Thursday, October 7, 2010


As much as I love first wave slasher flicks, I will be the first to admit that my love for them has as much (if not more) to do with the IDEA of the flicks as it does for their execution. Take 1980's Prom Night, for instance. Not a bad flick. An obvious Halloween rip-off, Prom Night is one of several impressive Canadian slasher movies that hit theaters in the early 80s. Slasher archetypes abound: the Bitch, the Clown, the Virgin, the Jerk, and the Final Girl (played by Jamie Lee Curtis herself!). This film is interesting primarily as an artifact of a moment in time when the 70s were dying, the 80s were being born, and pop culture was a mishmash of the two. I can tell you that by the time this movie hit theaters, Disco was dead in my age group, but the Prom in the movie (themed "DISCO MADNESS!!!") is an over the top disco fantasia. While those wanting gore in their slasher films will be disappointed overall, this film does blow an impressive gore wad in one brief but fantastic slash sequence which leads to a prom panic and stampede: the Jerk gets decapitated and his head rolls down the disco-lit catwalk meant for the prom king and queen. It's an amazingly tacky sequence, but well-executed and fabulous! Also, the stalk and slash sequence where the Bitch gets offed is great until she actually gets killed and you can't see a thing. The fact that you're actually rooting for her by the end of the sequence is a testament to how well it's done, but there's no pay off: it seems like a wasted opportunity. Overall, this movie is a great time capsule with good production values and a decent amount of suspense. It's very glitzy and glam in that late 70s/early 80s way (think the 2nd half of Boogie Nights), which is probably why it was a sizable hit upon release (raked in nearly $15M on a $1.5M budget. BTW $15M 1980 dollars = $38.5M 2009 dollars, which ain't chump change). Some might argue that the best thing about Prom Night is its poster, and they'd have a decent argument: I mean, I love the way that leather-gloved fist holding that mirror shard pops out at ya. In the end, though, Prom Night is an entertaining, low gore, high camp, uber disco flick for those who like that sort of thing.

Speaking of posters that are arguably better than the movies they are designed to promote, 2008's Prom Night is pretty much in the same class as the original when it comes to glam, glitz and execution. Which surprised me, cauz I was all ready to trash the new version until I rewatched the old version and realized how tame it was. The new one does have an impressive poster: kind of glam and grime at the same time, promising you some kind of sexy, messy shit. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver. The new Prom Night is a slasher movie for Tweens. It's well-made and decently-acted as far as slasher movies go...but sadly limp, with no gore and a teeny tiny barely noticable amount of suspense. Basically, the film fails too hard to be enjoyable. But that's not its biggest crime.

There are 2 types of slasher flick fans: those who are in it for the gore, and those who respond to the subtext, which just happens (coincidentally) to be illustrated by the gore. :p I fall into the latter group. People who are in it for the gore are the people who get off on watching movies like Hostel. I am not one of those people. I am not a huge splatter fan. The thing I love about slasher movies is that they are all about subtext. First wave slasher flicks represent a collective fear of punishment for the wild, carefree, druggy, sexy ways of the baby boomers. "If it feels good, do it" may have sounded like a good code to live by, but those of us in Gen X had the feeling that if we really lived like that, we'd ultimately be punished for it. So the killers in first wave slasher flicks are really a metaphor for not only our collective guilt and shame about sex and unchecked inhibitions, but for what became AIDS in real life: the other shoe dropping. Up on screen, our guilt and shame stalked and slashed our contemporaries while we had to beat it off (no pun intended) to survive. Up on screen, AIDS came in the form of Jason, and other killers just like him.

So, what's the subtext being delivered in the new Prom Night for its young audience? First off, the killer is a TEACHER! Those evil teachers! In a baseball cap. With a goatee. He's like the evil killer from the 90s! Ooooooh! BTW, the only other teacher depicted in the film is a LESBIAN GYM TEACHER with a crush on the main girl (Amber VonTussle from the Hairspray remake). The main characters deride the lesbian to Amber ("She's so into you." Snicker, snicker), which seems totally unnecessary when all the dyke is doing is being supportive, since Amber's got a tragic backstory that I won't go into. So far, the subtext of this film is aimed at conformist heterosexual assholes who hate teachers and gays. Then you've got your sassy black girl who so wants to be Prom Queen, right? Like, she never shuts up about it. And she keeps saying that if she wins Prom Queen then that'll be making a statement for black girls everywhere, blah blah blah. Which is all fine and good. But then, what does she do? Right before they're about to announce Prom King and Queen, the bitch goes upstairs to have sex with her boyfriend. Which, when you read this as subtext, is TOTALLY EFFING OFFENSIVE, right? It makes no sense. So basically she's like this sassy little black girl living in a white world, and she's really likable up to the point where she ditches her dream of being prom queen (not to mention her chance to be a game-changing role model to future generations of sassy young black girls living in a white world) to go upstairs to do her boyfriend. Because...I don't know, pleasing her horny boyfriend is more important than being crowned Prom Queen? people can't help but succumb to their primal sexual urges? I'm not quite sure, but whatever it is, I'm not buying it. Before actually screwing her boyfriend, however, she leaves suddenly b/c she realizes she's seen the killer and must warn the others. And her boyfriend takes out this ring after she's gone, like he was gonna ask her to marry him, if only she'd stayed...and fucked him. It's fucking RETARDED. Remember, subtext. Then, she goes from being the sassiest black girl in the slasher universe to being the stupidest slasher bitch of all time, and she basically breaks down into hysterics and gets murdered more brutally than any of her contemporaries in the flick. Later on, after it becomes rather obvious that she's been murdered, her boyfriend sits down on the curb outside the hotel and cries, clutching the ring, looking up into heaven as if to say: if only I hadn't tried to fuck her first. It's retarded. And don't even get me started on the hapless latina hotel maid named Maria...

Anyway, the plot doesn't matter, it's your basic Disney-fied slasher b.s. The white blond Aryan girl almost gets killed but not quite, and then everyone around her gets killed, and then she almost gets killed again, but then she gets SAVED BY THE COP. Which is more total bullshit! She's supposed to save herself! That's the whole point of a slasher movie, right? Final girl and all that? HELLO! But no. This being a Tween slasher flick, girls are being taught that they must be SAVED to survive. IT'S LAME!

Then there's the making of doc, which I was stupid enough to watch. Let me tell ya, after the director very defensively tried to rationalize the lack of gore in the movie ("It's so much more effective to see the characters react to the violence than it is to see the actual violence!"), and dismissed the original as having absolutely nothing to do with his fabulous remake, or reimagining, or whatthefuckever, ("The only thing these movies have in common is the title!") he went on to try to compare this piece of garbage to Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. That's when I realized he is a FUCKING TOOL and I just got done watching A PIECE OF SHIT. He’s all, "It’s not just a slasher movie, it’s so much more: a cop thriller, a killer on the loose, a coming of age drama..." BITCH, PLEASE! It’s a half-assed slasher movie with a big budget and no balls that got rated PG-13 and should have been rated G! A movie that reinforces homophobic, racist and sexist stereotypes and teaches kids (the obvious intended audience) that conformity and 1950s gender roles are what's most important to survival in this world. Hey Mr. Director (Nelson McCormick), you know what? You suck! And so does your movie.

In the movie's defense, I'll say this: It's shot and acted well. It's got the actress who played the crazy fake-pregnant wife of the music teacher on Glee Season 1 as Amber's aunt. And while there is no gore, there is violence, and the violence is, at times, disturbing. I must also say, in all fairness, that it did go on to rake in just under $44M on its $20M budget. Whatever, it still sucks.

Anyway, the winner: PROM NIGHT (1980). Not because it's one of the greatest slasher flicks out there, but because (1) The new Prom Night's subtext totally sucks ass, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna promote a movie that teaches girls that conforming to regressiver gender roles is the way to go; (2) The original Prom Night has the best Disco Prom on celluloid (not to mention-which I didn't-the most BITCHEN disco dance routine by JLC and her date!); and (3) The original Prom Night's got Jamie Lee Curtis kicking psycho killer ass, teaching young girls everywhere that they can be self-reliant survivors and not hot mess victims who need to be saved by men! Need I say more?

Monday, September 6, 2010


CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS: I first witnessed Brian DePalma's Body Double at the drive-in upon its initial release. That would have put me at just a few months shy of 19. I remember the film left me feeling like I'd just had unsatisfying cheap sex with an attractive stranger in an attractive setting...the kind of sex that is all the more disappointing because everything indicates that it should have been great...but it wasn't. Emptiness among the shimmer. Very L.A., right? And so is this movie.

I will get right to the verdict before I even present the evidence: this movie is a big hot steaming mess, but it's also very compelling. Now I watched it WITHOUT the benefit of director's commentary in FULL SCREEN mode (GIANT FAIL, BITCHES AT NETFLIX!), so I don't know what DePalma's intentions were, YET. But this movie is obsessed with four things: Sex. Porn. Vertical Blinds. Hitchcock. It's also a great 80s time capsule. But it's ice cold and makes no sense. Because DePalma seems to have decided that images supersede any semblance of plot, this post will be presented more visually than any other post I've done. Let's begin, shall we?
So, we begin with the credits superimposed over a sort of creepy but mostly tacky graveyard shot. The font are gooey, blood-dripping letters. Very Vampira. Then a Billy Idol/Vampira type girly-vampire-man in his coffin startles us by awaking suddenly, baring his fangs and staring into the camera. Staring. Staring. And the director yells "Cut!" Seems Idol/Vampira/acula is claustrophobic and is having some sort of panic attack. The sleazy director of the B Movie tells the actor to take the rest of the day off.
Cut to the 1st penetration scene: hot dog to the mouth (and hot dog to the camera) style. This film is filled with phallic symbols and penetration. While there is no queer quotient in this film to speak of, there are a few cute 80s guys, like this one with the short shorts and big thighs. Takes me back to the days of 80s gay porn, for sure...
Here we see DePalma aping Hitchcock with the obvious rear screen projection as the protagonist drives home to surprise his girlfriend with some hot dogs. The protagonist in this flick is a loser. He's creepy. He's skinny. He's an actor. He's kind of a rodent. Nobody really likes him, and neither does the audience. Well, long story short: the dude gets home and he's so stupid that he realizes his girlfriend is fucking some guy in the back of the apartment like 10 minutes after the rest of us do. He leaves all dejected, falls off the wagon, gets drunk, sleeps on his bartender buddy's couch, goes on some auditions, goes to acting class, and then basically winds up housesitting some super space age (via the 80s) bachelor pad for some other creepy douchebag who picks him up outside an acting audition.
None of the characters in this movie behave like people in real life. And perhaps that's the point. But since I didn't have the director's commentary, I don't know for sure. Ultimately, it disconnects the viewer from what's happening on the screen. Here's the swinging bachelor pad. It's some octagonal shaped house up on stilts in the Hollywood Hills. It's fucking lame.
So the creepy new bff of our creepy protagonist shows him the neighbor lady who likes to do sexy dances in the window for the whole neighborhood to see. She dances, she shakes her tush, shakes her titties, flips her hair...but that's not all. She masturbates, she opens her safe and takes out all of her diamonds in plain view of any pervy neighbors who might be looking out their nearby windows in her direction. She's a fucking retard, and we pretty much dislike her from the get go.
But our creepy protagonist and his creepy bff think it's HOT! Because they're retards too, in a retarded movie filled with people who have nothing whatsoever to do with reality or any fantasy world I'd ever want to have anything to do with. And yet, I'm compelled to keep watching.
Creepy protagonist is enjoying the circular rotating bed when he finds out he's been fired from his movie. So he decides to go down to the set to find out WTF happened!
This cap is very important to remember! Notice the new Billy Idol/Vampira hybrid in the background. This image returns later, so please take note. So creepy protag gets humiliated (again) and chewed out and thrown off the set for good.
Later that night Creepy Protag is busy peeping on his horny neighbor lady when he notices that, hey, there's some ugly cro-mag guy with a blow torch working on...the base of a satellite night...for no reason. The ugly cro-mag guy is peeping on the horny neighbor lady too. Creepy Protag suddenly feels protective of the horny neighbor lady, so the next day he stalks her through a Beverly Hills shopping mall.
The whole stalking sequence is excrutiatingly slow and just beyond believability...I mean, we didn't have as much technology back then, but we would know if some perv was following us like 5 feet behind. The whole execution, obviously paying "homage" to Hitchcock's Vertigo, falls flat. It's like bad parody. The only good thing about this sequence (the mall part, anyway) is the 80s fashion on display. Headbands and polos and feathered hair, oh my! :)
So, creepy protag follows horny neighbor lady to the beach, where she rents a hotel room and speaks to her lover, who apparently keeps jilting her, and all she does is grovel very badly for him. It's kind of sad. But then you realize how awfully weak and retarded and unfeministy she's being, and then you just wind up hating her. It's like, come on! It's 1984! Get your shit together, girl! You're rich, you're beautiful, and yet you're acting like a sniveling, groveling piece of shit. You suck! Also, this creepy protag peeping perv is practically breathing down your neck stalking you, and you haven't even noticed!
Oh, but she HAS noticed. And right there at the beach, at the orifice of a tunnel, the creepy peeping protag and the horny neighbor lady fall prey to their inner sexual urges and start to make out big time RIGHT THERE AT THE BEACH! They totally overdo it and she actually says: "No!....YES!" IT'S FUCKING RIDICULOUS. I was laughing my silly ho ass off! And it's shot like it's the most fascinating, erotic piece of cinema ever seen. It's tragic!
So then they keep going at it, and finally she pulls away and says "No, I can't! Not like this!" Like what? Like the stupid whore that you are? Ugh! She is very annoying!
Believe it or not, she gets more annoying. After a string of events that I haven't mentioned, the ugly cro-mag guy robs her safe and then attacks the horny neighbor lady in her posh 80s pad. This is the next big penetration scene in the film. Ugly cro-mag guy pretty much penetrates the screen with this big drill, and the horny neighbor lady screams and yelps and acts helpless and then trips over the bed and knocks herself out. It's like, by the time he finally kills her, you're cheering him on because she is so annoying. And the actual penetration, while not shown explicitly, is implied quite graphically, and in a very PHALLIC manner. I mean, you don't get much more PHALLIC than that. This scene is straight out of any one of those low-budget 80s splatter pics like Sorority House Massacre of Driller Killer. It's FUCKING RIDICULOUS. But hey, it's DePalma. Maybe he was Making A Point.
Enter Melanie Griffith (in one of her first starring roles) as A PORN STAR. Remember, this is the mid 80s. Home video is exploding and so is the new realization that YOU CAN RENT PORN AND WATCH IT IN THE PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN HOME! No more creepy porn theaters with sticky seats and nasty floors and ugly trolls on the hunt for desperate straight penis to suck off. (Sorry, ugly trolls!). So, here's how genius this movie is: after witnessing the brutal murder of the horny neighbor lady (and FAILING TO SAVE HER...LOSER!), creepy peeping protag is sitting around getting drunk and watching porn when he sees this Holly Hollywood porn chick do the SAME EXACT DANCE AS THE HORNY NEIGHBOR LADY DID IN HER WINDOW. Holy crap! This makes him realize, all on his own, that PERHAPS THE HORNY NEIGHBOR LADY WAS NOT THE ONE DOING THE DANCE, AND MAYBE IT WAS THE PORN STAR, AND MAYBE HE'S BEEN SET UP! Set up for what, you ask? Good question! I have no fucking idea!
So creepy peeping protag goes down to the Porn Office, which just happens to be holding auditions that day. And, this being straight porn, and him being male, he gets hired on the spot. NATCH!
Then there's an apparent INTERMISSION in the film while we are treated to a music video performance of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit single "Relax" starring our creepy peeping protagonist as well as Frankie Goes to Hollywood! (Oh, so here's your Queer Quotient). But it's actually creepy peeping protag's first big porn scene, which ends with him screwing the Melanie Griffith character, and making her kind of act like she actually came. Of course. Because this is starting to look like some straight loser's fantasy about his loser self as hero in some fucked up twisted fantasy, right?
Then all of a sudden creepy peeping protag is all slicked out in sleazy porn producer garb and lying to the porn actress and saying he wants her to star in his next big porn production. Melanie has this scene where she's like "I don't do this, I don't do that, I don't do anal, blah blah blah" and apparently back in 1984 it was so refreshing to see a young actress playing a sassy porn star and listing her do's and dont's that she got a Golden Globe nomination. Good for her! Not good for women, but good for her!
Then he takes her back to his pad and she climbs on top of him, because he's promised her a fabulous porn part that is just the be all and end all of porn roles...but by now it's all just a bunch of b.s., right, cauz he's trying to find out her connection to the dead horny neighbor lady. But pay attention, because this is when it all starts to come together. Holly Hollywood identifies the creepy peeping protag's creepy bff as the man who hired her to dance in the window and impersonate the horny neighbor lady. Then, pissed that creepy peeping protag's not a real porn producer, she leaves in a porn star huff.
She hitchhikes to get back to the Valley (I'm speculating), and gets picked up by the ugly cro-mag guy. Creepy peeping protag is right behind them, and he watches ugly cro-mag bash the porn star with a tire iron, right there in his Bronco, at a road block, with tons of cops around. But of course, no one notices. Ultimately, creepy peeping protag tracks down ugly cro-mag to a field beside a resevoir and they fight, but creepy peeping protag winds up in a real grave, claustrophobia hitting him full tilt boogie, and his ex-bff (who turns out to be disguised as the ugly cro-mag guy) burying him alive.
Then, the creepy peeping protag is back in the coffin having a claustrophobia attack...except he's not in costume, he's in the clothes he was wearing in the last scene where he was geeting buried alive.
He talks to the director and asserts his ability to finish the scene in spite of his fear, unlike the last time when he wussed out, which resulted in him losing his job, catching his girlfriend in bed with another man, getting duped by the fake bff, etc. So he goes back and does the scene.
Then we're back at the grave site, where he overcomes his claustrophobia, pushes the fake bff /cro-mag guy into the resevoir, and saves the porn star.
Then we're back on set at the shower murder scene (see above with the other Billy Idol/vampire wannabe in the shower with the actress-above left). Except this time a female body double with big fake hooters is standing in for Little Miss Muffet (again, above left) and the Billy Idol/girly vampire man is now our creepy peeping protag. And the porn star is in the studio, watching the scene being filmed, telling Little Miss Muffet that she's going to get LOTS of dates because everyone is going to think that the body double's big fake hooters are actually hers.
Then there's a gratuitous booby shot with blood and stuff as the credits roll.

This movie makes absolutely no sense to me. But, fuck if I'm not compelled to find a version of it with director's commentary and watch it and listen to WTF Brian DePalma thought he was trying to do. Because until I hear his side of it, I will not be able to dismiss it as total bullshit. And, as much as I just want to hate and dismiss Body Double outright...I just can't do it yet. It's a big hot steaming spectacle of style over substance, that's my take on it. Nevertheless, it's worth a look.

Plus, there is no homophobia in this film. That's refreshing (and rare) for a movie from the 80s.

UPDATE: I guess I was misremembering b/c there's no version of this movie with DePalma commentary. I did read, however, that he discusses the movie in depth in the book Double DePalma by Susan Dworkin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS: Whenever I revert to my slasher habit, I always worry about all of the delicate little flowers out there I'm going to offend by spending blog energy on "that trash." It's low culture, it's juvenile, etc., etc. But now I just figure: those bitches don't read past the blog post title anyway, so fuck 'em. This is for those who, like myself, appreciate the subtle nuances and artistry of the slasher genre.Budgeted at a mere $425K and later raking in nearly $4.5M within a month of its initial release, this oft-forgotten slasher nugget is, like most in the genre, flawed. The acting from many actresses is questionable, and the role of the house mother, which is one of the main characters, was completely (and noticeably) dubbed. However, the director of this film obviously had high aspirations. Unlike most slasher films, the set-up is quite gothic (a house mother with a secret; a crazy mongoloid in the attic) and the director seemed to be going for a Dario Argento type atmosphere. Argento is an Italian director known (by me at least) for his over the top Giallo slasher operas (the best known in America is probably Suspiria) which don't make much sense but look stunning. To balance out the bad you've got a film with a sense of humor, several comedic scenes, and some great chase and murder sequences, all followed by the obligatory final girl showdown and ambiguous ending. Also, in this film you at least buy into the premise: a group of stupid sorority girls, led like sheep by their bitchy head sorority sister, make a really bad decision after a prank goes awry and wind up paying the ultimate price for their bad choice. The rest of the film takes place on the day of the big graduation party being held at the sorority house, so you've got a lot of funny 80s hair, an insufferable 80s party band, and a group of sorority sisters with the most ridiculously convoluted sense of 80s fashion I've ever witnessed in one film. It's a good romp through to the end, and it contains the critical element of all the great 80s slasher films: it's FUN.
Fast forward to 9/11/2009 and the hot flaming mess that is Sorority Row. Loosely based on the original, it too is flawed, which, when it comes to this genre, is beside the point. This movie has the same sheen as I Know What You Did Last Summer and films of that ilk: its frame of reference appears to be the mid 90s. I mean, look at that poster for heaven's sake; you don't get more 90s than that. In its favor, there are some creative kills and quite a bit of man candy running around drunk and nearly naked. Also, it stars Carrie Fisher as the house mother, and any movie that stars Carrie Fisher as anything is all right in my book. Primary problems with this film are as follows: 1. The characters are all vile, so you never care which ones get bumped off and which ones don't. Since the sorority sisters are all skanky ho bags that appear to hate one another from the get go, the whole premise of them "sticking together to keep a secret to cover each others' asses" doesn't add up, and doesn't carry the movie. 2. It comes off as a vehicle for Rumer Willis, when the character she plays is only marginal until, inexplicably at the end, after sniveling and shrieking and being annoyingly weak throughout the entire movie, she experiences a last-minute power girl transformation, turns Die Hard and blows somebody away, for no apparent reason other than she's Bruce Willis's daughter. 3. While the film gives a couple of nods to the original, some story elements are obvious parallels, and there's some attempt at comedy with funny dialogue ("I'm going to the basement to turn on the power." "Ok, well I'm gonna go take a shower then."), it's played completely straight and nasty, so it's hard to tell where the irony is supposed to be planted, or if it's supposed to be there at all. 4. While some of the kills are respectably unique and gross, most of them are L-A-M-E! Never good for a slasher movie. Also, CGI kills (when done badly, as they are in this movie) just aren't that entertaining or disturbing. They seem watered down, and since this is a SLASHER movie, the kills need to be disturbing, not easy to digest. 5. Final problem is, it's one of those 90s-styled "slasher mysteries" where there are a dozen twists and turns until the end, when finally the killer is revealed, then there's a final battle, not between a Final Girl and the killer, but between the killer and 1. the Final Girl, 2. a friend, and 3. a random character thrown in to ensure a sequel. During the final battle, the killer all of sudden can't fight for shit and gets offed.

And herein lies the rub for me: I realize it's a generational thing. Those of us from Gen X and the original wave of slasher flicks liked our solo Final Girls because we're self-directed, results oriented latch key kids and we like to finish the job on our own. Gen Y, on the other hand, are all collaborative and shit, and they like to solve their problems (including their psycho killer problems) together. So, since Sorority Row is not aimed at a middle aged homosexual like myself, but at Millenials who totally have a whole different way of approaching the world and problem solving, and also apparently need everything carefully explained to them, and also apparently can't deal with ambiguity in their endings, I can't really apparently, in good faith, fault it for messing with the Final Girl thing. Even though the Final Girl is one of the primary tropes of the genre, but whatever, have it your way Gen Y you little wimps. Ultimately, the film approaches High Camp because it's pretty ridiculous, and for a slasher film, that's a GOOD THING! But in the final slasher analysis, the film fails because the scariness diminishes (instead of builds) as the film progresses, and any fun derived from it comes from the camp factor, which was unintentional.

WINNER: THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983). Put it in your Netflix queue! It doesn't appear to be available to rent on dvd, but you can stream it on your PS3 or Xbox!