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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

OLLIVER'S EARLY REVIEW FOR THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (2010)

Here's a review by my pal and recent high school graduate Olliver, which he kindly provided because I refuse to see this film, even though it has werewolves in it. Plus, let's face it: I'm not a tweener girl, the film's target audience.
-Yer Bunche


This is a 30-minute movie review (I did everything in just 30 minutes).

After the success of Twilight 2: Electric Boogaloo, you would have to be extremely stupid if you didn't see this movie coming. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse provides more of the same from the last two movies, namely one-dimensional characters for tweener girls (and overage shut-ins with nothing better to do) to ogle over. Do you remember in high school how all the hot girls would only go out with the biggest tools they can find? Well, that's this movie. Twilight is THAT movie. We have "sensitive" vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison), the amazingly bad actor with skills that bring to mind those of a dead fish, Bella (Kristen Stewart), who the movie obviously wants us to compare to a beaver since 60% of the movie is just a close up on her giant teeth, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the Indian werewolf hunk who is only there to sell tickets and can't seem to afford a shirt.

This is the best way I can think of to sum up this movie.

So Bella now has to decide who to go out with. If I was a girl, my choice would be obvious, but no... This is a Mary Sue story, so "everybody loves her and she has absolutely no real problems." (I wonder if the next movie is going to have an hour of Bella picking what shoes to wear for the day?) Have you ever heard some spoiled asshat complain about how their life is "soooo hard" and then they mention it's hard because they have to "take out the garbage" or something trivial like that? Well, say hello to the target demographic because that's Bella and those who fantasize about being her.

Meanwhile we are introduced to some real vampires. These guys kill for blood and are "real" to such to such a degree that they could have just walked off the set of Blade and make the Cullen family look like a bunch of whiny little bitches (though the Cullens actually do a good job of conveying that by themselves). So these vampires are ruling Seattle, eating all the people they can and there's nothing to stop them... until they decide to stop and, for no reason whatsoever, go after Bella. The whole world revolves around her. In the Twilight series she's more important then the Pope. Mary Sue literature at its best, folks.

"Forget about all that genocide and stuff, this single dull girl is more important than the horrible history of acts you committed against my family."

So the two clans decide, "Hey, let's not fight each other anymore. We need to work together to make sure that these new vampires don't kill this single teenage girl, even though the real vampires probably killed 40 girls by now in Seattle, but WHO CARES? Bella is more important, you know that!!! You can go killing all you want, but don't mess with this one girl." It's not like she has a secret or something so they have a reason to kill her. If Bella would die, nothing would be affected by her death. Both Edward and Jacob would go on living their lives like nothing happened and the world will still revolve with one less stuck up girl in it. So anyway, the two clans put aside all their differences and thousands of years of bloodshed for this one girl. BECAUSE SHE IS SOOOOO SPECIAL. This is the same as if the KKK and the Black Panthers teamed up... for a girl. Retardedness... Sheer retardedness...

One thing I hate is how we have Stephanie Meyer's (the shit-tastic author of this snooze fest) Mormon beliefs thrust upon us. It's hard to believe that these immortal monsters would care about the sanctity of marriage. Bela Lugosi wouldn't have made a purity pledge! Jacob talks about how it's fine to "love two people at the same time" and how he's "seen it before" and Edward... oh god, this one's gonna need it's own picture.

"Will you be my wife for the next 3 decades till you die and I find another?"

So Edward proposes to Bella for her hand in marriage (blegh) and she accepts even though she doesn't want to accept because she still has feelings for Jacob. Boo-freakin'-hoo. So we have a scene where Edward (keep in mind that he's a vampire) is sitting in the middle of a FIELD OF FLOWERS IN BROAD DAYLIGHT TALKING ABOUT WEDDING PLANS!!!! He tells her how important virginity is and how it.... Wait a second; a 200-year-old vampire is a virgin? What the fuck? So you're stuck as a 19-year-old for 200 years and can do all these flips and have super strength...and you can't get any poon? Either he is the most pathetic vampire ever or he's playing her for a dumbass. I hope it's the latter but wouldn't be surprised if it were the first. There you go, another example of Mary Sue literature; he waits 200 years 'til she comes along to have sex, BECAUSE SHE'S SOOO PERFECT. How can a vampire believe in virginity? Vampires are beings of pure sexuality. Then we have Edward. The sun doesn't hurt him, he doesn't turn into a bat, he doesn't drink blood, he's made out of crystals, he's a vegetarian and believes in virginity.... WHAT MAKES HIM A VAMPIRE?!?! He doesn't have a SINGLE vampire quality. My fish drawings are waaaaay more accurate than drawing him as a vampire. This, my friends, is why Mormon women should not be allowed to write books.

Of course, don't say that while watching the movie or you'll face a similar result (see above) from hardcore "Twilitards."

The movie consists 90% of just close-ups. Damned near everything is a close-up. The talking is zoomed all the way in, the makeout scene is zoomed all the way in... The only time to movie ever zooms out is to show the Indian kid's chest. I got that the vampires are pale, it's okay, but I didn't need to stare at his pale-as-a-corpse's-ass face for 2 solid hours. It jumped around more than Manos: Hands of Fate. I started getting motion sickness from it. It felt more like I was watching The Blair Witch Project than a vampire movie... Actually, it felt more like ANYTHING but a vampire movie.

HOW I GOT RUINED: THE FIRST FILMS I REMEMBER SEEING

When I look back over my four-and-a-half decades on this planet, I often ruminate on exactly what diverse and twisted influences served to create the Bunche that you know and love (?) and I can honestly state that a major portion of my world-view was determined by the movies my parents took me to or let me watch on the television before my seventh birthday.

My earliest memory of seeing a movie in a theater is of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS BEYOND THE MOON (1965) during what was surely a re-release, because I was about a year old when it was came out in the US.

I believe I was either three or four when my dad took me too see it and I will never forget how ominous the dark, empty theater seemed, a vast, foreboding space pregnant with possibility that my own experiences had not yet prepared me for. In later years I would accept that uncertainty as par for the course when going to the movies, the tension heralding either a glorious flight of escapist fare (like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) or a total fucking dud, compared to which getting punished would have been preferable (FLESHBURN being a perfect example).

As the film exploded across the screen I had no idea that I was receiving my first exposure to the wild & woolly world of Japanese animation, but I did know that I loved the colorful images, solid story and the genuinely dark undertone that simmered during the second half. GULLIVER'S TRAVELS BEYOND THE MOON is the story of Ricky, a homeless street urchin in an unspecified European (?) city who sneaks into a theater showing a film adaptation of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS and, after hearing the hero's inspirational words about sustaining himself through impossible odds with hope, gets promptly thrown out on his ass by a surly usher. In short order Ricky is joined in his aimless wanderings by a talking dog and a living toy soldier, and this bizarre trio then falls in with Gulliver himself, now a misanthropic recluse who seeks to explore outer space in a homemade rocket ship. The heroes blast off into the void, running into Cupid — who grants them each one wish and is voiced by a grown-up Darla Hood of LITTLE RASCALS fame — and finding themselves embroiled in a conflict between two factions of sentient machines, one kindly and inquisitive, the other a warlike force of conquest-minded juggernauts who state their intentions in the song "Rise, Robots, Rise," a number so grim for a kiddie movie that I remembered certain images from it decades later like I'd just seen them yesterday.



This truly dreamlike film ends with one of those "it was all a dream" scenarios but it doesn't disappoint because Ricky's adventures were simply too fantastic to have been anything else, especially considering that the whole adventure may have been induced by a concussion suffered during a hit-and-run car accident.

Even I felt like the memory of the movie may have been caused by me getting hit by a car and knocked for a loop when I was little — no bullshit — but I was relieved to find that I had not hallucinated its existence when I came across a copy of the soundtrack LP during my college years. And it wasn't until around three years ago that I was able to obtain a copy of the film on DVD and watch it again, and I was not in the least bit disappointed; if you can stomach the mostly-saccharine songs by Milton DeLugg (he of SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS infamy) this film is a unique fairy tale with a tone that feels like you're experiencing a waking dream. The only drawback is that thanks to the rarity of the flick, it's a bitch to find a decent print that hasn't been kicked around and dragged through a litterbox while the making the rounds on the kiddie matinee circuit, so the print available on DVD is washed out and looks like ass. Hopefully some company will tap into the current anime craze and unearth a crisp Japanese language print and release that, but I'm not holding my breath.

The next film to majorly impact my formative years was a steaming turdstorm called THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS (1966), a zero-budget effort implausibly based on a novel by sci-fi legend Murray Leinster.

Bad on so many levels, the movie is a crap-film-lover's smorgasbord of heinous acting, obviously in-studio sets trying to pass for the outdoors, man-eating, acid-secreting plants that look like they were crafted by a bunch of third graders with some papier-mache and a couple of garden hoses (see below)

and the always welcome sight of Mamie Van Doren in a nurse's uniform that's about six sizes to small for her ample lungwarts.

Mamie Van Doren, second only to Jayne Mansfield as the greatest of the Marilyn Monroe clones.

The thing that stuck with me about this one is that it exposed my four-year-old eyes to their very first taste of cinematic gore in the form of a soldier getting his arm ripped off at the shoulder by a carnivorous squash; seen now the sequence is pretty tame, but it shocked the piss out me when I was little. Plus there are scenes of people getting splattered with acid, and we all know that's always good for vaporous histrionics and dripping, disfigured flesh.

The horrid results of "self-abuse."



Much more familiar to the rabid film fan is RODAN (1956), the first of Toho Studios' famed daikaiju ("giant monster") cycle to be filmed in color and one of the most balls-out fun.

Basically a sort-of love story between two rampaging, man-eating prehistoric birds, the segments within the mines where hero Shigeru works are still terrifying, especially the hideous tableau of hatching monsters and giant insects with deadly pincers that, once witnessed, drives him mad. Totally Lovecraftian in scope and horror, that scene spoke strongly to a small child of the utter helplessness that you realize when you grasp the concept of relative scale in the presence of hungry, malevolent beasts.



Hammer Films produced a shitload of colorful and luridly blood-drenched horror epics from the 1950's through the early 1970's, many of which also gave the viewer a plethora of lovely, buxom British actresses in increasingly scandalous states of undress. And while the cinematic correlation of sex and violence and the box office potential of the two may not have escaped Hammer, I was too little to truly understand what any of it meant when I saw THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963) on CREATURE FEATURES under its American television title, KISS OF EVIL.

Much like Toho's films, the Hammer output created a world that the viewer could totally buy into, fantastic elements and all, and the frilly Gothic settings lent a distinctly European flavor to the flicks. This was territory familiar to kids raised on the seamier versions of the Grimm fairy tales, and the straightforward manner with which the stories were handled was a refreshing change of pace from American horror's frequent ham-handedness. But the element of THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE that set the mental gears turning within me was how the head vampire seemed a lot more interested in the virginal newlywed he'd lured into his cabal for nebulous activities that had little to do with feasting from her jugular...


Quaint in depiction by today's standards, I would later see that scenario played out dozens of times, with varying degrees of prurience, in other films, but none of them had the same nightmarish-yet-alluring appeal as it did for me here. Oh, and the bit at the very beginning, where a grief-stricken and drunk father plunges a shovel through the coffin of his vampire-victim daughter, only to have the soon-to-be-interred let out a hellacious scream and bright red blood flow gorily out of the wood is still a killer.

And speaking of killer, how could I not mention THE KILLER SHREWS (1959)?

A notorious piece of sci-fi shit, this film introduced me to the concept of a film with a budget so low that they couldn't afford to create a decent fake monster, so the filmmakers simply threw cheesy costumes onto some dogs and let them run around the set.

Lassie had seen better days.

I've since seen that move pulled in countless flicks where dinosaurs are merely iguanas with big, fake fins glued to their spines, but the impact of THE KILLER SHREWS will never fade from my memories of childhood because it convinced me that at any minute my goofy, hyperactive Collie, Corky, could turn into a flesh-eating scientific abomination.



THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959) is an abomination of a whole different sort, namely the abomination that is boredom. Coming late in the 1950's cycle of atomic mutation/nature run amok pictures — so memorably kicked off by THEM! (1954) and subsequently run into the ground by legions of vastly inferior knockoffs — THE GIANT GILA MONSTER doesn't even have the common decency of having a cool title, such as GI-LA THE FUCKING AMAZING or HOLY SHIT, THAT'S A BIG-ASS LIZARD!, and the title creature is just a plain old Gila Monster on oversized sets, and effect similar to putting your pet lizard into the middle of a town you just constructed out of Lincoln Logs (see below).

Sucking out loud in just about every way imaginable, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is the first film where I realized I was willing to sit through anything once just as long as it may have even the slightest grain of entertainment. In this case there was no grain present, even for a rabid giant monster addict.



Then came SON OF GODZILLA (1967), a film my mom sat me down in front of because she figured I'd dig the cute little monster. Well, as any Godzilla movie fan worth his salt will tell you, that plan backfired;Minya , the title character, is a nauseatingly cutesy creation who looks half-formed and fails utterly at enthralling children.

I think I speak for all other Godzilla junkies when I say that we watch these films for Big G and whatever other monster/monsters/army of humans in toy tanks and airplanes he's gonna kick the living shit out of, and whenever Minya appeared the action ground to a complete halt. Fortunately, SON OF GODZILLA does have plenty of big critter mayhem going on in between "heartwarming" scenes of Big G nurturing his (her?) offspring. The tropical island setting may have eliminated costly miniatures getting destroyed, but the battles with giant mantises and the horrifying (to little ones, anyway)Spiga — the biggest, meanest motherfucker of a tarantula I've ever seen — are kaiju eiga ("monster movie") gold. After this, I was a slave to Godzilla for life, even willingly enduring GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND (1972), in which Godzilla and giant hedgehog Anguirus actually talk. No, seriously.

One of the things my dad instilled in me was a fervent love of "space opera" and all its corny trappings, and I still hold the original FLASH GORDON serial (1936) in high esteem. The plot could have been written by a six-year-old: Flash Gordon (studly, Aryan adventurer and Yale graduate; not a poof, despite flamboyant appearance)

Dr. Zarkov (egghead scientist/inventor, possibly Jewish)

and Dale Arden (eye candy)

fly to the planet Mongo to prevent it from crashing into the Earth. Once there they must contend with the evil emperor Ming the Merciless (a space-Chink, played by a white guy, who wants to defile Dale's sacred whiteness)

and his daughter, Princess Aura (the Asian nymphomaniac stereotype transplanted to deep space)

along with an endless supply of monsters, hostile aliens, beast-men, and noisy aerial battles in the loudest spaceships on record, dime store vehicles that shower the sky with sparks and smoke.

When spaceships sound like Taco Bell flatulence, it makes me smile.

Sheer fun and possessing not a single brain cell in its head, this set the template for all space adventure flicks to come; watch a few chapters of this followed by the original STAR WARS and tell me I'm not right.



This one instilled the take-no-shit-from-anybody attitude in me, inspired by Flash taking it to whoever earned his wrath. My battles have mostly been in the verbal arena, but you get my point. Oh, and I also learned that it's okay for grown men to run around in flamboyant capes and questionable shorts that show off their scrawny legs.

THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) featured giant gastropods kicking mankind's ass, and sent me under the living room coffee table in abject terror. The life-size monster props were first rate and the scene where one of them gets a gaffing hook through the eye still knocks me out.

The lesson learned in this film is that anything, and I do mean ANYTHING, can mutate and seek to eat the nearest tasty thing around, namely you.

  Admittedly, several of these films may be a bit obscure to the layman, but how many of you out there haven't seen the 1958 version of THE FLY?

This tale of what can go seriously wrong with a matter-transporter experiment still resonates, thanks to a compelling story and decent acting, but what every person who's ever seen it will never forget is the famous ending... But first, the story: after the guy experimenting with the transporter tries the device out on himself and ends up getting his molecules blended with those of a common housefly, the poor bastard finds that his human head and left arm have been traded to said fly for a gigantic fly head and claw. Figuring he might be able to fix things if he found the tiny fly and went through the transporter again, this time sorting out the spliced genes, the now grotesque scientist enlists his wife's aid in tracking down the insect, but the tiny fly escapes from the house through a hole in a window screen. As the insect side begins to take over, the scientist convinces his wife to help him commit suicide by placing his head and arm into a multi-ton vertical press. When the wife confesses to the murder to the local police inspector and the scientist's brother, everyone thinks she's crazy, but as she's about to be carted off to the rubber room her young son — who has no idea of the sci-fi tragedy that has occurred — casually mentions that he's seen that odd fly with the white head in the garden, trapped in a spider's web. The kid shows the web to his uncle, and when the uncle takes a close look at the fly he sends the boy away and calls for the inspector.

The two adults peer closely at the fly struggling in the web as a hungry spider looms, and what they see is an unthinkable horror:

There, before their very eyes, is a miniscule part-man, part-fly, firmly ensnared in the web's strands, cowering and pitifully shrieking, "HELP ME! HELP ME!" in a high-pitched whine. Too stunned for words, the inspector picks up a rock and crushes the spider and fly, thereby rendering himself just as guilty of murder as the allegedly-mad wife, so there's no choice but to let her walk.



The scene that has warped innumerable young minds for three generations.

I've seen this film many times over the years, and even though I know it's coming that ending still sends me into a very dark corner of the mind, one that hovers dangerously close to madness. No joke, that scene is strong — if ludicrous — stuff, and the image of that tiny head raises the question of exactly why the human head is now bald and apparently toothless. A fly's life must be pretty fucking bad if it causes you to lose your teeth and hair in no time flat...

So what films ruined you for life, dear reader? Write in and tell me all about it!

'GATOR BAIT (1974)

No, that isn't Ben Affleck in drag.

I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to finally see the 1974 exploitation classic ‘GATOR BAIT, and I have to say I’m more than a little surprised by what it had to offer. The film’s rep rests squarely on the shoulders of its star, ill-fated Titian-tressed beauty Claudia Jennings, a former Playmate of the Year whose body of work lead her to being dubbed the “queen of the B’s,” and after sitting through one of her grindhouse epics it’s doubtful that she’d fade from the viewer’s memory any time soon.

Claudia Jennings: Can you say "Yowza?"

‘GATOR BAIT is a post-DELIVERANCE backwoods revenge pic that takes place deep in an unnamed bayou, a forbidding environment best avoided by those who don’t know its ways, and utterly at home in this seemingly limitless swamp is Desiree Thibodeau (Jennings), a barefoot Cajun trapper — in the skimpiest of outfits, including a pair of Daisy Dukes that pretty much doesn’t have an ass, and a potato sack blouse that allows occasional glimpses of her mouth-watering ninnies —who poaches the local wildlife to provide for herself and her younger brother and sister. Desiree’s activities are illegal but overlooked by the local sheriff who doesn’t care because her family has hunted the swamp for generations, so he figures she’s got the right by virtue of ancestral territory. Unfortunately his moron of a son, apparently the town’s only other cop, has other ideas, and along with a slow-witted hillbilly pal he lays in wait to catch Desiree in the act and offer her a choice of going to jail or fucking him and his buddy. The would-be sexual extortion goes terribly wrong, however, as Desiree eludes her pursuers after lobbing a bag full of poisonous snakes onto their swamp boat; as the stupid cop shoots at the snakes, he blows holes into the boat’s hull, and shoots his homeboy in the head. Panicking, he returns to town and claims Desiree killed his friend, so the sheriff rounds up the dead guy’s outrageously inbred redneck relatives and sets off into the deep swamp to apprehend Desiree. Operating under the false impression that the poacher is a murderess, the rednecks can’t wait to get their hands on her, both to hand out their own brand of justice and get a piece of her “coon-ass.” (The Cajuns in the film are derogatorily referred to as “Coonies.")

That’s the setup, and from there viewers are taken deep into a swamp virtually untouched by man and made witness to a game of cat and mouse so overmatched that it’s like what would happen if a bunch of great white hunters had the incalculable stupidity to fuck with Tarzan on his own turf. Desiree may not have the jungle lord’s near-superhuman capabilities, but she’s plenty smart and knows her way through the bayou like it was the back of her own assless shorty-shorts, so it’s just a matter of time until she’s done killing those assholes one by one.

During the course of all of this we learn a lot about Desiree’s antagonists and swiftly realize just how vile and sleazy they are. The patriarch of the redneck family has a love/hate relationship with his sons, all of whom are at least mildly retarded or just plain mentally ill, and even disciplines the perpetually-horniest of his brood with a bullwhip when he catches the lad attempting to fuck his own very willing sister in the mud near where she was hanging the laundry. (Dad wasn’t all that pissed off about the boy wanting a piece of sis, but was seriously irked at the possibility of the voluptuous girl getting knocked up and squeezing out another dimwit.) The other redneck son holds a personal grudge against Desiree for having had the gall to cut off his balls years earlier when he tried and failed to rape her, and now wanders about with his sawed-off double-barreled shotgun serving as an ever-rigid and potent surrogate penis. And even the sheriff has a big secret: twelve years previous he’d had an affair with Desiree’s mom and “accidentally” murdered her father, a bit of information used by the rednecks as blackmail fodder, guaranteeing that their own illegal shenanigans go unchecked.

With all of this mishegoss going on there’s plenty of bad taste to go around, and once the hunt for Desiree gets underway things go from very bad to that much worse when, after searching for her home for days, the inbred posse locates the place just after our heroine has left on a three day hunting trip. The bad guys stage a home invasion that begins with them abusing Desiree’s tongueless little brother, and her nubile jailbait sister ends up in the lusty hands of the sheriff’s son and the two inbred brothers. As the two un-castrated men hold down the poor girl during the preamble to a gang rape, one of them tells the nutless wonder with the shotgun that he’s going to show him “how a real man does it;” that remark sends the castrato over the frustrated edge, so he throws his brother off of Desiree’s sister, stuffs his shotgun between her legs, and unloads both barrels, retorting “Is that manly enough fer ya?” The girl expires almost immediately, and the misogyny factor goes through the roof. No bullshit, when that bit of business happened I actually exclaimed “Oh my God!!!” and I’m pretty hard to shock. It’s not graphically depicted, but the idea alone really gets to you.

The odd thing about it is that such horrors were once commonplace in exploitation films, and yet, despite the many ultra-violent movies I’ve sat through over the decades, I still find myself jarred by such material. I can handle all manner of cinematic carnage, but the idea of some innocent girl — or any girl at all, for that matter — taking a shotgun blast to the cooter is a bit beyond the pale, so keep that bit in mind before sitting down to watch ‘GATOR BAIT with your girlfriend.

Which brings me to the oft-cited sentiment that ‘GATOR BAIT is one of many exploitation flicks held to be a feminist statement. Lemme tell ya, buddy, the makers of this film simply set out make a movie about a scantily clad hottie who kicks ass on the people who fucked with her and her family, but I strongly doubt that capital F feminism was intentionally involved in the creative process. Think about it: you have fine-ass Claudia Jennings, a woman for whom the wearing of clothing should have been a capital offense, traipsing about the fen in gear that shows off her priapism-inducing assets for all they’re worth, despite the fact that such gear is in no way conducive to the rigors of marshland hunting and trapping.

Desiree is not so much a feminist role model as she is a fantasy wild woman/jungle girl updated and transplanted to a sweltering southern bayou, and as a lifelong fan of such characters I have no problem with that. But don’t hand me that feminist over-analysis horseshit; Desiree’s a forest spirit fantasy made flesh — hell, she even looks like an anthropomorphic fox — and to say otherwise is a tad disingenuous.

Other than the surprisingly taut story, the true surprise about ‘GATOR BAIT is that considering its R rating and the presence of Jennings, the star doesn’t get naked at any point in the movie. Sure, we get tantalizing glimpses of her good stuff, but the requisite nudity for this type of flick falls to her nymphet sister who innocently strips out of her already-revealing shift and bathes in the river. That somewhat disappointed me because I’d seen provocative shots of Claudia Jennings in her Daisy Dukes and unbuttoned sleeveless shirt for over three decades, and expected the film to deliver what the ad campaign couldn’t.

But I wasn’t terribly pissed because she looked great throughout the movie, and sometimes titillation is better than in-your-face nekkidness, and the movie kind of reminded me of pinup art or Al Capp’s Wolf Gal.

Bottom line, ‘GATOR BAIT is definitely worth checking out, and is a lot better film than you’d expect from the “hicksploitation” genre, capably holding it’s own alongside the real heavy hitters of its ilk, namely DELIVERANCE and SOUTHERN COMFORT. It’s solid, down-home, grimy sleaze, and as such it works just fine. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

MACON COUNTY LINE (1974)

After having heard about how great MACON COUNTY LINE is and how it’s one of the undisputed classics of the 1970’s drive-in/”hicksploitation” genre, I finally saw it for myself and was quite surprised by a few things. First off, for years I was convinced that I’d seen it but I now realize I hadn’t, and in fact I think I confused it with one of its many subsequent imitators or fused it in my memories with some other bit of cornpone exploitation; the film I remember seeing opened just like MACON COUNTY LINE, specifically with the title being seen over a freeze-frame of a fleeing, bare-assed guy as Lavern Baker’s timeless rendition of “Jim Dandy” is heard on the soundtrack,

but for some reason I recall the version of “Jim Dandy” in the film I thought I saw as being the ultra-redneck cover done by Black Oak Arkansas. After that I just recall pretty much a feature length nighttime car chase down some backwater road featuring two scared-shitless fifties “J.D.” types pursued at high speed by a crazed sheriff who took potshots at them with a pump-action shotgun while his deputy handled the driving chores. I have no memory of why the cop was after the two teenagers, but there was definitely a sense that the cop was an insane control freak who had it in his head that those Yankee sunsabitches had done something out of line within his jurisdiction, and he simply wasn’t having it. That’s kinda/sorta the plot for MACON COUNTY LINE, but I enjoyed my garbled recollections more than the actual movie and am at a loss to explain why it’s considered a classic.

The film takes places in 1954 and introduces viewers to the Dixon brothers, Chris and Wayne (played by real-life sibs Alan and Jesse Vint), two rakehell lads who epitomize the old “free, white, and twenty-one” spirit of the pre-Civil Rights era, and drops us right into the tail end of their two-week spree of fun and pussy-hunting before they head off for military service. They’re about as likable as a pair of don’t-give-a-shit characters can be, but they both display a casual disregard for the law as evidenced by their gleeful tactics of dining and dashing, stealing money from a whore (after Chris fucks her while making her bark like a dog, easily the funniest scene in the movie), and evading two cops while simultaneously totaling their squad cars, as well as the revelation of being lifelong troublemakers and that their signing up for the military was the only option for Chris as an alternative to being sent up the river for a petty crime (we never know he’s found guilty of, but it’s alluded to that it may be statutory rape), so Wayne joined up with him so his little brother won’t have to go it alone. During the course of their adventures they pick up blonde Texan hitchhiker Jenny (Cheryl Scott) and eventually cross the Macon County line from Louisiana into Georgia, thus setting up the tragedy to come.

Once in Georgia, the gang’s car suffers automotive distress and they pull over to a gas station in the middle of nowhere to get a new distributor cap. While waiting for the live action version of THE SIMPSONS’ Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel to effect repairs, they meet walking NRA advertisement and control freak Sheriff Reed Morgan, played by Max Baer, Jr., best known for his immortal portrayal of eternally sunny and rather dim Jethro Beaudine on THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES television series (1962-1971). The sheriff, always polite but betraying a hint of ominous menace, questions the unfamiliar trio, demanding to see identification and informing them that unless they have thirty bucks between them they’ll be considered vagrants. Having made his point — a display of territorial pissing if ever there was one — the sheriff drives off to pick up his ten-year-old son (Leif Garrett) from military school, unaware that two petty criminals have broken into his house, stolen assorted property, and raped and murdered his adoring wife (Joan Blackman). The crooks get pulled over by some other local cops, and once the stolen loot is noticed in the back seat the situation escalates into a double cop-killing, but the criminals are eventually captured. Meanwhile, our heroes have once more hit the road, but their car once more breaks down, forcing the trio to camp out…just across the way from Sheriff Morgan’s house, right when he arrives home to discover his wife’s bloody corpse. The sheriff and his son both lose it, the kid collapsing into a weepy, catatonic state, while his father spies the trio’s car and incorrectly assumes they’re the culprits. Arming himself to the teeth, the sheriff goes after the trio with guns a-blazin’, and the whole mess culminates with a pile of bodies and a terrific twist that comes seemingly from out of nowhere.

When taken at face value, MACON COUNTY LINE reads like a tense, suspenseful cautionary tale about being in absolutely the wrong place at absolutely the wrong time, but the actual film comes up lacking for a number of reasons:

• The movie clocks in at 88 minutes and the actual conflict between the sheriff and the innocent travelers doesn’t actually occur until roughly the last twenty minutes, by which time I had checked my watch more than once. And when the shit finally does go down, there’s no chase since the trio’s car has broken down; the trio holes up in an empty houseboat, so they’re stuck there waiting for the sheriff to pick them off.

• There were several times when I found myself wondering if the movie even had an editor; during the film’s 88 minutes, much of the running time is spent on endless sequences meant to drive home a feeling of local color but those segments just drag on interminably, and the attempts at humor lay there like a dead raccoon. Except for the bit with the barking whore.

• The heroes’ mischievous nature is meant to be endearing, but their assholish and potentially dangerous behavior toward others was off-putting. The only reason I sympathized with them at all during the sheriff’s crazed meltdown was because I knew they were innocent of the crime, and while they deserved some sort of comeuppance for their earlier transgressions, they certainly didn’t warrant cold-blooded execution at the hands of Jethro Beaudine.

• The wholly gratuitous sex scene between Chris and Jenny brings the movie to a complete halt and does nothing whatsoever to advance the plot, offering a small helping of the nudity that was more or less mandatory for exploitation fare of the period. You simply will not care when the sequence begins, and may even fast-forward through it like I did.

• While we come to know and like the Dixon brothers as a kind of lower-rent Duke Boys (only minus the bows-and-arrows and the General Lee), Jenny is a cipher of a character who’s there only so there can be a female among the heroes, and a female that you just know will eventually get naked for reasons previously discussed. I found her utterly superfluous to the story and genuinely feel the film would have benefited immensely from her total non-inclusion; the only suspense that Jenny’s presence could have generated would have been the possibility of her getting raped by the crazed sheriff, but while he was crazed over the death of his wife, he wasn’t that crazy. That particular female element in hicksploitation would later be famously immortalized in the far superior JACKSON COUNTY JAIL (1976).

But while I found MACON COUNTY LINE to be a vastly overrated disappointment, I was intrigued by Max Baer, Jr’s portrayal of Sheriff Morgan. In sequences not dealing with his harassment of the innocent trio, Morgan is seen as a devoted family man who has a friendly rapport with the citizens of his town, and longs for nothing more than to spend quality time with his son. Far from the psycho cop he’s often described as, Morgan is all too understandably human, control freak flaws and all, and I found it impossible to hate the guy, even when it’s revealed that he’d rather his son not associate with the black kids who play basketball across the street from the military school; Morgan’s racism comes across not as the stereotypical burning hatred usually found in a southern-fried exploitation flick, but rather as the result of being a product of his time, culture, and the accepted status quo. His explanation of his views on the subject to his son is more segregationist than flagrant “lynch them goddamned niggers” bigotry, and considering the tropes common to this genre that comes as a surprise since exploitation filmmakers certainly never had any problem with creating outright, moustache-twirling villains of the vilest order; the quintessential example of a balls-out psychotic racist asshole villain would undoubtedly be William Sanderson’s incredible Jesse Lee Kane in FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977), and when compared to him Sheriff Morgan is certainly no villain. A hardassed control freak driven to violence by irrational grief, yes, but a villain per se? I don’t think so.

There’s been a lot of misleading stuff written about MACON COUNTY LINE over the years that paints the film as considerably more than it is, and as a curious student of the grindhouse/drive-in genre you may be intrigued by its rep, but bear in mind that much of its legend may be heavily colored by fond nostalgia, and that’s why the ready availability of such oft-cited “classics” on DVD can be the genre’s own worst enemy. Seeing is definitely not always believing, so TRUST YER BUNCHE and approach this one with no expectations if you feel you absolutely must see one of the perceived landmarks of hicksploitation pantheon.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Monday, June 28, 2010

THE HORSEMAN (2008)

Here's a quick question: say you're a dad who's out to annihilate the human filth who dosed your daughter with heroin, videotaped her drugged-up and incoherent self being gang-banged by multiple creeps for commercial sale and then dumped her used-up body, and you have one of the offending scum tied nude to a chair with no possibility of him getting away. You need to know where the rest of her rapist/murderers are and he has that information. His genitals are right there, hanging like an uncooked piece of pork, and you have on hand an assortment of deep sea fishing hooks. What would you do?

Writer/producer/director Steven Kastrissios' THE HORSEMAN (as in "of the Apocalypse;" I'm guessing, because the title is not explained in the film) is a welcome and extremely savage throwback to the old school revenge exploitation genre, similar in some respects to TAKEN (also from 2008), only minus the utterly implacable martial skills of Liam Neeson's secret agent or whatever the hell he was, but with elements of the currently popular "torture porn" genre (best exemplified by HOSTEL) thrown in for sadistic measure.

The protagonist of THE HORSEMAN is a grief-and-vengeance-driven father named Christian (Peter Marshall) who works as a pest control professional and quite literally embarks on a mission to take out the two-legged, sentient vermin who did serious wrong to his daughter, a situation he's made aware of when the cops find her body, which contained heroin in her system, along with amounts of semen. As if that information were not enough to send any parent into a state akin to that of a Fury straight out of Greek mythology, Christian receives an anonymous package containing a copy of "Young City Sluts 2," the porno that graphically depicts what happened to his kid, and it is that piece in the puzzle that sends him down a trail of ultra-brutal retribution as he kills his way down the line of distributors, producer, director, actors and anyone else associated with his daughter's sleazy and degrading death. As Christian travels the desolate highways of Queensland in search of his prey, he encounters a young runaway named Alice (Caroline Marohasy) who has troubles of her own, and the two form a charming bond along the way. But that ray of sunshine in their lives is overshadowed by Christian's horrific quest, so no matter how it all turns out, you just know it ain't gonna be pretty for anyone involved.

Every aspect of the film is the best that it can be and I've always felt the Australians have a knack for making exceptional exploitation films — MAD MAX, anyone? — and THE HORSEMAN totally delivers on its very visceral promises. The fights are very realistic, giving us an ordinary man pushed past the brink of savagery who possesses no action movie-style highly-trained fighting abilities but wields a knife, a crowbar and a utility hammer with shattering efficacy, and the flick's violence is definitely not for those who can't take such material depicted with unflinching nastiness. And, as previously mentioned, the film contains several scenes of excruciating torture and sadism that even made me utter assorted exclamations when the going got rough (and, BOY, does it get rough), so proceed with caution if you plan on watching this with friends or family who are not hardened to the excesses of exploitation cinema.

But while THE HORSEMAN has much to offer and is very entertaining, it kind of runs out of steam during its last third and degenerates into repetitiveness as it makes its way to its inevitable climax. The film's structure basically follows Christian's path of vengeance and can more or less be summed up as "Christian finds scumbag, beats the shit out of the guy, tortures him for information and then kills him before continuing on to the next scumbag," and while it's an entertaining ride, it becomes a catalog of predictability (with a few exceptions) that prevents the film from being a classic. That's a frustrating aspect when one considers how strong the narrative is when coming out of the gate and maintaining serious momentum before the final third's coasting (which is not to say that the final act does not contain brutal graphic violence).

But, all quibbles aside, THE HORSEMAN is definitely worth your time, especially if you're looking for the polar opposite of the largely toothless fare that continues to crawl across the world's movie screens. RECOMMENDED.

Cover art for the American DVD release.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER (2002)

A while back, when I started reading a biography and overview of the works of British director Ken Russell, I mentioned the book to my brother-in-all-but-genetics, Chris G, saying it was fun to read a book that so lovingly chronicled my favorite behind-the-camera lunatic. Chris replied with, "Yeah, but you obviously haven't seen THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER!" When I asked him if he meant Edgar Allan Poe's THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and he emphatically answered with, "No, you heard me the first time. THE FALL OF THE 'LOUSE' OF USHER. I'm not a fuckin' idiot, ya know!"

Chris explained to me that it was a fairly recent effort by the mad visionary who gave us legitimate cinematic classics like WOMEN IN LOVE (1969) and THE DEVILS (1971), and that it was shot entirely on a handheld camcorder. He then went off on one of his signature film tirades, foaming at the mouth over how it was one of "the worst pieces of shit" that he'd ever seen, and let me tell you that there's no one more passionate and opinionated about the arts than the Italians, and Chris' irate Goombah-ness has seldom been brought to fore like it had for his anti-LOUSE OF USHER diatribe. Thus forewarned I was intrigued, and when Chris came down to visit this past Saturday night he brought me a copy of THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER so I could judge for myself.

Now, I'm a self-confessed Ken Russell fan, but even I don't like all of his movies, reserving special disdain for the vastly overrated and pretentious GOTHIC, so I was curious to see if THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER could possibly be any worse than that odious arthouse bore. Now that I've seen THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER for myself I can honestly say the following things about it:

1. THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER is without question the worst film Ken Russell has ever made, and may just be the worst film ever perpetrated by a former A-list talent.

2. Cursing, gore and titties aside, this film can be counted as Russell's answer to Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) thanks to its nearly total lack of anything even resembling a budget, a cast of people more obscure than the night staff at a Piggly Wiggly in Oakwood, Georgia, and ludicrous attempts at special effects that wouldn't pass muster on the cheapest of Public Access offerings.

3. Russell has long been on the cusp of being considered a genius or a madman, and with this film my opinion is swayed to the latter school of thought. I am firmly convinced that Ken Russell is balls-out, barking mad.

4. I fucking love this movie and intend to torture as many innocent people with it as I possibly can.

If you regularly read my ramblings on film you know that I love crazy shit that brings your brain to a complete, confused halt and makes you ask, "What the fuck?!!?" about the entire film, so, truly terrible though it is, how could I not love THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER? It was shot by an octogenarian who was not too far off from a stroke, bore a no-name pack of actors that included his groupie wife, was filmed in and around his soon-to-collapse house in the British countryside, and is loaded from toes to tits with imagery that could only have come from the lysergic imagination of Ken Russell, only now his vision was completely and totally free from the interfering claws of a studio and therefor allowed to run utterly unchecked with its dick in its hand and a bizarre song in its heart, so what's not to love?

One of the things I loved about going to an art college was getting to see some of the student movies that came out of the film department, many of which were unintentionally overblown and pretentious, and LOUSE reeks of that aesthetic, only as foisted upon an unsuspecting public by a total lunatic. I mean, just look at this composition and tell me it doesn't look like something out of a high-minded — in both senses of the term — student film:

By now you're probably wondering exactly what the fuck this whole mess is about, and as near as I can tell you it's a fusion of multiple Poe stories and German expressionist classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920 ), in which Roddy Usher, a pop star weirdo/bastard-son-of-the-Joker lookalike,

gets sent to a mental institution after being busted for the murder of his wife, Annabelle Lee. From that small oasis of identifiable plot the viewer is dumped into a plotless, structureless morass of torture, rock music, feeble attempts at rap, incomprehensible religious symbolism with topless nuns tormenting some naked chick with butcher knives,

the hero being threatened with castration by a pasty-white nurse, a spirited fuck session between a blowup sex doll and an inflatable Tyrannosaurus Rex that for the life of me I can't quite figure out,

the mad Dr. Calihari — played appropriately enough by Russell himself, looking and acting totally out of it on booze and/or drugs —

and even a gypsy-conducted séance that features a mummy played by a blonde British chick who, though wrapped from head to toe in drugstore bandages, delivers her lines in a minstrel show "now lookee hyear" voice. During the séance the minstrel mummy dons the mask of Egyptian god Osiris and summons his cock to figure out just what the hell is going on — no, I am not making up a single word of this — said cock being represented by a rainbow-colored Slinky attached to some sort of balloon.

And it somehow only gets crazier from there.

THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER is an eighty-two minute endurance test best recommended for Russell hardcores only, and even maybe not for them. But if you're willing to kick your gray matter into the nearest garbage disposal and check out a relentless assault of truly fucked-up visuals, then look no further than this mind-warping volley of utter madness from a creator who looks like he's going to go out fighting. Exactly what it is he's fighting for or against is open to debate, but he's going out fighting nonetheless, and for that I salute the crazy bastard.

Oh, and I have no fucking clue what the title means.

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

QUICK-DRAW OKATSU (1969)

I love me a good "woman warrior" movie, and this one delivers strongly in both story and hard-earned ass-kicking. No two ways about it, dear readers, this one came from out of nowhere to earn a place among my all-time favorite samurai flicks.

This second in the LEGENDS OF THE POISONOUS SEDUCTRESS series is not a sequel to 1968's FEMALE DEMON OHYAKU, instead starting fresh but once more starring Junko Miyazono in the lead. This time around she plays Okatsu, the adopted daughter of a master swordsman and next in line to inherit the head position in her dad's hardcore dojo, easily edging out her disappointment of a brother. (As you may know, back in the feudal days Japanese women weren't given much respect, so Okatsu's publicly-stated status speaks volumes for her prowess before we even see her kill anybody.) The incredibly classy Okatsu looks like every geisha fantasy come to life and her demeanor is that of a proper Japanese lady, so it's only a matter of time before an ambitious magistrate/balls-out-evil asshole takes a shine to her. Taking time out from his heinous abuse of the local peasants and farmers, the douchebag approaches Okatsu's dad about wanting her hand in marriage, but, knowing full well what a bastard the magistrate is, dad turns him down flat, thereby setting in motion an escalating series of exceedingly tragic events that inevitably force Okatsu to drop the geisha-cutie bullshit and get down the business of serious killing. Aided by the mysterious wanderer Rui (Reiko Oshida), Okatsu's journey of vengeance is a painful one, and the resulting film is a classic of the genre.

QUICK-DRAW OKATSU takes its time in setting up all of its characters and situations, so when the story really gets going the viewer is emotionally invested in Okatsu's plight, something helped immeasurably by star Junko Miyazono. Her poise and "normal person" good looks sell Okatsu's believability and I don't know if she's a trained kendoka, but she handles a sword with commanding presence and deceptive ease.

Junko Miyazono as Okatsu: charming and girly as hell...until you fuck with her.

Equally good is Reiko Oshida as Rui, the more visually-archetypal of the two swordswomen, looking somewhat butch in her shabby traveler's garb and resembling Sanpei Shurato's classic manga hero, the apostate ninja Kamui.

Rui and Okatsu survey their handiwork.

But before you rush off to rent this flick I think it's only fair to warn you that this is one of the films that formed the template for the genre that would become known as "Pink" or "Pinky Violence" flicks, basically softcore porn that displayed acres of skin — but no bushola back in those days — and reveled in torture and cruelty, more often than not directed at the female characters. They eventually grew to become quite bloody, sadistic, and downright distastefully misogynistic in their obligatory rape sequences (an element that also mars many of the samurai flicks of the period), but as QUICK-DRAW OKATSU was one of the prototypes, things don't go so stomach-turningly out of control here. Yes, there's the requisite rape and torture — a scene in which some villains attempt to perform a crude abortion on one character against her will will have you wanting to dive into the screen and kick ass yourself — but there's no nudity shown and the swordplay bloodshed doesn't even come close to the arterial excesses found in the LONE WOLF AND CUB series (what does?). Oh, and did I mention that none other than Lone Wolf himself, the exquisite Tomisaburo Wakayama, turns up as a quirky bounty hunter? (He did a lot of fun character parts before gaining screen immortality as the "Babycart Assassin.")

So TRUST YER BUNCHE and give this one a look. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The same shot from the DVD cover art, as seen in the actual film.