Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Movie Mini-Reviews

There was a time when I thought Leslie Nielsen could do no wrong. Of course, this was a while back, when he was making some of the funniest slapstick parodies I'd ever seen (ie: "Wrongfully Accused", the "Naked Gun" movies, "Dracula: Dead and Loving It", etc.). So it's something of a crude surprise to discover that not even he could save "Repossessed", a strong contender for the worst comedy I've seen this year.

Humor being a very subjective thing, I imagine that someone somewhere out there gets a giggle out of an adult Linda Blair turning herself into an ice cream cone while shrieking "Lick me! Lick me!". But I sat through eighty minutes of vomit gags, repetitive punchlines and pretty offensive stereotypes without so much as smiling. It might have something to do with the film's utter lack of subtlety; instead of trying to tickle a laugh out of you, "Repossessed" smacks you in the face with a sledgehammer and waits for the reaction. Parody requires a certain degree of subtlety, which you're most certainly not going to find here.

It's a rather catastrophic misfire of a concept that, on paper, should have worked. "The Exorcist" is certainly a prime target for parody. They had Leslie Nielsen. They went the extra mile and got Linda Blair to lampoon her own original performance. Even the plot holds together: the Devil retakes control of an old victim of his, promptly setting up another exorcism. But a greedy televangelist hijacks the operation, and unknowingly plays right into Satan's hands.

But nothing quite works out: Nielsen is a marginal character, ostensibly out of misguided loyalty to the role he's spoofing (in the original, elderly exorcist Father Merrin isn't very prominent until the movie's final phase). As a result, it falls to Anthony Starke (yes, that seems to be his real name) to carry the movie, and he doesn't (maybe they should have given him a couple of martinis to loosen him up?). On top of that, while Blair has some mildly humorous moments as the Devil, overall she doesn't get much mileage out of her experience with the original movie.

A pretty horrid disappointment, not good enough to enjoy and not bad enough to make fun of.


"Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight" is much more successful in terms of following its genre guidelines: it's supposed to be a gorror (gore/horror) film, and that's what it is. No pretentions of being anything more. One interesting detail about this movie is that it was made in 1995; it missed the apex of horror cinema by about a decade (at which time we were introduced to such icons as Freddy Krueger). But it also fell just short of the pseudo-renaissance initiated by Wes Craven's "Scream" in 1996. In that respect, "Demon Knight" is one of the last of its kind, the way you might think of "Batman and Robin" as one of the last comic book movies before Bryan Singer's "X-Men" raised the bar.

What that means, for the purposes of reviewing "Demon Knight", is that while it certainly gets the gore portion right, I don't think it's a genuinely scary movie. It's basically a bit of a Buffy riff (predating the series but not the Kristy Swanson movie template) where a man "chosen" to fight off demons gets cornered in a hotel with six other guests. With the fate of the universe at stake, they have to take a stand against a small army of hellspawn determined to pick them off. At the same time, they have to resist the temptations of an soul-stealing demon known as the Collector.

There's a bit of fun at the beginning where the Demon Knight and the Collector face off, but you don't know which is which. Billy Zane and William Sadler really click as mortal enemies heading for one last clash. The rest of the cast members are made up of pretty formulaic stereotypes: you've got the tough-as-nails hotel owner, the washed-up town drunk, the asshole and his whore, the disgruntled civil servant and the young, rebellious woman who wishes she could walk away from her dead-end life in a dead-end town. Of course, this isn't really a problem with the movie; even in the prime of the genre, most horror/slasher movie characters were two-dimensional at best - anyone remember 22-year-old Kevin Bacon as Brainless Stud number Whatever in "Friday The 13th"? How about Jamie Lee Curtis as bland babysitter Laurie Strode from "Halloween"? The psychological approach to characterization didn't really take off until "Scream", so while it's difficult to get attached to any of the cannon fodder, it doesn't really damage the movie so much as date it.

As I said, scares are few and far between, but you'll certainly hit your "Ewwww" quota as limbs are torn off, eyes are gouged out, faces are punched through and bodies explode. It's worth mentioning that this movie basically plays out like an extended episode of "Tales From The Crypt"; in other words, it's pretty much the same level of black humor and blood fountains you'd find in the show. In short, it's a relic - a rather concise example of the genre at a recent point of decline. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but about average.


On "Saw" I will say only this: I liked it despite rather glaring flaws in the narrative structure, but it had some bloody weird subtext:

Where's Celine Dion and the sinking ship?