The Bad Movie Report
Flashes in the Brain Pan
Flashes in the Brain Pan
Flashes in the Brain Pan

Numba 2

I watch a lot of movies (there will now be a brief pause so you can put on a shocked face and gasp, "No!"), The trouble is, not every movie will support my normal several thousand words of ranting and raving. Here are some examples.

Dog Soldiers

Yeah, okay, so I may the last person in the world to review this.

Just in case I'm not: a group of British Soldiers are on a training manuever in the heavily forested part of the Scottish Highlands. The first problem that arises is when they find the camp of their opponents in this small scale war game, a high-level covert ops special forces unit. Moreover, what's left of that unit: something or things killed the supposed elite badasses rather messily during the night. The second problem is the identity of the killers: a pack of werewolves operating on their home turf. The third problem: the full moon is rising.

If there is a real drawback to Dog Soldiers, it's that it will remind you constantly of other movies. As the soldiers barricade themselves into a nearby farmhouse, any number of zombie films will start popping up in your head. As the soldiers are heavily armed and well-trained in small squad tactics, the memory of Aliens will be irresistable. No, one of the things that Dog Soldiers can be accused of is not originality, but it's what first time director Neil Marshall does with the sturdy old setpieces that counts.

Bad dog!  Bad dog!Most of the fun comes from watching the soldiers try to figure a way out of their predicament, and see how plan after plan is thwarted, desperation heightening as the ammo runs out. The movie for me was a tremendous amount of fun until the third act, when a rather gratuitous plot twist (which seems to invalidate a lot of the previous plot points) arrives, and afterwards things just seem to shuffle about according to a tattered playbook until the final showdown, when (as we all expected) that deus ex machina introduced in the first scene makes its reappearance.

Which didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie significantly. As usual, it's the small details that bug me. like the strangely luminous fog of the Scottish Highlands; there is frequently so much light pouring in the shuttered windows I thought the sun had risen and it was time for the soldiers to go hunting werewolves-now-civilians. Wisely, the bad guys are kept mainly off-camera for the majority of the picture (and when we do get a look, they aren't laughable), and the acting is uniformly good. Sean Pertwee - yep, the son of Doctor Who Jon Pertwee - is an especial standout as Sgt. Wells, the kind of dedicated career soldier who is always the Sarge in these situations. The kind of guy you always hope will lead your squad in the field.

Probably a major reason I've not written about this movie to this point is that the best possible critique of it has already been penned by Mike over at Dante's Inferno and All-Night Video Store: this is the movie that a horror fan would come up on his own - in Mike's case (appropriately enough) while he was on guard duty - and it shows in a gleeful approach unafraid to inject humor into the most horrific moments. Dog Soldiers is the most pleasant surprise I've found on the rental shelves in a long time.


Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

Speaking of surprises: The Yokai Monsters discs started showing up without much fanfare on store shelves, leading to much curiosity on my part. My curiosity is usually limited to intellectual phrases like, The hell-???!!!, so here is the -sort of - lowdown as I have been able to unearth it.

This is a series of movies made by Daiei in the late 60s, featuring creatures from Japanese folklore, which is to say, people in rubber suits. Spook Warfare is actually the second in this series of three movies, but was released by ADVfilms as Volume One because they felt that it was the strongest of the trio. (If you're wondering, the other two films are called 100 Monsters and the oddly titled Along With Ghosts)

Spook Warfare opens with tomb raiders in Arabic costume accidentally resurrecting an ancient Babylonian demon named Daimon, who decides to split to a part of the world that doesn't know how to deal with his diabolic kind, namely feudal Japan. Killing a benevolent lord and assuming his identity, Daimon proceeds to do anti-social things like smash holy shrines and drink peoples' blood. Eventually, when he starts actively kidnapping children for midnight snacks, the local spirits (or yokai monsters, if you prefer), decide enough is enough and band together to oust the foreigner and strike a blow for the pride of Japanese monsters everywhere.

Alas, a picture too small to convey the weirdness therein.Enjoyment of this movie may depend on how familiar you are with the apparitions of Japanese folklore. I had a casual knowledge of creatures like the kappa (a water imp) and the karakasa (a one-legged umbrella monster who likes to lick your face), and the others seemed deucedly familiar, but I was unable to put a name on them or get a handle on their powers or place in the hierarchy of monsters. This didn't matter an awful lot to my enjoyment of the picture, but I think it does impact my overall rating; lacking that background and resulting resonance, the experience was quaint more than anything else.

I should pause to mention the picture quality on ADVFilms' disc, which was extraordinary. Outside of a few scenes where the color temperature was off, the film element was in beautiful shape; approaching the movie tabula rasa as I did, I was surprised to find that it had a copyright date of 1968. I had thought it to be much more recent.

Another reason for the small amount of ambivalence I feel toward the picture, other than my lack of cultural background to fully enjoy it: it would seem that this would be a fine picture for children, who love their monster good guys; but Daimon's blood-drinking is far too intense for the small fry. Besides, your only option for viewing is Japanese language/English subtitles. Purist that I am, I feel that's entirely appropriate, and it at least means careless parents won't be accidentally traumatizing their children with it.

Series 7

If Dog Soldiers is the movie Mike came up with in his idle hours, then Series 7 is certainly the one that I dreamed up in mine. I don't know about you, but network TV for me has become one long season in hell, populated by nothing but Reality TV and Everybody Loves Raymond. I don't like either.

This truly is a movie for people who hate Reality TV. What makes it even better is that while the final cut was being prepared in the editing suite, the first season of Survivor changed the landscape of television into a world where Series 7's subject matter seems not only possible, but you're damn sure some network executive in the grip of a cocaine binge has considered it.

Series 7 is actually a "marathon" showing of the latest episodes of a series called The Contenders, which can best be thought of as Death Race 2000 meets Battle Royale meets COPS meets Waiting for Guffman by way of The 10th Victim. Six citizens from a randomly chosen city are drawn by lottery and issued guns. Constantly tailed by TV cameras, the contestants' job is hunt down and kill each other for the viewers' entertainment. The surviving champion goes on to the next series, and five new opponents. Survive three lotteries, and you're allowed to leave the game.

Attempting to produce any backstory as to how the series came to be would be unweildy (this violence is apprently condoned by law enforcement - in fact, when one unwilling contestant goes the Logan's Run route, he is pursued in a LA Police-style televised chase), so writer/director Daniel Minahan wisely concentrates on the contestants, most notably two-time champion Dawn Lagarto (a truly outstanding performance by Brooke Smith, who was Jamie Gumb's victim-to-be in Silence of the Lambs). Dawn is an unwed mother far into the ninth month of her pregnancy; in order to safeguard her unborn baby's life, she has become a ruthless killer who plays the game very well.

Dawn scores victim #10 at a 7-11.  Told you smoking was bad for you!The show starts off with the finale of Series 6, as Dawn walks into a convenience store where her last surviving opponent is buying cigarettes. She immediately shoots him from behind, puts two rounds in his head, then asks the stunned clerk if the store has any bean dip. At this point, you know you're in for a ride.

In a prescient nod to producer's meddlings in the real-life reality shows, The Powers That Be decide to place Series 7 in Dawn's old hometown. Not only is one of the contestants a former lover, but Dawn will also find herself up against the condemnation of her own family. Her other opponents are a family man who finds his intestinal fortitude is not up to his macho posturing; a cheerleader; a conspiracy-minded recluse who seems one manifesto short of being the Unabomber; and a middle-aged nurse who turns out to have a devious streak even deeper than Dawn's.

The performances are fairly convincing, and Minahan successfully dissects and employs the storytelling devices of verite programming very well, with edgy graphics and short snippets of important scenes preceding the commercial breaks to make sure you stay tuned. It must have been very tempting to actually produce commercials for this strange, frightening parallel world. Minahan's smarter than that, though. Frankly, I wouldn't have been.

Yeah, sometimes the unfolding events are a little too pat, and the way the ending is handled robs it of power (but is still rather mordantly funny); it's the sort of social satire and edgy storytelling that should encouraged. Highly creative, often savagely funny. I'd love to give you a direct link to purchase it, but for some reason, Amazon doesn't carry it. I wonder what Franklin, the paranoid recluse who lives in a lead-lined trailer, would make of that.



- August 19, 2003