Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'Night of the Demons' has Halloween gore

Night of the Demons (2010)
Starring: Diora Baird, Shannon Elizabeth, Edward Furlong, Monica Keena, Bobbi Sue Luther, John F. Beach, Michael Copon, and Tiffany Shepis
Director: Adam Gierash
Stars: Five of Ten Stars

After an illicit rave in a mansion that was the sight of mysterious disappearances and murder on Halloween night some 90 years ago, the party organizer (Elizabeth) and six friends accidentally discover what happened. In doing so, they awaken demons that have until dawn to possess and destroy seven humans in order escape their prison inside the house.

"Night of the Demons" is a remake of the 1988 horror fan-favorite of the same title. It sat on a shelf at the studio for a year before being released directly to DVD, has a more satisfying ending than the 1988 original (and, in an amusing way, manages to present one of those "final moment twists" I so often rail about that actually works), but other than that it doesn't measure up.

There is only one scene that's as scary and strange as anything in the 1988 film--involving lipstick and about a gallon of blood--but everything else is what we've come to expect from a movie about beautiful young people trapped in a house with demons that possess them and pick them off, one by one. The film has the further flaw that the characters aren't actually trapped, but appear merely to be too dumb to scale the wall around the mansion's grounds; the gate is mysteriously locked, but what's to stop them from giving one of their number a boost over the wall so that person can get a locksmith?

"Night of the Demons" is a fast paced, competently made but unspectacular horror flick. The stars all deliver good performances, it's got just enough story and character development to keep me happy, and its spiced up with plenty of gore and jiggling naked boobs to make me even happier. Perhaps if such a clear line hadn't been drawn to the 1988 title (if it had been called "House of Demons" or "Seven Until Dawn" or some-such), I would have considered it to be among the better paint-by-number horror flicks out there. As it is, however, it suffers by the comparisons it invites and therefore calls attention to the fact that it really does fall at the bottom end of average.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Joanna Pettet

A British-born actress, raised in Canada and trained in New York City, Joanna Pettet had a long and busy career, stretching from the early 1960s through the mid-1990s, appearing in TV shows and films of just abput every mainstream genre. Horror roles of note include multiple appearances on "Rod Seling's Night Gallery" series, "Welcome to Arrow Beach", and a great starring turn in haunted house chiller "The Evil" during the 1970s.

Pettet's last horror movie appearance in 1983's "Double Exposure," one of those films with a cast better than the material deserved. As the 1980s wore on, she kept busy with recurring roles in television drama series and multiple guest-shots on "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat", but parts where she had even the smallest chance to show her talent became fewer and farther between.

In 1995, Pettet retired from acting after her only child died from a fatal heroin overdose.

Pettet was one of the many talented actresses who throughout her career got roles that called for her to primarily just look beautiful rather than act. As a result, she is one those people whose face we recognize when we see it on the screen, but can't put a name to. In the end, her greatest claim to fame has become that she was one of the last people to see pregnant actress Sharon Tate alive, visiting with Tate on the afternoon before the Manson Family brutally murdered her on August 8, 1968.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Eine Kleine Schreckmusik

Insomnia strikes, I try to bore myself to sleep with Youtube... and what do I find, but mini-horror movie as the video for Blind Guardian's cover of "Mr. Sandman."

Pretty spooking stuff. I give it a rating of Ten Monstrous Clowns out of Ten. :)

Blind Guardian is a German metal band that's been around since the mid-1980s, and they pretty much single-handedly gave rise to the German metal scene. They've often been imitated and lampooned, but never equaled. Of particular interest to readers of this blog might be that the lyrics for their songs, written mostly by front-man Hansi Kursch, are often inspired by fantasy and horror literature.

Their best albums over the years have been "Tales from the Twilight World" (1990), "The Forgotten Tales" (1996), "A Night at the Opera" (2002), and their most recent effort "At the Edge of Time" (2010). (The video featured above was originally produced to promote "The Forgotten Tales", an album that's half quirky cover tunes.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another film with better actors than it deserved

Double Exposure (1983)
Starring: Michael Callan, James Stacy, Joanna Pettet, and Seymour Cassel
Director: William Byron Hillman
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A photographer (Callan) on the verge of a mental breakdown starts having vivid nightmares in which he murders his beautiful models. When a mysterious serial killer starts making his dreams reality--by murdering his models in exactly the manner he dreamed--both he and the police become convinced that he is the killer.

"Double Exposure" is a fairly run-of-the-mill low-budget murder mystery/sexual thriller that features substandard dialogue but better-than-expected acting from the cast members. Time and again, Callan, Stacy, Pettet, Cassel, and the extensive supporting cast of suspects and victims prove the truism that a good actor can make even the worse lines sing.

Callan in particular is good. He presents a believable performance as a man who is coming apart at the seams, and manages to make a character who might come across as slimy likable--given that he's a guy in his forties rutting with women half his age--which makes the maybe-dream-sequences all the more effective and shocking when he turns from nice guy to killer. The violence during the kill sequences is also startling because it mostly comes with very little build-up.

There are two major flaws with this film that the actors can't overcome, however.

The first are the painfully boring stretches of padding, with the worst of these being a pointless sequence of the characters dancing the night away at a disco. If not for the shuttle feature on my DVD player, I may have given up on this movie at that point. Yes, there was a tiny bit of plot that unfolded during the long--oh so long!--disco scene, and it helped set up the twist ending a little, but it was nowhere near enough to justify the torture of sitting through that scene. Even with liberal application of the shuttle feature, it was too long.

The second is the way the story is executed. As mentioned above, the film has a twist ending in-so-far-as who the real murderer is. However, the lines between the main character's reality and dreams become so blurred that even the viewer can't keep track of what's what. At roughly the halfway point of the film, I decided that I was watching a really bad attempt at making a film like "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" where the hook of the story isn't who-dunnit but rather how the psycho killer will ultimately meet his end. The level of padding, though, was so severe that I almost didn't stick with the film to the end. The only thing that kept me watching was several inconsistencies in the timeline of the killings versus where the photographer seemed to be at the time... they seemed a little too deliberate to just be sloppy writing, so stuck with the film to see if I had been right in my assumption.

It turns out that I was not, but that this film follows the more standard path of having one of the characters framing/exploiting the main character's unstable mental state for his own twisted purposes, in addition to serial killing that is. While there are clues to whom the actual killer is sprinkled throughout the movie, the revelation of the identity, the how, and the why really don't make a whole lot of sense, nor do they seem terribly plausible if one applies a little bit of thought.

Then again, this movie really isn't worth your brain-power, and watching it may just make you feel sad for the actors who are giving this poorly conceived crap their best efforts.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Trisha Echeverria

Trisha Escheverria is a Toronto-based model-turned-actress and up-and-coming Scream Queen. Her first starring role was as the title character in the 2010 horror film "Mary", and she's followed that up with the leads in the made-for-TV sci-fi horror film "The Mystic" and the upcoming haunted Quiji flick "The Unleashed".

"The Unleashed" will receive its world premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Theater in Toronto on June 25. Click here for more information and to watch the film's trailer. The film received wide release on August 7, although as of this writing, only Canadian screening locations have been announced.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

'Unborn Sins' is a concept that deserved better

Unborn Sins (2005)
Starring: Michelle L. Harris, Sean Contrearas, Jim Barbour, and Paul "PJ" Peneloza
Director: Elliott Eddie
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A psychic detective (Contrearas) and his partners attempt to stop the deadly rampage of the spirit of an aborted baby (Peneloza) that has been summoned into the world by cultists so it can take revenge on everyone involved it having it aborted, including its would-have-been mother (Harris).

"Unborn Sins" is one of those movies that has an intriguing idea at its heart--what happens to the souls aborted babies?--that deserved a far better execution than the means available to writer/director/producer Eddie Elliot. With decent sound work, decent lighting, better cinematography, better actors, and a script that had been taken through a draft or two more--or perhaps revised by a more experienced writer--this could have been one chilling movie. As it stands, it's a movie that I really wish I could like more than I do, and a movie that I wish could be remade in stronger hands.

Lighting and sound problems aside, the biggest weakness of its film is its running time. There are several scenes that are near-pointless (such as the one where Harris' repulsive boyfriend dances by himself to rap music for what seems like forever, or the basketball game at the park that likewise went on and on and on) and a subplot involving some sort of kidnapping/drug deal that doesn't have anything to do with anything else in the movie, except that the detective agency was somehow involved with that case. If the film had been tightened up from and its running time of nearly two hours shortened to 80 or 90 minutes, I think it might have rated as much as a 4 on its ideas alone.

(The technical problems and the running time aren't the only problems. There's also quite a bit of unintended hilarity in the film, such as when the obnoxious boyfriend is prowling through his apartment trying to look all Gangsta with a gun in each hand, holding them right next to his face. I kept hoping he'd fire, because watching the ejected cartridge smack him in the face would have been very amusing. Similarly, the Big Fight between the heroes and the angry spirit is more ridiculous than suspenseful because everyone starts behaving as if they just escaped from a Kung Fu movie made in 1973. These elements might make the film worthy of inclusion in the line-up for a Bad Movie Night, so long as you keep in mind there will be long stretches of overly padded scenes.)

"Unborn Sins" is one of the most intriguing films I've ever given a low rating to, and I wish I liked it more than I do. As I said at the top, the whole abortion angle is an intriguing jump-off point for a horror film and I wish this had been a more solid film. Therefore, despite its many flaws, I think it might be worth checking out for those who are able to look at low-budget films with kind eyes and forgiving hearts.

"Unborn Sins" is available as part of the inexpensive "Sinister Souls" 6-movie pack, the even-cheaper-by-the-movie "Tomb of Terrors" 50-movie pack, or as a stand-alone DVD. I think you'll find your money better spent if you acquire it along with 5 (or 49!) other low-budget indie movies. I think it's worth seeing, but it's not worth full price.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Welcome to the Hotel California

"You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave."

"Hotel California" is a great and spooky song that no one has yet fully managed to capture in a video. That's surprising to me as it's a neat little horror story.

Still, here's a video from a creative bunch who made an attempt.

And here's a dancer who states that this performance piece was inspired by the lyrics of "Hotel California". It's spooky enough, but I wonder why she didn't perform to the music of the song? (Yeah, I could ask, but that would be too much like, you know, work.)

In the end, this still holds true:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen:
Jacqueline Pearce

Jacqueline Pearce's distinctive face and attractive figure were regularly featured on British television from the mid-1960s through the late 1990s. She is best known for her role as the villainous Servalan on the dark space opera series "Blake's Seven", but she also apeared in numerous horror series, such as "Shadows", "Leap in the Dark", and "Dead of Night".

Although her career was mostly spent on television, in 1966 Pearce appeared in two of the most Gothic horror films from the venerable Hammer Studios, "Plague of the Zombies" (as a victim of the evil zombie master) and in "The Reptile" (as the mysterious daughter of a nobleman tortured by the past).

Pearce retired from acting in 2007 and moved to South Africa to take care of orphaned vervet monkeys. (Hey, someone's gotta do it!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

'Puppet Show' fails to live up its potential

Puppet Show (2006)
Starring: Erica Slider, Tom Wooler, and Nina Tepes
Director: Jay Gowey
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

After her grandfather is murdered, Casey (Slider) inherits Charlie Chowderhead, the puppet that helped make him a star during the Golden Age of Television. Unfortunately, Casey also inherits the family curse, and she is soon at the center of a maelstrom of death and horror.

"Puppet Show" is another one of those low-budget efforts that fails to live up to the potential of the ideas contained within it, not because of lack of funds but because its execution was botched. It's another one of those movies I sat down wanting to like--how can you NOT want to like a slasher movie featuring a demonic clown when your tastes run along the lines of mine?--but which nonetheless disappointed.

The biggest problem is that even at a scant running time at just over an hour "Puppet Show" feels padded. There are several scenes that drag on well past the point where they should have ended and others that serve no purpose whatsoever. It also doesn't help that the acting leaves a lot to be desired on the part of most performers who either overact fiercely or seem to be heavily medicated. (The only exceptions here being star Erica Slider as the unfortunate Casey, Nina Tepes as her slutty best friend Kat, and Tom Wooler as Casey's grandfather "Ringmaster Rick", each of whom give a decent accounting for themselves.)

The film does have some good moments, however. The dream sequence where Casey is a puppet being manipulated by a giant Charlie Chowderhead is very creepy, Kat's death and the subsequent mutilation of her body is shocking, and the demonic puppet is very well done for a movie of this level... which isn't surprising as the production company behind it, Monsters of Extinction, is first and foremost a special effects firm. That said, I wish the filmmakers had sprung for two puppets, one that looked less evil when it wasn't animated and stabbing people to death and the demon-faced one. The differences would have to have been subtle, but I think the end result would have been a scarier and ultimately more believable film monster.

A testament to the great ideas that are at the heart of this fillm is that as it unfolded, I found myself reorganizing the story in my head, putting it together in a more effective fashion and editing out the padded sequences and pointless scenes and characters. "Puppet Show" had great potential, and it's potential that shines brightly in a few scenes but is mostly not fully realized.

If you are really into killer puppet/doll movies, it's worth checking out, although you might consider going with Charles Band flicks like "Doll Graveyard" or "Blood Dolls" before this one. Everyone else might just want to give it a pass, because the worthwhile moments here are few and far between.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Family fun with werewolves in suburbia

My Mom's a Werewolf (1989)
Starring: Susan Blakely, John Saxon, Katrina Caspary, Diana Barrows, and John Schuck
Director: Michael Fischa
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A suburban housewife (Blakely) is seduced by a handsome petshop owner (Saxon) into enjoying an afternoon fling... but soon afterwards she starts transforming into a werewolf. As she tries to conceal her condition, her teenaged daughter and her horror-movie loving friend (Caspary and Barrows) set out to save her before it's too late and she forever transforms from housewife to were-wife.

"My Mom's a Werewolf" is a cute horror comedy that's hampered by listless direction, uninspired camera-work, lame music score, a final monster showdown that is anything but impressive, and a script that is not quite as focused as it could be. However, like everything I've seen from Mark Pirro--who wrote the script here--I found myself chuckling at the film as it unfolded more than anyone else in the room with me.

I can't quite say what it is I like about Pirro's films; I was almost banned from bringing movies to Bad Movie Night after I subjected friends to "Nudist Colony of the Dead", but I love that picture. And I obviously enjoyed this picture more than any of the people I watched it with. Something about Pirro's jokes just appeal to me more than others, I suppose. His genius must be one that it takes a special level of intellect to appreciate.

And I mean that in a good way. And I'll keep telling myself that.

I still recommend this film as something to watch with 'tweens in the household who might be interested in horror, especially girls. There is some strong language here and there, and the film admits plainly that parents have sex lives, but it is free of gore and the main characters are a pair of smart, decent kids that manage to save the adults from certain disaster. It's the kind of film I enjoyed as a kid... are children really that different today?

Despite my friends' bored reaction to the film, I enjoyed seeing John Saxon getting an all-too-rare opportunity to show his comedic side, even if he didn't have enough to do in the film. He was still quite funny in the scene where he proves to the girls that werewolves are immune to garlic, holy water, crosses, and just about anything else they brought to confront him with. (For full-blown Funny Man John Saxon, we have to turn to "The Girl Who Knew Too Much".)

Saxon, along with the film's other stars, can be given a good deal of credit for overcoming the film's lackluster execution. They all give funny performances, and Caspary is even likable enough to make a fairly predictable final joke quite funny.

"My Mom is a Werewolf" is available in several different budget-priced DVD multi-packs. It adds value where-where it's found.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Anita Ekberg

Anita Ekberg's show-business career began with her being crowned "Miss Sweden" in 1950 at the age of 19. She subsequently spent a few years in Hollywood as a model and playing bit-parts in RKO and Universal films. It wasn't until she returned to Europe in the late 1950s that her movie career took off, and she spent the next three decades in numerous starring or supporting roles in almost every conceivable film genre.

Most of Ekberg's horror roles came in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In some, she was perfectly cast, like in "The French Sex Murders" where she is supremely creepy; but in others she couldn't have been more miscast, such as "Fangs of the Living Dead" where she is too old to be playing a supposedly wide-eyed, naive girl.

Ekberg retired from acting in 2002.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And I thought '2001' had a crappy final reel

Crucible of Horror (aka "The Corpse") (1971)
Starring: Michael Gough, Yvonne Mitchell, Sharon Gurney, and Simon Gough
Director: Viktor Retelis
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Edith (Mitchell) joins with her teenaged daughter (Gurney) in a plot to murder the domineering, sadistic, obsessive-compulsive head of their family (Michael Gough). But something goes wrong....

"Crucible of Horror" is the most bewildering movie I've seen this side of "2001." And in the end, I hate it almost as much.

For most of its running time, it's a nice little gothic thriller that's a bit slow in the uptake and prone to abandon plot threats almost as soon as they are introduced, but it's a fairly solid film until the final 10-15 minutes. Then it all goes to crap.

Oftentimes, with a movie like this, I can say, "Stop watching after this or that happen... you'll still end up enjoying the movie, because you'll never experience the shit that spoils it at the end." That doesn't work with this one, because even if you stop watching, there are so many unresolved plot threads that you won't be satisfied. Sadly, those plot threads NEVER get resolved, and the film ends in such a baffling, nonsensical and convoluted way that even the parts you thought you knew what was going on end up not making any sense in context.

I try not to spoil even the crappy movies--because, after all, one man's trash is another man's treasure--but I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the mother and daughter do not successfully kill their tormentor; it a feature of this type of film--either the dead man isn't dead, someone is posing as him, or he's a ghost. At least I don't think they do. The ending is so messed up that I really can't say for sure, because it is so out of step with the earlier film. I kept holding out hope that what was happening in the movie was that the apparently dutiful son (played by star Michael Gough's real-life son, Simon) had also planned to murder his father and that their plans had gotten tangled in each other. That turns out to not be the case, but it would been a far better movie it had been.

The only thing that saves this film from being relegated to Movies You Should (Die Before You) See is the performance given by Michael Gough. He exudes evil in this rare starring role, and it's a performance that shows that he should have been given more chances to take center stage like this. It's a shame it was wasted on a turd such as this.

The rest of the cast is also decent, and the movies technical aspects for the most part solid... even if I could have done without some of the quick-edit flashbacks and the kooky, trippy dream-sequences.

Trivia: Simon Gough and Sharon Gurney, who play bother and and sister in this film, were actually husband and wife.