This week I decided to take the day off from my World Badass Studies to give a nod to my boys in the horror community. You see back when many of the movie type newsgroups rejected me on account of my harsh language and telling it like it is, etc. I posted a review of the “Sleepy Hollow” over there in the horror newsgroup and you know what happened? Those motherfuckers welcomed me with the openest arms you ever seen on the internet. Those were some of the nicest motherfuckers ever in my opinion. I don’t know what the deal is, they watch the gals getting their tongues ripped out and zombies eating a guy’s balls or whatever, then when they’re ready to call it a day they go online and there’s ol’ Vern and they treat him like just one of the boys. Bunch of sweethearts if you ask me.
So I got this notion the other day that it’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed the horrors and whattaya know, suddenly this week there is a new horror picture in the theaters, American Psycho. This is a gorey picture based on the hated killer yuppie novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which brought up an assload of controversy at the time even when there were no plans for it to be published. Imagine writing a book and just the fact that it’s been written causes everybody to get all worked up and bust out the pitchforks. Ellis was attacked by everyone from feminists to right wing bible christians, to probably even drug addicts in superman costumes as well as the media who you would think would enjoy the american rights of free speech. Only a handful of critics and authors even noticed that the book was supposed to be a dark satire of yuppie values.
Now ten years later American Psycho is a major motion picture so what I decided to do was rent some horror DVDs and maybe I’ll see American Psycho later.
The first one I saw was Maniac and to my surprise this is some kind of a minor classic or what not. I don’t think this one has much of a reputation as far as, “this movie is good” however, let the reputation start now. This is a gritty picture made in New York around the time of the Son of Sam murders. It is made in the tradition of the chainsaw pictures and what not that try to push the envelope of what is acceptable in a horror piece, and make everybody get uncomfortable and hopefully piss their pants or at least leak a few drops without realizing it. The movie is VERY fucking sleazy and gorey, but what makes it work is that it also has heart.
You see the protagonist, an abstract artist named Frank Maniac who looks more like some kind of truck driver or maybe television repair man, really is a maniac – but as played by the late great character actor Joe Spinnell, you start to have a bit of empathy for the poor bastard. I mean, a real small amount, but more than you’d have for a Jason or a Freddy or even a Chucky.
I mean yes, this motherfucker does blow a dude’s head off, stalk and kill some gals and staple their scalps to mannequines, and etc. I am not justifying all that business. But Spinell doesn’t play Frank as some cackling evil man like Freddy, he plays him as a lonely, vulnerable bastard who was beaten as a kid and still suffers from delusions about his mother that cause him to have a BIT of a problem with women. I mean this dude is like Norman Bates, except fatter and sweatier and he moans alot and is a landlord in a small apartment building instead of a hotel manager in a big scary house at the Universal Studios theme park.
Most of the picture is from Frank’s point of view, forcing us to live the life of the maniac. One of the best parts requires some suspension of the disbelief, because it’s in the part where Frank starts dating a glamorous fashion photographer. While a bunch of models strut around and the cameras flash and the disco music plays, our man the maniac sits on the side waiting for his gal to get off work. And he’s all dressed up, his hair combed and he’s holding a teddy bear. I mean this motherfucker looks so out of place. We know what he’s like underneath, we’ve seen what happens when he hires a hooker, we’ve seen him cry and handcuff himself to a mannequin and moan, “I’m so happy.” We know this maniac’s secrets and now here he is wearing hipster clothes trying to fit into the social scene.
The setting is really important too, this really is a realistic take on the scary side of the “big apple” as they would say on entertainment tonight. What the fuck is that all about? Anway apparently the picture was shot real cheap on the 16 millimeter film and I think having to stretch the budget and not make it so slick is part of why they came up with something so good.
This is a very well made movie, with lots of grit and dread and disturbing ideas. If you like the raw ’70s horror classics do not miss this piece. Also the DVD has a good commentary track with the director William Lustig, special effects guy/guy who gets killed in the movie Tom Savini, the producer, and some guy who was friends with Joe Spinell. Plus a whole pile of other crap.
From the same director Lustig comes Maniac Cop made ten years later and somewhere in those ten years the magic has gone. I guess it’s along the lines of how all the soul music and what not, they made good music in the seventies but then in the ’80s with the invention of the casio keyboard it all turned to crap, including Return of Bruno, sadly enough. The Lustig pictures apparently are the same way because this one oughta be gangbusters but it’s not.
I mean this picture has alot going for it. Number one, it stars Bruce Campbell. Number two, it makes fun of cops. Number three, and I think most of the “internet geeks” will agree with me on this one, it stars Bruce Campbell. But somehow, the picture still isn’t very good.
The idea is that there is this big tall maniac who kills people, who is wearing a police uniform and white gloves, and he keeps killing people. Nobody knows who he is, or if he is a real cop or just a guy who wants to be a cop and dresses up like them and acts like them.
Well there is this other cop played by Bruce Campbell, and I guess you’re supposed to wonder at first if he’s the Maniac Cop, but give me a fucking break do you think we’re retarded? Turns out he’s been framed and he has to prove he’s not the Maniac Cop, and then the Maniac Cop turns out to be a zombie or some stupid shit like that, I forgot exactly what it was. If I was a film critic I would check the press kit and find out for sure but actually I am a Film Writer, thank you very much. There’s a pretty big difference and don’t you forget it.
I have seen worse movies than this that’s for sure, and it does have a good point about how cops are maniac zombies that kill people. But it’s not scary, it’s not funny, it doesn’t have any of the gritty look or atmosphere of Maniac and it definitely doesn’t have any character (including Bruce’s) that is anywhere near as interesting as Frank Maniac. It’s pretty much by the books cop movies combined with by the books killer movie, with no twists or extra special touches worth mentioning. And the look is much to slick and full of cliches. I mean what kind of a jackass puts in a special effect lightning strike in to make a movie scary? This is 1988 pal not an Abbot and Costello movie. Why don’t you go back and study a little picture called Maniac starring Joe Spinell.
Bruce is on the commentary track on the DVD though so it’s worth listening to, and I like hearing this guy Lustig tell stories.
Then there is Henry the Portrait of the Serial Killer. This picture was made in 1986, two years before Die Hard, but was not released until 1990, two years after Die Hard. It was released unrated because the MPAA censorship board said that there was no way it could be given an r-rating, there was nothing that needed to be cut, it was just the whole mood of the film.
And I gotta admit the bastards have a point, this is not a movie you will want to watch on your birthday. I mean this is a pretty gloomy story. It is just like the title says, Henry is a serial killer and you follow his life as he teaches his buddy Otis how to get away with and enjoy murder, and as Otis’s sister unknowingly gets close to these crazy fucks.
Henry is played by Michael Rooker, who is kind of a scary dude who plays cops and villains alot, but this was his breakout role. He is very good, his eyes are dark and his soul really seems empty. The movie has kind of a realistic, documentary feel that is extra disturbing when these fucks steal a video camera and start making home movies of their killing spree. You thought “blair witch”, “man bites dog” and all this was fucked up, wait until you see THE ORIGINAL fictional video tape murder. It’s like clockwork orange meets america’s disturbing police chase videos.
Like I said man, don’t watch this one with your grandma. It is not a pretty sight and it is not something you are going to have fun watching unless you’re some kind of inbred leatherface type who masturbates to faces of death videos and reads books about snuff movies and satanic cults. But for the rest of you if you like a really well made movie that stares into the ugly blackness of the dark human heart of blah blah blah or whatever, well… have at it boys.
On the DVD, you got a trailer for Henry Part 2. I mean, gimme a fucking break. Actually it doesn’t look as bad as you’d think, but there’s some other dude playing Henry. In other words, it is not Michael Rooker. It’s some other guy. Sorry bud, but forget it. I’m out.
Anyway let me know how the american psycho is guys thanks
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.