Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movies Worth Googling: Strange Movie Reviews by Jenny Orosel

MOVIES ONLY A MOUSE COULD LOVE—Great Cheese in Horror Film

The other day, Bill and I were watching The Best Worst Movie. It’s a documentary about Troll 2 which, for a little while there, had the lowest rating possible on Internet Movie Database. Best Worst Movie looked, not just at the movie itself, but the people who made it and the people who loved it. I can relate to those people. Troll 2 is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, a fun movie to watch for all its flaws and foibles. It has the charm of an elementary school play about nutrition. The acting is bad, the script is horrible, and yet there is such enthusiasm in its production that you can’t help but enjoy it. And, after all the graphic Nunsploitation of last month, I was in the mood for some more fluffy horror material. “So bad it’s good” became a calling to me.

The first movie I popped on was Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1992). Yes, Necronomicon as in Lovecraft’s infamous “Book of the Dead”. Only, this movie goes beyond most Lovecraftian flicks by making the author himself the main character. Necronomicon centers around the author (played by Jeffrey Combs channeling Bruce Campbell playing Indiana Jones) trying to steal the infamous Book of the Dead from a library. He finds the book locked away and, as he grabs the book, he becomes locked in the room. Now, if you got locked in the secret room of a library with evil monks wanting to kill you and weird contraptions nearly impaling you, one would think your first instinct would be, oh, I don’t know…to try and escape. Not our suave and swashbuckling Lovecraft. Nope, instead he sits and begins to copy stories out of the book. Those stories become the three smaller tales that make up this anthology movie.

Like many anthology movies, this one has three separate directors. The upside is that you get three different styles, and it can be like watching three different movies at once. The downside is that it can often make for a very inconsistent flick. In all the stories, including the framing tale with Lovecraft, the performances were solid, and the actors did their best to make their roles believable. The problem is, with the first and last sequence as well as the framing bit, the story took a back seat to the effects. Lovecraft is known for his giant, indescribable monsters, and filmmakers can’t seem to resist the temptation to try and film the indescribable. That’s a fantastic ambition, and one I admire, but sadly in this case, it means the fantastic source material takes a back seat. Is that sacrifice worth it for the effects? I don’t think so. Even by 90s technological standards the creatures and visuals were mediocre.

The odd thing is, with all its faults, I had fun watching Necronomicon. I’m a sucker for effects, even bad ones. The monsters were a lot of fun to wait for, watch, and root for. And there’s something endearing about the notion of suave and debonair Lovecraft. This was not a scary movie, but I didn’t go in looking for some frights. I knew it had a reputation for cheesiness and I was expecting no less. That, I think, is the key to this: if you know that most of the movie will be good, silly fun then you’ll have a great time. But if you’re looking for a hard-core horror movie, best to steer clear of it.

By the same token, best to steer clear of The Regenerated Man also if you want a serious horror movie. This one I found on a beat-up VHS, and it had a “so bad it’s good” vibe to it. A scientist thinks he might have created a serum that will regenerate human tissue. But before he can be sure it’s safe, two thugs break into his lab looking for gold (why gold in a biochemistry lab? Try not to ask too many questions like that), and when they find none, they force the scientist to drink his own chemicals. This causes him to turn into a superhero-vigilante-monster who goes after thugs on the streets of whichever unnamed city this is based in, and shoots pieces of his anatomy off like fleshy missiles. That’s it. No deep inner meaning. No multi-layered story. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there wasn’t even a real script, just some notes telling the actors to kill some time between effects shots. And I can’t even call them actors with a straight face. Any dialogue is delivered in a monotone, completely unconvincing way and I really don’t think they cared. They weren’t exactly trying to go for subtle realism. I can imagine, though, that making the movie was a great time and they probably had a wonderful time at happy hour after each day’s filming.
Like Necronomicon, the Regenerated Man effects were the true star of the show. Fleshy finger missiles! Just the concept alone is a hoot! And the creature that comes to life during the end climax sequence is a wild feat of early “ReBoot”-era computer animation wonder. I have no idea how the creature came to be, or how it logically fits into a radiated biological monstrosity, but that doesn’t matter. By the time that end sequence comes you’ve given up trying to make sense of any of it, and are just in awe of each monster image they devise. And there are good giggles to be had when these poor non-actors try to be convincing screaming in terror at what you know on-set is nothing but empty space waiting to be filled with a few bytes.

I was expecting the same kind of cheesy goodness with Bloody Birthday from the moment I read the premise. Three kids born during an eclipse that blocked Saturn are born without consciences. Around their tenth birthday they go on a killing spree, and only one classmate and his teenaged sister can stop them. Oh, and it co-stars a young Julie Brown (the one who recorded “Because I’m Blond”). This movie had no reason at all to be good. Imagine my shock when it was.
Bloody Birthday is a perfect example of what good writing and good acting can do for a movie. One of the writers made his career doing science fiction biblical parables, and the other was a producer for “Divorce Court”. And yet they were able to craft a script making the concept of Saturn being needed to make a soul when a child is born totally believable. And the actors took that script and completely sold it. Especially the little girl who played the main villain. She was able to convey pure evil masked in innocence with a simple expression or look in her eye. I went in expecting laughter and perhaps a little snickering and I found some truly creepy moments.

All too often, horror fans tend to be embarrassed to say they like the silly stuff. Whether it’s a kind of machismo or perhaps a fear they’ll lose their horror cred or some other reason, I have no idea. But everyone needs a little bit of fluff in their life, whether in laughs or the simple fun ride of a cheesy flick, fun is nothing to be embarrassed of. And who knows—in the midst of the fluffy goodness you might discover a true horror gem.

WHERE TO FIND THE MOVIES: Bloody Birthday is readily available on DVD, and you can find it for under five dollars at most online outlets, and I will say it’s worth every penny.
The Regenerated Man is also readily available…unfortunately only on VHS. Again, you can find it for under five dollars, but unless you have a VCR handy, a low price won’t do you much good. Factor in the thirty bucks it will cost you to buy a used VHS player, and I’d have a difficult time saying the movie is worth the price.
Necronomicon is much more difficult to get a hold of. There’s a few videotapes floating around the secondary market, but you’ll only be able to get a hold of a former rental for under twenty bucks. Due to ownership questions, it was never released on DVD in the United States. A few countries have done DVD editions. The French one, I understand, is pretty good but it has non-removable French subtitles, which can get annoying. I understand the Brazilian edition is a double disc set filled with lots of extras. I watched the Mexican import and it was pretty good, if a little on the basic side. Whichever edition you get, though, be prepared to spend fifty bucks or more.

--Jen Orosel