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PREVIOUS COLUMNS HERE!

This
week’s installment mostly focuses on a few cult films I’ve
recently caught or dug from the archives, and I figured
I’d share my thoughts here. If you’re looking for something
with a slightly higher profile, I’d have to recommend you
go pick up the new DVD of Spartan, one of
the leanest and meanest "little" Hollywood productions
I’ve seen in a good while.

Got an interesting
film suggestion? Know of something good in the works? Just
want to tell me I’m rubbish?  Drop me a line at dave@chud.com, and
I’ll respond to any letters in future columns.

BRIT
REMOVERS

The
title of The Last Horror Movie is misleading,
but it turns out that’s on purpose. The meat of the actual
film (directed by Julian Richards) is purportedly the documented
exploits of a charming British killer named Max (played
by the Eric Roberts-esque Kevin Howarth), following him
through the lens as he visits his family, commits vicious
murders and waxes philosophical. A wedding videographer
by trade, Max explains to the camera (typically held by
his homeless assistant) how he’s been carrying out these
heinous random crimes for quite some time, but has now decided
to share with an intimate audience. Therein lies the hook,
like a more personal variation of The Ring
— the idea that any poor soul who watches the film ultimately
won’t live to discuss it.

Much
like precursors such as Blair Witch Project
and 84 Charlie Mopic, the faux-documentary
angle takes sensible advantage of the limited format’s raw
atmosphere and fourth-wall breaking, though The Last
Horror Movie
owes its biggest debt to the similarly
themed Belgian film Man Bites Dog, which also
featured a camera crew following a charismatic sociopath
as he wandered about performing random atrocities. Max uses
his grisly executions as a means to ponder human nature
and convey some clever insights and social commentary, but
his monologues sometimes veer into trite territory (like
when he observes that murderers existed long before violent
movies and videogames).

The
Last Horror Movie
is occasionally effective as a
"real" horror film (some chillingly brutal murders are presented)
and Howarth makes Max a compelling subject, though his glib
demeanor and hazy motivations never suggest the sense that
this guy is truly wired wrong — he seems far too centered
for someone killing out of smug satisfaction. And at a brisk
75 minutes, the film plays more like a (literal) "greatest
hits", though the ending will likely have viewers looking
over their shoulders. Now if only we could convince Max
to go after the "stars" of American Idol, Survivor,
etc… You want morbid curiosity? That’s "reality TV" I’d
watch.

Ever
heard of the videogame Max Payne? Apparently so did
the makers of the unrelenting British indie action flick
Reckoning Day. It seems that tyro filmmaker
Julian Gilbey (are all UK filmmakers named Julian?) and
his cast of amateur actors got hold of a bunch of firearms,
several gallons of fake blood and a few hundred squibs,
and proceeded to shoot the hell out of each other.

The
story, as it were, concerns a group of British assassins
who get their hands on a mysterious drug called "Unseen
Force", a hyper-stimulant that heightens reflexes and increases
pain tolerance to superhuman levels. A British intelligence
agent (who bears a curious resemblance to CHUD’s longtime
LA correspondent Smilin’ Jack Ruby) recruits an American
operative named Echo Delta (Ed for short), the only man
to survive an encounter with these villains. Ed summarizes
his mission thusly: "Basically I come over there and kill
a shitload of people, destroy the drug utterly and cause
vast amounts of structural damage — I’ll get the next plane."
And
that’s basically what occurs for the following 90 grainy
minutes: endless gunfights, bloodshed and gruesome bodily
dismantlings as Ed (who’s dubbed in a numbing tough-guy
monotone) tracks down and eliminates the killers before
they can ship the drug to the open market.


The DVD cover proclaims the film was inspired by cult classics
like Evil Dead, Bad Taste and El Mariachi,
but its virtually nonexistent narrative reveals aspirations
not quite approaching that level of competence. Populated
by unskilled performers and shamelessly plagiarizing from
every action movie to precede it, Reckoning Day
strives to make up for what it lacks in budget and talent
with excessive carnage and unconventional (and sometimes
unintentionally amusing) stylistic decisions. Still, if
gratuitous violence and debatable filmmaking proficiency
appeal to you, I’m sure you could probably find zero-budget
features that are a lot worse.

MONSTERS
BEWARE

Historically
speaking, it seems like monsters have always had it tough
— there’s always someone chasing them down, and not just
rowdy bands of torch-wielding villagers. Peter Cushing spent
years hunting bloodsuckers in Hammer films. Comic book characters
have done it for decades, and the slaughter of foul creatures
has become the focus of countless videogames. Kolchak the
Night Stalker sought the supernatural in a reporting capacity,
a tradition carried on by Mulder and Scully for the X-Files
department of the FBI, while Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade,
Angel and (unfortunately) Van Helsing have recently kept
the big and small screens safe from unsavory beasts.

Back
in the 80s, several famous creatures had to contend with
another threat: kids.
In
The Monster Squad, a group of middle-school
misfits are so obsessed with creatures of the night that
they’ve formed their own treehouse-based "monster club".
Which is good, because Dracula (Duncan Regher) has arrived
in their small town seeking an amulet that will allow evil
to run rampant, and he’s recruited Frankenstein’s monster
(Tom Noonan) and the Wolfman (Jon Gries and his nards),
along with the Mummy and the Gillman, to assist him. Coincidentally,
the monster club leader’s mom just gave her son an old journal
she found in a local church, and the young folklore fanatics
enlist the translation services of the nearby "scary German
guy" only to discover that the book is essentially an instruction
manual written by Abraham Van Helsing, detailing how to
prevent the impending monster apocalypse. It’s then up to
the adolescent fiend-fighters to send Drac and his cronies
back to the hell that spawned them.

You
may be asking yourself, "But is it as good as I remember?"
Though an unmistakable artifact of the 80s thanks to the
wardrobe, hairstyles and synth-pop soundtrack, Monster
Squad
still holds up surprisingly well. Director
Fred Dekker and co-writer Shane Black (yep, the Lethal
Weapon
guy) toss all the classic monster mythology
into the blender with the Little Rascals and two cups of
cheese, and manage to cook up an amusing, occasionally juvenile
and surprisingly sinister action-comedy-horror flick. Whether
they’re discussing the best means to dispatch vampires or
arguing about the Wolfman’s genitalia, the kids never come
across as annoying little snots, which is something of a
remarkable feat for anyone under fourteen. And the monsters
all look great, thanks to the makeup work of FX guru Stan
Winston.

Sadly,
the oft-bootlegged film (along with Dekker’s other cult
fave, Night of the Creeps) has yet to appear
on an official DVD — no one even seems to know who currently
holds the rights, despite the legions of fans who only have
worn-out VHS copies from their formative years and crave
a remastered digital edition (if any readers know more,
please drop me a line). So to whatever studio out there
is sitting on this minor classic: pluck it out of holding
pattern and get it on a platter already!

Another
recent beast battler that didn’t quite meet with the same
franchise success of Joss Whedon’s creations is Matthew
Blackheart: Monster Smasher
. A Canadian production
that seems to have been made for about half the cost of
an average Mutant X episode, Matthew Blackheart
sweeps so close to Captain America that Reb Brown and Matt
Salinger are still pissed they weren’t considered for the
lead role.

The
story involves a secret WWII super-soldier (Rob Bogue) cobbled
together by science and sent on a mission to Patagonia where
a villain named Mortas is creating monsters for Hitler.
During the skirmish he’s cryogenically frozen, and finally
thaws fifty years later when he returns to modern-day New
York with a fuzzy memory and a continued desire to eradicate
"bogies". While he pieces together his past with a spunky
diner owner and a young cab driver (who, inexplicably, turns
out to be a younger version of the doctor who constructed
him a half-century prior, and is now selling comics about
his creation’s "real" adventures), Blackheart also discovers
his archenemy Mortas has since become a powerful record
company executive and ringleader of various monster clans
plotting global domination, which obviously must be stopped.

This
failed series pilot (an "origin story") may not have much
by way of scares, production values, logic or originality,
but at least the actor in the title role is quite watchable,
with line delivery like an E! host channeling Bruce Campbell
(when President Roosevelt tells Blackheart he’ll be misunderstood
by people because "they all think a hero is a sandwich,"
the champion heartily responds with: "Then let’s give ‘em
lots of mayo, sir!"). It also has an evil lizard chick,
a monster midget, a blind guy with a flamethrower, and lots
of splashing goo. If you have a high tolerance for derivative
camp made on the cheap, you might find something to like
here.

DRIBLETS

Some
interesting miscellany from the CHUD message boards and
beyond:


I caught the hilarious short film Forklift
Driver Klaus
at Fantasia Fest last year, and laughed
uncontrollably at the gleefully gory antics of the titular
accident-prone worker. This fake employee safety video can
be seen online, and although it lacks English subtitles
(which won’t be a problem for our Deutschland readers, if
we have any), spewing arteries are a universal language.
It’s still relatively easy to follow, and loaded with wonderful
dismemberment. Check it out RIGHT
HERE
!

The
Russian film Night Watch is not a remake of
the Ewan McGregor thriller (itself a remake of a Danish
film), but instead a sci-fi/horror film based on a series
of novels by Sergey Lukianenko. The story concerns a group
of "night hunters" who eternally battle to retain
the balance between the forces of Light and Dark. There’s
a trailer online (RIGHT
HERE
), and although the audio quality is pretty
terrible and the beginning looks a bit like Road Warrior
meets Monty Python and the Holy Grail,
it certainly looks intriguing. Thanks to ‘Timo’ for the
heads-up.

Fans
of the Friday the 13th series ought to dig
this indie short called Chasing Jason, an
amusing look at the limited lovelife of the infamous hockey-masked
serial killer, which probably makes him seem fairly normal
for the Los Angeles dating scene. Some nice in-jokes and
decent acting help make this a well-made, surprisingly fun
offering from writer/director Chopper Denton. You can check
it out online RIGHT
HERE
.

STEAM

Thanks
to all for your letters of non-hatred.
Send
me more comments, suggestions, and coupons for Russian brides
to dave@chud.com, and
I’ll reply to any letters in future columns. Thanks for
reading and writing!

Hi,
Dave;

I’m
glad you mentioned the great unaired pilot "Heat Vision
& Jack
." I saw a bootleg of it about a year ago
and thought it was probably one of the most clever shows
to come down the pike in awhile. Unfortunately, that’s not
what the "American Idol"-ized masses seem to be going for
these days.


At any rate, is there any hope for a DVD release of the
pilot? Maybe they could round up Ben Stiller, Jack Black
and Owen Wilson for a commentary. I think it’d be funny
to also have a "retrospective" featurette on the disc with
all the principals talking waxing philisophical about the
cultural impact of the single episode that was never actually
aired.

-
Brad

DAVE
SAYS
: I did a little snooping and got word from someone
close to the production. The bad news: an official DVD of
the Heat Vision and Jack pilot looks unlikely
to appear in the immediate future. The good news: this is
apparently because Fox is firmly holding onto the property
because they want to make it into a feature film! Now that
the involved talent has considerably more clout since then,
this could indeed become a reality, so cross your fingers.

Fantastic
column. You’ve called attention to some films I really love,
and a few I detest with 99.9% of my being. I always look
forward to reading the next installment. About two years
ago, I saw a film from Morocco called ‘Ali Zaoua,
Prince of the Streets
‘. It’s a day in the life of
three homeless children in Casablanca, and really impressed
me. I’ve been looking for it on DVD ever since. Seen it?
Know where to buy it?


The Shanghai International Film Festival just ended here,
and would have been great if not for it’s lack of organization.
I showed up to see Memories of Murder, only
to be told that it had been sent back to Korea already.
What? Otherwise, it was nice to have a choice in what film
to see besides ‘Day After Tomorrow’ or ‘Troy’. Keep up the
good work!

-Sai
Rong

DAVE
SAYS: Haven’t seen or heard of that film before, but it
appears to be available as a R2 French import (from www.cinestore.com)
or domestically as an exclusive from Film Movement (www.filmmovement.com).
I might have to check it out.

As
for Memories of Murder, I commented on the
film in a previous STEAM, but I’ll reiterate that although
I didn’t find it quite as worthy of the hype it’s received,
it is still definitely worth tracking down.

Love
the column. It is nice to see some attention brought to
the "hidden treasures" out there. There are a couple of
movies out there that I have seen trailers for and am seriously
impressed. "Immortel" and "Casshern".
What light can you throw on these wonderous looking flicks?
Will we ever see them in the states or will we be forced
(well, not really /forced/…I’d do it in a second) to buy
imported DVDs of them until 20 years from now some pinhead
at a studio sees one and decides to release it here acting
the whole time like he found the thing (any resemblence
to the movie "Hero", Miramax, and Tarentino
is purely intentional)?

Keep
the columns coming! Now I must go watch "Robot Bastard"
again.

-
kirk

DAVE
SAYS
: Thanks for reading! Unfortunately I know about
as much as you do about those films, as far as a domestic
release goes. I expect I’ll be getting my claws on subtitled
import DVDs long before they’re ever considered for a theatrical
release in this country — you’d probably see a US remake
before the original. The harsh reality is that there’s really
no market for films like that in a country where people
would rather stay home and watch random morons eat various
insects on Fear Factor than go see a foreign
film.

DOWN
BELOW

I’d
like the UNDERGROUND to also be an environment for smaller
filmmakers (in budget, scope and height – I don’t discriminate,
wee folk) to publicize their wares, particularly genre material. 
Everyone deserves a chance, yeah? After all, even Oscar
winner Peter Jackson started with an independent sci-fi
horror flick that featured spilled brains and vomit tasting. 
So if you’ve got an independent film and you want to expose
yourself, drop me a line at dave@chud.com
Put some pants on first.

Thanks
for digging into this edition of DAVE’S UNDERGROUND, be
back soon with more treats from beneath eye level. Feel
free to send any suggestions or comments to dave@chud.com!