This Week in Geek (4-10/10/20)



In theaters: Possessor (or now Possessor Uncut, with bonus sex and gore) is a bit of Black Mirror-type sf/horror by Brandon Cronenberg, a director genetically predisposed to give us some disturbing squish even if the story he's telling would normally fall more in the techno-thriller category. The film images an assassin that can "possess" other people, thus easily infiltrating a target's life and framing the eventual tragedy as a murder-suicide. But our girl Voss is starting to lose her grip and it would be saying too much to say why, but it's enough to say that Cronenberg Jr. plays a lot of mirror tricks between host and parasite as they struggle for dominance on this newest assignment. Visually, the film manifests the protagonist's disorientation with odd points of view, epilepsy-causing strobes, hallucinatory images, and shocking porn'n'violence. Thematically, it's true cyberpunk, exploring the plight of numb but frustrated wage slaves whose jobs ask them to sacrifice their personal lives, consuming them in the process and making life not worth living. Meanwhile, CEO monstrousness is an interchangeable constant and our catharsis over their murders is illusory.


At home: When your conjoined twin is a monstrous telepathic tumor that shouldn't have survived the separation, horror shenanigans ensue in early 80s New York (the look is definitely late 70s though). That's Basket Case, fore the most part a fun, camp gorefest featuring a memorable, if not always effective, monster. The creature's futile rape fantasies are certainly part of the squishiness, but the movie also doesn't mind looking silly (the stop motion sequence is particularly ridiculous). No great acting, indeed the cast tends to overact most things, but they're given things to say that makes them distinctive characters. The dialog is quirky and adds to the camp, so what might feel like an error in other films, here feels like it's all part of the style. I do think the movie gets a bit screamy in the second half, to the point where I would have expected the downstairs neighbors to call the police if they'd been home. I'm not big on screaming. Sensitive ears. But overall an entertaining creature feature. 

Equinox is essentially Cabin in the Woods 1970 and I would be very surprised, even if it has never been confirmed, that it wasn't a major inspiration for Sam Raimi's Evil Dead. Made on a shoestring budget by future special effects whizzes of the highest caliber (they would go on to work on Lucas and Spielberg productions), the film doesn't look cheap when it comes to effects. The stopmotion and composited elements show impressive, even confounding, integration (and I think part of the effect is that the movie looks like '50s B-movie fare, so the sfx look even more cutting edge). As a story, it's a weird one, with kids going on a picnic and running afoul of a park ranger called Azmodeus, and they think nothing of it. A second director hired to lengthen the movie for theatrical release added a rapey moment that makes you squirm in your seat, and I'm not sure what else, but probably the creepy clock opening and the Lovecraftian bookends. Where Equinox shows its cheapness is with the sound, every actor (and I'm being generous using that label for most of them) is looped rather dryly. This was always more of a portfolio for effects artists, and certainly has historical value given what these guys eventually went on to do, but it has an intriguing story too. The backyard home movie acting unfortunately made me disengage from it.

It looks like your usual "unlikable young people get slaughtered" movie, but Waxwork is a tribute to all the old horror movies that have become iconic, as those kids visit a creepy waxwork that means to absorb them into its scenes. In a way, it's the Cabin in the Woods of the '80s. It's a bit slow-going at first, as one youth or another enters the world of an entirely different movie and becomes part of the action until he or she is killed and turned into a wax dummy. The vampire one seems to last forever, and what am I supposed to make of the swashbuckling Marquis de Sade? Is that really a horror thing? If you're looking for an original monster in this thing, it's him. So strange. But they kept the good stuff for the third act, which is just insane, filled with monster cameos, and lots of fun action-horror gags. I was watching it for actors like David Warner, John Rhys-Davies and Patrick Macnee, but Waxwork was entertaining in its own right.

If there's a "Basic Bitch" of slasher movies, it must be The Slumber Party Massacre. Beyond the cliched tropes, it spends most of its time building tension towards jump scares and fake-outs, and the camera's point of view is lecherous male gaze at its worst - I've rarely seen nudity this gratuitous. And still, that "fakey" first half, despite featuring a bunch of girls that are almost indistinguishable from one another (I was often confused and I don't have face blindness), is still at least the most amusing part of the flick. Once the attacks begin, it's hard to get too excited by the generic serial killer in his jean jacket. They had to give him a big drill as a weapon just to make him more interesting, but they don't do anything too interesting with the gag. At the end of the day, The Slumber Party Massacre doesn't bring anything original to the table, EXCEPT set us up for a weirdo sequel, and that may be its greatest virtue...

It's 5 years later, and the tween who survived the first movie has been recast as Crystal Bernard from Wings in Slumber Party Massacre II. And somehow she's gained a Southern accent. Don't worry about it. Director Deborah Brock salvages the generic franchise and makes a neat FEMALE gaze movie about girls in an 80s band and their hapless boyfriends, AND a sequel that's actually about the trauma of the first. Courtney is haunted by those events and has terrible nightmares that include a rock god version of the "driller killer" that is so much more fun and entertaining than the original killer, you really wish he'd been part of the formula all along. And it's not about trauma in the sense that say, 2018's Halloween was - it's more psychological and mysterious than that, somewhere between Nightmare on Elm Street and Inception perhaps, and you're never quite sure where fantasy ends and reality begins. Wild, weird, and with much better gags than the first film, I dare say SPM 2 is not our typical slasher movie and is the better for it. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

One of the foundational films of the slasher genre, 1974's Black Christmas is of interest because it both sets up some of the basic tropes that have since become old hat, AND subverts many of those expectations because they weren't tropes yet! And while it has some genuine scares, it's also quite funny! Nice comic turns for Marian Waldman, Margot Kidder, the Bad Santa, and the cops, though again subverting expectations, Andrea Martin plays it straight. The phone calls from inside the house are absolutely demented, and contain the code to perhaps understanding the nature of the killer, but you almost need to read the synopsis of the butchered 2006 sequel to really get a grasp on it, not that it's necessary. Just don't expect too many answers -  it's no whodunit. The lively humor of the first half definitely makes the ending seem much darker, especially once you understand the implications of that last, rather subtle, scare. I like the film's Canadianness too; this isn't a great ad for Toronto University. And I learned a lot about why it takes time to trace a call, but as with the main story itself, I'm perhaps left with more questions than answers.

The thrill of Leprechaun today, I suppose, is seeing Jennifer Aniston in an early role in a cheesy horror movie. I'm no particular fan of hers, but even as spoiled brat with very thin motivations, your eyes go to her almost constantly (though maybe it's because you're distracted by her haircut changing scene-to-scene). I appreciate them trying to use leprechaun lore to motivate horror, but the truth of it is, the monster can't help but be silly even once the gore intensifies, so it's rather more silly than scary. With the child genius palling around with the comic relief idiot, you really do get the sense this is a kids' movie, pitched perhaps a bit lower than the PG-13 gore and cussing would indicate, but I can totally see bright 10-year-olds gleefully giving themselves a bit of a transgressive scare. For adults, it's not unentertaining - Warwick Davis is having fun with it at least - but you have to be in the mood for something goofy.

Role-playing: Played a bit of our Star Trek Adventures RPG, finally getting a bit of SF action thanks to a space station orbiting a magnaton star. Creepy doings aboard, just in time for Halloween by the time we get to explore it more fully - we were reminded of Doctor Who's The Impossible Planet (a habitat around a dangerous star, something is awake, Oodish aliens) - though we are still invested in the character-building elements of this episode. I hope the GM didn't think the job interviews for the positions we created to take care of housing and recreation were boring, because I think we quite enjoyed meeting new crew members who might fit the bill (plus the mad tyrant who wants the job because he wants every job because us Starfleet yokels are incompetent compared to his 13th-level intelligence (and 0th-level wisdom). My character really wants to extend an olive branch, but racially insensitive comments about Bolians isn't make it easy. It better be worth it, is what I'm saying!


Jeremy Patrick said...

Siskoid, have you done a post recently on your favourite comics blogs? I need something to take my mind off politics, but just randomly clicking on links from your very long blog roll sounds dicey!

Siskoid said...

Not sure I can help you. While a few of us keep trucking on, a lot of bloggers have either faded or turned to podcasting exclusively. The ones in my blog roll are the ones I can still recommend, especially the top ones, some of which are still active.

I'm not sure what you're looking for, so perusing any of these will tell you whether or not you'd like them, and if you've never read them, the content is new to you even if it's older. My closest neighbor in terms of content was Snell of Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep, and he sadly passed away a couple of years ago. If you like my stuff, you'll like his stuff.

I've at least cleaned up the roll for you, removing the dead links that have cropped up.

Jeremy Patrick said...

Thanks--didn't mean to put you to extra work :) I'll give some of those a try.


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