Tag Archives: Horror/comedy

A VINCENT PRICE EXPLOSION ON BLU-RAY

The first Vincent Price Blu-Ray Collection has already gone out of print and now requires sacrificing a mortgage payment to purchase a used copy. So, if the second collection is a must buy to you, snatch it up quick in time for Halloween.

For many genre fans, is the epitome of the classic horror star. That is partly because he is more contemporary than his predecessors and many of his films are in color. While undoubtedly a genre great, Price’s performances often fall into the whiny, overtly fruity category, and we see a lot of them in “The Vincent Price Collection 2.” Price was best when he did not succumb to self-parody. While this collection includes welcome additions to the Blu-ray format, it does not represent Vincent Price at his best.

House On Haunted Hill (1959) has become a cult classic. Directed by , it is a campy example of the “old dark house” genre. Jokes are balanced with the usual Castle gimmickry, including Price’s pitch-perfect performance as the ringmaster of the carnival-like milieu, gleefully at odds with wife Carol Ohmart (Spider Baby). Castle’s pacing may seem dated to modern audiences, but it is much preferable to the 1999 remake.

The Return Of The Fly (1959) is a pedestrian rehash of the 1958 original (see below). More crime thriller than sci-fi, Return‘s sole saving grace is black humor supplied by Edward L. Bernds (a veteran of multiple Three Stooges shorts). Price collects a check here and nothing more.

Poster for The Comedy of Terrors (1963)The Comedy Of Terrors (1963) is part of AIP’s popular / cycle. Unlike the majority of those, this was not directed by Corman, but rather by /RKO star director . Written by Richard Matheson (“The Incredible Shrinking Man,” “I Am Legend,” “Duel,” “The Night Stalker,” “The Legend Of Hell House”) and helmed by the director of Cat People (1942), I Walked With A Zombie (1943),  Out of the Past (1947), and Curse of the Demon (1957), The Comedy of Terrors was initially seen as a disappointment and argued to be more the work and style of producer Corman. Regardless, it has since been reassessed in some quarters and has developed a minor cult reputation. Co-stars Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and easily outclass Price. Joyce Jameson 1)Jameson is stuck playing the ditzy, put-upon blonde wife, as she did in 1962’s Tales of Terror and through most of her career, which is odd because she gives the impression of an Amazonian who could easily take out the whole lot. Jameson’s screen persona was in sharp contrast to the highly erudite actress who tragically committed suicide in 1987. is even given something to do other than brandishing her cleavage (although she does plenty of that as well).

Lorre is Igor to Price’s Undertaker and hopelessly in love with his employer’s wife (Jameson), who happens to be a shrill wannabe Continue reading A VINCENT PRICE EXPLOSION ON BLU-RAY

References   [ + ]

1. Jameson is stuck playing the ditzy, put-upon blonde wife, as she did in 1962’s Tales of Terror and through most of her career, which is odd because she gives the impression of an Amazonian who could easily take out the whole lot. Jameson’s screen persona was in sharp contrast to the highly erudite actress who tragically committed suicide in 1987.

220. REALITY (2014)

Réalité

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”–Philip K. Dick

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Kyla Kenedy, Jon Heder, Jonathan Lambert, Élodie Bouchez, , John Glover

PLOT: A young girl (improbably named “Reality”) spies a videotape inside the entrails of a wild hog her father shoots. Meanwhile, Jason, a French-speaking novice director, gets the green light for a screenplay he is working on about killer television sets, but only if he can find an Oscar-caliber scream of pain to insert in the film. Jason’s producer producer is also funding a fiction film from a former documentary director who, coincidentally, is using Reality as his lead actress, while the stressed would-be filmmaker finds he is having nightmares that are increasingly difficult to wake from.

Still from Reality (2014)
BACKGROUND:

  • Réalité, Quentin Duepieux’s fifth film, was a French/Belgian co-production. The story is set in southern California, although many of the characters primarily speak French.
  • Although Duepieux usually scores his own films, the only music in this film is a repeated phrase from Philip Glass’s “Music with Changing Parts.”
  • The male Award Presenter in Jason’s dream is Michel Hazanavicius, Academy Award-winning director of The Artist (the female Presenter is Rubber‘s ).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Jason’s recurring dream where he is at an awards ceremony, awaiting announcement of the award for best groan in movie cinema history. He’s the lone human in a sea of blank-faced mannequins in tuxes.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Viscera video; eczema on the inside; this film doesn’t exist yet

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In his short five film career, Quentin Dupieux has established a distinctive—and divisive—comic vision. His absurd sense of humor takes killer tires, dog-turd detectives, and electronica-snob cops and tosses them into twisted, self-aware scenarios. Reality sees him take a darker turn, venturing deeper into his subconscious, foraging for nightmares.


U.S. theatrical trailer for Reality

COMMENTS: In Reality, a mother reads a bedtime story to her Continue reading 220. REALITY (2014)

LIST CANDIDATE: VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Robert Bierman

FEATURING: , Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley, Kasi Lemmons

PLOT: An abusive literary agent believes he is turning into a vampire.

Still from Vampire's Kiss (1988)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: This may be Nicolas Cage’s strangest performance. Let me repeat that. Cage has starred as an Elvis-obsessed lowlife in movie, as the twin alter-egos of in a movie, as a woman-punching detective in the ridiculous Wicker Man remake, as a heroin-addicted New Orleans cop in a movie, and this may be his strangest performance.

COMMENTS: “That mescaline… that’s strange stuff.” Maybe—just maybe—that explains Nicolas Cage’s scenery-chewing, furniture-smashing, cockroach-eating performance in Vampire’s Kiss.  It doesn’t explain Peter Loew’s behavior, however. The emotionally battered Alva (a sympathetically depressed Maria Conchita Alonso) gets more to the point: “this guy is very weird.” Loew is a weird guy indeed. It all starts with his from-nowhere accent, which is not European, New England Brahmin, or even “Mid-Atlantic English,” the made-up dialect spouted by Golden Age Hollywood actors like Katherine Hepburn (though that one comes closest). The accent is insane, but it does reveal Loew’s character: this is the kind of guy who would affect an aristocratic dialect in order to give himself airs, but get it wrong—and stick with it, not caring a bit whether it was accurate or not. When such an arrogant and flamboyant character goes crazy, you can bet that the results will be fiery. Cage holds nothing back. He shouts, slurs his words, breaks stuff, eats bugs, screams obscenities, vomits, puts his hand on his hip and prances like a mad Mick Jagger, rants, and makes insane faces with his huge, unblinking eyes. His furious recitation of the alphabet, which plays like a Sesame Street sketch delivered by a drunk guest star with anger management issues, is itself worth the price of admission.

If you’re wondering why this movie seems weird, even without Cage, reflect that it was written by Joseph Minion, who also brought us 1985’s crazyfest After Hours. With a serious psychology manifesting itself through campy fireworks, the picture’s style is halfway between an art film and a B-movie; it exists in a tonal limbo. There are a number of odd features, even putting aside the performance art mimes who hang out outside of Loew’s apartment. Note that Loew is surrounded by women; girlfriends, pick-ups, office secretaries, his female therapist. His only significant relationships are with women, a surprising number of whom wear black garter belts. Might Peter have issues with the opposite sex? (You think?) How did Loew become such a casual sadist, and why does he obsess about vampires in particular? Why does simple act of “misfiling” irritate him so profoundly? (Seems like a metaphor, doesn’t it?) It’s no surprise that so many key sequences take place in the psychiatrist’s office. With all its unexplained, clashing symbols and preoccupations, the movie itself begs for psychoanalysis.

Cage was not a neophyte actor trying to make an impression at the very beginning of his career here. He was coming off a role as the romantic lead in the mainstream hit Moonstruck. Vampire’s Kiss, along with his equally mannered performance as a hick burglar with Shakespearean diction in the Raising Arizona, gained him the reputation as the greatest ham of his generation.

Although fondly remembered by fans, Vampire’s Kiss has always had a hard time finding a home on DVD. It has never been released in it own, but in 2007 MGM paired it with the insultingly bad early Jim Carrey comedy Once Bitten on the “Totally Awesome 80s” double feature DVD.  In 2015 Scream Factory released Kiss on Blu-ray together with the comedy High Spirits. Both editions include a commentary track from Cage and director Robert Bierman.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… requires a style as darkly comic and deft as its bizarre premise. Instead, the film is dominated and destroyed by Mr. Cage’s chaotic, self-indulgent performance. He gives Peter the kind of sporadic, exaggerated mannerisms that should never live outside of acting-class exercises.”–Caryn James, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: RAVENOUS (1999)

DIRECTED BY: Antonia Bird

FEATURING: , Robert Carlyle, , David Arquette

PLOT: During the Mexican-American war, a cowardly officer is exiled to a backwater fort in California; a survivor from a doomed group of settlers appears and leads the fort’s complement to a grisly fate.

Ravenous (1999)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With fine direction and A-list talent, Antonia Bird’s unlikely horror-comedy shows the positive effect a big budget can have on the splatter genre—but does not reach the necessary heights of weirdness.

COMMENTS: The tone for Hollywood’s foray into the realm of splatterhouse begins with Nietzsche’s quote, “He that fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster,” followed immediately by a timeless quote from anonymous: “eat me.” An 1847 American flag flies in the opening shot, and soon we see a group of officers and troops sitting down to a celebratory dinner of very, very raw steak. Captain Boyd, recently promoted, stares at the meat and quickly runs from the table to vomit. Why is this soldier so adversely affected by the sight of blood?

After the opening credits, set over a journey montage jauntily scored by Michael Nyman, we see his new home and new comrades. Deep in the Sierra Nevadas is a shack of an army fort, populated by the military’s cast-offs. Jeffrey Jones plays the affable commander of the troupe, Colonel Hart; David Arquette plays the lowest ranking character as one of history’s earliest comic stoners. Literally stumbling into the mix of soldier eccentrics is Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle), who brings about the film’s main action when he relates his tale of desperation and cannibalism in a cave a few days march from the dilapidated fort.

What follows both makes the movie so wonderfully strange and, no doubt, made its box office takings so meager. (An investment of twelve million dollars from the studio resulted in box office totals of not quite two million). There is another journey, from the fort to the cave, again put to a jaunty soundtrack, and there is a horrible revelation that contradicts Colqhoun’s account. In a scene reminiscent of the opening nightmare in Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, the soldierly Private Reich discovers too many bodies, one of many grindhouse nods. A scuffle ensues and Captain Boyd flees the monstrous Colqhoun, eventually being forced to make a tough decision.

Between the set up and the payoff, we learn a number of things about the nature of cannibalism, the evils of man, and the nature of American Exceptionalism. Carlyle’s Manifest Destiny speech is one for (from?) the history books: “…this country is seeking to be whole. Stretching out its arms and consuming all it can.” The movie does not wear its metaphor lightly, but its message about the, shall we say, ravenous nature of America’s territorial appetites is the only element in the film that can be taken remotely seriously.

The rest of the film’s tone is dictated by the mandates of one of the more difficult genres to tackle, that of the “horror/comedy.” When splicing chuckles and jolts, it takes a deft hand to make sure the mix is right, much like finding balance in a stew. Ravenous‘ stew has all the right elements in correct proportion: its universe is presented by actors who take their roles very seriously, with only Carlyle’s character being larger than life—sensibly so, for reasons explained by the film’s mythology. David Arquette stands out, taking a bizarre turn away from his previous teen drama/comedy fare to play an Idiot archetype. Jeremy Davies’ turn as the chaplain is a wonderful interpretation of a socially withdrawn priest who borders on autistic. Guy Pearce’s Boyd is strangely relatable as the protagonist, and Jeffrey Jones’ Colonel Hart is believable as a father figure who is key to the main character’s transformation. All these men are thrown into a mix of violent hilarity, and the characters come out both intact and convincing.

So is this movie is “weird”? The story is bizarre, but the narrative is very easy to follow. The gore and cheek go hand in hand, which is pleasing, but fairly conventional. Running through the background of the whole thing on screen is the mischievous Michael Nyman, providing one of the most refreshing and situationally ironic scores to be found in most anything released in the theaters. However, it adds more to the sense of “fun” than a sense of “weird.”

With all this in mind, the fact that this movie was made is far weirder a thing than any specific element of the movie. It may be best looked upon as a mainstream foray into the realm of the strange, and it is a very deep trek therein.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ravenous is unlike anything else, and even if it’s not to my own specific taste, I have great respect for its unrepentant weirdness.”–Mike McGranaghan, “The Aisle Seat”

190. BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)

“I’m watching this movie, it’s this picture about, uh… it’s really weird. It’s like the guy who took the acid or something, he smoked a marijuana or something before he wrote this picture…”—“The King,” speaking to an unknown party on his cell phone during the Bubba Ho-Tep DVD commentary

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce

PLOT: Having giving up fame for a simple life and switched places with Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff, Elvis Presley is now an aging old man with a boil on his penis languishing in an East Texas retirement home. One of his fellow retirees is Jack, an African American who insists that he is actually ex-President John Kennedy. The two old men discover that a mummy is haunting the corridors of the rest home, feeding on the souls of the elderly, and together they hatch a plan to defeat the creature.

Still from Bubba Ho-tep (2002)
BACKGROUND:

  • Bubba Ho-Tep is a faithful adaptation of a novella by cult horror writer Joe R. Lansdale first composed for the now out-of-print anthology “The King is Dead: Tales of Elvis Post-mortem,” which also contained stories and essays by Roger Ebert, Lou Reed, and Joyce Carol Oates, among others.
  • The budget was reported to be between $500,000 and $1,000,000. Although there is a flashback concert scene in the film, the producers could not afford to license any actual Elvis songs, so you only hear generic Vegas-showroom-style intro music. Similarly, the scenes from the “Elvis” movie marathon seen on television are just cleverly-edited stock footage, with no actual Elvis films ever glimpsed.
  • The end credits announce a prequel called Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires. Although intended as a joke, fan interest in such a movie ran so high that Coscarelli, Lansdale and Bruce Campbell tried to get it made, although it never came together. Campbell has reportedly lost interest in the project and it is presumably as dead as Elvis.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Aging Elvis, in his trademark rhinestone suit and cloak and a walker, marching off to face off against a mummy.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The only way Bubba Ho-Tep could have failed to be weird is if it lacked faith in its premise of a geriatric Elvis and a black JFK fighting a mummy in a rest home, and instead turned the tale into a self-congratulatory parody. Thankfully, everyone involved takes the story and characters at face value, honoring the oddness and humanity of the inherently absurd situation.

Original trailer for Bubba Ho-Tep

COMMENTS: No matter what we achieve in life, whether it’s Continue reading 190. BUBBA HO-TEP (2002)

LIST CANDIDATE: WITCHING AND BITCHING (2013)

Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Hugo Silva, , Mario Casas, Jaime Ordóñez, , Terele Pávez, Gabriel Delgado

PLOT: Small-time crooks bump into a coven of witches while on the run.

Still frpm Witching and Bitching (2013)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Like most of ‘s spiffy, nutty B-movie efforts, Witching comes close to making the List at first glance. Its spell is mad and it makes for near perfect Halloween (or post-Halloween) entertainment—but does de la Iglesia have a better weird candidate out there lurking in his canon?

COMMENTS: About midway through Witching and Bitching, as the three main protagonists are tied up at a feast while their hostess paces on the ceiling talking on her cellphone, one of them speculates that they must have been drugged by witches’ ointment and are experiencing a mass hallucination. From their standpoint it’s a credible theory, but in the world of the movie, the scene is terribly real, and it’s about to get worse. But let’s go back to  the beginning. After a Macbeth-ish “bubble bubble” prologue, Witching begins in earnest when Jesus, a green toy soldier, and some trademarked cartoon characters (you’ll never think of a certain sponge the same way again) rob a sad-sack pawn shop of its fortune in hocked wedding rings. Following a hail of bullets and a car chase, we learn that the shotgun-toting Jesus has brought his elementary school-aged son along on the heist. Fleeing in a hijacked taxi towards the French border, the two escaped gunmen recruit the driver to their cause by sharing sob stories about women problems.

Unfortunately, the gang’s escape route takes them through the Basque town of Zugarramurdi, a historical center of witchcraft, and things take a supernatural turn. Before we know it there are women walking on the ceiling; along the way we also get grabby toilets, a pair of transvestite witches, and hot punk sorceress Carolina Bang in black undies humping a broomstick while dousing herself with fresh-squeezed toad blood. With the protags tailed by an angry ex and a pair of squabbling detectives, it all ends up in an apocalyptic eldritch ceremony with a globby giant demon-Goddess whose appearance actually elicited a “wow” from this reviewer.

There’s plenty of comedy, too, much of it revolving around child custody and sexual politics. In fact, the grossout gags mixed with a pseudo-misogynist, women-are-inherently-evil subtext at times suggests Antichrist by way of Evil Dead II, although the men here are no prize either and the warring genders are reconciled by the film’s happy ending. Despite the battle-of-the-sexes thematic subtext, Witching is overwhelmingly a plot-and-gag based affair with hardly a whiff of seriousness. It’s a rambunctious ride that seldom lets up for a breather; it just keeps pressing the petal to the floor, injecting more crazy fuel into its insanity engine. Witching is the movie From Dusk Till Dawn wanted to be: wall-to-wall frenzy, without the smug egos.

Whoever approved the English-language title, however, should be burned at the stake.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Full of weird and wonderful insanity, Witching and Bitching is the kind of wild ride you don’t look away from.”–Neil Miller, Film School Rejects (contemporaneous)