Road To Nowhere (2010, Monte Hellman)

A making-of-itself filmmaking rabbit-hole containing mysteries with no answers. It’s hilarious to me that I leave my movie-filled laptop and go to the theater to see a movie that opens with a DVD-R entitled Road to Nowhere inserted into a laptop, with a looong slooow zoom into the screen – a zoom that will be repeated into a digital photograph over the closing credits, and which reminds me that one of the last times I was at this particular theater was to watch Wavelength. Very pleasing countryish music by Tom Russell over key scenes. All shot digital, I assume. Strange, intriguing movie in many ways.

Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan, Methyl from Little Dizzle) is directing the within-film, also called Road to Nowhere and also shot digitally, with local gossip and other details provided by blogger Natalie (Dominique Swain, title character in the Jeremy Irons Lolita) and carpenter Bruno (Waylon Payne, Jerry Lee Lewis in Walk the Line). Their movie stars Cary (Cliff De Young of movies I remember from cable like F/X and Dr. Giggles and Pulse – the one where the house’s electricity comes to life and wants you dead, not the one where Japanese ghosts come to life and want you dead) as Tachen together with Laurel (Shannyn Sossamon, the cute pink haired girl in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) as the doomed amour-fou couple of a small town.

But are they doomed? And is Laurel in fact Velma Duran, the very girl she’s portraying in the movie? And is Bruno in fact an insurance investigator who’s on to Velma’s scheme, trying to retrieve the hundred million dollars that she and the real Tachen stole when they died/disappeared? And is Mitchell, as the dialogue and the dialogue-within-the-dialogue both proclaim, in over his head? The movie doesn’t directly say, but rather shuttles between present filmmaking reality, the scenes being shot, and flashbacks which could be real or imagined. I was surprised then, given all the mystery, that the road doesn’t lead to nowhere like Lost Highway but to a definite ending, the girl shot to death by Bruno and Mitchell in jail. I guess all the noir elements and the in-too-deep stuff had to explode eventually, but I enjoyed the ride more than the conclusion.

Written by Steven Gaydos, a longtime Hellman collaborator who cowrote Iguana and helped produce Cockfighter.

NY Times:

Road may also be as significant to the indie feature as Avatar is to the popcorn movie: the entire film was shot on what is essentially a still camera (the Canon 5D Mark II), while looking like a mega-million Hollywood production. “The great thing about this camera is you don’t need permits because no one knows you’re shooting, said Mr. Hellman. … They shot in the streets of London, in Verona, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome, in front of Michelangelo’s Moses and the tomb of Pope Julius II – permitless. “They thought we were tourists,” Mr. Hellman said.

Trapped Ashes (2006)

From skimming the extras, it sounds like this was a labor of love by American Cinematheque programming head Dennis Bartok, friend of Dante and Hellman, who wrote and produced. So on one hand, I respect the years spent assembling this, getting the help of excellent but underworked filmmakers, crafting an old-time hollywood-referencing haunted-house anthology story. On the other hand, it’s neither scary nor visually interesting nor creatively written – not exactly destined to be a horror classic.

Looks like the only non-Dante-directed films Dick Miller has been in since 1995 are a Lou Diamond Phillips thriller and a sci-fi comedy from the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra guy:
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In the wraparound story directed by Joe Dante, bunch of Hollywood residents have received free tickets to tour an abandoned studio. Henry Gibson drives them around, getting an ornery Dick Miller to open the spooky gate leading them to the haunted house set. Or is it a real haunted house?!? The bunch (eight or so) seem to be trapped, so Henry prompts them to each tell a personal scary story in hopes of coaxing the house to let them leave.

Cool model shot from the haunted house:
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GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN BREASTS

The latest work I’ve seen by Ken Russell since I wasn’t able to finish Whore. He’s still at it, making flamboyant, perverse little pictures. Girl gets breast implants to make herself more appealing to casting directors. It works, and soon she’s bonking some stud (both in a picture and behind the scenes), but her breasts have a tendency to bite, which is upsetting her man.

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She goes back to the plastic surgery joint, but her doctor is on ice so she’s confronted with these guys instead:

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The middle one is Mad Ken himself. Boobs, computer graphics and campy hilarity… it’s all downhill from here.

JIBAKU

Sean S. Cunningham (who hasn’t done anything I’ve heard of since Friday the 13th) immediately drags everything down after the blitz of fun provided by Ken a few minutes earlier. Julia and her husband are in Japan for some boring business. They run into a dead guy, so a monk (Ryo Ishibashi – warden in Big Bang Love, star of Suicide Circle and Audition) tries to comfort them.

He was also in Dream Cruise:
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Julia has an affair with a young dude named Seishin (is it the guy who killed himself earlier?), goes to some kinda sex-hell which awkwardly combines live-action and anime. Her husband saves her, whew. Key line: “I was sexually molested by a dead monk and dragged into the mouth of Buddhist hell.”

Hell looks like a Japanese cartoon; Why am I not surprised?
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STANLEY’S GIRLFRIEND

Monte Hellman, formerly known for such awesomeness as Two Lane Blacktop and The Shooting, now this is his first film since Silent Night, Deadly Night III. A shame. The movie itself is a shame, too…

John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm St., Mitchell), looking good for being in his seventies:
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This is a deadly dull segment (with some classic film references, including L’Atalante) about a young filmmaker (no longer played by John Saxon, alas) who hangs out with his talented friend Stanley, who stops going out one month after he gets a hot girlfriend. Stan suddenly disappears, leaving the hot girlfriend to our man Leo, who proceeds to have a torrid affair with her.

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But she ruins his life and sucks away his talent, leaving him a hollow shell of a failed Hollywood burnout for the rest of his life. While Stanley (last name withheld) moves to England, freed from the woman’s curse, and makes such classics as A Clockwork Yellow, Half Metal Jacket, Dr. Lovestrange and The Shinning, leaving Leo in his will a short film from the early 1900′s of the girlfriend, an ageless vampire!

Nice color for 1900:
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MY TWIN, THE WORM

John Gaeta, VFX guy from the Matrix series, shines here. Maybe it’s because he had more to prove, or because he’s had recent practice making decent films, but this is pretty good.

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The story is nothing much… woman is unable to get a tapeworm removed because she’s pregnant, so baby and worm develop together, and as girl grows up, she has a secret worm-sister who avenges her against evil babysitters. Some nice visual style almost makes up for the by-the-books plainness of the previous two episodes. The last three segments need visual style to survive, because they’re talky and the dialogue is boring (I have the feeling Ken did some uncredited writing on his bit).

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Back to our framing story and it turns out everyone here is… dead? Or damned? Or supposed to be dead but escaped Final Destination style and now being rounded up by grim reaper Henry Gibson?

Oh no, Henry Gibson (Magnolia, The ‘burbs, The Nutty Professor) died last month. I hadn’t heard. This was his second to last film.
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“Trapped Ashes is a reflection of Hollywood as a place that’s sort of between living and dying, between being famous and being forgotten.”

Monte Hellman double-feature

The Shooting (1967)

Awesome, mysterious western. Performances are understated except by Will Hutchins, who maybe tries too hard to be the stupid one, and Millie Perkins, who maybe tries too hard to be the unknowable badass.

Your comic relief: Hutchins of Merrill’s Marauders
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Will is hanging out with friend Leland when Leland is shot to death by offscreen persons unknown. Later on, Warren “GTO” Oates rides up looking for Leland, and both of ‘em get surprised by Millie, who hires ‘em to come with her.

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The movie never explicitly tells us that she’s looking for revenge on Warren’s evil twin brother and that the men are hired to help track him, and if it had told us it probably wouldn’t enjoy the same cult success. All the carefully hidden information keeps things exciting.

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Fastest-gun-in-the-west Jack Nicholson trails them unseen for a long time, then rides openly with ‘em after he’s discovered, just being a huge jerk. Starts to become clear that he and Millie are obsessed with something, and Warren and Will probably won’t make it home… then suddenly they’re hot on the trail of the brother, and a subliminal shootout leaves us wondering what just happened.

Kind of a haunting movie, well paced and shot by reliably weird cinematographer Gregory Sandor (Forbidden Zone, De Palma’s Sisters).

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Ride in the Whirlwind (1965)

If you think about their relative effectiveness and beauty and straightforwardness of plot, this movie would seem like the cheapie add-on flick of the two (Hellman and Nicholson went into the desert to shoot a movie and exec-producer Roger Corman said “while you’re out there, why not shoot two movies”). But this one has more actors, more gunshots and more buildings burning down, so it was intended to be the real picture, and cult-classic The Shooting was the “aw hell, as long as we’re here” picture. Funny how things work out.

One of Harry Dean’s first credited movie roles:
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Three plain ol’ regular-guy cowhands, not heroes or great gunfighters or brilliant problem-solvers, just plain-damn-ol’ guys, run into some bad dudes who just robbed a stagecoach. The bad dudes (led by eyepatch-sporting Harry Dean Stanton) concoct a story which our men see right through, but both decide to tolerate each other for the night. But oops, lawmen catch up with the baddies and assault their shack hideout assuming our fellas are part of the gang. Otis catches a bullet, so the other two, Vern (chewy Cameron Mitchell, then of Hell and High Water and House of Bamboo, later in Space Mutiny) and Wes (our writer Jack Nicholson, remarkably good at playing a regular guy) flee to the hills.

Otis (the good guy who gets killed) is played by the writer of sci-fi crap classic The Space Children.
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The hills and the shack both prove hard to escape. Finally the shack is burned down, and the surviving criminals are hanged. Meanwhile, after some close calls with bullets and cliffs, our two guys find a ranch house populated by stump-choppin’ routine-livin’ dad George Mitchell (of Face of the Screaming Werewolf), his barely-there wife, and their daughter, 27-playing-18 Millie Perkins. Our guys hold ‘em hostage planning to wait out the lawmen, trying not to offend or do harm while remaining threatening enough to be effective.

Rupert Crosse is credited as “indian joe” but I’m not so sure he’s Indian:
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This is the best part of the movie, the tense waiting, since all the chases and gunfights are all pretty routine. Checkers are played, the horse stable is visited, and the family is told that our guys are gonna have to steal two horses to get away. When the lawman comes a-calling, George Mitchell tries to get sneaky, resulting in a final shootout which kills Mitchells George and Cameron (no relation?) and leaves Jack riding away (not into the whirlwind; there is no whirlwind).

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