Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three Short Reviews: Suck; Splice; Vampires Suck

Text © Richard Gary, 2012 / Indie Horror blog
Images from the Internet

Normally, I write long reviews of films I’m sent, but recently I have seen a few on my own that inspired some comment, so here are some short assessments, mostly impressions.

Written and directed by Rob Stefaniuk

This Canadian somewhat-low-budget release is about – if you can’t tell from the title – vampires. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also a comedy about an unsigned so-so rock’n’roll band (for which the film’s title can also work) on the road from Montreal to New York City, as well as a play on fame, the music biz, and a youth culture that is cynical and vampire-obsessed.

But what is truly most amazing about this film, other than its quirky flavor, is its cast. To start, there’s Vinnie Furni… I mean Alice Cooper as a mysterious, recurring figure, who is both menacing and mentoring. Iggy Pop is a cynical producer / recording engineer who is wise and wary to the vampire ways. Henry Rollins is an annoying AM-radio shock-style DJ. The legendary Malcolm McDowell plays against type in a rare comedic vein (pun intended) as the afraid-of-the-dark Eddie van Helsing (get it?). I particularly smiled when they used a clip from O! Lucky Man! (1973) for a scene from his youth (a bit that would also influence an infamous Seinfeld episode). Dave Foley is their manager, who has so much confidence in them, he suggests they switch to Japanese rap.
In further supporting roles, let’s start with Moby, who makes an appearance as a metal singer named Beef (a nod to Brian De Palma’s 1974 Phantom of the Paradise, perhaps?), and I’d much rather see him act than listen to his usual electroncia drivel. A humorous U.S. border border guard is a member of another band I’d rather not have to listen to, Rush’s guitarist, Alex Lifeson. Head vampire Queeny (a wink towards Freddie Mercury?) is played by Dimitri Coates, vox of the band Burning Brides, who looks both creepy as hell and equally preposterous, as he walks around with a stuck smiling face, with teeth bared. Then there is Canadian punk-period legend Carole Pope, of the band Rough Trade in a miniscule bit. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor Nicole de Boer (she played the leopard-marked Dax) has a brief cameo, and Chris Ratz is particularly amusing as the understandably overwrought Quebecois roadie. He comes close to stealing many of his scenes.

The band at the center (centre?) of the story is The Winners, who are ironically named. Its members include Paul Anthony, a Vancouver actor who won the Promising Newcomer award from the British Columbia Entertainment Hall of Fame; musician / actor Mike Lobel; the new “IT girl” thanks to a recurring role in Mad Men, Jessica Paré, who looks so much sexier than she does on the TV series, if that’s possible; and leading is the director himself, Rob Stefaniuk, who has a substantial cinematic and television track record.

I don’t know how Stefaniuk was able to get such an amazing cast, especially considering they were probably paid scale or less, but my guess is he’s used up his karma for a little bit here (along those lines, there is a 2010 one-hour “making of” documentary called Down to the Crossroads, or How to Make a Movie “Suck” ).

The premise is a Canadian band that’s been around for about 10 years trying to make it, gets a (maybe) gig in New York, so they go on a road trip to head down to the city. Along the way, vampirism starts affecting the band, but rather it apparently gives them some “bite” with the audience they seem to need. Meanwhile, they are being pursued by a determined, albeit daffy, vampire slayer.

Yeah, like most low-budget indie films, it’s a bit low quality, obviously shot on digi-cams, but it still has a home-made look reminiscent of the likes of Zach Braff’s Garden State (2004). While the music is kind of whatever, the story is well written, manages not to fall into cliché very often, and is quite the feather in everyone’s cap. Worth seeing.
See trailer below

Directed by Vincenzo Natali

This (also Canadian) sci-fi / horror flick opened with great fanfare, claiming it to have a great story, good acting, etc. For me, it was a pretty picture, but the content was over-hyped.

Sarah Polley is great in the film (as always) as a scientist who worked on creating a new being by splicing genes across genus, producing something new which turns – surprise, surprise – deadly. Her partner in crime (and romantically in the story) is the exceedingly annoying Adrien Brody. Sure, he deserved the Oscar for The Pianist (2002), but has he done anything noteworthy after that? Naw, he comes across as obnoxious, self-conscious, and as smarmy as he does in that razor commercial that just makes me want to smack him upside the head and say, “Listen, hot shit, there is a reason the Woodman picked you as the equally ego-centric Dali in Midnight in Paris (2011). You are not as wonderful as you obviously believe you are.”

Anyway, this over-long film was touted as being so original. Well, it was bad enough the ending was easy to figure out about 20 minutes into the film, before the main antagonist is even created, but the whole storyline was essentially adapted from two other films that I can think of off the top of my head. The first is obvious: Species (1995; trailer HERE], which starred Natasha Henstridge in the title role as a creature created by splicing human and alien DNA into a new being who wants to mate to continue the line with lethal results. The other is more obscure, a bad horror film from 1982 called The Beast Within [trailer HERE], which both begins and ends with almost the same scene at the ending of Splice.

Again, this is a well-shot, edited and grade-A looking piece of cinema, but been there-done that.
See trailer below. 

Vampires Suck
Directed by Jason Friedberg

And speaking of redundancy, the guys that brought you such loser spoof films as Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007), Disaster Movie (2008) – hey…why isn’t this called Vampires Suck Movie? Oh, I got distracted there. So if you’ve seen any of these films, you know the premise: a central and current cinematic hit is satirized, and every other film that’s on the market makes a comic cameo. In this case, it’s the Twilight series as the main target.

Listen, I’m fine with the whole Twilight thing (even saw one), as sappy and overly-romanticized as it is; or, as I like to call it, the modern Beauty and the Beast (1987). Yes, the cliché and pouty characters do deserve to be spoofed, but as with most of this parody series, this is a sorrowful mess.

There are some fine moments, like the vampires being mistaken for the Black Eyed Peas, and a sharp comment about the about of time spent shirtless by a certain character, but much of this is unimaginative, and feels, well, easy. That was also the problem most of the other *.Movie films. What I did enjoy, however, is how they managed to add other films into the context of this one - see the Alice in Wonderland (2010) insertion in the trailer, for example.

The reason this feels so shallow is just how wide a broad stroke they take with the humor. Part of what made the Airplane! series of the ‘80s - a spoof film of the Airport dynasty of the ‘70s - so funny was the level of absurdity was so high that it was as surprising as it was ludicrous (e.g., the mom from Leave It to Beaver talking jive, the whole gladiator thing, the play on words such as “Don’t call me Shirley”). It wasn’t just gross-out humor and a succession of little set pieces that could be on a sketch comedy show.

This doesn’t need more writers, just better ones. If you want to see a finely done spoof, check out Stripperland (2011) [trailer HERE], a take-off of Zombieland (2009). This was much more subtle, and played with its original material rather than mocking it like a bully. It takes imagination to do that.



Vampires Suck:


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Would a Zombie by Any Other Name Smell as Meat?…

Text (c) Richard Gary, 2012 / Indie Horror Films Blog
Images from the Internet

As with many others, I am a fan of the whole zombie genre, which seems to have picked up steam again over the past few years. But I am having terminology issues.

Growing up, pre-Night of the Living Dead (1968) [NOTLD], zombies were a whole different breed. They were slow and lumbering, undead, and usually Haitian. While there were horror films based on the characters, such as Bela Lugosi’s White Zombie (1932), mostly they were used as comedic fodder, as was with Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers (1940, infamous for the Willie Best line, “Feets, don’t fail me now!”). Of course, as most zombies were black, since they originated in the voodoo culture of Hispaniola, they were seen as derogatory and existed to be made fun of in a white colonialist stereotyping Hollywood way. Just the double-entendre title of the Bowery Boys’ Spooks Run Wild (1941) alone is an indication of that.

Early zombie
Even as late as the mid-1960s, zombies kept their kitsch appeal and were mainly used in comedies, such as in Ray Steckler’s ridiculously bad (in a good way) cult classic musical, The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies (1964), or, as they called a re-release when it played a midnight show at a Brooklyn theater where I worked during the mid-‘70s, Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary.

Of course, NOTLD was a paradigm shifter, changing the image of clumsy voodoo servants and mindless murderers who followed the orders of their masters into clumsy flesh eaters free roaming the countryside (and malls, natch). This became the standard for years, through the likes of Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1973) and Return of the Living Dead (1985; including sequels).  While just a bit more limber in these later films, a sheriff from NOTLD said it best with “Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up.

However, once again things took an evolutionary leap with the Brit flick, 28 Days Later... (2002; not to be confused with Sandra Bullock’s 2000 mind-numbing-zombie-like-inducing 28 Days). In this flick, a virus turns people into violent and swift flesh eaters… but they’re still alive! This story is almost copied in another, more recent British release, The Devil’s Playground (2010), which actually inspired this column.

Slow zombies
Films like 28 Days Later... ignited a familiar question asked of horror fans recently, “Do you favour slow zombies or fast zombies?” An example of this is the documentary, The Walking Dead Girls! In fact, if you search the Web with this question, you will get many links on the topic. But I have an issue with this. First, let me admit that I like the viral running around fast eating people films; in some ways they are more exciting, though sometimes the editing and shaky camera used by seemingly everyone who does a story like this can be annoying, even if it doesn’t produce motion sickness. At least with a slow creature (or horde, as sometimes happens), you get to see the people get ripped to pieces (a nod to Tom Savini here), rather than a quick shot in edits, often in shadows or the corner of the frame for shock value. Give me a full-on, non-CGI appliance so we can to see some action, rather than shake it (apologies to the Flamin’ Groovies).

Essentially, the definition of a zombie, as is stated in part by Wikipedia, is “an animated corpse brought back to life…” In other words, from the voodoo to the flesh eating kind, a zombie is basically the dead arisen. However, in the later, faster versions, the attackers are not dead, merely infected, making them – er – hungry. We need a different word for this situation.

Fast zombies
My idea is to call them ghouls. Yeah, it’s an antiquated term that brings up memories of the likes of Eerie and Creepy comic magazines from the ‘60s and ‘70s mostly (where they seemed to be always in conflict with vampires, but I digress…). Again, Wikipedia describes ghouls, in part, as “…consuming human flesh, often classified as but not necessarily undeadGhouls are perceived to be unintelligent and are primarily driven by their instinct to feed.”  Where my idea of using this definition falls short, is that in literature ghouls usually feast on dead flesh, while our infected humans (and zombies, apparently) prefer their tidbits still squirming.

Surely we can come up with a term that can differentiate between the classic risen dead chompers and those living foodies fond of animated flesh, or at least yet uninfected. 

Certainly, I don’t have all the answers. “Cannibals” seem to fall short as well, because in culture, with many of them it’s a matter of choice. Living people infected by a disease that makes them need to feed (there’s a tee-shirt slogan for ya) is not a option. “Biters” seems too mild, and “Flesheaters,” while a great band, also doesn’t give enough information.

The term zombies will always bring ‘em in to the theaters, or the television screen in the case of The Walking Dead series, so the odds that the appellation of zombie (or its alternative of zombi) is here to stay. Follow the fan base and surely the wallet will follow.

And look, no mention of braaaaains. Oh…never mind.