Archive for October, 2011

OHMC: Pumpkinhead (1988)

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Movies
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Here’s a sample question from the HMAT (Horror Movie Analogies Test): Pumpkinhead is to a good horror movie as a connect-the-dots picture is to _____________________. Your answer choices are a) rocky road ice cream; b) Sylvester the Cat; c) Queen’s worldwide hit single, Bohemian Rhapsody; or d) the Mona Lisa. The correct answer is, of course, d. Stan Winston was an incredible makeup artist, but a great director he wasn’t. Pumpkinhead looks great, but it fails to build the necessary tension needed to make its clockwork plot work. It also has the problem that it contains approximately one-and-a-half likable characters, with the one being killed off early on, and the other ceasing to be likable once the other has been killed off. Pumpkinhead suffers from the same problem that many films made in the late 1980s suffer from: a lack of heart. It’s sort of like a birthday cake made entirely of frosting. That time period produced a glut of films that sacrificed sturdy plots for surface flash (rather like the decade itself) and they suffered for it. I really wanted to love Pumpkinhead, but I feel it’s fatally flawed.

Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders (1996) – Awful film made up of footage from a 1984 stinker called The Devil’s Gift (which ripped off Stephen King’s short story “The Monkey”) and footage shot exclusively for this film. In the wraparound story, Merlin, the wizard from King Arthur’s court, has opened a shop in what looks to be a sketchy part of Los Angeles, where he sells talismans, magic stones, and toy monkeys. In the first story, Merlin loans his spellbook to a guy who doesn’t believe that Merlin is actually a wizard. The mean guy ends up casting a youth spell on himself that reverts him back to the age of around nine months. In the second tale, the toy monkey from Merlin’s shop gets stolen and ends up in a suburban household where it wreaks havoc by clapping its cymbals together and killing, in roughly chronological order, a fly, a goldfish, three houseplants, and a dog. It tries to kill a couple of people, too, but in the end Merlin shows up to take it back to the shop. All of this is subjected to a further wraparound story in which Ernest Borgnine tells all of this to his grandson, who promptly and predictably falls asleep, sort of like in The Princess Bride.  I can’t think of any reason for anyone else to have to endure this film, so considered yourself warned.

Event Horizon (1997) – Director Paul Anderson claims that this film has elements of Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also feel that its atmosphere owes a great deal to Ridley Scott’s Alien by way of Norman Warren’s Inseminoid (a.k.a. Horror Planet), and it cribs plot elements from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser as well. In fact, the big contraption at the center of the Event Horizon (that’s the spaceship’s name as well as the name of the film) bears a strong design similarity to both Hellraiser‘s Lament Configuration and the Stargate from the film of the same name. I guess that it stands to reason, then, that Event Horizon ends up seeming like a sort of filmic Frankenstein, made up of parts of other movies. As in Alien, a crew is dispatched to check out a distress call from a ship far out in space. Once they get there, they slowly come to realize that, like The Haunting‘s Hill House, the ship is both somehow alive and full of ghosts. After all the praise this film has received on various message boards and forums, I was really looking forward to seeing it. However, I never felt that Event Horizon‘s disparate elements ever actually congealed into a coherent whole. It was a relatively painless watch, and I did really enjoy the workout that my subwoofer and rear surrounds got with the DTS soundtrack, but overall, I found it to be just okay.

OHMC: Sauna (2008)

Posted: October 15, 2011 in Movies
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I don’t know if you’ve ever been hit in the face really hard, but when the blow is delivered, everything goes cockeyed. Your vision becomes skewed, your hearing becomes muffled or goes out completely, and it’s hard to tell which way is up. Everything looks and sounds strange, and it takes a few seconds for you to figure out what familiar objects even are. You may be looking at a chair, but you’re thinking “What is that thing? I know what that thing is…I’ve seen it before…it’s called a…a…a CHAIR.” After you suffer a fierce blow to the noggin, it often takes several minutes for you to get your equilibrium back. The world just doesn’t make sense for a while. All of this stands as a preface to my thoughts on Sauna, a Finnish film that scrambled my brains in a way very, very similar to the way a concussion-force blow does. As I write this, it’s been about a half-hour since I finished watching Sauna, and I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten my land legs back. The film’s plot concerns a Russian/Swedish group sent to draw up new borders for their countries after the end of a war between them. Their mission takes them through the middle of a swamp, where they find a village that has a sauna nearby. There’s something not quite right about the village, but there’s something very wrong indeed about the sauna. I’d love to tell you more, but I’m not sure exactly what I’ve seen. I haven’t felt so mind-raped by a film since Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. As with Antichrist, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve just experienced, but I know that I like it. This is a challenging film that’s not for everyone (or even most people), but those who stick with it and don’t mind having to think while watching a movie will be rewarded, even though it might take two or three viewings to unravel its mysteries.

OHMC: TrollHunter (2010)

Posted: October 13, 2011 in Movies
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Why is it that practically every country in the world can make excellent genre films except, it seems, the United States? Yeah, yeah, I know that’s a grossly simple overstatement of fact, but it certainly seems that American filmmakers and studios have lost whatever modicum of originality that they once possessed. Movie audiences deserve better than the endless string of sequels and remakes that come from Hollywood. I’m sure the movie industry bean counters will say that retreads are the only sure bets in an increasingly volatile film industry, but I can’t be convinced that pouring $40 million into a film with name recognition (as New Line/Warner Brothers did with Final Destination 5) will reap bigger rewards than financing four $10 million films that give audiences something fresh. Take TrollHunter, for instance. I have no idea how well it did in its native country of Norway, but in US dollars, it only cost around $4 million to make. It certainly didn’t earn that back here in the States, but if you figure in worldwide theatrical and DVD sales, it would be difficult for a film as well-made and fun as this one with a budget that small NOT to make a tidy profit. TrollHunter posits that trolls are indeed real, and that the Norwegian government is covering up their existence, using a troll hunter to keep the population down to manageable levels. I was afraid that this was going to be too cutesy for my tastes, but it’s both funny and thrilling (and not at ALL cutesy). Except for those who are too cretinous to bother with reading subtitles, I can’t imagine anyone who gives this film a fair shake not enjoying it. TrollHunter was, for me at least, a hugely entertaining film (and the scene right before the end credits had me laughing for most of the credit roll).

Before director Neil Marshall made the internationally popular The Descent, he cut his teeth on this film. Dog Soldiers is less a horror film than an action film in wolf’s clothing. A group of Army guys is dropped into the highlands of Scotland for training exercises, but they soon find out that there is real danger waiting for them. It just so happens that there’s a full moon out, and werewolves roam the countryside, looking for prey. That’s the gist of the story, but it’s made special by excellent performances and a script with a wicked sense of humor. Imagine Aliens with werewolves instead of, well, aliens, and set in the wilds of Scotland, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what this film is like. I went into this film fully expecting to hate it, but it won me over within a matter of minutes. The creature design for the werewolves is probably the most fearsome that I’ve ever seen–there’s no hint of humanity in them at all. They’re nasty beasts. While Dog Soldiers isn’t my favorite werewolf movie, it’s in the top five. Besides, any werewolf movie that features Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” is okay by me.

The Grapes of Death (1978) – Known in its native France as Les Raisins de la Mort (which makes me think of the California Raisins gone very, very wrong), this is one of the two Jean Rollin films that I’ve made it all the way through. The other was Zombie Lake, which I saw waaaaaay back when it first came out on VHS and I was far less discriminating. I pretty much enjoyed this one, although it think that I liked it less for the plot than for the great views of the wine country of France. It’s a gorgeous film, and it reminded me in spots of Tombs of the Blind Dead because of the architecture (and the train). As for the plot, well…been there, done that. I guess that this might have been a bit more effective when it first came out, but there have been too many zombie films in the intervening years for this one to have much of an impact. Still, the scenery alone makes it worth watching.