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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Wolf Man (1941) - Horror Monster

The Wolf Man (1941) - There is no doubt what this film is about from the first shot of the film. We open on a bookshelf and a volume is chosen and open to a page to reveal the following. "Lycanthropy (Werewolfism) A disease of the mind in which human beings imagine they are wolf men. According to an old legend which persist in certain localities, the victims actually assume the physical characteristics of the animal. There is a small village near TALBOT CASTLE which still claims to have had gruesome experiences with this supernatural creature. The sign of the werewolf is a five pointed star, a pentagram enclosed by a circle."
There is no doubt the story we are about to see, in this day and age we all know the basics but in revisiting this film I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the screenwriting and the fantastic heart felt performance by Lon Chaney Jr. in the title role.
Like many of the classic Universal horror films it is not a perfect film. There is an uncomfortable mix of American and British sensibilities and accents in the film, what was originally going to be about a telescope installer visiting the European Castle, was change at the studios request to be about Larry Talbot returning home from an education in the United States. For the most part though the script is well put together with some awkwardness. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak attempted to keep the script away from Hollywood executive by delivering it as late as possible; he said in an interview "That gave the front office no time to engage another writer, who could mess up my screenplay. Also Universal was stingy and didn't like to spend money for rewrites. That was the secret of getting a 'classic'. The writer's original screenplay reached the screen, unadulterated by 'improvements.' " (quoted from David J. Skal's great book The Monster Show). Still there is some clunkiness to the early part of the film.
Larry returns home to help his father John Talbot (Claude Rains), in what I think is a slightly miscast Claude Rains. The body types between Chaney and Rains is so different. Chaney the hulking giant and Rains the smaller sharper featured man. Larry Talbot presents some awkward dialog about being sorry he was not there when his brother was killed in a hunting accident but wouldn't he have come back for the services. True global travel was not what it is today and maybe everything would have been done prior to him reaching home. Still they bury the hatch and Larry helps Dad install his new telescope.
Larry can see into town with the telescope and spies the lovely Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) in her room above her fathers antique shop. He makes his way down there and tries to be smooth in asking her on a date. She is too cool for school though and plays inviting while still spurning his advances. While this conversation takes place he buys a wolf headed walking stick. The Wolfs head and five pointed star gives her the opportunity to add to the lore in the film, telling him it the sign of the Werewolf and quoting the saying we get to hear several times in the film.
"Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night, May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."
He buys the walking stick and although she says unconvincing no to his offer to meet for a walk and visit to the gypsy camp to have her fortune read. He leave happy and returns at eight like he said he would. She is actually looking for him when eight arrives. She plays coy and before they start their walk she brings out her friend Jenny (Fay Helm) who will come along on the date. Gwen is excellent in these scene keeping the Larry Talbot character off balance even as he starts to feel confident around her. The interplay is quite cute. Shame poor Larry will later have to learn she is engaged to be married to Frank Andrews (Patric Knowles). Why did she allow this date anyway?
On the walk to the gypsy camp we get to see the wolf bane is indeed in bloom as Jenny picks some. At the camp she goes first and Bela (Bela Lugosi) in a minor role starts to tell her fortune but sees the circled 5 point star on her palm. "What do you see?" she pleads to his distress, but he sends her away, he is deeply distressed as he stands over the wolf bane she has dropped on the ground.

Now we are in the thick of the story as the fleeing Jenny is pursued through the fog by the werewolf. The wolf howls, she moves faster, then Larry and Gwen hear the screams of Jenny and race back towards her. Larry comes upon the wolf after it has ripped of Jenny's throat. He fights with is and is bitten before managing to beat it to death with his cane. The old gypsy woman Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) and Gwen take the wounded Larry back to the castle.
Problem is when the authorities arrive on the crime scene they do not find the wolf carcass but instead find Bela beaten to death next to Jenny who indeed had her throat ripped out. They want to talk to Larry about this of course and go to the castle. There Larry explains what happened and they share the results questioning whether he could have been confused in the dark. Larry insists he saw what he saw and attempts to show them his wound on his chest though there is no wound, just a 5 pointed star scar. It is so sad the way Larry struggles with what is happening. He knows things can not be what everyone is saying but can't prove otherwise. There is a striking scene at the tomb of the deceased Bela where Larry in hiding listens to Maleva recite a poem for her dead son and then when she leave he breaks down in tears.
The authorities are watching him, he learns about the werewolf curse from Maleva and she gives him a pendant to protect him. He though fears for Gwen and gives the charm to her. The first night of transformation is coming it is interesting how little we the audience get to see. Spoiled with modern special effect, the simple cut shot to hairier and hairier legs is so quaint. He is impressive after his transformation with the full facial makeup of yak hair applied in layers.
The film really though is not about the makeup but about the man struggling with the horror of the beast inside. As Larry struggles and the authorities close in he tries to get people to understand it is not all in his head. He attempts to leave but before he can convince Gwen to come with him he sees the sign on her hand. It is inevitable that Larry will die as the werewolf and when it is done it is a truly sad tale of a man caught in an impossible situation. When he gives his own father his walking cane the final night we know what is to happen. It in this case doesn't take anything away from this wonderful classic monster tale. Lon Chaney Jr. is excellent and captures the struggle beautifully. I whole recommend this film for all.
Rating (8.2) 5.0 and up are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system BUY IT!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - Horror Cannibals

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - Well that was not as half bad as it was billed. Cannibal Holocaust has been on my list as one of those infamous films so shocking that as a youth I was not allowed to see it. Then in adulthood never felt like a cannibal movie was something I wanted to see. In seeing it I have to say although there was some offensive scenes in it the film as a whole was not particularly shocking and fails to live up to its reputation. Mostly there are two things that make this film as shocking as it is. The first is the misogynistic abuse of women in the film, there are three scenes in particular that are horrible. One where a native man does a ceremonial rape (with sharpened branch) and killing of his adulterous wife. Then twice there are gang rapes and murder of women and some sort of abortion by natives which made no sense. All of these scenes are horrible and hard to sit through, and sickening to watch. The second gruesome set of scenes have to do with killing animals on camera, some south American rodent, a large turtle, a monkey and a piglet are all killed on screen. These scenes are not some sort of CGI but actual filmed killings. Really nasty stuff. All is to pull the viewer into a disgusted response to the film and all are effective for that purpose.

Then there is the two stories that these scenes take place. The film starts with scenes of the original four adventurers heading to the Amazon to get footage for a documentary about cannibal tribes, then we learn that they never came back and the film company hires Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) an anthropologist to head down after them. So the first 40% of the film is Harold tracking the route of the younger group. When he finds their remains he manages to get the canisters of film they shot and heads back to NYC.

The film takes an interesting turn when he is back in the city. The documentary producers want him to review the film and help put together a documentary about it. He agrees but after viewing the film knows that the first group behaved totally unprofessionally in their interactions with the natives. He tries to convince the movie people that the film would not represent good documentary journalism because of the harsh violent behavior of the team. They argue that outrageous behavior will sell a ton of copies and that intellectual integrity should be balance with what sells. As this conversation continues we keep going back to the original footage of the group where they rape and more like conquistadors then anthropologists. When Harold seems to be losing the battle with the production company he brings the executives in for a screening of the most horrific footage.

The first group, Jack (Perry Pirkanen), Mark (Luca Barbareschi), and Alan (Carl Gabriel Yorke) terrorizes a native village burning raping and murdering. They shout their bravado to the camera about how superior they are. Then the final canister shows how the female of the group Faye Daniels (Francesca Ciardi) is gang raped and beaten tyo death with clubs and the men are mutilated and killed in turn by the vengeful villagers.

What is interesting to me that we have this film Cannibal Holocaust, that is famous for selling brutal images making an argument about how much is too much. Amazing how the thing that is discussed as going too far is indeed asking the question, it is so meta. Still I think the imagery was too much out of my own tastes for me to recommend it to anyone else. So let me answer the question how far is too far? This is.

Rating (4.1) 5.0 and up are recommended, in the Zombiegrrlz system I would say SKIP IT!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blood and Roses (1960) Horror Vampire

Blood and Roses (1960) - This review is part of the Final Girl Film Club, Stacie Ponder's excellent site and work, including the feature film Ludlow are worth every minute of your time so go check her out.
I want to call this film a Gothic vampire story but it does and does not quite fit in that category. Certainly the feel of the film is just that but it is set in the 20th century. The Estate of Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer) and the atmosphere within the small circle of characters is almost Hammeresque. As the film starts we have a voice over from as we look out of the cockpit window of a plane taking off. The voice of Millarca talks about how things have changed in 500 years.
Then we are introducing characters at the Karnstein Estate, Leopoldo has a fireworks expert in to create a fireworks display for his celebration. He is engaged to Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli) they are planning a big lead up to their wedding. It is determined that the display will take place up by the old castle on the grounds which leads to the story of the Vampire Millarca ( I hope I have that name right?) Leopoldo's cousin Carmilla tells us the story of Ludwig and Millarca, they were in love and when she was dying, too young and on the eve of their wedding; She told him their love would be eternal. In 1765 after a rash of mysterious deaths the peasants revolted fearing that there was a vampire in the Karnstein family and invaded the family plot at the old castle and staked all the bodies. Ludwig stole away with Millarca's body hiding it deep in the castle so it would not be staked. His love though was not as eternal as hers and three more times Ludwig would get engaged and each time on the eve of his wedding his bride to be died. When Carmilla finishes the story she show all the painting of Millarca, who could be her twin.
When the fireworks display causes some World War II munitions to explode in the castle the tomb of the vampire spirit is revealed and it calls to Carmilla to be her vessel. So here we are all set up for a repeat of the story we just heard. Leopoldo nad Georgia are to be married in just a few days and the vampire Millarca now in the body of Carmilla is set to get the descendant of Ludwig as her own. Playing into this is Carmilla's personal story that she has always loved Leopoldo since they were children. Writer/Director Roger Vadim plays the line of trying to make the audience think that the vampire aspects of the film may be concoctions of Carmilla's mind. That she just takes on the persona of the vampire in order to subconsciously sabotage the wedding. Still there are some vampire tropes we can look to to try to confirm if is is actually mental illness or a real spirit.
The chemistry and sexual tension between the two lead actresses in remarkable in this film. After a walk Georgia lays down in the sun under a tree and closes her eyes, Carmilla hovers over her intently staring and just as she seem she will move in for a kiss they are interrupted. Wow! At this point I need to note that both of these women are stunning. Elsa Martinelli and Annette Vadim shine as true beauties of cinema, each jaw dropping lovely. Elsa's perfect Italian face and incredible dark eyes are intoxicating. I found myself anticipating the next time the two would be onscreen together again as the scene ended.
The film moves on to show us changes in Carmilla, from animals being afraid of her to her ability to correct a historian on the Karnstein histories, to knowing a 100 year old dance are meant to confirm to the audience that she may be Millarca. We see her as the voice over tells us she must return to her tomb each night, walking through the forest to the castle. Then there is the whole needing blood to survive. Carmilla question young maid Lisa about where she lives and it is not long before we have a very tense hunt scene as Lisa tries to flee the possessed Camilla.
Camilla grows closer to Leopoldo also and he is a bit of a cad in that he does not immediately spurn her advances. This is a guy who is going to be married in a couple days and he is getting close to his cousin like no man should. He goes as far as offering to allow her along to his honeymoon in the Caribbean? WTF! Then after she has some kind of hallucinatory episode he actually ends up with her in bed her dress torn away from her breast, and kisses her passionately.
Lisa's body is found creating rumors among the locals that the vampire is back. Leopoldo is pulled away to talk to the police just as the summer rains come. A shift in the film signified by storms, love this technique. Camilla and Georgia have taken shelter in the greenhouse after being caught in the rain. The women talk and Georgia lets Camilla know that she knows Camilla is in love with Leopoldo, as she does she hands her a rose pricking her hand. When she sucks her finger she gets a spot of blood on her lip. Camilla sees this and moves in gently kissing her to get the blood. The voice over says "One drop is not enough I must have more, much more." as she moves towards neck. This scene is beautifully shot and just a pleasure to watch. As Camilla moves in a servant arrives and leads them to the house with an umbrella, we close the scene on the flower Camilla was holding, its color fades.
As the storm continues outside Leopoldo works it out so the wedding will be moved to Venice. He suspects Camilla and when he has Georgia's father announce the need to leave the castle Camilla actually breaks her glass against the table in her distress at the news. She realizes that her jig is up and is spurred to move more quickly. She visits the room of the sleeping Georgia and like a beast of prey circles the bed, as she closes in Georgia says in her dream "Millarca." then we enter a surreal dream sequence of limited color where voice over confirms that Camilla is dead and the spirit of Millarca possesses her body. The very creative scene ends with Millarca and Georgia spinning in a dance together, Georgia is bitten and screams. Returning us to the real world where there are actually bite marks on Georgia's neck .
Millarca heads to the castle to her tomb but does not know there is a crew preparing to deal with (explode) the remaining munitions there. When the explosion takes place Millarca is thrown off a cliff and lands on a fence post staked through the heart. The final scene is Georgia and Leopoldo on a plane to Venice. The voice over from Millarca lets us know the dream sequence allowed her to enter the body of Georgia and that she is finally to be reunited to her Karnstein, closing with the rose she is holding fading its color away.
This is a great retelling of the story from the novella Carmilla and is such a well executed film, the story is tight and the cinematography is excellent. This one was a joy to watch.
Rating (7.9) 5.0 and up are recommended in the Zombiegrrlz system I would say Buy It!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Satan's School For Girls (1973) - Horror Cult

Satan's School for Girls (1973) - This made for TV movie is more of a good name than a good film. The film opens with Martha Sayers (Terry Lumley) running for her life, driving a car through the hills of California. The music is heavy and suspenseful and she is obviously terrified. She makes her way to her sisters place but when she knocks on the door no one answers. Turning she is falsely scared when the caretaker is there with the key to the house. She just starts to feel a bit safer when she turns towards the camera, there is someone there and she recognizes whom ever it is. She screams! Her sister Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin) returns to the house and finds her sister hanged in the living room.
After the police rule it a suicide even though Elizabeth is sure that it can't be?, she enrolls in the same boarding school her sister attended to investigate what the conditions that could drive her sister to such an end. The school the Salem School for Girls has a headmistress (Jo Van Fleet) and aparently two professors, the psychology Prof. Delecroix (Lloyd Bochner) and Prof Clampett (Roy Thinnes) but I really don't know what class he was teaching. The rest of the cast are actresses playing students and include two "Charlie's Angels", Roberta (Kate Jackson) and Jody (Cheryl Ladd). They make fast friends of Elizabeth when she arrives.
I am not going to take a lot of time with this film, a good deal of the investigation Elizabeth does is useless and consists of her walking around the school when the power goes off. Eventually she and Roberta realize that the headmistress knew about a suicide before it actually happened. They need to talk to the cops but first for some reason they need to go back to the creepy dark cellar room they found earlier. When they arrive there the big turn happens and we learn Roberta is part of a cult. She and six other girls are going to sacrifice themselves so the devil can grow in power on the earth. The problem is that seventh girl they need, like Martha the next girl also chose not to die for the devil and had to be made to look like a suicide so she would not tell the authorities. The devil, and boy this is not a spoiler if you struggled this far through this film is Prof Clampett. He wants Elizabeth to be his seventh. Instead she burns down the school and leaves and he fades so we know you can't kill the Devil. Whatever....
This is such a television movie and so from the seventies. Bell bottoms and jeans up above the belly button, over use of music and the built in fade to blacks for commercials. Kate Jackson is a bit cardboard and story is crap. Our Lead doe eyed Pamela Franklin does her best but she has such a poorly written part that the extent of her acting is to walk around the school in the dark.
Rating (2.6) 5.0 and up are recommended

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Signs (2002) - Horror Aliens

Signs (2002) - *Spoilers* In case you have been living under a rock for years and have yet to see this film, know that I am going to break it down all the way to scenes and dialog thus giving away any mystery it may contain. If you do not want to know this information please stop reading.

Rachel at The Zombiegrrlz Podcast was talking about how much she liked the film and I thought I would have some fun to feed back to her some thoughts. So I wrote this in an email to her.
Lets start with the idea that Rachel can defend Signs, really? I suppose
if you can suspend disbelief enough that you believe an intelligent race
from from another planet. A race that has mastered the ability to travel
vast distances through space, they see this little planet out on the
outer edge of the galaxy and then decide conquering it is a good idea.
Now I know in their meetings someone brought up the fact that water
burns them like fucking acid and it would be stupid to conquer a planet
that was 70% water, they are intelligent after all. Sure the next
available planet to conquer is like 3 times as far away but water burns
them like fucking acid. So maybe lets not conquer Earth. Okay so if that
logic in its simplest form isn't enough lets look at the spiritual side
of the movie.
We have a minister who has lost faith in his beliefs after his wife was
cut in half by a drunk driver. Lucky for him that she lay pinned between
the car and the tree enough so she can say goodbye. In this goodbye we
get the idea that all things happen for a reason. She wants Graham to
see (the signs) she wants the son to be able to be silly and the little
girl to listen to her brother and for Merrill to swing away. Everything
is built in so that they can perfectly protect themselves from the
aliens, by Merrill swinging away. So really this is God's way of getting
Graham back into his beliefs, kill his wife, invade the planet with
intelligent, not really, aliens, having a little girl leave water
around, almost kill his son and then have the home run and strikeout
leaders for the minor leagues swing away. Good thing his home run
instinct took over, it would not have been such a nice ending if he
swung over and over at the water glasses only to repeatedly miss. It is
just so believable.
Now to give credit where it is due, M. Night is not a bad movie maker,
even when the story is ridiculous he knows how to build tension create
useful beats and film scenes. Technically the movie does a lot of things
right. This is not a hard to watch movie, it is just the story arc is
Bhah Humbug.

Now I was only half serious about disliking the film, I was trying to be witty in an email to my favorite horror podcast. I had not even seen the film in several years so was not even sure I was correct in what I was saying, and indeed after re watching it see a couple errors I made. What will follow here is a more in depth review of the film.
Signs is at its heart a story about a man and his family who have had an incredibly painful loss. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lost his wife in a car accident and his faith in God. He was the small Pennsylvanian town minister and the horrible loss has left him feeling God can not care what happens to him. Because no man is an island his family must now suffer through their pain with a father (and brother to the Merrill character (Joaquin Phoenix)) who is no longer able to offer them the emotional strength he once did. A global crisis of an alien invasion becomes a very personal story of how this man finds his faith again and in so doing regains a healthy life for himself and his family.
Director M. Night Shyamalan really shows his chops in the technical choices he makes in this film. What strikes you early in the film is the quiet, after the suspenseful music of the opening credits the film is quiet for quite a while, no music or sound effects. This gets the audience that they think they are going to get one kind of movie, a suspenseful thriller only to then really have to wait as the film builds slowly. Framed in close up we see the smiling Hess family portrait and then in close up Graham startling awake. He is alone in his bed so we know that the wife from the picture is missing. Graham wakes and listens at his kids bedroom door before going about his morning routine. Then the silence is pierced by a small girl screech, Bo (Abigail Breslin) is is probably 5 years old in the film. The scream is off in the distance and then repeats waking uncle Merrill also. They run out into the cornfield surrounded yard and can hear the dogs off in the distance barking, the son Morgan (Rory Culkin) about 12 years old, yells for his father from in the corn. The adults run out to them and we have a slow reveal of staring faces for the reaction prior to the revealing of a crop circle which as the camera climbs into the sky is seen to be several in a pattern.
Another interesting thing you will notice early in the film is that you do not see what did happening but instead the reactions of characters away from the action. The first scene is an example with the adults hearing the kids in the field instead of starting by following the children out into the corn. A couple scenes later when Graham is out at the crop circle speaking with Officer Caroline Paski (Cherry Jones)about how strange the animals are acting in the county. He stops and comes towards the camera in close up and says "I don't hear my children." When Graham and Caroline rush back to the yard they find that Morgan has had to kill on of the dogs while protecting his sister. Again the consequences of the action is seen we never see or hear the action of the dog attack on the kids. Another early technique of note is shooting from low angles. Many shots are very composed with creative fore and background layering of characters and objects and many shot from low angles. In fact throughout the film there are many examples of this and they seem to create a small town portrait album of life on a rural farm. The technique is really well done and because most of the shots are stationary is adds to the quiet creepiness of the film's mood.
Graham's story is that his wife has been tragically killed by a man who fell asleep at the wheel. The film makes a point to say he was not drinking, one of the errors in my missive. So we have Graham, who is just not the same in as he was before the accident. He used to be a minister in the town and now he does not want to talk about God. There are several places where his behavior is odd. His son Morgan says of his Dad as he tends the abandoned grilling food, that his Dad is going to burn them again. This initiates letting us know Graham is not a totally together guy, seeming to lack the attention span to get dinner cooked and that it is not the first time this has happened. Later when he comes up to Morgan and the dead dog his affect is flat as he gets the story of what happens. He is slow to go and comfort his daughter like he is emotionally a step behind where he should be. The kids in this scene are the same instead of being hysterical at the dog attack and death they are both withdrawn. Even Caroline the cop who is behind Graham when he sees the dead dog does nothing to assist or comfort the children. If the flat affect and behavior that is exhibited by everyone in the family was a directorial choice then I think I know what he was going for. Make Graham a man at the start of the film who is completely incapable of caring for his family. It explains the Merrill being there to help and the family. Because he is going through the motions, they family is subconsciously mimicking him. It establishes just how broken this family is.
The alien invasion story picks up quickly in this film and there are scene specifically to set up the big showdown at the end. Bo wakes Graham in the night to say there was a monster in her room, as Graham talks to her he looks out the window behind her where we get our first view of the creature out on the barn roof. Thinking the crop circle from earlier and the alien on the barn is some local kids he and Merrill have a funny enough scene racing around the house to scare them off. We see though that the thing on the barn was not the right shape to be a teenager. The next day when Caroline is back to hear about it we have an decently constructed scene where we hear on the television that crop circles are everywhere. They are not ready yet to believe in spacemen and Graham since he is so emotionally unavailable decides to take the family into town to get their minds off the happenings at the farm. This was probably not the best idea because in town the crop circle activity is all anyone can talk about. Although at this point the film has been very quiet there is a pacing to the plot that really keeps you interested. We have had several interaction that really bring home the small town feel and to get little plot points in play for later, Caroline's stories, Tracey at the pharmacy wanting to confess her sins to Graham her former reverend, the interaction Merrill has at the recruiting office, The quirky book owners, so all combine for that down home feel. M. Night Shalaman does a nice job after these lighter moments to bring us back to the serious state of the family. In this case after visiting the town folk the Hess family is having pizza when Ray the driving when Graham's wife Colleen died passes by them at the pizzeria. It is a good counter point after the last few minutes.
There are some very effective scary scenes in this movie, the best and probably most remembered is Graham going out into the cornfield at night with a flashlight. He is feeding the remaining dog and hears a clicking all too alien sound in the corn. He moves out not seeing anything until he feels silly, then the sound again but in his rush to turn towards it he drops the light and it goes out. He scrambles for the light and bangs it the light shines upon an alien leg as it moves away in the corn. Graham panics and runs full tilt for the house. The payoff is there in this scene. At this point Graham changes from someone who does not want to know what is happening in the world to someone personally interested.
That night after learning about lights in the sky over Mexico city the kids are asleep and Graham and Merrill have the talk that defines the entire movie. Merrill asks Graham about the possibility that this is the end of the world.
"Do you think it could be?"
Graham says "Yes"
"How can you say that?"

"That wasn't the answer you wanted?"

Merrill comments on Grahams change which at this point has been well established.

"Couldn't you pretend to be like you used to be? Give me some comfort."

Graham replies, "People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence, they see it as a sign. Evidence that there is someone out there watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. A happy turn of chance. I'm sure the people in group number two are looking at those 14 lights in a very suspicious way, for them this situations a 50/50, could be bad , could be good, but deep down they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own and that fills them with fear. Yeah there are those people, but there's a whole lot of people in group number one. They see those 14 lights, their looking at a miracle, and deep down they feel that whatever is going to happen, there will be someone there to help them, and that fills them with hope; so what you have to ask yourself is what kind of a person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way, is it possible that there are no coincidences?"

Now the interpersonal comments that come after this speech are wonderfully telling about where both men are. Graham is about to launch on his journey to move from a person in group one, back to a group two, he was in that group before his wife died but he is not there at this point and it is poignantly sad. He closes the scene talking about the theme by saying this to Merrill, "There is no one watching out for us Merrill, we are all on our own." At this point interspersed with the plot are flashbacks so we the audience can see why this broken man is so alone in his world.

Ray calls but does not say much but Graham recognizes it is him and heads over to his house. Ray apologizes and also talks about how it have happened for a reason, that it is the only explanation. The film you see needs to start exploring the idea that everything that happens does so for a reason. A clumsy piece of info about the aliens not liking water is thrown out. An alien is also locked in Ray's cupboard and there is another cool scene with Graham using a knife to try to see under the door to see the creature. It stabs its fingers out at him and gets a couple cut off for its trouble. Again very exciting and the classic monster movie trope of not showing the creature in full too early in the film. There is a shift in the film after this point, the wind starts blowing making the wind chimes sound. The family watches reports of what is now looked at as Merrill says "War of the Worlds" and the television makes a point that hundreds of thousands are flocking to churches. Again this is the filmmaker purposely avoiding showing any action in the outside world. We here this is what is happening but we stay firmly based on the farm. There are no reports of what the military are doing against the aliens.

Instead we get the last supper scene where Graham is trying to deal with the growing unease of the situation by finally taking steps to distract the kids. In this case to create a meal where everyone can have exactly what they want. The scene again does not show the activity of the making of the meal but instead we start a scene where everyone is sitting silently around the table the food in full display. Graham and his son have an argument about saying a prayer. Graham is very clear that he will not spend one more minute of his life in prayer. I think the idea was to reiterate that Graham is incapable of comforting his family but I really don't think the scene is very good. It is a bit unclear why the scene went the way it did and it added nothing new. I think it was supposed to be a turning point where Graham starts to come back but not really his change only happens in the last ten minutes of the movie so it really is just more confirmation of his state. Reports on the television let us know the invasion is on and the family is going to secure the house and sit it out. The film picks up its pace in the third section, music is more prominent and the family is actually doing things instead of just sitting around. Boarding the house and getting ready to go to the cellar because they know the aliens are coming. Graham gets some time to connect a bit better with the kids telling them their birth stories, then the last movement starts. The house is boarded and the family begins to hear the sounds of aliens trying to get in. They all head down to the cellar. There is a deleted scene from this film where Merrill is saying the cellar is a bad idea. You could be trapped with only one way out. It could have been a nice nod at Night of the Living Dead and he was right. The suspense is there in the cellar as the aliens try to find a way in. They fail to get in but do give young Morgan an asthma attack. The inhaler unfortunately is upstairs and in a pivotal scene Graham comforts his son and shouts at the heavens for the horrible luck of possibly losing another family member. In what is the most remarkable turnaround in spiritual life history Graham goes from hating God to doing a very effective comforting of his son while at the same time convincing of himself that you have to believe. Like Abraham and Issac in the bible the father needs to trust Gods will and be someone who believes in miracles. When they make it through the night there is a different Graham who climbs out of the cellar. On the radio they hear that the invasion was actually raiding parties and that the aliens were taking humans but that they seem to be leaving. Needing medicine for poor closed lungs Morgan they head upstairs.

This next scene ties together the "Signs" aspect of the film. While Graham is taking the television out of the closet we see the reflection of an alien in it. The alien has Morgan and we see it is the alien Graham injured at Ray's. Now instead of staying with this seen we move to the scene of Colleen's death and her final words. Graham now somehow connects everything she said to him to his current crisis. He tells Merrill who has entered the room to "Swing Away" and the alien gets defeated because the glasses of water the girl has left around the house are the perfect weapon for the bat swinging home run king. The water burns the alien like, well like fucking acid.The fact that the asthma attack that Morgan had has closed his lungs enough that the alien gas that was sprayed in his face does not kill him is yet another sign that everything is happening for a reason and Graham should be a believer in miracles. So nicely tied in a bow. Now I have some problems with this film and besides the main one that the characters are all affect deficient, sure this could have been to set the mood that the family was damaged but I think it also made for really unnatural behavior. The children were way too independent of the Father and Uncle, I know for a fact that in dangerous times kids are clingy not on their own hiding in corners watching. Graham and Merrill would never have been able to pry Bo off them if this had been played straight. Another problem could have been a choice. Most scenes started with the characters sitting or standing silently. It was off putting to me that they didn't seem to have any interactions until the director yelled "action" seldom do you come into a scene where people are already doing something or interacting with each other. It made the film a bit too mechanical for my liking.

I found the very premise of the movie hard to swallow. In the scene where Grahan is telling Merrill about the kinds of people in the world, I just reject the idea that he is relaying. It could be the Non believer in me but I do not think there are two kinds of people in the world. The people of faith and those without. Does belief really mean you are hopeful when you see those lights in the sky? I don't think so particularly in this country some of the most fearful and harmful people in our politic claim to be steeped in their faith. Will athiests really have fear if the aliens appear in the sky? From my own non-believer position I can tell you no. In fact the change that would happen if we were to find other life forms in the universe could be wonderous, not scary. I think more that life beyond our planet would transform our societies and belief system in what I hope would be positive ways. I get that the film is looking at Grahams story and his journey back to faith but it is really sad that he is such a primitive that he can only see belief in a black and white way. His belief system leaves out so many possible ways at looking at the situation. It is so Christian centric ignoring that a large part of the population doesn't believe in "heaven" and so would not see the events the way he does. I am sure christains really dug this film as it plays to their way of looking at things. Still signs is not a bad film, it creates a smaller story in the scope of world events and effectively plays that story out. You may not buy everything it is saying but the film is done with enough skill that it earns this blogs recommendation.

Rating (6.1) 5.0 and up are recommended, The Zombiegrrlz would say Buy it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cannibal Ferox (1981) - Horror Cannibals

Cannibal Ferox (1981) - The year after Cannibal Holocaust and his own initial entry Eaten Alive! (1980), Umberto Lenzi throws his hat back into the cannibal movie ring with this mildly offensive entry. This film starts with a warning about the violent content and warns those who do not want to see sadistic torture to stop watching. Since Frankenstein first did this sort of "warning", it has never deterred anyone, so of course I continued to watch. It opens in NYC and we follow a guy walking around town as the credits play. As we learn later this guy is looking for Mike Logan (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), his dealer and eventually walks all the way to his apartment only to be accosted and then killed by two mob guys who are also looking for Mike. You see Mike took $100,000 from the mob and they are determined to get the cash back. The poor junkie, his only role is to get this piece of information out and bring our police characters into the picture. Its funny that the mob guy puts a silencer on his pistol only to have the sound effect be normal volume, they really thought that piece of dubbing out.
When the police come to the murder scene we learn of the owner of the apartment Mary Stanton (Fiamma Maglione) who plays a small role in the film helping to tie thins in the Amazon jungle to the NYC scenes. She ends up being Mike's girlfriend and is the one who heads down to find the guy in Columbia.
Now we are introduced to our group in Columbia, brother and sister Rudy Davis (Danilo Mattei) and Gloria Davis (Lorraine De Selle)are down working on Gloria's thesis. She is here to prove that cannibalism does not really exist and her brother is taking the photos. Gloria's friend Pat Johnson (Zora Kerova) is along looking for adventure. As they try to find a village where cannibalism reportedly happen we get to see Pat's character. Looking for a shower Pat is very willing to go home and sleep with a local cop to get one. Later she is referred to as a whore and really has no problem with that. There is some music that reminds me of Demons or House by the Cemetary one of those Italian horror classics. The three head off in the jungle, their jeep getting unmovable, stuck in the mud when they are well out of the range help. They have to decide whether to cut across this unfamiliar jungle to the river and hopefully catch on with a boat or walk the 3 days along the trail they just covered. From years of leading hiking trips I could tell you what you should do, but our folks do the opposite and head off into the jungle. When they come across a native sitting in the jungle eating giant grubs they are disgusted. Little do they know of all the rest of the native watching them. after a night of camping in the jungle a scene that is really unnecessary other than to have Pat tie this little pet animal up for the night, we get to see a python eat her put in graphic detail. If you are keeping score, 1 grub eating native and 1 small animal eaten by snake is the extent of the gruesome scenes.
Scene three is they come across the bodies of a couple natives dead from a jungle booby trap. Not really that bad but the sight of death creates a bunch of tension for them. When Mike and Joe ( Walter Lucchini) stumble out of the foliage we get a story. Oh and yes this is Mike Logan from NYC that the cops and Mary Stanton are looking for. They see that Joe is really injured and help the pair. Mike a coke-head who says they came down for cocaine, but met a guy who was searching for emeralds so they joined him. About a month into their prospecting he says they were attacked by cannibal natives and Joe and Mike were lucky to escape. The guy they went in with was not so lucky.
Pat takes a liking to Mike and they have a good time. In the morning Gloria is missing so the other four go looking for her. Rudy and Joe stumble across the village that is supposedly 10 miles away according to Mike's story. When they investigate they see dead bodies, but the native seem harmless. More and more of Mike's story seems questionable. They find Gloria and save her from a hunting pit and the pig stuck in it with her. Now all together again at the village Joe is not doing so well. The injuries he has are infected and he needs to rest. This is when we really get to see what a slime-bag Mike is. He wants to leave Joe and get the fuck out of dodge before the young warriors of the village come back from hunting. Arguing with Gloria about it he repeatedly calls her twat in the least appealing way (as if there was an appealing way.) Then things really go south with him. Hanging out with Pat doing coke they bully a couple of younger natives and Mike ends up killing one of them. Asswipe Mike he will be known as from here on.
Joe then relays the real story of the village and why all the old timers there seem afraid of the whites. See the guy Asswipe Mike followed out here was one of the Indios. He had a few emeralds and Asswipe Mike thought it was going to be an easy score to find a stash somewhere out here at the village. He decides enough waiting and tortures the guy trying to get him to give up a location for more emeralds. He castrates the poor dude and leaves him hanging on a post to die. While Joe is sharing this yearn with Gloria and Rudy Asswipe Mike and Pat are leaving them behind knowing that when the main force of Indios return to the village there is going to be shit to pay.
Back in NYC Mary and the police have a talk and she learns about Asswipe Mikes money theft and that the police are also looking for him. She knows he is in Columbia and heads down herself to look for him. This is important because you think she will be the survivors ride out of the jungle. This isn't true though and the entire storyline is wasted when she never finds any of them. So why continue to go back to this?
The jungle group are all eventually all captured by the natives and now Asswipe Mike is going to be made to pay for what he did. They string him up and quickly cut his dick off and eat it raw in front of him. This is really a gross scene but it is done slight of hand and is quick. They take the time to cauterize the wound so now Asswipe Dickless Mike can live to be tortured some more. Gloria sees the cannibalism though. To draw the story out longer the group is moved from one village to another. This gives Rudy a chance to run for it but unfortunately for him after falling and cutting his leg he falls in a pool of Piranha and is shot with a poison dart never to be seen again. Trapped at the new village Gloria gets the climatic realization about cannibalism. "What a God damn fool I was thinking I had to leave New York to find the reason behind cannibalism. Do you realize its us, the so called civilized people who are responsible for their cruelty. Us and our superior society, violence breeds violence." She was there to disprove cannibalism but then sees it as a reaction to the brutality of Asswipe Dickless Mike.
The final escape comes when a native feeling bad for the two women Pat and Gloria attempts to free them lowing a rope into the hovel they are kept in. Problem is at the same time Asswipe Dickless Mike is escaping and chases him off. While trying to escape he has one of his hands cut off when the villages capture him, this last chance moves us to the final shocking torture scene. These are indeed gruesome scenes that we were warned about. Pat is brought out and large hooks are stabbed up through her breasts and she is left hanging to bleed out and die. Poor Gloria has to watch. At this same time the plane with a government agent and Mary Stanton is circling the area looking for the village. Asswipe Dickless One Handed Mike is put in a head grip and macheted exposing is coke addled brain for feasting upon. So much for that coked out loser.
The nice villager helps Gloria to escape and she is found by a couple crocodile poachers and makes it back to NYC. The final scene we see her receiving her PhD after completing the thesis. Does she tell of the cannibalism or not? The film has some things going for it, it to an extent has things from early in the movie connect to things later on. The message that the cannibalism is a response to exposure to those from the "civilized" world is decent and presented reasonably well. Still there was a bunch of animal planet footage thrown in to extend the movie. The gross out scenes were few and far between and compared to what can be seen in modern film making are pretty tame. Then there is the fact that most of the characters are just not very likable. Even our final girl is not very nice although she is no where close the the horror of Asswipe Dickless One Handed Mike.
Rating (4.6) 5.0 and up are recommended, In the Zombiegrrlz system Skip It!