Cult’s short burst of genre celluloid #2…
At present I’m sans laptop so please excuse my grammar, spelling and lack of composing etiquette. Admittedly in recent weeks I’ve fallen behind in my scribbling duties, it’s much my own fault really though I’ll try detract from the fact that I’m an insufferable lazy bastard who often falls to the distracting allure of procrastination by attempting to place the blame on something else, anything really.
Alright, now that I feel slightly better about myself I’ll preach upon a handful of titles I’ve witnessed in weeks past.
Detention of the Dead (USA) 2012
Director – Alex Craig Mann
Runtime – 87 minutes
For a feature based on a play, yes a stage affair boasting undead characters that isn’t Shakespeare inspired, this was in my opinion rather decent. Based in a high school environment complete with oddball charaters and interactions that though largely comical are still very relateable to the majority of us it naturally plays out much like the (uber popular 80’s cult hit) Breakfast Club. In actuality you would have to be dangerously high (I haven’t been in that state, no not Florida, for a number of years – damn family responsibilities) or a frequent milage accumulator on a short yellow bus not to notice the similarities. Well written quirky characters, social commentary and an adept breakdown of high school heiracy keep the interest level, another aspect that also helps in this regard is that the humor works very well. Especially in a stand out scene showcasing the schools guidance counsellor. Frequent nods to the scene are appreciated and can’t be ignored. For instance, the Stoner type is called Ash, and the library is named after one of the ‘original’ zombie effects masters, the maestro himself, (Tom) Savini.
The zombies are more of the Romero (RIP) corpsicle type, shambling and relatively braindead and the reason for their condition (to my knowledge) is never offered, although I would warrant a guess coming by way of a political standpoint/statement from around the time which would most probably be scoffed at so I’ll keep it from gracing this review. A snippet of homage is caught in the end credits by way of the soundtrack and will most likely make the zombie aficionados amongst us smile. “Its the end of the world and I wanna live in a shopping mall.”
The effects are, mostly, surprisingly good. Although there are a few instances where they dip into Troma territory for hilarity sake, which is perfectly alright in my book as where else are you going to find an undead airduct dwelling rodent with superhero strength, an attitude and a hunger for flesh.
Overall Detention of the Dead is a note worthy effort to grace the comedic zombie genre and is well worth taking out ninety minutes from your schedule to experience.
Shadow (Italy) 2009
Director – Fredericko Zampaglioni
Runtime – 74 minutes
Whilst enjoying the mountain bike trails in idyllic surroundings a former soldier finds himself defending a local from a hunting duo intent on forcing their neanderthal like will upon her. A friendship develops as the pair discover the forest allows them unobstructed two wheeled passage and romantic interludes. Meanwhile, the hunting party have been scorned and suddenly find new prey atop their agenda in order to save face.
Shadow excels in its first half with character development, captured atmosphere and it’s stunning cinematography. Idyllic surroundings and untouched countryside are a great setting into which the movie’s storyline develops. The characters are well written and relateable with initial antagonists one can instantly take a disliking too displaying dispicable traits/nuances many might find familiar with those they deal with in everyday life.
Shadow flows well up until the midway point until niggling flaws make themselves apparent. Characters make silly mistakes, stopping to exchange bodily fluids, they manage to leave their belongings behind while being chased. These are only two of many examples I will cite without providing mammoth spoilers, that which could well spoil a viewing experience.
As the film nears its finale tense scenes are varied, excellently captured and showcase a villain, whom many might not see coming if it not for the DVD art, a character who is Hammer studios creepy and also boasts an intriguing backstory that could well make interesting viewing if explored effectively in a cinematic (prequel) format. With that in mind however, many of these same scenes suffer from being shot in near to complete darkness which I fully understand may just be a personal gripe but it’s annoying to the point where I feel I must mention it.
Shadows’ finale is a great premise that could well have been ‘pulled off’ more effectively had it been better constructed and/or explored further. Anot her factor worthy of note is that a loop of oft repeated soundtrack added to my annoyance as the film raced towards its end credits.
Sadly this is a feature that didn’t climax with the same delivery its initial prose and directorial chops promised.
In conclusion, this may well be a film one could easily enjoy more than I have. It certainly has a number of high points to offer and thus is worthy of a peek.
Geek (aka Backwoods) (USA) 1987
Director – Dean Crow
Runtime – 85 minutes
Strange that I discovered this chunk of cult cinema and not recognized it as being associated with a VHS cover (showing my age here) I’d gazed upon many a time sitting proudly on a shelf nestled in the horror corner of a neighborhood videostore store (remember those?) in my gore scene starved youth.
The image in question however, isn’t the one pictured above but rather another with a generic depiction of what I’d initially thought was merely a wide eyed maniac. Sounds intriguing right? Genre affairs have, if truth be told, thrived on less of a premise. Onwards.
Geek jumps out of the gate with a fantastic introduction. The main characters, a married couple who frequently tease others by stating they’re actually siblings, playfully banter back and forth in a sarcastic/complaining tone strongly reminiscent of the (straying from the path) camping duo from An America Werewolf in London. These interactions are successful, make them out to be altogether human, rather than standard cardboard cutout faire most genre features sport, relatable and instantly likable.
A gender role reversal, that’s obvious but not too in-your-face, works well to heighten the viewers interest as an unlikely antagonist emerges and the film slides headlong into an atmosphere that heavily suggests inspiration by way of Steinbeck’s Mice and Men and everyones squeal-like-a-pig down home favorite Deliverance. Even after thirty years the predicament that Geeks’ victims fall prey to is utterly realistic and shocking moreso on account that it stems from a “natural” (or unnatural however one wishes to look upon it) origin rather than one rooted in supernatural or alien lore.
Not wishing to offer spoilers I’ll remark upon the films antagonist being a likely hybrid of Derek from Bad Taste (after he’d taken a cliff dive), George Eastman’s role in D’Amato’s Anthropopagus the Beast and the animalistic predator seen in (the very recent festival hyped release. My review of which can be seen elsewhere on this very same site) Pitchfork. An altogether intriguing combination and a character one would rather not invite over for a family Sunday brunch engagement.
Geek boasts a great soundtrack accompanied by synth moments, typical of the era boasting a Bonanza/Ann of Green Gables merry feel at times while also offering blatant suggestions of an ominous nature to up the overall effectiveness of scenes that are unpredictable, sinister and tense. The film also sports applaudable grindhouse atmosphere, partly coming by way of its VHS transfer, Grainy just the way I likes em’, and also because of its feel. A grim vibe consisting of chilling near palpable creepiness (much like David Hess conjured in House on the Edge of the Park) and unwavering old world attitudes that harken back to a time when ladies were unable to vote, operate anything with wheels and a motor or wear pants in public. Shot well and largely ignored since it’s initial release Geek warrants rediscovery, a larger audience and a long overdue re-formatting to DVD (which to my knowledge has yet to happen).
Seek out this chilling slice of genre cinema.
Critters (USA) 1986
Director – Stephen Herek
Runtime – 82 minutes
New Line Cinema
In between producing a slew of Nightmare on Elm Street films, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Golden Compass and 2007’s Hairspray Robert Shaye invested his energy on a film that was largely sci-fi and part horror blanketed in comedic themes. It was a risk, that paid off with interest as future installments attest to.
Critters introduced a cavalcade of spiky alien types with a penchant for colorful language and a hunger for virtually anything they could place their wicked mouths upon.
The film also introduced Scott Grimes (currently appearing in Seth McFarlane’s hugely successful sci-fi tongue in cheek/homage series The Orville) in his first non-TV movie role. A supporting cast includes the likes of genre favorite Dee Wallace-Stone (credits too numerous to mention) and a surprisingly young, Porshe driving, Billy Zane who incidentally meets his grisly conclusion very early on.
The storyline, rollicking pace, nods to cheesy/low budget space movies and comedic elements are hard not to fully appreciate. Unlike most ‘Creature Features’ the unknown element (the “monsters” if you prefer) in Critters are revealed early on paving the way for an entire movie fueled by intestinal yearnings and otherworldly shenanigans.
A village idiot, an important bowling tournament, an inept Sherriffs Department and the antics of a pair of shape shifting bounty hunters (one of which is unable to decide upon whose form he wants to ‘borrow’) all aid the fun on offer and the confusion of the small town in which the alien invasion is based.
A young Scott Grimes finds an excuse to employ his home-made fireworks to great effect in defense of his homestead and family and the scene is set for an ultimate showdown of exploding chunky crimson effects proportions.
No matter your tastes Critters is sure to please and lives up to repeated viewings. Much like Gremlins the gore and language is at a minimum so the whole family can sit back as they slam brewskis and enjoy it without fear of damaging the core values of the family unit (whatever that means!).
The mind behind the creature effects, the Chioda Brothers, went on to create the uber popular Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Whereas the director, Steve Herek, helmed Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 101 Dalmatians (w. Glenn Close), The Mighty Ducks and Rock Star (w. Mark Wahlberg). Isn’t it amazing what you learn when you take the time to research – lazy bastid!
King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (UK) 2017
Director – Guy Ritchie
Runtime – 126 minutes
Warner Bros. Village Roadshow
I was torn as to whether I should watch this or not. I’m a huge fan of Mr Ritchie’s prior work (the Madonna epic a feature I still choose to ignore the existence of) especially Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I’ll even go so far as to say that both Sherlock Holmes films were utterly watchable, although I do like Jude Law so there’s that!
In relation to the legend of King Arthur in film I find that John Boorman’s Excalibur hits the spot for me. It’s grimey, honest and depicts medieval England in a light many would wish was more whimsical and romantic than what most historians believe as fact. Naturally, French romanticism weighs heavily on a great deal of Arthurian myth so there’s no wonder why many might believe the realm to be overlaid in lace and covered in rose petals as opposed to rotting bodies and human faeces.
Ritchie’s depiction of England is thankfully closer to (what many consider) fact and depicts both sides of the poverty coin effectively. Vortigern, portrayed by Jude Law, lives in comfort after nefariously ‘claiming’ the crown from his brother whereas Arthur, Charlie Hunnam, utilizes his wit, charm and determination to forge a profitable path in the cities underworld.
There are however still fantastical elements that one can’t ignore. The existence of elephants the size of which easily house battalions and magicians who can influence creatures of nature and summon subterranean deities. David Beckham has acting abilities. All conjured onto the screen with the largest budget Mr Ritchie and assorted crew has yet to abuse, money well spent and it shows. The scenes within which Vortigern conjures up the presence and aid of his tentacle sporting subterranean deities are especially well executed.
Albeit more a fantastical affair than Excalibur ‘Legend’ still boasts grit, filth and attitude in equal measure making it darker in tone than others sporting sparkles, forest scenes awash in pastel tones and floating feathers (Tom Cruise in a fantasy setting, and he isn’t a dwarf or a Leprechaun. wtf!), less claret splashing and Disney fairy tale themes. Thankfully this equation isn’t too overpowering and works effectively to convey, rather than gloss over, an empire at war with itself, barons mired in greed and the suffering inherent in everyday peasant life all found around the time the legend was initially based. Coupled with Ritchie’s striking characters and his adeptness (trademarked at this point) at using swift, darkly humorous, dialogue acompanied by montage scenes drenched in thick accents the film moves at a great pace, typical of his cinematic output, offering its viewers plenty of surprises and adrenaline doused additions to the (largely constructed B.S) Arthurian myth along the way.
Guy Ritchie’s work, much like Tarantinos, also stands out on account of their attention grabbing soundtracks. ‘Legend’ is a tad different but no less inspiring, it relies more on folk themed music and woven symphonic orchestration than punk/rock/pop and to great effect. The rock element may well have worked for A Knights Tale though would have ultimately fell short here and I have to applaud Guy on the decision to opt for more of a traditional feel.
Without giving away any more spoilers I’ll leave this review here with a suggestion. If you enjoy Guy Ritchie’s work give this a peek. Of course this isn’t in the same vein as his earlier works, it isn’t a gangster story perse’, though does have some of the same elements, a POV shot reminiscent of Lock, Stock for instance that Ritchie has embraced over time and many have come to associate with his name and cinematic uniqueness. It also goes without mentioning that any fans of Charlie Hunnam should look into giving this an afternoon to explore. His portrayal of young Arthur as a confident, determined type shines through, puts a delicious new spin on the mythos surrounding the legend(s) and only makes me want to marathon view my unopened Vikings (series) DVD collection all the more.
For those wishing to research the ‘real’ Arthur on which the romanticism is based look for works by Geoffrey of Monmouth, although it’s still not known whether the works, citing a magical sword by name of Caliburn (later Excalibur) were composed based entirely on fact, or fact with a healthy splash of fiction as he was supposedly was the only person to lay eyes on the lost Celtic manuscript. A Welsh historian, Nennius, commented on twelve battles that King Arthur is supposed to have fought in though many are derived from Welsh poetry and span several centuries.
The battle rages on. Who is Arthur, was he a king or merely a composed figment of an imagination to strike pride into the populace? And what, if anything, did he contribute to the history of Britain?
We may never know. And this is where I’ll sign off.
Your history teacher, if only for a brief instance.
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