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I continue to lack an understanding of why this film has ever been, much less continues to be, compared to Wolf Creek. The two films don't even reside in the same genre of film, much less the same subgenre. Gone is an attempt at a cerebral thriller, far more in line with the various attempts to adapt the Ripley novels than a Wolf Creek-style gore film. The comparisons are sure to create unreasonable expectations in the minds of potential viewers; I can tell you this from personal experience. Not that I would have found the movie good had I known what I was getting into anyway; that just added an extra level of disappointment.
Plot: Alex (Cashback's Shaun Evans) is on his way into the hinterlands to meet up with his girlfriend Sophie (Quills' Amelia Warner) hor a vacation. On his way, he stops for the night in Sydney, and meets Taylor (Peaceful Warrior's Scott Mechlowitz) in a bar. The next morning, Alex wakes up after a night of drinking far too much with Taylor and finds himself next to a woman. Taylor has photographic proof. That's not creepy, right? Taylor offers Alex a ride, they pick up Sophie, and then the fun begins.
Or what should have been fun, but somehow managed to be dull as dishwater from first frame to last. There are so many places where this movie seemed like it should have been so much better than it was without ever actually seeming to aspire to get there. The cast is comprised of fine young actors, and all of them do capably here. The Australian landscape is gorgeous by default. Both of these things end up being more frustrating than anything, hamstrung as they are by a goofy script and a sense of pace that seems to have been plotted out by a meth addict, but only in between jolts. I think if someone had filmed a staged reading of this movie, I would have probably liked it better than what we actually got. **
The first post I wrote when I started var.ev. was about my long and spotty history with Tobe Hooper's second feature. I'll try not to reprise too much of that here, so if this sounds disjointed, that's why (go read the original post for all the stuff I'm leaving out here, I guess). The short answer is that I think of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as the Bob Dylan of horror films. It's been ridiculously influential, spawning three sequels?the first of which (and the only film in the entire franchise I have yet to see) also directed by Hooper?two remakes/reimaginings/whatever, one of which also came with a sequel (that trilogy of films is considered three of the worst movies ever made by a whole bunch of people?the recent ?re-imagined? sequel from 2013, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was succinctly awarded Worst Horror Movie of 2013 by Dread Central), the careers of Tobe Hooper, Marilyn Burns, Ed Neal, and, amusingly, John Larroquette (among others), and...I like pretty much everything that came out of it better than I do the thing itself, in the same way that every cover of a Dylan song I've ever heard is preferable to the original article (yes, even U2's simpering attempt at ?All Along the Watchtower?).
If you've been living under a rock for the past forty years, and I should mention in passing that unless something horribly goes wrong, I am posting this review on October 1, 2014, the exact fortieth anniversary of the movie's theatrical opening, according to IMDB, the plot: Five young-and-not-so-beautifuls (ah, remember the days when horror movies featured killer fodder who actually looked human?) are traveling through the Texas wildlands in a VW minibus. There's Sally Hardesty (Helter Skelter's Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Rolling Thunder's Paul A. Partain) and their pals Jerry (Eggshells' Alan Danziger, who never acted again), Kirk (Poltergeist's William Vail, now a set decorator), and Pam (The Cellar's Teri McMinn). The five of them pick up a hitchhiker (Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers' Edwin Neal) who turns out to be, well, something of a handful. They eventually toss him out of the van, amidst great cursing, and head on to stop at a gas station and get the requisite cryptic warnings and odd looks from the locals. Of course, they have car trouble, get separated, and find themselves at the mercy of Leatherface (Hatred of a Minute's Gunnar Hansen), one of America's most iconic serial killers. (Though, obviously, he wasn't in 1974).
I cannot deny there is an elemental, almost atavistic, power to this movie, much of which comes from Hooper's direction and Hansen's antics. Leatherface is not the superhero-serial-killer who would start inhabiting movies with Michael Myers; he is mentally challenged, has no superpowers other then rudimentary sewing and butchering skills, and is socially awkward to a fault (all of this, seemingly, developed by Hansen). We never see his actual face, so Hansen must rely on body language to convey emotion, and he takes the old silent-film expressionist route. Oftentimes that leads to laughs?especially in the final scene?but once you've stopped tittering, you'll realize just how much Hansen's take on the sword dance has stuck with you, even if nothing else in the movie has. And, man, that soundtrack, which is pretty darn close to unparalleled; few horror movies have seen the value inherent in distressing the audience with experimental music, outside the cheesier uses of the theremin.
On the other hand, there's, well, everything else. Rex Reed infamously called it ?the most horrifying movie I have ever seen?, and ?most horrifying? does not translate to ?scariest?; the most horrifying film I have ever seen is About a Boy, for its offensive and cavalier attitude that men are nothing unless they are husbands and fathers. There's certainly nothing of that here (though one wonders what Nick Hornby and the Weitz brothers would make of Hooper and Henkel's family of cannibals), but there's overacting by the metric ton; what comes off as creepy and effective when Hansen does it?because he has a reason to?is more annoying than distressing in many of the other characters. It works?kind of?for Edwin Neal's hitchhiker, because the YaNSBs' first encounter with him sets the tone for the rest of the movie, but it gets tiresome relatively quickly with him (Neal is the biggest overactor of the bunch). And for the love of Brother Ed, Marilyn Burns, I don't think, has a single line in the last fifteen minutes of the film. She just screams. I have no idea how she managed to keep screaming that long without blowing her voice out. Grindcore vocalists could take lessons. Hooper does what he can to break up the monotony by cutting to other folks in the various scenes that make up this sequence?the longest of them is, of course, the infamous dinner scene?but Marilyn Burns screaming is constantly in the background. And good Stihl is it annoying after a while. And this from the second-best actor in the bunch of YaNSBs (others will no doubt dispute this, but for my money, the guy who made me believe was Paul Partain). The others, well, cardboard cutouts might well have sufficed; there's very good reason why people who remember the film fondly identify with the killer cannibals rather than their helpless victims.
My rating for this movie, over the past twenty-five years, has ranged from one to four stars, and it has both entered and left my thousand-best list since I expanded the 100-best list in 2009. I guess the best way to say it is that I appreciate the movie for what it is, and the legacy it has left (yes, even Texas Chainsaw 3D, which I didn't hate nearly as much as everyone else), but I don't like it all that much. Oops, I knew I'd tread on my own feet sooner or later. **
One of the great things about having a Roku, and the proliferation of channels on same showing silly public domain movies, is that rafts of Z-movie silliness that has been unavailable for decades (even during the video store age, who was going to carry this stuff when DTV had suddenly become A Thing?) is now as close as the Play button on your remote. For years I had this basic idea-call it the disease of nsotalgia-that every movie that had been made before the dawn of the MPAA was a Great Film and that it was only in my lifetime that people were making crap. I am certainly glad I found out different...but how much different, well, sometimes you have no idea until you're surfing around Netflix and you come up with ridiculousness like The Devil's Hand.
Rick Turner (Imitation of Life's Robert Alda, Alan's dad) and his fiancee Donna Trent (Three Sad Tigers' Ariadna Welter) are blissful and looking forward to their upcoming marriage, house, and two point four kids. That is, with the exception of these odd drams Rick has about hot chicks dancing in midair. But...what if they're not just dreams? As it turns out, the dancer is a real person, Bianca Milan (How to Seduce a Playboy's Linda Christian), who has ties to a nefarious cult. Rick finds himself drawn to them...but in order to join, he will have to make a sacrifice that calls into question everything he holds dear.
I always think of that line from Billy Joel's "Zanzibar" when I watch movies like this: "melodrama's so much fun/in black and white for everyone/to see...". Oh Cold River, the melodrama. You know exactly where this is going, don't you? Hole took an idea that could have been used for at least a few chills (or, more likely, some unintentional hilarity) and instead created something with aspirations to a weepie, with a bit o' coochie dancing to keep the males in the audience from gnawing their own arms off in an attempt to escape the theater. Pretty much everything about it is terrible, but it at least plasters on the goop thick enough to allow the cheese factor to shine through in hindsight; if you're a connoisseur of awful horror movies, you owe it to yourself to give this one a watch. Others can, and should, safely avoid. * 1/2
Abandoned Mine started off with a bang-there are some nifty filmmaking techniques that make it seem like you're going to get something much more than you are from this low-budget horrorfest. For some reason, however, Chamberlain abandons the pretense to the avant-garde once things get rolling, and we end up with a straightforward haunted-mine tale, mediocre but watchable.
Plot: Brad (Pearl Harbor's Reiley McClendon) is a post-high-school layabout in a small rural town, bored out of his skull. His ex-girlfriend Laurie (Reservations' Saige Thompson) is back in town, so he cooks up an idea-the two of them, Brad's current girlfriend Sharon (Spy Kids' Alexa PenaVega), Laurie's schoolmate Ethan (High School Musical 2's Charan Prabhakar), and Brad's best friend Jim (Radio Flyer's Adam Hendershott), will spend the night near the mouth of the legendary Jarvis Mine, supposedly haunted by the family of the Jarvis that the mine is named for. A thunderstorm drives them inside, and weird things start happening...
Unfortunately, none of those weird things are terribly unpredictable; you should be on the right track relatively soon, and from there, aside from some appealing ambiguity as to what's really going on with one of the characters, it unfolds in paint-by-numbers fashion. This has a surprisingly high-powered cast for such a shoestring affair, and despite being stereotypes, the characters are at least affable (I waffled the whole movie on whether Ethan was offensive or the best character in the entire movie). I've seen far worse movies this year, but I've seen far better as well. **
Historical drama/mystery set in nineteenth-century frontier Canada about a woman (Devil's Caroline Dhavernas) who walks into a sheriff's office and confesses to murdering her husband (Final Destination's Brendan Fehr), and the investigation that follows. Enjoyable, if somewhat slight, and most of the relationships never quite rang true for me (the exception is that between the alleged murderess and the lead investigator); how much you can overlook that likely determines how much you'll end up liking it. Would have been better with a slightly less predictable ending, but you can't find many of those these days. ***