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Thirsty Peelers, Frat Boys, and Grace Jones

Published November 26, 2013 by vfdpixie

vamp

Vamp (1986, 1 hr 33 mins)

I’ve been sick for far too long.  Hacking, coughing, and low-grade fevers have me yearning for perfect health like, say….a Vamp?   Is there any other way to make myself feel better than a dose of immortality a la Grace Jones?  I vaguely remember this movie when it was first run in 1986, but when my good friend “T-Bone” loaned me her copy a while ago, I had to get my own.  I mean, Grace Jones as a vampire?!  Too good to pass up!  Well before From Dusk Till DawnVamp‘s menacing stripper vampires serves up a large helping of classic ’80’s horror fare with a side of cheese.

This ridiculous story starts with 2 frat house pledges, Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A. J. (Robert Rusler) as they swindle themselves out of a botched pledging ceremony by offering to throw their future brothers a party they would never forget.  That would of course involve a stripper, and after striking out with gals in A.J.’s black book, the guys enlist rich dork Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) and his car to go on a stripper quest.

They end up on the wrong side of town that gets suspiciously quiet after dark.  Unless you are a gang of intimidating albinos lead by Snow (Billy Drago), or some loser regulars at the aptly named After Dark Club, which is where the boys intend to enlist one of the nubile ladies for their party.  They get eyefuls of lady parts, and are virtually mesmerized by Katrina (Grace Jones), the star performer.  A. J. feels this is their woman, and goes off for a private meeting to charm her into coming back to the frat house party.  Keith meets a girl called Amaretto/Allison (Deedee Pfeiffer) from his past, but is preoccupied when A. J. goes missing, and becomes suspicious when sinister goings-on reveal the true intentions of the club and its bloodthirsty staff.

Sorry man, but I’m biased.  I loved this movie.  Yes, there were a few problems, like a couple overly long scenes and some lame jokes, but this movie took me back to my teen years.  First, I must mention Grace Jones’ bizarre stripper routine.  She sported incredible kabuki-esque makeup, a red wig, and writhed on a man-throne creation by legendary ’80’s artist Keith Haring, who also did her body makeup.  I feel like this scene alone was iconic as she was lithe, stunning and terrifying all at once.  Her only utterances were maniacal laughter or demonic growls throughout the entire movie.  Definitely one of the best vamps ever.  Her seduction scene with A. J. was one of the hottest, cringe-worthy moments as well.   I also loved the music, ’cause it doesn’t get more ’80’s than this!  And with an orginial song “Vamp” sung by Jones herself, it’s just one more treat for us.

When watching the credits roll, I almost fell over!  It read like a who’s who of the era.  Along with Haring, Jones’ costumes were made by Azzedine Alaïa and Issey Miyake.  Oh yes, and ANDY WARHOL as a contributing artist?!  Did I read that right? Wow!!  I shouldn’t be surprised, as Miss Jones was, and still, is a muse and friend to many artists and fashion designers around the world.  Try to look around Katrina’s dressing room to catch glimpses of not only Warhol’s art, but sketches from fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and Richard Bernstein’s iconic image of Jones.  I would bet good money that all the artwork came from her personal collection, and that she has the Keith Haring man-throne in her living room to this day.

Another honorable mention goes to Vic, played by Sandy Baron.  This veteran actor, who played Jack Klompus on Seinfeld, really brought out the creepy as the club manager and Katrina’s faithful lackey.  I loved his crusty, Brooklyn accent and  yearning to get to Vegas (I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Vegas?), where there was sure to be fresh blood.  He had the perfect blend of menace and comedy in his toothy grin.  One of my favourite ’80’s actors, Gedde Watanabe as the nerdy Duncan was great too.  Although the character was rich and Asian, at least he didn’t have a heavy stereotypical accent.  Duncan was a dude who just wanted to hang out with the guys.  Of course Chris Makepeace was a treat to see as well.  He represents the era for me to a T.  Eternally fresh-faced, our unlikely hero ran through sewers, fought albinos, and rescued his friends, all in one night.

O.k., so here is a list of the mild annoyances I found in this film.  The weird neon lighting started to wear on me.  Pink, red, green, and a combination of all three in literally every scene.  Of course the film was set in a bad part of town, at night, in a strip club, but I felt the lighting was overkill.  Dedee Pfeiffer’s character Allison, was annoying.  Bubbly and shrill all at once, her mysterious ditzyiness was too transparent of a ruse for me.  But I wanted her zebra print coat.  I could totally rock that.  Also, even though the cast was richly multicultural, they were, in the end, a bunch of strippers.  Jones’ character did have a position of power as an Egyptian Queen of the Vampires, and their role was to lure their literal meal tickets the easiest way they could.  So if you can get past the objectification of women, which wasn’t overly offensive, and take it for the classic ’80’s romp it is, then you’ll be o.k.  Lastly, I’m not sure what purpose the albino gang had.  Did we really need two antagonists?  Although I loved seeing Billy Drago in that weird get-up, their scenes seemed drawn out.  And speaking of drawn out scenes, the final confrontation between Keith and Katrina the Vampire Queen will elicit a loud groan at the cheap 80’s humour.

If you buy the dvd, the extras are well worth a watch.  There is a really fun and silly short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple by director Richard Wenk which was the inspiration for Vamp, bloopers, and weird rehearsal footage that showed Grace Jones and Wenk going over the seduction/feeding scene.  Let me tell you, I don’t know who was having more fun, Jones attacking Wenk, or Wenk being gnawed on by Jones!

If you were an ’80’s nerd like me, and still are, like me, I highly recommend a trip down memory lane with Vamp to watch pop icon Grace Jones do her thing as one of the best vampires out there!

Face Off Season 5-The “Swan Song” Finale!!

Published November 7, 2013 by vfdpixie

It was all about the vets for this final episode.  After the artists had a well deserved and much-needed pep talk from their loved ones, they headed off to get their final Spotlight Challenge.  McKenzie introduced them to the classical world, namely, ballet.  They were to create unique characters for the iconic ballet of Swan Lake:  A maiden transforming into a swan, and the sorcerer who cast the spell on her.  These roles were to be played by actual dancers from the Los Angeles Ballet who were to stage a special performance of Swan Lake.  The catch?  The artists had to incorporate a specific era into their makeups.  The eras of choice were:  the Roaring 20’s , the Industrial Revolution, the Ming Dynasty, and the Italian Renaissance.  And they were allowed teams made up of one former veteran and rookie.

Laura chose the Italian Renaissance.  Miranda and Eddie were on her team.  They all worked well together, and she came up with a beautiful design.  It was opulent and ornate, just like the era she was to represent.   She incorporated a gorgeous pearl collar that hid all her seams for the maiden, and along with her beautiful crown, went for a roman statue look for her.  Glenn thought the swan maiden had a “savage grace”.  The judges loved how theatrical the duo was, and all the detail in the sorcerer’s sculpt.  Although Ve would have liked more feathers on the maiden’s head, she thought it was marvelous.

Roy picked Frank and Scott to be on his team to create a Ming Dynasty maiden and sorcerer.  At first, he had trouble coming up with a concept because he wasn’t familiar with ballet in general.  After Mr. Westmore’s council, Roy realized that he needed to be a stronger leader, and on day two, changed his concept.  That was all he needed to get back on track.  His alchemist sorcerer and transforming maiden came out beautifully despite a messed up swan maiden cowl.  The judges loved the maiden’s hair made of feathers, and the colour palette.  The sorcerer was gorgeous, and had great Asian flare.  Both characters went well together, and they thought he created a great overall design that helped him achieve his own iconic look.

Tate created an Industrial Revolution inspired duo with the help of Alana and Lyma.  He had no trouble taking charge of his team, but also changed his concept after Mr. Westmore warned him about going too dark with his design again.  He came up with a sorcerer who put the maiden’s soul into a porcelain vessel.   His maiden was to look like a porcelain doll with gears peaking through, and the sorcerer was to have a smoky and sooty appearance.  His couple was really interesting.  I loved his swan maiden’s eyes!  The judges felt the gears on the swan summed up his era well and liked the sorcerer’s profile.  They also liked the unique silhouettes and felt his was the strongest swan of the challenge.

The special performance of Swan Lake was very dramatic and fantastic.  I thought it had a very dark, Cirque du Soleil look and feel with the makeups.  The artists were relieved that everything stayed where it was supposed to during the vigorous ballet.

When it was time for deliberations, the judges had a hard time.  They felt Roy created great silhouettes and profiles, pretty feathers and a sexy and provocative open breastbone with his Swan maiden concept.  Laura also created a beautiful Swan maiden breastplate, and had incredible detail on the sorcerer. They all thought the sorcerer was a unique character, and the detail on him was incredible.  They looked great when they performed, and her “unexpected ideas” were great for the era she chose.  With Tate, his swan was ingenious and stunning, even though they thought the sorcerer looked dusty and more like a derelict.  The characters had a great silhouette and the gears were a great way to represent the Industrial Revolution.

The judges felt that this was the tightest race on the show to date, and I had to agree.  I loved all the designs, but I think my favourite had to be Tate’s swan maiden.  Second was Roy’s Ming Dynasty swan and sorcerer for their cohesiveness.  The 3 finalists proved themselves with such innovative and stunning designs, and as Glenn pointed out, the right people made it to the finale.  Throughout the season, I think we all noticed their strengths.  Tate always had an extensive back story to his concepts which he worked hard to represent every time.  Roy created wonderful big scale characters that showed his unique and fantastical style.  Imagine if he had a whole crew?!  Laura always created beautiful and seamless sculpts and her designs were always complete.  The winner?  Laura!!  I thought it was well deserved as she was pretty consistent with her work, and was a stickler for details every time.  I also liked her demeanour throughout the show.  Calm and focused, she really stepped up and showed what she has learned since the last time she was on the show.  The $100,000, Fiat and V.I.P. trip to one of Kryolan’s international locations will go to good use with her.  Roy and Tate were proud of the accomplishments, and I know they will go far with all their talent!  Bravo to the 3 finalists and to Laura who is an artistic force!  Until next season, Face Off!!

Banshee Chapter: TADFF13

Published November 7, 2013 by vfdpixie

banshee chapter

2013 (1 hr 27 mins)

Part of Scary Night, Banshee Chapter definitely delivers with a creeping sense of mystery and impending doom.

Anna Rowland (Katia Winter), a journalist, searches for her friend, James Hirsch (Michael McMillan), after his mysterious disappearance.  He was in the process of writing a book about a secret project called MK Ultra: experiments where the U.S. government administered mind altering drugs on unwilling patients.  James takes a mysterious drug that was reportedly used by the C.I.A. on these patients, and very soon after, disappears.  Using footage she finds at James’ abandoned house, and vintage video documents of the experiments themselves, Anna’s determination leads her to writer Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), a famous author known for his radical ideas and experimentation with mind altering substances.  Together they travel deeper into this mystery, and reveal scary evidence of unseen, otherworldly dangers.

I found this film genuinely scary.  The combination of found footage and real-time film really worked to tell a great story based on actual events.  I thought the lighting, or lack there of, was genius to set the eerie mood of the film, and the radio transmissions that lead Anna and Thomas down the rabbit hole were really chilling and foreshadowed some really creepy moments.

The audience was lucky to have the director Blair Erickson and producer Corey Moosa (who runs the production company Before The Door Pictures with the fantastic Zachary Quinto and longtime friend Neal Dodson) do a Q & A after the screening.  The feature came from a short film done by Erickson and Moosa which was inspired by the actual drug trials started in the 1950’s by the C.I.A.  Erickson was shocked that something “true but fantastical” went on and no one faced any legal prosecution.  He wanted to take it further with a direct Lovecraftian reference (From Beyond) and introduce the possibility of another dimension.

The film’s title came from actual DMT drug research patients that reported seeing banshees after taking the hallucinogenic drug.  They filmed in New Mexico with crew from Breaking Bad in various locations, including an old missile testing range where they had to get special permission to shoot there.  It was also shot with a 3-D camera, and while the audience saw the film during a regular screening, I wondered what, if any, effect it would have on the viewing experience (I am biased.  3-D won’t work on me since my left eye is only there for show).  Erickson hinted at a couple of secrets in the plot that I figured out, and loved the elements that they added.  I hope you get to see the film and figure them out too!

In terms of casting, Ted Levine was at the top of their list.  He really stole the show with his Hunter S. Thompson/Timothy Leary inspired character.  He provided moments of comic relief which blended well with the many scares in the film.  Winter held her own as the plucky Anna who expressed regret at the lost romantic opportunities with James, and was a great foil to Blackburn’s character.

All in all, this eerie low-budget film will have you wondering where it will take you next as it leads you into creepy, unknown territory.

The Last Days on Mars/The Machine: TADFF13

Published November 3, 2013 by vfdpixie

the last days on mars

2013 (1 hr, 38 mins)

Sci-fi Night brought us two great films. I was really looking forward to The Last Days on Mars and The Machine, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Last Days on Mars takes us to the year 2036, where the crew on the Tantalus Base are wrapping up a six month mission on Mars.  They are all anxious to get off the Red Planet, especially senior systems engineer Vince Campbell (Liev Schreiber), who suffers from claustrophobia and is not looking forward to another 6 months travel back to Earth.  When a last-minute expedition to collect samples slips by their captain Brunel (Elias Koteas), the crew realize that there is a deadly discovery and some betrayal afoot.  A new bacteria has been found and kept secret by crew member Petrovic (Goran Kostic), and he doesn’t want to share the glory.  His greed for success will unleash a deadly infection and doom them to an extended stay on Mars.

If this movie is low-budget, then I’ll buy it for a dollar!  It was beautifully shot, and using the deserts of Jordan as Mars was really smart.  The cast was great. They all portray the creeping onset of what I like to call space madness really well, while also dealing with this new threat of space zombies.  Liev Schreiber delivered as a man who hides his breakdown with cynicism.  I also liked the character of crew member Kim Aldrich (Olivia Williams).  She was abrasive, obnoxious, but also the voice of reason and logic that rallied the crew to get to the bottom of a seemingly innocent mission.  And seeing Elias Koteas in a movie always makes me happy.  He was great as the straight-laced captain.  He always puts his signature quirk on every role he plays.  The shrill and symphonic scoring enhanced the suspense flawlessly,  I loved how the infected crew members had an incredible thirst, which creates a very plausible theory of how something deadly gets reanimated on a planet that once had water.  It’s not rocket science, but director Ruairi Robinson made a fun, sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

the machine

2013 (1hr, 32 mins)

The Machine also takes us to a stark future where there is a cold war going on between China and Britain.  Brilliant scientist, Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens), works for the Ministry of Defense, and is close to mastering the secrets of artificial intelligence. In his subterranean lab, he experiments on war veterans, creating cyborg-like, flawed beings that are supposed to regain their lives back after injury.  Vincent hires an ambitious and equally brilliant assistant, Ava to continue his research and to create the ultimate thinking machine.  With her invaluable input they crack the mystery, and Ava agrees to help Vincent secretly restore his brain-damaged daughter’s mind with what they have discovered.  Unfortunately, Ava is killed as a sinister plot unfolds to create the ultimate war machine with their research.  She actually becomes that machine, as Vincent applies all that they have mastered into a cyborg-robotic copy of Ava.  The struggle between science for war and the general good becomes a battle that Vincent must triumph over in order to keep the peace and get his daughter back.

I really enjoyed this film.  The director, Caradog W. James, gave a quick video intro before the screening, letting us know that he did the film for under one million, and did a lot of research on robotics and autism.  It certainly didn’t look low-budget, and the special effects were really well placed throughout the film.  I especially liked the guttural, electronic “language” the re-wired, war veterans spoke, and Suri Luca (Pooneh Hajimmohammadi), the head hybrid soldier that had divided loyalties.  One of my favourite scenes was the creation of the machine/Ava, with its fluid montage of her construction piece by piece.  The director was also hugely influenced by Blade Runner (and I feel to some extent Tron), and 80’s film scoring, so the inspired soundtrack will thrill anyone like me who is nostalgic for that era’s sound.

Caity Lotz did a great job as Ava/the machine.  Her dancer’s background really added to the physicality of the role, and her deadpan delivery of the machine’s deceivingly child-like logic was on the money.  I also enjoyed the fight scenes, which were fast and furious towards the end of the film.  Anyone who loves sci-fi from the 80’s will love The Machine.  I think it’s a well done sci-fi film with shadows of Pygmalion and a dark study on the humans vs. machines debate.

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