For Your Viewing Pleasure

From Raspberry World – Volume 2, Issue 5 (February / March 2008)

 

   In many ways, my 2007 bit down hard. On tin foil, yet. Still, there were moments of escape, those little treats that keep one’s head out of the oven, and me being who I am, many of them were movies. So here’s my hit cinematic hit list for the year. Dang few of them were released in 2007, but that’s neither here nor there – in 2007, they were new to me.

   These are in, you’ll notice, reverse order, rather in the nature of a countdown. That’s simply because I wanted to save the biggest, best and most pleasant surprise until last. So if you’re surprised or annoyed that Wilde is at the tail end of the list, be assured it’s not because of any disapproval on my part or any perceived failing of the film itself; rather, it’s because I fully expected it to be the excellent production that it was.

 

#25: Wilde (1997) – Stephen Fry. Oscar Wilde. How can one go wrong? I’m not entirely convinced they aren’t the same person…

#24: The Simpsons Movie (2007) – There seems to be some difference of opinion, here. The three camps are “Brilliant!”, “Okay,” and “Treachery! Makers and fans alike must be destroyed!” Well – it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, but it wasn’t much that I didn’t want it to be either. A 90-minute Simpsons episode, with more depth than we’ve had in a long time, without becoming Important or mushy. And the “Spiderpig” chorale arrangement (to say nothing of the epiphany sequence)… well, bravo!

#23: Planet Terror (2007) – Having completely missed the Spy Kids franchise, I can only note that it’s nice to have Rodriguez back, entertaining us by entertaining himself, and on a miniature budget, too!

#22: Death Proof (2007) – Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle – a feminist exploitation movie? From Quentin Tarantino?!? I was thoroughly prepared to sneer, but… Wow! I never expected to believe an evil Kurt Russell, and Zoë Bell is a freaking revelation!

#21: Premonition (2004) – This isn’t the thing with Sandra Bullock, and I have no idea whether the two films are connected. Either way, see this Asian goody. Creepy, atmospheric and sporting an honest ending. Available through Netflix, I believe.

#20: Call of Cthulhu (2005) – Leave it to the H.P. Lovecraft Appreciation Society. HPL’s work hasn’t translated to the screen very faithfully (though the Re-Animator films capture the flavor), but these folks made it happen. Ever wonder what the films would look like if they’d been produced when the stories were first written? Try this 45-minute, B&W, silent extravaganza on for size – you’ll be a believer! Cthulhu ftagn!

#19: Cry of the Banshee (1970) – I’ve been told that this was to be Michael Reeves’ follow-up to his magnificent (and unfortunately final) masterpiece, The Witchfinder General. That’s as may be – either way, this is one of the more stylish and ferocious horror films of the ’60’s. And you may see the ending coming (you certainly want to), but it’s still an icicle down the back of your shirt.

#18: I Vampiri (1956) – Mario Bava, directing after the “official” director deliberately walked from the production two days into shooting, to force Bava to take up the reigns. The script doesn’t have the Maestro’s touch, but everything else is a splendid harbinger of things to come.

#17: Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) – This gets a lot of grief, mostly from Lucio Fulci fans who are all in a wad because their beloved Sultan of Splat is more interested in telling a fairly traditional giallo. Well, they can go sit on something sharp. This is suspenseful, spooky and takes a pretty good swipe at the Catholic Church, though that last isn’t meant as a recommendation (to anyone else) – it would be a tremendous accomplishment without that aspect.

#16: From Beyond the Grave (1973) – One of the harder to find of Amicus’ anthology films, and one of their harder, grittier efforts as well. Peter Cushing’s segment is especially creepy, but Donald Pleasance and his real live actual daughter tend to send one’s hair reaching for the sky too!

#15: Another Gay Movie (2006) – A scene-for-scene, almost shot-for-shot revision of American Pie, but through a queer sensibility. It’s funny on its own, but is even better if you’ve seen its inspiration – and maybe even funnier if you don’t like the “source material!”

#14: The Norliss Tapes (1973) – This was the pilot TV film for a series that might have lasted longer than its successor, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, so long as the production didn’t succumb to the very thing that killed Kolchak, the “monster of the week” formula. The tapes of the title refer to all that’s left that could explain the disappearance of P.I. Norliss; and the tale they tell…

#13: Black Voodoo Exorcist (1973) – Bought and distributed in the US with the title changed to capitalize on the “Blaxploitation” boom of the early/mid ’70s, this is actually a pretty snappy flick, in spite of the embarrassing and tacky opening explanatory sequence. A little Dracula here, a sprinkling of The Mummy there, a smattering of voodoo mind-control. Ready the popcorn and call your friends over!

#12: The Reduced Shakespeare Company (2003) – Okay, this isn’t a movie, it’s a taped live performance. It’s still a hysterical look at the Complete Works of William Shakespeare by three lunatics who really know their schtuf. There are a few things I utterly disagree with, but those are mere matters of opinion, and the funny stuff makes up for it. I mean, explaining Shakespeare’s historical plays in the context of American football? “‘King Lear’ goes long…” “>TWEET< Penalty! Fictional character on the field!”

#11: King Lear (1983) – Speaking of Shakespeare and King Lear, this for-all-practical-purposes farewell performance, which aired in the US as part of Masterpiece Theater is, in my opinion, Lord Larry’s very best work in terms of bringing the Bard to the large or small screen. Excellent, start to heart-wrenching finish. And look at that supporting cast!

#10: Camp Slaughter (2004) – As with Another Gay Movie, I looked at this one on the recommendation of trusted friends. Had I just seen it on the rental rack and read the blurb on the back, I might have skipped it – but I would have missed a treat! Both send-up and homage to ’80s splat/horror, this is genuinely funny and has some surprising depth. And for those who give a hoot, it has queer characters that aren’t the target of mean-spirited bigotry/humor. A very pleasant, gruesome surprise!

#9: Kill Devil (2006) – I’m not even sure how I discovered this, but I’m glad I did, because I wouldn’t want to have missed it. S-F/Horror with a sly conscience, it tells the story of a number of teens who awaken in the middle of nowhere, later to discover that they’re the subjects of an experiment in adolescent violence. And from there, it’s only a very short step to asking who the real monsters are, the kids or the adults. And don’t miss the alternate ending! Wish I could remember whether this is a Thai or Chinese film…

#8: Art of the Devil (2004) – Another impressive film from our friends in the Far East. Through dark magic, we are reminded that vengeance rarely touches just the two people connected by a terrible wrong. Very suspenseful and EXTREMELY CREEPY.

#7: Hatchet (2006) – I was “befriended” by the producers on MySpace, though I’m unsure why I accepted. Well, I did, and I missed the brief theatrical run, and now I’m sorry. Not that I accepted, but that I missed this in theaters. When I read about “Old-School Slasher” films, my sphincters tighten, but in this case, I was delighted. This has style and (for lack of a better term) “audience sensibilities”. There’s never an incident where you’re hollering at the screen “Don’t go in there, you boob!”; or if there is, the onscreen characters are yelling it for you. Hip and funny, yet suspenseful and frightening.

#6: Feast (2005) – Some of you maybe saw the making of this on Project Greenlight. If so, you gotta check out the end result. Quirky, funny, scary, lotsa action, and a few truly unexpected surprises. “I’m the guy that’s gonna save your ass!”

#5: Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – Not for the faint of heart. This is not hyperbole, people! It’s nigh impossible to distinguish between special effects and real wickedness, and there’s plenty to sift through and very little of it is gratuitous. A hot, young documentary director and his team disappear after going into the jungle to film an elusive cannibal tribe, and are never seen again – not in person, anyhow. The search party finds the tribe and the team’s film and… well, there are revelations. This is a high-impact film, often dismissed as gratuitous exploitation, but there’s more to it than that – much more. There are some excellent films that I cannot, on an emotional level, sit through more often than every year or two, and this is one of them. Amazing.

#4: At the Earth’s Core (1976) – One of Amicus Films’ final productions. I don’t know how well it represents Burroughs’s original novel, but it makes for light, entertaining viewing. There are some excellent models, and some obvious blue-screens, but everyone plays it just right. Peter Cushing will forever be the face of Professor Abner Parry, to me. Doug McClure does some fine work as well. Pizza, chocolate milk and children, inner or otherwise, will make this a charming afternoon’s or evenings entertainment.

#3: The Hilarious House of Frightenstein (1971) – Stone me if this wasn’t a revelation! I checked it out on the basis of Vincent Price’s participation, but fell in love with this Canadian children’s’ show. Price’s narration is clever and great fun, but Billy Van steals the show at every turn. To be fair, he doesn’t have a lot of competition – except for Igor (Rais Fishka) and Price, he plays all the roles! Count Frightenstein, Grizelda the Ghoulish Gormet, the Librarian, Dr PetVet, the Oracle and more – buried under excellent make-up, he’s unrecognizable as he brings each character a life of his/her/its own. It’s Laugh-In, with monsters, for kids. An absolute treasure, we need more of this and far less Barney and his ilk.

#2: The Dead Next Door (1988) – This was financed by Sam Raimi, who takes his producer’s credit disguised as The Master Cylinder, and though it has its weak points (it took a year or two to finish, with sporadic shooting, so no surprises on that count), it really is quite an accomplishment. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Oh, it’s cheap, don’t get me wrong – but it’s one of those where literally every penny is on the screen. And with this scale of production, done largely with locals, writer/director J.R. Bookwalter gets my vote for star of the show, particularly when you realize that he was 19-21 while making it! Hooray!

#1: Shortbus (2006) – Absolutely beautiful, a miracle of filmmaking, an astounding accomplishment. You’ll hear this dismissed as some sort of porn, but if you pay attention to the story, by the time the movie’s over, the admittedly graphic depictions of sex mean less than what the characters are about. And that is, I think, what the movies about – establishing that the physical act of sex is absolutely and pitifully meaningless beside who we are and what we do to ourselves and each other. Wickedly funny, deeply touching, sexy, charming – I don’t usually play favorites, but this might be my favorite film of 2007 (though I think it was made in 2006…), and several years to either side on the calendar.

 

– K.C. Locke

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