Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Halloween 2013: October 14
Curse of the Undead (1959)
The western was the predominate populist genre for the first fifty or so years of American cinema. The genre would, soon enough, leave theaters for the more comfortable home of television and, eventually, Italy. After so many years of similar stories, it’s not surprising that films like “Curse of the Undead” would come along to mix things up. We in the fandom refer to this weird mixture of horses, hats, the frontier, and six-shooters with monsters or aliens as “Weird West.” Many of these hybrid films have trouble balancing the tones of the two genres. How does “Curse of the Undead,” Universal’s attempt, fair?
The story, at first, follows western outlines fairly closely. A land dispute between two groups intensifies when the patriarch of the one family winds up dead. The grieving daughter and son immediately blame Buffer, the man on the opposing side of the ranch. The son is shot dead in a barroom brawl, intensifying Dolores, the daughter's, desire for revenge. Enter Drake Robey, a black hat gun-for-hire fulfilling Dolores’ need for a hit man. The local preacher and sheriff try to talk the girl out of it but by then, it’s too late. Turns out Drake isn’t just a roving gunfighter but a vampire, determined to seduce the girl and spread his plague of darkness.
“Curse of the Undead” successfully feels more like a horror film then a western. Yeah, there’s some gunfights, a frontier setting, a few horse, and plenty of funny hats. However, the film frequently mines shadowy atmosphere for above-average thrills. The flat western town lends itself to dark nights surprisingly well. An early scene shows a window shade spinning around the reel, the attacker just escaped. The villain hangs out in tombs, sleeping in coffins. He stands above his female victim while she sleeps, leaning over her to feed. Easily, the standout moment of “Curse of the Undead” is when the hero steps outside of his office, seeing something moving in the shadows just out of the corner of his eyes. It conveys the feeling of being watched nicely, tension rising accordingly. The payoff underwhelms a bit and, once “Curse of the Undead” becomes a story of hero vs. villain, it’s less interesting. Still, the final shootout dispels the enemy in a creative manner.
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)
I remembering seeing the commercials for “The Rage: Carrie 2” when it originally came out in 1999. At the time, the affair struck me as deeply crass. How the hell do you sequelize a story where the main character died at the end? Probably more importantly, why would you sequelize a powerful, influential, critically beloved classic like “Carrie?” The truth is “The Rage” is just as much remake as it is sequel, a similarly structured but unrelated screenplay that was converted into a sequel to DePalma’s classic when the similarities where recognized. I’ve never given the film a chance. Does it deserve one?
The sequel elements are easily spotted as hastily bolted on. “The Rage: Carrie 2” isn’t about a girl named Carrie but a girl named Rachel, Carrie's previously unmentioned half-sister. In order to distinguish it from the original, Rachel’s crazy religious fanatic mom is carted off to the crazy house early on, leaving the girl with a foster home. 1999’s outcast isn’t a socially awkward misfit with no fashion sense and a bugnuts mom. Instead, Rachel is a snarky, “Daria”-like quasi-goth girl who dresses in black, has wavy hair, a tattoo, and listens to Garbage, NIN, and Marilyn Manson. Jesus, really? Anyway, Rachel’s powers are awakened when her equally gothy best friend kills herself. The motivation for the suicide? She was deflowered by a local jock as part of a dude-bro frat-game of fucking girls and assigning points based on attractiveness and social standing. Harsh. Anyway, Rachel telekinetic powers slowly manifest while she’s being tormented by the school jocks, their bitch girlfriends, courted by one of the not-so-dickish jocks, and sorta’ deals with her asshole foster parents. Just to further the connection between the two films, Amy Irving returns as Sue Snell, now a guidance counselor at the rebuilt Bates High. After recognizing Rachel’s powers, she tries to prevent another telekinetic massacre from happening. Spoiler alert: She fails.
All right, all right, perhaps judging “The Rage” against the original is unfair. Does it stand up on its own merits? Nope, nada, no. Katt Shea, of “Poison Ivy” and “Stripped to Kill” fame, directs with a melodramatic, inelegant hand. Scenes are frequently punctuated with flashes of blinding white light, senselessly. Rachel is prone to having slow-motion nightmare flashbacks to earlier scenes in the movie. Most obnoxiously, pathetically, the film switches to black and white a few times for no goddamn reason. The attempts to scare are facile and weightless. A moment where the jocks taunt Rachel from outside her home is deeply embarrassing. The douchebag ringleader calls her on the phone, talks in a Donald Duck voice, and asks her what her favorite scary movie is. Seriously! They click the lights off, the camera swooshes around dramatically, and things go from color to black and white. Annoyingly, the black and white trick returns during the end.
There’s not much to recommend about “The Rage: Carrie 2.” Emily Bergl does decently in the lead. She’s likable enough, easy to watch, and has decent chemistry with the otherwise flat Dylan Bruno. I like that Amy Irving was wrangled into returning. Sue Snell becoming a guidance councilor is a natural move, perhaps the only one in the script. The original Carrie’s rampage has become the stuff of urban legend, the burnt-out remains of the original Bates High still standing. The climatic carnage features some clever gore gags, a double impalement with a fire poker, spear gun castration, exploding eyeballs, murderous flying CDs. (Another sign this was made in 1999, along with the way overdone pop-rock soundtrack.)
“Singularity” is one of those times when you can see “So Weird” not only simplifying its concept for Disney Channel audiences but clipping it to fit within a half-hour time slot. While playing a game of baseball with her family, Fiona and Clu accidentally discover a time warp black-hole pocket dimension thingy. It’s full of foul balls, missing Frisbees, and even a dog, all suspended in time. When Clu is trapped inside, Fiona pops out fifteen minutes earlier inside of the home of the local baseball hoarding nutball. The two have to work together to free those trapped inside the reverse time wedgie.
“Singularity” has one fantastic, touching moment. After having a bit of sibling rivalry on the baseball diamond, Fiona runs back into her brother after leaving the time warp. Tearfully, she tells him mow much he means to her, Jack not entirely understanding. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt moment and Cara DeLizia plays it to the hilt. That emotional core is buried under a goofy plot of Fi befriending the kooky old man. Ron Sauve plays the part with a silly “old man” accent while raving about his lost dog. The character arc boils down to Fi learning she’s not bad at baseball. The stakes are high but the handling is awfully low. The time travel/time warp concept is a complex one and well worth exploring. Sadly, the logic of such a phenomenon is glossed over. Ultimately, that one great moment elevates the whole episode, which is otherwise one of “So Weird’s” more ‘kiddy’ installments. [6.5/10]
The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”
Most “Tales” have titles that are goofy puns or vaguely poetic terms. “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” just goes right for it. ‘Yep,’ the title says, ‘this is our demented dummy episode.’ Most variations on this concept have the ventriloquist’s murderous split personality manifesting itself through the dummy. “Crypt” takes a slightly different approach. Star ventriloquist Mr. Ingles’ career is destroyed when his hotel goes up in flames, resulting in a girl’s death, but not before inspiring talent-bereft Billy Goldman to take up dummies. Fifteen years after the accident, an adult Billy, still sucking at puppets, looks up Ingles and discovers the frightening secret behind his success.
This is another episode largely anchored by its lead performances. Don Rickles’ rightfully beloved insult-comedy has long had an air of passive-aggression, self-loathing, and nihilism about it. Rickles playing a resentful old man haunted by his past is an inspired bit of casting. Rickles nicely taps into the inner darkness that has always floated about him. Meanwhile, who can play sweaty, nervous, pathetic, but still darkly funny better then Bobcat Goldthwait? Goldthwait’s Billy is as pathetic as Rickles’ Ingels is bitter. His own shot at live ventriloquism is truly cringe-inducing. When the two confront one another, the episode explodes into full-on body horror. Morty, the parasitic twin turned dummy, is truly creepy looking. Rickles swinging a meat cleaver with a squeaky-voiced madman on his wrist has got to be one of “Tales’” signature moments: Spooky and darkly funny simultaneously. Rickles’ dying moments show genuine acting strength.