Archive for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II

Men from Mars are from Mars

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2016 by dcairns

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Tobe Hooper’s INVADERS FROM MARS — part of a set of actually quite interesting semi-bad movies he made for bigtime schlockmeisters Cannon (I would never have believe the daywould come when I might feel nostalgic for Cannon, but here we are). LIFEFORCE is a sort of laughable Quatermass-for-and-by-teenage-boys (the monster is the scariest thing ever, a naked girl) and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II is genuinely fucked-up and harrowing, if somewhat incoherent. See it — you’ll be punch-drunk afterwards.

In the 50s, designer-director William Cameron Menzies (name-checked in the high school in the 80s version) made an uncategorizable B-movie sub-classic, which tried its damnest to use a juvenile it-was-all-a-dream structure in an interesting way. I never felt it quite worked but always felt it was interesting, and Menzies’ expressionist child’s-eye sets are terrific.

One surprise with Tobe’s remake is how it doubles down on precisely the elements of the original that seemed dangerously hokey thirty years earlier and were least likely to find favour, one would have thought, with an 80s audience. Though there had been a spate of fantasy films with kid protagonists, IFM was never going to be another ET, was it?

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The central conceit is that of the genuine psychological condition Capgras Syndrome, in which one imagines intimates have been replaced with impostors. Or, in this case, taken over with NECK IMPLANTS. Neck implants appeared in Menzies film before they became part of the mythos of true life alien encounters, which maybe tells you something about true life alien encounters — but maybe only some of them? The cast essay a wide range of approaches to alien possession: Louise Fletcher does her patented ice bitch act, but more manic, but the best players at this are mom Laraine Newman and especially dad Timothy Bottoms, who is helped by Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby’s script, which gives him lots of quirky schtick like gulping scalding coffee supersaturated with undissolved sugar. But his stilted line readings and spooky demeanour are a constant joy. When he unexpectedly appears from behind a bush with a man from the telephone company (everyone hates the telephone company) the scenario seems redolent of cottaging, and Bottoms does great work with his explanation: “He’s from the switching department,” delivered as if this goofy remote-control meatpuppet WANTS the ordinary humans to pick up some Hidden Meaning.

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The other best bit of business for the mandroids is when Fletcher, for no discernible reason, starts reciting “A-E-I-O-U” repeatedly and then launches into a bit of Magwitch’s dialogue from Great Expectations (“get me a file and some wittles”). Interestingly, this is the bit right before Magwitch describes his friend who can crawl through tight spaces and eat your liver — a character who became serial killer Eugene Tooms in The X-Files. Magwitch never mentions that his friends sleeps in a newspaper nest like a hamster, but we can still agree that Great Expectations has had more influence on science-fiction than any other Dickens novel. Apart from Rod Serling’s Carol for Another Christmas, and at least until someone makes a post-apocalyptic version of Little Dorrit. Fletcher’s incongruous recital is wonderful precisely because nothing whatsoever can account for it — she’s a science teacher, not an English teacher, and anyway, WTF?

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Great-beyond-great Stan Winston aliens — he obviously got the same note about this being a pastiche that Bottoms got.

Hooper seems to be riding the Louma crane for the whole flick, serving up sinewy, twisting moves that may not add tension but certainly impart elegance.

I recently interviewed the film’s production designer, Les Dilley, but failed to ask him about this one. Tough brief — the film doesn’t replicate Menzies’ distorted perspectives designed to make the child hero extra-diminutive and overwhelmed, but it still embraces a form of theatrical stylisation unfashionable at the time (same year as BLUE VELVET, though, interestingly). And then there’s a Geiger-ish sensibility to the aliens’ underground lair. The difficulty is, the first INVADERS was replicating the non-cinematic media influences a child of the era would have, from pulp magazines to comic books, bubble-gum cards, radio shows and maybe TV. In all of which, space and space invaders were a definite thing, with set generic qualities (Menzies dutifully includes Bug Eyed Monsters and a Little Green Man). That world of influences has irreversibly split in a thousand directions by the 80s, so the film struggles to create a unified sensibility that feels like it could be a small boy’s dream, though there are some nice details like a NASA security device that beeps like a digital alarm clock. This is all happening in a suburban bedroom…

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And then there’s Bud Cort, who is just insanely wonderful for about five minutes before he gets disintegrated. Most untimely disintegration in sci-fi history, unless you count the guy in ANGRY RED PLANET who waits until the third act before getting dissolved, when he should have taken a Captain Oates long walk as soon as possible and spared us our misery.

There’s a thing: in ANGRY RED P, the Martians warn us to get off their dusty red lawn, but in INVADERS FROM MARS they’ve come here uninvited and dug ruddy great holes. It’s a bit rich, that.

Oh, Karen Black. Nurse. I hope I get sick.

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Dismember the Alamo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by dcairns

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I had been warned by Paul Duane, who knows Texas, that TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 was pretty fucked up. He wasn’t wrong.

The first film managed to mingle a kind of very unpleasant black comedy with a grotesque charnel-house realism, avoiding extreme gore but lingering on extreme emotional distress. For the sequel, original director Tobe Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kir Carson, who was coming off of Jim McBride’s BREATHLESS and Wim Wenders’ PARIS, TEXAS (on which he has an odd crediting for “adapting” Sam Shepherd’s original screenplay) evidently decided to abandon any taste of realism and pump up everything else until it burst. As a kind of Rabelaisian revulsion response to the concept of horror movies, meat, the human body and the state of Texas and the country of America, it’s pretty strong stuff.

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Hooper’s enthusiasm for cruelty and violence and terror and the gross seems to come at the expense of any interest in the non-mayhem scenes, which is a shame — final girl Caroline Williams and the recently career-resurrected Dennis Hopper are good company, but many of the straight acting scenes seem like rehearsals. Once some suspense kicks in — a long, creepy intimidation scene in a tiny radio station — Hooper’s skills with the camera and with pacing come to the rescue, and though there are continual flaws of logic and basic credibility, the pace never flags from then on.

Cannon Films evidently showered largesse — and offal — on the production, allowing it to employ Tom Savini for grue and mummification effects, and to build a spectacular, impossible set, Texas Battle Land, a decaying theme park partially converted into an abattoir by the Sawney Bean-inspired Sawyer family. Among the bizarre murals and sculptures is a huge hand with fringed sleeve, clutching a bowie-knife, apparently breaking through the floor. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s kind of wonderful.

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The active Sawyers this time are Bubba, AKA Leatherface, now played by Bill Johnson, who proves himself a nimble physical comedian, contrasting his physical bulk with small, apologetic gestures; Chop-Top, played with gusto by Bill Mosely, a Viet Nam vet with a steel plate in his skull, which he continually picks at with a heated coat hanger, eating the shreds of himself he tears away; and the paterfamilias, Jim Siedow, back from the first film. He can’t exactly act, though he is certainly a striking performer. This movie tends to showcase his weaknesses more than the first film, giving him more dialogue, more emotions, and more screen-time. He isn’t nuanced, but he IS enthusiastic. His forced maniacal laugh, which he throws in even when his character is supposed to be angry, adds to the sense of nervous strain on the whole enterprise, so it’s in its clumsy way pretty effective.

More bad stuff: Hooper co-composed the score, and he’s no John Carpenter. Fragments of Bernard Herrmann served up with synths — genuinely horrible, and not in a good way.

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But the film has a demented vigour, a go-for-broke aggression born either of Hooper’s sheer ignorance about what is acceptable behaviour in a mainstream horror movie (chainsaw masturbation? Really?) or his suicidal urge to career-immolate as penance for LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS (which are still ridiculously enjoyable movies). The addition of hot-pink disco lighting doesn’t lessen the impact, it makes everything feel sicker. It’s like eating a barbecue under coloured lighting while death metal plays. It’s a film so full of bad-taste energy that it can casually throw out the suggestion of a Viet Nam War theme park and not bother to elaborate.

“Was it wrong of me to enjoy that?” asked Fiona. It’s wrong of all of us!