Someone's in the house. He's watching. He's creeping round, only you can't see him. He's watching you from the walls. He's right behind you now. Looking over your shoulder. He wants the remote control. He's a bad boy. He wants to watch bad movies. Bad bad Ronald...

Monday, December 19, 2011

PopCereal Remembers a Holiday Trick or Treat: Home for the Holidays (1972)

I've got your present for you. It's a pitchfork!! In your back!!!
The four Morgan sisters reunite, after nine years, as they visit their ailing father.  There is the youngest, Christine (played by a young Sally Fields, fresh off her run as The Flying Nun), an naive innocent college girl, who still depends on her big sisters; Jo (Jill Haworth) the feisty socialite, Fred (Jessica Walter, who was killer in Play Misty for Me, just a year earlier) along with her bottles of vodka, and Alex (Eleanor Parker) the older, mother-hen spinster.
Don't look at him, whatever you do

They've been summoned to their childhood ranch estate by their father (the ever enjoyable Walter Brennan), who is convinced that his new wife (the creepy Julie Harris) is trying to poison him.  Her first husband died under mysterious circumstances, and now the sisters are worried that she is targeting their father's money.  To make matters more difficult, there is a terrible December thunderstorm a-brewing.  Trapped in their secluded childhood home, the sisters keep an eye open for their suspicious stepmother, and open some scabbed over wounds from their own dysfunctional past.
Killer Graphic Tee

Oh... and let's not forget the maniacal killer, dressed in a yellow rain slicker and boots, and red rubber gloves, carrying a pitchfork!

Produced by the dream team of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, this TV Movie is already a must see. But then you throw in John Llewellyn Moxey -- the best TV Movie of the Week director ever(!), well, then you just have a hit on your hands.

Oh yeah, Michael Myers.  I got your number.

I can still remember the first time I watched this Yuletide creeper.  It's probably the first slasher flick I ever watched.  Sadly, though, in the pantheon on modern horror, there is no mention of this small screen gem.  Halloween has already been established as the original slasher flick, and has been widely credited for setting the standards and motifs.  Horror buffs will also look back a couple years previous to Black Christmas, and credit that film for establishing the guidelines for all others.  But, no one ever talks about Home for the Holidays.  Clearly, HFTH is well set in the Made for Television vein, with the old fashioned "ladies in distress" theme, and Gothic thriller overtones.  It doesn't compare to the youthful. angsty and lusty predecessors, with their shocks and sex.  But, check out the killer donned in the slasher style garb!

If we all know one thing about slasher flicks, it's that the killer is always masked, his/her identity hidden from the viewer.  HFTH has that motif down pat, and it predates Halloween by a half dozen years (Black Christmas by two years).

Actually, this argument is somewhat of a moot point, seeing that the Italian Giallo pictures had killers running around in rain slickers and gloves long before Spelling and Goldberg decided to make this film

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Peephole Review: Chillerama!

A good B-movie spoof is real hard to find these days, with all the wink-wink, rib-elbowing irony infused into every scene, by filmmakers who want to make sure the audience knows that they know that they're referencing a bunch of other films that everybody and their Aunt Tillie has seen and cribbed from a thousands times before.  The forgotten ingredient that these filmmakers have all overlooked in the B-movies of yesteryear is sincerity. These old films that so often get spoofed, mainly for their overacting and under-producing, weren't made to make us laugh, but rather were an earnest effort at serious filmmaking. They all thought they were making a real good movie!  The fact that their earnest efforts fail at every turn is what gives us the laughs.  You see, we're laughing at them, not with them.  So, to just mimic their mistakes is tantamount to laughing at the guy who you just tripped on purpose.

But, sometimes a spoof works, because the filmmaker(s) aren't just enamourd with their subject, but willing to create a story worth seeing... even the same old story for the umpteenth time. 

Chillerama is a B-movie spoof anthology that does work for the most part.  The film cleverly taken place in an old school drive-in, called the Chillerama, where Richard Riehle (Office Space) plays Cecil Kaufman (get it!!) the washed up owner, who plans one last night of B-movie thrills before closing up the box-office for good.  This is the wraparound segment that encases the three other films in the anthology: Wadzilla, I Was a Teenage Werebear, and The Diary of Anne Frankenstein.

Where's the "B"?
As Cecil Kaufman gears up for the opening of his final night, his key employee is off at the cemetery, digging up his deceased wife's grave, so he could get from her what she wouldn't give to him when they were married.  When his wife reanimates, just as he unzips his fly, she gives him more than he bargained for. Meanwhile, back at the Chillerama, the place is filling up with moviegoers ready for some on-screen action, as well as some backseat delights.  What the kids don't know is that the necrophiliac husband has turned into a zombie, as a result of his dead wife's, um... oral castration, and the glowing blood from his wounds has dripped into the buttery sauce on the popcorn.

As directed by Joe Lynch, these wraparound segments are some of the most effective in the film, reflecting nicely, those 80s horndog films of the 80s.  The themes are universal (teenage love and lust, and the desire to preserve our old ways), and the gags are familiar (but freshened up for the contemporary audience).

Momma's gotta a lot of stains to wash out
And now, on to the first featurette!! Wadzilla is about... well, I think the title speaks for itself -- it's about a guy whose radioactive sperm grows to ginormous proportions and threatens to topple the city.  Directed and starring Adam Rifkin (The Dark Backward), and featuring a great, straightforward performance by Ray Wise, Wadzilla is a throwback to those fear inducing sci-fi horrors that warn of the dangers of dabbling in science.
"Like this?  This look right?"

Next is I Was a Teenage Werebear, a giddy mix of Rebel Without a Cause and Twilight, with some Frankie & Annette thrown in.  Only Annette doesn't sing so well, and Frankie doesn't get all hot and bothered from her.  Instead, Frankie (actually his name is Ricky) is hot for Talon, the new biker in town. Director Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) turns the beach blanket set on its head, with this analogy of budding teen sexuality.  Morphing into a bloodthirsty wolf beast has been a clever twist to represent the trials and tribulations of puberty in many movies -- I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Michael Landon got all hairy (and not just his palms) when he got near the female student bodies, and Ginger Snaps Katharine Isabelle shags out once a month, not on a full moon, but with her period.  In Werebear, a nibble on the backside of Ricky, from werebear Talon, unleashes Ricky's hairy and gay self straight out of the closet.

The last of the drive-in features is Adam Green's near perfect The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, the bombastic story of when Hitler tried to create the perfect killing monstrosity out of spare body parts, but winds up creating a "super-Jew."  I am not an Adam Green fan -- I wasn't impressed with his slasher spoof  Hatchet (what was hailed as a new franchise for the slasher spoof genre was just another retread of a retread) or thrilled by Frozen (the forced sentimentality was eye-rolling) -- but, I was tickled with this spot on spoof of the Frankenstein legend.  As Green talks about in the DVD extras, with a lead character as controversial as  Adolph Hitler, his script really needed to heavily lampoon the world's most notorious villain.
"Ve vill ask ze qvestions!"

And he succeeded with some real comic genius. Joel David Moore (Art School Confidential), who is hit or miss in so many other films, puts on a ribald, riotous portrayal of Mein Furor which could easily be lifted and placed inside a Mel Brooks film. Moore gives Green's caricature of Hitler the perfect frenzied pitch.  But Green's idea to have the entire film spoken in German (with subtitles) and cast with German speaking actors, while not providing Moore any written lines in German, is pure comic brilliance.  Having been coached in the early scenes, Moore's Hitler sounds convincing. His dialogue sounds in place with the other's.  But, slowly we begin to detect a dash of gibberish thrown in, until Moore is careening through his dialogue with a cache of made up words and finagled pop references.
Me dance... no goooood.  Annnhhhhhh!

The one miss in this segment was the casting of Kane Hodder as the monster. I don't easily bash on the icons of horror, but I don't much go for the hey look who we've got style of stunt casting, either.  And this is where the entire film seems to falter -- in its commitment to the overall production values.  Had Anne Frankenstein cast someone with some real comic chops as the monster,  it could've pushed this segment into the comedy stratosphere.  Instead of a comic performance generating good laughs, the hey, look who it is gag comes from the mere idea of seeing Jason Vorhees doing a Yiddish dance  Oy!  The filmmakers were clearly aiming for the fanboys in the audience.  Had they aimed higher, and got someone to keep up to Joel David Moore, this segment would be accessible to all comedy fans.  Not just horror fanboys.

In fact, the entire movie could've been vaulted into an accessible comedy, sitting nicely on the Netflix queue next to Kentucky Fried Movie or The Groove Tube.  All the segments generated some fairly sharp laughs (as well as gross out groans) in their scripts and in the performances.  But unfortunately, the entire project suffered from some poorly chosen production choices. Besides Kane working outside his usual elements (with chainsaws and machetes as props), other casting miscues threatened to derail other segments.  I understand the comic idea of "bad songs," but I Was a Teenage Werebear was nearly put down like a rabid dog with the lethal combination of silly lyrics and bad singing.  I don't mean the intentional bad singing for comic effect, but rather the kind of singing we all cringe at during the American Idol try-outs. It's easy to laugh at real people who think they can sing, but can't, because, again, we're laughing at them.  However, that's not the kind of laughs you want to generate in your film. 

Outside of some miscues in casting, the overall appearance -- that intentionally effected cheapness of it all -- was done, well... poor.  Making a well shot film appear cheap is somewhat of a pet peeve of mine. The film crew goes through all the effort to make a film look good, then, in the edit room, with expensive technology, the filmmakers go to great lengths and effort to make the film look like shitty film.  They add on some CG generated dirt and scratches, pop on a digital "old film look" filter, futz with the coloring, and -- viola! -- a pseudo piece of shit film.  But, it never fools anyone, because it simply looks like fabricated shit film.  If the desire is to have, say, bad looking green screen effects -- why not hire some first year film students to do the job?  The results would be guaranteed to give that amateurish feel.

Overall, Chillerama is still an enjoyable treat. It would've been a real gem, had the producers put in a solid effort, and made the horror crowd.