Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus

First, a word about The Asylum, a movie studio/distributor that produces low-budget, direct-to-video movies. The Asylum was organized in 1997 by three cinema executives. It took the trio a while to discover their niche: knockoff films that hit the rental shelves at the same time as the knockoffees from which they are knocked off. For example, The Asylum released “De Vinci’s Treasure” at the same time as Columbia Pictures’ “The Da Vinci Code.”  “Almighty Thor” arrived  with “Thor.” The Asylum is responsible for the excellent “Snakes on a Train.” An Asylum movie budget is low, well under a million dollars; the movie is produced in less than four months. No Asylum movie has ever lost money.

Wrt the creature-vs-creature movies, what is the relationship of The Asylum movies to the Roger Corman movies? Can you knock off a knockoff? Or do the creature movies of these two Hollywood low-budget production moneymakers represent some sort of evolutionary sybiosis? Please find out and report back.

So anyway, Mega Shark is back. Meggie is a favorite around here after he or she ate a 707 and the Golden Gate Bridge in Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. In that movie, Meggie might have been supposed to have perished in the end, at the tentacles of the giant octopus. Yet here he or she is, overacting for us once again, as directed by Christopher Ray, who is 34 and has been working in the business for a long time already, now with four titles under his belt as director; son of Fred Olen Ray, who himself has directed many a classic, including “Bikini Jones and the Temple of Eros,” “Housewives from Another World,” and “Bikini Time Machine.” Fred is an officer at Retromedia, Synthetic Film Works, and Firebird International in North Hollywood. Point me to a directory, with dirt, that summarizes the activity of these various great B-movie companies. But no. Exploitation films come in so many flavors and have such a glorious history that I’ll settle for one comforting fact: drive-in movies and grind houses are gone, but the DVD player, streaming video, digital video equipment, and cinema software make exploitation more alive, vibrant, and pervasive than ever.

Warning. Warning. Warning. The DVD, or mine at least, contains no commentary track. You’ve got to sit there and watch the movie qua movie, like it or not.

Is The Asylum going soft? Crocosaurus merely steps on her first victim, doesn’t eat him. But wait. She is definitely grinning. The first hint that this is a feel-good movie, a possible monster love fest.

Note to self: I’m not here to rag on MSVC. For example, that hat on the Indiana Jones wannabe? To me it looks new. Still has its brown fuzz. That’s the sort of detail I’m not going to go on about.

And welcome back Meggie! You’ve learned to do barrel rolls, like a dolphin at Marine Park. Reader, before you scoff at the notion of a shark doing a barrel roll, check this out… Aww, nevermind, it’s not there anymore. Anyway, I think that Meggie is just frolicking, happy to find a Navy destroyer to play with. Sure, they’re firing anti-aircraft shells off his dorsal fin, but that’s just a tickle. Watch out, Meggie, or you’ll accidentally sink your new friends, killing off a good-looking babe in the process!  (Don’t worry. The boat doesn’t really sink. It’s the Lane Victory, tied up at Pier 94 in San Pedro. Available for weddings, reunions, summer cruises, and making cheap movies.)

Another light-spirited actor in the movie: Jaleel White. He’s made a career of being a good-natured  guy, on TV shows such as  Full House (1987), Family Matters (1989), Step by Step (1991) and Meego (1997). Here he is Dr. SomebodyOrOther, a scientist who can repel or attract sharks by making the sound of a “dying fish.” Whatever you do, don’t make that sound at home if you live by the beach; it’s a little like the moaning during orgasm, which might explain some of those cases of coitus interruptus selachimorphaus reported in coastside cities. <- Writing something like this is what happens to you when you watch low-budget movies.

Sure, at one point it looks like shark and croc are fighting, but there’s fighting and then there’s love-tussling. Riddle me this: why are they always biting each other’s tail? Why, with all the biting, does neither creature get hurt? Why do I have bite marks all over my buttocks, which cost me $400 plus the hotel room for a night?

Before I forget: congratulations to the Bronson Caves in Griffith Park. This is the 5,000th movie to use them, here standing in for a coal mine in the Congo, where ten extras or so shovel and pick till Crocie shows up and sends them running off to Palm Avenue in Burbank to collect their paychecks for the day. Or down to the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes (take the 110), for a couple of pick-up shots while not bumping into all the other crews there already.

Note: Meggie jumped the shark multiple times in Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. Will he do so again? Let’s find out. Sinking the Lane Victory doesn’t count. I’m convinced that was an accident. Swallowing a sub, though, perhaps that was a little thoughtless of him, or her.

My favorite line in the movie: “They’ve got to stop hitting the shark! He’s got a nuclear submarine inside him.”

If you’re wondering about star Gary Stretch’s nose, he used to be a prizefighter. He obviously got poked in the snoot more than once. He also dated Raquel Welch when he was younger than her two kids. She was 57 at the time. He goes through the movie with something wrong with his face. Makeup? A skin condition? He has also been in some decent movies, but such is Hollywood. Joan Crawford played Dr. Brockton in Trog.

One of the fun things about watching B-minus movies is listening to the line readings in them. The young woman at the beginning of MSVC commits some real head-scratchers before she gets eaten.Perhaps she has a speech impediment; ditto Gary Stretch. If they’re doing it on purpose, it proves that a little acting training can be a dangerous thing.

Sonje mentions the moment when the doctor is running through the ship being attacked by Meggie and passing bodies lying dead for no reason. I liked the moment when he stepped into a room, picked up a wet suit to put on, and, as the shark destroys the boat, delicately pushes the room’s door shut, to change in privacy.

A few movie facts:

– There are saltwater crocs, so it’s ok for Crocie to spend all that time in the ocean.

– For an excellent croc movie, I recommend Rogue (2007).

– While the crew was shooting on the beach at Leo Carrillo State Park, some pelicans flew by. Production value!

– The babe-osaurus  in the movie is Sarah Lieving. She doesn’t do the I’m-worried Anna Torv thing or the goofy Anna Paquin thing. She’s real serious, but without the burn of Lena Headey or the brains of Angelina Jolie. She’s got by-God white teeth, though, and she worked in one movie as a stunt driver. And she’s living the dream.

– I can’t remember if Meggie is a boy or a girl, or if we even know. He/she is referred to variously as “he” and “she” in the script.

– Something I’d like to check: budget and box office for this Asylum effort vs the same for Corman’s Dinocroc vs Supergator.

– There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of CGI helicopters, no doubt checked out of The Asylum helicopter locker.

– A lot of time and thought and budget is spent on croc eggs. Shark wanting to eat the eggs; croc wanting to protect the eggs. I’m thinking that there is a pro-life or pro-choice message hidden here, but I’m not sure what it is.

– No animals were hurt during the making of this movie, not counting whatever happened to Gary Stretch’s face.

Dinocroc Vs. Supergator (2010)

“Dino” and “Super.” Do they have sex? They’re different species. You don’t see crocs and gators hooking up that much, but you know why? Because in the animal documentaries, they’re living in different neighborhoods and in the zoo, they’re kept apart – rather cruelly, I think.

But down in the sewers, where all those flushed-down crocs and gators and turtles and goldfish live, gators and crocs are liable to hook up all the time. So why not in this movie? Because we don’t want to lose the kid demo with an R rating? I saw one of those flicks make over in the Valley, where the guy was dressed up in a gator suit with a hole cut in it, if you know what I mean, and the girl wore a Little Mermaid costume. Perverse. But fun, because they had a SpongeBob stud running around in the background chasing his starfish buddy and then they… but that’s a different movie. Here, the scientists tell us that gators and crocs are mortal enemies. Hey, men and women are mortal enemies. Ask my wife ha ha. But you confront a red-blooded dude croc with a hot female gator and watch the fireworks. “Mommy, Daddy, are you fighting? Daddy, are you hurting Mommy? What’s all that moanin?”

But are this supergator and this dinocroc the same sex? What the heck difference does that make? Let’s move on.

Oops! Hold on! Wait a minute! What am I thinking? We’re not talking gator/croc love, that thing is a dinogator. It walks on its two hind legs, like a T-Rex. This guy is not going to toss some mud-lovin croc babe who crawls around on all fours! Fergeddaboutit. Plus, up on those two legs, Dinogator does seem to mince.

Roger Corman’s name is slathered all over the DVD box. It’s like he’s become a sort of Betty Crocker of B movies. The man is 86 but his money is still good. He produced, or was involved in the production of, Dinocroc (2004),  Supergator (2007),  Sharktopus (2010), Dinoshark (2010),  and the upcoming, wait for it, Piranhaconda (2011). Make sure that you catch the earlier flicks for the full backstory on our protagonists. As for Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009) and Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus (2010), Corman wasn’t involved in those embarrassing knock-offs.

Jim Wynorski (“Jay Andrews”), the director of myriad exploitation movies, actually shows up in this one. As far as I know, it’s his only appearance on film. He was set to shoot a scene and the Hawaiian local he had for the job simply couldn’t say his lines. Wynorski had to step around the camera into the shot and do it for him. You probably know Wynorski from his hits, such as Busty Coeds vs. Lusty Cheerleaders (2011) and The Hills Have Thighs (2010). He made this film for Corman on spec; they sold it to the SyFy Channel with no deal in advance. Corman didn’t get to the top of the mountain without guessing right most the time, as he did here.

And a moment of silence for David Carradine, who had quite a few unreleased movies in the can when he accidentally killed himself. I’m assuming that he’s still alive in these posthumous movies. Decrepit but alive. Kids, if you like to strangle yourself while masturbating, be sure to do your homework in advance.

The movie was shot in exotic Kaua’i and the Pasadena arboretum. There is one reason to watch it: turn on the Corman/Wynorski commentary and listen to them respond to questions from Perry Martin. Learn something about location shooting, casting, funding, and other aspects of low-budget movie-making, while in the background a gaggle of actors make a paycheck and the two stars eat a lot more than is good for them, without much chewing.

Piranha 3D (2010)

Full disclosure: I didn’t watch  Piranha (2010) in 3D, so I missed the bouncing boobs in my face, the projectile vomiting, the limb stumps. Will this mitigate my viewing pleasure? I hope not!

First Hour

Went to see Amaracord (1973) one night in San Diego, back in ’73, and then The Godfather (1972) the following night. My impression at the time: Coppola was no Fellini, in spite of The Godfather’s subsequent glory. I mention this because I watched the first hour of Piranha last night, after watching Machete the night before, and Aja is no Rodriquez. I can enjoy a ride at the county fair, but for a classic ride, you’ve got to go find a Disneyland. I didn’t have much use for Aja’s High Tension (2003), didn’t see Mirrors (2008), but I liked The Hills Have Eyes (2006) OK, partly because I thought I was looking at New Mexico, though it seemed strangely strange to me, who had lived there, when in fact the movie was filmed in Morocco.

First sign of trouble in Piranha: old guy gets eaten but later his bloody corpse washes up. Corpse?!? These are Jurassic super piranhas? There shouldn’t be anything left of the geezer but a couple of clean white bones, a wedding ring, and a grinning skull; Aja just wanted that corpse to rear up in the water. Weak! Second sign of trouble: the CGI blood is laughably bad – there is no excuse for bad CGI blood in this, our high-tech age – bad CGI in 2011 is sort of like Rush Limbaugh still being big and bold and fatter and greasier than ever eleven years into the new millenium. Makes you realize that (1) Kubrick was off by a thousand years, (2) it takes less than 50% of the population to screw everybody, including the planet itself, (3) Limbaugh is hardy, like those Jurassic piranhas. The irony, blood-wise, is that the production used 75,000 gallons of fake blood and still couldn’t tat up the CGI blood. Oh, no. “Tat” now is just short for tattoo; the old slang has faded away.

Anyway. T&A-wise, Aja is a wannabe Rob Zombie here, and I’m thinking of unrated, director’s cut The Devil’s Rejects (2008). Inadvertently or vertently, Aja has put himself in his own movie via Jerry O’Connell. (Yeah, O’Connell is supposed to be Joe Francis of “Girls Gone Wild,” but you know what I mean.) My best financial advice to you the reader: invest in gun companies. They do well no matter what, and especially well in times of trauma, like, for example, when a mentally ill person goes on a shooting spree at a public gathering. If the individual uses a Glock, say, and manufactures casualties into the double digits, Glock sales will dependably shoot up the next day. You could look it up. Anyway.  Rule of thumb: the more artificial boobs, the worse the movie. So far in Piranha, they’re all artificial. In Crank: High Voltage (2009), the Neveldine/Taylor flick, a pole dancer’s artificial boob takes a round from a handgun and springs a leak. Now that’s quality movie making!

I hiked in to Havasu Canyon back in ’58, before the lake was created. Canyons, waterfalls, reservation. When the lake came upon the scene, my parents bought a lot. It is to be hoped that the inhabitants of the reservation made some money. Nothing ever came of my parent’s lot, even after the developers moved London Bridge to the lake, piece by piece. I wonder if it’s still there.

Too many underwater piranha POV shots here, following which, Aja cuts back above water, but without the piranhas showing up yet. Weak! Homage to Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009).

Sure, Piranha took a lot of work to make, but they all do. Listen to the commentary, watch the extras, you’d be a churl to rag on the movie. All that effort, all that thought, years in the making. I get it. Aja, going for an ’80s vibe. That is, let’s put the tits back in horror. But what’s that expression? Tits on a pig? Tits on a horse? I googled it and got tits on a boar, a stick, a keyboard, a turtle, a unicorn, a tomcat.

I do like the notion of a primordial lake, far below the regular lake lake, an unter lake where no sun has shone for two million years, but that has plants growing in it. What do all those zillions of piranha down there eat? Each other, we are told! Only the strong survive. And they’re super hungry!

As in all but a couple of the most inventive movies, the vomit is white.

Continuity error: Topless woman is being towed behind speedboat on one of those hang-gliding kite things, that dips her into the water from time to time. Her bottom half gets eaten. No further mention of the incident as Spring Break rolls on.

Note: I left in the drunk parts of this post for sentimental reasons.

Last 28 minutes

Ving Rhames finally gets a minute of screen time, while he’s being eaten. Elisabeth Shue at 47 is a worthy mom/sheriff and makes a couple of points discreetly but clearly, while providing a lot of stunt work for her double.

Using a shotgun on a zillion hungry fish: not effective but fun cinema.

“Be careful getting out of here. The rocks, I suddenly remember at the end of the movie, sometimes strip away the engine.” BANG.

Would it have saved the film if the two kids got ate? Probably not. But at least get rid of Brooklynn Proulx, just because her name annoys me.

I never recognized Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth,  or Richard Dreyfuss. Lloyd and Dreyfuss snuck by me because of their geezerhood.

Aja now empties out the body and body-spare-parts locker, drains the blood tank, decapitates, slices torsos in half, calls in the foley artist with his scream collection, and, best of all, has the woman sitting in an inner tube with her butt hanging down get bit.

The TCM review is not yet posted.

Blood Creek (2009)

I wanted sleazy slasher horror – something to have fun reviewing – so I plucked Blood Creek (2009) off the shelf. Cover photo features a bald guy with a scarred, swastika-embossed noggin, in a leather jacket. Only four reviews on MRQE, including those from FulVue Drive-in, Bloody-Disgusting and Buried. Promising. But uh oh. Original title: Town Creek. Not promising. And Michael Fassbender is the Nazi. Double up-oh. I should have checked the box more carefully. The man is a star. Check out that 24-minute scene in Hunger (3008). This is not good; not a sign of sleaze. On the other hand, Kevin Costner made The New Daughter (2009), and that thing was execrable (a word that would knock me out of the spelling bee). Don’t give up on the sleaze. Hmm. A cast comprised of Aussies and Brits and Germans? The budget to fly them all to West Virginia, where the movie is set, would be… oops, my mistake. Filmed in Romania. Director  is Joel Shumacher, who has made, well, lots of stuff. Real movies. Two Batmans. Falling Down (1993). Tigerland (2000).  Phone Booth (2002). The man is 71. Going senile? Or have I stumbled upon a real actual movie here by accident? Chances of sleazy horror? Going down!

So let’s see. Classy prolog in black and white. Fassbender in 1938 shows up on a West Virginia farm wearing that cool ankle-length Nazi black leather coat. Did he get to keep it? Must ask him next time I run into him. Here in Blood Creek, he’s a Nazi seeking a mystic Nordic runestone, a la the bad guys in Indiana Jones.

Cut to the present, in color. After one or two minutes of plot, we’re into the folks-in-a-farmhouse-with-an-angry-Nazi-zombie-outside movie. That horror-movie score with bass stringed instruments commences, a low ominous drone presaging trouble; it continues throughout the picture. The Nazi now is wearing a leather mask, never explained, and has suffered 70 years of wear and tear, and I immediately asked myself whether that was really Fassbender under there? Perhaps he flew to Romania, had a walk-on at the beginning, and then flew home again. My question was answered after a while when he peeled off the mask, as well as a layer of skin or two underneath, and it was still him – or at least I think it was him.

First sign that we’re dealing with schlock here: guy creeping up on farmhouse armed with a shotgun. Attacked by a  doberman (naturally. Nazi dog.) Dog bites him. Guy’s brother knifes the dog. Guy with the dog bite whips out a syringe with a big “RABIES VACCINE” label on the side. Injects himself with its contents into his abdomen, needle into flesh style. Then continues on. That’s good preparedness! I always try to carry a syringe like that when I jog but sometimes I just substitute an energy bar.

Second sign that we’re dealing with schlock: the problem of proportionality, viz:

Guy kills a couple of zombies in gorefest fashion, taking a few dings on his head and body to wear through the rest of the movie, and then, as he lies gasping  and attempts to gather his wits, his brother says, “The old lady is having trouble breathing.”

“Is there any aspirin in the house?” the gasping hero asks. He doesn’t know the old lady from Adam. In fact, he’s got her tied up as a zombie sympathizer.


“Ok, then I’ll run out into the yard risking death, to retrieve my EMT bag.”

Not proportional.

Anyway, once the plot has been explained to us by the characters, we get the rules that allow the action to play out:

“He can’t come into the house because I used his runestone to something something something.”


“He needs blood, plenty of it, but not his own – that would be poison to him.”

“Once his third eye develops and he crosses over, nothing can stop him, not even the runes.”

“How do you stop him from crossing over? There has to be a way.”

“There is. Maybe. But somebody will have to go outside.”

Yes, go outside, because when Fassbender came over from Berlin, he brought his ancestors’ magic bones with him to wear as a sort of suit of armor, currently hanging in the barn like a… a… mobile… and if the good guy can grab the bones and put them on, Fassbender can’t hurt him, cause he’d be hurting his own magic bones…

The one thing I want from a sleazy movie is to see something new, something that I haven’t seen before. Not too much to ask, is it? Like that horror flick where the woman says, “Come around anytime. My back door is always open.” Like that. Blood Creek delivers, twice. Number one new thing is, Fassbender can kill a horse and then bring it back to zombie life (oh, by the way, he’s not a zombie but I don’t have the energy to explain what he is is. Suffice it to say that he’s a Nazi, still kicking after all these years. Is this what Hannah Arendt was referring to when she mentioned the banality of evil?). Fassbender can’t enter the farmhouse, of course, I forget why, the rules, but he can send a zombie horse in there. A nice thoroughbred; I hope they haven’t been harnessing that beauty to a plow, but this is Romania. Now, though, the zombie horse is rampaging through the kitchen, getting shot a zillion times, mane on CGI fire, so forth. That, I haven’t seen before: flaming horse in kitchen, zombie or otherwise, Romania or elsewhere. It was kind of funny but also kind of cool.

Number two new thing I’ll get to later.

The film zipped by in less than 90 minutes. Well paced. After the credits and prolog, it felt like an episode of some kooky western. Perhaps Schumacher had a couple of weeks on his hands, a desire to see Romania, and his grandson’s script from film school (actually, David Kajganich takes the blame for the story. He was born in Ohio but that’s no excuse.). In the heat of the moment, as the movie flies by, Australian accents made an appearance or two. The action edits are of the I-can’t-tell-what’s-going-on-here variety, followed by blood spurts. No nudity, but in a moment of extreme crisis, the female lead uses a forefinger to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear; got to look good! (It’s Emma Booth.) Hard to identify who’s who among the male protagonists; in particular, who’s still alive and who’s dead now as they tussle with whatever farm implements they can lay their hands on. One of the guy characters is an Iraq war veteran; can’t remember if that helps him to survive or not. Schumacher’s one chance to save this thing: a commentary. But, no commentary.  😦

Things I missed by not paying attention:

– How did the good guy get the bad guy’s blood in him, so that when the bad guy tries to feast on him, the bad guy gets poisoned?

– How did this family live for 70 years in the closeknit hill country of West Virginia without aging, and avoid notice, meanwhilst harvesting derelicts and locals as needed for blood?

– How did ancient mystical Norse Nazi runestones get scattered all over the state?

But of course, the movie makes no sense.

Things I did learn even without paying attention:

– If you’re German immigrant farmers and you find a giant ancient Nordic runestone out in the field, you don’t contact a museum. You use the stone as part of the wall when you put in your root cellar.

– If you’re developing a third eye, you need to take a hammer and a metal punch and conk a hole in your forehead skullbone for the eye to see out of. This scene is probably not at the top of Fassbender’s resume.

I was reminded by a podcast to rewatch The Devil’s Rejects (2005). Blood Creek in comparison is a lesser rivulet. The finale of Blood Creek sets up a sequel. Fassbender, do this again and you’re dead to me.

Right at Your Door (2006)

Right at Your Door (2006) – I thought this was a recent release, but I guess not… My theory is that it was funded by one of the major big-box stores, to get us to go out and stock up on emergency supplies: a series of dirty, virus-infested bombs are detonated in L.A (I had to look up “series is” vs “series are”). The only hope for the locals is to duct-tape their houses to a fare-thee-well. Some time is spent on tape acquisition at the outset. Meanwhile, my spousal unit, during the initial scenes, kept remarking on how unsympathetic the main character was. Made me wonder whether the writer/director planned it that way or not. See, the whole point of the movie  is that the guy tapes himself inside, but his wife is outside, downtown, probably infected with the toxic virus. She makes it home and wants to come in, naturally, virus or no virus; he says no, please curl up out back. So my question is, did the writer/director intend for the guy to be sympathetic at that point or not? Does it matter? He’s running around concerned about his wife in the beginning, so he cares, but it’s tough to make him the nice guy when his wife is outside the door pleading and he goes, Baby, I’m sorry, but… The movie continues. Stuff happens. It’s a movie for our time, a cautionary tale, a horror story, operating on multiple levels, a nice little, have-a-nice-day-but-oh-by-the-way-you’re-totally-screwed movie, fiendish in the end, sort of like the daily news. Kudos to Chris Gorak, writer/director. May he prosper.

You’ll Find Out (1940); Zombies on Broadway (1945)

Boy, the old comedies really rub your nose in the racial divide.

Apart from that, for a good time and a primer on radio taste in the ’40s, I recommend You’ll Find Out (1940), available from NetFlix as part of a double feature that includes Zombies on Broadway (1945). Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre get top billing these days, but Helen Parrish, Dennis O’Keefe, and the Kay Kyser band are the actual leads in YFO. Oh, and Ish Kabibble (Merwyn Bogue). I can’t remember ever seeing Ish in a movie before, but I do remember him on the radio. He passed away in ’94 at the age of 86, in Joshua Tree, California, of all places. Not much happens in Joshua Tree, I can tell you, but if I had known that he met his Maker there, I would have sought out the plaque and combed my hair into bangs in memoriam.

One thing I like about a lot of  ’40s movies, including this one, is the closeups. Let’s have more closeups! Or maybe closeups are just better in black and white… After typing that, I found myself watching an episode of Lost. There were closeups. Sweaty ones. But none so lovingly, lingeringly done as those in YFO.

Mouth and teeth notes from YFO:

– Karloff is this movie could be Jeremy Irons. Sounds like him, mouth looks like the Irons’ mouth.

– Lorre is sporting false teeth in this one. Sort of Bogart teeth. Why??

– More teeth: Ginny Simms’ choppers – what a set! As she croons, “I’d know you anywhere… from my dreams” the screen is full of teeth.

You may wonder what you’ll find out, exactly, in You’ll Find Out, or what the protagonists find out. I won’t spoil it for you. In fact, I can’t.

I’m old enough to remember going to movies like YFO and ZOB in the ’40s. We’d walk downtown (a few blocks), choose between the Onslow and the State, and catch some advertisements, previews, a newsreel, a cartoon, and a double feature. Our parents might pick up a free bowl or plate on Wednesdays as well. The only time that I remember going to a movie that wasn’t a double feature was a revival of Gone With the Wind.

This was years before we had a TV and we had a full roster of favorite appointment radio shows. I was thinking about that as I watched YFO, because it features Kay Kyser’s band (and Kay himself) and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge, which was popular on NBC.

Zombies on Broadway features Wally Brown and Alan Carney, RKO’s answer to Abbott and Costello. Brown and Carney are no Abbott and Costello, but they made me smile in this one. They’re more like two lesser Costellos. Lame dialog but some good gags. Their zombie work might have inspired the later Abbott and Costello monster movies. This one had lots of big 40s hats and Anne Jeffreys at 22 looking 32; a lot of 30-somethings in the 40s played teenagers or 20-somethings; here’s a case of the opposite.

Sheldon Leonard also appears in ZOB. For some reason, I’ve always loved Sheldon Leonard.

Infestation (2009)

Writer/director Kyle Rankin describes Infestation (2009) as a zombie movie using bugs. If you take your lesser zombie and/or bug movies seriously, note that this review contains SPOILERS. For example, the following sentences might spoil your sense of location in the movie: Rankin wanted to set the movie in Anywhere, U.S.A. However, at one point he was required to specify which state the license plates in the movie should represent. He chose Colorado because the office park they were using for the shoot reminded him of Colorado Springs. However, the movie was shot, start to finish, in Sofia, Bulgaria. If you know this going in, perhaps you will find yourself thinking, hmm, Americans in Bulgaria – hope they’re enjoying the foreign experience. Or your eye might stray from the foreground to the landscape, as your inner tourist takes control during some moment of overlong exposition. Someone told Rankin in advance that there would be bad food but beautiful women, which seemed like an ok tradeoff to him (he hooked up with a woman but also focused on the local gustatory delicacies, such as they were). He then checked Wikipedia to ascertain where Sofia, and in fact, Bulgaria, was. I myself know two Bulgarian women, offhand. One beautiful, the other a good mother.

Making movies in Bulgaria to save money may be tapering off, but I haven’t checked to confirm. Bulgaria joined the European Union at the start of 2007, but the Lev won’t be replaced by the Euro sooner than 2013, so the favorable Lev/Dollar exchange rate remains. As someone observed, however, your movie-making in Bulgaria should feature cheap, because everything in the country is cheap. I heard somewhere that many production teams are moving to South Africa now, another inexpensive place to film.

I know these things about Bulgaria and Rankin in Bulgaria because I elected to watch Infestation with his commentary turned on (which also means, with the dialog 99% inaudible). This is the first time, if my memory serves, that I’ve watched a movie with the commentary track turned on first, from the beginning. It’s a strange experience. You see but don’t hear the movie. Conflict between bug and human is manifest; the more important conflict between human and human is absent. Also, this is a horror comedy, with most of the humor in the dialog (assuming that it’s there at all). Thus, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW UNLESS I GO BACK AND LISTEN TO INFESTATION. Will I do that? Don’t know yet. First must finish watching the commentary. Rankin recorded it in 2008, so it’s not exactly au courant (the movie was shot summer of 2007 and went on the festival road). I’ve got to take this review thing a little seriously here, because more than one list maker has included Infestation as one of their top 10 horror films of 2009.

One bit of plot explanation, if you plan to watch the movie. The bugs wrap up the humans and then inject something into their jugulars. (How the bugs see through the cocoon to do that accurately, I don’t know.) But in the hero’s case, the bug is distracted at the crucial moment and injects the whatever through the hero’s cheek into his mouth instead of into the vein. Therefore the hero can bust out of the cocoon and run around busting others out. How come they can wake up too, if they’ve been jugulared? Wait… You can’t think about stuff like that in a  B- or C-level bug movie. Listening to the commentary, you realize how much of what you’re watching depends upon how the film was cut, how much time the crew had while shooting any given scene, the impact that a moose head falling off the wall accidentally can have, so forth. The movie is loaded with ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, also known as dubbing or looping).

Movie notes:

– If you’re going to put boobs… nah, I’m not going to go there. Except to say that the one terrible mistake, for me, in the masterpiece that is Mulholland Drive (2001), is the bad boob job. Please don’t take me out of the movie just because Dr. Plastic Hollywood over there in Woodland Hills couldn’t do his job right.

– Linda Park is not Grace Park.

– Small bugs are scary, as in Splinter (2008). Big bugs are goofy.

– Rankin was the casting director for Reindeer Games. Since then, he has made eight movies (long and short), this one in association with Icon, which is Mel Gibson’s company. Do what you want with the bugs, but don’t bug Mel!

– It took them 7 weeks to build the bug nest. They blew up a miniature of it in Topanga, behind Rankin’s house.

– Screenplay called for a box of animal cookies on the shelf. The hero opens the cupboard and there they are, provided by the Bulgarian crew, biscuits for a cat.

Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, listening to the commentary first. But no, it was fun.

I did watch the movie, finally. It was pretty good. Lively.  The bugs were ok, excepting the usual amount of pure nonsense so often present in these movies. Sure, it was Bulgaria, but a bug’s a bug. There were some excellent action effects. Rankin writes pretty good – writes better comic dialog than I ever could. Chris Marquette is a funny guy. I smiled a lot. Most importantly, I cared about the characters.

Dylan Baker, Up To His Old Tricks

When I was a kid, horror comics (along with all kinds of other comics), were popular. Every kid on the block had a box of comics and everyone was “collecting” something, so that trading was rampant, especially since most of us changed what we were collecting frequently. I collected Black Hawk, Captain Marvel, and Plastic Man, for example,  for at least  a week or two each. And everybody had a go with Classics, though nobody actually ever read them. I picked up empty soda-pop bottles at construction sites after school every day – 5 bottles at 2 cents each on return paid for one new comic at the drugstore.

Horror comics hadn’t been banned yet, but I don’t remember anybody collecting them. I mean, I don’t remember anybody announcing in public that they were collecting Vault of Horror or Tales from the Crypt, not in the same way that they would ask around for issues of Archie or Little Lulu. I didn’t know anything about sex, general kinkiness, or pornography, but I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be reading stories that included, say, cannibalism, much less enjoying them, much less collecting them. There was something in the pleasures bestowed by the stories that these comics contained that wasn’t exactly in accord with what I was hearing every week in Sunday School. I thought about those pleasures the other night while watching Trick ‘r Treat (2008), a collection of four loosely interconnected tales – thought about them especially during the climatic moment of the first tale – a moment shared by a young boy and his dad, the grammar school principal, Dylan Baker of all actors, coming back for more after Happiness (1998) – the ultimate in inspired call-back casting here. (I read somewhere that Warners shelved the movie for two years because of this scene. Its final frame, with a dialog bubble added, could have appeared proudly in any fine horror comic of the 50s.)

The tales in Trick ‘r Treat aren’t especially gory by today’s standards, they’re just wicked. It’s not the visuals, it’s the attitude. The muckraker book Seduction of the Innocent came out in 1954, but I didn’t read it until all the horror comics disappeared, partly because of it. Ironically, it became the only place you could get a glimpse of the banned material, via the illustrations in the book. The great tragedy for me when these comics were banned was that my favorite comic book by far, by way far, was Mad. Because it was produced by EC, it got the ax along with all the horror and crime comics, even though it was innocent compared to the rest. Well, relatively innocent. Although Mad transmogrified into the later magazine, it wasn’t the same after.

But I digress. The last time that I remember grinning and shaking my head like I did while watching Trick ‘r Treat was for Santa’s Slay (2005) and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006). Most horror these days is more entertaining, for me at least, with the commentary track turned on, but Trick ‘r Treat entertains all on its own.

now that’s a bad horror movie

I don’t watch a lot of bad movies, at least not all the way through, and I don’t rant, because it’s unseemly.  When a movie turns bad, I bail. Course, I like a lot of movies that are commonly thought to be bad, but I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about, for example, the majority of movies that Roger Ebert calls out in Your Movie Sucks!

I did, however, unaccountably, sit through the horrible totality of  The New Daughter (2009). I can’t explain why, except to say that I wasn’t alone on the couch and didn’t want to offend. Having watched the thing, however, and at the cost of not being seemly, allow me a few words.

The movie slunk into theaters and slunk back out again, but remains prominent and multi-copied on the Blockbuster shelves. (Netflix has it at 2.5 stars, which I reduced to 1 star because I didn’t know how to make it 0 stars or perhaps minus-5 toilet seats.) Why did Kevin Costner make this movie? Was a member of his family being held hostage? Did he lose a bet? Is he going senile? He and director Luis Berdejo haven’t worked together before making this thing; I’m guessing that they won’t be working together again either.

Just to keep this short: it’s one of those movies in which a single parent (single for the convenience of the screenwriter) moves into a magnificent old house with his two kids, only to open a kitchen drawer days later and have hundreds of spiders come scampering out. Why? Because we’re still a long way from the end of the movie and things like this must happen in the meantime. I remember the last time I opened a drawer in my kitchen and hundreds of spiders swarmed out. I spent the next three weeks down the road in the local Holiday Inn (Room Free for the Day If You Spot a Roach – It Must Be Alive). Did I disclose, before signing the closing papers on the house? Well, I said that the house was haunted, which didn’t seem to bother the new owner.

One (of oh so many) inanities in the film: the plot is based upon the notion that an ancient super race consisted of male workers and a queen. The males could not live without the queen and now they need a new one (Costner’s daughter). Ants and ant farms abound. Evidently no one told the writer that worker ants are all female. Note to director of the remake: Instead of ghoulish zombie males, substitute female worker babes and cast a busty alpha babe for the queen.

So I’m going to end this with a spoiler, though I’m not sure it’s possible to spoil a picture that’s already less fresh than  a pail of milk left out in the sun all day – with spiders. In fact, if I give you something to look forward to in this movie, perhaps it’ll save you from waiting for a sensical denouement that never arrives. That being said, the spoiler: nobody but the director gets out of this movie alive. He, on the other hand, is out there somewhere right now, making another movie, which is the real horror.