Evil Dead

Disclaimer: my cousin Lou Taylor plays Eric in this film. Some of my enjoyment was derived from watching him suffer demonic abuse from a Home Depot aisle of deadly implements, but I genuinely loved this “redo” of the classic and think it is one of the best modern horror films to be released of late, and certainly the best remake since Dawn of the Dead.

my cousin being a wuss
my cousin being a wuss

If you don’t know the original The Evil Dead, it is an extremely low budget brutal horror film made by fans of the Three Stooges. There is a bit of extremely dark humor. The original is pretty bare bones. Guy shows up at deserted cabin with his girlfriend. Demons of the forest possess their friend in the most repugnant way imaginable, and Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, cuts up the baddies and his demonic love with a chainsaw.

The “sequel/remake”Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is superior in every way, and EVIL DEAD (2013) takes from both and makes the bloodiest, goriest horror film I’ve seen in a long time. Is it scary? It’s gut wrenching. There is plenty of tension. I do not jump or get scared at horror films anymore. But during EVIL DEAD, I gasped and cheered and laughed and groaned.

Jane Levy from Suburgatory in purgatory

The basics are all there. The Necronomicon (never so named) bound in human skin, full of medieval woodcuts and guttural prayers for the summoning of demons. A small group of hapless young innocents about to succumb to ancient evil. And a cabin built to resemble the iconic one from The Evil Dead (down to a rusty Oldsmobile, “the Classic,” that appears in most of Raimi’s films).

Eric, played by Lou, is the dumb-ass who reads the evil book. I recently toured Bourbon Street with my cousin and know his tics and behavior. His Eric is so damn good I didn’t recognize my own blood up there. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, and the director Fede Alvarez approaches the material with just enough respect. There is no obvious gushing wankery. No one does anything completely and unutterably stupid to advance the plot, other than read from a strange book. And let’s face it, I’d read the book. I’m that kind of dummy. I read books full of naked witches that I found in houses my father was demolishing. I could have summoned a Candarian demon.

The gore is unrelenting. There are just enough laughs- one poor bastard loses a lot of limbs, and a nailgun is used to great effect. But you never know who will survive and who will get a chainsaw up the ying-yang. And that is the movie’s power. Unlike the goofiness of FEAST, which shot its “anyone can die!!” wad in the first five minutes, EVIL DEAD plays with our expectations but always by its own rules. If you like horror, forget the first film. Accept that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell gave their ideas to a fresh new director, who eschewed CGI and jump-cut scares to make the same kind of movie they did thirty-plus years ago.

And pray that they make a sequel that merges Ash from the end of Army of Darkness as a bitter old one-armed crank with the survivor of this film to battle Candarian hellbeasts in Evil Dead 2: Hell on Earth. or something. I’ll write the script, Fede. Just tell Lou to call me.

With that smile I might be possessed by a Candarian demon...
With that smile I might be possessed by a Candarian demon…

 

 

The Story of Luke

story-of-luke

I went to see The Story of Luke at the Garden State Film Festival last weekend. My cousin Lou Taylor plays the lead role, a young man on the Asperger’s end of the autism spectrum who is forced to get a job when his grandparents pass away, and he moves in with his uncle’s not-so-happy familly.

This is a movie that could have tread familiar territory- Rain Man and Down & Out in Beverly Hills- but it goes its own way. Lou never breaks out of his shell, he remains true to his character, and navigates life with his own pair of glasses. We see him contrasted with his grandfather, who has dementia, and the pathology of everyday people blindered by their own choices.

Seth Green is hilarious as a demented I.T. supervisor who sees him as a kindred spirit, and Cary Elwes is perfectly subdued as the successful man whose family is falling apart. Luke does not bring everyone together and save the world. He is an agent of change, but merely because his obsession is cooking shows, and he makes a few good meals.

The movie stays a comedy, and Luke remains who he is. Families of autistic children are championing the film at festivals because it gives a much-needed realistic and lighthearted view of the spectrum, where it isn’t a tragedy or a burden, but also doesn’t dodge the difficulties that family members have when dealing with autistic relatives. I enjoyed it a lot, and forgot I was watching my cousin up there.

You can watch The Story of Luke on iTunes or On Demand PPV, and in various local theaters.

 

wackiness runs in the family…

Goofing with Lou

My cousin Lou Taylor Pucci is in the new Evil Dead movie produced by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. He gets to read the Necronomicon and unleash the ageless evil that will SWALLOW YOUR SOUL.

As you can see, goofiness runs in the family. Lou Taylor’s Dad- my cousin Lou- has an insane sense of humor, and always makes me laugh. He’s a musician and a magician, and his jokes demented my young brain as a child. I did my best to assist in dementing his kids, too. In my family, you either laugh or go crazy. Some of us did both.

Lou-Taylor-Pucci-in-Evil-Dead-2013-Movie-Image
Lou being a li’l bitch in the face of the undead

EVIL DEAD opens tonight. I’m gonna go see it this weekend, probably the first matinee on Sunday.  I’ll be seeing Lou Taylor & family Saturday for the premiere of The Story of Luke, where he plays a young man with Asperger’s syndrome, dealing with challenges we take for granted- a job and a relationship. Seth Green co-stars in that one, and parents of autistic children are championing his realistic portrayal.

Lou Taylor is a very funny, talented fellow with a big heart. I hope you’ll all go watch him be torn to pieces by demons this weekend! I sure will. And the lucky skunk got to hang out with Bruce Campbell!

About the same face I would make
About the same face I would make

Song in my Head: All These Things That I’ve Done

I love the tangible sense of regret that the Killers evoke with this song. This is my favorite version of it, from Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales: an insane ensemble cast monstrosity that required multiple comic books to explain its rich and satirical backstory. It was generally panned by moviegoers and critics alike, but I loved it. It was the hugest, weirdest film I’d ever seen, and my cousin Lou Taylor Pucci gets to blow up a zeppelin with a rocket launcher.

Also, Wallace Shawn plays a supervillain. Zelda “Go into the Light, Carol Ann!” Rubinstein is in it. Everybody is in it. I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it, but it’s like Kelly popped the zit of his imagination all over the screen, and it kept flowing and erupting like a bloody, volcanic death pimple. Meaning sometimes it’s just that you can’t stop watching, to see what bizarre mutant might crawl out next.

And that’s not to say I think it’s a horrible movie. Indulgent? Intentionally obscure? Perhaps even pretentious? Yes, but wonderful. It uses all sorts of shortcuts that we’ve come to accept in big blockbuster movies, as if mocking us. It tries to force an idiotic catchphrase down our throats, via The Rock. And it blows shit up for no reason.

What’s not to like?

the four horsemen race with the devil…

Horsemen a derivative dark thriller reminiscent of Seven, The Cell and Japanese teen ennui and rebellion films such as Suicide Circle. Dennis Quaid plays a Detroit Homicide profiler so dedicated to his job that it veers toward child abuse; his son Alex, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, raises his younger brother and is used to Dad bailing out after a cell phone call and dropping a $20 for cab fare, whether they’re in church or about to go to a Red Wings game. We’re introduced to him when a hunter finds a banquet of freshly yanked human teeth on a silver platter in the middle of an iced over lake in the woods. A bizarre image for sure, but what does it mean?

The film is only 90 minutes long and is the worse for whatever cuts were made, because it seems like the murders occur so swiftly. The next victim is a housewife, a mother of three children, one adopted, who is found suspended by fish hooks in her bedroom. A custom rack holds her up, much like Vincent D’Onofrio’s insane killer in The Cell, and she was stabbed perfectly between the aorta and lungs so she’ll drown in her own blood over a period of hours. Looking back on this, the script by Doom penner David Callaham- CallaHAM!! When yer last name’s Pluck, you cherish these moments of schadenfreude– is pretty convoluted and contrived. The room the body is found in has the words “Come and See” painted on the walls, and this leads super-sleuth Quaid to the Biblical book of Revelations, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I don’t think the movie will hook you.

Visually the film is intriguing and director Jonas Åkerlund, who’d previous done Spun, manages to keep us watching even as the plot holes widen into chasms. The performances are mostly quite good- Quaid is against character and adopts a scowl that hints at the inner pain that would make him so driven as to leave his dying wife’s bedside for the job. As his son, Lou Taylor Pucci perfectly captures the “here we go again” attitude of the neglected child, as he raises his younger brother in the face of the invisible Dad. Zhang Ziyi, as the adopted daughter of the first victim, chews the scenery so thoroughly I was reminded of the cartoonish bad girl from The Crow (full review).

I’m sorry son. Grisly murders are just cooler than bein’ a Dad.

Horsemen has nice visuals and the interplay between Quaid and his son Pucci is interesting enough, but the story is one we’ve seen done better before, and has holes that the Ice Truckers could navigate through with their eyes sewn shut. At 90 minutes it seems like whole swaths of interconnections were cut for time or should have been written in the first place, and the ending is so preposterous that you’ll know that whoever wrote it not only watched The Cell, but never asked how D’Onofrio managed to hook himself in that bizarre suspension rig he used. It’s an unfortunate film for all the actors involved, who deserve better. (Note: Lou Taylor Pucci is my cousin, but as you can hopefully tell from this review, when he’s in a stinker like this or 50 Pills I won’t sugarcoat the review).

Rating: Stinky

Race with the Devil has Warren Oates and Peter Fonda as motorbikers on vacation in a big honkin’ RV, chased by Satanists after they see them sacrifice a nude girl in an arcane desert ritual? Sounds like a recipe for hot buttered awesome! and it is!
Directed by Jack Starrett- the incoherent master of Authentic Frontier Gibberish from Blazing Saddles, and the director of exploitation classics Cleopatra Jones and The Losers– the movie rides on the fearsome energy emitted by the incomparable Mr. Oates. He and Fonda are dirt bike racers who decide to take an RV trip to the Rockies for some skiing, with wives Lara Parker and Loretta “Hot Lips” Swit in tow. When they park the Winnebago in a remote stretch of wasteland and go to explore the lonely desert, they realize they are not alone. They witness what they first believe is a bunch of hippies cavorting naked around a bonfire, but soon realize it is something far more dark. A hooded man plunges a knife into a woman’s chest, and as the men stare blankly through the binoculars at what just happened, their wives saunter up and the Satanists notice. Oops.
They give chase, but after a harrowing run back to the mobile home they manage to hightail it out of there, with cultists banging on the windows as they careem through a gulch on the way back to the interstate. But their hell ride is far from over. They pull into the nearest town to notify the Sheriff, and he leads them back to the location with an eerie sense of ease. When they find blood, he says it could be an animal’s. So Peter Fonda sneaks some into a jar to be tested at a lab. But back in town, their wives feel like they are being watched, even when in public. The townsfolk seem to be giving them the evil eye. And it turns out to be true, for when they return to the RV, Loretta’s pooch has been killed and hanged from the door.
And worse, once they’re on the highway they find some new pets in the trailer, rattlesnakes! After nearly crashing and killing everyone, Warren Oates decides to fight back. Fonda is eclipsed by his fury, and plays the quiet husband who can barely believe what’s going on. They buy a 12 gauge at the general store, but the game is on, and the highway out of town is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. And about a billion Satanists in pickup trucks with molotov cocktails! The long chases in the RV as trucks full of cultists hop on and try to set it on fire definitely influenced The Road Warrior a few years later, and are pretty exciting. The film has a dark ending, but it comes so abruptly that you wonder if they ran out of money. After Rosemary’s Baby, the Devil winning seems a bit like a cop-out, but it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.

Rating: Worthy

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Explicit Ills not illin’, Skin Deep is

Explicit Ills

This sprung onto the scene at the SxSW festival but didn’t pick up a distributor, and is now available on DVD. That’s odd for a film that ends up being poignantly about the state of health care for the working poor in America, one of the subjects in the news most lately. It doesn’t belabor us about the head with a hammer of its message, but instead paints a picture of a gentrifying neighborhood and introduces us to a handful of interesting characters. There’s a saintly young boy named Babo, played to perfection by Francisco Burgo, and his mother Rosario Dawson in an understated role; Lou Taylor Pucci, who seems to have bitten off more than he can chew with the side job he’s taken; Paul Dano (Eli from There Will Be Blood) as an unemployed actor relegated to playing a ninja at a kid’s birthday party; a teenage boy trying charmingly trying to get it on with a neighborhood girl, and Tariq Trotter of The Roots as a health food entrepreneur trying to open a store.
New writer-director Mark Webber has had small roles in many films before and makes a surprisingly mature debut here. The poor neighborhood is something he knows well; his single mother and himself were homeless in north Philly for some time and became the subject of a news show story. He presents with a naturalist style, letting his characters speak for themselves, and his Philly surroundings set the mood for a tableau that eventually evokes the deepest emotion. He makes us part of the neighborhood, and makes us care about the people in it. In the end, the story is about the community itself, and doesn’t end where you’d expect. It does have a few newbie mistakes, like the slow-mo dance intro to one character, and perhaps it is a little too removed at times, but this one’s worth seeing.

Rating: Tasty

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Skin Deep

Otherwise known as “that John Ritter movie with the glow in the dark condom lightsaber fight” that’s really all this has going for it. I like John Ritter, but he doesn’t work here in the Larry from “Three’s Company” role, as a Lothario with writer’s block porking every California girl who comes his way. The only memorable jokes are this forced one and when he makes it with a female bodybuilder, and says he feels like Mrs. Schwarzenegger. Late-career Blake Edwards penned and directed this one, and unlike the unfairly maligned A Fine Mess, it doesn’t hold up. Remember Ritter with Sling Blade, where he’s incredible.

Rating: Stinky

shameless Pucci promotion part deux

It looks like Lou Taylor Pucci’s* viral apocalypse flick Carriers is set to release on September 4th. Live for Films has the trailer.

They also have trailers for his film Explicit Ills, described as:

In the harsh streets of Philadelphia, the lives of strangers intersect in a bold and moving semi-autobiographical tale that crosscuts between the many people (adults, teenagers, and children alike)who struggle in the face of poverty, drugs and the human connection.

That one is going straight to DVD and will be available on NetFlix next week.

Another straight to DVD distribution fuckup is The Horsemen starring Dennis Quaid as detective Aidan Breslin, who “already reeling from the shocking death of his wife, is destined for even darker days when he’s tasked with investigating a series of grisly serial murders inspired by biblical prophecy.” Hopefully this is more Seven than The Reaping. It’s the first movie of Jonas Akerlund, a music video director, so distributors probably didn’t want to chance it.

*Lou Taylor Pucci and Tommy Salami are owned by the same parent corporation, Big Pucci Balls, Inc.