Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018)

swingSo. Spider-man, we meet again. I have never liked you as a superhero, you are too immature and your Bugs Bunny humor is second rate. But dang it, if Disney isn’t making you an effective little money maker.

Okay. First, I have to clear the air. I’ve nursed a 40 year resentment against Spider-man. When I was in second or third grade, my best friend Aaron refused to walk home from school because of Spider-man afternoon cartoons. Instead of dwaddling home with me, Aaron would run as fast as he could up the street so he could catch as much of Spider-man as he could. I didn’t understand it because the cartoon was awful even for 7 year olds AND Aaron was never a fan of superheroes.

Now that THAT is out of the way, SPIDER-MAN INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is really good. See it!

The animation is innovative and exciting. The competing styles which clash and explode on the screen capture the comic book world at its most inspiring. A visual template where everything is possible. While the plot irreverent enough to admit it makes no sense. And as an origin story of the new Spider-kid, Miles, it is fantastic.

My only real complaint about the movie is that it did not include the Broadway incarnation of Spider-man. I mean if you are going to include freeking Spider-ham, how do you not include the failed Broadway MUSICAL version! Such a clever inclusion would have worked better than making up Spider-noir or whomever it was the Nicolas Cage was voicing.

Seriously, run home right now and watch this cartoon.

Vampire Clay (2017)

vampire clay gifSpecial Effects / Creature Maker Sôichi Umezawa’s VAMPIRE CLAY is a throw back to the stop motion lunacy of J-body horror. Think TETSUO, THE IRON MAN.

The movie’s premise is simple and the plot wastes no time getting to the monster attack.

Situated in the rural area, aspiring art students toil away under the tutelage of a scorned sculptor. Their teacher pressures them to compete against each other to find the perfection in the clay, but the clay has other ideas. Mainly eating all the students.

The clay is part blob monster, part stop motion penis looking appendage, and part super creepy child sized abstract figure. If there was more creepy clay kid figure and less possessed human actors wearing prosthetics crashing around, the movie could have reeled over the top. As it exists, it has some wild moments, but never fully commits to the bit.

For instance, just when we are getting the deus ex machina hero plowing in to save the ladies from a deadly bad day, the movie stops to explore backstory. Unfortunately, the backstory was more interesting than the movie we are watching. In part, because the origin of the VAMPIRE CLAY is a slow burn, traditional horror story of betrayal and revenge.

But just as the backstory clicks into place, the movie shoots back into gross out violent hyper drive as the clay reforms to attack the heroes some more.

I do have one HUGE complaint. The ending of VAMPIRE CLAY is epically stupid and poorly done. I thought I was watching some NATURE Channel documentary on the life of trash. Seriously. There is like 10 minutes watching a cardboard box decay in a hole. Then the payoff is one of the the worst giant monster attacks in Japanese film history.

Bah Grumblefuck.

Bloody Spear of Mount Fuji (1955)

fujiTomu Uchida’s A Bloody Spear of Mount Fuji (Chiyari Fuji, 1955) seeks to subvert the superhero heroics of the Samurai movie. In fact, the Samurai, Sakawa, is not the primary focus of the action, instead his two servants –  Genta and Gonpachi are the real leads.

Also keeping Sakawa in the background are the rest of the travelers the three of them meet. There is a young runaway boy, a mother/daughter minstrel team, a suspicious man with too much money, and the threat of a deadly bandit hiding among the group. Normal people just living their lives.

By centering the action of the film on the “regular people” the Samurai is pushed into the background – a distant prime mover still due adoration and respect – mostly inconsequential to the drama. Plus, Sakawa is a flawed and complicated Samurai, not the brooding deadly machine that slice through other films.

In fact, Sakawa’s mission is to deliver a nice little piece of fine china to the Emperor in the Capital. But Sakawa is a drunk and his two attendants are charged with keeping him sober until the little cup is delivered. When he does get drunk, he is transformed into a deadly asshole, bullying some innocent merchants. When Sakawa encounters the merchants again, he has no memory of the event and sees their fear of him as strangely respectful.

BLOODY SPEAR AT MOUNT FUJI blows open the social world surrounding the murderous power of the Samurai. The most telling scene is the open air tea ceremony in which three travelling Lords block the main thoroughfare callously delaying hundreds of other travelers. They stopped to admire the majesty of Mount Fuji, but are treated to the aroma of explosive diarrhea of the young boy accompanying the Samurai.

It is the absurdity and contradiction of the social order that gives Sakawa something to brood upon. Witnessing the sheer accident of apprehending the thief, for which Sakawa is singled out for accommodation even though he did nothing to help, coupled with the reward of a piece of paper expressing “feudal lord” thanks, Sakawa begins to see societal injustice.

The lie at the center of society is finally exploded during the last brutal, chaotic scene of the movie. The action scene, whereby we come to learn how the spear bloodies itself, is a dance of rage, luck, and pure war. As Gonpachi flays around, stabbing and thrusting, he wins the day not by masterful skill or single slicing, but through chaos against drunken opponents. And in the end, even this slaughter, is denied official existence – since no Samurai would allow himself to be slain by a lowly attendant.

Hell Fest (2018)

IMG_1220Made for the Halloween market, Gregory Plotkin’s HELL FEST is not a bad movie, nor is it a good one either. It is effective as 89 minutes of distraction.

The plot is about as predictable and lame as plots come, although it tells a coherent, easily understandable horror story. Basically, a killer is loose in a haunted house “experience” and he targets our group of college age models.

The visuals are effective, the acting competent, and the terror is not overwrought. There are no scenes where the killer magically teleports across vast spaces. The security is dismissive, but not overly stupid. And final rampage, while stupid, does achieve its lame purpose of giving the final girls a few moments of heroism.

I puzzle over the enthusiasm that the “slasher” genre still engenders. Back when the horror market was flooded with invincible giants chopping up 20-somethings, audiences were lamenting the loss of the traditional “monster” movies. Complaining that slasher jerks were one note amateurs – hack and slash the nearly nude – without any real atmosphere or horror.

HELL FEST is a competent addition to the slasher genre and that maybe why horror fans give it such a bad time…

Wake in Fright (1971)

coin flipIn my quest to see all the Donald Pleasance movies, I put Ted Kotcheff’s WAKE IN FRIGHT into my Netflix queue and promptly forgot about it. So when it showed up at home, I was confused why I wanted to watch it.

But gosh, boy, I sure am glad I did. Wowee.

This is the story of an elitist, embittered, and general all around jerk Outback school teacher who dreams of fleeing his sun-baked one room school house for the cosmopolitan sophistication of London. But first he needs to go on winter holiday…

Utterly contemptuous of his fellow Australians, especially the lower working class blokes, he ends up losing all his money in a bar gambling game and getting stuck in a small mining town. The local drunks and perverts gladly take him in – keeping him drunk and disordered for the remainder of his holiday.

Donald Pleasence is amazing as a debased, alcoholic doctor who serves as the primary guardian and guide to Gary Bond’s travelling teacher. The mining town vacation consists of increasingly dingy bars, sweating shacks, and dust caked blood stains. The movie’s action is filthy hangovers, ripped clothing, and everything ends up soaked in cheap beer. WAKE IN FRIGHT captures the heatwave incoherence of alcoholism – more than a binge but a way of existing.

There is some controversy surrounding this flick, aside from the frank depiction of bottom hitting lost weekend drunks, and it involves a long and surprisingly brutal kangaroo hunt. The sequence is long, bloody, and real. While the kangaroo wrestling is staged, the rest of the hunt was filmed on location with authentic kangaroo hunters. But Australians don’t have the same love and novelty toward kangaroos, as we might assume.

This is an epic movie with great performances and real sense of place. And that place is a sweaty, stinky, fly infested shack sitting next to an open sewer.

Shoot First…Die Later (1974)

16739.largeFernando Di Leo’s Il poliziotto è marcio (Shoot First, Die Later) is a police thriller that IS about the police, but is NOT very thrilling.

Sure, the plot is basically, BAD LIEUTENANT, without the barrel chested nudity.

And everyone the Bad Lieutenant loves ends up dead or in jail (thanks in big part to an epilogue title card that tells us that).  But the intrigue is predictable, the bad guys really run of the mill mafioso-types, and the rest of the police force, well, Italian.

A few things are notable about this:

First, there is a gay gangster couple who are the enforcers for the crime bosses. They are deadly and sharp tongued – taunting the pretty police lieutenant with scene chewing come-ons. It would be offensive, if they couple were not played as such bad asses.

Secondly, the car chases are super low speed, drag on FOREVER, and are mindnumbingly boring. Tiny little 1970s gas efficient Yugos, all the same color green, bouncing around the mule alleys and pushcart dead ends of some Italian city. Its actually, now that I think about it, a pretty great part of the film. At least something eventually happens…

I suppose this is a morality tale about crime and bribery not paying off in the end, but, I am not sure, because the real top bad guys totally got away with everything. But isn’t that always the way?

What Keeps You Alive (2018)

what keeps you aliveColin Minihan’s WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is a tight little suspense flick that manages to pull out a few crafty new tricks to an otherwise beaten, obvious thriller set up.

A newlywed couple arrive at a remote cabin only to discover/reveal one of them is a murderous psychopath.  Yawn, right?

I know.

You are starting to doze off thinking about the cat and mouse shenanigans. You can already see the woodsy chases that ignore space and time and broken bones. Then there is the impossible hide and seek games with closets and under the bed. Not to mention the slow reveal of the legacy of horror that killer, somehow, has managed to rack up and conceal.

WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is really a set piece for the two lead performances – Hannah Emily Anderson allows her physicality to embody the furiousness of her character, while beautifully contrasted by the panicked calm of Brittany Allen. Together they make a compelling and interesting set of opponents – each withholding secrets from the other.

Minihan’s previous movie with Allen is equally grand in its small scale and inventiveness – IT STAINS THE SANDS RED – is a zombie chase movie unlike anything I’ve seen before and well worth checking out.

Good stuff.

Overlord (2018)

overlord-peekJulius Avery’s OVERLORD cannot make up its mind about whether it is a straight-forward war picture or a horror flick. Unfortunately, it is a better war picture – pulling off subtly and horror of the D-Day invasion’s seemingly impossible mission with some amount of tension. Meanwhile, the horror is overshadowed by silliness and predictability.

I should say that super solider “Nazi Experiments” is a highly contrived and bordering on the offensive. DOD SNO and FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY both covered similar ground in more inventive, stylized, and over-the-top ways. For instance, DOD SNO‘s sex in the outhouse or FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY impossibly mashed up video-game villains.

The other thing that occurred to me is that “Nazi Horror” desperately tries to deny the long, dismal shadow of the Holocaust’s primal disgust. The Holocaust is a Black Hole of human suffering and cruelty, a reality that sucks the life out of all the entertainment horror/Sci Fi tropes. So we as an audience are asked to suspend our knowledge of the real terror to embrace the “super solider” experiment which can comfortably release our tension in a professional wrestling fist-fight resolution.

Meanwhile, Jovan Adepo creeps around in the shadows of the underground bunker lab, his shock is expected and conventional. He is not bearing witness to the industrial slaughter machine of the Holocaust, he is stumbling around a Mad Doctor’s frantic lab of twitching body bags and gasping body parts. His horror is comforting to us as the audience, reminding us of the unreality of what we are watching.

Having said all that, I will say that for 80% of the movie works as a thriller. But the 20% that is straight up horror nonsense really starts poking plot holes into an otherwise tight thriller.

Society (1986)

society-1989-movie-4Horror maestro Brian Yuzna’s SOCIETY is a literal and figurative gooey, wet, latex mess. Ostensibly, the movie is a social comment on the difference between the wealthy, power elite and the normal everyday working class people. But not really. Or maybe? I dunno.

The idea that there is a cabal of slimy creatures that exist feeding on the weaker, clueless human population is an old, tired, and surprisingly undying horror trope. Like the vampires that seem to populate it the most, this idea can’t be killed.

DAYS OF OUR LIVES star Billy Warlock is the hapless and idiotic hero. He bumbles around the movie with not a lot to do even though we are asked to believe that he feels his family is somehow different and maybe out to get him. Meanwhile, he has girl troubles and a preppy bully in the shadows complicating his life.

Of course, all his fears are real. Everyone is out to get him – literally they are trying to drive him insane before eating him up in a big orgy party. The party is supposedly the piece of resistance of the film, where all the real special effects money went. But aside from some effective lighting and comely actors, the latex is embarrassingly inept.

While there are iconic images from the movie, mostly due to endless coverage in Fangoria Magazine, this movie is a real clunker. Even with the butthead joke…


Trouble Man (1972)

downloadTROUBLE MAN is a sub-par blaxsploitation flick. While is has a great cast and a superior director, Ivan Dixon, it suffers from bad pacing and a stupid story.

Robert Hooks plays a local fixer, general Mack of the Neighborhood, Mr. T, who is a pool shark, a ladies’ man, private detective, gangland mediator, and all around sweet guy (who makes a shady Gordon Jump pay for a sick kid’s hospital stay).

Mr. T becomes embroiled in a double cross gang caper cooked up by the nervous Paul Winfield and cool as ice TVs-Mr. Walton-Himself, Ralph Waite. The two frame Mr. T, not once, but twice. But by the second time, I had given up on Mr. T as a smart cookie because the plot was soooo greasy paper thin. It was obvious what they were up to from the very, very beginning. Before they even said anything about it, really.

There is a relatively low body count, but that is par for the course. Only the pool hall owner gets roughed up – which leads to the best scene in the movie where he calls Mr. T from the hospital. It is played sincere and tough and is heartbreakingly funny.

Plus the final blood bath was so stupid that it felt like they added it on just to appease…well…someone, I suppose.

The costume design was alright but not up to the skheezy standards of other films in the genre. There were no topless scenes and the sex machine was noticeably absent. But did I mention that the dad from THE WALTONS plays the big bad guy? Because, holy shit, he does.