Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With Tales From The Crypt: Bordello Of Blood (1996)

Why Found-Again? As a kid, I’d occasionally get overwhelmed by horror. My first Stephen King novel ended up in a faroff closet, only to be pulled out every other weekend. I did the same thing with the first two books of Anne Rice’s vampire series. And when I saw my very first Tales from the Crypt episode, “Lover Come Hack To Me,” I was both thoroughly freaked out and ready to watch some more. In fact, a creature from a Tales episode ranks with Pinhead and Samara Morgan among the few horror-movie things that have given me nightmares.

That’s one reason I ended up in the theater when Bordello of Blood came out. Others include an ill-advised crush on Dennis Miller and a thoroughly understandable crush on the subject of our theme month.

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The Premise:  Some leftover explorers from an unmade Indiana Jones movie find the mummified vampire Lilith (Angie Everhart) and restore her to bloodthirsty life, significantly shortening theirs.

Back in the US, the chaste Katherine (Erika Eleniak) has a fight with her loser brother (Corey Feldman), and he storms out of the house. When he doesn’t return, Katherine hires detective Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) to find him. The trail leads to a secret vampire brothel hidden beneath a mortuary. Lilith is an entrepreneur now! And brother Caleb has been good and chomped.

Like Dennis Miller, I made this face a lot during this movie.
Like Dennis Miller, I made this face a lot during this movie.

Rafe, Katherine, and Katherine’s boss JC (Sarandon as a televangelist with a guitar!) must band together to rout the fanged legions… with Super-Soakers full of holy water, among other things.

This picture may the the best thing about... well, this picture.
This picture may the the best thing about… well, this picture.

I’ve been watching a lot of Jason Statham movies this year–I didn’t write them up for the Omelet; you’re welcome–and the comparison that kept coming to mind was Crank and its sequel, the weird action movies that got so much easier to enjoy when I realized they were a kind of live-action Roadrunner cartoon. The kills and the big fight in Bordello of Blood have the same manic, unreal, goofy quality. And yet…

The Verdict: I tend to be optimistic about my Friday rewatches. Usually I rediscover what I liked about a film; at the least, I’ll make peace with not liking it or find something interesting there. Rarely does a movie I watch of my own free will seem worse with every viewing, but Bordello of Blood is that rare case. It has its moments, but the tone of the whole thing seems more like a Cryptkeeper monologue than a fully fleshed-out (sorry) episode of Tales from the Crypt.

To put it bluntly, I could not get over the stupid.

Unless you are a hitherto untapped Dennis Miller enthusiast, you’d be better off with the first Tales movie, Demon Knight.

Might go well with: Cherry Jell-O salad.

 

Next time: Jonny Quest isn’t Aquaman. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With The Sentinel (1977)

chrismas-2016-week-1

Why Found-Again? A few days ago I mentioned a theme month, and here we are! What I didn’t mention is that I’m going to be reviewing these in rising order of expectations. If it ticks you off that a horror classic like The Sentinel is at the bottom of my list, well, I totally sympathize. Maybe this viewing will be better.

The Premise: Alison (Cristina Raines) is a model, a bundle of nerves, and the girlfriend of a lawyer (Chris Sarandon in a terrible little mustache).

It takes a +20 Face of Handsomeness to defeat that facial hair.
It takes a +20 Face of Handsomeness to defeat that facial hair.

Once she gets an apartment of her own, she’s also the winner of the 1977 My Neighbors Are Super Weird Award—including a blind priest who inhabits the building’s top floor. When her orgy-loving, Jesus-hating father dies, Alison’s traumatic past returns to haunt her in lurid visions, and her health begins to suffer. Is she all there?

Indeed, is anybody?

Well, demons, it turns out. Guess who’s living on a hellmouth?

In a discussion about the best casts in movies, The Sentinel would be at the top of my list, and not just because it forms an important nexus in my Four Degrees of Jeff Goldblum game.

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“I’m going to have a British phase?”

Visually (and ideologically, in its ironclad faith in Catholicism), the movie is a close cousin of those other classic dark-panelled 1970s horror films, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. The Sentinel is also an interesting confluence of subgenres: in addition to the church-versus-Satan plot, there are traces of zombies, haunted houses and a psychological thriller lurking here—even a touch of police procedural as Sarandon’s character is investigated for murder. It’s a very powerful film. However…

The Verdict: It’s a failing of mine that I can appreciate bleak movies in a lit-crit kind of way but rarely like them, and make no mistake, The Sentinel is bleak. It’s probably perfect for what it is, though: if someone tried to turn a Hieronymus Bosch painting into a 20th-century story, this is exactly what you’d get. All the glamor, the hopes, and the humanity of the characters gets burned away in a story of ecclesiastical good against evil. I have the same beef with mortal sin as a plot device here that I do when it turns up in Hamlet, and I can’t really get over it.

You can get me to admire The Sentinel—I was much more taken with it this time around— but you can’t quite get me to enjoy it.

Might go well with: Prince of Darkness, The Omen.

Apropos Of Fridays In December: Theme Month!

While making a list of things to watch during October, I noticed a certain… similarity about my choices. An actor who kept popping up again and again like a bad penny or a relentless supernatural killer.

Then I wondered if I’d have time to watch all this stuff by Halloween.

Then, like a certain other holiday figure, I got a wonderful, awful idea.

This December, I’m going to focus on putting the Chris Sarandon back in Christmas.

The Sentinel, Fright Night, Child’s Play, The Resurrected and Tales From the Crypt: Bordello of Blood are all coming at you this month. After all, red is a holiday color.

If you've ever secretly rooted for Humperdinck, have I got a month for you.
If you’ve ever secretly rooted for Humperdinck, have I got a month for you!

Nothing Could Be Found Friday! …Um.

It finally happened: Thanks to some plotting for October and December (which, surprise!, will look a lot like most people’s October in terms of Friday posts), I’ve kind of cordoned off my possibilities for slow viewing weeks. As a result, I am all out of  Friday at the moment.

When TV shows hit this sort of obstacle, they often do a clip show, so I will too.

Apropos Of Our Cynical Omelet: Search Terms And Me

I love reading search-term posts on other sites, but having few readers means it’s taken almost two years to amass enough for one of my own. I also think it might be fun to grade the Omelet in terms of providing service, so let’s see what people have been looking for!

“Hellboy’s heroine”—This was my first-ever search term, and though I’ve since referred to the end of the Hellboy movie, all this person got was a photo of my 2014 Hellboy Halloween costume. I’m so sorry. Grade: D+

Here's Liz...
To make it up to you, here’s Liz…
...and just in case, here's Kate Corrigan.
…and just in case, here’s Kate Corrigan.

“Sean Connery and Carol Sopel”—Apparently these two were married. I didn’t know that before seeing someone look for it, and I can’t imagine the searcher felt edified by my bitching about Highlander and Darby O’Gill.  Grade: F

Highlander absorbance”—This is the search term I’m most proud of; when I first noticed the spelling of “absorbance” on Brenda’s printout in the movie, I couldn’t find any confirmation that it was correct. That was several years ago, however, and the internet is much improved. I’m oddly pleased to be a resource to the three other proofreading Highlander fans out there. Grade: A+

“The Big Easy movie”—I like it for no compelling reason! Grade: A

“Jay Sherman and his sister Margo”—I mentioned the sibling relationship in my Friday post on The Critic, but didn’t really get into it. Margo’s great, though. Grade: B-

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“Count Blah”—I used the Count—a Greg the Bunny character veeeeerrrry loosely based on the other famous vampire puppet—as a sight gag in my review of Frankenstein. I should probably do a Found-Again post for Greg the Bunny one of these days. Grade: C

“Kurgan fanfic”—Dude, I have tried: not to write any, but to find some, especially when I was doing the There Can Be Only Monday! posts. After on-and-mostly-off searching since I first saw the movie in the early 2000s, I have found maybe five stories. Highlander’s villain is such a beloved bad guy…by me, for one…but apparently does not inspire people to churn out reams of prose. Grade: does effort count?

 

 

 

Finally! Friday: Mrs. Amworth (2007)

Why Finally? As I told someone when I put this adaptation of the E.F. Benson vampire story in my Netflix queue: “God, I hope this doesn’t suck, ’cause I’m gonna watch it anyway.”

(For fellow spook-story fiends, I also wanted to note the 1975 British adaptation with Glynis Johns as the titular lady. That one is very close to the original story, even down to making us watch bored villagers play cards.)

The Premise (Original Story): Friendly, larger-than-life widow Mrs. Amworth livens up the town she moves to after the death of her husband, though a plague of anemia sets in following her arrival. It seems there may be a case of vampirism afoot, and only the narrator’s crank of a brother-in-law can save the day. That makes it sound silly, but it has some genuinely creepy moments, including a floating-outside-the-window scene à la ‘Salem’s Lot.

The Premise (Movie I Am Actually Watching):  Elegant refugee from one of those fantastic ’20s-style Edward Gorey drawings Mrs. Claire Amworth moves to a small country village and falls in with the locals: washed-up photographer Jed, his reporter girlfriend Sarah, her editor Lee, and the town doctor. Oh, and the handyman Mrs. A. is draining of blood… From there, she cuts a bloody swath through a town which will surely soon be investing in a new “Population:____ ” sign.

Mrs Amworth ’07 is a little goofy, perhaps, but not unwatchably so. It suffers from the common ailments of low-budget horror: the video quality is a little off, the acting a little stiff, and the special effects not all they might be.  One of the biggest changes from the original (other than some gore) is the depiction of small-town life. The Benson story gave us tea and card games; this gives us a whiff of sexual intrigue that hints at a more Twin Peaks version of village social dynamics, and I don’t object to that. I’d rather watch people make out than play whist if those are my options.

The Verdict: Pretty good. While I do try to find the best in everything I write up for Fridays, I’m surprised how much I liked this movie. It differs from the source material, but in a way consistent with  updating an early 20th-century story into a horror film; I even enjoyed some of the soapier bits. And honestly, anyone who adapts a Benson story (or M.R. James or to some extent Lovecraft) gets 10 extra points of goodwill from me just for caring enough to do it.

Where this movie shines, though, is its heroine. This Mrs. Amworth takes Benson’s vampire, who was sort of a normal person plus 10% extra(vert) personality plus bloodlust, and adds to the character touches of the traditional movie vamp and callbacks to the time the original story is written. If your horror doesn’t have to be polished, there are worse ways to pass an afternoon.

 

Might go well with: Cheese and crackers; old British ghost stories. (If you’re very squeamish, you may want to do your eating in the first hour.)

Random Note: I love this movie for giving the world the line “What are you afraid of? Vampire fish?” Can a SyFy movie based on this be far behind?

 

Next time: Jade and the Quests are on the case.

Finally(?)! Friday: Prince of Darkness

Why Finally? It’s been over a year since I reviewed anything from John Carpenter, who is right up there with Cronenberg for testing my commitment to watching a movie. (I’m not so squeamish that I faint at the sight of blood; in fact, that would probably be less irritating for anyone watching horror movies with me, given that unconscious people tend not to whimper and cover their eyes so much.)

The Premise: The Vatican has been keeping a secret for ages: there’s a big vat of glowing yuck in the basement of a California church, and it just may be the embodiment of Satan. A priest (Donald Pleasance) invites a physicist and his team of students to examine the vat and decipher the ancient book that goes along with it. He does this, as far as I can tell, either because he is a cockeyed optimist or because he really, really hates students, since the body count begins to mount almost at once and the evil liquid begins to possess its victims—literally, by squirting into their mouths like a malign Red Bull. Meanwhile, the entire group begins to have dreams of future evil.

I’ll skip straight to The Verdict this time and say right out that I liked Prince of Darkness (though I’m unsure how deeply), especially for a movie in which swarming bugs briefly animate a corpse.

After rewatching that scene, I find myself wondering if this is one of those movies that would collapse without its tense musical score.

I do enjoy stories that straddle the line between science and the supernatural (H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, the novels of Robert Holdstock), and this seems to be somewhat in that vein, with a passing resemblance to the technologically inclined ghosts of this century’s J-horror. That said, some of the mechanics of the…haunting?…aren’t quite clear: I loved Alice Cooper in his role as a homeless person, but were he and his cohorts zombified or “just” possessed or what? There also aren’t many moments that make us care about the characters, so that for all the (god)matter/anti(god)matter theorizing, Prince of Darkness is at its root a highfalutin slasher.

The real moral of the story: If Donald Pleasance can’t sort something out, for god’s heaven’s pete’s sake don’t go anywhere near it.

Might go well with: End of Days; as for food and drink, that all depends on how much you like bugs, I guess.

 

Next time: A (Benton) Quest for medicinal plants.

Found-Again Friday (on Saturday): The Big Easy

Back to raiding my DVD collection!

Why Found-Again: Blame Netflix. I started watching Criminal Minds a few weeks ago— what can I say? I guess I’m not depressed enough and/or wish to develop new phobias about driving, going to the park or sleeping in my home. There’s a season 2 episode set in New Orleans, and I found myself comparing the actors’ accents with Dennis Quaid’s often-mocked performance in 1987’s The Big Easy.

The Premise: Remy McSwain (Quaid) is a happy-go-lucky cop and a crook with a heart of gold, so steeped in graft that he barely notices it. An apparent mob murder coincides with the arrival of an investigator from the district attorney (Ellen Barkin), and the case begins to look less like an incipient gang war and more like the police have turned to murder.

Remy (offscreen) tempting Ann Osborn with pizza.
Remy (offscreen) tempting Ann Osborn with pizza.

Dennis Quaid often seems to be the salvation and the damnation of The Big Easy at the same time. His character is enormously charming, even when doing awful stuff like taking bribes; if you can’t get past the accent he seems to have stolen from this 1986 potato-chip commercial, however, the movie can be rough going. Quaid’s performance also goes a long way toward selling the movie’s other stereotypes—the random references to Mardi Gras, the voodoo, the gator—and he even takes a turn singing Cajun music at one point.

The gator.
The gator.

The resemblance to other ’80s buddy-cop movies is obvious; less obvious is The Big Easy’s kinship to the horror-genre staple in which children begin to figure out that all is not right with their families, and here I think the movie shines brighter. Remy’s failure to be suspicious of his fellow officers isn’t because he’s particularly stupid or greedy; it’s because they’ve been literally the background of his existence. There is a level at which this is a fairy tale, with guns and heroin and crime lords as the monsters in the wood.

The Verdict: The Big Easy’s faults are real. There was a (perfectly understandable, says this étouffée and zydeco enthusiast) fad for all things Cajun in the ’80s, and this movie is one of the results. That said, the film has a splash of noir and a lot of heart that make it more watchable, and the cast (Quaid and Barkin are joined by John Goodman, Grace Zabriskie, and Ned Beatty, among others) does a lot to elevate the goofy parts. And though I didn’t mention it above, let’s face it; the movie has some of the most effective sex scenes ever.

BigEasyWow

Might go well with: You name the Cajun food, it’ll go well.

Next time: Jonny Quest goes someplace with animals again!

 

 

 

 

 

Finally!(?) Friday: Scanners

Why Finally? Because I am squeamish as all get-out, and it’s a David Cronenberg film. I’ve been familiar with his reputation since 1986 and later (surprise!) from my ill-fated attempt to watch The Fly so I could see Jeff Goldblum with no shirt on.

When The Fly finally showed up on cable, I was 13 and very excited. My mother, who was more of a Commander USA’s Groovie Movies kind of person, sat down to watch it with me, but I folded right around the time Seth Brundle starts getting those giant back-hairs at the start of his flyification. Defeated by the yuck factor, I wandered off to my bedroom to read; occasionally Mom would yell out updates like “He just vomited acid!” or “His penis fell off and he put it in the medicine cabinet!” and I would yell back “THANKS FOR LETTING ME KNOW!” because that is how my family rolls.

Even though it would make one heck of a Found-Again Friday, I’ll probably never watch the entire Fly. But I made it through (and liked) Videodrome a few years ago, so when someone suggested 1981’s Scanners, I decided to go for it. After all, its classic head-exploding scene is pretty famous—so much so that the movie might be considered required viewing under my Deliverance Rule.”

And there was always a chance that would be the grossest part of the movie. Right?

Well…close.

The Premise: A generic government defense/intelligence agency hunts and captures Cameron Vale. Vale is a “scanner,” one of a small group of people who can telepathically mess with other people’s heads—at some pain to the scanner, and a whole lot of pain to us squishy-headed normals. After tutelage by mad scientist Dr. Ruth (Patrick McGoohan—if nothing else, the name proves at least Cronenberg can’t predict the future himself), Vale is sent out to track down a rogue scanner named Darryl Revok. It’s a name that is clearly up to no good, and the character is played by Michael Ironside, so Revok is basically doomed to be very, very evil.

What follows is a psionic version of spy vs. spy, with contacts and allies on both sides becoming casualties of Vale and Revok’s date with destiny.

The Verdict: What kept bugging me as I watched this unfold is something simple: why on earth can’t scanners seem to pick up when someone is after them with a gun? I’d almost bet there’s an explanation that I missed because I know very little about Cronenberg movies (see above re: squeamish as hell).

As a thriller and the story of a man’s search for his identity, Scanners is often excellent, with that bleak aesthetic shared by all 1.3 of the previous Cronenberg films I’ve seen. And while some of its scenes of scanners in action—the head-exploding scene, a sort of mind-melding ritual, Cameron almost killing a tweed-clad yogi—are outstanding, other times the telepathy feels underused or oddly used, and the movie has a bad case of that creeping cinema disease where things explode that really shouldn’t. Despite that (and some eyeball violence), it’s an absolutely worthwhile watch.

Might go well with: Videodrome; Firestarter.

Geez, even the trailer agrees this is a one-scene movie. It’s not!

Finally! Friday: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

“Dear Diary, why does no one understand me? P.S., I am not mad.”–Victor Frankenstein’s school friend Clerval, mocking him.

Why Finally? …and by “Mary Shelley’s,” we mean “now with Kenneth Branagh!” It’s time to sit down with a movie I’ve been putting off since the year it came out (and putting off even harder after I started watching all those Frankenfilms last year).

It would appear my timing is unusually good this week.

The Premise: I feel sure I’ve already mentioned somewhere on this site about Dr. Frankenstein and his habit of playing god with charnel leftovers; like Frankenstein: The True Story, this version hews close to the book, Arctic voyages and all. Victor F., spurred by the deaths of his mother and his mentor and possessed of an intellectual method best described as “better science through shouting,” creates his monster (Robert De Niro) using a steampunk contraption full of electric eels. He then promptly rejects it for being an icky sewn-together corpse—parents, am I right?— and the usual mayhem of a spurned monster ensues.

Monster time!
Time to meddle in that which man was never meant to know!
This was by far the most frightening Frankenstein's monster I've seen yet, and I'm getting to be a bit of a connoisseur.
This was by far the most frightening Frankenstein’s monster I’ve seen yet, and by now I’m a bit of a connoisseur.

Of all the versions of Dr. Frankenstein I’ve seen, this is the only one I can imagine someone actually wanting to marry, even for a minute—probably because this movie has a much greater emphasis on the domestic side of the plot, and we become invested in his relationship with Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter).  Considering how badly that goes—Victor even attempts a grotesque resurrection after the monster murders Elizabeth—it feels odd to say it’s refreshing, but over the last year I’ve watched far too many movies in which Frankenstein’s fiancée is dragged around the plot like an awkward piece of luggage.

The Verdict: I hope no one would be shallow enough to rate a movie adaptation solely on hairstyle design, but if anyone did, this would be considered the greatest movie ever made.

HairsAndGraces
Branagh and Aidan Quinn. Look at those curls!

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is over the top, but in a way clearly drawn from its source material and which allows Branagh to chew all the scenery his handsome heart desires (I mean this as a compliment: big is what the man does best).  The action sequences are excellent, as is the cast, and I lost track of the number of artists whose work seems to have influenced the sets, from Bosch hellscapes to Turneresque skies and far, far beyond. Really good.

Might go well with: Absinthe. Avoid meat during this movie at all costs; after all, it might come back for revenge.

 

Next time: Spydaddy longlegs.

Found-Again Friday: Barton Fink

It’s got to be better than Beyond Therapy, right?

Why Found-Again? In the words of The Golden Girls’ Sophia Petrillo, picture it: creative writing class, 1993.

There are people in these classes who are, bluntly stated, unreasonably up themselves. The ones who think they need to drink like the Beats to write well. The ones who never seem to depart from a certain subset of “literary, but ‘edgy'” authors in their inspirations. The walking prototypes for the main character in Valerie on the Stairs.

In this class, I managed to get sandwiched between two of these guys, who spent the first half of the semester talking literally over my head about movies and beer and Carver and Updike (Palahniuk wasn’t a thing yet) until I thought I’d pull a Bertha Mason and run mad.

They were obsessed with Barton Fink, and I was soon sick of not knowing why, so on my next trip home I grabbed my friend K. and set up a movie night. My first indication that my movie nights are cursed was my decision to watch The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Barton Fink in the same night. I remember it only as a long night of shared art-film pain (well, that and the revelation that John Goodman is an amazing actor), and I haven’t touched either movie since.

By now, of course, I know there are Coen Brothers movies I like—and even love—so perhaps I was a little hard on Mr. Fink. Let’s find out.

The Premise:  In 1941, playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) is lured to Hollywood to be a screenwriter, and it goes spectacularly badly. He has writer’s block, he has a neighbor from hell—perhaps literally?—and he tries to get advice from a washed-up author who is a fictional analogue of William Faulkner, all while slowly slipping into the writers’ version of the Hollywood studio meat grinder. And then there’s the murder.

I was right about one thing all those years ago: the movie can sometimes be a little slow. That said, this quickly shot up from my previous estimation (sort of a dull groan) through “quite bearable” to “good.” It’s a fascinating combination of noir, psychological study, and to some degree a meditation on religion and ideals: Barton’s idea of serving his fellow man doesn’t long survive actually meeting his fellow man, and this drives most of the plot.  Barton Fink is one of those films Found-Again Friday was made for, and I am happy to relieve it of that other word I used to put in the middle of the title.

"She finally gets it! Drink!"
“She finally gets it! Drink!”

The Verdict: Twofold. One, this was a fun rewatching of something I thought might be agony (remember Beyond Therapy?) and provides some interesting backstory and comparisons to the Coens’ most recent release, Hail, Caesar!, since the same fictional movie studio appears in each. The second thing? After having a similar experience watching and rewatching  Mister Frost, I’m starting to suspect I can’t watch a certain kind of film too late at night—art films.  And here I’d always assumed it would be zombie movies…

Might go well with: The Shining, Miller’s Crossing, an explanation of why 90% of typewriters in movies and television are Underwoods. Really, what did Olivetti do to Hollywood?

Next time: The Quests take Hadji for a ride.