Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Halloween 2017: October 19

Long Weekend (1978)

This Halloween, I've been talking a lot about Australian horror films made in the last seventeen years. This wasn't planned. The theme emerged naturally over the six weeks. If I'm going to devote so much time to new Ozsploitation pictures, I should probably take a look back at the genre's heydays. For a long time, “Long Weekend” was a mysterious film from the country. You'd hear the title occasionally. You'd read tantalizing details about the odd-sounding feature. Yet the movie was hard-to-find for years. Finally, a stateside DVD release surfaced in the early 2000s. The film has since been reissued on Blu-Ray. Because of this newfound availability, “Long Weekend” and the strange power it exerts can be discussed.

Peter and Marcia's marriage is on the rocks. All they do anymore is fight. Peter touches upon an idea that he hopes will save the relationship. The two drive out for a vacation in the Australian countryside. This does not immediately fix all their problems. Soon, the get away becomes something more unnerving. The local animals start to attack them. They are haunted by strange sounds. Without realizing it, the couple have become the target of the forces of Mother Nature. And she is pissed.

“Long Weekend” is not the easiest movie to like. Its main characters spend most of the film bickering. Peter and Marcia argue about who will take care of the dog while they're away. They argue about whether they should camp in the woods or stay in a hotel. They argue about how long they should stay. The couple is sexually frustrated too, as both seek solace in masturbation when left alone. Eventually, you learn why their relationship is so strained. Marcia had an abortion recently and Peter suspects another man was the father. Despite the obvious, sad state of their marriage, the two still clearly love each other. When Marcia becomes concerned Peter is about to be attacked by a shark, she screams like crazy. A cute scene has them rolling around in the sand, goofing. She is genuinely appreciative when he sets up camp and makes breakfast while she sleeps. Just because people love each other, it doesn't mean they can stay married. John Hargreaves and Briony Behets' performances are restrained and understated, making it clear that these characters aren't unlikable. They're just going through a hard time.

Peter and Marcia's dissolving marriage seems to be another symptom of a world out of balance. Throughout the film, the couple commits many petty crimes against nature. Peter tosses a cigarette from a car window, which seems to catch fire in the grass. He runs over a kangaroo on the drive up. He tosses a liquor bottle against a tree. He shoots his gun into the night, mindlessly. Marcia carries a frozen chicken around several times, noting the convenience of the luxury of a dead animal. She tosses an eagle's egg against a tree. This symbolizes her abortion but also her casual attitude towards abusing nature. The couple has zero concerns for the environment around them. These are intentionally not “big” environmental trespasses. These are also the kind of minor crimes against nature many of us have committed. We all take the Earth for granted. Which is exactly “Long Weekend's” point.

As a horror movie, “Long Weekend” is clearly of the slow-burn variety. Few overtly sinister things happen in the early scenes. The film emphasizes the isolation of the woods, as Hargreaves and Behets are practically the only actors in the movie. There's little music, the natural sounds of the environment providing the audio backdrop. This slowly grows into something more disturbing. Peter is slowly pursued by a dead dugong all throughout the film, the sea cow always seeming to crawl closer towards him, no matter how many times he shoots it. Marcia, meanwhile, is haunted by the animal's unearthly cries. The attacks escalate. An eagle swoops down and claws at his face. His dog barks endlessly at something in the woods. By the end, when Peter is running through a tunnel of trees, completely overtaken with spider webs, “Long Weekend” has reached a fever pitch. The ending – stark and sudden – leaves the audience utterly unnerved.

Upon release in 1978, “Long Weekend” was not widely seen and the reviews were middle-of-the-road. The film disappeared, seemingly destined to be forgotten. The few good reviews the movie got would cause its reputation to build. Over the years, its scarcity made it more sought out. Now, “Long Weekend” is rightfully well regarded as an eerie classic of the Ozsploitation movement. Eventually, the film earned the true sign of being a classic: It got a mediocre remake. Though slow by design and a bit on the abrasive side, the movie's grasp on atmosphere and its disturbing power makes it an easy recommendation to horror fans seeking out something a little different. [8/10]

Murder Loves Killers Too (2009)

God bless Kindertrauma. The website, dedicated to reviewing horror movies that scared us as kids and that we now love, recently hit its tenth anniversary. I've been a fan from the beginning and have even occasionally written small items for the site. If it wasn't for Unkle Lancifer and Aunt John, I never would've sought out a number of films. One favorite I dsicovered thanks to the website is “Murder Loves Killers Too.” A micro-budget slasher that came and went without much notice in 2009, an enthusiastic review from Kindertrauma compelled me to give the film a look. I'm glad I did. It's a true gem that I've recommended to many over the years.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Five friends go up to a summer lodge for some rest and relaxation. They are Brian, a stoner in everything but weed, and his overly excitable girlfriend, Lindy. They are friends with the somewhat jockish Kyle and his blonde and eager girlfriend, Tamra. The odd person out is Aggie, who complains about speed limits and just wants everyone to be safe. Safety becomes a pressing concern once they arrive at the lodge. The building already has an occupant: Big Stevie. The silent brute proceeds to hunt down and murder the youths, one by one. But the story doesn't end there.

On the surface, “Murder Loves Killers Too” appears to be a no-frills, meat-and-potatoes slasher. As the above plot synopsis makes clear, the story doesn't appear to be anything special, at least initially. The characters are archetypal and the set-up is simple. However, first-time feature director Drew Barnhardt reveals a confident visual style. Upon arriving at the lodge – obviously a real home the filmmakers were utilizing – there's a long tracking shot, showing us every room of the house. Barnhardt uses this same trick again later, going up from the living room to a bedroom in one swift motion. The director's self-assured style really shows off in the last act. The traditional stalking sequence, where the final girl is hiding from the killer, is stretched out successfully. A leap from a bathroom door, an obvious homage to “The Shining,” even builds some suspense. Despite being a first-timer, Barnhardt clearly knew what he was doing.

What appears to be an unobtrusive slasher story on the surface quickly shows a subversive side. The film begins with a lengthy voiceover from an erudite narration, talking about in flowery terms about the previous group of teenagers to visit the lodge, and how they two were brutally slain. This is a jokey dismissal of the “crime in the past” slasher troupe. The film's death scenes intentionally pay homage to different types of horror films. There's a shout-out to the then-trendy torture horror genre. There's an Argento style POV kill as well as an American style slasher scene, heavy on the spraying blood. Mostly, the film's most subversive element is its killer. Big Stevie isn't hideously deformed or wears a color mask. He just looks like a normal guy. In-between the murders, he drinks coffee in a bathrobe or eats ice cream from the carton. He's totally nonchalant about his status as a slashing maniac.

That subversive side builds towards a gut-punch of a sarcastic ending. After whittling the cast down to one girl, Stevie's demeanor totally changes. He begins to speak, calmly and carefully, to the captured final girl. He attempts to engage the terrified girl in a roleplay about his home life. Afterwards, “Murder Loves Killers Too” shows the side of the story slasher flicks usually skip: The aftermath. We see Stevie clean up the murder scenes, disposing of the bodies. He then locks up and goes home. In its final fifteen minutes, “Murder Loves Killers Too” becomes a hilariously awkward dark comedy about a family stuck in a miserable suburban malaise... Until the slasher elements come shrieking back into the film in the best way. It's one of my favorite slasher endings from the last decade.

Even the soundtrack is pretty good, as Ryan Franks' score perfectly apes Henry Manfredini and Goblin. I even like the original songs, with their weird titles like “Sheriff of Murdertown” and “Naughty Mittens.” Even the title font is an exact recreation of giallo style credits. The acting is not always great in the film, especially in the extended final act, but it usually serves the purposes of the movie just fine. Owing to the film's obscurity, Drew Barnhardt's career was not shot into the stratosphere after this came out. Luckily, it sounds like he's recently completed another feature. Hopefully that surface soon. I'm eager to see what else the guy behind a gem like this can accomplish. [8/10]

Roseanne: Boo!

Out of all the nineties nostalgia courting reboots recently announced, one that I'm genuinely looking forward to is “Roseanne.” I think people underestimate how groundbreaking that show was. It was about a normal family, who actually looked like regular people, just doing what they could to survive. It also had regularly awesome Halloween episodes, a trend inferior shows would follow. The first “Roseanne” Halloween special was entitled “Boo!” The plot concerns Roseanne and Dan, inspired by the Halloween season, trying to see how can scare the other the most. B-plots include Becky not receiving an invitation to a friend's Halloween party and Dan attempting to meet a contractor about a job.

“Boo!” is a really solid episode in general. There's a number of good gags here. Such as an early scene devoted to Roseanne and Aunt Jackie faking out the daughters about a local town legend. The married couple's attempt to out-scare each other results in a number of amusing gags. Like Dan squirting blood from a fake finger or Rosie attempting to electrocute herself. Amusingly, the two often react to these shenanigans without much emotions. This story reaches a fantastic climax when the contractor, appearing suddenly on Halloween, agrees to play along with Roseanne's antics. It's pretty funny stuff.

As good as the rest of the episode may be, it's not what I really love about “Boo!” Instead, it's the Conner family's amazing Halloween display that sticks with me. The entire building is remade into a haunted house, with cobwebs and nooses. Trick-or-treators are led through a tunnel of terror. Sights include a mad scientist with a splitting headache, a hand reaching up through a stew pot, a screaming head under a dish, and the garage of wonders. The family's costumes are amazing too. Darlene wears a jumpsuit run through with arrows. Becky is a stewardess who has lost an arm. I know no real life Halloween display like this actually exist, certainly not within a middle class community like this one. But, holy shit, is it amazing to look at. This is, essentially, the ideal Halloween my childhood dreams are made of. [8/10]

Lazer Ghosts 2: Return to Lazer Cove (2008)

I began 2017's Halloween Horror-fest Blog-a-thon with “The Void,” the latest feature from the Astron-6 guys. So, as Halloween draws closer, it seems fitting to watch one of their older shorts. “Lazer Ghosts 2” presents itself like a trailer/extended preview of a sequel to a movie that doesn't exist. The plot of the film-within-the-film seems to concern Trance, a ghosthunter who was forced to kill his best friend at the end of the previous film. The return of the evil ghost of Einstein, who seeks a powerful green lazer, forces Tracne to return to his small town. There, he teams up with a foul-mouthed detective, a smoking hot female scientist, and the ghost of his best friend to save the day.

“Return to Lazer Cove” is, admittedly, an extremely stupid film that still made me laugh a lot. The short repeats the word “lazer” so many times, that it stops being funny and then becomes funny again. The goofy, absurd ideas are present and accounted for, like evil zombie Einstein and the all-uniting powers of lazers. Some of the sillier moments include the detective weaponizing a magic book and a exasperated ghost wondering why he has to explain the existence of ghosts again. Even this early, Astron-6 showed an uncanny ability to copy that nineties trash aesthic. There are several obvious shout-outs to “Ghostbusters,” “Highlander,” “Evil Dead,” and “The Terminator.” The soundtrack recalls both Asia's “The Final Countdown” and Dokken's “Dream Warriors.” The jokes probably stretched out too long, at nearly ten minutes, but this one did manage to make me laugh a lot. So I guess it was worth it. [7/10]

No comments: