Sunday, April 29, 2012

Flesh and Bone (1993)

Question, how many of you actually watched the previews on VHS tapes back in the day and didn’t fast forward right to the feature presentation? Truth be told, I watched them the majority of the time, only hitting the “FF” button on the remote when there seemed to be an endless amount of them, but I would stop if something caught my eye. They were a good source of letting us know what was coming soon to home video, especially if we missed a certain movie in the theatres. Remember this was way before we could instantly access a trailer on YouTube or other sites. Well, one such tape where I watched all the previews on was Coneheads. Yeah, that’s right, fucking Coneheads. Don’t ask. Anyway, the last trailer on that tape was for this film, Flesh and Bone. It’s threatening music, cryptic nature, not really giving me a good idea as to what it was about, and it’s overtly ominous tone gave off a very creepy vibe and had me intrigued instantly. I had to see it, when it hit video store shelves, off to the video store I went, and sure enough they had a copy just waiting for me to take home. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of misleading trailers that make a film look awesome and when you finally see the film it’s nothing like you imagined from the trailer. This was one of those instances where the trailer did the film justice, and ever since I first rented it 19 years ago, Flesh and Bone became one of my favorite films, regardless of genre. I’m going to make a bold statement and declare Flesh and Bone the most underrated film of the 90’s.

Arlis Sweeney (Dennis Quaid) is a man who walks alone. Running his own business re-stocking vending machines across west Texas, his job allows him to live life on the road, living out of his truck and hotel rooms. During a bachelor party going on at one of his usual stops the stripper who was supposed to pop out of the cake and do a show had a little too much to drink and instantly vomits all over the patrons before passing out. Arlis, being the good hearted Texan that he is, agrees to take the lady to a room to sleep it off for the night. The lady is Kay Davies (Meg Ryan), another lonely soul, trying to get away from a dead end marriage to a deadbeat husband. Arlis and Kay instantly strike up a bond, and Arlis takes her on the road with him. But they’re being tracked, as Arlis sees a strange young woman turning up wherever he goes, and once Arlis’ estranged criminal father Roy (James Caan) and his new squeeze, petty thief Ginnie (Gwyneth Paltrow), who just so happens to be the strange woman Arlis was seeing everywhere, enter the picture, it comes to light that Arlis and Kay have a lot more in common than just being loners, and it isn’t pretty.

Flesh and Bone is a very grim movie. It starts off on a bleak note with a family being massacred in a farmhouse and doesn’t get any sunnier as it goes along, and I’m willing to bet that’s a big reason why it wasn’t a smash hit when it was first released in 1993. There’s just something about this film that always got to me and it still has the same effect whenever I watch it. The nostalgia factor is obvious, as I’m instantly transported back to 1993 but it’s so much more than that. It has a way of sucking you right in. It’s gripping, getting under your skin and into your head. Let me say this right off the bat. You have to get past the fact that the Quaid and Ryan characters meeting up is something that only happens in magical movie land, a classic suspension of disbelief situation. Also, it’s really not all that difficult to figure out just what the connection between the two is. You really don’t have to do too much guess work, but personally I never saw this as a major flaw. I often wonder if it was writer/director Steve Kloves’ intention to make it not so difficult to figure out, having us know all along what the situation is, and building suspense just waiting for Arlis to figure it all out. The thriller aspect of the film comes from waiting for Arlis to get wise to what’s going on and wondering what will become of the revelation. Over the years people have complained about the ending, calling it ant-climatic and all that. In a way that’s accurate but had it been handled any other way the impact would have been lessened immensely. It ends just as tragically as it started, just as the lives of the people in the film will continue to be.

The film is a morose character study, the people in this film have so much baggage you’ll back will hurt just watching. They’re all flawed in one way or another and come across as empty as the dusty old towns that Arlis travels to and from. Arlis is content with his life being stagnant, claiming to be a creature of habit, eating the same food, seeing the same faces, sleeping in the same beds and hearing the same talk, and he likes it that way. It’s obvious he is scarred and distant, running from something. There is a lot of discussion in this film of having a disposition to bad behavior, if violence runs in your bloodline it’s inescapable. As one of Arlis’ clients claims, “people think you got it in ya”. Arlis knows this and he is quick to avoid confrontation at all costs. When he witnesses Kay’s husband hit her, he does nothing. He has the same reaction when he finds out one of his clients has been shortchanging him. There is a telling moment in the film where Roy claims that the same blood that runs through him, runs through Arlis, whether he likes it or not. Arlis is more than desperate to be the exact opposite of Roy. Dennis Quaid perfectly captured Arlis’ struggle and distant personality. He has this nervousness about him that carries over to Arlis making his performance all the more convincing. His face tells the whole story. He spends most of the time with a despondent, defeated look on his face, rarely sporting a smile, although this film really doesn’t call for much smiling.

I’m going to be perfectly honest here and say that this is the only movie I’ve seen with Meg Ryan in it, but she’s great here. Kay is a vulnerable, instantly sympathetic figure and Ryan’s performance reflects that. Damaged goods for sure but it’s only partially her fault. She’s the only character in the film that’s 100% likable, and the only one to get Arlis to show some “life“. Matter of fact, the only time the glum look on Arlis face disappears is when he’s with Kay. James Cann is a bad motherfucker. He gives a subtle, eerie performance as the villainous Roy. The guy is bad news personified, and Caan gives him a calmness that makes him all the more menacing. Any interaction between him and Quaid is intense, and almost uncomfortable thanks to the dialogue and the convincing job both men do as father and son. While Arlis does voice his displeasure with Roy’s presence many times in the film, he’s always clearly holding back. Roy knows Arlis hates him, be he also knows he still fears him, and he takes great delight in that. The final confrontation between the two perfectly illustrates Arlis insecurities as well as the awkward tension between the two. Even in a moment as monumental as the scene is, Arlis is still unsure of himself, waiting until the last millisecond to make a life or death decision. It’s really a brilliantly acted scene with Quaid really showing off his chops. Gwyneth Paltrow was convincing as the white trash scam Ginnie, pulling off the accent and the general slimy nature of the character. There is nothing remotely redeeming about her. She knows she’s trailer trash and she admits it, even accepting it. The dialogues between her and Ryan only shed a more positive light on Kay, as she always sees some good in everyone, even someone like Ginnie, although Ginnie rarely accepts her compliments claiming there’s nothing “good” about her. Like I said these people are sad.

I’ve always said that this is a film where it feels like it’s going to storm in every scene. The way Kloves filmed it there is a definite feeling of menace that surrounds the film. The proverbial dark cloud that follows Arlis around also follows the viewer. Every frame is smothered in atmosphere, the locations and overall vibe the film gives off sets the perfect tone. I’m a sucker for the type of imagery that the film seen throughout the film, so I was immediately drawn in right from the start. The opening title sequence instantly sets up the mood with the exterior shots of the farm house and it’s surroundings, sacrificing music for the natural drones of the environment, animals, the creeking of equipment and a metal swing. Foreboding to say the least. The house manages to have the same effect during the climax, despite it now being long abandoned and decrepit, that same sense of dread is ever present, as it’s impossible to forget the violence that occurred at the beginning of the film. No film set in Texas would be complete without some good country music on the soundtrack, and this is no different. Great songs from Willie Nelson, George Jones, who’s song “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” is given some tongue and cheek connotations when played given the context of the film, and an amazing use of the song “Blue Moon Revisited” by the amazing Cowboy Junkies. When I hear that song it’s impossible not to get visions of lonely motel rooms inhabited by even lonelier souls and desolate, long stretches of highway surrounded by nothing and this film is filled with such things. The scene wherein the song is played is played in the background of Arlis and Kay’s motel room provided a perfect backdrop for the songs somber, yet tranquil tone and the music and imagery complimented each other flawlessly.
Should have been the VHS/DVD cover.

When Flesh and Bone was released leads Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan were married, and I’m sure the general public wanted to see the two in some lame romantic comedy, not a depressing film such as this. While it got some good reviews from critics, the film didn’t do so hot at the box office, and seemed to have been forgotten about over the years. (It‘s mind blowing to think this film turns 20 next year) A damn shame, but I was quite pleased to read many positive reviews of the film on IMDb and Amazon, so it defiantly does have it’s fair share fans, although it does seem to still be pretty unknown to a lot of people, which is strange when you consider the big name cast. One of those situations where those who know, KNOW. Paramount did release it on DVD back in 2002, in an overpriced bare bones edition of course. I’ll always hope that some company who cares about the film will acquire the rights to it and give it the royal DVD treatment it deserves. I’m talking interviews, commentaries, the works. Wishful thinking on my part, I know. Nevertheless though, it’s a film that I’ve always been a champion of, and will continue to be hoping to turn other onto it. Flesh and Bone makes no apologies for it’s dreariness, and hopefully you’ll be willing to spend 2 dark hours with some shady and desperate characters, as it’s an underappreciated movie with a ton of staying power. You’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lord of the Vampires (2002)

If you’ll indulge me for a moment I’d like to start off this review with a small rant. I know I’m not alone on this issue because I’ve seen the topic come up many times on other blogs and message boards. If you’re a fan of cinema of the more obscure and under the radar nature than there’s a good chance you’re a collector as well. If that’s the case than there’s no doubt you’ve seen some VHS tapes or DVD’s being sold for an absolutely ridiculously high price. It’s infuriating and honestly  quite disheartening to finally find a film you’ve been hunting after for a long time only to discover you might not make rent that month if you buy it. The thing is, there are people who actually shell out absurd amounts of money for these things which only encourages sellers to put a heavy price tag on certain movies. I realize that a lot of the films that go for such high prices are usually out of print and may be valuable but some of the prices I’ve seen some films listed for are just asinine. I know, I know, that’s the way it goes, get over it. What does this have to do with anything? Well, a USED copy of this film on it‘s own, Lord of the Vampires, a USED copy goes for $89.96 and a brand new copy on eBay is being sold for $289.99. Thankfully, Jerry Feifer over at Vista Street Entertainment, the films executive producer and distributor a is a cool guy and I was able to obtain a copy at a price that didn’t result in me having to sell my truck.

In the middle of a convince store robbery a civilian, Amanda, walks in, in effect botching the entire operation for the assailants. In a panic, Larry, the leader of the group of thugs decides to kidnap Amanda and figure out what to do with her later. This isn’t the gangs luckiest night as their van breaks down shortly after leaving the scene of the crime leaving them stranded. Trying to find a phone they go to the nearest house they passed before they broke down. Said residence happens to belong to Viktor, the titular Lord of the Vampires and his two vampire mistresses, Ravenna and Mercy. Thinking this will be an easy meal, Viktor offers the group to stay the night, which they agree. But Amanda has caught the eye of Viktor, and he plans on turning her and making her his third mistress, enraging the already very jealous Ravenna. Meanwhile Larry has plans on looting the house later on in the night, while Ravenna, who is sick of taking orders from Viktor and having to share him, hatches a plan with Mercy to get rid of their master and Amanda during the ceremonial ritual to make Amanda a vampire. However complications arise and things don’t exactly as anybody planned and things get complicated and very bloody, fast.

Lord of the Vampires might have some things working against it, but hopefully you can get past some of it’s stiff acting and other things that I’ll mention later on, because this movie is pretty friggin’ awesome. There was obviously no pretence on the part of the filmmakers, they knew exactly what kind of film they were going to make and they delivered the goods and then some, as right after the opening credits we’re treated to two gorgeous naked bodies on display and minutes later a messy vampire attack resulting in what seems like gallons upon gallons of blood being drained out of the unlucky vitcim, so it lets you know what kind of a movie you’re getting into. It’s a sleazy, violent balls out vampire flick, and it’s an absolute blast to watch. I had a smile on my face for the duration of the whole film.  It might seem a bit slow at first, but there’s some nice build up, letting us to get to know the characters and their personalities. I really enjoyed the Ravenna and Mercy characters. Again, the acting leaves a bit to be desired but their fun characters and their screen time was always enjoyable so it balances out nicely. Plus the  thieves are a pretty interesting bunch, and once Larry and his gang arrive at Viktor’s house however, that’s where the film really takes off. The last 40 minutes or so when Ravenna and Mercy set their sights on Larry, his cohort Steve (the “sensitive” one in the group of thieves who happens to be falling for Amanda as well) and Larry’s girl Denise, and Viktor goes after Amanda are good times all around. Another thing, I’ve seen the film classified as “erotic horror” and I guess that’s pretty accurate as it is sexy as hell, but don’t think “erotic” in terms of the lame sappy “romantic” vampire cliché. More “erotic” like gratuitous Eutotrash flicks of yesteryear, and like those films it embraces it’s sleaziness and makes no apologies for it

Jack Wareing (Viktor) is a total badass. I’ve known this ever since seeing him as the villain in the 2001 thriller Mad Jack, also directed written and by Brad Sykes, so I knew he would make a great vampire, although I’m not so sure about that accent he was trying to get across. He looked the part and has presence to boot, yet this is also where I have to take umbrage with some aspects of the film. Unfortunately, the filmmakers thought it would be a good idea to put pasty white pancake makeup on the vampires and it looks totally corny. I get the reasoning behind it but it does not work at all and I’m really surprised nobody objected to it. Plus sometimes it’s on and sometimes it’s not. While Wareing is still an imposing figure as Viktor, the make up makes him come with a side order of goofiness instead of being 100% threatening. There are a few inconsistencies in the script as well concerning what exactly needs to happen to actually turn into a vampire, and a major part of the finale that will have you scratching you head as to how what you’re seeing is possible, so there are some contradictions when it comes to the vampire mythology department. There’s also some choppy editing early on during the robbery scene. It’s very brief, like literally a split second, but it is noticeable. Had the film not kicked as much ass as it did, these things would probably have bothered me a lot more, but their actually pretty minor inconveniences. Well, except for that damn makeup.

One thing this film does have going for it is gore, and lots of it. Not “Quick, drip some blood on her neck and call it a bite and fast we’re going to DVD tomorrow!” or crappy looking CG either. I’m talking old school, practical gooey make up effects. We get burnt and melting skin, a heart ripped out of a chest, some really nasty vampire bites (Ravenna and Mercy don’t mess around) and a decapitation via bare hands. It’s a bloodbath for sure. Granted, some of the effects are more convincing than others, but they all look cool on screen. Money well spent if you ask me. It was refreshing to see actual effort put into the effects, which isn’t always the case when it comes to low budget features such as this, and to take the old school make up routes earns extra points from me. The film is fairly stylish, and I’ve got to hand it to Sykes because I really wasn’t expecting this film to look as good as it did. The set decorations as well as the lighting were great, lots of red, naturally, Viktor and his mistresses home looked real good as well, defiantly a vampyric vibe, and Viktor’s lair/throne room or whatever you want to call it looked awesome. Loved all the shots of Viktor on his throne looking all vicious. The music is pretty nifty too, mixing rock songs, mostly by the band Abney Park, with some classical thrown in for good measure. I do have to mention that I did geek out pretty hard when some songs from the film Body Parts, an older Vista Street film (review here:, were played later on in the film. I know that means absolutely nothing to anybody but me, but I figured I’d mention it.

Brad Sykes certainly was prolific in the world of direct to DVD during the early 2000’s. Hell in 2002 alone along with Lord of the Vampires he directed 6 other films including Death Factory, which I am interested in seeing at some point on account of Tiffany Shepis being in it, and Witchcraft XII: In the Lair of the Serpent. Other titles of his that you may or may not have seen sitting on a video store shelf if you town is still lucky enough to have one include the previously mentioned Mad Jack (2001), Goth (2003), Bloody Tease (2004) and Plagures (2008). Judging from other reviews of his films they seem to be hit or miss depending on who you ask. He also runs his own production company along with his wife, Nightfall Pictures. Off the 3 films of his that I have seen, Lord of the Vampires easily stands out as the best, and it’s also hands down the legitimately best thing put out by Vista Street Entertainment. It’s rough around the edges in parts, but the entertainment factor far outweighs the majority of it’s shortcomings. Pancake makeup be damned, it’s too much fun. There are two multi-film sets which include Lord of the Vampires, Vamps and Witches, although that isn’t exactly the cheapest either, new or used, and the Ultimate Vampire Collection which is reasonably priced used, but I have no clue what the other films in the set are. Now only if certain jackasses who want to part with their singular copy of the DVD would lower the goddamn price so others who want to check it out can afford to buy it if they want.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hitch Hike (1977)

Original Italian title: Autostop Rosso Sangue

Late last year the world sadly lost one hell of a performer in David Hess. Hess was well known and respected among genre fans for his unmatched ability portraying menacing villains, most notably in Wes Craven’s debut film Last House on the Left, Ruggero Deodato’s infamous House on the Edge of the Park, and the film I’m going to discuss, 1977’s Hitch Hike. I remember the first time I saw Hess in a film it was when I was still quite young. The film was Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing. Even though the character he played in that film, Ferret, was minor, I remember thinking to myself “what’s THIS guy all about?!” The man had an undeniable presence about him, and whenever he was on the screen, you were immediately drawn in, no matter what he was doing. The man was also an incredibly talented musician and songwriter, even scoring Last House on the Left. He’s responsible for the haunting “Road Lead’s To Nowhere” song heard in the film. This is all well known information I know, but the man saying the man was multitalented is an understatement. Of the trilogy of films where he shined at playing a psychopath, it was always Hitch Hike that stood out to me as the best of the bunch.

While road tripping it through California, bickering Italian couple Eve (Corinne Cléry, probably best known for her role as Bond girl Corinne Dufour in 1979's Moonraker)
and her booze loving journalist husband Walter Mancini (Franco Nero) pick up a hitchhiker, much to Walters chagrin. The hitch hiker, Adam Konitz (Hess) claims to be a grad student on his way to the city to take a few extra courses. When Adam makes a pass at Eve, a fight breaks out between him and Walter, resulting in Adam pulling a gun, revealing that he is one of four men on the run after pulling a major robbery, a robbery Walter and Eve heard about on the radio just prior to picking up Adam. He’s split from the rest of his group and plans to keep the money, a grand total of $2 million dollars all to himself. Konitz becomes the back seat driver, ordering Walter and Eve to drive him to the border, all the while terrorizing the two with glee.

That shitty plot description might make Hitch Hike seem fairly straightforward but belive me it’s far from a predictable film. This defiantly isn’t you’re average exploitation flick. Sure, it’s got the violence and sleaze that normally comes with that tag, but what sets Hitch Hike apart from other films of it’s ilk is the surprise factor. Just as soon as you think you’ve got it all figured out, Hitch Hike takes a sharp turn (pun intended) and takes you places you never expected a film like this to go. It’s an exciting watch for sure as you’ll always be on your toes wondering where it’s all going to end up. Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to discuss it in great detail without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, which would be a huge disservice. But, I’ll say some of those surprises include  a brief but tense interaction with two motorcycle cops (one of the films best moments by the way, you’ll surly remember that one, let’s just say Adam is the real deal), meeting up with some characters you probably would have never expected to meet, which in turn leads to a badass chase sequence involving a huge truck, and an ending that seriously comes out of left fucking field. Even for a film like this which throws us many curveballs you won’t see that one coming. Remember that a lot of the film takes place inside a car, so along with the fact that these two people have a lunatic with a gun in the back seat of their car, the (often times witty) dialogue is important and is used as a great suspense builder. Walter and Adam do a ton of verbal (as well as physical) sparring. Adam suggests to Walter that he write a book about the whole ordeal but Walter’s response is that it won’t sell because nobody will be interested as Adam isn’t the big deal he thinks he is, he’s just “small time”. Also, when Adam does force Walter to “interview” him for said book, Walter makes the usual assumptions about Adam’s childhood that would make him turn out the way he is. Broken home, mother was a whore, and other things of the like. It’s always intense wondering how Adam will react to one of Walter’s remarks knowing how unstable he is. Even Eve gets in on the insults, claiming Adam only acts like a “real man” because he has a gun, although she would later go on to regret that. The topic of manhood actually comes up a bit during this film, but more on that below.

Along with being a road thriller, Hitch Hike in many ways could be seen as a character study, in fact I don’t think the film would have worked as well as it did had the characters not been as interesting as they are. Before we even meet Adam, we’re given just the right amount of set up to get to know Walter and Eve. It’s obvious these two can barley stand each other, hell the only time they take a break from arguing is when they’re screwing intensely. Despite all the hell that Adam puts them through on this hell ride, they STILL fight. You would think in a time like that it would be the perfect time to put aside all differences but no. It’s quite fascinating to watch how the two deal with the situation and each other, constantly hurling insults back and forth, each always trying to out smartass the other, which of course only fuels the fun Adam is having messing with them. Eve implying that Walter only married her for her fathers money, which also goes back to the topic of being a “real man”, Walter always referring to Eve as a whore, Walter tries to save himself and Eve, she insults him when his plan fails. You get the picture. There’s an interesting dynamic when it comes to Eve and the two men, as it’s obvious Walter is extremely jealous, as the whole ideal started when Adam made a pass at Eve, and Adam uses Walter’s jealously to his advantage. Adam himself is a very interesting psycho. Clearly out of his mind, yet there’s more too him than that, and throughout the film we gradually learn more about what makes him tick. There is a disturbing, charismatic charm about him, as Hess has that everyman gone horribly wrong quality about him.  All three play off each other beautifully, especially Hess and Nero. The back and forth’s between the two are always entertaining, even humorous at times, with both men constantly, purposefully mispronouncing the other’s name.

Ok Martini, or whatever you said your name was.
Ok Cunts, or whatever you said your name was.

Hitch Hike was shot in Italy but remember the story is supposed to take place in California  so director Pasquale Festa Campanile improvised and made some makeshift signs and things of the like to make places like a café and gas station seem more American. It worked pretty well because it’s mentioned in the documentary "The Devil Thumb’s a Ride" on the DVD that American tourists who were near the shoot said they were surprised to see parts of Italy that looked so American. Visually the film looks amazing, with the constant wide shots of the beautiful desert landscape and highway and the banjo heavy score by the legendary Ennio Morricone gives the film a distinct western feel, yet also unquestionably Italian. The music is put to perfect use when Adam rapes eve in front of Walter, whom is tied up and forced to watch. The music is fairly pulsating and Campanile cuts back and forth between Adam having his way with Eve and tight close up’s of Walter’s face. As the intensity in the music builds so does the look in Walter’s eyes, and the added red glow in his face from a nearby campfire make it ten times more effective. It’s perfectly photographed, and for a rape scene it’s actually very tastefully done. Well, as “tasteful” as a rape scene is going to get. Of course you can’t talk about the music in this film without mentioning the song “Sunshine” that we hear throughout the film. It’s ridiculously catchy and impossible to get out of your head after you’ve heard it but you won’t care. Obviously the tone of the song is far different from the film’s content but I guess that was the point.

For whatever reason, when Hitch Hike was first released in 1977, it barley played in any theatre’s in America, although it was a hit over sea’s. Still over the years it has become an underground classic, finally getting a great DVD treatment from the great Anchor Bay in 2002, which was subsequently re-issued a few years later by the great Blue Underground. If I had to nitpick about anything in the film, I’d say that the set up to the twist ending is a BIT far fetched. Still, an issue small as isn’t enough to ruin what I would dare call an otherwise flawless film. It’s exceptionally well written and acted (defiantly one of Franco Nero’s finest hours and again I reiterate it features Hess at his psychotic best),  it’s visually stunning, and features a great Morricone score, and it offers a hell of a lot more than most of the films that fall under the “exploitation” banner. There’s action, suspense, drama, tons of unexpected twists, not to mention a frequently naked Corinne Cléry. If you’re a fan of this type of cinema, or a fan of the late, very great David Hess or Franco Nero and Hitch Hike is not a part of your collection, my only question is why the hell not?! Although if you are a fan of Hess or Nero then you’ve probably been all over Hitch Hike for years. To put it in  Layman’s terms, it rules.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Demonsoul (1995)

First off you know your dealing with something just a tad under the radar when you can’t find a picture of the box art bigger than 144x260. Take a second to glace at the box art for a moment. If I had been in a retail store about 17 years ago back when they sold VHS and saw this on the shelf without any prior knowledge of the film, with a cover like that I’d probably think it was the home video version of some post-apocalyptic goth/cyberpunk cartoon MTV or HBO would play at 1 in the morning back in the 90’s or something. It’s also exactly the kind of cover that would make me pick the tape up at the video store and start at it like a jackass for 2 minutes contemplating on whether or not to rent it, all the while knowing in the back of my mind that I would eventually cave in and do so. How the hell could I not?! Anyway, Demonsoul might not be what I described above, but that cover art is kind of misleading, as it’s not the cheesefest the box would lead you to believe. Really, it’s not.

Erica Steele (Kerry Norton) is being plagued by nightmares. Every other night she dreams of a man being dragged into a room by hooded men and ritualistically sacrificed by an alluring, mysterious red headed woman (Eileen Daly), whom Erica also has visions of during the day. After normal therapy does nothing to suppress the nightmares, Erica goes to a  hypnotherapist,  Dr. Bucher, who specializes in “past life regression”. When he’s not busy molesting Erica when she’s under hypnosis, he discovers that Erica led a past life as a vampire, Countess Dana who’s demonic spirit is now trying to take full possession of Erica’s soul, and the red headed woman is Selena, the Countess’ servant. Dr. Bucher’s curiosity and greed get’s the better of him, and he makes an offer with Dana to supply her with the blood needed to strengthen her to fully posses Erica’s body, in exchange for a taste of her power, leaving Erica to fight for the protection of her body and soul on her own.

Demonsoul is the kind of movie you watch and all the while think of what might have been had the filmmakers spent a little more time tightening up the script. There a some really cool idea’s on display, it’s just that they’re not really fleshed out that much, namely the possession angle. There’s really not a lot done with it, and at times the whole thing feels a but rushed. The film is only 82 minutes, and as a result of this it can become confusing at times as to what exactly is going on in certain scenes when it relates to the possession and Erica’s “past life”. There are some cryptic elements regarding the character of Selena at the beginning of the film as well, but I’m guessing that was on purpose, given that she’s supposed to have mysterious connotations.  Still, despite all that, Demonsoul was intriguing enough to keep me interested all the way though. The vampyric possession idea was a good one, even if it’s potential wasn’t fully reached here. The film moves along at a fairly quick pace, gradually getting better as it goes along and gets really good during the final half hour and finale. Most of the confusing loose ends are somewhat tied up as well, which is a good thing as there are crucial elements to the story and Erica’s relationship with Selena, and I can honestly say the ending, while a bit rushed, was unexpected. Kerry Norton is extremely hot and does both the good and evil sides of her character well enough. She’s likable as the “good” Erica and is one of the main reasons why it’s so easy to keep watching the film. Yes, she has a nude scene. Eileen Daly is always great to look at and only hams it up a few times, and yeah, she has a nude scene. There’s actually not that much nudity though, which was surprising considering this is a Vista Street film.

Aesthetically, Demonsoul at times tips it’s hat to the classic sleazy Eurotrash film’s of the 70’s complete with ritual sacrifice and some light lesbian vampire action which I greatly appreciated. This was obviously a super low budget, shot on video production but that’s never a hindrance here. Actually the SOV look gives certain scenes a nice grit to them. In particular Erica’s sacrifice nightmare that the film opens with and the finale. Both scenes were shot in this old abandoned building, it might have been an old church, not sure about that though. Anyway, along with all the biting and whipping going on, the SOV look gives those scenes a gnarly feeling of dirtiness. Very grimy and trashy. You know, they sort of remind me of an old 90’s black metal video. Primitive, yes, but it gives off a vibe, which is always nice to see in a flick with a budget this low. There’s also a scene where a sacrifice victim is mauled by a group of female vampires on the same buildings bathroom floor. All of them wearing bondage outfits. Again, very music videoesque and the whole S&M undertones give off an air of sleaze. It’s not all honky dory though, as like a lot of other SOV movies Demonsoul has it’s share of technical issues. Easily the worst thing about this movie is the audio. Muffled doesn’t even begin to describe it. There are instances where it’s so bad it’s literally impossible to understand any of the dialogue and trying to adjust the volume only makes it more distorted. It’s also inconsistent in it’s shoddiness as well. Often times it will be clear as day and one second later it will drop out you’ll be begging for subtitles. Of course it’s at it’s worst when critical elements of story dealing with the Countess and Selena are being discussed. Beyond irritating.

It’s obvious when you watch a low to no budget film to know when the people involved didn’t give a shit but that’s definitely not the case with Demonsoul, which is more than I can say about the other project Eileen Daly and director Elisar Cabrera worked on together 3 years after this was made (Witchcraft X: Mistress of the Craft). There really was effort put into this, and I think if the filmmakers had a slightly bigger budget and more time to fully round out the script than this movie might have been less inconsistent. Demonsoul may be a bit uneven and suffer from incredibly bad audio but it had enough going for it to keep me watching and the 82 minutes goes by pretty fast. Sure it’s got it’s amateurish moments as a lot of low budget genre fares do, but honestly, it’s one of the better ones put out by Vista Street Entertainment.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rabid (1977)

If you read my review of Crash than you should already know my stance on David Cronenberg. I’m not going to repeat everything I said in the opening of that review, but a condensed, more to the point version of it was Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors of all time. Simply put I think he’s one of the most brilliant and original filmmakers of the last 40 or so years and there’s nobody else like him. Much like Shivers, his second feature length film Rabid was of the first batch of films of his that I saw when I was first getting into his work. I remember catching a few moments of it on the Independent Film Channel back when said channel was actually showing real independent films and I just had too see the entire thing, so naturally I went to every video store around to find a copy and I not only did I find one, they sold it too me. I still have that VHS, in it’s original clamshell. Anyway, yeah. Rabid. Just like I did with Shivers, I fell it in love with Rabid instantly and it quickly became one of my favorite Cronenberg films and I revisit it often.

After surviving a life threatening motorcycle accident leaving her body with severe burns, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) undergoes an experimental skin grafting surgery in attempt to restore her skin. The operation is a success, although as an unusual side effect, Rose soon develops on orifice under her arm which houses a phallic stinger which feeds off blood, which Rose soon discovers she needs as sustenance. Rose soon escapes the hospital and en route to Montreal while continuing to quench her thirst for blood. Unbeknownst to her, whoever she feeds off of becomes infected with a rabies like virus, turning them into a bloodthirsty maniac who’s bite spreads the disease. The virus spreads rapidly becoming an epidemic, eventually reaching the city of Montreal. Panic erupts and the city is placed on martial law, all the while Rose’s boyfriend Hart desperately searches for her before she infects any more people.

In a way, Rabid could be seen as a companion piece to Shivers, albeit on a much larger scale. Both films deal with rapidly spreading diseases and seem to be some sort of critique on the consequences (fantastic as they are) of renegade science and medicine run amok, but while Shivers gave off an uncomfortable feeling of isolation, having the action confined to the Starliner apartment  building, Rabid sees Cronenberg expanding his canvas. By having the disease spread to an highly populated city, Cronenberg was able to create a real sense of paranoia as tension is high everywhere you turn. Part of the fun of watching this movie is knowing that something is going to happen, just not knowing when. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others, such as when a farmer that Rose fed from the night before attacks a diner, or a man entering his house calling out to his wife but nobody answers, but they’re still effective scenes to watch. Cronenberg increases the felling of social panic by having many scenes take place in crowded places such as a mall (one of the film’s highlights), a subway train and a long line of people. Like all great epidemic films,  anybody can be infected and strike at any time in any place. Who will it be? How many of them will there be? Nobody is immune from the disease. It could be a wife, husband, child, ect… doesn’t matter, so there’s always that element of surprise. I’m not sure if it was intentional on Cronenberg’s part or not, but I’ve always seen some aspects of Rabid as an observation on how we the public reacts to news concerning a sickness or epidemic, rushing to conclusions, inducing panic and so forth. Granted the panic in this film is more than warranted but it’s just a thought that always pops in my head while watching this.

There’s been some debate over the years as to exactly what you would call the infected ones. They share the traits of both zombies and vampires, yet they aren’t exactly either of those. I’ve heard the term “rage zombies” thrown around a lot when discussing this film.  Well, I wouldn’t describe them as either of those, others have disagreed. Like zombies they’re basically mindless save for the fact that they know they’re constantly hungry and they’ve got one hell of a bite. What is certain about them however, is that they  are fucking vicious, and their attacks are quite nasty. The scene where one of Rose’s doctors becomes rabid during a surgery is a classic Cronenberg moment. The make up is sparse but perfect, whitened faces, some marks around the eyes making them look severely ill and of course the frothing at the mouth. The actors portraying the infected ones do a good job coming off as legimately  rabid. Then of course there’s Rose. Rose survives off blood, but would you call her a vampire? Certainly not in the traditional sense. To be honest I don’t think the diseased in the film, nor Rose herself really need to be classified, as I personally feel it takes away from their uniqueness. Still it’s an interesting topic to bring up when talking about this film. Leave it to Cronenberg to come up with a sickness totally unclassifiable.

It would have been easy to have made Rose a one dimensional, mindless, raving  bloodsucker but Cronenberg is smarter than that and made her a very well rounded character with depth, and Marilyn Chambers delivers a strong performance hitting all the right notes. If she had been lackluster the film would have suffered greatly. It goes without saying that she’s a stunning, very alluring woman and as Rose she uses her sexuality to her utmost advantage when needing to feed, such as going into a sleazy porno theatre knowing that some creepy guy will approach her. She is able to radiate sexuality by just sitting still. Despite needing blood to survive, Rose is still very much human. She is nothing like the monsters she inadvertently creates, only becoming violent when hunger strikes. From a physical standpoint Chambers knocked this aspect of her character out of the park, as she is very aggressive when she attacks, and there is a sexual aspect about her method, the way she cradles the head of her victims. Cronenberg treats Rose’s need for blood very much like a drug addiction as when Rose goes long periods without blood she writes on the floor, very convincingly, in excruciating pain. There is an air of sympathy to Rose, as it’s not exactly her fault she became this way, nor does she enjoy it, yet she quickly learned she has to do these things to survive, all the while being completely oblivious to the fact that she’s the one that’s causing the outbreak. Chambers handles this emotional side of Rose very well, and when she is finally hit with the revelation that she’s the cause of the plague her denial makes it all the more tragic.

When Rabid was being shot Marilyn Chambers was arguably the most famous porn star in the world thanks to her 1972 film Behind the Green Door which actually found some crossover success during the so called “golden age of porn”. Rabid was her first non porn film and it’s a shame she never got the chance to do any others as she defiantly had the chops as witnessed here. I believe she could have been a well loved actress in the horror genre. Sadly she passed away in 2009 at the age of 56. Cronenberg stated in an interview that when he found out Chamber's was looking for a role in a “legitimate film” he was “quite tickled” that she thought Rabid would be a legitimate film. Rabid is an essential Cronenberg movie as it sees him further expand upon ideas that he would eventually perfect in future films in the so called “body horror” or “venereal horror” that he is credited with inventing. It’s unusual “monsters”, visceral attack moments, intense mood and a great showing from Chambers will make it a fun watch for fans of the genre in general and hopefully it will turn people on to the wonderful world of Cronenberg and make them fans. It’s awesome.