Friday, November 23, 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Right off the bat, this is perhaps the most visually stunning film of the year - of pretty much any year, in fact. I would expect no less from an Ang Lee film, and what I have seen of films that utilize Indian culture, they are some of the most vibrant, colorful experiences I have had seeing movies, period.

Life of Pi (2012)

I have never read the novel on which this film is based, so I can't comment on how good a translation the film is. But here's at least some of the story. A man named Pi Patel is basically telling his life story to a writer. He talks at first about his early childhood and the origin of his name (which is actually Piscine, but he eventually shortened it to "Pi" because he couldn't take any more "pissing" taunts from his schoolmates). He talks about his father, who was a zookeeper, and some harsh lessons he learned about the animals they took care of, especially a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (yes, really). He also explains how he became a follower of not only Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam, finding happiness in the variety of inspiration that these three faiths gave him.

When Pi is a teenager, his father decides to give up the zoo and take his family and the animals overseas, where he will then sell the animals and hopefully be able to better provide for his family. After a storm demolishes the ship they are traveling on, Pi's entire family and most of the animals are lost to the sea, and Pi is left alone in a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and Richard Parker. The use of 3D (and I cannot stress enough how much the 3D adds to the experience of this particular movie) has an unexpected effect here, as the claustrophobia of this situation is pretty intense. After a sequence of scenes that makes up some of the most horrifying few minutes of any film I've seen in recent memory, the passenger list on the lifeboat is whittled down to just Pi and Richard Parker. Most of the rest of the film deals with Pi trying to stay alive. As he says in a journal (part of the survival kit on the lifeboat), his fear of Richard Parker keeps him alert and having to keep him fed (so that the tiger won't eat him) gives him purpose.

I have seen several complaints about the framing device of this film, notably in the last ten minutes, which (in some viewers' eyes) undoes everything that came before by positing that none of it was real, that it was all some metaphor. I could not possibly see this more differently. Pi is telling his story to a couple of officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport who are trying to piece together what happened when the ship went down. They don't believe his story about the animals, so he tells them another one - essentially the same story (at least the first part of the lifeboat adventure), but with all humans - and instead of being an uplifting story of survival, it's a harrowing story of harsh conditions and lost innocence. What I took from it is that Pi's original version is absolutely true. But he tells the second story because he thinks the two men are more likely to believe it. This seems to be a case of the viewer getting from it what they bring to it, which I think is a mark of real art, not a failure in storytelling.

The way the story presents Pi's loss of his family, and eventually the loss of Richard Parker, was poignant in a way that really pushed my particular buttons. In particular, Pi parting ways with Richard Parker was the most poignant for me, because it reminded me so much of how I'm affected when people drift out of my life, whether by death or (more frequently) circumstance. We're all alone, on our own journey, and though we may have company from time to time, people drift in and out of our stories constantly, because they're in stories of their own.

If you've seen the trailer, you know you're in for a visual treat. Strangely, I think the trailer actually gives away *most* of the money shots from the visual effects, but there's still a lot to feast on. As far as cast goes, we spend most of our time with one human actor, Suraj Sharma, who plays the teenage Pi. This was his film debut, and while I wouldn't say he blew me away, I was impressed in that, for a first-time film actor, it could have gone wrong in so many ways and never did. The other standout is Irrfah Khan, who plays Pi as an adult.

This is a wonderful movie, and one which kind of demands to be seen on a big screen (preferably in 3D). I can't imagine what this movie will be like in a home video format, but if this movie joins my collection, I'm thankful I have a big screen to play it on.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master (2012)

I first became aware of Paul Thomas Anderson with Boogie Nights, his Altman-esque ode to the waning golden age of porn in the 1970s. Subject matter aside, it was a remarkable ensemble piece that was followed up with an even more stellar film with a similar DNA, Magnolia. After getting a surprisingly layered performance from Adam Sandler in his next film, Punchdrunk Love, his work started to go in a new and more ambitious direction. As critics have said, where once he was trying to be Robert Altman, now he's trying to be Stanley Kubrick. There's no doubt in my mind that people are going to be looking back at 2007's There Will Be Blood as one of the most accomplished pieces of filmmaking ever made, but if you've seen it - perhaps out of bemused curiosity as to why everyone was suddenly talking about milkshakes back in 2007 - you might be thinking "... really?!" I hasten to add that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that response, but this is something to keep in mind before wading into the salty waters of his newest film, The Master. Like There Will Be Blood before it, this is a film of lingering shots and slow burn storytelling. Storytelling, in fact, might be a misleading term, as the film centers more on the performances than plot.

Unlike There Will Be Blood, this movie does not have a lot of hooks for pop culture to get snagged on. I can't recall any notable "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE" moments that can be easily lampooned or whittled down to amusing memes. Where There Will Be Blood was bombastic, The Master is more measured, with the real spirit of the film lying in it's quieter moments, some of which barely conceal much deeper and more intense emotion. You may have heard that this film is about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. That's ... sort of true. It is and it isn't. A comparison I've heard a lot from people who've seen it is that it's as much a movie about Scientology as Citizen Kane was a movie about William Randolph Hearst. I'll just leave that there, as my knowledge of the Church of Scientology is at absolute zero. For my money, it's about a guy who's a bit lost after World War II ends and eventually finds himself in a cult.

Our main character is Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix, whose face is weathered beyond his years and shows the signs of his having survived more than his share of battles, both physical and spiritual (seriously, he looks even more like Johnny Cash than he did when he played him in Walk the Line). He's a former Navy man and comes back from World War II to work a string of jobs, each of which he eventually abandons with great histrionics. He has a gift for making homemade liquor from household chemicals (e.g., paint thinner, photo developing solution), but after nearly killing another man who samples one of his concoctions, he runs away in a panic and stumbles onto a riverboat where a group of people are celebrating a wedding. He wakes up the next morning in one of the boat's bunks and is brought to meet Lancaster Dodd (whose daughter is the one getting married). Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) found the last of Freddie's most recent batch of hooch and sampled it, thoroughly impressed though still admonishing. Right away, you see an instant connection between these two men, and this movie could be characterized as a sort of non-sexual romance between them. Freddie is clearly much more drawn to Dodd than to "The Cause," and everyone around Dodd is nervous about what effect Freddie is having on him.

What draws these two men to each other? Freddie is a very crude, animalistic man. Early in the film, we see him jerk off into the ocean. When one of his fellow sailors builds a sand sculpture of a naked, supine woman, Freddie entertains everyone by feverishly humping it. In a psych test, he sees sex organs in all the inkblots. And during his first interview with Dodd, he farts and giggles at himself. Dodd, on the other hand, is very erudite and gentlemanly, almost effeminate (though he's definitely the, errr, "top" with Freddie ... she said, hoping that everyone noticed the quote marks). Freddie is drawn to Dodd's magnetism, no doubt, but I also think that, in the wake of nearly killing a man earlier in the film, he is craving direction and wants to be told what to do. Dodd, I think, is drawn to Freddie's more primal nature (even while chastising him for it). I believe it also must be a classic case of "I can change him." 

This movie is a bit of a Rorschach test, which I'm sure is by design (I see what you did there, PT, with the inkblot test scene). There's obviously something Anderson is trying to say about faith and religion here, but it asks more questions than it answers, which might be frustrating for a lot of viewers but I think it's exactly what Anderson was trying to do (ambiguity, I mean, not frustrating the audience :P). For me, I can't help seeing The Cause as having an issue that a lot of faith-based organizations, including churches, have. They want to assimilate Freddie, to help him on their terms and not take who he is and what his issues are into account. And when Dodd's affection for Freddie lets the mission change even the slightest bit, it's seen as a threat.

A lot of critics seem to have issues with the, shall we say, malleable nature of what this film is about. I think that even the title itself is open to interpretation. Who is "the master" in this movie? The answer isn't as obvious as it might seem. But I have to love a film that makes me think about what it's really about and what it's telling me. Sometimes it's exhausting to watch a film like that, and sometimes you just want to see people slip on a banana peel or blow crap up, but films like this are essential, too.

In technical terms, this movie could not be more beautifully photographed, and if there is a theater near you showing it in 70mm (the way it was filmed), I would highly recommend seeing it that way. And Anderson uses the 70mm, not just to film landscapes and vistas, but more often to show us as much detail as possible of the spectacular performances his actors, especially Phoenix and Hoffman, who frequently appear in extreme close-up. Also of note is the period production design, which is Jack Fisk's handiwork. I always love seeing Fisk's name attached to a movie, not just because he's Mr. Sissy Spacek, but because he's been around since the 1970s and done work on some amazing films, including DePalma's Carrie (and he's pretty much responsible for his then new-ish wife auditioning for that film). In other technical news, if you liked Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood, his score for The Master is even better.

One more thing, and this may be something you find crass to focus on, but I think it's a huge part of Anderson's sensibilities, and I kind of love him for it. There are a couple of scenes that include some rather frank female nudity, one of which is a sort of hallucination (featuring several women) and the other of which is a sex scene (featuring one woman, along with a man who you of course see less of because seeing too much of a man's body takes us into NC-17 territory and don't get me started on that double standard). Both scenes feature actresses with very different kinds of bodies, none (well, almost none) of which you're used to seeing in scenes that ogle the female form. And it's kind of awesome to see women's bodies celebrated, even (or maybe especially) if they don't fit the big-boobs-on-a-stick (or sometimes two-aspirins-on-a-stick) blueprint that seems to be all Hollywood sees fit to point a camera at.

I'm curious as to where this movie will end up in the Oscar conversation. A lot of critics seem to be falling all over themselves to praise it to the skies, but it's not what you'd call a crowd-pleaser. I'd say that Phoenix and Hoffman are in the acting race for sure, though thankfully they won't have to compete with one another, since the studio is planning to push Phoenix as the lead and Hoffman in support. If the Academy likes it enough, there could be room on the movie's coattails for a nomination as well for Amy Adams, who has a small but memorable role. Ack, the Oscar stuff is starting again, isn't it? I'm not ready. :D

Monday, July 9, 2012

Maniac (1980)

It's been a long time since there's been a Final Girl Film Club, but this month we're taking on William Lustig's classic splatterfest, Maniac!

I was afraid of Maniac! even before I saw it. I'd heard about it and had seen a couple of clips, and I just didn't think I could handle it. And then there was the poster. I think it was October of last year when I finally got the nerve to watch it, and I paired it in a "creepy mannequin" double feature with Tourist Trap, another movie I'd been scared to watch. It may have been a mistake to watch both movies, especially Tourist Trap, on my big screen, because about 6 minutes into Tourist Trap - when shit gets real in a hurry - I was already broken. So after that, Maniac! was no big deal.

Like a lot of movie psychos, Maniac!'s eponymous maniac Frank Zito has mommy issues. His mother was a prostitute who physically abused him for years before dying in a car crash and leaving him an orphan. He deals with all this by killing women, scalping them, and bringing their hair and clothes home to put on mannequins in his apartment. He sleeps with each mannequin for several nights, using it to have conversations with his dead mother, before eventually tiring of each mannequin and needing to acquire a new victim.

Frank becomes taken with a photographer named Anna and goes to one of her photo shoots. This scene contains perhaps the single greatest random musical moment in the history of film. There's not a good version of the actual scene from the movie, but here's the full recording of the song. Just imagine Caroline Munro taking pictures and saying encouraging things to models ("Alright ladies, it's lookin' good!").

This is a movie that really captures the skeazy New York of the late 70s and early 80s. The director, William Lustig, has some great stories about shooting this movie, notably about the scene where Tom Savini gets his head blown off under the Verrazano Bridge. Savini made a model of his own head and they fired a real shotgun to blow it to bits. And then had to flee the scene in the next 60 seconds because it's against the law and punishable by jail time to fire a gun in the city.

This is also a movie that makes heavy and sinister use of mannequins and was one of the first (thought definitely not THE first) movie to do so. Lustig was influenced by Tourist Trap, which had come out the year before. He also was inspired by a story that I've shared elsewhere before about a couple of prostitutes who were murdered in a Times Square hotel. The cops couldn't identify the bodies, so they took the bloody clothes off of the dead bodies and put them on a couple of mannequins, putting them in the windows of an NYPD kiosk in Times Square - in fact, I'm pretty sure it was this one -

And hoping that the people on the street would be able to identify the dead girls by their clothes. I think of that every time I pass that station.

This is a great splatter flick, and Frank's psychosis reminds me a lot of Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs - the novel, more than the movie. It's easy to label this movie as misogynist, but it's not correct to do so, in my opinion. It's about misogyny, sure, but that's not the same thing.

In closing, I will leave you with a moment that I'd forgotten completely about from my previous viewing but which may in fact be my favorite WTF moment in the film, in which Frank "feeds" crumbs to a naked doll that he has placed in a birdcage.

"Polly want a cracker?"

One more thing. They've recently made a new version of this movie with Elijah Wood as the killer. People seem to be boggling about this, but these people have obviously never seen Elijah Wood in Sin City. It seems like much more of a POV style movie (from what little I've seen). I'm sad they didn't stick with the NYC setting, but then again NYC isn't as scary as it was in 1980. Anyway, I'm interested and plan on checking it out when it comes out (I think) later this year.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub. The Bathtub was a bayou below the levy in Louisiana, and it was not what you or I would consider livable conditions by any stretch of the imagination. But for Hushpuppy and her daddy and their little community, it was home, and they wouldn't have been able to live anywhere else.

If that sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale or a myth, that's probably the best way to describe Beasts of the Southern Wild, a story about a little girl (played amazingly by a tiny little biscuit named Quvenzhané Wallis - for future reference, my best guess at pronunciation is "cue-VEN-zha-NAY") whose universe starts to fall apart when her father becomes ill.

Hushpuppy's mother left the Bathtub a while back, and Hushpuppy's father, Wink, has been trying to prepare his six-year-old child for a time when he can no longer be around to protect her. Hushpuppy has her own house, separate from Wink, where she keeps what little is left to remember her mother by. If you let yourself get overcome in pity for these characters, you might just die during a scene where Hushpuppy takes an old Michael Jordan jersey from a shrine on the wall and drapes it on a chair, where it proceeds to speak to her in her mother's voice. But what I love about this film is that it never pities its characters or their way of life. Ever. This is simply how Hushpuppy sees the world, and how her community has taught her to live. When someone dies in the Bathtub, they aren't mourned, they are celebrated, and crying is just not done. We get a nice, long look at Hushpuppy's life in the Bathtub, including what happens when a heavy rain puts it entirely underwater. And by the time the third act rolls around, you should see this place not as a den of absolute poverty and want but as something beautiful. Which is why it's so jarring and frustrating to see people from above the levy (the "normal" world) poking around and forcing the people out "for their own good."

But I've already said too much. This is a stunning movie, and Quvenzhané Wallis capably carries it on her itty bitty shoulders with a performance that doesn't seem possible from one so young. It's only out in a few cities at the moment, but I'm sure it will get a wider release once it starts picking up awards momentum, which it is bound to do. Keep an eye out for it. It's a rare beauty of a film.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscars Post-Mortem

I know everyone else has done this already and the Oscars are officially Over, but I was asleep most of the day so this is the first chance I've gotten to do the "morning after" thing.

I really enjoyed the show this year. It was much more enjoyable, and much more in-character for the Oscars, than last year. I don't know what the producers and Tom Sherak have taken away from the experience, but I was glad they stopped caring - for this year, at least - about courting the young demographic (and even poked fun at it). Seriously, aside from the Justin Bieber cameo in the opening, I think there was only one presenter under the age of 30 - Emma Stone, who I'll get to below.

[pic removed]

Best Dressed - Jessica Chastain. I also really loved Ellie Kemper (another redhead who made an awesome color choice) and Gwyneth Paltrow (that cape!). I was not completely sold on Viola Davis's dress, though I loved that she came in her natural hair.

Best Presenter - Emma Stone with Ben Stiller. After all of Stiller's outlandish appearances in year's past (going back to 2001's Best Costume Design gag when he was trussed up as Gimli while Owen Wilson was much more understated in Hogwarts robes), I loved that they poked fun at that and had him be the straight man to Emma's hilarious overexuberance.

- Also loved the Bridesmaids gals. I seriously think no one has told Martin Scorsese about the drinking game, which if I remember correctly came from the SAG awards, and I don't think he attended those. His "what's going on?" reaction was hilarious.

Best Acceptance Speech - Octavia Spencer, who seemed so genuinely overwhelmed at not only the award but the standing ovation.

Obligatory Cirque du Soleil Comment - This is something that I'll bet played really well to the room but just didn't quite translate on television. Nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. This night is for the people in that room; my entertainment is secondary.

Captain Von Trapp, For the Win - At 82, Christopher Plummer is now the oldest recipient of a competitive Oscar. Previous record-holder was Jessica Tandy, who won for Driving Miss Daisy when she was 80.

Oh, THAT's What That Was - I was boggling at the women in tiny outfits passing out popcorn, but it seems to have been part of the "old movie house" theme of the year. Very fitting, given the unofficial Best Picture theme of "nostlagia."

Minor Disappointment - I was not wild about the opening medley. There were parts of it that were great, like the "Amore" thing with Scorsese. But there were misses. For example, I thought it was weird to dedicate basically the entire Moneyball section to the fact that Jonah Hill lost weight.

Not-So-Minor Disappointment - Don't get me wrong. I loved seeing Meryl Streep win last night. But I felt so sad for Viola Davis. Having said that, I agree with a comment I saw on Twitter and would like it a lot more to see Davis win for playing someone who is not a maid. And it helps to know that she and Meryl are friends and would be horrified to think that people are getting upset and creating stories about some rivalry.

Other Stuff
People were amazed that Best Actor was presented before Best Actress, as if it was somehow a Big Moment for women, to have been deferred to the more dramatic next-to-last award. But in actual fact, they usually alternate the order of those awards.

People are also offended by Billy Crystal's Sammy Davis, Jr. impression, and while I get that a bit like that is no longer really acceptable, Crystal has been doing that gag for years.  And he's been doing it at the Oscars since at least 1996.  I think the outrage should be accompanied by acknowledgement that it wasn't that long ago when that was an acceptable impression.

Controversy aside, I thought Billy Crystal rocked, for the most part. Yeah, it was "safe" comedy and felt a bit like filler and going through the motions, but look - the Oscars (again, in my opinion) are not meant to be Great Television. They usually turn out to be something close to it, because they're live and they're all about seeing our favorite actors in their own skin, as it were. Lame jokes and poignant clip reels are meant to help nominees and presenters relax on what must be the most stressful night of many of their lives. The first priority of the show should be to play to the room, which is why it was never going to fly to have the Muppets host. Sorry, Kermit.

One final note...

[pics removed]

They gotta be related somehow.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting the Oscars

Spoiler alert! :P

After a disappointing experience with last year's Oscars, I'm actually rather excited about the show this time and the stuff I expect to win. I've also seen a lot of different websites doing predictions and making some surprising (in my opinion) mistakes in the major categories. So here's what I think you can expect to see in the big awards tonight. If you care, of course.

The Artist - I really love what this win means for what it possible at the Oscars. Despite being championed by Harvey Weinstein, this is such an atypical kind of film to win Best Picture. Black and white photography in the age of color (I really HATED the other day when someone posted a color set picture from the movie). French (or rather French-made, as it's clearly set in Hollywood and has English title cards). And mostly silent. I also love that Oscar's likeliest Best Picture is also the Independent Spirit Best Picture winner.

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist - I look forward to the many mispronunciations of his name tonight. He's won pretty much every precursor, including the most important one, the Directors Guild.

Jean Dujardin, The Artist - It still *could* be Clooney, but Dujardin has charmed the pants off everyone and looks to have more momentum now.

Viola Davis, The Help - This is probably the closest Meryl has been in a while to a dark horse, but this has had Viola Davis's name on it since August. And I'm so happy about that, considering how worried I was when the film came out that the studio wouldn't push for her as the lead.

Christopher Plummer, Beginners - Max von Sydow has gained a bit of ground, and it's kind of wonderful that both the frontrunners are in their 80s, but it's going to Plummer. Almost definitely.

Octavia Spencer, The Help - Another one that's been decided for months and probably the biggest no-brainer of the night.

Now ... there are some upsets I'd like to see as well.

- It won't happen, but I would LOVE to see Gary Oldman sneak through for Best Actor.

- Again, won't happen, but I'd rather see Jessica Chastain win for Supporting Actress.

- The consensus for Art Direction seems to be in Hugo's favor, but if Stuart Craig somehow pulls off an upset for Deathly Hallows, I will cry so hard. I will be ecstatically happy for DH to win any of the three it's up for (the other two are Makeup and VFX), but Stuart Craig has been the star of this series since the very beginning. Oh my heart, I will die if this happens tonight. It won't, but ... *sigh*

- I'd love to see Drive win the ONE thing it's nominated for. Probably not going to happen, though. Probably between Hugo and War Horse. War Horse more likely, I think.


I'll be liveblogging on LiveJournal tonight, so tune in there for my frantic, crazed, probably champagne-fueled commentary.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Final Girl Film Club - Hell Night

It's been a while since there's been a Final Girl Film Club pick, and I *almost* let this one slip by, but thank goodness I didn't because I enjoyed the heck out of this slice of horror from the Golden Year of 1981.

You know it's going to be good when the very first thing you see and hear is a delicious blood-curdling SCREEEEEAAAAM! Okay, that's kind of a fake-out, because we're actually at a wild and crazy frat party. Wet t-shirt contest! Five-gallon hats! Feathered hair! For sure, like, it's the 80s, man!

Once we get inside the frat house, we meet some of our major players. I give you...

Peter Purple-Cape! I'm not going to bother with most people's names, because my nicknames for them are way more awesome and easier to remember. Peter Purple-Cape is the president of the fraternity and the smarmiest guy you've ever seen. Here we see him putting the moves on some sorority chick who is quite free with her displays of boobage. PPC invites her to come upstairs and ... exchange phone numbers. That is not a euphemism, I'm sad to report. Peter is going to drag Boob Flash Girl all the way upstairs just so he can get her digits for future foolings around. For the president of a fraternity, Peter seems awfully misinformed about how these things work!

Next we have...

Final Girl Marti, who you may recognize as being played by The Exorcist's Linda Blair. I'll use Marti's actual name because she's the final girl and, well, she's Linda Blair. Peter Purple-Cape spots Marti across a crowded room and seems smitten. Maybe he will take her to a secluded place and ... find out her last name! *SCANDAL* A random girl in leopard skin (who we'll later discover is actually named May West - *rimshot*) explains that Peter "lives all year for Hell Night. This is when he really puts it to the pledges." (*insert "boing" sound*)

We also meet our other major players, who I'll call Robin Hood (right), Rich Dude In A Western (left),

and Flapper Girl.

PPC is asked by his frat brother, Pirate Boy, if it isn't about time to start the real festivities, Peter replies that it's still early, noting that Sickowski (yes, that's his name) hasn't barfed on the trophy case yet and none of the windows are broken. Cue the immediate breaking of the front window and the subsequent run-and-barf of the aptly named Sickowski. "Well, I guess it's time to get the show on the road!" Peter says with a laugh. Beedle-dee-bink-dee-bink - *cymbal crash* Oh, you crazy college kids!

So everyone at the party piles into cars for the pilgrimage to Garth House and once everyone arrives Peter walks them up to the house, explaining that the pledges have to spend the night in the old house, and he proceeds to tell everyone the Most Offensive Story of All Time. This is actually quite a well done walk-and-talk scene, containing the only few minutes in the first act that are actually creepy, but I'm afraid I was too busy boggling that people actually used to say words like "mongoloid" and "gork" to feel that scared. Oh, and that a woman could be described as a "hopeless simpleton" who was "only good for ... child-bearing." GAH. I also got stuck on the pregnancy that lasted "ten and a half months." I know there are records of longer pregnancies, but this was said as if it was no big deal.

Here's the short, less offensive version. Raymond Garth was the last in a long line of Garths who lived in Garth House, and twelve years ago (from 1981, making it 1969) he murdered his wife and three of his four children and hung himself, leaving his youngest ... let's say challenged son to witness it all. Police arrived on the scene and found only three corpses - the fourth body and the surviving son, Andrew, were never found. Andrew supposedly still lives in the house to this day - ooooooooh!

Peter Purple-Cape and the rest of the fraternity/sorority party-ers walk back to the gate and lock the four pledges in. It seems bizarre to me that there are only four pledges and that two of them are girls. I suppose they are pledges to a sister sorority, but we never hear it mentioned or named, only the fraternity. So here's our Death List:

- Rich Dude In A Western, who it turns out is an actual rich dude (so I'll call him Rich Dude for short);

- Marti, who is good with cars (she worked at her dad's auto shop in high school) and is regretting this whole Greek thing;

- Flapper Girl, who for some reason is British (she says "Hey, let's pah-tee!") and has brought Quaaludes and Jack Daniels for the pah-tee-ing, plus a cleavage radio; and

- Robin Hood, who is a surfer (you can tell because he keeps saying the word "radical") and wears the most adorkable Cupid boxers. No, seriously.

There is the predictable pairing off, and Rich Dude and Marti banter about the class divide (classic college conversation), wherein Rich Dude takes a guess that Marti is majoring in Political Science "with an emphasis in terrorism." Huh. Some things never change, I guess. Cut to Robin Hood and Flapper Chick in another part of the house, and they have a rather cute scene where he tells her what it's like to surf. I mean, besides the fact that you get to say "radical" a lot.

Soon Peter Purple-Cape arrives back at the house with Pirate Boy and May West. As they separate to take their stations for whatever shenanigans they've got planned, Pirate Boy makes my favorite line delivery of the movie, laughing like a goofball as he says "Now the fun begins!" Suddenly, a SCREAM is heard in the house. Marti and Rich Dude think it's the other couple and vice versa. The scream is followed by other noises that could not be more obviously coming from a sound effects machine. Rich Dude finds the speaker and cuts the power. I must say, at this point, there's not a lot of scary here. Just pranks and a little Marx Brothers homage, courtesy of Peter Purple-Cape and Pirate Boy: "We should have kept her behind and left the rest of her." It's so corny, I have to love it.

And just when you're getting a little bored and May goes to the side of the house for her part of the scare - WHOA! THERE'S the scary! YES! Andrew (who HAS been living in the house this whole time) pulls May down a hole and chops her head off with a butcher knife. GOOD SHOW, MOVIE! NOW we're getting somewhere!

The gang inside, knowing nothing of May's untimely demise and thinking it's all still a bunch of pranks, hears more noises. Robin Hood and Rich Dude go to investigate, leaving Marti alone to be confronted by this guy.

Looks spooky enough, but due to later discoveries I'm thinking he's probably another trick. Everyone inside decides that the whole thing is just Purple-Cape and some other folks playing around and try to get some sleep. On the icky, dusty, musty beds in the house. I don't know about y'all, but I would not want to be sleeping on old, uncleaned beds that someone might have died in. If I were REALLY tired, I could maybe kip on top of the covers, but under the covers - no way. There are a couple more prank scares (including a snakes-in-a-can gag which TOTALLY got me!), but from here on out it's genuine horror show. (!!!)

Peter Purple-Cape finds Pirate Boy's dead body and bravely runs away. Screw those pledges in the house (and May, since he doesn't know she's dead) - IT'S ALL ABOUT ME, DAMMIT! He plays a little cat-and-mouse with Andrew until he meets the business end of a scythe. SEE YA! Now all the pranksters are dead. Joke's on them, hahahahaha!

Marti and Rich Dude share weird stories about seeing magical creatures - she's seen a witch, he's seen an elf (lol, whut) - before they have schmoopy almost-sex. Speaking of sex, Flapper Girl and Robin Hood are having some (more) upstairs, which weirdly plays out for us mostly in shadowplay. Well, I think we all know what this means - all four of these kids are DEAD MEAT, amirite? Sex = Death. It's Rule #1 of horror movies. Sure enough, while Robin Hood goes to the "john" - and has the MOST HILARIOUS EXCHANGE EVER with his reflection in the mirror ("Score another one for the good guys."), Flapper Girl is greeted by ... I think it's supposed to be Raymond Garth, because it's not the same guy who killed the pranksters. When Robin Hood finishes shooting finger-guns at himself and gets back, he finds May's head in the bed, Flapper Girl nowhere to be seen, and screams like a girly-man and runs for it.

At this point, I've got to give it to the endangered kids in this movie. Where other movies have all these ridiculously noble characters who stick around and look for their missing friends, making it easier for the killers to get to them, too, these guys (or a few of them, at least) are all about the self-preservation. Which is perhaps not that admirable, but is pretty darn believable. Robin Hood climbs the sharp, spiky front gate (in a moment of genuine tension, in my opinion) while Rich Dude and Marti do the stupid, noble thing and go back to the house to look for Flapper Girl.

I'm going to take a moment here and love on the synth score in this movie. There, that was great. Moving on.

Rich Dude finds Peter Purple-Cape's body and makes what may be the WORST decision in the history of horror movies. He grabs Peter's flashlight off the ground and LEAVES the keys to the gate, which are still in Peter's cold dead fingers. I mean, DID HE THINK HE HAD TO CHOOSE????? I guess maybe in his horror at seeing a corpse, he just didn't notice them, but JEEZ!

Robin Hood goes to the police, who have heard QUITE enough stories about "murders" up at Garth House tonight, thankyouverymuch, and rudely tell him to leave. But on his way out he spots some ammo just lying around where anyone can get to it and snags himself a rifle before escaping out the window. LOL those Garths don't stand a chance!

While Rich Dude and Marti wait for Robin Hood to return, this happens.


Luckily Marti heard me yelling and turns around in time, shrieking like a Mikita drill and prompting Rich Dude to pitchfork the be-rugged figure. He orders Marti to pull the rug back off the whatever-it-is, but it's gone, having escaped down a trap door. Oh, it is ON. Rich Dude has HAD IT with these muthaf***in' killers in this muthf***in' mansion. He goes down the trap door, closely followed by Marti, and they come upon a series of tunnels. They follow one that seems to lead to a lighted area and find THIS.

I couldn't get a good cap of it that also was a good shot of Flapper Girl, but that's a dinner table, with a bunch of dead bodies around it, including Flapper Girl, with rats crawling all over them. GRODY!

Meanwhile Robin Hood, who has gone rogue liek woah, commandeers a car and drives back to the house, throwing all that lovely self-preservation instinct to the wind. He manages to take out one of the killers (Andrew, I presume) before being killed himself by Raymond (who I'm guessing is a zombie, because I thought it was established he killed himself - ah, well).

And since only one can survive in these kinds of stories, Marti is soon the lone pledge left at the party when Raymond throws Rich Dude out a window. Marti finds Peter's body, and - WHAT A CONCEPT - takes the keys, though she has way more trouble with this than there should be in wresting something from a dead person. She hotwires the car (remember, she's a gearhead - hello, characterization!) and gets away, but SURPRISE, Raymond is on top of the car and reaches through the windshield for her. She turns around to give him a good old impaling on the knocked-down fence and provide the Greatest Shot in the Entire Movie.

(Sorry it's a bit blurred, but I tried it about a dozen times and that's the clearest version I could get.)

I really, really dug this movie. The fact that everyone is in a cheesy costume is a fun touch, and I enjoyed the twist of "LOL it's all a joke - WHOA, NO IT'S NOT." If there was anything that disappointed me a little it was Linda Blair - until the last few minutes, at least. She just seemed so helpless and passive until she absolutely had no choice and no one to make decisions for her. I understand she was nominated for a Razzie for this movie in 1981 (losing out, or perhaps it should be "winning out," to Bo Derek in Tarzan, the Ape Man AND Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest - NO! WIRE! HANGERS!). As I said, she wins me over in the end, but for most of the movie I was not a fan.

Fun Factoid: This movie was directed by Tom DeSimone, the filmmaker who also gave us Chatterbox, which is maybe (hopefully?) the only movie to feature a talking and singing vagina. I ... have no more thoughts on that.

THIS movie, however, was pretty great. Thanks for another winner, Final Girl!