tells him about the severed head she found in the water. While in the cave, "the beast" descends upon them and pushes Maggie to the ground, reaches up her skirt, rips out her baby and takes a bite out of it (very effectively achieved with a skinned rabbit). After killing most of the group, He (the beast, the man who ate wife and kid and then proceeded to continue with his newly found taste for blood and insanity) chases Julie and Ariette up into the roof. Stupidly thinking that they're safe, he rips through the roof and grabs Ariette by the hair, scalping her and tasting her hairdo. Julie makes it outside and is on the watch for "the beast". Unbeknownst to her, he's hiding in a well that she wanders a little too close too. Instead of pulling her into the well, he uses her to climb out of the well. David (the last surviving member of the group of people who befriended Julie in the beginning) comes out of nowhere and hits "the beast" in the gut with a pic axe. He looks down at his bloody guts, pulls out some organs and starts munching down, looking quite happy until he slowly died of blood loss. The End. Usually when a hard to find movie is released on DVD, one would expect it to have some improvements. Not here. It's a great story, but has some serious flaws. Not because of the story, acting (which actually wasn't that bad) or scenery, but from the sound quality which sucked in multiple forms. First of all, the original language that the movie was filmed in was Greek and in the making, didn't have a great sound quality to begin with. Second, the english dubbing is deplorable, with talking when no mouths are moving, and no dialogue at all when people are obviously having a conversation. I was also disillusioned when I discovered that the optional subtitles don't match a damn thing. The words displayed aren't in the slightest bit associated with what's being said. Oh well, very few movies can boast perfection. This film actually does have a great story line and a relatively original plot. Pretty impressive, with the exception of the audio. By the way, in case you didn't get the title, Anthropophagus is Greek for "human consumption"