May 062019
 
The Emperor of Darkness has a familiar tan.

Orgy of the Dead is a 1965 movie written by legendary shitty director, Ed Wood. The premise is that a couple have a car crash near the wrong graveyard. At least, I think it is a car crash as the budget didn’t allow money for a car or a crash so we just have to rely on sound effects and a spinning camera. The couple wakes up and the woman blames the man for the accident. They stumble towards the graveyard where they hear music.

See, this isn’t your normal graveyard. No, this is a special place where the ‘Emperor’ rises from a coffin, gives a long monologue about the forces of darkness, and is then attended by a Vampira knockoff. Together they sit and watch as damned souls entertain them.

How do the damned entertain the Emperor? With burlesque acts of course! Each act is preceded by a short bio from the Vampira knockoff. For example, “She killed her husband on her wedding night, and now must dance with her husband’s skeleton forever!”

The damned soul then comes in a costumer, dances a little, then the camera cuts away and when it returns, the woman’s clothes are gone except for her panties. She then dances for way too long. The Emperor says whether they please him or not and we move on to the next dancer. Rinse, wash, repeat.

At one point, the couple gets caught by a Wolfman and a Mummy, who bring them to the Emperor. The couple is then tied up and forced to watch more burlesque acts. The drama of the film is whether the Emperor will let the Vampira knockoff kill the woman before the sun rises.

Now, I hope that what I described does not sound interesting because this movie was super dull. The burlesque acts go on way too long and though some of the women clearly have talent, the emphasis of every act is the dancer shaking their boobs as much as possible. The acting is worse than you can imagine. The graveyard is so cheap looking that I have seen better presentations at Party City. The Wolfman and the Mummy are the comic relief, and are remarkably not funny at all.

The only upside to this movie was the Emperor and the Vampira knockoff. The Emperor is played by Criswell, a psychic known for some of the stupidest predictions ever. Criswell flips back and forth between being a master of evil and a slightly bored narrator. He does have a good voice and if he was more well known, he would the source of a dozen memes.

The Vampira knockoff was played by Fawn Silver. Unlike Vampira, Fawn can act and she might be the only one acting in this movie. She doesn’t have Vampira’s extreme features but her more curvier body makes her nice to watch. Her eagerness to strip and stab the living woman brings the only real sexual friction to the movie. It is a shame that she is not more remembered.

Orgy of the Dead ends with the sun rising and the couple waking back up. Was it a dream? Nah, more likely it was a cheap movie made to sell tickets by showing tits.

Jan 292019
 

Tampopo is a 1986 Japanese comedy about the delights of food. A milk truck driver wearing a cowboy hat comes across a single mother who is about to go out of business because her noodle shop sucks. The truck driver decides to help and because this movie was heavily inspired by Westerns, he assembles an unlikely group of experts to save her shop. Think of the Magnificent Seven except it is more like the Delicious Five.

The plot alone would make this movie a classic but what elevates this movie to greatness is that the many segues the director takes from the main story. Like a sketch comedy show, the camera will drift away to follow a passing character who stars in their own vignette. We see a business lunch at a French restaurant where none of the senior bosses know what to order but then the junior (and much abused) member shows them up with his mastery of the menu. At several points we see a gangster and his moll having the most sensual food sex scenes ever filmed. My favorite story might be the harried mother who rises from near-death to cook one last meal while in a walking coma for her begging family. These self-contained stories have nothing to do with the main plot except for showing another way that people interact with food.

This movie is a delight. It is amazing that it was made in 1986 because it feels like a prophecy of food culture, and food television, of the 2000’s. It explains the difference between a bad noodle place and a good one. There is a renovation scene where an expert describes the proper height for a noodle bar that could come from any current restaurant rescue show. Every other scene is filled with tips on improving your ramen soup that feels completely natural for the movie.

There is a new 2016 restoration of the movie now available. I highly recommend it as it looks gorgeous. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you have plenty of food on hand because you will get hungry.

Jan 232019
 

In Phantasm 4, we pick up right after the thrilling events of Phantasm 3. Remember how Ice cream vendor, Reggie, was surrounded by a hundred killer spheres and Kid Shooter got ripped through a window by a Jawa? Well, I’m glad you do because the movie shows the Tall Man letting Reggie go but at no point does Reggie look for or mention Kid Shooter.

That kid is dead.

Anyhoo, Reggie doesn’t know why the Tall Man let him go and Reggie doesn’t care. He’s tired of this shit. He just wants to go back to being a cool middle-aged ice cream man and forget all this dead body/killer sphere shit. The ghost of Jody tries to talk some sense into Reggie but Reggie is done.

Meanwhile, Mike is his own and keeps having flashbacks to when he was a kid. The reason for this is the director found three hours of unreleased footage from the last movie and by the ghost of Vincent Price, he is going to get as much of that footage into this movie as possible.

That sounds harsh from me, but the result is kind of interesting. Mike is having several existential crises moments as the Tall Man appears, says something cryptic, and then Mike remembers something that may or might not have happened. Half of the movie is Mike sitting in the desert, wondering if any of this is real. You know, the Phantasm brand of not understanding shit about what is going on.

The other half of the movie is Reggie running into weird shit. He gets pulled over by a monster in a cop car, with the original cop crammed into the car trunk like a broken Transformer. Reggie also finds a hot chick way out of his league who is another obvious trap but at least she has a sensible name like Jennifer before her boobs come to life and try to kill him. Honestly, Reggie has the cool adventures while Mike has all the trippy weird shit.

Reggie and Mike finally reunite and find out some secrets about the Tall Man. See, the Tall Man was once a kind and gentle Civil War-era mortician who did some experiments in dimensional portals as he tried to understand the afterlife. One day, The kindly doctor makes a portal, steps through but then the Tall Man comes back wearing his body. Oops! Went to the wrong dimension, buddy.

At least, I think that is what happened. It’s Phantasm so your guess is as good as mine.

In the end, Mike uses his psychic powers to blow up the Tall Man, killing him for sure thi-nope, the Tall Man literally re-appears a few seconds later. The Tall Man rips a golden sphere out of Mike’s head, perhaps killing Mike, and then stepping through a portal. Reggie chases after the Tall Man through the portal.

As Mike lies dying, he remembers/imagines riding with Reggie in his ice cream truck when Mike was a kid. They hear sounds from the present day but dismiss them as the wind.

This is the cheapest of the Phantasm movies, made with a mere 650K. It certainly shows, but it actually helps the story. The 2nd and 3rd movie were action movies while this has dialed back down to personal horror. Reggie will always be getting jumped by monsters while Mike will always struggle with not understanding the fuck out of anything. Is Mike even human? Is the Tall Man real? Is anything real? Maybe the entire movie franchise is Mike’s nightmares as a child, still mourning the loss of his brother and family. We don’t know! Mike sure as fuck doesn’t know.

Which is maybe why Phantasm is my favorite movie franchise. It is illogical, callus with characters’ lives with an inscrutable near-invincible villain: just like a nightmare.


Dec 192018
 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology movie with six stories set in the American Wild West. The themes range from “Death will get you” to “No, seriously, Death will fucking get you.”

That is not a joke. Sudden death is a presence in every story.  It was jarring at first but once you accept it, the stories meld together to form a wonderful tapestry about the lethality of the Old West. By the time the sixth story rolls around, you will be nodding wisely as the characters discuss perplexing a man’s final moments can be.

This movie feels like a rebuttal to the discussions involving No Country for Old Men. Critics complained that the ending of that movie was too off, without a satisfying final battle. This movie feels like it is trying again to explain to audiences that stories don’t kill characters, characters kill themselves by the nature of who they are.

The first story, featuring Buster Scruggs, is about a singing cowboy that happens to be a murder machine to anyone who crosses him. That is easily the funniest story, although the second story about a luckless bank robber is pretty close. The third story is a silent, haunting story was too bleak for my wife to continue watching, but that story lingered with me the most and I think about it often.

After the grimness of the the third story, the fourth story, based on a Jack London story, inserts some life and beauty before returning to the theme of death. The fifth story is a lovely romance and the sixth is a delightful meta-story about the themes. 

As good as the stories are, the scenery steals the movie. Gorgeous shot after shot of the Western landscape made me nostalgic for a place I have never been. Even the imagery in the third story is breathtaking with its icy bleakness. The accompanying music is perfect and the soundtrack is a delight.

I am a big Coen Brother fan, and this one shoots to the top of my favorites list.

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Nov 192018
 

In the last Phantasm movie, Mike and Psychic Girl were ripped out of the backseat of a hearse even though the Tall Man was absolutely, positively, no way out of this dead.  The third movie picks up with the Tall Man stepping out of a portal and walking past his corpse. What? How is that possible? Forget thinking about it reader, this is Phantasm.

The movie cuts to Mike and Psychic Girl getting ripped out of the hearse. Mike, now played by his original actor, wakes up and oops, Psychic Girl is dead and has her head chopped off. Tall Man is coming for Mike but Reggie, the world’s greatest ice cream vendor, saves him. Mike then slips into a coma. Two years pass with Mike in a coma.

Okay, bear with me because this is things get weird, even for a Phantasm movie. While in a coma, Mike is visited by the ghost of his brother Jody. Jody helps Mike snap out of his coma just in time to fight off a evil maybe-possessed nurse. Once Mike is awake, he finds out his brother’s brain was placed inside one of the killer spheres. Yes, the secret ingedient for making a cool killer sphere is human brains. Jody broke free of his control and is now helping Mike!

Right until Mike gets kidnapped. Sigh.

Now Reggie has to go save Mike, again. Along the way, he picks up a small child who is the last survivor of his town, and incidentally, a crack shot with a pistol. Reggie also picks up a kick-ass black woman who was in the Army and wields nunchucks. Tagging along with this insane group is Jody, the renegade-now-good-guy killer sphere.

If Phantasm was a dream and Phantasm II was an 80’s action movie, then Phantasm III is a tabletop role-playing group. The guy playing Reggie refuses to roll a new character, there is the guy who min-maxes so he has the best fighter but his disadvantage is that he is a child, there is the woman playing her tough woman character from a streetfight game, and finally, you have the one player who insists on breaking the theme of simple humans against dark forces and wants to play a dark force-turned-good.

 

And you know what? It is fucking glorious. It doesn’t matter how many players or characters there are, the Tall Man is still awesome and they just gives him more people to fuck up.

there is a big climatic battle and we find out the secret to his immortality: the fucker is just a meat puppet for the killer sphere inside his head! Creepy! You gotta kill the sphere if you want to kill the evil man.

Oh, and Mike is just a killer sphere inside a body too. What? How? Why? This changes everything, maybe? I feel like I have been Phantasmed.

So the gang kills the Tall Man and his sphere for good this time. The cool woman decides to leave the party before the Phantasm tradition of the heroes getting fucked at the end of the movie and good for her. That player has been paying attention. Mike leaves too, probably to wonder the earth, visiting town after town and solving their problems but then moving on because of his dark secret.

What about Reggie and Kid Shooter? Well, Reggie gets swarmed by like a hundred killer spheres. Turns out the Tall Man has been busy. Kid Shooter tries to save him but then the Tall Man FUCKING APPEARS EVEN THOUGH THAT BASTARD SHOULD BE DEAD FOR REAL THIS TIME. Before Kid Shooter can complain to the gamemaster, Jawas grab him from behind and pull him through a door.

Sorry Kid Shooter, you should know better than have your back against anything in a Phantasm movie.

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Oct 312018
 

Haunting on Hill House is a tight ten episode series on Netflix about a doomed family who once lived in a very doomed house. The series is split between the past, when the family used to live in the haunted house, and the present, where the surviving members of the family try to deal with the PTSD of their experiences. They are pretty haunted.

Haunted house stories follow a set pattern. There is the naive family who has no idea what is going on, followed by creepy incidents until everyone realizes they are haunted, which usually leads to some investigations into the history of the house and ends with the collective decision to somehow fight the ghosts. The flashback style of the show short-circuits most of that. There never is an investigation phase for one thing.  For most of the series, half the characters never realize there are ghosts. There is still a fight with ghosts at the end, but the rest of the series breaks all the usual patterns to present a unique kind of ghost story.

Well, maybe not that unique. The director, Mike Flanagan, got his start with Absentia. If you ever saw that soul crusher of a movie, then you are moderately prepared for Haunting of Hill House.  See, there might be supernatural weirdness and ghosts in both stories but the real horror is grief and how we deal with it. Flanagan uses Hill House to tell the story of each family member dealing with the death of the beloved mother. One resorts to drugs, one uses major denial and fictionalizing the events, one uses meaningless relationships, one turns to controlling her life and family and the other, well, the other is still dealing with a ghost that keeps harassing her at the worse moments of her life, but you get the idea.

But I don’t want to give you the feeling that this is all sorrow and woe. There is a lot of really creepy ghost shit. There is not a single jump scare as it uses slowly creeping dread to make sure you are afraid to walk down a dark hallway alone.

There is also a lot of strength. These characters have gone through Hell, and those who fight are some of the most inspiring characters you will see in a ghost story. Once you understand how truly fucked these characters are, every triumph they accomplish is just that much more amazing.

I can safely say that Haunting of Hill House has been the highlight of this October. Creepy, smart and infused with real emotion, it is all the best that horror can be.

Oct 232018
 

Halloween is a strange franchise. The first movie is arguably the greatest slasher movie of all time. The sequels however, are among some of the worse in movie franchise history. There have been attempts to recreate the magic of the first movie by bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis a few times, but rarely do those movies work. Rob Zombie tried rebooting the franchise in typical Rob Zombie style, to debatable success. Now we have Halloween 2018, a movie which is a direct sequel to the first and ignores 40 years of sequel history.

To my great delight, it works. I would say this movie is as good as the original, which is something I never thought I would be saying. Maybe it is John Carpenter’s new music which makes the movie feel so sinister, or maybe it is Jamie Lee Curtis’s involvement as a producer which gets the important parts right, but whatever the reason, the movie is fun, scary and chilling.

One element that worked for me is Jamie Lee’s character of Laurie. Ever since Terminator 2, we as audiences have been taught that if a woman survives a killer than she transforms into a bad ass in later movies. That’s cool and I am all for it, in this movie, Laurie comes across as a bad ass AND someone deeply traumatized by what she went through. Sure, she shoots guns, trains in fighting and has a secret bunker but she also has shaking fits when she sees Michael and breaks into tears during confrontations. Every cool thing she does to fight back is made ten times more impressive by the fact that you know Laurie is scared shitless doing it. That’s a powerful detail that resonates with me, and is true of most trauma survivors I know in real life.

Another element I enjoyed was the obsession some characters had with finding out what makes Michael Myers tick. These characters are fixated on the fact Michael has never spoken or explained his actions. They pester Michael and other characters to provide clues for Michael’s psyche, as if there can be some great rational theory that explains everything. This quest for answers is a human thing to do, but it is also a movie audience thing to do, as the audience craves anwsers. Studios crave anwsers too, which is why we get reboots with extended scenes about Michael’s childhood.

But the theme of Halloween almost anti-intellectual. Laurie, the heroine, and the late Dr. Loomis, the therapist who knew Michael best, simply state that there is no understanding of Michael because he is pure evil. It is a the opposite of everything we are taught in a world that puts psychological forensic science on a pedestal.  It is also against out forgiving nature to think that every bad person has a reason. The idea that some people are just monsters is too frightening to comprehend. The movie even takes time to wipe out the theories put in past movies that Laurie is related to Michael. They want to make it clear that Michael has no reason, rational or irrational, for hunting Laurie.

As for the rest of the movie, I really enjoyed it. Michael, who is really just a bastard in a mask, is terrifyingly efficient in this movie. He is like a shark that finds a deadly object, then finds someone to use that object on, and then looks for a new toy and a new victim. Rinse, wash, repeat. Sometimes he mutilates the bodies and poses them in Halloween theme displays. Why? Who the fucks knows.

So you should go out and watch the movie in theaters while you can. After you do so, be sure to pick up the soundtrack so you can never rest easy in your house again.

Oct 122018
 

Z Nation is a zombie apocalypse show on the SyFy channel. I am personally sick of all things zombies, but Z Nation is in its 5th season and I keep coming back to it. Why?

My pitch for Z Nation is imagine Walking Dead if it was fun. It is created by the same studio that makes Sharknado but the show never hits that level of campy stupudity. Instead, it opts for the kind of wild hijinks you except in a tabletop role-playing game where people have a loose grasp on biology and physics. yes, early on there is a tornado with zombies in it but later there is a guy who collects zombies of famous dead people. There was a wonderful group of survivors who were trapped at a team-building exercise and now can only communicate through the talking stick. There types of zombies that range from plant monsters to zombie bears. This show has imagination.

The other reason for watching Z Nation is that they have a black woman, named Warren, who is their leader and resident bad-ass. It is refreshing to see a black woman in charge in a genre show. Warren has so many great moments over five seasons that she is one of my favorite action heroines in any show.

The other great character is Murphy. He is a prisoner who received an experimental dose of zombie cure in the early days of the apocalypse. After surviving twenty zombies bites, Murphy becomes the most important man in America and now the heroes need to transport him to a lab on the other side of the country.

There are other great characters like Doc the aging hippie, 10K the not-psychotic sniper, Addy the tomboy who’s good with gadgets and others. People come and go in this series like any zombie show, but these characters all have meaningful moments and die much more heroic deaths. No one gets their brains bashed in on the side of the road by a nutjob with a bat.

So yeah, if you are burned out on zombies, or burned out on sad people hacking parts off of each other, give Z Nation a try.

Oct 102018
 

Phantasm 2 opens with a young woman talking about the dreams she is having. Because this is the 80’s and the woman is blonde, she has psychic abilities. Her dreams recap the events of of the first Phantasm and adds the helpful bit of info that the main villain, the Tall Man, is coming for her.

We cut to the last few minutes of the first movie where Mike gets pulled through a mirror in his bedroom. never fear, because Reggie, the middle-age balding icer cream vendor is there to save him! Well, not so much as Reggie gets trapped in the kitchen with an empty shotgun and surrounded by the Jawas of the first movie. Reggie solves this problem by turning on the gas on his oven real high, grabbing Mike and then jumping out the window as his house explodes in fireball. Wow!

Except none of that happened. We see Mike, all grown up and looking sour in an insane asylum. See, he imagined all of that. Whoa, something happened and then it turned out to not be real? You just got Phantasm’d!

Anyhoo, Mike gets released from the asylum by pretending to be sane and the first thing the kid does is dig up the local cemetery. Turns out there are no bodies in those graves, which even Reggie thinks is suspicious. Reggie still isn’t sure about Mike and his psychic visions until Mike has a vision of their house exploding with all of their family. Two seconds later, the house explodes and kills all of their family. Well, Reggie is on board now. It is time to go hunting a Tall Man, his Jawas and his killer flying spheres.

After the dreamlike quality of the first movie, the sequel is pretty straightforward. Mike and Reggie go from town to town, following the Tall Man’s trail. They load up on weapons and make a few of their own because that is what you did in the 80’s. Just ask McGyver and the A-Team. They run into a few traps before finally finding psychic girl from the beginning of the movie. when she gets kidnapped, they launch an attack on the Tall Man’s new funeral home, which is just as deadly as the first one. Things blow up and damsels are narrowly saved.

You could argue that this movie is more of an action movie rather than the horror movie that the first one was. There are a lot of fight scenes and close calls. This movie had the biggest budget of any of the Phantasm movies at a whopping three million dollars and it shows in the bigger explosions and stunts. This movie hads a mythology of the Tall man slowly killing small towns across America and you can tell the studio really wanted to make this into a franchise.

There are still some creepy moments though. The shots of abandoned small towns are unsettling. The Tall Man has some human henchmen, called Gravers, that are never explained. Their wiliness to participate in these atrocities heightens the malice. The Jawas are still almost laughable except for one or two scenes that remind you that they are reanimated corpses.

The small budget means there is a lack of even background actors, which gives the movie a desolate feel,. Every set looks empty because there are at most four characters in any scene. I know if this was deliberate, but it reinforces the idea that America is slowing dying off. It also the closest the movie gets to feeling like a nightmare.

All in all, this feels like the dumber bigger brother to the classic of the first movie, but still a lot of fun to watch. Reggie is the only guy in horror who looks like a regular joe and that means a lot.

As for the Tall Man, he’s still a creepy mother-fucker.

 

 

 

Oct 012018
 

Slice is a 2018 movie that opens with the murder of a pizza delivery person who was making a delivery in Ghost town. What is Ghost town? Well, the city of Kingfisher realized they had a terrible ghost, witch and werewolf problem that probably had something to do with the local asylum that kidnapped, experimented on and then murdered their patients in a mass grave of 40,000 people. To fix the problem, the town bulldozed the asylum, paved over it and then moved the ghosts to their own part of town. The ghosts live in their own part of town and some even hold jobs in the regular part of the city. Problem solved!

What happened to the mass grave that got paved over? Well, they built a strip mall on it and in the strip mall is the same pizza place that employs the delivery person who was murdered. Hmm. Maybe the problem wasn’t solved.

As you can tell, it is a crazy movie. There are more murders of pizza delivery people and an ex-girlfriend of one of the delivery folks, played by the awesome Zazie Beetz, decides to go on a quest for justice and revenge. There is a crooked mayor played to perfection by Chris Parnell and a group of mean ladies who are trying to get the pizza place demolished to put the souls of the mass grave to rest. There is also a sloppy cop, a bright-eyed reporter lady and a handsome werewolf suspect. The movie is often stolen by the ghost employee of the pizza place repeating omens of doom than any Malachi would be proud of.

Now, I said this movie was crazy. I don’t know if I would call it good. It has some pacing problems but it has some laugh out loud moments and there are some plot twists that legitimately took me by surprise. The best thing this movie has going for it is the cult movie sensibility where it works hard to be its own thing instead of miming other cult movies. I also want to point out that despite the subject matter, this is not a horror movie. The only blood is when someone gets their throat cut and you have seen more blood on CSI. It is a comedy movie.

Slice is original and that alone makes it worth your time.