Tuesday 30 September 2008

Bless my barleycorns, it's...

Wow, there’s been nothing to celebrate for ages and then suddenly everything comes along at once. Today, hot on the heels of AiP’s star-studded first birthday bash, it’s AiP’s 100th post! (I think someone deserves a telegram from Adrienne Barbeau – and it’s not you, slacker!) Not only that, but the month of Shocktober is very nearly upon us... Sheesh, I think I’m suffering from excitement fatigue!

During Shocktober, many horror blogs traditionally rise to the challenge of reviewing a movie a day – or even two movies a day. Or, if you’re Final Girl, eleven movies. Here at AiP, however, I’m afraid there ain’t gonna be any of that shit. I mean, I work in a busy public library, for god’s sake. There’s no “working from home”, no “duvet days”, and no time to watch and write about a new movie every single day.

So, instead, October at Anchorwoman In Peril! is SHAM SHOCKTOBER! Every day I’ll be writing about a horror movie I haven’t seen – be it an all-time classic that hasn’t really appealed, or a quirky cult item I’ve never managed to get my mitts on. Either way, it’ll be a film I consider notable for having so far slipped through the net (and, funnily enough, I’ve never seen The Netspooky!).

Your task, if you have seen the movie in question, is to let me know whether it’s actually worth seeking out or not. Because, at the end of Sham Shocktober, I’ll buy, watch and, who knows, maybe even review the five titles that garner the most recommendations. Or, if no one’s left any comments, the five cheapest ones on Amazon.

Fair deal? Sham on!

Friday 26 September 2008

A Very Special Episode

AiP is one year old today! I know that’s no major achievement in the grand scheme o’ things but, when I first posted a review of Someone’s Watching Me! twelve months ago, I had no idea I’d be able to sustain a blog for any length of time, so now I’m celebrating with a few friends... Look, there’s Morgan on the karaoke, and Tori and Lauren are getting on like a house on fire. But, oh Roddy, what have you said to Brian the Shark? He doesn’t look too happy. You’d better go and mingle with Nameless Majorette #3 instead!

Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by over the last year and continues to pop in; I hope you’ve enjoyed your visits as much as I’ve loved reading your comments. Here’s to another terrific and horrific year, and the swift approach of everyone’s favourite month: SHOCKtober!

Tuesday 23 September 2008


So I’m just minding my own business at my nightly slumber party, making s’mores and playing with my ouija board (which is actually quite difficult to do simultaneously) when a friend says to me, “Hey Ross, have you heard the story of Dead Mary?”

“Dead Mary?” says I through a mouthful of melted marshmallow and ouija board splinters (told you it was difficult). “Don’t you mean Bloody Mary, the scary old ghost-woman who appears if you say her name five times in front of a mirror... and who then proceeds to - gasp! - kill you?”

“No,” replies said nameless friend, “I mean Dead Mary, the dreadful movie that appears if you walk into a video shop and say the words ‘Dead Mary’ once in front of a store clerk... and which then proceeds to - gasp! - suck out your very soul and take a big poop on it for 103 minutes.”

“Gosh-a-lordy!” I exclaim. “That sounds terrifying. What a disturbing urban legend. Is it true?”

And, dear friends, I'm sorry to report that it was true.

* If you or any member of your family have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this post, head on over to Amanda By Night’s Made for TV Mayhem blog and read her wonderful list of the Top 10 TV movies of the 70s... It's a sure-fire cure-all for all that ails ye!

Sunday 21 September 2008

The Strangers

A great big bag of almosts – that’s the only way I can describe The Strangers. It’s not a bad film – in fact, it’s almost a good one – but, for everything it almost gets right, there’s something so frustratingly off, you almost want to switch the damn film off.

Whoa, almost a few too many italics there.

Plot-wise, The Strangers is almost a remake of the 2006 French frightener Ils (aka Them) and is almost certainly inspired in part by Funny Games. Of these home-invasion horrors, Ils is the one that I find the most clever, disturbing and accomplished; Funny Games, whether you’re watching it in its Austrian or American incarnation, is itself a game rather than a film – and one that chastises you for playing by the rules it sets out for you. In other words, it’s a big ol’ cheat. (The Strangers also cheats, in ways we’ll come to in a minute.)

I’m actually surprised The Strangers lasted as long as it did in cinemas, since it’s the kind of movie that bad word-of-mouth should’ve killed in one week flat. That’s not to say it deserves widespread scorn, although no one leaving the screening I attended seemed very impressed, but it’s certainly no crowd-pleaser either. Au Cointreau™, it’s got a heavy, almost heady whiff of cinematic suicide about it, from the dangerously quiet opening twenty, to the equally understated and divisive ending. Now, I’m all for films that weave you carefully into their world, but The Strangers had simply lost a good portion of the audience I watched it with by the fifteen-minute mark, and even I – yes, slasher-loving, anything-forgiving I – felt myself consciously feeding it lengths of attention-span, hoping it wasn’t going to use them to hang itself anytime soon.

For countryside-dwelling couple Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, it’s with a knock at the door that things start to get nasty. Strangers in masks nasty. Strangers in masks with knives nasty. And pretty soon, they’re hiding in closets, running through the woods, twisting their ankles, and doing all manner of things you don’t expect to find yourself doing at 4 a.m. on a quiet morning in the (outer) suburbs. It’s actually quite gripping, at least until the movie’s two main methods of cheating start to grate on you:

Cheat 1: Pointless Stalking. This is another “almost” thing... The strangers here prove highly adept at almost catching our much-terrorized couple, creeping up behind them or lingering fuzzily in the background, before vanishing in the next shot. It’s all very eerie until, after the third or fourth time they do it, you start to wonder why they’re doing it, exactly. The victims aren’t usually even aware of their pursuer’s presence before they disappear again – meaning that the strangers can only really be doing it for the benefit of the audience, to provide a creepy shot for the trailer or whatever.

Care to test out the theory? Take a look at each still from the film below and guess which one represents a scene where the scary-masked stalker actually does something to the victim...

The answer... None of them! They never do anything, remember?! All in all, it’s just not fair horror.

Cheat 2: Major Doofus Moment. A doofus moment is when a character does something blatantly stupid just so the script can get them into a dangerous situation. Y’know, like when Sigourney Weaver goes back to rescue the cat in Alien. Or when she agreed to star in Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Now, I don’t actually mind a doofus moment or two if it means a Terrifying Fight For Survival or something. But what I don’t like is when a character who’s previously proven themselves quite smart (or at least highly rootable-for) goes and has a moment so doofussy, so completely out-of-character, it’s equivalent to them turning to the camera and giving you the finger for allowing yourself to believe in them in the first place.

Thanks to the script, Liv Tyler has a majorly mood-breaking doofus moment about halfway through The Strangers. After successfully evading the attackers for most of Act 2, she apparently decides that the best course of action is to wait for her boyfriend on the porch while he goes off for help. Yes, she’ll just have a little sit down, thank you very much. All that running and hiding was a bit tiring. Okay, we know that the strangers have already been in the house, thus compromising its security as someone in 24 might say, but still... anything’s better than sitting on the fucking porch! Doofus!

This is all doubly annoying (perhaps even three times as annoying – yes, that’s 300% more annoying, statistically speaking) because I actually thought Liv Tyler rocked this movie, creating a character who’s not entirely likeable but whom you’re still entirely able to root for – almost like a real person, rather than a standard woman in peril.

So there we have it, anyway: proof that writing good characters, allowing a story to build naturally, and not being a remake does not always constitute a recipe for success. I sincerely hope that the next movie I see is a “reimagining” of Suspiria starring Miley Cyrus. It’s a dead cert. Almost.

Rating: 2/5

Monday 15 September 2008

Boring DVD menus

I’m currently going around telling everyone I know that I’m just so into BDSM at the moment... which, as I’m sure they all realise, is short for “Boring DVD Screen Menus”.

The dawn of DVD ushered in a whole new era for home video viewers, where your purchase doesn’t just come with some boring old movie on it, but also all kinds of thrilling special features – from directors’ commentaries and deleted scenes to lists of stars’ previous sexual partners (yeah, thanks a lot, Seann William Blabbermouth). But one special feature rises above all others in its featured specialness. I’m talking about the Interactive Menu, second only to Chapter Selection as the one extra that gives me the biggest bonus-content boner.

But sometimes good bonusesesses extras go bad. And that’s when you get... Dun-dun-DUH!! Boring DVD Menus...

Wednesday 10 September 2008

The Seduction

I know, I know... How can I call this blog Anchorwoman In Peril! and not include a review of the 1982 Morgan Fairchild masterpiece The Seduction? That’s like having a birthday cake without any candles on top... Sure, it’s sweet, it’s tasty and it fills you up, but where’s the sense of occasion? It’s just a vanilla sponge. And look, you’ve not even iced it properly! Can’t you get anything right?

I forgive you, anyway. This time. And, as a gesture of goodwill, here’s that long-overdue review of The Seduction, the queen of Anchorwoman In Peril movies and, um, bastard child of the slasher and erotica genres.

The first five minutes of The Seduction aren’t so much a blast from the past as they are a 15 megaton explosion of early-eighties kitsch. The music, the hair, the nails, even that typeface used for the opening credits... It’s like being raped by 1982. In the eyes. And the purpose behind all this malarkey? A few hazy Morgan Fairchild beaver-shots.

Now, don’t get me wrong; that may be your thing. And if it is, lucky you, because The Seduction isn’t just about telling a decent story, it’s about showing Morgan Fairchild in as many swimming pools, hot tubs and saunas as humanly possible. Seriously, she spends more time in the water in this film than the shark does in Jaws – and, by the end of it, even my skin was starting to go wrinkly.

Which isn’t to say that The Seduction doesn’t also tell a decent story. Fairchild stars as Jaime Douglas, the smokin’ hot anchorwoman of the Six O’Clock News on Channel Six. When she’s not busy reporting on a recent spate of local “Sweetheart Murders”, Jaime can most likely be found sharing a bath with her rather mismatched older boyfriend, Brandon (Michael Sarrazin). But it seems she’s also getting some attention of the unwanted kind – in the shape of a young fan called Derek (Andrew Stevens), who’s much more her own age but, sigh, also a psychotic stalker.

After Derek breaks into her home, frenziedly snapping photos of her whilst slapping her about with cries of “wet your lips!”, Jaime approaches Brandon’s cop buddy Captain Maxwell (Vince Edwards) for help. Surprisingly, however, Maxwell is adamant that, “as far as the law’s concerned, this guy really hasn’t committed a crime” (remind me not to move to Hollywood), and Jaime’s left with no option but to buy a gun, lock her doors, and hope that Michael Moore doesn’t decide to make a documentary about celebrity firearm-owners.

Cue one of the movie’s biggest cheat sequences wherein, following a ten-minute sequence of Jaime soaping her thighs in the tub (while creepy Derek spies on her from the closet) the telephone rings. But – oh, sweet mother of Dale Midkiff – there’s no one on the line! Now, by this point, we’ve become accustomed to Jaime receiving strange calls but, since her stalker is clearly hiding nearby, we’re left wondering who placed this mysterious call. Does she have two stalkers? Does Derek have an early mobile phone that he uses to play the old “the calls are coming from inside the house” trick? Or is it all perhaps just another excuse to show Jaime wrapping herself provocatively in a towel?

No matter, because we’re heading towards The Seduction’s Live-On-Air Wig-Out scene. As fans of Anchorwoman In Peril movies will know, the heroine’s On-Air Wig-Out is the staple component of the genre, and this one’s a corker: Derek manages to sneak into the studio one evening and add a little page of his own to the Six O'Clock Report’s autocue script, resulting in Jaime reading out the words “Jaime, I’m watching you” in the middle of a report, before breaking down and whimpering, “He’s gonna kill me... Please help me... Please!”

Sadly, other than authorizing some time off work, no one really does do anything to help her, and it’s up to Jaime to sort things out for herself in a climax that involves the aforementioned shotgun and Jaime’s own top-secret weapon – her smouldering sexuality (or is that two weapons?). It’s in this last real that The Seduction finally bubbles over from tolerable pot-boiler to Fairchild-femme-fatale fever-pitch, bringing together all its subplots to a neat conclusion that neither cops out nor runs out of steam.

All the film really needs is a body count. Lord knows, there are enough peripheral characters to support a spot of pruning – from Jaime’s gay assistant (Kevin Brophy) to her best friend (Colleen Camp) – but the lack of nastiness detracts from the sense that Derek is actually dangerous. As a result, The Seduction never quite makes that step up from TV-movie level (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) to full-on shocker – a move that would have nudged it into the realm of the previous year’s Lauren Bacall vehicle, The Fan, which also concerned the then-hot topic of celebrity stalkers but thankfully required less nudity from its aging star.

Despite this flaw, your Anchorwoman In Peril education is NOT COMPLETE if you haven’t yet experienced The Seduction and its retro-fitted fabulousness. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and report directly to Morgan Fairchild’s hot tub.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday 6 September 2008

No dice

Amanda By Night has a great article up at Horror Yearbook called Slasher Movies That Aren’t Really Slasher Movies At All but Totally Feel Like Slashers Because of All the Slashing (although I think she may have come up with a snappier title). It’s all wonderfully helpful stuff for genre fans looking for new leads after running out of actual slashers to watch, and I highly recommend you read it, but it also got me thinking about some so-called slasher movies that really aren’t slashers full-stop. You know, the ones people often cite as slashers but which, when you watch them, just don’t cut it (no pun intended) for whatever reason. Here are a few of the main offenders...

When a Stranger Calls (1979) – Everyone remembers the classic, Scream-inspiring opening scene of this creepy thriller, just as everyone tends to forget that most of the rest of it is a grubby-looking urban character study. Wash your hands after watching, and perhaps try the 2006 remake, which basically stretches out the original’s first twenty minutes to feature-length.

Halloween III (1982) – Despite being made at the height of the slasher boom, Halloween III managed to be nothing whatsoever to do with parts 1 and 2 – and nothing to do with slashers. In fact, it leaned more towards Body Snatchers-type territory, mixing in deadly masks, ancient witchcraft and killer robots. It was also a pile of crap, so part 4 thankfully returned to the more reliable Michael Myers formula.

Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) – Another third part of a slasher series that’s not actually a slasher at all. Cross Final Destination with Prom Night II and you get lots of elaborate deaths but too much supernatural stuff – not to mention a lack of a real killer – for this to qualify as a genuine slasher.

The Majorettes (1986) – A borderline case, The Majorettes certainly starts off as a slasher movie but, just when it should be getting good, does something rather drastic to its final girl and becomes a vigilante-revenge movie instead.

American Psycho (2000) – As far as most critics seem to be concerned, anything that features a chainsaw-wielding chase scene has to be a slasher. But Mary Harron’s take on Bret Easton Ellis’s shock-classic novel instead offers 80s satire, character comedy, and a distinct sense of restraint when it comes to the red stuff.

April Fool’s Day (1986) – If you don’t already know why this one isn’t technically a slasher, then I’m not going to spoil it for you. What it is, however, is a fantastic comedy-thriller and all-round enjoyable film – which certainly can’t be said of the dire recent remake.

Cry_Wolf (2005) – This tame, college-set offering doesn’t make the cut for similar reasons as the aforementioned April Fool’s Day, but at least it entertains, while also using a few slasher movie trappings effectively.

Death Proof (2007) – Just what was Quentin Tarantino whittering on about when he described his half of Grindhouse as a slasher movie? Yes, it’s cheap-looking, sleazy and features a car-load of ill-fated teens, but the stuff of slashers it ain’t.

Thursday 4 September 2008

The Baldwin connection

Oh PLEEZE! Just when you think you’ve got something cleared up, back it comes again, bringing with it that familiar irritation, that burning sensation...

Yes, I’m talking about the burning desire to uncover the truth behind yesterday’s irritating movie, Trilogy of Murder.

If you’ll remember, the film isn’t listed on the Internet Movie Database, the reason being that it’s not a proper film at all, but rather a compilation of episodes from a Russian TV cop show that starred, among others, Karen Black, Erik Estrada and Gary Busey. One person it didn’t star, however, was Daniel Baldwin. And I should know because I sat through it, and I’m very sensitive to Baldwins. So what, then, is Danny-boy doing on the DVD cover of this Asian release?

Oh, Trilogy of Murder, still you continue to vex me, though you’re hardly worth the effort. So let’s turn our attentions instead to the upcoming would-be wonders of Shark in Venice, which definitely does star a Baldwin – Stephen, to be precise – and is set for release on DVD in the UK on 6 October:

Were my pants this wet when I sat down?

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Trilogy of Murder

Don’t you just hate it when the new Karen Black movie you’ve bought turns out to be a compilation of clips from a Russian TV cop show? Or when the Russian TV cop show you’ve settled down to watch turns out to be a Karen Black movie? Or when the cop you’ve called turns out to be Karen Black in a rush? Or when—

Hang on, I’ve forgotten the point I was making, but it’s no wonder I’m confused. Trilogy of Murder, whose DVD cover promised a thrilling, three-part follow-up to Karen Black’s classic TV movie, Trilogy of Terror, turns out to be something else entirely... Something cobbled together from bits of an old TV show called Russkie v Gorode Angelov – or, to translate that into English, Russians in the City of Angels.

And Karen’s barely in it! More on that later, when I launch into a thrilling, three-part discussion of Trilogy of Murder but, for now, let’s marvel at the fact that the cast of Russians in the City of Angels also included, at various points during its twelve-episode run, Eric Roberts, Sean Young, Erik Estrada and Gary Busey. Why none of these managed to make it into Trilogy of Murder I can’t fathom, although the Roberts and Estrada episodes were merged into movie called Border Blues. The upshot of all this is that there’s still seven episodes yet to be shoehorned into cheapo compilation movies, at least one of which I’ll no doubt unsuspectingly purchase under the impression I’m onto an undiscovered sequel to the Sean Young classic, A Kiss Before Dying. *Sigh*

The evil mastermind behind this whole, er, crappy-movie-market-saturating masterplan is one Rodion Nahapetov, who not only created the original Russian TV show but also takes writing and directing credit for Trilogy of Murder, plays the film’s main character, and also contributed the heart-wrenching song that plays over the closing credits. Join in if you know the words: Loneliness is gone, tomorrow is our song, my heart is singing for all it knows...

My own heart sank when Trilogy of Murder opened with a dizzying montage of cheesy clips from Russians in the City of Angels (some of which, in retrospect, may possibly have featured Erik Estrada, I’m not sure). A voiceover introduces our hero, Andrei Somov, a former police officer and “expert in Russian crime” now working for the LAPD. He has two crime-busting buddies called Sommers (played by Lane Davies of Santa Barbara) and McMillan (Pat Battistini), and this Unlikely Trio® will be our friends for the next 98 minutes. This is where the vodka comes in handy.

But hold that thought and put down that bottle! It’s time for Trilogy of Murder: Part One – or, to give it its proper title, Case #741b3: The Ring. Bet you didn’t know that’s how they label their files down at the LAPD, did you? Fun and educational, that’s me. Anyhowzers, the only way I can really describe what it’s like to sit through “The Ring” is by asking you to imagine switching on an episode of CSI halfway through, then somehow managing to watch the remainder backwards and in Russian. Oh, and I forgot to mention that you also have a hangover. And the picture’s fuzzy.

“The Ring” appears to tell the story of a murdered schoolgirl and some missing jewellery, although it doesn’t help that it’s told in flashback – which, since we’re already within an anthology movie, technically counts as a flashback-within-a-flashback within a crappy film edited from random episodes of a TV show. I don’t know... I found it all a bit hard to follow, but I did enjoy the scene where a man wearing an apron emblazoned with a giant Russian doll offers the opinion: “I love my potatoes over-fried and well-salted”. You just don’t get much more Russian than that. The ending’s a bit of a disappointment, though: I’m sure real life is full of cases where the guilty parties escape justice, but to have them suddenly emigrate to Russia while the cops on the case all head down to the bar is a little inconclusive in my book.

Time for Case #113c2: The Stalker, my favourite of the three tales. Why? Because it’s an Anchorwoman In Peril story – not a particularly great one, I admit, but I’m a pushover for anything involving glamorous TV news ladies pursued by psychotic stalkers.

That’s what’s happening to anchorwoman Nadejda Petrovskava, who works at LA’s smallest – and I suspect only – Russian TV station. Nadejda presents a segment called “Sunny Days”, which counterbalances all that depressing Russian news with some light-hearted human interest stuff. Or, at least, it would be light-hearted if poor Nadejda weren’t being terrorized by the aforementioned stalker, who’s making her life a misery by doing such horrible things as leaving bunches of flowers on her dressing table. The rest of the plot is pure AIP melodrama, but I loved the scene where the TV studio is unexpectedly plunged in darkness and a terrified Nadejda picks up her cell phone and calls the operator(!).

After “The Stalker” is apprehended (there’s no escape to the motherland for this sicko) it’s time for Trilogy of Murder: Part the Third, entitled Case #332 (int’l): The Surgery. You see, where the international cases are concerned, the LAPD are only up to case number 332, and don’t have to use any letters or anything. (Keep on learning there – you never know when you might need this stuff.)

We begin with a Shock Cut to Karen Black. Yes, THE Karen Black! She IS in it, after all. And when I say “Shock Cut”, I mean SHOCK CUT! It’s like something out of Gremlins 2:

Karen’s slap-bang in the middle of a song which, judging by the lyrics, was also written by Rodion Nahapetov, and goes: “Love is for meee and love is for youuuuuu... and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and YOU!”

Cue much confused but polite applause and, assuming this isn’t an extract from one of Karen Black’s drunken home videos, she’s playing Detective Sommers’ wife, who’s angry at being stood up at her own anniversary party and threatening to file for divorce. Somov manages to cheer her up by suggesting a holiday – to world-renowned capital of fun, Moscow – and so it’s time for a quick montage of our three detectives (plus Karen) laughing and giggling and walking past the Kremlin, having a wonderful time. Oh, almost forgot, there’s also a crime to solve, this time involving arson, insurance fraud, and a little girl who needs a life-saving operation.

So there you go... Trilogy of Murder. It’s not really a trilogy, it’s not related to Trilogy of Terror, and it’s not very good. Don’t watch it if you’re a fan of anthology movies because chopping up TV episodes and sticking them together does not an anthology movie make. And don’t watch it if you’re a fan of Karen Black, either, because she’s only in it for a minute and a half. In fact, I can’t really think of a reason why anyone would want to watch it. That’ll teach me for rummaging round in the bargain bin at Tesco. Pass the over-fried potatoes, please.

Rating: 2/5