Saturday, October 20, 2018

UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB (2018)

THE CARD:

Colin Woodell, Stephanie Nogueras, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees, Connor Del Rio, Savira Windyani, more scary hacking than a weekend at Grandma’s, and an IT department headed by IT

More details here.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW




THE ANGLE:

Matias (Woodell) is a broke ass software developer who's having relationship problems with his deaf girlfriend Amaya (Nogueras).  He is on the verge of a breakthrough on a product called Papaya which translates voice and sign language into text on a video chat platform. (Actually, not a bad idea).  His story unfolds on his newly acquired laptop. 

"Logging into my favorite website Tremendo Time...tralala"
He's scheduled to meet with his friends online on Skype.  But things soon turn awry when we learn than the laptop he "acquired" may be stolen property, and the owner starts to contact him directly asking for it back.  

"Oh shit, he's reviewing another bad 70s horror movie..."
As the owner's messaging grows increasingly menacing, Matias slowly learns he may be in over his head and is in real danger.  So naturally, he involves his friends during the online gaming and chat session.  

"Another fart joke?  Are you fucking kidding me, Tremendo?!!!"
We learn that Matias actually stole the laptop from an internet cafe (really?) and the owner is part of a cabal of evil hackers, online perverts, scumbag torture trolls, and libertarians who destroy lives for their own amusement.  

A glimpse of Apple's new Aye-aye-aye-phone.
One by one, the hackers wreak havoc on the Matias and his friends' lives, including Amaya who is unaware she's being stalked.  All the friends can do is witness the horror unfold with top-notch fast and uninterrupted internet service.  Fart!

"Oh, Tremendo, you had so much potential." 

THE FINISHER:

Along with its fellow 2014 release Open Windows, the original Unfriended used the then-fresh concept of telling a story about a killer stalking a group of friends online in real time, each of them  subjected to a dangerous game tied into their troubled pasts.  Told from the perspective of the main character’s desktop, the movie used social media, internet apps, and online software to not only deliver a relatively satisfying thriller, but also convey themes of trust, friendship, and the decay of social interaction in our current technological age.  Simple as it was, it at least tried to even have a message backed by a plot with motive.  This next chapter in the Unfriended series affords no such attempt at depth as it’s pure gimmick in which all of the characters are random victims of circumstance with little to no character development.  Instead of an Eli Rothian torture chamber, the victims’ gruesome fates unfold live on the latest IO operating system.  If this is supposed to be a more modern update of early 2000s torture porn, then for the most part it’s successful.  But much like early 2000s torture porn, it’s not for me.  

But what does work is how the movie depicts actual things that may and do happen like the vulnerability of home security cameras and other devices, the availability of personal information that can be easily accessed and used against someone also known as “doxing”, the ugly practice of “swatting” in which a false report prompts an aggressive police response, and the frightening tools available to hackers (and others if you spend the time to learn their methods) to destroy someone’s life.  Less convincing is the speed and efficiency in which these diabolical tasks are executed, the almost supernatural ways in which the evil hackers’ identities were concealed, the fact that a YouTube conspiracy theorist has friends, and several head-scratching Bill Gates’ wallet-sized leaps in logic.  Many story threads with potential are left hanging as nothing is done with Nogueras’ character who is only hearing-impaired for sake of plot convenience.  Much like its predecessor, the cast is made up of relative unknowns, except for Gabriel who was terrific in 2017’s stunning Get Out.  Woodell as the lovelorn Matias was particularly good at conveying sweaty paranoia as doom unfolds in the wake of his terribly stupid mistake.  Unfriended: Dark Web works at picking at all-too real fears of privacy invasion, identity theft, and online terrorism that exist in our world today. Although you may not walk away from the film chilled to the bone, you will definitely clear your browser cache more often.  Pervo!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

NOCTURNA (1979)

THE CARD:

Nia Bonet, John Carradine, Yvonne De Carlo, Brother Theodore, Anthony Hamilton, lots of sheer polyester, a soundtrack Disco Stu would boogie to, and all the mise-en-scene of a snuff film.

More details here.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW




THE ANGLE:

Dracula's granddaughter Nocturna (Bonet) feasts only on the blood of men, making dating even more a hassle than normal.  Luckily the voluptuous dark beauty never goes to bed hungry.

"Eye vant to emasculate you!"
She has grown accustomed to a perpetual single life, going from man to man and neck to neck for the past few centuries.  One day, she begins to reconsider remaining an immortal vampire when she meets disco bassist Jimmy (Hamilton).  This guy: 

Dennis Cole looking MFer.
Seeking a way to turn mortal for some baffling reason, she consults with her legendary grandfather, the Lord of the Undead himself Dracula (Carradine), who has definitely seen better days/nights.

Behold: GRAMPIRE!
He's very upset to hear that his granddaughter wants to shack up (coffin up?) with this platinum bass-playing doof.  Also quite maddeningly annoyed is Drac's lovelorn Renfield-esque assistant Theodore (Theodore) who has been constantly rejected by her and appears constantly aroused.

"That's some sweet undead hinder!"
Defying her grandfather's wishes, she leaves Transylvania and runs away with Jimmy.  But first some nudity. 

New: Sleeping God Cthulhu Shampoo Dispenser!
They travel to New York, where Jimmy has some gigs and treats Nocturna to the bright lights and best sights of the city.

"Don't worry, baby, we can stay with my buds Bert and Ernie."
Drac and Theodore follow Nocturna to the city where she has holed up with relative and fellow vampire Jugulia Vein (De Carlo).  

Oh Lily...
Meanwhile Nocturna walks around Times Square, meets enlightening New Yorkers worthy of a Travis Bickle garden hosing, and dances like a loon whenever a disco song is played, which apparently is ALL THE TIME.

"Oh Jimmy, you take me to all the finest abandoned warehouses."
But all's well that ends well when Drac confronts Nocturna and is somehow convinced to take a dirty nap with his old squeeze Jugulia and release Nocturna from her bloody curse.  Or was she?

"Tee hee, bloodsuckers!"

THE FINISHER:

I may be cheating the #31DaysOfHalloween by including 1979’s Nocturna in this year’s line-up, as it’s anything but a horror movie, a comedy, a horror comedy, or even a goddamn movie. Produced and financed by Nocturna herself, the curvaceous French-Vietnamese actress Nia Bonet, it’s basically a Love at First Bite wannabe, a string of disco videos (there are like more than half-a-dozen disco songs fully played out), and basically a nudie vanity project.  Aiming for Vampira or Elvira-level stardom, Bonet is a natural beauty, no doubt, but the poor woman simply could not act, has no charisma, and drools out important lines of narrative discourse like “Hi, I am Dracula’s granddaughter”, “It’s time for church bath”, and “Oh, another fucking disco song, sure why not?” with zero conviction.  My copy of the film, which I bought from a bootleg video joint at some horror convention years ago and has since collected dust on my shelf, was extraordinarily out of focus and dimly lit, and would thus not be helpful for that horror completist pervert in your life or that is your life.  De Carlo (sadly) and Carradine (badly) both phone in obvious quick paycheck roles though at times they appear completely committed to the cheapo goings-on.  But it’s New York performance artist and legendary Late Night with David Letterman guest Brother Theodore who steals the show, imbuing each of his scenes with his patented goofball menace.  He’s possibly the sole reason you should seek this out at all.  Unless you really really really like disco music.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

THE WITCHES (1990)

THE CARD:

Angelica Huston, Mia Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, Rowan Atkinson, Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn, Charlie Potter, Jane Horrocks, more nasty witches than a Black Friday sale, Mr. Bean doing Basil Fawlty, and a doity rat that didn’t double-cross Jimmy Cagney. (Sorry, old man reference).

More details here.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW



THE ANGLE:

Young boy Lucas (Fisher) loses his parents in a tragic car accident.  He's left to be raised by his grandmother Helga (Zetterling) who spins him yarns, legends, and safety tips regarding witches, who we learn still walk the Earth and absolutely hate children.  One day, Lucas actually encounters a witch who temps him with Wonka-esque chocolate bars.

I'd hit it.
But Lucas has learned his lessons well and reports the witchy would be kid-snatching to Grandma.  After collapsing due to a bout with diabetes, Grandma Helga decides to go on holiday and takes Lucas to a seaside resort.  Unfortunately, they arrive during peak Witch Convention Season as the Grand High Witch (Huston), leader of the witches of the world, herself makes a grand entrance.

You bet I'd hit it.
She leads a meeting of her followers who reveal their follicle-challenged true form and whips them into a frenzy over a plan to mass poison kids and turn them into mice.

Hit it, hit it, hit it, um...hit it.
Lucas unfortunately is caught overhearing the coven's dastardly plan and is captured and transformed into a cute talking mouse.

"I hope Mickey or Stuart can put me up for a few weeks."
Lucas Mouse teams up with another transformed kid mouse (Potter) and with the help of Witchfinder Grandma, plot to overturn the witches' evil plans.  In the meantime...

Yep, still hit it.

THE FINISHER:

1990’s The Witches slipped by me when first released and it’s only taken 28 years to catch up with it.  And I’m glad I did.  There’s a whole lot of talent behind the scenes: Jim Henson (his last production before his sudden death), Nicolas Roeg (director of supernatural thriller Don’t Look Now and science fiction mindbender The Man Who Fell to Earth), and writer Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  The lovely Huston, scene-chewingly menacing in her villainous role, and the dependable Zetterling, Atkinson, and Horrocks in supporting roles round out a satisfying, though uneven at times, movie.  The puppetry work mixed with footage of actual rats may have been ahead of its time, and sadly will probably never be duplicated should the inevitable remake be produced. But it’s the nightmarish tone and intensity of the witches’ infernal congress and the mice transformation scenes that's unforgettable and first time young viewers may have a hard time sitting through.  And damn if it isn’t a good stranger danger lesson for the tykes as well.  The movie sets up a sequel with more witch-hunting adventures with Lucas and Grandma to come, just like in Dahl’s novel.  Hate to say the "R" word, but this would be prime material for a reboot, perhaps as a TV series.  I can totally recommend The Witches for your Halloween marathon as a pre-bedtime treat for the little rugrats in you life as well as anyone who loves a gloriously disturbing kids film before you can whip out the good stuff.

Monday, October 15, 2018

HELLGATE (1989)

THE CARD:

Ron “Fucking Horshack” Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran, Evan J. Klisser, Joanne Ward, Lance Vaughan, the cast of Old Tucson’s Nightfall, a wagon full of bourbon for the writer, a horse cart full of LSD for the director, a trainload full of cocaine for the cast, and a truckload of Xanax for yours truly.

More details here.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW


THE ANGLE:

Vacationing teens in a cabin sit around a fireplace, tell spooky stories, and share local urban legends, in particular the tragedy of Josie, a woman who in the 1950s was kidnapped by a motorcycle gang and murdered in the old west town of Hellgate.  Stricken with grief, her father Lucas (Trichardt) vows revenge and one day comes across a mysterious crystal found in a mine that possesses the power to reanimate the dead.  He experiments with it by bringing his dead turtle back to life.

"Zombie Gamera is a friend to all vengeful Dads!"
He uses the crystal to revive Josie (Wolcott) so she can roam the countryside and hunt down her murderers and any other strangers who dare visit the town for the next three decades.  

She also seeks eyeliner.
Meanwhile, Matt (Palillo) is driving through the town looking for the cabin to meet up with girlfriend Pam (Curran), dickhead Chuck (Klisser), and his dimwit girlfriend (Ward).  After Matt has a close encounter of the horny kind with Josie along the lonely road, he tells the story to his friends and they decide to investigate further.

The world's oldest teens are on the case.
They meet up with angry mechanic Zonk (Vaughan) who the geriatric Scooby Doo gang learn is a member of the original gang that killed Josie.  He's terrified of going up to Hellgate even though thirty years later he's still a juiced up bruiser who for some reason looks like DC Comics' Solomon Grundy.  

Still better than anything in Batman v. Superman
Meanwhile, Daddy Lucas looking like an unfinished Terminator is on the prowl and searching for Matt who for some reason is also blamed for Josie's demise.  Is it because he's a stranger or because he's Fucking Horshack?

"I'll be back, right after I take my Geritol."
Back at her family home, Josie lies around and for reasons unfathomable fawns for Fucking Horshack.  

"I can't help it, non-Scientologist Sweat Hogs are my kink."
As they search through the town trying to uncover the secret of the crystal's power and the mystery of Josie's vengeance, they awaken all sorts of horror:

Rotting extras!

Ghostly pianists!

Awkward director cameos!
But it all boils down to how much courage Fucking Horshack can muster to face down slashy-slashy Lucas, the soul-stealing desires of Josie, and a long depressing look at what went wrong in his career.


THE FINISHER:

People ask me why I watch so many bad movies.  My initial answer is because it’s fun to poke fun at bad movies, preferably with like-minded friends over adult beverages and fatty snacks.  But the daily grind of the #31DaysOfHalloween does not often afford the social aspect of communal mocking and getting snockered.  So most of these days I’m doing this alone, like the terrible movie maven and shut-in I am.  And honestly, I don’t always know that a movie I’m going to watch is going to be “bad”, as I don’t do much pre-viewing research.  In fact, I’m always naively hopeful that my random choice will result in a hidden gem such as Satan’s Little Helper or Razorback.  Sure, there are the obvious signs of a bad movie:  little to no reviews available besides the random listicle or movie fan board posting, its unavailability besides a YouTube rip or crazy torrent site, an abysmally low IMDB rating, and the appearance of Ron “Fucking Horshack” Palillo.  So it’s no wonder I should have known better than to attempt to sit through the agonizing Hellgate, a movie so brazenly atrocious and aggravating that I may need to sue the producers for counseling expenses.

Where to start?  First, this movie like others of its pedigree (low-budget, direct to video, starring no one and featuring nothing) seem to be an amalgam of several other movies, as if the producers decided to piece together previously unfinished films into one and tack on a few scenes with a famous name to market.  It’s like “Hey, Fucking Horshack is available for two days, why don’t we pick him up and finish that crap you started last weekend?!”.  I don’t know if that’s the case here but there are sequences that are mismatched visually and just plain don’t make any sense in the order they’re presented.  It’s incongruously part old west horror film and part teen sex comedy.  The acting is so mind-boggling unnatural, even from veteran Fucking Horshack, who was much better in the best Jason movie Jason Lives! and acts as if this is his first acting gig.  And then there’s the sex scenes.  Holy Mother of All That is Holy, human beings do not behave like this.  The sex scenes are so bizarre it’s as if the director was something that had never encountered humans and thought, “Humans can procreate by sitting on each other’s butts.”

Seriously, this exists and cannot be unseen.
Not that it matters but there are a ton of unexplained threads handing from this mush pile of a movie: a burning man crashes his car in the town of Hellgate (who?), the crystal could not only wake the dead but also shoot laser beams (how?), one of kidnapping gang members stays in the town for thirty years after the incident and opens a business minutes away from the site of his crime (why?), Josie has the hots for Fucking Horshack (huh?), and so on and so on.  And I don’t understand the compulsion of some horror movie makers both then and now to make every single one of their characters a complete asshole.  Is it a substitute for making characters interesting?  A lazy shortcut to explain stupid actions to advance the plot?  A reflection of the actual movie business?  Hellgate ranks as one of the worst movies ever seen here on Tremendo Time, a tremendous dubious honor.  But I will recommend it for your Halloween marathon, so long as your sarcastic best friends are around to pull you through it, quip like there’s no tomorrow, and shove down fun-size Snickers to ease the pain. 

Aw prairie shit, it’s not that bad.  I’ve seen worse.  I’m actually glad I made it through this thing.  It’s made me stronger, he said wincing, shaking, and looking for a bottle to drown his bad movie memories.
Fucking Horshack.  (R.I.P.).