Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ShudderFest: American Mary & Murder University

Huh, no trick or treaters this Halloween. What gives, local children? I got home by eight o'clock and hung around for, like, forty-five minutes before heading out to the comic shop!

Pretty nice show put on by the All Things Horror crew - they got upgraded to theater #3 rather than the screening room or one of the even-numbered houses, and American Mary was kind of a big get for them: It got a lot of attention at Fantastic Fest, although some of it, frustratingly, for the specific thing I figure the movie is about: Folks giving the Soska twins crap for being attractive young women and having fun with cosplay and the like as their way of expressing love for the genre (nerd sexism can be an ugly, ugly thing). I'm not sure it's quite as good as the superlatives that came out of those screenings or which were recited before this one, but it's a pretty good movie that has something to say about its genre without sinking into full-on navel-gazing. That's pretty impressive.

A little bit of a bummer on both ends, though - the Somerville's screening of Darkman got delayed until tonight when a print didn't arrive, so I had a couple hours to kill after having already eaten. Not ideal; I wound up spending money at Newbury Comics. And, of course, a midnight movie at the Somerville means walking home. Not so bad in and of itself, but it leaves me with the blood flowing all too well at 3am.

American Mary

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 October 2012 in Somerville Theatre #3 (ShudderFest, Blu-ray)

I'm not sure what its Canadian filmmakers figure is so specifically American about American Mary, but, hey, what's in a name and all that. Jen & Sylvia Soska have made an impressive little movie that may not exactly be horror but can certainly make even a jaded audience squirm.

Maybe crippling student loans are uniquely American; certainly, the high cost of education is what's staring medical school student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) in the face. With every bill imaginable about to come due, she's ready to take a job stripping to make ends meet. Good thing she had med school on her résumé, though - an employee of club owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) has a sudden need to be stitched up during her audition. This leads her to dancer Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk) and the body-modification community, who are much more welcoming than her instructor (David Lovgren).

The Soskas don't quite turn exploitation film on its head with American Mary, and that often makes what they do manage that much more effective. There's a "gruesome revenge story" thread that maybe shouldn't be called conventional but will still be somewhat familiar for horror fans, serving up a fair quota of blood and guts while the strip club delivers the requisite skin. The body-modification stuff will likely gross out the more straight-laced audience members, though I suspect that community will appreciate the filmmakers not treating it like a freakshow (though characters may). It's got solid enough horror credentials that the sexy young star not actually working as a stripper might fly under the radar.

Full review at EFC.

Murder University

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 October 2012 in Somerville Theatre #3 (ShudderFest, digital)

The punny theme song that plays over the opening credits of Murder Universitymay be the best part of the movie, although it's close and at least an example of what's coming: A jokey flick that's surprisingly entertaining for how low-rent an affair it is.

It's the 1980s, a time when almost nobody had a mobile phone to screw up serial killers' plans, and Josh Greene (Jamie Dufault) is about to start classes at the local university with a heavy heart, as his father was recently killed in an accident. Just as hijinks are starting to ensue, people start dropping dead, killed by a man in a devil mask. Josh is injured in one of the attacks, which Detective Forrester (Michael Thurber) believes are linked to a murder he investigated twenty years earlier. Josh and Forrester's daughter Meg (Samantha Acampora) go back to the school to act as bait, and...

Well, a lot more people get killed. If you like folks losing their heads, this is the slasher movie for you; heads come off at a rate second only to Taiwanese decapitation epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, and I've got to say, I've got my doubts as to the authenticity of this. Those ax blades barely look wide enough for skinny college-girl necks, let alone some of the more solidly-built victims. And, really, I suspect that lopping off someone's head is a lot harder than it looks, especially if they're not up against a wall or something. Not that I'd know anything about this myself, mind you.

Now, the movie does have more than heads popping off with questionable ease; it is, at heart, a comedy, and watching Josh get stymied by weird roommates, hostile professors, and anangry jock who gets upset with him for looking at his girlfriend's breasts during a wet t-shirt contest is actually fairly entertaining. There's a politically incorrect streak that actually works to much of the humor, and the filmmakers are confident enough to actually build jokes out of the characters either being weird or reacting to the others being weird rather than weak "look - 80's thing/anachronism!" stuff. There's also genuinely enjoyable chemistry between John and Meg.

Full review at EFC.

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