Friday, January 29, 2010


Chavez says US 'weapon' caused Haiti quake

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez Wednesday accused the United States of causing the destruction in Haiti by testing a 'tectonic weapon' to induce the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country last week.

Makes more sense than voodoo or pacts with Satan, I suppose.

Double Review - The Black Cat (1981) and The Cat in the Brain (1991)


The Black Cat (1981) Directed by Lucio Fulci

When Fulci is at his best he creates surreal, artistic, carefully shot horror films that lead us through bizarre events in a string of nightmare logic. His death scenes are some of the most notorious in film history, and are often extended sequences that linger casually over their subjects, daring us to keep staring. Fulci films have a tendency to keep you guessing, simply because it's impossible to predict what will be thrown at you, or when.

Unfortunately, The Black Cat is not Fulci at his best.

The Black Cat meanders on for an hour and a half with only a tiny shred of a plot. As is par for the course with Fulci, the details of the story are somewhat murky. There's a psychic, a reporter/investigator and a female sidekick, as well as a cat murdering people... This was supposedly based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, but I'm pretty sure enormous liberties were taken with the source material. Normally Fulci's visuals and aesthetics make up for the lack of story, but there's nothing here to enjoy. I just couldn't make myself care.

There are certain scenes that show signs of promise, but they all seem to end the same way: with an extreme close-up of a fake cat paw scratching away at someone's face. Speaking of close-ups, I can't count how many times they're used in this film. The extreme close-up eye shot has always been one of Fulci's idiosyncracies, but it's so over-used in this film that it almost becomes a mockery of itself.

Anyone thinking of touching this film without first seeing The Beyond, Zombi, House by the Cemetary, or Fulci's old giallos should stay far away. This one is for the completists only.

3 / 10

Pros: Occasionally a bit of the Fulci style pops up.
Cons: Boring plot, uninteresting characters, bad effects.

The Cat in the Brain (1990) Directed by Lucio Fulci

There's another cat as the villian in this film, but only metaphorically speaking. As the title suggests, this cat resides inside the minid of Lucio Fulci - the director and here, protagonist of his own movie. This film was the last that Fulci made before his death, and it only really makes sense in the context of the rest of his oeuvre.

The film opens with a troubled Lucio writing down a list of details about grisly deaths and murders - if I did this I'd probably be institutionalized, but then, I'm not a horror film director. It's clear that Fulci's distressed though, and we soon find out that he's being haunted by the scenes of his past films and is unable to rid them from his mind. (Sort of like a cat gnawing at his brain, I suppose.)

The concept is interesting at first - is Fulci really calling into question all the gruesome films he's created over the years? It's similar to a question that I (and I'm sure many horror fans) ask sometimes: why do I watch this stuff? Is there any value in it, or is it just trash? As the creator, Fulci's question is a bit deeper - has he produced anything of worth in his life, or is he just a purveyor of filth? Is he even mentally sound, or does it take a madman to conjure up death after death and put them to film? Plagued by hallucinations in which scenes from his films replay themselves in real life, he decides to see a psychiatrist.

This is where things fall apart. The psychiatrist is actually a murderer, and hypontizes Fulci to believe that he is actually the killer of the psycho-doctor's victims. The narrative completely disintigrates halfway through the film, and we're just left to watch Fulci wander around, seeing death after death everywhere he goes while the eerily grinning doctor ambushes and murders innocents in public, in full daylight.

There might be more redeeming value in the film if it was completely original, but at least 75% of the footage is spliced in from other films Fulci directed or produced. By the end, we're watching nothing but death scenes from other films with Lucio's face popping up between them. Any atmosphere that the film manages to produce comes directly from the films that footage was copied from and is destroyed by the editing. It's impossible for there to be any natural flow in this film because it's a patchwork job.

The concept of Fulci calling his career into question is interesting, but it isn't followed through to any conclusions. If Fulci really had doubts about the content of his films, then why on earth did he make this one? This film is easily his most gratuitous, and isn't ashamed to replay deaths over and over just in case you missed them the first (or second, or fourth) time. I can only surmise that Fulci intended to give one final middle finger to the censors who had plagued him throughout his career by pulling a bait and switch with this film. There's no possible way this film could be censored - there would be no film left if it was.

As a stand-alone film, The Cat in the Brain would be baffling. Viewed in the context of Fulci's full body of work, it raises some interesting questions, but fails to answer them. Apparently Fulci was content to end his career just as he began it: as one of exploitation cinema's masters of gore.

4 / 10

Pros: Interesting premise...
Cons: ...that doesn't follow through to any real conclusions.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Switchblade Sisters (1975) Review

Switchblade Sisters (1975) Directed by Jack Hill

The streets are a rough place to grow up, - at least in the world of Switchblade Sisters, as young Maggie finds out when she gets involved with a gang of girls who regularly flaunt the law while getting into scuffles with other gangs. This is exploitation cinema in every sense of the word, and it might have easily been forgotten had Quentin Tarantino not resurrected it in the '90's (into mainstream theaters, nonetheless).

If Switchblade Sisters succeeds, it's because it's willing to go far over the top without a second thought. Girls getting into knife fights? Got 'em. Lesbian prison guards? Why not? Black revolutionaries? Of course, it's the '70's! And we're just getting started. We're also treated to a roller rink shootout, countless gang brawls, gratuitous sex, comic relief that could have been ripped out of a bad high school comedy, and immense amounts of laughably bad dialogue. It exemplifies an astonishing number of the different qualities that make exploitation films what they are, and for this alone it's notable.

As we get to know the girls and guys in the gang, it's obvious that each one of them is some kind of instantly recognizable stereotype. As a result, we don't have to put an ounce of thought into them - that would just detract from our enjoyment of the film. Their names pretty much say it all: Maggie is clearly the "nice girl" who isn't so nice underneath, the sidekick with the eyepatch is named Patch, the fat girl Donut, and so on. There is no character development here, but who cares? These characters are iconic above anything, so much so that Tarantino himself lifted a number of them (including Patch) and threw them into Kill Bill.

Ironically, the film falls flat when it tries to pay attention to the intricacies of its plot or meaningful interactions between its characters. In fact, the "serious" dialogue seems almost absurd. Late in the film when a couple of the girls discuss their revenge on Maggie, they can't seem to break away from the exaggerated portrayals of their characters we see for 95% of the film, and the result is close-up shots of them making ridiculous enraged faces.

Meaningful dialogue or good acting isn't what this is about though. Leave your standards at the door, prepare to be entertained, and try to appreciate this film for all its trashy glory. They don't make 'em like this anymore.


Pros: A great representation of what the exploitation grindhouse films had to offer.
Cons: Occasionally starts to take itself too seriously before lapsing back into ridiculousness.

There are times when the 60's terrify me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Saint Ange (2004) Review

Saint Ange (2004) Directed by Pascal Laugier

Saint Ange (regretfully retitled "House of Voices" for its U.S. release) is the first feature film by director Pascal Laugier, who went on to direct the highly controversial Martyrs.

In Saint Ange, we follow young Anna as she arrives at a recently abandoned orphanage to assist with its cleaning. The only resident that remains is Juliet, a mentally disturbed young woman who was brought to the orphanage years ago, and is now looked after like a daughter by Helenka, another housekeeper. As Anna works at the orphanage, she begins to believe that something sinister happened there in the past, and is confronted with a number of apparently supernatural occurrences.

On a purely technical level, Saint Ange is incredible. If there's ever a film worthy of being called "atmospheric," this is it. Each shot in this movie displays Laugier's craftmanship. The lush greenery of the French countryside is contrasted with the decay and rot of the orphanage, and as Anna descends deeper into the heart of the mysteries of the building (and into the heart of the building itself), the sense of claustrophobia, paranoia, and dread build ever higher. While the sound and score only add to the mood, this movie isn't afraid to let you sit in silence either. All of these things combine in a slow buildup to a conclusion reminicent of a nightmare.

If there's one place that Saint Ange suffers though, it's the plot. In most places, the film is carried by its visuals and mood, but occasionally these aren't enough to support it. The first half of the film drags at times, and at its worst resembles every other haunted house movie you've ever seen - we hear noises in dark hallways, see flickering lights, and so on. It's only when Anna becomes proactive and starts searching for the true history of the orphanage that things get truly disturbing.

It's also interesting to compare this film thematically to Laugier's follow-up Martyrs. Both feature pairs of female characters, one mentally disturbed or insane, the other acting as a caretaker and "investigator" into mysteries that others would prefer stay hidden. Both focus on literal and figurative descents into the secrets behind seemingly ordinary locations, and both involve quests for hidden knowledge that consume the protagonists in the end.

But where the themes and craftsmanship of Martyrs are almost entirely overwhelmed by its excessive brutality and gore, Saint Ange is remarkably restrained. This film has the same creeping dread that's present in Martyrs, but in a way it's almost more effective because we're forced to allow our imagination to scare us. However, this proves to be the downfall of Saint Ange; ultimately we're left with too many unresolved questions. The ending is ambiguous - while we definitely know that something sinister happened in this orphanage, it's hard to nail down exactly what. If Laugier can find a way in his next film to strike a balance between what to show us and what to leave to our imaginations, he could potentially produce a truly great film. His technical skills are clearly developed, and he's shown that he's willing to put enough thought into the themes and ideas behind his films to elevate them beyond mindless scare-fests.

7 / 10

Pros: Incredible artistry that effectively builds dread and concludes in a truly dreamlike ending.
Cons: The story isn't anything new, and leaves a little too much open to interpretation

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Stepfather (2009) Review

The Stepfather (2009) Directed by Nelson McCormick

When David moves in with the family of the woman he's dating, her children begin to suspect that there's something strange about him. He keeps mysterious cabinets locked up in the basement. He's very strict, and quick to use physical force as discipline. He can't seem to keep his stories straight when it comes to his past. Is he just a little weird, or is he a serial killer on the loose?

Actually, it's the latter. We know this because we watch him kill his former family during the opening credits. So after immediately losing any chance at suspense, the directors let the plot slowly unfold exactly as we expect it to over the remaining hour and half.

Michael is a teen spending the summer away from military school, where he was sent for reasons which we never quite learn. He returns home to find his mother dating David, who has moved in mere months after meeting her. Michael immediately hates his new stepfather, of course, and spends his time listening to his headphones and crying or hanging around with his girlfriend, whose wardrobe apparently consists of nothing but bikinis and underwear. The crazy neighborhood cat lady suspects that David is actually a serial killer that she saw on the news, and lo and behold, she's right. It's the wet dream of every sullen teenager - a legitimate reason to hate your stepfather! You can guess where it goes from here.

There is really nothing interesting or redeeming about this film. Every slasher cliche is fulfilled completely and without shame. The killer effortlessly dispatches every minor character who calls his origins into question. The family runs into the attic (?) to escape the crazed killer. If this wasn't enough, we're treated to countless plot holes and gaps in logic. The stepfather keeps the basement meticulously guarded and installs multiple padlocks on the closets where he stores the effects of his victims, yet leaves a corpse in an unlocked deep freezer. Two teens hiding in an upper-story bedroom closet somehow manage to escape to the outdoor pool as the evil stepfather approaches. If there's one thing I hate, it's a movie that assumes I won't be thinking as I watch it. This film gave me no credit as a viewer.

I probably would not have seen this had it not been the only thing playing at the cheap theater that I hadn't seen, and as a result it's going to be a while before I willingly sit through another cookie-cutter PG-13 slasher. Avoid this monotonous piece of trash at all costs.

0 / 10

Pros: Nothing.
Cons: Everything.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Home Movie (2008) Review

Posted this on Netflix, and I thought I'd throw it up here as well.

Home Movie (2008) Directed by Christopher Denham

Home Movie is a clever, tightly plotted horror film that follows the disintegration of a family due to the increasingly psychopathic behavior of their twin children. We follow the family through their home videos, many of which capture the kids doing a myriad of disturbing things.

Initially the parents' ignorance regarding their clearly sociopathic children seemed somewhat artificial, but as the film progresses, we see that they're actually struggling with how to address their problems. The psychologist mother believes that medical treatment and pharmaceuticals are the answer, while the pastor father takes some more unorthodox measures rooted in his faith. As the children become increasingly violent, we realize that the father's persistent and inane babbling is really just an attempt to cover up the fact that his family is falling apart.

Home Movie does exhibit many of the flaws that seem to come along with all "handycam horror" films. Most of the time the camera will cut off after a particularly disturbing instance, but (especially toward the end) you'll be wondering why the parents choose to keep the camera running. The first act also feels a little stilted. Adrian Pastar is a little over-the-top as the fun-loving father, and at times I kind of wanted to stab him myself.

Overall, Home Movie succeeds, not because it resorts to cheap thrills and shocks, but because it's ultimately a film about the secrets we keep within families, and the refusal to acknowledge the fact that every family is, in some way, dysfunctional.


Pros: Keeps the story interesting by focusing on the family drama instead of violence.
Cons: Not quite believable. Adrian Pastar's overacting.