Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Radha Mitchell

Born in Melbourne in 1973, Australian actress Radha Mitchell got her start playing bit-parts on television shows in her homeland during her teens and early 20s. She moved to the United States in 1997, settling in Los Angeles and launching full-tilt into a film career as a leading lady.

Mitchell's resume sports a variety of films, ranging from turn-of-your-brain comedies to intense historical dramas. And, of course, horror films.

Her first horror role came in 2000 when she played an officer on a passenger spaceship that crashes on an uncharted alien world in "Pitch Black". Other chillers followed, several based in psychological horror. Among these are "Visitors" (2003), in which Mitchell and her breasts play a woman trapped in a nightmare while trying to sail around the world; "Silent Hill" (2006), where Mitchell is a mother searching for her missing daughter in a bizarre small town; "Rogue" (2007), in which she plays an Australian Outback guide battling against a killer croc; and "The Crazies" (2010), where she must battle against an entire town gripped by madness.

Mitchell has eight different projects in varying stages of completion and is slated to start work on "Red Window," a new television crime drama in which she stars as the heiress to a criminal enterprise. On the horror front, she returns later this year--just in time for Halloween--to the town of Silent Hill in "Silent Hill: Revelations".

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I wish this film had been invisible, like its monster

Orloff Against the Invisible Man (aka "Dr. Orloff's Invisible Monster" "The Invisible Dead", and "Secret Love Life of the Invisible Man") (1970)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Francis Valladares, Brigitte Carva, Isabel del Río, Evane Hanska, and Fernado Sancho
Director: Pierre Chevalier
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Mad scientist Professor Orloff (Vernon) has created an invisible, artificial humanoid that he plans to use to conquer the world... while protecting his daughter (Carva) who was traumatized after being buried alive at 16 and nearly murdered by grave robbers when she came to.

Obstensbly a sequel to Jess Franco's "The Awful Dr. Orlof", a surprisingly effective film by Franco standards, "Orloff Against the Invisible Monster" is an embarrassment when compared to it. It can barely stand in comparison to Franco's later pictures and many of those are pretty awful.

In fact, this film is so incoherent and has such a botched, anti-climactic ending that I have to give the director credit for perfectly mimicking all the elements that make most Franco films such piles of garbage... even down to the invisible creature going on a rape-rampage in the film's third act after Orloff decides to unleash it on a serving girl who he thinks betrayed him. But it's not just rape for the sake of rape... Orloff wants to study the creature's sex drive or some such rot. Yep, the creature that is to protect his frail daughter needs to be willing to molest and rape... seems legit! And about as sensible as everything else just about every character does in the picture.

Sometimes, these films are worth sticking with because they offer unintentional comedy or because there's some other sort of pay-off in the end. That is not the case here. What is intended as comedy falls flat or is repulsive, and there is no unintentional comedy anywhere. And if one sticks with the movie in the hopes that things get better, one will be very disappointed, because Chevalier is such a protege/mimic of Jess Franco that he even gives the film an ending so incredibly lame that he may even have topped the master of lame endings himself! (Note to would-be filmmakers: If you don't have the budget to show castle in fiery ruins at the end of your film via a model or stock footage, and don't even have the budget and/or skill or sense to blow a little smoke in front of the camera in an attempt to make it appear the survivors are standing near a burning building, you probably shouldn't end your movie with a fiery climax. Also, don't have your monster get killed by a deus ex machina "plot twist".)

The only things that saves this pile of rubbish from a Zero rating is that Howard Vernon gives an appropriately sinister performance that is actually better than the film deserves. Further, Chevalier does manage to evoke a creepy mood on several occasions, taking full advantage of the real castle and its dark cellars in which the film was shot.

Most viewers will rightfully dislike this movie. However, if you are among those who consider yourselves fans of the Jess Franco Style, you might enjoy this pastiche of his... um... cinematic flourishes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Charlie Spradling

Charlie Spradling was the spokes-model for Full Moon Entertainment during the mid- to late-1980s, so those of us who were around for the dawn of home video (and whose tastes ran toward oddball and horror flicks) remember her best clowning around with movie props, conducting an interview or two, and flogging logo wear for the "VideoZone" featurettes that Charles Band produced for most of his releases during that time.

Spradling also appeared in some of the actual films from Full Moon. She was abused by otherworldly carnies in "Meridian" (1990), fell victim to killer puppets in "Puppet Master II" (1991), and got zapped by aliens in "Bad Channels" (1992).

Away from Full Moon, Spradling had small roles in a number of mainstream films and television draams, but she also had a few starring roles in horror films and thrillers, such as playing a vampire love/lust object in "To Sleep With a Vampire" (1993), and as a detective trying to protect an actress from a serial killer in "Angel of Destruction" (1994). A notable small horror role was that of a teenager doomed to die by a cursed mirror in "Mirror Mirror" (1990).

Spradling's film career never quite took off, and it sputtered to a stop as the 2000s dawned. However, she was already enjoying success in the publishing field, and she is currently a senior executive at "Pasadena Magazine."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

'Unrest' needed to pick up the pace

Unrest (2006)
Starring: Corri English, Scot Davis, Jay Jablonski, Joshua Alba, Derrick O'Connor, and Marisa Petoro
Director: Jason Todd Ipson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A medical student (English) tries to unravel the mystery behind why everyone who handles a cadaver in the pathology lab turns up missing or dead... before she becomes the next victim.

"Unrest" is mostly an effective horror film that is one of the better iterations of the Japanese Inscrutable Angry Ghost That Can't Be Placated Or Stopped No Matter What You Do school. It benefits from an inherently creepy locale--a gross anatomy class and the cadavers that go along with it--and a more-interesting-than-usual Pretty-But-Suffering-With-Some-Sort-of-Mental-Truama first-year student, played here by Corri English. The notion of a psychic atheist who has to deal with a curse brought down by angry spirits and/or an ancient god is pretty a pretty neat element. The escalating supernatural events in the hospital as the are also very well handled, with some supremely creepy death scenes, and a chilling finale involving a cadaver storage tank. The filmmakers also effectively deploy every tool at their disposal from lighting to color scheme in the scenes, to camera angles and cuts, to sound design, in order to heighten the terror as the film goes on.

And even more praiseworthy, this is a film that ends when it's over. While it's got the nicety of a denouement, it is blissfully free of that non-shocking shock ending that plagues so many horror films. Sadly, as this movie was made in 2006, too many horror filmmakers still haven't realized that tacking a nonsensical "final scare" onto your story is ineffective and lame. But at least writer/director Jason Todd Ipson got it right here.

Unfortunately, for all its strengths, the film also has its weaknesses. The biggest is the question as to why our lovely med student continues to live in the hospital, with the growing number of supernatural events and outright murders taking place. The filmmakers try to address this question, both by raising it and attempting to provide rationales, but in the end, the answer boils down to "because if she doesn't, the story will grind to a halt, so just don't worry about it, 'kay?!"

Also, while the film has some great peaks of terror, its quiet moments are REALLY quiet. Too quiet. And not in a good way. They run a little too long, and they become a little too boring. The creepy mood never lets up, but more than once I found myself wishing that they'd get on with the angry ghost stuff, especially after the mystery of who the haunted cadaver was, and what the nature of the haunting, had been revealed. It's not so much that the film is padded, but more that some scenes just go on for too long.

If you like "The Grudge" films, or movies like "The Ring" and "One Missed Call", I think you'll like "Unrest". If Japanese horror flicks and their Americanized counterparts leave you an urge to do the dishes, you should skip it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Janet Gunn

As Janet Gunn started her show-business career, she was as athletic as she was beautiful. Her past as a gymnast and turn as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader in the early 1980s led being hired as Susan Howard's stunt double on the TV series "Dallas." Television bit-parts followed and eventually she landed leading roles in crime dramas such as "Dark Justice" and "Silk Stalkings".

Her athleticism made her a natural for action movies, and she has appeared along-side the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme. She has, naturally being featured in this series, also appeared in a number of horror films, usually in physically demanding parts.

Gunn was busiest in the 1990s, after which she mostly stepped away from acting to care for her son who was born in 2002. One of her final films before this break was ghost movie "Lost Voyage (2001). Before that her horror credits were "The Nurse" (1997), in which she co-starred with past Saturday Scream Queen Lisa Zane; and "Carnosaur 3: Primal Species" and "Marquis de Sade (both in 1996).

Friday, June 15, 2012

'Tied in Blood' is an excellent ghost story

Tied in Blood (2012)
Starring: Paul McEwan, Kenneth G. Hodgson, Laura O'Donoughue, Chris Leach, Denise Cooke, and Amie Morris
Director: Matthew Lawrence
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Robert (McEwan), a talented professional medium who resorts to phony seances to keep the money flowing when his gift fails him, is asked by a desperate man (Hodgson) to banish the ghost that killed his family. Robert jumps at this chance to use his gift to genuinely help someone, but when he arrives at the haunted house, he is confronted not by the expected malevolent spirit but instead by the confused ghost of the murdered family (Cooke, Leach, and O'Donoughue). As Robert speaks to them, attempting to help them "cross over", a story of ghostly seduction, demonic rage, and deep, dark secrets emerges.

"Tied In Blood" is a slow-burn horror story that is more literary in its feel and execution than most movies you'll see. The horror here doesn't ultimately come from special effects gore splattering everywhere but from the darkness within the characters and how it got there.

The film can be compared to a dark and twisted version of "Ghost Whisperer". The protagonist spends the film communicating with the spirits of the dead in order to help them find peace so they can rest, while trying to prevent the living from screwing up his efforts by reminding the spirits of whatever grief or regrets are keeping them trapped between life and the afterlife. It can also be compared to "Rashomon" or "Five Times That Night" in that we're presented with different, wildly varying accounts of the same series of events, with the truth (or as close as we'll ever get to it) finally emerging at the end. And with "Tied In Blood", it's a horrible truth.

Screenwriter David Ross and director Matthew Lawrence paced the film expertly, producing a lean, straight-to-the-point movie where every scene and every line spoken plays into the mystery of what happened in the house. There is no need here to rely on fake build-ups abd "gotchya scares" because there are plenty of chills in the script itself. In fact, by horror movie standards, the cinematography is rather plain and everything is brightly lit and seemingly cozy and normal... even the creepy abandoned manor visited by the soon-to-be-dead teenaged brother and sister, and the nocturnal visits by the ghost (Amie Morris) are mostly free of spooky shadows. It's a rare and, in case, effective approach that makes the unfolding events all the more disturbing.

The dispensing of the hoary tricks of gothic horror that have been in play since "The Cat and the Canary", this film instead rests on its well-crafted script and the performances by its talented cast. Everyone in the film gives excellent performances, with as much being said with gestures and facial expressions as through the delivery of dialogue. And nowhere in the film is the acting more effective than the interchanges between Laura O'Donoughue and Chris Leach who play bother and sister. Even before their true personalities and relationship emerge through the various telling of events, the viewer can tell there's something not quite right simply through the way O'Donoghue and Leach portray them. It's some great acting, and I hope to see more of both of them in the future.

The same is true of the work of David Ross and Matthew Lawrence, who make their screenwriting and directorial debuts respectively with this film film.

If you're a fan of well-told ghost stories and horror films that command your attention through characters and story rather than special effects, should check out "Tied in Blood" when it debuts on DVD on June 26, 2012.

(This review was based on a preview screener that was provided by distributor Chemical Burn.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

'Soul Survivors' feels a bit like a death march

Soul Survivors (2001)
Starring: Melissa Sagemiller, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Eliza Dushku, Luke WIlson, and Angela Featherstone
Director: Stephen Carpenter
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

College freshman Cassie (Sagemiller) survives an accident that kills her boyfriend (Affleck), but soon finds the world transforming strangely around her. Maybe Cassie didn't survive at all... maybe Cassie is in Purgatory and being pulled toward Hell by demons posing as her friends? Or maybe Cassie is just out of her mind?

"Soul Survivors" is one of those movies that sets out to put the viewer in the place of a central character for whom life increasingly becomes a nightmare where it's impossible to tell what's real and what's imagined... or if anything it real. It's a time-honored and tested horror movie and thriller convention, and when it's done well, it leads to movies I like very much.

Unfortunately, it's not done well in this film. It starts out spooky and struggles to evolve into creepy or scary, but instead becomes tedious and repetitious. Too many flat performances and too many build-ups that don't pay off with anything will have most viewers not caring one bit whether Cassie is being gas-lighted, whether she's hallucinating while in a coma, or whether she's dead and in Hell already. Most viewers will simply be too bored to care--it may just be an hour and a half long, but it feels like twice that as you are stilling through it.

If you're looking for a movie with good-looking 20-somethings posing and delivering lines while hitting their marks, you might like "Soul Survivors" more than I did. But if you're looking for a horror movie, or even a good psychological thriller, take a pass.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Susan George

Born in 1950, Susan George started acting at the age of 4, and she was one of the few with enough talent, discipline, and good representation to make the successful transition from child actor to adult star. has enjoyed a long and varied career both in front of and behind the camera.

George's first major television role cames in 1963 when she starred in kids' adventure series "Swallows and Amazons" and in 1966 she had her first film role "Davey Jones' Locker."

The following year saw George appear in her first horror film, the Boris Karloff-starring "The Sorcerer." For the next decade, the busiest of her acting career, George would star in numerous television and cinematic horror films, such as "Dracula" (1967), "Die Screaming, Marianne" and "Fright" (both in 1971), "Dr. Jykell and Mr. Hyde" (1973), and "Tintorera: Killer Shark" (1977).

George's output started to slow a little bit during the 1980s, but she her grace and poise nonetheless brightened several additional horror films, including "Venom" (1980), "The House Where Evil Dwells" (1982) and "Jack the Ripper" (1988), "The House That Mary Bought" and "The Black Cat" (both in 1995).

As of 1995, George mostly retired from acting, choosing to focus on her horse-breeding business. She has taken a few small roles since then, with her most recent horror credit being the short film "The Silence" (2010).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Contest: Win Five Free Movies
(and lend a hand!)

I have a problem. I have a photo for use in a future "Saturday Scream Queen" feature (I think), but I didn't put her name in the file's name, and I have no idea who the actress is at this point. Does anyone out there recognize her?

The first person to tell me who is either via a Facebook reply or in a reply to this post (along with a film credit so I can verify her ID) will be awarded five DVDs from my stack of viewed screeners.

Here's the mystery woman:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Jack Palance is great in dual role

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968)
Starring: Jack Palance, Denholm Elliott, Leo Genn, Billie Whitelaw, Oskar Homolka, Gillie Fenwick, and Jeanette Landis
Director: Charles Jarrott
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

After the scientific establishment laughs at his theories that he can eliminate man's baser instincts with a medical treatment, Dr. Jykell (Palance) tests his concoction on himself and is transformed body and mind into the vicious Mr. Hyde (also Palance).

This 1968 made-for-TV movie is perhaps the best screen adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale. It is more faithful in tone and spirit than actual content--as I suspect a completely faithful adaptation would be a little boring.

That said, this Dan Curtis-produced film is swathed in London fog (via Canadian sound stages) and is drenched with gothic horror atmosphere. It wastes no time in getting going, and within the first 20 minutes, Dr. Jekyll has unleashed Mr. Hyde, and he's racing down the road to personal destruction and murder.

The film is driven more by excellent dialogue than actual action, but what action there is as thrilling as it is chilling... because Jack Palance is at the top of his game in this film.

Palance is absolutely bone-chilling as Mr. Hyde, showing him as every bit the wild and impulsive figure of Victorian repression unleashed... not to mention pure evil; the scenes where he takes on a group of thugs and later when he torments a woman just because he can are some of the most powerful and dark moments Palance ever had on screen. He also, however, manages to invoke a mixture of sympathy, pity, and occasional disgust, in the viewer with his portrayal of Dr. Jykell, an arrogant and foolish man who lets his dark side run wild just because he can. Jykell's ultimate weakness of character is exposed as the film reaches its climax, and Palance builds it up perfectly with his performance.

This is a must-see for fans of gothic horror, Jack Palance, and just well-made films.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Elizabeth Montgomery

Born in 1933, Elizabeth Montgomery will probably always remain one of the most beautiful and graceful actresses to grace the small screen. Her career spanned forty years, beginning with her portrayls of a wide range of characters in over 200 live broadcasts of legendary early television anthology series such as "Robert Montgomery Presents," which produced by her father, "Kraft Theater" and "Studio One in Hollywood". She is best known for her role as Samantha Stephens, the witch turned would-be average suburban housewife during the 8-year run of the "Bewitched" television series. She ended her career starring in a string of critically acclaimed television movies during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Although born into show-business, Montgomery spent her childhood and teenage years being formally trained as an actress, earning her breaks by more than just accident of birth. Although best known for her comedic acting, Montgomery appeared in numerous moody and highly effective horror and thriller television programmes, including an episode of the always-excellent Boris Karloff hosted anthology series "Thriller", and the 1972 killer-in-the-house movie "The Victim".

Montgomery's final role was crime reporter Edna Buchanan in a pair of films loosely based on real-world murders, "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face" and "Deadline for Murder". Montgomery was dying from cancer while the last film was being shot, and she passed way in May of 1995, mere weeks after it wrapped.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Like an episode of a TV anthology series with padding

Fell (2012)
Starring: Jeff Dylan Graham, Kristian Day, Katie Walters, and Barron Christian
Director: Marcus Koch
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Bill (Graham) has problems. His psychiatrist has put him on medication that is distorting his reality, his relationship with his girlfriend has fallen apart... and there's a dead girl in his bath tub, but he doesn't know how she ended up there.

If you're like me, you enjoy movies that present mysteries that you can try to solve as the film unfolds, opportunities to get ahead of the filmmakers and then be proven right or wrong in your assumptions.

"Fell" is one of those movies. And being that it's a film that takes place almost entirely within the apartment and/or the mind of a madman, it presents numerous puzzles for the viewer to try to piece together ahead of time. While most of the answers to what is happening in the film aren't surprising, the build-up to them is effectively staged. Transformations in the apartment gives viewers hints as to what is really happening, as do the behavior of the characters. And while I correctly guessed almost every fact of what was going on in the film, there was a final twist at the end that made me change my overall evaluation from "that was predictable" to "that was predictable but cool!"

Unfortunately, as I mention in the headline, "Fell" suffers from too much padding, especially in the first half hour. It's got the story of an intense episode of "The Hitchhiker", "Tales From the Darkside" or "Hammer House of Horror", but the director makes the all-too-common mistake of either thinking his audience dim or not trusting his own ability to get his point across and thus ends up repeating himself to the point of tediousness in his effort to make sure we get that Bill is crazy and can't distinguish reality from hallucinations. Some trimming would have made this film even more intense than it already is.

Despite being a little flabby, I still think this film is well-worth a look by anyone who enjoys psychological horror... and for anyone who wants to see a perfect example of how to make a fine movie for very little money.

(This review was based on a preview screening copy provided by Distributor Chemical Burn. "Fell" will be in stores on June 6, 2012... but, strangely, not at