Category Archives: 4 pirate flags

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): United States – directed by Tobe Hooper

Rated R by the MPAA – contains terror, violence, some language, disturbing content

There have been a few horror movies that have caused a paradigm shift in popular culture’s consumption and attitudes toward horror films.  There were the early monster horror films, primarily courtesy of Universal, in the early 1930’s.  There was science fiction horror in the 1950’s.  Then, in 1960 there was Psycho, and a few other of Alfred Hitchcock’s self-proclaimed “healthy” horror shakeups.  In 1968 Night of the Living Dead [review here] terrified a new generation of youngsters hoping for a sci-fi monster movie.  In 1974 the genre became even more adult with the appearance of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

No film had yet had such an impact on the national psyche.  This was before Cannibal Holocaust caused people to believe the primary cast had been murdered during filming.  This was before The Blair Witch Project had audiences thinking it really was footage found in the woods.  This was a story so terrifying that it absolutely had to be based on a true story (even if it was a loose composite, in reality).  This was a story told in a way that would scar generations of movie-goers, and one that will continue to have an impact despite a low body count and a shocking lack of blood.

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If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horsemen Do?

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horsemen Do? (1971): United States – directed by Ron Ormond

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, dead children, warnings against Sin and Communism

There are certain films that are so inexplicable that their mere existence is cause for appreciation and enjoyment.  Films like Troll 2 [review here] are feature length examples of this phenomenon, and are utterly enjoyable in their ineptitude.  Much of the running time is spent wondering how on earth such plot, acting, special effects and writing could ever be combined on the same piece of celluloid.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a wonderful and mysterious amalgam as the one presented in If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? The film is intended to be a stern warning for all Christians in America, and non-Christians, of the natural consequences if they continue their sinful ways: Communism will overrun the country and murder your children.  The director is Ron Ormond, whose film The Monster and the Stripper is another perfect example of the inexplicable film.  Unfortunately, as a fiction feature length film that combines hunting a giant monster with dreadfully boring scenes of strippers and dancers semi-stripping and semi-dancing, The Monster and the Stripper was less than amazing.

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Machete (2010): United States – directed Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

Rated R by the MPAA – contains nudity, drug use, language, racism, sexual content, extreme violence, gore

Machete is precisely what Grindhouse should have been back in 2007: an homage to a simpler time, when movies had fewer production values, more blood, insane action, outrageous plots, and more nudity.  The movie starts with a bang and a slash and continues strongly to an even more ridiculous climactic battle, and all of it is tied together with a strong, silent performance from Danny Trejo.

Trejo plays Machete, a Federale who got caught up in the wrong drug war.  Three years ago the evil drug lord Torrez (Steven Segal) brutally murdered his wife.  Machete survived and eventually found his way north of the border.  Here he works as a day laborer until the day a sharply dressed man named Booth (Jeff Fahey) watches him dispatch another immigrant in a fight without even raising a fist.

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Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D (2010): United States – directed by Alexandre Aja

Rated R by the MPAA – contains gratuitous nudity, wanton violence and gore, CG blood, drug use, bad behavior, language, and more nudity

Note: This review discusses some of the more unpleasant aspects of Piranha 3D, and should only be read by mature movie-goers.  It may also contain a few spoilers.

Rarely has a film succeeded so gratuitously in its intentions as Piranha 3D.  It is shameless in its exploitation, and manages to fill the void in true grindhouse American cinema that has been lacking for so many years.  It is what Grindhouse itself should have been.  And it’s the closest America has ever seen to the Japanese shock films of the past few years; it only took a renowned French director to bring it to life.

Alexandre Aja broke onto the horror scene with High Tension, an intense and horrific film that helped usher in a new era of European horror.  That film was initially rated NC-17, and was undeniably more unsettling that Piranha 3D.  However, it contained nowhere near the amount of gratuitous nudity or CG blood that Piranha 3D managed to sneak by the MPAA.  I would have paid a small fortune to listen in as the MPAA’s panel of “parents” discussed the film and decided it would be appropriate for any age of person if a parent or guardian accompanied them.

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Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead (1968): United States – directed by George Romero

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, some gore, brief partial nudity, some language, intense themes

Few films in the history of cinema have laid as complete a groundwork for an entire subsequent genre as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  His reimagining of the undead creatures known as zombies created the rules for countless films, novels, comic books, and video games, in addition to a number of sequels.  The Italians, in particular, reworked the formula in a variety of ways after the film’s sequel, Dawn of the Dead, made such a splash.

Such an impact is rather strange for such a small movie, one with no budget and a lack of any greater intentions.  Night of the Living Dead is a prime example of art being successful because of what audiences inferred rather than what the creators intended.  But, similar to how truly bad movies are enjoyable because the filmmakers believed they were good, Night of the Living Dead is effective because of how simple and unpretentious it is.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): United States – directed by Edgar Wright

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains cartoony violence, some sexual content and themes, and some language

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World opens on the perfect note: an 8-bit approximation of the Universal Pictures logo as it might have appeared on the SNES, accompanied by a MIDI soundtrack of the Universal theme.  Then, as soon as the characters are introduced with on-screen stats and graphics, it becomes clear that the entire movie will be a mash-up of video game and comic book.

For anyone familiar with Edgar Wright’s work, this should be no surprise.  As far back as “Spaced,” one of the greatest modern television series, Wright displayed a unique panache for visual flair and transitions.  With a limited television budget and a compressed schedule he managed to imbue his comedy about two jobless flat inhabitants in a familiar England with a pop sensibility rarely rivaled.  It was clear from the beginning that Wright’s geekdom was supreme.

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Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991): Hong Kong/Japan – directed by Ngai Kai Lam

Not rated by the MPAA – contains extreme and ridiculous violence and gore, and some drug content

Note: This review contains some descriptions of violent content, and a picture that might offend those not expecting cartoonish, ridiculous violence.

Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is one of the most amazing movies ever committed to celluloid.  It is nearly inconceivable that it was ever made, and a pure joy to watch if one is blessed with the right mindset.  It must be understood that Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is not a good movie.  It is not a work of great art, or hardly any art, for that matter.  In some ways it is a wretched film, truly awful; the joy lies in that it appears its creators were taking it seriously, as is the case with Troll 2 [review here].

The story is a little bit silly, the gore effects are absurdly violent, and the acting and technical skills are lacking.  However, despite its shortcomings (all of which add to the true charm of the film) Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is, at its core, the story of a very strong Jesus-figure.

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Inception (2010): United States – directed by Christopher Nolan

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language, and violence

In twenty, thirty, maybe fifty years only the filmographies of a few contemporary directors will be regarded as classics.  I would venture to say that Christopher Nolan’s output between 2000 and 2010 will be counted among those.  Rarely has a filmmaker been so consistent throughout six of his first seven films; rarely has one been able to examine similar themes through so many different lenses.  Starting with Memento [review here], dipping to the relative low point of Insomnia, itself a remake, and then continuing with the two best Batman movies and a stellar drama about magicians, The Prestige [review here] (and this doesn’t even count the capable Following, made in the late 1990’s).  Inception is the culmination of those themes, told in a story Christopher and his brother Jonathan have been brooding over for many years.

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Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009): Japan – directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some sexual content, extreme violence, showers of blood, and some romance

Note: This film is rather violent, in a ludicrous manner, and the following review may discuss some details better suited for those who are not squeamish

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is everything you could hope for from a movie with that title, and so much more.  It is a fantastic mix of Tokyo Gore Police [review here] and Postal, the most offensive Japanese movie I’ve ever seen, and an absolute blast to watch.

The opening scene squares off Vampire Girl with a trio of bizarre Japanese schoolgirls who seem to be assembled from a variety of body parts.  Vampire Girl soon disassembles them, going so far as to “unwrap” one of their heads, leaving a spinning, bloody skull.  There are showers of blood, and it becomes immediately clear that Yoshihiro Nishimura, who did the makeup effects for Tokyo Gore Police and Hard Revenge Milly [review here], was involved with the production.  Here Nishimura is co-helming the film with Naoyuki Tomomatsu, who directed Zombie Self-Defense Force [review here].

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Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994): United States – directed by Quentin Tarantino

Rated R by the MPAA – contains constant profanity, some graphic violence, mature themes and dialogue, and some graphic drug use

Pulp Fiction has been regarded as one of the 1990’s premiere films for quite some time now.  After Quentin Tarantino blew up the independent film world with his fast talking characters in Reservoir Dogs, he followed it up with another “independent” film, Pulp Fiction.  The $7 million budget and host of huge stars seemed to make the independent label ridiculous, but the point was that smaller studios were now able to pump out quality material that could compete with the big Hollywood studios.  It signaled a change in the way the film system worked.

In the years since, numerous college kids have latched onto the film, often enjoying the frequent profanity and absurd, sudden violence.  The first full-sized poster I bought in college was of Vince Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson).  The movie is often quoted and analyzed, particularly the gold-glowing contents of the briefcase.  But this, too, is just a MacGuffin, like much of the plot.  Pulp Fiction prefers its characters to its events and its dialogue to its actions.

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