Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween -- The Photo-Essay

31 stills for the 31 days of the greatest month of all, in some kind of thematic order.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

#24: Death Machine (Stephen Norrington, 1995)

If I were running for office, my campaign slogan would be, "Down with Mondays, up with skirts, and, for God's sake, more killer robots." That is why Death Machine is a film I can get behind. Death Machine is pretty stupid, but its stupidity warms my heart. Set in the darkly futuristic, Robocop-by-way-of-Blade Runner days of 2003 (god, it's going to be dark times when we make it to 2003), Death Machine begins with a corporate controversy at the Chaank company, a defense systems organization. They are secretly running experiments on supposedly MIA soldiers, erasing their memories and implanting weapons, defense, and fighting data to turn them into super-soldiers with no mercy, emotion, or fear. The project has encountered some glitches, and someone has leaked it to the press, causing a firestorm of controversy. Enter newly appointed CEO Hayden Cale (Ely Pouget) to repair the damage. She wants to fire one of the board of directors, the mysteriously absent-from-meetings Jack Dante. Unfortunately, he's gone nuts and created a killer robot that can hone in on pheromones, i.e. smell fear. The more scared you are, the more accurate the robot will be in finding you and shredding you up. He sets the robot loose to take out his competition, leaving him free to run the company with the object of his unrequited desire, Hayden Cale. Adding to the mess, a group of radical activists have infiltrated the building and plan to blow part of it up. Apparently, in futuristic times, the joints hippy punk activists smoke are four times as fat, with smaller joints branching off of the giant joint. Radical, dude.
The scenery chewing in this movie is massive. One of the corporate execs constantly screams out "What the fuck?" or "Fuck you!" or "Go fuck yourself!" Jack Dante is played by none other than Brad Dourif, a great actor who becomes Captain Ham when he's in a shitty movie. Dourif has worked with Milos Forman, John Huston, Werner Herzog, David Lynch, Peter Jackson, Dario Argento, and Michael Cimino. He's also been in fifty billion schlocky B-movies, and is the voice of Chucky in the Child's Play series. He is so hammy in this movie that in one scene reams of spittle fly out of his mouth after every line he speaks. A man with a small part as a security guard gives it his all, 20 movies' worth, including the memorable phrase "Holy donuts!" Hayden Cale gets to perform one of the greatest movie punches in history. A fat guy gets called "Ho-ho." The robot slices people up.
Norrington later directed the first Blade movie and the notorious flop The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and was a special effects and make-up man on the second and third Alien movies and some Jim Henson stuff. The robot bears a strong resemblance to the alien creature, and characters are named after Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Ridley Scott, and the corporation in the Alien series. Death Machine is far from being an essential part of cinema history, but I'm sure it's 12 times more fun than those Bourne Identity movies.
Killer robots! Whoo!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

#23: Dead Waters (Mariano Baino, 1994)

As any fellow raised-as-Catholics know, nuns are scary. Not all nuns fit the stereotype, but most of the nuns I encountered as a child were wrinkled-up, angry, frightening witches, fond of whacking people with rulers and explaining how everything we liked would make us bosom pals with Satan. Aside from the boredom of church services, I think the exposure to nuns every summer for intensive two-week catechism cemented my failure to connect with organized religion. After all, if devotion to the church had done nothing but turn these crones into freaky, grumpy bitches, then church must not be so hot. I'll stick with my rock and roll and comic books, thanks. Rock and roll never made anybody whack anybody else with rulers (unless they wanted to whack and be whacked).
Dead Waters makes a spooky convent of creepy nuns in Ukraine the centerpiece of the horror, which I wholeheartedly endorse. A London woman has inherited her dead father's fortune, but a clause in the will stipulates a monthly payment to the freaky Ukrainian convent. The woman is all, "Say what?" so she travels to the convent to see whether she should continue to pay and why her father secretly did so. Ignoring many evil foreshadowings (thunderstorms, man in tavern who refuses to take her to the convent because he's spooked), she hops in a boat with a menacing creepy guy and his even creepier assistant, a deranged nude man who bites into raw fish and grins maniacally. I might have canceled the rest of the trip at this point, but it would have resulted in a five-minute film. Needless to say, things get worse when she gets to the convent.
Baino, an Italian director, filmed Dead Waters in Ukraine with a British cast, adding to the film's disjointed, dreamlike feel. Overly arty, Dead Waters' heavily stylized manner of storytelling would have irritated me with any other kind of film, but horror is a forgiving genre. The atmosphere works. The film is light on dialogue, letting a series of dreamlike images tell the story. If you're looking for narrative coherence, you won't find it. The story makes no sense and isn't particularly interesting, but the images are striking and the freakiness is appealing. Again, it's not a strong film, but it's certainly better than The Dead Pit. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft or Dario Argento will find plenty to like.
Note: Dead Waters is also available on DVD under its original title, Dark Waters. The video store I rented this from carried both. I don't think they realized they were the same movie.