Of Pickaxes, Popped Skulls, and Party Tapes Lost to Time...

The only downside of getting back on the writing track is that it definitely takes time away from sitting down and enjoying films as I have become accustomed. Since one is decidedly more beneficial to my health than the other, so be it. I do not need to keep up my ridiculous two-plus films a day pace of the past few years. (On a good open day, I could even get in anywhere from six to nine films, depending on length.)

Yes, it is a new era for me, though really, I have merely reverted back to my ways of the first few years I was in California, when I was actually eager to be here, start over my life, and cut loose with the verbiage. Let's call it a bold new second edition of an old era. However, I am still watching films, just not at the same relentless pace. As proof, here are some capsule reviews and/or personal musings regarding a few that caught my attention recently:

My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) [non-3D version]
Dir: Patrick Lussier
TC4P Rating: 5/9

I have a nagging suspicion that I have never given the original My Bloody Valentine film from 1981 a truly fair shake. To be honest, it was one of the few of what I would term the "original slasher bunch" that really gave me a good scare, chiefly through use of the creepy mining mask and pickaxe, but I used that knowledge against the film. Instead of embracing it like I normally would when a film delivers on its promise to be bloody and frightening, I stepped away from it, and I am not sure why. Another thing in its favor would be that it had more plot than the normal slasher film did in those days, but again I used this to turn my favor from it. And once again, I am not sure why. Several scenes from the film have always stuck with me, as has its memorable catchphrase said evilly by the trailer announcer as the ad's tension-fraught editing builds to its conclusion: "Take your pick!" Yeah, that was pretty effective.

It was inevitable, of course, that MBV would get remade, and I guess it was equally inevitable, given the eye-popping gore, that it would come out in 3D. I did not see it in the theatre, and so I have only now watched the 2D version of the film, but one thing has not changed in the 28 years between the versions, no matter the number of dimensions: a coal-filthy surplus of plot and characters. This new version is even more overloaded than the first. They seem to have taken the plot of the original, shaken, stirred, and shuffled it around a bit, twisted some details, and then added even more plot on top of it. If you are looking for the definition of "convoluted" to be summed up by a movie, you have it here. Here, having so much story becomes a detriment because most of the main characters are either so monumentally dull-witted or blind to their environment that you can't believe they even made it past third grade.

I need to talk about Jensen Ackles, and I am sure that I am about to infuriate some longtime Supernatural fans with this. I don't get him. Last year, I finally decided to check out Supernatural myself, and waded about chest high into the first season before I had to stop. I know the show, according to what I see online, is supposed to get AH-MA-ZING a few seasons into it, but I need to get past the first season. And one of the things keeping me from doing it is Ackles, whose performance I find understated to the point of being proclaimed one of the living dead. I assume he gets better in later seasons of the show, or maybe the fandom is simply made up of people who like to watch pretty muscle-boys fight monsters. In My Bloody Valentine, he fits the role he is given I suppose, especially since his ability to not impart any believable emotion at all helps to keep viewers guessing as to his guilt or innocence in the murders in this film.

Maybe the film is better in 3-D, as my friend Aaron mentioned to me the other day, and I just need to get the Blu-ray and watch it that way. Maybe I am wrong about Ackles, and I will get to a later season of Supernatural and find that I really like the guy and I just needed to let him grow into that role. I am pretty sure that I need to revisit the original MBV film and give it a grown-up viewing to establish a modern opinion on it. I don't know. Maybe I will do all of these things. Or maybe I will just take my pick.

Pop Skull (2011)
Dir: Adam Wingard
TC4P Rating: 6/9

So, I went bonkers, as I sometimes do, over a movie a couple of years ago called You're Next (and seeing it again recently, justly so). I noted at the time of my initial viewing the name of the director, Adam Wingard, and it wasn't long before I encountered segments he had directed in the anthologies The ABCs of Death, V/H/S, and V/H/S/2. None of these struck me as much as the grim fun I encountered in You're Next, and to be truthful, didn't really strike me as anything special at all in comparison. Earlier this year, at the behest of Aaron, I dove into a recently produced film called The Guest, starring Dan Stevens and Maika Monroe (whom I had was marvelous in It Follows). I went in knowing Wingard was the director, and really hoped it would at least live up to the promise shown in You're Next. Which it did. While I liked The Guest a little less than that film, and a little less than Aaron as well, it was a very enjoyable horror/action effort that manages to both complement many classic '80s action flicks and also raise the genre artistically. (As I write these words, my brain is compelling me to watch the film again right away.)

In my estimation, following the twin successes of You're Next and The Guest, Wingard has become someone worth watching in regards to future productions. But what about his earlier work? Reviewing his filmography, it turns out I had already seen another of his feature films, A Horrible Way to Die, which garnered some praise and citations on the film festival circuit a few years ago. I found the work underwhelming, and definitely not remarkable enough to make me remember the name of either Wingard or the film's screenwriter Simon Barrett. (It turns out I should have, because Barrett was also the clearly talented screenwriter of the other two films.) I recall that I gave Horrible a middle of the road rating (a 5 out of 9), and never made the connection that the same guys made You're Next one year later. I will probably need to revisit Horrible as well.

And now I go back further in time in Wingard's resume to Pop Skull, before Barrett was in the picture putting words down for Adam to turn into crazy pop culture totems. The title Pop Skull is the truest definition for what this tiny budgeted wonder can do to your psyche should you approach it openly. The story of Daniel (played by Lane Hughes), who spends his days in his home popping pill after pill and having increasingly horrific visions, Pop Skull is like a modern version of The Trip, though this one feel so much more real and terrifying than the bullshit hippie fest that Roger Corman and Jack Nicholson (the director and screenwriter, respectively) foisted upon the world. 

Daniel's visions of murder and mayhem could be many things: repressed memories of something monstrous he has already done, psychic projections of something he is going to do in the future, or just complete, drug-addled hallucinations. The biggest problem though are the spirits/ghosts that seem to inhabit his abode, haunt his every move, and won't let him get his wits about himself. Wingard doesn't want to make it easy for you either. The editing here is manic to the point of distraction at times, with the film flitting from style to style, from pill montage to hallucination to memories of a girl with a catnip-for-guys hairstyle and back to more pills so quickly it once again points to the film's title. For a film whose budget has been reported as a mere $2,000 and is, given the setting of a druggie shack, fairly dingy looking, there are some beautiful images to be found in Pop Skull, amongst all of the screaming, sweat, and blood. This may be a cult film of the future.

Blood Cult (1985)
Dir: Christopher Lewis
TC4P Rating: 4/9

I remember running across the VHS box of Blood Cult many a time in the horror sections of 
my hometown's video stores back in the late '80s. I had memberships at six different stores (and that's not even counting the memberships for renting from the rival grocery stores I frequented, where the horror content tended to be somewhat tamer), and while I was always looking for new titles or something to thrill me, somehow coming across the truly cheesy looking cover of Blood Cult just never got me excited about renting it. And so I passed time and again.

Twenty-five years or so have passed, and I have just watched Blood Cult for the first time. Was I right to skip it? Yeah, it's pretty bad, so my instincts were probably right. Should I still have watched it back then? Yeah, I should have, because for all its badness, it was kind of fun to see it, and the film is also kind of a piece of history. The story behind the film is that the producers wanted to skip theatrical release altogether and just shoot for the profits of putting the film out directly on video. The other thing they did was actually shoot it on video, thereby saving a lot of film costs as well. This was novel for 1985, and Blood Cult often gets attributed as the first of its kind: a film both shot on video and then released and marketed as a straight-to-video title. In fact, they used this status as a selling point for the movie. "Why would you want to watch something on film in a theatre," I can almost hear them say, "when you can watch something with half the quality of a daytime soap -- and with even worse acting -- on video?" Ah, marketers...

There is a campus, showering coeds are being dismembered, and it all could lead to some sort of "blood cult" out in the woods, hence the title. Who is behind the killings? The town sheriff, who looks like how I imagine Roger Ebert's grandfather to have appeared, wants to know, and it is going to take scene after scene of mind-numbing exposition and chats in small town diners to help him figure it out. I will give the film credit for not holding back on the gore. There are extreme closeups of facial disfigurements on victims in dumpsters and a severed, gushing forearm lying in a bloody shower stall. The second victim in the movie gets beaten to death with the decapitated head of the first victim. (I think that is what happened...) Blood Cult goes for the true grue, even if it ends up being sort of dull. It's utter shit, but its wicked little heart is in the right place. I could see this film being pretty fun at a party. And since it is likely that is exactly how I would have employed it had I rented Blood Cult back in the '80s, there is something to be said for that.


I will say that yes, MBV was great fun in 3D, seen with a packed theatre. I haven't wanted to go back and watch the non-3D version, because I'm sure it would be both dreadfully boring and impossible to ignore the frequent plot holes. However, it was a fun time at the movies when I first saw it, and the 3D was among the best I had ever seen (I do not generally enjoy 3D, and almost never watch the 3D version of a film if there's a regular version available).

I'll have to track down Pop Skull and A Horrible Way to Die, because while I have not enjoyed Wingard's short work, The Guest and You're Next were two of the most fun genre films I've seen in years.
EggOfTheDead said…
I'm a fan of the original My Bloody Valentine and watch it every few years. My fondness has some emotional tie to having first seen it at an all-night Scream-a-thon in 1985, but it still holds up after all these years. The characters have more going on than the usual line 'em up, knock 'em down formula, which made the scares more effective. It also has a gritty, working class feel that uses its low budget to good effect. I enjoyed MBV in 3D in the theater, but forgot it almost immediately (other than how handsome Jensen "granite face" Ackles, was!) On Aaron's recommendation, I'll give it another look.

Thanks for the tip about Adam Wingard. I've seen his name a few times but never put them all together. V/H/S is on my watch (re-watch) list for tonight, actually, and I'll add The Guest.

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