Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Evilspeak (1981)

One word: Synergy.

Evilspeak boasts not the yawn inducing synergy of starting a pizza joint next to a dive bar in your local cracked-out strip mall, but the infinitely more awesome (though slightly less plausible) combination of the Apple II and Satan. Each were powerful tools circa 1981, but it clearly took a genius intellect to discover how much more they could do when combined. Just imagine what Satan could do for spreadsheet efficiency; reach six hundred and sixty six rows and columns, and the client's face literally melts.

In the film, it takes the brilliant mind and immense forehead of a young Clint Howard to combine Satan's peanut butter with the chocolate of 1mghz processing power and monochrome screens. (Of course, as we learned from Jumping Jack Flash, Apple II screens can easily do full color when imbued with the power of Johnathan Pryce.) Playing the unfortunately named Stanley Coopersmith, Clint is a hapless orphan with a charity scholarship to a prestigious military academy. He's crap at sports, has 24/7 pit stains, and is a constant target for Bubba, the school's resident bully and future bumbling neighbor on 'That '70s Show.' (For more disturbingly young Don Stark action, check out Switchblade Sisters.) His already miserable existence gets significantly worse when he's put on punishment detail and forced to clean out the dilapidated chapel basement with a surly, gin-soaked caretaker.It is while digging around in this ancient detritus that Coopersmith discovers the mystical spellbook and diary of arch-satanist Bull from 'Night Court.' Fascinated but lacking fluency in Latin, he squirrels it away to translate later. In a stroke of luck, the computer lab has some handy-dandy Latin to English software. A hobby born of curiosity at first, it becomes a dangerous obsession as the translated text ultimately turns the computer into a digital Necronomicon. Somehow the text coalesces into Satanic software (I knew there was something fishy about BASIC) and begins demanding various sacrificial items: unholy water, consecrated host (that's Jesus Crackers™ for those of you born secular), and blood. The water is found in a conveniently labeled jar on a nearby shelf, some host is procured from the chapel above, but blood will require more than a simple fetch quest to obtain. This leaves the newly possessed Apple with nothing to do but loop the film's tagline over and over: "Data Incomplete - Blood Required."The rest of the film is essentially one long justification of Clint Howard's inevitable conjuring of dark forces. Aside from a subplot revolving around the headmaster's inexplicably hot secretary and her repeated attempts to steal the jeweled pentagram off of the Satanic tome, every scene exists only to show either that everyone is mean to Clint Howard or that he clearly has nothing to lose by invoking the dark powers of Bull from 'Night Court.' After finding a stray puppy, he starts hiding it in his lair under the chapel, unable to bring himself to sacrifice it to his new hobby. When Bubba eventually breaks in with a throng of drunken bullies, they get caught a peer pressure feedback loop that results in him stabbing the puppy and draining its blood.The malevolent software is not impressed with the bully's drink sodden sacrifice, but instead of a runtime error or kernel protection fault, it simply clarifies the recipe:Finally confident that it has made its point, the movie at last gets down to business; the business of Clint Howard massacring his tormentors. He acquires human blood by hurling the headmaster, who was in the process of discovering his devilish deeds, onto a spiked chandelier of evil. (Quite an athletic feat for a nerd such as Stanley Coopersmith.) With the ritual complete and a dead puppy to avenge, Bull from 'Night Court' imbues Stanley with the demonic power to smite his enemies (who conveniently happen to represent the religious order that long ago foiled Bull's plans).At this point, the movie gets sort of awesome. Stanley emerges from his lair under the chapel with a giant sword, crazy hair, and the ability to levitate, wild boars run amok, and the nails fly out of the hands of a giant stone crucifix, firmly embedding themselves in the priest's skull. It's all very violent and sacrilegious, but the best part is how Clint Howard's demon sword doesn't chop or slice things so much as magically convert them into rubber sacks of meat that explode all over the place.
Despite it's winning premise, Evilspeak (or should that be EvilSpeak... or Evil's Peak... or EvilSpeak & Spell) sulked in obscurity for many years. Due to the film being branded a 'Video Nasty' in the UK, it fell prey to that country's censorious witch hunt of the early '80s. After the moral panic caused by Abel Ferarra's Driller Killer and the exploding home video market, the Brits were jonesing to protect their children, and the best way to do that seemed to be by banning the hell out of a bunch of violent (and usually terrible) VHS tapes.
The film was completely banned in England, and then only released with severe edits to all the good bits. Many of these cuts were made to other countries' releases as well, and despite the 'uncut' version eventually released in 1999, there are supposedly still some boobs and blood missing from the secretary's shower scene and subsequent death by wild boar. On top of that, several gore shots have clearly been recovered from sub-par sources. The professor's improbable death by hanging spike in particular contained a shot that looked to be taken from a VHS bootleg then chopped to fit the original aspect ratio.
While censorship is nothing new for the world of cinema (nor is it going anywhere in the near future) it seems more than a little bizarre from a 21st century perspective that anyone anywhere would get their judgmental panties in a bunch over a movie in which Clint Howard uses an Apple II to summon a demonic Bull from 'Night Court' in order to get revenge on Don Stark. The fact that people took the movie serious enough to ban it just boggles the mind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Chaos Experiment (2009)

Video Updates would like to welcome filmmaker extrodinare and newest contributor, Greyduck.

Whereas terminal disease guy in the Saw movies traps his victims in elaborate torture devices to make them value their lives, James Pettis (Val Kilmer) traps his victims his victims in a sauna to make them feel like what global warming might be like someday.

His 6 victims (who include Eric Roberts and Patrick Muldoon) introduce themselves in one of the most pretentious, of many pretentious sequences, showing them through a dense yellow filter, in split screens that dissolve over more shots, that dissolve over even more shots. Needless to say, this overwhelming presentation doesn’t really leave us caring much about the characters or their fate. There’s angry Brooklyn guy, slightly older sagely guy, other guy, shy girl, seemingly normal girl, and skanky girl who walks around with her top off, while “Bolero” by Ravel booms on the soundtrack. Yes, we get it. It’s very warm in there.

We find out they’re all in the sauna as some part of dating service, although none of them seem particularly interested in making a good first impression.


Pettis goes to some talk to a guy with the press and a police detective about his little scheme with the people in the sauna, who will eventually be slowly steam baked to death and he explains he will only let them go if the paper publishes his findings on global warming, which of course will be unbearable in 2012. So Val is playing so sort of evil, insane Al Gore.

The folks in the sauna bicker. Val as Pettis continues to ramble, and the movie randomly cuts to shots of him alone on a spinning carousel, starring off blankly. I think this is supposed to re-iterate the fact that he’s crazy with a capitol C.
Here’s where I take an extended phone call from a friend I haven’t heard from a while. I come back to find that not much has changed, and Val has gone from crazy to insane, or insanely constipated, judging by the way he’s biting his lip and twitching.

I’ve got to say, Val in this movie is just terrible, mostly due to the poor writing and directing, which is unfortunate, since he’s great in “The Doors”, a favorite film of my teen years, And I’m sure he’ll be good in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (although, movie titles should never have semicolons in them... ever) Steam Experiment was certainly directed by no Werner Herzog, but by Philepp Martinez, who’s previous works include a Jean-Claude Van Damne movie, which is always a bad sign.

I digress. Anyway -SPOILERS ahead. Very lame ones.

Nails shoot through the door to the sauna, the people in the sauna get freaked out, and become more angry (hot under the collar, if they were wearing collars), and as Pettis’ theorized, begin to fight amongst each other. Shy girl slits her own throat, other die due to barely motivated quarrels, somebody gets a nail gun to the head. It's a whole-lotta chaos going on.

As Pettis continues to look more constipated and ramble on, the detective decides he’s just totally bananas and the “Steam Experiment” is just something he made up in his head to get attention and the people in it don’t actually exist. Exit detective.

The twist isn’t that they are all in his head, (for that movie, see Identity AKA “The 3”) the twist, I guess, is that Pettis’s mental ward doctor guy is also sorta crazy and is in on the experiment. He’s the the one who shot the nails through the door with a nail gun. Seemingly-normal-girl survives the experiment and we find out that she is the psychologist’s wife. Why did she participate? We’re not entirely sure. Why did his doctor help set up the experiment? We don't know. Pettis goes back to the the mental institution and lies around looking beardy. Is he crazy? Cut to him spinning around on a carousel again by himself... OK, yep = crazy, in case we forgot.

Roll credits.
I'm not really sure what the film was trying to say. Probably check the history of any dating service you sign up for, and don’t let them convince you to start your date with a bunch of strangers in a creepy sauna.

More Killer Crude: "Oceansize"

Just in time for Copenhagen, another Killer Mutant Petroleum Monster has reared its hydrocarbon head. It's big, gooey, pissed off, and can be found in this outstanding CG short:

Great atmosphere and visuals aside, what the heck is going on? Is the oil monster defending itself from the rig? Does it not want to be pumped out of the ocean and converted to Hummer fuel? Why is the platform being operated by a hippy with incredibly long dreadlocks? Yes, the dirty and dreadlocked can frequently be found near oil rigs, but it is usually in the context of being led away in handcuffs.