All Cheerleaders Die (2001)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
mckee, sivertson, shelli merrill, jeff rimmer, kevin sparks et al.

So, this is essentially a home movie, you know, shot on video during daylight hours, with a game but novice cast, beginner FX, and an interesting storyline that devolves into standard zombie fare. It’s also wildly ambitious and somewhat unconventional in structure, particularly for the type of amateur production it is, and for what it’s worth also flaunts an independent and presumably localized soundtrack. If I said I could tell from this beginning where co-director McKee’s career would head – or for that matter, that of his co-director – I’d be blatantly lying to you, because it only occasionally evinces any hint that its makers even had such a goal in mind, much less the abilities to achieve it. They must at least have had motivation and perseverance, though.

why did i watch this movie?

I have admired some of McKee’s other work, and as I pondered seeing the 2013 version of this film, discovered that it was possible to track down this artifact.

should you watch this movie?

It’s kinda interesting as a historical artifact, but that status doesn’t make the sophomoric moments any more palatable – nor the lack of production values.

highlight and low point

As hinted above, the setup is pretty interesting, especially as it takes time to take effect – a significant delay is involved, giving the filmmakers more time for character and story development. The scene that eventually triggers the mayhem is also quite unexpected, and amongst less successful thespians, Shelli Merrill stands out for her concerted efforts. The cheerleading, however, is atrocious and unconvincing. Other drawbacks have been covered, and although the “bloodthirsty undead” angle is pretty tired, I won’t fault that here.

rating from outer space: C−

Martyrs (2008)

written and directed by pascal laugier
eskwad/wild bunch/tcb film/canal+/cinÉcinÉma

After this film finally ended, I started writing a polemic on what I condemned as its senseless brutality, its transgressive excesses flaunted purely for their own sake, its purposeless exhibition of sickening abuse, its obscenity.

Morning found me still pondering what I’d seen, contemplating the motive behind the disturbing displays, so I read a lot about it, including an enlightening interview with the director. Along the way, I realized a positive critical appraisal of “New French Extremity” films, several of which I’d enjoyed, had suckered me into seeing a picture I’d scrupulously avoided for a decade,

Martyrs is a vile movie, full of sadistic horrors and irredeemable suffering and graphically unsettling trauma and grievous bodily harm inflicted upon a guileless young woman. The first half is only intermittently assaultive – nothing too out of the ordinary – but as the second half began, I had a sinking feeling, which proved prescient. It definitely goes too far, and it’s hard to find justification for what occurs. What reason could there be for grotesquely prolonged images of torture of an innocent, you might wonder.

The Laugier interview helped. Some things are indelible, though.

why did i watch this movie?

Mea culpa. I tend to favor productions that feature people doing horrible things to others. This selection has me questioning myself.

should you watch this movie?

Look, this picture’s culminating moment is a woman being flayed alive … but by that point the savagery inflicted upon her has been so objectionable it may barely register. You have been warned.

highlight and low point

It’s provocative, I’ll give it that. As to my charge of “obscenity,” French film commissars originally concurred, rating it 18+, though it was lowered to 16+ after intervention from a filmmakers society, a journalists’ union and the Minister of Culture.

rating from outer space: B

Rumah Dara aka Macabre aka Darah (2009)

directed by the mo brothers
gorylah pictures/merah productions/guerilla visual movement/nation pictures/mediacorp raintree pictures

Good Lord. If you want blood, you’ve got it with this insane Indonesian production. I barely even know where to begin talking about this gonzoid picture, other than to say I’ve got a new entry on my list of favorites. The setup isn’t anything special – a group of friends gives a stranger a ride home, and she invites them in so her mother can thank them – but the direction is. Unrelenting, intense and horrific and bleak and sadistic, it only begins to let in a little air after it reaches a sort of tipping point later in the proceedings and inevitably skews toward the blackly humorous – likely because little other option existed. Be forewarned, however, that before that happens it’s little but a trip through a special hell, with something to appall just about everyone. A masterpiece of the sick and twisted little corner of the film world it inhabits, this one’s gonna stick around the old memory banks for a while.

why did i watch this movie?

When I was reading up on Kuntilanak, I noticed this title, as Julie Estelle stars in both.

should you watch this movie?

I enthusiastically encourage everyone to watch this movie immediately. You will, however, need a strong stomach and an unhealthy appetite for, yes, the macabre.

highlight and low point

Shareefa Daanish and Arifin Putra are ridiculously evil as Dara and Adam, respectively, but picking my favorite aspects of this flick would entail a really long list. So I guess I’ll just say PROJECT: IMMORTAL SNAKE and leave it at that, unless you’d like me to laud the superlative chainsaw usage. The biggest drawback I can think of offhand is that I found myself wondering when I last saw such an excessively blood-soaked celluloid marvel. Dead Alive, maybe.

rating from outer space: a

Ghost Ship (2002)

directed by steve beck
dark castle entertainment/village roadshow pictures/npv entertainment

“An ocean liner – where did THAT come from?” Oh, where indeed, Ghost Ship, where indeed. For honest and for true, this horror actioner seemingly was inspired by the deathless Death Ship. Preposterous though that sounds, look at the poster – I know an hommage when I see one, man. And it opens very similarly, with a lavish party on a cruise ship featuring the staff mingling with their guests, and it’s extremely familiar when they first encounter the mysterious vessel that gives the film its imaginative name. Let the record reflect that the ship itself is not a ghost. At least, I don’t think so. It is, however, inhabited by ghosts. Well, at least three ghosts, anyway. The intrepid crew of the salvage tug Alaskan Princess – wait, sorry, “Arctic Warrior” – is unbowed, however, especially after they find the crates of gold. But would you believe things don’t go smoothly, may not be quite what they seem, etc.? You’ll see the SHOCKING ending coming far ahead of its arrival onscreen. You’ll also have predicted other “twists” along the way. The thing is, you’ve seen movies.

why did i watch this movie?

Sincerely, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Could it really be, I wondered breathlessly.

should you watch this movie?

To repurpose a great Lester Bangs quip, if you’ve got any sense of humor or no standards at all, you’ll love it.

highlight and low point

It can be instructive to look at both the precedents and descendants of a piece of art so as to properly gauge its lineage. Therefore, it is with great delight, nay, the utmost glee, that I now relate to you that a scene in this motion picture was unmistakably replicated in 2010’s cinematic classic Piranha 3D.

rating from outer space: c−

Skinned Alive (2008)

directed by james tucker
savage roses productions/lost angeles films

I was more or less suffering my way through this at times excruciatingly hackneyed low-budget independent feature originally titled “Eat Your Heart Out” when an unexpected thing occurred – one of the funniest scenes I’ve enjoyed in a movie in quite a long time. This got me thinking about a number of concepts. One was why I stuck with this video production despite its obviously amateurish sheen, when with many others I never bothered to outlast the opening moments; another was why I wasn’t interested in panning the outcome. The simplest and most honest answer is to admit I’m not sure, but maybe it comes down to the fact that though this film is often hampered by scenes and dialogue that seem to be included mainly because such scenes and dialogue are what you get in a “movie” – often the case with this sort of picture – it isn’t held back by attempts at lowbrow appeal. Neither is it too self-conscious of being a friends-and-family kind of affair. Plus, the storyline is fairly creative. I was surprised, however, to find that the director has helmed a long list of projects.

why did i watch this movie?

I read a brief mention that not unreasonably hailed the spirit and execution of this story of a prostitute with what one might term unusual tastes.

should you watch this movie?

It’s the kind of feature you’d find at smaller independent film festivals, if that’s your bag.

highlight and low point

I mentioned the high point of the movie above, but other touches of humor were equally effective. On the other hand, not enough was done to disguise that some of the locations were obviously not what they purported to be – a casualty of minimal financing, to be sure.

rating from outer space: C+

Kuntilanak aka The Chanting (2006)

directed by rizal mantovani
mvp pictures

Basically the equivalent of the wave of American teen-idol horror flicks from the ’90s – except that it would have garnered a PG-13 rating – this Indonesian production features a 17-year-old female lead playing opposite an MTV VJ/pop singer. It’s a fairly typical ghost story, this time based on Malay folklore, involving a female entity whose spirit lives in a tree (in the cemetery next to the boarding house, natch) and is summoned into this world by the intonation of durma, a form of traditional Javanese song poem. In this particular case, the Kuntilanak enters our realm via antique mirrors. An occasional barely seen twitch might startle you, and the first couple times the ghastly spirit enters (or exits, I guess) from the mirror are pretty effective, but in the end, this picture is middling at best. It spawned two sequels, because of course it did, and a 2018 reboot – all from the same director, which may be a new world record.

why did i watch this movie?

I came across this title while reading up on cultural influences in the other Indonesian films I’ve watched recently, and figured I may as well take in another one.

should you watch this movie?

Plenty of others are better.

highlight and low point

The fact that the conduit for the dangerous spirit becomes its summoner through no fault of her own is a nice touch, and subtle comical moments here and there (and some not so subtle) help keep things grounded. Little tension is involved in the resolution of what should be a major conflict, however, and the not altogether surprising ending doesn’t carry quite enough weight, either.

rating from outer space: c−

The Descent (2005)

DIRECTED BY NEIL MARSHALL
CELADOR FILMS

A harrowing exercise in psychological terror, coupled with an in-depth examination of the fight-or-flight response, this British spelunking picture convinced me that I lack a certain sense of adventure, that I am not equipped with derring-do. (I frequently used to be reckless or foolhardy, but those are not equivalent.) Oftentimes claustrophobia-inducing, it at other times reminded me of 2014’s The Pyramid, which is unfortunate, but as it predated that flop by almost a decade, the blame lies with my tardiness. Similarly, I couldn’t help but relate this picture – featuring a group of friends with some relationship issues being picked off one by one – to others with like themes that I’ve watched of late. To be completely straightforward, this flick lacks somewhat for credibility, but it’s executed so well it’s not an issue. Dubious though I was when the cavers first encountered the resident humanoid danger, the troglodytes’ existence and demeanor felt circumstantially logical. (Indeed, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how ravenous cave-dwelling mutants might not provoke some disbelief.) Seeing it with its original ending also helped, I think, ambiguous though it remained.

WHY DID I WATCH THIS MOVIE?

Having intended to have seen this movie long ago, it seemed like a good idea to finally do so, once I again remembered I still hadn’t, if you follow.

SHOULD YOU WATCH THIS MOVIE?

If you, like me, have yet managed not to experience it, sure, though I wonder if, like me, you will then perceive it through a somewhat tarnished prism.

HIGHLIGHT AND LOW POINT

Some of the gruesome touches were of course welcome, my favorite being the veritable, uh, lake of blood. This film has a sequel, to my dismay – but not to my surprise. We wouldn’t expect the film industry to leave well enough alone, after all.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: B+