Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pieces (1982)

Title: Pieces (1982)

Director: Juan Piquer Simon


Spanish horror director Juan Piquer Simon (J.P. Simon) is one of the worst directors who ever got behind a camera...ever! The guys films are some of the worst films you will ever see in your entire life. This is the guy who directed the extremely laughable “H.P. Lovecraft inspired” film Cuthulhu Mansion (1992). Which by the way has virtually nothing to do with Lovecraft or any of his stories. I always mention Cuthulhu Mansion whenever anybody asks me about some of the worst motion pictures ever made because there's no doubt Cuthulhu Mansion is one of them. It's the kind of bad film you watch and can’t believe how bad it is. Which is why I thought Pieces was so surprising; its a 1982 slasher film also directed by Juan Piquer Simon, only thing is that its a gazillion times better then anything he did after it.

The story is about a young kid who is caught by his mom doing a pornographic jigsaw puzzle. That’s right, the kid wasnt piecing together a puzzle that had cute little cuddly animals on it; nope, the kid was doing a jigsaw puzzle with   a smoking hot naked babe on it! I guess, the kids hormones kicked in a bit early or something. So anyhows, the mom goes ballistic and starts searching for more porn in the kids room and orders him to get a plastic bag so she can collect all the porn and burn it. The kid does as he is told, but he doesn’t come back with a plastic bag…he returns with an axe! Then proceeds to smash the axe into his mothers head! Fast forward a bunch of years and we don’t know who this kid has turned out to be, but we do know that he is still killing! He has chosen, for whatever the reason,  to kill college kids left and right! Will the cops ever figure out who he is so they can stop him? Or will he continue his murderous killing spree across the college campus?

So the thing about this film is that it feels like an Italian horror film, even though it isn’t. Main thing that gives it its Italian Horror film feel is the fact that the whole film is dubbed. In reality, this movie doesn’t come to us from Italy, but from Spain, from Spanish director J.P. Simon. It also feels like an Italian flick because it stars  Christopher George who appears in Lucio Fulci's zombie masterpiece, City of the Living Dead (1980). On this film he plays a cigar chomping detective (doesnt he always play that type of character?) hot on the lead of the psychotic killer. And of course, the film does have an ample gore quotient as well as plenty of nudity. Practically every single victim the killer slays ends up getting naked at some point! Movie is sleazy that way. As you can see, the film has all the right elements to be confused with an Italian horror film.

Coolest thing about this movie is its gore. It really does have some gruesome vistas in store for you. The killers favorite way of killing people is with a chainsaw, hence the films tag line “you don’t need to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre”. So you will be seeing people getting their heads chopped off, people getting chopped in half. He also enjoys using a shiny kitchen knife which kind of gave the film in certains areas a Dario Argento feel. It also reminded me of an Argento flick in the sense that we don’t know who the killer is for most of the film. What we see is his silhouette, his shadow, his hands. Not until the very end is that we find out who he is. So the film really plays out like a ‘who done it’ for most of its running time.

Problem for me was that you never really get to know any of the people the killer slays. So basically you never feel anything for anyone that gets slayed. What you do get is an extremely gory death, non of the usual get to know you chit chat. This directors modus operandi was Slash ‘em and Leave ‘em. Who cares who they were? We just want you to see a gruesome death! Finally, one more real reason why this film feels like an Italian Horror movie? The ending, the last few frames of the film make no sense at all! This movies last seconds remind me of the ending for Lucio Fulci’s House by the Cemetary (1981), or The Prowler (1981), where you go “what the hell just happened?” But by then, the movie has slammed its door on your face and the credits are already rolling.

So in essence, this film feels like an Italian horror film but isn’t. It’s got elements from both Fulci (the gore and the nonsensical ending) and Argento (the unseen killer). It’s got all the gore you would see in an Italian horror film from the 70s but was actually a slasher film from the 80s! Its got nudity up its nose paying homage to American slasher films like the Friday the 13th films which are famous for doing this. Actually,  at one point a character has a Friday the 13th poster up on their wall. Another thing, its musical score feels like something John Carpenter could have cooked up with his band The Coupe DeVilles. It’s a film that’s a spawn and a mix of both American and Italian horror, but it was made in Spain. Somehow, all this mish mash of influences makes for one of the most gruesome slashers from the 80’s. Pieces wont change your out look on life, but it will entertain you with some gruesome deaths for an hour and a half.

Rating: 3 out of 5

PiecesFriday The 13thHouse by the CemeteryThe ProwlerCity of the Living Dead

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Title: Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Director: Quentin Tarantino


Every Tarantino movie is a special treat for me. His films dont come out every year, he takes his damn good time to start working on a new project, but more often then not, that 'in between film time' is well worth the wait. Tarantino films are films for people who really enjoy a good movie. He really takes that extra time and effort to set up a sequence, to write the pitch perfect dialog, to escalate the suspense in a sequence to brilliant heights. Inglorious Basterds was a project which he had been wanting to do for some time now, and its finally come to fruition. Its based on an Italian film made in 1978 dealing with similar subject matter (Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato a.k.a. Deadly Mission) but ultimately, Tarantino's film is a whole other thing. So whats the veredict for his latest nazi hating opus?

Story concerns a group of dudes known as "The Basterds" who go around doing nothing more then killing Nazi soldiers. This is one part of the story, where we follow these guys capturing, questioning, torturing and finally killing nazis all around France. But theres another story in which we follow a woman whos whole family was killed by Nazi scumbags. She escapes, tries to live a normal life...until the moment for her pitch perfect revenge practically falls on her lap. Both stories collide in the third act of the film to offer us one glorious revenge filled moment of triumph!

So basically, it appears as if Tarantino had to blow off his hatred for Nazi's. It happens to directors every now and again, hell, it happens to anybody every time they read the history books. Cant say I blame 'em. Hitler and his pack of dogs were some of the slimiest group of people to ever walk the face of the planet. Who the hell were they to say they were the best, and the only ones deserving to walk on this planet? I say, to hell with those Nazi bastards, and lets all make sure nothing like that ever happens again in history! Ever! Steven Spielberg released his hatred for the Nazi party when he made Schindlers List back in 1993, hell, the Nazi's were the villains in two of the four Indiana Jones films. Many more films have shown their hatred towards the Nazi's: The Pianist, Life is Beautiful, Sophies Choice, to name but a few. So now its Tarantino's turn to spew some intense hatred towards them.

Most films dealing with history try to be as historically accurate as possible. They gotta stick to the way things happened. Heres were Tarantinos Inglorious Basterds takes a bit of a turn from your usual Nazi film. Basically what Tarantino did was he developed this story around people who are suffering over the Nazi's occupation of France. But he takes the story his own way and shows us how he would have wanted to get Hitler and his closest buddies all in the same room at the same time to wipe them off the face of the earth. Im not going to go into details as to how he does this, but its one of the coolest revenge stories Ive seen. The last moments of this film are truly awesome, makes you wish it had really happened that way. But it didnt, so dont expect this movie to stick to history and the way things happened cause thats not what your going to see. This is a "what if" sort of story.

This movie is 100% a Tarantino film. How do we know this? Well, for starters, its a revenge story. We all know how much Tarantino loves those! One of its main characters is a woman, which goes right in line with most of Tarantino's films, which most of the time end up giving women the power to overcome their troubles on their own. See both Kill Bill films, Jackie Brown and Deathproof for examples of this. The film is divided into chapters, which is a very common Tarantino landmark. We have a scene where everybody in the room just whips out their gun and shoots the hell out of each other, which is something we've seen in many a Tarantino film, even as far back as his True Romance days. So be ready for a film thats purely and undoubtedly a Quentin Tarantino film.

Another thing that distinguishes a Tarantino film from all others is the excellent choice in actors. Many might view Brad Pitt as nothing more then a pretty face, but I beg to differ. Ive always thought he was one of the finest actors from his generation. Sure, he's just as guilty as the next hollywood actor for making crap (Mr. and Mrs. Smith for example) but you need only to look through his resume to see some excellent performances. My favorite of the bunch is Early Grayce in Dominic Sena's Kalifornia. Where Pitt plays this hill billy white thrash whacko with some serious psychological issues. Highly recommend you check that movie out if you doubt Pitts acting skills. Other films Id recommend as examples of Pitts excellent acting skills are 12 Monkeys, Seven, and now I'll add Inglorious Basterds to his list of excellent performances. Here he plays Lieutenant Aldo Raine, a guy who wants nothing more then to kill Nazi Basterds and collect their scalps! He plays that country boy accent from Tenesse very well! His character is the one responsible for some of the more comedic moments in the film.

What actor doesnt want to jump at the opportunity to be in a Tarantino movie? We get an excellent cast here of great actors that you've probably never seen or heard of before, but probably will see and hear a lot of from now on because they were in this film. Example: Christoph Waltz the actor who plays the most hateful of the Nazis in this film (Col. Hans Landa) is already lined up to star in next summers comic book flick The Green Hornet. But I have to say, he deserves his upcoming success, on this film he plays a truly hateful Nazi commander! The kind of Nazi that will question you and question you and question you until he finally discovers you are hiding something, or being unfaithful to the Fuhrer and then he will make you pay for it! Great character! Very versatile, Waltz character demanded that he speak four languages! French, Italian, English and German! A memorable villain played by a very experienced actor, he has not made many American films, but you should see all the movies this actor has made all over the world! Same thing with the beautiful Melanie Laurent, who has an impressive resume of French films, but had never made an American one. She plays the rebel who got away, the vengeful woman in Tarantinos Nazi universe. We also get a great supporting cast, among them Eli Roth (director of Hostel I and II and Cabin Fever testing his acting chops) playing the "Bear Jew", a member of the Basterds who is famous for smashing Nazi skulls with a baseball bat! We get Mike Myers playing a cameo as an American col. Though I have to admit, I found Mike Myers role to be very unnecesary. His performances is a simple cameo, nothing truly relevant. Or maybe I just couldnt get past the fact that its Dr. Evil trying to play a "dramatic role".

But aside from the excellent actors and production values, this film portrays once again Tarantinos ability to whip up some great dialog and suspense. The dialog on this film is plentiful (something Tarantino is very well known for as well) but its not your usal "Tarantino Bullshit". Often times in Tarantino movies characters will start talking about the most mundane things, and go on and on about them for minutes on end. On example of this is in Reservoir Dogs when the characters start talking about the true meaning behind Maddonas "Like a Virgin" or in Pulp Fiction when Vincent talks about what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France. In Inglorious Basterds characters do have extended conversations, but to my surprise, they were all pertinent to the story. The lengthy dialog simply served the purpose of enhancing the supense or the drama in the scenes which I thought was a step up for Tarantino. Everything the characters said needed to be said and only enhanced the story as if the dialog though plentiful was distilled of any unnecesary words. Speaking of suspense, there are many scenes which start out ever so slowly, and before you know it they build up to a great climax. These Nazi bastards can really get to you even in film, when you know they arent real. Tarantino really constructed some fearful Nazi soldiers, characters that act and think like cold robots without any feelings or sympathy.

Do not expect a film that sticks to historically acquarate facts. This film takes place on its own Tarantino Nazi Universe, things dont happen the way they did. But youll wish they happened the way Tarantino portrays them on this picture. The film is very violent and graphic at times, be ready for just the right amount of gore and graphic mayhem. But you can also expect lots of comedy, some of the situations end up being quite funny, like the moment in which Pitt is trying to pass himself as an Italian film crew so he could get close to Hitler, and one of the Nazi officers starts questioning his Italian accent and he tries his best to speak Italian, though its obvious his Italian doesnt go any further then saying "arrivederci!" Hilarious.

All in all, a great Tarantino film. Well worth all the wait. Highly recommend you check it out at the theater. Its the kind of movie thats made for people who truly appreciate a good film. Great script, great performances, fun times. Tarantino's still got it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Monday, September 28, 2009

Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (1990)

Title: Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (1990)

Director: Glen Takajian


Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor is the unofficial sequel to the obscure low budget 80's gore fest known as The Deadly Spawn. The Deadly Spawn was an extremely low budget indie horror film that was made by a bunch of very talented creative people who one day decided to get together and do a horror movie on their own; with their friends and collegues as actors. They shot the film with their own money, during the weekends. Basically, The Deadly Spawn is what happens when a bunch of sci-fi/horror fans get together to do a  film about what they love, monsters! To its credit, I will say that even though The Deadly Spawn was a low budget affair, and technically it does have its faults, it’s a very creative film, and I applaud those guys for having made such a cool little film with so little. Ted A. Bohus was the producer of that project, which I consider a gem of indie horror, I mean, this film is indy horror in the truest sense. After their first film venture (which surfaced on VHS during the 80s) they decided to try and do the sequel. Thing is that even though this "sequel" plays with the same premise of aliens coming down to earth to munch on humans,  this second film is completely unrelated to the first one story wise. Ted A. Bohus originally intended to do a straight sequel, but ended up doing this slightly more ambitious (but still well within b-movie territory) sequel. It was made with a bit more money then their first film. What was the result?

Premise for the movie is this: the government has gotten hold of some alien DNA so they hand it over to a private scientific research organization known as TALOS to experiment with. They want to see what kind of mutations can come out of it. Unfortunately for them, the alien DNA has its own agenda and so the creatures are set loose on the scientific compound, eating everything and everyone that stands in their way! Its up to the daughters of one of the compounds security guards (yup, we got the daughters of the security guards as the heroes of the film!) to stop the aliens from escaping the compound.

The good news is that this movie entertains, its never boring. One of the differences this film has from The Deadly Spawn is that they had a bit more money to play with. Not a whole lot mind you, but certainly more then they ever had on the first one, which translates to more creature effects, something that is really evident right from the get go on this film. As soon as the movie starts we are introduced to gore and mayhem. Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor immediately lets you know what kind of movie you are going to be watching! In the first five minutes, the aliens kill a security guard! Pretty soon we learn the results from all that DNA experimentation. Keyword is gruesome. We get creatures with weird eyes, skin color, teeth, just strange bizarre stuff. My only real problem with this movie was that even though they obviously had slightly better production values, the big monster in the film, the big bad alien, the baddest mother of all is not better  then the creature from the first film. The creature in the first film felt more alive and real for some reason.

The main creature in Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor, is supposed to be this hulking mass of teeth and tentacles, yet somehow I couldn’t get past the notion that it was a miniature, something that never happened to me on the first film. On this film they decided to go with a mix of miniatures and stop motion animation, which though fun to watch, didn’t exactly top the first film in my opinion. Stop motino animation is cool, but I prefer when they use animatronics, puppets are always cooler, they feel more real. I didn’t hate the creature on this film, I was just more impressed by the creature from the first one. Problem for me was that the creature on this show seemed too static. Its movement were kind of limited, stiff. But whatever, I was digging this B-movie creature none the less.

Now, speaking of this movies influences, theres no doubt in my mind that film is a son of  John Carpenter's The Thing. The director of Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (Gren Takajian) apparently worships Carpenter's film because there are many moments reminiscent of Carpenter's classic. There are moments when the creatures have that organic feel to them. You know, slimy things pulsating and breathing and evolving. Mutating. Peeling skin off, growing tentacles. That sort of feel and look that was so evident in The Thing. Inspite of the fact that I didnt like the main monster in this movie more then the one on the first, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the rest of the effects work on this film. Most of the film is spent seeing this one scientist slowly evolve into the gigantic monster, and to me these are the scenes in which the film succeeded the most, the transformation sequences. We see the scientist in various stages of mutation as the movie progresses. It reminded me of just how many of these 80's monster movies simply focused on a transformation, someone going through a metamorphosis from human to creature. Joe Dante's The Howling and John Landis's An American Werewolf in London pop to mind. On Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor the transformation was well achieved! We get to see a mass of continually changing muscle and sinew. I thought it was a cool touch how the mutating scientist would spit these little masses of flesh and teeth which mutate on their own.

One thing I didn’t get about this movie was why they decide to tell the story through a series of flashbacks. To my understanding, it wasn’t even necessary to do this. But they decided to go with it, tell the whole movie from flashback to flashback. Because of this, we get the story in series of short chapters. On the negative side of things, the dialog was really bad in certain scenes as was the acting from almost everybody! I dare you not to laugh while hearing some of this dialog! Its so incredibly cheesy! The two “teenage girls” (who are obviously NOT teenagers) are the guiltiest of the bad actors on this movie. But who cares, it adds to the charm of this b-movie.

All in all, a fun movie with many make up effects, some bad acting and lots of monsters, miniatures, stop motion animation and gore. It's an amalgamation of filmmaking techniques and a reminder of how films were made back in the day before CGI took over. This is a fun movie to watch. Recommend it to lovers of b-movies with an 80s sensibility to them, its an excellent example of what low budget sci-horror was like during the 80's.

Rating: 3 out of 5

MetamorphosisThe Deadly SpawnThe Thing - Collector's EditionThe Thing (Collector's Edition)

Dolls (1987)

Title: Dolls (1987)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Cast: Carolyne Purdy Gordon, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Stephen Lee and Carrie Lorraine


Stuart Gordon. The name is synonimous with gruesome acts of myrth, gore, violence and other forms of on screen mayhem. Normally his films are loaded with buckets of blood and gore, yet somehow in the middle of all the gory mayhem he manages to maintain a nice level of drama and character development. Here he decided (along with writer Ed Naha) to go a different rout. Something more along the lines of a fairytale. A horror film with a child like sensibility.

The story is about these two rich snobs who go on vacation with their daughter. Along the road they are encountered by a storm that makes their car sink in the mud. So they decide to try and see if they could stay for the night at a nearby old mansion that they see from the road. A few minutes later three other people wonder into the house: Ralph a man who is a child at heart and the two punk rock girls who he gave a lift to. Unbeknownst to them, this is a spooky old mansion that has dolls that come to life. And kill.

Dolls came out around the time in wich killer doll movies were extremely hot in movieland. Stuart Gordon's Dolls was the first in this new batch of killer doll movies. It was released in 1987, one whole year before Childs Play did in 1988. After that in 1989 the Puppet Master series from Full Moon began, and after that Demonic Toys. But just because it was the first of the bunch and because it comes to us from veteran horror director Stuart Gordon, Dolls is worthy of mention. What I like about this movie is that even though it is a low budget production, it doesnt feel like it. Gordon somehow managed to make the film look more expensive then it really was. So kudos for that to Gordon. Right off the bat this movie got some things right. First off we get a real nice setting, perfect for this sort of horror film. Atmosphere is a must, and we get tons of that! There is a storm that never stops through out the whole movie. Its thunder and the lightning through out 90% of the film! We get a huge mansion with dark hallways and rooms filled with creepy looking old dolls and antiques. To top all that we also get two cooky and weird old folks who are the owners of the mansion and also happen to be doll makers. Could they also be sorcerers? Hmm... So as you can see, we get a nice setting for a spooky old fashion film, wich in my opinion is exactly what Dolls is . An old fashion dark fairy tale.

And thats exactly one of the things I liked about this movie. How it emphasized the fact that it was a fairy tale. At one point the old man starts talking about magical nights that go on forever and never stop. That whole conversation right there kind of like gets you in the mood for this kind of film. When a character starts a conversation that way, you just know your in for a spooky old time. Since the movie is about toys that come to life (and kill) its only fitting that we see most of the film through the eyes of Judy, the little girl. And since its told from her point of view, its only fitting that the movie is told in the manner of a fairy tale. What we have here is a nice movie to get your little brothers, cousins, nephews etc. all scared with. Id put in the same category as films like Monster Squad, Invaders from Mars, Troll and The Gate. You know, kiddie horror. And that doesnt lessen to the coolness of the movie for me. This film does manage to be a creepy flick inspite of its child like atmosphere. In fact the movie does manage to squeeze in a gory scene or two in there, just so you dont forget that this is a Stuart Gordon film you are watching.

The special effects are pretty good. Its a mixture between stop motion animation (like the one seen on the Puppet Master movies) and the use of puppets. I think it was very well achieved for a low budget horror flick. Because of the nature of stop motion animation, the dolls end up looking really creepy, specially in one scene where they all suddenly come to life and turn their heads. That scene was priceless for me. All in all, this isnt the type of film youd normally expect from Gordon since it does have a certain innocent charm to it. Its sort of a big departure from his previous gore fests like Re-animator and From Beyond. Those films were drenched in blood and gore. Dolls is not as gory or violent (though it does have its moments) but its creepyness still makes it quite effective. Good thing it is finally out on DVD with a couple of cool extras like a commentary with Stuart Gordon and storyboard to film comparisons. Recommend it for a night of spooky old fashion fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5

DollsChild's PlayRe-AnimatorFrom Beyond (Unrated Director's Cut)Puppet Master Collection


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