Grindhouse

The House Of The Devil

the-house-of-the-devil

2009

Glass Eye Pix/MPI Media Group

Written and Directed by Ti West

Produced by Josh Braun, Derek Curl, Roger Kass and Peter Phok

I’ve only seen three of his movies but that’s enough. Ti West is now one of my favorite directors and he definitely is my current favorite director of horror movies. People had been telling me for years that I needed to see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL but I just never got around to seeing it. And at this same time last year, I found “The Innkeepers” on Netflix. I must have watched that movie once a day for the next three or four days. And this October I resolved to watch THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL at last. I did. And now I see why people were telling me to see it and that it was Ti West’s best movie. I’m still not sure about that. I still think that “The Innkeepers” is his best movie but damn if THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL doesn’t come thisclose.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate to get out of her dorm room which is pretty much used as a whorehouse by her slutty roommate. She finds a new apartment and her friendly landlady (Dee Wallace) is more than willing to waive a lot of the standard landlord/tenant business if Samantha can come up with $300 cash over the weekend. Luckily Samantha happens onto a babysitting job. It’s at a remote house some distance from the college. So far in fact that Samantha needs the help of her best girlfriend Megan (Greta Gerwig) who drives her out to the house.

Upon meeting Mr. and Mrs. Ullman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) Samantha discovers that they misrepresented the job. It’s not a baby Samantha will be looking after but Mr. Ullman’s invalid mother. Mr. Ullman assures Samantha that the job entails her mostly just being in the house and keeping his mother company. Megan urges Samantha to leave but when Mr. Ullman puts $400 dollars on the table, Samantha relents. Megan leaves, promising to come back and pick up Samantha later. Let’s just say that the simple babysitting job is not so simple and that Megan does not pick Samantha up and leave it at that for now.

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Why do I love THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL so much? Okay, here’s the first reason: Ti West set out to make a movie that’s a homage to horror films of the 1970’s and 1980’s and he did it so well that halfway through I was half convinced that this was somehow a lost movie from that era he had found and slapped his name on it. He achieved that 1970’s/80’s flavor by recreating the style of movies made then by not only using only the equipment and film that would be available to filmmakers then but also using the stylistic methods used by directors of low budget slasher/horror films of that error. Ti West is one of a very few directors working today who truly understands what a grindhouse film is and make no mistake about it, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL is very much a grindhouse film.

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Second of all, Ti West knows how to sell us the sizzle as well as the steak. He’s not afraid of letting us getting to know his characters before he does horrible things to them. I’ve spoken to people who complain that there are long stretches of his movies where nothing happens. Actually there is a lot happening. It’s called Characterization. Unlike most horror movies where the victims pretty much have signs on them proclaiming what type of character they are and in what order they’re going to get killed, in a Ti West movie there are actual characters that I grew to care about. By the time all hell starts to break loose, I was truly invested in Samantha and really wanted to know what was going to happen to her. And Ti West honestly knows how to use suspense to make a scene pay off. There’s one scene in particular that made me jump and I haven’t jumped while watching a horror movie since 2012’s “The Cabin In The Woods”

The acting in this movie is top notch. Usually in a movie set during the 1980’s actors feel the need to over compensate but Jocelin Donahue and Greta Gerwig look, act and feel like 1980’s girls in a 1980’s world. They’re wonderfully relaxed and comfortable with the hair, the clothes and the slang. And as for Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov…well, they were there, fer cryin’ out loud. So they well know how to play this material. And for a long time fan of Mr. Noonan and Ms. Woronov as I am, I knew that when they showed up in the movie things were going to go south pretty damn fast.

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So should you see THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL? Absolutely Yes. If you haven’t yet put together your Halloween movie watching list yet, put this at the top of your list. Along with Ti West’s other movies “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament.” “The Sacrament” is the weakest of the three but still well worth watching. But by all means, watch and enjoy THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL.

Rated R

95 minutes

 

Death Proof

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Erica Steinberg

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed if you liked.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment most of them you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, DEATH PROOF and “Planet Terror” were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  However the two movies have been released on DVD as separate features.

DEATH PROOF begins with three Austin, Texas girls preparing for a weekend of partying to celebrate the birthday of Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier) a local disc jockey.  Her two best friends Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) and Shanna (Jordan Ladd) go with her to the Texas Chili Parlor where they’re going to hook up with Julia’s drug connection Lanna (Monica Staggs) and from there it’s on to the lake house owned by Shanna’s rich daddy.  But first the girls have planned a wild night of drinking, dancing and making out with some of the local guys (one of them played by writer/director Eli Roth) They also meet up with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who claims to be a professional stuntman although he can only credit television shows thirty years old that he supposedly worked on.  Stuntman Mike flirts with the girls which earns him a highly erotic lap dance from Arlene who is both intrigued and repelled by the scarred but strangely charming man.

Turns out that Stuntman Mike is not only scarred physically but mentally as well since he’s a psychotic sadist who likes killing young woman with his special souped-up 1970 Chevrolet Nova which he proudly boasts is “death proof”.  It’s been tricked out so that Stuntman Mike can do things like ram another car head on at 120 miles an hour and survive.  Whoever is in the other car isn’t so lucky.  Stuntman Mike proceeds to show off just how deadly his “death proof” car is by killing not only the four girls but also a girl he’s tricked into actually riding inside the car (Rose McGowan) in a pair of truly horrific scenes.

Cut to fourteen months later.  Stuntman Mike is in Tennessee and sizing up four new victims.  This time it’s Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Kim (Traci Toms) and Zoë (Zoë Bell) who are all in the movie business themselves.  Zoë is a stuntwoman and wants to do two things; buy a vintage 1970 Dodge Challenger and play a game called “Ship’s Mast” in which Zoë lies on the hood of the car, hanging onto two belts while Kim drives down the highway at high speed.  Bad time for them to pick to play this game because Stuntman Mike has been stalking them all day and he decides he wants to play as well.  But his idea of a fun game is way different from what the girls have planned.  Before it’s all over, everybody will have gotten their share of playing games.

DEATH PROOF is a way different movie in style and tone from “Planet Terror” in that where “Planet Terror” takes off at Warp Factor Five right from the first five minutes, DEATH PROOF takes it’s time to build up to the wild car chase that takes up the last fifteen minutes or so.  That’s why I advise everybody who plans on seeing these films back-to-back on a single night’s viewing (which is really the way to watch ‘em) to watch DEATH PROOF first, then “Planet Terror” DEATH PROOF takes it’s time telling it’s story and its certainly not boring but Q.T. takes his time in the first half so that we can get to know the first set of girls before the totally terrifying head on collision with Stuntman Mike’s car.  Then we’re introduced to the second set of girls and Q.T. takes another half hour with the characterization before we get down to their desperate 100 mile an hour road war.

It’s a solid movie full of the patented Tarantino dialog we’ve come to expect and there are extended scenes where it’s nothing but people just talking.  But since it’s Tarantino putting the words in their mouths and the actors are so good at what they’re doing I don’t think you’re going to mind a bit.  Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson and Zoë Bell are the acting standouts in this one, especially Zoë Bell.  She’s a real life stuntwoman who doubled for Lucy Lawless in “Xena” and for Uma Thurman in the “Kill Bill” movies and she’s totally charming here.  And that’s really her sliding around on the hood of that Dodge Challenger as it’s roaring down the highway.

Tarantino wanted to film a car chase without using CGI at all and it’s a really excellent car chase.  I’m glad to see that some filmmakers still like doing some things Old School: Tarantino put real stuntmen inside of real cars and let them do what they do best.  Vanessa Ferlito also does terrific work in this movie.  She does a mean lap dance and while doing it all I could think of was that she looks like she could be Rosario Dawson’s younger, sluttier sister.

And like all of Tarantino’s movies, the soundtrack is killer.  I don’t think there’s a director working today except for Martin Scorsese who uses music in his movies better than Tarantino.  The music he uses in his movie isn’t just stuck in there just to fill dead air between dialog scenes.  The songs uncannily fit the mood of a scene and get across exactly what emotion Tarantino wants to convey. And I always hear a couple of songs in his movies that I’ve never heard before from artists I assumed I was fairly familiar with.  Such as The Coasters song he uses for the lap dance sequence.  I’ve been listening to The Coasters since I was knee high to a knee as my father was a huge fan of theirs but I’ve never heard that song before I saw DEATH PROOF.

If I have any complaints with DEATH PROOF it’s this: despite Tarantino’s desire to make a grindhouse flick in the style of “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” (both of which are referenced several times by the characters) the movie is way too dialog heavy and far too polished to be considered a true grindhouse flick.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that while “Planet Terror” is by far way more fun to watch, DEATH PROOF is technically the better movie and the one that will most likely stay with you for days afterwards.  There’s just more meat on the bones of this one.  But that ending is just too abrupt for me.  But then again, “Vanishing Point” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” had similar out-of-left-field-what-the-hell endings and I was able to roll with them so I guess I can roll with this one.

So should you see DEATH PROOF?  You bet your ass you should.  It’s not one of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies but still, a minor flick from Q.T. is better than a lot of directors’ major works.  The performances are excellent, that car chase is a doozy and the story is tightly suspenseful.  By all means, Netflix and enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated R

Planet Terror

2007

Dimension Films/Rodriguez International Pictures/Troublemaker Studios

Written and Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Produced by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan

Once upon a time there was this street in Manhattan.  42end Street.  Now before you jump up and say; “It’s still there!” Let me say that no.  It’s not.  Oh, 42end Street is there.  But it’s not there.  Give me a minute to explain.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s you could go to 42end Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and on both sides on the street there were nothing but movie theaters.  Cheap movie theaters that showed double and even triple features.  And when I say cheap I mean $2 or $3 bucks.  That’s right.  You could go see two movies for three lousy dollars and stay in the theater until it closed.  There was this one theater that showed nothing but a triple bill of kung fu movies.  The theater that was home to “The Lion King” for many years used to be the raunchiest XXX movie theater in Times Square.  These theaters opened early and closed late.  Real late.  If you had $20 bucks in your pocket you could stay on 42end Street all day long and most of the night cruising from one theater to another until you were all movie-ed out.  Of course you shared the theater with potheads, drunks, bottom feeder drug dealers, prostitutes, unemployed men hiding out from the world, teenagers cutting school and their ilk.  But if you didn’t mess with anybody they generally didn’t mess with you.  Back in the day the rule of thumb was: “don’t start no static, there won’t be none”.   The movie theater staff had the same policy.  Folks would light up their joints, pass around 40s of malt liquor, pints of cheap booze, smoke cigarettes openly and put their feet up on the backs of the seat in front of them.  But as long as they were cool, the management was cool.   In short, the environment was as saturated with depravity as the movies shown.

The movies that were shown in these theaters, which we now popularly and affectionately refer to as ‘grindhouses’ were far from Academy Award winning films.  They were Grade B, C, D and more oftentimes than not, Z exploitation flicks.  Blaxplotation.  Kung fu flicks.  Spaghetti westerns.  Horror.  Italian ‘giallo’ thrillers.  Splatter.  Made on the cheap and designed to be nothing more than sensational pulp entertainment that you forgot the day after you saw them.  Oh, there were exceptions, to be sure and a lot of those movies transcended the trash and are still highly regarded to this day.  But the 42end Street of those bad old days is gone forever.  I know, I know…people go on and on about it’s ‘safer’ now.  It’s ‘cleaner’.  It’s more ‘family orientated’ and I’m all for that.  I still think it was more fun back then.

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez collaborated on a project called “Grindhouse” where they attempted to give modern day movie goers a taste of what the movie going experience was like back then.  “Grindhouse” was made up of two complete and separate films on a double bill along with a handful of fake trailers for equally fake films.  The two movies, “Death Proof” and PLANET TERROR were aged and battered to replicate the way films looked back then since those prints were shipped all over the country from theater to theater and not handled with the best of care.   So when they were shown on the screen you had all these scratches and more often than not whole sections of film missing and spliced together.  “Grindhouse” even made use of vintage 70’s/80’s advertisements and theater announcements.   It was all designed to be a Valentine to that entire movie era of gleeful sex, violence and gore.

The problem was that a lot of moviegoers didn’t get the joke.  I remember reading that audience members were confused by the sections of the movie that had ‘missing reels’ and demanded that they see the missing parts or else they wanted their money refunded.  Supposedly there were complaints from theater owners about the 3 hr+ running time of “Grindhouse” Whatever the reason; “Grindhouse” was an ambitious experiment that failed at the box office.  Too bad.

PLANET TERROR begins with go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) quitting her job and hitting the road to pursue her dream of being a stand-up comedian.  She herself doesn’t think she’s very funny but since everybody she knows says she’s hilarious she figures what the hell.  Cherry literally hits the road when she’s almost run over by a convoy of Army trucks heading for a military base outside of Austin, Texas led by the smirkingly sinister Abby (Naveen Andrews) and Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) who are looking for canisters of a top secret biological weapon hidden at the base.  In a movie like this it’s almost a given that things go wrong.  They do and the biological weapon is unleashed in the form of a sick-looking green mist that infects the townspeople, turning most of them into flesh-eating mutant zombies and leaving only a handful of desperate characters who must band together to stay alive during the hellish night.

Let me say right off the bat that if you’ve got a sensitive stomach and really don’t enjoy the sight of bodies being Swiss-cheesed by thousands of rounds of machine-gun fire or pulled apart like fried chicken and devoured then this isn’t the movie for you.  Robert Rodriguez doesn’t hold back on anything in this one and the sheer exhilaration of the violence in this movie might freak out some people.  There’s stabbings with hypodermic needles, zombies are doused with gasoline and incinerated, zombies are blown up, run over, decapitated and that’s the light stuff.  After seeing this movie my wife Patricia was speechless.  Seriously.   Depraved souls like myself are going to have a great time with this one.

You really have to throw out everything you thought you knew about movies to appreciate PLANET TERROR especially if you’re someone who’s never seen a movie that’s less than ten years old.  That’s because in terms of acting, cinematography, special effects and story, PLANET TERROR scores as being a successful throwback to the 70’s/80’s style of movie.  It looks, sounds and feels like somebody was rummaging around in a long forgotten storage room somewhere and found a lost John Carpenter flick from the 70’s.

A lot of the fun comes from the eclectic cast, all of whom look as if they’re having an absolute blast because they throw themselves in the ridiculously loopy story with gusto, energy.   While they’re all having fun with the material they respect it and make even the most bizarrely outrageous plots twists seem logical.  Freddy Rodriguez is really good as the mysterious badass El Wray who apparently can do anything and do it with a James Coburn-ish cool I found tremendously appealing.  And it adds to his mystique and badass status that El Wray is an average sized, average looking guy.  He certainly doesn’t look like a cat who can walk through a wall of zombies with nothing but a pair of switchblades and take ‘em all out.  Josh Brolin’s performance was one that struck me as oddly familiar for some reason and I couldn’t put my finger on it until the second time I watched the movie: he’s doing Nick Nolte.  In appearance, voice and mannerisms he’s a dead ringer for Nick Nolte in his younger days.  Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey are a lot of fun as brothers.  Biehn is the local law while Fahey runs the best BBQ shack in Texas.  They brothers have spent years feuding over the family BBQ recipe but put their differences aside to fight zombies.  There’s some nice cameos and small but memorable supporting bits courtesy of Stacy Ferguson (of The Black Eyed Peas) Bruce Willis, Nicky Katt, Tom Savini, the Original El Mariachi himself: Carlos Gallardo, Q.T. and Robert Rodriguez’s patch encrusted leather motorcycle jacket.

But the movie belongs to Rose McGowan and she knows it.  From her opening scene to the closing she owns the movie and strides through it with a confidence and sly smile that seems to be communicating something private to those of us watching it.  She’s beautiful, funny, serious, droll and best of all; she plays Cherry Darling with respect.  It can’t be easy playing a zombie fighting go-go dancer with an M-16 for a leg but she plays it straight enough with just the right shadings of humor that we go along with it.  I’d like to see Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman try to play the same character half as well.

So should you see PLANET TERROR?  Absolutely.  I applaud Robert Rodriguez for saying “the hell with it” and just going all out crazy with this one.  I mean, if you’re gonna make a movie then dammit make a movie as if you’ll never make another one in your life and that’s how PLANET TERROR plays.  It’s a wonderful homage to a  style of filmmaking we don’t see anymore and it’s done with such brilliant energy and imaginative power that I was truly sorry when it ended and I can’t say that about too many movies I see these days.

But again I have to warn those of you who are sensitive to violence to steer clear of this one.  Especially since there’s a scene involving a little boy and a handgun.  I realize that even though it’s a movie there are those who take such scenes as that one very seriously and would rather not see scenes such as that one even though you don’t actually see anything.   And if you decide to Netflix both PLANET TERROR and “Death Proof” to watch on the same night (which is really the best way to see ‘em) let me make a suggestion: Watch “Death Proof” first then PLANET TERROR.  Even though in the theaters they were shown in the opposite order trust me on this one.  I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.  Then go email Robert Rodriguez and demand a movie starring The Crazy Babysitter Twins.

105 minutes

Unrated