Saturday, 27 June 2009

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

I swear this is less racist in context

Fucking hippies, man. They hate our veterans, they hate our way of life and they hate our Superman. Oh, sure they preach free love and peace, but you just know that behind closed doors they are sacrificing animals to their Dark Lord Satan. Take, for example, the group in this film. They are called the SADOS (Sons and Daughters of Satan) a strangely multicultural group led by Horace Bones (Indian actor/dancer/professional-scenery-chewer Bhaskar). When the film opens they are in the middle of an (unfortunately) nude Satanic Black Mass. Horace gives a rousing, horn-throwing sermon with supposedly authentic Satanic dialog like "Satan was an acidhead" and "Pledge yourselves and together we'll... freak out!". After dropping some acid (way better than communion wafers) they sacrifice a chicken and smear it's blood all over a naked woman. Unfortunately one of the dudes invited his stupid girlfriend Sylvia and she's pretty horrified by the proceedings. She tries to run away but is captured, beaten and raped (surprisingly not shown in graphic detail).

Eventually Sylvia stumbles home to grampa and her little brother and identifies the filthy hippies as her attackers. Naturally gramps grabs his shotgun and heads out to the abandoned hotel where the hippies have holed up to administer some country-style justice. It goes about as well as you'd expect. The hippies beat him up and humiliate him but they also give him a free hit of acid, so I guess he comes up about squits. The chubby kid manages to take gramps home where he and Sylvia have a pretty hilarious discussion about "that L... whatever-it's-called". Grampa completely fails to have an psychedelic acid freak-out, although in a deleted scene he is visited by the ghosts of the boy's dead folks (offscreen). Worst trip ever.

The next morning he's moping over his breakfast, wondering what to do about these shameless ruffians (calling the police comes to mind) but it turns out that the kid has decided to take matters into his own hands. After killing a rabid dog he injects it's blood into a bunch of meat pies and sells them to the filthy hippies. Uh yeah, I'm not kidding. Seems like a pretty fucked up revenge plan, especially since it's only later that he asks his sister what rabies actually does to people. She responds: "They go crazy and die, why do you ask?". No reason, sis.

The filthy hippies messily devour the meat pies (they come in a pastry shell for a reason, you slobs) and pretty soon they've all got the taco shits, big time. The black guy is the first to succumb to the illness (of course he is), and pretty soon he's stabbed one of the other hippies to death and is chasing around the rest of them around with an axe and a severed foot. It's not long before they're all displaying typical symptoms of rabies: murderous impulses, severe overacting, and the desire to smear shaving cream on your lips.

The rabid hippies scatter and cause havoc all over town, and they were into animal sacrifice and ritual mutilation before they went crazy, so you know it's going to be some brutal shit. Horace kills a couple of hippie-hating locals, an adorable deaf-mute hippie (played by Lynn Lowrie, who was also in George Romero's similar film The Crazies) cuts off an old woman's hand with an electric carving knife and a knocked-up hippie stabs herself in the stomach to spare her baby the same horrible fate (although I think she never actually had rabies so the joke's on her). Things really start to heat up when some local construction workers pick up a slutty rabid hippie and pretty soon she finds herself the center attraction at a large-scale gangbang that infects them all with rabies (among other things, I imagine).

None of this is ever genuinely scary, of course. The minimal yet wildly inappropriate soundtrack doesn't help, which consists of (aside from some fittingly psychadelic bleeps and blorps) some wacky chase music that kicks in during tense moments. I'll spare you the spoilery details of who lives and who dies, but needless to say by the end of the film Horace Bones is gleefully waving around a paper-mache severed head. The film ends in a wholesale slaughter of the infected by the local cops. Although the film ends rather abruptly, the DVD contains an alternate "downer" ending that is far more satisfying.

This film was originally named Phobia, which makes sense, but the studios gave it the stupid name I Drink Your Blood so it could be shown as a double feature with the 1964 zombie film I Eat Your Skin (aka Voodoo). It was the first film to be given an X-rating based solely on non-sexual content and was mercilessly cut to ribbons by various censorship bodies, so naturally it has developed a cult following. It was finally released in a fully uncut version in 2003, marking the instant at which everybody lost interest in the film. It isn't particularly gory by today's standards and aside from some icky animal cruelty (what is this, an Italian cannibal film?) there isn't anything particularly shocking.

To be fair it does have it's moments of craziness and hilarity and there's an undeniable charm to the clumsiness of the dialogue ("All you care about is your damn dam!") and the hamfisted way all the characters are portrayed, from the horn-throwing Satanists to the "aw, shucks" country folk. In the end, though, like SADOS itself, this is a cult following that is largely undeserved.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Against the Dark (2007)

I wonder how many cows had to die to make
Seagal that leather jacket?

Seagal is... Against the Dark. And by "dark" they mean vampires. Yes, that's right: Seagal vs vampires. Kind of sells itself doesn't it? However, it's not the first time Seagal has attempted to dip his feet into the realm of the supernatural. In Attack Force and Submerged Seagal was supposed to be fighting aliens and biological mutants respectively, but whether the result of cold feet or studio meddling they pussed out and switched it over to terrorists at the last minute. This time however, the film promises Seagal versus vampires and it delivers. Sort of.

You see, these vampires are treated more like biological mutants than immortal bloodsuckers. It's more of a 28 Days Later kind of thing where it's a highly contagious virus and while the infected do drink blood they also tear people up and eat their flesh like zombies. Sometimes they are mindless zombies, other times they are smart enough to set traps or string people up and drain their blood (into an "Allergic to Mondays" mug, nice touch). Although it's repeatedly mentioned that it's more dangerous to go out at night they never explain why or even if daylight has any effect on them at all. For all we know they glitter in the sun like Twilight emo vampires. No crosses, no garlic, nothing like that. They get killed by swords and guns just like normal humans. Fuck, I don't know why they are called vampires at all, now that I think about it. They don't even have fangs, they have to file their teeth down manually.

So in this film Seagal plays Tao, leader of a group of bad-ass vampire hunters. They seem to work for the military, but they are rugged individualists so they all wear leather trenchcoats, carry swords, walk in slo-mo, etc. The sort of thing that would have been pretty awesome about ten years ago but now looks pretty cheesy. Seagal kills a few vampires here and there but his role is mainly to slur military orders and occasionally interject with some nonsense like "We're not here to decide who's right or wrong... we're here to decide who lives or dies", which makes even less sense in context. In one scene he rescues a kid who asks who he is and he replies "My name is Tao" and turns away as some rockin' guitars kick in, as if we are supposed to be blown away by his badassery. I don't know man, I don't think you've earned those guitars just yet. Maybe start with a kazoo and work your way up. The rest of his team aren't much more interesting, although there's one beefy guy named Tanoai Reed who is pretty cool. Apparently he's the Rock's stunt double so he's pretty imposing physically and he gets to jump around with some wrist blades and throw vampires around. I reckon he could have pulled off the guitars.

The problem is that we don't see Seagal and his team that much at all. Nintey percent of the time is spent with a large group of survivors who are wandering around in an abandoned hospital. They were all so uninteresting that I couldn't keep their names straight or remember what they were doing or why. Apparently they have to find the hospital exit before the generator runs out and the security doors get locked permanently, but they don't seem to be in any rush to do so. They keep getting separated and splitting up into groups for no reason. When they come across a locked door they just shrug and move on instead of finding something to bash it open. They don't even carry any weapons. Eventually they meet with Seagal and his team, but until then you are stuck watching these dipshits wandering around like a flock of fucking sheep. Protip: If a woman or a child is curled up crying in the corner with their back to you he/she is probably a vampire.

I'm struggling for things to say here because this is one of those shot-in-Romania Sci-Fi-channel-caliber movies that dissolves from your brain immediately after viewing. There was something about an evil scientist who kidnapped one of them to feed to his infected daughter I believe. He says something about her having the capacity for reason and being the next step in evolution but Seagal puts an abrupt end to that plot point by impaling her head with a sword (offscreen unfortunately). They also stuck in a few scattered pieces of I Am Legend style "we are the real monsters" introspection from both the survivors and the monsters, but they didn't go anywhere either. There's a fair bit of blood and gore if you're into that, but nothing special.

The great Keith David and Linden Ashby turn up for a day of shooting as military officers who are trying to get Seagal and his team out before they level the building in an air strike. It's never explained why this air strike is necessary and Seagal never shares screen time or interacts with them in any way so it's largely pointless. They already have a time limitation with the security doors, so all this impending air strike adds is a few minutes of padding and an utterly wasted character actor.

The proceedings are directed with a minimum of flair by first-and-likely-only-time director Richard Crudo, who was cinematographer on Pistol Whipped, Out of Reach and a bunch of other films that don't star Steven Seagal. If I had to say anything good about this film it's that I could usually see everything that was going on even though it was in darkness a lot of the time. You know, cause it's him Against the Dark. Other than that, I can't recommend anything about it. Kind of like Hasselhoff versus giant snakes, this is another one that's much better in theory than execution. I was hoping for vampires in a Seagal film but I got Seagal in a pseudo-vampire film. Oh well. At least he threw a vampire through a window.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Book Review - Twilight

Look, I know. This is for research purposes I swear. Normally I wouldn't read something like this. I prefer books about giant crabs or aging action stars. However, the phenomenon of Twilight is getting harder and harder to ignore, with friends and relatives of mine - women who are intelligent and responsible human beings - having read and loved this book. And for the straw that broke the camel's back, my wife saw a grown man reading this book on the train. Pubescent girls I can understand. I certainly had some dubious choices of reading material at that age. But grown adults? Surely this book must have some sort of Dracula-like hypnotic allure. Naturally I had to read it and find out for myself. Vampire/human star-crossed lovers, with blood-drinking as a none-too-subtle metaphor for teenage sex. Buffy pulled it off pretty well, maybe lightning can strike twice.

Bella is a teenage girl who is forced to move in with her dad in Forks, Washington (apparently the rainiest city in America) after her mother shacks up with another guy. Upon arrival at her new school, Bella finds herself the object of attention for several boys. This comes at a surprise to her and especially me, since Bella is one of the most vapid characters ever committed to the printed page. She is immediately transfixed by a group of aloof, beautiful teens, the Cullens. In the real world they'd probably be the most popular kids in school, but in the Twilight-verse, this makes them social outcasts. She is particularly attracted to Edward, the most non-threatening of the group, but she is coldly rebuffed. Eventually she discovers that Edward is actually incredibly attracted to her, but he's got a few internal struggles of his own (spoiler: he's a vampire). Then, over the next couple of hundred pages, we discover what happens when an dimwitted force meets an idiotic object (spoiler: nothing).

Edward's attraction to Bella is utterly mystifying. She is not particularly beautiful, with a sucking void where her personality should be. I think she's supposed to be mildly intelligent, since there are a few references to advanced classes though they make sure she hates math so as not to alienate her from her target audience. There's certainly nothing else in the book to indicate she's above average intelligence. Her singular trait is that she is outrageously clumsy and wanders obliviously into dangerous situations, like a lemming. This is trotted out again and again so Edward can swoop in and rescue her. Bella's hobbies, interests and life goals begin and end with Edward. Everything else in her life is a background murmur. Especially her friends, whom she drops like a hot potato whenever Edward is around.

As for Edward, well, he is such a fucking pussy he makes the foppish dandies of Anne Rice novels look like Blade. Sure, Dracula seduced countless maidens, but at least he had the courtesy to rip their fucking throats out once in a while. You've probably heard that these vampires sparkle in the sun instead of bursting into flames, and I think that gives you a good idea of how castrated these poor vampires are. I kept hoping that his infatuation with Bella was all an elaborate ruse, and any moment he was going to brutally murder her. But it never happened.

He's also a psycho stalker, something common in the romance genre but here taken to new extremes. He watches her while she sleeps and spies on her phone calls. He's jealous, possessive, manipulative and condescending. Worst of all, he likes 50s and 80s music and hates the music of the 60s and 70s. Really, Edward? Really? Okay, so maybe you associate the 70s with disco, but how could anyone hate the music of the 60s, one of the most vibrantly creative periods in music history? The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. Johnny Cash. The Who. Jimi Henrix. The motherfucking Beatles. Any of these ring a bell, you glittery closet-case?

You may be wondering what a vampire is doing attending high school. Well, it's his self-imposed purgatory, his penance for becoming a monster. It's a good punishment, I can't imagine anything worse than an eternity of high school. Also, apparently the family can blend in better if the "kids" attend four years of high school before they move on to another location. This doesn't make sense on any level, but it gives him an excuse to be preying on high school chicks, like a reverse Matt McConaughey in Dazed and Confused.

There's an inherent creepiness in a guy who is, for all intents and purposes, over 100 years old and attracted to teenage girls. Sure, the book makes repeated claims that she is more mature than most girls her age, but it runs contrary to everything she thinks or does. Edward finds her fascinating because her mind is particularly hard for him to read. This has something to do with her being more introverted than her peers, but by my estimation it's because there's nothing there to read. Needless to say, Edwards glaring faults are swallowed up by Bella's all-consuming starry-eyed infatuation. It's utterly pathetic. She makes it clear that she would rather die than stay away from him. In fact, she uses exactly those words. And this is before they've even kissed. This is a really sick and twisted relationship. Edward's 107 years old, he should know better.

Then there's the Cullen household itself, where an older man sucks the blood of beautiful teenagers - and lest we forget, blood-drinking is a metaphor for sex - and then lives with them as their surrogate father. Ew. The sex metaphor gets even more hilarious when you consider that in order to stave off their hunger, they drink the blood of wild animals. Edward's favourite is bears. No comment. Naturally they all live together in a huge mansion, because Edward couldn't be a perfect dreamboat if he wasn't filthy rich.

I don't know what else to say because I'm not kidding when I say that nothing happens in this book. It's like listening to teenage girls mindlessly babble on their cell phones. How anyone can get emotionally invested with these paper cut-outs is a mystery to me. I've seen finger puppets with more characterisation. If there was a plot of any description I might be swept along for the ride, but this like watching paint dry.

I never really got into Harry Potter, but I read the first book and I could recognise that it was nicely written and a well-constructed fantasy world. But this, this is something else entirely. This book is horribly written. It's like bad fan fiction. The prose is torturous and Meyer can't write a single noun about Edward (and there are a lot) without cramming it full of adjectives. There isn't a single page that doesn't make reference to his "beautiful, ochre eyes" or his "smooth, sensuous voice". Every. Single. Fucking. Page. Jesus! We get it! He's hot! Several times the book hilariously describes his hair "gelled to perfection". When I saw the poster for the movie I thought it was pretty funny that a vampire would use half a tub of hair product every day, but apparently it's just being faithful to the text. How does he do that without a reflection?

I went into this half-expecting to like it a little in spite of myself. If anything it's galvanised my dislike of it. It's turned a mild annoyance into a full-blown hatred. Even the clumsy "forbidden fruit" metaphor on the cover makes me grit my teeth. I hope Stephanie Meyer enjoys the mountain of blood-money she's received from loosing this literary abomination on the world, and may God have mercy on her soul. If you're ever tempted to experience this book/movie for yourself (no, I haven't seen the movie but I can't imagine it being any better) just go and read/watch Let the Right One In, a Swedish vampire movie that has more genuine emotion, characterisation, atmosphere and horror in any single scene than Twilight has is it's interminable 400 pages.