Monday, October 31, 2016

"As Exciting as Lawn Bowling" - Blood Surf (2000) - Part 2 of 2


This is Part 2 of our discussion of Blood Surf. You can read Part 1 here.

We have watched our white surfers and documentary crew escape exploding sharks and a giant crocodile that represents the evils of racism. Rescued by Dirks and Artemis, they are sailing back to Palm Island.


As the boat heads back home, the documentary crew rest in the bunks while Dirks flashes back to his encounter with the giant saltwater crocodile. The flashback involves blood in the water and Dirks in a naval uniform. He says he wants to get as far away from the crocodile as possible.

But we hear a different story from his girlfriend Artemis when she finds Zack snooping around below deck. She tells him about the last adventure tour Dirks ran, when the crocodile attacked and killed all his passengers. Now Dirks, like Ahab and Richard Harris's character in Orca before him, has a thirst for revenge, and he is throwing bait off the boat so the beast will follow him. Artemis convinces Zack that filming the capture of the giant crocodile is the money-making opportunity of a lifetime.

In the morning, the crew wakes up to find they haven't gone anywhere. The boat was circling all night, trailing crocodile bait. And now Zack is convinced he wants in on the action so he can film the killing of the crocodile, which he dubs "Big Mick." This, he says, "is gonna make blood surfing about as exciting as lawn bowling."

However, Dirks lays down the law. He won't have any part in filming. All he wants is revenge.

Suddenly the bobs attached to the bait are pulled underwater.

With all the characters of color devoured, the crocodile can now proceed to feed on the white characters. The film’s observations about racism’s victim--both non-white and whit--is truly nuanced and inspiring.

Artemis turns the boat around while Dirks, like any obsessed seaman, mans the harpoons.


The harpoons hit the crocodile and they work on reeling it toward the boat.


Showing loyalty to Zack but poor judgment, Cecily takes her camera and jumps into the water. She dives underwater to get footage of the giant beast. (The eagle-eyed expert in the special effects field might be able to detect the use of computer generated imagery in this scene.)

   

In a gripping sequence, the crocodile breaks free of the harpoon lines and chases after Cecily, who swims for her life. The film's crocodile trainers are to be commended for the frightening creature's ability to swim and growl on cue. Just when it seems the monstrous jaws are going to swallow Cecily, she is pulled back into the boat.

Immediately, the crocodile jumps onto the boat and attacks Jeremy. It flips Jeremy into the air, catches him in its jaws, then disappears underwater. (The eagle-eyed expert in the special effects field might be able to detect the use of forced perspective in this scene.)

   

With the boat damaged, Dirks reasons that the only thing to do is ram the boat into the reef surrounding the island. It crashes straight into the reef. (The eagle-eyed expert in the special effects field might be able to detect the use of miniatures in this scene).


Dirks's plan is to let the others cross the reef to the island and make their way to the ruins, where the water is full of alkaline, which salt-water crocodiles can't stand. Dirks will blow up the boat and the crocodile at the same time--in another of the film's many surprises, the boat is carrying a pack full of plastic explosives for reasons left unmentioned.

Playing against expectations, the non-surfer, Zack, sees one of the surfboards floating in the ocean and decides to ride it to shore rather than walk on the coral reef. He manages to catch a wave that, ironically, takes him straight into the jaws of the crocodile.


"Oh, man," says Bog. "That has gotta suck."

Back at the boat, the crocodile smashes through the hull to attack Dirks, who does not even get the chance to prepare any explosives. The crocodile bits the man's legs, ripping him in half. Dirks falls to the floor, dead.


When the boat fails to explode, Bog swims back to the boat while Cecily and Artemis try to find the ruins. On their way, the surviving mercenary again tries to have his way with Cecily, but he is killed by one of the mercenaries' own traps in the jungle. Once he is out of the way, the women find a rope bridge high above a river. They look down and see the crocodile at the bottom, looking up at them.


They reach the ruins and the safety of the alkaline water, then for unknown reasons they tease the beast by pulling their shirts down.

Darkness falls. The women wait in the ruins while the crocodile sits still as a log on the other side of the pond. Artemis confides that Dirks won her in a dart game. 

When Bog gets back with the explosives, he breaks the news that Dirks didn't make it. Bog, Cecily, and Artemis plant the C-4 at various places throughout the ruins on their side of the alkaline pond. A radio transmitter will detonate all the explosives. Bog knocks over a stone column to make a bridge for the crocodile to cross to their side. 

He teases the beast. "You're a belt," he says cleverly. "You're a suitcase. Cowboy boots." Apparently the last insult was one too many. The crocodile charges across the bridge and Cecily hits the button to set off the charges. The ruins explode, sending rocks and dust on top of the crocodile.

"Do you think he's dead?" Cecily asks. "If that didn't do it," Bog replies, "nothing will."

But in a shocking twist, the crocodile is not actually dead. It grabs Artemis in its jaws and swallows her.

Bog and Cecily run through the jungle, though perhaps returning to the alkaline water would have been a more strategic decision. 

They slide down a hill, followed by the crocodile. Then they swing together on a vine across the river, letting go and plunging into the water. The crocodile slides down the hill, falls off a cliff, and impales itself on a sharp rock.

   

Bog and Cecily kiss. The camera pans across the river while the music becomes sinister, but nothing appears. The end credits roll.



Blood Surf is easily one of the most entertaining statements on the dangers of racism released in the year 2000. The massive crocodile's symbolism of society's mechanisms enabling racism, always lurking just below the surface, is woven into the plot of the film with skill and nuance. Cleverly, the crocodile is of a salt-water variety, which is less common than the fresh-water varieties and hence might be subject to a form of racism itself in its own social structures. The final message--that racism ultimately devours both the privileged class and the downtrodden classes--is the jewel in the crown of Blood Surf's social conscience.

While social criticism is the primary raison d'etre of this film, as it is for most giant crocodile films, other elements contribute to making the viewing of the film a satisfying experience. The acting is top-notch, despite the fact that Duncan Regehr is the only familiar performer. The actors playing Bog and Jeremy are quite convincing as surfers willing to slash their appendages to attract killer sharks. The actor playing Zack is delightful as the conniving, money-hungry producer. The actress playing Cecily is likable and believable jumping into the ocean here and there to capture potentially bloody violence on camera. The actor--or actors--playing the crocodile is--or are--also quite convincing, to the extent that it would not be too much of a stretch to say that the viewer might be rooting, on occasion, for some of the human actors to end up in its mighty jaws.

The special effects, too, are entertaining and clearly a labor of love. Various techniques were used to convince the viewer that a real giant crocodile was chasing the human cast through the sea and across the island. From real-life crocodiles to what appear to be very realistic puppets, the marvelous special effects never fail to impress.

But it is truly the film's social conscience that put it head and shoulders--or rather, teeth and jaws--above the rest of the giant crocodile films flooding the theaters between the 1970s and the 2000s. Blood Surf will be remembered as the apex of giant crocodile cinema in my universe, and in all fairness should hold the same place of honor in your universe as well.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"The Shark is Too Slow!" - Blood Surf (2000) - Part 1 of 2

Next we will enter the arena of extreme sports to consider 2000’s Blood Surf, also known as Krocodylus, a modern classic combining surfing and suspense with a poignant parable about the dangers of racism. The director’s father directed Theatre of Blood (1973) with Vincent Price, and his brother directed Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1993), so the audience is clearly in skilled hands with this film.

As with most high-quality films, the reviewers of your primitive universe fail to admire the strengths of Blood Surf. For example, James Mudge writes, "The only real atmosphere the film has is one of cheapness, and this is bargain basement stuff in nearly every department." On Amazon, C. Dennis Moore writes, "I was disappointed mostly in the lack of imagination the plot showed. Sure, blood surfing itself is an interesting premise, I suppose, but the execution of this thing just left way too much to be desired." It will take a detailed examination of the sophisticated plot and subtext to counter such uninformed opinions.

As always, the description below includes spoilers.

Our film opens with a closeup of a woman's eye, intercut with scenes of what appears to be a shark attack in the still ocean.

Over the main titles, we watch surfers in a seaplane discussing their venture: They are being paid a lot of money to be filmed as they surf with sharks, apparently while bleeding in some way. Of course, they are very excited to participate in this new sport of blood surfing. The two surfers are Americans named Bog and Jeremy. They are accompanied by two filmmakers—an American producer named Zack and an Australian camerawoman named Cecily.

The seaplane lands in a bay on Palm Island, where a boat meets the party and takes Zack and Cecily to shore. Bog and Jeremy are left behind in the plane while the boat glides across the mirror-still bay to the beach. Feeling a great need to get to the shore first, the surfers take advantage of the large waves in the same bay to surf their way to the same beach.

   

Once they arrive ashore, they meet up with their guides, who warn them about shark infestation around the island, and especially at Lilo Cay, where they plan to surf.


Their original guides don't want to take them, so Zack tries to hire an Australian guide, John Dirks, to take them. Dirks is played by Canadian actor Duncan Regehr, famous for playing Dracula in The Monster Squad 13 years earlier. At first, Dirks refuses to guide them because he believes he would be accessory to murder, but his girlfriend Artemis eventually convinces him to take them where they want to go by dancing suggestively at an open-air restaurant. "I decided to accept your offer," says Dirks. "Follow me. I'll tell you how to get there." Zack and Cecily follow Dirks, presumably to get directions to Lilo Cay.

The next day, without Dirks and Artemis, they take a boat called the Picnic to another island. On the boat are the producers Zack and Cecily, the surfers Bog and Jeremy, and the married guides and their daughter Lemmya, who flirts with Jeremy.


When they reach Lilo Cay, they all grasp hands and the guides pray for protection. Then they open a barrel of bloody chum and scoop it into the surf to attract sharks. The daughter, Lemmya, gives Jeremy an amulet for protection.

A half-dozen sharks arrive. Cecily puts on a chain mail wetsuit and jumps into the water with her video camera. The surfers get their boards and perform one more action before jumping in: They slice their feet open with knives. Otherwise, of course, it would not be blood surfing.

   

Thus begins the film's famous blood surfing sequence. Sharks fill the waves while Bog and Jeremy surf for several minutes toward the shore. In the end, they are unharmed, except for the damage that was self-inflicted by their own knives. "The shark is too slow!" Jeremy yells as he reaches the shore.

   

However, Cecily is still in deep water between the boat and the shore. Sharks surround her, bumping against her chain mail. Bog swims back into the surf and manages to get Cecily on his surfboard. They all make it to the beach, and the Picnic has docked nearby.

Now, Zack says, it's time to get back in the water for some more footage.


But something is not right in the water. One of the sharks suddenly explodes. This appears to surprise the documentary crew, who, perhaps sensibly, decide to quit for the day rather than deal with exploding sharks.


Jeremy and Lemmya decide to search for temples in the jungle while Zack and Cecily make out on the beach. Bog surfs.


Offshore, Lemmya's parents sit on their boat. Her mother, feeling hot, jumps into the water while wearing her purple dress. A shadow moves under the water. Something shakes the boat. Lemmya's father calls for his wife to get back on the boat.

Then, in short order, something devours the father and the mother, and then, among the ruined temples, Lemmya herself. As it gets Lemmya, we see that it is a giant crocodile.


It is here, with the introduction of the giant crocodile, that the filmmakers' intentions become evident. The crocodile is clearly a metaphor for the racism inherent in society. The beast goes after the nonwhite islanders immediately, removing them from the picture. The narrative next focuses on the white documentary crew, who find the wrecked boat a few yards from the dock along with evidence that the family has been eaten. But there is another problem: The camera with the blood surfing footage is in the wreckage of the Picnic. Bog reasons that his career is dependent on the footage, so he dives into the water to find it, which he quickly does, after reenacting the head-in-the-water scene from Jaws with Lemmya's mother's skull. Bog climbs back onto the dock.

Surprisingly, the crocodile starts using its ability to set off explosive charges with its tail to destroy the dock from underneath. The crew runs back to land.


The crocodile is nearly as fast on land as it was in the surf. It chases them through what appears to be a cornfield--possibly a reference to the same director's Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest.

Through the power of white privilege, they lose the crocodile, only to be confronted by machine gun-wielding mercenaries. The semi-friendly mercenaries lead them back through the cornfield to their two-story boat, which appears as if it could double as a tiki restaurant/bar.


The mercenaries attempt to have their way with Cecily, but she is rescued by a sudden crocodile jump attack targeting her would-be rapist.


Again, the crocodile eliminates the nonwhite mercenaries while it refrains from harming the white characters--it even protects Cecily, whether intentionally or unintentionally, from being raped.

In the aftermath of the attack, Bog and Jeremy take a page from the Don Knotts playbook by bonking the mercenaries on the head and kicking them into the water. The crew steals the boat and leaves the remaining non-white characters to be eaten by the crocodile.

Unfortunately, a stray gunshot starts a fire on the boat. The documentary crew jumps into the water for safety just as the boat explodes. Like a shark.


Fortunately, the white people are immediately saved by grouchy Australian/Canadian Dirks in his little inflatable raft. They all climb aboard Dirks's larger boat, the Fury, which he pilots back toward the first island.


So ends the first part of our exploration of the powerful anti-racism film Blood Surf. What will happen next? Will there be blood? Will there be surf? The answers are almost certainly yes. Stay tuned for Part 2. Farewell!

Monday, October 24, 2016

"Only One Way to Find Out!" - Night of the Demon (1980) - Part 3 of 3


This is Part 3 of our discussion of Night of the Demon. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

At this point in the story, Crazy Wanda has finished her recall under hypnosis of the events leading to the birth of her baby, fathered by bigfoot, and its unfortunate demise at the hands of her father Reverend McGinty.


Nugent and the students wonder if the baby really was the deformed offspring of a human and a bigfoot, and whether McGinty really killed it. "Well," says Nugent, "there's only one way to find out."

Of course, the group uses a shovel to dig up the baby's grave.

When they open the coffin, the remains appear to be a cow skull, but Nugent takes it as evidence the baby was deformed and the father truly was bigfoot.

Speaking of which, bigfoot leaps at them and chases them to the cabin, where they run inside and barricade the door. A student tries to shoot it through the window, but Wanda ruins his aim.


Night falls suddenly.

Wanda shows the group the presents the bigfoot brings to her door--a Coke can, a knife, some jewelry, a gold miner's pan. Like the townspeople, Crazy Wanda is more than happy to explain everything about her life. She admits that she was the one who burned her father to death because he killed her baby.

Bigfoot's next present is Pete's mutilated body, tied up on the porch.

The gripping finale sees bigfoot smash his way into the cabin. He peers around curiously. Then, in slow motion, he murders one of the women by choking her and one of the men by throwing him against a tree saw, afterward reaching into the man's abdomen, pulling out his guts, and swinging them around the room like a weapon.

Bigfoot holds Nugent's face to the hot stove, mutilating it.


Nugent recalls wandering through the forest, then waking up in the hospital room.

Nugent pleads with the doctors to search the forest and find the beast before it kills again. The doctors sedate him and discuss his case. The students have not been found. There is only one thing to do: keep him in the psychiatric ward.

"Unless his concept of reality changes," says the psychiatrist, "my first diagnosis will stand. I have no alternative but to certify this man as criminally insane." He checks off a box on his clipboard and the doctors and the sheriff depart.



As other great movies do, Night of the Demon plays with our expectations, confirming them at some points and confounding them at others. For example, cinematic flashbacks often play to the expectation that at least one character in the current timeline witnessed the events of the past (ridiculous tripe like Saving Private Ryan [1998] notwithstanding). Night of the Demon ignores this convention, to its credit, allowing the viewer to see a wider range of the monster's destructive rampage than would otherwise be possible. Another convention is the punishment of city folk defiling the wilderness, which occurs in many rural horror films. Night of the Demon confirms this convention in some cases--the couple having sex in the van, the motorcyclist smoking and urinating in the woods--but in most cases the victims were not harming or disrespecting nature at all.

The exposition near the beginning, with the townspeople explaining the history of Crazy Wanda and the creature to any stranger who would listen, is also a confounding of expectations, not only in the subversion of the cliche that small town dwellers are tight-lipped but also in setting up the twist ending. The viewer's expectations are set up to expect the worst--that Wanda's baby did not die and that the bigfoot creature is the monstrous grown baby, or that McGinty himself, Wanda's father, was also the father of the baby. The actual "twist" is simply that bigfoot was the father of the baby--certainly not as shocking as other possibilities the viewer might consider.

Another confounding of expectations is the lengths to which Nugent and his students go in order to satisfy their curiosity about bigfoot. Forcing their way into Wanda's secret room, hypnotizing her without her consent, and stealing her firearms are violation enough of the social contract, but digging up her baby's grave without her consent and opening the coffin far exceed the bounds of decency. Perhaps the filmmakers meant these transgressions as a subtle satire on imperialism, with the professor of (presumably) anthropology imposing his narrow values onto a culture he does not understand. If intended as such, it is a powerful statement indeed.

Finally, it is fascinating to compare Night of the Demon with its predecessor, Shriek of the Mutilated. While the earlier film was a clever attempt to combine a Scooby Doo episode with cannibal cultists, Night of the Demon is an equally clever attempt to merge a bigfoot film with the slasher films so popular in 1980. The filmmakers deserve kudos for identifying their market and targeting it so efficiently, and their ingenious portrayal of the timeless myth of the Sasquatch as a serial killer has brought us joy and chills for many, many years.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

11 Top Horror Movie Lists

October is a special time for horror movie lists. Everybody loves to read lists. I would wager that, if a day of the week started with the letter L, the internet would have its own List Lokisday, or whatever. But sometimes it's hard to choose which lists are worthy of attention. That is why I have put together a list of 11 top horror movie-related lists for the Halloween season.

Of course, evaluating lists of movies is highly subjective. Some lists are detailed and informative, while others are more visually oriented. Some are formatted as slideshows that you have to click your way through, which many might consider annoying. In putting together my list, I have tried to keep an open mind and evaluate the lists solely on the important aspects: the quality of the movies included and how well the web page is formatted. Again, however, this is highly subjective. Please let me know if you disagree, and feel free to add your favorite lists in the comments.

Following time-honored tradition, I will rate each list on a scale from 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) using the following icons:



Without further ado, except possibly clicking the "Read More..." link below, here is my list of 11 horror movie-related lists, in no particular order.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Gehenna Asmodeus Loki Thor!" - Night of the Demon (1980) - Part 2 of 3


This is Part 2 of our discussion of Night of the Demon. You can read Part 1 here.

At this point in the story, Professor Nugent and his students have set out on their expedition to find bigfoot, after hearing story after story portraying the creature as a pitiless murderer. It is now too late to turn back. What mysteries will they uncover next?


Once they set up camp and the campfire is burning, it is time for another story within a story about an incident that occurred nearby. A motorcyclist rides along a winding highway. He stops for a cigarette and a bathroom break. Number one. Unfortunately for the motorcyclist, Bigfoot is crouching in the bushes directly in front of him. In the film's signature scene, Bigfoot grabs his penis and rips it off. The man survives long enough to stumble back to his motorcycle, but he soon bleeds to death.

That night, Roy hears something in the woods. He and Professor Nugent sneak through the trees to witness the followers of the late Reverend McGinty performing a ritual in which a woman is impregnated with a demon child by a man wearing a Bigfoot mask. The other cult members--actually the townspeople--are chanting something like "Gehenna Asmodeus Loki Thor."

Nugent fires his pistol to stop the ceremony. A torch falls on some leaked gasoline, causing a forest fire and also lighting up what appears to be a Bigfoot effigy. "Let them handle it," Nugent says. "They live in these woods. At least it will keep them busy for the rest of the night."

Image from Night of the Demon (1980) showing a fire and the hand of a bigfoot effigy

Next we see Nugent bigfoot's hand rip through the tent wall and tear out Nugent's throat, but it turns out to be a dream of Nugent's wife.



In the morning, the group finds the boat has been taken, frustrating their sensible intention to give up and leave the forest. They find a bigfoot print in the mud and make a plaster cast, then they set off into the wilderness in search of Crazy Wanda.

They set up camp and analyze the plaster cast of the foot. It does not appear to be a hoax. Despite the gravity of being threatened not only by the murderous bigfoot but also the devil worshippers, romance is in the air. One couple flirts in their tent. Another couple heads away from camp with a sleeping bag and blanket to make love to a piano score. The bigfoot stalks them and rakes its massive claws down the man's back. Back at the campsite, they treat the bloody gashes with some kind of powder.

   

The next day, they hike farther into the woods and find McGinty's cabin. Out front there are two headstones, presumably one for Reverend McGinty and one for the child.

They knock, and Wanda lets them come inside to rest--Roy tells the others that Wanda was the woman that was going to be raped in the devil worshippers' ceremony.

Inside, Wanda sits on a rocking chair facing a blue door.


She gets upset when they show her the plaster cast of the footprint, smashing the cast and running through the blue door into another room. She screams and cries, clearly not completely mute.

At night, we see the gang has set up camp near the cabin, among the tombstones. It's time for another of Professor Nugent's stories within a story. "It wasn't far away from here where the body of a woodsman was found. It was horribly mutilated."

We flash back to another bigfoot encounter that had no survivors. A man is chopping wood. He uses his bandana to wipe his brow and when he turns around his axe is gone. Bigfoot buries the blade of the axe in the woodsman's shoulder. Then the axe comes down again.


Then Nugent starts another story about two Girl Scouts who wandered off their trail. These Girl Scouts clearly aren't following modern rules to ensure knife safety.


They run right into bigfoot, who somehow forces them to knife each other repeatedly. Nugget says their bodies were found two days later.

The campers take shifts guarding the campsite. Pete, who looks like John Denver, hears something on his shift. He takes a shotgun--which, incidentally, the group has stolen from Wanda's cabin--into the woods.


Then he sees bigfoot, turns and runs into a tree, and dies. The gun discharges.

Hearing the gunshot, the others race into the woods to find Pete, but they find only the gun and a bloody mark on a tree.

The next morning, Nugent tries something new: hypnotism. He hypnotizes an initially compliant Wanda, but when he asks her to relax she cries out and goes back to her rocking chair. The group notices she gets agitated when they go near the blue door. They ask her what is inside. When they get no response, they hold her down and unlock the door.

Ignoring Wanda's traumatized cries, they enter the room, which turns out to be a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Wanda cries, "My baby! My baby!"


Now their next attempt at hypnotism works. Nugent asks her to remember a long time ago when she was 15 years old.

While ice cream truck music plays in the background, we enter Wanda's flashback to her childhood. Her minister father whips her with a strap because she betrayed him. She doesn't remember doing anything wrong.

Then we see her encounter in the woods with bigfoot. During a thunderstorm, the monster rapes her while her father watches from the cabin. Her father races outside with a rifle and shoots bigfoot, who runs off.


Wanda recalls herself impregnated by bigfoot, and giving birth. She believes McGinty killed the baby.

(It should be noted with admiration that Melanie Graham, the actress playing Wanda as an adult--with her tousled hair and dirty face--also plays Wanda as a 15-year-old girl--with less tousled hair and a clean face. It must be said that she is equally believable in both roles.)


In Part 3, we will return from Wanda's flashback and move into the gripping conclusion of Night of the Demon. Farewell for now!