Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cult Oddities Double Feature


A double feature to tear your darkest fears to pieces and leave you screaming like a schoolgirl!


What's your reaction to the description "Suspiria meets Charlie's Angels?"

Exactly. Although technically this predates both of them, with a fresh-faced Cheryl Ladd and evil-faced Kate Jackson in a private school similarly shrouded in occult mystery. Girls are suspiciously dying in what appear to be suicides once they've found out certain not-so-scholarly secrets. Like Suspiria there's a secret doorway, an ominous faculty, and plenty of eerie goings on. Unlike Suspiria, this film doesn't really allow style to envelope the slim storyline, and those shocking bouts of violence are replaced with fade to commercial breaks.

Martha Sayers flees in terror from the Salem Women's Academy (get it?) to the safety of her sister's secluded home, where an unseen evil still finds her. Martha's sister Elizabeth (Pamela Franklin) goes undercover to investigate her sister's untimely "suicide" -- and gives herself up embarrassingly fast. She befriends the offbeat girls, and is especially drawn to a loner classmate's sinister painting of her sister Martha, pale and terrified at the entrance to a cellar door. Elizabeth's art class also becomes useful in revealing who'll die next since her very teacher has ties to the hellish (and kinda pointless) legacy.

There's more unnerving atmosphere and respectable acting than you'd expect from a TV movie, let alone a horror movie produced by Aaron Spelling. Look to the 2000 TV remake with Shannen Doherty and a Kate Jackson cameo for that depressing conceit realized. The surprising thing is that a TV movie of Satan's School for Girls caliber remained in people's minds long enough to bear a TV movie remake. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising since the networks are clearly desperate, and it was precisely my childhood memories that led me to dig for this title in those devilish discount DVD bins. It's actually a lot of work wading through Jackie Chan's career.

I know better than to always trust childhood whimsy, but thankfully Satan's School for Girls turned out to be exactly what I remembered and forgot. There are one or two genuinely creepy moments, and the story is odd and compelling enough with that irreplaceable 70's horror vibe. It's also pretty lame and lackluster, which I can still respect. Sure Satan is evil and all, but if all he's capable of is a novelty cape and a faculty position in the arts department, I'd be remiss not to question his leadership -- in the occult, watercolor and otherwise.


The best horror movie about puzzle making?

I'd wager yes, since Pinhead would take far too much pleasure in the pain of putting together his nudie puzzles. This killer takes his horny hobbyist hell out on the young nudie girls of the local campus. After his mother catches sight of his perverted jigsaw passion and flies into an "unclean" frenzy, the burgeoning psycho responds with an axe to her face. Years later he's found his old puzzle and inspiration hits. His weapon of choice is a chainsaw, just to make clear how much he's compensating, but I'd never dare ask for grindhouse subtlety.

Director Juan Piquer Simón must have intended the comedy, or at least most of it. It's too scattershot not to know better. And it certainly dwells and takes pleasure in its sickest moments: a splashy waterbed slaughter and several bodies shred into... pieces, for example. Admire the simpler things. And on that nostalgic note, how much do you miss the 80's-horror-meets-Flashdance-era that gave us such embarrassing gems as Lucio Fulci's Murder Rock?

This serial killer loves his dance! Blame the parents... His mom trauma also gave him a shoe fetish to match his psychosis. He's clearly painted as gay since he's so eager to give this completely random confession about someone else: "Professor Brown, you see, is a homosexual. I found about him some years ago. But as long as he doesn't break the rules that's his affair. Brown seems a bit more upset about his affliction than I am." Pretty inane psychology, but then completely random is this movie, with a script that's in tatters, not pieces. How else do you explain moments like the Kung Fu attacker's case of "bad chop suey" or the stupid/senseless double ending? And yet what would Pieces be without them?

The killer has his fetish for footwear, as I have mine for bad dialogue. Thus I leave you with these classically quotable Pieces. Impress a pretty young coed.

"Excuse me, Sir. Can I ask you something? What are the pectorals? My friends all laugh at me. They say mine are funny."

"The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time."

"The hell with the book! The book says get the killer."

"Oh it's my Kung Fu Professor! What's the story, Chow?"

"I wanna do it underwater. See you in the pool."

* Club Silencio is not responsible if your darkest fears have been torn to pieces and/or you screamed like a schoolgirl.

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