Thursday, October 23, 2014

Midnite Ride #34: Blood on Satan's Claw, The Innocents and Night Train to Terror

Large William discusses Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), The Innocents (1961) and Night Train to Terror (1985).

Direct download: ClawInnocentsTrainRM.mp3 
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Episode #309: The Return of the Living Dead Double Duece

Welcome back to the GGtMC!!!

This week Sammy and Will are joined by Josh Hurtado from for coverage of The Return of the Living Dead (1985) directed by Dan O'Bannon and The Return of the Living Dead Part 2 (1988) directed by Ken Wiederhorn.

Direct download: ggtmc_309.mp3 
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Clones (1973)

The number fifty-two seems to pop up in a lot of things (like seven and thirteen).  There are fifty-two weeks in a year.  There are fifty-two playing cards (less the jokers) in a standard deck (and also part of the name of one of the more frustrating games that can be played with them – Fifty-Two Pickup).  Okay, maybe there aren’t all that many significant instances of fifty-two in our world, but it stands out for me (and I’m sure almost every other comic book fan) for one reason: Fifty-two is the number of Earths in the DC Comics universe (for the time being).  What this means is that there are multiple variations of all of DC’s characters in some form or another, and the concept as a whole is referred to as a multiverse.  My understanding is that this idea was developed in the Sixties as a way to integrate characters from the beginnings of superhero-dom with their modern counterparts/reimaginings as well as further distinguishing themselves from each other.  Of course, the whole thing became a morass of continuity where the history of some characters (Hawkman, I’m looking at you) became so convoluted, a casual reader couldn’t tell if they were coming or going (a lot like X-Men continuity, especially in the Eighties and Nineties, though they and their publisher are a discussion for some other time).  

The DC multiverse was condensed into one unified universe in the epic Crisis On Infinite Earths, and for a long time this was the status quo at DC.  The occasional “off-model” permutation of a character would be explored here or there in single issues and/or miniseries under the Elseworlds banner.  About three or so years ago, however, the muckety mucks at DC decided to bring back the multiverse, and so they relaunched all of their titles under the heading of the New 52.  For a great many readers (myself included) their books quickly fell into confusion again, with some characters continuing exactly as they left off, some starting over entirely new, and some kind of in the middle.  They managed to do in a vastly condensed period what it took their predecessors decades to do (i.e. muddy the waters), and while there are a few books worth reading, I personally prefer Marvel out of the Big Two.  So what has any of this got to do with Paul Hunt and Lamar Card’s The Clones?  Well, as you may have already guessed, part of the film’s plot has to do with the aforementioned “untouchable number.”  I hesitate to state the connection outright, though all things considered, telling you every last inch of this film’s plot really wouldn’t hurt a thing in the long run.

Dr. Gerald Appleby (Michael Greene) narrowly escapes from his laboratory after an accident is manufactured by unseen forces.  Coming back around the front of the facility, he spies someone stealing his car.  Giving chase, Gerry discovers that someone who looks just like him has quickly and easily installed himself in the doctor’s life.  Things get more complicated when CID agents Nemo (Gregory Sierra) and Tom Sawyer (Otis Young) are called in to “get” the real Appleby.

You’d think with a synopsis like that, the film’s story would be loaded with contrivances and twists, especially considering the narration at the beginning warning the viewer about the likelihood of human cloning within the next ten to twenty-five years.  The ground work is laid out for a stimulating movie, either physically or mentally.  Nonetheless, there is little to no consideration of the ethics or moral implications of the process.  There is little to no consideration for the struggle Gerry needs to go through to try and get his life back.  There is little to no consideration that he had much of a life to begin with outside of some idyllic boating shots with his wife Penny (Susan Hunt).  In fact, Gerry, as a character, is by and large a cipher.  We know next to nothing about him other than he is a scientist and he is married.  We learn nothing about him throughout the course of the film.  He could just as easily be a member of the audience watching the film, and that, to my mind, is what the film gets right.  By making the main character as inoffensively bland and blank as possible and thrusting him through a series of chase scenes (which consume the vast majority of the film’s run time), the audience is given the opportunity to put itself in Gerry’s place as they root for this man who has been unjustly persecuted for no other reason than that he is now an encumbrance.  In effect, the audience becomes a double for Gerry.

Like so many Paranoia/Conspiracy films of this time, the focus is on the plight of one man against a nefarious agency or agencies with fiendish machinations afoot right under the noses of the population at large.  Of course, this is emphasized in Gerry’s dealings with everyone he comes into contact with from his boss to his wife and damn near all other characters in between.  Not only are these characters not to be trusted, but it is made plain quite swiftly that this is so.  A further clue/touch is added by having one of the main villains (Stanley Adams) speak with a German accent (I’m unsure if he had one naturally, but if he did, he didn’t try to cover it up here, and it’s a plus either way).  Stylistically, the paranoia angle is reinforced via Dutch angled compositions, slow motion usage, fisheye POV shots, smash cut editing, and the use (or non-use) of diegetic sound in the action scenes.  It is in this way that The Clones turns in on itself as these films tend to do.  Visuals of this sort are so removed from the reality the audience knows, there is little to no sense that can be derived, even in more traditional scenes (take the sequence of the hippies speaking gibberish to Gerry, if you doubt me).  By subverting the audience’s inclination to make sense of what it sees, it forces multiple readings into existence (like, say, fifty-two Earths in a multiverse).  The whole film may be taken as a Conspiracy film with psychedelic imagery.  It may be taken as a Psychedelic film with conspiratorial leanings.  It may be taken as a quasi-incompetent (or quasi-successful, depending on your perspective) piece of experimental filmmaking.  It may be taken as Gerry’s descent into madness.  It may be taken as the seams of Gerry’s domestic life being pulled apart.  For as much as the film claims that it’s about cloning, that’s only a tangential piece of the pie.  I think the film is a bit more insidious than that.  You can think about it for hours and come up with a plethora of ideas, or you can think about it for five minutes and write it all off.  Honestly, I think of it both ways at different times, and I’m fine with that.  Or maybe I only think of it one way, and the clone of me who just stole my car thinks of it the other way.

MVT:  The main idea of the film is intriguing.  I’m kind of surprised we don’t see very many films with this premise these days (I know of one or two in the past year or so, but outside of some very basic information, I know nothing about them), as I think it’s a treasure trove waiting to be mined.

Make Or Break:  The finale is great, and there is a fantastic accentuation of dead bodies as bags of meat which is both striking and blackly comic in this environ.

Score:  6.75/10      

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Gays (2014)

Bob Gay-Paris (Chris Tanner), the transsexual matriarch of the titular family (which includes dad Rod played by Frank Holliday and younger son Tommy played by Flip Jorgensen), rolls through an extensively demented monologue for her baby boy Alex (soon to be played by Mike Russnak, but here played by the camera).  She has grand plans for her son, from rivaling Jeff Stryker to “master[ing] the tambourine” and with a hell of a lot in between.  Forward to “present day” 1997, where Alex and Kevin (Nicholas Wilder) meet at a local bar and strike up a conversation.  While nursing their beers, Alex lets Kevin in on the philosophy his family practices as well as preaches.

The Gays is writer/director T.S. Slaughter’s second feature, and it’s certainly an interesting piece of work.  Its central conceit is that the scenes wherein the family interacts with one another are sending up traditional family sitcoms.  But I think it’s not so much concerned with the form of the sitcom and its tropes as it is with the content.  The filmmakers here eschew a typical sitcom three-camera setup, and while we get similar framing for various scenes set in the same rooms, this movie gravitates toward more cinematic shooting and editing, especially in the scenes set at home.  Here much of the camera work is handheld, and they’re not afraid to shoot from low angles.  The use of jump cuts during continuous action (I’m thinking here of a spectacularly overwrought fit that Bob throws) and the repetition of phrases in fast succession fracture time and emphasize mood in ways regular sitcoms would never do.  Surprisingly, I only counted two sequences where a laugh track was included.  Conversely, the scenes in the bar are those closest in approach to standard sitcom form.  These scenes are also the oases of sanity amidst the rest of the film’s action, and Kevin acts as the incredulous audience member trying to process what he and we are witnessing.  As counterpoint to the scenes with the Gays, it’s a pretty smart move. 

Traditionally, family sitcoms are concerned with teaching life lessons, and this film is no different.  Nonetheless, the lessons Rod and Bob impart to their sons, while they could definitely be considered life lessons, are more about raising Alex and Tommy to be gay sociopaths.  I’ll give you a few examples.  After Alex neglects taking sexual advantage of his friend Billy (Roberto Larancuent) during a sleepover, Rod makes Alex get into “the Sling” and then has Billy fuck him.  This is shot undercranked (or I guess we can just say sped up for stuff now shot on digital, couldn’t we?) and set to Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture.  Alex’s straight friend Chris (Matthew Benjamin) is forced to fellate Rod as a thank you for dinner and also because Alex is always forced to watch football when they’re at Chris’ house.  The boys are taught all about the perineum (that space between a man’s scrotum and anus, also known as the “taint” [the pronunciation I’ve always known it as rather than “haint,” which seems more popular in some circles, but I digress…]).  This inbred insanity is reinforced particularly (for me) by off-kilter, extreme closeups of Bob cackling like The Cryptkeeper (okay, maybe not quite that shrill).  

The behavior of the Gays is presented as untethered, not only to the viewers watching the movie but also to Kevin, a member of the gay community.  He can barely believe what he’s hearing.  So, even to other gays the Gays are considered kind of abnormal, and I think this is a comment on the way homosexuality is often portrayed in popular culture.  Additionally, it’s a sensory smack to the back of the head for the ignorati who genuinely (no matter how inexplicably) believe that this is the sort of thing that gay people actually do at home.  By extension, then, it’s also a satirical retort to the people who think that gay marriage perverts and destroys “traditional family values.”  But in the same way that the work of John Waters revels in its trashiness, Slaughter and company embrace the absurdities they put forth.

Now, The Gays is far from a perfect film, and it is absolutely not for everyone.  It’s quite graphic, and makes no bones (pardon the pun) about being so.  There are glimmers of visual skill on display, but they’re also inconsistent.  While this is an expectation of movies shot with little to no budget, it doesn’t prevent such things from standing out.  Furthermore, the scenes which are the most fun to watch can also be the toughest to take.  And it’s not the ideas.  Many of the ideas here are great, including a Brady Bunch theme song parody titled “Each Other’s Lunch,” a board game mashup of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit called Eat A Pussy Or Be A Pussy, and a Christmas scene which proves to be most instructive for the lads.  The problem for me is much the same as the problem that I have with a lot of Troma’s output.  All these antics tend to be a bit of an onslaught over time, and if that’s something you’re not predisposed to, it can be off-putting.  Thankfully, Slaughter never goes quite far enough to completely wear out his welcome, and the belly laughs his film generates are honestly earned.

MVT:  Slaughter shows off some nice filmmaking chops, and if nothing else, his work here is largely successful in its ambitiousness.  

Make or Break:  There is a riff on The Exorcist that is funny, revolting, and witty all at the same time.  You can feel here that the filmmakers have a fondness for the source material, and it doesn’t come off as cynical like a lot of these things tend to do.

Score:  6.25/10

For more info about The Gays, visit their website:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Midnite Ride #33: Tales From the Crypt and The Baby

Large William discusse Tales From the Crypt (1972) and The Baby (1973).

Direct download: CryptBabyMidniteRide.mp3

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Episode #308: The Maniac Cop Trilogy

Welcome back for another glorious episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week Sammy and Will are joined by Big Bad John Ross from the Feed My Ears facebook Group for coverage of The Maniac Cop Trilogy!!! We cover all three films and discuss the virtues of large chickens!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_308.mp3

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ironmaster (1983)

Thousands of years ago, the Tribe of Zod (before whom I’m sure they all knelt) grappled with the paucity of game to hunt in their domain.  But then, the Earth trembled, and the people were frightened.  Tribal leader Iksay (Benito Stefanelli) decides that good-hearted, musclebound lad Ela (Sam Pasco) will inherit his mantle when he is gone rather than his own son Vood (George Eastman).  Needless to say, Vood doesn’t cotton to any of this, and after he discovers iron (prior to the Bronze Age, mind you), he conquers the land, but Ela still has a few tricks up his non-sleeves.

What Umberto Lenzi’s Ironmaster (aka La Guerra Del Ferro: Ironmaster) draws its direct inspiration from is Conan the Barbarian’s “Enigma of Steel” speech.  Unlike John Milius’ superlative epic of savagery, however, there is little wisdom to be found in this film’s take outside of what it says about weaponry and men swinging their dicks.  Conan’s father speaks to his son about the relationship of men to their world (“This you can trust”).  Vood’s relationship with the Earth is strictly on the basis of exploitation and power (“War is our reason for living”).  Disregarding the differences in subtlety of approach, Ironmaster does still have legitimate things to say, though.  When humans discover something new, something which has the capacity for destruction, they will tend to use it for that purpose first.  Iron is not a strong material with which to build sturdier shelters for these people (Vood’s tribe live in caves for the entirety of the film, and the other prominent tribe dwell in straw huts) but a tool for subjugation.  In this way it talks about man’s inherently bellicose nature, and this is even stated outright in the film’s opening monologue.  While these sentiments do ring true, they’re addressed bluntly in the movie, creating rather obvious, facile metaphors where the possibility of a more nuanced insight is just as attainable.  This is not to say that a high degree of finesse is essential in this sort of story, especially considering its genesis.  Unfortunately, it does point to the filmmakers’ method of building narrative, for me, this was an issue.

What I mean by this is that Lenzi and company structure the film in a “lather, rinse, repeat” fashion.  There’s a scene of Vood and his minions slaughtering a bunch of people.  Cut to Ela and Isa (Elvire Audray) wandering around, lamenting their plight, and arguing over if and how they will fight Vood.  Cut to Vood lording it over his newly enslaved iron gatherers.  And so on.  It gets old after the first two iterations, and this is in a film that’s almost one hundred minutes long.  That it’s all delivered in the plainest manner possible only makes it more painful to endure.  This is how much I like all two of you; I sat through the whole thing just to report this.

But back to the film’s more interesting elements.  Aside from the abuses of physical power in the film there are the abuses of religious power.  Ela’s tribe worshipped the god Zod, and he is more or less a benevolent deity (he’s called “Punisher of Evil”), in as much as any absentee god is.  His mouthpiece (priest, what-have-you) in the tribe is Rag (Jacques Herlin), and he is thoughtful and considered in his counsel to Iksay.  Nevertheless, Rag is an older man, so what he augurs in the flames of the tribe’s camp fires could just as easily be his interpretation of probabilities based on past experiences, but his advice is still sound.  After Vood unearths the iron, he is approached by Lith (Pamela Prati), who worships Eferron (get it?), the Earth Trembler.  Vood and Lith use the gift of iron as proof that Eferron has named Vood as supreme ruler and that the god’s wish is for his people to crush the world beneath their feet.  Of course, the other tribe members are enthralled by this, largely because they are inherent followers.  However, they also experience the feeling of might that comes with conquest, and they desire more.  This is all reinforced by Lith and Vood’s insistence on their divine right.  With just a small amount of manufactured/imagined proof, the pair gull their fellow men under the guise of Eferron’s will.  This is not to say that Lith and Vood don’t believe that they are justified in their motivations or the genesis of same (or we are never shown anything indicating different).  By that same token, Lith seems far more deceptive than Vood, so if anything, one could easily suppose that the entire plot is Lith’s machinations with Vood acting as bulky figurehead for a male-dominated society.  

Another thing this movie does (in fact, what so many movies of this ilk do) is places its various factions into distinct groups with little to no intermingling.  So, along with Vood’s warmongers and Isa’s peaceniks, we also have the Mudmen, the Ursos (read: Apemen), and (apparently) the Lepers.  This is important for several reasons.  One, there need to be distinctions between the factions which the audience can easily distinguish.  Two, there need to be contagonists to get in the way of both the protagonists’ and antagonists’ goals.  Three, other tribes are needed to draw out the plot and pad the runtime with (in this case, rote) action set pieces.  Four, there need to be more wildly inhuman tribes outside of the main two so that the primary conflict makes a bit more sense.  After all, if any of the contagonist tribes were physically indiscernible from Vood’s or Isa’s, they would become viable contenders for rulers of the land rather than visually interesting monsters/subhumans to be dominated.  I mean, the Baseball Furies were never going to rule all the five boroughs of New York City any more than the Crazies were going to rule the above ground world of Manhattan, but they are memorable as serious (but still minor) obstacles in their cinematic universes.

One final distinction, perhaps the most important one (perhaps not; I’ll leave that to you), is in the nature of the two tribes as embodied in their locales.  Vood’s tribe is hard.  They live in caves next to a volcano.  Their weapons are rigid, unbending.  Their men even eat iron (yes, really).  Isa’s tribe is populated with tranquil fishermen.  They live in individual straw huts under an open sky.  They have no weapons because they believe that people will leave you alone if you do them no harm.  At first, Ela believes that the way to defeat Vood is with iron weapons of his own, but he comes to the realization that flexibility can overcome inflexibility when applied properly.  The ultimate revelation of the film falls in line with Lao Tzu’s quote, “nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.”  And while, the protagonists follow their learned philosophy to the correct conclusion of this story, we know how humanity will develop down the line (assuming this all takes place on our Earth, naturally), making for a hollow victory of sorts.

MVT:  George Eastman’s Hercules-esque headgear is the best thing in the film.  Normally, I would be inclined to give it to Eastman himself, but he doesn’t do anything especially notable in the movie, and besides, he looks better doing it with the headgear on than with it off.

Make or Break:  The Break for me was Vood’s discovery of the semi-titular ore.  The volcano effects are quite well implemented, and this is in many ways the most interesting scene in the entire film.  Sadly, it also inexplicably succeeds in being overlong and dull.  The repetitive structure of the film’s remainder is simply more nails in the coffin, comparatively speaking.

Score:  4.75/10