Search this blog and The Mike's favorite blogs!

January 31, 2009

Frankenstein Unbound

1990, Dir. by Roger Corman

When it comes to making independent b-movies, there's no bigger name than Roger Corman. Between 1955 and 1971, Corman directed nearly 50 feature films, and was notorious for quickly putting together a product that could thrill drive-in audiences. These films included many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's work (generally with Vincent Price in the lead), sci-fi fare like Attack of the Crab Monsters and She Gods of Shark Reef, and even crime films, westerns, and war movies. He left the directors chair to produce dozens more films in the 1970s and 1980s, but made a return one more time - 1990's Frankenstein Unbound.

I don't know why Corman would agree to make this, of all films, after avoiding the director credit for 19 years, but I can theorize. Part of me wants to say I understand his reasoning. The Frankenstein legend, as originally written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, has been my favorite book for many years. I've read it multiple times, and have come to the realization through my cinematic pursuits that the story as she told it is something no one has really been able to capture that story as it was intended. From watching Frankenstein Unbound, it appears to me that Corman's intention was not to capture the young Mrs. Shelley's story....but to add his own flavor to the Frankenstein legacy.

Or, maybe he just wanted to go hang out in Italy and film a movie for fun. But I like to give more credit than is sometimes due, so I'll go with the last paragraph.

The Plot
Now, if you know anything about Frankenstein, you might be wondering why the still from the film features people sitting in a car with pods that's supposed to look futuristic even though Batman the TV series did it 25 years earlier. It's a good question, because this is not the Frankenstein you know.

In fact, our film starts in the year 2031, with scientist John Buchanan working on a new super nuclear laser weapon that could change humanity...except that it seems to have opened up a portal in the sky that no one really understands. Buchanan finds out first hand when a Genghis Khan wannabe pops out from the sky at him and some kids who were burying a bike in his yard, and finds himself sucked through the wormhole (thankfully, with his talking future car). He lands in 1817 Italy, and finds himself in the middle of the Frankenstein tale.

Buchanan thinks it's odd when he meets Dr. Frankenstein (Raul Julia), but doesn't think it's too odd. In fact, he pretty much wows Doc Frank with things like a digital wristwatch and a ballpoint pen. But when he also meets Miss Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Bridget Fonda), who's engaged to Lord Byron Shelley and happens to be writing a book, and he realizes he's in the middle of a real legend. And then it gets confusing.

The Good
Frankenstein Unbound is nothing if not creative. While it's not the first film to transcend time and space in regard to killers (Time After Time did it and did it right in '79), it takes an interesting turn in dealing with both the writer and the characters in separate stories. In fact, the parallel between Buchanan's interactions with each side of the story is one of the film's more interesting ideas, even if it is not fully realized in the film's short run-time. Other positives include the fact that both Hurt and Julia both put more vigor into their performances than the film is really worth, and that there's some beautiful scenery. But that's where the short list ends.

The Bad
It's hard to rip apart a film like Frankenstein Unbound, because anyone who watches it will probably jump to the "What the hell?" stage very quickly. But the biggest disappointment, as is usual with the Frankenstein tale on film, is that the real drama of Shelley's novel - the monster's search for acceptance and rage against the maker that made him hideous - is still nonexistent. The film does get into the Bride section of the story, but the monster itself (played by Nick Brimble) is not scary, interesting, or humane. The film skips over the parts of the legend in which the monster is trying to help others and trying to earn acceptance, leaving the story dull whenever his carnage occurs on or off screen.

Random Moments
  • The Monster just looks silly. I'm not sure why sprockets coming out of cheeks and the forehead made sense, but that's what they went with.
  • Fonda's young Mary proclaims to Buchanan, after being wooed by his 21st century awesomeness, that "Percy and Byron preach free love. I practice it." Today, there's a four letter word for that!
  • Speaking of that silly monster, for some reason they decided Dr. Frankenstein would have needed to piece together eyes of three different colors to make him work to. Just look at this box cover, and marvel in the silliness.
The Verdict
Sometimes an idea for a movie is so bad that it almost seems good - like it's something you want to hate, but you're just too darn shocked that it exists to fully give up on it. Frankenstein Unbound fits that mold perfectly. It's utterly ridiculous, but it's got good actors hamming it up, a director that knows how to make something out of nothing, and a talking car. Can I find any reason to recommend someone watch Frankenstein Unbound? Not at all. But it's just crazy enough that I can't fully dismiss it. It happened. That's about it.

The Mike's Rating: Time Burner

January 24, 2009

Hell Ride

2008, Dir. by Larry Bishop

One of the factors that can redeem almost any independent film, especially those looking to hit with cult audiences, is when a film is clearly a labor of love for the people behind it. If you don't have the budget, the manpower, or the time, you're going to have to wing it. And when you do, it generally helps to be really interested in making the movie you set out to make, as well as willing to take the steps needed to succeed. Many times, this gets genre filmmakers like Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi noticed, and leads to their commercial successes.

The problem with that, however, is that every once in a while you'll run into a film that's clearly a labor of love for the filmmaker, who clearly has his stamp on every part of the film...but he turns out to not be any good at making movies. Thus is the case with Hell Ride, a biker picture from Writer/Director/Star Larry Bishop that ends up being difficult to watch mostly due to his proclivities.

The Plot
Hell Ride focuses on a band of bikers called the Victors, led by Bishop's Pistolero, who has memories of his youth and the girl he lost that drive him to...well, drive. He's accompanied on hsi travels by other Victors, most notably The Gent (Michael Madsen, continuing his trend of picking up roles in awful movies) and Comanche (Eric Balfour). The former is a aging ladies man (although, every male character in this incredibly chauvanistic film fits that description), while the latter is the youngest member of the group whose claim that he's "Just a guy named Comanche" doubles for the phrase "I HAVE A SECRET CRUCIAL TO THE PLOT!" being tattooed on his forehead. Pistolero and fellas are on the hunt for information regarding some lost loot and his personal revenge for the death of his childhood lover. And, that's really about all the plot, save a rival gang lead by master thug Vinnie Jones; and one of Pistolero's women named Nada (played by the gorgeous Leonor Varela of Blade II fame) who...well, shows up with knowledge when the film requires it (or, when the film requires someone for Pistolero to talk dirty with).

The Good
Not a lot fits this category. Varela's introduction, backed by music from Neko Case, is a good looking moment until the lips of her and Bishop start flapping and the f-word gets dropped about 30 times in 4 minutes. Neko's music makes the scene vivid and memorable before the dialogue drives you crazy, and the attractive actress quickly becomes sleazy through Bishop's male-fantasy inspired dialogue.

The film features brief appearances from b-movie all-stars Dennis Hopper and David Carradine, who add to the film slightly while picking up a paycheck. Hopper adds some humor and plays a small part in the finale, while Carradine shows up for one exposition scene before meeting a gruesome demise. Their combined experience in hamming it up for a crappy director shows through, even though they're only on screen for a short time.

The Bad
I've made note several times of the awful script and dialogue involved in this film, but it's worth repeating. Bishop uses sexual references whenever possible, perhaps in an attempt to make the characters seem "cool". When he's not having characters spew out the story, he's working in uninspired flashbacks, tracking shots of the bikers driving around curves in the mountains, and more naked women than you can shake a stick at. That last thing is generally acceptable, but Bishop just seems to have a way of making the entire film seem sleazy, missing the tone he was going for completely. It's no secret that the film is supposed to mimic Grindhouse films of the '60s and '70s (the trailers for both Grindhouse features start the DVD), but the film never comes close to feeling like something any audience would hunger for or find intriguing.

Bishop the actor is equally disappointing, giving a performance that resembles Tom Savini impersonating Madsen and Nick Nolte poorly (and I say that with all due respect to the famed goremaster, but let's face it- Tom isn't walking away with the golden man with the tiny buttocks any time soon). Madsen goes through the motions much as he did in Bloodrayne or Croc; and Jones is his usual over the top self as the head baddie who's probably given Bishop's worst sex-related dialogue. Outside of Carradine and Hopper (and I suppose Varela from a visual standpoint), the rest of the cast is forgettable.

Random Moments
  • Pistolero seems pretty attached to Varela's character, but has sex with at least 4 other women throughout the film. Bishop really hooked himself up here.
  • Jones' recount of what his tattoos mean to a young prostitute could be the most disgusting scene of recent memory.
  • Varela's character, when meeting Pistolero in their first full scene, offers to f-word Pistolero NINE times before he can get a word in. Yeah, this movie's definitely not written to be degrading to women. NOT!
The Verdict
I'm not sure why, but I don't feel like giving Hell Ride the lowest possible rating despite how much it annoys me. Bishop did succeed at making the film he wanted to make, and that has to be worth something. However, I don't think Bishop's film will be interesting to many people that aren't Bishop himself, and it's borderline offensive to the intelligence of the filmgoer in most scenes. Definitely a movie I wouldn't recommend to anyone.

The Mike's Rating: Skip It!

January 23, 2009

Repo! The Genetic Opera

2008, Dir. by Darren Lynn Bousman

Repo! The Genetic Opera is not the kind of midnight movie I generally seek out. Since The Rocky Horror Picture Show and (my personal favorite) Phantom of the Paradise rocked theaters in the mid '70s; there have been several entries in the midnight musical genre, but few that captured madness and inventiveness as those two films. Despite my preconceptions, Repo! managed to remind me fondly of those films, and put its own stamp on the midnight musical genre.

The Plot
Set in the always evolving "not-too-distant" future, our film opens with a comic book style rehash of the near fall of civilization due to genetic organ failures, and the savior that came to the world, Rotti Largo, founder of GeneCo - the company responsible for legal organ transplants. It also introduces us to the person who comes into play when those receiving organs don't pay up on time, the Repo Man. If you don't know how one would reposess an organ, this is the time when I should tell you that the director's first three films were Saw sequels. That should help you get the picture.

Rotti (played with surprising grace by Goodfellas' Paul Sorvino) is dying, and has to choose an heir to the throne from among his three children. The oldest, Luigi (The Devils Rejects' Bill Moseley), is a foul mouth with a violent temper. The youngest, Pavi (someone named Ogre from a band called Skinny Puppy that I've never heard of) steals the faces of others to hide his own disfiguration, and the last, Amber Sweet (played by....Paris Hilton...don't run away...please!), is addicted to cosmetic surgeries and the street drug Zydrate, which is an anesthetic for surgical pain relief (that is also extracted from the dead).

Across town we meet Shilo Wallace (Alexa Vega) a seventeen year old girl plagued by "a blood disease" and her single father Nathan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Anthony Stewart Head)...who has hidden the secret that he is GeneCo's top Repo Man from his daughter all his life. Through flashbacks, it's revealed that Shilo's mother, who died during childbirth, was involved with both Rotti and Nathan, and now the dying "savior" wants to reconnect with Shilo and let her in on the truths of their twisted society.

The Good
When the film says it's an opera, it really is an opera. There are few breaks in the musical action, and every cast member takes part in the act. More impressive, they do so with great enthusiasm. Vega and Head are especially effective in the daughter/father scenes, especially as the film closes in on the finale; and they throw themselves into the musical numbers with little hesitation. Sorvino and Hilton get in some good licks, but the latter is primarily carried by the musicians of the cast. The biggest assets in the cast, however, are Sarah Brightman and Terrance Zdunich.

Brightman is most known for her on-stage work, including originating the Christine Daae role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera (Brightman and Webber were married briefly, as well). Here she plays Blind Mag - the star of GeneCo's top entertainment event, the titular Genetic Opera. She's also involved in the past of Nathan, Rotti, and Shilo; and provides a crucial turn in the plot in her few scenes. She gets the film's most operatic musical number, and provides a foil to the corrupt family dynamics of the film.

Zdunich plays a more tertiary role as well, as the Graverobber who supplies Zydrate to addicts and serves as an overseer of the film's developments. He's crucial in educating Shilo to the dangers around her, and carries Hilton through one of the film's best scenes. Oh, and he also co-created the original play and co-wrote the film with Darren Smith (who gets onscreen to kickoff the opera festivities in the final act.)

The cast as a whole is largely responsible for the film's success, but a lot of credit must also go to Darren Lynn Bousman. I mentioned that his previous work was in the torture porn of the Saw series, and it's more than surprising to view how well he puts this film together on such a limited budget. He creates a lot of world for a film with so few resources (although the film seems a little staged at times), which keeps the film feeling like the sci-fi/horror epic that the money didn't allow.

The Bad
I spent a lot of time on the things I liked about the movie, but it's still a hard sell. As with all midnight movies, quality is relative, and the film has its fair share of questionable choices. It's definitely a movie that will hook some from the start and lose others immediately. It's an incredibly dark and violent film at times, and an almost Shakespearean tale at others. To say it's not a movie for the masses is an understatement.

I found Moseley to be the only member of the cast whose performance didn't fit the movie. And, outside of a few early scenes involving Vega and Head, I was caught up in the characters enough to forgive some of the more dramatic/overdone acting, which will not be easy for all viewers. Hilton's performance, which I found myself surprisingly not angered by, is one I could easily see drawing the ire of some viewers, as many of her scenes are among the film's silliest. Realistically, if someone isn't going in expecting a full-blast rock opera, they're going to probably have trouble dealing with the acting.

Also, it is easy to look at the film's world and draw parallels to other sci-fi films. In its ideas, Repo is not the most original film. I felt like the execution of these ideas, and especially the effort put into presenting them in a new manner made up for this, but it might fall on the other side of that line for others.

And, of course, the music is key. If you don't like it, you won't like the film...because it really is all music. Here's a snippet via a YouTube video for your perusal.

Random Moments
  • I haven't talked about it too much, but there is a LOT of blood spilled and organs removed in this movie. Just making sure to mention that.
  • Watch out for the creepy 3-D portraits of Shilo's deceased mother in their home. They're a little much.
  • The opening of the final Opera features some truly random nudity.
  • If you want to see Paris Hilton horribly disfigured, this is a good place to start.
  • According to many reports I've read, there are upwards of 50 songs in the 97 minute film.
The Verdict
When I started this site and stated my principles, I mentioned that I, among other things, was looking for "films that dare to take us places that most people never really care to think about". Repo! The Genetic Opera does so with vigor, which is the most I can ever ask of a midnight movie. I don't know if it will catch on and gain any kind of cult status like the films I mentioned at the beginning of my review (though there sadly isn't enough of a Phantom of the Paradise cult), but the fact that it got me this interested in its world is a surprising victory. I won't be surprised to see many others falling under the Repo Man's spell, leading them to respect this inventive and tragic rock opera.

The Mike's Rating: Legends Series

January 18, 2009

Wild at Heart

1990, Dir. by David Lynch

What would have happened if Elvis and Marilyn were star-crossed lovers on a cross-country road trip to hell? That seems to be the question asked by David Lynch's 1990 film Wild at Heart, but - as we've come to expect from the man behind Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive - it's not the only question the film presents. Lynch provides a twisting, twisted ride that grips the viewer with a nightmarish tone; but also seems incomprehensible upon first glance and features some maddeningly overblown and confusing technical and dramatic touches.

The Plot
Despite my first statement, the film is not actually about Mr. Presley and Ms. Monroe, though it's clear throughout (and is acknowledged by all involved) that the characters were modeled after these icons. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern star as Sailor and Lula, whom me meet on the night of a brawl that ends with Sailor killing a man that attacked the couple during some sort of social function. Sailor is sent away for manslaughter, and we then find him released 7 years later and put on a plane full of other inmates.

Wait - that was a different Nic Cage movie. This is the one where he's sent away for manslaughter and released 2 years later to reunite with Luna. My bad

Moving on, Luna's mother (played by Dern's real mother, Diane Ladd, is furious about her daughter's choice of lifestyle and beau, and takes the next logical step - enlisting both of her boyfriends (a timid crook played by Harry Dean Stanton and a unstable gangster played by J.E. Freeman) to hunt down and dispose of Sailor (which leads to vicious torture scene, another Lynch staple). In the meantime, and without knowing mommie dearest's plan, Sailor and Luna set off for California, meeting odd characters and the hitmen sent to destroy them along the way.

The Good
The most endearing quality of Lynch's film is the mood of the proceedings. The film references pop culture's icons I mentioned (as well as the Wizard of Oz?) often, but the biggest theme is focused on the characters being trapped in a hell they can't escape. There are some frustrating and annoying tricks Lynch uses to achieve this (most notably frequent recurring images of fire and burning, and unecessary and grating "stingers" or screams in the soundtrack), but the film has moments that achieve great tension and haunt the viewer even after the film ends. Most notable is a dreamlike scene in which Sailor and Lula happen upon an automobile accident and find a delirious young woman (the gorgeous Sherilyn Fenn of Twin Peaks and Of Mice and Men) who doesn't realize the situation she's in. There are plenty of great shots that build on this idea and help the viewer believe the characters are actually in some sort of purgatory, they seem undercut by some overly aggressive symbolism by the director.

Cage is admirable in the lead, and Willem Dafoe shows up and adds a delicious sleaze to the proceedings in the final hour. Ladd's performance as the mother was applauded by critics, and even garnered an Oscar nomination, but I found her to be overacting in key scenes, and was not so impressed. Dern had the same problem at times, but I felt her performance as Lula was more acceptable in the long run. Cage and Dern's relate to each other well throughout, and without that the film would probably be near unwatchable. The film relies heavily on Sailor and Lula being "straight" characters trapped in a more confusing universe, and Cage and Dern keep that dynamic alive throughout the film.

The Bad
By now you may have noticed that I'm having trouble finishing a sentence without stating a failure within the movie. Unfortunately, the film is inconsistent in almost every way. There are some great scenes, and there are some equally confusing scenes. There are some interesting psychological insinuations, but there are also some strange scenes that push the film into silly territory. And this goes on in regard to all parts of the film - the acting, the music/sound editing, the dialogue, etc. Lynch never seems to have a full handle on where he wants the film to go from a dramatic standpoint. I'm not sure that's ever been something he has worried about, but from a viewer's standpoint, it's frustrating.

Random Moments (and we've got a lot of 'em)
  • Lula's mother randomly cuts her wrist and covers herself in blood at one moment, before calling up her first boyfriend (Stanton) to check on the assassination progress.
  • Cage does Presley decently, including performing two songs.
  • There's some creepy voodoo stuff, which leads to a torture scene.
  • Sheryl Lee, who starred in Lynch's Twin Peaks movie two years later (and who I thus confuse with Sherilyn Fenn, even though the look nothing alike) makes a cameo during the goofy climax.
  • What's a good way to introudce a creepy Willem Dafoe? Well according to Lynch and the film, it's to flank him with three 400+ pound naked women. No joke.
  • Oh yeah, and King of the Creeps Crispin Glover also appears in a flashback as Lula's crazy cousin.
The Verdict
If I were someone more interested in the art of filmmaking, I might be more impressed with Wild at Heart. As someone just looking for entertainment and a story, I can't help but be disappointed. Lynch shows repeatedly that he can tell a story and make it dramatic, but he seems more interested in taking the viewer for a mental ride that's full of unanswered riddles. I can't completely deny the film's merits, as it does work as a two hour nightmare, but it doesn't do enough to make it as memorable as Lynch's more known films (and I'll still take The Elephant Man over any of 'em) nor enough to make it an enjoyable experience. When it all comes down to the end, the film is wild in too many places than just the heart.

The Mike's Rating: Time Burner

January 14, 2009

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

2001, Dir. by Larry Blamire

"From the company that brought you Zombies of Mora Tau and Lawrence of Arabia!" (yes, that's the tagline!) comes a spoof of bad '50s sci-fi that's clearly spent 40 years studying that era in cinema. In fact, it will be very hard for me to write the rest of this review without breaking into spontaneous laughter, because there aren't many movies that seem so perfectly made for me (one character even screams "for the love of Mike!" in a scene!) as this one does.

The Plot
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, as stated by Director/Writer/Star Larry Blamire, is a tribute to Z-Grade Science Fiction Films. And it imitates one perfectly. The film begins with scientist Paul Armstrong and his wife Betty (Blamire and Fay Masterson) venturing into a wooded area in search of a rare element, Atmosphereum. Paul loves science, as is determined through multiple conversations about how much Paul loves science. Meanwhile, a more "disgusting" scientist Dr. Roger Fleming(Brian Howe, recognizable now as one of Clint's sons in Gran Torino) is on the Atmosphereum's trail, but for a more devious reason - he wants to awaken the terrible Lost Skeleton of Cadavra!

Oh, and also a husband and wife pair of aliens from the planet Marva, Kro-Bar and Lattis, crash-land on Earth and their pet mutant gets loose. And Dr. Fleming creates a female named Animala from four forest animals and dust, using the aliens' lost Transmutatron. And there's a forest ranger named Ranger Brad that loves to help people who're lost in the woods.

The Good
First of all, the film is gloriously shot in black-and-white. And shot in famous Bronson Canyon, the setting for the likes of the infamous Robot Monster and a myriad of other creature/alien flicks of the era. Blamire and crew make it clear from the opening that they were fully committed to becoming the kind of film they wanted to pay tribute to, and it pays off in full. To be perfectly honest, my first viewing of Lost Skeleton made me feel like I had watched an Ed Wood film, and left me scratching my head. But the more I looked back, and the more I remembered old sci-fi films I'd marveled at, the more the film's charm showed through. Now, I've seen it multiple times, and it seems to grow more relevant as a record of midnight cinema's history with each viewing.

But, primarily, the movie is hilarious. From strange sight gags like the miniature rocket in broccoli trees, to strangely clunky dialouge, to the obviously visible wires that control the skeleton, the film pulls no strings (well, except the ones on the skeleton). Blamire and Masterson play the "straight" characters, but the entire film is played with a straight face. This is especially joyous in the aliens' behavior (great hammy performances by Andrew Parks and Susan McConnell), and in the silly sensuality of Animala, considering that she's made from four different forest animals. The Mutant, as pictured above, is goofy (though it looks better than that tree that's Stanford's mascot!), yet always on the attack - which makes it fit in perfectly eith the movie's charm. And, of course, there's the skeleton, which is an actual science lab skeleton on wires, but also a idol to the devious doc and a telepathic terror to the rest of the characters. Ridiculous, yet straight faced.

The Bad
Well, like I said above, it's a film that takes some getting used to. Awkward is a good word for it. It balances on the line between spot-on and ridiculous at times, and it took me multiple viewings to realize how self-aware the film is. Hopefully, you're quicker than me, and will catch it first time.

I can't promise the film will be relevant to those that aren't immersed in the sci-fi of this era, either. But I think it can be entertaining in a "so bad it's good way" regardless, something the filmmakers were hoping for while making it.

Random Quotes (because they're too good to share time with moments)
  • While posing as a human, Kro-Bar is flustered when Dr. Fleming accuses he and his wife of being aliens, and retorts quickly with "Aliens? Us? Is this one of your Earth jokes?"
  • Ranger Brad stops by to inform the Armstrongs of the mutant's first horrible mutilation, and assures them that "We take our horrible mutilations seriously in these parts!" This leads to the scientific Paul pondering "Mutilate...mutant...mutilate...mutant. I wonder."
  • Dr. Armstrong also repeats many times how much he loves "doing science", most notably by telling his wife "If you keep cooking like that, I won't have enough energy to move, let alone do science!"
  • And my favorite, Ranger Brad stating when asked if the mutilation could have been due to a bear that "I've seen a bear do things, well...even things that a bear wouldn't even do."
The Verdict
It's only one film, but Larry Blamire and everyone else that worked on this film are officially on my cool list. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a testament to exactly why I created this site - the fact that even the most ridiculous movies can thrill us, inspire us, and make us smile. Here's hoping the upcoming sequel The Lost Skeleton Returns Again! is half as funny, and that Blamire's follow up idea The Trail of the Screaming Forehead finds its way to theaters someday. If you have any interest in midnight cinema, and even a passing interest in the sci-fi films of the 50s, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is an absoulte must see.

The Mike's Rating: Legends Series

January 12, 2009

Teenage Caveman

2002, Dir. by Larry Clark

If you've read my rating system that sits to the right of this review, there's a word that sums up many of the movies one finds when looking for this kind of movie - mistakes. Sometimes, a title, a poster, or even just an image leads a midnight movie lover to take a chance on a film they know little about....and the results can be dangerous.

I thought I knew what I was getting into with Teenage Caveman. I knew it was a remake of a 1950s flick from Roger Corman/American International Pictures, despite having not seen the original. I also reognized the director's name, and was looking forward to a gritty, perhaps overly dramatic monster flick. But there's where I made my mistake.

The movie is directed by Larry Clark. I was thinking of Larry Cohen.

You see, Larry Cohen had been directing creature features like It's Alive! and Q: The Winged Serpent since the early '70s; while Larry Clark had been making teens doing naughty things involving murder and AIDS movies since the mid '90s. Needless to say, there's a bit of a difference in their styles.

So, Teenage Caveman happened upon me. In fact, I think it took a big, steaming happened upon me.

The Good
My first thought after typing the title for this section was to just type "Nope." and move on. But I decided I have to say something. My second thought was to type "Well, at least it had boobs.", but that seemed a bit too little. Then I decided I was being too open in my thought process.

I've got nothin'. The picture above, of the teenage caveclan looking over a deserted Seattle, looks good. The movie had potential for that moment, 17 minutes into the film. One good moment's better than none, I guess.

The Plot
It's the future. People have reverted to caveman ways, because of some kind of disease or weather, and the leader of the tribe, our lead, David's father, likes to rape cavewomen. He also gives David (Andrew Keegan) guff for "reading"...although the reading material of choice is Penthouse. After dad tries to rape David's girlfriend, Sarah (Tara Subkoff), David kills papa, and the duo and their friends (Why is it always a group of three couples in these movies?) head off into the distance.

And then they wake up like this. And meet a Shawn Michaels wannabe and his girlfriend who've taken them in in the middle of the city (where the "cavemen" spend the rest of the movie, in early 2000's fashion, nonetheless) and decided to teach them about things like drug use and sexual promiscuity. This leads to an extended bit of teen lewd behavior, complete with everyone getting naked, doing drugs, and being annoying. Except David and Sarah, who are uncomfortable with such things. They'd like their love to be pure, but David starts to yearn, Sarah yells at him about how she performs certain services on him, and the movie continues to spiral into further idiocy.

Oh yeah, and their new keepers happen to be some kind of mutants that kill people by sexing them, I think in order to try and further their mutation.

The Bad
Where to begin? Clark's film shows a complete lack of interest in being anything more than a teenage romp on film, mixed with a monster finale. This was one of many remakes produced by a company calling themselves "Creature Features" in the early 2000s, and it seems clear to me that their main goal was to try and make something that would pander to the youth of a new millenium. However, in doing so they forgot to make the film appealing in anyway, unless you're that into sex and drugs. It seems Clark really wanted to make the film "relevant", in some way, but it's impossible to tell if he's trying to play off of an AIDS scare or parallel the Garden of Eden, or something inbetween.

Acting is mediocre to poor throughout. None of the cast seems interesting as anything more than a sterotypical Hollywood face of the generation, with the villainous city heathens overacting in every scene, leading to a rubber suit laden finale. The monster action, even at full strength, is uninspiring, and the film ends with a whimper instead of a bang.

Random Moments
The Verdict
Teenage Caveman is one of those movies that makes one feel bad about liking genre films. It makes you want to go rent whatever Sandra Bullock or Keanu Reeves just made and call it a night. It makes you look for chores around the house - laundry, dishes, anything - to do instead of watching it. It also makes you remember that, while you're currently thinking about bashing your head through a soft spot in the wall, there's a better idea for a midnight movie out there somewhere. And when it's over, and you realize that you've lived to see another 90 minutes, you feel stronger for doing so.

The tagline on the Teenage Caveman DVD reads "The Future Sucks". If you decide to watch this movie, you'll agree for those 89 minutes.

The Mike's Rating: RUN AWAY!

January 10, 2009

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

1971, Dir. by Melvin Van Peebles

In 2003, Mario Van Peebles - most known to filmgoers as star of things like Highlander 3 and Solo (and those are reviews for another day) - directed, wrote, and starred in Baadasssss!, a chronicle of his father's journey to make this film. The younger Van Peebles' film is a heartfelt drama that shows an interesting side of society and cinema at the time, while giving his father's film credit for starting the exploitation movement of the 1970s. It really makes you believe there was a revolution at hand, and that his father was a pioneer in the history of cinema.

I can't debate those points, nor do I want to. But I can say one thing - Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, relevant or not, is a mess of a motion picture.

The Plot
The film begins with young Sweetback (played by a 14 year old Mario), losing his virginity with a prostitute. And it's a vivid scene. After that, we're introduced to adult Sweetback - now a prostitute who does "public shows", and is apparently important enough to be a friend of the local police. That changes when two white police officers take him along (for no particular reason) so he can witness them beating a member of the Black Panthers severely. Sweetback can't take this any longer, and in a blind rage beats down the two officers. Then he goes on the run.

And that's about it for the plot, even though there are about 70 minutes left in the film at this point. The rest of the film involves Sweetback running, meeting old friends, having more sex, and continuing to run. According to Melvin, it's his way of showing "how to get the man's foot out of your ass". According to The Mike, it's dull.

The Good
I'm very glad I saw his son's tribute film before I saw Melvin's "masterpiece". With background knowledge, it's really interesting to see how the film played out considering the behind the scenes issues, and it's also easier to understand the motivation behind the film. As Melvin has said repeatedly, previous films about the black community were always told from the white perspective. While I'm not sure Van Peebles' voice is the voice of the entire black community, it's definitely a new voice compared to what Hollywood was used to, and it opened the door for a lot of movies that succeeded thereafter. Van Peebles also succeeds in using extras and real people to provide the image of the black community, and the solidarity of the characters had to be a point of pride for those dealing with the racial tensions of the time. This is probably the film's biggest achievement, and the one thing that keeps me from labeling a total disaster.

The film boasts a dreamlike quality throughout, with camera tricks, changes in color schemes, and background music composed by Van Peebles and played by a then unknown band called Earth, Wind, and Fire. While the film lacks in plot, the odd presentation actually plays to its favor, and at least keeps it interesting from a visual standpoint, a pretty strong achievement for an independent film of the time.

The Bad
I've said it already, but I'll say it again, in more simple terms. This is a 97 minute movie about a man running from the police and being a manwhore while doing so. That's it. It's terribly paced, repetitive, and lacks tension throughout. In the meantime, lots of characters are barely introduced, many scenes involve characters talking directly to the camera, and the vulgarity of it is pretty hard to swallow.

Random Moments
  • There's not much more to say outside of "See Sweetback Run".
  • Beware the penises.
  • The final scene's onscreen warning might be the highlight of the film.
The Verdict
I'm not of the race or era to pass judgement on the phenomenon that was Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. With an assist from his son's film, it's easy to see why Melvin Van Peebles made the film he did, and the fact that it's still being seen and talked about almost 40 years later is a greater achievement than most independent filmmakers can ever dream of.

But seriously, just watch his son's film if you're interested from a technical standpoint. I don't mean to be the man and stick my foot anywhere, but this movie is inept more often than it is interesting.

The Mike's Rating: Skip It!

January 8, 2009

Prince of Darkness

1987, Dir. by John Carpenter.

When it comes to making midnight movies, I'm pretty sure no one will ever be more of an idol to me than John Carpenter. I could probably feature at least a dozen of his films here, but the one I most recently decided to revisit is one of his most underappreciated films, Prince of Darkness.

Released in 1987, and following up his big budget failure (the excellent) Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness is probably the least recognized film Carpenter made in the 1980s. The film opens with a Priest (Halloween's Donald Pleasence) receiving a key from a recently deceased member of an ancient sect of the church. When he opens the corresponding door in a now abandoned LA church, he finds an ancient secret that may rewrite millions of years of religious history. And what happens next? You guessed it - a team of college students and a couple of their professors are called in for the weekend to investigate.

The Good
OK, I know you just read that last bit and cocked your head to the side, or said WTF?, or something like that. But hear me out. Carpenter's vision is not the vision of most 80's horror filmmakers. A bunch of young peeps in one place with an evil force does not always equal senseless killing, lots of fornication, and consumption of legal and illegal substances. Really. In fact, Carpenter's film takes a philosophical approach to the ludicrous situation at hand. There's a heavy focus on the religious, psychological, and scientific implications of the find. Each character seems interested in their job as part of the crew - with the usual naysayers - and the film becomes a story about how people of science would react to a demonic revelation if the facts were stacked against them. While the cast is nothing spectacular (though Dennis Dun, who co-starred in BTiLC previously, stands out as a skeptical member of the crew), there's a more realistic feeling of humanity in the film than most horrors of this era.

Most importantly, it's scary. Filmed utilizing Carpenter's patented blue and orange tones that were prevalent in Halloween and The Thing, the movie has a creepy, gritty quality that provides terrific atmosphere. This combines nicely with Carpenter's musical score, which is haunting and tense and is probably his best work after Halloween in that regard. There are some excellent jump scares in the film (although a couple are forced) and the religious discussion will add to the fear of anyone who has a spiritual background - though I don't think that's necessary to the film's power.

The Bad
Prince of Darkness is a well-crafted horror film in almost every regard, but you've probably noticed by now that it's a little far-fetched and possibly silly. Parts of the film discuss how matter and anti-matter would possibly apply to a creator and an anti-creator, parts of the film feature an army of homeless folks (lead by rock legend Alice Cooper!) who blindly follow the unseen force, and there are even connections to bugs and sunspots thrown in. The script (written by Carpenter under a pseudonym) could definitely have used a few tweaks that would make the plot more palpable to serious filmgoers. In fact, there's not a lot that separates this film from other religious horrors like The Exorcist and The Omen...except those films came across more serious than this one in the execution of their plots.

There's also a slight lull in the middle of the film, and a few silly choices by characters, but nothing that takes enough power away from the interesting idea and the dynamite final act.

Random Moments

  • OK, I should tell you everything. In the interest of full disclosure....the "discovery" is a vat of liquid Satan!
  • Though I think it's only said once in the film, Pleasence's priest is named Father Loomis - the same surname he carried in the Halloween series.
  • If you're a fan of Cooper, you'll possibly know that the first kill he enacts is a reenactment of a part of some of his live concerts. He even brought his own prop weapon to the set for the scene!
  • The highlight of the film, from a tension standpoint, is a recurring dream sequence (pictured at the top of the review) that is one of the more haunting things I've ever seen.
  • As with most of his films, Carpenter leaves the ending wide open for interpretation. It's one heckuva cliffhanger.
The Verdict
It's hard to defend Prince of Darkness as one of Carpenter's better films, especially considering everything he did between 1976 and 1988. However, Prince of Darkness is something I've seen dozens of times, and it still packs a wallop. If you're looking for an 80s horror that mixes the thought provoking stuff of the previous two decades and the feel of the era Carpenter is known for, you can't do much better than Prince of Darkness. It's one of my all-time favorite midnight movies.

The Mike's Rating: Legends Series!

January 6, 2009

Dance of the Dead

2008, Dir. by Gregg Bishop

Remember all those good times you had in high school, and how prom was the culmination of it all and the greatest night of all time? I don't, because I was too busy watching movies with zombies in them. But now, a film entitled Dance of the Dead has come along, and I finally know what prom would have looked like if it were a zombie infested blood bath. Go ahead and tell me that doesn't at least make you a little bit curious.

The Good
Dance of the Dead, as a film, has been explained by members of the cast as a combination of The Breakfast Club and Dawn of the Dead. I think they may be giving their film too much credit, as both of those films would make a list of my very favorites, but Dance does have a lot of things going for it.

Shot mostly on grainy digital cameras, the film has a cool visual style that is surprisingly easy on the eyes. Director Gregg Bishop and writer Joe Ballarini clearly wanted to be able to pull the film off at night, and their ambition lends a traditional, Romero-esque feel to the atmosphere. The film also benefits from a quickly paced introduction of the high school characters and their elders. This attention to character makes the film twice as fun once the z-men rise above ground, as the subplots between characters - for the most part- don't feel forced or awkward.

The cast of the film is believable, and each of the actors and actresses seem to throw themselves into the film with reckless abandon. Jared Kusnitz and Greyson Chadwick are especially likeable as the romantic leads, and are offset well by goofier side characters like Justin Welborn's redneck/skinhead and Mark Oliver's over-the-top Coach. These characters, again, don't seem as forced as some of the players in recent zombie flicks, and are welcome even in their most ridiculous scenes.

The Bad
It's always difficult to defend a feeling that a film wasted some potential, but I couldn't help wanting a little more from Dance of the Dead. But I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that the conclusion of the film feels a little rushed and - while I'm sure the filmmakers wanted to keep a sequel possible - could have tied up more loose ends. It's rare that such an abrupt ending comes to a film with this many subplots.

I mentioned that the film does a good job of introducing the characters and their relationships, but when it's time for the reveal, there's only a quick explanation of what's going on. I wouldn't expect every zombie flick to explain the details of the outbreak (after all, it's barely acknowledged in the forefather of them all, Romero's Night of the Living Dead), but there seems to be little method to the zombies when introduced, and the movie seems to change the rules with little or no notice when it assists the plot.

Random Moments
  • A Cemetary employee who is shown to know more about the zombies is used only to bookend the film and give some quick knowledge to the kids during the first wave of attack. I couldn't help feeling this character could have offered more to the film.
  • Apparently, a head cheerleader whose date for the prom cancels at the last minute will decide to forego the entire dance and jog for what must have been hours. Right.
  • There's a reanimated frog. Oh yeah.
  • The highlight of the film comes from the realization that these zombies - for reasons unknown - are sedated by the music of a high-school garage band. I won't spoil their role in the climactic battle for you, but I will say one thing - Long live the 80's!
The Verdict
Dance of the Dead took a while to really warm me up, and others who watched it with me had the same problem. However, a few dynamite scenes, an invested cast, and the laid-back tone make the film easy to digest at a barely 80 minute runtime, and it's already proven to have solid value for replays and movie nights with similarly afflicted friends. While Dance of the Dead never really establishes itself as a relevant zombie film like the ones Romero was making 30-40 years ago, it succeeds in bringing the carnage with a tounge-in-cheek. That's good enough for me.

The Mike's Rating: Prime Choice

January 5, 2009

Werewolf Shadow (aka La Noche de Walpurgis; aka The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman)

1971, Dir. by Leon Klimovsky

As a fan of all things monstrous, it should not have taken me this long to first view a film starring Paul Naschy - widely regarded as "a Spanish Lon Chaney". From his rise to fame in the late '60's, Naschy has been known for playing versions of the usual horror suspects, anything from Dracula, to the Mummy, to Mr. Hyde. However, Naschy is most famous for his turn as Count Waldemar Daninsky in a series of Hombre Lobo films, translating to - you guessed it - Wolf Man. It's unsure how many films starred Naschy as Daninsky (he claims 12, but there is some doubt as to whether one of the earlier films ever existed), but the most popular and successful of the bunch is this one - which made it a good place to start my Naschy experience.

The Plot
Originally titled La Noche De Waspurgis in Spain in 1971 (but released stateside as The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman with this killer poster), the now Werewolf Shadow picks up Daninsky as he's facing an autopsy in the morgue after some kind of massive accident. The coroner does a good job of explaining that the dead is rumored to have been a werewolf, just before removing silver bullets from his back, reinvigorating the lycanthrope in the process. Meanwhile, a young woman named Elvira, intent on investigating the legend of an ancient witch-turned-vampire, and her closest friend Genevieve are traveling the contryside and find themselves stranded at the count's cottage/castle in the Spanish countryside. Turns out paranormals flock together, as it's soon realized that the evil countess Wandesa that Elvira's been searching for is buried on the property. A slip by the clumsy (and occasionally useless) Genevieve revives the lady vamp, and the battle's on.

The Good
Directed by Leon Klimovsky and co-written by Naschy, Werewolf Shadow shows a great respect for the tradition of horror that many of us horror freaks hold dear. The film's atmosphere is fantastic, and is a nice parallel to the work directors like Terence Fisher and Mario Bava were doing at the time. There are issues with editing and pacing, that nearly kill the film at times, especially in the final half hour when subplots start coming out of nowhere, but throughout the movie it feels like a gothic horror should, while maintaining setting in modern time. The film also manages to balance between the old and new of horror in its creature, which mixes the classic Wolf Man look with the taste for blood that was becoming popular at the time. Just take a look at this picture, and you'll see what I mean.

Naschy takes the lead with a completely serious tone, and does well with both the monster role and the hero role. As with most werewolf films there's a tragic and romantic edge to the story, and Naschy manages to make the Count a sympathetic human when he's not covered in fur. It's easy to see why he's so respected in the genre.

The Bad
As mentioned above, the movie's biggest problem lies in its pacing, as it's too slow to develop the plot. Just when the film seems to be setting up for the battle between wolf and vamp, there's a reintroduction of Elvira's earlier love interest, a sideplot regarding the werewolf's victims, and a far-too-lengthy discussion of the town's thoughts on lycanthropy - and more! I didn't really need more scenes of Elvira randomly sitting at a small table fondling a cross (no, really); but it felt like the movie was trying to go too far with the plot, and could have benefited for the "less is more" perspective. There's also alot of choppy editing in the film, but I'm not sure if that was due to poor work by the filmmakers or by the DVD producers. Considering how clean the print was, I'm assuming the former.

And, while the werewolf looks great, the vampire women could have been less dramatic.

Random Moments
  • Early in the film, Elvira's gentlemen friend makes a comment about how he's "seen this in enough of those James Bond pictures". I wonder what he'd think now that they're up to 22 films instead of 7?
  • I'm not sure why, but it was decided that vampires move in slow motion most of the time.
  • Daninsky's crazy sister gropes/strangles Elvira early in the film, looks creepy, and then goes away.
The Verdict
While the film has its fair share of problems in structure, it has exactly what a fan of classic horror could ask for. If you're looking for a classical werewolf tale, there's a lot worse out there. Naschy's performance and the great creature effects make it well worth seeing, and I'm excited to see more of what Naschy has done.

The Mike's Rating: Solid Selection

Statement of Principles


If you've made it here, and have yet to click the back button, you're probably wondering what you've stumbled upon. Welcome to From Midnight, With Love my first blog related to genre cinema.

On this page, you will find the record of my continued affair with midnight movies. Despite my love for all things cinematic, I've often found the most solace by settling in late at night with a movie that does not fit with the common perceptions of what is "good" cinema. I've found that horror, science fiction, kung fu, and western cinema - along with the random mindless action movie - can be of just as much entertainment value as the biggest of blockbusters, and can have as much of an emotional impact as the best of the Oscar Winners (though not always through the same emotions). The problem - and it's a big one - is finding the worthwhile films.

Thus, I come to you with no great purpose. This site shall not exist to tell you what movies are good and which are not, nor will it exist as a soapbox for my rants in regard to what filmmakers and actors deserve punishment. Well, most of the time it won't.

What I do hope to achieve, through my ramblings, is to open some eyes to the other side of filmmaking and flimgoing - to shed some light on the "darker half" of cinema. Thus, I present to you From Midnight, With Love - my tribute to the movies that dare to take us places that most people never really care to think about.

Here's to many happy viewings,
The Mike