Horrorfest 2016 Presents: The Cars That Ate Paris (1974, Peter Weir)

This is a rather strange and yet intriguing movie. It is sci-fi, horror, and satire all rolled up into one cult low budget film package. Peter Weir before he hit it big in Hollywood created some interesting and unique movies that were centred in Australia or around Australians. The Cars That Ate Paris is one such film, and its title and subject is rather obvious. Well at least at face value.

Arthur is a young man who survives a car crash that kills his brother and leaves him stranded in the small town of Paris, Australia. He quickly discovers that no one leaves Paris, and also finds himself caught between the rebellious youth and the ruling elders of the town. This film despite weak acting and some questionable moments still is a bleak apocalyptic window into a society gone mad, ruined by their obsession with the auto.

The last act reminded me of Mad Max, which I’m sure was inspired by this movie. Weir has always been a director with something to say, and with Cars he delivers a good film that always kept me wathing. If one sits through the slower parts one is rewarded with a movie that has a crazy final act and even a funny scene out of a western. I would love to read the essay on this film written for its Criterion release.

Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Dust Devil (1992, Richard Stanley)

Operating as equal parts The Hitcher (1986), vampire film and pure nightmare, Dust Devil is a fascinating exercise in style that also mediates upon feminism, urban legends and the past coming back to haunt the present. Richard Stanley sets the film in the obvious dusty setting of Namibia, a place that becomes a strong aspect of the film and turns the movie into a quasi-horror western. The western aspects are particularly strong concerning the Dust Devil, who operates as a mythical killer who feeds upon the life force of those he kills. This ritual is explained by the film’s narrator, Joe, the film’s narrator, in the movie’s eerie opening. The Dust Devil is played with utmost sinister quality by Robert John Burke, who menaces the film’s heroine, Wendy Robinson, played by Chelsea Field, who acts as the film’s survival girl. Although the movie at times features the Dust Devil actually sparing her or expressing a twisted love for Wendy, thus offering a slightly different take on the slasher villain/survival girl dynamic. One can argue that in all slasher movies the villain has a murderous obsession with the unlucky woman that has managed to not be murdered by him (or her, in certain cases). Also I love that this film has cult film and horror actor Zakes Moake as Sgt. Ben Mukurob, a South African police officer who is convinced that the Dust Devil is a supernatural being despite others not believing him.

Although the film presents some apartheid and racial politics unfortunately the film does not properly dive into that issue, choosing instead to be more of an ominous and heavily intense slasher film. This is too bad considering the cast involved and the fact that this movie came out in 1992, yet it still does not prevent me from enjoying the film and considering it to be an underrated cult gem from the early 1990s. Despite the decade’s lack of consistency when it comes to horror movies the 1990s still had some great films to offer, and Dust Devil is one of those. I also loved how towards the end the film references the Mad Max series, and that it does not journey into a cliched finale. I wonder how much Stanley borrowed from The Hitcher, although tales of creepy murders being picked up by unsuspecting victims is an old tale, and there are other films I have not seen that also deal with slightly similar concepts. Furthermore I actually would have liked this film to get a sequel, which is a rare thought considering how so many second films do not always live up to the original installments. I wanted to know more about the Dust Devil, and the last shot is curiously open ended.

PS: I found the so called director’s cut, as the film was originally gutted by the studio that released it. I believe that version is the one on Netflix that I watched.

Horrorfest 2013 Presents: Nomads (1986, John McTiernan)

Man what a mess of a film. McTiernan is capable of giving us good movies and has done so, however I’ve heard that when he fails he does so in spectacular fashion. Which is probably one of the reasons he is no longer making movies in Hollywood, although I am aware of his legal troubles too. Sad considering that this is the man that gave us some really good and even great films. Nomads had a good movie in there somewhere, and in the second half I saw a couple of things that I really liked. However this is still a ridiculous movie and not in a good way-I actually started laughing by the end of the film, and that’s not what you want in a movie that is supposed to be a horror thriller where the comedy is not intentional. Yikes.

The entire cast deserved better, and I’m guessing that Pierce Brosnan did this while he was still wrapped up in Remington Steele on TV. Lesley-Anne Down is given very little to do except act crazy, and therefore didn’t even need to be in this movie. Nomads needed more second half chase and weird goings on excitement, and less pointless current events drama. In fact I would have just dropped the format and gone with straight flashbacks instead, building up to when the past converges with the present. I’m not saying it would have resulted in a better movie, but its a decision that would have improved some of the film at least.

Oh and the nomads themselves aren’t creepy at all or even interesting, acting like rejects from a Mad Max film. I actually did enjoy the last shot, but it belonged in a much better film and one that wasn’t so damn stupid. Roger Ebert God rest his soul was right about this movie, yet its all the more fun to visit a film he hated and discover for yourself just how awful it really is. Well sometimes.

Favorite Film Series Presents: The Mad Max Series

The Mad Max series will be brought back to life this year or next year, depending on when the next entry in the series comes out. That is exciting news to me, yet it also resulted in the re-airing of the entire series on AMC. Sure they edited some material out, yet since I already watched the entire series before (the first two on Netflix, the last one on TV) that really doesn’t matter. The Mad Max movies follow the classic “Heroic” style trilogy, in which Max goes through multiple stages of characterization. The first film is purely an origins story, where as the second movie is Max becoming a hero, and the last film sees him embodying someone larger than life, passing on into legend and myth. None of this would be possible without the excellent performance of Mel Gibson, who was perfect for the role.

Mad Max (1979) is a strange mix of car driven action movie and horror film, ushering in a new style of apocalyptic type movie making. Its also a highly effective B-movie, a low budget film that ended up becoming a huge surprise hit. However this movie depicts the calm before the storm, or at least merely contained chaos, chaos that threatened to completely overwhelm what was left of organized society. Max and his fellow officers are the kid with his finger in the dyke, attempting to prevent anarchy from winning out. Anarchy though in the form of Toecutter and his motorcycle gang presents itself in extremely violent fashion.

George Miller, the series director and screenwriter (along with others throughout the films) smartly realizes that implied violence is far more disturbing and powerful than violence shown, although Mad Max features even onscreen violence to shock the viewer. A horrific and violent event is what changes Max, resulting in him embracing his dark side and using his brutal nature to achieve his own brand of punishment. Not justice, for the men he ends up hunting are not tried in court, but not revenge truly either because Max gives these men more of a chance than they deserve. Punishment is the right word for what he deals out, and its harrowing to witness.

Naturally a successful movie with a character such as Max usually results in a sequel, and therefore George Miller and Mel Gibson made Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. I actually think that the first film is slightly better while still also noting that The Road Warrior is a truly great sequel. There are not too many films that manage to not only be equal or better than the original, but also build upon what the original first started. Broken and left alone, Max wanders the wastelands of Australia. The opening credits state that the apocalypse has now covered the world since two sides went to war, resulting in an oil shortage that led to earth ruining violence on a massively epic scale. Here we go from any type of organized civilization to a world gripped in the jaws of insanity: wandering gangs murder and pillage, while the remaining “sane” people are forced to band together in desperate attempts to survive.

Road Warrior is more action packed, and also is faster paced than the first movie or even the third one. There is very little down time, and the action sequences are swift and hardcore. Staying remotely quiet for most of the movie, Max is a broken man forced by extreme circumstances to aid people he never thought he would help in the first place. The Shane effect takes place and through actions Max did not think he was capable of, he achieves his place as heroic adventurer. I like that this movie keeps the first one’s gritty style, and that the raw power of violence is still used to maximum effect. Interestingly enough according to sources detailing the making of this film this is the movie that George Miller wanted to make the first time around, but could not due to lack of money and other restraints. An increased budget was good for this movie, because the series deserved to have an even better look and style.

Finally there is Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which is the only one in the series that has the look and feel of an 80s movie. Sure the second one was made in 1981, but it lacks the 80s style and look, which is to its benefit. Despite being the weakest part of the trilogy I rather enjoy Thunderdome. Unlike the other ones, its a bit more fun, having some oddly lighthearted moments and even featuring some cheesy yet entertaining moments. Besides without this film, there would be no completing of the arc for Max’s character, where he becomes more than just a man.

Through a group of kids he encounters in the waste, Max witnesses the telling of a story about a Captain Walker, a larger than life person. Really though the story fits Max: he was once merely a person, yet he is the now the embodiment of hope for an entire group in desperate need of a leader. Naturally he reluctantly grows into the position, and by the film’s conclusion he has once again aided others. Really only the second and third movies have anything in common, since the first movie establishes Max and results in him being the character he ends up becoming in the other two films instead of having him help anyone. In a way, Max discovering and holding onto redemption is the most important theme that runs through this movie, and its satisfyingly embodied in the last act.

Now I wonder how the forth movie will fit into the rest of the series, especially since Mel Gibson is too old and too toxic to be used in the main role. Perhaps Miller will build more on the mythology aspect of Max, or have him realizing he no longer fits in a world that has moved on. We will see.

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