Saturday, August 21, 2010

Piranha 3D (2010)

No one can accuse Piranha 3D of not delivering what director Alexandre Aja promised, which was to fill the screen with waves of bare skin and bitten flesh. And the film does for its 89 minute running time, just long enough for the audience to start feeling overdosed on bloody water and bouncing boobs.

Discussing the plot is futile. This movie is dumb as a bag of rocks, with its only clever moment (a great cameo in the opening scene) spoiled by the trailer and endless publicity. The script only serves to drive the prehistoric piranha to the spring break partiers and put the main characters in peril. When the film pauses for a moment to explain a plot point, such as when an aquarium shop owner explains how these fish survived in an underwater lake with no food source but each other for eons, it buckles under its own stupidity. But who really cares. Such scenes is nothing more than a flimsy excuse for you to suspend all disbelief until the next attack. Or the next dropped bikini top.

The acting is as good as you can expect. The actors make the most of what they are given, which isn't much, and no one give a bad performance. However, Jerry O'Connell gets to steal the show as a sleazy porn producer fueled by champagne, tequila, coke and an enormous ego. Oily and menacing, O'Connell chews up the scenery like, well, a school of ravenous piranha and delivers the most enjoyable performance in the film.

The nudity is, well, stunning. No quick glimpses or shadowy presentation here. It's all long shots and in your face (thanks, in part, to the 3D presentation). And while the scenes at the spring break party are rather crass, others are shot with a stunning reverence for naked women. A topless parasailer, pulled through the water before she's airborne, is filmed from below in a visually stunning shot. And the underwater ballet, where two naked women "dance" together (displaying breath control that would make Micheal Phelps envious) is as beautiful as the opening credits in a Connery-era Bond film. Except this time, the lights are on and no one is a silhouette. I'm surprised at how much the MPAA let Aja get away with in this scene. Maybe the 3D image was too blurry for them.

With all the bare flesh flashing across the screen, I was a bit surprised that the guys didn't get into the act. The men are surprisingly chaste for a bunch of spring break partiers, with only one mooning scene as a comedic aside. Aja, and the filmmakers that will follow him, might consider adding a few beefcake shots for female horror fans next time. I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

The gore is a great mix of practical and CGI. K.N.B. EFX Group once again produces some amazing work, with very realistic wounds and munched up bodies. And some of the gore gags during the siege on the spring breakers are simply breathtaking. It's nice to see Karo syrup blood back on the screen.

As for the fish, they still look a bit silly, though less than in the early previews. And when onscreen alone, it's hard not to chuckle a bit. But the feeding frenzy moments are great, and at times it's hard to tell when the victim is a practical effect or a CGI construct.

The 3D is about as good as you can get for post production effects. It's obvious that Aja and his crew planned for the conversion, because I didn't notice any of the darkness associated with Clash of the Titans. Even the night time underwater shots are clear and visible. And this foresight allows the 3D to be used more as a gimmick than a simple add on. Puke, fish and body parts are continually thrown at the audience and it works so well, I doubt the film would be as much fun in 2D. So see it in the theaters if you can.

I felt this film was a great time. It made me wish that some of our local pub theaters could invest in 3D technology. This film is perfect for a group of friends sharing a few pitchers of beer, hooting and laughing at one of the most shamelessly cheesy horror films ever made.

Beware, it isn't for everyone. It's lewd, crude, very bloody and easily earns it's R-rating. But if you find these more of a virtue than a vice, it's a perfect summer movie.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

DVD release: Galaxy of Terror (1981) and Forbidden World (1982)

The 80's was the last decade that horror fans could hit the multiplexes for the latest low budget offerings. Soon, the major studios would force independent films out of the theaters and directly to home video, thanks to the blockbuster mentality, which continues inundated moviegoers today.

But the 70's also signaled a chance in low budget horror. Vincent Canby in The New York Times called Jaws a big budget Roger Corman film. Then came Star Wars, and Oscar winner Corman knew Hollywood was figuring out how to make better B-movies. So he responded in the same fashion that filmmakers did in the 50s, when television threatened to draw movie goers to their couches. He delivered what the other guys couldn't or wouldn't: More sex and violence.

Nowhere is this more evident in 1980's Galaxy of Terror, and 1982's Forbidden World. Thanks to Shout! Factory, these classics of sleaze cinema are on Region 1 DVD for the first time, with great looking transfers and lots of special features.

Galaxy of Terror is the better known of the two, only because of the giant space worm rape scene. Yes, you read that right. One wonders if Corman was daring the studios to try and top that scene. But in addition to that set piece, the movie contains lots of great effects, beautiful set design (thanks to production designer James Cameron) and a great cast, including Ray Waltson, Erin Moran, Robert Englund, Sid Haig and Taaffe O'Connell as the victim of the space worm's advances.

The plot is rather messy. A crew is sent out by the Planet Master, a figure with a glowing head, to the planet Morganthus on a rescue mission. Once there, they is picked off in several imaginative and gory scenes. The ending, which I won't spoil, leaves more plot holes than the rest of the film.

But that doesn't matter. Galaxy of Terror is a wonderful haunted house in space film, and hold up well today. The sets are amazing, the effects are stunning and the film moves at a brisk pace from one death scene to the next. The crew really delivers the good for the money they available, often raiding fast food restaurants for styrofoam packing to use as the ship's walls. And given the script, the cast really delivers.

The DVD contains a great commentary (in which the worm rape scene is the focus of the discussion), terrific cast and crew interviews, TV, radio and theater trailers, a photo gallery, a PDF version of the original screen play and more. The transfer is beautiful and well worth the cost.

If you've never seen this film (but know of it for the worm scene), get yourself a copy and enjoy. And if you've seen this film, you've probably already got it in your DVD player. It's one of Corman's best from the 80's, even if it wallows in the gutter with glee.

Forbidden World is a nice companion piece, as the opening sequence was filmed on a Galaxy of Terror set the day before it was struck. Corman, always one to get the most bang for his buck, just wanted to reuse the set for a yet unwritten film. Production didn't start until months later, giving the opening a bit of a disjointed feel (the effects lifted from Battle Beyond the Stars didn't help give the introduction of the hero a fresh feel either).

Troubleshooter Mike Colby is sent to a planet to take care of a mutant life form that killed all the other lab animals. It appears this new life form was an attempt to generate a new food source, only now the mutant is turning humans into a protein source it can consume, and everyone is a potential mini garden. So the scientists and Colby must figure out how to kill the mutant before they become the next garden plot.

And there's your plot. The rest of the film is chocked full of nasty gore, VERY gratuitous nudity and a monster that looks like the Alien creature done up for a Saturday morning cartoon. While Galaxy of Terror was considered an Alien rip-off, Forbidden Planet is a better example of Corman's ability to take a popular film and lift enough elements to keep his film familiar, but not cause any legal entanglements.

The film is not as much fun as Galaxy of Terror. The editing is rather choppy and becomes strobe-like, which is rather distracting. The cast is not as strong and the creature looks pretty lame.

However, the movie does offer up some fun moments. The ultimate demise of the creature is echoed in horror films today, and the gore is really well done. And the film is chocked full of exploitive nudity. In one scene, the two female leads end up in a prolonged shower scene for no reason. Once again, Corman delivers what the studios didn't offer and seemed to dare Hollywood to match such a moment.

The Shout! Factory release is a 2 disc set, with the director's cut available in a Full Frame version. It contains 5 minutes of footage that Corman considered too comedic for the horror film he wanted. Also included are cast and crew interviews, trailers and much more. It's not as good as Galaxy of Terror, but it's a solid film and worth the blind buy to me.

These films are great examples of 80s sleazy/cheese and something every horror fan should check out. Now it's time for me to watch my new copies of Piranha and Humanoids from the Deep. I'll let you know what I think in the next few days.