Saturday, January 24, 2015

Days of Fury (1980)

... aka: Die Großen Katastrophen (The Great Disasters)
... aka: Doomsday
... aka: Tuomiopäivä (Judgment Day)

Directed by:
Fred Warshofsky

Based on the director's own international best-seller "Doomsday: The Science of Catastrophe," this documentary hopes to paint a morbid picture of a world where "disaster is inevitable and catastrophe, commonplace." Yes folks, it's basically 90 minutes of misery, destruction and death. There are three reasons I'm including this title here. First, it fall into the shockumentary / mondo subgenre and contains a lot of footage intended to shock and disgust. Second, it was released as the unofficial fourth installment of the Faces of Death series in Japan. And finally, the on-screen host and narrator is none other than Vincent Price. Some people act surprised that Price would be involved in a film of questionable taste like this, but those same people have probably forgotten that he'd previously already hosted the early mondo exploitation films Naked Terror (1961) and I tabù (1963 aka Taboos of the World). The film itself is a pretty straight-forward collection of mostly news footage of various natural and man-made disasters and human atrocities, though the sensationalist trailer for the film (featuring charred corpses, animals being killed, etc.) indicates the distributors knew who the true audience would be.

We open with shots of space and talk of the creation of the universe and the Big Bang Theory. This is followed by a segment on volcanoes, where we learn of the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée on Martinique, which destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre and killed tens of thousands of people in the process, and then see footage of one of Mt. Etna's destructive eruptions in Sicily. After some shaky footage of tornadoes and tsunamis, we take a trip to the Sahara Desert in Africa and see the devastation of drought, where women spend hours digging in a dried-up river bed for just a cup full of muddy water and human and animal corpses alike lie disregarded in the sand. There's mention of
overpopulation and footage of locust plagues while Price points out that "Life is the ultimate miser." Indeed. Man-made disasters are given about equal screen time here, starting with forest fires caused by careless campers devastating millions of acres of forest and land, leaving behind "charred, mocking reminders of what people once called homes."

Next up we get footage from the Flixborough chemical plant explosion of 1974 in England and several lethal airplane crashes, including footage of corpses being hauled from the wreckage of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 in the Everglades (101 casualties) and footage from the Ermonenville Air Disaster, where Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crashed outside of Paris, killing 346 people and becoming, at the time, the single deadliest airplane crash in history. The record has since been broken. A basket detaches from a hot air balloon, sending the operator plummeting hundreds of feet to his death and, at the Le Mans Grand Prix d'Endurance in 1955, the single worst motorsport accident in history occurred when a crash sent an engine and debris into the grandstands, killing 80 people. Price then rubs salt in the wound by pointing out the irony that race fans aren't so much in it for the thrill of the race but instead the imminent prospect of disaster they're expecting to befall the racers... not themselves!

Baby-seal-clubbing mother fucker!

There's also footage of gas line explosions, the Amico Cadiz oil spill, the Liberian Ocean Eagle crash, the very sad sight of beaches littered with dead birds, fish, dolphins and whales, the senseless slaughter of blue whales turning the seas red, and the difficult-to- watch clubbing of baby harp seals; an act approved by the Canadian government no less! We continue on into rat-infested sewers, see bulldozers pushing mountains of trash, baby chicks being slaughtered by the thousands, the military fighting a blackbird infestation with deadly chemicals, the George Wallace assassination attempt, terrorism at the Egyptian Embassy, the murder of TV reporter Bill Stewart in Nicaragua, riots, civil wars, Japanese farmers fighting the military over a plot of land they hope to build the Tokyo International Airport on, the wind-induced collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940, the Eldfell volcano eruption in Iceland, deadly earthquakes, avalanches and floods and much more.

This bloody footage is in the trailer but was not in the actual film I viewed.

The narration is strongly anti-war, anti-pollution and anti-violence, whilst also being pro-animal and pro-environmental protection, which is likely what appealed to they very conscientious and humane Price and why he decided to take part. We are chastised for being "an energy-greedy world" doing untold damage to the environment to fulfill our "frantic need for oil" and for showing disregard for nature and our fellow man. While there's truth to all of that, the messages here are always at odds with how graphic and exploitative the selected footage is. Then again, it's more effective to criticize with examples of what you're criticizing. But one thing's for sure: this is not at all pleasant to watch. It's grim, depressing and almost apocalyptic in its bleak forecast for the future. Some sort of levity or a smidgen of hope would have helped to balance it all out, but there's none of that to be found here.

The German poster removed an image of the book from the bottom left corner for some reason.

Thankfully, this is packed with information and history and I actually ended up learning quite a bit watching it. Some of the footage is really fascinating and it's a decent document of Mother Nature's wrath as well as the dark and violent nature of mankind. Interestingly, global warming and the pitfalls of our oil dependency; two issues whose importance have only been amplified in today's political circus; are two of the main focal points here. Nowadays, most politicians use these issues as empty rhetoric and many others, in an effort to prove themselves slavishly devoted to whatever party affiliation they align themselves with, seem to take one side or the other while ignoring the gray areas in between. Hey, maybe we are doomed as a society after all!

The executive producer was Doro Vlado Hreljanovic, who also backed Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), War of the Planets (1977), Just Before Dawn (1981) and others. All of these were theatrically released through the company Picturmedia. To my knowledge, no video or DVD was ever released here in the U.S., but there were ones released in Japan (on numerous labels on both DVD and VHS), the UK (a VHS on the Video Network label) and Germany (a VHS on the Video Medien Pool label).


Friday the 13th (1980)

Directed by:
Sean S. Cunningham

I was just a babe when this hit theaters, so I didn't get to see it on the big screen and had to wait until the 90s to watch it on video. But boy did it ever make a lasting impression on me - especially that now-famous ending - which sent my 9 year old ass literally jumping back about five feet from my TV set in horror. It probably didn't help that I was sitting about a foot away from the TV with the sound cranked all the way up when *it* happened, but it was still one of the first movie shocks of my life. That's one of the great things about the horror genre, its ability to bring out strong emotions in viewers and make a lasting impression, perhaps especially in regards to those at a young and impressionable age. To many of us, Friday now stands as a bloody, violent and, strangely enough, pleasantly nostalgic film that takes us back to a time when things could be simple and that was OK and when we actually could still be scared. I - and I'm sure many others in my age range - personally credit this film, along with a few others (Psycho, Night of the Living Dead), as being the films that created an ever-lasting love for the genre that I still hold to this day. Is it a great film? Perhaps not. It's certainly flawed. However, it remains an entertaining film all these years later and its influence of the genre is not to be underestimated.

Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) has recently purchased Camp Crystal Lake, a run-down summer retreat in the backwoods of New Jersey that's been closed down since a pair of unfortunate tragedies occurred there decades earlier. Included among those tragedies are the 1957 drowning of a young boy and the unsolved slayings of several teenage counselors a year later. Those two incidents have earned the grounds the charming nickname "Camp Blood" and have town weird-o Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) running around telling everyone who will listen about the camp's supposed "death curse." Alice (Adrienne King), who seems to be on the romantic outs with the owner and is contemplating leaving, along with a new crop of counselors - Brenda (Laurie Bartram), Bill (Harry Crosby, the son of Bing), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Jack (Kevin Bacon) and prankster Ned (Mark Nelson) - all have just two weeks to whip the camp into shape before it's set to re-open. Poor Annie (Robbi Morgan), who's been hired on as a cook, doesn't even make it there after she picks the wrong jeep to hop into and ends up getting her neck slashed as a result. A similarly gruesome fate will also befall most of the rest of the budding counselors...

Pretty much everyone knows the story front and back by now, so there's really no reason to go into too much detail about it, nor is there any reason not to go ahead and reveal the identity of the film's mystery killer. The psycho slaughtering everyone is, of course, Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), a former cook at the same camp out to avenge the death of her beloved son Jason, who drowned in the lake there twenty or so years earlier. Those in charge of her boy were too busy making love while Jason was busy drowning, so now she hates camp counselors. All camp counselors. Despite the fact the Mrs. Voorhees character isn't even introduced until the last 20 minutes, the film is set up and filmed like a gory mystery complete with red herrings that have no bearing on the finale whatsoever. Interestingly, and quite unlike most of the subsequent films in the series, most of the murders occur off-screen. We do get to see a throat slashing, an arrow pushed up through a neck and a decapitation, but in every other death we only really get to see the bloody aftermath. Still, this was one of the key films that helped give Tom Savini his reputation as a master of gore effects. Harry Manfredini's iconic score - one he himself would copy into infinity - seals the deal.

While Halloween (1978) usually gets primary credit for creating and codifying the 80s slasher film, in many ways Friday is just as important to this style of film, if not even more important. Few of the later slashers would put as much emphasis on suspense as Carpenter's near-bloodless film. The majority, however, would follow Cunningham's template of hopping from one bloody murder to the next with lots of POV killer stalking shots followed by a murder and bloody payoff, repeated over and over again. To the original Friday's credit, it does actually attempt to build suspense in spots unlike many of the later films and it's nicely shot and rather atmospheric. Most critics of the day hated it with a passion, but that didn't matter to audiences, who turned the film into the surprise hit of its year. On a budget of just 550,000 thousand dollars, it made almost 40 million; making it far more profitable than Kubrick's The Shining, Carpenter's The Fog, De Palma's Dressed to Kill and Russell's Altered States; all films with much higher budgets. It even managed to easily outperform films with extremely strong critical support like Raging Bull and The Elephant Man.

Though the cast is comprised primarily of inexperienced actors (other than Palmer), most of the performances aren't too bad. Bacon, of course, was the only one to have much of a film career afterward. In real life, King was stalked by an obsessed fan and decided to bow out of show business for decades as a result. Bartram became a fundamentalist Christian and follower of Jerry Falwell and would later denounce the film. Palmer was also embarrassed by it for many years, but has since come around to embrace both the film and its fans. Many of the others dropped off the map for decades but have recently resurfaced in independent horror films. Finally, being a part of Friday the 13th wasn't such a bad thing! While the character development is next to nil, at least most of the people in this one seem like fairly nice, normal people you wouldn't mind being around, which is more than can be said for most of the sequels, rip-offs and remakes that would follow.

And if ever in doubt over this minor classic status this film has obtained over the years, one only has look as far as the dreadful 2009 "reboot." I can say without hesitation that its combination of moronic, obnoxious stoners, sluts and hicks with split second flashes in place of old school gore / prosthetic effects, have only managed to make the original look better than ever before. I guess that's one positive thing about remakes! Production manager Steve Miner would go on to make the first two sequels.

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