18 January 2010

Movie Review: The Corpse Grinders

I like the B-grade horror film genre and I love cats (see this post) so when I read the blurb on Netflix about The Corpse Grinders I knew I had to put it in my queue:

In an effort to cut costs, an unscrupulous cat food company buys a supply of
human corpses and grinds them into seemingly harmless chow for kitties. But they
didn't count on the felines suffering a serious side effect: A craving for human
flesh. When cats consume the food, they start attacking their owners in this
campy horror classic from noted "schlock" director Ted V. Mikels.

Going into an experience like this the viewer expects a piece of crap but he hopes for an entertainingly bad piece of crap. In this case, there was enough to make it "so bad it was OK" but not "good" - mainly because of the pacing. It was boring despite egregiously bad writing, acting and continuity. I swear that half of these schlock-fests would be twice as good if their producers had any notion of timing. There's also an almost complete lack of gore or cat presence at all; Mikels did nothing with the possibilities of cats turning on their owners.

The movie opens promisingly: It's a rainy night and a cat is meowing to get inside. Cut to the interior where a 20-something couple watches TV. It's obvious that they're waiting each other out until one breaks down and lets the cat in. Finally, the woman goes to the door, and the cat leaps on her throat. (You assume it leaps, actually; the editor cuts from woman looking out into dark to woman with cat on throat.) The husband rushes to her aid, pulls the cat off and then throws it into the house! Not outside (which he is facing) but inside - turning around and throwing it into the house.

Then we cut to the opening credits.

This is the first of only four cat attacks in the entire film. Of these four, only one is going to be fatal and that's the nearly homeless woman whose throat is torn out while she's sleeping.

After the credits we meet the ... gravedigger? It's hard to tell what this guy's job is but he is the source of our villains' corpses. He reminds me a bit of Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate - same hairstyle but he doesn't have the limp. He's married to a harridan who carries around a doll that she treats like a living person, talking to it and seating it at the dinner table to feed it soup. There's no explanation for this behavior and, more significantly, it plays utterly no role in the story. An attempt to establish character? Who knows but it's never mined for any meaning.

Not that the bit parts need much in the way of added quirkiness. The pet-food company goes out of its way to hire decidedly odd people. I suppose because they'll overlook a lot to keep their jobs. We now meet our villains - Landau, the "mastermind" behind this diabolical plot, and Mawpy (spelling?), his dull-witted, moderately necrophiliac partner. In another attempt to establish Landau's bona fides there's a running scene between him and Caleb (the gravedigger) where Caleb keeps asking Landau when he's going to get what's coming to him, and Landau keeps telling him to wait and he'll get exactly what's coming to him, in a snide, unctuous voice that telescopes exactly what you know is going to happen eventually. These would have been prime scenes for heckling on MST3 or Rifftraks.

Having met our villains, we now get to meet our (sigh) heroes, and we get cat-attack number two. Our heroes are a nurse and her doctor boyfriend (whose names I've already forgotten). There's a scene which establishes the nurse's love for her man and the doctor's compassion. She consoles him on the recent death of a patient and he utters, "Every time I lose one, I lose a part of myself." Two minutes later he's trying to get a quickie before she has to go back on duty.

Oh, yeah, the cat attack. For some reason, it's OK for this nurse to bring her cat to the hospital. The cat, whose name is Happy Sack or Hockey Socks, or something, attacks the doctor, scratching him on the chin (maybe, you never see any wound - ever - not even a bandage). And then he (the cat) disappears from the movie. Mind you, he's not killed, he just ... disappears.

The film moves on, albeit slowly. Cat attack number three and the only one that approaches the gore potential that any reasonable B-movie director would be exploiting happens. (And by "approach," I mean as a plane cruising at 35,000 feet over Kansas.) I've mentioned this scene - the poor, sleeping woman whose cat, after eating a can of food, bites her throat. Another near-homeless person hears the commotion, discovers the body and throws the cat against the wall. This scene is less traumatic for cat lovers than you might expect (or maybe you do, considering what I've said so far) - you don't see the cat, just the old man swinging around like he's throwing something, a yowl and a crashing sound. And that's the only cat who buys the farm in the entire film!!

Apparently this town is too small to have a real coroner (or vet) because the old guy brings both bodies to our heroes' clinic. After performing a necropsy, the doctor thinks there may be something wrong with what the cat ate. How he determines this is unclear as the most advanced piece of lab equipment visible is a slide microscope that would put even the most underfunded inner-city high school to shame. But the clinic is astonishingly well equipped in books about feline behavior - he pulls a one which explains exactly how felines behave when they've eaten human flesh from the shelf!

Our heroes decide to take their evidence (sic) to the Food Adulteration Agency (the FAA?), where we meet the 4th victim of these vicious feline maulings - the sexy secretary of the FAA agent. She goes home early: At home, she strips down to bra and panties, gets a beer out of the fridge and then seductively reclines on her couch to watch TV. Her cat, fresh from a corpse-tainted repast, leaps for her jugular (OK - you know the routine, due to editing, you assume he leaps for her throat because that's where he is in the next shot). We then cut to the next scene, though we do learn that she survives in a later bit of dialog.

Meanwhile, at the FAA office, our intrepid duo are getting the runaround from our government bureaucrat (who has no qualms about giving them presumably private information about applicants to open pet-food plants), and they go off to get to the bottom of things all on their own.

My virtual pen grows weary, and I can't justify giving this film more consideration so I'll only mention the scene where Landau has tied our nurse to the conveyor belt of the corpse grinder and laughs maniacally, saying that "No one can stop me now!" Or the scene where a detective, who has only been seen lurking in the background of some scenes taking notes, bursts in and shoots Landau dead. Or the final shot, where some cats who hang around the plant are seen crawling over Landau's body as it lays face down on the ground. Or one of the more glaring continuity problems I've ever seen in a film: Our nurse gets dressed (another opportunity for some gratuitous T&A) in a gold outfit; cut to next scene and she's in a red outfit; cut to the following scene and she's back in the gold; and in the final cut, she's wearing a blue blouse and black mini-skirt!

I followed this with a much better B-grade flick - Hide and Creep - a nice little indie zombie movie with a reasonably humorous script and decent acting. If you're in the mood to pretend you're Joel, Servo and Crow on the Satellite of Love, rent The Corpse Grinders; if you're looking to enjoy a little escapism with an otherwise forgettable film, go with Hide and Creep.

03 January 2010

Book Reviews - End of the Year Roundup

It's the end of a year, the end of a decade, that most of us would prefer to forget but there were bright moments here and there, and amid the world of reading these were some of them (IMO). (Most, if not all, of these books got some sort of review at my GoodReads blog, which can be referred to for more details.)

Actually, I'm going to start off with the pans, or pan in this case, as I only read one book that I would categorically not recommend to anyone:

The Outback Stars, Sandra MacDonald. A disappointing novel about a future interstellar civilization heavily influenced by Australian/Aborigine culture. Way too much exposition about the in-fighting among the ship's laundry.

Now to the raves. These are in chronological order of reading and their position in no way indicates the subtleties of preference.

Things I've Been Silent About, Azar Nafisi. This is the second memoir from this Iranian ex-pat professor. Here, she focuses on her childhood and her relationships with her parents and other family. It's an interesting window on a particular segment of Iranian society, and by no means a "complete" picture but that doesn't detract from its power.

Manservant and Maidservant, Pastors and Masters, A House and Its Head, Parents and Children, Ivy Compton-Burnett. The last three books I read later in the year but as they're all by the same author.... I can't sing the praises of Ms. Compton-Burnett enough. Her brand of acerbic, black humor appeals enormously to me.

Lincoln, David Donald. Very accessible and well written biography of our greatest president.

Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire. One of the more serendipitous discoveries of the year. The translation I have is by James McGowan (w/ parallel French text). The only complaint I have is that it's missing a poem, "The Peace Pipe," even though there's a note that refers to it.

How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken, Daniel Mendelsohn. Collection of the author's book, film & theater reviews. Simply brilliant, and I'm only sorry I delayed reading it for as long as I did.

Augustine: A New Biography, James O'Donnell. O'Donnell focuses on the man and his time rather than his actual writing so the book can't be characterized as "definitive" or "comprehensive" but it's a fascinating deconstruction of one of Christianity's most forceful intellects and his times.

Dust of Dreams, Steven Erikson. Book 9 in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I'm sure I've mentioned previous volumes in earlier posts but it bears repeating that this is one of the greatest epic fantasy series in the last 50 years. In my opinion, it leaves Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time or George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series far distant also-rans.

Whit, Iain Banks. Written in the mid-'90s, this is one of Banks' nongenre novels, and also fun to read.

Honorable mentions and books of note:

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, R. Crumb. I enjoyed the graphic-novel version of the first book of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Crumb brings the stories to life and even makes the notorious "begat" sections seem interesting with a variety of subtle touchs.

The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells. I remember seeing the 1936 version with Raymond Massey as a child on PBS, and recently rewatched it via Netflix. The book is far different and doesn't succeed at all as a novel. As a rumination on what's wrong with modern, capitalist society and a possible solution, it offers a lot of food for thought (some of it disturbing - Wells could be quite fascistic in his proscriptions).