Saturday, June 21, 2008

#39: Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990)

Remember what the future looked like in 1990? Yep. That's right. Monochromatic post-apocalyptic urban wastelands, killer robots, industrial rock soundtracks, wise-cracking British sidekicks, midgets buying and selling scrap metal, crazy new street drugs, surprisingly outdated yet futuristic computer technology, lawlessness, sinister government plots to control overpopulation. That's music video director Richard Stanley's feature debut, Hardware, in a robo-nutshell. Basically a cross between Steel Magnolias and Caddyshack (I mean, Mad Max and The Road Warrior, Blade Runner, and Total Recall), Stanley's film opens with goth band Fields of the Nephilim's Carl McCoy wearing some very sinister clothing and walking through a monochromatic desert littered with scrap metal. He finds a robot head and claw buried in the sand and takes it into the urban wasteland to sell to horrible actor Dylan McDermott and the previously mentioned little person. Turns out, McCoy is a "zone tripper" (He was a zone tripper, one way ticket, yeah/It took me so long to find out, and I found out), which means he's a mercenary who wanders the post-2Pacalypse looking for shit he can sell. McDermott is back in town after a long time away doing something I didn't care enough about to pay attention to, and he hooks up with his wisecracking British buddy, Shades (because he never takes off his sunglasses, hyuk hyuk). They head over to the heavily fortified pad of McDermott's girlfriend, Jill (Stacey Travis). She's a sculptress of scrap metal installations who has never left her apartment. After Shades realizes his third-wheelitude, he takes off so the reunited couple can get it on, late-night Cinemax style. I need to mention here that McDermott's character has a robotic hand. When they started their sex romp in the shower, I said, "I hope he squeezes her ass with his robotic hand." Then he actually did it! Jill makes an installation with the robot, unaware that the robot can reassemble itself and power itself up by touching any power source. Did I mention it's a killer robot? Well, it is. And it's now ready to do some more killing. The other major character is a disgusting, slobby pervert who installed security cameras in the apartment complex and spies on Jill when her naughty bits are exposed. Will he get his comeuppance? The pervert is played by the hilariously named William Hootkins, who also acted in the other killer robot movie on our Fangoria list, Death Machine.
I have a very high tolerance for this kind of thing, but I can't recommend this to anyone who doesn't. Stanley clearly believes he's a major artist, and the pretension in this movie is so thick you could cut it with a slim volume of Foucault essays. He's a terrible writer, and the characters are wooden. However, the film looks great, and would probably look even better if it wasn't available only on VHS. The killer robot looks pretty sweet, especially after Jill paints an American flag pattern on its head (though this is probably another stab at pretentious symbolism: The robot is us! or The robot is U.S. imperialism!) Stanley's rock-video origins are apparent in the casting of McCoy, Motorhead's Lemmy as a cab driver, the voice of Iggy Pop as radio DJ Angry Bob (who brags about his "industrial dick"), and a soundtrack that features Iggy, Motorhead, Public Image Ltd., and Ministry's "Stigmata." The Ministry track is played over a scene showing GWAR on TV. Glad to see that GWAR survived the apocalypse. Director Stanley later went on to make the serial killer film Dust Devil and worked on the terrible 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau before being fired by Val Kilmer. He later snuck onto the set in costume as an extra and forced Kilmer to apologize. He hasn't directed anything since. Fangoria called Hardware "the best sci-fi/horror film since Alien." That's crazy talk.
I realized I wrote a post on Film-Watching Robot last night chastising people for voluntarily going to see the new Indiana Jones film even though they had low expectations, but I gladly, happily wasted ninety minutes of my life watching this entertaining piece of shit. Yes, I am a hypocrite. I love you all!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

#38: Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)

A film about teen angst, werewolves, and the menstrual cycle, Ginger Snaps is a mostly successful attempt to bring something new to the werewolf subgenre. It's dark, it's funny, the acting is strong, the teenagers actually look like teenagers, and the final image even manages to create some poetic resonance. Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle are nicely cast as the Fitzgerald sisters, Brigitte and Ginger. Perkins, especially, gets the outsider teen death-glare of contempt just right. Mimi Rogers, the only name cast member, does the strongest work I've ever seen from her as the sisters' misguided, out-of-touch mother. Her scenes with John Bourgeois, who plays her husband, are hilarious in their accuracy. Bourgeois creates a lot with a little, his bemused and awkward expressions and quiet mutterings creating a rich portrait of a guy who is uncomfortable having only daughters but who still manages to silently understand them better than his Peggy Hill-esque wife.
The Fitzgerald sisters are social outcasts in their small town, and they spend every moment together being morbid and sarcastic and hating everything. Ginger is sixteen and Brigitte is fifteen, though the latter skipped a grade and they have the same classes. Despite their age, they don't have their periods yet, and they've made a pact to either commit suicide together or run away from their hometown by the time both have reached age sixteen. Also, something is killing and mutilating dogs in the neighborhood. To her horror, Ginger finally gets her period, which seems to attract the creature that is killing the dogs. The thing bites her, and her body's transformation into an adult woman and a werewolf occurs simultaneously, causing a rift between the once-inseparable sisters. Ginger Snaps spends the rest of its running time embracing the true-life cliches of teenage life (plus werewolves) while avoiding most of the cliches of the generic horror film.

This Canadian independent film does a lot with its limited budget. Sometimes the dialogue sounds written by an adult rather than spoken by a teenager, the word "fuck" is spoken so many times that it starts to get a little silly, the school seems to have only 20 students and two faculty members -- a janitor and a guidance counselor who also doubles as the only teacher -- and Perkins, who was sporting a Sinead O'Connor look at the time, is clearly wearing a wig. (It's a good wig, though.) However, the movie does everything else right. It's nice to see a horror movie with girls who aren't just running away and screaming, and the comparison between menstruation and wolfing out is pretty funny. I hate the stereotypical distinctions between "chick flicks" and "guy movies." I think most audiences want to see something good. Guys sometimes respond to quality romances like Say Anything and girls sometimes like to see shit blow up real good. It's the job of the media to keep us in tightly defined and separate niches, however, so the corporations that own them can have an easier time selling us stuff. Ginger Snaps provides an alternative to the vapid vacuousness of so many female characters in genre films, and I'm glad to see a movie carried by two interesting girls.

For some reason, there is a sequel, as well as a prequel set in the 1800s. Zuh?