Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Felissa Rose

Born in 1969, Felissa Rose grew up in New York wanting to be an actress. In 1983 at the age of thirteen she landed the role of Angela in the cult horror film "Sleepaway Camp."

That was the only role she played as a child, instead following a path that saw her finish school, college, complete formal training as an actress, and appear in numerous acclaimed stage productions.

In 2000, Rose returned to screen acting. In the past ten years she has been featured in more than 35 different independent horror films, including "Return to Sleepaway Camp" in 2008. At present, she is featured in four different movies in varying stages of production.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just leave this one alone and in the dark

Alone in the Dark (2005)
Starring: Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff and Tara Reid
Director: Uwe Boll
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Edward Carnby (Christian Slater) is a paranormal investigator who has spent the last several years trying to unlock a mystery in his past that is somehow tied to a mysterious prehistoric culture. He is on the verge of finding his answers when a series of nonsensical events surrounding invisible monsters, a girlfriend played by an apparently bored actress (Tara Reid), symbiot-infected government agents, and a for-no-apparent-reason-bitter co-worker from the government's paranormal research branch Dept. 713 (Stephen Dorff) erupt.

This movie starts with a dull bit of exposition, and it doesn't get much better. It's a mish-mash of half-developed story elements and non-developed characters played by actors who in most cases seem like they know they're in an awful film so they're not even trying. The monstrous threat is self-contradictory (the critters are loose in the world, yet they're not... the critters are stopped from invading the world, yet they've depopulated it by the end). The super-secret, heavily armed government agency set up to deal with supernatural threats have been fighting the growing monster menace for years, yet they go to face it repeatedly in the film without the fairly simple, easy-to-come-by methods to weaken it. (The creatures are vulnerable to light. Private citizens can rent light towers with gas or battery powered generators, yet the hi-tech, paramilitary Dept. 713 can't lay their hands on any.)

Maybe the problem is that the three writers on "Alone in the Dark" never showed each others pages to one another before rehearsal and filming started?

There is nothing nice to say about this film, except maybe that it moves fast enough to not get boring. For that, it gets a very generous One Star. I knew I was watching garbage, but it kept me mildly entertained. I still wish I had the time back I spent watching it, and I don't recommend you waste yours on this film.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Price Times Three in 'Twice-Told Tales'

Twice-Told Tales (aka "Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales" and "Nights of Terror") (1963)
Starring: Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Beverly Garland, Brett Halsey, Joyce Taylor, and Mari Blanchard
Director: Sidney Salkow
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

"Twice-Told Tales" is a collection of three short films loosely based on stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. They are a nice mix of melodrama and horror, and, although they unfold somewhat slowly (and those who think a horror movie has to have gore and violence or it not worth seeing will be bored), each tale features some great classical style acting and chilling twist endings that will keep lovers of well-done dramas entertained.

Vincent Price plays the lead in two of the three segments, and he displays clearly why he was a rising leading man in Hollywood until he shifted gears career-wise and became a star of horror films. Although he is the villain in each piece, he carries himself with such an air of melancholy-tinged elegance that one can't but feel a little sympathy for the evil men he portrays.

In film opens with "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." Here, Price plays the best friend of the title character (played by Sebastian Cabot), a scientist who discovers a literal fountain of youth in the crypt of long-dead woman they both loved. The two friends regain their their youth, and even manage to resurrect their beloved Sylvia (Blanchard). Unfortunately, turning back the hands of time also resurrects dark secrets long buried.

The second story is "Rappaccini's Daughter". In it, Gionvanni (Halsey) falls in love with a mysterious beauty (Taylor) who never leaves the mansion and walled garden she shares with her father, Rappaccini (Price). It soon comes to light that Rappaccini used chemistry to turn his daughter's very touch poisonous to protect her from sin... and when it becomes clear to him that Giovanni and his daughter love each other, he takes steps to ensure they'll be together and faithful to each other forever. This is perhaps the oddest and saddest of the three tales, and while Price's character is definitely a total madman in this story, he still manages to bring a sympathetic quality to Rappaccini in his performance.

Finally, we have a very loose adaptation of Hawthorne's novel "House of Seven Gables" where Gerald Pyncheon (Price) returns to his his ancestral home with his wife Alice (Garland) and awakens a restless spirit and a deadly curse. While the first two stories were tragedies with "mad science" overtones and nifty twist endings , this one is pretty much a standard haunted house story with all the various expected elements used exactly as anticipated. It's not only a fairly bad take on Hawthorne's novel, but it's also the weakest short film here, and it was one that saw me wishing for the credits to start rolling. Still, Price gives a good performance, and there's never anything wrong with watching someone as lovely as Beverly Garland, even if she is in some nicely put-together dreck. (Oh... and the model shot of the house of the title is probably one of the worst bit of special effects since the Alpine village in Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes.")

Although it ends on a down-note, "Twice-Told Tales" is an interesting anthology film. It's a film I recommend highly to fans of Vincent Price, particularly if they've not been exposed to his pre-Corman and pre-Castle days. He is in great form in this film.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's 'Horror for the Holidays'

If you're looking for something to keep yourself awake while waiting for Santa, check this little collection of classic horror stories and mysteries.Horror for the Holidays. (They've been hand-selected by your Terror Titans host, me!)

Pick up this latest collection of classic fiction from NUELOW Games and help keep a roof over my head. :)

Christmas Saturday Scream Queens

In celebration of Christmas, I bring you multiple Scream Queens in Santa Hats!

Scarlett Johansson: Good at being naughty?

Scarlett Johansson started her career as a child actress at the age ten, appearing in such films as "North" (1994) and "Just Cause." (1995). She made the successful transition from child actress to adult movie star with the horror-comedies "Eight Legged Freaks" (2002). During 2006 alone, she appeared in three different films with horror-themes--"Scoop", "The Black Dahlia", and "The Prestige". She is currently filming the sci-fi/horror flick "Under the Skin", which is slated for release in late 2012.

Ha Ji-Won: She causes Santa to say "Ha! Ha! Ha!" instead of "Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Ha Ji-Won has been described by many critics in her home country of South Korea as one of that nation's most talented actresses. She has made 20 movies since her film debut in 2000, and her performances in horror films such as "Truth Game" (2000) "Phone" (2002), and, more recently, disaster movie "Tidal Wave" (2009) and the monster-on-a-rampage sci-fi/horror flick "Sector 7" (2011) show that the critics may be right for once.

Tara Reid: All she wants for Christmas is a pair of pants.

Tara Reid graduated from "that cute little girl in TV commercials" to horror films when she appeared in the 1987 chiller "A Return to Salem's Lot". Although she is perhaps best known for her recurring role as Vicky in the "American Pie" sex comedy series, Reid's resume of more than 35 films features ten horror movies. Among these are "Urban Legend" (1998), "Devil's Pond" (2003), "Incubus" (2006), and, most recently "The Field" (2011). She also starred in "Alone in the Dark" (2005), a horror movie that failed on so many levels it's hard to keep track of them. Director Uwe Boll blames Reid for the film's terrible state, but anyone who's suffered through it knows that Boll needs to cast that blame on the man in the mirror.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Parasite

The Parasite (1995)
Starring: David Gaffrey, Julia Matias, David Akin, and Robert Taminga
Director: Andy Froemke
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When college professor Richard Austin (Gaffrey) volunteers to be the test subject in a fellow researcher's (Taminga) experiments with a powerful psychic (Matias), he finds himself the victim of a stalker who doesn't even have to leave her house to make his life hell.

The premise of this film is cool--think "Fatal Attraction" with psychic powers and hypnotism tossed in and you're close--but it's executed badly here. The film unfolds at a glacial, deadly dull pace... it's not padding that makes it boring (as is often the case with low-budget horror films like this), it's just a boring film. To drag the film down even further, the acting is pedestrian, the gore effects are badly done, and the visual "psychic vision" cues are even worse.

I'm sure there's a way make a premise as this one into an exciting film. "The Parasite" isn't it, though.

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Bloodlock' should have stayed locked up

Bloodlock (2008)
Starring: Ashley Gallo, Dominic Koulianos, Gregg Biamonte, Debra Gordon, Karen Fox,
Dick Hermance, and Nick Foote
Director: William Victor Schotten
Rating: One of Two Stars

Young married couple Christine and Barry (Gallo and Biamonte) discover a sealed door made of titanium in the basement of the house they have just purchased. As Christine grows obsessed with what might be behind it, her husband and slutty sister (Fox) are having an affair... and the creepy neighbors (Gordon and Hermance) are plotting to get into the door and take possession of what's inside.

William Victor Schotten is a filmmaker who is learning is craft as he goes. This is evident from the two films from him I've watched so far... this one, the oldest, and the Rapture/Zombie tale "Sabbath". Both date from 2008, but while "Sabbath" is far from perfect, it's a much, MUCH better film than "Bloodlock."

Heck, based on the difference in quality between "Bloodlock" and "Sabbath", I may have to get my hands on Schotten's most recent film--"Silver Cell" from 2011, because if he's continued at that rate of improvement, he may just have created one of the Greatest Movies Ever Made.

There's no word to describe "Bloodlock" better than "inept." The pacing is wrong from the get-go and it only gets worse as the film unfolds... with sequences that could have benefited from a little a pause being raced through like they were running out of film, and sequences that should have been quick being dragged out. The script is disjointed and chaotic, with a number of tones drifting through the disorganized story like so much flotsam as the film moves from being a erotic thriller, to a gory monster flick, to a half-assed comedy. There was also clearly a lack of funding when it came to special effects and a lack of rehearsal time when it came to the fight scenes... and the inexperience of Schotten and his technical crew only makes these shortcomings more obvious because they were either unable to use cinematic trickery to cover for them, or unaware of the fact they were looking at inadequacies until it was too late to do anything about it. And, finally, the ultimate doom for the movie are the mostly amateurish actors struggling with flat, poorly written lines. (Dominic Koulianos and Karen Fox are not only called upon to deliver awful lines, but they don't seem to be all that talented to begin with. That's a mix that destroys almost every scene they're in.)

This is, however, also one of those films I wish I could say nicer things about, because hidden inside this mess are some gems. I like the pirahna-style design used for the vampires in the film, and I think something cool could be done with the psychic housewife-turning-monster-hunter. But in this film, both of these cool aspects are all but wasted.

The one thing I have to give Schotten (or maybe screenwriter Tom McLaughlin) is that he realized this movie was disjointed and messy. So clear was that realization was that the film ends with the old "it was all a dream" and then loops back on itself by repeating an early scene. If you have a movie that doesn't make any sense, I suppose that's not a bad way to try to say "We meant to do that!". My reaction to such endings are typically either an irritated growl at the lazy cop-out or a grin at the well-executed creepy moebius loop, but seeing it here at the end of "Bloodlock" just made me a little sad. It seemed to say that the filmmakers knew what they had here didn't amount to much of anything.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Kumi Mizuno

Born on New Year's Day in 1937, began her film career appearing in thrillers and mystery films, but as the 1960s progressed, her good looks and pleasant demeanor made her a favorite of director Ishirô Honda and thus she became Toho's go-to gal when it came to befriending or being menaced by aliens and monsters of all kinds, in a range of sci-fi and horror films.

Mizuno emerged from her stint with monsters as one of Japan's most popular actresses and moved away from the horror and sci-fi genres as the 1970s progressed.

With a career that has spanned more than five decades at this point, she remains much-loved among the Japanese movie-going public and continues to act in films up to the present day. While she personally never put much weight on her early career co-starring with giant monsters and special effects, she returned to face Godzilla once more in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla (2002) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), two entries in the Toho Company's "Millenium" series.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A good idea is butchered in 'Demon Slaughter'

Demon Slaughter (2008)
Starring: Adam Berasi, Bill Wittman, Vic Badger, and Shannon Johnson
Director: Ryan Cavalline
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Psychopathic killer Jimmy (Berasi) decides to quit the crime syndicate by stealing a few million dollars from it and then killing everyone that might come after him. But his partners in crime get wind of his intentions, and they decide to take out Jimmy and his wife (Johnson) first. And that's when the demons and zombies start popping up.

"Demon Slaughter" has in interesting story at its heart and that makes it yet another in the seemingly unending row of films I wish I liked more. Jimmy, as played by Adam Berasi is an absolutely unlikeable character, but the viewers become invested in his fate despite ourselves; he's a character like Scarface (from the 1930s version... I've not seen any of the remakes) with even fewer good qualities. This is a credit to Adam Berasi's acting talent more than the material (or the props) he's working with.

Unfortunately, the film is nowhere near as powerful as it might have been, due to budget- and skill-limitations on every front.

First off, this is a movie with lots and lots of gun-play in it, but there was not the money to hire an armorer (so the weapons--some of which look like toys--are never fired and the actors don't even try to simulate recoils), nor the budget to actually damage the interior of a building where a massive shoot-out takes place (all those missed shots from the automatic weapons never impact anything), nor the special-effects know-how to rig actors with squibs (or whatever the modern equivalent is) and blood-packs for when they get shot. All-in-all, the shoot-outs and gangster action felt more like someone trained a camera on adults playing Soldiers or Cops & Robbers rather than something that belonged in a movie.

Second, there wasn't the budget to fully create scary zombies when all of Jimmy's victims (I assume that's who the zombies were, although that's never expressly stated) come back for their revenge. The make-up and costumes were reminiscent of a high school play or cheap haunted house rather than something that belonged in a movie. It also didn't help that there were barely half a dozen zombies when the sequence called for a veritable hoard of them.

And then there's a the sound effects and sound recording in general. There is a reference to "boom operators" in the credits, but if such were used on this film, they were the least competent people to ever handle that equipment. It seems more likely that all dialogue was recorded with the built-in microphone on the cheap video camera that was used to make this movie, as there are times where the dialogue is so soft so as to be almost inaudible and the volume of the actors' voices vary greatly... sometimes to the point of being inaudible. And Cavelline uses the game gunshot sound over and over and over and over and over....

Finally, the transition point from violent gangster flick with a few horror touches into full-blown surrealistic horror film is so clumsily handled that anyone who's read "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (or read any of the many comic book adaptations, or the "Twilight Zone" episode based on it) will have a pretty good idea about where the rest of the film is headed. If the story had been a little more elaborately structured--with the first half perhaps being in flashback?--maybe it could have been a little less predictable.

Despite all the toy guns, bad effects, and clumsy filmmaking, the film has enough moments to make it just good enough to not end up at Movies You Should [Die Before You] See... but only barely. The scenes surrounding the death of Jimmy's wife that lead up to the transition from gangster movie to horror movie are pretty well done and are the film's highlight.

"Demon Slaughter" can be found in several DVD multi-movie packs from Maxim Media's Pendulum Pictures and Brain Damage Films. It's worth checking out if acquired that way, but you will regret spending the money if you get any stand-alone version that might be out there.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An island of missed opportunities

Frankenstein Island (1981)
Starring: Robert Clarke, Steve Brodie, Robert Christopher, Tain Bodkin, Kathrine Victor, Cameron Mitchell, George Mitchell and John Carradine
Director: Jerry Warren
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Hot air balloonists crashland on an uncharted island where they discover primitive bikini babes descended from alien visitors, stranded pirates, Kung Fu zombies, and Shiela Frankenstein (Victor) continuing the experiments of her famous relative.

Despite a crazy mix of elements--any one of which could have brought some excitement to this film--"Frankenstein Island" is a crushing bore from beginning to end. The dull 'heroes' wander around not doing much of anything--even the Kung Fu fight versus the zombies who all look like they just walked out of a beatnik cafe is boring--and the villains aren't much more active or effective.

The biggest shame of the movie is how badly everything is executed. The writer/director was clearly going for a cross between a "Lost World" film and a "Mad Scientist on a Rampage" movie, but he was not competent enough to capture the feel of either genre, and he botches even the simplest elements. (Worst offense: He doesn't make full use of the bikini babes... one should have developed a romance/association with one of the heroes early on and then should have been following the around. At the very least, we would have had something nice to look at while struggling to stay awake.)

Another missed opportunity was the identity of Sheila Frankenstein's husband. When he was first brought up in an ominous way, I was hoping he would be revealed as as the Frankenstein Monster. Alas, this was not to be. Sheila's mysterious husband turns out to be one of the more boring elements of the film.

"Frankenstein Island" is not a place worth visiting.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Kerry Kearns

Kerry Kearns' resume reads like she is the movie character rather than the actress.

Kearns is a field producer for Pennsylvania-based WBRE-TV by day, and B-movie starlet by night!

Since graduating from college in 2001, Kearns has worked primarily as a television news writer and segment producer, but she has also acted in six different low-budget horror films (with a total of seven listed on her resume as the short film "Cannibal Cheerleader Camp" was ultimately folded into the 2010 anthology film "Suburban Madness").

Kearns' most recent film, "Attack of the Vegan Zombies", where she plays one of four college students under attack by blood-hungry grape vines, will receive wide release on DVD in January 2012.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Attack of the Vegan Zombies' is an uneven but entertaining effort

Attack of the Vegan Zombies! (2012)
Starring: Christine Egan, Jim Townsend, Natalia Jablokov, Kerry Kearns, Watt Smith, John D. Kelly, H. Lynne Smith, and Wyatt Gunter
Director: Jim Townsend
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A string of bad growing seasons might cause Dionne and Joe (Egan and Townsend) to lose the vineyard and winery she inherited from her father, so Dionne turns to her mother (Smith), a practicing witch, for help. Together, they cast a spell that causes the grapes to grow like never before... but there is one big problem: The plants are sentient and thirsty for the blood of anyone who drinks wine made from the vineyard's grapes.

"Attack of the Vegan Zombies!" is one of those films I wish I liked more than I do. It has a lot going for it... a cast that's generally more talented than what I often see in films at this budgetary level, and a writer/director who seems to actually haven taken his script through more than a single draft, because the dialogue actually seems polished (although I got the sense that maybe a little more research into wine-making might have been needed). Also, as an idea for a low-key "Shaun of the Dead"-type horror spoof, this is a great one.

Townsend also clearly has a firm command of the technical aspects of filmmaking. The scenes are well-framed and well-lit, the edits and establishing shots always dead-on, the sound always clear and well-balanced, be it dialogue or sound effects. On a technical level, this film stands heads-and-shoulders above the vast majority of is low-budget, direct-to-DVD kin.

But as much as I want to like it, the weaknesses present here are so strong that they really get in the way of my overall enjoyment of the film.

The most glaring and persistent of these weaknesses are the characters portrayed by Watt Smith and John D. Kelly. These are a pair of uber-nerds that are played with such over-the-top gusto and caricature that they are out of step with the more realistic performances around them, making their characters irritating on the level of the comic relief characters that were shoehorned into the majority of horror films from the 1930s and 1940s. However, the aren't quite as bad as the majority of those characters, because Kelly and Smith have enough charisma to be likable through the annoying character acting. It's a shame that director Townsend chose to go in that direction, because the geeky banter back and forth between these characters would have been even funnier if they'd been played in a more straight fashion.

Another aspect that weakens the film is that Townsend may have taken on more than he was ready to handle in his first outing as a director; he may have made a mistake when he chose to play the male lead in the film he also directed, because every scene he appears in as an actor seems flat and lifeless when compared to those he isn't in. The clearest example of this is the scene where Dionne and her mother reveal that they are witches with a very real ability to weave spells. It's a great little scene that brings back fond memories of the "Bewitched" TV show, but actresses Christine Egan and H. Lynne Smith showed far greater energy in the scenes where they were interacting with each other or with other actors while Townsend was off-screen watching the scene unfold instead of trying to watch it from within. With more time and money to "get it right", Townsend might have been able to both star in and direct this picture, but given that he only had $30,000 as his budget and presumably the severe time limitations that arise when you have to coordinate your cast-with-dayjobs with when your locations are available, I don't think he had the opportunity for the multiple takes probably needed.

Finally, the film, strangely, seems to come apart at the seams during the final half-hour. For most of its running-time, it builds steadily toward what promises to be a chaotic climax full of killer grapevines and blood-sucking zombies. But as we get to that climax point, promises made early in the film don't pay off--like the exchange the mother has with a local restaurant owner to whom she sells a case of wine that seems to have been made from the magical grapes and its promise of a whole hoard of zombies attacking the winery in search of more "nectar". There are also strange continuity gaffes, and a repeated shying away from anything resembling physical altercations or violent action: We get the set-up, but in nearly every case, the action is either truncated or completely absent. All-in-all, what seemed very promising just sputters out at the end... even to the point where Townsend makes the huge error of tacking on one last joke in the form of a "shock surprise ending" which is predictable, not very funny, and nowhere near the closing moments that this film deserved.

There is enough good about this film that I hope it does well enough for Townsend to either motivate him to self-produce another movie, or for someone to hire him to make one for them. I would like to see what he could come up with, given lessons learned from this film. I also wouldn't mind seeing Christine Egan take another turn in front of a camera, as I think she did a fine job here, in what seems to be her only film role so far. This really is a an okay little movie that got torpedoed by a few bad choices on the part of a first-time director.

"Attack of Vegan Zombies" was completed in 2010, and Townsend has been selling copies of the film directly through his website and on However, it was recently picked up for distribution by Midnight Releasing, and it will be available everywhere come January 3, 2012.

(My thanks to the good people at Maxim Media for providing me with a copy of the film for review.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

These 'shrooms provide majorily bad trips

Matango (aka "Attack of the Mushroom People") (1962)
Starring: Akira Kubo, Miki Yashiro, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Koizumi, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Kenji Sahara
Director: Ishirô Honda
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A sudden storm maroons a group of pleasure-boaters on an uncharted island inhabited by strange mushroom creatures.

If "Gilligan's Island" were a horror movie, then this would be it. We have the Skipper and Little Buddy characters (although they're contemptuous of their passengers and treacherously self-centered as opposed to bumbling and helpful); we have Ginger and Mary-Ann (although one is a shy student and the other a bitchy diva), the Millionaire (the owner of the yacht who is always quick to remind everyone else how rich he is... and the bitchy diva stands in for His Wife), and finally, the Professor (who is, well... the Professor).

"Mantango" is a far more effective horror film than I expected to see from the home of Godzilla and who-knows-how-many-other giant monsters. It stars out feeling like an adventure flick, but once our crew of castaways find the wrecked research vessel on the coast of the island where they are marooned, a sense of claustrophobic horror starts to build. And as desperation starts to grip our band of contentious castaways, it becomes more and more evident that they have nowhere to hide from the monsters or each other.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the film was that the monsters--the mushroom people--were not as silly as I expected them to be. Perhaps it was because they were tied in with the fact that the only way for the characters to survive was to eat food they knew would turn them into monsters, but the effective make-up effects and costumes also played a role.

While I wasn't thrilled with the "shocking twist ending"--which was so bad that it rivals some of the worst modern offenders I've complained about--everything prior to it as very well done. It's a horror film that's free of gore and nudity, so it can be enjoyed by the entire family. Heck, it's even free of stringy-haired girl-ghosts, so this might just be a Japanese horror flick that even those who are sick of them can enjoy!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Susan Cabot

Susan Cabot's rough childhood, which saw her grow up in a string of eight foster homes, led, by some accounts, to her being cold, distant, and downright abusive to those around her in her personal life. Something which ultimately led to her demise.

Cabot's film career was an on-again, off-again affair. She was a contract player with Universal Picture in the early 1950s, but asked to be released form that contract in 1954 so she could do theater work in New York City. During this time, she appeared mostly in westerns.

In 1957, Roger Corman convinced her to return to the film business and she spent the next two years primarily appearing in films produced or directed by Corman. Among these is her very best performance in the chilling "Sorority Girl"--perhaps one of Corman's best and most heart-felt pictures. It's dressed up like an exploitation horror thriller, but it's really a far deeper picture about a sociopath's doomed struggle to find friends and fit into society.

Cabot ended her film career in 1959 with another starring turn as a sociopath in "The Wasp Woman", this time a decidedly villainous rather than piteous character. This mad scientist film set in a cosmetic company is slow-moving and mostly dull, but Cabot is, once again, quite good. Perhaps a reason she excelled at playing sociopaths is because she was putting a big part of herself up there on the screen?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Cabot was cold and abusive to those close to her. In fact, she was so abusive to her son that he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and given a suspended sentence after he bludgeoned her to death while she slept in 1986.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Project Vampire' is a failed project

Project Vampire (1993)
Starring: Brian Knudson, Mary-Louise Gemmill, and Myron Natwick
Director: Peter Flynn
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A mad scientist, Dr. Klaus (Natwick), is perfecting a longevity serum that turns those who use it into vampires. A brave intern from the univsersity hospital (Knudson), a kind-hearted nurse (Gemmill), and a Chinese genius (Cho) join forces to save themselves from the effects of the serum and to stop Klaus's convoluted schemes from coming to fruition.

At the center of "Project Vampire" is a neat idea--I like the notion of the vampire serum--but that idea is brutally strangled by a script so badly structured I doubt the writer/director has even heard the term "three-act structure", and then dumped in a shallow grave by a cast of actors who have almost certainly heard the phrase "don't quit your day job" many times. To make matters worse, the film is a mixture of a chase story and a race-against-time story, but both of these normally dramatic plot-types are made deadly dull by chase scenes that have all the excitement of my daily commute to work.

(In fairness, I may actually be being a bit harsh on the actors who star in this picture. Mary-Louise Gemmill and Myron Natwick both have extensive credits to their names, albeit as a voice actress and bit-player respectively--taking center stage may not be where their talent lies, or maybe they were let down by director Peter Flynn. Flynn has been a prop-maker for a host of high profile television series and movies but this was the one and only film he's directed.

In the end, "Project Vampire" is yet another badly executed low-budget film where a good idea falls victim to a shortage and/or misdirection of talent. (It's also the only film of recent vintage that features a Chinese character that brought to mind Lionel Twain's rant at Inspector Wang in "Murder By Death" about geniuses being unable to grasp the use of preposition, articles, and pronouns when speaking.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'Tales of Terror' is Roger Corman at his best

Tales of Terror (aka "Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Terror") (1962)
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Leona Gage, Maggie Pierce, Joyce Jameson, and Debra Paget
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

This is the film that convinced me that Roger Corman actually could make a good movie, when I first saw it. My first exposure to his work was "The Wasp Woman" and "The Terror", not exactly Corman at his best.

"Tales of Terror" is an anthology film that features three shorts loosely adapted from stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and further tied together by the fact that each star Vincent Price in a different role.

First up, we have the chilling and tragic tale "Morella", where a young woman (Pierce) returns to her childhood home in one last attempt to connect with the father who rejected her (Price) after the death of her mother. Moody throughout and downright terrifying at the end, this story is a excellent excursion into the dark corners of the human heart and a fabulous horror story.

Next, we have "The Black Cat", which folds the story of the same name and "A Cask of Amontillado" into one tale of dark comedy as a drunkard (Lorre) ends up in a hum-dinger of a drinking competition with a snooty wine-taster (Price) after he stumbles into an annual wine festival. When he later discovers that wine-taster has been having an affair with his wife, he decides to take drastic action. This tale is characterized by a taut balance between comedy and a brooding sense of dread, with the on-screen interplay between Lorre and Price being a fabulous bit of movie magic. (They're even better here than in "A Comedy of Terrors".)

Finally, we are presented with "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", an exceedingly creepy tale of a greedy mesmerist (Rathbone) who uses hypnosis to trap the spirit of a dying man (Price) between this world and the next... with terrible consequences for everyone involved. This segment isn't as stunning visually as the first two, but it gets plenty skin-crawly as it builds toward its climax.

The ever-present cheapness in a Corman film is invisible here. I've no doubt that every dollar is present on the screen, but the crew working on this film built some great sets, they're beautifully lit, and the camera work and editing is excellent; the material here looks far better than what I still think of as "typical" Corman. Further, there's no obvious padding to dispel the mood of horror and dread in any of the three stories.

All the principal actors (and even some of the bit-players) give excellent performances. I would even venture that Price might not be the best in this film--Lorre's comedic performance is fabulous, as is Rathbone's turn as a blackhearted villain. (That's not to say that Price isn't great in all the three parts he plays.)

If you like classic horror movies, I'm sure you'll love "Tales of Terror." If you tend to sneer at Corman films, as I used to, maybe this one will show that he can be really, really good when working with the right cast, writers, crew... and when he takes more time than 48 hours to shoot a film.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Amy Smart

Cute and blonde, California native Amy Smart has been busy playing everything from bit-parts to leading lady since her acting debut in 1996, appearing in over 50 films and television series. Best knwon for appearing in "Varsity Blues", "Outside Providence", and the two gonzo action films in the "Crank" series, her resume has been dotted with horror films since the earliest points of her career.

Smart appeared both im the anthology film "Campfire Tales" in 1997, and followed up the next year with the the internet stalker horror film "Strangeland". Ten years later, she made it a double-bill when she starred in two horror films that year--"Mirrors" and "Seventh Moon."

We won't have to wait ten years for Smart's next horror film, however. She is currently filming "7500", a movie about supernatural happenings during a flight across the Pacific. It's being directed by the "Grudge" series that is slated for release in late 2012.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day of the Turkey Review:
The Witches' Mountain

The Witches' Mountain (1971)
Starring: John Gaffari, Patty Shepard, and Monica Randall
Director: Raul Artigot
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A commerical photographer (Caffari) takes a random girl (Shepard)--it WAS the Seventies!--with him on a trip to shoot a photo-essay on isolated Witches' Mountain. Random weirdnesses, and eventually witches, haunt them every step of the way.

"The Witches' Mountain" is a film with a muddled story and a twist ending that guarentees nothing in it makes sense.

How does the prologue with the evil little bitch girl fit with the climax? Was Shepard put in Gaffari's path through magic? What was the deal with the deserted village? Why do witches look like a modern ballet company during rehersal when doing "black magic"? Why do witches like to steal our hero's car and break into his house? These are just some of the questions you will be left with when the final frame of film freezes on your DVD player.

The best actor in this film is Shepard, who has shockingly blue eyes and has an odd sort of beauty about her--very much like the more well-known Barbara Steele--but no one is exactly bad... except perhaps that god-awful creepy innkeeper/comic relief character. But that might just have been the voice actor who did the dubbing.

Shepard's beauty aside, the only other thing this film has to offer is some great moments of unintentional hilarity to brighten any Bad Movie Night. Otherwise, this is just a mediocre horror film that's scare free and, like its protaganists, ultimately ends up nowhere.

Day of the Turkey Review:
When Heaven Comes Down

When Heaven Comes Down (2003)
Starring: Emily Albright, Dominica Wasilewska, Joe Gordon, Cory Schiffern, Anthony Sabatino, and Aaron Reisner
Director: Garry M. Lumpp
Stars: Three of Ten Stars

Several years ago, Samantha (Albright) was saved at the last minute from a religiously driven serial killer (Gordon) by a renegade FBI agent (Reisner), and the serial killer is locked up. She put her life back together, and she is now tending bar at the local watering hole and running a support group for battered women. But then the women in the support group start dying... brutally murdered in a way that makes it seem that the serial killer is back and stalking Samantha and those around her yet again.

"When Heaven Comes Down" is a clumsily made slasher flick that includes a few elements that could have helped it rise above the pack of low-budget, shot-on-video, direct-to-DVD films that anyone with a camera, friends, and a few dollars to burn seemed to be making 5-10 years ago. Given that low-budget horror film stalwart Robert D'Zar helped produce the film (and is in a single, unimportant scene), it's not surprising that it should have SOMETHING to distingush it. But that little bit of something is not nearly enough to make the movie worth watching.

The fact that a support group for battered is the focus of the murderer's activities was an inspired idea. You have the horror of women who are now being victimized all over again, and you have a ready pool of possible maniac suspects constantly lurking nearby in the form of the abusive ex-husbands and boyfriends and fathers. It's a great idea, but it requires some development of the characters in the support group... and I've seen slasher films where Drunk Girl #3 got more character development than any of the victims here. The idea also requires some skill on the part of the actors portraying these ladies... but skill and talent for acting is in short supply in almost every cast-member in the flick. Emily Albright was properly cast as the lead as she can at least deliver her lines with some degree of intensity, but everyone else is either lame or too far over-the-top in their performances.

Perhaps the most damning thing about the cast in this film is that Robert D'Zar is more memorable than all of them put together in a tiny, pointless bit-part.

I suppose if you're a fairly green viewer of horror films, you might get some enjoyment at trying to guess who the killer is while watching. It can't be original maniac as he's locked up tight in a facility for the criminally insane. Is it the now-retired, embittered FBI agent? Is it one of the abusive boyfriends? Is it Samantha's unbelievably understanding and supportive boyfriend? Or is it Samantha herself, completely cracked and on a rampage with a split personality? The guessing game can only carry you so far, because even if this is the first slasher film you've seen, about halfway through the movie, you will realize that there's a simple way to stop this killer: If Samantha actually got interviewed by the police, as she would be in real life, the killer's identity would be immediately known to them. (In fact, if Garry Lumpp had spent a little more time developing the script he wrote, he would have realized this plot problem and been able to fix it. As it is, it's a back hole of suckiness that pulls his already weak movie dangerously close to belonging on this blog instead of here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses to ever grace us with her presence in films, only appeared in one film that can be considered a horror movie during her career. In "Wait Until Dark," she played a blind woman whose home is invaded by three thugs who will stop at nothing to retrieve a doll stuff with illegal drugs. It is a thriller so intense that it is more frightening than most films that get passed off as horror movies.

And Audrey Hepburn is as great in it as she was in anything else she appeared in.

Audrey Hepburn passed away in 1993.

(I know Audrey Hepburn doesn't really qualify as a Scream Queen, even if she did do her fair share of it in the thrillers she appeared in, but since I started this blog, this series has not missed a single Saturday. With my current eye troubles, I am not able to stare at the screen long enough to select photos and type p a bio, so I am cheating to keep up the streak... sort of. The fact that Hepburn plays a blind woman in "Wait Until Dark" seemed like a good enough excuse to post a picture of her.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No posts on any of my blogs this week.

I am having really bad eye trouble. Hopefully, tomorrow's trip to the doctor will start to make things better.

I hope you'll check in at some point in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Shirley Anne Field

Raised in an orphanage after she and her brother were abandoned by their impoverished mother, British actress Shirley Anne Field first entered show-business as a pin-up model in the early 1950s. By the middle of that decade, she'd moved onto movies, first in bit parts where she was cast for her curvacious good looks, but her gifts for acting soon saw her moving up to real roles.

Among her earliest parts with a little meat to them were an appearance in the obscure chiller "Horror of the Black Museum" (1957) and the imfamous proto-slasher flick "Peeping Tom" (1960). In 1963, Field starred in one of Hammer Films' most unusual releases, the sci-fi horror flick "These Are the Damned", and she gave a good accounting of herself. However, she would not appear in another horror film until the very disappointing "House of the Living Dead" ten years later. Field is great--and even sexy and youthful-enough in appearance to be playing a character who is 25 as opposed to her actual age of 35 at the time--but almost everything else in this slow-moving gothic horror story is dull and drab.

"House of the Living Dead" is Field's final horror movie to date, but she has appeared in numerous thrillers, in both supporting and leading roles.

Now 71, Field still possesses good looks and remains a busy working actress. She appeared in three different productions in 2010, and has been reported to have a role in "Tranfer at Aachen", a crime drama that seems to be all over the internet but which likewise does not seem to have received an official release.

Friday, November 11, 2011

'Below' is an ever-changing chiller

Below (2002)
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Holt McCallany, Olivia Williams, Matt Davis, Nick Chinlund, and Andrew Howard
Director: David Twohy
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

While on a patrol in the Atlantic during WW2, an American submarine picks up survivors of a strange attack on a medical ship. As they attempt to reach port, the boat comes under attack from a persistent German submarine hunter while seemingly supernatural events start to hinder their efforts to survive.

With "Below", David Twohy does for the war movie what he did for sci-fi with Pitch Black. What starts in the vein of a war drama, soon shifts to an apparent espionage thriller... and eventually morphs into a full-on horror film with the crew of the submarine fighting against a monster outside (the German ship trying its best to send them to the bottom of the sea permanently) and a vengeful ghost within (both an actual supernatural ghost and the guilt harbored by some of the ship's officers surrounding the events that placed Lt. Commander Brice (Greenwood) in the position of acting captain.

With exceptional performances by the entire cast, a clever script that keeps viewers guessing about what is happening and what will come next up to, quite literally, the film's final scene, and excellent special effects, I am left wondering why this film was dumped unceremoniously directly onto the DVD market and quickly relegated to DVD multi-packs. It's a film far more deserving of the obscurity and company it's been relegated to.

If you like war movies and horror movies, "Below" is a film you need to check out.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Katee Sackhoff

Born in 1980, actress Katee Sackhoff was a rising television actress with a handful of roles to her name when she shot to sci-fi stardom as the cigar-chomping fighter pilot Starbuck in the remake of "Battlestar Galactica" on the Sci-Fi/Syfy Channel. She played Starbuck for four seasons.

However, her first major role in a television series was in the short-lived horror anthology series "The Fearing Mind". Along the way, Sackhoff has also appeared in a number of horror movies, including the misbegotten "Halloween: Resurrection" and "White Noise 2: The Light".

Sackhoff is currently filming a western series for television, as well as working on three movies in varying stages of production, two of which are horror films: "The Haunting in Georgia" (for which a sequel is already in the works, even before the first one is through post-production) and "Growl", with both tentatively slated for release in 2012.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

'Open Graves' is not worth your time

Open Graves (2009)
Starring: Mike Vogel, Eliza Dushku, Ethan Rains, Lindsay Caroline Robba, Naike Rivelli, and Gary Piquer
Director: Álvaro de Armiñán
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A group of 20-somethings (Dushku, Rains, Rivelli, Robba, and Vogel) working and surfing in Spain fall victim to a powerful and deadly curse after they play a board game made from the bones of a witch.

If you've seen the classic movie "Jumanji", you know the basic premise of this film. You've also seen that premise used far more effectively. Heck, you've even seen more intense and frightening scenes than what you'll get in this horror movie.

"Open Graves" features a script so weak and predictable that I wonder why it was made as an R-rated film. Anyone who has seen even one other film featuring a cursed object will be able to guess where the film is going, up to and including the ending, so the only audience who would have enjoyed this picture would have been young kids. Everyone else will grow increasingly bored as this movie unfolds and brings nothing new. (There is a creepy little twist involving Eliza Dushku's character toward the end of the film, but it's so minor so as to be a reach for me to even mention it as a positive aspect of the film. I suppose the subplot involving a police detective with a dark agenda is also unpredictable... but only because it ends without any particular resolution. Not a Good Thing.)

Of course, it doesn't help the overall weakness of the material that the actors appear to have been cast mostly for their good looks than their talent. They add more attractiveness to this already beautiful-looking film, but they ultimately also help emphasize the emptiness and unoriginality of the script, because there is little or no life to their characters. The exception to that general statement are Dushku and Vogel, who bring enough charisma to their characters that we care a little about what will happen to them... but for all but the most entertainment-starved captive audience that's not enough to make it feel like watching this film was time well spent.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nine Days of the Ninja:
Ninjas & Zombies: Tastes that go great together?

Ninjas vs. Zombies (2010)
Starring: Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi, Carla Okouchi, P.J. Megaw, Dan Guy, Daniel Mascarello, Melissa McConnell, Tara Moore, and Will Stendeback
Director: Justin Timpane
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Three friends are granted the magical powers and combat prowess of The Ninja when a necromantic ritual unleashes a soul-sucking, zombie-creating demon on a small American town.

As low-budget action spoofs go, "Ninjas vs, Zombies" is fairly well accomplished on the technical front. The special effects are well-deployed, both the practical gore effects and the digitally generated "magical energies" and muzzle-flashes and explosions. Director Timpane seems to have a good sense of how to film action and martial arts scenes, and the editing generally helps cover up budgetary shortfalls rather than emphasize them. The main technical disappointment about the film is that the foley artists could have been on the job more, as there are several fight and effect scenes that are less effective than they might otherwise have been.

The acting is better than I've come to expect from films at this level of production, with lead heroes Daniel Ross and Dan Guy being particularly skilled and fun to watch. P.J. McGaw also gives a good accounting of himself as the root of all evil in the film, and the rest of the cast and supporting players are also quite good.

Unfortunately, everyone is let down by an inadequite script. Written by the director, it feels like a first draft, with flabby and repetative scenes and dialogue, particularly early on, and, worse, irrelevant scenes and pop cultural references that distract from the film's central high concept of Ninjas kicking Zombie ass without adding anything worthwhile to the mix. I suppose with Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer somehow still having careers and still making shitty comedies that consist of little more than stringing together random references to popular movies and pop culture, it was only a matter of time before a new generation of filmmakers started to copy them. (It also doesn't help that some of the character interaction feels like it was lifted from a Kevin Smith movie. Stealing is a time-honored tradition among script-writers, but one really should take one's screenplay through an extra draft or two to hide the sources a bit better. Even if it means bringing in a co-writer.

I think there is all sorts of potential for a great horror and/or action comedy when it comes to pitting Ninjas against zombies. I also think that potential is on display in this film, but it remains mostly unrealized. It's better than most of the Godfrey Ho patch-work Ninja films, but it's still not a film to go out of your way for, whether you're looking for a comdy, a zombie film, or a ninja picture. It might make a good second feature for a bad movie night, if your group has patience for films with slow wind-ups and irrelevant detours.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Halloween remake is a horror

Halloween (2007)
Starring: Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcom McDowell, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, and Brad Dourif
Director: Rob Zombie
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Michael Myers comes home for a "re-imagining" of his classic beginnings. Fans of the original film are going to wish he stayed away.

This sorry prequel/remake goes wrong almost immediately. It spends a great deal of time "humanizing" Michael Myers, showing us his awful childhood with an awfully cliched bad family with members who spout awfully bad dialogue. (In fact, there's barely a decent line of dialogue in the film, except perhaps those uttered by good old Dr. Loomis (played here by Malcolm McDowell, in the only performance that measures up to the original cast).

Why the filmmakers thought that Michael Myers needed to be given a reason to kill other than "he's an evil homicidal maniac" I'll never know. The first quarter of the movie is dedicated to undermining the otherworldly monstrousness that Michael Myers embodied in the original "Halloween" flicks, presenting him as a character that we should feel sympathy for. What's more, once the killing starts, we the viewers are put in the awkward position of feeling obligated to root for the bad guy because he's lashing out at those who made his life hell.

The filmmakers even decided they had to give a lame tie-in to Michael Myers childhood for his signature mask instead of the accidental origin that was presented in the original.

If you do rent this film, don't make the mistake I did: It does NOT get better once the "he was just a poor widdle boy who lost his way" crap is behind us. There are a few "boo" scares, the splatter is well done, and the cinematography is impressive, but the awful dialogue gets even worse and several of the murders are so drawn out that they become boring. In balance, the last hour-and-a-half or so of the movie is even WORSE than the beginning.

I should have trusted my instincts. I KNEW this was going to be another crappy remake of a great John Carpenter film, and I was absolutely right.

I never imagined in my worst nightmares that it would make me wish I was watching "House of 1,000 Corpses", however.

I should have saved my time and money, and I strongly encourage you to not make the same mistake I did. The ONLY good thing about it is Malcolm McDowell... and he is simply not enough to make this a worthwhile movie.

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There's No Time Left...

By Michael Kaluta

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Eliza Dushku

Born in 1980, Eliza Dushku made her film debut at age 12, and she has been busy ever since. As the world was panicking over Y2K, Dushku successfully made the transition from child actress to simply actress with leading and supporting roles in a variety of television series and films, with an emphasis on dark thrillers and horror.

Aside from playing then popular bad-girl vampire hunter Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," and starring roles in the short-lived series series "Tru Calling" and "Doll House," Dushku has been featured in hakf a dozannumehorror films, such as "Soul Survivor", "Wrong Turn", "Locked In", and "Open Graves". Dushku has also leant her distinctive voice to numerous computer games and animated features, most recently voicing Catwoman in the "Batman: Year One" animated feature.

Dushku has several projects in various stages of development, with the most prominent of these being slated part in "Ghostbusters III".

Friday, October 28, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are Three Days Left....

By Bruce Timm

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There Are Five Days Left....

By Granado

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

'Goregoyles 2' has something for all horror fans

Goregoyles 2 (2007)
Starring: Marco Calliari, Sebastien Croteau, Martin Dubriell, Eric Therrien, and Chantrel Petrin ("Clean" segment); John Muggleton, Tara MacKenzie, Ryan Greenacre, Brett Kelly, and Mark Singleton ("The Walkers" segment); Eric Therrien, Isabelle Stephen, and Sylvain Dinelle (Host segments)
Directors: Alexandre Michaud and Nigel Finlayson
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

"Goregoyles 2" is Canadian director/producer Alexandre Michaud's follow-up to "Goregoyles: First Cut", and, like its predecessor, it's an anthology film.

While there's nothing that quite reaches the high-points of the best parts of the original "Goregoyles", there's also nothing here that's as mind-crushingly awful as the original's low-points. The quality level is consistent across all the parts that make up this package.

Another noteworthy thing here is that the directors responsible for the content here obviously have a sense of how to make a low-budget film. In the case of Michaud, he knows that when making a splatter-fest (which is the best way to describe his contribution here), the budget needs to be spent on making the blood and guts look good.. but he also knows that he doesn't have the money (or maybe even access to the technical know-how) to make truly complicated gore effects look good, so he knows to not let the camera dwell upon them. Even better, neither film overreaches the limitations of the modest budgets they were made within. That alone makes the efforts praiseworthy, and it shows that Michaud and Miles Finlayson understand how to work with limited budgets. That puts them in a class that 90 percent of horror filmmakers out should aspire to being in... and that 90 percent would be well-served to use the work here as a model for their own.

"Goregoyles 2" consists of two short features and introductory host segments. The DVD I screened also contained an interview with directors Michaud and Finlayson. I'll address each part in turn, assign a rating to each, which in the end averages out to the Seven-star rating I've given the entire package.

First, the host segments. Like in Michaud's first anthology film, each part of "Goregoyles" is introduced by a Crypt Keeper-like host. Here it's Uncle Vicious (Therrien), and he offers general comments on each upcoming film while showing off his sadistic sexual tendencies. These are servicable, if tacky, bits of film, although I liked the wittier, more informative introductions from the original "Goregoyles". The best part here was the "Farewell from Uncle Vicious" segment where Therrien (joined by Michaud and the boom-mike operator) demolish the set while Isabelle Stephen go-go dances topless in the background to blaring hard rock. I only wish the other segments had been so amusing. Still, they were okay, so the host segments get a rating of Six Stars.

The first film in the package is "Clean". It's a strange, gory picture that stars Marco Calliari as Crane, a brutal murderer who has hooked up with other sexual psychopaths through an Internet chat room, and has been invited to their once-a-year, face-to-face gathering. Like the rest of them, he's there for the beer and brutal slayings... but he has a different sort of victims in mind than his fellow "hobbyists." The hunters become the hunted as Crane sets out to wipe the slate clean.

Although "Clean" is the sort of movie I usually give low marks to (if I bother reviewing it at all)--it's full of horrible violence and gore, hateful characters, and utterly humorless--I actually like this one. Unlike the ever-growing wave of movies that feature violence and brutality for no reason other than to feature violence and brutality (all the various "Saw" imitators), "Clean" doesn't attempt to make the violence look sexy, nor does it attempt to entertain the viewer with it. Here, the violence is presented as horrible and ugly, and anyone but people like the characters who have gathered to watch a female captive (Petrin) to be tortured to death will almost certainly have to avert their eyes as it unfolds on screen. (I certainly couldn't watch as Joe--played with perfect hideouslness by Sebastien Croteau--sliced the poor girl with a razorblade and then poured salt and Tabasco sauce into her open wounds.)

The people who commit the heinous acts aren't at all glamorous or witty... they are utterly repulsive, reprehensible and boorish, including our "hero", Crane. I thought "Clean" is an excellent response to the wave of "torture porn" films that will, hopefully, soon crest, crash on the shore, and retreat; it's well past the time for another fad to take hold in the horror genre. Well-paced and well-acted, I give this film a Six Star rating.

The second film presented is "The Walkers". It tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Walker (Greenacre and MacKenzie), a sociopathic married couple and would-be "Bonnie and Clyde" who get lost in a trackless Canadian forest along with two police officers (Muggleton and Kelly) who are pursuing them. The four of them spend a week in the wilderness, struggling to survive, until stress and fear drives all of them mad.

"The Walkers" is the best part of "Goregoyles 2". It's a smart horror movie that's imbued with a sense of oppression, dispair and growing anxiety throughout, and which is driven by a well-written script and some good acting on the part of the featured players. John Muggleton is particularly good as the jaded cop who finds himself stripped of a very important last hope while attempting to find his way out of the forest.

The violence in this film is sparse, so gorehounds who grooved on the level of splatter and guts that was featured in "Clean" may be dissapointed in "The Walkers". However, what violence that we do get is shocking and impactful, so those who like their horror movies with more substance than gore will appreciate this second feature far more than the first. In fact, "Goregoyles 2" covers both ends of the horror movie spectrum under one banner, ranging from a nearly pure blood-and-guts splatter-fest to an almost violence-free psychological horror film. "The Walkers" gets Seven Stars, and I hope to come across other work by Miles Finlayson in the future.

Finally, the DVD contains a discussion between directors Miles Finlayson and Alexandre Michaud as they kill a few beers. Like the interviews on the original "Goregoyles" DVD, this is an interesting bit of film that gives the viewer insight into the process of not only making the film at hand, but also revisits "Goregoyle: First Cut" and Michaud's notorious underground film "Urban Flesh". It's something that aspiring filmmakers in particular would do well to watch. This "DVD Extra" gets a Six Star rating as well.

With the range that is covered genre-wise in "Goregoyles 2", I think any horror fan will find something to like here. And I particuarly recommend this anthology film for those horror fans out there who think they can make their own movie. Goregoyles 2 Directors: Alexandre Michaud and Miles Finlayson.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are Seven Days Left...

By Joe Jusko

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are Nine Days Left....

By Enrique Torres

Saturday Scream Queen: Brooke Adams

Born and raised in New York City, Brooke Adams started acting professionally in theatre productions while still a child and graduated from New York's High School for the Performing Arts and the School of the American Ballet. As an adult, she broke into film, and has appeared in film and TV programs of just about every genre, although horror and thrillers, mostly low-budget, have been the mainstay of her career.

Among her notable horror films are starring turns in "Song of the Succubs", "Shock Waves" and the first remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" during the 1970s; "The Dead Zone" and "Haunted" during the 1980s; and "The Unbord", "Sometimes They Come Back" and "Probably Cause" during the 1990s.

Noteworthy small horror parts include a role in of the best of the Black Dahlia movies "Who Was the Black Dahlia" and a tiny but fun appearance in "The Stuff".

Adams married actor Tony Shaloub in 1992, and after the birth of the second child in 1993, she increasingly shifted her attention to the stage, although she has continued to appear in small film and television roles. She appeared as three different characters during the seven year run of the television series "Monk", which starred her husband, and she will next be seen in 2012 in the big-screen docu-drama "Hemingway & Gellhorn", which will star Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as the title characters.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Countdown to Halloween with Vampirella

There are Eleven Days Left...

By Mike Hoffman

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Adventures of Kharis the Mummy

While the 1932 film "The Mummy remains the best mummy picture ever made, it was the Universal low-budget quickies of the 1940s that actually solidified the idea of the shambling, bandage-wrapped mummy that dominates pop culture and Halloween spook houses today. This post covers those four genere-shaping films.

The Mummy's Hand (1940)
Starring: Dick Foran, Wallace Ford, Peggy Moran, George Zucco, and Tim Tyler
Director: Christy Cabanne
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A pair of hard-luck Egyptologists (Foran and Ford) discover the location of the long lost tomb of Princess Ananka. Unfortunately for them, an evil cult leader (Zucco) controls the immortal, tomb-guarding, tanna leaf-tea slurping mummy Kharis, and he's hot afraid to use him to keep the secret of the tomb.

More of an adventure flick with a heavy dose of lowbrow comedy than a horror film, "The Mummy's Hand" isn't even a proper sequel to the classy 1932 "The Mummy."

This movie (and the three sequels that follow) are completely unrelated to the original film, despite the copious use of stock footage from it. The most obvious differences are that the mummy here is named Kharis, as opposed to Imhotep, and has a different backstory. Then, there's the fact he's a mindless creature who goes around strangling people at the bidding of a pagan priest where Imhotep was very much his own man and did his killing with dark magics without ever laying a hand on his victims.

If one recognizes that this film shares nothing in common with the Boris Karloff film (except that they were both released by the same studio), "The Mummy's Hand" is a rather nice bit of fluff. It's also the first film to feature the real Universal Studios mummy, as Imhotep was an intelligent, scheming, and more-or-less natural looking man, not a mute, mind-addled, bandaged-wrapped, cripple like Kharis.

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
Starring: Wallace Ford, Turhan Bey, John Hubbard, George Zucco, Dick Foran, Isobel Evans and Lon Chaney Jr.
Director: Harold Young
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Thirty years after the events of "The Mummy's Hand, the High Priest of Karnak from the last film (Zucco), who, despite being shot four times and pointblank range and tumbling down a very long flight of stairs, survived to be an old man. He passes the mantle onto a younger man (Bey) and dispatches him to America with Kharis the Mummy (Chaney), who survived getting burned to a crisp at the end of the last movie, to slay those who dared loot the tomb of Princess Anankha. (Better late than never, eh?)

Take the plot of "The Mummy's Hand" (complete with a villain who has the exact same foibles as the one from the first movie), remove any sense of humor and adventure, toss in about ten minutes of recap to pad it up to about 70 minutes in length, add a climax complete with torch-weilding villagers and a mummy who is just too damn dumb to continue his undead existence, and you've got "The Mummy's Tomb."

Made with no concern for consistency (Ford's character changes names from Jenson to Hanson, the fashions worn in "The Mummy's Hand" implid it took place in the late 30s, or even in the year it was filmed, and yet "thirty years later" is clearly during World War II... and let's not even talk about how the mummy and Zucco's character survived) or orginality (why write a whole new script when we can just have the bad guys do the exact same things they did last movie?), this film made with less care than the majority of B-movies.

Turhan Bey and Wallace Ford have a couple of good moments in this film, but they are surrounded by canned hash and complete junk.

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
Starring: John Carradine, Ramsey Ames, Robert Lowery, George Zucco, and Lon Chaney Jr
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Modern day priests of ancient Egyptian gods (Zucco and Carradine) undertake a mission to retrieve the cursed mummy of Princess Ananka from the American museum where she's been kept for the past 30 years. Unfortunately, they discover that the archeologists who stole her away from Egypt broke the spell that kept her soul trapped in the mummy and that she has been reincarnated in America as the beautiful Amina (Ames).

"The Mummy's Ghost" starts out strong. In fact, it starts so strong that, despite the fact that the priests who must be laughing stock of evil cult set were back with pretty much the exact same scheme for the third time (go to America and send Kharis the Mummy stumbling around to do stuff, that it looked like the filmmakers may have found their way back to the qualities that made "The Mummy" such a cool picture.

Despite a really obnoxious love interest for Amina (played with nails-on-a-chalkboard-level of obnoxiousness by Robert Lowery) and a complete ressurection of Kharis (boiling tannith leaves now apparently reconstitutes AND summons a mummy that was burned to ashes in a house-fire during "The Mummy's Tomb"), and a number of glaring continuity errors with the preceeding films (the cult devoted to Ananka and Kharis has changed their name... perhaps because they HAD become the laughing stock among the other evil cults), the film is actually pretty good for about half its running time. The plight of and growing threat toward Amina lays a great foundation.

And then it takes a sharp nosedive into crappiness where it keeps burrowing downward in search of the bottom.

The cool idea that the film started with (Ananka's cursed soul has escaped into the body of a living person... and that person must now be destroyed to maintain the curse of the gods) withers away with yet another replay of the evil priest deciding he wants to do the horizontal mambo for all enternity with the lovely female lead. The idea is further demolished by a nonsensical ending where the curses of Egypt's ancient gods lash out in the modern world, at a very badly chosen target. I can't go into details without spoiling that ending, but it left such a bad taste in my mouth, and it's such a complete destruction of the cool set-up that started the film, that the final minute costs "The Mummy's Ghost" a full Star all by itself.

The Mummy's Curse (1944)
Starring: Peter Coe, Lon Chaney Jr, Kay Harding, Dennis Moore, Virginia Christine and Kurt Katch
Director: Leslie Goodwins
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A contruction project in Louisiana's bayou uncovers not only the mummy Kharis (Chaney), but also the cursed princess Ananka (Christine). Pagan priests from Egypt arrive to take control of both. Mummy-induced violence and mayhem in Cajun Country follow.

What happens when you make a direct sequel where no one involved cares one whit about keeping continuity with previous films? You get "The Mummy's Curse"!

For the previous entries in this series, Kharis was shambling around a New England college town, yet he's dug up in Lousiana. (He DID sink into a swamp at the end of "The Mummy's Ghost", but that swamp was hundreds of miles north of where he's found in this film.)

He also supposedly has been in the swamp for 25 years. For those keeping score, that would make this a futuristic sci-fi film with a setting of 1967, because the two previous films took place in 1942. (And that's being generous. I'm assuming "The Mummy's Hand" took place in 1912, despite the fact that all clothing and other signifiers imply late 30s early 40s.) Yet, there's nothing in the film to indicate that the filmmakers intended to make a sci-fi movie.

And then there's Ananka. Why is she back, given her fate in "The Mummy's Ghost"? There's absolutely no logical reason for it. Her ressurection scene is very creepy, as is the whole "solar battery" aspect of the character here, but it is completely inconsistant with anything that's gone before. And she's being played by a different actress--but I suppose 25 years buried in a swamp will change anyone.

There's little doubt that if anyone even bothered to glance at previous films for the series, no one cared.

Some things the film does right: It doesn't have the Egyptian priests replay exactly the same stuff they've done in previous films for the fourth time (although they are still utter idiots about how they execute their mission), it manages for the first time to actually bring some real horror to the table--Kharis manages to be scary in this film, and I've already mentioned Ananka's creep-factor--and they bring back the "mummy shuffling" music from "The Mummy's Ghost" which is actually a pretty good little theme. But the utter disregard for everything that's happened in other installments of the series overwhelm and cancel out the good parts.

"The Mummy's Curse" should not have been slapped into the "Kharis" series. If it had been made as a stand-alone horror film, it could have been a Six-Star movie. As it is, this just comes across as a shoddy bit of movie making where I can only assume that anything decent is more by accident than design.