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Archive for February, 2009

Mother of Tears

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 17 - 2009
Contributing Review by Jon Jung

Plot Outline: At a construction dig, the remains of the ‘legendary’ Oscar de la Valle are dug up along with an urn. It seems that this urn contains remnants of the titular Mother of Tears and de la Valle was tasked with delivering them to the Vatican. However, death and destruction followed him and eventually de la Valle himself perished during the journey (which one character glibly summarizes “He had a bad trip”) and the urn and he were buried together. Back to modern day, the urn is sent to the Museum of Ancient Art in Rome where Sarah (Asia Argento) and Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) both work. In a stupid “never seen Evil Dead nor even read about Pandora’s Box” move, Giselle ends up reawakening the Mother of Tears (and getting an intestinal necktie in the process) who seeks to continue her reign of terror in Rome. It’s now up to Argento and her latent white magic powers to save the city!




The Review
Genre film fans should well know by now that Mother of Tears, one of the most long awaited horror films, is the third and final installment of the “Mother” trilogy which also included the seminal art-horror flick Suspiria and the overwrought yet enjoyable Inferno. Sadly, however, this series ends on a markedly anti-climactic note. I know that there are a lot of Dario Argento apologists out there who will defend Mother of Tears as at least somewhat of a return to form. After all, the film certainly tries to be good since it has a good amount of gore, plenty of euro-trash imagery (including a group of witches with faux punk/goth makeup and wardrobe), violence against Achilles heels, pubes, eyes, children AND infants, and the mighty Udo Kier. Plus, Argento made his name nearly synonymous with Italian genre film due to his contributions in giallo (Deep Red, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), horror (Suspiria), and westerns (Argento co-wrote Once Upon a Time in the West). However, we all have to admit that, save a couple of decent entries in the Masters of Horror TV series, Uncle Dario has been phoning it in for most of the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, “Mother of Tears” is no different.

The film’s main problem is its writing. Not that it’s particularly bad but it’s very dull, forgettable and feels overwritten at times. OK, so it’s kind of bad and the actors really don’t do the script any favors. In a key scene in which Sarah is fleeing the police and her magical powers are first introduced, she is instructed by the disembodied voice of her mother (Asia’s real-life mother Daria Nicolodi) to “Concentrate, and they won’t see you”. After the police indeed don’t detect her, Sarah flees in the opposite direction but not without yelling “What!?!” to a customer staring at her puzzlingly. Way to listen to mom, Sarah. Speaking of Asia Argento’s acting (if we must), she really needs to figure out how to look scared, somewhat surprising since she’s the offspring of a horror master. Her facial expressions during scary scenes tend to fluctuate between dumb-founded and constipated. That’s probably overexaggerating but at the least Mother should be proof that nepotism is never a good thing.

The Conclusion
Subpar acting and dialog are really nothing new to an Argento film, though. Even the best of his films are spotty in both of these areas and, really, it’s the style and atmosphere that matter most to Dario fans. Argento certainly tries to make the film look good with lots of warm earthy tones to contrast the flashy primary lighting (a la Suspiria). Some of the gore, however, is obviously CGI which removes the impact and organic feel that makes Argento’s earlier films so appealing. Overall, in fact, the film has a clean, sterile look which gives it a cheap TV feel to it. I thought that Brad Anderson’s 2001 flick Session 9 had similar problems; the clean look to it marred what was otherwise an effective and spooky experience. That’s where comparison of these two films can stop, though, because whereas Anderson’s effort was an above average old school exercise in horror, Argento’s is far below what we should expect of him. Mother isn’t terrible but it’s so underwhelming that it doesn’t distinguish itself from many other modern horror films and that’s not necessarily good company to keep.



Beetlejuice Review

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 15 - 2009

Now this one might surprise some fulltime readers. A fairly mainstream Tim Burton production? For shame! Nah, I think most of you out there have seen and likely love the film just as much as I do. After rewatching it for the millionth time recently I decided to show my affection. Hope everyone digs the review!

The Review: When first formulating the basic premise that would become “Varied Celluloid”, the idea was to basically cover as many genres as I could but keep within the confines of cult cinema. I never thought I would someday be writing about a film as mainstream as Beetlejuice is, but time has a way of opening doors. Last night, while searching through my DVD collection for something to watch with my cousin (who is as close as a brother with me), we decided to check out one of our immortal favorites. A film we’ve been watching since childhood, one of the few films we are consistently quoting in our daily dialogue (along with Pulp Fiction and Happy Gilmore). The film we’re talking about today, the always classic: Beetlejuice. A film that helped cement Tim Burton’s genius in the minds of film fans. Since those days Burton has had a few misses along with quite a few hits, but in my opinion no other film perfectly encapsulated his beautiful and mythic take on the dark underworld that lies just beneath the surface. Edward Scissorhands may have shown his visionary brilliance by going above and beyond the ordinary within suburbia, but it was his take on the afterlife that sold me.

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Beetlejuice

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 15 - 2009


The Plot: The Maitlands, Barbara and Adam, are a married couple who live in a house twice the size of anything they could possibly use – however the two love it and are simply happy adoring one another. However, on a routine stop into their quaint little town; they die. Wrecking into the side of a bridge and being suspended in air by a puppy dog. The two die in the waters, but soon find themselves back on the doorstep to their home. The two don’t remember how they got home from the crash, but soon find something is wrong when Adam steps outside and is placed in a desert landscape (later revealed to be Saturn) where giant sand worms look to devour him. Once Adam finds his way back to the doorway, Barbara informs him he has been gone for apparently hours an in that time she has discovered that they no longer have a reflection and a Handbook For The Recently Deceased has been left for them. In a short time however things turn from heavenly (an afterlife with your loved one with no responsibilities?) to hellish – as the Deetz family moves in: a rather uptight city couple who share none of the simple sensibilities that the Maitlands have and soon go about demolishing their quaint home. Now the Maitlands find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they want the Deetz family out but are unable to scare them away due to their not being able to see the ghosts. In their confusion they find a bio-excorcist by the name of Betel Geuse who promises to rid them of their pesky human problem; but could this ghost be more trouble than they care to get into?



The Review: When first formulating the basic premise that would become “Varied Celluloid”, the idea was to basically cover as many genres as I could but keep within the confines of cult cinema. I never thought I would someday be writing about a film as mainstream as Beetlejuice is, but time has a way of opening doors. Last night, while searching through my DVD collection for something to watch with my cousin (who is as close as a brother with me), we decided to check out one of our immortal favorites. A film we’ve been watching since childhood, one of the few films we are consistantly quoting in our daily dialogue (along with Pulp Fiction and Happy Gilmore). The film we’re talking about today, the always classic: Beetlejuice. A film that helped cement Tim Burton’s genius in the minds of film fans. Since those days Burton has had a few misses along with quite a few hits, but in my opinion no other film perfectly encapsulated his beautiful and mythic take on the dark underworld that lies just beneath the surface. Edward Scissorhands may have shown his visionary brilliance by going above and beyond the ordinary within suburbia, but it was his take on the afterlife that sold me.

For fans of cinema or simply fans of entertainment, Burton’s film delivers. Beetlejuice doesn’t throw everything at you all at once, Burton’s absurdest take on reality slowly creeps into the film as it gathers steam. From the opening which gives us a hint at how bizarre the film is to get, we pan over the entire city that the film takes place in – but find out only at the very end that we have been looking over the model that Alec Baldwin’s character has been building. From there we are shown the very ordinary lives of these characters and the equally ordinary town that they live in. However, after their death and the introduction of the afterlife the look of the film begins to completely change. To describe the world of Beetlejuice I can only think to describe it as a squared circle. It’s a dichotomy of impossible shapes, lighting and shares an equally impossible story that never slows down to give the audience time to question any of the logic. Believe me, there’s plenty to question as well. However, Burton sets the rules up and questioning them just seems like folly.

It’s funny hearing stories about the creation of the film and how it originally was intended to be something so completely different than it turned out to be, and how Michael Keaton took his character and creative license and simply ran with it. Keaton takes this character of Betelgeuse and creates something so majestically over the top, it inspires people like me to continue writing about a film so popular and now over twenty years old. His character is a cross between Robin Williams and the garbage pail kids, hyper fast and witty but with the low brow sensibilities of snot and fart jokes. It is a beautiful thing. Keaton delivers line after line of memorable dialogue in every scene he appears (and it’s said much of the dialogue was improvised), and takes a relatively funny feature about ghosts and makes it into something spectacular. It’s really a shame that Keaton isn’t more active and hasn’t been able to add more performances like this one to his credit throughout the years. He has stated before that the role is one of his favorites and would like to reprise it with Burton some day. Whether or not that will happen, who knows, but it’s something to dream for. The rest of the cast are all equally fitting in their roles, from Alec Baldwin (who supposedly wasn’t very happy on his character and thought he came off as bland, which I disagree with) and Wynona Ryder to the lady who plays Juno the case worker and Otho the decorator/guide to the super natural. Simply an amazing cast who all support what is one of the greatest mixes of comedy and the supernatural.

Surely this review is nothing more than me speaking to the choir. After all, who could dislike Beetlejuice? The only thing that could possibly turn off some anal viewers I suppose would be that lack of true logic within the film, which I mentioned previously. The film raises many questions that never get answered, like why Beetlejuice actually lives in the Maitland’s miniature version of the town? Throughout the film a lot of questions come up, but there’s just no way of knowing. However Beetlejuice has it’s own internal logic, and it’s best to not question it and simply sit back and enjoy it for all of it’s craziness. Like stated, Beetlejuice isn’t the most obscure film I have ever reviewed here on VC. However, if I were to cover just one Tim Burton film or one Hollywood based gothic horror/comedy – this is the one and if any member of my usual audience hasn’t actually seen the film then hopefully this review can help persuade them. Beetlejuice is a certified classic and one of my all time favorites. Five out of five.




Official Captain Stubbing Award Winner

Popcorn Review

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 9 - 2009

Back again everybody! What is this, a post every day or something? I promise, I won’t make it a habit! Anyway, have a review here for the early nineties slasher Popcorn which I thoroughly enjoyed. It has a lot going for it and turns out as one of the better ‘by the numbers’ slasher flicks I have seen. Check out the words!

The Review: Maybe it’s my patriotic spirit, maybe it’s the fact that one gets tired of reading subtitles every now and then – but for the past month or so I’ve been going back and visiting older American slashers from my youth and from their glory days, films that I simply never was able to get my hands upon. Including the previously reviewed Night of the Demons series and Popcorn is just another step towards discovering all the greats I have bypassed. I love Japanese gore flicks, I love Italian giallos – but sometimes the braindead fun of a cheesy slasher is just what a growing man needs. Popcorn is a horror I had never even heard of until only in the past few years. There are those that stand by it, those that consider it another campy waste of time – but either way you swing it, people are still talking about it years after it’s initial release and for that to happen it has to at least be worth checking out. It’s a horror film seemingly made by horror fans, in a time when the genre was simply being pulverized with noxious flicks made simply to churn out a dollar. Focusing the film on the horror genre and the showmanship of the fifties, it actually takes on a self-aware turn many years before Wes Craven’s Scream would popularize the cheeky “hey look, we’re trapped in a horror movie!” take on horror cinema that has become so prominent.

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Popcorn

Posted by Josh Samford On February - 9 - 2009


The Plot: Maggie is a student who loves cinema, so much that she intends to make it her life. However, she and her fellow classmates will have to focus on something other than cinema as their film-class has to come up with a rather large sum of money in just a short amount of time. They come up with a plan however: horror movies! No other form of cinema is as easily marketable and all they need to do is show a few older b-movies, present them with gimick presentations such as “smell-o-rama” and the money will come pouring in. Things are going swell as they restore an old theater for their presentation, but as they’re digging through the antiques donated to them by Dr. Mnesyne they find a small film cannister. Curious what it might be, they play the film on the projector and discover something powerful and slightly disturbing. It’s a short film made by a man named Lanyard Gates from many years back, and it starts with a closeup of his eyes, then his mouth all the time while he utters the words “Possessor! Possessor!”. It’s a very experimental little number and the story goes that the final act was performed live as Gates killed his entire family onstage. Now, as the show begins to start and the b-movies start to roll, a stranger starts to make trouble in the theater – and bodies start piling up. Could the film have been supernatural? Who will put an end to Lanyard Gate’s curse?



The Review: Maybe it’s my patriotic spirit, maybe it’s the fact that one gets tired of reading subtitles every now and then – but for the past month or so I’ve been going back and visiting older American slashers from my youth and from their glory days, films that I simply never was able to get my hands upon. Including the previously reviewed Night of the Demons series and Popcorn is just another step towards discovering all the greats I have bypassed. I love Japanese gore flicks, I love Italian giallos – but sometimes the braindead fun of a cheesy slasher is just what a growing man needs. Popcorn is a horror I had never even heard of until only in the past few years. There are those that stand by it, those that consider it another campy waste of time – but either way you swing it, people are still talking about it years after it’s initial release and for that to happen it has to at least be worth checking out. It’s a horror film seemingly made by horror fans, in a time when the genre was simply being pulverized with noxious flicks made simply to churn out a dollar. Focusing the film on the horror genre and the showmanship of the fifties, it actually takes on a self-aware turn many years before Wes Craven’s Scream would popularize the cheeky “hey look, we’re trapped in a horror movie!” take on horror cinema that has become so prominent.

That isn’t to say Popcorn is simply a film so far ahead of its time that others couldn’t recognize it’s amazing features. It’s certainly a better than average slasher flick, but you know what you’re getting into with this one. Just like any other flick made in the subgenre, there’s someone hunting down some teenagers, there are a few brutal deaths and there’s a twist that comes out of nowhere. Still, you have to admire the changes in formula and Popcorn actually ends up working very well. Truthfully, other than being a bit on the cheesy side (but that’s kind of expected, isn’t it?), I find it hard to think of much I didn’t like about the film. It features a great cast of great actors and memorable faces, from Ray Walston as the elder gent who loans out the drama class all the equipment for the theater and Dee Wallace Stone (from Cujo and The Frightners amongst many, many other projects) as well as Kelly Jo Minter from A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child and Tony Roberts who has been in many fantastic projects (Serpico, The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3) as well as other genre related films (Amytyville 3D). The cast usually do a good job with what they’re provided and actually generate at least some interest in their characters. Tom Villard as Toby turns out to be the standout, and Ivette Soler who plays Joanie is the most enthusiastic of the female leads and helps provide some late character development as it is revealed that she has an earnest crush on Toby, a fact that he would never know and something that plays out in the final act of the film. Heck, even the cinematography is done well and in a stylish way – something flicks such as these almost always ignore.

However, what people are most interested in slashers for, the thing that packs them into the seats – is not the cinematography. It’s the mayhem. The carnage. The blood and guts. It’s all about the gore. Unfortunately Popcorn doesn’t pack much of a whallop in terms of onscreen violence, which is a shame since the makeup effects that are demonstrated in the film are absolutely amazing. The latex masks in the final act are worth the price of admission alone and are still as impressive today as they likely were when the film was originally released. It’s just a shame that there weren’t more opportunities for those FX to be used towards a few imaginitve deaths. Still, the shot above of one characters face being peeled back should be enough to make you realize just how cool some of the latex FX are. Although you may come in expecting gore, or perhaps a good knockoff of the original Demons (which this film shares no likeness with other than the fact that it takes place in a theater), I think the real horror fans will stick with it for what is genuinely a well paced atmosphere and what appears to be a real love for the horror genre of old. It reminds me of the John Carpenter short for the Masters of Horror series called Cigarette Burns, although not sharing a whole lot in common you could tell in that film that Ron McWeeny, the writer, was a massive genre fan. With this film you’re given the same impression, and I liked that. Although I may kick myself in the shin some other time, I’m giving it a four out of five. It may not be a perfect film or even a film that you simply have to have to complete your collection – but it was a lot of fun and I certainly don’t regret giving it my time.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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