Category Archives: no idea

Death Spa 1989

I understand that there is a never ending desire for a good idea in Hollywood. And that that good idea will hopefully sell tickets by the bucketful. This is why an article in the New Yorker can become a A-List feature or a dance trend can become the next Step Up or Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Even a silly face on a phone text can be turned into The Emoji Movie. This must have been going through some deranged producer’s mind when they figured that the keep-fit trend of the early eighties needed some kind of filmic representation. They came up with Perfect. It was not perfect. John Travolta starred as a Rolling Stone journalist investigating Jamie Lee Curtis’ perfect gym addicted body. The film producers whispered in their stars’ ears the word ¨Oscar¨ but the only awards they went on to get that year were a bunch of Raspberries. Travolta didn’t act for another four years.

So after that folly it really is flummoxing as to why, oh indeed why, someone thought that what people really wanted to see,  after not giving a monkey’s about a big budget health freak studio movie, was a horror movie set in a gym where the building itself was the killer. This wasn´t even still at a time when keep-fit was particularly popular. Even 1985‘s Perfect was considered jumping on a bandwagon that had long since left (Jane Fonda’s incredibly successful workout tapes came out in 1981).

I don’t know why this is even bothering me. The film is called Death Spa. It is already doomed to an eternity of ridiculousness.

The film (for it is indeed a film, with a beginning, middle and end) begins with a crane shot of the gym in question. As the camera tilts down on the gaudy neon sign that reads Perfect Body Health Spa a number of the letters explode making it now read “d    eath Spa”. Amazing. A couple of things immediately spring to mind. Firstly, if we’re talking exploding neon signs and cameras on cranes then the film obviously had more money to spend than it undoubtedly deserved. And secondly, this gag is as clever as the film is ever going to get.

In fact Death Spa is quite well shot. Okay that´s not true. It’s been photographed with some thought. Unfortunately all those thoughts are terrible ones. The eighties did like its bright and garish colours and this movie embraces the yellows, pinks and royal blues with aplomb, especially with the excessive use of colour gels to light every scene in the most eye-gouging way possible. When computer rooms aren´t being lit like Margaret Thatcher’s knickers we are subjected to extensive dance scenes. Men in leg warmers and tiny tight shorts prance and leap about like they are auditioning for The Kids of Fame. Everyone gurns at the camera as if they are in a pop promo for Duran Duran rather than a horror movie. The opening, er, I’m going to call it a set piece but that´s being generous,  has the bouffant haired Laura dancing around the gym. She kicks and spins seemingly for the camera crew (she’s looking directly at the camera throughout) although she’s meant to be alone there. Once this musical number reaches its climax Laura jumps into the steam room, which is an odd thing to do after a sweaty work out,  and is promptly burnt to near death by chlorine sprayed out of the ceiling.

You better get used to this because their is a lot of death by spray in Death Spa. Whether its the sauna, showers or just a rouge hot water pipe people will die horribly and repetitively from this deadly health club. Mostly women, usually naked.

After Laura’s near fatal assault, two cops show up to investigate what the hell is going on. A woman was nearly killed from the burns she received and the best these police can come up with is this:

Sargent Stone: Does this suggest anything to you, Lieutenant?
Lieutenant Fletcher: Yes. I’ll have to ask my wife to start smoking in bed.

Tumble-weeds from hell can’t even be bothered to blow past.

These police are particularly incompetent. When they first arrive the manager, understandably suspicious as neither of them dress like cops, asks to see their badges. The male cop tries to pull out hisbadge but it gets caught in his long detective style rain coat, that’s fine says the manager without it even seeing it, the other cop doesn’t even try to show hers.

Anyway the main problem is that these sleuths are the moat tragically inept police LA can offer. The case is thus: the health spa is fully automated and run by one of those fancy lights and bleeping computers that only existed in movies back in the eighties.  But then various staff and members are being mutilated and murdered by faults in the machine. But no, says David, the architect and wizz behind this mechanised body trainer, there is no way in hell the machine could ever make a mistake. It would have to be reprogrammed to do that and the only person who has the access and knowledge to do such a thing is David himself.  Ergo it must be David who is doing it. He’s basically admitted it in his opening scene. However the cops don’t buy it. He’s suspicious yes, and he is the brother of Michael the manager’s dead wife and blames him for her death and wants him to fail because of it. So he’s got motivation. Still not enough for the force, its too obvious.

But it IS him! He barely even tries to hide it. He even pops round to see the now blind Laura to torment her whilst Michael is out. Okay yes, he is possessed by his dead sister Catherine (who is also his twin, natch*) who is probably more into the killing than he is, but there’s no red herring here. David is the murderer.

Talking of blind Laura there is an amazing sex scene involving her and Michael. And when I say amazing I mean awful. Michael has just brought her back to his gaff after the hospital and her eyes are bandaged with the hugest pads you can imagine and she is clearly in some pain. So to cheer her up Michael decides to cook her some asparagus and slowly dangle it into her mouth in the same way Mickey Rourke got Kim Basinger all hot and bothered with those jalapeños and honey in 9 1/2 Weeks. Its even lit all sexy like. But LAURA IS BLIND. She’s almost certainly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and even if she isn’t,  she has dirty great big bandages covering her eyes. No Asparagus,  no matter how well cooked it is,  can be a turn on when youve just been blinded with chlorine by an insane killer steam room.

Add to that as she can’t see her other senses have probably been heightened so her urine is going to smell even more disgusting than normal after eating asparagus. Also Michael makes multiple comments about how good she looks and nice it is to see her. Rub it in that she´s blind why don´t you,  you mullet-headed monster.

Anyway, more gym related death ensues. One woman who walks around the place in her bra and knickers (I belong to the Easy Gym on Oxford Street and it may be called easy but I have never seen a woman walking around in her underwear there) finds her self in a dark corner of the spa and is garrotted by a pipe of some nature. A chap is split in two by a computerised chest expander and I´m not even sure what you need the computer for in that scenario. Then a member looks in a mirror and the mirror cracks then explodes blowing her up in the process. None of these deaths makes any sense but its all topped by what happens to Lieutenant Fletcher with the police badge problem.

Towards the end of the film the weird shit really hits the fan. After multiple deaths, instead of closing the gym down to find out what is going on or just close it down for good for health and safety reasons, Michael decides instead to hold a great big party. Obviously the doors lock themselves Carrie-style and the whole place goes up in flames taking as many people as it can with it. Meanwhile David and/or Catherine is wandering around like a ghost or a Psycho wannabe (its never made clear which) dealing out dumb death left, right and centre. Poor old Fletcher gets it the worse. The walk in freezer behind the bar bursts open and icy air sucks the unsuspecting copper in. You´d think this would be a good thing as everyone else is burning to death in the inferno outside. However no. Fletcher is attacked by frozen kippers which leap at him and tear his throat out.

I know the old saying goes that no one sets out to make a bad movie but really? At what point do you not realise that killing one of your main characters with a frozen fish is a terrible idea?

Fortunately, the cast are well up to this nonsense. The actor playing Michael it seems was cast because he used to actually BE a manager of a health spa, rather than, say, an actor. There´s a dreadful English man who brings shame to our entire nation with his performance, and evil Catherine was so bad that they had to redub her with someone else´s voice. Obviously the dubbing is shockingly out of sync.

The most famous cast member at the time was Merritt Butrick who played Captain Kirk´s son in Star Trek´s 2 and 3. When that´s the biggest star you can muster you can tell that you´re script sucks even without having to read the title. Even Butrick is pretty lousy in it but then he was close to death when the film was being made (the poor guy died of AIDS in March of 1989) so maybe he had his mind on things other than whether he was possessed by his evil dead twin sister or not.

The script doesn´t help anyone at all with some risible dialogue like:

¨I´ve known some real pricks but you´re the king. Take it as a compliment.¨ I´m not sure Daniel Day-Lewis could make that line work.

Or when Catherine floats into the computer room the staff member guarding it is turned on when she takes off her dressing gown to reveal a very unrevealing nightie. ¨Mmm…¨ he says. ¨Nice arms¨.

Catherine is not impressed by this compliment and sucks his face off.

Don´t be fooled into thinking this is some wild gorefest though, a lot of the killings are difficult to see and poorly executed anyway, often hidden by bad wigs. The final shot is of a bloody and mangled dime-store wigged Catherine lying on the floor of the gym swearing revenge before her one remaining eyeball,  that is clearly a ping pong ball, explodes all over the lino.

Look, to be honest apart from all the endlessly stupid deaths, fire and David/Catherine´s nice arms this actually looked like it was quite a good party. There was an endless supply of booze, lots of people, all in leotards and if you liked terrible bass-slapping eighties music then you were laughing. More importantly Dawn of the Dead´s Ken Foree was there and I bet he could tell a story or two.

That party looked ace. And I bet it was more fun to film than it was to watch Death Spa. Despite what fun it sounds like above, it took me five goes to get through it all. I suffered through Death Spa so you don’t have to. And I don’t feel any healthier for it.

*I’m always seeing this “natch” word and had no idea what it meant. I looked it up, natch is short for naturally. I will never use it again.

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Antibirth 21016

The horror genre can be very repetitive. It is constantly going through cycles, making the same stories over and over again. We are subjected to years of slasher movies with little creativity, then years of post-modern slashers mocking them. Possession films have been spat out for so many years that surely everyone must be bored of them by now? Found footage has had its day, at least this time round, as has the haunted house movie. A film about ouija boards is a box office smash and a year later the shelves are full of Ouija rip offs. If you look at the horror genre as just this cycle of repetition then it would be easy to dismiss it as a beast always eating its own tail.

However the horror genre is also the ground for some of the most experimental and unique movies out there. Maybe it is because of the low risk nature of the budgets, or perhaps because experiments in art often result in nightmarish imagery, but the genre is packed with all kinds of weird, off kilter and demented projects. Its not a coincidence that a number of Any Warhol’s films were horror ones. Horror is the place where Cronenberg can explore his obsession with the alien nature of the human body, and where David Lynch can study the fractured state of reality. Horror may be sometimes a cheesy yarn about teenagers being chopped up in a woods, but every now and then it can achieve something much darker, stranger and better.

This is where films like Antibirth exist. It is clear that director Danny Perez’s approach to narrative structure is secondary to weird imagery from the opening scene where we follow our heroine Lou, played by Natasha Lyonne, through a fragmented, drug fueled night of partying which barely makes any sense. The rest of the film is about Lou’s attempt to piece together what happened that night when she finds out that she is pregnant. Whilst initially hard to follow what has happened and indeed what is happening, that is a really the point. We are following Lou’s point of view, and being a drug addict and alcoholic her point of view is as incoherent as her daily life. It’s not like Lou even tries to straighten herself up, either because she has potentially been sexually assaulted or because she is carrying a new life inside her. In fact she seems to go the opposite way and drink more, smoke more and intake more pills. Of course if you have seen Orange Is The New Black then you know this isn’t exactly a stretch for Lyonne. However it is really worth checking interviews to see Lyonne isn’t just being herself on screen, she’s just really good at playing a waster.

Lyonne is ably helped by Chloe Sevengy playing her best friend Sadie. The two of them are like low rent versions of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous– whenever the shit hits the fan, or even if they just have a bit of spare time, their approach is just to pop back to Lou’s horrible prefab home (that seems to being the middle of a dump site) and get off their tits.

All this self abuse leads increasingly to Lou having weird flashbacks and hallucinations which, surprisingly, drive the narrative forward as she is able to see clues as to how she ended up pregnant in the first place. What is most surprising abour all of this is that all this destructive madness makes sense at the end with a gloopy and gory climax for which the word “bonkers” was invented.

The film is designed with primary colours which swwwmed to have been left to mix up together too much in a paint pot so instead of bright and cheerful it’s repellently gross. This is no more vividly expressed than when we meet what seem like bad trip versions of the Teletubbies.

Antibirth probably isn’t for everyone: it’s incredibly cheap and sleazy, and the lead character works hard to get your disrespect and is barely able to stand for most of the time. However if you like to watch some freakish and experimental fun with a brilliant central performance from an actor honing a particular type then you will be laughing. And then there’s that ending which is either hilarious too of revolting, depending how you look at it…

 

 

 

 

Videodrome 1983

I saw Videodrome fairly early on in my teenage years, being a fan of David Cronenberg’s oeuvre before even the wild popularity of The Fly sent him into the film director stratosphere. A couple of years later I owned a copy of the VHS as part of my ludicrously large horror collection and watched it numerous times. Since that tape disappeared into the ether though I don’t think I’ve watched it since, although I’ve always had fond memories of it and thought it was one of Cronenberg’s best early movies.

Finally watching it again now it struck me with one question: how on earth did I watch this film when I was thirteen or so and understand a jot of it? All the scenes that I remember we’re still there, plus the great central performances from James Woods and the alluring and mysterious Debbie Harry and the weird graphic imagery. But it was like watching the film with fresh eyes. I’d always found the main plot a bit murky and people’s actions confusing. Now, I understood it as clear as day. And of course this makes perfect sense: it’s great that the teenage me got some pleasure from Cronenberg’s films but he is an adult director making adult pictures with adult themes.

Videodrome concerns James Woods as a cable television programmer who works for some sleazy station way down on the TV Guide options (Channel 83! That’s better than ITV2 nowadays) who is always looking for more, er, interesting shows to draw in an audience. Finding little more than soft core porn to titillate or bore his viewers*, his bespectacled boffin assistant comes across a grim, fuzzy show called Videodrome which by all accounts seems to only concern itself with showing naked women being tied up to a wet, electric wall and beaten to death. Somehow this show is hypnotic to anyone who views it and Woods feels he needs this to boost his ratings. However it starts to have some weird ass side effects on him.

Essentially Videodrome is a whacked out Conspiracy thriller but even then there is so much more going on. There have been endless articles on Cronenberg’s study of body horror so I won’t go on about them much here (although how I never knew that the wound in Woods’s stomach was vaginal just shows how naive my young self was). Okay the familiar theme of the body taking over the man is here but also,as the film progresses, what grabs me the most is how Woods as a human being was no longer in control of his his own life but used as a puppet for various fractions own ends. The broadcasters of Videodrome want to make him a weapon against any number of real or potential enemies in order to gain power. Those who fight against them want to use Woods for their own ends. The so called “new flesh”, the rebellion against Videodrome, is no better than the alleged corporate villains. Woods becomes dispensable in their existential game of chess: a pawn for one side, stolen to be used on the other.

Then there how Videodrome appeals to some very deep dark desires and needs of the sexually active adult. When Debbie Harry’s Nikki sees the programme for the first time she is not horrified by it but turned on. Granted we later find out that there is some form of transmission to the brain underneath the main video signal which would make any viewer become addicted to it, but for Nikki this is tapping into the sexual dispensations she already has. I do wish Nikki had been in the film for more screen time. It’s not long before she’s setting off to audition for Videodrome (surely a bad career choice) and outside of the hallucinations we never see her again. It’s not just that Harry gives a terrifically multi layered performance but that whilst Woods quickly catches on that Videodrome is something not to be messed with, Nikki, fascinatingly, embraces it, even at the cost of her own destruction. Of course it would be a different story but it could have been interesting to see if Nikki realised the error of her ways or if her apparent demise was something she welcomed as part of some kind of psychological destiny. Perhaps if Videodrome had been made now we would have found out more as the movie would have been several hours long rather than the amazingly tight ninety minutes we have here.

There is no denying that all the videotape horror does feel positively antiquated upon viewing it now. I mean, I work with people who have never even experienced VHSs and they think DVDs are a thing of the past. However, whilst the medium for transmitting imagery into our brains may have changed over the past 34 years, the themes that Cronenberg is talking about here sure as hell haven’t. There is the Videodrome itself, stimulating and intoxicating the viewer into a state of addiction the same way watching porn at home can and does to people now. Whilst it’s programme mostly deals with torture and murder, Woods is naive enough to think they are just really good actors. Nowadays it is taken as a given that someone having sex on the internet is really having sex, when someone is beheaded they are really beheaded. There is also the character of Doctor Brian Oblivion, the creator of the Videodrome, waxing lyrical about how a personality is more real on television than they are in real life. This may have been a stretch in 1983 but in this world of YouTube sensations and internet celebrities maybe Oblivion was right – Donald Trump entire public persona was created on TV and in Tweets, and now he’s the most powerful person in the world.

Not only did Cronenberg seem to be writing about social attitudes towards media in the future, he was also showing how his film making would change in the future too.Production wise Videodrome is a big step up from his previous films. The movie he made immediately before this was Scanners and, as successful as it was, it still had an aura of B-movie about it. Not so Videodrome. Now, despite the sleazy apartments and sound stages, the art direction and general look of the film is exemplary. Make up effects are super realistic – well, as realistic as a stomach virgina or TV spilling intestines can be – and this is all headed by a disturbing soundtrack and that starry A-list turn by James Woods.

Videodrome may be set in the world of videotapes and cable TV, neither of which exist any more, but it’s also a timeless classic.

*There’s a hilarious Japanese softcore porno involving a geisha and her dildo doll that is less sexy than primeminister’s question time.

The Greasy Strangler 2016

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The Greasy Strangler, it is fair to say, is not your normal horror film. Nor your normal comedy. Or indeed, even a normal film at all. Imagine the bit inside the radiator in Eraserhead where the woman squishes foetuses under her feet, but for an hour and a half, and played for laughs. Then you may have a vague understanding of what this piece is all about. Although in all probability not.

In keeping with the abnormal presented here, it is also impossible for me to even review the film in any standard fashion. There’s no point in making any judgement on what the acting, script, cinematography, effects or direction are like as they are all done exactly how director Jim Hosking want them done (unless something went horribly, horribly wrong). If you or I don’t like The Greasy Strangler then that is our own problem. Its a singular vision, a singular, parallel universe based vision where this kind of thing probably goes on all the time.

I better tell you the basics of the plot – help you decide if this is for you I suppose. Hold on to your hats.

Middle-aged Big Brayden lives in some trashy part of Los Angeles with his father Big Ronnie. By day they run a disco tour for confused tourists. They take them around disused warehouses and back streets and make wild claims about the BeeGees performing their first gigs there. At night the tourists are prayed upon by some hellish killer. He’s known as The Greasy Strangler, because he’s covered in grease and strangles his victims. Brayden suspects that his father might be the notorious killer because he has a tendency to slather everything he eats with oil, fat and, indeed, grease. They both meet a beautiful young woman called Janet who gets in between them and threatens the really quite unpleasant bond between father and son. Or at least shags them both in revolting ways.

That’s the basic version of the story, and if that sounds conventional to you then a) you watch some weird fucking movies and b) you are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. And a twat.

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The main thing you have to be aware of is that Ronnie and Brayden may share a house like normal father and son shouldn’t do at their age, but they do most of it in very tiny underpants. And it is not like these guys are the epitome of masculinity. They both have skinny legs, sagging guts and man boobs. Old Ronnie also has far too much hair where you don’t want it and Brayden doesn’t have enough on top. Also Ronnie has a need to flash his flaccid arse on a regular basis and its clear he doesn’t wipe properly.

Then there are the penises. Oh god, the penises…

Old Ronnie spends a lot of time wandering around naked (usually just after having the grease washed off him at the local car wash) and his massive cock and balls dangle out of a suspiciously dark and hairy bush. Even when he gets dressed up for the disco, Ronnie wears a deeply unsavoury purple spandex jumpsuit with, I think, a see through area around his crotch so you can see his manhood dangling down the side of his legs. Either that or its a painted on image of the same member. Big Brayden on the other hand is far from big, having a tiny, little red willy with a couple of minuscule testicles protruding from his over abundant pubic zone. He has tiny, little wanks with it too.

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If you thought I gave away who The Greasy Strangler was in the last paragraph then trust me when I say it is really quite obvious who it is. This is partly because he keeps on denying that he’s The Greasy Strangler when no one even mentions it, partly because of his grease obsession and partly because The Greasy Strangler looks just like him but covered in grease.

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There’s a lot of weird characters, all of whom tend to shout their lines at each other as if they are in a wind tunnel rather than standing three inches away. Then the whole film looks like a terrible month I had twenty years ago when I mixed too many wrong, er, items in my head – all bright colours, moments of time disappearing and slime dripping down the walls . Also if you’re not put off by what age and bad food does to your body by the end of this film then you are either the healthiest person in the world or blind. And if you are blind that won’t save you either, as a blind man gets, strangled, has his head sawn off and thrown at a basketball net, which it misses.

Do I recommend The Greasy Strangler? Yes of course I do, if only to see your faces afterwards…

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