Thursday, September 10, 2009

Some Really Stinky Cheese

Mulberry Street (2006)

Last night I watched Mulberry Street, one of those ultra low budget movies that are picked up for distribution by Lionsgate and After Dark Films for the "Horrorfest/8 Films to Die For" brand. Perhaps watched is too strong a word; tolerated is more like it.

Movie budgets are a funny thing. No one is ever satisfied; everyone always wants more money. But truly creative people blossom with restricted budgets. Kevin Smith did it with Clerks ($27,000), Darren Aronofsky on Pi ($60,000), Shane Carruth succeeded with Primer ($7,000) and just this summer Neill Blomkamp scored a huge hit with District 9 ($30 million). (Yes, to you and me $30 million is A LOT of money, but when when your summer competition's film budgets average from $150 to $200 million per film, you have to bring something extra, something special, to the table or the movie screen with your $30 milion film.)

Which brings me to Mulberry Street, which is a film on the OTHER end of the creative spectrum from those movies listed above. I really did not like this movie.

It starts out innocently enough. We meet a cast of colorful New York characters who live on the legendary street of the title. There's Clutch, the ex-boxer and our nominal hero, who is awaiting the return of his daughter Casey, a scarred Army vet who is coming home from the hospital. Clutch's pretty neighbor Kay the bartender has a sweet spot for the boxer, but works too hard to share this kind of info with her teen son Otto. The old apartment building where they all live has an even more colorful cast of characters: the harried superintendent (sort of a Schneider 2.0), the crotchety WWII vet who everyone looks after, and Clutch's flamboyant gay friend.

Because the movie didn't have a big budget they end up dragging out the set up scenes for far too long before the horror kicks in. In the hands of a better writer/director than Jim Mickle, a grip and scenic artist in his day job,this might have worked but he and co-writer Nick Damici, who plays Clutch don't pull it off. I'm reminded of From Dusk til Dawn where the first third, if not the entire first half, of that movie played as one thing - a gangster pic - before switching gears to become a vampire splatfest. The thing about From Dusk's gangster pic beginnings is that they were INTERESTING. Lurid, funny, creepy, dramatic and surprising. And THEN the vampires show up. But they had a Quentin Tarantino script, a charismatic George Clooney as the lead, and director Robert Rodriguez still cared about movies as a whole instead of just being amazed he could crank shit out from his home studio.

Mulberry Street just plods along with its interpersonal stories, which really aren't that interesting to begin with. Its chief plotline though, updated by constant local TV newscasts, is absolutely stupid: strange rats are biting people turning them into WERE-RATS. Make that WERE-RATS with silly make up. WERE-RATS IN NEW YORK! There's panic in the streets and on the subways! Watch out New Jersey! Look out Broadway, here come the WERE-RATS.

The movie also plays fast and loose with its style. It starts as a typical low budget effort, with decent enough photography, looking like they used a lot of available light, in the tiny cramped old New York apartments and a few locations including a bar, but then it throws in a little of J-horror style, funky compositions and crazy digitial editing tricks. It tries to be all horror things to all horror people. (Also the night scenes look terrible, really shouting "shot on video" with lots of splotchy black areas.)

The first real were-attack in the apartment building is extremely disingenuous. The filmmakers do the thing where the victim's attention is focused on something in front of him, when all of a sudden the were-rat chick is BEHIND the victim, just standing there (did she just teleport behind him) all quiet and stealthy, then she attacks the guy. But all the OTHER were-rats in the movie are constantly snarling and shrieking and raising a ruckus. So why was that first were-chick all ninja-like? The only reason was because the filmmakers thought the scene would be cool, and not that it made any sense in their story or the way they were telling it the rest of the time. They also do the 1,000,000th version of the J-horror chick with the chick's head bent over and the hair covering her face. BO-RING.

The make up effects are really bad, with stupid rat teeth and hair on the tips of people's ears. One "hero make up" looked a lot like either Nosferatu (who is very rat-like) or the Nightcrawlers from The Descent.

The trailers for the other films in the 8 Films to Die For series looked interesting. They always look interesting when they're whizzing by you at autobahn speeds. I might give one of them a chance, but heed my warning, and keep away from rats, stay out of the subway, and keep off the streets. Especially Mulberry Street.

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