Rock's Cheapo Theatre of the Damned

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I thought the 'weirdness' of Boogyman was due to his more amateur approach to the crappy optical effects. Devonsville looks a little more professional.
Tempted to revisit both to verify the relative polish eventually, but the copy of Terror I watched did it no favours. I do think there's plenty weird about The Boogeyman even aside from the climax.

Forbidden World (Holzman, 1982)

Forbidden World has an aesthetic that's a mix between Star Wars and Alien and a story with a little bit of the former and a lot of the latter. The movie opens with a modest bit of spectacle, a space battle in the vein of the former movie but on a fraction of the budget. At this time we're introduced to a droid, who awakens its master so they can fend off their aggressors. The droid, whose personality brings to mind a less bumbling C-3PO but whose appearance resembles that of a stormtrooper, is not an unpleasing presence but lacks the charm of the robot with a Southern drawl from Luigi Cozzi's Starcrash. Director Allan Holzman was thrust into directing the opening sequence with no script and the barest minimum of instructions from Roger Corman (something about a robot, an astronaut, four days and... Lawrence of Arabia, if he needed inspiration). What he turned out is a passable approximation of the thrills offered by Star Wars, but not much of the personality. Had the movie stayed at this level, it may have been reasonably enjoyable, but this being an '80s Corman production, the proceedings must be spiced up.

By which I mean blatantly ripping off Alien in as trashy a way as possible. The hero, some kind of space military problem solver dude, gets assigned to investigate a violent incident at a research station at a remote desert planet. It turns out that the scientists there are researching experimental food sources and ended up developing a dangerous new organism that ended up killing all the other test animals. The hero wisely suggests killing it ASAP, but the scientists prevent him from doing so, only for the organism to escape, mutate and proceed to kill off the inhabitants one by one in a series of reliably gruesome gore scenes. The organism, referred to as a metamorph (not a xenomorph, it's completely different, what are you talking about, please don't sue), starts off as a goopy black shape and evolves into a final form that equally resembles the monster from Alien and the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. (Be warned that it looks nothing like the monster on the poster.) It's worth noting that while this lifts the plot from the Ridley Scott movie, it lacks the satirical bite of that movie and its sequel, as the motivation for preserving the lifeform is much more altruistic rather than the nakedly capitalist reasons in those other movies. It's also worth noting that like those movies, the protagonists eventually realize that the creature can't be reasoned with, but not before trying to communicate with it through a computer. (The screen flashes "Please stand by" in the movie's funniest scene.) At one point they try to stake out the creature in its cocoon, and the movie again brings Star Wars to mind with the atrocious accuracy of their blaster fire.

The 80s were the decade where Corman apparently became a full on cheapskate (rather than an astute but artistically nurturing pennypincher in previous decades), a quality I'd found visibly detrimental in Jack Hill's Sorceress from the same year. Corman's frugality here manifests mostly in the recycling of sets from Galaxy of Terror, shot here in cramped setups and bathed in garish lighting. Some may find it striking; I found it rather ugly, but at least not blatantly squalid. The cast also lacks any notable names, although those with similar tastes as mine may recognize June Chadwick, David St. Hubbins' lady friend in This is Spinal Tap, and Fox Harris, who played a mad scientist of sorts in both Repo Man and Dr. Caligari. (This appears to be better liked in my Letterboxd circle than Galaxy of Terror, but I'm afraid I can't agree. That movie has a much better cast, including a delightfully off-kilter performance by Grace Zabriskie as a hotshot pilot with PTSD, moodier cinematography and many more monsters. It does however mislead its audience less as it's actually set on a single planet like it says in the title, while the other movie suggests a galaxy-wide saga that never materializes.)

It compensates for the aforementioned lack of star power and accompanying forgettable characterizations with a greater emphasis on schlock, especially in terms of sexual content. Now, as a straight male, I won't pretend I don't find the sight of good looking ladies in the buff at least somewhat pleasing, but I would also like a movie to maintain some level of dignity in delivering the goods, and this movie definitely strains in that regard. Despite the presence of a murderous, continuously-evolving creature on the ship, both female characters make time to jump the hero's bones and later shower together while plotting how to defeat the monster (one of them rubs the other's shoulders as she suggests a new line of attack). Of course, given that the hero is supposed to be hunting this monster, it's a little disappointing that spends his time with them thusly, but in his defense, his vacation got canceled. It won't be a surprise that the screenplay was written by Jim Wynorski, whose Sorority House Massacre II is even more gratuitous in this respect and contains another great text-based gag. (The one in that movie concerns Elvis.)

The wardrobe of the female characters is also suspect, featuring at one point robes that suggest a spa rather than a research facility (although it's nice that this workplace has amenities like a sauna and a glowing space shower featured in the aforementioned scene), and a pink jumpsuit sported by Chadwick's friend. (The colour is a shade or two away from Nantucket Red, leading me to wonder if Murray's Toggery Shop delivers to that part of the galaxy.) The movie's dogged pursuit of prurient thrills does manifest in one great moment, powered largely by its weird editing style: a montage of the hero and Chadwick in a bout of vigorous lovemaking, spied on by a creepy security guy playing with what I assume is a space yo-yo, while another character regaling them with the sounds of what I assume is a space kazoo. And while I didn't find the movie all that nice to look at, the soundtrack of what I assume is space prog makes it reasonably pleasurable to listen to. Look, this isn't a very good movie on the whole, but it gets together enough scraps of enjoyment to justify its meager runtime of 77 minutes. A good enough timekiller on Tubi, perhaps paired with the superior Galaxy of Terror.

Looks like it has an 82-minute "Director's Cut". Do those five additional minutes contain the secret sauce to turn this into a great film? By which I mean another space prog f_ck montage.

I didn't even see this thread percolating away here
I figured I'd finally start posting some reviews here instead of making constant illusions to my shameful viewing habits like a weirdo.

a goopy black shape and evolves into a final form that equally resembles the monster from Alien and the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. (Be warned that it looks nothing like the monster on the poster.)
Is it a spoiler just to take a look at the guy?

Because JJ has been saying very mean things about QT's mother, let me dig up a pair of write-ups I hashed out a few months ago (there are a few references to "recent" viewings in there that are actually from the end of last year or beginning of this one).

Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)

This review contains spoilers for this movie and Pulp Fiction.

For the past few years, I didn’t spend a lot of time rewatching movies. Quite frankly, the thrill of discovering something new (and the risk that it might not be all that good) outweighed the pleasures of the familiar ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Yet this year, perhaps because it’s been so miserable on the whole, I’ve spent a bit more time revisiting films I’d already seen. In some cases, it was to relive the joy of seeing something I already liked or loved. But in other cases, perhaps because I’d been easier to please on average, I would go back to things I’d felt somewhat at a distance to in the hopes that I would finally be won over. Full Metal Jacket finally clicked with me (seeing it in a different aspect ratio did the trick) and I’ve warmed up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as much as I probably ever will. With that in mind, and prompted by a bizarre dream in which I watched it on Netflix in the wee hours of the morning, I ended up waking up stupid early and giving Reservoir Dogs another viewing. (The dream wasn’t terribly interesting, although it did involve me watching the new Scream, which had magically already been completed and was available on Netflix. There was a lot of yellowish, Fincher-esque lighting and Alison Brie got thrown over a railing at one point. As someone who enjoyed the fourth, I was upset by that turn of events, but dreams can be upsetting. In the words of the Shogun Assassin in Shogun Assassin, “bad dreams are only dreams.”)

I don’t think my opinion changed all that much with this viewing. I still feel that it’s one of Tarantino’s weaker films, lacking the confidence and depth of his next few films. I think Tarantino’s career is generally discussed as being split into his earlier, more story-oriented or reality-grounded films and his later, more indulgent genre pastiches, but I think this one lacks the focus that kind of discourse implies. The characters are barely fleshed out and the directorial touches aren’t as purposeful or effective as they would become in his later work. But at the same time, it’s still a stylish and highly entertaining affair, with a great cast giving some very good performances and delivering some punchy, very funny dialogue. It’s pleasures and limitations are obvious and have been better discussed by those more eloquent than me, so I don’t know how deeply I’ll delve into them. (On a side note, I felt a strange pang of nostalgia revisiting this despite it never having been a favourite of mine. It was very big among the internet crowd I first started discussing film with as I first got into the subject, so it’s hard for me to separate those feelings from the actual movie. I got the same feeling watching Boogie Nights a few weeks ago, despite never having seen that film until now.)

But what I did chew over a bit more this time around is how the movie positions the characters’ morality. We know that Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange is the “good guy”, the undercover cop who kills the psychopathic Mr. Blonde played by Michael Madsen. But at the same time he betrays the trust of Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White. Mr. White is sort of a “good guy” too, but foolishly risks his own fate and those of his associates as he bonds with someone who sets him up. Mr. Blonde is a sadistic psychopath but also extremely loyal, having refused to rat out his friends while serving a tough prison term. Steve Buscemi’s Mr. Pink is entirely business-minded and self-interested, but is that really any less honourable than the intentions of those around him? Chris Penn’s Nice Guy Eddie loves his father, Lawrence Tierney’s Joe Cabot, who is the closest thing to a paternal, authoritative presence in the movie, but both are also extremely ruthless, not to mention racist. Tarantino’s relationship with race is complicated (he’s been criticized for his use of the n-word, particularly in a certain scene in Pulp Fiction, and while I do enjoy his performance in that movie, I’m not sure I can defend a certain line of dialogue), but here the characters’ rampant use of racial slurs seems like a clear indicator of their (lack of) character. (These characters also freely use homophobic slurs, but such language was unfortunately a mainstay of macho dialogue at the time and doesn’t seem as pointed a comment on their natures.) Even when Mr. Orange praises the connection he used to get in with the criminals, another character is quick to point out that the connection is ratting out his friends. There’s some moral relativism in my argument here, but the movie invites that line of thought. Reservoir Dogs is about a bunch of lowlife crooks and despite the extent to which we may identify with them, it never lets us forget that.

In that sense, it’s in clear contrast to some of its influences. Ringo Lam’s City on Fire features the same plot but emphasizes the value of brotherhood between the criminals, so that the betrayal there stings extra hard. Tarantino highlights the meaninglessness of such appeals to solidarity. (Bizarrely, Tarantino has denied having seen that other film despite the hard to ignore story similarities. He even dedicated the screenplay to Chow Yun Fat and pulls the image of a dual wielding gunman in sunglasses from that actor’s oeuvre and has made a brand of pulling from his influences, so I’m baffled why he’d deny this one instance.) Jean-Pierre Melville’s work features gangsters in tailoring adhering to strict codes and conducting themselves with honour in dire situations. Tarantino points out the futility of such codes. His next film handles these dynamics even more elegantly. In Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s character is a villain in one segment and a hero in another, while Samuel L. Jackson’s character reflects on the dishonourable nature of their work and decides to walk away at the end.

Where I think Pulp Fiction succeeds in handling that theme is that it gives us a sense of Jackson and Travolta contemplating (or failing to do so, respectively) their choices and having something resembling actual worldviews (however limited, as in the case of the latter). The characters in Reservoir Dogs in contrast are drawn in shorthand from gangster cliches so that our identification with them is limited. Mr. Orange should be our audience vantage point, but Tarantino fumbles a key scene in which he relates a made-up story to ingratiate himself with the other criminals. It should be about how Mr. Orange wins their trust, which would help make later speculation on his loyalty more dramatically potent, but in choosing to actually depict the proceedings in the story onscreen, Tarantino makes it about the cuts and shot choices he energetically deploys. It’s not a badly directed scene on its own, but the wrong one for the movie. Yet in other scenes, like the opening in the diner, he’s able to elegantly paint character detail while letting us enjoy the surface pleasure of the dialogue. Mr. Pink refuses to tip as an extension of his business-minded nature. Mr. Blonde volunteers to shoot Mr. White, jokingly revealing his bloodthirst. Mr. White takes things too personally (”You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize”). Joe Cabot struggles to remember a name, implying that his criminal instincts are slipping. The movie shuffles its timeline in the vein of The Killing to draw out these contrasts between the characters and to build to a tense and memorable climax, yet had more of the individual character moments been as deftly handled as this first scene, the film might have landed with me more strongly. That being said, there’s a nonzero chance I’ll come back to this in a few years, hoping it will finally click.

Kill Bill (Tarantino, 2004)

This review contains spoilers.

I recently watched a Taiwanese exploitation movie called The Lady Avenger. It’s a rape revenge movie that isn’t overtly artful by any means, but plays with a real urgency (likely helped by the production circumstances, which I’m guessing were pretty marginal). But in between the punchier moments we associate with exploitation, it finds room for notes that catch us off guard, lingering on images and emotional beats that seem at odds with the uglier content that preceded it. It’s a dynamic not entirely impossible in respectable cinema but seems endemic to exploitation, where the exploitative, outrageous content that gets asses in seats creates the contrast necessary for the moments of depth to land. I bring this movie up because seeing it so soon after a rewatch of Kill Bill brought my thoughts on that film into focus. Kill Bill seems more clearly now than ever to me an exploration of that very idea, founded by a belief that the movies it’s pulling from are in fact good movies and not just sources of cheap thrills.

Of course, thrills are in ample supply, particularly in the first half, which threatens to overwhelm us with the surface pleasures of genre cinema. We get the glimpse of the inciting incident, the heroine’s (Uma Thurman) wedding shot up by her former comrades, and then a lightning fast two hours of high style and splatter (the movie doesn’t even slow down enough to give her a name; she’s known only as the Bride), culminating in an epically violent fight scene in which the heroine takes on dozens of henchmen, systematically chopping them to pieces, and then facing their leader (Lucy Liu) in a one-on-one showdown in a snowy garden. The reference points are numerous and on full display: Shaw Brothers, Lady Snowblood, the Lone Wolf and Cub series, but Tarantino treats this set piece like a plaything, scoping out the location as if it were a dollhouse with roving overhead shots that move to the rhythm of the music of the′s. The music changes to Morricone, and soon he begins gleefully smashing his toys together to wreak havoc. (I assume Tarantino had a few Kung Fu Grip G.I. Joes, or at least a Snake Eyes.) His love for these influences doesn’t overwhelm the sheer thrill of the combat itself, which he depicts in a mix of lush colour, black-and-white and silhouettes, shifting from one technique to another as if the heroine is leveling up through a video game and keeping the audience guessing as to both what flourish and what giddily violent act he’ll serve up next. The film on the whole isn’t the most authentic exercise in grindhouse style he’s made (that would be Death Proof), but this sequence does offer his most full-bodied interpretation of said pleasures.

The second half decelerates from this manic pace and begins to unpack what transpired. We revisit the opening massacre and learn that the heroine actually has a name. She’s moved from archetype into actual character, and we get a sense of the wounds that led to and came out of that fateful event. There’s a training sequence, where Gordon Liu (who previously appeared as a commander of the henchmen the heroine slaughtered in the first half) plays the Pai Mei character he once battled in Executioners of Shaolin, and aside from being enjoyably stylish, this scene really buys into Lau Kar-Leung’s idea of kung fu as self improvement, marrying martial arts with character development. Throughout this, Tarantino challenges us to identify with the characters’ motivations, both the heroine and her nemeses, and to question the extent to which we derive mindless enjoyment from the proceedings. The Bride’s killing of the Vivica A. Fox character in the first half is juxtaposed uneasily with that character’s daughter walking in on them. Yes, Fox wronged her, but she too has loved ones and a life not without value. She meets a smooth-talking pimp (Michael Parks, in another neat bit of double-casting), but his capacity for cruelty quickly comes into focus when we glimpse the mutilated face of one of his prostitutes.

In probably the most affecting passage of the film, we spend time with Bud (Michael Madsen), Bill’s brother who has now retired as an assassin and works a demeaning job as a bouncer for a strip club. This formidable killer is now reduced to haggling for shifts and cleaning up overflowing toilets. There’s something poignant seeing him so defeated, even when Tarantino makes no excuses for his failings (he’s the only one in the film to use a racial slur, which like in Reservoir Dogs is used as shorthand for a character’s flawed nature), and his confrontation with the Bride finds him re-energized, if not necessarily more likable. There’s little warmth however in the character of Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), the eyepatch-wearing assassin who may be most unapologetically cruel of the film’s characters. (Lucy Liu’s character in the first half is similarly vicious, but the film shows it to be at least in part out of necessity.) Yet her disgust at Bud’s unceremonious method of trying to kill the Bride rings true to the movie’s heart. These characters may hate each other, but there is a twisted sense of honour between them and a respect for each other’s true natures. The confrontation between the Bride and Elle Driver also features a gruesome shot of a bare foot squashing an eyeball, which suggests Tarantino, a notable foot fetishist, challenging even himself on his mindless enjoyment of this kind of thing. (Either that it’s doing a lot for him.)

When the Bride finally reunites with the eponymous Bill (David Carradine, bringing his entire history in genre movies to imbue his character with a certain depth), she finds him to be loving father to her daughter, who survived the opening massacre, and to be full of remorse. How much should we really cheering for her to kill him? This movie doesn’t have the political conviction of Tarantino’s subsequent films, but it does share with them a sense of morality so severe that it can’t help but draw out the discomfort in carrying out a quest for revenge. Tarantino has frequently mined pop culture to add meaning (my favourite example is a fairly succinct one: Bruce Willis finding courage and honour through a samurai sword in Pulp Fiction), and here he has the Bride bond with her daughter over Shogun Assassin, another film about a parent-child relationship in a world of great violence and cruelty. Bill gives a speech about Superman that summarizes the themes of the film in one monologue.
“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman….You would’ve worn the costume of Arlene Plympton, but you were born Beatrix Kiddo, and every morning when you woke up, you’d still be Beatrix Kiddo. I’m calling you a killer. A natural born killer. Always have been, and always will be.”
Ultimately Kill Bill is about grappling with one’s true nature, both the characters, ruthless killers despite how they rationalize it, and the film, an exhilarating exercise in and shrewd deconstruction of exploitation.

Also I might dig up my Lost Highway write-up later. It's late here now (read: too lazy to do it at the moment).
Eh, let me do this now.

Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997)

This movie at first seems defined by negative space. Both visually, in the sparseness of the protagonist’s home, and narratively, in the deliberate, isolating treatment of its characters and the elemental way it cycles through film noir tropes. This is an approach that results occasionally in great atmosphere, but rarely has an effect that sustains beyond individual sections. I think one reason is that the story, which is enigmatic in ways that are to be expected of David Lynch’s work, rarely translates to actual dream logic. Without getting too muddled in specifics or giving away anything too juicy, it starts with a jazz musician (Bill Pullman) who receives mysterious videotapes and gets locked away for supposedly killing his wife (Patricia Arquette). The movie then pulls a surrealist switcheroo and shifts the action to a teenage ex-con (Balthazar Getty) who gets involved with a gangster (Robert Loggia) and his mistress (also Patricia Arquette). Could both of Arquette’s characters be the same person? Could Pullman and Getty be the same person? And who is the strange creepy man (Robert Blake) and is he really in two places at once?

Lynch pulls a similar narrative switch later in Mulholland Drive, but it works much better there as he seems much more invested in that other film in both stories, and Naomi Watts’ performances sufficiently ground them. Too much of this film plays at a distance, which becomes off putting as it gets less sparse and deploys genre cliches more readily. And simply put, the different stories here are not evenly matched in their lead performances. While the film fails to convince us that Pullman is “cool” (despite an energetic saxophone freakout early in the film), he’s a much stronger actor than Balthazar Getty, who I don’t find breathes much life into his minimally written character. (I wonder if the film would work better for me if our narrative viewpoint was aligned to Patricia Arquette instead of Pullman and Getty.) Late developments also allow the film to be read too easily as an expression of male jealousy, and it comes off as pat in ways that Lynch normally avoids when tapping into darker human impulses.

Still, there are things to enjoy. Lynch’s talent for building mood and disturbing the rhythms of individual scenes with disturbing imagery is readily evident, even if I don’t find the soundtrack choices here as cinematic. (I found the use of Rammstein to reek of a very ‘90s sense of edginess, but alternative music is not really my cup of tea.) The Robert Blake character unsettles and needles his way into our subconscious in ways the rest of the movie doesn’t. Robert Loggia’s portrayal of his mob boss as a cartoon character (who in his first scene roughs up another motorist for inconsiderate driving and offers the hero a porno tape as a tip) keeps the midsection of the film from becoming too one-note, and the cameos are frequently inspired. And the movie deserves some respect for trying to answer the age-old question: would Patricia Arquette still be hot if she had the face of Robert Blake?

Also, not sure if everybody else has seen this, but I stumbled across a proof of concept short QT did for Reservoir Dogs. Buscemi plays Mr. Pink, QT plays Mr. White. (I think we can all be thankful Keitel took the role in the actual movie.)

A good enough timekiller on Tubi, perhaps paired with the superior Galaxy of Terror.
I don't know if it's superior, but I got to give it credit for having a rape by a snail (or something).

I don't know if it's superior, but I got to give it credit for having a rape by a snail (or something).
Ugh, yeah, that scene is pretty disgusting. Good job, movie.

Maggot rape in Galaxy of Terror: No thanks

Maggot cannon in City of the Living Dead: Yes, please

Maggot rape in Galaxy of Terror: No thanks

Maggot cannon in City of the Living Dead: Yes, please

The Mystery Man's scene at the party is probably the scariest thing I've seen from Lynch.

Overall though, I was fairly mixed on Lost Highway as well. I'm willing to give it another shot though.

Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)
I agree with most of what you wrote about this one; it's a decent movie, but still one of style over substance (like the pointless use of slow-motion in Mr. Orange's bathroom story, which does little to add any tension to the scene, since we already know it didn't really happen, and mostly just seems there to make sure we pay more attention to Tarantino's direction), and unfulfilled potential. I'd only give it a "fresh" rating overall if I keep in mind that it was QT's first movie, and it sets up the trend that's continued through his filmography ever since that his movies are always at least good when he develops his characters (because he can be pretty great at that when he tries it), but the problem is that he doesn't always try, and I think Ebert & Siskel put it best when they said...

there's a lot of memorable character "behavior", but very little insight into those characters (unlike with Max & Jackie in Jackie Brown). The ending also drives home how pointless the film feels as a whole, and the mixed-up chronology seems like a gimmick put in to gussy the movie up, and keep it from seeming more "boilerplate" (unlike with Pulp, where it was essential to the structure), since it really doesn't change a thing whether we see the robbery briefing in the warehouse at the point it actually occured in the timeline or not, you know?