Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The advice in title is only good thing here

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
(aka "Revenge of the Living Dead" and "Things from the Dead") (1972)

Starring: Alan Ormsby, Seth Sklarey, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillen, and Anya Ormsby
Director: Bob Clark
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A practical joke-loving, hippie film director (Ormsby) travels with his cast and crew to an island cemetary to shoot his new movie. When one of Alan's gags go awry, and graves are desecrated, the corpses on the island reanimate... and they're hungry for the flesh of the living!

"Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" is a sub-standard zombie flick. It has a few scary moments, but in general it's badly acted, badly paced, and festooned with bad make-up and gore effects.

There is are interesting kernels of ideas in the script--the careless attitude that is on display regarding the living, the dead, and all things sacred stands as an interesting commentary on the filmmaking business--but they are barely visible due to the amateurish script and bad acting. (The best actor of the bunch is Ormsby, and even he seems like his just running lines most of the time. The rest of it seems like he's doing a bad parody of John Carradine.)

Lovers of the "Return of the Living Dead" may find something here to appreciate--and a distribution company thought the same, so when the film was re-released it got a title that called that series to mind--but the rest should probably take a pass on this one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bava delivers badly done proto-slasher

5 Dolls for an August Moon (aka "Island of Terror") (1970)
Starring: Ira von Furstenberg, Ely Galleani, Maurice Poli, Teodoro Corra, William Berger, Edwige Fenech, Helena Ronee, Howard Ross and Edith Meloni
Director: Mario Bava
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A business magnate (Corra) invites four couples to spend the weekend at his isolated island retreat as part ofa strategy to convince a maverick scientist (Berger) to sell him the formula for a new industrial plastic. It's all fun, games, and fornication until someone starts murdering the guests.

"5 Dolls for an August Moon" is a mostly thrill-free thriller that is a jumbled, inept attempt at presenting a "Ten Little Indians"-style tale of murder and mayhem which features characters so generic most of them are impossible to tell apart, the most inexplicable recurring example of Stupid Character Syndrome I've ever seen on film and what is almost certainly the most inappropriate musical score since the invention of the talkie.

For those who don't know, Stupid Character Syndrome is where the characters in the film behave in a braindead fashion or fail to act on facts they know because it would cause a badly constructed story to fall apart. In the case of this movie, it's the way everyone seems to forget about Isabela, a cute young woman (played by Ely Galleani) who is also present on the island, except when they run into her or ask her whether she's seen this missing person or that missing person pass by.

Isabel doesn't seem to be living at the house, nor anywhere else on the island for that matter, but no one seems surprised or disturbed to meet her wandering about. In fact, no one is even disturbed when she engages in obvious suspicious behavior while bodies are piling up, nor does anyone attempt to make her account for her whereabouts. The mental blind-spot the characters have toward Isabel is so severe that late in the film a character states, "The murderer has got to be one of the four of us!", referring to himself and the other three characters in the room. BUT WHAT ABOUT ISABEL?! There were FIVE people still alive on the island when that phrase was uttered, but everyone had, once again, forgotten about Isabel.

(Now, it's possible I may have missed a throw-away line where they came to conclusion that Isabel was dead, but I doubt it. Either this character was added late in the process for some reason and no-one bothered to intergrate it more fully into already filmed scenes, or this script simply was worse than the average Bava film.)

In addition to a bad script with cookie-cutter characters and massive holes, the film suffers from some truly awful soundtrack music. It starts with the fact that it's mostly performed what sounds like a Hammond Electric Organ, and it gets worse because apparently the filmmakers thought that something that sounds like circus music was appropriate to play whenever a dead body is shown hanging in the freezer. This, of course, might indicate that the film was supposed to be a dark comedy instead of a thriller; if this is the case, it's as much a failure as a comedy as it is a thriller.

Even the direction and photography is weak and unispired in the film. If I didn't know Mario Bava helmed this picture, I might have said that the film was made by someone who wanted to be Mario Bava but who didn't have enough talent. A number of Bava signatures--filming images reflected in pools of liquid, shots of characters far away down a passageway, or shooting through lattices--are featured in the film, but while I sometimes feel like he's trying to show off how clever he can be as far as how he films a scene, I feel in this movie like he's doing a bad imitation of himself. (That said, the film does feature one of the neatest, most creative track-shots/revelation of a dead body that I've ever seen--when a tray of glass balls is overturned, causing them to spill down a spiral staircase and come to rest next to the latest murder victim.)

A single flash of genius, however, goes not make this film worth seeing.

I read somewhere (DVD Verdict, maybe?) that Bava hated this movie. I can clearly see why, as there are many reasons to not like "5 Dolls for an August Moon". They all add up to a recommendation that you skip this movie, unless you've set yourself the goal of watching all Mario Bava pictures, or you're doing a study on the creation of the slasher film genre. Like Bava's "A Bay of Blood," this film is an evolutionary ancestor of "Halloween" and "Friday the Thirteenth"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tales from just BEFORE the grave

Alien Zone (aka "House of the Dead" and "Zone of the Dead") (1978)
Starring: John Ericson, Ivor Francis, Charles Aidman, Bernard Fox, Richard Gates, Judith Novgrod, and Burr DeBenning
Director: Sharron Miller
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A filandering salesman (Ericson) loses his way back to his hotel and seeks shelter from a rainstorm in a rundown funeral home. The mortician (Francis) tells him the strange tales of how four of his "costumers" came to be in their coffins.

"House of the Dead" is structured like the better-known horror anthologies from the British production house Amicus. The movie consists of four short horror films and a framing device which is itself is a horror short. Like virtually every anthology film ever made, what we have here is mixed bag, ranging from pretty good to inoffensively plain. The shorts are somewhat more mystifying than what these films usually present, and the frame is not as creepy and/or ironic in its conclusion as I think the filmmakers may have believed, but it's decent enough.

As for the four stories, they start weak and get much better as the film progresses. The first two entries--one that sees a child-hating teacher (Novgrod) through the worst night of her life, and a mystifying little tale of a serial killer (DeBenning) who records his murders on a film camera--are unremarkable but inoffensive. They don't present any scares or decent laughs, but they are both short enough that you won't get bored before they reach their humdrum conclusions.

As for the four stories, the best of the lot is the one where a coldhearted, snobbish office-worker (Gates) finds himself trapped by an unseen person in a house of horrors; if there's any bit of film that may have served as a precursor for "Cube" or "Saw" films, it's this one. The second best deals with a pair of rival criminologists (Aidman and Fox), each of whom consider themselves to be the best in the world... and each of whom intend to see their rivalry ended in a most permanent fashion. Both of these tales hold some genuine chills, and they will also inspire chuckles in the audience as irony asserts itself in their closing moments.

If you like anthology films, I think you'll enjoy this one. It's no "From Beyond the Grave" or "Creepshow", but it's not bad.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Serial killer vs zombies at the die-ner

Die-ner (get it?) (2009)
Starring: Josh Grote, Liesel Kopp, Parker Quinn, Larry Purtell and Maria Olsen
Director: Patrick Horvath
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A wandering serial killer, Ken (Grote), is about to claim his latest victims at an isolated diner--an unhappily married couple (Kopp and Quinn)--when his past victims come back to haunt him. Literally. Ken's previous victims rise as unkillable zombies hungry of his flesh, as well as that of anyone who happens to be around him.

Every so often, I come across a low-budget indie film that should be required viewing for aspiring filmmakers everywhere, because its creators do everything right within the constraints of their time and budget.

"Die-ner (get it?) is one of those films.

With this movie, a first-time production group (first-time director/screenwriter, first-time producers, first-time stars, and so on...) have produced quality that people with hundreds of times their experience have not managed to achieve since the turn of the century--Charles Band, I'm looking at you.

First off, the director and producers clearly understood the constraints of their budget, and they conceived a story that takes place within a couple of different locations and that could be shot with minimal special effects. At no point did they overreach the means at their disposal, but you can see that they constantly made the most of what they had.

Second, the film is based on a great script. I often say that there is no excuse for any filmmakers to have a bad script, as the script is the one thing that should be completely in your control. It features some very funny lines and well-drawn characters. In fact, Patrick Horvath and the cast deserve much praise for managing to present us with characters we come to believe in and care about without slowing down the action or sacrificing any humor. More filmmakers need to take more care and time with their scripts, especially in the character development department.

Speaking of characters, a huge part of the film's success should be credited to its excellent cast. Its stars--Josh Grote as the smart-ass serial killer turned reluctant zombie slayer/researcher; Liesel Kopp & Parker Quinn as the feisty married couple who are struggling to escape both Ken and the zombies; and Larry Purtell as a hapless small-town sheriff--all give performances of a high caliber all too rarely seen in movies of this genre. Grote in particular is remarkable, as his inherent charm and delivery style of the laugh lines is such that he manages to make a truly detestable and twisted character fun to watch. (I could find no other credits for Grote with a Google search, but I certainly hope this can lead to more screen work for him. Movie lovers need more talent like this in our fare.)

The only real negative cricism I have of the film is that I feel some very odd choices were made with the editing and camera angles. The framing of many shots seem off--they reminded me of photos taken with cheap cameras that were available when I was a kid that didn't actually show you what would be in the picture when you looked through the viewfinder. The result is numerous scenes that seem like actors aren't quite on their marks or characters are doing things that should be in the frame but aren't.

If didn't happen so consistently throughout the film, I might have thought that the scene got screwed up due to a bad camera placement and the director and producters said "we don't have the time and money to reshoot.. fuck it" and let it stand. But it's so pervasive that it must have been an artistic decision. However, it's not an artistic decision I understand, and as interesting as it might be stylistically, it detracts more than it adds to the film.

This is not to say the film is perfect. Like the odd framing of shots, there are a couple of strange editing choices, although they might be the sort of thing that will be corrected between the advanced copy I viewed and the version that will make its way to a wider audience. There's also a bit with a zombie duct-taped to the floor which doesn't quite work, mostly because duct-tape isn't THAT adhesive but also because Grote keeps applying tape to the zombies chest during the scene when he should probably be taping arms and legs. (That may seem like nitpicking, but these elements really stood out as i watched the film, as they seemed like flaws rather than stylistic choices I don't get.)

Also, I would have l liked to have seen where that dream Ken had whenever he got conked on the head was going; it's the one loose end I wish had been tied up.

Still, the strong performances from the cast, the amusing dialogue, and the fast-paced story that still manages to work in plenty of character-defining bits make this one of the best low-budget pictures I've seen in recent years. And it's from a collection of first timers, all of whom I hope to see more from as their skills as craftsmen continue to grow.

Hardcore zombie movie fans may be disappointed by the level of gore in the film--it's fairly tame for this genre--but lovers of high-quality horror films won't be sorry for the time they spend on "Die-ner (get it?)".

For more information, visit the film's official website by clicking here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen:
Barbara Crampton

Barbara Crampton is best-recognized by lonely housewives and unemployed men for her recurring roles on various day-time soap operas over the years. But for fans of horror and sci-fi movies, it's her roles in films from Full Moon and Empire Pictures that she is best known for.

Click here to read reviews of films featuring Barbara Crampton at The Charles Band Collection.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Breaking a cinematic taboo over and over

Beware! Children at Play (1996)
Starring: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Mik Cribben, and Lorna Courtney
Director: Mik Cribben
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Some films--most perhaps--have their origin in a single idea or a single visualized scene. If those films are done poorly, it's obvious what that idea was. With "Beware! Children at Play", I think that idea was, "Hey... no one ever kills little kids in movies. Why don't we make a movie where we kill a dozen or more!"

In "Beware! Children at Play", horror novelist and paranormal investigator John DeWolfe (Robertson) travels with his wife and daughter to a small, isolated New Jersey village where his old Army buddy Ross (Hamilton) is the sheriff. More than a dozen children have vanished from the village in recent months, and Ross wants John's assistance in getting to the bottom of the matter. As they investigate, they uncover terror, tragedy, some really pathetic acting, and a very, very far-fetched plot.

With the exception of the climax, this film is about as predictable as they come. There are some mildly creative spins on the epic of Beowulf and Grendel, and there's enough meat to the story to keep the viewer engaged... so long as that viewer has a high tolerance for nonsense, bad acting, weak gore effects, and a town inhabited by every backwoods stereotype imaginable.

Oh... and you should keep in mind my first paragraph. If you don't like the idea of little children dying in droves, you should not even consider this movie... because a mass-murder of children is the film's high point.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Does one wish people "Happy Earth Day"? Or does one just shrug one's shoulders at what started as an interesting way to raise awareness about conservation and pollution prevention, but that has now become an excuse for the likes of Al Gore to spread pseudo-science and neo-fascist politicians to push their outrageous "cap and trade" proposals.

At any rate, here's a movie you might be considering as viewing material for your Earth Day celebration. (Assuming you are so crass as to watch movies during your Earth Day celebration. You should just be frolicking naked in a grove of trees.)

The Happening (2008)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, and Betty Buckley
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

The trees are tired of humanity tying swings to their branches, cutting them down, and filling the air with the C02 that they need to survive, so they get together and start making a neuro-toxin that causes people to kill themselves.

If you take a 1950s-style monster movie and replace the giant animals or rampaging mutant dinosaur with poison-producing trees, you have "The Happening". You also have a monster movie that's about as visually thrilling as "The Sound of Terror" where the menace was invisible dinosaurs. (Actually, a little less so, because you don't even get Ingrid Pitt and Soledad Miranda putting their assets on display. All we get in this monster movie is Zooey Deschanel coming across like she's just woken up from a long nap, or as if she's on Oxycontin.)

With the exception of evoking the vibe of the classic monster movie, "The Happening" doesn't really do anything else. "Boring" is the best word to describe it, because it isn't anywhere near as clever and insightful as Shyamalan and anyone else involved with it thought it was. "The Host" or "Godzilla" have more coherent and better-delivered environmental messages than this one... not to mention more interesting monsters.

And then there's the problem that everyone in the picture is as wooden as the trees that menace them. (Except John Leguizamo, but I suspect he would hog a scene if he was hired to play a corpse.)

So, on this Earth Day, you can allow yourself to be lulled to sleep by the non-happening "The Happening" while weeping into your pillow that the DVD copies of the film will be in land fills for thousands of years before degrading.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The most feared Nazi of them all: Ilsa

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)
Starring: Dyanne Thorne, Sandi Richman, Jo Jo Deville, Gregory Knoph, Tony Mumolo, Uschi Digard, Maria Marx, Nicolle Riddell, and Georoge "Buck" Flowers
Director: Don Edmonds
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Ilsa, the big-breasted Nazi commandant of a concentration camp (Thorne), supervises a series of "medical experiments" that involve torturing women in the most gruesome and unusual fashions. Her hope is to prove that women are more psyscially tough than men, so that Hitler and his generals were allow them to serve on the frontlines of war. She is also on a quest for the ultimate orgasm... and when the freakishly well-endowed prisoner-of-war Wolfe (Knoph) is placed in her camp, she may well achieve it.

I don't often use posters with all the logos and taglines in place to illustrate articles, but the original one for this movie captures everything it's about with such accuracy that I simply had to use it.

One of the truest statements on the poster is that it's a "Different Kind of X." This is a movie that puts the "porn" in "torture porn." The various female torture victims are completely naked while they are cut, stabbed, frozen, cooked, beaten, raped and everything else in between. Ilsa is a sadistic maniac who would give Jigsaw and his girlfriend from the "Saw" series nightmares.

This isn't the sort of film I watch because I'm looking for entertainment; if I hadn't declared the "Nazis Quit!" mini-blogathon, I probably never would have watched a Nazi torture porn film. The too realistic violence in films like this make me ache in the various parts of my body where I've had broken bones or deep cuts, and all the screaming sets my nerves on edge. I had an idea of what I was in for when I slated this film for review--it was legendary when I was a kid and I dissuaded my friends from trying to rent it back when we were young teens and my family was the first with a VCR in the neighborhood--but I had no idea how bad it was.

Not "bad" in the sense of incompetent filmmaking and lousy acting [for the most part... a couple of cast-members must have been sleeping with the director or producer in real life, or I can't see how they ever made it past an audition, and some of the put-on German accents are hilariously awful). No, I'm referring to the fact that five minutes doesn't pass in the film where there isn't a scene of violent sex or brutal torture. It is amazing how much they managed to cram into one movie.

There is so much crammed in here, so much that had me cringing and squirming and making me wonder if I'd ever have an appetite again that the film virtually flew by. I think this is quite possibly one of the most effectively paced films I've ever seen. In fact, I think the only other movie that's had that effect on me--causing me to lose track of how much is left of the movie--once I started watching films with an eye toward writing reviews was "JFK." As much as it made me uncomfortable, I have to give the director credit for keeping me engrossed even as I was repulsed by what I was watching.

While this is without question a sleazy B-movie, it's a testament to its effectiveness that it's very watchable (assuming you want to watch scenes of rape and torture). When a film works as hard to be as offensive as this one is, it is usually boring or unintentionally hilarious. Neither is the case with this film. Heck, I wish there were scenes that were unintentionally funny, because I might be able to have some dinner right about now if there had been. (The closest we get is when Gregory Knoph tries to act, or even deliver lines. It's little wonder that this was his first and only screen credit.)

There are few films I've seen that make Nazis more disgusting that how they are portrayed in "Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS." The sad part is that many of the horrible acts shown in this film probably were perpetrated on human beings in real life.

If you're looking for a sleazy Nazi movie, you won't go wrong if you can lay your hands on a copy of this movie; it seems to be out of print in the United States--I borrowed the copy I viewed from a friend who gave me a long warning about the film, because he knows my tastes do not run in this direction. (He also lent me some other, lesser Nazi "torture porn" films which I will watch for the blogathon once my stomach settles.)

However, if you're a pain-numbed gorehound who thinks "Saw" is for pussies and "Urban Flesh" is too tame, maybe you will find yourself disappointed with what this, unarguably, superior early example of the "torture porn" horror subgenre.

Welcome to the dead-and-breakfast

House (2008)
Starring: Reynaldo Rosales, Heidi Dippold, J.P. Davis, Julie Ann Emery, Michael Madsen, Allana Bale. Leslie Easterbrook, Lew Temple and Bill Moseley
Director: Robby Henson
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Two couples (Dippold & Rosales and Davis & Emery) are trapped in an isolated country mansion-turned-hotel with murderous proprietors on the inside and a serial killer on the outside. It soon becomes apparent that there's more to the house than meets the eye, as the four victims are not just stalked by killers but also haunted by visions of deeply held, dark secrets. And is the mysterious girl who offers help and cryptic advice (Bale) a fellow prisoner or just another player in a sick and deadly game?

There is a lot to like about "House", particularly if you enjoy haunted house movies that are free of gore and sex. (I'm not entirely sure why its even rated R, as I've seen more foul language, sexuality, gory violence, and intense scenes in some PG-13 horror films.)

Sadly, it a far from perfect and in the end the flaws weigh more heavily on the film than that its good parts. It's better than most contemporary horror films because it breaks with them in a number of areas, but it's still not going to be counted among the classics.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Immortal Nazis add confusion
to 'Cataclysm'

(aka "The Nightmare Never Ends" "Shiver", and "Satan's Supper") (1981)

Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Marc Lawrence, Faith Clift, Robert Bristol, and Richard Moll
Directors: Philip Marshak and Tom McGowan
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A doctor (Clift) is chosen by God to be the one person who can defeat Satan's immortal servant on Earth (Lawrence). Will she act before it's too late, or will she listen to her militantly Atheist husband (Moll)? Meanwhile, a Holocaust survivor (Bristol) and a cop (Mitchell) are also on the trail of Satan's chosen one.

"Cataclysm" is a disaster of a movie. Most of the actors are terrible (Mitchell, Bristol, and Moll being the only exceptions), the storyline is confused (although it is less confused than the boiled-down version of this film that was featured in anthology film "Night Train to Terror") and the film is padded to a degree that has rarely been seen (with the nightmares suffered by Claire being especially annoying s far as that goes). Although the script tackles some interesting issues--God and faith, the nature of evil--its quality is obscured by bad artistic and technical choices on the part of the editor and director, and truly awful delivery of the lines on the part of most of the actors. Faith Clift, who is called upon to carry much of the movie is especially awful.

And then there's the inclusion of the Nazi angle. I don't doubt that an immortal devil would be involved with the likes of Hitler and his gang of loonies, but would he really be so stupid so as to be a hands-on kinda guy? At the rate the Nazis liked to turn on their own, he would be better off as a quiet manipulator instead of an SS officer who runs around machine-gunning Jews. (The whole Nazi angle doesn't add much to the film beyond distraction anyway. It might have been a stronger film if the whole plot with Cameron Mitchell and the Holocaust survivor had been dropped entirely. Or saved for a different movie.)

As far as I know, this full-length version of the film is only available on DVD in multipacks--such as large collections like the "Nightmare Worlds 50 Movie Pack". In most cases, there will be enough other films for this one to not be that big a deal, but I would not recommend spending money on a stand-alone version. (And I'd save this one until you've watched everything else in the set.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

'Nine Lives' isn't worth part of one life

Nine Lives (2002)
Starring: Amelia Warner, David Nicolle, and Paris Hilton
Director: Andrew Green
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of idle rich college friends get together at a remote Scottish manor house to celebrate a birthday party. However, when one of them discovers an old book that has been hidden for centuries, a restless, murderous spirit is unleashed. One by one, the friends start dying.

"Nine Lives" had the potential to be at the very least an average slasherflick. It's got a great location, it's got a cast of talented young actors and actresses (although Paris Hilton basically seems to be playing herself... but she does a better job at it than, oh, 50 Cent did), and it's got an interesting threat. However, just about everything about the film is executed badly, and the result if a movie that's more boring than scary.

Every horror film has to have pointless bickering among the characters, but in "Nine Lives", the pointless bickering is excessive, repetative, and drones on and on and on. The film relies more on Stupid Character Syndrome (where characters do idiotic things because if they didn't, the plot would grind to a halt and everyone would be safe from the monster) than any other movie I think I've seen. A couple of the worst examples:

*The characters think a room that's got giant windows and French doors along the entire outer wall is a safe place to "lock" themselves in.

*They IMMEDIATELY split up into small groups to search the house, and the idiocy that is compounded upon this is so gross that words fail me).

Aside from inadvertantly painting its protaganists as Gold Medal winners in the Upperclass Twit Olympics, the script for "Nine Lives" has the further problem of not explaining the "why" of the angry ghost. How did it come to be in the book? How did being housed in burned out pages relate to his eyes being plucked out and force-fed to him? Who made the book? (The implication is that it was the Angry Ghost himself, but that makes absolutely no sense.) How did reading it release the Angry Ghost? Why did it jump from person to person in the way that it did? Why did the screenwriter not bother giving the Angry Ghost some personality toward the end? Did the filmmakers really think the voice-over bit in the end was a decent wrap-up to the film, or make any sense as to what came before it?

"Nine Lives" also commits one of the greatest sins of the modern slasher flick: It has boring kills. Characters get stabbed, they fall down, and they die. That's it. That's simply not good enough, iif you already have a story that relies on the characters being braindead to work and you have a killer than makes Michael Myers look like he has a magnetic personality.

Like so many substandard horror movies, "Nine Lives" is first and foremost a parade of missed opportunities. It's particularly sad to see it happen here, because of the good cast and the nice set-up.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reluctant psychic enters 'The Dead Zone'

The Dead Zone (1983)
Starring: Christopher Walken, Tom Skerritt, Brooke Adams, and Martin Sheen
Director: David Cronenberg
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Johnny Smith (Walken) awakens from a five-year coma to discover he has psychic abilities, which he gets visions of the past, present and a terribly deadly future. He uses his new powers to help a sheriff (Skerritt) to solve a murder and to save a life, but his visions tell him that nothing he does will matter unless he manages to stop Greg Stillson (Sheen) from gaining the US presidency--because Stillson will bring about a nucular holocaust.

"The Dead Zone" is one of the very best Stephen King adaptations (and the novel upon which it is based happens to be one of his very best books). The director does a spectacular job, especially in the area of using visuals and sound effects to pull the viewer into Johnny's psychic visions. The cast is also perfect, with Walken really shining as the tragic psychic who wants nothing than to just have his old life back, but who has to face a destiny that is being thrust upon him.

(An amusing side note is that Martin Sheen did become president on the TV series "The West Wing".)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen:
Natasha Henstridge

Model-turned-actress Natasha Henstridge made her mark on horror films not as a screamer but by causing the screaming in her role as the beautiful-but-deadly monster in the three Species movies.

Henstridge continues to devide her time between modeling and acting, appearing in a mixture of films and television series.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bikers seek immortality through Satan!

Psychomania (aka "Death Wheelers", "The Living Dead" and "The Frog") (1973)
Starring: Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Robert Hardy, Ann Michelle, Beryl Reid and George Sanders
Director: Don Sharp
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When Tom (Henson), the spoiled blue-blood leader of a small-town British motorcycle gang, discovers the secret of eternal life after death from his spiritualist mother (Reid) and her strange butler (Sanders), he and his fellow thugs truly come to resemble the name of their gang... The Living Dead.

"Psychomania" (also known under the far more sensible title "Death Wheelers" or "The Living Dead") is a general round-up of popular early 1970s movie genre cliches (we got anarchistic bikers, sinister cultists, vaguely corrupt authorities, and more ugly fashions and go-go boots than you'd think could ever be featured in one movie) and a spoof that's played so straight that it goes over the heads of many viewers. It's a B-movie that satirizes B-movies with such subtlety that most watchers don't get it.

I can see why many viewers might miss the fact that this is a comedy. The only overtly funny moments are the various suicides the bikers commit so they may rise again as undead, and the scene where a bystander asks a desk Sergeant at the police station if he wants her to close the door on her way out... after two bikers just drove their motorcycles through the doors and into the lobby. The rest of the humor arises from the hodge-podge of the various cinematic cliches that are paraded before us.

On the other hand, this could be an example of "accidental art", but if it is, then this is one of those films that's truly "so bad it's good". I don't this is the case, though, as there are too many things about the movie that are clearly done very competently. The film features a few nicely done cinematic flourishes and tricky camera pans, such as when Tom enters the mysterious room in his mother's house and finds himself trapped; and when the police inspector (Hardy) sets a trap for the Living Dead at the morgue. It also has a surprisingly well-done musical score for its soundtrack. Most British horror films of this type had awful music... but here, we have a nice rockin' guitar-driven theme that captures both the biker motif and is creepy enough to also underscore the horror aspect of the film.

Whether it's a horror movie gone awry, or a subtle spoof that most viewers don't get, I think this film would be a great addition to any Bad Movie Night line-up. I also think that anyone who enjoys low-budget British horror and suspense movies from the 1960s and 1970s will get a kick out of it as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Welcome to Snoop Dogg's 'Hood of Horror

Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror (2007)
Starring: Snoop Dog, Daniella Alonso, Anson Mount, Ernie Hudson, Danny Trejo, Brande Roderick, Pooch Hall, Aries Spears, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Lyn Shaye, Dallas Page, Noel Gugliemi and Billy Dee Williams
Director: Stacy Title
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

"Snoop Dog's Hood of Horror" is an anthology film in the vein of the classic anthology comic books like "House of Mystery" or "Tales from the Crypt" and great anthology films like "From Beyond the Grave", with an equal amounts horror, humor and irony mixed together in chilling tales of poetic justice. The tales featured in this movie are a breed apart from the aforementioned anthologies (and the dozens of others I could mention) by setting the tales in an inner city neighborhood and infusing the film with a gangster rap/hip-hop sort of feel, with all the pimps, hoes, taggers, and gangbangers that implies.

While this is a movie that's directed primarily at fans of Snoop Dogg and the musical style/culture he promotes, it's a film that lovers of lighthearted horror films can also enjoy. While the film is profane and violent, and the stories predictable, at least they're stories. Too many horror films these days lack real stories but are just excuses to string together scenes of violence--and mostly pointless violence at that. While the violence we get in "Hood of Horror" is very gory, it serves a purpose beyond simply grossing out the viewer... something which can't be said for the violence and gore in any of the "Saw" films or even the more recent "The Ruins". Hiphop/gangster rap fan or not, if you like horror films with style and content beyond splatter, I think you'll find something to like here.

The film starts out with an animated sequence that explains how Snoop Dogg came to wear the mantle of the Hound of Hell, an inner-city demon who collects the souls of those who die after rejecting opportunities to change their evil ways, and sends them to Hell. These animated sequences form the "wrap-around" story for the film, phasing in and out with live action sequences of Snoop Dog interacting with the characters of the main stories, usually as the story begins or ends. Snoop Dog's Hound of Hell is both an observer and a participant in the tales, serving sometimes as a catalyst for the events, sometimes as a facilitator, but always ultimately dishing out final punishment

The first tale of doomed homies, "Crossed Out", focuses on Posie (Alonso), a troubled young grafitti artist and tagger who is given an opportunity to bring beauty and joy to the neighborhood through opportunities offered her by a local pastor (Williams) and a mysterious tattoo artist (Trejo). Instead of creating art, however, she chooses to use mystical powers she finds herself with to kill gangbangers who have tormented her. This is the goriest of the three tales, but the deaths are all hilarious. It's also the story with the most profound message.

Next up, we have "The Scumlord", the tale of a king-sized asshole of a Texan (Mount) who comes to the Hood of Horror with his even more obnoxious Paris Hilton-clone girlfriend (Roderick). He is his father's sole heir, but before he can collect, the will insists he must spend a year living with his father's old Army buddies, whom the father had provided with a home in retirement. Instead of trying to learn from the old warriors and co-exist with them, he engages in a campaign of humiliation and terror to drive them out of the home. This is the weakest of the three, as the villainous characters are so extreme they cross from being satirical into just stupid.

Finally, we have "Rhapsody Askew" where Sod (Hall), a wanna-be rapper, finds his prayers answered when a chance encounter with a talented musician (Spears) leads to a partnership that catapults both to stardom. But when Sod betrays not only his artistic partner but a promise he made to God, he discovers the price of not "keeping it real." With echoes of real-world music industry politics, gangster rap violence and conspiracy theories, and an ambiguous character who might be an angel who's come to Earth to revoke Sod's contract with God (Shaye) and a performance by Spears that's both funny and creepy, it's a surprisingly thought-provoking piece for the film to go out on.

"Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror" is a neat little anthology flick that has a little bit of something for everyone, except maybe those who break out in hives at the mention of rap music, or those who think Torture Porn is the height of horror film evolution. It's not groundbreaking, but it is fun.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Christina Ricci

Barely standing 5-feet tall, Christina Ricci is perhaps the lit'lest of all Scream Queens. From kid-friendly horror comedies like "Casper" and the big-screen adventures of "The Addams Family" through offbeat chillers like "Sleepy Hollow" and straight-up horror flicks like "Cursed", Ricci has proven that big scares can come in small packages.

'Beyond Evil' is worth going for

Beyond Evil (1980)
Starring: John Saxon, Lynda Day George, Michael Dante, and Janice Lynde
Director: Herb Freed
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When loving couple Larry and Barbara (Saxon and George) move into a house acquired for them by Larry's scheming friend Del (Dante), the man-hating spirit of a voodoo queen who was murdered there (Lynde) is awakened. The spirit first attempts to kill all the men in Barbara's life, and then it possesses Barbara and tries to kill even Larry. Will a force beyond death--and beyond evil--consume the inhabitants of the small South Sea island, or will Larry find a way to defeat the ghost?

This is a fabulous low-budget chiller that features a great collection of energetic and ethusiastic actors--there are literally no bad performances anywhere--and showcases steady, focused direction of the kind that movies with ten times the budget are often lacking.

On the downside, the film features some rather laughable visible effects. In most cases, the filmmakers seemed to be aware that their budget limited what they could do--and they got by quite effectively with creative lighting, fog machines, jump-cuts, and other inexpensive movie gimmicks--but then they also decided to do some animation effects. These were passable when all they were used for were to illustrate whenever the ghost was up to something evil, but when they started showing laser beams shooting from the eyes of the possessed Barbara, the animation went from cheap-looking to rediculous.

Despite the occassional special effects missteps, "Beyond Evil" is mostly a competently executed haunted house/possession flick. It sags a bit in the middle--where the voodoo queen flexes her supernatural muscle and things get a bit repetative as Larry tries to convince the increasingly strange Barbara to seek medical help--but for the most part it remains an engrossing little movie that's worth a look.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Beware Nazi Zombies when skinny dipping

Zombie Lake (1981)
Starring: Howard Vernon, Pierre-Marie Escourrou, Marcia Sharif, Robert Foster, Anouchka Lesoeur, Youri Rad and Burt Altman
Director: Jean Rollin
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

French resistance fighters toss a bunch of dead German soldiers into a lake that was cursed by witches centuries before. A decade later, they emerge from their watery grave to rape and drown skinny-dipping girls and murder villagers.

This is one of those movies where you wonder if anyone read the entire script at any point during production. The film is disjointed with the various plot threads barely connecting or seeming to have drifted in from another movie, the characters' behavior inexplicable at almost every turn, and the zombies being inconsistent and just downright weird.

The inconsistency and weirdness of the film, however, also keeps it entertaining. Time and again, you will marvel at the the Olympic-record setting leaps of logic by characters, gasp at the Grand Canyon-sized plot holes, and shutter at the thought of what sort of writers would come up with the perverted zombies featured in this film. Not only are they Nazi Zombies, but they are Rapist Nazi Zombies. (Of course, any girl atheletes dumb enough to go skinny-dipping in a lake as dirty as the one in his film probably needed to be drowned and raped by Nazi Zombies before they had a chance to fill the world with idiot offspring.)

A steady flow of "did I just see what I thought I saw/hear what I thought I heard moments keep the movie entertaining in a trainwreck sort of way, but the Three rating is about as low as it can possible go without being a Two. It reflects the fact that as awful as this movie is, it's never boring. Heck, compared to "Oasis of the Zombies" (which was produced by the same crew of French film bottom feeders) this is an outright masterpiece.

Speaking of "Oasis of the Zombies", click here to read my review at Movies to Die Before Seeing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A grand opening you can safely skip

Memorial Valley Massacre (aka "Valley of Death") (1988)
Starring: Mark Mears, John Kerry, John Caso, Lesa Lee, Jimmy Justice and Cameron Mitchell
Director: Robert C. Hughes
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

The opening weekend for a new campground in Memorial Valley is plagued by disaster and a murderous wild man (Caso) who doesn't appreciate all the newcomers to his previously quiet land.

"Memorial Valley Massacre" is a cross between a slasher flick and the "vacation spot disaster movie" subgenre (of which "Jaws" is the best and most famous). The film includes most tropes from the horror movie subgenres it's drawing from, but it doesn't do anything particularly new or particularly creative with them. The cast of victims are even less likeable than usual for a film of this type, so there really isn't anyone we're not sad to see go. Further, the one minor plot-twist the film features is both predictable and so far-fetched that it's something you'll be groaning at when it comes along. And, finally, this film was in serious need of a continuity person, or someone less drunk in the editing booth. There are a couple of scenes with characters in them that aren't summoned to the location they happen at until after the scene takes place.

This film might be worth adding to the line-up for a Bad Movie Nite, but otherwise it's not worth your time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

'Against the Dark' is weak all around

Against the Dark (2009)
Starring: Jenna Harrison, Skye Bennett, Emma Catherwood, Stephen Hagan, Daniel Percival, Danny Midwinter and Steven Seagal
Director: Richard Crudo
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A plague that turns humans into crazed cannibals has swept the planet. Martial arts master Tao (Seagal) and his band of warriors sweep the city for survivors and help them evacuate to military posts in the coutryside. But will his attempt to rescue hapless survivors from a zombie-infested hospital before the Army bombs the area to rubble lead to all their deaths?

"Against the Dark" is Steven Seagal's second foray into horror movies... and it's a rather sad affair. Seagal once again shows that he is unable to handle the physical demands of extended fight scenes anymore. Based on his performance here, I wonder if he's even able to walk more than a few steps before needed to sit down, because that's basically all he does: He walks down streets, walks down halls, and waves a sword around in front of the camera in an attempt to make it look like he's actually engaging stuntmen in fights. This is no "Resident Evil", "Underworld" or even "Blade".

But, Seagal's insistence on embarrassing himself instead of finding a different niche within the world of film production is a fairly small part of the overall picture. Most of the film is spent following a group of generic survivors who are (for reasons that make absolutely no sense) trying to make their way through a hospital to the back door of the parking garage. The mutant zombies must be scared of driveways or something along those lines. These survivors are so generic and uninteresting that I've already lost the ability to keep them straight in my mind, with the exception of lead survivor/victim-to-be-rescued Jenna Harrison and the obligatory cute survivor kid Skye Bennett.

With the generic nature of the characters comes a state of being uninteresting. Couple that with a boring script that borrows from superior movies (ranging from "Dawn of the Dead" through "Resident Evil" and even "House of the Dead" [although that latter film is only slightly better than this one)) and is 100 percent predictable from beginning to end. The film is so badly written that they can't even properly pull off what should be a chilling moment--when one of the main characters returns as one of the zombies--and instead ends up like a ho-hum bit of violence punctuated by a lame quip.

You can read reviews of other Steven Seagal films at Watching the Detectives by clicking here.

Nazis get creamed by tiny puppets

See Nazis get cut down to size by creatures who match their size as far as the level of respect they deserve.

Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
Starring: Guy Rolfe, Richard Lynch, Ian Abercrombie, Kristopher Logan, Aron Eisenberg, Sarah Douglas and Walter Gotell
Director: David DeCoteau
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When a vicious Gestapo commander (Lynch) murders his wife Elsa (Douglas), Andre Toulon (Rolfe), a puppeteer with the ability to bring his puppets to full and independent life, turns his creations from instruments of mirth and entertaiment into tools of hatred and revenge.

"Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge" takes viewers back to a time fifty years before the events of the other films to fill in some of the backstory of the magic puppets that are the main monsters of the film, and to explain why they and their creator is so hate-filled and driven by an urge to destroy.

(It's not quite in step with "Puppet Master II", but then it doesn't seem to fit well with anything else in the series. As a matter of fact, none of the various Puppet Master movies are perfect fits for each other as far as continuity goes.)

The film has a cast that's each perfect in the role that they play, with the classical-featured Guy Rolfe as Andre Toulon and ferret-faced Richard Lynch as the dispicable Major Krause being giving especially noteworthy performances, and a script that actually feels like it could been lifted from a horror movie set during the time the film takes place. (In fact, the pacing of this movie and the style of the dialogue is one of the things that makes this movie so good... it has a classic 1940s-era horror film feel to it, while still delivering all the Full Moon stop animation and creepy puppets that we expect. Leech Woman is as gross here as she ever was. That we witness her tragic origin makes her even grosser in some ways' I wonder if Toulon ever had a lucid moment in which he asked himself, "Why in God's name did I do that to what was supposed to be an immortalization of my wife's beauty?!")

"Puppet Master III" forms a bridge between the horror world inhabited by the likes of Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, and Lionel Atwill, and the modern B-movie horror era of Full Mooon regulars Jeffrey Combs, Tim Thomerson and Robin Sydney. It's a film I think any lover of cheesy horror flicks can find something to like in. (Plus, we get to watch Nazi Ubermenchen be killed by tiny puppets while shreiking like schoolgirls. How can you not love a movie like that?)

'Dead Body Man' is almost worthwhile

Dead Body Man (2004)
Starring: Eddie Benevich, Jessica Lynn Baum, and Ryan Cavalline
Director: Ryan Cavalline
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Willie (Benevich) wants nothing more than to sit on his couch and watch porn. Unfortunately, God is living in his closet, and He won’t give Willie a moment’s peace, constantly insisting that he capture sinners and kill them for Him. Will joining a support group for serial killers at the local community center give him the coping tools he needs, or is Willie doomed to never watch porn in peace again?

In every way, "Dead Body Man" is the best movie I've seen so far from Ryan Cavalline. It has all the makings of a truly twisted horror comedy, and it’s full of so many weird ideas that you’ll ask yourself more than once, “How do they come up with this stuff?”

From the movie’s “hero”--a mercurial delusional schizophrenic whose world may or may not be made up mostly of hallucinations--to the cannibal meat “distributor”, to the serial killer support group hosted by the local community center, to a last-minute plot-twist that’s both unexpected and in perfect keeping with the crazy, off-kilter tone of the entire film.

“Dead Body Man” is elevated further by its lead, Benevich, who not only shows himself to be a good actor in the film’s pre-title sequence, but who also displays a fine sense of comedic timing through the rest of the movie. Director Cavalline also steps in front of the camera to take a nicely done performance caricaturing the ultra-softie, ultra-permissive liberal social worker type, while Baum turns in a very interesting performance as the manifestation of Willie’s conscience. The fact that Willie lives on Elm Street and wears asweater identical to that worn by Freddy Kreuger from the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies is also chuckle-worthy.

And, by now, you're probably wondering why I've given a Three rating to a film that I am saying so many nice things about. It's because it has the makings of a good horror comedy. The parts are here, the potential is here... but the way it gets used ulimately ends up in a movie that's just good enough to be included as a secondary feature in a Bad Movie Night, but not worth seeking out otherwise.

"Dead Body Man stars out strong with a spastic retard--um, sorry... a physically challenged differently abled man--picking up a hooker. When he gets her home, there's a sudden change, and the viewer quickly discovers what sort of twisted movie he's in for. And the last 15 or so minutes are so whiplash-crazy in their reversal and then re-reversal of audience expectations that I tip my hat toward Cavalline in the most respectful way. These bookends, with the murders and the cannibal flesh trading and the support group visits in the middle could have all added up to a very funny and very odd movie, but Cavalline botches the execution.

First, theres a problem with the way the murders occur in the film. They are redundant, too dragged out, and hampered by poor gore effects. After the first two, the rest make for pretty dull viewing. (It also doesn't help that they don't make a whole lot of sense... Willie shoots one victim repeated, yet later the victim is tied up and apparently unhurt.) The film would have been much better served with just one or two killings at Willie's house and the one that occurs in the garage of a fellow member of the serial killer support group.

The redundancy and dragged-out sense of the murder scenes aren't helped by the fact that they appear to be ad-libbed to a large extent. I may be blaming Benevich for something that should be put at Cavalline's door as the script-writer, but the repetativeness of the jokes and the inconsistencies in the "story" that Willie tells a couple of times feels like the director told Benevich to just "cut loose" and then never tried to reign him in or do additional takes in which he gave suggestions as to what Benevich should do with his performance. (I think the actors playing the victims had scripted lines to work off, and with only two exceptions, these are also redundant--the girl who asks Willie to kill her so she won't have to listen to his story is pretty funny.)

Basically, as good as I think Benevich is, he gives us too much of a good thing, and Cavalline doesn't step in to dial it back, either on-set or in the editing room. And, in the end, the potential that is here is smothered in repetitiveness and dragged down by an overlong running time. In fact, if re-edited by someone with a very firm hand and shortened to about 70-75 minutes, I think this could be an entertaining (if odd) horror comedy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Even death and Hitler can't stop rock 'n' roll

Hard Rock Zombies (1984)
Starring: Ted Wells, E.J. Curcio, Jennifer Coe, Lisa Toothman, Jack Bliesener, Susan Prevatte, and Phil Fondacaro
Director: Krishna Shah
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Four rock musicians (led by E.J. Curcio) on the cusp of making it big are murdered by Adolph Hitler (Bliesener) and Eva Braun (Prevatte) who are alive and well and hiding in California with their sexy daughter (Toothman) who lures innocent travelers to their death with the promise of hot sex. However, underage metal groupie Cassie (Coe) plays one of the band's songs that is based on a medeival chant that raises the dead, so the rockers can take their revenge on Hitler and his clan, as well as play their big gig. Sooner than you can say "I can't believe this movie actually got made", the town is overrun by zombies, and the band's manager (Wells) must save not only the virginal Cassie but the entire world.

"Hard Rock Zombies" is one of those movies that's so bad it's good... or almost good in this particular case, because it has a fatal flaw. It doesn't take itself seriously, and the creators obviously knew they were making an incredibly goofy movie (with a werewolf grandma, midgets, zombies, and Hitler, how could they not?), and this sense of fun greatly helps the movie along.

Among the comedy highlights are the various members of the Hitler Clan; a Nazi zombie midget's pursuit of lovers in the woods and his later attempt to devour a cow; the townsfolks various schemes to escape death by the teeth of the flesh-eating zombies, and the manager's speech to the record label executive (who has been zombiefied).

However, what keeps this film from rising to the level of a truly good bad movie is the awful music. The songs that we are treated to (three of them, in their excrutiating entirety) are so awful that I thanked God for the 2x speed setting on my DVD player.

I never have understood why these films that feature a supposedly great band are so often plagued with the most atrociously boring songs. When I worked a music reviewer, I have dozens and dozens of tapes from up-and-coming and completely undiscovered bands in my office, and I'm certain that anyone of them would have let movie producers use their songs for very little cash. In fact, those songs may even have been acquired cheaper than those atrocities written specifically for the crappy movies in which they're heard. (And I'm certain a music critic such as myself would have directed a producer to one of his favorite "undiscovereds" for very little , or perhaps even just a thank-you in the credits of the movie.)

But, the producers of "Hard Rock Zombies" didn't do that. So, we've got long, tortourous sequences of this band that gets praised by a big time record producer as being great, something that breaks the audience's ability to suspend their disbelief (and this in a film featuring werewolves, Hitler, and zombie midgets).

(Another possible drawback to the film is the pedopheliac tendencies of the band leader, Jessie. My first thought was "he's a pretty nice guy" when he seemed to be friendly toward the shy, very underage Cassie. But then he started writing love-songs to her and borderline stalking her. I can't quite get a read on what the intention of the writers and director was with Jessie's attraction to jail-bait, but it's disturbing upon reflection. Although I'm sure it would be Roman Polanski's favorite thing about the film.)

This review was posted as part of the an observance of the 65th anniversary of the final defeat of Nazi Germany.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chan slapsticks his way through supernatural action

The Medallion (2003)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Julian Sands, Claire Forlani, and Lee Evans
Directors: Gordon Chan and Doug Aarniokoski
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When a criminal mastermind knows as Snakehead (Sands) kidnaps a young boy as part of an effort to unlock the mystical secrets contained in an ancient medallion, a Hong Kong detective (Chan) and an Interpol agent Nicole (Forlani) must set aside their past differences to save the child and apprehend Snakehead. When Eddie becomes the recepient of the powers granted by the medallion, it seems like stopping Snakehead will be a cinch--but Snakehead proves that one should never count a villian out until... well, one should just never count a villian out.

"The Medallion" is a delightful, fast-paced action movie with a strong fantasy and martial arts flavor. The effects shots may not be the best at all times, but the actors are all excellent in their roles (even if Evans is a bit too irritating as the comic relief character), with Sands and Forlani both being particularly fun to watch in the film. Chan, although I am now certain that age has started to slow him down, is as always the solid star around which the film resolves, delivering his usual variety of stunts, fights, and comedy... this time, enhanced with special effects.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jesus kicked vampire butt for our sins

Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter (2001)
Starring: Phil Caracas, Maria Moulton, Jeff Moffet, Murielle Varhelyi, and Josh Grace
Director: Lee Demarbre
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When the evil Dr. Pretorious (Grace) and a cult of vampires threaten to wipe out Ottowa's lesbian community, the Savior Himself, Jesus Christ (Caracas), comes to their rescue with blessings, miracles, and ass-kicking, vampire-busting Kung Fu (and a little help from masked Mexican wrestler El Santo (Moffat))!

"Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter" is a film I really, really wanted to like more than I do. In my book, the very concept of Christ returning to Earth to fight vampires in and of itself earns the film Three Stars before it's even in the DVD player!

Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite deliver enough Jesus vampire fighting to really let the premise pay off. The problem lies partly with the filmmakers having Jesus update his "look" entirely too early in the film; for the humor to fully flourish, we need the stereotypical Jesus (with his beard and long hair and Year Zero Middle Eastern robes) kicking vampire butt, but after the first fight-scene, Jesus gets a shave and a haircut, and soon thereafter changes his wardribe to jeans and a black t-shirt. It's a shame, because having Jesus LOOK like Jesus while battling vampires and hoards of Canadian athiests, instead of just looking like actor Phil Caracas on the weekend, would have been so much funnier.

A bigger problem is the overall weakness of the fight scenes. If they have been better staged, this film would be a low Six instead of a low Five. I've seen some sloppily staged fight-scenes in my day, and while the ones in "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter" don't rank among the worst, there are entirely too many instances where those fighting don't connect. The end result reminds me that I'm watcing people doing "let's pretend" instead of drawing me into the action. Although this is a comedy, and it's supposed to be cheesy, I still would have liked to have seen the fights choreographed with a little more finesse.

The film gets an additional "ding" for several instances of padding--extended scenes of characters meandering around for no purpose. It's not as damaging to this film as it is in other low-budget films where the director seems to feel the need to extend his running length through the cheapest and laziest methods, as at least here we get to listen to some rockin' soundtrack music.

For all my complaints, however, "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter" entertained me from beginning to end. There are plenty of good laugh lines, and when the film does take advantage of the fact that it has Jesus Christ as the main character, it does so with wit and even respect toward the figure of Jesus. Heck, Jesus even felt like he was "in character" throughout this very odd comedy. The out-of-left-field song-and-dance bit is also hilarious

I think if the multi-million dollar flop that was "Grindhouse" had been more like "Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter" in spirit and in budget, it would have been a roaring success. The TRUE spirit of the old-style exploitation flick can be found here. If you like your movies bizarre and don't mind if they're a little rough around the edges, I think you'll enjoy this film despite its flaws.

Run away from 'Pursued'

Pursued (2004)
Starring: Christian Slater, Gil Bellows and Estella Warren
Director: Kristoffer Tabori
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Never-say-die corporate headhunter Vincent Palmer (Christian Slater) sets his sights on Ben Keats (Gil Bellows) to recruit him away from a small hi-tech firm about to revolutionize the security industry to take the helm of a failing computer company. Vincent has yet to fail to recruit a mark yet, and that is because he is a complete psycho that uses everything from blackmail to murder in order to force his targets to sign on the dotted line. Soon, Vincent is threatening everything and everyone around Ben, including his naive wife (Warren) and little daughter.

The movie starts out promising, but it quickly becomes a boring morass of characters doing dumb things because the plot requires it, seemingly intelligent characters not using resources and options at their disposal, and just bad script writing. Once Ben catches onto what Vincent is up to, he SHOULD have been able to turn the tables on him, or even get the police involved, but he doesn't, because the movie would have been an hour long... or we might even have gotten an intelligent and satisfying spin on the hunted becoming the hunter instead of a lame, made-for-TV fight scene at the end.

Christian Slater does a good job as the psycho headhunter, but every other part in thefilm is both weak in the dialogue and performances. (And what the heck is up with Estella Warren's lips?! I've heard of the 'bee-stung look,' but there's gotta be something physically wrong with someone with lips THAT puffy and swollen!)

So, unless you're a huge fan of late-nite cable fare, avoid "Pursued."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Kate Jackson

Ranked #18 on FHM's list of "100 Sexiest Women of All Time," Kate Jackson is best known for her long-running roles on the classic television series "Charlie's Angels" and "The Scarecrow and Mrs. King". However, her electricfying presence also brought excitement to the 1960s horror-themed soap opera "Dark Shadows" and numerous made-for-television horror films, including both the 1973 and 2000 versions of "Satan's School for Girls".

She remains a personal favorite actress of mine, and I've enjoyed her in everything that she has done.

'Tomie: Forbidden Fruit' can be left alone

Tomie: Forbidden Fruit (aka "Tomie: The Final Chapter") (2002)

Starring: Nozomi Ando, Aoi Miyazaki and Jun Kunimu
Director: Shun Nakahara
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

The lives of middle-aged widower Kozu (Kunimura) and his lonely, outcast teenaged daugther (Miyazaki) are turned into a morass of nightmares and violence when she is befriended by a new girl at school, Tomie (Ando).

"Tomie: Forbidden Fruit" is the fifth movie based on Junji Ito's supremely creepy "Tomie" horror comics about an unkillable girl/ghost/demon who uses her women wiles to lead men to cause suffering, mayhem, and death whereever she goes. More often than not, Tomie herself dies horribly during the mayhem, but she always comes back from death in ways that are more horrific than the time before.

Like most of the "Tomie" movies, "Forbidden Fruit" never manages to inspire in the viewers the horror and dread that Ito's tales do. In fact, the emotion you'll feel most often while watching this film is boredom. particularly if you've read the comics or seen any other of the "Tomie" films.

There is very little new that's brought to the Tomie tales with this film. The only interesting aspect of the story is that Tomie is two generations of the same family in the film, trying to twist both father and daugther to her will. But this is really too small of an aspect to make the film worth your time.

The film is further dragged down by some very bad choices on the part of the writer and director. Tomie has never come across as the smartest of demons/temptresses, but here she comes across as downright stupid. Early in the film, she tries to get Kozu to kill his daughter "so they can be together like before" but this causes him to turn on her and cleave her skull with an axe--it makes him see her for the monster she is. Later, during the movie's climax, she tries the same trick again. It didn't work the first time, so why does she think it'll work the second time?

To make it even worse, this replay of the "kill your daughter so we can be together" ploy is part of a a final five-ten minutes of run-time that ruins what could otherwise have been an incredibly creepy "happy ending" with both father and daughter gazing upon Tomie frozen inside an ice block while eating potato chips and agreeing on how pretty she is and how much they both love her.

It could be the filmmakers were trying to illustrate that Tomie is all about repeating patterns, but all they ended up doing was screwing up a potentially great ending, a screw-up so bad that it cost the film at least one Rating point, perhaps even two. (Heck, if they'd gone with the movie's REAL ending--with Tomie frozen in the ice block--it could even have lived up to the film's title.)

Although well-acted and featuring moody and well-executed camera work, "Tomie: Forbidden Fruit" is done in by a weak script that fails to live up to the potential of the source material and a desire to heavy-handed drive home the point that there is never a "final chapter" where Tomie is concerned. (BTW, I don't really spoil anything by revealing that Tomie gets frozen in an iceblock toward the end of the film. It's an event that's telegraphed early on, and you'd have seen it coming even if I hadn't mentioned it.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Someone forgot to write a plot

Curse of the Undead: Yoma (1989)
Director: Takashi Anno
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

"Curse of the Undead: Yoma" is the tale of a ninja who undertakes a quest to slay a childhood friend gone bad. Along the way, he has a number of inexplicable encounters, including one that's an odd, unexplained time-warp (I think).
Like the header says, the animation is nice, there are some interesting plot elements, but those plot elements are just floating out there with no real thread to tie them together.

The more Japanese cartoons I watch, the more obvious it becomes that Sturgeon's Law is just as universal as gravity.

If you want a video that makes you think (even if thinking involves going 'Huh? Did I miss something?') then I suppose "Yoma" might be worth checking out. Otherwise, I think your money and time can be better spent elsewhere.

One of the best horror anthology films

The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliot, Nyree Dawn Porter, Jon Pertwee, Ingrid Pitt, John Bryans, Joanna Dunham, and John Bennett
Director: Peter Duffell
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

An arrogant Scotland Yard Inspector (Bennett) goes to investigate the disappearance of a famed horror movie actor. Locals, including real estate agent A.J. Stoker (Bryans), claim the actor disappeared because the house his rented was cursed. They tell him for tales of strange tragedies that took place there--a horror writer (Elliot) who rented it for some peace and quiet while writing his new book found himself haunted by his latest villainous creation; a retired stockbroker (Cushing, nursing a broken heart and hoping to recover in the country, vanishes as mysteriously as the actor the did; a reclusive widower (Lee) and his daughter's tutor (Porter) encounter strange and mysterious forces; and, finally, there's the horror actor (Pertwee) who vanished with his co-star (Pitt). The detective dismisses the stories as nonsense and goes to see the house... at Midnight. Will he uncover the secret of the house that dripped blood, or will he himself become an unsolved mystery?

"The House That Dripped Blood" is an excellent horror anthology that features some truly great actors in four spooky tales with a framing sequence. A couple of the stories themselves are a bit shaky, but the acting is excellent all around. The camera work and lighting are mostly studiously bland, so much so that when there are some flourishes to underscore a horror scene, they work with great effectiveness.

Something that really helps this film succeed are little touches scattered throughout the film, an extreme attention to detail that makes the fantastic stories even more believable. My very favorite of these is the final one where Pertwee and Pitt's characters have to contend with a cloak that turns those who put in on into vampires. The story is played mostly for humor, but I loved the touch of the vampire lifting into air... and leaving her shoes behind on the floor. It's funny and creepy all at once.

Of the four stories, the one featuring Pertwee ("The Cloak") and Lee ("Sweets for the Sweet") are the strongest; Elliot piece ("Method for Murder") featuring a cute twist on what was otherwise a fairly standard ghost story. The tale starring Cushing ("Waxworks") is probably the weakest and most nonsensical of the bunch, but, as with virtually everything I've seen Cushing in, his presence is almost enough to make even this flimsy, confused story work.

"The House That Dripped Blood" was the first in a string of anthologies from Amicus Pictures that collected some of the greatest horror actors of the Sixties and Seventies. It's not the best of the batch, but it is still worth seeing for the excellent performances by the actors. (And, as always, the beauty of an anthology film is that if one story doesn't work for you, there's probably others that do.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

You didn't expect anything else, did you?

April Fool's Day (1986)
Starring: Deborah Foreman, Ken Olandt, Pat Barlow, Deborah Goodrich, and Jay Baker
Director: Fred Walton
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Muffy St. John (Foreman) invites several of her good friends from college to spend the weekend of April 1st partying at her isolated family home. Fun turns to fear when the guests start to fall victim to a murderer.

"April Fool's Day" demonstrates that long before Wes Craven's "Scream" movies, filmakers were playing with the subgenre's standards and audience expectations to create films that deliver both the familiar and unexpected. The coolest about "April Fool's Day" is that the title and the jokes that day brings to mind are used to their utmost all throughout the movie... all the way up that twist upon the all-too-expected "unexpected twist ending.

With a cast that's not only handsome but also talented, a solid, expertly paced script that only works as a slasher tale but also serves as a almost-classic suspense film, this is a movie that fans of both slasher flicks and mystery films should get a kick out of. (The only possible dissapoitment I can see is if you like gory death scenes with lots of blood. This film features none of those. There is a really cool scene in a well where.... I better stop. I don't want to spoil anything!)