Sunday, July 29, 2007

Hausy & Hopky

In the 1980s, there were a whole lot of two things: terrible horror films and remakes. I tell you I’ve discovered something that combines both of these things, Wings Hauser, zombies and so much more. What I’m talking about is two films called Mutant (1984) and Nightmare At Noon (1987), one a cheesy horror film the latter a fucking remake of the former, with the same two leads. When Mutant came out and no one saw it, someone said: “You know what this is missing? That one guy from Bladerunner And Helicopters! And I hear George Kennedy’s doing pictures for a song, let’s get him on the phone. He can play a sheriff, like he likes to.” And by god if he didn’t get those things. Trouble was he also got one of the least creative B-picture aces Greece had to offer, Nico Mastorakis. At least actor-come-director John “Bud” Cardos had a little more flair than this guy when he made Mutant, and when I say a little, I mean a little. The pairing of 'stars' Wings Hauser & Bo Hopkins, a collaboration I've dubbed the Hausy & Hopky connection, provided us with hollywood's first pairing of two middle aged stoners with no chemistry whatsoever; a sort of coke-head's answer to Cheech and Chong.

by John "Bud" Cardos

Wings and his brother are a couple of cardigan wearing city boys who’re vacationing in the south for some reason. I say this because they both seem to hate every second of their time there, especially when some blowhards in a truck run their mustang off the road, forcing them to spend the night. Anyway, the younger of the two, Mike (Lee Montgomery looking as much like an 80s teen as one can look) discovers a body, but when they alert the sheriff (Bo Hopkins), it has been replaced with a very much alive street person. Needless to say, they want to leave as soon as possible, but as their car needs whatever mechanic’s tools lifts ones car from a creek, they’ll have to spend the night in a motel, where Mike is abducted in the middle of the night. From here on in, it’s up to Wings, the sheriff and a bartender/schoolteacher to see what’s causing people to disappear, reappear and then turn blue and murder people. Not a terribly original plot, and the science is a bit shoddy (chemicals + water supply = zombies?), but the zombies attacking en masse has some uniqueness to it. The zombies have some personality. Their look and movements put them halfway between Dawn Of The Dead and Demons which means they are a reasonably spooky threat. On the whole it’s just no good because you could care less what happens to the people. Wings Hauser plays a slack-jawed asshole, so it’s hard to route for him even if he is squaring off against even more contemptible southern stereotypes or a lot of little kid zombies.

Nightmare At Noon
by Nico Mastorakis

I’m completely baffled as to why anyone would remake Mutant, but they did it, with both Wings and Bo practically reprising their original roles. Wings and his aggravating spouse are a couple of cardigan wearing city folks vacationing in a southern town for some reason. I say this because they both seem to hate every second of their time there, especially when they stop at a restaurant and see one of the regulars drive a steak knife through a waitress’ hand. Meanwhile out in a van on the outskirts of town, an albino (Brion James from Bladerunner) with a lot of men in jumpsuits carrying guns contaminate the water supply with some green stuff. When Wings’ wife drinks the water and becomes a crazy, it’s up to Wings, the sheriff (George Kennedy), a drifter (Bo Hopkins) and the sheriff’s deput daughter to see what’s causing people to go crazy and shoot everyone. The plot and effects are stolen and the direction is so listless I felt like I was watching an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. Nico Mastorakis is one of the laziest directors I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve had my share. It’s only the truest ineptness that allows gunfights, car and helicopter chases, zombie knife fights and constant explosions (CONSTANT!) seem so completely boring that one forgets they’re watching an action film. Also, there are some bits of weirdness that damn this film from the beginning, the biggest piece being a sheriff not noticing Wings Hauser carrying a shotgun around, everywhere he goes. He’s just copping a “fuck-you, small town yokels” attitude and toting the biggest gun for miles around and NO ONE THINKS TO ASK HIM NOT TO!!! 

Not only that, he acts like he’s acting reasonable. The strange turn the movie takes at the end makes this feel like Mastorakis wanted this to be a cross between a zombie film and a western, but because the pacing, tone, acting, production design, script, direction are all so lame that its sub-primetime-television in it’s execution. Lord knows why Bo and Wings re-teamed for this winner, but clearly no one has learned their lesson.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ed Cahn & Bernard Gordon

I watched a film recently which that pleasantly surprised me. Surprise after surprise met me when I delved deeper into its history. The film, Zombies of Mora Tau, 1957, directed by little known B genius Ed Cahn should be a lot better known than it is. Cahn made dozens of B pictures in his lifetime, not the least of which is Invisible Invaders, which the second half of this review will concern. Cahn was, as others have suggested, a successful version of Ed Wood, making sci-fi, westerns and war pictures, garnering at least decent commercial success. Among his 124 credits as the man in the chair we have Creature With The Atom Brain, Invasion of the Saucermen, and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Cahn, though not exactly Marcel Carne was talented enough to occasionally make a film whose weaknesses were easily overlooked in favor of it’s strengths, which given their subject matter were often considerable. One such example of his competence and strong style was Zombies of Mora Tau, which I found simply because it had the word 'zombie' in the title. More interesting still is that when it ran on TCM it was side by side with another film from around the same time called The Man Who turned To Stone, which matched Zombies for it’s charm, and workmanlike quality. I found out soon after that that their similarities could be explained by the fact that they shared a writer: Bernard Gordon. Gordon was a screenwriter for universal who was blacklisted two pictures into his career; he was turned over to HUAC by his boss William Alland. He wrote much of his body of work under the pseudonym Raymond T. Marcus. Gordon deserves props for being the first screenwriter to propose that zombies beget other zombies and for showing us an extemporaneous 50s movie romance that makes sense. Cahn deserves similar praise for bringing two wholly original zombie films to the screen while the world waited for George A. Romero.

Zombies Of Mora Tau
by Ed Cahn

A woman visits her aunt in an African coastal town where she lives in a mansion with her serving staff. She's greeted by all kinds of weird; her chauffeur runs a guy down en route to the house and everyone seems real keen on forgetting the whole thing ever happened; the closest thing resembling an explanation from the couple driving is that the man was one of “them”. Meanwhile out on the water, a band of aquatic scumbags celebrate the commencement of a plan to steal diamonds from the wreckage of a forgotten ship. Legend has it in fact that the men who drowned guard the wreckage to keep scavengers like our square-jawed heroes away from the goods. Pretty straight forward stuff: the men encounter the zombies and our heroines in the manse. The zombies are pretty well done, technically that is. They remain partially enshrouded in darkness for a good deal of their screentime and some of the shots of them emerging from the jungle and the sea were pretty cool. As for Gordon’s script, the behavior of his characters is believable under the circumstances and the aforementioned romantic subplot is hardly romantic and helps move things along. After all, if you were rich, wouldn’t you ask the most beautiful women you knew to marry you?

Invisible Invaders
by Ed Cahn
In this movie, zombies are again in the limelight, but this time it’s something more ominous than a vendetta. This time the dead walk the earth because Aliens are taking over the world. They first inhabit the body of a scientist (John Carradine) who warns his old partner that things better change or some stock footage of the apocalypse will roll in. It’s up to three scientists and John Agar to hole up in a bunker and see what reveals the aliens beneath the dead skin. Ok, plot’s kind of…cool? Silly? I don’t know, but, that’s not why I watch these films (though a good one never hurts and the bad ones always do). I watch these films to see the zombies (and the racism). The zombies are pioneer zombies; out of the jungle, in business suits, turning man against his brother, wounds still fresh. They can even be kind of creepy. Fancy that. Present in Invaders is just about everything Romero would use in Night, Dawn & Day of the Dead, save for the idea of Zombies turning people into Zombies. Military complex, holing up in a small space to hold over the crisis and turning against one another in the process, leaving safety for ill-fated rescue attempts, zombies in plainclothes. The only difference here is that aliens are bringing about the trouble directly in Invaders. We're never quite sure what causes them in Night, though there are some pretty strong overtones of science-gone-awry. But that's talk for another day. At least John Agar is coy about his idea of courtship.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Note For Filmmakers To Be

In setting out on my quest to watch every zombie movie ever made (unless I find them and watch the first few minutes and the DVD player becomes so clogged with vomit and disapproval that the movie stops playing and returns itself to Netflix) I found a good number that were made by first time crews. These people have an enthusiasm unlike any other seasoned band of filmmakers and are brimming with zeal and appreciation for the trailblazers of the genre, but one thing they don’t possess is any concept of quality. God bless them they try so hard and if I were a filmmaker from the 80s with a stack of cash to spend on my first zombie film I would probably have produced the same results: A huge show of the films I worshipped, an overabundance of reasonably realistic looking gore effects, a cast of friends, a cameo from the only genre non-celebrity who returned my calls, and a plot that was actually semi-interesting. I actually have a friend who’s hard at work interning for film studios just so he can make these films. Anyway, the reason I bring this up is so that if you find yourself part of a crew of filmgeeks who’s just won the lottery, for god’s sake hire actors and a screenwriter who can both deliver reasonable dialogue. Gore will not be a problem if I know film geeks; you’ve had a lot of practice. Let’s have a look at a pair of these efforts and try and see where they went wrong.

Flesheater (or Revenge of the Living Dead)
by Bill Hinzman

This film, made by amateurs under the direction of Bill Hinzman (yes that Bill Hinzman) who was the first zombie encountered in George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (“they’re coming to get you, Barbara”). Well, Hinzman’s first time directing wasn’t nearly as original or successful as his first employer. Hinzman made a film called The Majorettes from a script by Romero’s one time scriptwriting partner John Russo. Well, if the fact that I’ve never once in my life heard of this picture is any indication, investers weren’t exactly banging down the door looking for the cemetery zombie to direct another film. So it was with his own money, his own script and his own hand that he made Flesheater or Revenge of the Living Dead (apparently he wasn’t above shameless cash-ins). The story is as follows: some college kids go drinking and screwing in the woods and a zombie (Hinzman) kills and turns them one by one. Ta-Da! Anyway, we see breasts, kids getting murdered and eating their father, and the only two original characters get killed in a Night-inspired ending. The film doesn’t have a piece of believable character development or dialogue and the story progresses like it’s being told by a drunken movie fan to a basement full of equally drunken friends. If Hinzman had spent his money on a decent script and real actors instead of overweight twenty somethings pretending to be teenagers, he might have made a decent film.

The Dead Next Door
by J.R. Bookwalter

The title would have been good if it had anything to do with the film, but it doesn’t. J.R. Bookwalter has had one long and pointless career. His first taste of celluloid was as an uncredited zombie in Day Of The Dead. Well, apparently this was a dream come true for the twenty year old nerd, because three years later he and a bunch of friends got together with a small fortune, a small army of extras, and a plethora of gore effects and made the best-worst film ever made. The Dead Next Door, starring for a few minutes Scott Spiegel of Evil Dead fame, concerns a group of police officers in the Zombie Squad, dedicated to killing the large number of ghouls who have taken over their town. The crew, led by Lt. Raimi (get it), isn’t very good at their job as one of them seems to drop every minute. They also bankroll the kind of experiments Dr. Logan performs in Day Of The Dead, teaching zombies to talk, etc. Anyway, the cops split their time between watching The Evil Dead in the station, combating protestors who are for some reason opposed to killing zombies and uncovering and thwarting a cult who worship the zombies. The gore is pretty marvelous considering; I mean, it's not quite Savini, but it's pretty goddamn gross. The dialogue is poorly written, delivered and is entirely uncalled for most of the time. The story is actually pretty interesting and were it not for the fact that I know the kind of people who made this movie I’d say it was a pretty poignant comment on the level of hero worship that goes into horror films, that continues to this day. The J.R. Bookwalters of yesterday, making incredibly gory zombie films to show their love of Sam Raimi and George Romero are just the predecessors or the Eli Roth’s of today, making incredibly gory torture films to show their love of Dario Argento and Ruggero Deodato. So in that sense, and in the much better than average gore effects, The Dead Next Door is brilliant, but unfortunately I think at the time Bookwalter thought he was just making a second rate zombie film. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The fruits of Zombie Night '07

Here are the two new films we watched during Zombie Night, the rest were just old hat (and old favorites). What a blast we had. Shame the two films I made a point of having available for our viewing pleasure were such turkeys.

by Pupi Avati

What a muddy mess of a picture this is. Ok, so Pupi Avati I know solely for his directing the Lynchier-than-most giallo House Of Laughing Windows which featured midgets, jarred oddities and vagaries surrounding a coven of witches. This picture, shot on video, relied pretty heavily on weirdness over gore, but there was some of that too, all in all not totally backwards and even a little creepy. With that in mind I got a hold of what I thought was his take on the zombie movie. What I actually got a hold of was one of the slowest, most confusing giallo I’ve seen yet. It’s one of these pictures where a reclusive billionaire is trying to attain the secret to longer life for some fucking reason. Anyway a guy inherits his typewriter and then gets wrapped up in a mystery he’s nothing to do with and then finds himself in a lot of porno set-ups and then the picture is an hour and 15 minutes old and we are no closer to figuring out what made Avati think this one would be a big hit. It’s nothing but talk, talk, the odd murder & talk. The only zombie was really just the billionaire come back to life and then killing some people off screen. Oh and there’s a subplot with a woman with an injured leg, but I assure you it won’t matter when you hit eject and send this back in the little red and white envelope to whichever sucker thinks this movie has gut-munching.

Grapes of Death
by Jean Rollin

Well, given that Zombie Lake was in Jean Rollin’s future, he could have actually started out much worse than this. Yeah, I was able to predict just about every act of cruelty the film had in store for us, but, the silliness and stark confusion made it worth the hour and a half…sort of. First, we see some people working at a vineyard, one of them has a rash, the other smokes a pipe really well. Anyway, rashy gets on a train where two twenty something French women are already riding. They leave separately and one of them is killed and rashy sits next to the other and then he starts decomposing and festering pretty sickly. She flees and runs away across what looks to be the entire French countryside. She finds a house where an abusive husband has a similar rash and a wife has a smaller one just below her soon-to-be-exposed breasts. The girl tries to help, but the wife just gets pitchforked for her troubles. She runs away, meets with a particularly pusy forehead and a blind girl whose solely purpose is to be stripped of her clothes and crucified on her own door. Then her boyfriend cuts her head off, carries it around and makes out with it. If I Drink Your Blood taught us one thing, it’s that if you spend money on a severed head, you’re going to see a whole lot of it before the end of things. She meets a spooky lesbian who sets up what could have been a humorous outfit changing scene only to discover she’s leading the zombies in her town. Then some of the vineyard workers meet the girl, burn the lesbian to death and flee the scene. They come to a vineyard where they’ve slowly figured out is the root of all evil. Slow, gross, confusing, mean, pointless.

I dare you to make sense of this. The only thing i can say in defense of these two reprehensible trips is that now I'm two films closer to having seen every zombie flick ever made.