December 11th, 2008

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) *

The title should have been a dead giveaway.  Just like the title, this movie is long.  Every fucking thing about the movie is long.  There are long scenes where nobody says anything.  Then when they do speak, there are long pauses in between their sentences.  There are long stretches where Jesse James just kinda stares off into space.  There are long scenes where Robert Ford ogles Jesse James.  There are long lengths of the film where nothing happens.  Man, this flick is just long.

 

The title pretty much gives you everything you need to know about the movie.  Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) is a coward who assassinates Jesse James (Brad Pitt).  End of story.

 

For those who want to know more, I’ll indulge you.  Robert Ford is a stalker.  Much like Mark David Chapman, he idolizes his hero, Jesse James to the point of creepy obsessive-compulsion.  He infiltrates Jesse’s gang and while everyone can see that the dude is clearly crazy, Jesse takes a liking to him.  (“I don’t care who comes with me and I never did.  That’s why they call me gregarious!”)

 

Ford slowly (and I do emphasize the word SLOWLY) learns that Jesse is not the man he read about in all of those dime novels and becomes disillusioned and pouts a lot.  After about two hours worth of moping around, Ford aims to kill his hero.  Jesse sort of intuitively figures out what Ford has in store for him and he accepts his fate willingly and calmly turns his back and waits for the inevitable.  

 

Since the movie is so damn long-winded, it should come as no surprise to you that Jesse presents his back to Ford over and over again and waits and waits and waits to be gunned down.  All Ford does is just sit there and you feel like standing up and yelling, “JUST SHOOT THE SON OF A BITCH ALREADY!”

 

What’s worse is that after the coward Robert Ford FINALLY assassinates Jesses James, the movie STILL isn’t over.  The movie flashes forward a few years with Ford starring in an off Broadway play about how he killed James.  After a lot more hemming and hawing, we eventually get to a scene where some other coward shoots Ford in the back, giving him his just desserts.

 

The early scenes of the film are quite good and hook you into the story, but there was no need for this thing to run almost three hours long.  While the repartee between James and Ford in the beginning of the film is involving, it gets tiresome after about the second hour of Ford’s constant spaz attacks and James’ erratic behavior.  Likewise, Pitt starts the movie off well although his performance gets more and more inconsistent as the film slogs on.  You never really get a read on his character and his performance like the film; gets tedious after awhile.  Affleck fares slightly better as the twitchy, uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin Ford.  He is believable when he’s in stalker mode (at one point he sniffs Jesse’s bed sheets), yet he’s not nearly as convincing at playing the post-assassination Ford.  It also doesn’t help that his “character development” during the latter scenes is mostly courtesy of the narrator’s incessant droning and not from his acting ability.

 

On the plus side, the movie resembles a western oil painting come to life and the cinematography would give Terrence Malick a hard-on.  While there ain’t too much gore to be had, there is a juicy head shot about halfway through the flick.  Sorry if this review seems a bit longer than it should, it’s just payback for me sitting through this long ass movie. 

BEWARE: CHILDREN AT PLAY (1989) **

A camping trip between a father and son goes horribly wrong when it ends with the father stepping into a bear trap.  The dude eventually dies and the kid ends up cannibalizing his dear old dad.  Ten years later, the local kids start disappearing off into the woods, returning only to murder and torture their parents.  Sometimes, the more “grown-up” of the children will breed with the kidnapped womenfolk to propagate the race of killer kiddies.  While the small town community sits idly by and does nothing, one man stands up to the murderous munchkins and sets out to get his daughter back.

 

Basically it’s Children of the Corn Without the Corn; and a breeding subplot thrown in to justify putting some titties on screen.  The flick may move slower than molasses but the scenes of crazed kiddies killing kinfolk are kinda humorous I guess.  It’s just a shame that the first half of the film had to be chockfull of long boring scenes of pointless exposition and amateurish acting.

 

The gore is pretty good.  A guy gets cut in half, there’s a slashed throat, rats gnawing on people’s faces, impalings, and an assortment of stabbings.  As great as the scenes of the children killing their parents are; the finale where the townspeople say enough is enough and get their revenge by shooting, stabbing and pitchforking little kids to death is even better.  There are also a couple cool shots of half eaten victims of the children’s lust for meat thrown in there as well. 

 

A crusty old Bible salesman gets the best line of the movie when he says, “Don’t get your bowels in an uproar!”

GRADUATION DAY (1981) ** ½

I have an admitted weakness for 80’s slasher movies that take place on a holiday.  While Graduation Day isn’t a holiday per se, it sure seems like a good enough day to hack up some teenagers to me.  In addition, it’s got a truly GREAT cast:  Christopher George from Pieces is the track coach, Michael Pataki from Rocky IV is the principal, and Return of the Living Dead’s Linnea Quigley and Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White are the screamers. 

 

Graduation Day is all about a killer (who wears a fencing mask) bumping off the members of a high school track team.  The psycho holds the team responsible for the death of a loved one who died of exhaustion during a track meet.  The killer murders people by slashing throats, putting a sword through someone’s neck, decapitation, and tricking a guy into pole vaulting onto a bed of spikes.  We also get an ingenious scene where the killer puts a blade on the end of a football and throws it right into the abdomen of a jock.  There’s also a cool gimmick in which the killer uses a stopwatch to time his murders.

 

Nudity wise, there is one undressing scene that takes place in the girls’ locker room and a great scene where Linnea takes off her top while seducing her music teacher into giving her a passing grade.  There’s also a hilarious performance by a wonderfully cheesy 80’s band called Felony who sing a great song called “Gangster Rock”.  The ending, while a bit protracted features multiple returns from the dead by the killer, a Psycho-esque stuffed corpse, kung fu, AND a nightmare sequence.

 

If this feels less like a review and more of a laundry list of stuff that happened during the movie, I’m sorry.  Graduation Day exists solely to show off naked females and then have them murdered.  In this respect Graduation Day succeeds. 

 

If I really wanted to critique the movie, I’d tell you that the pacing is painfully slow, the red herrings are woefully obvious and some scenes are so dark that it’s hard to tell what’s going on.  I’d comment on the uneven performances and director Herb (Tomboy) Freed’s lack of style.  But what’s the point?  If you want to see teens being murdered on one of the happiest days of their lives while occasionally showing off their boobs, then Graduation Day will fit the bill for a night of harmless, brain dead entertainment.

 

Best line:  “The world is my toilet!”

ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959) **

Dave Walker (Bruno VeSota) is a fat cuckold shopkeeper who hates the fact that his hot wife (Yvette Vickers) is cheating on him.  Since there are a bunch of overgrown leeches lurking around the swamp draining trappers of their blood, he decides to pull a shotgun on the lovers and force them to go swimming.  After the leeches attack their prey, they bring them back to their underwater cavern so the giant bloodsuckers can get nourishment whenever they want.  After a couple more deaths, the bland game warden (the bland Ken Clark) finally decides to dynamite the leeches back to the Stone Age.

 

Attack of the Giant Leeches was a no-frills cheapie produced by Roger Corman that appeared on a double feature with A Bucket of Blood.  Usually flicks produced by Corman have their merits, but this one is pretty bad.  It’s definitely good for some unintentional laughs though.

 

The first half of the movie which primarily focuses on Vicker’s philandering is a dull slice of southern fried melodrama.  Things don’t necessarily improve once the giant leeches themselves show up.  The leeches are hilarious as they are nothing more than dudes wearing garbage bags.  The attack scenes are equally ridiculous.  Most of the time, their victims are required to throw themselves out of their boats and into the water in order for the giant leeches to attack them.  It’s pathetic.

 

Although most of the acting is horrid, Vickers is fun to watch as the tantalizing trailer trash temptress and VeSota has some good moments as her vengeful hubby.  Their efforts are wasted as the movie moves like it’s stuck in swamp muck.  Even if you catch this on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s still something of a chore to get through; wisecracking robots or not. 

 

Corman also got director Bernard L. Kowalski to helm Night of the Blood Beast, which economically also features the same score as this movie.

 

AKA:  Attack of the Blood Leeches.  AKA:  Demons of the Swamp.  AKA:  She Demons of the Swamp.  AKA:  The Giant Leeches.

THE SCREAMING SKULL (1958) ** ½

Jenni (Peggy Webber from The Space Children) is fresh out of the nuthouse and tries to take it easy by getting married to Eric (John Hudson).  He brings her back to his house where his first wife was killed and slowly but surely Jenni starts to lose it; especially when the skull of Eric’s deceased wife starts popping up at the most inopportune times.  Is Jenni really going crazy, or is somebody trying to drive her insane?

 

Anyone with half a brain will be able to figure the whole thing out in no time flat.  I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying that Eric is the one who is trying to make his wife die of fright.  Even though the outcome is a forgone conclusion, director Alex Nicol (who also co-stars as the dim-witted gardener Mickey) gets a lot of mileage out of the creepy half-empty house as well as the surprise appearances of the titular skull.  The final sequence in which Eric himself gets attacked by the vengeance seeking skull is particularly memorable.

 

The flick is more or less a predictable overlong episode of The Twilight Zone, but I still kinda dug it.  Webber is outstanding as the mentally unstable Jenni who has repeated nervous breakdowns throughout the second half of the film.  The flick also had a great promotional gimmick where the studio would buy audience members a free coffin if they died of fright while watching the movie (the opening scene features a coffin reserved “just for you” in case you die), that adds to the fun.

DEADLY DAPHNE’S REVENGE (1987) **

A quartet of well-to-do scumbags led by Charlie picks up a sexy hitchhiker named Cindy and brings her back to his cabin in the woods.  There, they get her drunk and stoned and she ends up making time with Charlie’s half-brother.  When Charlie finds out, he gets jealous and rapes Cindy.  She wants to press charges but feels guilty when one of the guys commits suicide.  After a lot of legal maneuvering, things are finally settled out of court, and by out of court I mean that Charlie’s psychotic ex-girlfriend escapes from the nuthouse and stabs him to death.

 

Yeah, it’s another one of those oddball flicks that Troma picked up and slapped a crazy title on to make you think you were getting some kind of a great movie.  While Deadly Daphne DOES get her revenge, it happens about three minutes before the end credits start rolling.  Her character is mentioned in passing here and there but her appearance kinda comes out of left field, which is a little jarring to say the least.

 

Despite the WTF title and ending, Deadly Daphne’s Revenge is an OK way to spend 90 minutes.  Even though the flick has the look and feel of a Matlock episode drawn out to feature length and showcases none of Troma’s trademark gore, it’s never boring and keeps your attention for the most part.  I also had some fun spotting a young James (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) Avery earning a paycheck as a hot-headed detective.

 

AKA:  The Hunting Season.