Tuesday, October 21, 2008

words put together to form sentences, i sentence you to three good-bad movies...

I've been meaning to write, meaning to write, meaning to write...something keeps me from sitting down and actually covering all these films I've been watching, though. Losing my laptop has definitely been a part of it, the surviving computer I have to write on is very slow, and it's frustrating to be unable to type as fast as comes naturally. blah blah blah. There's also this general, fairly constant, sense of malaise, nothing especially new, just a maybe slightly intensified variation on the usual regiment of depression, self-doubt and, y'know, whatever. Anyway, I figured I'd try to cover some of these films in capsule-ish form, just to get them up here, or something, or just to make it easy on myself but still to force myself to write something, as opposed to nothing, which I guess what I'm saying is my inclination right now.

First up, "Microwave Massacre." This is a really, really stupid movie, but that's what it seems to aspire to be, and so it kind of works, if you like dumb jokes delivered poorly by bad actors, which I guess I sort of do, kind of like, actually very like, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" or "They Call Me Bruce," though not as endearing as either. Full of crude humor, titties and cheap gore, "Microwave Massacre" tells the sordid tale of a 50-ish construction working schlub (played by stand-up comedian Jackie Vernon, also briefly in "Amazon Women on the Moon," this is his only starring role, no doubt because he couldn't act for shit) who suffers at home because his wife will only serve him gourmet food cooked in their rather industrial-looking jumbo sized microwave oven. Also, he claims he hasn't had sex since 1962 ("Microwave Massacre" came out in 1983, but it looks to have been shot a bit earlier, judging from 1970s-transitioning-into-1980s fashion) (insert personal joke about not having had sex in a long time myself here, which, as per said joke, would be the only inserting I've done in a pretty long time)(bad as it is, that joke is probably funnier than anything in "Microwave Massacre.")(It's funny because it's true).

Both of Vernon's problems are solved or whatever after he loses it and kills his wife, then starts cooking atnd eating her in the microwave, even feeding dead-wife sandwiches to his unwitting (and also pretty witless) buddies at the construction site. Hungering for human flesh, he's soon picking up ladies of ill repute, gettin' it on with them (rather disgustingly, just in terms of seeing an aging, chubby comedian pounding away on these young actress, I mean I know they're just pretending, and everything is okay with everyone at the end of the day, but sheesh, the sex in this film is by far grosser than the gore), and then killing and butchering them. It's not a gruesome as it sounds, but it's just as tasteless as you can imagine, which is aided by the notion that this is basically a comedy. Y'know, a comedy about a cannibalistic sex murderer. But it's funny, up to a point, enough to work, if you can take it for what it is, a really cheap, stupid movie. The humor can be a bit uneven. One-liners and gags that directly relate to the action of the film are occasionally interrupted by non-sequitur gags like a random woman exposing her breasts the the men at the construction site for no apparent reason, which really just makes you feel sorry for the girl, because why would she do that? Low self-esteem, probably.

In the end, "Microwave Massacre" is adequate in large part because of its' acceptance of its' own inadequacies, a lesson many of us could perhaps benefit from.

"Toxic Zombies" (aka "Bloodeaters") is the movie you would get if you took George Romero's zombie films, then took away the political subtexts, interesting characters, good special effects and cinematography, general sense of what works on a cinematic level, but kept "Day of the Dead" co-star John Amplas. Because of the presence of Amplas (the star of Romero's best film, "Martin," and a supporting actor or behind the scenes player on several other Romero films), I suspect that, like most of Romero's films, this was a Pittsburgh-based production, but, man, this ain't George Romero. I'm not saying this is the wost zombie movie I've ever seen, it's maybe the worst one I've seen this week, but taken with a grain of salt it has a certain grimy effectiveness. Well, not effectiveness, but charm. Well, not charm, exactly, but it's got something to it that I could get into, I guess.

Actually, it's not totally fair the film has no political content, it just isn't especially well-formed or insightful. Some higher ups at the Parks Department, or, y'know, that National Parks Department, are trying to bust some pot growers up in the hills somewhere, so they covertly hire an alcoholic (like, nearly incoherent alcoholic, the filmmakers might have thought to have this actor reel his performance in a bit if they wanted us to believe he was in any condition to fly a plane) crop duster to spray some super experimental defoliant on the secret grow spot. Even though later in the film it's stated that he sprayed the wrong area, the clandestine dope cartel gets chemicalized and subsequently turns into zombies. I mean, sure, why not, right? You gotta turn into zombies somehow...

The zombies start attacking a confusingly large array of difficult to differentiate from one another characters. There's another parks department guy, on vacation with his wife, and then his brother and his brother's wife or girlfriend or something, and then another camping couple with their daughter, who I guess is supposed to be a teenager but looks too old to be a kid, and their retarded son, who also looks pretty old, and who we know is retarded because, aside from a nasty speech impediment, he wears overalls and carries a stuffed animal around. Offensive as it might seem, the broad characterization makes me one of the few people in the film I could differentiate from all the other people in the film. There's alot of guys in flannel shirts in this one. It's confusing. Seriously, if you want to make a movie that has like a billion characters in it, hire actors who are really good and look really different from one another, so we can tell them all apart.
John Amplas in "Martin"

Eventually, Amplas and some other dude, as the government guys who started the whole ordeal, show up too. Or at least I think it was Amplas, although he might have just been in the office scenes, and some other government guy went out to the hills, or something. They tie up the survivors of the zombie attack, but of course get attacked by zombies themselves, and by the end pretty much everyone is dead except for the people who survive and the good parks department guy gets a chance to be all indignant about the clandestine crop spraying operation, but, honestly, who gives a fuck? We'd be fucking lucky if that was the worst, most secretive thing the government was doing. Even if it did turn a few pot smugglers into zombies, it's probably be a million times better than the shit going on at Guantanamo and stuff that we're not hearing about. I'm sure there's stuff going on behind the scenes in the McCain campaign that's scarier than the shit in this movie.

Then again, "Bloodeaters" came out in 1980, back when shit like Watergate was still weighing heavy on the cultural consciousness from less than a decade prior. After the 2000 election, Watergate seems like pretty small potatoes, which is not to diminish the massive cultural impact Watergate had on the country in the 1970s, it's just to illustrate how much worse things have gotten. Do you think if Watergate happened today anyone would get in any serious trouble for it, let alone be compelling to resign from the presidency? All these guys do now is lie, scheme, steal elections (it help when your brother's a governor), lie, lie and lie, and then get a big thumbs up from Fox News, and a general pass from the rest of the newsmedia. I guess that's what happens when a generation of socially conscious people turn inward- the whole "me" generation- become yuppies and shitty parents who instill no sense of values in their kids, because they have no core values themselves. Seriously, though, these motherfuckers are hardcore, if they accidentally unleashed some zombie hordes outside of Pittsburgh they'd blame the zombies for not staying dead, or they'd blame Pittsburgh for not being part of the "real America" we've been hearing so much about lately. So basically "Bloodeaters" is almost optimistic in its' portrayal of government stepping outside the bounds of its' authority for some secret scary shit. It's almost quaint. It's basically a light hearted comedy about the wacky hijinks of some kooky pot farmers turned into zany zombies by bumbling government goons. Except there's actually no humor in the film, and alot of cheap gore.

Sometimes, a little cheap gore can go a long way to making a movie like this more bearable than it ought to be. Add to that the retarded guy, the woodsy locale and John Amplas, and you've got worse ways to spend ninety minutes. Although I think the violence herein will seem reasonably tame compared what's going to go down if the republicans find a new way to steal the election this year. Or use one of the old ways. And even if they do manage a win, do you honestly think that Todd Palin isn't going to have some kind of "hunting accident" with McCain soon afterwards. That's what these people do. They talk about Christianity but every other fucking word out of their mouths is a self-serving lie, they're dumb but mean, and calculating, and big Todd would totally kill the fucking president to get his lady in the white house. I'd bet money on it if I had any, which I totally don't, because I can't find a job, because this is the same lie, pillage, plunder and lie, lie and lie mentality that ruined the fucking American economy. Seriously, folks, we're staring in the face of true evil here, and the evil guys even look and act evil. Vote Obama! And tell all your lazy friends to vote Obama too! C'mon, it's like Kermit the Frog went to Harvard and is now running for president against fucking Lex Luthor.

Anyway, "Bloodeaters" isn't that good, isn't all bad, although the DVD version that I rented was a really low quality transfer, which added to my difficulty in telling most of the characters from one another.

"Midnight" is another Pittsburgh area horror film co-starring John Amplas. This 1982 was written and directed by John Russo, the co-writer and producer of the original "Night of the Living Dead." While George Romero springboarded off that film into a long and varied career, which included sequels to the original, but also such significant and innovative films as "Martin" and "Creepshow," Russo seems to have been coasting off his participating in said seminal horror film for the past forty years. He wrote the "Night of the Living Dead" novel, as well as a sequel, "Return of the Living Dead," which was of course loosely adapted by John Russo as a punk rock influenced horror comedy in 1985. One of Russo's notable achievements is "Making Movies," a now considerably out-of-date book on low budget filmmaking, but one that I read early on in my interest in movies and how they're made, and that I found very practical and informative. Still, his credits as a filmmaker since "Night of the Living Dead" have been considerably lacking.
Lawrence Tierney in the 1940s

"Midnight" is considerably lacking a good script. The poor quality of the dialogue is evident as the film's one "name" actor, Lawrence Tierney, even has trouble making the verbal melange of awkwardly phrased exposition sound even remotely natural. Tierney, of course, was on his way to stardom in the 1940s after starring in "Dillinger" in 1945, but his propensity for drinking and fighting relegated him to b-movie crime pictures throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. Admittedly, though, he made some great b-pictures, including "the Devil Thumbs a Ride," "Born to Kill" and "the Female Jungle," with Jayne Mansfield. Tierney barely acted throughout the 1960s and 1970s, then experienced a minor career resurgence after appearing in "Andy Warhol's Bad" in 1979. He showed up in a few horror films, like this one, "the Prowler" and "Silver Bullet" (based on a Stephen King novella originally illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, "Cycle of the Werewolf") and some more high profile productions like John Cassavetes' "Gloria," "Arthur" with Dudley Moore, John Huston's "Prizzi's Honor," Norman Mailer's "Tough Guys Don't Dance," and "Reservior Dogs," possibly (sadly) his best known role, as the main gangster dude. He also appeared once as Elaine's father on "Seinfeld," but his character was never revived due to Tierney's bizarre drunken behavior on set. At some point later in his life legend has it he was driving a Hansome cab in Central Park. He died in 2002. I do love Tierney as an actor, and I'm certainly sympathetic to the plight of the alcoholic (I quit drinking myself a little more than five years ago), but he seems much, much, much more comfortable acting drunk and hitting on his stepdaughter in this film than playing sober and reciting the fairly inane dialogue.

Lawrence Tierney in Midnight

"Midnight" is all over the place. It opens with some kind of Satanic stuff, then switches gears to be about a teen runaway and her freewheelin' adventures on the road with two college students, then it seems like it's about racism in small town America, then it turns into a slasher movie, then it becomes a backwoods crazy family movie ala "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," then it's about Satanism again, then everybody just shoots and stabs one another for a while until the whole thing ends, kind of suddenly. I have a feeling the script was written long before the film was shot, based on the slang the kids use, and the racism subplot. I mean, obviously racism is a still issue today, just look at the videos of the scary Sarah Palin rallies with people shouting "kill him" in reference to Obama, and obviously it could still be dangerous for a black man to travel with white companions in certain areas of the country even in the early 1980s, when this was shot, but the out-in-the-open hostility of the white characters against the black character is clearly influenced directly by the townspeople's reactions to the bikers in "Easy Rider," the dialogue and situations feel dated and not terribly prescient, especially since narratively they amount to all of about nothing in the overall scope of the film.

That said, "Midnight" has a certain grimy-yet-dreamy quality that I found somewhat compelling. Nancy, the female lead (both Tierney's stepdaughter and the aforementioned teenage runaway) is somewhat irresitably played by Melaine Verliin (her only other credit is a small part in Romero's "Monkey Shines"). Tierney is fun to watch, as in Amplas, as a member of the Satanic backwoods clan. I noticed while watching this that "Midnight" has an earthy, oversaturated color palatte that is very similar to other Pittsburgh area films of the same era, including Romero's "Martin," and Dusty Nelson's "Effects." Then I realized that because they were made at the same time, in the same area, and were probably all processed at the same lab, and possibly done by the same color timer, and I was sooooooo impressed with myself for being such a clever detective, until something came along and knocked me off my pedestal a few seconds later I'm sure and I felt like an ass again.

John Amplas in Cruising, I mean Midnight


So, yeah, there's three movies, all perfectly watchable taken for what they are. I have a few more to write about but this is running long so I'll continue later or tomorrow. The CMJ screening tonight wasn't such an ordeal as I imagined it to be, although the film, "American Swing," was pretty lousy. I'll write about it later.

Watch horror movies!

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