January 9, 2019

BLOOD ORGY OF THE LEATHER GIRLS


"When the material and creative forces of women become corrupted by the brutality of the everyday world, a force of incredible violence is unleashed, it's blood lust insatiable. In this modern, enlightened, yet terrible age even religion seems powerless against the wrath of the female who is, it has been maintained, the deadlier of the species"

So says the opening narration of Michael Lucas'
BLOOD ORGY OF THE LEATHER GIRLS, a 1988 shot-on-video catastrophe that has been largely (and thankfully) forgotten by all but the Trash Cinema faithful. It tells the sordid tale of four 20-something high school girls - dimwitted Fleabrain, pretty blonde Dorothea, sadistic virgin Rawhide, and their Jewish, Hitler worshiping leader Sarah - who go about their days drinking, smoking, beating up men and occasionally philosophizing about rebelling against the oppressive systems of education, religion, etc etc etc. Our four punkish layabouts stab a man to death for no good reason, steal a gun from a cop and, after Dorothea is raped, lay waste to dumb high school guy after dumb high school guy, all in the name of... well, we'll get to that in a minute.

Now, I need to get one thing out of the way right up front. While the above synopsis may seem like a movie narrative and while
BLOOD ORGY OF THE LEATHER GIRLS has all the things movies normally have like a soundtrack, actors and special effects... it isn't really a movie. I repeat, BLOOD ORGY OF THE LEATHER GIRLS is NOT a movie.

It's an ANTI-MOVIE.

I don't know how else to describe a film so clumsily put together, so devoid of anything resembling traditional movie making. This is a shot-on-video “movie” made by amateurs so expecting careful framing, consistent matching eye lines and even audible dialogue is simply asking too much, but BLOOD ORGY OF THE LEATHER GIRLS feels like it was constructed of fragments of a dozen other aborted shot on video projects. It features an on-screen Detective character who fills in important blanks like how the girls got to one location from another or why they're suddenly breaking their own philosophical MO by bludgeoning a grandmother to death with a garden tool.

Halfway through the film, the voice of the narrator changes and I couldn’t be sure if this was supposed to be a second narrator or if they just couldn’t get the first guy back to finish the job. The direction of the film is so haphazard and sloppy that changes of location were not immediately noticeable. The film begins with freshman film student symbology and metaphor, moving from live birth to war footage, from blood covered breasts to castration. I was prepared for more of the same throughout the movie, but what I got was just a random assemblage of images which didn’t match, didn’t follow one another and didn’t coalesce into anything resembling narrative filmmaking.

Because much of the soundtrack was captured live, much of the dialogue was impossible to make out, the music blaring louder than the on board microphone could reasonably handle. In an attempt to be blackly comedic, we're treated to a pre-porno shoot bit of vaguely sexist exercise, a bizarre LSD trip and random bits of educational information about Aristotelian logic and the teachings of Thales of Miletus. Our characters are introduced working out, gazing lovingly at pictures of John Wayne and self-flagellating to drawings of Jesus. And what exactly does all this add up to?

Absolutely nothing. It's just a series of images. Characters don't speak in carefully weighted words. They speak in polemics. We're told that these women hate school, hate religion, hate their parents, hate their lives, yadda yadda, and that their actions against men are rooted in some kind of retaliatory rebellion against male tyranny

I don't buy it. Not for one moment. The shift from weird, Cinema of Transgression-esque clusterfuck to rape-revenge film is where the film earns the misplaced moniker of "female empowerment tale". I've seen that applied to this movie by other reviewers and critics. I just don't buy it. And the reason I don't buy the claim of "female empowerment fantasy" is because the actions of our cast of miscreants are not really a reaction to anything. They are, at the very best, little more than violent tantrums.

The characters flat out murder men for no other reason than they despise men. When we learn in the final moments of the film that Dorothea was not a victim of rape at all, that she simply passed out and this was all a big misunderstanding, it doesn't matter at all to our characters. "It was a beautiful experience", Fleabrain explains. Simply put, they would have carried out the violence anyway. Dorothea's rape, whether it happened or not, wasn't a cause. It was just a reason.

The fact that some people have attached the label "feminist" to this film is a goddamn outrage. This isn't a feminist film. It doesn't have a feminist message. This is, at best, "straw feminism", a perversion of the ideology usually not found outside of angry male YouTube skeptic channels where feminists are considered little more than bitter, pathological women looking to subjugate and castrate men.
CEMETERY GIRLS did this kind of thing better, getting the overall message across in a way that didn't make angry women look like bloodthirsty, psychotic monsters.

But honestly, I have no idea what the intended purpose of this horrible film was or what message it really is trying to convey. Trying to sift through the oblique visuals, ear shattering noises, constant diversions into poorly thought out black humor and general idiocy would take me weeks. Michael Lucas decided to use a pseudonym for his director's credit. He chose the name Meredith, the thought being that using a woman's name would make the film more palatable and perhaps avoid the claims of misogyny which usually accompany a film containing violence and nudity.

To that I say, congratulations, Michael. You may have dodged the misogyny label, but only by making a movie which not not only wallows in strawman feminism but blatant misandry as well.




October 19, 2018

HALLOWEEN 2018


You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch” – Norman Bates, PSYCHO


There’s quite a bit of Norman Bates lurking inside the Michael Myers of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. This was before the film had spawned a complicated franchise full of brother-sister revelations, mystic Celtic runes, and reality TV show shenanigans. The Michael Myers of HALLOWEEN, which will be referred to as HALLOWEEN 1978 from this point on, is just a man (albeit one who can take some serious abuse), a vessel for a fractured, psychopathic personality forever fixated on a single act of violence he committed as a child.

That quote from PSYCHO up there? That is what Norman is referring to, not relationship troubles or family issues, but psychopathy, a point of pure trauma that renders an individual perpetually stuck in time. For Norman, his sexual desire for his mother and his subsequent act of matricide has left him in a regressive, almost childlike state, every feeling of lust a potential cause for murder. For Michael Myers, his act of sororicide has left him in a similar state, his obsessive need to keep murdering his sister triggered when young Laurie Strode wanders onto his front porch. Just like that, Michael has found a surrogate sister and the cycle of violence begins anew.

Carpenter’s film is best watched as a singular entity. Every film that came after changed the nature of both the narrative and the villain at the center of it. In erasing all of the sequels, David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN 2018, gets back to the basic underlying psychosis of the original film. Michael is not Laurie’s brother. There is no Man in Black, no psychic connections to family members, no talk of “the rage” beating within Myers’ black heart. Michael is once again just a psycho in a mask.

But Green’s film does something quite interesting… it addresses the impact of Michael’s 1978 killing spree by reinventing Laurie Strode as a PTSD-riddled prepper who, like Michael, is stuck forever in time, a victim of her own brand of psychosis. The film is at its most interesting when it explores this issue, painting Laurie and Michael as two different sides of the same damaged coin, both linked by violence, both scarred by violence, both doomed to violence. There’s no need for Laurie and Michael to be sister and brother in this narrative. Here, they’re linked by something far more intimate and, quite possibly, much stronger than simple DNA.

Laurie is estranged from her family, stuck in her “own private trap”, a paranoid, ex-alcoholic agoraphobe whose home is littered with weapon caches, door locks and booby traps. In the same way that Michael sits waiting for his opportunity to finish what he started all those years back, Laurie’s life has been consumed with the thought of Michael escaping and the vengeance she wishes to bring down upon him. Even with a hundred plus miles and four decades between them, they’re still fighting in the upstairs bedroom of the Doyle house.

This is the central narrative thrust of the film and when it is at the forefront, HALLOWEEN 2018 is a strong, heavy piece of work. Unfortunately…

For as much love and respect that Green and his co-writer Danny McBride show to Carpenter’s original film, HALLOWEEN 2018 simply does not feel like a HALLOWEEN movie. Gone are the playfulness and the attention to suspense. Michael Myers doesn’t feel like a silent, patient stalker anymore. He feels like a goddamn ballistic missile, barreling through random characters for no other reason than the film needs for him to show up every five minutes. HALLOWEEN 2018 packs a surprisingly high body count and not much else. Characters show up just to die and that alone makes it feel like you’re watching Jason Voorhees in a Michael Myers mask spend the day in Haddonfield.

It’s a movie that simply doesn’t work whenever Laurie Strode is not on screen. Green attempts to create a new Laurie in Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter, but the film doesn’t seem all that concerned with weaving her into the narrative properly. Her boyfriend troubles don’t affect the plot and her friends are underdeveloped body count fodder whose deaths are so random that they feel like they’re taking place in some other movie. When Allyson finally has her run in with Michael, I think we’re supposed to feel like this is some grand plan of fate, but it all comes across as a giant distraction from what we really came to see.

The finale of the film is definitely a crowd pleaser, even if it fails to offer up any real sense of closure. But therein lies another problem... Had this been Jamie Lee Curtis’ first return to the franchise since 1981’s HALLOWEEN 2, there might be reason to celebrate. However, if we ignore the third installment and the horrible remake films, Curtis has appeared in over half of the franchise installments. It’s simply no longer a treat to see her in a HALLOWEEN film. HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER might be an entirely different beast, but watching an alcoholic, anxiety ridden Laurie best Michael in a mano a mano showdown for psychological closure is slightly more dramatically interesting than watching Laurie stalk around her own home in the dark with a shotgun.

The existence of Steve Miner’s film robs HALLOWEEN 2018 of some of its glory, if not its entire gimmick. The particulars might be different (the settings, the hair styles and clothing, etc.), but the films are largely the same. The most interesting character in the film has to share running time with completely uninteresting teens up until the showstopper finale when we can all sit back and finally enjoy some good old fashioned bloody therapy.

HALLOWEEN 2018 is a good looking film plagued by bad pacing, uninteresting side characters, an overabundance of Michael Myers standing around in the open, and one horribly executed plot twist that should have been torn out and flushed down the nearest toilet. It looks like HALLOWEEN 1978, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. It’s an ‘almost’ kind of film, one that comes so close to being exactly what It wants to be. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hit the mark.

August 23, 2018

BLOOD GAMES


I have been pushed around my whole life by lousy men and I’m sick of it.

A common refrain sung during every viewing of Meir Zarchi’s immortal 1978 exploitation classic I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE goes a little bit something like this… “all the men in this movie are assholes!”... and yes. Yes, they are. That’s kind of the point. In a genre which typically depicts women as bubble headed life support systems for easy access vaginas, Zarchi’s film comes across as a nasty bit of tit for tat, a sucker punch right to the balls of self entitled, hyper masculine men.

Tanya Rosenberg’s 1990 pseudo rape-revenge actioner BLOOD GAMES tries to play the same tune. We begin at a softball game somewhere in the middle of Hicksville, USA. A bevy of beauties in short shorts beat the ever living snot out of some good ol' boys on the baseball diamond. This triggers a regressive and altogether violent response from some of the local men. With two of their own nearly raped and their head coach stabbed, the girls make a getaway attempt in the team bus, killing a man in the process. Unfortunately, a war hungry, ex-military misogynist and his army of beer swilling rednecks are in hot pursuit. Once their getaway fails and the gloves come off, it’s an all-out battle of the sexes, albeit one with baseball bats, crossbows and hunting rifles.

Virtually every negative action in this movie is caused by a man. The all-male baseball team repeatedly grabs their opponent’s asses, even throwing an elbow into the face of a woman running to second base. Had the girls simply left after the baseball game was over, all of this would have been avoided, but their head coach (who is also the father of our lead protagonist) feels compelled to hold someone up in a bar bathroom just so he can get money owed to him from a bet. The would-be rapists are not just looking for action but for revenge. The misogynist bastard leading the rednecks into battle repeatedly scolds his son for losing to a bunch of broads. It’s just a cascade of toxic masculinity, self entitlement and unhealthy machismo all the way down.

But unlike Zarchi’s film which goes out of it’s way to avoid the gross sexualization of it’s lead character, Rosenberg gives us a playful, nudity filled shower scene, endless shots of asses in barely there shorts, and copious glimpses of bouncing breasts. It also plays the same end game as SAVAGE STREETS, another exploitation film with loose female empowerment goals. Both films give us strong heroines who collapse in fear at the sight of the big bad guy they just seriously injured. Now maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found this sort of thing a bit confusing. While there’s no doubt that a sexually attractive, scantily clad woman can also be empowering, inspiring and even awe inducing, the clash between sexploitation visual tropes and a genuine female empowerment message can sometimes create a film which doesn’t quite practice what it preaches.

BLOOD GAMES avoids the typical slasher film idea of a single underpowered and underprepared woman overcoming an aggressive male threat. Despite the understandable fear of being shot to death, it’s bevy of ass kicking beauties are more than capable of aggression. We understand that they can easily handle this threat. But it seems the film often wants me to gawk at asses more than it wants me to pump my fists in solidarity, and that threw me off during some of the more tense moments the film offers up. The final half of BLOOD GAMES is great stuff, just a classic 90s action film set in dense woods. I feel the film might have been better off leaving the sexploitation visuals behind at that point. Unfortunately, they persist through most of the film, cluttering up the message along the way.

But perhaps I’m simply thinking too much about this. From start to finish, BLOOD GAMES is an absolute blast, a nicely executed and potent piece of exploitation cinema. It’s not a flashy film, but it’s certainly effective, perfectly paced with an engaging cast of actors and some rather effective action set pieces. It’s also a great bit of cornball fun that would definitely tickle the fancy of Andy Sidaris fans everywhere. So if women in short shorts killing rednecks in the woods sounds like your cup of tea, by all means, sip away.