As far as ghetto urban legend movies go, this is creepier than The People Under the Stairs, but not quite as memorable. The character of Candyman1 is excellent, and Tony Todd plays the legendary ghoul of Cabrini-Green with gusto. But the story meanders too much, and gets much too hackneyed for such an original premise.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen, Highlander 2: The Quickening, Sideways) is studying urban legends and wants to outdo the tenured profs at the U. She teams up with Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons, Silence of the Lambs, Hard Target) to seek out the origins of the darkest legend only spoken of in whispers, that of the Candyman2. Sort of an amalgam of “Bloody Mary” and ghost stories of escaped slaves, saying his name 5 times in front of a mirror will apparently summon him. He was the son of a slave who fell in love with a plantation owner’s daughter, and when whitey gets wind of it, they hack his hand off, jam a hook into the meaty stump, and then strip him naked and smash a beehive on his gonads. Ow.
His ashes were spread over the land that would be the home of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, lorded over by gangs so powerful that the film-makers let them be extras in exchange for protection. As Helen delves into the evidence of the legend which include recent brutal murders and mutilations- a boy castrated in a restroom, a babysitter and child disemboweled- she explores the spooky underbelly of the projects, finding things that any urban explorer would jizz in their pants over. The best is when she finds a sub-basement, and emerges through a hole in the wall, around which Candyman’s3 face is painted on the other side.
Helen meets few people who are friendly to her- most outsiders come to the projects to gawk or brave the dangers, or as misguided do-gooders. She meets a young mother who sneers, and tells her not everyone here is a gangbanger or a drug addict, and most just want to be left alone to live in whatever dignity they can scrounge. She learns that people believe in the legend, and but are understandably quiet about it. You don’t talk much about a guy who comes to kill you if you say his name 5 times. Helen makes the mistake of saying his name in front of a mirror as a lark, and getting his notice.
Shortly after, Helen is approached by a strange man in a long pimp coat in the parking deck, with a deep and alluring voice. Who could that be? He speaks of her as if they are destined to be together, and after she faints, the body count starts to rise. This is where the movie falters, by becoming a slasher film. Helen awakes next to mutilated bodies, and we know she didn’t kill them because we saw Candyman4 do it; it would be better if we weren’t sure. She gets committed to a mental institution, and her husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley, T2, “24”) decides to get a newer model instead of trying to help. Soon Helen realizes that her only hope is to fight back, but how do you fight a monster?
The ending is ultimately unsatisfying, with little resolution- there is some interesting conjecture that legends only live because we believe, but that goes nowhere. In the end, the C-man is defeated too easily, and we get a new monster a little too reminiscent of Fredwina Krueger to take his place. The premise is a great one, but in the end they don’t do a lot with it. Philip Glass was brought on board to score it, but withheld the rights when he saw they’d changed it to a slasher film. I think he made the right choice. This could have been a lot better, and it’s a shame, because Tony Todd’s performance is unforgettable, and iconic.

He’s a real son of a bee! hyuk, hyuk.

Whew, I reviewed it and only said it 4 times! Oh wait, does the post title count? Shit.

26. Hellraiser: Bloodline

Schlocktoberfest #26: Hellraiser: Bloodline

Cenobites…in…spaaaaaaace! wtf?

I love the original Hellraiser, but the sequels, even Hellbound, are severely lacking and this is no exception. I’m told they only get worse. The director- Kevin Yaghee, who’d only done a “Tales from the Crypt” episode prior to being handed this feature- bowed out when they cut the gore, explanations of the story, and forced “Pinhead,” as he’s known, to show up as early as possible. The movie suffers incredibly due to this meddling, and the script was iffy to begin with. When a newb director decides to go the Alan Smithee route, perhaps you’ve got a piece of poo here.

Why the fuck am I in space?

It begins in space. Yes, space. A descendant of the original builder of the infamous puzzle box is on a space station in 2127, using a robot to solve the box. But a military team is raiding his ship to stop him. Pinhead shows up, and we go into a flashback, to see the origins of the box which summons our prickly pals the cenobites. The space dude’s predecessor is a toymaker commissioned by a de Sade-alike French nobleman, and does not know his creation was built to open a door to Hell. Even we don’t know. The toymaker sees what he has made and tries to destroy it, but fails; the nobleman’s consort Angelique, who is apparently a demon- whether she’s summoned by the box or not I don’t know- and tries to kill off the toymaker’s bloodline to ensure the box’s safety.

I’m… hooked on a feeling…

In the second movie we learned that “Pinhead” was a soldier of the Great War lured in by the box, but here he is an eternal being, and the film either doesn’t care about what has gone before or doesn’t know. We return to the present day and meet another member of the bloodline, who’s a sculptor. They’re all played by the same guy, of course. Angelique and Pinhead want to force him to keep the doorway to Hell open; she does so by seduction, and Pinhead through torture. He makes a new cenobite out of twin security guards by mashing them together, and he has a skinless monster dog called “Beast” to do his bidding. When the chains fly and the flesh is made the devil’s plaything, the movie is quite good. It’s just got a plot as confusing as the puzzle box itself, and seems to be missing a lot of scenes.

nice doggie?

The effects are great for the time, but the story is such a mess that you have to put it together yourself. If the entire future/space plot was culled, we’d have something. The movie shits on its predecessor by changing the box from a demonic lure to trap those seeking pleasures beyond imagination into a combination lock on the door to Hell. It suffers considerably, and if this is one of the “good” sequels, I’m going to avoid the rest. For example Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth, which has a cenobite who shoots compact discs out of his face like buzzsaw blades. That might be a good laugh, but what the hell were they thinking? Angels to some, CD players to others. We’ll tear your music collection apart.

Her mind is an open book

On the other hand, I wanted to know the history of the puzzle box, so I’m to blame. It lured me in, and I let the movie sink its hooks into my face and pull me apart. Pinhead has some good lines in this one- “Do I look like a person who cares what God thinks?” but this is the Kingdom of Crystal Skull of the series. He never needed to go to space. Pinhead got raped as sure as Indy did. Jesus wept.

It does have demon boobies, however.

22. The Midnight Meat Train

Schlocktoberfest #22: The Midnight Meat Train

Who wants to ride the Midnight Meat Train? I know Clive Barker is gay, but was this story title his way of announcing it to moviegoers? Not since Rob Halford of Judas Priest penned “Hell Bent for Leather” has there been such an urgent declaration of one’s sexual orientation. The movie itself is decent slasher fare, and feels like a “Masters of Horror episode dragged out for 90 minutes; it entertains in spots, but it mostly panders to the bloodthirsty.
We want to see people cut up like hogs, and it provides, with a little bit of style. It’s a short story expanded to movie length, and sometimes you feel every minute. In a nameless City- which turns out to be Los Angeles, which actually does have trains- a photographer tries to capture the gritty “heart of the city.” He’s rebuffed by a gallery owner who wants to see the real nasty shit, which is apparently supposed to be “deep,” even though Weegee’s heyday is many decades past.

Our hero Leon is played by Bradley Cooper of “Alias” and The Wedding Crashers, and really should stick to TV. He wanders the subways and takes pictures of a woman about to be raped; he stops the thugs by pointing out the security camera, it’s okay. But hey, the audience paud to see people cut up, so she gets on The Midnight Meat Train. That’s the MM Express to Canarsie, in case you wondered. He catches a glimpse of her getting on, then a splash of red as she is dispatched to the meat locker. His photos wow the art dealer, so he hunts down the train the next night.

Eventually he sees Vinnie Jones, a butcher in full apron, riding the train with a huge fuck-off tenderizing mallet. More people go missing; our photog friend becomes obsessed with the train, to the detriment of his health and relationship, as the story goes. He has a sexy girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) but of course he’s too tired and distracted to screw, to the late-night cable viewer’s lament. Me & Milky watched this on FEARnet, the on-demand Comcast station, which puts horrible commercials at points. So let me get this straight: Fuck you, FEARnet. I don’t pay $120 a month for cable to deal with commercials, and your shitty logo, and little ads across the bottom. It ruins the atmosphere of a movie.

Leon takes his time getting on the train, mostly to give us a better body count; he hunts down The Butcher at his job- a meat packing plant, of course- but nothing comes of it. We see Vinnie at his apartment, readying his butcher tools in a medicine bag, and cutting bizarre barnacle-like sores off his chest with a scalpel. He puts them in a little jar. Nothing comes of this; and sadly it was one of the more interesting parts of the film. A creepy reveal often works well in a short story, but the secret of the Midnight Meat Train is anticlimactic; this is one time where less is less.

This is not the first story to posit that the “heart of a city” is a dark beast that must be fed, and that our lives are based on the murder and suffering of others. There’s a cocktease of a scene where Leon dreams that he is hanging from meathooks in the train, while a grimy tentacle gives him a taste-test; I imagined that Vinnie was slaughtering the commuter cutlets to feed a bizarre, Cthulhu-like growth in the underground, but when we get to the end of the line, we just see some monster-humanoids come out for a nosh. The train’s conductor monologues at the end- explaining just what Leon has stumbled into- but it’s brief and unsatisfying, not conveying any message or the true horror of the situation. I was let down.

Should you bend over for the Midnight Meat Train? It’s an enjoyable ride for horror slasher fans, but there’s little else else. Director Ryuhei Kitamura is new to the genre, and seems to be having fun with CG blood effects; he did Azumi, one of the better “ninja teenager” movies, and Godzilla: Final Wars, but other than some silly shots like the POV of a woman whose head’s knocked clean off by a mallet, he didn’t bring much to the table here. There’s another shot of a bullet going through a Guardian Angel’s head (played with delight by UFC champ “Rampage” Jackson) that was kind of fun, and a few mallet-happy face-smashings to make you flinch, but it’s all CG and never really looks like more than slasher porn.

However, with a movie named Midnight Meat Train I can’t complain about the porn aspect. I knew what I was getting into.

18. Hellraiser

Schlocktoberfest 18: Hellraiser

Apologies for taking so long between posts. It’s been a rough week of training, and this weekend was spent at Chiller Theater Expo. So there’ll be a post for that with photos, as soon as I catch up on movie posts. I’ve been watching ’em, just not posting them!

It’s amazing what you can do with a relatively low budget if you have the right script and the right imagination. I’m not a huge fan of Clive Barker- for every Hellraiser there’s a Nightbreed– but this film should shrug off its silly sequels and be recognized for the classic it is. Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart, it conjures an underworld ruled by cenobites, explorers on the extreme verges of pleasure and pain. Devils to some. Angels to others. They’ll tear your soul apart.
The film’s success lies in how long it makes us wait before seeing them. It begins at a foreign bazaar, where a grubby yet sensual man purchases a gold-inlaid wooden cube from a rather creepy vendor. One fade later and we’re with a strange little family- Dad, the bitchy new wife, and her stepdaughter- moving into the old house they’ve inherited. As they converse while bringing things in, we learn that the father has an estranged brother named Frank, who’s a real dirtbag; he was crashing there for a time, and they find an upstairs room littered with filth. The stuff ol’ dirty Frank leaves in his sleazy wake.

Uncle Frank…?

The story takes off when Dad cuts his hand on a nail and spills some on the floorboards; for while Frank is nowhere to be seen, his hungry spirit still resides in the room, where he used the forbidden box. He feeds on the fresh blood, and grows from the inside out into a mess of flesh and bone, hungry for more. He hides in the shadows until Julia, his brother’s new wife, happens in… this isn’t the first time they’ve bumped into each other, and her desire for him is so great that she overlooks the fact that he resembles a skeleton covered in gelatinous meatloaf, and begins luring in horny men for him to feed on. It sounds ridiculous, but it works because the gory effects haven’t dated at all. Frank is a guy in a sloppy meat suit pulling himself along on the floor, and the copious amounts of pus and goo hide any shortcomings the latex might have. It’s still revolting, 21 years later.

Still gross 20 years later.

The trouble really starts when young Kirsty finds what’s living in the attic; she never liked Uncle Frank, and he’s just as sleazy without skin as he was before. Luckily she finds his puzzle box, and throws it out the window when he tries to get his bloody mitts on her. She grabs it as she flees the house, and that night she is haunted by hideous dreams; in her sleep, she solves the puzzle box. Suddenly the very fabric of reality is torn asunder, as the black-clad cenobites answer the call.

Pinhead is the unfortunate name given to the leader of these cenobites- a name oddly akin to sybarite- clad in a black leather S&M apron and festooned with nails hammered into his face in a grid pattern. The term “cenobite” has to do with monks, and these creatures worship at the altar of pain. They want to take poor little Kirsty back to their plane of existence, to show her the most painful zenith of experience, but she sells out Uncle Frank- who escaped their clutches somehow- and they begrudgingly spare her, if she’ll lead them to their prey. The cenobites are the most memorable part of the film, and here (as in Hellraiser 2: Hellbound, the only worthy sequel) they are not slasher villains but bizarre avatars beyond our contemplation. As Kirsty cries in terror, the leader growls, “Dry your tears! It’s a waste of good suffering.”


“Pinhead” is the best remembered of the bunch, played to perfection by Doug Bradley. But the rest of the gang are just as memorable. Known only by fan nicknames, they are “Chatterbox,” the eyeless beast with his chattering teeth bared in a lipless mouth; “Butterball,” a fat neckless slug with a gaping maw and slavering tongue, sort of like Jabba the Hut with legs, and the female cenobite, whose throat is a bloody gash held open with hooks, and resembles an axe wound, vile pun intended. The gate to their dominion is guarded by a Lovecraftian jumble of flesh that chases Kirsty back to our realm, snapping at her with twisted jaws.

They make a Rubik’s cube of this now…

The actual plot seems like your typical slasher, as Julia keeps bringing sleazy victims for Frank to feed on, but it has some sweet little twists. The cenobites get their due, and the puzzle box is once again cast to Earth to lure those who dare seek pleasures beyond the mundane. It’s amazing that this was made for less than a million dollars. While the visual effects when the cenobites leave and arrive are rather cheap, the costumes, make-up and latex work is still excellent. Of course they are remaking this, and I hope they keep Doug Bradley as “Pinhead.” With all the make-up required he should still be young enough. If they use the same script and just get rid of the cheesy energy effects and ’80s hair, it could be great.