Sunday, 22 July 2012

Mindkiller (1987) Michael Krueger

Ah, supernatural nerd vengeance movies. I've a great yen for the genre, having been something of a fringe individual for much of my younger, especially school life, so I've been interested in seeing Mindkiller for about as long as I've known of it. Unfortunately having a vested interest in subject matter also tends to make one rather more perceptive of problems, so while overall I found this a fairly pleasant and if nothing else perfectly watchable slice of low wattage schlock, I also found pretty deep running problems that very much held it back. But firstly, the good stuff. Unlike surprisingly many films in the genre, Mindkiller has central characters that are actually nerdy, not jocks in nerd drag, not assholes or obvious bubbling nutjobs. Just awkward, needy library workers who would quite like to get laid but are held back by lack of social graces or good looks. And in a sitcom style set-up, get all excited when an attractive lady winds up employed to prop up their department. Now the approach to library workers is a cliched nonsense at least by todays standards (library workers these days tend to be mostly average ordinary women interspersed with a few average ordinary men, none with any notable physical or social shortcomings at all), but the characters and their doings are handled in brisk and likably breezy fashion, their chemistry works and there are some pretty amusing moments in a daft sort of fashion. Although the pace at which things actually happen in the film is fairly slow it bowls along nicely as well, and has some fun offbeat touches leading to a memorably effects driven finale. The general trouble with it all though is a feeling of vague mediocrity, mediocrity which settles after the final credits roll into dusty dissapointment and the realisation of what could have been. The film hints at imagination and a sense of real crazy verve but never fully accomplishes either because of the low budget. Not just this, but it's way too tame. Brief nudity, a few nice creature effect shots but no real gore and little tension, it's more than a little threadbare. And worse, not only does the film skimp on the potential of what a nerd could do with powers of telekinesis and telepathy to advance himself, it pretty much glosses over the ghastly implications of what he actually does do. Restraint is all well and good, but this kind of film needs to not be so dickless because such is a disservice to all potential viewers, and a moral murk that deserves far more interesting treatment. But still, I wasn't fully disappointment. As late 80's oddities go this certainly won't be setting any lives on fire, but as a time filler I thought it came across pretty well. Had I watched it say, 15 years ago or so, I probobly even would have thought it really pretty solid. Nowadays I can't say as this is really worth a look to anyone other than trash archaeologists, but for those out there it's certainly a good few notches better than a poke in the eye with a wet stick. Not worth any kind of vigorous searching out, but not dis-recommended either.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Wolf Lake (1980) Burt Kennedy

I'd be interested to know what went on behind the scenes with the releasing of this one. I'm guessing the pitch was easy but the finished project was a pretty difficult sell, which would explain why this potentially rather fine film has a collosal, gaping flaw in it that threatens to (though without quite succeeding) utterly ruin the experience. See, this is one of those films that looks like it should be a gnarly exploitation thriller but is actually a pretty slow moving and somber affair building up to an intense but not redemptive finale, a serious film with a serious point to make. Except that someone apparently took their potential audience for idiots and decided to cater to this by changing the film in the most idiotic way imaginable, inserting utterly needless flash-forwards that spoil key events of the finale early on in the film. Now maybe, just maybe there was some notion of highlighting the inevitability of such climatic tragedy. Maybe the flash-forwards really were an artistic decision and not just a craven attempt to keep bums in seats with a few action shots to tide them over during the build-up. Whatever the intent it was an abject fucking failure in artistic terms, and seems to have done the film no favors in the long term as nowadays it largely languishes in obscurity despite its other merits. This my friends, is why the majority of moneymen and distributors in the movie industry should be sterilised. Or to be fair if I am making an untrue assumption, sometimes artistes need a swift sharp blow to the back of the head.

My ire over, Wolf Lake is otherwise pretty sweet. War veteran Charlie and his pals head out to the titular lake for a buddies weekend of drinking and shooting, finding the place in the care of dissolute long-hair David and his beautiful girlfriend. Tensions are immediate, but things really go downhil when it transpires that David is an army deserter. See, Charlie has personal reasons for disliking army deserters, and out in the woods away from civilisation, well no prizes for guessing this isn't a situation that will go well. But what makes the film really work is how well it conveys underlying macho tension beneath its contemporary issues. Charlie (Rod Steiger) and David (David Huffman) were never going to get along, Charlie a grizzled, fractious type with baggage, alpha status pretentions and an unshakeable sense of his own "right", David almost his younger reflection, but not quite past the point that turns character to stone. Both performances are very fine and their clashes make for rewarding drama, with Steiger in particular drawing depth and sympathy from a character who could have been a standard monster. Jerry Hardin as Charlie's friend Wilbur also fuels the drama, a beta among alphas who becomes a catalyst, while the few other cast members make suitable impressions, the gorgeous Robin Mattson in particular as girlfriend Linda who happily for the audience gets topless a couple of times. The film takes a goodly long time to get to it's action, but the attractively desolate location makes for nervy atmosphere and the brewing themes make for a modicum of suspense despite the early spoilers. Then when things really get moving its quality stuff, violent, shocking and well constructed in its intensity and feeling of mayhem. So it's a film that works. Just about. Honor, family, loyalty, vengeance, these tensions inherent to the red-blooded male that threaten ever to overwhelm, powerful stuff. Sex and violence, always welcome. But good God, what a painful, needless botch along the way.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Scream Bloody Murder (1973) Marc Albert

I wonder, will I ever tire of films like Scream Bloody Murder? I sure as hell hope not. Lurid psychosexual trauma and proto slasher killing sprees in the days before Halloween opened the floodgates and smoothed away most coarse and creepy features to leave nothing more than slick sex and slaying schlock, bad taste and gutter sights, I can't imagine ever not being a fan. Scream Bloody Murder is probobly little more notable than many of its ilk, but it did at least survive in fairly decent condition and its pretty much a perfect exemplar. Our lead Matthew starts the film by running over his dad with a tractor before falling out of the seat and managing to run over his own hand. A spell at an institution run by nuns takes him to his teen years, with a fully fledged Oedipal complex and habit for murdering anyone who gets in the way of his quest for a perfect mother. Also he has a hook for a hand but despite this tends to use various sharp instruments to kill. Not the brightest spark, our Matthew. Anyway, the first half is pretty much golden, the second lags a bit but the ending is positively glorious. Fred Holbert ably shoulders the film as Matthew, he comes across a pathetic yet menacing figure, weird, sad and very lost (he has various potential support structures that fail him, or rather he fails them), but all pathos underlined by unsettling violence. The sort of character Wes Bentley seems to be good at playing these days actually. Although the film isn't especially grisly (reasonably bloody at times but not really gory), two time wonder director Marc Albert (his other effort in the chair is a nudie cutie called Wild Gypsies, not seen but on my list) employs lots of unbalanced angles and wild swinging camera work, gross and mocking twisted delirium faces and voices fed through distortion and echo to rather splendidly convey Matthew's sudden lurches into violence. Unfortunately the killing tapers off in a second half mostly concerned with girl in captivity unease (albeit spiked by the odd moment of lunacy), but the ending is classic stuff, headrush of psychotronic fire to leave you smiling for hours afterward. Altogether this one doesn't make it into the highest echelons of drive in lunacy, lacking just a little in the pathos or nastiness that could make it a true classic. No nudity either, which is a major downer. Still great fun stuff though and genre fans should make it some kind of a priority. Have fun...!