28 February 2011

Zombie High

United States – 1987
Director – Ron Link
Cinema Group Home Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 31 minutes

I grew up just early enough to catch the second wave of zombie films that came with the 80’s and early 90’s and I am a huge fan of that era. It’s been difficult to get behind the zombie films of the third wave that began with 28 Days Later. They have such a different aesthetic and context that my greater awareness as an adult has prevented me from enjoying or even appreciating them much. There are a few exceptions of course, namely the recent Romero films, and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Still, nothing compares to the original, or Fulci’s masterpiece, Zombi 2.
Then there are also exceptions to the rule that zombie films of the second wave are universally better. An obvious stinker might be The Video Dead, but I can get behind even that terrible piece of shit because it still adheres to at least one of the (my) critical Zombie Movie Rules.

One, with the exception of voodoo, films should not attempt to explain the origin of zombies or zombification. Big no-no in my book and a sure-fire ruiner of any zombie centered plot as last year’s TV disasterpiece The Walking Dead proved. Second, if you’re going to have gore, don’t make the plot too complex and vice-versa, if you’re not going to have gore, you better have a good story. Finally and most importantly, zombies should not be self aware, this includes their use as a distinct political or demographic statement in and of themselves. Romero used his zombies as a catalyst to discuss social issues in his early films, but they were not intrinsically a metaphor for any distinct subject or issue. Now I know some people will want to argue these points, and I welcome the discussion, but I’ve thought about this quite a lot and am pretty convinced.

There are of course isolated exceptions to each of my rules (opinions), however any film in which violations manifest immediately becomes suspect. Thus I raised an eyebrow as the opening scenes of Zombie High began playing out across my screen. As much as I despise classism and plutocracy, as a separately defined antagonist group in a monster movie, they belong to the despicable Vampire genre. In Zombie High the titular monsters are the elite students of an already elite prep-school. Until the opening of this film, the student body had been exclusively male, but Virginia Madsen’s character Andrea is among the first contingent of double X chromosomes to attend and it’s pretty clear that she comes from a “lower class” demographic. On top of this, the zombies are explained, created by a brain serum and controlled by their zombie overlord with the use of a crystal and a cassette tape of classical music. Essentially they’re vampires again. Finally, there’s virtually zero gore, and as I just described, the story is pretty stupid, so you’ve got an all around loser here.

Hurry, flip the tape!

I did not originally intend to compare this film to Video Dead, but it ended up that way. Because they came out in the same year it works out well to demonstrate how one exception to the rules can make so much difference. Video Dead doesn’t make its zombies exemplary representatives of any class or group and thus despite being an otherwise lousy film, it beats Zombie High hands down.

A UK VHS sleeve from It's Only A Movie.co.uk

21 February 2011

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse

United States - 1938
Director - Anatole Litvak
Starring - Claire Trevor, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson

Another great poster by Italian artist Luigi Martinati.

Bamboo House of Dolls

Hong Kong - 1973
Director - Chih-Hung Kuei

This poster has an obviously striking and rather blunt subject, but I think it's funny that despite the fact that this takes place entirely in Asia, the prison guard is dressed as a Nazi. (The pistol however is a Japanese model, the "Nambu")

From Moviegoods

Both of the last two come from the magnificent Ultra Guro

18 February 2011

Rental Store - Video Warehouse of Woodstock

At one point in history down in Woodstock, Georgia you would have been able to rent Beaks: The Movie at Video Warehouse of Woodstock.

14 February 2011

Future Force

United States - 1988
Director - David A. Prior
Worldvision Home Video, 1993, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes
(also starring Robert Tessier of Starcrash)

I have never fully understood the cult popularity of David Carradine. I see it being related to him as himself, the David Carradine persona that developed later in his career, rather than any outstanding ability. I have always appreciated Carradine as a litmus test for the quality of film I prefer, something that in my opinion changed for the worse as his cult status grew. Carradine’s name on a film virtually guarantees that it is going to be a laughable piece of shit, but I for one am alright with that. What? You thought I was being critical of this whole situation? I actually appreciate it because it makes a shitty movie so much more enjoyably ludicrous when David Carradine is in there trying to be a badass or tough guy character that he clearly isn’t. It wasn’t until he stopped “acting”, when he began being cast simply as David Carradine, that he started to get boring.

Future Force is a case in point. Carradine operates as the lead in a movie in which he is clearly outclassed in nearly every way by the supporting characters. Together they are all members of C.O.P.S., or the Civilian Operated Police Systems, which as we are all aware is what the police already are. However, in the opening narration we are told that just before the beginning of the film the C.O.P.S. pulled society back from the brink of violent social collapse. In the not-too-distant dystopian 1991 of Future Force, the near-unraveling and subsequent reconstitution of society facilitated by C.O.P.S. has erased any memory of the pre-apocalyptic public law enforcement you and I know. In 1991, that shit is a novelty worthy of acronymic boasting.

Yeah well, who does your hair?
Yet closer inspection of this visual smorgasbord reveals little evidence of any recent social calamity. In fact, the disorder which the C.O.P.S. are ostensibly there to deter repeatedly finds them at its center. In the background, society appears to be functioning quite normally and without any apparent need or even awareness of the C.O.P.S. existence. Their interaction with the peripheral public at large consists primarily of blatantly contradicting their stated mission to “police” or to be “civilian operated”. Furthermore, the C.O.P.S. are a spicy blend of typically "anti-establishment" social stereotypes including but not limited to punks, bikers and rednecks with a dash of leatherman thrown in there for fun. Considering the hard evidence then, C.O.P.S. is looking more like a roving band of undesirables than pillars of the community. So actually, this whole narrative explanation sounds remarkably like a story C.O.P.S. themselves concocted to excuse their dysfunctional behavior.

"I'm tired, where's craft services?"
Amongst the various muscular, mulleted and teeth-grindingly macho members of the C.O.P.S. is one graying skinny guy with a potbelly and a bowlcut. His name is Tucker (indeed, Carradine), and while the rest of the “force” usually carries modern assault rifles, he comes equipped with a six shooter and a blank stare. Despite this totally insignificant disparity in physical attributes, Tucker is the master of every situation he finds himself in. When a new mission comes in he is the first C.O.P. to be called on, and when he becomes the target of his fellow “officers” he out-everythings every single one of his beefy, grunting rivals.

We can begin to see now why the acronym doesn’t match the reality. The complete lack of “social chaos” outside the immediate vicinity of the C.O.P.S. themselves reveals the premise as an elaborate live action role playing game set in a near-future dystopian fantasy realm as imagined by the P.C.s. (Player Characters) Furthermore, Tucker uses the videophone in his Jeep Cherokee to speak with his friend Billy, a kid in a wheelchair who runs the C.O.P.S. central computer system. Billy provides Tucker with secret super weapons and all the information he needs to defeat and/or evade the other C.O.P.S. Thus Tucker's inexplicable “superiority” over his obvious betters in this context is revealed; he is in collusion with the G.M. (Game Master) and is what they call in role-playing parlance, a “cheater”.

Wanted: For taking all the fun out of the game.

07 February 2011

Leningrad Cowboys: Go America!

Finland - 1989
Director - Aki Kaurismaki
Orion Home Video, 1992, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 20 minutes

I wrote a meandering piece of commentary on this film for the magnificent metal blog Illogical Contraption. You can read it here right now.

These last three images come courtesy of Movie Screenshots

A Gumby Summer

A Gumby Summer
United States
F.H.E., 1987, VHS
Volume 8
Run Time - 1 hour

I bet you thought I had forgotten about my mission to track down all the Gumby VHS tapes I could find. Not so lucky. Here I give you another in F.H.E.'s multi-volume series. This tape has a volume number on the label, but higher catalog numbers do not.
  • Gumby League
  • Motor Mania
  • The Blue Goo
  • A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts
  • The Missile-Bird
  • Pokey Express
  • Rain Spirits
  • Mason Hornet
  • Shady Lemonade
  • Making Squares