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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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2006

Movie Review – Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)

Movie Review – Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)

Ever since 1984’s The Toxic Avenger, Troma has had an environmentalist and anti-corporatist bent. Beginning in the mid-90s, it also began to embrace animal rights. These causes come together in what is perhaps Lloyd Kaufman’s magnum opus, 2006’s Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. An activist film at heart, decrying the inhumanity of animal abuse and the detrimental health effects of fast food, as well as the way corporations can manipulate activist efforts or disregard human decency for profit, if the internet is to be believed the title even made MSN’s “Top Civil Rights Films of All Time” in 2011 aside such inspirational classics as Stand and Deliver (1988) (for the record, I’ve been unable to find this list on MSN).

Of course, this is still a Troma film, meaning Poultrygeist is still a raunchy sexploitation schlock-fest oozing with gore, gross-out toilet humor, gratuitous nudity, and transparently amateurish acting. It’s also a musical, at least in its first half. The plot, if one wants to be so kind, follows Arbie, who takes a job at a new fried chicken restaurant that was built on an Indian burial ground. He’s trying to win back his ex-girlfriend, Wendy, who’s become bi-sexual and with her new girlfriend has joined a group of protesters called “CLAM” (Collegiate Lesbians Against Mega-Conglomerations) who are picketing the restaurant. Eventually vengeful chicken spirits begin possessing employees and patrons alike, creating an absurd siege narrative drenched in all manner of bodily fluids.

los bolivios

The production of Poultrygeist was itself an adventure, and behind-the-scenes footage was compiled into a feature-length documentary entitled, Poultry in Motion: Truth is Stranger than Chicken (2008), which I highly recommend as a companion piece to the film. A lesson in guerilla filmmaking, a large portion of the movie was financed directly out of Kaufman’s pocket. More than seventy inexperienced volunteers came together to help make the movie, sleeping in an abandoned church and enduring long, grueling hours. Special effects props malfunctioned, tempers erupted, and all the while Kaufman is seen being an energetic sixty-year-old with unending stamina who, were it not for his thirty years of experience making no-budget schlock, is perhaps the only guy who could have pulled it all off.

In past Kaufman films, such as 1999’s Terror Firmer, I appreciated the message but grew tired of the method. The jokes didn’t work for me – it was all (mostly human) waste and not enough wit. However, Poultrygeist is genuinely funny, if just as crude, and much smarter. It begins with a manic energy that never lets up, infusing its jokes with biting satire, and unlike many other Troma films the running time feels like it goes by quickly and smoothly. The pacing is perfect for what is needed. Surprisingly, the songs were catchy and the lyrics, though replete with juvenile humor, were actually entertaining and had me cracking up. They also allow the audience a breather from the barrage of constant sight gags, giving us a welcome lull with which to regain our focus and be ready for the next onslaught (a technique I wish more Troma films employed). Kate Graham, who plays Wendy, is adorable and a joy to watch, even when clothed.

poultrygeist

As with all Troma films, they’re not for everyone. As I said in my review of The Toxic Avenger, often times they’re not for me. If you’re not one to find a zombie-finger-butt-plug gag funny – and I understand if you aren’t – it might be best to steer clear. As for myself, I thoroughly, and I fully admit surprisingly, enjoyed Poultrygeist. It’s the strongest Troma film I’ve seen and the one I see myself returning to at some point in the future.

Grade: B-

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Movie Review – Fido (2006)

Movie Review – Fido (2006)

“Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don’t understand”

– “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (1967) by The Monkees

Fido (2006), directed by Andrew Currie and written by Currie, Robert Chomiak, and Dennis Heaton, is a Canadian satire which mixes George Romero’s zombie motifs, Lassie, and 1950s American sitcom television tropes.

The film takes place in an alternative universe where the “Zombie War” has wiped out most of the population and people now live in 1950s-esque communities run by a corporation called Zomcon, who monitor, enforce, and expel undesirables (undead or not). The community is enclosed in a Zomcon fence and beyond is the zombie-infested wilds. Some zombies have been caught and domesticated through the use of collars that inhibit their devouring impulse, making them fit for manual labor and menial tasks. One such zombie, played by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, is dubbed Fido by his boy owner and bonds with him in a manner typical of “a boy and his dog” films, and we get tongue-in-cheek scenes of them roaming through open fields with the kid yelling, “Come here, boy!” and trying to play fetch with him.

The strong cast, particularly Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker who play the boy’s parents, Helen and Bill Robinson, are great, mixing complex character emotions with impeccable comedic timing. Their character arcs are the real heart of the film and they embody them perfectly. Connolly gives Fido just enough cognizance to make him sympathetic, no doubt garnering inspiration from Day of the Dead’s (1985) Bub. Henry Czerny provides a charmingly conservative menace as the Zomcon security chief Jonathan Bottoms. However, it is the Robinsons’ neighbor Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson) and his zombie girlfriend Tammy who threaten to steal the show in the end.

Fido 2006 still

Overall, he characters kill with a developed casualness, the kids practicing their shooting during recess while singing the mantra: “In the brain and not the chest. Head shots are the very best.” The juxtaposition between the supposedly idyllic and the gory is hilarious. Much of the humor comes from 1950s television call-backs including the I Love Lucy’s his-and-hers beds, the invocation of Lassie with the boy being named Timmy, and the use of rear-screen projections to add scenery while the characters are driving. Instead of Life magazine they read Death, and we get the schlocky sensationalism of educational videos of the time.

However, the film calls back that era in theme as well. The culture is defined by its commodities and consumerism, and neighbors are judged by the numbers of zombies they own. Appearance is everything and suppression of various kinds is a well-honed skill. When a zombie outbreak threatens, Mr. Bottom tells Bill that “These little problems are all about containment.” This was, of course, America’s Cold War policy, and like the zombies and undesirables in Fido that must be eradicated for the betterment of society, McCarthyism and Red paranoia sought to eliminate their ideological enemies from within. In the 1950s artists, especially Hollywood filmmakers, were blacklisted; in Fido, undesirable families are exiled into the wilds. Conform… or else. This goes with sexual politics as well. Helen is expected and willing to play the dutiful housewife to her aloof and insecure husband who fears intimacy, but gradually finds her own strength and independence while he reexamines his efforts as a husband and father.

However, these 1950s trappings are merely a smokescreen to satirize the American policies of the mid-2000s. As Currie told Rotten Tomatoes in 2007, “On a deeper level, [Fido is] also about homeland security. Mr. Bottoms comes in at the start, they’re building the fences higher, there are security vehicles on every street and ‘We’re gonna take everybody’s picture just in case one of you gets lost.’ That idea of playing with a corporation that’s also the government, Zomcon, and how they push fear as a way of controlling the masses.” Xenophobia reigns supreme and we even see reflections of the immigration debate as zombies are collared and relegated to the tasks that no other characters – all of whom are white – want to do.

The overall theme, though, is not as strictly political, and it is that love is a far better basis for humanity than fear. Fido is light on horror but heavy on charm, and it is a film that uses satire and gore to say something about the world in which we live, and the world in which we want to live.

Grade: B

Movie Review – Wicked Little Things (2006)

Movie Review – Wicked Little Things (2006)

2006’s Wicked Little Things (also known as Zombies) is a zombie-esque tale directed by J. S. Cardone, who would go on to write the atrociously bad 2008 Prom Night remake. The revenge plot takes a great deal from John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) as kids killed in a 1913 mining accident roam the woods each night as murderous, flesh devouring zombies, hacking apart whatever they come across with mining tools. Why? Well, the movie never explains this. Yet unfortunately for a widow (Lori Heuring) and her two daughters, played by genre-favorite Scout Taylor-Compton and a young Chloë Grace Moretz, they move into the accursed Bulgarian – I mean, Pennsylvanian – woods and have to contend with the pasty, ravenous brats.

While the thin premise is still a solid basis for a horror film, Wicked Little Things is a fairly banal, paint-by-numbers affair. There are no surprises and the audience will be many steps ahead of the characters the whole way through. The gore is not excessive and truly, if it had been cut, this film could easily have garnered a PG-13 rating and played on television.

The characters and plotting will likely irritate viewers, as they did me. Here are just a few things that had me glaring at the screen:

  • Emma (Moretz) is way too old to constantly go wandering off all the time.
  • Why is it that only now locals are getting killed when they all seemed to be at least vaguely aware of the curse?
  • If Sarah (Taylor-Compton) would have taken her foot off the gas pedal the guy she was trying to warn might have had a chance to hear her over the revved engine.
  • If a mother can find her daughter in the middle of a strange forest, she should be able to retrace her steps up a hill back to her house…

There’s more, but I’ve dedicated enough time to venting.

Wicked Little Things will kill an hour-and-a-half if you need it to, but so will watching a good horror movie.

Grade: D

Movie Review – The Host (2006)

Movie Review – The Host (2006)

I first saw 2006’s The Host (known in South Korea as Gwoemul, meaning “Monster”) shortly after its release. The reputation which preceded it was impressive: it won numerous awards, critical acclaim, and became up to that time the highest grossing South Korean film ever. With such a pedigree, one cannot go into the film without high expectations. Unfortunately, the copy I watched at the time was dubbed, which can make the experience of watching a foreign film almost unbearable for me (unless it is an old martial arts movie – in that case, it’s part of the charm). It distracts me from the plot and diminishes the acting on screen. In fact, I haven’t watched a dubbed film since. I found the movie enjoyable, though nothing special, yet I vowed to revisit the film at some point with subtitles to see if my impression would change.

Directed by Bong Joon-ho (who would also do 2013’s well-received Snowpiercer), the story begins with a large creature emerging from the Han River, rampaging and destroying and taking a middle-school-aged girl whose flawed, dysfunctional family attempts to save her. Meanwhile, the authorities believe the creature is host to a viral outbreak and begin quarantining areas. Bong Joon-ho’s script hits many emotions effectively, making the audience laugh in one instant before hitting them with a scare or tragic character moment in the next. Watching it the second time these years later I quickly realized I didn’t remember how the latter half of the film went or how it ended, so many of those tragic moments were still able to strike me undiluted. I certainly was able to better appreciate the performances, especially by Go Ah-sung as Park Hyun-seo, the young girl. The scenes with her and the creature in the sewer are absolutely stellar.

The Host 2006 still

In 1954 Japanese filmmaker Ishirō Honda introduced Godzilla to the world. The big lizard’s first appearance is unlike his later incarnations where he’s seen as some kind of hero. Instead, he was meant to symbolize the destruction of Japan by nuclear weapons which the country had experienced first-hand less than a decade prior. He embodied the fears and resentments of the Japanese stemming from the detonations over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo by the United States. Similarly, The Host is a metaphor for American intervention and the South Korean government’s habit of continually acquiescing to U.S. will. In the beginning we see an incident based upon a real account which occurred in the year 2000, and we are given it to be a possible origin for the Han River creature. We see a U.S. army coroner telling his South Korean assistant to dump dozens of bottles of formaldehyde down the drain because the bottles are dusty. The coroner is more concerned about his little personal space than about the effects his actions will have on the environment and the populace, and the assistant is willing to comply even though he knows the chemicals will end up in the river system. Similarly, controversy continually arises in South Korea regarding U.S. bases and their effects on the local populations. In the next scene we see a man commit suicide, leaping from a bridge into the Han River, and he becomes the creature’s first human meal (that we know of). South Korea had seen many such suicides in the early part of the new millennium as the nation was racked by financial troubles, and it’s perhaps symbolic that the first victim is a South Korean man literally throwing his life away. Put these two scenes together and the creature is, in essence, the result of American pollution and arrogance and the failure of South Korea’s willingness to stop it.

The second half of the film becomes more of an outbreak narrative, where we see news reports of the United States (accompanied by footage from the Iraq War) and the W.H.O. blaming the South Korean government for their ineptitude and proclaiming their need to take direct intervention action. They devise a plan to release a chemical called Agent Yellow (an obvious nod to Agent Orange with a satirical flair) which will effectively poison the area, again taking little regard for the local populace. It makes one wonder if the true “host” is actually South Korea housing an American infection.

The film is not entirely anti-American. It shows the bravery of the U.S. military and seems to give an appreciative acknowledge to its proactive approach toward danger. Nevertheless, it appears to be a film about South Korea’s need to wake up and assert itself more effectively. There are those we love and respect who nevertheless need to be put in their place at times. Yet these geopolitical themes aside, The Host is a fun monster movie that both embraces and defies the big creature-feature narratives of the 1950s. It’s smart, suspenseful, and not afraid to be ponderously sad.

Grade: B

Movie Review – The Unseeable (2006)

Movie Review – The Unseeable (2006)

The Unseeable (2006), also known as Pen choo kab pee, is a Thai horror film directed by Wisit Sasanatieng that is awash in ghosts and a Gothic sense of foreboding. I was curious to see how a culture steeped in ancestor worship and rich supernatural traditions would depict a ghost tale, to see what new cultural elements they might bring to the genre.

When I first began watching the film I was struck by the grainy picture and the seeming overuse of haunting music to ramp the tension where it didn’t appear to need it. In my American hubris I chalked this up to being the result of the budget constraints of filming in a poorer nation and of a director trying to imitate Western horror films. My first reaction was, “well, this is quaint.” In my defense, the budget was indeed meager and my feelings were consistent with the vibe of the first 10-15 minutes. However, after going through the entire film I see that I grossly underestimated the filmmaker. I now see how deliberate his artistic choices were as the ending of the film gives a whole new perspective on its beginning.

The Unseeable 2006 still

Set in the 1930s, a pregnant woman on her way to Bangkok in search of her husband stays at a creepy estate/compound. It is owned by an elitist woman who some say sleeps with the ghost of her lover in the main house. The place is run by a cold, domineering housemaid straight out of a Gothic melodrama who warns her to stay away from the antique closet. The other two guests include Choy, a superstitious blabbermouth who thinks the only other guest, an old woman who shuffles around the garden at night, is a vampire. Amid this we throw in the apparitions of a man digging at night, a girl who appears and asks to be played with and then disappears again, and a story about a woman who hanged herself from a nearby tree. And of course, just when she’s about to flee our protagonist gives birth and has to stay on longer.

The plot carefully distributes these puzzle pieces and asks the viewer to be patient and soak in the atmosphere. The costuming is meant to recall 1930s cinema stars and the visuals are inspired by 1930s and 40s illustrator Hem Vejakorn. The twist(s) at the end are actually quite satisfying and I was surprised at just how well-crafted this classic ghost tale was. There were elements that may have been lost in translation for me, particularly regarding the garden shrine (there was something creepy there I apparently wasn’t seeing most of the time) and the lore of vampires, which works quite differently in Thailand. Dealing smartly with primal fears and desires and crosscut with class conflict, the script was one I found myself pondering long after viewing. It’s just the type of ghost tale I hope to find but rarely do. For those interested in Southeast Asia’s take on the Gothic ghost film, I highly recommend seeing The Unseeable.

Grade: B-

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