Goodbye, CatLoaf

Goodbye, CatLoaf

My not-so-little arm warmer succumbed to kidney disease yesterday. When we adopted him from an acquaintance, she said his name was Shadow. We called him CatLoaf. We quickly surmised that he was called ‘Shadow’  not for his dark fur but for his preferred loafing spot, behind you in direct opposition to the sun. When he wasn’t desperately attempting to sneak underfoot, he would sit on the couch behind your head and give you a scalp massage whether you wanted it or not, find devious ways to climb on the table and sit on your hand or stuff his entire head into a drinking glass like a feline Jerry Lewis, or knead the pillow by your head and purr in your ear.

CatLoaf needed to be within three feet of a human at all times, but not touched by one. He was a feline electron, negatively charged, in a rigid orbit around you. Petting was okay, sometimes. Holding was forbidden. He never achieved his dream of living inside our refrigerator, sleeping on Firecracker’s keyboard, or climbing on top of my head while I used the toilet, but he never quit trying. His last days were spent loafing, getting stroked, and eating treats and drinking tuna water when he could keep it down.

He was a friendly cat who would approach any stranger without an inkling of fear, only an expression of deep curiosity and comradeship. He would let you pet him, and when he had enough, he would tell you in his way, which was by nipping the tender skin between your fingers. The only things he ever ran from were his nemesis and nap buddy Charlie Crookedpaw, our rescued Siamese, and his own droppings, which when caught in the fur of his prodigious hindquarters must have felt like the very jaws of death snapping at his empty scrotum. I have wrestled 300lb athletes to submission, but was not able to hold CatLoaf still for more than a few moments during his prime. He would rather die than give you control. And he was of course, black as your soul.

He was a companion that grew on you, and stepped on you, sat on you, leaned on you, sneezed on you, and occasionally hawked hairballs on your shoes, bed, and clothing, but over the years he became a beloved part of our lives, and we will miss him terribly. But not his breath. No, not his breath, which fellow cat-lover H.P. Lovecraft would tenderly describe as more wretchedly unwholesome than the fetid emissions of Azathoth’s hindmost parts.

Goodbye, sweet CatLoaf. We made you happy for a time, and you returned the favor.

Southern Gods

An excellent debut and gripping mix of Lovecraftian horror, Delta blues, and ’50s noir. Bull Ingram is a terrific character, a hulking bruiser on a mission for a race records producer seeking his promo man and a singer he’d love to sign- Ramblin’ John Hastur. John Hornor Jacobs builds a compelling mythology that hints of Lovecraft and Blatty’s exorcist, but makes it all his own. With an opening line that rivals the infamous first line to Stephen King’s The Gunslinger- no I’m not kidding- and rich voice throughout, Southern Gods will keep you turning pages and draw you in to its dark world.
A treat for fans of the Cthulhu mythos, or anyone wanting to fall into a new dark world and be lost for the duration of the read.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

7. Witch Hunt

Schlocktoberfest #7: Witch Hunt

I saw the sequel to Cast a Deadly Spell long before I saw the original. and it may be directed by Paul Schrader of Cat People and Mishima fame, it lacks much of the charm of its predecessor. It’s too cute, it concentrates more on its McCarthyism analogy than magic, and the talented cast is mostly wasted. This time around we lose the reliable lug Fred Ward as P.I. Lovecraft and instead get everyone’s favorite scenery-chewery, Dennis Hopper. He can be great, but here he’s pretty useless. Everyone is replaced, even Hypolita Kropotkin, our hero’s plucky Jamaican-Russian landlady and licensed witch.

In Witch Hunt, H.P. Lovecraft is called to investigate a murder linked vaguely to the populist Senator Larsen Crockett, played to the hilt by Eric Bogosian. I liked Bogosian’s schtick when I saw him in Talk Radio, but he plays the exact same type here, and it’s just as annoying as when Bobcat Goldthwait did it. Here he plays a McCarthy clone who goes on a real witch hunt! Get it? Hollywood’s flirtation with the dark arts has offended middle America, and he’s going to ride his way to the Presidency on a clean-up campaign. While the first movie was a “what if,” this is like a lame Star Trek episode where an analogy is used to make a point and not offend the censors or sponsors.

Finn Macha and HPL

Julian Sands is effective as a creepy warlock named Finn Macha, who is using Crockett to gain power of his own. The film tries to juggle two plots, and makes a mess. If you hadn’t seen the first one, it can be interesting, and I liked Finn Macha’s use of magic. At one point he spits a newt at someone, and it sticks to their face; moments later the victim is spitting up an endless series of toads, and if that’s not creepy to contemplate, I don’t know what is. Got a frog in your throat? The film’s dialogue is pretty bad, but they don’t stoop that far.

The trailer

“I knew a private eye who hired a witch to put a tail on a guy, and the poor bastard had to have it surgically removed.” Stuff like that is bad enough. Dennis Hopper can do many things, but he’s no subtle everyman gumshoe. Fred Ward was too busy filming Short Cuts with Robert Altman to return, and he made the right choice I’m afraid. While Cast a Deadly Spell had its share of humor- kicking a demon in the nonexistent balls, and the great virgin twist, Witch Hunt is just silly. Zombies were dangerous in the first one; in the sequel, Hopper just sidesteps it and falls down, eyes popping out of its head. Disappointing writing.

There’s also a distinct lack of monsters and I think the budget took a nosedive. The best we get is a killer raven plucking out a witch’s eye, and you’ll be wondering why they even bothered using the “Phil” Lovecraft character if everything else was going to change. If you like voodoo movies and want to see an imaginative take on the Red Scare transplanted to a magical Hollywood, this might be worth a rental. However, it’s such a disappointing sequel that if you like the first movie you should probably avoid this. It’s the equivalent of a direct-to-video release. It’s so bad that I can’t even find screen shots on the web, and there’s nudity (Jill Pierce) in it. Avoid.

6. Cast a Deadly Spell

Schlocktoberfest #6: Cast a Deadly Spell

I’ve wanted to see this made-for-HBO movie, starring Fred Ward as private eye H.P. Lovecraft in a witchcraft-friendly Hollywood, for many years. The lackluster sequel, Witch Hunt, starring Dennis Hopper, was forgettable but fans insisted this first entry was worth seeing if you’re a Lovecraft fan. So I persisted, and found a copy. It’s tongue in cheek at times but it has to be, and while H.P.L. may have found humor an unwholesome entertainment for the lower peoples, a dash of it in his universe makes for an amusing and compelling diversion.
Guns and gargoyles do mix.

Cast a Deadly Spell is directed by Martin Campbell, who has since gone on to make the two best Bond films of recent note- Casino Royale and Goldeneye. It mixes two pastiches, that of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, where sleaze and crime lurk beneath the glittery surface of the rich and famous, and Lovecraft’s world of dark magics and hideous unearthly creatures clawing their way into our own. Fred Ward plays gumshoe Howard Philip Lovecraft, sent to seek the stolen Necronomicon, a legendary book of dark sorcery. He’s the only guy in town who doesn’t use magic, and while this disadvantages him in some ways, it gives him an integrity that no one can match. He won’t screw you over for a bit of knowledge of the black arts.

HPL and a rich doll

Magic pervades every corner of life- the rich have zombies as backup heavies, but they are the original zombies of voodoo, not the brain-eating kind. World War II was won, but we brought back gremlin pests from Japan that get into machines and mess things up. Ward’s HPL is your typical noir-style private dick, with his code, gruff demeanor, and acerbic commentary. He gets hired by Amos Hackshaw (David Warner, the evil genius from Time Bandits), an old-money magician who lost the Necronomicon and needs it back. His daughter is out hunting unicorns, and one runs across the road as Phil drives by; at first it feels like a throwaway to show us the magical world the story is set in, but the plot is pretty tight, without such indulgences.

Ebony and Ivory, go together in perfect harmony…

We’ve already seen Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor, My Blue Heaven)- a sawed-off warlock in a white suit, with a huge black zombie thug in tow- put a hex on a doughy slob while looking for the Necronomicon. He’s a blase’ killer with a lot of tricks up his sleeve, blasting the guy out of the crapper stall with a fireball, and then giving him the dirt nap with a whirlwind of paper. The death of a thousand cuts indeed. He’s working for nightclub owner Harry Bordon (Clancy Brown, Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption) another magic maven looking for the book. The film succeeds by magic its magic dark and brutal. Once “Phil” is on the case, Tugwell tries to whack him in a diner as he breakfasts with Hackshaw’s hot bimbo daughter Olivia (Alexandra Powers, Mask). This time he summons a demon that claws its way out of a bubbling stovepot, a skeletal horror that goes through the cook like a buzzsaw. Droll old Phil just clocks it with a frying pan and locks it in the freezer.

Sticking with the noir formula, the cops- represented by hardboiled Detective Bradbury- don’t like how Phil works, because people get caught in the crossfire. The story avoids the usual cliches, and Bradbury wants to help Phil if only to keep the body count down. Phil also has his landlady Hypolite, a voodoo witch on his side. She sees vile portents in the air, and gives him a protective charm against his will before high-tailing it to Florida, to avoid the bad ju-ju the Old Ones are gonna bring down on L.A. As he weaves his way through the deceits and tracks the Necronomicon, he gets on the tail of a “gal” named Lil- a drag queen played by Lee Tergesen (Point Break). With the Hayes Code long gone, Chandler’s sleazy L.A. can be represented as he intended.

Big ol’ Clancy and his half-pint henchman.

Phil’s dialogue is sharp and noir-inflected- while not being as great as Chandler or Hammett’s, it’s not overwrought and clumsy like in Brick (which I liked, actually, it just grates with repetitive patter). Clancy Brown always shines in a villain role, and this has shines of his later performance in “Carnivale” as Brother Justin. This time he wants the Necronomicon to unleash the Old Ones- Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath and the like- to rule the world and gain immortality. He and Phil have bad blood between them, one went for magic and the other stayed pure; they also have a history with the same girl, nightclub singer Connie Stone (Julianne Moore, hot as ever).

Every noir needs a nightclub singer.

The film has plenty of creepy-crawlies to entertain us- a stony gargoyle who likes to gore people, bloodthirsty demons, and even cute little gremlins like to gnaw on wires and the occasional kneecap. It has its Cthulhu mythology down pat, though we mostly get to see generic stuff like the gargoyles, zombies, and some vampires and werewolves locked up in the police station. For ’91 the effects are pretty good, and excellent for a cable TV movie. The big payoff is of course at the end, when the gates are opened to the Old Gods. The beast looks great, a hulking mass of tentacles and a trunk-like mouth- sort of like a gigantic star-nosed mole with a taste for swallowing people whole. The twist is worth a good chuckle without ruining the tone, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s better than Witch Hunt, and worth hunting down if you like Lovecraft. Purists might scoff and prefer the excellent adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu, but this is really good fun, especially for noir fans.

Deep Rising: Attack of the Ubiquipus

There are rules in horror movies regarding tentacles; one is, don’t be a an anime girl. And the other is, the tentacles can pop out anytime, anywhere, and get you. That is the Rule of the Ubiquipus, which can be everywhere at once. In the seafaring horror film Deep Rising, the world’s largest and most luxurious cruise ship, the S.S. Hubris, is beset upon from all sides by the Ubiquipus, a group of hijackers, and a jewel thief after the goodies in the hold. It is a perfect storm of cliches, and while the movie was universally loathed by critics, the public also stayed away in droves. Which is a shame, because it is the greatest Sci-Fi Channel movie ever made. Unfortunately it debuted in theaters, where cheesy B-movies rarely fare well. If you want to see good actors stoop and be liquefied by a giant Lovecraftian beastie, this is definitely worth a rental.

“What the fuck are we doing in this?”

Let’s face it, when a movie stars Treat Williams these days, you can’t expect a lot going in. It’s not like seeing Jeremy Irons show up in Dungeons & Dragons. Mr. Williams’s rise began with Prince of the City, a great Serpico-style cop thriller, and Sergio Leone’s classic mob drama Once Upon a Time in America. He peaked early, and eventually ended up in movies like Dead Heat, as a zombie cop named Roger Mortis alongside Joe Piscopo. He then played a memorable role as “Critical Bill” in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, before showing up as a sort of grumpy Han Solo captain in Deep Rising. Sure, he may not be starring in movies by luminary directors like Sydney Lumet and Sergio Leone anymore, but at least he’s having fun with giant squid.

Extreme hentai action! (Watch my hit-count soar)

Treat plays Captain Finnegan, who runs a small vessel that takes “no questions asked” jobs, but seems rather naive about it. His engine man, Pantucci (Kevin J. O’Connor, Beni from The Mummy) is the comic relief of the film and feels like a more manic young Bruce Dern with Dweezil Zappa’s hair-do. He grates sometimes but manages to keep a low-level comic energy that helps you forget some of the really stupid dialogue and things people do in this movie. He’s got the hots for shipmate Leila, played by South Korean cutie Una Damon, but is too nosy for his own good. He also built the ship’s computer system, which looks like they bought it from salvage off the Nostromo and added color monitors.

Audrey 3?

They’re shuttling a bunch of tough guys to some spot in the middle of the ocean. When you’re a captain, you should get suspicious when your passengers want you to stop in the middle of the open sea. It’s a good place for them to kill you and your crew and dump you over the side. That’s not the merc’s plans though. Led by distinguished character actor Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans, Mystery Men) and including an early role by Djimon Hounsou (Stargate, In America) as The Mean, Sort of Crazy Black Bald Guy. They catch Pantucci snooping around and start beating the shit out of them, until Cap’n Finnegan has a Mexican standoff with them using a semi-automatic harpoon gun, that sadly never shows up again.

Is there something on my face?

Meanwhile on the luxury liner, owner Joey Canton (Anthony Heald; Dr. Chilton from the Lecter saga) is entertaining his rich guests. Note: never trust a rich entrepreneur named ‘Joey.’ His crew finds a slinky gal in a cocktail dress sneaking around the vault, and find out she’s a high-class thief named Trillian (yes, the girl from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Played with a nice rack and not much else by Famke Janssen, she’s a spunky love interest who should have been merged with Leila, who conveniently disappears after Act One, never to be seen again. Pantucci sheds a lone tear for his gobbled girlfriend.

I can’t believe I get to keep my shirt on.

Now for the trifecta of terror in this overcomplicated script- the ship plows into something in the open ocean, people scream and stampede, the lights go out, and in bad movie tradition, sea monster, pirates, jewel thief, and plucky captain & crew collide and yell at each other while the tentacles grab them, slurp their soft parts and spit out their skeletons. Yep, the bad guys drag Finnegan & Pantucci on board to look for parts to repair his boat- their escape route, which got damaged in the crash. Now don’t ask why bad guys who can afford imaginary Chinese assault rifles with chaingun barrels, and huge-ass torpedoes, can’t just buy a boat and hire fellow scumbags to pilot it. They spent it all on ammo.

Who wants ribs?

We never find out what the hijackers or thief wanted to steal, either; there’s some chicanery about Dr. Chilton hiring them to sink the ship for the insurance, but who cares? Bring on the Ubiquipus! The beast’s tentacles infest the entire ship, popping out of ducts and toilets. Each tentacle has a mouth and slurps you down like one of those slick-throated snakes from Anaconda, capable of swallowing meat faster than a busload of fluffers. That’s not enough, though. They’re covered in fangs, much like the tentacles we’d see ten years later in The Mist, and digest everything but your bones. Then they spit out your bloody skeleton, which is held together like the ones in science class, so we can deduce that the stomach acid of the Ubiquipus cannot dissolve bone, ligament or connective tissue.

Anyone got some Bactine?

Sometimes they interrupt the creature after it gets someone, and they come out partially digested, and of course, alive. It’s sort of like the remake of The Blob, which had less gore but a much higher creepiness factor. This movie is directed by the guy who’d go on to do The Mummy, and and they’d re-use some of the “half a head” modeling on Imhotep. Here it looks better because he’s not a dessicated corpse. The tentacles also look damn good for 1998, and it’s only at the end, after everyone we don’t care about is digested, that the big reveal of the Ubiquipus ends up being disappointing. The effects are at least as good as the thing at the end of Hellboy, but the concept is rather hilarious; a huge octopus with fangs, he looks like a slimy Cookie Monster with tentacles. I know every nerd was hoping for Cthulhu, but they could have done better. Something like the Kraken from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels at least looks squidly and not like a lump of shit with teeth.

I will not be your “treat!”

Despite its flaws- making Wes Studi play a one-note Stereotypical Asshole with a Gun, a jumbled story that should have been simple, and some godawful dialogue by everyone but Finnegan and Pantucci- the movie can be fun if you go in with proper expectations. It never thinks it is more than a B movie, thankfully. Unfortunately we don’t care about any of the monster’s snacks, and even the ones we might care about, like Leila, just disappear. How the beast is finally dealt with, purely by chance, is lazy and stupid writing and bores us. The very ending is funny, but they needed to keep that note throughout; or keep it gory and dark. It’s hard to laugh one minute and then see a ballroom full of bloody, pooped-out skeletons and slime the next. If the mess of a screenplay was trimmed, it might have been better.

The Ubiquipus was best captured in this video, attacking a spacefaring rock group known as The Darkness. Thankfully, because they believe in a thing called love, the creature was temporarily defeated.