Thursday, October 23, 2008

More movies I watched while I was sick

Here's another one of those posts--the type that I excel at, if I do say so myself-- that will have you asking yourself why in the hell you read this blog in the first place. Why in the hell, for instance, would you want to read a bunch of half-assed capsule reviews of movies I watched while I was sick--keeping in mind that I was so drugged up and swathed in self pity while watching them that any observations about them I might make would be highly suspect and riddled with inaccuracies?

I'm okay with such questions, though, because blogging about obscure genre movies that no one in their right mind cares about isn't always about the answers. Sometimes its about shining the light of interrogation back upon the reader, and perhaps, in the process, providing an opportunity for both of us to learn a little more about ourselves. Or, on the other hand, perhaps it just provides an opportunity for you to piss away another few minutes you could've otherwise spent working. Either way, I'm good.

The Bat (US, 1959). Crane Wilbur's snappy take on this Depression era "old dark house" favorite" (previously brought to the screen by director Roland West in both 1926 and 1930) is one of those intermittent glimmers of light that encourages slaves of the Mill Creek 50 Movie Pack like myself to continue the slog despite the overwhelming argument those massive compendiums of public domain mediocrity provide for doing exactly the opposite. Slick, witty and impressively lean, with a slew of game and engaging performances by a cast that includes Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, this one's a perfect rainy day entertainer. Moorehead plays a successful mystery author who rents an old mansion only to find that its owner has stashed somewhere within it a fortune in embezzled funds. A number of suspicious characters begin to make their presence known, and when a masked figure known as The Bat begins to roam the halls, killing anyone who comes between him and his quest for the loot, Moorehead resolves to get to the bottom of things. Moorehead's character, Cornelia van Gorder, is a hoot, and I enjoyed seeing such a calmly authoritative, fiercely intelligent middle-aged female character being placed at the center of a film of this type. In fact, Gorder and her loyal maid, Lizzie (Lenita Lain), end up coming across like a sort of female Holmes and Watson. Recommended.

Hero's Blood (??). Most sources list this as a Malaysian movie made in 1991, except for the Hong Kong Movie Database, which lists it as a South Korean movie made in 1970, which is what it looks like. In any case, it's an odd and interesting little film, though one that will disappoint anyone expecting the type of chop-socky movie its dollar dvd packaging suggests. Basically a sort of Harlequin romance in wuxia trappings, it tells the story of a noblewoman who suffers a series of love affairs that end in tragedy. Eventually, she ends up as a sort of black widow figure, luring unsuspecting men to her foreboding mansion, only to seduce them and have them executed by her minions. This all goes swimmingly for a while, until an assassin sent by a rejected suitor from her past arrives at her door, and the two fall deeply in love. Not great, but somewhat surprising, and nice to look at.

The Exterminating Angel (Mexico, 1962). Despite this being a long-time favorite, and a staple of my nascent ventures, during my surly and pretentious post-adolescence, into film snobbery (thanks to countless screenings at theaters such as San Francisco's Strand, Castro and Roxy, not to mention the old UC Theater in Berkeley), it had been quite a while since I watched this Bunuel masterpiece. My prolonged confinement to the couch gave me the opportunity to check out the barebones Arrow DVD of it that I purchased a while back. What struck me anew about the film was the novelty of seeing such lucha movie regulars as Claudio Brook (Santo in the Wax Museum, Neutron vs. the Death Robots) and Augusto Benedico (Santo vs. the Vampire Women, Santo vs. the King of Crime) in a recognized classic of arthouse cinema (and at the same time demonstrating what fine and versatile actors they both were). Beyond that, The Exterminating Angel still packs the same jagged punch. Wickedly, acidly hilarious, yet at once viscerally horrifying, this is a work borne of undiluted rage that blossoms into a thing of dark, convulsive beauty.

The Guy From Harlem (USA, 1977). Actually, I only made it through about a third of this one. While I wouldn't normally review a movie that I hadn't watched all the way through, The Guy From Harlem really seemed to merit being flagged for the benefit of anyone who might stumble upon it unwittingly. To give you some idea of the territory we're in here, many of the reviewers who've written it up on IMDB have chosen to bring out the big guns and single it out as "The Worst Movie of All Time", or words to that effect. To me, that phrase is a sort of critical nuclear option, and not one that I feel I have enough of a breadth of film knowledge to ever apply authoritatively. That said, asserting that The Guy From Harlem, if hypothetically subjected to a meticulous and thorough process in which it was compared to every single example of narrative cinema ever produced since the invention of the medium, would probably not emerge as quite the absolute worst is pretty much the only positive thing that I can say about it. This Florida-produced piece of nada-budget blaxploitation is the type of movie that anyone who thinks Plan 9 From Outer Space represents the worst the medium has to offer really need to spend some quality time with. As those most dedicated to mining the depths of trash cinema know, incompetence can be married to a number of other attributes--enthusiasm, delusion, vision, the habitual use of cleaning solvents as inhalants--and produce winning results. It is only when incompetence is married to those twin devils of apathy and imaginational poverty that you get the kind of bottom level, unwatchable, flat-out badness that is exemplified here. Does that mean that I won't be tackling those final two thirds of The Guy From Harlem sometime in the near future? Ah, if that were only the case.

Deadly Duo (Hong Kong/Taiwan, 1978). Don't even ask me what this one was about, because I watched it at the height of my medication-induced stupor. I do remember that it provided a great showcase for Angela Mao's fighting skills, though, which is all that I was really looking for. Now, why I wanted to watch this particular type of entertainment at a time when my own body felt like a liberally employed punching bag raises issues I'd care not to discuss. Let's just say that it speaks to my complexity.

Jeepers Creepers (US, 2001). Mac and PC go on a road trip in this extended Apple promo. However, the PC we encounter here is not the self-effacing, passive-aggressive doughboy we've grown accustomed to welcoming into our homes, but an earlier incarnation in the form of a snarky teenage girl whose lips are poised to issue the word "buttmunch" at the slightest provocation. As a result, the banter between the two brands is of a much more shrill nature than what we've become used to. Finally--and mercifully--the two encounter a third, much more efficient model that ends up cannibalizing them for parts. Where do I line up to get that one?

Seriously, I'd heard that this one was better than average for a modern American horror picture, and it is. There are some good scares, some real surprises, and a resolutely downbeat ending just like they used to do in the good old days. The film loses big points, though, for its inclusion of a magical black person, which is my absolute least favorite modern Hollywood convention.

Afraid to Die (Japan, 1960). I love Yasuzo Masumura's Giants & Toys, but my further forays into that director's filmography have brought me close to concluding that I'm not really much of a fan of his work as a whole. While I always end up admiring his style, movies like Blind Beast, Black Test Car and now Afraid to Die just don't end up leaving me with much in the way of a lasting impression. In this film, legendary cultural fetish Yukio Mishima takes the lead as a young Yakuza who, upon his release from prison, is hunted down by members of a rival faction eager to settle an old score. Now I'm not one of those people who think that, in order for a movie to be good, you have to "care" about the characters, but I admit that, as portrayed by Mishima, the character Takeo presented a real stumbling block to my involvement in Afraid to Die. He's thick-witted, cowardly, and prone to using his girlfriend as a punching bag, and Mishima doesn't give us enough of a sense of anything going on beneath the surface for us to have any concern over what fate may hold for him. For anyone drawn by the novelty of seeing Mishima onscreen, I'd instead recommend watching Black Lizard, in which the author doesn't have nearly as much to do, but looks marvelous, which is really what's most important, right?

They Live By Night (USA, 1948). Nicholas Ray's debut feature shows the director in full command of his distinctive style right out of the gate. A touching love story set in an unforgiving noir universe, Night captures an emotional moment so fragile that it seems to exist within the space of a single suspended breath. Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell play the doomed innocents who discover love only after fate has erased any chance of them being able to live a normal life together, and both performances are revelatory. That's saying a lot in the case of Granger, who, for me, is usually the type of actor who is just there, at best. To tell you the truth, I don't know why I'm even writing about this one. There are plenty of other bloggers out there who will tell you that this is a classic, and I could better dedicate this space to something like, oh…

Shaolin Death Squad (Taiwan, 1978). I'm not ashamed to admit that I prefer my Polly Shang Kwan vehicles cheap, crude and weird. That said, there's probably nothing wrong with this movie at all. It's just that, to me, it came off as a little too staid; a Shaw-lite wuxia with a lot more complex plotting than I was willing to dedicate my attention to in my compromised state. Had it contained some lobster warriors or a flying-shark-launching palanquin, I might have been more forgiving.

And then I watched this one where Parveen Babi gets
chased around by a sasquatch... Hey, where is everybody?


houseinrlyeh said...

I totally agree with you on The Bat, Man From Harlem and Jeepers Creepers (oh my), but why oh why did you have to end the post on a cliffhanger!?
Call me weird, but a sasquatch hunting Parveen Babi sounds like mandatory watching to me.
Now I'm waiting with baited breath for the answer to the question: "Is it as good as The Legend of Boggy Creek?"

(Word verification: "paint"???)

Todd said...

So sorry to tantalize you unnecessarily, House. I actually covered (very briefly) the Parveen v. Sasquatch movie in my post earlier this week. It's the underwhelming Jeetendra spy caper Bond 303, and that moment I described was by far the absolute high point. (I even provided a screencap for your enjoyment.)

I'm truly sorry that you're in a position to agree with me about The Guy From Harlem, because that means that you actually watched it. Were you at least doped-up on codeine-laced cough syrup when you watched it, like I was?

Anonymous said...

Ha ha! You simply amaze me. Reading your blog makes me feel much less lowbrow than I generally otherwise do :) Or at least it makes me feel like I'm in good company!

I am afraid to tackle other Asian cinema for fear that my whole life will come to a grinding halt. Hindi cinema has done enough. I will say that when I was in high school in the 70s I really enjoyed bad Vincent Price horror films though. And I feel strangely compelled to find Man from Harlem too (is that Venus from WKRP in Cincinnati in the picture?)...

Anonymous said...

of course I meant The Guy from Harlem (which is a much better title actually)...

houseinrlyeh said...

My memory's really starting to go down the drain. Well, this way I can watch all my favorite movies again for the first time.

Alas no cough syrup for The Man From Harlam for me. I drove the bad memory away with Coffy though, so that's alright.

Keith said...

I prefer my Polly Shang Kwan vehicles cheap, crude and weird.

That's how I prefer my women, period.

And memsaabstory -- there are NO bad Vincent Price horror films!

Beth said...

Todd, this is inspired, even if chemically so. There are several turns of phrase in here that I hope to quote in the near future - although I'm pretty sure I'm not watching/living the right kinds of movies/life. And The Bat sounds...good.

Todd said...

Y'all are too kind. Out of all the blogs out there with less than ten readers, I have the best less than ten readers in the world. That said, I will not be held responsible for any of you watching The Guy From Harlem--as much as I would like to see reviews of it on your respective blogs. (And, yes, Memsaab, it's definitely "Guy", rather than "Man". "Man" is way too authoritative, with "Guy" being much more appropriate to the very modest level of ambition that the film evidences. In fact, calling it "Some Guy From Harlem" would have been even more appropriate.)

houseinrlyeh said...

Man, you deserve the kind words. But I don't think I'll meet some guy from Harlem anytime soon.

Beth, of course The Bat is good. It has Vincent Price in it.

Beth said...

Hear hear! And Memsaab, I will gladly watch that movie with you when I get to Boston.