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Film

GateBuster: Re-Animator

You get a fair amount of weird looks when you tell people one of your favorite movies is Re-Animator.

You get a lot of stuff like “Isn’t Weyoun from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in that?”. Or maybe, “That thing is…REALLY gross, right?”. Or, my personal favorite, “Doesn’t a severed head perform a sex act on Barbara Crampton in that?”

To which I usually reply “Yes.”, “Yes, isn’t it great?!”, and “Yeah, BUT IT’S ALL PRACTICAL EFFECTS!”. Which then, ultimately, garners even weirder looks. Or just altogether abandonment. There is also the matter of its source material’s author being a huge piece of shit. Springing from a popular pulp serial from author H.P. Lovecraft, his prose version bears little resemblance to Stuart Gordon and Jeffery Combs’ filmic version but we still have to wrestle with the obvious legacy of hatred, fear of the other, and bigotry Lovecraft injected into even his most seminal of stories. Even, sadly, Herbert West, Re-Animator amongst them. 

But even despite ALL OF THIS. Even factoring in the bracing, ever evolving legacy of the author who started all this and the “video nasty” reputation the movie was greeted with upon its release. Re-Animator still will always mean a great deal to me. It will always be a movie I cherish and want to share with as many people as possible. 

Because it was the movie that finally showed me that horror could be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

I should back up. For those unaware of the blood-soaked blast that is 1985’s Re-Animator, let me first say, why do you hate fun and welcome. First conceptualized as a stage production (and then later adapted in 2011 as a stirring and screamingly entertaining musical starring George “Norm” Wendt), Re-Animator is the bloody brainchild of writer/director Stuart Gordon, a name you’ve surely seen emblazoned and respected down the isles of any self-respecting Horror section of a video store.

A veteran of the “experimental” (read: bloody-as-fuck) theatre scene of Chicago and founder of a troupe called the Organic Theatre Company, Gordon is and was a born and bred “Horror Guy”. Until his death this last year, Gordon was always either behind the camera or behind the keyboard, cooking up some new manner of practical efx-driven horror. More often than not, these works were based on the writings of Lovecraft. Though Gordon had a healthy career away from the pulps, directing a whole gamut of non-horror stuff as well (Honey, I Blew Up The Kid! Robot Jox!), you can tell from the works (and quantity of adaptations) that making Lovecraft and his labyrinthine mythos both accessible and fun for the general horror watching audience was something of a passion of his. 

Edgar Allen Poe would also take up some of his focus and attention later in his career too, bringing along frequent collaborator Jeffery Combs (more on that lovely maniac in a second), but Lovecraft always seemed to be Mr. Gordon’s true muse; both in his filmed and staged works. But it all starts here with ‘85’s Re-Animator, and holy hell is it a great fuckin’ start.

Though the original serial novellas have a somewhat stuffy and haughty tone, Gordon’s Re-Animator, from the jump, seems gleefully irreverent. We open on the idyllic University of Zurich medical center, detailed in a lush matte painting. The eminent Dr. Hans Gruber (no, not that one) has died, but suddenly screams wrack the hospital! The body has been disturbed somehow and is now…ALIVE AGAIN?! Thanks to the clandestine efforts of a little dweeb carrying a vial of Day-Glo green liquid. Gruber thrashes and moans and for a second seems to notice the dweeb when he talks to him; said dweeb being his former student. But then his eyes explode like overripe peaches and his face melts. ALL on camera and largely shot in well-lit close-ups.

“You killed him!”, the attendings scream at the dweeb.

“NO!” he retorts proudly. “I GAVE HIM LIFE!”

Smash cut to a set of immensely arresting credits and a cheeky, string-heavy score from composer Richard Brand. 

And the best part is, the rest of the movie lives up to that opening! Though a…let’s say LIBERAL adaptation of the original serial, Gordon’s Re-Animator displays a confidence you can only find in a debut movie. Honed by years of stagecraft and working directly with actors, a lot of this cast brought in from his days as a Chicago theatre director, all of Gordon’s set-pieces throughout this thing just sing. Supported by some ghoulish and medically accurate makeup effects (inspired by one of the artist’s research into the Cook County morgue and medical cadavers). 

More than that, it’s actually FUNNY too. And not just “horror movie” funny in that accidental way or grim way slasher movies kind of slap at occasionally. Gordon’s script, co-written with writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris, was originally intended to be a bleakly funny ½ hour comedy show, following the framework of the original serial, set in the 1920s. 

Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the droll comedy of the format for sure made the transition to being a feature. Following a young couple who provide their fellow peer West a room for rent, the movie starts out as basically a comedy of errors. Our leads, played groundedly by Bruce Abbott and literal queen and genre icon Barbara Crampton, are forced to have to deal with the obvious weirdness and weaponized arrogance of West, played to the absolute hilt by Jeffery Combs. But once his resurrection experiments crash their hot-and-heavy college romance, the couple becomes a zombie-fighting throuple, fighting to both survive West’s resurrection experiments and the legions of monsters they threaten to unleash on the unsuspecting Miskatonic University.

While the makeup and cult-classic status of this movie is a major selling point, none of it would work without Jeffery Combs. An actor who always seemed one million percent dialed into whatever madness Gordon had cooked up. Whatever tone he wanted to have on the day. Re-Animator too serves as Combs’ lead debut. Though he had played a few bit parts beforehand, Herbert West is really his first time “at-bat” as it were as a major role and he absolutely nails it. From selling the terror of an undead cat to cooly facing down a villainous severed head, Combs just deftly handles every shift, every gag, like it’s the most vaunted and serious of material, which would become a hallmark of his later horror performances. And in doing so, launches a horror icon. One that sustained several sequels, a comic series, and even a whole other separate career as one of Star Trek’s hardest-working character guest stars.

But I tell y’all all this to tell you mainly that this gross, horny, and consistently hilarious movie really unlocked something in me. Something I wasn’t expecting it to be at all. You see, when I was younger, I used to be TERRIFIED of horror movies. Like, so much so, that I would have a full-on PANIC ATTACK seeing posters or seeing that my mom wanted to rent the new Halloween movie on ancient, wired Pay-Per-View. 

A shift started to happen when I discovered Joe Bob Briggs and TNT’s MonsterVision. Suddenly, I wasn’t screaming with the movies, I was laughing with them. Joe Bob’s constant stream of information and his smirking attitude toward the actual “acts” of terror happening, contained well within his “Drive-In Totals”, finally gave me an edge against the movie I was about to watch. I finally knew what to expect! Better still, a fellow Texan was walking me through it! He never showed Re-Animator on MonsterVision, but he talked about it and Gordon, often and fondly. Finally, after an episode on the equally entertaining (and gross and horny) From Beyond, I sought out Re-Animator. Renting in with a double feature alongside Evil Dead II, another I had only heard of, not seen. I was TWELVE. My parents dropped some balls, for sure.

But for the first time, seeing both those blood-soaked, but irresistible films back-to-back, I felt like I GOT IT. After all those years of being scared, of hiding from the blood, I was cheering it on (in a constructive, non-DudeBro way, I promise). Instead of hiding my eyes, I was anxiously awaiting the next scare, the next effect. I was finally and gratefully “in on the joke”. And Stuart Gordon and a bunch of other weirdos who made a weirdo movie brought me into it.

From there, a whole new world opened itself up to me. A world filled with Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the Lament Configuration and dark delights from even beyond the borders of America. That summer into the fall I discovered Fulci and Argento and the sumptuousness of Bava. I walked into The Mouth of Madness and finally turned the pages on my first read of Creepshow. I kept staring fear in the face and came out smiling. 

All because a bunch of theatre dorks spun a yarn, and spun it well.

Re-Animator isn’t for everyone. Loving it as I do, it’s one of the things I can instantly admit about it. It’s not a “casual” experience by any standards. It’s squishy and it’s mean and it has a few moments in it sure to shock a Wine Mom into a coma. But it’s a movie that will always hold a special place in my heart because it finally gave ME a special place in Horror. With irreverence, gallons of fake blood, and a truly game cast and crew, Re-Animator finally provided me my own perfect Horror experience. It showed me how and why people found this fun because it finally let ME have fun with it. I know it’s not for everybody, but it’s certainly for me.

I thank Jeffery Combs for that. I thank Barbara Crampton for that. But most of all, I thank Stuart Gordon for that. For showing that horror didn’t have to be needlessly cruel to be scary and didn’t have to sacrifice realism or humor for any of the blood. That horror could be theatrical and still be effective. That broadness didn’t always mean badness. 

That’s why I can take weird looks when I say “Re-Animator is one of my favorite movies”. Because I know that underneath all the gore and the Day-Glo serum and casual nudity there is a movie worth more than just the sum of its parts. 

It gives me, like Dr. Hans Gruber…LIFE!

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Film

GateBuster: Event Horizon

As a spooky little kid I was fortunate enough to have a TV and a VCR in my bedroom. My family wasn’t wealthy but this little luxury wasn’t expensive and my mom knew how much I liked movies, especially horror movies. The first film I ever saw, due to a flakey babysitter, was James Cameron’s Aliens. According to my mother, 3 year old me thought Aliens was hilarious, a stark contrast to my vehement anger after witnessing the murder of Bambi’s mother in Bambi

Having my own personal TV (covered in X-Men stickers of course) also just made sense because that meant I was able to watch horror movies on my own in case my mom wanted to use the living room TV for something other than a 50th viewing of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. I was a bit obsessed, but I was rarely “a problem child” and so my mom didn’t really mind. After all, she was the neighborhood “Halloween Lady,” known for her over the top decorations and nightmare tableaus, so it all had to come from somewhere. 

My collection of VHS tapes was formidable, it blossomed with what in my purview were the most important films like Halloween, Night Of The Living Dead, Clueless, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Friday The 13th Part II, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When it came to what my collection lacked, I loved going to the local video store and perusing the aisles searching for the perfect three rental combination: a tried and true classic that I had already seen but not yet purchased, a new release with cool enough box art, and a random horror film that I grabbed exclusively based on my intuition. This is how I first watched Event Horizon.

Event Horizon, some might call a “bad movie” and to that I say, let’s leave behind this “good” and “bad” binary folks. Like its Paul W. S. Anderson predecessor, Mortal Kombat, and everything Anderson has directed since, Horizon is an exercise in genre camp. Anderson doesn’t make subtle films, I’m not sure he can, and honestly I appreciate that. We’re in an era where horror films are often expected to be a cerebral, deeply nuanced experience and sometimes I just want to watch a bloody mess that doesn’t ask me to consider… well, much of anything. 

The premise, boiled down, is essentially “y’all, what if we did Hellraiser in space? A concept that is executed considerably less well in the film Hellraiser: Bloodlines, where spoiler alert, a space station folds in on itself to become a massive anti-hell puzzle box full of light that traps and destroys demons. 

The film opens with a series of intertitle texts that imagines a much more advanced history for humanity. Rewatching this film with my 35 year old brain, I cackled when I read “2015 – First Permanent Colony Established On The Moon.” I love the unbridled hubris of science fiction compared to our own stunted growth. We always imagine we’ll accomplish more than we do. 

After further scene setting, we get our first shot of the Event Horizon, arguably the main character of the film. The ship is drastically phallic, or uterine? Dealers’ choice really. Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. 

Various objects float inside the ship’s compromised gravity, a water bottle, a paperback book, a paper cup,  and a standard wrist watch. It all makes one question how we have established space colonies but never updated the design of watches or plastic bottles. The camera settles on the image of nude floating body, arms spread wide, in front of a window shaped like a cross. The camera enters the man’s screaming mouth and exits Sam Neil’s open eye as he wakes in terror. Daddy is being called home. 

Does Event Horizon make sense? Well, no, not really. The “Gravity Drive” or Einstein Rosen bridge inadvertently detours the ship through hell, and now the ship… is Hell? Is Hell’s avatar? The ship sent out a distress call to summon more victims like I might order DoorDash while nursing a hangover on a Sunday?

That said, Event Horizon doesn’t NEED to make sense to be a lot of fun. When did you ever love a piece of art specifically because it made sense? If you go into this film expecting iron-clad science and grounded characters, you’re at the wrong dance, honey. 

The characters are all fairly thinly drawn, their motivations and choices aren’t nuanced and serve simply to move the plot forward. In the moments that we do get character backstory, as with the suicide of Dr. Weir’s wife, or the illness Technician Peters’ son suffers from, it’s all very vague and piecemeal. Other characters seem to have little to no interior lives whatsoever. Who cares, want to watch the ship eat them? 

Fortunately, the film doesn’t look quite as dated as some of its CGI filled contemporaries, the Event Horizon “herself” is filled with impressive practical effects and beautiful gothic sets inspired by the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The production design on this film is gorgeous, internal spires, spikes, oscillating hallways, and bizarre textures cover every surface. Does it make sense for a spaceship to be designed like a gothic cathedral? Of course not, but is it a cooky fun concept? Absolutely. 

Event Horizon, like all of Paul W. S. Anderson’s work, is ridiculous and best enjoyed a bit stoned if that’s your thing or at the very least with a rowdy group of friends who don’t mind both screaming and laughing at a goofy drama queen of a movie. It’s the perfect movie for a riffy kiki night. Ridicule the dialogue, point out the plot holes, and gag over Sam Neil’s full-body make-up moment. Category is: Spiral Cut Ham Honey.

Highly recommended for fans of Hellraiser, Alien, Solaris, Sunshine, and the Dead Space game series.

Micheal Foulk.

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Film

GateBuster: Multiple Maniacs

It was the night. I was going to watch a film. I didn’t know what I wanted to watch first until I heard something. It was a voice, but it wasn’t that of my parents or my sister. And it wasn’t a voice inside my head either. The voice kept saying “but Bobby, what about John Waters?” And the name was familiar. This was the man who directed Pink Flamingos, the film that made film critic Mark Kermode leave the cinema (he said it was one of the few films he ever walked out of). It was billed as “an exercise in poor taste.” And that led to me look at the rest of his filmography.

I was intrigued. And I would have wanted to watch one of his films, but I don’t think I was ready. I thought I would wait. Many months passed and I was just minding my own business until I saw a tweet by the GateCrashers. They said that for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I could watch a film of my own choosing from a list and talk about it.

John Waters has made a name for himself with his filmography of films that are transgressive. Some viewers think of his films as rather shocking. There’s no artistic value to them and to watch one of his films and to enjoy it would mean that one has bad taste in film. And I am sure, there were similar sentiments around Multiple Maniacs. It is a film that wears its identity proudly on its sleeve. It’s a film that asks us to embrace the garbage and the burning down of that garbage. From the beginning until the end, it is a film of absurd extremes. The premise of the film follows a traveling troupe of performers who rob their audience members after the end of a show. There’s a sensibility to the premise as it does sound normal, but the fact that this is a traveling troupe adds a zaniness to it, and that leads to the shock, or in this case, the schlock.

I could have tried to be analytical and viewed Multiple Maniacs through a rational lens, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a film that reminds me of why I love trash and all that comes to it. It may be disgusting and there may be a stench that still lingers, but you can’t forget it. You can look away, but that stench follows you and in the case of this film, there’s a memorability to it that made me consider it to be a masterpiece. It’s the film that I know can make someone squirm and cover their mouth in horror, yet it’s also deeply funny, especially when Divine is involved.

Speaking of Divine, this is the film’s crowning achievement. The character of Lady Divine is a delight to view on screen, especially when she’s interacting with the rest of the cast. She faces horrifying ordeals that inform Waters’ brand of trashy filmmaking, yet she also plays a role in some of the film’s most schlocky moments. Scenes that might play out differently in another film have a stench to them, which can be attributed to Waters’ style, but Divine is the person who gives them an identity. There’s a clear presence to the character that I appreciated.

So, in busting the gates of transgressive filmmaking and John Waters, is Multiple Maniacs a good introduction? Yes, but not in the conventional sense; it is a disgusting introduction that is horrifying and funny, yet one can’t help but look away. Some may claim that this is a pathetic excuse for a film and that it’s the sick fantasy of a warped man and his friends. But I think differently.

I call it cinema in the artistic meaning of the word that is used by cinephiles. And if one were to say that I have bad taste in film, then I will own it.

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Film

GateBuster: The Wicker Man (2006)

Watching a film is a lot like listening to someone tell you about their dream. Often, it is uninteresting, and even when it has that spark there is nonsense, plot holes, and things that make less sense than people think they should. Some argue that films don’t need to make complete sense and that impossible things can happen even when a plot is grounded in reality, that this is what makes films special. All these people are missing the point. 

The vast majority of people believe that the world we live in makes sense. That there is cause and effect. That everything can be explained logically. Over many years of research and traveling, humanity’s past has proven that this simply isn’t the case. There is more going on than we realize. 

There’s the age-old adage of “Show, don’t tell.” and unfortunately when it comes to entities and events that are beyond our mortal understanding, this isn’t always possible. The Wicker Man believes in this adage. Nicolas Cage is a cop, so in the film’s introduction, we see him riding on his motorcycle doing traditional police activities such as eating at a diner, ticketing abandoned cars, and making traffic stops. Cage’s character Edward Malus does not believe in this adage. Malus makes no attempt to show everyone that he is a police officer; instead of conducting his investigation in a manner you’d expect he decides to just shout a lot and barge his way into places he has no jurisdiction over. 

 Nicolas Cage Attempts to Intimidate Children

After his standard police activities, Malus returns a doll to a girl who has thrown it out of a moving car, but while he is doing so the car is impacted head-on by a large truck and becomes engulfed in flames. Malus attempts to save the girl and her mother but ultimately fails. The car explodes and Malus is thrown onto the ground before the title card is shown. While the explosion seems wholly unnecessary at first, other than serving as a convenient excuse for Malus to take some time off work, eagle-eyed viewers will pay attention to the occupants of the car and the doll. 

While recovering, Malus receives an unstamped letter from his ex-wife; a child is missing and he’s the only person she trusts. Malus makes his way to her, bribing a seaplane pilot to get onto Summers Isle, and we’re thrown into an unusual investigation. Through my travels, I’ve been to many places like Summer’s Isle and can say that visiting them is absolutely a bad idea, but unlike the film’s protagonist, I’m not allergic to bees, or in fact anything you’d find in this world.

I was recently due to go on an archaeological dig in Bournemouth, but the night prior a fever came over me and my sleep was greatly disturbed. I had a horrible nightmare and woke up covered in sweat, after falling back asleep it would repeat, continuing until dawn. In the nightmare I wake up late, I’ve missed my flight and I’m feeling queasy. I stumble towards my bedroom door. The place that greets me is not my hallway but a car park, and at its end, a building with a blue light beckons to me. I feel a force pulling me towards it, but before I reach the door I wake up. 

I once visited an island that was occupied by storm worshipers that couldn’t be reached by traditional means. After reading an ancient newspaper article about how they caused shipping disasters, I found myself there in my sleep. I dreamt of waves and of long blue robes, then to my surprise, the next morning I awoke in their church. Needless to say, this experience meant that when I came across the GateBuster from my dream I was not at all phased. If this was an intimidation tactic, it failed. 

“Welcome, Professor Mathers. You have come of your own free will to keep this appointment with the GateBuster. And now the game is over, the game of the hunter leading the hunted. You came to find our blue light but it is we who have found you, just as we intended to do.

The dream was from all of us here. Your invitation to review, one might say. You see, you were the man we needed and we were determined to get you here.”

These were the words of the lone staff member standing outside the door, at the very least I could appreciate the theatrics so played along. After exploring the store it became apparent that the only videotapes were inside a cardboard box on the counter. There was a list of various films but the box contained 25 copies of the same film: The Wicker Man. 

I took a tape as well as a review card from the employee as I left. This was the moment that I sealed my own fate. Even now I can hear my own tape coming to its end. My only hope is to finish this review and hope the staff is kind enough to rewind.

From the explosion in the introduction to the choice of words used by the women of the island, the film set’s its trap well. Malus turns out to be the father of the child, the island’s men won’t speak, and everything has been an elaborate ruse to get him to burn to death in the Wicker Man. He is to be sacrificed so the harvest does well. As far as human sacrifices go this is nothing to write home about, but it is enjoyable to watch Cage scream about bees.

For a film with such a large reputation, Cage’s performance isn’t particularly exciting and neither are those of his co-stars. While an interesting premise can make a film great, it cannot do so if the actors put in minimal effort. I would rate the performance given by the GateBuster employee who mirrored the film’s script more highly than I would rate the film itself.

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Film

GateBuster: The Stuff

How ridiculous does a movie about evil ice cream sound? I know horror movies in the 80s had some wacky villains, but evil ice cream? Really? 

[HELP!] 

How do you even think of that? I’ve been working in an ice cream shop for at least four years and I have never thought of evil ice cream. 

[HELP! THIS ISN’T ME!] 

The idea of a movie about evil ice cream it’s just ridiculous. Completely absurd!

[HELP! THAT’S THE EVIL ICE CREAM TALKING! NOT ME!]

The movie is all about this ragtag group of vandals trying to prove that ice cream and consumerism is bad. Honestly, how ridiculous is that?

[The movie is actually a pretty good satire about the uncontrolled wave of consumerism that struck America during the Reagan era, touching on themes like the exploitation of Earth’s natural resources and the complexities and evils of the corporate world. Also PLEASE HELP! I’M BEING POSSESSED BY A DAIRY PRODUCT!]

The two protagonists are also pretty absurd and annoying. I mean an ex FBI agent who is now a corporate saboteur and a kid that sometimes eats shaving cream, who thought these would be good characters?!?

[The evil ice cream has a point; the kid is pretty annoying, but him eating shaving cream is completely justified and also pretty funny. Also, I don’t want to sound repetitive but PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HELP ME! I HAVE BEEN POSSESSED BY EVIL ICE CREAM!]

This guy and the kid join forces with a lady who is apparently pretty good at marketing, a man who has been fired from his own business, and a crazy military guy who is a conspiracy nut and somehow has an entire army at his disposal. Basically, a ridiculous cast of characters. 

[To be fair, the nefarious popsicle is right. This is a really absurd group, but that is one of the best aspects of the movie and one of the reasons this movie is so fun to watch. By the way, not that you care, but the white stuff that has been taking possession of me is now liquefying all my organs and it’s really REALLY painful!]

Beyond how ridiculous the plot and the characters are, this movie is a complete disaster. The acting is bad, the script is a mess, the visual effects go from decent to terrible, and the fake ads that are sprinkled throughout are extremely annoying. This movie is trying really hard to be a horror movie, but instead it is clearly a bad comedy. I promise you this is not worth your time.

[OKAY, FUCK THIS DEPRAVED GELATO! Please don’t listen to him, this movie is actually the most fun I have had in a while. Yes, the acting may be a little awkward, and there might be some sappy dialogues, but the thing is: this was never supposed to be a serious horror movie. It clearly wants to be a horror comedy, and it nails that feel! The satire is on point (especially with the ads), the practical effects are amazing, and the ending is the best ending in the history of cinema. So please go wat.. oh my god… oh no no no no…. oh my fucking god… please don´t… it has reached my brain… oh fuck… this is so painfull… please help… HELP!… please… help me… … … … AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!]

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this small review of The Stuff. And remember don’t stop buying ice cream, like never stop, keep buying, forever, and ever, and ever… or else. 

[…]

Rodrigo Arellano

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Film

GateBuster: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

There was a timeline where I would have held great pride in destroying the existence of a film as pointless as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. And yet here I reside once more in the timeline that I originated in and is all that you have ever known. The film has led me to undo my conquest of the world as well as the Top 40 charts. I who once sat in the seat of power have been brought low by this meaningless film as the mighty Tripods were undone by germs in the classic novel and film adaptations of The War of Worlds. I was not always this tired 50 year old film store employee, working 3 jobs to provide myself the benefits needed for survival in this capitalist nightmare.

I was once Chroniculus Von Rocksmore and I had fled our own standard timeline seeking a two fold tactic for global domination. 

First, I had stolen a large number of hit songs from this timeline and I had released them to build myself a large coffer and an incredibly devoted fanbase. They were fascinated by songs like Wrecking Ball, Zombie, and Because I Got High

Secondly, I used this wealth to indoctrinate my fans before I equipped them with weaponry purchased using my funds. In a matter of years, we overtook the world where I sat as ruler. Under my iron fist nobody went hungry or without healthcare, personal identity freedoms were legalized, and many millionaires and billionaires were crushed under the threshing maws as revenge for their greed. 

And before you raise concerns, I was making the same amount of money as all others and lived in a reasonable ranch home on my equally allotted plot of land. Yes, some called me a tyrannical despot with a voice of an angel and more oblique secrets than a lost civilization but in my defense, I released Who Let The Dogs Out and You’re So Vain in the same week and many questions about the mysteries of my origins arose. 

But the film Attack of the Killer Tomatoes destroyed my desire to rule the world through time theft. You see, the only way I can account for such a slapdash use of jokes and half jokes smothered in sexism, racism, and just a pinch of homophobia is that these jokes were stolen from elsewhere in the timeline and were ineptly put together by the team behind the film. Even the core plot has direct parallels to Mars Attacks, a film released decades later, down to a singer with a strange voice being the key to destroying the enemy, and I assure you dear renter, Puberty Love has nothing on Indian Love Call 1952 by Slim Whitman. If these jokes and others weren’t stolen from across time and then re entered here, then I suppose this is simply the work of inept film creators trying to parody B-movies by inadvertently releasing a C-movie. Their main character is named Mason Dixon with nothing beyond the reference to the Mason-Dixon Line. It informs nothing. Their only female character is named Lois for a cheap Superman reference that leads nowhere – and she exists solely to be referred to as an object for every sexist tendency imaginable – and then to be a love interest. 

This is a film so bad I realized that I could no longer exist in a seat of power gained through time crimes if similar time crimes led to a film as bad as this existing. Watching and seeing your dreams crumble before your eyes and think of the impossibility that was lost of Chroniculus Von Rocksmore.

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Film

GateBuster: Super Mario Bros.

I visited my childhood home. Drove around the Northeast Philly neighborhood where I have not lived in more than 20 years. 

The strip malls were empty. The old video store long gone, the Toys R Us waiting for Spirit Halloween to take over come fall. Once in a while, as a reward for slogging through another week of school, we’d go shopping and I could browse for an action figure and a videotape. I don’t know how many times I made my parents sit through Super Mario Bros.

Staring at the empty storefronts I swear I saw the blue light of the old ticket stub sign flicker in the twilight. 

A passing image, a sense memory… Like what I can remember now of that movie I saw so many times. 

The first images of the 1993 Super Mario Bros. film, after an animated prologue, are awash with religious iconography. A desperate woman leaves a basket at the doorstep of a Catholic church. Her child entrusted to the safety of strangers, just as Moses was placed in a basket and carried down the river.

A group of sisters, habit and all, brings the package in from the rain. The interior of the church is aglow in the heavenly light of a stained glass window, featured prominently in long, still images as if to establish the importance of the window as a message itself. It is a portrait of King David holding his harp. Psalm 117 is visible: “Praise the lord, all ye nations,” it says.

The camera leaves the stained glass, the strange metalbasket opens. There is an egg. It hatches. There is a child. 

It feels like these images should matter, that they should mean something. 

This child grows up to be a woman named Daisy, an archaeologist. She is the lost princess of a dying kingdom. The one who could reunite a world ripped apart from our own. Or says the King of the Koopas, a demented Dennis Hopper in a performance of grand Trumpian bloviation.  The haunting gasp of Koopa’s introduction of the “GOOMBA” has never ceased rattling in the dark corners of my mind. 

An ever-present ghost of a mad emperor. 

Is Daisy a Christ figure? Or is she a Moses, destined to lead her kingdom to a paradise she will never see herself?

It doesn’t matter. The movie just wants to use imagery that feels like it should matter, to give the viewer a sense that what they are seeing means anything.

Poor Toad, his peaceful protest to damn him forever to be a dimwitted Goomba in the service of Koopa’s tyranny. Blessed Toad, who never loses his purity of heart or love of music. Innocent Toad, who smiles as he presents Daisy her steamed vegetables, only to be set aflame.

Koopa calls his dying domain a “mushroom kingdom” as he taunts the disembodied fungus of the deposed king, now a sentient ecosystem that aids Mario and his brother Luigi, portrayed with shocking commitment and honesty by the pair of Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.

What is the Mushroom Kingdom, with its electric cars, dwindling resources, gasping for freedom beneath the tyranny of the Koopa King? What does the authoritarian boot of its police and GOOMBAS! say to us in 20th or 21st century America?

Is it a condemnation of our perception of progress as ever-greater consumption? Does Koopa represent the endless capitalist desire for domination of the planet’s limited resources? Perhaps, with his obsession with devolving his enemies to lower life forms, Koopa is a criticism of the capitalist appropriation of Darwinism and the idea that the powerful and wealthy are more advanced. The heroes are, after all, pro-union working class plumbers, driven out of work by corrupt government officials.

Maybe Super Mario Bros., in its surface references towards a mindless piece of children’s entertainment, is a hidden class criticism, a radically anti-corporate screed cloaked in the veil of a mindless money grab.

Or maybe it is just the manic dream of two music video directors given too much freedom and too much money. Where the only thing that matters is the image itself.

Occasionally there are moments I wonder, could this film, its hard-scrabble heroes and lizardian Lady Macbeth duplicitously scheming behind the back of her king, mean something more were it not Super Mario in name?

No, I think. The presence of Mario, his first name also his last, and Luigi, his last name his brother’s name, are critical. They grant the incongruous imagery some level of unity as it takes the viewer into a dystopian alternate world where freedom is nothing but a fungus that chokes the city to remind itself of what it has lost.

And yet…It is a dark and beautiful movie whose world is disturbing and familiar in ways that feel like it should mean something. Hoskins’ portrayal of Mario is multifaceted– gruff and cynical, but masking the heart of a loving father and brother. He teaches and empowers Luigi to follow his dreams. By the movie’s end Luigi, portrayed with “aw-shucks” eagerness by a young Leguizamo, has taught Mario to view the world with more wonder, and Mario, in his final line, declares, “Oh, I believe!”

I am home before I know it, 32 now, expecting my first child with my wife who waits for me inside. These childhood memories cling to me still as I step out of the car, like the dust on an old VHS tape. 

Maybe this movie meant something to its creators, maybe it means something to its audience, but as these hazy recollections crash over me, all that really matters is that it gave me my Bob Hoskins Mario action figure, and though it may be good or bad, who can tell?, it meant something to me then, even if I will never know what that meaning was.

Maybe, as long as I have these grainy VHS memories, it doesn’t need to mean anything at all.

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Film

GateBuster: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Trauma. That was my initial feeling standing outside the blue and yellow rental store. Years ago I was a video rental clerk at BlockBuster, issuing late fees and offering rental suggestions. All of our “team members” were expected to be subject matter experts in at least one film genre and I  chose horror/suspense. From 2007-2010 I used my free weekly rentals to become acquainted with the works of Stephen King, Rob Zombie, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Sam Raimi, James Wan, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and Alfred Hitchcock. I watched a lot of horror movies but completely side-stepped The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. 

I won’t lie — the selection of available movies in GateBuster was sparse by the time I got there. Slim pickings, really. The only stand-out available to me was this black comedy sequel to Tobe Hooper’s seminal classic. It was likewise directed and scored by Hooper but Part 2 always had a bit of a bad wrap for being, well, different.

Just compare the film posters and you’ll get a sense of the tone shift. The first film features the infamous door Leatherface would drag his screaming victims through. Whereas Part 2 parodies The Breakfast Club.

Tobe Hooper had no interest in making the same film twice. Twelve years had passed and too much had changed. The classic was a pseudo snuff film that influenced numerous slashers to come and Part 2 would ignore the gritty elements to hype up the more corny stuff hidden in the original. Namely, the Sawyer family. 

Instead of featuring a group of would-be victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, Part 2 kicks off with Leatherface and Chop Top chasing down victims out in the wild. Following 80s slasher tropes, we see two belligerently drunk high-school seniors, Buzz and Rick, being dickheads in a way that all but confirms their imminent deaths. They repeatedly use their very 80s carphone to harass radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock, who is somehow without the ability to hang up on prank callers. She records them being attacked by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface before the car crashes.

The next day “Lefty” Enright, a former Texas Ranger who has been investigating the chainsaw murders for over a decade, shows up at the crime scene to brood. The local police think he’s a joke and they’ve been suppressing any word of chainsaw murders as accidents, much to his chagrin. He gets contacted by DJ Stretch with a copy of the audiotape of the chainsaw attack. For no reason he turns her down, leaving her to the much more mundane radio coverage of a Texas/Oklahoma Chilli Cookoff. It just so happens the winner is Drayton Sawyer, the patriarch of the cannibalistic Sawyer family, who says the secret to his award-winning chili is to not “skimp on the meat.”

Lefty goes on a spending spree at the local hardware store, testing out several large and small chainsaws on a massive log. The whole sequence is surreal in how awkward it clearly is for the owner at first before he starts cackling while watching Lefty go to town. It’s also strange to me that Lefty’s weapon of choice for any future chainsaw fights is another chainsaw and not, you know, a gun. When he’s found the perfect saws he contacts Stretch to get her to play the tape of the killing live on the radio, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it would attract danger. Leatherface and Chop Top inevitably drop by the station and all hell breaks loose.

We get some hamfisted comedy, our first real taste of gore, and even an awkward infatuation between Leatherface and Stretch. The setting shifts for the remainder of the film to the Sawyer homestead, which in this film is not a remote ranch house but an abandoned carnival ground decorated with furniture made of human bones. Ed Gein would feel right at home. When Lefty shows up to save Stretch the film goes from being kinda shitty to an absolute gem. 

Cannibalism. Wearing other people’s faces. Chainsaw duals. Female empowerment. Part 2 has it all in the last thirty minutes. Any misgivings I had about the film’s production were obscured by my cackling at its triumphant final act. Honestly, the way Part 2 popped off made me feel like an idiot for being a horror snob and ignoring it back when I worked for BlockBuster. 

If you haven’t given The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 a chance because, like me, you were thrown off by the tonal shift to a comedy slasher, you owe it to yourself to find a copy and watch it as soon as humanly possible. I, on the other hand, gotta rewind this VHS tape and get it back to GateBuster before I (ironically) am the one slapped with a late fee.

Categories
Film

GateBuster: But I’m a Cheerleader

I GUESS, I JUST DON’T TOTALLY GET IT… Ugh, sorry, ok, I don’t know. I mean, I know. I know why Megan was sent there. It was so obvious, right? Like, c’mon. And I really thought it was the best thing for her.

BUT, OK, like, maybe interventions are just like not OK to do to her. Or fair to the squad, really. Like, Megan’s cheer routines were so good, even if she stared at me a lot. Like Bring It On was a wet-dream in comparison to her moves, like, she was the reality, and state champs were only a month away… Um, can I say that? I don’t mean it in like a gay way, just, like, a way, yanno? Look, I just don’t know how or what to say about this ‘cause I don’t wanna be seen other than how I wanna be seen and… Yanno maybe, that’s what Megan felt? Right?

ANYWAYS, ok, sure, as co-captain, I saw some footage of her time spent there. Well, like not footage, but photos, in the moment, so like, I was there for her, in the moment, yanno? And she tried. She really tried.

SOME PEOPLE JUST CAN’T BE HELPED. And, from what I saw at True Directions, she tried to make that wannabe Casper momma happy. She changed those diapers with purple goo and dressed in ALL PINK like a Polly Pocket toy. But, ok, so not the same, but sorta the same… My friend Susie loves strawberry ice-cream. But, sometimes, when you’re rolling a squad deep and getting the sundae boat, no one wants strawberry ice-cream!  And, majority vote rules. That’s just the rules. I think it’s like that, like always wanting strawberry ice-cream and no one ever hearing you, so you get vanilla bean. UGH, vanilla. Who ever wants to be vanilla, yanno?

I love that Megan was never vanilla. Ever. And even like when Graham betrayed her, Megan didn’t back down and kept up being her gay self even if she knew her person, Graham, wasn’t able to do that just yet. She stayed true to WHO she was. ALL ALONE?! And Megan, she’s just not someone to let her cheer sisters know what’s happening. Like, we had to learn from Jared that they still hadn’t done it, yanno? She never even asked if Jared was kissing right. THAT was a red flag. I don’t know how girls kiss, but, I would have tried for Megan. 

AND THE GALL of Graham backing out after going in with Megan, please, girl, you had to know you were getting into emotional V-territory, right?! Right. NO MATTER, our co-captain QUEEN adjusted and found a way to live in a new gay community that loved her for just yanno being her, which was so nice, ‘cause like obviously she deserves nothing else. Or, from what I hear. I haven’t really heard from her, honestly, since I tore out that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Cover from her locker. I was just helping her, really. I was!

GRAHAM came back at the end, which is what matters. Our co-captain showed her cheers, and, obviously, Graham found that cool, because cheering is super cool. AM I CRYING? No. What? No. I’m happy for her. I really am. I so am. I am. REALLY. IF THIS WAS A MOVIE, I’D OWN IT… I just want her to text me back.

Cass Clarke.

Categories
Film

GateBuster: An American Werewolf in London

The car door swung open as I gazed upon a ghost; not the one under the white sheet mind you, but rather the visceral one that elicits emotions long thought dead and buried. The blue and yellow sign was welcoming, but my mind pushed out a sentence, just to alert the spirits I was here: “GateBuster, weren’t they all called… erm, never mind.” The neon sign said open, but the lack of any human presence told another tale. The door was slightly ajar, so I pushed all the way in and was subsequently greeted with that acrid smell of cleaner. It was clearly used with reckless abandon, possibly trying to mask something more nefarious. Who knows, perhaps I was having a stroke. My eyes shifted from right to left until I spotted 25 V/H/S tapes lined up perfectly, like toy soldiers at attention, waiting for my approval. The names were familiar with an accompanying list behind them. I scanned the tapes until one leapt into my brain like a poker through the eye; the horror classic “An American Werewolf in London”. At this point, my body was practically yipping with excitement over its eerie cover of two backpackers with a foreboding full moon in the background. Had it not been for the chunk of my arm that was still missing (I’ll get to that), the cassette would’ve been thrown into my bag carelessly, so I gingerly placed it instead.

Heading back to the front of the store, the lights flickered like an ominous warning…or perhaps a warming invitation. No one was there at the counter, just a stack of review cards to fill out, and a simple set of sentences:  

Be Kind, Rewind. Return on time. If not, Late Fees for the Crime.  

The hairs stick up on the back of my neck, and I don’t hear my voice come out, but the word “odd” escapes. Possibly an unfair assumption, I mean where is the harm here…harm, sounds like arm, like that piece still missing, fuck. People really need to control their dogs, ESPECIALLY, when you are minding your own business running on a cool summer night. Apologies for the sidetrack there, the mind… it wanders. But, let me digress because we have a film to enjoy!

As I’m sure people who are over 65 are the last VCR holdouts, I take the video to my parent’s house. Recalling my father’s opinion on V/H/S tapes (in his best Terminator impression stating, “They’ll be back”), I slide the film into the VCR using my good arm. The screen brightens, and it’s as if a nostalgic aneurism goes off in my brain. The movie begins innocently enough as we meet David and Jack, young backpackers from the Big Apple making their way through the English countryside. A friendly farmer warns them, “keep off the moors, stick to the roads.” Why is it when any knowing Englishman tries to give sage advice to young Americans, it is so quickly left to the roadside? My nocturnal attack was different, there was no sage advice to heed, only a closed park sign. I ALWAYS run in the park, closed or not, it’s a PUBLIC park paid for by MY tax dollars. Leash laws exist for a reason, it’s… again, sorry, this gaping wound in my arm is still burning and reapplying Neosporin to it is like treating cancer with Kool-Aid. It ain’t worth shit. Last outburst, I swear. 

We find David and Jack as unwelcome patrons in a quaint English pub, “The Slaughtered Lamb,” where the locals unceremoniously tell them to move on. As any ignorant American does when abroad, they ignore all local customs and find themselves wandering the foggy moor, on a night very similar to the one I find myself watching this on; a full moon. Deep in the moor, a howl rents through the pitch of night. The screams of the beast convince the boys to make a run for it, but alas Jack finds himself torn to pieces while David is maimed, and subsequently saved by the same pub-goers who cast them out. 

David, now marked with the curse of the beast, begins convalescing at a hospital. He’s being cared for and eventually REALLY cared for by Nurse Alex (vis a vi they have adult fun). Jack appears in the initial stages of a decaying zombie to warn David of his eventual turn into a werewolf, and his need to commit suicide before the next full moon. As the damned are want to do, David passes off his rotting friend’s advice as trauma induced delusions. Like so many horror films, the protagonist rarely sees the light before the train hits. Itching, itchy, itchiness, more interruptions and more apologies, but god, this arm, THIS ARM, I would lop it off if I could. 

Where was I? Oh yes, enough plot, more review. Rick Baker steals the show here with his Academy Award Winning Makeup, it just… SOUND. WHAT IS THAT SOUND? THE DRYER IS SCREAMING! WHERE DID ALL THIS NOISE COME FROM?

Just need, to adjust here. God, my muscles feel so tight. The itch… the itch is under my skin. What is happening to…

Needles. Thin. Needles. EVERYWHERE. It’s as if 10,000 arrows are ERUPTING FROM MY SKIN. Hands,      HANds.   Hansds.   FIJngers    Aaarrr too bigd forr thissl

My mouth is dry, but tinged with a metallic taste. Dried Blood. Whose Blood? My blood, their blood….their..? The house is turned upside down, I don’t understand. Was there a robbery?? I DON’T UNDERSTAND. My muscles burn and my lungs won’t catch enough air. The movie is paused and an image is burned on the screen. I look into a pair of eyes attached to a beast glaring back at me, but I see the soul beneath it; David’s. His eyes were filled with fear, pure fear. The eyes of a son who has done wrong. The eyes of a man unable to control the animal it has become. My mind cannot keep up with the wave of horrible memories torturing me. But something is certain; late fees be damned, I don’t think this film is making it back on time.

RJ.