Sunday, 14 June 2015

Horror Core: Great Genre Film Themes

I've written about music before. Not that I'm at all qualified to do so, but still. And now here's more on the subject. Specifically about theme songs for genre films. Which I've also posted about in the past. Sort of. But this time I'm talking song songs, like with lyrics and stuff.

It's not so unusual for a movie to have a theme song--in fact, it's often expected. More so if a singer is cast in the film. Witness Men in Black or Battleship. Or Dark Floors, the Lordi movie. Heck, Bobby Brown laid down a track for Ghostbusters 2 and he was hardly in it. And then there are the genre films that have no good reason for a theme song, but still one exists. For reasons that escape most of us, someone decided these movies needed a theme tune, something to sum up, in verse, the films' themes and/or plot. I've scoured my memory, my friends' memories, and the Internet to bring you a few choice selections.

Shocker as heard in Shocker

Shocker is not a great film, by any standard. But it's still kinda fun to watch, even if Wes Craven was just plagiarizing himself for most of it. A lot of work went into the soundtrack, and a super-group of sorts was assembled to produce and sing the theme song. The Dudes of Wrath include members from KISS, Whitesnake, Motley Crue, and Van Halen.

Green Slime as heard in The Green Slime

I haven't actually seen this stinker from 1968, but I'm told that those who have remember it for its theme song. Or from the first ever MST3K. Anyway, The Green Slime boasts a rocking theme that includes both a sitar and a theremin. Written by award-winning composer Charles Fox, and sung by Richard Dalvey, who pioneered surf music. (Special thanks to Andrew Barr)

Zombeavers as heard in Zombeavers

If you haven't seen Zombeavers, you should. Also, the song is full of spoilers. Sung by crooner Nick Amado, and written by Jon and Al Kaplan, the Zombeavers theme is exactly what you'd expect from the guys who brought us The Thing musical. Incidentally, the guys who wrote the movie's theme also wrote the movie.

Looker as heard in Looker

Looker isn't a bad movie, even though critics didn't like it very much back in 1981. Written and directed by Michael Crichton, the movie touches on themes of beauty and perfection and the plot could totally be remade today. Complementing the film is its theme song sung by Sue Sadd and the Next, which was later covered by Kim Carnes. Looker has an entire soundtrack album that recorded but never released. (Special Thanks to Don Guarisco)

Dream Warriors as heard in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is a fascinating study. No less interesting is the third movie's theme song by Dokken. This rock power anthem probably wasn't the band's crowning achievement, but it was remixed and released on what became their best-selling album. Rumor has it the band's internal conflict helped fuel their sound. Whatever the case, Dream Warriors is so awesome that it defeats Freddy himself.

Burn as heard in The Crow

The Crow is legendary for a lot of reasons, its soundtrack being one of them. The movie is full of '90s rock and metal, and the soundtrack sold over four million copies. Initially, no label would produce it until Trent Reznor got on board. The soundtrack is crammed full of new songs and covers, but Burn by The Cure became the movie's theme. It's haunting and gothy, capturing the essence of the film.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Well, I finally saw it. I didn't want to, but I felt obligated to do so. And I have to say it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. Of course, the bar so low as to be underground, but still I've seen worse. That doesn't mean the movie is any good--it's terrible--but it's not the worse thing ever.

I think there's some comfort to be found there.

Platinum Dunes's TMNT was doomed from the start; there was simply no way Michael Bay could make a new Ninja Turtles movie and not face a staggering amount of opposition. He'd already destroyed Transformers and now his company was taking aim at everyone's next favourite childhood property. Bay added insult to injury when he announced the turtles would be aliens. Aliens? Like this is some Biker Mice from Mars bullshit? But despite massive blowback and vitriol, PD made and released TMNT, disappointing fans and critics alike.

Pictured: some bullshit.

At least they changed the part about them being aliens. There's even a line in the script about it. "Are they aliens?" Vernon asks. "No, that's stupid," says April. Of course it's stupid. They're mutants. It's right there in the title. We don't need a clever line to remind us all about how gracious PD was to bow to "popular opinion" and rewrite that part of the origin story.

But rewrite it they did. This time round the turtles are the mutated results of trying to reverse-engineer an antidote for a poisonous gas. Why a lab would use turtles as test subjects is never questioned in the film, so I won't bring it up here. What I will bring up is the poisonous gas. In a minute. Bear with me.

So. Eric Sacks owns a big medical company that had a tragic lab fire that killed April's father many years ago. Turns out her dad set fire to the lab when he found out what Sacks was up to, namely trying to create a cure for some horrible disease he was planning to unleash on the city.

After the lab fire, Sacks thought all was lost and the Big Plan to Poison New York was mothballed. Then in walks April O'Neill who tells him all about how her pet turtles, which where the lab turtles, grew up big and strong and are, wait for it, the mysterious vigilantes who've been thwarting the Foot Clan attacks around the city. This is great news for Sacks because he's secretly in league with the Foot and their leader, Shredder who is, wait for it, Sacks's surrogate father who raised him when his parents died when they were living in Japan.

And why was Sacks planning to gas New York? So he could sell the cure and become rich. "Stupid rich," in his own words. Because he's not rich enough. Which is a real problem for him.

Did you get all that? Doesn't matter! Moving on.

TMNT is so full of problems it's hard to know where to begin. The easiest thing to do would be to compare it to the 1990 movie of the same name.

Does my nostalgia for old-school Ninja Turtles cloud my judgement with regards to PD's TMNT? Probably, yeah. But there's a reason I and everyone else like it so much, and despise this incarnation. What the new TMNT lacks is substance, from its bad CGI to its plot. The turtles are well animated, for the most part, but Splinter is so poorly realized he's difficult to watch. That's to say nothing of Shredder, who appears to have gravity-defying superpowers. Shredder fights with grace and ease, as if his enormous suit of armour was made of rice paper instead of chrome.

Make a list of white boy suburban stereotypes and you'll guess at least 50% of the turtles' characters and personalities, maybe 75 if you include "nerd." Only Leonardo fails the stereotype test but that's because he as no personality whatsoever. The bare minimum of effort was made to give these characters a life of their own, independent of one another: Raf butts heads with Leo because he's expected to; Mikey pervs on April because someone (wrongly) thought it'd be funny; and Donny's contribution to the team dynamic is his technological know-how, he does't say or do anything that isn't related to tech.

This dismissive attitude regarding the turtles' characters is explained by the fact that the movie isn't really about them. For whatever reason, TMNT is April's story. She's the central figure in all this, the fixed point around which Sacks and the turtles orbit. The movie breaks away from April only when the action plot demands it, like for expositions or a fight. Otherwise, TMNT is the April O'Neill Power Hour with Special Guests the Ninja Turtles.

Or, Memoirs of an Invisible Turtle?

If you're wondering how Shredder and the Foot Clan factor into all of this, you're not alone. I've seen the movie and I'm still not sure. The Foot fall somewhere on the spectrum between "street gang" and "crime syndicate." Shredder's pissed the Foot aren't getting the attention or respect he thinks they deserve, lamenting the fact that most people in the city think they're a myth. For the life of me, I can't understand why this would bother him. If anything, Shredder should be pleased no one takes the Foot Clan seriously--it's so much easier to carry out your nefarious deeds on the dl when nobody thinks you're a threat. What Shredder's big-picture plans are for the Foot, I have no clue. And it doesn't matter. The Foot Clan are in the movie because of course they are.

As a kid, I didn't tune in to Ninja Turtles for an important lesson about family or trust or some other crap. I watched the cartoon and the movies because they were fun. If, along the way, I learned something about teamwork or self-confidence, so much the better. TMNT seems to have missed the subtle point here, that the moralizing that takes place in kids' entertainment is woven into the story. In PD's version, any valuable lessons learned are undercut by the sheer awkwardness of the "teachable moment." Raf spews forth a desperate confession about why he fronts so much that, while heartfelt, will likely engender more ridicule than compassion. And Splinter offers up some garbage about how the turtle's greatest strength is their teamwork. That would have been a great lesson, sure, if their ability to work together (or not) was ever an issue.

The problem is the movie's all incident. There's no story development here, just a series of action sequences all piled on top of one another. And sometimes, that's all you want from a movie. But not this movie. TMNT wants desperately to tell us a story and to have it mean something, but it doesn't know how. Substance has been replaced by special effects, and the kids who see this movie will grow up never knowing the difference.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Trailer Review: Point Break

Yeah, that's right. Point. Break.

Despite it being remade once already as The Fast and the Furious, some genius at Warner Brothers thought he'd mine XXX for inspiration for a(nother) Point Break remake.

Because being an expert in one extreme sport means your're an expert in all extreme sports. And demolition. Does Warner Bros know how long it takes become brilliant at gliding? Surfing and snowboarding are not interchangeable. You can't just replace waves with snow and have at it. Okay, I admit I'm not an extreme sportsman. -woman. -person. I am a really good skier, though, but that doesn't mean I can rollerblade worth a damn.

And I can't be sure who's side I'm supposed to be on. The cops or the robbers. I mean, I understand that's the point, but these guys are dropping dollar bills on impoverished communities, for chrissakes. But the lead robber looks like kind of a douche, so that's a strike against.

And another thing: that "law of gravity" line might sound good, but it points to a general misunderstanding of both gravity and law. I know no one'll ever say, "The only law that matters is Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation that allows us to calculate the gravitational pull between me and the Earth," before heroically pitching themselves off a cliff. But still. What he really means is the theory of gravity. Unfortunately, there's no good set-up for that.

Johnny Utah
Do you have any idea how many laws 
you've broken? A lot. The answer is a lot. 
That makes you a bad person, in theory.

The only theory that matters is gravity.

I say scrap the whole gravity word play and with it all attempts at cleverness. Because you're bad at it.

Johnny Utah
Do you have any idea how many 
laws you've broken?           

Do you have any idea how many 
fucks I give?                 

I'm guessing the answer is zero. Zero fucks. Which is exactly the same amount of fucks given by everyone who brought this idea to life.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Trailer Review: Infini

Because everyone loved Doom so much.
Because everyone's forgotten this happened once already, and we called it Doom.

At the tail-end of a too-long chapter in film history, 'round about the time when all the carefully delineated subgenres spiral downward into chaos and self-parody, comes Infini. Infini will either deliver us from The Era of Re (as in -boot, -make, -hash) or it will dig us deeper into this cinematic rut I call Early 21st Century Grit.

That's not to suggest there weren't some truly great and/or gritty "res" in the past 15 years. I'm just saying the res have run their course. They've done their job, and now it's time for them to retire and give way to a new re, the resurgence. I'm talking old-school, back-to-basics genre film. I'm talking everything from story to effects to mise-en-scene. I'm talking Wrong Turn and It Follows and The Guest, three contemporary movies that take an old aesthetic and make it new again.

We crave decent horror and we don't even know it. We're spoon fed gore and jump scares and we're told we want more, and we nod yes, more please. And so the feeding continues only now with a funnel jammed in our mouths. Into that cakehole is crammed every trope and cliche, every archetype and stereotype, every thing we've seen before.

And now here's one more. Maybe. I don't know. My love for genre film makes me naive and hopeful for the future, even though a lot of contemporary horror sucks balls. Also, I'm one of the few people who like Doom so I don't really care if someone has forced it to breed with the plot of Aliens, creating this blasphemy. All I care is that Infini doesn't fall victim to its era, that it doesn't pander or insult or offend because it misunderstands its own genre.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Pyramid

Spoiler warning: there's actually no mummy in this pyramid.

I think I just witnessed the death of found footage.

Also, the death of science, history, and common sense.

I'm no Egyptologist, but I know enough to be able to scoff at the glaring inaccuracies in Ancient Egyptian history and religion that are peppered throughout the script. And I don't mean preposterous stuff like sand traps and tiger traps hidden within the depths of a three-sided pyramid that was buried underground thousands of years before the Great Pyramid was good idea. I mean the embarrassingly (insultingly?) bungled explanation of the weighing of the heart. Also, Anubis and The Devourer are two different entities. Just saying.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Pyramid is the story of a father-daughter archaeology team and a documentary crew who get lost inside the aforementioned mysterious three-sided pyramid. They encounter monsters and booby traps in their search for a way out. Also, there's some kind of horrible infection in the air or something, but that storyline is neither properly developed nor resolved.

So yeah, a bunch of morons get themselves lost inside a tomb. With a camera that's been recording everything. Do they ever stop to review the footage to see if it can help them backtrack? No. Do they review the footage of the "dog" that attacks them? No. Do they review the footage of the thing that kills one of their own? Yes. I can't tell you why, finally, with ten minutes to go in the movie, the survivors now decide to take a time out to watch an earlier part of the film. And, I bet, neither can the filmmakers.

Curse? What curse? No one said anything about a curse.

Found footage is built upon a strong foundation of cinematic postmodernism. To ignore that is to admit to a fundamental misunderstanding of how the subgenre works, and the fun things you can do with it. You can be satirical and self-reflexive and meta, but The Pyramid only succeeds in being laughably inept at even the most basic principles.

Namely, this is not a found footage film even though it wants to be. Now, there's nothing wrong with making a movie in the found footage style without it actually being an epistolary document. But you can't switch back and forth between 3rd and 1st person POVs and still insist on maintaining a found footage aesthetic. It's as if the filmmakers knew their vision wouldn't work but they insisted on it anyway because found footage is hot, still. Kinda.

Worse yet, their attempts at documentary verisimilitude are painfully awkward. Remember the early mockumentaries? The ones that were so well made you could totally believe they were real? Well, this is nothing like that. Also, there doesn't appear to be any internal cohesiveness regarding the mockumentary's look and feel. In one scene, the lead archaeologist is being coached on how to respond to interview questions so as to cut out the interviewer in post, but interview is shot with two cameras. Moreover, there's no visual cue to distinguish between the documentary footage and the 3rd person POV.

So that's what's technically wrong with The Pyramid. Now let's examine the script. Right at the beginning of the movie, the script conflates research methods and interpretation. Using satellites to help you look for stuff and using that stuff to re-interpret the historical record are two different things. Yes, there are a lot archaeologists out there who'll be highly skeptical of a find that questions a well-established chronology, but no one's going to forsake ground penetrating radar for a dousing rod. That's just stupid.

Sometimes the only way out is in. Down this tunnel of cliches.

But a lot of things about this movie are stupid. Like how an archaeological dig is even taking place at Giza during the Arab Spring. And what does that even have to do with anything? (The answer is: nothing. It has nothing to do with the story.) Or, why do the monsters attack the crew and then not attack them later on? And how could anyone possibly think that turning off the light is a good way to hide from a dark-adapted monster. This is the same monster that gets scared away by a flare later on, I might add.

Sadly, perhaps unbelievably, there's actually a cool idea buried under all the garbage. You can see it, a gleaming spark of an idea, but the script has been changed and revised so many times, so many different plot points added and removed, that the writers lost the thread.

It's a mess, is what I'm saying. The movie is so contradictory, I can't understand how anyone reading the script didn't say at some point, "Now how does that make any sense?" Was it rushed into production? Did someone owe a favour? Contractual obligation? I've seen movies that probably cost way less and achieve so much more simply because someone cared enough to take the time make sure the script was good.

And I guess that's really the heart of the matter: no one cared about The Pyramid. No one cared how it looked or if it made any sense, and still it got made. And that's why I think it heralds the death of the found footage genre.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tin Can Man

"I need a palate cleanser," I said.
"Me too."

Not two minutes after finishing Tin Can Man, we were watching something else. It's not that Tin Can Man is gross or disgusting or distasteful, but something about it left us feeling, I don't know, yucky, I guess.

Tin Can Man played a whole bunch of festivals, so I thought it had to have some merit. But no. No merit. Unless you consider David Lynch fanfic meritorious. Tin Can Man looks and feels like a student film made by a guy who really likes experimental film, horror movies, and David Lynch. That's me being complimentary.

Me being less charitable reads like this: Tin Can Man is a confused art project made by a guy who hates his audience, the film medium, and quite possibly himself, to boot.

Here's what happens in the movie:
-Pete gets dumped by his girlfriend and is reamed out at work
-A guy claiming to be his neighbour asks to borrow his phone because he had an "accident" and can't use his own phone to make a call
-The neighbour reveals he's not really Pete's neighbour, and that he killed the real neighbour
-Pete and the fake neighbour visit Pete's dad where the fake neighbour introduces himself as Dave
-Dave tells Pete to kill his dad, and Pete refuses
-Dave takes Pete to meet the Tin Can Man, whom Dave kills after forcing him to dance around
-Dave takes Pete to meet his family where they force feed him cake
-Dave turns Pete into the new Tin Can Man
-Pete tries to escape and stops a motorist, who promptly returns him to Dave
-Pete "performs" as the Tin Can Man, which I think is some kind of fever dream but I can't be sure because nothing in this this movie makes any sense so it could be that Pete really is introduced by a clown to an audience of people from his life, and that he really does take the stage and bow to great applause

Now would be the part of the review where I explain what all this means, but I'm not going to do that because I don't know what it means. Moreover, I truly believe the whole thing is completely meaningless. There's no story here, no logic or thought process. There's just Pete who completely fails to learn or grow, and Dave who just talks a lot of nonsense and yells.

Also the whole thing is lit by flashlight. Which really has nothing to do with story, but goes some way in validating the whole "experimental" angle I'm pushing. And experimental film, in my experience, has little interest in storytelling.

I can't fully explain why I disliked Tin Can Man so much, why it made such terrible impression, and left me feeling icky. I have very little time or patience for experimental film, and although I, too, was once a pretentious film student, I got over it. So that likely has something to do with it--why I roll my eyes and make exasperated noises at the mere mention of Tin Can Man. Whatever writer-director Ivan Kavanagh's problem is, he needs to get over it, too.

The poster claims the movie is "truly terrifying" and a "masterpiece." It's not scary, nor does it showcase any sort of mastery of the cinematic medium. Difficult to watch and impossible to appreciate, Tin Can Man is bad art masquerading as genre film.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Movies We'd Rather Be Watching

True story: someone stole my VHS copy of Bowfinger.

There are movies, and then there are movies. Terrible movies. Movies so bad they make you wish you were watching something, anything else. With these god-awful films in mind, I present Movies We'd Rather Be Watching, a list of films-within-films that look to be much, much better than the movies in which they appear.

Dynamite Jones, as seen in Boo!

Boo! is your run-of-the-mill haunted asylum movie. You know the story: kids get trapped in old mental hospital and ghosts happen. What you probably don't know is that Boo! features a character named Arlo whose backstory is that he starred in a movie called Dynamite Jones, which is about a vampire killer. The film plays on a TV in a bar where Arlo is either drinking or working--possibly both. While I can criticize Boo! for being just another haunted asylum flick, I'm keen to watch Dynamite Jones, which, by all accounts, looks like just another blacksploitation vampire hunter movie.

Face Punch, as seen in Twilight

Like it or not, Twilight is shite. Utter, utter crap. Buried under this steaming pile is something called Face Punch. Face Punch is an action film--that's all the movie (or the book) has to offer. It could be about an underground, invite-only face punching competition,or it could be about something else. Like about a guy who has to enter a face punching competition in order to win custody of his son. Whatever the case, Face Punch, by virtue of its name alone, is infinitely better than Twilight.

Mant!, as seen in Matinee

Truth be told, I kinda liked Matinee. But then again, I don't remember much about it, other than Mant!. Mant!, which looks like a rip-off of The Fly, is the movie that screens at the cinema in which Matinee is set. Meant to be a tribute to William Castle, Mant!'s legacy is that it's better known and more well liked than Matinee itself.

Alex's student film, as seen in Grave Encounters 2

Grave Encounters 2 has a very strong beginning and end, but is terrible throughout the middle. A real shit sandwich. The film rehashes the same scares from the first movie, and is largely one-note for most of its running time. But before the plot enters the asylum and takes a powder for forty minutes, we spend some time on-set with Alex. A film student, Alex is in the middle of making a movie, which he abandons in favour of pursuing a documentary about Grave Encounters (which, in the world of GE2, is a real movie). By all accounts, Alex appears to be a competent filmmaker (he's a crap documentarian, though) and his unfinished student film looks to be a satire of modern horror tropes. If only Grave Encounters 2 was as inspired. And short.

Stab!, as seen in the Scream franchise

In Scream, Sidney voices concern over who would play her in a movie based on what's happening in Scream. She jokes that'd she get stuck with Tori Spelling. Sure enough, when Stab! is shown at the beginning of Scream 2, Tori Spelling appears as Sidney. It's a wonderful callback to a great film, made even better by the fact that Stab! was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Within the world of Scream, the Stab! franchise grows larger and larger, until the irony can't be contained in one film alone. The postmodern joke finds its punchline in Scream 4, which opens with not one, but two Stab! films. And, as if that weren't enough, there is a fan site dedicated to making Stab! movies. For real.

Muckman, as seen in Chainsaw Killer

Chainsaw Killer is a terrible movie. And not in the good way. It's just straight-up bad. At the centre of the story is a mysterious film called The Force Beneath. A characters gets his hands on a copy and plays the tape, and the screening includes a handful of movie trailers. Most notable is the trailer for a movie about a bog monster called Muckman. Not only does it have better production values than Chainsaw Killer, it turns out Muckman is an actual movie that you can actually watch.

Honourable mention:

Kickpuncher, as seen in Community

Community is not a movie (sixseasonsandamovie) but it gets a mention here because Kickpuncher might just be the greatest fake movie series ever made up: a low-rent, low-budget series of films about a cyborg whose punches have the power of kicks. A cop living in the "future" world of 2006, Kickpuncher is a Robocop 2 of sorts, fighting to rid the streets of Mega Dope. Other films in the Kickpuncher franchise are Kickpunder II: Codename Punchkicker, Kickpuncher III: The Final Kickening, Kickpuncher Detroit, Kickpuncher Miami, and Kicksplasher.