Archive for November, 2010

"Piranha 3-D" Movie Poster

Okay, so I meant to get around to reviewing this back when it came out but I was lazy and I didn’t. Still, now’s not a bad time to take a look at Piranha 3-D since it’s due out on DVD any day here, and while home DVD and Blu-Ray 3-D can’t come close to matching the theatrical experience yet, this is such a fun flick that it’s certainly worth a rental on your part, or even a purchase if you can grab it on sale cheap.

And cheap is the operative word when it comes to Piranha 3-D. Oh, sure it had a budget of around $25 million, but it’s loaded with cheap and plentiful gore, cheap and plentiful nudity, and life comes damn cheap in it, too. I ask you, friends, what could be better than that?

This is true B-filmmaking all the way courtesy of French “new horror” maestro Alexandre Aja, who made his mark with Haute Tension in his home country before taking Hollywood by storm with his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and then taking something of a misstep with the Kiefer Sutherland horror vehicle Mirrors, which wasn’t as bad as many of its detractors would have you believe but really wasn’t actually very good, either.

Anyway, Aja’s back in fine form with this third installment in the Roger Corman-originated Piranha franchise (the two previous flicks were directed by Joe Dante and James Cameron, respectively), and while it’s probably not fair to classify it as strictly a sequel per se to the first two, it’s certainly not a remake of the original, either — I guess the most appropriate term to use here would be to say it’s a re-imagining, much as I despise that word, and indeed all trendy Hollywood and corporate buzzwords — for instance, is anyone still referring to anything as a paradigm shift anymore? Didn’t think so.

But I digress. The paper-thin plot here revolves around spring break in the fictitious town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, where thousands of hard-partying college kids descend each year to perform their annual bacchanalian rites of binge drinking and binge fucking. Things are gonna be a little bit hairier for the wild youths this year, though, since an earthquake in a self-contained underground aquatic ecosystem has ruptured the lake bed and sent hundreds of prehistoric piranha swarming into party central. The piranha have been surviving in their little watery subterranean paradise all these years by eating each other since there’s nothing else around to sink their teeth into, so they’ve big, they’re mean, they’re bloodthirsty, and,  like the nauseating drunken students, they’re out for a good time.

Aja really pulls out all the stops in once the mayhem ensues, treating us to a non-stop bloodbath punctuated only by totally gratuitous boob close-ups and even more gratuitous full-frontal nudity. There’s an extended underwater ballet scene with starlets Kelly Brook and Riley Steele (yes, that Riley Steele, and she’s only one of several porn stars brought in to liven up the proceedings here) that seriously verges on soft-core territory, and if 3_D T&A is your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s a gratuitous sampling of has-been B-list actors crawling out of the woodwork here, too. Elizabeth Shue (who I swear to God doesn’t age) has the nominal starring role as local sheriff  Julie Forester, who;s got to try to solve the crisis while also rescuing her son, who’s gone off for the day on a photoshoot with ultra-sleazy “Girls Gone Wild”-type producer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Ving Rhames is her bad-ass deputy, Christopher Lloyd is on hand as a mad scientist-type who’s fervently trying to figure out just what these deadly fish are, where they come from, and how they can be stopped, Richard Dreyfuss is on hand for just long enough for you to say “Hey, that’s Richard Dreyfuss!” before he becomes the bloodthirsty fish horde’s first victim, and if you look really closely you’ll even see Eli Roth as the emcee of a wet t-shirt contest.

But the main “star” here is the sheer, unbridled, completely tasteless mayhem that’s front and center almost from the word go. Ever possible way to be eaten by deadly fish is shown in graphic detail, some of which you can imagine, others of which, quite frankly, you can’t. A guy’s dick getting bitten off and later chomped down by one of the piranha is played for laughs (as it should be). There’s fish-bitten boobs, legs, arms, feet, shoulders, stomachs, faces, you name it — and there’s just no damn way to kill these things off en masse. In fact, at the very end, Aja just plain stops trying as the film finishes on a note that’s pure sequel set-up (not that this will probably happen now given the movie’s underwhelming box office performance).

Not all the 3-D works all that well, to be sure — underwater 3-D effects seem to be an iffy proposition at best, and some definitely deliver the goods better than others. Still, even when Aja and his effects crew fall short, it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Piranha 3-D is a film that aspires to do one thing and one thing only — absolutely annihilate all the boundaries of good taste, and get away with all it can and then some. It’s a true stylistic, and thematic, heir to many of the grindhouse and exploitation flicks that we cover so regularly here at TFG and viewed through that lens, you have to say that it succeeds more than admirably. It’s gleeful, unmitigated, irredeemable trash — just the kind of thing we love around here.

In short, Piranha 3-D is the party movie of the year. It’s full of blood, boobs, blood, boobs, blood, boobs,more blood, more boobs, butts, female genitalia, and huge, shiny, flesh-devouring teeth. Can’t ask for any more out of a movie than that, can you? Catch it as soon as you can.

"Elvira's Haunted Hills" DVD Cover

So, 13 years of attempted sequels that ultimately went nowhere later, Cassandra Peterson and her husband, sometime-producer/sometime-actor Mark Pierson, finally said “to hell with it” and scraped together about a million and a half bucks’ worth of financing on their own and made another Elvira flick in 2001, this time bringing the obvious and lame double-entendres right into the title of the film itself, calling this one Elvira’s Haunted Hills. This time around they brought in another TV vet to direct, Sam Irvin, and, due to extremely favorable currency exchange rates, brought the production to, appropriately enough, Transylvania, Romania itself. I kid you not.

While the first Elvira movie had a budget of around $8 million, this actually looks like the more expensive production of the two, even though there is, sadly, a dearth of location footage, and most of the production is studio-bound. Which is something of a shame given that this movie was made in what could generously be called the Mistress of the Dark’s natural habitat, but whatever.

Again, the drill is pretty much the same — no joke too obvious, no gag too obvious, no way-less-than-sly sexual reference too obvious, no cleavage shot too obvious, no pun too obvious, no cliche too obvious. Hell, the obvious is Peterson and company’s best friend here, and she knows it — she even co-wrote the script herself!

And you know, that’s the main difference between the first and second Elvira flicks — this one really is a homemade labor of love. Which is not to say it’s the better of the two — it’s not. They’re pretty much about equal, quality-wise. The lady in black herself is less likable here, more of a show-biz bitch, even though this story is set in 1851 in the Carpathian mountains.

I suppose I’d better backtrack for a second and explain that. This “sequel” really isn’t a sequel at all, it’s a completely different story that just happens to feature the same character. This time around she’s headed from eastern Europe to Paris, where her new can-can show is due to open, with her faithful (and flabby) servant girl, Zou Zou, in tow. The have some trouble paying their bill at an inn, need to skedaddle in a hurry, catch a ride from a handsome stranger, and end up in a haunted castle owned by an evil Lord (or maybe he’s a Count — in either case he’s played by Richard O’Brien of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) whose dead wife bears a striking resmeblance to Elvira herself! Hijinx, needless to say, ensue.

As with the previous entry in the Elvira a cinematic “canon,” don’t expect anything you wouldn’t expect (well, okay, the song-and-dance number that randomly breaks out at pretty much the exact midway point of the movie is a bit jarring, but fun in the usual lame way), but do expect plenty of cleavage, some sorta-near-nudity(again, this is strictly PG-13 stuff), some more of Elvira throwing herself at a male suitor who may not be quite as interested as she is, some cheap boob-groping, some even cheaper laughs, and just general camp nonsense.

There’s a sort of cut-rate genius at work here, as before — Peterson’s whole Elvira shtick is hopelessly lame and she knows it. That’s sorta the point, really. Harmless horror, harmless titillation, and harmless laughs at punchless jokes. Some performers want to shake up the world — Peterson is happy just to deliver the goods. Sure, she’s a little older here, but nothing a push-up bra can’t solve. The song, as ever, remains the same. No harm in that.

Peterson and Pierson weren’t able to get any theatrical release for this one, but I’m betting they didn’t much try. Its straight-to-video fate was obvious from the outset, why fight it? This time around the company that put it out was an outfit I’ve never heard of before (and not since, either, for that matter) called Good Times Video. Their product features a perfectly-decent-if-unspectacular widescreen anamorphic transfer paired with a perfectly-decent-if-unspectacular 2.0 stereo soundtrack. As far as extras go, there’s a trailer, plus a pretty solid little “making-of” documentary. If you enjoyed the first Elvira flick, you’ll enjoy this one. You don’t need to see it, even if you saw and liked the previous film — but then there’s no reason not to, either, so there ya go.

"Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" Movie Poster

You really gotta hand it to Cassandra Peterson, creator (sort of, as I’ll explain in due course) of the world’s most famous horror movie hostess role : she’s been at this gig for getting on 30 years (!) now, and there’s definitely something sort of iconic about her whole shtick. And it’s not just down to her most obvious — ahem! — attributes, ‘cuz let’s face it, there are younger, better-looking ladies with bigger boobs who could’ve supplanted her from her throne years ago if they’d wanted to, and no one’s really even tried. I understand that they even came up with a “Find the Next Elvira” reality show and that no one won — it was just decided that nobody else could bring to the role what Peterson does.

Or something like that. I never saw the show so if I’ve got that wrong maybe someone can correct me. But the fact that Peterson’s still going strong in the part is all the evidence you need that even if they did find a “winner,” she never assumed the mantle of  Mistress of the Dark.

And do you want to know why I think the part will remain hers forever? It’s simple, really — underneath all that vampish corny OTT glam beats the heart of a genuinely talented comedic performer. Sure, the whole Elvira act is as groaningly lame and obvious as the movies she hosts (she starts this flick by sowing It Conquered the World on her late-night TV show) — you can count on her trotting out every heard-it-a-thousand-times boob joke in the world, plenty of gratuitous cleavage shots, campy-as-hell costumes and props — you know the drill. Yet she somehow takes two of the biggest taboos out there — sex and death — and makes them palatable. Safe. Even dully obvious.It’s one thing to de-mystify these two subjects, it’s another altogether to make them damn near family-friendly, which is exactly what she does.

Back in 1988, her whole tits, ass ‘n horror routine was even deemed palatable enough for NBC to green-light an Elvira sitcom. Along the way things got muddled up as they so often do in Hollywood, the show was canceled before the pilot was ever completed, and the pilot was picked up by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and transformed into (almost) a 90-minute feature film titled, unsurprisingly enough Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

You want surprises? You want a plot with twists and turns? You want the unexpected? Go elsewhere. The whole idea here is to serve up exactly what you would expect, and that’s kinda the beauty of it.

Elvira wants to ditch her movie-hosting job in LA and host her own Vegas revue. She’s got an offer she’s hot to take, but she needs to cough up $350,000 in production costs for the show from her own pocket. Lucky for her, a great-aunt that she’s never met has just passed away and she’s summoned to the town of Falwell, Massachusetts for the reading of said great-aunt’s will. The timing couldn’t be better as she’s just rebuffed the slimy and pathetic sexual advances of the Texas cattle magnate who just bought the TV station she worked at, and finds herself out of a job. Next thing you know she’s packing up her skull-festooned vintage Cadillac convertible and heading on a cross-country road trip to New England.

Once there, she finds she hasn’t inherited a pile of cash, after all, but instead has been left with a creaky old fixer-upper of a house, a yippie little dog, and an ancient recipe book. And from here I bet you can predict everything else on offer : this being New England the town is a puritanical backwater, and Elvira invokes the ire of her prudish neighbors, particularly one Ms. Chastity Pariah (played by Edie McClurg, who made a career out of playing nosy, overbearing neighbors). The recipe book is actually a tome full of powerful spells because her deceased great-aunt was a witch, just like Elvira. The horny teenage boys in town will do anything to try to catch a glimpse of our star’s hooters, and when spying through her bedroom window doesn’t work, they settle for remodeling her house in order to try to curry her — ummmm — favor, and maybe get paid in trade, if you catch my drift. Elvira gets the hots for a local thick-headed stud who owns a movie theater but doesn’t seem to catch on that our lady in black has the hots for him. The local PTA-type group doesn’t take kindly to all the boys in town going ga-ga for the new tramp —- err, vamp — in town. Her great-aunt’s devious brother knows the truth about the spellbook and will do anything to get it. Elvira hosts a midnight screening of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” at the aforementioned local stud’s theater to try to scare up some cash. The enraged townsfolk follow in the footsteps of their witch-burning ancestors and try to burn Elvira at the stake. Everyone wakes up and sees the error of their ways just in time and she leaves town having ended up making friends with everyone and heads for Vegas where her show opens to a packed house. The end.

Throw in all the tired tit-jokes we talked about earlier, lots of gratuitous cleavage shots as we talked about earlier as well, one obvious double-entendre after another, some very-near-but-of-course-not-quite nudity (this is strictly a PG-13 affair), a couple cheap special effects,   and a raucous, crowd-pleasing Vegas show number at the end that features a real special effects sequence that you absolutely gotta see to believe (I’ll say no more, apart from the fact that she gives her tassles one hell of a workout), and you’ve got what you could safely call an Elvira-story-by-the-numbers.

Director James Signorelli, a TV veteran who had been hired to helm the scuttled pilot, ended up sticking around to finish the feature film version, and he’s got a pretty basic, point-and-shoot style. You’re really just in this to see her, and any stylistic flourishes would just get in the way. He’s there to do a workmanlike job of showing off his leading lady, and that’s exactly what he does.

So, like I said at the outset, nothing original here. Nothing unexpected. Nothing even remotely surprising. But hell, it’s fun. Stupid fun, to be sure, but fun nonetheless. Peterson had her whole routine down to a science by this point (she was hired to be a horror movie hostess based more on her theatrical comedy work than her looks, and basically “created” the Elvira character on her own from a very brief outline provided by the TV station — while 1950s horror host Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. Vampira, might disagree, the fact that Peterson won a lawsuit for stealing her shtick that Nurmi filed against her tells you that she basically came up with this whole persona herself), and while you can safely predict pretty much every cue in this film, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just says that our gal Cassandra really knows what she’s doing.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is available on DVD from Anchor Bay either as a stand-alone release or on a double-feature disc with Transylvania 6-5000. The technical specs are the same for each — it’s a nice-looking widescreen anamorphic transfer with perfectly serviceable 2.0-channel stereo sound and no extras apart from the theatrical trailer and a text bio of Cassandra Peterson that’s pretty interesting reading.

Sometimes you’re just in the mood to get exactly what you’re bargaining for  from a movie. Next time you find yourself in one of those moods, you could do a lot worse than giving Elvira, Mistress of the Dark a go. Expect —- well, the expected. That’s not always such a bad thing.