Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Sabbath' is full of good concepts but still fails

While straightening up my office, I found some movies I'd misfiled. For who-knows-what-reason, I'd put about half a dozen DVDs in my "Watched" drawer when I had done nothing of the sort!

I'll be trying to get to those movies as soon as possible, but by way of setting the stage for one of those upcoming reviews, here's an Oldie But a Goodie that originally appeared at

Sabbath (2008)
Starring: Ashley Gallo, Bobby Williams, David Crawford, Rob Holmes, Cory Wisberger, and Cheyenne Stewart
Director: William Victor Schotten
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Geller (Gallo), Mack, (Williams), and a trio of oddball misfits (Crawford, Holmes, and Wisberger) struggle to join forces and stay alive as the dead rise from their graves. They are, literally, the last five living beings on Earth, as it is Judgement Day and angelic beings and shadowy demons are prowling around them, waiting and watching for one final event to occur.

"Sabbath" is a low-budget zombie picture that shows every indication of being made with dedication and heart. The best part is that there was a fair degree of talent at work in the cinematography department. It even has a number of appealing aspects as far as the story goes. Unfortunately, it's simply not very good. It is a tie between this film and "Revolt of the Zombies" for the Dullest Zombie Movie I've Ever Seen Award.

Basically, the film suffers from all the usual flaws that are often found in horror movies at this level. Establishing shots go on forever. Lots of scenes of characters running, walking, or standing in forests with nothing else really going on. Lame fight scenes that might have been less lame if a) the director had attempted less of them, and b) more rehearsal time had gone into staging them--the climactic battle in the churchyard wold have been so much better if it had been concentrated into about half or one-third of the time it takes in the existing film. The actors mostly seem lethargic, as if they are at a rehearsal instead of actually making the movie. Almost every scene continues well past the point where it should have ended. There's also the sloppiness and shortcuts taken where just a little extra effort or investment would have improved things immensely--like giving the Angel of Death a scythe that looked like it might actually cut something, and dressing the demons in black tights instead of black jeans and sneakers.

In fact, "Sabbath" would have been far less boring if the director had recognized that he was stretching about 45 minutes of movie to nearly twice that length. It also would have been less boring if the script had seen a couple more revisions and if it had ended up with a little more sound logic to underpin the fact that the five main characters in the film aren't the
final five living beings on Earth by accident.

Late in the film (VERY late) we learn that all five characters had some part to play in the accidental death of Geller's daughter. The Angel of Death and some other angel (the Angel of Mercy? Archangel Michael? It's never named, but it's played by Cheyenne Stewart) are waiting to judge let just one of them into Heaven as the last soul before the gates close forever. However, the timing of the little girl's death as given in the film makes no sense, as she supposedly died two full weeks prior to the events of the film. We are to believe that on the ENTIRE planet Earth, no other events of that nature occurred for two weeks? The film would have been far stronger if the death of the little girl had occurred the day before the Judgement Day instead of weeks prior, as the notion of these five people needing to be judged "after the fact" would have made more sense.

I really wish I could like this movie more, because it has some aspects to it I really enjoyed.

I liked mystery of the grim reaper, the angel, and the evil spirits (or demons, whatever they were) creeping about or even assisting the film's main characters unseen by them; that's something I've never seen in a zombie picture before. One of the film's best moments happens when the Grim Reaper smites a zombie just as it was about to attack Bobby Williams, and he is then left trying to figure out why the zombie just keeled over. I also liked the way the film overtly got into the the mystical Judgement Day aspects of mass-zombie attacks instead of presenting it as one character's superstition and then dismissing it with a scientific explanation. I also liked the very end of the movie, even if I 'm a bit unsure of what exactly the director was trying to convey.

The best thing I can say about "Sabbath" is that it kept me watching. The bit with the angels, demons, and a mystical Judgement Day unfolding around the characters gave this zombie flick an unusual dimension. In fact, that whole aspect of the film may make it worth checking out for experienced watchers of the zombie genre.

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Ghost Ship' should be set adrift at sea

Ghost Ship (2002)
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies, and Desmond Harrington
Director: Steve Beck
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A veteran salvage-tug crew is tempted by the promise of great riches when a weather service pilot (Harrington) gives them a lead on a passenger liner adrift in international waters. Once they reach the ship, they find that it is not totally abandoned: An evil presence lurks aboard, and it wants to add the newcomers to its compliment of ghostly crew and passengers.

Take every element you typically find be in a haunted house movie, change the setting to a decaying cruise ship, bring in actors who looooove to overact, add large amounts of gore, and you have "Ghost Ship". The only additional about the movie not listed above is the lazily written script, which is a prime example of one of those stories that will grind to a complete halt if just ONE character would behave intelligently.

The most creepy and disturbing part of the film are the first few minutes. Just about everything else past that opening scene of horror and brutal mass-murder is a downhill slide, with an occasional bump.

(Interestingly, the lower-budget, direct-to-DVD haunted ship movie "Lost Voyage" is actually a little bit scarier at points and it has better acting overall. It's almost as rotten as "Ghost Ship", though, but not quite.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Joan Collins

Born in 1933, British actress Joan Collins gained imfamy during the 1950s and 1960s for leading a wild and "liberated" life style, a reputation she enhanced by starring in soft core porn films based on the steamy romance novels penned by her sister Jackie Collins during the 1970s.

During the early 1970s, Joan also starred in half a dozen horror films and thrillers, such as "Dark Places", "Tales That Witness Madness", and the classics "Fear in the Night" and "Tales from the Crypt".

As the '70s decade gave way to the 1980s, Collins' career shifted increasingly toward television, and she eventually joined the cast of night-time soap opera "Dynasty", the role she most famous for today.

No need to be bugged by 'Empire of the Ants'

Empire of the Ants (1977)
Starring: John David Carson, Joan Collins, Pamela Susan Shoop, and Robert Lansing
Director: Bert I. Gordon
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of would-be investors and a con artist (Collins) trying to sell worthless swamp land become intended prey for giants ants.

"Empire of the Ants" is perhaps one of the more ridiculous "giant animals on a rampage" movies. If you're a ten-year-old who likes monster movies, you're probably going to find this film exciting and scary. However, if you're any older than that, you're going to be annoyed at the bad creature effects, even worse trick photography, and the stupendous degree to which every cast member over-acts. Either that, or you're going to be so amused at how awful everything about this movie is that you're going to so amused that you'll want to gather some friends together and make the movie the centerpiece of a Bad Movie Night.

The special effects are so sloppily made that it's plain to see that the actors supposedly fighting the giant ants during trick photography sequences are just poking at thin air... and the ants are just being ants. Similarly, there are several scenes of giant ants climbing buildings that are plainly regular-sized ants crawling across photographs of buildings. This is not something little kids are likely to catch, but adults will notice fairly quickly. It's amazing that this film is so ineptly made, given that its director had about half a dozen other creature features focused around giant creatures or people shrunk to tiny sizes where he used tricks similar to the ones he used here. Perhaps there simply wasn't enough time or money to do this right, or maybe he was starting to lose his touch.

The only thing that saves this movie from a Two Rating and being fodder for the Movies You Should (Die Before You) See blog is the fact that it's paced fairly well and the abundance of unintentional hilarity makes it even more watchable if you have a taste for movies so bad they are good.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fear-filled Phantasms: Christmas Horror

I'm not a big fan of Christmas-oriented horror, even the well-done movies and stories. I like the whole good will, happy-sappy, ho-ho-ho'ing Santa Claus aspect of it all. And the decorated trees and pretty lights. I especially like visiting with friends.

Some feel differently, and that's where the following images of Christmas horror comes in.

Your guess is as good as mine. But it's pretty awful!
Joan Collins pays for being naughty in "Tales from the Crypt"
Perhaps the most iconic Christmas horror image of them all
from "Silent Night, Deadly Night"

But the real Santa were to mix it up with monsters and killers, he'd kick their asses.
Assuming he couldn't fill them with Christmas cheer and get them to change their wicked ways.
(From "Paul Dini's Santa Claus vs. Frankenstein")

'Tales from the Crypt' is a classy, classic anthology film

Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Starring: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Nigel Patrick, and Ralph Richardson
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

This anthology film from British horror company Amicus is the original screen adaptation of the "Tales from the Crypt" comic book. And it's a fabulous one--with a fine cast of actors, great camera work, and mostly tight scripting.

From the framing sequence--which features a group of tourists that find themselves stranded inside an ancient tomb where they encounter a mysterious crypt keeper (Richardson)--we know we're in for a treat. The crypt keeper's interaction with the lost tourists is the conceit that brings us into the stories.

The first tale in the film is "All Through the House", in which an evil, scheming wife (Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve... only to discover what Father Christmas does to those who have been naughty. There are some great visuals and fabulous contrasts of colors here, not to mention great acting by all featured (even the child actor, which is a rare occurance!)

Next up is "Reflection of Death", perhaps the weakest tale of the bunch, because it feels like it's been padded. It's the tale of a man who gets in a horrible car-wreck but finds that no-one will help him or his mistress after he's crawled from the wreckage. There's a nice, chilling twist in this one, but it takes entirely too long getting there.

The third story, "Poetic Justice", is my favorite of the bunch, and it features horror great Peter Cushing in his most touching (and probably deeply emotional) performance ever. He portrays a lonely widower who is driven to suicide after a pair of cruel businessmen cause him to believe that the neighborhood children, who have been his only joy since the death of his wife, have come to hate him. The poor old man gets his revenge, however, in a way that's fitting of "Tales from the Crypt". (In real life, Cushing himself lost his wife shortly before working on this film. I'm of the opinion that Cushing largely plays himself in this sequence.)

The fourth tale, "Wish You Were Here", is a pretty straight-forward spin on the classic "The Monkey's Paw" story. It is based around the standard of a string of badly worded wishes that backfire tragically and horrifically, but the climax of the story is so terrifying and skin-crawling that it literally had me squirming in my chair. Both as a kid and as an adult, the finale of this story is the one that hits me hardest.

Finally (aside from the creepy wrap-up to the framing sequence), we have "Blind Alley", the tale of a vicious administrator of a home for the blind, who is given a fitting punishment by his charges when they've finally had enough. This one also feels a bit padded and it drags a bit, but there are enough chills and scary moments--not to mention fine acting by Nigel Patrick as the hateful, gluttonous administrator.

"Tales from the Crypt" is a little-seen gem, and I recommend it highly to anyone who thinks fondly of British horror films from the Sixties and Seventies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Trailer Park of Terror' is trashy, gory fun

Trailer Park of Terror (2008)
Starring: Nichole Hiltz, Jeanette Brox, Brock Chuchna, Stefanie Black, Matthew Del Negro, and Trace Adkins
Director: Steven Goldman
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a bus-load of troubled teens on a church retreat crash during a rain-storm, the passengers and their chaparone (Del Negro) take refuge at a nearby trailer park. Unfortunately for them, the trailer park is merely the ghostly reflection of a murderous den of hillbilly criminals that died in a gory, revenge-fueled massacre decades earlier. They now re-inact their brutal ways on hapless travelers, under the command of Norma (Hiltz), one of their victims who has turned victimizer thanks to a deal with the devil (Adkins).

"Trailer Park of Terror" has something for just about every horror fan. It takes nearly every disgusting thing you've seen in a Killer Hicks movie from the 1970s forward and combines them with a sadistic sense of humor that will put you in mind films like "Spider Baby" and "Re-Animator", as well as slightly more modern off-kilter horror features like "From Dusk 'Til Dawn". Further, the ghosts mostly manifest themselves as disgusting walking corpses, so lovers of zombie films will have something to sink their metaphorical teeth into, while admirers of Torture Porn flicks will get to watch one victim get her arm sawed off while tripping so high she doesn't notice until after the fact, and another victim is turned into jerky meat while still alive. And then there's the horny teens that are forced to be the stars of a snuff flick.

I'm not a big fan of mean-spirited and sadistic horror films, so there was quite a bit about "Trailer Park of Terror" I didn't care for. I also like my gory ghost movies and slasher flicks to have a "morality tale" aspect to them, and when they don't--or it's a weak part of the film, as it is here--the film invariably loses me, so that was another reason for me not to like this flick.

However, this thing is so well-written and so finely acted by everyone involved that I couldn't help but like it. Virtually all the characters are so purely one-note and cliched with the hillbilly ghosts  that combining them all in one place manages to breath a form of demented freshness into the film--the writers didn't even try to expand the victims beyond horny teen, asshole teen, druggie teen, and so on; nor to give the ghosts more definition than rapist redneck, robber redneck, cannibal redneck, and so on.

The only character with even the slightest depth to her is Norma, who in life was the only non-psychotic inhabitant of the trailer park... at least until she decided she had enough of them and gunned them all down and killed herself. But the facets to the Norma character never manifests itself quite in the way one expects as the film unfolds, something which becomes which is highlighted and becomes even more interesting due to the plethora of one-note stereotypes that otherwise inhabit the film. It also helps, of course, that Hiltz is a better actress than her repeated casting as a white-trash bimbo (here, and in the television series "The Riches" and "In Plain Sight") warrants. I'd like to see in more horror movies, and in different roles than what she seems to be playing over and over.

The only real down-side that I saw to this film is its somewhat disorganized structure. It starts with an extended sequence in the past and then interrupts the present with a couple of extended flashbacks that both fill in back story but also stand alone to some extent, giving the film the fell of a half-baked anthology. Given the film is based on the anthology comic book series "Trailer Park of Terror", I understand why the filmmakers wanted to make a nod in the direction of their source, but I just wish they had done it in a less choppy fashion.

In the final analysis, though, "Trailer Park of Terror" is well worth watching.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Herbert West is back in 'Bride of Re-Animator'

Bride of Re-Animator (1990)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones, Fabiana Udenio, Mel Stewart, David Gale, and Kathleen Kinmont
Director: Brian Yunza
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Dr. Herbert West (Combs) and his reluctant assistant Dr. Dan Cain (Abbott) set out to create a new person from the best pieces of the deceased, using West's reformulated and improved Re-Agent. But a homicide detective (Jones) is investigating West... and is that the re-animated head of Dr. Hill (Gale) that just showed up at the pathology lab?

"Bride of Re-Animator" sees Herbert West go in a Frankenstein direction with his latest projects, in this follow-up to one of the craziest mad scientist vs. zombies movies ever made.

This sequel doesn't quite have the humor of the original, nor is the script quite as witty. There's is also a sense that the filmmakers here are trying to recapture what they did in the first film, as much of the twisted gross-out humor feels forced, and you can see it coming a mile away in nearly every case, where in the first film is felt natural and was almost always unexpected. (The one exception to this is the shocking development and end to the "bride" that Herbert West creates for Dan, something that also gives rise to the funniest line in the film, delivered by Jeffrey Combs and his lab is being overrun by re-animated monsters.)

One thing I did appreciate about the film is that Herbert West is shown to develop here as he did in the original Lovecraft stories. The unnamed narrator in those tales says at one point that West started out wanting to extend life and engage in scientific exploration but that he later went completely mad and was doing morbid and twisted experiments for no reason other than to do them. That's the West we see in this film... and the experiments he engages in are completely depraved and utterly pointless. (Although the critter made from an eyeball and four fingers for legs is kinda cute.... :) )

Although the script is a little weaker than the original film, the cast is once again excellent, and another excellent performance by Combs makes this film well worth checking out. (Just don't expect to have much of an appetite after the film's final scenes.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Alison Lohman

Born in Palm Springs, California, Alison Lohman caught the showbusiness bug at an early age. A naturally talented singer and actress, by the time she was in high school, she had appeared in over a dozen musicals and other stage productions. The jump to film was a quick one, and her short stature and slender build meant she was often called on to play characters younger than her actual age, such as when she at 22 played a 14-year-old in Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men".

Lohman has mostly appeared in dramas and comedies, but her very first film appearance was in Charles Band's kid-oriented creature feature, "Kraa! The Sea Monster!", which she followed up with a part in the dark sci-fi thriller "The 13th Floor". More recently, she starred in Sam Raimi's 2009 spectacular return to horror "Drag Me to Hell," which was highlighted in the Chiller Channel's documentary "Chiller 13: The Decade's Scariest Movie Moments". (The show aired yesterday, but check your local listings; there are several rebroadcasts coming up.)

For reviews of a couple of Alison Lohman's non-horror films, click here to visit Watching the Detectives. To read my review of "Kraa!", click this link to visit The Charles Band Collection.

Friday, December 17, 2010

'Drag Me to Hell' is a spectacular spook show

Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Dileep Rao, Lorna Raver, David Paymer, and Reggie Lee
Director: Sam Raimi
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

When a loan officer hoping for a promotion at the bank (Lohman) forecloses on an old gypsy woman's house, she is put under a terrible curse: She has three days to find a way to reverse it, or a powerful demon will drag her bodily to Hell.

Christine (Alison Lohman) learns the hard way that ticking off old gypsy women can be bad for your health.
"Drag Me to Hell" is the sort of horor movie that most filmmakers seem incapable of making these days. It's a got a to-the-point script with a well-constructed story, it's got characters the audience can root for (despite their flaws) and, most importantly, it's got plenty of scares. It's a horror movie the likes of which we haven't seen on the big screen since... well, "Cursed" came close, but it was moreof a classic monster movie than a horror fim. This one is a throwback to a time when horror movies were actually good!

In fact, the film even acknowledges it's a reminder of a lost time for horror fillms by starting with the Universal logo from the 1970s and 1980s. And what follows is a film with the spirit of those days but in a thoroughly modern body. Whether you love the movies from back then--like me--or whether you're a kid who has only been exposed to the garbage and crappy remakes that are being passed off as horror movies today, this is a movie you'll get a kick out of.

With its well-mounted scares and finely crafted script, this is a movie that was made with care from the very beginning. It's enhanced even further by excellent performances by every featured actor, with star Alison Lohman earning every dime she was paid to be in this film.

Fans of Raimi's first big hit, "The Evil Dead", are also well-served by this film. It is, literally, the first time that Raimi returns to a movie of that kind. Like the "The Evil Dead", the film starts as a fairly standard horror flick, but then goes crazily over the top as it reaches its climax. But, with 30 years of experience under his belt, this return to the style of that first outing is far more effective than he's ever done it before. (He sort of did it with "Evil Dead 2", but that was a horror-comedy from the outset and was actually very different from both what he did in the original film and what he does here.)

If you're one of those people who habitually turn their nose up at PG-13 horror movies because their not intense enough for you, and therefore haven't seen this film yet, you need to get over your bad self, or at least check out the "unrated director's cut". This is one of the very best big studio horror releases in the past decade, and it gives me hope that maybe there is still a future for the horror film on the big screen. (But don't just take my word for it. The people who put together the countdown show "Chiller 13: The Scariest Movie Moments of the Decade" include several scenes from the film on their list. The show premieres tonight, Friday, on the Chiller cable channel. Check your local listings.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Screaming Dead': When Misty Mundae
started keeping her clothes on

Screaming Dead (2003)
Starring: Rob Monkiewicz, Rachael Robbins, Joseph Farrell, Misty Mundae, and Heidi Kristoffer
Director: Brett Piper
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A sadistic photographer (Farrell) isolates a trio of young models in a house and proceeds to subject them to abuse and psychological torture. His evil manages to awaken the ghost of the madman who built the house, who then picks up where he left off and sets about torturing the women to death slowly.

Although that summary may make "Screaming Dead" sound like yet another piece of offal floating in the stream of torture porn movies--and with Misty Mundae starring, one might think the film to be literal torture porn--but it's more of a " sexy girls in a haunted house" movie in the mode of the cheap and sleazy European horror films from the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, like the worst of those, it spends too long on the wind-up, not getting interesting until the movie is half over, and not getting to the reason most of us would be watching this film: the haunted house stuff. (The rest are going to be even more disappointed; the nudity quotient in the film is very, very low for a Misty Mundae movie and the lesbian nookie is even lower. One of the films better moments even makes playful fun of the lesbian softcore scenes that are a staple of the horror-themed sex comedies that Mundae and the producers behind "Screaming Dead" initially made their reputation on.)

The greatest flaw of the film is the unbelievable nature of its lead villain, the abusive photographer played by Joseph Farrell. A misogynistic, sexual sadist like this character might have been believable in a film made and/or set 40-50 years ago, but no matter how supposedly famous and well-respected he is as an artist, he would have been sued into the poor house or sent to prison long ago. Unless he paid his regular employees many hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money--and with the repeated insistence that his models were working for free that seems unlikely--and his models even more, someone would have put a stop to his real-life "torture porn" long before the film started. No one could get away with abusing a model in this day and age of scandal-hungry, ever-present tabloid media the way he does in the film's opening scene, where a busty young lady is strapped to a table as a spike descends to impale her. Roman Polanski's celebrity and time lets him obscure the fact that he's a pedophile rapist, but if he had behaved that way in 2003, especially if he had beaten the girl instead of "just" drugging her, he'd be as reviled as Michael Jackson. (Of course, if he disposes of the models in a permanent way when he's done, the problem is lessened, but there is no indication that he is an out-and-out murderer, just a sadistic sociopath.)

The film's hero, the real estate company employee played by Rob Monkiewicz, also comes with his own unbelievable qualities to make the plot work. A rough-around-the-edges tough-guy with a chivalrous attitude, he is present at the photo-shoot by order of his employer to make sure the location the photographer has rented isn't damaged, and that the photographer isn't doing things that will expose the real estate company to liability. Within fairly short order, he witnesses several acts on the part of the photographer that his failure to report the photographer to the authorities exposes no only himself but his employers to lawsuits of mind-boggling size, especially when he points out to anyone who will listen how dangerous and illegal locking people in their rooms or chaining them to beds is to anyone within ear-shot. It is not believable on any level that a character drawn as a man of action like this one wouldn't do something to stop the abuses he sees long before he does, even if it means calling the police. While he is set up as a shady character, I also have the impression that he wouldn't be above using either the law or some of his unsavory contacts to shut down someone he finds as disgusting as the photographer. But for the character to try this, the film would either have needed a bigger budget--as it would require more cast and possibly additional locations--or a script that had been better thought out and which got to the point faster.

These problems with the hero and main villain of the film arise from a combination of a desire on co-screenwriter and director Brett Piper is giving us characters with a little depth to them, and the fact that he spends too much time dithering why trying to draw that depth. It takes entirely too long for the real ghosts to arrive on the scene and for the characters to be trapped inside the house. If Piper had move more quickly with introducing his torture-obsessed ghost, none of the problems with the reality of the film would have been an issue, because reality would have been suspended much sooner. And the fact that the film is really clever in the way in mixes the supernatural and hi-tech once, not to mention that it gets pretty scary in its final 15-20 minutes, shows that Piper is capable of delivering the goods... when he finally puts his mind to it. I really wish the first 3/4ths, because the horror that eventually comes deserved a better lead-in.

As for the cast, cinematography, and special effects, everything here is about what you might expect from a Shock-O-Rama/Seduction Cinema film. No one is going to win any awards for their work on the film, but no one needs to hang their shame over their efforts, either.

Farrell and Monkiewicz, as the evil photographer and heroic rental agency rep respectively. Both are as excellent in their roles as can be expected given the dialogue they are called on to deliver and the flabbiness and badly structured script they are performing. Farrell in particular shines in the one truly horrific scene in the movie where Misty Mudae's character is slashed to ribbons by an invisible force as he takes pictures. That same scene is where Mundae has one of several opportunities to show that she actually has a great deal of talent for acting.

But, in the end, "Screaming Dead" neither has enough screaming, nor enough dead, to make it worth checking out. It's of interest to big fans of Misty Mundae as it marks the beginning of her ascension from softcore porn and ultra-low budget movies to more serious-minded horror flicks, as well as the dawn of Pop Cinema as a multi-faceted, modern-day exploitation film production company, but most will be underwhelmed this film. As well done and horrific as the scene of Mundae's character being violated and mutilated is, what leads up to is simply too weak to be worth bothering with.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Dreamcatcher' suffers from a lack of relationships

Dreamcatcher (2003)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, and Tom Sizemore
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

"Dreamcatcher" is the story of four friends who, in childhood, devopled a psychic bond after befriending a retarded boy. That bond has kept them together into adulthood, and on their 20th annual retreat to a remote cabin of drinking, hunting, and male bonding, a horrific terror from another world tests both their friendship and psychic abilities.

Although very intense at times--there is a scene that flips swiftly from bathroom humor to bathroom horror, and it is definately one of the scariest bits of film ever made--the movie suffers greatly from the fact that the viewers never really feel a connection with the four friends at the heart of the tale. They are good, brave people, but beyond that there isn't much of an opportunity to get to know and care about them. Therefore, when they die (and I don't think I'm spoiling anything but mentioning that several of the friends don't make it back to civilization alive, given that this is a horror movie), there is no real emotional response from viewers.

If the director or screenwriter had found a way to make us feel the bond between the friends, this could have been one scary movie, because the monster is darn scary and Morgan Freeman does an excellent job as a villainous military officer--even if anyone who actually knows American military men, they'l be shaking their heads at this character and the whole portrayal of a military operation in the film. But it's the lack of viewers properly feeling the bond between the heroes that is the film's fatal flaw, one that certainly generated by the filmmakers, because one of Stephen King's strengths when writing about life-long friends facing danger and death together, he is always very adept at making us feel almost as though we are part of their fellowship as the story unfolds.

And that's too bad, because without us feeling the connection between the main characters and sharing their pain as they watch their friends die, "Dreamcatcher" never rises above the level of a bad slasher-film merged with a mediocre science fiction monster movie.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Holy Terror of Mohammed

This weekend, another Muslim reminded the world that Islam is a Religion of Peace... the peace of the grave that is. You can read about his glorious expression of devotion to the Prophet Mohammed (may peans be upon him) in "Car Bomb: Christmas Jihad in Stockholm."

And for good measure, here are some celebratory images of the Allah's Prophet, and the faithful worshipers of Allah's Prophet, death cultists who are alternately referred to as Jihadists, Shaheedists, and Mo-Rons.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Suzi Lorraine

Actress and model Suzi Lorraine has for the past decade been one of the best thing about numerous low-budget horror and sci-fi movies, whether appearing under the name of Kelli Summers in soft-core port spoofs like "Lord of the G-Strings" or "The Erotic Time Machine", or under her own name in chillers like "Torment" or "She-Demons of the Black Sun".

Born in 1978, Lorraine is one of a handful of actresses who has emerged from a New Jersey-based hub of low-budget genre film producers who has both the talent and looks to be destined for bigger and better films. A couple of years ago, she co-hosted MonsterFest on AMC, and she has parts in six movies in varying stages of production, ranging from early pre-production to just-about released. She is a talent to watch for many reasons, including the obvious ones.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Re-Animator' is a gory trip into movie madness

Re-Animator (1985)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale and Robert Sampson
Director: Stuart Gordon
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Dan's new roommate and fellow third-year med student, Herbert West (Combs) draws him into his bizarre (and successful) experiments with re-animating dead bodies.

"Re-Animator" is one of the craziest movies ever made, and it ranks up there with "Dead Alive" as one of the funniest creepy movies ever made. While it is nowhere near as gory as "Dead Alive" and the slapstick isn't quite as sharp, it features a cleverer script and a superior cast.

Jeffrey Combs is particularly excellent as Herbert West. We get the sense that he's a bit weird early in the film and highly strung; Combs performance puts the viewer in mind of Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein in the first couple of Hammer Frankenstein films... coldblooded, arrogant and probably sociopathic but not necessarily completely bonkers. When West calmly a bone saw through the chest of a zombie and then immediately sets about reanimating its recently deceased victim, it's clear not just from his actions but from Combs performance that he more than a little off. And when he later animates the severed head of an obnoxious rival (likewise brilliantly played by David Gale), it's clear that he is completely unhinged.

Speaking of the severed head, it gives rise to some of the most unnerving moments in the film, as well some of the funniest. I don't want to go into too much details, because I'd ruin the shock value. Suffice to say, it's something that needs to be seen.

Credit also needs to be go to Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton. While Combs and Gale are giving performances that seem like they just teleported in from a Hammer Films set in 1960, they play their characters mostly low-key. This, combined with the fact that their characters are nice and normal people, give the audience someone to identify with as the film unfolds and provide an island of calm in the middle of the evermore turbulent sea of madness that is this movie.

"Re-Animator" elevates Herbert West among the great movie mad doctors, even if, according to the very informative interview included on the Achor Bay edition of the film, he was actually a minor character in the script and through most of the filming. It wasn't until "Re-Animator" was crafted into a releasable movie that the emphasis shifted to Herbert. (Comments in the interviews on the DVD even make me wonder if the filmmakers knew they were making a comedy until late in the process....)

Whether intentional or accidental art, this is one of those movies that gets everything right, from the mood-setting prologue, through its score (which spoofs Bernard Hermann's famous music for "Psycho") to its chilling end. It's also feels as fresh as when it first released in 1985. This is one of those very rare horror movies that actually deserves the label "classic."

If you are inclined to add this film to your personal library, make sure you get the limited edition "unrated" version from Anchor Bay. The cut presented there may be shorter than the R-rated version, but the humor and shocks are more outrageous than its tamer and slightly bloated counterpart. The disc full of extras is also something that you'll find extremely interesting if you have any interest at all in the filmmaking process. (The same is true of the commentary tracks.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Ingrid Pitt

As a girl, Ingrid Pitt struggled through the real-world horrors of Nazi concentration camps and East German secret police before eventually emerging as one of the most famous fanged faces to hiss at viewers from Hammer horror flicks.

Pitt's first film was the 1964 Spanish film about marauding invisible dinosaurs, "Sound of Horror", and although she played a variety of characters in a range of movies over her 20+ year career, it is her horror roles she is most celebrated for. While most fans remember her best for her role as the psychopathic "Countess Dracula" or as the vampiric corrupter Carmilla in "The Vampire Lovers (both made for Hammer in the early 1970s), I always think of her as the ill-fated diva in "The House That Dripped Blood" and as the evil queen of Atlantis in "Doctor Who: The Time Monster".

Pitt appeared steadily in films through the late 1980s, but she mostly retired acting at the end of the decade. She focused on writing, penning several books and numerous columns about the horror genre, and taking on only the occasional film role. Her final screen appearance was in the 2008 horror film "Sea of Dust".

Pitt passed away in 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Popcorn' is a slasher film worth checking out

Popcorn (aka "Skinner" and "Phantom of the Cinema") (1991)
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, and Ray Walston
Directors: Mark Herrier and Alan Ormsby
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A group of film students stage a horror B-movie marathon at an old movie theater that's about to be torn down. The horror leaps from the screen when a mysterious murderer starts stalking and killing them.

"Popcorn" is a low-budget horror movie that pays homage to the William Castle school of filmmaking and promotion, while delivering loving jabs at the horror genre, its fans, and those who create material for it. It's a self-referential slasher movie that pre-dates "Scream" by a number of years and which is actually more subtle in many places.

The downside to the film is that its main characters are very, very annoying. They are so annoying that I almost quit the movie 20 minutes in. I'm sure the filmmakers were trying to present them as hip and playful, but I these film geeks came across as just a little too geeky. The characters did grow on me, and once the action moved to the movie theater for the horror film festival, I was enjoying myself thoroughly. This is one of those movies it's worth sticking with, despite a rocky start.

Although it was a complete bomb on its original release, "Popcorn" actually a pretty good movie. It's worth seeking out for fans of the slasher genre--except if you're looking for lots of gore. There's very little gore here, but there are several tense and creative murder scenes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'Zombie Cop' should stay in the grave

Zombie Cop (1991)
Starring: Michael Kemper, James Black, Bill Morrison and Ken Jarosz
Director: Lance Randas (aka J.R. Bookwalter)
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Dr. Death, a psychopathic, drug-dealing, child-murdering Voodoo shaman (Black), kills and curses his nemisis, a police detective named Gil (Kemper), causing him to rise from the grave and walk the Earth as a self-aware zombie. With the help of his former partner (Jarosz), the undead cop sets out to find a way to undo the curse and stop the evil of Dr. Death once and for all.

"Zombie Cop" is one of those sad movies that has a fun idea as its origin point, but which is so badly executed that it's hard to even give the creators the consideration they're due for even making the attempt. Some amateurish productions still manage to succeed on raw talent... but there doesn't seem to be much talent here, raw or otherwise.

(Yes, James Black went onto be part of some pretty high profile projects--as well as more movies will Bookwalter--and he's put on some good shows, but this film is the very definition of "inauspicious beginnings". Not to mention unprofessional beginnings if you can trust the audio commentary by producer/director J.R. Bookwalter. Apparently Black was just making up his lines and character as he went without having even read the script. If this is true, it explains some of the illogical and disconnected "facts" Dr. Death reveals about himself as he rambles on.)

Aside from the awful acting, weak camera work, bad editing and atrocious musical score, the film is padded with the obligatory driving scenes and overlong build-ups to the action scenes. Bookwalter also pads his film with the absolute worst of padding sins... on more than one occasion he included what was obvious intended as two different takes of the same scene, with the actors delivering their lines and/or doing their actions more than once as the camera kept rolling. The most blatant of these is the scene where the heroes are reviewing the facts they know about Dr. Death... and they have the same exchange with some slight variations twice in a row.

All of this padding is in a movie that barely clears sixty minutes worth of running time. "Zombie Cop" truly is 35 minutes of excitement crammed into 60 minutes of running time.

And I haven't even touched on the incredibly offensive "comic relief character" in the form of a badly written and performed even worse stereotypical "towelhead" convenience store clerk. This element of the film was so lazily and cheapily done that the white guy in black face trying to pass himself off as a Hindu is literally wearing a towel on his head. As regular readers know, I'm not one to take offense at cartoony ethnic characters, but this one is so badly done that it offended me in every possible way. I almost knocked the film down a point just for that character, but decided that it was a symptom of the overall awfulness of the script and just let it go.

As bad a job as Bookwalter and friends do with this movie, they do manage to get a few things right... and these things keep the movie at the bottom end of a 3 rating.

I appreciate the fact that the production crew was intelligent enough to look at their resources--both financial and talent-wise--and create the movie's effects and action scenes accordingly.

Clearly, no one on the film was much of a make-up artist... and, even more clearly, there was neither the time nor the money to apply even the basic make-up that would have made the zombie cop seem convincing as a walking dead man to the audience. So, they took the very intelligent step of wrapping him up like a mummy, thus avoiding the need for make-up entirely except in two scenes.

Also, no one on the film was much of a fight choreographer, nor were any of the actors particularly skilled at stage fighting, so the fisticuffs were kept to a minimum and attempts at creative editing was used to make the fights and the violence seem exciting.

Still, the number of things they got wrong far outnumber the things they got right. Even the director/producer himself acknowledges this is a pretty awful movie, as he reissued it on DVD as part of Tempe's "Bad Movie Police" series. This series consists of films directed and/or produced by Bookwalter in the 1990s and it purports to be "evidence" against cinematic terrorists that have been collected by a special branch of law enforcement devoted to protecting the public from unwatchable movies.

While it's great that Bookwalter can laugh at himself (and make a few more bucks in the process), it isn't enough to make this movie worth your time. It's not so bad it's good... it's just bad.

Monday, November 29, 2010

'The Skeleton Key' is worn-out and cliched

The Skeleton Key (2005)
Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt
Director: Iain Softley
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Caroline (Hudson), a hospice nurse with personal issues, is hired to help an elderly woman (Rowlands) with her dying, paralyzed husband (Hurt). They live in a creepy old Southern mansion, deep in the bayou, and surrounded by even creepier villages. Caroline soon discovers that there is more going on in the creepy house than meets the eye and that the man she is tending to is more likely the victim of a magical curse than a stroke. Soon, this young non-believer is drawn into a world of folk-magic, curses, and southern discomfort!

"The Skeleton Key" does a nice job of drawing the viewers into the strange environment into which Caroline enters, and it does a fine job at pacing the story, but when it comes to staying involved with the story, viewers have to be willing to accept the fact that everything Caroline does is dictated by plot concerns and horror movie "stupid character" cliches. If viewers don't mind a character who lives her life by "Things Every Horror Movie Character Must Do in Order to Live Up to Bad Writing Principles," the suspense in "The Skeleton Key" never lets up.

When it comes down to it, "The Skeleton Key" is yet another paint-by-numbers supernatural thriller that brings nothing new to the table. It could almost have been a neat film like "Cursed," except that it uses too many of the cliched elements badly. Caroline's behavior and actions is the most glaring of these. The "twist ending" is also so well-worn that I can't comment on it without spoiling the entire movie... but I could have done without it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald is a talented actress with more of a talent for crying than screaming. She was at the height of her fame and acting career when she starred in the 1980s classic teen romantic comedies "The Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", and "Sixteen Candles". She struggled to make a successful transition into adult roles, but she eventually managed to get her acting feet back under her and currently stars in the ensemble series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager".

Along the way, she made several thrillers and a couple of horror films in which she was the best thing they had going for them. She starred in the Australian slasher flick "Cut"; the black comedy "Office Killer", the thrillers "Teaching Miss Tingle", "Malicious", and "Requiem for a Murder"; and the first television mini-series based on Stephen King's "The Stand".

Ringwald's only announced current project is "The Secret Life of the American Teenager", but hopefully she will return to horror films and thrillers soon, because she was the only decent thing about several of the ones she appeared in.

'Cut' doesn't make the grade

Cut (2000)
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Frank Roberts, and Kylie Minogue
Director: Kimble Rendall
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Scream Queen and TV actress Venassa Turnbull (Ringwald) returns to finish a slasher flick that saw production stop after one of the actors went nuts and murdered the director and tried to kill her. As the new crew of film-students (including one played by pop star Kylie Minogue) looking to make a name for themselves start production in an isolated area on the outskirts of one of Australia's big cities, someone dressed in the costume of the film's burn-scarred mad killer starts butchering them, one by one.

If most of that summary sounds familiar to you, then that's because there's nothing new that this film brings to the table--other than having Ringwald in a rather amusing role as an actress whose demands and ego outstrips her starpower. What's worse, the film, probably in an effort to offer what the script writer felt was deep and insightful commentary, presents us with the rather foolish notion that the film and all its prints are cursed--whenever they're screened, the shears-wielding killer manifests himself in the real world, brought forth by all the "creative energy" put into making the film. Why are the prints cursed? Who knows? The film doesn't bother to provide an explanation that seems credible. Maybe the filmmakers were trying to be satirical--Ringwald's character and some of what the film crew do get up to some funny stuff--but whatever their intent, it's obscured by a script that's bad in just about every way.

While refreshingly light on "stupid character syndrome," and filled with a cast of attractive and talented Australian actors and actresses, not to mention plenty of gore and the always enjoyable Ringwald, the script is both so tired AND ludicrous that "Cut" is a must-miss unless you're a hardest of hardcore slasher flick fans.

(I saw a reference somewhere that this film was planned as the first of a trilogy ala "Scream." Since it's been ten years since "Cut" was released, it's safe to assume that it didn't make a enough money to warrant a follow-up. That's a shame, because there are far worse movies that have spawned sequels.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

'Dream Stalker' is not worth losing sleep over

Dream Stalker (1998)
Starring: Valerie Williams (aka Diane Cardea), Mark Dias, John Tyler, and Pamela Hong
Director: Alan Smithee
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

As Brittany (Williams) tries to move on following the accidental death of her violent and domineering boyfriend (Dias), he reaches out from beyond the veil of death to make sure that if he can't live with her than no one will.

"Dream Stalker" deals with the ultimate possessive boyfriend... one whose domineering ways isn't even stopped by death. It is fairly good when compared to other ultra-low budget horror flicks shot on video. The acting is slightly better than average, the camera work is mostly okay, and what effects and make-up it features aren't bad either. The pacing is mostly pretty good, and, although the script could have done with another draft or two to make the dialogue a little better, there aren't too many characters behaving stupidly or illogically due to plot dictates.

That said, the film is marred by some of the worst sound work I've ever witnessed. In several scenes, the dialogue is drowned out almost completely by background noise, as if the crew was using microphones on their video cameras instead of mikes on the actors or booms. It's certainly obvious that the filmmakers never heard of the concept of tracking/rerecording dialogue in post-production.

Even with that annoying techincal flaw, "Dream Stalker" might have earned Four or Five Stars if the last quarter of so of the story hadn't started to fall apart when it should have been building to its climax; it was almost as if the writer or director traded in story for wild hacking and slashing.

Trivia: Alan Smithee is the name a director puts on a film when he wants to disavow himself from it. Someone didn't like the way "Dream Stalker" turned out so he or she is probably thrilled the film will probably never make the transition to DVD!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'The Reptile' is Hammer at its most gothic

The Reptile (1966)
Starring: David Baron, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, and Michael Ripper
Director: John Gilling
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A retired military officer and his wife (Baron and Daniel) inherit a cottage in a small Cornish village after his brother dies under mysterious circumstances. When he moves there with his wife (Daniel), he discovers that there has been a rash of deaths and that all of them can be attributed to a rare poisonous animal found only in far-away India. The obvious perpetrator behind these dastardly deeds is the reclusive doctor of theology (Williams) who has made a career out of studying obscure religions in the Far East and who keeps his daughter a virtual prisoner in their manor house. But throw in a mysterious swarthy fellow, the daughter’s strangely hypnotic effect on her father when she plays the sitar, and things are a little less clear. Will the newly arrived couple’s only ally in the area (Ripper) help them stop the spreading evil before it consumes them all?

“The Reptile” is the most strongly gothic-in-genre of all the Hammer horror flicks. There’s the ogre-like father and the oppressed daughter; there’s the mysterious Outsiders who are bringing a corrupting influence to wholesome British society, and there are curses and victims and victimizers who may not be what they seem. It’s a well-mounted film that contains several moments of genuine chills.

“The Reptile” would have gotten an 8-Star rating if not for the inexplicable over-acting displayed by all the principles in the first half of the movie; inexplicable because the leads in the film director John Gilling helmed immediately prior to this one (“Plague of the Zombies", which even used many of the same sets) was blessed with beautifully restrained performances that made the film even creepier and more believable. It’s even odder because Michael Ripper gives the same type of understated performance he did in “Plague.”)

As the film evolves, the over-blown performances start to fit with the tenor of the going-ons, but they seem so out of place early in the film that it’s an irritant. The movie’s resolution is also a bit weak, with the title creature going down without much of a fight. The combination of the overacting in the first reel and the shaky climax were enough to knock off a Star. Still, it’s an entertaining film if you enjoy Hammer-style movies or gothic tales.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Karloff

In celebration of Boris Karloff's birthday, I present a review of one of last great screen appearances. For more reviews of films featuring this great actor, visit The Boris Karloff Collection.

Targets (1968)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Tim O'Kelly, Nancy Hsueh and Peter Bogdanovich
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

As aging horror movie star Byron Orlok (Karloff) prepares to announce his retirement, a seemingly average young man, Bobby (O'Kelly), embarks on a killing spree. The creator of make-believe monsters and the real-life monster come face to face when Bobby's day of terror culminates with a sniper rampage at the drive-in where Orlok is making his final public appearance.

In "Targets", Bogdanovich expertly interweaves two storylines that only really connect in a single scene at the film's climax. In the process, he manages to build a tremendous amount of tension, because we come to like and care about Orlock, his secretary (Hsueh), and the young writer/director (Bogdanovich) who is trying to convince him to make at least one last movie--his movie. The audience can see that these three characters are going to walk head-long into Bobby's gun-sights, and Bogdanovich establishes that he is a good shot.

Although the entire film is perfectly paced, well-acted--with Karloff in particular shining, despite his health being poor at the time--and looks far better than the shoe-string budget it was shot on should allow, it's the scene where the two stories finally completely merge, with Orlok and Bobby confronting each other that really makes the movie for me.

This is a film that's definately worth seeing for fans for suspense and horror movies and admirers of Boris Karloff. It's the last good movie in Karloff's career and like so many of his films it holds up spectacularly well.

As I make this post, "Targets" is officially unavailable commercially. A few copies may still be had at retailers and you want to make sure you get the "Paramount Widescreen Collection" DVD version of the film. That disc includes an interview with Bogdanovich. It gives some fascinating insights into how the movie came to be. It's a very different film than it started out as--a throw-away Roger Corman production made to fulfill Karloff's contractual obligations to the producer--and it's a story that illustrates that pure business decisions can sometimes lead to great art, even on shoe-string budgets and tight shooting schedules.

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Devil Hunter Yohko' is weakened
by too much sexual content

Devil Hunter Yohko, Episode One (1991)
Director: Katsuhisa Yamada
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

In "Devil Hunter Yohko," a typical (well, typical for late 80s/early 90s Japanese cartoons) 16-year-old girl discovers that her birthright and duty is to assume the role of "devil hunter" and turn back an impending demonic invasion of Earth.

"Devil Hunter Yohko" is an early 1990s direct-to-video animated series from Japan. There are some glimmers of cool ideas in the 45-minute first episode, but they are overwhelmed by a crass, hypersexual attitude that runs through the story. The episode starts with Yohko waking up from a prophetic wet dream, and it continues through her friends being corrupted by "lust demons" who want to make sure she loses her virginity before she awakens to her devil hunter powers--because they only manifest if the girl is pure in mind and body. That stuff is sort of tasteless and leads to a softcore cartoon porn scene between a couple of teenaged characters--one of them possessed by a demon--but the show is very crass and tasteless in its portrayal of Yohko's mother who seems to want to see her daughter sleep with any available male... doesn't care who, so long as Yohko is spreading her legs.

Although I imagine that this series would be highly placed on any Top Ten Anime Series list compiled by Gary Glitter or Roman Polanski.

I am not a prude, but the sexual references and themes in the first episode of "Devil Hunter Yohko" were just too tasteless for me. I understand the series gets better, so I may give the next installment a try.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Hazel Court

British actress Hazel Court brought beauty, grace, and even a little menace when she starred in a string of horror and suspense movies between the years of 1952 and 1964, after which she retired from acting to focus  on her family and a career as a sculpture. Before appearing in "Ghost Ship" (1952), she had been on  the path to be a more traditional leading lady-type actress, but horror fans are forever grateful for the turn her career took at that point.

Among the two dozen or so horror pictures she appeared in are superb films like "The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Masque of the Red Death" and "classics" like "Devil Girl from Mars."

Hazel Court passed away in 2008 at the age of 72.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's not always the hitcher who's dangerous

Road Kill (aka "Road-Kill U.S.A.") (1994)
Starring: Sean Bridgers, Andrew Porter, Deanna Perry, Nick Searcy, Jeff Pillars, and Andy Boswell
Director: Tony Elwood
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Josh (Bridger), a naive kid hitchhiking his way to California, is picked up by a couple (Perry and Porter) who are murdering and robbing their way across the United States.

"Road Kill" is a strange movie. I'm not entirely sure what the overall point of it was, but my enjoyment in watching came from guessing when Josh, who must be the most sheltered of sheltered small-town boys, was going to realize there was something seriously wrong with the people he was traveling with. I also got a kick out of the way the film drifts further and further into a reality that exists separate from anywhere else, a place when the mad-dog killers and their clueless passenger can pick up a hitchhiking clown (literally... with balloons, big shoes, and full facepaint) in the middle of nowhere!

I'm hesitant to say much more about the actual content of the film, as it's one of those movies that's best experienced with an unbiased mind... my summary above may even give away a little too much about the flick. Think of it as "The Hitcher" in reverse--the innocent sap is picked up by the maniac instead of the other way around--but with more humor and far stranger. (And with a creepier death scene... one of the victims is murdered by having his nose and mouth super glued shut!)

This is the third movie I've seen by Tony Elwood, and it confirms without a doubt that he is a master of making low-budget movies with nasty edges to them. If you want to see a film that truly embodies the "grindhouse" vibe that everyone was talking about a few years back--and which is being dragged out again in the context of the "I Spit On Your Grave" remake--and you want to make sure you're not subjecting yourself to complete and utter crap, you need to get a copy of this film, the underrated horror classic "Killer" (review here), or Elwood's most recent film "Cold Storage" (review here). He has a great eye for how to set up a scene, and he knows to get the most drama and suspense out of what he has to work with. And in a picture where much of the action is fairly static--there are a lot of conversations in cars and hotel rooms--this is a valuable ability.

"Road Kill" is a quirky thriller that's definately worth a look. The low budget origins of the film are visible at times--there are some issues with sound quality and color correction here and there--but the film offers more than enough excitement and content in other areas to make up for such minor blemishes. With a clever and strange script, a cast of decent actors--Andrew Porter as the psychotic driver Clint, Jeff Pillars as a slimey hotel owner, and Nick Searcy as a clown that I think any of us might want to kill if subjected to him, are especially effective in their roles--and some gruesome death scenes, it's a ride you should take.

For more information on this and other films by Tony Elwood, visit the website for production company Synthetic Fur by clicking here.

Speaking of production companies and distribution, I found it extremely amusing to compare the current DVD cover artwork with the original VHS artwork that distributor API promoted it with. Here they are, side by side.

While I love the sort of art on the right--as anyone who worked with me when I've been in positions to commission artwork for covers and interior illustrations--one has to wonder exactly what movie the artist was painting this image for. While if you squint and turn out head at a sharp angle, you can kinda-sorta see the characters from the film, nothing else in that picture reflects what's in the movie. The big-head photo montage from the DVD release actually captures the mood of the film more accurately. (And, yeah, I used a non-representative picture as the main illo for this article, but that's because I was unable to get any screen captures I liked from the DVD.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Little Corey Gorey' should be avoided

Little Corey Gorey (1993)
Starring: Todd Fortune, Pat Gallagher, Brenda Pope, and Greg Sachs
Director: William Morroni
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A high school student (Fortune) who suffers non-stop abuse at the hands of sadistic stepmother (Gallagher) and stepbrother (Sachs) finds freedom from torment through a string of mishaps and murders. But will he also find romance with the school slut (Pope)?

"Little Corey Gorey" is an attempted dark comedy that does everything wrong. It's got a bad script that is a chaotic mess with several subplots that don't amount to anything, it's got a cast of actors that range from weak to awful, indifferent camerawork, virtually bloodless murders (despite the implication in the title and the fact they're committed with chunks of glass, a table saw, an ax, and a car), and some very bad re-dubbing of scenes at many occassions.

It's a film that's only fit for a bad movie night. However, the characters, their actions, and the bizarre, twisted modern-day fairy tale vibe that echoes through the film are sufficiently strange to make it a perfect candidate for such.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Independent film seeking distributor

Producer Matt Compton dropped me (and several others) an email to call attention to "Midnight Son", a vampire movie that is currently in the final stages of production, but still without a distributor.

Compton describes the movie as "a gritty, realistic new look at the vampire genre."

Here's the preview for the film, currently found on YouTube:

It certainly looks interesting to me, and I hope that I'll be able to see the full movie some day. But with the economy as it is and the ongoing contraction of the home video rental stores, I can only imagine how hard it must be to get an independent horror film in front of audiences while making sure you, your actors and crew, and your investors get paid at the end of the day.

For more information about "Midnight Son," click here to visit the official website.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Debbie Rochon

Since her film debut in the late 1980s, Debbie Rochon has been a familiar and much-loved face (and body) for watchers of cheap horror movies and even cheaper erotica. She has appeared in over 160 films from the likes of Lloyd Kaufman, Charles Band, JR Bookwalter, and John Bachus. From soft core porn spoofs of popular horror movies, to slasher films, to thrillers, to sci-fi, Rochon has appeared in just about every conceivable kind of low-budget movie. Her better roles so far have been in the films from Band and Kaufman, however.

Now in her 40s, Rochon remains one of the busiest Scream Queens working today. She is featured in 15 forthcoming films that are in varying states of completion, such as "Mark of the Beast, an adaptation of a Ruyard Kipling story in which she co-stars with Ellen Muth; and "Don't Look in the Basement!", a remake of the 1970s proto-slasher flick.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Japanese demons run wild in 'Ninja Wars'

Ninja Wars (aka "Death of a Ninja", "Iga Magic Story" and "Black Magic Story") (1982)
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Noriko Watanabe, Akira Nakao, Jun Miho, Mikio Narita, Noboru Matsuhashi, and Sonny Chiba
Director: Mitsumasa Saito
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A feudal warlord (Nakao) allies with a demon (Narita) and the five monks in his service after it is prophesied that if he wins the heart of a beautiful princess (Watanabe), he will someday rule the world. To ensure their success, the demon monks kidnap the princess's virginal twin sister (also Watanabe) who was being secretly raised as a ninja, and from whose tears they hope to brew a love potion. But they didn't take her fellow ninja and sweetheart Jotaro (Sanada) into account, nor the ferocity with which he would attempt to rescue his love.

"Ninja Wars" is a big-budget, epic fantasy movie set during the Warring States period of Japan's history. It's got a wild, twisting and turning plot that the above-summary only touches on part of, because to say more would ruin some of the film's surprises. It's got romance, spectacular battles, and black magic applied in bizarre ways. It's got pure-hearted virgins, brave ninjas, honorless nobles, and Samurai who are more than what they seem. It's a film that will surprise you, because scene after scene will have you saying, "No... they didn't just do THAT, did they?!"

The version I watched (which was titled "Death of a Ninja") featured some dodgy dubbing--with weak acting and clearly mistranslated dialogues--but the superior quality of the film still shined through that hobbling. It's nearly perfectly paced, and it keeps the viewers attention through fast action and a steady stream of unexpected developments. The only two things that annoyed me about the film was a flashback sequence that flashed back to things we had just seen on screen some ten minutes earlier, and the somewhat unsatisfying ending. (It's a fitting end, but it wasn't strong enough for my tastes.)

Fans of tales set in 15th through 17th century Japan, fans of Samurai epics, and fans of quirky martial arts and fantasy movies should find much to enjoy here. And horror fans will certainly enjoy the bizarre demonic machinations and certain shocking scenes I don't want to detail, because I will spoil their impact.

The deadliest of blogathons....