Throwback Thursday: “Razorback” (1984)!!

Legit question for rural Australians  — how do I kill the 30 to 50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3 to 5 mins while my small kids play?

If you’re anything like me, you’re endlessly regaled by all the viral jokes this past week referencing “30 to 50 feral hogs.”  (And if you’re nothing like me, then you’re an intelligent adult and I congratulate you.  But you can google the new trope, which I have paraphrased above, if you want to.  It is the very height of preposterous predatory animal political humor.)

The jokes made me remember this little disappointment from the 1980’s — the Aussies’ own feral hog horror movie, 1984’s somewhat lethargic “Razorback.”  If memory serves, I rented this sometime around 1986, I suppose.  I  got it on VHS from my nearest shopping center’s sole mom-and-pop video store, before Blockbuster Video’s invasion reached my area.

There are people out there who fondly remember “Razorback.”  You can find some nice compliments about it over at Rotten Tomatoes.  People  enjoy its “atmosphere.”  People like Gregory Harrison a lot.

I didn’t like it.  Sure, it had a pretty neat electronic score that seemed trippy and cool to me as a young high school student.  But that was its only redeeming quality.  It started off with its depressing plot setup, which you can see in the first video below — the titular wild boar absconds with a baby boy.  (The boar also thoughtfully burns the child’s house down as it departs, to underscore that fact that it is an asshole.)

The rest of the movie is boring, because it’s yet another one of those monster movies where you never get to see much of the monster — right up until the movie’s poorly lit climax, which takes place in a slaughterhouse, I think?  Which is supposed to be ironic or something?  Don’t quote me on this stuff; 1986 was a long time ago.  For comparison, think of the legion zombie “thrillers” always available on Netflix where the zombies are always outside, and the movie just follows the indoors arguments among three very-much-alive people inside a windowless warehouse.  I want to invoke the inevitable “wild bore movie” pun, but I’m holding back, because my friends tell me that they have enough of that sort of thing.

I used my own money to rent “Razorback,” probably earned from either my confusing stint at McDonald’s (they just didn’t get me there) or my summer job cleaning boats and lobster traps.  (I lived on an island, people.)  I remember being slightly disgruntled that I’d wasted my hard-earned cash.

Honestly, though, I was a credulous kid when it came to a movie’s marketing.  When I read the back of the VHS boxes, I took things at face value.  I also had my heart set on something called “The Alien’s Deadly Spawn” (1983), which I realize now was just a no-budget early mockbuster ripping off Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979).  (It was always out.  I finally caught snatches of it on Youtube this past spring, and it looks pretty unwatchable.)

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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A short pan of “Velvet Buzzsaw” (2019)

Sorry, but for me “Velvet Buzzsaw” (2019) was a bust.  I’d rate it a 3 out of 10 for being an interesting and ambitious Netflix horror film that nevertheless failed to hold my interest.

My interest was piqued along with everyone else when I first saw the trailer for this earlier this year.  It looked amazing.  It was a high-concept supernatural horror film with great visual effects and a cast that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and John Malkovich.  (The cast also includes Toni Collette, who I’ve recently come to understand is a damned good actress.)  It looked funny too.

But “Velvet Buzzaw” fatally suffers from the characters that it depicts.  All of the above actors portray profoundly irritating characters, and not even their formidable talents make these characters any fun to watch.  The movie takes place in the Miami Beach art world, and the major characters are artists, critics, or gallery owners and employees.  (The plot device here is a collection of haunted paintings that kill their owners.)  With the exception of Malkovich’s artist (“Piers”), these characters are so cloying, trite and pretentious that seeing them on screen is nearly nerve rattling.  You don’t care much that they’re imperiled.  You just want to see them die, so that the movie will be over.

This would have been a far better movie if screenwriter Dan Gilroy chose to depict its events mostly from Piers’ point of view.  I suppose that would have been difficult; he isn’t central to the plot.  But it would have been worth it.

There are some things to like.  Malkovich and Russo re always fun to watch, a lot of the special effects are quite good, and the final demise in the film is actually very well rendered.  (Given the mediocrity of the movie as a whole, I was surprised at how clever and unsettling this was.)  A college buddy of mine with excellent taste in horror actually liked “Velvet Buzzsaw” quite a bit.  So maybe this is just a matter of taste.

I can’t recommend this, though.

 

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Check out “In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight!”

I just learned about a hell of an interesting horror anthology coming down the pike — “In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight.”  The tome will be published on May 6th by Corpus Press, but you can pre-order the Kindle edition right here.

It looks like a great book with a diverse variety of modern horror tales.  (Read the synopsis on Amazon.)  As it happens, one of its featured authors is the daughter of a friend of mine. (This is Espi Kvlt, author of “Pulsate.”)  It also includes a story by Josh Malerman, who wrote “Bird Box,” the novel upon which Netflix’ hugely successful film adaptation was based.

And it’s only $3.99!

 

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