Thursday, April 3, 2014

Listomania: Odd Thomas & Ends from March 2014


I really should do more of these Listomania posts with smaller reviews (can you hear Tom’s whip cracking?). Here are 5 flicks that I watched during March that are worthy of a mention on the blog.

ODD THOMAS (2013) – No, this isn’t a documentary about the Video Junkie head honcho.  Instead it is a film adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 2003 bestseller, which has spawned five follow ups in the decade since.  Does the man ever sleep?  Well, he had plenty of sleepless nights thanks to Hollywood over the years as they were never able to properly adapt his prolific works into a good film.  Seriously, who takes the former military lead in “Watchers” and turns him into Corey Haim?

Anyway, having been singed by Tinseltown one too many times, Koontz is now very selective about giving out his film rights.  So the news of him giving Stephen Sommers the rights to the first “Odd Thomas” book was met with a crooked eyebrow by me.  Sommers started off his horror career nicely with films like DEEP RISING (1998) and the fun remake of THE MUMMY (1999).  He killed that all for me a few years later with THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001), a film so aggressively loud and annoying with its CGI mummy madness that I walked out of the theater after a half hour.  So, sadly, I missed his subsequent work like VAN HELSING (2004) and G.I. JOE (2009).  I’m sure they made plenty of eyes and ears bleed.  So the idea of him tackling a low budget (well, in Hollywood terms at $27 million) film was intriguing and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t redeem himself.

The film centers on Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin), an oddball born Todd Thomas but christened with his moniker due to a typo on his birth certificate.  How odd is Odd? He can see the dead and uses this ability to explain unsolved crimes and murders.  He can also see something called Bodachs, creepy creatures from another dimension that are drawn to evil and chaos.  If someone is evil or going to get hurt, a Bodach will be swarming around them. Complications occur when a dude comes into town with literally dozens of these translucent creatures around him.  It is up to Thomas and his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and Sheriff Porter (Willem Dafoe) to find out just what is going down in the next 24 hours.  To reveal more of the plot would give away quite a few twists.

*POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR ODD THOMAS BELOW*

I have to say this film was a pleasant surprise.  I went in with tempered expectations, but ended up really liking the characters and the plot.  To be honest, a relationship like the one Odd and Stormy have would usually drive me up the wall in a film, but it works here and I found it oddly (haha) endearing.  I’d say I was just finding it an enjoyable film until the end, which really was a kick in the gut and moves the film to great territory for me.  No spoilers, but you can bet some arguments went down among the 17 credited producers (!) on whether they should maintain it.  Sommers also keeps himself in check most of the time (he still can’t help having a few CGI over-the-top moments) and the film has some really creative editing.  Ironically, Koontz felt this was the best adaptation of his work yet and what happened? Hollywood still found a way to screw it up with the film being mired in lawsuits for the past year and a half.  As it stands, it got a direct-to-video release, almost ensuring we won’t see any more of Odd’s adventures.  That means I might actually have to read a fiction book.  Yuck!

RAW NERVE (1991) – This Traci Lords vehicle sat unwatched for decades due to a teenage grudge.  Namely, how could Lords, a controversial porn star turned legit actress, refuse to do nudity in B-movies?  “Does…not…compute” said my young brain.  I mean, I understood why she refused, but I still felt ripped off.  Anyway, a viewing of the film’s trailer convinced me to finally get over it.  After all, where else will you ever see B-movie stars such as Lords, Ted Prior, Sandahl Bergman, Jan-Michael Vincent, Randall “Tex” Cobb and Glenn F’N Ford together?  I mean, beside a Chiller Convention?  The plot centers on amateur stockcar driver Jimmy Clayton (Prior) who has psychic visions of a killer who shoots young women in the face with a shotgun. Dubbed The Face Killer by the cops, he seems to have a connection to the orphaned Clayton as well as his uncle (Cobb).  Even worse, the killer seems to have set his sights on Clayton’s younger sister, Gina (Lords).  This was one of David Prior’s action flicks for his A.I.P. (Action International Pictures) label and is well made like all of his stuff back then.  The film, however, ultimately lacks the proper punch to make it a classic.  There is a great truck stunt in it though, so it’s got that going for it.

SLIME CITY MASSACRE (2010) – If I could give out an award for most unanticipated and unusual sequel ever, it would probably go to this. SLIME CITY (1988) was a low budget NYC lensed flick that is probably most remembered today for its meltdown FX finale.  The plot of the original (per my old IMDb review) revolved around college student/video store employee Alex (Robert C. Sabin) gets an apartment with the hopes the privacy will allow him to get it on with his virgin girlfriend Lori (Mary Huner). Things change, however, when his neighbor Nicole (also Huner), a goth temptress, seduces him and makes him drink this green elixir. Soon Alex starts sweating orange slime and the only thing that can return him to normal is human blood. Turns out everyone in the tenement are occult followers of a guy named Zachary and Alex's body is going to be the host for his return.

So it was with quite a bit of surprised when director Gregory Lamberson announced a follow up two decades later.  Not only was he bringing the slime back, but he also got lead Sabin to reappear in a new, but pivotal role.  Not looking to tread the same old turf, Lamberson opens his sequel with a dirty bomb nuking most of NYC.  The survivors live destitute in the nuclear wasteland dubbed “Slime City.”  Among them are Alexa (Jennifer Bihl) and Cory (Kealan Patrick Burke), a young couple looking for a place to stay safe.  They end up shacking up with another couple, Alice (Debbie Rochon) and Mason (Lee Perkins), who have a secure spot in a crumbling building.  The two men head out to forage for some food and soon discover Zachary’s old basement still filled with the delicious slime made from human souls.  Soon all four are turning various shades of neon primary colors.

I really have to applaud returning director Lamberson for this unusual follow-up.  Sure, he could have taken the cheap way out and done an unrelated sequel (or, even worse, a remake) but instead he let his imagination run wild, ending up with something that feels like it could have been born from the brain of David Cronenberg or Frank Henenlotter.  Much like Henenlotter’s classic BRAIN DAMAGE (1988), the film also works as a drug addiction allegory as well as a presentation of never-before-seen weirdness. Looking for a film where a guy has corporal relations with his girlfriend who just happens to be a tub of orange slime?  This is your flick.  I also loved how Lamberson assigned each of the four main characters their own individual slime color palette.  All that said the film does still suffer from some budget deficiencies that may turn some viewers off.  Shot on digital video for approximately $50,000, some items are threadbare (several folks in Slime City are dirty, other are clean as a baby’s bottom).  The aforementioned Sabin appears in a time-crossing storyline that gives us the history of Zachary and his followers.  It is a not only a nice nod to the original film, but actually continues the storyline.  If you’re oozing for some freaky, slime covered entertainment, you can’t go wrong here.

MIRRORS (1978) – Not to be confused with the Korean film INTO THE MIRROR (2003) or the 2008 Alexandre Aja remake MIRRORS (Aja doing an unoriginal film? No way!), this low budget chiller is from director Noel Black (PRETTY POISON). Marianne Whitman (Kitty Winn) travels to New Orleans with her new husband, but soon begins to believe she is falling into a voodoo conspiracy fronted by the people running her hotel.  This is seemingly confirmed to her when she wakes up one morning to find her husband dead.  Is she really a target or is Marianne slowly losing her grip on her sanity?  Lensed in 1974 but unreleased for years, this was obviously trying to piggyback on the success of THE EXORCIST (1973), which featured Winn in a supporting role.  Director Black, however, does greatly to separate the film from its assumed primary influence, giving it more in common with the “lady going loony” cinema of Roman Polanski of the 1960s. He earns points for keeping the viewer in the dark for this entire film, allowing a fantastic closing shot to let audiences decide what is happening here.  My own personal opinion is Marianne is going nuts.  There is plenty of atmosphere to go around and the film benefits from the authentic Louisiana locations (that was when New Orleans hadn’t been made over and still looked kind of rundown and sleazy).  Winn is excellent and, sadly, disappeared from features after doing a TV film appropriately titled THE LAST HURRAH (1977).

AFTER MIDNIGHT (1989) – I’m a sucker for anthology films.  Wait, let me rephrase that: I’m a sucker for well-made anthology films and this entry from brothers Jim and Ken Wheat (SILENT SCREAM; PITCH BLACK) is a fun little entry. The premise revolves around a college psychology professor (Ramy Zada) who wants to teach his pupils about fear.  He does this by making the tough jock piss his pants by putting a gun to his head and then faking committing suicide in front of the class.  So, uh, yeah…about your tenure.  That night he invites students to his home to have them tell their stories of fear and we get three stories.  “The Old Dark House” has a young couple (Mark McClure and Nadine Van der Velde) having their car break down outside the titular location; “A Night on the Town” has a group of girls stranded in industrial L.A. being chased by killer dogs; and “All Night Operator” has an answering service employee (Marg Helgenberger) stalked by a psycho who keeps calling her.  While none of the stories are anthology game changers, they are all compactly written in the old EC comics style and well made. I’d say the last story is probably the best of the bunch.  In this day and age of droll anthologies that are seemingly just short films thrown together, this is a welcome revisit.

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