Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Dracula A.D. 1972

A century to the day after his defeat at the hands of Lawrence Van Helsing, a group of young Londoners experimenting with satanism for a laugh at the behest of the mysterious and charismatic Johnny Alucard unwittingly resurrect Count Dracula, who immediately sets about executing his plan for revenge against the great, great granddaughter of the man who killed him.

1972 (Duh!)
Rated PG

"Dig the music, kids!"

When, oh when will young people learn that rock & roll music leads to satanism, which leads to the violent deaths of all your friends, which leads inevitably to a beautiful young girl's spiritual enslavement at the hands of an ancient, demonic force? I mean, how many times do they need to have it spelled out for them before they get it? It's not like Hollywood didn't warn them!

Okay, okay, so Dracula A.D. 1972 isn't really a proper Hollywood picture. The product of the venerable Hammer Studios horror mill of the sixties and seventies, this "modern" sequel to Bram Stoker's classic at least manages the pedigree of being set in the same city as the original. Still, if secret satanic societies were half as prevalent back then in the UK as they were in the US - which was quite prevalent indeed, if you believe the allegations of Jack Chick, Phil Phillips, and Geraldo Rivera - then we're just lucky anybody had the courage to stand up against them and warn the young people of the world. Thank God for you, Hammer Studios; and thank God for Dracula A.D. 1972.

The horror begins at a party in modern (1972, in case you still hadn't caught-on) London, where a young sophisticate has made the tragic mistake of inviting a rock & roll band - Stoneground, as we are repeatedly reminded - to play at his upper class soiree. Unfortunately, the musical depredations of rock & roll have - as is their way - attracted numerous shady characters, at the center of whom stands the sexy, sleepy-eyed Johnny Alucard. Johnny bears an unsettling resemblance to someone we've already seen, someone who seemed to have an unnatural affinity for Count Dracula and who, in the prologue of the movie, stole the dead villain's ashes and ring after his death at the hands of Lawrence Van Helsing.

At this point the movie plays out as so many have before it, predictably cycling through the satanic mass, hepcat coffee shop drug-rings, and credulous police inspectors who have no problem believing that a vampire is responsible for a string of mutilation murders, and who see nothing wrong with letting an old man stumble around a crime scene in the dark, setting traps for these vampires. It's all just routine.

"But was it any fun?" I can hear you asking, and I can't help but think you're missing the point. Fun? Is eternal servitude to a dark, vampire lord fun? Is gambling with your very soul fun? Is casting caution aside and succumbing to the evils of rock & roll music fun? I tell you, my friends, fun will be our downfall if we allow it! The road to hell is paved with fun!

And rock & roll. Lots of that.

SEX: 2/5

Dirty pillows! Dirty pillows squished together and bursting from necklines like fresh-baked loaves of bread! Thank heavens there weren't any nipples on display! Well, at least there were none that weren't covered by a thin layer of silk.

BLOOD: 3/5

Witness the fate of those who allow themselves to be taken in by the evils of sex, drugs, and rock & roll! Oh, and disintegrating vampires! Those were actually kinda sweet.

ROCK & ROLL: 3/5

Plenty of literal rock & roll on display, but as far as fun goes, is it fun to watch young people driven to ruination by decadent living? Really? Wow, you've got problems!


Be sure to join us next time on a new journey into the realms of the strange, horrific, and action-packed! SPOKANE SCHLOCK - This ain't your daddy's fringe cinema review blog!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Frankenstein's Army

During World War II a small contingent of Russian soldiers follow a distress call to an isolated village in eastern Germany. The village has been decimated, all the inhabitants brutally murdered. The true horrors, however, lie beneath the ground in a secret laboratory built by the Nazis and ruled over by a mad genius bent on the creation of a new breed of super-soldier, unlike anything the world has ever seen.

Rated R

"My father said man would be more efficient if they have hammers and screwdrivers instead of fingers...When I tried to do it with cats he told me it was a sin against God."

I know many purists will cite 1980's Cannibal Holocaust as the birthplace of found-footage horror, but I don't think I'm alone in my belief that it didn't become a proper subgenre in its own right until nineteen years later, when The Blair Witch Project proved yet again that inventive, passionate, talented people working outside the Hollywood machine and using their wits to overcome budgetary limitations could revolutionize horror cinema. Like Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Halloween before it, The Blair Witch Project spawned a slew of imitators - some good, most total shit - and established a subgenre that would inspire filmmakers and infuriate film critics for decades to come.

I’m not a found-footage detractor by default. In the right hands the style can be wonderfully effective. Even after repeated viewings, [REC] still scares the crap out of me; I expected The Last Exorcism to be a piece of shit, yet walked away from it chilled to the core and eager to share it with cinematically like-minded friends. What can, and usually does, end-up souring the whole experience for me, though, is the plausibility (or lack thereof) behind the found-footage conceit. Compiling a film out of security camera footage, filmed interviews, and live news feeds seems to work well because I can make logical sense of the footage existing in the first place. Film students solipsistically recording themselves wandering through the woods is perfectly believable because wannabe auteurs really can be that self-obsessed (I aught to know, I used to be one). But the sad truth is that the well of plausibility isn’t bottomless, and the form can only be stretched so far before my suspension-of-disbelief’s elasticity reaches the breaking point.

Just "hanging" around.  Get it?
Case in point, Frankenstein's Army. This movie is a rare bird, in that it is both a found-footage movie and a period piece. Taking place during World War II, the justification for the footage is that a Soviet propagandist is assigned following a small contingent of Red Army soldiers on the march into eastern Germany, ostensibly to capture the glory of their victory and inspire folks back on the homefront. While reasonable enough in concept, the execution just doesn't live up to my standards for a found-footage movie, sporting countless anachronisms and poor editing decisions which left me repeatedly lamenting to myself, "They could have fixed that so easily with just a little more effort!"

The film looks too damn good. I know that seems like a stupid complaint in the era of 3D-HDTV and 4K, but the whole setup here is that it's a Soviet propaganda film. Have you ever seen old footage from WWII? Even the US didn’t use color film stock, and our resources were far more plentiful than the Soviet Union’s. Secondly, at what point did WWII-era Soviet Russia have anything lying around in abundance, let alone film stock of any type? Yet somehow these propagandists have enough of the stuff readily available to run around shooting (presumably) hours and hours of footage that – given every totalitarian regime’s proclivity for focusing exclusively on the noble and heroic deeds of its army, and not on its ineptitudes or atrocities – could only have been destined for the cutting-room floor. At one point the aforementioned propagandist cameraman even lays the camera down, pointed at his feet, and lets it run until morning! For shame, comrade!

"Hey, you got a magazine or something?"
Okay, I don't want you to think this is going to be one long hate-fest. There were, in fact, things I quite enjoyed about Frankenstein's Army. Once the titular army actually puts in an appearance, things get swinging pretty quickly, and that was where my suspension of disbelief kicked back in and allowed me some enjoyment. I am a sucker for a good rubber-mask monster movie, and this film is chock-full of twisted goodness in that department. There's a fair bit of monster footage that makes very little technical sense, in which the cameraman lamely stands there as monsters leap onto him or savagely attack someone three feet away, but by that time I was adequately distracted by the monsters and violence and utter fucked-up chaos of the whole thing to give it a mental pass. Fun goes a long way towards alleviating my need for technical plausibility.

With reasonably solid performances (all things considered) and enough monster fun to allow me to forgive sloppy technical mistakes and poorly written dialogue (I swear I remember one of the Russian soldiers saying, "For real, man?" but that might just be my mind substituting better, more realistic dialogue for the shit the writers came up with) I actually walked away from Frankenstein's Army with a smile on my face. Is it a great movie? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Does it have shining moments of pure fun despite its weaknesses? Oh yeah, and fun covereth a multitude of technical sins.

"Oh, Brunhilda! You're so lovely!"
"Yes, I know it. I can't help it."
Found-footage movies can be among the best horror cinema has to offer. They can also be among the worst. Ultimately, Frankenstein's Army falls somewhere in the middle for me, but there just aren't enough rubber-mask monster movies being made for my taste, so I have to give it a little bump, if only for scratching that particular itch.

This isn't great filmmaking, but there's definitely fun to be had here. Just don't look too closely or you'll see the strings.

SEX: 1/5 BLOOD: 4/5 ROCK & ROLL: 3/5


Be sure to join us next time on a new journey into the realms of the strange, horrific, and action-packed! SPOKANE SCHLOCK - This ain't your daddy's fringe cinema review blog!

Review: Versus: Ultimate Edition

666 portals exist in secret, connecting this world to the other side. Somewhere in Japan an escaped murderer finds himself betrayed by the men sent to aid him. He does what he does best, but in the Forest of Resurrection, located at the 444th portal, death isn't as permanent as it used to be.

It's GOLD, baby! 'Cause it's ULTIMATE!
Rated R

"Die slowly, okay?  We don't want you coming back to life on us."

(NOTE: This movie review is of Versus: Ultimate Edition.  This version of the film is about 10 minutes longer than the original, and includes several recut, re-edited, or retouched sequences.  Just so's you knows.)

I think Clarence the angel summed it up best in his note to George Bailey at the end of It's a Wonderful Life: "No man is a failure who has friends."  Well, if you don't have at least a friend or two dozen who will occasionally turn you on to crazy, fucked-up, obscure little cinematic gems from time to time, you have my pity, you failure.  Friends with senses of humor and fun almost as twisted as mine are the only reason I know about movies like Sars Wars: Bankok Zombie Crisis, Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky, or even the B-movie to end all B-movies, Troll 2.  And now I can add Versus: Ultimate Edition to the list.  Boy, that tubby angel really knew what he was talking about.  Imagine all the fucked-up shit he was into!

If you've ever read a movie review I've written (CLICK HERE for a whole slew of them if you haven't) you probably know that I wouldn't ordinarily praise a movie for being all-over the place tonally, but Versus: Ultimate Edition is one of those blessed few movies like Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn or the peerlessly, wonderfully awful Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except (CLICK HERE to read my review) who manage to turn atonal chaos into a punk rock cinema experience whose only real caveat needs to be, "If it's too loud, you're too old."

"Eye" see what you did there!
From the jump Versus: Ultimate Edition is a martial-arts/zombie movie hybrid, and if it were just that, it would have already had my full attention from start to finish and pulled the whole thing off with flying colors.  The characters are archetypes rather than people (The Prisoner, The Girl, The Boss, The Psychopath, The Idiot, The Professional); the action is frenetic and over-the-top; and the production values are clearly shoestring-level.  This movie already has everything!

Not satisfied with bad-enough, however, Director/Co-Writer Ryuhei Kitamura manages to cram in enough plot twists and tone-shifts to keep even an ADD-afflicted squirrel's eyes glued to the screen, which is good, considering the roughly 157-minute runtime.  No spoilers, but at one point there is an absolutely brilliant post-Matrix spinning track-shot montage that goes so absurdly long that it has to be a commentary on the self-indulgence of action cinema in the wake of the Wachowskis' sci-fi/action epic.  I just couldn't stop laughing, and that, for my money, is quality entertainment.

He ain't got time to bleed.
"You know what I want from an action/horror movie?  Plausible scenarios, logical outcomes, and a clearly defined set of rules the filmmaker sticks to at all times," said no action/horror fan, ever.  Look, there is a time and a place for coherent plotlines, realistically drawn characters, rational physics, and a masterfully crafted tapestry of setups and payoffs.  There is also a time for bugnuts insanity with no rules that hurls you back and forth between laughing 'til your face hurts and gripping the arm of your chair 'til you leave dents in the upholstery.  If you don't agree, Versus: Ultimate Edition isn't for you.  If you do, give it a look-see.  I think you'll be glad you did.

And when you do, don't forget who your friends are.

SEX: 1/5 BLOOD: 3/5 ROCK & ROLL: 4/5

Be sure to join us next time on a new journey into the realms of the strange, horrific, and action-packed! SPOKANE SCHLOCK - This ain't your daddy's fringe cinema review blog!