Ass-kicking abounds in this low-budget action flick from director Enzo G. Castellari (also director of the original Inglorious Bastards). Bronx Warriors is a bizarre, jumble of Mad Max, Escape from New York, and The Warriors; it consists of some silly fight scenes, thrown together action sequences and long, uncomfortable close-ups of actors trying to remember their lines, all the B-movie exploitation tropes that make it enjoyable, at least for those of us that enjoy that kind of thing. It’s an obvious rip-off and filled with flaws, but Castellari somehow brings it all together with a passion to make it an entertaining film.
The movie is cast with some top-quality, low-rent movie stars in the late Vic Marrow (Morrow, we salute your dazzling, hard-as-nails performance!) Fred Williamson being Fred Williamson and Christopher Connelly. But for my two cents, it is the cast of lovable but bizarre street characters filing the peripheral that make this movie so much fun. There’s Trash’s gang, the typical hard-leather motorbike-riding Hell’s Angels; a gang of Scavengers who dress and look like one of the fake monsters form an episode of Scooby-Doo, the padded hockey players who are just plain weird and lets not forget my personal favorite, the dangerous gang of Broadway castoffs that pirouette and tap on the bodies of their enemies. The plot is somewhat convoluted; to be honest, I’m not really sure what the plot of this one was—there were two main stories being carried out but there were some many side stories crammed in that I found myself off-track of what I was supposed to follow. The script is laughably bad, but that is not something new to the Italian exploitation genre, often there is a lack of subtly in the Italian to English translation, my favorite example from this masterpiece comes when our valiant hero, Trash, is chastising a fellow gang member for believing an obvious rouse: “You fuck! It could just be a pile of shit out of someone’s asshole!” It’s like Shakespeare, isn’t it?
And what about those loosely choreographed action sequences I mentioned earlier, well let me tell you about one of those in particular. During one of the many motorcycle scenes, there is what appears to be and actual accident. Instead of calling cut and seeing if the guy was okay, Castellari kept the shot in the film and reworked the plot accordingly. That’s a free stunt man! I know it looks like the guy killed himself face-planting on the pavement, but anything for art, right?
So, I think I’ve established that you shouldn’t expect fine art. But 1990 Bronx Warriors should be considered a kind of classic; don’t get me wrong, the writing in the movie is awful. It actually hurts if a character has to speak for more than one line. And the voice dubbing, well I’m pretty sure it was all one guy. Making up for this though is a whole lotta attitude and so much accidental humor that it keeps one glued to the screen. It truly is a wonderfully crap movie.
Let’s be honest, the hit to miss ratio of King adaptations typically leans heavy to the missed side of opportunity. For every great page to screen effort, i.e. The Mist, there are at least three not so good efforts, i.e. Sleepwalkers, The Langoliers and Graveyard Shift, waiting in the wings. Ask most fans of Stephen King what their favorite novel is and I’m pretty sure that IT will rank as number one, or at least in the top 5. Hell, I would venture to say that IT is one of the top five horror novels of all time. But, due to Hollywood’s record of accomplishment with King’s stories, and my love of this novel (read it for the 3rd time this past winter), I was a bit worried when I heard that IT was getting a new, feature-length film treatment. However, from the beginning, this version of IT was surrounded by high expectations. Director Andy Muschietti made it clear from the start that he was not only a fan of the source material, he understood some of the frustrations felt by fans of the novel over the original 1990 TV version. His regular set leaks via social media would set the King fandom on fire with a simple picture of a street sign for Neibolt, he kept fans chomping at the bit and let everyone know that he was serious about making as faithful a film he could. Given how much material Muschietti had to work with (1,183 pages of it) it would’ve have been almost impossible to make a page for page adaptation, but Muschietti was able to blend the well know parts of the novel with some impressive imagery and updated flair to make it a hit.
First up, let me get my nit-picking out of the way. I wasn’t very fond of the early narrative. The movie shows the kids separated and being scared by IT in a series of scenes that have no bridges between them, there’s not much in the way of a plot until the path of the seven kids finally converges. However, I will say that I’ve talked to people that have NOT read the novel and they claim not to have had the same experience. Maybe I’m being a source material prude on this, it is entirely possible that my familiarity with these characters and the situations they encounter within the novel made the first act feel a bit rushed. Still, it did not ruin the full experience for me in any way.
Many will tell you that IT is straight up horror film, and while it is scary, I truly feel that it is a coming of age story with elements of horror. And the entire film sits solely on the shoulders of the young actors portraying the Loser’s Club. The connection between the core members, Bill, Richie, Eddie, and Stanley, is very strong right from the beginning. There was never a moment where I had to ask how these kids were even friends, the chemistry between them was strong and their ability to capture a range of emotions was evident. Ben and Beverly are brought into the group seamlessly and each of them brings another level of emotion to the core group that makes what happens to these kids even more terrifying. My complaint with the Losers, and again I am nit-picking, is that a large chunk of Mike’s backstory is missing, maybe we will see more of it in the 2nd movie. Even with this issue, Mike’s addition to the Losers felt right and I enjoyed his arc, as small as it was, within the overall story. Henry Bowers, whoa, I honestly was not expecting to enjoy this performance as much as I did (even if I’m not entirely happy with the characters fate in the film). While Pennywise is the main threat to the kids, Bowers is always right around the corner and Nicholas Hamilton did a wonderful job portraying this damaged teen.
Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise is superb. We will all have Tim Curry forever in our hearts, but if you have taken the time to re-watch the miniseries, you will see that Curry’s performance as Pennywise is a bit over the top; it feels as if IT was trying very hard to scare the kids, not really kill them. That is not the case with Skarsgård’s take on the dancing clown. He is coy, he is toying with these kids and enjoying it which makes the manic moments of clown hostility that much more disturbing. The character was disgusting, horrendous and terrifying – like IT needs to be. To add to the horror of Pennywise, we are constantly reminded that these kids are not safe anywhere, not even in their own homes. If the clown is not after them their parents are threatening, the other adults in town are constantly watching them with uncomfortable glances and Henry Bowers and his gang is driving around looking for them. In fact, the entire town feels off; you get the sense that Pennywise is feeding off all the negativity surrounding these teens, not just their fears. In regard to the film’s overall tone, Muschietti was not afraid to put the children in violent situations. Too often when a horror film revolves around children, the director and producers become nervous about showing violence and tend to pull back, thus removing the feeling of dread from the audience. Not this movie; the opening sequence drops the audience right into this world and we are shown just how dangerous IT is, there was no holding back. Muschietti also utilizes camera and lighting techniques to legitimately scare the viewer. There is a necessary amount of CGI present, but it never replaces the horror, it only enhances it.
In the end, this is one of the better King adaptations we’ve seen in some time. Muschietti has created a faithful adaptation of a beloved novel, the story and character development, while a bit clunky in the 1st act (I know, snobby!!), are paced in way that gives the viewer time to invest in the story and helps to draw in the audience and makes us care about these kids. The film might not be as terrifying as it was built up to be, but it is something much more impressive than just a run of the mill horror. You get your quota of jump scares, but you also get a layered, earnest, authentic tale of a group of misfit young people who join to defeat something greater than the sum of their individual parts.
I’ll miss the kids, but I can’t wait for the sequel.
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Christopher George, Catrione MacColl, Carlo De Mejo
Some movies have in-depth articles and essays dedicated to explaining why they are masterpieces of cinema. I think this film is more likely an accidental masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless. It was a simple line in a review located in Fangoria Magazine that inspired my need to see this movie at 14- “a woman pukes up her own intestines”-how is that for an attention grabber. City of the Living Dead is not Fulci’s best, but it somehow manages to embody everything fans of the genre love about those Italian horror films of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and that makes it worth watching more than once.
I’ve often argued that Fulci is one of the best Italian horror film directors, if only by accident. It was his lack of lucid plots coupled with an almost childlike need to gross you out that have made his movies so beloved. City of the Living Dead really is one of best of the lot. The film is basically one long weird, surreal treatise on death via zombie. The eerie, layered, soundtrack looping wind howls, distorted baby-crying and down tuned goat screams, add to the disconcerting experience. The much-acclaimed gore is not just gore, it is completely outlandish, brilliantly executed and truly, repulsive; remember the puke scene I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you see it all in a slow-paced scene that never lets you look away. The prog rock score is just as delicious and somewhat off-kilter like the rest of the movie. And the nonlinear plot creates one of the best pieces of horror/surrealism I’ve ever seen, the much talked about ending is just as confusing as the rest of the film because, like the rest of the film, it doesn’t make sense. Fulci is consistent, I’ll say that.
Lead actor Christopher George will be familiar to some from his appearance in a number of early 80’s splatter flicks, most notably for his lead role in the Spanish slasher film Pieces, and along with the rest of the cast, he gives a decent performance. But, ultimately this is a film most notable for its no-holds-barred gore and overall horror atmosphere. City of the Living is a key entry in the Italian zombie film cycle, and one you must see more than once to realize that it’s so called faults are part of the reason it’s so goddamned great!
Director: Jackson Stewart
Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Barbara Crampton
Here we have another indie horror movie that gained a ton praise while making its rounds among the indie/horror film convention circuit. After finally getting a chance to sit down and watch this much-lauded film, I am disappointed to say that it is just another dull horror movie with a few bits of flashy gore thrown in to appease the gorehounds but little else to keep the average horror film fan interested; or maybe it’s just me. I can tell you that Barbara Crampton looked great (duh!), but she was not present enough to keep my attention from drifting to the next season Bloodline on Netflix (Which I will be writing about this weekend!!). Beyond the Gates is yet another 80’s horror tribute film that never really hits its mark, the idea is solid, but the execution is flawed.
The story for this film is one we’ve already seen in one form or another; two estranged brothers are cleaning out their family’s video (as in VHS) rental store after their father has gone missing, or just left town, or maybe aliens abducted him; this aspect of the story is never really fleshed out for us. The brothers are paper thin copies of clichés we’ve seen before. One brother stayed behind and is not looked upon fondly by the other brother who is the “responsible” one, I say responsible simply because he wears glasses and his pants are ironed while the other brother is wearing a jean jacket and drives a beat-up car…that is the only indication we are given of the rift between these two. Additionally, I found myself asking “if that brother stayed behind how does he not know what happened to the father?” Oh well, little details. Anywho, while cleaning out the store they stumble on a video/board game (which was a real thing, back in the day, I swear) and somehow determine it was the last thing their father watched. Although I’m still not sure how they came to that conclusion, and I watched the scene twice. Hoping it gives a clue to where their father went, they decide to watch/play it and get pulled into the supernatural elements of the story.
I think that the look and sound of the movie was supposed to be a tribute to 80’s horror (yawn…), but the nostalgia was laid on so thick it was hard not to be distracted by it. I’m not even sure the director was alive in the 80’s, which would explain why the music sounded like it was composed on a Casio keyboard by Ross Gellar, complete with prerecorded drum beats. Look, I lived through 80’s and I think it’s great that so much of what I loved (and was mocked for) at 14 is popular now, but the longing for everything 80’s is starting to wear thin. Stranger Things was fun, but let’s move on. I figure we are at least a few years late for a 90’s resurgence at this point.
The acting was passable and the dialogue was not the worst I’ve heard, but the overall film was just boring. I never felt like there was anything at stake. There was some impressive gore when characters are killed off, but they weren’t characters that we really got to know or care about. When the movie finally got around to putting one of the characters we might’ve (slightly) cared about in danger it then immediately pulled its punch and that character was just fine. And then there is the board game this whole movie revolves around, it was a bit perplexing. There was no explanation regarding how it was played. I did not expect a full-on reading of the instructions, just a quick run-down of what I was expected to track. After all, how can I care about these people if I can’t even follow what the hell they are doing? Additionally, adding another layer of confusion, this game they are playing did not even look like a real game, and if it was a real game it would the most confusing and pointless game since Settlers of Catan (sorry, not a fan). It was also built up to be this terrifying thing and impossible to play. Yet when the characters in the movie beat it we see that it really was not that bad. Even one of the survivors says “Hey, that wasn’t that bad”. I guess the game was the real pebble in my shoe here, it really did occupy most of my attention for the hour and a half I watched it, I was like trying to track the puck in the 3rd period a hockey game after you’ve been drinking $5 beers through the previous 2.
In the end this is one that I would suggest you skip, unless you’re all out of Ambien (ironically, they reference the effects of Ambien in the film). It is like an adult version of Jumanji, but less interesting…and slower…and boring…just skip it.
Directed by: Macon Blair
Starring: Melanie Lynsky, Elijah Wood, Jane Levy
Netflix is quickly becoming a place talented indie filmmakers can show off their projects; it is also proving that the streaming service is dedicated to producing high-quality programs and films that support lesser known and/or noticed actors, producers, and directors. Case in point, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
This film is an almost perfect lesson in dark comedy; it has all the action and gore one would expect from a Tarantino film with the sardonic wit and dialogue of the Cohen Brothers and a few classic horror easter eggs to keep the most diehard film fan interested. The film was written and directed by Macon Blair and it shows how capable he is of creating intelligent black humor with interesting characters and thrilling suspense; however, it is his ability to include some very dramatic sequences within the film that allow the viewer to relate to the main character, often I found myself empathetic to how Ruth sees the world around her and almost agree with her approach to her problems.
Credit goes to the actors for bringing these characters to life. Melanie Lynskey proves that she can glide between drama and comedy with ease. Watching her character go from docile to ass kicker was rather fun and Elijah Wood once again proves to be a versatile actor, he truly does not get the attention I believe he deserves. And what can I say about Jane Levy that has not already been said? She is one of the best indie project actors working and continues to impress.
It does start about a bit slow, but once it kicks into gear you will not be disappointed. The look is pitch perfect as even in the “happy” moments it is still dark and the music is also matched perfectly as it adds to the mood of the entire film.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has a fairly simple yet solid storyline, wonderful acting, and a smooth progression. It is definitely a movie worth watching.
Directed by Eli Roth
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Aaron Burns, Ariel Levy
I like Eli Roth. These days it is hard to find a director that is as unapologetically dedicated to the horror genre like Roth is. He remains a staunch supporter of the genre, even though his own film releases have been a bit patchy. Nothing he has released has reached the level of insane gory fun as Cabin Fever in 2002.Now we have Green Inferno. Which I assume in Roth’s attempt and revitalizing the long lost sub-genre of cannibal horror. I have only seen one of these notorious films, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and quite honestly that is the only one I need to see. It was one of the most disturbing films I have ever watched; it employs a docudrama, found footage style mixed with a very aggressive mean-spiritedness that made it a pretty grueling film to experience, but very well made. However, where Holocaust is confrontational, Green Inferno is jokey. The persistent jokes and forced dialogue diminish the overall threat of being held captive by cannibals. Even in the most disturbing scenes, I just never felt threatened. So, does it work as a horror movie? Well, it certainly has its fair share of gory violence. But again, it has less impact than it should because of the senseless, humorous tone that floods it, even once the students have been captured; because they aren’t taking their situation seriously, it’s hard for the audience to either.The on-location cinematography is beautiful and I would like to point out that the cannibals themselves are distinctive, especially the more prominent members of the tribe were very creepy. However, I can’t help wondering that if Eli had reigned in the pot references and fart jokes and went full-on with the material then it would have made for a far better film. It just feels like a missed opportunity.
Directed By: Ken Russel
Starring: Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave
Over the years there have been a few films that are so controversial Hollywood does everything it can to shut them down. Such was the case with this gem, The Devils. First, let me give you a bit of history. The Devils was originally released in 1971, it is loosely based on the true story of Urbain Grandier, a Roman Catholic priest in 17th Century France that is executed for witchcraft following the supposed possessions of some local nuns. Reed plays father Grandier and Vanessa Redgrave plays a hunchbacked, sexually repressed nun who finds herself inadvertently responsible for the accusations. The film faced a harsh response from the Catholic Church and the national film rating systems due to its disturbingly violent, sexual, and religious content, it was originally given an X rating in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It went on to be banned in several countries, and eventually heavily edited for release. The film has remained largely unavailable in the home video market until last week! That’s right my friends, Shudder is streaming the original 109-minute epic for a limited time. And of course, your favorite film junkie popped a bowl-o-corn, turned down the lights a took trip down the rabbit hole with Oliver, Vanessa and all the sex crazed, gory religious fervor the movie had to offer…. let me tell you about it.WOW! This film is amazing and I am so glad that I waited to watch the complete version. There is a dark sense of death early on in the film, this small town in France is surrounded by skeletal bodies impaled on spikes and fresh corpses of plague victims line the streets. At night, everything is lit by the piles of burning bodies and a heavy smoke hangs in the air; but all of the characters go about their business as if nothing is wrong. Even Oliver Reed’s priest walks through the streets with a passive air as he discusses how the Bible never clearly states a priest must remain celibate (Item number 1 on the X-Rating checklist). Moreover, are the crosses, hundreds of crosses strewn haphazardly about makes the town look like a graveyard. This vigilant set dressing and cinematography makes the film look and feels like a gothic horror; the film utilizes these images to paint a picture of what should truly be feared. Greed, pride, and religious power, all very palpable human faults.I don’t say this often, but this is a steady example of when a film can become art. From the very first minutes you know what you are in for, you get a feel for the tone of the film and it never lets up. The Devils is grotesque, it is irreverent and it is a distortion of what we are brought up to believe. But it is not blasphemous; it is a movie about the exploitation of religion for political reasons, it is an examination of the nature of faith and how humans so often distort it to meet their personal desire. Yes, it has an orgy involving nuns (item #2), induced vomiting, rape, naked nuns at the feet of Jesus (item #3) and Vanessa Redgrave masturbating on an alter (item #4). But this is not shock cinema for shock value, this is a film that pushes every boundary we are told not to cross in order to make us think. Just look at our modern political leaders that proclaim faith so readily when on TV, then end up tweeting dick pics to underage children and then still have the balls to ask forgiveness of the Lord!Be warned, there is a lot of overacting, scene chewing and typical 1970’s film techniques. However, The Devils is just as relevant today as it was in 1971.