Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - Josh Miller ""

Friday, October 11, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Josh Miller

Josh Miller is creator of the up-coming Fox animated TV show Golan the Insatiable and programs the midnight-movie series Friday Night Frights at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles. He has also written for CHUD.com and authored several books that are fun to read while on the toilet, like A Zombie's History of the United States.
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Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977)
This movie isn't good so much as it is a fascinating spectacle of sleazy, amoralistic filmmaking. I also have some mild respect for any killer animal movie, especially a killer shark movie, made in the '70s post-Jawsthat isn't just a Jaws knock-off. In fact, Tintorera is far less concerned with being a killer shark movie than it is with trying (and failing) to be a steamy and provocative adult sex-drama. The bulk of the story focuses on the free-love menage-a-relationship between Hugo Stiglitz (who is like a blond Daniel Stern, minus the likability), his handsome buddy, and Susan George (Straw Dogs), with some shark attacks sprinkled in here and there for punctuation. But the film's real sticking-point is its astonishingly shameless desecration of sea life. It is like a Humane Society night terror. There are no rubber sharks in this movie. Writer-director René Cardona Jr. skimps out on special FX by having the actors constantly butchering real sharks (among other things). It is reprehensible but I'd be lying if I didn't say that it makes the shark attack scenes oddly visceral. The making of Tintorera could have been the set-up for its own 'when animals attack' horror film, with sea creatures getting revenge on the evil film crew murdering their brethren in the name of cheap cinema. Not for those squeamish to animal cruelty. Or squeamish to Hugo Stiglitz trying to be sexy. 

Link (1986)
I am a proud Link apologist. Call me a sucker for any movie that tries to pass an orangutan off as a chimp by dying it black and giving it fake ears. Plus, I can never get too old to appreciate Elizabeth Shue side-boob. But in all seriousness, this movie - about a young research assistant who earns the deadly affections of one of the primates she's studying - has always worked for me. There is something spellbinding about witnessing an animal so well trained it seems to truly be acting, especially in the context of a horror movie -- the creepy sled dog in Carpenter's The Thing comes to mind. And when an animal is as intelligent as an ape, we flirt with the possibility that the creature is sentient enough to loosely grasp the bare-bones concept of performing. Orangutans in partiular have a history of stellar movie performances (Any Which Way But Loose, Babe Pig in the City). But Linkhas the best of them all. Link the orang is just so unsettling, lurching around proudly in his suit, smoking a cigar. As much as I love the rage-boner madness of the baboon fromShakma, for my money nothing haunts you like the genuine sense of menace Link has behind those thoughtful eyes. You can't fake that with FX. And did I mention the Elizabeth Shue sideboob? 

The Unseen (1980)
SPOILER ALERT. Aside from praising the career apex performance of the incomparable Sydney Lassick, you can't truly have a conversation about The Unseen without talking about its big reveal. So if you haven't seen it, stop here. It's available on Netflix. Now, where were we...

Lassick carries the film with impish relish, which is good because Barbara Bach (aka, Mrs. Ringo Starr) can't carry it. But as much as I love Lassick, that wouldn't be enough on its own. The Unseen goes from being an enjoyable mystery-slasher flick from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning's Danny Steinmann to something special once that mystery is revealed -- Junior, Lassick's diaper clad and mentally handicapped son that he keeps locked up in the basement. Oh yeah, baby. The Unseen ranks as #1 on my list in the dubious subgenre of 'evil retard' horror films. Whereas most films with a mentally challenged villain usually choose to make the character physically deformed, often gigantic too, Steinmann decided to just play it straight. That means Stephen Furst is simply dirty, in a diaper, with facial appliances that give him the eyes and expression of a normal person suffering from Down Syndrome. It is so ludicrous and glorious to watch Furst squawking and hopping around as Junior that I can't possibly find it distasteful. Or maybe that's why I love it.

The Kindred (1987)
Starring the lovely Talia Balsam - daughter of the great character actor Martin Balsam - this is a criminally under-seen late-'80s gem. It doesn't even have a Wikipedia page! The film tells the tale of a man who comes to realize that his scientist mother (played by Planet of the Apes Kim Hunter) may have grown him a brother of sorts before her death. And that sort-of brother is still living somewhere in his mother's old house. An excellently bonkers creature feature, the film is a must-see for practical FX appreciators. As we all know, the 1980s were the boom years for practical FX, when artists like Rick Baker were doing astonishing things with the technological advances pioneered in the late-'70s. Then, sadly, it was mostly all over once computers hit the scene -- certainly when it came to complicated FX work such as transformations, which were once the benchmark bragging rights for many horror films. And when it comes to transformation FX The Kindred deserves to be discussed in the same conversations with the more famous An American Werewolf In LondonThe Thing or The Howling. Though, as much as I love me some good practical make-up FX, my real sweet spot for this movie is Rod Steiger. Generally speaking it saddens me to watch great actors descend into hamminess as they age; like Pacino or DeNiro. Not Steiger. I almost prefer him this way. And he was clearly hungry for scenery in The Kindred, because he chews it at every chance he can get. 

Altered (2006) 
After The Blair Witch Project, co-directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick just disappeared, which certainly seemed to offer proof that BWP was more of a flash-in-the-pan gimmick than it was a quality horror film -- at least to those who disliked the film (a camp I was part of). Then Sánchez quietly resurfaced in 2006 and left Altered on the video shelves. By this point no one cared, so it wasn't that surprising that it arrived with zero fanfare. What was surprising was how fucking awesome the movie is. Kind of a cross between Fire in the Sky and Death and the Maiden, the movie opens with a furious bang as a group of friends who were abducted by aliens fifteen years earlier attempt to capture one of those very same aliens in the woods. The film has great performances from the four leads, surprisingly including BWP's Michael C. Williams (I say 'surprisingly' because I didn't think he was that good in BWP), but what impressed me most is the taught and propulsive script from Jamie Nash (with co-story by Sánchez). The film largely takes place in a single location and is very talky. You could probably turn this movie into a gory stage-play. But it never lingers. Just when you think maybe you're growing weary of the talking and arguing, suddenly the film thrusts you into a new plot point or complication with dizzying speed. It just keeps cooking. 

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