Friday, January 17, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Never a Horror Like the Super-Sonic Hell Creature

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody discusses a couple movies that are Way Cool, Jr.


A widowed single mother, Mary Stewart used to spend summers at a lake house with her young son Dorchester, during which time she would continue working on crafting things for her doll-making business. In the summer of 1980, Mary and eight-year-old Dorchester were at the lake house when Mary died of a heart attack. Dorchester was unable to contact the outside world and everyone expected he and his mother to be gone all summer, so no one suspected anything was wrong until months had passed. When someone finally came to the lake house to check on Mary and Dorchester, they found that not only had Dorchester gone mad, but he had also run out of food... To survive, Dorchester had been forced to eat his mother's corpse. With newspapers referring to him as the "crazed cannibal boy", Dorchester was sent away to a mental hospital. He clung to the crinoline skirt belonging to the doll his mother was working on when she died, often even wearing the skirt on his head. Ten years later, Dorchester escaped from the hospital. He has never been seen since.

In the present day of the mid-'90s, a group of college students head out to party at a lake house that the real estate agent one of them works for part time has been unable to sell.

The circle of friends spending their school vacation time together is a very mixed bag, they don't seem like the type of people who would ever hang out. There's Derrick, the nice guy who arranged this lake house get-together; Robyn, our Birkenstock-wearing heroine who has a crush on Derrick and is hoping to get closer to him during this vacation; Cathy, Robyn's tempermental, tough-talking health nut/butch lesbian best friend; Jenny, an over-the-top Delta Pi Sigma Kappa Alpha sorority girl who talks like an '80s Valley Girl; supremely bitchy sorority pledge Trish; ridiculous rich boy Greg; roommates/sidekicks Mark and Bodhi, who wear T-shirts showing their affections for Plan 9 from Outer Space and the singer Tiffany; and quiet, history buff outsider Paul, the one who reveals the lake house's dark history by telling the others the story of Dorchester.

Though Derrick has assured the others that this lake house has been rented out before with no trouble, this group will not be so lucky. On their first full day at this remote location, a black-gloved killer wearing a crinoline skirt on their head begins knocking off this oddball assortment of characters one-by-one.

There are kills that are standard for a slasher, some fitting for the individual character, one quite disgusting, and at least one that is very unique... This is the only film I know of that features death by celery.

Crinoline Head first came to my attention in early 1997, when Fangoria issue #160 featured a "Notes from the Underground" article written by the movie's writer/director Tommy Faircloth. My interest was piqued as I read about this low budget production shot in South Carolina, the idea of a group of people getting together to shoot an '80s slasher homage captured my thirteen-year-old imagination, and the way Faircloth described his movie really made me want to see it.

I read that article over and over again, and started writing down ideas for my own indie slasher movie. Through the information given in Fangoria, my own copy of Crinoline Head on VHS was ordered, over the phone in those days before we had the internet. While we were out, Robert Hall from Faircloth's company Horse Creek Productions called about the order and left a message on our answering machine. Someone involved with making movies had called my house! I saved that message on that machine until that machine became junk.

By the end of spring 1998, with Crinoline Head as one of my sources of inspiration, I was shooting my own slasher movie with my group of friends, although I was using a VHS camcorder rather than the 16mm camera and other filmmaking equipment Faircloth had used. My movie making attempt was a total disaster, but at least I had given it a try, and Crinoline Head was a big reason why.

When I first received the movie, it wasn't quite what I had been building up in my mind, the production wasn't on the level that I had imagined, but I still found it to be entertaining. Not only was Faircloth going for an '80s slasher throwback, but he was also drawing inspiration from the movie Heathers and the work of John Waters. That is apparent in the film, and where Crinoline Head's distinctiveness really shines through is in its characters and dialogue. Some of the characters may be "types", but nowhere else have they been represented in the way they are in this film.

Crinoline Head just became available on DVD for the first time in 2013, and I received copies of it and Faircloth's second feature Generation Ax as Christmas presents. Before rewatching it this week, I hadn't seen Crinoline Head in probably over thirteen years... and yet, during those years the movie has never been far from my mind, because lines of dialogue and the unique way in which the characters deliver them have remained stuck in my head all this time.

Watching it now, this movie stands not just as an '80s homage, but also as a sort of '90s time capsule. It took me right back to my childhood, and not just because the movie had been such a big part of my viewing rotation between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, but because the style of dress, music, and even things like blankets are so clearly '90s that it was amazing.

Recently, after a long break from making feature films, Tommy Faircloth has been gearing up to make a sequel to Crinoline Head, and at the beginning of this month started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funding for this follow-up 18 years in the making. I hope the campaign goes well, I'd love to see a continuation of this story that had an impact on my teen years and spurred on my own creativity.

RODAN (1956)

In January of 1948, a Kentucky Air National Guard pilot named Thomas F. Mantell was killed while in pursuit of a UFO of tremendous size. Mantell passed out and crashed to his death after following the object to too high of an altitude.

Inspired by the thought of a jet chasing a UFO, and by the success of 1954's Gojira, Japanese writer Ken Kuronuma came up with a story that would become the first Toho Studios produced kaiju movie to be shot in color: Rodan, directed by Gojira's Ishirô Honda, the screenplay based on Kuronuma's story written by Takeshi Kimura and Gojira co-writer Takeo Murata. Honda also brought along Gojira composer Akira Ifukube to provide the music.

At first, there is no trace in the story of Kuronuma's source of inspiration. Rather than in the sky, the initial threats in the film come from deep within the earth.

It begins in a small mining village in Japan, when disaster strikes during an average work day at the coal mine. The mine floods, and the bodies of workers turn up within the shaft, their bodies slashed up by some sort of sharp object. Everyone who ventures into the mine to investigate this occurrence meets a similar fate.

The mad slasher soon reveals itself when it emerges from the mine and ventures into the village... It's not a serial killer, but a massive prehistoric insect larva called a Meganulon, which slices people apart with its deadly pincers.

The mine's head of security, Shigeru Kawamura, and other authority figures follow the Meganulon back into the mine to eliminate this creature... and find that there are many more of them below the ground. The men barely have time to process this discovery before the mine collapses in on them.

Following this event, a version of the Mantell UFO incident plays out - a UFO is spotted over Japan, flying at unbelievable speeds. An Air Force pilot pursues the object... which then circles back on him and destroys his jet, killing him. What could a supersonic UFO possibly have to do with the Meganulon?

This question is answered by Shigeru, the only survivor of the mine collapse. While trapped in the earth with the many insect larvae, Shigeru also saw in the tunnels a large egg... which, to his horror, began to hatch before his eyes. From the egg emerged a winged dinosaur... a Pteranodon... Rodan. The UFO being spotted all over the world is in fact a creature that has long been extinct.

The theory is that the Pteranodon egg was hermetically sealed in the ground by the eruption of a volcano, but that recent nuclear bomb test detonations have caused cracks in the earth, allowing air and water to reach the egg, incubating it, making it hatch.

Like Godzilla, Rodan is brought to life through the suitmation effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, with Haruo Nakajima, the most prolific Godzilla performer, inside the suit of this monster as well. Rodan goes on to wreak much havoc and destruction in the city of Fukuoka, the power of its flight, the wind generated by its flapping wings, sending people and vehicles flying through the air and causing buildings to crumble.

Rodan must be stopped... destroyed... and the armed forces of Japan set out to do just that, even if their efforts cause the eruption of the volcanic Mt. Aso, at which the prehistoric reptile roosts. And there's another surprise twist along the way.

Rodan is a highly entertaining creature feature, one that plays out like a straightforward horror movie for much of the running time. It immediately finds a place in my heart due to the fact that the Meganulon portion of the film is reminiscent of a My Bloody Valentine-esque slasher movie... what is slicing people up in this mine? Then the concept of Shigeru being trapped in an underground tunnel with a mysterious, giant egg and being forced to watch as it hatches is terrifying.

When Rodan arrives to destroy Fukuoka, it's a fun spectacle, similar to when Godzilla tears apart miniature cities, but watching this winged dinosaur causing destruction is very enjoyable in its own unique way.

1 comment:

  1. I heard of crinoline head, but I never came around seeing it after reading so many negative reviews. Yours, otherwise, convinced me to try it out.