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7.3.09

Gang Warz (2004)




Director: Chris McIntyre
Starring: Robert Vaughn, Coolio, Chino XL, Teresa Saldana, Pablo Patlis, Reni Santoni
Rated R Running time: 97 min.
Released by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment




Still scarred from the memories of Master P's Hot Boyz, I approached the similarly misspelled Gang Warz with a great deal of apprehension. The fact that the DVD comes with a free CD of cap-poppin' hip-hop jamz alone should've been reason enough to avoid this film like the probation officer. But my curiosity once again overrode my better judgment, and I was consumed with a burning desire to find out just what Robert Vaughn is doing for money these days.

Sporting orthopedic shoes and enormous glasses, Vaughn gets top billing as the hard-assed Chief Hannigan (even though the plaque on his desk says "Captain"). He's only in a couple of scenes, which is unforgivable. I mean, if Chuck Bronson could challenge belief at age 73 in Death Wish 5, why couldn't the Man from UNCLE get one last chance to employ a stunt double? Instead, the bulk of the film's action revolves around Chino XL, a rapper playing a cop. The film is basically an inner-city version of High Noon, with Marco Cruz (Pablo Patlis), a vicious gang lord and drug dealer who gets released from death row. Cruz is out for revenge against the priest who testified against him (Reni Santoni) and the cop who busted him (the aforementioned Mr. XL). The story gets more involved as they throw in a bunch of subplots involving Theresa Saldana as Cruz's mother (who is having an affair with the priest), Cruz's brother (who is having an affair with Marco's woman), and Coolio (the gangster who is trying to go legit). Coolio's dying words are, "It's all good."

Gang Warz is more like a Mexican soap opera than the gritty, urban action flick it's marketed as. Chino XL, with his skintight designer T-shirts and cornrows, is not only extraordinarily hard to buy as the principled cop in a department rife with corruption, he is a horrendous actor to boot. The rest of the cast look and act like they should be doing softcore porn for the cable channels. I'm not really sure how Saldana, Vaughn, and Santoni ended up in this clunker, but I hope they make it through these obviously hard times. Director Chris McIntyre gets a few points for attempting to make things a little more complex than your average ghetto potboiler, but loses them almost instantly for denying viewers of any kind of excitement whatsoever. A couple of weak shootouts make up the films' action, and the spicy Latina babes who appear in the film stay fully clothed. Who the hell does McIntyre think his audience is? I can tell you one thing for certain, not one of them decided to suffer through Gang Warz for it's meticulous plotting and subtle performances. We want boobs, blood, explosions, and Robert Vaughn doing karate kicks. To deny us of these simple pleasures is to relegate yourself to the cut-out bins of history.

6.3.09

Zombie 4: After Death (1988)





Director: Claudio Fragasso
Starring: Candice Daly, Jeff Stryker, Jim Wilson, Don Gaines
Unrated Running time: 84 minutes
Released by Shriek Show/Media Blasters





If you were ever hoping to see gay porn superstar Jeff Stryker in a *ahem* straight role, here's your chance. He plays a researcher, or something like that, in Claudio Fragasso's Zombie 4: After Death, a movie with more alternate titles than IQ points. Candice Daly plays the daughter of cancer researchers who were living and working on an island. The local witchdoctor, miffed that the scientists couldn't cure his daughter's cancer, opens the gates of Hell and unleashes the zombie hordes upon the island's inhabitants. Daly was only a child then, yet managed to avoid becoming zombie food long enough to get of the island. Now grown up, Daly teams up with a batch of the lamest mercenaries you have ever seen and returns to the crappy little zombie-infested island. Why? I don't know - I think it has something to do with a book of evil spells, and some candles and stuff.

In Zombie 4, Fragasso shows us that one does not need a coherent script, decent acting, competent effects, or any directorial skills whatsoever to make a movie. In the DVD extras, Fragasso even says that Zombie 4 is a piece of crap that was made to make a few bucks on the horror market. It's a good thing that he's honest about it, because if he tried to suggest otherwise there's good chance some disgruntled member of the DVD buying public would try to have him committed. Zombies in track suits with rags draped over their heads constitute the bulk of the film's effects, very hard-to-stomach mercenaries with machine guns that never have to be reloaded, and some of the cheesiest keyboard-driven 80's schlock music your ears will ever have to endure. This film is awful in a spectacular way, which means that there are moments which may provide some amusement. For me, most of them came from the macho man-mercenary who is constantly hitting on the group's women. A choice line: "Those are the times when it really counts in a mans life. When you discover if you've got any balls. When a man is afraid he's going to die, there's nothing he wants more than a woman by his side. And I want you."

I like his style.

5.3.09

Population 436 (2006)



Director: Michelle Maxwell MacLaren
Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Charlotte Sullivan, Fred Durst
Rated R Running time: 92 minutes

A census worker named Steve Kady (Jeremy Sisto) becomes stranded in a small town with a curious feature -- year after year, the population remains at 436 people. On the surface Rockwell Falls appears to be a wholesome and happy place that seems stuck in a past era.  Rather than being won over by the town's quaint charms, Kady begins noticing some odd things about the locals -- kids singing weird religious songs and people generally acting strangely. He begins to look deeper and discovers the dark secret of Rockwell Falls -- which ends being exactly what you think it is.

Well-made and competently acted, POPULATION 436 manages to function efficiently on the technical side of things, but fails miserably in the most important aspect: the story. The film is derivative to an extraordinary degree, with the biggest debt being owed to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." From there you can't start counting the marginal influences like THE WICKER MAN, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, and even TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, to some degree. With almost nothing new to offer, the film is not only predictable, it's forgettable, as well.

2 out of 5.

Emanuelle in America (1977)



Director: Joe D'Amato
Starring: Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Roger Browne, Paola Senatore
Unrated Running time: 100 minutes
Released by Blue Underground

The sunglasses-and-raincoat crowd got more than they bargained for in Italian sleaze merchant Joe D'Amato's 1976 Emanuelle in America. What starts out as your usual lightweight softcore outing becomes something entirely different when the film reaches its tipping point -- a jaw-dropping scene that shows a woman satisfying a randy horse named Pedro. From there on out, hardcore insert scenes are thrown into the mix, and Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) even encounters a snuff film operation. The snuff/torture scenes are pretty rough, especially when the rest of the film is a lighthearted formulaic sexploitation vehicle for the Indonesian Black Emanuelle star. "Stylishly directed" and "Joe D'Amato" don't really go together in a sentence, but there are enough interesting camera angles and snappy edits to make you give the guy credit for trying.

There is some plot -- a bunch of nonsense about Emanuelle infiltrating a modern-day harem that has links to a kidnapping ring. Or something like that. Really, do you care? It's got wall-to-wall-nakedness, bestiality, and gore. That ought to be enough to get you to rent it. That is, *ahem* if you're into that sort of thing. All in all, it's a pretty dull affair until we get to the notorious "snuff" segment, which ends up feeling like something D'Amato threw in to give an otherwise bland skinflick a nasty edge. It worked -- over thirty years later and people are still talking about this film. It is even said to have inspired David Cronenberg to make Videodrome. Maybe it was Pedro's performance . . .

Lightning Bug (2004)



Director: Robert Hall
Starring: Brett Harrison, Laura Prepon, Ashley Laurence, Kevin Gage
Rated R Running time: 97 minutes

Being a horror film-loving teenage special effects artist sucks when you're stuck living in a crappy little Southern town. Green Groves has big dreams of moving to Hollywood and becoming an effects pro, but gets nothing but headaches from the narrow-minded townsfolk who consider his hobby to be "satanic". Nor does he get much encouragement at home, where he lives in a tiny trailer with his younger brother, his haggard mom (Ashley Laurence, HELLRAISER), and her booze-guzzling A-hole boyfriend, Earl (Kevin Gage, LAID TO REST). His life generally sucks, until one day an attractive girl rolls into town who doesn't think Green is a weirdo like everyone else in town does. Turns out that Angevin (Laura Prepon) is a bit of a social outcast herself, having trekked off to the big city and gotten involved with "those movies", if you know what I mean. So the two hang out, watch horror flicks, do all the things teenage lovebirds are supposed to do. Green gets the opportunity to strut his stuff when he lands the gig of designing the spook house for the town's Fall festivities. Everything seems great until a crew of mean old Bible-beaters, led by Angevin's mother, are determined to ruin Green's big moment, not to mention the fact that the drunken Ray's behavior grows increasingly violent. Green is hell-bent on leaving all these headaches behind, but Angevin has tasted Hollywood life before, and wants no part of it. What's a teenage FX genius to do?

Loose ends abound in Robert Hall's autobiographical coming-of-age tale, with many plot points being started and never finished. You almost get the impression that either chunks of the film were left on the cutting room floor, or that first-time director Hall bit off more than he could chew. Harrison is good as the film's lead, and Prepon does a fine job of looking sultry, but most of the other cast members are little more than the same cartoonish stereotypes of country folk that you've been seeing for years. The film takes on a pretty dark tone in the final act, which doesn't mesh well with the Afterschool Special-vibe that the first half is drenched in. Hall might be a bit deficient in focused storytelling ability, but he makes up for it with heart - - which ought to count for something in this mean old world. Lightning Bug was obviously a labor of love for the effects-guy-turned-director, and there are moments where the film affects a certain charm. In the end, though, the glaring story problems are too much for all the best intentions in the world to overcome, leaving Lightning Bug a good-natured, but uneven, first effort.

2.5 out of 5.


4.3.09

Nightmare Man (2006)




Director: Rolfe Kanesky
Starring: Tiffany Shepis, Blythe Mets, Luciano Szafir, Hannah Putnam
Rated R Running time: 89 minutes
Released by Lionsgate




If Tiffany Shepis weren't quite so willing to disrobe at the drop of a hat, it is questionable as to whether Nightmare Man would be watchable at all. The film is your typical Rolfe Kanefsky fluff about a woman who receives a haunted African fertility mask which causes her to be terrorized by a mysterious phantom. Her husband decides that his wife has gone plum-fuggin-crazy and tries to ship her off for a long, pleasant stay in a remote nuthatch. Like a dope, the guy lets his car run out of gas on the way to the hospital. When he treks off to find a gas station, the "Nightmare Man" arrives to attack his wife. A chase through the woods ensues, and the pair end up near a cabin where a group of people are having a weekend get together. I shouldn't have to tell you that the partiers get mixed up in this whole "Nightmare Man" business, should I?


It's hard to really hate Kanfesky's movies since it's clear that he doesn't intend for the audience to take them all that seriously. Kanefsky makes them fast and cheap with huge servings of cheese, usually throwing in handfuls of t&a and bargain basement splatter to keep things humming along. They're not necessarily good movies, but they'll fit the bill when your feeling like putting your brain on autopilot for awhile. Nightmare Man features some pretty terrible acting, laughable special effects, and apart from some scenes of Ms. Shepis shaking her booty while brandishing a crossbow, takes way too long for anything interesting to happen. Kanefsky manages to get it up a little by the final act, but by then you've probably already wandered away from the TV.

Nightmare Man is not the worst film to go out under the Eight Films To Die For line, but it's cutting it pretty close.

Addio Zio Tom (1972)



aka Goodbye, Uncle Tom

Director: Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
Unrated Running time: 136 minutes
Released by Blue Underground

In 1966, a pair of Italian filmmakers released Africa Addio (aka Africa: Blood and Guts). Depicting the countless civil wars and incidences of tribal violence that have beset the Dark Continent since time immemorial, and full of African rituals that Western viewers found positively revolting, the documentary was a huge international hit. That success came with a price tag, and the two soon found themselves under attack from the more liberal segments of society and media who accused Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi's film of being racist towards African culture. To be fair, Africa Addio, even with some very controversial "manufactured" scenes (including an incident where the two were accused of bribing some local militants to hold off on an execution until the filmmakers could set up their cameras), paints an unflattering portrait of ALL humanity - White and Black, alike. For all the indignation stirred up by Africa Addio, it is child's play when compared to the duo's next project -- which may be the only film ever produced specifically to instigate a race war.

If you believe the claims made by Jacopetti and Proseperi, Addio Zio Tom (aka Goodbye, Uncle Tom) was created with the intention of dispelling any nasty insinuations that they were nothing more than a pair of bigots out to make a buck off of society's inherent racism. The film - which operates under the premise that the filmmakers are magically transported back in time to the beginning of the slave trade in America, where they sought to document the countless horrors and injustices rendered upon the poor, innocent Black people - is about as well-intentioned as a person who puts on blackface and speaks in jive in order to relate better to their African-American neighbors.

Scenes of modern (late 60's/early 70's) America are intercut with the filmmakers' "re-creations" of various aspects of slave existence. We see ships with black people packed together like sardines, force fed a disgusting-looking gruel, and occasionally having corks shoved in their bottoms. We see them shaved, scrubbed with lye, and inspected in the same way one would inspect a farm animal. Young girls being subjected to brutal rapes at the hands of vicious, animal-like bucks (one even whinnies like a horse when he opens his mouth) for the purpose of creating bigger and better workers. We see the white man (and woman) free to indulge in whatever perverted sexual whim that might cross their diseased little minds (all white people are evil and demented in Jacopetti and Prosperi's universe). Virtually any sort of abuse, torture, or degradation you can imagine has been lovingly catalogued by the Italian "documentary" makers. After two hours of appalling scene after appalling scene, we meet a modern Black man wearing spectacles and an Afro. He reads passages from William Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner" while watching carefree White people enjoy a day at the beach, blissfully unaware of their murderous pasts. The Black man fantasizes about leading a modern-day slave rebellion in which we see several suburban white folks get slashed, smashed, and bashed by militant Black men. A baby is even lifted out of its cradle and slammed headfirst into a wall. This closes the film, and presumably provides Black America with a solution for all their ills - kill the White devils.

Jacopetti and Prosperi's distortions of historical facts are as appalling as the many scenes of abuse. I will not go into a point-by-point refutation of the film's version of American "history", but I will say that it is clear that Jacopetti and Prosperi had absolutely no intentions of creating a sober, accurate portrait of the Antebellum days of the South. Addio Zio Tom is a propaganda piece, one created with the express purpose of adding fuel to the already white-hot state of American race relations in the early 70's. And to that dubious goal, the film certainly succeeds. No one watching this film will come away unaffected. All people, white or black, are certain to be filled with anger or digust, and maybe a little of both. Whether those bad feelings are directed towards each other, or towards the filmmakers, depends upon which side of the ideological fence you happen to be standing on.

All the criticisms about the filmmakers' intentions or their blatant disregard for any historical evidence which opposes their agenda will not change one very important fact about this film: it is a masterpiece. The photography and editing are incredible, creating a collage-like visual experience that, whether you like it or not, you cannot forget. Riz Ortolani's score runs through the entire film, sounding like a marching band version of Del Shannon's "Runaway", and adds a surreal note to the already provocative images presented by the filmmakers. Sometimes silly, sometimes profound, it is a catchy, upbeat contrast to the countless horrors we see onscreen. It took about a week for the damned thing to get out of my head, leaving the experience that is Addio Zio Tom lingering in my consciousness much longer than I would have liked.

What is funny is that even now, there are some people (with dubious claims to being "intellectuals") who continue to insist that Addio Zio Tom is a documentary. These people often have agendas of their own, and conveniently ignore the fact that the film is exactly what it appears to be: an irresponsible, crass exploitation film which creates the same kind of feelings in the viewer that the maker's pretend to condemn. There really isn't any other movie like this - except for maybe Cannibal Holocaust. To those who decide to hop into the time machine with Jacopetti and Prosperi, bring a strong stomach and a healthy skepticism. You're gonna need them.

You might be wondering where Jacopetti and Prosperi found so many Black people willing to spend much of their screentime stark naked and participating in a smorgasbord of humiliating activities. Why, you can thank a certain Haitian dictator who went by the name of "Papa Doc" for that. Sort of interesting that a film that claims to document that White man's enslavement of Black people, was made with the assistance of a Black man who, in a sense, had made slaves out of his own people.

5 out of 5.


3.3.09

Frankenhooker (1990)



Director: Frank Henenlotter
Starring: James Lorinz, Patty Mullen, Louise Lasser, Joseph Gonzalez
Unrated Running time: 85 minutes
Released by Unearthed Films


God bless Frank Henenlotter. Ever since his 1982 masterpiece Basket Case wowed midnight movie audiences the world over, it has remained abundantly clear that the man's brain is just not wired the same way your's or mine is. And that is a good thing. Henenlotter has only managed to produce a handful of films in a career spanning thirty years, all of them centering around normal schmoes who happen to be dealing with monsters that threaten to ruin their lives. When I say "monsters" I don't mean inner demons or unresolved emotional issues, I mean honest-to-God monsters. The kind that sneak out at night to suck brain juices, or break into apartments so that they can ravish nude women who made the mistake of getting mixed up with Henenlotter's dysfunctional heroes. These stories are all told with the director's off-color sense of humid and a gleeful disregard for anything resembling good taste. Many filmmakers have tried to capture the same deliriously trashy vibe that his films exude, but they usually try too hard and miss their mark. For Henenlotter, this stuff comes naturally.

Frankenhooker tells the story of a full-time public utility worker and part-time mad scientist named Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) who loses his fiancee in a freak remote-controlled lawn mower accident. Emotionally devastated, Jeffrey steals his dismembered bride-to-be's head and stashes it in the freezer. Death is a minor annoyance for Jeffrey, as he has been experimenting with re-animation in his New Jersey garage/laboratory. Not only is he going to bring his fiancee back to life, he's going to make her even better. With too few usable parts at his disposal, Jeffrey goes across the river to scope out the hooker's making their rounds in a seedy part of town. There he meets Zorro the Pimp (Joseph Gonzalez) who introduces Jeffrey to something that hookers like even more than money -- crack.


James Lorinz inspects the merchandise

Jeffrey returns to New Jersey and begins work on his grand plan. He whips up a batch of imitation crack which has the unfortunate side effect of causing the smoker to explode, and tries to decide just what features does he want in his perfect woman. Unable to decide, Jeffrey contacts Zorro and arranges to see all of his best girls so that Jeffrey can pick out the best specimens. Zorro agrees - but things go terribly wrong when the restless hookers find Jeffrey's SuperCrack and decide to throw an impromptu party. Jeffrey is powerless to stop the headstrong streetwalkers, and in one of the greatest scenes in film history, the roomful of hookers explode. Jeffrey gathers up the piecs and scurries off to his lab to complete his work.

Back in the lab, now teeming with disembodied boobs, legs, arms, and various other body parts floating in vats filled with purple goo, Jeffrey painstakingly assembles his vision of the perfect woman. Using the power of electricity to give life to his creation, Jeffrey is successful: Elizabeth has been reborn. With a few problems, it seems - because of the preponderance of prostitute parts used, Elizabeth has the mind of an aggressive lady of the night. Elizabeth knocks Jeffrey out and escapes.

Henenlotter found his spiritual stepson in special effects whiz Gabe Bartolos. Bartolos's designs straddle the line between the cartoonish and the disturbing, the perfect compliment to Henenlotter's warped sensibilities. James Lorinz (Street Trash) is perfectly cast as the wisecracking Jeffrey, delivering a near constant stream of one-liners in a hilariously deadpan style. And let's not forget about the titular (hehe, sorry) character played by former Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen. Mullen is drop dead gorgeous even when wearing corpsepaint and latex scars - not to mention the fact that she plays the lumbering zombie 'ho with impressive comic skill. Why Lorinz and Mullen never went on to bigger things is a mystery - let's just be thankful that Frankenhooker exists as a testament to both of their underappreciated talents.

The Unearthed Films presentation of Frankenhooker is terrific - the image and sound quality are about is good as its going to get, much appreciated after an extended stay in out-of-print limbo. Extras include a short interview with Patty Mullen, as well as a lengthier interview with Jennifer Delora ( the gum smacking redhead who says "I don't feel so good"). Henelotter and Bartalos provide a fun commentary where they divulge stories and anecdotes about the film's production. The best extra, however, is the Gabe Bartalos-filmed documentary on the film's special effects. Lots of never before seen footage of the behind the scenes creature work interwoven with Bartalos's visit to the Moonlight Bunnyranch. It's a fun tribute to a film of which Bartolos obviously has many fond memories, and is worth the price of the disc alone.

What can I say? It's cheap, trashy, and more fun than a million Final Destinations. You either get it or you don't. For those who appreciate low rent thrills and and have a twisted sense of humor,
Frankenhooker is essential. 

Nightwing (1979)



Director: Arthur Hiller
Starring: Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold, Stephen Macht, Strother Martin
Rated PG Running time: 105 minutes

This tale of vampire bats terrorizing an Indian reservation could have done with a little less 70's "socially conscious" claptrap and a little more bloodsucker action. Nick Mancuso challenges belief as the studly Indian Sheriff of the reservation who teams up with a slightly demented biologist/bat killer (David Warner) to eradicate the toothy menace. Unfortunately, director Arthur Hiller doesn't seem too interested in making a monster movie and is more concerned with depicting the trials and tribulations of the Native American community in the 70's. Which is kind of funny, because for all of its politically correct grandstanding the two main "Native American" characters are played by paleface's in pancake makeup. We get to see the Sheriff butt heads with Walker Chee (Stephen Macht), a wealthy Native American businessman, who Mancuso thinks has sold out to the man. We get to see the problems that arise in the battle between the modern and the traditional. We get to see Kathryn Harrold do demonstrations of some pretty crafty survival techniques. What we don't get much of is killer bats. We have to wait for a good chunk of the movie to pass before we get a truly exciting scene where the bats chomp down on a group of missionaries, and create such a scene of chaos that they run over one of their own while trying to escape. The bats are worth waiting for - combining the best blue screen and puppetry techniques 1979 had to offer, they are some of funniest looking killer animals Hollywood had produced since Food of the Gods. I mean that in a good way - this scene alone is worth watching Nightwing at least once.

Strother Martin gets a great scene as a shopkeeper who hates Indians, and David Warner has some fun with his part as the obsessed bat destroyer. Everyone on the cast is actually very good, selling the material even the story veers into soap opera territory. Unfortunately, the patronizing tone and the worshipful depiction of Native American culture is laid on too thick for Nightwing to work as a monster movie, and the B-movie elements are too prominent to allow the film to become the deep statement on Indian life that it wants to be. Hiller should have talked to me first - I would have had him cut about 15 minutes of melodrama, add in a few more bat attacks, and call the thing "Billy Jack vs. the Vampire Bat". That is, unquestionably, a multi million dollar idea.

See, this producing stuff is easy.

2.5 out of 5.

Drive-Thru (2007)



Director: Brendan Cowles, Shane Kuhn
Starring: Leighton Meester, Nick D'Agosto, Rachael Bella, Lola Glaudini, Melora Hardin
Rated R Running time: 83 minutes
Released by Lions Gate

Damn Ouija boards. Mackenzie Carpenter and her horny boyfriend, Fisher Kent, (Leighton Meester and Nick D'Agosto from Inside) had pretty good lives before they messed around with the unknown. Wealthy families, lots of friends, and Mackenzie even had her very own rock band. But playing around with the unknown has never paid off well for movie teens, and Cameron starts getting weird messages which seem to relate to a series of murders occurring in their town. A killer fast food mascot named Horny the Clown is out slicing and dicing area teens, and Cameron's dalliance with the forces of darkness has attracted his attention. Her friends start getting offed in a variety of unimpressive ways, and Cameron's mother seems to know more about Horny than she will let on. Could it be that Cameron's mother was involved with a prank gone wrong years earlier that killed Horny the Clown and now someone or something is seeking revenge against the children of the pranksters? Probably.

This is a truly awful film which attempts to balance horror with comedy and fails miserably at both. Horny the Clown looks like a rejected prop from the Kiss Psycho Circus tour, and is neither funny nor scary. In fact, the whole fast food killer gimmick is really only a ploy to distract viewers from the fact that Drive-Thru is a blatant rip-off of Nightmare on Elm Street, albeit one mixed with too many lame attempts at humor. For example, the pair of detectives investigating the murders are named Chase and Crocker - which gets them called Cheese and Crackers at one point. Har har. Rachel Bella (Jimmy & Judy) almost looks embarrassed to be in this thing. Despite the fact that Drive-Thru was already painfully unfunny and about as far from frightening as you can possibly get, the makers (yes, it took two guys to write and direct this stinker) decided to infuse the film with some sort of weird political commentary. I don't really get what they were trying to say, but because of this decision they can add "pretentious" to the list of adjectives one could use to describe this atrocity. For a film that asks an audience not to think about things too much, then turn around and have the audience things about things which have nothing to do with the film is a pretty telling sign that your movie is crap.

1 out of 5. 

2.3.09

Accion Mutante (1993)



Director: Alex de la Iglesia
Starring: Antonio Resines, Alex Angulo, Frederique Feder, Juan Vidas
Unrated Running time: 90 minutes
Released by Substance/Jet Films

Alex de la Iglesia's first film is a silly, gory, social satire set in the future. A group of deformed and disabled militants calling themselves "Accion Mutante" (that's "Mutant Action" for all you gringos out there) are committing terrorist acts against sperm banks, hospitals, and aerobics classes. Their goal: to exterminate the world's so-called "beautiful people" in order to ensure a more equal existence for all the no-so-beautiful people. When the group's leader, Ramon (Antonio Resines), is released from prison, Accion Mutante set about their plans to invade a high-society wedding and kidnap a millionaire's daughter. The mission ends in a bloodbath; the group mow down the wedding party and end up losing a couple of members, including a hunchback who is stabbed to death while hiding in the wedding cake. With the bride in tow, the group board a spaceship bound for Axsturias, a barren planet where the ransom meeting is to occur. Greed and infighting rear their ugly head, and Ramon begins feeding his partners to the huge, mutant cat that lives in the ship's hold. The ship crash lands on Axsturias where the film gets nuttier and nuttier.

Maybe a little too nutty for its own good. Don't get me wrong - Accion Mutante is a wild flick with attitude and energy to burn, but the film runs out of gas about halfway through. The off-the-wall humor and scattershot satire of the first act crumbles into a shrill, noisy mess after the characters end up on Axsturias. Loud, violent, and tasteless is not necessarily a bad thing, but when the film loses it's satirical focus the attempts at humor and shocks fall flat. Still, the film's irreverant tone and kitchen sink approach provides for an abundance of cheap thrills. It's a good thing the film never takes itself too seriously, which makes its many missteps forgivable. De la Iglesia's talents really came into being with his next film, The Day of the Beast. Accion Mutante isn't as interesting or entertaining as that film, but is a frequently amusing, tongue-in-cheek ode to the post-apocalyptic yarns of the early 80's.

My enjoyment of Accion Mutante was seriously hampered by the awful transfer found on the Jet Films disc . The picture was too dark and lacked definition, putting the kybosh on a film that leans heavily on its gawdy visual style. The "widescreen" transfer simply means that large black bars frame a really, really crappy transfer. I wouldn't be surprised if the disc was a straight dupe of a second or third generation VHS tape. Yes, it's that bad. While Accion Mutante is no masterpiece, it's interesting enough to deserve much better.

3 out of 5. 

1.3.09

Cannibal (2006)



Director: Marian Dora
Starring: Carsten Frank, Victor Brandl
Unrated Running time: 89 minutes
Released by Unearthed Films

In 2001, Armin Meiwes placed an ad on the internet looking for a male sex partner who would like to be eaten. That's not a euphemism.... I mean "eaten" like a chicken leg. Fourtunately for him, Meiwes found a person who was eager to fulfill his fantasies. The two met and the deed was done - and videotaped to boot. Meiwes was arrested after looking for yet another willing victim on the internet, and for writing about his previous foray into cannibalism. Cannibal does not set out to ask why such a thing occurred, or how did the participants end up becoming so batshit crazy. Instead the film is concerned with documenting one aspect of the case and one aspect only: what did it look like?

It does it very well. So well, in fact, that I can't really say if I liked this movie or not. It's a blow by blow (no pun intended) recreation of the events which transpired in Meiwes home in 2001, and it is very, very hard to watch. I am certain that fans of the Guinea Pig series or of Toetag Pictures' body of work will find Cannibal right up their alley. Everyone else will be repulsed and traumatized. I will provide a brief synopsis of the film's action. I will not provide much in the way of gory details since the film is about nothing but gory details.This way those who choose not to see the film will know what they are missing, and those who insist on seeing it will know what to look forward to.


Cannibal: The Man meets The Flesh.

Act One

The Man (Carsten Frank) walks around town, seeming to enjoy life very much. He is shown playing with a child, meeting potential meals, and placing ads on the internet. Only those who really, REALLY want to be eaten alive need apply. This portion of the film is nearly wordless - until The Man meets The Flesh (Victor Brandl).

Act Two

The Man and The Flesh spend almost the entire second portion of the film nude. When they are not having sex, they are frolicking about The Man's yard, even stopping for a game of what looks like horseshoes, except that whatever they are throwing is very small. Lawn bowling,
I think. Eh, anyhow, there is sex, sex, and more sex, until The Flesh asks The Man to bite his you-know-what off. The Man tries, but cannot. Needless to say, it is at this point the film becomes difficult to watch.

Act Three

The Man and The Flesh get down to business. The Man finishes the castration, this time using a knife. They fry the appendage and attempt to eat it. The Flesh is slowly dying. The Man stabs his willing victim in the neck, finally killing him. The Flesh is disemboweled. The Man eats the The Flesh. The Man goes out for a walk.

Finis

All of the above is shown in excruciating detail. Director Marian Dora doesn't shy away from anything, so you probably already know whether you want to see this movie or not. I should add that the production is excellent. The set design, photography, music, and especially the make-up effects are remarkable. It's too bad I found myself turning away from the screen too much to really appreciate them.

3 out of 5.

Brief Crossing (2001)



Director: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Sarah Pratt, Gilles Guillain
Not Rated Running time: 80 minutes
Released by Fox Lorber

For a filmmaker known for creating startling images of sex and violence, Catherine Breillat's Brief Crossing is shocking because it features none of those things. Made the same year as her excellent Fat Girl, this film tells the tale of a 24 hour liaison between a thirtysomething English divorcee (Sarah Pratt) and a naive French teenager (Gilles Guillain). Aboard a ferry crossing the English Channel, the two engage of a long game of sexual chicken, with the aggressive, cocky young man and the cool, headstrong been-around-the-block-a-few-times woman battling for dominance. Sarah Pratt's character takes every opportunity to criticize men, while the young man works hard to prove that she is wrong. The battle continues until the end of the night, when it is no longer clear who is attempting to seduce who. In between we get a very long uninterrupted scene in the ferry's bar that I am sure will be discussed in film classes all over the country.

Consisting mostly of dialogue, Brief Crossing gives Breillat the chance to flesh out her views on the battle between the sexes, in plainer language than in the past. It's intriguing stuff, but certainly not for everybody - you need to be in the right mood for this kind of movie. Slowly paced and long on dialogue, it will test the limits of even the most patient viewer. Breillat lets the story unfold at its own pace, never rushing towards the film's gutpunch climax. It's a doozy, but you'll need to be fully awake to appreciate it.

3 out of 5.

The Beast of Bray Road (2005)



Director: Leigh Scott
Starring: Jeff Denton, Thomas Downey, Sarah Lieving, Noel Thurman
Rated R Running time: 85 minutes

This bargain basement monster movie, supposedly based on true events, is more watchable than the usual product from The Asylum. A big, shaggy, floppy-eared, green-eyed creature is terrorizing a small Wisconsin town, and only the town's Sheriff (Jeff Denton), a smoking-hot bartender (Sarah Lieving), and a cryptozoologist (Thomas Downey) can stop it. With production values on par with a made-for-cable softcore porn movie,  Bray Road is full of the usual monster movie cliches, crappy performances, and plot holes that could swallow a bulldozer. Yet I couldn't stop watching it. Over-the-top gore and trashy women will trump complex plotting and intelligent dialogue any day of the week. THE BEAST OF BRAY ROAD is a quickly made, cheaply produced gore fest that seems to revel in the fact that it doesn't have an intelligent bone in its body. In this case that's a good thing, as the film is more concerned with delivering cheap thrills than anything else. With lots of nasty (but unconvincing) monster attack scenes, boobs, and a cast made up of very, very eye pleasing women - THE BEAST OF BRAY ROAD is dumb fun that is best enjoyed while drinking heavily. How else are you going to overlook the fact that some of the film's "Wisconsonites" speak with Southern accents?

2.5 out of 5.

The Pornographer (2001)





Director: Bertrand Bonello
Starring: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Jeremie Renier, Catherine Mouchet, Ovidie
Unrated Running time: 106 minutes
Released by Koch Lorber Films





The Pornographers would have worked much better as a short film, as there is only one scene in the film that is worth watching or discussing. It is the centerpiece of the movie and it occurs in the first act of the film. On the set of his latest movie, an aging porn director named Jacques Laurent (Jean-Pierre Leaud) discovers the hard way that his arty brand of smut is no longer in demand. They are shooting the film's big scene, and the director has instructed his actors to engage in intercourse while completely silent, and with nothing resembling passion on display whatsoever. The actors oblige - but the film's producer is clearly unhappy. About midway through the filming the producer simply begins giving the direction, and the scene begins to resemble your typical XXX film. The producer yells, "CUT!", and tells the frumpy old director that he is washed up.

That's all we really need to know about the main character and his plight, but The Pornographers goes on for a another hour and a half. Lots of long shots of nothing and conversations about things that offer nothing in the way of character or story development make up the bulk of the film. There are conversations about art and politics that give the film a pretentious angle that will either irritate the hell out of you or put you to sleep. To put it bluntly, the film seems to typify everything that is wrong with French cinema. To take a movie that features one of the adult industry's most beautiful actresses (Ovidie) in an explicit sex scene and turn it into such a hard-to-endure snoozefest as The Pornographers is no small accomplishment. For that director Bertrand Bonello deserves either a beating or an award. I'm not sure which.