Monday, August 24, 2009

Recent Acquisitions

RECEIVING, AUG 24 - Recent Acquisitions:

MANIAC - I bought this film online for an article I'm working on. I only paid cash money for it after being rebuffed by my local video stores, Netflix, and the L.A. county library system. At one point I had the box in my hands, but as I was leaving the video store, a flitter of intuition told me to check the disk. It was the 1934 version starring someone called William Woods and someone called Horace B. Carpenter. Although this looked like a great movie, it wasn't the Maniac I wanted.

The Maniac I wanted was made in 1980. Obscurity added to the film's mystique. When I was in fifth grade, word spread of a film rated X for sheer violence, and over the course of my adolescence I built up this film - and Dawn of the Dead - into two hours of entrails-squishing madness. Hushed playground rumors confirmed my worst fears; watching Maniac would make you shit your mind in fear, disintegrate your personality, and render you unfit for any other movies, or human relationships. Until 2009, I never would have imagined I would have any reason to watch this.

Seeing Maniac last month was a bit of a letdown. New York fixture Joe Spinell (the sassy dispatcher in Taxi Driver) stars as the serial killer Frank Zito. Spinell looks like a serial killer - he's got the dead, fisheyed stare of an anonymous creep, and all the rumpled facial fat of Bill Murray or Edward James Olmos with none of the charisma. But despite the casting and general greasy claustrophobia, there's not nearly enough violence to justify my 29 years of dread. Spinell skulks around his dank outer borough basement apartment, occasionally emerging to scalp or dupe people. The one money shot - presumably the scene that earned the X - takes place halfway in, when Frank blasts special effects artist Tom Savini in the face with a shotgun, popping his head like a water balloon. It's a gloopy shocker, but not one made for DVD technology. A simple freeze frame revealed Savini's paper mâché head, as if he'd pulled a last-second prison break from the entire movie. Why was I so scared of this?

Spinell does one nice trick; his narration voiceover is just heavy breathing and pervert grunts. In a perfect world, this would have been the DVD's commentary track.

FAKE OWL - The mockingbird has returned to the tree outside. Through the first half of the summer, my backyard boomed with the inhuman beatbox at jet engine decibels. Since using a very large water gun didn't work last time around, I spent several sleepless nights pondering my options;

- Slumber in the car, far away

- Start drinking and drink myself to sleep every night

- Burn the tree down

- Burn the house down

- Concentrate and concentrate until either me or the bird pop like a water balloon

The obvious solution was slow to emerge. Normal birds hate owls. I'm not sure why (the internet tells me different things - jealousy, intimidation, envy). Plastic owls keep away regular birds. It had the sweet ring of truth. I would use psychology to vanquish the beast.

It took six stores to find a suitable fake owl (furrowed brow, hateful plastic eyes), but it's apparently done the trick. No midnight screeches and howls. No more winged freaks divebombing the neighborhood cats. Relative peace and quiet.

Downside: the one in the backyard now shields a huge spider. No natural predator will go near the fake owl, so the spider slowly grows bigger and fatter and snares larger and larger victims in its expanding web. Also, I keep forgetting the owl is there, and some nights I catch its silhouette through the window - like some prop from an Abbott and Costello haunted house movie - and it kind of weirds me out.