Posts Tagged ‘sid haig’

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It occurs to me that I’m kind of late to the party with this one, since Hatchet III actually came out last year, but whatever — I’ve reviewed the first two films in Adam Green’s self-proclaimed “old-school slasher” series, and it’s high time I reviewed this one, as well, even if, by all rights, I probably should have seen it sooner than I did (which was just last night, for the record).

It also worth noting that, unlike my usually way-too-verbose ramblings, my reviews of Hatchet and Hatchet II were actually quite short, and there’s probably no reason to break that streak here — after all, you  pretty much know what you’re getting into with these flicks, and even though creator Green has passed on the directing chores this time to long-time camera operator BJ McDonnell, he still wrote the script and he’s on hand (in whatever capacity) as an executive producer, so things aren’t gonna be that much different.

Which, I guess, is both good and bad. It’s good in terms of continuity (the story here picks up at the exact moment the last film left off) and style (it feels for all intents and purposes like Green may as well have directed this one himself), but it’s bad news if you want something a little bit different or challenging (which, admittedly, most fans of the series probably don’t). The blood, guts, innards, entrails, and other various viscera all fly more freely than ever in Hatchet III, to be sure, and since that pretty much represents the raison d’etre of what Green and his cohorts are trying to accomplish here, ya gotta say — job well done on that score. But is it just me, or is all of this starting to get more than just a little bit stale?

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Danielle Harris is back as full-time “final girl” Marybeth, and she’s given plenty of opportunity to do what she does best — you love Danielle Harris, love Danielle Harris, we all love Danielle Harris — and it’s nice to see some familiar genre faces turn up (look for Zach Galligan as the sheriff leading a doomed expedition into the swamps to track down Crowley and Sid Haig in a memorably OTT cameo) for the party, but some of the “second generation” (nice-speak for “nepotism”) casting decisions are questionable at best, like Robert Diago DoQui (son of legendary blaxploitation stalwart Robert DoQui) as a personality-free deputy and Cody Blue Snider (son of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider) as a typically annoying twenty-something, but no real matter — when the time comes for them to meet their end, they  all do it in style, and we all know that nodoby dispatches his victims better than Kane Hooder (even if he never gets to show his face in any of his most memorable roles). So yeah — for what it sets out to do, this flick does it as well as you’d hope and/or expect.

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Dark Sky Films has done a nice job with the Blu-Ray (and, I’m assuming, the DVD) release, as well —- picture and sound are both flawless, as you’d figure from a new production, and the disc is loaded with extras including a couple of “making-of” featurettes, the trailer (of course), and two feature-length commentaries, one with the cast and one with the crew, that are both pretty fun to listen to. The shoot for this one sounds like it was positively grueling, but all in all everyone’s spirits seem high as they observe their handiwork. Again, job well done here.

So what, you rightly ask, is the problem, exactly? Good question — and not necessarily the easisest one to answer, but I get the feeling that Hatchet is a franchise in serious danger of jumping the shark. We’ve got some “voodoo curse” elements thrown into the mix here that have always lurked in the background, I guess, but become more prominent “crutch factors” this time out; the laughs are a little flatter; the “old school” vibe is not nearly as novel as it once was — lots of little things, I guess. But the most prominent death spiral that Green and Co. have gotten themselves into is one of their own making, and is the toughest one to pull out of : simply put, they’re always having to top themselves.

Think about it : every single one of Victor Crowley’s murders is more bloody, spectacular, tasteless, and physically and scientifically impossible than the previous one. And when you run up the body count as high as ol’ Vic does, that means you’ve gotta find some new way to pull out all the stops about 15 or 20 times in each film. It’s worked so far, but it’s starting to wear pretty thin, and any horror series that has devolved to the point where the only reason you’re watching it is to see just how fucking crazy and outlandish the next killing will be is one that’s starting to run on fumes. Everybody is still giving it their all here, that much is obvious, but it seems like they’ve pushed the whole concept about as far as it can possibly go, and maybe even a bit further. There’s no shame in quitting while you’re still at least marginally ahead, is there? Don’t get me wrong — I had a good time watching Hatchet III. It was pretty much exactly what I was expecting it to be, and that’s just fine. But I think it’s time to let Victor Crowley take a much-deserved rest for a good half-decade or so. He’s a fun, memorable, absolutely over-the-top character, and I’d hate to see him overstay his welcome.

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Then again — most of the ’80s slashers he’s based on did just that, so maybe continuing to milk this cash cow to the point where all it’s got left is a few runny dribbles is part of that whole “old school” thing they’re going for. To be followed, of course, by the inevitable “re-imagining” of the series. The Hatchet fracshise might be starting to feel a bit threadbare, but who knows? Maybe it’s only just begun.

Worm rape.

There, that got your attention, didn’t it? And in some ways I’ve said all that needs to be said about the semi-infamous 1981 Roger Corman production (almost universally lumped into the Alien knock-off subgenre, although truth be told it has a lot more in common with later films like Event Horizon than it does with Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece) Galaxy Of Terror (also released under the alternate titles of Mind Warp — which has more of a 2001 ripoff feel to it, in this reviewer’s opinion — and Planet Of Horrors, for those of you keeping score at home), thus making the rest of this review an exercise in redundancy, but what the hell, since we’re already at it (and since we’ll inevitably return to the subject of worm rape again later) —

At some point in the distant future, our descendants, who have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy (or, hell, it could be the universe for all I know) decide to do away with all that pesky freedom and democracy nonsense we kid ourselves into believing we have and just put everything in the hands of a guy called the Planet Master (most commonly referred to simply as “The Master” for the less-than-90-minute duration of this film — maybe it’s a term of endearment?), whose only qualification for the job of ruler of the galaxy (or,again, maybe it’s the universe for all I know) seems to be that he has a glowing red orb for a head. Fair enough.

All is not well in the galaxy (or, again, and hopefully for the last time, the universe) though — an expedition ship has gone missing on the mysterious and hostile planet of Organthus (I shit you not) and for reasons only known to his glowing red mind, “The Master” decides this is such a calamity that he must hand-pick a special team of deep-space adventurers to go and find the remains of the ship and, if they’re still alive, its crew.

Welcome to the starship Quest, then, and its hastily-assembled, ragtag band of spacefaring voyagers, assembled not, apparently, due to any particular aptitudes on their part, but simply because this is the bunch that “The Master” wants. Oh, sure,they’re a competent enough grouping of soon-to-be-cult-stars (Robert Englund, Zalman King), sitcom stalwarts (Erin Moran), Corman veterans (Sid Haig), has-beens (Ray Walston, bless him) and almost-weres (Edward Albert, son of the guy from Green Acres), all ably (despite her role in the apparently-calamitous “Hesperous incident” we hear some talk of ) led by grizzled Space Corps (or whatever) vet Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, best known as Laura Palmer’s mom on Twin Peaks and here wearing some less-than-convincing age make-up to make the at-the-time-mid-30s actress appear to be more of a Captain Janeway type, even though this was about 15 years or so before anyone knew who Captain Janeway was).

Once on Organthus, though, our heroes discover that the wreck of the ship they were searching for couldn’t possibly have yielded any survivors, but hey — what’s that (admittedly well-realized, especially for a $700,000 Roger Corman flick) giant, dark, foreboding pyramid off in the distance? And that, of course, is where all their troubles begin.

Once inside the ominous structure (and it has to be said that director Bruce D. Clark, working under the name “B.D. Clark” here and ably assisted by second-unit director/unofficial head special-effects man/unofficial assistant production designer/jack of all trades/future most successful filmmaker in Hollywood history, James Cameron, does a very nice job of conveying atmosphere and mood on a scale much bigger than anything he’s got to work with would logically allow for) the crew of the Quest are subjected to every sort of nightmare they can imagine as their most deep-seated fears are realized and brought (mostly rather convincingly, it must be said) to life right before their eyes.  And then, of course, these living nightmares kill them — that’s just how this kind of shit works.

And that, dear readers (if assuming the plural there isn’t assuming too much — whoops, just assumed twice in a row there, that makes a double-ass of you and me both — how does it feel?) brings us back to worm rape. The most hapless of all our stellar explorers, one Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell, who honestly has enough to contend with in life with her absurd — albeit more than likely self-chosen — name, but would simply never live this down even though the scene in question was excised by censors in numerous international markets for home video release) is deathly afraid of worms, maggots, and all that slithery stuff. And when a solitary worm mutates to enormous size with all kinds of dangling, vaguely penile appendages limply drooping from its slimy underside, it’s pretty obvious how her goose is gonna be cooked.

Oh, sure, there are some other things that transpire after this point in the film — one of the crew is not who he appears to be, the whole doomed mission (and presumably the one before it that the folks aboard the Quest came to find) turns out to have been set up for one very specific purpose that I won’t give away, etc. — but honestly, once a woman gets raped to death by a giant worm, what do you do for an encore? Not that I’m in any way condoning such a vile, prurient, exploitative, probably-misogynistic-if-the-whole-idea-weren’t-so-fucking-weird thing. Who, me? Of course not. Fear not, dear readers, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru states unequivocally, and for the record, that I am against giant worms raping women. How’s that for a brave political stance?

And yet — it definitely makes for a cinematic moment that’ll stick with you. And it’s a good thing it comes towards the end, because like I said, you’re just not going to be able to one-up that. And that’s been both an inherent blessing and curse to Clark’s film over the years — sure, everybody who follows cult horror and sci-fi, or just B-movies in general, knows about Galaxy Of Terror. It’s the worm-rape movie. But, as I hope I’ve been able to convey, it’s also a pleasingly twisted, better-than-we’ve-probably-got-any-right-to-expect, sleazy slice of Corman ungoodness. The sets are well done for a shoestring production, the camera work is solid, the performances are of a uniformly high standard, the effects, though dated, are generally impressive, and the story’s not a half-bad admittedly-somewhat-by-the-numbers- mind-fuck-in-outer-space. But it always comes back to worm rape, doesn’t it?

Fortunately for everyone except Taaffe O’Connell, the good folks at Shout! Factory saw fit to release Galaxy Of Terror as one of the first titles in their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series on DVD and Blu-Ray, and they pulled out all the stops — we’ve got a widescreeen high-definition picture transfer that looks spectacular, a nice 5.1 surround sound mix, and extras galore including a full-length commentary track featuring four members of the cast and crew (including Ms. O’Connell, who appears to be more than a good sport about the whole thing), no less than six “making-of” featurettes that can be played either separately or all in order (a nice idea I wish more DVD and Blu-Ray releases made use of), extensive photo galleries including stills, production shots, posters, artwork, production design sketches, and more, the original screenplay in .pdf format, a really cool reversible cover featuring the poster artwork for the Galaxy Of Terror title on the front side and the Mind Warp title on the other — suffice to say it’s packed to the gills with great stuff and is a flat-out essential purchase for any and all true conoisseurs of low-budget cinema. It’s one of those all-too-rare releases that really enhances your appreciation of all the effort that went into making the finished product, and anyone who walks away from it still thinking that this film is essentially just a one-trick pony (or, hey, worm) clearly hasn’t been paying attention. All that being being the case, I have just one more thing to say before I sign off —

Worm rape, worm rape, worm rape.

I wanted to like this one sooooo bad.

When I first saw the posters for first-time director (and co-writer) Fred Andrews’ Creature at the theater a couple months back, I was psyched. I’d never heard of this Bubble Factory outfit releasing the film (and truth be told still don’t know anything about them), but here was something I’d been waiting to see for a long time — a good, old-fashioned monster movie! A guy in a rubber suit! An obviously low budget! Set in the Louisiana bayou! And hey — is that Sid Haig? It sure as shit is (and truth be told the fact that his was the only name on the cast list I recognized apart from second-tier TV actor Mehcad Brooks was another plus in my book)!

Questions that still don’t have answers began to swim through my mind. How on earth was a flick like this getting a major roll-out? Who was putting all the marketing muscle behind this thing? And how would it be received by audiences?

Well, we know the answer to that last one by now, at least. Creature opened on something like 1,500 screens nationally, took in an underwhelming (to put it mildly) $300, 000, and was gone the very next week. It’s hard for a flick with a budget of $3 million to lose money, but it looks like Creature is gonna do just that, even if it does gangbusters business on DVD (which it won’t).

And what was the reason for the giant collective shrug given this film by the American public at large? Well, for once the masses got it right — this thing just plain sucks.

Oh, it starts out promisingly enough — an innocent, unsuspecting girl strips naked in the swamp and is immediately eaten by a hungry gator.

But from that point on, things goes downhill pretty quickly. The initial set-up of unsuspecting city slickers heading out into swamp country and being lured into a trap by unscrupulous locals out to prey on their naivete is standard, if always satisfying, stuff. And yeah, it’s great to see the whole idea of a rubber-suited monster making a comeback. Big props to Andrews and company for all that.

Unfortunately, that’s as much praise as I can summon up for this decidedly third-rate effort. Creature slogs along at an almost leisurely pace from that point forward, the promised horrors are never really delivered upon, and intriguing set-up involving Haig (who’s criminally underutilized here) and his inbred clan quickly gets sidetracked into some nonsensical backwoods-monster-worshiping-cult thing for no discernible reason, the titular creature itself is given way too little screen time, the effects work is substandard even for what you might expect, there’s little to no actual blood-n’-guts, and Andrews can’t even manage to properly film a standard slo-mo shot (although that doesn’t keep him from trying again and again).

In short, Creature commits the unforgivable sin of being both poorly executed and hopelessly dull, and while we’re generous souls here at TFG and are more than willing to overlook either one or the other, when both are working together in concert it just makes for a lousy time at the movies.

I had a lot of questions going into Creature, but I had even more coming out, chief among them how and why this thing got itself a major release while other, far more worthy, independent horror films go straight to video. Not only is this far from the best that indie horror has to offer, it’s not even the best bayou-based indie horror to come out recently (Adam Green’s Hatchet films, anyone)? Why are dozens, if not hundreds, or better flicks earmarked exclusively for the home video market from the outset while this thing opens on as many screens as the latest Brad Pitt flick? In short,  I’d love to know who Fred Andrews’ daddy is and what kind of connections he has.

It was my vain hope that Creature might breathe some new life into the whole old-school monster movie thing, but by bombing so spectacularly (and frankly predictably — any veteran box office observer could probably see this coming from a mile away) all it managed to do was probably kill any chance for more worthy independent horror features to find major theatrical play for the next decade or so, if not longer.

On some level, I’m sure Andrews and company had their hearts in the right places, but the road to box office irrelevance for an entire genre is, apparently, paved with good intentions. Sigh — so much for that monster-movie comeback idea.

When people ask me what my all-time favorite blaxploitation flick is, the question is a serious a serious no-brainer. Oh, sure, there are plenty of great ones to choose from —Black Caesar, Across 110th Street, Shaft, Foxy Brown — the list of classics is nearly endless. But the one flick that stands out above all the others, the one that holds the title of not only the greatest of all blaxploitationers, but also one of the very best revenge movies ever made, is Jack Hill’s incomparable 1973 Pam Grier starring vehicle Coffy. This is the one that set the standard, folks, and frankly it has yet to be matched.

The story’s simple enough — when the younger sister of hard-working inner-city nurse Coffy (we never get her first name), better known as “Coffy,” is sent into comatose shock after shooting up some bad smack, our intrepid (and deadly sexy) heroine is determined to bring down the whole fucking criminal underworld all by herself. That’s bravado, people. She’s got no skills, no training, just a bad attitude and a body to die for.  The chain leads way higher than even she could have guessed, though — all the way from street dealers to big-time pimps to Italian mobsters out of Vegas to crooked cops right to the would-be congressman she’s sleeping with!

Simple story? Hell yeah. All the best are. But if you’ve got the right the woman for the job, even the simplest set-ups can leave you gripped to the screen. And Grier was definitely more than up to the task. Hill (one of the great unsung heroes of exploitation moviemaking) had worked with Grier on a couple of Roger Corman women-in-prison productions shot on the cheap in the Philippines (The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage, to be precise) and figured she was ready to graduate from being a supporting player as the stereotypical bad-ass-butch-black-woman-in-stir to her own starring turn, and damn was he right.  Pam’s not only a total sexual dynamo here (she gets naked three separate times in the first 15 minutes alone), she’s a supernatural force of pure fucking vengeance. Her conscience troubles her a bit more than you’d expect in a film like this (check out her “the past few days seem like a dream” monologue early on to her cop friend Carter), but she can put that in a locked drawer when she needs to and just plain kick ass. You always get the feeling revenge is gonna be bittersweet for Coffy, though, because Grier gives such a tellingly multi-dimensional performance (and the long slow fadeaway of her walking, battered and bruised after killing all the bad guys (come on, did you ever doubt she would?), along a lonely,  early-morning beach at the end as the credits roll provides a surprisingly downbeat ending that the genre would later airbrush out of things as these films became more formulaic) that’s always grounded in reality (and yes, reality itself would become another casualty of this genre’s success as time wore on). In short, Grier’s  Coffy is not some cartoonish superhero, but a real woman dealing with an extraordinary set of circumstances and trapped in a situation beyond her control that she’d rather not be a part of. Sure, she hams it up a bit when going undercover as a Jamaican prostitute to grab the attention of mega-pimp King George (who’s even got his own theme song!), but even in the midst of the most over-the-top scenes here, like the notorious cat fight (you knew there had to be one) at George’s pad, there’s always something lurking under the surface in Pam’s extraordinary performance. She’s a bad-ass mama out for revenge with soul, a real life flesh-and-blood heroine rather than a cardboard cut-out. She’s not a super-woman here (although she’s got a super-woman body — damn, I’ll quit obsessing over it now), but if conscripted into a situation where that’s what she’s gotta be, then goddamn if she isn’t gonna be it, and worry about the consequences later.

There are some damn fine supporting turns here as well, to be sure — Booker Bradshaw as sleazy Councilman-Soon-To-Be-Congressman  Brunswick, Sid Haig as — well, the kind of hired-muscle-with-a-perv-streak he always did so well at the time — but really this is Pam’s show all the way. From the minute she blows that pusher’s head off with a shotgun  (and this is also surprisingly violent for a film of this type — another element that would be toned down as the blaxploitation formula took hold) in the film’s opening scene (which would later be aped by effects legend Tom Savini in the legendary head-shot scene in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), she absolutely owns this motherfucker from start to finish. Honestly, if Grier’s Coffy said “you can fuck me, but I might kill you afterwards if I feel like it”, you’d be up for taking the risk. That’s how undeniable she is here.  I can’t think of higher praise than that.

Hill and Grier would be back less than a year later with Foxy Brown, which essentially tells the same story with a bigger budget, less graphic violence, less nudity, and frankly less heart and realism. It’s still a damn fine flick, but it’s a sanitized, de-fanged version of what you see here. This is the pure, grade-A, 100-proof stuff.

Coffy is available on DVD from MGM as part of its Soul Cinema line. It features a nicely-done full-frame transfer, a solid stereo audio track, the original theatrical trailer, and a feature-length commentary from Jack Hill that’s absolutely gripping listening. It’s also playing free this month on Impact Action On Demand, available on most cable and satellite systems. I’m assuming most readers of this blog will have seen this before, probably numerous times, but if it’s been awhile, give it a go again — you’ll be very pleasantly surprised at what a bass-knuckled punch it still packs even after all these years. They just plain don’t make ’em like this anymore — and truth be told, even though Coffy was a solid box-office success, they never made ’em quite like this again even back in the day. This isn’t just “soul cinema,” it’s heart, soul, blood, and guts cinema. It’s everything you love exploitation films for, combined with everything that a lot of it (and everything else on celluloid, be it from Hollywood or the independents) is missing. It’s uncompromising, multi-faceted, honest and arresting art, folks. It’s complex in spite of  its simplicity and provides no easy answers or feel-good moments. It’s a genre movie for grown-ups that doesn’t insult your intelligence and for once provides more steak than sizzle (although there’s plenty of that, too). It’s the straight dope and it’ll hook you forever.