Babes With Blades

This month’s offering certainly falls into the category of “stumbled upon.” I started off looking on YouTube for the Resident Evil 4 trailer, and somehow drifted from there to Babes With Blades. There appear actually to be two troupes by that name: one from Britain, under Cecilia Fay, and the other out of Chicago – the latter appears to be more theatrically-based, with the last production listed being an all-female version of Macbeth. The UK version is more…well, see the video below. They appeared on Britain’s Got Talent – yes, the show that gave the world Susan Boyle – and even Simon was impressed. Rule Britannia!

SexyKiller

starstarstarstar

“Being the adventures of a young womman whose principal interests are fashion, ultra-violence and Cindy Superstar.”

When it comes to horror movies, the line between clever and too clever is often a thin one. While a certain degree of self-awareness is good in the horror genre, it’s easy to topple over into smugness, where you stop working with the genre, and end up laughing at it with a self-superior attitude. SexyKiller manages to avoid this fate: director Marti and writer Paco Cabezas both have a love for the genre, that shines through in just about every scene. It centres on Barbara (Gómez), a medical student at a college being terrorized by the Campus Killer, a murderer who is taking out the trash in spectacular ways. It’s giving nothing away to say that Barbara is said psychopath, but no one-believes her. Even her bare-faced statement to the police, when they knock on her door looking for the killer – “You’ve found her” – gets nothing more a droll laugh from the officer in question.

Her career of beautifully-accessorized slaughter is eventually put on hold, thanks to fellow student Tomas (Camino), for whom Barbara falls, mistakenly believing him to be a fellow psycho. He has also invented a machine to read thoughts, and it’s turned onto some of her victims, in an effort to find out their last memory – presumably, of who killed them. As this, it’s not entirely successful. But what it is very good at, is bringing them back from the grave, though with a minor side-effect. Involving flesh-eating. Yes, from being a blackly humourous serial-killer flick, it’s now a zombie movie, and it’s not long before the campus Halloween party is under siege, and Barbara’s unique skill-set becomes extremely useful. Mind you, her sociopathy is still an issue, and she has absolutely no qualms about feeding those she dislikes to the undead horde.

Interestingly, in the IMDB ratings, it currently scores more than two points higher among women than men – while the sample size is still small, that’s rare for the genres of serial-killer or zombie flicks. I just loved the unashamed nature of it all: Barbara is perfectly comfortable with who she is, and is in no need of redemption, by Tomas or anyone else. The fourth wall is continually broken, and Marti uses a whole bunch of tricks, from flashbacks to musical numbers, to get his point across and make his anti-heroine sympathetic, in which he succeeds marvellously. Even if Gómez occasionally looks a bit too much like a pissed-off version of Mena Suvari, and the sex and violence quota are not quite as high as they could have been, this is a great way to start the New Year. [Seen at the Phoenix Fear Film Festival]

Dir: Miguel Martí
Star: Macarena Gómez, César Camino, Alejo Sauras, Ángel de Andrés

Pretty Poison

starstarstarstarhalf

“Perkins not weirdest character in movie! Shock! Horror! Probe!”

I was expecting more a quirky comedy than a dark thriller from this 1968 film, and only bothered with it because I’m a fan of Perkins (Edge of Sanity is a beautifully-lurid retelling of the Dr. Jekyll story, with the trash quotient cranked up to 11). Imagine my surprise when… Well, let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Juvenile arsonist Dennis Pitt (Perkins) is finally released back into the community as “cured”, though his fondness for fantastic invention appears unchanged. For a while he works at a chemical in the small town of Winslow without apparent issue. But trouble looms in the pretty, 17-year old shape of Sue Ann Stepanek (Weld), even though she appears to be squeaky-clean – an honor-roll student, majorette, etc. To entice her, Pitt spins a tale of being a secret agent, investigating a plan to poison the water supply. Sue Ann seems to swallow it, hook, line and sinker, but after one of their ‘sabotage mission’ goes wrong, it’s apparent that Sue Ann has her boyfriend seriously trumped when it comes to sociopathic behaviour.

Black delivers a fairly bleak picking away at the fabric of semi-urban Americana, with a near-Lynchian feel for the rottenness that lurks just beneath the thin veneer of civility. Perkins is, more or less, repeating the same role he had played in Psycho eight years earlier, though in a slightly less socially-inadequate version. As noted, it initially seemed more like a comedy, with this Walter Mitty-esque character leading on the teenager, and is not particularly interesting as such. However, things skew almost completely around in the middle, with Stepanek becoming the dominant character in the relationship, controlling Pitt in such a way that makes the viewer wonder if that was always her intention (the final scene also suggests this to be the case). She’s a good deal better at concealing her darker side, and while the conclusion is somewhat contrived, requiring Pitt basically to surrender, it makes sense in its own twisted way.

Weld was actually 25 when this was made, which may explain the maturity of her “teenage” character, though physically, it’s not a stretch. Her background – a nervous breakdown at age nine, an alcoholic at 12, and a suicide attempt around the same point, all likely triggered by the pressures of her career as a child actress – certainly may have helped with her portrayal of a character that’s rather darker than many of her role in the decade. If there are certainly girls with guns who killed more people, few have done so beneath a more innocent-looking exterior.

Dir: Noel Black
Star: Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld, Beverly Garland, John Randolph

Double Duty

starstarstarhalf

“Action? Comedy? Romance? The Jill of all trades, proves master of few of them.”

After 20 years in the Marines, MJ (Lesseos) returns to civilian life, but finds it somewhat hard to adapt to life as a civilian. Her old college friend Sophie (Duerden) helps her adjust – somewhat – and introduces her to Craig (Sizemore), a designer who is perhaps rather more feminine than MJ. Sophie is working on a charity auction, not realizing her assistant Carl (Freeman) is planning to steal the top item, a Faberge egg. Meanwhile, hypnosis has given MJ the ability to get in touch with her inner woman – but the problem is, every time someone snaps their fingers, she switches between her two personas. There is that of the rough, tough and gruff Marine, and then there’s the other, a giggling girlie for whom breaking a nail would pose a deep, personal crisis. Which will win out when the chips are down?

To be fair, the actors and their characters are not the problem here. The concept of a marine having to return to civilian circumstances has enough in it to power a movie, and Lesseos is believable as a soldier, in a way that many actresses wouldn’t be [see Mena Suvari in the Day of the Dead remake as a counter-example]. Still looks pretty good, given she’s… Well, let’s just say, I was surprised. Sizemore is playing against type – the star of Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan is usually the one who’s in the military – yet is none the less effective for it. However, the entire film is almost stolen by Karen Black, who plays the adviser called in to help MJ become a lady; this unfolds complete with a My Fair Lady reference, at which I must confess I did laugh out loud.

The problem is that the rest of the film falls flat. Lesseos in feminine mode is much less amusing, and does not improve with repetition, shall we say. Some of the comedy is startlingly unfunny, such as the scene where MJ takes on a drunken biker-chick in a bar – I felt embarrassed for all those concerned, just watching it. Although that low point is never quite matched, the bar is set low, and it’s also the kind of film where people only get shot in the arm [that happens three times in about twenty seconds at the climax]. The moments of the heroine kicking butt with some style are sadly few and far between, and I was left with the definite feeling that Lesseos deserves a better vehicle for her talents.

Dir: Stephen Eckelberry
Star: Mimi Lesseos, Tom Sizemore, Susan Duerden, Alfonse Freeman

Malibu High

starstarstarstarhalf

“Student by day, hooker turned assassin by night. I kid you not.”

This one popped out of nowhere, on a box-set of discs called Drive-In Cult Classics: most of these were unremarkable double-feature fillers, and this started off looking the same way, Kim (Lansing) is fed up with life: she’s still in high-school at age 18, is about to flunk it, has no money, just lost her boyfriend (Taylor), her father hung himself and her mom’s a total bitch. Finally, she opts to use her natural resources (if you know what I mean, and I think you do) to resolve these issues – though when her mother suggested Kim get a job, I’m not sure she meant as a whore working in the back of a VW van for the ultra-sleazy Tony (Mann). Her ‘popularity’ there lets her move up to work for the slightly-less sleazy Lance (Howard). Which is where the film takes an abrupt right turn, as she discovers a taste for killing – not least on her former pimp – and starts work as, to use one of the movie’s alternate titles, a high-school hit girl.

In other words: exactly the sort of lurid exploitation we love. Kim is just such a spiky, unlikeable heroine, she could never come out of Hollywood [the words “wildly inaccurate” leap to mind when looking at the poster, right]. While her tan-lines need work, one can only admire her single-minded and logical approach to resolving her problems – a true self-starter, able to work without supervision. Perhaps the high point is when Kim triggers cardiac arrest in her principal by showing him her breasts, after having flushed his heart medication down the toilet. If that description has you keen to see the film, you won’t be disappointed. Of course, if you think that’s tacky and silly… Well, you’re spot-on there too, and it doesn’t help that some of the stock music used here would later be re-cycled by The People’s Court and SCTV.

Inevitably, of course, Crime Does Not Pay for Kim, and it ends in a foot-chase along the beach, with Kim’s ex-boyfriend in hot pursuit. It’s not the kind of film I could possibly recommend to a random stranger, but there’s a loopy individuality at work here, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a movie intent in going its own direction, for good or bad, and doesn’t care what you think. A nostalgic reminder for what drive-in movies should be about, it’s something of a surprise that Lansing never apparently appeared in anything else, after this excellent piece of trash cinema.

Dir: Irvin Berwick
Star: Jill Lansing, Alex Mann, Stuart Taylor, Garth Howard