Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981, Steve Miner) Cinemachine Commentary Track

Merry Christmas! Here's a gift for every Friday the 13th fan, a commentary track I recorded with my friend Tom during a rare visit. More than anyone he's the one who compromised my taste in classy horror movies and taught me to embrace slash trash.

I don't think we cover any information you couldn't find on the Internet, but since there's no track on the Paramount DVD that's kind of the point.


Friday the 13th Part 2 - Cinemachine Commentary Track

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Spit On Your Grave (1978, Meir Zarchi)

An early target of Siskel & Ebert's pompous national campaign against misogynist slasher movies (this from the guys who rated Evil Dead their "dog of the week") was Meir Zarchi's Day of the Woman, rereleased in 1980 as I Spit On Your Grave. Had Ebert seen the film under the original title he might have gotten a clue that Zarchi was making probably the world's least projectional xploitation film, one in which the story of rape and revenge places viewers almost completely in the victim's point of view. One tagline read More Devestating Than Deliverance! and while Ebert might have conceded there was an artistic statement to be made in a feature length version of that mainstream classic's infamous rape scene, the exact same film becomes misogynistic if the victim (who avenges herself, even) is a woman.

The only American film to create a similar experience of a similar nightmare was Wes Craven's The Last House On The Left (1970). Zarchi's even more miniscule budget denied him the opportunity of finding talented unknowns like Last House's to play his criminal rapists. The creeps in Spit are all one-movie-and-out amateurs, and just convincing enough to give the acts of real life horror a harder edge. Only the giggling man-child of the group comes off as someone's friend doing a silly voice, which he is, yet his participation in the crimes is just as brutal. He and the other male leads may not have even harbored future acting aspirations, considering virtually all of them embrace full frontal nudity to add to the queasy realism. 

The most startling lack of polish may be the complete and total absence of music. Initially Zarchi browsed library music tracks but none of them fit the mood he was trying to evoke. Zarchi's usual framing technique is the full body wide shot, as if everything were being filmed by a bystander standing ten feet away. The most artistry he employs is pacing the slow repeated stalking of Camille Keaton, when members of the hillbilly gang descend into frame one by one like gathering birds. The suspense is sometimes unbearable in a way that might not have happened with music score. Zarchi's subsequent career in film has either been one of bad luck, or like Robert Hiltzik merely one of periodic Lovecraftian awakening from darkness for the 1985 action trash Don't Mess With My Sister!. At least he's had good luck with titles. Incredibly, he's slated to executive produce a remake.

Camille Keaton began her acting career in a handful of 70s Italian horror and suspense films including the giallo classic What Have They Done To Solange?. As the granddaughter of Buster Keaton she was acting nobility, and not having known this when I watched Spit her stonefaced vengeance is completely recognizable as the stare of Buster. Zarchi had easy access to his one star; they were married.

The movie finally shows its seams when Keaton begins her revenge, due to Zarchi's weird dialogue and sense of human interaction. English is not his first language and neither Keaton nor her rapist receivers of vengeance seem sure how to handle scenes where Keaton seduces her former captors who thought she was dead. Language is also no explanation for one rapist's abnormally long delayed reaction time to his own castration. Until these moments, all preceding awkwardness at least feels deliberate, as when after barely surviving the assault of Spit's two-act (that would be rape, and revenge) Act One climax she visits a church. Except for a little old lady playing church organ, the place is as empty as if she'd walked into Carnival Of Souls.

I Spit On Your Grave is well deserving of notoriety for how effectively shocking it is to the point of being uncommercial. The male nudity alone has kept it off television forever, and the probable retreat from such realism in the new remake will be sacrilege. Day Of The Woman is more recognizably anti-man than pro-woman but at least sympathetic at all times to the avenging victim: that's the director's own wife, after all.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Bloody Valentine (1981, George Mihalka)

This year's 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine converted me to the 3D horror bandwagon; the gimmick which supposedly will get people back into movie theaters is best suited for trash horror. However, I wasn't expecting the original to be so inferior, even with an infamous nine minutes of additional gore re-inserted on the DVD by Lionsgate to promote the new film. The dip in film stock quality during the restored death scenes is extremely noticeable. Fortunately since the restored moments are the most extreme, this uncensored version takes on a kind of William Castle murdervision gimmick where the screen itself is practically specked with blood / picture artifacting.

Fans of Valentine 81 were forgiving of the dubious restored footage, since this is the type of remastering genre fans wanted on DVD: the restoration of extra sex and violence. Fans of slash trash have had a grudge against Paramount for years for losing all the trims made to the Friday the 13th series, with the sole exception of The Final Chapter's unedited, unused raw footage surfacing on the last DVD release, separate from the film. Those effects being from Tom Savini, they probably came straight from his personal storage vault of lost footage since Paramount obviously prefers the trash can. Ironically the quality of the lost Final Chapter footage is nearly flawless and as long as they included the option to see the original film, Friday fans would have loved to see newly extended death and gore scenes. Some fans on YouTube have already done the job for fun.

My Bloody Valentine fans and slasher fans are one in the same, there's no fidelity to this above all others in the genre as there are for Halloween nor diehard series fans as there are for Friday the 13th who might raise a stink if some new official version were put out that was different from the versions they grew up with. Valentine 81's DVD does give you the option to watch the original film with all MPAA-sanctioned cuts intact, and I wouldn't recommend that. Staying awake during the filler is hard enough.

Filmed during Canada's short lived pro-capitalist Canadian Film Development "Corporation" which gave tax breaks to low budget Canadian and American studios with the incentive to produce more commercially viable films-as-product, as in xploitation. Before the PBS mentality went back to throttling the fun from Canadian film, this period gave David Cronenberg his break in trash as well as spawning a ton of neat genre films. Many of these were slashers and in 1981 they were considered mainstream to the point that Universal was pushing Halloween II and Paramount was not only pushing Friday the 13th Part 2 on the cheap but picking up CFDC slasher ventures like Valentine to release.

Like the founder of Paramount Pictures Adolph Zukor, George Mihalka was a Hungarian immigrant who immigrated to the continent of opportunity. His trash break came in Canadian teen xploitation the previous year with Pick-Up Summer, aka Pinball Summer and this was his sophmore effort. The film's location in the windy Northwest of Nova Scotia in Canada, with cottage style town architecture and unlike slasher convention, layers of clothes on the women (due to the cold) and a neverending abundance of plaid. This all lend the story a certain rural timelessness. At first the main characters seem to be a swath of hammy old Canadian stage actors playing mayors, police chiefs and other authority figures who cover up and panic over the return of an escaped killer while the young folk take the town legend as a joke. Corny as they are, these older guys are a lot more charming - especially radio and tv personality Don Francks - than the young people who get slaughtered.

The young victim players are really hard to pin an age on. The Sydney Mines of Nova Scotia provide them all with a shared occupation and a backstory for the town. They're not teenagers or college co-eds, just young shitkickers whose mining town is so dull that everyone can still get excited for a Valentine's Day dance. Either they're not really that young, or mustachioed young fat guys in Canada look precisely like someone's fat older uncle at Christmas. When the dance gets called off again for the first time since however many years ago when there were murders, all these young miners and their girlfriends have no qualms about moving the party to where they work and sweat and risk asphyxiation for a living during the rest of their week. Why don't they just move and live down there forever? Even away from the auspices of the old codgers warning them that they're all doomed, these couples are extremely chaste. Only the opening credits sequence of the film features lurid nudity from a nameless and quickly offed young girl while the couples in the rest of the movie barely reach second base. Canadians are so well mannered.

Even with all these Northwestern quirks My Bloody Valentine can't distinguish itself in construction from any other slasher named after a holiday turned suddenly murderous except for the idiosyncratic choice of a miner as the killer. Between the opening scene when the naked girl mentioned above gets a pickaxe through the heart-shaped tattoo above her left breast and the scene soon afterwards when Don Francks receives a Valentine's Day poem in a heart-shaped box containing a real heart, writers Stephen Miller and John Beaird do the impossible and sell the thematic connection between the two completely unrelated ideas. Besides the pickaxe, this killer miner has the terrific added gimmick of a miner's helmet light which shines on victims like a targeting beacon and the effect would look great in 3D twenty eight years later. "Harry Warden" the crazy miner's brief flashback origin story is better directed than most of the rest of the film. Unfortunately after making a strong showing at the beginning of the film he disappears for most of the middle while the whodunnit aspect - is it really Harry Warden? - is developed amongst the young cast, something else which I can't believe the remake managed to put a better spin on.

Thanks to, and only, the newly unearthed scenes of major miner carnage, My Bloody Valentine is finally worth a look for fans of the early 80s slasher explosion and the epochal year of 1981. Everything else is rather middling and as much as I appreciate Mihalka's commitment to the gory goods, he couldn't even make the dark tunnels of a mine look scary. 3D may have finally made good on the old canard that the only sensible movies to remake are the bad or mediocre ones, especially those with long dark tunnels and weapons that protrude both ways.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lady Terminator (1988, H. Tjut Djalil)

Lady Terminator begins with a sadistic Indonesian South Seas Queen dispatching a serf with her vagina dentata, and surprisingly proceeds to become a very faithful tribute to The Terminator. She comes back hundreds of years later, of course, as the non-robotic Lady Terminator. The filmmakers gambled that the science fiction of The Terminator wasn't the reason it was successful and they're at least half correct.

The South Seas Queen legend actually comes from Indonesia and is the only real Indonesian xploitation movie I know of to be so fortuitously marketed at both Indonesian and American audiences, including the occasional foreign xploitation use of no-name American actors. About half the film seems to have been filmed in English so that the two halves could alternately be dubbed, and I saw the English dubbed version and there's no way English was screenwriter Karr Kruinowz's first language, nor did H. Tjut Djalil know a good dialogue take from a bad one, only briefly marking time between the action scenes. Watching Lady Terminator is like being a kid and listening to another kid describe a movie like the first Terminator: only the good parts, and enthusiastically embellished.

As pure ripoff artists, Djalil and Kruinowz are free to copy only the most memorable scenes and moments from the original while ratcheting up their base appeal. The Terminator who rises naked out of nowhere to begin zeroing in on her assassination target isn't the governor of California, she could be Miss California. Without Cameron's apocalyptic robo-futurism, the South Seas Queen legend prologue makes Lady Terminator unrecognizable as Terminator knockoff at first. When Barbara Anne Constable rises from the South Seas fully naked, knocks off a couple of moron punks and if you've seen the original Terminator you've got your roadmap. Since there's no future to protect, her gun-toting rampage is targeted at a girl whose ancient necklace is magical and presumably enables her to rule the world. They correctly never presume you care.

Essentially the most fun and cheesy aspects of elements of James Cameron's film are all incorporated and enthusiastically one-upped: the nude Terminator walking around is now a beautiful mousse-haired lady and the Kyle Reese part is a cop whose Sarah Conner figure is another young girl. As a product of the times, the 80s-ness of The Terminator has soured into the curdled milk of the late 80s, where everyone's hair is at least as big as Linda Hamilton's in the original, including the men.

Under this thick gauze of free floating action cliches and the South Seas night life of 1988, the story jogs through Terminator greatest hits while amping up the violence: the police station assault scene (in which Lady Terminator doesn't even bother trying to talk her way in before driving a car through the front doors,) the eyeball self repair (which handily looks better than Schwarzenegger's animatronic puppet,) slow-mo Tech-Noir discotheque shootout (the music's worse) and of course the (Lady) Terminator rising from flames all charred and nasty to pursue Kyle and Sarah through a factory. This time she has laser eyes. The script has some forced but appreciated references like "Come with me if you want to live" and whoever did the costumes got perfect matches for Schwarzenegger's punk jacket and Michael Biehn's overcoat!

Lady Terminator is recommended heartily to fans of Asian action and The Terminator who have a sense of humor. If you liked Terminator: Salvation or even those old Dark Horse Comics, this may be way too unserious.