Monday, August 18, 2014

Marilyn Burns 1949 - 2014

When I read the news of Marilyn Burns passing, my heart sank a bit. I did not know the actress but I still felt some sadness because Marilyn's portrayal of Sally Hardesty in Tobe Hooper's 1974 seminal horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was one of my favorites in all of horror cinema. I have only seen a few of the films she starred in but I thought I would just take a moment and present my thoughts on her role that made a permanent mark on me.

A great shot of Sally before the madness.

Without going through a detailed synopsis of the film, the basic story of Texas Chainsaw is that of Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her invalid brother Franklin and three friends taking a trip into Texas to check out Sally’s family grave site at a cemetery which had been hit by some grotesque vandalism (filmed so perfectly in the opening credits). They pick up a strange hitch hiker who attacks Franklin with a straight razor and they kick the stranger out of their van. Afterwards they visit the now dilapidated family home in which Sally and Franklin grew up. One by one they are picked off by members of a deranged family that live close by.  The members of the family include the hitch hiker, an older man known as “the cook” and of course the iconic younger brother “Leatherface”. Everyone is basically killed off a little more than halfway through the film and the rest of the film hangs on the performance of the deranged family and their captive, Sally. 

Texas Chainsaw is a film that completely delivers on a visceral level yet does so without spilling the ole crimson all over the screen. The film hits you visually and audibly with camera movements, settings, a minimalistic and eerie soundtrack and of course screams. No one conveys terror quite like Marilyn Burns does in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I believe the reason why this works so well is the fact that Burns sells her character right from the get go. She is presented as an everyday Texas girl, somewhat of an innocent. She is free spirited which makes her very likeable and her character is presented as someone that you can relate with.  One moment in the film has her lashing out at her brother Franklin, only to apologize later showing her remorse and solidifying her relationship with her brother, making her “real” to the audience. If you have siblings you know that feeling and you relate with it. 

My second viewing of the film was when I noticed the "arms".
When Sally is kidnapped by “the cook” after fleeing through the woods being chased by Leatherface, this is when the film really cranks up the sadistic factor. We’ve already seen Sally’s friends meet their demise and their demises are pretty sadistic but that is just a warm up to the horror that Sally faces once she is dumped in a gunny sack, taken to the abode of the damned and then tied to chair half made of human appendages. Sally is a special “dinner guest” at the Sawyer family table and you’re never quite sure exactly what is on the menu. We know these people are cannibals so that sausage on the plate could be made from anything or anyone. Burns’ performance here is overwhelmingly terrifying. Her eyes convey the fright but also convey the madness in which she is being exposed to. She is presented to “grandpa” who is a half alive and decrepit old man who can hardly move. Her finger is cut and grandpa suckles on it like a baby on its mother’s breast. All the while she screams in terror at the old man. Her screams and expression really come across as genuine. She is beaten about the head with a hammer as well before finally escaping the chaos through the dining room window. 
The terror and joy of survival.

Fleeing down the dirt driveway towards the main road, she is pursued by the hitch hiker. He stays within arm’s length slashing at her back with his straight razor. Leatherface joins in the chase with his chainsaw but lags behind. Again Sally sells her terror and her pain until making it onto the main road and flagging down a tractor trailer. The tractor trailer inadvertently runs over the hitch hiker killing him. The driver and Sally are then chased around the tractor trailer by Leatherface. Sally flags down another driver in a pickup truck and jumps in the bed of the truck. The image of her riding away from the madness is iconic in of itself.  Her blood caked face expresses the relief but also the mental torture she has endured. Her screams are mixed with laughter than gives you that cringe factor. The scene is only rivaled by the closing shot of Leatherface “dancing” with his chainsaw and the film abruptly ends. Marilyn Burns completely sells this role from start to finish. I believe the way her character was written by Hooper and screenwriter Kim Henkel coupled with Burns’ ability to convey innocence and terror equally, is what makes her performance so powerful.  Her realistic portrayal, the gritty documentary style filmmaking and hinted at gore combine to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre what it is, a complete terror ride. 

Helter Skelter (1976)
Marilyn Burns also had a role in Tobe Hoopers follow up to Texas Chainsaw, Eaten Alive (1977) and again her performance is believable and genuine. It is sad that because of her death, I am propelled to really dig into her limited screen time. She also starred in the 1976 film Helter Skelter which I only have seen bits and pieces. I truly need to check this film out as well.

 Rest in Peace Marilyn Burns and thank you for being part of this monsterkid’s cinematic journey. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Graduation Day (1981)

Slasher films have always been at the forefront of a good deal of my horror viewing, especially in the mid to late 80’s during the video rental days and the churning out of franchise sequels each year to millions of movie goers the world over. You would think that as into the genre as I was and have been, I have probably seen all there is to offer. Alas titles always slip through the cracks only to be discovered years later. Graduation Day is one of them.

Graduation Day stars Christopher George, a genre veteran from such great films as Pieces (1982), City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Exterminator (1980). He portrays the hardnosed track coach and woodworking teacher George Michaels (no not that George Michaels). One of the coaches star track team members, Laura, has died of a blood clot in her heart during a track event. He is of course accused of pushing her too hard to try and run the race in under 30 seconds. That will be a time frame that comes into play throughout the film. 
I hope I make the cover of the Wheaties box........errggggg!

Laura’s sister Anne comes to town on leave from the Navy to try and make sense of it all. She visits both Laura’s boyfriend Kevin and Michaels but nothing seems to be clear as what actually happened. We only learn of the blood clot later on in the film. Meanwhile track team members are starting to disappear. A black gloved and gray sweat suit clad killer is on the loose and marking off team members one by one. Several are attacked at different times along the wooded path behind the school. The area seems to be frequented by students so I’m kind of surprised anyone can get away with anything but hey it’s a slasher film so. Team members find their ends in several different ways and several are pretty inventive. One has their throat slashed, another is run through the throat with a fencing sword, and another is impaled on spikes hidden in the landing pad at the pole vault. One of the most inventive deaths involves a football with a long blade sticking out of one end and delivered into the gut of one of the track members who is also a football player. Of course there is a good ole decapitation too. You can’t have a slasher film without one of those. I think it comes standard. All of these murders are timed with a stopwatch by the killer. His mission is to kill each track team member in less than 30 seconds each.  I thought that was a pretty original idea and I give the writers kudos for coming up with it.
Jogging can be messy

Both Laura and Coach Michaels are implicated to the viewer as being the killer since the movie does go out of its way to make sure we see that both own gray sweats and black gloves. Hell even the principal (Michael Pataki) is implicated because he has a switchblade in his desk……well several actually and they were probably confiscated from students at one point. 

Ladies and Gentlemen....Felony!
One of the high points of the movie is the roller skate party scene. Here we get to boogie down with music provided by hard rock band “Felony”. 
They got their own special mention in the opening credits and were actually an up and coming band. The song performed in this movie was “Gangsters of Rock”. Just remember when you are watching this movie that is was filmed in 1981. The whole song is performed in this sequence but is also accompanied by the decapitation death of a track member. His girlfriend, played by Linnea Quigley (yes the naked chic from Return of the Living Dead), is also murdered. 
Linnea.....doing what she does best.

The police finally show up at the school after six team member s have disappeared. You would think after maybe the second missing person someone would have inquired but again, this is 1981 slasher film logic. The police question Michaels but he’s out on his ass after being fired by the principal. The bad publicity surrounding Laura’s death has finally gotten the best of his career. One of the bodies is discovered by two students in the girls’ gym locker room. The coach comes to investigate and finds a fencing sword in the locker. Laura’s boyfriend Kevin also shows up and believes the coach is the murderer. They struggle and Michael’s runs out of the school. Kevin chases him into the woods behind the school and here we discover that it’s not the coach but Kevin who is the real killer. Kevin’s reasoned that the coach and the team members were all responsible for Laura’s death and all would die in the same time frame as her. A struggle ensues and Michaels is able to disarm Kevin. He picks up the knife but is then shot by the police thinking Coach Michaels is trying to kill Kevin.  
Why I outta....

Later Anne visits Kevin and discovers that Kevin has been keeping Laura’s corpse in his room. The body is decomposing and Kevin has dressed it with a graduation gown and set the corpse in the rocking chair facing the window.  After a quick struggle Anne pushes the rocking chair which empties Laura’s corpse into Kevin making them both fall through the window. Laura runs out of the house and is followed by Kevin who didn’t die from the fall. He chases her to the track field at the school where Anne finds the hidden bodies of several track team members. Anne fights off Kevin and pushes him into the body of one of the victims who was impaled on spikes. Kevin is then impaled as well and dies.
Never shave your legs in the can kill you.

Even though Graduation Day has its moments of 1981 goofiness it is still able to deliver pretty well. It doesn’t have a great deal of character development but it does have a pretty interesting story line for a slasher flick. It’s never really boring but it never really creates a lot of suspense. I think it succeeds solely based on the twisted storyline which is something that I have come to realize about many of these films from the early era of the genre. Even though they were modeled off of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, sometimes you find one that actually tries to be a little different. Graduation Day does that and succeeds in some areas but falls a little flat in others. Still worth a view though!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Crocodile (1980)

Jaws (1975) was one of the biggest box office smashes ever. It made moviegoers around the world get a little uneasy whenever they stepped into the ocean. The film featured a huge mechanical shark that although was a complete headache to operate (and apparently didn’t function correctly most of the time) it certainly added that “wow factor” to the film. I mean what’s a giant shark movie without a giant shark right? As always when a movie of this type does extremely well in the theaters there will be imitators trying their hand at making some extra cash as well and hoping to ride the coattails to success. In 1980 American film producer Herman Cohen threw a line out to audiences in an attempt to reel in a bounty of moola but his bait was rotten. That bait was known as Crocodile.
Crocodile was made in Thailand by Sompote Sands and brought to the U.S. by Cohen. The film is basically Jaws but with a crocodile and a big one at that. I’m talking about one the size of “Bruce”, the mechanical menace from Jaws, I’m talking Godzilla inspired big. Of course the croc’s size changes size constantly throughout the film but that’s another issue with this rather extremely painful to watch movie.

Our movie opens with a warning about screwing around with nature and we are then treated to a huge hurricane destroying a village. There are lots of shots of miniature huts being pummeled and actors being dosed with barrelfuls of water. We are then introduced to a doctor whose wife finally convinces him to stop being such a workaholic and take the family on a vacation. He does and his wife, kid and sister in law (?) are eaten by a giant crocodile. After grieving for a brief moment he decides to research and find out exactly what killed his family. The culprit is indeed a very large crocodile, one that has grown to enormous size due to radiation from nuclear testing (sound familiar Godzilla fans?). So now he must put together a team to destroy this creature. That team includes his now former future brother in law and some captain of a boat destined to destroy something monstrous because of a tattoo on his chest that he proudly displays……..Quint this guy ain’t.

Whatchoo two doin?
 After lots of filler time of the giant croc attacking and killing people the three sail out to sea and lure the giant out to them with chemically induced barrels of chum…..maybe? I’m not sure the movie makes zero sense.  While waiting they are joined by a photographer, Peter, who shows up as some kind of comic relief yet everyone on board won’t talk to him and generally ignore him. It’s kind of an odd scene which again makes zero sense. The croc finally attacks and eats the captain of the ship. Several harpoons are tossed at the creature to no avail. Finally Peter sacrifices himself by diving headfirst into the croc’s mouth with a handful of dynamite. At least I think that’s kind of what happens. The editing throughout the attack scenes leave your head reeling and wondering just what the hell is going on. The movie ends with the croc and the ship blowing sky high. The end credits roll and well…….everyone’s dead. Wow…….just wow!
Buffalo nom nom nom

You have to see Crocodile to believe it really. It’s that bad. So much amazingly awfulness is to be had. There are lots of shots of the crocs eyes as it surfaces, stock footage mind you, and in some scenes where a fake croc is used, the eyes light up in the dark! I’m talking flashlight eyes here! The croc can also flip its tail or something underwater and create a whirlpool that drowns its victims. It can also jump over boats, somehow propelling its body out of deep water and a good twelve feet above the sea. The scale of the creature also varies from scene to scene. Sometimes these scenes are seconds apart too. At one point a child is eaten and carried away in the crocs mouth. Another time a buffalo is eaten and taken away in the crocs mouth. Odd thing is, is that the kid and buffalo seem to be the same size in each shot telling me that they had several fake croc heads in different scales and no one even attempted to keep the scale correct. 

Swim! Don't run to the theater to see Crocodile!!
I will give Crocodile some credit though. There was a lot of blood and some nudity.With that said, even this couldn't save it. I do recommend seeing it though, at least once. It will make you ponder just how in the world are you going to get those agonizing 97 minutes back!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Cemetery Boys

Welcome to my first music review here at the Coffin. It is a well deserved one too because if you like spooky rock, sludgy bass and general monster rock with a touch of undead groovy then you are in for a treat!

A few years ago, maybe 3 or 4, while attending Monster Fest, the annual horror convention that rises from the grave every October in my back yard of Chesapeake, Virginia. I came across a spooky little band called The Cemetery Boys. As I walked through the parking lot of the convention could hear the band playing and I thought that it was cool there was a band. At the entrance to the library (where the convention is held) I was greeted by a foam headstones, rubber bats and various other Halloween items adorning the microphone stand and drum kit. The members of the band were simply adorned in all black to complete the grunge look that fit well with the dirge that was emanating from the PA speakers. The song was “Country Cemetery” and it has remained a favorite of mine.

Getting the creep on at Monster Fest
The boys have just released a 9 song macabre disc that comes straight from the tombs of Transylvania. “At Midnight” opens up the disc with at a good pace. A nicely written riff that, to my ears at least, has a bit of a Black Sabbath-esque quality to it. The tempo picks up on “Nitemare Queen” with a full blast of bass distortion and a rockabilly style beat. “Styrofoam Gravestone” conjures up memories of Halloweens past, present and future for this monsterkid. “Corpse” is a nice homage to the man made creature of the silver screen plus helps us with our spelling of the song title which is a cool plus. Some nice bass licks in this tune as well. “Crypts, Coffins and Corpses” kicks off with a sound bite from Night of the Living Dead and is my favorite new track from the boys. I totally dig the chorus. “Cemetery Mortuary” is up next and is one of the first songs I ever heard from the band on that fateful day at Monster Fest. It’s got a great intro and heads into a very industrial feel.  “Headstone Hotel” is a great little dirge that takes me down to the foggy little village of Whitewood.  “Headstone Hotel….weekend in hell” love that chorus! “Country Cemetery” picks the tempo back up and reminds why I like this band. Simple but catchy with a riff that makes me want to fire up the hearse and head out to my local haunt. “Transylvania” rounds out the disc with its stomping main riff before heading into a more haunting song structure. I am totally digging this disc!

Live from the crypt!
What gets me about The Cemetery Boys is that fact that they are a duo! When I first spotted them at Monster Fest I thought they were a trio but quickly realized there was no third member. Bassist/singer Edgar Von Graves holds down coffin lid with just four strings and raw distortion and gain. He somehow straddles that line of clean, clanky bass with fuzz and razor sharp guitar you would expect from a six string. I will have to inquire about the drums on this cd because Seth Von Graves is credited for drums but “live”. Im not sure if it was Seth that I saw at the last Monster Fest or not but the drummer can hold his own. I sorely need to invest a night and catch the boys live in their natural habitat of a dank mausoleum gig. 

The cd is a good one! I totally dig the feel of the songs and each track will open up your memory banks to every Halloween you have had since your were knee high to a zombie. You can catch up with The Cemetery Boys through their Facebook page and Reverb Nation site! Don't forget to ask for you copy of their cd!