Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Petrified (2004)

This film answered some questions I’ve been asking this month as I watched a parade of solid low-budget horror fare from the ‘70s and ‘80s. To wit, why our the modern equivalents of these films, the DTV movies that pack the video stores each week, and the Sci-Fi “original” movies, so inevitably poor? Not that you’d expect greatness from films like that, but how about some solid, halfway decent efforts?

Well, veteran B-movie maestro Charles Band reminded me that there are still such movies. (I hadn’t even been aware that Band was still making films, but apparently so.) Ones, again, that aren’t really ‘good,’ but are at least somewhat well-crafted, and have a sense of fun regarding their own limitations. Band might not be the Roger Corman of the 21st century, but he’s probably as close as we’ve got right now.

Petrified is the sort of film I can really only recommend (and then with provisions) on the basis of having personally kind of liked it. Certainly I cut the film a lot of slack, and other viewers may not be so tolerant. And it’s not something I’d buy and put on my DVD shelf. Still, it was a satisfactory rental, which was exactly what I had hoped of it.

For an example of things that didn’t bother me (but might bother another), the film is very short. In fact, although it officially runs about 70 minutes, it’s really about an hour, since the combined opening and closing credits must last about ten minutes. However, I’m always gassing on about how the cheesy but fun sci-fi movies of the ‘50s were immeasurably aided by their similarly short running times. Add 20 minutes to many of these, to reach the seemingly obligatory 90-minute running time of today’s cheapie features, and many of these would become unbearable. So, no, a short running time doesn’t bother me.

Our subject wastes no time—as you expect, since it only boasts an hour of actual movie—depicting some crooks meeting up to conduct a shady deal with an antiquities buff. The featured artifacts include a coffin-shaped box, so we immediately get that something bad is about to happen. Sure enough, after collecting their money, the thieves murder their client, and then attempt to murder Buzz, their go-between. Buzz manages to escape. Not long after, a monster bursts from the coffin and sucks the life from the two remaining crooks. Well, that’ll learn ‘em.

Buzz, who scampered off with an artifact in tow, breaks into a seemingly deserted clinic and phones for a ride. Soon after he bumps into an attractive woman, Helen. It was here that, if I didn’t fall in love with the film, I at least got a little crush on it. Asked what sort of clinic this is, she replies, “It’s a facility to cure those with severe cases of nymphomania.” (!!)

I mean, c’mon, how old school can you get? Monsters and nymphomaniacs? That’s pretty much the whole package right there.

It’s with this, though, that the movie will lose a lot of other potential audience members. Somebody like Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wyrnowski or those folks who make those faux-lesbian movies that star Misty Mundae would take this concept and run with it.

However, Band instead proves he’s really old school by largely ignoring the opportunities to pad out the film with several girl on girl make-out scenes. Indeed, he kind of cheats the whole ‘nympho’ thing altogether. There’s a little of that, provided with just a soupcon of T&A. Not much, however, and after the first such scene we never really get another. Again, this sure to irritate many, but I found its hucksterish reticence sort of quaint, even charming.

Instead, we follow the monster as it stalks around the clinic, threatening and killing the various stock characters, all while the film manages to take things fairly seriously and yet still wink at the audience once in a while. This is aided a lot by the actors, who like the film itself aren’t really good, but can at least deliver a line and hit their marks. Still, compared to the stiffs you often get in those aforementioned Sci-Fi original movies, these guys look like the company at the Old Vic.

Production-wise, I’d say that production-wise, the film comes across on a syndicated TV-show level. One thing I really liked is that the monster—a long-dormant outer space beastie wrapped up in mummy bandages (!)—is realized not with CGI but with a good, old fashioned mask. And a pretty decent one at that, I must say. Kudos, chaps. There is CGI, but its generally used for various lighting effects when the monster sucks the life out of people, and its sparing use is another plus.

One of the only times where you really have to call a penalty on the movie is the end of the film. Buzz and Holly meet up with an FBI agent who’s been trailing behind them the whole movie, and the woman has a clearly much shorter haircut than she did the rest of that ‘evening.’ Holly, too, looks different, as if she lost weight or something in her face between the time the main shooting wrapped and this epilogue was filmed. (I’m hoping it’s that, and not that she got plastic surgery or something.)

Presumably they realized that they needed at least a little more running time to get to the point (about an hour) where they could even call this a feature, and shot this wrap-up scene months later. In any case, the blatant hairstyle change particularly is pretty hilarious.

I also enjoyed the way they played the guy who runs the clinic. I was expecting some sort of garden-variety villain, but instead he’s (in the best tradition of crap movies) a fairly benign mad scientist who believes the secret of eternal youth is to be found from the heavily sexed. (!) He’s given all the standard gobbledygook to say regarding his theories, and again given the film’s bizarre lack of actual sexual content after all this buildup, I can only assume Band was having the audience on.

Again, I’m not promising something here. I’m just reporting that I had a pretty good time with this film, and that even its faults were of the sort that I actually embraced. Would you feel the same? Got me. If you’ve got an hour to spare—and maybe a six pack sitting by—maybe you’ll find out some day.

By the way, as the eight minutes (!) of end credits began to roll, I wondered how they found enough names to stretch things out that long. I actually had been planning to joke that my name would now be added to the list, just for having watched the movie. It turns out I wasn’t far wrong. In the midst of the credits, we cut to Charles Band himself during a tour he made of the country, showing some of his films in various theaters and selling various Full Moon-inspired toys, like ones based on his Puppet Master series.

In this clip, Band promised the theater audience that anyone who bought $100 of Full Moon toys and DVDS and whatnot in the lobby would have their name added to the credits of this (then upcoming) movie. And so he apparently did, as perhaps several hundred ‘executive producer’ names begin to scroll by. Smart guy, that Band. Not only did he sell more merchandise, but he ensured that at least 200 people would buy the DVD for this movie!


At 7:59 PM, Blogger Henry Brennan said...

That's what I like about these reviews, Ken. It provides a sizable source of Netflix choices to fill up my queue. Thanks!

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Scott said...

I have a bad feeling that people are going to check this movie out based on your review and have the same reaction afterwards that pretty much everyone that rented THE GINGERDEAD MAN did after my rave review. I've yet to live that one down. A black mark that continues to hang over my head like Roger Ebert's only positive review on planet earth of COP & A HALF. But at least you freely admit that you can only recommend it based on the notion that you just plain liked it and nothing more. Personally, I thought this one had tons of potential that all went to waste with a bunch of dangling storylines that either never came together or ultimately amounted to nothing.

So are you going to take the EVIL BONG challenge? I think it speaks volumes that after so much hype from Band over that one that its release date has finally come and none of the video stores are even carrying it, not even the ones that stocked multiple copies of PETRIFIED.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

That's true! I tried to hedge my review as much as possible, but what can you do? I enjoyed the film to a modest but genuine degree, and I pretty much have to say so.

However, I also realize my taste for this particularly title might be fairly unique.

Luckily, Henry might be the only person who would get this a shot on my say so. And that experience should cure him of listening to me right there.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Best email I ever got following my GINGERDEAD MAN review was from one of my message board regulars detailing a conversation he had with a friend after the both sat through the film.

"Who did you say said that this movie was great?"

"Scott Foy."

"I think Scott Foy just punk'd you."


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