Texas, California, Europe, things are strange all over.
KILLER JOE (2011)
From The Exorcist director William Friedkin and playwright Tracy Letts, who previously collaborated on the whacked out 2006 film Bug, comes this country fried thriller about a murder plot that goes wrong because it was concocted by a bunch of psychos and idiots.
The plot starts with a moronic young man named Chris, a dope dealer who has gotten in deep trouble with a loan shark. Trouble so deep that the loan shark threatens to wrap him in tape and bury him alive. Chris owes $6000, and the solution he comes up with is to hire a hitman to remove a member from his very dysfunctional family - his mother. If his mother dies, her life insurance policy will pay out $50,000 to a sole beneficiary: Chris's beloved, virginal younger sister Dottie.
Dottie, Chris's dad Ansel, and Ansel's second wife Sharla all come on board the plan with little to no hesitation.
The hitman they hire is a detective who kills people in his free time, Joe Cooper. Killer Joe's fee is $25,000, which the four conspirators plan to pay with the life insurance money before splitting the other $25,000 amongst themselves.
The plan almost gets tossed aside immediately when Joe expects to get paid up front. That's not possible. He nearly walks out... but he gets some kind of twisted, perverse thrill out of Dottie's extremely naive, oddball innocence. Dottie claims that her mother tried to kill her when she was an infant, and her behavior sort of leads one to wonder if she might be suffering from some long term damage. Whatever causes her to act the way she does, Joe finds it to be a major turn-on.
So Chris and Ansel essentially pimp out Dottie to Joe so he'll go through with the murder... Things just continue to fall apart more and more and get weirder and darker from there.
Killer Joe is quite a strange movie, as you would expect from the people who made Bug, an unnerving film buried in trash and filth, carried on the shoulders of detestable and/or baffling characters. That may sound negative, but it's exceptionally well made, beautifully shot by Caleb Deschanel, and has a great cast.
Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon do well in the roles of Chris, Ansel, and Sharla, but the performers who truly own the film are Juno Temple as Dottie and Matthew McConaughey as Killer Joe.
I've been a fan of McConaughey's for over twenty years, ever since first seeing him in Dazed and Confused. I've always known the guy was awesome, even when his career took a detour through rom-coms that I wasn't keen on following. Recently, he's been going through a sort of renaissance, living up to the potential he's always had, and Killer Joe was one of the films at the start of it. The character is a total scumbag, but McConaughey does a fantastic job bringing him to the screen.
I have to mention... at one point Joe threatens to cut off someone's face and wear it over his own. As soon as McConaughey spoke that line, my mind was flooded with flashbacks to an early entry on his filmography, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. He must have learned that behavior from Leatherface.
Killer Joe is a movie that different viewers will have very different reactions to, but it's a film that will definitely get a reaction out of you. And you'll never look at a chicken wing the same way.
THE BRIDE (1985)
Released in the 50th anniversary year of the horror classic The Bride of Frankenstein, The Bride is often referred to as a remake, but actually, although it has no real connection to the earlier Universal film, it basically starts off right where The Bride of Frankenstein ended.
The movie opens on a dark and stormy night at Castle Frankenstein. Baron Charles Frankenstein (musician Sting) has already created his patchwork corpse monster Viktor (Clancy Brown) and is working on breathing life into the form of a female monster, a mate for Viktor. The female's body is zapped with lightning, she rises from her slab, but Viktor and his bride - who is given the name Eva - don't have a good first meeting and the male monster throws a fit that causes the castle tower they're in to be destroyed. Just like the ending of The Bride of Frankenstein.
From there, Viktor roams the European countryside while Eva stays behind at Castle Frankenstein, her mind a blank slate for her creator to fill in. While Eva receives education and lives the life of a socialite, Viktor befriends Rinaldo (David Rappaport), a man with dwarfism who gets them a job working in a circus as a double act.
Things go tragically for Viktor and Eva. Viktor suffers loss, both suffer betrayal, and Eva becomes too smart for her own good - smart enough to be devastated when she realizes what she is. Frankenstein's creations share a psychic connection, and are brought back together in time for the climactic moments.
Directed by Franc Roddam from a screenplay by Lloyd Fonvielle, The Bride has a really bad rep. It's been given low viewer ratings and was nominated for Razzies at the time of its release. However, I think it's a strong horror/drama and an interesting extrapolation on The Bride of Frankenstein. All of the pieces don't quite come together perfectly, but it's an intriguing and at times heartbreaking film to watch.
The aspect of the film that shines brightest is David Rappaport's performance as Rinaldo. I really enjoyed watching his interaction with Viktor and, like Viktor does, I quickly came to love the character. If nothing else, it's Rappaport that makes The Bride a memorable film.
SATAN'S SADISTS (1969)
After working together on the spy movie/biker flick hybrid Hell's Bloody Devils, director Al Adamson and actor/assistant director Greydon Clark planned to collaborate again on a Western called The Last of the Comancheros, with Clark providing the screenplay this time as well. Unfortunately, that project crumbled when the actor attached to play the lead, Robert Taylor, was diagnosed with lung cancer and quickly succumbed to the illness. Adamson was left without a movie to make, but $50,000 of an investor's money within his grasp.
Inspired by the 1965 film The Naked Prey, which was about a group of men on safari being hunted through the African countryside by a native tribe, Clark came up with an idea for a film they could use that $50,000 to make. A movie about a biker gang hunting people through the desert, a story that could easily be filmed outside during the day. Clark wrote up the script and they went into production.
As the film begins, a group of characters converge in a diner that is located in the most isolated spot in the California desert. If you wandered out into the desert from here, it'd be hundreds of miles before you reached civilization. Among the characters are, of course, the titular biker gang, a group of rapists and murderers who are so drugged out they're barely coherent. Their leader Anchor is played by Russ Tamblyn; his biker mama Gina is played by Regina Carrol, who would go on to be married to Adamson for twenty years; other members include Clark as Acid, the biggest druggie of them all, and John "Bud" Cardos as mohawked Native American Firewater.
The bikers' antics don't go over well with their fellow patrons, and when people speak up against them, they retaliate by murdering everyone in the diner. Everyone but two - Gary Kent as Johnny Martin, a Marine who recently returned from Vietnam, and college student/waitress Tracy. Johnny and Tracy manage to escape into the desert, with the bikers in pursuit.
Adamson isn't the only one who married a Satan's Sadists cast member. Clark suggested a young woman named Jackie (she would use the screen name Jackie Taylor on this film, but later go by Jacqulin Cole more regularly) for the role of Tracy, and Adamson cast her. Clark and Jackie had been introduced by their acting coach a couple years earlier, but while Clark had a romantic interest in her, that was not reciprocated. That changed on the set of Satan's Sadists. They remained together until her death in 2003.
Filmed in eight days at the Spahn Ranch at the same time the Manson Family was living there, Satan's Sadists is simplistic by design, essentially one long chase sequence. As the bikers track Johnny and Tracy through the desert, they find some other people to torment (some girls on a camping trip), tensions among them boil over, and Johnny uses some of his militaristic survival skills against them, but that element isn't nearly as cool as it could have been. It's a great concept that could have made for an awesome movie, but the execution is kind of dull and lifeless. Adamson had a knack for shooting his movies in such a way that made them feel like that.
Satan's Sadists doesn't really provide the thrills it should, but if you're a fan of drive-in era cheapies, you can get some enjoyment out of it.