Unlimited constant availability makes choosing movies daunting. Now Tubi! With so may platforms and titles stretching into infinity, one can feel eternally stranded at some giant video store, paralyzed by indecision, while mom waits ever more frustrated in the car (a recurring dream I have). But Tubi! At least in the days of the video store you could narrow it down to 2-3 choices, so when you got home your selection was much narrower. Nowadays you take home not only the video store in its entirety, nothing title is ever unavailable / already rented out. How can you pick and stick with just one?
TUBI here! Relax. Tubi come.
I've recently fallen in love with old Tubi. It's a free streaming service with (a manageable amount of) commercials and has eclipsed Amazon Prime in stocking all the super-weird / cool shizz from the golden age (i.e. pre-CGI). Amazon still has a lot, but they tend to disappear and/or suddenly cost $ to rent. Everything on Tubi is free, including the Charles Band catalogue, so no unpleasant surprises. Not only is all the weirdest, wildest stuff here, but the occasional spate of commercials bring a lot of nostalgic and strange value if you were a child in the pre-cable / VCR era. Commercials provide breathing and bathroom space, and since the titles aren't censored there's a lot of great ironic counterpoint to, say, having a bloody vivisection interrupted by an ad for Geico's new bundling service. Some of these babies have never had a commercial break in their lives, and it gives them a kind of subliminal network respectability. The only drawback is, unlike on Youtube, there's no way to get it to automatically play the next title in your list once what you're watching ends. Instead Tubi picks some random, less weird title and shoves it down your throat the minute the credits stop. I have no intention of watching Shrek Forever After when I'm done with Blood and Black Lace (I'd want Baron Blood) or Are we There Yet? after Shivers (instead of The Crazies) but there you are.
PS - In book news, I've been digging the new Bleeding Skull!: A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey, in glorious glossy color (finally), with reds that bleed all over your Polonia tube socks. If, like me. you only heard of a handful of the titles mentioned in BS, then you too might start looking for the ones they wax gushingly on about. Then welcome to TUBI! You can immediately stop watching with ease. Five minutes into a Polonia, Todd Sheets or J.R. Bookwalter movie is all I've ever gotten. Though I did manage to finish all of La Polonia's hilarious Black Magic, I couldn't get more than a few minutes into Feeders. Turns out a lot of things those guys--Thrower, Choi, Ziemba--love are really an acquired taste. You probably had to be a young child in the slasher-80s so didn't know any better and imprinted on VHS slashers the way my generation imprinted on UHF TV classic horror double features. Luckily there is a big swath where our tastes doth meet: I love Frozen Scream, Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo, Winterbeast, (ooh, a pattern!).
PPS - Needing a theme, this list ties in also with my ongoing Dangerous Women collection, a round-up of women who kill without getting all whiny about it. The women who can just kill and kick ass and not let it bug them, the women who can kill with a smile --these deadly woman are the incarnations of Kali, the patron goddess of Acidemic! In the words of "Old Toad Face" in Gunga Din, Kali! Kali! KALI!
If the tough "gamin" from Dementia kept her brains in a jar in an Eraserhead-style steam heated room, wandered around the desolate nighttime cityscape killing people with her grotesque facial mutation ala From Beyond and tinkered around with strange animated objects and post-industrial fixtures, well, you'd have one weird-ass flick. You'd have Disembodied, the artsy feature debut from experimental filmmaker William Kursten (!)
It's a weird homage and surrealist abstraction, part post-industrial sci-fi, part grungy punk urban decay, mostly occurring in a fleabag hotel room that seems ever ready to devolve into Tarkovsky x Lynch fecund indoor/outdoor moldy wilderness. Connie Sproutz (Anastasia Woolverton) doesn't fit any one mold; what is her deal? She can dance around in garish summer dress; give herself a coffee buzz by pouring a whole pot into the brain vat; organize her bouncing rocks; dream of cool claymation Yves Tanguy-esque space anemones; spy on her cute redhead freelance hustler neighbor (Hanna Nease) through a hole in the wall; avoid the skeevy hotel clerk who keeps asking her over to watch his old 16mm reels of industrial stock footage; and then--when even the night owls are asleep--she hits the town, rarin' to dissolve any lone passers-by with jetting puss from her facial tumor so she may consume the gooey remains (ala Troll 2). Dashes of Repo Man, Brain Damage, and Liquid Sky pepper the events to come as her old employer at a research lab comes gunning for her and her hyper-intelligent alien facial tumor. I think. It doesn't pay if you try too hard to figure out what's going on; surrendering to the high concept weirdness may give you that out-of-body experience. Resisting might give you a headache, existential nausea, and/or skeeved-out.
It's bow vs. boa in this severely cracked and cloudy gem from Italy's early-80s sword and sorcery family. In a world that is still, apparently, cooling down from its volcanic conception (the air is opaque throughout, as if the whole outdoors was one vast steam bath), a young archer named Iliad (Andrea Occhipinti), travels across the waters to a new land, where his presence soon spooks the druggy dreams of brain-eating lady sorceress Ocron (Sabrina Siani). Naked but for a metal mask and a slithering boa constrictor (that 1981 Nastassja Kinski photo was still 'in') she sends wave after wave of her wolf-and-ape-headed minions out into the fog to bring her back the tasty brain-filled head and magic bow of plucky Iliad, but he gets help too from wandering hunk named Mace (Jorge Rivero), who is loved by all animals. Hawks warn Mace of approaching monsters; dolphins bite off his bonds when he's crucified at the bottom of the sea, etc. Naturally they decide to travel together... Iliad will teach of the magic bow; Mace will teach Iliad the tricks of this new land, and the monsters shall come at them fast and furious. And always... always... in a cloud of murky fog. What could go wrong?
The best scenes of course are the weird druggy brain-eating rites performed deep and out of focus in Ocron's cavern. She does a lot of gyrating on her fur-covered stone bed with her snake, dreaming of Iliad without. a face. At one point her wolfheaded underlings pass around a weird combination coke straw/toothpick/joint from nostril to nostril. We never learn what is in the straw, but the passing the straw vibe evokes the extended drug orgy scenes in Abel Ferrara movies! Way to get high, dream of faceless archer boys, and eat brains, Ocron!
Despite her alienating (and rather overtly misogynist) metal mask, we come to kind of root for this evil brain-eating sorceress named Ocron and her grunting supplicants. Pulling off limbs and heads of their 'conquests' (!) and falling into druggy reveries, they are way cooler than Iliad and his boyfriend who can't seem to open up about their burgeoning feelings. Yes, like so many of these films, human women don't have much of a presence or if they do it's as sex objects and/or victims or in one sad case, both. A groovy homoerotic subtext could compensate--hunky Mace who knows what rivers are best left uncrossed; and he and Iliad come to each others' rescue really socking it to roving bands of the sorceress's killers--yet, they are too repressed to suck venom out of each other's leg wounds the way, say, Xena and Gabrielle would just a decade later.
Yes we've come a long way since 1983. In today's more enlightened times, the misogynistic choice of making the most powerful woman in the film a monster who is both naked and faceless would raise such a righteous Twitterstorm the film would probably be pulled from release. Add the uptight toxic homophobia that won't let one man suck the venom out opf another man's ankle and it would be buried forever ala Song of the South or The Day the Clown Cried. But don't worry, these are just two of the many dumb ideas in the fogbound Conquest.
Luckily we're not expecting a good film. No one but me seems to like Conquest. It's been released only because Fulci has such a fervent following. But I went into it knowing how bad it was supposed suck (even Fulci disowned it, walking away before it was released).
Prepared, with rock bottom expectations, I loved it.
As most of the mise-en-scene unspools behind that crazy white misty fog, it's important the soundtrack pick up the slack, and man does it ever. Moody, celestial, yet mired in the murk of its era, Goblin's Claudio Simonetti gives us a lake-dragging mellotron, glistening synth beds and a medley of distant animal grunts, names chanted in druggy ecstasy, howls, and distant hollers, a lot of which is picked up only if you listen in on good headphones. With some passages seeming to reference everyone from Vangelis to Barry DeVorzon, the score leavens things out with a truly otherworldly embryonic warm sludginess that makes what could have been a wearying slog through an outdoor steam room into something like trash poetry, especially if you watch it through half-asleep eyes, with headphones on, and glasses off so you can't tell if it's the onscreen fog or your own rheumy eyes making the blur.
I'm not joking about that fog, though. I hear a lot of the kids who rented this back in the day thought the tape was defective. Fulci used mist/fog to a great effect in his earlier films (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead - both on Tubi!) so what went wrong this time? Was it the weather? Lack of a wind machine?
Regardless, I dig dozing off to this film in the later afternoon with the sun in my eyes after work or on a weekend and I've done so five times since only this past summer. There's nothing to keep me awake or bum me out in Conquest... as long as I don't look too close; I don't want to look over and see some close-up of an oozing pus wound. In fact I don't want to look too close at anything in Conquest. But listening to it is all right: there are no jarring screams (realistic screams would be disturbing but there's a stilted tint to the screams here that make them more like some kind of ritualized breathwork) or cursing, and so little dialogue that when someone speaks it carries weird charge as if words have only recently begun to form amidst the growls, honks and ostentatious breathing. Ocron's voice sounds far away though she is right next to the camera: "only Zora can help me find the wanderer!" she says between boa constrictor-grinding orgasms. Suddenly a panting white dog is right by her side (Zora, I presume?). Were I fully awake I might go WTF where'd that dog come from, but half-asleep I know where it came from; the foggy zone between consciousness and dreams--where the mind fills in every blank foggy white space with anthropomorphic shapes. Look up at the rolling clouds while half-asleep and you'll see Zoras in every twirling puff. Is the smoky cloudiness of Ocron's lair any different? As with all the films on this list, the occasional breaks for ads on Tubi actually help the experience. Conquest is a fail but it still better than a lot of successes: some of Simonetti's music is recycled wholesale from other films, but it's great stuff and brings big moody sense of grandeur and loss when Mace and Iliad finally, tearfully, part (Mace touches his magic bow, but won't accept it - it's power is still too dangerous in his (less-evolved) land. When the sight of a woman torn in half is interrupted for the comforting sight of a sloshed threesome on the couch ordering from booze-delivering service Drizzly.. (oh Drizzly, where were you when I needed you?) - then bouncing back to the severed head, all is right with the world.
The dolphins, the sand webbed Herve, Simonetti doing his thing, Ocron with her snake and dog, the various marauding monster men, the fog, the manly man and the young boy with the nifty bow, traps and nets and feeling of friendship, the sudden surprise beheading, the way Iliad goes "yayayayayayaya" when batting away at the bat. The presence of bats flying in hair is a Fulci trademark as his yen for gross out close-ups of Iliad's venom and pus-engorged dart wound. Make sure to get all the ants crawling around on the yellow, venomous pus, Lucio! That's like your signature. He also adds lots of weird angles to artsy the film up: the camera is seldom at eye level. Usually, it is kept low so the boys loom as giants with the magic hour sun behind their heads, or it swoops high up on a crane, as if some friendly giant beaming down at their foggy folly. If you need an aesthetic reason, honey you're in the wrong place. He does it to keep it interesting, because he's Italian and even bad Italian films are interesting. We can barely even see what's going on through all the fog. Did they get water on the inside of the lens, is that what happened? And they didn't realize it because it at the time, so they pretended they meant it that way, and that the land was enshrouded in fog in those pre-Ice Age times? It's cool - I'm not giving Conquest my full attention either, that's why it's such a gem. As Thrower puts it in From Beyond, "half the fun of sleeping pills is in fighting the effects, staying awake to experience their weird pharmaceutical slurring: but few would want to feel that way whist trying to crawl through a Conan the Barbarian rip-off. (183). Count me as one of the few, I guess. Maybe you'll you'd like a crawl, too, before that sweet sleep grabs you? Fulci Forever!
'Further Recommended Viewing on Tubi: Deathstalker, Sorceress, Ator, the Fighting Eagle
I had to put one of the many Full Moon gems on here; Tubi is rife with them! I'm no fan of 90% of all that stuff, i.e. the Puppet Master series, not that I've given it much of a chance, but I love this little gem so much so that this is the four hundredth time I've written about it!! Shot through a haze of red and blue with just the right amount of imagination (neither too whimsical nor grungy), this demon daughter meets human doctor love story is like The Little Mermaid x Species with a refreshing lack of hangups about sex, God, or killing. Hell, we learn, is part of God's kingdom, and God hates sin so much he punishes it with eternal damnation. Thus, demons do god's work! Angela Featherstone stars as the young, wistful demoness Veronica, who's about to come of age and take over torturing the embezzling bankers of Hell, but she dreams instead of seeing the surfaces of Earth and walking under the sky. Even thinking such a thing is forbidden by her sputtering, over-acting demon father (the "psycho's psycho," Nicholas Worth) but Veronica and her dog Hellraiser ignore his outbursts and sneak up to the land of men anyway, where she immediately fathoms there is plenty of evil up there to punish. Soon she's tearing the spines and hearts out of rapists and racist cops, feeding their hearts to Hellraiser, and shacking up with a handsome sweet-souled doctor named Max (Daniel Markel) who takes care of her after she's hit by a car. And if any homicide detective tries to get in her way, she just shows him the hellfire behind her glowing eyes, while making dire announcements about the grim future that awaits mankind if they continue to sin. After that, they're in no condition to arrest anyone.
Like some Satanic bible school instructional video, this confusingly-titled (there are about 100 shows and movies named Dark Angel) female-directed little miracle has become one my go-to favorites the last few years, thanks to its Shelly Duvall-meets-Val Lewton-in-Ed Wood's basement mythopoetic aesthetic, its great cast and its dusky red and black color scheme (ala another favorite, Ghosts of Mars). Sure, Featherstone isn't the greatest actress in the world, but that's why she's perfect. She has a unique ability to project complete confidence and emotional vacancy at the same time. Better (or worse) actresses would either try to be sexy (and come off campy), imperious (and come off stuffy), mean (and come off bitchy) or tough (and come off over the top), but Featherstone's assertive confidence and deadpan demeanor is such that she gets away with the actor equivalent of murder, which is just right for Matthew Freeway Bright's genius script (full of great lines like: "I don't require the blessing of the one true church to engage in sexual relations, Max.") And when she unfolds her true form--wings, horn, tail--after orgasm--while luxuriating out in the bed post their first hook-up, it's somehow very reassuring that he accepts her instantly, just as he accepts her matter-of-fact way with wrapping human hearts in newspaper to feed Hellraiser. I've only ever seen her kind of deadpan female genius--commanding both adoration and respect--in German science fiction film female characters from the 70s (as in Eleoma and Im Staub her Sterne) and in Christine McConnell, whose Curious Creations with Christine McConnell was unfairly canceled after one short season. It's still on Netflix though, and should be seen asap.. I will never forgive you for cancelling Christine McConnel after just one season, Netflix. And I will never forgive you Charles Band, for not commissioning 12 more Dark Angel sequels, each written by Bright and starring Featherston (and keeping Markel, he's great too - never tries to oversell, overreact, judge, or otherwise hinder the way 99% of other male characters surely would.) Special shout out too to Michael C. Mahon as homicide detective Greenberg, who manages to make his every reaction funny, intelligent, deadpan cool and warmly alive all at the same time.
Oh Charles Band, oh Matthew Bright, please make those sequels happen. You could have Featherstone and Markel as being older and having a wayward half-mortal daughter, one who longs to go down to Hell the way her mother once longed to go to the surface world. She could also take a secret order to infiltrate heaven and expose a ring of sinners or something. Please mighty hands and winds of Full Moon and Freeways, make it be so...
Also Check-out on Tubi Freeway and if you dare (it's far, far darker) Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby (both written/directed by Bright.) and other Full Moon gems: Trancers, Trancers II, The Lurking Fear, From Beyond, Re-Animator, and Dagon
|RIP Christopher (from Starcrash) 'for a little while, we can rest.'|