News & Views » Columns

Shock treatment

Kansas City Confidential
MGM

Phil Karlson's Kansas City Confidential is a veritable wax museum of film noir heavies, faces etched in the B-movie lexicon but rarely attaining A-list status. Look, there's Preston Foster as an ex-cop turned criminal mastermind who's rallying together three deadbeats with nothing left to live for except a foolproof bank heist. And isn't that Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam as the three degenerates brought in to do Foster's dirty work? And, lo and behold, there's John Payne, the ex-con patsy at the scene of the crime who won't rest until the real felons are brought to justice. This is an archetypal and terrific example of '50s noir paranoia, directed with lots of deep-focus goodness and tight crops of bullet-sweating faces. It suffers only from that wearisome tendency of classic pictures (including even Hawks' Scarface) to outline the film's "meaning" in a useless title card before the movie begins, assuming we're too stupid to see it ourselves. Otherwise, this is a top-notch nail-biter with great performances from those perfectly hardscrabble pieces of human dynamite just waiting to explode. —John Thomason

 

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film
Velocity Home Entertainment

With the exception of porn, the slasher film is probably the most maligned genre in cinema. Often made on the cheap and dealing in violence, retribution and carnage, these often-dismissed flicks either fed an audience's need for catharsis or reflect Reagan-era conservatism. (How often did we see a woman bludgeoned because she was either successful or promiscuous or both?) Mad-slashers did big box office in the late '70s and '80s, a "horror" golden age covered swimmingly in this Jeff McQueen-helmed doc, which uses source material from Adam Rockoff's book of the same name.

Starting with Roman Coliseum spectacles and the infamous plays of the Grand Guignol Theatre in France (1897-1962), Going to Pieces establishes some historical context for audience bloodlust. The Grand Guignol gets credit for seminal slashers Peeping Tom (1960) and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1962). The doc mostly sidesteps two influential films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas (1974) before eyeing Halloween (1978), which became the template for most slashers that followed. Interviews with actors, directors, writers and special effects experts — plus gory archival footage from well-known and obscure films — is insightful and comprehensive. Too bad Going to Pieces scrimps on deeper issues, like the psychological and social positions that gave rise to slashers; though their decline is clearly laid out.

Sure, many slashers were misogynistic, but it wasn't a feminist backlash that killed the genre; by the late '80s it'd run out of ideas. And with every conceivable holiday pillaged (My Bloody Valentine, Mother's Day, etc.), slashers devolved into parody. But like Jason Voorhees, they didn't stay dead — the film ends with a nod to all the fans, who through conventions and hard-core devotion keep the genre alive, while hack Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) churns out stylish but empty slasher imposters for today's kids.

The doc offers a bevy of extras including deleted and extended interviews with slasher luminaries. Though slighted in the actual doc, the deleted interview with Bob Clark (A Christmas Story, Porky's) offers humble musings on his genre-defining pre-'80s slash-fest Black Christmas as well as dismissing the rumor that John Carpenter stole his ideas and title for Halloween. His interview ends on a somber note; while he talks of remaking one of his own films, we know that's not possible. (Clark died in an April car accident.) There's also a trivia game that separates true gore hounds from squeamish posers. Going To Pieces is an exhaustive and nostalgic look at a genre that'll see avid fans cramming their Netflix queue with slasher titles long forgotten or unheard of. —Paul Knoll

 

Dead & Breakfast
Anchor Bay

How do you create a zombie? Well, first you need a cadaver. But Dead & Breakfast isn't really concerned with such details. In fact, writer-director Matthew Leutwyler eschews most rules in this rather odd "zombie" homage that boasts a great cast.

A young group of friends en route to a wedding gets lost in Texas and stops at a bed and breakfast run by the vaguely Asian-looking Mr. Evans (a smirking David Carradine!). Come morning, the B&B's chef is found sliced and diced while Evans appears to have died from a heart attack. Forced to stay in town pending an investigation by the local-yokel sheriff, the kids discover that Evans' Buddhist shrine contains a wooden box that houses a nasty spirit, which possesses their nerdy pal Johnny (Oz Perkins — son of Psycho's Anthony Perkins) after he releases it. Johnny amasses a small army of similarly possessed hillbilly zombies. The remaining kids hunker down and prepare for battle, armed with a small arsenal of housewares and a chainsaw (which is key to the blood-splattered finale). Matthew Leutwyler stuffs Dead & Breakfast with slapstick humor, redneck jokes, myriad movie references and buckets of blood. It's pretty schizophrenic stuff that's neither as witty as Shaun of the Dead nor as vulgar as Dead Alive. While it hovers in limbo most of the time, Leutwyler's often keen sense of humor pays off in bizarre (but ingenious) musical interludes performed by a zombified county band led by Zach Selwyn. They make a sort of Greek chorus that links the uneven plot chapters and allows for a hilarious zombie dance number. At 87 minutes, Dead & Breakfast is a breezy and affable flick that zombiephiles will appreciate. —Paul Knoll

 

Showgirls: Fully Exposed Edition
MGM

Paul Verhoeven's sullied reputation has now been semi-restored by the arthouse success of Black Book, but who are we kidding? He'll never shake Showgirls. Nomi the stripper (Elizabeth Berkley) spasmodically lurches out of her lingerie up the ladder of Vegas success while dethroning topless revue queen Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon). It's not clear what about this release is "Fully Exposed," since the running time is exactly the same as previous DVD releases and the extras (including an intermittently clever commentary track from aficionado David Schmader and a lap-dance how-to featurette demonstrated by "the girls of Scores") were previously available on a "Deluxe VIP" edition. Minus the extras, what remains is the same throbbing, spangled vulgarity of an unduplicated trash masterpiece. No touching, please. —Violet Glaze

Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

comment