4 Shots From 4 Films: Dr. No, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Wild Things, Spring Breakers

Today is National Bikini Day!

According to the good people at Checkiday, the proper way to celebrate National Bikini Day is to put on a bikini and head to the beach!  Unfortunately, I don’t live anywhere near the beach so instead, I’ve just been cleaning the house and taking out a wasp nest while wearing a bikini, which is an experience that’s both frightening and empowering at the same time.

(Seriously, we had a huge wasp nest that showed up overnight over the front door.  I went outside and sprayed the nest, which resulted in the porch getting covered with dying and angry wasps.  Of course, that’s when I realized that, because of the whole bikini thing, I had put on a t-shirt but I’d forgotten to put on shoes so I was barefoot, the backdoor was locked, and I didn’t have my keys on me, again because of the whole bikini thing.  Rather than walking in bare feet across a porch covered by angry wasps, I literally crawled through a window to get back in the house, at which point I put on my shoes, went outside, and swept up all the wasps and the nest.  It’s been quite a day!)

Anyway, as we often do here at the Shattered Lens, we’re going to recognize both this holiday and four of our favorite movies!  Here, in honor of National Bikini Day, are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1990s

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1990s.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

 An ensemble cast that was full of future stars, including future Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.  A killer soundtrack.  A script full of quotable lines.  Dazed and Confused seemed like it had everything necessary to score a Best Picture nomination and perhaps it would have if the film had been set in Los Angeles instead of the suburbs of Atlanta.  Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s classic was overlooked.

Casino (1995, dir by Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster film had all the glitz of Vegas and Joe Pesci to boot!  Despite being one Scorsese’s best, the Academy largely overlooked it, giving a nomination to Sharon Stone and otherwise ignoring the film.

Normal Life (1996, dir by John McNaughton)

Life, love, crime, and death in the suburbs!  John McNaughton’s sadly overlooked film featured award-worthy performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry and it definitely deserves to be better-known.  Unfortunately, the Academy overlooked this poignant true crime masterpiece.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson first made a splash with this look at the porn industry in the 70s and 80s.  Along the way, he made Mark Wahlberg a star and briefly rejuvenated the career of Burt Reynolds.  Though both Reynolds and Julianne Moore received nominations, the film itself went unnominated.  Oh well.  At least Dirk Diggler got to keep his award for best newcomer.

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Though the film was nominated for its screenplay, the Wes Anderson classic missed out on best picture  Even more surprisingly, Bill Murray was not nominated for his funny yet sad performance.  Murray would have to wait until 2003’s Lost In Translation to receive his first nomination.  Meanwhile, a Wes Anderson film would not be nominated for best picture until Grand Budapest Hotel achieved the honor in 2015.  (That same year, Boyhood became the first Richard Linklater film to be nominated.)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, dir by Gil Junger)

This wonderful take on Shakespeare not only introduced the world to Heath Ledger but it also proved that a teen comedy need not be stupid or misogynistic.  Because it was viewed as being a genre film (and a comedy to boot!), it didn’t get any love from the Academy but it continues to be loved by film watchers like me!

Up next, in an hour or so, the 2000s!

4 Shots From Horror History: Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, Candyman, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Cronos

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we start the 90s!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990, dir by John McNaughton)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990, dir by John McNaughton)

Candyman (1992, dir by Bernard Rose)

Candyman (1992, dir by Bernard Rose)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, dir by Fran Rubel Kuzui)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992, dir by Fran Rubel Kuzui)

Cronos (1993, dir by Guillermo del Toro)

Cronos (1993, dir by Guillermo del Toro)

Embracing the Melodrama #46: Wild Things (dir by John McNaughton)

The 1998 film Wild Things starts out like a standard B-movie.  It take place in Florida so, of course, we get a lot of shots of the sun setting on the bayous and crocodiles staring at the camera as if to ask, “What are you looking for?”  Boats skim the water.  High school guidance counselor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) walks across campus while all of the toned and tanned students stop to admire him.  Local rich girl Kelly Von Ryan (Denise Richards) smirks and says something snarky.  Detective Ray Duquette (Kevin Bacon) shows up in the background and stares at the world from behind dark glasses and a serious expression.  Meanwhile, local poor girl Suzie (Neve Campbell) goes back to her home, which happens to be located right behind an alligator farm.

Judging from the first few minutes, Wild Things could just as easily be an episode of CSI Miami.

But then Bill Murray shows up as Kenneth Bowden, a hilariously sleazy attorney who spends most of the movie wearing a neck brace, just in case the insurance company is watching him.

And then Theresa Russell shows up Kelly’s mother, standing on a balcony in a gold bikini and hitting on every passing man like the world’s most hyperactive cougar.

And then Carrie Snodgress shows up as Suzie’s mother, complete with an over-the-top white trash accent.

By the time that Robert Wagner shows up and literally growls at Matt Dillon: “You’re finished, Lombardo!  Finished!,” you realize that Wild Things is probably the most self-aware B-movie ever made and it’s all the better for it.

As for the plot — well, let’s see if I can keep track.  Suzie and Kelly both accuse Sam of rape.  Sam claims to be innocent but nobody in town believes him.  Sam is forced to hire the disreputable Kenneth Bowden to defend him.  During the trial, Kenneth is able to prove that Kelly blamed Sam for the suicide of her father while Suzie is angry that Sam once refused to bail her out of jail on a drug charge.  To get revenge, Kelly and Suzie decided to frame Sam.  Sam is acquitted and, again with Bowden’s help, is able to negotiate an 8 million dollar settlement for defamation.  True, Sam does lose his job but at least he’s a rich man now…

But wait a minute.

The movie still has a little over an hour to go.

Could it be that there’s more to this story?

Well, of course, there is.  It turns out that Sam, Kelly, and Suzie have been working together all the time.  The accusations, the trial, the defamation suit — it was all a part of a grand scheme to get the money.  Sam, Kelly, and Suzie celebrate their success with champagne and a threesome.

While everyone else in town seems to be ready to move on from the entire scandal, Detective Ray Duquette is telling anyone who will listen that he thinks that Sam, Kelly, and Suzie were all in on it together.  Even when Ray is ordered by his superiors to back off, Ray continues to investigate the case.

And why?

Because Ray Duquette is a cop who gets results!

Well, maybe.

Actually, it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something off about Ray.  For one thing, his obsession with Sam really does seem to be a personal thing.  On top of that, Ray has a past connection with Suzie…

Wild Things has everything that you could hope for from a good exploitation film: a script that is full of double and triple crosses, unapologetically pulpy dialogue, over-the-top performances, and lots of sex.  Yesterday, I reviewed Normal Life and praised John McNaughton’s decision to play up the banality of the film’s characters and locations.  With Wild Things, McNaughton takes the exact opposite approach, playing up every sordid and tawdry detail to such an extent that the film itself eventually transcends such mundane concepts as good and bad.

Wild Things is a lot of fun and it’s also one of the best films of the 1990s.

Wild Things

Embracing the Melodrama #44: Normal Life (dir by John McNaughton)

Digital StillCamera

Out of all the sin-in-the-suburbs films that I’ve watched recently, 1996’s Normal Life is one of the best.  Judging from the lack of reviews of this film online, it also appears to be one of the least known.  So, allow me to rectify that by telling you a little about Normal Life.

In Normal Life, Luke Perry plays Chris Anderson, a seemingly naive police officer.  From the minute that we first see Chris, it’s obvious that he’s a cop.  With his thinning hair, his anonymous mustache, and his deliberately calm and controlled manner, there’s no way that Chris could be anything else.

One night, Chris goes out to a bar and sees Pam (Ashley Judd) getting into a fight with her date and cutting her hand.  Chris, playing the hero, bandages it and then asks her for a dance.  For him, it’s love at first sight.  Soon, Chris is taking Pam on dates to the shooting range and, before you know it, they’re married.  Pam, it soon becomes obvious, is emotionally unstable.  She deals with disagreements by threatening to kill herself and trashing the apartment that she shares with Chris.  She makes little secret of how little respect she has for Chris’s family and she often goes out of her way to embarrass him.  However, Chris will never leave her because he’s in love with the idea of being the only one who can save her.  And, even though Pam may not admit it, she wants to be saved.  Chris gives her stability while Pam gives Chris a taste of excitement that his life would otherwise lack.

Unfortunately, even after Chris loses his job, Pam continues to spend money extravagantly.  Soon, in order to support his wife, Chris starts to utilize his law enforcement experience by robbing banks.  Now that they finally have money, they are able to move to a perfect house in the suburbs and Chris is able to pursue his lifelong dream of opening and running a small used bookstore.

However, Pam eventually discovers that Chris is a bank robber and soon decides that she wants to rob a bank with him.  Chris knows that it’s a mistake to involve the unpredictable Pam but, as the film makes clear, he will always chose her happiness over everything else…

Normal Life was directed by John McNaughton, who also directed the seminal serial killer film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  And while Normal Life is a far less disturbing film than Henry, it does utilize a similar technique of emphasizing just how banal Chris’s suburban lifestyle really is.  When Chris isn’t robbing banks or dealing with his suicidal wife, he’s essentially a rather boring guy who is perfectly happy to spend his days running his little bookstore.  The best scenes in the film are the ones where Chris simply walks to the doorway of his house, the placid calmness of the suburbs providing a strong contrast to what we know is going on inside that house and inside Chris’s head.

Of the two lead performers, Ashley Judd has the showier role and she does give a fantastically brave performance, providing an honest and sympathetic portrayal as a character who is not always pleasant to watch.  Luke Perry, however, is even better.  Whereas Judd is playing a character who is literally incapable of hiding her emotions, Perry has to play a character who keeps all of his emotions hidden.  Judd’s performance is almost totally external while Perry’s performance is largely internal and, when those two techniques come together, it tells us all we need to know about why Chris and Pam are fated to be together.

Normal Life is a film that you need to see.  And you can watch it below!

Horror Scenes I Love: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Last night we saw the return of Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon in season 3 of AMC’s The Walking Dead. He’s been one of those actors who has made a living in genre film and projects and for this he has gained quite a loyal and zealous fan-base which includes myself. Not many people actually know that he starred in one of the most disturbing piece of filmmaking in the last quarter-century. Many people will throw the word “most disturbing” all the time, but with the film I’m taking the latest “Scenes I Love” entry it’s been a consensus amongst genre fans and just film-lovers in general that it’s a film that deserves all the praise thrown it’s way.

It’s not a film that’s really enjoyable. In fact, it’s a film that’s made to elicit a reaction that ranges from disgust to plain creepiness. The film I’m talking about is John McNaughton’s classic horror film simply titled Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The film has so many sequences that has become etched in the minds of those who have seen the film. Whether it’s the opening of the film where we see Henry going about his business like some average joe interspersed with scenes of violence and degradation left behind. Another infamous scene that many has decried the film for being tasteless and is the home invasion scene. Even the final scene of the film is disturbing for the fact that we don’t see the redemption we thought the end of the film was going for, but instead just another start in a new cycle of violence and death for the title character.

The one scene I picked and saying I love this scene is pushing it. Let’s just say that this is the scene that really solidified the film to me as a horror classic. It’s a scene between Henry and his old pal Otis on a double date and it’s a date that horrible goes awry. The horror of Henry killing people is enough for some, but the reaction afterwards of both Henry and Otis just shows that these events do happen in real-life and that the banality of evil in everyday life is more horrifying and disturbing than any horror fiction people can come up with.

Review: Masters of Horror – Haeckel’s Tale (dir. by John McNaughton)

Masters of Horror has been good but very uneven in its execution during it’s two season run on Showtime. Haeckel’s Tale is the last episode for Season One (Takashi Miike’s episode never got an official airing) and it sure ends the season on a disturbingly kinky compilation of twisted grotesqueries. The story is from a Clive Barker short story that’s been adapted by Mick Garris (fellow Masters of Horror director and also its brainchild) and produced by George A. Romero to be directed by John McNaughton.

One wonders why Romero would be producing instead of directing the piece. Scheduling conflicts prohibited Romero from taking the director’s chair and he instead recommended John McNaughton (his one film which earned him Master of Horror status is one of the best horror films of the last quarter century: Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer). The fact that Romero was originally chosen to direct Barker’s Garris adapted short story means there’s got to be zombies or some form of undead within. I, for one, was glad that Romero decided that he wouldn’t be able to direct and chose another in his stead. Barker’s short story does indeed include zombies but it also has a heavy sense of the old classic technicolor Hammer Films vibe to it. Haeckel’s Tale under the capable hands of McNaughton takes those Hammer Films conventions and ramps it up into overdrive.

Even though John McNaughton really has only one true horror film under his belt (he also directed a little-known cult scifi-horror called The Borrowers which had fledgling effects shop KNB EFX still doing things guerilla-style), but his work in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer more than earned him his horror creds. In Haeckel’s Tale, John McNaughton clearly has a bit of fun making the only true period piece in the whole Masters of Horror series. McNaughton goes for the classic Hammer Films look for this episode and it shows in the gothic, fog-shrouded atmosphere in the outdoor scenes. The look of the costumes and even the dialogue harkens back to those Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Hammer Films.

The story is a mixture of the Frankenstein tale with a some Cemetary Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore) mixed in. Haeckel’s Tale begins somewhere around the 1800’s and I’m assuming close to the end of it from the costume worn by Steve Bacic who played Mr. Ralston who arrives to seek the help of Miz Carnation who is purported to be a necromancer who can grant him his wish to have his dead wife brought back to life for him. Miz Carnation rebuffs Ralston, but after some begging she makes a deal with him to hear Haeckel’s Tale. If he still wants his wife brought back to life after hearing it then she would do so.

Ernst Haeckel (played by Derek Cecil)is a young medical professor whose obsession to conquer death mirrors that of a certain eccentric European scientist he so admires. Unlike his idol, Haeckel’s attempt to use electricity to put the spark of life back into a corpse fails dramatically. He’s soon investigating the rumor of a certain traveling necromancer who goes by the name of Montesquino (played by Joe Polito) who he thinks to be a fraud, but he soon finds out that Montesquino is all he says he is when Haeckel stumbles upon Wolfram (played by Stargate SG-1‘s own Maybourne, Tom McBeath) and his stunning young wife Elise (the drop-dead gorgeous Leela Savasta).

Haeckel quickly lusts after the young Elise, but as Wolfram will later tell him as the story nears it’s climax (in more ways than one), Elise cannot be satisfied by him or Haeckel. Her obsession with a dead husband she loves and cannot let go brings Haeckel to a scene that he cannot comprehend nor accept as something she truly wants. I must say that Leela Savasta’s performance as the dead-obsessed Elise is only surpassed by Anna Falchi’s own work as “She” in Dellamorte Dellamore. Leela’s pretty much spending most of her screentime fully naked and writhing around in an orgy not typical of most horror movies. It’s also in this orgy scene where we get the biggest Clive Barker feel to the story. Anyone how has read Barker earlier work knows the man can mix horror and sex like no other.

The ending of the episode brings to it a slight twist with Miz Carnation being more than she says she is. This Masters of Horror episode is not the best of the lot, but it is one of the better looking ones in terms of cinematography and it’s leads. It also doesn’t have much in terms of genuine scares. The story gradually builds up the dreads and disturbing images but never anything that will put a genuine heart-stopping scare on the viewer. Like McNaughton’s own foray into horror with Henry, Haeckel’s Tale lets the story’s own disturbing themes on obsession and the darker side of love put the horror in the story. It does have a nice gore-laden sequence courtesy of Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero and their KNB FX team.

In the end, Haeckel’s Tale is a very good episode which has its flaws like the rest of the Masters of Horror episodes. What sets it apart from the rest of the series entries is its unique Hammer Films look and the return of McNaughton back in the director’s chair as a horror filmmaker. It’s no Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but Haeckel’s Tale will have enough disturbing images to burn itself to its audiences’ minds.

Review: Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer (dir. by John McNaughton)

John McNaughton’s directorial debut has been hailed as one of the best by any first-time director. I won’t be one to disagree with those who agree. McNaughton took $125,000 dollars, an idea of fictionalizing a week in the life of one real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, and a dedicated crew of filmmakers to create a raw, unflinching, visceral piece of filmmaking. Originally filmed and finished in 1986, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer languished in ratings limbo as the filmmakers struggled with the MPAA over its X-rating. In fact, it’s been reported and written in many publications that it is one of the few films screened by the MPAA where they saw no way an edit here or there can ever lower it to an R-rating. I think its fortunate for film fans and academics everywhere that McNaughton and company decided to release the film in 1990 unrated.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was loosely-based on the life of one Henry Lee Lucas. One of the most prolific (though Lucas has since discounted ever killing over 600 people) serial killers in American history. From the beginning, Henry plunges the audience into a world seen through the eyes of a sociopath and as, Ebert once wrote in his own review: “an unforgettable portrait of the pathology of a man for whom killing is not a crime but simply a way of passing time and relieving boredom.”

The first scene is haunting in its graphic and realistic portrayal of the randomness of a serial killer’s passing through the myriad roads and highways that criss-cross the American landscape. It was this stark and realistic portrayal of the aftermath of violence and death that has made some people label McNaughton’s directorial debut as a snuff-film masquerading as an arthouse production. It’s difficult to disagree with such people since the violence (though it doesn’t go as far as most horror films of the era and barely a blip on the MPAA’s radar in today’s mega-blockbuster-shoot’em-ups) has no look of articiality and not glossed-over with your typical horror/suspense sensibilities. It doesn’t have that exploitation look that the horror films of the 70’s and early 80’s. What it did have was the look and feel of a documentary. The titular character (chillingly portrayed by Michael Rooker) commits his murders as one who sees nothing wrong in what they’re doing. To Henry what he does he does to pass the time and to break-up the boredom of his existence. This behavior shows the banality of Henry’s view of the world around him. It goes to show that as horrific as Henry must seem to the audience there’s a sense of reality in what he does. We read about it on the news, in true-crime documentaries, and in the sensationalist shows dealing with serial and mass murderers.

Henry is not the only one who wades into the dark underbelly of American life and society. There’s Henry’s former cellmate, Otis (played with relish by Tom Towles) who at first seems like a buffoon, but later shows his own pathology for senseless killings as Henry finally brings him into his own world. In fact, Otis’ reaction to Henry’s revelations about what he does in secret looks similar to the reaction of the violence addicted mass audience who revel in the violence in action films and horror retreads. Otis is at first confused and knows that he should be disgusted with the killings he first witness Henry committing, but he later gives in to his own primal impulses. He soon revels in the act of murder and even sees it as his own form of entertainment. It’s during the home-invasion and subsequent murders of the home’s family captured on videotape by Henry and Otis that this change in Otis hits home.

This is the juncture in the film that posits the damning question the filmmakers want to ask the audience. Do we recoil in horror and disgust at this horrifying, voyeuristic sequence or does the audience continue to watch with the dispassionate eyes of one who has become desensitized to onscreen violence. There’s no clear answer to this question and the filmmakers don’t condescend to the audience and try to sugar-coat the violence. It is also this sequence where we see the difference between Henry and Otis. Henry almost feels remote and disconnected from the acts he’s committing. To him breaking the neck of a teenage boy might be the same as stepping on an ant. But to Otis the killings themselves becomes his addiction and only form of joy. He’s willing to go beyond what his mentor has done to sate his appetites. We see Henry’s reaction to this change in Otis and realize that as much as the audience want to hate Henry, he is the lesser of two evils. He doesn’t take joy from his work and we cling to that barely there shred of decency in the hope that salvation and redemption is at the end of the ride.

To the filmmakers’ credit Henry doesn’t trivialize the gruesome events from scene one right up to the end credits by tacking on a Hollywoodize happy ending. As the final reel comes to a conclusion and we see Henry and Otis’ sister, Becky driving off into the night (a sort of reverse-negative of the typical riding-off into the sunset of Hollywood past), the audience is ready to breath a sigh of relief from the relentless visual and emotional pounding the film has put on the audience. But the rug is pulled out from under the audience’s feet. McNaughton and his writers do not believe in the redemption of Henry. In fact, they know that such things are only seen in Hollywood and fairytales. What they give the audience instead is a scene that continue to show that the film is steeped in the real world. People like Henry do not find forgiveness and salvation from their evil deeds. People like Henry continue to ply the roads and highways of America. Their seeming normalcy hiding the calculating, sociopathic murderous instincts just below the surface.

I credit Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as one of the truest work of American filmmaking. A great character study of a sociopathic individual whose banality can truly be called the face of evil. McNaughton’s film is admired and reviled and both sides have credible points in taking their sides. It is a great piece of work that shows that filmmaking can go beyond its basic need to entertain. It is also a brutal piece of film that didn’t have to be made the way it was made, but to do it in any other way would’ve diluted the message and impact of the story.