In case you haven't noticed, I'm not the best when it comes to punctuality. At least not when it comes to blogging. Some of that can be attributed to laziness. Most of it can be attributed to the fact that writing movie reviews, especially reviews of genre films, is tricky business. There have been weeks where I have not posted a review, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Simply put, there have been weeks where the films I watched were so loathsome or uninteresting that I simply had nothing to say about them.
Way back when, I started Films That Witness Madness, a movie review site split up into various micro-sites. There was a section devoted entirely to the giallo, one devoted entirely to US produced films, one devoted to non-giallo Italians flicks and then a catch-all miscellaneous category devoted to everything else. Then there was the blog portion of the site where I would post essays or smaller reviews. I try not to just write three paragraph reviews of films. I try to offer up some kind of rudimentary examination of a films themes, subtext, social significance, problematic gender or racial representations, etc. I don't want to be one of those guys that writes a paragraph-length plot summary, another paragraph telling you if I like it, then a final paragraph telling you where to buy it. I want to be better than your average lazy blog writer. That makes reviewing films difficult at times.
With Films That Witness Madness, the division of the site into specific categories, each with front page visibility, meant that I had a quota I constantly had to fill. I couldn't just leave the same film on the front page week after week. What that meant was that I was often reviewing films I didn't really have anything to say about just so I could keep up with the rotation. But even though that forced rotation sometimes (read: oftentimes) made for some lousy reviews, the impulse to write was always there because of it. I didn't have a choice.
Here, with that forced rotation removed, I can forgo writing a lousy review. I sometimes watch 7 or 8 films before finding one worth writing about. Unfortunately, that means updating has become sporadic at best and non-existent at worst. Page views during the Halloween season are always high as I review one new movie a day all throughout the month of October. Page views recently... well, they suck. But as this is a hobby of mine and not a means of earning money (there are no ads on this site nor will there ever be), I can kind of just shrug that off. I mean, this IS just a blog, one of thousands and thousands out there.
Still, if this blog is going to hang around, I need to find something to write about, something consistent, something I always have something to say about.
So starting next month, you and I - if you care to join me, that is - will be taking a very long trip through the entirety of the Italian giallo film. The idea is simple. I will be watching every giallo film ever made (well, the ones that still exist anyway) in order of release. I enjoy the giallo more than any other subgenre of film. I've spent a long time studying the evolution of the subgenre. I find the whole thing interesting. But several people have pointed out that I tend to repeat myself quite a bit when I write giallo reviews, always spending time going over the same points like the origins of the giallo, the trends of the giallo, etc. Now I won't have to. I can build a subgenre-wide overview in sequential order.
And that is worth writing about.
Now this site won't just become 24/7 giallo reviews, though it would probably be easier if it did. My main focus will be reviewing every giallo made between 1963 and 1980. That's roughly 200 films. That's a lot of work. There will be one or two reviews a week devoted specifically to this project (maybe more), with a planned one or two non-giallo related reviews on top of that. October will still be devoted to random horror oddities and the occasional themed week. That won't change at all. The only thing that will change is that there will no longer be weeks where this blog sits dormant. That's a good thing.
When I started Films That Witness Madness, I compiled a nice, long list of films I needed to review. I burned through that list pretty quick. I reviewed many giallo films during my time with that site so thankfully, with a little bit of editing, some of my work is already done. I'll use those weeks to focus on other things. I know some people would like to see reviews of less obscure films, maybe even new releases. If there's a film you think I should watch, let me know in the comments. I can't guarantee I'll get around to it, but I'll give it a consideration. I know I have to finish the Godzilla franchise reviews, the Video Nasty reviews and all kinds of other shit. I'll get around to that eventually, I'm sure. But for now, the plan is to drown myself in J&B, balaclavas and fake blood.
So that's the plan. Sound good?
The first batch of films that will be reviewed are as follows:
24 Hours of Terror
A Game of Crime
Death on the Fourposter
Assassination in Rome
Lady of the Lake
The Monster of Venice
Night of Violence
The Murder Clinic
Circus of Fear
The Third Eye
A... come assassino
Date for a Murderer
Death Laid an Egg
Naked You Die
The Sweet Body of Deborah
Killer Without a Face
A Hyena in the Safe
A Black Veil for Lisa
A Complicated Girl
Run, Psycho, Run
Shadow of Death
Trumpets of the Apocalypse
Yellow - Le Cugine
So Sweet... So Perverse
Death Knocks Twice
The Rage Within
Psychout for Murder
As for Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much, The Telephone and Blood and Black Lace, you can read about them HERE
May 13, 2016
Ooh baby. Ooh ooh baby. Ooh baby. Ooh ooh baby. Ooh baby. Ooh ooh baby. Ooh baby. Ooh ooh baby. Ooh baby. Ooh ooh baby. Ooh baby. Ooh ooh baby. Ooh baby. Ooh -
Oh. Oh, hi. I didn't see you there. Ahem.
“A new beginning!”
I sometimes say that to myself in the morning. I hop out of bed, stretch out my legs and wipe the sleep from my eyes. I look out the window at the shining sun, listening to the sounds of birds chirping and kids playing in the distance. Yes, indeed, this day is a new beginning. A fresh, new day filled with the possibility of adventure. Then I spend the rest of my day doing exactly what I did the day before, playing video games and scratching my balls.
After serving up THE FINAL CHAPTER, Paramount shit out FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING. It might as well have been called LOL JUST KIDDING. No one in their right mind thought that the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise was dead and buried. There was too much money to be made. At this point, going to see a new installment of the franchise was like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. It was a mindless, compulsory activity. A new installment came out and we all flooded the cinemas like sheep. We didn't really want to see it, but we all kinda had to. Paramount knew this so we got another one and another one and another one. But this was A NEW BEGINNING. Holy shit, it could be anything! How exciting!
Then the movie begins with Corey Feldman watching two idiots get killed by a freshly reanimated Jason and we all thought “oh… never mind”.
But then it turns out to be just a dream so we all thought “oh… never mind”.
Maybe this WAS going to be different.
It (almost) all goes down at Pinehurst, an outdoors treatment center for disturbed teens (all of whom are in their late 20s). Here, the nut jobs can wander around at will, engaging in all kinds of activity from hanging laundry to running away. There doesn't appear to be any actual treatment going on, but at least the kids are not rubbing feces all over the walls and throwing TVs out of windows. I suppose that counts for something, right? And what teens are these, you ask? Let's see. There's two perpetually horny teens, a guy that stutters a bit, a New Wave chick and a pretty redhead. Nothing really seems off about any of them though. We think they're nuts because we're told they're nuts, even though they act perfectly normal. The only thing really wrong with them is that they're in FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 5.
But then there's Joey, the doofy fat guy, and Vic, the guy with obvious anger management issues. Now I don't mean to tell the esteemed Doctor Matthew Letter how to run his treatment facility, but it's probably not a good idea to let a raging ball of anger like Vic play with axes. Something bad might happen. For example, Vic might chop Joey up into little bits because Joey tries to force a chocolate bar on him. That's what happens, by the way. You heard that right. Everything that happens in this movie happens because of a chocolate bar.
You see, Joey is an orphan, but it just so happens that his estranged father is one of the EMTs called to pick up his body parts at Pinehurst. The EMT, whose name is Roy, responds to his son's death with a slight overreaction. Roy gets himself a Jason Voorhees outfit and goes on a massive killing spree, butchering the high holy fuck out of every person he comes across. Hell, one of the most interesting things about the film is how Roy manages to find the overalls, a bald cap and even the right kind of machete, yet he couldn't quite get the right mask. This one has blue paint instead of red paint. I would have loved to have seen a scene of Roy in a department store picking out his overalls, hitting up a costume shop for the bald cap and then heading down to the sporting goods store to find out, gasp! shock!, they don't have the right mask in stock. Frustrated, he has the guy behind the counter check the back room, maybe even call another store to see if they have one in stock. He's told they could order one, but it would take two weeks. Roy gives it some thought. Maybe he could put off the massacre a little bit longer. Maybe he could just wear a fencing mask. Maybe a catcher's helmet! Ooh, they're neat. Decisions, decisions.
Now bear in mind that in this film's universe, Jason Voorhees is actually dead. Like DEAD dead. Like Princess Diana dead. There's a hilarious bit of dialogue at the end of the film where the Sheriff mentions that Roy decided to use the Jason Voorhees identity as cover so no one would know it was him. Brilliant idea, Roy. Assume the identity of a dead killer so no one would know it was you. Were you planning on leaving witnesses? I would suspect that Roy figured he would actually kill them all. So why bother dressing up?
It's because we need Jason in the film, isn't it? I mean, we can't actually live up to the title A NEW BEGINNING, right? No, we need good ol' hockey masked Jason wandering around butchering people. We're meant to think that the killer is Tommy Jarvis so when -
Wait… I did tell you about Tommy, right? See, Tommy is the newest addition to Pinehurst, freshly arrived from a proper mental institution. He's supposed to be about 17 in this film but the actor portraying him has a near constant five o'clock shadow. No matter though because Tommy is really only here to create a kind of continuity between the fourth installment, the one where he cut Jason to ribbons with a machete, and this film, the one where he does fuck all but beat up a couple of side characters.
The use of Tommy Jarvis in this film is hands down the biggest failure. Tommy is all but mute, only ever muttering lines like “sure” and “don't”. He is obviously set up as a red herring (nearly every murder scene ends with the film cutting to a close up of Tommy's face) and I personally find that to be a horribly tragic misuse of the character. Tommy should have been the hero of the piece, not a suspect. The start of the murder spree should have signaled Tommy's involvement in the narrative, not his distancing from it. Right before the main shit goes down at Pinehurst, Tommy runs off. He doesn't show back up until there's only 15 minutes left in the film. The final face-off between Pam, Dr. Letter's busty assistant, and Roy/Jason happens in a barn. Tommy makes his all-important entrance, matched in editing to the sound of clapping thunder. It's a perfect entrance. In an ideal world, Tommy would have seen Roy/Jason standing there. He would have turned to run or just hesitated. Finally mustering up the courage, Tommy rushes forward, meeting his foe head-on in a final fight for closure.
Too bad that in the film Tommy just stands there motionless and allows Roy to cleave him across the chest. It's a waste of a great moment. It would be like Ripley entering the hangar bay at the end of ALIENS, all decked out in the exosuit, but instead of charging forward to protect Newt, she just farts and falls over.
Not that any of the other characters are used properly or treated well either. Hell, the best character in the entire film is Demon, the older brother of Reggie, the stereotypical screaming kid. Demon is an African American punk rock brutha with a Jheri curl that lives in a trailer park with his pot smoking squeeze. I have no fucking idea who came up with such an absurdly out of place character, but thank god someone did. Demon is a breath of fresh air in this film. He looks ridiculous. It's like someone dressed Easy E. up like Rob Halford. Even better, Demon and his girlfriend sing a fucking doo-wop ditty while he takes a shit in an outhouse. But because this is a FRIDAY THE 13TH film, they have to kill him off just as we're falling in love with him, robbing the film of its only interesting character. They don't even let him wipe his ass before they impale him. For shame, film. For shame.
Well, we still have Ethel and her idiot motorbike-riding son to keep us company for a little bit. They feel just as out of place in this film as Demon did, two backwoods Southern stereotypes who drool and scratch their way across the screen. There's Billy and Lana, the most unattractive couple in cinematic history, who were probably on their way to film some lousy cocaine-fueled amateur porno in a seedy motel room before they ran into Roy and his ax. There's the two greasers trying to get their car to start on the side of the road because they're obviously late for a midnight showing of AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Why is every side character in this film more interesting and memorable than the lead characters? Hell, the stuttering dipshit that tells the pretty redhead that he'd like to p-p-put his p-p-p-enis inside her b-b-butt is a more relatable and likeable character than Tommy motherfucking Jarvis, the apparent star character of the franchise.
Oh but what am I doing? Talking about characters in a FRIDAY THE 13TH film. Pfft, silly me. People don't watch these films for the characters! They watch them for the uhh… They want them to see for the uhh… It's because uhh… Hmm.
Why do people watch this shit again?
*Googles "Debisue Voorhees Friday the 13th part 5"*
Oh yeah. That's why.
Oh yeah. That's why.
May 11, 2016
At the 20 minute mark, my mind began to wander. I thought about alphabetizing the stacks of VHS tapes sitting beside my desk. I noticed a wispy, torn cobweb in the corner of the room and decided that I need to clean this week. I thought about hitting up Amazon real quick to buy an Edgar Wallace compilation. Or maybe I could get one from the local used book store? Do I have any clean socks left or will I have to do laundry? I thought about making toast.
I finally settled on clipping my toe nails, a quick bit of personal hygiene that could be done with one eye on my tootsers and the other on my computer monitor. Once I finished, I checked the remaining time on the movie. Only ten minutes had passed since I first lost interest. I sighed and sat closer, leaning into the monitor, focusing as hard as I could on the film. Before I knew it, I had reorganized my desk, filing away the odds and ends of paperwork, putting all the doodads and trinkets in the Transformers lunch box I could never bring myself to throw away over the years. No matter how hard I tried, I could not pay attention to the film for more than 10 minutes. When the movie ended, I couldn't even remember the lead character's name. So I decided to watch it again, this time paying strict, concentrated attention to my monitor. But first, I needed coffee.
Three hours later, I sat down to watch the film a second time. It was difficult but I managed. I fought a mighty fight against the urge to click the Firefox icon in my task bar. I resisted the temptation to flip through books I had no interest in three hours ago, but now seemed like the most interesting thing in the world. I committed myself, body and soul, to watching THE AFTERMATH all the way through. So what did I think of it?
Languid. That's the best word to describe this film. It's boring. So very, very boring. So maybe boring is actually the best word. Maybe there is no best word. Maybe I need to think about it for a little
NO. I will not allow myself to procrastinate in writing a review of this film. The longer I go without thinking about it, the faster it will fade from memory. Even now, I can feel it slipping away. I need to get this out now, boredom be damned.
THE AFTERMATH tells the story of Newman, played by the film's writer/director Steve Barkett, and Matthews, two astronauts who return to Earth to find the place devastated by nuclear and biological warfare. After surviving an attack by mutants, Newman takes off into the city, Geiger counter in hand, to look for survivors. When a laser light show breaks out over the city, Newman seeks shelter in an old museum. There he meets an old man dying from radiation poisoning (played by the great Forrest Ackerman) and a young boy named Something or Another who is curiously NOT dying of radiation poisoning. Leaving the old man to die, Newman and the boy wander around a bit before being attacked by Sarah, a character who might as well have been named Nipples as her only real purpose in the film is to wander around in a barely there t-shirt with her high beams on. Nipples, I mean Sarah, tells Newman about Cutter, a rapist/slaver/murderer who has taken her friends captive. The three of them decide to free Sarah's friends, attacking Cutter and Co. in the dead of night. Though they manage to get away, this action has unpleasant consequences, leading Newman to go all Rambo on Cutter and his men in an overlong and wholly ridiculous bullet-filled finale.
THE AFTERMATH really only has three things working in its favor. One, the score by John Morgan. It's fantastic. Really energetic, memorable stuff. Two, the visual effects. The film is full of really great matte effects and some gooey gore, including a decapitation by shotgun blast. Three, Sid Haig. More on him in a second. Unfortunately, everything else is a total bore. An unmitigated, abysmal bore. I don't know if it was budgetary restrictions or just plain laziness, but this film is rife with scenes of Newman walking here, walking there, standing around, doing nothing much. Worse, the film employs voice-over, the ultimate indication that the producers thought their material was much more interesting than it actually turned out to be in the final edit. There are at least a dozen instances of Newman's voice-over just elaborating on the on-screen action. Newman sees a dead man in the street and the voice-over pontificates on finding a dead man in the street. Even more worse, every line of this voice-over sounds like it was ripped out of an old point and click adventure game. It's lifeless, unnecessary and completely off putting. But if it wasn't there, the film would have just been silent. It's like it never occurred to Barkett that he should just edit all the boring shit out of his movie.
Then there's Sid Haig as Cutter, the big bad of this film. Whenever Haig in on screen, THE AFTERMATH comes to life. He's an engaging actor, appropriately sleazy in the role, but the film does literally nothing with him. He shows up periodically, usually trying to rape one of the female characters, and then disappears from the film. Even when Newman – an ASTRONAUT – goes ballistic during the finale, killing everyone like he's Chow Yun-Fat, the film just leaves Cutter out of it. Instead, the big fist fight atop a building in the city is between Newman and some nameless sidekick character (who Newman shoots three goddamn times in the legs with a shotgun yet he can still manage to run around unfazed). Again, Barkett simply didn't understand what worked in his film and what didn't.
We didn't need mutants, long passages of voice-over pontification, and a glacial pace leading to a 20 minute shootout. We needed more Cutter, more confrontations between the big bads and the heroes. That alone would have elevated this film to something entertaining. But instead THE AFTERMATH is a film that leaves its inciting incident (the murder of Sarah and her friends) off screen and then ruins its action movie catharsis by never letting Cutter get his appropriate comeuppance at the hands of the man whose entire world he just destroyed. I honestly don't think Barkett understood what makes an action-revenge film good. He was trying to make something subversive and deep, but he failed miserably. THE AFTERMATH is just a boring turd of a film.