Monday, January 25, 2010

The Bloody Fists (1972)

A fairly typical kung-fu film in which the local weasely little shit returns to his Chinese village bringing with him a band of Japanese ne’er-do-wells who hope to seize the village’s cherished supply of ‘Dragon Herb’ which apparently heals everything. A whole lot of chop-socky action ensues, some of which is ridiculously violent: at one point, our hero punches into a villain’s chest, killing him! The hero is a fugitive criminal who has to overcome his fear of being caught for the good of the village.

The main bad guy is very bad, and actually sort of hot: all Japanese guys should have long hair it seems. The weasel character is the most entertaining in the film; his best line comes when he barges in on a hoodlum violating an unconscious village girl: “So sorry! I didn’t know it was my sister! Enjoy yourself!” Another weird bonus: the English music includes most of the theme from the soap opera One Life to Live! In general, The Bloody Fists is a very typical kung-fu movie; if you've seen one of these films, well, here's another! You'd have to be smoking Dragon Herb to think this is high drama, but the fights are well choreographed (thanks to Yuen Woo Ping). The lessons of the film shouldn’t be entirely surprising to fans of Hong Kong Kung fu films: 1. Villages have to come together to defend themselves, 2. The Japanese are evil.

Fair Game (1986)

An Australian exploitation film about a homesteader (Cassandra Delaney) who is harassed by increasingly aggressive poachers while her husband is away on business and must defend herself against them. As expected, the police aren’t interested in her troubles, even after the poachers try to run her off the road, sneak into her house and take pictures of her sleeping naked, and generally menace her. The police are always ineffectual in these films in which average people have to take the law into their own hands; one imagines the movies would be pretty short otherwise. And the poachers are cartoonishly violent here; pretty much the standard Ozsploitation hoodlums with a ridiculously modified Mad Max monster truck. No word as to how the poaching community responded to the strident anti-poaching bias of the movie.

If the storyline seems pretty thin, that’s really the problem with Fair Game. You have a half-hour story stretched to an hour and a half. At some point, you just want the woman to shoot the poachers, especially after she steals their guns! Instead, she has to overcome her pacifism for an hour. And, if you’ve seen the Ozsploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood, you’ve already seen the two best stunt set pieces in the film: one in which she is tied half-naked to the front of a speeding monster truck and another in which the truck is driven through her house! Otherwise, it’s about an hour and twenty minutes of a woman being harassed (not raped, thankfully), and about ten minutes of her killing her harassers. Skip it, mate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pit Stop (1968)

Jack Hill was having great difficulty getting his great film Spider Baby released when he agreed to shoot this car racing film for Roger Corman. He claimed to hate racing and wanting to make an art film; but also wanting to chronicle the "Americana" of "figure 8 racing", in which the cars race on a track in the shape of a figure 8, naturally. This means that they're racing through an open intersection, which is basically insane. As racer Hawk Sidney (played by Sid Haig), puts it, "you got to be a little dinky!"

Haig steals the movie as an arrogant, obsessed racer trying to hang onto his prime job racing for promoter Grant Willard (played by Brian Donlevy). The "hero" is Rick Bowman (played by Dick Davalos), a street-racer who gets drafted into figure-8 racing and competes with Hawk and everyone else. Donlevy looks sort of like a femme hoodlum, in the style of Elvis or a regular at a lesbian bar. He's corrupted by his competitive instinct and Willard's scummy machinations. The great thing about the movie is that he's pretty corrupt from the beginning and just gets worse.

Other highlights include the figure 8 races that all turn into demolition derbies, an early performance by Ellen Burstyn (credited here as Ellen McRae), and near-constant acid rock by The Daily Flash. Like all of Hill's movies, it's a blast. Fans of car racing, acid rock, Sid Haig, or Elvis-lookalike lesbians shouldn't miss it!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

He Knows You're Alone (1980)

In the wake of John Carpenter's Halloween (1977) there were a lot of imitation films made about hulking serial killers cutting up groups of horny teenagers. The "slashers" were often pretty formulaic and uncreative, and such is the case with He Knows You're Alone, a by-the-numbers slasher that has a few scary moments, a memorable opening murder in which a girl gets stabbed through a movie theatre seat during a slasher film (ripped off in Scream 2), and an early appearance by a young Tom Hanks.

He Knows You're Alone is the story of a young girl who is about to get married to a guy who's probably wrong for her and a serial killer who murders brides before their wedding day. Of course, they're made for each other, but for some reason that's never explained every time you think the bride killer is going to kill the bride, he decides instead to follow one of her friends and kill them instead. Oh, well; always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

There are some good setups here and a few scenarios that pay off. I really like that they tried to be scary, instead of going for laffs. I think the big problem with the movie is slack editing. It's a basic movie trick that if you edit the shots so that the cuts gets faster and faster, it builds tension. Here, instead, they hold every shot for about half a minute or more, which kills all tension. I remember at one point yelling, "Okay! I see that the damn record is turning on the turntable! Duly fucking noted!" Another funny thing though is that there's often dialogue dubbed in when characters are clearly not talking, which at one point I thought was supposed to be scary- holy shit! That guy's possessed! But, no... And the plot is a bit stupid, but that's not usually a problem with these movies. One good thing- the acting is a lot better than usual. Sadly, though, I think Turner and Hooch is still Tom Hank's scariest movie.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Children (2008)

I don’t trust children on a good day. They’re small and loud and run around screaming, and they often smell like they have pumpkin pie filling in their pants. So, if I was in a killer children movie, I’d probably fine, since I would be the first one to start picking them off with a weed-whacker like little screamy mushrooms. But, most of the heroes in these movies have a hard time dealing with a new order in which they have to defend themselves against kiddies. As the title of one of the best killer children movies asks: “Who can kill a child?” Answer: me.

The Children is pretty damned effective, even if you’ve seen a dozen of these movies or don’t much like children. A recent British film, it works because it keeps the action centralized around a country estate and makes the children victims of an unknown virus that seems to be both hurting them and turning them into mean little buggers. Admittedly, the “mystery virus” is getting to be a bit like what “nuclear waste” once was in movies: a handy device to turn characters into monsters without much explanation. Here, as elsewhere, it borders on the zombie film pretty closely.

It’s effective because the idea of a close family member who is both very ill and very dangerous makes for fine melodrama and horror is very close to melodrama. The heroes have to fight off their sick children, and of course, they don’t do a good job at it. The film begins somewhat tense and slowly tightens the noose around them until everything is fucked. My only complaint would be that some of the kills are a bit silly; but, how do you have little kids killing adults without it being silly? Otherwise, The Children maintains a good level of unease throughout and features some vicious violence. What else do you want from a horror movie?