Friday, October 31, 2008


SOMETHING WEIRD...IN THE RED ROOM, that dynamite double feature made up of two tales of spine-tingling insanity, has its FINAL PERFORMANCE!

Tonight at 10:30PM! At the Red Room, 85 East 4th Street, Manhattan!

SOMETHING WEIRD...IN THE RED ROOM, co-produced by Junta Juleil Theatrical Productions, LTD., Rachel Klein Productions, and Mr. Spiro, Inc., is comprised of two short plays, Sean Gill's AENIGMA (with Junta Juleil's own Jillaine Gill) and Benjamin Spiro's SIR SHEEVER. Both are directed by Rachel Klein. Tickets are available through Smarttix.


SOMETHING WEIRD Off-Off Online Review

Happy Halloween!

Film Review: WAXWORK (1988, Anthony Hickox)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: David Warner, Zach Galligan, John Rhys-Davies, Dana Ashbrook, Deborah Foreman
Tag-line: "Stop on by and give afterlife a try." AND "More fun than a barrel of mummies."
Best one-liner(s): "Drink your milk, you're late for college."

"Are you afraid the world will see the Marquis de Sade can only beat little girls and can't fight like a man?" You heard me right. And it's GREMLINS' Zach Galligan delivering that line. This movie is kind of like MONSTER SQUAD meets BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE for pseudo-adults. It's got everything. Vampires, werewolves, the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, the baby from IT'S ALIVE, the Marquis de Sade as a one-liner-dropping villainous swashbuckler...?! Then it takes the ball from the long tradition of wax-related horror films (from German Expressionism's 1920's WAXWORKS to Andre de Toth's 1950's HOUSE OF WAX) and runs with it. This is the 80's take on the genre, and it's very similar in tone to movies like DOLLS and GHOULIES, where it has the dreamy atmosphere of an old horror video game, some real cornball humor (every German is a Nazi...and that's hilarious!, generic fun-time music plays with frequency, there's always a midget...and that's hilarious!, etc.), and the scares are made up of a kind of half-clever, gory, jokey oddness, an atmosphere generally consistent with the eerily illustrated posters. But this film becomes better than the rest because of a few key reasons:

1. David Warner. Warner plays the villain with a kind of delicious awkwardness that only a brilliant British thespian slumming it in an American B-horror movie can muster.

Consequently, his scenes have a certain exquisite tension where you're unsure if in the middle of a scene he's going to snap and do something crazy and British and unscripted.

2. Dana Ashbrook (Bobby from TWIN PEAKS). Though his appearance is brief, when TWIN PEAKS actors grace horror flicks with their presence (PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, VAMPIRES, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, etc.), everybody wins.

3. One-liners, one-liners, one-liners. This movie is a one-liner machine. During the finale, when an army of humans led by a wheelchair-using man fights a horde of wax figurines in an anarchistic, anachronistic free-for-brawl, one-liners are getting tossed around at the rate of roughly three per minute. In one random minute:

"Kiss me, Sarah!"

"Kiss this!"

"Take me..."

"Take this!"

and "Make my day!"

[blows head off of bat with .44 Magnum].

An evil little person is even tossed into the plant from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Here's four wax-dipped stars, but don't get TOO close...

-Sean Gill

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Film Review: THE WORST WITCH (1986, Robert Young)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 70 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tim Curry, Diana Rigg, Fairuza Balk
Tag-line: "Things never go right for Mildred Hubble..."
Best one-liner(s): "You see, you're not the worst witch anymore..."

"Any-thing can happen on Hallo-ween. Your teach-er could become a sardine, your dent-tist could turn into a queen, HAS ANY-BODY seen my TAM-BOR-RINE? I might start playin' 'Begin the Beguine,' craziest night I've ever seen..." Submitted for your consideration, Tim Curry. Portrait of a broken artist. The faux-silk pink cape. The sad little felt bat bowtie. I think his entire costume might have been purchased at a Jo-Ann Fabrics for under $20. His performance is oddly sincere, yet there is an underlying sadness in his eyes. Maybe he knew that the producers didn't trust his interpretation of the lyrics and would feel the need to show an image of every word he sang, as he sang it. Maybe he knew a deluge of 1970's music video FX would be used in this 1986 film.

Maybe he hated himself for dragging his broken body to the set just for a measly paycheck. (Little could he have known CONGO was on the horizon in 1995.) But I salute you, Tim Curry. I salute your workaday courage. Your 'grin and bear it' attitude. Your ability to deliver a sincere performance while wearing a felt bat bowtie. And for that I award you four shining stars. Not five, Tim. Let's not push it.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kane Hodder
Tag-line: "The Big Apple's in BIG trouble."
Best one-liner(s): "School... IS OUT, McCulloch! Okay?"

"It's like this... We live in claustrophobia, the land of steel & concrete. Trapped by dark waters. There is no escape. Nor do we want it. We've come to thrive on it and each other. You can't get the adrenaline pumpin' without the terror, good people... I love this town." THAT is the opening narration to JASON VIII. Damn heady stuff. I'm gonna let you in on a little Hollywood secret. This film was the driving inspiration force behind Paul Haggis' Oscar winner, CRASH. Don't tell anyone, though, cause there would be a barrage of lawsuits, Oscar tarnish, panic in the streets, and I really wouldn't want to put Hollywood through that. Regardless, everything one needs to know about this film can be ascertained from one scene. Additionally, the scene in question is entirely ripped off from NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 (released one year prior in 1988), though in JASON it is not karate-themed, but rather pugilistic. The character of Julius Gaw is introduced early. He's a young black man, and his only character trait seems to be that he unceasingly enjoys boxing, whether at sea or on dry land. Is he gonna box Jason? Well, I'm not gonna spoil it for you just yet. When the ominous stowaway-bearing ship lands in New York, Jason goes on the loose. Finally, Julius gets his chance. He gets to box Jason. He whispers to himself to pump up: "Just use the combos, and keep the feet light..." Okay. By gum, he's kickin' his ragged ass!

NOBODY gets the goods on Jason, and this guy is goin' to town! But he's tiring. He's tiring. He's running out of steam. 'Hit me with your best shot, Jason!' And Jason punches his head with such force it decapitates this poor fellow, the head plummeting into an alley dumpster which then shuts dramatically. So close. But good show.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Only 2 Performances of SOMETHING WEIRD remain!

Tonight at at 8:00 PM (SOLD OUT), and October 31st at 10:30PM! At the Red Room, 85 East 4th Street, Manhattan!

SOMETHING WEIRD...IN THE RED ROOM, co-produced by Junta Juleil Theatrical Productions, LTD., Rachel Klein Productions, and Mr. Spiro, Inc., is comprised of two short plays, Sean Gill's AENIGMA and Benjamin Spiro's SIR SHEEVER. Both are directed by Rachel Klein. Tickets are available through Smarttix.


SOMETHING WEIRD Off-Off Online Review

Film Review: DEAD & BURIED (1981, Gary Sherman)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dan O'Bannon, Robert Englund.
Tag-line: "The writers of ALIEN bring a new terror to Earth." and "It will take your breath away... ALL OF IT."
Best one-liner(s): "You can try to kill me, Dan. But you can't. You can only make me dead."

DEAD AND BURIED is one of those rare 80's horror films that manages to match, in chills and mystery, its creepily imaginative poster. Despite being directed by Gary Sherman (who wanted a black comedy), authorship to DEAD AND BURIED definitely belongs to writer Dan O'Bannon. All of his hallmarks are on display here: interest in mortuary employees, the moody blend of EC Comics and H.P. Lovecraft, mist-enshrouded mise-en-scene, and a thoroughly depressing and existential ending (a characteristic he shares with his first collaborator, John Carpenter). O'Bannon's endings are frequently John Huston meets Jean-Paul Sartre by way of Tales from the Crypt: from DARK STAR's oxygen-lacking astronaut to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD's explosive finale. And, as such, thinking about DEAD AND BURIED, I must consider it moreso a bleak drama than a horror film. Sure, it has gore (courtesy of Stan Winston), imaginative kill scenes, a smidgen of T&A, and Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund, but it also has O. Henry-esque plot twists and James Farentino moaning in the acting style of Harvey Keitel. While DEAD AND BURIED never reaches the heights of O'Bannon's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, it earns very high marks- if we are to continue the Carpenter comparison, maybe ALIEN is O'Bannon's THE THING, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is his HALLOWEEN, and this is perhaps his THE FOG. (Also of note is a scene involving a nefarious syringe-wielding nurse who was the obvious inspiration of similar scenes in both KILL BILL VOL. 1 and PLANET TERROR.)

-Sean Gill

Monday, October 27, 2008

Junta Juleil and Rachel Klein productions present LA ENFERMA

A Dia de los Muertos-inspired cirque dance performance, created and choreographed by Rachel Klein. Shot and edited by Sean Gill.


Film Review: PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981, James Cameron)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lance Henriksen, Stelvio Cipriani
Tag-line: "The terror is back...but this time it FLIES," "It all just started as a vacation...," and "Guess who's coming to dinner?"
Best one-liner(s): "The air in the room was too conditioned."

If one were to take a superficial look at PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING, one could see that it has all the hallmarks of a terrible or great film, depending on your point of view: killer animals, T&A, Lance Henriksen, and a LOT of Italian names in the credits. I'm generally of the latter stance, and I think PIRANHA II starts of very well. A rip-off Ennio Morricone score, Lance Henriksen as a Roy Scheider-in-JAWS-clone with surprising pathos (well, not surprising if you're a devotee of Henriksen's prolific career), use of the excuse "the air in the room was too conditioned", and a Jamaican man running on the beach (the first image after the opening credits end) in the most extraordinarily girlish manner I have ever witnessed. The rest of the film should be a gold mine.

And when we get to the flying piranha (who are always accompanied by a sound effect that resembles a pigeon being tortured by street urchins), it's thoroughly entertaining. However, too many subplots, an unfunny stuttering chef, and a big bland denouement come to pass and take the wind from PIRANHA's sails. James Cameron unfortunately forgets that Joe Dante's cartoonish characters and sincere love for 50's creature features is what made the first PIRANHA work. As Cameron's first feature, however, it's an interesting time capsule and contains a great deal of the themes he would later thrive on: a horde of fang-toothed monsters (ALIENS), deep-sea diving (THE ABYSS), sunken shipwrecks (TITANIC, GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, EXPEDITION: BISMARCK), a secret agent pretending to be a normal guy (TRUE LIES), and the inimitable Lance Henriksen (THE TERMINATOR, ALIENS, etc.).

-Sean Gill

Friday, October 24, 2008

Only 3 Performances of SOMETHING WEIRD remain!

Tonight at 10:30 PM, October 28th at 8:00 PM, and October 31st at 10:30PM! At the Red Room, 85 East 4th Street, Manhattan!

SOMETHING WEIRD...IN THE RED ROOM, co-produced by Junta Juleil Theatrical Productions, LTD., Rachel Klein Productions, and Mr. Spiro, Inc., is comprised of two short plays, Sean Gill's AENIGMA and Benjamin Spiro's SIR SHEEVER. Both are directed by Rachel Klein. Tickets are available through Smarttix.


SOMETHING WEIRD Off-Off Online Review

Film Review: MARY (2008, Abel Ferrara)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 83 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Matthew Modine, Forest Whitaker, Juliette Binoche, Stefania Rocca, Marion Cotillard, Heather Graham, Marco Leonardi
Tag-line: "It takes courage to walk in the truth."
Prizes: Grand Prix, SIGNIS award, Sergio Trasatti Award, and Mimmo Rotella Foundation Award at 2005 Venice Film Festival (it was competing against the likes of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, and TAKESHI'S).

MARY is like most Abel Ferrara films- self-deprecating, not entirely narratively cogent, and bleakly difficult to watch- but with a transcendent sincerity that vaults it to the upper-tier of what the arthouse today has to offer. MARY is at once a spiritual journey film, a making of a movie-within-a-movie film, and a horror film. There are moments designed to jolt and scare, moments of true quotidian terror, moments of grim self-reassessment, moments of loud and quiet exasperation, and moments of tranquil beauty. Matthew Modine is a Mel Gibson/Ferrara amalgam of sorts, who is both and neither at the same time. His desire to let his film be seen heats into a fervor that leaves him a 'mad bomber' of cinema, creating a film possibly only to be screened for himself. Juliette Binoche plays Mary Magdalene in Modine's film, and she is having trouble divorcing the role from her present reality, which still may leave her as the most stable character in the film. Forest Whitaker is a Charlie Rose-type interviewer whose infidelity (with Marion Cotillard playing Gretchen Mol in what is perhaps a bizarre in-joke, as Mol appears in NEW ROSE HOTEL, THE FUNERAL, and Ferrara's segment of SUBWAYSTORIES) and lack of commitment to his pregnant wife (Heather Graham) leads him on a spiritual journey not unlike Harvey Keitel's in BAD LIEUTENANT. Every actor is excellent, playing the most humiliating and compromising moments with absolute conviction and realism. This is where Ferrara shines, as he always has: Keitel whimpering and crying out to a hallucination of Christ in BAD LIEUTENANT, Modine ending his sobriety while enveloping himself in a curtain and Miami's calming ocean winds in THE BLACKOUT, or the vampiric Lili Taylor feeding on junkies after hours near Washington Square in THE ADDICTION. The cycles of birth and rebirth, whether literal or existential, persist through Ferrara's films- the act of absolution seems attainable only when a character breaks down to their most childlike form: a baby crying in an incubator suddenly looks very similar to Keitel (or Whitaker, in MARY) crying out for forgiveness to a God they're not even sure exists.
The people who will hate this know so already. They grimaced at BAD LIEUTENANT, found THE BLACKOUT dull, and NEW ROSE HOTEL pointless. This movie isn't for them, and if they 'got' this, or any of Abel's films, it would be a defeat for Abel and the rest of us. Abel realizes he targets a small niche audience, otherwise he'd go back to pornos and THE DRILLER KILLER. (I'm sure there's money for a DRILLER KILLER reboot lying around if it were to star Jessica Biel.) But I'll leave with this benediction: Ferrara is one of the bravest, boldest archangels of cinema. He doesn't preach or pontificate needlessly; he doesn't have to. He achieves the near-impossible feat of unfurling his narratives like an age-old scroll, penned with the utmost sincerity, and with equal parts ancient knowledge and modern edifice. Even if the parts are greater than the sum, or if certain elements simply don't work, his and his collaborators' sincerity lift his films to a truly mystical level. Bravo, Abel. And let's hope it doesn't take three years for your next vision* to reach our shores.

*Ferrara's strip club screwball comedy GO GO TALES (starring Willem Dafoe, Modine, Bob Hoskins, Asia Argento, and Anita Pallenberg) and his Chelsea Hotel documentary CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS are completed and have already run the festival circuit, yet remain unavailable in an American release as of yet.

-Sean Gill

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Film Review: SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981, Walter Hill)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 106 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Keith Carradine, Brion James, Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, Powers Boothe, T.K. Carter, Michael Kane, David Giler, Ry Cooder
Tag-line: " The bayou has its own law... and they just broke it. " AND "It's the land of hospitality... unless you don't belong."
Best one-liner(s): "Voulez vous fuck me!"

Casper: "There's supposed to be a river here... "
Spencer: "Them ecology boys must've moved it."

Walter Hill strikes again. Along with John Carpenter, I would say Hill is one of the few working directors to truly continue the 'men bonding/entertainment as art/but with surprising depth' genre laid out by the likes of Howard Hawks and John Ford. Imagine DELIVERANCE meets APOCALYPSE NOW meets ALIENS, and you have a pretty good idea of what this film is like. And if it doesn't warm your heart to see Powers Boothe as leading man material before playing scores of skeazes and miscreants, then you probably don't deserve to see it happen, and here's a rap on the knuckles for good measure. The cast is immaculate: Boothe, Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, Peter Coyote, the cook from THE THING, and Brion James (the android from BLADE RUNNER who says 'Wake up, time to die'), among others.

The film also manages to have one of the most cogent commentaries on the whole Vietnam imbroglio I've ever seen. It brilliantly adheres to the whole Rod Serling school of thought whereby injecting elements of the fantastic and the familiar (while still retaining your subtext) can give the subject far more weight and poignancy than if you actually focused entirely on the topic at hand. See Twilight Zone episodes like "I Am the Night- Color Me Black" and "The Invaders" if this sort of commentary appeals to you. But don't worry, it's not as heavy as all that. It's also a slam-bang survivalist picture with enough paranoia, character development, and drably hypnotic bayou visuals to hold the non-theorist's attentions. It also goes damn well with some Cajun cookin' and couple of swigs of everyone's favorite bubble gum-smellin' whiskey-tastin' south of Mason-Dixon liqueur, which happens to share its name with the title of this fine picture.

-Sean Gill

Film Review: DEMONS 2 (1986, Lamberto Bava)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dario Argento, Asia Argento.
Tag-line: "Let's party!"
Best one-liner(s): "We CAME to celeBRATE you, not your DRESS." (Eurotrash accent emphasis added.)

Having Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava (Mario's son) collaborate on a film is pretty similar to what the outcome would be if, say, the inmates in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST had collaborated on a novel during that scene where they're totally wasted. The end result is going to be at once hilarious and kinda scary, overall it's not gonna make a whole lot of sense, but ultimately, it's gonna hold your attention in the way that only the work of lunatics can. We got a lot going on here. We got an apartment complex full of people who exist in a post-events-of-DEMONS world, but they happen to be watching DEMONS on TV. The demons come out of the TV (in a pretty awesome VIDEODROME-inspired scene), and start their crap all over again. (I'm afraid that by posting this photo, I will lead some to believe that DEMONS 2 is way cooler than it actually is.)

Then the heroes have to destroy TVs. So I guess there's some sort of anti-TV message. There's a lot of good stuff going on in this movie. We got 11 year old Asia Argento delivering an amazing performance, but then becoming part of a subplot that kinda trails off. We got the seamstress from OPERA as the birthday girl who starts flipping out about horrible 'party crashers' who politely called to ask if they were invited. Well, it doesn't matter cause everyone gets turned into demons anyway. We got the Italian version of Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD) as the hardass shotgun totin' gym owner:

We got some of the worst dubbing in Italo Horror history, and they even shot it in English! It's well worth a watch if you're into the volatile combination of unintentional Eurotrash laffs and nihilistic horror.

Also of note, Bava is awesomely pretentious on the audio commentary, saying he 'knew DEMONS was making a sociological impact on the populace' when he heard kids on the street saying to each other, 'stop acting like a demon!' You know what, you're absolutely right, Lamberto.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SOMETHING WEIRD reviewed by Off-Off Online

SOMETHING WEIRD...IN THE RED ROOM, co-produced by Junta Juleil Theatrical Productions, LTD., Rachel Klein Productions, and Mr. Spiro, Inc., is comprised of two short plays, Sean Gill's AENIGMA and Benjamin Spiro's SIR SHEEVER. Both are directed by Rachel Klein.

SOMETHING WEIRD Off-Off Online Review

Something In The Way They Move
by Dana Lang

Something Weird...In The Red Room reviewed October 7, 2008

Right away you know something is very wrong here. The mannequins with their glassy eyes and waxen complexions, an insane “hostess,” the Nickelodeon-on-a-meth-binge kids’ show, plus other bloodsuckers, can only lead to one result, which Something Weird... In The Red Room readily provides: dances with death. Directed and choreographed by Rachel Klein, both of the evening’s pieces are dominated by their movement, and executed with accomplished nuance, from the creepy mannequin stirrings of Sir Sheever to the amazing dream ballet and reenacted video sequences included in the twisted Aenigma.

Aenigma, written by Sean Gill, is a brilliantly integrated piece, moving from live action, to impressions of video playback, to fantasy (or nightmare) cycles by way of key lighting and music changes which trigger the audience’s subterranean understanding without missing a beat. The Body Rock Crew dance breaks, the slo-mo replays, heightened by psychedelic lighting effects and a soundtrack featuring pop tracks and even an inspired bit from Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite composer, Bernard Herrmann, all work together to evoke something even deeper and more sinister than the already-problematic situation which two TV/pop star sisters face after a cast party goes terribly awry.

The structure, pace, and storytelling are satisfyingly non-traditional, which helps to achieve a more credible and complimentary texture for the darkly funny circumstances of Aenigma. Gill’s dips into the surreal are masterful, while surface dialogue, humor and character quirks seem perfectly natural and coexistent as well.

Jillaine Gill, the playwright’s sister and frequent collaborator, gives a remarkable performance as Diana, one half of the troubled pair. As the heart and (sold-out) soul of the piece, she artfully communicates her dark and confusing journey somehow without missing one beat of honesty or belief. She magically allows everything to simply play upon her face, her stance, and her movements. If this work is any indication, the Gill siblings as a brother-sister team could rival other talented relations known as Gyllenhaal, Arquette, or even demented Osmonds. Adding their own brand of wonderful sickness, of course.

Elizabeth Stewart as Diana’s sister Charlotte is delightfully cloying and also fun to watch as she glides herself in and out of each precarious situation. The Body Rock Crew as chorus (and participants) both ground, as well as heighten the bizarre action, which crawls out from the crevice somewhere between fantasy and reality from whence this captivating piece emanates.

The evening's opening piece Sir Sheever is also something of an atmospheric accomplishment. The premise of Ralph the burglar happening into Miss Elise’s house of horrors works, but I’m not sure the play fully hits the heights (or the depths) of what could be imagined. First of all, I didn’t understand why he couldn’t escape – after all, he got in. Ok, bitch was crazy, but still. But with the suspension of that disbelief, by the time the delicate balance of mannequin, as well as the house manners, is struck and Ralph begins his transformation into Sir Sheever, the audience is fully along for the ride. We can’t wait to see the mannequins’ revenge on their captors and tormentors. How are they going to come to life? Are they going to revolt? Can they kill on demand?

The ensuing action feels somewhat slow in advancing, but Bret Haines as Ralph does convey a bit of the resigned “ok, I’ll just go along with this so I can get the hell out of here” vibe like the beleaguered Griffin Dunne character in Martin Scorsese's 1985 black comedy, After Hours. Part of him seems to be getting into his new role, and maybe he doesn’t really want to escape anymore anyway. A touch of Stockholm Syndrome perhaps? Kari Warchock plays the psychotic Miss Elise, who manages to maintain her frantic intensity throughout the piece. I wish playwright Benjamin Spiro had provided a few glimmers into her psyche, or a line or two about whatever events may have led to her current state, but otherwise she’s perfectly suitable as the requisite nut job.

Supporting this cozy tête-à-tête is the cast of twitchingly eerie mannequins, Abigail Hawk as the cool Eunice, Dasha Kittredge as the disinterested Euripides, Michael Porsche as the corpse-like Robert, Ted Caine as the randy, agile Fredrick, and Megan O’Connor as the grotesquely beautiful pull-string plaything Miss Prissypants. The hair, make-up and costume of O’Connor especially all amalgamate to a horror-doll masterpiece (also excellent on Warchock and the others) and she delivers Miss Prissypants’ deadpan sound bites in a haunting and hilarious fashion. The manipulative choreography and performances by all are wonderful. Spiro makes a great stab (so to speak) at the genre, and the comedy works, but I would have liked to see, or be more scared by, an even darker exposition. But still, The Red Room calls... And you must go. Boo!

©2008 Off-Off Online

Film Review: STRAIT-JACKET (1964, William Castle)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Joan Crawford, George Kennedy.
Best one-liner(s): "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! No I didn't mean that, I love you. I hate you!"

For camp lovers, 'hag horror' pictures from the early 60's are a treasure trove of pissed-off aging starlets delivering magnificent performances in B-pictures that teeter on the edge of mockery of said starlets. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis are obviously the giants of the genre, and while BABY JANE might have showcased Bette's lunacy moreso than Joan's, STRAIT-JACKET shows that Joan can pretty well hold her own. See 59-year-old Joan play a 29-year-old in flashbacks. See prominently displayed product placement for Pepsi, since Joan was married to the president (and see one of the Pepsi VPs as the Doctor in a particularly painfully-acted role). See Joan get wasted and come on to her daughter's boyfriend by interminably fingering his mouth. See Joan wear a wig, scary makeup, and Gypsy-esque jewelry in an attempt to recapture her glory days. This is about as good as it gets, ladies and gentlemen.

Combine this with a script by Robert Bloch (PSYCHO) and direction by gimmick-monger William Castle (THE TINGLER), and you've got the unholy fusion of A and B pictures, a wagonload of decapitations, plenty of screaming, and lots and lots of creepy Crawford eyebrow action. "YOU'RE RIGHT! It WASN'T a sanitarium! It was an ASYLUM!! But I'm all better now!!!"

Also of note: check out the whacky Columbia end credit.

And if you see it on DVD, you must watch the Joan Crawford costume and makeup tests, as they're more intense and frightening than the film itself.

-Sean Gill

Film Review: INFERNO (1980, Dario Argento)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 107 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Keith Emerson, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia
Tag-line: "Terror that's hotter than hell!"
Best one-liner(s): Not sure Dario would understand what that means.

Best Exchange:
Sara: Have you ever heard of the Three Sisters?
Carlo: You mean those black singers?
Sara: No, I'm talking about mythology.

I will admit that this movie is not without its flaws. It's certainly not for everyone. But I will list five reasons that it deserves respect, both in and out of context of Argento's oeuvre, and I don't even have the space to get into 'death by house cats.'

#1. The poster. I might even go as far as to call it the best horror movie poster of the 1980's. A facial composite of a red light-bathed skull with flames in its eye sockets and a blue tinted woman's lips dripping blood. Wow.

#2. This movie plays musical chairs with its lead characters, which is a ballsy move since it's really setting up the audience to be pissed off. So we're following this girl...oh, she died. No, now we're following the friend...ohhh. Oh, the brother- ohhh.

#3. Keith Emerson's score. One of the best soundtracks to an Argento film. It's Goblin meets Wagner meets ELP's "Pictures at an Exhibition." It's in turns epic, corny, scary, hilarious, and amazing.

#4. Ominous wind POV. Argento's films are notorious for ridiculous POV shots from the murderer to crows to a butterfly, but INFERNO basically one-ups them all as a we the see the POV of an ominous wind as it blows open the shutters and into a lecture hall. There's no follow up.

#5. The Unmasking of the Mother of Darkness. This might be the ballsiest move of Argento's career. It's the big finale. The chips are down. The building's in flames. Our hero finally confronts the evil mastermind witch, annnnnd... it's a $5 Halloween costume rubber skull mask!

The intricate, beautiful artistic set is in perfectly choreographed flames, the lighting is perfect, the camera movement is exquisite, and they only shelled out five bucks for the big mask.

Congratulations, Mr. Argento. You win! I'm not sure exactly WHAT you won, but dammit, you won by a landslide!

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Film Review: HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW (1989, James Isaac)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lance Henriksen, Brion James, Lawrence Tierney.
Tag-line: "They tried to electrocute 'Meat Cleaver' Max. It didn't work. Now he's REALLY burned!"
Best One-liner(s): See review.

"Don't look now, but your family's dead. Just kidding." HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW is an exquisite puzzle of a film. The HOUSE moniker was attached by the distributors in post-production to cash in on the HOUSE craze begun by the original HOUSE and HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY. It does, however, take place largely within a house. Then comes THE HORROR SHOW part. I suppose this refers to a brief scene where Max Jenke (played by the inimitable Brion James, also known as the android in BLADE RUNNER who says "Wake up, time to die" and the one-armed Cajun in SOUTHERN COMFORT) turns into a morbid talk show host. But this is not the tradition from which HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW emerges. It is, in fact, nearly identical to Wes Craven's SHOCKER, though it surprisingly and neatly eclipses that better known film on all fronts. Furthermore, it's directed by former Cronenberg makeup technician (and helmer of JASON X) James Isaac, who infuses the film with his own flesh-mutating obsessions, including a chest slit (just like VIDEODROME) and a disgusting turkey dinner (just like ERASERHEAD). So back to the SHOCKER comparison. The plot is this: a serial killer (Brion James) with a nemesis (Lance Henriksen) is put to death by the electric chair (the warden is played by Lawrence Tierney), but instead becomes electricity itself, commits more murders, and gets his nemesis blamed for them. Also see: GHOST IN THE MACHINE. While SHOCKER suffers from just overall lameness, HOUSE III falls into no such traps. Case in point: when the killer, Pinker, gets initially zapped in SHOCKER, he merely says: "No more mister nice guy!," a particularly weak one-liner, which was also the subtitle for the film. In HOUSE III, when Brion James gets zapped, he deliciously intones: "All that did was give me a hard-on!"

Then he gets out of the chair, rips it to pieces, points straight at Lance Henriksen, and bellows: "I'M GONNA TEAR YOUR WORLD APART!" Based on this scene alone, HOUSE III is far superior, not just to most serial-killer coming-back-from-the-electric-chair as-killer-electricity films, but to most films in general. Brion James even considered Max Jenke his finest role, and the man is in everything from RED HEAT to TANGO & CASH, God rest his soul (1945-1999). Lance Henriksen exudes extraordinary pathos as Detective Lucas McCarthy, and there are all kinds of well-done subplots, from a mysterious scientist trying to solve the riddle of Max Jenke, to a missing house cat that turns up in the most unexpected of places to one whacky kid and his winnings of a lifetime supply of chili! Five stars! Also see: HOUSE drinking game.

-Sean Gill


SOMETHING WEIRD...IN THE RED ROOM, co-produced by Junta Juleil Theatrical Productions, LTD., Rachel Klein Productions, and Mr. Spiro, Inc., is comprised of two short plays, Sean Gill's AENIGMA and Benjamin Spiro's SIR SHEEVER. Both are directed by Rachel Klein.


Megin Jimenez · October 17, 2008

It's hard to surprise with a story nowadays—we live so gorged on films and books, we seem to approach a narrative with a supreme sense of knowing where it's going. The two short plays presented in Something the Red Room show a savvy awareness of our stock skepticism, focusing instead on how a story is told. The plays feed on the visual language of film, and assume this common knowledge base of tropes and clichés from the audience. While dabbling in supernatural themes, both works shrug off any serious attempt to spook a 21st century audience and instead settle for at times bewildered, at times lascivious, and at times enchanted laughter.

Sir Sheever (written by Benjamin Spiro) centers on the inherent creepiness of dolls, using a carnivalesque, gothic sensibility (or "early Tim Burton," in the words of director Rachel Klein). A demented heiress (in Baby Jane makeup) plays endless games of social intrigue with four mannequins (played by live actors), when a burglar stumbles in. The premise of the crook staying on to play at tea parties in exchange for ill-fitting, expensive jackets is so paper-thin, the action could skip over the lengthy (and overly familiar) exposition and cut straight to the dolls. The play really gets moving as soon as the mannequins get involved. The physicality of the actors as jointless objects brought to life is outstanding. Megan O'Connor is particularly impressive as the insufferably snobby pull-string doll Miss Prissypants; you can almost see the machinery whirring inside her before she speaks.

Aenigma (written by Sean Gill) plunges us into an entirely different universe, this one of David Lynch extraction. Bizarre non-sequiturs, sexy dancing, fuzzy memories of the night before, an incriminating videotape, an alluring stranger with dark powers—they're all here in madcap form. Key events and relationships among characters are thrown out haphazardly; putting together the puzzle is part of the fun. Jillaine Gill holds together the madness with a strong performance as the dreamy half of a showbiz sister duo. The movement and choreography (also by director Rachel Klein) are again the most solid component of the show and serve as the much-needed links between fragments.

It is to Klein's credit that each piece retains a distinct aesthetic, from color palette to sound design to campy dances. The young company could still stand to be reigned in a bit. While the cast does carry the audience along with full energy, high-pitched, loud timbres and a chorus of clomping high heels at times accost in the small space. Something the Red Room is just right for a fun night out in October, as good as a horror double feature with the clever commentary thrown in.


Film Review: STAR CRYSTAL (1985, Lance Lindsay)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: None.
Tagline: "It is the year 2035...Scientists have discovered a new life form. They're about to wish they hadn't."
Best One-liner(s): None.

"Are you gonna kill me, like you did your last three victims?!" With its embarrassingly amateur creature and blatant Coca-Cola product placement, it's tempting to make the analogy that STAR CRYSTAL : ALIEN :: MAC AND ME : E.T., but I'm afraid that that statement would be doing MAC a disservice. Though many occurrences in the film stretch credulity to its most tensile point, the thing I found hardest to believe is that this mess was not made or even financed by Italians. This movie blew my mind. Synthesized brass dominates the soundtrack- SYNTHESIZED BRASS! Attempts at suspense include a high-pitched noise accompanied by crosscuts to the same shot of a man crawling through a vent as GAR attacks the crew. That's right, I said "GAR." And GAR-vision is done with vaseline smeared on the lens, looking like the low-tech version of Beast-vision in THE BEASTMASTER, which, fascinatingly, had a character named DAR. Then there's the acting. Either Lance Lindsay subscribes to the Bressonian school of thought- where the lines are repeated, take after take, until no emotion remains, OR these people were chosen for their looks. And I really hope they weren't chosen for their looks, because at best, they're nondescript, and at worst, they're hideous. The high-tech space computer makes frequent spelling errors like "nuetron" and "Judism." And when GAR starts speaking English and befriending the survivors, this film really grinds to a halt.

GAR takes effin' forever to get out a complete thought, cause the makers thought he'd sound more like an alien if he took long, raspy breaths between words and spoke like his vocal chords were dipped in molasses. (Also note the differences between the fiendish creature depicted on the cover art and the clearly goldfish-inspired final product.) I flirted with shutting it off. But then I wouldn’t have heard the closing credits music, Indira's "Crystal of the Star." Let me run this by the computer. Five stars of cheesiness plus one star of ennui divided by a running time of 94 minutes = 3 stars. For a similar vibe, but slightly more fun, try LASERBLAST.

-Sean Gill