Sunday, May 3, 2015

Powder (Victor Salva, 1995)

Hey, 1995. What's with all the slack-jawed gawking? Haven't you ever seen a guy in a fedora before? I know, it's been nearly ten years since Duckie donned his iconic old-timey chapeau in Pretty In Pink, so, it's probably been quite some time since you seen anyone outside of an old black and white movie wearing one. But still, you really need to get over your fear of fedoras, it's so unbecoming, it's so... 1995. What's that? Really? Well, I've just been informed that 1995 wasn't just staring at Jeremy 'Powder' Reed (Sean Patrick Flanery), the lead character in Powder, because he was wearing a fedora, a lot of it had to with the fact that he's so pale (and, before you ask, yes, I consider "1995" to be a sentient life form). You mean to tell me that they don't have Goths or Goth-adjacent people in this part of Texas? I mean, if Jeff Goldblum is allowed to be a science teacher, I'm sure they can deal with a rat pack reject with gothy skin. What think I'm trying to say is: I found the town's reaction to Powder's chalky complexion to be a tad over the top. However, at one point Lance Henriksen's Sheriff character does remind his Deputy (Brandon Smith), who finds Powder's ashy appearance to be off-putting, the irony of a Texas police officer being prejudiced against another human being for being too white.

Speaking of things that are ironic, anyone else find it odd that Powder's primary antagonist looked exactly like Eddie Vedder? It's true, Pearl Jam technically didn't release an album in 1995, but I think most of you will agree that no-one represents 1995 more than Eddie Vedder. And if there's one thing the Eddie Vedder's of this world hate, it's pigmentally-challenged hipsters who dress like Dean Martin circa 1955.

That, and super-smart freaks of nature who are able to cleanse, fold and manipulate the forces of the universe; they totally hate people like that.

After causing cafeteria cutlery to smoosh together of its own accord and showing a deer hunter the face of death, you would think the Eddie Vedder-aligned populace would learn that you shouldn't mess with albinos from Texas, especially one's who have memorized Moby Dick. But if they didn't, mess with them, that is, there wouldn't be a movie. And who wants to live in a world without movies like Powder? I know I sure don't. Seriously, this movie is uplifting and shit. It's like Begotten meets Edward Scissorhands, and it features Susan Tyrrell!

Not to continue to pick on 1995, but I have to say, Powder couldn't have picked a worse time to emerge from his cellar. I know, he had no way of knowing that his grandpa would was going to kick the bucket in 1995, nor did he know that 1995 going to be such an asshole. But still, 1995 is no place for... (Pigmentally-challenged hipsters who dress like Dean Martin circa 1955?) Exactly.

If Powder had, oh, let's say, emerged from his cellar in 1977, he would have been the toast of New York City. However, instead of hanging out with Andy Warhol, Little Edie and Bianca Jagger at Studio 54, Powder is stuck with a bunch of bland, non-cocaine abusing ninnies.

Anyway, after Powder's grandpa dies, Sheriff Doug Barnum (Lance Henriksen) enlists the help of Jessie Caldwell (Mary Steenburgen), who is the director of a reform school for troubled boys. (Where the fuck is the school for troubled girls?!?) I have no idea. Nevertheless, since Powder is still a minor, he's forced to live at this place, which, yep, you guessed it, is also home to Eddie Vedder and his evil band of moistly sprocketed toadies.

Accusing him of being a "vampire from outer space" and asking him if he's was kicked out of "cancer camp," Eddie Vedder makes it's clear that he doesn't like Powder from day one. And it's when Eddie Vedder tries to initiate the hairless newcomer (some stupid ritual involving a spoon), that he gives him his first taste of his Powder power.

(Hold up, you mean to tell me that Eddie Vedder gets multiple tastes of Powder's powerful Powder power?) Yeah, so? (Didn't he learn his lesson during the first demonstration?) Oh, I hear what you're saying. That's just it, the Eddie Vedder's of this world are super-stubborn. In other words, it's going to take a lot more than causing forks and spoons to collide with one another in the cafeteria of a Texas all boys reform school to quash this bully.

Allowed to attend a regular high school, Powder, using the muscles in his neck, turns his head to look at Lindsey (Missy Crider) during science class. Of course, Mr. Ripley (Jeff Goldblum), notices this, and incorporates it into his lesson plan. I was surprised Powder didn't give Mr. Ripley a look as if to say: "Uncool, bro... uncool" (in other words, cock block my chalk-covered cock again and I'll cold cock you). But since he's the kind of person who is amazed by power windows, no such look is forthcoming.

Anyone else think it was somewhat peculiar that on his first day of school Powder attends a class that boasts a demonstration of a Jacob's Ladder? Talk about your plot contrivances. Either way, Powder is zapped with enough electricity to kill five elephants. After a brief stay at the hospital, Powder is told by Ray Wise that he's a genius. When this happens, I was like, great, let's get this boy to New York City, or at the very least, Dallas. But what happens instead? Powder goes on a camping trip with Eddie Vedder. This movie is starting to make less and less sense as it goes along.

Senselessness aside, I did experience some mild wetness in and around my eye-holes during certain moments. However, in all honesty, that just means the film is good at manipulating saps who are easily moved. And manipulating saps is like shooting fish in a barrel. That being said, I ain't no sap. Meaning, it must have been my allergies that were causing my eye-holes to well up. (But you don't have any allergies.) Shut the fuck up. There's no way I'm admitting in public that I was moved to tears by a movie this maudlin. Uh-uh, it's not going to happen. Powder is a movie I watched. If you want to do the same, be my guest. Warning: The film, for the most part, does take place in 1995.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981)

Imagine not being able to, oh, let's say, ride the bus without the ability to drown out the thoughts of the other passengers. I think most people would agree that the constant of barrage of inner inanity would slowly erode a person's mental well-being. Luckily for us, we have no idea what other people are thinking. However, to a small segment of the population who exist in the world of David Cronenberg's Scanners, the scenario I just described is all too real. It should be noted, however, that, yes, it's true, most people can't read people's minds. But for a brief moment there, I did have to listen to other people's conversations (which are like thoughts, but more verbal). You see, when the mobile phone first started to become an acceptable mode of communication within the non-brain surgeon/non-drug dealing community, I felt like I was being inundated with pointless bather non-stop. It was only when talking on the phone became passe (eventually replaced by texting) that I felt secure that my brain cells would not have to be subjected to such tediousness. Every once and awhile I'll hear someone talking loudly on their phone. But since they're usually speaking a language I don't understand, I try not to get too bent out of shape about it. Oh, and just to let you know, I have a strict "No English Allowed" policy on my bus.

Anyway, getting back to Scanners. Does anyone know if Margaret Gadbois, who plays "Woman in Mall," was wearing a full slip or a half slip underneath her dress? The only reason I ask is because I'm a huge pervert. Just kidding. But seriously, does anyone know?

The reason I ask is because the sight of Margaret's not quite middle-aged, not quite elderly gams kicking and flailing on the floor of a mall food court is the first image to grab my attention in this film, which, should come as no surprise, explores the destructive nature of the human body.

According to David Cronenberg, the human body (specifically the human brain) propels us forward, but ultimately let's us down.

(What caused Margaret's oldish legs to flail so violently?) What are you doing, man? I was trying to make a profound point. (You already made that point in your review of David Cronenberg's Rabid.) I did? Let me check... Well would you look at that...

If that's the case, let's get back to talking about those kicking and flailing old lady legs, shall we? Like I said earlier, the legs belong to an oldish woman who is sitting in a mall foot court with a friend. Noticing a mildly dishevelled man eating scraps of food off the bolted-down tables that have recently been vacated, the woman and her gal pal start to think disparaging thoughts about him. The reason we can hear their thoughts is because the man, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), is a scanner, the name given to a powerful group of telepaths.

Except, Cameron doesn't know he's a scanner. Nevertheless, while attempting to block out the women's thoughts, Cameron inadvertently causes one of the women (the leggy one wearing the full or maybe half slip underneath her dress) to convulse on the food court floor.

As she twitches violently (her friend and some passersby try to calm her), two creepy dudes in trench-coats begin to pursue Cameron through the mall. After a brief chase, the men eventually shoot Cameron with a tranquilizer dart and take him to a warehouse run by CONSEC, a Blackwater-style security company, who, in the grand tradition of David Cronenberg films, are shady as fuck.

Lulled into thinking he's amongst friends, Cameron is given a drug that will help him suppress his powers (or "quiet the voices") by Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), the world's foremost scanner expert.

Meanwhile, over at CONSEC's main headquarters, a scanner is giving an audience a demonstration of what a scanner can do. Asking for a volunteer from the audience, the scanner... oh shit! (Don't tell me, another woman just showed her slip while being scanned.) No, the audience member who volunteered is played by Michael Ironside. (You're right. Oh shit.) This does not bode well for that scanner's mental health. *splaaaaat!* Wow, now that was quite the understatement.

Irked that a scanner was able to infiltrate their organization and cause their scanner (the only one they had on the payroll) severe cranial distress, CONSEC hire Braendon Keller (Lawrence Dane) as their new head of security.

While the hiring of Keller is initially seen as a step in the right direction, Dr. Ruth manages to convince the CONSEC higher-ups that the only way to stop a scanner is to use another scanner. And that's where Cameron Vale comes in.

Sent on a mission by CONSEC to infiltrate the so-called "scanner underground," Cameron Vale goes literally head-to-head with Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the world's most powerful and therefore most dangerous scanner.

Culminating in an epic battle, one that will test the structural integrity of his mind, Cameron Vale quickly discovers that not all scanners are socially awkward misfits. Some have plans to take over the world, while others are merely content to look awesome in high-neck knitwear; I'm looking in your general direction, Jennifer O'Neill, from Lucio Fulci's The Psychic.

In one of the film's best scenes, Cameron Vale also discovers that he can hack high security computer systems simply by picking up the phone.

Boasting top-notch make-up effects (especially during the scanner showdown), an appropriately throb-friendly film score by Howard Shore and the always terrific Michael Ironside (in what is easily one of his best roles), Scanners does an excellent job of mixing the silly with the cerebral. Which, and I think most people will agree with this, is the key to making a successful David Cronenberg film.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pretty Peaches 3: The Quest (Alex de Renzy, 1989)

In Alex de Renzy's Pretty Peaches 3: The Quest, the sexual awakening of a naive young twit with thighs that don't know the meaning of the word quit continues unabated. Which should come as no surprise, as that's exactly what occurs in the first two movies in the Pretty Peaches trilogy. What is surprising, however, is that I won't be able to watch porn ever again. Just kidding, I will always be able to watch porn. Imagine... a world without porn. *shudders* What I mean is, from now on, all porn that isn't treated with the same reverence and respect that Vinegar Syndrome bestows on the genre will be looked upon with suspicion. I know, a company in France called "Alpha France" puts out high quality porn releases, including titles by Alex de Renzy. But as far as North America goes, I can't think of anyone who cares more about the preservation of sleaze than Vinegar Syndrome. Oh, and, by the way, this isn't some elaborate ruse to get them to send me free porn. It's just that I've never seen 1980s-era XXX cinema look so good. Hell, I bet the version the raincoat crowd saw in theatres back in the day didn't look this crisp and clean. Sure, some of you might say: Yum-Yum, you dolt, classic erotica is supposed to look like crap... that's what makes it so charming. True, but I think that only applies to roughies. I mean, I can't imagine a film like, say, Forced Entry, looking all pristine and junk, it just wouldn't feel right.

However, hardcore films from the 1980s are a different animal all-together. Boasting bright colours and garish art direction, the 1980s was a visual decade, and those visuals need to be crystal clear to be properly appreciated. This applies to '80s music videos, '80s magazines, '80s television commercials, '80s fashion ads, '80s art, and, of course, it also applies to '80s pornography.

I would argue that it needs to apply to porn more than the others because porn is the only true way to take the temperature of the era you're currently living in. Whereas most genres are filled with people whose job it is to undermine the creative process at every turn. Porn, on the other hand, has more freedom. In other words, when you watch porn from the 1980s, you're getting an unfiltered view of the decade.

Take Keisha, the totally bodacious lead in Pretty Peaches 3: The Quest, for example. In all the other genres I just mentioned, a person like Keisha would have been dismissed as either too chubby or not white enough (the plague that is white supremacy has its hooks in everything). But in porn, particularly '80s porn, Keisha is not only welcome, she's the star of the show!

Shapely and oh so soft (more cushion for the pushin'), and, not to mention, dim and utterly clueless, Keisha plays–you guessed it–Peaches, and, golly, I gotta say, does she ever do Desireé Cousteau (the original Peaches), and, to a lesser extent, Siobhan Hunter (the second Peaches), proud.

Giving a performance that will no doubt cause your mundane genitals to be imbued with rigid and moist sensations (the sensation you experience will depend on the structural composition of your genitals), Keisha stomps her way through this movie with a well-proportioned aplomb.

It would seem that Peaches and her mom (Tracey Adams) have gone down a few rungs on the social ladder since we checked in with them. While living in a trailer park is quite the change of scenery, one thing remains the same, and that is, Peaches is still an idiot. Okay, maybe that's a tad harsh. Let's just say she's not the reddest radish in the shopping cart, if you know what I mean.

After a disturbing dream, one that involved her friend (Lynn LeMay) having her pantyhose torn asunder by her boyfriend Bobby (Gene Carrera) and a pal (Marc Wallice), Peaches' mom suggests that she go see Dr. Thunderpussy (Rachel Ryan), a doctor who has appeared on the Oprah show.

(Whoa, hold up, guy... "Pantyhose torn asunder"? Tell us more.) Sure, the dream, like I said, involves the two guys I mentioned tearing Lynn LeMay's pantyhose off. But get this, every time they tear away her pantyhose, another pair miraculously reappears. I wasn't keep track (though, I should have been), but they must have removed at least ten pairs of pantyhose before eventually reaching vaginal pay-dirt.

At any rate, when Dr. Thunderpussy says to Peaches during her examination, "Time to check your girl things," I couldn't help but be reminded of Rinse Dream, as that's the kind of line you might hear in one of his movies. Wouldn't it be awesome if Alex de Renzy and Rinse Dream worked together? Actually, I know for a fact they did. So, what are you waiting for Vinegar Syndrome, restore that movie; don't make me watch some grainy, thirty year-old VHS rip.

As expected, Dr. Thunderpussy's examination of Peaches mostly involves having her "girl things" poked and prodded. When Dr. Thunderpussy is finished doing that, she has sex with a doll and tells Peaches that she needs to find spiritual enlightenment. And with that, Peaches embarks on an epic journey of self-discovery.

Actually, the quest doesn't officially get underway until Peaches watches a tearful sermon by a televangelist named Billy Bob (Jamie Gillis) on her tiny trailer park television. Flanked by his busty sidekick, Nanette (Victoria Paris), Peaches nods approvingly to the bulk of what the blubbering preacher has to say. Personally, it sounded  like a lot of  nonsense to me, but Peaches clearly liked what she heard, and heads out to meet him in person.

Unfortunately, the authorities are closing in on Billy Bob and Nanette just as Peaches arrives. Not to worry, though, despite the fact that a helicopter is swirling overhead, Billy Bob decides to take a break from destroying evidence and planning their pending getaway to give Peaches some "spiritual guidance" after all. Of course, it being late 1980s, his "spiritual guidance" largely involves feeling the shapely nitwit up.

A bizarre sex scene between Jamie Gillis and Victoria Paris gets underway after Peaches has been sufficiently felt up.

(What's Keisha doing during this so-called "bizarre sex scene?) She struggles to maintain her balance (the helicopter hovering above is making it difficult for her to stand up).

Meanwhile, back at the trailer park, Bobby and Mrs. Peaches hatching a plan to find Peaches; the sexual tension between these two is palpable.

Waking up in a field, Peaches stumbles upon the "Holy Repose Spiritual Retreat." You might think: Ooh, what luck, that's exactly what Peaches is looking for. You couldn't be more wrong, as the people there, specifically three blonde lesbians (Tianna, Priscilla Love and Vicki Blair) seem more interested in cunnilingus than spiritual guidance.

Leaving in the middle of the night (the blonde lesbians' late night cunnilingus session was keeping her up), Peaches is next seen walking along a country road in an acid wash skirt. Call me crazy, but the sight of Keisha simply walking is the sexiest part of this movie.

Hitching a ride from Fife Bardot's "Chicken Girl," Peaches is taken to a meeting of The Realization Cult. Run by Professor Otto (Jon Martin), this group, just like the others, seem more about exploring one's genitals than you know what.

Do you think Peaches' chance meeting with Jack Baker (New Wave Hookers) on the streets of San Francisco will lead her to finally achieving her goal? I don't know about that. But I do know this, at around the hour mark, someone finally fucks Keisha with their penis. Not to sound crude, but I was like, yes! Pound that pussy! Anyway, uh, the film's grand finale is quite unusual, in that it implies that Peaches becomes a... You know what, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. Let's just say it's a fitting end to a pretty kick ass trilogy. Oh, and Vinegar Syndrome, if you decide to restore the Alex de Renzy/Rinse Dream collaboration, don't forget to do the same to the rest of the Rinse Dream catalogue (including the untamed cowgirl flicks). Thanks. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Scanner Cop (Pierre David, 1994)

Just as I was about to start questioning the logic behind casting Brion James as "Dr. Hampton," a doctor who works at a poorly run mental institution, he goes ahead and describes Zena, the character played by one of my favourite actresses, Hilary Shepard, as an "odd yet attractive brunette." I must say, I haven't agreed with something said in a movie this much in a long time. Oh, the reason I was about to question the logic of casting Brion James is because his role is so small. But that doesn't matter now, for I have seen Scanner Cop, the movie that boasts Hilary Shepard's finest performance. I know, a lot of you will say that Hilary's role as Divatox in Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is her finest performance, but since I haven't seen that movie... (You call Hilary Shepard one of your favourite actresses, yet you haven't seen Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie? What's wrong with you?) The reason I haven't seen  Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is complicated and sad. In other words, I don't feel like getting into it at this juncture. Speaking of sad, a quick show of hands: Anyone think it's kinda sad that I've seen Scanner Cop but I haven't seen Scanners? Wow, that's a lot of hands (don't worry, though, I'm working on fixing that).

Loosely based on the David Cronenberg film–which, according to some, is considered a classic (I'm sure it's nowhere near as awesome as Rabid, but I've heard nothing but good things)–about a small segment of the population (called "scanners") who can blow up people's heads with their minds, Scanner Cop is about a cop, who is also happens to be a scanner... You could call him a "scanner cop," but let's not state the obvi... You know what, since I'm feeling a tad impish today, let's call him that. After all, the film's called "Scanner Cop," not "Policeman Psychic," or... well, you get the idea.

Anyway, for a film that looks pretty stupid on paper, Scanner Cop is actually quite good. What am I saying? It's more than quite good, it's phenomenal.

Sure, a lot of this has to do with Hilary Shepard's manic performance as a goth-tinged psychic psycho-hosebeast who wantonly wields a spray bottle filled with what I'm assuming is chloroform, but the rest of the film is just as compelling.

A quick side note: After watching the film a second time, I have since learned that the stuff Hilary Shepard sprays is a "harmless neuro-blocker."

The explanation as to why the rest of the film is so darned compelling can be summed up with these six simple words... (Wait, let me guess: Darlanne Fluegel in a pleated skirt.) Hmmm, I was going to going to say: Help! Deformed baby heads are protruding from my Dad's forehead. But since that's not even close to being six words, I'm going to have to say, yes, the reason this film is so darned compelling is because To Live and Die in L.A.'s Darlanne Fluegel wears a pleated skirt in one scene.

Just kidding. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love pleated skirts (especially when paired with a matching blazer). That being said, the opening scene that features three miniature baby heads protruding from a scanner's forehead is pretty fucking compelling. In fact, it's so compelling, in some markets, the protruding baby head forehead guy is on the poster (and by "poster" I mean the VHS box).

In reality, however, the protruding baby head forehead guy doesn't really have baby heads protruding from his forehead. You see, this is what happens when scanners fail to take their meds. Designed to dampen their power, scanners who wish to lead normal lives take a special pill that will keep the noise that sounds like the music of Zoviet France at bay (the decision to not go see Zoviet France at The Rivoli back in the early '90s still haunts me to this day).

I think I should explain myself a little bit. Um, how should I put this? Okay, whenever a scanner goes into scanning mode, this monotonous droning noise erupts on the soundtrack. Designed to replicate the atmospheric conditions that are taking place inside a scanner's brain while scanning, the so-called "scanner noise" can be added to the list of things that I loved about this movie.

After the protruding baby head forehead guy is shot and killed by a slumlord during an altercation with police, the protruding baby head forehead guy's son, Samuel Staziak (Daniel Quinn), is adopted by Officer Peter Harrigan (Richard Grove), one of the very cops at the scene. Realizing that Samuel will probably spend the rest of his life being experimented by mad scientists, the cop decides the raise the kid, who, like his father, is a scanner, as his own.

Flash-forward fifteen years, and Officer Peter Harrigan, who is now Commander Peter Harrigan, is congratulating his son for graduating from the  police academy.

Meanwhile, a war on cops has just gotten underway, as average L.A. residents are murdering police officers all across the city.

Okay, it's not a "war" and it's not exactly happening "all across the city," but the fact that two police officers were murdered by seemingly random people on a single night is somewhat troubling to authorities. Putting Lieutenant Harry Brown (Mark Rolston) in charge of the case, Commander Harrigan hopes to catch the person responsible for these crimes because... well, it's his job. But don't forget, his son just graduated from the police academy and is about to hit the streets as a patrolman.

While the authorities are at a loss, we, the audience, are clued in as to who is responsible for these murders when we see Hilary Shepard's Zena appear onscreen for the very first time. Now, I'm not saying just because Zena is dressed like a Goth, with fortune teller overtones (think Sioxsie Sioux crossed with Stevie Nicks), that she's the one responsible. But let's get real people. Prejudice towards Goths and  fortune tellers runs deep in Hollywood.

Take the scene where Zena sneaks up on Cyndi Pass (who's wearing a leotard, yet she's carrying a tennis racket*). For a minute there I thought I was watching a public service ad about the dangers of Goths, especially Goths who do the bidding of mentally unstable individuals who look like Richard Lynch; by the way, if your horror or action movie doesn't star Richard Lynch, then you're doing something seriously wrong.

Nevertheless, I dig Gothic fashion and think fortune tellers are rad.

Giving the film a much needed splash of campiness, Hilary Shepard injects (literally at times) Scanner Cop with an off-kilter playfulness that Daniel Quinn, Richard Grove, Mark Rolstone, et al were unable to bring to the table.

Despite the fact I haven't seen the original, even I know it's not a scanner movie unless someone's head explodes. I won't spoil it for you by identifying the person whose head goes all kablooey, but everything that leads up to the head ruining scenes is... What was the word I used earlier? Oh yeah, phenomenal. I was particularly impressed with the Clive Barker-esque sequence that takes place in Hell, as some of the imagery is quite disturbing.          

* It's called multitasking, look into it.