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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Horror Films on the Horizon

We haven't done a horror movie preview here at WMV for a while, so here's a look at some 2014 releases that look like they could be good. Among the ridiculous sequels and remakes there may just be some pieces of gold among the dross. My picks:

Witching and Bitching

Terrible American title, but this is a horror comedy from Alex de la Iglesia, who impressed early in his career with Accion Mutante and The Day of the Beast, so this has good potential. Criminals on the lam hide out in a small town that seems like any other only to discover that it's full of witches. They've got a young kid with them and that's exactly what the brujas have been looking for to complete their sacrificial rite.

The Hollywood Reporter gave it a good review when it played at the San Sebastian Festival, calling it "a return to what [de la Iglesia] does best — pure mayhem." And it's got the great Carmen Maura, one of Pedro Almodovar's favorite leading ladies, as one of the enchantresses. That alone puts me in line for this one.

Godzilla

Warner Bros. is going to have its work cut out for it reassuring audiences about the quality of this reboot after Roland Emmerich's wretched 1998 version. It's certainly got the cast — Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Juliette Binoche, to name a few.

And the trailer looks really spectacular. It also seems like there's an environmental angle which would not only be true to the original but a nice thing to do in this day and age. They're only giving us glimpses of the monster in the promotional materials, but thankfully he appears to be the Godzilla we know and love and not the damn lizard in Emmerich's film.


Deliver Us from Evil

I'm always up for a demonic possession film, but I really don't know why. Aside from the classic The Exorcist and a couple others, they've all been stinkers. Every Exorcist sequel sucks (although Exorcist II wins points for being screamingly, hilariously bad), and even Academy Award-winners aren't exempt from bad possession films. Witness Anthony Hopkins in 2011's ridiculous The Rite.

But here we go again, In this film, Eric Bana plays a New York cop who discovers that mysterious killings plaguing the city are caused by ol' Scratch himself. It sounds intriguing, and I love New York-based films. It's based on the real life "chilling cases" of Ralph Sarchie. Huh?

 The Green Inferno

I don't know how I feel about this film. First off, it's co-written and directed by Eli Roth. On the other hand, he was one of the first purveyors of torture porn (for better or worse), so his take on the cannibal vomitorium genre will at least deliver the gore goods.

The plot hews true to the genre and it should. It's a remake of a 1988 Italian (of course) film variously called The Green Inferno and Cannibal Holocaust II. A bunch of college students go into the jungle to save a lost tribe's habitat, only to discover that the tribe wants them for dinner. And reviews assure us  that all the outrageousness that we demand in these films is present — spearings, rapes, flesh-eating, genital mutilation — all the things that make life worth living.

Dracula Untold

The Drac is back in a tale that sets out to tell the story of how Vlad Tepes became Dracula. It's got a pretty good cast, including Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Charlie Cox and Shane McGowan. But it's also got a debuting director, Gary Shore, at the helm. So it'll either be a clunker or a surprising breath of fresh air. Let's hope it's the latter.

One thing that troubles me is that it's being referred to as an action-adventure — rather than horror — film. Vampire action movies bore the hell out of me, with the exception of the first Blade. And it's been bouncing around the production slate for seven years with different actors and directors attached. And they're mixing and matching their myths — the witch Baba Yaga (Samantha Barks) also figures in the story somehow, making me wonder if it's going to be a bad monster rally like 2004's Van Helsing.

Life After Beth

Another shot in the dark with a solid cast. Dane DeHaan (Kill Your Darlings) stars as Zach Orfman, who is devastated when his girlfriend dies. But when she comes back, he treats it as a second chance to say and do everything he wished he'd done before.

It's a horror comedy with Anna Kendrick, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly and Paul Reiser — not exactly your direct-to-video lineup. The Hollywood Reporter liked it. But again it's a first-time director — Jeff Baena, whose other claim to fame is cowriting the godawful I Heart Huckabees. So I consider the jury still out on this one.
 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nancy Allen: An Appreciation

Miss Collins: "Who?" Chris: "Billy Nolan!"
From the bad girl whose cruel prank prompted a teenage holocaust to the police officer who was a faithful partner to Robocop, Nancy Allen has played memorable characters in a number of films that have earned proper cult status here in Weird Movie Village.

And look at the list of directors she's worked with — De Palma, Spielberg, Zemeckis, Verhoeven, Ashby and Bartel. A formidable line-up to be sure, and some genre classics among the misfires.

Her earliest appearance was as Jack Nicholson's nervous date in The Last Detail (1973), but everyone remembers her first major role as the Wild Cherry Lip Smacker-flavored bitch Chris Hargensen in Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976).

Partnered with John Travolta as douchebag boyfriend Billy Nolan, Chris is the school's mean girl, but she gets her share of abuse, too, which exacerbates her cruelty. Allen's naturalistic acting style complements the character and makes her a recognizable human being. She's catty and mean, but able to turn on an intense sensuality to manipulate others. Nancy also had no problem with nudity, as demonstrated in the opening locker room sequence.

Kissing a Beatles guitar in "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"
Next up was the Robert Zemeckis film I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), in which Nancy played one of a group of Jersey girls who go to New York to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. As Pam Mitchell, she displayed a flair for comedy and an appealingly light touch.

Despite the power of Spielberg behind it, the film was a flop when originally released, but has since gained a following. The following year, she was in another bomb, this time directed by Spielberg himself — 1941.

Nancy married De Palma in 1979 and appeared in his 1980 comedy Home Movies, also starring Kirk Douglas, Keith Gordon and Vincent Gardenia. Made with De Palma's students at Sarah Lawrence College, it's an oddball comedy that's a throwback to his 1960s freewheeling films like Greetings (which starred a young Robert De Niro). It didn't find much of an audience, but I rather enjoy it.

A more fruitful collaboration — and re-teaming with Gordon — was 1980's Dressed to Kill, one of several films that prompted critics to compare De Palma to Hitchcock (and not always flatteringly). Nancy is Liz Blake, a high-priced call girl who witnesses the murder of socialite Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) and helps her teenaged son, Peter (Gordon), catch the killer.

Dressed to Kill is ultra-fetishistic, pretty goofy and loaded with allusions to penises, but some bravura sequences, great art direction and Pino Donaggio's hypnotic score make it all watchable. And Nancy is terrific, although her hooker with a heart of gold seems so damn wholesome and cheery, even when she's talking dirty or describing a sex change operation in graphic detail to the appalled Peter (See? Penis.). But that's what makes her character appealing.

With Travolta in "Blow Out."
De Palma again confounded expectations (and drew more Hitchcock comparisons) with the 1981 mystery Blow Out. Here, Travolta starred as a movie sound recordist who thinks an accident hat took the life of a politician may have actually been a murder.

Nancy plays the prostitute (again!) rescued by Travolta from the car. The film did not fare well, as audiences who were looking for more Carrie or The Fury-style mayhem were disappointed by this rather more intelligent thriller. Nevertheless, it has its adherents, and it was a bold effort by Travolta to ditch his musical comedy persona and be taken more seriously.

In 1983 Nancy co-starred with Paul Le Mat in Strange Invaders, a follow-up to director Michael Laughlin and writer Bill Condon's superlatively weird Strange Behavior (1981). Meant to be a spoof of the 1950s-style sci-fiers, it lacked the offbeat charm of the earlier film. With such a cast — Diana Scarwid, Louise Fletcher, Michael Lerner, Charles Lane, June Lockhart — it's a shame the film's not better. 1984 brought The Philadelphia Experiment, a time travel story in which Nancy co-starred with Michael Paré. This one's a cult fan favorite, and they're quick to point out her performance as the best in the film.

Sadly, her work for Paul Bartel in Not for Publication (1984) was not the finest hour for either of them. She plays a gossip column writer who gets caught up in a political corruption scandal. Bartel was attempting a His Girl Friday type of farce, but he forgot to include the comedy.

Nancy as Officer Lewis.
Finally, in 1987, Nancy took what I believe is the best role of her career — Officer Anne Lewis in Robocop. With her trademark blond curls shorn in favor of a more masculine-looking cut, Lewis is a tough little cop who risks everything to help Murphy.

Everything about this movie is firing on all cylinders. The over-the-top action, the great old-school special effects, the nonstop media assault of Fox-style news, ridiculous commercials and idiotic comedy shows...it's scary how many things in Robocop have come true! And Nancy's Lewis is a fully realized character, whether she's whomping on street thugs or giving a helping hand to her robotized partner.

I just watched my super 8 print of the film, which inspired me to write this post.

Unfortunately, she followed up that triumph with another bomb — Poltergeist III (1988), with Heather O'Rourke's Carol Anne going to live in a Chicago high-rise with her aunt (Nancy) and uncle (Tom Skerritt). Only O'Rourke and little Zelda Rubenstein remained of the original cast, and it was a pretty dull effort overall. O'Rourke's tragic death during post production is sadly the most remembered aspect of the film. That and the fact that characters call out each other's names so frequently that the few people who saw it in the theater see it jeered back at the screen.

1990's Robocop II, directed by Irvin Kershner (who helmed in my opinion the best Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back), was co-written by graphic novelist Frank Miller (Sin City). It's pulpier than the original but still fun — and certainly violent. Nancy and Peter Weller reprised their roles, but Robert Burke took over as Murphy in the third installment of the series, which I haven't seen.

Also in 1990, Nancy had the honor of appearing in the very first Lifetime original movie — Memories of Murder! Critically panned, it nevertheless proved popular enough for a home video release, which hilariously features a picture on the sleeve of a woman bent over provocatively to pick up a gun. And no Nancy! Ah, the good old days of VHS.

Paul Verhoeven, Nancy and Peter Weller at a benefit screening in 2013.
Today, Nancy is executive director of WeSPARK, a cancer support center founded by the late Wendie Jo Sperber, Nancy's friend and I Wanna Hold Your Hand co-star. Last year the organization hosted a Robocop benefit screening in Hollywood, which featured a Q&A with Nancy, Weller and Verhoeven. I'm kicking myself for having missed it! Hope to catch up with her at a collectors' show soon.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Candy-Colored Memories

When I was growing up in South Bend, Indiana, my young world revolved around candy. I constantly thought about candy, dreamed about candy and watched never-ending commercials promoting candy. Candy made every holiday brighter. Well, except the Fourth of July — but then we got fireworks!

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We lived in one of those new suburban neighborhoods that were springing up outside of cities all over America. Behind our house were acres and acres of untouched fields and woods, and if you followed a path into the woods, past our hillbilly neighbors who lived in a chicken coop (I'm not kidding), you'd follow it to Coddens Dairy Store, or "the Little Store," as my sisters and I would call it.

The Little Store was on Portage Avenue, across the road from a huge house that served as the district's "old folks'" home, and it was the sort of quick-stop, grab-it-and-go neighborhood places that have long since been supplanted by 7-11s, AM-PMs and gas stations.

At Codden's you could buy milk, bread, snacks and "sundries," whatever the hell those were. But the most important section for me was right up front — a gleaming, huge glass case displaying all manner of delicious candy. Ralphie at his Christmas window had nothing on me as I admired the selection while rubbing the quarter and dime between my thumb and forefinger.

With prices ranging from a penny to the princely sum of fifty cents, there was enough sticky, addictive sweet stuff to keep local dentists busy filling cavities created by eating candy or replacing the fillings that had been yanked out...by eating candy.

It's funny — sometimes people want to re-experience something from their childhood to see if they can recapture those particular memories. I know that's one reason that I'm so obsessed with super 8mm films, but I sure as hell don't want any of the candy that I used to inhale as a kid. It was disgusting. Here, to the best of my memory, are some of the most memorable products I enjoyed when my palate was less refined...

CANDY BUTTONS

Even when I was small, I loathed these. It took so much work to bite these things off of the strip of paper they came on, and when you did succeed, you usually got half candy and half paper. Plus, the candy was just colored sugar anyhow. Not worth the effort.

CANDY NECKLACES

Same as the candy buttons, the necklaces were too much trouble. When you bit the rings of candy off of the elastic necklace while wearing it around your neck, it would snap back, causing bits of sugar to adhere to your skin.

And again, there wasn't much flavor there — just colored sugar. Even if you wanted to just wear the necklace like some sort of psychedelic Puka, your body heat and perspiration would cause the beads to stick to your neck, which wasn't a pleasant sensation at all.

LIK-M-AID

Talk about a trip to the dentist in one convenient pouch. Lik-m-aid was a bag of flavored, sweetened citric acid that came with a candy stick that you would moisten with your saliva, dip into the pouch, and then stick into your mouth again. I can't believe I'm writing this.

Anyhow, the citric acid would abrade the roof of your mouth and the back of your tongue, and the sugar overdose would have your mother sending you to your room without supper for being such a jacked up, obnoxious little asshole.

BUBS DADDY GUM

These huge sticks of bubble gum were commonly available not only at the Little Store but at other kids' hangouts like public pools and Little League ballparks. So infused were they with sugar that their structure wasn't strong enough to blow a bubble, but a giant pile spat out onto the sun-sizzling sidewalk would gunk up your tennies and wouldn't wear off until it was time to go back to school in September.

And the heat of the sun would cause some sort of mutant chemical change. If you had the misfortune of stepping on a pile of watermelon Bubs Daddy, for example, that's what your shoe would smell like for months and months.

CANDY CIGARETTES

These little beauties came in a nifty pack that prepared you for your early teen years when you'd actually start smoking the real things. Hell — they even had red tips so it looked like they were actually alight.

I certainly didn't buy any candy cigarettes myself. They probably came in Halloween bags or were given to me by my parents' thoughtful friends. But — if it can be possible — they were even more awful than candy buttons. They looked and tasted just like lightly sweetened pieces of chalk. I think I even tried to draw on the blackboard at school with one.

NECCO WAFERS

Still available today (as most of these items actually are!), these multi-colored discs are perfect for playing Communion, which we did as kids, but certainly not for eating. Chalky, flavorless and dusted with flour so they wouldn't stick together in the pack, they were just blecchh and I'm sure they still are.

SWEET-TARTS AND SPREE CANDY

More citric acid in tablet form, these products are both still available from the Wonka candy company, but I'm glad I was able to find a picture of the Spree packaging I remember as a kid to prove it really happened.

When they first arrived at the Little Store, Sprees caused quite a sensation. Instead of racially-insensitive cartoons, the packaging featured actual photographs of young adults engaging in active outdoor lifestyles. I even remember thinking "Am I old enough to buy this?," since I was certainly not a young adult and had never skied or surfed...or even seen an ocean.

But a Spree is just a Sweet-Tart in a candy shell — my God! Just an insult of sugar. And both candies were equally adept at peeling the skin off of the roof of your mouth.

FROZEN TUBE POPS

Whatever you know them as — Fla-Vor-Ice, Kool Pops, et al, they're all the same thing. Plastic tubes of sugared, colored water whose ends you'd chew off so you could push the block of ice into your waiting mouth. Again, these seemed to be popular at pools and ballparks, and they were excellent at slicing the sides of your mouth open because the edges of the plastic packaging were so damn sharp.

That made it easy to spot a Kool Pop junkie in your midst, though — they had erratic speech, telltale blue (or red, or orange) lips and tongues and scabs on the corners of their mouth. "I just need another Pop, man! Just one more!"

LUDEN'S CHERRY COUGH DROPS

It may sound strange to today's youth, but when I was in school, candy and gum of any kind were strictly forbidden. But at the school store, where they sold pencils and paper and other supplies, they carried Luden's cherry cough drops, which were actually damn good emergency candy.

There was no medicine whatsoever in these beauties — just delicious cherry flavor. And since you bought them at school, you could enjoy them right out in class! A dream come true for any sixth grader.

But you had to watch out for the ones in the orange packaging — those were the disgusting mentholated cough drops — the kind your Mom forced you to suck on when you were actually sick.

What are your favorite or awful childhood candy memories? Comment here!


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