Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★
Becky (Tracy Arnold) recently left her husband so she decided to live with her brother Otis (Tom Towles) and his roommate Henry (Michael Rooker) for the time being. She immediately developed a crush on Henry, not aware of the fact that Henry and her brother stalked and killed unsuspecting women as their extracurricular activity. Directed by John McNaughton, it was easy for me to see why “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” became a cult classic. I admired its cold detachment from its subject just as Henry and Otis treated their victims as less than animals. They obsessively videotaped their conquests and Otis was even sexually aroused as he repeatedly watched the tapes in their apartment. However, I found the first half to be a bit amatuer filmmaking and the project only found its identity half-way through. While the first forty-five minutes’ purpose was to establish the cruelty and analytical nature of Henry’s actions, it eventually repeated itself too often. I wanted to learn something new about the main character who was plagued with the need to kill. The movie came alive when Henry talked about the importance of not having a signature in terms of murdering people. He claimed that a signature was the key to getting caught so it was important to use various weapons when taking a life. That scene was memorable to me because Rooker described it in such a way that it was like a surgeon talking about the instruments he was about to use prior to an operation. The film was able to look the character in question in the eye and note a total absence of humanity. Another scene that stood out to me was when Becky and Henry tried to share something very personal from their past. When Henry shared about his abusive home when he was a child, Becky seemed moved and was able to completely sympathize with him. But when it was Becky’s turn to share, I was convinced that Henry did not feel a thing, that he could only pretend to care about her past. I think much of the movie’s power was the fact that it chose not to paint Henry’s story so that we could understand him better or feel sorry for him. It treated us as smart audiences because Henry was essentially a textbook serial killer. While both Otis and Henry were murderers, there was an important difference between them. Based on a true story involving Henry Lee Lucas’ confessions, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” was unsettling movie to watch because there were times when the pointless murders felt downbeat to the point where it felt almost too authentic. It argued that there was nothing romantic about killing in cold blood.
Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I like to think of myself as an adventurous moviegoer so I’m on the constant lookout for movies that are vastly different from the mainstream. I’ve heard of the term “exploitation film” before (mainly from Quentin Tarantino because his movies often reference to that genre) but I never really knew what it really meant until I saw this film and did a bit of research about it. I really loved this documentary because I really learned a lot from it. I had no idea that Australia released all these cult classics, some of which have never been released in America. The way Australians made and released these daring movies in the 1970s and 1980s was so refreshing because nowadays, especially here in the United States, those kinds of movies are not made anymore. Once in a blue moon an exploitation flick (or a flick inspired from such like “Wolf Creek”) would be made but it was always under the radar no matter how good or bad it was. Speaking of good and bad, another thing that I loved about this documentary was it put the spotlight on good and bad movies alike and the people being interviewed explained why they thought a particular movie was good or bad (or sometimes even both). It fascinated me and I literally made a list of the movies wanted to check out. Some of them include “Mad Max” (1979), “Turkey Shoot” (1982), “Fairgame” (1985), “Dark Age” (1987), “Next of Kin” (1982), “Long Weekend” (1979), “Road Games” (1981), “Patrick” (1978), and others. The documentary, written and directed by Mark Hartley, was divided into several sections which started from movies about sex and nudity and ended with movies about car crashes and extreme violence. While it did cover a plethora of disparate motion pictures, I was also very impressed with the fact that it found enough time to discuss censorship (or lack thereof) in the era of Ozploitation. I wish this movement would repeat itself here in America because I’m starting to get sick of Hollywood trash being released in theaters weekly. Some days, I just want to see intense car chases with no real story but has a great sense of dialogue (like “Death Proof”) or even a movie about science gone wrong with buckets of blood on the side. Nowadays it’s all about the box office and watching this film really made me feel like the filmmakers wanted to make movies just because they were in love with the process–a reason why some of these exploitation films are so randomly original. I was so excited about the content of this movie, I decided to added some movies on my Netflix (the ones available in America anyway). I just want to see something so risqué and possibly something I can love and recommend to my friends when we don’t feel like going out and spending money.
★★★ / ★★★★
This horror-comedy cult classic is about a medical student (Bruce Abbott) and his newfound eccentric roommate (the scene-stealing Jeffrey Combs) who brings people back from the dead. I think this being a low-budget film actually worked in its favor. There are only two locations in the film: Abbott’s apartment and the hospital’s morgue where the two lead characters work. By the end of the film, those places look completely familiar to the point where I felt like I’ve known those places for years. Another thing is that it consistently tried to push its limits–whether it’s the question of what would happen if we brought people back to life or just showing us impressive special effects such as blood, guts and severed body parts. Stuart Gordon, the director, should be commended because he was able to balance images of horror with situational comedy. I thought he did a neat job showing the audiences how far a doctor will go to complete his experiment, completely neglecting the ethics and moral conundrums that should be faced by a man of science. Gordon also had enough time to comment on the dynamics in the scientific community–that it isn’t any different than other jobs. In fact, jealousy is abound because pretty much everyone wants to discover the new best thing and some are willing to kill for the discovery. But one thing did bother me, though. I know it’s not meant to be realistic because it’s a zombie film but I couldn’t get over the fact that the decapitated head could control his own body. If the brain is not connected to the spinal cord, the body will not be able to move because the source of electrical signals that may trigger certain chemical signals that control everything else will not be present (such as muscle contraction). I cannot help but get a bit distracted whenever something is glaringly incorrect even for films that do not exactly scream realism. Still, if one is a fan of horror-comedies with interesting premises, campy and has a plethora of gore, “Re-Animator” is a must-see.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★
I can understand why this film bombed in the box office when it was released but later gained a strong cult following. Even in today’s standards, this still has a very strong shock value because it features transsexual aliens, dirty images and songs, bad special and visual effects (it had a low budget), and a story that doesn’t make any sense. But I found this picture to be very difficult not to enjoy because it is aware of its campiness and shortcomings. I loved the fact that this movie made a plethora of references to the story of Frankenstein but it’s not limited to that. There are a lot of jokes in the background for comedic effect (whether it’s a painting, a banner, or an actor not realizing that he is on camera) even though those jokes are never attended to. It’s really up to the audiences to put some of the pieces together to truly enjoy this cult classic. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick are believable as a WASP couple who gets engulfed in Tim Curry’s world of decadence. Peter Hinwood as Rocky Horror was really funny in his own mute way. Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the film) and Patricia Quinn provided an extra level of camp and originality. As for the songs, I found more than half of them to be very catchy especially “Dammit Janet” (which was sung in a church–it was hilarious), “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.” If you’re look for a film that’s kitschy, sarcastic and bold, this is the one too see. I think it has a solid place in cinematic history because I haven’t seen anything remotely like it.