Tag Archives: Grindhouse

LIST CANDIDATE: MODUS OPERANDI (2009)

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Modus Operandi has been promoted to the Apocryphally Weird list of movies. Please read the official Apocryphally Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: Frankie Latina

FEATURING: Randy Russell,

PLOT: The CIA convinces an alcoholic ex-agent to track down two stolen briefcases in return for the name of the man who killed his wife.

Still from Modus Operandi (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:The post-Tarantino/ fake-grindhouse movie is a sub-genre that’s less than a decade old, but already feels stale. Newcomer Frankie Latina, however, freshens the formula by spiking this exploitation cocktail with a shot of some sort of quick and dirty experimental hallucinogen he synthesized in his kitchen using drain cleaner, pencil shavings, and an over-the-counter hangover remedy. It’s a minor, but bizarrely entertaining, concoction.

COMMENTS: Exploding cowboy heads! Random film stock switches from black and white to Eastmancolor! Pubic hair shaving! Debuting director Frankie Latina throws everything he can think of into Modus Operandi, including the kitchen sink and whatever other plumbing fixtures he can bum off his Milwaukee pals. Bizarre bikini coke party! Authentic funk soundtrack! Time lapse shot of rotting fruit! Ideas and interruptions come fast and furious, and yet the plot is comfortingly simple to process. The missing briefcases are classic MacGuffins, and although it’s utterly preposterous, almost everything in the story tracks—except when the film breaks and VHS nude model auditions suddenly bleed into the movie. Gratuitous Alexandre Dumas quote! Strip club massacre! Danny Trejo! Ideas, you see, are free, an important asset when you’re filming a movie with no money. Latina disguises the fact that his movie has almost no action by blindsiding the audience with exploitation staples (nudity and gore) and stylistic non sequiturs at every turn. There is little of that alienating “look at us, we’re making a bad movie and we know it” jokiness in Modus Operandi; instead, the comedy in this parody arises from juxtaposition and weirdness. Senseless zooms! Snuff movies! Real life lesbian vampires! Among the film’s subtler jokes is the fact that the nominal hero and supposed ace agent, Stanley Cashay, is a middle-aged, frequently nude drunk who has no observable talent and who doesn’t actually do anything remotely heroic, or even interesting. The CIA is desperate to rehabilitate him from his stupor, but once sobered up the only thing he does is to put in a phone call to his underworld contact, Thunderbird. Thunderbird then calls Xanadu, Xanadu calls Foxy Borwn-wannabe Black Licorice, and somehow, through a confusing series of swaps and double crosses between a series of colorful agents, the briefcases eventually work their way back to Cashay. Meanwhile, Latina delivers more of what we tuned in for. Japanese torture vixens in black corsets! Hitchcock tributes! Intermission sequence with suggestive ice cream licking! As the promo for “Ayesha Ayesha,” the fake Bollywood spy babe TV show that’s a smash hit in Modus Operandi‘s universe, explains, it’s “psychedelic… razor sharp… rainbows and waterfalls… espionage… Air Mumbai… ice cold… bizarre adventures… far out!” To which we can only add: Corkscrews to eyeballs!  Split screens! Background painting of a topless woman riding a unicorn!

Modus Operandi also features fellow low-budget auteur Mark Borchardt (American Movie, Coven) in a small role. It’s “presented by” recently retired adult star Sasha Grey, for no observable reason except for the huckster logic that a porn starlet’s endorsement will sell tickets. Latina is already at work on his second feature, Skinny Dip (due out any day now), which brings back Trejo in a larger role and adds an expanded roster of acting talent including Grey, , Brigitte Nielson, and Pam Grier (now entering her fifth decade of exploitation filmmaking).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its free-floating storytelling is more akin to the associative human mind than cinema’s traditional flow of familiar establishing shots, medium shots, close-ups, and cutaways. Like a found-footage film, Modus Operandi‘s logic is fragmented and unpredictable…”–Diego Costa, Slant (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Jason Eisener

FEATURING: , Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey

PLOT: A hobo rides the rails into a surreally depraved “Scum Town” (formerly Hope Town) and is pushed into grabbing a shotgun and sweeping the streets clean of pimps, pushers, and bum fight promoters.

Still from Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Hobo is one of the better postmodern grindhouse spoofs out there and will rate a “must see” for fans of that extremely specific genre, but—although it’s certainly bizarre in its complete disregard of non-B-movie logic—it doesn’t do enough to transcend it’s inspirations in order to earn a general weird recommendation.

COMMENTS: Hobo with a Shotgun has a real eye for shabby detail—just look at the period poster that features disheveled Rutger Hauer, teeth bared, firing a sawed-off shotgun. The artist drew in fold lines as if it was a one sheet that had been filed away in some producer’s desk and forgotten about for thirty years. As strange as it might sound in a movie that features barbed wire decapitations, flame-broiled school children, and post-apocalyptic ninja robots, what impresses me most about Hobo is that kind of subtle detail. Sure, the movie gets most of its mileage from its ludicrous levels of bloodletting—dig that chick dancing around in a mink coat and bikini as blood showers on her from a neck-geyser—but I expected that in a postmodern grindhouse revenge flick. What I didn’t expect is that the absurd violence would be served with a side of style and deadpan wit, sans jokey winks to the audience. Everyone catches on to the B-movie madness, like the land-based octopus in the villain’s lair and the human piñata smacked by topless ladies, but the truly strange touches are easy to miss: the hipster newscaster with the soul patch and earring, the Byzantine icon of Jesus on the Drake’s wall (next to a photo of the Hobo) with his eyes marked out with red paint, the way Hauer grabs a convenient bottle of vodka from a random passerby in a hospital corridor. Any notion that this movie takes place in any world outside movies is dispelled early on when the Hobo enters the town’s top nightspot—a video arcade that doubles as a murder emporium, Continue reading CAPSULE: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011)

CAPSULE: HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Erin Daniels, Chris Hardwick, , Jennifer Jostyn, , , , Robert Mukes, Dennis Fimple,

PLOT: Four college kids are abducted by a backwoods maniac family.



WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Because the Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoff plot was too tissue-thin to support a movie, heavy metal musician turned debutante director Rob Zombie’s fleshed the film out with stylistic excess.  Home movies from inside the serial killers’ psyches, purposeless solarizations, classic drive-in intertitles, and clips of vintage B&W cheesecake constantly interrupt what action there is.  The effect is not to make the film weird, but to draw attention to the director– “I’m Rob Zombie, trash horror aficionado, and I’m making a movie!”–and make him seem weird.  It ends on a highly surrealistic note, but this is actually the weakest part of the movie.

COMMENTS:  Make no bones about it: House of 1000 Corpses is bad.  This movie is what happens when you take The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, drain out all the scary, and replace it with annoying.  Still, if Zombie had to fail, at least he failed bombastically rather than meekly.  If you took away the directorial flourishes from the movie and left only the plot, played straight, then this movie really would have been a nightmare (see the weirdly praised sequel The Devil’s Rejects).

The presence of trash film icons Sid Haig (Spider Baby) as the memorable sideshow Captain Spaulding (pictured) and Karen Black as the redneck matriarch adds some interest.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As Rob Zombie’s name twitched over the seizure-inducing opening credits sequence of ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, one highly eager dude in the 1/4 filled theatre gamely raised his fists and shouted, ‘Rob Zombie Rules!’ As the closing credits rolled an unbearably slow 88 minutes later, I’ll bet that same guy contemplated raising his fists again and announcing, ‘I apologize for rushing to judgment.'” -Todd Levin, Film Threat