Global Warming Totally Sucks – Birdemic: Shock & Terror

After seeing Tommy Wiseau’s The Room in Cleveland a few months ago, I was sure it reached a new benchmark in bad film-making. Not only is it steeped in horrendous acting, baffling dialogue, fleeting plot points and characters, awkward sex scenes, a grossly unappealing leading man, and suspiciously plentiful assertions of heterosexuality, but, adding to the humor, Wiseau tried to save face by selling it as a black comedy.

Then, I saw Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Completed in 2008, but not released until this year,  Birdemic is the latest “Best Worst” movie gaining a cult following on the indie theater midnight movie circuit. Generously described (with intentional humor) in the Moviehead press release as a “Romantic Thriller,” the first 40 minutes painstakingly detail the reunion of high school classmates who start dating. It almost like watching one of those movies from high school language lab that teach conversational French. And it’s followed by another 40 minutes painstakingly detailing the new young couple’s mostly pointless attempts to escape a sudden attack by a mob of crazy ass birds. And there’s still the 10 minute finale where the heroes collect to watch the birds, which seem stuck in mid-air.

And all while pushing a serious political agenda!

Brazenly submitted for the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 (although let’s face it, they do show a fair amount pretentious shit there), it was not surprisingly rejected. Aside from trying to make a movie out of two halves of a half-developed whole, coupled with the usual flaws that make these movies so comical (bad acting, loose logic, and bizarre dialogue, etc.), Birdemic demonstrates a new level of technical ignorance. Reaction and establishing shots are done to death. Scenes filmed in noisy locations muffle conversations several times. Shots that look like the mistaken start of a dream sequence. My particular favorite was the stock photo in the news report about melting glaciers in the Arctic that was obscured by the Ghetty Images watermark. But above all else, Birdemic takes the cake for worst special effects which are truly so awful, they’ll leave you speechless. And how do you create an atmosphere of destruction and avionic terror on a mere budget of $10 grand? Why, animated GIFs! Except, most of the time, it seems as though the flying terrors are both harmless and impervious to threat, as though all people needed to do was settle for the fact that birds will now occasionally hover above them because they’re angry about pollution.

Hey, it’s a small price to pay for messing up the environment!



Zen and the Art of Bad Movies

Our first BBQ of the summer this year ended with something different this time: a screening of the spectacularly bad fantasy film, Troll 2. The recent release of the making-of documentary, Best Worst Movie, has sparked renewed interest among cult fans. That it has generated headlines in major media goes to show you that the history of an utterly shitty movie can turn out to be even more entertaining than the movie itself. And this particular making-of documentary was directed by none other than Michael Paul Stephenson, the toothy, freckle-faced young star of Troll 2.

There’s something really intriguing about bad movies. Like that way that you pass a really bad car wreck and just can’t look away. Badly written, poorly acted, and shoddily designed, these movies are some kind of confounding testament to serious malfunctions in filmmaking, if not the human psyche altogether.

And yet, even the worst can, paradoxically, be the best…around. Their sole redeeming value is basically social cohesion. That they’re laughably horrible makes them ripee for riffing with a roomful of friends. And there’s certainly been far more cinematic stinkers than any “Worst Of” list can reasonably fit without being overwhelming. There’s plenty of obvious choices. Most any movie Ed Wood ever made. A slew of Japanese creature features from the 1950s. (The Japanese have come a long way, even inspiring American filmmakers who hunger for source material for sub-par remakes). There’s the over-hyped flops like The English Patient (elaborated on in a Seinfeld episode) and Battlefield Earth (which was labeled “Travolting”).The commercially-driven star vehicle like Cool as Ice.

With the Drive-In and late night movie marathons on cable television now being all but a thing of the past, obscure selections like Space MutinyMitchellSanta Clause Conquers the MartiansMonster A Go-Go, and a curious abundance of 1950s teenage rebel movies that overdid it on the slang were resurrected for Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Mike Nelson and the gang continued the tradition with the mp3-based Riff Trax). In addition to regular screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the midnight movie circuit in various cities now run a small monopoly of so-bad-it’s-good fare. DC residents at least are also privy to the goodwill of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society, now with 20 years of real turkeys under their belt. Carl, the host, usually enlightens attendees of the free, weekly screenings with hilarious backstory. And I wonder,  if in time, Stephen Baldwin’s hammy Target, will join the list.

(Click here to read the rest of this post).

Quit Bugggin’: Human Centipede

“I’m waiting for them to say ‘we aren’t really showing a movie, we just wanted to see how depraved you all are.'” – Carl

Human Centipede was the latest star of E Street Cinema’s “Midnight Madness.” Something that was advertised as an adults-only affair. This weekend only. And supposedly, it has become the new Internet meme, too!

I first heard about it from The Other AC who posted a trailer to his Facebook page a few weeks ago for an unusually high-quality production about a German surgeon who kidnaps unfortunate strangers to use in his experiment: the Human Centipede.

Oh… so it’s like Rocky Horror but not funny?! (Hint, hint, you movie parodying specialists!).

Technically, the title is a misnomer. This Centipede has nowhere near a hundred legs. Though, who knows… it might by the end of the trilogy.

Oh yes, there’s more!

A few days later, I saw the film poster at E Street during the opening night of The Runaways. It was playing in two weeks. The E Street Cinema’s MC barely plugged it. “Well, I won’t tell you what it’s about. You saw the poster.” We knew what we were in store for. I immediately sent a text to The Other AC. Calendars were engraved in stone.

It was far too weird a movie to even suggest to most of my relatively normal friends to come see it with us. That, and asking them to put up with the additional nuisances of driving  downtown, finding a parking spot, and staying out till what we people nearing 30 call… “the wee hours of the morning.”

The film poster gave away more information than the studio had when Dutch writer/director/AK-47 enthusiast Tom Six made his pitch about a surgeon who sewed people together, not letting on precisely how this fusion takes place. As we waited in the growing line of white, black-clad hipsters for the first of two nights for the midnight screening, I noticed Carl, the host of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society here in DC, and went over to strike up conversation.

Marvel at my casual, but cool introduction…

“You’re the dude from the Psychotronic Film Society!” (I said while pointing at him).

Don’t judge. Carl didn’t.

When you spend 20 years hosting the trashy, gory, bizarre, and just plain bad movies that have made up Psychotronic screening history to DC audiences in bar basements as Carl has, there probably isn’t much that can shock you anymore. Which is why it surprised me when he said he might be watching most of this film with his eyes closed. (See my clever oxymoron? Watching with his eyes closed. Let’s virtually high five!).

Compton bowed out early on after reading about the movie on Wiki and feared that she wouldn’t be able to keep down the dinner we’d have before the show. Even CNN had declared Human Centipede the “Most Disturbing Film Ever Made!” (I presume they’ve overlooked the suffocation-by-boner scene in Body Melt?). Could this movie really be so extreme that audiences would be vomiting in the aisles (or worse, on each other!), or fleeing the theater in horror and disgust like they did when The Exorcist debuted? I had been under the impression that this was just a well-shot schlock, but nothing really all that repulsive. (There was some funny commentary from the row behind us). Plus, I couldn’t imagine this kind of audience being quite that sensitive.

But there was only way to find out! And so, we piled into a row of theater seats with Lyz and the Other AC’s depraved friends and the lights went down…

Well, actually what followed was a sort of disgusting, but mostly disappointing movie.

The Six and Six team (I can’t figure out what relation one of the co-producers, a lady Six, shares with director/writer Tom Six… could you imagine if she is his wife?!) daringly draw a line in the sand and happily step over it. But, really, it’s a small line. And the leap over it is a really tiny one. Years and years of outrageous horror cinema did not suddenly get “outdid” by Human Centipede. I mean, my dear CNN columnist (and similar admonishers!): have you seen some of the crazy shit the Japanese and Koreans made lately?

Let’s take a look, shall we?


As the good doctor explains to his victims with his handy overhead projector, the Human Centipede experiment requires breaking some knee caps and surgically attaching the specimens… ass to mouth. In the end, like a real centipede, they’ll be sharing a single digestive track. Oh, to be the lucky person at front of this train lucky enough to get their nutrients from actual food and not someone else’s doodie!

Shocking… isn’t it?!

But, as the DCist already pointed out, the 90 minute movie is consumed by it’s simple concept (although, maybe the unexplained difference between the First Sequence (part 1) and the upcoming Full Sequence (part 2) is the difference between seeing a buffet and digging in). The doctor finds his victims fairly quickly, since he only needs 3 unfortunate souls for his Centipede rather than, you  know, 50. He didn’t even have to go out and find them all, some came to him.  The expected escape attempt is quashed just as quickly. And, even though the demented doctor is a Hater (bluntly telling his victims, “I don’t like human beings”), he attempts to train the Centipede to be an obedient pet, only to get discouraged and go for a swim. Which is even more frustrating when two detectives with amazing hair show up around this time to investigate suspicious reports from the neighbors in what seems like almost an afterthought of how to end this thing. It’s basically all process.

Actually, a majority of this is as unsettling as it is to sit through because it’s star, Dieter Laser, is a creepy MF! And not in that Norman Bates kind of sociopath bathed in baby-face innocence. Laser is thin and veiny, has remarkably sunken cheeks, a hard square jaw with a permanent frown, and giant black eyes that harkens back to way Donald Pleasance described young Mike Meyers in the first Halloween: “He had the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes.”

I wonder though, if there was satire at play in Human Centipede. A German psycho-surgeon. A young, ineffectively defiant Japanese man who occupies the front of the Centipede. And, as punishment for not learning the basics of auto mechanics (changing a tire) — two American girls are placed at the end of this chain, simultaneously taking shit and kissing ass. Frustrating as it may be as an actress, walking around a film set with your face literally buried in someone else’s ass, it’s frustrating that they are permanent mutes. But, if it’s not satirical, then some of the imagery looks as though it was designed to fullfill some sort of kinky fantasy. In the scenes where the conjoined trio are asleep, it looks like an orgy that ran late past everyone’s bedtime. And I don’t think I’ll elaborate that last point any further.

All in all, the first installment survives on a reputation of hype. So what comes next?

The Never Ending Story – Terminator: Salvation

It’s a little heartbreaking when a wonderful, low-budget film is traded for big budget superficiality. When it becomes labeled…(gasp!)… a franchise and bottom-line intentions become clear: this is meant to be a profitable venture. Already starting the transformation with the second film, Judgment Day cost over $100 million to produce in 1991, making it one of the most expensive films of its day (and also one of the highest grossing).

While it’s been six years since the last Terminator film, Terminator Salvation, like The Sarah Connor Chronicles, breaches the lineage as part of a next generation franchise far more than T3: Rise of the Machines. Neither of the film’s originators, James Cameron and William Wisher, were involved. For Salvation, the shift to next gen mode means stylistic obligations such as international casting and plenty of pretty faces, standard battle sequences, and annoyingly referential dialogue. It is, like most every big-budget action movie these days, organized around flashiness. Another revivalist summer blockbuster was guilty of this: Star Trek.

As the first of the Terminator films to be set in the post-Holocaust world that Sarah Connor envisioned, most of the grainy, bleak film looks modeled upon military-themed video games. Immediately thrusting viewers into the action, the opening sequences are riddled with dust-filled clouds and off-screen shouting. As the seemingly hopeless war against the machines continues, Terminator Salvation takes place just before resistance fighter Kyle Reese meets John Connor. Unfortunately, in the chronology of time traveling tales, there’s always the potential for plot holes. The most egregious occurred as early as the first film. There, Kyle Reese of 2029 wants to “meet the Legend” and selflessly volunteers for the kamikaze mission to be transported to 1984 to save Sarah Connor from assassination by a terminator. In that time, Kyle Reese fathers John Connor, the fearless resistance leader who was, paradoxically, his mentor back in the future. Terminator: Salvation, set in 2018, shows the adult John Connor continuously listening to the tapes his mother recorded before he was born, relaying what she’d learned from Reese in the hopes that she can better prepare him, the future warrior. The mentor and the apprentice reversed roles in a way.

But, the life of the future warrior doesn’t seem like one to be desired. John Connor is constantly forced to be on guard against potential assaults not only against himself, but those intended to protect him. While Kyle Reese indirectly protects John Connor’s life, he must now return the favor, because doing so ensures that all prior events still occur, namely protecting Sarah Connor, which suggests that the past is always occurring. If so, then there is always a possibility of altering them, and consequently, anything in the time line that follows. Eventually, the Hunter-Killers flying into the frame will have a “Same Shit Different Day” slapped to the back of it. (Did someone say Wayan’s brother genre parody?!).


One For My Brother: A ‘Best Of’ List

(DRAFT) Anecdotes and commentary on Gilroy Drastik’s Top 10 favorite movies… (as hard as it was to limit the list to just 10)…


Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!

Inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, Spielberg’s 1975 iconographic movie of the predatory Great White terrorizing the fictional northeastern Amity Island (filmed at Martha’s Vineyard) was adapted from Peter Benchley’s novel. Ironically, Benchley has said if he’d known a bit more about the behavior of Great Whites, he’d not have written the book as it was. Although, when approached by Doubleday, the writer was told that what they wanted wasn’t non-fiction. They wanted a story about a shark terrorizing a town. For once the Creature Feature was enormously successful (rated among the top 250 of IMDB) and only slightly corny (the obvious moments when on-screen actors are dealing with difficult, animatronic puppet). Despite the intensity and suspense that establishes Jaws as one of the greatest horror movies (or maybe plain old thriller is a better genre heading), it was followed by several sequels, a shitty NES game, and one incredibly ridiculous cheesy theme park ride that only nominally have anything in common with their predecessor film (they were definitely “some bad hat, harry!”).

In a nutshell, the plot centers on the newly ordained Amity Police Chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) who inherits a major dilemma in his initial service – a string of shark attacks during the Island tourist town’s busiest season. Initially met with stupid, yet understandable political and economic pressures bearing down on him as to whether the beaches should be shut down, a few deaths has the small town eager for a quick solution like taking row boats out and a hanging a slab of meat on a fish hook, waiting to throw a handful of dynamite in a hungry shark’s mouth. But, Brody, ever the pragmatist, solicits the help of a university-trained marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a wry traditionalist boat captain (Robert Shaw, who also starred in The Deep, another sea-side Benchley adaptation) to put an end to the town’s crippling threat – a great white shark.

Farewell and adieu to you fine Spanish ladies…

In part, the movie has survived the test of time because of the cool of its leading late actors, Roy Scheider (Brody) and Englishman Robert Shaw (Quinn). But, it also survives as an example of effective elements in suspense that went beyond the transparent thrills and scare tactics that have saturated most modern American horror. Jaws manages to bring all of its nervous development to a claustrophobic climax rigged with intense doubt – will three desperate men aboard a rather small boat managed to finally put an end to the small town’s persistent terror?

It’s been said that the beach population was significantly down in the year of Jaws‘s release, something understandable where audiences were just as unfamiliar with shark behavior as the author of its source material.


All Your Synthetic Charms Are Belong To Us: Making Mr. Right

“Who am I? Why am I here? What does it mean to be human?”

– Paul M. Sammon, drawing the common philosophical questions presented in Blade Runner and its source novel, Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Romantic science fiction comedies are rare, but it’s a genre that seemed to have found its niche in the 1980s. Blade Runner, released in 1982, approached the subject of relationships between human and non-humans in the story of an agent who, assigned to kill an illegal brand of synthetic human called replicants, instead falls in love with one. It was a story that paralleled much older fiction: Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein. They were Man’s creation and declared monsters by their creators. In the replicants case, they were designed to first fight in Man’s wars, then were resigned to be their slaves in the colonizing of conquered planets. Most all of the replicants were aware of their design and consequently, their fate.  The Nexus 6 replicants of this story don’t really seek baseless revenge – they desire to reverse their tragedy.

After Blade Runner, the anthropomorphic android was removed from the typically dark, technophobic context of contemporary science fiction, and was instead placed into causal, modern life. Adapting to the most abstract of human emotion (love), aliens (Starman, Earth Girls Are Easy), computers (Electric Dreams), and robots (Short Circuit, Heartbeeps) alike became the new source of competition for human affection. They made potential mates.

Director Susan Seidleman’s third feature film, Making Mr. Right, written by Floyd Byars and Laurie Frank and released in 1987, ventures into this fusion ofscience fiction/romantic comedy genre and borrows on that narrative of non-humans trying to understand core human emotion. But in this case, the lesson in love is imperfect – a curious android seeks his guidance from a woman who is just as confused (and cynical) about relationships. Hell, most of the characters are.

For this film, Seidelman places aaide her usual setting of kitschy New York City (Smithereens, Desperately Seeking Susan and returning to this in 1989 with her fourth film, Cookie) Making Mr. Right is set in Miami, a location that nonetheless allowed Seidleman access to her trademark fusion of art deco and 80s new wave (in both visuals and soundtrack). It also enabled her characteristic commentary on lavish consumerism.

Ann Manguson plays Frankie Stone — characteristically bold, fashionable, witty and… currently single. She exhibits that perfect pop feminine chic central to Seidleman’s leading women. Roger Ebert’s 1987 review highlight’s the director’s sensibilities of character perfectly: “…she hits her stride as a comedy director who would rather be clever than obvious, who allows good actors such as Malkovich to go for quiet effects rather than broad, dumb cliches).” There is often that risk of coming off as pitifully saccharine with a story like this,but, Seidleman’s work always managed to steer from being disastrously campy and in largely because her choice of leading women in particular were key in maintaining that momentum. And, Manguson was perfect for the part.

Bumped by her colleague as the public relations lead for the mayoral race, a move that coincided with her breaking up with the conceited candidate, frazzled career woman Frankie Stone is hired by NASA to work on their latest project: a human-looking robot named Ulysses (played by a young John Malkovich). Originally designed to explore space where physical, mental, and emotional limitations (think: isolated missions) could not allow humans to do so, the business-minded team of engineers want to expand the android’s uses, eying marketing potential for the robot as a domestic servant and emergency services assistant. Ulyesses, unlike predecessor robots, has the ability to learn and adapt, both mechanically and socially. Unfortunately, Jeff Peters (also Malkovich) the brilliant but incredibly arrogant scientist who invented the robot (and modeled its apearance on himself), is hopelessly incapable of “humanizing” Ulyessus; making him seem less robotic and more human. And that’s precisely what Frankie is hired to do.

In the isolation of the lab, Ulyessus’s lone source of knowledge about people, about human interaction, about the outside world, is all learned from Frankie, whom smitten Ulysses falls for. But, as Frankie tells her inquisitive, robotic pupil, the existence of true love is doubtful and the.perfect man is impossible.

But, the more interesting element, rare to narratives like this one (expanding beyond Blade Runner‘s meta-physical posturing), is that the android and the human (in this case, his inventor) increasingly become a mutual doppelganger. Ulyessus becomes more sociable, more curious about human interaction and the oustide world. And, for his innocence, he’s hypnotically charming. (This leads to two particulary great scenes – a shopping mall date with Laurie Metcalf’s character, who mistakes Ulyesses for her ideal love interest Jeff, and a scene in which Glenn Headly’s character think she’s accidentally decapitated Ulyesses when his head falls off during sex.) On the other hand, Jeff is increasingly defined more by limited social qualities of a pure robot – little else than mechanical, scientific genius (save one brief attempt to be personable). It is perhaps John Malkovich in one of his most versatile roles, simply because he had to exhibit such a wide range of personality (or lack thereof) for both parts. For once it was not merely the robot steadily transforming (as much as he could) to human, but his maker had increasingly taken the form of the robot (and happily so), indifferent to social connection and its consequential emotional attachment.

*Credit to AC for the title.

Garbage Gets Me Hot: Student Bodies

A few weeks ago, it popped up in the Netflix library search: Student Bodies, something so hilarious, yet so obscenely low-budget and obscure (and perfect for those past-midnight cable horror marathons that never run anymore), it’s transition to modern movie technology seemed unlikely. Could it be real, Netflix? Could it?!! Because you must’nt toy with a girl’s emotions!

But indeed, it was finally released to DVD in June.

See children, long before the one-laugh movies of the Scary Movie franchise, well-known screenwriter Mickey Rose, who had written for several popular sitcoms such as Happy Days and All in the Family as well as better Woody Allen films, co-directed with Michael Ritchie (who also directed the Fletch movies and the Bad News Bears, among other things) this 1981 horror parody that is first introduced as basically a spoof of any memorable horror movie at the time like Halloween, Prom Night, and When a Stranger Calls, but soon just becomes a free for-all for screwball humor that wavers between hilarious trash and something that’s just disturbingly weird.

The plot is simple: the promiscuous students of Lamab High School are winding up dead and have only their raging hormones to blame, it seems. As one of the young, misguided victims says before he dies: “I can’t help it, mechanical bulls get me hot!” Indeed.

The prime suspect in all of this is Toby (Kristen Riter), a skittish virgin in hideous polyester (“I didn’t do it, I never do it!”). But of course, she’s innocent, right? And she’s intent on proving such by finding out the real identity of the mysterious killer who is nicknamed “The Breather.” Thankfully, “The Breather” helps us out with a potential list of probable suspects:

“Hello, it’s me, The Breather. You’re probably wonder who I am. Who could I be? Could I be the innocent looking Toby? Would you trust a girl who looked like Prince Valiant in a plum sweater? Maybe I’m Dr. Sigmund; a man who was once arrested for corrupting the morals of a hooker. Then there’s Malvert; with an I.Q. of a handball and the personality of a parking meter: violated! Could I be the principal Mr. Peters; a man who keeps cheese in his underwear to attract mice? Let’s not Ms. Leclair; English teacher by day and English teacher by night. Ah, Miss Mumsley; She’s eats 12 prunes a day and nothing happens. Nurse Krud and Ms. Van Dyke; what’s in a name? Everything! And then there Dumpkin; a man who sleeps with nuts in between horsehead bookends.”

Despite the obscurity of almost the entire cast, all of whom have few other film credits, if any, Richard Belzer surprisingly supplied the voice of the mysterious Breather, a serial killer with a contempt for sexually active teenagers and an interesting foray of weapons: paper clips, belt sanding cases, and even eggplants. Every time someone or something (like a fly) is killed, the body count flashes on screen, making this just about the easiest damned murder mystery to solve! Well… maybe if it was one that adhered to any sort of logic. But even the Breather gets stupidly irreverent, calling and informing the investigative team of various school administrators and teachers where he will strike next.

Of course some of the free-for-all approach has been criticized as a drawback when it comes to tying it all up with a reasonable ending and the movie seems to run out of steam by the last five minutes in a wash of circus-like surrealism. It becomes so spoof-heavy as humor trumps any real desire to follow a sensible, solvable mystery. But then again, the piss-your-pants stupid nonsense style is the movie’s best features! Who gives a damn whether the mystery in the end makes any sense when the killer on the loose is attacking people with typing team trophies?!

Nonetheless, the film has thankfully achieved transition to modern technological formats. But despite the enthusiasm of it’s cult fan base, there is relatively background available on the film. Even the DVD is a bare-bones one. Also, my compliments to Netflix who’s Instant viewing library has recently filled with many more never-thought-I’d-find-this-movie-here titles.