Sunday, June 10, 2018

Random Thought #6

My top 5 moments from James Cameron movies.

1) From Terminator 2: Sarah Connor stops in her tracks when the Terminator steps off the elevator. My favorite use of slow motion ever.

2) From Aliens: Ripley sees the doll sink in the water. The emotional weight of the relationship that has blossomed between Ripley and Newt hits you as Ripley screams Newt is still alive.

3) From The Terminator: The Terminator's introduction. What could have been goofy and scuttled the movie from the start establishes just how scary and ruthless this robotic assassin is.

4) From Terminator 2: The Terminator marches against the SWAT team. Arnold emerges from the smoke, bullets bounce off him harmlessly as the music swells. So cool.

5) From Aliens: Ripley mentally prepares herself as she descends into the nest. She chooses to face the nightmares of her past and save this little girl.

Random Thought #5

Wes Craven was one of the most influential and successful directors in the horror genre, so it's not a surprise one of his movies inspired a parody.

His 1977 cult shocker The Hills Have Eyes inspired the porno The Hills Have Thighs. No joke. It exists.

This got me thinking: what other Craven films could easily be converted into pornographic titles? Quite a lot, actually.

A Nightmare on Elm Street = A Wet Dream on Elm Street
Scream = Cum (Ghostface is now known as O-face)
Swamp Thing = Swamp Wang
Vampire in Brooklyn = Vampire in Brook-Lyn
The People Under the Stairs = The People Under the Hairs
Shocker = Shocker

My friend Jeff also offered My Soul to Take as My Hole to Take.

Random Thought #4

In the future society of Demolition Man, toiler paper has been replaced with the never-explained three seashells. Additionally, all restaurants are Taco Bell.

I believe the two are related.

Can you imagine the ecological disaster that would befall the planet if everyone ate Taco Bell and still used toilet paper? We'd be out of trees in a week.

Random Thought #3

Last night, some friends and I watched the Blade movies when a thought occurred to me:

Being the vampire hunter who stays back at base or in the truck - the one who handles all the equipment, maybe builds and maintains the weapons, keeps watch and the home fires burning, etc. - without venturing into the vampire den is kind of like being a backup quarterback in the NFL.

You get the benefit of telling people you are a professional vampire slayer, but you don't have to expose yourself to the danger. It's the best of both worlds.

It's like those NFL backups. They get to tell folks they're professional athletes, they get paid a lot of money to hold a clipboard, and they don't have their bodies ravaged on the gridiron.

I imagine both get a lot of mileage trying to score at bars.

"I back up Tom Brady. I'm there when he screws up."

"I hunt vampires. I keep the world safe from evil."

On an unrelated note. Blade Trinity is god awful, but if you pretend it's really a Deadpool movie in which Deadpool is trolling Blade the whole time, it becomes tolerable.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ugetsu

Somewhere between the Samurai epics of Akira Kurosawa and a fairy tale lies Ugetsu (1953).

Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, Ugetzu follows two men in 16th century Japan, Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) and Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa), from a small village. As civil war approaches, Genjuro, a potter, plans to take his wares to a nearby city to sell at great profit. Tobei, a farmer, dreams of becoming an important samurai.

The paths they follow nearly destroy them and put their wives at great risk. We focus mostly on Genjuro, who becomes ensnared by a mysterious noblewoman, Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyo). Genjuro learns too late she is a spirit from the realm of the dead.

Ambition and greed have driven many to their doom, and they drive Genjuro and Tobei. As war engulfs the country, these two men foolishly keep putting themselves at risk. When approaching soldiers arrive to conscript the men of their village into forced labor and to rape the women, Genjuro races back to his home to see that his pottery kiln stays lit, even as his wife begs him not to go. Tobei takes the money he's made to buy a spear and armor, even though his wife knows they have more pressing needs to address.

Lady Wakasa functions the way the best ghosts function in these stories: as a spiritual manifestation of something else. In this case, she is the embodiment of Genjuro's greed. She flatters his craftsmanship, marries him, and vows to keep him at her side forever.

"Now you're mine," she says. "You must devote your entire life to me."

After a while, greed becomes something to feed for its own sake. Genjuro initially wants money to provide for his family and to give them a nice life, but soon, he's just getting more money to get more money. The country is being torn apart, people are suffering, his family needs support, but he ignores all that. He's enslaved to having more, just as he becomes trapped by Lady Wakasa, who expects and demands his unwavering devotion.

Tobei wants to be important. He wants glory and accolades, but he never gets to do anything heroic. While he ends up getting what he wants, it's his wife who pays the price. She is raped by soldiers and forced to become a prostitute. His priorities are out of line.

Ugetsu has two styles that should contradict each other, but somehow work together well: the historical drama and the fantasy. Some parts, such as the line of villagers fleeing the approaching soldiers and the marketplace of the city, wouldn't look out of place in a Kurosawa film. They look more or less believable, in a recognizable world.

Other parts feel like they're from another world. Our characters flee in a boat at one point, and with the eerie mist and shadowy outlines, it reminds me of the jungle expedition in King Kong. The movement of Lady Wakasa's servants as they move from through the dark manor lighting candles is unsettling. They seem to glide in an unearthly manner, and the light, rather than provide comfort, illuminates that which we don't wish to see.

Few overtly supernatural events occur on screen. We don't see any fancy special effects. The most is we look away from one thing, look back, and find it has become something else or has vanished entirely, but that only happens a couple of times. Most of other worldliness is suggested, talked about, or implied, and the reactions of the characters and the music create a palpable sense of dread, as if we're really encountering spirits from beyond the grave.

Mizoguchi pans his camera a lot, tracking slowly to give us the full length of his subjects, but compared to Kurosawa, his camera is closer to them and more claustrophobic. The effect is we feel hunkered down, surrounded by a dark and mysterious world that threatens to engulf us.

Random Thought #2

Did you ever notice the weird similarities between Nothing but Trouble and The Mangler?

Both are somewhat notorious bombs from the early-to-mid 90s that damaged the careers of their respective directors - first-timer Dan Aykroyd in the former who has not directed since and veteran horror helmer Tobe Hooper with the latter, who mostly worked in television afterward plus a few direct-to-video features.

But they have more going on that. Both feature prominent, recognizable actors (Aykroyd, Robert Englund) playing villains buried on poundage of old-age makeup and walking on gimpy legs. Both have a dark sense of humor and a touch of the surrealistic absurd. Both feature machines that grind up human victims on a conveyer belt and spit out the remains in tiny giblets.

There's also some socio-economic commentary occurring in both. In Nothing but Trouble, the villainous judge's family was ripped off decades ago by a New York financier who left the town a desolate wasteland and reeks his revenge against anyone he perceives as having more money than him and being undesirable socially. We find out he has official backing of the region's law enforcement to do their dirty work.

In The Mangler, the owner of titular beast has sold his soul for money and power from the demon that lives inside the machine. The town is prosperous because of his business, and in return, the people look the other way when the demon must be fed virgins and anyone else that gets in its way. The moneyed elite of the town sacrifice their children for their status.

Nothing but Trouble had a large budget with impressive technical credits. The Mangler had much less money to work with and appears much more shoddily made. The Mangler is bad horror that is unintentionally funny. Nothing but Trouble is bad comedy that is unintentionally horrific.

They might make for an interesting double feature if they were any good.

Random Thought #1

Catherine O'Hara is the unsung MVP of Beetlejuice.

Yes, Michael Keaton plays the title character with ghoulish glee, and everyone remembers Winona Ryder's gloomy goth teen, but they had a lot more to work with from the script.

On paper, Delia Deetz could have been nails-on-the-chalkboard insufferable. She's meant to be obnoxious, pretentious, and self-centered, and while she's not an outright a villain, she's not meant to be likable. A character with that set purpose can easily cross the line from love-to-hate to get-them-off-my-screen-I-can't stand-them.

Not only does Catherine O'Hara take the character and make it her own, she rules. Despite Delia's flaws, O'Hara plays her with such energy, confidence, and a don't-take-shit-from-anyone attitude that she dominates the frame and we don't mind. She's unapologetically a force to be reckoned with, and we can only stand in awe.

Someone that poised and assured of herself, no matter how unlikable, becomes a source of fun. Haven't we all wanted to threaten to go insane and take someone with us?