Execrable: The Last Slumber Party

The Last Slumber Party (1988)
Directed by Stephen Tyler
Written by Stephen Tyler, Jim Taylor
Produced by Jill Clark, Bill F. Blair, Betty S. Scott
Starring Jan Jenson, Nancy Mayer, Joann Whitley, Rick Polizi, David Whitley, Danny David, Lance Descourez
One can only speculate from its uniquely categorical inferiority that this choice contender for the coveted title of World’s Worst Slasher was less directed than wrangled over a weekend’s duration. Flagrant flubs, erratic continuity and cretinous characterizations abound, proving more memorable than some premise involving a serial murderer’s escape from a hospital where he’s scheduled for a lobotomy, and subsequent massacre of his physician’s unaccountably licentious nurse, obnoxious daughter, her halfwitted friends, their oafish prospective boyfriends, etc. Only thematically hackneyed, its sheer schlock is almost visionary: the acting’s arrantly atrocious, audio is muffled, editing wildly irregular, its jejune dialogue reads like that scripted by an outraged adolescent and murky photography seems to have been achieved with a beclouding, lenticular application of petroleum jelly, and the soundtrack might have been derived from a recording of a Casio keyboard abused by a toddler. Its final thirty-odd minutes degenerate into a laggard, somniferous slog that may represent some attempt to simulate surrealism. It’s best tolerated as a backdrop to amusing RiffTrax zingers, but for cinematic horror completists, the unsurpassed incompetence palpable in its every property is a wonder to watch.

Mediocre: Runaway

Runaway (1984)
Directed and written by Michael Crichton
Produced by Michael I. Rachmil, Lisa Faversham, Kurt Villadsen
Starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G.W. Bailey
Robotic ubiquity in The Future of 1984 necessitates the constitution of police divisions who resolve crimes and mischances resulting from the malfunction of hacked and wayward automatons. When a domestic model wastes its proprietress, an investigating sergeant (Selleck) from one such squad paired with a brainish blonde cop (Rhodes) chance upon foul play perpetrated by a flagitious career culprit (Simmons) who exercises a rare verve for programming and tactics. Viewers oughtn’t expect intrigue or depth on the order of Asimov, Gibson, Shirow, et al. from Crichton’s silliest cinematic venture; novel technological innovations throughout are intended solely to occupy interest and forward plot: reconnoitering drones anticipating their contemporary equivalents, a reinforced pistol that shoots detonating tracker projectiles, wheeled, remote-controlled bombs and inexplicably sexapedal robot “spiders” armed with acidic needles are all sufficiently fun to upstage the human players. Selleck’s adequate and tetchier than usual in the lead, his individual mustache immaculate even when his phiz is scathed by vitriol. Bereft of histrionic range yet far more Luciferian sans stage makeup, Simmons delightfully hams every line and crime as his truculent antagonist with facetious, stentorian delivery and a sinister visage only a Satan could love. Anyone deluded that Alley might’ve been at all appealing in the mid-’80s will be promptly disabused by her every guttural utterance, but she fits as a bitchy moll. Alas, Jerry Goldsmith’s only wholly electronic score is also among his few truly amateurish attempts, but a few of his FM tones do tickle the ear. Ceaselessly footling and diverting, it’s the class of movie that the cousins Globus would have been thrilled to produce (before stinting on its effects budget), seemingly geared to appeal to the average teenage boy. Howbeit, this feature’s cult fanbase is distinguished by its worst member: Nicolae Ceausescu cited Runaway as his preferent pic, adverting frequently to Selleck and his character during the summary trial after which he and his spouse were executed. Evidently, Columbia didn’t distribute in Romania during his regime.

Palatable: Big Trouble

Big Trouble (1986)
Directed by Andrew Bergman, John Cassavetes
Written by Andrew Bergman
Produced by Mike Lobell
Starring Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, Beverly D’Angelo, Charles Durning, Paul Dooley, Robert Stack
Last and least ambitious of all Cassavetes’ features is this amusing farce in which the stars of The In-Laws are reunited as a squirrelly insurance agent (Arkin) desperate to pay his musical triplets’ prohibitive tuition and a charming, chronically fraudulent optimist (Falk) of putatively ailing health whose foxy wife (D’Angelo) solicits the former’s abetment of her mariticide to bilk his firm for their mutual benefit. From a slow start, progressively outrageous contretemps and felonies throughout yield some priceless moments cunningly interpreted by seasoned players precisely apt for their respective roles. One of but a few movies helmed for hire by Cassavetes, it still bears many of his trademark conceits: oblique composition, detached wide shots, overhead close-ups, twain L cuts. The institutional modesty of this picture may portend its independent luminary’s lapsing directorial fortunes, but his flair for exploiting the inelegance and quirk of a fair script in his last years is irrefutable.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Illegally Yours.

Sublime: Drácula

Drácula (1931)
Directed by George Melford, Enrique Tovar Ávalos
Written by Bram Stoker, John L. Balderston, Hamilton Deane, Garrett Fort, Dudley Murphy, Baltasar Fernández Cué
Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr., Paul Kohner
Starring Carlos Villarías, Lupita Tovar, Eduardo Arozamena, Pablo Álvarez Rubio, Barry Norton, José Soriano Viosca
Every evening succeeding Tod Browning’s diurnal photography of Universal’s premiere adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel found that production’s sets again occupied by an international cast and alternate crew who staged and shot a Hispanophone variant of the horror classic for Latino markets that both accommodated and reflected the ethos of its target audience. Melford was a veteran of the silent era whose broad framing better exploited the magnitude and stygian severity of those gloomiest stage settings than Browning’s efforts, and a latitude consequent of his movie’s secondary priority and the liberality of its intended demographic enabled him to intimate the tacit salacity of Stoker’s romance and define his characters with greater depth in a running time exceeding that of its similitude by near twenty minutes. As Browning couldn’t speak Spanish, uncredited journeyman Ávalos directed the cast, whose comportment is decidedly more theatrical than that of their Anglophone counterparts. Villarías’ Dracula hasn’t the ominous suavity that secured Lugosi’s legend, but he swimmingly alternates from allurement to monstrous menace. Likewise, Tovar’s luscious objet du désir (here Eva to Helen Chandler’s Mina) exudes a playful sensuality unimaginable in the English pic, while Rubio plays lunatic lickspittle Renfield with derangement of a shrieking delirium that Dwight Frye never mustered. Contemporary reappraisal often favors this as the superior picture; while its comparative merits are contestable, no viewer can deny that Melford’s vision disbosoms far more of Stoker’s spirit.

Favorites: Dirty Pair: Project Eden

Dirty Pair: Project Eden (1987)
Directed by Koichi Mashimo
Written by Haruka Takachiho, Hiroyuki Hoshiyama
Produced by Shigehiro Nakagawa, Masanori Ito, Hironori Nakagawa, Yoshihide Kondo
Starring Kyoko Tongu, Saeko Shimazu, Katsuji Mori, Chikao Otsuka, Toku Nishio
Disaster ensuing disorder attends every assignment of Haruka Takachiho’s feisty dyad, and in this sole theatrical feature succeeding the delirious televised adaptation of his novelistic series, their calamitous concomitance is accordingly magnified as a spectacle of detonation, mutation and oenophilia. Dispatched to investigate acts of sabotage that threaten the uneasy peace between two rival governments exploiting a planet’s invaluable and plethoric resources, Kei and Yuri encounter a dashing thief in pursuit of a potable antique, an unhinged, geriatric geneticist determined to advance the evolution of a rocky, dormant species and his natty henchman. Not a costive moment stays the celerity of this riotous, ridiculous adventure vibrantly rendered with florid detail and scintillating effects, wherein the Lovely Angels hazard hitherto unfamiliar dangers…none of which represent thematic or tonal freshness! A few amative interludes hardly spoil this mission’s blistering pace by intimating some rare emotional depth. Not a tittle of it amounts to anything and the Pair are typically no more responsible in action than culpability, but the denouements of their escapades are ordinarily peripheral to their significance, and neither the toothsome twosome nor their exploits were ever so gorgeously animated before or since.

Execrable: Four Minutes

Four Minutes (2006)
Directed and written by Chris Kraus
Produced by Alexandra Kordes, Meike Kordes, Sabine Holtgreve, Chris Kraus, Bettina Ricklefs, Georg Steinert
Starring Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung, Richy Müller, Sven Pippig, Jasmin Tabatabai, Stefan Kurt, Vadim Glowna, Nadja Uhl
Upon the altar of his own sophomoric sensibilities, Schlondorff protege Kraus sacrificed fine performances and the promising premise of an elderly piano preceptor (Bleibtreu) convinced that she can rehabilitate a virtuoso (Herzsprung) incarcerated for murder by further nurturing and rarefying her talent. Kraus’s cockamamie narrative is bloated by a peripheral subplot (at this late date, why are National Socialists still malefactors in every fifth German genre flick?), and he needlessly belabors his protagonists, heaping progressively preposterous asperities upon Herzsprung’s convict that culminate in perhaps the single clumsiest, most absurd and abashing construct of a pianistic, avant-garde impromptu in cinematic history. Herzsprung’s gloriously tetchy, refractory, vivacious as the embattled, peppery pianist, effortlessly hurtling laughable lines to convince her audience that she deserves this role in a superior picture. As a technically sound production that’s adroitly acted and ultimately undone by miraculously daft chimerae and pretenses, this could be the archetypic contemporary German drama.

Mediocre: Halloween II

Halloween II (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Produced by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Barry Bernardi, Joseph Wolf, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, Dino De Laurentiis
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Dick Warlock, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Jeffrey Kramer, Hunter von Leer, Lance Guest
Carpenter and Hill were no slouches as power couples come, producing a few original, indelible contributions to cinematic genre corpora until their divorce and subsequent career divergence propelled them to greater individual successes. Howbeit, this competently crafted yet sluggish sequel to their classic slasher hit won’t be recalled as one of their best efforts: their pedestrian script, the score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth and Rosenthal’s perfunctory direction all resound but feeble echoes of the antecedent movie’s potent and idiosyncratic horror. Commencing contiguous from the prior pic, lumbering, implacable, inexplicable mass murderer Michael Myers slowly stalks Curtis’s effete schoolgirl while amassing a fresh body count, himself pursued by Pleasence’s increasingly crazed and prehensile psychiatrist. It should be riveting, but despite a few chillingly grotesque murders, this plot plods pari passu with Myers himself, and the fine cast merely replicates their activity (and in Pleasence’s instance, his exposition) of the previous outing. Moreover, a laughably stale consanguine revelation cheaply undermines the antagonist’s mystique. It’s a tolerable slasher, but by ’81, a battalion of flicks glutting the genre created by Clark and popularized by Carpenter were yielding much more intriguing and bloody offerings than this rather limp iteration.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Halloween.

Palatable: April Fool’s Day

April Fool’s Day (1986)
Directed by Fred Walton
Written by Danilo Bach
Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.
Starring Deborah Foreman, Amy Steel, Ken Olandt, Pat Barlow, Clayton Rohner, Mike Nomad, Leah Pinsent, Deborah Goodrich, Thomas F. Wilson, Jay Baker
At the invitation of their skittish friend (Foreman), a collegiate septet visit the insular mansion conditionally devised her during spring break for a casual jubilee; when their number commences to contract by murderous attrition, gaiety turns terrifying. Walton’s last successfully exoteric picture typifies the mode and caliber of production that Mancuso propagated with hits like the Friday the 13th sequels and television series: photogenic, plausible players tackle Bach’s crafty and often riotous script with a flip, funny gusto sadly absent in most contemporary slashers. Comfortably conventional yet compulsive for its winding plot rich in red herrings, this lightweight love letter of a waning genre reserves a few frolic surprises for its seasoned and jaded audience.

Sublime: Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
Directed and written by Werner Herzog
Produced by Werner Herzog, Hans Prescher, Daniel Camino
Starring Klaus Kinski, Del Negro, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Peter Berling, Edward Roland, Cecilia Rivera, Daniel Ades, Alejandro Repullés
Amalgamated from the butcherly mania of Zanzibari revolutionary John Okello and misadventures of doomed conquistadors Gonzalo Pizarro, Pedro de Ursúa and Lope de Aguirre, Herzog’s breakthrough classic agglutinates by his fevered imagination myth and historical fact to communicate the lunatic folly of seditious ambition in the face of impending annihilation. Toting artillery and palanquins through rampant rainforest and wetlands, a corps led by Pizarro (Repullés) of Spanish soldiers, clerics and aristocrats aided by indigenous slaves seek the apocryphal gilt city of El Dorado. When their rations wane, he dispatches a contingent led by Ursúa (Guerra) and Aguirre (Kinski) to locate their destination with representatives of the clergy and patriciate in tow: opportunistic priest Gaspar de Carvajal (Negro) and bloated prince Don Fernando de Guzman (Berling). This party peregrinating the Amazon upon rafts suffers attrition by ambuscades of autochthonic assailants, natural perils, mishaps, disease and treachery: resolute in his quest, Aguirre soon wrests command of the troop by suasion, slaughter and cajolery, appointing Guzman nominal governor of their band and emperor designate of El Dorado in defiance of the Habsburg crown. Whilst coping with herculean challenges compounded by a hostile climate and his truculent leading man, Herzog worked wonders with a minuscule budget, crafting a journey of epic ambit from the sprawl of Amazonian vistas and immensity of Kinski’s barbarous presence, the best imaginable to convey his conquerer manqué’s mad arrogation to imperium. Savagery internecine and otherwise is beheld through the same precise and dispassionate lens as meditative lingering shots of rapids, placid waters, the conquistadorial train wending along precipices and its expedition’s restive members, whose passage was perceived by Herzog an obverse to that of his tiny crew, a dedicated ogdoad who abetted the realization of his vision in a wilderness ranking among this world’s most dangerous. Dread and madness glaring onscreen reverberate in the baleful tonal sonority of Popol Vuh’s music; in this miasma, Germany’s most accomplished living filmmaker submerged himself to incarnate a primal depravity as historic figures whose evanescence was sped by the Amazon’s ravages in equipollence to its lowliest creatures.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Apocalypse Now.

Favorites: Le choc

Le choc (1982)
Directed by Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Written by Jean-Patrick Manchette, Dominique Robelet, Claude Veillot, Robin Davis, Alain Delon
Produced by Alain Sarde, Alain Terzian
Starring Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Etienne Chicot, François Perrot, Catherine Leprince, Philippe Léotard
Weary of his sanguinary craft, an urbane, veteran assassin (Delon) purposes to exit his lucrative billet in pursuit of legitimate forays to the reprehension of his employers, who apparently resort to extremes to recover his services. Few leading men were so apposite as Delon for the impassive suavity of his role, which he justifies with an understated, polished portrayal that indues credibility to his protagonist’s Bondian savoir faire; as the fetching spouse of a loutish turkey breeder (Léotard), Deneuve radiates vulnerable sensuality as his predictable love interest, and Chicot is again and condignly typecast as a dour reprobate. In concert with genre journeyman Davis, Delon enhanced the pedestrian premise of an obscure novel with an investment of slick action sequences, novel interiors, wry raillery and its gorgeous, middle-aged leads’ potent, prurient chemistry, elevating what might have been a routine suspense feature into a superbly engaging outing. For viewers weary of farcically hyperbolic action pictures, this may suffice as a refreshing alternative to silly drivel concocted by the likes of Besson or West.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Le professionnel.