Thursday, October 23, 2014

Killer Party (William Fruet, 1986)

I don't mean to imply that the rest of Killer Party (a.k.a. The April Fools) is complete crap, but the first eight or so minutes of this Toronto shot slasher flick are freakin' amazing. And... Okay, I might as well get this out of the way before I continue: There's a scene in this film where an American flag can be seen lurking in the corner of a university library (it's lurking behind Paul Bartel to be specific). I know, I said it was "Toronto shot," and the last time I checked, Toronto wasn't in the United States of America, but the makers of this film clearly don't want you to know that. Anyway, getting back to the opening eight or so minutes. Were the first eight or so minutes and what transpires afterward made by the same people? I mean, the opening is bursting with creativity, while the other stuff is bursting with nothing whatsoever. Don't get me wrong, I did love what Elaine Wilkes, Sherry Willis-Bunch and Joanna Johnson brought to the table as a trio of collage age best friends who want to join a prestigious sorority at a Toronto university, but they can't compete with black seamed pantyhose and pink and blonde crimped hair.

Just to clarify, the black seamed pantyhose were attached to the shapely legs of Elizabeth Hanna, who plays Stephanie, the daughter-in-law of the dead woman in the coffin at a church funeral,  and the pink and blonde crimped hair belongs to Danielle Kiraly, who plays April, a bubbly teen attending a drive-in movie with her boyfriend.

Now, you're probably thinking to yourself: What are these characters doing in the same movie? That's just it, they're not in the same movie. Are you ready? Here it goes: Stephanie's a character is in the movie April is watching at the drive-in. Isn't that wild?

What's that? You say lot's of movies do the old movie within a movie gag. Oh yeah. Things get even wilder when we discover that April is actually a character in a Thriller-style hard rock music video by White Sister. See what I mean? Weird, wild stuff.

Anyone care to guess who's watching this Thriller-style hard rock music video? That's right, one of the college age women from that trio I mentioned earlier.

I don't mean to continue to rag on everything that occurs after it's revealed that April's in a music video, but it's almost as if the people behind this movie decided to throw in the towel after the eight minute mark.

Though, to be fair, "Best Times," written by Alan Brackett and Scott Shelly–the song that plays while Phoebe (Elaine Wilkes), Vivia (Sherry Willis-Bunch) and Jennifer (Joanna Johnson) ride their bikes to class–is a thousand times more awesome than that White Sister song.

Opening with a funeral service for a woman named Annabel, we watch as the bereaved family members leave the church. Just as the aforementioned Stephanie is about exit, she asks the priest if it's okay to go back in to pay her respects one last time. Hmm, isn't that sweet, I thought to myself, Stephanie must have really loved her mother-in-law. Oh, wait, she just told Annabel that she hopes she rots in hell. After she says this, multiple times, mind you, Annabel grabs Stephanie and pulls her into the coffin. As she's pulling her in, we get some great shots of Stephanie's black pantyhose as she struggles with what I assume is Annabel's reanimated corpse.

Just as the coffin is about to be set alight in the church's crematorium, we're whisked to a drive-in movie theatre where April and her boyfriend (who is all hands) are watching Stephanie burn to death.

Hankering some popcorn, April walks, or, I should say, skips, to the theatre's large, neon-light adorned concession area. Only problem is, there's no-one there. On the bright side, the neon lighting does an excellent job accentuating the 1980s overkill that is April's overall look.

The crimped hair, the kooky tights, the pink gloves, the white lace scrunchie, everything about her ensemble practically screams shopping mall new wave.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a rock video featuring bombastic lead singers with hairy chests, keyboardists in torn football jerseys and zombies starts up.

As the music video is winding down and the band "White Sister" finish singing: "April! You're no fool!" We're whisked (yet again) to a living room, where Phoebe is watching the White Sister music video.

It helps to know that this movie's original title was "The April Fools" going in, because if you didn't (like I didn't), you would no doubt wonder what the hell is going on.

If you're like me, and you love '80s synth-pop with detached female vocals, think the University of Toronto campus is beautiful, especially in the fall, and wish more movies would sport chicks riding bikes, then the next sequence is for you.

While her friends Phoebe and Vivia are gung-ho about joining the Sigma Alpha Pi sorority, Jennifer is a tad apprehensive.

It wouldn't be a collage set horror film without pranks, and we get a real doozy of a prank when the slobs at Beta Tau unleash a jar of bees next to a backyard hot tub filled with naked Sigma Alpha Pi ladies. There are numerous things to like about this scene. But I think the appearance of the great Terri Hawkes (Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II) is the real reason to cheer. Quirky fun-fact: Terri Hawkes provides the voice of Sailor Moon on the series of the same name.

If Phoebe, Jen and Vivia want to join Sigma Alpha Pi, they're going to have to convince the sorority's leader, Veronica (a wonderfully unpleasant Alicia Fleer), they're worthy. And if that means reciting childish nonsense ("I, myself prefer a big fat cucumber") or stealing t-shirts from Beta Taus, than so be it.

Even though Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul), who plays an English professor, makes an allusion to it, I still love the fact that no explanation is given as to why Phoebe, Jen and Vivia are all wearing one red item and one white item on their feet (mismatched sisterly solidarity perhaps?). If memory serves me correctly, Phoebe has on one red shoe and one white shoe, Jen is wearing one red sock and one white sock, Vivia is rocking one red legwarmer and one white legwarmer.

Surviving "Goat Night," Sigma Alpha Pi's elaborate initiation process (a process where Terri Hawkes and Alicia Fleer appear in togas), Phoebe, Jen and Vivia are on the fast track to becoming fully fledged members of the sorority. Yay!

Fashion-wise, I don't know which I liked better: The sight Sherry Willis-Burch rocking a pink sweater with a yellow neck or Alicia Fleer gliding down the school's hallways in a tight pencil skirt. Ahh, talk about your tough decisions. Either way, nothing comes close to topping the ensemble Danielle Kiraly wears during the film's much ballyhooed opening.

I don't know why movies like this bother to hire make-up artists and special effects people if all they're going to do is edit out all the blood and gore. The film might be called "Killer Party," but not a single character is killed onscreen. Boo!

On the plus side, the so-called "Killer Party" does feature some killer looks. And if I was going to give out the prize for best costume at Sigma Alpha Pi and Beta Tau's Costume Party: April Fools Night, I would have to go with Phoebe's aerobics get-up: Tights! Legwarmers! Leotards! Headbands! Armwarmers! Oh my! Second prize would go to Martin (Ralph Seymour), the film's primary red herring, for his Madame Bovary costume.

Would have Killer Party been a lot better had the blood and gore not been edited out? Maybe. But still, if you like '80s fashion, '80s music, or are a fan of Toronto... in the '80s, you should check this flick out.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Straight to Hell (Alex Cox, 1987)

Warning: The following may contain words and pictures that promote the notion that: A) Courtney Love is sexy as a pregnant gangster's moll (sit on that jukebox, you leggy hosebeast, you). And B) Courtney Love is an okay actress. What am I saying, "may contain"? Oh, believe me, this review of Straight to Hell will most definitely contain a crapload of notions that promote the off-kilter shapeliness that is Courtney Love. If that's the case, why am I giving you a warning? Somewhere back in the recesses of my mind, I must know that Courtney Love isn't the type of person you can openly heap praise on, at least not acting praise. I mean, she's not like, say, Mink Stole or Mary Woronov, people who are universally beloved. Show me, by the way, someone who doesn't like Mink Stole or Mary Woronov, and I'll show you one seriously disturbed individual. At any rate, it's obvious that Courtney Love and the rest of cast of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy all answered their phones when the pride of Bebington (Don't fuck with The Wirral!), Alex Cox, called 'em up asking them to appear in his wacked out tribute to Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, because they're all in it.

(Even Zander Schloss and Xander Berkeley?) Yep, even them. Remember all those hot punk chicks who hung around The Sex Pistols in Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy? Well, they're all in it as well. And, yes, that also includes the ultra-gorgeous Michele Winstanley. You might remember her, she makes a great face when that guy at The Sex Pistols concert says he doesn't want to be a punk anymore.

Oh, man, I just realized that having most of the cast of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy in this movie doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be smooth sailing. If anything, the film could be just one long reminder of how good they were in those films.

No doubt leading to moments like: Hey, there's Sy Richardson, wasn't he amazing as Lyte in Repo Man? Or, look, that's Sara Sugarman! I loved her as Abby National in Sid and Nancy ("Sugar man, won't you hurry / 'cos I'm tired of these scenes").

While there's some of that going on for sure. The film does manage to create its own unique universe. In other words, it's not really fair to call this Sid and Nancy: The Western or Repo Man II: The Legend of Otto's Gold.

However, no matter how you spin it, the film is still a mess. Right, Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper?

Just as I was about to give up on this film, along comes Jennifer Balgobin in a pair of pink shorts. Instructed to wash Miguel Sandoval's motorcycle, Jennifer Balgobin, who plays Fabienne, goes outside with a bucket of soapy water. Opening her brown trench coat with much fanfare, Jennifer Balgobin, who is wearing, like I said, pink shorts, and a pink, cut-off tank-top with the words "Hot Property" written on it, proceeds to clean Miguel's bike in an erotic manner.

You gotta envy the eyeballs belonging to Sy Richardson, Joe Strummer and Dick Rude. I mean, to witness such a titillating display up close like that, it doesn't get any better than this. Or does it? I'll get to whether it does in a minute.

I think might have spoke too soon regarding Courtney Love's performance in this movie. Don't get me wrong, the sight of a barefoot and pregnant Miss Love sitting provocatively on that jukebox is a enough to power a thousand misguided erections, but every time she would open her mouth, a small amount of blood would ooze from my ears.

(I thought you liked shrill and unpleasant women?) Yeah, but not that shrill and unpleasant. Where's Chloe Webb when you need her?

Since I can't go back in time and stop Alex Cox from casting her, let's soldier on, shall we? Look, the film stars as Sy Richardson, as the forthright Norwood (the inspiration for Samuel L. Jackson's Jules in Pulp Fiction perhaps?), Joe Strummer as the oily-haired Simms and Dick "Let's Go Get Sushi and Not Pay" Rude plays Willy. In other words, the film is still salvageable as far as entertainment goes.

Oh, it's salvageable, all right... Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup. Salsa y ketchup... Salva-fuckin'-geable!

The characters I just mentioned, in addition to Courtney Love, who plays Velma, Norwood's pregnant girlfriend, rob a bank in, oh, let's say, Mexico (the film was shot in Spain), and flee into the desert. When their car breaks down, they bury the loot (about four suitcases stuffed with money), and walk to a nearby town.

From what I gathered, the plan is to stay in the town until things blow over. Only problem being, the town is home to an unruly gang of gun-totting coffee drinkers.

When Norwood, Simms and Willy save two of the gun-totting coffee drinkers (Shane MacGowan and Spider Stacy of The Pogues) from a group of bounty hunters, Frank McMahon (Biff Yeager), the leader of the powerful McMahon Clan, welcomes the outsiders with opens arms.

While trying to buy nails from a local merchant named George (Miguel Sandoval), Simms gets his first glimpse of Jennifer Balgobin's Fabienne. Like any ex-member The Clash would do, Simms leaps on her with an enthusiastic jelonka ogłoszenia. Now, if you're worried about George getting upset by this untoward yet totally reasonable display, fear not, for he is in the back looking for nails.

The next day boasts the scene where Jennifer Balgobin washes Miguel Sandoval's motorcycle in pink shorts. I used to always say that Jennifer Balgobin's best work is in Alex Cox's Repo Man and Stephan Sayadian's Dr. Caligari. Well, now that I've seen Straight to Hell, I feel it's time to change my opinion. That's right, if you love Jennifer Balgobin, and I mean, really love Jennifer Balgobin, than Straight to Hell needs to be injected into your nervous system immediately. I don't care if her accent is a tad on the wonky side, this is the movie to see for all your J-Gob needs.

While Simms is getting all riled up by Fabienne, Willy's motor is more in tune with Louise (Michele Winstanley). Taking her to the local cemetery to visit her grandmother's grave, Willy declares his love for Louise. This, of course, doesn't go as planned, and Willy ends up dirty, sexually frustrated and alone.

It should be noted that almost everyday while the foursome are in town ends with a song: Day One ends with a performance of the song "Delilah" by Kim Blousson (Fox Harris), with Elvis Costello on guitar; day three ends with a performance of "Danny Boy" by Cait O'Riordan; and day four ends with not with a song, but random acts of violence and cameos by Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper.

Which leads to the final day, where Norwood, Simms and Willy wind up taking on the entire McMahon Clan in a large-scale, Wild Bunch-style shoot 'em up.

What's that? I forgot to mention the song that ends day two. That's weird. No, it's just that the song that ends day two just happens to be featured in what I now consider one of the greatest scenes in movie history. And get this, it has nothing to do with the massive slit on Jennifer Balgobin's dress or the robust nature of Michele Winstanley's jet black ponytail.

Everyone be quiet, because someone has requested that Karl (Zander Schloss), proprietor of Karl's Disco Wiener Haven, perform his theme song, "Salsa y Ketchup." Picked on and abused throughout the movie, Karl's unexpected triumph is the epitome of awesome.

Maybe it's because the song has lyrics such as: "Sizzle, they grizzle, you step up to the griddle, Salsa y Ketchup, you tell me and I'll fetch up," or maybe it was Karl's twitchy demeanor. Whatever it was, this scene turned what was up until then a mildly entertaining pseudo-spaghetti western into a genuine cult classic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Excision (Richard Bates Jr., 2012)

When one of Gerald's friends in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael tells him that he thinks Winona Ryder's Dinky Bossetti is "ugly," I remember saying to myself: You have got to be fucking kidding? Sure, Dinky's hair is an unkempt disaster and her wardrobe looks like something a homeless Goth might wear, but she still looks like Winona Ryder (her skin is like porcelain). This lack of credibility when it came to taking the other character's perception of Dinky seriously didn't exactly ruin the movie for me, but it did irk me to a certain degree. Well, in a recent film called Excision, we're introduced to a character who comes pretty close to embodying the spirit of Dinky Bossetti, The Queen of Teen Angst. Except, instead of obsessing over a woman she thinks is her mother and taking care of  a menagerie of animals (each with a carpet sample to call their own), AnnaLynne McCord's Pauline dreams of performing surgery on her ill sister in her parent's garage, and, not to mention, looks at her bloody tampons with a wide-eyed, weigela-scented sense of wonder.

In the spirit of transparency, I should tell you that I watched Excision, written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., immediately after seeing Ryan Nicholson's Hanger. Why am I telling you this, you ask? It's simple, really. Both films feature characters who like to admire tampons that have been drenched in recently excreted menstrual blood. Talk about your weird coincidences.

Things get even weirder, coincidence-wise, when Excision throws an unorthodox abortion scene at us. If you remember correctly, Hanger boasts a gruesome coat-hanger abortion scene, too. While not as graphic as the scene in Hanger, the Excision abortion scene is nothing to poo-poo about. I think most of you will agree, putting an aborted foetus in a microwave oven (one that appears to have been specifically designed to dispose of unwanted foetal waste) after extracting it with your hand isn't something you see everyday, either.

However, that's where the similarities end. You see, whereas Hanger is a hate-filled, misogynistic slab of putrid bile masquerading as entertainment, Excision has a strong female lead and surreal flights of fancy that are visually interesting.

Oooh, I just remembered, the real reason I brought up Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael. It's true, I already made my point regarding the two films, but I sort of got taken off track by the whole tampon/abortion thing. Anyway, I felt Excision got the look of the teenage outsider right.

Now, I've since discovered that AnnaLynne McCord has been on a lot television shows. But since I've never seen any of them, I approached AnnaLynne McCord as just another actress. Meaning, I didn't spend the bulk of the film thinking: Wow, the chick from 90210 is doing some freaky ass shit in this movie.

You could view this as just another example of an attractive actress "going ugly" for critical accolades. And, after looking at some of the pictures of AnnaLynne McCord outside the Excision universe, I can see how some might take that particular view. But I don't think that's what's going on here, as AnnaLynne McCord seems fully-committed to the role of Pauline, a troubled teen who has a, let's just say, rich and colourful imagination.

The film opens inside the realm of this rich and colourful imagination. In there we see two versions of Pauline facing each other. One is twitching like a Clicker (the nickname given to humans in the third stage of the Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis infection - I despise Clickers, by the way) from The Last of Us, while the other is sitting still. Suddenly, the twitchy Pauline starts bleeding profusely from her nose and mouth. When the twitchy Pauline spits blood all over the still Pauline, the real Pauline wakes up.

Whew, for a minute I thought the entire film was going to take place inside this antiseptic nightmarescape. Don't get me wrong, I could have handled it. But, nevertheless, I appreciated the fact that Richard Bates Jr. didn't go overboard when doling out the weirdness.

Besides, there's plenty of weirdness to go around in the real world. I mean, John Waters plays a reverend, Malcolm McDowell plays a math teacher, Ray Wise plays a high school principal, Matthew Gray Gubler plays a sex ed. teacher and best of all, Traci Lords plays Pauline's mother.

After watching Pauline's family, which also includes Bob (Roger Bart), her henpecked father, and Grace (Ariel Winter), her little sister (who has cystic fibrosis), sitting together at the breakfast table for just a few seconds, it's obvious that they're a tad on the dysfunctional side.

Asking her sex ed. teacher if you can contract an STD by having sex with a dead body establishes right away that Pauline ain't hooked up right. I know, the twitchy, blood spewing dream sequence already did a pretty good job of establishing that. But, to be fair, everyone dreams about spastic doppelgängers who vomit blood; it's one of the great things about being human.

While each dream sequence is different, they all pretty much stick with the same theme. And that is: Blood, bandages, bodies and sex. Oh, and did I mention blood?

Approaching Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), who is sitting on the bleachers at school with his friends, Pauline tells the startled teen that she wants to lose her virginity with him. Now, most teenage boys wouldn't hesitate for a second to accept an offer like that. But then again, Pauline isn't your average teenage girl -- At one point she tells her sister, "When I lose my virginity, I want to be on my period." Yum.

In an obvious shout-out to Heathers, we see Pauline and Grace playing crochet on their front lawn. Later that night, guess who calls Pauline? That's right, Adam. It would seem that he's willing to look past her greasy hair, bad posture, acne and unruly eyebrows in order to attain some guilt-free teenage poontang.

It's too bad it's soaking in menstrual blood. Don't believe me, take a look in the mirror, the bloodstained fruits of your cunnilingual labour are all over your face.

In an upcoming scene, Pauline will compare Adam's pussy eating technique to a dog drinking water (which, apparently, isn't a good thing - I love the thought of a guy lapping up my labia like a thirsty dog). She also describes Adam's girlfriend's vagina as a "diseased axe wound." Hee. Oh, and when Adam's girlfriend (who, by the way, doesn't know how to spell "cunt") tries to give Pauline a piece of advice, she says, "Make it quick, I gotta go take a shit." Classy.

Even though I didn't approve with a lot of what Pauline gets up to in this film, I couldn't help but sympathize with her outlandish predicament. And that's thanks in part to the amazing performance given by AnnaLynne McCord. The exact same thing can be said for Traci Lords, who kills it as Pauline's overbearing mother. If you're going to see one movie about a surgery-obsessed teen with  fallen arches, make it Excision. It's well-made, darkly funny and is sprinkled with fine performances. Oh, and did I mention blood?