Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"House of 1000 Corpses" - "Run, Rabbit, Run!"

*I write these articles with SPOILERS.

Finishing up my late Halloween month set of movies, I decided to revisit House of 1000 Corpses (the lack of a comma in 1000 has always bothered me…). After thinking about Dog Soldiers director Neil Marshall and whether or not I actually like his films, it made me think of Rob Zombie. I’m in the same boat with his films (and with 3 from Hell out, I wanted to revisit the first film), though I can definitively say I am not a fan of a lot of his work. I was, however, very excited about him in the beginning.

Do I Actually Like This Movie? (SPOILER: Yes, I do.)

I’ve been a fan of Rob Zombie since the White Zombie days. I’m mainly a fan of his music, but his videos were always a bonus since he was so clearly a fan of all things cinema. It was not surprising when he made the move into directing, especially since he had been attached to projects over the years (I seem to remember reading about a planned Crow reboot directed by Zombie that never happened). So when House of 1000 Corpses finally came out, I was pretty amped up for it. 

For the most part, I really enjoyed this movie the first time around. But I do remember liking the characters more than the actual story. Captain Spaulding was an obvious favorite with his “Fried Chicken and Gas” store, but he wasn’t in the movie all that much. I found Baby more annoying than anything, though I think that’s the point of her character. Otis was a standout, as well, mostly thanks to Bill Mosely doing a zany Charles Manson impression. 

The general vibe of 1970s horror was nice, as well. But looking back, I can’t help but see this movie as Zombie figuring out what he wanted to do. It’s more of a pratice run than a fully realized film. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, I like it more than ever after this viewing. But there was a time when I looked at this as a lesser effort. I blame The Devil’s Rejects for that.

I like House of 1000 Corpses, but I love The Devil’s Rejects. Once I saw that film, I felt that Zombie had figured things out. He had a more cohesive story, and he realized the best thing he could was get the three main characters from the first film out of the house and let them go wild. 

It’s not fair, but I started to judge House based on its follow-up. Looking back at it as its own movie, I find a lot more to enjoy. And while I like Rejects more, I still think House is better than most of Zombie’s other films (his Halloween films, as I remember them years later, felt too brutal and not nearly fun enough). On its own, House of 1000 Corpses is a weird, fun, disgusting, disturbing tribute to ‘70s horror.

This Movie Is a Lot More Messed Up than I Remember.

While Zombie’s first two films are borderline comedies, they are still based in horror. This is more the case for House than Rejects (which I consider to be more of an Easy Rider movie with serial killers). 

The family is messed up, of course, as they are Zombie’s version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family. But it’s what the family, mainly Otis, does that makes this film disturbing. Otis as Manson obviously makes this film pretty fucking dark, especially with the stuff with the missing cheerleaders early on. 

Otis’s later creation of Fish Boy out of Rainn Wilson’s corpse is an image that has stuck with me over the years. And his donning of the skin suit made out of the old dude from Saving Private Ryan is showstopping in its grotesqueness. I mean, he comes out wearing this skin suit and tricks the dead guy’s daughter into thinking he’s her dad. She only realizes it’s only his skin when Otis starts tongue-kissing her through her father’s dead lips. This movie is fucked up. 

Perhaps that’s why I prefer Rejects. The main characters are still terrible and do awful things, but nothing as bad as this. You feel just a bit better rooting for them in that film. Otis becomes a more likable Manson in that film. 

Okay, I’m not too thrilled with some of the sentences I’ve created in writing about this movie, so I’m just going to stop here.

Why Do I Own This?

I think I bought this without seeing the movie. I don’t think this came out theatrically near me, and I really wanted to see it when it came out on video, so I think I just bought it. I’m glad I did. It’s an experience worth having every couple of years.

Random Thoughts

The interactive menus are actually a little funny, and they're definitely an artifact of a different era in home video releases. My favorite part of the menu is Captain Spaulding reading a porno magazine while he waits for you to pick something.

"I don't like chicken, and I hate clowns!" Okay, I get the clowns, but who the fuck hates chicken?

My least favorite part, and the most amateurish part of Zombie's filmmaking, are the random shots of "creepy" stuff in between each scene. Just go from one scene to the next.

It took way too long for Hardwick's character to get hit with a bat.

It's weird to see Walton Goggins play a half-assed normal role.

The cop-killing sequence does show promise for Zombie's filmmaking abilities. The long wait for the final killshot is effective at creating the mood that evil is happening, and it's quiet all around. No one will be saved.

But them again, it seems at times that Zombie only makes movies as an excuse to show his wife's ass.

"The End?" Adding that question mark is the cheesiest part of this movie by far.


"Dog Soldiers" - It's like "Trainspotting," but with Werewolves Instead of Heroin.

*I write these articles with SPOILERS.

I bit off a bit more than I could chew (pun definitely intended) this Halloween. I had hoped to include this movie and House of 1000 Corpses in October, but time got away from me. I watched both films and had outlines for both articles, but I just never got around to writing them. Rather than abandoning the articles or saving them for next year, I decided to just post them now. So here’s the first late Halloween article.

Neil Marshall was going to be the next big thing, right?

The Descent (a movie I’ll cover next year for Halloween) is the first Neil Marshall movie I watched, and I loved it. Naturally, I had to check out his first film. Dog Soldiers, while obviously a bit cheaper and a lesser movie overall, did not disappoint. It was brutal and goofy. This was a director to pay attention to. 

His next movie was Doomsday, which is a movie I think I like. This is where things get weird with me and Marshall’s movies. I think I like the idea and promise of his films more than the actual films. I remember liking Doomsday but thinking it could have been so much more. Mad Max: Fury Road had not come out then, but that ended up being the movie I wanted Doomsday to be. But thinking back on it, I really want to watch Doomsday again to see if I’m wrong, and that it is actually pretty good.

Next came Centurion, a Michael Fassbender movie about a Roman legion behind enemy lines. I only know what it’s about because I just looked it up on IMDb. Once again, I remember liking this movie but not being blown away by it. After Centurion, Marshall worked more in TV, but he did direct the new Hellboy, so I need to check that out now.

My point is that Neil Marshall makes movies I like or should like, but I almost completely forget them. It’s the weirdest thing. This guy should be like John Carpenter to me, but something has failed to click. But I want it to. I feel like I’m somehow missing something with his third and fourth films. 

The only other director I can think of that I feel this way about is Terence Malick. Hear me out. The first time I saw The Thin Red Line and The New World, I hated them both passionately. But part of me wanted to like them. So I kept revisiting them to the point that I now love both films, and I loved The Tree of Life the first time I saw it. With Malick, I kept revisiting his films because he was regarded as this genius, and I just didn’t get it. Marshall isn’t that well-regarded, or known, for that matter. But his sensibilities are exactly what I look for in movies, so I keep coming back to these movies hoping something clicks and I finally feel like I truly love his work. 

I’m giving Doomsday and Centurion one more try. If I don’t see the light, then I’ll make my peace with the fact that I only like two of Marshall’s films, even if I should celebrate his entire filmography.

Trainspotting with Werewolves.

Dog Soldiers, aside from being a werewolf movie, is also a very Scottish movie. And by Scottish, I mean “turn on the subtitles” Scottish. This, along with the casting of Kevin McKidd, made me think of Trainspotting

Even though the main characters are soldiers, they respond to the existence of werewolves in a matter-of-fact way. Imagine how Sick Boy would respond if he saw a werewolf suddenly burst into a room and kill Renton; he would freak out, but he would also be a smart ass about it. That attitude is what sets this film apart from standard werewolf movies. 

But thinking about this movie in regards to Trainspotting just makes me want to see an actual Trainspotting movie with werewolves. Who wouldn’t want to see Begbie take on a werewolf in a bar? And the werewolves could be metaphors for each character’s addiction. If they survive, they get clean. If they die, they succumbed to their addiction. 

The beginning of Trainspotting could work as a werewolf movie, as well. Instead of the cops, they’re all running from werewolves. And Renton’s voiceover can be changed accordingly, “Choose staying inside during a full moon. Choose keeping silver weaponry on your person at all times. Choose running as fast you can away from bloody werewolves. Choose life.”

Why Do I Own This?

Honestly, I think I might’ve bought this on Amazon when I was drunk one night a few years ago. I mean, I like it, but I do not know why I thought I ever needed to watch this again.

Random Thoughts 

Apparently there's a special edition of this but I have the bare bones version. The IMDb has most of the stuff from Marshall's commentary, though, so I'll stick with this version.

Marshall never liked the title screen because he thought it looked cheap. I agree.

The killing a dog as the final test is the same thing from Kingsman, isn't it? Did they get that from this? Oh, and Liam Cunningham is serious about it. 

Having someone shoot a dog for no reason is a good way to signify that character is a villain. 

That story the sarge or whatever tells around the fire about his buddy getting blown up is the darkest story about an ass tattoo ever told.

"My guts are out, Coop!"
"We'll just put 'em back in then!"
"They're not gonna fucking fit!"

Forgot about Cunningham getting puked on. That's one way to keep someone from shooting a dog, I guess.

During one attack, a soldier throws a stick and tells a werewolf to fetch. That's why I like this movie. 

“Ryan, have you tried licking your own balls yet?”

So did The Hangover steal the pictures during the credits gag from this movie?


Monday, October 28, 2019

"Zombieland" - This Was a Lot Funnier a Decade Ago.

*I write these articles with SPOILERS.

Combining my usual line up of Van Damme, western, and comedy with Halloween month meant finding a horror comedy this week. I decided to go with Zombieland because of the recent sequel and because I haven’t seen it in years. Overall, I still enjoyed the film, but I also think it is very much a movie of the time. I hate to always bring up The Walking Dead when writing about zombie movies, but this coming out before that show premiered made it more enjoyable than it is today for me. I’m kind of burnt out with all things zombie right now thanks to The Walking Dead (a show I only watch out of habit at this point). Rewatching this reminded me of a simpler time when zombies were only in movies. I like a lot of The Walking Dead, but I wish it never happened at this point. They flooded the zombie market and now good zombie movies are not as special because zombies are everywhere. A zombie movie used to be a relatively special thing, but now zombies are everywhere, and I just don’t care as much. Oh well, at least I’ll always have the Romero movies. Those classics can never be tainted by zombie popularity.

The Fact That I Don't Have Much to Say About This Movie Says It All.

I don’t have a lot to write about this movie, mainly because of what I mentioned above. When I first saw this movie, it felt like a fresh idea. Comedy (intentional and unintentional) has always been a part of zombie movies, but this is one of the only straight up comedies (Return of the Living Dead falls into this category, as well, and is much funnier). What makes Zombieland stand out a bit is that the zombies never seem to pose a real threat to the characters. Sure, they get in hairy situations, but at no point did I think any of the leads was going to die. That’s rare in a zombie movie.

The comedy aspect makes Zombieland interesting, but it also makes it forgettable. I like laughing at zombies, but I also want a bit of realism. It feels stupid to write this, but zombie movies are funnier when the zombies are treated seriously. Turning them into clowns (literally in this film) takes away from the humor. 

Because of this, Zombieland is a movie of the moment for me. By that, I mean that when it came out I loved it. I thought it was hilarious. But a decade later, the comedy just made me smirk here and there. Nothing really made me laugh. This is the case for most comedies, so I’m not saying Zombieland is especially dated or anything. But I do bring it up because of the sequel. If a Zombieland sequel had been released, say, seven years ago, I would have made a point to see it opening weekend. Ten years later, I really don’t care about the sequel, and I plan on only watching it once it’s on video, preferably on a service I already have so I don’t have to spend extra money to watch it. As a zombie fan, that saddens me, but that’s the zombie world we live in now.

Zombieland Works Because It's Like Someone Made a Movie Based Off a Dorky Conversation About Zombies.

Despite my less than enthusiastic feelings about the series now, Zombieland is still a decently enjoyable movie (put that on a poster!). I still like it because of the basic premise, which is, “What if we did as much funny shit to zombies as we can think of?” As a dork, I have had many conversations over the years about what I would do in a zombie apocalypse. The real answer is “die in the first wave,” but I liked to humor myself and think I would be one of the survivors. In that scenario I would start thinking of funny ways to kill zombies, looking for celebrity zombies, visiting places I once enjoyed now that they’re deserted, etc. Zombieland covers all that stuff, which is why I still like it. Add to that the rules of the film, and you have a zombie movie made for zombie movie dorks. 

It seems like there are still a lot of possibilities for humor in a zombie-filled world that are unexplored in Zombieland. Perhaps I should be excited for the sequel, but I get the feeling that Double Tap is just going to be more of the same with a few new characters added. But I’ll eventually give it a chance, and hopefully I’m wrong, and the film addresses some new avenues in zombie comedy.

Why Do I Own This?

This is one that I bought back in my "must buy a movie every week" phase. I'm glad I have it to revisit, especially since I forgot most of it, but if this came out today I would not feel the need to own it.

Random Thoughts

The double tap rule should apply to every movie. Just make sure the monster or killer or whatever is dead with a few extra shots.

"Can't a guy take a dumper in peace?" First off, I like that Mike White calls it a "dumper." Second, all that happened was someone else entered the public restroom. So one is allowed in if Mike White is taking a dumper? How would anyone know?

That credits sequence is still funny and awesome.

My favorite scene from the title sequence is the tuxedo dude shooting. What is the backstory there? Why is he wearing a Casablanca tux in an outdoor industrial setting?

"You almost knocked over your alcohol with your knife."

The power is still on in a lot of places in Zombieland. I've wondered about this for a while. Would the power grid just go out in the event of a zombie apocalypse? Or would it stay on until a storm took it out? Based on how often the power goes out without zombies around, I'd say it's much more likely that the power would be out once the undead did rise. I like that the lights still work in this movie, though. I don't like it when zombie movies/shows are overly dark.

The list of people that were offered cameos is awesome. Swayze, Van Damme, Pesci, Hamill, The Rock, Bacon, McConaughey. Why in God's name did Van Damme turn this down?!

Totally forgot about the gag of Eisenberg taking off on a motorcycle and immediately crashing. That was definitely a good call. I would never believe that he could ride a motorcycle. 

The power being on is essential to the ending of this movie since they end up at the theme park, but that also makes it insanely stupid. What did they expect was going to happen when they turned on an entire theme park?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"From Dusk Till Dawn" - "Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them."

*I write these articles with SPOILERS.

Once again trying to stick with my monthly routine of late of Van Damme, western, and comedy, I tried to find the closest thing to a horror western in my collection and came up with From Dusk Till Dawn. I would say western is the loosest fitting genre label for this wacky film, but the argument could be made that it’s a kind of neo-western or whatever cool-sounding thing we’re calling modern westerns these days. It’s mostly a campy vampire movie. And it definitely seems like the most fun Tarantino and Rodriguez ever had making a movie. Watching it again for the first time in years, I felt a little bummed out about where both the filmmakers are today compared to their early, more renegade days. It’s not that they’re not making good films (I loved Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, and Alita: Battle Angel looks interesting and expensive [I haven’t seen it yet]) today, but they are certainly not making movies like this anymore. That’s probably a good thing, but I still enjoy this time in their careers quite a bit, even if the documentary accompanying this film sullied it all a bit for me.

I’m Glad They Don’t Put This Many Special Features on DVD/Blu-ray Anymore.

Due to a combination of boredom and morbid curiosity at the ridiculous amount of special features included on the DVD release of From Dusk Till Dawn that I own, I decided to watch every minute of it. All told I spent over six hours with this movie and its features. I watched the movie, then watched it with commentary from Tarantino and Rodriguez (who claimed it was for the “laserdisc” release), then I watched all the behind the scenes/deleted scenes/etc. Stuff, and I finished it off by watching Full Tilt Boogie, the feature length documentary made about the making of the film. 

The standard behind the scenes stuff is pretty good, but that’s always the case with a Rodriguez film. The dude is willing to include everything on his DVD releases, even getting to the point where he was including a cooking class video with every release for a while. Better yet, he knows how to provide good commentary. He gives actual details about the making of special effects and how he films things rather than just making bland comments or, worse yet, explaining the movie to you. Since From Dusk Till Dawn features so much practical creature and gore effects, it was great to see how it all came together, especially since a lot of it includes footage of Greg Nicotero (who has become a major part of The Walking Dead), Howard Berger, and Tom Savini, gods of zombie movie effects. As far as special edition DVDs go, this is a treasure trove of interesting features. If only I had stopped there. 

As a standalone documentary, Full Tilt Boogie is great at showing the lives and work of all the “little guys” in a film production. There are interviews with drivers, production assistants, grips, etc. You typically never see these people even in behind the scenes stuff, so the film does give an insight into that world of filmmaking. It also includes the requisite scenes of the stars goofing off and cutting loose (my favorite moment is of everyone hanging out in a bar in Barstow: you get to see an awkward encounter between a local and Clooney, Juliette Lewis singing karaoke, and Tarantino kind of dancing along like the dork he is). But the documentary also tackles a union issue that occurred during production. 

Before I go any further, I have to point out that I am a member of a union and wholeheartedly support unions in general. Because of this, I came away with a lesser opinion of Tarantino and Rodriguez after watching this film. I won’t pretend to know exactly what was going on with SAG-AFTRA in Hollywood at this time, but based on what was presented in the movie, the union was not happy that Rodriguez and Tarantino were using a non-union crew on such a large production. The documentary filmmakers obviously side with the production, and they eventually storm a union convention in an attempt to get the lead negotiator on camera (they eventually talk to him off-camera, but they still include him snarkily in the credits as a character in the film).

The basic argument from the documentary and from Tarantino and Rodriguez is that they want to do things their way, and the union would keep that from happening. The argument is made that they just do too much, and the union doesn’t like that. The example being that Rodriguez operates the camera, edits, and directs, and the union would want to change that. But I think the issue is more about the smaller people on the set and making sure they are protected. Later in the film, we see that a number of people with lesser roles were given terrible or no food, forced to work 17-18 hours, and were even left behind on the set when the bus took off without them. If that’s not an example of why a union is necessary, I don’t know what is. But they still include an interview with an assistant director who claims unions may have been necessary for his father, who was a “little man,” but now unions only want to tell him what he can’t do, and how is that right?

This brings me to my own experience with a union. In a factory setting, unions are often criticized for allowing lazy workers to stay employed and to keep work from happening. The examples of this are when someone is not allowed to do someone else’s job. This is the case for me. I could be at a machine at work that is down and have very little to do; if I was asked to do a job I was not qualified to do or if I took it upon myself to do someone else’s work, it would be grounds for a grievance. But if I was just sitting around, why is it wrong to work? Because someone else is getting paid to do the other work. If I start doing their work along with mine, what’s to keep the company from deciding that one position should do the work of two, even if the opportunity to do both jobs only happens in rare occurrences? 

It’s about job protection, even if that means someone is sitting around doing nothing. It’s not about protecting someone’s right to sit on their ass; it’s about making an entire job is not done away with because of the circumstances of a single day. So yeah, dude from the documentary, the union will tell you what you can’t do so that the person who’s getting paid to do it keeps their job. 

The problem Tarantino and Rodriguez had at the time was that they were transitioning from independent filmmakers into studio filmmakers. Sure, when you’re working on a tight budget with a skeleton crew, a union will make the production impossible to continue. But Dawn had a budget of $15 million in the early ‘90s. That’s hardly an independent production by the standards of the time. 

Tarantino and Rodriguez argue in the documentary that they simply like doing things their way with their people, and the union was using their high profile at the time to make a stand. They argue that the union doesn’t actually care about anyone working on Dusk, they just want to go after the filmmakers. That may be true, but if they are going to make studio films, then they need to use union crews. They can still hire who they want, and they can still handle as many responsibilities as they want to handle, but some workers’ roles will be reduced to create a job for someone one else. I don’t see a problem with that, but I get that some people would argue that when you’re dealing with art, you can’t take an industrial, union mentality to it. 

But in a lot of ways, Tarantino and Rodriguez are CEOs, and they need to be held in check like any other job providers. They are making substantially more money than the workers on the film, and if left to do whatever they want, some workers may be forced to work in unfair conditions for too many hours, not to mention many jobs that could have been created are instead done by a single person. As much as Tarantino and Rodriguez want you to think that they’re just two dudes trying to make movies like they used to in their backyards, the fact of the matter is they are making millions of dollars and are in control of even more money in the budget. Sure, they may still have an independent spirit, but the budgets of their films are far beyond independent. Part of having a lot more money to work with means having to make sacrifices to make your bigger films. 

I can see both sides of this argument, and I clearly side with the union because of my own experience and beliefs about unions in this country. But I cannot abide the presentation of Tarantino and Rodriguez as victims of a strong-arm union. They just wanted to keep doing things exactly how they had been doing them, but just like how a business ran in a garage must adapt when it becomes a full-blown corporation, these filmmakers needed to adapt as well.

All the union stuff left a sour taste in my mouth after everything, but I do appreciate that this film and its special features could bring about this response in me. Despite all this, I do still find this film entertaining.

Grindhouse Before Grindhouse.

Tarantino and Rodriguez are obviously fans of B-movies, George Romero, and John Carpenter movies, which is why they made Grindhouse a few years after From Dusk Till Dawn, but this film is the beginning of it. John Carpenter’s influence is the most evident since the film becomes a bit like Assault on Precinct 13 in the second half, and one of the characters even wears a “Precinct 13” t-shirt. 

The gore effects are reminiscent of The Thing as they are mostly practical and very disgusting. There is even a deleted scene in which one vampire’s stomach opens and bites off the head of someone, much like the chest cavity that bites off arms in The Thing

Overall, the film simply has a Carpenter feel to it, though both filmmakers would eventually lean even more heavily into Carpenter territory in future films. I think Planet Terror is even more of an homage to Carpenter, and The Hateful Eight is a borderline remake of The Thing when you break it down to the essential plot of not knowing who is really who they say they are (not to mention it stars Kurt Russell).

Once again, it’s just a fun movie because these guys are making their version of the films they love. I prefer Tarantino’s latest films (I think I like ‘90s Rodriguez more, that current Rodriguez, though), but I will always have a soft spot for this moment in his career. A moment when he could make a vampire movie and just have fun and not have every single frame and plot point analyzed.

Why Do I Own This?

I own everything Tarantino has been a part of, so that’s the main reason for this. But I do really enjoy the one-two punch of Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn. Rodriguez was just firing on all cylinders at this time.

Random Thoughts

Why the fuck is the documentary "Disc One" and the actual movie is "Disc Two"?

Holy shit, John Hawkes! It's been so long since I've seen this that this is the first time I realized he is the clerk at the beginning.

The IMDb trivia is vast, but the most interesting thing I came across is that Joe Pilato was going to play Seth. Man, I want to see that version of this movie.

In fact, in many ways this movie is connected to Day of the Dead: the almost casting of Pilato, Tom Savini is in it, and Howard Berger (Bub, the zombie) has a cameo, as well.

My God, what a great picture they created for John Hawkes on the newscast.

I don't think Tarantino is doing much "acting" when he's staring creepily at Juliette Lewis's feet.

I think every viewer wanted to knock Tarantino out when Clooney did in the RV.

Cheech's pussy soliloquy is one for the ages.

The bloodbath is pretty damn great: it's gory and goofy.

That corpse guitar is gross...and no way that thing is functional.

I always appreciate a vampire movie that treats them as monsters and not tragic heroes.

Some of George Clooney's line delivery comes off a bit flat (for instance, any of the Tarantino-isms like "Okay, ramblers, let's get ramblin'"), but he is perfect for lines like: "Peachy, Kate. The world's my oyster, except for the fact that I just rammed a wooden stake in my brother's heart because he turned into a vampire, even though I don't believe in vampires. Aside from that unfortunate business, everything's hunky-dory."

Any monster movie that acknowledges movie versions of the monsters is good in my book. The conversation Clooney has about accepting that they are dealing with vampires followed by everyone mentioning what they know about vampires from movies is great. It's always annoying when characters don't know what famous monsters are. Like on The Walking Dead, it seems as if zombies didn't exist in pop culture in that world. Why? Why would it be bad for the characters to say, "Holy shit! Zombies! Head shots only, people! And if you get bit you're as good as dead!"? 

I love that half of Fred Williamson's Vietnam speech is muted as Savini turns. The physical comedy of him slashing around is great, and it upends the audience expectation of a Quint-like Jaws speech. Easily the funniest moment in the film for me.

“Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them. I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are!”