Tag Archives: 1990s

Event Horizon

It’s not that Event Horizon isn’t the kind of movie I would write about. Haunted spaceships and Sam Neill ripping out his own eyeballs is right up my alley. No, the reason isn’t the content, but rather, that fact that this is one of those movies that already has a lot of words spent on it from a variety of sources both in the mainstream and in the realm of cult film fandom. Under such circumstances, it’s hard to imagine what i might have to add that is new. In some cases, I can come up with something — some tiny, meaningless tidbit that is a throwaway line in a movie that then allows me to write endlessly on some idiotic and obscure point. But upon watching Event Horizon, I was left with a distinct lack of ideas when it came to thinking about how I might approach writing about this film with some degree of originality. And now that I’ve finished the first paragraph, I still have no idea, so with any luck, something will pop up as I stumble along.

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Tahalka

The lines between good and evil in Bollywood movies tend to be pretty broadly drawn, but never so broadly, it seems, as when the great Amrish Puri was cast as the villain. Deep of the voice, wild of the eye, and massive of the brow, Puri, though a versatile actor who played many diverse roles in his four decade career, truly made his mark with his portrayals of over-the-top bad guys in countless Bollywood action and masala movies (And yes, yes, I know…as Mola Ram in that Indiana Jones movie. Give it a rest, for chrissakes!). Many of these portrayals were iconic, but, while Puri would star in nearly four hundred films by the time of his death in 2005, there is one film for which he is remembered most of all.

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Enter the Eagles

This is one of those DVDs that has been sitting around on my shelves for years, and it’s always on that list of “things I should just sit down and watch this week but then they never get watched.” Well, now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, my initial impression is that I shouldn’t have let it sit around for so long, but in a way I’m glad I did. I shouldn’t have let it sit around for so long because it was pretty fun; and I’m glad I let it sit around for so long, because watching it now, so long after the fact, it was like a visit from an old friend, provided that friend is “the way they used to make Hong Kong action films in the 80s and early 90s.” No CGI (well, no CGI fights), minimal wirework, actors who are better fighters than they are actors — man, I miss this stuff. Oh yeah, and Shannon Lee fights Benny Urquidez. In an exploding blimp.

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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Whenever someone is promoting a film as either “getting back to the spirit of the original” or “the most faithful adaptation of the novel,” you know you’re going to be in trouble. They never recapture “the spirit of the original” even when the spirit of the original wasn’t that hot to begin with, and the more they crow about how faithful their adaptation is, the less likely it will be to stick to the source material.

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Ring 2

The horror boom in Japan didn’t have any one cause, but it did have one big ingredient that made it a success: young girls. Under normal circumstances, saying that young girls were a key to the success of anything horror related would mean that young girls, possibly in wet white shirts, were prominently featured in the film and probably died gruesome deaths. In this case, however, the young girls weren’t the ones doing the dying; they were the ones doing the buying. Someone somewhere had the bright idea to start running horror comics as a regular part of some very popular manga magazines (big, thick comic books the size of telephone books) aimed at teenage girls. What they found was that teenage girls love horror stories. It goes against conventional wisdom. In the West, horror has always been marketed to males roughly between the ages of thirteen and thirty. It was never seen as a genre for girls, most likely because the woman-hating misanthropes behind the films delighted in tormenting and degrading women every chance they got as a way of getting some weird little sort of revenge for having been snubbed at some point in their lives. Even when women were featured prominently as a story’s protagonist (as was often the case), most films were peppered with plenty of other female characters to shoulder the brunt of the film’s viciousness.

Horror in Japan was really no different, unless you see something positive in teenage girls getting raped by demons with forty-foot long multi-headed penises. It wasn’t exactly the kind of stuff that had young girls flocking to the theaters going, “Yeah, this really inspires me.” But where as the West continued to rake the ladies over the coals in horror, writers in Japan started trying something a little different. Chief among them was Junji Ito, who wrote horror comics in which teenage girls were the central characters but were not treated like or written as idiots and victims. Nor were they unbelievable super-women. They were regular girls, a bit on the smart side, and very believable. He placed these characters in the middle of wonderfully conceived and plotted tales inspired by the likes of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe rather than the RL Stine tripe Americans were getting. In short, he target audience and his main characters were girls, and he didn’t treat either one like they were simpletons.

Added to the rise in horror manga popularity was the popularity of X-Files, which at its peak at least attempted to be smart and well-written. It inspired a legion of imitation shows in Japan, and all these ingredients combined in 1999 to form the horror classic Ring. It was a smash hit, and a new Golden Age of horror was born in Japan. Many of the films took their cue from Ito’s work (and many were in fact adaptations of his stories), featuring strong and believable female leads that would give girls in the audience someone for whom to root. Titanic proved that young girls are starved for movies that cater to them without belittling them, but that was a lesson completely lost on American movie makers, who went right on ahead making movies as if young, intelligent girls did not exist, or at least did not buy tickets to movies. Well, someone made Titanic one of the most successful films of all time, and it sure wasn’t me.

What really sets these Japanese horror films apart from the pack is that, while many are aimed at teenage girls, very few of them suffer as a result. A girl can watch Uzumaki and appreciate the young heroine, but it’s just as easy for a guy and for hardened horror veterans to appreciate the movie as well. Why? Because it’s simply a good movie, as are many of the films that came out in Ring’s wake. Although targeted at girls, that’s not their exclusive audience, and there’s nothing girlie about the movies. All they did in Japan is learn that if you make a good horror film that doesn’t degrade women, then girls will be interested in it, and girls have a lot of money to spend. It’s not so difficult a concept to grasp. Boy and girl slumber parties are exactly alike in that they always boil down to two things: talking about which member of the opposite sex you like, and swapping ghost stories or doing those “Bloody Mary” type party games. Boys have had their horrorlust indulged for decades. Now, at least in Japan, girls are finally getting the same chance.

Since Ring really started the boom, it was a given that there would be a sequel, not to mention plenty of rip-offs. Hot on the heels of the original’s stellar success, production began on a sequel called Rasen, aka The Spiral (not to be confused with Uzumaki, which is often given the English title Spiral). The film continues the ghost Sadako’s story as a friend of Ryuji’s (again played by Hiroyuki Sanada. Miki Nakatani reprises her role as his assistant from the first film as well) discovers her attempts to be reborn into the human world. Hideo Nakata, director of the first Ring movie, didn’t care for the development of the story in this direction. As a way of protesting this offshoot film, he set about making his own official sequel. Not too long after that, Ring 2 was born and Rasen lapsed into relative obscurity, never enjoying the overseas popularity of the two “official” Ring films, partly because no subtitled DVD, VCD, or VHS has yet to be released.

Ring 2 sustains the same clinical, George Romero style direction, but takes the story into fairly wild new ground as Mai Takano (a role reprised by Miki Nakatani) investigates the bizarre death of her teacher and possible love interest, Ryuji (played again by Hiroyuki Sanada). Aware that Ryuji was working on a strange problem with his ex-wife, and also having seen the expression on his corpse’s face, Mai’s curiosity is further piqued when Reiko, Ryuji’s ex-wife, disappears with their young child. Matters get even stranger when Mai learns that shortly after the disappearance, Reiko’s elderly father died under mysterious circumstances similar to those surrounding Ryuji.

An attempt to track down the whereabouts of Reiko leads Mai to the newspaper where Reiko used to work, though Reiko’s assistant Okazaki (Masahiko Ono) confesses that they have no idea where’s she’s gone to, either. Together, Mai and Okazaki follow a trail of clues and psychic visions (like Reiko and Ryuji, Mai seems possessed of some rudimentary form of ESP) that lead them to the sanitarium where one of the only surviving witnesses to one of these strange deaths is currently residing – the girl from the opening sequence of the first film, who saw her best friend attacked and killed by the ghost of Sadako. They also meet a crackpot scientist and friend of Ryuji who shares his former colleague’s interest in the supernatural, and using the young girl in his care, he’s devised a way to draw the supernatural energy, or curse, of Sadako out and hopefully put an end to the curse that has been propagating itself through a videocassette containing the psychic imagery of Sadako’s mind.

The trail also leads Mai and the doctor back to the island where Sadako was born, and finally to the hiding place of Reiko and her young son, Yoichi, who is soon revealed to have psychic potential that dwarfs that of his mother and father. He’s also well on the way to becoming a new generation Sadako, as a rage that has been building inside him since the events of the first film threaten to warp his development in the same way the tragic childhood of Sadako was warped by her incredible powers. Mai assumes responsibility for finding a way to save Yoichi from the same fate as befell Sadako, while she, the doctor, and Okazaki, struggle to find a scientific explanation and way of dealing with something that defies science.

Ring 2 does a lot right, but it also has some flaws that keep from ever achieving the overwhelming feeling of creepiness and desperation that made the original movie such a spectacular piece of horror filmmaking. Chief among its flaws is that it throws too much at the wall and fails to develop most of its ideas in a satisfying fashion. With all the pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo being hurled about, the movie soon starts to feel like an episode of The X-Files, with too many theories being offered and not enough exploration of any single idea. Where as the first film was focused with an intensity rivaling the rage of Sadako, the sequel meanders from one idea to the other with no clear idea of exactly where it’s going at any particular moment. While it does help create an air of mystery and urgency, it’s not so successful that it makes up for the feeling that too much half-baked hypothesizing is going on. At times, the movie feels as much like a police procedural as it does a horror film, not unlike Exorcist III.

This movie also lacks the nail-biting, increasingly frantic race against time that kept the first film feeling like a thrill-a-minute ride even when it was moving very slowly. The “race against the clock” cliché is one of the most overused plot devices in film history, but the first film really made it work well. With that deadline removed from this film, and with the impetus for action being curiosity and Yoichi’s eventual development into a vengeful spirit, the threat is more vague and less pressing. It does share a common thread with the forgotten Rasen in that both movies are, in a way, about Sadako seeking a new physical manifestation. In the case of Ring 2, it’s by transferring her hatred to Yoichi. It’s just not as compelling an emergency, but I guess if I was Yoichi, I’d probably feel differently about that.

The thing that irked me most, however, was the off-handed way in which Reiko was handled. I like the fact that Ring 2 takes two fairly unimportant supporting characters from the first film (Mai and Okazaki) and turns them into the main figures this time around, but given that Reiko was the central character in the first film, she deserved much more consideration than she was given here. They either should have put more thought into her fate, or they should have left her out entirely. As it is, what eventually happens to her is poorly thought-out and executed in a way that fails to illicit any of the emotion that should have been generated by such a strong character. Again, I like her as a background character while the story moves forward with new characters, but I really just don’t like the somewhat feeble stuff they came up with for her.

Foibles aside, there’s still enough in this movie to keep it solidly on the “very good” side of the fence. Mai and Okazaki are excellent leads, and they perform superbly in the very difficult position of having to take over for two characters as solid as Reiko and Ryuji. The rest of the cast performs admirably, with little Rikiya Otaka once again proving that not all little kids in movies have to be precocious and annoying brats. He’s quiet and surprising subtle for someone his age, and the reason you can tell it’s subtlety rather than lack of talent Is because when he’s called upon to express rage, he does so in a disturbingly convincing manner that consists of some hate-filled looks and silence rather than the more predictable shouting and screaming.

There are also quite a few genuinely spooky moments even if the film as a whole fails to sustain the feeling for the entire running time. The movie begins with the revelation that Sadako lived for many, many years trapped in her well rather than dying. Anything that plays on our innate fear of being buried alive works well. Other effective moments include Mai finding herself trapped in said well with the ghoulish Sadako ascending the walls after her, and a few great second-long flashes of something appearing, like Sadako’s face while a picture is being taken of a clay reconstruction of her head. Probably the most effective scene in the movie besides Mai’s ordeal in the well is the scene in which she visits the inn from the first movie that serves as sort of the keystone for solving the tragic mystery of Sadako, and she witnesses the entire “mirror and hair combing” scene that was shown in flashes in Sadako’s cursed video. Mai’s stunned inability to even scream speaks volumes without saying a word.

It’s also impressive that they manage to drum up some new revelations about Sadako to further develop her as something more than just a hateful ghost out for revenge against anyone and everyone who happens to see her videotape. She continues to develop as a tragic main character, not just as a plot device. For the third film in the series, a prequel called Ring 0: Birthday, the series would rely on Sadako entirely, as the film focuses on her childhood and the events that lead to her transformation into a rage-filled spectre. None of the revelations about her are contrived or absurd, either. We’re doing much better than all that crap about Michael Meyers being the spawn of a druidic cross-breeding experiment, or Jason Vorhees being a little screaming worm parasite thing.

The revelations continue as supporting characters return for another dose of truth and uncovering of dark secrets. Once again, the old man at the inn plays an important part in the finale of the film, as the doctor attempts to use Yoichi’s rage to draw out Sadako (who sort of becomes imprinted on the minds of those so closely affected by her, like Yoichi and the girl from the beginning of the first film). As with Sadako, none of these further revelations are goofy and all make sense within the plot.

Although there is a lot of crackpot science being thrown about in the grand tradition of supernatural films, most of it, underdeveloped though it may be, is fairly believable within the context of the film and the fantastic. There have certainly been worse offenses committed under the banner of scientific explanation in horror films. Some of the ideas are fascinating to consider, chief among them how strong emotion can be transmitted through a variety of means, making even something as coldly technological as a videotape serve as a conduit for supernatural rage. A similar theory was also presented in the Hong Kong Ring rip-off A Wicked Ghost, and it’s something worth thinking about. Leave it to Japan to take spiritless technological things like a video cassette or a website (as in the incredible Kiyoshi Kurosawa film Kairo), and turn them into some of the scariest, most effective supernatural tools in film history.

Technically speaking, Ring 2 remains stylistically consistent with the first film. Hideo Nakata prefers to let the story do the work for him, adopting a minimalist style with long, static shots and very little in the way of camera movement and no wild flare. In that sense, I keep comparing him to George Romero. Both directors take a documentary-style approach to their direction, and with a less talented director, that could be mistaken for lack of talent. Nakata, like Romero, knows exactly what he is doing, however, and uses the plainness of his direction to establish a very real and believable world in which the incursion of horrific and fantastic elements becomes all the more disconcerting. Had he filled his film with flashy editing, special effects, and camera tricks, it would have been sapped of all its power. As with the first film, Nakata continues to prove that sometimes, less is more when it comes to allowing direction to intrude on the power of the story.

While Ring 2 fails to attain the level of the first film, which was a true classic, it’s still a damn good film, and once again it’s just refreshing to sit down and watch a movie that treats the subject matter and the viewer with intelligence. It gives us believable characters, normal people in extraordinary circumstance, who actually behave similar to how real people might actually behave. It’s mercifully free of any moment where the character does something so stupid it causes you clutch your head and groan in pain. It also doesn’t rely on cheap tricks, special effects, or gore, opting instead for that old school sense of dread achieved through the strength of the script and characters. You can’t watch this film without having seen the first one, but after you have seen the first one, Ring 2 exists as a worthy but not equal follow-up to one of the greatest films in horror history.

Ring

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Scary movies are hard to come by. Gory? No problem. Sorta cool and creepy? Sure, we got those in spades. But genuinely scary movies are rare as diamonds and, to be, infinitely more valuable. There is something wonderfully affirming about watching a movie that keeps you awake at night, that gives you eerie nightmares. There’s something wonderful about a film that makes you afraid to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, or that makes you nervous about the fact that the closet door is open just a crack. It’s a delightful rush of adrenaline and apprehension, but scary movies have almost become a thing of the past. Too often, people are simply interested in delivering (and having delivered to them) flashy special effects and “style.” Thus a scary movie like the classic The Haunting gets turned into another “dazzling feast for the eyes” that leaves the soul and the brain still hungry for more. Bring on the scare, man! I can watch any hundred films for cool special effects, but the well from which to draw truly frightening films is well nigh dried up.

And then along came Japan. Ah, Japan, my salvation! Just as Hong Kong swooped in to save me from the doldrums of 1980s American action excess (and just as Korea later swept in to save me from the same thing in Hong Kong), Japan came to my rescue in the late 1990s by staging a horror revolution. While they cranked out plenty of atrocity exhibits that got by on gore and tastelessness alone, Japanese filmmakers were also rediscovering the age-old pleasures of simply scaring people, or at least creeping them out with eerie rather than gross imagery. Thanks in part to a boom in horror related manga, but thanks primarily to the discovery of the fact that Japanese girls were really into chilling horror movies, the scare revolution began with films like Birth of the Wizard and a movie that will go down in history as one of the most effective horror films of all time, The Ring.

On the surface, there is nothing especially fancy about the movie. The plot is familiar territory that has been explored countless times by other films. The direction is, for the most part, top notch but straight-forward, showcasing none of the wild innovation or surrealism of other Japanese horror films, like Uzumaki. In fact, the direction is almost clinical, documentary fashion stuff that reminds me of George Romero’s scientific approach in many ways. The dialogue, the acting, and everything else is very good but not anything that sets new standards for quality.

So what is it, you may then be wondering, that makes The Ring so damn good? For starters, it uses its simplicity to great advantage. While some writers pile half-baked subplots and digressions on top of each others like the angry and sullen clambering over one another in the muck of the fifth ring of Hell, in an attempt to give their stories some false sense of depth or importance, Takahashi Hiroshi’s screenplay (based on the novel by Koji Suzuki) keeps the story fairly straight-forward, which ultimately makes the twists and shocks that much more startling. Sometimes, as I’ve maintained before, the simplest things are the best things, and there’s no need to mask yourself with dishonest complexities when the straight-forward, honest core is so powerful.

Director Hideo Nakata also understands the concept of dramatic tension, the ability to build up an overwhelming sense of dread rather than go for the three-second shock of a spring-loaded cat popping up at the characters or the “sneaking up behind my friend to grab their shoulder” scare employed by every lesser horror film known to man. As always, it reminds me of the famous story told by Alfred Hitchcock when trying to explain the basic concept of tension, which was relayed back in the review of Tokaido Yatsuya Kaidan. Sadly, it is a skill that seems completely lost on the vast bulk of horror filmmakers today, not to mention going unappreciated by fans whose only real desire is to see a head or Jennifer Love’ Hewitt’s button-down top explode. I know I sound like the old horror fogy that I am when I bemoan such events, but so it goes. It’s not like I’m opposed to sex ‘n’ gore, to which many of the reviews here will attest, but liking one doesn’t mean you can’t mourn the passing of another. The other night, I was sitting around watching Bride of Frankenstein, thinking about how no horror movie that emotionally engaging or developed would ever be made today. There’s room for all types of horror, but no one seems interested in anything that relies of character or plot development.

Well, no one but the Japanese. Nakata handles the progression of the story with superb mastery, always favoring restraint over the cheap shock, allowing the sense of weirdness and dread to build throughout the entire film until, by the end, it is very nearly unbearable, and you find yourself white-knuckled and clutching the chair in anticipation of what’s coming next. That, in my opinion, is effective horror. Any buffoon can make a teenager jump by having one of those lame “shocks” like the cat or the sneaking friend, and big deal. You can make someone jump by just sitting next to them and suddenly yelling “boo!” for no reason. The Ring isn’t as base in its approach, opting instead to go the route blazed by classic horror films like The Haunting and Psycho or even Dawn of the Dead. It’s the type of scare that stays with you for days, even weeks, after the movie is over.

The Ring opens in classic horror film form, with two young girls home alone. One of them is telling a story about a cursed videotape. Once you are finished watching it, you get a mysterious phone call predicting your death in exactly one week, and then of course, one week later, you wind up dead. The second girl, Tomoko, isn’t as amused by this story as her friend, what with her and a group of friends having watched what may very well have been the cursed tape of growing urban legend fame one week ago. Tomoko tries to pass it off as nothing, but when the phone starts ringing, fear starts to rise. The entire scene, though hardly original or unpredictable, is beautifully paced. Even if you figure you know what’s going to happen, it still keeps you on pins and needles.

Enter then a sharp female reporter named Reiko, who works for what seems to be some sort of paranormal newspaper, or just a crappy sensationalist newspaper, possibly the New York Daily News. Reiko’s curiosity regarding the cursed video is piqued when one of her own relatives’ death is attributed to having seen the tape. Unfortunately, none of the other schoolgirls around can give any straight or concrete information regarding the tape. In classic urban legend form, it’s always a friend of a friend, or a friend who heard from this guy. A little investigative journalism uncovers the fact that a group of high schoolers from a nearby school have indeed all been dying off in strange, unexplained fashion, and they were all down in a rented cabin in the province of Izu.

Reiko makes the drive down to Izu to snoop around the cabin and eventually runs across a videocassette left behind by the kids. Although hesitant at first, Reiko soon pops the tape in a VCR and watches the bizarre, nonsensical few minutes of footage it contains, realizing immediately that this is the tape. Upon its conclusion, the phone in the cabin rings. What is said, if anything, is unclear, but it’s enough to freak out Reiko.

Back in the world, Reiko is increasingly upset by the video and the subsequent phone call. She enlists the aid of her ex-husband, Ryuji, a college professor who seems to have some sort of psychic ability. Ryuji is played by none other than Hiroyuki Sanada, one of the crown jewels (along with Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shiomi) of the Japan Action Club during the 1970s and 1980s, not to mention being Michelle Yeoh’s co-star in the classic Hong Kong action film Royal Warriors. Although well versed in the paranormal, Ryuji is a natural skeptic and figures the tape to be nothing more than urban legend. He not only watches it, but has Reiko make him a copy so he can watch it over and over in an attempt to study and decipher the content. I guess he figures if you’re going to die after watching it once, you might as well annoy whatever malevolent force is behind it by watching it as many times as possible. Alleviating Reiko’s own fear somewhat is the fact that Ryuji receives no phone call after watching the video.

I wish I could say the same for me, however. In a lovely and more than a little unsettling coincidence, mere seconds after watching the scene in which Reiko views the cursed video for the first time, I got a call on the phone. Strange enough that I get a call, having as I do very few friends who use the phone. It was made more suspicious by the fact that it was around three in the morning, and even my friends aren’t rude enough to call that late without warning me ahead of time. Needless to say, I was as amused as I was scared to pick up the phone, and that’s a positive sign that the movie really managed to succeed in delivering the creepiness. Turns out it was some strung out dude calling the wrong number. Suffice it to say that The Ring will make you regard both your television and your phone with a little more suspicion.

As the week drags on, however, her fears begin to rise again, especially after her young son finds the tape and watches it himself. Determined to unravel the mystery, just in case something sinister is happening, Ryuji and Reiko follow a trail of clues to a small fishing island that was once the home of a woman with soothsaying powers. After being humiliated during a press conference meant to celebrate her powers, she and the professor who had “discovered” her went into hiding. A revelation on the island leads the duo back to Izu and the old cabin, where the final answer to what is happening lies deep underground. Or so it would seem. When doing a final bit of research to close the bizarre turn of events entirely, Ryuji discovers one more piece of the macabre puzzle that only Reiko can solve.

It’s an old story, one you’ve probably heard before, but The Ring pulls it off with such subtlety and effectiveness that it completely disarms you and keeps you guessing. Sure, you know what is supposed to happen in these sorts of ghost stories, but you’re never quite sure if the movie is going to go that route or forge off into some completely unexpected territory. It never allows you the comfort of familiarity even within a familiar type of story, and the end result is one of constant, growing fear. It truly is a beautiful experience to get this scared by such a seemingly simple movie.

It’s smart enough not only to avoid tipping its hand too early in the game and relying on horror film clichés to carry it through, but it also knows to avoid other obvious plot devices. In an American film, a story of two divorced people thrust together again by unusual circumstances would invariably become a story about them getting back together. That piece of crap Tri-Star Godzilla movie was basically a giant monster wrapping on a tired old “reconcile our past” romance with absolutely no imagination. While the characters of Reiko and Ryuji in The Ring are placed in similar circumstances, the plot never allows them to spoil things by turning into a shallow mockery of soul-searching with one of those “Why did we break up?” scenes with the predictable “Maybe we just loved each other too much” answers. There is no romance in The Ring, although it’s hinted that Ryuji may have been involved with one of his students. It keeps the movie focused on what it is supposed to be doing, which is scaring us.

The handling of psychic phenomenon is also well done. Ryuji’s “powers” are not as ludicrously illustrated as having him stand in a room and shoot wavy special effects out of his forehead or anything like that. Instead, his psychic ability is depicted realistically, or as realistically as you’d like to thing psychic abilities could be depicted. It’s nothing especially magical. Instead, he simply seems to be very adept at reading people rather than reading their minds, interpreting body language, reactions, and reading between the lines of statements to extrapolate some hidden truth. It’s nothing outside the realm of believability in the real world, and keeping the story grounded in very down-to-earth trappings is what helps elevate the horror of the truly fantastic elements when they come. Once again, subtlety and restraint prove to be two of the film’s greatest tools for constructing genuine, lasting horror.

On top of the expertly constructed plot is some fine acting. Sanada is, of course, a veteran, though here he gets to prove to genre fans that he can act as well as he can kick and shoot lasers. Actress Nanako Matsushimi, who plays Reiko, had very little experience before this film, acting in only a couple television movies. She is superb, wonderfully pulling off a character who is smart, determined, believable, and also not afraid to be afraid. And when she is afraid, you can feel it, and the palpable nature of her fright only helps augment your own fear. Despite what you may think, pulling off a strong, believable female character (or male, for that matter) is not an easy task. Sure, any hack director can plop a woman down in a scene and have her unload clip after clip into advancing bad guys without showing the slightest hint of fear, but that’s not exactly the sort of strength to which one can relate. Nor does it show very much character. And finally, it doesn’t help that this supposed bad-ass is almost always played by a model turned actress who maybe weighs ninety pounds and has all the muscle definition of David Spade.

The character of Reiko, on the other hand, demonstrates a much more believable type of strength. She’s not perfect, maybe even needs to ask for help, but she is smart, determined, and willing to forge ahead even when she’s wracked by fear. Nothing about her is overblown or of such preposterous proportions that she becomes unbelievable as an actual person. A weakly written script would have her seem like a superwoman who can solve any and everything thrown her way. Instead, we get a woman who perseveres and moves ahead regardless of her inability to answer every single question on her own. There’s a reason that this movie helped open the door for what has become known as “schoolgirl horror” in Japan, that is horror movies featuring strong but not cartoonishly infallible lead heroines. Par of The Ring’s success can doubtlessly be attributed to the fact that it doesn’t pander to not insult women, refusing to treat them as politically correct uber-women or as stumbling helpless bimbos. Instead, it gives us a very noble, believable, and imperfect heroine, and that character resonated deeply with lots of girls who saw the movie.

Reiko’s young son is also well played. Little kids in films, especially in horror films, are always an iffy proposition. More times than not, they drag the movie down with them into a kicking, screaming, whining mess. The children are often insufferably irksome, or they are in a plot where they save the day and exhibit skill and intelligence far beyond what is believable even for one of those genius super-babies. Additionally, most films with children in them never really want to upset potential parental audience members by putting the kid in any real danger, so you know that ultimately nothing is going to happen. The Ring suffers from none of these fatal flaws. The young Yoichi is rarely the center of attention, and when he is, child actor Rikiya Otaka is somber, soft-spoken, and completely devoid of the annoying traits most children in movies (and in real life, for that matter) tend to exhibit. Because of this, when his fate is called into question by his viewing the videotape, you actually don’t want to see him die a horrible and mysterious death. Funny how much more effective a film can be when you don’t want bad things to happen to the characters. I wish more horror writers and directors would realize this.

The icing on the cake is the music, which by itself is enough to illicit nightmares. Composed by Kenji Kawai, who also did the phenomenal soundtrack for Ghost in the Shell, it is perfectly suited for the film, sounding as it does like a cross between wailing souls, scraping metal, and something that Coil might have concocted on that unused Hellraiser soundtrack they did. It’s just one more difference between successful horror like The Ring, and the other crap we have out there that eschews using music to set the mood and instead uses an unrelated parade of pop hits to sell soundtrack CDs.

It’s an amazing film in every aspect, and for my money, it will remain one of the greatest and scariest horror films of all time, easily ranking among the past classics. Intelligent writing and masterful filmmaking elevate the proceedings far above the herd, and what is in one sense little more than a very good popcorn movie takes on much deeper qualities. The struggle of modern Japan and the modern Japanese against a very ancient, and traditional terror, not to mention the use of a relatively modern technology as the manifestation of this terror, speaks volumes without hitting us over the head with clumsily and heavy-handedly handled messages. There’s also a well-crafted message in the film about a generation of parents who allow the television to do the child rearing without any real regard for what it is the kids are watching, even if it’s violent pro wrestling shows or cursed video tapes. Again, the message is there but not at the forefront of the movie, never overshadowing the simple, visceral delight of being scared out of your wits by a movie. The Ring is a testament to quality horror filmmaking and should be required viewing for any fan of the genre.

The popularity of the film spawned all sorts of mildly confusing offspring. Both The Ring 2 and The Spiral are sequels, though made by different people and following different paths. Ring 2 is generally considered to be the official sequel, with The Spiral being a somewhat official sequel, but not really. Both films are quite good. Another rarity in the horror genre, I suppose: sequels that, while not quite as good as the original, are still very good. A television show was also made, and a third film, Ring 0, followed part two. Rather than continuing the story, however, part three is a prequel (thus the zero in the title), and by the time it was made, the magic (not to mention the director) had left the series, resulting in a movie that is at best a pale and distant echo of the original. On top of all that, a Korean film called Ring Virus based on the same original novel was made. That movie is also quite good.

Far and away the best thing about The Ring, and the real proof of just how solid a chiller it is, is that a week after watching it and thus watching the cursed video in the film, you’ll start to get fidgety and start thinking about how maybe you should be making copies for your friends and enemies and inviting them over for a viewing.

Nowhere to Hide

All I ask of an action film is that it entertains me. I’m not a demanding viewer most of the time. I’m easy to satisfy, and I don’t think that makes me simple-minded. No, there are plenty of other things that do that. As long as the movie isn’t god-awful boring or just plain full of crap, I’ll probably at least enjoy my time watching it, even if it isn’t the sort of thing I’d ever buy. Frankly, I’d much rather sit through a dumb but exciting action film than a boring one that tries to be smart and fails miserably. At least a dumb action movie lets you know immediately where you stand. At the same time, I hate a lot of big, dumb action movies. Is this a contradiction? Hypocrisy? Well, don’t try to figure me out. I’m one of those hedge mazes, baby, and you could get lost in my leafy green complexity.

Continue reading Nowhere to Hide

Redneck Revenge

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Sorry about the lack of screencaps. I owned this years ago on VHS, and the tape was a victim of a particularly hungry VCR. In reflection, it may be that the VCR was only trying to protect me.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: in my opinion, when you call your movie Redneck Revenge, you’re establishing very high expectations. Your movie should have rednecks, and it should have some revenge, and with such a title communicating both low-brow sleaze and violence, you should also have some nudity and probably some car chases where a cop car flips over or jumps through the open doors of a box car on a moving freight train. You know, cool Southern stuff. And let’s face it — we’re talking in relative terms here. It’s not that hard to make a passable hicksploitation film. You churn out a script revolving around either a lone lawman fighting small town corruption or an ex-con who is trying to resist returning to a life of crime, yet gets pressured into breaking the law by small town corruption. You have a fat sheriff in mirrorshades, and you have gals in short cut-offs. You have ample use of the word “boy” aimed at adults. And you have shitloads of fightin’, shootin’, drinkin’, and drivin’ — sometimes all done at the same time. An untrained chimp could probably crap out a hicksploitation film that I would be happy with so long as it contained these key elements in some loosely assembled fashion. Alas that Redneck Revenge was not made by a collective of untrained chimps.

The action, if you want to amuse yourself by using that term, begins with a small-town sheriff on a drug bust. I could make fun of the sheriff, but truth be told, he’s one of those Joe Don Baker model of guys who could no doubt kick my ass up one bank of the Mississippi and down the other. The sheriff’s name is Rick Montana, which is a pretty good hicksploitation film name. Montana is a good first or last name for anyone in the South, much like Cody, Scout, or Skyler. Rick is hiding in the bushes while his undercover man makes a cocaine deal. Of course the bad guys, what with the fact that they are bad guys and all, kill the undercover guy rather than pay him. It’s not that they wanted to kill a cop; they would have shot him even if he was a fellow criminal because the first rule of action films is that no transaction between criminals happens without one group double-crossing the other.

As the deal turns fatal, DEA agents and the state police swarm out of their hiding places. Actually, no, it’s just Rick, who apparently thought he could bust up a huge drug smuggling ring with just him and his buddy. I guess his thinking was not entirely off base, as all evidence points to these drug dealers being pretty crummy at their job. Sure they have a briefcase full of cocaine, but man alive do they ever drive a piece of junk car. It’s like buying coke from Roy Clark. Anyway, Rick comes lumbering down out of the hills with shotgun a-blazin’, and despite the fact that he’s shooting people at more or less point blank range, there is no blood. There is no force of impact. There is no shotgun wound, or any sort of wound at all.

Now believe me, I understand the hassle of pulling off gunshots in a low budget or no budget film. You have to get permits, you have to pay fees, and you have to get blanks, a special effects guy who can do squibs, et cetera et cetera. It can be a hassle, and rigging your own squibs is not as easy as one might think. You can’t just tie a firecracker to a condom filled with fake blood and hope for the best. That’s a lesson I learned first-hand. So what you do, if you have any respect at all for what you are attempting to make, is you work around it. You don’t show the shotgun go off. You don’t show the bullet wound until after the fact, when all you have to do is poke a hole in someone’s shirt. It’s not difficult at all to dance around the fact that you don’t have blanks or explosive squibs. This movie decides instead to have a guy running out of the woods firing a shotgun with no kickback and no smoke that kills people without actually causing any physical damage to their bodies. I suppose it could be some new experimental weapon, or maybe Rick is supposed to be something of an idiot, and he really is just running out after people with an empty gun. After all, the people he “kills” can be seen clearly taking big, heaving breaths after their so-called deaths. It could be that they were just like, “Oh Jesus, this guy again? Okay, when he makes the gun noise, just pretend to die, and then he’ll go away.”

After killing the drug dealers, he kneels for the touching scene next to his fallen comrade, whom he then leaves lying out in the field along with the two dead drug dealers and several kilos of cocaine. I may not be a law enforcement specialist, but I watched a lot of episodes of TJ Hooker (well, one episode, which is probably more than most of you) when I was younger, and I’m pretty certain there are guidelines for drug busts and homicides, like you report the whole incident and don’t leave all the bodies and drugs lying in a field where some young backwoods kid can take his friends on an adventure by uttering the line “You guys wanna see a dead body?” I’m pretty sure that even if you are a big Southern sheriff in a tank top who refuses to call the DEA or any back-up at all in on a coke bust, you still have to do stuff afterwards with all the corpses and evidence.

But Rick will have none of that. While his narration rambles on in a quality so fuzzy you can’t make out anything but “Seems like everyone close to me ends up dead,” Rick just leaves everything lying, hops in a nearby muscle car, and drives off into the sunset. So we’re not off to a smashing start, but at the same time, the movie hasn’t done anything too terribly unforgivable. I mean, smokeless shotguns that leave no bullet wounds in the still-breathing dead are signs of sloppy film making, but there’s a certain charm to them as well.

We then skip forward, and presumably to another town, where a big fat guy who looks like Wilford Brimley pulls up on a fancy-pants three-wheeled motorcycle, or trike if you are a trike fan or a five-year-old. It looks like something a Shriner might drive around during a homecoming parade. A local youth is mightily impressed with the trike however, and as the fat guy, named Red, slides gracefully off his iron steed, the youth takes to polishing the same three or four parts over and over. They have some sort of conversation, but apparently the audio was looped in at a later date after being recorded beneath a highway overpass as a tornado blew through. As Red saunters off, another fat guy pulls up in a car and immediately begins to admire the trike as well. This second fat guy, different from the first in that he doesn’t have a thick droopy mustache, is the local town boss. He sure does like that trike.

Now, okay, let’s review. Lone lawman, check. Fat small town boss, check. Shotguns and muscle cars, check. So they had all the ingredients. They just didn’t know what to do with them. The shotgun doesn’t actually shoot, and the corrupt boss drives an Acura. What the hell kind of small Southern boss drives an Acura or Saturn or whatever the hell it was? I mean, Sheriff Rick may be sorta bad at drug busts, but at least he drives a muscle car. Bosses are supposed to drive those stretch caddies with steer horns on the hood, even if they aren’t in Texas. Or a cool truck. Or something, anything, other than an Acura. Remember Isaac Hayes in Escape From New York as the Duke? He drove around a big long Caddy with chandeliers for headlights. You knew he was the shit. Now, how much different would his first scene be if, instead of a long Caddy with chandelier headlights, he had stepped out of a Dodge Neon?

The boss says something, but since the audio has been recorded through a broken mic wrapped in a very thick wet towel, I’ll de damned if I could make out a word of it. I’m guessing he was telling the rag boy how much he liked the trike and how he would like to steal it or something. The boss then waddles over to Red’s bar and tries to muscle the trike out of his possession. You may be thinking that a fruity looking custom trike may not be that cool an impetus for violence, and you’d be right. It’s not like the boss is fighting to buy some land so he can tear down a youth center and build a casino. He wants a trike. If he’s the boss of the town, why doesn’t he just go down to the shop and order one? If he had watched this movie, he would have seen that the end credits display the shop’s address for a good five minutes, so it’s not like he couldn’t find the place.

I guess even the boss felt like the whole trike thing was pretty lame, so he also throws in that he wants to muscle Red out of ownership of this shitty bar in the middle of nowhere that about four people go to. It’s sort of like if two people went to war over the ownership of a Hardees franchise. When the boss’s goons try to rough ol’ Red up, it attracts the attention of Rick, who had been sitting down at the end of the bar looking sort of like a disturbing cross between Jerry Lawler, John Ritter, and that guy Al from Home Improvement. Rick doesn’t take too kindly to these yokels hassling Red, so he decks them in the lamest barroom brawl you’re likely to see. One of the guys has got to be lugging around over three hundred pounds, not an ounce of it muscle.

Red’s assailants thus vanquished, Rick takes time out to please us all with an acoustic musical interlude — he kicks ass AND plays acoustic guitar for the ladies afterwards! That’s a modern sort of hero. While a couple of the local barmaids sit and half listen to his crooning, Rick goes through an entire. They go through the whole song! And it sounds like they recorded it on a Fischer Price tape deck. This sort of movie is made by calling on friends and local businessmen who want to get their wares put on screen for a few minutes in exchange for some goods or services. Apparently none of the people involved knew anyone from a local radio station, or even a high schooler who had mastered the art of operating a tape recorder.

While Rick woos the lasses with his velvet voice and guitar picking, the gang of fat guys convene to mumble about teaching everyone a lesson. I gotta tell you, even though one of them looks a lot like Big Van Vader, this is a pretty sad gang. What is this guy the boss of anyway? If his dream in life is to own a trike and a shithole of a bar, he can’t be a very powerful boss. This is like watching the VFW guys try to take over a town, except that those guys, even though they could all be in their eighties, could still kick a little ass better than this bunch of yahoos.

And then we’re back to Rick, who is singing another song! Geez! Only a minute in between acoustic guitar interludes??? Isn’t that against the law? What the hell did I rent here? Redneck Revenge or Joan Baez and Friends Honor John Denver? At least this number was interrupted by a Freddie Prinze Sr. look-alike, who comes to threaten Rick some more. Since Rick just kicked all their asses when they attacked him at once, kicking one guy’s ass isn’t that big a deal, though I wish I could say he issued an ass kicking. Instead, he just sort of grabs the guy and maybe pushes him around a little until the guy falls down and runs off. To be fair, it looks like most of the real-life fights I’ve ever seen.

The boss decides he can catch more flies with honey than he can with an out of shape Mexican and a fat guy. He catches up with Rick while the heroic one is hopping into his muscle car. Every time they show the muscle car, surf guitar music plays, which is a pretty cool feature of the car. The boss apologizes for the initial bad impression and invites Rick over to his vast estate for a party. Rick, not wanting to miss out on free booze and chicks, agrees. He must have been mightily disappointed. Look, every evil guy has to have an estate and a pool with lots of random sexy women cavorting around it, preferably topless. How many movie bad guys have you seen in this set-up, usually as they sit in a lounge chair, wearing sunglasses and a terrycloth robe, talking on a cell phone? Every lame action movie has this scene in order to communicate the wealth, power, and decadence of the master criminal.

The big problem here is that this boss’s decadent orgy looks like a Fourth of July pool party. He has a modest suburban home and a refreshing stock of mildly attractive to Plain Jane gals populating his pool. None of them are topless. What the hell? How did this guy get a gang, even one as lame as what he has? I mean, Spankie from the Little Rascals was a more imposing and better connected gang leader than this loser. Come on, wood paneling may give your living room a cozy feel, but it’s not the sort of interior decor a ruthless crime lord goes in for. This guy seems only slightly better off, if any at all, than everyone else in the movie. Who are these women in the pool lazily tossing a ball around? And why do they hang out at this fat old guy’s pool party when it’s obvious he wields no authority or power whatsoever and isn’t even slightly rich? Why does he command a gang of goons and bikini clad lasses he apparently picked up down at the local temp secretary office?

Okay, so this boss has Rick over for the pool party, and they hang out for a while, and then what does he do to seal his possession of Rick’s soul? Offer him a room full of naked women who will attend to his every desire? Offer him wealth, power, political influence, or free rides on the trike? No, he invites Rick into the basement to watch crappy movies. This may be an okay thing for me to do on slow Saturday nights with a few friends, but I’m not trying to win over a righteous sheriff and get him to help me bump off some other old fat guy so I can have his bar and bike. And of all the movies they pick to watch, they watch one called Blood Bath, apparently about Tommy Smothers hunting a serial killer. This all happens because — the bg reveal — this fat boss is played by exploitation film impresario David F. Friedman, and lord knows that man has a basement full of movies.

We then get to watch several minutes of this completely different movie distributed by Something Weird Video. At first I thought someone had recorded over part of Redneck Revenge with a bunch of advertisements. I mean, it goes on for several minutes, but then they cut back to the fat guy laughing. I guess this is part of the movie. Let’s lay something on the line right now — Redneck Revenge is barely an hour long. At least seven of those minutes go to Rick singing songs. A good few minutes more go to playing scenes from a completely different movie of similar American Wrestling Association quality production values. Later on, we’ll have pointless minutes devoted to Rick farting around in an ultralight (one of those little flying lawn mower deals) and looking at an elephant. If your movie is only an hour long, then half the total running time should not be filler, especially filler from other movies full of filler. How the hell hard is it to just rip off Walking Tall? I mean, the movie’s already been made. All you gotta do is cheapen it up a bit, get worse actors, and presto! You have Walking Tall II.

Anyway, after a few minutes of that, it’s back to the pool party, where the women are still tossing around the beach ball and possibly popping Valium based on the level of excitement they communicate. And then it’s back inside and suddenly we — I mean they — are watching Something Weird nudie loops. I’ll tell you what — if this is the only nudity in the whole movie, I’m gonna be mightily pissed. After tempting Rick with this small collection of select titles from the Something Weird catalog, the fat boss figures he’s got our man in the palm of his hand. He heads out to make a deal with the Red: bet the bike and the bar (I think) in the local tough man contest. If Red can’t find a man who can win the tournament, he’ll lose it all. If he wins, well then, he doesn’t seem to get anything. Pretty damn stupid bet if you ask me, but then, I’m not a betting man.

Needless to say, Rick steps up to the plate, even displaying his boxing prowess by breaking a pool cue against the table, which I’m sure Red really appreciated. He only has three customers, and now one of them is always smashing things. The boss is understandably angry, having thought that sitting in the basement watching boring movies with fully clothed women who didn’t put out had been more than enough to entice Rick to join the dark side. Rick then switches into an “Anabolic Activator” sweatshirt, cut off 80s style to communicate his recent acquisition of the eye of the tiger. He goes around watching stock footage of local tough man competitions for more padding. Frequent cuts to reaction from the people in this movie help reassure us that this is all part of the plot and not just some cable access thing someone accidentally recorded over the movie. This goes on for a while.

32 minutes in, and we finally get a rebel flag. How the hell can you make a movie called Redneck Revenge and let half a stinkin’ hour pass without a single rebel flag? Sorry, the one in the opening credits is a cheap shot, and I don’t count that.

Determined to make sure Rick doesn’t make it to the fateful tough man competition, the fat gang (not to be confused with the elusive and mysterious Gang of Fatty) sets up a cunning trap. Rick walks into an ambush, or purposely drives there, and gets his ass kicked in a very boring fashion. Then they drag him around behind the truck, because you always have to drag someone behind a truck in these movies. Luckily, they put a thick jacket on him and only drive across grass at very slow speeds. Don’t the dozens of cars passing nearby on the road notice this? And for that matter, hasn’t anyone thought of, you know, calling the cops? It’s obvious that this boss is not one of those bosses who has the mayor and the chief of police in his pocket. I mean, this guy can’t even put the squeeze on some old fart named Red. If this guy is lucky, maybe he can bully around the local newsie, but even that will only last until the newsie goes to high school or starts drinking Met-Rx. This boss has no local power whatsoever, so why don’t they just call the cops on him and his worthless bunch of goons?

Anyway, I guess that doesn’t matter. The boss shows up and says he doesn’t want Rick to not be able to enter the contest. Why not? The bet was that Red couldn’t find a guy who could win, so if Rick can’t compete, well then there you go. Whatever the case, they leave Rick lying in the field. In a better generic action film, this is the part where a Shaolin monk or crazy feral girl is supposed to discover the beaten hero and nurse him back to health, after which he can start training for revenge. Instead, it’s fat Red on his chopper trike, and they head off to the bar to get cleaned up. Don’t these guys have homes? And how the heck did Red know Rick was lying unconscious in a vacant lot? Oh yeah, probably because the whole thing took place a few feet from a major road.

Anyway, I don’t know about you, but all the action up to this point has me drained! Why don’t we take a break from the non-stop thrills of Rick sitting poolside and turn our attentions to the wacky zany county fair! The arrival of the fair is announced by stock circus music. You know, a wise man once said that “Circus music ain’t nothing but music you play at a circus,” and I’d be hard-pressed to argue with him. This is the lamest county fair ever. I’ve been to a lot of county fairs. I’ve bee to county fairs in Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, and even stopped at random ones as I stumbled across them driving through Georgia and Tennessee. I know my Southern county fairs, and let me tell you this one will make you wish it was as good as those mini-fairs that set up for a few days in the K-Mart parking lot.

This is where the tough man competition is being held. Scenes of tough man action are intercut with interesting shots establishing the festive atmosphere of the fair — a haunting juxtaposition of the fun of a fair with the dire situation Rick is in. Okay, not really. Mostly it’s scintillating action-packed shots of funnel cakes being made. Now I like a good funnel cake. I even like a bad one, but I don’t necessarily want to rent a video of them being made. Then it’s back to the contest, where they do the thing where the big guy holds the little guy back by the forehead, and the little guy swings wildly, his every blow falling woefully short of its target. I know my uncle used to do this to me, but is it really a viable defensive move in a no holds barred, bare knuckle street fight? For that matter, the “Indian wrist burn” my uncle generally followed up with looks to be more powerful than any of the offense we see on display in this parade of small town machismo.

After a little of that, as if the film didn’t already have enough filler, we get random shot of Rick petting an elephant. Just because he’s been kidnapped, beaten, and dragged slowly behind a truck doesn’t mean Rick can’t appreciate exotic animals. And then it’s back to the fight. Aren’t people supposed to wear athletic gear? I mean, even in a small town affair such as this, shouldn’t the guys show up wearing something other than their work clothes? I don’t know — a pair of old gym shorts, some sweat pants, something like that? And now that I think about it, what happens if neither Rick nor one of the boss’s goons wins the tournament? Surely in a small rural Alabama town, there must be at least one hell-raising young ass-kicker who can wipe the floor with everyone else. And why is this whole sequence set to 1980s generic breakdance music? What the hell is Southern or rednecky about that? Were they too damn cheap to spring for some stock banjo music?

More elephant footage then, set to drunken kooky music. Isn’t this Rick guy supposed to be fighting or something? For a bare-knuckles, no-holds-barred competition populated by the local fat boss’ thugs, he’s yet to get so much as a scratch or bruise, and he apparently has plenty of time and energy for traipsing about the midway in between matches, spending his time stroking elephants and watching a family of acrobats. With the first day of vicious fighting over, the thugs proclaim that it is time to take the kid gloves off. Shouldn’t they have done that to begin with? What was the benefit of having the kid gloves on in the first place? And once again, isn’t this a lot of trouble to go through for a trike?

To prove they mean business, the fat boss’s thugs show up and hang Rick’s little brother, or buddy, who possesses an unsettling resemblance to Roger Clinton. Okay, now I have to ask one more time — aren’t there any cops in this town? This fat guy isn’t so rich that he could have bribed the whole place, or even one person. Hell, his television was a 15-inch Magnavox. Isn’t Rick a cop? Or at least an ex cop? Wouldn’t it occur to him that maybe he could seek assistance from the local constabulary? And isn’t this a pretty serious, rapid escalation in the type of crime they are willing to commit?

To cement their evilness, the thugs kidnap the girl Rick had been scamming on with the acoustic guitar approach. You know, just in case killing his little brother wasn’t enough. Why would they kill him and only kidnap her? Naturally, they say if he ever wants to see her alive again, he’ll lose the fight. So okay, we have extortion, assault and battery, murder, and now kidnapping. I’m still thinking a call to the cops might be in order, but then, I’m no Rick Montana. Angry at hearing this threat, Rick disregards that whole thing about not killing messengers and snaps the neck of the guy who delivered the threat. Isn’t that, you know, illegal? I mean, the guy wasn’t even armed. He didn’t even take a swing at Rick. I know Rick’s pissed about his brother, but breaking someone’s neck when you don’t even know if they were involved in the murder isn’t the most heroic thing in the world, even if the guy looks sort of like a woodchuck.

Rick determines that the best course of action is to fly around in an ultralight for a spell. An ultralight is a very small aircraft, generally single person, that looks like a flying go-cart. You don’t need a pilot’s license, and they are fairly cool, I will admit. But what the hell? It’s not like you can sneak up on someone in one of those things, especially if it has a giant neon green sail. They aren’t very fast, but they are very loud. What the heck is this supposed to accomplish other than to show off the fact that one of Rick Montana’s friend’s owns an ultralight? Well, I guess he does land it about fifteen feet away from where he took off, so maybe he was just blowing off some steam. He might have given one of those, “You know, when I’m up here, all the problems of the world seem a million miles away” speeches, but since the audio throughout the whole movie was recorded via an intricate network of cardboard paper towel tubes, I can’t be sure if anything was said at all.

So Rick sits and waits for the bad guys to stop by with the girl, and then he kicks some ass and rescues her. Does he use a gun on these possibly armed assailants who have already murdered his little brother? Hell no, that ain’t the Southern way. Oh wait, yes it is. Anyway, Rick opts to open a can of whoop-ass pro wrestling style, and takes on the thugs with a folding metal chair. This scene, incidentally, like just about every other scene in the movie, takes place either in a construction site or a car port. It’s difficult to tell which, but apparently this entire town is made of car ports and construction sites.

Meanwhile, the fat boss is back hassling Red again. Why do they keep letting him into the bar? Rick shows up to clean a little house, this time sporting a wrestling belt. Oh wait, it’s from the tough man competition. I guess he won. Finally, some cops show up with Rick and arrest the boss. Shouldn’t they be upset about the dude with the broken neck? And shouldn’t they mention that maybe Rick should have called them before the kidnapping and murder? Speaking of which, for a guy whose little brother was murdered the day before, Rick is in a pretty jovial mood. He even feels like singing! Oh no, wait, instead he just drinks. Oh no, he is singing after all, performing rousing country western numbers with a band called The Tres Hombres,which features four members. I guess one guy isn’t an hombre. So in exchange for the life of his little brother, Rick helped a stranger maintain possession of a goofy looking custom trike. The movie closes with some break dancing music. Where the hell did that come from?

Since I always like to accentuate the positive of even a very bad movie, allow me to state the two positive aspects of Redneck Revenge. First, Lori Gretchen, who appears for a few seconds as a random girl in the pool party scene, is cute. Second, the movie is only an hour long. Somehow, these are hardly worth the investment of time, but at least I didn’t trade the life of a loved one.

To top things off, Big Ray’s Custom Trike gets a credit, complete with address and multiple angles of the famous trike as featured in the smash hit Redneck Revenge. It goes on for a spell. So what you have here is not a movie at all. It’s a very long commercial for Big Ray’s and to a lesser extent, Something Weird Video. Normally, I’m a huge fan of Something Weird, but I’ll never forgive them for this. As far as locally produced commercials go, this was pretty good. It was even better than the old Gainesville Steven A. Bagan, attorney at law commercials where the little slobbering kid waggles his finger at the camera and drools out the line, “Wemembull! Safety foist!” It was not, however, better than the collective commercial works of Louisville’s “Smilin’ Irishman” used car lot commercials.

As far as movies go, even hour-long shot-on-video movies made for less than the price of a meal at Denny’s, this thing stinks. Almost all of it is filler. You can’t hear a single word that’s being said. There’s violence but not interesting violence, no nudity except in those strip loops they watch, and every character is goofy beyond belief. The script couldn’t have been worse if it had been written by very small mollusks. All this over a trike? A local boss criminal who has no power yet can still go around killing Roger Clinton without anyone getting upset? Okay, maybe that’s believable, but what about everything else? There is little at all of merit in this film unless you are really into trikes, and even then it’s probably still not worth it.

And what’s with all the goddamned circus footage? If you’re going to put a family of acrobats in your movie, at least get ones that have mastered something more than the dramatic front tumble or swinging back and forth on the trapeze. I understand the people who made this probably wanted to cram everything from their local community into the movie, but you know what? They’re community was boring. Think about how much fun you would have watching home videos of complete strangers talking about middle school football, and you have in your mind a video that will prove at least twice as interesting as this.

I want to say good things about this movie. Believe me, I do. Rick Montana is a big guy, and I don’t want to piss him off by insulting a movie that, despite what appears on the screen, was probably a lot of work. You’ll notice that, unlike other movie review websites, I rarely post negative reviews, and even my negative reviews strive to highlight the positive parts. I’m a very forgiving man. I’m especially forgiving when it comes to do-it-yourself projects. I generally feel that they deserve the support of the fringe film community because they are labors of love from people working 100% outside the mainstream. I want to like those films, because I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews. I didn’t enjoy Redneck Revenge even more (or is it less?). I hope Big Ray got a little extra business out of this, or Rick Montana got a recording deal or something, because then at least this film would have served some purpose.