Archive for October, 2011


Black October: The Sentinel

October 17, 2011

No, not the Michael Douglas Secret Service movie. This is an underrated, unknown ’70s gem that you really have to see if you like devil-oriented scarefests. While the star, Christina Raines, is pretty much a “who is that?” actress, this movie is just packed with famous faces. Some were already legends: Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer, John Carradine, Ava Gardner and Arthur Kennedy. Others were just starting out, so watch for young Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Orbach, a super-sleazy Michael Sarandon and, in my favourite moment, a very, very young Nana Visitor and Tom Berenger as newlyweds. Wait, I’m changing my favourite moment to that part with the young lesbian nutcase Beverly D’Angelo. She gets naked.

  • Plot: A model rents a new apartment in Brooklyn. Upstairs, there’s a blind priest who sits in the window all day and all night. The other neighbours are very, very strange, including the little old man with the cat, who is not what he seems at all. The priest is there for a reason: he’s guarding the gateway.

I love this movie, mostly because the book it’s based on is one of my favourite horror novels. Jeffrey Konvitz must have been more than pleased to see his story adapted so faithfully; I just wish The Guardian, his equally fantastic sequel novel (No, not the stupid Kevin Costner/Ashton Kutcher swimming movie), never made it to film. This stuff is as good as, or better than, The Exorcist and most other ’70s Satanica.

  • Warning, though: The Sentinel uses people with actual physical deformities in one sequence, and this caused a stir of accusations of exploitation. If you’re sensitive that that kind of thing, you should probably watch some Twilight. Also, the poster is a spoiler.

Black October: Van Helsing

October 13, 2011

Have you ever wanted to punch a movie in the face?

I did once. I paid money to see Van Helsing in the cinema. With a few of my kids, I recall, because it was marketed as a Universal-style fun horror action flick.

The machine-gun crossbow was cool. Everything else made me wish iPhones had been invented so I could annoy the people behind me by browsing Reddit during the movie.

Between Hugh Jackman’s stupid accent and Kate Beckinsale’s stupider accent and the weird attempt to create a medieval Q, this effort at launching a new action franchise failed harder than your BlackBerry yesterday when you wanted to tell your boss you were running late, and don’t start the meeting until you arrive.

Of course, you all know how stupid I am. I bought this on DVD the other day for two bucks, hoping it would improve with age, then got home and discovered it’s on Netflix Canada. And then I watched it again, and I am as think as you stupid I am.

This is the movie that makes Hugh Jackman say “How about watching Kate and Leopold instead?” when friends come over.


Black October: Apollo 18

October 12, 2011

There’s a reason we never went back to the moon.

It begins with a secret Department of Defence mission to the  moon, an undocumented effort to install spy cameras to guard against Soviet incursions. Three NASA astronauts take off in secret as part of Apollo 18, which officially never existed, and two of them descend to the lunar surface to carry out their mission while the third orbits, waiting. Their families don’t know they’re there. The public thinks the Apollo program is finished. Only a select few military and NASA specialists on the ground know three Americans are in space.

  • On Day 1, they set up their cameras and collect samples.
  • On Day 2, they find a footprint that isn’t one of their own. And then they find something else.
  • On Day 3, they wake up to find their flag missing. And they know they aren’t alone.

I was hoping to love this but expecting to be disappointed. The result was right in the middle. It’s a found footage flick, like Paranormal Activity or Cannibal Holocaust, but it works fine, because that format functions best in enclosed environments. And it makes sense that old footage of the mission would be revealed decades later, so you can buy into the premise. It even looks like ’70s stock. The actors, all familiar-looking macho guys whose names don’t matter, are convincing as trapped, scared heroes used to being able to deal with whatever’s out there … until whatever’s out there wakes them up by shaking their lander as they sleep.

You probably have to be a genre fan to like this. It has very little mainstream appeal and could be a challenging watch for popcorners. And I suspect I’ll have to watch it again in a year or two to remind myself of it. But it succeeded on the most important front: for a while, especially in the first half hour, I forgot it came from someone’s imagination.

The only flaw, to me, is the threat itself, but that’s a minor quibble. This is a decent little space thriller with some real chills and plenty of the kind of space conspiracy crap I like reading about, even if I can’t even begin to buy into it. A secret lost lunar mission? Come on. Everyone knows Steve Austin was the last man to walk on the moon.


Black October: Rubber

October 6, 2011

I can’t even talk to you right now. I’m a mess. I just watched what is either one of the best, or one of the worst, movies of all time.

  • PLOT: Rubber is a movie about a guy named Robert who roams the American desert, using his telekinetic powers to explode the heads of rabbits, cops and motel maids. Sometimes he just watches TV; he likes workout shows and NASCAR, which makes sense, because he’s a tire. A tire. He seems to notice this halfway through the movie, after he has a shower and a swim and sees himself in the mirror, and realizes he’s a tire. A tire.

So I just watched a flick about a tire rolling through the desert, killing people. It’s also about how aware the people within it are that they are in a movie, with a unique opener and an ongoing meta-subplot involving the audience, a group of people randomly gathered in the desert to watch Robert’s travels through binoculars, or maybe they’re staring at a distant drive-in. It’s tough to tell. And then they have their turkey dinner.

It’s severely flawed, but at the same time works on a smarter level then most people would notice, so as I sit here now, an hour after watching it, I have to say it has carved itself a nifty niche and, sorry, rolled onto new road, and so I have to go ahead and recommend it.

  • Spoiler: He’s a tire.

I liked how Robert got a screen credit for playing the tire.


Black October: The People Under The Stairs

October 3, 2011

Many years later, Roach would complain about not even having a fire.

So after I watched The Woman, I went back and watched Offspring, its sort-of-predecessor, and realized how poorly produced it actually is. Not that it’s a bad movie. But with the same writer, the same lead actress and the same themes, Lucky McKee brought Jack Ketchum’s concepts to life in The Woman far better than has ever happened before.

That’s what a good director does. Whether Wes Craven is a good director is up to you, I suppose, but one of my favourites of his is The People Under The Stairs. I saw it again this weekend because my kid wanted to watch something scary and saw Human Centipede on Netflix and said “Whoah, can I watch that,” and I said “Go play Lego for a while.” In the end, I let the little horror junkie watch People Under The Stairs with me, and hey, we had a blast.

I forgot how much goofy fun this movie is. It has its violent moments, and there are some bad words thrown around, and there’s just a tiny hint of something sexual, but for the most part, it’s a strange and surreal flick about an old house and the various long-held-captive zombie-like creatures who live in its walls and cellar … the people under the stairs. And we have, of course, Mommy and Daddy, the landlords, who are so over the top they make Flowers in the Attic look like The Brady Bunch.

  • PLOT: Fool, a ghetto kid whose family, like many others, is about to be evicted just as his mother is dying and needs an expensive operation, is convinced by Ving Rhames, who wears a dashiki, that they should steal a rare coin collection from their landlords. These folks live in a decaying old mansion in the middle of the ghetto, so Fool dresses up like a cub scout and tries to decoy the landlady so Ving and his partner can rob the house. But the landlords are onto them, and have a few traps set … traps that have been used for generations to bring people to the house and keep them there … sometimes for food. Meanwhile, a pretty girl named Alice lives upstairs and has never been outside, and a boy named Roach lives in the walls.
This is a gloriously stupid movie. It’s flawed, it’s faulty and it’s, pardon me, foolish. But it’s fun, and it’s the kind of horror flick you can show a kid without worrying that it’ll warp his mind, which is why Human Centipede won’t be played in our TV room anytime soon. It’s been more than a year and I’m still getting over that one. Craven, though, took a gruesome concept and made it human, creating a horror movie that the whole family can enjoy, as long as nobody has issues with watching a guy eat Ving Rhames’ lower intestine. “No, man, I’m far from okay.”

Black October: The Woman

October 1, 2011

People who have never heard of Jack Ketchum will likely be slightly confused by this film, because the biggest question goes unanswered: Who is The Woman? Who is this Mowgli-like wild creature living feral in the American wild, this apparently never-civilized killing machine with sharpened teeth and a taste for human flesh?

We who know Ketchum know who she is. We saw Offspring, and we read Off Season, and we know why a movie was made to the sequel to his first novel, not the book itself, and it’s all very confusing. I used to have a handle on it.

The Woman is Ketchum’s first made-for-probably-straight-to-DVD screenwriting project. He worked with director Lucky McKee on creating a sequel to the Offspring movie, but explored a complete shift in the cannibal dynamic by making The Woman (Pollyana Macintosh) almost the hero and reworking the earlier concept of a long lineage of Sawney Beaney cannibals living in the forests of the eastern seaboard by showing us that savage, twisted families can wear suits and ties, not rags and skins.

Plot: A successful lawyer, who lives on an isolated property with his wife, son and daughter, finds a savage feral woman while hunting, captures her, locks her in the cellar and claims he plans to “educate” her on modern life. But he has a darker agenda, one his wife and children know all too well.

McKee directed this, and it works. It really works. I loved Offspring, but this is an entirely different feel for a Ketchum concept. It borrows from his novel (later filmed) The Girl Next Door, but throws a Fritzl spin on it with an interesting (but badly telegraphed) last-scene twist. McKee takes some weird chances here, but they work: when sleazy lawyer Chris Cleek spots The Woman in the forest for the first time, hard-driving sexy rock music swells up over the scene (and in the trailer), and there are many other interesting uses of music that come close to montage but add to the story in a smarter way, if that makes any sense. Probably not. I just watched The Woman, so I’m a little scrambled.

There is some gore here. It’s Ketchum material, so you knew that. But there’s also a solid story about quiet evil, about how death dealers can be hiding in the woods or working in the next office building. And it’s brought to us in a solidly acted, smartly written and snappy little horror flick. The ending may make you wonder, but if you know the earlier stories, you’ll love it. It works.

Remember that question from earlier? Who is The Woman? Watch this movie, and ask yourself again afterward.

Jack Ketchum hides here.