Slaughterhouse of the Rising Sun

The story is “The Hills Have Eyes” meets the Manson Family. Young Jennifer lands herself in the loony bin after rupturing her “Blue Movie” co-star’s testicle and comes close to scratching his eyes out. It seems as though Jennifer is prone to hearing and listening to voices and experiencing haunting nightmares while being awake as well as asleep. After six months she is let out on her own recognizance, with the recommendation that she go and stay with her parents for a while. On her trip home, a merry band of pranksters (not affiliated with Ken Kesey) save her from some down and dirty rednecks that are just about to rape her. She joins them on their little madcap adventure and end up squatting at “the House at the edge of the woods”, where things start getting weird and Family Members start dying.

On the positive side, the film looks really cool. Cinematographer Stuart T. Lillas recreates the 70’s exploitation genre look and feel with style and glee. I particularly liked the opening credits montage. It had a nice Mary Tyler Moore opening feel to it. I’ve always liked Mary Tyler Moore, especially the Dick Van Dyke years, bit I digress…

Now for the negative… I like the idea of a “lost horror” film, but not the fact that it is a mediocre “lost horror” film. Why not make a great or at least a very good “lost horror” film. The characters Violence Onelove and Guilty Karma respectfully played by Michele Morrow and Ryan Rogoff are two kick-ass killer chicks (pun intended), but they do not even remotely feel like they are actresses from the 70’s, but more like some babes with guns in an 80’s Andy Sidaris flick. (Look him up on if ya don’t know who he is).

Overall, “Slaughterhouse” is not terribly scary, nor a touch disturbing. At moments funny and stylish, but the overall finished product is disappointing. Where is the Horrorr

I give it an “O” for OK, they tried, but don’t bother…

Rating: C

Summer Camp: The Apple vs. Showgirls

The Apple (available 8/24)

When the success of “Grease” hit Hollywood in 1978, producers scrambled to match it with their own musical creations. But as “Grease” was a period film utilizing the pop framework of the 1950s, the musicals that followed in its wake mostly consisted of over-discoed contraptions that spoke more about the drug-fueled era than they intended to. 1980 alone gave birth to Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer,” the Village People origin picture “Can’t Stop the Music,” and the “Citizen Kane” of glitterati musicals, Olivia Newton-John’s “Xanadu.” But nothing could top the sheer weight of absurdity found in Menahem Golan’s futuristic opus, “The Apple.”

Set in the far away year of 1994, “The Apple” painted a rosy future for society where our musical choices are selected by, literally, heartbeats. Evil Mr. Boogalow (diminutive Vladek Sheybal) is the ringleader of this operation, controlling the airwaves with his arena-rock BIM music. Enter two youthful, innocent singers named Bibi (a babyfaced Catherine Mary Stewart, “Night of the Comet”) and Alphie (George Gilmour), who rise to challenge the BIM music with their acoustic guitars and virginal dispositions. Boogalow ain’t havin’ it, and attempts to woo the couple into his empire with lucrative, convoluted contracts, and the sexual full-court-press from his two underlings, Dandi (Alan Love) and Pandi (Grace Kennedy). While Bibi bites the symbolic “apple” and takes Boogalow’s contract to glorious heights of fame, Alphie refuses the offer, and watches his beloved fall into a pit of chemical excess and a wealth of platform shoes and eye shadow.

“The Apple” really is the epitome of the era; soaking in glitter, overproduced rock, and random, poorly choreographed dance numbers. It’s Studio 54 imagined as our future. But does that make “The Apple” unwatchabler Hardly. It’s a kind of mad genius cult film only a man who has a tenuous grip on reality (and English for that matter) could dream up. That manr Israeli-born Menahem Golan, also known as the co-president of 80s-staple schlock production company, Cannon Films.

Golan directs “The Apple” like a man driven to make a statement to the kids of the world. And that statement is: disco rock rules. Cheapy in production value (the futuristic cars are simply station wagons with cardboard and flashlights attached to them) and overall clarity in storytelling, “The Apple” benefits from Golan’s strange taste in what was considered cool back then, as well as his own limited range as a director. Dance numbers show up out of the blue, Golan leaves no musical cliche behind (the lovers share a rain-soaked duet), and his final act, which has Alphie falling in with a group of hippies, is just so odd that only flat-out earnestness could explain it away.

Yeah, that’s it. Earnestness fueled this picture. Or mounds upon mounds of cocaine. You pick.

Since this is a musical, “The Apple” does feature a wide range of tunes to satisfy every taste. Leading off with the Love and Kennedy arena rocker “BIM,” the film eventually works its way through some folk tunes, a Mr. Boogalow reggae number, a subtle R&B song about sex creatively titled “Coming,” and the showstopping hippie finale, “Child of Love.” Like anything produced back in 1980, the music is ferociously dated, but the songs aren’t the worst thing in the movie. I would reserve that honor for a mid-movie reprise of “BIM” where we watch all the city’s denizens (firemen, doctors, patients, and, gulp, nuns too) break out into an awful, but refreshingly glitter-free, dance routine. That’s pretty much where “The Apple” bottoms out.

“The Apple” is a bad film; nobody could argue that. But its poor taste and cloudy judgment in style is endearing, making what is a disaster of filmmaking almost pleasurable to sit through. The finale features God (Joss Acklund) coming down from the heavens driving a Rolls Royce, looking to take his hippies to another planet to start anew. You just can’t buy that kind of madness anymore.

Or maybe you can!

After years in exile, recent midnight screenings of “The Apple” around the country have prompted MGM to finally release the film on DVD. The film is presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, with the only extra feature (what I would’ve paid for a Golan commentary!) being the trailer, which, amazingly, sells the film with frightening accuracy.

Showgirls (available now)

15 years after “The Apple,” director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas decided to embark on a different kind of camp classic. Armed with Hollywood’s attention after their torch song to 80s sex, “Basic Instinct” racked up huge box office numbers across the globe, the duo were handed the keys to make any type of film they desired.

They made “Showgirls.”

Much has been written about this atrocious NC-17 rated nightmare of a film, but less has been said recently how well the film has aged, and how comfortably it has fit into its newfound home as a lesbian beacon and midnight movie staple. Like “The Apple,” “Showgirls” wasn’t made with camp on its mind, making the bizarre and outlandish situations presented in the story much more entertaining in hindsight.

But in 1995, this film was junk, and personally made it on to my worst films of the year list. “Showgirls” climaxes with a gang rape and a murder, which is no way to close a film this ridiculous, and at the time I found it to be a truly repulsive and misguided movie. But time heals all wounds, and soon enough, “Showgirls” evolved from being a for-dirty-old-men-only cinematic pariah to an oh-wait-we’re-supposed-to-have-fun-with-this comedy classic. A kind of newfangled “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but with a lot more nudity, Vegas chic, and Elizabeth Berkley (playing “Nomi,” a determined, street tough, wannabe dancer) having epileptic sex with Kyle MacLachlan in a pool. In terms of sheer ambition to be as outlandish and moody as possible, “Showgirls” is hard to beat.

Much like “The Apple,” “Showgirls” revels in glossy style and neon eloquence. But “Showgirls” had a lot more money to play with, so it should come as no surprise that, while the script is junk and the performances borderline psychotic (again, our friend cocaine raises its ugly head), the visuals are lush and highly detailed, and the production design A-list all the way. It’s impossible to argue that “Showgirls” looks cheap, it was just written that way, making for a schizophrenic experience.

Mercifully, after an initial, lukewarm non-anamorphic DVD release a handful of years ago, MGM has decided to dive back into the Nomi waters and come back with “Showgirls: The V.I.P. Edition,” which is the collector’s set fans have been looking for, but criminally doesn’t offer any input from the creative forces behind the camera. Who wouldn’t want to hear what Elizabeth Berkley has to say about the film (which killed her career before it even had a chance to begin) these daysr Well, in place of that, the new box set includes:

Lap Dance Tutorial
Two women from the “world famous” New York strip club Scores offer the viewer ten steps on how to make lap dancing for your partner even better. Perfect for the bored married couple or the bored college freshman.

Audio Commentary by “Showgirls expert” David Schmader
Schmader went from coast to coast with a print of “Showgirls” doing live commentary for fans of the movie. MGM called him and offered him a slot on the DVD, in place of the real behinds-the-scenes talent. Schmader is an interesting commentator, but he doesn’t quite understand the format, urging the listening audience to “listen” to the film from time to time, and often losing his concentration, leaving interesting topics behind in his fog. This is also one of the first times a major DVD release featured a commentary that basically trashes the film it’s accompanying. Think of this commentary as watching the film with your bestest, gayest neighbor, and that might help the heaping doses of camp that await you.

During Nomi’s initial stripping sequence, a brief video commentary is provided featuring, again, the two Scores dancers.

“Showgirls” Trivia Track
A subtitle track that lists fun facts about the film’s production, Las Vegas, and “Saved By the Bell.”

“Showgirls” Diary
The only real piece of production info on the whole DVD. This feature assembles brief b-roll clips with Paul Verhoeven’s crude storyboards so the viewer can get a better understanding on how much the final film resembled the filmmaker’s vision. I can only assume this feature is meant to take the burden of guilt off MGM’s shoulders.

“Showgirls” Theatrical Trailer
In all honesty, this was one of the best trailers of the 1990s.

Also in the set are various party favors to make your night complete, they include:

“Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl” Game
This is where you can live vicariously through the Kyle MacLachlan character and try to nail Nomi, this time with rubber-suction pasties and a poster of a topless Elizabeth Berkley. Also comes with a blindfold.

“Showgirls” Playing Cards
This provided something to do during the rape sequence of the film.

“Showgirls” Party Games
MGM has provided four photo cards with drinking games printed on the back of each one. A fifth card features warnings against alcoholism.

“Showgirls” Shot Glasses
To help enjoy the filmr You tell me.

Rating: C

Bubba Ho-Tep

So begins “Bubba Ho-Tep,” one of the most interesting and original films to come along in years. It seems that Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is still alive and living in an old folk’s home somewhere in East Texas. You see he traded places with Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator, years before to get away from all of the fame, fortune and sycophants. He wanted to lead a “normal” life for a while, but never got the chance to switch back due to the fact that the contract he had between himself and Haff, burned up in a trailer park accident and then Haff who had a weak heart and a taste for drugs went and died on him. Now, years later, an invalid due to a broken hip which was caused by falling off a stage, no one believes that he truly is the “King”. His only friend in the nursing is a Black man (Ossie Davis) who believes that he is John F. Kennedy. He says that the government dyed him black and replaced part of his brain with sand. They begin to suspect that the residents at the home aren’t all dying of natural causes, but in fact are being killed off one by one in the middle of the night by some soul-sucking Bubba Ho-Tep (a Texas redneck cowboy-looking mummy.) Since no one in their right mind would believe these two old coots, they proceed to take matters into their own hands. So with walker in hand and electric wheelchair in tow our two unlikely heroes set out on a TCB (Taking Care of Business) mission to rid the their home and save the residents souls from this Bubba Ho-tep.

Directed and adapted from a short story, Don Coscarelli of the Phantasm franchise, deftly moves the story between crass jokes, moody old-school horror atmosphere and a large dose of genuine poignancy. Both Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis give believable and touching performances. Campbell as the aging Presley brings out a quirky inner sadness with his portrayal of the aged bed-ridden King. Elvis, with a past full of regrets, wishes to redeem himself for a lifetime he feels he’s wasted away. His redemption comes in the form of this adventure in which he and JFK go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with a soul-sucking redneck mummy.

“Bubba Ho-Tep” was one of the best films of last year. It is completely different and more original than any other film I have seen in a long time. A film that is not afraid of crossing over multiple genres to create something new and different. The film is funny, bittersweet and genuinely heartwarming. The kind of movie the Hollywood studios would never think of making.

This DVD comes with some cool special features. The audio commentary with Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell is fun and informative. The commentary by “The King” is only for die-hards. Funny for a few scenes, but it gets tiring pretty fast. The four featurettes are really enjoyable, especially “Rock Like an Egyptian” about Brain Tyler’s music score.

Dick says, “Check it out!”

DVD Special Features:

  • Commentary by director Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell
  • Commentary by “the King”
  • Theatrical trailer(s), TV spot(s)
  • Joe R. Landsdale reads from “Bubba Ho-Tep”
  • Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell
  • “The Making of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’” featurette
  • “To Make a Mummy” (makeup and effects featurette)
  • “Fit for a King” (Elvis costuming featurette)
  • “Rock Like an Egyptian” (featurette about the music of “Bubba Ho-Tep”)
  • Music video
  • Photo gallery
  • Limited collectible packaging
  • 12-page scrapbook/behind-the-scenes photos with personal comments from Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli and a two-page letter from Campbell to his fans
  • Widescreen anamorphic format
    Rating: A
  • Near Dark

    A mighty purty lookin’ Mae (Jenny Wright) feels alone and wants a companion to spend the rest of eternity with. When she and her band of merry vamps wander through hicksville USA, a young buck named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) spots her eating an ice cream cone. She sticks out in this sleepy ol’ farm town and Caleb takes an immediate fancy to her. They go out for a ride to talk and make out in his truck. She longs to make him hers and with a bite to his neck, the deed is done. He has been turned, but in order to become a full-fledged card carrying vampire, he must make a kill on his own. Every gang has their initiation rights, even Redneck Vampires. The only problem is that killing does not come easy to Caleb, and there is only so much blood that Mae can give of herself, before she dies. If he cannot step up to the plate to take that first bite and make a solo kill, the rest of the family of blood fiends are prepared to dine on a Caleb buffet.

    Near Dark is chock full of rich atmosphere and stark beautiful cinematography. I love those backlit-silhouetted shots of the clan walking over a hill and entering town, looking for some fresh blood to drink. The film has some funny moments of humor of the darkest kind, but this movie is not played for laughs. The film is essentially a love story. You can really feel the longing and loneliness in Mae’s life. Jenny Wright is so wonderful in this role, it makes you wonder what ever happened to her and why did she give up acting. Director Kathyrn Bigelow and Writer Eric Red have created quite an interesting revisionist version of this well-known genre and created a realistic western vampire love story. The characters in this film are so memorable; you will be fondly daydreaming about them for days. Well, at least I did. How can you ever forget these bloodsucking freaksr

    1. Jesse (Lance Henriksen): Leader/Father figure of this band of gypsies.

    2. Diamondback (Jeanette Goldstein): Firecracker of a gal, with motherly instincts when it comes to her young’ns.

    3. Severen (Bill Paxton): Loves to kill, and loves to fuck with people while killing them. Becoming a Vampire was the best thing that ever happened to him.

    4. Mae (Jenny Wright): Beautiful, beguiling and longing for companionship.

    5. Homer (Joshua John Miller): Turned by Mae as a boy out of lonliness. Now he is a man trapped in a child’s body and none too happy about it!

    The DVD is a special edition that comes with lots of extras. The new 45-minute documentary has brought back the most of the cast with the exception of a M.I.A. Jenny Wright. Even Adrian Pasdar shouts out a plea for her to contact him if she sees this or hears of this documentary. The Directors Commentary is slow, but informative. Most fans of the film have been waiting for this disk for a long time, and it was well worth the wait.

    Near Dark (1987)
    Anchor Bay Entertainment
    Length: 94 mins.
    Rated: R
    Format: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
    Languages:English, French
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
    Extras: Commentary Track, Retrospective Documentary, Deleted Scene, Trailers, Storyboards, Galleries, Screenplay, Screen Savers (It should be noted that this is a long lost review of the DVD that was turned in months ago, but got lost in the shuffle. We thank Dick for his patience.)

    Rating: B+

    Band of Brothers

    Adapted from the recently-late Stephen Ambrose’s historical work of the same name, each episode of the miniseries shows the Easy Company unit fighting in some of the most significant battles, from the point of view of a different soldier. In the fifth episode, “Bastogne,” the miniseries focuses on the company’s medic Eugene Roe, as he scavenges for medical supplies as the unit is under constant shelling by the Germans; meanwhile, in the eighth episode, “The Last Patrol,” it of from the viewpoint of a West Point graduate who discovers how the reality of battle is different from what he was taught of the university’s training grounds.

    To give a brief description of what unspools during the ten-plus hours of the miniseries is extremely difficult, given that the miniseries takes place over a four-year period. The company’s origins begin in the summer of 1942, with the men of Easy Company (part of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division) assembling at Camp Toccoa in Georgia for six months of basic training, under the strict command of Lt. Herbert Sobel.

    After three months of basic training and jumping school, Easy Company parachutes into the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. With Easy Company landing scattered behind enemy lines, a number of the men re-group under the leadership of Dick Winters to help, in part, secure Utah Beach. From there they are pressed into the failed Operation MARKET-GARDEN campaign in Holland and then Bastogne (part of the Battle of the Bulge offensive), the latter where they suffered from freezing weather and combat exhaustion.

    After Bastogne and an episode that works as a character study looking at how far the remaining men of Easy Company have come through the eyes’ of the younger Hanks character, the miniseries culminates with the discovery of concentration camps and their capture of Hitler’s mountain chalet in Berchtesgaden.

    All told, this is a grueling, gritty look at World War II that doesn’t mince images of the horrors that went on there.

    The Miniseries’ Strengths and Flaws

    Besides its epic storyline and vivid characterization, what struck most viewers about the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg-backed miniseries is its plush visuals. The eye-catching colors of the Boujeac Forest, the splendors of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest compound in Berchtesgarden, the planes maneuvering among anti-aircraft fire as the paratroopers take to the skies, the jumping sequences in mid-air— all are fantastic, as I wrote in my original “From Page to Screen” column. Also striking is the score done by Michael Kamen (he also provided the miniseries’ powerful theme).

    Of course, the miniseries does have its problems. First and foremost is a problem that exists in with most war-themed films, including another superb 2001 effort, Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.” There are more than 50 soldiers in the company who the viewers come to recognize during the course of the miniseries, each filtering in and out of the action (sometimes permanently) as they are wounded, killed and/or replaced by even newer faces. The company’s soldiers sustained an extremely high 150 percent casualty rate over the course of their service, creating problems for the viewers to identify who exactly is who among the unit. This feeling only increases during the superbly-executed scenes of battle, when the soldiers’ faces are obviously concealed. This problem is alleviated by the interactive field map feature found on the DVD, but to the casual viewer who watched this during the show’s run on DVD, this was a little daunting, and still remains so here for those who son’t explore the extras.

    Some of the episodes were also inferior to others, including “The Lost Patrol” and “Replacements”; as Bruce C. McKenna, had candidly told me in an interview before the miniseries aired, “it’s hard to bat a thousand on a series like this.” It’s not uneven, as some have suggested, but an effort that strains to look at a complex time.

    Others should be seen as stand-outs include the first two installments, “Curahee” and “Day of Days,” as well as “Bastogne” and “Why We Fight.” More than that, some of the fictional story points inserted into the storyline, including an almost-romance Roe had with a nurse, do not feel right in the finished product.

    What holds the miniseries together character-wise is the company’s leadership of Richard Winters (played perfectly by the stoic Damian Lewis, showing many different faces as Winters rises through the ranks from a newly-commissioned 2nd lieutenant to become a major), Capt. Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston) and Sgt. Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg, albeit in a tonally-flawed performance). These three are the constants here throughout the miniseries. There are a dozen others who deserve notice as well, including Neal McDonough, Matthew Settle, Frank John Hughes, James Madio and Kirk Acevedo. Stangely, the Emmy’s did not nominate any of the miniseries’ actors for their roles— Lewis and Livingston should have been shoo-ins.

    The Extras

    The bulk of the extras have previously aired on HBO— excerpts of the Normandy premiere ran on the channel’s “The Buzz” promos, while the “Making Of” and the documentary ran on the program in full. The newest offerings in the set are Ron Livingston’s video diaries and the interactive field guide, tLivingston’s diaries, punctuated by his wry sense of humor, are the best of the features. In it, he discusses the boot camp he and the other actors endured until the retired Col. Dale Dye (who also plays Col. Robert Sink in the miniseries), as well as the process he endured to both be cast and research the role.

    Of the previously-aired features, “We Stand Alone Together” is by far the strongest. Before each of the miniseries’ episodes, there ran short interviews by those members of Easy Company still alive today, without naming them. This documentary is the missing piece of the puzzle, going more into their backgrounds and how they have lived their life since. This is a gem, made all the more poignant by some of those men featuring passing on during the past year (including Lipton, one of the more well-spoken of the survivors).

    Scattered throughout the 6 discs, the various features work well in tandem with the episodes.

    Overall Grade

    The DVD product is a fantastic effort by the HBO Video production team. What makes this stand apart from previous collections HBO has introduced to the marketplace is its delicious packaging—a metal tin embossed with the miniseries’ logo and the great shot of the miniseries’ principals atop a hill, their faces indistinguishable. This is an extremely classy design that will allow it to set itself apart from other products on retailers’ shelves.

    The only thing that will make potential viewers wince is the staggering $110 retail list price. I’d advise consumers to check prices among the retailers in their area and go with who offers the best deal.

    Upon viewing, one can easily tell the effort that went into the series, from the writers, directors, cast and crew. This is a superb miniseries, one of the best in recent memory— If you didn’t have a chance to see the first-run episodes on HBO, rent it to try out. If you enjoyed it on the cable network, make sure to put this on your holiday list. It’s an A by any means.

    DVD Specs
    Aspect: Ratio Widescreen Animorphic (1.66:1)
    Encoding: Region 1 (US and Canada)
    Suggested Retail: $110.98
    Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, as well as includes tracks in French and Spanish (both Dolby Digital 1.0 Surround)
    Series Honors: Outstanding Miniseries Winner, Emmy’s; Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, The Golden Globes; AFI Movie or Mini-Series of the Year, AFI Awards; Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Mini-Series and Specials, Television Critics Association Awards; Also a winner of a 2002 Peabody Award

    The 6-disc DVD includes all 10 episodes of the miniseries, the documentary “We Stand Alone Together,” the premiere in Normandy and a “making of” featurettes, and actor Ron Livingston’s video diaries. Also included is an interactive “field guide,” which includes timelines, maps and profiles of the men of Easy Company.

    Rating: A