Author: mekano46

The Grim And Grimy Streets of Dayton, Ohio in 1988

Deadbeat At Dawn (1988), directed by Jim Van Bebber, reviewed by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

While everyone’s talking a cat named Goose in Captain Marvel, I’m going to talk about another Goose. He is the main character of Deadbeat At Dawn, played by the writer/director Jim Van Bebber. Goose is the leader of The Ravens, a gang on the mean streets of Dayton, Ohio. The Ravens are in a street war with The Spiders, led by a misogynist psycho named Danny, played with scenery chewing intensity by Paul Harper. Goose revels at being a badass, something his witchy, somewhat pagan girlfriend Christie, played by Megan Murphy, is unhappy with, wanting him to leave the gang before all her rituals stop keeping him safe.

After a rumble at a cemetery where he messed up Danny and a few of his Spiders, Goose has an argument with Christie, who threatens to leave him. Goose, deciding he loves her more than being a Kung Fu fighting, nunchuck twirling, knife throwing badass, quits The Ravens, leaving the gang under the leadership of Keith, his second-in-command, who promptly forms a partnership with The Spiders.

Goose then goes on one last drug deal to get some money to start his new life with his girl. Too bad Danny and his two Spider henchmen Stubby and Bonecrusher are having none of that. Stubby and Bonecrusher go out on Danny’s orders to find and kill Goose. Unfortunately, they find Christie instead.

An underground low-budget classic, this film is as grimy as it gets. Goose is only marginally more likable than his gang counterparts, and they are fucking awful, evil people. You feel sorry for him because Christie was his path to being a better person and having a better life, even though it’s apparent that he’s in too deep to ever take it. When he discovers Christie’s body, instead of calling the cops or taking her to a hospital or even just leaving her corpse in their apartment, he drops it in a trash compactor and pushes the button. We follow him down his drug and alcohol fueled spiral, as he reunites with his Vietnam vet junkie dad (played hilariously by Charlie Goetz), leaves him when Dad has a heroin-driven PTSD freakout, gets drunk and high, beats up homeless people for booze, and contemplates suicide. Then Keith reappears with a proposition: Goose helps the united Ravens and Spiders in an armored car robbery. Of course, you know, there must be bloody vengeance.

Meanwhile, Danny manhandles his pregnant girlfriend and Bonecrusher (portrayed manically by Marc Pittman), while in a drug haze, reminisces about how Christie’s intestines looked like snakes that he had to help out of her belly. Yep, Dayton, Ohio was a sick, ugly town in the late ‘80s. At least, that’s how Van Bebber envisioned it for this twisted feature.

For a movie that was reportedly made for $10,000 and took four years to finish, it looks pretty good. The acting is all over the place, but not distractingly so, and the straightforward plot holds the interest through the bloody denouement, with Van Bebber displaying martial arts chops as good as David Carradine (maybe better).

A grimy and grim underground masterpiece.

5 out of 5 cheese curds. See it.

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The Snowman

by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

It seemed like a slam dunk. A film based on one of a great series of detective novels. Starring a favorite actor, Michael Fassbender. Co-starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, another favorite. With J.K. Simmons? And Toby Jones? AND Val Kilmer??? Directed by Tomas Alfredson, director of one of my favorite vampire movies, Let the Right One In??? How can it go wrong?

And yet….

My brain is still trying to parse what it was I’d spent two hours watching. I think I understand what this movie was about. Hell, I solved the mystery in the first 35 minutes. But I’m still shaking my head, asking, “what the fuck….?” Much of the film seemed like a random series of events, which usually isn’t good for a mystery.

The movie opens on a cabin in snowy Norway. A boy announces the arrival of Uncle Jonas to his mother. He isn’t expected. Jonas drives up in a police car. Mom seems nervous about this unexpected visit. Next, they are sitting at the kitchen table as Jonas quizzes the boy about Norwegian history. When the boy gets a question wrong, Jonas smacks Mom across the face. When he gets it wrong again, Jonas hits Mom hard enough to knock her off her chair. “You have to help him more,” Jonas calmly tells her, and boy goes outside and builds a snowman. Later, the boy returns to the house and spies Jonas and Mom post coitus. She sees him, and tells Jonas that she is telling his wife that the boy is his son. Jonas angrily leaves, saying she won’t see him again. Mom and son get in her car to chase down Jonas’s police car. She loses him, and in despair lets go of the steering wheel. The boy sees this and pulls the emergency brake. The car skids out onto a frozen lake and the ice begins to crack underneath. The boy escapes the car, but Mom doesn’t, seemingly staring at him and having given up.

That’s when we meet Harry Hole (shut up – I can hear you snickering in the back there), an alcoholic police detective prone to passing out while on a bender in public places. His life is shit. His girlfriend, who he still loves, has left him and shacked up with a plastic surgeon. He’s forgotten her son’s birthday in a week-long drunk, and feels guilty because the boy idolizes him (among other things). His boss struggles to cover for his drunken disappearances, but he’s close to being terminated. And now, someone has sent him a cryptic letter, about his penchant for passing out in public places, about watching mommy while he was sleeping, and building her a snowman.

Then a single mother of a young girl disappears from her home, door left wide open. Harry and his new partner, a new recruit named Katrine Bratt, go to investigate, where Harry notices a snowman on the front lawn. Actually, before this, Harry pokes around Katrine’s bag while she is interviewing a witness, find a cold case file, and the movie does its first abrupt flashback to another case involving another detective played by a very unhealthy looking Val Kilmer.

Abrupt seems to be the style with the narrative shifts in this movie. It makes the movie seem like something is missing all throughout, which, if you believe director Alfredson, there is. But it goes further than that. There are moments where scenes are wonderfully edited. They are followed up with (many) scenes that have so many cuts in the editing they make any Transformer movie look soporific. One scene at a hockey game, where the emphasis is in characters talking in the stands, has so many edits it can cause epilepsy. It’s a shame, because for the most part the film is beautifully shot. There’s real talent in front and behind the camera. Alfredson directed Let The Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, both of which earned many awards and award nominations for direction and cinematography. He knows how to make a great looking film. This movie spoils lots of great shots with Cuisinart editing.

This could have been a good movie. Fassbender acts the hell out of his role as Hole. The script fails him. Harry Hole comes off as one of the most idiotic detectives next to Will Ferrell in Holmes & Watson. He figures out Batt’s hidden agenda faster than he connects the letter with the growing number of disappearances and murders. He misses so many obvious clues you want to club him upside his head. He’s touted to be a brilliant detective – Bratt tells him she studied his cases in the police academy – but you’d be hard pressed to believe that, seeing how he proceeds with the investigation. When Bratt calls him about another disappearance while he’s at a show with his girlfriend’s son, he doesn’t want to go. She insists they go to the crime scene immediately because the missing woman’s husband asked for him specifically. He leaves the concert early, take the boy home, then tells Bratt they will go the next morning. “Another missing person? And the husband asked for me? Fuck it. It can wait.”

Speaking of which, that particular disappearance has the interesting twist that the woman turns out not missing after all, but after Harry and Katrine question her and leave, they get a call about her disappearance again from her husband, again asking for Harry to look into it. Where does it lead? Nowhere. Harry figures that the killer made the phone calls and was watching them. Knowing this, is Harry careful about his movements from then on? Is Katrine? Nope. Then what’s the point of this twist?

Then there’s Val Kilmer. I can’t honestly evaluate his acting here, because it’s as incomplete as most everything in this fucking movie. When he spoke in the aforementioned first flashback, my immediate reaction, taken together with his almost unrecognizable face, was “That’s not Val Kilmer!” Worse, when he speaks, the camera is behind him, so you don’t actually see him speak. A later flashback, with him going to a crime scene on a mountain, has no dialogue outside of awkward police radio conversations about the crime and the fact he is heading there. It’s so very strange and badly done, but damn, it was beautifully shot. Kilmer has one other scene with dialogue that you do see him say words, but the voice isn’t his. It’s disconcerting and took me out of this already perturbing film. I understand from subsequent research that Kilmer had serious health issues with his mouth, but then why wasn’t his role recast? This voice issue is way worse than Superman’s upper lip in Justice League.

J.K. Simmons and Toby Jones are wasted in this, especially Simmons. His character, a wealthy man both campaigning to bring the Olympics to Oslo and running a prostitution ring, is rife with possibilities, none of them realized. Everyone in the script is woefully underwritten. Things happen, decision are made, with the expressed purpose to lead to the somewhat anticlimactic ending, with no regard to logic or sense. And there is no reason for this. The producer (Martin Scorsese!), the screenwriters, and the director chose to deviate from the original book, which is not unfilmable. They could’ve done the book straight, with a little streamlining, and it would’ve made more sense than this baffling mess. Instead, we have a killer with a very shaky motive you can’t buy, an unsatisfying denouement, and a movie that doesn’t end so much as just stop.

So much potential. So much talent. This movie is like having Gordon Ramsey serve you raw chicken, the plot and script are so undercooked. “It’s RAW! IT’S FUCKING RAW!!!” If I had the DVD of this, I’d fling it against the wall. It’s infuriating and sad.

1 ½ cheese curds out of 5, only for Michael Fassbender and the beautiful cinematography.

Christmas Evil

by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr

Puerto Ricans celebrate Xmas till the Feast of the Three Kings in January, and in the case of my family, a few days past. In honor of that, here’s a review of another Xmas movie. From 1980, here’s Christmas Evil, AKA You Better Watch Out.

The movie starts with two boys and their mother surreptitiously watching from the stairs of their house as Santa climbs down their chimney, leaves presents, and consumes the cookies and milk left for him. Later, older brother Harry is told by younger brother Phil that Santa Claus isn’t real, that it was their dad in the suit they had witnessed earlier. Harry doesn’t believe him and rushes back to the stairs, where he sees Dad, still in Santa suit, feeling up Mom’s leg by the Christmas tree. Distraught, he runs to the attic, smashes a snow globe, and deeply cuts his hand.

Jump 33 years, and Harry is now a low-level manager at a toy company. His co-workers listen to his rants about improving the quality of the toys with mocking contempt and frequently take advantage of him, with one asking him to cover his shift so he can be with his family. Harry sees him later drinking in a bar with friends, boasting about tricking Harry into working for him.

At home, Harry sleeps in Santa pajamas and furnishes his apartment with Christmas decorations. Worse, he imagines himself to be the next Santa, and spies on neighborhood kids, keeping tabs in two ledgers of who is naughty and who is nice.

After cancelling Thanksgiving dinner with his brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn of The Walking Dead!), who’s intolerant of Harry’s increasingly odd behavior, and discovering at the company Christmas party that the bosses are participating in a toy donation scam, Harry goes off the deep end and, after stealing toys from his company’s factory and filling some bags with dirt, dresses up as Santa Claus and rides off in his van, which is painted with a picture of a sleigh on its sides. What follows are scenes of Christmas cheer, bloodshed, and murder.

This movie is totally bugfuck. Brandon Maggart is great as the unhinged Harry, keeping his performance just restrained enough not to devolve into camp. The story, as crazy as it is, has plenty of unexpected twists. One minute Harry’s bringing toys to joyful children, the next he’s killing churchgoers who bully him for dressing as Santa. The tonal shifts keep you as off kilter as this film is, infused with an almost Lynchian surreality. The ending will either blow your mind, make you laugh, or both.

Four out of five cheese curds. You better watch out for this one.

RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE

by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

I don’t like Xmas.

It’s not hatred. I’m not a Scrooge, because my past elicits such terror of the holiday any visit of Xmas spirits will actually push me into such hatred. I’m more of a Grinch, who can warm up to the holiday, albeit in a dark fashion. I love the movie A Christmas Story, but hate Miracle On 34th Street. The Nightmare Before Christmas is my jam, even though it’s a musical. I’ll take Die Hard over Elf any day.

One Xmas movie shines over them all for me: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

In Finland, a boy named Pietari and his buddy spies on a mysterious archeological dig by mysterious Americans taking place on mountain range by their village. They’ve started excavating using explosives lately, which causes some concern among the people living around there. Pietari’s father makes a living hunting reindeer, and needs a good harvest to carry the family through the season. Unfortunately whole flocks of reindeer have been found dead and almost chewed down to the bone by what is presumed to be wolves. Eventually they set traps for the wolves, but instead catch…Santa? A naked Santa at that. Meanwhile, kids are disappearing and being replaced by straw effegies, and Pietari, after reading a book about Christmas legends, believes something bigger and darker is happening. Now if only someone will listen to him….

This movie is fucking magical. It lets you get to know all the people involved so you care what happens to them. The story keeps you intrigued, bringing new wonders and terrors as each layer is peeled back. Pietari is the boy hero I wished to be when I was a kid. He’s smart enough to figure out what is going on, and brave enough to face it when the Xmas shit hits the fan. I literally laughed, cried, gasped, and cheered through this film. It’s a perfect Xmas horror adventure comedy family drama fantasy etc. film.

100 out of five cheese curds. I may be a bit biased, though.

FRANKENSTEINS BLOODY NIGHTMARE

by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

I have, in the past, been accused of being too lenient on bad movies. While I do love Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Creeping Terror, Ratpocalypse, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (director’s cut is a masterpiece – fight me!), there are some movies out there that have tried my patience. While it’s easy to take shots at dreck like any Pirates of The Caribbean or Transformers movie (they all suck – fight me!), once in a while a small film creeps in, captures my attention, and at the end, makes me want to smash my television again the wall, yelling about the filmmaker, “I WANT HIM DEAD! I WANT HIS FAMILY DEAD! I WANT HIS HOUSE BURNED TO THE GROUND!”

So, the first thing that irked me was the title. I thought Amazon had made a typo on its listing. I also thought it was a different movie. I was looking for Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror. Instead, I’d found Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare (2006).

Yeah. Not Frankenstein’s. Frankensteins. Like it’s plural. But it’s not.

This is verified by the opening credits, which come after scenes of a park or woods cut with visually processed scenes of a woman’s face as she looks around, then a shot of a pitchfork, which pierces a body, which is the mystery woman’s body, and every shot is not quite in focus. The soundtrack screeches, wails, then….

Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare.

We then switch to another mystery woman in a bed, looking pale (maybe it’s all the make-up?), as she tells our protagonist, Doctor Karlstein (not Frankenstein nor Frankensteins) that she wants to make love to him once more before she dies. He assures her she won’t die, then off to work he goes. He speaks to a coworker for a couple minutes, then takes the rest of the day off.

MEANWHILE IN ANOTHER MOVIE, another woman takes entirely too long to get into her car at night, before someone in the back seat grabs her, stabbing her in the chest.

BACK IN THE FIRST MOVIE, Karlstein parks his car somewhere in a forest in broad daylight, takes a mysterious case from the passenger seat, and walks off to…a shack maybe? Inside is completely dark except for the table he puts the case on. The camera pans…slowly…slowly…to the darkness…slowly…slowly…to a close-up of Karlstein’s eyes, then…slowly…slowly…to the ground, where, eventually, the dirt starts to move…

At this point, ten minutes in, I stop the movie and look around the room. No, my vision isn’t going blurry. Not one shot in this movie is in focus!

I watched the next scene in this movie twice.

Karlstein goes to another shack(?), at night this time, and meets some dude in sunglasses, who turns, points at Karlstein, and says, “Wait a minute!” The next shot is of his face going in and out of focus, bobbing drunkenly about, finger still pointing, as eventually his other hand turns off the volume button to…something? They talk a bit as I wonder what the bloody fuck THAT was all about. On a whim, I played that scene again, taking note of the time stamp. Yes, it takes exactly a minute from when dude says “Wait a minute!” to when he turns the volume button. OK. But WHY?

That’s one of two questions I kept asking throughout this film. The other was WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? Some of it was because of the plot, which I think has to do with Karlstein trying to bring his love back to life while dealing with a monster he’d created before that’s running around maybe killing women. The other had to do with the dodgy cinematography, which occasionally is processed into abstract blurry shapes and colors. By the end, I sat there, shaking my head, muttering, “The fuck…. The FUCK?” Then, my inner Robert DeNiro from The Untouchables bubbled to the surface and exploded. It escalated when I found out John R. Hand, the producer/writer/director of this…thing was nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Production. Must have been a slow year in independent horror.

Zero cheese curds out of five. Fuck this movie.

THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE!

by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

Much like my first review, I present another movie with a title that’s a declarative statement: There’s Nothing Out There! (1991)

The movie opens with a pretty girl being stalked by an unknown threat inside a video store that well stocked with the latest (for 1991) horror movies. Just as the killer catches up with her…she wakes up in her crashed car out at night in the middle of the woods. She’s fine…except for the unknown threat stalking her outside. Back to her later.

The next day, a group of teens on Spring Break (who look too old to be teens) go to a cabin in the woods for a little rest, sex, and relaxation, led by Jim, whose uncle owns said cabin. However, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Stacy and the two other couples coming along, Jim also invited his friend Mike.

The thing about Mike is that he is an expert in all things horror film related. So much so, he tries to talk Jim and the others out of going to an obvious (to him) death trap. On the way, they pass the scene of the car accident from the beginning of the film, with the police searching for the now missing girl. Mike immediately suggests they turn back because they “just went through a warning stage” based on his horror movie knowledge.

Of course, you know he’s right.

Writer/Director Rolfe Kanefsky created a perfect parody of 80’s slasher/horror film with this, his first film, invoking every movie cliché possible in a way that makes fun and respects them at the same time. That is not to say that the movie is predictable. There are lots of twists to untangle to figure out what, exactly, is out there.

While the whole cast does very well with their roles as stereotypical teen targets of the mystery killer, the MVP of the movie is undoubtedly Craig Peck as horror movie nerd Mike. His portrayal is pretty daring, in that Mike is a smart-ass and not really likable, but he exudes a quality not unlike Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House. When one of the girls stands by a window while the killer is outside trying to get into the cabin, Mike admonishes her: “Is someone paying you to stand by an open window? There are some razor blades in the corner you can play with if you like.” He’s an asshole, but a lovable asshole.

If you’re thinking that Mike sounds like Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy in Scream, you’re right. Except that this film was released 5 years before Scream, so Mike came before Randy. Also, while Scream pays homage to teen slasher/horror films, it is also more serious, while There’s Nothing Out There! is very much a teen slasher/horror comedy.

This one’s tons of fun and one of my favorite movies. 5 out of 5 cheese curds. Find it. Watch it. Enjoy it.

HEY…STOP STABBING ME!

by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

I bought this movie on a dare.

Yes, that’s right. I own this piece of twisted cinema. I don’t regret it, either, especially since it’s now not only hard to find on DVD, but much more expensive if you do.

I used to hang out at a chain bookstore while waiting for a ride home from work. One of the supervisors there prided himself on having a more-than-good selection of obscure cult movies in the DVD department, and we would have great discussions about the various odd films we’ve seen over the years while giving each other suggestions on the next one to check out. What was great was that he would tell me about upcoming releases of many really obscure titles.

One day, I walked into the DVD department and he rushed up to me, saying, “I’m glad you’re here! I have just the movie for you! And it’s cheap! You gotta get it and tell me how it is!”

“Wait. What?”

“Dude, you have to buy this! It’s only four bucks. If you don’t like it, you’re not out much, or you can bring it back to me and I’ll buy it off you. Wait till you hear the title. You’ll love it.”

“Ooohhhkay. What’s it called?”

And he showed it to me.

Yeah. It’s called “Hey…Stop Stabbing Me!”

Looking at the DVD cover, I knew this wouldn’t be a big budget production, and I was right. When I saw it was filmed on video, I braced myself for what I had thought would be a descent into fake blood, boobs, and bad acting. What I got was something very much different.

It’s directed by Worm Miller (a.k.a. Josh Miller), who also co-wrote with Patrick Casey, who stars as Herman Schumacher, recent college grad with a major in World History. He is almost literally thrust into the world and hitchhikes home to Bloomington, MN with Hugo (played by Jack Shreck), a man who threatens to kill him repeatedly but ends each threat with “just kidding” and then steals his luggage once he drops Herman off. Herman then finds his parents have sold the family home and moved away. He asks his best friend to put him up, but he can’t, because his wife, who’s never met Herman, pathologically hates Herman.

Sitting in a gutter now and down on his luck, he finds a flyer. Someone’s looking for a roommate! Things are looking up! Until he gets assaulted by a 12-year-old boy. But wait! The boy’s hot sister Carrie (played by Maria Morales) apologizes for her brother Mark (Colin Hall) and makes a date with Herman! He goes to the house and meets Blaine, who accepts him immediately as the new roommate! He also inherits all of the previous roommate’s clothes and possessions! Then Herman calls a number for a World Historian job that Hugo had given him before stealing his stuff. After a very short phone interview, he gets it, starting the very next day!

Then things get weird.

Actually, things have been weird since the beginning of this flick. They just get weirder. The World Historian job consists of digging holes in a field in a shirt and tie. Hugo shows up again, selling Herman’s stuff back to him piece by piece. There’s a hairy creature in the basement stealing Herman’s socks. Then there’s the roommates: Blaine (N. David Presswood), initially friendly to Herman, then not when he catches Herman mistakenly using his comb, which he then constantly reminds him of while threatening him; Alan (Sean Hall), jack of all musical instruments, master of none, who like all “great” artists changes his name to Chartreuse; Icky (played by director Worm/Josh Miller), affable but eternally ill; and Damon, who likes Herman A LOT, and tends a garden with signs not with the names of plants, but of the previous roommates. This last thing eventually gives Herman pause. Might one of his roommates be a serial killer?

Look at what I’ve described so far. This shouldn’t have worked. In fact, as a horror comedy, it doesn’t work. There are no scares to be found, but that’s OK. “Hey…Stop Stabbing Me!” is not a horror comedy. It is a great absurdist comedy. It’s goofy, juvenile, and smart, usually all at once. And funny. Funny as hell.

Patrick Casey is great as the nebbishy and at times not-too-bright Herman, as is Andy Kriss as the sinister and also at times not-too-bright Damon. The rest of the cast excellently fill out this crazy world, full of twists, turns, and some WTF moments. In retrospect, this movie isn’t just an absurdist comedy. It’s a Midwestern Absurdist comedy.

For having a budget of maybe $500, Miller and Casey do a great job of keeping things looking mostly professionally done. The climax is not overly bloody, but bloody enough, as well as hysterical.

Five cheese curds out of five!

(P.S, The DVD came with a bonus film by Miller and Casey called…Sledgehammers At Dawn! In that one, they crank the Midwestern Absurdity to 11, but that’s a review for another time!)