Saturday, October 21, 2017

10/21/2017: It's not hard, not far to reach, we can hitch a ride to Blood Beach, or hey daddy-o, I don't wanna go down to the golf course

Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980)
This month, I watched a pair of smartly stupid '80s horror movies with great senses of humor. Let's start with the killer beach movie before moving on to the killer lawnmower movie. Blood Beach was filmed in Santa Monica, but you'd hardly know it from the dimly lit cinematography, lack of people, and what appears to be unseasonably cool weather throughout. This is a gritty, working-class, isolated part of the beach, populated by a handful of homes, a hamburger stand, a police station, a harbor patrol station with a few employees, and a bar where harbor patrolman Hoagy (Darrell Fetty) yacht rocks out with his band. Things are peaceful on this little corner of the beach until an older woman disappears into the sand. The police investigate but are stumped. The only witness, harbor patrolman Harry (David Huffman), is not much help. He saw her, and then he didn't. The woman's daughter Catherine (cult movie legend and Norman Schwarzkopf's cousin Marianna Hill (Red Line 7000, Medium Cool, Messiah of Evil, The Baby, High Plains Drifter, The Godfather Part II, Schizoid)) arrives from San Francisco to help look for her mother. She and Harry used to be a couple, and they grow close once again as the scope of the mystery deepens. This isn't just a disappearance. The beach starts taking more people, sucking them into the sand and grinding them up. This is mostly a bad thing, but it does rip a would-be rapist's dick right off, so sometimes a killer beach can be your friend. No one knows what the hell is happening, though Dr. Dimitrios (Stefan Gierasch) has some zany ideas, and so does homeless woman Mrs. Selden (Cassavetes regular Eleanor Zee). Is some mysterious creature lurking under the sand? If so, how can it be caught/killed? The detectives on the case continue the film's trend of cult character actors giving the material the goofy fun it deserves. The Last Detail's Otis Young and every cult movie and TV show ever made's Burt Young are, respectively, Lt. Piantadosi and Sgt. Royko. Piantadosi is the good cop in the good cop/bad cop dynamic, competent, good with civilians, and as exasperated with Royko's antics as he was with Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid in The Last Detail. Royko, named after Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, is a Chicago native who is always unfavorably comparing Southern California to his hometown. He is tactless, rude, a slob, constantly putting his foot in his mouth. The big boss, Capt. Pearson, is played by the mighty John Saxon, who knows exactly what kind of movie he's in and cranks it to the max accordingly. He hates the fuck out of Blood Beach and the pressure the neighborhood bigwigs he loathes are putting on him to quickly solve the case. Saxon chews the scenery with vigor and delight, and he is the best part of an exceedingly entertaining film. He even gives the film its Jaws-inspired tagline: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can't get to it." I recommend Blood Beach for your next vacation.

Blades (Thomas R. Rondinella, 1989)
Maybe golf is more your thing. This is the first golf-based horror film I've ever seen, and also the only demonically possessed lawnmower film I've seen (I think). An almost scene-for-scene parody of Jaws, Blades takes place at a second-tier golf course and resort in rural New Jersey. The employees and owners of the Tall Grass Country Club are preparing for the weekend's big annual charity golf tournament, which, as co-owner Norman Osgood (William Towner) keeps pointing out, will be televised. Unfortunately, people keep getting sliced into bits, which is hella bad PR. At first, a serial killer is suspected, which causes incompetent police chief Charlie Kimmel (Charlie Quinn) to deputize a bunch of local vigilante idiots to help find the culprit with haste to avoid canceling the tournament. The rowdy and stupid mob takes to the course with guns, swords, explosives, and American flags (future Trump voters). They catch a guy lurking around with a mower, who turns out to be fired groundskeeper Deke Slade (Jeremy Whelan). He's arrested for the murders, but his theory is that no man did the killings. It was a possessed machine, chopping people up on its own volition. Guess what? He's proven RIGHT. Soon, the club's two pros Roy Kent (Robert North) and Kelly Lange (Victoria Scott) team up with Deke Slade to kick the inanimate mower's ass. Roy is an alcoholic former PGA pro who was hired and promoted to head club pro by the Osgoods even though the job was promised to assistant pro Kelly. Kelly is a highly competent, skilled woman who has to constantly deal with the sexism of idiots. Despite the shadiness of his appointment, Roy is a decent guy, and the two pros become pals. Kelly also wins over macho chauvinist Deke, who doesn't think a woman can fight a possessed mower, which is bullshit. Deke is an expert on possessed machines, and he recognizes the killer mower as his daddy's old model. Deke's dear pa-paw took care of the mower for 25 years but was fired when he refused to work on the replacement mower, a more efficient Japanese model. The retired mower became fueled by rage at being neglected and decided to become a killing machine. Come on, this is just science, people. I had a great deal of fun watching this ridiculous movie, and I think you will, too. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

9/23/2017: Party for Satan

Black Roses (John Fasano, 1988)
I can't believe I never saw this as a kid. The VHS would have dropped during my seventh grade year. It's got heavy metal, demons, possession by rock music, gratuitous nudity, 30-year-olds playing teenagers, class discussions of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, a rare acting role from Lou Ferrigno's wife Carla, the drummer from Vanilla Fudge, and a guy yelling "What the fuck?" before being eaten by a demon emerging from a hi-fi speaker. What more do you need? (BTW, Vincent Pastore, famous for playing "Big Pussy" on The Sopranos, plays the guy who gets munched by the speaker-demon.)
Black Roses is about a metal band called, you guessed it, Black Roses, and all the teens in the sleepy little town of Mill Basin are shocked and stoked that the band is bringing its unremarkable but energetic blend of shredding and power balladry to the school auditorium for a week of warmup shows before its tour hits the big cities. Unfortunately for Mill Basin, the big-haired rockers are Satanic demons in disguise, and they only came to town to do two things: rock and possess every teenager. The Mill Valley moralists are up in arms over a metal band coming to town, but Black Roses win them over during the first night's performance with a Richard Marx-style soft rock ballad about pining for childhood days in the old hometown. Appeased, the adults leave, and Black Roses start rocking much harder and begin Operation: Possess Some Adult Teens. The only suspicious grownup is cool English teacher Mr. Moorhouse. You know he's cool because he has a mustache, wears blue jeans instead of dress slacks, and raps with the teens on their level about Whitman and Emerson. Can he save the day before the headbanging minions of Satan control every teen in the town?
Black Roses is silly, no great shakes visually, and 100% fun. I'm looking forward to checking out director Fasano's other metal-themed horror movie, Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, starring novelty rocker/bodybuilder Jon Mikl Thor, frontman of Thor.

Seven Footprints to Satan (Benjamin Christensen, 1929)
Danish director Benjamin Christensen made the incredible early horror film Haxan, but I didn't know he also made a few horror films in Hollywood until watching this rare silent, thought lost for years until a print turned up in Italy. Seven Footprints to Satan adds more comedy and Hollywood razzmatazz and a silly happy ending to the proceedings, but fortunately it's perverse and weird, too. It doesn't come close to the magic that is Haxan, but few things do.
Creighton Hale plays James Kirkham, nephew of millionaire businessman Uncle Joe (DeWitt Jennings). James is a bit of a doofus, living off his uncle's fortune and planning an expedition to Africa to discover the world's first civilization even though, as his uncle puts it, he's never even explored the garden in his backyard. Joe and Eve (Thelma Todd), James' fiancee, want James to drop his foolish idea because he's a nerd who will probably get killed, but James is determined to become a famous explorer before marrying and settling down. Everyone's plans are pushed aside, however, when James and Eve are kidnapped during an antiquities auction at Eve's place and whisked away to a strange mansion full of weird and grotesque servants of Satan. James and Eve get into one bizarre situation after another attempting to escape until finally encountering Satan himself. Christensen's film starts with a fairly generic visual style and grows more expressive as the film continues, culminating in the seven footprints scene of the title. I've only been able to find this film on YouTube in a less than stellar print, but it's worth watching if you're interested in silent horror and/or Christensen.