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May 31, 2011

Drive Angry

Ahem. *cough* Errr....excuse me.  I was supposed to put the poster there, wasn't I? Well then....

Just a moment....

OK.  Let's begin.
(2011, Dir. by Patrick Lussier.)

Oh, Nicolas Cage. Please, for my sake, never get out of debt.

Yeah, I know that most of you mock The Cage. And he's done some things to earn it, sure. But I still admire the heck out of him. Most veteran actors who need to earn a paycheck start phoning in their performances by the time they take the lead in something like Drive Angry, but Cage - true to the form he's exhibited in everything from The Wicker Man to Adaptation - never cuts corners.  He's as intense as ever in each role, and here - playing a escapee of Hell who's allegorically named John Milton who is trying to save a baby from a cult leader (Twilight's Billy Burke, the film's biggest misstep in casting) with the help of a young hottie (Amber Heard, whose posterior stars above).  In the meantime, he has to avoid a mysterious man who calls himself The Accountant (played by William Fichtner) who seems to also come from hell.

With all apologies to Belinda Carlisle, what follows is Hell on Earth for our characters.  Said Hell primarily takes the form of car chases and gun battles, some even take place while a gruff Cage chomps cigars, has clothed sex with a waitress he previously showed no interest in, and talks like Nicolas Cage.  Lussier and writer Todd Farmer again take joy in mixing chaos and full frontal nudity - also having used the technique (can I call that a "technique"?) in their remake of My Bloody Valentine - turning Drive Angry into an over the top action/horror film very quickly.  I probably should be as annoyed by their antics as I am by Hatchet II's, but the difference is that I find this film ridiculously fun, not bland and lifeless.  

Speaking of Hatchet II, it's one of many films I've seen in the past few years that claims to be throwback to films gone by - but Drive Angry is one of the few films I've seen that actually feels like an honest-to-goodness drive-in feature of years gone by.  Sure, it's shinier than those films were and was filmed in the dreaded 3D (I only saw the 2D version, thanks to my Igor-eyes 3D and I aren't friends), but the car chases, gun fights and satanic imagery are right out of the '70s.  And it's freakin' refreshing to see a good old fashioned Satan Cult film once again.  It is a lost topic in the new Hollywood, but I still believe modern horror took its biggest nosedive when the spiritual was separated from the supernatural.

That said, Drive Angry is not a straight horror film by any means.  Though it does deal with Satanic cults and even takes us into a CGI hell (literally, not metaphorically like in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie), the film is primarily about cars going fast until they crash and flip, with guns going off at random times.  It sounds stupid - and it is stupid - but the film is so tongue in cheek as it speeds through its plot that I couldn't help smiling.  Fichtner's turn as the agent of Satan is especially indicative of this, as he plays the role with a sly grin that makes some of his off hand comments and antics completely memorable.  If nothing else in the film sticks with you, I doubt the scene in which Fichtner speeds toward a police blockade with "That's The Way (uh huh, uh huh) I Like It" playing will fade from your mind quickly.  It's over-the-top cheese at its finest.

So yeah, I kind of loved Drive Angry.  It's not entirely defensible, and it could almost fall into that guilty pleasure category - if I believed in that kind of thing.  Cage gets to do over the top things in fast cars, Heard looks as good as ever and packs a solid punch once again, and Lussier and Farmer keep it light and fun throughout.  It's not great cinema, but I couldn't stop myself from running it through the DVD player twice. I'm a sucker for a double dose of cheese.

Hatchet II

(2010, Dir. by Adam Green.)

Hatchet II and I were never destined to be friends.  I don't usually see slasher films as more than just background noise in the first place; to me they're slightly below the mall food court on the horror film food pyramid.  And then I was annoyed and even a bit offended by the film's marketing campaign, which was all about how Hatchet II could only exist if it weren't given a rating by the MPAA.  But, like I said...those slashers make great background noise, so I also knew I was destined to eventually check out Hatchet II.

The film picks up at the conclusion of Hatchet, with the last standing survivor, Marybeth (now played by horror heroine Danielle Harris), eluding Victor Crowley and reaching safety, where a swamp fella tells her the seen-in-flashback story behind Victor Crowley, starting with his father - the returning Kane Hodder - who has an affair with his dying wife's nurse that produces the cursed child that would grow up to be a murdering swamp demon.  From there, the shaken Marybeth - still searching for her own father - is sent toward another return character, Reverend Zombie, the swamp tour entrepreneur who sent the fated voyage into the swamp during the first film.  Zombie is played by the man who may have played horror's last truly iconic villain, Candyman star Tony Todd.

(In an attempted comic twist, Zombie is assisted by Parry Shen, who returns from the first film as the twin of the tour guide who led the doomed expedition the night before.  Can we please, somehow, get filmmakers who think they're being cool to stop using the "let's bring back the dead character as a twin" gimmick?  Please? It's so sad.  Look, I know Shen was one of the only interesting performers in the first film - and he's one of the most interesting performers here, too.  But hey, Mr. Filmmaker - if you liked him so much, YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE KILLED HIM!)

I digress.  The point is that Reverend Zombie and Marybeth have to go into the swamp - with a group of disposable characters - to try and hunt down Victor Crowley and/or save her father and/or Zombie's lost boat.  I was a little surprised to see that the set up featured so much human drama and conversation, as there's plenty of consideration of family ties and a relatively cute rekindled romance between indie horror dude AJ Bowen and the blonde Alexis Peters - in the daylight hours of the film.  All of this is lost once the sun goes down and Victor Crowley comes out to play, as things devolve into excessive gore and stupid behavior.

Speaking of Victor Crowley - I just don't see the appeal.  The guy is like the Bane-as-played-by-Jeep-Swenson-in-Batman & Robin of slasher movie killers.  Isn't a horror movie supposed to be about scares, not just a giant mongoloid popping out and grunting while killing?  Jason was an imposing presence too, especially once Hodder took over the mask, but there was still something dark about the character that was a bit mysterious.  Victor Crowley - now with not one but TWO tragic sad backstories! - just seems to pop up out of nowhere at times, ripping people limb to limb or dismantling them with that hatchet or a giant chainsaw. Would I be frightened if he were standing in front of me with an ax?  Probably.  But that's it.  We do fear him, but we don't fear the shadows and dark places that he might be lurking in.  There's no subtlety involved in the Hatchet films and how they portray Crowley.  To me, that's not "Old-School American Horror".  That's what the Hot Topic crowd thinks horror is.  That's what the people who grew up picking horror films based on VHS covers over plots or filmmakers thinks horror is.

To be fair, I had more fun watching Hatchet II than I expected to.  Green has shown he can create human terrors in his non-Hatchet films, and you can see some of that at work here before it becomes the exact same film as its predecessor once it hits the swamp.  If I hadn't seen the title card come up claiming that the "Hatchet Army" was "Here to Save Horror" at the end of the credits, I might have given Hatchet II a pass as mindless stupidity.  But Green's final touch was a reminder that I was very grateful for - a reminder that there's a lot of great horror out there that doesn't need to be saved by uninteresting nonsense like Hatchet films. 

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe decapitations during intercourse or people being choked with their innards is what horror needs these days.  Gah.  At this point I don't even care.  Hatchet II and me - look, we can work together, we're just not gonna be friends.  I feel like Snake Plissken talking to Commissioner Hauk at this point - I don't agree with what the movie stands for, but I'm too tired to kill it.  I guess if you want crap with lots of blood and bad acting (I love ya Danielle Harris, but this was a bit off key), Hatchet II does that decently.  (However, I'll take a film it slyly referenced - Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon - over it every day of the week.  And while I'm at it, Spiral is still the best film Green's directed.) 

The bottom line, however, is that Hatchet II is not what I'd call good horror.  In fact, to me it's nothing more than a false idol trying to lead others astray from the truly great things horror films can offer.  If this is horror's salvation, I'll gladly be condemned with my copies of great horror films that came with stories and characters.

May 30, 2011

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Short Film Roundup

There are times when I'm a horrible blogger.  I'm sure you can think of some examples, so please, stop right there.  Today's shame comes as I was looking back at old emails and realized that I had a couple of filmmakers who I accepted work from - and then kind of forgot about.  And worse, when I realized I had a couple of short films I hadn't watched yet - I realized I had a couple MORE short films I hadn't watched yet too.  Bringing the total to four.  Like I said, horrible blogger.

Thus, it's time to get my affairs in order, and I plan to do so machine gun style.  Here's a look at four short films, each from a different perspective and style, that deserve more attention from both you and I.
Good Morning, Beautiful
(2011, Dir. by Todd Cobery.)
Official Site          Trailer

An everyman husband, left distraught after the death of his unborn child, begins to experience strange phenomena in Good Morning, Beautiful, a surreal and haunting short tale from Minnesota-based filmmaker Todd Cobery.  The man, played wonderfully by David Tufford, is a fascinating character without saying too much - primarily due to Tufford's ability to emote.  Like most people dealing with great loss, Tufford puts on a calm face as the world around him seems to be falling apart.  Or is it what's inside him that's falling apart?

At around twenty minutes, Cobery and company don't have a lot of time to tell their tale, and I must admit their finale left me a little wanting.  But the film more than makes up for any problems with its narrative thanks to the fantastic visuals and wonderful sound design.  Particularly impressive is a sequence in which Tufford's character witnesses a brutal beating in what appears to be the street outside on his television, then wanders outside to see the same thing - a man brutally beating another with a large hammer.  The scene is a rare bit of technical perfection, with eerie (yet seemingly natural) lighting and brutal sound effects leading to a swift, shocking reveal.

Though the finale leaves questions unanswered - and maybe some of them are better left unknown - the lasting impact of Good Morning, Beautiful can't be denied.  It's been a couple of weeks since I finally got around to watching it, but it still holds in my mind quite well.  It's one of the creepiest pieces of human horror in recent memory.
Damn Your Eyes
(2009, Dir. by David Guglielmo.)
Official Site      Watch it online now!

The spaghetti western has seen a bit of a revival since Quentin Tarantino unleashed Kill Bill upon the world, and Damn Your Eyes (which, despite my mind going their every time I hear it, has nothing to do with Young Frankenstein) is a 19 minute feature that is cut from the same cloth as Tarantino's epic revenge tale.  Directed by David Guglielmo, Damn Your Eyes serves as a kind of teaser trailer for what could be a bigger epic tale of murder and revenge.

The story moves quickly through different settings, including a black and white flashback to the setting event that is reminiscent of the one shown in Kill Bill.  Guglielmo doesn't appear to be simply riding the success of Tarantino's homage to Italy's westerns; his vision here certainly shows he's versed in the ways of the Italian West.  The costuming of our hero is one of the biggest indicators of this - Jakob Von Eichel's Sam looks like he walked right out of a Leone or Corbucci flick - and the musical cues are also a well done tribute to these films gone by.

Performances across the board are good, and the cast helps the film feel like a throwback to a time gone by.  And with all these pieces coming together, Damn Your Eyes is a success as both a tribute to past favorites and its own unique tale.  Most importantly, the film left me craving a bit more of the story it started, and I look forward to seeing what Mr. Guglielmo and crew have up their sleeves in the future.
Night of the Punks
(2010, Dir. by Dan Riesser.)
Official Site         Trailer

Writer/Director Dan Riesser, in a bold move, reached out to me to offer Night of the Punks for consideration at FMWL right after he read my post on my disappointment in the Hobo With a Shotgun Trailer Contest.  You might think offering someone a short film that's meant to be a throwback to '80s films right after they've voiced disapproval of those who do the same is a bad move, and generally you'd be right.  But Mr. Riesser must have assumed that his film - unlike the trailers shown in said contest - is a far more competent and worthwhile endeavor than those films were.

If he was thinking that, he's absolutely right - I had a ton of fun watching Night of the Punks play out before me. In it, a garage punk band takes on their first out of town gig, and quickly finds themselves in the middle of a demonic all-you-can-eat buffet.  Luke Edwards - who I recently wanted to smack upside the head whilst watching his child performance in Mother's Boys - takes the lead as the band's guitarist, and he - along with Aubrey Wood as his love interest and Nick Mundy as the goofball drummer - allows Reisser a cast that is more than capable of anchoring the horror comedy.

Like similar '80s horror films, there's not too much depth to Night of the Punks.  But, like the best films of that era, that didn't bother me at all.  Packed with inventive kills, slapstick gore, and goofy gags, Night of the Punks is nothing but fun; representing exactly the kind of charm I'd expect from a horror comedy.  I'm very interested in seeing what happens next for Reisser, because a film like Night of the Punks is right up my alley.
The Elusive Man
(2010, Dir. by Marc Roussel and Mark Sanders.)
Facebook      Trailer

Marc Roussel first came to the attention of FMWL with his fantastic time-bending short film Remote.  While that film provided a bit of gore in the name of terror, The Elusive Man - which was co-directed by his Remote editor Mark Sanders - is a much more light-hearted tale of crime and greed - with a bit uf gore mixed in for good measure.

Remote co-star George Komorowski takes the lead here as a rich businessman who finds himself kidnapped, missing an ear, and being accosted by a group of criminals who are searching for the titular Elusive Man, the remnants of a famous painting by Van Gogh that is, naturally, worth a bit of money.  The colorful crew, along with the businessman's young wife and her gentleman caller, come together quickly - each presenting a different part of the story - which quickly rolls to a satisfying finale.

With its brisk pace and charming wit, The Elusive Man is a simple but effective little treat that kept me smiling throughout.  Komorowski is an extraordinarily natural actor and is incredibly likeable in the role, and the supporting cast - including Remote star Ron Basch, who gives a fun turn as "the doctor" - do a great job of keeping the film moving too.  It's a simple crime and revenge tale with the expected twists, but Roussel, Sanders, and their cast keep it fresh and fun regardless. 
Thanks again to these fine filmmakers for sending along their work, and I must offer another sincere apology for the delays!  To the rest of you, I urge you to seek out these films as possible, because each of them represent the different kinds of treats that independent filmmakers have to offer us. 

May 27, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #73 - Duel

Driving can be a traumatic experience.  One time, when I was on the final leg of an ill-conceived one night six hour road trip (I saw Halloween, it was worth it), I ran over a dead deer.  I'm not sure why I ran over the dead deer - I had plenty of time to think 'Oh, hey.  That's a dead deer man.  There are four lanes here.  So I should probably..."  before the abrupt ka-klunk jarred me.  In the grand scheme of things it didn't matter much - the deer was still dead and my car barely noticed - but my pace was certainly racing for the last hour of my road trip.

Of course, looking back at this experience is pretty funny.  And, I'd imagine the experience would be funny to anyone who was watching a tired driver run over a dead deer.  And, I'd imagine it'd be even funnier if someone could hear the thoughts going on in my mind - which have now been posted here.  I have no shame.
However, it's an interesting thing to consider when discussing Steven Spielberg's Made-For-TV debut film Duel, a bit of roadway terror that pits a meek and slightly pathetic motorist - played by veteran TV actor Dennis Weaver - against a malicious 1955 Peterbilt semi that seems intent on driving him crazy.  I recently watched Duel - which I've seen quite a few times - with some friends, and I was surprised at how much they laughed at the film.  It wasn't entirely a laugh that denoted mockery, but there were more than a few comments about how much of a "loser" Weaver's character is.  I can't disagree too much - part of the film's appeal comes from how frantic Weaver is in his reaction to the demon truck - but I feel like this is one of those performances that is so on point that it might rub people the wrong way.  (Kind of like every '80s movie that had Billy Zabka as a villain.  Don't act like you didn't hate that guy.  You did.  But you hated him because he did what he was supposed to and did it well.)
I think the crowd caught on as the film went on - even if they were still a little bothered by him turning ALL THE WAY AROUND to look out his back window instead of using the rear-view mirror - which is a credit to Spielberg's mastery of suspense.  Weaver is not painted as a hero we should root for - he's already tense as he drives and listens to talk radio before the truck shows up, and we don't see much into his life that makes us think the world really needs this doofus around - but we still sympathize with anyway.  After all, he is being hunted methodically by a truck that doesn't even need the voice of Ted Levine to be creepy.
In fact, the truck is probably the hook that makes the film interesting, we might not have been able to stomach Weaver's sniveling lead if his adversary was anything less than what it is.  The dirty, rust brown colored truck appears to be breathing most of the time, with smoke pouring constantly from the exhaust pipes and the engine.  Spielberg lets the sound effects do a lot of the work, and these combine with Billy Goldenberg's musical score to make the truck sound a little more like a monster than an automobile. One famous sound effect at the end of the film was reused by Spielberg in Jaws, and it serves the same purpose in both films.  Just like what we see in Jaws isn't just a shark to the viewer, Spielberg and crew do everything they can to remind us that this truck is not something we should be comfortable around.
As we'd expect, Weaver is not comfortable.  Even though his sweaty and nervous behavior is a bit laughable, the sequence in a roadside cafe that allows him to weigh his options and look for his aggressor is crucial in developing his character and putting the viewer in his head.  As we hear his inner monologue, we become absolutely certain that this man is not reacting to the situation that's around him in a rational manner.  That doesn't make him a good hero, but it does make the film that much more interesting.  We now know that this victim is susceptible to anything, and that keeps us just a bit more on edge than the film would otherwise.

After all, we shouldn't expect a normal person would react to a killer semi like a Hollywood hero would.  (Just like we shouldn't expect me to chill after I ran over a dead deer and got jarred awake, right?)  To me that's the beauty of Duel - the film is content to provide us a traumatic situation and hopes that we won't mind the potential victim being kind of a doofus.  We're not sure the hero can save himself.  And, even though we don't really like him, we can't help but worry - because we're not sure we could save ourselves in that situation either.

May 26, 2011

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 5: Malibu Express

Back in the '90s, Saturday Night Live ran this fantastic fake commercial about an automobile known as "The Paradox".  The joke behind the commercial was that the car was created by two different teams of engineers, each of whom designed the car in varying ways.  For example, one group gave it dual air bags, one made it shatter on impact and throw the passengers at least 300 yards through the air.  One gave it six doors, one gave it ONE BIG DOOR.  The fake ad went on like that for - well, as long as a commercial should - and then ended with "It's the best car money can buy. Or is it the worst?"

That's kind of exactly how I feel about Malibu Express, the first movie I've watched from an allegedly legendary director/producer of schlock called Andy Sidaris.  A whopping TWELVE films by Sidaris have recently been collected in one under $6 Mill Creek Box set, and with the promise of "Girls, Guns, and G-Strings" for less than 50 cents per film - well, I just couldn't resist. After all, I do strive to have a knowledge of all genres of film, don't I? I can't really ignore the "low-budget action with lots of Playboy playmates" genre, can I?  The answer is clearly NO.
Malibu Express is Sidaris' first film, and it stars a fantastically mustached and curly haired fellow named Darby Hinton as the irresistible modern day cowboy Cody Abilene.  Cody's kind of a big honkin' doofus - he can't hit the broad side of the barn with his 44 Magnum and he simply can not get an iconic Dirty Harry quote right - but Malibu Express expects us to believe that he is also the most adept ladies man in the history of time.  It's probably the 'stache, I guess. Somehow, he gets like 14 women to take their tops off for him repeatedly throughout the movie. Just look at him - he is a God.

Aside from that, I'm not sure what actually happened in Malibu Express.  I know there's some sort of interest in computers, I know that "Nick the Dick" from Bachelor Party is a dick (in multiple ways) and then gets murdered, and I know that Cody gets lots of people to get naked.  Oh, and one of the women - in fact, I think it's the one pictured above - is named June Khnockers, with an H.  Meanwhile there's cheap action including race cars, helicopters, and guns as Cody tries to investigate the murder that happens halfway through the film.  And now that I realize the murder happened halfway through the film - I realize that I have no idea what the first half of the film was on about.  Character development, I guess.

As I mentioned, the pseudo-noir plot and "fast-paced action" (quotations denote sarcasm) are complemented by more naked breasts than I've seen since that semester in college when our dorm rooms inexplicably started to offer Cinemax.  Of course, now that I'm not a teenager who has suddenly been given the gift of boobs on the TV screen, the novelty of this has worn off a bit.  I mean, I can tell that these aren't exactly the kind of women I'd bring home to meet FMWL, and that most of their breasts are the product of some strange experiment in silicon.  At the same time, their ridiculous top-halves go perfectly with the over-the-top film.  It's like I should know these excessive mammaries aren't interesting - because they really aren't - but at the same time I'm kind of totally thrilled that they're there to support the cheese of Cody Abilene and the world he lives in.
As if the film didn't have enough top-heavy femme fatales, FMWL favorite Sybil Danning - who can probably be called The Queen of Misshapen Breasts - shows up in a "special appearance" as the Countess who sends Cody Abilene on his mission.  Her role is actually relevant to the plot (whatever it is), and - in a shocking turn of events - her breasts are only barely shown on screen.  It's like Sidaris got her to be involved and then said "Hey, we've got classic boobs now - lets throw an extra dozen sets in for good measure".  (Considering his excess, I bet he's that guy who brings an extra crock pot of baked beans to the company potluck too.)

Danning's role actually plays into the plot, which rolls to a playful finale that wraps up the loose ends that I'd forgotten about while I was drowning in a sea of sweater puppies.  And that's kind of the thing that draws me into Malibu Express.  There's so much sleaze, yet it's surrounded by ridiculous spy hijinks and Cody Abilene's inner monologue (which offers up lines like "June's gorgeous front porch really saved our ass.") and races with the overweight yokels that continuously harass Cody.  All this cheesy writing mixes with the cheesy chests to make me think that Sidaris kind of had an idea what he was doing when he made this movie.  And seriously, that worries me.
Should I feel like Sidaris has accomplished something by making one of the most topless films I've ever seen?  Should I think that Cody Abilene is an icon of cinema who I want to randomly talk about with people?  Should I still, even after Howling II and Reform School Girls, feel like I kind of love Sybil Danning in inappropriate ways?  I'm not really sure.  But I do know that I'm kind of ecstatic that Malibu Express allows me to ponder these moral quandaries.  If the other 11 films Sidaris directed or produced are anything like Malibu Express, this 12 Film Set will probably be both the best thing I've bought all year and the worst thing I've bought all year.

May 23, 2011

The Universal Horror Experience - Dracula's Daughter

Man, Dracula's Daughter is something else.  For starters, it's one of the Universal Horror sequels that I - despite my love for all things monstrous - had never gotten around to seeing.  Until last night, that is.  And now that I have seen it, I'm pretty sure it's one of the more unique horror sequels ever made.
It was merely 1936 when Dracula's Daughter was released, as Universal was riding the wave of success from Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931 and 1935's Bride of Frankenstein had established just how profitable a sequel could be to the studio.  I guess the feminine side of Bride was an inspiration to the people behind Dracula's Daughter, but the tone of the two films couldn't be more different.  That's not a big surprise, because Dracula and Frankenstein were different in tone as well, but the gap between their sequels is gigantic.
Actually, Dracula's Daughter might be the darkest movie of its era that I've seen.  Gloria Holden - the grandmother of The Mist and The Walking Dead co-star Laurie Holden - seems to float around the screen as the title character. Holden also uses her distant stare and rounded eyebrows to make Countess Marya Zaleska a hypnotic femme fatale, and the power of her presence in the film can't be denied.  The performance has certainly been an influential one in the horror scene, and is referenced as an inspiration for future female vampires like the ones created by author Anne Rice.
But, if we want to get to the part of Dracula's Daughter that involves Ms. Holden, we need to start at the beginning and the film's kind of genius set up.  In the opening scene we see the aftermath of the unseen finale of Dracula, as Professor Von Helsing - played again by Edward Van Sloan - deals with the police after putting a stake through the heart of Count Dracula (played here by a wax version of Bela Lugosi).  Watching the two patrolmen try to fathom why this distinguished old man has just put a stake through someone's heart is actually a pretty humorous opening, but it also leads into a unique discussion of the vampire curse.  As Von Helsing (seriously, that Von sooooo bugs me) puts it, you can't be charged with murder when someone's been dead for 500 years.  I think he has a point
The old doctor's pleas lead to the involvement of a psychiatrist/former student played by Otto Kruger, but also leads Countess Zaleska to London, where she uses her hypno-skills to acquire her father's corpse.  She promptly burns the corpse, because she's convinced that doing so will end her vampire curse.  Unlike her Romanian ancestor, the younger Dracula doesn't feel very comfortable in her role as a child of the night.  She still avoids wine and she still craves blood, but the diabolical edge of her father is replaced with a sad indifference in her eyes.  It's like she knows that what she is simply can not exist peacefully in our world.
Speaking of "what she is", I'd be foolish not to mention the sexual implications of the film.  Despite the strict regulations on films of the era, Dracula's Daughter is filled to the brim with some shockingly obvious lesbian undertones.  The Countess primarily sets her sights on female victims, and her intimate gaze at these women had to be a bit risque for the era.  A mid-film scene in which she offers to paint a young girl from the shoulders up shows a shocking amount of skin for the era, and the studio was very hesitant to approve the scene due to its homosexual subtext.  By today's standards it's impossible to miss the gaga-eyes Holden gives these young women - after all, I am the guy who used to think Mac and Blaine in Predator might have been gay lovers - and it's interesting to me that many people of the era weren't taken aback at all by the Countess' interactions with her victims. Wikipedia even cites that one critic advised viewers to "Be sure to bring the kiddies"!  (And if it's on Wikipedia it MUST be true!
I'm not really sure how anyone of the era would assume this was family fare anyway, because Dracula's Daughter features a lot of dark and foggy scenes that create more tension than anything in the Dracula film that preceded it.  Holden's dark performance is also accentuated by her creepy henchman Sandor (played by Irving Pichel), who lurks in shadows like an imposing mixture of Boris Karloff and Humphrey Bogart.  His relationship with the Countess is also an interesting one, as he seems to understand both her disdain for her condition and her unstoppable need to feed upon the innocent. 
I'm talking up Dracula's Daughter pretty well, though I'm not sure I really felt I liked the film that much.  It suffers from pacing problems that are similar to Lugosi's Dracula, and the connecting scenes that don't involve Holden or Pichel often fall pretty flat.  But Dracula's Daughter is at least a thought-provoking sequel that is its own movie, and it earned my respect quickly by being so willing to take chances that buck what viewers would expect from it.  Though seventy-five years have passed since its release, Dracula's Daughter still feels like it's kind of a rebel in the Universal Horror scene - and I respect that greatly.

May 22, 2011

Midnight Movie Music: Volume One

Since I'm currently away from FMWL for the day, I thought I'd leave you all a special treat (and, since I'm a whore for ideas, I'm considering making it a feature).  So, here's some awesome music from some awesome midnight movies The Mike loves.  Enjoy!

May 21, 2011

FMWL Indie Spotlight - June Edition of Bleedfest Revealed!

Y'all should know by now that Lis & Brenda Fies' Bleedfest Film Festival is one of FMWL's favorite causes.  And, with the schedule for the June event now upon us, it's time to get psyched for the independent women of horror once more! 
Below is the press release for the June edition, scheduled for June 5th, including the West Coast premiere of the all Heather Langenkamp documentary I Am Nancy and an appearance by the fantastic indie horror master Lucky McKee!  If that doesn't make your blood festive, check your pulse!
Bleedfest's June 5, 2011 Event: Summer Scares!

Badass genre film festival Bleedfest's Women of Horror event is back and better than ever! Genre stars Heather Langenkamp and Lucky McKee will be at the CAP Theatre for live appearances, as well as rapper
Lil' Zane!

BleedFest is a monthly Badass Genre Film Festival in Los Angeles spotlighting female filmmakers making cool movies we all love watching. The goal of BleedFest is to introduce Hollywood to the hundreds of awesome genre filmmakers missing a Y chromosome, get these rad women's movies more of an audience, and form a networking community of empowered filmmakers of both sexes working together on new projects. It's run by co-founders and filmmaking duo Brenda Fies and Elisabeth Fies. BleedFest is supported totally through sponsor Film Radar and the genre communities' donations at IndieGoGo:

Come see the west coast premier of I AM NANCY, produced by and starring Heather Langenkamp, and directed by Arlene Marechal. The documentary follows Heather's journey to five horror conventions interacting with fans who've loved A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET for twenty-five years. Heather and Arlene discover through interviews with fans, Wes Craven and Robert Englund that despite Freddy's iconic
popularity, the truth is we all need a little Nancy inside of us. Heather and Arlene will be signing and selling limited edition DVDs of I AM NANCY. A sneak peak of the documentary is online:

Writer-actor-director and Master of Horror Lucky McKee receives the coveted Inanna Partnership Award for his full-bodied portrayals of female characters we love! Lucky will answer questions about his
controversial new feature THE WOMEN, releasing in theatres this fall.

Comedian Candice Rankin returns for the second part of the exclusive sneak peak of her one woman show UNDER THE HOOD. The full show will world premier at the Electric Lodge in Venice August 11th at 8 p.m.

The June charity is IMPACT PERSONAL SAFETY, the world's most effective self defense training. Director and alumna Heidi Hornbacher will give a live, full-contact demonstration.

The shorts program will feature nine horror shorts by women. Filmmaker, alumna, and festival programmer Lori Bowen flies in from Florida to world premier A HAMMER FELL IN JERUSALEM: AND BE AT REST. Alumna Cindy Baer world premiers her frightening SLASHDANCE, which was
shot on location at Sundance Film Festival. BleedFest co-founders Elisabeth Fies and Brenda Fies give sneak peaks of HARD TO DO, written and starring Kit Williamson, and COLLEGE GIRLS ROAD TRIP introducing newcomers Casey Whalen and Sarah Walsh. Elegaic WE'RE JUST LIKE YOU
makes its Southern California debut, and the majority of the crew will be in attendance including director Chelsea Christer, producer Amber Lammon, cinematographer Katherine Brennan, and writer Steve Romanko. Husband and wife team Robyn Simms and Stephen Johnson (G4, Fewdio) pop their BleedFest cherry with the first festival screening of their subversive short NEIGHBORS. Robyn is confirmed for the Q&A.

BleedFest isn't just about promoting their filmmaking winners; they want to promote you, the audience member! The audience is filled with working genre filmmakers, and is the perfect place for actors and
filmmakers looking to network. Actress Tara Cardinal was cast in alumna Marichelle Daywalt's short THE MANY DOORS OF ALBERT WHALE because of networking at BleedFest. The popular Open Bar includes Bloody Mary's and Mimosas to help get you over your shyness, and the CAP Theatre is a warm and friendly place with an artistic vibe. Come promote yourself and your projects on BleedFest's Red Carpet. Red Carpet interviews will be conducted by and INdTV. Red Carpet photos will be taken by celebrity photographer Winston Burris, and featured on and

Tickets are $10 cash at the door for the whole day and the open bar. Purchase advance tickets through BleedFest's IndieGoGo Fundraising campaign or on Goldstar. For more information and the schedule:
The BleedFest June trailer is here:

Sunday June 5th, 2011 11:00am-3:45pm
Location: CAP Theatre 13752 Ventura Blvd. (a few blocks west of
Woodman) Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
$10 cash at door for all day ticket and OPEN BAR

Schedule subject to change, personal appearances dependent on schedule.

11:00am-11:15am Red Carpet, Mixer, Open Bar

11:15am-11:30am Self Defense Demonstration
June Charity: Impact Personal

11:30am-11:35am Screenwriting Award
-DEAR JOHN (5 minutes) written by Sharon Davis & Cameron McCulloch

11:35am-11:55am Shorts - Exclusive Sneak Peaks
-COLLEGE GIRLS ROAD TRIP (3 minutes) writers/directors Brenda Fies and Elisabeth Fies; Q&A with stars Casey Whalen and Sarah Walsh
-HARD TO DO (8 minutes) director Elisabeth Fies, writer Kit Williamson Q&A
11:55am-12:15pm BREAK: Open Bar, Red Carpet, Mixer

12:15pm-12:25pm Live One Woman Show
Part 2 of Candice Rankin's UNDER THE HOOD

12:25pm-1:30pm Shorts in Competition
-SLASHDANCE (8 minutes) by Cindy Baer Q&A
-TEPPAN DEAD (7 minutes) by Hilary B. Lavin
-NEIGHBORS (4 minutes) by Robyn Simms and Stephen Johnson Q&A
-ZEKE (15 minutes) by Dana Buning
-WE’RE JUST LIKE YOU (6 minutes) by Chelsea Christer Q&A Cast and Crew

presented live to director Lucky McKee (MAY, THE WOMAN), Q&A

1:40pm-2:10pm BREAK: Open Bar, Red Carpet, Mixer, I AM NANCY DVD
purchasing and signing

2:10pm-2:15pm LIVE MUSIC
Jamie Coon sings theme song "I AM NANCY"

2:15pm-2:20pm Audience Award Certificate presented

2:20pm-2:25pm Film Radar Award Certificate presented

Co-presented with Lori Bowen
I AM NANCY, 2011 (71 minutes)
Directed and produced by Arlene Marechal, produced by and starring Heather Langenkamp
In the autobiographical I AM NANCY, the focus is squarely on Heather Langenkamp and her unique experience playing Wes Craven's legendary teen heroine Nancy Thompson. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Heather asks the burning question: "Why Freddymania, and not Nancymania?" After personally experiencing the Freddy Krueger marketing craze, the rise of horror convention fandom and the phenomenon of eight Nightmare On Elm Street films, Heather reflects on the relevance of heroes in this modern age of monster lovers. Prepare to put yourself in Nancy's shoes and think about Elm Street in a whole
new way.

3:30pm-3:50pm Inanna Award presented live to director/producer Arlene Marechal and producer/star Heather Langenkamp, Q&A

May 19, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #72 - Escape 2000 (aka Turkey Shoot)

It's been a while since a movie's come into my life and been as entirely cool as Brian Trenchard-Smith's Escape 2000.  Originally titled Turkey Shoot, the 1982 film is an Australian concentration camp film with a The Most Dangerous Game style hook; as a bunch of rich folks who run the camp and what appears to be a real life wolfman (named Alph, which is pronounced like Alf!) stalk inmates that they've released into a secluded bit of forest. 
Utilizing Trenchard-Smith's unique vision of dystopia - and no doubt playing off the success of Mad Max a little bit - Escape 2000 is a brutal, gritty film that seems to be all about sticking it to your oppressors.  Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey star as inmates in the prison camp who become potential victims in their captors' game, and the opening scenes - which follow a brief montage of chaos and rioting - establish how these two peaceful protesters ended up in yellow jump suits.  There are plenty of parallels being made to World War II and the death camps we've all heard about - which is a bold statement to be made by a pulpy b-movie.  that's not to say Trenchard-Smith is exploiting Nazi death camps entirely, you can rest assured that the shower scenes in this movie feature far more nudity than they do genocide.
Then again, the camps aren't a nice place to be.  There are beatings, rapings, attempted rapings, and even a bit of genital-stuck-in-zipper action. Women and children are certainly not exempt from the violent guards, and the rich warden (Michael Craig) and his friends aren't doing the inmates any favors either.  In fact, it's the rich folk who decide to loose some of the more difficult inmates into the jungle for a bit of sport - the "turkey shoot" that the original title warns us of.
Though Railsback and Hussey's characters get top billing and early introductions, the rest of the hunted crew are given a bit of time to shine as well.  Most prominent is Rita, played by Lynda Stoner, who a suspected sex worker who - like Hussey - has a bit too much make up on for the camp to be too called too sadistic.  Joining the chaos are Griff, a defiant and tall fellow who factors into one of the film's bigger overkills, and Dodge, a mousy redheaded fellow with Coke bottle glasses who provides a smidgen of comic relief.  I think it's only a smidgen, because the rest of the movie is seriously about different ways people can die.
I'm a little surprised to find that Escape 2000 is listed among the most brutal of Ozploitation films (read as: Australian Exploitation films).  I mean, there's some brutal stuff in here, but I found a lot of the kills to be tame in comparison to other things I've seen from the era.  This certainly isn't something like a Fulci film, which preaches gore for the sake of gore, and most of the kills are a little bit comical, like bloody versions of a Looney Tunes cartoon.  Maybe I'm just desensitized - in fact, I know I am - but I rarely found myself being exploited by what Trenchard-Smith put on screen.  (Then again, I was one when the film came out and am American, so what the hey do I know?)
What I did find was that I was having a ton of fun watching this story play out.  Railsback - who's long been a favorite over-the-top actor of mine - and Hussey are likeable as the leads, the supporting cast does a great job of diving into their roles (especially Roger Ward as the well-mustached head guard), and the musical score by Brian May (who I JUST NOW learned was NOT the guy from Queen!) is on par with his excellent work on the Mad Max films and Roadgames.  Trenchard-Smith has a ton of fun with the simple story, and Escape 2000 succeeds in a way few Dangerous Game inspired films have.  I'm pumped to watch this one again, and that's more than enough for me to quickly add it to a list of flicks I want on my side when midnight comes around.  With BMX Bandits and Stunt Rock showing up before it, 2011 is quickly becoming the year Brian Trenchard-Smith and I became good cinematic friends.

May 18, 2011

The Movies of The Mike's Years

Oh, lists.  You're so easy and fun and at the same time thought provoking and debatable.  You're like some crappy ABC series, and for that, I think I love you.

Long time Midnight Warrior Emily C over at The Quest to Watch Every Movie Ever recently brought up a list meme that's going around the cyber 'verse, and I, The Mike, decided it was about time I jumped in.  The rules for this list are pretty simple. For each year you've been alive, you pick a movie.  I'm gonna pick a movie from each year that I think most represents who I am as The Mike - and (in a break from FMWL tradition) I'm not even limiting myself to genre films!  That's right.  This one time, and one time only, you can look into what's going on in the other areas of The Mike's movie lovin' mind! (And yes, I realize that I'm like 431 in blogger years.  Sorry. Now let's do this!)
1981 - Escape From New York - John Carpenter's flick, led by the mega-antihero Snake Plissken, is too cool for school.  I can't get enough of its gritty universe.
1982 - Conan the Barbarian - The easy answer would have been The Thing, but since I just went with Carpenter I'll let my love for Mr. Schwarzenegger's films shine. Some of the drama between Conan and Subotai, as cheesy as it is, moves me.
1983 - Something Wicked This Way Comes - I'm a sucker for horror tales that focus on real human characters, and Ray Bradbury's tale of an ominous carnival that preys on human desires is a classic in my mind. (I almost went with Valley Girl, because I am a bit convinced I WAS a Valley Girl in a previous life. But then I was like, AS IF!)
1984 - Gremlins - For a child of the '80s, this is the gateway to old-school sci-fi and monster movies.  I still want a pet mogwai.
1985 - The Breakfast Club - A classic whose dramatic punch can't be understated.  The rare '80s film that improves with age.
1986 - Hoosiers - MAN, this was a tough year.  Ferris Bueller, Highlander, Transformers The Movie, Big Trouble in Little China - so many of my favorites.  But, as a movie nut and sports nut, I have to give an edge to my favorite sports movie, which gets me pumped up every time.
1987 - Adventures in Babysitting - It KILLS me (I do bleed) to not list Predator here.  But Adventures in Babysitting pretty much got me through my childhood.  Can I call this a tie?  Because I'll give up the rest of the '80s for both Adventures in Babysitting AND Predator!  Oh, and The Monster Squad too!
1988 - Die Hard - Though this was a great year for horror films - including They Live, which was the subject of my favorite thing I've ever written - I can't pass up what might be the Citizen Kane of action films.
1989 - The 'Burbs - There's no argument here.  This....this is my neighborhood.
1990 - Goodfellas - Oh look, a good movie thrown in for good measure!  I wanted to go with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, but Scorsese won the coin toss.
1991 - The Addams Family - I must have watched this update of the classic TV show a hundred times on HBO when I was young.  So many memorable lines and deep laughs, I just can't get enough of it.
1992 - Scent of a Woman - Pacino at his loudest.  Great stuff.
1993 - Wayne's World 2 - I can recite this movie from memory.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it contains instant happiness and relief from the world's problems. Excellent!
1994 - The Shawshank Redemption - Gaaaahhhhh, I kind of want to throw Ed Wood a bone for being black & white and about horror/sci-fi films gone by.  Alas, Shawshank is just too good.
1995 - Copycat - I'm picking this over some better thrillers (like Seven and Heat and The Usual Suspects) because my sister flat out loved it and I was always like "Meh, it's OK" to combat her - when in fact I totally loved it too. I admit it now for the world to see.
1996 - The Rock - This is the movie that made me who I am. Every passionate thought I've had about a film since June 7, 1996 was born when I saw The Rock that night.
1997 - Grosse Pointe Blank - I don't give Cusack enough respect these days (probably because most of what he's done the last decade sucked hard), but the man used to be an icon to me.  Grosse Pointe Blank, like The 'Burbs before it, wins my dark comedy lovin' heart.
1998 -The Spanish Prisoner - This is another year where I love a lot of movies.  Out of Sight, Rushmore, and The Truman Show are all personal faves.  But The Spanish Prisoner is just the kind of mystery that speaks to me, and I get caught up in it like I have few films since Hitchcock.  Mamet rules.
1999 - American Beauty - It's cliche now because everyone followed it and mimicked it, but this movie really did move me deeply when I first saw it.  It still remains among my very favorite movies.
2000 - High Fidelity - My roommate at the time swears up and down that Jack Black's character in this film was based on me.  I can't confirm or deny this, but you should know that I'm a surprisingly awesome singer. (OK, maybe I'm just an awesome singer in my mind. BUT DON'T YOU DARE CRUSH MY DREAMS!)
2001 - Lantana - This is another underseen human-based thriller - like The Spanish Prisoner - that just catches me and doesn't let me go.  Oh, and Barbara Hershey's in it!
2002 - Dog Soldiers - 2002 was one heckuva year for films Mike loves.  Spider-Man changed my perceptions and revived the young Mike who wanted to be a superhero, Minority Report ruled, Moonlight Mile and The Salton Sea both moved me deeply. But, Dog, it gets my blood pumping like nothing since The Rock can.  Tonight that's the winner.
2003 - Big Fish - I'm not usually one to fall supremely in love with a movie, but this was in my Top 5 of all-time after first viewing.  It's been years since I watched it and the memory has faded a bit - I overloaded hardcore when it was in theater and I had free passes - but the thought of it still gets me a little misty eyed.
2004 - Spartan - More Mamet.  Like Spanish Prisoner and Lantana, this one haunts me with its depth and intrigue.  Also features what might be the most amazing musical score ever to hit my mind.
2005 - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Back to back wins for Val Kilmer, who teams with Robert Downey Jr. in what is probably my favorite film since at least Big Fish.  It's just a ton of improper fun.
2006 - V for Vendetta - I'm a little surprised to find this atop my Flickchart for 2006, but I am quite the fan of this dystopian action tale.  And Natalie Portman is my birthday twin, so why not?
2007 - Hot Fuzz - I like to think that Nick Frost's character in this movie was based off of me. Little hand says it's time to rock and roll...
2008 - Iron Man - Aside from The Fantastic Four - whose movie sucked (OK, I loved the first one, but I'm not admitting it here) - Iron Man was my favorite hero as a kid.  Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. brought him to me and made me quite happy.  For that, I salute them.
2009 - Watchmen - My comic nerd twist continues, as Zack Snyder's epic version of the graphic novel wowed me.  It might not have been an exact follower of the comic, but it's as good as we can dream to see.
2010 - Monsters - This is a tough one to call, as most movies from 2010 are still pretty new to me, but Monsters is one I've seen at least five times already.  So it gets the vote for now, we'll see how time treats it.
2011 - Dawning - While I could go with films that actually came out this year in theaters - if I did it'd be a toss-up between Thor and Hanna thus far - I'm gonna show some love to a film that hits DVD in June, Gregg Holtgrewe's Dawning.  It's a movie that's meant a lot to me on its own merits, but it's also special because Gregg has been a great friend of FMWL and a gracious recipient of feedback from myself and some other bloggers.  I hope that you'll have a chance to understand this pick more when it hits DVD June 28th,  and you can click HERE to add it to your Netflix queue today!