Friday, June 3, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Listen to Me Very Carefully, My Friend

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.

Jay is in heavy pre-production on a movie, which we'll hopefully have updates on soon, so Cody is riding solo again. This week, he talks up X-Men: First Class and pays tribute to indie filmmaker Terry Lofton.


This prequel to the X-Men film franchise takes us back to 1962, when Charles Xavier is a twenty-four year old just earning the title of Professor, hanging out in bars and hitting on chicks with compliments on their "groovy mutations".

Meanwhile, Erik Lensheer, who will go on to be known as Magneto, is a man on a mission - a mission to track down and kill escaped Nazis, in particular fellow mutant Sebastian Shaw, the man who terrorized young Erik in Auschwitz in effort to get him to use his metal-manipulating powers, even killing Erik's mother in the process.

Back in late 2004, Sheldon Turner was hired to write X-Men Origins: Magneto, which would have been a film entirely about Erik's Nazi hunt. The solo Magneto project was shelved when Bryan Singer signed on to produce a film about the forming of the first class of X-Men. Since elements of his script were melded into this one, Turner gets a "story by" credit.

The formation of the X-Men begins when C.I.A. agent Moira MacTaggert stumbles upon an evil plan being crafted by Sebastian Shaw and his villainous cohorts. Shaw is manipulating the locations of American and Russian nuclear missiles, trying to orchestrate World War III, his idea being to eradicate the human race, leaving mutants the dominate species. After witnessing mutant powers in use, MacTaggert seeks out an expert on mutants - leading her to Professor Xavier. What better way to fight evil mutants than with good mutants?

Teams are assembled and things build up to a confrontation between heroes and villains right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This is a really good, fun comic book popcorn flick. The cast is great, James McAvoy is a very likeable young Professor, Michael Fassbender is awesome as Erik/Magneto, and Jennifer Lawrence puts in a good performance as Raven/Mystique. The first team of X-Men - which, in addition to those mentioned, includes Beast, Banshee, Havoc, Angel, and Darwin - are an enjoyable group to watch. There's also a fantastic cameo during the assemblage of the team. There are some continuity issues with other films in the series, but that's something I can let slide, especially since this is a big step up from the last couple X films.

Now, from one story about school kids and the threat of imminent nuclear attack to another, one actually filmed during the height of Cold War tensions -


On a regular day at an average elementary school in small town America, the Air Raid Warning System begins to buzz, the yellow light flashing. The yellow light means "nuclear attack within one hour".

Unable to find out for sure whether the warning is accurate or not, the teachers follow protocol and begin walking the children back to their homes.

What follows is a story of paranoia, fear, contemplation of death, and how different people react to the situation. Some characters freak out. Some go to their basements, drop to their knees and pray. Some totally disregard the news. One boy who doesn't live within walking distance has to stay at school with the remaining staff members. One girl's only concept of death is what it was like when her canary died. A group of kids whose parents aren't home yet gather in one's bomb shelter and almost instantly start arguing over shelter etiquette. When they deny access to a girl, she's left to fend for herself, with tragic results. Still, the question remains - was the alert real or a mistake?


"I tell you what, if this ain't one hell of a horror movie, it's one hell of a biker revenge. Or something from a motorcycle gang. Lookit that, buddy."

I wish my viewing of this film this week had been under better circumstances. Unfortunately, this viewing was a tributary one, as I had just found out via Twitter that Terry Lofton, the writer/director of Nail Gun Massacre, passed away in March at the too young age of 48.

Lofton got interested in making his own films after a trip to California landed him a job with the Warner Bros. marketing department, driving the Dukes of Hazzard General Lee around to car shows. After working there for a couple years, he bought a bankrupt film company, getting their cameras and other equipment in the deal. The idea for Nail Gun Massacre came when he was visiting some friends at a pallet shop and witnessed them having a nail gun fight.

The film begins with the brutal attack of a young woman at a construction site in a small Texas town. Soon after, a killer begins cruising around town in a gold-colored hearse. Wearing camo overalls and a duct taped motorcycle helmet, equipped with a voice changer to keep their gender a mystery and wielding a nail gun with a portable air tank, the wisecracking killer targets not only the perpetrators of the attack but anyone who crosses their path, from horror-standard amorous couples to an unlucky hitchhiker.

Lofton started the film with an eighty page script in place, but money issues and scheduling and crew problems soon led to the script being cut down to twenty-five or thirty pages, leaving the local actors to do a lot of ad libbing. One of the actors with a small part is Lofton's grandmother, who was put in front of the camera to play a shopkeeper when the actor cast didn't show up. She's awesome and adorable. Lofton himself also has a great cameo as a trucker who discovers the hitchhiker's body.

The movie is goofy fun. Realizing during filming that their results wouldn't be taken seriously as a horror film, Lofton amped up the silliness, and it is quite enjoyable. A lot of its charm comes from its cheap feel and small Southern town atmosphere. So regardless of the problems, Lofton, who was only in his early twenties at the time, got an entertaining movie made and distributed in the flourishing VHS market. It became a cult hit among horror fans, one I heard and read about for years before I was finally able to see it on DVD, and it endures in horror circles more than twenty-five years later.

Hats off to Terry Lofton. R.I.P.

"Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitos and the killers?"

No comments:

Post a Comment