Posts Tagged ‘Musical’

29. Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Director: Deborah Brock

Starring: Crystal Bernard, Patrick Lowe, Kimberly McArthur, Juliette Cummins, Heidi Kozak, Joel Hoffman, Scott Westmoreland, Atanis Ilitch

Usually, I have to look overseas to find a horror movie as ridiculous as this! Since “The Slumber Party Massacre” was released five years earlier, the slasher genre had been altered forever by the introduction (and subsequent popularity of) the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. I mention this, because the existence of that franchise is the only satisfactory explanation I can come up with to rationalize the complete left turn into absurdity that is made by “Slumber Party Massacre II.” I only wish it had sustained the madness throughout its scant 75 minute runtime.

Courtney Bates (Crystal Bernard), the youngest survivor from the first film, is now a young adult who is plagued by nightmares of her earlier traumatic experience. She’s in an all-girl rock band, whose music you would only pretend to enjoy if you were her boyfriend or were looking to date her. The band, which includes Sheila (Juliette Cummins), Sally (Heidi Kozak) and Amy (Kimberly McArthur), go to a condo owned by Sheila’s parents where they intend to have a slumber party for the weekend. Matt (Patrick Lowe) is invited to come watch the band play and get to know Courtney, while Sheila’s boyfriend T.J. (Joel Hoffmann) and his buddy Jeff (Scott Westmoreland) crash the party.

All the while, Courtney’s disturbing nightmares persist. The dreams include the sight of her sister, Valerie, in a mental institution, as well as a man dressed in black and wielding a guitar with a large drill bit attached to the neck. These dark visions start to spill over into the waking world, confusing Courtney, worrying her friends and annoying local police. Finally, the Driller Killer emerges into the real world by killing Matt right in front of Courtney. With song and dance, he kills each of Courtney’s friends one by one until just the two of them are left. Courtney wins the battle, fulfilling the Driller Killer’s wish for her to “Light My Fire” by setting him ablaze. That’s when the movie, which has already been weird enough, takes a turn for the utterly mystifying with an ending that appears to show that the whole movie has been one big fakeout dream. Courtney first wakes up in her condo bed with Matt (which would only have nullified part of the movie) before he transforms into the Driller Killer. She screams, only to find that it is she, not her sister, who is in a mental institution. I give up.

The only real reason to watch this movie is for Atanas Illitch, who plays the Driller Killer. Atanas Illitch, the son of Mike Illitch (owner of the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and owner/founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza), puts everything he’s got into the role, and what comes out is a terrifically hammy, 100% entertaining performance. Crystal Bernard is the only cast member to go on to anything of any real significance, starring on the hit 1990s TV sitcom “Wings,” but you probably wouldn’t have gauged that future success based on this movie. The sad thing about the Driller Killer is that the mayhem (and the awesomeness) doesn’t get underway until the film’s final 25 minutes. You’re left to either fast forward to that point, or suffer the first 50 minutes, which are excruciating apart from some female nudity. If you’re not into that, then yeah… it’s gonna be a chore to sit through, and all for a payoff that’s sorta/kinda worth it.

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Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Director: John DeBello

Starring: David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, Jack Riley

In watching a couple of Troma movies last month, I was reminded of a tamer but still bizarre low-budget comedy called “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” which I’d seen twice before but has since been gathering dust on my DVD shelf. Both begin with the most absurd premises imaginable. Both aim for humor that is decidedly juvenile. However, the comparison pretty much dies right there. The differences begin with the definition of the word “juvenile.” Films under the Troma banner are notorious for their reliance on over-the-top violence, sexual innuendo (minus the innuendo) and bathroom-related jokes. “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” having no relation at all with Troma or the creative minds therein, goes for the complete opposite extreme. This movie mostly contains humor that might have worked best when I was a child.

The best thing about “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” by far is its main title theme. This approximately two-minute song is genuinely hilarious. It also immediately follows a well done prologue scene where a tomato makes its way up through a garbage disposal and kills an unsuspecting young woman. So far so good. Later, it’s discovered that there’s been a rash of reports citing sentient tomatoes attacking and killing humans. One such incident occurs when a bunch of tomatoes take to the water to pursue a group of swimmers. In this case, I don’t mind the obvious “Jaws” parody, complete with the “Jaws” theme. For some reason, “Jaws” parodies never seem to get old.

To combat the tomato problem, the President assembles a team of specialists so thoroughly unremarkable that he’ll probably lose a few percentage points in his approval rating. The team leader is Mason Dixon (David Miller), who can best be described as what you’d get if John Belushi dialed down his insanity volume to zero. Joining him in the fight are parachutist Wilbur Finletter (Stephen Peace), “expert” disguise artist Sam Smith (Gary Smith), Olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum (Benita Barton) and deep sea diver Greg Colburn (a character so thoroughly unimportant I had to look up his name to remember it). Eventually, Gretta is attacked and eaten by tomatoes, not that she’d been much help either. In fact, it’s hard to say that any of Dixon’s assistants really contribute much other than demonstrating sheer incompetence. Sam Smith’s biggest accomplishment is infiltrating the tomatoes’ camp only to reveal himself by asking for some ketchup.

As if Dixon hasn’t got enough problems, he’s also got an assassin tracking him down. This later turns out to be U.S. Press Secretary Jim Richardson (George Wilson), who plans to take over what remains of the world. He is not necessarily behind the creation of the mutated tomatoes, but he claims to be able to exert some sort of control over them. There’s also a subplot with a reporter named Lois Fairchild, on a mission to get a story that should make her career. It’s made blatantly clear that the character is meant to be a spoof of Lois Lane, Superman’s love interest. In fact, it almost seems to be a spoof of the Margot Kidder version of the character. I don’t know how that’s even possible, though, as 1978’s “Superman” was released two months AFTER this movie.

The tomatoes should be able to win this battle rather easily. Even our armed forces aren’t enough to beat them back. The one thing no one could have anticipated (but you’ll be able to predict if you’ve seen “Mars Attacks!”) is that the tomatoes’ one weakness is bad pop music… specifically a song called “Puberty Love.” Think Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” sung a capella, and you’ve got the basic idea. Providing the shrill vocals for “Puberty Love” is a then-teenaged Matt Cameron, who is more well-known in the music world as the drummer for both Soundgarden and (since 1998) Pearl Jam.

The main flaw of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” …and it’s pretty much a fatal one… is that it’s not half as funny as it wants to be. Its best moments come when it relies not on the ‘one-joke premise’ of the tomato invasion, but when its low budget allows for some unintended laughs. There’s the giant tomato which is clearly moving thanks to a wooden board on wheels. There’s the tiny conference room where everyone is constantly crawling over one another just to get to their seat. It’s the funniest meeting place in a movie since the War Room from “Dr. Strangelove.” Best of all is the helicopter crash. It’s the real deal, captured in all its accidental glory. Thankfully no one was either seriously hurt or killed in the process. Otherwise, you have a thoroughly unremarkable cast of characters tied to a plot so slowly paced that the musical numbers (yes, plural) seem there to distract from the fact that they’ve run out of jokes.

All three times I’ve seen this movie, I’ve fallen asleep at about the midway point. “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is a bad B-movie spoof of even worse B-movies from the 1950’s. Yet, it is popular enough that there are three sequels, and there even existed a short-lived cartoon series (which served as my introduction to the franchise). From here, the only direction the “Killer Tomatoes” series could possibly have gone was up, but it would be ten years before anyone knew for sure. If you were going just by what is presented here, you’d find yourself wondering why they would even bother.

Poultrygeist (2006)

Director: Lloyd Kaufman

Starring: Jason Yachanin, Kate Graham, Allyson Sereboff, Robin Watkins, Joshua Olatunde, Rose Ghavami, Caleb Emerson, Lloyd Kaufman, Khalid Rivera

This is what I call thinking outside the box of chicken nuggets! Troma Entertainment has always been one to embrace what is considered bad taste, so a movie set in a fast food restaurant isn’t much of a reach. They’ve been at their game for a while now, more than enough time to perfect the recipe. “Poultrygeist” represents decades of going “too far” and then continuing down the road a few extra miles. It creates the perfect blend of the usual Troma ingredients (sexual innuendo, profanity, extreme violence, broad overacting, and scatological humor), resulting in a greasy and delicious treat that hits all of the right pleasure centers.

In Tromaville, New Jersey, young lovers Arbie (Jason Yachanin) and Wendy (Kate Graham) have sex in an Indian burial ground. Naturally, this does not turn out to be the smartest of moves. Firstly, they are not alone, as they spot a man masturbating as he watches them. Secondly, just after they have left, a hand reaches up from underground and kills the pervert by punching a hole from his rectum all the way through his mouth. We reconvene one college semester later. Arbie returns to the scene of one of his great life experiences to find that nothing is the same. The burial ground has been paved over, with a fast food chicken chain restaurant called American Chicken Bunker standing in its place and a line of bleeding heart protesters picketing outside. That nothing appears to be sacred would be bad enough, but Arbie also discovers Wendy among the protesters with her new lesbian girlfriend, Micki (Allyson Sereboff). Genuinely hurt, Arbie decides the best way to exact revenge is by taking a job at American Chicken Bunker.

Of course, it would be a pretty short movie if the madness were limited to the protests outside. Arbie’s co-workers at ACB include his manager Denny (Joshua Olatunde), a redneck named Carl Jr. (Caleb Emerson) with a particular “preference” for animals, and a gay Mexican named Paco Bell (Khalid Rivera). If you’re keeping score, you’ll have noticed right away that, in addition to Arbie and Wendy, most of the main characters in this movie are named after fast food franchises. One of the exceptions to this is Hummus, a burqa-wearing Muslim who works alongside Arbie and the others at ACB. She’s also the one who’ll take the initial blame when things start going wrong. Already one harbinger of doom has arrived on the scene in the form of porn star Ron Jeremy, dressed up like Crazy Ralph from the original “Friday the 13th.” Arbie meets two more soon after, one in the form of a “sloppy Jose” sandwich haunted by the spirit of the newly deceased Paco. The other is the restaurant mascot, Col. Cluck (Lloyd Kaufman),  a 60-year old man with a background story (and tattoo) so similar to that of Arbie’s that the audience will figure out the connection long before Arbie does. The warnings either arrive too late or fall on deaf ears, because the carnage continues. Hummus has just gotten through cleaning up the mess made by Paco’s death when Carl Jr., who chose the wrong frozen chicken to have intercourse with, makes a mess ten times larger.

Unfortunately, both Wendy and Arbie have been duped into being here by the actions of the same person. Micki is neither a lesbian nor a true activist against the mistreatment of chickens, and has instead been paid by General Lee Roy (Robin Watkins) to sing the praises of American Chicken Bunker, thereby ensuring that the easily-swayed protesters join all the regular customers inside the place for some quality fast food. All he’s really done is sign everyone’s death warrant, including his own. Having bitten into some tainted chicken meat to prove it’s safe and delicious for everyone, the General literally lays an egg in the bathroom. He manages to kill the resulting zombie chicken embryo, but not before it spews green slime all over him, zombifying him. All of the customers have become zombies, too, and it’s up to Arbie, Wendy and Hummus to stop them. Zombie chicken versions of the dead General, Denny, and Carl Jr. all run amok and must be killed. While Micki and the older Arbie are helpful at first, they aren’t long for this world, either. Hilariously, Hummus gets two explosive death scenes, one where she drinks steroids meant for the chicken and she literally blows up, and the second where she detonates C-4 strapped to her body, destroying the restaurant and allowing Arbie and Wendy to escape with a five-year old survivor. But they are spooked when the girl lays an egg, and they crash their getaway vehicle in appropriately over-the-top fashion.

“Poultrygeist” is another satisfying experience from the good people at Troma Entertainment. Although set in the same town of Tromaville, it shares no continuity with other films by Lloyd Kaufman and the gang. Despite this, there are plenty of references, such as Arbie’s ‘I ♥ the Monster Hero’ T-shirt from “The Toxic Avenger,” posters for “Tromeo and Juliet” and “When Nature Calls,” and DVD copies of “Terror Firmer.” Additionally, the car crash at the end is lifted directly from “Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.”

This movie gives its audience everything it could want and more. You have the usual onslaught of violent images (decapitations, impalements, meat grinder misfortunes, etc.), coupled with an unexpectedly large and hilarious amount of musical numbers. Some may actually find themselves struggling through these early parts of the movie prior to the carnage, but not me. When the actors themselves are not contributing to the soundtrack, various American punk bands take over. The best of these is “Poultrygeist” by Calimari Safari (a.k.a. New Found Glory).

If there are lines of political incorrectness to be crossed, “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead” makes sure to cross as many of them as possible. The topical humor is a risk, though only because it dates the movie. No comedian ever did his job right by playing it safe, and Lloyd Kaufman makes no exception with “Poultrygeist.” As addictive as fast food but far more healthy for the soul, it’s guaranteed to fill you up… with laughter.

36. Les Misérables (2012)

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Daniel Huttlestone

Until as recently as three years ago, I was not a fan of musicals. Not one bit. Oh, sure, I liked movies such as “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but the genre as a whole left me rather cold. Then one day I played the DVD of 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly, and it was as if a light switch had been turned on inside my head. Later on came the total revelation that was 1965’s Best Picture winner, “The Sound of Music.” There were songs I’d known all my life which I had no idea actually originated with that movie. By that point, as far as musicals were concerned, anything was possible.

Similarly, I have had a long history of trying and failing to get enthusiastic about “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo’s 1862 story of Jean Valjean (a man jailed for 19 years upon stealing a loaf of bread), Javert (the law officer who chases him after he breaks parole), the revolutionaries fighting a no-win scenario, and the love triangle that provides a spark of hope for the future. I had seen several adaptations on film, each one more disappointing than the last. To this day, I’ve only attended one live performance of the musical, and it was substandard at best. I was just about to give up hope of ever finding a presentation of this tale to my liking… even as the hype surrounded a new movie in 2012 which, unlike all previous film versions, was an adaptation not of the novel but of the stage musical. Then I tuned in to the 85th Annual Academy Awards on the night of February 24th, 2013. Among the films competing for Best Original Song that night was “Les Misérables,” and the cast came out to perform “One Day More.” Well, I was blown away. I had to see more, and received a copy of the movie for my birthday. I’ll be forever glad that I did.

I defy anyone to resist being moved by at least one segment of “Les Misérables.” As almost the entire movie’s dialogue is sung rather than spoken, it is not all that hard to find multiple songs that stand out. I found myself drawn into the movie instantly by the opening shot, swooping down from overhead into the prison where Hugh Jackman and others start in on “Look Down.” Now, I know that there has been a lot of criticism regarding Russell Crowe’s singing voice. I refuse to take part, except perhaps to say that he sounds akin to David Bowie having a very bad day. Sorry if I’ve just ruined “Labyrinth” for anyone with that visual. Jackman himself excels at the songs “Look Down,” “Who Am I?” and “Suddenly.” It’s not hard to see how Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress. Her rendition of the popular “I Dreamed a Dream” sees her pouring as much emotion into any scene I’ve ever seen her play. Amanda Seyfried is stunning as Cosette, particularly in her parts of “In My Life” and “A Heart Full of Love.” But easily my favorite song of the lot is the rallying cry “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and its reprisal.

Although Hathaway got the acting award, I still personally find the breakout performance to be that of newcomer Samantha Barks as Éponine. Through her solo performance of “On My Own” and her duet with Eddie Redmayne on “A Little Fall of Rain,” Ms. Barks is absolutely breathtaking. Yet, both women could claim a certain amount of authority on their roles going in. Samantha Barks had previously played the part of Éponine for the London production of “Les Misérables.” Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, can literally be said to have been born to play the role of Fantine, as her mother had played the same role in the stage musical’s original American run.