Not creepy at all.

I have to admit that it is very difficult to keep this movie straight from THE BLOOD STAINED SHADOW. The plots are strikingly similar – a priest is the killer, there is a cast of miscreants who are offed in very contrapaosso ways, and the main characters are kinda jerks.

WHO SAW HER DIE? is a mean little movie that leers, judgmentally, at a cast of sleazy characters in such a way that their desperation and loss is seen as unrepentant self-interest. The movie wanders around in a complex labyrinth of guilt, perverts, deviants, cheaters, fake priests, and child murderers.

The movie opens is a particularly nasty set piece of a child killed in the snowy woods after having wandered away from her nanny. The opening is powerful and frightening. The rest of the movie pales in the comparison. The gore is non-existent, the plot convoluted and filled with red herrings, and the reveal sturdily predictable.

George Lazenby (a one film James Bond) plays a sleazeball with tremendous relish. His daughter arrives for a visit from his estranged wife’s, he spends a good day entertaining her before leaving her to play outside while he makes it with his mistress. A mistress who could have easily complicated the plot in a very uncomfortable and interesting way after the murder, if she had not simply disappeared from the movie after the sex scene.

Instead, the movie veers off trying to up the emotional ante by having the estranged couple – Lazenby and Anita Strindberg! – reunite over the death of their child. Which is pretty boring, actually, even if the acting is pretty alright.

As Lazenby becomes more obsessed with unmasking the killer, he enters into the decadent and wild underbelly of upper crust Venice. There is a suspected pedophile, stabbed in his walk-in bird cage. There is a sexy secretary strangled in the cinema.   Not to mention the wharf chase scene, where the suspence is built upon misdirection and a lot of tomfoolery. Great stuff. Lado is a real director, mostly.


Happy to see me?

David Cronenberg’s first foray into straight film making resulted in this B-movie centered around the Funny Car circuit. Its the late 70s, the pavement is blistering in the sun, the jeans are tight and the gearhead jump suits are collared by big biker beards. This is a gritty, oil-stained, dusty film, who’s realism has less to do with any attention to detail and more to a small budget and shot almost entirely outside.

There is some simple plot about the fading star of Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson, who might be getting too old to cash in many more of his trademarked cards of walking away unscathed from explosive wrecks. All the while, chomping at Johnson’s helmeted jumpsuit is a poorer, rival driving crew and his own hand picked prodigy. Meanwhile, the corrupt FAST CO oil representative, Lonnie’s de facto manager, is on the take – skimming from the top to deliver the marque name of “The Lucky Man” to backwater and down on their luck tracks. Played by John Saxton in all his unbuttoned, sleazy glory! It is really sad, I believe, that Saxon and Cronenberg did not work together again. It seems that Saxon was born to play some of the heavies in Cronenberg’s genre films.

Cronenberg’s direction feels a bit defeated. Not uninterested, just a bit limp. He films the races with a very televisionary eye, keeps the actors in tight frame, and manages to keep the outdoor sets feeling staged. The artificiality is a product of the time, less than the mastery of an artist making a grand statement about the corruption slowly strangling a dying entertainment genre.

Ultimately, while the plot is silly, the acting hammy, and the car racing barely there, its still worth a viewing  just for the awful music and because it’s Claudia Jennings last cocaine fueled performance, before she ascended into the great car crash in the sky.

A BLADE IN THE DARK a/k/a La casa con la scala nel buio

A BLADE IN THE DARK is a silly take on the Psycho reveal. A pretty composer tries to unravel the mystery of some girl who shows up to use the pool, almost seduces him, disappears, but leaves behind a clue and an incomplete diary. He has a very hot but total loser aspiring actress girlfriend, who is really mean to him. There is a sweaty grounds keeper, complete with the girly centerfolds in his boiler squat. There are no police anywhere. And the whole affair smacks a bit of a trapped room nightmare plodding. So the story is thin and the murderer is pretty predictable, I mean we know what’s coming in the first 3rd of the movie.

But Lamberto delivers some jolts and, as he says in the commentary, a woman dies every thirty minutes. The movie was structured for episodic television broadcast, though I wonder how much of the jarring brutality would actually have made it on television.  The most brutal sequence is the bathroom attack. After being stabbed through the hand and illustrating why crucifixion nails were not typically hammered into the palm, a woman gets a plastic bag over her head as she is slammed against the bathroom sink. Its the blood on the teeth that made the scene so graphic. The fact that the movie kills off some of the characters it does manages to establish the only tension in the movie, no one is truly safe! Unfortunately, this tension is not established until the last reel.

But I am a BOY!

There is a great subtext in the movie as the composer is working on a horror film’s soundtrack in the movie. The movie begins with a sequence in which a group of little boys taunt and tease and generally peer pressure poor little Giovanni Frezza, the go to kid of the Italian horror industry, into descending into a creepy basement, alone. To prove his manliness. What emerges from the basement are some scary screams and a blood soaked tennis ball. The best fetish object ever introduced by a giallo, a genre rife with them. If the ending of the movie is not immediately apparent to you at this point, well, I guess…I dunno about you.


+13 Magic Missile, AWAY!

First and foremost, Lucio Fulci’s CONQUEST is a cheaply made cashcow meant to feed on the ample grass that sprang up in the fertilizer spread by CLASH OF THE TITANS and the two naked chest CONAN movies.

Secondly, CONQUEST is a very strange mix of swords, sorcery, nudity, gore, and terrible plotting. Basically the story of how new weapon systems challenge the power dynamic of the old order of bone crushing, fear, and ritual magic (i.e. the naked boobies making the sun rise every day).

There are some surprising elements, like the small breasted constant nudity of Ocron, that insured that this movie would never reach the weekend cable market of afternoon and late night schlock. Not to mention the fact that the whole movie is filmed outside with no sets and bathed in a very distracting fog – while it helps make the absurdity of the dog head thugs more effective by hiding the obvious puppetry, the movie is very tiring to watch since the action happens behind a thin curtain of mist.

The violence has the inventiveness of the Fulci goremiesters, a rare treat for a sword & sandal movie. So, too, is the fact that the one of the main characters is beheaded near the end, which shifts the gears of the movie in a rather nihilistic way, especially after he had to endure the exploding baubles. The 1980s lazer arrows are worth it, but you can get those in the trailer.

A sample of the awesome dialogue follows – “When a man meets a man, you never know which one will die. But when an animal meets a man, it’s always the animal that dies. I’m on the animals’ side.” – Mace.

In short, this movie is pretty horrible. Though I might recommend it just for the snake god’s love making scenes. But should I, really? I shouldn’t.

Dead Snow (2009) and Zombieland (2009)

I do not hold recent zombie movies to the same standards that I do the older flicks. In fact, all I want from a 21st century zombie massacre is to see at least one scene that adds something to the canon.

Take the 2004 remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD: there is one scene, when the armored buses are submerged in an endless sea of undead, which fully realized the scope of a zombie-consumed world. But such criteria does leave a movie like 28 DAYS LATER, a mildly amusing action flick, with no redeeming zombie movie value.

So how do the Norwegian gorefest DEAD SNOW and the Woody Harrelson vehicle ZOMBIELAND fare under the weight of my narrow-minded standards? Well, neither do that well, but at least DEAD SNOW has some truly inspired moments of over-the-top gore.

Ostensibly, DEAD SNOW is about a bunch of jerky medical students who head up to an isolated cabin on top of a snowy mountain for some vacation fun. Of course, there is a meta-element a’la SCREAM where the fatty character lays out the forthcoming undead onslaught by listing a host of movies which the action will reference. This sort of name checking usually turns me off since such ground rules are always contradicted in order to wrap up the movie and save the last girl. But in this case, the movies referenced are some of the biggies – EVIL DEAD, DEAD/ALIVE, and the FRIDAY THE 13th contrivances – that I basically forgave the movie its stupid opening playfulness.

Once the action sets in, DEAD SNOW delivers some pretty clever situations and does not shrink from dispatching characters whose names we have actually learned. There is a heavily armed snow mobile, a charge of the garden tool brigade, a lot of intestine munching, violence to birds, and some really nice work on the Nazi zombie’s mythology. But my friend, Jason Read summed that up the best when he said, “I can believe in Zombie Nazis, in secret Nazi gold, and people using their intestines as mountain climbing ropes, but I cannot accept that anyone would want to have sex in an outhouse.” Personally, I think he was just bitter that Jenny Skavlan kept her bra on during the scene!

DEAD SNOW does, however, have scene that stands out. You will know it when it happens because it ends with a grenade blast and zombie parts flung into the air. It is a gruesome, unholy and completely effective scene.

ZOMBIELAND, on the other hand, quickly dispenses with a dangerous world filled with horrible zombies to focus more on the humorous interaction of two unlikely people who learn to love again. Or something. Maybe they were on a spring break road trip? I don’t think it matters that much. I felt the zombies were more of a family therapy trust-building exercise than as a defining plot point. Aside from the witty use of the FIGHT CLUB-esque cartoon text of survival rules sliding through and over the action, there is hardly any screen time devoted to zombies or killing them.

Aside from an absolutely brilliant death scene for a celebrity cameo , there is nothing memorable about ZOMBIELAND. I guess it was fun to watch at the time I saw it, but really, it is not a zombie movie. Harrelson mugging it up is fun to watch, but Jesse Eisenberg is a low rent Michael Cera. Emma Stone really shines as the too-many-chromosome-next-door neighbor-love-interest that buddy comedies always dredge up for the endearing loser to bag at the end. The final show down at the amusement park is so unbelievable and contrived, but by then I had abandoned all hope that ZOMBIELAND could even redeem itself.

I guess making an effective zombie movie is harder than it looks, especially when your audience is a fanboy nerd with too little to occupy his vast amounts of free time, huh?



David Cronenberg’s RABID marks the first appearance of the NEW FLESH theme that runs through The Brood and Videodrome. Maybe because of that Rabid is the weakest of the three.

The movie is notorious because Marilyn Chambers, a well known porn actress at the time, made her straight film debut as patient zero, Rose. A victim first of near fatal motorcycle accident and then a victim of arrogant surgical experimentation. Even when she is transformed into the armpit monster, she plays the part as an unwilling passenger on a biological ride of hungry predation – horrified at the satisfaction she derives. But more on that in a moment.

RABID births the dual fetishes of the New Flesh and the mania of the “Institute.” The movie sets up the rivalry between the runaway consequences of monster making versus the egotistical genius who fails to accept the unleashed terror of the monster.  Cronenberg never portrays the “Institute”  as an impenetrable bureaucratic labyrinth, rather his “Institute” is a shadowy cabal of godlike caprice (Scanners’ ConSec, Videodrome’s Spectacular Optical Corporation, The Brood’s Somafree Institute). Cronenberg pitches his narratives as struggles toward transparency, a potential whistle blower pitted against the machine grinding behind the psycho-medical cult leader who is about to unleash world ending bio-technology into society. All before it is too late!

What does RABID tell us about the New Flesh? Rose develops a non-sexual sex organ that rewires the circulatory system transforming its function into consumption. A consumption process that infects as it feeds. Playing on the spreading HIV pandemic, surely, but Cronenberg has bigger ideas in mind. The New Flesh, as it arcs through his films, asserts that within every human organ lies dormant a violent self-determination, a parasite waiting to be born/unleashed. The “Institution,” inadvertently or overtly, seeks to weaponize biological evolution.

Returning to Chamber’s performance – while Cronenberg claims that he was not playing on the fact that she was a well known pornographic star and that he really wanted Sissy Spacek to play Rose, it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. Once Rose’s armpit anus/penis develops the film sets up a series of “kills” that mimic, if not directly subvert typical pre-sex scenes in pornography. Rose’s first attack is after she has an “awakening” out of her coma, an overt sexual rebirth where she writhes on the bed and gropes at the doctor who comes in to check on her, his duplicity is his downfall.


Each subsequent “kill” takes the sexual situation and infects it with the deadly contagion of the armpit attack. There is the hot tub lesbian scene, there adverted barn rape, there is the creepy porno theater pick-up, the ice cream mall ploy – all are played by Chambers with a dead stare, an emotional disconnection that mirrors the banal work-a-day mechanics of porn, while also subverting the impending money shot. Instead of the hyper-sexed world of instantaneous coitus, the impending act Chambers is teasing out is the violent consumption. The spreading contagion of the attack. Her performance is perfect, capturing the boredom of an inevitable end.

This introduces another aspect of the New Flesh that seems to feed on behavior that presents itself as abhorrent or deviant. Rose turns the sexual predator/ladies man pickup artist into blood prey for her armpit lust. Videodrome explicitly spells it out, when Harlan scolds, “Now, you and this cesspool you call a television station and your people who wallow around in it, your viewers who watch you do it, they’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.”

One final note on the Chambers as porn actress motif – after all she has endured, walked the audience through, the last few minutes of the movie have her dead body being picked up by the military garbage men. Unwittingly they hoist patient zero into the back of a filthy garbage truck. Commentary on the sex industry? Probably not implicitly. But possibly.