Movie Review: RUBY

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Dimension Pictures

  • A woman with a shady past, Ruby Claire is the single mother of Leslie, a teenager who is deaf and mute. Ruby operates a drive-in movie theater and employs a number of ex-criminals, some of who start to die in bizarre ways. Eventually, Ruby discovers that the spirit of her dead mobster husband has possessed Leslie and is seeking revenge through the tormented girl. As Leslie picks off her dad’s former associate, she also begins to target Ruby herself.

If you take a Tennessee Williams play, and slather it with a generous dose of supernatural haunted shenanigans, then you pretty much have the recipe for the 1977 Southern Gothic low-budget exploitation horror flick Ruby.

It always fascinates me, whenever I come across a movie that was released the same year as the original Star Wars was, and it looks like it was made at least a decade prior. Even though Ruby is obviously not a Sci-Fi Fantasy film. I’m talking quality of production, here. Yeah, Star Wars has now become my standard to which I judge movies that were made in the year 1977. I have just become “that guy”. Whatever that means.

Anyway, we begin this flick in a kind of flashback, where a mobster is executed in a backwoods swamp in the 1930s, witnessed by his pregnant mobster girlfriend, and with his dying breath he proclaims a CURSE! while she goes into labor. Flash forward sixteen years later, and that former girlfriend–the titular Ruby–is now the proprietor of a kind-of out-of-the-way backwoods drive-in theater near her home that shows an endless stream of old b-movies, and where she employs ex-mobsters to work the joint. How nice of her. Her daughter, Leslie, has just turned 16, and has been mute since the day she was born. Ominous. Anyway, she is gifted a necklace for said birthday, and that’s about the time when weird poltergeist-y things started happening around the drive-in and the house, resulting in a massive employment turn-around due to a sudden case of not living anymore. Also, Leslie seems to be acting strange…and also talking! With the voice of her dead mobster boyfriend, so that’s not good. Is Leslie possessed by the ghost of a vengeful mobster? Or is there something else going on? Wackiness ensues…

Ruby is one of those mid-70s type of low-budget horror movies that, despite all of its flaws and obvious cheapness and unintentional hilarity, is actually pretty fun to watch. The movie is dripping with old school Gothic atmosphere, and the story has a nice Turn of the Screw by way of William Faulkner. Mileage will vary as far as enjoyment goes; personally, I thought it was fine once I got past the obvious flaws. Nothing I’m going to be rewatching any time in the future, but not a bad way to burn some time.


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death promise
Howard Mahler

  • An apartment dweller goes on a search-and-destroy mission to kill the ruthless landlords who murdered his father.

Hoooo, boy. I have to admit that I’m not very well versed with the whole Kung-Fu Exploitation flicks from the 1970s. But, if they’re anything like 1977’s Death Promise, I really have to check some more of these type of flicks out.

The story of Death Promise is your standard Rich Evil Guy Shenanigans > Kills Father Of Kung-Fu Enthusiast > Kung-Fu Enthusiast Vows Revenge > Training & Gathering Up Posse Montage > Wacky Over-The-Top Kung Fu Battles Ensue flow. I had a blast watching this movie unfold before my eyes. Death Promise ticks off all the check points on the list: Dodgy acting, awful editing, cheep funk music, contrast issues with the film, really badly choreographed fight scenes and poorly staged scenes. Several minutes of the fight scenes are dedicated to the combatants standing there doing that hand-waving, “HOOOoooOOOOOooOOOAH” thing that I’m sure they think is intimidating and manly, but comes off as laugh-out-loud hilarious each and every time. And everybody does this. Of course they’re trying to pattern our hero after the immortal Bruce Lee, but he’s lacking the speed, agility and charisma. Which only adds to the unintentional hilarity.

I probably had more fun than I expected watching a low-budget grindhouse flick that didn’t involve vampires, space aliens or anything horror-related. Really, you should check this out this hunk of cinematic cheese for yourself.

366 DAYS OF METAL: “Animosity” (Klank)

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Movie Review: FIGHT CLUB

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fight club
20th Century Fox

“Now, a question of etiquette. As I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?”

  • A ticking time-bomb insomniac and a slippery soap salesman channel primal male aggression into a shocking new form of therapy. Their concept catches on, with underground fight clubs forming in every town, until a sensuous eccentric gets in the way and ignites an out-of-control spiral toward oblivion.

I’m afraid that there’s nothing I can say in this review of the movie Fight Club that hasn’t already been articulated before, and far better. By now, I believe the significance of the cultural zeitgeist that was Fight Club is apparent…as well as the utter misunderstanding of the point of the movie all together, but that’s getting ahead of myself again.

The final months of 1999 leading into the 2000s was kind of a heady time. We had the lingering phantom threat of the Y2K apocalypse, movies like The 6th Sense, The Blair Witch Project, and The Matrix were revolutionizing the way we watched movies, and the internet was starting to become much more ubiquitous. I was really embracing the Gothic subculture and delving more into the existential ramifications of my own faith, slowly making the journey out of the shiny plastic veneer that is Evangelical Christianity in America.

What does this have to do with Fight Club, you may ask? Good question. All I can say that, when I first watched this at a second-run theater in Omaha with a friend of mine who had already seen it before me and was insisting that I take in a showing with her, my mind was immediately blown by pretty much everything: From the opening credits featuring a zoom-out effect from the inner microscopic view of the protagonist’s brain, out to the gun sticking in Ed Norton’s mouth, to the way everything unfolded in the narration, the anarchic nihilism and strong psychological implications–not to mention a heavy dose of Unreliable Narrator messing with my brain like a drunken kitten–and I emerged from the theater wanting more. Of course, this led to heading to one of the many Village Inn spots and talking about it for hours over food and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Fight Club is another one of the movies in my Top Ten Favorite non-Horror list, something that I’ve revisited many times, and still get something out of even after all the viewings. I could go on for reams of pages of virtual paper, picking this movie apart and trying (and failing miserably) to explain why this movie has had such an impact on me. Again, other much better articulated articles and posts have already done that for me. I kind of understand why this movie has been taken completely the wrong way by the masses. Sometimes you have to embrace the darkness to fully understand the light better. I read that on a t-shirt, somewhere, I think. Anyway, highly recommended.

366 DAYS OF METAL: “Black Sabbath” (Black Sabbath)

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Book Review: AMISH ZOMBIES FROM SPACE (Peril in Plain Space #2)

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amish zombies from space
Kerry Nietz
Freeheads Publishing

If it wasn’t for the roaming bands of dead, it might not be such a bad place.

  • First, vampires in space. And now…zombies. Really? Jebediah and the others are trying to get over the horrors they faced in deep space, and now this. It’s been five years, and the Amish colony on Miller’s Resolve has finally gotten settled. Jeb and Sarah have a son. Elder Samuel is happy not being in charge. Darly has a private practice. And Greels is out of jail at last. But when a mysterious ship from space arrives on Resolve, it unleashes a horde of undead that might spell the end of the survivors and their dreams of peace. Will the specters of the past save them, or seal their fate?

Of course there’s a sequel to the surprisingly awesome book Amish Vampires in Space. Of course it would involve zombies this go-around. And, of course I would immediately read this one after experiencing the first book. I would have been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t. So let’s get to this, shall we?

Just as the back cover blurb states, it’s been five years since the wackiness on The Raven transpired. The surviving Amish have settled and flourished on a new planet called Miller’s Reserve, one with a sun that won’t be so keen on going supernova any time soon. Jebediah and Sarah have moved on from the Amish community they helped to save; Jeb shaved his beard and Sarah lost the bonnet, and both run a joint handmade furniture shop and bakery in the city of another planet, while their five-year-old son Issac is way into monster hero videos. Seal and Singer are now married, and flyin’ around the galaxy in their own private ship and discussing possibly starting a family of their own. Doctor Darly has her own private practice, as well as a bit of an unhealthy dependency on her virtual assistant. And then there’s Greels, who didn’t fare very well after the events in the first book; he’s just getting released from jail, he discovers that his severance pay and any evidence he ever worked for the Guild have been wiped out of existence, and he only has $200 to his name. Meanwhile, back on Miller’s Reserve, a ship with a bunch of annoying tourists shows up and insists on checking out the quaint Amish way of life for themselves. Only, they may have a secret ulterior motive about visiting and disrupting the good folks, and it may or may not have something to do with another strange ship that has just crash landed nearby the community, bearing some very gruesome cargo. Soon, the community is overrun by the undead corpses of the Amish and their animals. Also, Greels has just kidnapped Issac and taken him on a space-trip in a stolen Guild cargo shuttle to a mysterious base on the edge of uncharted space, a place that may have a clue to what went on in the last book, and also to help defeat the zombies that have overrun Miller’s Resolve.

Once again, Kerry Nietz manages to take the concept of a bunch of future Amish settlers on a planet in far-off space being overrun by zombies, and make it seem rather plausible. Sure, this book takes the more scientific route when explaining the source of what made the zombies, as well as shines some more scientific light as to the origins of the vampires that plagued everyone in the last book. But, this being birthed from a sci-fi writer, I would have been disappointed if it didn’t.

And just like in the previous book, Amish Zombies from Space manages to blend the sci-fi with the horror, action and drama in a rather cinematic way, to which you can vividly picture it all in your head. And really, the book does manage to do something different from the standard way this could have ended. And thus, I would once again mark this book as Recommended, especially if you’ve already read the first book.

Movie Review: The TRUMAN SHOW

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The Truman Show movie poster

“Somebody help me, I’m being spontaneous!”

  • Truman Burbank is a man whose life is a nonstop TV show. Truman doesn’t realize that his quaint hometown is a giant studio set run by visionary producer/director/creator, that folks living ans working there are Hollywood actors, that even his incessantly bubbly wife is a contract player. Gradually, Truman gets wise. And what he does about his discovery will have you laughing, crying and cheering like few film stories ever have.

Looking at Jim Carrey’s filmography list on Wikipedia, it looks like 1998’s The Truman Show was perhaps his first staring role in a movie that wasn’t a wacky comedy or a superhero franchise. Considering the previous film he was in at the time was the woefully underrated The Cable Guy bombed pretty hard in the theaters and made a considerable amount of his fan base go, “wha…huh?”, you would think he would have played it safe and went back to the tried-and-true formula. Instead, his follow-u to The Cable Guy was the dramady The Truman Show.

The concept of a reality show where we derived entertainment by watching someone’s life being filmed constantly is nothing new. There was the 1973 PBS series An American Family, showing a nuclear family going through a divorce in 12 episodes. A UK version called The Family aired in 1974. Of course, the most famous ones would have been Cops and MTV’s The Real World. Which is to say, back when The Truman Show was released, reality television like this wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now.

Even then, the stars of those reality shows are very much aware their entire lives are being broadcast. The concept with The Truman Show has the titular character’s entire life–from the moment of birth–being broadcast for all to see, when everyone he has ever known in his life–his family, friends, coworkers, the citizens in the town he has lived in all of his life–merely actors in the grand ongoing televised saga that is Truman’s life. Even the town of Seahaven Island is an enormous Hollywood set, with technological special effects to simulate day-to-day existence within Truman’s simulated reality. Then one day, a spotlight falls from the sky. From there, it’s a domino effect that leads to the Mother of all Existential Crisis-es as Truman slowly discovers the truth of his *ahem* reality.

I have to admit that The Truman Show is a rather thought-provoking movie. It is one of those rare movies that seems to fire on all cylinders, and manages to offer many things to chew on. A pointed commentary on American television culture, an exploration of existentialism, a lighthearted science fiction fantasy that may have taken its inspiration from a 1980s Twilight Zone episode. There’s a psychological syndrome named after the movie, not to mention the fact that you could argue that The Truman Show was eerily prophetic in nature, due to the explosion of reality television in the Aughts.

But, is The Truman Show a good movie? I would say, yes. Yes, it is. I would say that it’s probably one of my favorite Top Ten non-Horror movies of all time. You talk about a list that’s in constant quantum flux. But, yeah, if you haven’t seen The Truman Show as of yet, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. And try not to get too paranoid the next time you’re brushing your teeth in the morning.

366 DAYS OF METAL: “South Of Heaven” (Slayer)

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Movie Review: PSYCHO

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Paramount Pictures

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

A little note before we begin: No, I have not watched the shot-for-shot remake from 1998 that stars Vince Vaugn. That needless atrocity doesn’t exist in my reality. Now that I have that out of the way…

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological noir thriller classic Psycho is the movie that gets all of the praise, all of the accolades, and is included in all of the Greatest Movies Of All Time lists. There’s a reason for that–it’s a movie that will stick with you for a long, long time after you first watch it. And this is even when the big twist of the movie has been well known for decades.

Even if you haven’t seen this (yet), you’re familiar with the story of Psycho: A real estate secretary who just stole a cool $40k from her employers is on the run, stops at the Bates Motel during a heavy rainstorm, and gets stabbed in the shower in one of the most iconic scenes ever to have been filmed. And this is only the mid-point of the movie. Soon, the boyfriend of the lady gets suspicious, and launches an investigation, which leads back to the motel, which leads to a shocking revelation concerning proprietor Norman Bates and his overbearing mother.

So yes, Psycho is an iconic piece of cinematic mastery, and should be seen by everyone who considers themselves an enthusiast of the art of filmmaking, at least once. Me, I first watched Psycho back in college, during a horror movie marathon the Film Club was hosting, and the film blew my mind with how stylish and atmospheric it was. Although I knew what the twist was long before watching this, it still sucked me into the story with its masterful combination of the black and white filming style, pacing, acting and soundtrack itself that is all sorts of iconic. Going beyond the film itself, this movie changed the way we watched movies, as before Psycho, people would just arrive at a movie whenever, because it cycled through on a continuous loop. Now, because of Hitchcock’s insistence that no one arrive right when the big shocking twist happens, and spoils everything, we now have scheduled times at movie theaters. Which really is an improvement, if you think about it.

Anyway, many words expended just to say that Psycho is a classic and must be watched by everyone. I don’t care if you don’t like “old-timey” movies. You will watch this and you will love it.

366 DAYS OF METAL: “Talk About The Weather” (Precious Death)

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