Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Karen Black

While Karen Black would probably want to be remembered for her roles in critically acclaimed dramas like "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces", or even for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's final movie "Family Plot", most film lovers of my generation, and horror fans in general, remember her as the woman menaced by an African fetish doll in "Trilogy of Terror", or as the ill-fated wife in "Burnt Offerings".

Since the mid-1970s, Black has split her career between dramas and horror films, with a few bizarre offerings mixed in--such as the low-budget Rollerblade Seven trilogy during the 1990s ("The Rollerblade Seven", "The Return of the Rollerblade Seven", and "The Legend of the Rollerblade Seven"). She nearly 200 film credits to her name, and roughly half of those are horror films or thrillers. Any horror fan who came of age in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s can almost certainly mention a Karen Black film they cherish.

Black is over 70 years old now, but she is still going strong. She worked on seven movies in 2007, including the soon-to-be-released horror films "Some Guy Who Kills People" and "The Ganzfeld Experiment".

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward is a top fashion model who turned to acting. She is best known for appearing in romantic items like "The Thorne Birds" and "Against All Odds", but her extensive resume also dotted with numberous chillers like "The Final Terror", "Black Magic", and "Double Obsession" (which also featured previous Saturday Scream Queen profilee Maryam d'Abo).

Rachel Ward was busiest as an actor during the 1980s and early 1990s, after which she split her time between her career and her three children. As the new millenium dawned, she added writer/director to her credits, and she has directed and/or written nine films so far.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wolf Man vs. Vampire Woman: The Rematch!

Night of the Werewolf (aka "The Craving" and "The Return of the Wolf Man") (1981)
Starring: Paul Naschy, Azucena Hernandez, Silvia Aguilar, Julia Saly
Director: Paul Naschy
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An psychopathic witch (Aguilar) resurrects the evil vampire Countess Bathory (Saly) in a quest for ultimate power and eternal life. But she didn't count on the intervention of Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy), the tragically heroic reluctant werewolf and his sexy sidekick Karen (Hernandez).

By the time he wrote and directed "Night of the Werewolf", Spanish actor Paul Naschy had played the continuity-challenged werewolf character Waldemar Daninsky nine or ten times (depending on whether one counts a movie that may or may not ever have been released), and this film assured him his place in history as the actor to play a werewolf in movies more than any other actor. And he went on to play a werewolf six more times--including three more appearances as Daninsky.

It is therefore not surprising that "Night of the Werewolf" has a very familiar feel to it. Naschy follows the formula of previous outings--Daninsky is a recluse, trying to deal with his monstrous side, who is forced back into the world, first to save the film's love interest from bandits/rapists/her own stupidity... and then to save the world from an evil greater than he. And, in the end, Daninsky wins by performing the ultimate sacrifice and/or must himself be slain because the werebeast within him is too strong to overcome--hitting most of the same plot and emotional notes that worked in previous films.

The plus in this approach is that if you liked previous Naschy outings, you're bound to like this one, as there are just enough variations to the formula to add a little freshness to the going-ons. The negative side, however, is that if you didn't like the previous films, you want to avoid this one like it was a plague carrier. The twists on the formula won't be enough to make this film worth your time.

Decently acted and featuring a script that tries to address some of the common Stupid Character Syndrome mainstays of the vampire and werewolf movie--like why do vampire killers never seem to go looking for the monster's hide-out during the daytime, and why doesn't the werewolf always just lock himself away when the moon is full--it's further augmented by beautiful women who take their shirts off every now and then. While there are some awkward scene transitions and disappointing werewolf transformation effects, the good ultimately outweighs that bad.

Fans of Hammer Films' gothic horrors from the 1950s and 1960s may also wish to seek this film out. Naschy captures the mood of those films perfectly in several sequences... even if his film looks a bit shabbier, because he didn't have Terence Fisher's gift for making $1.95 look like 1.95 million. Still, there aren't many good gothic horror flicks outside the Hammer Films canon, so one has to take them where one finds them.

Reportedly, this was Paul Naschy's personal favorite of all the 12 or 13 Daninsky films, which is no great surprise as this was his first outing as both star, writer, and director. Personally, I think "Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman" (of which this film is, essentially, a remake) is better, but I enjoyed this one, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Jasmine Waltz

Jasmine Waltz's hard childhood in Las Vegas landed her in a maximum security facility for girls by the time she was 16. After her release two years later, she embarked on a career as a model, augmenting her income with bartending jobs.

Drifting through several cities, she eventually ended up in Los Angeles where modeling gave way to television commercials, commercials to bit-parts in movies, and bit-parts to supporting roles.

Although Waltz is presently more famous for who she does than what she does, she has enough screen presence that she might eventually get recognized more for her acting, as she is at the very beginning of her acting career. So far, the horror movies on her resume are "Cheerleader Massacre 2" and "Poker Run", both released in 2009. In 2012, that list will grow with "Demon" and "Murder 101".

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Poker Run' follows predictable trail

Poker Run (2009)
Starring: J.D. Rudometkin, Bertie Higgins, Robert Thorne, Jasmine Waltz, Debra Hopkins, Jay Wisell, and Skip Pipo
Director: Julian Higgins
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A pair of successful lawyers (Higgins and Rudometkin) buy a pair of motorcycles and drag their wives (Hopkins and Waltz) on a mid-life crisis inspired Poker Run in the California desert. However, they fall prey to a pair of psychopathic bikers (Wisell and Thorne), who abduct the women and force the men to perform a series of murders that they frame them for.

"Poker Run" merges the "killer hicks" genre with motorcycles and throws in a dash of torture porn and "The Hitcher". It's mostly well-acted, technically competent, and very suspenseful at times. Unfortunately, it's also very, very predictable. If you've seem two "city folks in the back-country" horror movies prior to this one, you've seem most of what this film has to offer--not necessarily done better as there are a lot of crappy movies with that theme, but you will have seen it.

The strongest aspect of the film is the performance given by Robert Thorne, as the murderous master-manipulator who seems to have every resident of the California desert obeying his every psychotic whim in order to preserve their own lives. It also ultimately becomes one of the film's downfalls, because his control is so absolute and so far-reaching that viewers find themselves at a couple of occasions reacting more with a "Seriously?" rather than a "Oh, my God!"

Another performance worth mentioning is that given by Debra Hopkins. She gives such a perfect performance as a shrewish wife that I've not found myself wanting a character to be killed so badly since Barbara Shelley in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness".

"Poker Flats" is available in at least one DVD multi-pack where it is joined by two decent flicks and one weak one. It's worth the asking price when joined with other films--if you enjoy Killer Hicks movies--but I wouldn't waste my money on it as a stand-alone.

Monday, January 9, 2012

'Gacy House' might be worth visiting

8213: Gacy House (2010)
Starring: Jim Lewis, Matthew Temple, Diana Terranova, Michael Gaglio, Brett A. Newton, Rachel Riley, and Sylvia Panacione
Director: Anthony Fankhauser
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A group of paranormal investigators (Gaglio, Lewis, Newton, Panacione, Riley, Temple, and Terranova) conduct a ghost hunt in the house built on the site where pedophile and serial killer John Wayne Gacy's home once stood. They find more then they could have imagined in their worst nightmares.

"Gacy House" is a film that will appeal to you if you are a big fan of TV shows like "Ghost Hunters" and found footage hoax movies like "Blair Witch Project". You're also going to be willing to overlook the fact that the film is plagued by numerous instances of characters behaving in ways so mind-blowing idiotic that Stupid Character Syndrome doesn't even come close to describing the degree to which badly considered plot dictates override common sense and logic. (The worst of these: A character who decides to bail on the ghost hunt, yet can't seem to figure out to how to use a cell phone to call a cab or to simply walk away from the haunted house.)

The film is mostly well acted and there aren't many instances where you find yourself groaning at the clumsy attempts at maintaining the illusion of reality... although, personally, the film lost credibility when it tried to present itself as actual police evidence, so I never did manage to suspend my disbelief in regards to the events of the film being real. That said, I did find a couple of moments very well done, such as the one where a character is working both with an infra-red camera and a regular camera, so we get to see a ghost invisible to the naked eye attack him in a clever sort of split-screen effect thanks to monitors.

While not as good as "The Last Exorcism" or "The Blair Witch Project", "Gacy House" is still a far sight better than many other attempts at this sub-genre. Still, it's flawed enough that I am giving it the lowest possible of a Five Star rating, and I think it's probably only of interest to the biggest fans of "found footage" efforts.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Sara Paxton

A California blonde, born and bred, Sara Paxton began acting in films at the age of 8, and by the time she graduated high school in 2006, she had appeared in more than a dozen television series, and been a regular cast member on five of them.

Starting with the remake of "The Last House on the Left" in 2009, Paxton's resume has been loaded with horror films and thrillers, including 2011's "Shark Night 3D" "Enter Nowhere", and the just-released "Innkeepers".

Paxton appears in at least two more horror films slated for release in 2012--"Static" and "The Briar Lake Murders".

Friday, January 6, 2012

'Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror' mostly disappoint

Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror (aka "Tales of Terror") Starring: Bruce Hoyt, Bob Kelly, Mark Standriff, Chris-May Zeithaml, Douglas Agosti, Otto Smith, Kristen Brochetti, Elena Pointinger, Dennis Staples, Mark Newman, and Timide
Directors: Douglas Agosti and Lance Otto Smith
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

I've come to believe that there are two general statements that can be made about anthology films. First, it doesn't really matter if any one segment is weak, because something else is going to follow in sort order, and it'll be better. Second, the best is usually saved for last (or second last).

When it comes to the anthology film "Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror", both of those general statements are inaccurate. While each segment is brief--the film is a collection of four short splatter flicks, each with an introductory host segment--it doesn't follow that what comes next is better. Similarly, the film doesn't save the best for last; in fact, as it progresses, things get steadily worse.

I'm going to assign ratings to each part of the movie as I discuss it. The rating at the top of this post is an average applied to the entire film.

The tone for the film is set in the host segments. Each film in "Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror" is, naturally enough, introduced by Dr. Shock, an obnoxious and very unfunny character who is like a male Elvira on a cocktail of uppers. His antics are supposed to be reminiscent of the Crypt Keeper, and the stories he introduces are likewise supposed to be tales of gore with humor and twist endings, just like "Tales From the Crypt" when it was at its best. Sadly, Dr. Shock and his material are nowhere near the quality of even the worst "Tales From the Crypt" episodes. The host segments do what their supposed to, but they're more irritating than funny, so they rate 5/10.

The first of the four terror tales included is "Bullet for a Vampire". In it, the bitchy daugther (Zeithaml) of a mobster (Standriff) brings a gypsy curse upon her family, in the form of a vampire (Timide) who introduces himself as "Drake Uala, from a small town in Scandinavia." (And, yes, that is so stupid that I resigned myself to the fact that I was in for something truly craptacular.) However, the story is amusing enough, and the performance of Standriff as a mobster who takes on vampires with an attitude that would humble anyone in the Soprano household, makes it even more entertaining, despite the badly written dialogue. The sets and vampire makeup are also pretty decent for a low-budget, shot-with-a-camcorder production. It could have done with a little trimming here and there, but, it wasn't a bad effort. I give it 5/10, and note that it could have been a 6/10 if the script had been tightened up a bit.

The second film is "The Town That Loved Pizza", and it deals with a pair of creepy strangers (Hoyt and Kelly) who open up a pizza parlor on the outskirts of a small town in northern Texas. Their all-mean pizzas become all the rage in the town, but when citizens start vanishing, the question arises: Just what is the mystery meat on those beloved pizza pies? I think this one was supposed to be equal parts gross, horrifying and funny, but it's really just predictable, over-long and dull. It gets 2/10.

Next up, we have "The Garden Tool Murders" which features a grounds-keeper who goes nuts and starts killing people who litter or otherwise behave in an anti-social fashion in and around a small town park. Who will stop the rampage? Well, the answer is almost as horrifying as the Garden Tool Murders themselves. Very silly, very gory, and nowhere near as dull as "The Town That Loved Pizza" this short is almost as good as "Bullet for a Vampire", and it rates 5/10.

Closing out the collection is "Demon's Day", a nonsensical little effort that demonstrates why cloning is bad and shows that the preferred method by which a demon dispatches a victim is by pulling his or her head off. (It's also the film that made me realize that Miss Cherry from "The Garden Tool Murders" WASN'T a guy in drag, as Kristen Brochetti reappears here as a hooker seeking redemption from the Lord; she just happens to have a very... um... severe face. If there was a point to "Demon's Day" and its weird circular "was it a dream or wasn't it" content, it was one that's either too deep or too dumb for me to grasp. It rates 1/10

"Dr. Shock's Tales of Terror" is an all-around disappointment, even for someone like me who loves the anthology format. "Bullet for a Vampire" and "The Garden Tool Murders" have the genesis of good ideas within them, but I think that the efforts of Agosti, Smith and Friends demonstrate here that there's more to making good movies than enthusiasm and good ideas. (In the hands of someone with more experience or talent or both, or if some more work had gone into the scripts, I think those could have been truly fun little movies. But, "could have" is not good enough for a recommendation. And, as much as I'd rather not, I must advise all to take a pass on this film.