Maniac (Review)


Maniac William Lustig
Story by Joe Spinell
Screenplay by Joe Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg
Directed by William Lustig

Maniac William Lustig
Maniac is an infamous film, a violent slasher that is almost entirely focused on the killer. The film faced criticism upon release due to violence against women, but became a hit and has gone on to become a genre classic. The film is far more complicated than just a simple slasher film. Co-written by and starring Joe Spinell, Maniac is disturbing, but well-crafted and delivers suspense and terror in a way modern horror has shifted away from.

I saw Maniac at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (yes, Maniac was screened at a museum!) in their Bay Area Now 7 program, under the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs! heading, specifically the part curated by Jesse Hawthorne Ficks of Midnite for Maniacs, who hosted two William Lustig triple features (a sextuple feature?) spread across two days. Maniac screened with Vigilante and Hit List, while the next night was all three Maniac Cop films. William Lustig himself was in attendance, and did some entertaining Q and As. Lustig is very charismatic and shared stories about filming and some of the actors/producers of his films. I’ve included some of what he mentioned in the reviews. What I like about screenings like this is I would probably never just watch Maniac on my own. Horror/slasher films aren’t really my bag, but to see it as part of a screening group like this makes it just fit in. Watching film is all about expanding your horizons, because you never know what you will discover when you leave your comfort zones. I try to follow that philosophy at TarsTarkas.NET, hence part of why we cover such a diverse range of global cinema.
Maniac William Lustig
Maniac follows Frank Zito as he embarks on a crusade of terror in the streets of New York City, stalking and slaying women, then scalping them and dressing mannequins up in their clothes, with the scalps nailed to the heads. Much of the film is Frank following the various women and the ladies responding in terror, the tension building as their attempts to escape become dashed again and again. In between we see Frank breaking down in his apartment, conflicted by his compulsion, but unable to do anything to stop it. Frank has issues about his abusive dead mother. In a conversation with photographer Anna D’Antoni (Caroline Munro) in the film’s loose plot narrative, Frank talks about photos as a way to preserve the women forever. Frank’s talks with Anna are about as normal as he gets, but the facade can’t last long and soon he’s breaking down and hallucinating his dead mother is attacking him in a graveyard. Frank’s demons are his ultimate undoing, his destructive force turning upon himself.
Maniac William Lustig
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 18, 2014 at 2:10 am

Categories: Movie Reviews, Ugly   Tags: , , , , , , ,

Godzilla – RiffTrax Live Trip Report!

RiffTrax Godzilla
March of Godzilla 2014
I live in a world where I have gone to see 1998′s Godzilla in theaters twice ON PURPOSE! And in between the two showings, I saw a different American Godzilla movie also called Godzilla that was actually good and actually had Godzilla in it! Strange how life works. The original Godzilla viewing back in 98 was on opening weekend, where I convinced all my friends to go and was pretty excited, hoping that this would be another Independence Day-style awesome action film that I would end up seeing three times in the theater (like ID4). But it turned out to be terrible and I still get friends bemoaning that I dragged them to see Godzilla to this day. Godzilla took a lot of flack, from Godzilla looking like an Iguana mutating into Jay Leno to everything else about the film because it’s completely garbage at all levels. Bad acting from some of the leads, Matthew Broderick not being an action star, zero strong female characters, strange director vendettas, confusing action sequences, indiscriminate destruction by the US military, clown college Jurassic Park breaking out in the last third of the film, and CGI that hasn’t aged well. Some CGI was dodgy then, including any scene where we are very very close to Godzilla’s skin (it’s like they didn’t make a high textured skin surface to use for those shots!) or any scene with Godzilla in the water (just embarrassing!)

Godzilla led to a legacy of shame, but in shame there is often great potential. Potential being Godzilla would make a great potential RiffTrax! Thus, a Kickstarter was born. (Disclosure: I meant to donate to this Kickstarter, but I forgot! D’oh!) The Kickstarter was successful enough, they not only got the funds for Godzilla, but they reached the stretch goal of Anaconda as well (out October 30th, more details in a later post!)

As addressed by one of the preshow slides, the most memorable Godzilla quote isn’t even from the film, but from the Taco Bell Dog saying “Here Lizard Lizard Lizard” in commercials. That’s just good commentary.

Some of the preshow slides were awesome, (though a few fell flat). The kaiju nerdy ones were hilarious, but no one in the theater I was at seemed to get them. Also, the theater was more empty than it’s been recently at the RiffTrax events, I don’t know if it was Godzilla scaring them off or what, but that’s how it was.

The length of the film meant we had no time for shorts and little time for banter before the movie, though they did debut their new opening animation, which was cool if a bit long. The riffs were largely on point and hilarious, though there were some sound mixing problems, especially in the first 10-15 minutes, that left a few jokes unheard over the noise of the film. I guess I’ll have to wait for the mp3, though that will mean watching Godzilla yet again (NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!) My favorite riffs included how no one likes Echo 3, the Muppets Take Manhattan riff, and the frustration at Emmerich’s coffee and Ebert vendettas. Any time the riffers went all French was also hilarious. Most of the lack of enjoyment stems from the film itself, not the commentary. I would rate it in one of the top five RiffTrax Live events, though that may just be because I’m biased towards giant monster films. That’s forgiving the technical problems.

Speaking of technical problems, the show I was at had the fire alarm go off in the middle of it! This stopped the film, but it was a false alarm so we sat and waited for ten minutes until they could restart the show. I was worried we’d miss a bit, but they rewound so we ended up seeing a few minutes over again, and I got a free pass at the end. I even found a nickel on BART, which means I turned a profit for the night. Finally, Godzilla pays off!

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm

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Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (Review)

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Justice League Crisis on Two Earths
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery

Justice League Crisis on Two Earths
A popular science fiction trope is heroes who are evil, villains who are good. From alternate universe to just same universe doubles, this phenomenon appears again and again, often involving goatees. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths continues the tradition, by utilizing the long-lived Crime Syndicate that has survived several decades of DC comics reboots and remixes. Instead of getting caught up in having characters face their dark side, the evil twins are just the setting for a tale of good versus evil that accelerates into the ultimate stakes, thanks to Owlman’s secret plan.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is an Easter egg hunter’s dream. There are so many alternate versions of DC Comics characters that you need a flow chart to figure them all out. Add to that several of them being not only evil mirrors, but references to other non-comic characters and you will spend each viewing discovering something new. It’s one of the better DC animated films, getting the characters correct The setting in the alternate Earth allows for much more crazy stuff
Justice League Crisis on Two Earths
We open with Lex Luthor and the Joker breaking into a secure vault. But hey, Joker is called Jester, and the two are breaking into the vault of murderous criminals. One sacrifice later, and Lex Luthor is the only hero left in a world of villains. So he warps away to our world (I’ll be referring to the DC Universe as our world, because it’s just easier), with is stuffed full of heroes like an overripe pinata.

On their planet, the Crime Syndicate is free to do whatever they want, due to a combination of fear and bribes. They only don’t kill the leaders and take over the planet due to fears of retaliatory nuclear strikes. But they’re working on their own bomb that can potentially destroy anywhere on the planet, which will tip the balance in their favor. Only a few brave souls stand up to them, as most who try don’t live to stand again.
Justice League Crisis on Two Earths
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 13, 2014 at 7:33 am

Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews   Tags: , , , , ,

The Choking Game (Review)

The Choking Game

Choking Game Lifetime
Teleplay by Jen Klein
Based on the book
Choke by Diana Lopez
Directed by Lane Shefter Bishop

Choking Game Lifetime

Just massaging my neck really really really tightly!

Lifetime is the fertile crescent of exploitation drama, and The Choking Game is yet another entry into the canon. Once again, a dangerous teen fad threatens the lives of everyone and everything, particularly our main character Taryn. The fad is teens choking themselves, by which they get a brief high when fresh oxygen rushes into their brains. This method has been around for ages, I remember people talking about it when I was in grade school back in the 14th century. But thanks to the power of people writing books about it, and then promoting their books by showing up on news program scare segments, things have taken a life of their own. Unlike things like rainbow parties, people actually do choke themselves, and like much of what teenagers do, it is pretty darn stupid.

The choking game is presented by temptress Nina as the ultimate way to be in control, because if you are in control of your breathing, you are in control of your life. Plus the oxygen high boost gives you lots of self-confidence without the problems that drugs and alcohol bring to the table. It’s basically the perfect way to get high, provided you don’t do it over concrete and fall down and hit your head like a scrub. The way the choking and trust aspects are handled in the film, you could subscribe all sorts of sexual subtext to it, making Taryn and Nina’s secret also a lesbian relationship. Perhaps an alternate title should have been Blue is the Chokest Color

Choking Game Lifetime

A scene from The Craft is breaking out here!

The biggest problem with The Choking Game is it takes a while to get going. We spend a lot of time with Taryn listening to her complain about her life before we get to the choking. When it does get going, it gets pretty fun, even if it is heavy handed (with multiple characters giving multiple speeches about how Taryn changed, most notably Ryder at the party). The Choking Game handles social media well, showing it’s presence with some popups, but not having it be the focus, just an aspect of life.

Forget those facts and things, we’re here for the Lifetime trainwreck spectacle, so let’s bring on the life ruining! It’s choking time! (SPOILERS below for those of you who worry about being spoiled about a Lifetime choking movie!)

Choking Game Lifetime

At least the choking game is more fun than Scrabble!

Taryn (Freya Tingley) – Taryn is a typical high school senior dealing with the pressure of being a high school senior with not a lot of bad things happening in her life, thus it’s the worst life ever! Taryn doesn’t have anything in her life figured out, and doesn’t even know what she wants to do after school. She does brag that she’s totally been to third base, for real. She enthusiastically embraces choking and the choking lifestyle, even as it destroys her life. For some reason she plays Tauren when playing World of Warcraft.
Nina (Alex Steele) – Nina is the mysterious new girl with a secret, the secret being she loves to choke herself 24/7. She trashes high school culture in a way that throws Taryn for a loop, but makes her instantly attracted to her. It’s all choking, all the time with Nina, and soon Taryn, as Nina introduces her to a whole new world. Nina’s mom is single and on a date with a different guy each night, leaving only frozen dinners and no attention.
Elena (Beverly Ndukwu) – Taryn’s best friend who also has plans for Taryn to be her roommate in college. Advice: never be roommates with your best friend. Elena begins to freak out when Taryn begins spending all her time with Nina and not Elena.
Heidi (Peri Gilpin) – Taryn’s over-bearing mother who is over-bearing out of concern and not because she’s manipulative or anything. Heidi raised Taryn as a single mother and feels guilt over Taryn being a latchkey kid for so long. I did appreciate how they made her more three-dimensional than usual. Is married to Will (Ray Galletti), who is constantly trying to get her to not be so hard on Taryn.
Ryder (Mitch Ainley) – The guy Taryn has been crushing on forever, now newly single and interested in Taryn, though neither one bothers to ask the other out. You know Taryn and Ryder are made for each other, because they both have useless Y’s in their names!
Courtney (Ferron Guerreiro) – Courtney is the coolest girl in school, and she is always seen with a pack of girls following her as she snarks on the GPs (the General Population, aka the not-cool kids). Courtney is also way into choking herself because she really has low self-esteem.

Choking Game Lifetime

Look, play the choking game all you want, but make sure you win, dammit!

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 11, 2014 at 7:29 am

Categories: Movie Reviews, Ugly   Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Misery loves a PopFan on Lifetime!

Popfan Lifetime Chelsea Kane

I made the sauce with placenta leftover from when I kidnapped Britney Spears!

What if we gender-swapped Misery and made the victim a pop princess? Then you’d get the upcoming Lifetime Original movie PopFan!

A young pop star looking to recreate herself and her sound on a quiet trip to Maine is caught in a storm, crashes her car, and rescued by a young man who takes her to his secluded lighthouse to recuperate. But she soon discovers that he is not just her rescuer, but a mentally unstable and obsessed fan who believes she is the image created in her videos.

What could be a sensual romance book becomes a disturbing psychological terror thanks to the twist! But just how crazy is this lighthouse guy? I’m guessing pretty crazy, but there is no trailer up yet, so this is all a guess. But I’m pretty accurate with my crazy guesses.

PopFan stars Chelsea Kane – aka Chelsea Staub – who was Meredith Baxter Dimly from Bratz! So I’ll just view PopFan as a sequel to Bratz, because it’s not like we’re going to get a real sequel (unless you count Pretty Little Liars. Maybe we should…) It also stars Nolan Gerard Funk, who has a big enough fanbase they’ve been following the film since it was known as Lighthouse. Yes, Lifetime renamed another flick!

The director of PopFan is Vanessa Parise – who directed Status: Unknown, and is written by Angela Mancuso (who cowrote Aladdin and the Death Lamp and Pegasus vs. Chimera) and Dean Orion (Who wrote some episodes of The Invisible Man)

PopFan premieres Saturday, August 23rd on Lifetime! It will be the best film about a pop princess kidnapped by a guy who lives in a lighthouse you will ever see that night!

via Lifetime

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 9, 2014 at 3:56 am

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The Beast of the Yellow Night – New RiffTrax VOD!

RiffTrax is rapidly becoming your source of beasts and beast-like objects. With their new film, The Beast of the Yellow Night, the prior VOD The Bride and the Beast, and…uh.. Yeah. Beasts. But there is weird stuff going on, beasts, a terrible mask, confusion, confusion on what color the night is, confusion on the location, confusion on why I was talking about beasts earlier in this paragraph, and general riffing and riff-like objects. Basically, this is the kind of film you love to see get the MST3K treatment!

Buy it now at!

Beast of the Yellow Night! No, it’s not a cleverly-named Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment, it’s a movie! A movie about a man named Langdon and his deal with the devil. Langdon’s deal doesn’t involve a fiddle made of gold, it’s more about turning into a monster with a face straight out of the mask section at Spencer’s Gifts. Also the devil is not so much the traditional “pitchfork and horns” type, he’s more of a fat ghost with a bad hairline who travels with his own fog machine. And the fog machine seems to break down a lot. But hey, are you a fan of “yellow nights”??? Because the movie doesn’t actually have any of those.

As far as we can tell, Langdon is some kind of undead murder spirit, sent by the fat devil ghost to do evil stuff at different points in history. Like Quantum Leap, but with slightly more cannibalism. This incarnation finds him in a beautiful home, with a beautiful wife, but rather than asking himself “how did I get here?” or just enjoying this luxurious life, he gets mad and ruins it all. If none of this is making sense, keep in mind the filmmakers didn’t even bother to specify a setting for their movie more clearly than “A Country in Southeast Asia.”

Join Mike, Kevin, and Bill in going completely mad trying to figure out what exactly is supposed to be happening in Beast of the Yellow Night!

Beast of the Yellow Night RiffTrax

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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 8, 2014 at 10:10 pm

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