Friday, June 8, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Forget the Hearse 'Cause I Never Die

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.


The wronged seek vengeance, Carpenter creates another stalker, Whoopi fights crime, and babysitters get massacred.


REVENGE (2017) 

Writer/director Coralie Fargeat's may not have a title that stands out from the pack and its rape revenge story may be another version of a scenario we've seen play out many times before, but Fargeat and cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert present the familiar story with so much style that this generically titled thriller does stand out as a fantastic feature debut for Fargeat.

The film centers on Matilda Lutz as Jen, a young woman who dreams of achieving fortune and fame in Los Angeles but is currently the mistress of a wealthy French businessman named Richard (Kevin Janssens), who has flown her to his secluded vacation home somewhere in the Moroccan desert. Jen and Richard are supposed to have some alone time there, then Jen will leave before Richard's buddies Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchede) arrive to do some hunting. Unfortunately, Stan and Dimitri show up a day early, and that's when everything falls apart.

Stan covets his friend's mistress and ends up raping Jen while Richard is out. When Richard returns, he's more interested in keeping himself and his friends out of trouble than he is in helping the woman he's being having an extramarital affair with. Richard is so determined to make this problem disappear that he pushes Jen off a cliff.

Jen doesn't die. She does some self-medicating and some self-surgery to take care of her wounds, and when Richard and his pals come hunting for her, she turns the tables and goes hunting for them instead.

Fargeat brings the story of Jen's survival and revenge to the screen in such a bloody and violent fashion that Revenge recalls the "New French Extremity" films of the previous decade, movies like Inside, Haute Tension, Irreversible, etc. (Thankfully the rape scene isn't as graphic as Irreversible's.) Revenge is soaked in blood and has sights that will make the average viewer cringe.


It's also a dazzling film to look at, from the colors to the locations (which bring to mind "New French Extremity" director Alexandre Aja's remake of The Hills Have Eyes, since it was also shot in the Moroccan desert), and these visuals are accompanied by a great synth score by Robin Coudert Rob.

While Fargeat and the crew have done impressive work here, the story is carried on the shoulders of Lutz, who is also quite impressive here. Jen starts off a typical party girl and becomes a badass action hero, a female Rambo lugging a large gun while coated in blood and wearing only her underwear. Lutz does a hell of a job playing a half-crazed killing machine.

If you're into bloody tales of revenge, Revenge is definitely one to check out. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and now I'm anxiously looking forward to seeing what Fargeat will do next.



DEATH WISH (2018)

To say the least, the remake of the 1974 vigilante classic Death Wish was not a film I was looking forward to; and this is despite the fact that it was directed by Cabin Fever and Hostel's Eli Roth, working from a screenplay by Smokin' Aces / The Grey filmmaker Joe Carnahan (although Carnahan has said that the script changed so much by other writers on the way to the screen that his actual draft could still be shot as its own separate movie).

I just didn't want to see a modern take on Death Wish to begin with, but the most off-putting thing about the remake was its star. Bruce Willis. An actor who has had a lifeless screen presence in most of the films he's made over the last decade. Willis was set to star at the demand of the studio - in fact, Carnahan had been attached to direct the film, but dropped off the project when Willis was forced on him. You're going to replace the great Charles Bronson in the role of Paul Kersey with an actor who has become a shell of his former self? Shame, MGM.

But I recently got around to watching Death Wish 2018, and to my surprise it wasn't terrible. Sure, Willis is pretty much sleepwalking through the movie like he tends to do these days, but this time around it doesn't really matter that much. He's not letting down the material, he's definitely not elevating it, he's just making his way through it.


For the remake, the setting was moved from New York to Chicago, which makes sense given Chicago's current crime rates, and Kersey's occupation was changed from architect to a trauma surgeon. That was an interesting move, because that means Kersey working at the hospital when his wife and daughter are rushed in, having been injured in a home invasion situation. Kersey's wife dies, his teenage daughter lapses into a coma, and this man who has dedicated his life to saving the lives of others decides to pick up a gun for the first time and start taking lives, cleaning up the streets of Chicago.


This has none of the weight of its predecessor, it's more along the lines of the original Death Wish's four sequels. While side characters debate whether or not it's right for a citizen to take the law into their own hands, the violent vengeance perpetrated by Kersey is shown with the intention of making the viewer ooh and ahh. This is just a crowd pleasing action flick with moments featuring deus ex bowling ball and a gory head smash. Unlike in the '74 film, Kersey actually gets revenge on the people who hurt his family, and we're meant to root for him every step of the way.

Death Wish '18 has its oddities (the character of Paul's brother, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, being a major one) and it certainly could have been a better movie and could have had a better star, but as it is it's a decent time waster. It turned out better than I expected it to be.



SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME! (1978)

Director John Carpenter's horror classic Halloween was, appropriately, released into theatres in late October, 1978. If a moviegoer caught Halloween early in its run and was left wanting to see another Carpenter movie about a woman being randomly targeted by a stalker, they only had to wait one month. Late November 1978 saw the NBC premiere of a TV movie Carpenter wrote and directed called Someone's Watching Me! (which was shot before Halloween).

Someone's Watching Me! stars Lauren Hutton as Leigh Michaels, a director of live television news reports who has just moved into a hi-tech (there are computers involved!) high rise in Los Angeles. The first time Leigh steps out onto her balcony to enjoy the view of the city, she becomes the view of someone else: a mysterious man who spots her through his telescope and becomes instantly fixated on her.

This isn't the first time this guy has done such a thing; the movie begins with audio of the stalker toying with his previous fixation over the phone. Soon enough he's making strange phone calls to Leigh as well, following her around town, and sending her mail (signed D.G. Hill - a nod to Halloween producer/co-writer Debra Hill, I'm guessing) that's meant to look like it's coming from a company that's offering to send her on a six month European vacation. So even though this movie and Halloween both deal with stalkers, the stalkers in them take a very different approach to the way they creep. Halloween's Michael Myers was silent and slow, this guy is talkative and quick - if he happens to still be inside Leigh's apartment when she gets home from work, you'll see him run out of there really quick in the background while an oblivious Leigh is in the foreground.

The stalker might be crazy, but Leigh isn't the most together person herself. Known to exhibit "wacky" behavior, she has a tendency to make up stories and say odd things when she's talking to people. When she's working on picking up a guy named Paul (David Birney) in a bar, one of the first things she does is knock on his leg. She explains herself: she has a fear of being raped by dwarves and wanted to make sure he wasn't on stilts hidden under his pants.


There are some good moments of suspense in here, but for the most part this movie is lacking in tension. It's tough to be afraid for Leight's well-being in a lot of the scenes when we know the stalker is in some building off in the distance, watching her through his telescope. Halloween put viewers on edge because we knew that Michael Myers was always lurking just off screen, but we know this guy isn't going to come lunging out at her at any second.

By the end, Leigh and the stalker do get very close to each other, because that's what has to happen for the climax.

Clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, Someone's Watching Me! is a middle of the road film - not bad, but it's easy to understand why it hasn't enjoyed an enduring popularity like several of Carpenter's other movies have. It holds your attention while it's on, but it's not likely to linger in your mind.

The most notable thing about the film is the presence of Carpenter regulars in the cast. This movie is where the director first met his future wife / future mother of his child / future ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau, whose character works with Leigh, and Charles Cyphers, who played the ineffectual Sheriff Leigh Brackett in Halloween, is in here as ineffectual police officer Gary Hunt. Gary Hunt is a name Carpenter would re-use when writing Halloween II a few years later.



FATAL BEAUTY (1987)

Between making the horror classics Fright Night and Child's Play, director Tom Holland took the helm of the fun action comedy Fatal Beauty, a film that was pretty obviously made to cash in on the success of Beverly Hills Cop a few years earlier. Reaching theatres the same year as Beverly Hills Cop II, it even boasts a score by Harold Faltermeyer, the composer who gave Beverly Hills Cop's Axel Foley his iconic theme.

Instead of comedian Eddie Murphy, this one has comedienne Whoopi Goldberg in the lead, and in her introductory scene as police officer character Rita Rizzoli she acts in a way that's reminiscent of the way Murphy played Axel Foley, cursing out a bartender played by Cheech Marin while undercover. In general, Rizzoli is a much more low-key and dramatic character than that, even if she drives around in an attention-grabbing, rickety pink convertible.


Some ambitious criminals, one of whom is played by Brad Dourif (who Holland would turn into Chucky the killer doll the following year) and another being a guy who can intimidate others by chewing glass with a smile on his face, find themselves in over their heads and get Rizzoli on their trail when they murder a drug dealer and his employees so they can steal the cocaine they had on hand - some of which happens to be a lethal combination of coke and PCP, living up to the brand's name of "Fatal Beauty".

With the help of the great Ruben Blades as hapless fellow narcotics officer Carl Jimenez, Rizzoli is quickly able to deduce that the mastermind behind Fatal Beauty is the wealthy and powerful Conrad Kroll (Harris Yulin). Kroll runs a construction company as a front and has bought himself some politicians, so her superiors aren't too pleased that Rizzoli is accusing him of being a criminal.

So Rizzoli has to deal with Kroll on one side and the homicidal upstarts on the other, and to add more complications to her life she forms a shaky alliance with Kroll's bodyguard Mike Marshak. Since Marshak is brought to life by Sam Elliott and his mustache, it's easy to understand when he becomes a love interest for her as well.


The film was written by Hilary Henkin and Dean Riesner (working from a story by Bill Svanoe), a pair who had credits on Road House, Coogan's Bluff, Play Misty for Me, Dirty Harry, and The Enforcer between them, so it's no surprise that this is a solid action flick that keeps Rizzoli busy following leads and participating in shootouts. The comedy aspect isn't as strong as you might expect, the sight of Whoopi Goldberg putting on different wigs for different situations doesn't really tickle my funny bone, but the movie works well enough without relying on laughs.

At one point, Fatal Beauty was going to have an even stronger Dirty Harry connection, as Dirty Harry / Magnum Force writer John Milius was set to write and direct the film, with Cher as Rizzoli. Holland, known as a "master of horror", was trying to broaden the horizons of his career when he replaced Milius in the director's chair, and while he feels that the film was a failure, I think he made Fatal Beauty into an interesting thriller.



BABYSITTER MASSACRE (2013) Limited Edition DVD/Blu-ray Combo

It's a bad day to be a babysitter, but a great day to be a horror fan. Not only did today see the release of the trailer for Blumhouse Productions' upcoming Halloween sequel (you can see that trailer HERE), in which we'll see former babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) having a rematch with iconic slasher Michael Myers forty years after their first encounter, but just a couple hours later indie filmmaker Henrique Couto announced that his 2013 film Babysitter Massacre will be getting a limited special edition DVD/Blu-ray combo release next Tuesday.

A slasher movie set on Halloween, Babysitter Massacre is fun throwback that I recommended to fans of the slashers of the '80s and early '90s (especially ones like The Slumber Party Massacre and Sorority House Massacre 2) when I wrote about it a few years ago. It had been out of print, but now it's coming back, and this will be the first time it has been available on Blu-ray.

If you want to pick up a copy you'll have to do so quickly, though. This release is indeed very limited - there are only 100 copies available, and they're going for just $20.

The release features reversible artwork, and the copies will be numbered and signed by members of the cast and crew. The extras on the discs include audio commentary, a behind the scenes featurette, deleted scenes, outtakes and bloopers, and more.

If you'd like to order a copy, you can do so RIGHT HERE.

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