Saturday, January 12, 2019

The End of the Misery Mill

The first Misery Mill review went up October 9, 2015: Carnival of Crime and Absolution, two movies of no particular note. The purpose of the project was to systematically go through 5 Mill Creek Entertainment box sets to find public domain movies and upload them to the Internet Archive as I’d already done with the Horror and Sci-Fi box sets in the PD Project.

The impetus for that project, and its continuation in the Misery Mill, was the hope, still unrealized, of making a movie riffing show in the tradition of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (which had not yet announced its return). I didn’t want to copy MST3k, but my contention is that post-MST3k horror host shows have to intervene in the text in some way. Just presenting the movie is not enough. Plus, at the time, no one was doing riffing on TV and I felt like it was something worth doing. For many reasons comfortably summed up as “life,” the show never happened. Instead, I wrote up summaries and reviews of 344 movies. So, was it worth it and did it work?

To answer the second question first, at the most basic level the project was a success. I had been wanting to watch all these movies since I made the first PD Project post in February 2008. These DVDs were sitting on my shelf and in the my mind for nearly 11 years and I’ve finally watched them all. I’m proud of that. I set myself a big goal and achieved it.

As to if it was worth it, not all the movies I watched were bad. I’ve liked movies that I never would have thought to look for, specifically the old black and white quickies that felt like adaptations of radio or stage plays. Likewise, among the bad movies were some that were “good-bad” as the Flop House would say. Some of these, like Top Cop and Day of the Panther, I hope to share with future groups of friends on bad movie nights. I also encountered my own personal bugbear, Marimark Productions. Having a hate-on for these pictures was a lot of fun—more fun than watching most of them. Marimark, though, gave me the opportunity to get performatively angry which most of the movies didn’t.

On a basic level, I mostly enjoyed myself and I finished the project so it was both worth it and a success. Also, all those public domain movies are on the Internet Archive. Even though I didn’t make the show I was initially thinking about, those resources are still there if and when I decide to come back to them. I haven’t given up on that completely.

However, speaking of the performative anger highlights how the project failed. I don’t think I ever developed a voice or style writing what I hesitate to call reviews. Dan Olson, I think, offered the criticism of a lot of YouTube reviews like RedLetterMedia and Nostalgia Critic that they don’t actually review the movies. Instead, they give a long-form summary of the movie. The same criticism applies to the vast majority of my posts. One reason is that I was modeling myself after RedLetterMedia and Nostalgia Critic (the former of which I still watch, although with more skepticism. The latter I’ve dropped). Since I thought of them as being “how you talk about bad movies online,” well, that’s how I talked about bad movies online.

Another reason I think the project failed is that I was going through two movies a week. Part of my ambition was to write longer essays about what the movies suggested about the culture, what they were doing that was interesting, and what about them opened up larger discussions. Work like that takes both time and context, though. I didn’t have the context of 500 movies that I have now to make those larger claims and cranking out two of these a week while also trying to keep up with the rest of my life prevented me not only from writing those longer pieces but even conceiving of them.

Even now it’s difficult to say anything definitive about all the movies I’ve watched because they were all so different—different genres, different periods, different styles. One thing I can talk about that came up in a lot of the movies is rape culture. Jesus, we wonder why people of a certain age were jumping to defend Brett Kavanaugh—they themselves saying that even if he did it (he did it), it’s not that bad and what do we expect from teenagers?—and then I see movies where women are dragged literally screaming off the street to be driven into a field and fondled. And those were the comedies! Golly, I wonder why people who grew up with that would consider literal rape not that big a deal?

I ranted constantly about Cavegirl in these posts and while it’s not as bad as many of the films I watched, it does highlight an element that popped up far too often: female consent is a problem. If she’s interested or willing to have sex, that’s the least sexy thing there could be. You have to find the girl who doesn’t want to have sex and then keep needling her, coerce her, trick her into giving it up.

The reason I’ve hammered on these ideas when they came up in the movies and once again here is because these movies weren’t made with those (or any!) messages in mind. The rapey elements aren’t there because the producers wanted to say something about sexual assault, they are there because the producers thought the audience would be okay with it. Even phrasing it that way gives the producers too much agency. That’s how they viewed sex. If there was going to be sex in their movie (and there was going to be sex in their movie) that was how sex would be portrayed because that was what sex was to them. If this is how your culture imagines sex and relationships, how can you imagine anything else? What other examples or sources of information do you have? If this is how you always see these situations portrayed in stories, how do you write a story that’s different? Why would you think you should?

You recognize a culture by the stories it tells itself: How does it portray authority? How does it portray love? Who are the heroes and who are the villains? Who suffers and who succeeds? Thinking about questions like these in response to Z-grade films seem counter-intuitive, but these are the movies that answer those questions most effectively. Oscar-bait flicks like Crash or Green Book tell us stories of how we want to imagine our culture: racism is an individual/regional/settled issue and we all agree it’s bad. Just don’t look too closely at the racist jokes in all the other movies that came out that year if the movies aren’t, in fact, all white in front of and behind the camera.

The movies I watched in these sets generally didn’t set out with a message, they just wanted to turn a quick buck. Because of that, they’re both cultural ink blot tests and Freudian slips: they’re not thinking about what they’re saying so they’re saying what they really think. How much have we moved past these ideas? How much are we able to imagine new stories and new ways of relating to each other? These movies were the background noise of a culture, so what kind of movies are the people of that culture creating today?

I don’t have answers to those questions. If I did, I’d be writing academic essays about these flicks citing all sorts of other material—another goal I had for this project that I didn’t achieve! And that seems like a fitting end to a reflection on the Misery Mill. When I started this project October 9, 2015, I basically said, “Oh God, what have I done?” 3+ years later I can say, “a little, but not as much as I’d hoped.” I think that’s the only honest response to any reflection, that and the hope that the next project, my own or someone else's, manages to do a little more.

Friday, January 11, 2019

344. The Guy With the Secret Kung Fu

344. The Guy With the Secret Kung Fu aka Cai yang nu bang zhu (1980)
Director: Chi Lo
Writer: Ji-Shang Lu
From: Cult Cinema (the final film!)
Watch: archive.org

Two fighters take on the vicious Dragon Gang, but find they may be in over their heads as they face off against a sorcerer, a demon, and official betrayal.

Ladies, blokes, and non-binary folks, this is the final movie in the Misery Mill! And we’re ending on a public domain flick that I’ve added to the Internet Archive for others to download and reuse in their own way. It’s what I always wanted: to not be watching these movies anymore.

Terrible foley work, bad wigs, and a soundtrack alternately cribbed from other PD works or composed exclusively on a Casio keyboard—and not a good one. Dubbing is awful even down to dubbed laughing that’s exactly like a parody of a kung fu movie. So you don’t even need a summary: it’s an obvious recommend!

I mean, not quite. This is one of those flicks that I could go into minute detail about because there’s a lot of stuff that happens, but little of it makes sense. Instead, I’ll offer a quick gloss:

Two of the leading members of the revolution are caught by the corrupt ruling party, but released to take out the Dragon Gang. Various action set pieces occur—they infiltrate the gang by pretending to be the female leader’s betrothed, get a special powder to defeat the half-vampire/half-human demon the gang has summoned, and, of course, battle courtyards filled with armed guards—until we get to the final battles. Turns out the corrupt official who released them to fight the Dragon Gang is actually the Dragon Gang’s leader (and is curiously comfortable with so many of his underlings being killed. Bad manager or best manager?). The woman who’d been running the gang in his absence gets defeated by one of the guys and then the pair team up to defeat the big boss, ultimately by knocking him into a coffin and hurling it across the field of battle. THE END

Yeah, the movie gets pretty silly. I mean, a recurring character is the coffin-maker who thanks the pair for drumming up business by killing so many members of the gang. You also have a sorcerer, an imprisoned butcher who’s too fat to escape, and many moments of slapstick. This isn’t, by any means, a good movie. However, it feels like a perfect example of a bad kung fu movie. The character’s movements have sound effects. The fight scenes descend into cacophonies of canned grunts. The sorcerer’s laugh is literally someone reading “ha ha ha ha ha” regardless of what his laughing lines up with.

The movie isn’t good, but it’s great for those looking for something that’s enjoyably bad. This piece is absurd and seems designed for riffing. I’d suggest getting snacks and friends and settling in with this one. As I said above, it’s in the public domain and I’d added my copy to archive.org here. This feels like a fitting piece with which to end the Misery Mill.

Now that I’m done with the Misery Mill, I’m going to move on to watching what I want at the pace that I want and writing or not writing about them as I choose. What would that even be like? Do people even do that? Inconceivable.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

343. Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold

343. Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold aka Yellow Hair and the Pecos Kid (1984)
Director: Matt Climber
Writers: John Kershaw and Matt Climber from a story by Matt Climber
From: Cult Cinema (only 1 remains!)

A Western adventure of of Yellow Hair and the Pecos Kids searching for fabled gold mine of a lost tribe.

From the writer/director of Hundra and Single Room Furnished, I initially thought this would be a sequel to Hundra. The title, as a reviewer on IMDB notes, suggests a sword-and-sorcery story and the glace I had at the capsule description made me think it was following up that movie. Instead this is trying to style itself as an homage/pastiche of the old western serials. That seems like an odd choice for a film in 1984, but remember that Star Wars had mad all kinds of money by revamping the Flash Gordon serials as full features and Indiana Jones, based on post-WWII adventure serials, was about to come out with its second feature. Mining the nostalgia for serials looked like a money-making prospect. What the producers failed to recognize was those movies featured, in some combination, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fischer, Steven Spielberg, John Williams, and amazing special effects.

This movie does not, although the action set pieces do feature some nice stunt work. Too bad they weren’t filmed with any panache. Also too bad that the hero (who shouldn’t be the hero) is dressed to look like Han Solo minus the vest.

We see you movie. We know what you’re trying to do. It’s not working.

Since this movie is trying to ape Star Wars’ serial affectation, it has to invoke the same genre. Star Wars uses the crawl. This has the silhouettes and sounds of a rowdy crowd of kids in a movie theater sitting down to watch the Yellow Hair and the Pecos Kid serial. The main characters are introduced on-screen as we hear the crowd reacting (including uproarious laughter at one of the villains being coded as gay). After watching the movie, this opening added nothing. We don’t have any additional necessary context especially since the character notes in the opening are all personality traits. We can tell what the characters are like by the actors’ performances. Telling us someone’s “charming” doesn’t tell us they’re charming. Seeing them be charming does.

Anyway, I’m descending into a rant which would be at once easy in response to many aspects of this movie as well as unwarranted—the movie isn’t substantial enough to maintain a good rage. In other words, there’s plenty to get mad at, but what’s the point?

We open with some bandits trying to find the lost tribe. The tribe instead finds them, injures the bandit leader, and captures everyone else (doing real injury to horses in the process. Not stunts, actual horses actually getting hurt. Fuck you movie). Two of the men are tortured in pretty grisly ways and then have their heads dipped in molten gold while still alive.

The bandit leader returns to the Mexican base where the evil gay Colonel is holding the Pecos Kid, our hero (cause he’s the white guy). The three of them were in cahoots to steal all the gold, but had locked the Kid up in an act of betrayal.

Back at the Apache camp, Yellow Hair is talking to her mother. Yellow is so named because she’s blonde, born as a result of a white man raping her mother. Or so her mother told her. Later we learn that Yellow is actually the lost princess of the lost tribe, product of the union between the tribe’s princess and a Texan, kidnapped by her Apache mother. I don’t know how the rape figures into it—if it’s just part of her cover story or something that also happened. The movie invoking it and shrugging it off is kind of gross.

Yellow’s mother reveals that the Kid, who she also raised as a son, is in jail. She asks Yellow to save him and Yellow agrees when her mother realizes the Kid stole a deer horn with a map to the tribe and a gold nugget that she needs to pass into the other world upon her death.

To be clear, our hero stole not only a relic from an old woman who raised him as her own but also a religious item that she needs for her funeral ceremony. What a dick.

Yellow saves him while the bandit leader sneaks into the Apache camp and kills Yellow’s mother. The Kid gave the gold to a prostitute at some saloon so the pair head there to retrieve it. Stuff that’s supposed to be exciting but instead is aggravating goes down and Yellow learns that she’s actually the lost tribe’s lost princess and the pair set out to find them. Eventually Yellow gets captured, the Kid finds his way into the temple, and Yellow tells him she’s going to marry the leader. The Kid can take his gold and leave. He does, but then Yellow learns that she’s going to be sacrificed. Just before her heart is cut out, the Kid returns, shoots the gun out of the leader’s hand, and the underground temple starts to cave in.

By the way, all those action set pieces that got kind of aggravating were aggravating because of the Kid. He’s useless and Yellow is a badass. Constantly. So of course the end of the movie has to correct for that by having him save her because she wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. She’s completely incapable of saving herself up to and including sitting up and getting off the altar before a rock falls and crushes it. This is an example of ideology. There’s nothing wrong with her getting into a situation she didn’t anticipate and him coming to save her. Earlier there’s a sequence where she falls off a stage coach and is balancing herself between some of the horses. The Kid helps her up (and then falls into the same space himself). That’s not ideology, that’s an action scene. Where ideology comes in is that final sequence where she can’t do anything herself. Cause she’s not the hero cause she’s not the guy. Her being threatened by the tribe and him coming back to initiate the escape scene is fine. Again, that’s just an action scene. That she can’t even sit up and then be a party in her own escape is where the ideology becomes plain: women need men to save them.

Remember when I said it’d be easy to rant? I’m leaving out the killing of snakes on screen and the problematic elements of the Western in general. If I were inclined to write a longer piece about this movie, which I’m not, I’d be focusing on how it’s sort of critical of colonialism, but paints white people—the colonizers—as the victims of colonialism, but not in a Kipling-esque White Man’s Burden way. The movie’s a mish-mash of odd concepts that they didn’t intend to have there. You can read this flick as being a series of Freudian slips.

But, yeah, they get away, get cornered by the Colonel and the bandit leader (who’s constantly getting injured and persisting in increased states of disrepair. It’s something that’s obviously supposed to be a joke but never comes off as a joke, which is strange in and of itself. It’s never an issue of the joke failing, it just never seems like it’s supposed to be a joke even though it’s obviously a joke a la the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). The movie ends on a serial-style cliffhanger showing scenes from the next episode and asking variations of “Will our heroes…?” THE END

Obviously this was not the worst movie I’ve seen. It moved along well enough and the action sequences, as I said, had some good stunt work. The movie just missed the mark in so many ways and in such strange ways. Like the running gag of the bandit leader never being played as a gag. I spent a lot of the movie watching with a tilted head and raised eyebrow—I was just confused.

This wasn’t helped by the Kid who’s supposed to be a roguish poker-playing, gun-slinging, swindler. I have no beef with that kind of character; I like a lovable rogue. However he’s responsible for the plot’s inciting incident: robbing his surrogate mother of part of her funeral rite for the sake of a deal that leads to her murder. And he’s never called out for this. Yellow never jumps down his throat to tell him he stole mom’s crucifix and got her killed! Characters can make morally reprehensible choices and even be heroes after making those choices, but they gotta show remorse and work to make things right. He’s never even told he’s a piece of shit—and then he rides his horse through her funeral!

I’m not recommending this movie because it’s just not that special, but I also need to emphasize that it’s not worth seeing even for shock value. Despite what I’ve written here and how I am gobsmacked by a lot of what I’m thinking about, the movie is not full of WTF moments. This isn’t a case of seeing-is-believing, it’s a competently-made Crown production designed to run as a B-feature in drive-ins and cheap theaters. It’s nothing special. Upon reflection, there’s plenty of “wait, what?” going on, but that doesn’t make for a fun viewing experience, just fun ranting with friends after you’ve finished watching. Don’t take the time, though. See something good instead.

Friday, January 04, 2019

342. Kung Fu Kids Break Away

342. Kung Fu Kids Break Away aka San mao liu lang ji (1980)
Director: Kan Ping Yu
Writer: Kan Ping Yu
From: Cult Cinema (only 2 remain!)

Two homeless boys use cleverness and kung fu to outwit the criminal boss that runs their town and eventually defeat him.

A pretty simple plot. San Mao is an orphan looking for his mother. He had been training at a monastery, but his master was assassinated by traveling soldiers. He’s headed to the city in hopes of finding his mother. Once there, he starts using his (admittedly impressive) acrobatic kung fu skills to make money. He’s seen by Kou Pu, another homeless kid who’s constantly working a scam from pretending to be blind to collect donations to straight-up theft. After a few contentious encounters, the two team up and Kou Pu takes San Mao to his “secret hideout” where he stays with the slightly older Zsa Zsa. These are, then, your titular “Kung Fu Kids” (although they’re never called that in the movie. It’s just convenient to refer to them as such).

The town is run by the evil Mr. Chu whose thugs intimidate and shake down the residents for money constantly. They keep running into the Kung Fu Kids, but Mr. Chu’s son keeps intervening to save them since he’s falling for Zsa Zsa.

About halfway through the movie, Kou Pu gets the idea, basically, of busking while doing kung fu. In other words, it takes half the movie for the characters to figure out they could be making money doing the very thing San Mao was doing for money when Kou Pu met him. Performance goes well, but Mr. Chu’s men break it up because they haven’t paid him a bribe.

Then a representative from the General (no, I don’t know either) arrives and is murdered by Eagle, a Korean kung fu master who is then captured by Mr. Chu’s men. The Kung Fu Kids help him escape and he reveals that the General was going to give control of the entire region to Mr. Chu and that he’s there to stop that from happening. They all set up various traps around their hideout, Mr. Chu’s men come for a final showdown, and it comes down to a fight between Mr. Chu and Eagle. Just as Mr. Chu’s about to deliver the killing blow, his son jumps in and takes the hit himself. Eagle is then able to defeat and kill Mr. Chu. As Zsa Zsa is weeping over the body of Chu’s son, Eagle and the boys walk off laughing. THE END

What?

No, wait, seriously, what?

This is one of those flicks that’s confusing before it even gets confusing. The basic plot should be simple: scrappy down-on-their-luck kids using their wits and skills to get by. Grifter kid sees talented kid and they team up so grifter can take advantage of talented kid’s talent. That would be the kung fu street show. Only it takes them forever to figure that out as an option even though, as I said, they’d already seen it work. Then the plot about overthrowing the town’s leader because he’s evil and part of a larger political plot doesn’t come up until the very end. Yes, Eagle has appeared previously in the film, but it’s not clear until the assassination that he’s going to be part of the plot and there’s no indication that this will be the plot. So you have odd story choices going on even before you get to the cheery ending of the boys laughing while their friend cries over the body of a man who stood up for and saved them multiple times.

What?

I wouldn’t encourage or discourage anyone from watching this. The kung fu is really impressive. Normally I’d find movies like this insufferable. They tend to play out, in the US, as smirking, self-righteous kids pulling pranks on the idiot adults who won’t respect their Kid Power! This could easily have fallen into that, but sidesteps it by having the kids be good at kung fu. You don’t need to suspend your disbelief to think this child who’s clearly very skilled at what they do was able to defeat these adults. And the action sequences are worth seeing. Like I said, wouldn’t say avoid it, I’m just not sold enough to recommend it.

I think the movie is in the public domain, but I haven’t uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive because there is a fleeting shot of child nudity. The boys are bathing in a river and one stands up. The shot isn’t pornographic, is about as short as it can be, but it’s still kiddie bits on screen and I’m going to assume that’s a line that you don’t cross.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Year in Review 2018

Misery Mill Year in Review: 2018

Interesting times, neh? Last year I said I'd be in Korea by August of this year and that has not happened. Not for any dramatic reasons, just purely issues of timing and making the decision to spend a little time with family before going. I did leave higher ed after the Spring 2018 semester and am still planning to teach in Korea. That situation will play out in its own way.

During my final months in Philly, I had the opportunity to host Trash Tuesdays at The Bottle Shop which were a real pleasure, but also a disappointment, which is how things go with. Usually it was just my friend and me watching a movie in the back, maybe one or two other mutual friends with us. Some of the movies did catch people's attention and those folks seemed interested in the idea of a regular bad movie night, but they never came back. I did leave Philly at the start of the summer--I thought I would be leaving at the end--so maybe things would have gone differently over the course of those warmer months. I'm grateful to The Bottle Shop for giving me a space to play and to indulge the fantasy of leading a bad movie night, I just wish I'd figured out how to grow it into something bigger.

I have thoughts about coming to the end of the Misery Mill, but those can wait for the complete wrap-up post which will go up in two weeks after the final film gets posted. When this post goes live on the site, I will have finished watching all of the movies in the Misery Mill and will be glad to be done with them.

As of this posting, I've watched 341 of the 401 movies, but, because some of the movies are featured on multiple sets, I've actually knocked 398 movies off the list (also, because my list includes the movies from the Sci-Fi and Horror packs that I watched before, the number is actually 498 out of 501). I said when I started this project that it would take me until August 2019 to finish. Last year, I said the final date would be January 18, 2019. The current end point is January 11, 2019.

Fun movies of note from this year:
The Brother From Another Planet
The Headhunter
Messiah of Evil
Voodoo Black Exorcist
Death By Dialogue
Metamorphosis
The Devil's Possessed
Virus
Trapped By Television
The Snake, The Tiger, The Crane
Idaho Transfer
Star Pilot
Unsane

Here, as of December 31, 2018, are the movies currently available through the Internet Archive. Links lead to the Misery Mill posts which have links to streaming copies:
All the Kind Strangers
The Amazing Transparent Man
Anatomy of a Psycho
Atomic Rulers of the World

The Bat
Battle Beyond the Sun
Beast From Haunted Cave
The Big Fight
Black Cobra
Black Fist
The Blancheville Monster
Blood Mania
Bloodlust!
The Bloody Brood
Bloody Pit of Horror
The Brave Lion
A Bucket of Blood

Carnival of Crime
City Ninja
Counterblast
Curse of Bigfoot

The Day the Sky Exploded
Death Machines
Death Rage
Deep Red
The Demon
Devil Times Five
The Devil’s Hand
The Disappearance of Flight 412
Don't Look in the Basement
Doomsday Machine
The Driller Killer
The Dungeon of Harrow

Embryo
End of the World
Eternal Evil
Evil Brain From Outer Space

Fighting Mad
Four Robbers

The Ghost
The Giant of Metropolis
Good Against Evil
Grave of the Vampire
Green Eyes
Guru, the Mad Monk
The Guy From Harlem

Hands of a Stranger
Hands of Death
Haunts
The Headhunter
Horror Express
Horrors of Spider Island

I Bury the Living
I Eat Your Skin
The Image of Bruce Lee
The Impossible Kid
Infernal Street
Invaders From Space
Invasion of the Bee Girls
Iron Angel
It's Alive

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

Keep My Grave Open
Kung Fu Arts

Lady Frankenstein
The Lazarus Syndrome
Legacy of Blood
The Legend of Bigfoot
Life Returns

Mama Dracula
Man in the Attic
Manos: The Hands of Fate
The Manster
Mesa of Lost Women
Messiah of Evil
The Mistress of Atlantis
Monstroid
Moon of the Wolf

Nabonga
Night Fright
Night of Bloody Horror
Night of the Blood Beast
Ninja Death
Ninja Heat

Prehistoric Women
Prisoners of the Lost Universe

Radio Ranch
Rattlers
The Real Bruce Lee
The Return of the Kung-Fu Dragon
The Revenges of Doctor X
Rocket Attack U.S.A.

The Sadist
Scared to Death
Scream Bloody Murder
Shadow Ninja
Shadow of Chinatown
Shaolin Deadly Kicks
Shaolin Temple
Shock
Silent Night, Bloody Night
Sisters of Death
Slashed Dreams
Snake People
The Snake, The Tiger, The Crane
Snowbeast
Star Odyssey

The Tell-Tale Heart
The Thirsty Dead
Throw Out the Anchor!
Tiger Love
TNT Jackson
Track of the Moon Beast
Trapped By Television

Virus

War of the Robots
Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory
The Werewolf of Washington
The Wild Women of Wongo

Saturday, December 29, 2018

341. Point of Terror

341. Point of Terror (1971)
Director: Alex Nicol
Writers: Ernest A. Charles and Tony Crechales from a story by Peter Carpenter and Chris Marconi
From: Pure Terror (the last Pure Terror; only 3 remain overall!)

A lounge singer begins an affair with a record executive’s wife, but things spiral out of control into a nightmare of murder.

While laying on the beach one day, Tony is approached by Andrea, the woman who owns that stretch of beach. They flirt a bit and he invites her to see his act at a local nightclub. She shows up that night, goes back to his place, and listens to the record he’d released and seen tank. Andrea is the wife of the owner of the largest record label in the country and says she’s going to sign Tony and make him a star.

They work on the record and start having an affair. Her husband, disabled after a car accident from when he was chasing her in a jealous rage, sees them. He confronts Andrea and, in the ensuing struggle, falls in the pool. Andrea stands by and watches him drown. At his funeral, his daughter from a previous marriage, Helayne shows up and catches Tony’s eye.

Tony asks Andrea to marry him, but she laughs him off. He then threatens to turn her in to the police since he saw her husband’s death. She calls his bluff, though, and tells him she’s in control of what he does and what happens to him. She leaves for a long trip and Tony starts seducing Helayne. Helayne has inherited half of her father’s fortune.

Tony’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant, but he tells her to get rid of it. Helayne agrees to marry him, and, the night after the wedding, Andrea comes back. Tony tells her he married Helayne and that he doesn’t need Andrea anymore. Andrea says there was a clause in the will that said Helayne gets nothing if she gets married before she turns 25, ie. Andrea’s still in control. Tony says he doesn’t care, Andrea starts attacking him, and he accidentally (?) throws her over a cliff. Police rule it an accident. As Helayne and Tony are about to leave, Tony gets a phone call from his girlfriend. He goes to see her and she shoots him to death on her front porch. As he’s dying, he wakes up on the beach at the beginning of the movie with Andrea saying hello to him. It was all a dream.

Or was it?

Yes, it was. THE END

Let’s get the “It was all a dream” trope out of the way first. The trope is garbage because it means everything that happened, everything you’d spent time paying attention to, didn’t matter. Yes, it’s all made up anyway, but even in the context of being something made up, it didn’t matter. It’s like the movie is laughing at you for taking it seriously. Also, it’s stupid. It’s a stupid move to try to impose a twist upon your film.

This movie, though, was begging for anything to make it interesting. Fitting that we’d close out the Pure Terror set with Padding: The Motion Picture. I had the damnedest time even figuring out what the movie was supposed to be about while I was watching it.

We spend a lot of time watching Tony sing, see that he’s not very good, and be told by other characters how great a singer he is. A quick glance to the top tells me that, yes, the actor playing Tony was one of the story writers. None of that tells us what the plot is or is supposed to be. There is one flash to a woman being murdered by a home invader and I started to wonder if that was going to be the picture—that Tony was a serial killer, or the disabled husband was faking his disability, or there’s a killer running loose in the town and these people are going to get tied up in that drama. Nope, it was a falshback to Andrea taking out a hit on her husband’s previous wife. That information comes much later. You’d think that would be the plot, then, Andrea threatening the people around her or actively ordering hits on women getting too close to Tony. Naw, she just goes on vacation so Tony can hook up with her step-daughter.

I could not tell you what the point of Point of Terror was (alternate pun: Truly, this was a Disappoint of Terror). It’s neither titillating nor terrifying, just meandering along for 90 minutes until the end where he wakes up and it’s all been bullshit. Skip it.

Friday, December 28, 2018

340. Unsane

340. Unsane aka Tenebre (1982)
Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento
From: Drive-In (the last Drive-In; only 4 remain overall!)

An author arrives in Rome just as women start being murdered in ways described in his novel.

A film by Dario Argento. THE END. Highly recommend. See you next time!

Okay, I am going to say more than that, but not much more. The movie has a variety of twists so going through the entire plot would 1: take a bit of time since there are many incidents throughout the film and 2: ruin the end. In terms of content, this is a murder mystery so revealing the end reveals the killer, and that’s no fun. However, in terms of presentation, this is a slasher movie. I think one of the reasons Argento was able to segue into doing horror so easily is that his giallo films, his murder/thrillers, generally have the logic of a slasher pic.

In this movie, an American author is coming to Rome to promote his new novel Tenebre. Before he boards the plane, someone steals his carry-on and destroys all the items inside it. While he’s airborne, a woman who was caught stealing his novel from a store is murdered in her apartment, pages of the novel being shoved in her mouth. The killer leaves a note under the door of the author’s place in Rome.

And things move from there. The killer is harrying the author while continuing to murder in ways that echo the novel, the police are trying to investigate despite things not adding up, and we get visions from the killer of a woman in white wearing red high heel shoes.

In the end, the movie doesn’t make sense, which adds to the slasher tone of it. If you think of Halloween or Friday the 13th, we don’t begrudge the film hand-waving questions of how the killer would have done that, we’re there to see the results of what the killer has done. The same happens here. If you start to think about the events of the movie, holes emerge, questions arise, and you’re left feeling like an explanation was added after the fact, not arrived at logically from the story’s content.

However, I found it difficult to care about those holes. Argento is the writer/director of one of my favorite horror movies, Suspiria (recently remade though I haven’t seen that version), and what’s appealing about that movie is the nightmare logic that infuses everything. Even though this piece is aiming to be more realistic, the same tone is present. A junkyard dog climbs a fence and chases a woman into the killer’s evidence dungeon. In a sense, the movie is positing a nightmarish world of violence surrounding all of us and that tone then decides the logic of the piece.

I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. It’s weird, compelling, and done well. I’m glad this is one of the final films I’m watching for the Misery Mill because it makes me feel like I’m ending on a high note.