Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why TnA is in Horror Films

 As readers of this blog can probably tell, I am a fan of nudity in horror films.  Even if a film is terrible, sprucing it up with a topless model helps.  I have always found the Puritanical mind-set of those who enjoy horror movies but have nothing but disdain for nude scenes odd (you have no issue about blood, guts, mangled body-parts, etc, but when a nipple is shown on a breast you are offended?).  A horror film it supposed to be a visceral experience on some levels... you are supposed to "feel" it in a physical sense as much as experience it emotionally and process it intellectually.  When a film can shock the mind, terrify the heart, and make the body quake, then it is a great horror movie.  Nude scenes help accomplish the physical connection.

Witchboard 3
 This is not to say that every horror film needs nudity to be successful.  John Carpenter's The Thing and Ridley Scott's Alien are both great horror films.  They accomplish a visceral connection with their audiences with no nudity, although Alien does place Ripley in her underwear and offers a crotch shot toward the end.  Nudity is merely one effective tool in a film-maker's bag-of-tricks to engage the viewer.  Film is a visual medium, thus the key method to engage your audience is through imagery.  By presenting a nude scene, the film connects with us on a most basic level, titillating that part of our lizard-brain that responds instinctively to T-n-A.  It works regardless of the age or gender of the audience... show an attractive topless woman and most of your viewers become more engaged.

The Fly
 Much is also made about "gratuitous" nudity.  This is when there seems to be more than just a few nude scenes... instead someone is naked through most of the film.  There is a difference between "gratuitous" and "unnecessary".  For example, Return of the Living Dead and Zombie Women of Satan both had what I would consider "gratuitous" nudity, but it was nudity that could be explained by the plot; Trash in RTLD is turned on by graveyards and is a freak, and the cult of women in Zombie Women of Satan are drugged and kept in lingerie or topless by the cult-leader.  Terror Toons has a nude scene simply because the bit-character performing the scene is also a porn-star.  The nudity has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, thus it is unnecessary. 

I Spit on Your Grave
 On the other side of that coin are horror films where nudity makes sense, but is not included, either because the actress does not do nude scenes (or was not paid enough to do the scene) or (more likely), the film is seeking a PG-13 rating and sacrificing blood, gore, and nudity for the rating.  As a horror film viewer, this actually takes me "out" of the film.  Every time there is a love-scene that is drawn out by soft-music and fuzzy-filming (meant to make it more sensuous) and the female remains in her bra or shirt throughout, it becomes blatantly obvious that I am watching a film.  I find myself thinking "what red-blooded male is NOT going to take out the girls breasts while having sex?"  Less extreme, but equally annoying, are scenes where a character goes through the ringer, either being ripped at by the environment of slashed by the monster.  Her shirt, pants, even hair look like hell, but her wonder bra is apparently made of stainless steel and remains flawless.  Check out the scene where the Jackal attacks Shannon Elizabeth's character in Thir13en Ghosts for exactly what I mean.

 The unbelievability of this lack of nudity make the film less convincing.

The Devil's Advocate
 As I have pointed out in other posts, the major part of the problem with horror films today is the industry chasing the PG-13 rating.  Let us all be honest for a moment, the horror genre is not known for its depth of plot or its intellectually engaging story-lines.  A horror film is meant to frighten and shock, and through this entertain.  It accomplishes this end by engaging the viewer viscerally... it tries to generate of physical response from the viewer.  Nudity is often the lure that draws the viewer in; you are given something pleasant to look at which captivates you and leaves you looking when the unpleasant occurs.  Robbed of blood, gore, and nudity in an effort to get a PG-13 rating, most horror films fall flat, becoming at most mildly interesting negative fantasies.

 Nudity, when done in a manner that adds to the viewing experience, even if "gratuitous", is a part of the fabric of horror films, using beauty as a lure and as a point of comparison to the ugliness that is integral to the story.  Titillating your viewers, be it through humor, sexuality, or an appeal to their sympathy, helps make the incredible more convincing, and leads to an over-all more entertaining experience.  When the genre deals with the unsavory, the dark, and the terrifying, why would it shy away from the sexuality inherent in all those experiences?

Movie Review: Day of the Dead (2008)

  The DVD cover-art says "Based on the motion picture... by George A. Romero", but don't you believe it.  Unlike the Dawn of the Dead remake, which was amazing, Day of the Dead sucks, having almost nothing in common with the original. Ving Rhames. who was one the more impressive members of the cast of Dawn of the Dead, returns for a brief role in this schlock-piece.  Starring in this film is Mena Suvari from American Beauty... and unfortunately not topless.

 The film starts with some teens messing around in an abandoned building that is the front for a military medical research lab underground.  One of the kids manages to get infected with something that quickly spreads throughout the town.  At first it is thought to be an extreme form of influenza, but when the dead start to rise, it becomes clear that something else is going on.  The National Guard is sent in to quarantine the town, with Rhames as Captain Rhodes leading the mission, and local-girl Corporal Bowman (Suvari) being Rhode's driver and second in command... never mind that a Captain would have several Lieutenants and about a dozen Sergeants in his chain-of-command.

 Cpl. Bowman discovers that her mother has the illness and that her little brother is missing.  Her brother, Trevor, is hold-up with his girlfriend, a DJ, and another couple in the small town's radio-station offices.  When the infection spreads to the National Guard troops, it is up to Cpl. Bowman to get herself and the few survivors she has with her out of the town.

 The most horrifying thing about this film is that it cost $18,000,000.

 The film does make a few nods to the original, most obvious among them being "Bud", the vegan Private-turned-Zombie who still retains enough of his former self to follow simple military commands, not attack his living companions (he doesn't eat meat), and to still carry a flame for Cpl. Bowman.  "Bub", in the original Day of the Dead, was also a zombie that retained something of his former self and was being domesticated.

 Even if you ignore the almost total departure from the original, this still is not a very good zombie flic.  At points, the plot seems to plod along, making the experience that much more excruciating for the viewers.  There are a vast number of superior zombie films made for much less that would be more worth your time.

Movie Review: Zombie Women of Satan


 I have mixed feelings about this film.  It is more comedy than horror film, and it looks like a small group of friends who came up with a ridiculous plot for a film and actually got someone to produce it.  This can be both good or bad, and with this film it can go either way.

 The film features a troupe of characters; Ring-master Johhny Dee Hellfire, burlesque dancer Harmony Starr, Zeus the dwarf strong-man, Damage the "stunt" man, and Pervo the knife-throwing clown.  For me, this troupe was the highlight of the film; a Jim Rose Circus wanna-be group that has a raunchy patter about of deviant sex, masturbation, breasts, defecation, drugs, and drinking.  They are all British, Scottish, Irish (I know there is a difference and forgive me if I can't make it out based on accent alone), and have a sense of humor that leans in that direction.  Think "Benny Hill" uncensored and gone wild.  If it were not for this group and their antics, this would just be another bad zombie flic.

 It is still just another bad zombie flic, but the comedy helps a little... a very little.

 Added to this mix is Skye Brannigan, a hard-rocking female bad-ass who's sister is missing and who's musical career is on hold until she finds her.  She is touring with the troupe as a solo-act to aid in her search.  They are all invited to be interviewed on an Internet-based talk-show by Tycho Zander.  Unnown to our eclectic group of heroes, Zander and his family also maintain a cult of attractive young women who feel unsafe in the regular world, and seek the safety offered by Tycho's estate and philosophy.

 Tycho and his family drug the girls, keeping them docile, and use them as their own personal sex-toys.  In addition, Tycho's father, Henry Zander, is experimenting with a chemical that appears to re-animate dead flesh, resulting in a psychotic and near mindless killer.  The most recent version of this "re-animant" (they don't use that word in the film, but you know that is where the concept originated) seems to be the most successful, resulting in a more durable "patient" marked by excessive bleeding from the orifices, including the vagina and (oddly) the nipples.  Tycho's two sisters act as enforcers for the cult, and Mother Zander is a sex-fiend chained to a bathroom wall begging to be touched, fucked, and occasionally given female corpses to play with.

 When the troupe is on the property for their interview on Tycho's show, a bit of the most recent zombie's blood gets into a punch-bowl, and the punch is shared by nearly every girl in the cult, turning them all into zombies.  The girls spent their time in white lingerie, with many of them topless, so they become topless female zombies in white lingerie. 

 Dozens of them.

 Still, not a very good flic.

 To tie everything together, Skye's sister, Rachel, is one of the cultists who was not transformed into a zombie.  When Skye catches a glimpse of her with the Zanders, she refuses to leave the compound without her.  The troupe bludgeons there way through the zombies to rescue Rachael and face-off with the Zander clan.

 On the way, we discover that zombies can be pacified temporarily with sexual stimulation.

 Still, not a very good zombie flic. 

 If you are curious, and have a couple of hours to waste, well, you could do worse.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Movie Review: Species III

 Species III should have simply been subtitled "She Goes Straight to Video".  The first Species was cool; it had some great actors, was a titillating spin on the alien-invader concept, and introduced more great creature design by H.R. Giger (the designer of the alien in Alien).  The second Species was decent, kind of more of the same when compared to the first.  This third installment has low-production value, "C-list" actors, and has a plot that may as well be an after-school special when compared to the first film. (It premiered on the Sci-Fi channel, which no doubt put some constraints on its production).

Is it me, or is her head a little big?
  The film begins were the second film ended.  Eve is apparently dead and is being taken in a military truck to... wherever.  On the way, the truck is attacked and an alien "half-breed" kills Eve as she gives birth.  The succession of alien women being engineered have each been closer to the alien model, more "perfect" than the last.  However, the intermittent steps to that perfection have resulted in a species of half-breeds that lack the genetic vigor of the main-line.  Dr. Abbot, the driver of the truck carrying Eve's body, rescues the newborn and runs off into the woods from both the half-breeds and the military.

Her head as the alien got smaller.
 Eve's daughter, Sara, quickly matures, and the half-breeds seek her out to breed and re-invigorate their own line.  Sara has no interest in breeding with the half-breeds due to their genetic failings, wanting a mate as "perfect" as herself, although the seems to flirt with the idea of mating with Dean, Dr. Abbot's lab-assistant.  The movie proceeds through several misadventures with Dean, half-breeds, and the military, with Dean struggling over the issues of whether he has a right to deny Sara a male companion.  

 This film really had nothing interesting to offer.  The story is ho-hum, it is not really that gory or sexually titillating (the unrated version includes some full-frontal nudity, but a naked girl just walking around is a naked girl just walking around).  Species is one of those franchises that should have not spawned more than the second sequel.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Movie Review: Deadgirl

 In Return of the Living Dead 3, teen-age boys were treated to the prospect of a zombie love-slave.  We had mixed feelings of disgust and titillation as we watched the female character, Julie, slowly transform into a flesh-eating zombie, staving off her urges only by piercing her body with a variety of objects (eventually leaving her a pierced riot-grrl that made the image all that more intense).  By the end of the film, though, both the girl and her boyfriend accept their mutual doom, each becoming zombies and are presumably destroyed.  

 The pseudo-necrophilia was never actually addressed.

 Now, we have Deadgirl, the zombie film that goes were many of us have discussed, but has yet to be filmed.  Ricky and JT are two high school losers.  Ricky is the sensitive type who is pining for the girl who gave him his first kiss when he was 12 and who now dates the top-jock in their school.  JT is a scuzzy opportunist who's only real concern is indulging his base-urges.

 They skip school and go exploring the local abandoned asylum (every small town has an abandoned asylum, right?).  While exploring the asylum, they find a door that is behind a bunch of abandoned equipment and rusted shut.  When they force the door, they find a room that looks like it has not been opened for years.  

 Inside the room, they find the body of a young woman covered with a plastic sheet and strapped to a table.  Even her mouth is tied down with a leather-strap.  At first they think she is dead, but she languidly begins to move while they watch.  Ricky starts to freak out, and when JT suggests that they keep her, it is too much for Ricky, and he leaves.  

 Being a horny teen-age high school male, the siren song of an available nude woman is too much for Ricky to resist, so when JT says there is something more to see, he goes with him.  JT reveals that while raping this catatonic woman strapped to a table, she lashed out, and when she did, JT choked her to "death", breaking her neck.

 But, she didn't die.  To further demonstrate this seeming impossibility, JT shoots her, twice.  She doesn't die.  

 JT and Ricky agree to keep the dead girl a secret, but eventually the secret gets out, and things start to go down hill.

 Deadgirl is a sick zombie-fantasy, and I think they only use the word "zombie" once.  The production value is high, and I would say that the acting is fair.  The characters are a little one-dimensional, but this is a story about sex-crazed teen-agers who have a zombie-girl as a hostage.  This zombie-flic goes where no zombie-flic has gone before.  Deadgirl is well worth the watch.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie Review: Dead Alive

 Billed as the "goriest film of all time", Dead Alive does not disappoint in that regard.  This film has some moments that are simply disgusting; zombie pus being shot into custard (and then eaten), zombie internal organs taking on a life of their own and attacking people, a zombie-nurse and zombie-priest having sex and producing a demonic-offspring, and a party of zombies meeting their demise via a lawnmower... and these are just some of the highlights.

 And this is all brought to you by the same mind that brought you the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the King Kong remake: Peter Jackson.

 Set in New Zealand sometime in the 1950's, a zoologist captures a rare breed of primate, a "rat-monkey", but falls victim to its bite and is killed by the natives.  They deliver the monkey despite the danger it represents, and it is placed in a local zoo as a public exhibit.  The bite of the monkey transforms its victim into a flesh-eating zombie.

 Lionel Cosgrove lives with his social-activist mother and benefits from the moderate wealth left to her and his deceased father.  He is awkward, not all that bright, clumsy, and is going to save us all.  Smitten with Lionel is Paquita Maria Sanchez, who's grandmother predicted not only their star-crossed romance but also the loaming doom that faces them all.  When Lionel's overbearing mother follows Lionel and his new love to the zoo, spying on their date, she is bitten by the rat-monkey.

 She stomps the monkey's head into goo.

 What follows is Lionel's attempts to hide his mother's condition from the world, adding new members to the zombie-family he keeps in his basement, until it gets completely out of control.

 Dead Alive is a gross-out fest meant to also spawn a few laughs, which it occasionally  succeeds in producing. Between the sick effects (all old-school), ridiculous plot twists, and rare moments of lucidity in the film, I found myself continuously thinking "THIS is from Peter Jackson"?

 I want to say that this film has some status as a "cult-classic", something akin to the same notoriety as Two Girls and One Cup, friends show it to other friends who have not seen it to laugh at their reaction.  It is worth seeing once, if only to say that you did.  A few laughs, many sick effects, but nothing really impressive.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Movie Review: The Human Centipede

 I have been seeing this film billed as possible the grossest horror film of all time... so my expectations were fairly high.  I had been hearing the hype and understood the premise; a deranged surgeon kidnaps some victims and surgically attaches them ass-to-mouth, forming a conjoined being sharing one gastrointestinal tract.
 That means that each "segment" of the construct after the first is forced to eat the shit of the one ahead of it.

 The film had a campy beginning.  Two girls are in Germany doing a "European Road-trip", when they get lost in the woods and blow a tire on their car.  They wander through the woods until they come upon the house of our deranged surgeon.  He manages to drug one via a glass of water, but the other spills her drink, forcing him to knock her around a bit and get her with a syringe.

 The production values of the film are surprisingly high, and the acting is impressive, although Dieter Laser, while an imposing figure, does not come off nearly as frightening or intimidating as he was trying to be in his role as Dr. Heiter, the surgeon.  There is an attempt at comedy near the beginning when an old man finds the girls in their impaired vehicle and suggests (in German) that the three of them should have sex.  The rest of the film is fairly intense; working through an escape attempts, training the new "centipede", and the eventual arrival of the police.  

 The film isn't bad.  It isn't frightening, it isn't all that gross, at least visually (conceptually it is a pretty sick idea).  While worth seeing, it didn't live up to the hype.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Movie Review: Stephen King's Sleepwalkers

  It seemed like that, at least for a while, there was a hot trend in Hollywood to make Stephen King stories into films.  While none of them lived up to the book-version (and some, like The Lawnmower Man, had almost nothing to do with the actual story), most made fair horror films.  Sleepwalkers is, in my opinion, one of the best of the films based on the works of Stephen King.

  And, Stephen King, Jon Landis, Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper, and Clive Barker (famous horror film directors) all have a cameo in the film.  Mark Hamill even has an uncredited role.

 Part of why I dig this film is that it has its own unique, but familiar, mythology, laid out artfully toward the beginning of the film with whatever holes filled in as the story unfolds.  "Sleepwalkers" are ancient, nearly immortal creatures, who appear to have openly ruled sometime in Egypt's ancient history.  They are shape-shifting beings who's natural form is a humanoid cat.  Coincidentally, their natural enemy is the common housecat, who's scratch causes an extreme allergic reaction and eventually death to the Sleepwalkers.  House cats are
drawn to Sleepwalkers, instinctively seeking to kill the creatures.

That's not a pencil sharpener.
 Sleepwalkers survive by feeding on the life force of others.  They appear to have a matriarchal society, with the females sending out the males to hunt and gather the required life force, and then transferring that life force to the female Sleepwalker during intercourse.  At least the male displays additional "psychic" abilities, able to either change the shape or appearance of other objects temporarily (he changes his car at one point in the film to evade a police officer, making it initially invisible and then a different color and model).  Both male and female creatures are extremely strong, especially in their cat-creature form.

 The story focuses on a Mother-Son pair of Sleepwalkers who are, as far as they know, the last, though the Mother does not want to admit it.  Because of their nature, the males appear to mature at an accelerated rate.  Charles Brady, the male Sleepwalker, while physically appearing to be about 18 and displaying extreme intelligence, also appears to be in many ways naive about both the world and his own nature.  He questions the Sleepwalkers' need to exist as they do, and wonders if he can ever hope to be "normal".  His mother fears abandonment, suggesting that while he might survive without her, she cannot survive without him, and neither would continue to be immortal. 

Seeing this guy get his is the highlight of the film.
 They move from small town to small town, feeding on the local virgins (who are becoming more difficult to find) while running from both the authorities by changing their identities and the inevitable hordes of house cats that come to kill them.  The story picks up after their most recent re-location, where young Charles goes out into the community again to find "that special someone" that will provide the necessary energy to keep his mother alive.
 The special effects are decent, relying on traditional effects and some electronic trickery.  The story moves along quickly, encouraging the audience to be sympathetic toward the plight of the monsters before they reveal themselves fully as dangerous predators.  The acting is all excellent, with the comedic relief well placed and not distracting from the story.  

 And, of course, there is the infamous mother-son sex scene.

The fit has hit the shan.
 Sleepwalkers is a cool story and a fun film.  Many fans, like myself, were only dissatisfied that this provided only an introduction into this mythology, although that is also part of the films allure.  We are meant only to catch this final glimpse of them before the disappear forever.  That which is known with any greater familiarity fails to keep its ability to inspire awe or fear.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Movie Review: War of the Worlds

  War of the Worlds is one of those films that horror-fans tend to bristle against being placed in the horror genre.  The line between sci-fi and horror has always been blurry, and I am not certain where one ends and the other begins.  I suppose that something that is purely "science fiction" deals with advanced technologies (or the application of obsolete technologies in alternate realities) and some form of human drama with the focus being the science, not horror.  Films were the characters are antagonized by terrible creatures or powers from beyond, even where advanced technologies are involved, still focus on the horror.  The Thing, Alien, and The Terminator are horror films.  Independence Day, despite its frightening moments, is essentially a war-film and Science Fiction.  War of the Worlds, while being closer to Independence Day than The Thing, still deals with your average-joe living in terror of things he cannot fully comprehend that would like to turn him and his family into red, gooey compost.

 Critics gave this film a lot of crap, which I think it did not deserve.  This is not a re-make of the classic... rather it is the same scenario told from a different perspective.  The two stories have some parallels and reach the same conclusion, yet they are distinct.  Those who complain about this being a bastardized version of the classic have missed the point.  A re-make is obviously not what Spielberg was going for.

 The acting is solid throughout.  I am not a fan of Tom Cruise, though I have enjoyed some of his films (Risky Business and Interview With a Vampire spring to mind).  He plays a convincing inept father who just wants to find someplace safe in a world were suddenly no such place exists.  Tim Robbins, though in the film only briefly, plays his role as expected... superbly.  All the supporting actors are convincing, each highlighting different perspectives and increasing the sense of dread as each are extinguished or move on.   

 The special-effects are top-notch.  Bodies instantly vaporized by the alien death-ray, massive walkers that seem to defy gravity... even the sound helps you feel the weight and presence of these alien machines.  This is nothing short of what you would expect from Spielberg.

 The tension that is experienced through-out the film is built from the opening moments.  You get to know the family, who is far from perfect.  You see weird clouds in the sky that at first the characters are themselves oblivious to.  Eventually, they notice the weirdness of the weather, and are at first curious, and then terrified as the first salvos of the attack occur.  Added to this, and the real thrust of the film, is the human-drama... an exploration of the lengths human beings will go to survive and the horror of just how brutal we can be to one another when pushed.

 War of the Worlds is worth seeing, at least once.  It is, however, one of those films that once seen, really has nothing going for it that makes the experience worth repeating.  It is well produced, the acting is great, the special-effects well-crafted... but nothing truly spectacular in any way... almost mediocrity at its best.