Horror on TV: Twilight Zone 3.12 “The Jungle”


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Along with starting each day of October with a horror film here at the Shattered Lens, we’re going to end each day with a horror-themed television show.

While I had previously caught a few episodes of the Twilight Zone during one of the annual holiday marathons on SyFy, I didn’t truly appreciate the show until I first exchanged e-mails with my friend in Australia, Mark. Among other things, Mark expressed a very eloquent appreciation for The Twilight Zone and that inspired me to watch quite a few episodes that have been uploaded to YouTube and Hulu. Along with being an essential piece of television history, the best episodes of the Twilight Zone remain watchable and entertaining 50 years after they were first broadcast.

Considering the esteemed place that the Twilight Zone continues to occupy in American culture, it seems appropriate to feature it during Horror Month here at the Shattered Lens.

The Jungle, which first aired on December 1st, 1961, is a personal favorite of mine. A businessman returns to New York from Africa. While in Africa, he upset a local witch doctor. Though the businessman, at first, laughs off the possibility that he may be cursed, it soon turns out that he’s wrong. There’s a lesson to this episode and here it is: Don’t piss off a witch doctor.

When I first saw this episode, the final scene caused me to have nightmares!

(By the way, I’m embedding this episode from Hulu. Sadly, you will have to deal with commercials. However, it’s really a great episode!)

(It has also come to my attention that some browsers do not work with embedded Hulu vidoes.  Seriously, the internet is so frustrating!  If the embedded video is not appearing on your browser, you should be able to watch this episode on Hulu.  Here’s the link — http://www.hulu.com/watch/440777.  I apologize for the inconvenience but still, it is a really good episode!)

Netflix Halloween 2015 : “Abandoned Mine”


Trash Film Guru

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I promise — our theme this month is “Netflix Halloween,” not “Netflix Movies Set In Mines,” but since Mine Games proved to be something of a pleasant-enough surprise, I figured that director Jeff Chamberlain’s 2012 filmed-in-Utah effort, Abandoned Mine (also released under the even-more-uninspired title of The Mine) might possibly be worth a look, as well.

I’ll just cut right to the chase here and say that I was wrong. And now my job is to tell you both why I was wrong and just how wrong I was.

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So, it’s Halloween night, and five friends (Reiley McClendon as Brad, Adam Hendershott as Jimmy, Alexa Vega as Sharon, Saige Thompson as Laurie, and Charan Prabhakar as Ethan) are all hanging out near the old Jarvis Mine, boozing and swapping ghost stories at this supposedly haunted locale. After they get a few in ’em, they decide what the…

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Netflix Halloween 2015 : “Mine Games”


Trash Film Guru

minegames

Been there, done that — and goddamnit, we’re doing it again!

Last year, in order to spice things up a bit during the month of October, I whittled my focus for Halloween down from reviewing horror movies in general to reviewing horror movies (then-) currently available on Netflix — and this year, since I’m fresh out of ideas thanks to a grueling 55-hours-per-week work schedule, I’m just gonna do the same exact thing.

And why not, right? I mean, it’s Netflix — there’s gotta be plenty choose from, surely?

Except, ya know, when there isn’t. Which seems to be the case these days. Honestly, have you browsed their horror film “library” recently? It absolutely sucks. I mean, they probably had more to choose from five years ago when their streaming service was just getting off the ground. They really should be embarrassed. Maybe next year we’ll try a “Halloween On…

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The Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Manipulator (dir by Yabo Yablonsky)


Mickey Rooney is ... THE MANIPULATOR!

Mickey Rooney is … THE MANIPULATOR!

Up until recently, I firmly believed that Love and Other Drugs was the most annoying movie ever made.  But then, a few nights ago, I cracked open my Mill Creek 50 Drive In Movie Classic box set and I watched a little film from 1971.  I was just looking for a horror film to review for October.  Little did I know that I would soon be watching the most annoying movie ever made!

The name of that movie?

The Manipulator.

The star of that movie?

Mickey Freaking Rooney.

In The Manipulator, Mickey plays B.J. Lang, a former Hollywood makeup artist who has had a mental breakdown.  He now lives in a dusty warehouse, surrounded by old movie props and mannequins.  B.J. spends a lot of time talking to himself and trying on makeup.  Sometimes, he wears a fake nose and pretends that he’s Cyrano de Bergerac.  And then, at other times, he imagines all of his mannequins coming to life and taunting him.  (It’s kind of like the final scene of Maniac, except nobody’s head gets ripped off.)  Occasionally, he has weird flashbacks, which are all about giving the filmmaker an excuse to utilize the fish-eye lens and psychedelic lighting.

Eventually, we learn that BJ (and, as I watched the film, I kept wondering if his name was supposed to make viewers think about oral sex) is not alone in his warehouse.  There’s a woman (Luana Anders) who is being held prisoner.  He has her tied up in a chair and, whenever she begs to eat, he feeds her baby food.  BJ calls her Carlotta, though that’s apparently not actually her name.  The woman yells a lot.  Her first five minutes of screen time consist of her repeating, “MR. LAAAAAAAAAANG” over and over again.

BJ spends most of his time delivering monologues about how Hollywood used to be and occasionally, he demands that Carlotta help him put on a play.  At one point, BJ appears to have a heart attack and this leads to Carlotta going, “DON’T DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEE, MR. LAAAAAAAAANG” over and over again.

And then a homeless bum (Keenan Wynn) shows up and wanders about for five minutes before dying.

The problem with writing about a film like The Manipulator is that, just by describing the plot, you make it sound more interesting than it actually is.  You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Wow, this sounds really weird!  I need to see it at least once…”

No, you don’t.  It may sound weird but ultimately, it’s more emptily pretentious than anything else.  This was both director Yabo Yablonsky’s first and final film and there is not a single camera trick that he does not employ.  We get the weird angles, the random moments of slow motion, the even more random moments when the film is suddenly sped up, the extreme close-ups, the sudden blackouts, the ragged jump cuts, and, of course, lots of rack focus and zoom lens use.  Compared to The Manipulator, the direction of Getting Straight appears to be mild and conventional!  The film does feature three talented performers but none of them seem to have the slightest idea what the movie is about or who they are supposed to be playing.  In particular, both Rooney and Wynn seem to be making up their dialogue as they go along.

And really, that’s why The Manipulator is so annoying.  It should have, at the very least, been an insane misfire.  Instead, it’s just boring.

Sorry, Mickey.

Mickey Rooney Again

 

Icarus File No. 2: Maximum Overdrive (dir by Steven King)


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There is exactly one effective sequence to be found in Maximum Overdrive, a horror film from 1986 that attempts to show us what would happen if all of Earth’s machines decided to destroy humanity.

It takes place at the end of a little league game.  The coach, happy that his team has won, declares soda for everyone!  He walks over to the soft drink machine and puts in his coins and…nothing happens.  The coach stares at the machine perplexed.  His team gathers around him.

Suddenly, a can flies out of the machine and hits the coach in the groin.  Coach falls to his knees, just to get another can driven straight into his skull, leaving him with a big bloody hole in his head.  As the coach twitches, his teams starts to run away.  Suddenly, the machine is shooting cans out at them.  Some of the kids escape but quite a few don’t.

Suddenly, as the kids flee, a driverless steamroller crashes through a fence and drives across the field, graphically flattening one of the players…

It’s over-the-top, it’s kind of scary, it’s fun in a naughty sort of way, and it’s exciting to watch.  It’s totally absurd and yet it’s effective at the same time.  It’s a really brilliant scene, one that hints at what Maximum Overdrive could have been.  It hints that Maximum Overdrive‘s first-time director did have some potential and watching it, one is tempted to feel a pang of regret over the fact that he never directed another film after this one.

However, then you watch the rest of Maximum Overdrive and you realize that one effective scene was a total fluke.  To your horror, you realize that this film’s director (and screenwriter) has decided to set nearly the entire film in the ugliest and most disgusting truck stop in the world.  You realize that the director has no idea how to maintain suspense and that his idea of horror appears to be having a lot of trucks constantly circling the truck stop.  And then, worst of all, you realize that the unlikable caricatures inside the truck stop are meant to be our heroes!

And you find yourself wondering if things could possibly get any worse.  Well, believe me — they can.

First off, a guy named Camp Loman (Christopher Murney) shows up and reveals himself to be a total lech and then starts trying to sell bibles and really, what do you expect from someone named Camp Loman?  And, what’s annoying, is that the film’s director seems to think that he’s blowing our mind by presenting us with an hypocritical bible salesman.  I mean, seriously — the amount of time devoted to Camp Loman will make you nostalgic for scenes of a steamroller crushing a child.

And then Emilio Estevez shows up as our hero but he scowls through the entire movie and delivers all of his lines through gritted teeth, as if he’s pissed off about appearing in Maximum Overdrive and really, who can blame him?  That said, it doesn’t really make for an enjoyable performance.

But hey — Emilio’s not the only person in the truck stop.  There’s also Pat Hingle, playing the owner of the truck stop.  He’s overweight, wears a tie, smokes a cigar, and speaks with a vaguely Southern accent.  Hmmmmm, do you think he’s going to be a bad guy?

Oh!  And let’s not forget the waitress played by Ellen McElduff.  “WE MADE YOU!” she shouts at the machines and then she shouts it again and again and again and again and it’s almost as if the film is being directed by a guy so in love with his own dialogue that he doesn’t realize how annoying the same line gets when it’s screeched over and over again.

And I haven’t even gotten to the helium-voiced newlyweds yet…

When I recently watched Maximum Overdrive on Encore, there were a lot of things that annoyed me, such as the bad pacing, the bad acting, the bad dialogue, the bad special effects, the bad cinematography, and the bad everything else.  But what really got to me was just how inconsistent this movie was.  Some machines turned into killers but oddly, others did not.  At one point, a machine gun starts shooting at the people in the truck stop but the weapons that Pat Hingle keeps in the truck stop never turn on their human masters.  Seriously, if you’re going to make a terrible movie, at least be consistent.

So, you may be asking, why is this an Icarus File?  Well, it was directed by Stephen King, the writer who is routinely called the “master of horror.”  King may be a great writer but, judging from this movie, he was a really crappy director.  I imagine, when the film was in pre-production, the logic was that if King could write a scary book then he could definitely direct a scary movie.

Nope.

It turns out that, just as Icarus should never have gotten so close to the sun, Stephen King should never have directed a movie.

Previous Icarus Files:

  1. Cloud Atlas

Horror Film Review: The Green Inferno (dir by Eli Roth)


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AGCK!

Seriously, it’s hard for me to think of any recent film that has made me cringe as much as Eli Roth’s cannibal epic, The Green Inferno.  A film about a bunch of Occupy activists who end up getting eaten by a native tribe in the jungles of Peru, The Green Inferno does not shy away from showing us all the icky cannibal action.  Eyes are scooped out of heads.  Heads are removed from bodies.  Flesh is ripped off of a bones.  Blood flows everywhere and …. well, let’s just say that I didn’t have much of an appetite after watching The Green Inferno.

And, to be honest, I have no idea whether or not the gore effects were realistic or not.  It always amuses me when some of my fellow film bloggers say, “That’s not what the inside of a human body really looks like.”  Like we would know!  Listen, I have no idea what it’s like to cook a human body and I never will.  It may have been realistic or it may not have been.  It doesn’t matter.  All I know is that, in a very visceral and frightening way, the effects worked.  They made me look away from the screen.  They inspired me to say, “Agck!” and I imagine that’s the exact response that Roth was going for.

If The Green Inferno was a box office success, I imagine that thousands of people would leave the movie and promptly google, “Can you get cannibals high by stuffing a baggie of marijuana in a dead body?”  (The Green Inferno certainly argues that you can but it also suggests that, once a cannibal tribe gets the munchies, bad things will happen as a result.)

However, I doubt that The Green Inferno is going to be a box office success, at least not during its theatrical run.  The film was originally made in 2013 and it’s taken two years for it to finally get a theatrical release and it’s pretty much being dumped into theaters with little fanfare.  Not surprisingly, it’s currently getting slammed by most mainstream critics and it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t review films online waking up and spontaneously saying, “I want to see that movie about people being eaten alive!”  (Myself, I had no great desire to see it but I felt somewhat obligated, considering that I’m a self-described grindhouse fan and horror lover.)  Jeff and I saw The Green Inferno on Tuesday, at the Cinemark 14 in Denton, Texas.  The theater was nearly deserted.

And, in many ways, it is a difficult film to recommend, though that’s exactly what I’m doing.  It’s not an easy film to watch but it does what it does well.  Back in the day, many grindhouse films were advertised as being “a film that goes all the way” and, for better or worse, The Green Inferno goes all the way.  At a time when so many horror films are either watered down or just the usual found footage rehash, The Green Inferno is a film that actually made me squirm in my seat.  It’s a film that delivered exactly what it promised and that does count for something.  The Green Inferno is being advertised as being nightmare fuel and that’s exactly what it is.

(SPOILER ALERT!  READ NO FURTHER IF YOU’RE GOING TO WHINE ABOUT SPOILERS AS A RESULT!)

There’s an interesting and unexpected political subtext to The Green Inferno and, I would argue, that political subtext is exactly why so many online critics are having such a violently negative reaction to the film.  The Americans who end up getting eaten by the cannibals are all Occupy-style political activists.  The reason that they are in Peru is to protest a company that is chopping down the rain forests.  When they do their protest, they all wear masks (which makes the Occupy comparison obvious) and they use social media to make sure that the whole world is watching.  It’s only later, once the surviving activists are all locked away in a cage and waiting to be eaten, that they learn that their leader, the arrogant Alejandro, was actually working for a rival logging company.  And now, they’re desperately waiting for that rival company to show up, tear down the rain forest, and save their lives.

And, oh my God — some reviewers (mostly the ones that write at sites like the A.V. Club)  are so upset about this!  But, honestly, those reviewers are missing the point.  The Green Inferno is not attacking the politics of the activists.  Instead, the film is attacking the shallowness of the activists themselves.  Almost all of them are caucasian, all of them come from privileged backgrounds, and all of them are so high on their own self-righteousness that they don’t even realize that they’re being manipulated by the same system they claim to be destroying.  And, just like the college students who spent a few months doing the Occupy thing and then went on to get a job on Wall Street, they ultimately expect the system to protect them even as they play revolutionary.  At the end of the film, hundreds of new white, privileged protestors are wearing t-shirts decorated (Che-style) with Alejandro’s face.  It’s a deeply cynical vision of political activism but, in many ways, it’s far more realistic than a lot of people want to admit and it makes The Green Inferno a bit more interesting than your typical gore film.

(Add to that, there are thousands of movies about heroic political activists so what’s wrong with having one film where they all get eaten in the Amazon rain forest?  Seriously, it’s not the end of the world…)

Admittedly, the film does make a huge mistake.  It features a mid-credits scene which sets up a sequel.  (And a sequel was announced way back in 2013 but has apparently been abandoned.)  That mid-credits scene — which feels more appropriate for a Marvel film — is totally unnecessary.  There’s no need for a sequel.  The Green Inferno accomplishes exactly what it set out to do.

Horror Film Review: Cat People (dir by Jacques Tourneur)


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The 1942 horror classic Cat People is often described as being a horror film where, up until the last few minutes, the monsters are mostly psychological.  And there is some definite truth to that.  The title creatures remain a mystery for the majority of the film and, up until those final minutes, the audience would have every right to wonder whether or not they actually existed.  This is a film that seems to take place almost totally in the shadows, a film noir without detectives or gangsters but featuring a memorable and compelling femme fatale.

However, I would argue that there is a monster who is present on-screen long before the audience first sees the shadowy form of a cat person.  That monster is named Louis Judd and he’s the true villain of this story.  As played by Tom Conway, Louis Judd is a psychiatrist and, from the minute we first see him, we know that he’s not to be trusted.  He’s far too smooth for his own good and his soothing tones barely disguise the arrogant condescension behind his words.  If his pencil-thin mustache didn’t make him sinister enough, Dr. Judd also keeps a sword concealed inside of his walking stick.

Irena Reed (Simone Simon) is one of Dr. Judd’s patients.  A fashion designer from Serbia, Irena has recently married an engineer named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith).  Despite the fact that she loves Olivier, she cannot bring herself to be intimate with him.  As Dr. Judd discovers, Irena fears that she has been cursed and, if she ever allows herself to become aroused, she will be transformed into a panther.  Dr. Judd repeatedly tells her that her belief is just superstition and that her fears are the result of repressed trauma from her childhood.  When Irena refuses to accept his diagnosis and continues to insist that she is cursed, Dr. Judd assumes that he can prove her wrong by forcing himself on her.  (Big mistake.)

Meanwhile, Oliver loves Irena but her refusal to consummate their marriage is driving him away.  He finds himself growing more and more attracted to his co-worker, Alice (Jane Randolph).  At first, Irena is upset to discover that Oliver has been telling Alice about their problems.  But eventually Irena realizes that all she can do is watch as Oliver and Alice grow closer and closer.  Irena knows that she can’t give Oliver what he desires but the confident and outspoken Alice can.  As Irena grows more and more jealous, Alice starts to feel as if she’s being watched and followed.  She starts to hear growls in the shadows and when she’s at her most vulnerable — swimming alone at night — she is shocked when Irena suddenly appears and demands to know where Oliver is.

And really, that’s what makes Cat People such a great film.  It’s not necessarily a scary film, at least not to modern audiences.  Sadly, we have seen so much graphic real-life horror and have become so jaded by CGI that we’re no longer scared by the mere cinematic suggestion of a monster.  But the film still works because we can relate to both Irena and Alice.  When I look over my relationships, I can see times when I’ve been both the insecure Irena and the confident Alice.  For a film where the word “sex” is never uttered once, Cat People is a penetratingly honest look at relationships, love, and sexuality.

And it also features a truly memorable monster.

Seriously, that Dr. Judd is the worst!