Don’t Open Till Christmas

tn_dontopenIn Victorian England there was a tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. This is what gave us A Christmas Carol, of course, but is it a dead tradition otherwise? Well, I don’t know. There are an awful lot of Christmas-themed horror movies. There’s enough of ‘em out there that I still haven’t seen nearly all of them. Maybe that’s what the ghost stories turned into over the years.

Or maybe SILENT NIGHT, DEADY NIGHT just reminded everybody that killer Santas are a fun idea. I don’t know. Anyway, this year I chose to watch a British one I didn’t know much about, DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS, released on DVD by the Mondo Macabro label (who usually put out things much crazier and more exotic than this).

This was made at the same time as SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (they both came out in winter of 1984), but it’s the reverse of a killer Santa movie. This is about a guy who goes around killing Santas! He’s unseen, face off camera, like a killer in a giallo. But in the American slasher tradition he’s a puritanical executioner. The Santas he kills are all doing something he apparently disapproves of: having sex, being drunk, going to see a stripper, throwing an awesome disco costume party, etc. (read the rest of this shit…)

Top Five

tn_topfiveI usually have a hard time writing about comedies, but TOP FIVE is a moment worth commemorating: the point when Chris Rock finally became the filmmaker he always seemed like he wanted to be.

Not that he really needed that. The man has come a long way since having to play Luther Campbell on Saturday Night Live because he’s the only black guy. He’s reached the heights of standup, done some smart television, hosted the Oscars, produced GOOD HAIR and POOTIE TANG*, and yes, been funny in movies. But to me it seemed like his movies were always compromised in some way. Can you point to the one (or more) great Chris Rock vehicle? CB4 maybe?

I remember when he directed HEAD OF STATE I had high hopes. That’s about all I remember. Well, the one thing that made an impression was that it had narration sung by Nate Dogg.

TOP FIVE finally feels like that pure personal expression he’s been on the verge of. Not because he plays a comedian trying to be taken more seriously, but because his talents and passions are all over this. It’s a conversation movie. His character, comedian-turned-movie-star-tired-of-comedy Andre Allen, is being profiled by New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) on the eve of his movie about the Haitian Revolution and his Bravo-sponsored wedding to a reality show star (Gabrielle Union). (read the rest of this shit…)

Cyborg

tn_cyborgYears ago when I saw a little movie called DOUBLE TEAM I remember coming out of the theater and running into an acquaintance, a friend of a friend named Corey who was waiting for the next show. We got to talking about Van Damme, and it was kind of shameful how many of them he mentioned that I hadn’t seen. So this guy decides right then and there that we’re gonna meet once a week in a neutral location and we’re gonna watch a Van Damme movie. And I don’t remember how long we did that but it was probly a month or two of important learning. You know, it’s the same as with KICKBOXER or BLOODSPORT, you try to find a mentor or a buddy to take you under his wing, and that’s how you get your start. So shout out to Corey. And I hope I’m doing my part to pass on these lessons to the next generation.

Anyway, that was the last time I saw CYBORG. On a screen bigger than I’ve ever owned, but full frame VHS, and when I was younger and dumber in my ongoing journey to filmatistic enlightenment. Here’s all I remember: Van Damme doing the splits between two walls, a guy with sunglasses grunting, being bored.

Okay, I wasn’t that far off, this is sitll a bit of a chore for me to get through, but I repsect it more at this stage in my evolution. CYBORG is from the Cannon Group, it’s directed by our friend Albert Pyun, it doesn’t really have any concepts that separate it much from other post-apocalypse movies (with a little BLADE RUNNER and TERMINATOR influence thrown in the mix), but the thing I didn’t get back then is that it’s a fuckin art movie. The plot is minimalistic, there’s very little dialogue, lots of wind and dreamy slow motion. Van Damme plays a mysterious figure apparently called “Gibson Rickenbacker,” a so-called “slinger” or bounty hunter helping a woman named Pearl (Dayle Haddon, NORTH DALLAS FORTY) who has the cure for a deadly plague to travel through the wasteland to Atlanta. And she’s part robot, by the way. (read the rest of this shit…)

Comin’ at Ya!

tn_cominatyaSometimes something you never thought would happen happens, and you can hardly believe it. For example when they finally freed Mandela, or a couple days ago when Obama announced he was normalizing relations with Cuba, or in this case when they re-released the legendary 1981 3D movie COMIN’ AT YA! in modern digitally projected 3D.

This is a very limited release I’m afraid, I doubt it’ll come to too many of your cities, if any, and I know most of you are like me and don’t have a 3D TV if it ever comes to that. But if you like seeing things poke out of a screen then definitely check and see if it’s possible to catch this one. It’s a treasure.

The title COMIN’ AT YA! is not a lie. Especially the exclamation point. The stereoscopic mission statement of this movie is in extreme opposition to the modern conventional wisdom that it’s bad for 3D to have gimmicks and things reaching out at you. The philosophy here is to stick knives in both eyes of the modern limp 3D and then pull them out and then jab them in and repeat and repeat and repeat. To date I think my favorite 3D experiences have been FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D and the three Robert Zemeckis mocap movies. Even compared to those, this is by far the 3Dest movie I’ve ever seen.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Hatchet III

tn_hatchet3Ever since I was a little kid (give or take decades) I’ve always wanted to like the HATCHET movies. They talk a good game about bringing back “old school horror,” they’re throwbacks to the ’80s slashers I’m in love with, they have Kane Hodder as a deformed hillbilly swamp maniac and some funny gore ideas. I also kinda liked writer/director Adam Green’s other movie FROZEN, which of course is sweeping the nation and capturing the hearts of little princesses of all ages who want to see a thriller about people stuck on a ski lift.

On paper HATCHET and HATCHET II are right up my alley, but in practice they took a different street. They’re not comedies, but I found them too self-conscious, too jokey, not atmospheric enough, not structured correctly to be an effective slasher story. I remember the first one as a bunch of actors walking around in a big group on a small, fake-looking swamp set pretending to be lost. I just couldn’t get into it.

So I’m proud to announce that I finally pulled it off. I really liked a HATCHET movie! Part III specifically. Maybe we can credit new director BJ McDonell (promoted from steadicam operator on the first two in the series), but to be fair I-II director Green did write this and was very hands-on as a producer from what I’ve read. Maybe practice makes perfect. After 10,000 hours of making HATCHET movies you get really good at it, like Malcolm McDowell says. (read the rest of this shit…)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

tn_tmnt14TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) is director Jonathan Liebesman (BATTLE LOS ANGELES, WRATH OF THE TITANS, TEXAS CHAINSAW BEGINNINGS: THE FINDING OF THE SAW) and the Platinum Dunes company’s modernized retelling of the classic tale of Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello, the humanoid turtle monsters who are discovered by a human reporter living in a giant underground sewer home and are trained in ninjitsu by a talking rat so they enjoy pizza but at night they sneak out to fight crime and there’s this Japanese guy with armour who wants to kill them because–

You know what, on second thought this is not a story, this is a half-assed explanation for a joke title some guys came up with in the ’80s that, through some bizarre series of mishaps and coincidences, accidentally became a multi-million dollar pop culture/merchandising juggernaut. Nobody knows why or ever will. It was even on Unsolved Mysteries.

Seriously, I saw part of a documentary on these turtles, and it explained how the hugely popular cartoon show was built around the toys they wanted to sell. The people who made the cartoon seemed totally surprised and confused that it was something that people liked so much. It’s funny to see them try to explain in retrospect that historic moment when a voice actor said “Cowabunga!” and they decided to use it. It seems like they figure it must’ve been brilliant, but I don’t think they get it any more than I do.

This new version is pretty much a simplified rehash of the previous movie version, from what I can remember. You still got TV reporter April O’Neil (like the porn star), now played by Megan Fox, and she discovers that “a vigilante” stopped an attempted chemical robbery by “The Foot Clan,” who are masked paramilitary guys now instead of ninjas, except for Shredder and a couple other people at the top. Here’s the thing though: she keeps trying to take pictures and video on her phone. That’s why they had to do a remake. THIS IS HOW WE LIVE TODAY. (read the rest of this shit…)

Psycho Cop Returns

tn_psychocopreturnsPSYCHO COP RETURNS is a huge leap ahead of part 1. Yes, it’s one of those purposely cheesy self-aware horror movies from the Troma era. Broad acting and stereotypes, big-haired, big-boobed female characters there more for the stripping scenes than for anything else, douchebag characters who frequently hoot and holler about booze and tits, cheesy keyboard-badly-imitating-an-orchestra score. And it’s the type of movie where the third billed actor is “1993 Penthouse Pet of the Year Julie Strain,” kind of like how Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s kickboxing titles were sometimes included on the opening credits.

And it’s not a great movie. But it’s almost instantly clear that they’re trying to do a good version of that type of bad movie. The opening few minutes – two dudes encountering the Psycho Cop (still Bobby Ray Shafer) at a donut shop, followed by an opening credits montage of gorey body parts piled inside his patrol car – shows much more signs of effort than the entirety of part 1. It smacks of “This is gonna be stupid, but let’s go for it!,” and that attitude is pretty infectious.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Psycho Cop

tn_psychocopPSYCHO COP is no MANIAC COP, I’ll tell you that. You know, MANIAC COP is a low budget indie exploitation movie, but it’s the kind with scope. The kind where they use all the resources they have, sneak shots on location, try to push the envelope on stunts, stretch the budget, get as much bang for the nickel as they possibly can. The kind that were made to play in a theater in Times Square for a while but that people are still interested in today. PSYCHO COP (which came out between MANIAC COPs 1 and 2) is the other kind.

Instead of an action-horror hybrid this is a generic shitty slasher with its closest thing to a redeeming value being the cop-themed killer, Officer Joe Vickers (played by Bobby Ray Shafer, now best known as Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration on The Office). He’s an officer who suddenly goes on a killing spree. Also he’s satanic. In the opening he puts on his uniform in a dingy apartment with a pentagram painted on the wall and candles everywhere. He dips his hands in a bowl of blood before putting on his sunglasses. Later he sets up a bunch of wooden crosses in the woods for a ritual. (read the rest of this shit…)

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence

tn_maniaccop3In the tradition of MANIAC COP 2, MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE begins with footage from the end of the last one. Undead Maniac Cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar)’s honor guard funeral is intercut with new scenes of a voodoo priest (Julius Harris, also in Larry Cohen’s BLACK CAESAR) stabbing a head with a ritualistic dagger and chanting. So now we know that part 2’s CARRIE-esque ending is actually a voodoo curse. Man, first Chucky, then Screwface, now this. What the bloodclot, voodoo?

Robert Davi returns as Mac, who is investigating these voodoo guys and suspects a connection to Cordell. Claudia Christian’s character Riley doesn’t show, but there’s another female lead (Gretchen Becker), a younger officer nicknamed “Maniac Kate” for her Dirty Harry type approach to law enforcement. Mac knows her mother and considers her a kid sister, but seems kind of flirtatious in their first scene together at the gun range (hopefully now renamed The Six Target-Shooting Officers Killed By Maniac Cop In Part 2 Memorial Gun Range) where they take turns shooting the target while she vents about getting in trouble for shooting an attempted rapist. Mac says she should’ve waited a little longer so she could’ve shot more than just an attempted rapist. Classy.

Maniac Kate responds to a pharmacy holdup by a crazed pill-feaster (Jackie Earle Haley in the movie that came before the one that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor). Kate and the junkie end up in the hospital, the hostage dead, and a pair of sleazy tabloid video journalists film the whole thing and broadcast an edited version that makes her look like she was in the wrong. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fury Road teaser

In 2015 there’s gonna be a new STAR WARS picture, a new BATMAN LOVES SUPERMAN picture, I believe an AVENGERS PART 2, a CAPTAIN AMERICA PART 3, a new TERMINATOR, a new HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY,  a new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, a new FANTASTIC FOUR, probly a couple Spidermans and X-Mans, JURASSIC WORLD, E.T. SPRING BREAK, and many other big movies. All of them stacked up on top of each other won’t reach the knee pads of my man Mad Max Fury Rockatansky II.

(I didn’t include FURIOUS 7 or JUPITER ASCENDING in that list because they might tip the scales)

This seems like a trailer too big for Imax and here I am watching it on my computer. But I couldn’t ignore it, it had to be acknowledged here. All hail George Miller. (read the rest of this shit…)