Saturday, July 31, 2010

TROG

(1970)
TROG- 1. A profound sense of distrust. 2. A fear of dying alone and forgotten. 3. A conspicuous sexual act performed while underneath a Snuggie (I.e.- “I pulled a TROG while you were sitting next to me.” or “the pups are TROGGIN it.”)

Ok, so TROG is this thing that lives in a cave…I think. In England. It’s a smooth-skinned white guy wearing a furry loin cloth and furry boots and a very hairy headdress with a monkey face. TROG beats the snot out of anyone he crosses paths with. Just clobbers them bloody. I think that about sums it up.

Joan Crawford is a scientist trying to save and study TROG while everyone else wants his head. Michael Gough constantly plots against TROG and comes off rather sinister. I must admit to having a very difficult time with TROG. I told myself I wouldn’t sleep until I’d reviewed TROG, even though I’m already very much lacking sleep. TROG is one of those rare films that you feel is attempting to trick you, like some cunning gag you were never supposed to be privy to. You know they can’t be serious, that in some strange, possibly devious way they were intending to make a bad film even though they were also trying to make money. Confusing.

TROG is very hard to define. It’s one of those things where you scratch your head, look at the amount of people involved with it’s production and wonder, “didn’t anyone think that last scene was a little sloppy?”. Or how about that one? That was really bad. Nobody thought to speak up, nobody resisted that?

There are long stretches of TROG where people just talk about TROG. There are lengthy courtroom debates about TROG. There are moments when the TROG is cute, playful. But most of the time he just wants to stomp their brains out. At one point, scientists strap TROG to a table, stick electrodes to his head and watch claymation dinosaurs fight. The dinosaurs seem to come from a signal TROG’s projecting onto a filmstrip screen. I think. Maybe. I can’t really put my finger on it, the more I think about it. There is a five minute stretch of claymation dinosaurs. Afterwards, Joan Crawford has to fight back the tears. This actually happened. I think.



I did watch this sucker, but am having a very difficult time coming to terms with it. After that dinosaur sequence, they do a lot more talking about TROG. Michael Gough unlocks TROG’s cage and then throws the large padlock at TROG. Why? I’m not sure. TROG beats him to death. Joan Crawford tries to reason with TROG. “TROG, stop it!”. TROG likes to body slam people, pro-wrasslin style. TROG doesn’t like loud music. TROG impales a frail, old butcher on a meat hook. TROG pushes a car onto it’s side, which then instantly explodes, killing the driver.



TROG terrorizes a playground, abducting a little girl. But TROG is nice to the girl. There is a gentle TROG theme song (they don’t use this when he’s impaling elderly shopkeepers on meat hooks). Joan Crawford again tries to reason with TROG. “Come on TROG. Give me the child.” Gentle TROG song plays and he complies. “You see Colonel, TROG can be reasoned with.” Military shoots TROG with machine guns. TROG is dead, movie over. But it can’t be.


TROG left me feeling empty inside. Lost. How can I sleep now? I have questions for TROG. TROG, why do you kill? We know you have sweet, gentle side. We saw how sensitive you can be, like when you stroked that baby doll’s hair. TROG, what is it you really want? You seemed like you had something on your mind, something you were contemplating between all the vicious assaults.
I can’t sleep now. There’s a nagging physical anxiety in my gut and it’s got TROG written all over it. If anyone out there can enlighten me to TROG’s true meaning, I‘ll buy them a beer. I’d like to forget TROG as soon as possible, but I need answers. TROG is confusion. TROG is pain. But TROG is love, man. TROG is love.


Monday, July 26, 2010

DETOUR

(1945; Edgar G. Ulmer)

There is a moment early on in DETOUR that sets the mood and tone for all which follows… Al Roberts (Tom Neal) and his gal Sue descend from the “Break O’ Dawn Club” into a heavy fog. With each step, it becomes more and more apparent that Sue is leaving him for greener pastures far away… and with each step they become increasingly immersed in the starkly unreal thickness of it all (the fog wranglers really pour it on here). We nearly lose them completely for a moment as Al’s heartbreak becomes certain… and it seems as if he does all he can to keep from choking while delivering his lines in earnest amidst billowy, caustic plumes of the stuff.



The unforgettable, impossibly dire DETOUR is one of the great legends of the Hollywood noir. It’s reputation is equal parts infamy and excellence… though shot in six days (on a shoestring) and rife with improbable twists, it remains one of the grimmest, most striking archetypes of the genre and features one of the most wicked, definitive femme fatales in screen history in Ann Savage (as the implacable Vera). It’s also filled to the brim with dialogue and narration so hard-boiled and brittle, you’re liable to keep fumbling for the rewind button in incredulous defiance.
We begin with the deeply distraught and grimy Al hitching into a diner on the outskirts of nowhere, looking just as lost and hopeless as a man can get. After some intense brooding nearly gets him tossed out of the place, he begins to narrate his plight (as the room gets dark and the camera pulls in on his sweating, beaten face).

He flashes back to the seedy club in which he plied away his nights (back in New York) playing piano with his singing girlfriend, Sue. Those were the days, he laments… We learn Al’s a bit on the fragile, tender side and desperately in love with Sue, but she leaves him high and dry to wander alone through the foggy streets.
She’s gone to California and he’s now miserable at the club, stricken with her memory… until one night he gets her on the phone to find things aren’t so rosy in dreamland and she misses him. So with little to stand on and scarcely money for food, he decides to hitch to California. At 67 minutes, DETOUR moves swift and terse, with much of the action cobbled together by montage and Al’s gritty narration.
After a long, rough trek, a very weary Al is picked up in Arizona by a bookie named Haskell. Al’s finally relieved as he finds out Haskell’s rolling straight through to L.A., then he notices some bad scratches on Haskell’s hand… “Beauties, aren’t they…I was tusslin’ with the most dangerous animal in da world. A woman.” Haskell continues, “There ought to be a law against things with claws”. “You give a lift to a tomat-a, you expect her to be nice, dontcha?”
When an inexplicable accident during a heavy rain causes Haskell’s death, Al panics, believing the police will surely pin things on him. He hides the body along the side of the road, grabs Haskell’s wallet and hightails it out of there in the Lincoln Continental. After crossing the California border (and finding a good deal of cash in Haskell’s billfold), Al stops at a gas station where fate deals him yet another bad hand. It’s there that he decides to pick up a mysterious, attractive hitchhiker named Vera (Ann Savage in her signature role) and this is where DETOUR really takes off.
Vera, though quite alluring, looks demonic from the get-go… “Man, she looked as if she’d just been thrown off the crumbiest freight train in the world”. She’s guarded and elusive during their first shared words. “You look like a Phoenix girl to me.” “Are all the girls in Phoenix that bad?”, she drolly retorts. After a short nap while Al drives, she springs to life as if shot out of a cannon, wild-eyed and accusing him of killing Haskell and stealing his car/money, etc.
Al quickly realizes this is the girl Haskell spoke of, the “animal” he’d tussled with. From here on, Ann Savage viciously bulls her way through every line with an unrivaled authority… “You know, as crooked as you look, I’d hate to see a fella as young as you wind up sniffin’ that perfume in Arizona they hand out free to murderers”. Within a few short minutes she’s completely established her dominance, blackmailing him into submission (“just remember who’s boss around here!”). The stunned, thoroughly emasculated Al can do little but grovel wearily at her side and drive.

Once they get to L.A., Vera’s scheming to use Al to sell the car and much more, refusing to let him out of her sight. They rent an apartment in which she stalks around seductively, drinking whisky in abundance and passing sexual innuendo at every turn… though he despises her completely and seems more frightened (and disgusted) than aroused by her predatory lusting. And during these moments, his plight becomes irretrievably, almost mockingly hopeless…
Director Edgar G. Ulmer accomplishes so much with so very little. Using a few spare sets and a lot of rear-screen projection driving scenes, he was able to create an improbable masterpiece in 6 days for under 40 grand (shooting for poverty-row PRC studios). Martin Goldsmith’s seedy, grim and habitually implausible script sizzles nonetheless, mostly due to the amazing performance by Ann Savage (though Tom Neal is terrific as well). DETOUR is a desperate, haunting melodrama drawn in broad strokes… with a penchant for cruelty that can feel like an emotional sucker punch.
Though it would seem ridiculous that the unarmed Vera could so easily threaten and control a man she’s accusing of murder (out on a deserted stretch of road), her performance is chillingly convincing. Vicariously, you’re vulnerable, threatened (and, let’s face it… hopelessly turned on) by her throughout. If you ever meet a scowling devil-woman like Ann Savage, no matter how attractive you find her, DO NOT give her a lift. Remember these words, lest they’ll haunt you to your dying gasp (as you’re sniffin’ that Arizona perfume…).




Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DEMONS

(DEMONI; Lamberto Bava; 1985)
Way out there in the vast beyond lies another similarly battered cultural wasteland of wild hair, unpalatable clothing trends and aggressive pimps demanding to instruct the voice of reason. What if, say, Italians pretended to be Germans, who in turn pretended to become “demons” who just want to rip your throat out and drool and snarl a lot and hopefully cause you nightmares.
The story, a bit on the loose side (if you know what I mean…), begins on a subway where a wide-eyed priggish gal named Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) finds herself all hot and bothered by a colorful menagerie of new wave-types, then is further distressed by a menacing, uber-hip, shiny masked mute who stalks her through the dark, empty corridors of the mall-ish netherworld that is her local train station, only to confront her with free passes to a new movie theater. All of this is set to the most-excellent “Demons” theme song, a spooky-cool industrial synthesizer jam by Claudio Simonetti (of GOBLIN).
So she thinks, “Wow, cool”, and invites her sassy, frizzy-haired pal Hannah (Fiore Argento, the oh-so tasty “other daughter” of Dario) to go with her. For the record, the Metropol, the West Berlin movie palace in which the majority of DEMONS takes place, remains my all-time favorite “in movie” movie theater. Where else can you go for a couple of hours only to find the exits mysteriously, inexplicably bricked in when you
try to leave? It also seems a fine place to find a wide array of cross-cultural stereotypes (circa 1985), such as “Tony the pimp” (the implacable Bobby Rhodes), the movie’s much-beloved de facto anti-hero.
So in the theater lobby there’s this swanky crotch-rocket motorcycle on which an S & M-geared mannequin sits holding a samurai sword in one hand, a silver devil mask in the other…ok, well it is the 80s. Anyways, Tony’s mischievous #1 ho, Rosemary (Geretta Geretta), tries on the mask, which leaves an ominous bloody scratch on her cheek. Foreboding as that is, wait until you meet the rest of the cast, who look like a pack of refugees from a Mentos’ commercial.

So as Cheryl and Hannah settle into their seats to watch the horror film, a couple of dapper pretty-boys insinuate themselves next to the gals, anxiously hinting their “potential suitor” status throughout.

After Motley Crue’s “Save Our Souls” kicks off the movie’s intro (setting the tone for all which follows), the plot refers to a Nostradamus prediction foretelling the “coming of the demons” and in one scene a character finds a silver mask identical to the one in the theater’s lobby, which scratches his face just as it did Rosemary’s. Well, it doesn’t take long for his scratch to become infected and turn him into a “demon”, which cues Rosemary to head to the bathroom just as her face starts going all *Cronenberg* on her.

Fanged, clawed, drooling and ferocious, the demons (some of the coolest, scariest monsters to ever grace the silver screen) wreak havoc on the terrified crowd… and as they ravenously spread their contagion through their claws, one by one their victims become possessed, joining their ranks. Whether poking and prodding out a blind man’s eyes, viciously scalping a shrieking, terrified woman or just ripping the throat out of a random passerby, the demons’ modus operandi is simply to raise hell.
Part zombie, part devil and all bloodthirsty fiend, the preposterous phenomenon of the demon is never reasonably justified or explained… the viewer is simply served up a feral hair-metal rendering of their worst nightmares. And as one unfortunate moviegoer finds out, they’ll rip your nuts off clean through the drawstring sweats and tighty whities you hide them in.  Oh... wait a second.  That actually occurred in the very similarly plotted (and equally awesome) sequel, DEMONS 2, produced a year later.
Like much of the production (including the ridiculously confusing script), the acting, dialogue and dubbing are often silly and atrocious… perhaps even doubly so set to glam-metal tirades by Accept, Saxon, and Pretty Maids. Yet all that aside, DEMONS is one of the most memorable horror films of the 1980s, an absolutely entertaining and exhilarating fright show with as many unintentional laughs as there are gruesome thrills and chills.
Produced and co-scripted by Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava, DEMONS is loaded with cheap shock moments and scares by the bucket load, running the gamut of gory spectacle and grisly mayhem. And Sergio Stivoletti deserves endless accolades for his make-up and gore effects, creating the truly horrific demons (and the carnage they exact) with as much panache and ingenuity as almost any Hollywood special effects master could’ve mustered.
DEMONS is my idea of the perfect Grimm fairy tale for children, except without anything in the way of a morality lesson or conscience whatsoever. If you want to make small children cry hysterically until their eyes burn out and raging torrents of snot run down their precocious little chins, show them DEMONS.