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Movie Reviews T-V

Take My Advice: The Ann and Abby Story (1999) (TV), Texas Chain Saw Massacre,(1974), Twist! (1992)Twists of Terror (1996) (TV), Very Bad Things (1998), Videodrome (1983)

Twists of Terror (1996) (TV)


I am a sucker for anthology horror movies. There are three stories to this one. The theme of the whole thing is that each of the stories are supposed to have an unexpected twist partway through (or at the end).

The first story is about a man and his wife who are celebrating their second honeymoon, and are on a fairly deserted road after a fancy dinner when a car runs them off the road. They finally manage to flag down a van that stops for them to take them to a phone (I guess neither of these yuppies carry a cell?) The driver, who sounds like Woody Harrelson did in Kingpin, and kind of looks like him too, only with more hair, gets more and more creepy, and they get more and more nervous...I didn't see the first twist coming, but I saw the second twist, which I could tell was supposed to be more shocking, a mile away.

The second story is about a travelling salesman who has to catch a plane. They leave it vague but he seems to have ripped off someone and is trying to leave the country. He runs out of gas and gets attacked by a dog, then to escape, runs to a hospital-like building (again, out in the middle of nowhere) and pounds on the door till a nurse and an orderly let him in. But are the hospital staff really what they seem? I figured out how this one would end about 10 seconds after he enters the hospital, having seen this plot before on Tales From The Crypt (among others.)

The third story is about a pretty but lonely single woman looking for romance in bars and through dating services. She meets a good-looking, smooth character in a bar who seduces her. I saw the ending twist to this one coming about 5 minutes into it as well. I do have to say, in all fairness, that I've seen almost every horror movie ever made and every Tales From the Crypt episode, so I am pretty good at figuring out how these things are gonna go. And there were some original things done, and they did trick me one or two times. Better than all that teen crap coming out these days, that's for sure. Worth renting--and good if you have a short attention span.

Grade: B-

Twist (1992)

I think I was born in the wrong time period...

I never get tired of watching this great documentary on "The Twist" dance craze in the early 60's. The film covers the years leading up to it, the height of the craze, and the years afterwards, finishing up with how the twist evolved into go-go "freestyle" dancing.
The movie is broken up into eight different "Lessons", and contains documentary and newsreel footage in between interviews with singers such as (among others) Dee Dee Sharp, Cholly Atkins, Hank Ballard, and of course, Chubby Checker. They also interview some dancers from American Bandstand, and one of the go-go dancing waitresses at the Peppermint Lounge, who says they had the fringe on their skirts "clocked at 130 mph" when someone timed it once (how exactly they measured this, I don't know, but in the footage you see, it doesn't look too far off the mark).

I just can't put into words how much fun this movie is. If you love to dance, you'll understand and maybe get a little emotional like I did in parts. You can hear the passion in most of the dancer's voices when they talk about how dancing made them feel and/or how it changed their lives. Even without the narration, some of the footage speaks for itself- watch the faces of some of the couples doing the jitterbug and swing-dancing early in the film. I don't think I've ever seen bigger smiles on anyone in my life- they look like they're having so much fun they would have to look down to see cloud 9.

This movie is not only a great documentary, but educational. I learned the names of some of my favorite go-go dances (I had the The Frug confused with The Watutsi...well, those are harder ones to figure out than say, The Monkey, so sue me), and the week after I first bought this movie for my home collection and watched it a couple times, I won a dance contest using some of the moves from "Twist!". I was taking Advil for 3 days, but hey, but it was worth it!

If you want to learn just a couple of basic dance moves (and don't mind them being what some people might think of as 'dated' ones), this is a great movie to watch. Pretty much anyone can do the Twist, as they show you- if you're really having trouble, just imagine you're smashing out a cigarette stub into the floor with your foot.

Whatever you do, don't turn this movie off after the credits start! When we saw it at a film festival, we left early and missed a group they show during the credits that called themselves "The World's Greatest Twisters", 3 men and 2 women that they interviewed earlier in the film. They named themselves that because they would go to every twist contest they could find and win every time- the women look they could have been Ikettes. When I first saw it, I thought the men were the same, but that they'd replaced the females with younger women from the way they were moving. Then I looked closer and realized that it was the same two women- they were probably at least in their early 50's, but watch them go- they can dance better and move faster than most women in their 20's! (partly because they've had much more time to work on it, I guess). Plus, they look like they can still wear their original dance outfits. Prepare to see them out-dance almost everyone in the movie put together.

If you loved "Hairspray", (and not just because you're a John Waters fan), loved dancing at any point in your life, or the music of the time period (especially if you're a fan of any of the artists interviewed), this movie is worth hunting down and owning.

If you ain't moving the hips, then it just ain't happening!

Grade: A+

Very Bad Things (1998)

Dang, man!

Boy, are some people going to get a frikkin' surprise!
I can just see some family going into Blockbuster and seeing the box for this, which says it's "Funnier Than Something About Mary" and thinking oh, this is probably a fun comedy. If they think it'll be a black comedy like "Heathers", they are also gonna get a nasty surprise, since it's waaaay more dark and gruesome and mean. It's stupid that they are advertising it as "If you liked Something About Mary, you'll Love..." they are both tasteless comedies, but VBT makes SAM look like a Disney movie in comparison. Yeah, there's disgusting stuff in SAM but it's all vulgar sex-related humor, but in VBT the humor is in the vein (har!) of Mia Wallace getting the hypo of adrenaline jabbed into her heart in Pulp Fiction.

Hey, I like that kind of humor, so I liked this movie, though the misogynism got a little old. I rented it because a friend said he admired the filmmakers for making such an incredibly nasty, mean-spirited mainstream movie, and it was an OK movie worth a rental. It seems like most reviewers either loved it or despised it, but I liked it.

Christian Slater's self-actualization psycho act got old after a while but the other actors were good, and I think Cameron Diaz is overrated in general but I really liked her performance in this, she was great as the spoiled stressed-out bride who crosses the line and goes totally psycho ("This is MY DAY!!!") It's also one of those 'what-would-you-do-if-it-happened-to-you' type movies. If I were one of the guys I would have cleaned up the coke, put away the booze, and called for an ambulance and the police right away- they were all so rich they probably could have found good sleazy lawyers who could have gotten them off with a slap on the wrist at most.

I also like the fact that everyone pretty much gets what they deserve by the end of the movie, and it has a nice depressing ending. Worth renting, but NOT if you have a weak stomach or are overly P.C. or easily offended. The box makes it look like a light comedy with some black humor, when this is really one sick friggin movie that I am surprised got away with an "R" rating.

Grade: B-

Videodrome (1983)

This movie gets more interesting each time I watch it

Every time I see this movie, I expect it to make more sense, but for some reason it doesn't. In fact, I get slightly more confused each time I watch it.

Debbie Harry (who looks great as a brunette) does a great performance as a kinky talk-radio psychologist--she and Woods have great chemistry together, and it was too bad they didn't have more scenes together. This movie is really bizarre, even for David Cronenberg, but his movies are always really cool, original, and fascinating (with the exception of Crash, which I actually dozed off during). Rick Baker's FX are great, there's all kinds of funky bio-mechanical stuff going on, and a few extraordinarily gruesome scenes.

I wish he would direct more movies like this. Very interesting ending, I usually don't like ambiguous endings to films but this one worked. A really good rent, and after you rewind the videotape and take it out of the VCR, you'll probably either stare at the tape uneasily or quickly stuff it back in the box because you don't want to touch it for any longer than you have to. You'll see.

Grade: B+

Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The (1974)

Who will survive and what will be left of them?

I want to comment not only on the movie itself, but also on the new Collector's Edition DVD. If you want a short summary, here it is. Excellent movie, excellent DVD, excellent special features.

First, the movie. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably one of the scariest movies ever made (and one of the best titles of all time). Man, they made some creepy movies in the 70's (Carrie, The Exorcist, Rabid). It was unique for its time, and there's still nothing quite like it today. The plot doesn't sound like much- 2 women and 3 men make a drive to rural Texas to check out a graveyard that has been 'defiled', and to also relax and enjoy themselves. This last part of their vacation plan doesn't go real smoothly, as they make the mistake of wandering into an area where an insane, backwoods, inbred, cannibalistic sociopathic family live. Things get more and more horrifying from there.
I've heard people complain this movie isn't scary and not gory enough. Well, as far as the gore, it is fairly low-key by today's standards (though I'm sure my mother wouldn't want to watch it, and it couldn't be shown uncut on regular network TV). There's not a lot of blood till the end of the movie, but the acting is so good, and the screams of the victims so wrenching, your imagination fills in the rest and it actually is painful to watch. I will agree that the movie is kind of slow to get started- I admit the first time I saw it as a teenager I was getting impatient for some action. However, the last half of the movie more than makes up for it.
But if you think this movie isn't scary, I seriously doubt you've watched alone, at home, at night, with all the lights off. The first time I saw it was in the daytime, and it still made my hair stand on end. When I got the Special Edition DVD (more on that later)I unwisely watched it after midnight with the lights off, after my husband went to bed. That night, I couldn't sleep until the sun came up. The opening scene of the rotting corpse in the cemetery wired to a headstone alone made my skin crawl. The scene where Pam first discovers Leatherface's room, with the furniture made of bones and the chickens in bird-cages, gets scarier each time I see it. The last 20 minutes, at the dinner table, has to be one of the most grueling and realistic scenes ever. The final few images-the crazy laughter and the spinning-well, over 10 years went by between the last time I saw the movie and the time I watched it on DVD a few weeks ago, and I *still* could remember those shots so vividly it was like I saw it yesterday.

The DVD is incredible-the transfer is so crisp that it seems like the movie was filmed last year instead of in the early 70's. Since I'd only seen it on VHS, I never really appreciated how beautiful some shots of the rural setting are, and also how well-thought out and carefully put together most of the cinematography is. Breathtaking, actually. Until the commentary pointed it out, I never realized how perfect and effective the long, continuous shot of Pam hesitantly getting up off the porch swing to try to find out where her boyfriend has gotten to and slowly walking to the screen door is. This movie does not look at all amateurish, even though it was made on an extremely low budget.

The DVD is packed with cool and interesting special features. First, the commentary by Tobe Hooper, Gunnar Hansen aka Leatherface, and director of photography Daniel Pearl is fascinating. There's lots of subtle but powerful elements in the movie I missed till now-for instance, the lack of almost any score or soundtrack that gives it a documentary feel, making it that much more disturbing. Hardcore fans of this movie know already this was NOT an easy shoot by any standards, but their accounts of how much energy and work it took to get certain things right, not to mention the really tortuous things many of the actors went through...well, if any actor deserves to be paid millions for a movie, this cast certainly earned it. The dinner scene was the most horrendous- they could only do one take, since the actor playing Grandpa decided he would only give them one day, it went on for 20+ hours, and this was in 110 degree heat with no air conditioning. Gunnar Hansen said that by the end, he was so out of it he started to think he wasn't acting. Kind of gives the tagline "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" a whole new meaning.

There's also some deleted and alternate scenes; nothing mind-blowing but still very interesting. With many of them, you can read the script excerpt of the scene first. There's a hilarious blooper reel-the quality isn't that great, but you'll laugh your butt off. There's lots of production notes and stills, along with shots of rare publicity material. A couple scenes are broken down shot by shot, with Hooper explaining why he made the directing and editing choices he did. There's even more, I just don't have room for it all. The menu is also pretty great-if you let it sit too long though, you'll get a brief surprise that'll make you jump. I was quietly paging through the booklet at the time and it scared the bejeezus outta me. I highly recommend the Special Edition to anyone who is a fan of TCM. You'll be able to spend hours enjoying it, and they couldn't have done a better job.

Grade: A+

Take My Advice: The Ann and Abby Story (1999) (TV)

Worth watching for the hair and wardrobe, at least...

I confess, I mainly watched this to see the wigs and clothes, and also for Wendy Malick, who is great in everything and always fun to watch.

On thenegative side,, parts got kind of boring--no matter how great the dress is, I can only watch someone pecking away at a typewriter for so long (no matter how cool they look). They did a good job of not making it obvious that one actress was playing 2 roles, it was pretty seamless.

The characters barely seem to age at all from the late 30's to the 70's, but that's not a huge quibble. Great wigs/falls and great 50's and 60's clothes and details. Malick looks sharp!

Grade: B-