Thursday, July 29, 2010

All They Wanted Was A Quiet Getaway....

Things are falling into place for tomorrow's dinner party, though I feel really lame having a party where there are only gonna be 5 guests including myself.  Oh well, it will be fun and will give everyone a chance to meet and greet.  At least, that's what I'm telling myself.  Anyway, I hope the buffet goes well and that everyone finds a game they like.  For now, lets talk about a really terrible movie.  I mean, this movie is bad...and I know bad.  I still like it of course, but mainly for its concept, set pieces, and cast.  Due to studio tampering and a certain lack of cohesive direction, the film turns out much less amusing than it should have been.  Still, its something that several people have seen at least once thanks to endless runs on television (lousy movies cost less to run on TV) and it has developed a sizable cult following due to its off-the-wall nature.  So lets take a weekend trip to Valkenvania and explore the cinematic oddness that is Nothing but Trouble.

Chris Thorne (Chevy Chase) is a New York City financeer who manages other people's money for a living, and does pretty well doing it.  One night, while hosting a party for clients and friends he meets Diane Lightson (Demi Moore), a beautiful attorney.  Together, along with his eurotrash neighbors Fausto and Renalda Squiriniszu (Taylor Negron and Bertila Damas), they head off to Atlantic City to spend the weekend, mostly so Diane can yell at a co-worker and ex-lover.  On the way they decide to depart from the main road and they end up in a small village called Valkenvania, a run down mining town with huge steam vents in the road and virtually no population.  They are soon pulled over for speeding by Officer Dennis (John Candy) and his partner Miss Purdah (Valri Bromfield) and taken to the local courthouse.  The house is a huge, gothic monstrosity, surrounded by a junkyard of old cars and appliances, and is run by the crazed and evil Judge Alvin 'J.P' Valkenheiser (Dan Aykroid).  They are all convicted of their crime at trial and forced to stay the night in the house, which turns out to be like a murderous carnival funhouse.  As the night wanes on, Chris and Diane must fight for their lives against the sinister residents of the house, including Eldona (also John Candy) the Judge's mute and psychotic daughter.

Hmm...what to make of this movie.  It was written and directed by Aykroid, based on an actual experience that he had in a small town where he was pulled over for a small offense and dragged before the town's 100 year old justice of the peace, and that part definitely rings true.  In that way, it is like a comedy version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the deranged residents of a town trapping and preying on the unsuspecting travelers that pass through.  However, with the house's mechanical contraptions and the lack of edge to the murders committed by the Valkenvania always feels like this is a horror film that is pulling its punches rather than a comedy with horrific elements.  That puts some people off, and its even more off-putting to those who know that due to unsuccessful test screenings the studio removed all the gore and several other scenes from the film.  Another reason that people didn't take to the film is simply that all these celebrities that people took families to see in tamer comedies were now headlining a rather unpleasant film.  Truely, even I get uncomfortable in several scenes by several things...mostly involving the scenes with Dan Aykroid's character.  I mean, his prosthetic nose was intentionally made to look like a penis.  Also, John Candy in drag is a little strange too...partly because its amazing how much he looks like a woman when he's all dolled up.  Oh and there's a strange and unmotivated hip hop musical number in the middle of the film that really makes no sense at all.  Its a very strange and inaccessible package all around and so, like Howard the Duck, most people simply will not enjoy it.  However, there are plenty of good bits to enjoy...and like all good horror films, it makes you think twice about getting off the main road.  Give it a spin, the worst that will happen is that you'll waste an hour and a half of your life.  People do that daily on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What is it About Teenagers and Accidents They Decide to Keep Secret?

I am so bad this summer...sitting around being lazy and doing nothing.  And I mean nothing.  I have no good reason to not write on this thing, but I just forget I have it after a long time and then my mom is calling and asking "You haven't written in your blog in forever!  Are you dead?"  And then I have to say, no I'm alive...I'm just lazy.  I think this laziness of mine is also the reason I keep getting steadily fatter.  Speaking of weight gain, I've got a dinner party planned for Friday.  A small affair, just a handful of close friends for a quiet evening at my place.  Sort of celebrating my return to Chillicothe.  I plan to write about how it goes, as I am doing something for it that I've never done before...and I can't recall if I've heard this idea before or if I really had a flash of inspiration.  Either way, it should be interesting.  But enough about that...lets talk about those horror films where a group of friends finds themselves with an accident or a joke gone awry that ends in a hurt or dead body and they have to cover it up to save their own skins.  What is up with that?  I mean, everyone knows that even after the consequences occur, it would be way better to take the heat than to live with the guilt...and the eventual masked psycho who shows up to get revenge.  I mean really, how dumb and selfish can you be?  Oh wait, we're talking about teenagers here.  So tonight, if you haven't already guessed, I'm going to be talking about Kevin Williamson's first post-Scream project...and the first in an onslaught of clones that tried to copy what Scream had (much like the Friday the 13th and Halloween clones of the 80s).  This one is a bit better than the rest though, so lets dive right in and watch I Know What You Did Last Summer.

The film begins on the 4th of July in the small town of Southport, a coastal town that has a huge fishing culture.  Here we meet Julie James, her boyfriend Ray, her friend Helen, and Helen's boyfriend Barry as they celebrate Helen's winning of the title of Croaker Queen and their last summer before their adult futures begin.  There's some drinking, some storytelling, and some frolicking on the beach and then comes the drive back to town where they have the misfortune of hitting someone who was walking along the side of the road.  Barry, under the influence of alcohol, demands that they dump the body and never tell a soul what happened while Julie champion's the idea that they should go to the police and confess.  Outvoted, Julie reluctantly goes along with the plan and each teen goes their separate ways.  One year later, Julie returns home from college (looking terrible) and receives a cryptic letter that reads "I know what you did last summer..."  Scared and confused, Julie reconnects with Ray, Helen, and Barry and they try to figure out who knows their secret.  Meanwhile, the threats get worse and soon a tall man in a fisherman's slicker who carries a razor sharp hook is stalking and killing them one by one.

This is definitely a suspenseful little sucker, even if it isn't as frightening as Scream and other films before it.  In many ways, this film is a throwback to movies like Prom Night, Terror Train, and My Bloody Valentine due to its usage of the accident/revenge plot.  The film is also loosely based on the novel of the same name by Lois Duncan.  Williamson was brought in to write the screenplay when the book was optioned by Columbia Pictures.  The way Williamson tells it, they told him to keep the title and the characters but write whatever he wanted.  So he used the car accident from the book and changed the stalker to a slicker wearing hook-murderer because of his love of the popular hooked-maniac urban legend.  This does create a more iconic looking villain than the book offered, but some of the mystique is lost due to the changing of the accident.  In the book, Duncan had the kids accidentally run down a young boy on a bicycle which made their crime seem all the more tragic.  There are enough fun little moments in the movie to keep you interested though, like spotting Johnny Galecki of Roseanne fame and Anne Heche in a "what the heck is she doing in this movie" moment.  Williamson also throws in quite a few red herrings, but none really hit us as true clues.  For some reason, I never thought that any of the red herrings were the killer.  Its almost like they were trying too hard to misdirect me from finding out who the killer was and I wasn't buying it.  Oh and there is one completely unmotivated murder early in the film, added because Columbia decided there was too much movie before the first actual on screen death.  Studios...when will they learn?  If you haven't seen this one yet, its definitely worth watching once.  Whether you decide to watch it a second or third time is up to you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ode to a Rainy Summer Night

I love summer storms.  They're violent and quick...rather like summer romances...and both can be exciting.  I just had a summer storm that got me all wet going to the mailbox and last week I ended a brief summer romance...both storms were exciting during and then a real let down by the end.  In the case of the rain, it got my feet and mail all wet...and in the case of the boy, it taught me that even the most 'with it' kind of person can be really nuts once the romance is over.  I won't go into too much detail on that.  Its not worth getting bent out of shape and besides, its way more fun to talk about movies than to date...does that sound like desperation?  Anyway, tonight's film is the perfect one to go with a summer storm and is considered a classic in the horror genre as well...if a decidedly grisly one.  It is the film that put a symbolic and bloody end to the hippie generation and ushered in a new era of mistrust, disillusionment, and violence.  Its also the film that made several film critics sick to their stomachs due to its gritty (yet surprisingly un-gory) atmosphere of dread and undiluted horror.  "What happened is true.." the ads shouted, but was it?  Lets find out as we cut into The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

"The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."

This narration really says it all and no DVD or VHS cover has ever really said it better.  It gives Chain Saw a realistic quality that few horror films can ever capture...mainly because we horror fans like our horror outlandish and full of gore.  The film feels like a documentary as you watch it, with its poorly shot and grainy frames and its shoddy acting.  It was so effective that many people actually believed that the crime had taken place.  This was not the case however, and Chain Saw kept a lot of people out of the backwoods of Texas for a good long while (well, at least until those obsessed with the film started trying to find the locations).  And this was 25 years before The Blair Witch Project.  I suppose Blair Witch has one upper hand in that is was completely made up, where as Chain Saw took some of its inspiration from the true story of Ed Gein who was a grave robber and murderer who used skin and body parts to make clothing and furniture.  This gave director Tobe Hooper the idea to make a cannibalistic family who used the remains of their victims as furniture and decor...though one of them would make clothing from the skin.  Yes, the infamous Leatherface who chased his victims with a buzzing chainsaw and wore the faces of his past victims to show his feelings and personalities at the time.  Leatherface was so popular that he ended up being the only character who would appear in every single sequel and remake of this story...I guess we just love our masked baddies in the horror world, and he ushered in quite a few.  Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Ghostface, they all find their roots in Leatherface...interesting no?  Is this a film for everyone?  Certainly not.  To tell the truth, it took me years before I could ever say I liked it (to this day, I still prefer the remake...may I be struck down for saying so) but I can see its artistry much better now...having given it many looks through different lenses.  I can appreciate it for what it was trying to do at the time and for the terror it can still inspire.  To this day, when I'm alone in the sticks, I still try to drive through as quick as possible just in case there's a crazy hillbilly family out there waiting for me...who knows if they're out there?  BWA-HA-HA....(thunder crash).