Saturday, November 18, 2017

11/18/2017: "The work of pathological weirdos"

Where East Is East (Tod Browning, 1929)
I yield to no one in my love for the films of Tod Browning, but Where East Is East shares some unfortunate racial stereotyping with Browning's previous film, West of Zanzibar, along with the additional negative of casting white and Latina women as Asians. Fortunately, the film contains the same vitality, weirdness, visual invention, and depth of character as the rest of the Browning canon. Less of a horror film than most of his other work, Where East Is East dials down the macabre until the end, concentrating instead on an offbeat love story and the deception and intrigue of a third party who turns the pair into a triangle. The great Lon Chaney stars as Tiger Haynes, a heavily scarred American animal trapper living in Indochina. He traps tigers for circuses and has a pet gorilla. He's a little scary, but he's a single father with a heart of gold who dotes on his adult daughter Toyo, played by the great Lupe Velez. Toyo has fallen in love with Bobby (Lloyd Hughes), another American living in the Orient. Tiger is skeptical and gives Bobby a hard time until Bobby saves Toyo from a trapped tiger that escaped from its cage. Now on Team Bobby, Tiger takes his future son-in-law with him on a boat trip to unload some tigers on a circus owner. On the boat, Bobby meets Mme. de Sylva (Estelle Taylor) and is instantly smitten, powerless against her lady-of-the-Orient charms. Tiger recognizes what's going on and has his own dark past with the woman. She insinuates herself into their lives, causing much havoc, and Tiger fights to keep his daughter's relationship together and get Bobby back on the right track. Things get messy. The approach to race leaves a lot to be desired, but the performances from Chaney, Velez, and Taylor are pure movie pleasure, the three charismatic actors bringing a camera-seducing life and history to their characters' faces and physical presences. Browning is an inventive and unusual creator of images, and even his few films that are tarnished with his era's stupidities have many worthwhile moments.

Blood Diner (Jackie Kong, 1987)
Jackie Kong's most well-known cult movie, Blood Diner, an homage to H.G. Lewis's Blood Feast, is 90 minutes of nonstop insanity. I'm a big fan of Kong's first film, The Being, and Blood Diner captures some of the drive-in horror movie fun of that film with an additional 18 buckets of blood, guts, and vomit and a breakneck Three Stooges-meets-comic-book feel. The story of two brothers who run a vegetarian diner and resurrect their murderer uncle from the dead in order to bring an Egyptian goddess back to life and control the world, Blood Diner is a celebration of freakazoid gonzo excess. This is a film that has room for a talking brain in a tank, a restaurant owner who never goes anywhere without his ventriloquist dummy, punk rock zombies, a resurrected Egyptian goddess with gleaming fangs and a stomach-mouth who can shoot lasers from her eyes and fingertips, a pro wrestling match that pits a main character against Little Jimmy Hitler, a guy in a Reagan mask machine-gunning a room full of nude Aerobicizers, a naked woman karate-chopping a killer inside a cave, a pair of detectives who play by different sets of rules but get results, a biker who gets run over by a van 12 times to a loud calypso soundtrack but is just mildly inconvenienced, cannibalism, beheadings, eyeballs knocked out with shovels, a grocery list that begins with "6 dog dicks," two of the weirdest musical performances I've ever seen, and the following line of dialogue: "This is the best friggin' veggie burger I've had in a son-of-a-bitchin' long time!" What else can I tell you about this thing that won't be superfluous? The screenplay by B-movie actor Michael Sonye fills every moment with bizarre set-pieces and one-liners, and Kong finds a way to make it all happen visually. I'm glad something this weird exists, and I hope Kong finds a way to make another movie someday. Her films are a blast.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

10/21/2017: It's not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Blood Beach, or hey daddy-o, I don't wanna go down to the golf course

Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980)
This month, I watched a pair of smartly stupid '80s horror movies with great senses of humor. Let's start with the killer beach movie before moving on to the killer lawnmower movie. Blood Beach was filmed in Santa Monica, but you'd hardly know it from the dimly lit cinematography, lack of people, and what appears to be unseasonably cool weather throughout. This is a gritty, working-class, isolated part of the beach, populated by a handful of homes, a hamburger stand, a police station, a harbor patrol station with a few employees, and a bar where harbor patrolman Hoagy (Darrell Fetty) yacht rocks out with his band. Things are peaceful on this little corner of the beach until an older woman disappears into the sand. The police investigate but are stumped. The only witness, harbor patrolman Harry (David Huffman), is not much help. He saw her, and then he didn't. The woman's daughter Catherine (cult movie legend and Norman Schwarzkopf's cousin Marianna Hill (Red Line 7000, Medium Cool, Messiah of Evil, The Baby, High Plains Drifter, The Godfather Part II, Schizoid)) arrives from San Francisco to help look for her mother. She and Harry used to be a couple, and they grow close once again as the scope of the mystery deepens. This isn't just a disappearance. The beach starts taking more people, sucking them into the sand and grinding them up. This is mostly a bad thing, but it does rip a would-be rapist's dick right off, so sometimes a killer beach can be your friend. No one knows what the hell is happening, though Dr. Dimitrios (Stefan Gierasch) has some zany ideas, and so does homeless woman Mrs. Selden (Cassavetes regular Eleanor Zee). Is some mysterious creature lurking under the sand? If so, how can it be caught/killed? The detectives on the case continue the film's trend of cult character actors giving the material the goofy fun it deserves. The Last Detail's Otis Young and every cult movie and TV show ever made's Burt Young are, respectively, Lt. Piantadosi and Sgt. Royko. Piantadosi is the good cop in the good cop/bad cop dynamic, competent, good with civilians, and as exasperated with Royko's antics as he was with Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid in The Last Detail. Royko, named after Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, is a Chicago native who is always unfavorably comparing Southern California to his hometown. He is tactless, rude, a slob, constantly putting his foot in his mouth. The big boss, Capt. Pearson, is played by the mighty John Saxon, who knows exactly what kind of movie he's in and cranks it to the max accordingly. He hates the fuck out of Blood Beach and the pressure the neighborhood bigwigs he loathes are putting on him to quickly solve the case. Saxon chews the scenery with vigor and delight, and he is the best part of an exceedingly entertaining film. He even gives the film its Jaws-inspired tagline: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can't get to it." I recommend Blood Beach for your next vacation.

Blades (Thomas R. Rondinella, 1989)
Maybe golf is more your thing. This is the first golf-based horror film I've ever seen, and also the only demonically possessed lawnmower film I've seen (I think). An almost scene-for-scene parody of Jaws, Blades takes place at a second-tier golf course and resort in rural New Jersey. The employees and owners of the Tall Grass Country Club are preparing for the weekend's big annual charity golf tournament, which, as co-owner Norman Osgood (William Towner) keeps pointing out, will be televised. Unfortunately, people keep getting sliced into bits, which is hella bad PR. At first, a serial killer is suspected, which causes incompetent police chief Charlie Kimmel (Charlie Quinn) to deputize a bunch of local vigilante idiots to help find the culprit with haste to avoid canceling the tournament. The rowdy and stupid mob takes to the course with guns, swords, explosives, and American flags (future Trump voters). They catch a guy lurking around with a mower, who turns out to be fired groundskeeper Deke Slade (Jeremy Whelan). He's arrested for the murders, but his theory is that no man did the killings. It was a possessed machine, chopping people up on its own volition. Guess what? He's proven RIGHT. Soon, the club's two pros Roy Kent (Robert North) and Kelly Lange (Victoria Scott) team up with Deke Slade to kick the inanimate mower's ass. Roy is an alcoholic former PGA pro who was hired and promoted to head club pro by the Osgoods even though the job was promised to assistant pro Kelly. Kelly is a highly competent, skilled woman who has to constantly deal with the sexism of idiots. Despite the shadiness of his appointment, Roy is a decent guy, and the two pros become pals. Kelly also wins over macho chauvinist Deke, who doesn't think a woman can fight a possessed mower, which is bullshit. Deke is an expert on possessed machines, and he recognizes the killer mower as his daddy's old model. Deke's dear pa-paw took care of the mower for 25 years but was fired when he refused to work on the replacement mower, a more efficient Japanese model. The retired mower became fueled by rage at being neglected and decided to become a killing machine. Come on, this is just science, people. I had a great deal of fun watching this ridiculous movie, and I think you will, too.