The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Unspeakable (dir by Thomas J. Wright)


So, here’s a few good things about the 2002 film, Unspeakable.

First off, Jeff Fahey plays the governor of New Mexico.  Any film that presents us with a world where Jeff Fahey can be elected governor of an actual state has to be worth something.  Seriously, I’ve long thought that the country would be more interesting if actors were elected to run each state.  Here in Texas, for instance, there was a movement to draft Tommy Lee Jones a few years ago.  (Personally, I’d rather live under Governor McConaughey.)  Steven Seagal (agck!) apparently wanted to run for governor of Arizona and, of course, Cynthia Nixon actually ran up in New York.  There’s always a chance of Alec Baldwin running for something and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger actually did govern California for two terms.  Val Kilmer, I should add, came close to running for governor of New Mexico, where this film is set!  Personally, I’d vote for Jeff Fahey over Val Kilmer,  It’s the eyes.

Another good thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dennis Hopper playing a crazed prison warden who rambles about how much he enjoys sending people to the electric chair.  “I am God!” Hopper says at one point and you have to enjoy any scene that features Dennis Hopper saying, “I am God!” in a southwestern accent.

Another fun thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dina Meyer and Lance Henriksen as scientists!  Meyer invents this weird little headband thing that allows her to look into your mind and see your thoughts.  Let me repeat this for those of you who might have missed the significance: DINA MEYER HAS INVENTED A MACHINE THAT ALLOW HER TO SEE EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SOMEONE’S MIND!  If that wasn’t amazing enough, there’s also the fact that no one seems to be that impressed.  In fact, no one really cares.  Everyone just kind of shrugs it off.

Meyer and Henriksen ask for permission to test their invention out on death row inmates.  Sure, why not?  It’s not like Warden Hopper cares what happens to the inmates, right?  Meyer discovers that one of the inmates is innocent!  Unfortunately, no one cares.  Gov. Fahey, who is also Meyer’s former lover, refuses to commute the sentence because he’s got an election coming up and voters love the death penalty.  And so, that innocent man goes off to the electric chair.

But wait!  There’s a new prisoner on death row.  His name is Jesse Mowatt and he’s played by Pavan Grover, the doctor who wrote this film.  It turns out that he is America’s most prolific serial killer!  He’s murdered hundreds of people, all because of some weird issue he has with religion.  Anyway, it’s pretty obvious that this killer has a date with the electric chair but first, Meyer gets to use her amazing-invention-that-nobody-cares-about on him.  What she discovers is that this serial killer might be a demon-possessed monster who can use his mind to drive other people to do things like rip their faces off.  Or maybe he’s just really clever.  He does definitely have super strength and beats up any guard that comes near him.  It never occurs to the guards to use handcuffs on him or anything.  That’s just the type of prison that it is.

Anyway, I appreciated the film’s anti-death penalty theme but the film still got a bit too heavy-handed for my tastes.  Pavan Grover wrote himself a pretty good part but he doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to do the whole irresistible sociopath thing.  Still, I appreciate any movie that features Jeff Fahey as a governor.

FAHEY 2024!

 

Insomnia File #42: Revenge (dir by Tony Scott)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Earlier today, If you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1990 action film, Revenge.

Revenge is an almost absurdly masculine film about two men who are in love with the same woman and who, as a result, end up trying to kill each other and a lot of other people.

Jay Cochran (Kevin Costner) is a U.S. Navy aviator who, when we first see him, is doing the whole Top Gun thing of flying in a fast jet and making jokes while his navigator worries about dying.  Interestingly enough, Top Gun and Revenge were both directed by Tony Scott so perhaps this opening scene was meant to be a self-reference.  Well, regardless of intent, it’s a scene that goes on forever.  This is Jay’s last flight, as he’s due to retire.  We go through an extended retirement party, where everyone has a beer and Jay gives one of those bullshit sentimental speeches that men always give in films like this.

Jay has been invited to estate of Tibbey (Anthony Quinn), who is a Mexican gangster.  Tibbey and Jay are apparently old friends, though it’s never quite explained how the youngish Jay knows the not-very-youngish Tibbey.  Tibbey is one of those gangster who is incapable of doing anything without first talking about what an amazing journey it’s been, going from poverty to becoming one of the most powerful men in Mexico.

Tibbey apparently wants to play tennis with Jay and take him hunting.  Jay decides that he’d rather have an affair with Tibbey’s much younger wife, Miryea (Madeleine Stowe).  Miryea is upset that Tibbey doesn’t want to have children because he feels that pregnancy would ruin her body.  When Tibbey finds out about the affair, he sends Miryea to a brothel and Jay to the middle of the desert.  That’s Tibbey’s revenge!

Except, of course, Jay doesn’t die because he’s Kevin Costner and if he died, the movie would end too quickly.  So, Jay fights his way back from the desert, intent on not only finding Miryea but getting his own revenge on Tibbey!

(It’s hard to take a bad guy named Tibbey seriously, even if he is played by Anthony Quinn.)

Revenge goes on for way too long and neither Tibbey nor Jay are really sympathetic enough to be compelling characters.  You never really believe in Tibbey and Jay’s friendship, so the whole betrayal and revenge aspect of the film just falls flat.  On the plus side, youngish Kevin Costner is not half as annoying as cranky old man Costner.  Anthony Quinn was one of the actors who was considered for the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather and, watching him here, you can kind of see him in the role.  He would have been a bit of a crude Corleone but Quinn had an undeniably powerful and magnetic screen presence.  In Revenge, Quinn chews up and spits out all of the scenery and is not subtle at all but it’s entertaining to watch him because he’s Anthony Quinn.

Anyway, Revenge ends with a tragedy, as these things often do.  Anthony Quinn never says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” and that, to me, is a true missed opportunity.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra

Panther’s Revenge: Night Creature (1978, directed by Lee Madden)


Axel McGregor (Donald Pleasence) is a world-famous author and big game hunter who, while on a hunt in the steamy jungles of Thailand, is maimed by a ferocious panther.  With both his body and pride wounded, Axel posts a reward for the panther, demanding that it be captured and brought to his private island estate.  When the panther is delivered, Axel plans to set it free so that he can hunt and kill it and regain his lost virility.  Unfortunately, as soon as McGregor sets the panther free, unexpected guests show up at the island, Axel’s two daughters (Nancy Kwan and Jennifer Rhodes), his granddaughter (Lesly Fine), and an obnoxious tour guide named Ross (Ross Hagen).  The panther proves to be harder to hunt than Axel was expecting and soon, one daughter has been killed and another daughter suffers a fate worse than death when she becomes Ross’s default love interest.

Night Creature is a strange film.  It was obviously made as a part of the nature-gone-wild cycle that started in the wake of Jaws but, once the daughters arrive at the island, there are several lengthy stretches where the movie concentrates more on the love triangle between Ross and the daughters than on the panther.  When the panther does show up, the attack scenes are so confusingly shot that it is difficult to be sure what has really happened.  Director Lee Madden goes overboard with slow motion shots of the panther stalking its prey and an attempt to introduce some psychic bond between Axel and the panther largely falls flat.

At least we get Donald Pleasence, playing one of his twitchy roles and suffering another extended nervous breakdown.  Night Creature may not offer much but it does have one of the best Pleasence freakouts ever captured on film.  It’s always a pleasure to watch Pleasence chew the scenery, especially when he’s joined by panther.

Retro Game Review: L.A. Noire (2011, Rockstar Games)


(This review is based on my experience replaying L.A. NoireBe sure to reread Leonard Wilson’s review, from when the game was originally released.)

I recently replayed L.A. Noire, a game that I enjoyed when it was first released in 2011.  I was curious to see if, after eight years, it still held up.  The first time I played L.A. Noire, it was on the Xbox 360.  For the replay, I used the version that was released for the PS4.  This version included extra rewards and cases that were not originally included in the game.

L.A. Noire takes place in Los Angeles in the years immediately following World War II.  For the majority of the game, you control the actions of Cole Phelps, a decorated USMC veteran who works his way up through the LAPD.  He starts as a uniformed policeman before being promoted to detective.  The game follows him through three different department until, as a result of a personal scandal, he ends up being demoted down to arson.  Along the way, Phelps learns the truth about the Black Dahlia murderer and gets involved in the deadly aftereffects of a morphine heist.  Through a series of flashbacks, we also discover that Phelps may not be the war hero that everyone thinks that he is.  Cole’s an interesting hero because he’s so openly ambitious and judgmental that he is sometimes easy to dislike.  Nearly everyone who works with Cole in the game either beings their partnership disliking him or grows to dislike him over time.  Cole can be abrasive but he also has a strong moral sense and, when he says that he’s a better detective than his partners, he has a point.  From the start, the games teases us about Cole’s inevitable downfall but, when it actually does happen, it catches both Cole and the player by surprise.

L.A. Noire is an open world game, meaning that Phelps can temporarily abandon a case and spend some time walking and driving around Los Angeles.  The game’s recreation of 1947 Hollywood is impressive but, when compared to other open world games, there’s not much to do when you’re not actually on a mission.  This isn’t like Grand Theft Auto, where you can spends weeks mugging people and stealing cars until deciding to return a phone call so that you can get your next task.  L.A. Noire is a story-centered game so be prepared to spend most of your time searching crime scenes for clues, going back to the police station to pick up lab reports, and interrogating suspects.

When L.A. Noire first came out, it was the interrogation scenes that received the most attention.  The game used MotionScan technology and 32 cameras to capture every possible facial expression of the actors appearing in the game.  When you ask someone a question, you can watch their expressions while they answer and make the determination whether they’re lying or telling the truth, as well as whether to be a good cop or a bad cop.  You can watch an liar refuses to make eye contact with you or as an innocent man sweats out an aggressive questioning.  It puts you right in the world of the game, though I was disappointed to discover that wrongly accusing someone of lying doesn’t actually have much of an effect on how each case ends.

The main flaw with L.A. Noire‘s stoy is that, during the final fourth of the game, a new character is introduced.  Jack Kelso served with Cole in the Marines and knows the truth about Cole’s wartime “heroism.”  For the final few cases, Jack replaces Cole as the playable character and Cole is reduced to supporting him.  Because Jack is written to be perfect and basically has none of Cole’s flaws, he’s also not a very interesting protagonist.  Switching from playing Cole to Kelso bothered me the first time that I played L.A. Noire and it bothered me even more when I replayed it.  A final cut scene, which revealed that Kelso knew more than he originally let on, did not help.

Fortunately, the rest of the game still held up very well.  The cases are all challenging without being impossible to solve and the game does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of classic California noirs like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.  Cole, his partners, and all of the suspects are vividly written and voiced characters and the cases that Cole works for Homicide are just creepy enough to make this game appropriate for October playing.  Be careful chasing the Black Dahlia killer into the catacombs.  I didn’t bother to pay attention to where I was going and I spent an hour running around in circles before I finally found him and promptly got gunned down.

There are puzzles to be solved and suspects to be pursued.  This game may mostly be about interrogating people and analyzing clues but it does have its share of car chases.  Fortunately, if you fail to complete an action scene too many times in a row, the game will give you the option of just skipping it.  When you’re working with a partner and heading to a crime scene, that game also give you the option of telling your partner to drive to the location.  That’s something I, being among the directionally challenged, appreciated.

However, if you do enjoy driving through a video game, L.A. Noire‘s recreation of Los Angeles in the 40s has much to recommend it.  Driving through the game’s version of Los Angeles, you’ll find plenty of evidence of America’s post-World War II optimism.  New houses are being constructed.  Innocent young women are hanging out on every street corner, looking to become a star.  The theater marquees advertise movies like Odd Man Out.   All of the famous Hollywood landmarks are lovingly recreated.  An early case leads to you searching for clues behind the Hollywood sign.  Another case actually leads to a firefight at the old Intolerance set while yet another case tests how much attention you’ve been paying by requiring you to solve a series of riddles that will lead you from one landmark to another.  In the tradition of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, L.A. Noire challenges you to take a look at what’s happening underneath Los Angeles’s pleasing surface.

As a game, L.A. Noire holds up well.  I won’t hold my breath for that sequel that was promised seven years ago but I did enjoy replaying it.

Horror Scenes I Love: The Television Scene From Ringu


Yesterday, in a comment, Michael McClure mentioned this scene as a scary one and you know what?  He’s right!

So, I decided — why not share it today?

Now, of course, if this scene seems familiar, that’s because it was later remade as The Ring.  This, however, is from the Japanese original.

From 1998’s Ringu, here’s a scene that I love!

Book Review: Lucio Fulci: Beyond The Gates: A Tribute To The Maestro by Chas Balun


Three years ago, I was really happy to discover that TCM was showing Lucio Fulci’s classic slasher, The House By The Cemetery.

Finally, I said, the maestro is getting some respect!

It’s the same feeling that I had when I recently came across both Zombi 2 and The Beyond playing on Showtime.  Sure, there’s a huge difference between one of your movies appearing on Showtime or Cinemax and being a respected filmmaker.   I mean, Uwe Boll’s movies are on all the time.  But still, just the fact that Fulci’s films were being shown meant that there was a chance that others would see them for the first time and maybe — just maybe — that person would get it.  That person would watch Fulci’s films and they would understand why horror fans like me continually describe him as being one of the best and most important filmmakers of all time.

Indeed, when it comes to Fulci, you either get it or you don’t.  When he died in 1996, Fulci was reportedly living in poverty and, despite all of his past cinematic successes, was struggling to find the financial support necessary to keep making films.  Sadly, he did not live to see his films rediscovered by horror fans like me.  Today, I’d say Fulci is still an underappreciated filmmaker but, slowly but surely, the Cult of Fulci is growing.  If nothing else, the current zombie movie boom would never happened without the efforts of both Lucio Fulci and George Romero.

Lucio Fulci: Beyond The Gates is a short, 79-page booklet that was published in 1996, immediately after Fulci’s death.  It’s really less a book than an extended essay written by a fan named Chas Balun.  The book, which covers Fulci’s filmography and pithily defends his work against his detractors, was really written mostly for Fulci fans.  It’s a booklet that we can read and laugh to ourselves as we say, “Can you believe those people who really don’t get it?”  As such, it’s probably not the book to give to someone who isn’t already a fan.  But, for those of us who already get it, it can be a fun read.  At the very least, it’s an important historical document as a tribute to the director that was written directly after Fulci’s death.  It’s the loving eulogy that Fulci deserved.

It’s also a bit of a collector’s item.  If you go on Amazon right now, you’ll find that copies in “new” condition are going for $100.  Used copies are going for $70.94.  I found my copy at Half-Price Books in Dallas and I paid $1.50 for it.

A Blast From The Past: What About School Spirit? (dir by Herk Harvey)


Director Herk Harvey

The 1958 short film, What About School Spirit?, introduces us to the greatest high school in all of Kansas.  The entire state is envious of Lawrence High.  Not only are they champions in basketball but they’re champions in academics as well!  What is it that makes Lawrence High so special?

Well, as one student explains, Lawrence High was’t always the wonderful institution that it is today.  It’s not that the school didn’t have school spirit.  In fact, it had too much school spirit!  The students were driving fast and painting the school’s initials “where they had no business to be!”  Everyone was so crazy about the school that they didn’t stop to think about how their rambunctious behavior was making life annoying for everyone else!

Then, luckily, the basketball team captain, Bob Corby, spoke at a student assembly and what Corby said changed the entire direction of the school.  I’m not sure how that happened exactly because, judging from what we see of his speech, it’s nothing that special.  In fact, I think Bob Corby’s kind of overrated.  That’s right, I said it.  Of course, after giving the speech, Bob Corby got sick and died.  The students, of course, continued to display properly controlled school spirit in his memory.

I guess the message here is that teenagers should be proud of their school without being too loud about it.  To be honest, though, Bob Corby and all of his followers kind of come across as being little fascists who are determined to quash any hint of nonconformity or rebellion.  The next time that they say, “It couldn’t happen here,” you tell them that it already happened at Lawrence High.

This film was directed by Herk Harvey, who made a career out of doing educational films like this one.  However, horror fans will always know Harvey best for directing the massively influential Carnival of Souls.  That’s a film that we’ll watch later this month.  For now, enjoy the legend of Bob Corby!