September 28th, 2008

CHOKE (2008) *** ½

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex addict who only goes to group therapy meetings so he can hook up with other sex maniacs who have fallen off the wagon.  When he isn’t working as a “historical interpreter” at a local colonial theme park, he’s caring for his sick mother (Anjelica Huston) who is suffering from dementia and slowly wasting away in a nursing home.  Victor also cruises fancy restaurants where he purposefully chokes on food so that eager customers will give him the Heimlich maneuver.  Since they feel indebted to Victor for saving his life, they’ll even send him Christmas cards filled with money, which he uses to pay for his mother’s ever increasing medical bills.  


There are a lot of other little side plots running around too.  Like Victor’s romance with a sweet doctor (Kelly Macdonald) who wants to save his mother using stem cell technology.  And Victor’s best friend Denny (Brad Henke); a chronic masturbator who trades out beating his meat for rock collecting.  Oh, and Victor also learns that he might actually be a clone of Jesus Christ as well. 


Very rarely do I ever get a chance to read a book before they get around to making a movie out of it, but I actually read the Chuck (Fight Club) Palahniuk novel this film is based on when it was first released. I enjoyed it (although admittedly it read a lot like Fight Club Lite) but always thought it would be tough to adapt.  I mean you can read a book where the main character is basically a douche the whole time and it doesn’t really matter because it’s a fucking book.  In a movie however you need a hero you can root for.  Screenwriter/director Clark (Iron Man) Gregg deftly sugarcoated a lot of Palahniuk’s nihilism and turns Victor into a much more likable character than he was in the book and that little change makes all the difference.  This is the rare case where the movie is actually better than the book. 


The first time director Gregg (who also co-stars as Victor’s jealous boss) shows a lot of style behind the camera too.  I particularly loved the way Gregg showed what’s really going on in Victor’s head whenever he meets a woman for the first time.  (I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it here, but it’s safe to say that every guy does this.)  I also dug how he portrayed Victor’s way of “holding back” his orgasms.  (Again, I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’re a guy, chances are you’ve done this too.) 


The performances are all great.  Rockwell is amazing and he endears his skuzzy character to the audience nicely.  If someone else was in the role, I don’t think they could’ve pulled that tricky feat off.  Huston is also good as his demented mother and the duo share some pretty memorable moments together.  I’ve never heard of Henke before but he is excellent and he makes a good counterbalance to Rockwell.  Even though he may flog his dolphin fifteen times a day, he’s basically just a big teddy bear. 


Choke is a lot of fun for most of its running time until it slowly loses its way about ¾ of the way through.  There are a few too many loose plot strands that endlessly chase their tail and never gets wrapped up satisfactorily.  For example, in the book Denny built a giant stone structure that figured into the climax. Here, it’s just a little throwaway.  I didn’t really mind that the flick ran on a bit too long because it’s kinda like going on a Sunday drive:  If the scenery is pleasant and the company is good, it doesn’t really matter if it takes you a little longer to reach your destination. 


Macdonald gets the best line of the movie when she tells Rockwell:  “This has nothing to do with love or commitment.  I simply want your seed!”


Choke isn’t quite good enough to make it onto the Video Vacuum Top Ten of the Year but it gets an Honorable Mention.  If there was such thing as a Top Eleven List, it would surely be sitting pretty at the 11 spot though. 

SS CAMP 5: WOMEN’S HELL (1977) **

Hordes of Jewish women are sent to a hellish Nazi camp where they are given a choice.  A) they can be locked up in a cell where they can get tortured by the lecherous guards, B) join the brothel where they will be fucked by the horny soldiers or C) disobey and be used as medical experiments by the decidedly unethical scientists.  One spunky Jamaican chick chooses D) none of the above, and concocts an escape plan that entails machine gunning several Nazis.


SS Camp 5:  Women’s Hell is a lot like Schindler’s List except that instead of a kind hearted businessman saving Jews by allowing them to work as labor in his factory, a kind hearted madam saves Jews by allowing them to work as whores in her brothel.


Okay maybe not. 


Director Sergio Garrone filmed this flick back to back with the vastly superior SS Experiment Love Camp using the same sets and most of the same actors (who all more or less play the same damn roles).  It was standard practice to do this in exploitation films.  I mean why film one modestly budgeted Nazi movie when you can make TWO incredibly cheap Nazi movies with the same amount of money? 


The problem is that SS Camp 5:  Women’s Hell suffers from comparison.  While SS Experiment Love Camp was by no means a classic, it was a fun, down and dirty Naziploitation movie.  This one plays more like a Women in Prison movie than anything else (there are shower scenes, leering lesbian guards, and the black heroine is clearly modeled on Pam Grier’s role in The Big Doll House) and a rather tame one at that.  Sure, there are fingers being set on fire, a head stuck in a vice, branding, tongue ripping and women burning in oversized ovens, but the film simply lacks the utter zaniness and crazy antics (like the insane nut transplants) that made the other flick a damn good time. 


A husband (Simon Andreu) and his new blushing bride Susan (Maribel Martin) go to live at his ancestral mansion.  On their wedding night, he indulges in some kinky sex and even though she’s a virgin, she really doesn’t seem to mind that much.  Pretty soon Susan starts seeing a sexy vampire bride named Mircalla (Alexandra Bastedo) in her dreams who wants her to murder her husband.  One day while walking on the beach, the hubby finds a chick named Carmilla, who bears a close resemblance to Mircalla, buried in the sand and brings her home.  Carmilla takes an immediate liking to Susan and quickly embroils her into a plot to bump off her husband once and for all. 


Director Vicente Aranda loads The Blood Spattered Bride with atmosphere and lesbian undertones but never quite pulls the trigger to make it all come together successfully.  The three-way love triangle between the jealous husband, his sexy wife and the homewrecking lesbian vampire just isn’t very involving and Carmilla herself is introduced much too late in the game for her to have much effect on the plot.  But the chief reason why the flick really fails is the static pacing.  The damned thing moves slower than a narcoleptic snail.


That’s not to say everything the movie is a complete washout.  Although Aranda may not know a thing when it comes to making a snappily paced flick, he sure knows how to get Maribel Martin to show off rack and unkempt bush a lot.  He also spices things up occasionally with some bizarre but beautiful imagery (like the scene where they find Carmilla buried on the beach and you only see her face and breasts peeking up out of the sand) and the dream sequence where Mircalla forces Susan to repeatedly stab her husband, rip out his heart and wring it out like a sponge has a kick to it.  Unfortunately these moments are few and far between and will only have you wishing that someone would hurry up and give this bride away already. 


AKA:  Blood Castle.  AKA:  Bloody Fiancée.  AKA:  Till Death Do Us Part.


A trio of bank robbers on the run from Johnny Law shacks up at a beach house where a nun and four Catholic schoolgirls are staying.  While waiting for their getaway car to be repaired, the deviant degenerates kill time by bludgeoning the maid with an iron, raping the nun and molesting a couple of the gals.  When one of the rapists goes too far by stuffing a walking stick halfway up one of the girl’s hoo-ha, the nun decides to take matters into her own hands and get some good old fashioned revenge.


There were so many low budget Italian Last House on the Left rip-offs made in the late 70’s that they’re almost a genre unto themselves.  (My favorite being The House on the Edge of the Park.)  Last House on the Beach gets off to a promising enough start and has a decent finale; it’s just too bad that the stuff in between is so damned dull.    


The film was directed by Franco Prosperi.  I guess because he also co-directed the immortal Mondo Cane I was somehow expecting a little more from this flick.  In Mondo Cane, Prosperi showed us all kinds of twisted shit, but in this flick, most of the gruesome stuff is kept off screen.  What’s worse is that a lot the attack scenes are filmed in annoying super slow motion which greatly diminishes their effectiveness.  


The thing that really sinks this flick is the plodding pacing.  What made Last House on the Left cook was its three act structure.  The killers rape and murder the girls, then they go to stay at the parents house, and finally the parents get revenge.  Here, the killers arrive at the house very early in the film, leaving them with little to do for the next hour or so except babysit their hostages and bark out orders and stuff.  


At least the score is pretty snazzy and the final scene where the schoolgirls avenge themselves by beating the main rapist like a piñata using various gardening tools was kinda tight.  Ultimately Last House on the Beach is a middle of the road entry in the Last House… sweepstakes.  If you have a severe nun fetish you may want to add an extra star to this review though. 


AKA:  Terror.

POSSESSION (1983) ** ½

Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani are having some serious marital problems so they decide it’s best to take a break from each other.  They try to act civil but Sam’s hatred towards her gets renewed when he finds out she’s fucking a femmy German guy who looks to be about 40 but still lives with his mother.  Sam goes over there to rough him up a bit, but the dude is a karate expert or something and he kicks the shit out of poor Sam.  Then Isabelle starts acting REALLY weird (the big tip-off:  she keeps the laundry in the refrigerator) so Sammy Boy hires a detective to follow her around town and get the goods on her.  When the private dick sneaks into her apartment, the gumshoe is promptly turned into gumbo when Isabelle wigs out and slashes him up with a broken wine bottle.  Then a lot more guys start following Isabelle home and she starts feeding them to her new lover who turns out to be… are you ready for this folks?  A slimy octopus slop monster!


If Sam went nuts when he found out his wife was fucking a bisexual black belt, how do you think he’s going to react when he learns she’s balling a slippery sex squid?


Man, this is one weird movie.  It’s not necessarily a GOOD weird movie though.  I mean there are “What the Fuck?” Movies and there are “What the… Fuck It!” Movies.  “What the Fuck?” Movies are the kind of movies that don’t make a lick of sense but you accept them because the “rules” of the film are more or less intact, even though for the most part you're left saying, “What the Fuck?” a lot.  (Like say… Mulholland Drive.)  Possession is a “What the… Fuck It!” Movie.  “What the… Fuck It!” Movies are movies that purposefully don’t make a lick of sense; that throw all logic out the window and when you DO try to put the pieces together, it just gives you one big headache.  You try to figure it out by saying “What the…” but eventually you get so fed up with the movie you end up saying “Fuck It!”


Director Andrzej Zulawski kinda pulled a reverse Polanski on us with this one.  Most of Polanski’s horror movies start out mundanely but he slowly ratchets up the suspense and supernatural elements until the flick reaches full boil.  With Possession, Zulawski films all the everyday stuff like parents arguing with such an over the top exuberance that it resembles a Lifetime Original on Steroids.  What’s maddening about the film is that once the Sex Squid shows up, the flick grinds to a complete halt and Zulawski’s pacing goes into a coma.  I mean why would the dude stage all the boring stuff like a fucking Michael Bay action sequence then film the monster scenes as if it was My Dinner with Andre? 


I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t see this movie though.  Isabelle Adjani’s performance is reason enough to spend two hours in front of the tube with this flick.  If you loved her in Ishtar then you’re going to go gaga for her here.  Not only does she show off her tits a whole bunch in this movie, but she also deserves some kind of award for Excellence in Bat Shit Insanity by a French Broad.  Seriously, I thought the poor gal was going to pop a blood vessel from flailing around so much in this movie.  Parts of Possession are just plain dumb but this flick has enough scenes of Isabelle Adjani doing freaky shit in it to make you doubt your sanity more than once.  Isabelle going bonkers and cutting herself with an electric knife?  Check!  Isabelle acting crazier than an outhouse rat until melted ice cream oozes out of her ears and twat?  Gotcha!  Isabelle getting busy with a gelatinous calamari lover?  You know it.       


AKA:  The Night the Screaming Stops.