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Incident At Loch Ness (2004)

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Starring Werner Herzog, John Bailey, Kitana Baker, Gabriel Beristain

Directed by Zak Penn


In movies like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or America’s Sweethearts, you see a “Hollywood backlot” where Roman centurions mix with cowboys, showgirls, elephants and everything else meant to convince you that Cecil B. DeMille must be shooting at least thirty films concurrently on the lot. It makes you imagine a Hollywood somewhere that still might do something like that – the “dream factories” of the past that don’t actually exist anymore, but we like to be told/implied to that they are.

In the twisted world of Zak Penn’s vastly experimental horror-comedy-mockumentary Incident at Loch Ness, “Hollywoodland” is a series of dinners of the city’s “artsy intelligentsia” – here represented by such divergent personalities as Oscar-winning editor Pietro (Black Hawk Down) Scalia, Crispin Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Ricky Jay, Zak (X-Men 2, Suspect Zero) Penn and cinematographer Gabriel (Blade II, S.W.A.T.) Beristain all hosted at the Wonderland Avenue (yes, location of the gruesome John Holmes-related murders chronicled in the movie by that name) house of famed director Werner Herzog and his wife, Lena. At these dinners, South American yucca roots are experimented with, Jeff Goldblum talks about the mental side of the “unexplained,” and Ricky Jay does a bit of on-camera sleight-of-hand with his ever-present deck of cards. All this is leading up to, of course, the meat of it all – Penn, Beristain and Herzog are preparing to go out and make a movie – The Enigma of Loch Ness – a documentary about the mysterious Loch Ness Monster. A documentary within a documentary, in fact, as an unobtrusive, but acknowledged camera crew is making a documentary about Herzog’s life called Herzog in Wonderland – which Incident at Loch Ness functionally becomes.

But I digress.

I remember when this broke in the trades and I, for one, thought it was an interesting idea. I’d hated Herzog’s last movie, the clunky Invincible, and looked forward to him going back to documentaries as his last few had been quite stunning. As a filmmaker whose movies I found quite profound – particularly Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo – I looked forward to whatever he did, especially if he was going to explore monsters and myth. It was in the trades, as we see in the film it was mentioned on Aint-It-Cool-News and then – nothing.

It turns out that, well, it was all a hoax. Sort of. Sort. Of.

Incident at Loch Ness takes a look at the current state of reality television, documentaries and the national obsession with celebrity and sensationalism in a way that The Blair Witch Project did, but in a far more studied and ultimately more fulfilling (if never scary) way. Though I missed the first season, I was hooked on season 2 of “Project Greenlight” and loved watching the Machiavellian machinations going on behind-the-scenes of The Battle of Shaker Heights, taking sides with one guy first and then another, but almost always siding with, well, producer Chris Moore in the end. With Incident, Penn takes all of these things are turns them on their head (when the sound man utters the words: “Well, on Drop Zone we did this…,” I was like, “YES!!!”).

First off, let’s talk about celebrity. Werner Herzog is a ridiculously acclaimed filmmaker considered one of the greatest living directors. Aguirre, the Wrath of God on its own is one of the most talked about pictures in the history of world cinema just as the making of Fitzcarraldo is one of the most storied. The legends abound concerning Herzog’s “drive” (some would say “madness”) when it comes to telling his stories, culminating in the documentary My Best Fiend that Herzog made about his relationship with his equally “driven” (some would say “coke-fueled”) partner-in-crime, the actor Klaus Kinski who starred in a number of Herzog’s films including the Nosferatu remake Herzog mounted in 1979. The film showed Herzog and Kinski at their most mad and mutually self-destructive, going to the ends of the earth and then beyond – to hell and back – in order to make their movies. Thereby, Herzog has gained this extensive legend, baggage, reputation – whatever you want to call it – that lends him innumerable heaps of credibility and gravitas.

With Incident – like the ultimate form of stunt-casting – Penn manages to capitalize on all of that to create his mockumentary. Think for a moment of the reasoning behind Jerry Lewis’s casting in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. A stunt, yes, but one that works brilliantly. Movies cast all the time in a way to subvert or play into a star’s public image (Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give is a prime example) and with Herzog in this part – ostensibly playing himself – it would’ve worked on its own.

Then Penn surrounds him with such A-talent as cinematographer Beristain and Oscar-winning sound man Russell (The Sum of All Fears, Training Day – won back-to-back Oscars for Glory and Dances With Wolves) Williams and that – coupled with Penn’s own reputation having written on a number of projects from X-Men 2 to Behind Enemy Lines to Osmosis Jones, it’s not like we’re being made fools of. These aren’t some Project Greenlight nobodies – these are Herzog-quality folks who are coming on board to a legitimate movie.

But, it’s all a hoax, remember?

That said, never forget the “sort of.”

The plot of the film is simple – these filmmakers head to Loch Ness, it becomes obvious that Zak Penn is up to something (this is the plotline that works the least, actually), and Herzog gets pissed. It turns out that Penn is trying to “sex up” the movie – not only by hiring Playmate Kitana Baker to play a “sonar operator,” but also by staging “recreations” with remote control “Nessie’s.” Herzog wants to quit, but he doesn’t want to wreck a movie with his name on it as he knows full well that the entire story won’t ever be told in the trades and it will just read that “troubled” Herzog fucked up another picture. So, they plow on.

Then the real Nessie shows up, The Blair JAWS Project breaks out and things go absolutely fucking BANANAS as we watch filmmaker Werner Herzog act in a mockumentary horror project along the lines of Blair Witch-meets-the-third-act-of-Jaws in a remarkably philosophical manner.

There’s a great scene early in the movie where Herzog is talking about what he needs for the picture with producer Penn and says he needs an on-screen “cryptozoologist” (the kind of scientists who chase down the myths and realities/non-realities of critters such as the Jersey Devil, the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness Monster). The characteristics for the man Herzog wants are very specific – “driven” yet “credible.” A man who will obviously pursue this thing with a passion, but who the audience will always – always – find redeemably credible no matter how weird things get.

One can imagine when casting Incident, the exact same thing being said about the role Herzog is meant to play. But then, Herzog and Penn created this together.

Is this a creature movie? I don’t want to explain too much away, though a jaunt over to IMDB will likely turn you onto KNB EFX’s credit on the picture, so I’ll let that explain itself – though it really isn’t a monster movie at the end of the day. Or is it?

On the surface, Incident is like a bizarre crossover of “The Surreal Life 3”, The Blair Witch Project, “Project Greenlight” and a less-deadpan Best in Show. Underneath all that, however, probably the strangest thing of all is that in the characterization of Herzog himself and his reaction to what he’s facing in Loch Ness, you see a number of themes the filmmaker has always expressed in his own work coming to life. As Herzog faces the unbelievable and has a fervent desire to document it, find out more about it, find a way to satiate his unquenchable curiosity, how unlike Aguirre is he as the mad conquistador searches the Amazon over in his neverending hunt for gold?

While no, Incident at Loch Ness probably isn’t for everybody, it’s still a fun and enjoyable movie with a few missteps (if Penn just hadn’t gone for the stupid “wouldn’t hurt a fly” joke that makes no sense a few reveals later, et. al.), but overall, a wild and crazy experimental flick about the unknown, the strong and the weak, the nature of celebrity (if you begin to think about how the nature of Nessie’s celebrity is subverted throughout the movie as well it’ll really cook your noodle!) and what it means to make a movie with Werner Herzog. Not something you’d necessarily expect from Zak Penn as a director, but hey, if this was his dream project – to one-up My Best Fiend and Blair Witch in one breath – I feel he succeeded.

3 out of 5
 
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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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Satan’s Cheerleaders Blu-ray Review – Sacrifice This Snoozer At The Altar!

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Starring Jack Kruschen, John Ireland, Yvonne De Carlo, Jacqueline Cole

Directed by Greydon Clark

Distributed by VCI


The ‘70s. Satanism. Sultry cheerleaders. Sex appeal. With these tools nearly any low-budget filmmaker should be able to turn out something that is, at the very least, entertaining. The last thing a viewer expects when tuning in to a film called Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is to be bored to tears. But that is exactly the reaction I had while watching director Greydon Clark’s wannabe cult comedy. Even on a visual level this film can’t be saved, and it was shot by Dean Cundey! No, unfortunately there isn’t a cinematic element in the world that can overcome a roster of bad actors and a storyline so poorly constructed it plays like it was written on the day. The only saving grace, minor as it may be, is the casting of John Ireland as Sheriff B.L. Bubb (cute), a hard-nosed shitkicker who adds all the gravitas he can muster. But a watchable feature cannot be built upon the back of a single co-star, as every grueling minute of Satan’s Cheerleaders proves.

The cheerleaders and jocks of Benedict High School rule the campus, doing what they want, when they want, with little else on their minds except for The Big Game. Their belittling attitudes rub school janitor (and stuttering dimwit) Billy (Jack Kruschen) the wrong way. What they don’t know is Billy is (somehow) the head of a local Satanic cult, and he plans to place a curse on the clothes (really) of the cheerleaders so they… suck at cheerleading? Maybe they’ll somehow cause the jocks to lose the big game? When Billy isn’t busy plotting his cursed plans, he spies on the girls in the locker room via a hidden grate in the wall. I guess he doesn’t think being a sexual “prevert” is fair trade enough; might as well damn them all, too. Billy has his own plans to kidnap the girls, for his Lord and Master Satan, and he succeeds with ease when the girls’ van breaks down on the highway; he simply offers them a ride and they all pile in. But when Ms. Johnson (Jacqueline Cole) gets hip to his plan the two tussle in the front seat and Billy winds up having a heart attack.

The squad runs off in search of help, coming across the office of Sheriff B.L. Bubb (John Ireland), who, as the name implies, may be a legit Satanist. Bubb invites the girls inside, where they meet his wife, Emmy (Yvonne De Carlo), High Priestess of their quaint little satanic chapter. While the girls get acquainted with Emmy, Bubb runs off to find Billy, who isn’t actually dead. Wait, scratch that, Bubb just killed him for… some reason. The girls figure out things aren’t so rosy here at the Bubb estate, so they hatch an escape plan and most make it to the forest. The few that are left behind just kinda hang out for the rest of the film. Very little of substance happens, and the pacing moves from “glacial” to “permafrost”, before a semi-psychedelic ending arrives way too late.

“Haphazard” is one of many damning terms I can think of when trying to make sense of this film. The poster says the film is “Funnier Than The Omen… Scarier Than Silent Movie” which, objectively, is a true statement, though this film couldn’t hope to be in the same league as any of the sequels to The Omen (1976) let alone the original. It is a terminal bore. Every attempt at humor is aimed at the lowest common denominator – and even those jokes miss by a wide berth. True horror doesn’t even exist in this universe. The best I can say is some of the sequences where Satan is supposedly present utilize a trippy color-filled psychedelic shooting style, but it isn’t anything novel enough to warrant a recommendation. Hell, it only happens, like, twice anyway. The rest of the film is spent listening to these simple-minded sideline sirens chirp away, dulling the enthusiasm of viewers with every word.

A twist ending that isn’t much of a twist at all is the final groan for this lukewarm love letter to Lucifer. None of the actors seem like they know what the hell to be doing, and who can blame them with material like this? I had hoped for some sort of fun romp with pompoms and pentagram, like Jack Hill’s Swinging Cheerleaders (1974) for the Satanic set, but Clark provides little more than workmanlike direction; even Cundey’s cinematography is nothing to want on a resume.

Viewers have the option of watching either a “Restored” or “Original Transfer” version of the 1.78:1 1080p picture. Honestly, I didn’t find a ton of difference between the two, though the edge likely goes to the restored version since the title implies work has been done to make it look better. Colors are accurate but a little bland, and definition just never rises above slightly average. Film grain starts off heavy but manages to smooth out later on. Very little about the picture is emblematic of HD but given the roots this is probably the best it could ever hope to look.

Audio comes in the form of an English LPCM 2.0 track. The soundtrack sounds like it was lifted from a porno, while other tracks are clearly library music. Dialogue never has any obvious issues and sounds clear throughout. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; one, with director Greydon Clark; two, with David De Cocteau and David Del Valle.

A photo gallery, with images in HD, is also included.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with director Greydon Clark
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers David De Cocteau & David Del Valle
  • Photo gallery
  • Satan's Cheerleaders
  • Special Features
1.3

Summary

Although the title is enough to reel in curious viewers, the reality is “Satan’s Cheerleaders” are a defunct bunch with little spirit and no excitement. The ’70s produced plenty of classic satanic cinema and this definitely ain’t it.

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