In Shock Value, author Jason Zinoman discusses the fact that The Exorcist was surprisingly popular with black audiences in 1973, so it was only natural that a blaxploitation follow up would appear relatively quickly. Appearing on screens for only a month in 1974, Abby, written and directed by William Girdler (who had previously scripted and helmed cult classics like Three on a Meathook and Asylum of Satan, and who would go on to direct Pam Grier in Sheba, Baby), raked in an astonishing four million dollars before attracting the attention of Warner Brothers. WB sued American International Pictures for copyright infringement and won, leading to virtually every extant copy of the film to be destroyed, with only the film negatives thought to still exist. Until a long-forgotten copy of the film was discovered at the bottom of a box of 35 mm trailer reels at the American Genre Film Archive, that is. It’s unclear what will happen with the film now and whether it will see a new home media release (a very low quality 16 mm print was converted for DVD release in 2004, but it’s just awful), but it definitely deserves one.
Six years after the release of Basket Case, Frank Henenlotter unleashed a new “boy and his monster” movie onto the world with Brain Damage, a film with a similar conceit to his first work but with even more disgusting special effects, a slicker production style, a new villainous creature, strong metaphorical subtext, and homoeroticism to spare. Though less well remembered than the cult classic that preceded it, Brain Damage is nonetheless a lot of fun, and may be objectively better than its predecessor.
In the annals of delightfully bad horror films, few can hold a candle to Frank Henenlotter’s 1982 freshman film Basket Case. Following the bloodthirsty trail of revenge left by a monstrous flesh sack and the (formerly conjoined) twin brother from whom he was untimely ripped, the film is weirdly disjointed but utterly charming, minus a tonally bizarre sexual assault that happens in the final moments. Continue reading “Basket Case (1982)”
Hailed as the first “ramen western” (a play on the term “spaghetti Western”), Tampopo takes that designation to it’s most extremely literal end, focusing on the title character’s ramen shop as the location of metaphorical quick-draws and high noon showdowns, as well incorporating a variety of loosely connected comedy sketches about food.
The main narrative concerns the arrival of truck driver Gorō (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his sidekick Gun (a young Ken Watanabe) at the barely-afloat ramen shop, Lai Lai, that widowed single mother Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) inherited from her husband. Under Gorō’s tutelage, Tampopo resurrects her shop along with help from a motley crew of unlikely allies: Shōhei (Kinzō Sakura), a chauffeur who has a way with noodles; “The Old Master” (Yoshi Katō), a former surgeon reduced to vagrancy, but possessing a nearly-magical skill with noodle making; and Pisuken (Rikiya Yasuoka), a formerly antagonistic contractor who redesigns the interior of the shop, now renamed “Tampopo” in honor of its proprietress.
It’s an oft-cited criticism among professional reviewers, the laity, and everyone in between (like me and probably you) that there are too few original ideas being produced in film, with various thinkpieces arguing the relative merits of remakes (like the upcoming Beauty and the Beast), reboots (like the upcoming The Mummy), reimaginings (like the upcoming IT), and sequels (of which there will be at least a dozen this year, but let’s just put a pin in Transformers: The Last Knight as the one that’s least likely to have any objective value). In the fight between the pedantic “You know that Wizard of Oz and The Maltese Falcon were remakes, don’t you?” camp versus the equally annoying “Everything’s a remake these days!” camp, there’s not a lot of room for middle ground. Although we’re no longer in the heyday of remakes that we were ten years ago (for instance, Hollywood’s top performers in 2005 had a high percentage of remakes, 17%, which fell to 5% by 2014), the rise of narratively homogeneous “cinematic universes,” the tendency on the part of studios to fund financially safe sequels, and the widespread proliferation of lay criticism on YouTube and beyond means that you’re no less likely to hear kvetching about unoriginality today than you were in the summer of 2006; in fact, you probably hear it more often.
Many moons ago when I was at boarding school, there was a patio restaurant across the main drag from campus that had a detached building containing the restrooms. In the short hallway between latrines, there was a poster for a horror flick I had never heard of, entitled Screams of a Winter Night. After some research using 2004-era internet access (no small feat, to be honest), I found that the movie had been filmed in and around Natchitoches, Louisiana (where my boarding school was located) by college students in the late seventies. They made three prints of the film and took them to drive-ins in the nearest cities, where Screams was discovered and picked up for nationwide distribution. Although it’s my understanding that the film has since found a home on DVD, it took some time to locate a pirated VHS copy of the movie at that time; although it has a certain nostalgic appeal for me, it’s not a very good movie, being largely amateurish in its narrative cohesion and poorly filmed in general, with lighting that renders much of the film impossible to see at points. Maybe I’ll get around to reviewing it for the site one day, but this is really just a preamble to discuss today’s selection, another cheap regional production, 1970’s Mark of the Witch, which, unlike Screams of a Winter Night, is actually a lot of fun and definitely worth seeking out.
As is the case with virtually every project that has Charlie Kaufman’s fingerprints on it, Anomalisa is an insight into the writer/director’s particularly idiosyncratic worldview and plethora of neuroses. The film tells the story of a lonely, mentally ill man (voiced by David Thewlis) who travels to Cincinatti to present a keystone speech at a customer service convention. Every person that he encounters along the way has the same face and speaks with the same voice (Tom Noonan), including cab drivers, his wife and son, and even the former lover with whom he attempts to reconnect on his single night in town. When she revels how emotionally and irrevocably devastated she was by his departure, he finds temporary succor in the arms of a shy woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose face is scarred and who is attending the conference with her more extroverted and attractive BFF Emily. Although he contemplates leaving his family for her, in the light of day, she moves from anomalous to anonymous as she takes on the face and voice of everyone else. His presentation goes awry when he has a mental breakdown on stage, and he returns home as empty and incomplete as he was at the film’s outset.