Thursday, June 30, 2011

Episode #138: Full Giant and Toy Contact

We are back for another round of genre cinema coverage that you have come to adore and this week we are doing our first of the program for Japan episodes that our listeners are programming for donating to help Japan after the disaster that took place there a little while back.

This week our show is programmed by listener Jay, AKA The Oily Maniac, and he chose Full Contact (1992) from director Ringo Lam and Giants and Toys (1958) from director Yasuzo Masamura.

Kick back and enjoy!!!

Direct download: Full_Giant_and_Toy_ContactRM.mp3

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Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Helltrain (1977)

Helltrain (aka Hitler's Last Train) is an entry in the Nazisploitation genre. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this field is dominated primarily by films lensed in Europe, and its most famous examples are Salon Kitty and Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. These films typically showcase tons of skin (male and female) and sex, gruesome tortures, bloody violence, and humiliation. They are alternately set in brothels, prison camps, or a combination of the two. Here, our offering comes from French director Alain Payet (as James Gartner), whose main output is in the hardcore porn area. Strange, then, that this movie is so reserved. I suspect this is a heavily-edited version of the film. At the same time, I'm not so sure a hardcore edition would prove more satisfying.
We begin with the standard cabaret scene. Here, we meet Ingrid (Monica Swinn), top mistress to the Nazis' highest-ranking officers. Backstage, her friend, the innocent Greta (the tragically-short-lived Sandra Mozarowsky), pleads for Ingrid to use her influence for Greta's father, an anti-Nazi sympathizer. But when Greta won't pledge loyalty to the party, Ingrid turns her away. We get the sense that Ingrid got into the Nazi party reluctantly but has now devoted herself to the cause.
Ingrid's boytoy, Otto (Frank Braña), receives word that the Germans are marching into Russia. He arranges for Ingrid and an elite selection of women to board a train and dutifully service the romantic needs of the poor Nazi officers so far from home. Greta joins this harem caravan, and she and Ingrid enter into a competition, of sorts, for the affections of young Nazi officer, Paul (Bob Asklöf).
The film is set mainly on the brothel-train, and the physical sets are never more than functional. While they don't totally betray the film's 70s origins, you never fully believe this is the 40s, either. The camera remains fairly static, except for the occasional zoom and some handheld exteriors. That, combined with the flat overblown lighting, creates an overall stage-bound ambience. The editing is choppy (though this may not be entirely the filmmakers' fault), with music and scenes cut off midway and time jumps that can be disorienting. The production did spend some money on military vehicles for the marching and exterior action scenes. However, they're handled by the extras as if they're on a weekend business retreat. There's also stock footage of tanks rolling and guns firing to pad out the action on the film's miniscule budget.
The characters are all one-dimensional and fairly repellant. Every male character, with the exception of Paul, is positively salivating at the prospect of having sex with Ingrid and her girls. This is even portrayed in sections, so we get the total picture that all men are barely-restrained animals. The Nazi rank-and-file board the train and grope the women before running away. The "partisans" board the train and molest and humiliate the women. The American soldiers circle Ingrid like a wolfpack, champing at the bit. Some of the women have slight changes (I hesitate to call them arcs) through the movie, but it's never enough to generate any sort of drama or sympathy. What's most discomfiting though, is that Greta, the one character we expect to defy Ingrid and the Nazis and embody at least some integrity and heroic ideals, falls in love – quite easily, mind you – with a Nazi Captain. All-around, the film takes a dismal, misanthropic view of human nature. Although these types of movies were never intended as feel-good entertainment, they do usually have at least one character we can care about and root for, even marginally. But not here.
The central idea of the film is interesting, and it could have been developed in a number of directions. As it stands, though, it doesn't try to go any higher than its surface. There are tensions and expectations that are frustrating in their non-exploration. Almost every scene and plot wrinkle centers on Ingrid, and there are no subplots to vary things up. The pacing of the movie never slows to a dead crawl, but it does get repetitive. The girls party with the Nazis, the military moves around a little, and Ingrid receives new orders. Rinse and repeat. It's never totally boring, but by the end, you're kind of glad it's over. Speaking of the end, the final scene does give a nice, elliptical feel to the film, even though the twist comes off as fitting but implausible.
How, then, does Helltrain stack up in the Nazisploitation category? Unfortunately, it's pretty tame stuff. There are a large number of topless scenes and scenes with see-through lingerie (on women only, thankfully), but it never goes to the next level. Everyone does a bit of fondling, but I honestly can't recall a single sex scene. Further, what is on display isn't very titillating at all. Also, there is some humiliation – mostly in the form of riding women around the train car like horsies – but again, it's nothing shocking or outré. Even a couple of rapes are pretty staid. Although characters do get killed, the movie is, by-and-large, bloodless. It's almost like a warm-up or entry level film in the genre. It's baffling, because they obviously had the opportunity to take full advantage of their exploitable elements. They just didn't.
In Nazisploitation flicks, we don't necessarily expect to like the characters. That said, it's nice to have at least one who is sympathetic to some degree. The simple fact is I didn't care about any of these people one way or the other. They're not nice enough to like or malevolent enough to hate. The shortage of shock value only adds to the mediocre reaction the film provokes. This seeming apathy from the filmmakers only encourages the audience to not care, either. I know, by the end, I didn't.
MVT: Swinn's performance is actually fairly nuanced, and she does a decent enough job trying to hold the film together.
Make or Break: The "Break" for me is the scene where we realize that Greta and Ingrid are jockeying for Nazi Paul's affections. By this point, I was convinced that even characters set up with the expectation of being good are just pieces of crap, and no one cares anyway.
Score: 5.5/10

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 6/28/11

Samurai's Pick: THE NESTING (Region 1 Blu-Ray; Blue Underground)
This is one of the few ghost films that I really enjoy...pretty cool atmosphere and I think a good lead performance. The film isnt perfect by any means but I find the ghost genre to be a pretty weak one overall, this is one of the few I like and I am looking forward to the high def transfer.

Amazon Blu-Ray and DVD
Diabolik DVD and Blu-Ray
DVD Talk Review

They Call Him Chad's Pick: BLOODY BIRTHDAY (Region 1 DVD; Severin)
Honestly, I typically despise killer kids films, which is why I was surprised that I enjoyed Bloody Birthday so much. Usually, this subgenre loses me because the focus is on "hey, look at how disturbing it all is!!! It's kids killing people!!!" Bloody Birthday succeeds in making you root against these evil little craps without relying on that one-note disturbing card. Bottom line, you want to see these kids get it and that's part of the fun. Plus, a new release from genre distributing fave Severin Films always merits some consideration. If only Severin had thought to release this as a super limited Father's Day edition replete with a wooden paddle furnished with carved-out air holes.

Diabolik DVD

Karl Brezdin's Pick: BLACK MOON (Region 1 DVD & Blu-Ray; Criterion)
The work of Louis Malle is, admittedly, a huge blindspot for me, but the experience of Black Moon has all but assured that his films will find themselves nestled near the top of my Netflix queue over the coming months. Comparisons to Alice in Wonderland are apt but Malle juggles many elements, from 1970s feminism to unicorns and opera to enrich the surreality of the proceedings. The first 15 minutes are technically beautiful filmmaking and everything from that point forward only adds to the unconventional and dreamy tumble down the cinematic rabbit hole. Includes an interview with Malle himself and an uncompressed mono soundtrack on the Blu version.

Amazon DVD and Blu-Ray Review and Specs

Matt-suzaka's Pick: DAWNING (Region 1 DVD & Blu-Ray; Vicious Circle/Breaking Glass)
Gregg Holtgrewe’s independent horror film, Dawning, has been making the rounds in the horror blogging community over the past year or so, and within that time it has left quite a solid impression on those that have had the chance to check it out, myself included. So I am very excited that Dawning will finally be seeing an official DVD release, as this is a horror movie that proves that people can make a great low-budget horror film without having to simply resort to some shitty zombie movie. With it’s subtly chilling atmosphere and dynamically written characters, Dawning is a must for any horror fan that is looking for something different and wholly original, and the fact that it's independently made makes it all the more noteworthy.

Amazon DVD and Blu-Ray

Saturday, June 25, 2011

99 River Street (1953)

Directed by: Phil Karlson

After losing a spirited title fight due to a career-ending eye injury, Ernie Driscoll has traded his bloody trunks for a blue collar by driving a cab to make ends meet in hopes of opening a gas station one day. It's been three years since Ernie was forced out of the ring and this pedestrian life seems to be enough for him. Unfortunately, this life isn't enough for Ernie's ex-showgirl, high society-craving wife, Pauline, who detests their working class status and blames Ernie for not providing a better life. Ernie does his best to make her happy and decides that having a child might repair their relationship. On his way to eagerly tell her this, Ernie catches sight of his wife knotting tongues with another man, jewel thief Victor Rawlins. She's drawn to Rawlins with promises to whisk her away to France upon securing $50,000 in exchange for his latest haul of stolen diamonds.

The only problem is that Rawlins' buyer Mr. Christopher refuses to honor their deal because Pauline's now involved; Mr. Christopher never conducts business with women under any circumstances because they always complicate matters. Pauline proves Mr. Christopher correct when hysterically yelling at Rawlings after learning that he had to kill the jewelry store owner to steal the diamonds. Rawlins solves this problem by murdering Pauline and making Ernie the fall guy by stuffing her corpse in the trunk of his cab. Still incensed at Mr. Christopher's refusal to deal earlier, Rawlins steals the $50,000 from the chivalrous buyer and flees en route to making his getaway to France.

With no other alibi, Ernie has to stop Rawlins' escape and simultaneously protect his life from Mr. Christpoher's revenge-seeking thugs out for the kill. He's helped in his search by friend and new interest Linda, who guiltily feels indebted to Ernie after using him, and fight trainer turned cab dispatched Stan, who orchestrates all the cabbies as lookouts to find the fleeing Rawlins. They eventually track Rawlins down and must race to keep him from leaving the county aboard the France-bound boat liner located at the address referenced in the titular film title.

99 River Street is a little slice of classic noir goodness that apparently has gone underseen due to general lack of availability. As I've been saying frequently of late, thank god for Netflix Instant View for giving us access to another forgotten movie. It's a surprise that this film isn't more heralded considering that director Phil Karlson left a sizeable mark in the same genre with Kansas City Confidential the year prior and garnered even more cult film fan adoration with Walking Tall toward the end of his career. 99 River Street stands out in the way that it carefully subverts film noir conventions without undermining the essential genre tropes.

The uniqueness of the characters and their variational usage set 99 River Street apart from other film noirs during this classic period. From the start, it is clear that this film is not focused on the standard good hearted man or well-intentioned detective seduced into crimes and murder leading to their inevitable downfall. Instead, the story is anchored to a simple man not interested in any shortcuts to fortune even though it would be natural given the way Ernie's prizefighting career harshly ended. His motivation is only to one day scratch out enough of a living to open a gas station and repair the damaged relationship with his wife.

99 River Street also diverges from other classic film noirs by not really having a true femme fatale. Ernie's disdained wife Pauline has the fatale makings with her scorn and envy, but rather she's the one seduced into crime and tragic results. To this end, you might even coin the term "male fatale" to at least some degree for Rawlins for sucking Pauline into his world and then coldly removing her from it. To a lesser degree, Linda operates in the conniving vamp role, but her intentions are never deadly; she harmlessly (though, insensitively) utilizes her charm to further her acting career and then later to entice Rawlins into Ernie's hands.

99 River Street is the definition of gritty noir because brutality underscores the entire picture. I'm often dissatisfied when watching edgy noirs from this classic era that skimp on much needed violence. The opening prizefight between Ernie and the reigning world champion is particularly authentic and hard-hitting for the time. It is realistic enough that it feels like some of those blows really land. While not nearly as savage, the choreography and the relentless fistic barrages resemble Raging Bull and perhaps inspired Scorsese. When Ernie finally gets ahold of Rawlins, he uncorks ferocity and nearly beats the murdering thief to death out of vengeful anger in spite of needing him alive to clear his name. It should be noted that Karlson shoots this scene exquisitiely, mimicking shots and exchanges in Ernie and Rawlins boat dock scuffle from Ernie's titlefight -- guardrail chains act as ring ropes, entrance ramps sub as the canvas and police officers impersonate the referee stopping the brawl.

Ernie's brutality manifests without physicality as well. He explodes in enraged rants, screaming about wanting to beat his wife for her infidelities and he also threatens to smack Linda around when learning that she's been playing him for a fool at another juncture.

Make or Break scene - The scene that makes 99 River Street is when Linda turns femme fatale to influence Ernie to assist her with the disposal of a dead body. This is the best scene in the film for me for a number of reasons. Foremost, I absolutely love that Ernie finally gets to unload his rage in this scene. We've seen this good guy endure so much heartache -- a bad break in his fight, a promising boxing career cut short, a cheating wife -- that you want him to fight back, and when he does, I smiled with glee as a bunch of play producing suits got the hell beat out of them. Evelyn Keyes is spectacular in this moment, completely selling the scene and impressively delivering a critical monologue in one lengthy shot. Karlson incorporates a great POV shot as though we're the deadman as Linda describes the events that led to his death, the camera moving and rising as she recounts the details. There's also a great twist in this scene both in the manner that Karlson films it and the fashion in which it is narratively constructed, which I won't spoil, that probably either makes or breaks the film for anyone.

MVT - Tough call, but we'll give a close split decision victory to John Payne as Ernie Driscoll over Phil Karlson's direction and Robert Smith's script. Payne's performance is one instilled with such vital downtrodden good nature that you root for him throughout the movie and it makes his violent outbursts that much more arresting when they occur. For this character, Payne manages a difficult task to allow just enough pent-up rage simmering beneath the surface without coloring the performance as bitter.

Score - 8/10

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Episode #137: BMX In The Brain

Welcome aboard for another episode of the GGtMC!!

This week the gents cover two films in conjunction with our sponser Diabolik DVD, who you can find at We go over the Blu Ray release of BMX Bandits (1983) directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and A Cat In The Brain (1990) directed by Lucio Fulci.

Make sure to head over and buy some materials from Diabolik, one of the best sellers of hard to find films on the internet folks!!

Direct download: BMX_In_The_BrainRM.mp3

Emails to

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Starcrash (1979)

I like to think that, in his youth, Luigi Cozzi was the kind of kid who made plastic toy soldiers fight model dinosaurs. And then melted the soldiers with a solar death ray (read: magnifying glass). As an adult, he seems to have retained a good amount of this childlike sensibility, and it is reflected no better than in his Star Wars quasi-rip-off, Starcrash. While birthed and promoted on George Lucas’ coattails, Cozzi’s film – apart from a few surface elements – wants nothing to do with the more popular film.
Space smuggler, Stella Star (Caroline Munro), and her alien navigator, Akton (Marjoe Gortner), are captured and sentenced (by a living head lifted straight from Invaders from Mars) to separate prison planets. Stella becomes embroiled in an escape attempt, but she and Akton are freed by the Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe (Christopher Plummer). Recommended as the best at what they do by robot lawman, Elle (Judd Hamilton), the smugglers are tasked with finding Count Zartharn’s (Joe Spinnell) “Doom Machine”, which is so vast it requires an entire planet to hide it. Like, say, a “Death Star”? The team, joined by the blue-skinned Thor (Robert Tessier), encounters many obstacles on their quest, including rescuing the Emperor’s son, Simon (David Hasselhoff), and carrying out the “Starcrash” – yes, it is an actual event – of the title.
This is some pretty lowbrow stuff, and the script doesn’t try to elevate the material at all. The story is stuck in juvenile mode, with planets, people, things named with whatever sounds “sci fi”, and characters who use expressions like, “What in the universe?” You would think that’s as good an excuse as any for the actors to just phone it in. However, it must be said Munro does an admirable job as our alliterative heroine. While she plays it for fun, she only goes over the top a few times. The same can be said for Plummer, even though he’s clearly only cashing a check on this one.

Sadly, the same doesn’t hold true for either Gortner or Spinnell (who did not dub his own voice for the role). Gortner, whose oddly-plastic look somehow fits the part of an alien, has a very narrow acting range. Basically, he veers between wholesale smarm and primal ferocity, and his line delivery is always accompanied by an emphatic shaking of his head. Spinnell, for what it’s worth, tries to exude some air of menace, but he’s so cartoonishly malevolent and one-note, he doesn't succeed.
Even bad performances in a film like Starcrash are something to be savored, however. No, the biggest detriments here would be the indifferent performances of Tessier and Hasselhoff. Tessier – who I like to imagine was Jack Kirby’s model for The Absorbing Man – at least knows why he is here. He’s an intimidating physical presence with an interesting face, and he apparently doesn’t mind being painted blue. That’s pretty much it. But, while Tessier’s performance adds nothing, Hasselhoff’s adds so much less. With his sculpted mane of hair and vacant eyes, he’s really nothing more than eye-candy for the ladies who might be offended by Munro’s costuming dearth. But their children would probably be gorgeous.

As with any space opera, the special effects and set designs carry the majority of the film’s credibility. And though the filmmakers try valiantly, they are hamstrung by a shoestring budget. Composite shots and double exposures are shaky, and elements routinely bleed into one another. Explosions consist of spark showers with no tangible substance. The lights used to illuminate the background expanse of stars (presumably thousands, if not millions, of light years away) reflect off passing spaceships. The ships themselves are just shapes with model pieces glued on. The sets are overlit and standard of what one expects of the genre, no surprises. The stop motion animation is photographed flat against the background plates, destroying any illusion of depth. Yet, the animation is fun to watch, and these models, at least, have some interesting features to them. Nonetheless, these failings really only add to the movie’s appeal. They have a DIY charm you can’t help but admire.

The official impetus for Starcrash is undoubtedly Star Wars, but Cozzi’s film borrows – if not outright steals – from sources much older. Most notable is the influence of Ray Harryhausen and his fantastic adventure films. The giant, silver guardian is a blatant riff on Jason and the Argonauts’ “Telos”, but the sword-fighting robots are a much subtler variation on the same film’s famous skeleton battle. Even the casting of Munro was due to her role in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. The film also takes heavily from the tradition of pulp sci fi originating in the 1930s. Stella’s ship’s computer is a giant, glowing brain. Soldiers are fired in bullet-shaped torpedoes through the large, gothic windows of Count Zartharn’s hand-shaped space fortress. Need I say more?

The film moves along at a steady clip, what with no character development to bog it down and all. The characters encounter obstacle after obstacle, and while their solutions may have a disingenuous feel, the bizarreness of the situations alone is entertaining. An ice planet threatens to turn Stella and Elle into popsicles. Cavemen attack and hang our heroine upside down (presumably to eat her). The journey’s hurdles are clearly defined, and the protagonists keep the momentum going through each one.
The action of the film is fairly clear and easy to follow, though the camerawork wavers between shots that are crisp and clear and shots that are soft and blurry. After a while, it becomes distracting. Speaking of action, it must be noted that Munro displays a facility for physical action scenes. She never looks stilted or unsure of herself, and she handles the choreography well. The eponymous “Starcrash”, on the other hand, is extremely underwhelming. Vaguely described as “a fourth dimensional attack”, the maneuver is not presented in a manner that conveys any specialness. It feels like what it is – an excuse for titling a movie Starcrash.
This is not a particularly well-made movie. It’s sloppy and threadbare in all the areas that distinguish its betters. Nonetheless, a couple of decent performances and an innocent sense of wonder help make for an endearing film that succeeds because of, not in spite of, its many flaws.
MVT: Caroline Munro is in just about every scene, and if she couldn’t pull off the role of “Stella Star”, the movie would sink. Luckily, she is attractive, charismatic, and agile enough to make it work.
Make or Break: The scene where Stella and Elle encounter Space-Amazons on red Space-Horses is the “Make” for me. It displays the infectious exuberance of the filmmakers, and if you’re not all-in by this scene, you never will be.
Score: 7/10

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 6/21/11

Samurai's Pick: KISS ME DEADLY (Region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray; Criterion Collection)
One of Robert Aldrich's best films that came at the end of the classic film noir movement from Hollywood. Very stylish and ballsy for the time....looking forward to this one....

They Call Him Chad's Pick: KISS ME DEADLY (Region 1 Blu-ray; Criterion Collection)
Kiss Me Deadly is a fantastic film and easily my favorite film noir of all-time. Even if you're not a fan of this genre, there's a good chance you'll appreciate this film's hard-charging pace, David Lynch-like strangeness, cold war ambiguities and the unconventional interpretation of the Mike Hammer character. And hey, it's a Criterion Collection release so you know you'll be spoiled with a high quality presentation coupled with awesome special features.

Amazon DVD and Blu-Ray Review and Specs
High-Def Digest Review and Specs Page

Large William's Pick: THE ROMANTIC ENGLISHWOMAN (Region 1 DVD and Blu-Ray; Kino)
I've got to be honest, this is rather assy a week as far as new releases go; I know that the Rio Conchos/Take a hard ride will and should get some love from my cohorts, I figured I'd dig in to find something else worthwhile this week. My pick this week is The Romantic Englishwoman; I don't believe it's ever been released on home video, or at least not on DVD, and was helmed by troubled, talented director Joseph Losey. Michael Caine+Helmut Berger is the draw for GGtMC'ers for this one. It's an examination of "fact or fiction" from Caine and his Wife, played by Kate Nelligan in her feature film debut.. Check it out gang!


Amazon DVD and Blu-Ray

Aaron's Pick: BLACK RAT (Region 1 DVD; Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters)
I haven't seen this one yet, but BLACK RAT seems too cheesy (get it?!) to ignore. I don't know a whole lot about it other than what's on the trailer and a brief synopsis I found online, but it appears to be a campus slasher with a female killer who wears a ridiculously large rat mask that looks like it belongs on a sports mascot. For what it's worth, it's directed by Kenata Fukasaku, who wrote the screenplay for the first BATTLE ROYALE film (a classic) and directed its sequel. It's also nice to see a new horror film coming out of Japan that isn't an absurd splatter movie full of gross-out gags.

Amazon DVD

----Martijn of OMG Entertainment's Bonus Region 2 Pick of the Week----
TENEBRAE (Region 0 PAL DVD and Blu-Ray; Arrow)
This week was a hard one, I had to pick between the Blu-Ray releases of New York Ripper (Shameless, but I heard it was slightly cut!), Akira and Tenebre.

Although it's not Argento's best I love Tenebre. After the the bright coloured and surrealistic feel of Suspiria and Inferno he went the opposite way with this one. Lots of white and gray and modern buildings give this a very different feel. The goblin music is quite cheesy this time but fitting in a strange way.

And of course it's an Arrow Video release and those damn things are so collectible!

Links: DVD and Blu-Ray
Diabolik DVD and Blu-Ray

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Keep (1983)

Directed by: Michael Mann

Set in WW2 Romania, German soldiers takeover an ominous castle in a small Carpathian Mountains village known mysteriously as The Keep. They are sternly warned by the castle's caretakers to not disturb any of the 108 shimmery crosses adorning the stone walls, which the greedy Nazis believe are made of some very valuable silver. Despite these warnings, the Nazis attempt to swipe one of the crosses, but end up stumbling upon an expansive tomb hidden within The Keep intended to forever entrap a malevolent evil force named Molasar. With one cross removed, this evil force is unleashed and free to wreak havoc within the castle, primarily by charring Nazis to nothing but sizzling, blood-spewing skeletons through dazzling yet deadly light-shows. Way to go, Nazis. Of course, it would've been nice had the caretakers simply told them that Beelzebub was renting a room in the basement.

As soldiers meet their grisly demise, Nazi-leader Major Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) begins to execute the Romanian villagers until someone gives them answers behind the supernatural killings. Eventually, they are forced to retrieve scleroderma-stricken Jewish historian Dr. Cuza (Ian McKellen) and his daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) from a death camp to translate a message scrawled in an ancient language on one of the walls. Dr. Cuza translates the message easily, and rather anti-climatically, as "I will be free!" Being a crafty spirit, Molasar turns Dr. Cuza from an enemy to an ally after rescuing Eva from rapist soldiers and curing him of his illness by smacking the bejesus out of the old wheelchair-bound historian with his electric red pimp hand. In exchange for all this, Molasar asks Dr. Cuza to locate an object hidden within the Keep that will allow him to freely venture outside the castle walls.

While Dr. Cuza searches for this object, a similarly super-powered drifter called Glaeken (Scott Glenn), whose eyes radiate bright white light, embarks on a journey by motorcycle en route to The Keep. Upon his arrival, Eva's unable to resist Glaeken's violet purple contact lenses and immediately jumps into the sack with him, giving us a love scene that reminds one of fiercely rubbing two water-sogged sticks together to spark a fire. Meanwhile, Dr. Cuza uncovers the object, that looks like a poor man's magic bullet with wings pasted on it, and it's up to Glaeken and Eva to deter the misled professor from utilizing this artifact to set Molasar free.

With only his second film, Michael Mann demonstrates an astounding visual mastery in The Keep that undeniably foreshadows a successful career ahead with films like Heat, The Insider and Ali. It's shot with an epic flair not typically associated with Mann's often grainy workman-like yet impressive compositions. The film is stunning to watch, forged with sweeping tracking shots and captivating cinematography that skillfully melds Carpenter-esque blues, vibrant whites and brooding shadows; there's a threatening edginess in the way the light seemingly erupts from still darkness to elevate the horror aesthetic.

The story weaknesses prevent The Keep from ranking amongst Mann's best films, but this picture assuredly rates with his best visually composed works. It is a testament to Mann's dedication that he applies this high-reaching level of effort to every frame of a film with such a poor screenplay. Although, any blame for the screenwriting rests solely on Mann's shoulders since his name receives the lone scripting credit. It's almost as if Mann tries to overwhelm you directorially as to not underwhelm you narratively.

Adapted from a successful series of novels penned by renowned horror scribe F. Paul Wilson, the screenplay undermines the majority of the film. We aren't given a lot of answers to pivotal questions: Why do the Nazis care so much about the Keep? And why don't they just take off once they realize an evil demon's on the loose? What's making those crosses glow? Who is this Glaeken, anyway? Why is he so powerful? How is that object trapping Molasar in the castle? And who, or what, is Molasar exactly?

Nitpicks aside, the largest narrative issue is the absence of a main character, or a primary protagonist, at the very least. The protagonist is probably intended to be Scott Glenn's drifter, but the character lacks backstory, motivation and significant screen time; Glaeken appears in approximately less than fifteen minutes worth of scenes, barely more than a cameo. His character feels like there's ample footage on the cutting room floor somewhere, but Glenn's insipid performance indicates story material without such insight. There's a similar uncertainty to Ian McKellen's performance, which is perhaps his weakest I've seen even if it's not bad; I-Mac's performance borders on uneven, struggling to play it straight or campy. It's unfortunate that Molasar couldn't cure him of scleroderma and his subpar acting. Gabriel Byrne fairs the best out of the big-named actors, choosing to emote it all seriously and sticking to the cold one-note simplicity of his character.

If Mann's direction is the standout element, the brilliant score composed by Tangerine Dream runs a very close second. Like any great score, Tangerine Dream's work acts as the glue holding everything together, enriching the best parts and rescuing the worst ones. The signature pulsating eighties synth sound with melodramatic strands enhances the dream-like quality of the film and maximizes the foreboding doom. It takes a fantastic score like this to accept obviously meager budgeted effects that look like plasma ball shockwaves, smoke machine induced billowing evil spirit clouds and Molasar's awfully rubbery humanoid form reminiscent of an oversized Masters of the Universe toy with less articulation.

Make or Break scene - The scene that makes the film is when the pair of treasure-seeking Nazis release Molasar from his tomb. Mann's superb touch makes this scene eerie, dreadful and purely wondrous for the eyeballs. Also, you feel the least amount of budget strain as the effects are suitably gory without coming off as overly cheap or unbelievable. The only downside to this scene is that it may set you up to expect a better film that you get over the duration.

MVT - Michael Mann, the director. Not Michael Mann, the writer. The Keep is clearly an inferior work in the hands of a superior director. Mann's direction is A-List even if he's supposed to be making a B-film here. If any other director was given this script, I think The Keep would be long forgotten and chalked-up to a bad film better left unseen. That's not say that other directors don't have the same talent, it's just that I'd be hard pressed to believe that any other director would remain so committed to exquisitely directing this material. It's worth checking out to see what Mann's able to accomplish and it looks surprisingly fantastic via Netflix Instant View.

Score - 6.75/10

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yet Another GGtMC Approved Beer Commercial

This is one of the greatest things I've ever seen. In fact, this is one of the greatest things YOU'VE ever seen!


Thanks to my boy Cortez the Killer from Planet of Terror for sharing this incredible advertisement with me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Zombi 3 (1988)

Lucio Fulci attained his greatest fame as a filmmaker via the zombie gutmuncher subgenre of horror films. Love them or hate them, films like Zombi 2 and The Beyond are effective, if goofy, examples of the Grand Guignol tradition embraced by many in the Italian exploitation film industry. Zombi 3 (Zombi 2's sequel in name only), while by-and-large entertaining, is ultimately frustrated and undermined by the hodgepodge mentality from which it sprang. And while Fulci maintains a facility for this type of film, the end result here is not up to the man's talents.
Biological compound - how the scientists involved in its creation ever thought it could be anything other than a bacteriological weapon is beyond me - "Death One" is stolen (rather easily) from a jungle military base by (we can only assume) eco-warriors . The surviving thief is infected by the substance and makes his way to the Sweet River Resort. The military, in stereotypical military fashion, kill everyone at the resort and burn the infected body in order to keep a lid on the situation. No one would ever be suspicious if dozens of people up and disappeared from a resort near a military compound, would they?
Cut to our protagonists. Horndog soldiers on leave ( Deran Serafian, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, and Massimo Vanni) chase after a Winnebago loaded with floozies (including Ulli Reinthaler and Marina Loi). Meanwhile, Patricia (Beatrice Ring) and her boyfriend tool along, debating (and I use that term loosely) the merits of ecological conservation. Both groups run afoul (sorry) of a gaggle of birds infected by the smoke from the cremation of the first zombie. Soon zombie attacks are on the rise, and our characters have to fight their way through not only the monsters but also the soldiers, who are intent on containing the spread of the virus.

The very first shot of the movie instills a glimmer of hope for what's to follow. A corpse is being experimented on, and the lab is filled with a sickly green light. It gives the feel of a Mario Bava film but on a budget. And while the candy-colored lighting is a recurring motif and a nice touch, it feels forced due to its inconsistent use and does more to distract the audience than draw it in.
If nothing else, Fulci knows how to film, and Zombi 3 is filled with nice, even elegant camerawork. His camera is unobtrusive and not ostentatious, a rare quality in exploitation films. However, there is an overabundance of fog (sometimes with the fog-spraying technician in frame) in much of the movie. While I'm sure it's partially to create atmosphere, more often than not, it obscures the onscreen action and will probably remind the older among you of a certain Whitesnake music video.
By having numerous subplots going on, the story (credited in part to Claudio Fragasso) maintains a healthy pace for the first half. Sure, you have the pairing off of couples for ease of dispatch, but that's a "gimme" for a film of this ilk. In fact, it's only after the subplots and characters have been intertwined and condensed that the film starts to bog down and become repetitive.
The movie is heavy on the "eco" angle, and the writers do their best to pummel you over the head with it. It's a worthwhile notion, but it's handled so hamfistedly, it comes off like the psychotic ravings of the lunatic fringe. The cause even has a spokesman in the character of Blue Heart, a funky DJ who dedicates crappy songs in order to raise social awareness of ecological problems. At first, he'll put you in mind of Cleavon Little in Vanishing Point and Lynne Thigpen in The Warriors, but after just one of his monologues, the comparisons evaporate.
The characters are ciphers with no development at all, but for something like this, they really only need to be fodder. The two (arguably) best-looking are the two who last the longest. No surprise there. The acting goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye, and everyone is a drama queen. Special mention must be made here of Robert Marius. In his essaying the role of Dr. Holder, Marius is so bug-eyed and spastic, I suspect he was pulling chunks of the scenery from his stool for months after the production's wrap.

Now, this wouldn't be a proper Italian exploitation flick without ripping off at least one popular American film. Here, the crosshairs are on Return of the Living Dead, and the cribbing is so blatant, you'll roll your eyes at the laziness on display. The infection is spread rather than stopped by cremating the initial infectee. Patricia enters a dilapidated garage and has to escape from a rather spry, if nondescript (he's no "Tarman"), zombie. A freshly-turned zombie taunts his girlfriend, telling her how much it wants her blood. You get the picture. Additionally, George Romero's work takes a hit with homages/steals from Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and even The Crazies.

Aside from action fans, Zombi 3 is primarily aimed at gorehounds, and there is no shortage of Fulci's signature depictions of death and mutilation in graphic, lingering detail. However, the quality of the effects (by Franco Di Girolamo) is not up to the standard of Fulci's previous work. Seeing as how it's a main draw to the film, the effects' undistinguished presentation is a large letdown and a check in the "Minus" column. As a matter of fact, I don't even recall any ocular trauma, a Fulci trademark.
It's the film's inconsistencies, ultimately, that are its undoing. The zombies shamble or run, converse or just moan, even use tools and then don't as the script dictates. They claw and shuffle, then leap and engage in choreographed fistfights. Apparently, the filmmakers wanted to have it all. Unfortunately, the problem with having no rules of behavior to follow, the zombies are more bewildering than entertaining. This "anything goes" attitude towards the story culminates in two instances of serendipity (read: Deus Ex Machina) so egregious, it ruined almost everything that came before it for me.

A staple of the horror genre in general and Fulci's work in particular is the shock ending, and Zombi 3 is no exception. However, instead of being surprising and clever, here it comes off as hollow and untrue based on what we've seen and the extent of the outbreak. Plus, the protagonists' reaction to said twist is more matter-of-fact than willful determination. They don't seem to care, and by this point, neither did I.

MVT: Even though the movie is crap, Fulci is a craftsman, and his talent does show. It's just not enough to elevate the material.

Make or Break
: The two serendipitous events (I am so tempted to just spoil them, but that would ruin your own derision of the film) were the "break" for me.

Score: 5.5/10