The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Year of the Yahoo! (dir by Herschell Gordon Lewis)


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At the time of his death last year, Herschell Gordon Lewis was credited with having directed 38 films.  Though he’s best known for ground-breaking gore films like Blood Feast and The Gore Gore Girls, Lewis actually dabbled in several different genres.  For instance, he made one of the first psychedelic drug films when he directed Something Weird.  And, as a public service, he warned us all of the dangers of smut peddlers with Scum of the Earth.

And, of course, there was that political films he made…

WHAT!?  A political film directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis!?

Yes, it’s true!  The man who helped to give birth to modern horror also directed one of the most prophetic films ever made.  The Year of the Yahoo! came out in 1972 but it feels even more relevant today.  The Year of the Yahoo! not only predicted the rise of Donald Trump but also predicted the rise of Barack Obama as well, making it one of the few truly bipartisan satires ever made.  That’s not bad for an obscure film directed by a man who was never given much respect from mainstream critics.

The Year of the Yahoo! opens in Texas.  It’s an election year.  The governor (Jeffrey Allen) would love to get rid of liberal U.S. Senator Fred Burwell (Robert Swain) and he thinks that he’s found the candidate to do it.  The Governor wants to nominate an unimpressive congressman, someone who will be easy to control.  However, the President disagrees.  The President (who is obviously meant to be Richard Nixon, even if his name is never specifically mentioned) has decided that the man to defeat Sen. Burwell is a country singer named Hank Jackson (real-life country singer Claude King).

Hank Jackson has a television show, one that he hosts with his girlfriend, Tammy (Ronna Riddle).  Hank sings songs about how America needs to return to traditional values and how people just need to come together and help each other out.  He may be old-fashioned but he’s okay with the counter-culture.  In fact, when we first meet him, he’s at a hippie party.  He turns down an offer of marijuana but he does so with a hearty laugh.  He’s a traditional guy but he’s got no issues with the long hairs.  Not our Hank!  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dallas oilman, an Austin hippie, an El Paso policeman, or a Galveston fisherman.  Everyone in Texas loves Hank!

When Sid Angelo (Ray Sager, the star of Lewis’s Wizard of Gore), a political consultant with White House connections, approaches Hank about running against that lefty traitor, Sen. Burwell, Hank is skeptical but intrigued.  Once Sid get Hank to agree, Sid starts to shape Hank’s message.  As a disgusted Tammy watches, Hank starts to sell out.  Soon, Hank is making jokes about people on welfare.  He’s defending law and order.  He’s taking the side of the landlords against the rent strikers.  Everything from his campaign announcement to interviews with the local media is precisely choreographed by Sid.

Hank’s message starts to resonate with the voters.  This is largely because he doesn’t have a message.  Instead, he just has a bunch of empty slogans and coded phrases.  Hank’s campaign commercial features him riding on a horse while the word “Hope” appears on the screen.  (I mean, who could possibly vote against hope?)  What’s going to happen when Hank’s elected?  Well, as he explains in the film’s theme song, we’re going to run the nation “like a country store.”  Just vote for Hank and “you’ll see how everyone relaxes.”

(At times, The Year of the Yahoo! almost feels like a musical.  The majority of the songs were written by Lewis, who was a legendary figure in the advertising industry before and after his career as a grindhouse filmmaker, and Claude King had a nice voice.  The songs are surprisingly catchy, even if they often are a bit too on the nose in their satire.)

Now, make no mistake about it.  This is definitely a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, which means that it often appears to have been made with more enthusiasm than skill.  At times, The Year of the Yahoo! moves way too slowly.  There’s a riot scene that is embarrassingly filmed.  The action stops for a stomach-churning sex scene between the hairy Ray Sager and a campaign volunteer.  The entire film, in fact, is full of actors who appeared in Lewis’s other films and it’s a bit weird to see familiar grindhouse performers cast as governors and campaign aides.  This is a Herschell Gordon Lewis production, with everything that implies.  While Lewis’s style was perfect for his semi-comedic gore films (Who can forget the “Have you ever had …. AN EGYPTIAN FEAST!?” scene from Blood Feast?), it feels a bit out of place in a film that is attempting to comment on reality.

And yet, it’s hard not to appreciate and kind of resoect just how serious the film’s intent seems to be.  Watching The Year of the Yahoo!, you get the feeling that Lewis actually was trying to say something important.  In The Year of the Yahoo!, Lewis not only attempted to make an important point but it was a valid point as well.  He may not have had the resources to really pull it off but consider this:

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a candidate could shoot the top of the polls by enticing voters with vague promises of hope.

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a wealthy TV celebrity, one that claimed to speak for the common man, could be packaged as a populist and sold to angry voters.

The Year of the Yahoo! was incredibly ahead of its time.  Say what you will about the film’s production values but you can’t deny this.  Everything that Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted came true.  That’s quite an accomplishment for someone often dismissed as merely being a gore director.

In fact, it’s such an accomplishment that it should give us all one thing for the future:

yahoooooo

6 Trailers for Valentine’s Day


Well, since Valentine’s Day is nearly over, how about a new edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film trailers?

These trailers are all about celebrating the love so let’s get started!

The Diary of a High School Bride (1959)

I reviewed this one here.

The Harrad Experiment (1973)

Oh my God, this movie is so 70s.  Check out my review here.

Harrad Summer (1974)

The Harrad Experiment was so bad successful that it was followed by a sequel.

The Teacher (1974)

This actually isn’t a bad film.  I reviewed it here.

Gable and Lombard (1976)

I recently discovered this film.  I haven’t watched it yet but I hear its terrible.

In Love (1983)

I know that I’ve shared this trailer in the past but what can I say?  Even though it’s an edited trailer and I’ve never seen the actual film, I still love this trailer.  That song really gets stuck in your head.

What do you think, romantic trailer kitties?

Awwwwww!

Awwwwww!

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: 31 (dir by Rob Zombie)


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Are you scared of clowns?  Sure, you are.  All good people fear clowns.  However, if you somehow do not find clowns to be frightening, you may change your mind after seeing Rob Zombie’s latest film, 31.

Of course, that’s assuming that you actually see 31.  31 is not a film for everyone.  In fact, if you’re not a fan of Rob Zombie or his style of horror, you should probably stay miles away from 31.  Bloody, intense, violent, and occasionally rather nihilistic, 31 is perhaps the Rob Zombiest of all the films that Rob Zombie has ever made.

However, if you’re a fan of extreme horror, you’ll appreciate 31.  It may not always be easy to take but then again, that’s kind of the point.

The film takes place in the 70s, which means that it has a really kickass soundtrack.  A group of carnival workers are driving across the desert in a van when they are attacked and kidnapped.  They find themselves in a dark building, being lectured by three people who are dressed like 18th century French aristocrats.  The leader of the aristocrats (played by Malcolm McDowell) informs them that they are going to playing a game called 31.  For the next twelve hours, they will be locked away in a maze.  They will be hunted by five murderous clowns.

Yes, you read that right.  Not just one murderous clowns — FIVE!  (Even worse, a sixth bonus clown eventually joins the game.)

If they can survive for 12 hours, they win.  What do they win?  Other than freedom, the film is never particular clear on this point.  The motives of the aristocrats remain a mystery for the majority of the film.  Are they just sadists, are they perhaps devote fans of The Purge who were so disappointed with Election Year that they decided to recreate the second film on their own, or is there some bigger reason behind this game of 31?  The film leaves the question for us to answer.

The rest of the film is a collection of progressively more violent fights between the carnival workers and the clowns.  For the most part, the carnival workers are all likable and you don’t want to see any of them harmed.  The clowns, meanwhile, are just about the freakiest collection of killers that you’ve ever seen.  When one of them is cornered, he pathetically begs, “We’re all pawns!  We don’t want to do this!” but you never quite believe him.  The deadliest of the clowns is Doom-Head (Richard Brake) and his evil smirk will give you nightmares.

31 is an incredibly intense film and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.  Everything from the acting to the set design to the costumes to David Daniel’s stark cinematography comes together to make 31 into a harrowing horror film.  If you can’t stand Zombie’s trademark mayhem, I would suggest avoiding 31.  However, if you’re a fan of Zombie’s films, you’ll find 31 to be perhaps the purest distillation of his artistic vision.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Halloween II (dir by Rob Zombie)


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The thing about praising Rob Zombie’s Halloween is that you’re then contractually obligated to talk about the 2009 sequel, Halloween II.  While I certainly don’t have any trouble defending the first film, Halloween II is about as big a mess as I’ve ever seen.

Much like the sequel to the original film, Halloween II opens with Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) being stalked in the hospital by her murderous older brother, Michael (Tyler Mane).  And the hospital scenes are actually pretty good.  Zombie makes good use of Nights in White Satin and the scenes of Michael chasing Laurie are genuinely suspenseful.

However, the film then jumps a year into the future and it’s all kind of annoying.  Halloween II follows three separate storylines, all of which converge at the rushed conclusion.

My favorite storyline dealt with Dr. Loomis (again played by the brilliant Malcolm McDowell).  Loomis has written a book about Michael and is now traveling the country, promoting himself as a true crime expert and dealing with people who think that he’s exploiting the whole tragedy for a quick buck.  McDowell is perfect in these scenes, playing Dr. Loomis as a pompous man who secretly knows that he’s a fraud.  “I was as much a victim as anyone,” he occasionally sputters.  Perhaps the highlight of the film comes when he’s interviewed by a rather sarcastic Chris Hardwick and finds himself being ridiculed by Weird Al Yankovic (playing himself).

The second storyline features Annie (Danielle Harris) and Laurie struggling to get on with their lives.  Laurie is now living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif).  As opposed to the virginal Laurie of the first Halloween, this Laurie is pissed off and out of control.  On the one hand, I think Zombie deserves some credit for trying to deal with the PTSD that would obviously be the result of surviving being attacked by Michael Myers.  On the other hand, to say that Laurie is never not pissed off would be an understatement.  Scout Taylor-Compton does a good job playing her but, in Halloween II, a little Laurie Strode goes a long way.  You can only watch someone rage at the world for so long before it starts to get boring.

And the third storyline, not surprisingly, is Michael still trying to track down and kill his sister.  Michael continually sees visions of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), occasionally accompanied by a white horse, telling him, “It’s time.”  (Eventually, Laurie starts to see the same thing.)  Usually, if you come across someone online criticizing Halloween II, one of the first things that they’ll mention will be that white horse.  To be honest, the white horse didn’t both me.  I actually appreciated the surreal touch of Sheri Moon Zombie and a white horse appearing out of nowhere.  But still, as opposed to first film, Michael is just boring in this film.  The first film was memorable because it took the time to explore why Michael became who he became.  In Halloween II, Michael’s just another killer in a mask.  Leslie Vernon would have kicked his ass.

So, no, Halloween II does not really work.  The story is too messy and, with the exception of Dr. Loomis, none of the characters are particularly interesting.  I still stand by my claim that Rob Zombie is an underrated director but Halloween II is a definite misfire.

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Halloween (dir by Rob Zombie)


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Is Rob Zombie a good filmmaker?

That’s the question that every horror fan has to ask themselves at some point.  Needless to say, Zombie has a huge following and no one can doubt his love for the genre.  And yet, despite that, it seems that Zombie’s detractors will always be as outspoken as his fans.  His fans point out that Zombie makes movies that literally feel as if they’re filmed nightmares and that, as a committed horror fan, he’s willing to go further in his quest to shock you than most mainstream filmmakers.  His detractors, meanwhile, tend to see Zombie as an excessive filmmaker who often uses an abundance of style to cover for a weak narrative.

Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to Zombie.  I think, as a storyteller, Rob Zombie does occasionally struggle to maintain a coherent narrative but, at the same time, I think his strengths as a director ultimately overcome his weaknesses.  As a visual filmmaker, he’s a lot stronger than he’s often given credit for and I don’t think anyone would criticize the way that he uses music in his films.  He may not be the strongest director of actors but he’s got a good eye for casting and he’s given work to some of our best character actors (Sid Haig, Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, William Forsythe, and the late Karen Black, just to name a few).  If his films are extremely graphic and bloody … well, that’s the current state of horror.  If anything, I would argue that Zombie deserves credit for unapologetically embracing the mantle of being a 21st century grindhouse filmmaker.

That said, Rob Zombie’s films rarely seem to be as good on a second viewing as they were during the first.  He’s one of those directors who comes at you strong that, to a certain extent, his films almost beat you into submission.  During the first viewing of one of Zombie’s films, it’s not unusual to be overwhelmed by all the style and the music and the gore and the over-the-top characterizations.  Even if you don’t like the film itself, it definitely makes an impression on you.  It’s only on repeat viewing that you might start to notice that Zombie’s narratives are often rather clumsily slapped together.  Several times, Zombie’s visual style seems to dictate the story as opposed to the other way around.

That was certainly the case with his 2007 remake of Halloween.  While the film follows the same basic plot as John Carpenter’s original, it also spent a lot more time delving into the past of Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a child, Tyler Mane as an adult).  It was obvious that Zombie was far more interested in Michael than in any of his victims.  (Carpenter took the exact opposite approach, developing the characters of Annie, Laurie, and Linda and allowing Michael to remain a cipher.)  As a result, the first half of the film deals with Michael and his dysfunctional childhood while only the second half features Michael escaping and returning to Haddonfield.  Laurie, Annie, and Lynda are well-played by Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, and Kristina Klebe but ultimately, they all remain rather generic.

The first time I saw Rob Zombie’s Halloween, I thought it was one of the most disturbing films that I had ever seen.  I should clarify that I mean that in a good way.  Zombie’s Michael was truly terrifying but, at the same time, Zombie portrayed him as a kid who never had a chance.  Whereas Carpenter’s Michael started the film as a fresh-faced little boy dressed up like a clown and holding a bloody knife, Zombie’s Michael is born into a world of chaos and darkness.  With his dysfunctional childhood, it was hard not to feel that Michael never had a chance.  Feeling abandoned by both his family and, eventually, his therapist, Michael retreated into a world of pure anger and hate.  Whereas John Carpenter’s Michael rarely seemed to be angry (instead he was just relentless), Zombie’s Michael is rage personified.

Unfortunately, Zombie’s Halloween spends so much time on Michael and his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, perfectly cast) that it doesn’t leave much time for the night he came home.  Essentially, the entirety of Carpenter’s original film is crammed into the film’s second half and, on repeat viewings, you can’t ignore how incredibly rushed it all feels.  It’s obvious that Zombie’s heart was in the first half of the film.  In the second half, he’s just going through the slasher movie motions.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is definitely a flawed film.  John Carpenter’s original remains the superior Halloween but, to be honest, I don’t think Rob Zombie would deny that.  Zombie set out not to replace Carpenter’s Halloween but to tell a different version of the same story.  When Zombie’s Halloween works, it really works.  Flawed as it may be, Halloween proves that Rob Zombie is a talented filmmaker, albeit one with room to grow.

As for Halloween II … well, we’ll talk about that later…

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Night Before Halloween (dir by Sheldon Wilson)


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‘Twas the night before Halloween

when all through the house

not a creature was stirring

except for a Bowman

whose name was Lisa Marie”

— Traditional Bowman Folk Song

And why was I stirring?

Well, first off, that’s what I tend to do.  However, on top of that, I was also stirring because I was watching SyFy’s latest original film, The Night Before Halloween.  I was excited because The Night Before Halloween was full of Degrassi actors!

For instance, Jahmil French played the nerdy but cool Dave Turner on Degrassi.  In The Night Before Halloween, he plays Kyle.  Kyle’s a teenager with a curse.  Basically, unless he can trick someone into killing another person, a supernatural creature will kill him on Halloween night.  It’s a bit like the It Follows curse, except that the curse isn’t passed on by sex.  Instead, it’s passed by fooling someone else into committing murder.  In other words, transmitting The Night Before Halloween curse is a lot less fun than transmitting the It Follows curse.

On Degrassi, Justin Kelly played Jake Martin, a handsome and lovable stoner.  In The Night Before Halloween, Justin Kelly plays Adam, who is handsome and lovable and probably likes to get high, even though we never see him do so in the film.  Adam, unfortunately, is friends with Kyle.  When Kyle tricks Adam in taking part in a prank that leads to the electrocution of Beth (Natalie Ganzhorn), Adam finds himself being pursued by the monster.  Can he and his girlfriend, Megan (Bailee Madison), survive?

On Degrassi, Alex Harrouch played Leo, the abusive boyfriend (and briefly, husband) of Alli.  In The Night Before Halloween, Harrouch plays a much more sympathetic character, Wyatt.  At first, Wyatt is likable and nerdy but then Kyle tricks him into helping to kill Beth.  Leo is the first of the friends to understand what has happened but, when he tried to inform his friends, they ignored his calls and texts.  So, as Leo puts it, he made some new friends, with names like Benny and Oxy.  Leo has had to do some terrible things to survive and he’s been left a haunted shell of his former self.

The final member of this group of friends is Lindsay.  Lindsay is played by Kiana Madeira, who does not have a Degrassi connection but still does a good job in her role.  Lindsay may start as a skeptic but soon, she’s willing to do almost anything to get rid of the curse.

Anyway, of all the It Follows-inspired films that showed up on SyFy this October, The Night Before Halloween was definitely the best.  It was well-acted and directed and the supernatural monster (which usually manifested itself as a swarm of flies) was creepy.  Best of all, the film fully embraced and explored the question of how far people would go to survive.  In The Night Before Halloween, the only way to escape the curse is to betray someone.  While you may not be surprised when the friends start to betray each other, you’ll still never guess just how far one of them is willing to go.  You may even find yourself considering just how far you would go to save your life.

The Night Before Halloween is a very well-done SyFy shocker.  Even if it didn’t have the Degrassi connection, it would still be one to track down.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Bleed (dir by Tripp Rahme)


What happens when you take a little Paranormal Activity and mix it in with a little Rosemary’s Baby and then toss in Devil’s Due and then top it all off with a sprinkle of Deliverance and The Chernobyl Diaries and just a hint of the remake of I Spit On Your Grave?

You end up with a big ol’ mess of a movie.  I just watched Bleed on Netflix and the plot is so convoluted that I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I just watched.

But, before I try to figure this all out, let’s take a look at the trailer:

Sarah (Chelsey Crisp) is a newlywed who appears to have it all.  She’s got a wonderful husband, Matt (Michael Steger), they’ve got a beautiful house out in the country, and even more importantly, they’ve got a baby on the way!  So what if the nearby town seems to be a little bit creepy and is full of country-accented men with beards?  And so what if there’s a deserted prison nearby, one that is rumored to be haunted by the spirit of a preacher-turned-serial killer who died when a fire broke out at the prison?  And what about that mysterious woman who keeps showing up in the nearby field and screaming like a banshee?  That’s just local color!  Anyone who thinks that’s unusual has obviously never lived in Oklahoma or visited Hot Springs, Arkansas.

In order to celebrate their new home, Sarah and Matt decide to invite their best friends out to the house.  Dave (Elimu Nelson) and Bree (Brittany Ishibashi) are a likable couple, especially now that Bree is regularly taking her medication.  Bree is schizophrenic and hears voices when she doesn’t take her meds.  To the film’s credit, it portrays Bree as a positive character and never goes down the path that I feared it would follow.

Suddenly, Sarah’s good-for-nothing brother, Eric (Riley Smith) shows up.  His girlfriend, Skye (Lyndon Smith) is with him.  The first thing that Eric does is ask for money.  The second thing that Eric does is get high.  The third thing that Eric does is talk about how he and Skye have spent the past few months driving across America and searching for ghosts.  And hey, isn’t there a haunted prison somewhere nearby?

Meanwhile, Skye takes a bath.  While she’s in the bathtub, she suddenly see an evil-looking apparition standing over her.  She screams for help and Matt responds.  The apparition has vanished.  Sarah glares at Matt and the towel-clad Skye.  “I didn’t know she’d be half-naked!”  Matt protests.  Of course not!  Why would someone get undressed before taking a bath?

Anyway, Eric convinces everyone but Sarah to search for ghosts with them.  Sarah drops them off at the ruins of the prison, promises to come back for them in a few hours, and then starts back home.  Unfortunately, she has an accident on the way back and ends up getting a ride with a creepy deputy.  And it quickly becomes clear that the deputy isn’t in any hurry to get her back home…

Meanwhile, at the prison, all Hell breaks loose.  Skye sees another evil spirit.  Eric’s throat gets slashed but oddly, it stops bleeding after a few seconds.  Voices are heard.  Objects move.  So many Paranormal Activity-type things occur that I’m actually surprised (and relieved) that Bleed wasn’t a found footage film…

One thing that Bleed does is that it keeps you guessing.  At first, I assumed it would be another city folk vs. hillbillies type of film but then it turned into a ghost story.  And, for a long while, I thought it was just another ghost story but then it turned out to be something different all together.  Admittedly, the film sometimes struggles to handle the constant shift in tone but, oddly, that kinda works.  It definitely keeps the viewer off-balance.

As you might expect from a film that’s constantly changing tone, Bleed is a bit uneven but it’s definitely a watchable and intriguing horror film and the film makes good use of that atmospheric prison.  For a lot of viewers, Bleed will probably be a love-it-or-hate-it type of film.  It’s well-directed but the story is just almost unnecessarily complicated.  My recommendation is that you watch it and judge for yourself.