Thursday, December 18, 2014

Friday the 13th Part III (Steve Miner, 1982)

Just a second, I want to listen to the theme song from this movie one more time before I begin. And... done. As usual, I was in a foul mood before I sat down to watch Friday the 13th Part III, the third film in the inexplicably popular horror franchise about a... well, you know what. And the opening scene, an extended recap detailing the events that occurred at the end of Part II, did nothing but exacerbate the foul nature of my mood (the most annoying thing about watching the Friday the 13th movies in reverse is the recap scenes pretty much ruin the endings of the previous chapters). Mildly irritated over the fact that yet another ending of a Friday the 13th was spoiled, I tried to put on a brave face as I prepared myself for the mediocrity that was surely to follow. To my surprise, however, this one unleashes the disco-tinged awesomeness that is this movies' theme music. Playing over the opening and closing credits (it's also heard briefly during the grocery store scene), the theme, by composer Harry Manfredini, managed to lift my spirits.

I know, you're thinking to yourself: Sure, the music that bookends the film is great and all, but there's still ninety-something minutes of "movie" to endure. In other words, I don't care how amazing the film's theme is, you're still going to have wade through what looks like a pretty formulaic teens in peril slasher movie.

You might be right, it does look like a "formulaic teens in peril slasher movie." But let's get one thing straight: There's nothing formulaic, or teenage, for that matter, about Cheri Maugans' knees.

(Most people when talking about Friday the 13th Part III will usually mention the fact this is the film where Jason Voorhees first dons his famous hockey mask, or the fact that this chapter is in 3-D before they inevitably start talking about Cheri Maugans' knees, but you played the Cheri Maugans knee card right away.)

First of all, I didn't play the Cheri Maugans knee card right away. As you can clearly see, I talked about the dangers of watching the Friday the 13th movies in reverse and Harry Manfredini's theme music before I breathed a perverted breath about Cheri Maugans' knees.

And secondly, who in their right mind wouldn't talk about Cheri Maugans' knees before all that other junk? Unless, of course, you have an aversion to sexy babes with agreeable knees. And judging by the cut of most of your jibs, I'd say you're totally down with the trajectory this review is currently taking.

Don't worry, I'll get to the foursome of slinky brunettes who vie for our attention during the bulk of this film's running time. I just want to bask in the sonic bouquet that is Harry Manfredini's theme music and revel in the irregular attractiveness that is Cheri Maugans a little while longer before I'm dragged–no doubt kicking and screaming–back into the ho-hum realm that is this uninspired franchise.

Since the aforementioned slinky brunettes and their male companions can't be killed by Jason right away, the film introduces what I like to call "bit part machete fodder." Characters, usually non-teens, who are introduced merely to be murdered in order to keep the audience's bloodlust satisfied until the second act mayhem gets underway.

Most of the time, the machete fodder aren't that interesting as far as characters goes. But sometimes the bit part machete fodder can surprise us. And that's exactly what Cheri Maugans does as "Edna," a woman who runs a market with her husband Harold (Steve Susskind). Now, the average Friday the 13th fan will take one look at Edna and think: "What a hosebeast." Not me, I saw Edna as a forthright go-getter with, yes, terrific gams.

Constantly nagging her husband to be less of a fuck up, Edna hurls a barrage of emasculating put-downs at him while bringing in the laundry (she can multitask like nobody's business). It's at around this time that Edna learns about the slaughter that took place nearby in the previous film on the news. Even though she's disturbed by what she hears, that doesn't stop her from berating Harold, who she finds trying to find solace with a bunny rabbit in the snack cake aisle.

The cool thing about the demise of Edna and Harold is that they're stalked and killed by a mask-less Jason; no hood either.

It's true, I was sad to see Edna go, but she served her purpose. If I ever do a Top 10 Friday the 13th Hotties list, I won't forget you Edna.

Arriving right on time, a van filled with slinky brunettes and their male companions appears onscreen. But wait, I thought there were four slinky brunettes, I only see three. What gives? Never mind, they're picking up the fourth slinky brunette at her house as we speak.

Don't get me wrong, I love slinky brunettes. But don't you think having four onscreen at the same time will confuse the audience? You would think that having one of the slinky brunettes, Vera Sanchez (Catherine Parks), be Latino would help alleviate some of the confusion. But it doesn't, as she's not that Latino, if you know what I mean. No, we're pretty much stuck with four dark-haired white chicks with indistinguishable personalities. *sigh*

It would seem that SCTV's parody of 3-D wasn't that far off in terms of accuracy, as Chili (Rachel Howard), the stoner brunette, just shoved a lit joint toward the camera, giving us our first taste of 3-D. Other items shoved in our faces over the course of the film include: Yo-yo's, eyeballs, spears, pitchforks and blood.

Okay, let's see, so far I've mentioned Vera, the Latino brunette, and Chili, the stoner brunette, who am I forgetting?  All right, so, there's Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) and Debbie (Tracie Savage). Now, how should I sum up their characters? Well, Debbie's easy, she's obviously the blue bikini brunette, as she famously dons a blue bikini shortly after the teen arrive at "Higgins Haven." But what about Chris? How 'bout, the brunette brunette? Nah. The buzzkill brunette? That's a bit better. The axe-wielding brunette?

How do you denote someone a brunette-themed nickname based on their appearance or persona when they don't give you anything to work with?

Anyway, when we notice that Shelly (Larry Zerner), the group's resident prankster, has brought along with him a bag filled with horror props, we can't help but wonder if he has an old-timey hockey goalie mask tucked away somewhere in there. But before we can find out, Shelly and Vera must contend with a trio of unruly bikers. And just like Edna and Harold, the bikers, Ali (Nick Savage), Fox (Gloria Charles) and Loco (Kevin O'Brien), are nothing but bit part machete fodder. Though, at least they're somewhat interesting to look at; except for Debbie's blue bikini, none of the teens bring anything to the table in terms of fashion.

When Jason (Richard Brooker) finally does get around to targeting the film's leads, I had lost all interest in finding out who will live and who will die. And the prospect of watching one ratings board neutered kill after another wasn't that appealing either. The only things make Friday the 13th Part III worth watching are Cheri Maugans as Edna (putting rollers in her hair and having her wear a ratty-looking housecoat can't undermine her innate sex appeal), the film's theme song, and the 3-D spear-gun kill (a definite candidate for the best kill of the entire series).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Untold Story (Herman Yau, 1993)

It's official, Anthony Wong is my new favourite actor. Sure, I've only seen him in Herman Yau's The Untold Story (the film I'm currently writing about), and Herman Yau's Taxi Hunter, but based on the sheer intensity he displays in both these movies, I think I can safely declare that he in fact rules. Now, a lot of you are probably wondering why I didn't open with a bit about the insane amount of leggy floozies that appear in this film, or why I didn't open with a snarky remark about Parkman Wong Pak-Man's San Antonio Spurs baseball hat. First of all, I don't make snarky remarks. In fact, my remarks are, for the most part, completely snark-free. And secondly, why would a gruesome tale about a psychotic restaurant owner who murders men, women and children, chops up their bodies into tiny little pieces and then serves them to his customers have leggy floozies? I'm just messing with you, this film is filled with leggy floozies. And I don't feel guilty at all for calling them leggy floozies. They're leggy, they're floozies and they're ready to party.
All kidding aside, the inclusion of so many leggy floozies just goes to show why I consider pre-handover Hong Kong cinema to be superior to all other types of cinema. Filled with bizarre shifts in tone, kooky subplots, chopstick rape, unaware cannibalism, highly inappropriate humour and grisly violence (the kind that would make Lucio Fulci stop and say, "Mamma Mia, dat iz, uh, how you say? some really fucked up shit), The Untold Story was able to earn the fullness of my attention with a breathtaking ease.
I've noticed that my interest in films has been gradually waning over the past few months. Itching for most films to hurry up and finish already, I've been wading through  a lot of dreck that's not even worth reviewing. Some of you might be thinking to yourself: Aren't the majority of the films you review not worth reviewing? Ah, just because a film is awful, doesn't mean it's not worth reviewing. No, the film's I'm talking about are neither good or bad, they're just plain bland.
Well, long story short, The Untold Story managed to briefly rekindle my love of cinema, as, like I said earlier, it contains everything I like. Of course, I don't mean to imply that I "like" watching little kids brutally murdered with a meat clever. What I think I meant to say is, I like it when movies aren't afraid to show the gory unpleasantness of close quarter child homicide. Yet, as much as I appreciate arterial spray, even I had to wonder if showing a crying five year-old spew neck blood all over his assailant's face was a little too much.
(Hey, enough about dead children...) Aw, man, some of the kids are doing cadaveric spasms. (What did I just say? Let's get back to discussing what's important, and that is the pantyhose-adorned plethora of leggy floozies Danny Lee hooks up with in this movie.)
Okay, I'll do that. But first, I'd like to inquire as to why Bo (Emily Kwan), a desperate to please female lady cop who works for the Macau police department, is dressed in army fatigues. I think I just answered my inquiry when I described Bo as "desperate to please." In other words, I think the reason Bo dresses the way she does is because she wants to be taken seriously as a female lady cop.
You could also say the reason Bo wears men's clothes is because if she didn't, her male co-workers would be hitting on her around the clock.
Don't believe me? Just ask the armada of leggy floozies who accompany Danny Lee's Officer Lee to the office, as they're inundated with untoward advances. Except, they're not really "untoward advances," are they? Leggy floozies want you to hit on them, it's what they're there for.
Anyway, Danny Lee's Officer Lee doesn't just bring leggy floozies to the office, he brings them to crime scenes too.
After some kids discover a bag of severed human limbs washed up on a beach, a group of detectives, the aforementioned Bo (who is wearing, like I said, army fatigues), Robert (Eric Kei Ka-Fat), King Kong (Lam King-Kong) and Bull (Parkman Wong Pak-Man), get in an argument over who's going remove the severed limbs from the beach.
As their argument is about to come to blows, Danny Lee's Officer Lee shows up, with a leggy floozie in yellow hot pants on his arm, and gets the investigative ball rolling by ordering them to take the body parts back to the lab.
Meanwhile, at a nearby restaurant, the establishment's new owner, Wong Chi-Hang (Anthony Wong), is cutting up a pig with a meat clever. Hmmm, I wonder if he's connected to the body parts from the beach? What am I saying? Of course he's connected.
Identifying the people who used to be attached to the severed limbs is proving difficult for the detectives (the limbs are rotten).
Even if they could get usable fingerprints from the severed hand, it would be impossible for the detectives to concentrate on their work. (Don't tell me, Danny Lee's Officer Lee has brought another leggy floozy to the office?) That's right, he has. And get this, she's a white chick. (All right, it's official, Danny Lee's Officer Lee is a pimp.)
Noticing that Robert, Bull and King Kong are salivating over the leggy floozy's large tits, Bo starts to feel self-conscious about her lack heft in the bra department.
Perfectly encapsulating the film's twisted sense of humour, one of the male detectives tells Bo that even if the leggy floozy currently skanking up a storm in the office got breast cancer and had to have half her tits surgically removed, Bo's tiny boobs would still be inferior to that of the mammarily reduced leggy floozy.
Getting nowhere fast, Bo gets an idea. No, this idea has nothing with tracking down a lead, she gets an idea after watching Danny Lee's Officer Lee leave the office with yet another leggy floozy, a slinky whore in a floral-style mini-dress.
While Bo is busy noodling with her idea, Wong Chi-Hang is cutting up another pig. Wait, that's not a pig, that's the cook he just hired. After the new cook accuses him of cheating at mahjong, Wong Chi-Hang decides to kill him. However, instead of dumping his body in the ocean (like a normal person), Wong Chi-Hang uses the cook's body to make cha siu bao (buns filled with barbecue-flavoured cha siu pork). Except instead of being filled with barbecue-flavoured cha siu pork, they're filled with barbecue-flavoured cha siu people.
Seriously, Danny Lee's Officer Lee should really think about leaving the leggy floozies at home. I mean, how is anyone supposed to get any work done? Hold up, that's no leggy floozy, that's Bo!!!
Wearing a tight mini-dress (covered in a black and purple diamond pattern), Bo wields her black nylon-adorned gams like a pair of shapely batons. Beating the men over the head with said gams (metaphorically, of course), Bo seems to be enjoying her new-found status as a leggy floozy.
Her enjoyment, however, is short-lived when the detectives get a break in the case. It would seem that the family that used to own Wong Chi-Hang's restaurant have relatives on the mainland. And these relatives are constantly sending letters to Macau inquiring about their whereabouts. Well, this leads the detectives to Wong Chi-Hang's restaurant.
Told to stop being a leggy floozy, Bo and her co-workers head over to have a "chat" with Wong Chi-Hang.
You would think that Danny Lee's Officer Lee would have put a moratorium on parading leggy floozies through the office–you know, since they're this close to catching a serial killer. But no, Danny Lee's Officer Lee brings another leggy floozy to work. Not counting Bo's brief stint as a leggy floozy, he brings a total of four leggy floozies to the workplace.
Fake bemoaning aside, it's a good thing the film had leggy floozies. Think about it, imagine if it didn't. That's right, if it didn't, we'd be talking about one of the sickest movies of all-time. Don't get me wrong, the film is still sick. It's just that the leggy floozies, and a couple of other factors, managed to mollify some of the film's more grisly aspects.
Of course, there's no way to mollify the scene where Wong Chi-Hang murders five small children. This sequence has to be the most heinous act ever to be captured on film. I don't know what it is about the Hong Kong sensibility that allows such barbarism to be shown, but there's nothing I think of that comes to topping the gruesomeness of the child murder scene in The Untold Story. I feel bad about ending this on such a dour note, but the last thirty minutes are brutal. Let me put it this way, it makes Red to Kill and Run and Kill look like walks in the motherhumpin' park compared to this.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

976-EVIL 2 (Jim Wynorski, 1992)

A lot of people have this misguided notion that the 1980s ended when the calendar flipped over to 1990. However, as 976-EVIL 2 (a.k.a. 976-EVIL 2: The Astral Factor) constantly points out, the spirit of the 1980s burned bright well into the '90s. The idea that the cultural temperament of a particular era changes overnight is ridiculous. Maybe in a 100 years these differences will seem unimportant. But to those of us who lived through these linear chunks of time, the differences are crucial to understanding who we are and where we stand in the world. I mean, for many of us, the instant women stopped using hairspray was a watershed moment. Yet, hairspray usage amongst women did not cease come January 1, 1990, and the wonderfully diminutive Debbie James in this Jim Wynorski-directed sequel to a movie that wasn't that great to begin with is proof of this. Even though her so-called "big hair" is mostly realized by sporting crispy bangs and employing scrunchies in a manner that help facilitate the illusion of follicle aggrandizement, there's still enough product in her hair to start a small brush fire.

You could say Debbie's hair is stuck in the '80s. But, if you think about it, she's just continuing to ride the style waves that were laid by her bimbo fore-mothers in the early days of the fingerless glove decade. It's true, the style wave eventually petered out. That being said, some people continued to ride this wave well into '90s.

Even so, big hair was finally killed the first time a woman entered a hair salon and asked for "The Rachel," the bouncy, square layered hairstyle Jennifer Aniston wore in the first couple of seasons of Friends. I hope you're happy, Jennifer Aniston, or, I should say, Jennifer Aniston's hairdresser, you murdered the 1980s. Granted, the decade, in terms of being a cultural force, was already on its last legs, but you put the final nail in the coffin.

Wow, judging by what I've typed so far, you wouldn't know this was a review for 976-EVIL 2. But trust me, it totally is.

In a surprise twist, I'm not going on and on about Debbie's hair because the movie is lacking in the not being lame department. Get this, the film is actually pretty good. No, no, no, here me out. Sure, the film is a sequel to the Robert Englund-directed horror flick about about a killer psychic hotline (one that prompts you to dial '666'), but I thought part two was kinda clever in places.

Am I crazy, or does Karen Mayo-Chandler's t-shirt get more skimpy as the opening scene progresses? Anyway, after taking a swim, college co-ed, Laurie Glazer (Karen Mayo-Chandler, Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls), is creeped out by weird noises while showering. Since investigating "weird noises" in a skimpy t-shirt and a towel is a tad awkward, Laurie slips on a pair of white panties.

No ordinary pair of white panties, mind you, Laurie's white panties are lacy in the back and smooth as satin in the front.

Once the white panties are pulled up as far as they will go, Mr. Grubeck (René Assa) decides to reveal himself to Laurie as the one responsible for making the weird noises. As expected, Laurie is freaked out by Mr. Grubeck's sudden appearance, and like any sane person, makes a run for it.

Finding nothing but locked doors during her initial scamper, Laurie stumbles onto the set of Faust in the school's auditorium. At first, I wanted to say that Mr. Grubeck kills Laurie using one of them pointy cave thingies. But I soon discovered that they're actually called stalagmites. Isn't that strange? Nonetheless, as opening scenes go, the one that opens 976-EVIL 2 is not bad.

The opening credits and post-opening credits scene isn't too bad either, as it features the always amazing music of Chuck Cirino (Chopping Mall) and a brief appearance by Sigal Diamant, who plays the world's cutest biker bar bartender.

Arriving at said biker bar, the Mad Dog Inn, Spike (Patrick O'Bryan), who you might remember from the first film (he got to feel up Lezlie Deane's stocking encased legs), takes a seat at bar and orders a beer and some fries. After watching a news report on the bar's television detailing the gruesome events that befell Laurie in Slate River, the bar's pay phone starts to ring in that rather ominous fashion they tend to do in these movies.

Since no-one else can apparently hear the phone (the cute biker bar bartender says, "What phone?", in response to his query, "Isn't anyone gonna answer that phone?"), Spike reluctantly answers it. And wouldn't you know it, the first thing he hears is a sinister voice say: "Out of the darkness and into the light..." That's right, Spike may have survived the events from the first film, but he's still tormented by that damned psychic hotline.

Meanwhile, in Slate River, a shapely blonde with a sweet ass is about to discover her college professor is a deranged serial killer. Heading down to police headquarters to visit her police shrink father, Robin Jamison (Debbie James) bumps into–you guessed it–Mr. Grubeck, who was arrested thanks to a tip from a witness; Buck Flower was in the auditorium when Laurie Glazer was killed with a stalagmite.

Wearing a sleeveless doily-esque top with a pair of jean shorts covered in doily-esque flourishes, Robin is too adorable for words.

When Robin bumps into Mr. Grubeck, he must have imparted psychic powers onto her, as she can now see into the future.

The last thing you want to do is give Mr. Grubeck access to a telephone, but that's exactly what the Slate River cops end up doing. Calling "976-EVIL" without fail, Mr. Grubeck is granted the power to astral project. Meaning, he can continue murdering people, yet stay in his jail cell at the same time.

Did anyone else get a mild rash on their taint when Spike says to Robin that the fries at Cadillac Jacks (a cool local diner) are "not as tasty as the company"? Just me, eh? At any rate, Spike and Robin (who is wearing a pink top with black spandex exercise tights (with colourful flourishes down the side), team up to fight evil... or some bullshit like that.

Of course, Robin still needs a little more convincing, as she has her doubts that a locked up Mr. Grubeck is killing people thanks to a demonic psychic hotline.

What is it with Robin and her obsession with doily-based clothing? The top she wears while wandering around campus looks like something an old lady might cover her dinning room table with when not in use.

Not accustomed to seeing her fully clothed, Monique Gabrielle (Evil Toons) shows up as Susan Lawlor, the buttoned up prosecutor in charge of bringing charges against Mr. Grubeck. She's only in two scenes, but the sight of her in her lawyerin' clothes and the car scene should satisfy fans of the bosomy actress. The latter scene features several cutaways of her nylon ensnared feet struggling to press on the breaks and some impressive stunk work (I think).

An equally fully clothed Brigitte Nielsen (Chained Heat II) also makes an appearance as the gothy owner of Lucifer's, an occult bookstore. However, unlike Monique Gabrielle, Brigitte's part is merely a cameo... so, don't get too excited.

In terms of rating the many looks Robin sports in this film, my favourite has to be the pink belly-revealing top/jeans combination she wears throughout the film's final third (white belt, ftw).

You would think a film that has everything I just mentioned would eventually run out of steam. Think again, as 976-EVIL 2 saves the best for last. Exhausted after a long day of battling the forces of darkness, Robin decides to unwind by watching a movie with her pal Paula (Leslie Ryan). Unfortunately, Paula wants to watch Night of the Living Dead; Robin would prefer if they watched It's a Wonderful Life.

After flipping back and forth between the two films for a few minutes, Robin finally gives up and goes to the kitchen to get popcorn. Sitting on the couch in her 90s-friendly attire (unlike Robin, Paula's style oozes the 1990s), Paula is suddenly zapped into the television and finds herself on the set of It's a Wonderful Life during the "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" scene.

The way Jim Wynorski and his team managed to make it appear as if Paula was in It's a Wonderful Life was shockingly adept. Seriously, it was seamless. To make things even more awesome, the scene is combined with Night of the Living Dead.

It's true, both films were, at the time at least, public domain, so it made sense for budget conscience filmmakers to use them in this manner. But still, the way the effect was executed was first-rate. It's too bad the entire film couldn't have been at this level of craftsmanship.