Wisconsin Death Trip (1997) Reviewed

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This pseudo-documentary integrates real historic photographs and freshly filmed dialogue-free vignettes to tell the story of the Black River Falls region of Wisconsin between 1890 and 1900. During this time unemployment, devastating winters and barren land seemed to slowly turn this seemingly family-friendly settlement into a hotbed of bizarre behavior. Murder, love-lorn suicides, violent child rebellions, an outbreak of diphtheria and tales of witches and ghosts seemed to pollute the isolated community. Narrator Ian Holm reads actual newspaper narrative from the dark period to comment on the visuals. As a doc it kind of works but often smacks of film school mechanics. Shot almost entirely in black and white, the movie still lacks a feel of authenticity due in part to the pantomimed performances of the extras involved. The actual photographs from the period are far more effective, especially when you are looking at an antiquated photo image of a pretty little girl as the narration comments on the horrible things she had done. The material is endlessly fascinating but warrants a better presentation than the by-numbers treatment it receives. It reminded me a little of The Blair Witch Curse mockumentary, which somehow manages to be far more engaging than this. Still worth a look for those interested in genuine American Gothic. The film is inspired by a book of the same name. ** ½

Check out my related post on Victorian death photography here.

Watch an informative slide show about the book and movie, Wisconsin Death Trip on YouTube:

Way Out Topless (1967) Reviewed

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Practically unrelated narration accompanies opening scenes of naked ladies exercising at a gym, and then we’re shuttled across the country to peep in on strip clubs and go-go bars in various major cities. If you were ever curious about the strip clubs of Baltimore circa 1967, this is the movie for you. Most of the girls on display are more frightening than sexy and would seem quite at home alongside Divine and Mink Stole in one of John Waters’ early efforts. Don’t confuse WOT with Russ Meyer’s infinitely more watchable Mondo Topless! which is still quite sexy today.

The Wasp Woman (1959) Reviewed

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot), head of Janice Starlin Cosmetics, can’t be the “face” of her company’s ads now that age has begun to take its toll on her face (in the form of unconvincing smears of grease paint along the creases in her mug). Enter a mad scientist slash wasp aficionado (?). He’s just been fired from his job at a honey farm (?) but that doesn’t keep Cabot from making him her personal beauty consultant. Who knew that extracts taken from wasp enzymes reverse the effects of aging in guinea pigs and cats? Science! Cabot takes it upon herself to play human lab rat, but becomes impatient and begins doubling up on rushed doses, which works great…at first. The promotional materials for WW show a wasp with a woman’s head while the movie gives us the exact opposite. The WW’s attacks are hilarious and the mask is ridiculous, but the story is slightly more engaging than your usual Corman fare. I recognized Cabot from a 50s-era educational short about rushing to marriage called, “Is it Love?” and then stumbled upon a piece in the oddball UK mag, Bizarre, which outlines the actress’ tragic can’t-make-this-shit-up, true-life story. Wikipedia has a decent breakdown of it here (skip to the subhead “Death” for the juicy bits) and it’s worth a read. At the time of this writing, Rose McGowan is attached  to an in-development biopic about Cabot called Black Oasis.

Wacko (1982) Reviewed

•February 6, 2010 • 4 Comments

Before the Wayans brothers ripped off the Zucker-Abrahams (Airplane!, Top Secret!, Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad) formula to poorly riff on horror movies, there was Wacko. This wildly uneven comedy never got a U.S. DVD release and probably won’t get one any time soon. The “lawnmower killer” is on the loose terrorizing one small town’s lone teen virgin, played by a pre-Newhart Julia Duffy. Joe Don Baker is the hard-boiled, over-caffeinated cop, George Kennedy is Duffy’s pervy, pedo, doctor dad, and Andrew (hadn’t added the “Dice” yet) Clay is Tony Schlongini, an Italian-stereotype/big-walking-dick-joke combo. To give you an indication of Wacko‘s subtley; one character’s name is- straight-up- Norman Bates. Early-80s slasher films are the main target for Wacko‘s quivver of blunt pokes and everything from Friday the 13th to Prom Night is referenced.  This kind of dumbed-down tastelessness ran rampant in the 80s and, if nothing else, Wacko serves as a nostalgic reminder of the type of low-brow VHS rentals that entertained basements full of middle-schoolers at summer sleep-overs.

I Walked with a Zombie (1941) Reviewed

•January 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment


A pretty young Canadian nurse travels to the West Indies to take a job as personal caretaker to the catatonic bride of a well-to-do plantation owner. There she becomes ensnared in a tragic love triangle with the husband of her patient and his jealous drunken brother while inadvertently opening a Pandora’s box of ugly family secrets. Don’t be fooled by the title into mistaking IWwaZ for a traditional zombie movie. It’s far more esoteric and moody with an emphasis on broody drama over undead scares. There is a legit zombie on-hand however: the memorable Darby Jones in a silent performance as the icy-eyed guardian of the locals’ voodoo-haunted stomping grounds makes an impression that won the legitimately startling-looking actor similar roles in lesser zombie flicks. Like most of the other genre-bending chillers produced by the great Val Lewton, IWwaZ is more poetry and painting than it is horror movie and with a scant 77-minute running time, it never bogs down under the weight of its dazzling atmospherics or soulful melodrama. The combination of dark romance, voodoo and tragedy make for a supremely unique movie-watching experience that should be savored with repeat viewings. Director, Jacques Tourneur, more famously directed (the equally great) Cat People (1942) for Lewton, but it’s IWwaZ that sticks in your head like the echo of a vivid, well-remembered nightmare. ***1/2

Sherlock Holmes (2009) Reviewed

•January 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s hard not to like Robert Downey Jr., but it’s also impossible to deny that he plays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated creation as a slightly subdued, hung-over Tony Stark. Try to imagine Basil Rathbone delivering some of the same dialogue written by five (!) credited writers and you get an idea of where this reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes character goes wrong. The limp central mystery, which involves ritual killings and a risen-from-the-grave villain is fun enough and director Guy Ritchie clings to what he does best – fist fights and over-the-top action set pieces, but almost everything about the story is instantly forgettable and disposable. Long-in-the-tooth pretty boy, Jude Law, plays Dr. Watson as a put-upon priss and Rachel McBride is given next to nothing to do as Holmes’ would-be femme fatale love interest. The homoerotic co-dependent bend of the Holmes/Watson pairing is overplayed for laughs. SH works best when it’s indulging in Richie’s gimmicky camera tricks and wallowing in the cruddy 19th century atmospherics. An intriguing epilogue leaves the door wide open for an inevitable sequel with a tantalizing revelation that points to the sinister handiwork of Holmes’ arch nemesis, Professor Moriarity. I expected the scales to be tilted in favor of style over substance, but Ritchie has definitely directed far more viceral and exciting flicks. This one sent me home with a smile, shrug and higher expectations for a sharper forthcoming follow-up. ** 1/2


The Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween – HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

•October 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Thanks for showing up for the fun. I couldn’t think of any great grand finale so instead I’m copping out a bit and reposting all of this month’s shares in one list for your browsing convenience.