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Friday, May 21, 2010

SAM'S LAKE: can a slasher flick be PC?

Sam's Lake (2005) seems like a typical slasher film -- a group of five young adults visit a cottage on a lake near another house where a legendary mass murder took place, despite warnings from local hicks that the area “ain't safe." Dolls made from corn husks are hanging from trees, and on any neighboring houses; a symbol like a simplified dream catcher has been made from carefully arranged stones in a nearby clearing. So far we've borrowed imagery from "Friday The 13th" and its myriad knockoffs, and "The Blair Witch Project."

After the obligatory campfire story of the local massacre, our crew pays a nighttime visit to the house where it took place. While there, they hear spooky noises and find a journal kept by the "slow" boy who committed the murders. They go back to the cottage and read from it aloud -- bad idea. A major plot twist comes to light -- in the most dramatic scene in the film -- and most of the characters spend the film's last act running for their lives from, well, let's not spoil it for those who haven't seen it. The action does really take off from this point, and the rest of the film is much more exciting than what preceded it.

I saw the plot twist coming; you may not, and even if you do, its revelation is handled very effectively. The twist itself is plausible, but the problem is, it makes a few scenes that happened before it seem implausible in retrospect (though you won't have time to think about that during the action-packed remainder of the film).

"Sam's Lake" gets a couple of things right; the characters are likable rather than annoying, and they all have our sympathy because they've all had to struggle with difficult life situations. They aren't -- as is too often the case -- annoying young snots we want to see killed, so we do feel afraid for them. And it helps that the cast is good. The movie also doesn't overdo the gore aspect (though the first killing of a principal character is pretty bloody and shocking.)

Speaking of the first principal character to get killed – spoiler ahead -- he’s the gay one. He’s Dominik (Salvatore Antonio), the only mildly queeny best friend of title character Sam (Fay Masterson). His murder is the most brutal thing in the film. His depiction isn’t homophobic otherwise, though he occasionally gets subtle attitude from Melanie (Megan Fahlenbock). He does bring out the homophobia in movie critics, though, who love to refer to him as “the obligatory gay sidekick.”

("Gay sidekick" Domink, played by Salvatore Antonio.)

Several critics expressed annoyance at the film’s so-called “politically correct”/“Movie Of The Week” characters: a black man (Stephen Bishop) with a recovering addict Caucasian girlfriend (Fahlenbock), a woman fresh out of an abusive relationship (Sandrine Holt), and the gay male Dominik. I found it refreshing to have characters who had more of a back story than Hot Eye Rolling Blonde Bimbo and Hot Jock.

However, speaking of hot – Sam’s local friend Jesse (William Gregory Lee), a handsome and svelte young blond, runs around shirtless throughout the last third of the film. And I was glad he did. What’s a slasher flick without eye candy?

Writer/director Andrew Erin's film is entertaining and well worth seeing. I wouldn't call it great, but it's got more substance than a lot of slasher films. Generally fans seem to like the big plot twist, but it bothered me. See what you think.

Saturday, May 15, 2010



I got this 2005 Tobe Hooper flick in a 4-movies-for- $5 set at KMart. I haven't watched all of the films yet, but I bought the set because of this one, which I remember well. Denise Crosby (Pet Sematary) acquires a funeral home in a California small town soon after the death of her husband. She and her teenage son Jonathan (Dan Byrd) move into a house on the funeral home property.

Jonathan gets a job at the local diner, and makes some teenage friends -- and Goth bully enemies. His friends tell him the legend that a hideously deformed child from a family who once owned the mortuary -- who kept him locked up and abused him -- is still living there, haunting the place.

Of course this is true, and the first people who run afoul of him are the Goths, when they show up late one night to vandalize the cemetery. But there are bigger problems –including a weird fungus that looks like black veins and turns anyone living or dead that it touches into a homicidal zombie.

The cast is likable, the effects are good, the action fast-paced and involving. There's also a fair amount of humor that makes the movie more fun. My favorite scene is one where Mom makes several horrifically messy mistakes during her first autopsy while the kids are smoking pot upstairs, playing loud rock music, and the oblivious, stuttering local sherriff is pounding on the front door. The movie is enjoyable till the very end, when we're subjected to one of those "surprise" extra endings that makes no sense. It's still one of director Hooper's better efforts in recent years.

Eaten Alive

I watched this on IFC Grindhouse recently and went to bed with a headache. I saw it in the theater many moons ago, didn't remember it all that well, and was intrigued by the cast -- which included a very feeble-looking Carolyn Jones (TV’s original Morticia Addams) as a madam named "Hattie." It has a lot of good actors in it (also Mel Ferrer, Stuart Whitman, Marilyn Burns, William Finley -- a fave of mine -- and a very young Robert Englund as a horny redneck drug dealer). (Englund, BTW, was homely at that age, but his torso looks surprisingly hot in a wifebeater!)

Sadly, the actor with the most screen time was Neville Brand, playing a babbling demented-old-soldier hotel proprietor whose guests mostly ended up scythed to death and/or being fed to his pet crocodile. A lot of his dialog sounded improvised, and loud incoherent ranting gets old fast. William Finley inexplicably started barking like a dog at one point, and there was a little girl hiding under the house who kept squealing whenever she wasn't screaming. There was also extensive use of garish red lighting, which didn’t help.

I was horrified, but not in the way I hoped to be. I guess this movie was director Tobe Hooper's low point. I wanted to jump into the croc pond as a means of escape, but I stuck with it till the end. Ah, the things we do for love of the genre...

BTW, the most horrifying thing in the film was that Carolyn Jones's face appeared to have been utterly frozen by plastic surgery. She did a good job with the character's voice, but appeared incapable of any facial expressions at all.

After seeing this film, I'm posting about it as therapy. It's like trying to get a really nasty taste out of your mouth.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What's Your Favorite Werewolf Movie?

I have a soft spot for werewolves -- in my throat, which I diligently protect when they're around (just kidding -- I kid werewolves because I love them). Seriously, I love all the classic werewolf films: Universal's The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr., Hammer's Curse Of The Werewolf with Oliver Reed, Werewolf Of London with Henry Hull -- and the modern classics as well (The Howling, American Werewolf In London, Wolf with Jack Nicholson). But my favorites are lesser known; my top favorite was almost beaten out for that position by Dog Soldiers, a claustrophobic tale about soldiers holed up in a farmhouse besieged by the critters -- a kind of Night Of The Living Werewolf, if you will. And I've even enjoyed some of the sillier efforts like Werewolves On Wheels, a biker werewolf movie!

My absolute favorite werewolf movie, though, is an obscure British one called Children Of The Full Moon (1980). Directed by Tom Clegg, it was produced for the TV series Hammer House Of Horror and is only about an hour long.
The first time I saw it was on late night TV and I ended up not getting to sleep because it spooked me so much.

The plot follows a young married couple (Celia Gregory and Christopher Cazenove) who end up stranded for the night at the remote country home of an older woman (former bombshell Diana Dors) who presides over a strange brood of children. The kids wander around the house, and outside, at all hours of the night. Their father is mysteriously absent.

In the middle of the night, the young wife is attacked by what she claims is a monster. The couple survive and return to their lives, but their relationship remains troubled and haunted by that night. Later, when she's very pregnant, the wife feels compelled to return to the house in the woods.

That's all I can say without ruining it. It's subtle and low key, and emphasizes the story rather than special effects, which are minimal. But it's well-acted, well-written and quite eerie. It’s kind of a dark fairytale for adults.

Unfortunately, the DVD is hosted by Elvira – and while I like the idea of Elvira (ripped off though it is from Vampira, who tried unsuccessfully to sue her), having to listen to her inane jokes gets old fast. Luckily her segments are few and brief. Give me a provocatively dressed male vampire – are you busy, Spike? – and maybe I could put up with it. Meanwhile, that’s why God gave us fast forward.

What's your favorite werewolf movie?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Celebrate May Day With My All Time Favorite Film: The Wicker Man (1973)

It’s May Day (or Beltane, as pagans call it). May Day is the best day of the year to watch Robin Hardy's brilliant 1973 classic film, The Wicker Man, which happens to be my favorite film (horror or otherwise) of all time. Again, I mean the original British film, not the horrible remake with Nicholas Cage.

The late Edward Woodward (of TV's "The Equalizer") stars as a stuffy mainland police sergeant who's called to investigate a young girl's disappearance on Summerisle -- a fuedal community off the coast of Scotland. He is engrossed in his search, but appalled by the pagan customs of the island, where people, among other things, dance naked outdoors to worship nature, and teach their children about reincarnation. The natives calmly enjoy watching the sergeant become more and more scandalized as they prepare for their May Day celebration. Christopher Lee presides over all this as Lord Summerisile, the ruler and owner whose island bears his name. At one point, when Woodward has all but gone blue in the face, Lee cheerfully tells him, "do sit down, Sergeant; shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent." Ultimately something darker is going on, though it's not exactly what the film leads you to expect.

The island is a beautiful place, and the film is full of compelling and authentic-sounding folk music written by Paul Giovanni, celebrating its various local customs and personalities. Mostly we enjoy, with the inhabitants, their laugh on the uptight sergeant, and marvel at their exotic way of life. Telling you any more would ruin it, though you probably already know the ending – which has never spoiled my watching the film yet another time. Suffice to say that the film is mostly more like a seriocomic drama than a horror movie, but that the ending is pretty darn harrowing.

One highlight is getting to see Lord Christopher ebulliently leading a procession through the streets in drag. I’m pretty sure it’s the only time the great man has ever worn a dress onscreen, though if there’s another, I’d love to know about it! Lee also recites Walt Whitman’s “I think I could turn and live with animals” poem from Song Of Myself while watching a pair of snails copulate (and hearing voluptuous blonde bombshell Britt Ekland and a young villager – a virgin beforehand -- copulating not far away).

The whole movie is 103 minutes. Beware of the shorter American “theatrical” version that cuts Britt Ekland's mesmerizing nude song and dance, among other things.