Friday, February 26, 2010

Lisa and The Devil (1974)

Title: Lisa and the Devil (1974)

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Alessio Orano


I’ve only recently discovered Mario Bava movies by watching two of his best and earliest efforts. Black Sabbath (1963) and Black Sunday (1960) both of which I immediately fell in love with. Two great gothic Italian horror mastepieces that I urge everyone out there who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing to do so as soon as possible. Your missing out on some spooky good fun! So here I am, on my journey to see all of Mario Bava’s films. Lisa and the Devil caught my attention because of its premise. A girl being harassed by Satan, Telly Savalas playing the devil, a spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere, intrigue, murder, suspense, all the proper ingredients for a night of spooky fun. So how was Lisa and the Devil?

The story for this film is about Lisa, a tourist visiting Italy. Her tour guide takes her to see a fresco of The Devil. A painting depicting Satan carrying a dead guy off to the afterlife. She seems transfixed by the painting. Suddenly, she decides to abandon her tour group and starts to wonder off through the city. Her wandering leads her to an antique shop of sorts where she encounters a man. A strange man dressed in black who carries around a very life like mannequin. Is it a mannequin? Or could this possibly be the devil carrying off the dead to the afterlife? Suddenly, Lisa finds herself lost in the middle of the labyrinthine city streets! She cant find her way back to her tourist group! Day turns to night and she’s still wondering through the city streets, so she decides to hitch a ride with some strangers, who’s car unfortunately breaks down in the middle of nowhere! Now Lisa is forced to spend the night in a spooky old mansion, with the mansions Contessa and her son. Will they survive the night? Will Lisa ever get back to her normal life?

Right from the get go, you get the vibe that this movie isn’t going to be your regular run of the mill Bava movie. There’s just something off about the movie, something strange about it. Once you start seeing Lisa and the Devil, you kind of notice right away that Bava was purposely going for something different. I tried to pin point exactly what it was that was making this movie such a strange and challenging experience to watch and I came to a couple of conclusions. Number one, Bava was trying to tell this story in a very off kilter fashion, he was shooting for something different. The angles and the takes are never what you might expect; you really have to focus on this movie to stick to its story line. At times, it feels like Bava is deliberately trying to confuse you or catch you off guard. If you don’t pay attention, you might get lost during Lisa and the Devil. This is one of those movies were you have to try and notice and remember certain key visual references in order to keep up with the story. The movie does not spell things out for you.

Dream sequences get extremely trippy on Lisa and the Devil

Another thing I noticed was that Bava was aiming to make a film that felt very much like a dream. Once Lisa gets lost in that maze of Italian streets and ends up in the spooky old mansion, it’s all weirdsville from there on in. You are never really sure of anything that you are watching. At times I wasn’t sure if a certain character was a ghost, or not. If a certain character was evil or not. This movie had that strange uncertainty to it, and ambiguity to it that I must admit I enjoyed. Kind of felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone in that way.

After a while, I felt like Bava was trying to make a romanticized version of Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho (1960). Once Lisa arrives at the mansion, she meets Max, the one and only son of the Contessa, the owner of the mansion. The relationship between mother and son echoed that of the one seen in Hitchcock’s Psycho. You know, where the mother is the one in control over the son’s life. She’s very jealous of her son, even to the point where she doesn’t want him to fall in love with anyone. The fact that Mario Bava offered the role of Max to Anthony Perkins, who played Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho lets us know that this is partly what Bava was aiming for. But this movie wasn’t just going to be Bava’s version of Psycho. There is a lot more to Lisa and the Devil then that. It’s also about a family cursed with death, darkness and despair and in this sense the film also reminded me of those old Roger Corman movies like The Fall of the House of Usher (1960). That was a film about a cursed family with a dark past living in an isolated mansion, just like the one seen in Lisa and the Devil.

Bava had a two punch of success with Baron Blood and Twitch of the Death Nerve, both of which made money at the box office. So producer Alfred Leone gave Bava free reigns to do whatever the hell he wanted with Lisa and The Devil. The problem with this movie was that once it was finished, producers thought it was just too weird. No one wanted to buy and distribute the movie because it was deemed a hard sell. I get it. It’s true. The film is weird, and maybe its not a straight forward horror movie. But the film also has its attributes. It’s a beautiful film to look at. Its different, surreal, nightmarish, and it still remains its horror element. Maybe it didn’t really have enough horror to it. Producers were probably expecting some sort of blood bath they could sell, instead what they got was a horror film that focuses more on romance and melodrama. So be ready for that. Lisa and the Devil has a lot of romance for a horror film, which kind of brings the horror element down a couple of notches. But it never stops being weird and surreal. It certainly is a strange film to try and categorize, and I can see why it gave producers a hard time. Its slow paced, its weird, its horror elements are toned down a bit, and these are really not negative points in my book.

Bava was just trying to do something different. It felt to me like a very atmospheric, romantic, strange horror movie. But studios don’t care for strange and unusual, they want something that the masses can consume easily. Spoon feed them with stupidity. As a result, Alfred Leone, this films producer took the film, re-edited it, shot some new scenes with a new story involving Lisa possessed by the devil and released it under the new title The House of Exorcism. This version of the film changes the story completely, and makes it about Lisa getting possessed after she looks at the devils fresco in the streets of Italy. It has scenes of Lisa tied up to a hospital bed, being examined by doctors and priests. Ultimately, the film has an exorcism scene. It’s quite obvious from looking at this new version that they were just trying to cash in on the success of The Exorcist (1973) a film that as we all know also dealt with a girl possessed by the devil and which was met with incredible success at the box office.

The re-edit of the film made it into a cheap rip off of The Exorcist (1973)

House of Exorcism is not a film that I recommend watching. It takes everything that Bava tried to make with Lisa and the Devil and destroys it. Where Bava was trying to do something different, surreal and at the same time beautiful with Lisa and the Devil; The House of Exorcism went in the complete opposite direction and tried to make it into a cheap rip off of The Exorcist. Right down to having Lisa spewing all sorts of profanity at a priest after she vomits on him. I mean, honestly, House of Exorcism is a travesty in my book. I’m not gonna say that Lisa and the Devil is for everyone, because it isn’t. It’s a strange film with a strange vibe to it. Its kind of hard to follow, and becomes a bit convoluted at times. But I enjoyed it, its like a puzzle you have to try and figure out, and if you enjoy this kind of film, you will more then likely feel compelled to see it more then once. As for the films weirdness, what a boring world it would be if there were no daring filmmakers out there trying to do something different!

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Movies with Theme Songs Part 3

Don't know if you guys are enjoying these musical posts based on Movie Theme Songs, but heres my third batch of music videos for film. This group of videos that Im posting today have some rap songs, but mostly, there is a lot of 80s heavy metal. Lots of hair bands and rock gods said "sure!"  to making songs or using their songs on movies. Mostly horror movies. Hope you guys enjoy these! Some of them are extremely funny! 

Are you ready for Freddy? was a song that the rap group The Fat Boys (very popular guys during the 80s) made for Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. On this one, Freddy actually raps! Not only that, he follows The Fat Boys through the Elm Street house! You wont be the same once you see Freddy Krugger Rappin!

Dream Warriors was a song that was used on Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. What can I say, Freddy Krugger and music videos went hand in hand! Because the producers of these Freddy Krugger movies were keeping up with whatever was hip for young kids during those days, they switched from heavy metal to rap. But this Dokken video was when Freddy Krugger and the teenagers of that time were all about the metal.

Hes Back! (The Man Behind the Mask) was a heavy metal song done by heavy metal god Alice Cooper. It was used on Friday the Thirteen Part 6: Jason Lives! This one is pretty interesting, it has a vibe kind of like Michael Jacksons Thriller video, where Michael walks into a movie theater with his girlfriend. On this one, some kid takes out his date to the movies to see the latest Friday the 13th movie, and Jason jumps out at the screen and attacks them! But when Jason takes off his mask, its Alice Cooper singing the song! Interesting that Alice Cooper also jumped to the Freddy franchise and played Kruggers abusive father on Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

Big Gun was a song used to promote Last Action Hero. It was performed by legendary heavy metal rock and roll band AC\DC. This video is very similar to the video for Terminator 2: Judgement Day in which The Terminator walks into a Guns and Roses video. But on this one, Arnold walks into an AC/DC concert and starts walking amongst the crowd, then he gets up on stage and starts rocking with Angus up on stage, then the most incredibly funny thing happens! Arnold morphs into an Angus clone! Its funny as hell! Suddenly, Arnold is rocking like a mad man dressed like Angus! You have to see it to believe it! 

Is your love strong enough? was the song used to promote Ridley Scott's Legend. It was performed by Brian Ferry. I posted a music video for the film Legend  (on a previous post about Theme Songs) but that was for the song Loved by the Sun done by Tangerine Dream, which appears in the film but ultimately wasn't used to promote it.  This was the real song used to promote this fantasy film.  

The Glory of Love by Peter Cetera was the song used to promote Karate Kid part II. This song was a huge hit and its still played quite often on radio stations. 

Ghostbusters as performed by Ray Parker Jr. was one of the biggest hits of its day (1984). The video is pretty cool, it has Ray Parker Jr. walking amongst furniture made out of neon lights, which was like the coolest thing back in the 80s. Neon Lights. And Neon colors! People loved those neon colors! This music video has a bunch of big star cameos, just like the video for Ghostbusters II which had a bunch of cameos. You can see the likes of Chevy Chase screaming "Ghostbusters!" Kind of makes you wonder what the Ghostbusters might have been like had Chevy Chase been in those movies... 

The Never Ending Story as performed by Limahl. I know I posted a video for this song in a previous post. But that was a video done before the song was picked up for the movie. This video is the real video used for the movie. By the way, Limahl named himself by rearranging the letters in his real name: Hamill. 

A View to a Kill by Duran Duran was the song used for the bond movie of the same name. I could do an entire post just for music videos done for James Bond songs. But for now, Ill just post this one, which is actually one of my favorites. The video is very cinematic, like in the best movie music videos, the video plays out like a mini movie, the version you'll see below is the extended mini movie version. 

You Could Be Mine as performed by Guns n' Roses for the Terminator 2 soundtrack. This music video is interesting because it has the terminator walking amongst the crowd checking out the band as the play the song. In the ending, the Terminator sees the band walking out back stage and decides that killing them would be a "waste of amo". 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Breaking the Fourth Wall

The Fourth wall is that invisible barrier that divides the audience from the film. It’s the reason why actors are never supposed to look directly at the screen or talk to the camera. The film is supposed to be happening independent of us, we are simply voyeurs.

But there’s an increasing number of films out there that break this wall, completely acknowledging the audience, letting us know that they know we are there. It’s a fun gag, and when used in the right kind of film can be quite funny.

Here are a few examples of films that do this:

Amelie (2001) – On this one Amelie constantly refers to the audience by talking directly at them, or just giving us a little look, to let us know that she knows were there. One scene has her inside of a movie theater, and she tells us how much she hates it when in old movies, actors drive without looking at the road.

Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) – On this one Austin Powers gets a lecture on time travel and suddenly gets cross eyed. Basil tells him: “I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself” and then Basil turns to the audience and says “That goes for you all too!” and Austin says “Yes.”

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) – On this, Bill and Teds first adventure, Rufus (played by George Carlin) gives Bill and Ted a new shinny electric guitar to each of them. You see, supposedly, Bill and Ted’s rock and roll will be so awesome, that it will bring peace and harmony to the universe. Unfortunately, when we hear Bill and Ted play their guitars, they suck. Rufus then turns at the audience and says “They do get better!”

Empire Records (1995) –  The movie starts out with Lucas one of the crazy characters who works on the record store trying to decide what he is going to do with the money that the store made that day. Shall he deposit in the bank the next morning or should he gamble it away? He then talks to the camera and says: “In the immortal words of The Doors ‘The Time to hesitate is through’” After he gambles it and looses he looks at the camera and says: “I wonder if Ill be held responsible for this”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Ferris Bueller has to be one of the most famous examples of breaking the fourth wall. He does it all through out the film. Right from the very beginning of the film he begins talking directly at the audience giving us pointers as to how to fake out your parents if you want to play hooky. In one scene he is taking a shower and he covers our eyes so we don’t see him washing his privates.

Fight Club (1999) – Edward Norton’s “Jack” talks at the camera constantly through out the whole film. At one point, he is explaining to us how Tyler Durden was the guerrilla terrorist of the food service industry. He looks at the camera and says “he farted on the meringue, sneezed on braised endive and as for the cream of mushroom soup…” Then he pauses and Tyler Durden says “Go ahead. Tell ‘em” to which Jack says “You get the idea”

High Fidelity (2000) – John Cusack plays Rob, a music store owner frustrated with his love life. He is constantly talking to us about how terrible his life is and why things just aren’t working out. At one point, he is going crazy because his ex girlfriend has already moved in with someone called Ian. He is going crazy trying to figure out who this Ian guy is and screams “What Fucking Ian guy?!”

The Holy Mountain (1973) – There’s a scene in the film when the religious leader tells the camera to pull back and we can see film equipment and crew.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) – Jay and Silent Bob, the two main characters in this film are discussing the fact that there is going be a movie based on them at which point one of them says “A Jay and Silent Bob movie? Who’d pay to go see that?” and then they turn and look at the audience.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – This film has three girls singing most of the songs through out the whole movie. When they sing their songs they look directly at the camera.

The Meaning of Life (1983) – At one point in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life the movie reaches its middle point and suddenly the film stops and a character welcomes us “to the middle of the film”. When the movie ends she tells us: “Well, that’s the end of the film. And Now, here’s the meaning of life”

Scrooged (1988) – In Scrooged, when the film ends, Scrooge starts to sing Christmas carols with everyone in the film and he turns, looks at the camera and starts talking directly at the audience urging us to sing along.

Spaceballs (1987) – Mel Brooks loves breaking the fourth wall in his films. At one point in Spaceballs Dark Helmet is talking directly at the camera. The camera closes down on him as he speaks wondering who could have “jammed” his radar and he says “only ONE man would dare give me the raspberry! Lonestar!” and then the camera hits him on the face during the close up. Another scene has Dark Helmet killing a member of the filmmaking crew with his lightsaber.

Top Secret (1984) – The Zucker Brothers and Jim Abraham love breaking the fourth wall as well. It seems this gag works wonders in a slapstick film. In one scene, Val Kilmer is describing the plot of the film to his love interest and then she says “I know, it all sounds like some bad movie” then the two characters turn around and look at us.

Wayne’s World (1992) – Mike Myers is a huge fan of breaking the fourth wall and does it constantly through out many of his films. In Wayne’s World, Glen, the manage of Mikita’s Donut shop starts talking at the camera telling us some story and Wayne stops him dead on his tracks and says “What are you doing? Only Garth and I get to talk to the camera!”

Well, thats it for now! I might do another post on this in the future. For now, which ones can you remember?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Movies with Theme Songs part 2

Well, heres a second batch of movies with theme songs. Hope you like the videos!

Tina Turner sings for the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) soundtrack. The song is 'We don't Need Another Hero'. To me, this is one of the best theme song videos ever produced for any film, Tina Turner looks like a freaking superhero singing, and the song and what it says is so heartfelt. I still love this song to death.

Dragnet. This music video is so bad, its bad. Believe it or not, Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd rap on this one. Youll laugh at how an Oscar winning actor like Hanks actually said "yes" to doing this!

Grease (1978) Frankie Valli sings 'Grease' on the opening credits for the film of the same name. Very 70s and very very catchy.  

Footloose (1984) I was never a fan of footloose the movie, I dont think I ever saw it in its entirety, but who hasnt heard this famous Kenny Loggins song? Once again, this proves that a song can be even more popular then the film it is promoting. On this one Kevin Bacon dances like a maniac on the floor. Inside of a werehouse or something.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) is one of the best musicals ever commited to the silver screen. I can sing every freaking song by heart! This theme song to the film is sang by the three main stars of the film: Michelle Weeks, Tichina Arnold and Tisha Campbell-Martin.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) This catchy tune was played by a band called The Dickies.

The Goonies (1985) Cindy Lauper made this ultra catchy tune. The original video was almost a mini movie! But, I couldnt get a hold of it through you tube, they didnt allow embedding for the video, so instead I posted this awesome live performance by Cindy Lauper for that song! Hope you like it. 'Good Enough' (LIVE)

Weird Science (1985) This is the original video made for the movie. The song is by famous 80s band Oingo Boingo!

Legend (1985) Tangerine Dream dream composed the song "Loved by the Sun" which encompases (if you ask me) everything that this movie is about. Awesome song by the way.

The Never Ending Story (1984) Some guy called Limahl sings this famous song for the movie. Again, the song I think catched on a lot more then the movie, though I think the movie itself still remains one of the best fantasy movies of the 80s, or ever.  

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Gold Rush (1925)

Title: The Gold Rush (1925)

Director: Charles Chaplin


Don’t know how many of you guys and gals out there like watching old movies like this one, but I thoroughly enjoy searching out these old gems. Especially if they are really good classics like this one. If you are a true lover of films, you reach a point where you want to go past the stage of just watching whatever is new and you kind of start going back in film history, seeing where it all began. Seeing those classics that you never even knew existed. You would be surprised at just how entertaining some of these old silent movies can be, specially when it was Charlie Chaplin making them! Film was still on its early stages back then. Films didn’t have sound yet,  all actors could rely on were facial gestures and body language. It was a different kind of cinema because I find that sound makes up 50% of the cinematic equation. Sound and music is so important to how you see and feel a movie. But back in those days it was different. Image was king, and actors carried a lot of the film on their shoulders. They had full responsibility over what you saw and felt in a movie. Examples of great silent cinema are films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and F.W. Murnau’s Faust, two masterpieces of German expressionism that you shouldn’t miss if you are interested in exploring silent films. But to me Charlie Chaplin was king of silent films. The guy was so successful back in those days and he did what he did so well that studios fully trusted his genius and ability to make money! They gave him his own studio and his own filmmaking crew! He would be free to create whatever the hell he wanted to create. The result was often times magic. The Gold Rush is the film that he wanted to be remembered by, it’s the one he cherished the most and the one many call his masterpiece. I find it difficult to call any one of his films his ultimate masterpiece, cause to me, they are all masterpieces!

Story revolves around “the lone prospector” a.k.a. The Tramp. A poor schmoe looking for a way to make some money. So like many people back in those days, he makes his way to the Alaskan Gold Rush. While making his way up the mountains in search of gold, he suddenly finds himself lost in the middle of the snowy mountains! So he takes refuge in an isolated cabin he finds along the way where he meets another prospector and a fugitive of the law. The three must find a way to get some food and survive the harsh winter cold! After that, the lone prospector decides to stop searching for gold and decides to get a job in town where he falls in love with a saloon girl and must fight for her affections. Will he ever win her heart even though he is just a poor moneyless tramp? And will his destiny ever change?

The thing I find so amazing about films like this one is how much emotion these actors could portray without sound or dialog. When you see Chaplin acting in one of his silent films, you could almost swear you hear some dialog going on even though the film has non! His body talks! It was something that Chaplin always fought for. He liked the way silent films worked, the art of saying a lot without uttering a single word. I have to admit, I like this as well, because Chaplin is such a well of emotions. Trust me, Chaplin could orchestrate a scene that will have you laughing like a mad man, and a few minutes later, he will have you at the verge of tears. There are some truly emotional moments on this one that will pull your heartstrings. There is this one scene where Chaplin is expecting this woman he has fallen in love with, and he prepares the dinner table for when she and her friends arrive, but she never arrives! So he starts imagining like she is there with him, its so sad! To make things worse, it’s New Years Eve! And he is all alone!

There are many memorable moments like this one in The Gold Rush. When you watch this movie, you will know where many of the old Warner Bros. cartoons got their inspiration from. Some of the situations in The Gold Rush seem cartoon like and funny. To give you a taste of the cartoonish nature of some scenes in this film; there is a scene in which the three dudes in the lonely cabin are getting extremely hungry. One of them starts looking at Chaplin and suddenly, under the effects of hunger, Chaplin starts to look like a big fat juicy chicken to him! One scene has Chaplin so hungry that he takes off his shoe, boils it and eats it as if he was eating a feast! Another classic moment has Chaplin using two forks and two pieces of bread to do this little dance thing on the dinner table. There is a scene in which a house is teetering on the edge of a cliff! And at the last minute Chaplin jumps out of it! There are many scenes on this film which are considered to be some of the most famous cinematic images in history. For that alone, you should do yourself a favor and watch this film.

The version of the film I saw was the 1942 re-release of the film. The original version of the film released in 1925 was completely silent, but for this re-release Chaplin added some narration (which he did himself) and added some music to it. He also edited a few seconds out of it and tightened the pace a bit.  The Gold Rush is a very important film, those of you interested in diving deeper into cinematic history need to start watching Chaplin films at some point. These movies are so slapstick, have such perfect timing with their gags and their comedy and they show us just how much of a genius Chaplin was. He wasn’t just funny and inventive; he was also touching, a very emotional, very human actor. I have yet to see a film of his that disappoints.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Movies with theme songs in them part I

Thought I would have a little fun and post some theme songs from different movies, this was something that was done a lot during the 80s where practically every movie that came out had some kind of cheesy theme song to go along with it. Im a huge fan of some of them and so I thought some of you guys and gals out there might get a kick out of them. Hope you like em. Or at least laugh a little. Whenever possible, I posted the original music video. But since some of these videos are so old, some were not availabe. If it doesnt have the oginal video, then its probably some video somebody edited to the sound of the theme song which is still alright. But most of them are the original music video. So, enjoy! I will be posting another batch possibly tomorrow, so be on the look out for that!

The videos below come from the following movies:

Big Trouble in Little China (1986) as performed by the Coupe de Villes. That's John Carpenter on the base in case you are wondering!

J Geils Band performed the theme song for Fright Night (1985), pretty catchy song if you ask me!

Theme song for Monster Squad (1987). This one is a rap song performed by Michael Sembello.

The Addams Family (1991) Thats MC Hammer performing the 'Addams Groove'!

Vanilla Ice Sings 'Go Ninha Go Ninja Go!' on Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)!

Bill and Teds Bogus Journey's (1991) 'Shout It Out' by Slaughter

'On Our Own' from Ghostbusters 2 (1989) as performed by Bobby Brown!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Grizzly Man (2005)

Title: Grizzly Man (2005)

Director: Werner Herzog

Starring: Timothy Tredwell


In his films, German director Werner Herzog loves to exalt and focus on the natural beauty of the wild. He loves to impress us with the most wondrous locations and vistas in his films, as if saying “See? You don’t need to spend millions of dollars building sets! It’s all out there for us in nature! For free!” Many of his productions have been filmed in the wildest and most outlandish locations, from the dense rain forests of the Peruvian jungle, to Brazil, Colombia and Ghana. For this reason I find it fitting that it was Werner Herzog who ended up making Grizzly Man. This documentary takes place almost entirely in the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, amongst the grizzly bears and the foxes, and one Timothy Tredwell.

Director Werner Herzog

Most of this documentary was shot by Timothy Tredwell, a bear enthusiast. The rest of the documentary is Herzog interviewing people and friends who knew Tredwell personally. If you ask me, I think he was more then a bear enthusiast. He was also an extreme environmentalist, an “eco warrior” and by pure happenstance he also became a documentary filmmaker. He wanted to become an actor, but he failed at that. According to the documentary Tredwell’s parents mention that he did audition for a role in the popular 80’s sitcom Cheers, but he was beaten by Woody Harrelson for the part. That destroyed him, and he became a drug addict. He ended up almost dying from a heroin overdose. After that, he decided to do something positive with his life, so he decided to go live amongst the bears in the wild. Once he had his first encounter with a bear, he knew that that’s what he wanted to do with his life. He documented his travels to the wild for 13 years before a bear killed him and his girlfriend.

What Tredwell did is apparently not an isolated incident. This running off into the wild, escaping from society and modern life and disappearing into the wilderness is apparently a phenomenon that has occurred quite a few times. Often times, this decision to live in the wilderness ends with death. The movie Into the Wild (2007) directed by Sean Penn and starring Emil Hersh was based on a similar story of a young man called Christopher McCandless. He also chose to escape society to go and live in the wild. And he also ended up dying because of this decision; he ate poisonous weeds that ended up killing him. Lesson learned? If we are not careful, nature can bite us in the ass. We should never underestimate it, which in my opinion is what happened to Timothy Tredwell and the bears. In a way it feels like modern living has castrated us, detached us from nature so much that we can no longer just live amongst it. Nature is wild and fierce and it has no remorse, no compassion, and as we can see in both of these films, nature can be deadly.

But I get what Tredwell was doing. I get what McCandless did as well. These are just humans who want to disconnect entirely from society. They want to turn their backs on everything that is established because they are simply not happy with the way things are. Their solution is to simply turn their backs on everything and literally run to the hills. The problem is that you cannot just survive in the wild without making some preparations. And you cannot underestimate the hunger of a wild beast! I think the problem Timothy Tredwell had was that he thought he could make a connection with a killer animal, a meat eater; an animal who has no problems whatsoever with ripping your head off. If you ask me, Tredwell might as well have been trying to make friends with a wild lion or a shark. He had this idealistic mentality towards bears. He thought that simply by talking nicely to them, that he would connect with them. He knew he was close to death, he knew these animals were dangerous, but he decided to ignore this anyway.

They address this issue in the documentary as well, but I do agree he was having a religious experience with the bears. He saw them as his gods, his saviors. Tredwell was a drug addict who escaped his addiction by replacing it with his contact with nature. The bears were Tredwell’s own personal Jesus Christ. Only, he could actually see and touch his gods! This idealization of the beasts is what brought him to his death, he forgot these animals have a killer instinct within them. They are predators, and we humans, are the prey. No matter how nicely you talk to them when hunger strikes, your going to start looking mighty juicy to those bears. There is a scene that Tredwell caught on tape where two bears are beating the crap out of each other and it was at that moment that I said, this guy is crazy! I would never be there! So close! I mean, these two bears where ripping themselves apart! You can see in that footage how powerful these creatures truly are, and if they can do that to themselves, well, it kind of makes you wonder what they could do to you if they got hungry enough.

When ever anyone mentioned this documentary to me, I thought it would just be about a guy living amongst bears and his obsession with them. But its so much more then that. Through the more then 90 hours he shot of himself with the animals, we get to know who he was and what a sad, lonely and fractured soul he was. He was a very sensitive person, more then most people dare to show and he had no problems in expressing his emotions on his videos. Since he was so alone most of the time, his footage turned into confessional. He would talk to himself while looking at the camera and analyze his life. There are some truly touching and extremely truthful moments on this film. Tredwell’s footage is like life, a little crazy, a little tragic, and sometimes incredibly beautiful. It this documentary achieves one thing, its that. It lets us understand that life is made up of the ugly, the beautiful, the horrifying and the mystical all wrapped up in one.

There’s a moment, where Tredwell befriends a group of foxes that’s so touching, so magical. You see Tredwell running with these incredibly beautiful foxes through the grass, and the mountains in the background and the beautiful day, and for a moment I got Tredwell. I understood why he did what he did. He must have felt completely free in that wilderness, completely cut off from cars, and traffic jams, wars, toxic waste, famine, poverty, racism, classism, abusive governments, garbage, consumerism, commercials…and all those things that can sometimes make living in the mist of our society a little difficult. Tredwell was a humanist, looking for freedom and peace in this world. Can’t say I blame him for that. Its just that, had it been me, I would have been just a little more respectful of nature that’s all.

Still, it’s amazing how he caught everything on tape. And it’s a very sincere and truthful documentary. You kind of get the feeling sometimes that Tredwell wasn’t really grasping the reality of his situation. It feels like he had some fantasy idea of what a bear really is, and didn’t really grasp how deadly nature can be. You get the feeling that the guy had some sort of death wish. He was depressed, and loneliness was getting to him. In one of his confessional moments, he asks himself why girls didn’t stay too long with him. Was it because he was too sentimental and that this turned girls off? Why couldn’t they accept him for who he was? He even questions the existence of god in some scenes! There are some powerful moments on this documentary, highly recommended to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hardware (1990)

Title: Hardware (1990)

Director: Richard Stanley

Stars: Dylan McDermont, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins


Richard Stanley’s films are not conventional in any sense of the word. His films are of the bizarre and strange variety and as some of you might already know, that’s a good thing in my book. Stanley is the kind of filmmaker that Hollywood shy’s away from because they are too edgy, too different, and too risky. Fortunately, for those of us out there who like to watch something a little different, something that’s diametrically opposed to the crap that Hollywood makes every day of the week, well, for those of us, Richard Stanley is an auteur. An artist/filmmaker searching for a way to get his subconscious, his dark side, his dark possible futures on film. Sadly, his future in hollywood stopped dead on its tracks because of a  fiasco story known as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). Lucky for us he did manage to leave two films on his resume. The supernatural slasher Dust Devil ( 1993) and the film I will be reviewing today Hardware.

Hardware was a film that was not easy to make. It had a miniscule budget (1.5 million ) and a crew made up of mostly first time filmmakers. Now, if first time filmmakers have any promise at all, a production like this one can prove to be a prime environment for great low budget b film to get made. Hardware had a couple of future bonafide filmmakers amongst its crew! First of all, the film was partially produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, back when Miramax was in its early stages. Two very young filmmakers Chris Cunningham and Stephen Norrington, worked on the special effects dealing with the robots. Both of them went on to have careers directing films and music videos. Chris Cunningham went on to direct music videos for the likes of Bjork and Maddonna amongst others. Stephen Norrington went on to direct various films. His first one entitled Death Machine (1994) was very similar to Hardware because it was also about a killer robot on the loose. So there was lots of talent involved in the making of Hardware. Richard Stanley himself was part of this new batch of filmmakers on the up and up. He’d produced various short films, some of which you can see on this new DVD release.

Director Richard Stanley

Unfortunately, the film has always suffered from distribution woes. It got a small theatrical release, and was also released on VHS, which is how I first saw it. But problems soon arouse because the killer robot aspects of the story in Hardware were plagiarizing story elements from a story which appeared in the magazine 2000 A.D. entitled Shok! Also, the rights to the film were being disputed amongst the films various producers. But ultimately, that’s all been cleared out and we finally have the film in our hands. It was released on DVD by the fine folks at Severin films. This DVD is jam packed with juicy extras! It includes a feature where they interview cast and crew and they reminisce about the whole production and what a grueling task it was. It includes some of Richard Stanley’s early short films, the ones he made when he was a kid. It even includes the short film on which Hardware is based on. A fan of this film and Stanley himself will be pleased. Also, its an interesting dvd that lets you get into the mind of this offbeat director.

Hardware takes place in a post apocalyptic future, where we the humans have messed up things beyond repair. The landscape is one of toxic wastage; everything is old, decrepit, dirty, rotting. There is garbage and scraps of metal everywhere. The sky looks like it has a permanent shade of toxic orange. Basically, the world is done for and you kind of get the feeling that humanity is on its last legs. Enter Moses Baxter, a space cadet on his way home who decides to get a Christmas present for his girlfriend who likes to make sculptures. So he stops at this scrap shop and buys a robotic skull for her. She loves the skull and decides to incorporate it into her latest work of art. Unfortunately for Moe and Jill, this robot head isn’t dead! The robotic skull used to belong to a government issued killer robot called M.A.R.K. 13. Once Jill incorporates the skull on to her sculpture, the M.A.R.K. 13 reactivates itself and begins killing everyone in sight! Will Jill and Moe get to stop the deadly killer robot?

Hardware has many elements in common with two films I love very much. James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1984). Hardware is like Blade Runner because the world in which this film takes place in is very much like the one we see in Ridley Scott’s film, dirty and decayed. Everyone is living off of other peoples garbage. Humanity and technology are connected, intertwined. Some humans even have biomechanics replacing parts of their bodies. For example Moe, the main character, has a robotic hand. Hardware is also like The Terminator because of the whole killer robot angle. Some shots in Hardware mimic certain shots in The Terminator, specifically a scene in which the robot is reaching out for Jill, trying to grab her with its robotic hand. But is Hardware just a Terminator wannabe? Or is there something that sets it apart? Just what is it that makes Hardware special? What makes Hardware unique? One of the things that is interesting about this movie is that because of its budgetary constraints, the whole film practically takes place inside of Jill’s apartment. Richard Stanley did the same thing that Sam Raimi did in Evil Dead. You keep the story small. Keep your characters in one place. To Stanley’s credit, he managed to keep things interesting in spite of this being a “one set” film.

Does Moe dream of Electric Sheep?

Come on Jill! Press that button and crush the evil robot from the future! Oh wait...

Richard Stanley has a music video background, so he knows how to play with editing and lighting. Stanley has been quoted as saying that he wanted the lighting scheme for this film to be like a Dario Argento or Mario Bava film, which is probably why there are so many sequences that have so much blue and red in them. The film also has some very interesting hallucinogenic sequences, where the characters go on these drug trips. You see, the M.A.R.K. 13 robot has these fang-like protrusions on its face with which it injects its victims with hallucinogenic drugs. When it does this, characters go on these nightmarish dream sequences which give the movie that surreal nightmarish touch. These hallucination sequences together with the killer robot angle are the two elements that give the film its horror vibe. The killings get pretty gory in nature, which is actually what originally got this film its x rating. It had to be toned down quite a bit before it could be released. But the gore and the killer robot are the two elements that keep us watching. Still, this is a bit more then just a horror film.

It has interesting themes as well. The film is drenched in cyberpunk mentality. Lots of nihilism, lots of hatred for humanity and the way things are. That whole theme about humanity messing up the planet beyond repair. Over population has gotten out of control and there are new laws for keeping population down. Nobody trusts nobody. People live in fear, locked up in their apartments. Art thrives in the midst of all the chaos, Jill, one of the main characters in the film is an artist, expressing her frustrations with society through art. Its no wonder that her sculpture ends up having an American flag spray painted on its head. Technology is winning the war against humans, so much so that humans are merging with machines. A theme that we can see through the other main character in the film, Moe, who has a robotic hand. Then theres the “evil government” theme going on here as well, since we later find out that the M.A.R.K. 13 is actually a government issued experiment, made for the sole purpose of destroying the excess population. So it’s a movie that has some great themes hovering amongst the sci-fi and the horror.

The movie has a couple of cool cameos going for it. Iggy Pop plays the voice of a radio dj who puts us up to date on just how messed up the world is in this film. Lemmy the lead singer from Motorhead makes an appearance as a water taxi driver. GWAR shows up on a TV screen at one point. This movie is interesting because its stylish, it achieved a heck of a lot with its limited budget and its dark and grimy. Its gory. Its subversive with its themes. It’s post apocalyptic. A small scale yet ambitious sci-fi horror film. Richard Stanley already wrote a script for the sequel called Hardware: Ground Zero, but it currently resides in pre production hell. Let’s hope it will actually get made one day! Here’s hoping!

Rating: 4 out of 5
The films original poster


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