Archive for November 26, 2011

Okay, fair enough, I’m mixing holidays here by including a Christmas horror flick in with out (post-) Halloween roundup, but what the hell, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I just caught this on demand last night (sorry I can’t therefore fairly critique any of Dimension Films’ DVD and/or Blu-Ray specs as I haven’t seen this on either format — and frankly don’t intend to)  so what the hell, we’ll do it now since my head is still reeling a bit and feel the desperate need  to regurgitate some thoughts on this abomination and get it over with. Yes, friends, your humble host just needs to talk and this blog is my (free, I admit) therapy session.

I’d been resisting seeing writer-director Glen Morgan’s 2006 remake of Bob Clark’s canuck horror classic Black Christmas since I hadn’t heard much good about it, and the original is such a beloved holiday staple at the TFG household that I didn’t feel the need to piss all over tradition. That being said, I was bored, it was on — and oh, dear God, I am so sorry.

On paper, it looks like things ought to work — Morgan did a great job with Final Destination, the late, great Clark himself was on the set almost every day by most accounts (not interfering or even advising, it’s been said, just having fun observing — he should have stuck his nose in a lot more frequently), in a nod to the original, SCTV alum Andrea Martin is on hand as the drunken house mother, and if you’re going to have a case of spoiled sorority hotties, the like of Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg,Katie Cassidy, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are a solid, straight-from-central-casting bunch. But —

To be honest, the whole things goes off the rails more or less from the start when we learn that the emphasis this time around isn’t going to be on the various personalities of the soon-to-be-victims (a real strong point in Clark’s film — arguably the first modern slasher flick, although Carpenter’s Halloween distilled the formula down to its basic elements and has been the prototype followed ever since), who here are reduced to less-than-cardboard cut-outs, but instead we’re going to be inundated with Billy backstory until you just can’t take it anymore.

The first time around, Billy was a mysterious cackle on the other end of the phone line whose origins and motivations were slowly revealed as the film progressed. Not so here, as it’s all Billy, all the time, right out of the gate. We see that he’s born with some rare liver disease that makes his skin yellow. We see his mother reject him and keep him locked in the attic. We see his mom kill his dad. We see her bring home a new replacement, and when step-daddy can’t get it up, we see her come on up to the attic and force Billy to finish the job. We see the birth of Billy’s sister/daughter, Agnes, his Christmas day 1991 massacre of his family (except for sis/daughter), his incarceration in a nut ward,  and his escape on Christmas Eve 2006 — in short, there’s no freaking mystery here at all, apart from why a snooty sorority would buy the cursed house where a mass murder took place. It’s not even much of a secret who among the sisters is really Agnes and therefore knows exactly what’s going on when the (admittedly gruesome, but less-than-inspired) murders start taking place in the house. In short, what we’ve got here is another “let’s-tell-the-killer’s-whole-life-story” remake that ends up leaving no time to make the present-tense scenario interesting because it’s so focused on the flashback sequences (granted, the film’s sparse 78-minute runtime could have been padded out a bit to make the 2006 scenes more involving, but let’s be honest, cutting this thing short is probably the only favor Morgan did his audience).

So what we’re left with is, I guess, an overly-obsessive, Billy-centric story that sacrifices everything by way of horror, suspense, and mystery in order to tell us way more than we ever wanted to know about one character at the expense of all the others, who are left to die in a rote, by-the-numbers sequence of slasher set-pieces that the director just doesn’t seem to give much of a shit about because all his creative energy is spent demystifying one of the more unique, beloved, and quirky killers in horror film history, one whose appeal was largely based on the fact that, you know — we didn’t know every single fucking thing about his life!

Whew! — okay, time to calm down (free therapy, remember?). Honestly, though, this film has more or less nothing going for it, even though Morgan is obviously a fan of the original — too much of a fan, truth be told, and that’s the problem. His nerdy (normally not a term we use as an insult around here) compulsion to explain the entire life history of his favorite cinematic stalker ultimately transforms his remake from the respectful homage he no doubt intended it to be into an insult.

In the true spirit of Christmas, I’ll use the Christians’ favorite term for this sort of thing —blasphemy, plain and simple.

Once in awhile, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru is exposed to a film for the first time that reminds me of exactly why it is that I love these largely-forgotten B-level (at best) cheapies ohhhh so much, and  director David Wellington’s 1988 canuxsploitation mini-masterpiece The Carpenter is the most recent example of exactly what I’m talking about here.

You probably know how it goes — we’ll sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of less-than-memorable examples of cinematic flotsam and jetsam in order to find that one diamond in the rough, and friends have I ever found one here. Although I freely admit that many loyal readers of this blog (come on! There surely must be some!) won’t share my enthusiasm for this extremely quirky straight-to-video ghost (I think — more on that later) story from north of the border, those of you who do get into the mellow, dreamlike vibe this flick exudes from the outset are going to be on a Carpenter high every bit as all-consuming as the one I’ve been on since first seeing a couple of weeks ago.

What’s so special about it, you may ask? First off, we’ve got Wings Hauser — or, as well affectionately refer to him around these parts, Wings Fucking Hauser, because he’s such a bad-ass — in his best role since Vice Squad. Next up we’ve got the surreal, like-it-or-lump-it nature of the production itself, as briefly alluded to at the outset. Sure, Wellington and company throw a lot of shit at the wall in an effort to see what sticks here — part comedy, part Lynchian absurdist nightmare, part gorefest, part low-grade soap opera, The Carpenter confidently, and nearly seamlessly, blends genres left and right in an effort that some may call haphazard, but others will appreciate for its sheer bravado and for the consistently ethereal tone it maintains throughout these numerous changes.

On the surface, things seem simple enough — Alice Jarrett (Lynne Adams) is released from a psychiatric hospital following (apparently yet another) nervous breakdown to find her college professor husband has purchased a large fixer-upper out in the country and is employing a stereotypically lazy union crew to remodel this new money pit. The strange thing is, even though the uniformly mulletted  (oh, wait — I think they call it “hockey hair” in Canada) construction brigade isn’t getting much done during the day, at night Alice starts hearing the whirring of buzzsaws and the pounding of hammers and downstairs and finds a solitary carpenter (Hauser) working away to his heart’s content. Alice quickly beings anticipating these nocturnal visits and , in between watching our guy Wings work away in a state of self-induced blue-collar tranquility and listening to his pithy lectures on the value of an honest day’s labor, finds herself falling in love with her mysterious midnight laborer.

She slowly builds up more and more self-confidence, taking a job at a local paint store and tackling many of the household fix-up projects herself, eve as she becomes aware that her husband is carrying on an affair with one of his students. All in all, personal drama (that she’s beyond even really caring about) aside, things are looking up for our heroine. Her rather over-pprotective beau even has a habit of sawing off the arms, or otherwise “dealing with,” those who would cause her harm, such as horny off-duty workers from Carpenters and Remodelers Local 1182.

And yet — is anything here exactly what it seems? Alice’s mental state is far from sound, and she’s recently taken to cutting up and dumping the anti=psychotic meds she’s been prescribed. Her sister, while admittedly overbearing, is genuinely becoming more and more concerned with her fragile mental and emotional state. Her husband’s mistress is pregnant. And just when the questions seem more plentiful than any answers that might or night not be forthcoming,  cheeseball local sheriff J. J. Johnston (and you just learned everything you need to know about him right there) shows up at the door and tells Alice a little story about the guy who used to own her house — a carpenter who was sent to the electric chair (the only non-Canadian wrinkle in a story that’s Canuck though-and-through otherwise) after he killed some repo agents who showed up to take possession of the place when he wasn’t keeping up with his payments since he was too busy working on it rather than going out and finding paying jobs.

So do we have a ghost story on our hands here? It would seem so, but when the shit hits the fan in the film’s final act, it’s clear that others also see Alice’s capenter friend, and the physical damage he ultimately causes to the house is very real. So if it’s a concrete, cut-and-dried explanation of exactly what’s going on here that you’re after, you’re bound to be sorely disappointed. That being said, if, as mentioned earlier, you’re already going with this film’s singular-yet-scattershot flow (a contradiction, I know) you’ll be more than willing, by that point, to just accept the fact that easy answers aren’t on the menu here, as long as the whole thing just sort of feels right and/or consistent in its admitted inconsistency (yup, contradiction rears its head again).

And finally, of course, we’ve got Wings Hauser (again — but you knew there’d be more to say about him, didn’t you). His screen time is limited, but his coolly psychotic menace, hiding beneath a veneer of everyman working-class charm, is the glue that really holds everything together here. It’s another singular performance in a career that’s too often mocked for his numerous less-than-stellar, self-parodying choices vis- a- vis some of the roles he took on. Seriously, though, when this guy was on — as he absolutely was here — nobody could touch him. Wings Fucking Hauser indeed. This guy will show up with roses at your door and try to rape you with a broomhandle  five minutes later.

A couple months back, the fine folks at Scorpion releasing finally put this forgotten gem out on DVD as part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line, hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that term even means anymore) Katarina Leigh Waters. Extras are, sadly,  non-existent apart from the intro and exit segments from the hostess, but the widescreen transfer looks pretty solid and the stereo sound mix is more than serviceable.

So do yourself a favor — give The Carpenter a go. You may not find it to your liking — although I’m sincerely hoping you do — but there’s no denying that this flick has a tempo and flavor all its own, and if you find yourself drawn onto its admittedly quirky wavelength, I think you’ll be stopping back here to thank me.

“Can’t they all just fucking get killed already?”

Friends, that’s a direct quote from Mrs. TFG not ten minutes into director Edward Gorsuch’s 2006 straight-to-video slasher offering, The Butcher, a film as relentlessly uninspired as its title would suggest. I’m all for retreading the same ground over and over again, and I’m all for doing poorly what other films have done well (depending on my mood, of course, and how that “poorly” is executed), but when you combine by-the-numbers, point-and-shoot direction with a by-the-numbers plot and acting that’s of the “bad” rather than, say, “memorably bad,” or “hopelessly bad” variety, then what you end up with is, well — what you end up with is The Butcher. As Morrissey once said, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before —

Six spoiled collegiate creeps, led by an uber-obnoxious frat boy, are going on a cross-country road trip (in this case to Las Vegas, not that it really matters since of course they won’t be getting there) when said frat asshole decides to take a “short cut he knows about,” ends up hitting a pedestrian and soon the group of “friends” finds the accident bringing out the worst in each other (not that any of these folks really have what you’d call a “good side”) as they must both quickly decide whether or not to actually help the woman they hit, and what to do about getting their SUV (of course) fixed out in the middle of nowhere ( the same middle of nowhere with no cell phone service we’re finding time and again in these flicks). Needless to say, their search for help/their victim (who’s fled into the woods) leads them to find an old run-down shack that turns out to be the residence of an insane, and quite likely inbred, clan of country bumpkins who don’t take too kindly to strangers coming onto their land because, you know, rural folks in the movies pretty much never do.

Short cut to a series of gruesome, competently-but-not- memorably-executed kill scenes, and soon (but, as my wife would agree, not soon enough) we’re down to our “final girl,” who survives by having slightly more common sense than the rest of the bunch and therefore being marginally (extremely marginally, truth be told) sympathetic to the audience. If you’re still awake by this point (and for some reason I was), there’s nothing much left in store for the 80-plus-minutes of your life you’re never gonna get back that you’ve invested in this thing than  an ending as run-of-the-mill as the rest of this revenge-of-the-psycho-backwoods-rednecks-upon-the-uppity-city-folks “thriller.”

Which is all sort of a shame, really, because the rural stalker subgenre is one I’ve always liked and probably always will (despite the absolute ubiquitousness — is that even a word? — of half-assed efforts like this one), and when it’s done right — as was the case with, say, the original versions of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes — it’s one of the more universally functional horror tropes out there. When it’s done poorly, though, it gets pretty annoying pretty fast. Needless to say, The Butcher is far from a shining example of just how effective this sort of slasher flick can be.

To be fair, there’s one genuine jump-out-of-your-seat surprise in this film, and I won’t give away it is just in case you decide to ignore my advice and actually see this thing, but it happens very early on, and from that point on all The Butcher does it go listlessly through the motions. Therefore,  any early optimism you may have for this film based on this one sequence is quickly dashed. Oh well.

Let’s see, technical specs —the DVD release of The Butcher was handled by Lionsgate. It’s got a nice widescreen transfer and good directional effects on the 5.1 surround mix. I didn’t bother dealing with the extras, but I believe there’s a commentary and a making-of featurette of some sort, if memory serves me correctly. It was shot in southern California somewhere or other for around $750,000.  None of the “stars” of this thoroughly soulless affair have gone on to much else of note, nor has director Gorsuch — for obvious, I should think, reasons.

Can’t they all just fucking get killed already, indeed.