Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

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Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Santa Fe Productions
Director: Amy Holden Jones
Shout Factory

Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 novel Rubyfruit Jungle is a prototype for the lesbian coming of age story. It’s among the first of its kind: its popularity cementing an early legacy after its publication. It’s hard to imagine Brown also penning the bizarre slasher film Slumber Party Massacre. The original script was meant as a parody, one that would have arrived well before Wes Craven’s classic horror parody Scream (1996). The script went through several rewrites slowly sinking in scope from parody to a typical slasher movie.

Massacre, like many Roger Corman productions, was appointed to a young director to save a few bucks. Amy Holden Jones took the opportunity to direct this low-budget horror film and turned down an opportunity to edit Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982). Massacre was her first feature. The rewrites of the script trampled on Brown’s sarcastic tone about an escaped mental patient stalking unknowing college girls. In the process, the film tortures the tropes you’ve come to konw in a slasher film. People come up behind others unexpectedly. Cats arrive, scare, and are never seen again. People arrive at the house by looking in the kitchen window. You know, because that’s a totally reasonable way to announce you’ve arrived at someone’s house.

If you know you hate slasher films, this one won’t change your mind. But there are still plenty of laughs, both intentional and not intentional. There’s a lot to like about Massacre. If you’re into horror, there are things to enjoy, including some unreasonable murder scenes, unrealistic character interactions, and a soundtrack composed entirely on a Casio Synthesizer. It’s a classic of the genre and, even with the tone changes in the script, leaves you with an ending employing a bit of feminist symbolism.

Favorite quote: “That’s odd; none of the fuses are blown, but some of them are missing.”

TOMORROW: Cool Screening

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The art of cinema has been a worldwide collaboration since its inception. A new documentary funded through Kickstarter outlines the contribution of Alice Guy-Blaché: a key element of the deep roots system of the medium that would become a worldwide obsession for the next hundred-plus years. Critics are promising a mystery entwined in the  story of this pioneering woman in film.

 

The first two people to stop by Goner Records tomorrow 12-5 (Thursday) and ask will receive a free pair of tickets to tomorrow’s screening.

 

Be Natural screens as part of the Crosstown Arts weekly film series on:

Thursday, August 15th at 7:30 PM

Tickets are $5.00

Be Natural website

Lifeforce (1985)

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Lifeforce (1985)
Golan-Globus Productions
Director: Tobe Hooper
MGM Home Video

If you can’t decide what sort of horror or sci-fi you’re in the mood for, Lifeforce has a lot to offer. It’s an ambitious film too convoluted for mainstream audiences upon its release, but gained a small cult following by sci-fi fans. The skeleton of the plot is based on the novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, the basis of which is a vampire-like tale of aliens coming to Earth to suck the life out of people. This part of the plot follows a similar storyline to the regularly remade The Invasion of the Body Snatchers without the pods. If it sounds straightforward, the movie has some berserk moments. There is a lot to inhale in the film.

The movie begins with the discovery of an alien life form incubating inside of Haley’s Comet. The crew of the spaceship Churchill brings back the aliens, one of which is in the form of an attractive female never named in the screenplay. It’s not long before she creates havoc among some slack-jawed men mesmerized by the alien’s “aura.” The film continues on to become an end of the world narrative where love among dissimilar creatures must prevail. The end of the world narrative includes London burning from massive explosions, zombie-like chases, and explosions.

This film features the sci-fi one-two punch of Alien (1979) screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) director Tobe Hooper. For Tobe Hooper, the film followed his massive directorial hit Poltergeist (1982). The film has an awesome array of excellent mid-eighties visual effects: a special effects era close to my heart. This was also the first in a series of big budget films signaling disaster for the legendary Cannon film company. Hoping to elevate their status, the Cannon group fell headlong an expensive flop in Lifeforce. It was a B-movie on an A-movie budget, going the wrong direction for the successful Cannon film business model keeping them turning a profit for so many years. Had it been an isolated misstep, the company might have survived, but they continued to throw big money hoping for a hit that wouldn’t come. But ultimately a lucky break for sci-fi fans ‘cause they couldn’t make this big budget misstep like this nowadays. (Billups Allen)

“Whoa! Did someone get the license number of that movie?”- Leonard Maltin

 

Gorky Park (1984)

Reevaluating films you forgot about as if you don’t have enough to do already…

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Gorky Park (1984)
Eagle Associates
Director: Michael Apted
Kino Classics

The film version of Martin Cruz Smith’s best selling novel could fall into the category of an above average but somewhat forgettable thriller you might enjoy on a rainy day and forget about. But some movies possess an ethereal quality elevating their historical worth. Gorky Park has several. The film’s mood created by James Horner’s bleak score, Ralf D. Bode’s cold cinematography, and stand out performances by William Hurt and Brian Dennehy, brings to life palpably America’s fear of Russia during the Cold War in the 80s. Russia was a diplomatic enemy to America during the eighties. Nowhere else did Russia play the baddy than in American movies. But more than most, Gorky Park abandons the stereotypes to create a bleak and paranoid entity supporting the dark narrative of a KGB murder cover up entwined with the dangerous Russian black market.

William Hurt plays Arkady Renko, an orthodox cop in Moscow who is regularly forced to acquiesce on his hunches and good sense to stay on his team’s good side. This time, on the case of three murdered students, Renko is urged to drop the case in no uncertain terms. But his sense of justice and the brutality of the slayings of three young, somewhat innocuous students compels him to investigate. Through an unlikely turn of events, Renko encounters William Kirwill (Dennehy), a New York City cop investigating the death of his brother in Moscow. While it seems Kirwill would have a hard time going unnoticed in Russia being an NYC detective, the chemistry between the two cagey cops is one of those magical duos created by the pairing of great character actors.

The film captures a moment in time when Russia was American’s sworn and mysterious enemy. Inherent fear of the ruthless and unforgiving KGB encourages dread and paranoia nicely in the narrative. Not allowing much comfort are the dangerous, “nothing to lose” characters involved in the black market. Alexie Sayle (British cult television program The Young Ones co-creator and author) makes a memorable appearance as a black market spiv, a role he has played several times for comedy. This role’s move to a dramatic setting makes a case for sympathy for the character quickly without giving away his fate. The supporting cast in general is a believable group of small-time criminals trying to sneak around a looming government that would show them little mercy were they caught.

The only telegraphed punch is Lee Marvin playing Jack Osborne, a suspicious merchant who quickly becomes the subject of Renko’s attention. Just being Lee Marvin means he’s up to something, but Marvin puts in a great performance while being a team player leaving Hurt room to portray the problem that won’t go away. The case finds Renko and Kirwill digging deeper into the connections given in the movie towards a slightly unlikely but entirely satisfying resolution. Gorky Park works as a thriller, a police narrative, and a document to America’s Cold War fear of Russia. (Billups Allen)

 

The White Ribbon (2009)

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The White Ribbon (2009)
Michael Haneke’s enigmatic style of interweaving convoluted plot lines paints an ominous portrait of a small German village shortly before the beginning of World War I. The town is experiencing a string of bizarre occurrences stretching the boundaries of bad luck. As the citizenry attempts to decipher its run of misfortune, bad light is cast on each of the primary characters. The genesis of these bad incidents appears solvable, but answers don’t come easy.

An unnamed elderly schoolteacher narrating from the future by Ernst Jacobi, but portrayed in the events of the film by Christian Friedel, recalls the distant memory of strange events transpiring in the year of his courtship and engagement to his wife Eva (Leonie Benesch). The story begins as the town doctor (Rainer Bock) is knocked off of his horse by a nefariously placed wire. The doctor is taken to a hospital out of town and an investigation begins. The police cannot figure out who tied the wire, nor can they figure out who took it down. Meanwhile, the town’s land Baron (Ulrich Tukur) becomes the target of vandalism. Children disappear. Adults disappear. As accidents become commonplace, no one is above suspicion. Even the town Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) is discovered to be so hard on his children he could be unraveling. As the plot progresses, theories about the source of all this trouble arrive and fade almost as quickly.

The film is masterfully shot in black and white using stark contrasts creating an ominous backdrop for this bleak narrative. Heneke knows his audience and elements of German expressionism are prevalent with regards to the lighting and contrast to the point near satire. The film’s moves at a calculated pace: as characters drop in and out of favor, red herrings are slid in to drive the story and cast suspicion. Slow pacing and a convoluted plot twists may turn a few people off, but fans of his 2005 film Cache will enjoy the evolution in Heneke’s style. Heneke creates a convoluted maze in the tradition of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Lost Highway (1997). The film forces the audience’s best guess right up until the end. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re up for a well-constructed thinker, the labyrinth of The White Ribbon will resonate. (Billups Allen)

 

Police Story (1985)

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Police Story (1985)
Golden Wray Films Ltd.
Directors: Jackie Chan, Chi-Hwa Chen
Written by Jackie Chan, Edward Tang
Criterion Collection 

In the wake of Bruce Lee’s untimely passing, Warner Brothers tried to find a quick replacement with star potential for the burgeoning kung fu market. Jackie Chan’s early leading role in Battle Creek Brawl (1980) was a fun film, but failed to find an audience in America. But elements of Chan’s comedy stunt work were an indicator of what was to come. Chan returned to Hong Kong and honed his unique skills in the kung fu market. His unique fighting style and proclivity for complicated stunt work led to a high point in his career with Police Story. Chan portrays a cop protecting a mob witness from being killed before a trial. With the simple but classic plot out of the way, Chan begins a series Buster Keaton-esque action sequences that would become his signature, make Police Story a franchise, and turn him into an international superstar shortly thereafter with films like Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and the Rush Hour series. Chan’s early work is great to watch.  Police Story is the arrival of a legend. (Billups Allen)

Police Story and Police Story 2 will be released as a double feature DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection on April 30th. 

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Marlene (1984)

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Marlene (1984)
Bayerischer Rundfunk
Director: Maximilian Schell
Futura Film, Munich

Marlene opens on a shot of a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Marlene Dietrich repeatedly thwarted director Maximilian Schell’s attempts to make documentary about her. After much prodding from her Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) co -star, Ms. Dietrich finally acquiesces. The caveats are: 1) she will only allow Schell to record her voice: and 2) she won’t allow cameras in her apartment. Resigned to make the film, Schell films the tape recorder. It’s an unusual solution.

As the tape recorder begins to spin, Ms. Dietrich’s voice is heard indicting Schell: “Do you think I’d go and sit in some sad, stuffy old cinema and watch an old film?” Dietrich makes it clear early and often she doesn’t share her fan’s enthusiasm for film history. She never watches her films. They don’t interest her. As with many of the statements aimed directly at Schell, she makes it clear with claws out. She does not appreciate sentimentality and doesn’t play nice to be a good sport. Schell includes several audio clips of her bored defiance in the opening segment as the camera pans back slowly from the recorder. Covered is a range of topics Ms. Dietrich is going to discourage and scold Schell over. She answers questions with the venom and confidence of someone beating a congressional grilling.

The first shot eventually cuts to Mrs. Dietrich talking to the crowd at her final concert appearance. Here she is more humble, exemplifying the grace you would expect her to have as she leaves the stage for a final time. After a few more clips, the film cuts to her in a scene in the western Destiny Rides Again (1939). Here she’s swinging a gun around a saloon threatening Jimmy Stewart. The whole saloon has to hit the deck as she waves the gun around. This is a glimpse of the fun and anarchy prevalent in a typical Dietrich performance. As the film continues, we see many clips of her films. But if Schell is enjoying anything too much, she’ll shut it down with statements like “We (Germans) didn’t have kitsch. We didn’t have sentimental feelings.” And so they dance, Dietrich refusing for her or her apartment to be filmed for the documentary and Schell trying to appease her as best he can. Schell builds a set resembling her apartment, hires doubles of varying ages, and follows his staff around to use as second unit footage. There are also talking heads interviews with the few people close to her.

Dietrich opens up occasionally: not in a sentimental way, but more as if annoyed at Schell for being such a fool for being interested. She doesn’t seem to care about setting the record straight regarding the “fifty-five books” about her. She tells the story of the audition for what would inform her iconic performance of “Falling in Love Again” in her breakout film The Blue Angel (1930). Of course by her account, the books have it all wrong. It may sound like a documentary falling apart at the seams, but Schell works with what he has and Dietrich seems to occasionally let go of her inhibitions long enough to tell a story.

If the film sounds like little more than a grumpy rant by a Hollywood Icon, her rapport with Schell and inclination to give praise where praise is due creates occasional warmth driving the film forward. It becomes apparent some of her defensiveness has to do with her not wanting to appear to be pining for another time. You can’t help but root for Schell as he dissects statements she makes when she refuses to answer his questions directly. Throughout the film, Schell tries to sell her on commenting directly on her films, but she will not allow herself to be filmed or watch any of her old films. “I’ve been photographed enough” is her mantra. After, much pushing, she’s convinced to have a video brought to her house to watch one movie and one movie only: The Scarlet Empress (1934). She insists they fast-forward to the end. The screening instigates a fight with Schell that leads her to denigrate his existence by calling him an “old film buff”.

Schell creates an anger montage using clips from her films and look-alikes destroying the set while the audio plays out her excessive beratement of Schell. The anger montage is an interesting piece of film exposing the artistic frustration. Has Schell gone mad? Or has he accurately articulated artistic frustration. Before the argument, Schell explains under his breath how her agent slipped him a note with a quote from Dante Alighieri: “There is no greater pain than the recollection of past happiness in times of misery.” The segment is a poignant wrap up towards the end of a challenging documentary and shines a vulnerable light on the aging star. Werner Herzog once said “There is never an excuse not to finish a film.” Schell’s Marlene is a glistening example of this advice. Schell created an excellent film and unwittingly captured a rare portrait of an enigmatic icon. (Billups Allen)