Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

... aka: Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman

Directed by:
Nathan "Hertz" (Juran)

Poor Nancy Archer. Sure she's worth 50 million bucks and owns the world's largest diamond ("The Star of India"), but she's saddled with far more problems than your usual pampered California socialite. Nancy (Allison Hayes) has already spent some time in a private institution for mental issues, suffers from violent headaches and also has a bad drinking problem, all of which she's trying to overcome with help from the compassionate Dr. Cushing (Roy Gordon). Unfortunately, she has other forces conspiring against her: namely her greedy, no-good husband Harry (William Hudson), who is only with her because when they'd previously separated he "couldn't pry a nickel out of her," and his sexpot mistress Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers). The adulterous duo are first seen discussing how to finally rid themselves of his pesky wife. They decide to exacerbate her mental condition ("Once she's in the booby hatch, throw the key away!") so they get their hands on her money. On a night out, a jealous Nancy storms out of the bar when she sees hubby and Honey flirting and goes for a drive. At the same time, a large meteor-like object, previously seen hovering over the skies in Europe and Africa, finally makes it way to California and lands right on the road. Nancy almost hits it, gets out of her car in a panic and runs off into the desert when a giant floppy hand reaches out toward her. Eat your heart out Real Housewives.

A frantic Nancy arrives back in town but when she, the local sheriff (George Douglas) and his goofy deputy (Frank Chase) return to where she abandoned her car, there's no sign of the giant golf ball-looking spaceship or the 30-foot-tall alien being she claims she saw. Nancy returns home and tells her story to her husband, who brushes her off, gives her some sleeping pills and sends her to bed. Overjoyed she seems to be cracking up once again, Harry goes to report his discoveries to Honey. The two call Dr. Cushing, hoping he'll committ her again but the doctor recommends Harry just be nice and supportive and Nancy'll get better. Insistant on proving she's sane, Nancy forces her husband to accompany her to the desert to look for the saucer. After driving around all day, the two finally come across it, as well as the giant. Doing what all good husbands do, Harry takes off and leaves Nancy at the whim of the alien. He gets into an altercation with Nancy's loyal servant Jess (Ken Terrell) when he returns to the home, then decides to go get Honey so the two can split town. Both are however apprehended by the police for questioning and forbidden to leave.

Nancy mysteriously reappears back at her home, only she's out of it, has strange scratches on her throat and is also highly radioactive. Despite being in a coma, she keeps on growing... and growing... and growing... Dr. Cushing places a special order for chains, 40 gallons of plasma and an elephant syringe to care for his newly-oversized patient. The Sheriff and Jess follow giant footprints from the home all the way to the spaceship. Once inside they discover the alien has taken possession of Nancy's Star of India necklace and is using it to operate the ship. The two barely escape from the alien, who picks up their car and throws it before taking off. Back at the Archer residence, Nancy finally awakens in hysterics. All she wants is Harry, but naturally he's off at the bar drunk messing with Honey. What's a spurned giantess to do other than go to the bar and tear the roof off the place?

Boasting really awful special effects, a silly premise and a memorably schlocky title, this went on to become a favorite of bad movie devotees. In actuality, the film is surprisingly ordinary. This is undoubtedly lead actress Hayes' most iconic role, but it's hardly her best role. She spends the first 25 minutes behaving like a drunken bitch, is out of the film for the entire mid-section and then reemerges during the last 7 minutes with an echo voice pining for her beloved Harry. The 50-foot-woman's "rampage" involves escaping through the roof of her home, tearing down a utility pole, scaring a couple of necking teenagers, busting out a window and, finally, crushing the mistress with a board and picking up an oversized Harry doll, who goes down when she finally goes down. Wires holding up the spaceship can easily be seen numerous times.

Prior to this, director Nathan Juran (billed as "Nathan Hertz" here; reportedly out of embarrassment) had made several solid genre films, such as THE BLACK CASTLE (1952) with Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. and the sci-fi favorite 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). A made-for-cable remake directed by Christopher Guest and starring Daryl Hannah was released in 1993 and there have been numerous spin-offs, such as Fred Olen Ray's ATTACK OF THE 60 FOOT CENTERFOLDS (1994) and the upcoming ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. CHEERLEADER (2011). Premiere Magazine ranked this #8 on its list of "25 Best Movie Posters Ever."


Day of a Thousand Screams (2012)

Directed by:
Ruben Rox

Slasher flicks have been in abundance since the late 70s. In the thirty-some years since HALLOWEEN (1978) it's become quite clear that most filmmakers weren't going to even bother deviating from the established formula. Day of a Thousand Screams actually does attempt something different. It's one part backwoods slasher and one part supernatural / ghost story, with an environmental message thrown in. Yes, environmental message. Please don't litter, and recycle, too, cause you never know when Mother Nature's gonna come after you. I won't mince words here: this film is strange. Very strange. There's even a quip at the beginning stating that it's "non-serious" and "disjointed." Disjointed is certainly an apt description for what you will see here, but I don't know about non-serious. The movie actually does seem to take itself rather seriously and doesn't seem overly comedic. It's certainly no spoof and I wouldn't even call it a horror-comedy despite some out-of-left-field in-jokes referencing other films. When one character mentions going to see a band called "Severe Face Damage," only a select few die-hard B-movie fans are going to be able to connect that to the Rick Sloane-directed POLICE ACADEMY knock-off VICE ACADEMY (1988).

Day begins in a picturesque National Park with a pair of female joggers; Betsy (Cara Mattern) and Dee Dee (Rachel Wise), running across mysterious, bearded, black-clad Carl Ziegler (David Hoffman). Ziegler promptly impales Dee Dee's hand with a stick before goring her forehead with it, sending Betsy running off in a panic. Meanwhile, a three-person TV crew consisting of nightly news reporter Natasha McGrath (Catherine Franklin), Natasha's personal assistant Olen (director / writer Ruben Rox) and cameraman Wade (Kyle Cardenas) show up to do some kind of Halloween story at a cemetery that they hope will be able to compete with rival reporter Matt Morbid's (Lucien Eisenach) ratings. Strangely, the two female joggers who had already been attacked and presumedly killed end up running across the crew as if nothing had happened. Was what we already saw a flash-forward? Actually, no. Well, maybe, yes. Well, sort of... I think. The whole group of people have become trapped in the woods in some kind of time warp where they're on a continuous loop to get attacked and killed over and over and over again by the same guy for what could be the rest of eternity. Hence, the thousand screams.

Not much is really answered in this vague film. Why this group of people? Is it because they simply all happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or becaue it's Halloween; a special day of evil? Personally, I didn't get that impression so much. Nearly everyone who is killed is seen at one point or another throwing garbage on the ground while the Ziegler character follows behind them and picks it up, so he's clearly angry they're nonchalantly mucking up a beautiful park. Speaking of the Ziegler character, he's completely ambiguous and given no backstory. Aside from being a caretaker, we have no clue who he is or even what he is. He seems to be a cross between Mother Nature and Father Time, and carries around a satchel whose contents we never see. Every once in awhile, he'll get a handful of white powder and blow into the air or onto people. I wasn't quite sure if the powder was used to stop time, repeat time, revive the dead so he can kill them all over again or what. At one point it seems like he has revived one of his victims as a zombie to kill another person, but since we only see a close-up of a mouth it is again difficult to tell. There's also the possibility that the forest (where strange noises and screams after often heard) has somehow possessed Ziegler, but that's just opening up another can o' worms.

All of the above happens to be just the first portion of the movie. The Olen character manages to get out of the forest time trap, though it's not explained how he was able to accomplish such. Perhaps because he didn't litter? Olen returns home and a month passes. We then see him go through his everyday routine. He reads the Terror on Tape book (hey, I have that one too!), eats, watches a horror movie (which seems to be clips from another of the director / star's films), sweeps the kitchen, takes out the trash and runs on the treadmill. He seems to be haunted by ghosts, though we never get to actually see them. Every so often he'll look off to the side and scream. Finally he has a nasty encounter with a broken VHS tape. These concluding scenes seem grafted on to the original film (which doesn't appear to have been completed) to boost up the running time. They also mark an abrupt drop in quality from the first portion. The woods scenes feature semi-decent DSLR outdoor photography (courtesy Alex Williams) with a very nice faded look (probably added during post-production), while the later indoor scenes seem shot with a lower grade camera and are dark and grainy. This actually works fairly well stylistically.

Because it is mostly set in some kind of constantly-repeating time warp, a nonexistent continuity creating a constant confusion and disorientation can almost get a pass here, though it clearly could have been rendered in a smoother fashion. Scenes are repeated. Scenes are put in slow motion. Scenes are repeated and put in slow motion. Many viewers are probably going to be confused, but the open-ended storyline - with plenty of room for viewer interpretation - will engage others. The music is pretty good, it makes great use of some picturesque Oregon locations and possesses some interest for a surrealism that from all indications was accidentally achieved. And hey, at least it's a little different from the norm.

* I viewed a workprint version of the film and will make adjustments to the review if necessary upon seeing the finished cut.

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