Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cult Oddities Special Delivery

Rodman Flender's The Unborn (1991) is better titled "Rosemary's Baby on the D-List." Pre-natal terror is its raison d'etre; a comment on the blessings and curse of fertility drugs that would make Octomom seem only moderately perverse. What could come of scientific tampering during the very fragile formation of life? A race of ugly freak genius babies who know nothing more than to study and draw shapes from inside the womb -- before they devour their mothers, naturally.

"Evil Kids" movies are their own genre. The likes of The Omen, Village of the Damned, Children of the Corn and It's Alive tap into that tender crux between pristine innocence and the gestation of pure evil. This month saw the release of Orphan, a film which looks to be a variation on The Good Son for the unwanted child set (clarification: unwanted child not named Macaulay Culkin), and it's merely the next film in line to remind us that kids are not to be trusted, from conception to college. The Unborn graciously joins those ranks with a notable recipe for bad taste, and it's memorable for the fact that it keeps the "evil kid" element primarily within the womb.

Actress Brooke Adams lends an air of class to the proceedings as a mother plagued by depression in her bloodline, and a husband whose interest in having children may go deeper than initially perceived. Adams has a substantial history with disturbing material (Shock Waves, The Dead Zone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the CBS series Touched by an Angel) and always manages to find the elegance in the mayhem that surrounds her. As Virginia Marshall, she descends from a modest and mild-tempered children's author to a kitten crushing madwoman bent on destroying a master race of homicidal super-babies. Her performance grounds the film's first half, before the film takes a turn for the deliciously worse and no graceful line reading could spare it.

"Come on, wake up. You lazy cat, come on.
You're such a sleepy head.

I know... where's your little mouse?

That'll perk you up! You love your little mouse."

Her dilemma is on par with Rosemary Woodhouse as we begin to query if this maternal dread is more a form of pre-partum depression than any sort of legitimate threat growing from within. Also in tune with Rosemary's Baby is Dr. Meyerling (James Karen), a variation on the evil Dr. Sapirstien, who's a bit more involved with Virginia's conception and a bit less reliant on Satan's dirty deed. That parallel of course quickly disintegrates as the film loses all silly notions of substance and foregoes Rosemary's restraint. It's more on par with a recent film like Drag Me to Hell, which similarly takes to kitten slaughter slapstick and is all the better for it. That film pronounces its comic elements from the get go, while The Unborn more or less dissolves into its more manic, twisted side. Much like the decision to abort your monster child, once it's done there's no turning back.

A face only a mother could obliterate.

And the film does take on the abortion issue with a vengeance. Quite literally when the aborted fetus returns armed with a knitting needle. But when Virginia ultimately regrets her decision and attempts to rescue the fetus from a back alley dumpster, she's greeted by a homeless gimp on a skateboard -- no explanation whatsoever. Never taking a side on the issues, The Unborn prefers its descent into oddball, gruesome absurdity. It's not so much pro-life as it is pro-inane.

Blink-and-you'll-miss a pre-Friends Lisa Kudrow collecting sperm samples. Apparently at this stage in her otherwise brilliant career, it hadn't been Lisa's day, her week, her month or even her year. There's also a surprise supporting turn from the likes of a pre-Suddenly Susan Kathy Griffin, on the D-List long before she made that concept famous. Kathy's a stellar stand up comic, and even with her penchant for sick humor, I've never heard her speak of playing this role as the teacher of a man-hating, lesbian birthing class who is bludgeoned by her lover with a telephone. It's pretty evident Kathy's calling was for stand up, where the laughs are at the expense of others.

And that's basically what to expect when you're expecting. The Unborn is a film that holds its B-movie origin close to the chest, embraces it warmly, and then gives it a little shake just for good measure. Ill-conceived? Maybe. Raised under questionable guidance? Most definitely. And it grows up to be a big freakshow you're embarrassed to introduce to your friends. Even so... this baby's still on board!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cult Oddities: Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D (1982)

"Meet Jason in a whole new dimension" prompts the tagline for Friday the 13th Part 3: 3-D. Naturally the joke is on the 3-D visual gag, but I take it to refer to the irony involved in a film with zero dimensions. Then again... no one cares, myself included. There is pleasure to be found in disgust, and this series proves it consistently with bad acting, extraneous bloodshed, rip-off scripts, and maybe a moment or two that is genuinely memorable or new. The first Friday is a pretty solid genre film, and other sequels in the series do show signs of a knowing wit towards the bludgeon-by-numbers plot formula (Part VI: Jason Lives is just as much a comedy, and pathetically so is Freddy vs. Jason.) Stupid, simple, lighthearted slaughterhouses, maybe still with a hint of suspense; Friday the 13th did invariably add some new elements into American horror in its heyday. The real challenge in being the third part in a series is to be THE sequel with the distinct dilemma of combining a burgeoning horror legacy with easy money and disco.

"Make it work."
Even backwoods fashion evolves.

I had to give an ode to this film upon seeing it for the first time within that touted third dimension -- with those eye-deteriorating paper 3-D glasses no less. It was a viewing filled with laughter, headaches and tears -- mostly from the paper 3-D glasses. But something is still so very special about these films for just how worthless they are. You go in expecting dead teenagers and you leave sa-tis-fied. And 3-D is a tried and true gimmick that I've felt could be exploited brilliantly by filmmakers interested in showing great depth of field. Imagine the long tracking shots in a film by Gus Van Sant or Paul Thomas Anderson, or through the windows and colors of Wong Kar Wai. Even inessential films like this or My Bloody Valentine 3-D gain some interest in the way that inessential moments look surprisingly roomy, visually speaking. Even without 3-D a bad movie seems somehow knowingly so. Objects are thrust at the camera with reckless abandon. Watch out for that child's baseball bat! Venomous snakes! Flying arrows! Hippies! If Friday the 13th Part 3 passes you the joint, you take it.

At this time Jason Voorheas wasn't even the homicidal horror icon or backwoods-rotted-muscle-man that he is today. Jason was just starting out; defining his look and methods for splatter. As far as we knew he was just a little mama's boy who drowned in a lake, revived from the dead only to see his avenging mother beheaded, and returned solemnly to his cabin in the woods. Props to his memorial ode to Mom being that of her severed head as home decor. Thoughtful, bold... loving. He seemed so modest and wholesome with a bag over his face. Part 3 is NOT the series' highpoint, but by god is it NOT the series' lowpoint. What it lacks in inspiration and worthwhile characters, it all but surpasses in those singular moments lost to the eighties -- like a "previously on Friday the 13th" intro, convenience store biker gangs, and a scary soundtrack that will make you want to step out on the floor and dance!

"Is this your rubber?
Didn't your Mama teach you manners?

If you want something, you ask... Nice."

It was an innocent time to be a franchise serial killer. Torture porn would seem so tedious to a killer like Jason - who offs kids with the same passion he gives to doing laundry (which he ironically neglects in pursuit of offing kids). It's work as usual 'round these parts. He knows this campground like the back of his rotted hand, and he certainly knows there's no dearth of stupid, horny youth.

Screenwriting 101: Establish character through dialogue...

Chris: Sex, sex, sex. You guys are getting boring, you know that?

Andy: What would a weekend in the country be without sex?

Pregnant Friend #1: Cool it Andy.

Andy: I didn't mean it that way.

This most recent batch of hormones is young, fresh, and lacking in personality. Our final girl, Chris, is dreadfully boring, but she's... pretty. Sure, she's a prude and would rather unpack than skinny dip with her pals, but she has her reasons. After running away from a family feud at this lakeside cabin two years prior, Chris was attacked by a "hideous looking man!" Inexplicably Jason chose not to kill Chris, instead returning her safely to her cabin bed. (Still so wholesome he was...) The attack has left her wounded and scarred, yet Chris's somehow surprised at feeling uncomfortable upon returning to this very same locale just to fuck and party with friends. Reason enough so that she can tease her beefcake boyfriend, and be distracted from her non-descript pregnant friends, stoners, and your standard doom-and-gloom country bumpkin...

"Go back from whence ye came! I have warned thee! Warned thee..."

Stock characters seems too complimentary a description. It's at this point in the series where the formula was solidified and the audience would identify more with Jason than his disposable income of hapless youth. Jason's most notable quality in this sequel is the first appearance of THE hockey mask that would ultimately define him. Unfortunately he has to give credit to the film's most grating creation, Shelley, for leaving this new look behind. Shelley is the resident prankster, but for all that fun he seems to be having, he's a total downer. ("Would you be yourself if you looked like this?") A frizzy-haired sad clown with an inevitable end... Whether that makes you cry or laugh, it's probably just those paper 3-D glasses.

Director Steve Miner has a long history with horror, having worked on the sets of The Last House on the Left and the original Friday. He then took the reigns on the second and third in this series, as well as the seventh outing for Michael Myers, Halloween: H20. If this entry seems at all uninspired, it's also a marvel of how streamlined these films had become at this stage. In due time Jason would have his Final Chapter, only to return for a tour of Manhattan and the outer realms of space. Friday Part 3 is the modest side of that spectrum. Its pleasures come in those "death by handstand" moments, the careless T&A, and extreme yo-yo action. And if that ending seems at all familiar, its just been "borrowed" from Friday the 13th Part 1 - alongside other needless aspects such as setting and plot. Friday Part 3 looks a lot better in that third dimension, seeing as any lack of depth is fully exploited and thrust into the audiences' faces. Jason's dead in a whole new dimension... Let's disco.

Watch this Movie online at iReel.com.

(Also watch Part 2.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Cheers!" from a Snotty Jude Law

Cheers for returning to the Club while I was summering on my yacht in Southern Italy sans internet. You can tell I own a yacht because I use words like "sans." Snotty Jude Law and I thank you!