Monday, October 8, 2012

Diary of the Dead 2012: Week 1

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Monday in October (as was the case last year, I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

 September 29

Thinner (1996- dir. Tom Holland) **½

Entertainingly bad Stephen King (oops, I mean “Richard Bachman”) novel becomes entertainingly bad Tom Holland movie. Holland directed some good movies (Psycho II, Child’s Play), but this isn’t one of them. An old gypsy stereotype curses a big-boned chap with unceasing weight loss after he accidentally runs over the gypsy’s daughter while getting a blowjob. The fat prosthetics make actor Robert John Burke look like Jiminy Glick. The skinny prosthetics misguidedly attempt to make Burke look skeletal by building up his features, so he looks just as fat when he’s supposed to be thinner. Still, Thinner is fast paced, there are a couple of effective gross-outs, and the lousy acting is campy fun. Plenty of material for a home session of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

October 1

The Stuff (1985- dir. Larry Cohen) ****

Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the apocalypse and it is coated with Cool Whip.  Tasty white gunk called The Stuff is the latest culinary craze. Corporations dispatch spies to learn the recipe. Families stockpile containers of it. Swimsuit models hawk it in neon-lit T.V. commercials. The only problem is The Stuff is a sentient monster: part Blob, part body snatcher. Writer/director/genius Larry Cohen takes on corporate immorality, our junk food-addicted culture, advertising, and the military. His satirical script is funny and clever and gives Michael Moriarty lots of great things to say (“No one is as dumb as I appear to be”). Plus there’s an unforgettable cameo from Clara Peller. If you don’t know who that is, you’re too young to be reading Psychobabble.

October 2

Pharaoh’s Curse (1957- dir. Lee Sholem) **

Imperialists go on a tomb raid in Egypt. They encounter a mysterious lady, and bad stuff starts happening: their food and water disappear, a woman gets nibbled by a scorpion, and a guy rapidly ages. That’s the only thing that happens rapidly in Pharaoh’s Curse. The sets and photography are atmospheric enough that the slowness might be forgivable if there were some decent monsters. Instead we get a cat-shaped shadow, an Ace-bandage mummy, and a sleepy old man. Maybe he was so sleepy because he was watching Pharaoh’s Curse.

Murders in the Zoo (1933- dir. Edward Sutherland) ***½

When Lionel Atwill isn’t delivering big game to the local zoo, he’s using his animal buddies to off everyone who crosses him. The title and premise may sound goofy, but Murders in the Zoo was strong meat for 1933. The film was often censored, and even today, it is easy to see why. The opening sequence in which Atwill sews up the lips of a guy who’d been smooching his wife remains disturbing. Atwill’s hands spend a lot of time on his wife’s boobs too. She’s played by Kathleen Burke, whom you may recall as Lota the Panther Woman in Island of Lost Souls. Atwill has fun as the psychopathic Dr. Doolittle, but Charlie Ruggles almost kills the depraved mood with his awful, ham-flavored clowning.

October 4

The Haunting of Julia (1977- dir. Richard Loncraine) **½

A decade after Rosemary’s Baby, Mia Farrow is still having problems with her kids. Her daughter ruins breakfast by choking to death on an apple. Instead of even attempting the Heimlich, Mia opts for a home tracheotomy with a steak knife. Spoiler alert: Mia is no surgeon. Her marriage to Keir Dullea soon crumbles, and she moves into a new house haunted by a little girl with her own penchant for killing things. The final scene is pretty creepy, but as a whole, The Haunting of Julia is just too lethargic to be really scary. A few years later, The Changeling would tackle similar material with much better results. And why does Mia pick up her Chinese takeaway in the kitchen of the restaurant? Hasn’t she ever heard of a front counter? That really bugged me.

October 6

Frankenweenie (2012- dir. Tim Burton) *****

Tim Burton animates and expands a wispy 1984 short and makes his best movie in 18 years. A kid unsubtly named Frankenstein resurrects his dead dog and all his science geeky school chums get monster fever. Frankenweenie presents a nicely balanced view of science that sets it apart from all the great but God-fearing mad scientist films that inspired it. Tim Burton’s movies are visually spectacular (well, maybe not Alice in Wonderland) but often lack soul. Frankenweenie is atypically emotionally affecting. It’s also very funny (watch out for a great “Hello Kitty” gag), in love with classic monster movies, surprisingly gruesome, and of course, visually spectacular. You can’t do this stuff with computers, kids. I loved it.
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