Posts Tagged ‘struggle

05
Oct
14

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

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a Primal Root written review

Before the man ended up tackling truly awful films like Baby Geniuses and Karate Dog, late filmmaker Bob Clark made some well loved and enduring films. Hell, they play his film A Christmas Story at least 700 times on every cable station from November to New Year’s Day, and his horror film Black Christmas is held up beside John Carpenter’s Halloween as one of the most suspenseful and horrifying slasher films ever made. The deeply unsettling Vietnam era horror film, Deathdream He even created the legendary Trash Cinema Classic, Porky’s back in 1982! The man proved he could do it all and with pizazz. For my money, one of the man’s finest and most under appreciated works is one of his very first. the 1973 horror/comedy Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is the tale of a troupe of hippie thespians who travel out to a secluded burial island off the coast of Florida for an adventure at the witching hour.  Their leader and owner of the theater company is Alan (Alan Ormsby) a complete megalomaniac who take much pleasure in putting his friends down, sexual harassment and has a penchant for loud clothing. He leads his troupe to this island with the promise that he will raise the dead. The gang catches on quick and thinks it’s all a ruse to scare the shit out of them, which proves to be the case as they are attacked by two ghouls that turn out to be fellow actors in pancake makeup. However, soon after this bit of fun, Alan ends up ordering his thespian clan to dig up an actual corpse, that of a deceased fellow named Orville, before actually promising to call up a curse from Satan himself and bring the dead back to life.

After several false starts, the magic incantation actually does work and the undead residents of the island cemetery rise from their graves to devour the usual rag tag group of acid casualties, witchy women and squares in bell bottoms, but this doesn’t happen till nearly the end of the movie. In fact, the majority of the film is spent highlighting the petty power struggles and squabbling that takes place between this group comprised of hand picked members of the Flower Power/Free Love community. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things peels back the facade and takes a long, hard look at the hippie dream of peace, love and community and how this counterculture failed on delivering it’s idealistic vision of a better, new society. Power games, sexism, and sadistic threats are what dominate this unpleasant and corrupt group of young people. In short, this is no longer a utopian world of change, but an exact replica of the society they we seeking to be an alternative to.

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Just beyond the caustic satire of the counterculture is a dark sense of melancholy and despair which is fully embodied in the character of Alan. The villainous Alan does not believe in traditional Flower Power, but espouses on the pointlessness of our very existence, “The dead are losers. If anyone hasn’t earned the right for respect, it’s the dead…Man is a machine that manufactures manure.”  Alan takes great pride in devaluing those around him. Calling his leading man a “slab of meat” and mocking Satan himself in his incantations. Alan lives in a world without value or truth. He even states that he will take Orville home to feed to his dogs and then use his bones as Christmas ornaments. Sure, he might be saying this all for shock value, but from the reaction of those around him you get the impression this is not an act, but who Alan really is.  So, in the end, after Alan spends so much of the film waxing his nihilistic poetry, exposing the pointlessness of life and the non existence of God or Satan, it makes a kind of deeply sick sense that the dead should return to life. Rising like malfunctioning machines comprised of rotted flesh and old bones, moving about as a parody of the living’s pointless, expendable existence.

Instead of embracing these walking dead as the ultimate substantiation of his empty, nihilistic beliefs, Alan does everything in his power to save his own ass. In one of the film;s most memorable moments of absolutely shocking and comical pessimism, Alan and a female friend run up the stairs for safety, followed closely by the flesh hungry dead. Alan, in a moment of complete selfishness, pushes this woman down the stairs and into the arms of the flesh eaters coming for them. The actions stops for a moment as the woman and zombies alike stop in their tracks and stare at Alan, as if astonished at his loathsome cowardice, before taking this young woman off to be eaten.

This is where that vision peace and love got us. Not the most cheerful of thoughts to consider.

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Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is one brutal in it’s sick, drastically dark satire, but it’s still a fantastic comedy. Filled with quirky performances, snappy dialog, and some fantastic one liners.  On a near non-existent budget, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things manages to be both completely entertaining and utterly engrossing  while reminding you why you dread running into those kids you used to hang out with in drama club back in high school. The thespians are all very real, very human characters and the zombies, in cheap makeup and thrift store clothes, are vivid, nasty customers with facial expressions registering rage and hate rather than the typical benign indifference of a Romero zombie. After being rudely awaken,  these dead folks are back to settle a score.  The makers of this film use their limited budget to their advantage and deliver an intelligent, bleak look into a counterculture that never did take, died,  and simply rotted away like flesh from the bone.  In the end, it’s Death getting the last laugh.

I give Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things THREE AND A HALF Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

10
Dec
12

V/H/S: Found Footage Feast of Fear

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a Primal Root review

V/H/S is one of those lucky horror entries who’s sails get caught up in a wind of hype and praise from the horror community, a community ravenous for something worth a damn in this genre that, when not about people eating other people’s shit or featuring a cast made almost entirely of guests from the current horror convention circuit getting torn into chunks by a mad man, is remaking films from decades past and transforming masterpieces into dumbed down fodder for the masses.  So ravenous are they, that V/H/S has become the toast of the community at the moment. Over hyped? Maybe a bit. But V/H/S sure is a fun little anthology film.

Basically, V/H/S, is a found footage horror anthology period piece. It tells six separate tales by different filmmakers all taking place in the mid to late 1990’s.  It’s about two hours of none stop shaky cam footage that will give ‘The Blair Witch Project’ a run for it’s money in stomach churning motion sickness department.

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The central wrap around story of V/H/S features a group of college age hooligans and criminals who tape their Jackass inspired shenanigans and sell them to online distributors. Now, who would pay good money to watch a bunch of twenty something assholes break the windows of abandoned houses and sexually assault random women to show their bare breasts in parking garages is beyond me. But these jerks, the rapist criminals, are our protagonists.  We follow them as these scumbags as they are sent by a mysterious party to break into the residence of an elderly man and retrieve a tape. Easy enough, right? HA! Wrong! If it were that easy we wouldn’t have a fucking movie!

Bizarrely enough, these bros find what looks to be the old man’s lifeless corpse upstairs in a recliner with several TVs flickering snowy static in front of him and surrounded by mountains of VHS tapes. Seems they have their work cut out for them.  So, as these jerk-o’s have never seen a horror movie before, they decide to split up and leave one man behind to review tapes. This feels like the flimsiest of premises, but I’ll take it. Not sure if this even warrants a *SPOILER ALERT*, but the old guy ain’t so lifeless.

Let us get to our TALES OF TERROR!

*SPOILER AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!* I will try to keep things as vague as possible, but the basic premise and plot points to many of these stories might be spoiled if you read the below synopsis. Just a heads up.

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First up:

‘Amateur Night’ tells the tale of a trio of guys who strap one of their buddies up with a pair of now-trendy, ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ spectacles equipped with a hidden camera as they head out to enjoy a night of drunken debauchery and date rape. The three central male figures all come off as totally legit, obnoxious, collegiate horn dogs who generously rent the seediest of hotel rooms for taking advantage of the two drunken young ladies they’ve picked up. Honestly, the behavior of these young men is far more disturbing, in my opinion, than what happens to them. They gather around, dicks out and at the ready for gang banging, but as they soon realize that the one they undress, a troubling, mousy “girl” with wide creepy eyes, matted dreads, and a nervous way about her, is something they couldn’t have ever imagined. Out of all the tales in V/H/S, this may possibly be my favorite as it utilizes the hand-held, “found footage” aspect in a clever way and beautifully illustrates how being a completely loathsome, gutter-feeding, tool can literally bite you on the ass. These are the type of dudes who seek power and validation that they have penises via lording control over women, but in the end, they get a horrific taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of someone (something) else looking for validation. One of the cherries on this blood-soaked cake, is in the pretty awesome and grueling final chase scene climax that film-makers of ‘Amateur Night’ managed to put forth. Ultimately, this story works because it doesn’t shy away from its racy subjects of desire, power-mongering, and douchery comeuppance dealing with everything directly, brutally, and unflinchingly.

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‘Second Honeymoon’

These two are married? How old are they, 23? And they are on their second honeymoon? Eh. Okay… This one tells the story of a (very) young married couple driving through the desert. That’s pretty much it. It was strange to find out these two are married since they come across as an awkward, unlikable couple who don’t seem to get one another and might have just started dating a couple months ago. The wife is creating a video diary of their road-trip, which, as we watch it in it’s uncut form, comes off as more of a negative comment card than a tribute to their affectionate good times. She does little more than whip the camera about and complain about where she is and what she’s doing. Yeah, this is the woman you wanna travel with. Her husband is just as unbearable. Anyway, she gets her fortune read for a buck by a redneck buckaroo version of the Zoltan machines at an old west tourist trap, and it makes mention of reuniting with a loved one. That very night a strange woman knocks on their motel room door in the dead of night asking for a ride in the morning. Who is she? What does she want? Why does she like breaking into hotel rooms, filming folks with their own cameras, poking people in the butt with her switchblade, and pulling lame, elementary school pranks on them while they sleep? Who knows! Sure, it builds some much-desired tension, but the stories’ load is blown a bit prematurely, and doesn’t have much weight as it is as we don’t know these characters very well and from what we do gather of them we don’t like, anyway. The story ends leaving the audience hanging with their questions, which is just fine.  These people are dull, and you’ll probably be ready to move on.

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‘Tuesday the 17th’ is a cool concept where a young woman takes some of her friends out to the woods where, in the past, she had encountered a Jason-esque killer who brutally murdered her buddies. Only thing is, he is either invisible and can only be seen through the video camera’s view finder or he is actually conjured to life via the actual presence of the video camera. It is never explained, but the effect of the killer as a humanoid shape appearing on the tape in scratchy glitches, a visual distortion, works well and is pretty damn eerie. The presentation of this killing specter is this story’s greatest asset.  It’s an idea worthy of a feature-length movie but, as it is, the whole thing comes off as a tired Friday the 13th clone as the love-child of Jason Voorhess and ‘The Ring”s Samara stalks down some dumb, canned-character kids in the woods. Despite a cool set up, the story rushes to it’s conclusion and falls apart, as a result. I can’t help but wonder what it could have been had it been fleshed out.

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‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young’ is an intriguing story about a long-distance relationship taking place over video chat as our heroine experiences a haunting and some kind of mystery growth under her arm… It’s a nifty little ‘Outer Limits’  style yarn that’s relatively satisfying. I couldn’t help but wonder how great this story would have been if captured in the format of a normal film narrative as opposed to found footage. Our main girl is remarkably sweet, likeable, and attractive with a vulnerable but outgoing quality to her. Although her beau says he’s working out-of-area for his business, we cannot help but wonder about the nature of this curious long-distance relationship. Does anyone else sense some early commentary possibly co-dependence, manipulation, and abuse in the relationship? I wouldn’t put it past this one as all motives are made clear by story’s end. As it featured a great leading lady  who didn’t annoy the ever-loving shit out of me, ‘The Sick Thing’ was a nice change of pace.

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‘10.31.98’ is right up there with ‘Amateur Night’, vying as a favorite of the anthology. Four surprisingly charming and likable college age fellows, one dressed as a Nanny Cam (teddy bear with a built in camera. CLEVER!), traverse across town to find the Halloween party they were invited to. When they finally come to the address where the party is rumored to be it seems the house is empty, but as they investigate they find they most certainly are not alone. These guys walk into a situation with no frame of reference, expecting the light-hearted frivolity, and come out with the worst possible scenario imaginable. Once they come across what appears to be a damsel in freaky distress the story explodes into an effects-heavy, supernatural nightmare, and works better in its brief running time than all the ‘Paranormal Activity’ films combined.  Matters escalate in the blink of an eye and the guys react with righteous bravery, putting their lives in peril to save a young woman whose life seems to be on the line. This welcomes us to one of the most well-played shocks of the whole film. These guys aren’t out to take advantage of anyone, they don’t act like drooling, poon-hounds. It’s Nice Guys vs. Pure Evil delivering chuckles, anxiety, and, by story’s end, pure terror closing V/H/S out on a high note.

Oh, and the ineffective, brain-dead wrap around of the original tape-retrieval asscapade? Well, they all die. The End.

*END SPOILERS!*

In the final analysis I enjoyed V/H/S, despite myself.  It’s got a bit of everything, post-modern horror, supernatural, psychological serial killer, the whole shebang. It’s almost like a sampler case featuring several of horror’s most beloved sub genres, and when these stories are at their best (see: ‘Amateur Night’, ‘10.31.98’)  they work pretty damn well. At their worst, they still have some cool ideas to dig into (see: ‘Tuesday the 17th’, ‘Second Honeymoon’).

V/H/S proved to be an entertaining collaborative experiment that spins some imaginative tales.  By no means a masterpiece, V/H/S is a creepy excursion into the macabre, the supernatural and the rewindable.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

15
Oct
12

Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight

a Primal Root written review

Growing up in a household that could afford premium cable, as a youngster, there was no greater pleasure than staying up late, hunkering down on the sofa in the darkened living room, and catching the sick, twisted morality tale that was HBO’s ‘Tales from the Crypt.’  Being a child whose love for the macabre and horrific was rotted deep within me and growing more apparent on a daily basis, this was MY must see TV.  In my younger years, Nickelodeon’s ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ along with old, dusty, issues of E.C. comicss ‘The Vault of Horror’ and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ had wet my pallet. The promise of a fun, vivid, gory, lesson in how being an asshole will surely end in a fate often worse than death wrapped up in one nifty thirty minute package made ‘Tales from the Crypt’ an irresistible temptation. Add the ever present possibility of  bare female breasts, and my adolescent self couldn’t refuse.

 

Hell, my adult self still can’t refuse.

 

Then, in 1995, I was traipsing through Tallahassee Florida’s long dead Oak Lake Six movie theater on my way to see  ‘The Brady Bunch Movie’ when I spotted poster that dropped my jaw to the floor and filled my heart with sticky, black, diabolical joy. Oh yes, ‘Tales from the Crypt’ was releasing a movie called “Demon Knight.’ Needless to say, this was the greatest news my 13 year old self had ever heard. The poster featured a shot of the Crypt Keeper smiling ghoulishly and peering over blue lensed, John Lennon style sun glasses, holding open his epic, and seemingly endless, book tales as slimy, razor toothed demons spewed forth all being led by an slightly aggravated looking bald fellow in a trench coat with his arm outstretched pointing right at my scrawny, freshly teenaged face. I knew, in my misguided, freshly teenaged heart, this was going to be the greatest movie ever made.

 

Sadly, I wouldn’t be able to talk my Mom into letting me see it until it was released on VHS. I rented Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight, slipped the tape into my VCR, and braced myself for the glory. Dear reader, Demon Knight catered to everything my adolescent heart could possibly desire. Here’s how it goes down…

 

The action takes place in a dilapidated boarding house that was previously a church where the home’s misfit group of residents (prostitute, laid off postal worker, drunken bum Dick Miller, etc.) find themselves in the middle of an ancient battle between good and evil. See, there’s a drifter named Stryker played by infinitely likeable character actor, William Sadler, playing it straight, earnest, and desperate. Stryker, The Demon Knight, finds his way to this boarding house, thanks to a largely unexplained supernatural star circle compass tattoo in the palm of his hand, seeking shelter. Styker is being stalked down by a slick, seductive, hilarious form of evil incarnate known only as The Collector. The Collector is played by Billy Zane, who is obviously having a field day with such a fun part. In retrospect this might be the high water mark of his career. Which is rather sad.

 

 

Anyhoo, The Collector is trying to get his hands on ‘The Key’ which Stryker is protecting. This key holds the blood of Christ as well as the blood of previous Demon Knights. The fate of all humanity hangs in the balance on this night, in this boarding home, because this key is the last of seven The Collector needs in order to unleash Hell on earth. It soon becomes a show down in the old Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 style, as The Collector brings forth an army of vicious, mucousy, pierced up demons that look like char grilled Muppets looking to rip the into meaty chunks anyone who stands between them and The Key. The Collector, on the other hand, finds his own way in through the use of seduction and the promise of granting his victim’s fantasies which leads to some of ‘Demon Knights” more interesting sequences. Needless to say, many will die, few will live, some will get fire pissed on them by Billy Zane, and one character will fulfill their destiny. Oh yeah, it’s one of those type of parties.

 

 

That’s the basic run down of what’s going on in this movie. The mythology surrounding The Key, the Demon Knights and their Highlander-esque back story is something I could honestly devote a whole article to. Plus there’s the obligatory Crypt Keeper bookends to the film that don’t really add much, but it’s cool that the our old pal, The Crypt Keeper, is holding down the fort and spewing the same old eye rolling puns and one liners.

 

 

‘Demon Knight delivered, and for about six months, it was among my absolute favorites and solidified my deep, abiding, love for Trash Cinema. It had graphic violence delivered both horrifically and humorously. Gratuitous and plentiful bare female breasts. A ridiculously fun villain in the form of The Collector, and likeable and enigmatic hero in Stryker, plus a great cast of veteran character actors like Dick Miller, CCH Pounder, and Charles Fleischer as well as a few folks yet to hit their peak like Jada Pinkett , Thomas Haden Church and um, Traci Bingham? Plus, a bizarre cameo by John Laroquette who still seems like a strange choice to me…The morality play aspect of the television series falls by the wayside a bit, but the sick, twisted black comedy is intact and even a bit amplified.

 

Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight isn’t a great film, not by a long shot, but it sure is a Hell of a lot of fun. And at the end of the day isn’t that precisely what you want from this kind of flick? It’s dumb, rude, dirty, sick, over the top and exploitative. It’s a guilty pleasure of the highest order. It’s a dark minded, neon eyed, spook house, horror show of a movie that is only interested in kicking ass, tossing the gruel at it’s audience and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s the kind of horror film where you walk out with a smile knowing that you’ve had a blast.

 

My 13-14 year old self was an instant fan. The poster adorned my wall throughout my middle school years and I sang the praises of ‘Demon Knight’ to all my horrified friends. I watched it nearly every weekend for a span of about six months before moving on to other bizarre, awesome, trashy films. However, the young, teenager inside me still holds this film very close to his strange, trash loving little heart.
Stay Trashy!

-Root

 




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