October 23rd, 2014

NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 1 (2014) *** ½

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) beaten and bruised in an alley. He takes her home and she tells him about her past sexual experiences. She tells about how a moped-riding jerk (Shia LaBeouf) took her virginity and how she and her friend would compete to fuck as many strangers on a train as possible. Later, the guy who deflowered her winds up being her boss, which leads to its own complications. Seligman helps Joe understand her compulsion by comparing it to his love for fly fishing.

Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is audacious and brazen. No matter what your thoughts on the subject matter are, you have to admit that Von Trier is firing on all cinematic cylinders here. The scenes of Jo making her seductions are fun and the many graphics that accompany her various conquests are quite funny. Von Trier takes what could’ve been an uneasy and depressing matter, and infuses it with lots of interesting and exhilarating cinematic tricks.

By the very nature of the set-up (which is similar to Anita: Swedish Nymphet as both films feature Skarsgard talking to a nympho about her sordid past), the end results were bound to be uneven and episodic. While some sequences work better than others (the office scenes don’t have much of a payoff), whenever it cooks, it really cooks. A lot of the fun comes from watching a great cast full of people you wouldn’t expect to see in a Lars Von Trier movie. Christian Slater, Shia LaBeouf, and Uma Thurman (in an unforgettable performance) are all excellent and invest their characters with the right amount of pathos, indifference, and pain each role requires.

Originally, this was supposed to be four hours long, but Von Trier wisely spilt it into two films. Unfortunately, that means that this Volume ends… shall we say… anticlimactically. Still, I can’t wait to see what he has cooked up for Vol. 2.

FINAL EXAMINATION (2003) **

Fred Olen Ray’s Final Examination is a weird one. It never really figures out if it wants to be a Skinamax movie (there are lots of softcore sex scenes), a police procedural thriller (Brent Huff and Kari Wuhrer spend a lot of time asking people questions), an action film (there are long car chases using footage from other movies like Get Carter), or a slasher flick (a guy in a mask kills a couple of girls in a hot tub). There are some okay moments here, but because it’s so all over the place, it never really settles into a groove.

A publisher of a men’s magazine invites a bunch of sorority sisters to Hawaii to do a photo shoot. Before long, they start dropping off one by one. Huff and Wuhrer arrive on the scene and try to nab the killer.

The best thing I can say for Final Examination is that it’s a Fred Olen Ray movie. The sex scenes are exactly the sort of thing you would see in one of his late night Skinamax films. They don’t exactly fit in with the rest of the flick, but if it gives us an opportunity to see Debbie Rochon topless, then I’m all for it. Also, it was fun seeing Ray regular Jay Richardson playing a cop named “Hugh Janus”.

As for the rest of the film, I can’t be so kind. It’s overlong (97 minutes) and jumps from genre to genre in a sloppy and inconsistent manner. There are also too many stalling devices and red herrings that further bog things down. The murder sequences are all pretty weak too, and the reveal of the killer(s) is so drawn out that it becomes fairly ridiculous by the end.

BAY COVEN (1987) ** ½

Before I get into my review of Bay Coven, here’s a quick update on the status of The 31 Days of Horror-Ween. As my loyal readers have noticed, I have been slacking on delivering a review of a different Bargain Bin Horror Movie every day. Well, jury duty, along with my erratic work schedule kind of threw a monkey wrench into my movie-watching routine and I’m still playing catch-up.

Further complicating matters was the fact that I wound up getting shortchanged on the movies I intended to review. I had bought two Mill Creek multi-movie packs, one with 20 movies, and the other with 50 movies, which I thought would be more than enough material. The first DVD had 19 movies I hadn’t reviewed, and I stupidly figured the 50 pack would be the same way. The 50 pack was actually three multi-movie packs blister-packed together. When I opened it up last week, I was dismayed to learn that the pack contained 48 movies I have already seen and reviewed. (They were wrapped together in such a way you couldn’t read what movies were on there.) Since I only spent $3 on the deal, it wasn’t a great loss.

However, that means I’m about ten movies short on Bargain Bin Horror Movies to review. Since I only have a few more left to review, I’m not going to bother trying to find another movie pack to complete the month. I will instead finish out the shortened movie schedule (21 movies instead of 31) and just try to shoehorn in as many other horror movies as possible before the end of the month.

Okay, so on with my review of Bay Coven…

I actually remember when this came on TV years and years ago. I remember thinking it was weird to see Woody from Cheers in a horror movie. Now that Woody Harrelson has become a big time movie star, it makes Bay Coven even more enjoyable.

Tim Matheson is tired of living in the big city, so he convinces his wife Pamela Sue Martin to move to an island community named Bay Cove. At first, their new home looks like a dream come true, but before long, Martin becomes suspicious of her bizarre neighbors. When Tim starts acting weird too, she does a little snooping and discovers that the townsfolk are actually immortal witches looking to steal Matheson’s soul.

Bay Coven is a little quaint and predictable little horror flick, but it remains watchable throughout. Although it goes on a bit too long, it still has a couple of good moments. The supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of TV talent. In addition to Harrelson, Leave It to Beaver’s Barbara Billingsley, Taxi’s Jeff Conaway, L.A. Law’s Susan Ruttan, and Benson’s Inga Swenson all turn up as Martin’s neighbors. Whenever the pacing slows, you can always have fun spotting all these familiar faces playing potential witches.

The script (by Heroes’ Tim Kring) is fairly predictable, but there is some clever stuff going on here cinematically. The film was directed by Carl (Dracula Blows His Cool) Schenkel and he does his best to prevent it from looking like your run-of-the-mill made for TV movie. We get some sweet De Palma style camerawork in the opening confessional scene as well as a few other cool shots sprinkled throughout. Schenkel’s staging and keen eye for atmosphere keeps Bay Coven a notch above the usual made for TV horror flick.

AKA: Eye of the Demon. AKA: Strangers in Town. AKA: The Devils of Bay Cove. AKA: Bay Cove.

Tomorrow’s Bargain Bin Horror Movie: Midnight’s Child.

MIDNIGHT’S CHILD (1992) **

A workaholic couple hires a seemingly innocent au pair (Olivia D’Abo) to care for their young daughter. Since they are totally clueless, they completely miss the fact that she is obviously nuts. Because of that, there is a good chance that their daughter might wind up becoming the bride of Satan.

Written by David (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) Chaskin, Midnight’s Child is like one of those Nanny from Hell movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or The Guardian. It also has a bit in common with the last Bargain Bin Horror Movie, Bay Coven as the heroine’s husband is easily swayed to the dark side. Even though I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, it’s still a bit clunky. There’s also too much filler as the nightmare scenes and black and white flashbacks don’t really add much to the proceedings. It’s also guilty of taking way too long to get to the nitty gritty, and the climax is pretty abrupt and unsatisfactory.

Because it’s a made for TV movie, Midnight’s Child suffers from a very tame execution. However, some of the scenes are good for a laugh. I especially liked the part where D’Abo goes from being all bookish and mousy to sexy and sultry just by removing her glasses. Unless you’re a big Olivia D’Abo fan, it’s an easily forgettable affair.

Tomorrow’s Bargain Bin Horror Movie: Pandemic.

STORAGE 24 (2013) **

A military plane goes down in the middle of London, disrupting power throughout the city. A feuding couple in the midst of a break-up goes to a storage unit (along with their friends) to try to divvy up their stuff. It soon becomes apparent that the plane’s cargo, a bloodthirsty alien, has found its way into the storage facility and is looking for a hot meal.

Storage 24 takes its sweet time to build up its simple premise. Curiously, it doesn’t use this time to develop the characters to the point where we actually care about them. It also doesn’t help that the drama surrounding the love triangle is thoroughly predictable. Since the first half is slow-moving and mostly uneventful, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm once the monster finally shows up.

The monster is unimaginative, but it’s OK I guess. It’s yet another one of those Alien/Predator mash-ups with a sleek black body and mandible jaws. The film itself lacks imagination too as it swipes quite a lot from Alien (there is a scene where our heroes crawl around a ventilation shaft).

It’s not a total washout or anything. The gore is decent (heart ripping, face biting, a body torn in half, etc.) and most of the kills are pretty bloody. It’s just that Storage 24 is a relatively minor horror flick with an unmemorable monster.