May 19th, 2008

EAGLE VS. SHARK (2007) ***

Lily, a mousy New Zealand girl (Loren Horsley) loses her job at a fast food joint, which gives her more time to ogle Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a nerdy guy who works in a video store.  At a party where everyone dresses up like their favorite animal (Lily’s a shark, Jarrod’s an Eagle), Lilly impresses him with her video game playing ability so he makes love to her.  They become boyfriend-girlfriend and Jarrod asks her to come to his hometown with him so he can beat up his former high school bully.  During her stay, Lily warms up to Jarrod’s family, gets dumped, sleeps in a tent, gets drunk and eventually gets back together with him. 

 

This offbeat and frequently funny comedy plays like Kiwi version of Napoleon Dynamite.  While it’s not quite in the same league as that film, it’s still pretty entertaining, thanks largely to some great performances.  Horsley (who also co-wrote the script) is excellent as the shy Lily, but it’s Clement who steals the movie.  If you’ve ever seen him on Flight of the Conchords, you know he can be pretty freaking hilarious and his eccentric performance is easily the best thing about the film.  Naturally, he gets all the best lines of the movie; my favorite being:  “You’re a bitch and you will die of diabetes!”   

 

Director/co-writer Taika Waititi also turns up in a small role.   

THE INVASION (2007) **

 

The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an excellent sci-fi horror film that was a thinly veiled message about McCarthyism.  The ’78 version was a pointed satire about materialism.  The third version, done in ’94 was about putting too much faith into the military.  This fourth (and by far the most expensive) version is all about… the studio trying to make some money.

 

Without a strong central subtext, there’s no real reason to do another Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie and the resulting mess plays out like a Pod Person version of the original film.

 

An alien spore comes to Earth after a space shuttle crash and turns everyone who comes into contact with it into collective drones when they fall asleep.  When a psychiatrist (Nicole Kidman) gets a rash of patients coming to her claiming that their loved ones are acting strange, she shrugs it off as just another day at the office, but when her husband (Jeremy Northam) turns into a drone and kidnaps her son, Kidman must rescue him while trying her best to remain awake.

 

You’ll have trouble staying awake too.   

 

What makes this version different from the other Invasion movies is that the alien infection doesn’t spread from pods being placed next to the person while they sleep; but a virus you get from someone puking in your coffee.  So now instead of humans turning into Pod People, they turn into Puke People. 

 

You can always tell who’s a Puke Person because they always talk in a monotone voice.  And you can always tell when someone is trying to turn you into a Puke Person because they always show up with a cup of coffee and a stupid smile on their face.  And when you don’t drink the coffee, the Puke People get fed up and up and puke in your face. 

 

So what we have here is not really Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  It’s Invasion of the Puke People.  The Invasion isn’t a terrible movie, and if the film did it’s own thing (The Puke People are a nice touch) instead of being a third rate remake of a beloved classic, it MIGHT have worked. 

 

Although the three previous versions of the film had an obvious but unobtrusive subtext, this one hits the audience over the head non-stop with POSSIBLE allusions (Bird flu virus, Ritalin popping kids, the war in Iraq, etc.), but it never settles on one or the other.  Without a clear-cut justification for this flick to exist, The Invasion not only fails miserably as a Body Snatcher flick, but as a film itself.  The supporting cast (Daniel Craig, Jeffrey Wright, and Veronica Cartwright from the ’78 version) is good, but when the movie lacks as much personality as the Puke People, it’s kinda hopeless. 

 

This was a troubled production and it shows.  The initial director, Oliver Hirschbiegel was replaced by V for Vendetta helmer James McTeigue for studio mandated re-shoots, with The Wachowski brothers of The Matrix fame coming in to do some serious script polishing.  I couldn’t tell you for sure, but the idea of puking on people and turning them into alien drones smacks of the Wachowskis to me. 

 

Despite the film’s patchwork unevenness and numerous missteps, it does have at least one memorable sequence.  While trying to elude the Puke People, Kidman inadvertently crashes her car and is knocked unconscious.  A teeming mass of Puke People try to break into the car while Kidman’s son frantically tries to wake her up.  It’s a pretty tense moment and if there had been more of them, The Invasion may have been a passable rehash.  As it is, it’s just another in a long line of pointless and shitty remakes.

 

Kidman and Craig were also in The Golden Compass together and Craig and Wright co-starred in Casino Royale. 

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1969) **

 

Christopher Lee returns for his third turn as Dracula in director Freddie (The Evil of Frankenstein) Francis’ handsomely mounted but hopelessly empty vampire flick.

 
This time, old Drac gets resurrected when a lamebrained priest accidentally awakens him from his slumber.  (The circumstances are just too preposterous to go into.)  Dracula learns that another priest has barred his sanctuary with a golden cross, which drives the Count positively bugshit and he sets out for revenge.

 

While I have always been partial to Hammer’s Frankenstein movies, I have to say that as far as vampires go; you can’t get any more badass than Christopher Lee.  They actually gave him some lines in this one and while he’s quite menacing and authoritative in the lead, the rest of the movie is a turd.  

 

The first and last ten minutes of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave works like gangbusters, but everything else in between is a bore.  The biggest problem is that Lee is absent for too much of the movie.  When he’s not on screen, the audience has to suffer through a bunch of stuffy Brits who parade around spouting endlessly about God knows what.  At times, the film plays more like an episode of Masterpiece Theater than a down and dirty Dracula picture and the gratuitous innocuous romantic subplot really grates on the nerves too.

 

Also, the flick is rife with continuity errors.  At one point, Dracula casts a reflection in a stream of water and we all know good and well that vampires don’t cast a reflection.   In another scene, Dracula is clearly seen walking about in the daytime!  That’s inexcusable.  Didn’t anybody know anything about vampire lore before they sat down to write this mess?

 

Although the film is maddeningly slow for most of the running time, it does have it’s merits.  In addition to Lee’s aforementioned performance, the flick has a few gory stakings, including an impressive scene where Dracula lands on a golden cross and features a couple of bosomy women getting bloody hickies from the good Count.  The flick also has a great opening scene where a dead girl is found hanging upside down in a church bell, but unfortunately, nothing else comes close to matching it.

 

Lee returned in the next Hammer Dracula installment, Taste the Blood of Dracula, the next year. 

SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) **

Hammer’s Dracula series was always hit and miss, but you could always count on them for a sinister performance by Christopher Lee.  He’s pretty great in this, his fifth essaying of the role, but he is done a great disservice by the wildly uneven script.   

 

Case in point:  In the opening scene of the film, a bat pukes on Dracula’s cape, which instantly brings him back to life. 

 

Two minutes in and I’m already having problems with this movie’s logic.  Definitely not a good sign. 

 

Anyway, Dracula isn’t alive for more than ten seconds when a group of angry villagers are knocking down his door trying to burn his castle down.  Drac ingeniously sends out his trained army of killer rubber bats to chow down on all the womenfolk while the men are out storming the castle, so it’s all good though.

 

Meanwhile, a hapless dude gets comically accused of rape and has to seek refuge in Dracula’s crib.  Dracula offers him a place to crash, but you can probably guess what the Count has in mind for the poor bastard.  When his brother and his fiancée show up looking for him, Drac sets out to put the bite on them too.  In the ridiculously stupid ending, Dracula gets struck by lightning (LIGHTNING!) and gets turned into a walking Molotov cocktail. 

 

The movie earns points for at least trying to be true in some respects to Bram Stoker’s original novel (no, he didn’t write the part with the puking bat) but too much of this mess is just plain silly and those rubbery looking bats are hard to take seriously.  In addition to the unintentional laughs, the filmmakers sprinkled in liberal doses of bedroom humor as well, which only adds to the film’s identity crisis.  Things also get extremely bogged down after the romantic lead gets Janet Leighed halfway into the film. 

 

On the plus side, the flick features a few shocking, albeit brief gore scenes (one woman has her eyeball mauled out by one of the voracious rubber bats) and some tantalizing glimpses of nudity.  The film also contains some genuinely ghoulish moments too, like when Dracula snaps and stabs his bride to death with a dagger for cheating on him, but it’s just a shame that director Roy Ward (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde) Baker couldn’t have paced this thing a little better.      

 

Scars of Dracula may be one of the weakest of the Hammer Dracula films but if you have a rubber bat fetish, this’ll definitely knock your socks off. 

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964) **

 

A troupe of traveling performers are invited to put on a show for the mysterious Count Drago (Christopher Lee) at his remote castle.  Drago gets his kicks by stuffing animals and soon sets his sights on stuffing his visitors and adding them to his collection of taxidermed critters.  The actors start dropping like flies and it’s up to the pretty ingénue of the group to put a stop to the Count’s mischief. 

 

Castle of the Living Dead has a potentially interesting idea but is hamstrung by a muddled approach and sluggish pacing.  Although the film is slow going at times, director Luciano Ricci is still able to build a modicum of atmosphere, especially during the scenes inside the titular castle.  While the flick is drawn out a little TOO much and features more than it’s fair share of padding, Castle of the Living Dead remains worth a look for the performances alone. 

 

Lee is excellent as always and gives a mannered performance that balances charm and menace expertly.  Sporting a gauntly figure and a snappy goatee, Lee dominates every scene he’s in and is a real treat to watch.  It’s also fun spotting a young Donald Sutherland in a dual role as both a constable and an old witch.  Seeing his familiar features covered in make-up is a hoot and he was obviously having a blast. 

 

On the whole, the flick isn’t nearly as scary as a trip to Grandma’s but there is one scene that gives new meaning to the phrase “Dwarf Tossing” that has to be seen to be believed. 

 

Co-scripter Michael Reeves also did some uncredited directing and would later go on to helm the classic The Conqueror Worm shortly before his untimely death.   

 

Sutherland gets the best line of the movie when he advises Lee to “Send those gypsies packing!”

 

AKA:  Crypt of Horror.