Favorite Horror Movie Weapons 1: The Chainsaw

One of my favorite zombie graphic novels, Living with Zombies, features two guys for whom the zompocalypse is nothing less than a fantasy come true. They immediately set about slaughtering as many zombies as possible, each one trying to out-do the other as if racking up points in Left 4 Dead. When they get separated, they keep in touch via cell phone:

Billman: [answering phone] Hello?
Chris: [fires gun repeatedly, right next to the phone]
Billman: God! What the piss was that?
Chris: [smirking] That was my new sweet ass gun.
Billman: Really!
Chris: Uh-huh.
Billman: See if you can place this sound. [revs chainsaw next to the phone] Could you hear that? Heh heh…
Chris: [dejected] Why is it that whatever I do…
Billman: I one-up you?
Chris: Yes!

In that spirit, I’d like to take a moment to honor one of my favorite horror movie weapons, the chainsaw.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, shot in 1974 by Tobe Hooper, has been both reviled for its gruesome displays of murder and hailed as a masterpiece of independent filmmaking. Hooper claims that he wanted to make a film about isolation and brutality, a response to the real-life massacres that at the time were being carried out by the United States on the other side of the world, in the Vietnam War. According to Hooper, the idea for the chainsaw as a murder weapon was inspired by being in a crowded hardware store and thinking of ways to quickly get out through the throngs of people.

Leatherface chasing after "the one that got away."

Leatherface chasing after 'the one that got away.'

In the sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II, the symbolism of the chainsaw is a little more overt. The sexually immature (and possibly impotent) Leatherface now thrusts his hips suggestively while swinging his chainsaw, and final girl Stretch saves herself, in part, by reassuring Leatherface about how big and dangerous his chainsaw is. Dennis Hopper’s character, Lefty, demonstrates the fact that using a chainsaw as a weapon marks one as being a tad bit unpredictable and, well, crazy. It’s not a “sane” weapon — it’s a brutal weapon, a weapon one chooses not because it’s efficient but because it’s horrific. When Lefty decides to arm himself with three small chainsaws before going into battle with the Sawyer clan, it’s a demonstration of how his commitment to proper revenge has surpassed his sense of reason.

hopperchainsawhopperchainsaw2

This theme comes up again in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness: when Ash loses an arm, and all appears to be lost — when he’s reached the point of no return — he comes up with a way to attach a chainsaw to his bloody stump, and subsequently uses it to wildly hack his way through the Deadites and other nasties.

Ash creates his chainsaw-arm.

Ash creates his chainsaw-arm.

…Ash’s chainsaw-arm is also cleverly referenced in the Japanese zombie movie Stacy, in a world in which defending yourself from zombie schoolgirls has become an everyday occurrence.

Bruce Campbell's Right Hand #2.

Bruce Campbell's Right Hand #2.

But then in the 1987 B-movie The Video Dead, the rules change — one of the zombies, after seeing several of her kin attacked by a teenager wielding a chainsaw, manages to get the chainsaw away and start attacking humans with it.

Zombie Bride turns the tables.

Zombie Bride turns the tables.

…anyone care to share their personal favorite chainsaw horror movie action?

Running Scared

The thing I hate the most about buddy cop movies isn’t the cheesy jokes or the plot holes or the predictable endings — it’s the way in which they make cops seem sympathetic and likable even as they abuse people and deny them their basic civil rights. In Running Scared, plainclothes detectives Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines start out the movie by entering and searching without a warrant and then inciting violence against a suspect; they later falsely declare on that suspect’s papers that he held $5,000, not $50,000, at the time of his arrest, and refuse to give him the rest of the money until he cooperates with their investigation. They knock on the door of a Latina woman they think has information about a suspect and when she declares she knows nothing, they question her immigration status and threaten her with deportation. They call in phony tips to get a guy arrested because he’s dating a woman that Hines wants to get with. (There’s probably a lot more that I can’t remember right now, but you get the idea.)

Standard beach attire in Key West.

Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines must have to beat off the ladies with a stick.

Also notable is the incredibly tight relationship these two partners have. Unlike most other interracial buddy cop movies, in which the two partners start out the movie hating each other and slowly learn to appreciate the other’s quirks, Crystal and Hines have apparently been BFFs since childhood, or something. They have keys to each others’ apartments. It is, it seems, totally okay and normal for Crystal to walk in on Hines when he’s naked and in bed with a lovely lady, and to just start chatting to him instead of politely excusing himself. They take their vacations together. They make plans to retire and open up a bar together in Key West. And neither one of them seems to have any other real social life or family. Yeah, it’s a little odd.

The best scene in the movie, by far, is the one in which the neighborhood kids, tired of these cops hanging around their neighborhood and harassing their families, spraypaint “UNMARKED POLICE CAR” on the side of their, uh, unmarked police car. Amazing. I would so love to see that happen in real life…

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

You know, back when I was nine or ten and watched this movie at my grandma’s house, it seemed like a work of pure genius. Killer tomatoes? Hilarious! That’s really all it took to make me satisfied with the movie; everything beyond the general concept of the movie was just filler.

I guess it takes slightly more to satisfy my adult sensibilities, because man, this movie was really hard to sit through. I’ve definitely watched worse movies, but…yeah. It was painful.

A killer tomato chases down its prey.

A killer tomato chases down its prey.

What’s frustrating about this movie is that it could have been really funny. If they had taken out the annoying slapstick, camp, and self-aware humor (and the songs oh god the songs), changing it from an obvious parody into a straightforward cheap, B-grade horror movie, it would have actually been pretty entertaining. The scenes with the “killer” tomatoes splattering against windshields and people’s faces were great, and if they’d just stuck with that, it could have been good. The audience gets that it’s supposed to be funny; they’re tomatoes. You don’t need to bash people over the head with the novelty oversized comedy hammer, screaming, “It’s funny! See, it’s funny!”

We should have watched the sequel. At least that one has John Astin in it.

Still, the movie prompted some awesome potluck dishes:

My "tomato" cupcakes...

My "tomato" cupcakes...

...and the vastly superior killer tomato cake.

...and the vastly superior killer tomato cake.

The GingerDEAD Man

There’s really no other way to pronounce the title of this movie. Simply saying “gingerdead man” makes it seem like a mistake, a slip of the tongue. “Witty” titles like this really deserve the extra effort; say it like you just thought of it yourself. “Gingerbread man? More like gingerDEAD man! Zing!” God, I love cheesy horror movie wordplay. I think that’s why I get so excited about Christmas-themed horror movies — it’s like an unspoken rule that you can’t make one unless you have a name like “SLAY Bells” or “Santa CLAWS.”

Where was I? Oh, right: murderous cookies.

The movie is basically a remake of Jack Frost, which is a remake of Child’s Play, which for all I know might be a remake of something else…how many movies are out there in which a murderer/criminal/Bad Guy has his soul enter an inanimate object upon death? This one features Gary Busey — well, mostly Gary Busey’s voice — as Millard Findlemeyer, who kills the protagonist’s dad and brother in the opening scene. Years later, on what would have been little bro’s 21st birthday, Sarah Leigh (Hah! Get it?) works late at her mother’s bakery, reminiscing wistfully that “he wanted to go to a titty bar” to mark the occasion. Backstory dialogue tells us that Findlemeyer has been executed, thanks in part to Sarah’s testimony in court.

Thoughts full of her dead brother (or maybe the titty bar she could have been at right now, dammit), Sarah whips up a batch of gingerbread cookies in a bread mixer. (The dough she uses is actually bread dough, not cookie dough, as anyone who has ever made either bread or cookies would notice.) She pours in some “gingerbread flavor mix” dropped off by a shadowy figure in a cloak, not realizing that it’s FINDLEMEYER’S ASHES! Duhn duhn duhhhhh! (Best guess is that we’re supposed to think the cloaked person was Findlemeyer’s mom, seeking revenge in the form of animate baked goods…?) A bumbling bakery worker accidentally cuts his finger and holds it, dripping, over the bowl of dough, as the camera lingers on the drops of blood mixing into it to make sure we understand that blood+ashes+dough = evil cookie monster. Inexplicably molding one large gingerbread cookie out of the whole batch of dough (instead of something the bakery could, y’know, sell), Sarah pops it in the oven and, well, this happens:

The scariest thing about him is his sweaty, shrunken face.

His sweaty, shrunken face is actually sort of disturbing.

You can probably figure out the rest. Group of people gets picked off one by one, sometimes accompanied by bad cookie puns (but not nearly enough, IMO). Fakeout ending with one of the characters killing the Gingerdead Man by eating him, then getting possessed by the spirit of Millard Findlemeyer. (The “possessed” makeup looks like a perfect blend of a Deadite from the Evil Dead movies and a vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer ca. Season 2.) Then they kill him again, in his new host body — but apparently not for good, because there’s a Gingerdead Man 2 (subtitle: “The Passion of the Crust”) already on DVD and a third in the works.

We watched the “making of” feature after the movie was over, and learned that the original Gingerdead Man was going to be all CGI. He would have looked something like this (used in their promo materials):

Sort of like the Pillsbury Doughboy gone horribly, horribly wrong. Instead, they used a combination of puppets and a guy in a suit, which of course looked really cheesy — but still better than CGI.

We also learned a little bit about Full Moon Entertainment, the company behind this masterpiece, and producer Charles Band. RESPECT. This is the guy who made Puppet Master, Re-Animator, Ghoulies, and Robot Jox, as well as hundreds of other movies with titles like “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama” and “Dollman vs. Demonic Toys.” I’d say he’s a modern-day Roger Corman, but Roger Corman himself is still producing movies like Dinocroc and Supergator… On Band’s blog, he has an enticing offer that I’m actually sort of considering: buy $120 worth of stuff, and you get your name in the credits of his next movie as executive producers.

As usual, Matthew and Salena won the prize for most appropriate potluck dish.

gingerdeadmanQUOTES!

Gingerdead Man: “Save room for dessert — ’cause I’m coming after you.”

Gingerdead Man: [After cutting off a woman’s finger] “Mmm, ladyfingers.”

Gingerdead Man: “Eat me, you punk bitch!”

Brick Fields: [After eating the Gingerdead Man’s head] “Got milk?”

My Bloody Valentine in THREE-EFFING-D

Holy crap I am excited about this. When I first heard they were doing a remake of My Bloody Valentine, I didn’t think too much about it. Another rehashing of a classic slasher movie, with all the camp taken out and a lot of drama added. Yawn. Then I found out it was going to be in 3-D, which significantly increased my interest. (Seriously, when was the last time there was a new horror movie released in 3-D?) But the trailer makes me think this actually might be…good.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

For the past few weeks, we’ve all been basking in the glory that is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  You know something has left a lasting impression when all of your housemates wake up with songs from the show stuck in their heads for WEEKS ON END.  NPH, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day are awesome. So if you havent seen this yet, please do so immediately.

The fan forum is here: DoctorHorrible.Net.

Bug Buster

Bug BusterI’ve watched my fair share of movies about killer bugs. There’s The Swarm (1978), the movie that would be the one by which all subsequent killer bee movies would be judged. Slugs (1987) introduced me to the heretofore unknown species of vicious, fanged slugs. But 1998’s Bug Buster truly went where no killer bug movie had gone before.

Yeah…sorry. See, the only reason we watched this terrible, terrible movie was that it had not one, but two original Star Trek cast members: George Takei (Sulu) and James Doohan (Scotty). Takei, playing a near-senile Japanese entomologist, apparently was only available for a few hours of shooting, because all of his scenes take place in the same lab and without any other characters; the only interaction he has with anyone else in the movie is though a couple of phone calls. Doohan, on the other hand, has a moderate amount of screen time as Carlson, the sheriff of a small lakeside town. Whether drunk, sleepy, or suffering from early Alzheimer’s (which would later contribute to his death in 2005), Doohan stumbles through every scene he’s in, slurring his lines and often looking bored.

Here’s a run-down of the plot. Shannon (Katherine Heigl) and her parents (Anne Lockhart and Bernie Koppel) buy a hotel in the aforementioned small lakeside town. We learn that Shannon is afraid of bugs through a series of identical dream sequences (really — they just use the same footage three times) in which she is scantily clad and covered by large cockroaches. Strangely, while these are ostensibly nightmares, Shannon seems to rather enjoy the bugs’ crawling all over her naked flesh, arching her back erotically as the cockroaches crawl slowly up her thighs.

Right as they arrive in town, a local girl gets bitten by something while skinny-dipping in the lake, and Sheriff Carlson immediately closes off access to the lake. When it’s suggested that such an action might be a little hasty, he retorts, “You saw Jaws, didn’t you?” Naturally, nobody can argue with that logic, and the lake is shut down while the police investigate on a patrol boat. In one of the best scenes in the movie, a deputy falls in the lake and starts thrashing about, screaming that something is attacking him. The sheriff, of course, heroically shoots the fish with his handgun. Amazing. He then takes the fish to Laura, the town vet (and, apparently, the town forensic pathologist), and she finds a large cockroach in its stomach.

This strikes her as a bit odd, so she calls up Fujimoto (Takei), her old professor. (“Ah yes,” he says with a lecherous smile, “I remember. Pretty blonde.”) Fujimoto has to explain to Laura that “Blatella” is the Latin term for cockroaches, which makes a person wonder how on earth she passed his entomology class. No matter. Fujimoto plays with some terrible computer graphics of various insects, puts a cockroach in a tub of water, and fiddles with some scientific gadgets before ultimately meeting his fate. (It doesn’t really make sense. Let’s not worry about that part too much.)

Meanwhile, cockroaches are turning up in corpses all over town. The sax player for a band called “Trailer Park Trash” falls over dead in the middle of his set, a single cockroach crawling out of his beard. Two bodies are found in a movie theater, their flesh eaten away by…centipedes, or so we’re led to believe. We’re treated to multiple shots of things crawling out of the lake at night, which could be centipedes but really look more like poorly animated straight lines.

Eventually, the girl who’d been bitten in the lake turns up again with some festering sores on her leg, which break open as cockroaches spill out of her body. All of this madness finally leads the vet/doctor/forensics expert to muse, “I can’t help wondering if there’s any connection between the roach I found in the fish and the ones I found in the humans.” By then, of course, it’s too late; roaches are everywhere, and the town is quarantined. Shannon’s parents, while having some questionably enjoyable sex (noises heard from the room: “Oh! Oh! Wait, no….oh! Stop that!”), are apparently swarmed and eaten by bugs. (We only see their flesh-stripped corpses the next morning.) Things are not going well for our heroes.

The savior of this movie, both within the story narrative and for the viewers, is General George (Randy Quaid), an insane Vietnam-vet-turned-exterminator. Throughout the first three-quarters of the movie, we periodically see the general’s low-budget TV ads, in which he hacks a snake with a machete, uses a flamethrower on some spiders, and shoots a rat with a gun. The “pest eliminator” assures us that he “kicks bug ass,” and indeed, he is brought in at the end of the movie to deal with the mutant roaches.

Some quotes from the General:

“When General George opens up his can of whup-ass, there’ll be roaches in Siberia feeling the heat…”

“They [the roaches] appear to be amphibious…that means they can live in water and on dry land.”

In a mine shaft toward the end of the movie: “It’s a vampire bat: it’s bite’s deadlier than a king cobra…kill you like that…”

Truly, General George is a mind to be reckoned with.

We learn that there’s some sort of link between the giant bugs and some insecticides sprayed on the town a decade earlier. The sheriff turns out to be the bad guy, as he’s been in cahoots with the bugs the whole time, protecting their nest and their giant bug mama in order to drive property prices down so low that he can buy up the whole town. He shoots the love interest; giant bug mama slices his throat; General George blows up the whole mine and toasts the bug. Phew.

In summary, we get to see James Doohan shoot a fish and Randy Quaid fist-fight a giant insect puppet, which is pretty much worth the price of admission. Or at least the 99 cents I paid for this movie at the video store closeout sale.

Final Girl Film Club: Lifeforce

Things are changing around here at the House of 1000 Courses. No longer content to use this blog merely as a tool for letting you know what the next month of movies will be at our Sunday Vegan Potlucks, we’re now expanding it to include film reviews and recipes, and possibly much, much more!

Let’s kick it off with a post for the Final Girl Film Club, hosted by our favorite horror blogger, Stacie Ponder. The movie this month was Lifeforce.


In his autobiography, science fiction author Colin Wilson writes, “John Fowles had once told me that the film of The Magus was the worst movie ever made. After seeing Lifeforce I sent him a postcard telling him that I had gone one better.”

Wilson was speaking of the 1985 Tobe Hooper film, which had been based on his novel Space Vampires. Co-written by Don Jakoby and Dan O’Bannon (of Alien fame), the adaptation wildly diverged from the plot of the original, retaining only a few crucial elements. If you’ve read the book, you can kind of see why Wilson might have been so upset: major characters were either taken out or had their roles severely diluted; a handful of scenes retained were taken so far out of context that they seem either unnecessary or incomprehensible; a good half of the movie (including the nature of the vampires and their plan) was completely invented, with no connection whatsoever to the original plot. In fact, you might say it’s a totally different story, only loosely based on the idea of energy-sucking vampires from space.

…But I’ll try not to get all sci-fi-nerdy and fill this review with moans of “Why wasn’t it exactly like the book in every way oh my god what an atrocity.” Because as a horror fan, and especially as a fan of the undead, I have to admit that this movie kind of ruled.

Here’s the basic premise of the movie: an international space mission to Halley’s Comet discovers a spaceship hidden within it, apparently abandoned. Upon investigating, the crew discovers a number of large bat-like creatures—dead—and three bodies of what appear to be humans, encased in glass “coffins.” Naked space vampires. They bring the human bodies back on board with them, to take them to Earth. Somewhere along the way, the coffins open, and…well, you know the rest. The only survivor, Carlsen, takes an escape pod and sets the craft to self-destruct, thinking he’ll destroy the creatures they’ve brought on board.

Of course, that never works. Silly man.

The coffins survive the wreck intact, and are brought to a research center. Naturally the aliens escape, sucking the life force from numerous victims, sometimes by way of sexy, naked make-out sessions. These victims return to life after a few hours, and either must feed on someone else’s life force or turn to dust. This pattern, of course, leads to a fast-spreading plague that quickly turns most of London into desperate life-suckers. The three original “vampires” (who are, of course, not human, but have merely assumed a human form) ditch their initial bodies for new ones, and continue to transfer their essence into a new host any time they feel the hounds are too close to their trail.

Here’s where the movie takes a turn for the stupid. Instead of being content to put our heroes up against a rampaging horde of zombies and three deadly, body-shifting, psychic space vampires, the writers had to get a little more epic. Turns out that the vampires are not just turning folks into the living dead to keep themselves alive—they’re somehow transferring the life force to the single female vampire, who acts as a conduit to send the energy back up to the mothership, which has now entered Earth’s orbit. (Oh, sure, that makes….huh?) Just in time, Carlsen and his buddy Caine learn that the vampires can be killed by impaling their “energy centers” (which apparently reside in the solar plexus) and dispatch of the first two fairly quickly. In the final scene, Carlsen realizes that he, too, is a vampire (which explains the psychic connection with the female vampire he’d experienced earlier) and impales a spear through both himself and the vampire as the two of them make love in the glow of the energy beam heading up to the spaceship. Wow.

Doin\' it like energy-sucking space vampires.

The zombies in this film are a pretty cool conceit, I think; they really made the movie for me. The “true” vampires are strong, sexy, telepathic, and don’t seem to run the same risk of turning to dust if they don’t feed every two hours. Their poor victims, however, are forced into an existence that requires a single-minded pursuit of more and more bodies to feed on, a never-ending cycle of hunger and feeding. It’s a hierarchy of the undead, really, with the noble, self-controlled vampire lords leeching off the labor of the disorganized zombie masses. And I’ll stop there, lest this turn into some sort of marxist academic paper…

The special effects, by John Dykstra (of Industrial Light and Magic), are pretty rad. Behold.
This is what happens, Larry, when you kiss a stranger on the mouth. Why was this creature not in the movie for more than five minutes?