What a disappointment after the great Lords of Salem. All I can think is that Zombie was contractually obligated to deliver another full-length movie by the end of 2016, and after touring his band nonstop he ran out of time, so threw some actors and makeup artists in an abandoned factory and said “go nuts, we’ll film it and add some Malcolm McDowell scenes later to explain what’s happening.”

Sheri Moon and beardy Jeff Phillips and Meg Foster return from Salem, minus Ken Foree and Dee Wallace, plus two new black guys to be killed first (to be fair, Lawrence lasts quite a while). Malcolm in foppish powdered wig gambles on annual deathmatch with Jane Carr and Judy Geeson, sending waves of killers into the factory after our abducted carnival gang until only Sheri and “Doom-Head” (Richard Brake of Halloween II, whose makeup keeps changing in the opening scene) remain. Dialogue is mostly “fuck, fuuuuck” and camerawork is handheld garbage. Insultingly, the movie only got a single showtime and was billed as a “special event” with higher ticket fees, but joke’s on the theater since only six people showed up.

AV Club:

31 is set almost entirely within a smoky, leaky, dimly lit factory, like something out of a bad hair-metal video, and it has the structure of an especially half-assed video game, as the survivors creep from one boss battle to the next, confronted by assassins of escalating formidability: a little person done up like Hitler, slinging insults in unsubtitled Spanish; two clowns with chainsaws, cackling about “fucking all your holes”; a flirtatious Harley Quinn clone with a giant European partner … a messy mishmash of shit he’s done better before.

Oh this was awful! The worst, slowest, MST3K-worthy British (“made in Hollywood USA,” the end titles promise, but trust me) “horror” movie, back when horror meant anything out of the ordinary. And yeah the movie turns out to be about a 200-year-old frog who is lord of a castle, and that ain’t a bad concept, but nobody dies except the frog (one old woman is frightened, and a younger woman screams!) and nothing happens for the first 75 minutes except rich British people speak slowly and properly and act put out by things. Oh, and someone is menaced by an even worse rubber bat than the one in Black Sunday.

Also: the maze isn’t even really important.

Giant frog suicide:

Unwelcome houseguests:

Richard Carlson (of The Ghost Breakers and It Came From Outer Space) is to marry Veronica Hurst (a small part in Peeping Tom) but his uncle dies and Carlson disappears to tend to the family castle. Hurst arrives with her insufferable relative Katherine Emery (Isle of the Dead), and they worry for over an hour then invite some friends who worry more, then Hurst gets out of her room and sees the frog and it jumps to its death and the couple who’ve shown no affection for each other can finally get married. The second-to-last feature by Menzies, who made Things to Come in better days, adapted from a novel by Daniel Ullman (writer of a hundred westerns). I was surprised to see that a 3D version exists, since dull people worrying aloud in 3D is no more thrilling than in 2D.

Carlson conspicuously reading his teratology guide:

Narrator Emery begins the movie centered in-frame but her chair slowly sinks. Here she is at her lowest, pleased as punch after the giant frog suicide:

A real stinker of a bland-looking generic 1980’s movie, starring Natasha Richardson (Mary Shelley in Gothic) as a “handmaid” in the future whose job is to get pregnant for rich barren women (Faye Dunaway, two years before Arizona Dream) by their husbands (Robert Duvall, between Colors and Newsies). But of course she falls for house servant Aidan Quinn (who’d play evil twins the following year in an Isabella Rossellini movie) and gets involved with a troublemaking friend (Elizabeth McGovern, the mom of Downton Abbey). So it’s surprising that with all this star power around, the only good scene was with a doctor played by Rawhead Rex star David Dukes.

As Nathan Rabin might say, this film is quite poor.

But look who co-stars:

It opens, as all respectable horror films do, with a tribal ritual sacrifice. Maverick tough guy journalist Michael Moriarty (star of Q: The Winged Serpent) is called back to the States and saddled with his neglected son Jeremy. They head to the country where Mike has inherited a family home in a town full of vampires led by Judge Andrew Duggan (Merrill’s Marauders). Jeremy falls in with the vampires, is sweet on a very young Tara Reid (Bunny Lebowski). The movie’s specific vampire mythology seems unclear, especially where it concerns Jeremy and Tara, even though the Judge tries to explain it to us. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention cuz I was wondering where the blue rubber-mask demon had gone, when Sam Fuller would appear, and what was going on with Moriarty. Mostly he and the movie seem resigned to their crappiness, the straightforward genre plot, but occasionally there’s a spark of life, some Cohen attitude in the dialogue, some fire out of Mike.

Finally, Fuller arrives as a nazi hunter turned game vampire killer. The two guys pretty quickly and easily start slaughtering the townsfolk, killing bunches as they sleep before getting cornered. Fuller fakes suicide – I wouldn’t have advised laying bloody and prone in a room full of vampires, but it seems to work out for him. The kid awakens from his pre-vamp haze and stakes the judge with an American flag.

Bunny:

Shooting the judge in the head does not work:

A Horrible Movie To Watch

Okay, I’ll try a little harder. Sarah (Amy Seimetz of Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets and Alexander the Last) meets a nice guy (Joe Swanberg himself) at an AA meeting. Turns out he’s in a group of serial killer super-fans, and they want revenge on Sarah for turning in her serial killer boyfriend (AJ Bowen from Marietta, murderous son in House of the Devil) – who I think kills them all, having just been released from prison. I dunno, slept through the middle third, sick with the flu and angry at the movie for looking so terrible. At the end of certain shots and scenes, the cameraman appears to get confused then pass out, adding the only stylistically unique element to the movie. I actually came to enjoy those moments, to look forward to them, wondering if one of the two cameramen is narcoleptic or if this is an effect anyone would plan. Wingard (from Alabama) contributed to recent horror anthologies The ABCs of Death and V/H/S.

Joe:

NY Times liked it, calling it “commentary on our willingness to tune out evil for the sake of emotional connection.”

It is my dad’s fault that I’ve wanted to see this for so long, since he mentioned it years ago. I figured it’d be pretty bad, but I didn’t count on it being a self-conscious bit of low-budget camp horror-comedy. So it’s a stupid, terrible movie but still impossible to hate (I have more of a savage dislike for it).

The fateful barrel:

“The South’s gonna rise again,” says the corny-ass song over the introduction, and that’s just what the movie’s about. Some lost travelers on their way to Atlanta get redirected to a rural town and crowned the guests of honor in a Civil War revenge ceremony, killed in various inventive ways, usually in broad daylight before a crowd of cheering townies. One is crushed by a giant rock in a carnival game, another is ripped apart by horses, and in the most famous scene (to my dad, anyway) a guy is put inside a barrel full of nails and rolled down a hill. Twist ending: the couple who escapes returns with law enforcement, but the town has vanished, leaving only a plaque saying that the whole place was leveled by the Union army during the war (apparently inspired by Brigadoon, if “inspired” is the word).

Oh and one girl’s arm is just chopped off:

Lots of banjo music, obviously. The cameraman is zoom-happy and everything looks cheap, but at least it was shot with direct sound, which you can tell since the background hum changes dramatically with every edit. This likely puts it technologically above such contemporaries as Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Germi’s Seduced and Abandoned and Antonioni’s Red Desert. I distracted myself with the horrible accents (shot in Florida but somehow devoid of authentic Southerners) and character names (Terry Adams! David Wells!).

One detail about the South the filmmakers got right:

An advertising man, Lewis also made The Wizard of Gore and Blood Feast, and producer David Friedman oversaw two Maniacs sequels in the 2000’s.

This is the fifth post-’68 Godard movie to put me to sleep, after Letter to Jane, Histoire(s) du Cinema (in installments), In Praise of Love and Notre Musique (in a theater). In this case, I was tired and angry at the movie and fell asleep on purpose, to make the movie feel bad about itself (assuming Godard doesn’t take it as a compliment when you sleep through his movies, like Guy Maddin does).

techno-rasta godard:

Tried to watch it without paying heed to the stories surrounding its production, which turn out to be more interesting than the film itself. Godard signed the “contract” on a bar napkin, over a year later got calls from the “producer” asking where’s our film?, JLG read the first few pages of King Lear and got bored with it, hired a bunch of overqualified actors and pissed them off. Writer/actor Norman Mailer walked out after one day, and Godard put this and his voicemails from the producer into the final cut. Something like that, anyway – I can’t be arsed to look it up.

Shakespeare Jr. or whatever:

Burgess Meredith (in his follow-up to a Dudley Moore Santa Claus movie) is apparently the King, talking some nonsense with Molly Ringwald (her inexplicable follow-up to Pretty In Pink) in a hotel room. Downstairs in the restaurant, a wiry, spike-haired Peter Sellars (dir of something called The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez) is real interested in what everyone else is doing. As I drifted awake again later, Godard (with RCA cables wound through his hair and indecipherable English speech) and Woody Allen caught my attention for a few moments each. Might be a nice-looking movie – the DP had shot the last couple of Eric Rohmer movies – but you can’t tell from my VHS copy. And I doubt it, anyway.

Molly:

from Canby’s original NYTimes review: “a late Godardian practical joke . . . as sad and embarrassing as the spectacle of a great, dignified man wearing a fishbowl over his head to get a laugh. . . . After making what is possibly the most lyrical film on language in the history of the cinema (Le Gai Savoir), Mr. Godard has now made the silliest.”

Rosenbaum would disagree: “It may drive you nuts, but it is probably the most inventive and original Godard film since Passion,” and he talks about the complex surround-sound mix, which again, I’m sadly missing on my VHS version.

Typically, JR has put more thought into the film than anyone else, his analysis revealing the film’s fundamental link to the spirit of the play.

Excerpts:

Sellars “introduces himself offscreen as William Shakespeare Jr. the Fifth, and roughly describes his job as restoring what he can of his ancestor’s plays after a massive cultural memory loss was brought about by Chernobyl.”

As the film proceeds . . . we get snatches of Shakespeare’s Lear, snatches of what appears to be Mailer’s Don Learo, and snatches of what appears to be an earlier, unrealized Godard project, The Story, about Jewish gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky in Las Vegas. (Three Journeys Into King Lear, as one printed title puts it. But does “King Lear” in this case refer to the play, the character, or the Cannon Films project?)

For Godard, it’s a legitimate source of pride that he won’t film anything to illustrate a scriptwriter’s point or provide continuity; his disdain for ordinary filmmaking practice becomes a creative challenge, and, in terms of his limited capacities for story telling, a calculated risk. . . . This originality often seems to be driven by hatred and anger, emotions that are undervalued in more cowardly periods such as the present, just as they were probably overvalued 20 years ago. It is a source of energy that remains crucial to much of the avant-garde.

Just like the book, plus a bunch of good actors (hello, Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson), minus all depth or feeling, and with the worst camerawork I’ve seen in years. Ross made Pleasantville and his DP shot all the latter-day Clint Eastwood pictures, so what happened here? The soundtrack is nice, anyway.

Oh look, netflix streaming has a whole bunch of James Bond movies. I never watched them consistently, saw a couple all the way through and a bunch more in fragments on cable. So this is an attempt to figure out which Bond is which, and which movies were halfway decent.

Thunderball (1965)
Sean Connery is not-so-excitingly rescued by a helicopter, yells some exposition that I didn’t quite catch. Underwater harpoon battle! Black team vs. orange team, heavy casualties. Everyone except Bond is wearing pants. The movie harpoons a shark, booo. I hope the movie ate that shark. Bond catches up with grey-haired eyepatched Largo (Adolfo Celi of Diabolik and The Phantom of Liberty) aboard the Disco Volante – aha – slaps him around while the boat accelerates to Benny Hill speed. He escapes with a girl named Domino (Claudine Auger of A Bay of Blood), who also has no pants. They ditch the Peter Lorre-like fellow who helped rescue her, and escape into a bluescreen sky. Director Terence Young’s third Bond movie – he’d later make Wait Until Dark.

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Connery fails to escape Donald “Dr. Evil” Pleasence by shooting a guy with his cigarette. Lots of men (ninjas, according to IMDB) fight in different-colored outfits. Bond knocks an unpunchable tough guy into a pirahna pool and pushes the button that makes a spacecraft on TV blow up. Pleasence blows the whole base, but every single person escapes anyway, and the same planes drop the same lifeboats as in the last movie. Bond ends up in one with a girl named Kissy (Mie Hama of What’s Up Tiger Lily).

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Jill St. John (of Tashlin & Lewis flick Who’s Minding The Store?) is making a mockery of clothing in her purple/red flag swimsuit. Connery does acrobatics in a suit, while helicopters explode into optical stills. Baddy Blofeld (Charles Gray of the Rocky Horror movies) enters a toy submarine held by a Bond-controlled crane. Connery gleefully wrecking-balls the toy into the control tower until the whole derrick explodes. Nice finale featuring one waiter on fire and another exploding mid-air.

Live and Let Die (1973)
Heroin dealer Yaphet Kotto (of Bone, Alien and the show Homicide) has stolen Roger Moore’s inflation gun, shows off all his silly bad-guy toys (a monorail, waterproof heroin canisters) then threatens Bond and Jane “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” Seymour with death by shark. Every movie so far has featured watery deaths. In the most WTF moment of any movie so far, Bond shoves a compressed-air pellet into Yaphet’s head, turning him into a balloon. The last-minute assassination-attempt is back, and Moore tosses a metal-claw-handed Julius Harris (of Black Caesar) out his train window.

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The great Christopher Lee (year after The Wicker Man) is TMWTGG, but Moore shoots him dead before he’s got any lines – shame. Nice scene, all rotating mirrors and neon triangles. Criminals used to put such style into their lairs. Britt Ekland (also of Wicker Man) tosses a guy into subzero liquid (another watery death), then triggers self-destruct with her ass, the least competent of any bond girl so far. He and the girl sail away in an ancient Chinese ship, pausing to dispose of an angry Hervé Villechaize (soon after Greaser’s Palace). These last three were directed by Guy Hamilton, who’d go on to make Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
A boat is blowing up – more water, and oh look, more sharks. Moore is aboard the evil aquatic base, shoots boring Curd Jurgens (star of both a Blue Angel remake and a Threepenny Opera remake), sics Jaws on a shark (a funny joke in the mid-1970’s) and escapes with lovely enemy spy Barbara Bach – codename Triple X, another joke. It all seems rather inert, the least-exciting Bond finale I’ve seen despite Jaws and explosions.

Moonraker (1979)
Oh god, laser gun battles. Moore ejects Michael Lonsdale (!) into space then watches some Star Wars models out the window. Jaws is in love with a girl with pigtails and it’s sweet. He even gets dialogue, helps Bond and Lois Chiles (of Broadcast News) into a shuttle where they play high-stakes space invaders then celebrate with zero-G sex. These last two and You Only Live Twice were directed by Lewis Gilbert, who helmed some thrillers in the 50’s and more recently an Aidan Quinn ghost story.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Moore is in a decidedly low-tech mountain hideout, with a full team for once. Punch-out in a church, people thrown through stained glass windows, and another one of those tough guys who just smiles when Bond punches him in the gut. It’s all for some Texas Instruments-looking device which Bond hurls off a cliff so the Russians won’t get it. Not nearly as exciting as the others, with an unsexy PG version of the gag ending from the last few, then a dubbed macaw to close it out. John Glen, editor of the last couple Bond films, is promoted to director and takes the series through License to Kill.

Octopussy (1983)
Hooray for gypsies, acrobats, dancers and sad clowns. This makes up for the drab brownness of the last movie. The title character (Maud Adams, returning from Golden Gun) has a gun and Bond is nowhere to be found. Oh here he is, in a hot air balloon of course. Some Goldeneye-(the video game)-style first-person machine-gunning. Bond on horseback chases down the Afghani/Indian villains’ plane and just rides around on top of it. Louis Jordan (star of Letter from an Unknown Woman) flies his plane into a cliff after Bond and the girl jump to safety. They’ve toned down the sexy ending even further – this is getting out of hand.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Weird, a non-canonical Bond film from a rival studio, a remake of Thunderball from the director of The Empire Strikes Back featuring the return of Sean Connery. Never having cared about the 007 series, this is not something I ever suspected existed. Connery has a jetpack! He and partner Bernie Casey (of Cleopatra Jones and The Man Who Fell To Earth) scuba into a paper-mache fortress where Max von Sydow reigns, a less-iconic Largo. Bond, as in the original, can be easily recognized as the one without pants. An underwater battle ensues, with worse lighting, much less harpooning, and slightly more Kim Basinger than before. In the would-be sexy postscript scene, Bond dumps Rowan Atkinson into a swimming pool – so, less Benny Hill, more Mr. Bean.

A View to a Kill (1985)
Opens with a disclaimer about baddie Chris Walken’s character name “Zorin” – I wonder what prompted that. Anyway, very excited to see Grace Jones with new wave hair helping out Roger Moore. She explodes while a slick blonde Walken watches from above, as does the proper blonde love interest (Tanya Roberts of The Beastmaster and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Bond dangles from a zeppelin line as Walken tries to shake him loose in the city, accompanied by corny dialogue. Punch-out atop the Golden Gate bridge features lots of bluescreen backdrops, Chris Walken with an axe, and an angry old man with a cartoon stick of dynamite. Postscript involves a camera-equipped robot, chuckling Russians and somehow an even less sexy finale than the Rowan Atkinson one. Come on now, 1980’s.

The Living Daylights (1987)
Roger has been retired to a closet at MGM, and was never heard from again. Tim Dalton is flying a plane around with Maryam d’Abo (of Shootfighter), blowing up a bridge while Arabs wage war below. Hmm, they drive out of a crashing plane in a jeep. Warfare afficionado MITCHELL is blasting away at Bond – thought I remembered him as a good guy in the later ones. Mitchell is dead, so never mind. Ash liked all the whistling in this one.