Prison

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Prison

Release Date: December 8, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama

Director: Renny Harlin

Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Happy Halloween! We’ve reached the final review in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. The movies I reviewed included a cannibal comedy, a deformed sibling monster film, a camp slasher and a slug infested zombie homage. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as “Die Hard 2” and “Cliffhanger” as well as the third highest grossing “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie in the franchise in “Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.” It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s “Prison”!

The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity.  Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.

I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” documentary “Never Sleep Again.” He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.

Prison (1988)

My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw “Prison” in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.

The mood is everything in “Prison”. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.

Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies.  He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters of authority throughout his career and this is no exception.

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Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.

The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.”  While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.

I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in “Prison”. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” drew inspiration from “Prison”.  The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.

As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.

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Overall, I would check out “Prison”. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his film making career. Some good, some bad.

That concludes my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.

Happy Halloween!

 

TRIVIA

  • Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
  • The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
  • The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
  • Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
  • Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
  • The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
  • The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
  • Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
  • Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

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Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp

Release Date: November 18, 1983

Genre: Horror

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Writer: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Alright, we are at the halfway point in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. Time for Movie #3.  This next movie review is one of the more controversial underground horror movies to come out of this list. This movie came out in 1983, but I wasn’t aware of the film until about 2014. It was this past summer where I watched it for the first time at a local discount theater where they were playing “Summer Themed” horror movies. It’s a movie like the previous two films in the special where I’ve watched repeatedly and enjoyed it on so many levels. The next film on this list is the summer camp slasher film “Sleepaway Camp!”

“Sleepaway Camp” is the story of two cousins, Rickey and Angela who are about to spend their summer at Camp Arawak. Rickey is a seasoned veteran at the camp while this will be Angela’s first time. Angela is quiet and shy. She is also suffering from a post traumatic event involving her father and brother being killed in a boating accident. Angela is disliked by the other campers for obvious reasons and only seems to talk to Rickey. She does strike up a conversation with Rickey’s friend Paul and become close throughout the movie. As the summer camp begins its annual season, a series of murders start to happen that has everyone on edge. Who is committing these murders and what is the motive?

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“Sleepaway Camp” was a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $11 million dollars with a reported $300,000 budget. It has a huge following and Felissa Rose became a member of the “Scream Queen Sorority”. The movie is known for its infamous and controversial ending that still shocks the viewing audience today (It sure did shock me). People like to debate which was the better slasher film, this or “Friday the 13th”.

Right off the bat, “Sleepaway Camp” gets your emotions charged. You see the traumatic event that will shape the story and the character of Angela throughout the film. When you see Felissa Rose appear on screen for the first time she is quiet and reserved. She barely makes eye contact with her aunt and stays close to her cousin Rickey. The camp counselors (well…most of them) are aware that this is the first time Angela will be away from home and they give her sympathy and comfort to make sure she enjoys her time. Her unwillingness to socialize with her roommates nor participate in any camp activities draws the ire of Judy (Karen Fields), the supposed popular girl at the camp and Meg (Katherine Kamhi). Rose gives a cold frightening performance with her constant stare downs. It’s a very intimidating look although the rest of the counselors don’t feel intimidated by her. She doesn’t utter her first words until she is confronted by Paul, Rickey’s fried who attempts to engage in conversation with her. From there you see her shyness melt away as she spends more time with Paul.

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Besides Rose’s iconic performance, the other performances were good. Each actor and actress played their character as they were written. Jonathan Tiersten’s performance as Rickey was hilarious. He loves to stir up trouble through his trash talking and constant profanity. He does a great job protecting Angela. He’s like a big brother to her rather than a cousin. My other favorite performance is the camp owner, Mel played by veteran actor Mike Kellin, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Mel does his best to keep his reputation by trying to spin what is happening to the people that are dying in the film. He has a hilarious scene where he appears wearing lime green pants and a yellow jacket in anticipation for a hot date. There’s also a small appearance from Robert Earl Jones as the chef, Ben. He is the father of legendary actor James Earl Jones.

The gore is minimal in comparison to “Friday the 13th”. The killer uses the surrounding environments to take out its victims one by one. You’ll notice a pattern of whom the victims are. You may think to yourself you already know who the killer is, but the movie uses a bit of trickery to throw off your assumptions. There is a small body count throughout the movie until the very end where the volume doubles.

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“Sleepaway Camp” balances the kills with some humor. There are plenty of hilarious moments throughout the movie including Rickey and his bunk mates playing tricks on one of their own, the male campers going skinny dipping and some funny mustache miscues. The cop in the movie has a mustache in his first appearance, but when he appears near the end, you can tell the mustache is fake and uneven. The reason for that being is the actor that played the cop had shaved his mustache off after he was done shooting his part but was called back due to additional shooting. Since he couldn’t grow one quickly in time, they had to improvise.

This is the only film writer and director Robert Hiltzik made. He made a career change and today he is an attorney in New York. For what it’s worth, he made a really good slasher film. It’s a movie with a ton of replay value that you can watch repeatedly. You don’t need to be watching it in the summer to enjoy it as it is a film you can watch in any season.

With that the third film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special has concluded. Stay tuned next week for the fourth review!

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set, which included the unauthorized sequels, was recalled after complaints were made by the American Red Cross.
  • Some of the campers seen getting off the buses at the beginning of the film are relatives of the cast and crew.
  • Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicky in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ was originally cast to play Judy.
  • Mike Kellin’s final film. He was sick during filming but did his best to conceal it from everyone and passed away in August 1983 from lung cancer, three months before the film’s release.
  • Willy Kuskin who plays the character of Mozart, one of the bullied camp boys, was genuinely bullied during filming. Frank Trent Saladino who played Gene, Mozart’s camp counselor, had to step in to protect Willy at times when the other members would take it too far.
  • Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten developed a puppy love type romance during filming but broke up soon after.
  • Jonathan Tiersten was given the role of Ricky after an unusual audition where the writer/director, Robert Hiltzik, asked Jonathan to cuss him out.
  • As a child, writer/director Robert Hiltzik actually went to the camp which was used in the film.
  • One of the inspirations for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s “Nature Trail to Hell,” along with Friday the 13th Part III (1982), referencing the cutting up of Cub Scouts and an ending you have to see to believe.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Basket Case

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Basket Case

Release Date: April 2, 1982

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Frank Henenlotter

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello readers! Welcome to the second week of my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. This next movie review is a movie I’ve been dying to watch for a long time but could never find a copy of it. It was out of print on VHS and was released on Blu-Ray a few years back. I ended up watching it on a streaming service and it exceeded my expectations. This week’s review is the 1982 underground flick, “Basket Case”.

Released in 1982, “Basket Case” is the story of a twenty-year-old boy named Duane Bradley who arrives in New York City with a backpack on his pack and holding a big wicker basket. Inside the basket is brother Belial who is Duane’s deformed brother. It turns out they are Siamese twins separated against both their wishes. Duane and Belial seek out the doctors who separated them and plan to kill them in revenge. During his stay at a cheap sleazy hotel, he befriends his fellow tenant, Casey, who is a prostitute and develops a love interest with a receptionist named Sharon who works at the office of one of the doctors that performed the separation on them. Duane and Sharon spend a day together getting to know each other. After a moment of embrace, Duane begins to have severe headaches. This is the result of him being telepathically linked to Belial (they talk to each other using their mind). Belial can sense Duane and when he realizes what he is doing, he goes into a screaming frenzy destroying everything in their room. Belial is not only afraid that Duane will leave him, but he is also angry at the fact that he cannot enjoy the pleasures of being with a woman due to his deformed state. The brothers start a tug of war with each other that carries on through the remainder of the film and it would not only jeopardize their objectives but jeopardizes their relationship.

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The movie wasn’t a huge hit in mainstream theaters, however it obtained its success through midnight showings at Drive-In Theaters (remember those?). The film was enjoyed by the audience that it was played as a midnight movie for the next several years. It has become a cult classic and one of the best B-Movie Horror films ever made.

The film was written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. He’s made several horror movies in his career including the three “Basket Case” movies, but he never considered himself a Horror movie filmmaker. Rather, he prefers to be known as an “exploitation” filmmaker. He loved exploitation movies because they “have an attitude more than anything, an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.” (1) “Basket Case” was filmed with a budget of around $35,000 which was extremely low for any exploitation movie at the time. Despite the low budget, Henenlotter was able to make a special film that dealt with human biology, science, family and social interaction with humans topped with insatiable mounts of blood and gore.

The movie was shot on 16MM film, however there were problems with the post production which resulted in the film being very dark in light and having a murky look. Because of this, the film had to be converted to a different aspect ratio. This was something Henenlotter did not have control over. Nevertheless, the lack of lighting and the graininess of the film gives it a more unsettling look. When you add that with the spacey music, it heightens the atmosphere and tension as you tremble in anticipation as to what is about to happen on screen. There’s no skimping of blood or gore in this movie including a kill scene that seems to use every item in the room. There is an origin scene through the middle of the film which gives the audience more insight on Duane and Belial’s relationship and how dismissive their father is of Belial and how no one seemed to love them expect each other and their aunt.  The origin scene shows the separation of the boys and is filled with sounds of Velcro and duct tape to mimic the sounds to cutting tools. The use of sound effects and visceral blood during that sequence including the uneasiness of Duane makes it the most squeamish scene in my opinion. I couldn’t get through watching it without closing my eyes which is something I haven’t done in a very long time (extra award for that).

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The acting is decent for an uber low budget movie. Kevin Van Hentenryck plays Duane as a person who keeps to himself and has little interaction with others. He is very protective of his brother and is willingly going along with Belial’s plan of seeking revenge on the doctors. When Belial gets into grouse some situations with his victims, Duane does what he can to cover up so that no suspicion falls on him. He is very protective of his brother, yet he can’t seem to separate himself from him even when he pleads with Belial to let him have time for himself. Terri Susan Smith, who plays the love interest Sharon, plays it as a naive ditzy woman with a weird hairdo (obviously a wig due to the fact her head was shaved in real life because she was in a punk rock group. Frank Henenlotter was not happy about this because she had full hair when she was brought in to audition for the role). She quickly grows interest in Duane and develops feelings for him. She gets concerned for him when they go back to the hotel he is staying at and starts to freak out when the police arrive after reports of screaming and a dead body found at the hotel (thanks to Belial). The other performances I enjoyed include Robert Vogel who plays the hotel manager, Diana Browne who plays Dr. Kutter, one of the doctors that separated Duane and Belial (she looks like Sigourney Weaver’s doppelganger) and Lloyd Pace who plays the goofy looking and paranoid Dr. Needleman.

And now we get to discussing the star of the movie, Belial. If you were to describe him today, he looks the Pokémon, Geodude. He is a blob of flesh with eyes, razor sharp teeth and arms. As I mentioned before, he talks to Duane via telepathy. He’s like a spider as he can crawl from one room to the next using windows and can grip on walls in part due to his large fingers. Despite his stature he is physically strong as he can throw dresser drawers and papers across the room and lift the leg of a bed as shown through a well done stop motion sequence. He’s the mastermind behind the plot to kill the doctors for good reasons. In addition to vengeance, Belial is growing frustrated with the inability to experience sexual pleasure with a woman and the fear of Duane leaving him for Sharon. The only way he can experience the desires he craves is through immoral ways as is depicted near the end of the movie. Belial keeps Duane in check and his presence is a reminder to Duane that they’re with each other until the end.

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It sure did take a long time for me to watch “Basket Case”, but it was a great viewing experience. It’s a movie that I’ve put on constant rotation these last few weeks in preparation for this review. I’m contemplating watching the sequels, but I’m sure those will be as big of a challenge as the first movie in obtaining copies for my viewing pleasure. This movie cemented Frank Henelotter as a great exploitation filmmaker as he desired to become. If you enjoyed this movie, check out his other films “Brain Damage” and “Frankenhooker” in addition to the two sequels to this film as I mentioned.

See you readers next week with the third film in the “Guiltiest Horror Movies” review special.

(1) “In Search of Hotel Broslin”. Basket Case DVD special features.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Most of the credits that appear at the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and, rather than repeat the same names repeatedly, they decided to just make up names.
  • To try to make the film appeal to a comedy crowd, the original distributor cut all the gore scenes out of the film. They were eventually put back in and re-released in theaters with the subtitle “The Full Uncut Version!”
  • In addition to providing a face cast for the Belial puppet, Kevin Van Hentenryck also performed the mutant twin’s voice effects.
  • When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin, he takes out a wad of cash. According to director Frank Henenlotter, that money was the film’s entire budget.
  • Duane’s streaking scene was shot without permits on a cold winter’s night. To shoot the scene, the crew would first clear the sidewalks of any objects that might hurt Kevin Van Hentenryck if he stepped on them. He was then let out of a heated van on one side of the block and met on the other side by another heated van. Once picked up, the van would drive him to another block. This was repeated until they got the desired amount of shots.
  • Film critic Rex Reed’s quotation to describe the movie, “This is the sickest movie ever made!” was used in the film’s promotion despite not appearing in a printed review. Reed had sought out the film after hearing negative reviews and was asked his opinion after emerging from the cinema. Unbeknownst to Reed, the person who asked him was director Frank Henelotter. Initially furious that his comment was used to promote the film, Reed eventually relented and granted permission to allow Henelotter to use it to promote the film.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

Sushi Girl

Sushi Girl

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Before I go into the review, I would like to take this time to apologize for not posting weekly. I’ve had some personal tragedies in my life that took me away from various projects. In addition, I wanted to take some time off and rethink the concept of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review”. When I first started this blog, the concept was to review movies that I particularly liked that perhaps only a small cult would enjoy. I started to find myself digging into movies that have already been done before. I took a seat back and took notes on how to keep this blog going but make it appealing to the viewers. I decided that I would focus on movies that the mainstream movie goer may not have heard of before or movies that may be seen as bad by the general public, but I enjoy.  I know there will be people out there (even you the reader) that may have seen the movie I’m reviewing before, but my goal in reviewing these underrated movies is to attempt to capture a new audience. As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s “Sushi Girl”.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled “Sushi Girl”. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about “Sushi Girl”, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick “Reservoir Dogs”. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. “Sushi Girl” follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like “Reservoir Dogs”, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than “Candyman” which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Clocking in at 98 minutes, “Sushi Girl” may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

 

TRIVIA (According to IMDB)

 

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.

 

  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.

 

  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.

 

  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.

 

  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).

 

  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

The Perfect Host

 

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The Perfect Host

Release Date: January 10, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Director: Nick Tom nay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Cloyne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Do you ever flip around the movie titles on Netflix and find a movie that you’ve never heard of? Does the title and the cover give you a curious interest as to what the movie is about? While Netflix has devoted the majority of its programming to original series, they do turn out a bunch of independent movies that were only screened at film festivals and other small venues. One movie I recently came across looked appealing and therefore I was enticed to watch. The movie was titled, “The Perfect Host”.

Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, the movie is about a man named John Taylor who is on the run after pulling off a bank heist and collecting over $300,000. His car breaks down in a plush Los Angeles neighborhood. After a failed attempt to convince a neighbor to let him use the phone, he is able to use some cunning skills to convince a man named Warwick Wilson to let him in. Warwick is in the middle of cooking dinner as he is throwing a dinner party and has invited several of his friends to join. Warwick offers John some red wine and helps him trying to get into contact with his cousin so they could meet up (which is a ruse). A news bulletin goes off on the radio describing John and the heist. John grabs Warwick’s butcher knife and holds him hostage. His plan is to lay low until the next morning and leave. However, John begins to feel dizzy and collapses on the floor. Unbeknownst to John, Warwick drugged the wine. The tables turn as John is tied up in a chair and is sitting at the head of the dinner table. He is now the guest of honor in what is to be a very bizarre party.

Written and Directed by Nick Tom nay, which is his first feature film according to records, “The Perfect Host” is reminiscent of an Albert Hitchcock film. It’s filled with tension, suspense, surprises and shocks. The reversal of roles between predator and prey slither slow and steady transition. It’s almost like watching a Chess game where each player is strategically plan their moves. Ironically, the two main characters engage in a game of Chess where each has their own stake in the winnings.

The film is shot on digital video. I’m not a huge fan of digital video for numerous reasons, but it works within the context of the film. There’s a lot of bright lighting throughout the film. I also enjoy the constant back and forth first person views of the two main characters as you see what they’re interpreting in their own mind of the scenario that is playing around them.

This is the first starring role for David Hyde Pierce. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is best known as his portrayal of Niles Crane in the sitcom “Frasier”. His portrayal of Warwick is not much different from his portrayal of Niles. He’s articulate, eccentric, excited and knowledgeable. Warwick comes off as a gracious generous host. He plays the victim role early in the film. When he is in control of the situation, his deep desires and fantasies come out while having fun and entertaining his “guest”.  He slowly morphs into a character that is a combination of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman. From there comes the final phase of his character where he is grounded and determined (I’ll get to that later in the review). Pierce provides plenty of laughs while at the same time provides creepy and unsettled moments that make you anxious as to what is he planning with John.

Speaking of John Taylor, he is portrayed by Cloyne Crawford. I’m not familiar with any of his other film roles, so this was an introductory role for me. John is determined to get out of Los Angeles with the money he steals. He is cunning and manipulative at first and then becomes aggressive and violent especially when he tells Warwick to “shut up” when a radio bulletin comes on the air regarding his robbery. He holds Warwick hostage in his own home while he lays low. His control over the situation is short lived as he collapses from drinking red wine that was drugged by Warwick. He becomes the hostage and is powerless to regain control. He is at the mercy of Warwick and does his best to resist compliance from Warwick. Throughout the film there are flashbacks involving John and an unidentified woman. These pieces would reveal who the woman is and what is her relation to John.

While the film focuses primarily on John and Warwick, there are a few minor characters. As I’ve stated there is a woman who is involved with John and then there are two police detectives who are looking into the heist and John’s background and there is a concerned neighbor when she sees John floating in a pool and yell.  While these characters add to the layer of the story, they are used minimally. You don’t see the woman or the police detectives until the climax of the film.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the climax. It felt rushed and didn’t flow with the rest of the film.  You find out what Warwick does for a living and this triggers another personality trait in him. It’s strange since the film doesn’t give clues about who he really is. It does have a somewhat comical ending to it as it would set up another event that I’m sure we’ll never see unless they decide to make a sequel.

While “The Perfect Host” cant’ be described as a perfect film, but it’s a clever spin on a classic genre of films. As I mentioned early in the review, it’s got the look and feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s about as close of a Hitchcockian film you’re going to see in recent years. It makes you appreciate independent films and what they’re trying to make. If I found this film on Netflix, there’s no telling where other sleeper indie hits may be out there. I’ll just have to find them.

 

TRIVIA

  • First starring film role for David Hyde Pierce.
  • Shot in seventeen days with a budget just under $500,000
  • The tattoo on John’s hand contains 3 Hebrew letters, which are the initials for “Uri Riva Yariv” – a kabbalah term that means absolute certainty and is supposed to enhance confidence and belief.

 

AUDIO CLIPS