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DID YOU READ

List: Why NOT a space flower? Six Killer Movie Plants

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07012008_thehappening.jpgBy Alison Willmore

For the many ill-wishers out there, the most disappointing thing about M. Night Shyamalan’s environmental thriller “The Happening” wasn’t that it was a failure, but that it wasn’t a spectacular failure. Critics went in with their long knives out, only to leave shrugging that they’ve seen worse. Having made $59 million in theaters, it’s not even the box office bomb some expected after “Lady in the Water.” All in all, “The Happening” is actually pretty successful, considering it’s a serious horror film about trees… that kill! In honor of that dubious designation, here’s a look at the spotty history of films about murderous botanic life that have preceded it.

07012008_attackofthekillertomatoes.jpgKiller tomatoes
Film: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)
Directed by John De Bello

M.O.: Produce that, for no apparent reason, become massive and murderous.

De Bello’s broad comedy mocked B-movie conventions while bearing its reported $90,000 budget like a badge of honor. The effects are wretched — you can famously see the wheels on one tomato as it attacks a woman in a parking lot, and the sole seeming expense, a helicopter crash, was a genuine accident that was then included in the film, the characters blaming it on an unseen “kamikaze tomato.” The plot is ridiculous — why do the tomatoes attack? Why is their great weakness what it is? How do they make that grumbling noise? Do they have vocal chords? The jokes are terrible — Sam Smith, the African-American expert in disguise, dresses as Hitler, at which point another character, meeting him, shrieks “My GOD! It’s Adolf Hitler!” and attacks him. And it’s all great fun &#151 enough that it spawned three sequels, in which the tomatoes returned, struck back and ate France, as well as an animated series and a planned remake from Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, the creators of “Ask a Ninja.”

Fun fact! George Clooney appears in 1988 sequel “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” — it’s one of his earliest film roles.

07012008_invasionofthebodiesnatchers.jpgPod people
Film: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Directed by Philip Kaufman

M.O.: Space pods that spawn perfect, emotion-free duplicates of humans they then take out.

There’s speculation as to the true nature of the alien pod people who invade via space spores in each of the three film adaptations of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers” (four if you count Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2007 “The Invasion,” but why would you do that?), but its Kaufman’s 1978 version, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Jeff Goldblum, that makes the flora connection most explicit. The body snatchers first appear to Earth’s populace by way of beautiful, parasitic flowers that spring up all over San Francisco — don’t you want to just take one home and put it on your bedside table? While it’s the idea of those close to you people being quietly replaced by emotionless doubles that’s made “The Body Snatchers” such an enduringly creepy story and a cinematic favorite, there’s something powerfully offputting about “Invasion”‘s steathily deadly blossoms. As Veronica Cartwright’s character points out, “Why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?”

Fun fact! Kevin McCarthy, the star of the 1956 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” has a cameo appearance as a man ranting about aliens in the street. Apparently, 20-plus years later, people still weren’t believing him.

07012008_biollante.jpgBiollante
Film: Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
Directed by Kazuki Omori

M.O.: Giant mutant rosebush with tentacles, teeth.

The seventeenth Godzilla film provides what may be the strangest opponent the iconic lizard has ever faced: a plant monster fashioned by a grieving scientist from a combination of Godzilla DNA, rose DNA and the DNA of his own dead daughter. It sounds bizarre, but Biollante is, as kaiju go, both impressive — after an uninspiring initial encounter in which she appears to be a large, toothy rose, she returns as one of the series’ better-looking monsters, with a giant lizard head and tentacles with their own mouths — and, well, poignant, arriving to fight Godzilla just in time to save Osaka, with her tragic origin story and plaintive, dolphin-like cry. Check out the final battle between the two monsters on YouTube.

Fun fact! Fans speculate that Biollante’s spores may have birthed SpaceGodzilla, but this has never been confirmed by Toho.

07012008_littleshopofhorrors.jpgAudrey Jr.
Film: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Directed by Roger Corman

M.O.: Butterwort/Venus Flytrap hybrid with a taste for human flesh, sass.

In an attempt to save his job at a bedraggled florist’s shop, Seymour Krelboyne brings out the plant he bred by combining two carnivorous species. Given its parentage, no one can really blame poor Audrey Jr. (named for Seymour’s crush and coworker, Audrey Fulquard) for craving more than Miracle-Gro. Seymour starts off by nursing Audrey Jr. on his own blood, and moves on to feeding the plant, who grows alarmingly large, the bodies of people he’s accidentally murdered. There’s an oppressive mother, Jack Nicholson in one of his earliest film roles as a masochistic dental patient, and of course, Audrey Jr.’s acquired, mysterious ability to speak. Voiced by Charles B. Griffith, who also wrote the screenplay, the plant’s refrain is one of “Feeeeee meeee!”, though he’s also happy to suggest when someone’s plump enough to look tasty, leading Mel Welles’ Gravis Mushnik to observe “We not only got a talking plant, we got one that makes with smart cracks.”

Fun fact! Principal photography on the film was shot in two days and one night using sets leftover from another production.

07012008_theruins.jpgMayan vines
Film: The Ruins (2008)
Directed by Carter Smith

M.O.: Sentient Yucatán plant life with the ability to mimic cell phone noises and burrow into flesh.

Based on a bleak-as-all-hell horror novel by Scott Smith, the writer responsible for “A Simple Plan” (and the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter behind both adaptations), “The Ruins” is the extreme end of that growing “Hostel”/”Turistas” subgenre of films embodying America’s suspicions that everyone else in the world would like to violently kill us — in this case, even the local plant life. But no matter how you pitch it, a tale of killer vines is always going to be a tough sell, and “The Ruins” seemed to have trouble overcoming its own premise at the box office, despite the involvement of considerable talent like Smith, indie princess Jena Malone and “My Blueberry Nights” DP Darius Khondji. What never came across in the marketing is how unerringly bad things go for “The Ruins” travelers — amputations, under-skin vine invasions and self-mutilation made the film dark enough to measure up against the likes of stripped-down gorefests like “Wolf Creek,” and made its cutthroat creepers villains to be reckoned with.

Fun (spoilery) fact! While the body count is high in the film, given the scarcity of characters, it’s higher in the book — everyone dies.

07012008_matango.jpgIrradiated mushrooms of doom
Film: Matango (1963)
Directed by Ishiro Honda

M.O.: People who’ve been transformed into mushrooms. Or… mushrooms who’ve become people-like?

Dubbed into English and released on American TV as “Attack of the Mushroom People,” this cult classic looks at what happens to the crew and passengers of a shipwrecked yacht stranded on a foggy island. Another vessel that’s run aground there is abandoned, but covered with a strange fungus and filled with equipment indicating it was used in studies involving that ol’ bugaboo of tokusatsu eiga, radiation! There are mushrooms everywhere, something the captain warns everyone off from eating because of poison, but with food supplies scarce, they’re awfully tempting. Seems the crew of the older ship wasn’t so careful — they start turning up as lumpy, threatening figures in the night, and before long the shipwrecked start succumbing to the fungal allure, themselves transforming into, well, walking mushrooms. The dub deliberately cheeses the film up, but it’s odd and dark enough, with an unexpected ending, that its disturbing tone shines through — Tokyo Shock’s 2005 DVD release offers the original Japanese audio.

Fun fact! This film is actually based on a short story by an English writer, William Hope Hodgson — “The Voice in the Night.”

[Photos: “The Happening,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2008; “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!”, NAI Entertainment, 1978; “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” United Artists, 1978; “Godzilla vs. Biollante,” Dimension Films, 1992; ; “The Little Shop of Horrors,” The Filmgroup, 1960; “The Ruins,” DreamWorks SKG, 2008, “Matango,” Toho Company, 1963]

This list marks day 1 of IFC’s List Month — check back here for a new list every weekday!

On to day 2 — The 10 Most Important Presidential Speeches. — >
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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

via GIPHY

IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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