Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2016 - John Portanova ""

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Film Discoveries of 2016 - John Portanova

John Portanova is an independent filmmaker based out of Seattle, WA. His directorial debut Hunting Grounds (AKA Valley of the Sasquatch) arrives on VOD February 7th. He also worked as a writer/producer on the films The Device and The Invoking and as a producer on the upcoming releases Ayla and Dead West. You can follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd at @October_John.
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PIN (1988; Sandor Stern)
When The Projection Booth podcast covers a film I've been meaning to see, I make it a point to finally check it out before listening to their episode. So when Pin was announced as part of TPB’sHalloween schedule last fall, I knew the time had come for me to watch this underseen bit of Canadian dollsploitation. Much to my surprise, what I got was more Psycho than Child's Play and one of my favorite discoveries of the year. The film follows siblings Leon and Ursula as they grow up under the repressed thumb of their father, Dr. Linden (Terry O'Quinn). The doctor isn't the most well-adjusted parent on the block, so he uses an amazingly creepy anatomy doll named Pin and some ventriloquism to have important conversations with his children. This tactic greatly affects young Leon, who becomes dependent on the inanimate (or is it?) figure. Director Sandor Stern is in no hurry to show his hand when it comes to what is truly going on between Leon and Pin and that growing sense of uncertainty and dread is the movie’s strongest asset. With all of the gems being rediscovered thanks to the stacks of new Blu-ray releases each month, I hope Pin makes its high-def debut sooner than later.
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CHOPPING MALL (1986; Jim Wynorski)
Vestron Video came back with a bang in 2016 when Lionsgate unveiled their Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray line. Their inaugural title was Chopping Mall and not only did it end up being one of my favorite discs of the year, it introduced me to what is now my favorite Jim Wynorski film. This onehas so much going for it:

1. Its villains are a trio of killer robots, something we didn’t see enough of during the slasher-happy ‘80s.
2. It clocks in at a brisk 76 minutes, a nice reminder of a time when every movie didn’t have to be at least 2 hours long.
3. Our heroes are a fun group of kids (including horror favs Barbara Crampton and Kelli Maroney) as opposed to the usual flock of assholes.
4. Genre vets from Dick Miller to Mary Woronov populate the supporting cast. The late Angus Scrimm even makes a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in the opening scene.
5. It’s called Chopping Mall for god’s sake!

I can’t believe it took me this long to see Chopping Mall. It’s the kind of movie I should’ve been showing to friends every weekend in high school.
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EYES OF A STRANGER (1981; Ken Wiederhorn)
I was introduced to the work of Ken Wiederhorn via Return of the Living Dead II, a comedy/horror combo which erred more on the side of laughs than thrills.Last year I managed to catch this early Wiederhorn exercise into horror and realized he’s even better when he plays it straight. Eyes of a Stranger focuses on a reporter (Lauren Tewes) who finds herself in a Rear Window-esque situation when she begins to suspect her neighbor is in fact a serial killer. The suspense is heightened when she starts her own investigation and opens up her blind/mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her first major role) to harm. This creepy slasher/thriller hybrid features gore FX by Tom Savini at the top of his game and one hell of a third act. It was released on DVD about a decade ago as part of Warner’s eclectic Twisted Terror Collection, a line that could really use some new additions and/or HD upgrades.
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DEEP RED (1975; Dario Argento)
I haven’t seen a ton of Argento’s work, but I’d seen enough in the past to know that while I loved the style and mood of his films, there was always something about the storytelling that kept me at arm’s length. I know that stories aren’t what fans come to Italian horror films for, but if I’m not connecting to characters and being drawn into their world it’s hard for me to love a film. Well this year I was happy to discover an Argento film I unequivocally loved. Deep Red features all of the Argento hallmarks: amazing visuals, horrifying and bloody death sequences, and a rockin’ Goblin score. But it also features something not present in my previous Argento viewings that made all the difference: humor. The script for Deep Red and the characters inhabiting it are very funny and the actors make the most out of some humorous bits of business as they go about solving an above-average murder mystery. I am now very eager to dig deeper into Argento’s filmography in hopes of finding more that click with me in the same way Deep Red did.
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THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962; Steve Sekely)
The world ending is a popular theme of mega budget blockbusters, but I’ve found it very hard for a film to tell a story across a canvas that large and leave me fully satisfied. The Day of the Triffids sidesteps around this by knocking out most of the world in its opening moments with a meteor shower that renders the population blind and introduces the titular carnivorous plants onto our planet to finish off the rest. We follow heroes on various parts of the globe who avoided the blinding lightshow as they attempt to stay alive through the collapse of society and the growing triffid threat. The creature FX and matte shots may not always convince, but the world built by the director and performers pulls you in and doesn’t let up till the final frames. For a well-known title, Triffids has been treated surprising shoddy on home video. From my research, there has not been an anamorphic transfer or high-def version released anywhere, a situation that I hope is remedied very soon.
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CHERRY FALLS (2000; Geoffrey Wright)
The “teen slasher released in the wake of Scream”sub-genre is not one of my favorites. The filmstended to feature interchangeably beautiful characters who were too hip for their own good and existed in a largely bloodless and sexless world. When it was released at the turn of the century, Cherry Falls looked like it fit this mold to a T and the fact that it premiered as a TV movie on the USA Network didn’t do much to help its esteem. Thanks to Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release in early 2016, the film returned to the public consciousness and I heard enough people recommend it that I decided to finally check it out. And I’m so glad I did. Cherry Falls is a movie so ridiculous and batshit that I can’t believe it came in the sanitized wake of Scream. This is the only movie from that time where the heroine (Brittany Murphy) crouches atop a science lab cabinet and does her best Shakma impression as she shrieks and throws everything she can get her hands on at the approaching killer. It also features a father-daughter relationship between Murphy and Michael Biehn that is a little too close for comfort. And that weirdness exists before the teen characters decide that the only way to stop this virgin hunting killer is to have a massive orgy, one of the best settings for a slasher climax I’ve seen in some time.
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