APRIL 3 2012 VHS COVER SCAN - CLICK FOR HIGH RES VERSION
DEMON WIND MOVIE REVIEW
After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
Remember that time you went to your grandparents remote farm with some friends because you had heard mystical stories of your relatives? No? Well, you can prepare to live vicariously through a group of awesome characters as they do this exact thing. Charles Phillip Moore’s 1990 “masterpiece” Demon Wind will play with the rules of reality, magic, and your sanity.
Recently Cory’s father died leaving him with a curiosity to check out the secrets of his family’s past. He’s heard the stories of how his dad, then a baby, survived when a fire wiped out his whole family under mysterious circumstances. There was an eccentric preacher in their town who may have been a cult leader of sorts. So Cory invites his closest friends, which includes most every stereotypical character from jock date rapist to token nerd with glasses, to this remote rural area and then clues them in on the whole ordeal. Once they arrive at the ruins of the family farm strange things begin to happen with ghosts, death, and that damned magical fog.
Elaine: What is that?
This film has some of the most confusing things you can imagine. On one hand you’ll be able to follow the majority of the narrative, but just as you think you have a grasp on everything you’ll be smacked across the face by something no one could ever possibly explain. The ending will leave you in shock – not from terror but from the feeling of your melted brain leaking out of your ear. Moore is credited as the sole writer, but he had to have either handed parts of the script off to someone who had no clue what was going on, or maybe he was just dropping enough acid that he ended up with their weird tonal/reality shifts.
If nothing else, it keeps things interesting.
This is where one of the best characters, and highlights of the film, comes into play. When we first meet Chuck (Stephen Quadros) he is ushered into the scene standing in the passenger seat of a convertible, wearing white gloves and a cape, while Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” plays on the radio. Chuck is a magician, but not just any magician. He does the normal illusions, like pulling flowers from up his sleeve, but he is also a master of martial arts. When his ex-girlfriend’s new beau, Dell, throws a beer can at him he quickly reacts by knocking it in the air with his cane and juggles it with a series of hilarious kung-fu kicks ultimately ending by round housing it right back at Dell’s forehead. This is far from the last amazing thing we see from Chuck, or his sidekick Stacy, before the film is over, but it’s by far the best first impression of any character and the best moment in the film.
At this point you may be wondering what a kung-fu magician has to do with a movie called Demon Wind. Well, I can’t really tell you. I’m pretty sure ol’ Chuck Moore couldn’t either. But there is a reason for the title, this much I am able to confirm. This is a story rooted in magic and spells, made evident in the opening scene, and there is a titular “demon wind”. When the group tries to leave the area they find their cars won’t start and are left to walk. Soon that proves to be a dead end as a thick, fast moving fog envelops them and they are teleported around a few locations before finally arriving right back where they started. I knew mostly nothing going into this film, but I didn’t realize there was going to be an actual demonic wind at play. Exciting!
There are two movie standards at play in this film that have been known to make movie geeks cringe, the first being the utterance of the dreaded phrase “I have a bad feeling about this.” This always means impending doom for the group, especially to be levied on the poor sap who has the balls to say such a cursed statement. Most of the time it’s quite obvious that something strange is going on, so why the need to make a verbal declaration? In this case they are on the ruins of a farm, burned mostly to the ground over 50 years earlier, and when you walk behind the still standing front wall there is nothing there but earth. However, walking or looking through the open front door in the wall you see a fully stocked, non-damaged room as if nothing ever happened. Now they had already seen this before the statement is made so…no shit.
Then we have one of those gloriously convenient horror movie mainstays to keep the story going. You know, like why don’t people move out of the haunted house instead of staying there and putting themselves in more danger? Because the story would be over, that’s why. These are things we’re just supposed to look past but it can be hard. So when Cory finds an old journal of his grandmothers with tales of witchcraft and spells you can guess what happens next. Now, they have found this strange room that shouldn’t exist, been trapped by the fog, and seen a friend disappear to seemingly turn into a doll so they should know that things are not on the up and up. Despite all of this Cory still manages to, without any hesitation, recite a random spell from the journal that unleashes something and really puts them in the shit. Why the fuck do people always read spells aloud that are found in strange places? Yes, yes…I know the answer.
The FX used in this flick range from the very cool to the ridiculous. Many demonic spirits descend on the farmland to take the lives and souls of Cory and his friends in the form of a horde of possessed shuffling zombie-like creatures. There are many of these, along with a very cool cow skull with an extra long tongue, but they join together to bring the biggest baddie of them all. A giant mass of demon that somewhat resembles the shit demon in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. The make-up on all of these creatures is great but then come the primitive animated FX. The demon and a confusingly transformed alien-like Cory battle as the monster shoots orange blobs at him that look like some sort of Mike Judge/Bill Plympton animation with a lot of shaking drawn in crayon. This kind of takes you out of the moment because of how zany it looks. Also weird to see how the possessed seem to always spit out an endless supply of pancake or waffle batter. Whatever.
It appears that Demon Wind has no American DVD distribution. There is a region two release but it doesn’t have the kick ass cover art on the Paramount/Prism VHS release (pictured at the top of the page). I’m actually OK with just having a video of this and no disc. While it’s a fun and entertaining film there is nothing really worth the time and effort of converting. I guess a better picture would be something, but all I really want is a commentary track. I’m not asking much. Just give Charles Phillip Moore a headset USB mic and have him record an MP3 I can download for a couple of bucks. I would love to hear him explain just what the hell is going on at the end of this film. If you’ve watched it I’m sure you do too.
Until next week – remember to always read spells in your head first before completely fucking everyone and everything around you.
Body Count: 9
M.S. 45 MOVIE REVIEW
September 15, 2014
Zoë Tamerlis stars in MS. .45.
Director Meir Zarchi has two movies to his credit, but people only care about the first one. He released this film–a revenge thriller about a young woman who methodically murders the four men who raped her–in 1978, under the title Day of the Woman. Nobody much cared.
In 1981, its distributors released it under a new title: I Spit on Your Grave. This time people paid attention and the film generated no small amount of controversy. Zarchi is said to have claimed that he meant the film to serve as a statement of feminine empowerment. Others see it as a piece of exploitative garbage. The battle may no longer rage, not exactly, but it still has a polarizing effect on viewers, and horror fandom doesn’t seem to have come to a consensus as to whether it’s any good or not.
Ms. .45 was released in the same year that Day of the Woman became I Spit on Your Grave. I don’t know if Zarchi’s film influenced director Abel Ferrara and screenwriter Nicholas St. John. But on the surface, they might seem to be similar movies. As titles, Day of the Woman and Ms. .45 carry feminist connotations. And comparing Ms. .45’s poster to I Spit on Your Grave’s reveals a few similarities. Both attempt to transform something that isn’t sexy (violence against women) into something that is (by prominently trading on traditional pop-cultural symbols of female sexuality).
The point of me saying all this is that, judging from my personal experience, a lot of people who know about Ms. .45 but haven’t seen it seem to think it’s a typical rape-revenge exploitation cheapie. And it isn’t. It’s a lot more interesting than that.
Zoë Tamerlis (better known as Zoë Lund, but I always think of her by her maiden name) plays the titular character, a mute Manhattan Garment District seamstress named Thana (such a name should set off your mental Symbolism Detector), who is attacked and raped while walking home from work one afternoon. She collects her wits and continues to her apartment, only to find it in the process of being burglar–and then the burglar overpowers and violates her. This guy doesn’t get away with it, as Thana is eventually able to brain him with a heavy object and kill him.
Sources can’t agree on where things go from here. IMDB’s synopsis says Thana “goes insane” as a result of her attacks and “takes to the streets of New York after dark and randomly kills men with a .45 caliber gun.” Amazon claims she “ignites a one-woman homicidal rampage against New York City’s entire male population.” Wikipedia describes her as a “misandristic spree killer (not strictly a vigilante).” None of these are strictly true, although, to be fair, they’re not all that inaccurate by 1981’s standards.
What actually happens is this: Thana keeps the dead rapist’s gun, carries it with her, and accidentally shoots and kills a cat-caller who probably thinks he’s being a bit of a white knight. After that, she becomes a bit more pro-active, dressing more provocatively and luring potential rapists and misogynists into situations where she can kill them. Eventually, yes, she does snap entirely. But that’s the climax of the film; it’s not what the film is actually about.
I want to go back to the masher, though. I probably saw Ms. .45 for the first time in 1995, but maybe it was ’94 or ’96. That guy didn’t seem like much of a threat back then–I understood why Thana killed him, she was still very freaked out and I couldn’t blame her, but I saw him essentially as an innocent.
I didn’t see the character in quite the same way when I re-watched the movie last week (the first time I’d seen it in around twenty years). The discussions that opened up as a result of the Isla Vista killings back in late May of this year have made a lot of men more aware of the smaller, less obvious acts of misogyny women are subjected to every day. The cat-caller seems more sinister, less harmless, while it’s clear that Thana suffers from PTSD and hasn’t actually “gone insane.”
Was this deliberate on the parts of Ferrara, St. John and Tamerlis? I’ll probably never know for sure, but I’d like to think so. The conversation Thana has with her boss, where he comes right out and tells her she has to “work harder” to overcome her infirmity, definitely indicates that people were putting more thought into the themes of the film than they might be given credit for.
In terms of style, Ms. .45 is very unusual: it’s an exploitation movie that doesn’t feel particularly exploitative. The rape scenes are short, sharp and to the point, with almost no nudity, and despite all the gunfire, the film isn’t as bloody as many of its contemporaries. It’s more nuanced than the two films most cited as its spiritual godparents: Death Wish and Bo Arne Vibenius‘s rape-revenge/martial arts/hardcore pornography epic Thriller: A Cruel Picture. It’s an intense psychological thriller, and a suspenseful crime drama, and a black comedy (the latter particularly clear in the subplots involving Thana’s neighbor and annoying dog, and her attempts to dispose of her attacker’s remains).
Ferrara’s direction helps tie things together, and Ms. .45 is a vast improvement over his previous film, The Driller Killer. But the true unifying force is Tamerlis, a 19-year-old musician at the time of this, her first acting gig. She cuts a compelling figure throughout the film, easily coaxing the audience onto her side for her journey, and covering a wide range of emotion that many other comparable performers couldn’t even attempt to come close to. (You’re free to speculate about whether her lack of dialogue–she makes two sounds over the course of eighty minutes–makes her job easier or harder.) It’s not a performance you’ll readily forget. The word I’m looking for is iconic.
Ms. .45 isn’t perfect, of course–nothing of its kind ever truly is. But it’s deeper and more thoughtful than your average revenge, or rape-revenge thriller. Despite being firmly rooted in its time, it manages to be better and more relevant than it was when it was made–no cheap feat, that.
United States. 80 minutes. Directed by Abel Ferrara. Starring Zoë Tamerlis, Editta Sherman, Albert Sinkys.
Lost In The Static Episode 33: Sunset Thomas Interview: "The Thirty Third episode of my radio show Lost In The Static (Original airdate 04-09-11). Scott and I talk to Adult aActress Sunset Thomas about the industry in general and her personal experiences." - Josh Hadley