Occultober – Day 23 – The Serpent And The Rainbow

The Serpent And The Rainbow
“Don’t let them bury me…I’m not dead!” Who does get a slight chill when they consider the idea of being though dead and put into the earth still conscious? Wes Craven delivers a lot of exotic-sploitation in the 1988 voodoo-psychological horror picture, The Serpent And The Rainbow. The film is loosely based on the exploits of ethnobotanist Wade Davis, a man who by his own account was ‘turned into a zombie’ and recovered from the experience.

Looking for a ‘natural anesthesia’ for big Pharma, Dennis Alan bounces around in the Amazon jungle, eventually landing in Haiti, where he tries to buy a potent powder from a voodoo priest. Instead he is captured by the paramilitary officers and tortured before being kicked out of the country. But his persistence gets himself back into Port au Prince, for the ‘full experience’ of the powder, which culminates in a trip into his own madness.

Craven layers on a plethora of WTF moments and crazy imagery, mainly because portions of the film take place in Alan’s nightmares — coming off A Nightmare On Elm Street, it becomes clear why Wes got the directing job from Universal Studios after Peter Weir passed on it. In the full Sam Raimi sense, it certainly tortures the hell out of a very game Bill Pullman who is very convincing in the Indiana Jones-esque lead role. In a hollywood kind of co-incidence, Pullman also played a Han Solo character in Mel Brooks Spaceballs which came out within the year of the release of The Serpent And The Rainbow, but of course, has a much less scary vibe join on.

Far from perfect, there is enough going on in The Serpent And The Rainbow to fuel more than a few nightmares for those who discover this forgotten, slightly-unpolished gem.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Time Lapse

 

Opening with a shot of swirling red paint, which then has tiny flecks of white thrown into the mixture to disturb the surface and complicate the image, Bradley King and B.P. Cooper’s Time Lapse shows just how bloody far you can go with a tiny budget, a great prop and two locations. The script here is a beauty, that finds new ways to look at time travel causality (or rather the dangers of perceived causality) along with the good old genre standby of the ‘big bag of money’ landing in your lap. To prove they are the real deal, the film also diligently delves into trust-issues that develop amongst friends when a morally questionable opportunity in life presents itself.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Predestination

 

Never do yesterday what you should do tomorrow, reads a sign in the early minutes of The Spierig Brothers’ delightfully loopy new film. Another reads, If at last you don’t succeed never try again. There are many of these twisted bon-mots lifted verbatim from Robert Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies” and scattered throughout its film adaptation, Predestination. Here is the thing about time travel movies: much time is in fact spent waiting around for things to catch up, even if it is only for that moment when Doc Brown sends his dog Einstein 60 seconds into the future. It leaves plenty of time to read the signs.

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Occultober – Day 22 – Witching And Bitching

Witching And Bitching
Indulge me with Álex de la Iglesia’s gender warfare picture, Witching and Bitching. A coven of witches captures a gang of robbers and proceeds to emasculate them in their lair. The film leans far more towards comedy than any sort of occult terror, but the devil is in the detailsl

The film features the small town of Zugarramurdi, world famous as one of the central European hubs of Witchcraft, and judging by the local bar in the film, the townsfolk are none to shy about hiding things. The key witches are played three generations established actresses who, besides being semi-regulars for this director, often appear in Pedro Almodovar films. The film is batshit crazy and shows not an ounce of restraint, anywhere, but man oh man, it’s worth it for the opening heist involving a silver painted Jesus with a shotgun and a compact getaway car.

The real Basque-region locals are all extras in the big action-set piece climax which might be a tad heavy on CGI (at times resembling the Matrix sequels with all its complex wire-work) but makes wonderful use of Zugarramurdi’s spectacular witch-caves (“The Devil has no tail, but his pussy is like a cave”) and features enough practical location work to evoke everything from Peter Jackson’s Braindead to Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances. Like those films, there is a manic energy on display co-existing with a reverence for the tiniest details in any given scene. The sense of escalation achieved is a marvellous thing.

It’s a lark, but don’t let that stop you.

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Tribeca/Lionsgate Announce VOD Service

We had a long talk the other night about HBO breaking away from cable and moving to their own subscription-based service. CBS recently announced something similar with their “CBS All Access” service (anyone need an instant “Twin Peaks” fix?). Is this the way TV and movies are moving for good? Obviously Netflix is here to stay, but what I mean is, with all of these off-shoots, rather than paying a hundred bucks a month for cable, will we be shelling out a hundred bucks a month (or more) for several different streaming platforms? Though in my utopia there would be one service with everything I could possibly want and I’d be willing to pay a premium price for it. But it’s unlikely this will ever happen and with Hulu and Amazon and Netflix already going strong, the future seems to be an ala carte selection of various video on-demand services that you’ll have to navigate to separately. But I digress…

The latest “media conglomerate” seems an unlikely pairing at first whisper since when I think Tribeca Film Fest I think of artier, more thoughtful dramas and Lionsgate conjures thought of people having their limbs sawed off while evil clowns stand by laughing. But of course those are both generalizations and not altogether true. The Tribeca/Lionsgate VOD service has been dubbed “The Tribeca Short List.” Possibly a little misleading to some as some sort of shorts program; but no, this will be a highly curated list of titles from festivals around the world as well as critically acclaimed and prestigious films from the Lionsgate and Tribeca. The list of titles are to be replenished and refreshed each week.

Launching in early 2015, this sounds like a way to see the newest The Hunger Games movie as soon as possible while at the same time making it possible to hunt down all of the festival titles you heard about on podcasts and blogs, but know will never see the light of day (or the darkness of the cinema). In other words, depending on the launch titles announced and price point, I’m kind of digging this idea; count me in!
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Occultober – Day 21 – The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead
Bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, the iconic Necronomicon – The Book of the Dead – is the source of releasing some sort of demon from hell in the debut film from Sam Raimi in 1981.

Not as overtly occult as some of the others on this list, nevertheless, the original ‘cabin in the woods’ picture has become a sub-genre of sorts, spawned a few sequels and a soulless glossy remake, influenced horror culture and video games alike. A bunch of 20-somethings rent a remote cabin, read a a demonic text, and are picked off and possessed by the aggressive spirits in the woods that look a lot like a POV from a camera mounted on a dirt bike. Innovative camera work aside, do not underestimate the purity of The Evil Dead. It scratched an itch that needed to be scratched in the early 1980s coming off a rash of drive-in satanism horror films, and against all odds got a theatrical release that launched a pretty formidable career in hollywood, from Dark Man to Spider Man to A Simple Plan. And the lead actor with the memorable chin, Bruce Campbell, became a cult genre icon who has published several books and regularly tours the Comic-con circuit.

Goopy, goofy, and kind of groty, the film stands up pretty well today, barring the shockingly vulgar tree-rape in the middle. It’s always worth a look, even if the more overtly hilarious sequel, 1984’s Evil Dead II, is a wee bit more satisfying.

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Occultober – Day 20 – Santa Sangre

Santa Sangre
Circuses, swimming pools of blood, mind control and amputee-ism are but a few of the striking elements on display in Alejandro Jodorowski’s late 1980s picture, Santa Sangre. Of course, many of those elements figure into his previous pictures, all of which have healthy doses of surreal and religious imagery (and amputees).

Because the film doesn’t offer itself to easy synopsis, I refer to Wikipedia for the first five minutes of the film:

Concha is the leader of a religious cult that considers, as its patron saint, a little girl who was raped and had her arms cut off by two brothers. Their church is about to be bulldozed at the behest of the owner of the land, and the followers make one last stand against the police and the bulldozers. A Roman Catholic monsignor drives into the conflict, saying that he will prevent its demolition, but after he enters the temple to inspect it he deems it blasphemous and unworthy (the girl worshipped is no saint, he says, and the supposed pool of “holy blood” at the center of the edifice contains just red paint), so the demolition is carried out. Fenix leads Concha back to the circus, where she finds out about Orgo’s affair, but Orgo, being also a hypnotist, puts Concha in a trance and has sex with her.

Suffice it to say, Santa Sangre is dense but carries itself with a sense of large-scale filmmaking and wonderful production design. It is unabashedly vulgar and full of human oddities (being only a hairs-breadth less exploitive than yesterday’s The Sentinel) and is cast with a veritable host of the director’s offspring. There are lots of arms severed, and the most morbid take on the old comedy-gag of having one person stand behind another and be their ‘arms.’ I cannot say much more, just go out and watch it, because, in its own fashion, this is Jodorowski’s most accessible film.

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Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Zombeavers

 

The best thing about Zombeavers is that it isn’t much more than its title implies. It creates a toxic spill in a remote area then plops a bunch of college kids in a cabin right next to it. Voila – zombie beavers attacking young co-eds. It also stays true to its 80s horror antecedents by making most of the gore and effects practical. CGI beavers would have ruined the film entirely, whereas these stuffed critters with partial animatronic characteristics and clunky tails do the trick nicely. When they come crashing through floor boards, they almost feel like they could chew your foot off. Of course, they are also just slightly ridiculous enough to laugh at when they suddenly show up in a bathtub or at the front door. Especially with their light blue glowing eyes…

The worst thing about Zombeavers is, well, that it isn’t much more than its title implies. Now that shouldn’t be taken necessarily as a criticism…It’s just that when the film works, it works so very well. So when it doesn’t, it’s somewhat disappointing. The film handles its action sequences very well and has moments of pretty inspired humour & gore, but then there are several scenes of bland, lengthy or even pointless chatter between the characters. Given the funny outtakes at the end of the film (some of which felt a bit like those line-o-rama special features many comedies have these days) and considering Judd Apatow, David Wain and others are thanked, I couldn’t help but want a bit more ooomph to the script. In fairness, my complaints are along the lines of wanting more than I’m really entitled to or should in any way expect. But it’s to the film’s credit that at some point – I did expect more.

Another thing about Zombeavers is that it sometimes is actually a bit more than its title implies. Think you know who’s going to get it next? Think the kills will all be based on levels of morality? Think you know how the beaver bite transforms its victim? Probably not…Not that the movie rolls out loads of surprises, but just enough so you aren’t completely sure of what the next scene may bring. One might even say that there’s just enough subversion of this type of genre to raise the eyebrows of those looking for simply a genre-throwback. On top of that, the cast does quite well with the material and only falter during some of those slower spots (though those moments could easily be “blamed” on pacing issues or editing). All three of the leading ladies (Cortney Palm, Rachel Melvin & Lexi Atkins) acquit themselves quite nicely through tears, screams, laughs and loads of prosthetics.

In the end, it’s a movie about beavers who become zombies. That alone should be enough, but you get more (including a great final “stinger”). So go enjoy Zombeavers.