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Till Death Do We Scare

Till Death Do We Scare (1982) ****

Poor Irene (Olivia Cheng) – every man she marries dies as soon as they tie the knot! Fortunately (?), her three dead husbands, who loiter around the house as ghosts, want Irene to be happy, so they determine to locate another, hopefully more durable husband for her and pick incompetent radio horror show host Alan (Alan Tam). What follows is essentially a series of slapstick shenanigans as the ghosts, invisible to Irene and Alan, pull various stunts to bring the couple together. Complicating matters are the machinations of evil spirits who would prefer to see Alan dead. 

Till Death Do We Scare is typical fare for the Chinese ghost comedy genre, but with the odd, added attraction of stretchy Beetlejuice-style special effects by none other than Tom Savini. The best comic set piece in the movie is probably the haunted chair that refuses to let fat guy Eric Tsang sit in it; but other highlights include a deflatable ghost face, an animated pig’s head on buffet table, a decomposing princess with amorous intentions, and an unfortunate sucker who rolls down a hill and gets flattened by a steamroller. Till Death Do We Scare has the madcap energy viewers have come to expect of the Hong Kong film industry in the eighties, and should please devotees of the Chinese horror comedy.

4 out of 5 stars.

Breakfast

Vampire’s Breakfast (1987) ***1/2

Fat Piao (Kent Cheng) is a portly Hong Kong photojournalist investigating a series of what appear to be vampire murders, but police refuse to believe his stories, and only a sleazy thief (Keith Kwan) is willing to help him. Vampire’s Breakfast, like The Haunted Cop Shop (1987), is not a typical indigenous Chinese hopping vampire movie, but a horror hybrid featuring a rotten-looking blond Caucasian bloodsucker (Simon Willson) with the usual western susceptibilities to crucifixes and wooden stakes – or, as the subtitles would have it, a “mahogany nail”. Pretty, pouty Emily Chu, whom action enthusiasts may remember from John Woo’s classic A Better Tomorrow (1986), adds a deal of grace as Piao’s love interest, Angie, while Parkman Wong contributes irksome antagonism as skeptical Inspector Chen.

The movie drags a bit in the middle, but does feature a handful of suspenseful sequences, generally drenched in creepy blue moonlight and city shadows. A clandestine visit to a morgue makes for one of the more memorable scenes, while a spurting decapitation at the end should please gorehounds. One does wish, however, that the nastiness of one early scene in a strip club had been sustained throughout the film. Veteran viewers of Hong Kong horror will probably enjoy Vampire’s Breakfast, but prissier audiences accustomed to Criterion disc production standards are hereby warned that the subtitles on the Fortune Star DVD release are more than usually sloppy, resulting in lines of dialogue like, “Tow big eyes were ataring at me”.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Vampire’s Breakfast trailer

Redlands Poster

Vienna (Nicole Fox) is a Midwestern transplant to Southern California who dreams of immortalizing herself through art as a model. Allan (Clifford Morts) is the “fat pervert” and amateur Irving Klaw who entertains her vanity. The pair’s initial collaboration sets Redlands into deliberate motion.

An uneasy study of the creative process and of the artist-model relationship as an “energy transfer”, or a form of vampirism, John Brian King’s debut directorial effort is shot almost entirely in static master shots, a choice that screams “art house” (and low budget) and will automatically alienate the easily distracted. Potential viewers are warned that this is not a film for the faint of heart and that it contains one appalling scene of physical violence in addition to multiple instances of emotional cruelty.

Redlands, owing to a shared subject matter and sensibility, would make for a complementary double feature with Gut (2012) or 24 Exposures (2013) – not that most people would want to sit through two such films in a single sitting. Those sufficiently bold to be interested, however, can screen this gross and engrossing movie via Vimeo.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Redlands is:

9. Anti-miscegenation. A freakish, infatuated Asian sidler (Connie Shin) haunts a camera shop to be near its clerk (Leland Montgomery), but he wants nothing to do with her.

8. Anti-Christian. Vienna sports a kitschy “Have Faith” t-shirt as she rambles inanely about Falco.

7. Anti-vegan. Vegans are depicted as somewhat shallow. Hitler is more than once referenced as having been a vegetarian, presumably so as to discredit the lifestyle.

6. Populist, Luddite, anti-corporate, and protectionist. Allan becomes frustrated with a credit card company’s user-unfriendly robot phone system and finally snaps when he gets through to a human customer service representative, who turns out to be an African named Chiwamba. He calls her a “black bitch” after she informs him that her predatory bankster organization has lowered his credit limit without informing him and is charging him penalty fees for exceeding his newly decapitated limit. Allan’s anger is that of the disenfranchised white male and the American who has seen his countrymen’s jobs either shipped overseas or given to cheap wetbacks and other undesirables. In a fit of impotence, he smashes his phone.

5. Un-p.c. Characters use words like “bitch” and “retard”.

4. Anti-drug. Vienna’s father was an addict.

3. Anti-Semitic! Zack (Sam Brittan) is a parasitic Jew and quasi-pimp, an abusive easy rider who leeches off of his gentile girlfriend’s earnings. “Somebody’s gotta mind the store,” he says. “Might as well be me.”

2. Anti-porn. Parallel scenes of photography sessions evoke a powerful metaphor: pornography as a body of autopsy photos of western woman.

1. Anti-feminist/anti-slut. The misogynistic behavior of the men in Redlands is unpleasant to witness and not at all condoned in the tone of the film. What is impossible to deny, however, is that the unenviable treatment of the women in Redlands results from feminism and its destabilizing effect on the family and the moral fabric of society. The importance of the father as the central figure in a woman’s life comes across very clearly.

24exposures

Prolific director Joe Swanberg, who had a supporting role as the philistine jerk brother in You’re Next, reunites with that film’s writer-director team of Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard in 24 Exposures, a low-budget postmodern murder mystery set in the world of fetish photography. Barrett plays Michael Bamfeaux, a depressed police detective investigating murders of models that mirror the gory photo shoots of artsy smut peddler Billy, effortlessly brought to life by Wingard.

Meanwhile, Billy’s bisexual live-in girlfriend Alex (photographer Caroline White) begins to be jealous of his professional interest in waitress Rebecca (Helen Rogers). Is Billy’s preoccupation with murder more than an aesthetic affinity? And what about Rebecca’s erratic and violently jealous nerd boyfriend? Could he be the fetishistic killer, or is it somebody else altogether?

24 Exposures is sexually explicit, with multiple topless photo shoots and even one girl-girl-guy interlude; but the approach to the exploitative content is so matter-of-fact as to drain most of the erotic potential from the images of degeneracy. Scenes such as Rebecca’s first lesbian experience are extremely easy on the eyes, however. Highlights or lowlights, depending upon the viewer’s taste, are a stylish opening credits series of images paying tribute to vintage pulp artwork; various actresses’ asses and breasts, sometimes pressing against each other; and also some pretty convincing gore makeup for the photo sessions.

Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, with perhaps the mild exception of unusually uncharismatic cop Bamfeaux, whose appearance onscreen is sometimes accompanied by an inexplicably tough-sounding theme. Swanberg, in a cameo as aspiring memoirist Bamfeaux’s literary agent, gives him a disapproving critique that ironically touches upon some of the reasons why 24 Exposures is ultimately a bit of a disappointment if judged as a murder mystery. The resolution, if it can be called that, simply fails to deliver on the potential promised by such a dramatic and ominous buildup, leaving the viewer unsatisfied as the credits follow an unexpectedly abrupt ending. But, imperfections aside, 24 Exposures is worth seeing if only because it is never boring.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that 24 Exposures is:

5. Pro-drug. Billy and his bevy of bimbos smoke dope.

4. Pro-castration. Small-bearded, bracelet-wearing weenie Billy cooks breakfast for two women after he bangs them.

3. Pro-gay. Callie (Anna Kendrick lookalike Sophia Takal) tells the story of how her first-ever orgasm was with another girl. Alex is bisexual.

2. Pro-police. Bamfeaux, who at one point considers suicide, offers a pathetic example of what serving and protecting the public can do to a man. But he mans up and rises to the occasion when a (more or less) innocent damsel is in distress.

1. Pro-slut. There is something in 24 Exposures, thankfully not emphasized or made overly obnoxious, of the tired shtick about sexually conservative or conventional people being psychologically unhealthy or repressed, while the carefree, sexually adventurous types like Billy are better-adjusted. Fortunately for Detective Bamfeaux, hipster Billy is willing to take him under his wing and initiate him into the simple pleasures of smiling, relaxing once in a while, and bagging trashy, tattooed chicks who take off their clothes for money.

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