Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) is an assistant at Culture, a TV station featuring predominantly black artists in 1989. Anna’s mentor, Edna (Judith Scott), is replaced by former model Zora (Vanessa Williams) on the orders of the station’s owner, Grant (James Van der Beek). Anna pitches a new idea for the network to Zora, impressing her. Zora tells Anna to get a weave, rather than her natural hair, in order to better meet with the new image for the network that Zora wants. Anna gets the weave from major stylist Virgie (Laverne Cox). However, it turns out that this new hair may be more unnatural than a normal weave. It may, in fact, be evil.
The idea of having hair that is evil is not new. The Simpsons did it in 1998 and that was a parody of an episode of Amazing Stories from 1986. However, I’ve never thought that the hair itself was scary. This movie, on the other hand, makes me genuinely terrified of the experience of getting a weave something I, as a white dude with a scruffy look, will never actually have to contemplate. The sounds and the visuals that accompany Laverne Cox giving Elle Lorraine a weave are visceral. It’s bloody, it’s painful, and we know that every second of it is not just damaging her physically but erasing her essence. While apparently weaves aren’t as bloody as they appear in this film, a woman I know who has one described getting a bad one as “like someone attempting to scalp you without a knife.” This movie makes that abundantly clear. The fact that it’s mandated for no reason other than to try and reconstruct black women into a look that white people find appealing really calls attention to one of the more subtle ways in which society tries to mandate conformity to a Eurocentric ideal.
This film is a big swing by Justin Simien, the director and writer of Dear White People. He appears to be trying to do his own version of Get Out, something that a number of black filmmakers have been given more rein to try since Jordan Peele reminded Hollywood that black people can, in fact, make solid horror movies with good social commentary. Unfortunately, I think Hollywood also doesn’t fully trust them to do so, which sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling between the vision and the product (like Antebellum). Simien described the film as a love letter about the relationship between black women and their hair, something I’ll admit that I don’t know if I can comment on too much. I will say that I thought the performances did a lot of the talking, in terms of showing that relationship, and the script did have some of the sharp dialogue that Simien has proven he can produce.
The movie, unfortunately, doesn’t really balance the horror and satirical social commentary particularly well. While the idea of trying to tie cultural erasure into a monster could probably be very powerful, maybe even on the level of Get Out, this movie never actually manages to do it. Honestly, I don’t think a man, even a black man, could ever have done this movie right. It tries to make numerous statements about the relationship of black women to their hair, but most of them seemed like rehashed jokes from In Living Color rather than an actual depiction of how hair impacts the way that black women are perceived by white society. While the hair being a key to promotion and social acceptance could be a great way to expand on the theme, I think the movie drops the ball a bit and instead just has it be demanded by other black women who just want to perpetuate a cycle of cultural erasure. Possibly the only really good commentary is the reveal that ***SPOILERS*** everything that happens is really in service of a wealthy white guy. ***END SPOILERS*** It doesn’t help that the movie has difficulty being a horror film while it’s doing social commentary and vice-versa. The scenes of Anna’s hair being evil don’t really seem to further the themes at all, with a few small exceptions.
Overall, though, any movie that can make me feel this uncomfortable at times must be doing something right and I think any critic would be hard pressed to say the film’s not entertaining. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
A group of hitmen make a documentary about trying to kill the world’s greatest assassin.
Blake (Taran Killam) is an assassin who is just starting in his career. He decides that he wants to kill the world’s top killer-for-hire, an enigmatic man named Gunther (Arnold Schwarzenegger)… who may have banged Blake’s ex-girlfriend Lisa (Cobie Smulders). Blake hires a camera crew to film his efforts and assembles a team of professionals: His explosives expert friend Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), Sanaa (Hannah Simone) who is the daughter of legendary hitman Rahmat (Peter Kalamis), hacker Gabe (Paul Brittain), Blake’s mentor Ashley (Aubrey Sixto), cyborg terrorist Izzat (Amir Talai), poison master Yong (Aaron Yoo), Blake’s ex-partner Max (Steve Bacic), and psychotic murderous twins Mia and Barold Bellakalakova (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul). The group quickly finds out that Gunther knows they’re hunting him, and he is set on humiliating him.
So, when I first saw this movie a few years ago, I thought it was an okay film. It had a lot of flaws, to be sure, mostly because the idea was not designed to fill 90 minutes, but I was overall pretty entertained with how ridiculous it was. Then, I saw the critics and other viewers mostly decimate this film. I wasn’t sure exactly what happened that led so many people to despise this movie to the level that they did. Yeah, it’s not the best mockumentary out there, but it avoided some of the issues that style usually has. For example, the main character is keeping the film crew around through threats of violent retribution. Because of that, you never have to ask the question “why are they still filming this?” It’s a simple explanation, but that issue usually bugs me, so I appreciate it.
However, as I thought about the movie, I realized that the biggest problem might be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, I admit Arnold plays more of a comedic role in this film than he probably should, but that’s not what I mean. It’s that he’s too big of a star and too big of a draw not to be included in the marketing and promotion for this movie, but he’s only in like 10 minutes of it. The identity of “Gunther” is treated like a surprise twist throughout almost all of the film, so it should be a revelation when Arnold finally gets there. However, on all of the movie posters, Arnold is front and center. I think a lot of people probably resented the fact that it feels like a deception. It’s compounded by the fact that the movie, which was already a little heavy on the slapstick, moves almost straight into insane farce in the third act, giving Gunther abilities that so far surpass reality that it loses its grounding. I still thought it was kind of fun, but I would definitely understand if people thought it just derailed the whole film.
The “humor,” and it is super niche, mostly revolves around how very incompetent the main team is compared with Gunther, combined with a number of other absurd jokes. For example, Sanaa’s father acts like an overly-supportive soccer parent, having customized shirts indicating his fandom for his offspring. This is despite the fact that he is a notorious cold-blooded murderer. The problem is that they have to keep adding scenes of different hitmen being quirky or failing in order to stretch the premise out to feature length. Eventually, it turns a bit into white noise.
Overall, If you like seeing a bunch of people regularly humiliated, you’ll probably have a good time in this film. If you like a bunch of dark humor combined with Three-Stooges-esque scenes, you’ll probably like it. If not, this probably won’t feel worth it.
SUMMARY (They’re basically the same, differences go 1993)
Harry Smith [Delamo] (Eric Kohner / Alexi Stavrou) is a strip [cabaret] club owner with his wife, Olivia (Melanie Rose / Rachel Alig). Olivia is obsessed with UFOs to the point that she has had no interest in sex with Harry for 4  months. A new girl, named Thousand Ways (Michaela Stoicov / Roberta Sparta) arrives at the club and flirts with Harry. Harry’s best friend (Frank Fowler / Ben Gillman) comes up with a strategy to help Harry have an affair with Thousand Ways and fakes an alien abduction. After a night with Thousand Ways, Harry returns and tells his wife the truth, but Olivia believes that the aliens just erased his memory. A few nights later, he plans another “abduction,” only for him to actually be abducted by aliens. The aliens (Uncredited / Albert Minero, Jr. and Josiah Black) return Harry to Earth and give him a special ability – Whenever he looks at a woman, he can make her orgasm. Eventually, after some hijinks, Olivia gets rid of Harry’s ability by satisfying him sexually [using voodoo to attack the aliens] and they have some kind of happily ever after.
So, this movie was requested because the reader had remembered the movie from the classic USA Up All Night series hosted by Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear. The show’s premise was that the comedians would host two films, starting late at night on Saturday, with comedy skits or commentary during the commercial breaks and then there would be a third movie or a repeat of the first film, but that was usually unhosted. If, like me, you liked Duckman in the 90s (and like me had parents that didn’t notice that you were watching Duckman), then you might remember this as the show that came on after it. The series ran from 1989 to 1998 and the late-night movies continued until 2002. During the show’s run, it featured films ranging from legitimately great movies like the original Halloween to B-movies like the Puppet Master films to heavily-edited soft-core pornography like The Bikini Carwash Company. The 1993 version of this movie is definitely one of the latter. I actually didn’t catch this movie during the USA Up All Night run, due to being 10 the last time it aired, but I did see it on Cinemax years later. It was truly made for the “13 and can’t find actual porn” audience.
The 1993 version of the movie starts off with nudity. It’s literally just a stripper dancing and collecting money, and that’s actually what a large percentage of this movie is. Even in scenes where characters are being developed or the plot is supposed to be progressing, the camera is usually focused on a scantily clad or nude female. The movie is, I guess, supposed to be a sex comedy, but I don’t think anything in the movie was ever actually funny. The acting in it ranges from bad to terrible and the script isn’t better. It mostly stands out because the film feels like two completely different ideas stitched together poorly, that of a guy faking abductions for an affair and of a guy who can make a woman orgasm by looking. Also, they clearly pad the script with scenes about Harry’s and Olivia’s neighbor having an affair with a detective and throw in a weird element of having the aliens drop Harry off wearing a Roman uniform. It’s like the people who made the movie just wanted to sell boobs and butts, which means this movie probably made a fortune.
The 2015 version, on the other hand, explicitly starts the film by saying that they aren’t going to be rated R. However, if a viewer were to think that this means that this movie might actually be decent on its own merit, that’s a mistake. The acting in this version is better, in the sense that it’s not awful, but much of the script is either exactly the same or somehow worse. A big thing is that they expand the roles of the aliens in the movie. Whereas in the 1993 version, the aliens just appear for a moment then release Harry, in this one they are actively monitoring Harry and they actually are on a mission to fix his sex life, revealed to be at the request of Thousand Ways, who is an alien hosting a reality show in this version. The aliens start to provide the “comic relief” and they are anything but funny. They talk in broken English which is only funny if you have some sort of brain injury, and say things like “how you know which one is ‘hot’?” about the women in Harry’s life. Also, they end up leaving when Olivia uses Voodoo on them, something that HAS NOT BEEN IN THE MOVIE UNTIL NOW OR EVEN MENTIONED. But at least the deus ex machina means this movie comes in at a mercifully short 69 (heh) minutes.
I’m absolutely perplexed at why this movie was remade. Moreover, why would you remake a movie whose primarily plots are sex-based without any nudity and with lessened sexuality? They not only remove the nudity, but the women orgasming (a major part of the movie) is now portrayed by women singing a high soprano note. Even some of the lines are just altered slightly to be less offensive, like how Thousand Ways goes from meaning “a thousand ways to have an affair” to “a thousand ways to have a man,” and having her line go from the moderately clever entendre “I love screwing my bosses” to the awkward “I love having sex with my bosses.” However, both versions have an awkward moment where Harry is worried about looking at an underage girl with his powers, before being assured that she’s over 18, and in both I feel dirty from having watched the exchange.
I will be frank, neither of these movies is good, but the first one never pretends to be anything other than an excuse to show off some very sexy ladies in little to no clothing. The bad acting, stupid scripts, and the fact that most of the conversations of the film are played over stripping is the film just delivering on its promise to the audience. The remake tried to be a film and completely failed. If you’re really wanting to relive the age before internet porn, they’re both on Amazon.
We get another solid social allegory film involving zombies and it’s awesome.
Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) is the chief of police on the fictional Red Crow reserve of the Mi’kmaq, a real Northeastern First Nations people. On a morning in 1981, his badass veteran father, Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman), catches a bunch of fish that don’t die, even when gutted. At the same time, Traylor’s ex-wife Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) informs him that his sons Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) and Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) are both in jail… with a man who is vomiting blood. Attacks start to happen all around the reservation where people suddenly find themselves turned into vicious, bloodthirsty zombies. However, it turns out that the people of the Mi’kmaq are immune to the virus. Soon, the Red Crow reserve is seeing an influx of people seeking shelter, and they must decide whether or not they should allow outsiders onto their land.
Zombies have been an excellent source of social commentary ever since George Romero first started really bringing the genre to life, so to speak. This film is a prime example of how you can use something like zombies as a way to hold up a mirror to society’s failures. In this case, after the initial outbreak, we get a picture of how society has changed since, with most places aside from Red Crow having fallen. Red Crow reserve is on an island with only one bridge in and out, so the reserve puts in place what has got to be one of the greatest mass anti-zombie devices ever: a series of walls that funnel the zombies into a massive soil tiller. *Edit* Apparently it’s a Snowblower. I’m from rural Florida. Don’t have much experience with snowblowers. *Edit* It grinds them into nothing in only a few seconds, saving on bullets, and dumps the remains into the river. I’ve seen other movies do similar things, but this movie actually explains that it was done to save on resources, which is awesome.
Early on in the film, we get a pretty clear picture of what the allegory is going to be for this story when we first see the deluge of white people showing up to the reservation begging for help and believing that the Red Crow people can somehow “cure” zombification. Two of the members of the tribe start talking about what to do with an infected girl in their own language, only for the man to angrily and repeatedly shout “Speak English.” Because even in a time of crisis, he feels entitled enough to demand that other people, on their own land, speaking their own language, who he is asking for help, accommodate him. One of the Mi’kmaq even refers to the girl as “Karen” by accident. That’s basically what this film is, trying to examine the effects of colonialism, all over again, in the modern day. We have a group of First Nation people who are stuck having to decide if they should risk their safety for the sake of helping outsiders.
The title of the movie, Blood Quantum, relates to the blood quantum laws, a series of laws that determined who qualified as a member of a Native American tribe. Obviously, this idea becomes important in this film, since only members of the Mi’kmaq are shown to be immune to the zombification. The question is how far that immunity extends, something that impacts Joseph’s pregnant girlfriend and their future baby. This movie was written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, who is himself a member of the Mi’kmaq, so I’m sure he’s seen the actual impact of these laws in the past.
As far as Zombie movies go, the action in this is pretty great. There’s a lot of solid zombie effects and the zombies themselves are extremely threatening, being faster than most zombies and able to tear people apart with ease. Most of the members of Red Crow are badasses when the time comes to fight some waves of undead, particularly Gisigu, who uses a katana because “you don’t have to reload a sword.”
Overall, seriously, just a great movie. I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who likes Zombie films. Also, it works pretty well for anyone who likes historical allegory films or just is interested in getting stories focused on another culture.
Amazon gives us a look at the future of death. It’s mostly ads.
Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is a computer programmer who is dating the wealthy Ingrid Kannerman (Allegra Edwards). However, Nathan gets into an auto-driving car accident and is sent to the hospital. He is given the option to be sent to Lake View, an expensive digital afterlife into which people’s consciousnesses can be digitally transferred, but only because Ingrid agrees to pay for the monthly fees. He agrees, and is sent to the very ritzy resort-like afterlife where he is supervised and supported by Nora Antony (Andy Allo) and her coworker Aleesha (Zainab Johnson). He quickly is befriended by Luke (Kevin Bigley), another Lake View resident. Soon, however, Nathan starts to develop a closeness with Nora, despite the fact that Ingrid is the only one keeping him “alive.”
This show is a blend of a number of episodes of Black Mirror, but as a comedy. The future is filled with ads and in-app purchases that populate the digital afterlife. People hook up almost exclusively using Tinder-like applications that require video consent, but also allow for public ratings and reviews of the encounters afterwards. Funerals have the deceased present, which has mostly reduced any of the impact of death and thus any need to mourn. You can wear a special suit that allows you to have sex with anyone over the internet or even in the afterlife. In short, we’re in a strange dystopia because death no longer has its sting.
The biggest theme in the series, aside from the fact that humanity has largely been altered forever by the fact that death is no longer the great unknown, is how much corporations and capitalism in general have started to subvert all of humanity and direct existence towards their will. As I said, one of the first things that’s revealed is that you have to pay thousands of dollars a month to CONTINUE LIVING in a digital environment. During that existence, ads are constantly pitched to you, you aren’t allowed to work (because it would destroy the economy for the working man), and any “luxuries” cost a large surcharge, despite the fact that this is all just code. In short, you’re having to pay constantly for stuff that costs next to nothing to replicate. The justification given is that it costs money to maintain the system, but… it’s literally people’s lives. If you can’t think of something for which this might be a metaphor… well, try harder.
The humor in the show isn’t quite as on-point as, say, The Good Place, but it still keeps you interested. Mostly, the series keeps you interested by having some very elaborate world-building and solid chemistry between Nathan and Nora. The supporting characters are also compelling, usually having some fun sub-plots or interesting twists. Still, I recommend giving it a try.
Someone actually asked me to review this movie and it is fantastically insane.
Paul (Matt Dill) is a pre-teen who still loves stories of magical things like trolls and mermaids, including loving the same book his parents read to him as a small child. His parents (Winnie Flynn and David Crawford) tell him that he needs to start focusing on the future and leave behind childish things. One day he decides that he needs to find a troll and sets out on his own to find one. He meets a rich bridge magnate and his secretary (James Karen and Max Wright), a mad scientist (Josh Mostel), and a doorman who seems to know more than he should (Richard B. Shull). Eventually, Paul finds Ofoeti (Sam Waterston), a troll who lives with a turtle named Socrates (William H. Macy), and a mermaid named Kalotte (Susan Anton).
Before I review this, short story time. This review was because I was tagged in a facebook post which was framed thus:
I have to admit that it’s perhaps the greatest description of a movie that I’ve ever read. Shortly after, the film was identified as The Boy Who Loved Trolls by a Librarian, for they are the keepers of all knowledge and are used to pulling specific titles from meandering representations. So, that’s how this film got put on my radar. For the record, the account of the plot above is not INaccurate.
This movie was originally a play written by John Wheatcroft starring the late Rene Auberjonois as the troll. This film is what happens when someone who watched that play did a lot of cocaine. While the story is supposed to have a distinct air of “fairy tale” logic, this film kind of blends that with a heavy dose of nonsensical dream logic, which ends up somehow making sense in the end. Given the heavy presence of 80s music in the film, it feels more evocative of a drug trip at several points, despite the fact that this movie was produced by PBS and Disney as part of WonderWorks, a series of adaptations of children’s books.
The theme of the film is trying to hold on to childish wonder while dealing with the fact that adulthood tends to crush it. Paul is shown to be hitting puberty, as indicated by his fake shaving in the opening scene and when the creepy Doorman says that “Paul’s also at the age when another new element comes into view: Girls.” All of the adults in Paul’s life talk to him about his future and how he’s going to have to start taking it seriously. They all deny the existence of trolls, because trolls are representative of imagination. When Paul actually finds Ofoeti, it’s revealed that he can only stay with Paul if Paul gives up his future and stays a child forever. Ultimately, Paul finds a third option, which represents trying to keep some level of imagination and wonder in your heart despite the rest of the world beating it out of you.
The level of illogic in the movie actually helps with this theme, because as you watch the film you can’t possibly predict what’s going to happen next. For example, when Paul encounters a giant turtle in its shell, the turtle comes out of his shell as a regular human being. The fact that it makes no sense puts a little bit of that childish wonder back in the viewer’s mind.
While many of the performances in the film are amusingly over the top, I also have to take a moment and say that I have never seen better casting or a more dedicated performance than William H. Macy as a turtle. Everything he does is perfectly in character. Despite the fact that he appears to be a human in a sailor suit, Macy sells me on “is a turtle” so well that I may never be able to unsee it. It’s going to make it so weird to catch up on Shameless.
Overall, this movie was weird as hell, but I have to recommend it to everyone because it is just so genuinely insane that it needs to be seen. Also, it’s only like an hour long and online for free.
James Roday of Psych fame brings us an unbelievably dark and gory horror-comedy and it mostly works.
It’s Halloween and the workers at Chuy’s Mexican Bar and Cantina are getting ready to close. They consist of the bartender Kerry (Sutton Foster), a waitress nicknamed Cricket (Molly Ephraim), Yannick (Lothaire Bluteau) the French cook, Chuy (Paul Rodriguez) the manager, Hector (Gabriel Luna) the busboy and aspiring MMA fighter, and security guard Winketta (Gabourey Sidibe). The only customers are the recently dumped Bert (Ethan Sandler), the exceedingly affectionate couple Stef (Jimmi Simpson) and Mimi (Lily Cole), and Stef’s clown-costumed brother Anson (Michael Weston). However, it’s soon revealed that all the doors have been welded shut, all the phones are down, and that Stef, Mimi, and Anson are taking over the restaurant and making a few changes to the menu… namely, who’s on it.
James Roday, best known as Shawn Spencer on Psych, wrote and directed this film and, I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty impressive effort for a first-time feature film. This is a dark comedy, which is something that’s usually pretty hard to pull off to begin with, that decides to go to some insanely dark places, but it still mostly works.
A lot of it comes from the talent in the cast. Michael Weston, an actor who is one of the ultimate “that guy in that thing” answers, manages to balance playing a complete sociopath with a genuinely somewhat sympathetic character. Jimmi Simpson, a talented actor who hadn’t yet broken out for his Westworld performance, plays his even more insane but also somewhat likable brother. Everyone else is similarly amazing, all managing to get laughs out of how horrifying the situation their stuck in really is.
As this is a B-Grade Horror Movie, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some people die, and holy heck do they have some fun kills. They’re so absurd that you almost find yourself laughing at it even though they are VERY graphically depicted. Part of it is that all of the characters don’t really show a ton of emotional damage at the other deaths, which makes it easy for the audience to detach from what the reality of the situation would be. One of the best recurring bits is the interactions between Stef and Yannick, who reveals that he is a world-class chef capable of cooking anything, including people, to perfection. Their banter is pretty much always funny, even though it’s literally about cannibalism. Comedy is frequently just horror from a distance, as I have now gotten in the habit of repeating, and this movie needs a lot of distance.
That’s actually part of the downside to the movie: It’s definitely going to be too dark and too gory for most audiences. Hell, even I felt uneasy at some parts of the movie, though usually someone would quickly say something funny enough to bring me back. Also, without spoiling it, the movie does subvert a lot of tropes, including never really making you feel like any of the victims deserve anything that happen to them. Even in regular horror movies, we usually like our characters to earn their fates, even if only slightly, whereas these characters often die during moments of nobility. Still, it mostly works.
If you have a dark sense of humor, this is a great film to watch. It’s on Amazon Prime right now if you’ve got it. Really, I have to give James Roday credit for putting this together. I hope he tries to make another movie in the future.
There’s a movie that is about a man who turns into a half-man half-mosquito that hunts Nazis. It delivers exactly what it promises. Also, it has an amazing trailer that I will embed at the bottom and use liberally for this review.
Much of the film is told through flashbacks to WWII, where a man in POV is being tortured and experimented on by a Nazi Doctor named Schramm (James Norgard). Schramm keeps most of what he’s doing fairly concealed, but since the movie is called “Weresquito,” I think you can guess.
In the 1950s, Cpl. John Baker (Douglas Sidney) is in a small Wisconsin town called New Berlin that has a high population of German citizens. He awakens on the side of the road with blood dripping from his mouth and makes his way to a diner where he meets a woman named Leisl (Rachel Grubb). The two hit it off, with a romance blooming until it is revealed that John is actually on a mission to kill off all of the Nazis who turned him into a monstrosity. Whenever John sees blood, he cannot resist changing into the awesome, the terrifying, the unbelievable: WERESQUITO!!!!
Christopher R. Mihm, the director, is a man who knows exactly what he wants to do. Mihm has stated that he was a fan of the cheap black-and-white horror films from the 1950s and 60s, such as The Amazing Colossal Man or Cat-women of the Moon, which were genuine and creative, but also cheap and straightforward. Mihm’s entire filmography is nothing but a tribute to that, with him creating one cheap horror film in the signature style of that period every year since 2006. Titles include gems like Attack of the Moon Zombies, It Came from Another World!, Demon with the Atomic Brain, and Terror from Beneath the Earth. The thing is, they’re not bad films, nor so-bad-they’re-good films, nor are they great films. They’re all films that are designed to match a style, tone, and feel of a specific time period and, if I’m being honest, this movie seems to nail it.
The dialogue in this movie is mediocre, containing a lot of trope lines from B-movies of the Cold War Era, and it is all delivered in an extremely stilted manner, reminiscent of those films. The thing is, it’s not parodying or satirizing those films, nor is it exactly a tribute to that cinematic period, it’s just doing an original movie in that particular style. If you don’t like it, you probably will hate this movie. If you enjoy that kind of corny, old format, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.
The special effects consist of… well, really only the one effect, that of John turning into Weresquito. As far as I can remember seeing, no photomorphing is used, the transformation is always done offscreen and it cuts back to the now menacing “Weresquito” (Michael G. Kaiser). The Weresquito mask is exactly the level of quality that you would expect from this kind of film if it has been made 60 years ago. It’s cool looking, but you’d never actually think it was real, nor are you supposed to. That said, it’s still fun to watch him fight people as the Weresquito. The only other notable effect is that blood in this film is always bright red, which, in an otherwise black-and-white movie, stands out and creates a solid effect that, in a subtle way, makes us inevitably drawn to look at the blood in the same way that Weresquito does.
The only complaint I can really give for this movie, since it’s mostly insulated from traditional criticism by its own nature, is that filming it on digital makes the shots a little too clear. The definition is a little too high. Those movies in the 1950s were all blurry and awkward because that’s what you got from filming a movie without a super-high lighting budget. It’s not that it makes the movie any worse, although it does make the already cheap sets and effects look even cheaper, but it kills a little bit of the feel that the movie was going for.
Overall, like I said, I can’t say that this movie is anything other than exactly what it was trying to be, a cheap 1950s horror film.
I get my first reader request to try and interpret a movie, the British film Await Further Instructions. I regret accepting this request.
It’s Christmas time. A time for family. Even the family that you don’t really get along with. The last one is the circumstances that our protagonist Nick (Sam Gittins) finds himself in, when he returns home after a long time away, bringing his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to meet the Milgram Family. They immediately find themselves in conflict with Nick’s racist grandfather (David Bradley), his pregnant and proudly-ignorant sister Kate (Holly Weston), her meathead husband Scott (Kris Sadler), and his authoritarian father Tony (Grant Masters). His mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) is just sort of weak and obliging, but everyone seems to manage to get along, though it’s strained. The next morning, Nick and Annji decide to leave early to avoid more conflict, but find that the house is now surrounded by a mysterious black substance.
All cell phones are down, the internet is down, and the only contact with the outside world is coming through the television, which is displaying emergency messages, telling the family to “Await Further Instructions.” At first they attempt to just continue life as normal as possible, but soon the messages tell them to get rid of their food, to rub their bodies with bleach, then to inject themselves with “vaccines” that come through the chimney and are contained within dirty needles. At every step, the cycle basically goes “Nick and Annji point out that this is a terrible idea, then Tony overrules them.”
Throughout the movie, the people are compelled to do more and more extreme acts by the television, until the truth of the situation is revealed.
This movie is an example of “good idea, bad execution.” The premise of people under stress turning on each other is fairly old, including the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but tying it in with technology and featuring a family representative of the current societal cultural divides does distinguish it. There are, however, three big problems with this movie. First, the characters are too over the top. Tony, Kate, and Scott are all just too irrational, too quickly. Tony is not just immediately ready to believe whatever the TV says, but to use violence to enforce it. When it’s time to pick someone to be isolated, they don’t even consider that Scott, the guy who literally just shoved his hand into a mystery hole, might be the one who is infected. Meanwhile, Nick and Annji, the supposed voices of reason, just keep going along with stuff after they get shouted down. Nobody does much to figure out what’s going on for the first hour of the film, despite that being most people’s first reaction. It just doesn’t work well. Second, the dialogue is clunky as hell. Almost every line is awkward and uninspiring and could basically be called “cliche roulette.” Last, *Minor Spoiler* the last twenty minutes of the movie is such a violent change that it kind of feels like it was intended to be a different movie. *End Spoiler*
So, the actual request I got was asking if this was an “anti-vaxxer” horror film. It’s pretty obvious why the question comes up, since the people in the movie all inject themselves with vaccines which *Minor Spoiler* doesn’t end well *End Spoiler.* I don’t deny that you can interpret that scene as being against trusting vaccines given to you by authority figures, but I think I can explain it as just being an incidental part of a bigger message.
The film’s about blindly obeying authority, and that’s really any kind of authority. The family that is featured, the Milgrams, are even named after the famous Milgram Experiment, an experiment which confirmed that, if people are told by an authority figure to hurt or even kill someone, about 30% of people (or potentially up to 60%) will eventually do so. Admittedly, the experiment was aimed at being about authority, but subsequent experiments suggest it’s less about obeying and more about disclaiming responsibility. Still, the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the perils of not questioning orders.
“But Joker,” I hear my reader say, “isn’t the basis for rejecting vaccines essentially rejecting the authorities telling you that they’re helpful in favor of asserting your own belief (comment below if you actually said it, because that’d be awesome)?” Well, yes, but the difference is that vaccines are supported by scientific authority, whereas policy or command decisions are derived from, eventually, martial authority. The beauty of scientific authority is that any human being could, through study and time, go through the entire history of scientific discovery and eventually understand why and how vaccines work. Science is not an opinion, it’s a system by which we remove opinions until the truth remains. Yes, sometimes prevailing theories wrong, particularly in soft sciences, but the beauty is that if you prove a theory wrong, then your correct theory becomes the new main theory. Science never encourages you to blindly follow it, because the less blind you are, the more it helps science. Scientific authority is best summarized as “what is proved right becomes right, what is proved wrong becomes wrong.” Citation: Every scientist ever (myself included).
Command decisions on the other hand, such as Tony’s orders to the family or the TV’s orders to Tony, are backed by martial authority. That means that, eventually, you fall in line because if you don’t, someone bigger than you commits violence upon you. That’s pretty much the way that all of civilization works: If you break the agreed-upon commands, someone kicks your ass. Sure, we’ve got courts and lawyers between us and most of the actual violence, but if you keep breaking the rules, eventually, violence will be inflicted upon you. We actually see that exemplified in the movie multiple times, particularly with Tony’s drafting of Scott as a foot soldier who carries out violence when Nick disagrees. However, the issue with unchecked martial authority is that eventually more and more violence is used in response to smaller and smaller violations of decrees. The movie weakly tries to bring in religious or divine authority, but it’s mostly tied in with martial authority. Martial authority is best summarized as “what is right is what I say is right or else I smash your face in.” It encourages blindly following authority, because every time you question it, it has to smash your face in and sometimes that encourages you to smash back. Citation: Pretty much all of history.
The scene in the movie where the characters take vaccines even has a character point out that the risk isn’t just in the vaccine, it’s that the vaccines are improperly packaged, contain dirty needles, were delivered by chimney, and are in response to a health crisis that there is no evidence is even real. That’s not the same as saying don’t trust doctors and scientists. Hell, the two most educated characters, including one nurse, are the ones who are actually shown to be in the right about everything. So, no, I don’t think the movie is actually anti-vaxxer, it just was a little messy in this scene.
Overall, parts of the film, mostly the eerie way the television communicates and the body-horror, are well done. Other parts, particularly the characters and the dialogue, are just uninteresting and terrible. Horror doesn’t always need great dialogue (so many conversations from 80s slashers about sex come to mind), but it has to at least be INTERESTING dialogue, if you’re not having super strong visuals, and there aren’t many visuals until the end. I actually think they would have done better to have the television be communicating seemingly through regular media broadcasts, which might have given them a more cohesive message at the end, which brings me to…
At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the black mass surrounding the house is actually a tentacle monster which is basically made up of coaxial cables and has been infiltrating their television and controlling them. At the end, it even moves to motivating Tony to worship it, allowing it to completely control him. After everyone in the house is dead, the monster dissolves Kate’s body and says hello to her baby. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood is similarly falling apart and being consumed by the black creatures. So what’s happening here?
Well, I admit that the last 20 minutes of this film is a little bit off-the-walls and gets a little confusing in themes. Most of the movie up until this point has been a fairly straight-forward message about the danger of not questioning authority or about succumbing to martial authority, but while the monster had been using the television to control everyone, it doesn’t do anything through traditional media. In fact, any time anyone tries to guess the source of the broadcast, it’s either Tony asserting that it’s the government or Nick asserting it’s coming from a sinister other source. The only statements about traditional media are a few lines about stories that the characters use as a basis to discriminate, but nothing about them really places any message about the media there. Despite that, the ending seems to be a pretty straightforward metaphor… I mean, it’s a child that is going to be raised by a television telling the baby to “worship [it].”
Like I said, the ending gets a little confusing, and I think the key to it is that Annji sees the heart of the television is actually controlled by the monster. This indicates that the monster hasn’t just been there since Christmas, but possibly for a while, meaning that the monster knew how humans can divide themselves over issues and how prone certain people are to taking commands, allowing it to craft a perfect series of commands to the family to get them to kill themselves. Hell, it even knew Christmas was the time when people are the easiest targets, because they’re all together. When Nick and Annji resist, it just has Tony do the job. Finally, when it’s left alone, it seems to gently greet Ruby, the baby. That’s because this has probably been its goal all along, to raise a generation of children under its control to provide it with unquestioned worship. That’s the only way to explain why it chose to spare the baby, but not Tony, who is already its worshipper. Do I have very much to go on there? No, because the last 20 minutes of this movie are insane and hard to nail down. Is it about all authority or media? Is it about killing people or controlling people? I have no idea, but that’s my best guess. If the movie had chosen the television to communicate through, say, hijacked news broadcasts, that would have made a better metaphor, in my opinion, but I didn’t make the film.
The 1970s decided that everything on Earth could be a threat to humanity: Jaws, Piranha, Grizzly, Frogs, worms in Squirm, an octopus in Tentacles, and even bunnies in Night of the Lepus. So, a team got together and decided to make one of the most absurd spoofs ever by making a movie about people dealing with the least threatening monsters on film.
So, the beauty of this film is mostly in the absurdity, largely presenting the characters and the world through ridiculous scenes that parody other films or genres. Nothing I can do can convey the insanity of the plot, the dialogue, the sight-gags, or the settings of this film. That said, here’s the actual plot:
Tomatoes are killing people. Some eat people, some crush people, some poison people who drink their juice. The President’s Press Secretary Jim Richardson (George Wilson) claims there is no threat, but the President (Ernie Meyers) puts a man named Mason Dixon (David Miller) in charge of a taskforce to deal with the tomatoes. Dixon recruits disguise expert Sam Smith (Gary Smith), deep sea diver Greg Colburn (Steve Cates), and olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum (Benita Barton), as well as para-soldier Wilbur Finletter (Senator Stephen Pea… wait, Senator? Holy hell, Stephen Peace became a California State Senator).
It’s discovered that the regular-sized tomatoes seen thus far in the film are, in fact, cherry tomatoes and that regular tomatoes have now become massive. To combat this threat, the President sends Richardson to get ideas from an ad agency headed by Ted Swan (Al Sklar), who pitches a bunch of slogans but no useful plans. A masked assassin attacks Dixon, revealing himself to be with the tomatoes, but Dixon escapes. Meanwhile, a Senate committee tries to address the problem (hilariously ineffectively), but instead leaks the committee guide to the crisis to a newspaper, which sends reporter Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor). Finletter mistakes Fairchild first for a prostitute and second for a spy and tries to kill her, but fails. He also tries to catch the masked assassin when he strikes again, but loses him.
Gretta gets killed by the tomatoes and the Army is defeated by the giant fruits. One tomato chases Dixon, but it jumps out the window when Dixon hides in a young boy’s room playing the awful song “Puberty Love.” Dixon spots the assassin and chases him, but is captured. The assassin is revealed to be Richardson, who, though he didn’t create the tomatoes, figured out their weakness and can now control them. He’s about to reveal his secret when Finletter appears and kills him. Dixon realizes that the secret is “Puberty Love” which has driven off the tomatoes throughout the film.
Dixon gets all of the tomatoes into a stadium and tells Finletter to bring all the people left in the town to fight. However, only crazy people are left in town (everyone with sense left), so all the people that show up are in funny costumes. Dixon plays “Puberty Love,” which cripples the tomatoes, allowing the crowd to destroy them, except for one tomato who found earmuffs. The last tomato attacks Fairchild, but Dixon saves her by having the tomato read the sheet music to “Puberty Love.” The two profess their love for each other. Then, the carrots start talking…
This was one of my favorite films when I was a kid. It had jokes that I was positive were “adult,” goofy over-the-top characters, a weird soundtrack, and the kind of oddball humor that I never could quite figure out. Plus, there was a TV Show on Fox Kids in the 90s, which was when television was awesome. Admittedly, it was based on the sequel film Return of the Killer Tomatoes and the best part of it, John Astin’s Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen, wasn’t in this film, but… well, the title was the same.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a huge critical flop when it came out and it’s not hard to see why, in 1978, this film didn’t do well. It’s a surreal farce in the vein of Airplane! or Police Squad!, but the comic timing (and talent of the performers) wasn’t near the level of those two. This isn’t to say that the performances or the writing are bad, in fact, they’re pretty good, but this was essentially trying to make a surreal humor spoof a few years before the ground was really broken and this movie is even more surreal than most. Audiences probably weren’t ready for this yet. We needed a Star Wars to break the ice, but instead we got… I’m gonna say The Last Starfighter.
However, if you watch this film, you realize how influential it was on later media. A lot of gags that you see in this film are repeated in other, later, comedies, most notably the “Slow Car Chase” scene and the “Too-Small Meeting Room.” Hell, the idea of a song killing the evil monsters by being truly terrible would later be ripped off by Mars Attacks (though Howard Stern claimed to have come up with it in 1982… 4 years after this movie came out). Also, fun fact, “Puberty Love” was sung by Matt Cameron, drummer for Soundgarden and later Pearl Jam.
I have to admit that I had forgotten a lot of elements of this film, because some of the scenes are a little forgettable due to their disconnect from the rest of the movie. For example, I had forgotten most of the scenes with the Ad Man, Ted Swan, which include some interesting musical numbers and a parody of the extremely stupid “Whip Inflation Now” campaign… something I didn’t know existed as a kid. That’s definitely one of the reasons why this film is a little weaker, since a lot of the vignettes are connected to the tomatoes, but not directly to the central plot of the film. They’re funny, but they’re not outstanding enough to be remembered independently.
Overall, I really did enjoy re-watching this film. Despite being made in the 1970s, there aren’t a ton of things in it that aged poorly, including the (intentionally) awful effects and camerawork. Sure, some of the contemporary references are hard to catch, but most of the movie is pretty timeless. Is it the best horror spoof? No, but it’s pretty damned fun. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely need to. Much like with Airplane, a lot of what makes this film work are the non-sequiturs and the clever gags.