The Rotten Truth: Choice Cuts & Fetid Flounders


The latest capsule reviews from the editor

A couple of things to note since the last edition of “Choice Cuts.” I had to change the title because not all capsule reviews included in this column are exactly choice. Some are downright stinkers, as you’ll read about below. Even though I’ve somewhat retired the Ryan Rotten moniker unceremoniously (although I’ve considered giving it a George Stark-style send-off), I still like the sound of “The Rotten Truth,” so I’m keeping’ it.

Welcome to another “Choice Cuts & Fetid Flounders,” where yours truly gives you a glimpse at what’s spinning in my DVD player or yanking on my eyelids for attention at the cinema. This is the place I’ll eschew the regular review format we have here at the site and fire off concise, sometimes merciful, sometimes scathing thoughts on fresh celluloid and old.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: Four hours of reflections on Freddy Krueger from the cast and crew of New Line Cinema’s most popular and lucrative horror franchise. And to think, I fancied myself a scholar of the clawed one who gleaned quite a bit of information about him over the decades. This documentary had me reaching for my dunce cap a few times. Now I’m fully schooled, having sat through the titanic running time of this exhaustive retrospective. Did I mention it’s four hours?! And that’s not counting the second DVD that comes with uncut interviews and other goodies (some downright silly, others creative). Some of you Krueger-heads would dare consume it all in one sitting, I paced myself and watched Legacy in installments. Structurally, the doc lends itself to that as director Dan Farrands and Andrew Kasch approach the franchise in a linear fashion (bridged by cool stop-motion animated vignettes) offering interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and surprising, revealing photos. It’s technically inconsistent at times (Clu Gulager looks like he’s got two-toned skin at one point), otherwise, a terrific retrospective worthy of a slot on the shelf next to the Nightmare collection.

The Funhouse: An ode to Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse “Geek”: You poor cog in the machine of the carnival circuit. All you wanted was a romp with a voluptuous hag, spending your hard-earned cash for a cheap thrill. And what did you get? A night of punishment. I get it, man. You’re not the villain here. You’re just misunderstood. The Frankenstein mask and gloves you wear an externalization of that predicament. R.I.P.

There have been plenty of lame duck carnival horror flicks over the years, but none can top Tobe Hooper’s 1981 Universal release that’s partly a comment on the horror standards at the time, partly an exercise in atmosphere and purely Hooper-style insanity. In setting up Elizabeth Berridge’s character, Amy, Hooper crams both an homage to Psycho and Halloween before setting off on his own visual language that combines gorgeous crane shots following the characters through the film’s carnival location (shots which are sometimes accompanied by nothing more than sound effects or John Beal’s score), more lens flare than J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and sinister close-ups of sundry carnival characters. Casting Kevin Conway as three carnival barkers is genius, a telling sign that something is amiss amongst the frivolity of lights, popcorn and cotton candy. And last but not least, the funhouse “Geek” (designed by Rick Baker) is a crude, albeit memorable, creature of cinema.

This film, like a few others I hold near and dear, is like a security blanket to me. I can sit down and watch it any time.

Rosentcrantz & Guildenstern are Undead: If hipsters had their version of Twilight, or any vampire movie for that matter, this would be their choice of entertainment.

Jake Hoffman mumbles his way through the film – with a fixed expression of platitude on his face – as a stage director in New York who aligns himself with a bloodsucking writer who has penned a “vampire” version of “Hamlet.” Oh, the silliness that ensues. The leading man gets the bite put on him, there’s an intimidating Italian type everyone thinks is a gangster (played by Ralph Macchio), Devon Aoki has nothing to do and, of course, a secret society is out to stop the vampire. Yawn.

The laughs fall flat and the film settles into a comfortable tedium. It doesn’t help that the film is broken into chapters and Cabin Fever‘s Joey Kern shows up for a ridiculous turn as… Well, it’s supposed to be a surprise, but who cares?

The Descent: Part 2: I had hopes for this one. Through the whole film, however, I just couldn’t help but feel a case of déjà vu. This sequel is merely a shadow of Neil Marshall’s exercise in primal terror. And, honestly? I didn’t need a sequel. The first story was told and told quite well. Women go into cave battling claustrophobia, monsters and their own personal issues. Perfect. Part 2 is an exercise in “rinse and repeat.” Women and men go back into the cave, battle monsters, we get a little pointless twist, the end.

Jon Harris does a commendable job behind the camera, keeping the action flowing with gore, and James Watkins’ script recycles previously-seen scares, but he makes sure he puts a spin on each one. That’s satisfying for the less scrutinizing fans, I just found it a bore. Juno makes a return. For what purpose? Beats me. I thought there would be more of an impact in Sarah and Juno’s reunion, alas, it’s by-the-numbers.

A sequel to The Descent should have settled for more than mediocrity.

Hard Ride to Hell: This is Race With the Devil for those who chirp with delight at SyFy’s film output.

The film poses a similar set-up: Someone wanders across a ritual involving cannibalism, black-clad bikers and naked ladies (seriously, can’t these guys find a less conspicuous place to perform their shenanigans?), said individual goes on the run with his friends and the devilish bikers pursue until they’ve got what they want. In this case, they’re seeking a vessel to carry the child of Miguel (Robocop) Ferrer who is seen here wearing an awful eye prosthetic that looks like an FX artist poured latex into a straw and spit it into Ferrer’s face. No wonder Ride doesn’t appear on the actor’s IMDB page. He coasts through the role, reading his lines with a sense of malaise.

Unlike Race With the Devil, Ride eschews rooting itself in reality and calls upon some supernatural hokum, so there’s an amulet that gets bandied about the plot and some cheesy light effects. Oh shit, I forgot to add…a traveling knife salesman is the hero.

Approach with caution.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor