Lisa, Lisa

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mostly accurate

Lisa, Lisa
aka Axe
aka The Virgin Slaughter
aka California Axe Massacre
Director: Frederick R. Friedel
Released: 1977 (filmed 1974)
Starring: Leslie Lee, Jack Canon, Frederick R. Friedel, Ray Green, Douglas Powers
Running time: 65 min
Genre: exploitation, horror, rape & revenge

Get me a glass of water, then drink it yourself, it’ll give you something to do. Dusk. A slim girl in the distance (It’s totally Lisa!) walks swiftly across a lawn and enters a creepy-looking, rural farmhouse with a big scary tree in front of it.

Later that evening, in the big bad city, three graduates (or possibly drop-outs) of the Tarantino Academy of Criminality are powerwalking through the lobby of an apartment building in their best business/crime suits. Feet. Feet. Feet. Chandelier. Chandelier. Chandelier. Elevator. One, two, three, four, ninth floor. Steele (Canon) and his large, dim-witted associate, Lomax (Green), looking so much like wannabe Jules and Vincents, step out of the elevator followed by their sloppy, Bob Ross-lookin’, ‘fro-master understudy, Nice Guy Billy (Friedel). Seems another associate of theirs, a gentleman named Aubrey, has messed up, crossed them in some way. Perhaps he missed a payment or slighted someone he shouldn’t have? (No1curr!) They break into Aubrey’s apartment and wait for him to return, Billy watching from the window as Lomax, who seems oddly fascinated and possibly aroused by all sorts of different fabrics, plays with one of  Aubrey’s blouses. They catch him slippin’ and get the drop on him as he comes in with his lover Harold. Nice Guy Billy stays at the window, keeping a lookout for any happy little policemen as Lomax and Steele torture, humiliate and beat Aubrey. Harold covers his eyes and I think he cries a little. Not satisfied with the thorough thrashing he’s just handed out, Steele whips out his straight razor to Mr. Blonde Aubrey’s nose off, but Billy intervenes. Aubrey is already dead. With the window clear and seeing what happened to his man and expecting the same, Harold, not really being the stoic sort, saves himself the torture by jumping out the window to the pavement twelve nine floors below. With two deaths worth of heat on them now, the trio head out to the country to find a nice place to lay low, have some fresh fruit, and wait for all of this to blow over.

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cue “little green bag”

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marvin, vincent, and jules

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only the first unspeakable shirt

Back at the creepy farmhouse, a pretty, if sad and tired-looking young Lisa rolls her paralyzed granddad through the house and checks the fridge for breakfast fixings.

On the road, the Criminals Three stop off at a small, rural, roadside gas and grocery. Not having much  of an appetite after an evening of murder and whining about not knowing there was going to be murder, Billy stays in the car and asks for just some nuts. There’s nuts alright. Steele, completely missing the point of going out to the country to lay low, flips shit when his fruit isn’t fresh enough and chucks it at the poor, timid cashier. She tries to avoid trouble by offering to give him some of the fruit. Sensing her fear and being a Grade A psychopath, he pounces. With help from Lomax, he terrorizes the poor checkout girl with the really ugly shirt. They toss some fruit and shoot the place up. Apple. Bang. Apple. Bang. Apple. Bang. Melon. Clumsy double entendre about melons. They force her to remove her unfathomably ugly blouse. Humiliation. Abuse. Catsup and cola bukkake. Billy gets his nuts (which he doesn’t even eat after all of that trouble) and they’re back on the road.

Lisa, meanwhile, is gathering up the day’s food. Eggs for breakfast. A freshly beheaded chicken bleeding all over the sink for later. She takes gramps up a raw egg for breakfast. Washes him. Prepares to shave him, but never quite gets around to it, due to the Reservoir Dunces pulling up outside. They snoop around a bit and force their way inside. A secluded farmhouse, defended only by one small girl and a quadriplegic old man makes for a perfect place to hide out for a few days. Not given much of a choice, Lisa accommodates them the best that she can, cooking for them, making up rooms. Nice Guy Billy, sickened by the brutality of his companions, wants to help their new hostages, keep them safe, but a late night fabric groping session cranks Lomax’ perv dial to eleven and he sneaks into Lisa’s room for a sickening sexual assault. There’s more to Lisa than they know, however, and she will only tolerate so much before she decides to take action … WITH AN AXE! Well no, actually with a straight razor. BUT THERE WILL BE AN AXE. Eventually.

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a little casual humiliation

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel jack canon california axe massacre video nasty carol miller

cashier wept

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel jack canon california axe massacre video nasty

say “what” one more time

The sharp edge of suspense slams hard into fear. Written as well as directed (and starred in) by Friedel and distributed by trashy exploitation peddler Harry Novak, Lisa, Lisa is a short (barely feature length), and decidedly un-exploitative exploitation film, with advertising far more lurid than the actual movie. Filmed in just eleven days on a shoestring budget, supposedly without the option of retakes, it overcomes its limitations to be an interesting and somber little flick that hints at more than it shows, but somehow still found itself lumped in with the real Video Nasties on the British Board of Film Censorship’s list of banned movies.

Fisty: I must confess: I have a particular fondness for little regional exploitation or horror flicks like this. And that makes me pretty un-objective, but then again, all of these reviews are pretty fucking subjective anyway. But yeah, this went way better than expected. I was actually a bit disinterested in it based on the title and it being a Video Nasty. Yawn, I though, another one. But the reality of Lisa, Lisa  was entirely unexpected.

Bill: It really isn’t what you expect it to be. It has one of those awesome trailers that make you think you’re about to see the most violent and perverse movie ever filmed, but that’s really all misleading hype. I don’t think it was ever meant to be the sleazy slaughterfest they sold it as. It’s more reserved than you’d think it would be, based on re-titles like California Axe Massacre as well as its Video Nasty status. There’s really no extended, uncomfortable assault scenes, like in Night Train Murders or Last House on the Left.

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medium cool

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

things can only get worse from here

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

premonition, memory, fantasy?

Fisty: Yet more evidence for the Video Nasty craze being so much hype! That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t some genuinely weird and perverse stuff going on here. It’s just that much of it is–dare I say it?–understated.

Bill: … or we’re just jaded and desensitized. They do show the sawing of razor on flesh after a simulated rape, or at least attempted rape. It doesn’t look to me like Lomax was all that successful. I’m not sure if you were meant to believe he was and it actually happened or if  it only almost happened. Regardless, there was that razor/flesh moment. The grocery store scene was pretty rough. I mean, they didn’t make her pee her pants, stab her to death, or play with her guts, but they did still terrorize and humiliate the girl. And the murder of Aubrey was pretty violent, with lit cigars stuffed in dude’s mouth and all, and his nose almost coming off. I’ve been thinking about it and I’m wondering if maybe the movie has a sharper edge than it initially seemed to me. It may not be I Spit on Your Grave or Maniac, but maybe it is a little rougher than I was initially giving it credit for. Maybe it’s only understated when compared to other movies of the type? I mean, there was definitely more blood in this than you ever see in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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the big bads

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee jack canon ray green california axe massacre video nasty

the many faces of lisa

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

see any happy little trees up there?

Fisty: Slow down there, turbo! I never said it WASN’T rough. I was genuinely on edge during a lot of the movie, because it was so understated in many ways, yet the vicious perversity of the opening scene informs us right off the bat that these dudes are capable of anything. During the market scene I was convinced that there was no way the poor clerk was getting out alive, and that all the indignities heaped upon her were merely a precursor to an ignominious death. (Is that a spoiler? Is Bill going to yell at me now?) And once the Original Tripso Trio arrived at The Farm (Tangent: I’m going to go ahead and proper just about all the nouns in this here joint because Lisa, Lisa is some metaphorical-allegorical shit, yo.), I removed myself from the couch to my tenter and settled in on the hooks because SOMETHING WAS SURE TO HAPPEN.

And eventually, it did. But first I had to wait –on tenterhooks!–while Lisa drifted about in her ivory dress, tending chickens, collecting eggs, killing them, preparing meals, shaving her grandfather, staring at eggs, watching chicken blood drip (still more exciting that watching paint dry!), and so on. Do not get me wrong–all of this builds tension (and confusion) admirably. And it also serves to make us all a little uneasy. Who is Lisa, really? And her grandfather? Where are her parents? What happened to Gramps? Is he afraid of her? What happened to Lisa? Did anything happen to her, or is she just … that way? None of those questions are ever answered, but Friedel gives us just enough–a mere taste, really–to speculate.

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fore-something or other

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

small pleasures

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee douglas powers california axe massacre video nasty

only the lonely

Bill: Okay. That’s good. I was just worried that we were underselling the brutality of the movie and making it sound like a particularly boring Lifetime drama.  Also, stop spoiling things.

I love that so much is left unexplained. I feel like most movies, especially modern movies, have a tendency to over-explain things, spoon-feeding you a bunch of unnecessary background info. What did Aubrey do to deserve his beating? Where are Lisa’s parents? Where did that clerk get such an ugly blouse? What is the ideal tomato soup/blood ratio to keep someone from realizing they’re eating blood? Who cares? This is the story of  Lisa and the Three Thugs and you get only what you need to understand what happens when they meet. All the other details are left to you to ponder and that vagueness and ambiguity is good. They keep you thinking and wondering long after you’ve finished watching.

I’ve gone back and forth wondering if gramps was trying stuff with Lisa and that’s how he ended up in that chair to begin with. She does tend to go for the neck (at least she did with Lomax and the chicken) and that would support the idea of her injuring him in a way that could cause his paralysis. And this would also provide some insight into why Lisa seems so emotionally stunted. But it also could’ve been a disease or accident that left him like he is and Lisa might just be … that way. Concerning the scene in which grandpa sees Lisa in action and gets a faceful of blood spatter: I saw him shaking and thought that meant he was terrified, terrified of Lisa and what she was capable of, but you had a different interpretation, that that was an excited glee in gramps. This was maybe the most excitement he’s seen since he’s been in that chair and he’s loving the carnage. It’s just like the war! The great thing about Lisa, Lisa is that both views are valid. It could be either and you can easily make a case for both.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

look…

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

i’m just not okay

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

being flippant right now

But I really do think he was scared. Lisa is just a scary person. She doesn’t seem to realize that people aren’t eggs. She breaks an egg … oh well! She kicks some dirt over it to cover up her accident and goes on her way. She kills a man … oh well! She hacks him up and sticks his pieces in a trunk to hide her crime.  No difference. Actually, even adding the “oh well” is wrong, because she never has so much as an “oops” look on her face. No matter what she is doing, being attacked, struggling, cooking dinner, eating a cookie or killing someone, her expression never changes. She’s empty. Michael Myers emotes more than this girl. And it’s more than just the way she deals with the crimes with no emotion, it’s also how she cares for her grandpa. She doesn’t seem to recognize him as a human being either. She never speaks a single word to the man. She never reassures him or defends him or tells him what she’s about to do or why. There’s no, “Good morning, grandpa,” or, “I’m going to go get started on breakfast now.” He is completely helpless as scary strangers are loose in his house and she never even acknowledges that this could be traumatic for him. He’s not a person she cares for, he’s just a list of things she needs to do each day. The only time you get a hint at any kind of inner feelings is in a brief moment where she contemplates suicide and you see how lonely she might be feeling. But even then, her face is blank. Ending herself would just be another chore. It’s sad, sure, but even more so, it’s chilling

Fisty: Even when she’s disposing of the first body, it seems to be a vague sort of nod to the etiquette of dealing with houseguests (Never leave a corpse where a guest will find it!) rather than an impulse born of of fear. I’m not sure whether I’d consider self-preservation to even be one of her motives in disposing of the first corpse, as her suicidal gestures and cavalier chicken & egg consumption seem to indicate someone with a decidedly laissez-faire attitude toward life and its preservation.

Whatever the reason is for Lisa’s (apparent) impassivity and quiescence, we’ll never know it. That she waits until Lomax’s rape attempt to strike may hint at a history of sexual abuse. Perhaps it was Gramps, and that is the reason she cares for him with her casual cruelty. Perhaps it was before that, with one of her missing parents–could that be why they’re AWOL? It may have not been familial at all, but a My Sweet Audrina moment under a golden raintree. Or perhaps she’s simply schizophrenic, or even brain damaged somehow, whether via birth defect or neglect. Maybe it’s solipsism syndrome, which would explain how Lisa treats everyone else in the film as though they were things without meaning. I CAN DO THIS ALL NIGHT, FOLKS! Maddening as it is, we can only speculate.

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aftermath

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

lomax could be a real drag

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee ray green california axe massacre video nasty

here’s lisa

However, Lisa only APPEARS to be entirely passive until the attempted rape. Though her protests at the presence of the Not-Quite-Ready-for-Tarantino Gang appear to have no force behind them, and though she meekly acquiesces to their home invasion, the lady doth in fact protest. She subsides again into her apparent apathy, perhaps feeling like it’s best to ride the storm out and have them on their way–but not before contemplating suicide as an out, that is how much she dislikes or fears their presence. But it is at that moment there before us in the mirror that she suffers an existential crisis, undergoing a seachange into something rich and strange–and not a little violent. Blink, and you might miss it, but the violation of her person by Lomax is a moment Lisa prepares for, and her actions then are not at all impulsive. It is the invasion, not the attack, that is the wellspring for all her further actions. Or… I’m full of shit and she was always that solipsistic monster.

Bill: I’m not sure her suicide contemplation was really as transformative a moment as you think it was. I think she probably has the same moment in the mirror everyday.  She has nothing to live for. She feels no love, has no wants, no desire for or prospects at romance, no goals. If gramps is just a chore, she is just a chore-doing machine. She has nothing that gives her any kind of joy, except maybe, MAYBE, she gets a little from her cookies, if she is even capable of feeling joy. She does seem lonely and, I guess, trapped in her non-life, but when Bob Ross showed interest in her, I never got the sense that she ever even considered him as a way out. But she did seem to let him think he might be her savior, maybe just to protect herself or–I think more likely–as a way of biding time and waiting for her moment. Maybe Lomax’s attack triggered her violent turn, but she was a bit empty even before that. I think she probably already was that “solipsistic monster” and Lomax’s rape play just forced her to move up the timetable on what was possibly already something she was considering. I’m not so sure these are her first victims. I have no concrete reason for thinking it, but I think she has killed other people that came to the house before. Maybe just some dumb kids traveling the country or, more likely, a traveling salesman or drifter farmhand that sought to take advantage of her situation.

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who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

axe-ing for it

And I’m sure that I’d know all of this for sure if I could only figure out what all the broken eggs mean. They have to mean something! There has to be some symbolism to the fucking eggs! It’s maddening. I can’t stop thinking about the eggs and what they could mean. There’s some secret code that I’m just not figuring out. Lisa is actually easier to find some message in. Lisa could represent, especially through her murder of the guys and how it equates with her casual killing of the chicken, rural folks’ more realistic views of life and nature. City people don’t kill their own chickens. They don’t deal with death daily. So we city peeps can see the country people as being harsh or unfeeling, like Lisa. And that freaks us out. But those damn eggs…

Fisty: I’m convinced the eggs and chickens are just symbolic of how indifferent Lisa is to all other people, or the world, really. They’re irrelevant to her, just things as carelessly dropped or killed and eaten as cared for. Which maybe tells us all we need to know about her background and upbringing.

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out, damn spot

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee douglas powers california axe massacre video nasty

hell is murky . and also lisa.

lisa lisa axe frederick r friedel leslie lee california axe massacre video nasty

RIFE WITH MEANING

What you mentioned about the gang’s perception of Lisa (and ours as well) as city dwellers looking askance at country folk plays into my Big Theory about the film, namely that it’s a riff on “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” You remember that one, right? The fable where the city mouse visits the country mouse and scoffs at his simple pleasure, then the country mouse visits the city mouse where they dine like kings but end up chased off by some dogs? That’s Lisa, Lisa! But like, there’s murder instead! The big, bad city gents come rolling into the bleak countryside looking for a cozy little mousehole, and maybe a little humiliation of the weak to boot. While they think the country is a gentle, quiet place populated by rube and bumpkins, to be used and abused as they please, they find instead that it is a place far more savage than they can handle. They are not, however, the bumbling but civilized middle class victims of films like The Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Steele’s gang are thugs, violent and murderous, but they’re also fish out of water in the country, and when in Lisa’s milieu, they find that her mute and dispassionate brutality easily triumphs over their machinations; they’re as fragile as the eggs she casually and ruthlessly crushes. Aesop concludes his fable with the moral that it is better to live in peace than in continual fear, and Steele’s gang undoubtedly wish they’d never fled the city they understand for the inexplicable terrors of the empty countryside.

In most horror hixploitation films the rural inhabitants are depicted as grim or manic bogeymen, inbred or even mutated, and with all manner of undesirable behaviors and perverse desires. Lisa, Lisa is then a contradiction, for Lisa and her grandfather are eerily silent and seemingly placid. Here it is the city dwellers who swagger and boast; when they transgress they do it knowingly, purposefully. In punishing them for their misdeeds, Lisa recalls John and Estelle Collingwood in Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. It’s impossible to not draw parallels, for both films feature criminals on the run taking refuge in the country and a sexually assaulted young girl, with revenge taken for the crime. Obviously, Lisa survives the (attempted?) rape and exacts her own revenge, and neither does her revenge feature the same torment as that of the Collingwoods’ descent into savagery, but like LHotL, Lisa, Lisa too is a deeply sad film.

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meat’s meat, and a man’s gotta eat

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axe

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ME TIE DOUGHTY WALKER

Stay away from Lisa! In Lisa, Lisa we have perhaps one of the finest examples of what a bizarre and convoluted mess the whole Video Nasties uproar really was, as well as a stellar example of a once thriving regional movie scene. While brutally violent and often deeply uncomfortable, Lisa, Lisa is hardly the immoral or obscene bogey of the Video Nasties craze. Lisa herself is amoral as an animal, and both she and Friedel come down hard on the depravities of the gang…with Lisa’s own depravities. Yet for all the violence and startling grotesquerie, Lisa, Lisa is an often quiet, suspenseful (dig that jarring, atonal score!), even thoughtful meditation on mental illness and family, in the form of a horror/exploitation film. A wonderful remnant of a cheap, fly by night & the seat of the pants era of regional filmmaking, don’t miss this slice of Americana.

Note: A recent interview of Frederick R. Friedel by Shock Til You Drop dropped a bomb about a remake of Lisa, Lisa being in the works, perhaps within the next year! Let’s hope whomever helms this one doesn’t take the Zombie approach of cramming in exposition… 

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AfterDark HorrorFest Recaps, Part II: Slaughter, Wicked Little Things, Hood of Horror, and The Reeds

In celebration of After Dark’s annual HorrorFest and their 8 Films to Die For, we’re pounding out a couple of shortie omnibus reviews of eight releases from HorrorFests past.

should be called euthanasia

Slaughter

Fleeing an abusive stalker ex-boyfriend, Faith relocates to a dingy apartment in the big city to find herself and like, do art. While out one night at a club, she meets-cute/creepy sassy Lola, a country girl with a twang this thick and bad luck with men. Lola lives outside the city on an apparently idyllic farm, complete with horses, pond, and slaughterhouse. The latter is operated by Lola’s father and brother, largely shadowy figures who lurk, sneer, and growl at Faith when she comes visiting. After her ex tracks her down, Faith decides to move out to the farm and room with Lola, but she starts to wonder about her new pal when she notices all the dates and sexing Lola has with random men who never show up again, leaving behind valuable personal effects. Faith begins wondering whether pigs are the only things being slaughtered on the farm, but her suspicions lead her to uncover a monster.

Fisty: Slaughter sucks. It just suck, suck, sucks. It’s tedious and totally lacking in the suspense that should be increasing during the painfully looooooong build up. The first forty-fiveish minutes are supposed to develop the characters of Lola and Faith, but it’s so poorly done that I could not have cared less about them. But it just keeps on chugging along to an incredibly anti-climactic climax, never building any sense of urgency or tension. Oh, and it relies on the absolutely lowest common denominator for a cheap end “twist”: child murder. Not for any real reason except they had nothing left to give and wanted to beef it up a bit, leave viewers with something more memorable than the turgid snorefest they’d sat through. Hopewell et alia attempt to deepen their shallow little flick with Statements about Women and Abuse, Women and Friendship, Women and Sexuality, blah blah blah, but it never comes off as more than broseph posturing in WS 101. And to add insult to injury, there’s an almost total lack of gore; the serial killings are all offstage and never more than incidental, and the finale deaths are pretty ephemeral. And the music is TERRIBLE! Don’t bother.

Bill: The first few minutes of Slaughter are constantly going in and out of focus and the camera jerks and jitters around. This is meant, I suppose, to be disorienting, to make the viewer feel like the poor girl being victimized. Maybe it even did make me feel like her, if she was just really, really annoyed at being killed. This is followed by boring driving/moving in scenes with dialog that sounds like it was read from a cue card and written by a 50 year old that wanted to sound hip and a boring club scene that appeared to have been shot in a smoky basement with one strobe light. Then the torture begins! Not in the movie, on my couch, as I realize how much time is left in this flick. (“Eighty five more minutes!?!!”) There’s plenty more to be annoyed by as well. Faith decides to stage an intervention for that sex-addicted slut Lola after seeing her have sex one time with one guy. Ugh. Repression ain’t just a river in Egypt, is it Faith? The establishing shots never quite fit right with the interior shots they switch to, making many of the transitions feel disjointed. Lola’s male family members, who are supposed to be threatening, never seem particularly menacing at all. Neither does Faith’s boyfriend, who should have been a real terror to have made her move to another city to avoid him. The scenes that are meant to be tense just aren’t. You only know that they were supposed to have been tense, because the music indicates that they would have been, had they have been scenes in some other movie. I have recurring nightmares about losing my teeth, so the tooth extraction scenes should have squicked me out, but they didn’t. It was all much too boring. The “disturbing” ending just made me happy. I was elated the whole thing was finally over. There is one thing about Slaughter that is well done and effective: It uses some tricky time distortion effects to make the whole movie seem like it’s occurring in real time. I mean, it’s 96 minutes long, but you will feel like you’ve been watching for days, even weeks!

I am actually angry at Fisty for making me watch this. She knew what is was like and she still let me watch it!

your eastern bloc roots are showing

Wicked Little Things

Superdramatic Old Timey Time! In a mine! Child labor! Tragedy! Flash-forward to the present, where recently widowed Karen Tunny is relocating herself and her daughters Sarah and Emma to her husband’s family’s old homestead deep in Pennsylvania mining country. Despite creepy warnings from a halfwitted hick storekeeper and the complete lack of livability of the house itself, the ladies move in. While Karen pores through scrapbooks and old photos, Sarah kicks it with local teens who mention the “zombies” in the hills, and Emma amuses herself with a new playmate Mary, who just might be dead. Warned to stay in at night by the creepy locals who don’t seem to mind the numerous disappearances int he area, Karne has some gnarly dreams about killer Old Timey children, and a helpful neighbor Mr Hanks paint their door with blood. It turns out the the ghosts of the miner children who died in a collapse haunt the hills as bloodthirsty zombies (!), preying upon any whose blood they don’t share. Karen is in danger because she’s an outsider, but the girls ought to be safe. That is until the presence of William Carlton, last descendant of the rapacious mine owner who caused the collapse riles them kids up. Emma disappears, people get eaten, and it’s all Karen, Sarah, and Mr Hanks can do to try to stay alive.

Bill: Hit Girl! Chloe Moretz makes a pre Kick-Ass and Let Me In appearance here and even says asshole. Seeing as how her calling a few guys cunts in the trailer for Kick-Ass contributed to that film’s success, “Chloe Moretz cursing,” should’ve been the tagline for Wicked Little Things. Another good one would have been, “Scooby Doo without the meddling kids and their dumb dog.” This movie has almost everything an episode of Scooby would need: scary local legend; weird caretaker-type character marking doors with blood; greedy land developer; eerie abandoned mine; revenge-seeking, zombie children standing in the fog with miner’s tools, looking scary… Though, thankfully, the supernatural in WLT is very, very real. The use of all these standard spook story elements are precisely what make the flick work. It has the feel of a real local legend or maybe a good campfire tale. In the beginning of the film, Sarah says that the woods remind her of Sleepy Hollow and she is so right. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or John Carpenter’s The Fog is exactly what WLT resembles. This would be a fun one to watch around Halloween. My favorite bit of dialog: Hanks, after he’d been asked if he was responsible for the smeared blood on the door, “You don’t have to thank me.”

Fisty: Dude, I totally laughed at that, too. Though it’s cliché after cliché loaded upon cliché, WLT is a pretty neat little flick. It takes bunches of longstanding horror conventions (creepy abandoned house, family relocating after trauma, superstitious locals, etc) and strings them together into a fairly tight package–and what’s more, an enjoyable movie. There’s not a whole lot going on, the script often stumbles (the deathless dialog occasionally approaches the transcendentally inane: “Are you coming?” “Yeah. I mean, sure.”), and there are numerous holes, but it is pretty to look at in terms of scenery (both human and natural), and it keeps moving at a good clip for the most part. The flesh-eating ghosts/zombie things–whatever you would call them–are an interesting touch, not common in Western tradition, and are more than a little disturbing. Overall, a worthwhile genre flick that does what it sets out to do.

bitch IS a movie

Hood of Horror

An animated opening segmizzle, a la Creepshow 2, tiz-ells the stizzle of Devon, a young gangsta who accidentally capped his sister with a stray bullet during a vehicular gun battle. When an emissary from Hiz-ell confronts him with his culpability in her death, Devon exchanges his life and service for that of his lil’ sista. Tasked with gathering souls for Tha Devil, Devon is branded with an HoH, marking him as the Hound of Hell. Switching to live action, the new Hound (played, of course, by the S to the N, double O to the P to the D, O, double G) narrates three ‘hood tales of greed, gore, murder, madness and supernatural mayhem: Crossed Out, featuring Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams, in which a young graffiti artist is granted the power to smoke some taggin’ ass fools by simply crossing out their tags; The Scumlord, with Ernie Hudson, Sydney Tamiia Poitier and Brande Roderick, which is a Three Stooges-like story about a privileged, racist, Texan busta who must live with his father’s old ‘Nam unit, all black men, for one year before he can come into his inheritance; And Rhapsody Askew, featuring Method Man, Diamond Dallas Page and Jason Alexander, about a young rapper, SOD, who blows up after meeting a fellow MC named Quan and lets the bitches and bank go to his head.

Bill: I love hood horror, so, naturally, I was excited to watch Snoop’s Hood of Horror and, now, I’m even happier to say that I loved it. The stories are predictable hood fables and there’s no real horror in the movie, at least not any effective horror. If this flick scares you, you really are a mark-ass busta. The production values seem to vary between segments, the script is silly, the whole thing suffers from a shot-on-video feel, and some of the acting is amateurish, if you’re describing it kindly. None of that matters, however, because the movie is still damn fun. If any of the following scenes appeal to you, you will like Hood of Horror: Snoop exploding an annoying chihuahua; a person having caviar forcibly pumped into them until their abdomen explodes; a pint-sized demon vomiting into a punch bowl; a human aerosol can; a gangsta slipping in the beer he just poured for his dead homey, faceplanting his own forty; or Winston Zeddemore pretending to be the lovechild of John Rambo and Jigsaw. Hudson is kind of slumming it with a flick like this, but it’s great fun to watch him. This movie is worth watching just for the awesome cast. None of them give the best or even coolest performances of their lives and they mostly have small parts, but it’s still wonderful to see them all together in one flick. Truly a boon for Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon fans. Snoop has once again proven he deserves his spot as one of my personal heroes by giving me a movie where he delivers the line, “Pretty as a picture. In fact, bitch is a picture.” Fer shizzle.

Fisty: I was kinda disappointed by HoH. It capped the ass of our Hoodrat Horror mini-fest when I was sick last week, and I liked it the least out of the three movies we watched (other entries being Leprechaun in the Hood and Tales from the Hood)–but just barely. I love me a good anthology movie, and I love me some Snoop (because I am the whitest of white girls), but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. The gore was good, very cartoony and gruesomely fun, but it could have gone further. The humor was the same way, though I thought Snoop nicely channeled The Cryptkeeper. And there were NO TITTIES. There was like a half a side boob that we stared at, trying desperately to discern a nipple, but that was it. How is that even possible in a film with Snoop’s name on it? HoH really needed to be OTT–yeah, you know me. BUT! It had some very strong direction, and surprisingly high production values–and though the stories were somewhat mundane revenge plots, they also weren’t preachy, which was something TftH fell into at the end. Out of all Snoop’s forays into horror, Bones is still best, The Wash is still the most horrific, and Hood of Horrors is just fine.

donna appears nowhere in this film

The Reeds

Late twenty-something couples Mel & Joe and Helen & Chris set up their friend Laura on a blind date with Nick for a weekend boating trip in the Norfolk Broads. Though the expedition gets off to a rocky start when their reserved boat is unavailable, Joe and Chris persuade the crotchety boatman to rent them a different vessel, the Corsair Star. When they arrive at the all but abandoned boatyard that houses the Corsair Star, they find some hooligan/hoodlums hanging about all over the boat. Silent, but for a barking dog, they stare dully yet menacingly at the prospective boaters. Only after Laura chides a lovely redhead for running out in front of her car do they respond, following the redhead’s signal to leave the boat, still as silent as ever. Shrugging off that bit of weirdness, the group set sail, enjoying an afternoon of golden sunshine, wine, and silly antics. As the day progresses, however, they discover their map is woefully out of date, forcing them into uncharted territory. Spying another boat, they head into the reeds after it, but darkness falls and there is still no one else in sight. When a terrible accident grievously injures one member of the party and strands their vessel in the water, they are left vulnerable to the terrors lurking in the reeds.

Fisty: At risk of spoilering The Reeds (and getting a vicious beatdown from Bill), I want to defend The Reeds from detractors who claim it’s a rehash of Triangle. Now, I wasn’t Triangle‘s biggest fan–it was okay, but superobvious–but I don’t see the two as being particularly similar. There are two entirely different sets of circumstances going on in the two movies, and while Triangle approaches the concept from a very psychologically driven, post-modern angle (ha), The Reeds takes an approach that fits in much better with traditional folklore. And the twist ending isn’t all that twisty; too many people misinterpret it, which also leads to the erroneous comparison. Plus, it makes sense and is a conclusion viewers can easily draw from watching the movie. Is that too much? Other than that, The Reeds starts out very pretty and sunshiney, without too much of a sense of impending doom, which I think sometimes movies harp on a bit. The characters are pretty well developed rather than hateable interchangeable ciphers; even the token unpleasant chap isn’t that bad. It’s quietly compelling, and though it does falter here and there, has enough occasional eeriness and energy to keep a viewer’s attention.

Bill: Ponderous, man, really ponderous. The Reeds keeps you engaged. It’s not clear early on what is happening and things are muddied further as the movie progresses and yet more mysterious elements are added to the story. There’s something or some things stalking through the reeds, caged corpses sunken into the water, possible ghosts, untrustworthy locals and even stranger things still. there were a few times that I leaned forward and stroked my beard in thought, trying to figure out how it all fit together. It does, too.  All fit together, I mean. It doesn’t spoon-feed you explanations of how what happens is happening (or happened) but you do see why and when and how each event circles back to affect others. I do think the end is more open to interpretation than Fisty likes to present it. Unlike a lot of whiny bitches on the internet, however, I think this is a good thing. I want to watch the movie again just to see what clues I can spot about the meaning of the ending now that I know what’s going on. That’s not a bad thing, to watch a movie and still have enough interest in it and curiosity about it to want to watch again. Performances and atmosphere, as well as some gore gags, that transcend the film’s low budget, will keep things exciting as you take on the clue-sniffing second viewing.

That pretty much wraps it up for our reviews of Horrorfest movies past, but we’ll be sure to cover a few more next year. Check out this year’s offerings on DVD March 23rd.

After Dark HorrorFest Recaps, Part I: Lake Mungo, Nightmare Man, Dying Breed, Frontière(s)

In celebration of After Dark’s annual HorrorFest and their 8 Films to Die For, we’re pounding out a couple of shortie omnibus reviews of eight releases from HorrorFests past.

still waters

Lake Mungo

Alice, a pretty but increasingly despondent 16 year-old, cannot breathe under water.  Sadly, this means she’s likely dead when she disappears during a family trip to a reservoir where she and her brother were swimming.  After driving home backwards (their car was acting screwy and would only go in reverse) and daughterless (while the authorities searched for Alice–or what was left of her,) the Palmer family wait for any word about their girl.  She does turn up but, as I mentioned previously, she makes a very poor fish and her father is forced to identify her body.  Before they are even able to begin the grieving process, the walls of the Palmer house begin to bleed and long dead corpses surface in their pool.  No, I’m kidding, but strange things do happen.  Alice is sensed, even seen, and cameras begin to pick up strange, eerie images that may or may not be proof of something supernatural.  With media attention focused on them and a psychic attempting to help, they begin learning some of the secrets that haunted Alice, and why Alice may be haunting them.

Part of Horr0rfest 2010, Lake Mungo is an Aussie mockumentary that tells the story of Alice and the Palmer family through interviews with the family, friends, assorted individuals involved with them, and the recordings and pictures they capture.  It’s kind of like Paranormal Activity if Ken Burns had made it, only way better than that sounds.

Fisty: This wasn’t quite what I expected, which was a pretty straightforward ghost story mockumentary. A lot of horror films these days rely upon a final twist to add depth and interest to what are often otherwise staid genre stories, and Lake Mungo has its share of twists, but Joel Anderson has crafted a thoughtful and sometimes beautiful meditation on grief and loss from the various turns the Palmer family’s story takes. Alice had secrets, but they’re not all what might be expected. As the documentary progresses, our skepticism ebbs and flows from the evidence that comes in, sometimes seemingly proving Alice’s existence beyond death, and sometimes disproving it entirely. By the very end, I was left with a feeling of profound sadness–and the worst case of chickenskin yet from a movie. It literally gave me chills.

Bill: Spine-tingling! That’s not hype either. Really. There was a few moments in Lake Mungo where I was so creeped out that I felt what was almost like an electric current run through me. Not from any jump scare either. There is only one real jump scare in the movie that I can recall. This intensity comes from pure, palpable dread. Anderson will let you know through the interviews that you’re going to see … something … but it’s never quite as easy to spot as you’d think, so they have to  slowly zoom in, your eyes searching all the time, until you land on the part of the image that just shouldn’t be there, and you feel the goosebumps spread up your arms. Everyone feels so real, their sorrow so genuine, that they raise the sense of reality of the whole affair, so that the things, the manifestations, if that’s what they are, that appear in the photos and videos seem like so more than just a fiction. This may be the only mockumentary I’ve ever seen where my suspension of disbelief was absolute. The movie made me afraid to use cameras. It’s sad and it’s frightening. Just watch it.

And a quick aside: There have been a lot of really good movies coming out of Australialand the past few years. Keep it up, Aussies. It’s great.

dude looks like a lady

Nightmare Man

Ellen believes a demon-thing called the Nightmare Man that resembles an African fertility mask she bought to help her conceive with her lousy Latin lover is haunting her. Everyone else thinks she’s schizophrenic. Bad news, Ellen: If you think a tacky mask will help you get pregnant, you are indeed mental. While husband William is driving her to an institution conveniently located in the woods miles from anywhere, they run out of gas. Doting husband leaves Ellen alone in the car in the woods to go fetch some, and that’s when shit gets real. Well, the Nightmare Man appears to. Suddenly, Ellen’s paranoia coalesces into a hideous mask-faced assassin who chases her through the woods with a knife, and is vulnerable to a good nards kneeing. In a nearby vacation house, former college chums (and lovers) Mia and Trinity are rusticating with their current beaux, drinking wine and playing Truth or Dare, until Ellen shows up with the Nightmare Man in hot pursuit. When Mia’s boytoy Ed bites it, she busts out a crossbow and then a rifle, and is prepared to defend herself and her friends from the demon outside. Unfortunately, Ellen soon reveals a much worse horror inside …

Directed by schlock jock, Rolfe Kanefsky, and starring the greatest ass working in current B-horror, Tiffany Shepis, Nightmare Man was selected as one of the 8 Films to Die For in Horrorfest 2007.

Fisty: I was so pissed at Nightmare Man by two minutes in, and my mood did not significantly improve until people started actually dying. I thought it was an interesting idea poorly executed. And by “poorly executed,” I mean it was damn awful. The straight-to-video, shot on camcorder look emphasized just how cheap the whole thing was, and the acting and story were dreadful. The pseudo-sexy non-tension between Mia and Trinity (gag) was lame, as was the clumsy, hamfisted use of Mia as a sexual object; there are myriad ways to convey sexiness without having a woman dress and pose like a crappy stripper working the third stage for dollar bills. That first half seemed more like a Skinemax feature than a horror movie, as it created no sense of either anticipation or dread–except the anticipation of it finally ending and dread that there was so much left to get through. But, I will say that at the very end, past all the logical improbabilities and lame duck attempts at naughty humor, it did get kinda funny in a very over the top manner. If Kanefsky had just stuck with that ludicrous style through the whole film, it would have fared better.

Bill: Fisty is right on with all of her criticisms, but I’m going to be way more forgiving, because none of it stopped me from enjoying Nightmare Man. It never really hits me that there is someone in the world named Rolfe until I see the name pop up in one of the guy’s movies. It makes me lol.  So, for me, this flick was bringing the lulz from the very start. It’s an abominably stupid film with dialog so bad, coupled with acting so terrible, that a lot of it seems as if the actors are reading their lines stiffly from the  poorly translated subtitles on a Chinese bootleg DVD of the movie they are actually acting in. It’s also full of dumb little errors and idiotic behavior, like when Mia, armed with a rifle, sees the Nightmare Man and runs back into the house without taking a shot at him with the loaded rifle that she went out specifically to get for the very purpose of shooting him. All of this sends me into a lollering tizzy. I even lmao‘d at a few of the intended laughs, maybe because I have the mentality of a 15 year-old. Speaking of … Tiffany Shepis.  Hominahominahomina! I actually became a fan of her after seeing her in (and out) of a silver jumpsuit in another of Kanesky’s movies that I like, The Hazing. She was the best thing in the movie, though Bull from Night Court was pretty awesome as well. Nightmare Man is Z-grade schlock, at about the same level as softcore com-porns like Genie in a String Bikini and The Bare Wench Project, only with less sex and a little more horror.  Not as good as The Hazing, but I was still rolfemao.  See what I did there?

having pie and eating it too

Dying Breed

Eight years after her sister, Ruth, drowned while searching for the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger, Nina returns to the island to continue her dead sister’s work, taking along three friends: boyfriend Matt, his childhood friend Jack, and Jack’s girlfriend Rebecca.  The farther into the wilds of Tasmania they go, the more like Deliverance their trip becomes, encountering (and stupidly getting into trouble with) the increasingly strange and sinister locals.  As they hunt for the tiger, an even more dangerous carnivore begins hunting them, the twisted, inbred descendant of Tasmania’s  legendary cannibal convict, Alexander Pierce.

An Aussie box office flop, Dying Breed was given a second chance as part of the third year of the After Dark Horrorfest in 2009.

Bill: There’s a scene in Silver Bullet that shows the drunken, white trash father of little Marty Coslaw’s future potential girlfriend sitting down to watch some good old pro wrasslin’.  As he’s taking his seat, on TV, one wrassler catches a mighty blow to the dangly bits and Daddy DrunkTrash grabs his junk and calls out, “Oh! Ohhh, that hurts mah parts!”  No one’s balls get pummeled in Dying Breed, but there are a few great gags that got a similar visceral response out of me.  I “oooh”-ed, “ow”e-d, “oh”-ed and “ugh”-ed at nasty flesh rippings, naked butchered corpses, heads in bear traps, arrows through faces, and an awesome slithery eel-thing popping out of a dead chick’s mouth. Nothing I haven’t seen before, sure, but it’s done here with a minimum of digital effects.  No bit-&-byte splatter or slow-mo to detract from it’s effectiveness.  That’s pretty much Dying Breed in a nutshell:  Standard backwoods hicksploitation cannibal story, but done damn well, the way it ought to be. There are a few nice surprises and twists, however, and some familiar faces for horror fans. Leigh Whannell from the Saw series is in here, as is Nathan Phillips from Snakes on a Plane and Wolf Creek.  Tying the story of the movie into the real legend of Alexander Pierce and the search for the Tasmanian tiger was a great move.  It just makes it that much better for folklore and cryptozoology nuts like myself.  Dying Breed may just be the last in a long line of movies about city slickers going where they don’t belong, but it sure does got a purty mouth. Squeeeeeal!

Fisty: I love Tasmanian tigers, and pretty much my favorite thing about Dying Breed was the chance to see my favorite cryptids prancing about–even though I then got all drunkenly teary-eyed about them being (likely) extinct. Assholes! That’s not to say that’s the only thing I liked about it, however. Jody Dwyer handles genre conventions aptly, pounding out a reliable little tale of City and Country Mice meeting … and eating one another. It’s a very slick, professional-looking movie, with a gorgeous setting that’s used beautifully. Two caveats: I object to Dwyer’s having some of the cannibals just leap right into chomping on a live or barely dead person’s face. Cannibals usually butcher and cook their meat, just like anyone else, because they’re people–whether they be pescetarians, or chomping on Tofurkey. It’s a cheap way to emphasize the bestiality of character that actually displays itself easily through most of the other actions taken by the cannibals. So fuck that. Also, the very end–one of the aforementioned twist endings–is just silly. Dwyer tried to cram like, fifteen different endings into one, and the movie as a whole suffers. I was really digging it until then. I’d still recommend it.

nothing very exciting

Frontier(s)

Panic on the streets of London Paris!  Cars are burning, people are being hosed, violent protesters are throwing rocks and being beaten by fascist riot squads, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!  Or at least that’s what we see in the stock footage of riots that kicks off the movie.  Taking advantage of the chaos, the pregnant Yasmine, her brother Semi, and three other guys that you won’t care about, being a bunch of  opportunistic thieves, have stolen some cash or something.  I don’t know.  They have a bag of money and cops are shooting at them, so I guess that’s what it was.  On the run, with Semi shot and bleeding all over the place, they split up and make plans to meet up at a hostel off in the countryside, on their way out of the country.  How were they supposed to know that they were running right into the French version of Motel Hell, run by a family of cannibal Nazis?

Frontière(s) was supposed to have been one of the 8 Films to Die For in the 2007 Horrorfest, but it didn’t make the main eight due to it’s NC-17 rating, but was still released on DVD under the After Dark banner.

Bill: I’d heard this was supposed to be some hardcore, ultraviolent, cringe-worthy stuff, but I was more than a little let down.  With the exception of the oven scene, where one poor fella gets roasted alive (pretty awesome,) there was nothing in Frontier(s) that I hadn’t already seen done better or taken further in the movies it seemed to be trying to crib from, namely Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of 1000 Corpses, The Hills Have Eyes, The Descent … even House of Wax … pretty much every mid-2000s horror flick with a bit of a mean streak.  There are even elements in the film that I would swear were taken from Inside and [rec], even though both of those were released in the same year, even months after Frontier(s).  It played like a Best of 2003-2007 montage, only without really using the best bits.  Still, I could forgive the movie for just giving me more of the same, so long as there was something else to like about it, but it isn’t cleverly written, has no real twists, no real nudity to speak of  (a crime when it has a two-couple sex scene, one topless girl, and a hosing down sequence,) is completely devoid of humor or beauty, and doesn’t have a single interesting character in the film.  Even the Nazi cannibals were forgettable and plain.  How is that even possible?!  And the action was near impossible to follow because of all the extreme use of quick cuts and shaky cam.  It’s bloody and it’s violent, but not outrageously, shockingly, disturbingly, creatively, memorably or even entertainingly so.  A solid, “Meh,” though I was slightly amused by the last half hour of the movie, because of Karina Testa’s use of a spot on impersonation of a post-Parkinson’s Michael J. Fox.

Fisty: It’s starts so promisingly and then gets so … not. And uninteresting. It really did seem to me like three different movies mishmashed together, and spiced up with bits appropriated from a thousand other movies. There’s the crime thriller with racial commentary at the beginning, the city dwellers run afoul of country folk torture porn of the middle, and then toward the end we see splashes of a really interesting horror movie built on warped family dynamics. The sibling rivalry between brothers Goetz, Karl, and Hans, as well as the sisters Gilberte and Klaudia (and seriously? Estelle Lefébure’s Gilberte was a strung out hag. Amélie Daure was way more interesting and attractive; we needed more of her), is mostly great, very well done–but not enough of it!–and the moments between Eva and Yasmine are the only ones of beauty in the entire film. I would have enjoyed that movie way more. I did like Karina Testa’s Yasmine, however, and thought she nicely portrayed the effects of shock and constant terror in a way that neatly revisited Marilyn Burns’ Sally. Only for completists.