Tag Archives: Scott Glenn

LIST CANDIDATE: CHARMS (1973)

AKA Grassland, Hex, The Shrieking

DIRECTED BY: Leo Garen

FEATURING: , , Gary Busey, Christina Raines (as Tina Herazo), Hilarie Thompson, Robert Walker Jr., Dan Haggerty, Doria Cook, Mike Combs

PLOT: A group of WWI veterans motorcycling through the plains of Nebraska encounter two sisters, daughters of a Native-American shaman. When the antics of the gang get a bit rowdy, one of the sisters hexes the group and the members die in strange ways.

Hex4

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: See the “Comments” for the argument… but if the ad campaigns below (click to enlarge) don’t convince you, then you’re obviously not into Weird Hippie Westerns.

grassland hex


COMMENTS: Despite the plot description, Charms is not quite the undiscovered horror gem that some might hope for.  In fact, it pretty much defies any sort of expectation that one would take from its logline—which, considering the history of this film, is quite fitting. This movie has gone through several title changes. Originally called Grassland (it had a short debut under that title), it was retitled Hex and got a second brief release in the U.S. and in Europe under that new name. Then it was pulled from release and shelved by its studio, 20th Century Fox, and went relatively unseen until the early 90s, when it was released on VHS and LaserDisc under the title The Shrieking. It turns up on DVD in 2006 under its current moniker.

The screenplay was originally written in the 1960s by Doran William Cannon (Skidoo, Brewster McCloud), who sold it to Leo Garen, an off-Broadway theater director who moved into film and television. (Garen was an associate producer of Norman Mailer’s 1970 experiment Maidstone, and later co-wrote 1986’s Band of the Hand). Garen went through several drafts with screenwriters Vernon Zimmerman (Fade to Black, Unholy Rollers) and Steve Katz (“The A-Team”); Garen and Katz were eventually credited with the screenplay while Cannon and Zimmerman got story credit.

That’s quite a mish-mash, and the film certainly shows signs of too many cooks in the kitchen… but ultimately, its largest flaw (and also its charm, get it?) is that it’s a product of its time, when artistic amalgamations were encouraged to bring in the Youth Audience (who made Easy Rider and its ilk box-office successes). And while Charms is not a great film, it can certainly be argued that it is a weird one.

Still from CharmsAt first the film appears to be a period Western when the two sisters Oriole (Herazo) and Acacia (Thompson) are seen loading up a wagon to pick up supplies from the nearest town. When they see a group of motorcyclists crossing the prairie, it’s a dissociation from expectations that this will be a typical Western, which is topped by another dissociation that takes place at the climax of the film. The tone varies so much from comedy (the gang’s adventure in town, involving racing a local with a very early precursor to the ‘hot rod’) to terror (the hexing) that it can’t really be said to be a horror film. It’s a rather laid back (seriously—there’s not a lot of action here, and an extended sequence where one of the sisters introduces the bikers to “loco weed”) story of two groups of characters: a group of WW1 “young veterans” tooling around looking for kicks (the Easy Rider influence) and of two sisters with mystic powers, one light and the other dark.

Ultimately this melding of European artistic sensibility with a straightforward commercial premise doesn’t quite work as well as one would hope, as borne out by Fox not really knowing what the hell they paid for and shelving the film after two brief releases didn’t work out. But there are some tasty elements present, including the cast… anything featuring Carradine, Glenn and Busey as bikers at the start of their careers is definitely worth a look. The cinematography by Charles Rosher (3 Women) is also noteworthy and provides some beautifully haunting moments.

The budget release DVD can probably still be found on auction sites like eBay,  and the film can be viewed via Amazon Instant Video.

CAPSULE: SUCKER PUNCH (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Zach Snyder

FEATURING: , Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, , Jamie Chung, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac,

PLOT: After accidentally killing her sister in an attempt to save her from their evil step-father, Baby Doll is locked away in a horrific mental institution and condemned to a lobotomy. She invents two separate fantasy worlds in which she and her fellow inmates can attain freedom through a video-game-like epic quest.
Still from Sucker Punch (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While some of Snyder’s visual tactics and musical cues are interesting, most of Sucker Punch is a highly referential, poorly written adventure whose stranger elements only recall better, weirder movies.

COMMENTS: Set in a dark, tall-tale version of the 1950’s, Sucker Punch’s plot is just a mess. The dank mental asylum is shown for no more than 5-10 minutes, with Baby Doll’s cohorts popping up briefly in the beginning.  Her first mental escape—a glitzy brothel in which she and the other inmates are imprisoned sex workers—provides another set of challenges for our boring protagonist to meet.  This leads to a second imaginary escape, prompted by the madame (Carla Gugino) forcing Baby Doll to dance for everyone.  She slips into a trance involving an epic journey to secure five mystical items that will set her free, and her dance is apparently so sultry she practically hypnotizes everyone in the room.  The script flits between these two fantasies for most of the film, mixing the made-up quests into one metaphorical goal: freedom.

The trailers for this film made me think Sucker Punch could go either way: it could be an imaginative, high-flying action flick with strong women characters at the center, or it could be a teenage boy’s sexual fantasy thinly disguising itself as a feminist steampunk adventure.  To very little surprise, it turned out to be more of the latter.  The story is almost offensively dumbed-down while somehow remaining unnecessarily convoluted thanks to the pointless fantasy-within-a-fantasy conceit.  The barely-written characters are flat as can be, with most of the actors putting in dull-faced performances.  The battle scenes, while large in scale and generally exciting, feature so many familiar set pieces and villains that it’s hard to be genuinely swept up in Snyder’s world.  Oversize metal samurai?  Mother dragon fighting to protect her baby?  Nazi zombies?  It’s been done.

The fact that almost the entire proceedings—all of which are meant to be the conscious projection of an independent 20-year-old woman, mind you—involve scantily-clad twentysomething hotties with heavy fake eyelashes fighting evil in egregiously high heels while their male tormenters ogle them, well… that just gives Mr Snyder a chance to incorporate as much exploitation and fetishization as he can.  The overabundance of slow-motion is the cherry on top of this very indulgent and overloaded psycho-sexy sundae.

Admittedly, there are some positive aspects to the film.  Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, and Carla Gugino—arguably the most talented actors present—do their best with the shoddy material, adding just a dash of emotional weight to the proceedings amidst the clunky dialogue and overblown electronica soundtrack.  Malone especially stands out: with her adorable spiky haircut and acute expressiveness she is a welcome relief from Emily Browning’s infantalizing pigtails and ever-present look of worried, victimized Barbie doll.  Many of the visuals, too, are quite intriguing, with Snyder utilizing his usual dulled color palette and sped-up/slowed-down battle sequences. Several of the action scenes feel like an anime in real life (Baby Doll’s ridiculous schoolgirl outfit and katana and Amber’s giant mech certainly help), which is a nice thought.

It’s always nice to see confident, independent women kicking butt onscreen, and it’s a thing that doesn’t happen as often as it should, but Sucker Punch is not a good example of this genre.  While on the surface it features some memorable fantasy images, sexy babes in killer costumes, and exciting gunplay, it’s neither fun nor smart enough to make up for the uninspired script, bad acting, and wanton exploitation.  In the end, the weirdest thing about it is that it seems to take itself seriously.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Spastic, bombastic, and incoherent, Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch is a baroque, highly polished chunk of pop culture vomit. A nonsensical mash-up of Shutter Island, The Lord of the Rings, I, Robot and Kill Bill, it doesn’t even have the decency to have fun with its cartoonish obsessions, instead delivering a somber, moody, metafictional melodrama that that thinks it’s about female empowerment but instead has all the philosophical heft of Maxim Magazine.”–Jeff Meyers, Detroit Metro Times (contemporaneous)