Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cooties


Cooties (2014)
Dir. Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Written by Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan
Starring Elijah Wood, Alison Pil, Rainn Wilson, Morgan Lilly, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell

This poster is almost a parody of what comically terrible, low-effort photoshop would look like on a movie poster.

COOTIES is part of an increasingly pervasive invasion of movies --almost certainly underwritten by the Kremlin to destroy our resolve as Americans-- which follow in the footsteps of 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD and 2009’s ZOMBIELAND to comprise a subgenre now known as the Zom-Com, or, often, the Zom-Rom-Com. As we discussed in the badly-named but fun WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD, you can’t throw a gnawed-off finger these days without hitting some smirking wannabe clever Zombie riff with some stupid gimmick and a low-effort pun for a title. This trend was quite frankly getting a little tedious ten years ago, and yet for some reason we’re still going with no end in sight. ZOMBEAVERS, really? That’s a pun which would strain to get a chuckle out of a room of stoned teenagers, and yet lucky us, we get a whole movie about it.


But COOTIES, I must admit, has a pretty good hook -- it’s about a zombie outbreak which occurs in an elementary school and specifically targets only the children, pitting the teachers against a raging, homicidal horde their former wards. As a one-time public school teacher myself, I can safely say that this is already how teachers feel, so it’s nice to have some art which offers a little catharsis. Plus, as a horror fan, there are few come-ons more tempting than the question of who can will a child? It’s exactly the kind of inherently sensitive topic which a good horror comedy should be able to tweak some gleeful bad taste from. Good (or even decent) Horror-comedies are pretty rare, of course, but if we’re coasting on outrageous content I think we can safely accept over-the-top zombie child kills as acceptable horror fare, even if the auterial intent is naughty snickering instead of spine-melting terror.




Indeed, COOTIES is much more comedy than horror in tone, and, like its obvious predecessor ZOMBIELAND, doesn’t even seem particularly interested in its horror elements, except as a plot device. It’s not in any sense a parody, nor does it have any real drive to examine or push the genre’s form. In fact, it doesn’t much appear to be made by anyone with a lot of understanding or affection for horror films in general (of the creative team, only SAW writer Leigh Whannell has any previous professional experience with the genre) nor does much of its humor derive from any particulars of its horror scenario. The plot is as boilerplate as these things come: a group of teachers get caught in a zombie student uprising during the school day, and have to grudgingly work together to survive and escape. But that’s mostly just a framework for the movie to coast on -- the comedy comes from the broadly-drawn stereotypes the movie throws into this situation: nebbish aspiring novelist Clint (Elijah Wood, MANIAC), his vaguely-defined romantic interest Lucy (Alison Pil, Zelda Fitzgerald in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS), her inexplicably assholish boyfriend Wade (Rainn Wilson, SUPER), the gay guy (Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock), the shrill right winger (Nasim Pedrad, SNL), the awkward weirdo (Leigh Whannell, THE BYE BYE MAN), and the holy shit what the fuck were they thinking regressive racist caricature (Peter Kwong, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA).


If that sounds a tad sit-communist to you, I can only commend you on your keen powers of observation. But just because COOTIES is entirely comprised of one hack premise haphazardly stuffed into another hack premise, doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Sometimes lazy writing can still be funny in the right hands, and it turns out that Wood, Pil, Wilson, McBrayer, Whannell and Pedrad are indeed the right hands for this.* They all seem to realize that they’re playing cardboard-thin stock types (McBrayer has literally nothing but gay jokes) and correctly redirect their focus from acting to entertaining. With this script and premise, entertaining was all it could ever hope to be, and entertaining it is, with each actor playing their required type with enthusiasm and a singleminded focus on generating amusement from whatever’s handy, resulting in gags about speech impediments, stoners, obnoxious right-wingers, wannabe artists, and yes, poop. Lowbrow? Sure, but not without its charm. It’s brisk, energetic, and liberally sodden with featherweight goofiness.




That’s not a bad thing -- in fact, I quite enjoyed its breezy 88 minutes. But for a movie which seems to really, really want to be a transgressive midnight movie, it’s hard not to notice that it’s just not really mean --or imaginative-- enough to make the grade. If you want to see child killing, there’s a little in there, but the movie is pretty squeamish about it and mostly dodges the many opportunities the scenario presents. In fact, while it doesn’t completely eschew the expected zombie gore, it doesn’t really linger on it either, or seem especially interested in cultivating any big fright moments. It’s far more interested in the boilerplate romantic triangle between Wood, Pil, and Wilson which provides most of the narrative conflict. That’s where its priorities lie, for better or worse.


I have mixed feelings about how well that works. The result, of course, is a film which seems to be a horror film in a surprisingly offhanded sort of way, like they used the zombie setup as a convenient story structure to frame the quirky comedy they really wanted to make. But while the comedy is clearly the movie’s strong suit, I can’t in good conscience say it’s any great shakes either. It’s amusing in its broad, silly sort of way, but that’s mostly a result of the winning performances of the cast, more than the inherent worth of the material. If it weren’t for the zombies, this would absolutely not be a story worth telling, and yet the zombies feel weirdly sidelines and underutilized, which makes the whole thing feel slight and underbaked. It’s cheerful and ingratiating, but there’s something wrong with your zombie movie when the most unique thing in it is the socially awkward weirdo character played by Leigh Whannell, who is introduced reading a book called “How To Carry A Normal Conversation.” That’s very nearly identical to a joke I wrote for a short school play in 6th grade, but at least it’s still a funny one. Should we be shooting for more ambitious comedy than a lazy 6th-grader? Maybe, but I guess a joke that works is still a joke that works. COOTIES is not a bad way to waste an afternoon, but one can’t help wish the ambitions here were a little more robust.


* No offense to Kwong, who admirably commits to a character too fundamentally ill-conceived be salvaged.  

I'd watch the shit out of the movie that this poster advertises.


CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting


TAGLINE
You Are What They Eat. and Please Don’t Feed The Children
TITLE ACCURACY
Sure, whatever.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
No
SEQUEL?
No
REMAKE?
No
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
USA
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Zombies, horror-comedy
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
Elijah Wood? I mean, it seems like he’s done nothing but horror movies since his LotR days, but I think he’s still a pretty big deal, right?
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Leigh Whannell. And I think we probably have to count Wood too by this point.
NUDITY?
No
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
No
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Just children
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
Zombies, but they’re the “infected” running variety
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None
EVIL CULT?
Nah
MADNESS?
None
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
Just people into zombies
VOYEURISM?
None
MORAL OF THE STORY
Who can kill a child? Pretty much anyone, if the little fucker is persistent enough in trying to bite you.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Food Of The Gods


Food Of The Gods (1976)
Dir. Bert I. Gordon
Written by Bert I. Gordon based on a “portion of a novel” by H. G. Wells
Starring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker, Jon Cypher, Ida Lupino



FOOD OF THE GODS starts out the way I secretly want every movie to start out: with a man punching a giant chicken. The man in question is Morgan (Marjoe Gortner, more on him later), a pro football player who has arrived on a remote British Columbia island for reasons which are overexplained to the point of total nonsense. The chicken is a chicken from the farm of Mr. and Ms. Skinner (John McLiam, FIRST BLOOD, and Ida Lupino, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT), who have been feeding their livestock a mysterious oily substance which has bubbled up on their farm. This is the titular food, although unless I misheard, the Skinners seem to say it’s the food of just one God. The thing about the Food Of The Gods is, it makes animals grow really big.

This is pretty much the best premise ever for a movie, and for awhile it seems like it just might live up to its premise. Pretty soon after the giant chicken punching, we get a fight with giant wasps and a large wasp nest (the wasps look to be roughly 10,000 times their original size, and their hive is probably three times larger than normal so it must be pretty cramped in there), then an assault on a car by giant rats (well, regular-sized rats on a tiny adorable model car) and giant flesh-eating maggots. And then some more rats. And more rats. And even more rats. And finally, more rats again.



Don’t get me wrong, it would take a stronger man than I to find no joy at all in a bunch of normal-sized rats swarming over tiny, detailed models of various sets from the movie. But it would also take a significantly more disturbed man than me to find enough joy in that concept to support an entire movie. And unfortunately that’s what FOOD OF THE GODS is betting on, devoting nearly the entirety of its latter half to a giant rodents riff on a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD farmhouse siege conceit. This presents a problem, because it’s far too silly to be frightening or tense, but also way, way too repetitive to get by on campy charm, which leaves this giant animals vs stereotypes setup with disappointing little to recommend itself.* I suppose there are just barely enough unintended chuckles in there (“hey, look lady, I’ve already seen your chickens!”) to scrape by as ironic enjoyment, but really there’s unforgivably little enjoyment of any kind to be had here, considering how easy it should have been to make this premise into something breezy low-budget fun.



Because there’s not much to say about the movie, I’d instead like to point to something much more interesting: the movie’s star, Marjoe Gortner, doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record as an actor, even by B-movie standards (not to speak ill of STARCRASH, MAYDAY AT 40,000 FEET or AMERICAN NINJA 3: BLOOD HUNT), but he did live an interesting life: he was forced by his parents to become an evangelical preacher as a very young child, and apparently became quite popular in the traveling preacher circuit of the time, before running away to San Francisco to enjoy the hippie life after his dad absconded with the millions they’d bilked from the rubes. After a few years as a penniless hippie, though, he decided to get back into the charismatic preaching game, making bank but feeling guilty about his double life and eventually coming clean about the hidden side of big-money preaching in a 1972 tell-all documentary called MARJOE, which won the Academy Award for best documentary that year. He went from that to a fairly busy 20-year TV and B-movie career, after which he retired from acting to become a promoter and organizer for charity sporting events. None of that really comes through in his acting in FOOD OF THE GODS, but I bet he’s pretty interesting at parties.



The other interesting person in the cast is Ida Lupino, in her second-to-last on-screen performance. She’s the only person in the cast who seems to realize that this would work much better as camp, but it’s a pretty boring character and she doesn’t leave much of an impression here. Her long career as an actress and director was anything but boring, however -- she had her first starring role at the age of 14 in 1932, and spent a busy ten years as an actress before her brassy refusal to take roles that bored her ran afoul of studio boss Jack Warner, who put her on suspension. The suspension proved to be a blessing in disguise, because it pushed her into directing -- first smaller social-issues film (including a very early film about out-of-wedlock pregnancy which earned her a radio conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt) but soon some genre films as well, leading her to be the first woman to ever direct a film noir (the cynical, all-male THE HITCH-HIKER in 1953) and to co-found an independent production company with her then-husband. She would go on to direct episodes of The Twilight Zone (becoming the only woman to ever direct an episode, and the only person of either gender to both direct and star in an episode), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables and other popular shows of the time, while continuing to act on the side. That’s what I call leaning in.

Anyway, FOOD OF THE GODS is not a good movie, but now you know something interesting. Some good came of this, and sometimes that’s all you can hope for.

*It’s also pretty clear that those stunt rats are actually getting hurt, so if that sort of thing bothers you this probably ain’t the movie for you.



CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting

TAGLINE
Welcome To The Bottom Of The Food Chain!
TITLE ACCURACY
There is stuff which is called “Food Of The Gods” (or, “God” anyway) in the movie, although that characterization is wildly inaccurate.
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
Yes, based very loosely on a “portion” of H.G. Wells’s novel The Food Of The Gods And How It Came To Earth
SEQUEL?
Yes, FOOD OF THE GODS II
REMAKE?
There’s one listed as “in production” on IMDB, but you need pro to see it.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
USA
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Eco Horror, When Animals Attack!
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
None. I mean, maybe Ida Lupino? But she was never really in A movies. Marjoe Gortner was in a movie which won an Oscar, but it was a documentary about him.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
None
NUDITY?
No
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
No
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Oh hell yeah
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
No
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None
EVIL CULT?
Nah
MADNESS?
While these people do an almost inexcusably bad job of surviving, they seem to be idiots more than mentally ill.
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
Small animals into very large animals
VOYEURISM?
None
MORAL OF THE STORY
Don’t feed your farm animals an inexplicable ooze that bubbles up out of the ground near your house. Don’t know why you would, but now you know not to.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Black Room (1982ish)


The Black Room (sometime between 1982 and 1984)
Dir. Elly Kenner & and “co-directed by” Norman Thaddeus Vane
Written by Norman Thaddeus Vane
Starring Stephen Knight, Cassandra Gava (as Cassandra Gaviola), Jimmy Stathis, Clara Perryman




You probably haven’t seen THE BLACK ROOM. That’s a shame, but it’s understandable, since most people haven’t seen THE BLACK ROOM. It’s a fairly difficult movie to see. Shot in 1981, it struggled to get a US theatrical released until 1984, and frankly I’m not sure what kind of release it got even then. I can find no record outside of IMDB that it was ever released in theaters in the US at all -- no box office numbers, no firm release date, no theatrical posters, no ads. The shady gray market website from which I bought the VHS-ripped DVD originally claimed it was made for cable; I can’t find any evidence to support that claim either. But then again, I don’t know what it was made for -- or who, for that matter. THE BLACK ROOM is a very weird movie. But I think it may be kind of great.


You know it’s not gonna be a normal movie right from the credits. We open in a bizarre, stylized room -- a literal black room, completely dark except for a couple candles and a boxy, coffin-like table which glows brightly from within. It looks like the perfect place for some kind of occult tomfoolery, but the current occupants are using it for another purpose, which is hot naked fuckin.’ It’s not exactly porn but it’s at least late-night-cinemax level (is that still a thing?), and we get to it before a full minute of screen-time has elapsed. And we’re not done yet. Because while we’re so enjoying watching these unknown characters have some very sensual lots-of-kissing-and-hugging-and-holding-each-other sex, someone else is doing the same thing we are -- there’s a secret peephole through which an unknown voyeur is watching. Only, he’s not just there for the show; while the two lovers are occupied, this unknown watcher sneaks into the room with a syringe in one hand and a chloroformed rag in the other. Quick shot of some kind of medical machine running. Quick shot of blood draining into a medical beaker. Cut to the bodies of the two lovers crudely buried in the backyard by a mysterious man and woman.




Having just witnessed a sex act which did not turn out so great, we quickly move on to another: our protagonists Larry (Jimmy Stathis, X-RAY aka HOSPITAL MASSACRE) and Robin (Clara Perryman, an episode of Remington Steele) are a happily married couple in the middle of getting busy, when they’re interrupted by their kid whining from another room. Fortunately the kid doesn’t walk in on them, as we know from all the giallos we’ve seen that this is a surefire ticket to becoming some kind of sex pervert homicidal maniac. So, crisis averted there. Unfortunately, the crisis of Larry’s libido is not so easily averted, and the very next day we see him circling ads in the “rooms for rent” section of the local paper. He’s not just casually flicking through either, he picks up the paper and turns right to that section. He’s been thinking about this for a long time. Now, you’re probably thinking “aww, he’s renting a room so he can finally boink his wife in peace without the risk of turning his kid into a gimmick killer.” But try not to look too shocked when I tell you that his plans for the room do not actually involve his wife.


Wouldn’t you know it, the room Larry has bookmarked for a clandestine love nest is actually the very same room we just saw in the opening credits. It seems that the room is located in the Bates-motel-esque Hollywood Hills luxury home of Jason (Stephen Knight, “1983 Re-Issue of NECROMANCY aka THE WITCHING”) and his sister Bridget (Cassandra Gava, CONAN THE BARBARIAN), who are very, very accommodating of Larry’s desires to an almost uncomfortable degree. Particularly considering that Jason has a rare and fatal blood disorder which requires frequent transfusions. I mean, it’s truly heartwarming to find that there are still people in the world who, regardless of their own health, are not only OK with renting out a room in their home so horny guys can cheat on their wives, but go the extra mile and proactively stock it with lit candles, fine wine, and (one would hope) fresh couch pillows, so that everything is ready to go when the pre-seduced young lady of the hour arrives. “This place is really something else. So many candles!” Larry gushes, ignoring how openly creepy the room and its owners are. (One weird thing about this room, while we’re on the subject: everyone who sees it takes it for granted that it’s strictly a sex room. But there is no bed here at all. Aspiring sex partners have to choose between a slim couch and the oriental rug* on the floor. Admittedly --as is made indisputably clear during the course of the movie-- love will find a way, but it might be kind of an uncomfortable way which doesn’t provide for a lot of positions, is all I’m saying. But maybe that’s why it’s so affordable).


Anyhoo, you can see where this is going. Larry brings sexually liberated young co-eds back to the room, bangs ‘em, and meanwhile Jason and Bridget hide behind the peephole and take pictures (which I can’t imagine come out too well in such low light and through glass, but whatever). To blackmail him, you ask? Nah, they’re just into that. Actually their plan is to wait til Larry has a girl with him and suddenly has to leave her alone and run off, and then to lock her up and slowly drain her blood to keep Jason alive. Foolproof.




While on paper this seems like a lazy setup for some kind of aimless skin flick a la Jean Rollins, there’s a surprising amount of effort being made here by the filmmakers, which makes this seem like anything but the sleazy exploitation flick it probably is, or at least was intended to be. Cinematographer Robert Harmon --in only his second and last film in that capacity, before graduating to director with THE HITCHER and NOWHERE TO RUN -- shoots with some genuine ambition, letting the “black room” turn into an abstraction of hard light and indulging (with camera operator Jeff Mart, PUMPKINHEAD) in some lengthy steadicam shots, most notably during a genuinely intense aborted escape attempt by one of the captive girls. Combined with a droning, atonal score from James Ackley (primarily a composer for horror video games like Condemned and F.E.A.R.) and Art Podell (HOLLYWOOD ZAP!**), the movie captures an uneasy atmosphere which lingers despite (and maybe even because of?) the generally wooden line readings. It’s a disconcerting ambiance, which insists that underneath the most mundane situations, something is rotten. That the nightmare world is closer to the surface than anyone dares acknowledge, that perhaps we can even slip in through the cracks without realizing it. How else to explain that no one seems to find this bizarre “black room” an odd place to bring a date? There’s always the faint intimation that something is going on here even more sordid than marital infidelity and involuntary blood donations, which never quite materializes until the very, very end (if at all) but colors the whole experience nonetheless.


And it’s not just the atmosphere which is a little more interesting than you might expect. It also finds unexpected nuance in its pervasive sexual elements. I’m not saying that it’s not a pervy exploitation picture trying to grift some easy money by peddling deviant sex to undiscriminating genre fans, because it definitely is that. But it also has a somewhat more adult and unorthodox outlook on sex than you would typically get in a movie like this. For one thing, it’s surprisingly non-judgemental about Larry and his extramarital side projects, presenting him as a genuinely loving husband and father, who just also happens to fuck a bunch of co-eds and prostitutes on the side. It doesn’t exactly condone his behavior, but it doesn’t exactly condemn it either -- and it would be so easy to do so that refraining from condemnation imparts a startling sense of intent on the part of the filmmakers. Part of this is probably purely self-serving; writer and co-director Norman Thaddeus Vane (writer of FRIGHTMARE) calls the story a somewhat autobiographical account of his own history of infidelity to his 16-year-old wife Sara (which is also the basis for the eyebrow-raising Charles Bronson vehicle LOLA). To get some perspective on his life at the time, consider this excerpt from an interview he did with Hidden Film in 2012:


“When Penthouse launched in England [1965], I submitted a story to Bob Guccione about an English orgy. We used to have them in those days. They happened on Friday and Saturday. There’d be about 15 to 20 people there and they were all very elite. There was a famous barrister who used to throw one. You’d have a very luxurious dinner and little by little, the orgy would start. Bob called me up and said “We’re not ready to do a story about an English orgy yet, even if it’s true. But would you like to be the editor of Penthouse?” He paid me a hundred pounds a week, and he also let me do theater, movie and book reviews. I did that for a year. It was fun, because we were all getting laid by the beautiful girls that wanted to be in Penthouse. I always had sex with them before Guccione did. It pissed him off. I said, “OK, you interview them, Bob.” ...If you interviewed a girl and she wanted to do the center spread of Penthouse, and she went to bed with you, she knew and you knew that that was gonna help, not hurt. It wasn’t all the girls, it wasn’t half the girls, but it was quite a few of the girls. They were not exactly churchgoing debutantes.”



So, that’s the kinda guy we’re dealing with here, and also the time we’re dealing with.  The film, though completed in 1981, feels very much like a holdover from the hedonistic 70’s, in both its frank sexual adventurism and its sedate artiness. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least in terms of art. While it’s easy to see Vane’s kid-gloves treatment of Larry as merely a self-serving fantasy cover for his own caddish behavior, I’m not convinced it is entirely that. And even if it is, there’s still something intriguing about seeing film characters portrayed this way, particularly in a horror context. Don’t get me wrong, these are not especially interesting or well-developed characters. Still, it’s startling, and perhaps even a little elucidating, to witness a character arc that seems an almost comically easy setup for a pat morality tale which instead evolves in a less didactic way. Larry doesn’t exactly lie to Robin about the black room, and he doesn’t neglect her either -- instead, he describes his activities there in vivid detail to her, but in a way which leads her to believe that they’re merely erotic fantasies to spice up their sex life. And it actually works -- she’s into it, too. In fact, the movie comes perilously close to intimating that perhaps this is actually good for their marriage.


If it sounds obsequiously self-serving for a male writer with a long and open history of marital infidelity to make the case that cheating is a near-altruistic act, though, the latter half of the movie smartly challenges that impulse. When Robin discovers that his stories have been anything but fiction, she’s initially hurt and betrayed. But it’s not long before she arrives at the conclusion that maybe Larry is onto something here, and finds her own horny co-ed (in this case, a pre-fame Christopher McDonald of HAPPY GILMORE!) to bring to the black room. And to the movie’s credit, this isn’t presented as a petty, vengeful act, but rather an honest expression of her own repressed sexuality. Seems these two kids really have a lot more in common than they realize.


Well, sort of. When Larry discovers that his wife is pulling the same scam that he is, he’s the one who gets angry and jealous. This is, of course, blatant and unmissable hypocrisy, and the movie makes no excuses for him. Infidelity isn’t much of a sin in the eyes of THE BLACK ROOM, but inequality definitely is. If the movie is really about anything tangible, it’s about Larry’s hangups about female sexuality, and his inability to take into account that it’s not just men who can be sexually unfulfilled, even in a happy relationship. The problem is with him, and if he’s not secure enough to deal with the consequences of his “solution,” the movie has no sympathy for him at all. It doesn’t judge anyone for violating the sanctity of marriage, but it definitely finds fault with Larry’s revealed need to control his wife’s own sexual autonomy. Which is, when you come right down to it, a sort of a third-wave feminist message a whole decade ahead of its time. While it may not exactly deserve to win any Feminist Activism Awards --the solution to this problem is that Larry is unable to deal, and he agrees to stop using the black room in exchange for his wife doing the same, which probably lets him off a little easy-- it’s at least commendable to foreground female sexual desire in a way which is, if not explicitly positive, at least presented on equal footing with male sexual desire, with a distinct nod towards male hypocrisy and misunderstanding regarding the fairer sex.




That’s surprisingly complex stuff for what is basically a tarted-up boarding-house slasher setup. There’s no shortage of sex in the horror genre, of course, but the vast majority of it is both of the horny teenage variety and the horny teenage mindset. Sex tends to be a matter of pure libido and titillation, or a convenient means of creating physical vulnerability for the victims. Exploring sex in the context of adult, long-term relationships with more subtle emotional consequences is so rare in the genre that I’m honestly struggling to think of another example. While the scenario here is inarguably on-the-nose and perhaps a bit labored, you gotta give the movie credit for taking it seriously enough to finally have the two partners actually talk it out like mature adults with a genuine stake in working out their differences.


On the surface, it’s easy to see THE BLACK ROOM as a textbook archetype of 1980’s reactionary moralizing, wherein -- as John K. Muir wrote of the movie in Horror Films of the 1980’s, Vol 1:-- ”married people step out of accepted social mores [usually involving sex] only to see their families threatened by their irresponsible actions." But if that is indeed the intent, the movie does a real thorough job of confusing and obscuring that point. While the black room does represent an unexpected source of danger, it’s hard to find any evidence in the way the movie plays out that this is meant to represent any sort of punishment for our heroes. Both partners end up experimenting with sex outside their marriage, but in the end they reconcile and it seems that their experiences have actually improved their lives and their relationship, helping them open up to each other and face some unexpressed truths about themselves.




In fact, since Larry never realizes that his landlords are exsanguinating his sexual conquests, and he and his wife works things out on their own with a little under 20 minutes of runtime left, the movie has to pull a bit of a cheat in order to wring an adequate horror climax out of things. Turns out Bridget and Jason have designs on the blood of couple’s children, and while the two are hashing out their relationship, they snatch the kids and their babysitter (a young Linnea Quigley, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, unrecognizable with her clothes on***) and the parents have to rescue them, leading to a climactic violent confrontation in the hilltop mansion.


What’s that, you forgot all about the vampiric homeowners? Sorry, I got off on a bit of a tangent there. That’s not representative of the movie though --while it does genuinely seem to care about exploring the prickly sexual scenarios it raises, it’s still a horror movie through and through, though admittedly one with a bent towards arty psychological horror more than whammy. Even so, it’s not completely lacking in earthier thrills -- the aforementioned aborted escape attempt by one of the victims is a brauvara, viscerally intense bit of filmmaking which evokes memories of ANGST in its grimy, frenzied panic and confident, kinetic filmmaking. And the climax, where Larry and Robin have to face off against their asshole landlords, boasts some intensely brutal, white-knuckle stalking action, amped up by the pervasively droning synth score that lays a thick layer of dread over top of the action. It’s not exactly HALLOWEEN, but just like most of the movie, it’s a bit more offbeat and effective than you would expect, making good use of its odd dichotomy between gritty, quiet realism and bizarre dream logic.


Even in its very last minutes, THE BLACK ROOM still manages to go somewhere surprising, finally wholeheartedly giving in to the temptation to let the nightmare take over in defiance of the grounded, deliberately naturalistic tone of most of the preceding movie. It’s an odd grace note, arguably even a twist, which seems to have pissed off every one of the three or four people I can find online who managed to watch the movie, and I guess I can understand that -- it’s certainly a strange turn which doesn’t necessarily arise out of anything that came before it. Still, I dig it. The end, like the movie itself, is clunky and ungainly in some pretty obvious ways, but also distinct and ballsy enough to forgive its shortcomings. It’s not conventionally successful enough that it’s some kind of great injustice that it lapsed into complete obscurity, but for those who are willing to seek something pretty far off the beaten path, it’s an experience with some decidedly unique strengths.

*By the way, how come those rugs are still “Oriental”? This is surely the last holdout for the word, no? You call anything else “oriental” and you’re gonna get a stern lecture, but say “oriental rug” and suddenly everyone thinks you’re cultured. Looking at wikipedia, it seems that so-called “Oriental Rugs” originate in a wide variety of countries loosely known (yes, this is real) as the “Rug Belt” which ranges from Morocco to the Caucus states in central Asia to Northern China to Pakistan and East India. Given that there is nothing “Oriental” by any stretch of the word, I move we make up a new name to describe the style of carpet weaving we associate with this particular floor covering. This has been a public service announcement brought to you by the We Are Cursed To Live fund.


** “The Story of two friends, one searching for his father, the other searching for the ultimate sexual video game competition.”


***An especially bizarre turn in this of all movies.


CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting


TAGLINE
There’s a Room For Rent In The Hollywood Hills, And The Tenants Are Paying In Blood
TITLE ACCURACY
There is a black room. Or at least a dark room. Since there’s also a 1982 movie called THE DARK ROOM, I guess BLACK ROOM will do
LITERARY ADAPTATION?
No
SEQUEL?
No
REMAKE?
No
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
USA
HORROR SUB-GENRE
Boarding-House Killer, Almost-vampire, Erotic Thriller
SLUMMING A-LISTER?
None.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
Linnea Quigey
NUDITY?
Yes, though it’s usually pretty tame and fleeting, considering what we’re talking about here.
SEXUAL ASSAULT?
One early couple is attacked while they’re having sex, but otherwise nothing of the sort. This is the sort of world where most people are just down to fuck pretty much whenever on a moment’s notice and no coercion is ever necessary.
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
None
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
(spoiler) …Zombie? Vampire? Undead? Depends on how you interpret the inexplicable resurrection of our villains at the end.
POSSESSION?
No
CREEPY DOLLS?
None, although they have some demonic looking statues.
EVIL CULT?
Nah, nothing apparently religious going on here.
MADNESS?
I don’t know about full-on madness but the whole movie is about people going a little nuts
TRANSMOGRIFICATION?
None
VOYEURISM?
Tons, obviously, most notably pretty much the entire main cast watching each other fuck at one time or another.
MORAL OF THE STORY
Monogamy in the context of marriage is a complicated institution which requires compromise and honesty from those who want a long term stab… OMIGOD WEIRDOS ARE TRYING TO STEAL OUR BLOOD!!