Aug 31 2016

The Lost Arcade (2015)

lostarcadeThrough taking a camera into Chinatown Fair during the famous New York City arcade’s final days in 2011, freshman filmmaker Kurt Vincent found the story he wanted, and also a better one he had not foreseen.

The expected focus of The Lost Arcade would be to chronicle the closing of what was an institution for the Pac-Man generation — those boys and (a scant few) girls for whom Chinatown Fair represented more than a game’s three coin-op lives: an escape from their real ones, 25 cents at a time.

lostarcade1And yes, the documentary is that, but what also emerges from that construct is what makes the movie special: a story of the fabled American dream made reality for Sam Palmer. A Pakistani gentleman, Palmer was not the founding owner of the place, but he was its heart. In the days of gorillas hurling barrels at chivalrous plumbers, of defending Earth from symmetric lines of invading aliens and, in the arcade’s rare non-video attraction, of a live chicken that danced and played tic-tac-toe, the kindly Palmer trusted the young men whom no one else would and created an all-inclusive community in our nation’s most iconic melting pot — a task as daunting as conquering Dragon’s Lair on a single quarter.

Talented poultry aside, there appears to be nothing special about the arcade at face value. In fact, it looks too cramped for the claustrophobe and too grimy for the germaphobe, but the patrons don’t seem to care — hell, they like it the way it is. While you and I may have no familiarity with the Fair — and, therefore, no nostalgia for it — Vincent finds the angle that makes the subject remarkably relevant for us … and unexpectedly moving. The Lost Arcade is a quiet find. —Rod Lott

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Aug 30 2016

The Curse (1987)

curseBased on the 1927 H.P. Lovecraft short story “The Colour Out of Space” without crediting it as its source, The Curse concerns the Crane family of a tiny Tennessee town. Ruled with an iron fist by asshole fundamentalist patriarch Nathan (Tentacles‘ Claude Akins), the blended farming clan has worries beyond crops when a shiny, white orb lands on their lawn. Despite it looking like a Christmas ornament from last year’s Neiman Marcus catalog, they call it a meteorite. Whatever it is, the thing plops from space while Nathan’s wife, Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory), is plowing the field (so to speak) with the hairy, hunky (well, compared to Akins) farmhand.

Only Frances’ son and daughter, Zack and Alice (Stand by Me‘s Wil Wheaton and his real-life sister, Alice), seem to notice how different — and terrible — the well water tastes ever since that gosh-durned galaxy rock invaded their property. Then the animals start acting crazy, too; Nathan’s fat-ass slob of a son, Cyrus (Malcolm Denare, John Carpenter’s Christine), is attacked by a horse, while Alice is nearly pecked to death by angry chickens. Nathan praises God for allowing apples to grow on his tree, then is horrified to discover they’re full of writhing maggots. Frances arguably has it worse: After she halves a freshly plucked head of lettuce, only to find it full of goop, a pierced tomato unloads a loose-manure typhoon onto her screaming face.

curse1Soon, her face is newly dotted with a couple of zits that grow into an infection that suggests she caught the herp from her barnyard romp. And yet, even after they balloon into scabby boils, no one dares address it. Just as no one complains about Frances’ fried chicken dinner being marinated in salmonella soup. Just as no one shares their anecdotes about the trick fruits and vegetables. Just as Nathan never says to his wife, “Hey, remember when I caught you in your nightie outside with that hairy, hunky farmhand? What in tarnation was that all about?” Just as no one asks Zack, “Isn’t there anything on the TV other than Hee Haw?” Just as no one ever says, “Holy hell, we sure do have one hot li’l filly of a next-door neighbor!” She’s played by Hope North (Linedancin’ U.S.A.), and not even Cooper Huckabee (Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse) as her husband seems to notice … especially when she’s gussied up in silky purple panties to seduce him!

Even by science-fiction standards, logic in The Curse is lacking, as are the makeup effects on the simplest usage. (For example, as Alice begins to inherit her mother’s “complexion,” it looks as if the little girl just self-applied blobs of calamine lotion with a cotton ball.) Let’s make sure no one fails to tell you that the 1965 Boris Karloff vehicle Die, Monster, Die! is a far superior adaptation — histrionic title and all — than this, the directorial debut of Daredevil actor David Keith and produced in part by The Beyond‘s Lucio Fulci and Beyond the Door‘s Ovidio G. Assonitis. The latter name sounds like a true curse: a south-of-the-belly-button disease I never wish to contract. Symptoms of Assonitis include violent itching, uncontrollable oozing, extreme discomfort while seated and an appearance by Hazzard himbo John Schneider. —Rod Lott

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Aug 29 2016

The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968)

strangeworldCJFollowing his 1964 breakthrough, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, and its ’67 sequel, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse, José Mojica Marins tried a different approach with his alter ego of Coffin Joe: hosting his own anthology film. Hey, even international horror icons have their off days.

The Strange World of Coffin Joe is indeed strange, but good? Not at all; it’s black and white and bored all over. For viewers still holding minor interest, precious little point exists venturing past the first story, “The Dollmaker.” Its title character is a kindly old man who crafts lifelike dolls, with the assistance of his four lovely daughters, all “of age” and yet sharing a bedroom. Conveniently, four drunks hungry for money and sex interrupt their night of slumber, until … well, you’re not stupid.

strangeworldCJ1Although the middle segment, “Obsession,” represents a leap up in the grotesque, it also marks a step down in quality. A hunchbacked balloon salesman is smitten with a young woman named Tara; he delights in the time gazing longingly at her from afar. After shopping one day, she fails to realize she has dropped a package on the sidewalk — a fact not unnoticed by him, who can use it as his one-shot ticket into her good graces. Alas, that opportunity never comes, because Tara is stabbed fatally at her own wedding! But death isn’t about to stop the lonely balloon man’s hormones. Points awarded to “Obsession” for artistic touch (it’s wordless) are sacked for a languid, half-speed pace.

In the closing “Ideology,” Marins casts himself — not as Coffin Joe, but Oãxiac Odéz, a professor who posits to his guests that love does not exist. He then backs up his suspect theory with solid evidence: a variety show of torture, sadism and other debaucherous acts, like a guy sticking pins into another guy, all while a girl licks the first guy’s bloody eye. Ah, yes, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? —Rod Lott

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Aug 24 2016

Killing Spree (1987)

killingspreeIf my best friend dared to wear a fall-foliage shirt around me, I might be so inclined to murder him, too. In Tim Ritter’s gore-rific Killing Spree, however, at least Tom Russo has a few more compelling reasons on top of that.

The lanky, wild-eyed Tom (Asbestos Felt, Girls Gone Dead) has a cute and sexy wife in Leeza (Courtney Lercara, Slaughterhouse), a former stewardess who now stays at home. But Tom also has an inability to let go of the past — specifically, the pain lingering from being cheated upon in his first marriage; therefore, he’s paranoid over what — or whom — Leeza does while he toils away at his blue-collar job.

When he finds written evidence that Leeza laid his closest pal, Ben (Raymond Carbone, Ritter’s Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness), despite the guy being grossly overweight, old enough to be her grandfather and all-around repellent, Tom loses his shit. And I mean loses it. Okay, so maybe the 40 percent pay cut at work is partly to blame, but pissed is pissed, so Tom wreaks vengeance on Ben … but only after separating the head of Ben’s new teen girlfriend (fellow Truth or Dare alum Rachel Rutz) from her torso and tossing it his way.

killingspree1While that should put an end to things, alas, it’s only a warm-up. Tom keeps finding new diary entries: the electrician who came to fix the ceiling fan, the TV repairman who knows karate, the Mexican drapery deliveryman, the dopey lawn-care dude in the Pretenders tour T. At one point, our hero hilariously freaks out by screaming what we’re all thinking: “Why is she writing all of this down?

Infidelity is a bell that can’t be unrung, and as Tom grows more and more unhinged and untethered from reality, Felt takes his character gloriously over the top, back ’round the planet, and over the top once more. As the man’s name conveys, Felt is something else; he devotes his all — novelty thong included — to the part. Without him, Killing Spree still might be a hoot to watch, but that’s an alternative I don’t wish to picture. When Tom goes into cuckoo-cuckold mode, Ritter assists his leading oddball with the simplest and cheapest of special effects for 16mm film: flipping the switch of the red lightbulb to saturate the room. It’s like the True Value version of the Dario Argento gel.

It’s also a fine example of Ritter doing what he can with what one assumes was a sack of spare change saved from a month’s worth of cigarette runs to the Circle K. Although transparently cheap as Bazooka Joe bubble gum — and even less nutritious — the direct-to-VHS Killing Spree is never not deliriously, deviously and devilishly entertaining. —Rod Lott

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Aug 23 2016

Observance (2015)

observanceLike a lo-fi take on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Joseph Sims-Dennett’s Observance puts the troubled Parker (Lindsay Farris, Primal) behind the telephoto lens of a camera perched in an abandoned apartment wallpapered in Asian newspapers. For reasons unknown even to him, he’s been hired to spy on Tenneal (Stephanie King, TV’s The Code), whose home sits opposite.

Grief-stricken and anxious for distraction, Parker can’t help but poke at the scab and wonder what’s up, and a peek into her past sends him — and the story — down uncharted territory. Clearly, what’s going on across the street is not as important as what’s going on inside his own head. Without revealing too much, Sims-Dennett (Bad Behaviour) starts channeling David Lynch, and Lynch begets another David, as in Cronenberg. You’ll never look at tar the same again.

observance1Well-acted and shot with a handheld grip, the purposely vague Australian thriller can be as confounding as it is intriguing, to those unaccustomed to its paranoid bent. To want a little less Conservation and a little more action from Observance is missing the film’s point and denying oneself the rewarding pleasures of its slow burn. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.