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Rootin' tootin' vampire hunters
John Carpenter's fondness of Westerns is well established, all the way back to his first prominent flick "Assault on Precinct 13" being a modern re-working of "Rio Bravo" with John Wayne. I think Carpenter is one of the best American directors, up on a level with Scorsese and a few others (and usually working with a much lower budget) but for some reason he doesn't get critical respect in this country, probably due to the genre he works in (I suspect that's also why Stephen King is not generally regarded as one of the best American novelists). I've also been a huge fan of James Woods since "The Onion Field," so to have them working together is a dream for me. "Vampires" had me right from the get go with Woods and his crew planning their raid on the "nest" ---I don't think there's anyone better than Carpenter at setting up scenes and building suspense, he's not afraid to give it the running time it needs—unlike a lot of younger directors who came from music videos and want everything fast and choppy. After most of the characters are killed off early on, the survivors track down the bad guy like in "The Searchers" also with John Wayne---in this case the "sheriff" and his "deputy" and the "floozy." Carpenter gets the best career performances out of two actors who are not my favorites—Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee—although those two have the best scene in the film, i.e. the first one in the hotel room. I have mixed feelings about Thomas Ian Griffith as the "master"---I'd only ever seen him once before, in "Excessive Force," and liked him, but I thought he came a little too close to the "stereotyped European bloodsucker" that the Woods character himself had derided, but I imagine Griffith played it the way Carpenter wanted it. I loved having the devious Cardinal turn out to be a "bad guy," but that's just me and my issues with Catholicism in general. The plot with tracking down the "black cross" got just a bit unwieldy at times, but Carpenter keeps things humming along until the climax, after which in classic Western tradition the Woods character lets the two new vampires go their way for "old time's sake" but warns he'll have to kill them if they cross paths in future, then Woods and his new sidekick ride off (without horses) into the sunset (or sunrise, rather) for more adventures.
So after multiple viewings I really can't see why anyone wouldn't enjoy this flick unless they were just pre-determined not to; reportedly this was the project that led Carpenter to decide to stay in the business, and I'm sure glad he did
. Woods' line to the young priest in one scene---"Did you get a little wood just now, Padre?" ---should be in a collection of classic movie bon mots, along with "You gotta be f---in' kidding" from Carpenter's version "The Thing"--maybe someone should do a short film of just clips from Carpenter's oeuvre.....
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Is there anyone in the South who's not a "colorful character"?
Well having now finally seen this, I have to say this isn't the type of movie I'd been imagining over the last 25 years or so; I'd thought it would be some Southern "romantic comedy" with the four leading ladies all in the same household at the same time having various heart-warming hi-jinks; instead it's these two parallel (fairly "serious") stories about 50 years apart. I guess the earlier story was the more personally compelling for me, since it was the one with the luminous Mary-Louise Parker, whom I've been watching in "Weeds" on my cable service and it was fascinating to see this younger version of her doing her native accent (she's from South Carolina). It's fascinating how she mixes passivity with latent ferocity, like an angel carrying a switchblade knife or something. When she casually threatens to kill her abusive husband without raising her soft voice but with a little demented gleam appearing in her eyes, it's scary. It's been said "Acting is reacting," and I don't know a better reactor. She also benefits from a much "fuller" story situation, with all the other characters (I didn't even recognize old Cicely Tyson) and sobering subplots involving the KKK and domestic abuse and a murder trial (although even this veers towards camp) etc. (I've never been a fan of Mary Stuart Masterson, but she seems well cast here.) I did think that Ruth's getting sick and dying felt "rushed" ---"Wait, she has cancer? When did that happen?" ---but the actual death scene with the single camera shot was maybe the best thing in the movie. (That's what happens when people die of "natural causes," it's usually not "dramatic," they just slip away.) The "modern" story, by contrast, was mostly between Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy, who STILL had time to do four more movies after this before finally dying. (I saw her in "Dragonwyck" from 1946 but I forget what she looked like young. I'll have to catch her in something else.) The modern story felt more by-the-numbers, but the amazing Kathy Bates (who completely stole the most recent season of "American Horror Story") can bring even the tritest part (in this case the meek housewife getting "uppity") to life; she and Tandy have some great exchanges about vaginas and hormones. I was a little annoyed at the "mysterious" ending, with the suggestion that Tandy's character was possibly the older version of the Masterson character; it reminds me of a line from "Detective Story" from 1950: "Twelve years ago I threw my radio out the window; you know why? 'Cause I hate mysteries!" But at least Tandy didn't turn out to be a goddamned ghost or something—or so I'm presuming
..Anyway I'm glad I finally got to see it; my only regret is that Ruth's scumbag husband didn't suffer more when he died. Don't even get me started on the topic of abusive males, it just drives me absolutely bat-crap, reflects badly on all us male types
By the way there's a certain plot point that seems borrowed both from "Soylent Green" and "Sweeney Todd," not to mention the "Texas Chainsaw" series, and they all leave me wondering: So how were the inedible bits disposed of?
Would Ronald Reagan have found this amusing?
This takes me back to that 1980's era of "humorous monsters," which I guess started with "An American Werewolf in London." The "ghoulies" themselves are far more interesting than the human characters; too bad they weren't given more to do. The chief problem is that the "hero," played by Peter Liapis, is such an absolute stiff that it's hard to work up any interest in what happens to him. His girlfriend is a bit more appealing (and looks pretty hot wearing shades) but their friends are mostly the usual gang of 1980's dorks. I also didn't care much for the two dwarfs, was hoping they'd turn out to be incestuous brother and sister like in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The plot is pretty much bargain basement haunted-house stuff, with everybody dutifully going off alone so they can be killed. I only recognized three names: the English musician Michael Des Barres as the cult leader; Jayne Mansfield's kid Mariska Hargitay (from "Special Victims Unit") in her film debut--damn, she was pretty hot herself back in the day; and the late great Jack Nance from "Eraserhead" and other David Lynch flicks. Nance could do more with less than any other actor I can think of, letting those puppy-dog eyes speak volumes. In "Ghoulies" he's criminally underused, but it's nice to see him in almost anything. So as usual, if you can see it for free and have plenty of beer available, sure. go for it. By the way it's hard to believe they were bold enough to rip off the exploding-out-of-the-chest bit from the original "Alien," but what's that line about "imitation being the sincerest form of flattery" –or the laziest
Incense for the Damned (1971)
Seems awfully quaint now....
People under a certain age may find it puzzling that once upon a time being gay was considered a very big bad deal, very "infra dig," the utmost discretion had to be exercised. We see that in "Bloodsuckers" where the relationship between the doomed professor and the Senegalese guy (or at least the actor was Senegalese) is just hinted at in the mildest possible terms. Could have been fun to delve into that in connection with vampirism, but then, "Could have been..." could be this movie's epitaph. This was certainly a different "take" on the vampire genre, going the psychological route, even bringing in an "expert" late in the going to explain everything (like the Simon Oakland character in "Psycho") which unfortunately bogged things down a bit. I thought it took a while for "Bloodsuckers" to "settle down" and focus on the story; before that we had a seemingly endless "orgy" sequence (or whatever was supposed to be going on) which dated itself badly with it's "groovy" soundtrack and "kaleidoscopic" special effects—it seems whenever a movie tries to be "trendy," a few decades later it seems ancient. Don't know if it was intentional or not but the action had a kind of clipped, perfunctory feel to it---if you've ever seen the old Monty Python sketch with the military character barking "Right, get on with it"---felt like that a little. (Not surprising that the director disowned it, as per IMDb.) Seemed a shame that the two best actors, Patrick Macnee from "The Avengers" and Peter Cushing from those great old Hammer horror flicks, had so little to do. Imogen Hassall as the Greek vampiress didn't impress me much; since she had hardly any lines, couldn't they just get some hot-looking local Greek chick and let her "strut her stuff"? My favorite scene was probably Richard telling off all the red-robed "toffs" near the end. On the whole I'd say it was worth a look, especially since it didn't cost me any money (a friend gave me a copy to watch).... what I personally found interesting is that a few years before this movie was made, Greece had a military coup which lasted until the mid-1970's, so that sinister Colonel character had a nice built-in "back story." But of course I'm sure the filmmakers had to promise not to put the regime in a bad light to be allowed to film there
Lovers Lane (2000)
"Take the horny teenagers bowling.... Take them bowling..."
(With apologies to Camper Van Beethoven.) I can't recall having seen a movie made beyond the 1950's showing teenagers bowling. All we needed was James Dean mooing in the auditorium....I'd say overall I enjoyed this more than, say, a root-canal operation, but I admit I was a little confused at the end with all those killers with hooks popping up, including whoever was in the cop car at the end (which I would put down to the "requirement" that horror movies have some kind of shock ending or twist ending, which probably goes back to "Carrie" with the hand coming out of the grave at the end). Also they gave away one of the "bad guys" early with some capital-F foreshadowing---remembering the scene showing Dr Jack looking at the hook which was right in front of the camera—I thought "Hmmmm, wonder what THIS is supposed to signify
" It seemed unlikely that someone would have survived that huge fireball that engulfed the house. (But that's another horror movie staple---killers who are harder to kill than Rasputin.) But I liked that not all the adults in the movie were buffoons and not all the teenagers were jerks; when kids and parents said "I love you" to each other, I believed it. There were some humorous bits, like when the one kid gets caught masturbating---trust me, every male person has had that phobia. I liked that the various murders were believable in context, nothing too overwrought. The acting was also believable, except too bad the female principal came off so stiffly. (According to IMDb, that actress was only ever in two movies---not surprising.) The Washington State scenery was nice (before everything started getting filmed in Canada). So if you are able to see it for free and have plenty of beer available, sure, go for it, feel free to take it as a spoof; at least it's not constantly proclaiming how clever it is, unlike "Scream" et al....
Orphan Black (2013)
Like a fungus, this show will grow on you---but more pleasantly...
I've become attached to this BBC-America series with attractively any-faced Tatiana Maslany (from "Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed") as an English-born street-hustler type who discovers she's one of a number of clones in various walks of life, with various Sinister Forces lurking behind these. Maslany can apparently do anything thespian-wise and there's enough technical expertise that when she's playing 2 or 3 characters in the same scene, it doesn't seem just gimmicky. There's a great "supporting cast" (Canadians I presume, all unknown to me except of course for the Irish chick from "The Commitments"), even tiny roles make an impression. I love the dichotomy they've set up between scientific maniacs on one side and religious maniacs on the other. An aura of verisimilitude keeps it from drifting into melodrama or camp; even the swishy gay guy seems a realistic swishy gay guy (of whom I've known a few), not just a stereotype. I've read that the guys behind the show would like it to run for a number of years, which is okay by me, just hope it doesn't turn into a "Perils of Pauline"-type escapade.... If I had to pick a personal favorite clone, it would have to be Helena, the Ukrainian former "feral kid" who (to me) was totally hot even when she just seemed to be some crazed killer who was always hungry, and now that we're seeing her playful and even affectionate side, I'm her biggest fan. The recent scene with her and Sarah driving to "Cold River" with Helena hearing the Archies' "Sugar Sugar" on the radio and singing along in her idiosyncratic way, with Sarah registering various degrees of dismay---if that's not a priceless TV moment, then I haven't seen one. Go Canada---you Frostbacks have been outshining us Yanks creatively from early David Cronenberg onwards... By the way---for those of you who don't like violence----there's violence---but then you folks probably don't watch much TV to begin with...