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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SCREAM 4: JUST IN TIME FOR HALLOWEEN

Honestly I am tired of seeing the Halloween masks for Ghostface, the mask all killers in the SCREAM films wear, every year at Halloween. Enough already. That being said, it’s nice to see a new film in the SCREAM franchise being released in time for folks to rent during the Halloween season. With all the potential killers killed off in parts 1-3 you would think the story would have ended. Then again this was a film franchise and when it comes to Hollywood box office who cares?

The film opens *spoiler* with a film within a  film within a film as our ever popular teens are watching the STAB DVDs, movies in this film series based on the first movie’s events and on the book written by character Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox-Arquette). And as with the other films, these teens end up being killed by another murderer in a Ghostface mask. With all suspects deceased who could be doing the killings now?

Returning to her hometown of Woodsboro, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is on a book tour promoting her own book about how she dealt with the after effects of what she went through and became a stronger person. Gale is now married to Dewey (David Arquette) who is now the Sheriff. Sydney also has family left in town, her aunt Kate (Mary McDonnell) and niece Jill (Emma Roberts). It’s not long before people start trying to connect Sydney’s return with that of Ghostface.

But times have changed since the original story began. Cell phones are more prominent as is the internet. Schoolmates of Jill have their own websites where they broadcast what’s going on in their lives non-stop, sort of Facebook taken to the extreme. Jill becomes the center of the story as it is her friends who keep getting murdered one at a time until Ghostface lays out his plans for Sydney during one of his phone calls with her when he tells her he plans on killing everyone around her and saving her for last. Again one has to ask who is the killer this time around when everyone died in the previous films? All in good time.

The basic formula holds true here but the movie also acknowledges that times have changed. One student named Charlie (Rory Culkin) is the horror film fanatic this time around. He and one of his friends discuss with their film society that the rules for horror films have changed since they’ve become so popular. What was expected in the first film is now the norm so the opposite must be true this time around. This humorous take on the movie looking in on itself and the slasher genre was what made the first films so fun and it does again this time around.

The body count rises and with it the number of suspects dwindles. The last teens gather together for a party at one’s house and we know that the new Ghostface will soon follow. So who is it? I won’t spoil that for you.

The movie falls in line with the previous 3 in great form, offering up not just a serial killer on the lose but carrying on the story from start to finish as well. It continues to take a look at itself in a non-serious way, making fun of the standard things that happen in all slasher films including itself. It’s this self examination that makes the SCREAM films work where others have failed.

Director Wes Craven returns to the director’s chair as does screenwriter Kevin Williamson. They started the series and they’re here to keep it going. The same is true of the main cast, all returning to play out the roles they began some 15 years ago. It’s nice to see them stick with it rather than play out the usual Hollywood fight for more money. Fans hate to see new actors in old roles.

The jump scenes are there, the stabbings and fights are there and the solution to the mystery is held in check until the final third act. Guessing who the killer was has always been one of the things that made SCREAM so interesting and it remains for part 4. So if you’re looking for a treat this Halloween, give SCREAM 4 a chance. And with the original 3 out on blu-ray, perhaps now would be a good time to add all of them to your collection or have a movie marathon for the holiday.

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THE BLOOD TRILOGY: LOW BUDGET GORE AT ITS BEST

The name Herschell Gordon Lewis may not mean anything to you but to fans of horror and especially gore films Lewis rules. In a day and age when nearly every horror film being made features more gore than scares, few realize that at one time this wasn’t seen on film. Lewis was the first to make it so and he started off with three films represented in this wonderful package from Image Entertainment, THE BLOOD TRILOGY.

The first film offered was Lewis first foray into this genre, BLOOD FEAST. The story revolves around a caterer in the Florida area who specializes in exotic themed parties named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold). There is a killer in the area that is taking select body parts off of his female victims and in no time flat we the viewers know that Fuad is behind it all. It seems that he continues to worship an Egyptian goddess and is in the midst of preparing a sacrificial feast to bring her back to Earth. A huge number of coincidental clues eventually lead the police to Fuad before he can complete his task.

So what makes this movie one that folks remember? Of course, the gore. Made in 1963 it was the first film to feature anything this over the top. Within the first 5 minutes we have a girl murdered in her bathtub and he leg hacked off. The glimpse of the exposed bone sticking out of the stump where her leg was before covered in the brightest red imaginable was astounding at the time. For some it would still be that way. Other gore scenes include a woman having her tongue ripped out (with some hilarious sound editing) and a brain removed on the beach. It was shocking enough that in some spots the movie was closed down and banned from being played. But not enough that it wasn’t one of the most successful independent movies ever made and the beginning of a genre that Lewis became associated with.

The second film offered is Lewis favorite and one remade recently with Robert England of Freddy Krueger fame, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. For a horror film there is more story here than most offer even if it might borrow just a tad from the classic musical BRIGADOON. Ever so many years a small Southern town is resurrected and the folks there lure in tourist and treat them special for their annual celebration. The problem is that these folks have been lured there for the South to take vengeance on the North for losing the Civil War. These folks intend to do nothing but torture and murder these “guests”. Gore scenes here include an arm hacked off with an axe, a finger cut off with pruning sheers and a dunk tank device that drops a boulder on a guest tied to a platform beneath it. The best thing about this film was the actual story going on, the whole ghost town that appears only at select times. That’s an intriguing idea and more original than most horror films being made today.

The last of the three films included in this package is COLOR ME BLOOD RED and perhaps my least favorite of the three. Here we have an artist who isn’t the favorite of the critics in his town. One thing they note is his lack of the use of the color red. An accident leads him to use the blood of his girlfriend in one of the pictures he is painting which of course the critic can’t say enough good things about. This leads him on a murderous rampage so he can have more “paint” to use in his paintings. Made in 1965 the theme here wasn’t quite original since Roger Corman used a similar device in his film BUCKET OF BLOOD back in 1959. It is the weakest of the three films but still interesting.

The main thing to witness with these movies is that they were made in a time when these sorts of films weren’t the norm. Lewis, who began shooting industrial films and then what were termed “nudie cuties” had decided he needed to make something different and you can certainly see that he did just that. The movies played across the countries in drive ins for years.

The violence is almost cartoonish in a way and the acting for the most part it terrible. But looking at it from the standpoint of someone shooting a film on their own terms without any involvement from major Hollywood studio involvement and it being so successful financially makes you take notice. This was guerilla film making in its earliest form. And the truth is that while some of the lighting is lacking at times and the budget for sets and more is infinitesimal, Lewis actually makes a pretty good looking film.

While these films may not be for everyone, for movie fans they will be something you will want to add to your collection because of their historical value. Horror fans will want to watch them to see what gore films were like in their earliest stage. And the curious will want to watch to see what all the talk was about. Don’t focus on the negatives of the movies but put yourself in a theater seat back in 1963 and imagine the shock value that these films had at the time. Do that and you just might like THE BLOOD TRILOGY.

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HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS, THE GODFATHER OF GORE: ONE OF A KIND, GOOD OR BAD

For horror fans the name H.G.Lewis is well known but to many they’re not quite acquainted with him. Once those folks witness one of his films they’re more likely to compare him to Ed Wood than Orson Welles. But the fact is that H.G. Lewis was a director that started something before anyone else did and, for the money he had to work with, did it well. The documentary HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE looks back at his career.

Lewis started like many of the directors that weren’t film school students during the sixties, working on industrial films and commercials. This gave him access to equipment as well as an education in the behind the scenes areas of film making. With no money to finance anything he might want to do, Lewis took the independent route and began making exploitation films.

These first films had nothing to do with gore but focused on the other staple of exploitation movies: sex. At that time no one could get away depicting sex of any kind on screen but they did find a way to titillate audiences by filming movies in nudist camps. Audiences were able to see nude bodies but nothing with the exception of volleyball was happening.

These films eventually led to the “nudie cuties” movies the Lewis excelled at, films that used young women in various forms of exposure flaunting what they had. The films were different than the nudist films in that these almost always had a ridiculous plot that involved some poor sap who would find ways to get the women undressed and then find himself in some slapstick moment that showed what a goof he was. Having done a number of these and making a bit of money doing so, Lewis decided to try something else, stepping over another taboo item.

With a budget low enough that a shoestring would be a step up, Lewis and partner David Freidman shot what became known as the first gore film, a phrase Lewis coined. The movie was BLOOD FEAST and featured scenes like a girl having her tongue ripped out (not really it all takes place off camera with the end results making you thought you saw more than you did), a brain removed and a leg hacked off. All of these were done by a campy Egyptian caterer trying to resuscitate and Egyptian goddess. The film was a huge success, making so much money that Lewis continued making these films.

What’s interesting here in listening to Lewis and Friedman both discuss their friendship as well as their approach to making films is to see how well the final product actually is. While I recalled the movie actually looking like it had no budget, on second look you can see that there was some talent involved in how it was made, how it came together. Some of the acting was solid while other parts were performed terribly. According to Lewis in this film the star Connie Mason, an ex-playmate, was the most difficult person on set and the worst actress he ever worked with. Even so, there is more story here than in most exploitation films today and had he been given a decent budget who knows where Lewis could have gone.

Lewis continued grinding out these low budget gore fests like crazy with films like COLOR ME BLOOD RED, THE WIZARD OF GORE, THE GORE GORE GIRLS, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME and what he considers his best film, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. Along the way he also stepped into another exploitation genre by making his own biker flick, this time with an all girl gang called SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS. Eventually Lewis left film making for a time to take on a more lucrative career, but his name is remembered now by fans that discovered him far after his movies stopped playing on screens across the country.

This documentary is a look back at his career and involves talks with Lewis and Freidman as well as cast members from his various films. Included are clips from a number of his movies and stories of what it was like making these films on the fly. But mostly this documentary is a look back at a pioneer without whom we may never have had films like HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. All of these films owe a debt to Lewis.

Fans will love to have a look at scenes from each film and to hear Lewis talk about the days gone by. He’s still quite popular on the horror convention circuit and garners huge numbers of fans at each, one shown in the film here at the end.

While most fans of Hollywood will remember names like DeMille, Huston, Welles and more, horror fans will more likely remember the name Lewis one day. And this documentary gives you a chance to see why.

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BEAUTIFUL BOY: A SAD TAKE INDEED

There are movies that entertain and then there are movies that make you think. When a movie can do both at the same time it’s an amazing feat. Unfortunately this is a rare occurrence and these movies usually fail. Such is the case with BEAUTIFUL BOY.

The story revolves around a couple on the verge of divorce. Married for some time Bill (Michael Sheen) is in the process of finding a new apartment. Wife Kate (Maria Bello) is planning a family vacation, one last time to go somewhere together with their son Sam (Kyle Gallner). Away at school, Sam seems bothered when he calls his folks one night. Why is apparent the next day.

While at work, Bill’s co-workers are watching the news and concerned about him. Someone has opened fire at the college where Sam goes and massacred a number of students there. Kate is told the same by her friend and neighbor whose daughter also attends the same college. Bill comes home to be with Kate and eventually the police show. It’s not just to notify the couple that Sam is dead, but to tell them he was the shooter and took his own life.

The rest of the film follows the parents dealing with the guilt and frustration they feel about the event their son has placed them in. Was there something they did wrong? Could they have foreseen what would happen? Why would he do such a thing? Couple this with the press hounding them and they begin to wonder if this all could have been their fault.

Leaving their home where reporters camp out daily, they spend time with Kate’s brother and his family. Each deals with the problem in their own way. Bill looks at things from an orderly point of view, making sure they issue a press release and keeping up a strong face while he mourns in private.

Kate is the emotional one, first denying that any of this could have taken place. She insists that their son did nothing, that he couldn’t have done something so heinous. When video of him ranting in a recorded message he left behind surfaces she must face the truth. But she still retreats into herself, attempting to subtly take the mother’s position in her brother’s home.

Eventually the couple leave and hole up in a motel where their various means of dealing with the problem shoots them up and down the emotional scale, one moment arguing with one another and the next falling into each other’s arms in love once more only to fight again the next morning. Neither one is prepared for what happened or for what is going on now. They just deal with it themselves in their own way, never completely offering each other the support that each needs at this time. Only time will tell if they come out of this nightmare stronger or defeated.

The film focuses not on the son and his deed but on the aftermath he leaves behind. While the characters are faced with questions about themselves and their family, for the most part they seem more concerned with themselves than with their son, they seem selfish to an extent. How one would deal with this sort of thing is hard to imagine but this couple seems intent on their own feelings and nothing more.

And this makes for a movie that offers two roles where critics and awards type shows will respond with praise but that viewers will watch with a certain amount of boredom. Running just over 2 hours it’s hard to sit and watch the pain and the self flagellation that goes on for nearly that entire time. Over and over again we watch them fight and seek someone to blame, more often than not taking the brunt of it all. And that’s a weight that anyone would find hard to handle. But that’s all the movie focuses on. It never offers any relief or solutions.

The subject matter is topical and something few of us would ever even consider thinking about and yet with the number of mass killings perhaps it’s something we should. One would hope that placed in the same circumstances each of us would be able to find some way of dealing with the problem and hopefully better than this couple does.

Watching the film is like placing yourself in the same situation. You feel nothing but sad and depressed. With each passing moment as they fail to find a solution you just keep begging that it will end. Some may think of this as art but for me it’s just a way to encourage depression. I’d rather spend my money on something else.

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