Recently Rated Movies: A Hodgepodge of Varied Horrors

I watch a huge variety of films throughout the year, in nearly every possible genre, and from nearly every decade in film history. My need to complete any number of film lists (some from other sources and books, and some of my own devising) has me hopping about in nearly every possible direction to check ever more films off of those lists in a relatively consistent fashion.

However, around September and October, my choices tend more towards horror and science fiction, or variants thereof. It is the one time within the calendar year where I actively try to keep within those genres exclusively. Hence, the trio of absolutely unrelated films that I have seen over the past week, reviewed briefly below...

The Beast of Borneo (1934)
Dir: Harry Garson

TC4P Rating: 3
None of this nonsense is in this film.

"Ve've got to haff an O-rang!" The gorilla in the poster at the right is not in this film, nor is the scantily clad woman lying prone in the picture to the gorilla's right. As for the "gorilla gland injection" mentioned at the picture's bottom, it too is not to be found in The Beast of Borneo, for the ape in residence within its frames is an actual orangutan, not a guy in a suit (for the most part; there are a couple of scenes where it is obviously so), and it is never represented as a gorilla. I suppose gorillas were generally scarier to the movie-going public in those days (it was not long after the mighty Kong came and went), but this film employs footage of real orangutans and works them into its story.

A lot of the orangutan interest early in the film, before it bogs down in its melodramatic story involving a mad Russian scientist who wants to hunt an orangutan in Borneo in order to prove his theories on an evolutionary link between humans and apes, seems to be on the orangutan's ability to make a certain noise. That noise is shown in the film to be a low, elongated growl crossed with a yell. It sounds remarkably human to my ears, and it wouldn't surprise me if the sound effect in the film was created in a studio by the human voice. In my limited experiences in zoos and watching nature videos, while orangutans are certainly cable of long, low growls, I have never heard the noise portrayed in this film come from an orangutan, and a quick search online revealed nothing that replicated it. To me, the noise reminds me of the start of the novelty rock song, The Crusher, by the Novas, from 1964. (Not sure if orangutans can do "the Hammerlock" either, but if they don't, they're a bunch of turkey-necks.)

On the brief Wikipedia entry for The Beast of Borneo, it is mentioned the film is "made up mostly of leftover footage from Universal Studio's 1931 'East of Borneo,'" but there is no source cited for this information, nor does any such connection between the two movies appear on the page for either one on IMDb. I would think that, were this true, somebody on IMDb would have included it in the trivia section on either page. At the very least, The Beast of Borneo provided me with the directions by which discovered other items within my range of interest. It provoked me to do a direct search for East of Borneo (which is a very striking movie in many ways) and finding that film online also made me run into the fascinating story of the surrealist film made about lead actress Rose Hobart by artist Joseph Cornell from a print of East of Borneo, also named Rose Hobart (1936).

Of The Beast of Borneo itself, it is very low-budget, crude, has horrid sound, and exists primarily in the public domain, with the ups (easy access) and downs (poor, unrestored prints) in viewing that entails. The acting is the stiff standard of its quality level, but it is not unentertaining. Much of the fun in the picture comes from a baby orangutan who is as adorable as hell and is very proficient in extricating himself from any knot imaginable. The film is also just over an hour long, so despite the crawling slowness of the talky scenes in building the thin plot, it flies by swiftly enough. You get some mild jungle thrills, and that is all. And if you are me, you get pleasantly reminded of The Crusher... RRRRRRRRAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!

Hell Baby (2013)
Dir: Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
TC4P Rating: 5

I thought this one was in the bag. Or, in the womb, as it were...

I am fond, to varying degrees, of a large number of comic actors working in the entertainment field these days. A good many of them come from The State, the MTV sketch show that was relatively short-lived, but has had a zillion other shows and movies spring from the creative minds of its talented cast over recent years. 

Two of these cast members, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, had a very successful turn in creating the Cops spoof, Reno 911!, but have had even greater success as the screenwriters of films in which I have very little interest: The Night at the Museum series, Taxi, The Pacifier, Balls of Fury, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. All of these films, while panned critically by a majority of film critics, made money, which is the most important part if you want to continue writing in films. Except for Let's Go to Prison, which was not a financial success, I have had little interest in these films (there are two on this list I have yet to see), and Let's Go to Prison mostly sucked. But Lennon and Garant were having mostly hits with very few misses as far as the bottom line was concerned.

But then came Hell Baby. Not only were Lennon and Garant co-directing the film this time (Garant directed the Reno: 911! movie, which I loved, but you have to be a Reno fan to appreciate it -- filmgoers didn't generally), but they have prominent roles as ass-kicking Vatican exorcists. Hell Baby seems to be right in my wheelhouse, and they stacked it with comic actors, as I mentioned at the beginning, for whom I hold a great fondness: Rob Corddry, Keegan-Michael Key, David Wain, Michael Ian Black, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Kumail Nanjiani, and a tasty Riki Lindhome. And best of all, from the trailer I saw a couple of years ago, Hell Baby held promise of being a fun horror comedy. I thought it was a sure winner.

I'm not sure why I put off seeing the film ultimately, but it doesn't matter. Hell Baby is never as good as you hope it will be, though it is not a chore to watch. It's really just standard. The actors perform at the top of their abilities, but the story never jells. Scenes go on for far longer than they need to; I suppose they are going for the uncomfortable vibe of much comedy these days, used successfully on many Adult Swim programs that star many of these same actors (Children's Hospital, as an example), and perhaps that shortened format seems to work better for the style. Here, it just makes the film grind to a halt again and again. Lennon and Garant as a team are the best part of the movie, but that is onscreen, and even there, the priest characters (while having most of the funniest lines) get a little overplayed (yes, I get it... these priests love strippers).

And can we have a moratorium on movie characters getting run down by motor vehicles from out of nowhere for comedic effect? At least it is not a bus speeding at an insane rate of speed for a city street this time. (I really, really hate when that happens...)

Pernicious (2014)
Dir: James Cullen Bressack
TC4P Rating: 3

NOT the poster on Netflix
mentioned in the text.

Let's play pretend for a bit. Let's say that, chiefly because I get obsessed with the sound of various words, that I became uniquely driven to locate a movie with the unlikely name of Persnickety on Netflix. Instead, I undershoot in the alphabetical order a tad and end up seeing something called Pernicious instead.

OK, that's not how it happened. It was actually, "Hey, let's see what horror movies have been added to streaming. Pernicious? What a stupid title. Oh, cute girls on the cover in various states of undress posing with a creepy Asian goddess statue. Seems dumb and quick. Let's watch it." I wish that I were beyond such measures, but there you go. Just a dopey male driven by libido like the others. 

Pernicious lost me almost from the start, and at no point did it come close to winning me back. Its opening scene has the actresses speaking what is probably vapid dialogue over the opening credits, but no sound emits from their eating orifices as they travel from America to Thailand, and take a boat downriver. We only hear some cheap music played, and are left not hearing their voices until they arrive at the house in which they will be staying while they serve as teachers at a local school. Not sure what a couple of them will be teaching, as they seem mostly idiotic except for the brunette (naturally). Such cliches don't matter, as one of the girls will blankly remove some sort of amulet from a small spirit house perched outside of the abode, the trio of idiots will discover the creepy gold statue of a prepubescent girl in the attic, and then will deal with the spirit within that statue as it seeks revenge for being murdered as a little girl so many years before.

That's the plot in a nutshell. You think you are getting an "Americans abroad encountering a crazy Asian ghost's bloodlust" movie, much like in The Grudge, and you do indeed get that. But the film takes a weird turn about a third of the way in when the girls run into a trio of British ex-pats in a bar, and the turn is on the level of the way From Dusk Till Dawn shifts midway through that film, but in even less of a positive way. Even though the ghost movie that is occurring never goes away, and in fact, comes back even stronger in the second half, Pernicious briefly swerves into full-on torture porn territory, as the girls, after seemingly being "roofied" by the Brits, suddenly have the boys tied up in individual rooms and slowly and methodically torture and kill them as bloodily as they can. Eyeballs are gouged and force-fed, body parts sliced, teeth yanked... this might hold appeal for certain fans of extreme filmgoing, but for me, it was all wrong tonally when matched against what comes before it and what comes after it. It is like you fell asleep watching Pernicious on cable, woke up in the middle of another horror film, fell back asleep, and were catching the rest of Pernicious on its next showing.

The other problem is that soundtrack. Not just the lack of dialogue over the credits when all of the characters are clearly having conversation, but later in the film when two of the local residents have a full scene speaking Thai, which is pretty important to the plot, but there is not even the slightest impulse to put subtitles on the screen for the majority of the world that does not speak Thai. It is fairly easy to tell what is implied by their dialogue, especially from the actions that happen both during and immediately after, but really... it seems like lax production. 

Speaking of which, at the end of an important expository scene with a local "witch," there is a split-second of cacophonous noise that bears no relation to any other sound in the scene nor to the score of the movie. It is just sheer slopping sound editing (or film processing, take you pick), and adds to the notion that this film has an unsteady captain at the wheel.


I feel like Tom Lennon is such a great comic actor, with innate timing and an amazing ability to come up with hilarious, off-the-cuff remarks. The downside to that, though, is that he doesn't really have to try that hard, because his persona and style mean that he can natter on for a few minutes and safely hit on something funny. The Lennon/Garant stuff is frustratingly mediocre for much of that reason. It's a bunch of absolutely hilarious people trying 'just hard enough'

Still, really looking forward to watching, and being mildly disappointed by, Hell Baby.

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