Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, October 7, 2011

Halloween 2011: October 7

The Last Horror Film (1982)
A spiritual sequel to “Maniac,” “The Last Horror Film” brings all the grease, sleaze, insanity, and eighties-ness fans of that film will expect. It’s not as good but it’s a bit weirder, shakier, and over all more Bleeding Skull. Joe Spinell is still pathetic, unhinged, and obsessed with Caroline Munro, but the difference this time is that he’s would-be filmmaker and horror fan. He pursues Munro to the Cannes Film Festival where he plans to make her the star of his first movie, wither she likes it or not. (The movie was shot guerrilla style on location during the actual festival.) Naturally, the people around her begin dying.

Joe’s character is prone to self-critical fantasies where he, as a famous director, berates himself for being such a loser. There’s a cowboy who wanders on-screen to deliver a few lame jokes for little to no reason. All of the movies-within-the-movie seem to revolve solely around a young woman being brutally murdered and that’s it. A person panicking in the streets is dismissed as a publicity stunt by everyone. A horror film gets serious critical consideration at the Cannes Film Festival. Clearly this movie exists in its own weird little universe.

Despite his greasy weirdness, you do sympathize with Joe and his performance is oddly captivating. Caroline Munro is an actress I really want to like, even if the acting chops aren’t quite there. The movie’s synth-pop score is surprisingly good and the songs successfully elevate the mood. The story has a twist ending, in which our seemingly psychotic protagonist winds up becoming the hero… Maybe. And then in the surreal, sarcastic epilogue, things get meta and an old lady lights a joint. “The Last Horror Film” probably won’t appeal to most people but it clearly knows its demographic. (7/10)

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)
Considering the time period (mid-nineties) and the subject matter (scarecrows are a favorite of crappy horror movies), I was really expecting this to be a bottom-of-the-barrel slasher flick. What I got instead was something far more ambitious. The film’s antagonist is supernatural in nature, and not just because he comes back from the dead. The scarecrow doesn’t just go around hacking up teenagers with farm implements. (Though there is some of that too.) Instead, his victims (most of which are older adults) are offed in bizarre body-horror-style transformations. The killer doesn’t crack any shitty one-liners either, further cementing the movie’s corn-fed-“Hellraiser” tone. And like a Southern-fried Clive Barker, the movie does share an interest in corrupt religion and kinky sexuality.

The special effects are actually quite good, surprisingly sophisticated for the budget. Also surprising is how the supporting cast is peppered with recognizable character actors, like Stephen Root and Bryan “Crispin’s Dad” Glover. The movie’s even got a believable female lead, decent romantic chemistry, and a subtle sequel hook. I’m officially calling “Night of the Scarecrow” an overlooked gem, at least for horror fans with low expectations. That means there are now at least three good scarecrow movies. (The other two are “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” and “Scarecrows,” by the way.) (7/10)

Crawlspace (1986)
A really off-beat, surprising little horror picture. Christopher Walken wishes he could be as creepy as Klaus Kinski. (Of course, it helps that Kinski was actually insane. Walken’s just pretending.) He’s really the protagonist of the story and the movie is all about taking you inside his bizarre little world. He’s the landlord of an apartment complex. He spies on all of his tenants (All of which are attractive young women) through the overly spacious ventilation ducts. He’s the son of a Nazi and, after euthanizing patients as a doctor, has decided to take up murder as a hobby. He doesn’t just go out and stab people, aw no, that’s for amateur. Instead, Kinski invents these bizarre death traps, mostly comprised of stabbing things popping out in unexpected places. He has a tongueless women locked in a cage in his crawlspace, as well as the spare parts he collects from his victims. After every murder, he plays a game of Russian roulette with himself. The movie’s weirdness level crescendos with the scene of Kinski, his face smeared in eye-liner and lipstick for reasons never explained, goosestepping to footage of Hitler.

Naturally, he’s obsessed with the slightly bookish girl who rents one of his room and the brother of one of his previous victims is after him. You’d expect both of these things to form the backbone of the film’s story. However, the movie dispenses with all extraneous plot lines well before the last act, something that’s either very daring or bad writing. After it’s just down to our final girl, Kinski, and a building full of death traps, the movie’s intensity level really ramps up. And there’s still a surprise or two in there as well.

I’m a big fan of David Schmoeller’s “Tourist Trap” and I like “Puppet Master,” but his direction here is really something else. The opening credits play as the camera roams the previously mention vents. Kinski’s Russian roulette games are played in his kitchen with heavily contrasted checker floors, which are shot in a stylish way, making the room look like something out of “Suspiria.” We get two cool variations on the “Vertigo” shot too. When he’s solely associated with schlock these days, it’s hard to believe that a Charles Band production could once attract talent like Kinski or composer Pino Dinaggio, but “Crawlspace” proves to be well above par, a weird horror/thriller that subverts the rules and plays with expectations. (8/10)

(These movies each have pretty awesome poster art, I think.)

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