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The Last House on the Left (1972)
Feel terrible...but in a good way...rent this ASAP!
Almost everyone who reviews this film talks about how un-even it is. They're right, but I think it is that way intentionally. Basically the story revolves around a bunch of cartoonish escaped convicts who suddenly become viciously cruel and kidnap two girls on their way to a concert. No film had really gone as far in its depiction of violence as this one when it was released, and by the time the credits rolled, I for one had a hard time shaking off the images. More jaded viewers may be disappointed by the lack of gore, or the absence of a masked killer (Last House is frequently compared to Texas Chainsaw...it is nothing like it). A lot of people criticize the music in the film as being out of place. I thought it worked nicely as a counterpoint. I think what Wes Craven was going for in this film was kind of the shocking humor/horror vibe that Tarantino has sort of mastered in later years. It is an experiment that doesn't always work, but the violent scenes are so shocking that the flat humor won't really detract from the effect of the film. I thought Hess's music was great, and really captured the disillusion of the era. I'm also surprised I haven't seen the actress who played Mari Collingwood in any other films, she is really talented. In fact, her performance is what anchors the film in reality.
From Beyond (1986)
Good gory fun
***MINOR SPOILERS*** I rented this back in the eighties and the tape was wrecked so I didn't get to see it. I had to wait till it was on HBO to see it. I loved it, and am still waiting for it on DVD. I hate to sound like those annoying Blockbuster video axioms...but if you liked "Re-Animator", you'll love "From Beyond". It has monsters, it has Barbara Crampton, it has perversion, it has memorable characters. The story (based on H.P. Lovecraft I believe) centers around a scientist's experiments in re-awakening the sixth sense by stimulating the pineal gland. Basically all he succeeds in doing is creating an invention that summons monsters from another dimension and makes all the human characters really horny. Yeah, it's as great as it sounds. Director Stuart Gordon really hasn't done anything this interesting since, which is a shame, since he is at least as talented in over-the-top mayhem as Peter Jackson. Barbara Crampton is beautiful and talented, she is really an undiscovered gem, someone should use her in a big budget movie. Jeffrey Combs has some of the best lines, as usual. The make up and monster effects are similar to the 1982 remake of "The Thing", but the tone is wildly over the top.
Joan of Arcadia (2003)
Best show on TV
It may be a strange comparison, but I think this show is a lot like another favorite of mine, "Quantum Leap". Each week the main character is asked to do something totally alien to her. It's funny and uplifting without being preachy or talking down to its audience. I really like it. Amber Tamblyn could have played it all gooey eyed but she is genuinely smart about it, you can see her subtly figuring things out as she goes. As long as it doesn't veer off into "Wonder Years" territory, where every moment is of incredible import, it could shape up to be on a par with the "X-Files" (it has nothing to do with the "X-Files", but it has the same elasticity...it can be hilarious, moving, scary, thought-provoking or just plain weird from one week to the next, without disturbing the show's continuity). This is great.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Desperate attempt to revitalize the series
**SPOILERS** First of all, I didn't hate this movie. I didn't love it either, though. Which is a shame, because I pretty much feel a good "Alien" sequel writes itself. Admittedly, the creators were written into a corner when Ripley killed herself in part 3. But I felt the device used to bring her back here was clever...she's a clone, duplicated in an effort to pull the gestating queen out of her. At first Sigourney Weaver plays this with just the right amount of innocence and curiosity you would expect from a new born. But about half way through she becomes just another wisecracker, like the space crooks surrounding her. I also didn't understand how I was supposed to get all ga-ga with fear over the fact that there were 12 aliens in the movie...remember, there were HUNDREDS in "Aliens". I wasn't bored but I wasn't engaged watching this the way I was with the other three. And the comedy seemed forced.
In-depth look at the creation of the classic album
I half expected this to be a cobbled together compilation of TV interviews, but it's the real deal...each song is dissected by its creators in brand new interviews. You also get unplugged style acoustic versions of "Breathe" and "Brain Damage", by David Gilmour and Roger Waters, respectively, as well as a listen to the demo for "Time". There are rare photos, and Richard Wright plays the piano live. This is a gift to fans! If you're not a fan, what are you reading this for? If you are, pick it up today. This is so exhaustive, it even features interviews with Alan Parsons, who had more than a casual role in the shaping of "Dark Side". No Floyd collection is complete without this.
The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984)
sequel or remake?
This is a strange detour in the otherwise interesting career of Wes Craven. It's mostly just a rehash of the first film. I couldn't stand it...at one point we are treated to a flashback from the first movie...as remembered by the FAMILY DOG! Skip it, you'll be doing yourself a favor.
The Making of 'Alien³' (2003)
All DVD's should come with extras as exhausting as the ones in the new ALIEN QUADRILOGY box set. When ALIEN 3 first came out, I was disappointed with it. Later, as I was able to ween myself off of the expectations James Cameron's relentless ALIENS set up, it became a favorite of mine. This documentary goes to great lengths not to just dissect the movie, but also to show just what film studios typically put creative people through. We get interviews with Michael Biehn, detailing how upset he was at the killing off of his character. We get a look, in story boards, at an abandoned version of the film that was larger in scope. And we see some of the studio ineptitude that prevented the film from being all it could be. That David Fincher could nonetheless create a film as uncompromising as he did is a true testament to his talent. I loved this!
Swimming Pool (2003)
Interesting experiment, uninteresting movie
I like what the film tried to do. It's basically an anti-film, designed to frustrate you as you watch it. Similar to "Adaptation" in the way it dissects the creative process. In a way this movie's braver, because it doesn't get overly self-referential. Although I love slower more experimental movies (like "Lost Highway") I just couldn't get into it. The acting's good, the direction is unusual. I just didn't care. Story wise it concerns Charlotte Rampling's character travelling to France to write a book. She has in mind a departure from her usual murder mysteries and is inspired to write about her new unwelcome roommate, the house owner's daughter. When I said this movie was slow, I do not mean it to be taken lightly. We are asked to watch her type, shop, eat, and, in one deleted scene, she rides a train.
Under-rated, funny satire, really fun
This is one brave direct to video feature. The director chose to present the film as one long shot, with invisible edits like Hitchcock did in "Rope". The acting is pretty good considering all the actors were non-union amateurs, and this has a nice take on the whole reality TV show phenomenon. The characters all run around in a maze trying to avoid being sliced and diced by a bunch of masked killers. The winner of the contest gets millions of dollars. The film takes the whole disgusting "Fear Factor" thing to its logical conclusion, making some good points about the blurring line between entertainment and reality, and the danger of introducing cruelty into the mix. Deveraux obviously wanted to use Freddy, Jason and Leatherface here, as he has villains that resemble them. What he does with his limited budget is really clever and he sets himself apart from the hacks with this one. I can't wait till he has some real money to work with.
Junk: Shiryô-gari (2000)
the best italian zombie movie in ages...made in japan!
Mooshing together the "Reservoir Dogs" plot with a dose of "Re-Animator" and "Dawn of the Dead", this concerns a bunch of diamond thieves who meet up with mobsters at an abandoned military base, only to be ambushed by the living dead. Gleefully fast-paced, with zombies resembling the ones featured in "City of the Walking Dead"...i.e. the zombies look like they have mud all over their faces. Good gory fun, without the hassle of a plot. Too bad there ain't more of this kind of stuff these days. Most of the zombie stuff of late (House of the Dead, Resident Evil) treat zombies as just another shoot-'em-up element. Here they are the thrust of the story...what story there is.