Friday, September 23, 2022

Fear-filled Phantasms by Richard Sala

The old librarian asked Chelsea and Brittney to keep their laughter and cellphone chatter down. They didn't. So the librarian silenced them for good, with help from the spirits of previous young ladies who had disrupted the quiet of his domain of knowledge and learning.

The Library Murders by Richard Sala

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Review Round-Up: The Xtro Trilogy

Buried in the many reviews on this blog are ones covering all three of the Xtro films. I'm going to collect and recycle them in this post (with minor revisions). I still think the first one is well worth checking out... the others? Well... 

Xtro (1983)
Starring: Bernice Steger, Phillip Seyer, Maryam D'Abo, and Simon Nash
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three years after being abducted by aliens, Sam (Seyer) returns a very different man, and he passes his gooey, gory alien powers onto his young son (Nash).

When I first saw this movie as a kid, it freaked the heck out of me. The father coming back and spreading alien corruption throughout the household, the way the son was transformed, and the way he in turn went after the horny au-paire (D'Abo)... even the creepy way he made deadly things appear with his mental powers. It all seemed very, very scary.

I suspect someone watching the film with less jaded eyes than mine could still find "Xtro" scary. At this point, I find still find some of the movie quite disturbing--Sam's method of returning to human form was not something I recalled, and it is definitely creepy; the alien egg-laying scene; and the final scene with the mother... well, up to a point with that one--but in general, I now view this film mostly with a sense of frustration because there are two fundamental things that spoil it for me.

First, there's the fact that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to what the characters do, alien or otherwise. In fact, some of the things that happen are pure "Stupid Character Syndrom"--a character does something just to make sure the plot doesn't come to screeching halt, even if a vaguely intelligent person would take any one of numerous different options.

Second, the director and/or scriptwriter simply doesn't know when enough is enough, and this spoils a number of what otherwise would have been excellent, very scary moments. The movie's ending is the ultimate example of this. I won't go into details, because I would spoil it, but suffice to say, the filmmakers ruin a perfectly good ending. If they had been smart, the film would be about 5-10 seconds shorter.

On the upside, we do get to see D'Abo prance around in absolutely nothing, and the acting is uniformly bland (not quite bad... just flat) so no one stands out as good or bad. Gorehounds might also be impressed with a number of scenes in film. The "Return of Sam" scene is a standout in that sense. "Xtro" also features a well-done electronic score, and those are few and far between.

Nonethless, this is a film that clocks in at the low end of average... although I admit my reaction may partially be due to it not living up to my memories of it. (Maybe I'll get the courage to watch "The Exorcist" again. It's the only movie I walked out because it scared me too badly.)

XTRO II: The Second Encounter (1991)
Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Tara Buckman, and Paul Koslo
Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Deep underground, American scientists discover how to open a portal to another world...but, surprise-surprise, something goes wrong and murderous critters come across the dimensional void to run amuk. How will the best-and-brightest of the Mad Science Set stop the invasion and save themselves?!

Picture a bad "Aliens" rip-off and cross it with some of the lamest plot elements of a bad "Stargate SG-1" episode, and you have "XTRO: The Second Encounter."

Not only does this "sequel" have absolutely nothing in common with the first movie--the creatures don't even seem to be related--but it's also devoid of good acting, competent direction, and anything that even approaches originality.

For all its faults, the original XTRO at least delivered some genuine weirdness and horror, and it did so with a certain flair. This "sequel" brings absolutely nothing worthwhile to the table. It is a study in complete mediocity and unoriginality.

Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1994)
Starring: Sal Landi, Andrew Divoff, Andrea Lauren Hertz, and Robert Kulp
Director: Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of Marine demolitions experts are sent to a remote, deserted island to disarm explosives left over from WW2. As will happen, something goes wrong and they unleash an alien that has been trapped in a bunker for several decades. Gory mayhem ensues.

I've read in several places that director Harry Bromley Davenport says this is his favorite entry in the "Xtro" series. I can't for the life of me figure out why. As flawed as it was, the original "Xtro" is far more interesting on every level than this one... and far more competently made.

It's actually a shame that "Xtro 3" turned out as a textbook example of what happens when a low-budget film is made with a slip-shod attitude, because there was a lot of potential here.

The setting--a deserted jungle island that once housed interned Japanese and a secret research facility could have been a character unto itself and filled the movie with atmosphere if the cinematography and direction hadn't been as lifeless as an instructional video on how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System. The story of Marines stalked by a murderous alien creature could have been engaging if the script writer had taken time to research actual military protocols and behaviors, had spent some time making the characters interesting and distinct, and bothered to actually bothered to do more than one draft so the dialogue didn't sound like something written for a cheap voice-over of a Japanese sci-fi movie.

And speaking of characters, perhaps if the actors all didn't seem like they had been handed the script pages right before cameras started to roll but instead seemed like they were in character instead of simply delivering the bad lines, the audience could perhaps develop attachment to one or more of them. Although decent acting would not make up for the fact that illogical, plot-dictated behavior governs every action they take, because no one seems to have bothered to think scenes through.

Similarly, if someone had paid attention to costuming and continuity on the production, maybe generous-minded or entertainment-starved viewers would be able to suspend disbelief and engage with the film, despite the incompetent direction and script. However, the appearing and disappearing gear on characters and less effort put into costuming than you might put into getting dressed for lounging around the house on a Saturday when your friends are all out of town, make that impossible.

Finally, although the alien has possibilities to rival the creepy creature of the original "Xtro," it ends up more laughable than scary due to badly executed special effects and the aforementioned illogical, plot-dictated character behavior. Is there anyone reading this who has seen this film who didn't think like I did: "Why run when you can just kick it really hard?"

"Xtro 3" continues the decline of this series into crapitude. The only thing that keeps it from sinking to a Two Rating (and thus earning a place over at Movies You Should [Die Before You] See) is the alien's back story. It's a cool idea... and it's too bad that it is wasted in a movie like this one. (I won't give it away here, because it is one of the few decent story elements in the film.)

If your looking for something to round out a Bad Movie Night line-up, "Xtro 3: Watch the Skies" might be what you're looking for. You might, however, be better off actually watching the skies and identifying shapes in the clouds.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Terror on the 13th: Smiling Woman 4 and 5

Alex Magana's "Smiling Woman" films have been getting more elaborate as time has gone on. The series began with two actresses at simple locations (a train station passenger platform at night, a closed public parking garage). With "Smiling Woman 4" and "Smiling Woman 5", the series featured more characters and several different sets, as the Smiling Woman grins her way through a hospital.

Smiling Woman 4 (2021)
Starring: Anna Dahl, Felissa Rose, and Michelle Twarowska
Director: Alex Magana
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A mysterious phantom--the Smiling Woman in Yellow--spreads death and terror in a hospital.

 "Smiling Woman 4" (which is actually the fifth entry in the series, since the actual #4 was released out of order, something we've fixed with our presentation of the series here at Terror Titans) is step up for Alex Magana. First, the film features an honest-to-God horror movie semi-icon, Felissa Rose and several different sets/locations within a hospital. For the first, time, the Smiling Woman also goes through several victims in one film.

The film follows the same basic pattern as those that have gone before. In some ways, it feels like a small step backwards, because the Smiling Woman in Part Six (the actual Part Four) seemed more interactive than she had been up to this point. On the other hand, it captures the eeriness of what its like being in an building that is bustling with people and activity during the day, but which is empty at night.

Check out one of the most elaborate entry in the "Smiling Woman" series so far, by clicking below. It's another fine effort!

One thing that struck me for the first time while watching "Smiling Woman 4" is that the yellow dress changes with each "incarnation". Why is that? (And if you haven't noticed that the dress changes from victim to victim, just look at the stills used to illustrate the reviews in this post. Anna Dahl and Felissa Rose are wearing different dresses in their respective incarnations as the Smiling Woman.)

I know I shouldn't use the phrase "that makes no sense" about a series of short films where the unifying factor is a spirit that leaps from body to body, but why does the dress change? My first thought was that the dress was what was possessing the victims--in the second film of the series, it's shown that the victim leaves behind whatever clothes she was wearing when she becomes the next Smiling Woman, 
so the dress must either morph into a different piece of clothing with each victim... or maybe the previous vessel of the Smiling Woman dissolves into a new yellow dress for the next victim to wear? (This seems to be the most sensible theory, since the detectives and crime scene technicians in "Smiling Woman 6" didn't make any reference to there being two dead bodies at the laundromat, and as you saw in "Smiling Woman 4", there was only one body delivered to the morgue.)

Smiling Woman 5 (2021)
Starring: Katy Ford, Felissa Rose, and Jessi Sampogna
Director: Alex Magana
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The entity known as the Smiling Woman continues to claim victims within a hospital.

Katy Ford and Felissa Rose in "Smiling Woman 5"

"Smiling Woman 5" is another excellent, supremely spooky entry in the series. Felissa Rose (as the most recent Smiling Woman) and Katy Ford (as the recuperating patient and next possible victim) both give fine performances--the first being creepy and crazed, and the other confused and frightened. This matches "Smiling Woman 4" in being one of the most horrifying entries in the series, because, like that one, the target of the Smiling Woman ends up in a completely hopeless situation as the end draws near.

This episode also brought another question to my mind: How is it that these films always begin at 1:01am? Up until this point, I thought maybe the Smiling Woman spent the day wandering the city and then settled on her next victim through some unknown (and perhaps even unknowable) means. But as of this entry that theory doesn't seem to work anymore. 

Take a look and feel free to share any theories YOU may have about the Smiling Woman in the comments below!

Beginning on October 1--some two short weeks from now--Terror Titans will once again observe the 31 Nights of Halloween. There will be at least one post daily for the entire month of October, most of them featuring a short film along with writen commentary. Will the Smiling Woman make an appearance and claim more victims? As of this writing, that is one of the many unanswered questions that surround this terrifying creature! 

Time will tell!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Fear-filled Phantasms by Richard Sala

After their secret civilization is exposed to the humans, the Cat People find themselves facing threats to their survival on all sides and perhaps even from within. Can it truly be one of the Cat People who are abducting and subjecting their own kind to twisted experiments intended to make them "human" but leave them mutilated and hideously malformed? Who will be emerge victorious from The War of the Cat People?

War of the Cat People by Richard Sala

The Cat People have enjoyed the spotlight at two RPG-related posts at our sister blog, Shades of Gray. You can read them by clicking here and here.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Terror on the 13th: Cursed Umbrella

Cursed Umbrella (2021)
Starring: Yuki Shinyokoyama
Director: Yuki Shinyokoyama
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The witness to a particularly gory traffic accident (Shinyokoyama) is haunted by the angry spirit of the victim.

One thing that's constant about Japanese ghosts is that they don't give a rat's ass who they target; guilty, innocent... if you happen to be in the general area when their life ends, you're in deep trouble! As we see in this offering from Japanese filmmaker Yuki Shinyokoyama...

Friday, August 12, 2022

Fear-filled Phantasms by Richard Sala

For thousands of years, the shape-shifting Cat People have walked among us, secretly co-existing with us... and sometimes preying upon us. But now, one catman's lust for a human woman is threatening their secret world during The Night of the Cat People!

Night of the Cat People by Richard Sala

The Cat People have enjoyed the spotlight at two RPG-related posts at our sister blog, Shades of Gray. You can read them by clicking here and here.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Bloody Mary Monday

They say there's strength in numbers. So what happens when a whole gaggle of girls go into the bathroom and chant "Bloody Mary" in front of the mirror?

Well, that pressing question is answered in this Bloody Mary Monday selection!

Bloody Mary (2011)
Starring: Bree Esswig, Amanda DePover, Nikki Limo, Makinna Ridgeway, and Janna Winternitz
Director: Michael Gallager
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Dance with the Dead Sugar Plum Fairy

Join us in celebrating Christmas in July with this fabulous version of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Dance with the Dead. (They're a California-based duo who specialize in dark, horror-themed electronica with strong hard rock vibes.)

Friday, July 22, 2022

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Terror on the 13th: Smiling Woman 6

Right now, some of you out there may be saying to yourselves. "'Smiling Woman 6'? What happened 'Smiling Woman 4' and 'Smiling Woman 5'?"

Michelle Twarowska and Teru Hara in "Smiling Woman 6"

Well, for some reason--perhaps because of production difficulties, or just wanting to get a pair of installments in the series that starred an actress with marquee value out quickly-- this entry in the series was held back and released out of order. As a result, if you were watching these as they initially appeared on Alex Magana's YouTube Channel, it seemed like Magana was either restarting the series, or perhaps the Smiling Woman skipped a step in the curse.

But with this film restored to its proper place in the cycle, the pattern continues. In fact, it becomes even clearer. (You'll see what I mean when you watch "Smiling Woman 4", either here in a couple months or at YouTube whenever the mood strikes you.)

Smiling Woman 6 (2021)
Starring: Michelle Twarowska and Teru Hara
Director: Alex Magana
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A late-night trip to the laundromat turns nightmarish when an asthmatic woman (Twarowaska) is left breathless by the latest vessel for the Smiling Woman (Hara).


Friday, July 8, 2022

Fear-filled Phantasms of Richard Sala

 After her twelfth cup of coffee, Rennie would begin to have psychic flashes. Usually, it was small things--like what route to take to work tomorrow to avoid bad traffic, or what checkout lane would be the fast one when she was next at the grocery store. But this time... this time was different. This time, she saw that an ancient evil was about rise and that an entire city might well be doomed.

Rennie's Vision by Richard Sala

Friday, June 24, 2022

Fear-filled Phantasms by Richard Sala

They thought their daughters would be safe and well-educated at the elite boarding school... but they did not count on Vampires in the Girls Dormitory!

"Vampires in the Girls Dormitory" by Richard Sala

School's out... forever!

Friday, June 10, 2022

Fear-filled Phantasms by Richard Sala

 On the Summer Solstice, the light of the longest day of the year burns away illusions and facades in the Garden of Masks. This year, two young women come face to face with hidden secrets that are exposed in the light of day...