Sunday, August 27, 2017

R.I.P., Tobe Hooper

It saddens me to report the death of Tobe Hooper, legendary filmmaker, aficionado of the American underbelly, and modern horror pioneer. His films are near and dear to my heart. Non-horror fans might assume his work is simply gruesome and shock-laden (though, surely, it is often that!), and miss out on the weirdo profundity he mines from the most outrageous scenarios––the chaotic gaze of a caged chicken amid a bone-art gallery in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, the Reagan-era culture wars playing out amid the complex marriage at the center of POLTERGEIST, the obsessive sexual psychodrama between Caroline Williams and Leatherface in CHAINSAW PART 2, or the search for atomic-era familial identity in SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION... when the man was "on," he was on.

My absolute favorite is (perhaps obviously) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which reinvented the genre and has never been truly equalled; a strange slice of morbid life recorded with Herzogian pragmatism and Rohmer-esque passivity.

POLTERGEIST, his big-budget collaboration with Steven Spielberg, is a deeply nuanced and well-acted piece of work, especially considering that it's sort of the ultimate corporate/Hollywood haunted-house flick.

LIFEFORCE, the first of his three Cannon Films, throws everything but the kitchen sink into a sci-fi/horror hybrid and is an extremely ambitious mashup of ALIEN, SUPERMAN II, and NOSFERATU, with a lot more naked space vampire.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 makes no (futile) attempts to duplicate the uniqueness of the original, and chooses to adapt the narrative with a bold, Gran Guignol, '80s rockabilly palette (and essentially launches the filmmaking career of Rob Zombie).

'SALEM'S LOT adapts Stephen King for the small-screen and despite some general shortcomings, possesses some truly haunting imagery, brilliant performances, and a sure-handed sense of visual flair.

His segment of John Carpenter's BODY BAGS finally brings together the majestic combination of Twiggy, Mark Hamill, baseball, and body horror. (And an acting cameo!)

Then there's SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, which gifts us with one of Brad Dourif's more volatile performances; EATEN ALIVE, a Southern grotesque with a killer croc and Robert Englund; and THE FUNHOUSE, a visually innovative carny-slasher. Hell, the man even directed the bizarre, post-apocalyptic music video for Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself."

R.I.P., Tobe. Here's to you, and the work you left behind.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Film Review: CYBER BANDITS (1995, Erik Fleming)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Martin Kemp (WAXWORK II, THE KRAYS, of "Spandau Ballet" fame), Alexandra Paul (CHRISTINE, BAYWATCH), Adam Ant (of "Adam and the Ants," NOMADS, JUBILEE), Grace Jones (A VIEW TO A KILL, CONAN THE DESTROYER), Henry Gibson (NASHVILLE, THE 'BURBS, THE BLUES BROTHERS), James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, BLADE RUNNER), Nils Allen Stewart (BLOODSPORT 2, FIREPOWER), Robert Hays (AIRPLANE!, CAT'S EYE, TV's STARMAN). Written by James Dale Robinson (THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) and James Goldman (William Goldman's brother, the playwright who wrote THE LION IN WINTER, FOLLIES, and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS––here he is credited as "Winston Beard").
Tag-line: "Welcome to cyberspace. Where danger is a virtual reality."
Best one-liner: "Strap him down, boys!" (said by Grace Jones)

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"What are we watching tonight?"
–"Tonight, we're going to catch a glimpse the future."
"Oh yeah?"
–"Well, take a peek, kiddo––if you can handle it. It's called CYBER BANDITS:"

Cool Cyber Dudes




Life-Size Cyber Strippers


Pocket-Size Cyber Strippers


Read-only Optical Memory

 "The future kinda looks like 1995."
–"The hell it does!"
"Is that a CD-ROM?"
–"Maybe. But what if in the future they have experimental hard drives that hold millions of terabytes of data and they happen to look like CD-ROMs?"
"Oookay. If it's gonna be watered-down cyberpunk, can we just watch BRAINSCAN instead?"
–"No. Trust me, you're gonna like CYBER BANDITS. For starters, its cast is comprised almost entirely of famous musicians and John Carpenter actors."
"Hmm. Go on."
–"Almost everyone in this film has razor-sharp cheekbones and ice-blue eyes, and it's all accompanied by aggressive house music and fusion jazz noodling. Look at this, it's just three, nearly identical, cheek-bony men staring at each other's cheekbones. It's like being held captive in a hall-of-mirrors at a German discotheque."

"Okay. Is that, um, Adam Ant?"
–"Maybe."
"Does this movie have a plot?"
"Of course it does. So there's an evil millionaire, played by Robert Hays (who played STARMAN on TV, albeit not directed by John Carpenter), who is financing a device capable of erasing your mind and trapping you in your own catatonic body in a mental hell of your own making. Essentially, it's a jumbo-sized and more malicious version of the neuralyzer from MEN IN BLACK.

He's got Joe Dante and Robert Altman-standby Henry Gibson as his top scientist on the project, too."

"So it's more of a 'Henry Gibson picture' than a 'William Gibson picture,' eh?"
–"Oh, stop. Though, I must give a special shout-out to Gibson, who simpers and leers his way through the picture with sinister refinement, like he's a 1990s Claude Rains."

Hand over the CD-ROMs if you know what's good for you

 "I do appreciate a solid Henry Gibson performance."
–"Me too, brother. Anyway, our hero is Martin Kemp (the bassist from Spandau Ballet), who's, um, a sailor on the evil millionaire's yacht."

"I feel like this character should be played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Or at least Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt."
–"Oh, hush. So, after a torrid affair with the millionaire's girlfriend (Alexandra Paul, from John Carpenter's CHRISTINE),

Pictured: a torrid affair from the future, and not, in fact, a torrid affair from 1995.

and against the advice of his buddy, rocker Adam Ant,

You'll note that those are the Frank Lloyd Wright tiles from BLADE RUNNER in the background!

the sailor and the girlfriend decide to steal the plans to the millionaire's neural-cyber-weapon-thing and have them laser-tattooed on Kemp's back with a bunch of little 1's and 0's. (The original title of this picture was A SAILOR'S TATTOO.)

Incidentally, this is the first (but far from the last) time Martin Kemp will be strapped down to various surfaces throughout this movie.

Also, it's worth mentioning that the man doing the tattooing is James Hong (from John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA)

Note his excellent fake mustache.

who, pre-tattoo, offers them a masked, flamboyant Chinese opera performance.

He was clearly having so much fun with it, that they bring him back for a post-credits scene where he performs even more Chinese opera. Take that, Marvel movies!"
"I must say, as far as MacGuffins go, a coded tattoo is not the worst idea."
–"Of course it isn't!  Didn't I tell you who wrote this thing?"
"No."
–"Two men. One is the guy who adapted THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN..."
"Ugh."
–"...and the other is the playwright who wrote THE LION IN WINTER."
"Er, what?"
–"Who incidentally is William Goldman's brother, James. However, he chose to be credited as 'Winston Beard.' Also, don't be so hard on THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN."
"I'll be as hard on it as I want. Think about it: Sean Connery had such a bad experience working on it that he retired from acting. Therefore, if not for GENTLEMEN, we may have had Connery in INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL which fundamentally would have altered its fabric, which means it might not have had Tarzan vine-swinging and CG aliens. The pity is that we'll never know."
–"Okay, that's enough out of you. I'm about to get to the best part: the millionaire has a foil––a woman who leads a rag-tag band of cyber-resistance fighters and plans to bring him down for good: ladies and gentlemen, may I present... Grace muthahfuckin' Jones."

"That's a lot of crazy-eye."
–"It's one of her specialties, as you well know. You can also see her in Christopher Lee's Cher wig from THE WICKER MAN,

shouting things like "Strap him down, boys," feeding her pet mouse to her pet snake (with an extra side of crazy-eye),

setting up a nice cyber-office on the beach (uh... what?)

and wearing really outré outfits that I guess are supposed to be camouflage,

but read more as "Cousin It at Milan fashion week."

SURPRISE––Grace Jones!

"I'm intrigued."
–"It's a lot better than it should be. I mean, Grace Jones alone––despite less than 20 minutes of screen-time––is essentially worth the price of admission. It's like a low-rent BLADE RUNNER/NEUROMANCER with big ideas, game actors, silly costumes, and an A-list soundtrack featuring songs like 'Sploosh' by Ozric Tentacles."
"Wow. I kinda miss the '90s."
–"I think you mean, 'the future'... don't you?"

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... STORYVILLE

Only now does it occur to me... a few things about STORYVILLE.

STORYVILLE is the only feature film to be written and directed by Mark Frost, co-creator of TWIN PEAKS. I watched it because I am a TWIN PEAKS die-hard. Here's what I learned:

#1. It can't decide whether it wants to be a John Grisham-style courtroom drama or a Cannon Film. Think that sounds ridiculous? Then just let me lay the plot synopsis on you, and you can tell me the exact point where Grisham gives way to Golan-Globus:

Clay Fowler (James Spader) is a young Louisianan whippersnappuh and ace lawyer running for Congress.

There's all sorts of corruption and family history and bayous and rockin' chairs and microfiche––


Most films of this kind make you wait about an hour for the microfiche montage sequence, but STORYVILLE delivers it in the opening shots of the movie!

and there're backroom deals and suspenders and an irascible performance by Jason Robards,

and pathos exuded by Woody Strode in browline eyeglasses,

but then––ladies and gentlemen, just when you think you're watching THE CLIENT or THE PELICAN BRIEF, James Spader finds himself in hot water (literally) when he is blackmailed after being videotaped having sex with a martial arts instructor in her studio's (ninja) hot tub:

And this is after they've already 'sexy-sparred' like Grace Jones and Christopher Walken in A VIEW TO A KILL.


A VIEW TO A KILL meets A TIME TO KILL?

Allow me to reiterate two things. One: I am not making this up. Two: ninja hot tubs are a staple of 1980s cinema, and I don't know why. I call them "ninja" hot tubs and not "martial arts" hot tubs (or even "jiu jitsu jacuzzis"), because they first appear in the Cannon classic REVENGE OF THE NINJA, where three separate hot tubs involving ninjas are made integral to the plot. In Cannon's NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, a ninja hot tub makes a notable appearance as a site of possessed ninja murder. In BLIND FURY (not a Cannon film, but starring Cannon's Sho Kosugi), there is a climactic martial arts and swordfighting duel over a hot tub. Later on in STORYVILLE, Spader returns to the scene of the ninja hot tub and battles a martial arts assassin. What does all of this mean? I was hoping you could tell me.



#2. If you're looking for TWIN PEAKS, you found it... (kind of).

There's a small town, quirky characters, and a dead body floating in the water in the opening scenes.

He's dead... Wrapped in... the clothes he was already wearing, I guess. 

It shares with TWIN PEAKS its casting director (Johanna Ray), cinematographer (Ron Garcia), production designer (Richard Hoover), set decorator (Brian Kasch), second-assistant director (Randy Barbee), and co-producer (Robert D. Simon).  It features a small, weirdo role for Catherine Martell herself, Piper Laurie:

and a villainous turn (obviously) by Renault brother Michael Parks:
 
who is sort of playing the same corrupt cop he played in THE HITMAN, though in this role he is permitted both the Cannon flourish of beating up James Spader while wearing a terrifying mask:
as well as the Grisham flourish of testifying in a courtroom that the judge "will not allow to turn into a circus!"
Michael Parks was a national treasure, by the way.

In closing, this is a strange (and, I'll be honest, often mediocre) little movie that may find appreciative viewers among TWIN PEAKS enthusiasts, hot tub fans, Grisham die-hards, and, I daresay, aficionados of the Southern Fried Crawdad-Lickin' Sleaze-O-Rama genre.