Streets of Fire (1984)

I almost turned off Streets of Fire after the opening titles. The gorgeous Diane Lane, as rockstar Ellen Aim, kicks it off with a fast-paced, Bonnie Tyler-ish number. The crowd is so pumped up they don’t notice the motorcycle gang that has infiltrated the theatre. Meanwhile, backstage, motherfuckin Rick Moranis is sneering, complaining that no one in this packed house has two dimes to rub together. As soon as the song ends Raven, the leader of the bikers (a heavily made up Willem Dafoe) cries out for attack. They easily breach the stage and he scoops up Ellen. The only person who really tries to stop them is, oh my God, it’s Bill Paxton! But he gets punched in the face and goes down fast. After causing all sorts of mayhem, the gang takes off with their prisoner. A young woman stares after them. Her expression says: we need a hero. But, if it’s not Bill Paxton, who the hell can take these bikers down?! The young woman, Reva, sends a telegram to her brother Tom Cody (Michael Paré)— “Come home. I need you.” He rides in on the train (clearly the El in Chicago–the scenes of the biker gang running wild outside the club appeared to be shot in Chicago too, under the tracks. I’m from the Chicago area and I’m always excited to see it in a movie). By the way, the opening credits are still not finished. So Cody swaggers into his sister’s diner, with a badass 5 o’clock shadow and wearing a duster, where she’s being harassed (but totally holding her own) by some lesser bike gang. Cody steps up to take them down. He slips off his duster. He is wearing suspenders and a denim shirt with the sleeves ripped off. Then he slaps–yes, slaps–the shit out of the gang leader. And I. am. LOVING IT.

This is when I almost turned it off. Clearly director Walter Hill already blew his load (to put it crassly, sorry). Everything up until this point is absolutely perfect, and there’s simply no way the rest of the movie can keep this momentum going. I check out Hill’s credentials. When he made Streets of Fire, he already had the cult classic The Warriors under his belt and had just come off the mega-hit 48 Hours with Eddie Murphy. Okay, this guy has some chops. And… hold on. Wikipedia is telling me that Streets is inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name. Bruce’s song was actually going to be in the movie, until he found out they wanted to record someone else singing it, and he was like “Aw hell naw.” Hmm. Well, okay. I’ll keep watching, Walter Hill. If only to see more of Bill Paxton and find out if your hunky lead can act (no).

So, how does Streets do? Pretty well. The chances of topping those first 15 minutes were slim. Streets doesn’t quite make it, but it sure has a lot of fun trying. Cody teams up with an ex soldier, McCoy (Amy Madigan), and Ellen’s current boyfriend, the Evil Rick Moranis (does not compute) and they go to rescue Ellen from Raven. Willem Dafoe is wearing some sort of vinyl overalls with a very low-cut bib and so much damn make up! Ellen is tied to a bed and Willem tells her if she’ll play nice for a few weeks and let him have sexual relations with her, he’ll eventually let her go. I kind of thought there’d be more significant end-game than that. Not that it wouldn’t be fucking horrible for Ellen, but I thought he might have a grandiose plan. Like, kidnapping hometown heroine Ellen Aim will bring the city to its knees! And my gang will rule the streets! Bwahaha! Or that they had a prior relationship, or that we’d see some evidence that he had a crazy obsession with her. Nope. He just really, really wants to do it with her.

The good guys sneak up on the gang’s hang out and McCoy goes inside while Cody sets up some sniper action outside. Michael Paré sounds like Sylvester Stallone, by the way. So… inside the bar, there’s a chick stripping in an A.C. Slater-style belly t-shirt and one of those high-rise thongs that I guess was a popular underwear choice in the 80’s and in Danzig music videos. The stripper is confusing. She’s dancing very aggressively. I can’t see her face at first and, before they reveal Ellen tied to the bed, I think maybe it’s her, and they’ve cut her hair and are forcing her to dance. We spend so much time with the stripper she must play a larger part–she was Raven’s ex and will have some beef with Ellen as she’s pushed aside, or she’ll be some badass adversary for McCoy or Ellen, or she’s a prisoner and she’ll help the good guys escape, but nope. I guess Walter Hill just thought she had a dynamite act and we needed to see like 4 minutes of her dancing. Whatever.

Cody starts taking out the dudes who are drag racing on their motorcycles outside, and by that I mean he shoots the motorcycles and they BLOW UP. Even if he shoots out the tires and they just crash into a wall, they immediately burst into flame. I am really pleased Streets exists in one of those movie universes where the slightest mishap causes all vehicles to explode. It’s amazing. Just one after the other, boom boom boom. He also shoots part of the building and the entire thing blows up. Cody is super pleased with himself until Raven casually walks out and is all “I’m gonna getcha” and then strolls back into the wreckage.

And then then they rescue Ellen and try to sneak back home and she and Cody are all fighting in that way that you know they really love each other and I get bored. They make it back. Cody rejects the money Evil Rick offered him to rescue Ellen. Ellen chases him into the rain and they make out and then do it. She wants them to run away together, but he knows things will never work out for them. So, naturally, he tricks her into thinking they’re going to ride the El into the sunset, but when they’re on the train he actually just punches her out (WHAT?), tells McCoy to take care of her, and goes to face off with Raven.

The showdown with Raven is pretty good. They fight with giant hammers. Willem Dafoe is making some crazy faces, and then he screams and charges Cody, and HOLY SHIT HE IS BAT BOY! Anyway, Cody wins. Hooray. batboy

The movie ends with two musical numbers. The first is “I Can Dream About You,” which I freaking love. I had no idea it was from this movie. So thank you, Streets of Fire, for gifting that song to us. (Why does everyone say “gifting” all of a sudden, by the way? Has anyone else noticed this? It sounds really smug to me.) The big closing number, where Ellen sings to a departing Cody (they come from two different worlds, Evil Rick will know how to take care of her, etc.) is a disappointment. It’s not even close to “Nowhere Fast,” nor the song “Streets of Fire,” which is what Ellen was originally meant to sing. The song, “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young,” really, really, really wants to have the gravity of a Bruce Springsteen song, but it falls short in a big way. It has a lot of the ingredients–slow build up, lyrics about angels and beaches and men and boys and crying, stop your crying, and hold on cause we’re still young all we got is tonight!–but it doesn’t become more than a sum of its parts, the way a Springsteen song does. Anyone can write cheesy lyrics about wrapping your legs round these velvet rims, but Springsteen infused those early albums with something genuine, something desperate and tragic and poignant and fucking magic. If you don’t know me well you probably think I’m kidding, because I think to a lot of people, he’s become a flag-waving joke, just an old white guy singin’ ’bout how much he loves America. But I tell you that Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town are two of the best albums I have ever heard. They’re about growing up, about making hard decisions, about your dreams not coming true. Anger and sadness, being trapped in a shithole town. It’s about the way the movie ends, not with Cody and Ellen in each other’s arms, but Cody walking away from the woman he loves. So, as easy as it might seem to write a Springsteen-type ballad, it was just never going to happen. It was a good try, though. Hey. Go listen to some fucking Springsteen, alright?

A final note– a lot of vaguely familiar faces from my childhood popped up in Streets. Lynne Thigpen (a.k.a. The Chief on the TV game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, and the D.J. in The Warriors) is an El Train driver. Elizabeth Daily (a.k.a. Dottie from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) tags along with the group for a while (I feel like she must have had some larger purpose to the plot but it was cut out. Otherwise there is absolutely no reason for her to be there). Lee Ving (Mr. Body from Clue) is Raven’s #2 guy. A young cop is played by the young man who romanced Daryl Hannah with Steve Martin’s words in Roxanne (I kind of doubt anyone else remembers that movie but I loved it as a kid). Ed Begley Jr. jumped out of the darkness and talked for a while but I completely zoned out during that part so I have no clue what his role was. Am I good at reviewing movies or what?

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Miami Connection (1987)

If you’re a fan of the “So Bad It’s Good” breed of film (which, obviously, I am), you should familiarize yourself with Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The Alamo is based in Austin, Texas, a city that gets a lot of attention for being the “live music capital of the world,” (I’m making a “jacking off” gesture with my hand, lol) but is also a movie-lover’s oasis. It is home to I Luv Video (probably one of the top three video stores in the country, if not the world), Vulcan Video, South by Southwest (which is as much a film festival as a music festival, though the cinema is very much overshadowed by all the other hullabaloo), Mondo Tees, and of course our friends at the Alamo. Before Drafthouse Films, the Alamo was known for digging up the most insane, obscure, blood-soaked grindhouse flicks to screen on Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday. Yes, new releases get plenty of play, but the Alamo is one of the last theatres to cater to a certain type of person; one who would spend $50 on ebay for a used copy of Me, Myself & I; who still has a VCR player and a collection of movies they taped off some long-canceled late-night shlock TV show; the kind of person who trolls the Goodwill and second hand stores for discarded VHS tapes. In short: my kind of person. Drafthouse Films hunts down the best of the worst, cleans it up as best they can, and saves it from obscurity by making it available to dingbats like you and me. Pretty cool, huh?

Which brings me to Miami Connection (1987). Drafthouse released this on DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS last December. It’s sImageort of been on the periphery of my weird movie radar since then, and I finally had an opportunity to sit down and watch it. I didn’t really know what it was about and… Okay, I still don’t fully understand what it was about. Here’s what I do know: Ninja bike gang. Extras getting hacked up and executing superb death scenes. Incredibly awful, degrading, and traumatic boobage. A touching sub-plot about finding your father. And, of course, a synth band called Dragon Sound that requires members to: a) be masters of Tae Kwon Doe b) have fugged up teeth c) be orphans d) live together in a majorly homoerotic setting (you must be in a state of undress at all times–this means no shirt and pants wide open, please. The only person who is ever fully dressed in that house is their leader, played by Y.K. Kim. A show of power, perhaps?).

So, I don’t know, Dragon Sound adds a chick to their group (but she is not required to live in the house or wear a Tae Kwon Doe uniform on stage), and her brother, who is involved in importing “stupid cocaine” gets all cheesed off about it. You see, his band used to play at Central Florida’s hottest night club, but the owner booted them and brought in those Dragon Sound goofballs. That, and the fact that one of their members is dating his sister, sets the brother on the warpath. And to be completely real here, that’s about all I know about the plot. Clearly I can’t even remember the names of the characters, and IMDB is no help because (surprisingly) the actors didn’t really have any other jobs after Miami Connection.  There is so much random shit in this movie that I completely lost track of what was going on. It’s just weird scenes of them cruising the beach trying to pick up chicks or going to class or receiving mail, sandwiched between fight scenes. But each and every moment is pure gold (except the part in the biker bar when the women are showing their tits, that made me feel really gross and uncomfortable. It was a little too real.). And the jumbled mess of a plot does not mean I didn’t learn anything. In the brother’s confrontation with the club owner I learned that every son of a bitch in central florida is trained in martial arts. Observe:

One thing you really have to admire about Miami Connection is everyone’s dedication to the material. There’s no ad libbing here–if a shot lingers after all the dialogue has been spoken, everyone just repeats themselves. “Hey, we’ll have a big party when you get back! Big party! Hey, when you get back we’ll party, okay? Yeah!” Stuff like that. And if they find that’s not working, they usually yell that someone is a son of a bitch.

ImageIf you take away anything from Miami Connection, it should be this: POSITIVITY IS THE ANSWER! The lyrics to Dragon Song’s first number (available for download through Drafthouse Films) are: Friends through eternity/loyalty/honesty/we’ll stay together through thick or thin. You don’t win life by dealing drugs or running with motorcycle ninjas. You don’t win by stifling your sister’s dreams or wearing a cool scarf well into your 50’s. You win by sticking by your friends by staying positive and slaughtering dozens, if not hundreds of your enemies until the rivers run red with their blood! Like Dragon Song says: Friends forever/we’ll be together/ we’re on top cause we play to win!

I purposely left out some of my favorite moments because I don’t want to spoil them, but all the stuff with Jim(?)’s search for his father is really special. And look for a possible uncredited cameo from Axel Rose as a cowardly, leaping, belly-shirt-wearing enemy!

Now let’s have Dragon Sound play us out!!

 

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The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Lucio Fulci is my kind of director. He hits all the sweet spots: excessive & creative gore, bad dubbing, nonsensical plots, more gore, lots of close-ups of people’s eyes, and boobs (sorry, but it’s not a horror movie unless there are boobs. FACT.). If you’re not familiar with his work, get familiar with it, jerk. He’s responsible for some of the best of the B-horror genre: Zombi 2 (1979), which features a zombie vs. shark battle–yes, a ZOMBIE vs. SHARK BATTLE; City of The Living Dead (1980), which has one of my favorite horror movie moments of all time (I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie; I’ll just say it starts after the girl’s eyes begin to bleed. Yeah, it gets even better after bleeding eyeballs!); The Beyond (1981), which takes some liberties with the behavior and diet of tarantulas; and the flick I just watched, The House by the Cemetery (1981).

Here’s the thing about Fulci’s films: they’re not Oh my Gooood this poster is amazing!good, but at the same time, they’re amazing. It’s almost like “I don’t like you but I love you.” Does that make sense? I think that’s what fascinates me about movies like Cemetery–they take a combination of elements that would guarantee a train wreck in most films, and they make it work. Or they at least make it a terribly fun train wreck. Everything that gives me joy about Cemetery could easily be seen as a weakness in another film or with a different director. I actually become giddy over the mind-boggling choices that were made; for instance, every single thing about the lead child, down to his name, is completely bonkers. First of all, his name is Bob. The 7 or 8 year old kid is named Bob. Excuse me? No. That’s wrong. You don’t call a little kid Bob, though I’m not convinced Bob is actually a kid. He has a massive head with Angelina Jolie lips that flap around and don’t even try to pretend they’re speaking English. The dubbing is definitely done by a woman, which becomes very apparent when Bob screams. I really can’t emphasize enough the size of this kid’s head. It is HUGE. There’s a part near the end of the movie when Bob is trying to escape through a crack in a tomb, ramming his enormous melon into the opening, and you just know he’s a gonner. There is no way Bob will ever get his head through there. Simply not possible within the laws of this (or any) universe. Sorry, Bob.

But that’s what I’m talking about. Bob, in any other movie, would likely cause me to turn the thing off. He’s weird and annoying and, frankly, I find him difficult to look at. But when a Bob is only one thread in this nutso tapestry woven by a capable director, I will actually be excited by his presence. It’s like Fulci is throwing together a soup of rocks and dirt and roadkill, and it’s somehow the most exquisite thing I’ve ever tasted. Yeah, maybe there’s an eyeball floating around in the bowl, but who cares?

One of the highlights of the movie was the bat attack. I think people on the whole are a little more educated about bats these days–bats do not want to get tangled in your hair, bats do not want to suck your blood, etc. So when I see a bat dive-bombing a woman’s head in a movie, I always smirk and feel superior because bats don’t do that. Of course when the mysterious basement door is busted open by the new family occupying The House by the Cemetery, there’s a bat hiding out down there and it not only swoops straight into the woman’s head, it then attaches itself to the man’s hand. I don’t think I need to tell you this is not normal bat behavior. The thing’s bite is so strong that he cannot pry it off, and so he runs out of the cellar screaming, his arm extended, big fake bat attached to his hand. He runs around some more, finally grabbing a knife and stabbing the shit out of the thing. He actually twists and grinds the knife around in its furry body because the thing just won’t let go! And it won’t die! I swear to God it takes like 20 minutes for him to kill the thing. It’s an awesome blend of total fakery and stomach-churning gore. And that, I think, is really key to enjoying these movies.

All of Fulci’s movies have really over the top, gross-out moments that strike a nice balance between nasty realism (the blood and viscera are particularly striking) and complete ridiculousness. When we watch a character get her throat deeply slashed again and again, we can see the seam of the prosthetic neck under the blood pouring over her chest. But the blood… the blood! Going too far in either direction doesn’t really work for me–too goofy and I’m not properly scared, too realistic and I’m alienated. I also really appreciated the face of the monster in the basement, when it was finally revealed. I was expecting an elephant-man-ish, tumorous creature with croggle-teeth, something with an inbred look. I guess that’s what I’ve come to expect from any movie hinting at a mutant. Instead, the creature had a face like shriveled leather, more like an insect or a WWI gas mask (somehow?). It was really gross.

To his credit, Fulci seems aware his story might be a little difficult to follow. The mystery of who (or WHAT) is in the basement, killing teenagers and realtors willy-nilly, has our lead actor (Paolo Malco) running around town asking questions for the better part of an hour. He finally learns the identity of the monster while talking to a caretaker at another cemetery (yeah, the one by their house, you know, the one in the title? It has literally nothing to do with anything in this movie, The only grave that matters is the one in the middle of their house, where the former owner is supposedly entombed). The caretaker seems pretty annoyed by the whole thing: “Ugh, not ANOTHER person looking for Dr. Finkleshmidt’s (or whatever) grave! God, he is NOT buried here!” Instead of sticking with the scene for the sentence that surely follows–“He’s living in your basement, STUPID!”–we cut to the house, where Dr. Finkenheimer is after poor Bob. Malco rushes is as Bob’s mom (Katriona MacColl who, I’m sorry, could not have pushed that giant head out of her womb) struggles to open the door to the cellar. As Dad starts to hack away at the door, he’s like, “Oh yeah, so Dr. Frankelswieenie is not dead and actually lives in our basement, and he kills people and then absorbs their life force to keep himself alive?” Uh, what? The caretaker knew all this? And presumably has been telling anyone (and it sounds like there have been many) seeking the evil Doctor’s grave? And no one has ever said or done anything about it? What the fuck? But hey, at least those lines of exposition wrapped everything else up nicely.

Overall, this was pretty good viewing on a Monday night. I definitely prefer Zombi and City of the Living Dead, though, so if you’re looking to get into Fulci, I’d start there.

 

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The McConassance: A Personal Journey

The first season of True Detective wraps on Sunday. The dense, dark, and beautiful psychological drama/thriller about two Louisiana cops digging into a series of ritualistic murders has given me (and the rest of the internet) a lot to think about. About conflicting philosophies. About facing the truth about ourselves. The monster at the end of the dream. About misogyny, and people on the fringe of society, and corruption. It has also challenged me to reconsider some firm beliefs I’ve held about one man in particular. One weird, sinewy, bongo-playing man. 

That man is Matthew McConaughey. 

And I think I like him.

Taking a cue from the flashback-heavy narrative of True Detective, let’s take a trip back in time. Let’s visit the early and mid-90’s, when our man was starting to make waves. First in 1993, as the sleazy, scene-stealing, mustachioed older dude in Dazed and Confused and then a few years later, with a starring role in a John Grisham flick (which, if you are not already a big name in Hollywood, is guaranteed to launch you to the A-list), A Time to Kill (1996). That was the first time I heard McConaughey’s name, namely that the ladies were going crazy for him. Scream came out around the same time, and I remember walking into the theatre, telling my friend that there was a lot of buzz about the dude in this movie, Matthew Mconahottie or something. So, I first thought McConaughey was actually Skeet Ulrich, which is apropos of nothing, but I find it funny. I did see A Time To Kill eventually, and I thought he was great. A solid performance from a charming, talented actor. I could see why he was The Next Big Thing. 

But then, as the decade progressed and his star rose, my relationship to McConaughey became strained, then broken. I’m not going 

Image

STOP IT

to pretend I know anything about the decisions that shaped the trajectory of McConaughey’s career. If it was his ambition to become the leading man in some of the shittiest Rom-Coms ever, or if that was something his agent was pressing, or if he thought he could elevate the material or if he just wanted money and fame. I don’t know. All I know is for about two decades he’s been appearing regularly in Us Weekly (I used to read that a lot, I don’t know. It’s fucked up.) with no shirt on. The motherfucker never wore a shirt! Never! Ever! It seemed like such a douchey move–like he was popping it off at the slightest provocation, flexing and running up and down the beach. A warm day? POP it off. Obama is elected President? POP it off. The Safeway is out of your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor? POP. IT. OFF. I heard some weird rumor that he had especially short arms, and not wearing a shirt somehow made this less apparent. What? Again, I don’t know. But dude was shirtless enough to spark rumors as to why he was shirtless all the time. 

The semi-nudity seemed like another way to cram McConahottie down my throat. From 2001-2009 he starred in these movies: 

The Wedding Planner (2001) with Jennifer Lopez

How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days (2003) with Kate Hudson, who was also being shoehorned into the role of romcom queen of the 00’s

Sarhara (2005) as a character named “DIRK PITT”

Failure to Launch (2006) as “TRIPP”

Fool’s Gold (2008) as “FINN” what is with these double consonants? 

Ghost’s of Girlfriends Past (2009)

Come. On. 

His best appearance between 1996 and 2011 was in 1999, when he was arrested cause he was stoned out of his gourd and playing the bongos too loud. Aaand he was naked as a jaybird. Amazing. He sounded like a complete freaking weirdo and I thought that was hilarious and awesome. Maybe all his film appearances after 1999 were chosen to wash away the memory of the bongo incident. To present him as just this norma, non-bongo playing everyman. But the freak was inside Matthew McConaughey. He knew it. I knew it. 

McConaughey took a little break from acting after Girlfriends Past. He married his long-time girlfriend and babymama, and they had two more little ones. And, for whatever reason, he shifted gears. It’s like he got serious and so completely ridiculous at the same time. I’d heard good things about Killer Joe (2011) and Mud (2012), but I still had zero interest in watching this guy act. I didn’t buy the hype. The way in, for me, was not through the gritty, indie movies, but through the nutso side of McConaughey. His reoccurring role on Eastbound & Down (2010-2012) as a gay scout was actually pretty funny and, I thought, a surprising chance to take if he wanted to keep making baloney movies with Kate Hudson. When I heard about his involvement in Magic Mike (2012) I rolled my eyes. I thought Magic Mike was such a joke, anyway, and of course he would be in a movie in which he could be semi or fully nude for the duration. No brainer. But when I actually sat down and watched the film, I was surprised. He was bonkers. The performance wasn’t over the top–he seemed totally committed to the role, and he seemed like he was embracing the utter ridiculousness that I had come to associate (negatively, for a long time) with McConaughey. Please, just watch this clip, and I think you’ll understand: 

 

 

So, okay. I was onboard with McConaghey the freak. But McConaghey the serious actor? No. No, no. Not buying it. When I saw the promos for True Detective my excitement was slightly dampened by his presence. What was he doing, god dammit? Why was he trying to be all deep and shit? Bah. Not interested. Well, maybe a little. Okay. Okay, I’ll watch the first episode, cause the 2014 Rust Cohle looks pretty out there.

Well, Matthew. I am sorry. You proved me wrong, and I am sorry. I mean, those movies in the 90’s and 00’s were crap, let’s not pretend they weren’t. But you’ve got chops, man. And the secret, I think, is that he’s not trying to hide his koo-koo bananna-ness, but he’s incorporating it into his performance. When he’s not trying to suppress the weird, it’s absolute magic. It’s what made him so memorable in Dazed. In 2003 Texas Monthly Magazine ran an article about the making of Dazed and Confused and McConaughey participated in a photoshoot to accompany the piece. I can’t remember whose idea it was (this was told to me when I was an intern there), but it turns out McConaughey still had his costume. And it still fit, 10 years later. And, apparently, so did the role of David Wooderson. As soon as he was in costume, McConaughey was in character. It was an immediate transformation and the staff said he really was Wooderson for the duration of the shoot. That kind of says it, I think. Or that his cawing and chest-thumping in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) was in fact one of McConaughey’s acting warm-up exercises that DiCaprio insisted they use in the movie. See? Total nutball! But the results are incredible. So much so that he won an Oscar this year for Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013). I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I’m really excited to. I never thought I would say that, but here I am. I am excited to see a movie because I am excited to see Matthew McConaughey act. Now THAT’S nutso.

 

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If You Want Slugs (The Movie), You Got It

Not to be confused with Slugs: The Novel or Slugs! On Ice, Slugs: The Movie (1988) just recently Imagepopped up on my Netflix instant watch. As soonas I saw the cover, a screaming man with his head thrown back, his neck and cranium picked clean by a braid of fat, black slugs, I was overcome by a warm, fuzzy feeling– Netflix, it’s like you know me, I said to myself and the dog and the television. (It may surprise you to learn I spend a lot of time with just the dog, myself, and the television.) I’m surprised I’d never heard of Slugs: The Movie before a few days ago–the Spanish film has it all: Terrible acting, terrible dubbing, terrible logic, women wearing black pantyhose with their lingerie, butts, boobs, a Sammy Hagar look-alike, and top notch gore. Sometimes it seems like Slugs is a patchwork of films–the teenage couple we see fishing in the beginning of the movie are never mentioned after the opening titles, even though the boy gets pulled into the lake by killer slugs and the girlfriend presumably rows back to shore in her hi-cut panties. Even if she met the same fate as her boyfriend, wouldn’t their disappearance bear mention by the inexplicably rude and grumpy sheriff? There are plenty of dick-ish characters in Slugs. One chick cuddles up to her husband and says, in her weird and manly voice: “Sorry I’m such a bitch all the time… I think it’s my drinking problem.” LOL. What? Even the hero, Mike Brady, is a pretty big prick. He gets super pissy when the sheriff and mayor laugh at his killer slug theory, but when his kind friend Don presents him with some ideas of his own–things that make complete sense with Mike’s own carnivorous slug theory–he laughs in his face. Real nice, asshole. I guess it’s only a good idea if YOU come up with it. And no one, not even the high school chemistry teacher/slug “expert,” tries to kill them with salt! What the fuck, people?! Everyone knows you kill slugs with salt. Mike even discusses it with his wife when he garden is overrun with the massive invertebrates (“That’s a great idea! No REALLY! I mean it!” What do you mean really? OF COURSE IT’S A GOOD IDEA), but nothing ever comes of it. Instead they have to make some fancy stuff to freeze or explode the slugs or something I don’t even know because SALT!!

Another random storyline has a rich couple who plan to build a mall in town, right on top of the very toxic waste dump responsible for the mutant slugs! Even though the guy they’re making the deal with dies a horrific, wormy death at lunch, the mayor is able to convince them to sign the papers. They’re all like “Ah, might as well. Whatever, let’s just get this over with.” Uh, okay. I’m pretty sure I would wait a day or two before committing to a multi-million dollar real estate deal after seeing someone’s head explode at lunch, but that’s just me. Even when Mike Brady busts in on their meeting and tells them about the slugs and the toxic waste dump, they laugh at him and are like “We’ve got a plane to catch, dude.” As if this is coming out of nowhere. AS IF THEY DIDN’T JUST SEE WORMS COME FLYING OUT OF SOMEONE’S EYE SOCKET! Wouldn’t you want to put a hold on the thing to maybe investigate? Maybe dig a little deeper? No, no I guess not. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

All that being said, the gore in Slugs is top notch. The deaths are super gross and bloody and nasty, especially with these fat slugs all over everything. There was a great, quick shot of one of the slugs biting Mike’s finger, and I was impressed by the detail they put into all those little slug teeth. I might even think it was a cute and funny little guy if I didn’t know it was a MAN EATER!

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If you’re a fan of B-Horror and gross special effects, add Slugs: The Movie to your Netflix streaming queue. I was a little nervous at first because I thought some dogs were going to die (I hate when they kill the dog. It’s so cheap and makes me sad), but luckily all the animals pulled through this one. Even the hamster that was attacked by an escaped slug pulled through. I mean, it looked like I he was a gonner but in the very next scene I could see him in the background, just hanging out in his cage, chewing on straw or whatever. I choose to believe that was not a continuity error but a testament to the resilience of hamsters.

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Movies I Thought I Was Watching But Was Watching Something Else

??? vs. Barbarella (1968)

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More and more we are learning that memory is fallible. Witnesses of a crime often incorrectly identify the perpetrator or can falsely recall the color of the getaway car or the victim’s state of mind. Movies and TV blend with real life and sometimes we don’t even know if our fondest memories are our own. Like that time Martin Sheen and I went on a killing spree through Nebraska and made a treehouse and wore lots of denim that was actually Badlands. I’m writing all this because I think something is very wrong in my memory of this incident. The very premise doesn’t make much sense: my dad asking me if I’d ever seen Barbarella and then taping it for me to watch. My dad let me stay up and watch A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was still in short pants, and introduced me to some incredible films, like The Thing and Blade Runner, so it’s not impossible this actually happened. What’s crooked about this memory is that he would suggest and record the Jane Fonda Sci-Fi sex romp for his teenage daughter. That’s a genre I’m pretty sure he’d let me find or not find on my own. Nonetheless, that’s how I remember it, so that’s how the story goes. Just take it with a grain of salt.

So my dad (maybe) taped Barbarella for me. I had a TV/VCR in my bedroom (usually with a blank tape at the ready to record any appearances or Entertainment Tonight clips of Leonardo DiCaprio) and I closed my door and sat cross-legged on my blue and white striped comforter, ready to see some boobs in zero gravity. What I saw was… a man. An old man. Sitting behind a desk with shelves of books behind him. Okay… not really how I pictured outer space. Maybe it’s like Rocky Horror Picture Show, I thought, with the weird narrator. But the guy didn’t look like an actor. And what he was talking about didn’t seem to have anything to do with space or sex or Jane Fonda. It was so boring I can’t even remember what he was talking about. Okay, weird, but Barbarella was made in the 60’s and there was all sorts of experimental shit going on in movies. I waited a few more minutes and then fast forwarded to see if I could just skip to the action. But there was no action, aside from the old man pounding his hands on the desk. What the fuck was going on? What was this? Why did my dad do this to me? If there was some message he was trying to subtly convey–a lesson on economics or whatever that guy was talking about, or some sort of trickery to punish me for wanting to watch a sexy movie–it was completely lost on me. I ejected the tape, put on my Leonardo DiCaprio mix tape, and rubbed one out. (j/k)

Now, in 2013, with the magic of Netflix streaming, I was presented with another opportunity to watch Barbarella. Now I could see if my dad had deceived me or if I was just an impatient teenager and, had jus stuck out the lecture, I would have been rewarded with super camp and giant, teased hair. Well, as you probably know, Barbarella–the real Barbarella–starts with Jane Fonda floating in the air, slowly stripping out of a space suit. So there was my answer. My dad really had played this weird trick on me. Turns out I wasn’t really that into Barbarella, either. I appreciated the camp and the sweet costumes, but the music was the epitome of awful 60’s and 70’s scores. It actually drove me to turn the movie off mid-way and finish it the next day. Also, Barbarella is THE WORST secret agent in the history of everything. She fucks up at every turn! Maybe that’s intentional, so she can bang the men and women who come to her rescue, but come on. She’s super hot and they would have banged her anyway. There was good stuff: those evil, chomping dolls were really scary, and the pleasure machine scene was fantastic, but overall I was kind of bored.

Les démons (1973) vs. Demons (1985)

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When I lived in Chicago I used to frequent Odd Obsession Movies, a great little video store on Milwaukee that caters to us freaks who like movies a little off the beaten path, movies that are out of print or difficult to find. Movies you thought were just a rumor (I rented La Bête from there, something I’ll write about later).One night after work I hustled into Odd Obsession minutes before they closed. I wasn’t aware at the time that Demons was Italian (specifically) or produced by Dario Argento. I just knew it was dubbed (so, foreign), and called Demons and probably in the horror section. There were a few movies by that title, Demons, Demons 2, Les démons. The latter was clearly foreign, so I assumed that was the film I was looking for. I checked out, drove home and popped it in the DVD player.

Les démons begins with the torture and death of an alleged witch. As she burns at the stake she curses her accusers and their daughters. Hm. Okay. I knew Demons took place in a movie theatre, but I guess the demons had to originate somewhere. So maybe that’s what was happening. I kept watching as the accusers raced to find their daughters, now nuns in a convent. Very naughty nuns. Very impure nuns. Very un-nunny nuns. The daughters were seized by a heat in their loins, a heat that drove them to touch themselves and others in very sexy ways. Umm. It sure was taking a while to get to the 20th century. And there sure was a lot of sex and not much of the glowing-eyed, spike-toothed, barfing monsters I’d seen in YouTube clips. Still, I stuck with it. I stuck with it for a long time, probably long after anyone else would have realized they rented the wrong movie. When it got to the noble lady fondling and going cheek-to-cheek with naked buns (see above picture), I concluded I’d made a terrible mistake and turned it off. And then I rubbed one out. (j/k again)

When I returned the movie to Odd Obsessions, the fellow behind the counter was like “Yeah… That happens a lot.” He gave me the correct film and with some trepidation I took it home to watch.

While it is lacking in t&a and lesbian nuns, Demons is one of my favorite horror movies. I hardly know where to begin. It’s legitimately scary, for one thing. A group of people are invited to a premiere in an old movie theatre. There’s our heroine, the sweet and innocent girl, her preppy love interest, and a bald black dude that shows up with two dates (BIG PIMPIN FOR REALS!!!!). One of his dates, the one with the Rick James braids, sees and odd looking mask and tries it on. It slices her finger and, unfortunately for her and her fellow movie-goers, infects her with DEMON DNA (I assume). What follows is a claustrophobic bloodbath, with nasty, freaky special effects. I love old-school effects (no CGI bullshit), and the demon transformations are top notch. The scenes in the theatre are interspersed with a seemingly random subplot that follows 4 punks (80’s movie punks are to. die. for. and I am grateful for their inclusion, no matter how incongruous in any movie) as they drive around the city, snorting drugs and feeling each other up and flashing their switchblades. I highly, highly recommend Demons to horror fans. Just make sure you get the right one.

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The Boogens (1981)

“Afraid of not knowing… Afraid to Find out…” what the Boogens are. I still don’t know. I don’t even know how to pronounce that word. BO-gens? Boooog-ins? No one ever names the monsters in this movie. They could have called it anything–anything–and it would be just as relevant to the film as “The Boogens.” I also thought the Boogens would be humanoid, given the image of the green hands on the poster, but they are actually just brown turtle things with amazingly strong, lengthy, clawed tentacles. How they move around so quickly is anyone’s guess. I want to post a picture of them, but I was so pleasantly surprised (in a what the fuuuuuck? way) that I will not spoil the excellent puppetry. I’ve probably said too much already.

Anyway, on to the story. Four friends–two boys (one Horny Guy) and two girls (one Horny Girl)–and an amazing dog named Tiger are spending the winter up in a small town in the Colorado mountains. The fellas are helping two old-timers open up an abandoned mine that closed after a cave in (and reports of attacks!) in 1912. There’s also a creepy mountain man prowling around the mine. Hmm. Wonder what his story is?

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The Boogens has a slow build up, but the location provided plenty of tension. Most of the film takes place the abandoned mine shaft or the secluded cabin in the snow. I really dig horror movies that take place in the winter, because it makes things a little more desperate and claustrophobic. If you’re on the run in your nighty/underthings/bare feet and it’s summer, you could conceivably hide outside until morning or run a few miles with only your own legs (obviously you will trip and fall multiple times) or the killer to stop you. But if its winter time, you have to contend with frostbite and hypothermia and leaving footprints that lead the killer straight to your tender flesh. So even during the scenes when our characters are getting to know each other, there’s a hum of danger. I appreciated the time they took to develop the characters somewhat (except Horny Guy didn’t really evolve beyond his raging boner). The stand-out performance was from Tiger, who could give The Artist‘s Uggie a run for his money. He was so cute and so smart and mischievous and well-trained! I became very attached to him, even though I knew his odds were stacked as a dog in a horror movie. Could people stop killing the dogs, please? It’s so easy and such a cheap ploy and it makes me really, really, really sad. Not scared. Just sad.

Overall I thought The Boogens was an alright monster movie. The only thing I maybe would have like to know (aside from what the title is all about) is what motivated The Boogens to act out. They didn’t appear to be eating their kills. Were they territorial? Were they killing for fun? Were they just mean? Normally I wouldn’t be searching for a reason (I often think the less things are explained, the more frightening they are), but when an actor of Tiger’s caliber is taken down, I need some answers.

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Real movies for real people about real things*

There was a time I thought I was very smart and very real. Realer than most. Being smart and real meant you dug depressing shit that the naive masses turned away from. Things they didn’t understand. Things they… couldn’t understand. Because you were privy to truth of the world, and the truth was upsetting and not pretty and basically a huge bummer.

“Yes! This is so horrible and tragic! So true!” I thought as I watched Requiem for a Dream on the TV in my bedroom in my parents’ home in a wealthy suburb north of Chicago. An 18-year-old with a paigeboy haircut, who’d never been in love, never been kissed, never had a sip of beer, gazing at desperate heroin addicts getting their arms cut off and dildos stuck in their butts. For much of my life I carried a strange, sad feeling I could not define–pain with no clear source, that just sort of sat there with me without ever fully revealing itself. So I reveled in the tangible anguish on screen. I needed to be moved in that way, to have the mysterious source of my pain pinched and worked over so I could deal with it. I was aching for characters on screen, but I was also aching because I hurt.

Then, in my early twenties, I went through some truly terrible years. Instead of a hazzy, I’m-crying-but-I-don’t-know-why feeling, I experienced overwhelming, life-threatening pain. Also– and no one told me this–the longer you live, as you see people growing up and getting married and having kids as expected, some of those people, your peers, will also die.  Reality is upsetting and not pretty and a huge bummer. It is also surprising and beautiful. Bad feelings were basically pummeling me every moment of my life for several years, and I faced it, and I talked about it, and talked about it, and I am just kind of sick of feeling bad. So, instead of seeking out movies that will bring my sadness to the surface like a stick of dynamite in a fishing pond, I tend to watch movies that emphasize the good feelings I want to have, or at least don’t seem to have the mantra “life is shit”. Movies that won’t ruin my day (Straw Dogs comes to mind). 

Today I present you with movies that piqued my interest but I have avoided because I knew they’d fuck me up. I don’t really want to do that to myself–to exacerbate any poopy feelings lurking around–but I decided to take the risk in the name of this blog.

Antichrist (2010) I maybe knew too much going into this. Antichrist is a Lars Von Trier horror film about a man and woman who retreat to their cabin in the woods to mourn their son. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the reviews revealed all the gory (literally!) details. Sometimes reviews can still leave a bit of mystery when they spoil, like “When a character spurts blood from his penis, it’s totally gross!” but there are only two characters in this movie (He and She), so we know whose penis will be ejaculating blood.  Had I gone in knowing nothing, the film might have really freaked me out. But I’ve seen Halloween probably 50 times, and it still has the power to scare the bejesus out of me, even though I know the story backwards and forwards. That’s why it’s a great movie. Stripped of its shock value, there were very few scares in Antichrist. I mostly felt annoyed that Lars Von Trier is hell-bent on realizing his reputation as a misogynist. He totally should have started the movie with “Witchy Woman” instead of Händel. Because women are of the devil! All of them! Especially his mother! Do you have problems with your mother, Lars? Do you want to talk about them? Yeah? WELL I DON’T.

The cinematography was incredible. The crispness and the tones and contrast of the black and white scenes reminded me of an Ansel Adams photograph (if Ansel Adams shot penis-in-vagina penetration). And despite the massive spoilers, there were still one or two scenes that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I don’t even want to discuss the talking fox because I might have nightmares. Then there is a scene where He stumbles upon his wife’s “research,” and it becomes very clear that She is, beyond and beneath her grief, completely nuts. Finding out that your spouse is bat-shit crazy and has tricked you into believing she is sane is very scary. Finding out that ALL WOMEN are bat-shit crazy and deceitful is not scary, it’s really stupid. Also, I really love Charlotte Gainsbourg. I used to dislike her because of her teeth, but I’m no longer such a petty asshole.

Irreversible (2005)  This film really surprised me. Halfway through, after watching a guy’s face smashed into nothing but a groaning, bubbling goo and a brutal, seemingly endless rape scene, I suspected Irreversible was not only going to ruin my afternoon but possibly the next few years of my life. I was trembling uncontrollably, and I felt sick, and I didn’t know what the fuck else Gaspar Noe was going to throw at me. And then… the movie got really nice. It became so beautiful and so loving and somehow full of promise, even though I had already seen the nightmarish turn the characters lives would take (the story is told in reverse). As my friend Carla said, I almost felt exhilarated by the end, not traumatized or nauseous. It was a strange thing to be left with after watching one of the most realistic face-smashings on film and a… well, I don’t know how long it was but it felt like a 4 hour rape with no cuts. The camera technique was superb, but that hardly explains it. Roger Ebert does a great job untangling this surprising reaction in his review of Irreversible.

  “By placing the ugliness at the beginning, Gaspar Noe forces us to think seriously about the sexual violence involved. The movie does not end with rape as its climax and send us out of the theater as if something had been communicated. It starts with it, and asks us to sit there for another hour and process our thoughts. It is therefore moral – at a structural level.”

Thinking about  Irreversible and Antichrist side by side, I realize I was spoiled for both films, but the disturbing scenes were still deeply affecting in Noe’s film, and the film as a whole did not suffer for it, while for me the Von Trier film was robbed of a lot of its power. I think maybe that’s because these films are coming from distinctly different places. Antichrist is relying on its grotesqueness, on its directors fucking mommy issues, without saying… anything,  really. Oh, except that women are awful! Because it’s Lars Von Trier I expect there to be a little more to it, but maybe it’s a horror movie, plain and simple. Sometimes there is a significant message imbedded in a horror movie, but sometimes it’s just a bloody horror, and I’m starting to think that’s what Antichrist is. And that’s okay.  Irreversible worked for me, even though the major plot points were revealed, because it wasn’t hinging on plot twists. It wasn’t about springing something nasty on its audience, about being as gross and depraved and fucked up as it could possibly be. It’s reverse structure (as Ebert said) means nothing is really being sprung on us, anyway. Yes, it was profoundly upsetting, so much so that I had a strong physical reaction, but it wasn’t Noe’s intention to leave me traumatized and shaken. It somehow made the sweet, lovely moments between Bellucci and Cassel some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Instead of trying to hurt me, which is what I think Von Trier was aiming for, Noe wants to lift me up.

*Except like the dead talking animals and stuff.

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Movies I wanted to see when I was a kid, based on the cover

Unless I go into a movie store with a plan, I am hopelessly overwhelmed. I Luv Video when I lived in Austin, Le Video here in San Francisco: these labyrinths of VHS tapes, out of print and foreign films are the equivelant of carnivorous pitcher plants. That is, I go crawling in, like “Mmm! Smells hella good in there! I bet they have Junior Mints and perhaps a movie I’d like to watch!” And then I die. Well, my brain dies. I forget the title of any movie I have ever wanted to see ever in my life. Without a guide I will wander for hours and hours (not exaggerating) and usually leave empty-handed and dazed.

The rental place in my hometown (before Blockbuster put them out of business) was called Video Hotline. They had cartons of flattened VHS boxes arranged alphabetically, and when you found what you wanted they would fetch it from the back room.  I would often poke around in there while my mom was getting me a Happy Meal next door. We’d inevitably check out The Last Unicorn or Dirty Dancing, but while my sister was browsing new releases and the clerks were making drug deals, I could be found in the horror section, rapidly flipping through the covers, cramming my brain full of nightmare images. There were a few that I would always stop and stare at, which generally featured things most forbidden: blood and boobs. They stuck in my brain so that 20 years later, wandering through the aisles of Le Video in a fog, I suddenly stopped and thought, “Oh yeah! I always wanted to see that one! Mom really wouldn’t like it, though.” And then I remembered that I am 29 goddamn years old and I rented three of them. Let’s see if they’re worth your time or if they’re better left on the shelf, to be slyly ogled but never actually watched.

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Occasionally I forget that fiction is, you know, made up. That movies and books and music videos aren’t real life. I truly believed my high school experience would be like the music video for My Boo, with Jeep car washes and Supersoaker fight sand pool parties with muscular dudes. But instead of a Jeep I had a Toyota Camry (a “grandma car” according to some… I still drive one, by the way) and I was too terrified to even talk to a guy until college. Movies like Slumber Party Massacre led me to believe it was my destiny to have a tiny waist, big boobs, no tan lines, and a habit of prancing around in my panties with close girlfriends, and that boys would be scheming to observe some or all of these things. Once again: all untrue. Well, I don’t really have tan lines but that’s because I don’t have a tan.

So, there were boobs and butts and blood. But for me, not enough blood. The awesome tool of murder is totally squandered. A man boring an enormous power drill into nubile teens should be crazy gory, with ribbons of flesh and guts spurting everywhere! Instead it has the effect of a chain saw or big knife, cleanly slicing into people. No! No! It should be drawing out their insides!  The only time we glimpse the weapon’s potential is when a pizza boy arrives with his eyes drilled out. Also, I have a much smaller drill and the battery on that only lasts for 30 minutes max, so how is this guy plowing through teenagers with this thing and not stopping to recharge?  I can’t even hang a picture without having to swap the battery like eight times. After some YouTube research, I think Slumber Party Massacre 2 might be the better movie. It’s got some weird greaser guy as the killer, and his drill is attached to a guitar. Now that’s what I’m talking about. 

Parents (1989)

 I guess this was supposed to be funny and scary, but it just kind of bored me. This demented little boy thinks his demented parents are eating people (I don’t know why he thinks this. I mean, they are, but I don’t know how he gets the idea in his head). I never feared for his safety. As his Dad (Randy Quaid) says: “You’re an outsider. You’re not like them. You’re like us.” The pipsqueak came off as nutso as his parents, so I figured he’d come around and start chowing down soon enough. It seemed to be going for a Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks sort of skewering of the suburbs in the 50’s, but it lacked the humor, terror, intrigue, and subtlety of Lynch. I didn’t care a lick about anyone in the movie, except maybe the little boy’s girlfriend. Maybe if she were in danger there would have been a bit of tension. I say skip it. It didn’t nearly live up to what my own demented little mind came up with when I saw the cover.

April Fools Day(1986)

Well, just look at it. She’s got a noose braid in her hair. I don’t even know how to French braid. And a great big knife. All those suckers in the background are going to die! Right? Had I looked more closely and seen the goofy expressions on all those faces, I might have known this movie was going to be a disappointment. In some ways, it’s better than your usual horror movie. The acting is a little better, the production is a little better. It’s got Biff from Back to the Future! Unfortunately, it’s missing an essential element: kill scenes. When someone is about to meet his or her maker, we see some ratty sneakers approach, a look of terror on the victim’s face… and then nothing. The reason there are no kill scenes is because no one actually dies. It’s all a big joke! And it’s pretty easy to figure out no one is actually dying because… we don’t see anyone die! So that was a real bummer and I’m afraid a major strike against this movie. But still… Biff!

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