Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Really Weird Movies

When you look at various compilers' lists of weird movies online, some of the titles that frequently pop up are Lynch's Lost Highway, Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, Fincher's Fight Club and Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. Certainly they all have bizarre elements, but my definition of weird is more demanding. Little people speaking backwards? Seen it. A sudden outbreak of frogs? Done that. To me, a truly weird movie provokes the questions: "Who the hell made this? Who did they think their audience would be?" And "Am I insane?"

Here a trio of films that I would consider truly "weird movies":

1. Sonny Boy (1989)

Turner Classic Movies aired this strange gem last year in its late-night "Underground" time slot, and I'm sure if you caught it, you're probably still reeling. I first saw it on VHS not long after it was released, and I'm still reeling.

It's 1970, and we're in a hardscrabble New Mexico town ironically named Harmony. Ironically, because it's run by a mean-as-hell sleazeball named Slue. Weasel, one of his henchmen, kills a couple checking into a motel, steals their car and takes it to Slue. He doesn't notice that there's a baby in the back seat, but when they make the discovery, Slue's wife, Pearl, happily claims the child to raise as her own. Oh...did I mention that Brad Dourif is Weasel, Paul L. Smith (the sadistic warden in Midnight Express) is Slue and David Carradine is Pearl? That's right, David Carradine in drag.

It gets even stranger. They name the child Sonny Boy, and soon Slue takes charge, training him to be the human equivalent of a rabid attack dog. He even cuts out the boy's tongue to make sure he'll never be able to speak a word against him. Soon Sonny Boy is running rampant through town on Slue's orders, killing and robbing the locals.

These are really not nice people. Slue exercises control over the local police force and surrounds himself with idiotic lackeys like Weasel to do his bidding. When he's not taking advantage of unfortunate travelers, he's making things (and people) go boom with his cannon. Pearl puts up with him, occasionally registering mild displeasure, but mostly going along for the ride. And being the kingpin of Harmony must not pay very well—they live in an end-of-the-road, broken-down compound that the Texas Chainsaw family would feel right at home in. As Sonny Boy (Michael Griffin) grows into a young adult, he begins to question his adoptive family and the terrible things he's being forced to do. This is all communicated via narration provided by the title character. Surprisingly, your compassion for this brutal and brutalized man-child grows.

Defiantly offbeat, Sonny Boy is a surreal and unflinching look at the ugliness of evil, and yet it has elements of melancholy and introspection that transport it beyond the traditional action-exploitation genre. Smith provides a suitable performance as the irredeemably cruel and sleazy Slue, and Carradine doesn't play Pearl campily. He doesn't raise the pitch of his voice or even adopt any particularly feminine mannerisms. It's just David Carradine in a wig and a dress, and all the other characters in the film interact naturally with him as...well, Pearl, Slue's wife. The movie is also a reunion of sorts for Dourif and Sidney Lassick, as they appeared in the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest together.

And once you've experienced the camera's-eye view of Carradine reaching down to take you in his arms...well, it's something you'll never forget.

2. Blood Freak (1972)

Haven't you always longed for a pro-Christian, anti-drug movie about a crazed killer with the body of a man and the head of a turkey? Fortunately, Brad F. Grinter and star Steve Hawkes have filled that void with their doo-wacka-doo epic Blood Freak.

As if the title of the film enough wasn't enough to give you a clue that we're in Herschell Gordon Lewis territory, Hawkes plays a lunky drifter named...Herschell! He helps a born-again Christian girl fix her flat tire, she invites him home and he falls for her drug-addled nymphet sister. He is plied with marijuana and soon becomes addicted (in about 10 minutes, as a matter of fact). The nymphet gets him a job at a local turkey farm, where he is plied with more drugs to persuade him to act as a taste-tester for chemically-altered turkey meat.

Ravenously ripping through his first bird (munchies, you know), he falls ill, staggers off into the woods, and wakes up with a thirst for junkie blood—oh, and a big ol' turkey head. He goes on a rampage, killing junkies, pushers and innocent bystanders alike. All of these events are grimly narrated by co-director Grinter, who sits at a desk and chain-smokes while he reads his lines off a piece of paper.

In true Lewis fashion, the gore is hilarious. Blood that's supposed to be jetting out of slashed arteries instead gushes out of tubes hidden inside shirts. When Herschell cuts off a pusher's leg, it looks like the actor was an amputee in real life, so it's probably the most convincing effect. However, the "actor" holds the plastic leg and screams continuously for about a minute afterwards. And the turkey head is so bad—it's been described as looking like a papier mache project made by a special education class—that it only adds to the fun. Of course, the screaming dubbed onto the soundtrack is completely random and sounds like the same two people.

Hawkes is a former movie Tarzan who suffered facial scars in a fire, ending his conventional career and pushing him into vehicles like Blood Freak. Grinter appeared in a couple of Lewis' early movies and also directed 1970's Flesh Feast, 1940s star Veronica Lake's pathetic swan song. Like Lewis, Grinter seemed to be based in Florida, and his last directorial credit was 1975's Barely Proper, a nudist colony film which would have been quite an antique in the post-Deep Throat '70s.

Now whether Blood Freak is a spoof of Lewis' films or an earnest homage is impossible to tell. The acting is wooden, yet the Christian message seems bizarrely earnest. What is clear is that this completely bonkers movie is a lot of fun.

3. L'Anticristo (1974)

When The Exorcist became such a huge international hit, the Italians were among the first to jump on the rip-off bandwagon with films like L'Ossessa (U.S.: Eerie Midnight Horror Show) and Chi Sei? (U.S.: Beyond the Door) and L'Anticristo (U.S.: The Tempter), all from 1974. Even though Chi Sei? offers us the spectacle of Juliet Mills (of TV's "Nanny and the Professor") puking and swearing, L'Anticristo wins hands-down for all-out weirdness.

Ippolita (Carla Gravina) is an anxious young woman who is wheelchair-bound as a result of a car accident caused by her father that killed her mother and left her paralyzed from the waist down. Frustrated at her lot in life and convinced that God has turned His back on her, she confesses to her uncle, also a priest, that she's been having blasphemous thoughts and that Satan is more real than God. And when her father takes up with a new woman, jealous Ippolita takes an even higher dive off the deep end.

She begins to act up in mildly devilish ways, so her worried father puts her under a psychiatrist's care. The shrink thinks her paralysis is psychosomatic, and he decides to try to cure her with regression therapy. While she is under hypnosis, she comes to the realization that she is a descendant of a centuries-old witch who'd been burned at the stake. Something about this realization makes Satan come a-calling, and next thing you know she's seducing her brother, flashing her uncle and hopping out of her chair to go kill German tourists.

What makes this version rise above the other Exorcist rip-offs is that it attempted to be different. Many of the others, from Chi Sei? to William Girdler's Abby, merely ran us through the same old obscenity-spewing and projectile vomiting (Abby is pretty damn hilarious, though). L'Anticristo attempts to give us something more. Of course, there's plenty of cursing and puking, but other things happen, too. During one of the dream sequences, for example, Ippolita taps into a flashback of her ancestor as she participates in an orgy to bring her into Satan's fold. At one point she is required to perform a certain intimate act on a goat's hindquarters, and although we don't see it in explicit detail, we are treated to a close-up of Ippolita eagerly swirling her tongue around her mouth! And she doesn't merely rise off the bed and levitate like The Exorcist's Regan...she floats up into the air and takes off out the window! And when she kills a guy and throws him down the stairs in a church, there's a strange, abrupt shot of his head spinning around in a very cartoonish manner.

Plus, we get not one but two has-been American actors: Mel Ferrer (Eaten Alive) as Ippolita's father and Arthur Kennedy (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) as her uncle. Even the awesome Alida Valli (the martinet dance instructor in Suspiria) is along for the ride as Ippolita's combination maid and nanny. And—surprisingly—since it's Italian, the film is shot through with some virulently anti-Catholic sentiment.

This is Part One of a continuing series. There are plenty of weird movies out there.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Now...Uncut and Uncensored!

Last year, when Lion's Gate released the restored DVD of the original My Bloody Valentine, timed to coincide with the theatrical release of the company's fun 3D remake, fans rejoiced. For years, the title had been one of the most frustrating rentals on home video shelves. It was intriguing and creepy, but Paramount had really taken the scissors to the gore scenes. I rented it a few times because I really liked the atmosphere, but the obvious cuts made me want to scream.

Some say the extreme censorship may have been motivated by the outrage directed at the studio's bloody Friday the 13th released the year before. I think that's true. Although the slasher craze would last through the entire decade, the films actually became less violent as they went along. Jason Takes Manhattan was particularly lame.

I'm always skeptical about those UNCUT AND UNCENSORED! claims in DVD releases. Everyone knows now that the R-rated films you see in theaters will become the "unrated director's cut!" when they reach home video. Still, I had to see what the restored Bloody Valentine was all about. To my surprise and delight, the restored scenes are really nasty. They're not color-corrected to match the rest of the film, but who cares? Now you get to see Harry Warden chowing down on another miner, Mabel's well-cooked body falling out of the clothes dryer in the laundromat, pickaxes rammed into eyes, pipes jammed through heads...sheer heaven for gorehounds.

1981's The Burning, an early Miramax (!) film, is another one that is the stuff of legend. Tom Savini's special effects were supposedly so horrifying that they needed immediate removal. I saw the uncut DVD, and the effects are certainly outre but rather goofy. The film's only interest these days is that it provides early roles for Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander.

Splatter started out strong. The first Friday was pretty red (Sean Cunningham, producer of 1974's Last House on the Left, was the director), and William's Lustig's unrated Maniac (released by Analysis, the company that gave America Tinto Brass's shocking porno Caligula that same year) upped the ante considerably. But the conservative backlash swiftly followed, and a lot of mid-decade splatters would probably fetch a PG-13 these days.

Throughout the '80s I would rent horror films that I hoped would deliver the requisite red stuff, but I frequently found myself disappointed. Some of them were still interesting enough to watch all the way through, but the censoring was so crude—abrupt scene changes, jumps in the soundtrack—that you knew you'd just missed something good. This happened most frequently with foreign films. Distributors who were anxious to sell as many videotapes as possible would change titles, snip prints to shreds and pay for that all-important MPAA "R" rating. It wasn't until the end of the decade that they caught on and realized there was a fan base that wanted the uncut versions.

Dario Argento's movies got the most damaged, unfortunately. Though his masterpiece Suspiria didn't received a legitimate release until Magnum Video distributed it in 1989 (in three versions—R-rated, uncut and letterboxed uncut), his other films regularly went under the knife and got ridiculous title changes to boot.

Anxious to relive the Suspiria experience (ironically I'd only ever seen the Fox-distributed International Classics R-rated cut), I'd rent anything with Argento's name on it, only to be aggravated again and again. His classic 1982 Giallo Tenebrae became Unsane (huh?) for American audiences, and the gore (and some kinkiness) was almost completely removed. Still, the story was compelling, and they preserved the pop-up surprise at the end which scared the hell out of me the first time.

Inferno, the sequel to Suspiria, was released by Fox Home Video in 1980 and fared far worse. Already shaky in the story department, it became almost completely incomprehensible in the hands of the editors. And it was boring—no fun bloody payoffs. When Anchor Bay released the uncensored DVD years later, I still thought the story was a little weak, but at least there were some fun murders, restored to their gory glory. And when I finally saw the original cut of Suspiria—what a revelation! Now you get to see the entire throat slitting in the barbed wire room, the piano player's larynx being ripped out by his seeing-eye dog, and the excruciating, drawn-out stabbing scene that starts the film off with a bang.

Academy Award-winner Jennifer Connelly's film debut, 1984's Phenomena, became Creepers in the States. Because it had such inherent weirdness going on, I thought it survived the pruning, but once again I was thrilled by Anchor Bay's restored cut. I still hate the heavy metal score Argento used, which doesn't match the onscreen action at all, except for the great title track.

Deep Red (which was subtitled "The Hatchet Murders" in its R-rated version) also benefits from restored gore—and even restored dialogue scenes, presented with English subtitles, because they were never translated. It's probably Argento's most comprehensible film—a Giallo with David Hemmings playing a character modeled after the one he'd played in Antonioni's Blow-Up just a couple of years before.

Argento has spoken frequently about the censorship indignities his films have undergone in the States, but I think it's a tribute to his skill that some of them still make for compelling viewing even after being neutered by a pair of blunt-edge scissors.

There were a lot of low-budget distributors in the game—like Wizard, Paragon, United and Unicorn—who bypassed the MPAA and released their cheesy horrors without ratings. These were the "big box" guys—they packaged their tapes in oversized boxes that would be more prominent on crowded video shelves. The packaging was also extremely sleazy...the VHS equivalent of the Times Square grindhouses that were ironically starting to grind to a halt...because of home video. And ironically the Times Square audiences were frequently enjoying uncut prints while home video renters were seeing the same films cut to smithereens.

Sometimes you'd see a real gem in its original moist European cut, but sometimes it'd be a terrible transfer from a 16mm print already snipped and bleeped for television. It was really hit-and-miss. Wizard's 1981 release of Zombie was uncut, but it was also unconscionably green and pan-and-scanned to the square television format, meaning unless the action took place in the dead center of the screen, you missed it! Particularly ruined was the famous wood-splinter-in-the-eye scene.

Funny how when things change, they still stay the same. Recently Cinemax (and now Fox Movie Channel) has been running the International Classics cut of Suspiria. I guess Fox must have bought the rights in perpetuity—they've had it for 34 years now—but it's still that old censored print I first saw at the State Lake Theater in Chicago when I was a teenager. And the excised gore is certainly no worse than the torture porn that regularly receives "R" ratings in theaters these days. Even Paramount has come around and released uncut versions of some of the Fridays. Kevin Bacon's famous death certainly gets considerably juicier:

But nowadays, when the theatrical "R"s are harder than the old unrateds, and HBO's "True Blood" is steamier than all of them, where else do we have to go?

Oh, yeah. Amateur porn.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Strange World of Charles B. Pierce

Last night I was watching the "MST 3K" version of Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues starring and directed by the late Charles B. Pierce. I remember seeing his original Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) in theaters when I was a kid, and I recall being struck by how strange they were, with their low-budget rawness and documentary approach. I also remember that they were pretty cheesy. And it made me wonder...what the hell happened to Charles B. Pierce, anyhow?

While refreshing my memory of Boggy Creek on IMDB today, I was amused to find so many comments from readers with childhood memories of being absolutely terrified by the film. Since it was rated G by the MPAA, I'm sure it played a lot of kiddie matinees. I was already pretty jaded by then, though—even at my young age, I'd already seen Night of the Living Dead and The Godfather (The Exorcist was a year away), so this one wasn't going to do anything to me. And it didn't. There are so many songs, it's practically a musical, and it takes forever for anything to happen. The only part that sticks in my memory is the bathroom scare scene, which you can see here:

Blair Witch Project co-creator Daniel Myrick cites Boggy Creek as the inspiration for his film, and there are certainly parallels. The film alternates interviews with locals who claim to have seen the Sasquatchy creature, re-enactments of lame attacks, and lots of outdoor scenery while the narrator yaps away. Maybe it's this documentary approach—something that hadn't been seen quite that way in a horror film before—that made me so impatient. I wanted thrills, and all I got was a faux-Disney nature documentary with cheesy songs. I'm playing clips of it on YouTube right now as I write this, and I'm still getting pissed off!

It captured the zeitgeist big-time, though. Made on a budget of around $100,000, it eventually earned about $20 million. That's a pretty good payoff.

Pierce made a couple of rural non-horror films before returning to the horror documentary genre with The Town that Dreaded Sundown. This film was more ambitious. It's got a bigger budget, it's set in the '40s and it even has name actors (Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine) in it. As an added bonus, Mary Ann herself—Dawn Wells—is featured in a small role. I hadn't ever seen her in anything but "Gilligan's Island," and here she was playing a victim in a grungy horror film. Weird.

I saw this one at the drive-in, and I have to admit that it creeped me out while I was sitting in a car in the darkness and hearing the crickets chirping outside, mirroring what was happening in the movie. Definitely the inspiration for the slashers to come in the next decade, it features a spooky hooded killer—known only as the Phantom—whose mask moves in and out as he breathes.

But the murders are all implied, rather than graphically shown, and since it was rated R, I was hoping for more red stuff. The killings also all take place at night outdoors, and anyone who's been to the drive-in knows how difficult it is to see nighttime outdoor scenes.

And, of course, that damn narrator would start jawboning again, dispelling any suspense that may have been built up. And it's the same guy who did Boggy Creek—Vern Stierman! His only other gig in film besides these two was in 1983's The Being, playing—guess what? The narrator!

The murder that made the biggest impression on me is a drawn-out sequence in which the Phantom ties a girl to a tree, attaches a knife to the end of a trombone, and "plays" it to quite literally stab her in the back. When Mary Ann—I mean Dawn Wells—finally shows up, she gets shot a couple of times and manages to drag herself to a neighbor's house before the Phantom can finish her off.

Here's the trombone killing. The person who uploaded this video to YouTube seems to think the actress is Dawn Wells, but it's not.

Sundown was an early release on home video. I remember going into Tower Video and seeing the oversized Warner Home Video box with the creepy hooded guy and thinking, "Well, maybe this isn't such a bad movie after all." I rented it, took it home, watched it and said, "Well, this is a bad movie after all." The killings are sick but not explicit, and the interaction between the professional actors and the "locals" is pretty jarring. Pierce himself plays an inept police officer. Again, the IMDB user comments are all about being "scarred for life when I saw it as a kid," but I just don't get it.

Still, if we have Boggy Creek to thank for Blair Witch, then Friday the 13th and its ilk owe a debt of gratitude to Sundown. These films also inspired those cheesy UFO documentaries from the '70s as well as the Italian "found footage" cannibal vomitoriums from the same decade.

In 1979 Pierce made The Evictors, another period piece allegedly based on a true story. I'd recently seen one of the stars, Jessica Harper, in Suspiria and Phantom of the Paradise, so I figured if she was involved in this, it must be good. Why? Oh, I don't know. Anyhow, it's rated PG and it's rea-a-a-a-llly slow.

There's no narrator for this one, but ol' Vern might have helped to keep the audience awake. It's about a young couple (Harper and Michael Parks) who move into a house which was the scene of brutal murders some ten years before. Again, there's a whole lot of yakking, numerous sepiatone flashbacks, and the non-explicit killings are few and far between.

Pierce returned to Boggy Creek in 1985, as I mentioned in the opening of this post and takes the part of the professor. I don't know how much fun it'd be to watch without Mike and the 'bots on hand, but I sure had fun riffing on it in the MST 3K channel chatroom on Justin TV. There's a song that's reprised frequently on the soundtrack that is suspiciously reminiscent of "On the Wings of a Snow White Dove"; a skinny blond kid who wears extremely tiny shorts but never a shirt; scary hillbilly locals that you can almost smell; and girls who look like they're going to Jazzercise rather than hunt for a legendary beast. Here's the trailer:

More interesting to me than his directorial efforts are other aspects of Pierce's career. He was primarily a set decorator, and he did lots of film and television from the 60s to the 80s in projects as varied as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Scream Blacula Scream and the short-lived "Ellen Burstyn Show"! He also has a story credit for the 1983 Clint Eastwood actioner Sudden Impact. His last credit is for "The Bonnie Hunt Show" in 1995.

He gave an interview to Fangoria magazine in 1997, but—frustratingly—I can't find it online. He was in talks with directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks to co-produce their 2008 homage to horror documentaries, Wild Man of the Navidad, but it fell apart when Pierce insisted on directing the piece. I can't decide if that's a missed opportunity or a bullet dodged. He died in March of this year at a nursing home in Tennessee. He was 71.

Even though I'm not wild about his movies, they do have a deserved place in film history. Rest in peace, Chuck. I hope that wherever you are, Vern is narrating your life story.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Horrors of War

It may be sacrilegious to be thinking about war-themed horror films on America's birthday, but the idea started when I was trying to think of chillers with a Fourth of July theme. The only one I could come up with was 1997's Uncle Sam. Despite the dream cast (Timothy Bottoms, Bo Hopkins, William Smith, Isaac Hayes, P.J. Soles and Robert Forster). a screenplay by Larry Cohen and direction by William Lustig, it's terrible!

The plot sounds great: the body of a Gulf War veteran, killed in action, is shipped back to his hometown where he returns from the dead as a murderous zombie, intent on taking out all the unpatriotic townsfolk during the 4th of July celebrations. But it's unbelievably slow and boring, and the murders lack oomph. It's so surprising—Cohen and Lustig separately made landmark genre films (It's Alive, Maniac) and teamed up for the amusing Maniac Cop, but here they just seem to be treading water.

Lustig's own Blue Underground recently released the special edition Blu-Ray DVD, and it sounds like it'd be fun to watch it with commentary by Lustig and Cohen. Evidently they faced up to the fact that it was a stinker and took some amusing jabs at it.

A far better war-themed horror is Bob Clark's 1974 Deathdream (aka Dead of Night). When young soldier Andy is struck down in action in Vietnam, his dying thoughts involve his promise to his mother that he'd return home to her. He comes home, much to the surprise of his grieving family, whove been told he was KIA.

Andy is changed, though. He's barely communicative, wears dark glasses, sits in his room alone and refuses to see anybody. He only becomes active at night when everyone else is asleep, venturing out to find human victims to provide the blood he needs to preserve his living-dead state.

The film works both as horror and as an indictment of the Vietnam War, which was still raging at the time of its production. Though made on an extremely small budget, it's quietly effective and has a truly heart-rending finale. I remember seeing it for the first time on "Elvira's Movie Macabre" back in the '80s. Her version was so cut up and lacking in continuity that for years I thought it was a bad movie until I saw the Blue Underground (again!) DVD years later.

Not a feature film but an episode of Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series, Joe Dante's magnificent 2005 Homecoming is a devastating story of American casualties rising from the dead to vote against the warmongers in Washington. It's reminiscent of Abel Gance's 1919 J'Accuse, which features a powerful climax in which the ghosts of dead soldiers rise up to protest the futility of war.

Homecoming is a jet-black social satire and a take-no-prisoners political statement with intense moments of melancholy. Its liberal view of the "War on Terror" inflamed some conservative horror fans, but I think it's one of Dante's best works, and surely one of the best episodes of the variable series. You can see the real passion he had for the subject matter. And the story's cynical depiction of some of the country's more—ahem—extreme political commentators is hilarious.

Moving away from the war protest allegory, other horror films with war themes that come to mind are the 2002 British film Dog Soldiers, which features a pack of werewolves attacking a platoon on a mission in the Scottish Highlands and the more recent Dead Snow, about reanimated Nazi zombies menacing a group of twenty-somethings on holiday. I reviewed this film last year. I found it to be disappointing and annoying at the same time. Nazi zombies also figured in Jean Rollin's horrible 1981 Zombie Lake and Ken Weiderhorn's far better Shock Waves (1977).

Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) and especially Day of the Dead (1985) have a lot of military themes. But here the soldiers aren't the dead ones—they're attempting to maintain order in a world gone insane. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later also feature the military cracking down on an out-of-control populace.

There are action horror movies set against the backdrop of the Civil War. 1971's The Beguiled is more of a psychological horror, as wounded Yankee soldier Clint Eastwood is taken in—and then abused—by a sexually frustrated group of Southern schoolteachers led by Geraldine Page. Jeff Burr's 1987 The Offspring is an omnibus film with a story about Civil War soldiers in the clutches of malevolent children.

World War II seems to be a hands-off topic, except where Nazis are concerned. Bela Lugosi's Return of the Vampire (1944) was set in wartime London, but the war didn't really figure into the plot except that a handy bomb in a graveyard awakened a slumbering vampire. The upcoming Panzer 88 is set during the German-Russian conflict, but the monster is of the supernatural, rather than human, variety.

Not horror but sci-fi satire and still one of my favorites is Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997). It took me a couple of viewings to fully absorb it because I wasn't up on the Heinlein novel it was adapted from. Now that I "get it," it's a film I enjoy revisiting every few years. Filled with out-of-control action, hilarious dialogue and Robocop-style commercial spoofs, it's a riot to watch.

In brief, it's about a unit of impossibly beautiful young soldiers who all share the same lust for war and desire to defeat intelligent, militant bugs on a distant planet that are threatening to destroy the earth.

Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris play the students who are persuaded by their teachers and other authority figures to "join up and go kill bugs." My favorite scenes involve recognizable character actors in these roles: Clancy Brown as the over-the-top drill sergeant; Michael Ironside as the civics teacher who reminds the kids that "service guarantees citizenship"; even Rue McClanahan as a war-maimed biology instructor!

Told in a mock documentary style, it's got plenty of Nazi symbolism, gung-ho patriotism and splattery action. Some critics were angry about its fascist and militaristic themes; others were angry that it made fun of militarism! Go figure. When interviewed about about the film, Verhoeven himself said, "War makes fascists of us all."

Van Dien returned for two direct-to-DVD sequels. I've only seen part of the first (which was bland), but I understand the second one is truly miserable. It's a shame... Starship Troopers doesn't deserve miserable sequels. Now, Hostel deserves the most miserable sequels it can get!


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