Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'Unhinged' is nearly unwatchable

Unhinged (1982)
Starring: Laurel Munson and Sarah Ansley
Director: Don Gronquist
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Three girlfriends are heading to a rock concert (to be followed by some camping) during a servere rainstorm. They run off the road, sure they're dead... but then they wake up in a creepy old mansion, filled with creepy old characters. And just what is hiding in the toolshed?!

"Unhinged" is a horror movie that gets just about eveything wrong.

*The movie STARTS with the shower-scene even before there's anyone to menace the nubile young thing (oh... and it's a badly acted AND badly staged shower-scene. Yes, "Unhinged" is one of those movies that proves it's possible to do a bad shower scene.

* The story (what little there is of it) only works, because the characters spend too much time doing things that no rational (or able to wipe themselves after taking a dump) person would do. If the characters took one or two simple, obvious actions, the whole movie would cease to be. Likewise, the ending only happens because the lead character's only guiding light is how to make the badly plotted story work. She is as close to the Platonic Ideal of Stupid Character Syndrome as we will ever see in this imperfect world.

*Of the two girls playing the leads, only one shows a glimmer of acting ability in her final scene. However, it's far too little and far too late to save the picture.

*There are multiple occassions where there seems to be a build-up to something dire or scary or startling is about to happen, but then there's no pay-off. Heed my words, young would-be filmmaker: Repeated "oooh, let's trick 'em by making things seem all spooky and then not do anything" isn't laying a foundation for the real scares... it's just makes the audience annoyed and irritated.

I stuck with this entirely too-slow-film until the end, because I kept thinking that it would get better. Then, it started getting worse... with it getting progressively more unbelievable and just plain dumb. I do grant director/co-writer Gronquist kudos for giving the the movie an ending so stupid that it took me completely by surprise, thus giving the film a tiny bit of merit. Even better, the ending had been set up earlier in the film, so as far as that goes, Gronquist showed himself to have a little bit more storytelling ability than most directors and screenwriters working in horror movies today where they idea of a "twist-ending" mostly seems to be "random shit that has nothing to do with anything previously presented in the film."

The DVD version of "Unhinged" that I watched had a 'comedy commentary track' as one of the audio options by a group of writers and film reviewers who've dubbed themselves 'The Distractors'. It was almost as badly done as the film they were commenting on, because the actual soundtrack was completely inaudible (one of the group even at one point says that they can't even hear the sound of the film and they are uncertain what is being discussed). It's a shame, because I had hopes when I saw that Shannon Wheeler (the creator of "Too Much Coffee Man") was one of the viewers. There were enough off-color comments about breasts, discussion of why the girls on their way to a concert and some camping would have nightgowns and three or four changes of not-very-outdoorsey clothes to make the commentary amusing, but it could have been better. The highpoint om the commentary hi-jinx was the attempt to look up those involved in making "Unhinged" in the phone book and calling them for their take on the film.

Another bonus feature on the DVD I viewed was a television interview with the director and one of the actresses featured in the film that was recorded back in 1982 to promote the film's release. If I'd watched the interview first, I probably would have known to bother with "Unhinged" itself. I've never seen someone so inept at selling his movie as Gronquist was--it was as if he knew he'd made a piece of trash and didn't really want to talk about it. The actress did a better, though.

There's really nothing to recommend watching "Unhinged", unless you want to see a compact collection of what NOT do to whether you're a screenwriter, an actor, or a director.

(Trivia: This film was banned in Great Britain as one of the "Video Nasties" until 2005. One wonders what caused the British censors to develop such hatred for movie watchers that they would cause them to be exposed to this film.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lugosi's 'Yellow Peril Trilogy'

Three of Bela Lugosi's worst movies have him playing an Oriental Villain in films inspired by what was in the 1930s a thriving pulp fiction genre, the Yellow Peril tales.

While these films are not an actual trilogy, it is interesting that three of his worst would be drawn from the same now-mostly disused well.

For more reviews of (better) Bela Lugosi films, visit The Bela Lugosi Collection.

The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford, Arline Judge and Lotus Long
Director: William Nigh
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

"The Mysterious Mr. Wong" is a B-movie double-threat that manages to both be a bad Yellow Menace and a bad newspaper reporter comedy.

Bela Lugosi stars as Wong, a cheap, underachieving Fu Manchu imitation whose minions are murdering their way through Chinatown's underworld to acquire the ancient Twelve Coins of Confucius. A slacker, racist newspaper reporter dismisses the police's theory that it's a Tong War unfolding, but is otherwise indifferent to the situation until his editor forces him to follow up on the story. He bumbles his way through some of the lamest detective work (with his incompetence exceeded only by that of the police), narrowly avoids several harebrained assasination attempts by Wong's minions, and eventually makes his way to the film's lame climax through the miracle of Plot Dictates.

While "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" is watchable, it is only just. It is better than some later Yellow Menace films (such as the awful "The Castle of Fu Manchu" starring Christopher Lee) but not by much. And if you have even so much as a tiny bit of sensitivity to racism and bad stereotypes, prepare to be at the very least mildly outraged. The worst racism is comes from the mouth of the film's "hero," so be prepared to not like him much. (It's pretty bad, even by the standards of the day in which this film was made.)

The Shadow of Chinatown (1936)
Starring: Herman Brix, Joan Barclay, Luana Walters, Maurice Lui, and Bela Lugosi
Director: Robert F. Hill
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A pair of self-loathing "Eurasians" (Walters and Lugosi) team up to use their business saavy and scientific know-how to enrich themselves and take their revenge on both the White and Oriental peoples. But they haven't counted on interference from a San Francisco society page reporter wanting to graduate to investigative reporting (Barclay), her Chinese culture-loving private detective friend (Brix), nor the assortment of superfluous secondary characters and bumbling henchmen.

"The Shadow of Chinatown" that I watched is the feature-film version, which is a condensing of a 15-part serial. That explains for some of the disjointedness of the story, but it doesn't account for the atrociously wooden acting on the part of the actors--except Luana Walters, the only performer who gives a decent accounting of herself--the erratic and contradictory abilities and powers of Lugosi's character, and the lame, anti-climax of the movie's end.

This 70-minute version was so dull I almost didn't make it to end. It starts out strong enough with Walters and Lugosi's minions fanning out through Chinatown and terrorizing business patrons while disguised as Chinese gangsters, and providing Barclay's character an opportunity to get captured by the villains and then escape... but then it starts to sink into a mess of bad acting and even worse plotting. Walters remains a bright spot throughout, but she's really the only thing worth watching here.

Black Dragons (aka "The Yellow Menace") (1942)
Starring: Bela Lugosi and Joan Barclay
Director: William Nigh
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

As America gears up to fight the Japanese during WWII, a group of wealthy Fifth Columnists finalize their plans to sabotage the war effort from the top down. However, they share a secret far deeper and more sinister than just being traitors--and that secret is why the mysterious Mr. Cologne (Lugosi) is murdering them, one by one. Is Cologne an American patriot, or is he a threat more sinister than even the enemy agents?

There isn't much in this 1942 spy movie that recommends it to the modern viewer. "Black Dragons" is terribly dated due to its WWII message of "loose lips sink ships" and while it shows some glimmers of perhaps having risen to the level of an interesting thriller, the rushed, exposition-heavy wrap-up during the film's final ten minutes dispels what little supense had been built up, and the fact that the mysterious powers displayed by Lugosi's character (who, literally, vanishes into thin air several times) remain unexplained, confine this film to the massive scrapheap of Z-grade pictures.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'The Love Guru' should have killed careers

A revised version of this review appears in my forthcoming book 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See. The write-up in the book includes, among other things, trivia about the production.

The Love Guru (2008)
Starring: Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Romany Malco, Manu Narayan, Justin Timberlake, Verne Troyer, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and Jim Gaffigan
Director: Marco Schnable
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Guru Pitka (Myers), a new-age, self-help sensation second only to Deepak Chopra in poplularity and celebrity status, is approached by Jane Bullard (Alba), the owner of a hockey team, to help her resolve relationship problems that are keeping her star player (Malco) from performing properly on the ice.

From the first preview, I thought "The Love Guru" looked like a stupid movie it was best of avoid. As I learned more and saw more clips, I knew it would be a stupid movie that would be a complete waste of time and, at best, barely mildly amusing. It was a film I had a faint interest in, but not one I was likely to ever bother seeing.

But then Rajan Zed, a "Hindu community leader" who rivals Mike Myers' fictional cartoonish Guru Pitka in his hunger for publicity (but who is all-too-real) starting calling for the film to be boycotted and uttering other, even stupider statements.

Well, it's been a long-standing policy of mine that any film or book that is targeted by religious nutjobs gets my financial support, be it crazy Muslims and "The Satanic Verses" or stupid Hindus and "The Love Guru".

Therefore, eventhough I was as certain as I could be without having seen the film that it was going to suck, I went to see "The Love Guru" the day in opened. I saw it so it would do a little better during its opening weekend.

I regretted my decision, as the crapitude of the film almost made me swear off my policy of doing exactly the opposite of what race-hustlers and self-promoters calling for boycotts are demanding. This film was so bad that it deserved to sink like a rock and lose lots and lots of money. It's just too bad that some self-important publicity hound from Nevada who fancies himself the spokesperson for Hindus everywhere then got the idea that it was his boycott that made it fail, not because badly written and unfunny comedy.

There isn't a single joke in the film that doesn't feel forced or isn't repeated so often that it is drained of what little amusement it may have contained when first presented but which becomes painfully obnoxious by the time Myers finally lets go of it. Worse, Myers Guru Pitka character is more slimy than charming and more obnoxious than loveable. There's nothing to like about him, and the way he is constantly chuckling at his own jokes makes the character even more unbearable. (A blooper snippet featuring midget actor Verne Troyer during the end credits offers a off-the-cuff joke that is funnier than anything that's presented in the movie itself.)

The only halfway decent things about the movie are the musical numbers, with the spoofy Bollywood-style music video for "Space Cowboy" that closes film being particularly amusing, Stephen Colbert's performance as the world's worst color commentator, and the fact that Jessica Alba doesn't try to act in the movie but is instead just here to look pretty. And, man, can she look pretty!

Even if you're the biggest Mike Myers fan on the planet, you're going to regret seeing this one.