Thursday, December 31, 2009


Andy Copp is an indie director who isn’t afraid to ask hard questions. He doesn’t make horror movies for cheap thrills or even any sort of emotional catharsis. You actually get the impression that his movies haunt him long after he finishes them. From his surrealistic masterpiece The Mutilation Man to the emotional agony of The Atrocity Circle, Copp takes a hard look at the world and the people crawling over it and he doesn’t see a lot of up side. He sees a civilization of tortured souls who can only increase their own misery while increasing the misery of those around them. Andy Copp’s movies are rife with unanswered questions. He’s not about comforting the viewer; he’s not about hand-holding. Regardless of how you view his films, you cannot say he ever takes the easy way out.

In Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain, Copp tackles the question of our ongoing war with the  Middle East by viewing it through the eyes of two former soldiers. Adrienne (Amanda Delotelle) suffers from PTSD and fights with the government every day just to get her pay and assistance. Every night, she relives the horrors she experienced in Iraq and her only friend is a Viet Nam Vet who still bears his own scars from both that war and his “welcome” home. Elsewhere in the city, William (Loren S. Goins) is walking around in an unending nightmare. Responsible for interrogating terror suspects, William was in charge of extracting informatiion by “any means necessary”. In the state of panic that was the early days of a Post 9-11 world, torture and agression was deemed a necessary evil because there could be other attacks planned. All of America was in danger. To protect the American people, William was told to do “anything”, and in doing so, something inside of him broke permanently. Now he’s home, abandoned by veterans administrators, off of his medication, alone, desperate. He views every person he meets as an enemy sympathiser, taking war protests very, very personally.

Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain takes the formerly empty Conservative cry of “If you don’t support the war, you don’t support the troops” and treats it very seriously. Burdened by the knowledge that they were fighting an unjust war but still conditioned to believe they were doing it for our protection, both Adrienne and William chose their paths and were rewarded with derision. Damaged by the war, they were discarded by the military and confronted with either disinterest or disdain by the rest of us. At the same time, Adrienne, at least, understands the protestors’ point of view more deeply than they ever could because she was there. William, on the other hand, can’t stop killing. The agression builds up inside of him and he reverse-justifies his murderous actions by rationalizing that he’s still fighting for the American way of life and that anyone around him could be a terrorist.

That the paths of these two soldiers will collide is inevitable and ideology won’t matter at that juncture. And Copp isn’t asking anyone to take sides. He’s not saying that this is a “pro” or “anti” war movie. All he’s asking is that we, the viewers, think about what he’s presenting. Regardless of which political stance you want to take, war is a fucked up thing and we’re living in a fucked up world. And what will it take to un-fuck it? The creator is begging for answers as much as his creations. If these questions seem heavy-handed, maybe that’s what it takes to get through to the disaffected, desensitized culture of today.

Like his other films, the theme is more powerful than the presentation. Delotelle is fine as Adrienne and Goins is so understated as William that you feel his monotone delivery is another by-product of his mental breakdown. The majority of the supporting players are flat and the movie has a number of technical problems, but if you’re paying attention to those things, you’re missing the point entirely. Every independent film suffers from budget limitations—it’s the nature of the game—but Copp is trying to say something with his films. He’s shooting primal screams and wondering why nobody else seems to care. Slasher films and vampires keep independent horror alive. But these monsters pale in comparison to what’s really out there.

Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain is available on DVD from


 Robert Kurtzman loves to keep his friends working. As in his later films like Wishmaster and The Rage, his directorial debut is rife with cameos from buds like Reggie Bannister, Bruce Campbell, Jack Nance, Sarah Douglas, Joe Pilato and numerous others. The “hey, there’s…” drinking game level just adds to the enjoyment to be had from this campy little SF actioner. It may not be a masterpiece, but at no point does it feel like either a waste of talent or a shameless, soulless grab at money.

In an obvious “nod” to Robocop, an undercover cop named Alyssa (Charles in Charge’s Nicole Eggert) is murdered by a horrible villain (played by 21 Jump Street’s Richard Grieco! Of all people!), she is saved by science (represented here by Re-Animator’s Bruce Abbott) and put on the streets by the corrupt mayor (Forbidden Zone’s Susan Tyrell) and the chief of police (Deadwood’s Peter Jason), to clean up the streets so dirtied by Grieco and (wait for it) Tom Savini. Clad in skin-tight leatherette and a futuristic scuba mask, Alyssa leaps onto her supercharged motorcycle and runs roughshod over the villains. Meanwhile, Heather Langenkamp as a reporter covers the corruption in the government, Grieco prefers looney over menacing in an odd character choice, Savini whispers his dialogue and lots and lots of bullets are fired.

While the above sounds like something between a recipe for disaster and a MAD TV parody, The Demolitionist is actually a pretty deft satire of violent action films, albeit using violence to bring attention to violence, in much the same way Paul Verhoven was often credited with doing. Actually, it’s obvious from the get-go that Verhoven’s oevre is The Demolitionist’s prime target. The comedy is painted with broad strokes here, due in part to Kurtzman’s abject love of movies. One of the founders of KNB, Inc., the Academy Award winning special effects company, Kurtzman wrote the script with his wife, Anne, and tore into his first job as a director with all the enthusiasm of a sugared child on Christmas. As a result, there’s a giddy excitement injected into every scene—even talking head expositional sequences seem electrified. The movie charges past its limited budget and structural silliness with great abandon and the pace never slows. The Demolitionist’s campiness works in its favor and all of the actors seem to be having a great time.

A staple of late-night cable for a short time, The Demolitionist can be hard to find now. Because of this recent scarcity, it’s developed a nice cult following which has only grown since the release of Kurtzman’s similarly-campy zombie outing The Rage. For folks who grew up haunting mom and pop video stores in the ‘90s, revisiting The Demolitionist is like a return to puberty. Analyze that statement however you want, I stand by it. 


Friday, December 25, 2009


Like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, both undeservedly ignored upon their initial releases but going on to become holiday television staples, Holiday Affair was similarly ignored at the box office but hasn’t quite—yet—become a beloved classic of the most wonderful time of the year. TCM has been giving it plenty of support these past few years, but audiences haven’t yet pinned their stockings to it the way they have other Christmas favorites. Which is a shame because in a few ways it’s the best of the bunch.

Starring Robert Mitchum, taking a break from his usual amiable tough-guy roles, Holiday Affair stars with a fateful meeting between a department store clerk and a “secret shopper” (eleven years away from her life-changing shower in Psycho)—more or less a consumer spy for rival department stores, buying merchandise for comparison prices, etc. When Steve catches young miss Connie Ennis in the act, his duty is to the store, to turn her in to the store detective, which would cost her her job. Instead, upon learning that she’s a single mother (thanks to World War II), with a young son to support, Steve turns a blind eye. Which results to him losing his job during the holiday season. And, of course, it also leads to a series of guilt-fueled run-ins on Connie’s part, to make sure that his act of kindness doesn’t go unrewarded. It also leads to a budding romance, which is complicated by her engagement to Carl (professional “also-ran” Wendell Corey who doesn’t have a lot going against him except for the fact that he isn’t Robert Mitchum). In the meantime, Connie’s son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert, turning in a surprisingly non-aggravating child-actor performance, and whose high-pitched voice is actually more endearing than grating), has taken a shine to Steve, connecting to him as a better ersatz father figure than bland-ol’-agreeable Carl. This all culminates in a series of genuinely funny and touching scenes that encompass everything good and magical about the holidays—stuff we’ve seen countless times over the years but seeming more sincere here. Holiday Affair, in truth, is utterly without irony, which is the most refreshing thing about it.

There are dozens of wonderful touches throughout—Steve spends his lunch hour in the Central Park Zoo feeding the sea lions and tending to “an orphan squirrel”; another visitor to the zoo is a little girl on roller skates who has a balloon tied to the top of her wool cap; Harry Morgan plays a befuddled policeman—and the relationships come off as realistic and caring. Steve doesn’t mean to come between Connie and Carl, but it happens. Timmy doesn’t mean to jeopardize his mother’s job, but it happens. Connie isn’t playing hard to get with either Steve or Carl, but is honestly conflicted about her feelings for both—all stemming from her lingering grief over the loss of her soldier husband. In fact, the resolutions of all these plot lines is handled not only with dignity for all involved (not to mention, in some cases, hilarity), but maturity. Carl is not an unctuous villain out to suppress Connie and Timmy but really does care for them—which seems like an almost foreign ideal compared to the “other man” character in modern romantic comedies—and it’s almost a shock to find yourself taking his side during several scenes!

But in the end, the show belongs to Mitchum. His charisma carries out but he does his generous best to allow Leigh and Gebert their side of the screen as well. Nothing about Holiday Affair feels forced or saccharine or cloying. It’s “sweet” in the best sense of the word, but it never hurts your teeth. Unlike, say, the Richard Attenborough version of Miracle on 34th Street, you won’t be reaching for a dose of insulin by the time the credits roll.

The real surprise is how little regard it was given in 1949, although perhaps RKO’s marketing of it as they did—with a mis-leading poster depicting it as another Mitchum noir—might have had something to do with its initial failure. The disrespect followed it for more than fifty years, as Holiday Affair was long unavailable for viewing save for its annual TCM screening and a blurry VHS. These days, largely thanks to TCM, a DVD can be had with its glorious black and white image restored. This writer would recommend picking it up and pairing it with Barbara Robinson’s 1972 novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to start a new family tradition. 


Thursday, December 24, 2009


Ah, the glorious and eternal battle between good and evil. So often clear-cut and obvious, with the path to righteousness clearly carved. Though the waters may run muddy, the current is swift and the way ahead clear.

While the best movies involving this struggle, to me, are morally ambiguous, with the path to “righteousness” up to interpretation (involving, among other things, interpretation of action and intention, conflict of character, the question of ethics, etcetera), some movies just can’t help but present the obvious. Take this late-‘80s entry of religious-hysteria. In The Unholy, pious Ben Cross literally confronts an envoy of the Devil that enjoys appearing to sinners in the midst of sinning, to provide further temptation and thus damning the soul and circumventing redemption. The demon, the titular “Unholy”, is particularly fond of appearing to priests on Good Friday in the form of a beautiful woman, her naked body draped in dark gauze and her red hair sprayed up into the biggest Debbie Gibson ‘do imaginable. So gorgeous is The Unholy that the priest is driven instantly to lust and is just as instantly engulfed in flames.

Naturally, the Pope frowns upon this sort of thing.

So when Father Michael survives a seven-story fall without a single injury—pulled out of a window by a troubled suicide he was attempting to save—Fathers Hal Holbrook and Trevor Howard declare him to be (wait for it) “the Chosen One” who will save the parish of St. Agnes from the Unholy this Easter season. But first, Father Michael must survives the trials of the “Sexy Wayward Virgin” and the “Twits Who Pretend to Be Satanists” and the “Satanic Night Club Complete with Onstage Satanic Ritual that Only Exists in Silly Horror Movies”, with lots of gory deaths occurring amidst all of this. For Father Michael to survive his encounter with The Unholy, he must avoid all temptation, be they sexpots out of Whitesnake videos or semi-crazy streetwise sluts who offer themselves to him in order to be “saved”. In the meantime, odd things happen, creepy angel statues bleed, dogs leap out of shadows, Trevor Howard pretends to be blind and William Russ tries to retain his dignity while wearing ludicrous gold necklaces. And poor Ben Cross is left to wonder how his career could have gone so wrong after his acclaim for Chariots of Fire. Then there’s the “true face” of The Unholy, revealed at the end of the film. Truly, it must be seen to be believed. If I were to say that it looks like a large, painted pumpkin mounted on a sawhorse, you’d think I was exaggerating. And I haven’t even mentioned the midgets in the rubber suits standing in for The Unholy’s minions.

Now, all that said, The Unholy is not that awful of a movie. In horror terms, it hits all the right beats and the gore is plentiful and nasty. Catholic gore fans will find the movie downright reverent in its depiction of the Church versus the literal Satan and the climactic sequence, silly monster aside, will force a chill out of even the most recovered of the Recovering Catholics. I particularly admired the idea that The Unholy chooses Good Friday to corrupt its potential sinners, using the time of Christ’s own temptation on the cross as sort of an ironic window of opportunity. Father Michael’s vision of Hell is shown as equal parts disturbing and ludicrous, but so is the rest of the film—particularly with bits of Italy desperately pretending to be New Orleans (in much the same way stage actors playing trees don’t quite pull off this illusion either) and a very unusual sequence in which a Catholic mass evolves into a Baptist revival for absolutely no reason other than to show that Ben Cross can sing.

Still and all, by the time the credits roll, you will be able to say, in all honesty, that The Unholy was not the worst movie you’ve ever seen. If you can hunt it down, that is, as the stripped-down DVD is out of print. Which is proof that the Devil just doesn’t want you to see it (and if this is the case, it can be argued that he has your best interests in mind).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Last week, encouraged by Blogger, I attempted to “monetize” my review site “Hey, Did You Ever See the Movie…?” by posting links to Amazon relating to movies I reviewed. Not two hours after completing this task, Blogger deleted it because it was suspected to be a “Spam Blog”. Rather than railing at the idiocy of this policy, implemented by “robots”, I’ve decided to just go ahead and delete “HDYEStM” and replace it with this one: Movie Outlaw.

While the title may sound pretentious, it’s really an homage to and a continuation of my ongoing career in the independent film community. Obviously, it’s inspired by the first major site to employ me, i.e. Film Threat, as well as a shout-out to Hollywood is Burning, the site and magazine Charlie Fleming and I ran in the early 2000’s.

It’s also a dedication to all the people out there who just love movies, particularly the ones flying under the radar of the mainstream. “Independent Film” is an umbrella title that both shields and obscures those who work outside the Hollywood system. The neat thing about these kinds of movies—those without the budges of Transformers or even Clerks II—is that the audience usually finds them. People who love movies, really and truly love them, are willing to try anything. While the independent producer does not and may never see the kinds of returns that Michael Bay has rolling around beneath the floor mats of his gold-plated Mercedes, he or she can be sure that they will have a cadre of loyal followers who love their work. And as Dilbert’s Scott Adams wrote, “If everybody likes something, it’s a sure bet that nobody loves it.”

I plan to repost a lot of HDYEStM reviews here as well. I won’t always review an independent and I’m not going to love every movie I review. But I am going to concentrate on those odd bastard children that may have fallen through the cracks as film history continues to slouch towards Babylon. There’s very little chance I’ll find enough interest in the latest Ashton Kutcher opus to dedicate any time or words to, but there’s every possibility that I’m going to stumble over something that either didn’t get enough love in its infancy or, possibly, none at all. If I merely “like” something, or even hate it, chances are this movie is either now or may become in the future someone’s favorite. All I want to do here is bring some of these things to your attention.