Last of the Monster Kids

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

Monday, October 19, 2020

Halloween 2020: October 19th

As I said previously, “Tales from the Darkside” ran for four years without being especially popular or achieving widespread critical acclaim. Which might make you wonder why, almost two years after the series ended, producer Richard P. Rubinstein decided to create a movie spin-off. One can guess. “Tales from the Darkside” was initially intended as a “Creepshow” series but the branding was dropped, as Warner Brothers owned the name. “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” features stories from Stephen King and George Romero. It was also directed by John Harrison, “Creepshow’s” composers. It’s not too much of an assumption that “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” was Rubinstein’s way of creating “Creepshow 3” without paying anything to Warner Brothers. Tom Savini would later more-or-less confirm this and fans have happily accepted this movie as the proper conclusion to the “Creepshow” trilogy.

In a framing device that mashes up “Hansel and Gretel” and “Arabian Nights,” a woman prepares to cook and eat a captured child. To delay his execution, he reads stories to her from a book of macabre tales. “Lot 249” concerns an anthropology student cheated out of a scholarship by a competitor and his sister. At auction, he buys a sarcophagus containing a mummy, which he reanimates with a magic scroll and sends after his enemies. In “The Cat from Hell,” the sickly head of a pharmaceutical company hires a hit man. The assassin is tasked with killing the seemingly indestructible cat that is haunting the family. In “Lover’s Vow,” a down-on-his-luck artist witnesses a gargoyle committing a grisly murder. The gargoyle spares his life as long as he promises not to tell anyone what he’s seen. Not long afterwards, he meets the woman of his dream and the two fall in love... But the events of that night still haunt him.

If a rampaging mummy story seems out-of-place for 1990, that’s because “Lot 249” is adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle story. Much like “Creepshow 2’s” “Old Chief Wood’n’head,” this is essentially a slasher story where the inhuman killer’s murders fit a theme. This time, it’s Egyptian mummification rituals being performed on very living individuals. Harrison’s direction is moody, creating enough suspense during the stalking scenes... While also shooting around the lumbering nature of its mummified antagonist. The story lampshades that often-noticed limitation of the mummy genre, pointing out that a 10,000 year old shambling corpse would be pretty easy to outmaneuver. It’s a smart bit of gruesome horror further elevated by a great cast. Steve Buscemi is perfect as the nerdy, vengeful Bellingham. Christian Slater shows his relatable side as the story is de-facto hero, before revealing a classically Slater-esque unhinged side. It is funny seeing a young Julianne Moore as a petty, rich girl sister though. 

“The Cat from Hell,” adapted by George Romero from a Stephen King story, continues that theme of supernatural vengeance. Harrison’s direction is even more atmospheric here, making the oppressively dark mansion setting as spooky as possible. There’s an off-beat humor to the story of a seemingly normal cat repeatedly besting a mob hit man. At the same time, the segment plays off of that certain unearthly quality any cat owner is familiar with. Romero/King sneak in some social commentary too, making sure the rich family is properly decadent, greedy and deserving of supernatural comeuppance. The story climaxes with a creatively grotesque burst of gory special effects. David Johansen has a nice, stylized energy as the hit man while William Hickey is, naturally, ideally cast as a wheezing, decrepit old millionaire.

While the first two stories have a dark humor to them, “Lovers’ Vow” — a Michael McDowell original — is a relatively straight-forward tale of monsters and romance. The gargoyle design is really cool, a beautifully realized elaborate puppet. While James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong have little screen time together before their characters fall in love, there’s still a believable passion to their relationship. The chemistry between the performances — Remar’s sweaty desperation, Chong’s natural grace — sell that. The twist ending is easy to anticipate. However, the film successfully plays it as an inevitable outcome, a cruel turn of fate that was impossible to avoid. This creates a fittingly gothic sense of tragedy, aided by the addition of pathetically weeping gargoyle babies. “Lovers’ Vow” plays like a modern update of a classic myth, ending the film on a strong note. 

By the way, the framing device is also delightful. Debbie Harry is amusing as the modern day, suburban witch who considers the evisceration of a child as mundane as preparing a Thanksgiving turkey. Matthew Lawrence has the kind of childish energy you can root for. The epilogue has the same combination of graphic violence, poetic justice, and ironic humor that drives most of the film. The film made some money at the box office, though critics largely dismissed it as just another Stephen King movie. A sequel, featuring more King as well as Robert Bloch, was planned but never came to be. Nowadays, “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” enjoys a reputation as a minor cult classic. It’s a trio of enjoyable, well-made creature features that doesn’t match the original “Creepshow” but is probably better than the second one. [7/10]

Sometime in 2005, some jokers called Taurus Entertainment Company somehow wrangled the rights to several of George Romero's films. As far as I can tell, this company functioned largely as a production house for the work of filmmakers Ana Clavell and James Glenn Dudelson. In 2005, they acquired the rights to "Day of the Dead" and quickly made a shitty, in-name-only sequel subtitled "Contagium." The next year, the two would create a shitty, in-name-only shitty to "Creepshow." "Creepshow 3" was released on straight-to-DVD shortly afterwards, where it was rejected by "Creepshow" fans and scorned by the few critics who chose to review it.

"Creepshow 3" disregards the comic book framing device of the first two films, instead telling interwoven stories bizarrely connected by a hot dog cart. In "Alice," a teenage girl's life changes in bizarre ways every time her dad presses a button on a new remote control. "The Radio" is about a man who buys a busted radio from a street vendor. A female voice from the radio begins to give him advice and commands, soon compelling him to murder. "Call Girl" features a teenage boy who orders an internet prostitute, unaware that she's a serial killer. "Professor's Wife" sees two robotics students invited to the home of their professor to meet his new wife, whom they can't believe is actually human. Lastly, "Haunted Dog" revolves around an asshole doctor who buys a homeless man a tainted hot dog, only for him to die afterwards. He is haunted by the bum's spirit. 

As you might've guessed, "Creepshow 3" has very little to do with the previous "Creepshow" movies. An extremely ugly, loud, and cheap looking animated sequence opens the film. There's transitions between the segments that are sort of animated. Otherwise, the comic book gimmick from the originals does not appear. This really only makes it apparent how cheap and shitty the film is. The entire movie looks like it was shot within two or three areas or sets. The visual design is flat. The acting is exclusively awkward, stilted, or broad. The special effects are either shitty CGI or the fakest looking blood. The jokes do not have punchlines but are just vague acts of energy-free goofiness. The obsession with hot dogs - which appear in every segment - is truly baffling. Everything about the film screams that it was cheap or poorly made.

"Creepshow 3" isn't merely a bad movie, it's an annoying movie. This is largely because all of its characters are awful and obnoxious. Alice is introduced yacking loudly on a cell phone. Her family heaps either abuse or idiocy on her. The college boys in "The Professor's Wife" act like complete imbeciles, while the professor himself is an utterly cartoonish character. The doctor at the center of "Haunted Dog" is a massive asshole, who says hateful things to everyone around him when he's not abusing drugs. The murderous call girl is loudly harassed by ranting homeless people. Jerry, the protagonist in "The Radio," is maybe the only character that isn't totally despicable, which is probably why that's the most tolerable segment. On the other hand, "The Radio" fills its supporting cast with screaming street vendors, screaming pimps, screaming drug addicts, and screaming prostitutes. Most of the female characters in "Creepshow 3" are prostitutes, by the way. 

I guess the filmmakers behind "Creepshow 3" were trying to capture that E.C. Comics feel, of bad people being punished. Yet they misunderstood that those comics had a sense of cosmic justice, of artful humor, to their horror stories. "Creepshow 3" is mostly just bad people, doing bad things, and senseless shit happening to them for no reason. The film's idea of horror is especially nonsensical. There's barely an explanation for Alice's ordeal, the girl eventually turning into a tumor-covered monster. The ironic "twist" at the end of "The Radio" is needlessly cruel. The gore in "The Professor's Wife" is trying to be funny but, with the way it focuses on objectifying its dead and dismembered woman, it only comes off as being sexist. "Haunted Dog's" vision of a dead bum puking up or yanking a hot dog from his stomach isn't just gross. It's meaningless.

Everything about "Creepshow 3" suggest it was a shitty horror anthology that, somehow, managed to get attached to an iconic series. Dudelson has continued to cash-in on his rights to "Day of the Dead," producing a shitty remake, a reboot nobody saw, and now apparently a TV adaptation of some sort. His attempts to cash-in on "Creepshow" have, thankfully, been less numerous. There was a failed web-series adaptation in 2008. Dundelson seemingly has some involvement with Shudder's "Creepshow" series but, thankfully, has had no say on its creative content. When discussing the "Creepshow" films with a friend recently, he was surprised that a third entry existed. I suspect that many otherwise knowledgeable horror fans are unaware of this movie's existence. Which is probably for the best, as "Creepshow 3" is a largely wretched experience. [2/10]

Welcome to Paradox: Acute Triangle

When putting together my list of anthology shows to sample this October, I was mostly picking programs I had seen a little of or which were extremely well-regarded. The more obscure series were usually chosen because I had heard a little bit about them and couldn't help but be curious. "Welcome to Paradox" is definitely the most obscure show I'll be talking about this month. Each week, a different story from the near-future Utopian city of Paradox Betaville would be presented, toying with another well-known science-fiction premise. The series aired on the Sci-Fi Channel for fourteen episodes in 1998, where it attracted few viewers and no critical attention. The only reason I've heard of it is because I saw a promo while going through a collection of old Sci-Fi Channel commercials recently. (Because I have very exciting hobbies.) Since the show is obviously more sci-fi than horror, I probably didn't have to throw it in but, for whatever reason, "Welcome to Paradox" is streaming for free across various platforms. So why not?

"Acute Triangle" revolves around Ardley Mendoza, a fabulously wealthy man, and his wife, Aura, a successful fashion photographer. The Mendoza marriage has been falling apart for years, the two long since growing distant from each other. As revenge for Aura having an affair, Ardley purchases a "biorobe." That's a genetically engineered robot/clone, usually modeled after some sort of celebrity. When Aura first meets the biorobe, named Dorothy, she's stunned. Ardley quickly grows attached to Dorothy, signaling to his wife that the marriage might as well be over. But the biorobe has plans of her own. 

Out of "Welcome to Paradox's" episode, I decided to give "Acute Triangle" a watch because of its cast. Aura is played by cult favorite actress Alice Krige while Mackenzie Gray, a underrated character actor I got to interview a while ago, plays Ardley. While it's wonderful to see both performers, "Acute Triangle" is mostly pretty dorky. The futuristic lingo and fashion cooked up for the episode are deeply silly. The script can't just call simple concepts like clones or drugs what they are, instead inventing goofy faux-futuristic names for them. Everybody wears lots of billowing robes. The story is as lackluster as the world-building. The married couple resent each other yet we never really learn why. Similarly, Ardley is repeatedly described as misanthropic but still falls in love with the biorobe. The script may be saying something about how some men only want their own opinions parroted back at them. Any insight is complicated by the wife's cold personality and a disappointing ending that forces some big character changes out of nowhere. Krige and Gray are talented performers but they can't overcome the awkward writing. If the rest of "Welcome to Paradox" is this unimpressive, I'd probably won't bother with anymore of it. [5/10]

The “shock” movie is not much younger than cinema itself, easily dating back to the silent era. People have surely been putting shocking images on celluloid since its invention. I suppose “The Execution of Mary Stuart” from 1895 surely qualifies as “shocking.” (Though maybe not as a “movie.”) Yet, as far as I can tell, the first movie designed specifically to piss people off is 1929’s “Un chien andalou.” Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali created the 17 minute long film specifically to shock and annoy the bourgeois intellectual crowd of the day. “Un chien andalou” is a plotless series of sometimes violent, frequently perverse, and always surreal images intentionally meant to defy all explanation. 

“Un chien andalou” qualifies as a horror movie largely because of those violent, perverse acts. Its opening assault, of Bunuel slicing a woman’s eye open after seeing a cloud pass before the moon, can still shock and upset the unprepared. A woman pokes at a severed hand before being run over by a car. A man fondles a woman’s body, imaging he’s groping her tits and ass while drooling like a zombie. Ants crawl from a hole in the palm of a hand. Dead, rotting donkeys put in a surprise appearance. The final image of the film is its male and female leads, buried in the sand, seemingly dead. “Un chien andalou” is filled with violent, sexual imagery. This is as much a brick thrown through a window as it is a movie. (Bunuel was aghast that the bourgeoisie he meant to insult loved the film.)

Surrealism, of course, was not a new idea in 1929. It arose out of the horrors of World War I, dream-like images being the only reasonable response to modernized bloodshed. Surrealist cinema wasn’t even new. However, “Un chien andalou’s” defiance of meaning was new. Bunuel and Dalí assured every cultural critic of the time that no deeper meaning was meant behind the film’s outrageous images. Instead, “Un chien andalou” is a game of free association dream logic. An ant-filled hole in a hand becomes a woman’s armpit hair, which becomes a sea urchin. These idea reappear throughout the film. As in a dream, time and place is meaningless. Title cards leap around in time — “Around three in the morning,” “Sixteen years ago” — while the location outside the building shifts from a street, to a field, to the beach. “Un chien andalou” accurately captures the pacing of a dream, everything within always changing.

As much as Bunuel insisted there was no deeper meaning to “Un chien andalou,” certain feelings are invoked. There’s a raw, emotional passion to these scenarios. The woman on the street cradles the severed hand like it’s a beloved possession. Sexual frustration clearly motivates the man in the apartment, as he chases the object of his desire. Bugs spewing from his hand or he drags pianos weighed down with unusual cargo is a manifestation of his ugly, masculine, overwhelming passion. Even in 1929, that kind of desperate, demanding cries for sexual satisfaction was not well-received by women. A man on a bike wears a nun’s habit, which another man later throws away. (The woman, meanwhile, seems more interested in the crossdresser than the lusty groper.) “Un chien andalou’s” attempt to shock the standards of the day, by being boldly sexual and sarcastic towards religion, makes it a time capsule of the emotional frustrations of that age

“Un chien andalou” is also pretty funny. By trying to put a dream to film, Bunuel and Dalí created cinema’s first shitpost. The playful way the film discards narrative conventions is doubtlessly amusing, the pure random quality of its images making you laugh. The accompanying music, chosen specifically by Bunuel, is an upbeat tango, which further points towards the filmmakers’ irrelevant intentions. Ironically, “Un chien andalou’s” lack of meaning makes it easy to reinterpret. It is, simultaneously, a nightmarish horror film, an artsy-fartsy mood piece, and a smart-ass prank. No wonder it appealed to me so much as an edgy teenager, who frequently inflicted it on friends and dates. I’m sure I wasn’t the only obnoxious kid who did that. [9/10]

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