Monday, May 31, 2010

Murder and mayhem and
malfunctioning zombies...oh my!

Death Warmed Up (1985)
Starring: Michael Hurst, Margaret Umbers, William Upjohn, Gary Day, and Norelle Scott
Director: David Blyth
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Evil Dr. Howell (Day) brainwashes young Michael (Hurst) to murder his parents, because they annoy him. Michael then spends several years in a mental institution, while Howell goes onto turning most of the residents of a small island into brain-surgically altered zombies that are controlled by sound waves (or, at the very least, beeper signals)... that is, when they're not malfunctioning and going on violent murder and rape sprees. Michael is eventually released from the loonie bin, and brings three friends to Howell's island, hoping to gain revenge. Mayhem, motorcycle chases in underground tunnels, zombie rampages, and the violent deaths of innocent friends ensue.

This movie makes absolutely no sense. I've had dreams that were more coherent than "Death Warmed Up".

In this movie, we have a mad doctor doing experiments on a massive scale, yet there's no indication where his funding is coming from, or why the authorities haven't taken notice. He's got an army of zombies with some sort of brain implants that malfunction every now and then... sometimes the malfunctioning zombies are killed, sometimes they're put in a storage locker (where disgruntled employees can release them when the plot calls for it). We've got zombies driving motorcycles in the tunnels near the mad doctor's sprawling facility, because that is a GREAT way to keep out intruders, I imagine.

And then we have our heroes. I'm not even going to start attempting to explain their actions (and lack thereof). I will wonder, though, why, if Michael came to the island in search of Dr. Howell, why did he drag three friends (two of them wholly ignorant about Michael's past) along... and why does he spend time romping on the beach with them?

The film is watchable if you approach it like a really stupid logic puzzle... or if you're throwing a Bad Movie Party and looking for something to round out the lineup. Otherwise, you're better off ignoring "Death Warmed Up."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

'House of 9' is fairly unremarkable

House of 9 (2006)
Starring: Dennis Hopper and Kelly Brook
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Nine strangers wake up in a house with no exits and an automatic feeding system. A voice announces over a speaker that only one of them may leave the house alive, but that person will "win" 5 million dollars. Will these prisoners work together to escape, or will they turn on each other?

"House of 9" is a little bit of "Cube", a little bit of "Saw", and a whole lot of "Big Brother." It goes light on the "torture porn" aspect of the film, and it's spends a little more time developing the captured characters as believable human beings--both of which help it score a few extra points with me--but while it held my attention, but it didn't do much more than that.

There was nothing in particular that makes me want to condemn the film (although the annoying jump cuts that got used to show a character's mind snapping, and the slipping accent of Hopper almost rose to the level of bothersome) but there's also nothing that makes me want to stand up and cheer. The film moves along at a decent pace, the tension stays high, and the ending ellicits sadistic chuckles. There weren't any real surprises, though.

I think "House of 9" is an average, fairly unoriginal film. It's not bad, but it's not good. If you're a fan of this particular horror subgenre--or huge a fan of Kelly Brook or Dennis Hopper--you might put it somewhere low on your priority list, but otherwise, skip it for the day it shows up on TV and there's nothing else to watch.

Saturday Scream Queen: Robin Sydney

Robin Sydney got her start as a professional actress by appearing on the short-lived "Andy Dick Show" in 2001 (which was probably a horror tale in-and-of-itself" and since then has been dividing her time between horror and comedy. She is best known as one of Full Moon's leading ladies during the past decade (with starring turns in both "Evil Bong" films and last year's "Skull Heads," but she has also appeared on "CSI" and in well over a dozen other films and television series.

To read reviews of her films for Full Moon Features, click here to visit The Charles Band Collection.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It's not just immodest women
who make the earth move.

Tremors (1989)
Starring: Fred Ward, Kevin Bacon, Finn Carter, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire
Director: Ron Underwood
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Two handymen (Ward and Bacon) and a geologist (Carter) discover that giant worm-like creatures are killing people in the area around tiny Perfection, Nevada... just in time for the creatures to start attacking the town itself.

"Tremors" is a perfect mix of humor and horror, and it should rate as one of the all-time classic monster movies. The isolation of the tiny desert town cut off from the rest of the world as it is beseiged by bizarre, monstrous creatures, and the suspense of never knowing when the burrowing beasts will claim their next victim give this movie an atmosphere that puts in on par with other great monster movies. The absurdist comedy elements (which were surprising and unusual when the film was first released) give it a unique feel all its own. And the hlarious, heavily armed survivalists/militia-members played by Gross and McEntire almost make this movie worth seeing just by themselves.

This is a classic monster movie that is a must-see for horror fans.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

College kids don't summon smarts in 'Seance'

Seance (2006)
Starring: Kandis Erickson, Tori White, Chauntal Lewis, A.J. Lamas, Joel Giest. Adrian Paul, Bridget Shergalis and Jack Hunter
Director: Mark L. Smith
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a group of bored college students (Erickson, Lewis, Lamas and White) hold a seance to contact the ghost of a little girl that is haunting their dorm (Shergalis), they end up rasing the spirit of the man who murdered her (Paul). Naturally, he picks up where he left off, and the hapless students are at the top of his target list.

"Seance" is a straight-forward ghost movie with a script that's better than I've come to expect given the lack of effort that goes into writing horror movies these days. Not only do the characters behave fairly intelligently--allowing for the fact they're not very bright to begin with--but the overall story is solid and even stays away from the non-surprising suprise twist ending that so many writers employ in vain attempts to spruce up their badly done scripts.

All other apsects of the film are competent if unremarkable, including the quality of the effects, the acting and the use of sound and lighting throughout the picture. All-in-all, if you enjoy a well-done chiller featuring murderous spirits, you should find this film worth your time.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

'Dead Again': Mystery meets reincarnation

Dead Again (1991)
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia and Robin Williams
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A private detective (Branagh) trying to uncover the identity of a victim of amnesia (Thompson) discovers that she may be a reincarnated murder victim... and that someone is still stalking her.

"Dead Again" is a thriller with fantasy/horror overtones as it revolves around the notion that people are reincarnated to share life after life. It makes good use of the fantasy elements, weaving them into the mystery plot and using them as part misdirection and ultimately making them central to a couple of well-executed third-act twists.

While this a well-acted and often engrossing film with a well-written script, it drags a little during the flashbacks to the 1940s to the point where it might be tempting to turn it off. If you stick with it, your patience will be rewarded, although you will still wish they had trimmed a bit of those sections.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Veronica Carlson

Blonde and beautiful Veronica Carlson graced several of the best gothic horror flicks during the late 1960s, being victimized by such classic movie villains as Christopher Lee's Dracula and Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein. In fact, never has Cushing's Frankenstein been so loathsome as when he raped Carlson's character in "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969).

Carlson married in 1974, and she retired from acting to raise her family and pursue a career as a painter.

Click here to read reviews of the films where Carlson starred opposite the great Peter Cushing at The Peter Cushing Collection.

You just can't keep a bad vampire down....

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)
Starring: Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Christopher Lee, Ewan Hooper, and Barry Andrews
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After a craven, cowardly priest (Hooper) accidentally revives Dracula (Lee) from an icy grave in a shadowy crevice of a Transylvanian mountain, the vampire lord discovers his castle has been sealed with blessings and cruxifixes. Swearing revenge, he pursues the Monsignor who made his home inaccessible to him (Davies).

Although it's a direct sequel to "Dracula: Prince of Darkness", "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave" pays little attention to continuity. (Castle Dracula is a fortress in this movie, where it was more of a chateau in the two previous films.)

That aside, however, the film presents a Dracula who is far more evil than he's been portrayed before, cramming more nasty needs into the limited amount of time he is afforded into the story into this one movie than in the previous two. The opening of the film where a murdered girl is found stuffed inside a church's bell is one of the more shocking openers to any of Hammer's horror films. Dracula's pursuit of Monsignor Mueller and his family--particularly of the lovely Maria (Veronica Carlson) also gives rise to a number of chilling moments.

The movie also features some fine acting, gorgeous sets and great camerawork... not to mention the gorgeous cleavages of Carlson and Barbara Ewing! In other words, it's got all the elements we expect to find in a Hammer vampire flick from the 1950s and 1960s.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from the lack of a strong antagonist to combat Dracula. Rupert Davies is okay, but he's no Peter Cushing (Van Helsing in "Horror of Dracula") or Andrew Keir (Father Sandor in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness"). It also doesn't help the film that the good guys triumph in the end here because of a deus ex machina finale. (And I think that plot device has rarely been so literally on display as it is in this film.)

If you're a fan of Hammer's vampire movies, I think you'll enjoy "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave". It's not quite as good as "Horror of Dracula" or "Dracula: Prince of Darkness", but it's a nice chiller.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

'Wishmaster' is lots of gory fun

Wishmaster (1997)
Starring: Tammy Lauren, Robert Englund, Andrew Divoff, Reggie Bannister, Kane Hodder
Director: Robert Kurtzman
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

In "Wishmaster," an evil demonic spirit, a djinn (Divoff), that has been trapped inside an enchanted gem since Babylon was young, is accidentially unleashed onto the unsuspecting modern world. He requires his unknowing liberator (Lauren) to make three wishes so that he may call forth hoards of his kind and create Hell on Earth. While tracking down his liberator so he can grant her three wishes, he wanders the streets of a big city in human form and grants wishes to whoever he comes across--and he always twists them into the nastiest, most violent interpertations.

The story in this movie is, basically, a weak retelling of the classic short-story "The Monkey's Paw", and it spins around the same "be careful what you wish for" moral. Aside from a shakey storyline, the film is hampered by a weak performance by its star, Tammy Lauren. However, the outrageously gory ways the djinn kills his victims and the evil glee with which Andrew Divoff portrays him, by themselves earned the film four of the stars I'm giving it. (Watch particularly for the scene where the djinn has to deal with the rent-a-cop, played by Kane Hodder, at the office where Lauren's character works. It's a doozy, and one of Divoff's best moments in the film.)

The film is also elevated by a stronger ending than what I've grown to expect from second-tier horror flicks like this one. It's not exactly unpredicatble, but it is very well handled.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

'Practical Magic' is chick flick all can enjoy

Practical Magic (1998)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest, Goran Visnjic and Aidan Quinn
Director: Griffin Dunne
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Two very different sisters (Bullock and Kidman) who descend from a long line of witches, come together for the first time since their lonely childhood to cover up a murder and to break a long-standing family curse.

"Practical Magic" is a textbook definition of a "chick flick", but it has enough humor and suspense, along with just a touch of supernatural horror, that guys will be able to sit through it without complaining and even have a good time. It's a well acted movie that rests upon a solid, well-written script that's driven by a very literal interpretation of the notion of "Girl Power". There are a couple of continuity hiccups--such as the moon apparently going from full to a sliver in three days--but otherwise you'll have to do some real nitpicking to find fault with the film.

Sandra Bullock puts on her usual fine performance, once again playing her standard rumpled, slightly nerdy Girl Next Door character. Nicole Kidman, as wild and slutty sister, even puts on a good performance, something I don't think I've said about her since "Dead Calm". (Her put-on American accent slips on more than one occcasion, but she does a decent job otherwise.) They are supported admirably by the rest of the cast, with Goran Visnjic standing out as a particuarly creepy Bad Boyfriend.

So, guys, next time it's her time to chose for a Movie Night, and if she has a habit of picking historical dramas or tear-jearkers or pure chick flicks, see if you can steer her to "Practical Magic". You'll thank me for it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How awful that Allan is haunted or insane

How Awful About Allan (1970s)
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris, and Joan Hackett
Director: Curtis Harrington
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Allan (Perkins), who has been suffering from hysterical blindness since the burning death of his father, is released from an asylum and into the care of his sister (Harris). But mysterious events start occuring around Allan, events that fill his blurry world with terror. Is he being haunted by the ghost of his dead father, is his sister trying to drive him insane, or is it all in his mind?

"How Awful About Allan" is a well-staged and perfectly paced modern-day gothic thriller. With a great cast--among which we see Anthony Perkins giving what might have been the best performance of his career--who were working with an intelligent and well-written script, and a director who knows how to deploy his entire arsenal of set design, cinematography, lighting, sound effects, and music to envoke a sense of mystery and dread.

Despite its humble (and sometimes obvious) television origins, this is a film worth seeking out by anyone who is a fan of gothic tales. ("How Awful About Allan" stands as one of the great achievements of the late Aaron Spelling.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Shawnee Smith

Shawnee Smith was the only attractive thing about the very ugly first three installments of the "torture porn" series "Saw", and she came back for one more bite at that apple in 2009's "Saw VI."

She was also the host of "Scream Queens," a 2008 reality/game show where ten aspiring actresses competed for a part in "Saw VI". I guess I'll have to check that film out, just to see if the winner was any good.

(Trivia: Desptite all the movie reviews I write, I have not watched television on a regular basis since 1995, and I haven't had cable TV since even before that. I didn't even know there WAS a "Scream Queens" TV show until this afternoon.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The other James Bond is
'Def by Tempation'

Def by Temptation (1990)
Starring: James Bond III, Kadeem Hardison and Samuel L. Jackson
Director: James Bond III
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

"Def by Temptation" is the tale of a young preacher-in-training (Bond, who also wrote and directed the flick) who takes a break from his studies to spend time with his childhood friend (Hardison) in NYC, obstensibly to get to know a little about the world. He gets a little more than he bargains for, as he gets caught in the web of a demoness who is single-handedly depopulating a pick-up joint. (The demon preys on human weaknesses, such as lust and greed.) The big question: Will the young preacher remain pure and alive, or will he join the demon's list of victims?

Pacing- and story-wise, this is a standard B-Movie, which is of no surprise, as this is a film from Troma. It's a touch more upscale/serious than a typical Troma release, but it still has its share of humorous moments. The cinematography and lighting is above average... and there's actually a bit of acting going on in a number of scenes! (James Bond III is not one of the highlights, unfortunately.) There are a number of confused moments in the storyline, but none are fatally distracting, so, all in all, this is a fun romp.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's the Mall Security of the future!

Chopping Mall (aka "Killbots") (1986)

Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell, Russell Todd, Suzee Slater, Karrie Emerson, Nick Slater, and Barbara Crampton
Director: Jim Wynorski
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Eight typical teenaged slasher-movie characters (and therefore perpetually horny) hide out in a shopping mall to have an orgy in the mattress store. Unfortunately for them, they end up are trapped overnight with three heavily armed security robots that have malfunctioned and gone murderous due to a power surge.

Although "Chopping Mall" isn't as good as I remember it as being from when I was a kid, it's still a fun movie. It moves along at a brisk pace and it's got a goofy, upbeat tone (despite the flying laserbeams and exploding head) that makes it truly fun to watch. And while the movie is having fun with both the sci-fi and slasher genres, it still manages to make the viewer care about the characters. (Oh and the girls who take their tops off are girls who SHOULD be showing off their, um, assets.)

The acting over all is better than what is usually found in a film of this type, and lead Kelli Maroney is particularly good. The script is also better than what is often found in a film of this kind, although there really isn't anything surprising (aside from killer robots), and veteran slasher-movie watchers will know early on who lives and who dies. However, the jokes are actually funny, the action entertaining, and, despite my comment that the teens are typical slasher movie characters, they don't split up one at a time once they discover they are being hunted by killer robots. (In other words, they behave in far smarter fashion than most characters in this sort of film, and it makes the movie all the stronger for it.)

Finally, the robots are surprisingly well-done. They look pretty cool for the kind of movie this is, and for the period in which it was made. (Yeah, they look a bit like they came off the shelf at Radio Shack, but it was the 1980s for crying out loud! Macintoshes still booted off a single floppy disc that ALSO held a full working word processor on it, as well as the system software!)

"Chopping Mall" is the perfect addition to a Bad Movie Night line-up.

Young Hannah is lookin' to neck with you

Young Hannah, Queen of the Vampires
(aka "Crypt of the Living Dead" and "Vampire Woman") (1972)
Starring: Andrew Prine, Patty Shepard, Mark Damon, Frank Branya, and Teresa Gimpera Director:
Ray Danton
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A young engineer (Prine) is tricked into unleashing a vampiress (Gimpera) who has been trapped in her tomb for 700 years. Will he be able to undo his mistake and save the inhabitants of a small island before it becomes a land of the undead?

"Young Hannah" is sluggish film, with a script that offers very little that hasn't been done in countless vampire movies before (and it doesn't do anything unique with the much-used elements; in fact, the film feels so much like an offering from Hammer Films that I half expected to see "Shot on location in Scotland and at Shepperton Studios" as the end credits ran out.

If you like the classic Hammer stuff for the acting and stories, this might be a movie you'll enjoy; the cast is attractive and they act well enough. If you liked them either for the beautiful use of colors, or the creative use of light and shadow in the black-and-white films, this is not a film for you... it's shot in black-and-white, and the cinematographer really wasn't good at handling that medium.

This isn't a bad movie... just thoroughly mediocre. The cast does decent job, the comings and goings of Hannah the Vampire Queen are well done, and the story is okay, if a bit too slowly paced. There are just movies of this type that are better.

(By the way, for those wondering about the credit given to Ygor at the top... that's just me razzing the movie for a really odd bit of costuming. There's a character (played by Ihsan Gedik) who looks exactly like Ygor from Universal's "Son of Frankenstein" that it contributes unintentional comedy to the film for film buffs. But still not enough hilarity to lift the film above mediocre.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

'Caregiver' is surprisingly good thriller

Caregiver (2007)
Starring: Osa Wallander, Rebeka Montoya, Elisa Eliot, Paula Thomas, Carla Valentine, and Rich Ward
Director: Dennis Devine
Steve's Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sexually abused as a child and hiding from a physically abusive husband, Paige (Wallander) sets out to get a fresh start in life while helping others who have hard lives. She goes to work as a counciler at a halfway house for girls intending to change the girls' lives by showing them kindness. However, the girls--ranging from abuse victims to hardened juveline delinquents to throw Paige's kindness back in her face and the mental strain causes her to crack. With a background darker and more twisted than any of the inmates in the halfway house, and a tendency to violence that makes the girls look like the children they are, Paige quickly becomes a threat to anyone who crosses her.

"Caregiver" a moody, realistic, well-acted psychological thriller, and it's easy to see why it won Best Picture at the "Phoenix Fear Film Festival" in December of 2006. Osa Wallander is particularly impressives as Paige, a troubled woman who wants to be a positive influence in the world but who is just too mentally disturbed herself to quite manage to be one. Wallander's ability to switch from sugar-sweet to psycho-bitch in a heartbeat is one of the best things about this movie.

Aside from the strong performances by all the film's lead actresses, "Caregiver" benefits from a strong scrpt that has a ring of truth to it. A relative of mine worked for a number of years in a facility exactly like the one in the movie--the layout even resembled it--and the behavior of the girls, staff, and management in "Caregiver" reminded me very much of the stories she used to tell. This sense of realism gives the film a grounding that few chillers manage these days... and it makes me wish that more filmmakers would take such care witih their scripts.

The film further benefits from a subtle, unobtrusive directing and filming style. There are no "look at me showing off my film degree" flourishes in the film. The camera is simply there to pass along the story to us. It's an approach that brings even more realism to the film.

The film is not without its flaws, though... and while many of the strengths of the film arise from the script, so does its weaknesses.

First off, the pre-title murder sequence is rather tepid and it had me fearing for what was to follow--it's the one bit of the movie where i felt the acting left a lot to be desired.

Second, there's a rather stylish and creepy scene where one of the characters commits suicide. While this is a nice set-piece that had me squirming a bit, it might have had more impact if we'd actually known more the character beforehand. It's also something that doesn't seem to be connected with anything else that happens in the film, except a bewildering "haunting" that happens around the halfway mark. That whole element (because it's not even really a subplot) of the film feels out of place and as if it's something that remains from an earlier draft of the script that no one wanted to get rid of. (The girl refusing to wear a shirt was a great establishing bit for the way these halfway houses are, but the other bits of business involving the character distract more than they add to the overall flow of the movie.)

Still, this is a well-done, worthwhile psychological thriller that works because it is populated by realistic characters who exist within a perfectly believable world. Sure, there are some things I could nitpick, but, overall, the film sets a reality and maintains it. This is itself quite a feat for moviemakers, as the last few horror movies I've seen that involved social workers or institutions (like "See No Evil" and "Asylum of the Damned") were both so incompetently written that anyone who's ever so much as read a newspaper would be unable to suspend their disbelief. (The strong sense of realism in the film also makes the one murder that doesn't occur in flashback startling and impactful.)

'Dead Like Me' was a great TV series

Dead Like Me: The Complete First Season (2003)
Starring: Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Callum Blue, Laura Harris and Cynthia Stevenson
Director: Various
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

"Dead Like Me" was a criminally short-lived television series that focused on Georgia Lass (Muth), a young woman who dies in a freak accident, only to immediately be drafted as a Reaper where she works with Rube (Patinkin), Mason (Blue), and other "undead" who are charged with the task of extracting human souls so they can move onto the afterlife.

The show lasted two seasons, and it presented a curious mix of the macabre and humorous, of the spiritual and the tragic. Much of the show's humor is derived from the way the Reapers have to make their way through their "afterlife" which turns out to be just as much of a grind as living is. An equal amount is also gained from the oblique bureaucracy of the "soul-collecting business" the Reapers are part of--Rube gets assignments from unseen upper-management, and he then gives assignments to the Reapers... usually by writing them on yellow Post-It notes. The tragic aspects of the show come mostly into play by watching Georgia's family attempt to cope with her death, and its disintegration.

For a show that features at least one grisly death per episode, and which often makes light of those grisly deaths, it is a surprisingly uplifting show. Just about every episode carries messages about love, friendship, responsibility, and how much of an impact our presence (and absence) in the lives of those around us has.

(I once saw some comments about the show online where the poster was calling show evil and promoted the occult... well, if a show about the Angels of Death walking among us and having to work odd jobs to pay their rent is tainted by the mark of Satan, then I suppose "Highway to Heaven" must have been the ultimate in evil TV, and Michael Landon must have been just this side of the Anti-Christ... because "Dead Like Me" respects the mystery of God and Heaven enough to NOT claim to have any answers about what lies beyond the Veil.)

The show does take the position that everyone, from the moment of birth, has a time at which they are slated to die. That "appointment" is unavoidable, and if isn't kept through inaction on the part of an assigned Reaper, Bad Things happen to the soul. Even worse things happen if someone is somehow killed (At best, it describes what happens if someone some how is killed before their appointed time, and no Reaper is there to deal with the situation. But the show never gets into exactly where souls go or what happens to them.

"Dead Like Me" is definitely one of the very best television series to ever be produced. It's too bad it only lasted two seasons and a made-for-television movie wrap-up.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Only for the biggest lovers of slasher films

Girls Nite Out (aka "The Scaremaker") (1983)
Starring: Julia Montgomery, Hal Holbrook and Rutanya Alda
Director: Robert Deubel
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A maniac in a bear suit ruins a campus scavenger hunt by brutally murdering the participants. Will the chief of campus security (Holbrook) leave his office long enough to keep the bodycount in single digits and avenge the death of his own daughter?

"Girls Nite Out" is a by-the-numbers slasher film enhanced by "After School Special"-style ups and downs in relationships. The first hour or so is intensely boring, and even when the mad killer gets going, things don't liven up much. The acting is okay, but the problem is that every character is nearly devoid of personality, being nothing more than a required figure in this type of movie (The Nympho, The Nerd, The Stoner, The Joker, The Jock, The Shrew, and so on...), so the actors have even less to do than is typical.

On the other hand, "Girls Nite Out" does warn the viewers up front. I think it has probably the most boring main titles sequence of any film I've seen; I almost didn't make it through them. Plus, the bear costume as modified-by-the-killer is pretty nifty... and I guess the film can claim originality by having a basketball team mascot outfit turned into a deadly weapon.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Neve Campbell

Neve Campbell began her carrer as a teenager, with her first starring role being on the long-running night-time television drama "Party of Five" (1994-2000). On the big screen, she has mostly appeared in thrillers and horror film, starting with "The Dark" (1994) and "The Craft" (1996).

She is, however, best know to horror movie fans for her role as Sidney in the "Scream" series, the first entry of which revived not only the slasher film genre in 1996, but also gave a big boost to the career of director Wes Craven. The fourth installment in the series starts filming next month.

Friday, May 7, 2010

In celebration of my birthday!

Bloody Birthday (aka "Creepers") (1981)
Starring: Lori Lethin, Elizabeth Hoy, K.C. Martel, Billy Jacoby, Julie Brown and Andy Freeman
Director: Ed Hunt
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three children, born at the same moment in a small town hospital under a full eclipse, go on a killing spree shortly before their tenth birthday. Clever and evil beyond their years, will they manage to finish off the only people who suspect them (Lethin and Martel) before the pair can find proof that anyone will believe?

"Bloody Birthday" is an excellent concept for a movie that plays like a cross between "Village of the Damned" and "Beware: Children at Play". It features a decent musical score and a fine cast of actors--with child actors Elizabeth Hoy (as a blond, angelic-looking moppet who likes to choke her victims with a jump rope) and Billy Jacoby (as a bespecled bookworm who likes to lock playmates in abandoned refrigerators and grins happily while blasting victims into oblivion with a gun stolen from a dead police officer) are particularly chilling as the two lead killer kids, but everyone else also does a fine job in their respective parts. (Even comedienne Julie Brown in an early film role is good... although her part consists almost entirely of dancing around half naked.)

Unfortunately, this is another one of those films that's lacking in one of the most important departments--it's script. The film just sort of meanders from murder to murder, as our trio of devils with the faces of angels escalate the terror they're visiting upon the town. While the killer kids should definitely be the focus here, it would have been nice if there had been a little more meat and organization of the material between the murders. (We have police work so sloppy that Barney Fife would be embarrassed by it--has no one in the town heard of ballistics or autopsies?-- characters that are introduced for absolutely no reason--such as Lori Lethin's boyfriend--and there are only two of a number of "gun above the fireplace" moments that end up paying off; both inexcusable artifacts of sloppy writing and even sloppier filmmmaking.)

The writer also ultimately wusses out at the end. I know there's unwritten rule of filmmaking that you NEVER kill off a kid, but if there ever was a film where a kid or two NEEDED to be wasted, then this is it! One dead or severely injured kid at the end of this film would have improved it quite a bit, and I wouldn't have been left with the feeling the filmmakers chickened out at the end.

Although far from perfect, this film has enough good bits in it to make it worth seeing. There are some excellently staged moments where two-thirds of our trio of killer kids is trying to run a girl over with a car, and another where a boy is trying to escape from a fridge he's been locked inside. It's a film that's of interest to lovers of slasher-movies--particularly if your interest goes beyond mere entertainment and crosses over into scholarly/criticism--and it's also a perfect addition to any "bad seed"- or "murder in a small town"-themed Bad Movie Night. (Perhaps making it one-half of a double-feature with "Beware! Children at Play" is worth considering.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

'Terror' is fairly terrible

Terror (1978)
Starring: John Nolan, Carolyn Courage, and Mary Maude
Director: Norman J. Warren
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

The friends and associates of a young movie producer (Nolan) start dying messily after he completes a movie based on his family's history. Is it really a 300-year-old witch's curse that's reasserting itself, or is there someone (or some thing) else behind the slayings?

I understand that the forces of evil are inscrutable and driven by motives that mere mortals can't understand. This, however, should not be the case when it comes to movies featuring evil forces. Movies need to have some semblance of a sensible plot, and they need to give some sort of connection between back story and what unfolds.

In the case of "Terror", we have evil forces doing evil things that make no sense whether viewed in the context of the ancient curse, or in the context of facts revealed by characters on the screen. The coolest scene (where a forest seemingly comes to live and lifts a car into the tree-tops) seems like it was just thrown in because it was just that--cool.

"Terror" has some good scares and some good acting. It would have been nice if some time had been spent on developing a good script.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dark Waters can't cover bad writing

Dark Water (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Ariel Gade, Pete Postlethwaite, Tim Roth and Dougray Scott
Director: Walter Salles
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A mother and her young daughter (Connelly and Gade) shortly after they move into their new apartment, in a building with a creeper super (Postletwaite) and strange plumbing problems. This go from mildly unsettling to nightmarish when the girl gets an imaginary friend... who is actually a vengeful ghost.

I came to this film knowing nothing more than it was a horror movie and that it probably involved water. Barely twenty minutes in, I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen, thanks to foreshadowing so heavy-handed that I'm surprised the projector could support its weight, and a storyline that not once deviated from a paint-by-numbers ghost movie plot. Sure, there were some half-hearted attempts at misdirection, but they were too little and too late and too disconnected from some of the events that had already occurred to work. The end result is that unless this is the first ghost movie you've ever encountered, you're going to spend more time wishing the story would move forward than being scared or apprehensive.

If the goal was to produce a ghost story that plods through all the expected standards step by predictable step, the creators succeded. I kept HOPING that they'd take an unexpected turn somewhere, but they never did. The only decent thing about the film is that all the performances were appropriately understated. Connelly is great in her part, and Tim Roth shines as her quirky attorney.

My bottom line: Save your time and money. There's not enough worthwhile here for you to spend either on "Dark Water."

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Although, honestly, it might be a happier day all around if you don't celebrate by watching the movie in today's review. (Even if it is a Mexican production.)

The Isle of the Snake People (aka "The Snake People" and "Island of the Dead") (1968)
Starring: Ralph Bertrand, Charles East, Boris Karloff, Julissa, Santanon and Tongolele
Directors: Juan Ibenez and Jack Hill
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When a new police captain (Bertrand) arives on a small Carribean island, he vows to clean up police corruption and to break up the local voodoo cult. The cult, which is on the verge of ushering in a new age where their dark gods will rule supreme, go on the warpath against him. Can one honest cop defeat a cult specializing in zombie sluts and led by a crazed, tophat-wearing dwarf (Santanon), a voodoo priestess--or maybe just an exotic dancer in a really cool outfit who got lost on her way to a gig--(Tongolele) and a mysterious masked man (who can't possibly be the wealthy, eccentric plantation owner Van Molder (Karloff))?

"The Isle of the Snake People" is to Karloff films that "Bride of the Monster" is to Lugosi movies. Both films were made at the very end of long careers, and both films saw that those careers ended on very low notes. (This film is one of three that Karloff made in his final year, all Mexican productions that were made for distribution in movie theaters that catered to Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States. They were later dubbed into English. Karloff's scenes were shot on sets in Los Angeles while the bulk of the films were made in Mexico.)

This movie is boring to the point where you must have a book to read, or someone to make out with, while watching if you are to have any hope of getting through it. There are some scenes that could have been disturbing if they didn't go on forever--like the opening vooodoo ritual with that creepy dwarf--but the only truly creepy scenes are limited to those featuring flesh-eating zombie women. Mostly, the film just trudges along, from badly filmed scene to a badly acted one, and onward into infinity. (Actually, if one took a hatchet to this film, cut it down to maybe 40 minutes in length and retitled it "Night of the Flesh-Eating Zombie Sluts", it might end up as entertaining. It might even end up coherent.)

Boris Karloff is the only good thing about this film. The scantily clad belly-dancing voodoo priestess might have been a plus as well... if she'd had a bag over her head. She's got one of those "I've been in the sex industry entierly too long" hard faces and it sort of ruins the fantasty aspect. But Karloff, like Lugosi in "Bride of the Monster" gives his part his all, and watching him--even if he seems old and tired--is as much fun as always. (His interplay with his puritanical neice (Julissa) who has come to the island to save the natives from the evils of alcohol shows he had magic up to the very end.

If you're a Karloff fan, pretend "Targets" was his last film and that "Isle of the Snake People" doesn't exist. You won't be missing anything... except a freaky dwarf and a belly-dancer that should have been wearing the mask instead of the cult leader.

If you're a completist who feels you must see and/or own every Karloff movie, I can't recommend that you get any of the stand-alone versions of this film. If you must have it, pick up one of the DVD multi-packs it's included in to get value for your money. (There's a particularly good one that includes "Night of the Living Dead" and two other films.)

For more reviews of Boris Karloff movies, click here to visit the companion blog The Boris Karloff Collection.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Man in two minds because of mad science

The Man With the Screaming Brain (2005)
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Vladimir Kolev, Tamara Gorsky, Stacey Keach, Ted Raimi, and Antoinette Byron
Director: Bruce Cambell
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After Ugly American industrialist William Cole (Campbell) and his Bulgarian gangster driver (Kolev) are murdered by a sexy-but-psychopathic Gypsy woman (Gorsky), Cole is resurrected by Russian mad scientist Ivan Ivanovich (Keach) as a proof-of-concept for his revolutionary brain surgery technique. Unfortunately, Ivanovich's methods involve transplanting parts of brains into other brains, so Cole now has to contend with sharing his mind and body with a gangster. One thing they can both agree upon: They want revenge on the Gypsy who murdered them.

"The Man With the Screaming Brain" is part homage, part hilarious spoof of the "mad science" B-movies of the '50s and '60s. We've got greed, lust, mad science, brain transplants, a killer robot, more stereotypes and oddball plot-twists than you can count, and a truly bizarre tale of a failing marriage revitalized by tragedy and twists of fate. Oh, and we have Bruce Campbell speeding through a Bulgarian city on a pink Vespa!

While I think the storyline is a bit shakey--it's actually overburdened by a few too many gags and B-movie plot mainstays tossed in for the movie's own good--it holds together well enough and it should be great fun for fans of Bruce Campbell and the cheesy sort of sci-fi/horror movies it's spoofing. (Fans of contempary cultural reference comedy will be greatly amused by Ted Raimi's "Pavel" character... an up-and-coming mad scientist with a love of hip-hop who utters the line, 'Sounds like there is some shizzle going on down there my nizzle.')

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Janet Agren

Another nude model-turned-actress, Swedish-born Janet Agren appeared in nearly sixty films from 1968 to 1991 when she retired from the screen to persue a career as an interior designer in Florida. She is the only attractive aspect to many Z-grade Italian horror films.

British monster menaces choir boys
and big-breasted women!

Panic (aka "Bakterion") (1974)
Starring: David Warbeck, Janet Agren, and Jose Lifante
Director: Tonino Ricci
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A butter-fingered scientist spills experimental biological weapons-matter all over himself and turns into a rampaging creature that attacks big-breasted women in tight tops and choir boys on the outskirts of London. Captain Kirk (Warbeck)--no, not THAT Captain Kirk--is charged with hunting him down while a beautiful scientist (Agren) races to find a cure.

This is not the worst movie ever made, but it certainly is one of the stupidest. Heavily padded with tranquil city and country road scenes--supposedly made suspenseful by the lame soundtrack--and featuring a lame monster, lame villains, a painfully generic hero, and even more painfully bad dialogue.

"Panic" might provide some mild entertainment as a secondary feature at a Bad Movie Party, but otherwise it's an utterly worthless bit of cinema.