Archive for October, 2013

My take on “The Sandman : Overture” #1 from Through The Shattered Lens.

Through the Shattered Lens

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So — you probably weren’t expecting me to finish up my contributions to TTSL’s Halloween horror round-up with a review of a horror comic, as opposed to a horror movie — or, hell, maybe you were — but let’s be honest : the debut of Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III’s The Sandman : Overture (which, I suppose, might be more accurately categorized as “myth” or even “fairy tale” than actual “horror,” per se, but what the heck — The Sandman started out life being billed and marketed as a “horror” series, and it’s certainly always maintained a strong following among horror fans, so — that’s good enough for me) is an honest-to-goodness event in its own right, and something tells me that a lot of folks who haven’t set foot in a comic shop in a very long time will be back to pick this one up (…

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Halloween Horrors 2013 continues over at Through The Shattered Lens with my review of the loathsome and incompetent “Self Storage.”

Through the Shattered Lens

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Sometimes even a movie with very little to recommend for it still has — well, something to recommend for it. Such is the case with this year’s direct-to-video, shot-on-HD indie horror effort Self Storage,  a largely pathetic, unmemorable, boringly amoral (more on that before we’re through) piece of — uhhmm, work —- written and directed by, and starring, the supremely untalented Tom DeNucci.

Shot in Rhode Island, this is one of those flicks that’s pretty hard to see having much of an audience beyond the friends and immediate family of anyone involved in its production, being that every single character in it’s a complete douchebag, the blood n’ guts are both fairly tame and poorly realized, and its somewhat inventive premise is buried under layer upon layer of incompetent execution.

First, the particulars of the plot : go-nowhere pothead Jake (the aforementioned DeNucci) works as a security guard at…

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My thoughts on “Carrie” circa 2013, and a impromptu tribute to the late, great Lou Reed — from Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens

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Let me preface this review by saying one thing : Lou Reed died today, so not much else matters.

Seriously — in a world dominated by poseurs and phonies, Lou was the read deal. Avant garde before there was avant garde, glam before there was glam, punk before there was punk, new wave before there was new wave — Lou stayed six steps ahead of all trends by simply not giving a flying fuck about any of them and staying true to himself. Plus, he was quintessential New York in a way that just can’t be faked. In many ways, he was a mirror to the Big Apple’s other favorite creative son, Woody Allen — Woody’s world is one of stuffy academia, anally rententive dinner parties, emotionally distant family patriarchs and matriarchs, and lifeless and pretentious gallery openings, while Lou’s world wasn’t just the streets but the gutters :…

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Our “Halloween Horrors” roundup continues over at Through The Shattered Lens with a look at Brian DePalma’s original “Carrie” from 1976!

Through the Shattered Lens

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Over at my “main” site — https://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com , for those who don’t know, don’t care, either, or both — I’ve been doing what every other goddamn movie blog in the universe does in the month of October: namely, review a bunch of random horror flicks. But come on — you didn’t think I was just gonna sit back and let Lisa Marie, Arleigh, Leonard Wilson, and everybody else have all the fun here on TTSL, did you?

Nah. I just had to muscle in and opine on a few macabre movie delights on these digital “pages” before the month was out, as well. And I might as well start with the one everybody’s talking about right now, Carrie, the 1976 classic directed, in his inimitable style, by Brain DePalma, based on the runaway best-seller by Stephen King, and starring Sissy Spacek as quite likely the most hapless horror…

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Browsing through the Netflix instant streaming queue (under the “horror” section, of course) last night, I came across a rather nifty, if ultimately unsettling (though not for any “gory” or “violent” reason — as far as blood n’ guts go, this is a pretty tame affair) little British flick called The Expelled which saw release on DVD and Blu-Ray here in the US in 2012 after generating some fairly positive buzz in its native land under its original title, F, back in 2010. I’d read about it a bit here and there and thought it sounded interesting enough to give a go, and I’m generally pleased that I did, even though I do have some rather major reservations about the whole thing, so sit back for a minute and allow me to explain why I liked the film even if I find its message and overall tone to be — well, dubious at best.

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First off, let’s get one thing out of the way real quick : The Expelled is nothing like what you or I might call a “slasher” film, even though it’s been marketed as such Stateside. It’s many things — a complex character study: a well-acted, well-directed, well-paced thriller; a tense, effective, and disturbing psychodrama;  a fairly convincing piece of right-wing cultural propaganda — but it’s most definitely not a “slasher” flick.

The plot centers around the tragic fate of one Robert Anderson (veteran English character actor David Schofield, who turns in a bravura performance), a high school teacher who finds his “old-school” methods of discipline, including giving kids a failing grade when they deserve it, to be , well — not exactly in line with modern teaching principles, at least as far as his school administrators are concerned.

When a student hits him in the face one day, he finds himself excused for a quick sabbatical whereupon he descends into a spiral of alcoholic despair that finally hits rock bottom when his wife, a fellow teacher, bails out on him and takes his daughter, a student at their school, with her. When Robert’s finally cleared to return to work, he’s a disheveled mess who’s clearly too shell-shocked to keep the kids in his classroom in line anymore. In short, he’s a hollow shell of a man who’s hanging onto his job by the slimmest of threads and gets no respect from either his students or his colleagues.

That’s all bad enough, but when some “hoodie”-wearing delinquent youths decide to lay siege to the school after hours one day, Robert’s the only one who suspects anything might be amiss, and of course, no one on staff — from the security guards to his fellow teachers to the administration — will heed his warnings until it’s far too late and all their lives are at risk.

Should’ve listened to the drunk guy after all, huh?

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Writer/director Johannes Roberts (not exactly the most British of names, I grant you) does an expert job of amping up the tension at deliberate intervals and really setting the stage for a good old-fashioned potboiler of a flick, and at a brisk 79 minutes the story moves at an almost relentless clip that keeps you glued to the screen. The menace seems as real as our reluctant hero’s slow-burn psychological death spiral, and all in all you’ve gotta hand it to him for proving that craftsmanship still trumps good intentions as far as making quality cinema goes. This is a goddamn well made movie.

But wait— what was it I just obliquely hinted to as far as The Expelled‘s intentions go? And what exactly did I mean when I called this “a fairly convincing piece of right-wing cultural propaganda” ? I’m glad you asked —

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Let’s face it, the younger generation has always scared the older one to death. How could it be any other way? These are our fucking replacements on planet Earth, after all — a living, breathing reminder that our days are numbered and that everything’s gonna go on without us once we’re gone. The fashion, music, dialect, hobbies, etc. that the kids embrace are all convenient scapegoats for the oldsters’ angst , sure, but it’s what they actually represent — namely the future itself — that really scares the bejeezus out of the silver-haired crowd. The world keeps changing and evolving around us, and at some point we just can’t keep up with it all anymore, it’s only natural, but what’s frightening to many is the idea that society just plain doesn’t need  us to keep up with it in order to continue trudging along on its merry little way. We’re surplus to requirements, my friends, each and every one of us — and always have been. But it takes a certain amount of time — say, a good few decades or so — before that fact really hits home, and by then, our usurpers are already beginning to remake things in their own image.

This fear of the younger generation may be par for the course, sure,, but when the folks on the other side of 40 (or 30, or 50, or whatever) decide they want to cling to what little relevance they may still have by any means necessary, things can get a little bit nasty. Parents dump resentment after resentment on their kids for decades. Schools lay down ridiculous dress code policies that any right-thinking youth will rebel against in a heartbeat.  Stuff kids like to do for fun — namely, drugs — are criminalized.  Old politicians send young soldiers off to die in wars.

In recent years, the ruling elites in the UK have gotten even more brazen in their attempts to stifle kids and have passed a series of laws broadly defined as ASBOs — anti-social behavior ordinances — that have called for mandatory psychological testing of children as young as six years old who exhibit “anti-authoritarian” (remember when we just called it being rambunctious?) personality traits, have outlawed large gatherings of young people in certain locales, have dumped mountains of prozac and other “anti-depressants” down the throats of kids who just like to get a bit a wild now and then, and have even made criminals out of anyone wearing — gasp! —  hooded sweathshirts.

Can you say overkill?

And that leads to the problem with The Expelled — a flick like this not only legitimizes these paranoid “concerns,” but reinforces in the audience member’s mind the “need” for these ridiculous policies. And furthermore, it does a very effective job of it. This is a movie that even kids would probably dig — until they sit back and think about how it can easily be used to tighten the noose around their generation’s collective neck.

Maybe that F  title should have stuck, because while I’d definitely give The Expelled a solid “A” in terms of its execution, the risible, retrograde, and even dangerous ideas at its core — “don’t trust kids, they lack discipline and are flat-out evil!” — really are a failure : of imagination, of creativity, and of basic human decency. The more we push the youngsters down, they’re harder they’re gonna push back — and we’ll deserve it for being such assholes to them.

At the end of the day, to misquote Cyndi Lauper, kids just wanna have fun. and it would behoove those of us who are nearing, or already over, the proverbial “hill” to get the hell out of their way and let them do so. After all, we need them to take care of us when we’re well and truly elderly, and they’re not going to be real eager to do that if we’ve made their upbringing a living hell, are they?

That’s a much scarier proposition right there than any that The Expelled has to offer. Watch it, most definitely — enjoy it, sure (I did) — but don’t take it to heart. Kids might be a pain in the ass, I grant you, but they’re not out to get us — unless we give them a damn good reason .

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One of the things I like best about re-visiting horror classics around this time every year for our annual Halloween round-up on this site is occasionally finding one that’s not just every bit as good as what I remembered, but even better. Sure, the years haven’t been kind to many flicks I once thought of as being seminal examples of the genre, but once in awhile I take a fresh look at something and find that it’s not only held up damn well over the ensuing decades, but that it’s an even stronger and more effective work than what I remember it  as being.

Such is definitely the case with John McNaughton’s groundbreaking shot-in-1986-but-not-released-until-1990 effort Henry : Portrait Of A Serial Killer, a not just street level, but gutter level piece of ultra-low-budget guerrilla film-making based (loosely, I grant you) on the exploits of notorious sociopath Henry Lee Lucas and his semi-retarded cousin, Otis Toole — specifically on their brief time in the Chicago area.

Yeah, sure, this film’s been available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Dark Sky Films in an impressive “special edition” package loaded with extras (but no commentary, damnit!) and featuring a reversible cover with Joe Coleman’s stunning poster art (as pictured below) on the “flip side,” but for all of you too cheap and/or broke to give this movie a permanent place on your shelf, the good news is that it’s also now featured as part of Netflix’s instant streaming queue as well — so watch it, will ya?

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Honestly, you’ll thank me for it later. I admit that even though I actually do own this one, it had been several years since I’d given it a spin, and that’s well-nigh unforgivable of me because it really is “all that” and then some. From the “cinema verite” direction of McNaughton to the “goddamn but he/she absolutely nails it” performances of Michael Rooker as Henry, Tom Towles as Otis, and Tracy Arnold as Otis’ sister/Henry’s nominal romantic interest Becky, everybody here is firing on all cylinders creatively, and the end result is a flick that flat-out burns  a path into the deepest recesses of your subconscious and never loses its grip once there. You want a truly memorable viewing experience? Look no further, my friend.

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Henry seethes with menace from the word “go,” but it’s also not afraid to fuck with your sentiments in a very careful, methodical way as well — you really do sorta hope, for reasons you’re never able /comfortable enough to put your finger on, that our brooding anti-hero might be capable of turning over a new leaf and making a go of it with Becky, but shit —- you also know you’re doomed to be let down on that score, because he is who he is and ain’t nothin’ gonna change that. Still, when he offs her at the end (shit, did I just give too much away?), it still packs a mean wallop even though by all rights it shouldn’t.

McNaughton’s got a lot to say about the nature of what most of us right-thinking (honestly, I swear I am!) folks consider to be “evil” here, and about how a leopard can never change its spots, but he does it in such a free-form, unpretentious manner that you never feel like he’s lecturing you. Why he never went on to become an “A-list” talent as a director I’ll never know — an unwillingness to put up with Hollywood bullshit is probably at the top of the list of reasons — and the same can be said for all the principal players involved here, most of whom have had pretty nice careers (Rooker’s been in everything from Oliver Stone’s JFK to, most recently, The Walking Dead, for instance), but none of whom have ever earned quite the recognition level they deserve.

Oh well. They can all look back on this one with a hell of a lot of pride.

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And you should look back on this one, as well — immediately. Horror doesn’t get any more real, or any better, than this — and neither do movies in general. I may just give it another go when I get done writing this myself.

I’ll close on a weird historical note : while governor of Texas, George W. Bush is infamous for supposedly never granting a single appeal to a convict facing “Ol’ Sparky” — he signed enough warrants of execution to mark him as a pretty goddamn prolific serial killer himself, in fact. You name ’em, he killed ’em — an elderly grandmother who shot her husband dead after decades of physical, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse? He fried her. A guy whose “defense” lawyer slept through his trial, showed up drunk more than once, and belched and farted throughout the proceedings? Bush figured he got a fair shake and deserved to die. But his reputation for never granting one solitary stay of execution? That’s false. He commuted the death sentence for one — and only one — convict in his tenure as governor. Can you guess who was the recipient of his sole act of compassion?

You got it —Henry Lee Lucas, despite being convicted of over a dozen murders and confessing to well over 300, a number which would make him number one on the all-time list by a wide margin, was granted a stay of execution by the guy who would later go on to implement torture of poor Afghan and Iraqi goat farmers and teenagers as “intelligence-gathers techniques” in his endless “war on terrorism.”

Curious, isn’t it? People who were convicted of murder despite the only eyewitness testimony to their supposed crime coming from somebody who was dead drunk, people who had airtight alibis that placed them out of the state when they supposedly killed someone — Boy George didn’t give them a break. But Henry Lee Fucking Lucas? Bush figured he deserved some leniency. Why would that be?

Well, far be it from me to say I have anything more than a strong hunch here, but Lucas has claimed on numerous occasions that many of the murders he committed were actually contract killings for the CIA disguised to look like “random” and “senseless” acts of violence. And we all know who used to be in charge of “The Company” — the guy the entire Bush clan playfully refers to as “Poppy.”

Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe real life is is even more twisted — and scary — than McNaughton’s film.

I leave it for you to decide. But either way — this is a movie that has richly earned your attention, whether for the first or fiftieth time.

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It seems that the popular thing to do these days is to mercilessly rip Val Kilmer for doing two things that that most all of us “real,” non-Hollywood people do : get old and get fat. Nobody’s crazy about either, sure, but shit — it happens. He doesn’t look anything like Jim Morrison anymore, no doubt, but guess what? Neither did Morrison himself by the end of his all-too-brief existence.

So — I’m gonna give Val a pass on that score. What I won’t let slide, though, is how little effort he’s obviously putting into his work these days (although, again, slacking on the job is pretty much par for the course, even downright  expected,  for those of us who aren’t actors, athletes, artists, writers, or musicians). I know movies like the one we’re looking at today, 2010 low-budget indie horror The Traveler, don’t pay anything close to what Top Gun and Batman Forever did, but still — there’s such a thing as professional pride, isn’t there? And this former Hollywood “A-lister” just isn’t displaying much of that these days.

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In his (tepid) defense, though, his lackluster, mail-it-in performance is hardly the only flaw in director Michael Oblowitz’s shot-in-Vancouver (where else?), straight-to-video opus, but it’s probably the most glaring simply because we don’t have any earthly reason to expect much of anything from the rest of the no-name cast — or, for that matter, from the no-name guy who shot the thing. None of which is to say this is an absolutely atrocious flick, just that it’s a hopelessly lazy one.

The premise actually isn’t half-bad for a 30-minute Twilight Zone episode or an 8-page EC-style horror comic short story : a mysterious drifter walks into a police station on Christmas Eve saying he wants to confess to a murder, there’s just one problem — said murder hasn’t happened yet.

Then, of course, it does — and furthermore it plays out exactly as Mr. Sullen described it. At which point he confesses to another that has yet to occur, and it then does, at which point he confesses yet again to another murder that has yet to take place, and a few minutes later that one goes down as well, and then — you get the idea. Sounds kinda nifty, right?

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The trouble is, there’s a rather tidy little supernatural explanation for all this, and the film gives that away far too early. Try, within about 20 minutes. And that premature revelation really does fuck things up for the remaining hour-plus run time. Oh well.

I won’t repeat the filmmakers’ mistake here in this review, suffice to say that our personality-free protagonist didn’t choose this precinct house by accident, since the bullies in blue there all share a dark secret that’s going to prove to be their undoing. They’re all assholes who you’re glad to see die, so I guess that’s a plus, but beyond that, I dunno — you really get the sense that this is a hopelessly padded script and that everyone’s just (barely) going through the motions.

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That’s probably enough digital “ink” to spill on this one, apart from saying that while it’s available on DVD, you’re much better off ,should you choose to watch this flick in spite of this write-up, to do what I did and catch it on Netflix instant streaming, since renting, much less buying, it on disc requires more actual effort than Kilmer, Oblowitz, or anyone else involved put into actually making the thing.