DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT
Directed by a woman (Linda Hassani) who is seemingly from another planet, DARK ANGEL (no relation to the TV series starring Jessica Alba) has a bit of a space cadet glow, kind of like MY SO-CALLED LIFE if Angela Chase was a demoness looking to find herself in the world above her Hell home, etc. Charles Band's Full Moon company utilized beautiful Romanian architecture and painterly craftsman lighting to overcome the relative lack of CGI or budget, towards turning this into a sweet 'so wrong it's right' dusty-dream theater fairy tale ala LEMORA or VALERIE. Veronica (Angela Featherstone) feels called to the surface, strictly forbidden the demon set by their Angel employers. Dad's so upset he's motivated to shout in her face in spittle-flecked hysteria of the sort only Nicolas Worth (so chilling as the psycho in DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE) can provide, flogging and striking her, and generally driving her from his door. She escapes with her dog Hellraiser and together they wind up cleaning up an surface city. Romancing a young handsome doctor and wandering around the crime-ridden park at night ripping spinal columns out of rapists and racist cops and feeding their impure hearts to her dog, Hellraiser. An angel tells Veronica's mom and dad to back the fuck off, Veronica's been called to the surface to punish the sinners! She hooks up with an ER doctor whose karmic balance is strong clearly due to all his selfless healing work, and who's hot and has a nice studio loft apartment for her to move right in.
|"To turn away from evil is to be an accomplice to evil"|
Through Veronica's actions we learn that demons aren't evil so much as determined to cause suffering and death to those who do evil, and that when acting is really really bad it becomes almost like innocence. Angela Featherstone's zombie acting style gives her crazy lines--part alien free of all humanity's typical shame and fear as she seeks to get the whole picture of life above--and part biblical vengeance--a deadpan flatline sincerity a better actor couldn't hope to match. Her bravely imperious tone when being questioned by suspicious cops is out-of-step even for 90% of other Satanic representatives in film. The way she delivers lines like "I don't require the blessings of the church to engage in unsanctioned sexual relations, Max" is so good I wish I had it as a ringtone. Even the sex scene is tasteful, and I love when she unfolds her true form--wings, horn, tail--after orgasm, in bed, and he's surprised but doesn't freak out, he's just like "hey, it's all right," in a normal late night bedroom voice. He's cool with it! It's all played dead straight, which is why it works so damn well, like Jacques Tourneur making films for a a Satanic Sunday school.
It might not be for all tastes, but in addition to Featherstone's wondrously low-key performance, I love the dreamlike grungy fairytale threadbare Guy Maddin meets Silk Stalkings ambiance (Hassani's directed a few episodes of the latter). It's the perfect film to pass out to by the tenth whiskey of the night. And if you're one of those sober Bickle-ish horror fans who has to really search his collection to find a suitable date movie, here it is. Once you see Veronica offer the would-be rapists spinal column to his intended victim as a trophy, you know there really is a God... and God is good.
Though if he really loved us, there would have been eight sequels, or even one.
PS 6/16 - see my updated close-up on this swell film here
Jija Yanin (CHOCOLATE) is a miracle, a wiry, scrappy little kicking so much ass she should charge by the truckload miracle, especially when she learns a hilarious mix of drunken monkey-style and break dancing. She's an avenging angel against kidnapper gangs, but rather than dipping into the usual sleaze and dispiriting inhumanity at the core of the Thai white slave trade, RAGING PHOENIX involves kidnapping women for their precious pheromones, which are mined via their precious tears in a bizarre underground nightmare lab/dungeon, eerily reminiscent of the tunnels talked about in reptilian conspiracy circles, replete with humans being hypnotized and farmed for emotional response-generated fluids --though melancholy reverie here rather than pain and fear; it's all masterminded by a transgendered martial arts master in a red kimono who does not go down easy.
Borrowing liberally across a long line of John Carpenter, George Romero and 28 DAYS, this French allegory is shot in that whiplash urban chic way that's become synonymous with modern horror films. Dudes, are running zombies all the rage now? In the original DAWN OF THE DEAD for example, the slow comical zombie moments allowed the human survivors time to reflect, reload and recognize themselves in the zombie's eyes, and it was more like our actual nightmares, wherein we're always running in mud or trapped as something shambles or crawls inexorably towards us. Then there's the whole RESIDENT EVIL virus that's infected so many zombie movies with 'money shot' climactic moments of one lone human discharging his/her armaments in full slow mo Matrix camera abandon and the shells come popping out of each machine pistol as they flash at acres of zombies pressing forward like literally rabid fans at a rock concert (see my Hell's Angels Vs. The Flower Child Dead).
But as for humans, you can do worse than the old Carpenter's saw of cops and robbers teaming up to fight the common foe. Eric Ebouaney is awesome (he's the guy slapping Rebecca Romjin in FEMME FATALE), playing a crazy Nigerian ex-child soldier turned drug dealer, with--exactly like Ice Cube's situation in the eerily similar GHOSTS OF MARS--a hothead brother who doesn't trust their new white cop allies. I like that they all get jacked up on cocaine--cop and crook alike-- before rushing out to battle, and a female zombie pinned to the floor provides weird cokehead gang rape frisson without having to get icky and dehumanizing and depressing like DEADGIRL (here just implication is enough), and when an old neighbor 'Indochine' veteran gets involved, and thinks the zombies are a "chink" counter-attack, you have the deadpan allegory of Romero, if not the shambling.
There's just a few problems here, one is making the sanctimonious pretty boy murph dillweed good guy the hero -John (Travis Aaron Wade) --and having his self-important dillweed girlfriend (Tina Huang) invite herself along on an all-guys Northern California camping trip / boar hunt just so she can make wise-ass cracks about their phallic gunsmanship --just what every boys' night out needs, a girl inviting herself along to heckle and emasculate them. Why even bother? If a guy can't kick his girlfriend out of the car he doesn't deserve to come!.
Ben (Howard Johnson Jr), Quincy(Trevor Bullock), and Wayne(Rajiv Shah) are the other friends, killed more or less in accordance with their stereotypes (Asian guy first, fat guy second, etc.). But hey, this film isn't about breaking new ground, its about giant man eating pigs protecting pot fields.
There's odd inconsistencies I shan't spoil, but there's also moments of genuine schlock anarchy: a coven of dope-growing hippie girls who preach back-to-nature while sporting silicone breast enhancements; in-joke homage and quotations (as in the fat guy quoting APOCALYPSE NOW); some good looking buds on the fields (John wants to call the police about the crop, which made me see red... hairs that is - a fucking narc tattletale like that deserves death); a rocking theme song from the reliably deranged Les Claypool (he shows up onscreen as a preacher who dies in a ROAD WARRIOR-homage) and a great antihero duo in the form of DELIVARENTS-ish local boys played supremely well by Jason Foster and Nick Tagas. Spiking their coffee, and ripping crank off their hunting knives, they show the right way to psych yourself up for killin'! I was rooting for them the whole time! Root, Hogs! Gut yourself some narc!
When the situation gets explosive and the DELIVERANCE boys rally the locals against these clean-shaven intruders, there's some riveting driving around and waving guns, and the emotional anguish and subsequent carnage is awesomely bodacious. However the monster finale is disappointing. For one thing, it seems oddly blocked, with a set-up that we don't know where anyone is in relation to each other half the time when they're all in the same outdoor pit. Why is everyone standing around watching this pig, with special fx snot hanging out of its nose, rooting around for victims? Wouldn't they want to hide... or something? It's kind of a let-down. But hey, four beers in, you won't give a sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeYIT