Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Listomania: Will's April Showers of Cinematic Sadness

I once got accused of having a movie muse with the attention span as fast as a hummingbird’s wings fluttering.  I didn’t disagree.  For some reason in April 2014 I found myself craving some late ‘80s/early ‘90s thrillers.  Somehow I ended up watching two made by Europeans that were both set in the deserts of America.

DELUSION (1991) – When his computer company is swallowed up by a big corporation, yuppie George O’Brien (Jim Metzler) cracks a plan to embezzle a couple of hundred thousand and head to New Mexico to start up a new business.  Alone in his Volvo in the desert with cash in the trunk, he comes upon trouble when a car speeds by him and wrecks.  He stops to help the occupants – Chevy (Kyle Secor) and Patti (Jennifer Rubin) – and soon is driving them to the next town.  As you can expect, he’s soon being held hostage by this dimwitted Bonnie and Clyde.  Belgian director Carl Colpaert made his U.S. feature debut on this, apparently one of those films lucky enough to get one of the $1 million dollar budgets Columbia was throwing to young indie filmmakers in the wake of SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989).  The “held against your will in your car” storyline is fertile ground for tension (like Mario Bava’s RABID DOGS [1974] or Robert Harmon’s THE HITCHER [1986]), but that doesn’t really seem to be Colpaert’s intent here.  In fact, I’m not so sure what his intent was outside of capturing some incredible desert scenery.  Oh, and Jennifer Ruben topless.  The film is quirky though and has some good performances.  Although it should be noted Secor adopts one of the worst voices I’ve heard an actor attempt, resulting him sound like that dense “which way did he go, which way did he go, George” cartoon character. Adding insult to injury, the lead character is named George.

EYE OF THE STORM (1991) – Ten years after their parents were murdered by robbers, Ray (Craig Sheffer) and Steven (Bradley Gregg), who was blinded in the attack, run a roadside motel on a lonely stretch of desert road.  Trouble arrives in the form of Marvin Gladstone (Dennis Hopper) and his young wife Sandra (Lara Flynn Boyle), checking into the motel after Marvin drunkenly drove his car off the road.  This is actually bad news for the bickering couple heading to Las Vegas to renew their vows as one of the two brothers has a bit of a personality problem of the Norman Bates variety.  Russian born director Yuri Zeltser, one of several screenwriters on BAD DREAMS (1988), made his directing debut on this thriller, which also came out via Columbia (alongside New Line Cinema).  The desert diner location is amazing and the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous (make sure to check out the widescreen version, see pic below).  Unfortunately, Zeltser tips his hand way too early as to who the killer is so the suspense during the last half hour is pretty minimal.  Worth seeing once though, just for shots of Boyle in her bikini and the stellar performance put on by Gregg.


Of course, my desire for desert set flicks would eventually leave me high and dry as I encountered…

LEGION (2010) – Our buddy John Charles said it best: “You want an example of a movie that starts well and then drops off a cliff? LEGION is Exhibit A.”  I remember seeing the ads for this before it hit theaters in January 2010.  The previews started off cool, but then melted down into a CGI mess.  Amazingly, they captured the film perfectly.  A group of strangers end up together at a desert roadside diner, not knowing the world is ending back in the big cities.  A mysterious stranger (Paul Bettany) shows up armed to the teeth and gives them the lowdown – he’s a renegade angel from heaven who didn’t want to follow through with God’s plan to give up on humanity.  Soon the place is besieged with possessed humans who are looking to get the pregnant waitress (Adrianne Palicki), who, of course, carries the future of civilization in her womb.  Man, this flick is running smoothly for the first 45 minutes or so that I thought it might be some undiscovered gem, but then it falls apart quickly. The first half felt almost like an extreme action version of Gregory Widen’s awesome THE PROPHECY (1995), so it is a shame that debuting director Scott Stewart lets it all collapse into a CGI mess.  Of course, Stewart’s background is in visual FX so maybe that is where he felt most comfortable.  It is too bad because the premise is good and had the script been given a few more passes to properly develop the characters, it could have been something.  Oddly, despite the film flopping in theaters, the premise will be continued this summer on the SyFy sequel series called DOMINION, with Stewart again in the director’s chair for the pilot.

DEATH FLASH (1986) – Flash!  Ahhhhhhh, he’ll save every one of us…oh, sorry, wrong flick.  After getting my brain scrambled by the WTF action flick REVOLT (1986), I hoped for more of the same with DEATH FLASH. This is a Tony Zarindast flick that I still have no idea what that title means after watching it.  Cop Johnny Duncan (A.J. Nay) lives with his singer girlfriend and his younger sister.  He is one of those protective older brothers you only see in the movies who asks, “Are you really going to wear that?” when his sister is wearing a slinky outfit.  His life gets turned upside down one night when he confronts his girlfriend’s stalker and ends up accidentally shooting him.  He’s arrested but soon has to escape when he finds out his sister is being seduced by the world of cocaine.  Hey, overprotective brothers have to overprotect.  I’ve seen a couple of Zarindast flicks, but can barely remember them.  Hell, I can barely remember this while typing up this write up.  All I know is that I’m still hoping for that badass movie shown in that VHS cover.  There are a couple of amusing bits like a bar shootout ten minutes into the flick where no one can hit anything or when Johnny hijacks a helicopter and asks the pilot where his sister is being taken (“I don’t know, I’m just a pilot” he says before blurting out the exact place the villains are going with his sister).  Not enough to recommend it though.  Naturally, it sent me into the bad movie love/hate relationship as I started looking for more Zarindast flicks.  I had to order more of his films afterward and have the amazingly titled HARDCASE AND FIST (1989) – starring Ted Prior and Carter Wong - lined up for a near future viewing.  I’m sure I’ll be back next month talking about how it didn’t deliver the goods.

GROTESQUE (1988) – I recently did one of those “how many of these 1980s horror flicks have you seen” polls and ended up with a respectable 85 out of 100.  Of course, my pessimistic mind could only say, “There are 15 you haven’t seen? You loser!”  For anyone interested, here were the unseen fifteen.

CLICK
DEADLY DREAMS
FATAL GAMES
FINAL EXAM
GRADUATION DAY
GROTESQUE
HOLLYWOOD'S NEW BLOOD
HOUSE OF DEATH (aka DEATH SCREAMS)
ICED
PHOBIA
SCHIZOID
SILENT MADNESS
SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE
TWISTED NIGHTMARE
THE ZERO BOYS

Thankfully, I was eligible for Tom’s S.A.P. (Slasher Advantage Program) and he soon hooked me up with copies of SILENT MADNESS, FINAL EXAM, DEATH SCREAMS, and GROTESQUE.  11 more to go, ma!  GROTESQUE tells the story of friends Lisa (Linda Blair) and Kathy (Donna Wilkes) heading up into the California mountains to spend a weekend with Linda’s mom and dad at their cabin.  Oh, dad also happens to be a movie special effects guy, so expect lots of wacky “fooled you” gags from the man.  Soon a group of “only in the movies” punks show up and head to the house to rob the family.  Why?  Because the dad works in the movies and everybody who works in the movies is filthy, stinkin’ rich. Unfortunately, the punks don’t know about Patrick, the family’s grotesque child hiding in the house.

Woe be unto him who feels some strange urge to be a horror movie list completist.  Maybe there is a reason I never saw GROTESQUE before?  Truthfully, if this film didn’t have the same actors running through it you would think this was two separate films edited together.  The first half of the movie focuses on Blair’s character and her plight with the punks.  At roughly the 50 minute mark, she all but disappears as her uncle (Tab Hunter) shows up and plots his revenge on the punks.  To say the film ends up feeling disjointed would be an understatement.  Director Joe Tornatore had made THE ZEBRA FORCE (1976) and CODE NAME: ZEBRA (1987) prior to this, so it wasn’t like he was an exploitation neophyte.  Some choices are just downright bad, like the lack of gore or nudity. And then there is the casting of Brad Wilson as the lead punk Scratch.  There is over-the-top and then there is this dude.  Seriously, they must have had a medic onset at all times to both monitor his blood pressure and insert his eyeballs back into their sockets after they pop out for the umpteenth time.  Even worse, Tornatore had B-movie baddie veteran Robert Z’Dar at his disposal and only cast him as sidekick villain who gets one line.  (I’m sure Z’Dar took it on the chin when he found out he wasn’t the lead bad guy.)  On the plus side, we do get to see Z’Dar with a mohawk.  Of course, all of this is just minor stuff compared to the totally insane ending Tornatore comes up with.  I won’t ruin it here, but it is comes so far out of left field that M. Night Shyamalan would go, “Dude, what the hell was that?”  

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