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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Terror and Black Lace (1985) Horror Thriller

Terror and Black Lace (1985) - "Terror Y Encajes Negros" is what some call a Mexican version of a giallo. It is not quite that but it is a story that is heavy on moral message wrapped in a thriller. Isabel (Maribel Guardia) is a young wife of an older man, she is a kept woman safely ensconced in her penthouse apartment she longs to interact with the world. Her husband Martinez (Gonzalo Vega) likes to know where she is, to know what she is doing, as well as controlling her access to money. It is always great when a scene sets up a character without exposition about that character and there is a great simple one to show how Martinez thinks. He comes home and there is a service truck in front of the entrance, he gets out of his car and rips off the wipers from the van before it can speed away. When upstairs with his wife she is doting on him, calming him with a drink and dinner. She tells him she made him pork chops and rice. He says he already had something like that today and then proceeds to take her in the kitchen and explain how she will make him a "tortuga" totally ignoring the work she did in preparing him a meal. He is bit of a dick but it sets up both her and him. His overbearing behavior is going to drive Isabel to do things she probably not do. Of course the moral lesson is hers to learn and through her the audience gets the message.
Little do the residents of the apartment building know that there is a deviant in their midst. Cesar the instrument maker has a compulsion that will blow up into murder later in the film. The movie does a good job hiding his predilection with a bit of misdirection. The opening scene has the creeper Cesar (Claudio Obregon) in a mall following a woman onto an escalator. He stands really close to her and after he gets off we continue to follow the woman. Suddenly people notice that her dress has been cut up on the back. Did that creeper really just cut pieces off her dress in public? Later we see Cesar in the elevator of the building fighting the urge when women enter. He says to himself, not at home not where he lives. You get the picture from this that his urge is strong and it takes all of his will power to restrain himself. Still though it is surprising when you see what his real deal is. If you pay attention to his interaction with the cleaning girl Coquis (Claudia Guzman) you can figure it out but this viewer was a bit slow. We cut to scenes of Cesar and his mistreatment of women throughout the film. We really get the full picture of his fetish and know that at some point it will come into play with the main story.
That main story about a kept woman romanticizing about a different life is a bit mundane. It is well developed if not particularly interesting. Isabel decides to change her life by getting out more and in so doing she meets another man. The black lace outfit she initially thought would get her husband back to treating her like more than a useful piece of decoration is now a way to break from her boring life. She meets and flirts with Ruben (Jaime Moreno) on a few occasions. So her husband was right all along thinking that if he gave her too much freedom she would soon stray? She decides to meet Ruben at his apartment on a weekend when Martinez is going out of town Ruben for his part is thrill with the idea of finally getting this woman in bed and who wouldn't Maribel Guardia is a former Miss Costa Rica and a beautiful women. Ruben is exactly the reason Martinez is so protective of his wife. He is a single man who thinks nothing of trying seduce another man's wife. His smarmy coolness makes the viewer cringe and thus he is the perfect foil for the moral tale being told here. So when he gets Isabel to agree to join him at his apartment we are set up for the lesson.
Isabel for her part will have to make a decision before the night is out. She sees her husband off and gets ready for her night out at Ruben's. She knows what she is getting into dressing in the black lace outfit she is beautiful and then puts her blue dress over it and heads out. It is sort of a shame really what happens to her. Martinez with a chance to impress his boss and possibly get a promotion has some really bad luck. A flat tire and a bad car jack make him miss the opportunity of a lifetime. He heads home a broken man. His scenes are really played almost for comedy with every one of his reactions a real exaggeration. Isabel has equally bad luck, even after making her decision at Ruben's she is punished for even thinking about cheating on her husband. As she rides the elevator back to her apartment she has the misfortune of coming in contact with Cesar.
He has been having his own bad night and it has spun completely out of control. An argument with Coquis turns fatal and it is poor Isabel's fate to be in the elevator just as Cesar is trying to get rid of the body. This starts the rather good final sequence of the film where Cesar does all he can to get Isabel and make sure no one ever knows about his crime. It is a long sequence and Isabel has several very close calls in and out of the elevator, the roof and her apartment. When finally she manages to reach the apartment of the party and it seems she is safe, the moral lesson smacks her one more time. Her husband arrives home as she is being calmed on the balcony and from his viewpoint it is his wife in a black lace outfit surrounded by men. He is furious and refuses to listen to anyone pulling her out of the party and forcing her back into the elevator, the place of her trauma. As she cries in a ball in the elevator he walks up the stairs to see the door of his apartment hacked open, he realizes something more has happened and cries for forgiveness.
The lesson in this film is a rough one with Isabel even though she ends up making the right decision is a victim for just thinking about cheating on her husband. In a way the film presents her as young and naive and Martinez as her protector. This is a bit of a relic of a pre-feminism world maybe reflecting Mexican society at the time but maybe not even that. Reflecting on it with today's views Martinez comes across as more manipulative and Isabel is responding to his smothering personality. A women though who would cheat on her spouse becomes fair game for any psychopath lurking in the world. It does not matter if she follows through or not, if only she had listened to her husband and accepted her cage nothing bad will ever happen to her. Not the most modern of messages. Still the film was reasonably well constructed and the final sequence well done. So it will get a pass from Soresport movies. Oh and since you are wondering here is the toruga recipe
1. Open a roll and pull out most of the bread leaving a hollowed crust.
2. Refried beans spread on one side, avacado and chilies spread on the other.
3. In the middle Ham, slices of tomato, avacado, cheese, onions, and some chili peppers.
Eat and be merry!
Rating (6.1) 5.0 and up are recommended.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

TrollHunter (2010) Horror Trolls

TrollHunter (2010) - TrollHunter takes the Scandinavian myths and brings them to life in a surprisingly entertaining film. It is a slow starter but with enough leaking of information to keep the viewer interested. Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Morck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) are a group of college students investigating bear poaching and hunting in Norway. In particular they are following a man named Hans (Otto Jespersen) suspected of poaching. The film spend a fair amount of time having the students attempt to get Hans into an interview. Hans at first wants nothing to do with them but after a lot of staking him out and following him he starts to interact with them. He only agrees after spilling that he hunts trolls. They had followed him out into the forest one night and find his empty car. Off in the distance are sounds and flashes of light. Hans comes running out of the darkness and yells for them to run and "TROLL!" The troll takes out the kids car and when they find it need a ride from Hans. They still have seen nothing and this guy could just be a crazy. Even after Thomas is bitten by a troll as they flee he thinks it may have been a bear. This is really the first third of the movie and it is a bit slow. The filmmaker Andre Ovredal does a nice job only slowly revealing the monsters.
Things pick up when they get to go along on a the hunt. Hans again leaves them and goes off to face a troll. He is armed with a light gun which plays into the myths, where trolls turn to stone in the sunlight. The students are left at the vehicle wondering if this is a goose chase. When Hans comes running out of the forest screaming for them to haul ass they are treated and terrified with their first up close and personal troll experience. The combination of night vision camera shots and CGI troll are very effective. We are with Kalle the camera man for the scene and boy does he just get away by the skin of his teeth. The honest reunion when the group finds each other after the episode is also refreshing. It is excited and relief at the same time. The crew has seen what they thought was only myth. They had a very close and dangerous encounter and come out unharmed. Well done scene.
It is great that this film also touches upon beliefs about the government in its plot. We learn that Hans works for the government, a hunter that is doing his job controlling the troll population. After he kills any troll that leaves it's territory and comes in contact with humans or domesticated animals. They are predatory animals and need to be controlled. After the kill Hans calls the wildlife service bureaucrat Finn to come in and make the troubled area seem like an area where there is bear activity. The idea is to keep the trolls existence secret. Finn (Hans Morten Hansen) comes in and sets up a bear caucus that will be found and made the scapegoat. Later when the group goes to a electricity provider about some downed wired, there is an amusing scene where the unquestioning employee explains how the power lines that the power travels out from the plant in a giant circle and back to the plant. Hans explains later that the wires are actually an electric fence to keep trolls in a particular territory.
The film really is pretty enjoyable and build on the troll myths by giving answers to how and why trolls are killed by sunlight. They really take the time to allow the audience to have a full story. This while there are encounters with several different kinds of troll. There is a great scene when the group while investigating a report of troll activity get caught in the cave that is inhabited by a clan of trolls. It is a wonderfully tense and frightening scene, with the hairy penis nosed trolls.
The final expedition out into the north of Norway is against a giant troll and whether or not the crew will come out of it alive is in play. Overall this was a very competently done film with an interesting story that takes a set of myths and builds on them creating an accessible modern myth. The scares are decent and the CGI very expertly done.
Rating (7.0) 5.0 and up are recommended

Friday, December 23, 2011

Living Hell (2000) - Horror

Living Hell (2000) - Original title Iki-jigoku, is a gory family drama with an unexpected twist. This film's packaging bills it as the "The Japanese Texas Chainsaw Massacre" which throws up a red flag right from the get go. It sets up all kinds of expectations about the kind of horror we are about to see. It may not be a fair thing to do to a film. The opening scene is standard horror fair. A noise in the house, was it the dog, wakes the wife while the husband sleeps soundly. She gets up and carries a baseball bat out into the hall to investigate. Why don't people ever turn on lights? It seems like the first thing you would do if you were investigating a noise in your house. No though on this dark and stormy night it is just a woman in the dark with a baseball bat. When she reaches the end of the hall we see her shocked expression as she stands behind a girl down on her knees who is... what?... Eating the dog? The woman with the bat is horrified who would eat a dog, raw? Too bad she was not paying attention in her fear because at this moment she is struck from behind. On the floor now the woman is turned face up and the killer places a stag beetle on her eye and it immediately borrows into her head. Where did that come from? Next we see the husband as he wakes to see a hammer heading into his skull.
This first scene although a couple of the elements are a bit bizarre is really a standard piece of work. In screenwriting you want the first couple scenes to really pull people into the film. To raise questions that will be answered as the film proceeds. It has to be compelling to capture the audience. This first scene okay but nothing special, it gets added to the next scene of the cops at the house investigating the deaths to set us up with who the killers are. We learn that the they think it is not an outside killer but a family member, the girl near the dog disappeared. They only find the 72 year old senile granny alive in the house and she is destined to be locked up as crazy.
So we set up the story proper for the film a group of adult live at home children and there often absent (working) father accept into their home some distant relatives, an old lady Chiyo (Yoshiko Shiraishi) and the Mute grandaughter Yuki (Naoka Mori). Ken (Kazuo Yashiro) is the oldest of the children, with adopted daughter Mami (Rumi) in the middle and both caring for the youngest wheelchair bound Yasu (Hirohito Honda) must accept the newcomers no matter how strange they are. The film takes some time in the early going to show us some nicely shot scare scenes where Yasu is frightened by the newcomers, but is he hallucinating. The point is made to have Ken and Mami talk about their little brother wondering if he is getting worse.
The movie at this point devolves into a long slow torture session for Yasu. Chiyo and Yuki at first creep him out, then outright scare him and then harm him repeatedly and without mercy. Yasu's life becomes the living hell in the title of the film. Along the way there are some excellent scare tactics for the viewing audience. Some is to make you think that Yasu is actually having hallucination, some to lead you into thinking that there is something supernatural in the story. Some just to gross you out. It is important to note though, that although there is some blood in the film it is by no means a gorefest. Most of the torture is not seen on scene while it is happening. Using cut away and them coming back for the after affects is useful in creating the illusion but by no means is this a gory movie. Well okay there are a couple things that should not be spoiled by writing about them.
A secondary storyline is a reporter Mitsu who is tracking the original murder story and continues to delve into the strange old lady and her silent granddaughter. It serves essentially to have there be the chance that the weirdos will be caught and that there is hope that Yasu will be saved. Unfortunately for Mitsu he happens to be working at the paper where Ken works and although this creates some tense scenes as Mitsu closes in on the home where the family lives it also gives away that Mitsu can not be successful. He is useful though in laying out everything there is to know about Chiyo and her children.
Through a Dr. Kurando, who meets with Mitsu we learn about Chiyo and her son became part of an experimental program. How she was part of an experiment to have and separate Siamese twins. The doctor describes the woman as a monster and her son as worse. All of this is already known by poor Yasu though and the final part of the film where he receives the revelations of all the information the audience has has to be seen to be believed. As an audience member you are probably thinking that this movie is more of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation and possibly feeling pretty disappointed with the plot of the film. Well a final twist will have you shaking your head and wondering why?
Overall the film does not live up to the hype. Wait was there really any hype? What is has though, which gets it a recommendation from Soresport Movies, is some very effective scare tactics. Some of the camera tricks in those scenes is excellent. The smaller amounts of practical gore effects are well done. Personally I enjoy when someone suddenly appears and runs right at you terrific low key jump scare. The story seemed convoluted and the twist really unnecessary at the end of the film, after everything else had played out and a bow could be tied on the film. Writer, Director and player of the part Mitsu has done an effective enough job to give this film a pass.
Rating (5.1) 5.0 and up are recommended

Friday, December 16, 2011

Strigoi (2009) Horrorish Vampire Quick Hit

Strigoi (2009)- Quick Hit ( Not a full review but at least something in passing) This is a quirky little film that really isn't a horror movie, but although there are some comedic elements is not a comedy either, not even a dark comedy. What is it? A drama murder mystery that uses the traditional pre-hollywood ideas of vampires as a center piece to move the story forward.
In a Romanian village a conspiracy is carried out against the wealthiest land owner and his wife. Constantin Tirescu (Constantin Barbulescu) and his wife Lleana (Roxana Guttman) are killed by the villagers and there property taken. They are accused of a crime that is not specified but this could just be an excuse. He is the largest land owner and richest member of the village having even built the church. The villagers are tired of one guy having so much though and they take it all away through murder. The problem is these two corpses won't stay buried.
The story from there centers on Vlad Cozma (Catalin Paraschiv) an underachiever in a family of doctors who dropped out of medical school in Italy and has returned to the village to get his bearings. He is staying with his cute little old grandfather Nicolae (Rudi Rosenfeld) and helping the old man while he avoids the rest of his family. After leaving his house in the morning in search of cigarettes Vlad comes across his neighbor Mara (Camelia Maxim) passed out in her doorway and gets her up and in the house. She feeds him and talks about having to prepare food for the funeral of another villager who has passed away named Florine. Vlad makes his way to Florine's to find the mayor Stephan (Zane Jarcu) and some other villagers sitting around the body talking. It is a tradition to sit with the newly dead for three days and nights to make sure the dead does not come back as a vampire. They sit and tell stories and talk to the body then after the time period the funeral will take place. Vlad notices that Florine is wearing a very nice watch. Much to expensive for a peasant he questions the group about it. He is a sharp guy and notices other things too, fancy shoes on on man etc. strange he thinks.
As he talks to people in the village he senses something is amiss, were those bruises he saw on Florine's neck? In speaking with the village priest and his friend growing up he learns that Florine's death was ruled an accident and a paper was filed that he supposedly signed as the one who examined the body. Although everyone wants him to drop it he is going to investigate this. The next day he contacts his police officer friend and then visits the home of the Tirescu's. to the audiences surprise they are there. Lleana facially a bit bloated with blood and very disheveled leads him to her husband. We learn a bit about this form of vampirism from the appearnce of characters. The Tirescu's are bloated dead bodys that leave their graves to wander back into the familiar places of their lives. They can communicate and function but the sound affects of the bubbling gases they contain and the flush of there faces give away that something is not right. Vlad though does not know they have been killed and talks to them as he normally would. He is subject to a bit of history about Romania of hoe the Constantin gathered up his land holding by first working with the Russian invaders and then using the money he had accumulated from them to buy up the village lands since it was all confiscated in communism but was now available.
Mara at this time has her own problems as the undead Lleana arrives at her house and proceeds to eat everything that was prepared for Florine's funeral. The undead are insatiable and poor Mara is nervous and frightened and franically starts making more food to appease Lleana. She will get to play this storyline out as she runs out of food the undead Lleana will have only her to eat.
Vlad with some slow meandering will solve the mystery of the town. In doing so the viewer gets to be surprised to learn who is undead and who is alive in the town. Not wanting to spoil this film lets leave it as a solid mystery with Vlad being the protagonist and the villagers who are in the plot the antagonists. There are some very good scenes between Vlad and Nicolae where the old man relays what life in Romania has been like since WWII. First the Germans invaded he says and they were forced to fight a war they wanted no part of. When the Germans lost he had to walk all the way back from Russia alone. Then the Russian came and were far worse. The Communists took the land that had been in his family for generations, said it was no longer his but he had to work it as he always had and give his bounty to the government. Then when the Russians left men like Constantin used their corrupt money to try to buy the land from him. These scenes were very touching and well acted and so improved the story. Overall the film is a bit off center but in a compelling enough way. The acting is solid and the mystery compelling. So this quick hit is a success, it is available On Demand in FOIS but not yet available on Netflix.
Rating (5.5) 5.0 and up are recommended

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Offspring (2009) Horror Cannibals

Offspring (2009) - How is it that Soresport Movies ends up with so many cannibal movies. You would think that in the thousands of films at our disposal that these would be few and far between. In this case it was all luck, picked up in a discount bin and filed away in giant books of DVDs Offspring was chosen completely by chance, a dice roll to be more specific. Sometimes when we just want to review something but do not know what to choose we just roll some 20 sided dice and let chance decide. So was Offspring a lucky choice, a movie of worth, well I guess that is what this review is all about.
Deep in the woods of Maine for more than 160 years there have been nomadic tribes of feral people just looking for a cave to sleep in and a bite to eat. Because we civilized humans have been encroaching on their habitat these feral nomads have taken the opportunity to get that bite to eat at our expense. Picking through our garbage like raccoons in the night? Ransacking our vacation homes for can goods? No, littering the countryside with our corpses as they kill and eat us. That is the premise and by golly this idea will be explored to the gore filled fullest.
To set it up we get the early kill we need to understand how vicious these people are. A drunk woman named Gloria (T.J. Graye) comes home, there is no way she should have been driving in her car with how much she staggered when she got out of it. A belligerent drunk Gloria yells for the babysitter when entering the wide open front door of her house. To her surprise the babysitter is in the kitchen, well it wasn't a surprise that she was in the kitchen really, it was a surprise that she was dead in the kitchen being eaten by cannibal children. Her alcohol fogged mind slowly comprehended what was going on and she turned to see another cannibal with the parts of her baby in a plastic bag. Yeah those cannibal children are a nasty ( hungry) bunch.
A quick introduction of the characters before we get into the bulk of the story. Computer game programmers Amy (Amy Hargreaves) and David Halbard (Andrew Elvis Miller) live and work in their home in the woods. They are a happy couple with a little baby named Melissa. They talk about being visited by their friend Claire (Ahna Tessler) and her son Luke (Tommy Nelson) who after being abandoned by her scumbag, financial manager husband need to get away from possibly being tracked down by the abusive lout. He also is a criminal like all those Wall St. types just in case being an abuser is not enough. They are coming for some quiet time in the woods and they will get part of that. Steven being a fucking thief he is also misogynist and all around asshole when he dies you are expected to feel good. Played with a spite filled gleam in his eye by Erick Kastel you do not even have to hate him for his implied financial crisis connection. You can hate him for just being a woman hating and abusing douche bag. Did I mention he was an alcoholic? Now that is just piling on.
He does serve a role though beyond being a driving force in bringing Luke and Claire to Maine. He is a counter evil to the cannibals. They are feral hunters who just happen to hunt humans. Predators who seek the easiest prey, most certainly dangerous but for reason outside of good or evil. Steven on the other hand shows how you don't have to be feral to be a predator. His personality was shown very well in a scene of him driving his Porsche to Maine to track down Claire. He stops to pick up this college girl who is hitching to Portland she is friendly and nice, but he is suggestive and cold. When she sees him drinking while driving she wants out. There is this dialog where he tries to convince her to be his guide in getting to hi upstate location even though she is not heading anywhere near there. He phrases it as an invitation with sexual possibilities but when she balks he plays it off as not that. She insists on getting out so without slowing down he tells her to get out of the car with a seriousness that is intimidating. Then he does what this kind of asswipe needs to do, to show control over the woman. He makes her throw her backpack out the window before he will stop. She is reluctant but sees it as the only way out so she lifts it with both hands to chuck it. As she does he takes a long firm feel of her breast. At least he only takes it that far but the girl is definitely feeling like she dodged a bullet when she got out of that car.
The remaining characters are the old retired cop George Chandler (Art Hindle) who was on the job the last time the feral tribe came through town years before. He is recruited by the local cops to help in tracking them down. Is expertise consists of not stopping them before they moved on the first time so it is surprising that he can be any help this time. Then there are the Cannibals lead by Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) who no doubt got her role in the more acclaimed "The Woman" from her performance here. She brings a fire to the role of the woman in this film. I did not quite get why it was a matriarchal society since her male counterpart at least in age seemed more physically superior. It may be that they wanted a counter to the strong male roles already in the film. Whatever the reason she is menacing and able to lead. The kids are somewhat interchangeable as the tribe with the exception of the blond, maybe called First Stolen? Maybe Girl, I am not sure.
The plot is simple enough, this group of fine young cannibals attacks the home of David and Amy, there is killing and capture. Fleeing with baby Melissa are Claire and Luke. They hide in the wood in a tree house but when they see one of their friends being taken to the cannibal cave Claire heads out to save the day. At the same time Stephen arrives at the house and is run off by the crazy cannibal children. Drunk and belligerent he runs right into the police and George who are hot on the trail of the tribe. The rest plays out in a sluggish and standard survival movie way. Who will survive by fighting off the cannibals? Will Luke and the baby find help? Will the old cop still have what it takes to deal with the threat? Will a horror movie ever end without first setting up for a sequel?
Thoughts on this movie are these: It is a hard premise to sell. In a 160 years a group of survivors from a shipwreck went from being a civilized group to no more than cannibalistic cavemen? They mostly lost their language and apparently the ability to act human really? 160 years ago my could have been your great grandparents, so that would mean that living in the woods caused your grandparents to become cannibals, to not teach language to the next generation and thus your parents just have half words and grunts, they are possible eaten by their children because there was no obvious maternal caring in the tribe. No I just don't buy it, it is not a sound theory. Maybe the writer could explain it. What I did like about the movie were some of the characters and the wonderful gore. It was bloody and gruesome even though the film itself is just mediocre. Art Hindle was great a veteran actor in the horror genre with parts in some well known films like Black Christmas, the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Brood. Actress Amy Hargreaves gets a Soresport point for appearing in the best Edward Furlong movie ever as Kimberley in Brainscan (1994).
So I am barely going to recommend this film but it is truly a borderline call. You may just hate it for its stupid premise and ridiculous cannibals, or like me really enjoy the blood and guts of it and appreciate the writing of the character Steven. I normally don't feel so much venom for a movie character as I do for him.
Rating (5.0) movies rated 5.0 up to 10 are recommended on this blog.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bloody New Year (1987) Horror Sci-Fi Ghost

Bloody New Year (1987) - This film is a bit of a mess, not sure if it is a sci-fi film with horror elements or a Horror film with some sci-fi mixed in, probably the latter. What it is for sure is a somewhat poorly done and not well though out film from the eighties, with unfathomable scenes that really add nothing to the film. Okay that's being a bit harsh, it is just the early scenes really have just one purpose, to bring a group of people together for the main story. The problem is all except one is already in there group so why have such an elaborate set up to get that person onto the sailboat. Lets start from the beginning:
The first scene is at the cusp of the new decade of the sixties. A New Years eve party with a drinking and conga line and fun. The night is winding down and the last of the participants is closing the room. She walks over to a mirror and suddenly her reflection reaches out and grabs her pulling her through the looking glass. Ghost story? You don't know but at least later on when the sci-fi plot point comes up you can judge whether this was effective or not.
Cut to the group who will be the focus of the film, all young and having fun at an amusement park.When a woman, Carol (Catherine Roman) is harassed by some carnies the group help her get away and are all chased into the fun house. This whole scene seems to have just a few reasons, it brings Carol into the group for the story to come later. It also foreshadows that bad things are going to happen by having Janet (Nikki Brooks) and Lesley (Suzy Aitchison) visit a fortuneteller who is terrified by what she sees in the crystal ball. It is a elaborate set piece that ends with one of the group drives his Land Rover, sailboat in tow, through the wall of the fun house and picks everyone up. They drive off with the carnies running behind them. The third thing it does is introduces the sailboat which is used briefly in the next scene.
Next we see the now six people are out on said sailboat having a good time. Joining the girls are the brave men who defended them, Spud (Colin Heywood), Rick (Mark Powley) and Tom (Julian Ronnie). Very quickly the boat hits a rock and the group has to swim for the shore of the island they are near. As they are struggling onto the rocks and out of the water someone is watching from the woods. Searching they come across some old plane wreckage and then the old abandoned Island Grand Hotel and we see it is the same place that was in our opening scene. Now the bulk of the film can take place. They are at this big creepy hotel and we get to see it get scarier as the film goes on. Well not really because although they were going for scary they really only reached the level of strange.
Ghosts and things moving on there own, then aggressive ghost and the deaths of some of the characters it is all so weird. We learn from a 1959 television report about a experimental plane that is trying to bend light and do some sort of time travel experiment. What seems to have happened is the plane doing the experiment crashed on the island back then and the people that were there are some how trapped in time, as ghost or some such thing. They are pretty pissed off from what I can tell. It does not make a lot of sense that the victims in that experiment would kill these new arrivals. It is what happens though right down to a final girl. One of the strangest things in the film is Spud Janet and Rick are watching a movie that is playing in the mini cinema of the hotel. Spud is up from doing impersonations of what is happening in the movie. Suddenly and without explanation the Arab stereotype in the movie leaps out of the screen and onto Spud and proceeds to kill him. WTF! Other equally bizarre things include a killer possessed fishing net, footprints appearing on the sand of the beach but no one connected to them, snowing in the living room of a house, a table monster that you have to see to believe, and random quicksand that is in the paths for no other reason then to kill them.
This movie is really a mess from beginning to end. About the only positive thing I had happen in my time working with this film is that I was researching the actresses and Nikki Brooks happens to also be the name of a porn star so a bunch of her images came up when I searched the name. Made by the "cult" director Norman J. Warren who did Inseminoid(Horror Planet), and Alien LinkPrey I was expecting a bit more from this. Why I was thinking that I don't know neither of those films was particularly good but one always hope for good. I might cover his 1976 Satan's Slave at some point but it will not be until I get the taste of this one from my mouth. That might just take awhile. This film just did so many things wrong that it can't even be put into the category of campy fun.
Rating (3.5) 5.0 and up are recommended

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wait Until Dark (1967) Crime Thiller

Wait Until Dark (1967) -Fredrick Knott wrote the play for this suspense story of con men trying to get a doll full of heroin from a blind woman. Knott also wrote Dial M for Murder which later was made for the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock. In this case the play was turned into a film with a screenplay written by Robert Carrington and Starring many greats, Audrey Hepburn(Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Charade, My Fair Lady), Alan Arkin(Catch-22, Edward Scissorhands, Gross Pointe Blank, Little Miss Sunshine), Richard Crenna (Over-Exposed,Marooned, A Man Called Noon, First Blood, and Rambo) , Jack Weston ( On tons of 50's &60's television series then a later career including The original Thomas Crown Affair, Fuzz and Dirty Dancing), and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (77 Sunset Strip, and I knew from The F.B.I. in the 70's but an actor with 93 credits to his name). Such a great cast and bring to that the music of Henry Mancini and this is a film to look forward to.
This pretty much one set piece is masterfully done with the direction of Terence Young who had early success making James Bond films before Wait Until Dark then never quite reached this height again but we here are Soresport Movies look forward to someday possibly checking out his 1973 entry "Le guerriere dal seno nudo".
The setup of the film is simple enough. A young drug mule named Lisa (Samantha Jones) fearing capture when bringing a shipment of heroin from Canada in a doll loads the doll off on a photographer, Sam Hendrix (Zimbalist Jr.) at the airport. It is not the high security days of the modern world but a more relaxed time when you would take a package from a total stranger and wait for them to come pick it up. Unfortunately for Sam and Susy this kindness will have unforeseen consequences.
Hepburn is excellent as Susy Hendrix, recently blinded and learning to deal with life in the dark. She is intelligent and observant while still being innocent and vulnerable. While she is out Roat (Arkin) and Lisa come to the apartment looking for the doll full of drugs. Since they can not find the doll Roat kills Lisa. We don't know this yet because the scene does not play out in such a linear way. Instead we have Mike (Crenna) and Carlino (Weston) arrive at the apartment. They are small time con men who will worm their way into Susy's life to figure out where the doll is. They search the place and only find the body of Lisa in the closet. Roat arrives to employ them in the dupe by basically framing them for Lisa's murder. They have touch stuff all over the house thinking they were doing a basic burglary but soon realize that when Lisa's body is discovered in the apartment it will be them and not Roat who pay for it. A very smart setup for a couple of not so smart thugs.
The three men dispose of Lisa and plan how best to get Susy's help in finding the doll. Mike comes visiting as an old friend of Sam's from the army. He gets to know Susy a bit and through phone calls and signals with the blinds the three thugs build an elaborate story where Sam could be suspected in the death of Lisa. The whole time terrifying poor Susy and keeping Sam away from the apartment through a series of photographer jobs where the clients fail to show up. The story they develop is indeed way too complicated for what they are trying to accomplish and since it involves Roat coming in as a couple different characters it give Susy, ever observant the idea that something is not right.
As things develop Susy is more and more sure that something about the stories is wrong. She gets the help of the little girl, neighbor Gloria, to help in solving the inconsistencies in the Mike and his partners play acting. Little does she know that Gloria has had the doll all along, having "borrowed" it from the apartment. There is also all the audio cues that Susy has been picking up from the men, Roat who came in twice as two different characters during the scam wore the same squeaky shoes. Why is it that calls from the police are made to her house as if planned perfectly to fit the story. Why do the different characters play with the blinds in the window even though it is dark out.When Gloria quietly returns it and the climax of the film begins. Gloria is sent off by Susy to intercept her husband. Knowing something is wrong Susy prepares the apartment as best she can for the trouble to come. Roat becomes to be a very mean man. He no longer needs the two con men and deals with them and now will face off and scare the doll's location out of Susy. In its theatrical release what was done in the theater at the climax is a fun story. Movie theaters would turn out house lights when Susy goes around the apartment smashing the lights. Audiences in the theaters got to watch the final 9 minutes in total darkness in an attempt to up the suspense which includes quite a bit of black screen. We at Soresport Movies did the same while we watched in the TV room and it is a nine minute stretch worthy on the effort. By today's standards the film is not particularly terrifying or scary but what it is, is a well put together thriller with excellent acting. Arkin is particularly menacing, his character like a snake in the grass. He appears laid back but you can sense the danger behind his dark glasses. Hepburn makes everything she is in better and Crenna is likable even though he is one of the bad guys. It is easy to skip over some of these classics with the flood of horror that is spilled out each year. If you do you are doing yourself a disservice. So take a chance on this blast from the past. It is worthy of a watch and worth the time. No spoilers here so all you youngsters can get it from Netflix.
Rating (8.0) 5.0 and up are recommended

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ugetsu (1953) Historical Drama

Ugetsu (1953) - Original Title "Ugetsu monogatari" won the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and is considered a masterpiece of the "Golden Age" of Japanese film. It is a story set in the 16th Century when war is coming to the Lake Biwa area and the main characters must struggle with not only the danger of coming armies but with the personal questions of what is a good life. The story follows two families from a small village at the edge of the coming battle. Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and child Genichi (Ichisaburo Sawamura), and his friend Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) and his wife Ohama (Mitsuko Mito). Genjuro is a clay pottery maker who because of the coming conflict has been fortunate to sell his wears to the nearby aristocrat. He is very poor and sees this conflict as a real way to pull he and his family out of their poverty. Greedy is more descriptive of his actions. He made the one score and is willing to do almost anything to make an even bigger sale before the war reaches his village. His friend Tobei tries in vain to become a soldier by begging a samurai for the chance, he is laughed at and told he must have armor and a spear if he is to be a warrior. Poor also he is looking for a way out of the tiny village and to find honor and importance in the eyes of others.
The wives are the counter to the men, they want happy lives with enough to eat and personal safety. Ohama tells Tobei he should not be running off but staying behind to be with her. He is determined that the way out of poverty is through soldiering and if she must wait for him so be it. He will make their lives better through his actions. Miyagi also works on her husband, as he sits looking at the silver from his first sale and plans how he can increase his pottery production to make the next larger sale, she reminds him that war is coming and instead he should be preparing a way to keep them all safe. He can not hear her though, in his mind a lot more money from another sale would be the best way to fend for his family. The story winds its way to the realizations that the men need to make to bring the families into harmony but not without first facing an incredible amount of struggle.
Genjuro and Tobei work throwing pots for days on end and manage to get a large amount to sell at the next city over. Even though the kiln process was interrupted when soldiers raid the village they sneak back to find the process complete. It is lucky they even got out of the village during the raid, so worried about keeping the kiln heat up for the correct amount of time made it so they were almost captured and sent off to work camps. Even after this close call the desire for wealth drives the men to take their goods and their families onto Lake Biwa in a dangerous journey to the city. Scared by the threat of pirates Genjuro leaves his wife and child on the shore to make their way back to the village while the remaining three continue on.
This is where the journeys divide with Miyagi and Genichi left to fend for themselves. They must take a dangerous trail back to their village avoiding soldiers along the way. She hears the rape of the women who are caught and must hide and skulk to avoid that fate. The other three manage to reach the city and are very successful in selling. When Tobei has enough money he leaves Ohama and Genjuro when he sees a general pass by. He immediately buys armor and weapons so he can make his name as a soldier. Ohama laments his leaving and looks for him but can not find him. Some soldiers capture her and take her into a house to be raped. It is implied and the last soldier to leave her crying on the floor throws coins at her and is gone. She laments her fool husband who has brought this pain down on her with his absence.
Genjuro alone selling his goods is asked by a mysterious wealthy woman to deliver a large quantity of his wears to her mansion. He of course sees this as a great profit and gladly agrees. Little does he know his fate is one of enchantment by the dead ghost of the mansion's hostess Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo). She puts a spell on him and he gladly loves her and spends his days holding her in his arms. This ghost aspect is a fascinating twist. It is broken only after a Buddhist Monk happens upon Genjuro in town and sees her is cursed. The final confrontation where Genjuro comes clean to Lady Wakasa about his wife and child is a dark and serious scene that resonates his anguish and her strong desire to keep him. When the spell is broken and he wakes we see he is sleeping at the ruins of the mansion long since burned down. It is a lesson for our lead character about that blind greed he was so in favor of and how only misfortune comes from such pursuits. He is penniless and has to make his way back home but at least he has his life.
Tobei and Ohara are an even sadder tale, yes Tobei find fame and fortune. Taking advantage of a situation he finds favor and is rewarded handsomely. So we find him traveling back towards home with men and horses a famous warrior. He is really full of himself and knows he will impress his wife when he gets home. Stopping at a village on the way he and his men head into the local whorehouse for a night of drinking and story telling. As he decides which woman to buy for the night his heart is broken. His lovely wife Ohama is a prominent lady in the establishment. The two have a sad confrontation where Tobei realizes instead of chasing fame he should have been caring for her. Lesson learned again by the man in the relationship.
The final twist I will not spoil but it is a hard lesson for Genjuro when he returns to his small shop to start again. His life completely changed by the events he set in motion through greedy ambition he is a changed man. Now dedicated to his artistry with clay he has learned his lesson and accepts the good in the life he has instead being unsatisfied.
This is an excellent film with a firm message that is universal. Acceptance and acknowledgement of what is good in your life makes living more fulfilling. This writer does struggle though with the idea that a very poor person should accept their fate and not push for a wealthier life. Granted the blind ambition of the characters in this film was a negative feature. They ignored all the coming danger in the pursuit of wealth never once questioning the wisdom of their actions. Still ambition to better yourself can be balanced with thoughtful planning to change your station in life. This excellent film is most certainly recommended
Rating (8.8) 5.0 and up are recommended

Thursday, December 1, 2011

X (2002) Crime Thriller

X (2002) - "Equis" is the story of Javier (Antonio Resines) a cop fighting a alcohol addiction that on this occasion has him waking in a strangers bed without memory of the night before. With a hangover he has to piece together his night which he learns included a gay lover being brutally murdered and the murder weapon in his possession. Unlike the comedy version of a hangover movie this is all very serious for Javier. No Mike Tyson tattoo on his face but with the lack of memory a whole bunch of problems. Was he involved in the murder? Could he have killed the hairdresser? Will his drunken absence to fulfill his sexual needs finally end his marriage? Just who killed the man he was with? Javier struggles through this very competent Noir slowly finding out bits and pieces until he solves the mysteries. The "X" in the side of the building across from where he wakes is something that pulls him to the place. Later when he learns that there was a murder there it puts the bag with the bloody scissors in his car into stark focus. Posing he manages to be on the scene and learn small amounts. Always paying attention to what is going on and noticing details is what this cop does. He manages to stay ahead of the investigation, both keeping his presence at the local guy club out of those details as well as not becoming a suspect himself until he figures the case out.
Several thing about this film are really very well done. The information is dribbled out without it seeming forced. Each time Javier learns something it still does not give him or the audience the full picture.Like the woman he wakes up with who brought his drunk ass up from the streets hoping to get laid, tries to get money from him to be an alibi. She is motivated by a crappy marriage to a spineless dweeb. She is past her prime and dresses to the nines to go out and pick up men for sex. It seems fine that she may want to be helpful to Javier but she and her husband have further ambitions that will most assuredly be there downfall.
The poor victim is a wonderful guy. Everyone liked him and thought he was great. A gay hairdresser living out his dream ends up with Javier and then dead in his own establishment. When Javier talks to his sister he learns how her brother took care of her. He had caused the accident that crippled one of her legs and he pays to get her the operations she needs to function. One as time goes on do we learn the full story. Her resentment that she is this way and the blame she still has towards her sibling. About how his coming out destroyed the conservative parents and split the family asunder.
More slowly turned out information:
We slowly learn of the money that was in the empty bag in Javier car and how it is connected to some local mobsters who want it back.
Javier and his wife Beatrice (Marta Belaustegui) have a relationship that is on the rock. His proclivity for men and excessive drinking is more than she can stand. She has tried, even getting pregnant hoping that would bring him fully into the relationship.
His police friends have always respected him and turned the other way when he expressed his preferences but more and more they look at him with suspicion. He is lucky in many ways to be able to play this story line out before they catch up to him. Javier is a very broken antihero who just manages through his wit and police skills.
In the end this is not a bad movie, I wished that the main character was a bit more likable but he was acceptable. The plot was well written and directed with just the right amount of luck versus skill. The ending is a bit of a downer but not unexpected since the story dictates the ending. The music was a bit too on the nose as far as wanting to elicit an emotion. They could really have toned it down and still been effective. The acting was very good throughout and should get some praise. The image of the ham is for my daughter who still remember her student exchange time in Spain where the family she stayed with continually sliced off the same unrefrigerated ham the whole time she was there. :) So overall I am going to pass this one onto you with a fairly decent recommendation
Rating (6.2) 5.0 and up are recommended.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Devils of Darkness (1965) Horror Vampire Cult

Devils of Darkness (1965) - This was a strange film that throws every possible genre trope at the audience and then disappoints by failing to resolve the conflict of the film in a compelling way. It starts with a graveyard scene where a red caped man carries a black candle to a grave. The sculpted bat on the grave is the symbol we will all see again. Some supernatural weather event just happens and the crypt breaks open.
Tania (Carole Gray) a gypsy girl dances for her future husband Bruno (Walter Brown). It is a happy day, their wedding day and the village is thrilled and in celebration. Unfortunately nearby from the broken grave, a large bat flies into the sky. When the gypsy villagers see it there is screaming and terror and mumbling about curses, poor Tania falls dead at the sight of it. Immediately we go into a scene of the mourning of Tania as the funeral procession moves through the forest to her burial sight. A supernatural force effects the weather and kills the priest sending the villagers scattering. Sinistre (Hubert Noel) the evil vampire opens the coffin and raises Tania from the dead to be his bride for eternity.
This is the setup that does not really begin to get into the complicated story to follow. It sets up Tania and Sinistre as the "bad guys" and then jumps to 1964 and starts in on the main plot. Our main body of characters are visiting Brittany in France. A couple guys are going spelunking and there relatives are staying at the local estate. The men in the cave scenes are cut with the relatives and local villagers doing a "All Souls Day" celebration. We are not sure if the celebration is the reason that Sinistre and Tania are suddenly on the scene, but unfortunately for the spelunkers come across the coffins in the caves. One empty and the other with Tania in it. A flash behind one caver like magic and hands grab him from behind. They are dead and the officials are saying it was an accident. Paul (William Sylvester) and one of the spelunker's sister Anne (Rona Anderson) are distraught and can not believe it even after a gypsy in the forest told them they are under the sign of the "Black Death" and the "evil eye". This was a foreshadowing that was way too much right before Keith's dead body was pulled from the cave. They really did not hold back on the tropes we have seen before.
Sinistre and Tania are suddenly in the picture at the estate. It is confusing at this point but makes a bit more sense later on. He targets Anne and takes her from the estate. When she goes missing this starts Paul on a journey trying to understand the mystery the events of those days. He hears her scream does not find her, but does find a small bat medallion where she was taken. It is not a straight line in this film though. Anne's body is found and the Inspector of the small village says it is suicide. Paul can not accept this and wants the bodies shipped back to England for a second opinion. When the bodies vanish in transport Paul suspects that there is a serious mystery. We also know that Sinistre and Tania are looking for a way to get the powerful talisman back, they suspect Paul has it but can't seem to find or get it back.
Paul tries to figure out the meaning of the bat medallion and everything else but there is a sinister cult behind it and it is not so easy to crack. He visits his friend Madeleine (Diana Decker) but she seems suspicious, not to him but certainly to the viewer. She seems to be trying to distract him at every turn. At her party he meets the lovely Karen (Tracy Reed) who suddenly becomes a focal point for Sinistre also. In fact the vampire who raises the dead is totally infatuated with her and there is the possibly that the equally lovely Tania may be on her way out as his main squeeze.
The story twists and turns its way through finding out who the cult members are and Sinistre's desires and plans. It spends the time to identify everyone even though the story when it climaxes does show in a very anticlimactic way. In fact the second half of the movie is totally off the rails from what the set up is. Paul eventually has to try to save Karen but does so without actually doing anything. In fact the final outcome for the villain is so ridiculously flawed that the viewer is left disappointed. It all makes sense but the resolutions could have been more exciting. It was like there was never really anything at stake for Paul. Here is this guy who loses some of his best friends early in the film but never really seems to deal with the grief that came with it. So he just moves on without any emotion and the plot swings him into the hide the bat medallion section. He never really finds out about what is going on other than to do some research into the occult origins of the piece. There is no feeling so the transition is hollow. Then when Karen becomes the focus it really does not carry force because really he does not know her too well but behaves like he has known her for years. I guess I was just disappointed with it in the end I think the problem is the characters were never quite developed enough to create empathy.
Rating (3.9) 5.0 and up are recommended.