Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Fear: My Name is Kris Kringle

Here's a horror short film to make your Christmas Eve just a little more chilling....

My Name is Kris Kringle (2010)
Starring: Bradley James, R.A. Mihailoff, Azure Parsons, and Donnie Jeffcoat
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Mary Woronov

Mary Woronov got her start in show business as part of Andy Warhol's entourage, but it wasn't until she parted ways with Warhol (and drug addiction) that her career really began to take off.

Since her debut in 1966, Woronov has appeared in 90 or so movies, many of them horror films or black comedies. Among her best roles--even if the films aren't necessarily all that good-- are "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1971), "Sugar Cookies" (1973), "Death Race 2000" (1975), "Hollywood Boulevard" (1976), "Eating Raul" (1982), "Blood-o-Rama" (1984). "TerrorVision" (1986), "The Halfway House" (2003), and "The House of the Devil" (2003).

In addition to her acting, Woronov is also an accomplished writer with three published books to her name.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cancer research kills on the island of terror

Island of Terror (aka "Night of the Silicates) (1966)
Starring: Edward Judd, Peter Cushing, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne and Sam Kydd
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Bone specialist Dr. David West (Judd) and pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Cushing) travel to a remote island off the coast of England to help stem an outbreak of a strange disease that seems to be dissolving the very bones of animals and island residents. The soon discover that the island is about to be overrun by gigantic, mobile, mutated cells that survive by sucking calcium and other minerals from their victims. Will the scientists find a to destroy the seemingly indestructible, rapidly multiplying monsters before they kill everything on the island... and then spread to the rest of the world? More importantly, will the lovely Toni (Gray) slap Dr. Stanley for his heavy-handed flirtatious comments?

"Island of Terror" is a GREAT monster movie with a fabulous setting and a cast that deliver excellent performances. The movie starts creepy, builds tension steadily, and ends up with an exciting climax where survivors are crammed into a single building for a desperate last stand. It is a classic in every sense of the word, from the Golden Age of sci-fi in at the cinema.

I've heard this film compared to the original "Dr. Who" series, both in a favorable and a disparaging sense. I tend to think the comparison is accurate, particularly of the John Pertwee and Tom Baker years. The monsters bear some resemblance in design to many of those we saw on "Dr. Who" (and perhaps they may seem laughable to the "sophisticated" viewer in the 21st century) and the setting, nature, and development of the story is likewise similar to the stories featured on the TV show. However, "Island of Terror" is much better paced, far better acted, and far better filmed than any "Dr. Who" storyline. (I also suspect that a couple of people who have made such comments have had limited exposure to British sci-fi from the 50s and 60s... and so perhaps everything would remind them of "Dr. Who.")

If you like monster movies and classic sci-fi films, you owe it to yourself to check out "Island of Terror." Another reason to see it is Peter Cushing's performance. He gets to show off his more comedic side, as his character of Dr. Stanley is a lovable joker who is always playfully hitting on his colleagues fiance, Toni.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Embeth Davidtz

American actress Embeth Davidtz grew up in South Africa where she began her acting career with the National Theatre Company. She soon moved onto film, however, with her first screen appearance being in the 1989 sci-fi horror flick "Mutator".

After making a few more films in South Africa,  Davidtz returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, CA. She has appeared in a range of moves and television series, but the bulk of her resume consists of thrillers and horror films, including such greats as "Army of Darkness" (1992), "Fallen" (1998), "The Hole" and "Thirteen Ghosts" (both in 2001), and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". (2011).

After she was was married in 2002, Davidtz output slowed slightly, as she has been tending to family and her two children. She continues to have leading roles in films and television series, and she recently completed work on "Paranoia", a thriller slated for release in 2013.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Worst documentary crew ever?

Ghost Attack on Sutton Street (2012)
Starring: Lee Roberts, Michelle Gant, Pete Cox, Matthew Davies, and Michelle Hare
Director: Philip Gardiner
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A documentary crew follows Haunted Events UK on an investigation of hauntings at the Sutton Street indoor market in this clumsy attempt at making a... well, to be honest, I'm not sure WHAT they were trying to accomplish.

"Ghost Attack on Sutton Street" is either a failed mockumentary, a failed at attempt at making a "ghosts are real" hoax film ala "The Last Exorcism", or a failed promotional film for Haunted Events UK. Whatever the intent, the end result doesn't make the future career prospects of any of the participants seem particularly rosey.

Let's set aside for a moment that the fact that Gardiner and his B-camera man are the worst documentary crew in the history of filmmaking, if this film was supposed to be a real documentary. No camera is EVER pointed where something is supposed to happen--even if the "ghost hunter" is saying, "Over there, something is going to happen with that toy car over there"--the cameras remain on the "ghost hunter" or some other equally uninteresting bit of scenery until someone shouts "Oh my God! Something DID happen over there!"

But, of course, by the time the camera turns to where an event is happening, it's already over--the ghost is done moving a toy car or knocking over a chair, or what have you.

And the supposed evidence of ghosts that Haunted Events UK presents in this film are so hackneyed or transparently clumsy that even the most game middle school girls would be unlikely to be terrified by them. They rank from medium tricks that were stale back when Arthur Conan Doyle was being duped by them, to clumsy hoaxes that a child would be able to see through.

The most lame way the Haunted Events UK tries to "prove" the existence of ghosts to the audience involves toy cars. Toy cares are left sitting on counters and if the car is later found to have been moved, a ghost has been by. Why do ghosts like to play with Matchbox Cars? Who knows. But the toy cars DO get moved... when no one is looking, of course. Or when the "paranormal expert" is looking at a toy car and the camera is conveniently filming something completely irrelevant. The car trick MIGHT be taken as a sign of ghostly activities, because the crew is supposedly the only people inside the building if not for the fact that the "paranormal expert" sends half the team away because it's getting too dangerous due to ghost activity about halfway through the movie. If Haunted Events UK is in the business of staging "haunted house" tours, then it's pretty clear who's moving the cars or rattling chains or what have you. Basically, anyone who rolls their eys at the "my Maglite is blinking, so a ghost must be trying to communicate!" nonsense from SyFy's "Ghosthunters".

I've touched twice on the awful cinematography in the film, but it pales in comparison to the omnipresent, nerve-grating score that does more to undermine the sense of reality that was most likely the goal of the film than the third-rate carnival acts of the Haunted Events UK crew could ever do. It's overblown, tedious, and consistently out of place.

My final take on "Ghost Attack on Sutton Street" is that it's a film that shouldn't be viewed by anyone, except maybe aspiring filmmakers who might benefit from a compact collection of every single thing you could do wrong when trying to make a hoax movie.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A horrible horror movie

Slaughtered (2008)
Starring: Chris Smith, Arlisha Fogle, Aschleigh Jensen, Rebecca McQuen, and Cheri Lynn
Director: Anthony Doublin
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Harold (Smith) is a psychopath who murders nude models and posts gory images of his crimes on a pay/members-only website. As he goes about his business of booking small-time models and murdering them, the world's worst detective (Fogle) is hired to locate one of Harold's victims. But something else is closing in on Harold--the restless spirits of his victims. Is he truly being haunted, or are the ghosts just a figment of his deterioriating sanity?

"Slaughtered" is a movie so bad that the only good things I can say about it is that it's well-lit and the camera is in focus at all times. And I'd be appalled if those weren't quality, given that the writer/director of this should-have-been cinematic abortion is a well-established lighting technician and cameraman with several regular gigs on television series to his credit.

But as a director and a screen-writer, he is completely incompetent.

We have a central character--I can't bring myself to call him a protagonist--who is both loathsome and uninteresting, whose only defining characteristics is that he wears too much eye-liner and likes to kill women. Oh... and he's also a peeping tom who likes watching his models undress via a webcam before he... makes them undress and kills them. We never learn anything about Harold... who he is, why he is doing what he's doing, or any other stuff that might make him a little interesting. He never becomes more than a crazy goth in too much eye-liner.

We have a character who should be the hero, but who is so irrelevant to the plot that by the time she arrives at Harold's house, the movie's over... his last victim has freed herself and ghosts have exacted gory revenge on him. (Yeah, I just spoiled the movie. If you had watched it, you would have wished I had and saved you the misery.) She's also, as I mentioned in the teaser summary at the top of the review, the world's dumbest detective; while working on her missing person's case, she calls up the local police station and offers sexual favors in exchange for open missing persons cases. I've no doubt she's real popular around the squad room, since those sorts of things are not under lock and key... the police are trying to find those people. A Google search might have given her the same information as those files. And then there's the fact she spends much of the movie in her office (which looks like it might be a nook in her kitchen) trying to "hack" Harold's members-only snuff-port site. Why didn't get herself a pre-paid Mastercard, billed to her client, and just sign up for the site under a fictitious name?!

Of course, the police in the area of California where the film takes place--Santa Barbara? I think it was mentioned at some point, but my brain was starting to turn off by that point, so I'm not sure--aren't much smarter. Nude models are going missing... nude models who are contacted via their promotional web sites, via email... nude models who have computers and email accounts where correspondence is stored. It seems to me that it wouldn't take more than a couple of vanished women with emails from Harold in their inbox to make the police interested in him and his little web-venture. That and the fact that he disposes of their bodies, fully intact, in dumpsters. Neither Harold, nor the cops, have apparently watched even one episode of "CSI". Or "Quincy, M.E.". Or even "Columbo." Hell, the world's dumbest detective looked at the email account of one victim and zeroed in on Harold.

Some of the laziest writing I have ever seen in a film that was supposedly made by a professional is on display here. The cipherous nature of Harold. the idiocy and plot irrelevancy of the character who should be the hero, and the absence of any apparent thought devoted to how Harold can be getting away with his serial killing are only the worst sins among a multitude.

Moving onto the direction... words fail me. Either Doublin managed to make scenes of girls getting undressed boring, or I need to have my testosterone levels checked. We're treated to three scenes of girls getting undressed and then getting dressed (before undressing again and being murdered), and the next one is duller than the one that went before. Even the kill scenes are boring, with only the first one having even the slightest impact, possibly because it was a bit unexpected. Usually with films like this, I'm disgusted or irritated--I do not like movies whose central and only theme is the brutalization of women and other innocent victims--but with "Slaughtered", each murder brought a greater degree of indifference.

Perhaps it has something to do with the acting, which was almost as universally flat as the direction. The fact that Doublin is a seasoned professional probably helped him keep the "playing to the back row at the community theatre"-style performances that usually plague movies of this kind. The actors here all seemed comfortable in front of a camera and aware of how to play to it... but one can also easily understand why very few of the cast have credits beyond this picture, or other films directed by Doublin.

"Slaughtered" is lurking inside several multi-packs from Maxim Media's Pendulum Pictures imprint. Wherever you find it, save it for last... or, better yet, don't bother with it at all. The only reason to watch it is to gain a greater appreciation for Mario Bava's excellent "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" and Robert Hammer's "Don't Answer the Phone". Those films have many elements in common with Slaughtered... only they were made by directors who understand how to put a movie together.

Saturday Scream Queen: Shayla Beesley

Shayla Beesley is an emerging character actress who has had parts in a range of comedies, thrillers, and horror films, playing a variety of different teenaged girls. 

Beesley first starring role in a horror film came in "Perkins' 14" (2009) and she's been growing her horror resume ever since. She is currently filming two horror films slated for release in 2013 ("Spreading the Darkness" and "The Devil's Ink") and recently completed work on a third one ("MoniKa").

In addition to acting, Beesley is working toward a BA in Psychology.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Aliens are out to sea in 'Virus'

Virus (1998)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin
Director: John Bruno
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A tugboat crew trying to salvage a mysteriously deserted Russian research vessel find themselves battling for survival against a hurricane and the alien lifeform that has taken up residence onboard the ship.

"Virus" is a sci-fi action thriller that doesn't feature the most original of scripts--the late 1990s seems to have been the era of ghost ships and hurricanes, and the featured alien menace is a cross between Stargate's Replicators and Star Trek's Borg--but it's well-acted, features great special effects and sets, and is full of tension and fun, gory action from beginning to end. And it's probably a good thing that it moves so fast, because you almost don't have time to think about some of the weaker parts of the story nor a couple of the fairly large plot holes.

If you're looking for sci-fi thriller you can watch without taxing your brain too much, this is the film to seek out. Otherwise, you can skip it, like just about everyone did when it first appeared in theatres. (It cost over $75 million to make and it barely took in $14 million in the US theaters.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Beginning Year Four

Today, the Saturday Scream Queen series enters its fourth full year as a regular series on the Cinema Steve blog network. Almost every Saturday since December 5th, 2009, I've posted at least one mini-profile of an actress who caught my eye in one or more horror movies, for one or more reasons. The series debuted with Valerie Leon and I've spotlighted more than 160 actresses since. (When I say "almost every Saturday," it doesn't mean I've skipped any weeks, but that on Saturday July 21, 2012, the profile was a "non-profile" in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to senseless violence. And then there's this post....)

In celebration of what has gone before and in anticipation of the beautiful and talented actresses I will be writing about in the years to come, I am presenting my 20 favorites that I've covered so far. While every actress I cover in the series qualifies as a favorite, if a film features one of the ladies listed here, it goes on the top of the "To Be Watched" pile.

Click on the links under the photos to see the past profiles and reviews of films featuring the actress, either here on Terror Titans or one of other Cinema Steve blogs.

Evelyn Ankers
At Shades of Gray and Terror Titans

Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae)
At Terror Titans

Veronica Carlson
At Terror Titans

Jamie Lee Curtis
At Terror Titans

Maryam d'Abo
Adrienne Barbeau
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Audrey Hepburn
At Terror Titans and Watching the Detectives

Jennifer Love Hewitt
Kate Jackson
Milla Jovovich
Cheyenne King
Suzi Lorraine
Jacqueline Lovell (aka Sarah St. James)
At Terror Titans and The Charles Band Collection

Soledad Miranda
At Terror Titans and Shades of Gray

Barbara Shelley
Patty Shepard
Barbara Steele
Gloria Stuart
Faye Wray

Cushing shines in "Night of the Ghoul"

Night of the Ghoul (aka "The Ghoul" and "The Thing in the Attic") (1975)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, John Hurt, Alexandra Bastedo, Ian McCulloch, Gwen Watford, and Don Henderson
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A group of drunken young people out for a drive (Carlson, Bastedo, McCulloch) get lost on country back roads. Ignoring the warning of a crazy country bumpkin (Hurt), they seek refuge in the isolated mansion of Dr. Lawrence (Cushing). When the visitors start dying messily, the secret of the mansion is revealed in all its horror.

"Night of the Ghoul" is a great-looking film burdened a meandering, unoriginal script full of badly written dialogue, which in turn leads to weak performances by most of the featured actors. The one standout performance is delivered by Peter Cushing. It's not unusual that he is the only decent thing about a movie he appears in, but his performance as the tortured Dr. Lawerence is one of his very best and most moving screen appearances. This may be because Cushing reached into himself and used the real pain he still felt from the death of his wife--who had been the center of his world in every way--in one of two tributes he gave to their love on screen. (The other appears in the 1972 anthology film "Tales from the Crypt".)

Aside from Cushing, there's nothing else particularly noteworthy here... and nothing that you haven't seen done better in other movies. Even the Big Secret of Dr.Lawrence's creepy old mansion, while pretty horrendous, is presented in such a feeble fashion that what was supposed to be shocking feels more like a "how terrible... and they were such nice people, too" moment.

"Night of the Ghoul" is a film that admirers of the great talent that was Peter Cushing should seek out. Everyone else won't be missing much if they pass on this film.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Perhaps the hardest to spell title ever

Ssssssss (1973)
Starring: Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies, Richard B. Shull, Tim O'Connor, and Jack Ging
Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

 Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin) is the world's leading snake expert, yet he labors in obscurity, mostly shunning the academic community and gaining some of his research funding by conducting sideshow-like demonstrations of snake venom extraction. But he is working on a very important research project--one which he believes can save the world--and his new lab assistant (Benedict) is about to become his latest test subject.

The awkwardly named "Ssssssss" (that's seven esses) is a well-crafted throwback to the monster movies of the 1940s and 1950s, complete with a brilliant-but-bonkers scientist who is scorned by the academic establishment and who works in his isolated lab with his beautiful daughter, the hunky younger scientist who becomes her love interest, and the creatures he creates for the good of SCIENCE!

But the film is more than that. It takes all the classic elements (and throws in a carnival freakshow and a bumbling town sheriff just to make the film feel even more like one of the classics) and deploys them in such a way that even the most experienced watcher of B-movies will be kept guessing as to exactly what's going to happen next.

The only complaint I can think to mount against the film is that an aspect of the ending is a little hard for me to accept. But, given that this is a movie about a mad scientist who is trying to turn people into snakes, I can't be too picky...

A key to the film's success is the performance by Strother Martin as the mad scientist. Martin is a talented actor who gives an A-level performance in this B-level movie, and his character's affection for the animals used in his research--especially Henry, the snake that is his best friend and drinking buddy--along with his obvious love for his daughter makes it so viewers like him. Even though Dr. Stoner is doing something horrible to an innocent and equally likable character--David the Lab Assistant--we can't help but root for him as the film progresses. Some expert screenwriting that brings perfectly timed encounters with the film's antagonists (an obnoxious jock and repulsive university lecturer) makes sure the audience remains in Stoner's camp up to the end. 

Not since "The Ape" has there been a mad scientist that I've felt more favorably disposed toward, even as I knew it was going to end badly for him and he was going to pull other characters down with him. 

Whether you love or hate "mad doctor" movies, if you have a love of horror films that rely on good acting and interesting characters rather than gore and cheap scares, I think you'll enjoy "Sssssss".

Monday, November 26, 2012

Starts okay, but it's all downhill after that

Perkins' 14 (2009)
Starring: Patrick O'Kane, Shayla Beesley, Richard Brake, Michale Graves, and Mihaela Mihut
Director: Craig Singer
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Ten years ago to the day, 14 children vanished without a trace in the small town of Stone Cove, including Deputy Sheriff Dwayne Hopper's son. When the story told by a drunk driver (Brake) doesn't seem right to Dwayne (O'Kane), he inadvertently solves the mystery that's haunted him and the town for a decade... but in doing so unleashes a horror created by a madman bent on revenge.

"Perkins' 14" starts out strong, with a cast of characters that we can either relate to, or that viewers sense are either going to be heroes or murderers as the film unfolds, and a host of ominous mysteries that further hook and draw the audience in. The strength of the film's first act is such that it makes up for the excessively oppressive atmosphere that is present literally from the film's first frame.

But it doesn't last. The strong opening soon dissolves into a morass of lazy and downright bad writing, where characters do stupid things because of plot-dictates or rampant ignorance on the part of screenwriters when it comes to police procedure in the real world; where several of the mysteries presented in the film's beginning are left behind, mostly forgotten or resolved in a half-assed fashion; and where what was left of the early promise is swept away by a foolish and miserable finale.

An iron-clad truism about the horror genre is that a successful film starts with a strong script. No matter how many jump-cuts or gory scenes of maniacs munching on the guts of their victims that is thrown at the audience, the crew can't cover fatal flaw of a bad script. And in the case of "Perkins' 14", it's a shame that more effort wasn't put into making the script better, because this could have been a really good movie... instead of one that consistently got worse until the end credits mercifully started rolling.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Cheryl Ladd

Born in 1951, American actress Cheryl Ladd's first major role came in 1970 as Jill Valentine on "Josie and the Pussycats". For more than 40 years, she has been a popular and highly sought-after television actress.

Best known for the original "Charlie's Angels" (1977 - 1981) and "Las Vegas" (2003 - 2007). Ladd has had guest-starring roles on just about every mainstream genre of TV series, as well as roles in an equally diverse range of television movies--including horror films.

While not every film Ladd has been in can be described as good by even the most generous-hearted reviewer, she can usually be counted on to be a bright spot even in the most wretched of melodramas--and the same goes for the horror films and thrillers she's been in. Horror highlights on her extensive resume include "Satan's School for Girls" (1973), "Jekyll & Hyde" (1990), "The Haunting of Lisa", "Kiss and Tell" (both in 1996), and "Every Mother's Worst Fear" (1999)

Some of Ladd's few excursions into non-television projects also include thrillers or horror films -- "The Treasure of Jamaica Reef"/"Evil in the Deep" (1975) and "Poison Ivy" (1992).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day of the Turkey Review: Jennifer's Body

This is the best movie I'll be reviewing today.

 Jennifer's Body (2009)
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Megan Fox, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, and J.K. Simmons
Director: Karyn Kusama
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When an evil indie band sacrifices popular high-school girl Jennifer (Fox) to Satan in exchange for fame and fortune, they should have listened to her best friend (Seyfried) when she told them Jennifer had lied about being  a virgin. Their sacrifice returns from the dead as the vessel demon who must consume the body and souls of her classmates.

"Jennifer's Body" is actually a better movie than I had been led to believe. It had been described to me by someone whose opinion I usually trust as "a badly done and dull high school chick-flick jazzed up with a killer demon." 

While I guess I can see the chick-flick aspect--the driving force at the heart of the film is the relationship between "Needy" and Jennifer, a relationship so close and full of love that it survived even the destruction of Jennifer's soul and "tainted" the demon that had taken her body--I hardly found it to be badly done. While it didn't really contain any surprises, but what's here is well executed, the actors all give a good accounting of themselves, and the script moves forward at a steady and logical pace.

Of course, it could be that I like this film better than many horror films with a high school setting because I could actually recognize the characters in it. This is one of the very few high school movies where the characters and their interactions rang true to me. I even recall saying some of the lines uttered by characters in the film.

All that said, I can see why it was described to me as "dull." Even before Jennifer decided to tell her former BFF what had prompted the transformation in her, I found myself wishing the film would get to the point where "Needy" kills her/releases her soul and somehow takes revenge on the men who turned her best friend into a monster. Yes... the film is about a flesh-rending demon on a rampage in a small-town high school--and it's a pretty good one as far as that goes--but there was another story I was more intererested. And that story wasn't where the film's focus was. The revenge seemed like it needed to be part of the story, because there was such a close relationship between Jennifer and "Needy"... it, unfortunately, the film ends without delivering on that.

Well, sort of. Stick around for the end credits, and you'll see what bumped this review from a Four-rating to a Five. Better late than never, as they say... and proof that a satisfying ending really does color the perception you walk away from a movie with.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Emily Blunt

Although perhaps best known for her roles in "chick flicks" and historical dramas (and historical drama chick flicks), London-born English actress Emily Blunt has also been steadily accumulating credits in other genres, such as sci-fi ("The Adjustment Bureau", "Looper" and the forthcoming "All You Need is Kill") and, the subject at hand, thrillers and horror films.

Blunt's first flirtation with thrillers and horror came in the psychological thriller "My Summer of Love" (2005). Since then, she has starred in three straight-up horror movies-- the snowbound ghost movie "Wind Chill".(2007), "Curiosity" (2009) and "The Wolfman" (2010).

One could also add the Jack Black-starring "Gulliver's Travels" (2010) to Blunt's horror resume, but I think that one was probably intended as a comedy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'The Wolfman' is a disappointing remake

The Wolfman (2010)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving
Director: John Johnston
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Actor Larry Talbot (Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home in England after his brother mysteriously disappears. While trying to solve the mystery, he is attack by a werewolf.

"The Wolfman" is a remake of the classic Universal "The Wolf Man," arguably the period at the end of the Golden Age of monster movies. It is one of the best of werewolf movies to ever be made, but that's damning with faint praise, as a glance at this selection of reviews from sister blog Terror Titans shows. There aren't all that many good werewolf movies, so it's not hard to be among the best.

The first and biggest problem with the film is that it abandons the "Universal Gothic" setting, that strange Never-ever Land where torch- and pitchfork-wielding peasants and spell-casting gypsies existed side-by-side with European modernity in favor of a late 19th-century England that ends up feeling more like the American West when London becomes a shooting gallery as the Wolf Man runs rampant in the city.

An almost as big a problem is that instead of forging an identity and story of its own--which one might think the writers and director would have wanted to do, given the abandonment of the classic Universal horror environment--it keeps referencing the werewolf movies that spawned it, such as the original "The Wolf Man" and the very first (commercially disastrous yet artistically superior "Werewolf of London" films). From the origin of the secret curse that afflicts the Talbot family (inspired by "Werewolf of London") through the chasing of a beautiful woman through a fog-bound forest (inspired by "The Wolf Man") admirers of the old movies will see them reflected and echoed throughout this picture. Unfortunately, these "homages" will primarily remind you of how empty of ideas and substance this film truly is instead of making you admire it for building upon a grand creative legacy. Oh, and let's not even dwell on the shoehorning of Jack the Ripper into the film.

Where "Werewolf of London" saw its protagonist heroically stand up to evil, and "The Wolf Man" saw its protagonist(s) break under the weight of tragedy brought about by random events, "The Wolfman" has no real moral or emotional core. It's a superficial and melodramatic, all flash and no substance. Del Toro seems to have been cast primarily for his similarity in appearance to Lon Chaney Jr.; Blunt seems to have been cast primarily for her ability to look gorgeous, and twice-so when crying; Weaving is just there to fill space, like the Jack the Ripper backstory his character is tied to; and Hopkins is there... to be Anthony Hopkins. I think he may have retired from acting some time in the early 1990s and now just shows up to run lines. As for Hugo . None of these actors are bad and they are easily as good as the material they are working with, but there is no depth here. And that shallowness is what separates this modern Universal werewolf movie from the old ones from the 1930s and 1940s. And as flawed as "The Wolf Man" was, it wasn't shallow.

If you're looking for a film that will entertain you, spook you, and even gross you out (the transformation scenes will put you off your lunch I think), this is a movie to check out. Just know that it's not the classic that "Werewolf of London" is... and that unlike "Werewolf of London" or even the original "The Wolf Man," no one will be talking about this film more than seventy-eighty years after its release.

And this is a shame, because the talent brought to bear to make this movie should have been able to come up with something far better.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jennifer Lee Wiggins

Tomboyish military brat Jennifer Lee Wiggins was born on a U.S. military base in Thailand. As a teen, she became interested in a career in law enforcement, and she got so far as earning a BS in Criminal Justice and proving herself to be talented with handguns and at martial arts.

But after she spent some time on the set of a Japanese television show, she fell in love with acting and the entertainment business. Leaving the path she had hoped would some day lead to a career with the FBI, Wiggins moved to Los Angeles for a career in make-believe.

After a small number of bit-parts, Wiggins emerged as a leading lady for The Asylum's modern-day exploitation films like "Shapeshifter", "King of the Lost World" (both in 2005), and "I Am Omega" (2007).

But no asylum could hold her, and she's appeared in horror films from other production outlets as well, including the SyFy Original Picture "Bone Eater" (2007), "Murder Inside Me" and "Bled" (both in 2009), as well as small parts on television series "Life" and "House".

Wiggins's next horror project is "Growl", a werewolf film starring Katee Sackhoff that is will be released some time in 2013.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

'I Am Omega' is better than you might expect

I am Omega (2007)
Starring: Mark Dacasos, Jennifer Lee Wiggins, Jeff Meed, and Ryan Lloyd
Director: Griff Furst
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A man believing himself to be the only survivor of a zombie apocalypse (Dacassos) is slowly being driven insane by the loneliness while working on a project that will completely destroy a city that has become a hive of zombies. One day, he receives a message from another survivor (Wiggins) on his computer. She claims to be alive and hiding in the city. He believes he is hallucinating, until two other survivors (Lloyd and Meed) show up at his fortified hide-out, claiming they are on a mission to rescue the trapped girl.

"I Am Oemga" is yet another film by modern-day exploitation film company The Asylum that was designed to earn extra cash through would-be viewers confusing it with "I Am Legend" (which was released in theaters around this debuted on DVD), and perhaps even the older films "The Omega Man" and "Last Man on Earth."

While I am amused by The Asylum keeping a time-honored tradition alive, and the intentional effort to cause confusion is a little less sleazy than other examples of this in their catalog--this film was inspired by/loosely based on the same source that brought us the other three films, a Richard Matheson novel--I don't think they did the film itself any favors in this case.

As a stand-alone post-apocalyptic zombie movie, "I Am Omega" is a superior effort to many of the other films in the marketplace. In some respects, it's even better than the Will Smith vehicle it was hoping to sponge viewers off, as its low budget actually creates a grittier and grimier air than the CG-overkill of the big budget movie. Further, the zombies and other enemies our hero has to deal with in this film are nowhere near as silly as the antagonists in the Smith vehicle. Unfortunately, because The Asylum is in the business of doing direct-to-DVD shoddy, cash-grab rip-offs of big studio releases, when they deliver something decent, it is easily dismissed sight unseen by much of its potential audience.

And this is a shame, because given the willingness of zombie fans to put up with the worst kind of lazy crap in the films watch, I think they'd find a lot to enjoy here.

In addition to mostly well-chosen locations and well-dressed sets, the film is elevated by a surprisingly effective performances--surprising for a film like this--by the four stars. Mark Dacasos and Jennifer Lee Wiggins are particularly effective in the way they play their characters with relative restraint, while Geoff Meed (who also wrote the film) has a great turn as a survivalist who is crazier than Dascasos's character could ever become.

Further praise must also be offered to the make-up artists who created scary looking zombies on their shoe-string budget, and to the director and cinematographer who show a better sense of how to stage and film action scenes those who have worked on movies with one thousand time the budget and time resources that people working for The Asylum have.

Now, I'm not trying to say this is a great movie. There are many flaws, not the least of which is a boring flashback sequence that wastes time on establishing Our Hero as a "tortured soul" when it should have given us a reason for the zombie apocalypse, or maybe some REAL background on who he is, where he's come from, and why he's decided to blow up the city he's targeted. There are also a few plot-holes so massive that you could drive a dump truck full of zombies through them, the worst of them relating relating to a key element of the film's climax.

In balance, however, there are far worse zombie movies that you could waste your time on. If you dismissed this one because of its source, maybe you should take another look before checking you kill more brain cells with that Italian thing from the '80s. It's included in several DVD multi-movie packs, so you can get it cheap. I recommend "Midnight Horror Collection 8 Movie Pack Vol. 1", because it also includes decent films like "Below" and "Demonic Toys", "Meridian", and the original "Prom Night" with Jamie Lee Curtis.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Frida Farrell

Born in 1979, Swede Frida Farrell became interested in acting after watching a Shakespeare play with her grandmother at the age of six. A winding path through community theatre, dance, professional modeling, and stage performances in London's West End eventually led her to television and movie roles.

Farrell spent all of 2007 starring in horror films--"Killer Weekend, "Lost Colony", "Messages" and "Venus Drowning"--and she also had leading roles in the chillers "Cyclops" (2008) and "Behind Your Eyes" (2011).

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On sale now: Cthulhu Haiku!

Never has a tome of eldritch horror been this much fun to read! 
Cthulu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness is a collection of verse and flash fiction inspired by the creations of H.P. Lovecraft, and assembled by Lester Smith of Popcorn Press. Among the many haiku and other verse forms within its pages, you'll find the first poem I've published since the 1980s!
So, if you like the Great Old Ones and want to add a truly nifty book to your reading list, you can't go wrong with this!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A movie for those who love classic horror films!

Waxwork (1988)
Starring: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, David Warner, Clare Carey, Dana Ashbrook, Miles O'Keefe, J. Kenneth Campbell, and Patrick Macnee
Director: Anthony Hickox
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

 A group of college students (Ashbrook, Carey, Foreman, Galligan and Johnson) attend a midnight preview of a new waxwork exhibit in their neighborhood. But this is no ordinary wax museum--it's a place where a minion of Satan (Warner) is trapping victims in the displays as part of a large ritual to unleash Hell on Earth!

Anyone who's thinking about making a hipper-than-hip, self-referential horror film needs to see "Waxwork". Anyone who is thinking about making a self-referential horror film who doesn't have respect for the genre needs to be strapped down ala Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange". Because no one who has made movies like that in the past several years--including Wes Craven--have done it as perfectly as Anthony Hickox did it in 1988's "Waxwork".

 Watching "Waxwork" will give lovers of cheesy horror movies the enjoyment of the climactic scenes of the films we love without having to sit through clumsy and padded drek to reach them. As the characters are thrown into the museum displays, we get a great ending to a werewolf movie and great endings or set-ups to vampire mummy movies in the classic Hammer horror and Universal Pictures veins. (Actually, the mummy segment is an especially clever treat for lovers of classic horror movies because it's it's scored with music from "Swan Lake".)

While the acting and assortment of main characters is of the style that was typical for teen comedies and television shows (and therefore maybe not to the liking of some viewers), Hickox delivers a movie that is far more satisfying than any so-called horror comedies being made to day, far more respectful of the films it pokes a little fun at while paying tribute to them, and even far more sensual in places than some horror movies that use that as their main selling point. Hickox and his cast can do erotic and sexy without needing to rely on nudity.

 If you love the old Universal and Hammer pictures, you need to check out this movie. The same is true if you get a kick out of watching old school British actors like Patrick Macnee and David Warner doing their thing. And if you're one of those people who save these sorts of films for Halloween, you need to make a note so you can remember to get this one.

31 Nights of Halloween: Ninja Clown Monster

And here we are, on Horror Night--Halloween!
Tomorrow, the monsters will give way to Ninjas, as we celebrate the annual Nine Days of the Ninja across the Cinema Steve blog-network (and anywhere else people might choose to participate).

By way of transitioning, I offer you one final short film from the good folks at Fewdio... the tale of a boy and his clown doll.

Ninja Clown Monster (2007)
Starring: Carter Reily Irwin
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

31 Nights of Halloween: Doppleganger

Welcome to the big day! This is one of two (maybe more!) short films that will be appearing here on Terror Titans, as I wrap up our month-long 31 Nights of Halloween "short film festival"!

Today's offering can be taken at least two ways, which is fitting for a film titled "Doppleganger." I'll leave it up to you to figure out what the two interpretations may be. But you're welcome to use the Comments section below to share them with the world.

Doppleganger (2010)
Starring: Reagan Dale Neis and Brad Light
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Horror legends clash in 'Madhouse'

Madhouse (aka "The Revenge of Dr. Death") (1974)
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, and Natasha Pyne
Director: James Clark
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Famed horror actor Paul Toombes (Price) suffers a total breakdown after his fiance is brutally murdered. After more than a decade in an insane asylum, he is released, and his long-time friend, collaborator, and co-creator of Dr. Death, the character that made Toombes a star, Herbert Flay (Cushing) presents him with the comeback opportunity of a lifetime: The starring role in a television series based on their signature character. Toombes reluctantly agrees, but his reluctance soon turns to horror as someone starts murdering young women and cast members in ways that reflect the methods of Dr. Death. Is Toombes a homicidal maniac, or is someone else committing the murders and trying to frame Toombes?

"Madhouse" is part murder-mystery, part mad-stalker flick. The script reminds one of the horror-mysteries of the 1930s where cloaked villains crept around in dark houses while gas-lighting and/or murdering victims... and this is really the only thing that it succeeds at. The truth behind the Dr. Death killings is one that an attentive viewer could have figured out (and it speaks rather poorly of Scotland Yard's finest that they didn't follow that avenue... but if they had, there wouldn't have been a movie). The film sees Price do what he's done in several movies before--he teeters on the edge of madness and he runs around terror-struck, with interludes of expressions of regret and self-doubt. But, it's what Vincent Price was most famous for, and he does it very well in this film.

Price is supported by a decent cast, with Cushing brightening every scene he's in as always (even if he doesn't have much to do until the very end). Quarry, as the obnoxious porn-film director turned TV producer, and Pyne as the perky, ever-helpful publicist, being particularly good in their parts. The one flub acting-wise are a pair of blackmailers who show up about 2/3rds of the way through the film--the actors are as lame as the plot thread they're part of.

What Price and none of the actors are supported by is the script. It only works if the viewer doesn't think about what he's just seen once the movie's over. The ending simply makes no sense whatsoever, not on any level. It's not a failed twist-ending... it's just a nonsensical one. (And this is a shame, because the climactic scene is actually pretty cool.)

Something that makes this movie great fun for fans of classic horror and sci-fi movies, is the opportunity to see icons like Price and Cushing together in the same scenes... but there is one scene where Price suffers by sharing the stage with Cushing. It's very clear in that scene (which it toward the end of the film) that Price's success was built on his amazing voice, and his ability to ham it up and still be lots of fun to watch, while Cushing was a truly Great Actor. I greatly enjoy Price when he cuts loose, but the differences in styles and levels of acting talent between the two men was clearly on display in that scene. (The speech about the Dr. Death character and superior acting talent was something I found mildly amusing, given my opinion above.)

"Madhouse" suffers from a weak script, but I still think it would be fun to watch for fans of Price and Cushing.

31 Nights of Halloween: Boo!

There's one last babysitter in trouble as the Ghost of Halloween Present comes knocking at the door....

Boo (2010)
Starring: Eliza Skinner
Director: Michael J. Goldberg
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Monday, October 29, 2012

'Dr. Phibes Rises Again' is an unnecessary sequel

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp, Peter Jeffrey, John Cater, and Fiona Lewis
Director: Robert Fuerst
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three years after confounding Police Detective Trout (Jeffrey), the stars fall into a once-in-a-five-thousand-year alignment, allowing access to the River of the Dead. Dr. Phibes (Price) has been waiting for this opportunity to bring his beloved wife back from the dead--but first he has to prevent adventurer Darrus Beiderbeck from gaining access to the River first. Phibes being Phibes, he sets about doing that by killing anyone who stands in his way in the most brutal and bizarre fashions he can think of.

In the annals of unneeded and pointless sequels, "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" is among the most unneeded and pointless. The film it follows, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", was a weird, self-contained black comedy that didn't even leave room for a sequel... at least not until they ret-conned Phibes's motivation from just avenging the death of his wife and then joining her in death (albeit in a very creative and elaborate way) to instead engaging in the first part of an elaborate magical ritual. Throwing magic into the mix--particularly re-inventing his female assistant (played in the sequel by Valli Kemp, who replaces Virginia North as Vulnavia) some sort of supernatural creature that he summons from Elsewhere--helps remove some of the complaints I had with the first film. Of course Phibes is able to subdue his victims in order to kill them in complicated ways that they could escape by simply leaving the room, because Vulnavia ensorcels them.

But the ret-con undermines one of the very cool things about the first film--that Phibes was somehow pulling his murderous stunts with just careful planning, guile, and mechanical genius. They fixed a problem that didn't need fixing and in doing so FUBARed the big picture. They even undermined the very cool ending of the original film, and the fact that the Tenth Curse that everyone was fearing was actually the first curse that had been enacted (in Phibes' mind) and which was brought to a full circle/close in the film's airtight finale.

Phibes's murders in this film are also less interesting, not just because we now know that he's going to be doing them, but because they are even more impossible than in the first film. Somehow, he moves immense props and machinery through the desert without anyone noticing, and one occasion the only reason the death trap works is because of Stupid Character Syndrome. But, if you go with the magic theory, it's explained. But that's then undermined by him needed a giant fan to create the illusion of a windstorm to cover one of his killings. His murder spree is made even less interesting by the fact that Dr. Phibes has none of the menace that he carried in the first film--the character here is almost a parody of the one we were treated to previously. Vincent Price cannot help but be excellent, but he tasked with delivering far more schtick than drama this time out and the film suffers for it.

The menace that SHOULD have belonged to Dr. Phibes instead goes to the mysterious Beiderbeck, an utterly unpleasant man who is this film's rival to Phibes. That's another misstep the film makes--Beiderbeck would have been far more effective if he had been a more traditional hero with touches of darkness and a mysterious motivation than a nasty character with a thin heroic streak. We're left with no one to root for or care about in this film... and their activities are really just an excuse to get us to the next death scene and to the predictable showdown between Phibes and Beiderbeck.

When that showdown does occur, the filmmakers do manage to pull a couple of surprises and turn what would otherwise have been a fairly disappointing experience into a passable one. Thanks to an incredibly strong cast--even the bit parts are played by amazing actors like Peter Cushing--and the fact that Robert Quarry gives perhaps the best performance of his entire career, the film is never unwatchable. I frequently found myself wishing that all these great actors had been working with better material, however. (The only misstep in casting was Valli Kemp. Kemp was just a generic big-breasted 1970s pin-up girl who had none of the mysterious air of Virginia North--so even though they remade the character of Vulnavia into a being of magic, they cast an actress unfit for the part.)

I cannot recommend "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" highly enough to fans of Vincent Price and off-beat horror films. I cannot, however, express the same enthusiasm for this misbegotten sequel. It's not entirely awful, but it is nowhere near as good as the film it follows. Unless you've set yourself the goal of seeing every Price film, just pretend this one doesn't exist and let the first movie stand intact in its singular, bizarre glory.

(Actually... there's another set of viewers who should watch this movie. If you're a fan of the "Saw" series, it might be of interest. Not that there's a lot of Torture Porn to be had here,. but I think Phibes might be a thematic ancestor to Jigsaw.)