Fringe cinema weirdness!

Trading Spaces

Best of Trading SpacesThey say the first step toward recovery is admitting you’ve got a problem. Here goes. Real men don’t eat quiche, but we DO watch the giggly mayhem of TLC’s runaway phenom "Trading Spaces." We break for time-lapse room transformation footage and wacky trumpet music. And in an informal poll conducted in the DVD Talk forums, myself like countless other husbands, boyfriends and creepy loners, are also strangely intrigued by its cast of able-bodied decor sirens. The five most desired for a one-on-one design consultation? In descending order …

Page Davis: Ultra-perky host who hovers slightly off the ground with the kinetic energy of 10,000 kittens batting string. Black belt in nagging.

Genevieve Gorder: As the Commodores so articulately opined, she’s a brick house. Baby talks like Alyson Hannigan in American Pie and is, by far, my personal fave.

Amy Wynn Pastor: Handy gal who knows how to handle a T-square if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Hilda Santo-Tomas: This regal latina is voted most likely to make you strip nekkid, slather you with black paint and douse you with hay. Complaints will earn swift consequences via staple gun.

Laurie Hickson-Smith: Red-headed Southern belle is a born cheerleader, but don’t be fooled, she’s known to make grownups cry.

Now the hijinks come to a "Best of" DVD that allows fans and neophytes alike to wander some of the series’ most memorable moments. First up, those "Love it!" or "HATE IT!" reveals that illustrate just how well or horribly haywire things can go on a two day, thousand dollar budget. Yep, the tearful "I’m gonna have to leave the room now" fireplace fracas makes the cut. So does Hildy’s infamous barnyard disaster.

There’s also a reel on favorite homeowners from "Ick! AstroTurf!" sassy to spastic freakazoids like Chris Wylde. Enjoy bloopers such as a belching Amy Wynn or some hilariously naughty "caulk" talk. Each cast member also gets their own highlight reel with heartthrob handy-dude Ty Pennington clocking in with the most footage followed by the notoriously fussy Doug Wilson.

With nearly two hours of goodies to explore, this truly is a "Best of" in the most favorable meaning of the term, although lazier home improvement enthusiasts will whine for the convenience of a "Play All" option.

A Taste of Blood

Also see H.G. Lewis Goreography

A Taste of BloodH.G. Lewis‘s epic. It’s the longest, has the best production values, and one other thing his pictures hadn’t attempted before — character development. Bill Rogers plays John Stone, a happy-go-lucky fella who receives a creepy package from across the pond in England. Inside are two heart-shaped brandy bottles, and a note explains they’ve been willed from his forefathers, and he’s to toast their memory. He does, and it’s good stuff. Too good. Yep, it’s blood, and John is smack dab in vampire city. He’s skulking around at night, sleeping all day, and generally surly toward his bodacious wife (Elizabeth Wilkinson). There’s a whole lot of plot, but it boils down to simple vengeance, and Dracula Junior’s got a list and he’s checking it twice. Two interesting variants from traditional vampire lore, is that instead of a hypnotic stare, he wears a gaudy ring that makes folks do his bidding, and when he vamps out — he turns B-L-U-E and his skin looks like the chipped paint on my garage door. Once again, the incomparable Bill Kerwin (as Dr. Hank Tyson) is right in there acting his little heart out.

Notables: No breasts. Six corpses. Putting. Oversized letter opener. Phony accents. Sleep driving. Multiple neck snacking.

Quotables: John is a lousy liar, "I like working at night. It keeps me off the streets." Hank has never listened to Art Bell, "Vampirism? Voodoo? Ah, that’s all mumbo jumbo."

Time codes: Herschell in a ultra-rare on screen role as a sailor (39:25). Classic Dracula imagery (50:55). The Queen of the Grind does her stuff (1:02:55).

Ted Bundy

Ted BundyThose who saw ’80s heartthrob Mark Harmon‘s turn in The Deliberate Stranger TV miniseries would figure our nation’s most notorious homicidal maniac was a grinning stud muffin who favored much-too-tiny tennis shorts and tooling around town in his yellow VW Bug. Oh, and he also — shhhh! — may’ve killed as many as 200 women. HALLE-FREAKIN-LUJAH!!! At long last, CineSchlockers can behold Terrible Ted as the masturbating corpse diddler he truly was in this grossly-exploitive, yet unflinchingly-honest chronicle of the sociopath for whom the very term "serial killer" was coined.

From the first frames, Michael Reilly Burke eerily channels Bundy’s disturbing childlike mania as he makes faces in a three-way mirror, his odd charm and phony sincerity with his girlfriend and her child, his petty theft and nights as a peeping Tom, right down the slippery slope toward snatching his first victim off the street. Writer/director Matthew Bright adeptly uses pitch-black humor to set the hook on his audience and draws us into both Ted’s surface world and the twisted insanity of his after-hours obsessions. Take the scene where Boti Ann Bliss‘s "Lee" so desperately wants to please her boyfriend by indulging his "unique" sexual demands that she finds herself hog-tied, legs splayed in opposite directions as he thrusts frantically atop her. Shocking stuff, but too tame for Ted, no, he demands she play DEAD as he curses her and snarls, "Keep your eyes open!" What’s slightly MORE sickening? She obliges! Run, darlin, R-U-N!!! Of course as the nubile bodies pile up along the timeline of Bundy’s exploits, so too ratchet the on-screen horrors until Ted himself suffers the righteous reward of having Vaseline-slathered cotton crammed up his keister before meeting his maker on top of Ol’ Sparky. By the way, just how long before Spike Lee sues over the "I am Malcolm X!" finale?

CineSchlockers will spot gore guru Tom Savini‘s cameo as a Bundy buster. He’s also responsible for the flick’s grisly effects. Don’t overlook Troma siren Tiffany Shepis as the wouldbe victim who whups Ted’s hiney (and comes breathlessly close to getting herself CLOBBERED by a car!) After the flick, hang in for Mr. Bright’s sardonic commentary featuring footnotes on the "real" Ted Bundy, trivia such as subbing his own ex-girlfriends’ names for those of the actual victims and his acknowledgement of the flick’s exploitive tone, "We tried to do this tastefully. But how do you do it tasteful? It’s vile!"

Six breasts. 24 corpses. Multiple brainings. Angry self-gratification. A Very Bundy Christmas. Sorority pillow fight. Screaming ode to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Highly-vocal conjugal visit. Gratuitous cheerleaders. Mr. Burke’s Bundy bon monts include, "Sex is only dirty when you do it right! / This is the court of Ted! What I say here is law! / Ready for some FUN, kitten!?!"

Tell Me Something

Tell Me SomethingNorth American horror hounds are naturally drawn to foreign cinema. Mostly because Hollywood is fairly skittish in its dealings in the genre, especially when it comes to the red stuff. While overseas, they don’t feel the need to rationalize with terms like "psychological thriller" — they simply make straight-up HORROR movies. Many are far more sophisticated than Hollywood’s cookie-cutter slashers and that, in part, is why they’re so embraced by stateside grue connoisseurs. Italy’s long been a fount of such work, but in recent years, Asian pictures have risen to prominence with unflinching, stylized explorations of human fears and depravity. Which brings us to this discussion of Audition, Takashi Miike‘s critically-lauded bait ‘n’ switch terror tale, and Tell Me Something (1999, 116 minutes), Chang Youn-Hyun‘s fresh spin on serial killin’.

The movie: It’s a time-worn angle, the maverick cop who gets himself in a fix that could send him packing, except he’s the ONLY one with the street cred to solve a high-profile case. This time it’s Lieutenant Cho (Han Suk-gyu) who’s called to a murder scene of what’s believed to be one victim until they realize all the parts don’t match up. It’s the work of a serial killer who dismembers his prey with surgical precision, then swaps one fella’s head and another’s legs to create a third, nearly impossible to I.D. corpse. Creative, eh? Thankfully, Cho’s a sharp guy, so it doesn’t take long for him to root out the name of one of the corpses, who happens to be a former beau of Suyeon Chae (Shim Eun-ha). Wait, here’s where it gets weirder, as it turns out she’d known ALL the victims and Cho is certain she and her surviving friends are NEXT in line for involuntary appendage swapping. What’s particularly fun, is that the killer leaves these body parts in garbage bags around town. They’re like water balloons for this homicidal maniac. One bursts, spilling blood and remains over shrieking passengers in a crowded elevator. Another is left on the highway, splatters a truck, and causes a massive accident. Once the whole mess is sorted out, what appears to be a romantic epilogue begins, but CineSchlockers should hang in as there’s more than what appears in store.

Notables: No breasts. Eight corpses. Multiple amputations. Gratuitous interrogation scene. Severed head in a sack. Killer cam. Peeping. Gratuitous dream sequence. Fork lift to the gut. Implied pedophilia. Human Popsicle. Gratuitous doomed sidekick.

Quotables: No sprechen sie Korean.

Time codes: First blood with the gruesome spectacle of a scalpel sliding through human flesh (2:02). Should have used a GLAD bag! (11:57). Wicked pile up on the highway is an excellent reminder against tailgating (1:03:45).

Final thought: Sly twists on convention make this an atypical and riveting serial-killer yarn.

Terror Firmer

Terror FirmerThis is, by far, THE sickest, most disgusting, gratuitously-vulgar, stomach-turning, grossly-offensive movie I’ve ever had the uneasy pleasure of watching — again and again and again. Terror Firmer (1999, 114 minutes) bores beneath the flesh and breeds BOTH gleeful revulsion and borderline-psychotic laughter. And with it, Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz have set the bar SO high (or low, depending on the viewer) that besting this level of depravity may take another 27 years — as the film truly rivals John Waters‘ heretofore unequalled Pink Flamingos.

The movie: Within the flick’s first 80 seconds — a mysterious woman rips off a cat-caller’s leg and BEATS HIM WITH IT as his blood streams onto the street like an unattended fire hose — she then skulks up to a pregnant sunbather and TEARS A BABY FROM THE WOMB with her bare-bloodied hands!!! Gulp. And, again, that’s before the title credits have ended. The meat of the story takes us behind the scenes of Troma’s next Toxic Avenger flick. The eccentric crew of punks, stoners, transsexuals and militant filmmakers is led by its BLIND director (Kaufman) whose motivation style generally leans toward idle threats of blowing his brains out. Two major forces conspire to hinder his art-making — a dwindling staff due to the mysterious woman’s serial killing and various boisterous and very public on-set romances. Debbie Rochon diddles every inch of man flesh she lays eyes and other parts on as B-queen Christine. While nouveau-Tromette Alyce LaTourelle turns heads as the awkward but sexy Jennifer who is pursued by two eager beaus. A particular highlight of the film is when a rotund production assistant (Yaniv Sharon) runs nekkid through Times Square on a rather, um, COLD day — a show of unflappable dedication to his art. CineSchlockers will no doubt scour the web’s dens of iniquity to further ogle the melon-heavy talents of [Name Redacted], whose performance as Toxie’s bride stir more than just the soul. And look for Kaufman’s ode to Brian De Palma‘s split-screened Carrie during Terror Firmer’s explosive climax.

Notables: 18 breasts. 15 corpses. Legs tumble. Spinning headlines. Frequent puking. Armpit sniffing. Wangdoodle super-hyper extension. Lesbian tongue rassling. Flatulence flame throwing. Pre-homicidal self-gratification. Gratuitous flashback sequence. Pickles as sex toys. Gratuitous police interrogation scene. Poop eating. Life-affirming rape scene. Hiney slapping. Stunt breasts. Ventriloquist dummy crucifixion. Gratuitous multi-stream urination.

Quotables: Casey is a smooth operator, “Hey, Jennifer, can you come and hold my boom mic?” Lloyd Kaufman, er, Larry Benjamin demands an end to chaos, “I know something about the world, because I’m a 52-year-old a@#hole! It’s a HORRIBLE world! There’s starvation, dismemberment, torture, rape and CORNHOLING!!! It’s a horrible world! It’s horrible out there! But it’s worse, it’s WORSE here on the movie set! It’s much worse! We have danger and S-T-U-P-I-D-I-T-Y!!!” He also provides careful direction to his star, “You’re supposed to be a seductress. Can you please do this with a little more of that slutty-whore-bitch vibe? We love that!” Not everyone deals with grief in the same way, “Boo f@#&in’ who!!!”

Time codes: Troma’s rules of production (3:34). Starlet and cinematographer diddle in the bathroom (7:18). Toxie gets it on (22:50). Porn legend Ron Jeremy (30:50). Troma regular Joe Fleishaker (40:00). ACME’s Legs Be Gone demonstration (55:55). That fella sure blow’d up good (1:37:26). Troma’s amazing recycled car crash (1:18:40). A special message concerning hermaphrodites (1:47:08).

Final thought: An utterly flabbergasting flick that burns with comedic and rebellious fervor throughout. Truly Troma’s triumph.

Terror Tract

Terror TractHouse hunting is never an easy, or even pleasant task.

But real estate agent Bob Carter (John Ritter) seems like the happiest guy ever. He drives a Mercedes, wears a gold watch and beams with enthusiasm as he shows a selection of homes to the Doyles (Allison Smith and David DeLuise, yep, Dom’s boy.) They LOVE the first house, but Bob winces as he must tell the hopeful young couple an itsy bitsy fact about the property’s history — its previous residents are, well, DEAD.

Thus begins three separate vignettes as the Doyles are shown different homes.

First is "Nightmare," the somewhat trite story of a cheating wife who’s caught in the throws with her part-time stud by her fulltime, shotgun wielding husband. Pretty typical stuff, until someone winds up dead, but doesn’t quite stay that way.

Second is "Bobo," a beautifully twisted tale of a father, his daughter and the homicidal monkey who comes between them — and worse. As the manic papa is Bryan Cranston who is equally subtle as the dad on "Malcolm In The Middle."

Third is "Come to Granny," which has to be one of the creepiest taunts ever uttered by a screen slasher. This killer dismembers his victims while wearing a geriatric Halloween mask. The twist here is that a kid sees flashes of the killings during herky-jerky psychic fits, like the one that prevented him from scoring with Meadow Soprano (Shonda Farr) during a moon-lit dip.

It’s after this chapter that the Doyles decide that MAYBE this neighborhood really isn’t for them — which is precisely when Mr. Ritter steals the whole movie.

Notables: No breasts. 15 corpses. Scissors to the back. Bobbing for corpses. Scalding coffee. One dead dog. Rubber monkey attack. Soap dropping. Puking. Gratuitous Stephen Hawking reference. Wild driving. Cat mowing. Neck slashing.

Quotables: Pop should trust his gut about Bobo, "There’s something about it. It sounds stupid, but I almost feel like it’s — I don’t know — E-V-I-L!" Being a real estate agent in this neighborhood isn’t easy, "If you want something THIS nice, you’re going to have to take something with a little history."

Time codes: The circle of life (:15). Bobo goes to jail (51:05). Bob Carter REALLY needs to close this deal (1:30:40).

Final thought: A welcome surprise in the best tradition episodic horror.

Terror Toons

Terror ToonsPromising young goreteur Joe Castro worked along slaughterhouse maestro Herschell Gordon Lewis to produce Blood Feast 2‘s memorable grue — easily that flick’s strongest asset.

Castro’s followed with this remarkably witty and twisted documentation of the gruesome exploits of cartoon sadist Dr. Carnage and his purple primate pal Max Assassin who manifest and murder in the real world via a demonic DVD (as VHS is so passe). While among the living doomed, they yank innards out of gaping crimson chest cavities, scoop the brainpans of screaming victims and turn a buxom blonde into a human ventriloquist dummy. Everything about Castro’s picture is intentionally askew. His actors are about 10 years too old for their childlike roles.

The no-budget blue screen FX rely on IMPACT more than technical sophistication. And the whole thing bobs along like a drug-induced hallucination on a river of good old fashion GORE backed by a circus calliope soundtrack. Mr. Lewis will be proud. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw MassacreWhenever he’s asked to name the greatest horror picture of all time, legendary drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs never wavers: "SAW IS KING!!!" Damn straight. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre IS king. Yesterday, today and forever. It’s the alpha and omega. Hallelujah. Pass the plate. Amen.

Saw first ripped across screens way back in 1974 — that’s coming up on 30 years to you finger counters out there — and even today folks STILL point a freakafied finger at it when they talk about what’s WRONG with Hollywood. (Never mind that it wasn’t MADE by California yayhoos). We’re talking coeds on meat hooks, a geriatric psychopath konkin’ gals on the head and probably the most imitated horror icon ever — the chainsaw two-stepper himself — Leatherface.

The movie: It’s a simple story, really, yet few imitators can match its profoundly disturbing ferocity. This tall tale follows a quasi-documentary vein with a vanload of road trippers for whom a sweltering August excursion finds them running on empty and square into a macabre mess of Southern inhospitality.

There’s Sally Hardesty and her wheelchair-bound bubba Franklin (Mariyln Burns and Paul Partain). Both are buxom, neither wear bras. Riding shotgun is Sally’s beau Jerry (Allen Danziger). Then there’s wheelman Kirk and his gal Pam (William Vail and Teri McMinn). Things first start to get ugly when an insane hitchhiker and amateur photographer (Ed Neal) tries to carve his initials into Franklin’s arm without permission. Then, for plot purposes, they stop for gas right down the road from the fiery gates of H-E-L-L!!!

One by one they wander single file into a deceptively benign farmhouse and endure staggeringly brutal and certainly permanent consequences for their trespassing. Each is dispatched by a towering hulk masked by the filleted face of a human corpse. Sally spends the most time getting to know "Leatherface" (Gunnar Hansen) by spending the evening running over hill and dale, screaming her lungs out while he lumbers after her with a roaring chainsaw overhead.

Later, they meet back at his place for the world’s most depraved dinner date. Unfortunately, the big guy’s brothers crash (Mr. Neal and Jim Siedow) and so does his Methuselah-esque Grandpa (John Dugan). Sally shrieks mid-course. They howl back. Then the REAL fun starts! Its sum total is enough to fray even the most steely-nerved horror hound. 

Notables: No breasts. Eight corpses. Finger suckling. Necro origami. Giant eyeball closeups. Gratuitous urination. Hand carving. Window diving. Mega raspberries. Puking. Deep-frozen coed.

Quotable: Listen for when Siedow hollers: "LOOK AT WHAT YOUR BROTHER DID TO THE DOOR!!!"

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family PortraitAs the title suggests, documentarian Brad Shellday confines his scope to Saw’s killer kin through intercut interviews with Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface), Ed Neal (Hitchhiker), Jim Siedow (Drayton Sawyer) and John Dugan (Grandpa).

The production values may not be that great — beards bludgeon the mics, weird video effects distract — but there’s plenty of candid insights such as Hansen’s love ‘n’ frustration relationship with his character and his fear it’ll even overshadow him in death. While Neal channels the earnestness of an elder Jerry Lewis. Siedow offers sheepish recollections of Ms. Burns encouraging him to whomp her good. Speaking of, Dugan recalls a late-night rewrite session with designs on getting Marilyn’s top off.

Fun stuff that really would’ve worked best as a DVD supplement.