Cinema-Maniac: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

Manos: The Hands of Fate is legendarily bad and considered to be the worst horror movie ever made. That’s quite an accomplishment considering the horror genre has a killer elevator, a trilogy about a killer cookie, one about a killer bed, and so many other goofy films more viable to take that spot. Yet regardless of being label as “the worst horror movie of all time” it continues to attract audiences and some even end up liking it. How could it be that what’s consider trashed by the majority is treasured by many? Underneath the rough surfaces lies something that entertains for the wrong reason few bad films can.

Hands: The Hands of Fate on the spot improv plot is about a family getting lost on the road and stumbling upon a hidden, underground, devil-worshiping cult led by the fearsome Master and his servant Torgo. To be honest the premise could have worked it has an unconventional narrative, is unpredictable, and slowly reveals the answers to it mystery that is setup. Problem with all of these elements being the execution of them. Everything is loosely and flimsily connected by a thin thread. In fact if the character ever left the house the film would have no plot to speak off. With the exception of Torgo secondary characters are useless. A couple too cheap to afford a cheap hotel or go to their parent homes always make out publicly in a car. Easily persuadable policemen who give you a free pass on a speeding ticket if you’re late and for some reason making out in public is illegal in this town or desert. Than the six wives of The Master each younger than the last. Unfortunately given the context within the film the couple daughter not being killed could be debated that the Master is a ped…better yet lets avoid that territory altogether. Also I want to meet the person who dubbed this. I’m no expert on the English language, but are you sure “You all are mad. Mad the whole lot of you.” is proper English. Characters have no development not even enough to be one dimensional. Each character has one trait (like being hungry) and that’s about it. Now no one could talk this film without mentioning the iconic Torgo. This character is the sole reason this film thrives in awfulness. Actor John Reynold non-experience as an actor gives the character a nice touch. His awkward walk from probably smoking one too many joint, goofy facial expression, and silly line delivery adds to a layer of entertainment to his character.

As for the other area the film is a complete failure. For the first half hour the amazement of how every bad decision accumulated into a something so shockingly bad is something difficult to not want to look at. Than the second half becomes a tedious series of repetition slowly loosing its charm. The editing in this film is among the worst anyone could string together. Lines of dialogue repeat loop, awkward cuts that make you question if the copy of the film you’re watching is in poor condition, and the improper timing of inserting music. For example, when first meeting Torgo “scary” music plays when Torgo is getting luggage from a car. It seems the clown noise someone was squeaking behind the scenes was kept in the film for some reason. Music in this film sounds like the instruments themselves were laughing. One of the most noticeable of laughing instruments is during the worst catfight ever staged is scored using a laughing Saxophone. Editing just in general is questionable. In one scene a dog goes out into the desert and is killed by what sounds like Ducks. It will leave your jaws open in how bad editing could scoop down to. As for the acting it lives up to its reputation. Actors break the forth wall looking directly in the cameras and monotone performances. Because of the poor editing you could spot clapperboards, actor getting to their location for the scene, and scenes where it’s clear the actors themselves are holding the camera. As far as art direction goes it lacking evidently; the only time it chooses to expresses itself beyond limitation is The Master cape having two giant hands on it. Aside from that everything has and retains a low-budget feel.

Hands: Los Manos of Fate lives up to its reputation, but not entirely like how one would expect. It’s devoid of any proper craftsmanship yet the cast and crew heart behind it is felt regardless how the quality turned out. There’s a reason audiences go seeking this “awful” film and avoid atrocities such as Monster-A-Go-Go. A bad film can entertain it audiences even if how it does that is unintentional as oppose to one that doesn’t. Who would wants to dig up a fifty plus year old that will infuriates them. On the surface everybody clearly sees the rough edges, but some that look past that sees an entity that brings a good time like any film attempts to do.


Cinema-Maniac: Escape From Tomorrow (2013) Review

The selling point of “Escape From Tomorrow” is the fact it was filmed entirely in Disneyland (which according to the film characters is in California, Florida) without anyone noticing it. Reason for that being as a film it does not function, does not understand what a film is, and is entirely purposeless with no set goal to accomplish. If release as someone vacation videos it would been far superior product than the one right before us.

Escape From Tomorrow has nothing that would resemble a story. It has a concept for a final act, but missing is the middle elevating raising action, and a beginning that makes us care about what we are watching in the first place. Never at any point does the film “plot” is ever made noticeable. The plot, just like the filmmakers imaginations, is nowhere to be seen on sight. Fortunately it did know what a protagonist is. Unfortunately it does not know what makes a good protagonist. Our protagonist is Jim, an utterly unlikable father whose actions have no consequences thus creating no conflict. Jim cheats on his wife which is never brought up in the film, Jim lets his wife do the hard work in parenting the children, Jim disregards his children safety (his looses sight of his kids several time) to stalk two sixteen year old girls around Disneyland, Jim constantly thinking about women he could have sex with (even after he cheated), and worse of all Jim is not given a single earned redeemable trait. This is an example of what I like to call an “anti character”. A character specifically designed to destroy the foundation of storytelling, infuriate the audience with his/her existence, and represent the emptiness of its creation.

For the first two act all we see is Jim and his family going around Disneyland going on rides until the one hour mark where Jim is electroshock into unconsciousness by workers. Within the first two act it fails to make us comfortable in Disneyland. Without an atmosphere of any kind the eerie direction of isolation it was going for never creeps into the viewer. I would make a joke how the filmmakers behind this put an intermission in a 90 minute film, but that intermission is a testament to the filmmakers incompetency acknowledging the joyless void they have created. The final act hints at a bigger scope attempting to make Disneyland this twisted and extraterrestrial control environment, but gives the opposite the effect. It callbacks to earlier seemingly unimportant events that play a role in the plot which never receives buildup. When reusing certain plot points it never does anything extraordinary or twisted with them. Instead it plays out realistically going against the intention. Disneyland through this film never comes off as twisted because most of the time because extraordinary things are rarely presented in the film.

Technical aspect are nothing impressive with audio and cinematography always being problematic. Framing of a shot can be either to high, to low, to far in one direction to name creating awkward shots. Also, it’s unable to conceal the usage of a green screen making the environment appear flat with actors sticking out. Audio is problematic as the film scores will be drown out by the dialogue or the noise of people in the Disneyland. Acting is terrible on all account. Being mostly a one man showcase for Roy Abramsohn who comes of as a second rate Ray Romano minus the charm. His character is written in such a despicable way its further downgraded by Abramsohn awful performance. Abramsohn lack of motivation and phone in emotions makes him a hatable presence on screen. Regardless Abramsohn is not be blamed coming of so negatively, but more blame should be put on what this film calls writing.

Escape From Tomorrow was better left untouched yesterday, better left unseen today, and should forever disappear into obscurity tomorrow. It’s only has the novelty of being filmed in Disneyland to its name and nothing more. Devoid of magic, wonder, and joy despite taking place entirely in Disneyland “Escapes From Tomorrow” delivers one of the unmagical and unhappiest 90 minutes possible.

Rating: 0/10

Cinema-Maniac: My Stepbrother Is a Vampire!?! (2013) Review

After the film cheap opening credit accompanying by cheesy music we get into the film. My Stepbrother Is A Vampire begins with our narrator telling us we are in the middle of our story with our ordinary protagonist Nancy mildly fearing for her life. Our narrator when about to tell us what poor Nancy is fearing gets interrupted by Nancy’s revealing our narrator is a cat. Why do I bring this up? For starter the cat can’t be our narrator taking into account every single scene 9 out of 10 times the cat will not make an appearance. Only going on what we are given the cat could have simply made everything up since the cat plays no importance of any size in the film. Moving on, Nancy’s mom gets married to a dentist and both move into a house together. After that the plot mostly centers around Nancy trying to prove her stepbrother is a vampire. Unfortunately that plot point is spoiled since the film title gives it away. In terms of a narrative it has no conflict to drive the protagonist motivation. Sure there’s a mystery whether or not if her stepbrother is a vampire, but any who could read knows the outcome of the mystery before our protagonist finds the answer. How Nancy arrive to her conclusion is neither interesting.

At a basic level characters receive minimal development. It’s enough established the relationship between characters, give each a different personalty, subplots that come into play in the main story, and conflict of every character that plays some importance. Vampire culture is made fun of without a mean spirit in it body. A nice breath of fresh air to say the least. The plot no matter how innocent and non involving it is provides amusement; goofy dialogue, nonsensical set of characters, bizarre scenes (one involves the step brother telling a girl to rub her stomach and spin which the girl does), and a simple problem taken way out of proportion. Acting is wooden all around, but deliver with energy. Actors are having fun in their roles adding a layer of amusement when viewing the bad performances. They range from hardly changing a muscle in facial expressions to being completely over the top.

The plot is okay compare to director David DeCoteau (who brought us “A Talking Cat?”) tedious framing of every scene and pointless insertion of montages that last minutes. One of my favorite is when actress Shae Landers simply puts stakes, garlic, painting of crosses, and random drawings around her room. Sounds harmless until you hear “Dance, dance, dance, gotta dance, dance. Dance the feeling tonight”. Not in any scene (especially this one) is anyone ever dancing. It’s so pointless you’ll begin to notice the uninspired lyrics. “It doesn’t matter if you could go home tonight. It doesn’t matter if someone treats you wrong tonight. All you want to do tonight is go do the dance.”. Hearing this I was wondering what kind of dance the singer was referring too. So I pictured someone doing a combination of the robot and Carl Douglas “Dance the Kung Fu”. Montages repeat shots in particular one when three character walk with cheesy vampire capes takes minutes for the group to walk five feet in their makeover introduction.

My Stepbrother Is A Vampire is cheap and incompetent filmmaking on a mildly enjoyable level. It has likable cast that even with wooden performances are delivered with energy. Nothing from the plot is remotely memorable, but neither is it mean spirited to vampire culture or anyone specifically. Never does it downgrade entirely into the territory where it becomes infuriating with each passing mintue. Chances are My Stepmother Is A Vampire poor execution will not translate equally with audiences, but there are worse way to spend 95 minutes.

Rating: 6/10

Cinema-Maniac: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013) Review

Bad Grandpa lose story is about 86-year-old Irving Zisman is on a journey across America with the most unlikely companion: his 8 year-old grandson, Billy. The plot is serviceable doing exactly what it was intended to do; string together practical jokes and physical comedy in a serviceable narrative without feeling like one giant YouTube video. In context it makes sense for the duo to travel around to several locations and because of the way the characters are written the jokes make sense. It has good intentions providing a different take on embracing parenthood. Characters without question are far from being decent, but contains a heart in the bond between two unlikely characters. In its core it’s a basic story which evidently feels force in its format. Whenever the fictional Zisman interacts with a non-fictional character pacing becomes inconsistent. Spending too much time setting up the joke in a specific manner or waiting on a camera man to capture some of the non actors reactions. Jokes here in general are nothing you wouldn’t expect from MTV; sex jokes, jokes about women and male genitalia, fart jokes, old people doing crazy things, and a kid joining his grandpa on the hijinks. Hardly does it diverge from its own brand of humor for better and worse. Sure the plot is basic and far from what the majority will ever remember, but it gives the film a better purpose than just being just another series of hijinks just for the sake of it.

The film while mostly a series of jokes with hidden camera catching regular people reaction it does contain bits of fiction meant to be fiction. Certain scenes without question feel heavily acted destroying what joke was meant to be found in the reaction. When the reactions are genuine it’s funny, but when it’s staged it gets across the opposite effect. Cinematography quality is minor distraction. At times the cinematography will differ appearing grainy while appearing clear in the next shot. Acting is one dimensional whenever the film allows there to be. Johnny Knoxville and co-star Jackson Nicoll retain the same personas from beginning to end. Knoxville is a foul mouthed and sex obsessed old men while Nicoll is a kid doing and saying funny thing. Jackson Nicoll surpasses Knoxville when it comes to improv making his scenes flow naturally as oppose to Knoxville where his improv can come across as awkward.

Bad Grandpa doesn’t have much of a story, but it’s a serviceable distraction before going into the comedic setups. It’s lack variety when it comes to having a sense of humor, but what kind of jokes it chooses to create can bring laughter to its audience.

Rating: 7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Aftershocks (Tangshan dadizhen) (2010)

Disaster movies tends to treat a natural disaster as the centerpiece or spectacle of the film. Forgetting to spend time exploring the human side of such an event and the profound effect it can have on a person’s life. Tangshan dadizhen (Aftershock in English) is unlike many in its league distinguishing itself by having a human core in the center of it all. I’ll even dare call it the greatest natural disaster film ever made.

Tangshan dadizhen (Aftershock) tells the story of a family separated as a result of the Great Tangshan Earthquake of 1976. Upon the first the act we get the basic setup; a loving family bond, a day in a pre-natural disaster state, and establishing the state of mind an entire nation’s people. Essential character development flourishes within the first act of the film presenting a loving average family. These moments of character development early in the film are important as the natural disaster occurs earlier than one’s might expect. Narrative wise this choice could have damaged the film having the disaster occur within the first act, but in this film the Earthquake nor the mayhem it causes the focus. Instead the natural disaster is a defining incident in our character live through that forever change them. It’ll pull heartstrings seeing a mother desperately looking for her children in the shambles of what remains for her city with citizens frantically acting to help. What occurs to the mother is difficult to watch in an emotionally devastating scene. For the purpose of that scene and anyone interested in seeing the film I won’t give the specifics of what occurs away possibly lessening its impact.

Once the Earthquake hits the majority of the film is a centerpiece on the impact the Earthquake had on the characters. We see them grow up attempting to forget the horrific past. Bringing up at one point by a survivor while mourning the lost it might have been better to die than live with it scars. The character lives expresses the aftermath has on the victims and attempting to live a regular life. It’s relatable regardless of your position in experiencing a natural disaster. Certainly not everyone will experience what it is liked living through an Earthquake, but everyone at one point will be come to face a trouble romance, leaving your parents living in the world on your own, being stuck in memories living on a glorious past during a unpleasant present, starting a family, and many more reflectable themes. Putting into to perspectives that forces far from our control has to complexities to it than a simple statistic and our best wishes. It’s a fully realized story that fleshes out human natures with it characters from tragedies and the uplifting nature of family.

All the performances are fully realized with it cast of actors casting a smile and tear on your face. Xu Fan leads the film with her performance as a depress mother. Fan character carries her scars the longest delivery a performance that’s not too overly emotional to detract from realism. She comes as someone cold and damaged never to point where we see her as a machine. Weaving a character whose humanity is still in tact, but baring years of scar both physically and how she verbally deliver her line. Zhang Jingchu strength is the ability to make a character performance so believable yet human. Chen Li is all class and humane as the caring fostering father of Guoqiang Zhang. His portrayal of the fatherly role is fitting and steals the show with his glaring eyes. His moments of anger are a joy to watch, along with his interaction with his wife and daughter.

Tangshan dadizhen (Aftershock) is tragically powerful as it emotionally moving. an expression of life and the difficult struggles that come with it. By the end of the film you will be given a better perspectives on such disastrous incidents. Life changes people sometime with forces out of our control, but never are common struggles and people are far from our understanding.

Rating: 10/10