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Just because I discuss porn stars and C-Grade horror movies doesn't mean I'm not also capable of discussing DR. STRANGELOVE or MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER. I consider myself a well-rounded cinephile.
Witty, self-aware genre mocker that still delivers the scares (but mostly the laughs)
BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON is perhaps the best horror satire I've seen. Unfortunately it got virtually no release when it premiered in 2006, and is only now developing a cult following thanks to genre fans via podcasts and the Internet. Shot primarily in mockumentary style by a camera crew of fledgling journalists, the audience gets to know (and like) an upcoming slasher hopeful, Leslie Vernon. He's articulate, friendly, funny, handsome, and-- oh yes, also hopes to become the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees.
Leslie details all the intense preparation and ground work necessary to stage the perfect night of terror, giving us insight into the months of planning that go into: finding the perfect "Survivor Girl" (a virgin, naturally) who must be surrounded by the right proportion of jocks, stoners, etc.; setting up the spooky house in question where the rampage will occur, taking care to have the fuse box on remote control, key windows nailed shut, and possible defensive tools preliminarily sabotaged. We get a look into his vigorous workout routine ("You wouldn't believe the amount of cardio I have to do!") and the physical demands required of a horror icon– for example, it's very important that the slasher able to keep up with teenagers running full tilt, while he himself appears to be merely walking steadily. Essentially, it addresses all the unbelievable aspects of our favorite classic horror films and, like Penn & Teller's great magic acts, shows you how the tricks are done. They aren't impossible– they just require lots of preparation and training.
To say too much more would spoil the delightful secrets of the film, which is carried by the very talented Juilliard grad, Nathan Baesel in the title role. For a murderer, he is surprisingly charming and affable, but we never lose sight of the fact that something inside him is unhinged. And when the time comes for him to don his iconic mask for the first time, he is all business, and steps easily into the horror-psycho role he's created for himself. Brilliant minor roles are filled by veteran horror actors Robert Englund (essentially playing Dr. Loomis from HALLOWEEN pitch-perfectly but never winking at the audience), Scott Wilson, and Zelda Rubinstein (you know, the miniature psychic from POLTERGEIST).
Why BEHIND THE MASK didn't fare better in its first release is confusing and dismaying, because it's five times better than most of the actual horror crapfest films that see a wide release. Anyone who grew up with the original HALLOWEENs or Friday THE 13ths will find themselves laughing over and over again. And when the third act delivers the promised and fully-foreshadowed killing spree, there are still twists and turns to the story that keep the suspense turned up– even though Leslie has told us exactly how the evening will go down, some things don't exactly play out the way he described.
This is a must for all fans of the "good" horror genre (at least in my humble opinion) that began in the 1970s and 80s. All the classic horror tropes are lampshaded here, but the film wisely never goes over the top with its satire. Unlike the nihilistic, dark MAN BITES DOG which fake-documented a realistic serial killer, BEHIND THE MASK is satirizing fictional icons of slasher filmdom and is much easier to laugh at. Baesel's brilliant performance walks just the right line for the tone of the film, and the screenplay is hilariously clever. Although the movie loses a bit of steam when it turns into a more conventional horror pic in the third act, it's forgivable because we still get the satisfaction of seeing the carefully laid-out scheme in action.
Bottom line: if you're not a horror fan, you can skip this. If you WERE a horror fan, but think all the recent horror films are crap, this film was practically made for you! Check it out on DVD. And yes, the film addresses the possibility of the inevitable sequel Leslie is not aiming for a one-off here, but a full franchise.
The Big Bet (1985)
A must for Kim Evenson fans.
This young woman was stunningly beautiful in a totally natural way. Both wholesome and sexy at the same time. Even her awkward acting (she does seem a little out of her element here) just endeared me to her more.
It's a shame you can't find this film (or for that matter ANY Kimberly Evenson film- "Kandyland", anyone?) more easily, but I'm sorry to say that "The Big Bet" will likely be consigned to the VHS Obscurity pile. (I still have my well-worn tape after 15 years, but this movie is now only available on eBay and the like.) The easiest thing to find Kim in today is probably "Porky's Revenge", which limits the lovely Miss Evenson to a few minutes of screen time, and is utterly terrible besides.
Still, Kim made a great Playmate back in the day, and it was nice to see her stretch her acting chops a bit... her presence in THE BIG BET is the main reason to watch it, IMO. (the other female lead is Sylvia Kristel, aka the famous Emmanuelle, who never quite did it for me with her too-slim figure and butch haircut.) Though in between moments of staring slack-jawed at Ms. Evenson, I seem to remember some humorous moments with Lance Sloane, the lead guy.
Anyway, this movie seems to be truly rare. It's barely even known on the Internet. For anyone who wants to see Kim Evenson at her prettiest, and in an actual leading role which well complements her double duty as eye-candy, I recommend tracking this one down.
The Mighty Termite (1961)
A major freak-out among termite cartoons
I remember seeing this as a kid and I think it traumatized me. :) While most cartoon termites are shown to have "super powers"...i.e., destroying houses in seconds, eating through solid metal, etc., this one goes above & beyond the usual destruction.
The plot is similar to others of its genre... a cartoon termite terrorizes the main character, gradually causing greater and greater destruction. As with most termite cartoons, this creature seems capable of devouring any material-- wood, steel, flesh-- in seconds, without leaving any trace of residue or waste behind.
In this case, our protagonist is the arrogant Professor Schmaltz, occasionally found in other Modern Madcap cartoons. In this case, he brings the angry insect back to his lab for experiments, so it's arguable that he invites the destruction upon himself.
Since the only available version of this cartoon on DVD (the HARVEYTOONS Collection) is trimmed to less than half its original length as a "Toon Take", key plot points seem to be missing. There may be some explanation given as to how the termite acquired his "super powers" in the full length cartoon, but it is missing from the short version. So the only clue we're given about how a single termite can eat an entire automobile in 2 seconds, is that the Professor gave it some Wood Alcohol and got it visibly drunk (which isn't enough explanation, IMO).
(Spoilers) As far as I know, this is the only one that goes so far as to have its protagonist actually DEVOURED by a single termite in mere seconds as the final gag. Frankly, that freaked me out quite a bit. Why is it that in termite cartoons, our hero always loses to the indefatigable termite (which really acts more as a disintegrator ray than as a true insect)?
There is another, hard-to-find Seymour Kneitel cartoon, CHEW CHEW BABY, which apparently (I haven't seen it) contains similarly disturbing images of a cannibal eating whole people in one bite. All I can figure is that Mr. Kneitel was one twisted dude. It's surprising that these 2 cartoons (and others, I'm sure) were created for kids in the 1950's, when cartoon violence, even of the surreal kind, was generally tamer. I don't object to this in any way, as they are pretty tame cartoons anyway, but they may leave you feeling weirded out.
The War of the Worlds (2005)
If you love bad movies, or you're a die-hard H.G.Wells fan...
...well, even then you still may find this movie lame. I am both, and had eagerly awaited this so-called epic adaptation of the Wells novel. At first, I'd hoped for a first-rate film. As trailers came out, I decided to hope for a decent B-movie instead.
Much of the film involves drawn-out walking and running sequences, with no narration, dialogue, or other action (just the booming, but often impressive classical score) to keep the story flowing. Entire passages of narration from the book are translated word-for-word to the screen, often without selective regard for drama or pacing. Therefore, Ogilvy's initial discovery of the cylinder, about 1 page of narration in the book, plays out as a 3-minute scene consisting of one actor standing near, climbing down to, yelling at, and eventually taking his leave of a CGI'ed Martian cylinder. The pace at the beginning is needlessly slow, so that the first 13 pages of the book (all before the Martians emerge from their cylinder) takes up nearly the first hour of the movie. I'm not kidding.
By contrast, the middle and end of the film gloss over the most gripping parts of Wells' story the Exodus from London, Dead London, and the Writer returning home it's as if the pace increases exponentially, so that the beginning plays especially slow, while the ending is rushed through. Anything too difficult to shoot (and for this film, that includes a lot) seems to have been simply omitted from the story. Dead London, for example, which should be a long, spooky walk through a deserted city (shown excellently in 28 DAYS LATER), has been reduced to one brief shot of a dead woman in a back alley.
Editing is choppy at best, incomprehensible at worst. About 30-45 minutes really are long walking sequences which could have been cut or trimmed. The director seemed to have no concept of editing the score to fit the scenes, either, and not the other way round. But even failing that, he could have faded out music when appropriate! On several occasions the film actually cuts to new scenes in the middle of musical passages, abandoning the score which had been flowing along, without as much as a fade-out. It just sounds lazy. (I know this can be used as a stylistic device, but trust me, it isn't used to a positive effect here.) Acting is very uneven, ranging from quite good to horrendous. Many of the bit players fall into the latter category, although I should say that couple of people in very small roles are surprisingly good, almost too good for this film.
As the lead, Anthony Piana as the Writer and his Brother seems to be a good actor generally, but is tripped up by the bad direction and the many rank amateurs surrounding him on the screen.
It's not all a total loss. The score, as I said, is appropriately stirring and often breathtaking. The basic design of the Martian tripods is good, although their animation is often lacking.
I give Pendragon credit for taking the time, money, and considerable effort to make a period version of the story that is mostly faithful to the book. That doesn't mean I have to give them a good review.
Cabin Fever (2002)
What a piece of dreck
Just awful. I'm a fan of good horror films, which this definitely is not. Half of the actors are good actors unfortunately caught in a bad script, the other half cannot act in the first place. The script has to be one of the worst, most nonsensical, rambling bits of drivel I've ever seen. Makes no sense. None.
You need to care at least marginally about characters for a movie to have some impact. That includes not writing all the characters as complete idiots.
I give this a 2, one for each of Cerina Vincent's breasts-- the only worthwhile thing about this tripe.
About as much fun as having your teeth extracted with a sledgehammer
This is easily Spielberg's worst film... loud and overbearing, obnoxious, devoid of intelligence (let alone plot), and unpleasant. There's not a single likeable character among the 3 dozen or so whom we are forced to follow around for 150 minutes-- as they scream at, hit, kick, and shoot at each other. I'm amazed that so many people on this site seem to love it-- I could sort of understand liking it if you're really into explosions and wanton destruction and that sort of thing, but even on that level, it is not remotely funny-- just big and loud and annoying.
"1941" can provoke a few guffaws of disbelief from me every half hour or so, in an "I can't believe that so many people in charge of so much expensive, destructive equipment are all so stupid" kind of way. But not in a "ha, ha" kind of way. If this movie were made during World War II, I can picture it being made by the Germans as a kind of anti-American propaganda film to demonstrate how dumb Americans were.
I remember seeing this in the theaters when I was 7 and being freaked out by all the noise and so-called "cartoon" violence, especially Ned Beatty gradually wrecking his home. Watching it again over 20 years later, I thought maybe it would grow on me, that I was just an impressionable kid...
Nope, I still don't see what's funny about a man losing everything he has, right before Christmas, with a war beginning, and a wife and 4 kids to take care of. Maybe if we really HATED Ned Beatty's character, okay, but we don't and we're not supposed to, so why is it funny again, Mr. Spielberg? I can at least understand why it's "funny" when asshole Treat Williams repeatedly gets kicked in the balls, splattered with egg, etc. (poetic justice, just desserts), but the house-collapsing humor eludes me.
I think this is why, aside from this board, the general consensus is that this film pretty much sucked. Comedies are not, by definition, depressing. And if Spielberg was aiming for black comedy, well, he pretty much missed the boat on that too.
Good effects and action sequences? Yes. But humorous? No.