Sunday, August 30, 2015

RIP, Wes Craven

In a bit of shocking news:  Wes Craven passed away today after battling brain cancer.  He was 76.

The news broke today through various outlets and was confirmed by his family members.  Craven was an influential figure in the world of horror, directing classics of the genre like The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream.  He was a true master.

Craven came from a teaching background and could be described as "professorial" which always seemed to surprise people considering the sometimes transgressive and nightmarish nature of his work.

In addition to directing and writing feature films, Craven also worked in television, wrote novels, and was a committed bird conservationist, serving as a member of the Audubon California Board of Directors.  He is survived by his wife Iya Labunka, children Jonathan and Jessica and three grandchildren.

RIP, to one of the greats.

The Last House on the Left (1972) is a brutal horror film, as audacious a debut a filmmaker could make.  It's a tough film, but an important one.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is a personal favorite of mine.  Craven was inspired by the real life story of the Sawney Bean family when writing this tale of survival against cannibals.
Deadly Blessing (1981).  Read my review HERE.
Swamp Thing (1982) was an early attempt at a more adult superhero film but it turned out to be a goofy action adventure movie with a guy in a bad monster suit.  Due to repeat airings on local TV and the presence of Adrienne Barbeau I saw this frequently growing up.

The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984).  
In financial trouble, Craven found himself directing this crummy sequel.  Say what you will, I have a soft spot for this one as it's a personal favorite bad movie of mine.  Dog flashbacks!
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a straight-up horror classic.  It gave us Freddy Kruger and Johnny Depp.  There is some incredible imagery in this movie and if Craven had done just this one film he would still be a member of the horror hall of fame.
Craven and Kristy Swanson on the set of Deadly Friend (1986).  Read my review HERE.
Craven would do some television work, including multiple episode of The Twilight Zone (1985-86).  He would give Bruce Willis his first leading role in an episode titled "Shatterday."
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), a movie I recall liking but haven't seen since the mid '90s.
I've been meaning to watch Shocker (1989) and it is now for sure on my October watch list.
The People Under the Stairs (1991) is a memorable film, but also very problematic and not very good.
New Nightmare (1994) was the first Nightmare film to be released after I started getting into horror films so I was real excited and totally into it when it came out.  I was a big fan, but haven't seen it in years.
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) is to Wes Craven as Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) is to John Carpenter: a troubled production with a comedic actor who doesn't want to make a comedy.
Scream (1996) was a full on phenomenon and yet another horror hit for Craven.  It started a new franchise with Craven directing all three of the sequels, the last of which, Scream 4 (2011), would be his last directorial effort.
Music of the Heart (1999) was Craven's lone work outside the horror genre.  It was nominated for two Oscars, one for star Meryl Streep.
Cursed (2005) is without a doubt one of the worst movie I have ever seen.  Production problems plagued the movie, but sheesh, what a stinker.
I saw Red Eye (2005) once back when it came out and I was surprised by how much I liked it.  The third act was a bit weak, but I remember really liking the set-up and the actors.

This is a great interview with Wes Craven conducted by Mick Garris.  It goes into a lot of Craven's early life and background and into the making of his early films.

Wes Craven, 1939 -2015

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Trailer Park Tuesdays - Cop Car, Turbo Kid, The Tribe, and The Look of Silence

Hello everybody.  Trailer Park Tuesdays is back!  All New!  With a slightly New Format!  From here on out this will be a monthly column, instead of an attempt at a weekly one.  Rejoice!

For those of you new to the Trailer Park, this is a space where I will share movie trailers for new and upcoming releases that might be flying under people's radars.  These are things that I find intriguing and/or things that I consider to be must-sees.  I'm usually a sucker for a good movie trailer.  Let's see what we got this month:

Cop Car - (dir: Jon Watts) -  I like a lot of what I see here.  Two young runaway kids steal a cop car and have a good time, but bad things happen when they get chased by a dangerously mustached Kevin Bacon....

This looks like a lot of fun.  I particularly like when movies put very young children in danger and in adult situations.  We've all been young and done stupid things, but what if those things had dire consequences?

Look at the official website HERE and steal a look at the trailer below.
Cop Car has already opened in some select cities.  It opens August 14th at The Living Room Theater in Portland, OR and will also be available VOD the same day.

The Tribe - (dir: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy) -  I've been dying to see this.  It's been playing the festival circuit and getting rave reviews all over, winning multiple awards at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and just generally sounding like an amazing cinematic experience.  This Ukrainian film takes place at a high school for the deaf and features a story that unfolds through sign language and other forms of non-verbal communication from a cast of deaf non-professional actors.  There are no subtitles nor any voiceover.  The result is an "unprecedented cinematic accomplishment" and something that feels "unmistakably, radically new."*

Not everyone is into Ukrainian art films, but if you're into unique and daring cinematic journeys, this is one to not pass up.

The Tribe is playing nationwide at cool cinemas in select cities.  There will be a single night showing on August 19th at The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR.  Check the official website for showtimes near you.

* quotes from Indiewire and Variety, respectively.

The Look of Silence - (dir: Joshua Oppenheimer) -  This is Oppenheimer's follow-up film to The Act of Killing, which was my favorite film of 2013.  This is a further exploration of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, this time focusing on a young optometrist who confronts the men who murdered his brother, breaking the silence of decades.

I can't wait to see this.  If you haven't seen The Act of Killing, I urge you to see it.  It is powerful filmmaking.  The Look of Silence looks to be a continuation of that brilliance.

I'm very excited this opens August 21st at The Hollywood Theatre.  Check out the official website for additional showtimes, articles and clips.

Turbo Kid - (dir: Anouk Whissell, François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell) -  Of all the movie trailers this month, this is the one movie that I am most unsure of.  Could be amazing, could be crap.  A movie like this could go either way.  It does look crazy, gory, and interestingly weird, not to mention it features Michael Ironside as the villain, so that almost makes it a must-see.

What gives me caution is that this is one of those movies that is an anachronistic homage to the past, which sometimes turn out feeling disingenuous.  If the filmmakers have a story that is engaging (which it appears they might) and characters that we care about and believe in (this is a maybe..I'm not sure about that girl..) then this might be a ridiculously fun film.  Take a look at the trailer, what do you think?

Turbo Kid slides into The Hollywood Theatre on Aug 28th.  For non-Portlanders, it will also be available on VOD the same day.

Thanks for sticking around the Trailer Park.  We'll see you next month.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Howling: New Moon Rising

Here we are.  The seventh entry in the Howling Series Retrospective Review.

Here it is.  The nadir of the entire Howling series.
Oh boy, this is a rough one.

Need a refresher?  Check out previous installments in the series here:
The Howling
Howling II
Howling III
Howling IV
Howling V
Howling VI

So, okay.  Full disclosure:  One of the main reasons I started this project of watching and reviewing all the Howling films was because I wanted to write about this particular sequel.  Why?  Well, I have fond memories attached to this one, of watching it with friends and laughing at its terribleness, and for a brief time this was one of my favorite bad movies.  When I started the HSRR this was actually the only Howling sequel I had seen and, in a way, this entire project has been leading to this point. . .

Which is a bummer because The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995) is such a bad movie.

Like, really bad.  So bad that it only barely qualifies as a movie at all.  Inept is the word that covers most of the qualities of the filmmaking.  This isn't a horror movie, it's more like the local community group made a commercial for a small desert town saloon and a flimsy werewolf story was grafted onto it.  The movie is full of local color, and while it is interesting to an extent, there is nothing particularly exciting, oddball, or weird going on here.  The only truly interesting thing about The Howling: New Moon Rising is that it exists at all.
The plot:  Basically a redheaded Australian motorcycle cowboy (Clive Turner) rides into this small town somewhere outside of Barstow where the residents like to line dance and hang out at the local bar, Pappy and Harriet's Pioneer Town Palace.  There are some werewolf killings, the town gets suspicious of the redheaded stranger, but in reality he is on the trail of the werewolf himself..

The story, as it is, is augmented by the cast's attempts at jokes and comedy and also with all the line dancing and musical performances (of which there are many).  The werewolf stuff in this movie is practically non-existent and that which does exist is mostly footage from previous Howling sequels. . . man this movie is bad...

Let's just cut to the chase.  Here's the 7 Things You Need to Know about The Howling: New Moon Rising:

1.  The badness of this movie cannot be understated.  Not only is this thing not scary and barely a horror anything, not only is it overstuffed with montages and cheap, lame humor and endless line dancing by its non-actor cast, but it is so poorly put together from top to bottom that its cheapness becomes fascinating.  It's a slow motion car wreck with a country-western soundtrack.

2.  I'd say close to 30% of this movie is made up of footage from Howlings IV, V, and VI.  In the business they call this "padding."  This movie is so padded it could fall off a building and be fine.  All of this exposition and backstory is told first to a detective by a priest, who partially recounts the events of Part V and VI.

Then later, Marie (Romy Windsor) from Howling IV returns to the series and tells the priest about the events from that film.  They wisely use the footage of Richard's gooey transformation scene, which is the best thing in Part IV.

The first glimpse of a werewolf in New Moon Rising doesn't come until about 30 minutes into the movie and it's footage from Howling V.  In fact, the only original werewolf scenes in this movie are unbelievably terrible.

3.  The CGI transformation.  Oh shit.  This is just, so damn awful.  Up until this point the werewolf in this movie has been represented by red lensed POV camera shots, running around the desert and stalking people.

During the finale, when it is revealed that. . whoever is the werewolf (Cheryl?), she transforms onscreen but it is done with a sub-shitty '90s morphing CGI effect which is quite simply the worst werewolf transformation of all time.

After the morph job, the werewolf busts through a door and the entire town shoots the creature down.  It immediately cuts to the band playing in the bar as the credits roll.  It's an abrupt and yet merciful end to such a movie. It struggled with everything else.  Why stick the landing?

4.  Line Dancing Purgatory.

I've mentioned all the line dancing.  It is often shown in cutaways during bar scenes and montages.  What isn't quite clear is exactly where these fun loving people are in relation to the band that is playing.  It looks like some dark empty barn but I think it's obviously some sort of country-western purgatory for lost souls.

5.  Most of the humor and jokes in the film are real corny or lowbrow type stuff, but there is one that I do like for some reason:  the "dirt in the chili" scene.

This attempt at humor has Pappy making chili outside in a pot hanging over a fire.  One guy looks in and says, "there's dirt in the chili, Pappy."  Pappy takes off his apron and replies "I need a drink!"
Cut to inside and Pappy gets his drink.  This is also a running joke, as Pappy is supposed to have quit drinking on the orders of Mrs. Pappy.  So when she walks into the bar and Pappy hurriedly hides his whiskey, she instead says to him "Pappy, do you know there's dirt in the chili?"

"I know it!  I know it," he shouts.  Classic Pappy!

6.  Clive Tuner:  producer, writer, editor, director, star.  I believe it is safe to say that he is the responsible party for what we have here.

Turner also co-wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in Howling IV and V.  He is apparently supposed to be the same character from Part V here in New Moon Rising, even though that guy clearly died during that movie.

That aside, it could be considered interesting that Turner tried to connect the events of four different Howling sequels, four movies that really have nothing to do with one another.  The only other sequel that tries to connect with a previous film is Part II, which, while doing a bad job at that, is an infinitely better and more entertaining film than New Moon Rising.

Too bad, Turner. Your attempt at a shared universe was an abject failure.

7.  This movie has never been given a proper DVD release in America; it can only be legitimately found on VHS.  It can be found on foreign bootlegs and whatnot. . or you can check it out on YouTube. I don't normally advocate watching movies on that site, but in this crappy case, and also since there is no movie trailer to be found on the internet, I've made an exception.

Final Thought:  Don't see this movie, but if you do, just don't.

When I started this project I was unaware that there was an eighth and more recent Howling film. Crap.  I got one more of these to do!  I'm in Howling purgatory!!