Monday, February 28, 2011

'Night Train to Terror' is terrible

Night Train to Terror (aka "Shiver" and "The Nightmare Never Ends") (1985)
Starring: Richard Moll, John Phillip Law, Arthur M. Braham, Cameron Mitchell, Gabriel Whitehorse, and Robert Bristol
Directors: John Carr and Philip Marschak
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

God and Satan are riding on a doomed night train, reviewing what souls will be going to Heaven and what souls will be going to Hell. Meanwhile, a really lame pop band and its dancers are rehearsing in a well-appointed freight car.

"Night Train to Terror" is an obviously cheap anthology film featuring three tales and a whole lot of really bad musical interludes. Between the stories (one about possibly the most ineptly run insane asylum ever, where they make ends meet by kidnapping people and selling their dismembered body parts to medical schools; one about a med student who falls for a girl and then falls in with "The Death Club"; and one that features parallel stories about a Holocaust survivor and a cop who discover an immortal agent of Satan and the doctor who is charged by God to carve his heart out) we are reminded about everything that was Bad about the early 1980s pop music and performers on the worst, cheapest traincar set ever built.

The three short tales are all pretty strange, but nonetheless creative and engaging in their own twisted sort of way. The second two feature some pretty bad claymation monsters and even worse gore effects, but in the context of the overall kitchiness of the film, its passable.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Sharon Stone

While there are any number of actresses who reportedly got bought their way to fame via the "casting couch", few mainstream performers got there by spreading their legs on screen. Sharon Stone is one of those few. She even got a Golden Globe nomination and won the Best Female Performer and Most Desirable Female MTV Movie Awards of 1993 for doing so.

Sharon Stone spent the 1980s laboring in obscurity in short-lived television series in small movie roles. As her star rose, she was seen along-side Richard Chamberlain in a pair of Allan Quartermain films; in one of Steven Seagal's better pictures, "Above the Law""; and with Arnold Schwartznegger in the sci-fi thriller "Total Recall".

In 1992, Stone appeared as the possibly bat-shit crazy sexual predator Catherine Tramell "Basic Instinct", flashed her nether-regions at the camera... and a star was born!

In the two decades since, Stone has made over 30 movies, starred in several other short-lived TV series and made guest appearances on many others. Several of her films have been supernatural thrillers or horror movies, such as "Sphere" "Cold Creek Manor", and "Catwoman" (although "Catwoman" is more horrible than horror).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

'Son of Terror' requires your patience

Son of Terror (2011)
Starring: Ben Andrews, Alan Sutherland, Marcel Davis, and Meredith Binder
Director: Antony De Gennaro
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A reclusive artist (Andrews) discovers he has a psychic link to a serial killer (Sutherland) who is murderng vagrants around Seattle's Pioneer Square.

"Son of Terror" is one of those movies I wish I liked more. It was made by filmmakers in my home state of Washington, and it features a great deal of creativity in every technical aspect of its production. The use of sound is particularly ingenious, with the music soundtrack and ambient sound mixing and fading in and out in ways often so subtle that you won't realize why the scene your watching is as hair-raisingly creepy as it is. An impressive level of artistry and skill is on display in this movie, especially considering that it's the product of a first-time director who wore many hats and worked with a very tight budget.

Unfortunately, De Gennaro spends too much time putting his artistry on display and the end result is a film that you have to be very patient with. Not only does the story move slowly, but De Gennaro doesn't set up the somewhat unusual method he uses to tell it--switching back and forth between the main character (played by Ben Andrews), and the film's monstrous killer (played by Alan Sutherland), as well as other sequences that initially seem unconnected to anything else, and using television screens to denote the switching--and it doesn't become clear what he is doing until about ten minutes in. Compound the mild frustration and disorientation with the way nearly every scene seems to unfold at a leisurely pace and in a self-indulgent fashion that seems more concerned with making sure viewers notice the creative cinematography and (eventually catch onto) the very effective sound design that proper timing of the story, it's a film that even the most fair-minded viewer will be tempted to turn off before you reach the halfway point.

When it finally becomes clear what is going on in the film, patient viewers will be amply rewarded as it just keeps getting creepier and creepier. But you'll have to be very patient.

"Son of Terror" premiered at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival a couple of years ago, and it debuts in wide distribution on DVD and VOD on March 8, 2011. Although flawed, it's worth checking out for lovers of off-beat, psychological terror flicks, and I think Antony De Gennaro is destined for great things if he sticks with filmmaking. (I had a very hard time choosing between a Four or Five Rating for this film, but I ultimately went with the lower rating, because of the numerous pacing issues. But I still think it's worth a look.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Amber Tamblyn

Short-statured and baby-faced, Amber Tamblyn has spent much of her career so far portraying characters younger than her true age, such as playing a suburban high school student who was a modern-day agent of God on the tragically short-lived television series "Joan of Arcadia" in 2003 when she was 20, and the medical kid genius during the 2010-2011 season of "House", filling in for Olivia Wilde while she was working on "Tron: The Legacy" for Disney.

Born in 1983, Tamblyn got her start as a child actress on "General Hospital" in 1995. She appeared on the show for six years, and successfully navigated the perilous transition into a career as a working adult actor with small parts on a number of television series, including an appearance on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the revived "Twilight Zone" series.

Following her starring turn on "Joan of Arcadia", Tamblyn has starred in or played major supporting roles in an even mix of comedies, thrillers, and horror films, with "The Ring", "Grudge 2" (which reunited her with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar), "Blackout" and "Spiral" being of greatest interest to readers here.

Tamblyn is currently writing and producing a screen adaptation of "Paint It Black", a psychological thriller in which she plays the lover of a suicide victim who begins to walk the path that may have led him to kill himself as she searches for answers.

Friday, February 18, 2011

'Session 9' is atmospheric and incoherent

Session 9 (2001)
Starring: David Caruso, Joshua Lucas, and Peter Mullen
Director: Brad Anderson
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Five construction workers specializing in cleaning up hazerdous material take on the job of getting a massive, long-abandoned mental hospital ready for refurbishing. As they being their work, however, something starts to stir in the shadowy corners of the vast building, as well as in the dark corners of the men's souls.

"Session 9" does a great job as evoking the mood of a house that is haunted by evil--and it does it through perfectly mundane means. It also does a great job at keeping enough questions floating in the air to keep the viewers guessing as to what is happening both inside and outside the hospital's decaying walls. Where "Session 9" fails utterly is to pull the story elements--I can't call them plot-threads, because this movie is virtually plot free when it comes right down to it--into a coherent story or even a sensible, scary ending.

This is a film that's got plenty of potential--the idea of Everyday Joe's getting wrapped up in something horrific is very neat--but either the filmmakers were too talentless or too wrapped up in what they thought was clever and artful to deliver a decent horror movie (or even a decent "twist-ending" suspense film).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Trish Van Devere

Trish Van Devere's first major role was on the soap opera "One Live to Live" in 1968. For the next quarter century, a wide variety of television series and films were elevated by her strong presence. She retired from acting in 1994.

Although Van Devere's horror/suspense resume is short, it is significant in the number of high quality projects that appear on it. Foremost among the entries on it is her 1978 role as a television producer turned murderer in one of the very best "Columbo" episodes; and her 1980 starring role in "The Changeling", one of the greatest ghost movies to ever be released.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Kristyn Green

Born in Texas, former Miss Teen Lubbock Kristyn Green had her heart set on show business from an early age. It's been so far, so good for Green. After performing on a USO Tour in 2003, she broke into movies and, among other projects, appeared in three horror comedies from legendary B-movie factory Full Moon.

In 2008, Green landed a recurring role on USA Network's comedy "The Starter Wife," but she continues to appear in horror films, most recently in "Carver", one of the more gruesome torture porn films to be released.

For reviews of movies featuring Kristyn Green, click here to visit The Charles Band Collection.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fear-filled Phantasms: Masks

"Don't lower your mask until you have another mask prepared beneath - as terrible as you like - but a mask." -- Katherine Mansfield

By David Bowers

By Michael Kaluta