(Welcome to Employee Picks, a series where Jacob Knight uses his day job expertise as a video store manager to recommend unique and often overlooked alternative options to the big movies hitting theaters and home video.)
Now that we’re out of the Halloween season, it seems like it’s finally time to stick to the script. So, without further ado, here’s a legitimate, 100% to format, no-BS edition of Employee Picks.
The Major Release: Bohemian Rhapsody
Your Alternative: Velvet Goldmine (1998, d. Todd Haynes)
Bohemian Rhapsody is a bad movie: a mix of biopic clichés, already parodied to death in genius works like Walk Hard, anchored by a central turn that’s more imitation than actual performance. Instead, watch a good movie about glam rockers from one of the finest directors to ever lay eyes on a movie camera. Velvet Goldmine is Todd Haynes’ ode to deafening stage opulence, following journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) as he chronicles the rise and fall of Bowie-esque pop madman Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The “original punk”, Slade became a symbol of individuality and bi-sexual bliss for a generation of lost teens. Catchy, tragic and deeply human, Velvet Goldmine is one of the finest rock musicals ever made.
The Major Release: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Your Alternative: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013, d. Tommy Wirkola)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a rather garish attempt to continue cross-breeding epic fantasy with easily-recognizable classic works of art/folklore/fairy tales. In short, it’s a corporate sham masquerading as cinema, and isn’t much fun to sit though. Though it was mostly dismissed (and, in some circles, outright reviled) upon release, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters takes that same “live-action fairy tale” construct and plays like Sam Raimi was somehow allowed to direct a bizarro spin-off of Supernatural. Here’s a movie with a great tough guy (the always poorly-timed Jeremy Renner) who fights evil with his little sister, that takes pleasure in coating certain monster-centric scenes in copious splatter. The doofiness of the overall tone knows no bounds, as Hansel’s a bumbling Jack Burton type who has diabetes from eating his childhood candy house, and Gretel has a fucking machine gun crossbow. But there’s so much wild, kinetic filmmaking energy on display that it’s tough not to get caught up in all the wild, poorly CGI’d shenanigans on display. More B-Movies should be this recklessly weird and fun.
The Major Release: Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
Your Alternative: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984, d. Charles E. Sellier Jr.)
Sure, the Grinch is forever a “mean one,” but has that fuzzy, green Ebenezer Scrooge ever impaled a naked Linnea Quigley to the wall with a set of deer antlers? Survey says: fuck no. Silent Night, Deadly Night is one of the nastiest slashers in the history of a subgenre known for its cruelty, as young Billy Chapman sees his parents executed by a scumbag in a Santa Claus outfit, and is then subsequently beaten by the nuns in his orphanage. Of course, once he grows up, Billy seems like a well-adjusted, strapping adult…until the owner of the toy store he gets a job at decides to make him don the red St. Nick costume come Christmas. Trigger Warning: mucho bloodshed occurs, as Billy picks up an axe and starts chopping his way through the residents in his small Midwestern town. A Yuletide staple in the Knight household, Charles E. Sellier’s cult classic is mostly for the degenerates in your home who giggle at the part in Gremlins where Phoebe Cates talks about the time her dad broke his neck coming down the chimney.
The Major Release: The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story
Your Alternative: Rape Squad [aka Act of Vengeance] (1974, d. Bob Kelljan)
One of the great wacko pieces of exploitation cinema, Rape Squad follows a group of women who’ve all been sexually assaulted by the same hulk in a hockey mask. In response, they form the titular vigilante unit and pursue him, along with several other perverts that’ve harassed these diabolical dames. Rape Squad creates an entire universe where all men are either creeps or sex maniacs, looking to victimize every member of the opposite sex who surrounds them. At the same time, this is still a hardcore work of grindhouse filmmaking, titillating you while being totally gross (example: the squad is brainstormed while all the girls are in a bubble bath). So, instead of watching the weird Batman iteration of Lisbeth Salander, tune in to a genuine work of off-kilter catharsis, which offers up one hell of a finale to its ultra-violent shenanigans.
The Major Release: Overlord
Your Alternative: Shock Waves (1977, d. Ken Wiederhorn)
Nazi zombies are cool as hell. That’s just scientific fact. This writer’s personal favorite entry into the too-small horror subgenre has got to be Shock Waves – a languid, strange, Florida-shot slice of exploitation that may be the closest any American undead zombie has come to approximating the hazy dread of classic Eurohorror. Following a crew of low rent pleasure seekers who become stranded on a desert isle where a former SS scientist (a gaunt, sickly Peter Cushing) and his waterlogged, goggled army of the dead reside, Shock Waves moves at a snail’s pace at first, only to evolve into a full-blown creature feature onslaught by the end. Featuring great makeup SFX work from unheralded genre weirdo Alan Ormsby, Shock Waves is going to appeal to specific strain of horror connoisseur, but those who connect with its weirdo wavelength are going to find a lot to love.
The Major Release: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Your Alternative: The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982, d. Albert Pyun)
Schlocky, ambitious madman Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer chronicles a classical hero’s journey, complete with big breasted princesses, various medieval double crosses, heart-ripping warlocks, pneumatic swords, straight up crucifixion, and some pretty wonky fight choreography. Nightmare-faced Richard Lynch is totally unhinged as the villainous warlord Titus Cromwell, who wants to destroy everything our stubbly hero (Lee Horsley) holds dear. If you saw this when you were young, just know that it doesn’t hold up as well as you’d expect, but all the scummy, weird, latex-riddled ‘80s sword and sorcery madness is way better than sitting through fucking Johnny Depp using magic to hunt down Eddie Redmayne in another forgettable faux-Potter installment.
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