Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I never bothered too much with the TV version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and didn’t even know it was based on a movie until I saw that it’d be playing on the big screen this week. Slight, silly and saturated in 80’s style, this was an absolute blast, a ton of fun and a totally hilarious culture clash between brooding gothic bloodsuckers and mouthy, fashionista valley girls. Kristy Swanson is Buffy, an attitude driven high school chick who spends her days at the mall, planning dances and hanging around with her jock boyfriend. That all ends when the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) recruits her for a centuries old battle against immortal vampires that’s about to play out right in the valley. She’s cynical, skeptical and reluctant as most teenagers are to do anything outside their usual bubble but rises to the occasion and discovers she has badass hidden talents for kicking vampire ass. Joining forces with moody bad boy Pike (the late Luke Perry), she goes head on with the evil vampire king Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his goofy henchman Amilyn (Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens) in a deadly battle that spills into the senior prom dance for hilarious results. I really didn’t expect to like this as much as I did but the thing is just so damn fun. Swanson has way more charisma and beauty than Sarah Michelle and really gives a good turn as someone who is outwardly insufferable and spacey but reveals that’s all an act, something we all remember doing in high school at some point. Sutherland plays it grave and serious and as a result comes off as hilarious but has terrific exasperated paternal chemistry with Buffy. Hauer is a typically implosive and intense but here he’s having an extroverted ball, playing this debonair vamp like a pimp from hell in a smoking jacket and swanky white gloves. Reubens is straight up silly and gets one of the most inexplicably bizarre and hysterical death scenes that’s so melodramatic it needs to carry over into a post credits scene. The cast is stacked and includes early career work from Hilary Swank, a loopy David Arquette, Sasha Jenson, Natasha Gregson Warner, Stephen Root, Candy Clark, Sasha Jenson, Slash, Thomas Jane, Ricki Lake, Seth Green, Alexis Arquette and Ben Affleck. Wow. I loved this and loved how I didn’t expect to be so hot on it but got blindsided. Beautiful production value, wicked sharp comedic scrip, fun performances and an appropriately synthy 80’s score. Oh, and watch for the Mystery Machine from Scion Doo too.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: William Lustig’s Maniac Cop 3: Badge Of Silence

Every trilogy needs an ending, and Maniac Cop 3: Badge Of Silence is quite the explosive conclusion. Matt Cordell’s undead tornado of police brutality was content to lie six feet under after the second film, until a weird old voodoos priest (Julian Harris) who lives in catacombs under the city resurrects him for more destruction, and this time he wants a girlfriend. Robert Davi also returns as gritty Detective McKinney to hunt this guy down and *he* gets a girlfriend too, girlfriends for everyone. There was always a spooky element to these films but the voodoo angle is something that blesses and accents the urban street trash vibe beautifully with a decidedly folk horror garnish. Cordell has another agenda here and goes after a tough chick cop (Gretchen Becker) who has been slandered in the media just like he was years ago. Much of the action takes place in a hospital that gets shot to shreds, and in the atmospheric tunnels beneath the city where the voodoo rituals happen. I was surprised to see Jackie Earle ‘Rorschach’ Haley as a homicidal junkie, nice touch. The great Robert Forster also briefly shows up as the hospital’s cynical head doctor, getting classic lines like “I love the smell of fresh plasma in the morning” and “I don’t like my staff treating this like some goddamn Greek restaurant!.” Amazing stuff, with a fiery car chase in the third act that might be the best set piece of the whole trilogy.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: William Lustig’s Maniac Cop 2

Maniac Cop is one of the great hidden gem trash trilogies of the 80’s and has now been picked up for a reboot by Nicolas Winding Refn, which I couldn’t be more excited for. It’s time to revisit my favourite of the sequels, William Lustig’s Maniac Cop 2, which sees undead psycho cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar and his epic jawline) come back for some more supernatural police brutality and wanton carnage. Originally arrested for excessive force, he was assaulted in prison and came back from the dead as something else, something way worse than your garden variety rogue cop. This is one of those slash n’ burn sequels that kills off the heroes of the first film within minutes of getting underway, which I always find hilarious. As such we only see Bruce Campbell’s Jack Forrest briefly but any appearance from him always helps a film. This time veteran Sergeant Sean McKinney (Robert Davi, never more badass) is on the hunt for Cordell, along with a police psychologist (Claudia Christian). Cordell has plans beyond simply killing everyone in his path this time though, and begins to recruit similarly minded lowlifes for his own personal army starting with a Manson style serial killer (Leo Rossi) who targets strippers. This is trash, there’s no beating around the bush. But it’s gourmet trash, it knows it’s groove and hums along beautifully within it. Cordell is a spectacular villain, a physically imposing juggernaut, whether he’s beating people senseless or Terminator-ing an entire police precinct singlehandedly. Check out the first and third ones too, they’re epic although this has always been the pinnacle for me. These films are perfect relics of a lost era when seedy genre stuff ran the show, and I can’t wait to see the spin Refn will give to them.

-Nate Hill

Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia

Scared of spiders? This is the perfect movie for you and no it’s not Eight Legged Freaks. Seriously though if you’re one of those people who are mortally, terminally and irrationally afraid of them then Arachnophobia will flare up just that kind of reaction. It’s produced by Spielberg too so it has that special kind of ‘menace in 80’s suburbia’ feel, this isn’t some cobwebby haunted house or fearsome jungle setting, this is killer spiders in the small town California which is all the more disarming. There is a jungle set prologue though because we gotta see just how these things did make it to Cali and you can thank scientist Julian Sands for that when he accidentally lets a breed of deadly arachnids hitch a lift in a coffin back to the states. There they slowly but surely begin to breed and wreak havoc on unsuspecting townsfolk until they’re basically everywhere. Jeff Daniels steps in for hero duty as a doctor who just moved into town and is getting a pretty suspect first impression of the area thanks to these creatures. It’s up to him and an intrepid posse to take them on while evading their deadly bites in the process. John Goodman shows up and steals the film as a boisterous, beer swilling exterminator who knows a maximum threat when he sees one and breaks out the non FDA approved methods for dispatching them. His character provides the film with levity and laughs as a kind of cross between Chris Walken’s kooky exterminator in Mouse Hunt and one of the Ghostbusters. This film is actually terrifying because it isn’t just giant spiders like in Harry Potter or The Hobbit and they’re not CGI or schlocky like countless other horror films, there’s actual craft and artistry put in and they use real spiders too so it’s pretty gnarly. There’s one scene where Daniels and his family are in the middle of the living room and there’s spiders literally everywhere.. the couch, ceiling, walls, appliances, floor… covered. We all know that feeling of seeing just one of them somewhere over in a corner, now amplify that by like a thousand. Yeah. It’s a great fright flick that never gets too gooey or gory and always maintains humour amidst the horror.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell

It’s been roughly fifteen years since Rob Zombie blasted onto the horror scene with his brilliant exploitation block party The Devil’s Rejects, and has now followed it up with 3 From Hell, a long awaited continuation following the further adventures of the murderous, hilarious, never boring Firefly clan. So, does it live up to Rejects? Well… no, but what could? Is it a good film? Hell fucking yes it is and although it’s arguable whether or not a third outing with these characters was necessary, in my eyes it was always more than welcome. Zombie is an inexplicably hated filmmaker and his detractors always make me laugh in their abject refusal to concede that he knows what he’s doing within the genre. It’s fine if it ain’t your thing, it’s all cool if his style doesn’t jive with yours, but whether or not he’s a talented, imaginative horror filmmaker just isn’t up for debate in my opinion.

So the Firefly family survived their Peckinpah standoff with the cops, which if you’ve seen Devil’s Rejects you’ll agree is a move both audacious and sheepish on Zombie’s part. Incarcerated indefinitely and placed squarely on death row, Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) make no end of trouble for the buffoonish warden (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and his harried staff. Otis stages a violent prison break (reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, I might add) with the involuntary help of Danny Trejo’s Rondo, a character who met an even more finality laden death in Rejects but nonetheless hilariously appears here without even a scar. Once he and Baby are free from their bonds they hook up with their equally murderous and profane half brother Winslow Wolfman Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake, Zombie’s newest muse) and take a road trip down to Mexico. There they wade themselves into as much hedonistic debauchery as they can until, once again, trouble comes looking for them.

So the main thing here is how does this hold up when placed alongside the other two in the trilogy and I’ll be the first to admit it’s the weakest of the three. It’s the least grimy, shocking, hallucinatory and overall spiked with madness too. But it’s also the most laidback and straightforward outing, which I can appreciate. It feels like a hangout film with instances of horror, a wistful afterthought to wash down the glory days and carnage of its predecessors. If there’s one thing that *is* crazier than the other two though its Baby; she has a caged animal, untethered ferocity here that even alarms Otis, who remarks that she’s way more nuts than he remembers her, which is quite the statement coming from him. Anywho they are surrounded by Zombie’s beloved, customary and always welcome bunch of forgotten character actors from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including Richard Edson, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, Daniel Roebuck, Lucinda Jenny, Sean Whalen, Richard Rhiele, Barry Bostwick, Duane Whitaker and Austin Stoker who we lovingly remember as the Sheriff in John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. As most of you know the great Sid Haig passed away very recently and had been ill for a while before that, so his appearance here is sadly limited to a single scene, but it’s a loving send off from Zombie and a terrific if brief swan song for Sid and Spaulding alike. Was this film absolutely necessary? Of course not, Rejects had the perfect poetic justice ending and this story would have been fine if the buck continued to stop there. Am I grateful for a continuation and appreciative of it? You bet I am. Zombie shows talent again in writing simultaneously funny and scary scenes, crafting beautifully grungy production design and drawing you into this world. I almost saw this as a hazy fever dream had by the Fireflies as they are getting shot to bits at the end of Rejects, like a Jacob’s Ladder type foresight into a future that never happened in the final moments of thought before death. It’s a nice final outing with these lovable, hateful psychopaths and a good time overall.

-Nate Hill

Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho Tep

You don’t often find films as special as Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho Tep. On paper it sounds kinda out there: an aging Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and an African American JFK (Ossie Davis) battle an evil ancient cowboy mummy in their Texas care facility while reminiscing about days gone by. The premise alone could lead anywhere but Coscarelli’ & Co infuse it with black comedy, surprising pathos and some cool, creaky practical creature effects for one eclectic package. Campbell is that rare actor who is always dynamic no matter wat the role or project, but this may be the peak of his career, Evil Dead aside of course. His soulful yet cantankerous take on The King is a brilliant, sad, hilarious and meaty performance that goes to some surprisingly personal places, when he isn’t trying to kill vicious little scarab beetles. Davis is wonderful in a role that’s tough to imagine let alone pull off, as a grumpy old ex president who is adamant that the government forced him into a pigment alteration process so no one would believe he’s JFK. Coscarelli’s process sees these two elderly gents in a fight not only for their own survival but for their collective redemption too and the swaggering, soul sucking Mummy can almost be seen as the Grim Reaper himself coming for them, eliciting some eleventh hour personal revelations and last minute soul searching that provides the film with its warmth and humanity. As JFK wistfully remembers what he did right and wrong in the White House he resolutely says “We did the best we could in the time that we had.” Elvis recalls what it was like to permanently exit fame by switching places with an impersonator and what led him to the decision, “it wasn’t the same anymore, the girl I loved was gone and the rest of them were just girls..” In a film whose main antagonist sucks souls through people’s assholes it’s interesting to find such a rich, deep gravity and inwardness to the these two essentially outlandish characters. That’s what I find so beautiful about this film though; It’s undoubtedly a horror flick, one of the most inspired and imaginative variety. But within there’s also a touching, believable summation of two men’s lives and an achingly affecting look at how they rage against their inevitable end one last time. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Steve Beck’s Thir13en Ghosts

Thirteen Ghosts is one weird fuckin movie. It’s the closest thing I can think of to a direct movie version of the haunted houses you find at carnivals, which is good for carnivals but not really handy for keeping up a story that makes any bloody sense. I would have loved it if the my just completely abandoned attempts at logic and made this a full music video or something but no, they just had to get the exposition cannon out and needlessly blast us all. At least it looks great.

The ‘story’ goes as follows: the nephew (Tony Shaloub) of a creepy old billionaire (F. Murray Abraham) has inherited his giant old haunted mansion and the thirteen vicious ghosts the reside within it, specifically in big glass cubes engraved with special incantations so they’ll stay put. Of course they don’t, and when the nephew invites a bunch of folks over to observe these spectres with special Ghost Vision Goggles they all get loose and start terrorizing everyone no end. Among the cannon fodder are Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth and Embeth Davidtz who is just as far above lowbrow shit like this as Shaloub and Abraham are.

Now my words so far may suggest that I dislike this film, but that’s not the case. I love it despite knowing full well that it’s wanton trash. The whole thing is a ludicrous theme park of crashes, bangs, loud metal and pandemonium not helped much by chainsaw editing, frenetic music cues, bombastic performances and hilarious special effects. The design, names and makeup of the thirteen ghosts are actually quite inspired, from a great big fat murderous adult baby to an angry, beautiful spurned lover and more. This is part of a trio of films that I have unofficially dubbed the ‘ Warner Brothers late 90’s/early 2000’s heavy metal chaotic horror remake’ trilogy alongside Ghost Ship and House On Haunted Hill. They’re not effectively scary, subtle or otherwise anything close to what horror should be. But for clanging, rambunctious background noise and stark, surreal imagery at a Halloween party they do the trick, this one especially wth all its baroque weirdness.

-Nate Hill

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