Yo Anduve Con Un Zombie Critical Thinking

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Thursday, December 31

Some quick thoughts on Bio-Zombie (1998)

I hate not really enjoying Bio-Zombie (Sun faa sau si) for the unoffensive zombo romp that it's generally considered being. It's not alien that this one sometimes lands in top ten lists detailing the best undead numbers of all time. Good justification can be seen in that, with Cantonese horror dominated by hopping vampires and Anthony Wong murdering children, to my knowledge Wilson Yip's film is the only straight zombie flick hailing from one of China's thriving capitalist regions. That alone deserves recognition even with my qualms.

Like the Weasel's 1996 masterwork, Bio-Dome, this flesh-eating mall invasion shares a pair of young dude, nimrod protagonists and their misadventures...only with oatmeal-plastered zombies. Woody (Jordan Chan) and Bee (Sam Lee) run a shady VCD shop while looking to get one over on everyone, treating co-workers like trash, and mugging customers. Sorry to mention Pauly Shore again in the same paragraph, but at least Dome's Bud and Doyle aren't abrasive assholes.

Perhaps this is some statement on rebellious (or wannabe) Hong Kong youth culture, but there's an acceptance issue when later Woody and Bee are casually presented as the good guys in contrast to another asshole shop owner who relentlessly torments his wife. While this provides the dramatic motivation in the film's second half as situations test the bullshit arrogance of the duo, it's still hard to root for them with nearly fifty minutes of screaming, stealing, slapping, and drinking antagonistically aimed at others who don't deserve it before the zombies get serious.

The zombie infection dynamic is off-kilter with an unseen spread of the epidemic outside the mall, caused by toxic soda pop,eventually making its way into the building's corridors. We never see pardons attacked or the mall bustling with activity with most of the zombies simply appearing for the last half hour. The film finally picks up and it's like dominoes falling complete with brain drilling, decaps, parking garage smackdowns, and nifty character profiles. Special kudos go to the giga-hot Angela Tong for making the most heart-meltingly cute mock zombie groan while trying to eat a finger at the behest of an amorous sushi bar-working nerd turned poorly make-uped zombie.

The more cast members that meet a toothy slaughter--the better Bio-Zombie gets. The talky frenzy calms as Yip adopts a more serious tone rather than the otherwise dominating Americanized teen comedy shtick. It's actually not that hard to envision a domestic remake being crafted without too many cultural "adjustments" required in the translation. The ending, at least the one featured on Tokyo Shock's DVD, is pleasingly nihilistic and sends the film off on a high note. Bio-Zombie is worth seeing for the ardent zombie flick buff, but it's a shame Yip had such unlikable characters as leads and lets the adolescent laughs overwhelm the few very promising (yet unfulfilled) glimmers of undead cinema maturity.

Tuesday, December 29

Let's Make It Three Days: Another Entry about Paranormal Activity!

So Jayson, how about some VHS scans, a review of some obscure crap, or a video where you incessantly gloat about your collection? Yeah, I know how you feel, more about Paranormal Activity. This will be the last day of PA-madness...well, maybe until the weekend. Though I've found an interesting tidbit concerning the availability of the director's cut or at least a version differing from the theatrical cut.

Geof and Anthony on yesterday's entry commented about seeing the flick's original cut from a screener. Poking around torrents, there appears to be bootleg videos that all hover within 97 minutes. This runtime more-or-less matches the supposed duration of the director's cut. The resolution details of these videos also all match that of an anamorphic DVD presentation (852x480), so I'm assuming these are jacked from a DVD screener of the original cut they speak of. The last still at the bottom right (red arrow) of the encode preview below is from the film's third and original ending.

Just to be absolutely clear, there's the three endings and the versions they're tied to (spoilers, highlight to read): 1. The Paramount Theatrical Cut: Micah killed, throw at camera, and Katie possessed. / 2. The DVD's alternate ending: Micah killed, Katie slits own throat in front of camera. / 3. The original cut's ending: Micah killed, Katie possessed, police arrive.

Now, my skill with the whole torrent thing is that of a retarded chimp that's just been hit by a car while on Valium, so I have no idea how to download/play/whatever the file. Please don't ask me where to find it. I found this image through a simple Google Images search. I know of a guy at the swap meet whose had bootleg discs of the film for weeks, so hopefully he'll have them this coming weekend. See? I tried to be a good little media-responsible consumer and wait for what I figured was the "right" and legal home video release. Paramount didn't send review copies on DVD or Blu-ray out, so the most prevalent illegal version right now seems to be the original cut.

I seldom condone bootlegs of such recent, widely available films, but this is push coming to shove given what I've been annoying you with since Sunday. I bought Paramount's DVD legally from an "authorized" nationwide chain store, so they already have my $20. I want to see and own the original cut as a supplement. When Paramount gets around to doing the right thing, I'll end up buying their SE DVD with "the version you've never seen!" presumably with the arrival of Paranormal Activity Part Deux. Or perhaps when/if an overseas distributor saves the film from this version hell with their DVD or Blu-ray release, please!?!

I will (hopefully) have some time off for New Years starting Thursday, so I'll have some time to relax and vary up the content of BoGD.

Monday, December 28

Some quick thoughts on Paranormal Activity (2007)

First off, I'm still peeved at Paramount over their treatment of Paranormal Activity and its DVD/Blu-ray releases. I watched the film for the first time last night before reading about its multiple versions afterward. Now I feel like I haven't seen really "seen" the film despite seeing it...or at least some form of it. Like most of you reading this, I hate watching films altered from their original versions. Of course, this type of thing happens more often than we know, but in this case its so obvious and flagrant. Not to mention this being a horror film so it all feels more personal in a sense. Horror being released incomplete on home video in this day-and-age? That just doesn't happen...

Everyone probably already knows the story about Paramount snapping up the rights, sitting on it for well over a year, rumors of the studio planning a remake, and suddenly deciding to release the original with a "Demand It!" gimmick with the rest being recent history. I suspect the studio decided long before an official announcement to widely release the original. It just took time to "mold" the film for mainstream audiences, apparently supervised by unofficial Poltergeist director Steven Spielberg, and devise a marketing campaign to drum up hype.

This 86 minute theatrical version turned out to the most profitable film in history, but that's beside the point. I feel like I've witnessed only what Paramount designed for me to see--not director Peli. A small genre indie has been taken and coiled through a big studio post editing gristmill for maximum box office revenue. With this situation in mind, it's tough to truly judge the film without its intended arrangement.

Paranormal Activity is a Pollock in the horror genre. The $15,000 execution and aim is so simple that the split love/hate reaction speaks to the same polarizing effect of the art of Jackson Pollock. What makes the artist's work so significant, despite looking to some like paint wantonly splattered on canvas, is that it was never done before Pollock. Peli's film has a few processors, chiefly The Blair Witch Project, but its confoundedly "why didn't I think of that" concept, adaption of familiar traditional horror themes, and similar cultural impact make it a foundational example of the fresh found footage subgenre.

Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat do a fine job as the couple terrorized by a phantom attic-dwelling demon. Their "lived-in" acting falls into a middle ground between the vulnerable rawness of the people in Blair Witch and the wooden hyper-realism of the actors in Romero's Diary of the Dead. The effect being you don't find yourself clinging to their shoulders like you do in the chilly repeating woods freaked out by a witch, but stiffened with fright by the lingering noises and slamming doors. This is one intention that's hopefully original, surviving Paramount's bastardization.

My complaints are small, but I'm reserving them until I see Oren Peli's authentic creation. I will say the alternate ending on this DVD, which is quieter and more disturbing, seems to fit better in the context with what I've read about Peli's director's cut. There's also some visual cues earlier in the film that can be tied to this particular climax rather than the slambang as-seen-in-theaters chair jumping conclusion. Paranormal Activity seems a very worthy horror feature saddled with very unworthy treatment. Keep those fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 27

Paranormal Activity on DVD: Where's the Beef, Dammit?

I was going to save this for a review tomorrow, but checking out the Paramount DVD just now (found early at Wal Mart), I found out some pertinent details regarding the versions available on this release. According the IMDB's alternate versions page, there's a "director's cut" of the feature that supposedly runs 99 minutes in length. This version isn't on this official DVD. The disc is advertised as having the R-rated theatrical version as well as an unrated version with an alternate ending. Both the theatrical version and unrated version run an exact total of one hour, twenty-six minutes, and twenty-five seconds according to my DVD player and DVD-ROM.

The unrated version is actually a bit of a falsehood, as the only thing that appears to be different is the ending. The ending described on the IMDB page linked above is not the alternate ending presented on this DVD. I assume Paramount didn't submit the disc's alternate ending to the MPAA so tacking it onto the R-rated cut makes the same cut then "unrated". According to this blog entry concerning the film's multiple endings at Roger really, the IMDB ending was the director's original, while the ending presented on this DVD is a "rare alternate ending screened publicly only once." Not spoiling it here, but the alternate ending on this disc is the last one described in detail by the author of Roger really.

Aside from the theatrical Spielberg cut and the seamlessly branched alternate ending, all of the material and aural alterations described in the "director's cut" aren't presented nor is the third ending (that was available to be seen online on YouTube and MovieWeb before Paramount pulled it). The DVD's only other extra is a trailer for Scorsese's Shutter Island (see the main menu here). Paramount appears to be holding out on us and that's bullshit. Where's the definitive DVD/Blu-ray release featuring the director's preferred version? Especially with how long we've had to wait to finally experience Oren Peli's film. Spread the word on this. Also anyone know if the director's cut or version featuring the third ending is available online, uhhh, nefariously?

*EDIT:The Spanish credit screens were for the Spanish language dub track also on the disc. Never seen such credits on a DVD before...

Some quick thoughts on Inglourious Basterds (2009)

After finally getting down with Tarantino's latest last night, I'm still perplexed by Inglourious Basterds. Fits and starts of bold artistic strokes make for the most audacious revisionist WWII flick ever mounted. Yet the nonchalant pace and fuck you focus on minutiae make for a wartime "adventure" that's nowhere near as entertaining as other pulpy military classics such as Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, and Kelly's Heroes. Despite all four of the aforementioned having similar 150 minute runtimes, Basterds lacks the "pick-and-go" watchability of the other three. In other words, I don't think I could start in the middle of Tarantino's film and get totally sucked like seeing Posey trying to stick the Major or hearing Oddball keep mentioning positive and negative waves, man.

Just to get this out of the way, people that wish to question Tarantino's moral compass by his film's complete absence of the Holocaust or negative portrayal of fucking Nazis (seriously, people?) are overripe with malformed politically correct rhetoric. Tarantino's intentions have always been clear and the marketing hasn't sold a false bill of goods to the masses. Inglourious Basterds is a cathartic, gory chunk of Nahhh-Z killin' and there's nothing wrong with that. An historical improvisation any levelheaded individual would find as an immensely gratifying, albeit hypothetical end to the upper fascist crust of the Third Reich. Perhaps some have sour grapes over certain performances in such a Nazi hating picture being so magnificent.

The best thing about Basterds is Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. Those harshly critical would only be doing a disservice to themselves to lump the perfect turns of these two into their gripes. Waltz is amazing diffusing just the right amount of sardonic hokum (it's a QT joint after all) into supreme jackboot prowess making his every word a source of utter dread. His Colonel Hans Landa is one of the greatest on-screen portraits of amiable villainy in decades. Mélanie Laurent's Shosanna Dreyfus shows an actress talent well beyond her twenty-six years. Female protagonist Dreyfus is stridently confident vocally yet continually says so much more in silence. It's the kind of American mainstream peel back into the world of superb acting craft abroad to savor while it lasts (Waltz as well), and no spoilers, but at one point you literally want to punch Quentin in the face over her character's path.

Everyone else are pretty much amoebas floating around these Herculean performances. This defeats the purpose of having Pitt and his bastards included at all. We hear much more about the dastardly exploits and murderous reputation of the group than we actually see. Besides some scalping, one instance of baseball bat cranial destruction, and the men clandestinely hopping about the film's map out of convenience. Til Schweiger brings the psychotic bad ass as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (har har) but again isn't given much to do along with his other basterds. Some in the group simply disappear and Pitt's cornball-accented Lt. Raine is no Eastwood or Marvin. Though Raine's "bonjourno" struggle with Landa at the premiere is hilarious. Eli Roth? No idea. I'm assuming these guys (especially Brad) had to be included for the sake of studio suit comfort, but given more time it's not impossible to imagine Tarantino slicing out these Jewish Nazi-slaughterers entirely in subsequent drafts in favor of the feature's real thrust.

Things intensely disliked are the out-of-period/-genre musical selections (Cat People, really?), the Sam Jackson-narrated explanations of Stiglitz's past and nitrate film's flashpoint, and the notices of who certain Nazi luminaries are by scribbled on-screen text. The tedium of the longwinded Hammersmark basement bar conversation is best fast-forwarded through in future viewings. I could watch Landa or Dreyfus for hours, but this mind-grinding scene is probably thee example of Tarantino becoming far too obsessively infatuated with his characters to the audience's detriment. Not having anywhere else to put this, the film's final reel is truly excellent and we witness a director working at a sustained career high as fates converge and some fascists meet a taste of the Hell they've wrought. If Inglourious Basterds proves anything, it's that Tarantino is almost there (this is akin to two different yet similar WWII films actively colliding) and there's more than enough here to deem this his best "actors film" up to this point...

Saturday, December 26

This whole Shock Festival thing...

Am I the only left cold by Stephen Romano's Shock Festival, at least in paper form? Much like the faux trailers in Grindhouse, this book complies a pandora's box of pulpy 42nd Street backwash, filmmakers, and actors that never existed luridly splashed upon soiled paper found on the sticky floors of some seedy Big Apple dime theater. That sounds great...until you flip through the pages for yourself.

Well, that was my personal reaction flipping through this weightless tome at Borders a few weeks back. I had never heard of Shock Festival before this run-in and at first glance thought it had the makings of one of the most awesome cult film coffee books ever on aesthetic grounds. After about three seconds, this lust deflated with the realization everything was made up. Anyone whose been a devotee of maverick exploiters knows it's hard enough to keep up with the real selections lurking across the globe yet to land into our grubby hands for consumption.

Yes, it's colorfully rendered junk food (think those weird spongy pink peanuts) for those who hold Christina Lindberg and Soledad Miranda in goddess status. I just couldn't help thinking that, at best, this rather expensive ($25-40) book can be likened to an annoying dream. You know, those dreams were one finds great material wealth only to realize it'll all be gone once your eyes crack open? You then grumble and roll over trying to avoid the old hag.

This sounds mighty hypocritical of me, but why should I give a damn? No doubt much creativity, knowledge, and love of the aped material from Romano and artists pour from the pages. I'd just much rather pick up and actually learn something from a few Video Watchdogs, HorrorHounds, or a similar priced book/guide covering a real cult movie subgenre or filmmaker. The commissioned poster art andmentions of hiring Shock Festival for said art jobs on the official site only smell of the book being a portfolio with an MSRP for Mr. Romano. The 352-page book is like reading the back stats on baseball cards of players who went nowhere. Who really cares after an initial browse through it? It's not like years later you finally see one of these hidden gems and then pick the book back up to once again read with a new perspective.

There is a Shock Festival DVD release coming in at a whopping three discs (DVDTalk review) that seems like a better investment for the sake of the real trailers included. Still, give me 42nd Street Forever or give me death. Since this entry is basically free publicity for SF, I'd say judge for yourself (preferably first hand before you buy), just because Grindhouse's trailers rocked the Casbah doesn't necessarily lend the concept to something equally as good when presented in such large quantities.

Friday, December 25

Nothing like a little Darkness on Christmas...

"This one will fuck you up, a shame no one's heard of it!" Those were the words of the wigged-out and tatted-up dude I bought this tape from years ago. I was among those who had no idea what I was looking at, but just look at that damn cover all slathered in gratuitous porno for the horror fanatic's eyes. Even if what was recorded on the magnetic tape held within sucked, that's one hell of a cover to pass up. Not to mention when a guy wearing a Goatlord t-shirt with a tattoo sleeve depicting the bloody muscle structure under his skin tells you something will "fuck you up"--it's probably best to listen.

Film Threat Video's Darkness, the film's 1993 home video debut,marked my introduction to the realm of the genre known as no-budget splatter. Since then, I've seen quite a few suburban homebrew Karo syrup freakouts, but Leif Jonker's sprawling opus still stands as the most ambitious. The complaints of the film's distractors fall into the usual checkboxes of indies of this ilk. The extremely poor lighting (vastly helped by Barrel Entertainment's definitive DVDs), the actually-not-too-bad acting, some barely audible dialogue, plot holes, and even the metalhead attire of the youthful cast fall under the sights of critics. Although true to varying degrees, nitpicking such details misses the broader qualities of this rollicking DIY vampire epic.

Aside from very few other underground Super8/shot-on-video genre offerings, Darkness has an undeniable consistency. The showcase sequences involving gas station suicide, chainsaws pissed off at drywall, Olympic car wash stall spiriting, and mildly adverse reactions to the ultraviolet spectrum are paced evenly as to have no stretch become boring. The quieter moments in between don't drag with some story particulars glossed over for the sake of this welcoming brevity. This is a quality that's often found lacking from such basement horrors that make for a laborious sitdown. For this aspect alone, Jonker deserved a career in the genre (this is the director's sole film), as even horror with budgets tenfold struggle with this very issue.

It's tough to peg down, but the scenes of teen vampires and our teen heroes running from them have a certain adolescent vitality. You could edit a compelling video to R.E.M.'s Drive using these snippets. There's even a bit of moment-of-detonation atom bomb imagery mixed into all the grue. Last but certainly not least, the gore and splatter is tremendous. Heads become pop rocks, convenience store stand-offs become fodder for shock websites, flesh melts into red-slicked raw chicken meat, and trembling corpses become one with asphalt through self-mutilating yoga exercises. Darkness is a testament to picking up your parent's cheap camera and the perfect example of a horror film that admirably reaches far past its literal Denny's steak and eggs budget.

Thursday, December 24

Some quick thoughts on Jason X (2001)

Awwwyes, the much maligned Jason X. I can remember the pre-judgment many made over the very concept of Mr. Voorhees in outer space. Back on the now defunct Diabolical Dominion forum, a loud majority seemed dead set against the idea regardless of the outcome. Some were more optimistic, but those entrenched on the opposing side often resorted to casting the "you aren't a "real" fan..." charge on those willing to wait. Shades of all the pre-release hubris surrounding Avatar just like with most major releases or franchise with a longstanding following on the Interwebs. Of course, the release date delays and rumors of a troubled production didn't help the reception of this tenth kill-a-ton celebration headed up by everyone's favorite deformed momma's boy.

This textual tug of war colored my reaction when I finally saw the intergalactic misadventures of the macheted-one. James Issac's sequel is just so different and no one really expected (nor particularly wished to see) the beastly character shot off into the stars. The space angle seemed like a ploy at the then fledgling rebirth of episodic space operas on the boob tube. Finding the Pioneer/GAGA Communications Japanese DVD peaked my interest in seeing it again after years. And despite not watching that particular disc (factory sealed, 'natch), popping in the stateside New Line Platinum edition last night led to a surprising reevaluation.

Jason X isn't nearly the embarrassment than remembered. Sure, the flick has some obvious issues; the production has that ramshackle television look, the nearly one-dimensional CG spacecraft effects, the Alien/Aliens-themed riff raff, the science being firmly armchair, and (sorry to say) Manfredini's last Friday score often sounding noticeably cheap. We horror fans love to guard our properties like our own children, though to his credit, Isaac seems to "get" yet not piss away the series being essentially popcorn slasher fun. This is exactly what this flick embodies when stripped of all the motherly protection and unreachable expectation that we too often saddle our beloved horror icons with. After revisiting this, you can't tell me this is a bad way at all for the F13 series proper to conclude compared to the fates of the "original" Freddy, Michael, Pinhead, or Chucky lineages. Those demanding more gloss and sheen have their rather innocuous, ultra slick Bay-fueled re-imagining.

Kane Hodder's performance just might be his best behind the Jarvis-slashed hockey mask. The character is ridiculously menacing from picture start like a fucking brickwall of interstellar teenage doom. A vastly better showing than the fifteen-or-so minutes of screen time the real Jason received going to Hell. The makers of Freddy vs. Jason and Friday the 13th (2009) may have wanted a taller Voorhees, but the barrel-chested Hodder proves the only one with the exacting brutish mannerisms to make the Crystal Lake Corpse truly terrifying. Shit, Kane as Jason could be a full foot shorter and still make your legs itch from piss-soaked jeans as you bolt through the woods screaming for your life. Issac wisely makes Hodder the clear star; once Jason smashes the crystallized face of that future space babe, the sex ends as the slaughter begins.Also Uber-Jason is certainly more agreeable than the dumb body jumpin' in Jason Goes to Hell.

Hell, I didn't even mind all the cheeky quips from the human cattle and sexy leather-clad android. This humor makes one care more for the admittedly single-serve victims. I can't remember who said '95's Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight was the last of the old guard before the Scream revolution, but Jason X could be considered its final death rattle before Saw and all these remakes cluttered the landscape. This is one of those unabashed horror flicks for horror fans. That should make sense to those dyed-in-the-wool.

Monday, December 21

Evil Things: The Blog Blitz and the Big Freeze...

Last week I received a mysterious "confidential" envelope from an Agent D. Perez supposedly from the Feds. I sorta freaked but then discovered it was a bit of ingenious press kitting from the makers of the found footage horror indie Evil Things (IMDB here). I was set to watch the film for reviewing purposes last Thursday only to discover my DVD player doesn't play nice with the DVD-R. Despite the disc being authored correctly as a single layer DVD, at just six minutes in the picture and sound suddenly halt and the player becomes totally unresponsive even after repeated attempts. I'm one of the few on planet Earth who lack computer speakers, so popping this into to my DVD-ROM is a no-go. So I'm stuck until I haul out my other player and hook it back up. I feel an obligation to Dominic Perez and the powers that be behind Evil Things (official site) to say I really appreciate the chance to review your film and the rather frightening surprise in my mailbox. Though it might take some time before I can do what's necessary to watch the other eighty eight minutes.

In lieu of a BoGD review right now, here's several other reviews from fellow bloggers since the film seems to be popping up all over the horror blogosphere as of late. I will get to my review sometime after the holidays. Although judging by skimming over these, I'm missing out! If I happened to miss your review, please feel to post a direct link in the comments section! Check out the film's trailer over at YouTube!

Sunday, December 20

Couldn't Get Through It: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)

A group of '90s standard twenty-something high schoolers up and slam their car into, beat over the head, and damn near burn the old witch keeper of Pumpkinhead to death. The titular demon then revives after these dumbasses perform an impromptu ritual using his human-form corpse. The windy, schizophrenic strobe lighted kills begin anew as the Elephantiasis sufferer from Hades stalks the countryside by night.

There's two predominant types of "good" cheap horror programmers. The ones in which filmmakers pleasingly thrive under such piecemeal conditions while the other kind that may not have this quality, but get by on sheer gusto and/or laughs spurred by their ineptitude. Jeff Burr's Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings doesn't sit in either camp instead landing with match grade accuracy into a cold middle ground. The result just might be the most uninteresting second sequel of a mainstream horror franchise ever. The cheapness of the whole thing quickly becomes painfully tacky and too obvious to ignore.

Everyone comes out looking bad, especially Director Burr, with one getting the impression the studio either pissed him off or he having absolutely no interest in the material. The barren sets are cramped with no directorial flare to enliven them, the "action" sequences sloppily cobbled together, and I swear the same two chairs against a wall of a one room police station also appear against the wall of a hospital lab. You know there's serious problems when the most interesting shot is a camera taped to a shovel handle. Even little details seem thrown away, like a brief shot of a car backing up after the old witch gets slammed into by the teens. There's a million ways to frame a car inquisitively backing up. Here it's a boring roadside shot with the rear end barely drifting into the left side and stopping as the next shot begins. That might seem meaningless, but it's in a long line of who-gives-a-damn piss takes.

The usually dependable Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Hellraiser) is terrible as the lead sheriff and father of a girl in the young, doomed group. Joe Unger ("go get the meat!" from Texas Chainsaw 3), Kane Hodder, and a nearly unrecognizable Linnea Quigley show up for checks as backwood victims. Unger's small performance is like a dim beam of light in a roomful of shattered bulbs. There's loads of annoying ADR for all the stilted dialogue and no one else in this wreck is worth mentioning. At one point, Quigley survives the vengeance of the demon only to wildly scream into the arms of Robinson with a nurse immediately saying something to the effect of "she's in a state of extreme shock, almost scared to death" like it's a shade of human emotional reaction that's unprecedented in the history of film. Groan...

This sequel only shows how solid the work of Stan Winston, Lance Henriksen, and the host of writers of the original really is. Burr and the two no-other-credit writers took a creation born from Hell's Autumn season and unemotionally plunged into '90s clunker purgatory. I lasted about fifty minutes in and feel I'm not missing a single thing by halting the tape from utter disinterest. I haven't seen Ashes to Ashes or Blood Feud, but after this the only direction to go is up.

Friday, December 18

Some quick thoughts on Savage Weekend (1976...or 1979...or 1981)

A recently divorced woman, her new hubbie, and a couple of her fellow city slicker yuppie friends go off to the country for a weekend to relax while checking on the build progress of a yacht. The locals are stand-offish bumpkins and the guy working on the boat, Otis (William Sanderson), is the local dimwit with a checkered past. See, years ago Otis assaulted a couple in the woods and ended up branding an H (for "whore", ol' Otis can't spell too good) onto the bare chest of a girl. He's not the only one keeping a watchful eye on the outsiders. There's also a lumberjack supplying wood for the seafaring restoration whom the flirtatious woman kinda lusts after. Though no one is safe once a figure dawning a gory Halloween mask begins the meek slaughter...

Awesome cover, eh? Unfortunately, this pretty much forgotten slasher is pretty much crap. The chief problem is everything being lazy from the drag-ass editing, absent acting, and a story that could have been condensed into fifteen minutes or less that still wouldn't have quite made sense. The opening scene even resorts to shuffling the climax to forcefully infer who the makers wish the viewer to perceive as the killer throughout. One couldn't care less about the yuppie meatbags as they bounce into each other trying to provoke inane intrigue. The presence of a smattering of old style thick an' rich 3M effects blood (no gory moneyshots here, folks) and some pasty boobies can't save this not-so savage weekend as we push this ten ton monolith of bad bad movie into the last half hour. Just another example of slasher with an okay looking killer (in that last half hour) being plowed by overwhelming watch once mediocrity. It's hard to believe this was shot just three or four years after Craven's seminal The Last House on the Left.

Besides looking like Moochie and Tuna got a hold of the box, Paragon Video's tape has some quirks. Later releases of this tape stated "A Cannon Films Release" on the front but this one doesn't. Before the film, there's a notice of an R-rating from King of Video, Inc. which was Paragon's original name. Some shots, like the opening credits and close-ups of the masked madman, are matted at 1.85:1 widescreen while the rest is left unmatted. This leads to many obvious occasions of boom mics floating above and below the actors.

Thursday, December 17

Video: The Tape Cut-ups, Pt. 1

Here's a video of some of my VHS cut boxes. Most of these are "lesser" selections but there's a few interesting ones mixed in. Tomorrow is finally Friday; so I hope to veg out after a laborious work week, watch a few flicks, attend the swap meet (snow permitting), wait on a few mailed goodies, and lurk around BoGD. Enjoy my 1,086 instances of "uhhh" during this vid!




Wednesday, December 16

Another Day of "Sorta" Content: The Weirdness of Knee Dancing

Beat all to hell at work today again so here's another odd one-off into my collection that's sure to bore most though I'm too shot for extensively coherent thought this evening. Here's two VHS clamshells of Doreen Ross's Knee Dancing. The one on the left has no studio name or logo anywhere on the case or tape while the the right copy is from "Neon Video". Yep, the same studio responsible for the baffling White Justice (thoughts here). According to the IMDB (threadbare listing here), Knee Dancing is from 1988, but the look of the artwork reeks of 1978. Troma apparently has this one, deeming it "beyond weird!", available for international distribution. How did I come across two copies from two different obscure studios of such an obscurity? I have no idea...

Tuesday, December 15

Igor Munching on a Bath Brush...

Pretty beat today so here's something small yet hopefully interesting. This is the Video Gems clamshell of Sergio Martino's Sex with a Smile (40 gradi all'ombra del lenzuolo) (1976) with Marty Feldman, Barbara Bouchet, Edwige Fenech, and Tomas Milian among others. This is a VHS edition of the film you wouldn't likely see again being that it's twenty-eight years old and the studio re-issuing it in a cardboard big box a few years later. Although this copy isn't in perfect shape, its uncut condition is amazing considering its age and all the art being nakedly printed on a puffy white clamshell. I'm putting this one up so I'm sharing now before it's packed away for safe keeping.

Recientemente, por razones que no vienen al caso, quise empaparme de películas cuyo argumento girara en torno al muerto viviente o zombie. Algunos amables lectores y amigos me recomendaron una buena cantidad de títulos, muchos de los cuales no había visto; una lista que voy agotando poco a poco. Resulta curioso como hay tanto cine dedicado al zombie y sin embargo no goza precisamente de buena prensa o valoración crítica. Si bien es cierto que la calidad cinematográfica de algunos de los trabajos deja bastante que desear, la fascinación que ejerce la idea del muerto viviente, el terrible encanto de muchas secuencias y, en ocasiones, el sorprendente sentido del humor, están haciendo que la tarea que me impuse esté resultando más enriquecedora de lo que pensé en un principio.

Aunque no me la hubiesen recomendado, 'Yo Anduve con un Zombie', de Jacques Tourneur, era una película que, de cualquier forma, tenía pendiente. Porque no recordaba haberla visto, pero sí tenía grabada la imagen que tenéis arriba; imagino que, siendo pequeño, la vería junto mis padres (que nunca han tenido demasiado cuidado a la hora de vigilar lo que "debía" ver, lo cual les agradezco enormemente), y mis por entonces inocentes retinas quedaron impactadas por la figura del zombie. Eso explicaría también otras cosas, pero tampoco vienen al caso en este artículo.

En 'Yo Anduve con un Zombie' ('I Walked with a Zombie', 1943), una joven enfermera llamada Betsy Connell es contratada para cuidar a una paciente en San Sebastián, una isla caribeña. Cuando llega, comprueba que la mujer, esposa de un rico hacendado, está en una especie de estado vegetativo. Los nativos del lugar dicen que es una zombie.

Me parece necesario aclarar que en este film, el zombie no es el "establecido" por George A. Romero en 'La Noche de los Muertos Vivientes'. Aquí no hay muertos podridos buscando comerse a los vivos; ni siquiera tienen intenciones violentas. En todo caso, lo que hacen es asustarte por su presencia fantasmal. El zombie que vemos en esta película es el creado por la magia vudú; como reflejó Wes Craven en su no menos interesante 'La Serpiente y el Arco Iris'. Dicho un poco simplemente, se trata de una persona que ha perdido la voluntad y la consciencia. Parece un muerto, de hecho se duda si lo está o no, y obedece órdenes de otro sujeto, el brujo. Quizá la imagen de un sonámbulo sea acertada para comparar.

Afortunadamente editada en DVD en nuestro país, 'Yo Anduve con un Zombie' fue producida por Val Lewton para la RKO (dentro de un ciclo de terror de bajo presupuesto que pretendía rivalizar con la Universal), y escrita por Ardel Wray y Curt Siodmak, a partir de un relato de Inez Wallace, e inspirándose en 'Jane Eyre', la novela de Charlotte Bronte. Dirigida por Tourneur tras 'La Mujer Pantera' (similar y, para mí, superior), la película se encuadra en esos comienzos en los que la fuerza del terror residía en sugerir y no tanto en mostrar. Se teme a lo desconocido. Claro que esto no siempre sale bien. Si se consigue, como en 'Suspense' (pronto en DVD), la jugada es redonda. En este film de Tourneur falla algo, posiblemente no apostar más fuerte por ese miedo al misterio, a lo desconocido. Se queda en momentos brillantes que no tienen continuidad.

Particularmente, me quedo con tres momentos. Que serán los que siempre recordaré de este film, aun cuando pasen décadas. Uno de ellos es el final, por lo que me ahorro el comentario, no quisiera pillar desprevenido a ningún lector. De los otros dos, el primero ya lo he señalado, y tenéis la foto al principio de la crítica; la escena en la que Betsy acompaña a la paciente a través del camino que lleva a la montaña, alumbrado con una débil linterna, y se detiene cuando ve esos huesudos pies... En fin, una genialidad. El segundo, no menos inquietante y magistralmente rodado, ocurre antes, cuando Betsy, en mitad de la noche, se despierta al oír los gritos o lamentos de una mujer. La secuencia completa es una maravilla que te eriza la piel. La imagen que acompaña a este párrafo está sacada de ahí; podéis comprobar el magistral uso de la luz. Y es que lo mejor del film es la cuidada, hipnótica y oscura atmósfera. Está logradísima. La banda sonora, por supuesto, contribuye a ello, por ejemplo con el "mágico" ritmo de los tambores, imitando los latidos del corazón ante la tensión que se respira en determinadas escenas.

Sin embargo, ese mecanismo llamado "inocencia de la época", usualmente utilizado para disculpar cosas que ahora nos parecen ridículas, no me parece suficiente como para pasar por alto ciertos "errores" del film. Sencillamente, hay actuaciones, diálogos y situaciones que no te las crees. Ni siquiera achinando los ojos y tapándote un oído. No hablo de actuaciones de los actores, ojo, o de lo teatral de la puesta en escena de gran parte de la película, o del grito de "¡¡Carrefour!!" que lanza un personaje para que el zombie negro se detenga (al oír su más que curioso nombre). Por mencionar algo, hablo de frases como la del comienzo ("creía que los zombies eran divertidos", fantástica forma de crear suspense), del comportamiento del personaje de Conway en la embarcación (intentando asustar gratuitamente a la enfermera), o de situaciones como la de la canción de los nativos que oyen la enfermera y uno de los hermanos; es tremendamente útil, sí, un mecanismo repetido hasta la saciedad, pero aquí se representa muy falsamente, sobre todo por las reacciones de los implicados, como la del "músico" arrepentido, tronchante. Todo esto contribuye a que desconectes, aunque sea muy brevemente, de lo que estás viendo.

Pero lo peor es que, salvo en contadas ocasiones, la protagonista, que es quien lleva los ojos del espectador, ni pasa miedo ni se siente angustiada, ni nada de nada. Hay veces que parece que está tomándose unas vacaciones o representando una obra en el colegio. No digo que la interpretación de la hermosa Frances Dee sea poco adecuada, es que su personaje es así, la película es así. Y me parece un error. Le sobra toque alegre y le falta tensión. En cuanto a los hermanos, que no es que se quieran precisamente, están interpretados por Tom Conway y James Ellison. Los secretos que ocultan les han tratado de forma desigual. El primero (Conway) es el esposo de la zombie, el más adulto, y desde el principio atrae a Betty; es uno de los personajes más enigmáticos del film y está muy lograda su engañosa personalidad, producto del sitio en el que vive. Algo que afecta a toda la familia, a algunos más poderosamente como a otros. Ellison encarna a un hombre más débil, bebedor, e impulsivo. Teniendo en cuenta, y dejando a un lado, lo dicho arriba de la teatralidad, los diálogos a tres bandas entre la enfermera y los hermanos son interesantes, por las relaciones que subyacen; como de costumbre, dan mucha información en poco tiempo. Quizá los misterios sean un tanto obvios, pero aquí sí que creo que es la poca inocencia actual la principal culpable, pues a menudo vemos historias de este tipo, con "sorpresas" similares.

'Yo Anduve con un Zombie' dura poco más de una hora y en su interior posee elementos más que suficientes como para seguir siendo el clásico que es actualmente, tanto por la elegante realización de Tourneur como por algunos fascinantes momentos, casi oníricos, donde la luz es protagonista. El terror queda reservado a la atmósfera y a las apariencias, más que a lo que vemos realmente; lo cual, paradójicamente, espantará a todo aquel que busque una ración de género sangriento. No me parece una obra maestra, como creo que he dejado claro, pero sí un film de imprescindible visionado por la ejemplar forma en que está rodado. Algo que ya no se ve hoy en día.

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