Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

We should applaud filmmakers for successfully stepping outside of their comfort zone genre-wise.  Genre-hopping has created such memorable films as Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) (yes, he had done violent movies before but, no, this did not necessarily mean he could pull off a kung fu epic) and Martin Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  However, we should just as enthusiastically condemn directors who should know better than to mess with what works: Barry Levinson’s Sphere (1998), Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack (1996) (you remember, the uplifting comedy about progeria), and any time Kevin Smith decides to make a movie not specifically about New Jersey wiseasses.  So when I heard that one of Brian De Palma’s earliest films was a musical, the film critic in me proceeded with caution while the Schlock-Lover ran head-first, squealing manically into Phantom of the Paradise.

Singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper) has a simple dream: to become a famous singer. Song-writer Winslow Leach (William Finley) has a moderately simple dream: to write an epic cantata based on Christopher Marlowe’s Faust that will make him the belle of the NPR Ball.  Music producer extraordinaire Swan (Paul “I wrote ‘Rainbow Connection’” Williams) has a complicated dream: TO RULE OVER ALL OF POPULAR MUSIC WITH AN IRON FIST OF SPITE! When Swan hears Winslow’s cantata, he knows he’s got a hit on his hands.  The only thing standing in his way is Winslow.  So Swan does the only rational thing and sets into motion a series of events that leave Winslow a hideously disfigured, metal-mouthed creature that is hellbent on revenge!  And how best to get sweet, sweet revenge? By destroying Swan’s latest creation: a rock ‘n roll Xanadu called “The Paradise.”

Brian De Palma’s musical entry has to be seen to be believed.  It is a metatextual action/thriller/romance/revenge drama/horror/musical.  Granted, it is not a straight musical; no one bursts into song.  There just seem to be convenient reasons for characters to be performing songs that happen to speak to exactly what they are feeling at any given moment.  Mercifully, all of the songs are catchy since Paul Williams wrote them and all the performers can actually sing.  And you are going to need the soothing touchstone of musical to ground you through a film that switches its tone more often than a Frank Zappa concert.

Stylistically, the film bounces around references to earlier horror films like The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Psycho (1960), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Touch of Evil (1958), and the oeuvre of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funnicello.  I am not going to say that the lack of narrative clarity does not hurt the film.  I am going to ask how much that could possibly hurt your enjoyment of a film with a screechy, flamingly homosexual glam rocker named “Beef” (Gerrit Graham).  "Beef," people, "Beef!"

Bizarre musical productions, awkward romances between mismatched weirdos, and a surprising amount of violence and gore, maybe Phantom of the Paradise was a better indicator of Brian De Palma’s career than thought…

Crazies, The

An “Olyphant” never forgets…especially when you brutally murder every person he knows in the town he’s sworn to protect!

Timothy Olyphant plays Sheriff David Dutton as he struggles to escape the formerly peaceful town of Ogden Marsh with his wife, played by the always intense Radha Mitchell, and his faithful deputy, Joe Anderson, after the remaining citizens have gone, you guessed it, CRAZY-in Breck Eisner’s remake of George Romero’s The Crazies (1973).  The madness is the result of an Army cargo plane carrying biowarfare toxins crashing into Ogden Marsh’s local water supply.  Having not seen the original, this review will be focused on Eisner’s film alone, and I’m not “crazy” about it.

I promise that’s the last “crazy” pun.

Eisner’s competent direction demonstrates the All-American qualities of Ogden Marsh early in the picture, making the initial Crazies incidents all the more disturbing, particularly when a man walks into the outfield of the local High School’s opening baseball game with a loaded shotgun.  Eisner’s wisely plays up the “This sort o' shit don’t happen here” factor, as a local farmer burns his family alive in their home.  An almost throw away moment of old-school bureaucratic incompetence occurs when Dutton, having learned the threat is in the water supply and wants to shut it off temporarily, is rebuffed by the Mayor (John Aylward), as it would be bad for the farming business.

The film contains quite a few genuine scares in addition to the above-mentioned baseball field and farmhouse, making particularly good use of sound effects to build tension in a key sequence. You will never go into a carwash with the same feeling of comfort and safety again.  Or at the very least, you will not be so frustrated with a bad buffing job after you see how angry the attendants could get.

The Crazies themselves are less than memorable.  These are not zombies, vampires, monsters, or any other form of undead creature.  They are your friends and neighbors that have gotten very sick.  They reminded me of the villagers in early sections of Resident Evil 4 : sickly and homicidal, but not particularly exciting.  At least not until the end, when our heroes accidently blunder into the Redneck Crazies secret “Lair of Yuck.”  But even these Rednecks didn't want the Duttons to squeal like pigs, they just wanted to eat them.

Ironically the most disturbing imagery had nothing to do with the titular Crazies, but with the U.S. Army.  Having discovered the location of their downed aircraft, the Army rounds up everyone in Ogden Marsh in the middle of the night, forces them onto buses, takes them to a camp where they are poked, prodded, tested, separated from their loved ones, and not told anything about what is going on.  After this, the driving push of the film is escaping the town... which involves a lot of walking.

Lord of the Rings-level walking.

The film drags here. Not because it's too long, but because there’s too little actually going on-and what does occur is not particularly threatening. When the Army is ready to kill everyone in a 60 mile radius, random crazy people are just not as daunting a threat.

With the exception of a truly remarkable example of the "Will to Win” by Olyphant, the second half of the film drags to its predictable conclusion complete with sequel setup.  But, if there's a second film, the Duttons' “are never gonna survive, unless [they] get a little….

Ok. I lied. One more pun.

Trick R Treat

I love horror movies. Eat. Sleep. Breathe them.

Lately, it’s not easy to justify my love of horror films as I find myself wading through a sea of unworthy remakes and characterless gore-fests. However, there are still a few new horror movies that remind me of why I loved the genre in the first place. One of these being the recent DVD release of Michael Dougherty’s Trick R Treat.

Trick R Treat is a Halloween-themed anthology film that gives the audience four-count 'em, four-different horror stories for the price of one. Each follows someone or some group that fails to abide by Sam’s (Quinn Lord) rules for Halloween. Unfortunately for them, Sam is a childlike trick-or-treater with a creatively homicidal streak, so these transgressions tend to lead to deadly results.

Setting this film apart from other horror anthologies like CreepshowBodybags, or Twilight Zone: the Movie, is the inter-connectivity of the four stories. Well, that and no one died during the making of the film (poor, poor Vic Morrow). Anyway, the ease and timing with which Dougherty weaves the characters in the different short stories reminds me more of Pulp Fiction than the above-referenced horror films. The re-appearances of characters add not only to their individual stories, but also, strengthens the larger film, creating a more satisfying larger story of Halloween night in this small town.

But, let’s get down to brass tacks: is it scary?

Answer: You bet your ass it is.

Though the nature of the film requires any suspenseful moments be brief, they’re quite effective. Starting when Leslie Bibb blows out a Jack-O-Lantern despite her husband’s warnings to Brian Cox’s desperate fight with a certain home intruder. (By the by, Dylan Baker is also featured prominently; bringing our Kings cast member count to three. Shame on you for not watching that wonderful show!) There are also more than enough gory and visceral moments for those of us demented weirdos who appreciate such things. More disturbing and fun (yes, fun) is Dougherty’s complete willingness to do horrible, horrible things to little children. You just don’t see that as often these days. Well, at least not outside of a Disney film.

Also memorable is Sam, our mascot for the picture. Dressed in orange “footie” pajamas and a burlap sack that you’ll wish he never took off, Sam (as in “Samhain”) appears to be the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween and its chief enforcer. His character hearkens back to the more solid horror movies of the 80s, when we could count on some visually appealing (or disgusting) figure to root for. At the very least, he makes a great little action figure, which you should go out and buy.

Seriously, we need to encourage more movies like this and the best way to say “I love you” to a movie is with cash. So if you find yourself looking for that perfect Halloween horror flick, I cannot recommend Trick R Treat enough. As long as you don’t watch on Halloween, as you should be out trick-r-treating.

Or else Sam will get you. Have you not been paying attention?

Halloween

When I initially started doing the Cavalcade of Schlock, I didn't necessarily intend to only show craptastic movies. Rather, I'd hoped to show off crowd-pleasing movies made in the style of the Grindhouse/Drive-in. As time's gone by, we've become more focused on the bottom of the barrel, to be sure; but in the beginning we had 28 Days LaterAliensAn American Werewolf in London! Each a modern classic, and each a successful screening.

So when it came time to do the Halloween event, my first thought was to screen another modern classic in the original Halloween. The first time I saw this movie, it scared the living hell out of me, and that was on video with a tiny television. When the film first came out in 1978, audiences were completely terrified, and they loved it. In many ways, Halloween kicked off the slasher-craze that went on through the 80's, and launched the careers of both the Director (John Carpenter) and the "last girl" (Jamie Lee Curtis)

You all know the story by now: Halloween night 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers (Will Sandin) murders his teenage sister Judith (Sandy Johnson) with a kitchen knife at their home in Haddonfield, Illinois-before being found by his mother and father in a trance-like state. Fifteen years later, he escapes the asylum, and heads back home to finish the job by killing Jamie Lee Curtis. Because...well, because of a fairly unbelievable plot-twist, that's why.

This film is filled to the brim with suspense. Unlike later slasher movies that would turn a lot of this movie's events and dialog into clichés by shamelessly lifting them, Halloween is not a splatter-fest with a body count in the dozens. Only people who get in Michael's way tend to suffer death most foul-well, and people who are related to him...or happen to be having pre-marital sex nearby. But other than that, you're fine. No, this film is all about Michael hunting his prey, hiding behind bushes, doors, or driving creepily slow down the street in a station wagon, and generally being...like an average paparazzo.

Yeah, exactly. Not the most exciting thing for a Cavalcade Event. Sadly, all of this "suspense" translates to "not a whole lot going on" when sitting around with a group of people charged and ready for action. It was at this event where we started to really learn what makes for a good "Cavalcade movie". Even when we jumped to the action-packed finale... it was more stalking in a dark house waiting for the killer to strike.

Being a fan of horror movies, I love the original Halloween. It's as creepy, scary, and intelligently put together as a horror movie can be, and is the perfect kind of scary movie to watch on a date. But for a rip-roaring party, it's just too slow-paced. For a movie to succeed here, it doesn't have to be bad, it just has to move.

Evil Breed: The Legend of Samhain

Today we're going to break a bit with tradition and do something a little different. Normally when we review movies for the site, they are tied to a particular Cavalcade Event. These last few weeks have been catch-up as we steamroll through the past events we've held. However this movie requires special notice be paid.

Originally slated to be part of the October 2008 Halloween Cavalcade, the company we purchased the DVD from was unable to get it to us in time for a showing. Originally, we were fairly disappointed. Just look at the cast for the picture: Ginger Lynn Allen, Chasey Lain, Taylor Hayes, and Jenna Jameson. Ok, there are some of you who might not immediately know who those people are, and even those that do might pretend otherwise to save face, so allow me to clear things up: They are some of the biggest names of late-80's to 90's porn (Don't worry, the links are work safe). Throw in 21 Jumpstreet's Richard Grieco, and we have a recipe for awesome. Sadly however, this recipe doesn't take into account one thing: Christian Viel. Writer, Director, sick motherf*@%er.

I've seen films with nudity and enjoyed them. I've seen movies with disembowelments and still had fun. I've seen cinema with violence/gore/mayhem and laughed, cheered, and overall had a good time with friends and loved ones. You know what? This ain't any of those times. As a matter of fact, this movie is one of the single most morally reprehensible pieces of trash that I have ever forced myself to sit through.

The movie takes place in back woods of Ireland and while there are hints of witchery and mentions of Samhain but don't let that fool you, it's really a stupid rip off of The Hills Have Eyes and the mutant cannibal story.

Let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?

We have:

  • A woman ripped in half, intestines spilling out all over the place.
  • An armless/legless man on a spinning on a spit, penis still attached and swaying in the breeze.
  • An hour of padding for time.
  • Not one, but three impalements.
  • A man strangled by his own intestine, ripped out through his bunghole.
  • A woman stabbed in the chest, and her breast implant removed by the cannibals and squished around for the camera.
  • A woman raped by multiple cannibals, giving exposition while a bloody dead fetus lies in the middle of the floor with the umbilical cord still attached.

Not only is the movie disgusting, it doesn't make any damn sense. The ending is ripped out of another movie entirely and doesn't seem to have any real purpose other than to, you know what? I didn't care, I was just happy that the damn thing was over. It's editing is bad enough and the end product is such that the sick M-F that wrote and directed the movie actually posted a written apology on IMDB. Of course, he's apologizing for most of the nudity and gore being removed from the flick.

Don't screen this for anyone. Don't buy this from anyone. Treat this movie like the leprosy that it is. There are much better choices for campy crap horror movies with retired porn stars. A personal favorite: Evil Toons