"Joy Ride" is a quite a Trip!

Joy Ride

One of the forgotten gems of the early 2000s, “Joyride” is a thrilling and entertaining road film with a horror twist.  Starring the late Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski the cast is first rate as well as the direction by John Dahl.  The script also got a rewrite from J.J. Abrams, who at the time was a relative unknown.  Although mired in re-shoots and other setbacks, the final film is surprisingly good.

Lewis (Paul Walker) is a college student from California who is going home for spring break and decides to cash in his plane ticket to buy a crappy car so he can pick up his girlfriend in Colorado.  He gets a call from his estranged older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) who needs to be bailed out of jail.  This creates our nice little road trip scenario.  Fuller is the risk taking loose canon compared to Lewis’s more reserved and responsible type.  While getting a tire fixed Fuller has a CB Radio put it, kind of random, but it works.  This sets up the whole premise of the film.  To pass the time on the open road the guys use the CB to pretend to be women, Fuller’s idea pf course.  Lewis or Candy Cane as he calls himself plays along and they go fishing on the airwaves.  They start talking to a guy named Rusty Nail and start to reel him in.  They go as far as setting up a meeting a sleazy roadside motel and when Fuller runs into angry businessman in the rental office decide he should be the one to meet up with Rusty.  The guys rent the room next door so they can here how it all goes down.  Obviously it doesn’t go well and the man is severely beaten.  They guys are shaken and have a bit of a guilty conscious, but they talk it over with police and are back on the road in no time.

Still furious that he’d been played Rusty Nail tracks down guys and turns the tables on them.  What makes or breaks this film is Lewis and Fuller, they are real relatable people, who are more than you average horror stereotypes.  They play off each other really well and Zahn’s off the wall character is very well done in a role that could have been an awful parody.  You feel for the guy and you want them to survive.  At the halfway point of the film we finally meet Venna (Sobieski), Lewis’s girlfriend.  She is smart, sophisticated, and nothing like your typical scream queen, although things do end up trending towards the damsel in distress syndrome in the third act.  Rusty Nail continues to torment our characters and abducts Venna’s roommate.  In the films funniest scene Rusty forces Lewis and Fuller to go in into a restaurant buck naked and order burgers.  Rusty then manages to abduct Venna as well in a cornfield chase.  He then sets a trap for the guys at another roadside motel, just like what they did to him.  “Joyride” has its share of Hitchcockian moments and strives to be better than your run of the mill horror movie, even if it does tread on familiar themes.  And like most horror films leaves you with an ambiguous twist ending that leaves open the possibly for sequels.  Two straight to video sequels were made without any of the original characters, except for Rusty Nail of course, I don’t plan on seeing these but they do exist.

Abel Ferrara's Cult Classic "Ms.45" Starring Zoe Lund


In the same vein as “I Spit on Your Grave” released in 1978, “Ms.45” released in 1981 is a rape revenge shocker.  A B style feminist film of a woman’s revenge against the men who have assaulted her.  While “Grave” got all the attention, good and bad, “Ms.45” has been a hard to find almost forgotten cult classic.  In 2014 Drafthouse Films released a new remastered copy of the film on DVD and Blu-ray.

Directed by Abel Ferrara and starring the amazing Zoe (Tamerlis) Lund.  This was Zoe’s film debut and at only 17 is quite the revelation as the mute garment worker Thana.  Like most of Ferrara’s films the story takes place on the gritty streets of New York City.  This was the early 80s so it has that grimy sleazy feel to it.  It is established early on that all men are dirty sex crazed pigs, and on the way home from work the meek and innocent Thana is hauled off into an alley and raped by a masked man.  While this is happening another man is breaking into her apartment.  In a state of shock Thana makes her way home only to run into the burglar still in her apartment, where she is raped again.  Although this time she is able to kill her assailant with an iron.  Now what to do with the body?  She pulls him into the bathtub and dismembers him, wrapping his pieces in garbage bags which she gets rids of on walks throughout the film.  Thana’s journey from sweet and innocence to sexy cold blooded killer is amazing as Zoe shows great range and boldness for a girl her age.

Thana’s work starts to suffer and her boss, Albert, gives her a break because of her severe disability.  Her nightmares and anxiety drive her over the edge and after shooting another over eager sleezeball in the face, she starts actively looking for more victims.  She lays on the red lipstick pretty thick as she trolls the streets doling her brand of vigilante justice.  Her stereotypical victims are actually pretty funny.  She kills a pimp whose whaling on one of his girls.  Then gets into a car with a Arab Sheik who thinks she’s a prostitute, she kills him and his driver.  In another ridiculous encounter she kills or injures an entire street gang.  This is all pure B movie awesomeness.

In an effort to make Thanna feel better and be more apart of things, Albert wants her to attend a Halloween party and she agrees. This party in the climax to this great piece of cinema.  Dressed as a nun with Albert as her date she mingles with the crowd and they both eventually go upstairs.  Although Albert is obviously gay, he comes on to Thanna and pays the price, but in this instance Thanna was in full control and looks to have planned his murder.  She then goes on a slow motion killing spree throughout the party targeting all the men.  She is taken down by one of her female co-workers with a knife to the back, metaphors anyone?

This is a great film if you love the nostalgic seventies-ish vibe.  The musical score is full of whaling saxophones and disco beats.  At a cost of about $70,000 this film has it all and I didn’t even mention Thanna’s eccentric landlady and her dog Phil.  Check it out and you’ll have a great time!

"Welcome to the Dollhouse" The Best Indie Film of 1995!

Welcome to the Dollhouse

“Welcome to the dollhouse” was the breakout indie film of 1995 and launched the career of film maker Todd Solondz.  The auteur director is known for his dark humor and satirical wit, he likes to torture his characters not to mention his audience with painfully awkward and embarrassing moments that also hit a nerve of truth.  
Heather Matarazzo plays Dawn Wiener a spirited seven grader.  But let’s be honest she’s far from the prettiest girl in school and growing up is hard.  She is mercilessly bullied at school and is know as “Wiener dog”.  We follow Dawn in the school cafeteria desperately trying to find a place to sit, but that’s only the beginning of her daily adventures.  Even when trying to do good and helping others it always seems to backfire.  When trying to defend herself, she is the one that gets punished.  Home is not much better with her younger pretty ballerina sister and older book smart brother.  She is the family whipping girl.  Its comes to mind that if there was ever and inspiration for the character of Meg on “Family Guy’ this is your girl.

You’d think that Dawn would be damn near suicidal, but no she takes it in stride and lives her life.  She has cobbled together a clubhouse in the yard called “The Special People’s Club” where she and a neighbor boy talk.  Unknown to her she is later told what the clubhouse really means.  When her brother starts a garage band with a couple of his friends they sound awful until they get high schooler Steve Rogers to be their lead singer.  Dawn is immediately smitten with him.  A common theme in a Solondz movies is that Love is awkward and bizarre and feelings can burst out in some pretty strange ways.  When Brandon, the meanest of Dawn’s bullies, threatens to rape her after school, she is terrified. The first attempt is thwarted by a school janitor and when Dawn shows up for the second attempt they just goof around.  He kisses her, but its rather sweet and not in the least menacing or violent.  Brandon really is more than just a one dimensional bully stereotype.  His character is fleshed out and made whole, when see why he acts the way her does. Their relationship is odd but thats life.

While taking place in the early 1990s before the internet, smart phones and social media the ideas explored are timeless.  A dark satirical thread is woven through this thick tapestry of American suburban life.  “Welcome to the Dollhouse”.

Tributo de Guillermo De Toro: "Blade 2"

Blade 2

The sequel to the 1998 graphic comic adapted film “Blade” was given to Guillermo Del Toro to direct for a 2002 release.  Starring Wesely Snipes as the half man half vampire and his father figure side kick Whistler, played by Kris Krisofferson.  Although they had seemingly killed off Whistler in the first film he is back along with another team member Scud, played by Norman Reedus. 

“Blade 2” has Snipes battling the Reapers, a race of mutated vampires with a voracious appetite for blood.  Kind of like cool looking zombies but were calling them Reapers, they threaten to not only wipe out all vampires but humans as well.  The Shadow Council enlists the help of Blade and his team to wipe them out for good.  The Reapers as characters are pretty cool looking with their best feature being their mouths that shall we say open really wide, something that is seen later in the Resident Evil Movies.  

Del Toro’s trademark blue and gold lighting schemes can be seen throughout and as mentioned the character designs are top notch.  The effects are well done, especially the Reaper autopsy scene.  Del Toro also must have scenes with medical specimens floating in jars.  The film is through and through a comic book movie, mixing everything from Japanese Anime influences and hyper real violence to WWE style fight scenes.

Action movies do have a tendency to be a little boring and repetitive at times, but “Blade 2” knows what it is and aim to be as entertaining as possible.  It does fall into certain genre trappings, such as the “seen it before” climax and rather ridiculously sappy ending.  Although the “Blade” films do have there audience (13-14 year old boys) I really don’t think it is the film for me.

Up next is another even bigger graphic novel adaptation in “Hellboy”

Tributo de Guillermo De Toro: "The Devil's Backbone"


Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro’s 3rd film is the finely crafted gothic fairy tale “The Devil’s Backbone”.  This critically acclaimed film was release in 2001, four years after the disappointing experience of “Mimic”.  It’s a Spanish language ghost story that takes place at the end of the Spanish civil war in an isolated and ominous looking orphanage.

The film is full of atmosphere and mystery surrounding a tragic event that happen not so long ago.  When Carlos, a twelve year old boy, arrives he brings with him a youthful innocence and hope for place that has all but lost it.  He has been left there by his uncle after his father’s death in the war.  He panics at first with the idea of being abandon there, but like all of the other children he has no choice.  The place is run by head mistress Carmen, whose prosthetic leg becomes heavier, and heavier over time.  Her husband is Dr. Casaras, played by Federico Luppi the lead actor in “Cronos”.  Their relationship is strained and since Casares is impotent Carmen has been sleeping with the angry and lonesome Jacinto.  Jacinto has his own nefarious plans and has been slowly biding his time until he can get his hands on all of the gold bars in the safe.  Then there is Conchita, the sweet young girl who is in love with Jacinto.  

An unexploded and rusty bomb rests in the center of the courtyard.  Its a symbol for so many things in the film and is a sign of things to come.  At the center of all this moody darkness is a group of orphans lead by the older Jaime who bullies and harasses Carlos.  It doesn’t take long for Carlos to begin seeing “the ghost that sighs”.  His name is Santi and he disappeared from the orphanage and presumed to have run away.  Santi looks like a cracked porcelain doll with a billowing cloud of blood coming from a wound in his head.  Carlos and others are terrified of the ghost but what does it want?  Santi’s does warn of more death to come.

The war continues to take its toll on its people as well as the orphanage.  All of its inhabitants are bound that this place with little hope for the future.  Jacinto is a passionate but dangerous character who get exiled from the place after a violent attack on the children.  Jaime’s character evolves beautifully throughout the film as he transitions from being a child to a man and a leader.  Carlos faces his fears and learns of Santi’s story and his only request is vengeance for the person who killed him.  Santi is not meant to be a so called scary ghost, but a trapped soul looking for justice.  

When Jacinto returns he no longer holds back his anger and rage and is hellbent and destroying everything and everyone.  Left to there own devices the children must fight for there survival more than ever before.  Can hope survive?  Del Toro tells a remarkable story and doesn’t cop out with any cheap Hollywood crap.  It doesn’t offer any easy answers or short cuts but is an honest depiction of its characters.  Del Toro’s later film “Pan’s Labyrinth” is quite similar but stars a girl in the lead role.  They are meant to be companion films.

“The Devil’s Backbone” is available on disc from The Criterion Collection.