Apr 21 2014

Doctor Gore (1973)

drgoreWith pipe as prop, cinema’s undisputed godfather of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, introduces the “lost film” of Doctor Gore in a five-minute prologue, overselling pal J.G. “Pat” Patterson Jr. as “the master of gore.” That’s not to say Mr. Patterson’s directorial debut doesn’t kick over buckets of blood; it just doesn’t carry that undefinable H.G. Lewis magic. Keeping consistent for the one and only time, Patterson oversells himself, too, by starring as the titular madman under the curious pseudonym of “America’s No. 1 Magician,” Don Brandon.

Lanky, balding, the doctor has discovered the secret to regenerating life — so complex, it entails wrapping a corpse head-to-toe in aluminum foil like human Jiffy Pop. Anxious to resurrect his dead wife piece by piece by piece, the would-be Frankenstein lures foxy women — at the beach, in a restaurant, what have you — so that he may kill them for parts. Aiding him is Greg (Roy Mehaffey), a grunting hunchback.

drgore1When Dr. Brandon acquires enough “ingredients,” we meet the lovely spouse, Anitra (Jenny Driggers). A (un)dead ringer for swimsuit model Kate Upton, she is just the way Brandon (Patterson?) likes ‘em big-titted and baby-stupid. He sees to that, in fact, hypnotizing her to wipe her brain into total subservience: “You will not even remember what a glass of water is.” With Anitra lounging in a bikini, her hubby re-teaches her everything, from the ABCs to the smell of vinegar. His curriculum seems a lot more trouble than it’s worth.

Equally not as thought-out is Patterson’s point-and-shoot direction, inert enough to make Lewis look like a Palme d’Or contender. Shots of a two-character conversation don’t match; one scene begins with the clapboard in clear view, as if Patterson simply didn’t care anymore. His alarming ineptitude is exactly what Doctor Gore, also known as The Body Shop, has going for it. —Rod Lott

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Apr 18 2014

Two Men in Manhattan (1959)

twomenmanhattanTwo Men in Manhattan is as uniquely New York as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver or Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon; it just happens to made by the French. Opening with a brassy jazz score — as American an art form as any — un film de Jean-Pierre Melville captures the Big Apple on the brink of Christmas, aka the most wonderful time of the year … unless you happen to be France’s United Nations delegate Fèvre-Berthier.

Absent without explanation for an otherwise unmemorable U.N. vote, Fèvre-Berthier is nowhere to be found, so night-owl journalist Moreau (Melville himself) is tasked with finding him. Taking sleazy photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset, Rififi) as a booze-soaked sidekick, Moreau presumes that Fèvre-Berthier can be located with ease if they can find the man’s mistress, whomever she may be.

twomenmanhattan1One of the most vital artists of cinema’s French New Wave, Melville (Le Samouraï) shoots the black-and-white film with a tourist’s eye — a focused, determined one vs. easily distracted. On the night of Dec. 23, his Moreau and Delmas run all over the City That Never Sleeps, from tavern to bordello, from the warm studio of Capitol Records to the bustling heart of Times Square. Two Men in Manhattan makes for a pleasurable whirlwind of a roundabout, to a point that the picture’s noir mystery seems almost incidental — an excuse to showcase the still-nascent metropolis. It just so happens that our guide, Melville/Moreau, calibrates audiences’ collective moral compass during the excursion. —Rod Lott

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Apr 17 2014

Dead Shadows (2012)

deadshadowsLike a French version of 1984′s Night of the Comet, Dead Shadows depicts one night in the City of Lights — specifically, the one with the passing of a comet. This rare event makes tech-support slacker Chris (newcomer Fabian Wolfrom) very nervous. After all, when a comet last passed a decade ago, dear old’ Dad went mad and killed Mom; Chris has been afraid of the dark ever since.

With Chris on edge more than usual, a relaxant of sorts arrives in the form of Claire (Blandine Marmigère), his hot, newly single neighbor. An artist by trade, she invites Chris to an “apocalypse party” that night. We know she’s good to go when she shares the name of her in-progress series of paintings: Orgasmic Explosions.

deadshadows1Chris agrees — wouldn’t you? — but has trouble finding Claire at the soirée. He does, however, see a man’s anaconda-like alien phallus slither up a slutty attendee’s behind … and out her mouth. Basically, the comet’s presence causes the citizenry to mutate — or is it all just in Chris’ head? — into a parade of Lovecraftian monsters that would give Guillermo del Toro a Pacific Rim-sized erection.

With a running time under the 75-minute mark, Dead Shadows should spark to life on the double; first-time director David Cholewa bides his time, however, so viewers likely will expect a payoff worthy of his slow build. It does not happen, although a face-melting partygoer and a topless spider-woman are effects well-realized. Cholewa’s direction is not at fault for the film’s eventual place one step above mediocrity — it’s newbie Vincent Julé’s script, stupide. In the end, with all accounted for, the movie is far more c’est la vie than c’est magnifique. —Rod Lott

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Apr 16 2014

Queen of Outer Space (1958)

queenouterspaceMercilessly yet accurately parodied by the titular segments of 1987′s Amazon Women on the Moon, the sci-fi spectacle of 1958′s Queen of Outer Space stands today — shoulders back, girls! — as a camp curio. After all, it stars everyone’s second favorite Hungarian beauty, Zsa Zsa Gabor, now known more for playing herself (i.e. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear) and/or a real-life bride (nine trips at press time) than actually acting.

In the year 1985, a group of square-jawed astronauts is sent on a mission to Venus, to determine whether Earth is in mortal danger from the cloud planet. Turns out, hardly! Thought to be uninhabitable, Venus houses a bevy of beautiful women — the shapely kind for which the term “wowza” was coined. Most of them are friendly; their wicked queen is decidedly not. Contrary to audiences’ expectations and beliefs, her highness Queen Yllana is not played by Gabor, but Laurie Mitchell (Attack of the Puppet People) — because I’m guessing Gabor wouldn’t dare appear with a face that looks that looks dipped in boiled goulash.

queenouterspace1Queen of Outer Space comes form-fitted with many a sci-fi trope and prop — do look out for the giant rubber spider — but plays like a Miss America pageant in glorious CinemaScope … and not-so-glorious misogyny. In accentuating beauty above all else, it portrays women as trophies to periodically hold one’s sperm. As the horniest of the men, Patrick Waltz (The Silencers) fires off lines like:
• “How’d you like to drag that to the senior prom?”
• “You know how women drivers are!”
• “How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?”
• “How can a doll as cute as that be such a pain the neck?”
• “She’s jealous! Twenty-six million miles from Earth, and the little dolls are just the same.”

How much of that was just the character is up for debate, but so many clues suggest director Edward Bernds (Return of the Fly) and screenwriter Charles Beaumont (TV’s The Twilight Zone) were charter members of the ol’ “barefoot and pregnant” brigade. If anything else within the colorful fun of Queen hits a sour note, it’s that an uncredited Joi Lansing (Marriage on the Rocks) appears only in the prologue. —Rod Lott

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Apr 15 2014

Wrong Cops (2013)

wrong_copsIndie film’s other Quentin — as in Dupieux, the French one — returns to Rubber form with Wrong Cops. The uniformed comedy rights the wrongs of Wrong, Dupieux’s similarly titled effort of 2012. That lost-dog story extended the auteur’s absurdist bent well past the axis marked “tolerability” and into the realm of the near-unwatchable; tangentially tied to it, this movie is much better.

Wrong Cops‘ title more or less doubles as plot description, as Dupieux’s loose, aimless narrative leaps with the whims of a short-attention span from one boneheaded officer of the law to the next. We meet, among others:
• De Luca (Eric Wareheim of anti-comedy duo Tim and Eric), who misuses his position of authority to get women to expose their breasts;
• Holmes (Arden Myrin, Bachelorette), who is less interested investigating an apartment’s murder scene than leftovers in the fridge;
• Sunshine (Steve Little, TV’s Eastbound & Down), who spends his days behind the desk, except this day, spent trying to repay a debut to his pot dealer and suppress evidence of his gay-porn past;
• and Duke (Mark Burnham, a Wrong vet), who is that dealer, storing inventory in his police cruiser’s trunk and utilizing rat corpses as a delivery system for the goods.

wrongcops1Their encounters with one another run second to their dealings to those with the public, most notably shock rocker Marilyn Manson, out of makeup as a cop-harassed dweeb. No matter the scenario, each of which I assume relies heavily on improv, the style of humor at work is the kind that reads pancake-flat on the page, and thus dependent upon the performers to take it to any degree of laughter — even if only internal.

The men and women in blue rise to the challenge in Wrong Cops‘ establishing scenes and those directly afterward. The initial fizz dissipates when Dupieux force-connects all his jesters through a musical thread that seems less about advancing toward a conclusion and more about pushing digital downloads of the soundtrack by Mr. Oizo, Dupieux’s electro nom de plume. From there, laughs are spotty.

Definitely not everyone’s idea of a police farce, the divisive Wrong Cops will hit most with those predisposed to the art of the non sequitur. Whether that’s you or not, Burnham is a real comedic find, like the lost love child Bill Murray and David Koechner. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.