mandag 13. februar 2012

Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

Aka Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Invasion of the Animal People.

Aliens go to Sweden...
Terror in the Midnight Sun is an American/Swedish co-production. After a meteorite crashes in the wilds of Lapland scientists are sent to investigate. There is something peculiar about this, since meteorites generally don’t leave skid marks. Dr. Frederick Wilson (Robert Burton) provides the Swedish scientists with international expertise. His niece Diane Wilson (Barbara Wilson) also happens to be in the area. They are both great excuses for making the locals in large part speak in English, though with that heavy Scandinavian accent.

The movie spends the first half hour setting up the mystery that surrounds this meteorite crash. Based on the title alone you know aliens will be involved and waiting for the characters to become as knowledgeable as the audience becomes slightly boring. After the aliens’ presences have been established the movie picks up pace. We are treated to an alluring shot of Diane behind the shower curtain early on though. There is also a great silhouette shot of her later on. It’s a nice reminder in today’s world of excess that less can indeed be more. This applies for the big alien creature as well. Director Virgil Vogel wisely keeps it off screen for a long time instead of optioning for fast gratification. Miniature models and conscious editing does the magic in creating the illusion of a giant alien, not just a regular guy in a fancy suit.

Playing with perspectives. The big alien creature planning to raise hell.

The landscapes of Lapland help creating a moody atmosphere. Man seems insignificant in these vast landscapes and even more so when juxtaposed against the creature. There is an otherworldly feel to this snow and ice covered place.

Inspired cinematography; Look at the twisted human shapes along with the crooked camera angle and a ski tracks swinging slightly from the left.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Vogel previously had served as an editor on Touch of Evil (1958) and cult sci-fi This Island Earth (1955). His career directing has mostly been in television with westerns such as Bonanza and High Chaparral and crimes like Mission: Impossible, Streets of San Francisco, Airwolf and Magnum P.I. to name a few. I doubt Vogel will ever have a huge fan base, but I for one intend to seek out more from him.  

Terror in the Midnight Sun is a run-of-the-mill alien monster movie. There are no big surprises, but what’s on display looks pretty good. What sets it apart from others is the atmospheric setting and use of Sami and Swedish actors giving a cultural flavor to it. Besides how many alien monster movies set in Sweden from the 50s are you likely to find? Terror in the Midnight Sun is a rare movie that deserves more attention from sci-fi and horror fans.


søndag 5. februar 2012

Zoo (2007)

Human sexuality in one of its many, many forms…

Zoophilia comes from two Greek words; zoo meaning animal and philia, friendship or love. It is referred to as the practice of sexual between a human and a non-human animal. Popularly it’s called bestiality. People who practice zoophilia are known as zoophiles, zoosexuals or just “zoos”.

Zoo tells the story of what is now known as “The Enumclaw horse sex case”. July 2nd 2005 Kenneth Pinyan died of a perforated colon as result of receiving anal sex from a horse. In the movie he is only referred to as Mr. Hands, which was his name when distributing videos of different encounters with horses. Zoo addresses that Pinyan’s name was meant to be kept secret, but of course a swift search on the internet following the movie, his real name came up immediately.

The participants in Zoo want to keep their anonymity given the subject matter, so director Robinson Devor tells the story by having different people related to the case narrate over reenactments. It makes the film flow better than if he had chosen to show blacked-out faces for the duration. The cinematography and lighting help to create an at times artful looking documentary. Paul Matthew Moore’s moody score gives Zoo a more humane feel to it. Devor’s many tricks to downplay the sensationalism, unlike the media, is an intelligent choice. The subject matter is highly controversial, so by not giving into sensationalism, we are better able to look at it without our guards up. It gives the “zoos” narrating a chance to talk about how they perceive this. “The sexual aspect was only a minor part of it”, says one of the “zoos”. They treat their animals right other than in that one area, which they don’t feel is wrong. Is this damaging to the animals? Are these people really monsters? Zoo left me longing for more insight into these minds, but what we are granted is highly interesting.

I was really surprised by how tasteful the subject was handled. Zoo paints a more sympathetic picture of zoophiles. That may also cause some discomfort. You could dismiss them as “horsefuckers” and such because it makes it easier to keep at a distance, but it won’t give you more room for understanding. An animal rescuer that came to pick up the horse after the incident says; “I don’t quite yet know how I feel about [zoophilia], but I’m on the verge of understanding.

Devor deserves praise for having guts to make a documentary on this subject and even more so for make it as non-exploitative as this. Ignoring zoophilia will not make it go away, so I for one am glad someone sheds light on this subject.


søndag 29. januar 2012

Stone Cold (1991)

Revenge of the 90s!

Brian Bosworth is Joe Huff, a policeman on suspension. The F.B.I. has other plans for him though. The biker gang “The Brotherhood” is waging war against all those who oppose them and after one of their members is found guilty in the murder of a priest time is in short supply. Joe goes undercover as John Stone (a fitting name) to infiltrate the gang. Action ensues.

Right from the start you know this is going to be a fast and furious ride. Bosworth establishes himself as the cool and cold messenger of justice within the opening minutes. Criminals will pay when he’s around! He works perfectly for what this role demands; tough guy with an attitude. This isn’t supposed to be Shakespeare, though I’d watch him in that as well. The biker gang is led by the very capable Lance Henriksen and his lead henchman played by William Forsythe. The latter had an even more menacing turn that year as Richie in Steven Seagal action fest Out for Justice. Both Henriksen and Forsythe do what is required when portraying evil, white supremacist bikers. Their range is a lot broader, but they respect the material and seem to have fun with it.

The great thing about Stone Cold is the pacing. So many movies with little to say spend too much time saying it. Most of what we see in Stone Cold is essential. It’s a very economic movie that doesn’t bother with non-vital information. When the bad guys are gone, the movie ends. There’s no need for a long wrap-up. The action is over. But the action we are treated to during Stone Cold is quite satisfactory. What makes it so you think? Well, there are regular doses of great explosions. Real explosions. There are dangerous stunts to keep you grinning. When people are shot you see it. I miss that in movies, particularly when you look at something as castrated as Live Free or Die Hard (terrible title!). They also swear when it’s appropriate. You expect a certain language from people like this. The third act ups the stakes and the action here works better than what we see in most movies of similar kind today. It balances it with restrained humor, showing glimmer without ever fully indulging. There is no annoying sidekick constantly puncturing the atmosphere. Stone Cold also takes a few original turns leaving some common clichés in the attic that had me nodding in approval.

What Stone Cold is all about!

Craig R. Baxley has proven himself to be a reliable director with Dark Angel (1990) and mini-series like Storm of the Century and Rose Red, both Stephen King adaptations. He has also directed and been second unit director on plenty of episodes of The A-Team. Way to go Mr. Baxley! I for one am a fan of the man. All directors can’t be Stanley Kubrick or Sam Peckinpah and that is just fine. Baxley is still a director I keep coming back to. He deserves a nod more frequently and I hope you give him a chance too.

As for Stone Cold it’s a great example of early 90s action that is easy to digest. It’s a fun, violent and bullshit-free film. Relax and let officer Joe Huff take care of business. That’s what he’s here for!


fredag 20. januar 2012

Guinea Pig (1985)

Torture for the people…

Guinea Pig is the first installment in one of the most notorious movie series out there. It’s also known as Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment, probably to differentiate it from the later entries. The plot is a girl being tortured by three men for nearly 43 minutes. The end. It doesn’t exactly sound groundbreaking, but in terms of fake snuff or pseudo-snuff if you will, it kind of is.

It’s roughly divided into chapters where each one is a new form of torture. The first one is “Hit” where our helpless victim is, that’s right, slapped repeatedly. She is also kicked, tortured by deafening noise for a long duration, scolded, maimed etc. This actually works quite well. While it’s fairly graphic, director Satoru Ogura presents it in a very neutral way. Yes, this is pseudo-snuff, but the depictions are decidedly unspectacular. Particularly the scene where the victim is beaten and kicked becomes repetitious and boring. That can be a good thing when depicting bad things. I was never comfortable with what I was watching and it never entertained me. If anything Guinea Pig fulfills more of a morbid curiosity. Just because something isn’t pleasant doesn’t mean it can’t be intriguing.

Guinea Pig's pièce de résistance.

Guinea Pig is shot-on-video, which adds to the grittiness of the film. It looks cheap and dirty like it should. The camerawork is nothing spectacular and I sincerely doubt the raw effect would pack such a punch otherwise. There is some music in Guinea Pig that the movie would have worked better without, unless they had incorporated it into the movie as opposed to put it on top. The same goes for the title cards. I’m not saying psychopaths aren’t able to edit movies, but it increases the distance between the movie and the viewer. I want no “interruptions” that hints at what we see on-screen has been subjected to any treatment beyond recording. This is a cruel matter-of-fact testament shot on-the-run. The sound effects are suitably unpleasant and play a big part in making this film feel as grim as it does.

Using the term “like” doesn’t feel appropriate when discussing Guinea Pig. It’s a fake snuff film and anyone watching it should expect just that. To me the first film in the series manages to create a dark atmosphere showcasing mankind at its worst. The first sequel, Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood, is a far more graphic affair, while simultaneously adding some oddball humor for balance. Each installment has something different to offer.

Guinea Pig remains one of the nastier films out there. It has been surpassed since by numerous others, Psycho: The Snuff Reels being one, but as a testament to extreme 80s horror it holds up very well.


onsdag 11. januar 2012

Blood and Sex Nightmare (2008)

Blood and sex finally united on film!

Spoilers! You can thank me later.

Blood and Sex Nightmare starts off by showing us a tied-up woman and a maniac sharpening his butcher knife. She dies, but only after the camera has turned away, because some movies are like that. It’s quite a dull opening really. Then the movie proceeds…

Right from the beginning it’s evident that this is bottom of the barrel modern exploitation. I don’t mind that, in theory. This is quite basic filmmaking, but was it for instance really necessary to ever so slightly adjust the camera in several scenes? Couldn’t the director and director of photography come to terms with the composition before shooting? I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that this was a conscious decision. That still makes it annoying since you’re taken out of the movie. Random zooming also occurs, but lacks the flavor of someone like Joe D’Amato.

Anyway, there is this guy Nick and his girlfriend Amy. Amy has just come back from something, not really of any importance, and Nick wants her to come with him to an adult resort called “Pleasure Mountain”. Amy doubtfully agrees. The punch line is that she’s a virgin, which makes an adult resort less ideal. That’s kind of funny, isn’t it? During their short, yet way too long conversation, the dialogue battles for your concentration along with the sound of horror trailers playing in the background. For the record, I recommend focusing on the trailer sounds. They are so much more interesting. Kudos to whoever gave us the option to choose though.

They arrive at their destination only to discover a rather pathetic looking cabin. There are no shots trying to establish how the resort looks as a whole, but I suspect this has a perfectly natural explanation. Good filmmakers make separate locations that are supposed to be one seem as one. You could argue that it’s part of the charm, unless you’re me. It’s obvious that this is made by horror fans. The camp is promoted as a Camp Crystal Lake sort of place, with an old guy sure they are all doomed! The old guy is actually the caretaker, Walter. He has arguably the best lines in the movie, such as: “They’re gonna be dead soon. Then she’ll be mine!” Best of luck to you Walter!

To up the body count we meet some of the other sex seekers at the camp. One of the cabins is particularly bizarre. An incest role-play is acted out like a sitcom complete with laugh track. It’s the boldest attempt at humor in the movie and perhaps even a try to soften cynical reviewers? All the deaths are done off-screen, which indicates just how low the budget really is. Making blood splatter appears to be cheap fortunately! They even cut away before someone, Willy, punctures one of the tires on Nick’s car. But hey, I’m not going to argue for destroying a perfectly good tire! That car probably brought the crew to the location and without it where would they be? Really?

This is also a supernatural film, since a straight-forward slasher would be a copout. Sarcasm check! It turns out that a guy, Felix Gallo, died here years ago. He hung himself and his pedophile mother is given the blame. All the sexual tensions of the resort have made him come back. Boggaboo!

As if this wasn’t enough we have a couple of slackers working at the resort watching horror. They actually seemed to be watching a movie with the ghost of Felix Gallo. I dare you to confirm this on your own! “Do you think movie violence fucks you up? I don’t know, but it’s awesome!” That did make me chuckle, a little. Blood and Sex Nightmare trying to give us that additional layer is a perfectly redundant choice.

Amy defeats the ghostly ghoul with a mirror, because mirrors can be like that. The 59 minute running time is near the end. Cut to two years later, same place and a recycled ending done to death. I had to ask myself if it’s spoofing clichés or just perpetuating them. My guess would be the latter.

Blood and Sex Nightmare is a dull film. Despite my hostility I don' hate it. Someone has created something that is out there for the masses to behold. It is what it is, but couldn’t that be something a little more worthwhile?


søndag 1. januar 2012

Cinemabarrel: The Resurrection

I originally began writing here after a friend of mine made this lovely page so that I could exorcise my thoughts on movies, of which there are many. Yet, somehow during the year life and a healthy dose of apathy got in the way. It's a shame since I really enjoy writing and in particular when it comes to movies. So for several months there has been nothing. Fortunately, like with Jason Vorhees, there is always the possibility of resurrection. My goal this year is one post every week. Everything else is a bonus. I want to keep writing for myself more than anything and this is the perfect place. While my focus will continue to be on that of horror and exploitation I'll try to show greater variety with genres. 

During October I participated in the imdb horror boards annual Horror challenge, which consists of watching 31 horror films, where at least 16 has to be first time viewings. This has never been a problematic goal. The challenge for me was/is watching as many horror films you can bare before Halloween sneaks up. I managed to watch 100 movies (well, one is a stand-alone episode in Stephen King based miniseries Nightmares & Dreamscapes) and it was EXHAUSTING! Previous years my average have been around 60 movies. Some people have asked; How do you find the time? It's all priorities. I'm not claiming the priorities are always the right ones though. October is usually followed by a lot less horror oriented November. A friend of mine participated in the challenge as well and took pride in beating my ass with nearly 120 movies during that month. I'm still only scratching the horror surface here, so it will be interesting to see what the new year has in store. Stay tuned! I'll leave you with a freaky poster for the Polish vampire film I Like Bats (1986).

onsdag 31. august 2011

Memories of movies #2 - Under Siege 2: Dark Territory

Back in the days there were very few shops that sold VHS’ where I lived. One man had monopoly with three stores and kept the prices unreasonably high for years. Still, the curious movie adventurer I was I frequently visited them, mostly the one named Cudrio. Apart from the prices and the greedy owner I remember they had some alluring and frightening films. The cover I picked up the most was Society. Looking at the back of that cover always promised me a world of demented terror impossible to fathom, at that point in time at least. It took about a decade before that film would find its way to my horror shelf. Society is demented fun, with excellent practical effects from the highly uneven director Brian Yuzna. The ending has a rare “what-the-fuck” quality to it. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about.

But that’s not really the film in question. I took my bicycle down to buy a couple of movies one day. The movies chosen were Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, rated 18, and cop/dog buddy action comedy Top Dog starring Chuck Norris, rated 15. I had just turned 12 at that time. My longing for action was temporarily crushed at the counter. Clearly this kid wasn’t of the right age. However, they gave me the opportunity to call my father at work to verify that this was indeed okay. Apparently they had had a couple of cases with angry moms not appreciating what their kids had purchased. I hadn’t really asked him before about that, but was he really going to say no? Of course he didn’t and with Under Siege 2 and Top Dog in my backpack I headed home. It has been years since Top Dog crossed my retinas, but from memory it was decent, if rather routine, cop and canine with attitudes fare. Under Siege 2 on the other hand was a different beast. The cover made it look really cool to a 12 year old.

The Norwegian cover for Under Siege 2. The literal translation from Norwegian reads; "Hijacking in High Velocity". I was always fascinated by the "Action Collection" covers. Somehow it made the whole thing seem cooler.

At that point I hadn’t seen the first Under Siege flick, but that didn’t matter. We had an action film rated 18 and that was plenty. The first one was purchased on a Danish VHS about three months later.

Anyway, the first time I saw Under Siege 2 I was blown away. It was a fast-paced, slick and brutal action film. Steven Seagal as chef and top trained elite soldier Casey Ryback was the epitome of cool. That isn’t the case(y) today. Another exciting element was the setting, a moving train. I’ve always had a fascination with movies set on a train and it started, strangely enough, here. It’s a small setting, but with lots of possibilities! Everett McGill as the leading mercenary, Marcus Penn, was a mighty villain too. You know someone is badass if they use pepper spray to freshen their mouth! He also delivers a line that has ever since lingered in the back of my mind; “Assumptions is the mother of all fuck-ups!” I really think he was on to something! Assumptions have time and again led to mistakes, so he deserves credit for alerting me about this fact at such an early age. Years later I discovered the very same quote was actually used the previous year in the Australian drag queen comedy Priscilla: The Queen of the Desert. It doesn’t really change anything though. There are plenty of other great quotes as well. After the mercenaries, dressed as railroad men, stop the train the conductor walks off the train and asks what‘s going on. “Someone’s been shot. Who? You!” BANG! That’s some quality writing right there!

Under Siege 2 also marks Steven Seagal’s last great film (there were some duds before this one too though). No, I’m not counting his minor role in Executive Decision the following year, in case you were wondering. This was the last of his streak of brutal early 90s films. They were very unapologetically violent. The ruthlessness displayed in these films (and plenty other from the first half of the 90s) still makes me raise an eyebrow today. The primary example is a scene in Out for Justice (1991) where a stone cold William Forsythe drags a woman halfway through her car window and executes her at point blank range for honking the car horn at him. There is one quote acknowledging this; “He’s killing people like it was free!” It’s not pretty there or in Under Siege 2, but you’ll feel infinitely rewarded as Seagal moves his eyebrows just a tad when killing them.

In later years I have discovered why this was better than it really had any right to be. First off, director Geoff Murphy is the man responsible for one of my favorite 80s sci-fi films, The Quiet Earth. He has also been second-unit director on all three Lord of the Rings films. Second, it was co-written by Matt Reeves today better known as the director of Cloverfield and Let Me In.

Many movies have a tendency to become disappointments as you grow older (don’t watch the original Narina series again!), but with Under Siege 2 that is not the case. It simply never ceases to entertain me. I think this sequel is on par with the first one even though that one had Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey and a topless Erika Eleniak coming out of a cake, a frequently replayed scene, going for it. Seagal’s career isn’t the greatest anymore, to say the least, but back then he actually made some stuff well worth watching. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory was my introduction to his filmography and is part of the reason I still have a soft spot for the man with the iron face. Well done Mr. Seagal. Well done.

8/10 in case you were wondering.