Monday, 25 February 2008

The Manitou

Damn, I love a movie that gets straight to the point. Or, in this case, you might call it the “head”... The head of the giant boil on Susan Strasberg’s neck, to be exact. And why am I watching a movie about a giant neckular boil? Blame Final Girl and her Film Club, for which The Manitou is this month’s pick.

As I said, this 1978 supernatural horror film gets down to business right away, as a pair of doctors discuss the peculiar case of Karen Tandy (that’s Strasberg’s character) and, in particular, two shocking statistics: the fact that the aforementioned carbuncle is apparently growing at a rate of 7.3mm an hour and, even more unbelievably, that 40-year-old Susan Strasberg is playing a 28-year-old.

Fancy a peek at Karen’s gruesome goitre? Here it is:


Gross, huh? Although, to put things in perspective, it’s not that much bigger than Ms Strasberg’s enormous mouth. I mean, just look at this:


It looks like the main problem she’s going to have with that boil is making sure she doesn’t accidentally swallow it. Anyway, according to trained medical professionals, Karen’s boil is not actually a boil. Nor is it a tumour, or any other typical kind of growth. Being full of bones and tissue – complete with an alarmingly human shape – what it most closely resembles is a foetus... In medical terms: yuck!

Time for Karen to visit her old flame Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis), a flamboyant fortune-teller who pays the bills by entertaining old ladies in his kitschy/swanky bachelor pad. Karen’s disgusting case of foetus-neck aside, the two have sex. Or, at least, I think they do... Karen stays over and they’re both wearing bathrobes in the morning, and if that’s not evidence of rumpy-pumpy (with a lump-y) I don’t know what is. Anyhow, the main point of this rather-gross-in-all-respects development seems to be to introduce a bit of Indian mysticism into the plot, via the revelation that Karen has started saying mysterious things in her sleep. Things like “pana wichi salitu”, which to my knowledge most good girls don’t whisper on a first date.

Pretty soon, Karen is taken into hospital to have the boil (baby?) surgically removed, but the procedure turns out to be impossible when – pana wichi salitu! – the attending surgeon is compelled to use the scalpel to slash at his own wrist instead!

Meanwhile, one of Harry’s regular clients is levitating around his apartment with cries of – yup – “pana wichi salitu”, before hurling herself downstairs in a sequence that puts even The Exorcist’s famous “spider walk” to shame. Clearly, some form of ancient Indian magic is at work, and something is determined to protect whatever’s growing inside Karen’s boil in order that it might soon be born...

To reveal any more would only spoil what have to be some of the most outrageous developments in horror history, but I think it’s only fair that you’re warned of this:

Not to mention this:

And this:


Oh, and of course this:


Yes, The Manitou is shock-full of weird Рand just a little bit wonderful Рset pieces, many of which begin with a clich̩ but soon veer off into the bizarre. The results are startling, unpredictable, funny and, at times, even a little creepy.

In equally strange fashion, it seems to me that The Manitou was basically reappropriated by the makers of Poltergeist II and III, and spun out into two films: Poltergeist II takes the Indian magic theme, the monster “birthed” from a character’s body, and otherworldly climax, while part III uses the idea of a modern building “taken over” by demonic forces and transformed into an icy hell.

Here, so much happens that there’s hardly any need for a sequel. Which is a shame because I love how “Manitou 2” rolls off the tongue. (I’d even give it the subtitle Manitou on the Move – is Kristy Swanson available?) Of course, author Graham Masterton, upon whose novel the film is based, did actually write a sequel, Revenge of the Manitou, but that remains unfilmed, presumably because no one has any idea how to top The Manitou.

And who could blame them?

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Hotline

Did someone say “theme week”?! Hot on the heels of Hysteria, here’s another psycho-thriller that also has a one-word title beginning with H... It’s the classic 1982 TV movie, Hotline.

Yes, I said “classic”. It may not be a landmark in cinema – or even TV movies – but there’s something about Hotline that just works. Y’know? Like when the batteries in your remote control run out, so you take them out, put them back in again, roll them around a few times and – hey presto – the remote works again. I can’t explain why it works. Scientists can’t explain why it works. But the point is: it does. And so does Hotline.


Part of the movie’s success is undoubtedly down to Lynda Carter, who stars as art student and part-time bartender, Brianne O’Neal. Carter brings a degree of world-weariness to the role that I’m not sure is intentional – after all, once you’ve been Miss World and Wonder Woman, where is there to go but down? – but which acts as a total grabber. You just can’t help but feel for the lonely gal with the vintage car and mysterious house-sitting arrangement (I would elaborate, but the reasons why Brianne’s staying in a luxury beach house are never explained).

One night at the bar, Brianne fends off the attentions of a drunken customer who’s looking for a little return on the generous tips he’s been giving. She lets him down gently at first, becomes a bit sassier when he turns threatening, and eventually kisses him off with a cheerful “Drive safely!”. I’m not sure whether this is a blast of sarcasm or an example of early-80s attitudes towards alcohol but, either way, her people-skills impress nearby psychiatrist Justin Price (Granville Van Dusen) so much that he offers her a job working for his crisis helpline.


Brianne is a bit reluctant at first but, luckily, her first phone call comes from a teenage runaway who’s just a peach to deal with. We only hear one half of the conversation but, basically, Brianne tells her to call her parents, the girl presumably cries, “Sure! What wonderful advice!”, and Brianne is well on her way to becoming the hotline’s employee of the month.

So now Brianne has art classes all day, two part-time jobs, a new boyfriend (it turns out Dr Price didn’t just pick her for her phone manner) and still finds time to get herself a mentally disturbed stalker. That’s right... one of her regular callers at the hotline is a rasping lunatic who loves nothing more than to taunt her with creepy children’s rhymes whispered in a, well, whispery voice.

Of course, Brianne is quick to realise that each rhyme contains a clue to a past murder committed by the psychopath. Like, when he whistles “London Bridge Is Falling Down”, he means that the murder took place in... Michigan! (Just kidding – it was actually London.) Soon, Brianne is spending whole days at the local library scanning microfiche for reports of mysterious deaths, not to mention jetting down Reno to investigate past crimes. Heck, it’s not like she’s busy with two jobs and a college course or anything...

Anyway, most of Hotline plays out along these lines, and entertains in ways that only TV movies from the 80s can (although it actually has quite a 70s feel). Carter charms as the busy but bored woman who actually finds dealing with a serial killer quite exciting; Van Dusen is just gross as the psychiatrist/love interest; and you’ll probably spot the identity of the killer a mile off (but it’s very satisfying nonetheless). Everything eventually comes together for a slasher-movie styled climax that finds the killer on the loose with a big pair of scissors and Carter running around in a blouse sporting more tassels than a 70s lampshade.

Click HERE for a look at the UK video cover, but bear in mind that the photo on the back is a major spoiler! The same goes for certain shots included in the trailer – if you can make them out through the murky picture quality.

Tune in next week when I’ll be reviewing “slasher movies with seven-word titles beginning with I”. Oh, and if anyone can think of any, feel free to drop me a line. Thanks.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Billboard Breakdown: Shark Swarm

Every week is Shark Week in my house, what with the regular screenings of the Shark Attack series and its various rip-offs (technically, rip-offs of rip-offs, considering the derivative nature of the Shark Attacks in the first place). It’s actually the made-for-TV variants I like best – especially Red Water and 12 Days of Terror – so it was with some excitement I learned that the Hallmark Channel has a major killer-shark miniseries in the works called Shark Swarm (I’m loving it already), due to air on 26 May in the US. I’ve no idea when – or even if – it’ll turn up in the UK but, until then, here’s a helpfully annotated look at the new poster:


1. John Schneider (of Smallville and Dukes of Hazzard tele-fame) plays Daniel Wilder, a fisherman from Full Moon Bay who sets out to battle a school of great whites-gone-wild thanks to their exposure to sea pollution. Along for the ride/sail/living nightmare are his estranged brother (Roark Critchlow) and a sexy marine biologist (Heather McComb). So it’s just like Jaws, really, if Brody and Quint had been estranged brothers secretly in love with Hooper and vying for his amorous attentions... Um, actually, it’s not like Jaws.

2. Daryl Hannah plays Daniel’s wife, Brook, who gets fuck all to do by the sound of things. (So it is a bit like Jaws, then.)

3. Packs of forty, according to the press notes.

4. Fancy a peek “beyond the fin” at what the monsters look like? I’m not sure you will after you see these full-body shots:


Nice shade of lipstick on those sharks, by the way... “Fishguts Pink” by Maybelline, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve no idea what’s going on in that last photo, however... unless they’ve modelled the sharks on that old Jaws 3 tie-in game:

See more pics (some 105, in fact) on the official website, and keep your fish fingers crossed that this won’t be another Spring Break Shark Attack.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Hysteria

Flashback alert! We’re going deep, people, and I don’t mean the eighties. I don’t even mean the seventies... no, I mean the sixties! Turns out they actually had movies back then, although no CGI to make them look all realistic and everything. Anyway, today’s mind-bending review comes way back from the hazy, crazy days of 1965... Far out!

Come with me now as we drift back through the mists of time... *Cough!* (’Scuse the dry ice there.) Just imagine for a moment you’re not sitting in front of your plasma screen surfing the net, but instead reclining on a stylish, probably vulva-shaped sofa, lazily perusing the pages of your favourite Cahier du cinéma (that’s French for “snooty movie mag”). So pop off your iPod nano and nix that Nintendo DS – it won’t do you any good anyway because where we’re going it’s all black-and-white – and prepare to be sent into... Hysteria!

“Without a past, I have no future... How long can a man live in a void without going nuts?”

That’s the dilemma facing Chris Smith (Robert Webber), an American in London who’s lost his memory after a car crash on the deadly roads of rural Kent. Upon his release from hospital, Chris learns that someone has made a luxury penthouse available to him in the city. But just who is his mysterious benefactor? Why is the rest of the apartment building empty? And will you please save any further questions for the short Q&A session at the end?

The only clue to Chris’s identity is a photograph found at the scene of his accident, showing a beautiful but unknown woman. Asking around at a local photography studio, he learns that she was a model who was murdered six months ago. Not only that, but the crime took place in his own apartment block. Could her death be linked to the mysterious, arguing voices he hears emanating nightly from the empty apartment next door? Or has the accident left him with mental problems worse than mere amnesia? And, hang on... doesn’t the beautiful female driver who just passed him in the street look suspiciously like the supposedly dead girl?

Ah, questions, questions, and yet more questions. But don’t worry, this is 1965: David Lynch hasn’t been invented yet, and films still have to have proper endings that tie everything up sensibly. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to be dull... although, to be perfectly honest, Hysteria does get just the tiniest bit dull once it’s established its mystery premise. Luckily, a flashback sequence at the 45-minute mark turns everything on its head and, from then on in, it’s a pretty gripping and suspenseful ride all the way to a triple-twist ending.

After the success of Psycho and Les Diaboliques, Britain’s Hammer Film Productions got in on the game with a string of psychological horror-thrillers of this sort. Most were written by Jimmy Sangster, who produced roughly one a year throughout the sixties, raiding the thesaurus to come up with such titles as Maniac (1963), Paranoiac (1963) and Nightmare (1964). It’s also arguable that these had a strong influence on the Italian giallo movement, and indeed most of Hysteria’s plot elements would resurface in many a classic giallo in the seventies. But, while Hysteria is a prime example of Hammer-produced psycho-thrills, it lacks the visual imagination and excesses that make its Italian cousins so memorable.

Still, it’s got groovy, spiralling opening credits, a touch of raciness, and a conclusion so neat I doubt any mystery fan could come away too disappointed. Any other questions?

Rating: 3/5

Friday, 8 February 2008

Billboard Breakdown: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Feast your slasher-hungry eyes on the UK poster for the upcoming horror movie All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (with handy footnotes):


1. The BBFC granted the film its 18 certificate (for “strong bloody violence and very strong language”) as long ago as last May, but the film’s release was delayed due to the director refusing to bow to pressure from producers to trim gore scenes. It’ll finally be released uncut in the UK on 15 February.

2. The tagline “She’s to die for” was previously used for Return of the Living Dead III in 1993.

3. The house used in the film was formerly owned by the family of Hilary Duff.

4. UK horror magazine GoreZone awarded the five-star rating seen on this poster.

5. Female lead Amber Heard (Mandy) has actually appeared in The O.C., playing a sales clerk in the season 2 episode “The Mallpisode”.

6. Mandy Lane is the latest in a long line of horror heroines to sport the “bloodstained white vest-top look”, as modelled by Jessica Biel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eliza Dushku in Wrong Turn.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The joy of ex (rentals)

I’m rich... RICH, I tell you! If, that is, true wealth is measured in battered VHS tapes of old TV movies. Which, of course, it surely is. Yep, I snagged a few 50p bargains at Doncaster market the other day, which I’ll hopefully get round to reviewing in the next few days weeks years. So let the cover-scan frenzy begin!

Something tells me I’m in for lots of stock footage of collapsing buildings in the 1985 TV movie City Killer... “Featuring Heather Locklear, star of ‘Dynasty’ and ‘TJ Hooker’, the film is full of suspense, excitement and explosive action as a city’s giant office blocks crumble and crush to the ground”. But couldn’t they have found a better picture of Locklear for the back cover? All I can say is I hope they’re her own hands...

...otherwise there's definitely a bit of Hills Have Eyes remake nastiness going on there.

Now that’s a smokin’ cover pic for Night Hunt! (Not to be confused with Helen Hunt.) And no wonder, considering that “Not since ‘Colors’ or ‘The Warriors’ has there been a film that so vividly captures the savage tension of inner-city violence and gang warfare”. Hmm, I’m not sure you can capture that in an early-nineties TV movie, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Unless someone with a flick-knife says “freaking”.

Ladykillers looks pretty steamy, though... Quite literally, if those two shower scenes on the front cover are anything to go by. And it stars the “tough-minded” Marilu Henner, “hot-tempered” Susan Blakeley, and “beautiful and mysterious” Lesley-Anne Down. Sounds simply scorching!

“Hillary stayed late at the office... That was her first mistake”. I’ll bet her others in Lower Level (thrilling title) include tripping and falling over whilst running away from the killer, and/or falling in love with the killer. Which, quite frankly, serves her right for having her own “self-designed high-tech office tower”. Stuck-up cow.

Speaking of which... Shannon Doherty stars in Obsessed as the, um, obsessed ex-girlfriend of William Devane (“in his early fifties, in great shape”, as the video box apologises). Wonder if it’s modelled on that successful late-eighties thriller about an insane, bunny-boiling former mistress. Fatal something or other...?

Anyway, Killjoy sounds more like it, what with a young Kim Basinger and enough bloody scissors to convince you it’s a slasher movie, rather than a made-for-TV whodunit from 1981. Well, it was the height of the slasher craze, after all...

But here’s the real deal! Hotline, starring Lynda Carter (and yet more bloody scissors). “Hang up! Before HE comes to cut you off... DEAD”... It’s just so Halloween-meets-When a Stranger Calls. I'm hoping. I actually saw this one back in the day (the day being circa 1988 on late-night ITV, as opposed to 1982 when it first aired in the US) and something tells me I’m gonna love it all over again. Hope that enormous photo on the back isn’t a major spoiler or anything, though...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

I Know Who Killed Me

If I hadn’t been near-stunned into a case of blogger’s block by the crazy-paved plotting of I Know Who Killed Me, believe me, I wouldn’t be about to compare it to the work of Dario Argento. Now don’t get me wrong, Lindsay Lohan’s first foray into horror-thriller territory definitely isn’t up there with any of Argento’s, but there are a couple of similarities... a bright blue-and-red colour palette, for instance; the way that half the plot has absolutely nothing to do with the other half; and the fact that it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

But the similarities end there. Certainly, there aren’t any bravura moments, major shocks or, most disappointingly of all, suspenseful sequences in I Know Who Killed Me. No, what it most resembles is a TV movie – which would normally be a compliment were it not for the fact that TV movies get the business done in 85 minutes, whereas IKWKM lasts an eternity-baiting 105 minutes. And feels longer.

Aptly enough, considering the subject-matter, I’m in two minds about the film. It’s obviously cobbled together from a bunch of ideas rather than a desire to tell a story, but some of those ideas are pretty interesting (frustratingly, I can’t elaborate on them without spoiling the film’s only strengths). What it needed was a strong central presence to bring them all together. What it got was Lindsay Lohan.

Just try getting a handle on Lohan’s character in the first twenty minutes of this film. As we open, she’s pole-dancing in a strip club. Then she’s reading out one of her short story compositions in a lecture theatre. (Is she a student? An author?) Then she’s a virtuoso pianist having a music lesson in an enormous house. (Hers? The tutor’s?) Then she’s in science class. (Just how old is she meant to be?) And all that’s before she’s kidnapped and tortured by a limb-lopping serial killer in a Saw-like dungeon.


Eventually it transpires that, before her brush with death, she was Aubrey Fleming, a student living at home with her parents (played by an understandably befuddled-looking Julia Ormond and Neal McDonough). After her escape from Captivity-style captivity, however, Aubrey insists on being called Dakota Moss and claims to have been a stripper with a crack-addict mother and eleven dollars to her name. Appealing it ain’t – and neither is the sight of a chain-smoking Lindsay Lohan with lank, black hair and digitally removed extremities. Is Aubrey suffering from some form of amnesia, or is she really Dakota? It’s up to you whether or not you want to spend 105 minutes finding out.

Ultimately, I Know Who Killed Me is a skanky film that does nothing for the downward career-spiral of Lindsay Lohan. Stripped of some of its sleaze, it might’ve made an engaging telemovie pot-boiler but, as it is, it’s just passably watchable for curious barrel-scrapers. Like me.

Oh, and look out for the sequels, I Still Know Who Killed Me, I’ll Always Know Who Killed Me, and I Wish I Knew Who Killed My Career.

Rating: 3/5