Kid Vengeance - Joseph Manduke (1977)

I don’t say this very often, but holy shit is this movie ripe for a remake. An obscure western where Lee Van Cleef opposes the titular pre-teen and a hulking black man named Isaac? Yeah, you might say it’s got that je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s all marketing, but to be honest, it’s probably the prospect of watching a pint-sized Lief Garrett grab his shovel and go gangbusters on some sorry outlaw.

But before it’s rampage time, our plucky young lad learns to hunt, tracking a hare over rock and placing an arrow straight through its heart. As it shudders there next to the brush, he turns and asks of his doomed father, “Do you ever get used to killing?” When you’re Kid Vengeance, the obvious answer is “Heck yes,” which brings us to the real meat and potatoes of this late night gem. As has been proven time and again, the greatest luxury afforded by revenge flicks is the ability to shamelessly revel in gratuitous violence. Remember the scene in Dirty Harry where Clint is chasing a hijacked school bus, and how after the killer smacks that kid in the face, he could be graphically dismembered and even your mom would still be all, “F YEAH!”? This movie is like that, but all the time.

Now, for those with a refined sense of morality, don’t worry, ‘cause these corpses have it coming. Try to relieve the Kid’s very dead parents of their wedding rings and you probably won’t make it through the 94 minute run time. We’re not talking execution style or anything like that, the Kid doesn’t roll that way. He’s got his wits about him and can sneak a snake into a saddlebag like a pro.

Sure you can buy this movie for a buck at Walmart, but give the writers some credit – they know how to tug at those heartstrings and give a boulder to the head the weight of 10 Erin Brockoviches. Each scene is shaped with such good intentions that it’s easy to overlook Van Cleef’s shitty Dennis Hopper impersonation and focus on how great this movie would be if someone lengthened the set-ups and just ratcheted up the red.

DVD edition: A Van Cleef double feature that came backed with God’s Gun (co-starring Jack Palance). It was a dollar and is so chincy my PowerBook won’t recognize the disk for the proper screen grab treatment.

Worst Kid Vengeance IMDB Message Board Post – There are no message board posts. How are there no message board posts?!

What to Watch For: Did I mention there’s a side plot with brothers who try and steal gold from Isaac’s mine? And how one of them is so blind without his glasses he accidentally kills one of his own kin? Blatant plot device, but damn if it doesn’t hurt when they go.


The Belly of an Architect - Peter Greenaway (1987)

In this day in age of rancid franchises and gimpy indies, watching a Peter Greenaway film is like discovering God for the first time and welcoming into your eyes and ears and skin the hard blue light of salvation. Yes, Greenaway is British and yes, his films are nothing if not overtly pretentious, frequently hilarious, weird, strange, highly stylized arthouse fare. Possessed of a quick eye, keen ear, and brass balls, he likes to dance and don’t care who knows it.

Thus it comes as little surprise that 1987’s Belly of an Architect serves up the goods and serves them up right. Brian Dennehy is Stourley Kracklite, an aging Chicago architect invited to Rome to drink a little wine, get a little loose, and maybe just unveil a fresh creation or two in a much-anticipated exhibition devoted to the honor of real-life French draftsmen Etienne-Louis Boulee. Chloe Webb, the deader half of Sid and Nancy, is Louisa, Kracklite’s wife and a regular Michelin man when it comes to waxing stray johnsons. Add a rival architect named Caspasian Speckler, a grand sampling of Rome’s finest scenery, moving voiceovers on illness, mortality, the meaning of the sacred in modern society, the disjunction between thought and language, and the nature of ritual, a dazzling 80s synth score, and there’s definitely something in the air tonight.

If the plot sounds a bit slim, it is. As with any of the subjects he has chosen, Greenaway is not so much interested in examining the architecture world or its inhabitants as he is on using style and narration to meditate on art itself. At the same time, the show must go on and the film makes due time for all manner of sexual antics and substance abuse. Between stirring montages of plinths, pillars, and promenades, Dennehy brawls, bawls, falls asleep in his own vomit, and begins making hundreds of photocopies of his very own stomach in an effort to discover the true relationship between inner and outer illness, all while the dashing Caspasian and Chloe Webb explore the finer points of global diplomacy on the chaise lounge.

What does any of this have to do with the transformative power of art and the relevatory nature of the image? If your like your snuff raw, not much. Surprisingly, Belly boasts very little blood to speak of. If you don’t mind a little contemplation, though, and even enjoy seeing a fat man have sex from time to time, Greenaway’s film will offer a wealth of stimulating thought nuggets on which to dine, from the famed modernist insight that every act of creation is also an act of destruction to the more contemporary observation that drinking and profanity often go well together. This is cinema. This is art. Do yourself a favor and don’t be left out in the cold: crack open a bottle, unbuckle your pants so that your stomach hangs out like pregnant woman's, and enjoy the ride. Highly recommended.


The Holy Mountain - Alejandro Jodorowsky (1973)

When a movie’s called Karate Bullfighter, we here at Snuff Nation stop and take note. It’s a simple equation of karate, a male bovine and the illustrious Sonny Chiba, which of course for us equals money in the bank. We’re easy to please, really. Just give us one good scene so, at the end of the day, after the horns are ripped off and I call my buddy to say, “Dude, the blood squirted 10 feet in the air,” we can share a good laugh.

So what the hell went wrong with The Holy Mountain? Though it parades grotesqueries before us, and does so with a fair amount of panache, the film unforgivably fails to present itself as either coherent or relevant. The only way to suck the fun out saying something like, “Dude, some guy lactated onto a disciple from hand puppets in the shape of cheetah heads,” is by framing that memorable set piece with 2 hours of the most pretentious filmmaking possible. If Jodorowsky succeeds at anything, it’s in making the sacrilegious seem utterly banal; all the sumptuous sets can’t give a mute, caveman Jesus poignancy.

After a retelling of the New Testament, the m
ovie veers off into a portrayal of the occult intertwined with modern capitalist society. Blah, blah, blah, heavy-handed, blah, blah. I’m sure I fail to appreciate all the symbolism that so carefully saturates the mise-en-scene, but I’m going with my gut here. I don’t need to perform due diligence to know that Jesus throwing a one-limbed midget into the ocean, thereby shedding his lamb of God mantle to become uber-Jesus, is complete crapola. Memorable? Absolutely. As filmmaking, however, it reaches so far beyond the director’s capabilities as to make a mockery of the medium. Try this for a pull quote: the majority of cinephiles championing this film are mistaking their own confusion for Jodorowsky’s brilliance.

This film is like that kid at a party constantly making abortion jokes who is ultimately lauded as being edgy, and in certain circles I’m sure name checking it might help you get you laid. So if you think that’s your thing, try saying, “I just love Jodorowsky’s grasp of the allegorical and its constant dialectic with empiricism,” and let me know how it goes over. Either way, I just saved you a couple hours with this monstrosity and the disappointment of realizing that oftentimes originality benefits from a little craft.

DVD Edition: Seriously? I ejected this shit the second it was over. Even if there is a Cliff’s Notes section, I promise I will never watch a single one of these special features.

Worst The Holy Mountain IMDB Message Board Post: What is the legality surrounding those naked boys?

What to Watch For: Straight up, naked chicks.


Alpha Dog (2006) - Nick Cassavetes

“Dance bitch!” a young man named Frankie says to an hourglass-shaped woman in Nick Cassavetes’ latest teenage murder romp, Alpha Dog. And she does, lovingly, lithely, heart-stoppingly. Alpha Dog isn’t about drugs or even sex. It’s about power – who’s got it, who wants it, and who’s willing to smoke a markass trick to get it. In other words, it’s marginally fun to watch with moments of pain sprinkled throughout.

The dog of the title is Johnny Truelove, a weed-dealing, backwards hat-wearing, scowl-perfecting midget based on real-life weed-dealing, backwards hat-wearing, scowl-perfecting midget Jesse James Hollywood. The other dogs in the film vying for the position of Alpha are Frankie, Elvis, and one man who does not like b-boy Johnny very much named Jake Mazursky. Together, Johnny, Frankie, and Elvis are like three buds in a blunt, laughing, joking, and expressing vaguely homoerotic desires toward one another. There’s HIV in the air though. Jake, the neo-nazi next-door, won’t pay Johnny the dope money he owes. In fact, since Jake is a Nazi and does not subscribe to the idea of debt, he would rather kick Johnny’s ass than pay him.

The fun starts when Johnny kidnaps Jake’s younger brother Zach in the hope of getting Jake’s attention and confirming his true Alpha status. Jake flips out and goes Bruce Lee on an entire party. Johnny gets the runs and begins feeding Zach a steady diet of blunts and valium while he tries to figure out exactly how to avoid twenty years in prison on kidnapping charges. In between, Justin Timberlake takes Zach marijuana farming and the two become fast friends, Justin taking off his shirt and doing a pop-and-lock and Zach cheering him on.

Just as an old bong must finally discolor and crack and be placed on a mantle with other old bongs for the whole family to see, so too must Zach eventually depreciate in his value to Johnny and suffer the harsh reality of Alphadom. What was once a good idea does not seem so anymore and it’s only a matter of time before Bruce Willis is slapping Johnny around and Sharon Stone is screaming and Shawn Hatosy from Outside Providence is saying, “Sorry dawg, I didn’t want it to end this way” and the whole train is rattling and shaking and giving off all those little sparks like hot sleet and somebody is definitely not going to be home for stovetop tonight.

Alpha Blunt isn’t a bad movie, just somewhat generic. Although the real Jesse James apparently ruled the greater San Fernando valley with an iron vaporizer, it’s hard to think of his fictional counterpart as anything more than a low-rent George Michael in need of a spanking. Cassavetes works hard to keep things fresh, throwing in some choice T&A throughout and displaying a sharp ear for wigger argot, but somehow the film’s principals all remain empty ciphers, floating in a haze of middle-class privilege and smoked testes. How could this happen in our town? Who gives a fuck, dawg, pass that shit! Recommended with reservations.


Combat Shock (1986) - Buddy Giovinazzo

To describe Combat Shock as life changing would be somewhat of an understatement. Love it or hate it so much you still can’t sleep right, you’ll always remember your first time laying eyes on Baby Napalm, and if you make it to the end, you’ll certainly remember seeing this grotesque bundle of joy stuffed into an oven.

Before all this goes down, though, first timer Buddy Giovinazzo reels you in with 90 minutes of what can only be described as Vetsploitation. The film opens with Frankie running through the rice paddies of Vietnam, where he stumbles upon mutilated bodies of women and children. Taken captive by VC, he is tortured but eventually released into hospice, only to find himself reliving the events in a crusty apartment with a mutant baby, an eviction notice and overly greasy hair. Some crazy shit for sure, but give the director credit for pursuing all of it with such straight-faced determination; even the leather-clad gang m
ember with a Karate Kid headband is the real deal.

Unsurprisingly, a cast of mostly memorable caricatures inhabits the gritty world of Combat Shock. Pimps, dealers, addicts and child hookers parade before Frankie as he wanders the ghettos of Staten Island. Not content with always being at the business end of a fist, he visits the local Unemployment Office and tries reaching out to his ailing father, before ultimately turning to a career in crime he is ill suited for.

Though leaning on a certain nightmarish logic, the film flashes moments of intense realism. Simply watching Frankie put on his shoes is heartbreaking, as he hides the holes in his socks then tears a lace while tightening it. These small defeats – the meals of breadcrumbs mixed with water – not the beatings dealt by Paco, are what ultimately cause Frankie to view his life and that of his family as forfeit. All of this builds to a masochistic expression of love, overpowering in both its directness and arterial spray. Did I mention that baby in the oven? Well, Frankie goes all Terminator on it first.

Since the majority of Combat Shock is more Warriors than Jacob’s Ladder, draw parallels to Iraq at your own risk. Really, unless you’re a seasoned b-movie veteran, I’d recommend avoiding this one at all costs. Otherwise, just sit back, relax and learn how to get your fix with a coat hanger when you’re short the works.

DVD Edition: This Troma release is packed to the gills with useless features, which gives the disc much of its charm. Of note is the T.I.T quiz, which flashes soft-core porn for every correct answer and hardcore violence for every wrong one. Definitely check out the short director interview, where a cameraman is balled out for not shooting close-ups.

Worst Combat Shock IMDB message board post: Is this movie appropriate for like 12 year old kids?

What to watch for: a complete non sequitur of a director cameo that involves a Veg-O-Matic.


Honeymoon Killers (1970) - Leonard Kastle

The Honeymoon Killers is a nasty little piece of trim that cuts like a knife and stings like an electric razor to the groin. Martha Beck is an oversize Alabama nurse desperate for love and marriage. Raymond Hernandez is a smooth-talking con artist eager for a quick lay and an easy mark. Grab a pot, stir, add water and you have a nice strong mutually supportive relationship not to mention one of the largest murder sprees in American history.

You know the drill. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love, boy shows girl pictures of all girls he has wooed and married and cheated out of financial solvency before killing, girl says all right not bad bet you I can do you one better let’s go on rampage, boy says cool, boy and girl embark on a killing spree heretofore unrivaled in terms of either geographic scope or godless iniquity, girl gets jealous and turns boy in, girl and boy go to jail, boy and girl repent and write each other from separate prison cells apologizing for any harm they may have caused, girl and boy get electrocuted.

Simple, right? If only this were Mississippi Burning. Written and directed by a professional composer named Leonard Kastle following the departure of first director Martin Scorsese over budgetary concerns, the film refuses to judge its star-crossed lovers any more than a geriatric would a gallstone. If love is the answer, then ritual killing is a close second; violence is a fact of life and, as in life like in bed, sometimes it comes in spurts.

Kastle is a serious filmmaker, unafraid to track a homeless man defecating or cut away when the suggestion of an abrupt stabbing proves more powerful than a full-screen entry wound. Ray and Martha plot, kill, poison, and in one scene, hammer in heads of unsuspecting victims with glee, but the violence is never excessive, the camera never lingers too long. Rather, like a steely conductor, Kastle prefers to focus on the lovers themselves, mining tension in every glance, distrust in every spat, adding saltpeter to already lethal mix of plutononium and potassium nitrate.

Some films make you laugh. Other films just make you tired, angry, ready to hurt yourself or others. Honeymoon Killers is neither. The acting is heavy. The score is ominous to brooding. The sex, though off-screen, is implicitly hot. It’s your life. If you want to sit home all day and examine your johnson, by all means enjoy. If you want rent sick flick that literally grabs you by the shirtcuffs and tosses you across the room like a poor, confused child, then you’ve come to the right place. Highly recommended.


La Haine (1995) - Mathieu Kassovitz

Though La Haine is cited as the rare French film that tackles social issues, it is more accurately a fable about revenge bookended by political question marks. The film opens with documentary-style footage of rioting and a soundtrack that articulates what the bloodied mass cannot, yet, even with a setting ripped from the headlines, the movie betrays an incredibly personal core.

Watching the trio of Vinz, Hubert and Said is an experience slightly similar to The 400 Blows, taking us through their every small defeat in the projects and around Paris. Hubert, an ex-con and boxer in training, provides a moral center while his friend suffers oddball visions of cows and murder. He is the most intimate with the cyclical nature violence, but fails to break it despite the best of intentions. Said remains an observer, expressing his anger through bravado and occasional vandalism; he appreciates gunplay, specifically in cinema, but doesn’t have the heart for it when it’s in front of him. Even so, he ends up in an interrogation room along side Hubert, handcuffed and at the mercy of two policemen.

Despite indelible images of police brutality, it is Vinz that leaves the lasting impression. When a handgun falls into his possession he becomes burdened by the sudden and quite unexpected empowerment. As much as La Haine tries to avoid a main character, Vinz is it. Introduced through a dream
sequence, he is the troubled youth that gives us pause; namely, one that shows promise and sensitivity, but also the stubbornness to waste it in a delusional game of parity. Though he vows to kill a cop, it’s questionable whether his boasts are enough to bring action. We are relieved when he finally cannot pull the trigger - on the most deserving of targets, ironically – and equally crushed when he dies by the hand of those he seemed so eager to strike against.

This controversial ending is what gives La Haine its much-touted stature as a politically minded film. Though we follow these characters ever so closely, seeing the lessons learned and friendships burnished, every possible balance is unsettled by an accidental gunshot. Unlike the ever popular ‘twist’ of many American films, this never seems forced, but reminds us of the issues at hand and dares us to come away with an easily articul
ated answer.

DVD edition: The accompanying documentary is rather informative in discussing the production of this film, but when the director, actors and even producers get on the topic of social significance, they start overusing the word "leitmotif." Also, it’s worth seeing Kassovitz chalk his long takes up to laziness and keep a straight face.

What to watch for: The choice of wardrobe, which shows a healthy amount of anti-American sentiment. Nike and Everlast get covered up as attitudes become less violent, but ol’ Notre Dame College on the right…

Worst La Haine IMDB message board post: Who do you think shot his gun first at the end?


Spoiler Nation

Okay, time for a quick disclaimer.

Very shortly this space will start having honest to god movie reviews, the majority of which will be SPOILER HEAVY. If you don't want to know things like who lives and who dies, please don't read anything posted on this site, we won't be offended.

So now if you anonymously comment on how we spoiled The Break-Up for you, well, tough titties.


One of these days I gotta get myself organizized

You've stumbled upon Snuff Nation, welcome.

Coming soon, you'll find movie reviews and various cinema related columns, including Eye on Spinell and Mr. Montgomery's Movie Corner. Sure, the banner might scream, "We watch better movies than you," but we're not pretentious, just bored and willing to settle for a vaguely creative way to waste our time. Okay. Maybe a little pretentious.

Check back later in the week for debut reviews of Honeymoon Killers, Spiderman 3 and La Haine.