Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Fly (1958)

 There seems to be a kind of cardinal sin in horror film fandom, and that is to disparage a film that is considered a classic.  It is as if any film made in a particular era with the correct combinations or writers, directors, and actors should automatically be considered above reproach.  This simply isn't the way I think... if a film is bad, then it is bad. I do strive to place the film in context with the time it was made, especially with regard to special effects and socio-political limitations on acceptability.  Still, if a film is bad, then there isn't much more than can be said for it.

 I recently watched and reviewed the 1986 remake of The Fly directed by David Cronenberg, a film that is superb even when considered relative to more modern films.  It was inspired by the 1958 original, which "starred" Vincent Price.  I say "starred", because Price played what I would consider a supporting role in this film.  I hadn't seen the original in years, and since I was reviewing the remake, I thought I might revisit the original.

 The remake and the original both share in common the same basic concept; a scientist develops a teleportation device and during a test run is fused on a molecular-genetic level with a common housefly.  That is where the similarities end.  The film opens a janitor in a factory (apparently in France) being alerted by the sound of a machine press in operation.  When he goes to inspect the machine he finds a woman operating the press, which has been ran a second time.  The woman runs off, and the janitor discovers a grisly mess in the press that appears to be the remains of a man.  

 Francois Delambre (Price) is a private investigator and brother of Andre, a scientist.  Andre's wife, Helene, calls Francois to confess to murdering his brother.  Francois considers the call a prank being played on him by his brother and sister-in-law, only to receive a second call from Inspector Charas informing him that a body has been found which appears to be his brother and that his sister-in-law was spotted at the scene of the crime.

 Initially, when confronted about the incident, Helene confesses to the crime while refusing to provide any details or motive.  She does, however, appear to be uncharacteristically happy about the death of her husband.  Francois has been carrying a torch for Helene for years, and tries to provide an alibi by stating that Helene could not possibly know how to operate the press, but when questioned by the Inspector she describes its operation perfectly. The press itself was set at nearly its highest setting and pressure, so it is confusing as to why the press had to be operated twice.  Furthermore, Helene and her household seem obsessed with locating a fly with a white head.  Her young son, Phillipe, continues the search while being unaware of his mother's crime.

 Francois, desperate to get Helene to talk, lies to his sister-in-law about having found the fly with the white head, and insists that she tell him and the Inspector what happened in order to be given the insect.  The remainder of the film is her account of the events that lead to her husband's demise.  He developed a teleportation device, and though he was a bit obsessive about working out the kinks (at one point he teleports the family cat only to have it fail to materialize with only a ghostly meow echoing through the lab to suggest it had been lost in space), he still is a loving husband and attentive father.  Eventually he decides it is time to attempt to teleport himself and a fly accidentally makes the trip with him, resulting in Andre emerging from the device with a fly's head and leg for a hand.

 Initially, the audience is not shown the accident or its result.  Andre locks himself away in his lab and refuses to come out.  When his wife makes her way into the lab, Andre keeps his head covered with a black cloth.  He is unable to speak, and instead writes his wife notes about his needs; mainly that they must retrieve the fly with the white head.  Andre believes that if he is teleported with the fly again, the mistake will be corrected.  His short notes to his wife become ever more concise and sloppy as he feels himself losing control of the emerging fly within, a monster with apparently violent tendencies.  Andre begins contemplating suicide. 

 Helene insists that he try going through the teleporter without the fly to try to correct the mistake, but when she removes the cloth from his head after the attempt she discovers the horrible truth.  The fly looks at her through its multiple-lensed eyes as she passes out from fright.  Andre feels the creature he is becoming will harm his family if he does not do something soon, and in a fit of desperation and rage he destroys his lab and his notes, making any hope of reversing the accident vanish.  He and Helene go to the factory where he sets the press and places himself under it.  When Helene gets too close, the Fly reaches out for her from under the lowering press and nearly takes her with him.  Helene then places the fly-legged hand under the press and activates it again, obscuring any evidence of the incident.

 All that remains is to find the fly with the human head and hand.

 The Inspector does not believe her story, and explains to Francois that unless the fly can be found he will arrest Helene and charge her with the murder of her husband.  The next day, Francois sits out in the garden, awaiting the Inspector and the ambulance coming to collect Helene.  While sitting on a garden bench, the fly with the white head is trapped in a nearby web, and it calls out "help me!" in a tiny, squeaky voice which Francois does not notice.  The police go to make there arrest when Phillipe arrives, and Francois takes him away from the seen so he does not have to see his mother being arrested.  Phillipe tells his uncle that he has seen the fly in a web in the garden by the bench, and Francois rushes to get the Inspector to come find the fly.  When the two reach the web, they witness the fly being approached by a spider.  In what is probably the creepiest scene in the film, the fly is shown close-up, its human face crying out in horror just before the spider consumes him.  The Inspector smashes both the spider and the fly with a stone, and agrees that Helene is innocent.

 This film, frankly, could have been better.

 First of all, the death of Andre should have been saved until the near end of the film.  We know the creature's fate even after it is revealed, and we know Helene is never in any real danger.  Second, the film spend the first two-thirds of its time establishing the characters.  Nothing really happens until the last 20 or so minutes of the film, and even then we see so little of the creature that it is difficult to emphasize with the struggle of the man within.  The acting is top-notch, in particular when compared to the standards of the time.  The film's flaw is in its writing.  If the film is about the struggle of a woman to save the man she loves, then the majority of the film should focus on that struggle; the accident should happen early on and the psychological impact on both the husband and wife (and possibly the brother-in-law) should be explored.  Instead, you sit through an hour of what is fairly boring story waiting for the climax. 

 Worth seeing if only to say you have.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Movie Review: Leprechaun in the Hood

I knew this was a mistake even as I suggested it.  We were having a little get-together for St. Paddy's day, and we wanted to watch a film related in some manner to the Irish.

 "How about Leprechaun?" I suggested like an idiot.

 My girlfriend couldn't find any films from Leprechaun other than Leprechaun in the Hood and its sequel, Leprechaun Back in the Hood.

 If you want to know how to make something bad even worse, make it ghetto.

 The film opens with Mack Daddy (played by Ice-T and a character name that is a testament to the writing prowess behind this film) and his partners going into the sewers apparently in search of the Leprechaun and his loot.  The Leprechaun has been turned to stone by the necklace he wear around his neck.  Mack Daddy only wants one item, the Leprechaun's magic-flute.  His partner is welcome to the rest of the loot, and he mistakenly removes the necklace from the Leprechaun, reviving him.  The Leprechaun kills Mack Daddy's partner, but in a freak accident ends up with the necklace back around his neck and returned to stone.

 Years later, in Compton, CA, we are introduced to Post Master P, Stray Bullet, and Butch, a struggling rap-group that is trying to make its way to a competition in Las Vegas.  Post Master P is trying to spread a positive message through his rap, while Stray and Butch are in it for the money and lifestyle.  A chance encounter with Mack Daddy, made wealthy and powerful by the Leprechaun's loot, leads the young men to Mack Daddy's office for an interview and possibly being signed as artists on Mack Daddy's record label.  Mack Daddy keeps the Leprechaun as a statue in a glass case in his office.  When Mack Daddy insists that the group do "gangsta" rap, and Postmaster P insists on a positive message, Mack Daddy rejects the crew.

 Angered by Mack Daddy's treatment of them, the crew decide to rob the nefarious hustler.  The break-in goes horribly wrong, and through the crew does escape with some of the Leprechaun's loot, they also accidentally free the Leprechaun.  Post Master P ends up with the flute and discovers its hypnotic powers, but each time he plays it he attracts the attention of the Leprechaun.  The Leprechaun has also enlisted Mack Daddy to help retrieve his loot, but Mack Daddy clearly has his own agenda.

 My synopsis sounds far better than the actual film. 

 The film is a long string of one-line jokes, minimal gore, and no nudity.  The funniest thing about the film is seeing Ice-T in a ridiculous afro-wig.  Since the film is about rap music, there are plenty of moments of rap.  Since rap is always bad, and this film is awful, the resulting rap is atrocious. 

 Yet, they made a sequel.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Movie Review: Galaxy of Terror

 There really is only one reason to watch this film, and that is to see Taafe O'Connell raped by a giant maggot.

 Released in 1981, this film includes many names who were either already famous in their own right or would go on to become famous.  Roger Corman, who either produced or directed every b-horror film the average person can name, is the producer of this film.  The actors include Erin Moran (Joannie from Happy Days), Ray Walston (Glen Batemen from The Stand), Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding from The Devil's Rejects).  James Cameron was a unit director for the film.  Bill Paxton worked as a set-dresser.  David DeCoteau's first job in Hollywood was as a production assistant for this film.

 Despite having all that talent on-hand, this film is awful.

 Some have likened this film to Ridley Scott's Alien, and much of the environment is reminiscent of the planet where the crew of the Nostromo encounter the beast that would chase Sigourney Weaver through 4 films.  Beyond that, the two films have very little in common.  The interior set designs reminded my of the old Battlestar Galactica sets, and the music (for some reason) reminded me of the video-game Doom.

 The weakness of the film is its screenplay.  Conceptually, it is an interesting idea.  On a distant planet, perhaps well in the future, a society of technologically advanced humans is ruled peacefully by a "Planet Master".  When a mission to another planet goes bad, the Planet Master secretly hand-picks a rescue team.  What becomes clear as the film proceeds is that every member of the crew except for the hero, Cabren (Edward Albert), is neurotic in one manner or another.  One by one, the crew is picked-off by weird alien creatures on the planet's surface, which each crew-member succumbing to a different threat.  Each victim's demise is somehow related to their fears.  When it is only Cabren who has not succumbed to his fear, he enters the heart of a giant, alien pyramid to face the truth and discover his fate.

 Despite having a talented pool of actors with a good mix of experience, the characters come-off as wooden and shallow.  The film's focus is not on the characters, although the story is character-driven.  It instead is focused on the demise of each victim.  This means that while you get to see each death, you, as a member of the audience, have little-to-no reason to care.  The mystery behind their deaths is also hardly explored, so there is no real satisfaction with the reveal at the end of the film.

 The special effects are old-school across the board; lots of rubber-and-latex, stop-motion animation, film-reversal, and the like... all very well done although a bit behind the times for 1981.  The scenery is superb and grandiose in scope.  A 2-hour virtual tour of the crash-site and the pyramid would have been far more interesting than the film itself.

 Except for the maggot-rape scene.

 After Quuhod (Sid Haig) is killed, Dameia discovers his body just outside the entrance to the pyramid.  It is covered with maggots.  Earlier, she mentioned how she loathes worms, and is fearful of them.  She is totally revolted by the maggots, and uses her blaster to incinerate Quuhod and the little beasts.  One, unbeknownst to her, survives, and begins to grow at an alarming rate.  While she fumbles about, trying to call the ship or whatever, the maggot, which is now the size of a bus, sneaks up behind and over her.  Sensing something is not right, Dameia backs right into the thing.  She is quickly disrobed, forced to the ground, and appears to die of fright while the thing rapes her.

 Did you see how fast her clothes were not only removed, but vanished completely?  While I applaud just about anything as over-the-top as this scene, the ridiculousness of it is just another example of what I mentioned earlier.  O'Connell has since claimed that a body-double was used for some of the shots in this sequence, but odds are it was not because of the nudity.  She appears again topless later in the film.  No, O'Connell had trouble spending hours covered in cold slime while shooting this scene, so a double may have been used to simply give the actress a break.  This is also the "R" version of the scene, as some of it had to be cut to get the "R" rating.

 I'd like to see what ended up on the cutting-room floor.

 As I said in the beginning of this post, the above scene is the only real reason to see this film.  Thankfully, everyone involved with this film managed to move on to bigger and better things.  Galaxy of Terror is definitely one film you can skip.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Movie Review: The Fly (1986)

 My introduction to the work of David Cronenberg began with Dead Ringers and this film, The Fly.  It was also my introduction to Jeff Goldblum, who plays Seth Brundle, a scientist who develops teleportation technology and has a mishap while testing the equipment. 

 That is where the similarities between Cronenberg's The Fly and the 1958 original, a classic in its own right, ends.

 The film opens at a science expo being held by Bartok Science Industries where Brundle is engaging a reporter, Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), enticing her with the opportunity to see his latest world-changing invention.  She is amazed by the "telepods" when they transport one of her stockings across a room.  Her editor and former flame is less than impressed with what she has witnessed when she relays the story against Brundle's wishes, forcing her to return to the scientist for more information.  She cuts a deal with Brundle, agreeing to document the development process for what will eventually be a book.

 Brundle's device functions perfectly when dealing with "dead" material, but is horribly inept when dealing with living tissue.  To demonstrate this problem, Brundle attempts to teleport a baboon, only to have the machine turn the animal inside out.  Cronenberg is THE director of "body" or "venereal" horror, with most of his films masterfully mixing both psychological and physical horror focused on the deterioration or transformation of the body.  The inside-out baboon is the first real indication of just how graphic the film will become.

 Brundle and Quaife become romantically involved (Davis was Goldblum's girlfriend at the time).  Cronenberg makes liberal use of foreshadowing in the film.  For example, after a lovemaking session, Brundle discovers that a computer component with multiple prongs is imbedded in his back.  The wound left by the prongs is where the insect hairs that are the first indication that something is amiss emerge.  Later, Quaife's editor will cut his hand on glass when she is abducted by Brundle, only to have his hand melted off by the beast further into the film.  Their physical relationship inspires him to teach the computer to get "crazy" about the flesh, after which he is able to successfully teleport the remaining baboon.

 Jealous of Quaife's new romance and scoop on what will be the scientific story of the century, the editor sends Quaife a cover preview featuring the release of the story based on what little information she has already provided.  Quaife leaves Brundle to deal with her editor, and Brundle pieces together her relationship with her editor in his mind.  While he intended to have the baboon tested before teleporting himself, he decides to go ahead with the procedure in a emotional and alcohol fueled fugue.

 He is, of course, unaware that a fly has entered the pod with him.

 When Brundle emerges from the pod, he seems fine.  Indeed, he discovers he is better than fine.  His senses, reflexes, endurance, and strength have all been enhanced, which he assumes is a result of being torn apart and then rebuilt by the computer.  The euphoric state quickly dissipates as Brundle becomes ever more manic.  When he insists that Quaife also go through the teleportation procedure, she refuses, and Brundle kicks her out of the lab and then goes in search of another woman to teleport.  He wins a woman after breaking a much larger man's arm in an arm-wrestling contest (resulting in a very convincing compound fracture).  She also refuses to go through the teleporter after a love-making session, and is saved when Quaife returns.  Quaife reveals that she had the coarse hairs that appeared on Brundle's back analyzed at a lab, and they appear to be those of an insect.

 Brundle kicks Quaife out again.  He then goes into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror.  He appears to have only developed a severe case of acne.  Brundle habitually chews his nails, and while inspecting his face in the mirror he removes one of his nails completely from its bed and squirts a strange pus on the mirror.  From there, his deterioration and transformation accelerates until the eventual full reveal of the monster within at the film's climax.

 Cronenberg masterfully takes us through both the psychological and extremely graphic physical transformation of Brundle into "Brundle-Fly".  At first, the man that Brundle once was struggles with his transformation, assuming his going to die.  Particularly disturbing is the "vomit-drop", the way that the Fly has to eat by vomiting a corrosive enzyme onto the food and then sucking it back up.  Brundle, his mind and body being transformed, eventually comes to accept his transformation, even reveling in his new state which allows him to cling to walls and the ceiling. 

 Still, he would prefer to be human.  He devises a way to become more human by fusing himself with human victims in the same manner that he was fused with a fly.  When he discovers that Quaife is pregnant with his child and that she intends to have an abortion, he concludes that fusing himself with Quaife and his unborn child presents the perfect solution.

 My favorite dialogue from the film:

 Veronica (filming Seth after the failed attempt to teleport a baboon): "We've got to do this, Seth.  Talk to the tape.  Get in the habit.  The world will want to know what you're thinking."

 Seth: "FUCK is what I'm thinking!"

 Veronica: "Good.  The world will want to know that." 

 The performance was superbly executed by all involved.  The Fly was one of Goldblum's first leading roles.  The quirky mannerisms which at the time may have been attributed to the role are now understood to be those of Jeff Goldblum.  He, like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholas, and others, is one of those actors who is consistently himself regardless of the role he is given.  The special effects were top of the line before CGI, with only a few instances where they were obvious.  The Fly is a horror film classic, and one of Cronenberg's best.