In an attempt to keep The To Watch Pile fresh, I occasionally like to do themes months. Last October I did ‘Nic-toberfest’, a celebration of the fine work of a certain Mr. Nicolas Cage, and in February a few years ago, I did ‘Zombruary’, a bit of a fun February aimed at everything related to zombies.
This year, I’m feeling a little fast, and a bit furious (not really, I’m writing this while I’m on holidays so my furious-ness has abated somewhat) and it’s February, and we love out car movies in Australia, right? I mean, the whole country was built on the back of Mad Max, so what else could I do other than celebrate automobiles in cinema with my very first car-flick celebration, 2 FAST, 2 FEBRUARY.
Over the next 4 weeks, I’ll have a bunch of new reviews (well, 1 previously published on a now defunct website, but re-edited), all featuring films that have a corner stone in car culture in some way. I hope you enjoy.
Film: James Gunn is certainly one in a million. Most people know him from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, but his career before that was SO much more fun, and honestly, creative.
There’s an amazing two pack of films that I suggest to anyone who doesn’t know his work, and that’s his superhero film Super, starring Rainn Wilson, and this film, Slither.
Slither tells of the small town of Wheelsy, and after an argument with his wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks), Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) finds himself in the woods, potentially about to commit adultery after being reunited with a school friend, Brenda (Brenda James), but unfortunately, Grant ends up having a dart shot into his abdomen by something that appears to be not-of-this-earth.
Grant collapses and we see, via X-ray, the dart burrow it’s way up into his head.
The next day, Grant is a changed man: he is quieter, and is desperate to collect as much meat as he possibly can, and Starla has noticed the change. Grant revisits Brenda, and with two newly grown tentacles, impregnates her with, what we find out later, to be thousands of leech-like brain slugs.
Whilst all this is happening, Sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), a childhood sweetheart of Starla’s, is investigating Brenda’s disappearance, and obviously, all this quickly collides as the slugs invade the town, and burrow into the mouths of everyone they comes across… will he and Starla survive?
This film is extraordinary in that the fun is a gory, gross out horror movie, that still has elements of laugh-out-loud comedy. The story is solid, and doesn’t overexplain where the ‘thing’ came from initially, except for in some interesting hive-mind flashbacks.
You can really see Gunn’s early career at Troma influencing this film, except for the budget. The humour is sophomoric (thankfully) and the gore is sudden, disgusting and surprising. There is a body bisection that still, after many if watches of this film, delights me to no end.
The cast is also fantastic. Fillion is charming and likeable and Banks is just adorable as well. Special mentions have to go to the appearances of Lloyd Kaufman as the town drunk, Jenna Fischer, a TV crush of mine from the Office, as the police receptionist (who also starred with Gunn in the film LolliLove) and Gunn himself as the most awkward of school teachers.
Gunn’s slick writing and directorial style is present here as well. The script is full of old school jokes, some of which may not sit well with a 2022 audience, but fit for the location and time period, and the direction has some really interesting angles which really makes the film fun to watch. The effects don’t sit as well as they did, but that’s to be expected and if you are able to overlook some of those bits of CGI due to age… this movie is almost 20 years old remember, so even though the practical effects are great, some of the CGI isn’t so perfect, but it’s all still very effective.
This film is a beautiful throwback to films like Henenlotter’s Brain Damage or Stephen Herek’s Critters and could be watched alongside them and not seem at all out of place, even though this film was made 20 years later.
I think I really like this film because of its 80s/ drive-in influences, and was more than happy to revisit it! This Bluray from Umbrella Entertainment is from their ‘Beyond Genres’ imprint and has a pretty awesome slipcase by Simon Sherry.
Extras: A bunch of fun extras on this disc that were on the original DVD back in the day.
Audio commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion is interesting and charming and full of lots of reminiscing about the films of the 80s and the making of this film.
The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither: Making of Featurette is a quick ten minute look at the origins and making of the film.
Who is Bill Pardy? starts as an amusing set of outtakes of Fillion, saying ‘I’m Bill Pardy whenever he screws up, but then turns into an amusing roast of Fillion by the cast and crew.
Slither Visual Effects Progressions looks at the different plates the CGI went through from the initial filming to the resulting effect.
Bringing Slither’s Creatures to Life:FX Featurette goes through all of the practical effects used in the movie, ad is quite fascinating!
Slithery Set Tour with Nathan Fillion is a brief bit with the ever charming Fillion filming some behind the scenes stuff with his particular brand of comedy.
The Gorehound Grill: Brewin’ the Blood is basically a recipe for the blood used in the film.
The King Of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman’s Video Diary is a little bit of home video made by Lloyd Kaufman, the King of Troma, and the man who directed Gunn’s script Tromeo and Juliet, who was invited by Gunn to have a cameo in the film.
Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes as usual are an interesting watch but ultimately not necessary.
Gag Reel is one back from the old days when gag reels were actually funny and not staged like the modern day Marvel ones.
WISIA: I will easily watch this film at anytime!
This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment Bluray release.
Film: I really love DC comics. For as long as I can remember I’ve have had DC comics, toys and shirts, but as a company there is one thing that DC has consistently done since the mid-eighties that really gets my goat.
The consistent opposition of Batman and Superman.
Sure, in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series it made sense, but every quality writer (and hack) has seemed to decide that that opposition, even though Miller’s work isn’t part of regular DC time, is the standard between them.
I always thought that Batman and Superman were the ultimate team, the brains and the brawn, but the way DC plays Batman now is he’s really not much better than Lex Luthor: a rich man afraid of an alien who demonstrates acts of humanity better than actual human beings, and whose pro-activity makes them a better person than they could ever be.
The Injustice video games are fantastic, and I’ve played them a ridiculous amount of time, and considering the cornerstone of the story in that is that opposition, it might make me somewhat of a hypocrite, but it’s the quality gameplay I remember rather than the story. As a caveat I must admit that in my over 40 years of comics reading I have never read an issue of the DC comic Injustice because I have no interest reading a story based on a game that I payed more attention to the mechanics than the story… please ‘X’ to skip? No problem.
The story has been obviously popular though, and even though it’s a trope that fans love even though it’s been beaten to death, as a collector of the DC Animated Blurays I certainly felt an obligation to purchase it, so here we are.
Injustice is the tale of a fallen Superman. After the Joker kills Lois Lane, and destroys Metropolis, Superman goes crazy-8 bonkers and pulls the heart out of the gleeful Joker, and blames Batman partially for Lois’ death as he never had the stones to properly ‘take care’ of the Joker.
For some reason, Batman decides that this isn’t justice (even though the Joker has killed and escaped so many times) and the Justice League divides into those who think Superman did wrong, and those who think Superman did something fair and just, and so the battle begins with many surprise deaths at the hands of the rogue Kryptonian.
Who is right? Who is wrong? The conversation will possibly continue long after the story has finished, and this story stars SO many DC characters: Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Green Arrow, and so many more. For a full list, check out the roster of any Injustice video game!
To the credit of the writers, the story doesn’t end up with Batman acquiring some kryptonite but is instead an emotional appeal to the man that Superman once was, and it is far more satisfying. Unfortunately, what is a promising set-up relies on multiverse rubbish and the appearance of Plastic Man and is all executed with probably the worst character design of any DC Animated feature to date.
Adventures in Storytelling – Injustice: Crisis and Conflict is a fascinating round table with producers Jim Krieg and Rick Morales, director Matt Peters and writer Ernie Altbacker. It’s a detailed look at the themes and even the politics of the story and entertains and informs thoroughly.
A Preview of Reign of the Supermen and A preview of The Death of Superman are shorts that look at other features from the DC Animated movies.
There is also two animated episodes, Injustice for All parts 1 and 2 from Justice League. Not sure of the connection except for the name, but whatever.
WISIA: Nope, but I’ll play the games again!
This review was done with the Australian release of Justice League: Injustice.
Film: I am very easily convinced into watching a film based on the stars involved in it, and even though the name ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ sounds like some nonsense from a Dr. Seuss book, I was able to overlook that when I saw that it starred Die Hard’s Bruce Willis, who I could watch in anything, and Megan Fox, an actor who I loved in Jennifer’s Body, Transformers (of which she was possibly the best thing) and her coquettish turn in the Simon Pegg flop How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a film that I think is actually quite hilarious.
This is the first film directed by Randall Emmett, a producer who has been involved in action movies like Boss Level and The Irishman, and was written (and produced) by newcomer Alan Horsnail, and is based on the murders of Robert Ben Rhodes, aka The Truck Stop Killer, a serial killer convicted of three murders, but is suspect of about 50 others, and who is still to this day in prison.
Midnight in the Switchgrass tells of FBI agents Karl Helter (Bruce Willis) and Rebecca Lombardo (Megan Fox) who are hot on the tail of a sex trafficking ring when their investigation crosses paths with that of Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, Byron Crawford (Emile Hirsch) who is investigating a series of missing/ murdered women.
It’s around this time in the film that we are introduced to truck-driving family man, Peter (Lucas Haas) who has a horrible secret: he’s the murderer that Crawford is looking for!
The two agencies combine forces and information, some collected from sex trafficker Calvin (Machine Gun Kelly), and they start to close in, but will Lombardo’s undercover skills put her at risk?
This isn’t a bad film, but I do think it may be about 20 years too late. I’m sure this film would have been a pretty popular film then, but now, with TV shows that tell similar stories becoming so popular, it’s just out of time.
The heroes of the piece are definitely Hirsch with his wide-eyed cop who just wants to finish ‘the job’ of saving these young women, and surprisingly Machine Gun Kelly was pretty good as the scumbag pimp… though the person who watched this with me who knows his non-acting work better than suggested that his personality may not have been too different from his own. Lukas Haas wasn’t bad either but his creepy performance came more from his looks that anything else.
Megan Fox was ok in the film, but was more convincing in the victim role than the cop, unfortunately Bruce Willis felt like he just turned up to collect a pay cheque, and disappears half way through.
I have to point out one thing: there is a particularly unintentionally funny bit in the first few minutes where Fox has to subdue Machine Gun Kelly’s character, and I don’t know if it was that the actors afraid of hurting each other or the direction was lacking but I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a more awkward fight scene in a movie
This is the thing though; I really loved those thrillers from the late 90s and early 2000s like Taking Lives, Copycat and The Bone Collector, and even the ones a bit later like Alex Cross and Jack Reacher, so I actually quite enjoyed it. It is certainly not as good as some of those films, but if they made a sequel to this with Fox and Hirsch in it, I’d probably give it a go.
Preview copy was provided by Eagle Entertainment and watched via the Vimeo app.
Film: I was a latecomer to seeing the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Being in Australia and too young in the eighties to be part of any tape-swapping scene, and then a bit of a loner in the early 90s, I didn’t actually get to see it until it was first released on DVD.
Should I hand my horror fan card in now?
The problem with seeing it so late is I was completely entrenched in the hype from mags like Fangoria, Samhain, Fear and the hundred of other mags and books I had been exposed to before seeing the film. Could a film live up to everything I had heard for all those years? Of course not!
Texas Chain Saw Massacre tells of a group of young kids travelling through Texas to see a family home; Sally (Marilyn Burns), Kirk (William Vail), Pam (Teri McMin), Jerry (Alan Danziger) and the disabled Franklin (Paul A. Partain) who decide it would be fun to pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), an extraordinarily strange man who is kicked out of the van after attacking Franklin with a knife.
The group go to the abandoned family house and split off in their various directions, as horror youngsters do, exploring the surrounding area. Unfortunately for them, they find out exactly where the hitchhiker lives, and that he has an extended family of the cook (Jim Siedow), the practically immobile (and maybe mummified?) Grandfather (John Dugan) and the terrifying, monstrous, chainsaw-wielding beast Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson). This family LOVE having people for dinner, if you know what I mean… and unfortunately for some, there is fresh, young meat available…
Since that first watch, I’ve respected this film, but haven’t held it in the high regard on my personal list of most loved films like others had, mainly because I had seen and fallen in love with so many other horror films before I had the opportunity to see it, and it didn’t feel as special as I thought it was going to be: it wasn’t very gory, or bloody, but I could appreciate it was a pretty good story and the family, especially Leatherface, the main killer and TCSM icon, were terrifying.
There’s no doubt the film really looks the business. Made with a low budget in 1974, the film looks hot, and dirty, and horrible… but not as in horrible filmmaking, because it really looks like a proper horror movie. Hooper makes every set up scene sweat with the heat, and every scene with the bad guys in it is full of dread, and that combination of heat and dread really makes the whole experience really claustrophobic, which is what proper horror really does, and because you see the cast both hot and in fear, you find yourself in the film with them. The upgraded and cleaned up version of the film may have been criticised by some upon release as it made the film look ‘nicer’, but it’s a grimy enough film to be able to overcome that.
I must put a caveat here and say ‘except for one’ in regards to the cast of characters. For me, the entire experience of this film is spoilt by the character of Franklin. I like to get really involved with the characters experiences and feel what they are feeling, but every time Franklin’s immature, whiny drawls come out, I disassociate from the film and find it hard to get back into it. Thankfully he doesn’t spoil the final scenes of the film, so at least the pay off is good.
I appreciate just how important this film is not just to horror, but to the film industry in itself, but personally, there are a lot more films that appeal to me far more. Still, everyone should see it at least once in their lives so they can understand that a film doesn’t have to be Citizen Cain or Gone With The Wind to lay industry foundations that will forever hold strong.
Extras: The disc opens with trailers for the Umbrella Entertainments releases for The Babadook, and The Quiet Ones, before we get SO many extras! There’s so much information for cast and crew across these extras, after you have finished watching them, you will feel like an expert on the film.
There are 4 (!) commentaries on this disc! One with Tobe Hooper, another with cinematographer Faniel Pearl, Sounds Recordist Ted Nicolaou and Editor J. Larry Carroll, a third with actors Marilyn Burns, Paul A. partial, Allen Danziger with Art Director Robert A. Burns and finally one with Tobe Hooper, Daniel Pearl and Leatherface himself, Gunnar Hanson. The first two commentaries are labelled as ‘new’ so I assume the others are on previous releases. There is just buckets of anecdotes and recollections across these 4 commentaries they almost make the other extras redundant!
‘Off The Hook’ with Teri McMinn is an interview with the actress who portrayed Pam, who, for me has the iconic shot in the film where she walks across the from of the house in the bright red shorts. There’s also that other iconic scene where she I’d definitely ‘on the hook’ but still, I love the shorts scene.
Interview with actor John Dugan, who played the Grandfather, under LOTS of makeup, obviously. He talks about his days in set and the heat (a common theme) under that mask.
Interview with Production Manager Ros Bozman of which TCSM was one of his earliest jobs, but he went on to do films like Philadelphia and Married to the Mob… he went legitimate, if you will. Again, interesting look at the film production from the POV of the actual production manager makes for an interesting watch.
40th Anniversary Trailer is the trailer made for the remastered version of the film.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark – a visit to TCSM Location. I like the HHG stuff in general as the revisiting of some of the locations can be fascinating, and this isn’t different. I do have to say I hate the skate punk film clip intro, but I’m willing to forgive that for the content of the rest of the episodes.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Footage are the usual bunch of things that the film is probably better off without, which it’s popularity obviously proves.
Blooper Reel is ok but looks like it was filmed through a screen door.
Theatrical Trailer, Tv Spots and Radio Spots is about 5 minutes of the original advertising for the film. Now we have this beautiful remastered version it almost seems weird to see it so washed out and grainy… has the film lost something with the clean up? Not to me but I’m sure there are many who prefer the more ‘grindhouse’ feel to the way it used to look.
There are two documentaries on this disc; ‘Flesh Wounds’ and ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth’. Flesh Wounds is divided into 7 parts and is a far more by-the-fans-for-the-fans affair, whereas The Shocking Truth is made as a more traditional doco about the film.
The Tobe Hooper interview and Kim Henkel interviews are certainly the nuts and bolts interviews of the entire disc. Interesting but some of the info has been heard before on the various commentaries and other extras across the disc.
Killing Kirk outtakes is exactly what it says on the box. Some different takes in Kirk’s murder. No commentary or sound though.
Outtakes from ‘The Shocking Truth’ is about 7 minutes of extra footage from the Shocking Truth doco not used in the film.
A Tour of the TCSM House with Gunnar Hansen is a 1993 shot-on-video look at the original location for the house where the original film was made, with commentary by Hanson as he wanders through with the camera crew, and then another in 2000 after the house had been restored… and it’s disturbingly filled with Easter bunnies and paraphernalia!
WISIA: Even though it’s not even in my top 20 favourite horror films, I still will watch it now and again to remind myself of it’s importance not just in the horror film industry, but the entire film industry.
This review was done with the Australian release of the film, provided by Umbrella Entertainment.