Hausu

Hausu

hausu8

Today, I’m going to take a look at a truly bizarre, one of a kind film: 1977’s Hausu.

The plot of Hausu is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A schoolgirl and six of her classmates travel to her aunt’s country home, which tries to devour the girls in bizarre ways.

Hausu was directed and produced by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who was previously known for doing a fair amount of television, short film, and commercial directing in Japan. Obayashi, or “OB,” also provided the film’s distinct special effects, and was notably the primary advocate for the film during its tumultuous pre-production. While he has continued to make many films over the years, and is considered a celebrity in Japan, Hausu is by far his film with the most international recognition and acclaim.

Serving as the production designer and assistant director for the film was Kazuo Satsuya, who provided design work for two other notable cult movies: Lady Snowblood and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

hausu2One of the producers for Hausu was Tomoyuki Tanaka, a Toho producer who had a hand in the creation of countless Japanese cinema classics, including monster flicks like Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, as well as Kurosawa features like Yojimbo, The Bad Sleep Well, Kagemusha, and Sanjuro.

A number of the most distinct elements of the film were based on ideas collected from OB’s young daughter prior to the writing of the screenplay. He has said that he asked his daughter for ideas because “children can come up with things that can’t be explained.” Among the many ideas from his young daughter that made their way into the final film were the hand-eating piano keys, the very concept of a killer house, the watermelon-head being pulled from a well, and the bizarre pillow attack.

hausu5Following the project getting a green light from Toho, none of the Toho staff directors wanted to take it on, fearing that the film could easily be a career-ender due to the screenplay’s outlandish concept. After it sat unproduced for 2 years, OB, the film’s primary driving force, was given permission to direct. Toho was initially hesitant to let him take the reigns, specifically because he wasn’t on staff with the company.

Hausu finally got a theatrical release on July 30, 1977 in Japan as part of a double feature. It wound up being a surprise success, as it particularly struck a chord with cinema-going youth. Despite its popularity, the film didn’t make it officially to North American theaters or homes until well into the 2000s.

The Criterion Collection, which is known for distributing influential and well-regarded films on home video, released DVDs and blu-rays of Hausu in October 2010, bringing a new audience to the film.

hausu1Hausu has had a complicated history with critics: Japanese critics didn’t care for it initially when it was released in theaters, but its long-belated release in North America led to a critical re-evaluation decades later. North American critics have mostly praised it, and time has solidly cemented the movie as a memorable cult classic.

The two most defining elements of Hausu are, without much argument, its bizarre images and odd, often confusing tone. One of the most frequent descriptions I have heard of the movie is that it is like a “fever dream,” and there isn’t really a better way to describe it. There’s a sense of discontinuity between the film’s bleak content, cartoonish color, and whiplashed tone that makes it seem that it could only be the result of madness, and perhaps a wholesale divorce from reality.

One of the most impressive aspects of Hausu is its peculiar production design. The prominent matte painting backdrops and clear set pieces are surreal in how transparently artificial they are. In a sort of rejection of traditional wisdom, the design spits in the face of immersion: there is never a moment where the audience could confuse the events in the film with reality. In that sense, I was reminded a bit of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, though with a dramatic injection of frenetic color, gore, and LSD.

hausu3One of my initial issues with the movie while I was watching it was that the characters are incredibly thin, and are mostly boiled down to single character traits. On top of that, the lack of characterization and time on screen for the individual girls makes most of them hard to distinguish from each other. However, as the movie went on, this is an element that started to interest me. Each of the girls have names that are related to their assigned traits, and occasionally to their deaths. It might be fair to write this off as shallow writing, but at the same time, there is also a debatable element of genre-awareness present as well. Given how transparently artificial the movie’s design is, why wouldn’t the characters follow suit? Whether this screenplay is an example of trope-awareness and genre-deconstruction is something that is probably worth discussing, whether it was intended or not by the writer.

hausu4Any of these elements I have mentioned so far could potentially be argued as positives or negatives, depending on who you asked about them. I think this is something that makes Hausu a uniquely interesting movie to discuss, and is one of the top reasons that I would recommend just about anyone give this movie a shot. For cult movie fans, it is absolutely essential. But, for everyone else, I think this is still worth watching. I would recommend going into the movie with as little information as possible, however. There are definitely enough highlights to entertain most audience members, though the movie does take a little time to get going, and the slapstick elements are likely to fall flat with many.

hausu6

Jockstrap Slaughterhouse

Jockstrap Slaughterhouse

Today, I’m going to be fulfilling a request from one of my gracious Patreon patrons, and talking about Jockstrap Slaughterhouse.

The plot of Jockstrap Slaughterhouse is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An evil football player terrorizes a group of nerds in this bloody throwback to 80’s slasher flicks.

Jockstrap Slaughterhouse was written, directed, produced, shot, and edited by Leopold Vincent Medley, who has a handful of independent short films and features to his credit going back to 2011.

As with most small independent projects helmed by weekend warriors, Jockstrap Slaughterhouse clearly faced the natural limitations that come with working on a low budget. That said, the blood that is shown on screen looks quite good. However, its appearance is sporadic: there are moments where blood should absolutely be present when it isn’t, like in the (theoretically) bloody denouement. There also isn’t much in the way of makeup work, which could have gone a long way for the production: the villain is in an obvious Halloween mask, and he could have looked a lot better with a little bit of makeup work (that wouldn’t have broken the bank).

Jockstrap suffers from a handful of issues that can easily be chalked up to inexperience. For instance, there is a lot of distractingly shaky handheld camera work where a tripod would have made a whole lot more sense. Honestly, that’s just a thing that happens, and is typically rectified by just having multiple takes to choose from. Watching over the footage at the time could have helped the production avoid having to deal with unsatisfactory, wobbly footage as well, though the shakes aren’t always obvious until an image is blown up.

While there are a number of technical issues with the film, the thing that hurt the film the most from my perspective was the writing. First off, a lot of the attempted humor fails to come across as intended. Imitating and mocking the shallow characterizations that defined 1980s horror movies is tricky business. If you do it wrong, you look, at best, like a lazy writer playing into the stereotypes that you had intended to satirize. At worst, you like an asshole punching down at marginalized groups.

On top of the issues with the comedy writing, there seem to be some structural issues with the screenplay: there were a number of times while watching the film that it didn’t seem to have a blueprint. The screenplay, on top of providing dialogue for the characters, should be a pacing tool, which bolsters the natural act structure of the story. In Jockstrap, there doesn’t seem to be a logical sequence of events. For most of the run-time, characters are just getting picked off at random by the killer. Rarely do these deaths have any consequences: characters never go to the police, come up with a plan, or even evacuate the home that they know the killer has free access to. This sort of lack of logical progression in a story results in a diminished investment on the part of the audience: if the characters don’t behave or think like people would, then how is an audience to identify with them? On top of that, if there are no consequences for actions, and the characters aren’t capable of making logical decisions, then there isn’t much tissue left to connect scenes to each other. When scenes aren’t connected to one another, then your movie doesn’t have any flow, and your audience will inevitably get bored.

On a positive note,  I will say that Jockstrap effectively uses a few local landmarks to try to keep the visuals interesting. Making the most of your surroundings and keeping an eye open for distinct locations can lead to some cool results. In the case of Houston, it is a city that isn’t often seen on screen, so there should be a lot of open possibilities.

Something that specifically stuck out to me about Jockstrap is that it attempted a couple of montages and a chase sequence. These are both complicated sorts of sequences that require adept editing to come off right. Honestly, while they all left a lot to be desired, but there were some flashes of decency in the chase. The best thing I can recommend to the team is to attempt some earnest imitation: pick some chase sequences and montages that you know that you like, then watch them a whole lot. Break them down, and think about what makes them good. Experiment with techniques like match cuts that can help make sequences more fluid, and see what you can do based on your observations.

Overall, Jockstrap Slaughterhouse is clearly an early effort from a group of filmmakers with some drive. There is a lot of polishing to do, but having the energy and motivation to create is always the first and hardest step in the process of creation.

The Spirit

The Spirit

spirit

Today, I’m going to be taking a look at 2008’s super hero bomb, The Spirit.

The Spirit was directed and written by Frank Miller, who is primarily known for his comic book work on characters like Daredevil and Batman. His work in the movies, while less notable, is not insignificant: he penned the screenplays for RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3, and co-directed both Sin City movies.

The source material for the film was a comic strip of the same name that was developed by Will Eisner, and ran primarily during the 1940s and 1950s.

The cast of The Spirit includes Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, The Hateful Eight, Jackie Brown), Gabriel Macht (Suits), Eva Mendes (Ghost Rider, The Other Guys), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin, The Avengers, The Prestige, Lost In Translation), Sarah Paulson (Carol, American Horror Story), Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years), and Jaime King (Silent Night, Sin City, My Bloody Valentine).

spirit2

The cinematographer for the film was Bill Pope, whose other credits include Spider-Man 3, Army of Darkness, Darkman, The Matrix, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The World’s End, and Spider-Man 2, as well as the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

The musical score for The Spirit was provided by David Newman, who has also provided music for films like Serenity, Ice Age, Death To Smoochy, Galaxy Quest, The Phantom, The Mighty Ducks, Heathers, and Critters, among many others.

The Spirit was made on a production budget of $60 million, on which it grossed just over $39 million over its theatrical lifetime, making it a significant loss. Critically, it didn’t fare any better: it currently holds a 4.8/10 IMDb user score, along with abysmal Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 14% from critics and 25% from audiences.

One of the biggest issues with the movie is its wildly uneven tone. For the life of me, I can’t understand why there was so much slapstick written into the screenplay. The style of the movie is stylized to look deadpan and dark, which is appropriate for dark and gritty stories. However, there’s constantly shitty humor being thrown around in the dialogue, which causes a huge disconnect with all of the messaging around it. A movie that looks like this should just never include the line “toilets are always funny.”

spirit3

In another time, a movie with kind of odd sense of humor might have worked out. However, for contemporary audiences, I think it was just a bit too cartoon-y and out of touch. This wasn’t helped the sub-par comedic writing: maybe if the dialogue had actually been clever or funny, the movie would have resonated better with people, not unlike many of the Marvel movies have done. However, having Samuel L. Jackson parade around in racially and politically insensitive costumes isn’t exactly funny as much as it is uncomfortably weird and tone-deaf.

That being said, one of the few bearable things about The Spirit is the dastardly duo of Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson, who are the only performers that seem to have a pulse in the movie. They are also the only ones who seem capable of delivering Miller’s god-awful dialogue, which seems to trip up everyone else. I do think that Dan Lauria was good casting for his small role, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the movie apart from grumble.

When it comes down to it, The Spirit is an exercise in style over substance on every level. Miller clearly has an eye for individual images that work well in storyboarding and inside of comic frames, but the translation doesn’t always work on screen. The sort of comic stylizing used in the film can certainly work to solid effect, like in Sin City, but there is a delicate balance necessary for it to look just right. The Spirit just doesn’t find it, and I think that is specifically because Miller didn’t have a co-director to lean on, and offer a more cinematic eye to his work.

Overall, The Spirit is a painfully boring movie, despite having a pretty impressive design and look to it. Everything beneath that surface level, however, is at best sub-par. Re-watching the movie was even worse than I had remembered it: sequences drag on for far too long, and there are way too many tone-killing silly quips peppered in. On top of that, the stakes seem completely nonexistent: there’s never any believable challenge for the hero, as the villains are always too busy playing dress up to pose a real threat. I’d like to say that this is worth watching for some sort of unintentional entertainment value, but even Samuel L. Jackson at his peak hammy-ness isn’t enough to make this movie worth sitting through.

Bleeders

Bleeders (1997)

bleeders1

Today, I’m going to be fulfilling a request from one of my gracious Patreon patrons, and talking about 1997’s Bleeders.

The plot of Bleeders is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A man travels to an island with his girlfriend in search of his relatives but he finds maybe more than what he wanted to know.

Bleeders is loosely based on a serialized 1923 H.P. Lovecraft story called The Lurking Fear, which had been translated to the screen twice previously in Dark Heritage (1989) and The Lurking Fear (1994).

Among the credited screenplay writers for Bleeders is Dan O’bannon, who was known for genre flicks like Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Lifeforce, Total Recall, and Screamers. Also listed is Ronald Shusett, whose works include Freejack, Above The Law, and King Kong Lives.

bleeders2Bleeders was directed by Peter Svatek, who also helmed Witchboard III: The Possession, the television show Big Wolf On Campus, and television movies like Baby For Sale and The Christmas Choir.

The cast for the movie is headlined by Roy Dupuis (Screamers, La Femme Nikita), Kristin Lehman (The Killing, The Way of The Gun), and noted character actor Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Surviving The Game, The Hitcher).

bleeders5The creature designs for the film were provided by CJ Goldman, who went on to work on larger movies like Battlefield: Earth, Pacific Rim, The Fountain, 300, and X-Men: Apocalypse.

As with many b-movies, Bleeders has been released under a number of different titles over the years, including Hemoglobin and The Descendant.

Bleeders currently holds an IMDb user score of 3.8, alongside an unenviable 30% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. A prominent review of the film on HorrorNews.net confidently stated that “I’ll be damned if there was anything in this picture worth seeing again,” which succinctly sums up the general reaction to the film.

When I first saw images of Bleeders, the first thing that stuck out to me were the monster designs. They don’t look particularly good, but they are, I suppose, imaginative. I assume that the budget, particularly for the effects, was really low, so there was a lot of necessary creativity to accommodate those restrictions. Honestly, considering that, the monsters could definitely have looked a whole lot worse.

bleeders4

That said, there is definitely a problem with the monsters: they aren’t scary. While they do successfully rack up a kill count over the course of the movie, they are never particularly intimidating, which I think is more the fault of the direction than the creature designs themselves. There is one specific sequence I recall in the film where one of the beasts charges out of a clothes dryer at a potential victim, only to get caught in a sheet, flail confusedly, and then fall head-first into a boat motor. That sequence is probably the best representation of a Dungeons and Dragons “critical fail” that I have ever seen on screen, and it doesn’t give the CHUD-like beasts much gravitas.

The ludicrousness of that incident aside, the moment in the movie that has made the most lasting impression on me was a sequence that was meant to have great plot significance. One of the lead characters is, during the story’s climax, forced into a position where he must succumb to his long-suppressed cannibalistic nature. On its own, this setup has the makings for a decently dramatic scene. However, the way he goes about indulging this need is at once too gross, while arguably not being explicit enough: he eats (drinks?) a wet specimen of a human fetus.

While the act isn’t shown, the lead up and its aftermath are. On one hand, the very idea of eating a wet specimen is hella gross, and that is accurately and sufficiently conveyed. On the other hand, from the perspective of understanding and experiencing the character, not actually capturing this final, irredeemable act is a huge loss for the audience: it is a pivotal, climactic moment for a central character that is played entirely off-screen. While suggestion can certainly be powerful, missing out on the entire fall from grace isn’t something that can be overcome easily. At the very least, the act could have been done in silhouette or in deep shadow: any way that the content could be understood and experienced, while details of the act could still be somewhat concealed. The moment simply would have been more powerful if the audience could have experienced it.

This brings me to the biggest issue with the film: there really isn’t anyone for the audience to identify with. One of the strengths of Lovecraft’s stories comes from his ability to write horror from a distinct perspective, which helps immerse readers into his tales of terror. However, Bleeders lacks this immersive identification with any of the characters. If the story were from the perspective of the sick young man, that might have worked as a descent into madness. If the story had been through the eyes of his love-stricken, confused caretaker, there still could have been a story there, as she is the most notable outsider on the island. Instead, the narrative doesn’t back anyone in particular: the audience is left without even the slightest guidance. On top of that, the characters are all so damn weird and unbelievable that I couldn’t help but feel like a wholly disengaged gawker, rather than an invested observer of the story.

 

bleeders3Overall, Bleeders is a weird, if uneven, b-movie. Rutger Hauer is good for what little time he is on screen, and there are a couple of other hammy performances that lighten up the experience of watching the flick. However, the story is pretty damn slow, and pretty much everything that shows up on screen is visually bland. There are definitely the makings of a decent movie with the source material, but this isn’t it.

As far as a recommendation goes, I’m on the fence. Bleeders is definitely not your everyday b-movie, and it does have some redeeming qualities, but they aren’t enough for me to recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard bad movie fans.

If you want to be able to request movies to be covered on Misan[trope]y, check out my Patreon page! Right now, early adopters that are willing to contribute $3 a month will get to make a request every month!

Jane Got A Gun

Jane Got A Gun

jane1

Today, I want to dig into an early 2016 flop that I think is worth a second look: Jane Got A Gun.

Jane Got A Gun has three credited screenplay writers: the duo of Joel Edgerton (The GiftThe Rover) and Anthony Tambakis (Warrior), and initial screenplay writer Brian Duffield (Insurgent).

The director for the film was Gavin O’Connor, whose other credits include Warrior, Pride & Glory, and Miracle. He also directed the movie The Accountant, which released just a few months after Jane Got A Gun in 2016.

The cast of Jane Got A Gun includes Natalie Portman (Black Swan, The Professional, Jackie, Thor, Heat, Mars Attacks!), Joel Edgerton (The Thing, The Gift, Loving, Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, The Island, I Love You, Phillip Morris, Nightwatch), Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show, Frequency), Boyd Holbrook (Narcos, Milk), and Rodrigo Santoro (300, WestWorld).

Mandy Walker provided the cinematography work for Jane Got A Gun, following up previous credits on films like Shattered Glass, Australia, Truth, and Tracks. The current critical success Hidden Figures is her latest shooting credit.

The editor for the film was Alan Cody, who cut the films Speed 2: Cruise Control, Inspector Gadget, and Corky Romano, as well as a number of episodes of shows like Black Sails and The Pacific.

The music for Jane Got A Gun was provided by the duo of Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francisci, who have worked on films like Samsara, Gladiator, Layer Cake, Tears of the Sun, and Ali.

The original script by Brian Duffield was named to the 2011 Black List, which is a survey of the most-liked unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. Other screenplays that made the 2011 list and have since seen a screen treatment include The Imitation Game, The Accountant, Dirty Grandpa, Bad Words, and Maggie.

Initially, Jane Got A Gun was planned to be a very different-looking movie than what ultimately hit the screen. Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, and Jude Law were all at one point or another attached as main players in the movie during its tumultuous pre-production. Fassbender reportedly departed due to scheduling conflicts, though rumours also indicate a clash with the originally attached director, Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin). Ramsay herself left the production shortly before filming over a conflict with one of the producers, which led to a lawsuit for breach of contract. Her departure saw both Jude Law and the cinematographer Darius Khondji leave as well, throwing the movie into last-minute disarray. This prompted a screenplay re-write, the arrival (and subsequent departure) of Bradley Cooper, and the last minute casting of McGregor to replace him.

The initial release date announced for Jane Got A Gun was August 29, 2014. After a number of delays, and the production company Relativity Media ultimately filing for bankruptcy, the Weinstein Company acquired the film’s distribution rights, and quietly released it on January 29, 2016.

On top of not being promoted much by the Weinstein Company (a Variety critic said it opened “with only slightly more advance notice than a traffic accident”), Jane Got A Gun ultimately wasn’t screened for the press ahead of its release, which is typically a sign of either a poor quality film, or an indication that the studio doesn’t care about the project.

While it did get a wide theatrical release, Jane Got A Gun wound up being an early flop for 2016, raking in a paltry $3 million in its lifetime theatrical gross on a production budget estimated at $25 million.

Critically, the movie didn’t fare any better. As of now, Jane Got A Gun holds a Metacritic score of 49, a 5.8/10 user rating on IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from audiences and 40% from critics.

In his review for Variety, Joe Leydon specifically pointed out something that I think had a significant impact on the perception of Jane Got A Gun for critics:

For those who have perused the countless accounts of last-minute cast changes, musical directors’ chairs and repeatedly delayed release dates, it may be difficult to objectively judge what actually appears on screen here without being distracted by thoughts of what could have been, or should have been.

First off, I want to point out that I watched this movie a good while after its initial theatrical run, and didn’t do any reading into its background going into it. I only vaguely remember its brief theatrical release, and didn’t recall all of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that plagued its production. I had the luxury of watching it with my girlfriend after coming across it on Netflix, in a relative vacuum of public opinion, industry gossip, an critical chatter.

Personally, I think that the film is populated by good performances from the entire primary cast. I fully agree with Leydon, who specifically cites Portman as “persuasive and compelling”, Edgerton as hitting “the right balance of sullen gruffness and soulful sincerity,” and lauds how McGregor “artfully entwines amusement and menace as he serves generous slices of ham.” I particularly concur with his assessment of McGregor, who embraces his role of a western villain with a particularly emphatic mustache twirl. Likewise, I think Edgerton is probably one of the most underappreciated talents in the business: not only in regards to his performances, but with his writing and directing as well. If you haven’t seen them already, both The Gift and The Rover have been masterpieces of imaginative tension in the last few years, and both have his fingerprints all over them.

jane2

The screenplay for the film provides a good siege setup, and allows the tension for the final conflict to build throughout the meat of the film. I particularly appreciate how it bounces between revealing flashbacks and siege preparations in the present day, which slowly reveal histories and relationships between the various players. I will say that I thought that the ultimate payoff was a bit lacking, and that the conclusion was pretty weak, but if you value the journey over the destination, there is quite a lot to enjoy here.

As with the negative buzz and reporting that haunted Jane Got a Gun before its release, the production was also hexed with a handful of bad trailers, and a lackluster marketing campaign. Despite the way the movie was pitched to audiences, it isn’t really a story about Natalie Portman being a badass gunslinger. The tale is significantly more grounded than that, and far less showboat-y. Portman’s Jane is human and relatable above all else. The story begins as she is unexpectedly backed into a corner, and she then spends most of the film fighting with everything she has in order to hold her ground. At no point is she more than what she started as: she is always very human, even in the midst of combat. She never turns into a spontaneous superhero in a firefight, like Jamie Foxx’s Django. Because of this, Jane Got A Gun is more of a spotlight on an average person pushed to the edge than the story of a stereotypical badass. In a market dominated by cookie-cutter superheroes and badasses, it is actually kind of refreshing to see if you ask me.

jane3

On top of that, Jane Got A Gun is a story that is imbued with a lot of emotions: grief, desperation, heartbreak, and fear most prominently among them. If an audience was expecting a relentless series of firefights to snack on popcorn to, getting hit with this heavy, darkly atmospheric movie probably wouldn’t be a welcome experience. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been satisfied with the result if I had seen the trailers for the movie ahead of time.

On top of providing inaccurate representations of the movie, the international trailers were particularly bad about revealing too much information. Information control is kind of essential to this film: the reveals of past relationships, character traits, and outcomes of past events over the course of the film are key to maintaining the audience’s intrigue. The trailers, however, give far more information than is needed, spoiling a number of reveals that are far better when done organically in the film itself.

I mentioned previously that I was disappointed with the film’s ending. Personally, I felt like it was far too tonally inconsistent with the rest of the movie: it is just too Hollywood, which feels out of left field for such a bleak movie. Not only does the optimistic ride into the sunset not work for the style or the tone of the screenplay, but it doesn’t logically work very well, either. For the sake of not spoiling anything, I won’t go too far into it, but last 10 minutes of the movie made me seriously wonder if there was going to be a Brazil twist.

Overall, I think that Jane Got A Gun is a worthwhile neo-western, if not anything revolutionary. I think it certainly deserves some props, especially given the problems with production. I’m still surprised at how harshly it was received by critics: I definitely get why audiences had trouble digging it, given its marketing, but critics are usually a different story. I suspect the initial hype and coverage over its long production poisoned the well a bit for them, and started a lot of people off on the wrong foot. The Weinstein Company not screening it for critics almost certainly exacerbated things as well. All in all, I think this film was a victim of semi-paranoid prognosticating on the part of the industry media and the online buzz-machine, and is worth another look. If you like Edgerton’s or O’Connor’s other works, or just have a fondness for neo-westerns as a genre, give this one a go. That said, know what you are in for: a slow-burning, emotionally-driven, grounded siege movie.

 

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

220px-death_bed-_the_bed_that_eats_filmposter

Today, I am going to take a look at a famously bad movie with a unique cult reputation: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

The simple plot of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is summarized succinctly on IMDb as follows:

A bed possessed by a demon spirit consumes its users alive.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was directed and written by George Barry, and to this day has proven to be his sole film. However, a handful of the cast and crew went on to notable careers. William Russ, one of the actors, later appeared in Cruising, The Right Stuff, and wound up on the sitcom Boy Meets World. Editor Ron Medico went on to cut the cult creature feature Alligator, and had a significant career editing for documentaries and television after that. Cinematographer Robert Fresco wound up working on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone, and wound up working on a handful of documentaries as well. Last but not least, the special effects worker, Jock Brandis, went on to have a long career as a lighting technician and gaffer, working on movies like Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, The Dead Zone, Maximum Overdrive, Blue Velvet, and Serial Mom, among others.

Famous comedian Patton Oswalt had a popular bit on his album Werewolves and Lollipops in which he obsesses over the inherent absurdity of the concept of Death Bed, and speculates what the inception process was like for the screenplay.

In 2002, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats received a remake in the form of Deathbed. The movie stars Joe Estevez (Soultaker) and was directed by Danny Draven, who has spent most of his career editing movies like A Talking Cat!?!, A Talking Pony!?!, Evil Bong, Ice Spiders, and The Gingerdead Man.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats did not have an official release of any kind until 2004, over 25 years after its completion in 1977. Before that DVD release, Death Bed had been widely circulated online and via pirated VHS tapes, and developed its cult reputation. George Barry, the movie’s director and writer, allegedly forgot he had made it until he saw it online, and only decided to officially release it after seeing how much people enjoyed it.

Rumor has it that the lion’s share of the action in Death Bed was filmed on Keelson Island in Detroit, specifically in the infamous Gar Wood Mansion. The mansion was originally built by inventor Gar Wood in the 1920s, but sat empty for many years after his retirement. Starting in 1969, it became a renowned partying location, becoming a combination of a music venue and a counter-culture collective until it was shuttered in 1972. Only a handful of years later, the mansion suffered significant fire damage, and was eventually razed in the 1980s.

The company Cult Epics, which specializes in restoring and transferring cult movies to DVD and Blu-ray, released an updated Blu-ray version of Death Bed in 2014, which boasts a full commentary track with writer/director George Barry.

Recently, I had the rare experience of getting to see the officially restored Blu-ray version of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats in a theater, as part of a fundraiser for Cult Epics. Previously, I had only seen some rough clips of the movie online, and I was shocked at how clear the movie wound up looking on screen.

As you could probably gather at this point, Death Bed is pretty far from a cinematic masterpiece. That said, there are definitely some positive aspects to it: first and foremost, the effects. For each of the scenes where the bed consumes something/someone, there is a cut away to an amber-colored tank, which stands in for the bed’s interior digestive system. I’m not sure exactly how they did this, but I suspect they filled this tank with some sort of highly corrosive fluid, and dipped in objects on fishing line to show them digesting inside of the bed. At first, these shots are of things like an apple and a bucket of chicken, but the movie’s climax features a character’s hands disintegrated in the fluid, which actually looks pretty cool.

Outside of those effects shots, however, there isn’t much positive to say about Death Bed. Almost all of the dialogue in the movie is done in voice over, and is delivered in a sort of trance by a multitude of perspectives and narrators. The overarching plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and is poorly conveyed to boot. The performances range from sleepwalking to possibly comatose, as most of the characters show no range of emotions or exhibit any kind of sensible reactions to the events around them. I’m pretty sure that fault doesn’t lie with the actors, though: the strange reactions and woozy behaviors were almost certainly part of the directorial intent, which was apparently to re-capture the surreal atmosphere of a dream. However, I don’t think it comes across quite as he wanted it to.

For me, this is the biggest question about Death Bed: how serious were they about this movie? While there are brief moments of knowing humor scattered throughout, including a sequence where the bed ingests a bottle of pepto-bismol, most of the movie plays as serious as a heart attack. It clearly isn’t as hammy as the name implies, and is a pretty far stretch from any kind of Troma or Full Moon b-movie. I usually describe this as one of the worst-executed art movies of all time: the atmosphere is way too self-important for it to fit in with the usual lot of b-movies and horror fare, and it certainly isn’t smartly profound or well-crafted enough to land in the Criterion collection. It is a unique little oddity that is unlike pretty much anything else out there, and worth giving a shot for that reason alone. While it can be a little dull at times, I think the ride as a whole is worth a ticket, particularly for b-movie and cult movie fans.

Worst of 2016: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

suicidesquad4

Today, as part of my series on the worst movies of 2016, I’m taking a look at one of the year’s most polarizing blockbusters: Suicide Squad.

The plot of Suicide Squad is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force. Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse.

Suicide Squad was written and directed by David Ayer, whose other credits include Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch, SWAT, Training Day, and The Fast and The Furious.

The Suicide Squad team debuted in DC comics in The Brave and The Bold #25 in 1959, though only the name truly remains of the initial incarnation now. Most of the elements now popularly recognized come from the modern version of the series that started with a revamp in the 1980s by John Ostrander, John Byrne, and Len Wein. The concept sees super-villains compiled together into a strike team to carry out tasks for the government, in exchange for their freedoms. The team has sporadically featured such notable DC villains as Poison Ivy, Captain Cold, The Penguin, and Black Adam, on top of more consistent core members like Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Harley Quinn, and has a regularly rotating cast of members.

suicidesquad1The cast of Suicide Squad is made up of Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), Will Smith (Wild Wild West, Men In Black, I Am Legend, Independence Day, Winter’s Tale, After Earth), Viola Davis (Fences, State of Play), Jared Leto (Fight Club, Mr. Nobody, Requiem For A Dream, Alexander), and Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, I, Frankenstein, Terminator Genisys).

The cinematographer for the film was Ramon Vasyenov, who shot the movies Fury, End of Watch, Charlie Countryman, and The East. The editor for Suicide Squad was John Gilroy, who has cut a handful of notable movies, including Nightcrawler, Pacific Rim, Warrior, Michael Clayton, Suspect Zero, and Billy Madison.

suicidesquad2The musical score for the film was provided by Steven Price, who also worked on Fury, The World’s End, Gravity, and Attack the Block, among other projects.

A number of scenes of Killer Croc’s backstory were removed from the final theatrical cut, including depictions of his upbringing as a social outcast due to his physical appearance. Likewise, it was revealed that Croc crossed paths with Batman while working for numerous Gotham crime bosses. There were also scenes displaying his affinity for making sculptures out of discarded materials, and a sequence where he becomes sick at the helicopter escort to Midway City, prompting him to throw up half-digested pieces of goat.

Thanks to the financial success of Suicide Squad, there is a rumored follow-up in the pipeline to be called Gotham City Sirens, which is likely to focus on Harley Quinn, along with a handful of other Gotham City figures.

suicidesquad3The initial trailer for Suicide Squad was set to the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody, and wound up building a significant amount of positive buzz for the film. Thanks to it going viral, it has racked up over 78 million views on YouTube since its release.

It is popularly believed that the mixed-to-negative reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, combined with the overwhelmingly positive reception to Deadpool, led to a handful of re-shoots and re-cuts to Suicide Squad at the last minute in order to lighten its tone and inject humor.

A number of alternate casting rumors surrounded the development of Suicide Squad. Apparently, Tom Hardy dropped out of the role of Rick Flag in order to do The Revenant, and Ryan Gosling flat-out turned down the role of Joker due to the contract terms mandated by the studio.

suicidesquad6Apparently, Jared Leto’s method acting for the role of Joker led to some less-than-savory antics on set. Reports indicated that he sent unwanted gifts to his fellow cast members, including packages containing used condoms, live rats, and bullets.

Financially, Suicide Squad was a significant hit: it grossed roughly $745 million worldwide on a production budget of $175 million. Critically, however, it proved to be one of the most polarizing films of the year. While it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.4/10, it also has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 26% from critics, and made many critics’ lists of the worst films of 2016.

suicidesquad5It is worth noting that the version of Suicide Squad that I watched was the theatrical cut. For home video release, the advertising touted an improved “extended cut”, but I wanted to see exactly what audiences saw in the theaters, and what the producers and the studio thought was fit for the widest release.

suicidesquad7One of the most common complaints I have seen about Suicide Squad is that the first half plays more like an extended music video than a movie. When I first heard that criticism, I assumed that it was embellishment. I was genuinely surprised at how apt that observation is: the first half hour of the movie is a strung-together sequence of pop songs that gave me flash backs to Sucker Punch.

Once the story does start moving, it is plagued by pacing issues. Some characters get overly-detailed introductions that drag the progression to a halt, while others seem to appear out of nowhere. The relationships between characters are vague, and some have little-to-no dialogue to develop themselves. Most of the enemies the team fight are literally faceless and essentially powerless, removing any kinds of stakes or threats from the table. Worse yet, the central mission at the heart of the story isn’t adequately revealed to the audience, making it unclear what story progress would even look like if it happened. The combination of all of these elements is a poorly built story framework that relies on undeveloped characters to carry it along, with no intrigue or tension to be found.

All of that said, there are some good things to say about Suicide Squad. While some of the CGI is definitely rough, there was clearly a lot of time and effort put into Killer Croc’s design and execution, and the result is arguably pretty cool. Unfortunately, he is also one of the characters with the least amount of screen time and development, which may have been due to the cost and labor involved with the makeup. Still, the character felt like a massive squandering of potential.

As far as other positives go, the Batman and Flash cameos were almost certainly the best parts of the film. I assume these were mostly included to make audiences excited for future interactions and films with these characters, and I have to say, I think the tactic worked. Even moreso than after Batman v Superman, I want to see Battfleck in his own feature, getting up to Batman shenanigans. Unfortunately, these cameo sequences are very brief, and front-loaded in the movie, so they don’t add much value to the film as a whole.

Overall, Suicide Squad is mostly a trainwreck. The writing, action, and editing all left a lot to be desired. The performances were hard to judge, because the cast clearly didn’t have anything here to work with. All of that said, from the perspective of pure spectacle, there is some value here. There is noise and color, and if that is what you want from a blockbuster, this is where you can find it. For anyone outside of that description who is not a die-hard DC fan, there is just no way I could recommend this film.