Dec 1 2015

8 Man (1992)

8manClaiming to be a precursor to both RoboCop and The Terminator, the manga mainstay known as 8 Man could and should have made for one slick superhero flick of his own. Unfortunately, director Yasuhiro Horiuchi steered the science-fiction film down the soap-opera route, in much the same way heavy metal bands used to release a ballad in a shameless bid for mainstream acceptance.

Like RoboCop, the character of 8 Man (first published in 1963) was born out of the lifeless body of a cop (Toshihide Wakamatsu, TV’s Birdman Squadron Jetman) killed in the line of duty. A hush-hush program run by a brilliant scientist (Jô Shishido, Branded to Kill) resurrects the dead dick as a super machine, here emblazoned with a large “8” across his sleek, robotic form. To Horiuchi’s credit, his film does include some nifty sequences that shows our 8 Man in action, like running at incredible speeds or catching bullets in his hands.

8man1Too bad these sequences are few and far between. Instead of being the hyperkinetic, balls-out action extravaganza you would expect from Asian genre efforts of that era, 8 Man generates hate by instead opting to focus on the hero’s exploration of his past and his current hobby of emotion-grappling, leading to ridiculous, soul-searching montages scored to terrible J-pop love songs. It grows sappy enough to become simply unwatchable, as if the opening (read: baffling) dedication of “For all lonely nights” weren’t an immediate clue.

On a scale of 1 to 8, 8 Man would be lucky to earn a 4. Alas, it is not that lucky. But, hey, that suit is cool. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 30 2015

A Christmas Horror Story (2015)

xmashorrorstoryOur world is divided into two types of people: those who love White Christmas and those who prefer Black Christmas. It is the latter group to which Flick Attack claims lifetime membership and for whom A Christmas Horror Story is made. Gifted by directors Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan — all of whom had a paw in the Ginger Snaps franchise — the Canadian anthology jumps between four interwoven yuletide tales that take place on Christmas Eve, almost entirely in the quaint town of Bailey Downs.

Some curious students break into their high school in order to shoot a documentary about the grisly, ritualistic slayings of two schoolmates the year prior. A down-to-earth family of three drives into the wild to cut down a Christmas tree and, having trespassed on private property, ends up taking home something entirely unintended. A greedy family of four makes a trek to visit a wealthy relative and accidentally unleashes Krampus (Rob Archer, Bulletproof Monk). And finally, Santa Claus (George Buza, Diary of the Dead) switches from sleigh mode to slay mode when his elves succumb to an ill-timed zombie virus.

xmashorrorstory1Serving as a loose wraparound, Star Trek’s William Shatner spins holiday tunes and comments on Bailey Downs’ goings-on as Dangerous Dan, the radio station’s night-shift DJ. While Shatner is present for pure merriment and a healthy sense of humor permeates the entire affair, A Christmas Horror Story is no winking joke, as Harvey, Hoban and Sullivan work hard to stuff this stocking with heaps of the creeps. Moving between its multiple storylines as deftly as Doug Liman’s Go, the film generates goodwill in its energetic depictions of naughty-list acts. A pair of solid scares and a purposely discomforting encounter pop up on the way toward a big twist as surprising as it is disturbing.

You better watch out for it and I’m telling you why: It’s a ton of fun. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 27 2015

Frenzy (1972)

frenzyEven the world’s greatest director had his off days, and Frenzy is one of them. Despite its Psycho-tic title, Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate film barely registers a pulse.

In London, women are being murdered by a serial killer whose modus operandi involves strangling them with a necktie. The crimes strike too close to home for Richard Blaney (Jon Finch, The Vampire Lovers) when his ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt, The Plague Dogs) is snuffed out (culminating in a laughable freeze frame meant to be shocking). Not only does this occur right after he’s been sacked from his pub job, but with the same style of tie that populates his daily wardrobe, so the authorities suspect Richard to be the knot-nice killer.

frenzy1Like Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, Richard is not the culprit. That honor goes to his best bud (Barry Foster, Twisted Nerve). But because Hitchcock and Sleuth screenwriter Anthony Shaffer reveal this information with near immediacy, they strip Frenzy of so much of both men’s speciality: suspense. Worse, for something titled Frenzy, the pacing is markedly glacial, further marred by overexplanation — hardly the stuff for which viewers get worked-up.

What is to admire is that Hitch — a guy who began directing in the silent era — continued to push boundaries right up to the end of his brilliant career. Having courted controversy a decade prior for daring to show Janet Leigh in — gasp! — a bra, the old man goes even further here, showing not only bared breasts, but showing them being fondled in close-up and as part of an act of rape. Were mainstream audiences more shocked by that or the movie’s later glimpse of a woman’s postcoital mons pubis? That the conversation no longer takes place — yet we’re still discussing Psycho’s toilet — suggests how minor Frenzy is among Hitch’s filmography. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 23 2015

Rattlers (1976)

rattlersYou can’t argue with a good snake movie, especially one with the balls big enough to kill not one, but two innocent moppets before the opening credits are even set to roll. Producer Harry Novak’s slithering beast of an animal-attack movie, Rattlers, does just that.

In addition, it also has snakes kill a dog and a chicken. One farm boy takes a pair of fangs to the face. A screaming housewife runs through her abode, finding the scaly bastards in every room. Finally, a marble-mouthed herpetologist (Time Walker’s Sam Chew Jr.) and his ethnically mysterious companion stumble upon the snakes’ underground nest where, lucky for them, the reptiles have created tunnels big enough for humans to waltz through upright and freely.

rattlers1Although the sheer pleasure of seeing a parade of stupid people get bitten becomes muted by a talk-heavy Act 3 and an abbreviated, anticlimactic ending, these Rattlers aren’t for show — they kick ass. Nonetheless, Rattlers marked the first and next-to-last movie for director John McCauley, who followed this up with an even more dangerous project: the Danny Bonaduce vehicle The Deadly Intruder. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 21 2015

Reading Material: Short Ends 11/21/15

artofhorrorWithout question, the ideal gift book for genre film enthusiasts this holiday season is The Art of Horror: An Illustrated History, a beautiful book depicting ugly things. Edited by Stephen Jones, the full-color hardback from Applause Theatre & Cinema Books presents thousands of images from several centuries past to about a year or so ago, all neatly organized among 10 themed chapters (Halloween, aliens, ghosts, etc.) with accompanying text by an expert in that field. (For example, David J. Skal tackles vampires; S.T. Joshi handles H.P. Lovecraft.) It will surprise that no one that film posters and pulp magazines figure heavily in the mix of monsters and madmen, as do comics and original art, but Jones curates deeper to showcase 3-D sculptures, rare collectibles and even stained glass! Within the chapters, spreads are devoted to more specific studies, from spiders, Cthulhu and Jack the Ripper to Italian zombie movies, various book covers for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Halloween postcards of John O. Winsch circa 1910. Opulent in its scope and sporting a fright-friendly foreword by Neil Gaiman, The Art of Horror is that rare kind of coffee-table book: the kind its target readers actually want to read. You’ll get lost in it for hours, and love every minute, making it a more-than-worthy investment.

top100sitcomsLike art, what is funny is all in the eye of the beholder. I get that. But with The Top 100 American Situation Comedies, Mitchell E. Shapiro and Tom Jicha set themselves up for a good ribbing, even by subtitling their book An Objective Ranking, because at the bottom of their list stands Family Matters. I mean, if only 101 sitcoms existed, I might see Urkel earning the grade, but as is, it makes the cut, while the likes of Parks and Recreation, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and, heck, even The Brady Bunch do not. Arrested Development is on the list, yet considered inferior to Coach, Night Court and — gag Full House. All over the Internet as blog posts, these kinds of lists — wholly subjective, yet presented as definitive — are silly, and even sillier expanded to nearly 300 pages. Devoting a full essay to each of their selections, however, Shapiro and Jicha prove themselves fine writers who make their arguments concisely and credibly — just not always convincingly. Prepare to be further enraged by the appendix, which presents rankings all the way to No. 377.

canadianhorrorBooks on American horror movies are dime-a-dozen. Not so with our friends to our north, so I welcome any book on Canada’s counterpart. Enter the University of Toronto Press’ The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul, edited by Gina Freitag and André Loiselle. As Andrea Subissati puts it in her piece on 2008’s Pontypool, “There are uniquely Canadian stories to tell, and … they are stories worth telling.” With 14 essays from almost as many authors, the collection touches on topics of gender, belonging, national anxiety and the environment, while also discussing and dissecting films both little-known (Death Weekend, Rituals) and higher-profile (Orca: The Killer Whale, Ginger Snaps). You may learn more about the Great White North’s tax-shelter system and the history of animation house Nelvana than you ever dreamt possible (if at all), but that’s the point in a text leaning heavily academic. While the book does a terrific job of proving that the country’s contributions to cinematic terror don’t begin and end with David Cronenberg, the pieces on his work from William Beard and James Burrell prove the strongest. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.