A Cat in the Brain (1990)

“I am not a criminal because I make horror films. A lot of Italian genre directors are animal lovers. Mario Bava loved cats, Riccardo Freda loves horses, and Dario Argento loves himself.” — Lucio Fulci

Fade in: An aerial shot of a man, sitting at his desk, writing frantically. We hear him muttering like a mad man. His pen can barely keep up with the horrific ideas boiling out of him: “A throat torn out by a maddened cat… burned alive… buried alive… tortured… scalded….” Meanwhile, the camera pushes in close to the dome of his skull… eventually the perspective enters his head. There’s a black cat in there, which munches on his brain like a vulture on roadkill.

Cut to: A cold body lying on a medical table. A section of the rump is missing. The body is then ripped apart by a chainsaw and the camera lingers on every gory cut.

Cut to: A man frying meat in a pan. He sits down in front of a television screen and cuts into his meal with a knife and fork. On the television, an actress seductively informs the viewer, “I love you so much I could eat you.” The man raises his first bite, still skewered by the fork, and proclaims, “Just what I’m about to do!”

Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain (aka Nightmare Concerto) is gleefully insane.

I’ve never seen this movie before it screened at the Circle Cinema a couple weekends ago. That was a complete oversight on my part. I’ve owned collector’s editions of Fulci’s The Beyond and Zombie. I’ve enthusiastically forced friends and girlfriends to watch his movies numerous times. I’ve gotten so far as placing A Cat in the Brain in my Amazon shopping cart at least twice. Yet I’m always suspect of films coming out of the latter portion of a movie director’s career. Fulci already seemed to be repeating himself by the end of the eighties, so I was afraid I’d be disappointed by his first nineties movie. Most of our cherished cult directors really petered out around that time anyway.
Was I wrong. The film wasn’t even over yet when I thought, “I really ought to see this again as soon as possible.” The best way to see A Cat in the Brain is like so: A) you’re at least fairly familiar with Fulci’s previous work and B) you know absolutely nothing going into it. If you meet the requirements of B, read on at your own peril.
This is Fulci’s version of 8 1/2, but instead of using a movie star surrogate, Fulci plays himself. Like most of Fulci’s movies, the camerawork and the acting are dreamlike, but this time he uses it all to bizarre comedic effect. When I first realized the film was a meta-piece, I thought, “Uh-oh.” Meta-horror is typically pretty lame, especially when there are movies inside the movie (this time it’s stock footage from Fulci’s own films). It took me a while to get the joke—all of fifteen minutes. This isn’t Fulci ripping off Fellini. It’s Fulci making fun of Fellini as well as filmmaking in general. Being a horror director must be one of the strangest jobs in the world, which is especially apparent (and hilarious) when Fulci’s shrink reviews some of his films after assuring him he’s quite sane.
Here are some of the things you’ll see in A Cat in the Brain: a Nazi using a woman as a billiards pocket, a hilariously psychopathic psychiatrist, and a literal cat inside a man’s head. Fulci is one of the unlikeliest likable protagonists. It hurts he didn’t star in a ton of films like this one.

There’s nothing quite like A Cat in the Brain. And while I always considered myself a fan of Fulci, I appreciate the guy’s work more than ever now.

Green Room (2015) is available on VOD

I adore crime fiction and horror. Here’s a movie which combines the two.

You could argue Green Room is more of a thriller than horror, but bones are broken, throats are ripped out, people are shot in the face, and the camera rarely cuts away to spare us the gruesome imagery. At that point you’ve departed the realm of the thriller. There’s no supernatural element—not that that’s a requisite for horror—but the bad guys here are definitely monsters. 
So a punk band are hard up for paying gigs. Reluctantly, they end up playing a rundown neo-Nazi joint in the middle of nowhere. In true punk fashion, the band decides to piss off the skinhead crowd by opening with a cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” That goes over about as well as you would imagine. Fortunately, the rest of their set is hard enough to win the assholes over and the band members aren’t murdered onstage. 
After the show the band heads back to the green room to discover their equipment has been set in the hallway backstage. They’re told the headliner has arrived and they needed the room. So our heroes are on their way out when one of them realizes she left her phone in the room. When they return to fetch it, they discover the real reason they’ve been kicked out: a young woman is lying on the floor of the green room with a knife sticking out of her skull and the venue’s operators are scrambling to cover it up.
The band gets so far as calling 911 before their phone’s confiscated and they’re locked in the room with a big psychopath who’s armed with a revolver. He subtly mentions the gun only holds five cartridges, “because they’re so fucking big that’s all that can fit in the cylinder.” Meanwhile, the bad guys outside the room call the venue’s owner, who happens to be the leader of the local skinhead gang. He’s played by Patrick Stewart whose performance is neither too little or too much for the tone established so far, further proof he’s one of the best actors alive. He just wants to get the kids off his property as quickly as possible. Little do they know it’s so he can murder them elsewhere and stage the scene in such a way it makes it look like they got themselves killed for trespassing on another piece of land.
So, as crime movies are wont to do, a simple premise becomes complicated rather quickly. Patrick Stewart, who’s trying his best to keep the situation from escalating, comes up with one idea after another to flush the kids out. The kids have to do everything in their power to keep the skinheads from getting in and they’re only somewhat successful some of the time. What’s interesting is Stewart’s character is paying people to deal with the problem so matter-of-factly, he might as well be coordinating the extermination of rodents. To him, it’s just another problem in the life of a businessman—albeit an amoral one who happens to be the leader of the local skinhead group. Another interesting choice is the skinheads aren’t caricatures. When Stewart loses his cool and humiliates one, he genuinely apologizes. The biggest reason Stewart’s having so much trouble getting the kids out is his henchmen aren’t expendable in his mind, they’re family and he cares about each of them. He doesn’t want to send them into harm’s way. 
If you need a lot of fantasy in your genre flicks, and main characters who do incredibly heroic things, make the right decisions at all times, and never take a lickin’, then this isn’t your movie. We all hate movies in which stupidly written characters do stupid things, but here’s a rare example in which well-written characters do stupid things for good reasons. The reasons are they’re young, immature, and panicking. You’ll only yell at the screen in frustration if you’re one of those armchair tough guys who think you’d suddenly become John McClane when put in a similar situation.

New Year’s Evil (1980)

First, some news:

 Work is fucked this week. I’m not even sure I’m going to get a weekend, which is my favorite time to get hungover and loaded up on pizza while watching too many movies. Thankfully, I’ve got a stash of movie reviews tucked away for times like these. Today’s movie is New Year’s Evil.

 Before we begin, I just wanted to point out there are two online movie marathons coming up this month. The big one is put on by these guys, whose marathon will be 24 hours straight(!). My favorites on their schedule include Frankenhooker, Death Spa, Warlock, Ticks, and Flash Gordon. The others I either haven’t seen (I Am Here… Now) or never really liked (Ice Pirates). This marathon begins on Friday, July 22nd at 9/8c.

 The other marathon is put on by /r/badmovies and it’s on Saturday, July 30th. I really enjoyed their last marathon.

 Speaking of movie events, I’m really bummed out I probably won’t get to see Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain at the Circle Cinema tonight. Shit is hectic in my part of the world right now, which explains the lack of updates lately.

 Okay, back to the regularly scheduled movie….

 * * *

 “Shhhh… I can hear your heart beating. I don’t like that.”

Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days) plays Blaze Sullivan, the VJ-like host of a televised New Year’s Eve bash. During one of the show’s call-in segments, a Dalek-like modulated voice promises to kill someone very close to Blaze. The police quickly discover it’s not just a prank call: someone’s already dead.

The man responsible refers to himself as Evil. Evil intends to murder someone every hour, on the hour, as each timezone in the United States welcomes the new year. In case you’re wondering, it’s just as entertaining as it is stupid. Come to think of it, that should probably be Cannon Film Group’s official motto.

Unlike most slasher films of the era, which played it too safe to stray from the tried-and-true formula, New Year’s Evil seeks to combine something old (“the killer will strike again at midnight!”) with something new (which, at the time, was the aforementioned slasher craze). Best of all, the killer’s face is seen from the get-go so we never have to endure the lame POV shots which tend to plague these kinds of movies.

As per Cannon’s philosophy, everyday reality has been cranked up to 11. This ensures even the mundane scenes are stupidly sensational. The forecast calls for switchblades, folks. Said the casting director: “You get a switchblade! And you get a switchblade! And you….”

Right off the bat we see a group of young punks drinking and driving down a Hollywood street in a convertible that’s pushing its capacity. The televised party they’re heading to hosts a gaggle of similar delinquents as one band after another plays fantastically shitty 80s music. Good times.

Meanwhile the killer paroles mental institutions and bars for his victims. Remember, his plan is to kill someone every hour on the hour until the new year. He’s capable of getting an awful lot done in the hour between attacks, including: finding his victims, arranging their dead bodies for cinematic reveals, changing disguises, sneaking into guarded buildings, and calling into the TV show. At one point he even gets into a traffic accident with a biker gang that leads to a foot chase through a drive-in movie. Yet he still manages to get to his next appointment on time.


Unless you’ve never seen a movie in your life, you’ll figure out the twist ending: the killer is actually Blaze’s oft-mentioned but curiously missing-in-action husband. Even if the repeated “Where’s Dad?” lines don’t clue you in, you’ll start to suspect it the moment their son pulls his mother’s pantyhose over his head and pierces his ear with a needle. Here’s the best part: during a wonderfully cheesy soliloquy he looks into the mirror and tells himself, “I think I have a mental disorder.”

What ever could have tipped him off?

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Cannon film or a slasher movie, you’re probably going to like this one. And don’t worry: there’s yet another twist at the end which I didn’t spoil. Unfortunately, you’ll see that one coming from a mile away, too. Oh well, it’s still a decent picture.

Deadly Friend (1986)

Paul, the teenage hero of Deadly Friend, not only designs advanced robots and A.I., but he teaches college courses, dissects human brains, and somehow finds the time to hang out with his friends. The robot he’s created, “BB,” looks like a robot from any other 80s movie. It, too, can do just about anything, including cracking locks, playing basketball, and moving heavy furniture. The only thing this robot can’t do is dodge shotgun spray, which we learn when it ding-dong ditches the neighborhood’s resident crazy lady, played by Anne Ramsey from The Goonies and Throw Momma from the Train. Don’t you just love her?

Meanwhile Paul’s love interest (Kristy Swanson in her first leading role) is repeatedly abused by her alcoholic father. In one of the film’s three or four dream sequences, which are filmed Nightmare on Elm Street style, she stabs her dear old dad with a broken flower vase. What follows is a jarringly bloody scene. Jarring because watching Deadly Friend is like getting thirty minutes into Short Circuit before discovering it’s an R-rated horror movie.

And here’s where my objectiveness flies out the window. I love killer robot movies. Terminator, Runaway, Chopping Mall, Screamers… I just can’t get enough of this shit. What’s disappointing about Deadly Friend is they dispense with the actual robot twenty minutes in. The movie instead goes the Donovan’s Brain/Frankenstein route: after Swanson’s father accidentally kills her, Paul implants BB’s brain in her head. As expected, the world’s first robo-girl doesn’t come in peace. How she got superhuman strength isn’t explained nor is it entirely important in a movie like this.

This is an 80s movie, through and through, no doubt conceived by coked-up movie executives who wanted a gorier E.T. The Extraterrestrial. I mention E.T. because that’s exactly what Deadly Friend’s plot structure feels like. Genre movies back then simply moved at a different pace than they do now. While most “slow-burn” horror films bore more than anything, this one has a pleasant pace. It really takes its time, but never takes more than we’re willing to give it. It makes the absurd climax, which is cram-packed with unintentional laughs, all the more entertaining.

J.J. Abrams said he got the idea for one of his Force Awakens characters from Phantasm. I’m beginning to wonder if he got BB-8’s name from this movie.

Here’s what I did this weekend

So I picked this up on Friday:

And I got it into fairly decent shape by Sunday:
I’ve got a marquee coming in the mail and I still haven’t decided what to do with that awful Taito overlay. I’m also unsure of what I want to do for a bezel at the moment. 
Right now I’m running Retropie on a Raspberry Pi 3 with a 23″ LCD monitor and 4-way joysticks. Yeah, I know I should have gotten a CRT, but I already had the monitor and I’m keeping an eye out for a cabinet that’s worthier of a complete restore. I’m hoping to find an upright Pole Position, Dig Dug, Galaga… something like that.
The guy who sold me the cabinet said it used to be a Silent Dragon machine, but judging by the manufacturer’s plate (Exidy) and the original holes beneath the overlay it’s obviously an old Mouse Trap unit. 
See more of what I did to this thing on my first ever Instagram account.

The Vagrant (1992)

It’s July and it’s as hot as hell outside. I don’t know why, but that always puts me in the mood for horror. Maybe it’s because I enjoy seeing fictional characters suffering more than I am. You get extra points if you manage to make me laugh while showing me bad things happening to good people or—even better—good people doing bad things.
I’ve always loved this stupid poster

Check this out: The Vagrant stars Bill Paxton, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, and Collen Camp. That’s a killer cast, but each supporting character exists in a bubble isolated from the others. If you don’t see them interacting with Paxton you just don’t see them interacting at all. He’s been a good lead in other films, but here he’s weighted down with more than he can handle.
Paxton plays Graham Krakowski, which is pronounced “Crack-house-ski” by some characters. He has a stable yet mind-numbing office job, which allows him to buy a fixer-upper from his nymphomaniacal real estate agent (Camp). Soon he’ll learn there’s a bum in the neighborhood (Bell) who has been squatting on a nearby lot. When Krakowski discovers the guy occasionally relieves himself in nearby bushes, he takes out a second mortgage and fortifies the property with the best security money can buy. This includes a perimeter fence, stadium lights, and an automatic music player that makes intruders think someone’s at home when they’re not.
After spending every dime on this worthless stuff—worthless because it doesn’t stop the bum from letting himself into Krakowski’s house—he realizes he should have bought furniture instead of Pentagon-level security. So he has the inside of the house decorated at his girlfriend’s insistence and puts it all on his credit cards. Now that he’s probably ensured he’ll spend the rest of his life in debt, the bum’s antics drive him crazy, he loses his job, and an over-the-top homicide detective (Ironside) is trying to finger him for a murder the bum actually committed.
after watching this trailer you won’t have to watch the actual movie

Did I mention this is supposed to be a horror-comedy? I like funny horror movies, but this one isn’t scary and it isn’t very funny, either. I mean, if you think optimistic people who pursue the American dream are hopelessly hilarious suckers then sure, you might think it’s kind of funny. Maybe you think characters who are unrealistically weird are funny, too. But if you don’t, you’re probably not going to like The Vagrant.
I didn’t like it, but I wish I did. The concept was ripe to become a cult classic and I’m a fan of all these actors. This is actually my second viewing and I was hoping I would notice satirical complexities I was too young to pick up on the first time around. Nope. It’s shallow and intentionally cheesy (the worst kind of cheese) and pretty incompetent to boot.
No, The Vagrant isn’t a terrible movie, just mediocre. That’s usually worse than a terrible movie, but this one still manages to entertain here and there. Yet I can safely say there won’t ever be a third viewing in my lifetime.