Thursday, July 21, 2016

Angels of Death Summer Viewing List: The Badass Brunette Edition

It's summertime here in the East Coast and if you're a Nordic in genes and temperament it's not your favorite season--in fact it's loathsome: too muggy, humid, sweaty and everyone frolicking about without a care in the world, mocking you and your Swedish allergy medicine depression. That means lots of time staying home and watching old horror movies on TV, the AC blasting, for that special chill cool horror causes. And cool horror means cool women, and if you love dark long flowing hair then you want brunettes, ideally with guns and sharp swords, slightly biker-tough. Blondes are the cornerstone of horror, but your Nordic mom is blonde, and you can't abide seeing a girl who looks like your mom when she was 29 and you were three years old and constantly struggling to get her attention, which to your three year-old emotional state is more precious than gold. Right? And then she comes at you like a wurdalak to drink your blood. You kneel at the base of her bed screaming and crying in terror, and she finally wakes fully up and you realize she was just moaning from having to deal with your three-year old's nightmare nonsense. (True story!) Nothing in my life has measured up to the fear of that three year-old nightmare moment. All the rest of our lives, mom and I used to joke about it, that is... by day. My mom was a mix of Doris Day, Bibi Andersson and Janet Leigh, and they've effectively split up for different parts of my psychic projection -- Doris I have a kind of hatred for, that aspect of mother one must reject and avoid when hitting latent puberty; Anderson, the sensual anima with far-away eyes and Nordic beauty, whose attention I still crave and lack; and Leigh, the vulnerable deer-in-the-headlights, stirring the responsibility one feels when made 'the man of the house' before they actually become men.

Knowing this you can imagine that I was sooo looking forward to Swedish director Nicholas Windig Refn's NEON DEMON; but then I read April Wolfe's review in the Voice. I can't even seem to think about it now without starting to shake in rage, like I did hearing a professor had screen IRREVERSIBLE in class without even a warning. So rather than get livid (which would just raise my heat index, the opposite of why we're here) let's talk cool brunettes, the capable women who win my affection by not depending on it. I see them completely as other - more associated with my dark-haird father, surely, and like him, strong, affectionate and kind of a partying badass.

9.  Arly Jover, Natasha Gregson Wagner 
Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace (2002)
A sequel to Carpenter's James Woods-starred vamp hunting movie, it's directed by Carpenter wingman Tommy Lee Wallace and I actually like it better than the original, which seemed surprisingly misogynistic and mean-spirited for Carpenter, with little of his old Hawksian reverence for cool feminine energy. This almost makes up for it as that the main vampire villain, Una (Arly Jover) is unreservedly fierce, strong and super-sexy but in a sleek, lithe dancer way, not in a softcore bimbo objectified way as women were in the first film (except for poor Laura Palmer vampire, saddled with meta-murph Danny Baldwin, for a love interest). Lightning fast, super strong and mentally unstoppable, Una hopes a bizarre priest-crucifying ceremony will enable her to walk in daylight, but a priest has to do it willingly, so elaborate preparation (and a good hostage) is needed. Sheathed in a lovely grey lame wrap dress (high fashion meets the mummy), Jover doesn't get many lines, nor does she need them; too fast for the naked eye, we see her moving back and forth like a swaying cobra, turning herself on by tuning into the beating hearts of her impending victims, giving playful licks to the neck of lovely Natsha Gregson Wagner, seducing the claustrophobic black vampire slayer (Darius McCarey), scaring James Wood's replacement in the Vatican vamp slaying business, Jon Bon Jovi (he's great - who knew?), and his priest acolyte, she handily wins us to the dark side.

If Jover doesn't entirely make up for the direct-to-video budget, dig too the cute love story between shoot-first ask-questions-never Jovi and "I'm bit but got pills that stop me turning vamp"- HIV analogy-trundling naif Natasha Gregosn Wagner. And is that future Mexican film star Diego Luna (Et tu mama tambien) as the local kid who signs on for the kill with a (falsified?) note from his parents? It is, and even with his weird face and strange manner the kid has undeniable screen charisma; you don't know why but you can smell impending stardom all over him. Blood never lies. 

10. Natasha Gregson Wagner
Dir. Richard Elfman

From VAMPIRE'S KISS, THE ADDICTION and NADJA in the east, and NEAR DARK and VAMPIRES in the west, the 90s was a high time for hipster vampires and this little honey of a made-for-cable horror has a lot of that 'blood as an addiction/heroin/schizophrenia metaphor vibe' so essential to the zeitgeist, only with almost none of the tired morality. This one follows the love affair between roaming vampire Casper Van Dien (showing a real relish for this kind of morale-free bloodthirsty killer romantic role, rather than his usual dull square-jawed heroes) whose arrival back in LA garners the ire of local party legend Dracula, (seems Dien initiated Van Helsing into vamp killing by turning Van's sick son way back when and Drac never forgave him). Alas, this all also coincides with Van Helsing's visit, and a girl Dien vamped out years ago (Natasha Gregson Wagner) who's been running wild, feasting on the dumb johns, rubes, squares, suckers, and marks of Hollywood Boulevard, without a  thought to covering her tracks. Drac doesn't like that nonsense either. Uh oh. 

What's so great about this nutty film is that, thanks to a gleefully savage script by Matthew Bright, these vamps are portrayed as nice cool folks to party with on the one hand, but vicious sociopaths on the other. These creatures don't waste their time hunting deer for blood like the Twilight crowd --they go right for the jugulars of human beings, showing cheerful disregard for all the screaming and pleading. Seeing naked bound humans terrorized and bled at the local vamp club presented as mere background to the dialogue and typical club exposition is wondrously refreshing in that its amorality is so disturbing. That may sound callous of me, but after so many films where 'newborn' vamps hold onto their moral center by refusing to drink humans, preferring to get the blood secondhand from their girlfriend vamp's vein (ala Lost Boys or Near Dark - which somehow makes it okay) or stay "vegetarian" (drinking animal blood) in order to--let's face it--spare the audience the discomfort of sympathizing with killers. I mean I'm as sensitive or more so than the next guy, but that kind of honesty is such a relief after so much of the namby-pamby compromise that deadens vamp romances. It's a reminder of just how long it was from Clockwork Orange to 1994: the Year Tarantino and Fiorentino saved us from Vampire Morality

Friend of scriptwriter Bright, and director brother Richard (the three of them worked on The Forbidden Zone), Danny Elfman delivers one of his better scores of vocalizing and vamping (ala his work on Burton's Ed Wood and Mars Attacks) which fuses nicely with wild panther noises when newbie vamp Natasha Gregson Wagner--strutting and looking glamorous as all hell even in slutty short-shorts--strikes at her johns and bloodies their cars and nearby alleys. Smokin' hot but sufficiently ferocious not to seem chintzy about it, with her shock of (dyed - hence makes the list) blonde hair, and habit of cartwheeling drunk into trash piles, Wagner just might be the best 'hot mess' vamp of the 90s. Not only that, her love affair with CVD is genuinely touching. How rare is that?

And damn right you'll be IMDB-ing Bright after this if you don't already know the name, and once you do and realize he also wrote FREEWAY and DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT, then suddenly you're hooked. Who is this guy and why isn't he revered to this day as the blood-slicked gully between the Hills Jack and Walter? Not sure. He fell off the map a little bit after this and devolved into downers like FREEWAY 2: CONFESSIONS OF A TRICK BABY and BUNDY, which is a drag. Oh well, no one is perfect forever, and as far as made-for-late-night-cable schlock goes, this film is a frickin quasi-gold nugget I'd never have known about it if not for Quiet Cool puttin' me wise. 

What I love about Bright, so apparent in this, DARK ANGEL and the first FREEWAY is that he has a yen for truly dangerous women--the type who don't need to be assaulted by men before they're allowed to kill them. I can sense Bright shares too my hatred of films where newbie vamps suffer tortures of thirst rather than bite some random pedestrian cuz it would be wrong or something. Dude we're adults, why not have him kill a bunch of people and then feel guilty about it later, like the rest of us probably would? That's just life... and death. We're all adults here! Or will be by the time we get to see this movie on Blu-ray! 

That's not to say it's a perfect film. I abhor the gangbang scene, and Rod Steiger makes an unbearably hammy Van Helsing (that accent is maybe the worst thing he ever did - but who's going to tell him? The guy's a fucking legend). But the rest of supporting cast is to willingly die for: Udo Kier. Craig Ferguson, Kim Cattrall, and Natalya Andreychenko, plus a hilarious trio of Crips whom Van Helsing hires to help him raid vampire nests. You may have to buy the Uranian DVD to see it, but you must, no matter how missable it may seem from the made-for-cable 90s flatness of the hair and clothes.

Joséphine de La Baume and Roxane Mesquida
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes
Bearded screenwriter Paolo's (Milo Ventimiglio) smoldering eyes meet those of the alluring but stand-offish Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) at the local video store. They both love movies, what a connection! But they can only hook up if he chains her to her bed, as she finally tells him, because she grows fangs and glowing eyes when aroused. After an impressively short bout of initial disbelief, Paolo's just too turned-on to not unchain her and let the bites fall where they may. Hey, it's like when you're so in love you don't bother with a condom. This movie gets that. It's a level of romantic attraction that can no sooner stop for 'safety' than a tidal wave pause to spare a sandcastle. In this day and age the vampire heterosexual love thing may seem trite, but Paolo and Djuna are so good together, so model-perfect without being smug or arch about it, that it's hard not to swoon regardless of any initial impulse to hate him on principle. With its impeccable color schemes (all the better to perfectly bring out La Baume's gorgeous red hair and pale skin) the occasional bouts of vivid sex (not so much it ever gets tiresome or superfluous), and the vintage mellotron slink of Steven Hufsteter's score, this retro-lyrical vampire love story would be a hard thing to fuck up, and this impressive debut from the daughter of John Cassavetes is far from fucked-up. It almost doesn't even matter if it goes anywhere other than 'not very not far' because it goes there so very coolly. 

In that sense too I like it worlds better than the similarly stylized and better-reviewed Duke of Burgundy which is burdened by a fundamental bad casting decision (to use ordinary looking actresses in frumpy middle age or thereabouts rather than gorgeous clothes horses for the leads is an interesting idea but it doesn't work for the Eurosleaze genre - if you're going to do Petra von Kant or Warhol-style aging divas they at least need to be histrionic--as there's nothing else going on to hold our attention, especially in HD--we hunger for beauty). Here the delicately low-key romantic chemistry of La Baume and Ventimiglio intoxicates so much because they're both so beautiful on their own but have genuine 'cosmetic chemistry' that's both skin deep and regular deep. The result- together they transcend mere window dressing smolder. The result is sublime cinema crack cocaine for the eye, so when Djuna's wild child vamp sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, needing a place to crash after laying waste to the clubs of Amsterdam, we recoil in frustration like we're Gene Tierney cockblocked by apple-cheeked cherubs in Leave Her to Heaven in reverse... What kid of a famous filmmaker has ever made us feel that inclusive intoxication, aside from Sofia Coppola once

12. Alison Elliott as Nora, and the reincarnation spectra of Irish druid generations
(1998) Dir. Michael Almereyda

If Eugene O'Neill adapted Bram Stoker's "Jewel of the Seven Stars" and set it in NYC 90s with the help of Hemingway and Lew Landers, I think we'd have the ETERNAL. I found this gem by being into Almereyda's black and white vampire hipster film NADJA and learning he made this afterwards, another hip salute to classic horror films utilizing contrasting film stocks and speeds to create weird ESP interconnectivity between past, present, human and witchy... Starting in NYC and ending up on a windswept Irish shore, it's about reincarnation and a mummified druid priestess found in the basement and woken up by Christopher Walken right as Nora returns home. Noting her body's been preserved by all the tannin in the peat, Walken's pretty enthralled by his discovery--an ancestor of his family... and therefore Alison's (Alison Eliot) who's been having migraine black-outs and drinking and goes to the homestead in Ireland almost as if called by some unseen force, her fun-loving drunk husband (Jared Harris) and owlish ginger son in tow.

One of the unique subtexts at work here is an undercurrent of pro-drunken feminist anger as pointed as Eugene O'Neill's in Anna Christie. Nora regularly has drinks taken out of her hands by fellow drunk husband Jim who says "none for us, we're quitting" and makes a big show of enjoying life without it all while nipping from a flask unseen. That kind of balderdash makes me want to wretch! The way the drinks pass her wide eyes by, or the way she works hard to seem deadpan when getting offered some whiskey down in the basement once Jim's upstairs with the ginger kid --it's the kind of stuff only drunks like myself probably feel so keenly, and non-drunk directors don't even seem to notice as keenly as others when adapting O'Neill's works. Very few playwrights capture the way every offered drink, every vulnerable liquor bottle, warms the alcoholic's blood like a siren call, and every 'no thanks' on their behalf freezes the blood like a gut punch they're not allowed to wince from, lest they prove just how valid their family's concerns are. I lost my train of thought. (more)

See also: Michael Almereyda's previous hipster/30s horror deconstruct, NADJA (Elina Löwensohn)
See also: Hammer's adaptation of Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB  (Valerie Leon, above) 
See also: Virginia Christine in: CURSE OF THE MUMMY (1942) 

 2-3. Lili Taylor + Catherine Zeta Jones
(2001) - Dir Jan de Bont

Whenever I feel a close sisterly affinity with an actress I check when and where she was born - sure enough, like me Lili Taylor is a Pisces born in 1967 Illinois. Like me, she's an introverted mirrorer - meaning she can reflect, distort, match and amplify other people in one-on-one encounters; we love one or two people at a time, but we start to lose ourselves the larger the group. We can't mirror everyone at the same time, so we begin to vanish, or freeze, get a panic attack trying to process all the voices. Still, give us time alone with a cool chick reflector like Catherine Zeta Jones, we're like an awesome sexy feedback machine - it's only when the dull boys show up things wonk out. Jones' dialogue, clunky, in their initial meeting, her bragging about her Prada Milan boots and so forth is overcome by her knack for delivering lines with a cheeky delight: "This is so twisted, Susan Foster Kane meets the Addams Family," it's that playful knack Taylor mirrors so well.

An Aires born 1969 in Wales, Jones has a twin sign reflector skill herself. She's never been outshone in any film - always able to reflect her co-star/s' radiance, no matter how acclaimed they are. Put two reflectors together like Jones and Taylor in the first chunk of Haunting- and there's instant lesbian affinity that overwhelms Taylor's character right out of her mousy caretaker role, and delights Jones who in turn is fascinated by Taylor's instant crush on her, then quickly moves on once the rest of the guests arrive. Most hilariously is the way, for example, Taylor echoes the ominous words of the uptight housekeeper ("we lock the gates after dark") while giving Jones a sly grin. If only it was just the two of them, running through the house in all its giddy overdressed splendor (funhouse rooms with mirrors and revolving floors, etc), secret panels, living griffins, imprisoned souls, et al. Haunting would be a total classic. But then comes the boys--Liam Neeson and Owen Wilson--in career acting lows apiece. It's as if--realizing the film's already been stolen by these two raven-haired demonesses-- they decide to just wreck the remaining reels with their smarmy banality.

Jones toys with Owen, bemusedly, partially to get under Taylor's skin, partially out of habit, but always good-naturedly (girls who want guys to stop hitting on them without making them feel angry and dejected should study her deflector skill), and eventually Owen drops the "my smile is so disarming" confident smugness and starts to accept his position in her life as a little brother figure not a possible lover.

As for Neeson, well, he is --plain and simple-- an embarrassment.

As I've written, I prefer this film to the original Haunting - I know its' heresy--and I know the original is a vastly better movie, scarier, better acted, far more artistic and psychologically complex-- but I'm sorry - Russ Tamblyn's little Bronx gremlin face and one-track greed dialogue and hipster "don't give me any of that supernatural jazz" is as wearying as the smug puns, strained exposition ("that's the easiest way to dismiss the supernatural, by pleading insanity or accusing others of it"), diatribes, and shrill shouting. Between Julie Harris' snapping at everyone, the rest of the cast patronizing her so relentlessly, it's hard to tell if they're right and she needs psychiatric care or they are provoking her deliberately for some sadistic 'scientific' effect. Either way, it all aggravates my hangover whether or not I have one. More proof? Compare Harris' dowdy provincialism to say, Deborah Kerr's 'unhinged Poppins' in The Innocents and you're reminded that while some Brit actresses lend oomph, warmth and gusto to even their spinster roles, others--like psychic vampires--just drain the life out of everything but their own repressed bitterness.  On the other hand, the 1963 version has great prowling camerawork, an ethereal paranoia-engendering sound mix, and goddess Claire Bloom. When she's wearing that pendant and black sweater I feel my soul waken from its elder god slumber. When Harris calls her "nature's mistake," implying her lesbian tendencies, I lose all sympathy for that spinster bitch. That never happens with Taylor, even if the film goes way off the rails around her.

Also check Taylor in THE ADDICTION (1991) my favorite of both Taylor's and of Abel Ferrara's- with perfect fusion between her off-the-cuff whispery thrilled aliveness, Ferrara's druggy downtown cool, and screenwriter Nicholas St. John's doctoral thesis in philosophy-on-heroin stream-of-consciousness and the Village at the height of its rock sticker-layered post-punk decadence. I was living on 15th and 7th and used to walk past all these spots, hungover or drunk out of my mind, and lemmie tell ya, it was really like that - all the black tailgate partying on the weekends, Rastas sellin' ganja (maybe), used record and clothing stores every half-step, awesome. All gone now... god damn it all.

4. Rose McGowan
(2007) - Dir. Robert Rodriguez

Now that I've had the chance to see the Hateful Eight three or four times, it's become apparent to me just how much that film belongs to Samuel Jackson--how he 'owns' it and centers it and gets the bulk of dialogue. Similarly, seeing PLANET TERROR seven or more times it becomes apparent just how much Rose McGowan's movie this is - how even surrounded by heavy hitters (Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Freddy Rodriguez)  she OWNS it. As go-go dancer Cherry, she gets the most lines and screen time and chances to display range; she changes the most as a character, starting from 'it's go-go not cry-cry' to becoming all she can be all over one long crazy night, spilling gallons of infected blood while running (with one leg and no crutches) the gamut (bottoming out with her crying one-legged striptease for a repugnant Quentin) and then ever upwards. 

Part of what makes the film work is its moral twilight where none are good or evil without some part of the other (for example, Marley Shelton plays a terrible mother and wife, but one of the intrepid hero survivors; Brolin is at least a 'great 70s dad' and good doctor ["we're gonna have to take the arm, Joe"] while also being Shelton's murderously jealous husband); Biehn focuses on arresting El Rey ("are you a 'wrecker,' Rey?") rather than focusing on the town going to shit all around him; Bruce Willis shot Osama bin Laden and was screwed over by the army brass so went rogue, etc. Only Rey himself and Cherry (McGowan)--the least respectable on paper (ex-con, go-go dancer)--are truly the knight-errants. Repeat viewings reveal McGowan's journey is one shared by every college graduate with no prospects - how to make use of your list of seemingly useless talents to find a life purpose, all while the biological clock is ticking and opportunity windows are closing before they're even all the way open. Sometimes the less options there are, the bigger the yet-uncreated role you were meant to fill. Is that what real heroism is all about? Funny that her and Rey's motto is 'two against the world,' when they're the most unselfish ones of their group, and therefore truly their sisters' keepers and the finders of immune survivors.

Rose McGowan
(1991)  **1/2

I suppose most people would think of Charmed or Scream  when they think of Rose McGowan (1), but me? I think of Planet Terror and this. I don't love it but I sure can watch it a lot. It's got several things I like (strong, cute women with guns walking down a deserted snowy street, flanked on all sides by mountains; a lowering of the line of the chains that separate walks of life and law so the civilians, the military, cops, crooks, drunks etc. unite against a common foe; a cool monster); and nothing I don't. There are no tedious small town Americana details, no kids, moms, and old folks and checker games and moseying along familiar set-ups and corn pone cliches; there is no feel-bad Kramer-esque liberalism of the 'we're the evil aliens' soapboxing, like Day the Earth Stood Still, Man from Planet X, etc. And I love its shades of Carpenter's Thing, and Prince of Darkness  (and that it's set over one long night). And I relate to being all freaked out when a sibling or best friend lures you to their bohunk town for the holidays, and you're all cranky and anxious, dreading being stifled by the above small town niceness, only to find the town empty, dark and seemingly alive inside its own shadow. I like the ominous pipe groans, the readiness of the girls to cowboy up at the sheriff's office. I don't love it, but I like it all. 

Rose McGowan is great as the grumpy visiting heroine and some cute chick named Joanna Going is her sister, the local. I don't even mind Ben Affleck as the pleasingly nondescript sheriff or the miscast Nicky Katt and the beady-eyed Schreiber as the deputies. I don't mind that these three New Yorker types are so out of place in Colorado law enforcement. The only person in the whole cast who seems believably from the Rocky Mountain area is Bo Hopkins, stealing a scene with O'Toole in a private plane. Affleck's too young and his hair's too slick and short to be believable as a sheriff but he's not all Batman pudgy yet either, so... hey, and there's Peter O'Toole for god's sake! Are you not hooked?

4. Melanie Scorfano
(SyFy series)

Sharknado is the kind of movie Syfy premieres, but they also import cool shows from Canada, where strong female leads remind us that not every country is as repressed and sexist as us. I was a fan of Lost Girl for awhile but it got annoying when Bo started getting all self-righteous and refusing to kill people and suck up their souls. Wynona Earp is comfortable with killing in cold blood, and I like that. I'm also a fan of the star Melanie Scorfano, playing an accursed direct descendent of Wyatt Earp, whose past enemies, whom he hung all in a row, are back to haunt his ancestors, and she has an ornate demon killing gun to help her finally undo the curse. Wynonna's sister Waverly tends bar at the local watering hole and has a lesbian relationship with a cute cop. It's Canadian, so booze and casual sex aren't considered inherently evil, thus there's lots of both, occasionally on-point Black Hills-ish South Dakota country accents, and creative plot twisets. Even the main bad guy (Bobo) is at least cool in a Hitchcockian sort of way, even forging a strange bond with Waverly, etc. and there's females in traditionally male roles (like the blacksmith) and so the intersection of newer progressive values and old school western traditions making it all very nice and wry. Kickass Scrofano could be the cooler little sister of Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction and manages to hold it all together without ever becoming bitchy, maternal, or cross, all without an ounce of cloying sedimentary sweetness, but plenty of sisterhood, drinking, and weird curses, hellfire, and two-fisted-but-very-womanly gusto that's way beyond most American actresses. 

6. Famke Janssen - WITCH!
(2012) - Dir Tommy Wirkola 
Since I have distant ancestors hung as witches in Salem I'm still sensitive on this issue (that's a joke, how could I possibly remember them? 300 years is a long time, even the ancestral curses have worn off) but you can't call a film misogynist for using the words 'witch' and 'hunters' back to back (though when this first came out I certainly did try), and if there's any unsettling aura of gynocide in this semi steampunk past it's only in dickweed Peter Stormare and his good ole boy constabulary, who try to get rapey with our Gemma Arterton (sister witch hunter) and get smashed up real troll-wise instead. Still we learn not to budge jooks by the clubbers as there's a good witch too (Phila Vitala) and the bad ones are led by the great Famke Janssen, fast proving herself to be such a welcome beauty that perhaps the entire world is as smitten with her as poor Logan in X-Men (and me). We'd follow her off a cliff and director Wirkola (who gave us Dead Sno 2 after this) pulls no punches, even as it's got so many strong females that if it is misogynist it's also a tribute to the inner resilience of womankind. See also Famke's great work in Lord of Illusions, Deep Rising and fuckin' love you, Famke.

See also with Famke

(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez
This movie came and went in theaters and is easy to overlook, awash as Netflix is in dumped-to-video teen horror films. But I saw this in the theater, and dug the romance between Famke Janssen and the drug-dealing high school brooder Josh Hartnett; there's also a new girl in school (Laura Harris), a mysterious outbreak of body-snatcher's style teacher takeover. The resulting film has the best use of getting called into the principal's office as a cause for genuine terror ever, and a keenly-felt amount of dread and frustration with parents that would rather tear apart your room looking for drugs then take seriously your strange claims about alien takeovers. The all-star cast includes: John Stewart as the science teacher; Terminator 2's Robert Patrick as the gym coach; Famke Jannsen as an English teacher; Selma Hayek as the nurse; Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as vice principals, apparently all jumping at the chance to work with Roberto Rodriguez and Scream writer Kevin Williamson (this time he keeps the film references in check, focusing instead on sci-fi novels). The younger cast includes Clea Duvall is the Aly Sheedy-style outcast (in case you didn't make the Breakfast Club connection); Josh Hartnett as the drug dealer who does some magical thing to Famke (she masks it in concern for his lifestyle); and Jordana Brewster as a bitchy school newspaper reporter cheerleader bemused by photographer Elija Wood's infatuation with her. To make sure we get Kevin Williamson self-reflexive intertextuality, Duvall explains that Finney's Body Snatchers was a rip-off of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, and Wood theorizes aliens promoted these themes in fiction as advance disinformation, so that no one would believe it when they happened for real, ala Bruce Rux, MAJ-12, etc.)

It all might seem kind of self-consciously satirical, but the attempts of the new student (Laura Harris) to connect are pretty touchingly rendered, her existential loneliness the closest thing to a genuine high school emotion. Oh yeah, aside from stoner crank dealer Josh Hartnett, hottie nerd teacher Famke Janssen, nerdo Baggins, there's Usher as a football jock! A memorable Marilyn Manson "We Don't Need No Education" runs under the uber-violent football game, connecting the cosmic dread of death with the fascist-pagan ceremonial barbarism of small town high school football. Best of all is how fast the heroes fall prey to the alien take-over: their romances flare up and fade before they get tiresome and it all moves inexorably onwards through to a brief but satisfying running time. Roberto Rodriguez's direction is tight, as it often is when he's not trying to make an auteur statement. This baby came and went in the Kevin Williamson post-Scream gold rush (i.e. I know What You Did Last Summer), by 1999, Blair Witch Project and Sixth Sense had taken over. That's show biz. Sooner or later every form and genre is absorbed and replaced by some thirsty imitation.

See also by Wirkola:

 Ingrid Haas, and the lovely Jocelyn DeBoer
"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola
The Bride of Frankenstein of satirical Nazi zombie pictures, it starts during the climax of the first film: Martin (Vegar Hoel) wakes up in Norway's socialized healthcare system with the the dreaded Colonel Herzog's (Ørjan Gamst) arm sewed onto him (the EMPs found it in the car with him) and now Martin can raise the dead. Naturally once he's released he resurrects a bunch of Russian POWs (that were executed by the Nazis and buried in a mass grave up in the Norwegian mountains - so I guess the frost preserved them fairly well), to go up against Herzog's still slaughterin' crew (who find time to rampage through a WW2 museum and get their hands on an old still-functional Panzer tank!). Martin also recruits three young American geeks-- 'the Zombie Squad' --to fly up to help him: Martin Starr (Party Down, Burning Love), Ingrid Haas, and the lovely Jocelyn DeBoer (above center) as the type who can have her pick of any man at the San Diego comic-con but probably doesn't even realize it, which adds to her smokey eyes and long red hair to make her the coolest thing south of the Arctic circle. Best of all, aside from an over-the-top small town sheriff (who thinks Martin is the one killing everyone), the cast plays it dead straight, as nature, science and Nordic tradition demands. Miss it at your own risk. It's in English (not dubbed): even the non-American actors speak it beautifully, but if you watch this back-to-back with the Norwegian language first film the result can be jarring, so don't.

See also w/ Gemma Arterton:

8. Gemma Arterton
(2013) Dir Neil Jordan
Irish director Neil Jordan loves cinema, beautiful girls, cinematic violence and the tawdry vice-ridden tourist traps of the UK seaside. He does them all well, if not too wisely, and here he swirls them together like frosting on the existential women's picture (ala Suzuki not Cukor), yoked sublimely to the Anne Rice-readymade tale of a 200+ year old vampire streetwalker and her equally ageless euthanasiast daughter (Saoirse Ronan). The film has a rare, sure style, it's filmed in such gorgeous purple and blue filters it seems unfixed to any one century. It's a film out to ensnare the hearts of the real life Edgar Allen Poe, his child wife/cousin, the Bronte sisters, and 15 year-old Twilight fans all in the same razor-studded wire net. Gemma Arterton stars as Carmilla (!), we see her tossed by an uncaring officer into a brothel back in the 1700s, later following him off to the remote Irish coast island (Hy-Brasil?) where anyone who enters a certain cave and bathes in bats or whatever is imbued with immortal vampirism - a secret kept by an all-male Illuminati-style brotherhood who don't want any girls mucking it up, to the point they've had hit teams on her trail since they found out she'd been turned. By 2013 she's still making her way by turning tricks, drinking her johns, as it were, if they get too bold, and building a home for her daughter however she can. Saoirse is more introverted, she writes in longhand (leading to the narration), and plays angel of mercy by only drinking-killing old folks who are 'ready' to go and who all seem to recognize her as their deliverance come at last.

Actually, she's kind of a drip, a bit like Edwina's daughter in Absolutely Fabulous, while Arterton is a ferocious force of nature (and hence makes the cut). Though hundreds of years old, she's still just as daft as the day she was bit, and it's odd hearing a working class Brit accent on such a creature but it fits with her voracious brio, the affection she garners for the gentler--often terribly lonely--clients of her ancient trade and her rabid relish in tearing the bad ones apart, especially if they impugn her mothering skill or threaten her daughter. Still, if, in the end, Jordan's film, somehow doesn't ultimately seem to add up or say anything new, that doesn't mean he's fallen short of any mark, for this is a wild, rich, odd film marred only by its dawdling over boys and Dickensian flashbacks. Jordan has a huge, rich body of work behind him, and you can feel it all coming to bear here to deliver a vivid mix tawdry seaside grunginess, historical costume bodice ripping, fairy tale dream poetics, and a uniquely humane tolerance towards deviance.

Anitra Ford and Joy Bang
(1973) ****
You can argue the rest of the film is merely a very cool quiet Lovecraft of the Living Dead-style melt down with some very cool wall paintings but you can't compare the strange bond between the two girlfriend's of the sleepy-eyed aesthete (Michael Greer) to any other menage-a-trois in any film (except of course Performance). Though the three are all apparently lovers there's never much sexual chemistry betwixt them or anywhere in the film, but there's a drowsy affection, very laid kind of tranquility, and a wordless deep sense of connection that's way more interesting and rarely seen anywhere else in film. You get the sense these three people have done quite a bit of driving together, seen some crazy shit, and--maybe a month or so ago--were deeply enthralled with each other, vibing on a communal three-way LSD-fueled artistic road trip odyssey that's now coming to its end as organically as it started. Tired from a lot of sex and drugs and monkey-grooming, caught up in the rhythm of the sea outside the windows, they're still close but Anitra Ford (never hotter or cooler dressed with that gorgeous contrast of long, willowy trunk and crazy hot mess of hair) and her associate, cute little Joy Bang (whom you presume Hill and Greer picked up a few states back hitch-hiking and who's become their de facto Michele Breton) are both getting restless and ready to disappear back into the night. Ford gets mildly perturbed when Greer loses all interest in her as Arletty (Mariana Hill) rolls into his sights, and so leaves him and Joy behind to go wander into the town, presuming she can hitch a ride and start a whole new adventure. Her confident slow vanishing into the quiet abyss of the oceanside night is chilling in its Edward Hopper-ish ominous finality... Bang follows awhile later to go to the movies, and is more the unconscious popcorn smacker, but she's young and tender, and for the hungry locals she's a perfect snack before the main feature. In short, though I only got this disc a few years ago, I've already seen it at least six times. So shouldn't you? Maybe like me you'll love everything about it, even the little creatures!

65. Anna D'Annunzio as Barbara
(2013) Dir Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Hélène Cattet et Bruno Forlani, of the Darionioni Nuovo take Argento and smash him into a thousand mirror shards for this hyper-surreal Freudian mind-meld. Arriving late from traveling into his very gorgeous art nouveau apartment building, French middle-aged executive Dan (Klaus Tange) finds his wife missing and only a series of bizarre clues as to where she disappeared to. Apparently she's either dead or in bed with some sadistic lesbian lover somewhere inside the massive byzantine, super strange building. As we gawk in awe and wonder what parts of this amazing edifice are sets and which actual building interiors, we-- irregardless of the sensual dangers behind every wall--long to move in forever. As strange clues are whispered through vents; elderly neighbors relate haunting story flashbacks that don't ever return to the present; eyes peer through ceiling holes and vice versa; a gendarme detective drops to help Dan knock on doors but no one he's met before is the same person who answers this time, so of course Dan looks guiltier than ever.

Going up to the roof for a cigarette Dan meets Barbara (Anna D'Annunzio) and we just know he's found some dark dangerous anima void, probably the one who killed his wife or knows where she's stored. She's the type of girl a man meets only in rare and strange dreams where she hides or waits within rooms within locked rooms and only by sheerest chance do we ever actually meet her face-to-face. She's so hot yet dark and dangerous that death and desire, agony and ecstasy orbit and merge into her aura as time stands whirlpool maelstrom still - she could be the evil daughter of those witches in the Three Mothers Trilogy. How she manages to convey this with little more than a black satin shirt, open collar and long dark hair, dark red lipstick is beyond me, but just meeting her causes a blood chilling sensation in both Dan and the viewer that's like a razor blade dipped in ice water run down our backs. A sublime and terrifying anima, we get the feeling that we'll never find her again, or escape her bedroom vortex if we do, except on her own mutilating terms. She may be the one who sliced up our wife (presuming she's dead) and going to bed with her will be a fatal mistake we'd be a fool not to make. Harrowing enough to make Hellraiser's Pinhead reach for his safe word, this harbinger of slashing, glass-eating, and multicolored gem fingernail gashing, is so vividly photographed that sweet pain and unbearable pleasure, intoxicating agony, nonexistent time blow your brains back in right onscreen like a reverse R. Bud Dwyer. Rewind forever, Dan, and learn nothing. 


  1. In 'The Faculty" it's NOT "we don't need no education" .. it's a version (M. Manson's) of PINK FLOYD's (R. Waters lyrics) "Another Brick in the Wall" (duh!)!

    1. Sorry Sensei - I was going by what the burnouts in my middle school called it.


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