Gary Sherman’s Death Line (aka Raw Meat) is billed as a horror film but they must have meant comedy because I haven’t laughed that hard during a movie for a long time. That’s not to say it isn’t a horror, I’d definitely classify it as one if it twisted my arm over the matter, but holy fuck this is one of the weirdest, most berserk things out there. So get this: sometime in the 70’s, the London authorities discover that far beneath a tube station, there’s a tribe of mentally handicapped, cannibalistic subterranean yahoos living down there, descendants of a group of track workers trapped during a tunnel collapse during the 1800’s. For hundreds of years they have been snatching unsuspecting commuters off the platforms, eating them and also keeping some to reproduce with I guess. Meanwhile Donald Pleasance gives one of the most outright bizarre, unpredictability intense performances of his career as London’s most sarcastic Scotland Yard detective who gets wind of this bonkers situation and, well, investigates is a strong word for the level of effort he puts in, but he’s dimly aware of it anyhow. He plays a guy who is so British that he sleeps with a literal pot of tea next to his bed, has an emotional breakdown if his secretary forgets his cup of Earl Grey and wears a hat that can *only* be described as a tea cozy. This film just kinda meanders until you’re aware of what it’s technically about, yet can’t help but notice it’s slack pace and complete lack of desire tell a story with any sort of cohesion beyond an illusory ‘concept’ of subway dwelling maniacs. Arbitrary diversions abound, such as Christopher Lee randomly showing up as a very rude MI5 spook just so Pleasance can tell him “fuck you” straight to his face in the film’s one cheeky F bomb. At one point the whole thing just stops dead in it’s tracks so Pleasance and his partner (Norman Rossington) can hit up a local bar, get absolutely fucking torqued on beer and scotch, have a drunken pinball tournament and threaten the barkeep by telling him they’ll report him to the police for serving patrons after hours when, ya know, they *are* the police, the only ones still in the establishment and the very ones who made him stay open late to serve them anyways. The scenes underground are super cheesy with enthusiastic yet hilariously messy special effects and one terminally off pitched performance from Armstrong as the last surviving… whatever they are. Seriously this guy is covered in buckets of slime and has this weird way of acting that calls to mind a certain word I won’t use here, but he jumps around, hollers like a loon and makes quite the… campy impression. The pacing is all over the place and could barely be considered thriller structure, aside from a quick third act chase. Add to all of this perhaps the strangest proto-electronic musical score ever ever devised for a ‘horror’ film and you’ve got something that defies description. It’s like one of those movies you see on TV at 3am in a hazy fugue state and later try to explain to your friends, who all think you’re making it up. Weird ass flick.
I love films that show human beings close to nature, eccentric conservationists and bold, idiosyncratic individuals who value the lives of animals and the wilderness above other humans, industry or infrastructure. Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart is a fantastic example of this, of one reclusive army veteran with severe PTSD and a tragic past named Jim Malden (the late great Rutger Hauer) who lives alone on remote Cherokee island off the coast of North Carolina, devoting his life to the care, companionship and protection of birds and any other creatures he finds. He awkwardly flirts with the local general store owner (Kathleen Turner, switching up her smoky voiced socialite persona for something more casual and earthy) and bonds with her kid. He is fiercely protective of his land and the animals that dwell there to the point of inflicting mortal wounds with a crossbow onto two idiotic, nasty hunters (Brion James and John Dennis Johnston) who shoot birds illegally. Trouble arrives in the form of rock climbing adventurer Mike Walker (Powers Boothe) who has been hired by a weird, rich collector of rare bird eggs (Donald Pleasance channeling the Penguin from Batman) to pilfer the nest of rare bald eagles on Jim’s island, rendering that species extinct. Mike isn’t a malicious or cruel man and admits that the prospect bothers him but he’s been promised two hundred grand for his troubles that will go to funding an expedition in China that is very important to him. We then have this extreme battle of wills governed by moral principles, with both actors doing phenomenal jobs. Hauer is rugged and intense as ever, hinting at a mournful past and winning us over with his compassion for animals, whether washing oil spills off of a bird’s coat or playing with cute black bear cubs in his epic tree fort. Boothe is cavalier and brash at first but we get a sense of moral centre in him as his arc goes on, this could almost be considered ‘the other environmental protection film’ he did in the 80’s and played a good guy in alongside John Boorman’s masterful The Emerald Forest. It’s a a joy to see the two actors onscreen together and a neat precursor to Sin City two decades later, where they don’t share any scenes but play brothers. Now this film had a rough time in post production, many of the reels being lost, what they’ve done to piece it together works for the most part but there are a few pacing issues that aren’t easy to brush off, as well as some really cheesy sex romp stuff but I guess it was the 80’s after all. Still, it’s a beautiful film overall, looks terrific on the Shout Factory Blu Ray, has a wonderful electronic score by Maurice Gibb and is about something that I’m very passionate towards: the care and conservation of natural habitats at all costs, and the dire consequences befalling any greedy piece of shit person who tries to exploit them. Very good film.
Frank and Paul are back, this time to discuss John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween and how it stacks up to David Gordon Green’s direct sequel. They also discuss the Rob Zombie remake as well as the legacy of the franchise and how it has endured over time.
Dario Argento’s Phenomena isn’t one you usually see in a greatest hits list offhand from the oddball Italian horror-meister, but it ranks number two for me in his filmography. Set in the already spooky, airy Swiss Alps, this one sees a very young Jennifer Connelly and her classmates at a boarding school terrorized by an unseen killer who, like in most Argento films, just loves to stab people with super sharp objects in excessive closeup. Connelly has a special power and affinity for insects, which comes in handy when she meets entomologist McGregor (the lovely Donald Pleasance), his pet chimpanzee and they try to snare the killer using their own keen instincts and that of the vast collection of bugs in his care. It’s a unique, eclectic setup for a horror flick, but what’s interesting here is the outright horror and nastiness doesn’t even show up until the hectic, gross out final act. Most of the film is like an atmospheric, eerie fairy tale. Connelly is a darkly radiant beauty and you can practically see the effortless star-power percolating even at the age of fifteen. This film is unique in Argento’s career for several reasons; he takes full enjoyment and advantage of the setting here, the cavernous, looming alps and vast, flower speckled fields of Switzerland provide a more nature themed, organic palette here than his usually urban choice of old European cities and historic edifices, it’s a switch up that works quite well. Mostly though this one is notable for a sense of compassion that isn’t there in any of his other films, brought in by kind eyed Pleasence and his friendship with Connelly. As per usual, some of the acting, pacing and continuity is really off balance here, but that has become an Argento trademark and you kind of have to just roll with it at this point, the guy’s forte has always been atmosphere, music and the feeling behind what’s onscreen, not so much the logic of plot or realism in performance. Speaking of music, this also has to have the coolest soundtrack he’s ever amassed. Not only is there an electrifying, thunderous synth score by Goblin and Claudio Simonetti with a very lyrical, dreamlike vibe, we’re also treated to original rock compositions by the likes of Motörhead and Iron Maiden, making it one of the most collectively memorable soundtracks out there. There’s another cut of this film called ‘Creepers’, but it’s awkwardly edited down by chunks and loses all the magic, so don’t even go near it. The Anchor Bay DVD is the way to go. One of Argento’s best, and a gem amongst horror films.