Saturday, March 26, 2011

Film Review: MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981, George Mihalka)

Stars: 4.6 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Paul Kelman (GAS, BLACK ROSES), Lori Hallier (NIGHT OF THE TWISTERS, THE GUNFIGHTER), Neil Affleck (VISITING HOURS, SCANNERS), Cynthia Dale (star of HEAVENLY BODIES), Alf Humphreys (FIRST BLOOD, ACT OF VENGEANCE), Jack Van Evera (BLACK CHRISTMAS, THE LITTLEST HOBO), Patricia Hamilton (GOLDENROD, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES '85), Don Francks (HEAVY METAL, I'M NOT THERE), Larry Reynolds (KILLER WORKOUT, BLOWN AWAY). Music by Paul Zaza (PROM NIGHT, A CHRISTMAS STORY). Produced by André Link and John Dunning (MEATBALLS, BUFFALO '66), and Lawrence Nesis (VIDEODROME). Written by Stephen A. Miller (AIRWOLF, SIMON & SIMON) and John Beaird (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, BAKER COUNTY, U.S.A.). Directed by George Mihalka (PICK-UP SUMMER).
Tag-line: "There's more than one way to lose your heart..."
Best one-liner: "Beware of what you make fun of, you little asshole!"

Well, it's late March, and I'm finally getting around to a no-longer-timely review of a fine little slasher flick called MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Beneath the original HALLOWEEN, of course, I'm prepared to bestow upon it the highest honors that one can give to a holiday slasher: in short, I suppose you could call it FOOTLOOSE with blood.

You see, the film is set in the hamlet of Valentine Bluffs, a sleepy mining town with a sinister history that makes it a little uptight, at least in reference to V-day partying. Twenty years after a madman's warning to never again celebrate the holiday for which the town is named, some townsfolk decide to throw caution to the wind and prepare for a raucous celebration– but a pick-axe-swinging psychopath in mining gear has other, more literal, plans for breaking hearts...

Rather than tell you anything more about the plot, I'll instead offer nine reasons why MY BLOODY VALENTINE holds up as one of the best slashers of the 80's:

#1. Canadian films of the tax-shelter heyday, from OUTRAGEOUS! to HEAVENLY BODIES (whose lead actress Cynthia Dale appears here) to MY BLOODY VALENTINE possess uncommon, character-driven humanity. It's upsetting to think that 'lack of humanity' is usually the norm, but naturalistic casting, earnestly emotive acting, and rough-around-the-edges filmmaking techniques contribute to an atmosphere that feels genuine.

The filmmakers are less concerned with pomp and pizazz than in establishing a real, slice-of-life verisimilitude. Along with SLEEPAWAY CAMP, it's one of the best, somewhat lesser-known slashers that's skillful, creative, and sincere. You care about the victims (for the most part), it builds actual stakes, and it boasts a semi-feasible slasher scenario.

#2. Also, MY BLOODY VALENTINE really cuts to the chase: there's a fetish gas mask sex scene, breast impalement, blue collar street cred, character development, and a homoerotic shower sequence– and all within the first five minutes!

#3. I really respect how they take the theme of "Valentine's Day" and completely run with it. Some slashers just set themselves on a random holiday and leave it at that. MY BLOODY VALENTINE could not be re-written for another holiday– the metaphorical heart/blood-pumping heart parallel is absolutely essential, not to mention that EVERY single setpiece is inundated with valentine decorations, candy boxes, Cupids, hearts, and other such ridiculousness.

The colors of pink and red runs through this film like blood through a vein, adding electrifyingly vivid splashes of the taboo hues to the drab and dreary landscape of broken-down mining equipment and prefabricated homes. It's pretty great.

#4. Redunkulous gore.

Notoriously censored (and now available uncut), MY BLOODY VALENTINE's makeup and special effects crew take it into overdrive, nearly out-Savining Savini!

#5. Speaking of which, the "drowned in boiling hot dog water" scene may not boast the most impressive of effects, but still we must give it the highest marks.

I mean, sure, Argento may have done a similar scene back in '75 with DEEP RED, but answer me this: were weiners floating around in the scalding water?

#6. Amazing old-timer character actors. There's "Happy," the cantankerous bartender, played by Jack Van Evera.

There's Jake Newby, the stoic, silver-haired police chief, played by Don Francks.

There's "Hanniger," the glad-handing but sincere mayor, played by Larry Reynolds.

Then there's "Mabel," the sweetly bizarre small-town spinster, played by Patricia Hamilton.

Look into their eyes. Look deep into their eyes. Old-timer character actors are generally the bread n' butter of any genre film, and here it's no exception. Bravo.

#7. They actually filmed in a Nova Scotia mineshaft, twenty-seven hundred feet below the Earth's surface. Lighting and camera equipment had to adhere to carefully monitored methane levels to prevent explosions. Cast and crew had to be assembled very slowly via a ramshackle elevator that could only hold a few people at a time.

Claustrophobia and palpable danger reigned supreme! All of this comes through wonderfully in the film– splintery, shaky ladders and dark crevices lead to pools of dripping water and fog and dirt and dust. It's certainly scary enough before the pick-axe-wielding butcher shows up!

#8. The ecstatic beauty of the moment when the heavy, mustachioed Keith Knight (who in my mind, looks like my mental picture of Ignatius J. Reilly from A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES) bursts into the party with a sixer of Schlitz and immediately makes out with the star of HEAVENLY BODIES!

The guy to the right with the black and white camo vest is duly impressed.

#9. The incredible closing credits song, written by Paul Zaza (the man who brought us the disco-horror classic "Prom Night Part 2" from the motion picture PROM NIGHT) and entitled "The Ballad of Harry Warden." It sounds almost exactly as if it's being sung by Harry "Cat's in the Cradle" Chapin, but, alas, it is not. We can always pretend, though!

In all– good show, MY BLOODY VALENTINE. I'm sorry I wasn't able to review you in a more timely fashion, but here's nearly five stars just the same.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Film Review: CHARLEY VARRICK (1973, Don Siegel)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 111 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Walter Matthau (CHARADE, THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE), Joe Don Baker (WALKING TALL, MITCHELL), John Vernon (SAVAGE STREETS, DIRTY HARRY), Andy Robinson (DIRTY HARRY, HELLRAISER), Sheree North (THE OUTFIT, THE SHOOTIST), Norman Fell (THE GRADUATE, THE KILLERS), Felicia Farr (KOTCH, 3:10 TO YUMA), Craig R. Baxley (also did the stunts and directed ACTION JACKSON and many episodes of THE A-TEAM). Music by Lalo Schifrin (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, DIRTY HARRY, THE MANITOU). Written by Dean Riesner (DIRTY HARRY, PLAY MISTY FOR ME, FATAL BEAUTY) and Howard Rodman (COOGAN'S BLUFF, MADIGAN), and adapted from the novel THE LOOTERS by John Reese.
Tag-line: "When he runs out of dumb luck he always has genius to fall back on!"
Best one-liner: "Sooner or later, you're gonna tell me everything you know. So why not save yourself a great deal of pain, tell me now."

Don Siegel is the man. And CHARLEY VARRICK just might be his amoral, cutthroat masterpiece. THE KILLERS' hitmen protagonists, DIRTY HARRY's mildly fascist sensibilities, and COOGAN'S BLUFF's hateful 'tude toward the Love Generation were just pit stops on the way.

The late 60's and early 70's were chock full of gritty flicks like this; take-no-prisoners crime films populated by brutal, pistol-whippin', lady-slappin' sons-o-bitches: THE OUTFIT (with VARRICK co-stars Sheree North and Joe Don Baker), POINT BLANK, Bava's KIDNAPPED, PRIME CUT, THE MECHANIC, MEAN STREETS, GET CARTER, THE YAKUZA...I could go on.

Walter Matthau, as 'Charley Varrick,' is a gum-chewing, calculating, mercenary thief. His gang kills cops like some people check their watch, and they're willing to risk it all for a measley couple of grand from a local bank in Buttfuck, New Mexico. The only problem is it just happened to be a mob front, and they've ended up with three-quarters of a million dollars.

(But was it truly coincidence? See if you can determine the answer from Charley's unceasingly indifferent gaze.) But he's not a maniac. Far from it. He's perhaps the most rational being on the planet- completely committed to creating a plan that will ensure his survival during the certainly impending shitstorm. Said storm involves a totally dickish, crooked bank exec (John Vernon, who's played some of the best a-holes of all time):

a blundering gang member (played by Andy Robinson, the simperlingly psychotic 'Scorpio Killer' from DIRTY HARRY):

and the equally amoral but far more vicious "Molly" (Joe Don Baker), who is without a doubt the inspiration for Cormac McCarthy's killing machine, "Anton Chigurh":

(A lot here seems like the direct inspiration for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.) In fact, this film so openly flouts Hollywood rules and convention, that, as you watch it, you can literally feel its reverberations on American cinema through the years since. Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT's clown-masked bank theft of mob money opening pays homage), and many others -some openly, and some not- have dug deep into the many layers of VARRICK and extracted little bits here and there for their own purposes. But it’s such an epic, cynical tour-de-force, that no amount of depths-trolling can deaden its punch-in-the-guts impact (or the fact that the finale astonishingly involves a '67 Chrysler Imperial versus a biplane).

Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Two performances of THE TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE tonight!

Back by popular demand- if you missed it before, the morbid dance drama, THE TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE, will perform twice more tonight at the Access Theater on Saturday, March 19th. Performances will occur at 6:00PM and 9:00PM.

Additional details about the show are available HERE and tickets are available HERE, via Smarttix. It's $15 in advance, and $20 at the door (cash only). It's received additional write-ups at 99 and Under the Radar, Backstage Pass with Lia Chang, and Off-Off Broadway World, as well.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Commercial Review: KING COBRA MALT LIQUOR AD- PART 1 (1985, Fred Williamson)

Stars 5 of 5.
Running Time: 30 seconds.

Well, I suppose I have a tradition to maintain of publishing beverage reviews every St. Paddy's day (past reviews include DAD'S OLD FASHIONED BLUE CREAM SODA, BLUE DIAMOND BEER, CHAMPAGNE COLA, and IRISH POTCHEEN), and while I missed out on it yesterday, this year, I'll continue my examinations of mind-altering celebrity beverage hucksterage, á la James Mason's Thunderbird Wine ad, Ice Cube's St. Ides Malt Liquor Jingle, or Rutger Hauer's partnership with Guinness. So I present to you now: Fred Williamson's King Cobra malt liquor ad.

Fred Williamson has lived many lives– a football star (for the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs), a bit player in classics (M*A*S*H), a TV love interest (JULIA), 70's American blaxploitation star (HAMMER, BLACK CAESAR, HELL UP IN HARLEM), Western and Spaghetti Western star (THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY), a writer and director (MR. MEAN, NO WAY BACK), Italo-plagiaristic trash star (THE INGLOURIOUS BASTARDS, 1990: BRONX WARRIORS, THE NEW BARBARIANS), William Lustig hero (VIGILANTE), and 90's comeback genre film actor (ORIGINAL GANGSTAS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN). He was also the star of a series of King Cobra ads.

For those who have never experienced the malty, manly bite of King Cobra, it's one of the more easily attainable forty-ounce malt liquors, produced by Anheuser Busch, and available at grotty convenience stores and grungy bodegas everywhere with the intent of brightening hobos' days by dulling their senses and polluting their bladders.

Our journey begins on Same Old Malt Liquor Street, a monochrome byway that most of us are acquainted with, and altogether too well. Some of us spend out entire lives there, never knowing that a better path could await us, if only we'd open our minds.

Then, Fred Williamson crashes the party- The Hammer himself.

"If you've only ever experienced harsh malt liquor taste– it's time to change!"

With a mystical touch from The Hammer, accompanied by a whooshing sci-fi sound effect, we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto, we're on–

...KING COBRA BOULEVARD. It's electrifying. Color washes over us like a cleansing hand of God. Suddenly everything seems so clear. Fred Williamson walks by, and the others follow. They know not why they follow, but some primeval organ, long forgotten by man and etched upon their spinal columns, compels them to follow when a prophet is in their midst.

"King Cobra's the only malt liquor that's so good when the taste grabs you, it's a different breed- that's quality."

Now would probably be a good time to mention that whenever The Hammer expounds upon the benefits of upgrading to King Cobra, he is accompanied and punctuated by a heavenly chorus who sings: "Kiiiing Co-Bra!"

Regardless, Williamson begins to amass a veritable army of disciples who leap for joy and spin and dance and pirouette in unison, driven into a righteous frenzy by the divine right to better malt liquor that The Hammer is offering them. He's like the Jean Bodin of malt liquor!

I was just thinking of the Pied Piper of Hamelin but I can't remember why. Anyway, the swarm of King Cobra-acolytes prances ever-forward, and then in silhouette–

"King Cobra is cold malt liquor satisfaction with a smooth taste."

The destination is revealed to be one swingin' party being hosted at, ostensibly, Fred Williamson's apartment. An exceptionally foamy can of The 'Cob is opened. What, did they shake that up beforehand? Or did it come from the handbag of one of these twirling ladies?

"So when you pop the top, what's the clue?"

'So when you pop the top, what's the clue?' is the question posed to us by The Hammer. What does it mean? Is the clue...foam? How is foam a clue? And in general, why are we talking about a clue? I was not aware that a mystery of some kind was involv– ah, I get it! I see what you did there, Fred. Divine mystery. As explored in the 'Mystery Plays' from the Middle Ages, which are quite obviously being referenced here. Clearly, The Cobra was the snake whose temptations caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from Eden. But now King Cobra is in charge, inviting us back to Eden, where the rockingist forty-ounce party of all time shall now commence! There's a new daddy in town, and he has been crowned KING!

But back to the riddle– "So when you pop the top, what's the clue?" It's soon answered by a boisterous partygoer who sings her reply in verse:

"Don't let the smoooooth taste foooool ya!"

And she's right! Don't let the smooth taste fool you into thinking that this advertisment is only about malt liquor, because the taste is not smooth! It's an aside to the initiated, so that they may begin pondering the next step of their King Cobra devotionals. Also, I like that guy in back with the 'stache.

Williamson then returns with additional wisdom:

" give cold malt liquor satisfaction. ...Don't let the smooth taste fool ya..."

He places an unusual emphasis on fool, as if there is something of greater importance being said between the lines, which, of course, there is. The commercial comes to a close, and today's lesson is ended.

Soon afterward, Fred starred in a trilogy of films made by Italians looking to cash in on the 'success' of Cannon Film's COBRA, starring Sylvester Stallone. They were: COBRA NERO (BLACK COBRA), THE BLACK COBRA 2, and THE BLACK COBRA 3: THE MANILA CONNECTION. Coincidence?

Regardless, don't let the five stars fool ya....KIIIIIING CO-BRA!

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Television Review: KENNY ROGERS AS THE GAMBLER (1980, Dick Lowry)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kenny Rogers, Bruce Boxleitner (TRON, BABYLON 5), Clu Gulager (TAPEHEADS, THE KILLERS), Harold Gould (THE STING, SILENT MOVIE), Lee Purcell (MR. MAJESTYK, VALLEY GIRL), Noble Willingham (CHINATOWN, NORMA RAE, THE HOWLING). Song "The Gambler" written by Don Schlitz and performed by Kenny Rogers.
Tag-line: "You Got To Know When To Hold 'Em, Know When To Fold Em... "
Best one-liner: "The question is... which two of you are willing to take the bullets?"

It was bound to happen. One of the great narrative songs of the modern era had to be turned into one of the great television movies of the modern era. And what a song it is. Written by a man named Don Schlitz, it sees a meeting between two gamblers on a train bound for nowhere, fast. The elderly gambler offers the younger cardsharp some (now legendary) advice in exchange for his last swallow of whiskey. After taking that final swig, the elderly gambler dispenses his advice, puts out his cigarette, and dies. For the record, Kenny Rogers sings the song in character as the younger man, yet in the movie he plays the older character with Bruce Boxleitner as the up-and-comer. Also, the whole 'dying' bit was excised (there were four sequels).

Kenny Rogers petitions Boxleitner for his final sip of whiskey.

Anyway, Kenny Rogers stars as Brady Hawkes, a dude who knows when to hold 'em, knows when to fold 'em, knows when to walk away, knows when to run, and who never counts his money when he's sitting at the table because there shall plenty of time to calculate one's winnings after the game has drawn to a close.

Personal hero Clu Gulager co-stars as a woman-stealin', kid-nappin', gunslingin' Kenny Rogers nemesis. Gulager, as always, shines like a artistic supernova, packing the surly 'Rufe Bennett' with so much pathos that you nearly are rooting for him. Bruce Boxleitner even gets in on the action as the up-and-comer gambler ready to take up Kenny's mantle. But when the cards fall, the chips are down, and there's no more aces left in holes, things aren't as black and white as you'd think. THE GAMBLER ends up being about how tough life is for us all– no heroes here. No villains here. Just regular folk tryin' to catch a break.

And now I shall end with a montage of screen captures of Clu Gulager in his natural habitat.





CLU GULAGER WILL...get punched out by Kenny Rogers?- Ah, well, Clu was always subject to ignominious defeats, just watch THE KILLERS.

So alright, gents, I'm gonna raise you four stars. And then I'm gonna fold. Gonna walk away and leave you with 'em. Why? Cause you earned 'em, goddammit.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

THE TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE- two performances added!

Back by popular demand- if you missed it before, the morbid dance drama, THE TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE, will perform twice more at the Access Theater on Saturday, March 19th. Performances will occur at 6:00PM and 9:00PM.

Additional details about the show are available HERE and tickets are available HERE, via Smarttix. It's $15 in advance, and $20 at the door (cash only).

Film Review: HOLLOW MAN (2000, Paul Verhoeven)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 112 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Shue, Kim Dickens (DEADWOOD, ZERO EFFECT), William Devane (ROLLING THUNDER, FAMILY PLOT), Greg Grunberg (the pilot from the pilot of LOST, STAR TREK '09). Music by Jerry Goldsmith (POLTERGEIST, FIRST BLOOD). Edited by Mark Goldblatt (THE TERMINATOR, ENTER THE NINJA, COMMANDO). Cinematography by Jost Vacano (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, UNTAMED HEART).
Tag-line: "What would you do if you knew you couldn't be seen?"
Best one-liner: "You think you're God? I'll show you God!"

Paul Verhoeven continues to give America the movies they really deserve, but sometimes he gives a little too hard. Is HOLLOW MAN a good movie? Well... no. But I enjoyed it in a certain "Verhoeven declares war on popular culture" kind of spirit. The bad CGI is a bitter pill to swallow, but it's in service to a story which defines us as voyeuristic, misogynistic, 7-11 Big Gulp-swilling, murderous swine.

The Big Gulp in question.

And, as something of a merry misanthrope, I like it just fine. So while it doesn't possess the potent artistry of SOLDIER OF ORANGE or FLESH + BLOOD, the sheer watchability of TOTAL RECALL or ROBOCOP, or the unbridled camp value of SHOWGIRLS, here are a few reasons why HOLLOW MAN deserves to be seen both by aficionados of spit-takes and the spandex stylings of one Mr. Slim Goodbody.

#1. Seriously, though. SLIM GOODBODY.

I can't be the only one who was shown these videos in elementary school, sitting uncomfortably on the floor of the cafeteria while the teacher fiddled with the VCR tracking to finally reveal a man in a semi-anatomically correct spandex suit surrounded by a phalanx of puppets worthy of THE LETTER PEOPLE spouting inanities that were tangentially related to nutritional health. Anyway, it was nice to see a big-budget, feature film devoted to his work.

Also- is it a coincidence that both feature a formless, eyeless latex/felt monstrosity?

Pay no attention to the racist, anthropomorphic reel-to-reel player on the right.

Also, I am 100% certain that this was the inspiration for BODIES...The Exhibition, which is frankly amazing.

#2. Alright, so the latex face is actually pretty scary.

It's one of the few things about this film that is genuinely effective, but after an hour and a half of screentime, you're completely desensitized. Ah, well.

#3. " ...(FACE)."

Probably the greatest words ever uttered by an about-to-be invisible man... to himself. Bacon really sells it, too. And as a side note- is it any wonder that Christian Slater got the gig for HOLLOW MAN 2?

Bacon nods approvingly upon learning that Slater will star in the straight-to-video sequel.

#4. William Devane. I was surprised to see him pop up in this. I'm a big Devane fan, from his commandingly low-key psychotic war vet in ROLLING THUNDER to his nefarious dandy-type in FAMILY PLOT to his G-man crony in MARATHON MAN.

It's nice to see he's still getting genre work and showing up in films like this, PAYBACK, and even on TV's 24. As always, he excels at playing a government sleaze who still possesses tangible pathos.

#5. The beautiful, likable, and talented Kim Dickens ('Joanie Stubbs' on TV's DEADWOOD), again subject to the mercies of a hideous haircut which threatens to consume our attentions, like some impossible fusion of 'Klute' and THE BLOB.

How bizarre that a system devoted to the objectification of women seems hellbent on subverting the aesthetic impact of Kim Dickens via awful haircuttery- (Even LOST did it, too.) -will wonders never cease? Regardless, she rises above the haircut and the role, even though her major plot point involves invisible man nipple-tweaking. Which leads us to–

#6. Finally a movie which tackles such high-concept wonders as invisible man nipple tweaking, invisible man puke, and invisible man bathroom peeping. Perhaps Verhoeven's greatest coup is amassing $95 million for a movie about an invisible man, and then devoting to fetishistic degeneracy, heavy-duty perversions, and ultimately rape and murder! Between this and SHOWGIRLS, though, it's little wonder that he hasn't worked in Hollywood since.

#7. Josh Brolin saved by a trashcan fire.

And here I thought I'd never see anybody saved by a trashcan fire this side of STREET TRASH. Who knew?

#8. A surprisingly evocative and foreboding score courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith. Not surprising in that it came from Jerry Goldsmith, just surprising in that it accompanies HOLLOW MAN.


Technically, it's only thermal imaging, but after its rampant overuse in PREDATOR 2, I have no choice but to call it PREDATOR-VISION. Also, Mark Goldblatt edited both HOLLOW MAN and PREDATOR 2. Coincidence?- or predilection for PREDATOR-VISION?

#10. "You think you're God, I'll show you God, FOOOOOOSH"

I'll keep this as vague as possible, plotwise, but I have to say this is the greatest one-liner to accompany a flamethrower attack since ACTION JACKSON's "How ya like your ribs?....FOOOOOOOSH."

In the end, Verhoeven crafts a film which is big, dumb, kinda fun, and intent on rubbing the faces of theatergoers in their own depravities. Obviously he better serves the world through his art films (TURKISH DELIGHT, BLACK BOOK, et al.) and his scholarly ruminations (JESUS OF NAZARETH), so I can't realllly recommend this, but I can think of far worse ways to waste 112 minutes. Three and a half stars.

-Sean Gill