Monday, August 31, 2015

#1,841. Feast (2014)

Directed By: Patrick Osborne

Starring: Tommy Snider, Katie Lowes, Ben Bledsoe

Trivia: This movie won both an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 87th Academy Awards, and the Annie Award for Best Animated Short Subject at the 42nd Annie Awards

The 2014 Disney short Feast tells the story of a Boston Terrier who eats anything he wants, only to discover there’s more to life than food.

From the time he was a puppy, Winston was given a wide variety of treats by his owner, James (voiced by Tommy Snider). From pizza to nachos, burgers to French fries, Winston had it all… and loved it all. Then, when James meets Kirby (Katie Lowes), a waitress at a health food restaurant, poor Winston’s menu options start to change. All at once, the cookies and fast food are gone, replaced by veggies and other less-tasty morsels. When James and Kirby split, things go back to the way they were, and Winston, who gorges himself on ice cream and cakes, is happy again. But James is not, which forces Winston to make some tough decisions.

That’s the basic premise of Feast, but it isn't until the movie is half over that we realize what’s going on with Winston's owner, James. That’s because the first part of Feast is told exclusively from Winston’s point of view, with James and the other characters pushed to the background. Throughout these scenes, there are hints as to what’s happening around Winston; early on, James is obviously living in a college dorm, so the oft-hungry pup benefits from the steady stream of junk food that typically goes hand-in-hand with that lifestyle. When Winston is first given veggies, he spits them out, and later, as he stares at the unappetizing contents of his bowl, we spot James and Kirby dancing happily in the next room. When Kirby walks out on James (again, we see this only in the background), Winston’s now-despondent owner returns to his unhealthy routine. It isn’t until Winston finds a stray sprig of parsley lying around that James finally enters the forefront (while Winston can’t stand the parsley, James gazes at it longingly, a reminder of the love he’s lost).

Like Winston, we suddenly notice James, and realize that he’s suffering. It’s here that the film takes a sharp turn, transforming from a humorous short into a story with heart. While the opening few sequences of Feast will give you something to laugh about, the second half is sure to bring a tear to your eye.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#1,840. The Little Matchgirl (2006)

Directed By: Roger Allers

Trivia: This film made its debut at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France on 5 June 2006

Disney’s retelling of the classic story by Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Matchgirl concerns a young Russian girl trying to peddle her wares (in this case, a handful of match sticks) to Christmas shoppers as they traverse a busy, snow-covered street. When night falls, the little girl (who didn't sell any of her matches) makes her way to a back alley, where she rests, shivering in the snow. To keep warm, she decides to strike some of her matches, and when she does so, she sees images of the idyllic life she so desires dancing in the flames (including a warm fire, a fully-decorated Christmas tree, and her beloved grandmother, who gives her a loving hug). By the end of the film, the little girl has used up all her matches, but does get to experience the good life which, moments earlier, had filled her dreams.

Visually, The Little Matchgirl is quite stunning, opening with darker hues to establish the cold, cruel world that passes its title character by, then utilizing warmer colors when she fantasizes about her old home, and the grandmother who obviously loved her. Yet what truly impressed me about this short was its musical score, which consisted of a piece written by Aleksandr Borodin, the 19th century Russian composer, titled "String Quartet #2 in D Major: 3rd Movement: Notturno". Performed by The Emerson String Quartet, this somber, elegant tune proved the perfect match for the material, and was every bit as beautiful as the images parading before our eyes.

Like Lorenzo and a few of the others movies in The Disney Short films Collection, The Little Matchgirl contains no dialogue, but with its delightful story and superb score, it nonetheless speaks volumes.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

#1,839. Get a Horse! (2013)

Directed By: Lauren MacMullan

Starring: Walt Disney, Marcellite Garner, Russi Taylor

Line form this film: "Where are we... Poughkeepsie?"

Trivia: This movie features archival recordings of Walt Disney as the voice of Mickey Mouse

Inspired by early Mickey Mouse cartoons and featuring one of the most original ideas I’ve ever seen in a short film, 2014’s Get a Horse! is nothing short of amazing.

We open with a small, black and white 4x3 screen. After spotting them from his front yard, Mickey Mouse (looking like he did in the ‘30s) hitches a ride with some of his friends on a passing horse-drawn wagon. Before long, they pick up a few more passengers, including Clarabelle Cow and Minnie Mouse, and as the group slowly makes its way down the road, the impatient Peg-Leg Pete pulls up behind them in a motor car and starts blasting his horn, insisting they move over so he can pass. It‘s then that Pete lays eyes on Minnie Mouse, who he’s instantly smitten with. Mickey does what he can to keep Minnie safe, but Pete is too fast for him, and snatches Minnie from the wagon before anyone else can grab her. Then, to make his getaway, Pete slams into the back of the wagon, shattering it into a dozen pieces. The impact sends its occupants flying off in every direction, but Mickey and his pal Horace Horsecollar don't immediately hit the ground; instead, they’re tossed into the movie screen, which is projecting their adventures to a paying audience. Suddenly, Pete gets an idea of how he can get rid of Mickey Mouse once and for all. It’s at this point Get a Horse! really gets interesting, with Mickey and Horace (now in color) entering the world of today, where they find a few modern devices that, hopefully, will help them break back into the movie and save Minnie before Pete rides off with her.

Combining standard animation with computer graphics, Get a Horse! is an homage to Disney’s past accomplishments, as well as a clear indication that the studio’s current crop of animators are as creative as their predecessors. In a superb twist, archival recordings of the old voice actors, who worked for Disney in the 1930’s, are used for the characters in this film, with Walt Disney himself providing the voice of Mickey Mouse (only the word “red”, which Mickey says after he breaks through the screen and spots his red pants, had to be dubbed by a different actor). This, along with the classic animation style featured in the opening sequence, helped recreate the look and feel of an old-time Mickey Mouse short. Then, when the fourth wall (or in this case, the movie screen) is torn down, Mickey and his pals magically transform into CGI characters (in color, no less). From there on, Get a Horse! gives us both styles (hand-drawn and CGI), resulting in moments of anarchy that will have you laughing out loud.

I haven’t yet seen all of the movies that make up The Walt Disney Short Films Collection, but of the ones I’ve checked out thus far, Get a Horse! is, without question my favorite.

Friday, August 28, 2015

#1,838. John Henry (2000)

Directed By: Mark Henn

Starring: Alfre Woodard, Geoffrey Jones

Trivia: Director Mark Henn is a collector of antique firearms. The pistol in the film used to start the race is based on one of his own Civil War era pistols

John Henry told his captain
"A man ain't nothin’ but a man
But before I let your drill beat me down
I'll die with a hammer in my hand,
I'll die with a hammer in my hand"

I remember, quite vividly, the above excerpt from "The Ballad of John Henry", a traditional folk song about a powerful railroad worker who gave his life to prove a man was better than a machine (when I was in grade school, we’d listen to recordings of this and other folk tunes, following along with the lyrics that were reprinted in our textbooks). John Henry, a 2000 animated short from the “House of Mouse”, takes the legend of John Henry and puts a Disney spin on it, resulting in a 10-minute movie that makes you smile as its tugging at your heart strings.

With his wife Polly (Alfre Woodard) acting as narrator, we hear the story of John Henry (Geoffrey Jones), a former slave who headed west, hoping to make a life for himself and his young family. Using the hammer his wife forged from the chains that once bound him, John Henry goes to work for the railroad, and soon proves he’s the best there is at driving spikes into the ground.

The railroad initially offered (as payment) 50 acres of land to everyone working on the line, but rescinds the deal when they instead send a brand new steam drill to the site, an invention the company believes will move faster than any man.

Any man, that is, except John Henry.

To win back the land promised to him and his fellow workers, John Henry challenges the drill’s engineer to a spike-driving contest. Convinced he's better than any machine, John puts every ounce of energy into winning this contest, and pays the ultimate price for it.

With John Henry, director Mark Henn set out to make a movie similar in tone and spirit to such earlier Disney efforts as Paul Bunyan, a 1958 short about another legendary hero. What’s more, the music in John Henry, a combination of folk and gospel, fits the story perfectly, taking what is ultimately a sad tale and giving it a vibrancy all its own. With the always-engaging Alfre Woodard guiding us along, the film breathes new life into a classic American folktale, and even though I knew how it was going to end, I still got a bit choked up during the movie’s dramatic finale.

Colorful and exhilarating, John Henry is a rousing, life-affirming musical adventure the likes of which only Disney can produce.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

#1,837. Lorenzo (2004)

Directed By: Mike Gabriel

Trivia: Disney artist Joe Grant began developing the story for this film back in 1949

Continuing my look at some of the movies that make up the Walt Disney Short Films Collection, we have 2004’s Lorenzo, the story of a fat cat who gets his just desserts.

While enjoying a shrimp cocktail in front of a large bay window, Lorenzo the cat teases a passing black feline that’s missing its tail. Unfortunately for Lorenzo, he chose the wrong cat to pick on; in a fit of anger, the black cat puts a curse on Lorenzo’s posterior, and as a result, his tail springs immediately to life. But this now-magical tail does more than simply move on its own; it also dances, and before Lorenzo knows what’s hit him, he’s prancing up and down the street, doing the tango. Lorenzo tries everything he can think of to get his tail under control, but when the black cat reappears, it suggests a solution so drastic that even the desperate Lorenzo might not be able to go through with it.

A frantically fun animated short, Lorenzo contains no dialogue whatsoever. In its place, we’re treated to a catchy song titled "Bordoneo y 900", performed by Juan José Mosalini and his Big Tango Orchestra, which plays throughout the film. In addition, I was impressed with the short's animation style (more often than not, the scenes have no discernible background), and the story certainly has its share of laughs (the sequences where Lorenzo attempts to “eliminate” his tail are a riot, mostly because he forgets that it’s still attached to his butt).

Originally conceived by longtime Disney artist Joe Grant (one of the creative minds behind 1941’s Dumbo), Lorenzo was a long time in the making (Grant started developing his idea for the movie back in 1949), but based on the finished film, I’d say it was well worth the wait.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

#1,836. The Ballad of Nessie (2011)

Directed By: Stevie Wermers

Starring: Billy Connolly

Line from this film: "Where do you go when there's no more hope?"

Trivia: This short preceded 2011's Winnie the Pooh (when it was shown in the theater

Today, I received a copy of the Blu-Ray edition of Walt Disney’s Short Films Collection, a brand new home video release featuring a dozen shorts produced by Disney’s Animation Studio over the last 15 years, and thus far, I’m completely blown away by what I’ve seen. Beautiful, ingenious, hilarious, moving… these are but a few of the words that leaped to mind as I was watching these films, and over the course of the next week or so, I plan to cover the best of what this collection has to offer. To kick things off, I selected 2011’s The Ballad of Nessie, a traditional hand-drawn short reminiscent of some of the studio’s earlier works.

The Ballad of Nessie attempts to explain the origin of the fabled Loch Ness Monster, a creature that’s allegedly been living in the waters of Loch Ness, Scotland, for hundreds of years. As we learn early on in the film, Nessie didn’t always reside in Loch Ness; for a time, she lived in a small pond with her only friend, a yellow rubber duck named “MacQuack”. Her life was thrown into turmoil, however, when a miniature golf course was built next door, forcing Nessie to look for another home. But she couldn't find a lake big enough to accommodate her, causing the dejected sea creature to break down and cry for weeks on end. What she sees when she finally stops crying will change her life forever.

Part of the reason I chose The Ballad of Nessie to start with is that it was narrated by Billy Connolly, who, along with impressive turns in such movies as Fido and The Boondock Saints, is funny as hell. And he does a good job, too, of bringing this tale to life. In addition, despite the fact it was produced rather recently, The Ballad of Nessie (which was based on a character its director, Stevie Wermers-Skelton, created when she was a child) had a look and feel that reminded me of some of Disney’s most beloved classic movies (Nessie has a lot in common with the dragon from 1977’s Pete’s Dragon).

Geared towards kids, The Ballad of Nessie tells an entertaining story, and while I wouldn’t rank it as the best movie in the Short Films Collection, it’s plenty of fun nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#1,835. Initiation (1987) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Michael Pearce

Starring: Bruno Lawrence, Rodney Harvey, Arna-Maria Winchester

Tag line: "A young street kid from Brooklyn has the ultimate test"

Trivia: This film was pre-sold to US distributor Goldfarb for $850,000 but Goldfarb later backed out of this commitment claiming they did not have the money

After his mother passes away, teenager Danny Malloy (Rodney Harvey) leaves his Brooklyn home and heads to Australia to reunite with his estranged father, Nat (Bruno Lawrence). A crop duster by trade, Nat lives on a secluded ranch with girlfriend Sal (Arna-Maria Winchester) and her daughter Stevie (19-year-old Miranda Otto, in one of her first screen roles).

Nat is in a bind. He is about to lose his house if he doesn’t come up with a few thousand dollars… and fast!

To raise the much-needed cash, Nat agrees to shuttle drugs for local Mafioso, Carlo (Luciano Catenacci). Danny, Sal, and Stevie, though not happy with Nat’s new “occupation”, support his decision, even as their neighbor, an aboriginal witch doctor named Kulu (Bobby Smith), warns that trouble is on the way.

So, when a fire (accidentally started by Danny) destroys the family barn, a nervous Nat calls Carlo and makes arrangements to deliver the drugs ahead of schedule. Accompanied by Danny, Nat flies to the designated meeting place, where, after a few tense moments, the exchange is made.

But unbeknownst to the father and son, one of the mobster’s associates put a poisonous snake in the cockpit of their plane, resulting in a series of events that, for Danny, will prove to be the adventure of a lifetime.

The opening half of 1987’s Initiation plays like a coming-of-age story, with Danny adapting to his new life in Australia while also trying to build a relationship with his father (not an easy task, seeing as Nat has other things on his mind). But the moment the action shifts to the picturesque Blue Mountain region of New South Wales (a direct result of that snake), Initiation changes gears and becomes a top-notch adventure film.

Though his performance was hit and miss early on, actor Rodney Harvey shines in these later scenes. One particular sequence in which Danny inadvertently eats some hallucinogenic mushrooms, is especially well-handled by the actor, with director Michael Pearce doing his part as well, combining time lapse and animation to convey Danny’s chaotic state of mind.

If Initiation has a weakness, it’s the character of the aboriginal neighbor, Kulu, who spends most of the movie spouting mystical nonsense posing as advice for Danny. Though well played by Bobby Smith (whose performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Australian Film Institute), Kulu seems out of place in a movie about a father and son trying to mend their strained relationship. The later scenes, where he “appears” in the wilderness to help Danny, are so awkward that they’re almost laughable.

This aside, Initiation is a well-made family drama and an even better adventure story that successfully merges the two into a satisfying whole.

Monday, August 24, 2015

#1,834. Dying Breed (2008)

Directed By: Jody Dwyer

Starring: Nathan Phillips, Leigh Whannell, Bille Brown

Tag line: "Every body has different tastes"

Trivia: Was part of the third After Dark Horrorfest in 2009

As a horror film, director Jody Dwyer’s Dying Breed is perfectly serviceable, offering up moments of genuine terror as well as some convincing gore. But if it’s originality you’re after, you’d best look elsewhere because there’s nothing in this 2008 movie that you haven’t seen before.

Following a sequence that transports us all the way back to 1824, in which an Irish prisoner known as “The Pieman”, aka Alexander Pearce (Peter Docker), resorts to extreme measures to escape police custody on the island of Tasmania (at that time, Australia was still a penal colony for the British), we jump forward to modern day, when Nina (Mirrah Foulkes), a student from Ireland, travels with her boyfriend Matt (Leigh Whannell) to Australia in the hopes of tracking down a Tasmanian Tiger, a creature that the scientific world believes has been extinct for 100 years. Matt, an Aussie who moved to Europe years earlier, contacts his old friend Jack (Nathan Phillips) in the hopes he’ll be able to join them on this quest. Sensing a chance to make some big bucks (after all, it isn’t every day you snap a picture of a supposedly extinct animal), Jack gladly tags along, as does his girlfriend Rebecca (Melanie Vallejo). For Nina, though, there’s a lot more at stake than fame and fortune; she’s hoping to prove that her sister, who mysteriously drowned 8 years ago while looking for the Tiger, was on the right track.

So, off the four go into the forests of Tasmania, eventually arriving at the backwoods town of Sarah, where, despite a few uncomfortable moments with the locals, they rent a couple of rooms for the night. The next morning, they climb into Jack’s motorboat and make their way up the river (which, like many things in this area, is named after the Pieman), setting up camp near a deserted cave. But there’s something more sinister than a Tasmanian tiger lurking in the surrounding woods, and unbeknownst to our adventurers, it’s had its eye on them ever since they arrived in Sarah.

There are more than a few horror clichés to be found in Dying Breed. Arrogant twentysomethings traveling to a place they know nothing about? Check (to be fair, only Jack is arrogant, but he’s so annoyingly cocky that he more than makes up for the rest of them). A dark, foreboding forest cut off from the rest of the world? Check. Inbred locals who act as if they have something to hide? Check. POV shots that suggest someone, or something, is watching our heroes? Yep, you guessed it… Check! Even a few of the so-called twists at the end aren’t much of a surprise. In fact, I’m betting that by the time all hell breaks loose, you’ll have figured out for yourself what’s going on.

I certainly don’t mean to steer you away from Dying Breed. As I mentioned above, it’s not a bad little horror film. The opening scene, where we meet The Pieman, gets the story off on the right foot, and across the board the performances are better than what you’d expect from a movie full of formulaic characters. In addition, there’s plenty here to keep the gore hounds happy (and from the looks of it, the effects are practical as opposed to CGI). In the end, Dying Breed isn’t the kind of movie that will set your world on fire, but it’s not a total waste of time either.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#1,833. The Proposition (2005) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: John Hillcoat

Starring: Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson

Tag line: "This land will be civilized"

Trivia: Originally, John Hillcoat approached Nick Cave about doing the soundtrack for a Western, eventually he asked if Cave would write the screenplay as well

'When?' said the moon to the stars in the sky
'Soon' said the wind that followed them all 
'Who?' said the cloud that started to cry 
'Me' said the rider as dry as a bone 

These are the opening lines of Nick Cave’s song The Rider, which plays over the end credits of The Proposition (Cave also wrote the film’s screenplay). I love this tune; it’s on a regular rotation on my iPod (I’m guessing I listen to it 3-4 times a week), and whenever I hear it, it reminds me of this amazing 2005 western. Directed by John Hillcoat, The Proposition is a poignant, occasionally bloody tale of familial bonds put to the ultimate test.

The story is set in the Australian Outback, in the latter part of the 19th century. Following a shootout at a remote cabin (which doubles as a whorehouse), wanted outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pierce) and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are taken into custody. 

But instead of whisking them off to jail, Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a deal: if Charlie agrees to hunt down and kill his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of the infamous Burns gang and the man responsible for the recent slaughter of a frontier family (the Hopkins clan, who were neighbors of Captain Stanley’s), both he and Mikey will be pardoned and set free. 

Should Charlie fail to carry out this mission, the good Captain will hang Mikey by the neck on Christmas day, which is just over a week away.

As Charlie attempts to reach Arthur, all the while wrestling with the idea of murdering his own brother, Captain Stanley has his hands full back in town trying to fend off the locals, including his own wife Martha (Emily Watson), who want Mikey Burns punished for his role in the Hopkins killings (Martha was good friends with Eliza Hopkins, who was several months pregnant when the Burns gang raped and killed her). 

Determined to keep his side of the bargain, Capt. Stanley locks Mikey up in jail, where the townsfolk can’t get to him. But when politician Eden Fletcher (David Wenham), for whom Stanley works, orders the boy flogged in the public square, Capt. Stanley knows it might mean the end of his arrangement with Charlie Burns, who will surely come looking for revenge should the weak-willed Mikey not survive the ordeal.

'How?' said the sun that melted the ground
and 'Why?' said the river that refused to run
and 'Where?' said the thunder without a sound
'Here' said the rider and took up his gun

Both Pearce and Winstone shine as the main protagonists, each trying to make a better life for themselves and a loved one. Disgusted by what occurred at the Hopkins homestead, Charlie took Mikey and left his brother’s gang. Now, to save Mikey, he’ll have to return and shoot Arthur dead. He knows it won’t be easy, but we get the feeling Charlie is fully prepared to do what Capt. Stanley demands (a part of him might even believe that Arthur has it coming). 

As for Capt. Stanley, he’s a Brit stationed in a foreign land, yet despite his feelings about Australia (“What fresh hell is this?” he asks while looking out the window), he wants to end the bloodshed, if not for himself than for his wife. Having witnessed the atrocities committed by the Burns gang, Capt. Stanley’s biggest fear is that Martha will suffer a fate similar to what happened to poor Eliza Hopkins. To prevent this, he turns his back on his duty and enters an agreement with a wanted criminal. “I will civilize this land”, he says at one point, and clearly he’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The supporting cast is equally superb. Emily Watson is restrained yet effective as the wife whose husband tries to shield her from the realities of the world, and together she and Winstone share some convincingly intimate scenes. What’s more, The Proposition features two actors who first made their mark on Australian cinema in the 1970s: David Gulpilil (Walkabout) plays Jacko, a professional tracker assisting the police, and Tommy Lewis (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith) is Two-Bob, perhaps the most lethal member of the Burns gang. 

Rising above the rest, though, are John Hurt, who plays the boisterous bounty hunter Jellon Lamb; and Danny Huston as the violent yet introspective Arthur Burns, who spends hours on end staring in wonder at the setting sun and gazing at the bright, starlit sky. Though a brutal killer (he stomps one poor victim to death with the heel of his boot), Arthur is also something of a poet (“Love is the key”, he tells Charlie, “Love and family. For what are night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars without love, and those you love around you?”), and feels at one with the natural world.

'No' said the stars to the moon in the sky
'No' said the trees that started to moan
'No' said the dust that blinded its eyes
'Yes' said the rider as white as a bone

Along with its fascinating characters, The Proposition takes full advantage of the Australian Outback, which is every bit as untamed as some of the film’s characters. As picturesque as it is foreboding, it’s a gorgeous patch of land plagued by bugs and unpredictable weather (according to director Hillcoat, a scene in which the townsfolk’s backs are covered with flies, and another that features several lightning strikes in the distance, were not planned; he simply shot what nature was serving up at the moment). It’s the perfect setting for this sometimes vicious, yet altogether astounding motion picture. 

As for the violence, it is, indeed, severe, but not nearly as graphic as you might expect; aside from the flogging of Mikey Burns, most of the bloodshed occurs off-screen (we’re shown only the aftermath of each event, which, to be fair, is more than enough).

'No' said the moon that rose from his sleep
'No' said the cry of the dying sun
'No' said the planet as it started to weep
'Yes' said the rider and laid down his gun

A film worthy of every superlative thrown its way, The Proposition is as hauntingly beautiful as the lyrics to Nick Cave’s song, and, in my opinion, ranks right up there with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Django Unchained as one of the finest westerns of the new millennium.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

#1,832. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Fred Schepisi

Starring: Freddy Reynolds, Angela Punch McGregor, Tommy Lewis

Tag line: "The chant of the underdog"

Trivia: Prior to being cast as the film's title character, Tommy Lewis was a student with no acting experience

Based on the best-selling novel by Thomas Keneally (which in turn was inspired by actual events), Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a searing exposé of racism in turn-of-the-century Australia, relating the story of a man who was pushed too far, and decided it’s high time that he start pushing back.

Set in the year 1900, just before the Federation of the Australian States, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith stars Tommie Lewis as the title character, a half-caste (part white, part aborigine) raised by Rev. Neville (Jack Thompson) and his wife Martha (Julie Dawson) to be an upstanding member of the community. Though he maintains a close relationship with his Aborigine family, including his uncle Tabidgi (Steve Dodds) and brother Mort (Freddy Reynolds), Jimmie works hard to impress the Nevilles, and even marries a white woman (played by Angela Punch McGregor), all in the hopes that he will one day be accepted into so-called “normal” society.

But after being cheated by each of his employers (who refused to pay him his full wages), Jimmie attacks the family of his latest boss, Jack Newby (Don Crosby), killing several in the process. Now on the run, Jimmie, joined by Tabidgi and Mort, manages to avoid capture for months, all the while continuing to strike back at those who've wronged him over the years.

Having never appeared in a feature film prior to The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Tommie Lewis is nonetheless wonderful as the lead, playing Jimmie as a high-spirited young man intent on proving his worth, only to be beaten down at every turn. His first employer, Healey (Tim Robertson), hired Jimmie to build a fence, offered him a meager wage, then threatened to withhold a portion of it if the posts didn’t line up perfectly. Jimmie happily accepts, and initially, Healey tells him he’s doing a good job. That all changes, of course, when payday arrives, at which point Healey complains the fence isn’t up to snuff.

Things aren’t much better for Jimmie when he joins the local police force (he has to sleep in the barn, and works without boots), and even the Rev. Neville and his wife, who raised Jimmie, have a tendency to look down on him. One evening, Mrs. Neville discusses Jimmie’s upcoming marriage to a white woman, saying, with a smile, that his children will only be 1/4 caste, and adding that, if the next generation marries correctly, it could eventually be as low as 1/8 caste. All this and more besides leads Jimmie to lash out violently, and while the scene in which he attacks the Newby family is difficult to watch, we understand why he’s doing it.

What’s interesting about The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, however, is that it doesn’t portray Jimmie as a completely innocent victim. On the contrary, his desire to be part of white society causes him to sometimes act as badly as those he's trying to impress. In one scene, he pays a visit to the Aborigine quarter and sleeps with a black prostitute, calling her his “black bitch” as the two have sex. Also, while working for the police force, he takes an active role in investigating the murder of a white man, who was stabbed while visiting the Aborigine camp. Jimmie himself actually witnessed this killing (a fact he hides form his Commander), and uses his knowledge of the event to track down the guilty party, an Aborigine named Harry Edwards (Jack Charles). Jimmie, at one point, even chases down several Aborigines and bashes them in the back of the head with his baton.

Later, when Jimmie begins his murder spree, his dark side continues to take hold of him. He kills women and children, angering his brother Mort, who, as a result, calls Jimmie a “Devil Child”. Having witnessed the injustice he has been subjected to, we definitely sympathize with Jimmie Blacksmith. But we don’t always like him.

Crisply directed by Schepisi and featuring the gorgeous cinematography of Ian Baker, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a beautiful movie about an ugly moment in history, and while it is in no way a crowd-pleaser, it’s an important film that I think everyone should see.

Friday, August 21, 2015

#1,831. Mad Dog Morgan (1976) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Philippe Mora

Starring: Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil

Tag line: "Ferociously violent - unexpectedly kind. Ruthless bandit or rebel hero? An outlaw's outlaw with a score to settle"

Trivia: Dennis Hopper drank vast amounts of rum so he could properly portray Daniel Morgan

The rumors that Dennis Hopper was out of control during the filming of Mad Dog Morgan, a 1976 Australian movie, have been confirmed time and again by director Philippe Mora himself. In January of 2010, Mora told The Sydney Morning Herald what happened the day shooting on Mad Dog Morgan wrapped:

He (Hopper) rode off in costume, poured a bottle of O.P. rum into the real Morgan's grave in front of my mother, drank one himself, got arrested and deported the next day, with a blood-alcohol reading that said he should have been clinically dead, according to the judge studying his alcohol tests

Whatever the case may be, there’s no denying that Dennis Hopper’s frenzied performance perfectly fit the character of Dan Morgan, an irish / Australian bushranger who roamed the countryside of New South Wales in the 1860’s, when the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing.

After witnessing the massacre of several Chinese immigrants, Morgan turns to a life of crime and is promptly arrested. Tortured and even raped qhilw in prison, he’s released years ahead of schedule for good behavior, at which point he seeks revenge on those who put him there. After stealing a horse, Morgan is shot by its owner, and then nursed back to health by the aborigine, Billy (Walkabout’s David Gulpilil, who also provided the film’s digeridoo music).

With Billy in tow, Morgan terrorizes the local authorities, going so far as to shoot and kill one of their own. Though a folk hero to some, Morgan incites the wrath of Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring), who offers a reward of £1,000 for information leading to his capture… dead or alive.

From the moment he first appears on-screen, strolling through a small frontier town, to his final scene, you can’t take your eyes off of Dennis Hopper. His Irish brogue isn’t flawless (it slips from time to time), but he has a screen presence here that’s undeniable. There are some scenes where it’s obvious Hopper was acting under the influence; during one in particular, where Morgan walks into a bar and is cheered by its patrons, you can practically see the haze in his eyes. But this only enhances the character's out-of-control sensibilities, who, if history is to be believed, was every bit the loose cannon that Hopper was.

Mad Dog Morgan has its share of violence. In the sequence where the Chinese are attacked, Morgan’s new friend Martin, played by Gerry Duggan, is shot in the back of the head, the bullet taking out his eye as it passes through. There are also moments that are difficult to watch. Along with being raped by his fellow inmates in prison, Morgan is tied, spread eagle, to the ground, at which point the guards brand his hand with a hot iron. But scenes such as these capture the chaotic times in which its story is set. This, combined with Hopper’s frantic performance, makes for one crazy ass motion picture.

And I’m betting you’ll love it as much I do.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

#1,830. Thirst (1979) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Rod Hardy

Starring: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps

Tag line: "Surrender to an Unholy, Insatiable Evil"

Trivia: An artists' colony north of Melbourne was used for the cult's headquarters

The day she kicks off a month-long vacation, magazine editor Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) is kidnapped and taken to a compound at an undisclosed locale, where she is introduced to Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings), Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva), and Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron), the leaders of a bizarre cult that practices vampirism.

They inform Kate that she is a descendant of Elizabeth Bathory, the Hungarian Countess who, in the 16th century, murdered young girls to bathe in their blood, and that, with such a prestigious ancestor, she would be given a place of honor in their group.

Repulsed by the thought of drinking human blood, Kate refuses, forcing the doctors to try and “persuade” her. Dr. Fraser believes that Kate must be free to do as she pleases, while Mrs. Barker pushes for more severe methods of enticement, including the administration of hallucinogens.

Will Kate give in, or will she continue to fight the “thirst” in the hopes her captors will eventually release her?

The opening scenes of director Rod Hardy’s 1979 film Thirst, where Kate is first brought to the compound, reminded me in a way of the ‘60’s British TV series The Prisoner. Like the lead character in that program, Kate is treated well, and the compound itself seems like an idyllic place. Yet try as she might, she is unable to escape from it. As for the facility, it operates as a sort of manufacturing plant for vampires, draining the blood from hundreds of human “donors” by way of a special machine.

The film’s best sequences, however, are when Mrs. Barker orders that Kate be given hallucinogenic drugs to make her more "cooperative". In a near-catatonic state, Kate, at one point, is convinced she is back at home, but when she steps into the shower to freshen up, the finds herself bathing not in water, but blood (easily the movie’s most memorable image).

Chantal Contouri, who played a supporting role in Snapshot a year earlier, does a fine job as the frightened and confused Kate, and both David Hemmings and Shirley Cameron are superb as the cult leaders with differing points of view (Henry Silva, who was brought in to help Thirst appeal to an American audience, is wasted in a small role, though he does have a cool scene towards the end of the movie). And keep an eye out for Robert Thompson (he played the title character in Patrick) as a cult member, and Chris Milne (the boyfriend in Felicity) as one of the compound's many “donors”.

Unfortunately, the first half of the film, which is chock full of backroom meetings and discussions on how to convince Kate to stick around, is a bit too dry for my tastes (at times, it was downright boring). What’s more, the movie never fully explores its basic premise (Vampirism as big business) as deeply as it could have (the actual vampire sequences are few and far between). Though well-acted, Thirst proved ultimately to be a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#1,829. Gallipoli (1981) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Peter Weir

Starring: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr

Tag line: "From a place you've never heard of, comes a story you'll never forget"

Trivia: Peter Weir was inspired to make this film after visiting a World War I battle site

Inspired in part by the Battle of the Nek, a World War I skirmish in which 372 Australians lost their lives on a Turkish battlefield, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli is a story of friendship, following the exploits of two young men as they embark on a series of adventures that will strengthen the bond between them, and a war that may just tear them apart.

Western Australia, 1915. After competing against each other in a carnival-sponsored foot race, teenager Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and former railroad worker Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) become fast friends. Eager to do his part for the war effort, Archy tries to enlist in the Australian Light Horse Brigade, only to be rejected because to his age.

When Frank suggests that Archy try his luck again in a new city, the two hop a train, then hike 50 miles through the Outback to Frank’s home town of Perth. Once there, Archy’s dream of joining the Light Horse Brigade is finally realized.

As for Frank, who is the son of an Irish immigrant, he never intended to join the military, believing the war should be left to the British. Still, to remain at Archy’s side, he also attempts to enlist in the Brigade, and is turned away because he has very little riding experience.

Shortly after Archy is sent overseas, Frank bumps into former co-workers Bill (Robert Grubb), Barney (Tim McKenzie), and Snowy (David Argue), all of whom are enlisting in the Infantry. Figuring he has nothing better to do, Frank signs up as well, and before long the four are headed to Cairo for basic training.

As luck would have it, Archy is also stationed there. The two buddies meet up again, and Archy asks Major Barton (Bill Hunter) to allow Frank to transfer to the Light Horse Brigade. The request is approved.

And just in the nick of time. Orders have come through for the Brigade to set out for Gallipoli, on the Turkish Peninsula, where they are to take part in a campaign that, if successful, will drive the Turks out of the war. But life in the trenches proves difficult, and when the High Command orders an advance, both Archy and Frank realize it may be the end for them both.

With the international success of movies like Mad Max, Mel Gibson was on his way to becoming a star by the time he made this film, yet his character is not the main focus of the story. Instead, Gallipoli dedicates a fair portion of its runtime to Mark Lee’s Archy. In the opening sequences, we watch as Archy trains with his uncle Jack (Bill Kerr) to become a world-class sprinter, and at one point even challenges a farmhand (played by Harold Hopkins) to a long-distance race, allowing his opponent to ride on horseback while he himself traverses the rugged terrain barefooted. Lee brings a quiet optimism to the role of Archy, who is ready to lay down his life for his country. That said, Gibson is equally superb as the cynical Frank, and often overshadows his co-star in the scenes they share.

In addition to its fine performances, Gallipoli features a handful of intensely dramatic sequences (like the duo’s 50-mile trek across the Outback) and some positively beautiful imagery (a scene where the two friends climb the Great Pyramid of Giza at sunset is absolutely breathtaking). Yet it’s the final act, set during the war, that offers the movie’s most poignant scenes, including a finale you won't soon forget.

Along with its convincing anti-war message (like other fine WWI films, this movie perfectly recreate the horrific conditions of trench warfare), Gallipoli is also an entertaining buddy film as well as a rousing tale of adventure. Its conclusion, a powerful, heartbreaking look at a terrible moment in history, is certainly effective, butt is only one aspect of what proves to be an exceptional motion picture.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#1,828. Primal (2010)

Directed By: Josh Reed

Starring: Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Krew Boylan, Lindsay Farris

Line from the film: "Quarter of a billion alpha males in this world, and we get the dog-shit one!"

Trivia: This movie won the audience award at the 2010 London FrightFest Film Festival

Six friends: Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith), Mel (Krew Boylan), Chad (Lindsay Farris), Kris (Rebekah Foord), Warren (Damien Freeleagus), and Dace (Wil Traval), travel deep into the Australian wilderness to get a look at some ancient cave drawings, which haven’t been seen in over 100 years. Hoping to gather material for an upcoming thesis, Dace intends to spend a few days at the site studying the images, with the others tagging along for what they hope will be a relaxing camping trip. Unfortunately, things start to fall apart the first night when Mel, after skinny-dipping in a nearby lake, finds her entire body is covered in leeches. Once the nasty parasites are removed, Mel quickly develops a fever, and soon her teeth begin to fall out. By morning, she’s changed into a ravenous beast with sharp fangs and a taste for blood. When she disappears into the nearby forest, the rest of the group does what it can to track her down. Alas, Mel won’t be the only one to succumb to this mysterious disease...

Starting with an opening sequence set 12,000 years in the past (where we meet the artist responsible for the cave paintings), it’s obvious that 2010’s Primal is going to be a stylish, brutal motion picture; once this prehistoric scene, which features the film’s first bit of bloodshed, is over, we instantly leap thousands of years into the future, not stopping until we reach modern day (director Josh Reed marks the passage of time with a montage of hundreds of images, showing trees growing and clouds flying overhead, which play out rapidly before our eyes). This combined with some occasional slow-motion (during the attack scenes) and lots of handheld camera work gives Primal a style all its own.

In addition to its cinematic tricks, I was impressed with the film’s cast of characters, who, when we meet them, are as obnoxious and sex-crazy as those you’d find in most horror movies. But it isn’t long before we realize there’s more to these people than that. Due to a traumatic event involving one of her old boyfriends, Anja now suffers from claustrophobia (though it'll shave hours off the trip, she’s unable to walk through a cave with the others); and despite his often abrasive personality, Morgan has some medical training, and is quick to help the others whenever they’re in need of assistance. Even Mel, who at first appears to be the slut of the group (flirting with Morgan and Dace during the drive up), is actually devoted to boyfriend Chad, who she clearly loves. All of the performances are strong (especially Krew Boylan, who’s perfectly convincing as both a bubbly, outgoing twentysomething and a carnivorous monster hell-bent on eating her friends), and do their part to bring these well-rounded characters to life.

At times incredibly tense (the scene where Anja, Kris, and Warren try to draw the now-animalistic Mel out into the open will have you on the edge of your seat), Primal is also quite gory in parts, and has more than a few effective jump scares (the best of which involves a kangaroo). Not even the movie’s lame final 10 minutes, with its piss-poor CGI and ridiculous story twist, can ruin what went before it. Packed with thrills and plenty of blood, Primal is not to be missed

Monday, August 17, 2015

#1,827. The ABC's of Love and Sex: Australia Style (1978)

Directed By: John D. Lamond

Starring: Sandy Gore, Michael Cole, Robyn Bartly

Tag line: "A Joyous Lesson in Love, Sex and Sensuality"

Trivia: Maj-Brith Bergström-Walan of the Swedish Institute for Sex Research received a 'special appearance' credit

Director John Lamond’s 1978 documentary The ABC’s of Love and Sex: Australia Style begins, innocently enough, with an animated segment feqaturing a sex education class, in which a kindly, grey-haired professor puts the textbook aside to instead show his students a movie. The animation style, a combination of stop-motion and puppetry, reminded me of the old Rankin-Bass holiday specials (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year without a Santa Claus), but once the film proper kicked in, the child-like innocence of this opening sequence quickly melted away. An alphabetized journey through the world of human sexuality, The ABC’s of Love and Sex: Australia Style is as far removed from a kid’s movie as you can possibly get.

With 26 sequences, each based on a different letter of the alphabet, The ABC’s of Love and Sex: Australia Style covers everything from masturbation to group sex, all acted out by a dozen or so good-looking models (who rarely wear any clothes). Beginning with “A is for Anatomy”, where we’re given a basic lesson on the differences between men and women; and ending with “Y is for You” (apparently, they couldn’t come up with anything for “Z”), which contains a nudity-filled musical montage of some of the film’s more erotic scenes, The ABC’s of Love and Sex: Australia Style delves into the wonders, and sometimes the depravity, of sexual exploration.

Not all segments are given equal time. Both “D is for Dreams”, which covers sexual fantasies (including “The Mile High Club”, aka sex on an airplane, and making love in an elevator) and the two separate sequences dedicated to the letter “E” (“Erotic” and “Erogenous Zones") run much longer than “T is for Temptation”, which is over in about 30 seconds. In addition, those segments you’d think would be the raciest, like “M is for Masturbation”, seem tame when compared to others (ironically, the majority of the film’s hardcore sex scenes pop up in “L is for Love”). And despite the presence of Sweden’s Maj-Brith Bergström-Walan, a noted psychologist and a proponent of sex education, The ABC’s of Love and Sex: Australia Style isn’t what I would call an informative documentary (you won’t learn anything about sex that you didn’t already know). Like Lamond’s earlier movie, Australia After Dark, this is straight-up exploitation posing as an educational experience, yet thanks to its lighthearted approach to the material, as well as the skillful manner in which its presented, I found I really didn’t mind the film’s deceptive format.

Granted, not everyone will enjoy this movie; the “H is for Homosexuality” segment alone will offend a fair portion of the audience (a campy party scene, where a group of effeminate gay men make catty comments about one another, is followed by a sensual yet tastefully presented lesbian encounter). But if you can get past its deficiencies, you’ll find that The ABC’s of Love and Sex: Australia Style is an entertaining, and often quite steamy, bit of ozploitation magic.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#1,826. Alien Abduction (2014)

Directed By: Matty Beckerman

Starring: Katherine Sigismund, Corey Eid, Riley Polanski

Tag line: "Fear The Lights"

Trivia: Director Matty Beckerman was inspired to make this film while living in North Carolina (he heard a local legend about strange lights that were regularly seen on a nearby mountain ridge)

2014’s Alien Abduction opens with a caption informing us that what we’re about to see was “leaked” from the files of the U.S. Air Force. It's a common trope for found footage movies to open with a disclaimer or explanation of some sort, and right away I began to wonder how the Air Force got a hold of these images in the first place. If the characters were, as the title suggests, abducted by aliens, wouldn’t their video cameras have also been taken? 

Well, not only does director Matty Beckerman show us how the video became available, he does so in a very creative manner. It was the first of several surprises revealed over the course of this highly entertaining movie.

To help him focus, autistic 11-year-old Riley Morris (Riley Polanski) brings his video camera with him wherever he goes, including on his family’s recent camping trip to Brown Mountain, North Carolina. While videotaping the good times that he, his mom Katie (Katie Sigismund), dad Peter (Peter Holden), and older siblings Jillian (Jillian Clare) and Corey (Corey Eid), were having, young Riley manages to capture footage of something quite remarkable: a series of lights, seemingly dancing in the night sky. 

As it turns out, Brown Mountain has a reputation for being the favorite hangout spot for extraterrestrials. Many of the locals are convinced the dancing lights are, in fact, UFO’s. But it isn’t until the next day, when they try to drive to a new campsite, that the entire Morris family discovers just how true these stories really are.

Aside from revealing how its footage was “found”, the makers of Alien Abduction also came up with a clever way to explain why the cameras are always rolling: Riley’s coping mechanism for his autism. But it’s the tension this movie generates, which grows stronger with each passing scene, that will really knock your socks off. The trip to the next campsite is nerve-racking enough (the car’s GPS system malfunctions, causing tempers to flare as they drive around in circles on the dangerous mountain roads), yet pales in comparison to what happens when the family stumbles upon several abandoned vehicles, all of which show signs of a struggle. Along with a few effective jump scares, this scene takes the story in a whole new, terrifying, direction.

Thanks to some impressive special effects and the solid performances delivered by its entire cast (including Jeff Bowser, who plays Sean, a backwoods redneck who helps the family in its hour of need), Alien Abduction features scenes that are beyond intense, and for most of its running time you’ll be on the edge of your seat. 

Alien Abduction is a fun, innovative sci-fi / horror film, and I had a great time watching it!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#1,825. Turkey Shoot (1982) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Starring: Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey, Michael Craig

Tag line: "Hunting is the national sport...and people are the prey!"

Trivia: Costar Lynda Stoner refused to appear nude for this movie, primarily because her contract didn't call for it. She eventually agreed, but only if shot from behind (which is how it appears in the finished film)

Take The Most Dangerous Game and mix in a generous helping of ‘70s Nazisploitation brutality (a la Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS or SS Camp 5: Women’s Hell) and you have Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot, an odd but ultimately entertaining 1982 action / drama set in a dystopian future, when freedom and democracy have given way to martial law.

Turkey Shoot centers on the inmates of Camp 47, a government-sponsored “Re-Ed” facility where society’s undesirables are sent for behavior modification. Run by the sadistic Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig), Camp 47 is set to sponsor a “Turkey Shoot”, when several wealthy hunters pay top dollar to track and kill an inmate of their choice.

Among the prisoners chosen to participate are the camp’s three newest arrivals: Paul Anders (Steve Railsback), who has escaped from other government-run facilities and is determined to bring the system to its knees; Chris Wallace (Olivia Hussey), a pretty brunette whose only crime was trying to stop the police form beating a prisoner to death; and Rita Daniels (Linda Stoner), a blonde accused of having "loose morals".

Joined by several others, including a slimeball named Dodge (John Ley), the trio get a head-start, then are pursued by the various hunters, including Government Secretary Mallory (Noel Ferrier); the crossbow-wielding Jennifer (Carmen Duncan); the barbaric Tito (Michael Petrovitch), and Thatcher himself, who has set his sights on Paul Anders.

Despite the odds against them, the inmates band together to turn the tables on their pursuers, setting up a showdown the likes of which Camp 47 has never seen before.

Released in the United States as Escape 2000 (a version with 10 minutes of violence and nudity cut from it), Turkey Shoot is a nasty bit of Aussie exploitation, a picture chock full of cruelty, most of which is presented in graphic detail. Along with a scene where the chief guard, Ritter (played by the intimidating Roger Ward), beats a female inmate for forgetting the camp’s pledge, Turkey Shoot shows us what happens to those who try to escape before their “education” is complete. A young man who slipped out by hiding under a delivery truck is eventually recaptured and subjected to what Dodge tells the others is a “ball game”, where the prisoner is given two round containers of gasoline, then tossed around the courtyard, spilling a little gas every step of the way. When he is back in the center, the guards form a circle around him, and each strikes a match. Within seconds, the escapee is engulfed in flames.

The hunt fills the last half of Turkey Shoot, and takes the violence even further. Shortly after beginning his pursuit, Tito catches up with Dodge and orders his companion Alph (Steve Rackman) - a former carnival freak who looks like a wolfman - to tear off Dodge’s little toe (which the beastly Alph then eats). Then Dodge is set free. Unable to run very fast, the prisoner is overtaken again, at which point his suffering intensifies. This is but a single example (and a mild one at that) of the graphic violence on display in the final act of Turkey Shoot, and while not all of the carnage is convincing (a scene where a character’s hands are cut off is almost laughable), odds are you’ll be wincing throughout the entirety of the film’s last 45 minutes.

Shot on-location in Queensland, Turkey Shoot certainly isn’t Trenchard-Smith’s best work (for my money, that honor belongs to Dead End Drive-In), but it’s definitely his most vicious, making it a movie that die-hard ozploitation fans shouldn't miss.

Friday, August 14, 2015

#1,824. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Kiah Roache-Turner

Starring: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill

Line from the film: "We need to find a zombie... fast!"

Trivia: Because it was shot only on weekends, it took four years to complete this film

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, directed by first-timer Kiah Roache-Turner (who co-wrote the screenplay with this brother Tristan), may not be the first zombie road movie ever made (Zombieland and George Romero’s Diary of the Dead leap immediately to mind), but it’s one crazy-ass film all the same!

A bizarre illness, triggered by a meteor shower, is transforming ordinary people into bloodthirsty zombies. Barry (Jay Gallagher), a mechanic from Melbourne who was forced to kill his wife Annie (Catherine Terracini) and daughter Meganne (Meganne West) when they “turned”, is one of the few not affected by the virus.

Teaming up with several other survivors, including an Aborigine named Benny (Leon Burchill) and fellow mechanic Frank (Keith Agius), Barry attempts to reach his sister Brooke (the awesome Bianca Bradey), who he thinks may be holed up in the small town of Bulla Bulla.

Unbeknownst to Barry, Brooke has been kidnapped by a military outfit, and is currently the prisoner of a sadistic doctor (Berynn Schwerdt) who is conducting a series of experiments to determine what it is that makes some people immune to the illness.

Armed to the teeth and driving a truck that runs on “zombie power” (for reasons unknown, the virus has neutralized all flammable liquids such as gasoline, while turning the infected themselves, who exhale a form of methane gas, into a fuel supply), Barry and the others attempt to track down Brooke. But will she be the same person he once knew, or have the experiments already changed her into something else entirely?

It does eventually develop a sense of humor (thanks to Benny, who adapts to this new world order with the greatest of ease), but the opening scenes of Wyrmwood are deathly serious, not to mention nerve-racking. Following an action-packed sequence in which Barry, Benny, and a few others do battle with a horde of angry infected, we’re treated to a series of flashbacks, detailing how each of the characters learned about the outbreak. Barry's memories are particularly unsettling. While asleep in their bed, he and his wife were awakened by daughter Meganne, who told them somebody was in the kitchen. Barry checked it out, and came face-to-face with a particularly hungry zombie. These scenes get Wyrmwood off to an exciting, and at times quite dramatic, start while also serving as a precursor for the insanity yet to come.

And Wyrmwood does get damn crazy after a while, due mostly to what happens to Brooke as a result of the experiments (much like Romero’s classic Day of the Dead, many of the so-called human characters in Wyrmwood are more frightening than the infected). Yet as peculiar as its later sequences are, they’re but one aspect of a film that, from start to finish, is a thrill ride drenched in blood (despite its low budget, the movie offers up some pretty impressive gore). An exciting, occasionally original horror flick, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead is a nifty addition to the zombie subgenre.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

#1,823. Nightmares (1980)

Directed By: John Lamond

Starring: Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Nina Landis

Tag line: "Screams of terror... silenced only by the splintering of glass!"

Trivia: Debra Feuer was originally cast as Helen, but bowed out at the last minute after she was involved in an automobile accident

We open in 1963, when young Cathy (Jeanie Lamond), while in the back seat of a car, mistakenly believes her mother (Maureen Edwards) is being hurt by her lover (who’s affectionately petting her as she drives). As a result, Cathy lets out a scream, frightening her mother so badly that she loses control of the car. In the ensuing accident, Cathy's mother is killed, and her dad (Bryon Williams) blames Cathy for the tragedy.

Sixteen years later, Cathy, now going by the name Helen (Jenny Neumann), tries out for the lead role in a play, which, despite her inexperience, she manages to land. Her co-star, the handsome Terry (Gary Sweet), is a regular in a TV soap opera, and is hoping a successful stage show will give his career the shot in the arm it needs. Before long, Helen and Terry are an item (though, due to the trauma she experienced as a child, Helen refuses to engage in sex). But instead of enjoying her newfound success, Helen experiences a number of terrifying nightmares, all of which have their roots in the accident that took her mother away from her. What’s more, a killer is loose inside the theater, and is knocking off members of the show’s cast and crew. What role, if any, does Helen play in this string of unusual murders, and can the homicidal maniac be stopped before he or she gets a chance to kill again?

After its disturbing opening scenes, during which we witness the accident that killed Cathy / Helen’s mother (as well as a bizarre sequence that suggests the young girl, in later years, was molested by a man of unknown origin), 1980’s Nightmares (also released as Stage Fright) settles down to become a standard slasher film, complete with a deranged psychopath using their weapon of choice (in this case, shards of broken glass) to murder as many people as they can. In addition, director Lamond, who’s no stranger to nudity (he also helmed the ozploitation sex comedy Felicity), keeps us on our toes with a few gratuitous boob shots. This, plus a fairly convincing performance by the gorgeous Jenny Neumann, does its part to make Nightmares a memorable slasher flick.

That said, Nightmares isn’t exactly original; featuring POV scenes, where we’re looking through the killer’s eyes (a la Black Christmas, Halloween, The Burning, and a slew of others), as well as its collection of violent kills (a couple poor souls are stabbed in the throat), Nightmares doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and, despite its best efforts to pose as a mystery, isn't all that mysterious (the killer’s identity is, at all times, a foregone conclusion). Even more troublesome is its convoluted story, which is often hard to follow, but if you’re up for some early ‘80s slasher fun, rest assured that Nightmares delivers the goods.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

#1,822. I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2008)

Directed By: Stacey Edmonds, Doug Turner

Starring: Jai Koutrae, Stacey Edmonds, Az Jackson

Tag line: "Mass murder, it's just not cricket"

Trivia: During the shower scene, Arianna Starr, aka Miss Nude Australia, stood in for Stacey Edmonds

A zero-budget slasher film from Australia, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer comes up short in a few areas, but blood and gore sure isn’t one of them!

A psychopath who, 20 years earlier, was terrorized by the other members of his cricket team has come looking for revenge. Using the sport's equipment (which has been slightly modified with nails and razor blades) as murder weapons, he’s already managed to kill several of his now-adult former teammates, and Detective Gary Chance (Jai Koutrae) wants to make sure he doesn’t finish the job. With the help of his partner Det. Shane Scott (Az Jackson) and Kim Reynolds (Stacey Edmonds) of Scotland Yard (who was tracking the killer back in England, where he began his murder spree), Det. Chance rounds up the surviving members of the team and hides them away in a safe house, where they’ll remain until the killer can be brought to justice. But, alas, the house isn’t nearly as safe as they anticipated, and one by one, the former cricketers meet a grisly end. Will the three detectives capture this sports-centric lunatic, or will they, instead, become his next victims?

Even by slasher standards, the characters in I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer are an unlikable bunch. The five team members brought to the safe house, namely David Yeo (David Gambin), Craig Steadman (Aaron Scully), Terry O’Sullivan (Ben Paul Jones), Jonathan Wiley (Alex Sideratos), and Matthew King (James Winter), are obnoxious as hell, but worse still is the movie’s so-called “hero”, Det. Chance, who, from the moment he first appears, acts like a total jackass (two minutes after meeting Det. Kim Reynolds, he’s already hitting on her and making sexist remarks). In most slasher films, there’s at least one character we can root for. Not here. What’s more, the final act, when the killer kicks it up a notch, plays like a montage of unrelated violent scenes, with the murders coming so quickly, one on top of the other, that you’d think the killer was in two, sometimes three places at once. And while I personally had no issue whatsoever with the extended shower scene (for which Arianna Starr, aka Miss Nude Australia, acted as Stacey Edmonds’ body double), I’ll admit it did run a tad too long.

That said, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer is, at times, a stylish motion picture, with co-directors Stacey Edmonds and Doug Turner (who also wrote, edited, and co-starred) utilizing split screens and an up-tempo soundtrack to keep the action moving along at a solid pace. Yet what really stands out is the gore; from the opening scene, where the killer pounds a sharpened game stick into a victim’s mouth with his cricket bat, to the unfortunate soul who’s forced to put on an athletic supporter with nails pounded into it, the movie lets the blood flow freely.

When all is said and done, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer won't blow you away, but there’s enough here to keep things interesting while it lasts.