Thursday, May 21, 2009

The 2 Best Reviews of Carnivore I Have Seen (So Far)

I was stumbling about on Amazon and came upon the movie I made with Ken Mader: Carnivore... which I guess Fox Home Video has finally stopped making. What follows are two of the best reviews of the film that I’m pretty sure are written by people I don’t know.

Here’s the first one:

Star Rating for Film Only, Not DVD, January 25, 2004
Farffleblex Plaffington (Parnybarnel, Mississippi)
Version reviewed: "Key DVD" distributed by 20th Century Fox, 2002, 80 minutes

My personal enjoyment rating: 8 out of 10

My recommendation rating OF THE FILM ONLY: 8 out of 10. Explanation of recommendation rating: "All genre fans should see this film. Others should consider giving it a chance, as they will probably like it or find it interesting. More casual film fans might be indifferent towards it."
Recommendation rating for this version: 2 out of 10


Let's get the bad news out of the way first, then I'll explain my high rating of the film. The DVD box art says that Carnivore is a widescreen presentation that is "digitally mastered". The film is NOT in widescreen, and "digital mastering" can only mean that either the master exists on some kind of digital medium, or worse, that the film was "mastered to digital" in the sense that DVDs were made from the master (obviously, since the product is a DVD).

The transfer is one of the poorer ones that I've seen (unfortunately it isn't the worst). It is extremely grainy (it looks like it was recorded from a VHS tape that had been rented about 300 times in the mid-80s, and then stored in a mildew-filled basement for 10 years), The sound has a lot of hiss and was equalized with far too much bass--you have to crank up the treble, crank up the volume, and you still can't hear dialogue in some scenes. I don't know what aspect ratio directors F. Joseph Kurtz and Kenneth Mader filmed in, but the framing suggests that it _wasn't_ filmed in "full-screen" (1.33 : 1), which is the aspect ratio on this disc.

Additional bad news is that the box art also promises a director commentary, a featurette called "Carnivore Kills!", a trailer, and optional Spanish subtitles. None of these are on the disc. Instead, the disc has two menu options. One for "Play Movie" and one for "Scene Selection"--which gives you access to only eight chapter markings. This is either a serious case of false advertising or an equally serious screw-up on the manufacturing end. And in both cases, it would probably be best for everyone to send their copies of the DVD back to 20th Century Fox and demand a refund plus a free copy of the DVD when the corrections are made. Even if some of the problems (such as the sound) are rooted in the source material, these can be fairly easily rectified in a moderately-equipped recording/engineering studio, especially with a distributor like 20th Century Fox.

And why might you want a copy of the DVD in anamorphic widescreen with remastered sound, a director's commentary, and other special features? Because this is a very fun and entertaining little horror film. At least if you have a taste for camp, and you're not one of those philosophically-challenged folks who conflates "horror" and "scary". Carnivore is more likely to be enjoyed by someone who thinks that Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a masterpiece. Someone who thinks that two of the most underrated films of the 70s are Daddy's Deadly Darling and Carnival of Blood. Someone who has actually memorized a number of lines from Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and is proud of it. Someone who thinks that one of the biggest tragedies in filmdom is that Frank Henenlotter has only directed five films since 1982 (and none since 1992). If you have no idea what I'm talking about, and you're looking for scares only, do yourself a favor and pass this one up for now.

Carnivore is one of those "genetic experiments gone wild" films, with touches of the X-Files and an 80's slasher flick mixed into the stew. Yes, it has narration by a woman with a heavy Midwestern accent who is obviously reading. It has (sometimes intentionally) ridiculous performances. The monster is obviously a guy in a suit. For long periods of time, everything in the film is blue. However, as difficult as this may be for some people to understand, all of these elements are assets in a film like this, especially because it's obvious that Mader and Kurtz harbor no delusions that they're making something in the vein of Gone With The Wind. Instead, Carnivore plays like an impeccable, hilarous spoof of its influences, sometimes approaching a spoof of a spoof, and at the same time seems like a lost horror gem from 1985 (its authenticity in that respect is incredible). It pokes fun at the clichés and conventions, and yet embraces them at the same time--a feat only serious fans of the relevant eras of horror could achieve. There are serious aspects. There is plenty of tension. Some of the blue shots (and some others) are beautiful. The gore effects are well-done and well-shot. The sets are excellent, and even more impressive when you realize they were built in the basement of the director's rented house. It is clear that Carnivore is a low-budget affair, but the artistry and dedication apparent enables it to transcend any budgetary limitations.

But please, give us a release on DVD that does the film justice! This would have been a perfect candidate for Troma, Lucky 13/Program Power, Something Weird, or anyone comparable. But the Key Video/20th Century Fox edition is horrible.

And here is the second one:

Connie!, July 29, 2003
By A Customer
While Carnivore may appear to be a less than perfect film, a close analysis will reveal its true brilliance. I happen to be a Carnivore historian and thus am privy to facts that previous misguided reviewers may not have caught. For instance the man who played Connie - Jay Cunningham, is the same man who played the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Cunningham made the Carnivore suit out of a toothbrush and a copper wire while fighting communism in Vietnam. True story. So say what you will about Carnivore, but to hate this film is to hate AMERICA.

Never were more true words written…

PS. If Mike Vraney is out there, let me know if you'd like to do a better DVD.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Was There: King Kong Vs Godzilla

Ages ago, they used to show Godzilla films in theatres just like any other film. One of the great memories of my youth was catching a screening of the classic monster slugfest King Kong Vs Godzilla way back in the late 60s.

At the time, I was living in a small town in Illinois called Plano that had a very small theatre called, appropriately, the Plano Theatre. In the summertime, every Wednesday afternoon would be their "Summer Matinee" series of movies: a hodge podge of flicks for the kiddies (though some were definitely not so) : from 5 Million Years to Earth to Thunderbirds Are Go or The Ghost and Mr. Chicken to The Nutty Professor. A regular part of the films shown there were Toho's giant monster films. If my memory serves me KKVG was the first one I saw in a theatre.

The house was packed with excited kids ready for a big fight (or maybe just hoping they would win a bike at the end of the show... 2 each week, one for a girl, the other for a boy).

You all know the film and how it plays. It probably won't surpise you to hear that right from the get go, the crazed kid audience was gung ho for Kong. We knew Godzilla was cool, too, but he was the bad guy. Kids were yelling and screaming as the movie progressed, but at the final battle, we all settled in like wrestling fans. This was real, and we had to encourage our hero, Kong, to beat the daylights out of the big lizard. So, everytime Kong got in a good hit on Godzilla, we cheered with joy. Everytime Godzilla got Kong, we booed. We almost thought all was lost at one point, with Kong unconscious, buried in rocks, getting wacked in the head by Godzilla tail. Fortunately, a very quick storm moved in and recharged our ape hero with lightning power. We didn't even care that that made no sense at all as our hero rose up and kicked lizard butt.

We were nervously quiet again though filled with hope when the leviathans rolled into the ocean... and cheered again when King Kong came up, swimming for home. The movie stopped abruptly. Still, all was well in our kid world as we walked home with dopey smiles on our faces while our stomachs were stuffed with popcorn, some kind of sour Starburst-like candies that came in a box with a small monster pin or ring, and super sweet soda.

...well, except I never won a bike.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Just For the Heck of It: A Movie Poster

I'm intrigued by how lurid this poster looks for Al Adamson's Dracula Vs. Frankenstein. Initially when I came upon it, I thought it was that Jess Franco flick also known as Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. I don't remember any "Love Tramps" in the movie...

I found myself unable to sleep last night (unfortunately, a very common thing with me as I get older), and I put on my DVD for this film. I know it's awful, and poor old Lon Chaney looks really bad... but it's a pie slice out of time that reeks of atmosphere reflecting its creation era better than any of the Hollywood A picture stuff at the time. I know that American film in the 70s is looked upon, generally, as one of the last great periods of domestic filmmaking, but don't get me wrong. With Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, I get that oozing, uncomfortable atmosphere of a real, trash-strewn, run down dump sort of place that current horror films seem incapable of doing. I'm a sucker for atmosphere.
Just a thought...

Oh, Yes, Hello... But What Is That Crawling on the Floor Behind You?

I'm stepping into it. It feels strange... sorta cold. What's that? Go ahead and get my head down in there? Okay. Here goes...



I'm okay. Is my cigar still lit?

Hmmm... what do I see?