Thursday, April 14, 2016

LONG WEEKEND


"Their crime was against nature... and nature found them guilty!" was the tag-line that appeared on the poster for LONG WEEKEND. That might lead you to believe this is simply another nature run amok flick, a la GRIZZY or DAY OF THE ANIMALS. Nothing could be further from the truth. Intensely claustrophobia (an impressive feat given the wide-open setting), LONG WEEKEND is much more psychological than visceral. While its "be friendly to the environment" message is front and center throughout, the film does not stop there. If anything, what it is really concerned with is our casual cruelties, not only towards nature but towards the people we profess to love, and how every single callous action we take brings us closer to our own destruction or, at the very least, assures us of our eventual comeuppance.

 Peter and Marcia are on the verge of divorce. Both have secrets, both have been unfaithful, and neither are very willing to put pride aside to begin the reconciliation. The couple set out to an isolated beach on the Australian coast for a weekend away from civilization. Marcia does not hesitate to make her feelings known on the matter. She would rather stay in the city. Along the way, the callous nature of our pair begins to show. Their relationship is verbally and emotionally abusive, each bearing more ill will than they let on. (early on, we see Peter casually targeting his wife through the scope of his new hunting rifle). Peter hits a kangaroo, leaving it to die in the middle of the road. Later on, he will toss a lit cigarette out of his car window, starting a fire by the roadside. Making a quick pit stop for beer, Peter is confused as to why none of the locals know where the beach is. When they finally reach their turnoff, they quickly get lost in the woods. 

Once they reach the beach, things start to improve. Peter and Marcia begin to talk, to treat each other like human beings again. But old wounds don't heal so quickly and as their relationship once again deteriorates, the wildlife begins to act strangely. At night, they hear ominous noises. Peter is attacked by an eagle. A large, black shape approaches him as he swims. Later on, Peter shoots and kills a sea cow only to find that it's corpse inches closer to their campsite every night. Peter spots a minibus parked further down the beach, seemingly deserted. When he and Marcia go to check it out the next day, they find it partially submerged in the ocean, a few hundred feet from where Peter first spotted it.

It's a small miracle that John Hargreaves and Briony Behets maintain our sympathies through the films running time. Peter and Marcia are not likeable characters. They bicker and argue over everything, quietly opening up old wounds and not-so-quietly creating new ones. Though their marriage was most definitely over by the time the trip started, by mid-way through the film, its positively disintegrated. That we feel anything for them at all as they meet their eventual fates is a testament to the level of the acting present here. 

Though the beach setting of LONG WEEKEND is quite beautiful (and quite beautifully filmed by Eggleston and cinematographer Vincent Monton) it is also undeniably creepy, if not outright terrifying. A lot of credit must go to sound editor Peter Burgess who creates an otherworldly soundscape of ambient noise and animal vocalizations. From the angry, nocturnal howls of Tazmanian devils to the sad, eerie cries of the orphaned sea cow pup, each scene of LONG WEEKEND is a potential nightmare. Though it might not be as flat-out scary as other "lost in nature" flicks like OPEN WATER or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, LONG WEEKEND does manage to work its way slowly under your skin and stay there.

BLACKOUT


You know you're in trouble when the top-billed actors in a movie consist of two has-beens - Ray Milland and June Allyson - and two never-weres - Jim Mitchum and Belinda Montgomery. It's also time to run for the hills when the lead villain is played by Robert Carradine. But if you've got the cajones like yours truly, you just sit back, cross your fingers and hope it doesn't hurt too bad. BLACKOUT is a Canadian thriller that doesn't thrill. Utterly unconvincing and terribly acted, the only thing this little film does is teach you the value of good casting. Every single role is miscast. For example, instead of getting a Jewish actor to play a Jewish man, they simply got an actor and said "now act Jewish". Every single character is a caricature, and the constant mugging and stereotyping does little to alleviate the absolute boredom of the narrative. 

A few years before ALONE IN THE DARK dumped four nutjobs out in society during a power outage, BLACKOUT did the same. Four psychos, led by Robert Carradine, escape from police custody during a total black out in New York City. They seek refuge in an apartment complex, going from room to room causing carnage, while a lone police officer, played by Jim Mitchum, hunts them down. Belinda Montgomery, best known for playing Doogie Howser's mom, is raped by one of the escapees, but recovers in time to help our hero get the job done. There's also a woman whose husband is on a ventilator, a young pregnant woman, a gaggle of kids, two obnoxious assholes stuck in an elevator, various rich old people, and a Jewish couple attending a big, loud Greek wedding (you'll love the unibrows, by the way). All of them will, in one way or another, be terrorized and/or murdered in cold blood but you won't care.

 This is one of the worst acted films you're likely to see. No one seems even remotely interested. Only Robert Carradine manages to elicit any sort of emotional response, but it's all for naught as no one in their right mind would ever be intimidated by Robert Carradine. He could be carrying a fucking rocket-propelled grenade and a severed head and that still wouldn't happen. Jim Mitchum has none of his dad's charisma or talent and spends the whole movie with a single bored expression on his face. Ray Milland (oh, how the mighty have fallen) does some good work in his five minutes of screen time but he's the sole exception. Everyone else fails and it destroys what could have been a taut little thriller. 

It doesn't help that the director is Eddy Matalon either. Having seen his previous films, HOTEL OF FREE LOVE and TEENAGE TEASERS, I knew I wasn't in for pretty framing or creative camera work. His direction here is so passive and mundane that it makes the whole film look and feel like an NBC Movie of the Week. But I'm not sure even Dario Argento could have done anything with this cast. Those looking for a little bit of violence and nudity shouldn't even bother as this film has neither. The only saving grace is the climatic chase in the apartment's multi-level parking garage, a genuinely exciting piece of film that does not deserve to be attached to the awful first 70 minutes of BLACKOUT. Do yourself a favor and skip this film. Just grab ALONE IN THE DARK instead. You'll be a better person for it.

MEN BEHIND THE SUN


MEN BEHIND THE SUN opens with a preemptive strike against those who would criticize its portrayal of the Japanese during the waning months of World War 2. It begins, "Friendship is friendship, history is history", a kind of apology masking a deep well of rage. The film tells the true, but perhaps a bit stretched, story of the Japanese Manchuria Squadron 731 and their experiments on Chinese and Russian prisoners in an attempt to create new, devastating forms of biological weapons. While the atrocities on display (and there are many) were more than likely based on real events, MEN BEHIND THE SUN complicates its history lesson by adhering to the kinds of filmmaking practices usually found in the GUINEA PIG films. Though terrifying in nature, the presentation of these crimes inspires little real outrage. It feels more like amateur hour at the Grand Guignol. 

MEN BEHIND THE SUN also dips toes in another style of filmmaking best left forgotten, the Mondo style practiced by Jacopetti, Prosperi and dozens of other morally bankrupt and opportunistic hacks. The film utilizes scenes of real violence and carnage (actual autopsy footage, animal violence, etc.) in an attempt to bolster the film's strength. It doesn't. What it does is push MEN BEHIND THE SUN down to the basest levels of exploitation. And it wasn't too far from that to begin with. While the real atrocities meted out by Deodato in the Green Inferno sequences of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST were undeniably horrifying to watch, they were essential to the film's critique of the Mondo practices of filmmaking. It literally had to become the kind of film it was demonizing. The true-to-life horrors within MEN BEHIND THE SUN do nothing to forward the plot or underline a point. They are extraneous to the narrative. Without them, MEN BEHIND THE SUN would have been no less intolerable. With them, the film becomes just another piece of manipulative trash, another disposable gag-fest with a muddled sense of moral purpose. 

A good number of people on this wonderful contraption called the Internet seem all too quick in their praise of this film. The general consensus reached by these misguided people is that this film is a success almost solely because it shows the depths of depravity men can sink to in times of war. Is this some kind of a revelation to these people? Does anyone really need to be reminded of that? I'm not suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand and think only happy thoughts, but a film like MEN BEHIND THE SUN does not act as an indictment of war time cruelty. It acts as a celebration. Whatever grand moral message T. F. Mous had in mind when he made this piece of garbage is lost amidst the copious amounts of stage blood, mutilated corpses, and burning rats. Simple metaphors (is there really any other way to read the "cat being fed to the rats" scene) don't cut it here. Friendship might be friendship and history might be history, but exploiting the deaths of hundreds of innocent people for the sake of a Cat III piece of shit is another thing entirely. 

MEN BEHIND THE SUN has become a cult classic over the years, no doubt because it has been relatively hard to see. Now that there are several DVD releases of the film in circulation, hopefully the reputation of the film will suffer as more and more people clue into the fact that this film is little more than wank fodder for the splatter crowd. If I had to pay MEN BEHIND THE SUN a compliment it would be this: it operates on such a profound level of stupidity and cruelty that one viewing will suffice. I would not like to meet the person who finds this film entertaining nor would I ever care to meet the person who would watch this film more than once. I wasn't offended by the content of the film. I was offended by the total disregard of and sympathy for the people it is supposedly vindicating. This is garbage of the highest order, a total sham perpetrated under the guise of responsible filmmaking.