Running Fast, Running Scared - 8/5

There is so little time in a day. Last weekend, Satanica and I went down to Chicago on our annual trip to the Flashback Weekend Horror Convention and Drive In, where I picked up a stack of DVDs that I have diligently been trying to make it through on a timely basis. Flashback Weekend is a riot which includes a bunch of horror celebrity signings and Q&As, a massive dealer room, a DVD screening room, and a double feature of horror movies nightly on a gigantic inflatable screen in the parking lot! This year’s lineup was Halloween 4 and The Devil’s Rejects on Friday, and They Live and From Beyond on Saturday.

The aforementioned stack of DVDs included the Amicus trilogy from the Dark Sky Films table, consisting of The Beast Must Die, Asylum and And Now the Screaming Starts; Small Gauge Trauma (a collection of short films featured at the Fantasia Film Festival out of Montreal); Dracula A.D. 1972; Day Watch (still unreleased in the US – sequel to Night Watch), and a couple of Masters of Horror episodes.

Dracula A.D. 1972 is one of my favorites of the Hammer Draculas, not because it’s good but because of it’s re-teaming of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (who hadn’t appeared together in a Dracula film since the original Horror of Dracula in 1958), it’s featured performance by Hammer starlet and future Bond girl Caroline Munro, and it’s goofy, Austin Powers-era swinging England milleu.

The Beast Must Die, from Hammer’s rival studio Amicus, was a lot better than I was expecting. Calvin Lockheart, last seen (by me at least) as a Jamaican voodoo daddy in Predator 2, plays a filthy rich, world class hunter who invites a group of people to his estate – one of whom, he claims, is a werewolf. The movie features a one minute “werewolf break” late in the film where the movie stops to allow the audience to guess the werewolf’s identity.

Asylum was one of Amicus’ multi-story horror films (such as From Beyond the Grave, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror), but this one featured a script by famed author Robert Bloch (Psycho). I found some of its imagery, of remote controlled, crawling severed limbs and little possessed dolls kind of goofy, but Satanica enjoyed it quite a bit.

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with the DVD stack. We had to take a break on Saturday (after heading out to catch The Descent at the theater) to show Running Scared to the group of hooligans who gathered for yet another Saturday Night Freak Show.

In lieu of cooking on the grill this week, we ordered a gargantuan pizza from local restaurant Nunzio’s – which was very good – since my sister, Trixie Blowpop, was having her wedding shower at our house on Sunday.

Running Scared bears absolutely no relation to the 1986 film of the same name starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines (which, believe it or not, I saw on its video premiere way back in the day). This new flick stars Paul Walker, star of Fast and the Furious, who seems to have this type of movie in his DNA. A number of people have told me they avoid Paul Walker movies due to an aversion to the actor’s screen persona; I don’t know what the problem is, as he acquits himself well to running, screaming, and keeping up a breathless pace for most of the film’s two hour running time (his character, fittingly enough, is named Joey Gazelle).

Joey is part of a mob crew who, in a fantastically loud and violent opening scene, accidentally murder a dirty cop in a drug deal gone bad. He’s ordered to dispose of the tainted murder weapon - a sleek, pearl-handled, snub-nosed pistol – which is subsequently stolen by his son’s Russian friend Oleg (Cameron Bright – the kid in every goddamn movie these days, most recently X-Men: The Last Stand) and used in the shooting of the kid’s abusive father (Karel Roden). The kid takes off into the night and Joey starts running… hoping to reach the kid and the gun before the New Jersey boys, the Russian mobsters, and the crooked cops (headed by Chazz Palmenteri) get to it first.

Joey’s entire family gets in on the action, including his son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) and his tough as nails wife (Vera Farminga), who at one point has to rescue Oleg from a pair of child molesters. The kid and the gun go in multiple directions, leading to a park inhabited by a cloaked ghoul who speaks in a sepulchral whisper; multiple stops at a diner where a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold and a sinister pimp make frequent stops; and a final, cringe-inducing confrontation at a hockey rink under black lights.

This is all pitched at maximum velocity by director Wayne Kramer, who previously directed The Cooler with William H. Macy and Maria Bello (currently unseen by me, but based on Running Scared, maybe an oversight I should remedy). The film employs a host of CGI accentuated cuts and transitions, rapid-fire editing and a bleach-bypass, high-contrast look that creates a dizzying fury of color and sound. It’s a tough, mean thriller that’s better than it should be, and it’s just criminal that more people passed on it during its brief theatrical run. Be sure to stay tuned for the animated end credits, which re-positions the film as a Grimm fairy tale as seen from Oleg’s point of view.

Kramer also has a writing credit on the misbegotten Renny Harlin movie (a description that applies to most Renny Harlin movies) Mindhunters. Leading man Walker also starred in a misbegotten film, Timeline, based on the Michael Crichton novel. He’s also appeared in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Into the Blue (you remember… no? It also starred Jessica Alba and a bikini), the Disney hit Eight Below, and the horror/thriller Joy Ride. He’ll be seen soon in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers. Cameron Bright pops up in every movie I go to see. He was in The Butterfly Effect; played an evil clone in Godsend, was Nicole Kidman’s reincarnated husband in Birth; humankind’s last hope in Ultraviolet; and, ironically, served much the same function in X-Men: The Last Stand. Karel Roden’s genre cred includes the role of Gregori Rasputin in Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy, and a sleazy vampire-sympathetic lawyer in Del Toro’s Blade II. He gained North American visibility opposite Robert DeNiro as one of a pair of killers in 15 Minutes. Chazz Palmenteri is most famous for his role as a vampirized mobster in John Landis’ Innocent Blood (just kidding).