Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A movie for those who love classic horror films!

Waxwork (1988)
Starring: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, David Warner, Clare Carey, Dana Ashbrook, Miles O'Keefe, J. Kenneth Campbell, and Patrick Macnee
Director: Anthony Hickox
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

 A group of college students (Ashbrook, Carey, Foreman, Galligan and Johnson) attend a midnight preview of a new waxwork exhibit in their neighborhood. But this is no ordinary wax museum--it's a place where a minion of Satan (Warner) is trapping victims in the displays as part of a large ritual to unleash Hell on Earth!

Anyone who's thinking about making a hipper-than-hip, self-referential horror film needs to see "Waxwork". Anyone who is thinking about making a self-referential horror film who doesn't have respect for the genre needs to be strapped down ala Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange". Because no one who has made movies like that in the past several years--including Wes Craven--have done it as perfectly as Anthony Hickox did it in 1988's "Waxwork".

 Watching "Waxwork" will give lovers of cheesy horror movies the enjoyment of the climactic scenes of the films we love without having to sit through clumsy and padded drek to reach them. As the characters are thrown into the museum displays, we get a great ending to a werewolf movie and great endings or set-ups to vampire mummy movies in the classic Hammer horror and Universal Pictures veins. (Actually, the mummy segment is an especially clever treat for lovers of classic horror movies because it's it's scored with music from "Swan Lake".)

While the acting and assortment of main characters is of the style that was typical for teen comedies and television shows (and therefore maybe not to the liking of some viewers), Hickox delivers a movie that is far more satisfying than any so-called horror comedies being made to day, far more respectful of the films it pokes a little fun at while paying tribute to them, and even far more sensual in places than some horror movies that use that as their main selling point. Hickox and his cast can do erotic and sexy without needing to rely on nudity.

 If you love the old Universal and Hammer pictures, you need to check out this movie. The same is true if you get a kick out of watching old school British actors like Patrick Macnee and David Warner doing their thing. And if you're one of those people who save these sorts of films for Halloween, you need to make a note so you can remember to get this one.

31 Nights of Halloween: Ninja Clown Monster

And here we are, on Horror Night--Halloween!
Tomorrow, the monsters will give way to Ninjas, as we celebrate the annual Nine Days of the Ninja across the Cinema Steve blog-network (and anywhere else people might choose to participate).

By way of transitioning, I offer you one final short film from the good folks at Fewdio... the tale of a boy and his clown doll.

Ninja Clown Monster (2007)
Starring: Carter Reily Irwin
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

31 Nights of Halloween: Doppleganger

Welcome to the big day! This is one of two (maybe more!) short films that will be appearing here on Terror Titans, as I wrap up our month-long 31 Nights of Halloween "short film festival"!

Today's offering can be taken at least two ways, which is fitting for a film titled "Doppleganger." I'll leave it up to you to figure out what the two interpretations may be. But you're welcome to use the Comments section below to share them with the world.

Doppleganger (2010)
Starring: Reagan Dale Neis and Brad Light
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Horror legends clash in 'Madhouse'

Madhouse (aka "The Revenge of Dr. Death") (1974)
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, and Natasha Pyne
Director: James Clark
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Famed horror actor Paul Toombes (Price) suffers a total breakdown after his fiance is brutally murdered. After more than a decade in an insane asylum, he is released, and his long-time friend, collaborator, and co-creator of Dr. Death, the character that made Toombes a star, Herbert Flay (Cushing) presents him with the comeback opportunity of a lifetime: The starring role in a television series based on their signature character. Toombes reluctantly agrees, but his reluctance soon turns to horror as someone starts murdering young women and cast members in ways that reflect the methods of Dr. Death. Is Toombes a homicidal maniac, or is someone else committing the murders and trying to frame Toombes?

"Madhouse" is part murder-mystery, part mad-stalker flick. The script reminds one of the horror-mysteries of the 1930s where cloaked villains crept around in dark houses while gas-lighting and/or murdering victims... and this is really the only thing that it succeeds at. The truth behind the Dr. Death killings is one that an attentive viewer could have figured out (and it speaks rather poorly of Scotland Yard's finest that they didn't follow that avenue... but if they had, there wouldn't have been a movie). The film sees Price do what he's done in several movies before--he teeters on the edge of madness and he runs around terror-struck, with interludes of expressions of regret and self-doubt. But, it's what Vincent Price was most famous for, and he does it very well in this film.

Price is supported by a decent cast, with Cushing brightening every scene he's in as always (even if he doesn't have much to do until the very end). Quarry, as the obnoxious porn-film director turned TV producer, and Pyne as the perky, ever-helpful publicist, being particularly good in their parts. The one flub acting-wise are a pair of blackmailers who show up about 2/3rds of the way through the film--the actors are as lame as the plot thread they're part of.

What Price and none of the actors are supported by is the script. It only works if the viewer doesn't think about what he's just seen once the movie's over. The ending simply makes no sense whatsoever, not on any level. It's not a failed twist-ending... it's just a nonsensical one. (And this is a shame, because the climactic scene is actually pretty cool.)

Something that makes this movie great fun for fans of classic horror and sci-fi movies, is the opportunity to see icons like Price and Cushing together in the same scenes... but there is one scene where Price suffers by sharing the stage with Cushing. It's very clear in that scene (which it toward the end of the film) that Price's success was built on his amazing voice, and his ability to ham it up and still be lots of fun to watch, while Cushing was a truly Great Actor. I greatly enjoy Price when he cuts loose, but the differences in styles and levels of acting talent between the two men was clearly on display in that scene. (The speech about the Dr. Death character and superior acting talent was something I found mildly amusing, given my opinion above.)

"Madhouse" suffers from a weak script, but I still think it would be fun to watch for fans of Price and Cushing.

31 Nights of Halloween: Boo!

There's one last babysitter in trouble as the Ghost of Halloween Present comes knocking at the door....

Boo (2010)
Starring: Eliza Skinner
Director: Michael J. Goldberg
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Monday, October 29, 2012

'Dr. Phibes Rises Again' is an unnecessary sequel

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)
Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Valli Kemp, Peter Jeffrey, John Cater, and Fiona Lewis
Director: Robert Fuerst
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three years after confounding Police Detective Trout (Jeffrey), the stars fall into a once-in-a-five-thousand-year alignment, allowing access to the River of the Dead. Dr. Phibes (Price) has been waiting for this opportunity to bring his beloved wife back from the dead--but first he has to prevent adventurer Darrus Beiderbeck from gaining access to the River first. Phibes being Phibes, he sets about doing that by killing anyone who stands in his way in the most brutal and bizarre fashions he can think of.

In the annals of unneeded and pointless sequels, "Dr. Phibes Rises Again" is among the most unneeded and pointless. The film it follows, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", was a weird, self-contained black comedy that didn't even leave room for a sequel... at least not until they ret-conned Phibes's motivation from just avenging the death of his wife and then joining her in death (albeit in a very creative and elaborate way) to instead engaging in the first part of an elaborate magical ritual. Throwing magic into the mix--particularly re-inventing his female assistant (played in the sequel by Valli Kemp, who replaces Virginia North as Vulnavia) some sort of supernatural creature that he summons from Elsewhere--helps remove some of the complaints I had with the first film. Of course Phibes is able to subdue his victims in order to kill them in complicated ways that they could escape by simply leaving the room, because Vulnavia ensorcels them.

But the ret-con undermines one of the very cool things about the first film--that Phibes was somehow pulling his murderous stunts with just careful planning, guile, and mechanical genius. They fixed a problem that didn't need fixing and in doing so FUBARed the big picture. They even undermined the very cool ending of the original film, and the fact that the Tenth Curse that everyone was fearing was actually the first curse that had been enacted (in Phibes' mind) and which was brought to a full circle/close in the film's airtight finale.

Phibes's murders in this film are also less interesting, not just because we now know that he's going to be doing them, but because they are even more impossible than in the first film. Somehow, he moves immense props and machinery through the desert without anyone noticing, and one occasion the only reason the death trap works is because of Stupid Character Syndrome. But, if you go with the magic theory, it's explained. But that's then undermined by him needed a giant fan to create the illusion of a windstorm to cover one of his killings. His murder spree is made even less interesting by the fact that Dr. Phibes has none of the menace that he carried in the first film--the character here is almost a parody of the one we were treated to previously. Vincent Price cannot help but be excellent, but he tasked with delivering far more schtick than drama this time out and the film suffers for it.

The menace that SHOULD have belonged to Dr. Phibes instead goes to the mysterious Beiderbeck, an utterly unpleasant man who is this film's rival to Phibes. That's another misstep the film makes--Beiderbeck would have been far more effective if he had been a more traditional hero with touches of darkness and a mysterious motivation than a nasty character with a thin heroic streak. We're left with no one to root for or care about in this film... and their activities are really just an excuse to get us to the next death scene and to the predictable showdown between Phibes and Beiderbeck.

When that showdown does occur, the filmmakers do manage to pull a couple of surprises and turn what would otherwise have been a fairly disappointing experience into a passable one. Thanks to an incredibly strong cast--even the bit parts are played by amazing actors like Peter Cushing--and the fact that Robert Quarry gives perhaps the best performance of his entire career, the film is never unwatchable. I frequently found myself wishing that all these great actors had been working with better material, however. (The only misstep in casting was Valli Kemp. Kemp was just a generic big-breasted 1970s pin-up girl who had none of the mysterious air of Virginia North--so even though they remade the character of Vulnavia into a being of magic, they cast an actress unfit for the part.)

I cannot recommend "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" highly enough to fans of Vincent Price and off-beat horror films. I cannot, however, express the same enthusiasm for this misbegotten sequel. It's not entirely awful, but it is nowhere near as good as the film it follows. Unless you've set yourself the goal of seeing every Price film, just pretend this one doesn't exist and let the first movie stand intact in its singular, bizarre glory.

(Actually... there's another set of viewers who should watch this movie. If you're a fan of the "Saw" series, it might be of interest. Not that there's a lot of Torture Porn to be had here,. but I think Phibes might be a thematic ancestor to Jigsaw.)

31 Nights of Halloween: There's No Such Thing

We're just a few days for the night when the monsters run wild, and we're down to the final few of the 31 Nights of Halloween here at Terror Titans.

 I'm sure you'll agree that we've saved the best for last; this tale of a mother, daughter, and bedtime is one that might stay with you a while....

There's No Such Thing (2010)
Starring: Azure Parsons and Abigail Daywalt
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Sunday, October 28, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Tip

This little cautionary tale was originally made for a contest to be included in "The ABCs of Death" anthology film. If this is what didn't make the cut, what's in the movie was be really good!

Tips (2011)
Starring: Chris Walker, Haley Lovett, and Paul Streiner,
Director: Christopher Baker
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

You can learn more about "The ABCs of Death" by visiting the official site here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bonus Saturday Scream Queen:
Milla the Destoyer

Reportedly, there hasn't been a winter storm as severe as the one that's bearing down on the U.S. east coast since the 1950s. This "Frankenstorm" promises just about every kind of severe weather known to mankind.

It's too bad there have been enough storms this season for it to be named Sandy. It would have been perfect if it could have been named Milla.

Saturday Scream Queen: Meg Foster

The first thing you notice about Meg Foster is her eyes. They're probably also the thing you're going to remember the strongest about her as an individual, since she often disappears into her roles and is sometimes in heavy make-up.

But she is one of the few character actresses to grace horror and SF genre pictures with her talent who has probably never needed to wear painful or blinding contact lenses, because her ice-colored eyes are naturally so otherworldly that no make-up effects are needed to improve upon them.

Born in Reading, PA, in 1948, Foster has appeared in over 100 movies and television series. Her greatest television claim to fame was is as one half of the original "Cagney & Lacey" team... until she was replaced by Sharon Gles because the network wanted "someone more feminine" in the role. (Yeah... it sounds bizarre to me, too.)

On her resume are many horror films, thrillers and SF flicks that often that often come up when fans list the ones they love (or the ones they love to hate). Among her genre credits is a made-for-television version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hallow" (1980), "The Wind", "Desperate",  and the not-as-bad-as-they'll-have-you-believe "Masters of the Universe" (all in 1987), John Carpenter's alien stealth invasion conspiracy flick "They Live" (1988), "Leviathan" (1989), the Charles Band-produced freak-fests of "Oblivion" and "Shruken Heads" (both in 1994),. "Lost Valley (1998), and "Sebastian" and "The Lords of Salem ( both in 2011).

Foster is also involved with two in-production horror films, both slated for 2013 release dates: "Tormented Souls" and "Go Straight to Hell".

31 Nights of Halloween:
The Stink & Milla the Destroyer, the Last Incarnation?

It's got a cute girl, a shower scene, and... well, I don't want to give too much away. But this short film crams everything you'd expect from a horror film into just four minutes.

The Stink (2011)
Starring: Elly Glavich
Director: George Streicher
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Milla the Destroyer
Was Milla Jovovich the doom foreseen by the Mayans? We will know before the year is out....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Full Moon Friday: Devils (and Demons) Moon

On this, the last Friday before Halloween, I'm bringing you reviews of some of the best Full Moon features that have demons and devils as part of their make-up. (Two of these are the best Charles Band's produced in a decade.)

Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)
Starring: Angela Featherstone, Daniel Markel, Mike Genovese, Michael C. Mahon, Richard Barnes, Nicholas Worth and Kehli O'Byrne
Director: Linda Hassani
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A rebellious teenaged demon (Featherstone) travels from Hell to Earth to see the Sun and the sky, but once here she takes up her God-given responsibilities of punishing sinners. Along the way, she also manages to find true love in the form of a young, pure-hearted doctor (Markel).

"Dark Angel: The Ascent" is an engaging horror/fantasy film from the Golden Age of Charles Band's film career that features a stereotypical rebellious teenager ("my daddy doesn't understand me, my teachers don't appreciate me") but gives her a very unusual background and circumstance: The teenager here is a demon.

The concept is well-implimented in that it offers a fully realized version of Hell based on actual mythology, with a heavy slant to the idea that it is a place populated by fallen angels who still serve and worship God. Stylish photography, well-done make-up, and witty dialogue further augment the film.

Unfortunately, star Angela Featherstone isn't quite up to the task of playing our heroine. She delivers virtually every line in the same flat monotone, and, while she is very pretty, she also seems to just have one facial expression whether she is sad, angry or happy.

Featherstone's weak performance drags the whole movie down, particularly when it is contrasted with the more lively performances of character actors like Nicholas Worth who plays the (literal) father from Hell and Mike Genovese and Michael Mahon who play homicide detectives trying to solve the rash of brutal murders the dark angel leaves in her wake as she punishes the wicked.

Despite a flawed performance from its star, "Dark Angel: The Ascent" is worth a look for anyone who has fond memories of classic Full Moon movies, or who enjoys films that effectively utilize Christian mythology in creative ways.

Doctor Mordrid, Master of the Unknown (1993)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Yvette Nipar and Brian Thompson
Directors: Charles Band and Albert Band
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Anton Mordrid (Combs) is an unaging sorcerer who is lives secretly in the modern world, guarding Earth from demonic invasions. When the evil alchemist Kabal (Thompson) escapes from what was supposed to be his eternal prison, Mordid must turn to mortal woman Samantha Hunt (Nipar) for help if humanity is to survive.

"Doctor Mordrid" is a neat little modern fantasy film that, like a number of other Full Moon releases is surprisngly good for a direct-to-video release that dates from the early 1990s. It's got an interesting hero who acquires a cool woman sidekick in the course of the film, a villain who gives other fantasy film bad guys a run for their money, and hints at a much large, extremely interesting cosmololgy than we only get a small glimpse at in this film.

Actually, getting a small glimpse of something bigger is the way I feel about the whole movie. It feels like it should have been at least 30-45 minutes longer, and with with the scant development that's given to a number of concepts and charactes, it could easily have supported the additional running time. If all the skeletons of nifty ideas and characters that appear in movie had been more fully fleshed out, this could have been a great movie. As it is, it's okay, with decent acting and good special effects. It's worth checking out, particularly if you like movies and books like "Harry Potter" or "The Dresden Files".

Ghoulies (1985)
Starring: Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan, Scott Thomson, Michael Des Barres, Ralph Seymour, Keith Joe Dick, Mariska Hargitay, Jack Nance and Peter Risch
Director: Luca Bercovici
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Jonathan Graves (Liapis) discovers his father was a demonologist and decides to pick up where he left off, summoning nasty little demons to his bidding. He soon conceives of a plan that will give him ultimate power (as well as the complete obedience of his hot girl friend, Rebecca (Pelikan)), but, as always, the demons goals of their own, goals that will see the ressurection of their true master (Des Barres).

"Ghoulies" is a rollicking horror comedy that was a major hit in the mid-80s, thanks in a large part to the poster displayed above. It was also one of three movies that established the Charles Band trademark of featuring weird little creatures in his films (the other two being "Troll" and "Dolls").

It's the least of the trio, a little slow in getting started and never reaching quite the heights of wackiness as "Troll" nor delivering frights as effective as "Dolls", but it's still a fun and entertaining movie that makes great viewing for a Halloween-themed gathering.

The film's greatest flaw is that it's a bit too slow in getting started, but as it builds, you'll be able to have fun with the bizarre characters that make up the circle of friends that will eventually become ghoulie victims and demon-summoning ritual fodder. Once Jonathan puts on his demon summoning duds and actor Peter Liapis goes into Overacting Hyperdrive, the film becomes truly hilarious. Unintentional comedy, such as when an undead warlock turns himself into a sexy chick in order to lure one of the characters to his death, makes the film even funnier. (In the middle of alll the laughs, unintentional and otherwise, we also get a few genuinely creepy moments, such as when Jonathan turns Rebecca into a mind-numbed sex slave and later when it becomes aware of what a huge mistake he's made.)

"Ghoulies" is one of the best films to be cranked out by the Charlie Band Movie Factory, and it holds up nicely although it's nearly 25 years since it was first unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. it's one of those films that's the very definition of "guilty pleasure." You know it's garbage, but you still have a great time watching it.

Killjoy 3 (2010)
Starring: Trent Haaga, Spiral Jackson, Jessica Whitaker, Darrow Igus, Victoria De Mare, Al Burke, Olivia Dawn York, and Michael Rupnow
Director: John Lechago
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Four college students (Jackson, Rupnow, Whitaker, and York) become the latest victims of the demonic clown Killjoy (Haaga) when they inadvertently place themselves in his clutches. Killjoy, together with his newly created clown posse that includes Punchy (Burke) and Batty Boop (De Mare), is seeking revenge on their professor (Igus), who is in turn seeking to control Killjoy for his own mysterious reasons.

Finally, a film that is a solid reversal of the ten-year downward-trend that's been evident in the vast majority of Charles Band production. Not only is this a really fun movie, but it's what the original "Killjoy" film SHOULD have been!

As 2010 has wore on, I have been growing increasingly depressed in regards to the future outlook of my favorite source of movie madness--the Charles Band Film Factory. After two less-than-impressive sequels to films from his glory days--Demonic Toys 2 and Puppet Master: Axis of Evil--and a dearth of decent finds as I turned to Band's more obscure efforts in collaboration with producer JR Bookwalter, I was getting ready to call this blog "good enough" and turn it into an archive.

But then the good people at Full Moon Features sent me a little care package, which included "Killjoy 3", their final release of 2010... and my hope for more Full Moon viewing in the future has been restored!

"Killjoy 3" is not only the movie that the original "Killjoy" should have been--a weird and colorful romp of evil clown-driven supernatural murder and mayhem--but it also captures the darkly humorous mood of classic Full Moon films like "Demonic Toys", and "The Creeps". It's a fast-moving, sharply focused story that doesn't waste a second of screen time and which keeps accelerating and growing more intense and insane until it reaches its gory climax. And writer/director John Lechago even manages to throw in some bits of characterization for both the demons and the victims without slowing the film, making this one of the best scripts for a Full Moon feature in a while. Heck, it even features a denouement that is dramatically appropriate and not just a half-assed sequel set-up.

A large portion of the credit for this film's success rests with Trent Haaga and Victoria De Mare, half of the demonic clown act that kills its way through the the college kids who get caught between Killjoy and the professor that is the object of his wrath. Although Haaga didn't originate the role of Killjoy, he makes a vastly superior killer clown to Angel Vargas from the first film. Vargas was one of the best things about "Killjoy", but he his performance was unfunny and more annoying than scary... he only looked as good as he did, because everything else was completely awful. Haaga on the other is both hilarious and scary, often both at the same time. He has some nice lines and he delivers them with great gusto. The same is true of De Mare, who plays a succubus in clown make-up; writer/director Lechago praises her as "fearless" in the behind-the-scenes material included on the DVD, and she would have to be as her costume consists of hooker boots, a feather boa, and full-body make-up. But in addition to being courageous, she is also able to deliver a performance as crazy and scary as the one given by Haaga. De Mare's best moments as Boop comes during a sequence scene where she is trying to seduce straight-arrow football quarterback Michael Rupnow and him him betray his fidelity to his good-girl girlfriend Jessica Whitacker, while Whitacker is trying to trick Killjoy by pretending to seduce him. De Mare, like Haaga, is both scary and funny during these scenes.

Other nice performances come from Spiral Jackson (as shy football player Zilla) and Al Burke as Punchy the Clown, especially during the scene where Zilla tries to convince Punchy that it's time for him to throw of the yoke of servitude to Killjoy and fight for the emancipation of demonic clowns everywhere.

Finally, Darrow Igus turns in another excellent performance for Full Moon as the enigmatic Professor. The plot twist and tie-back to the first "Killjoy" film wouldn't have been nearly as effective is a lesser actor had been cast in that part

However, as fun and enjoyable as this film is, it's not perfect.

Although demonic realm of Killjoy is far better realized in this film, it still feels cramped due to the film's small sets and budget. Also budget is the one truly weak spot in the film--the demonic clown known as Freakshow (and played by producer Tai Chan Ngo). The character is supposed to be a conjoined twin, but the person supposedly growing out of his side is a virtually unaltered, off-the-shelf baby doll. The film would have been much stronger if this character had been cut, since it add anything significant to the story and there wasn't money to do it right.

On the flip-side of this, I felt like the film would have benefited from a little more set-up of the main characters. While Lechago took more time to do this than in any other Full Moon film in recent memory, there were still some elements that could have done with a little more development. For example, one of the girls (played by Olivia Dawn York) is presented as the "slutty one" by inference in some of Killjoy's comments, yet there is no actual evidence of this in the film. Everything surrounding this character would have been so much stronger if it had been her caught with a guy in the closet during the film's opening scenes, even more-so if she was being "eaten" by the guy. Everything surrounding her would make more sense and be more dramatically appropriate.

Despite these flaws, however, this is a film I feel great about recommending to all fans of classic Full Moon efforts.

Killjoy Goes to Hell (2012)
Starring: Trent Haaga, Victoria De Mare, Jessica Whitaker, Stephen F. Cardwell, Aqueela Zoll, John Karyus, Jason R. Moore, and Randy Mermell
Director: John Lechago
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After one of his victim's escapes death by his hand, the demon-clown Killjoy (Haaga) is called before Satan himself (Cardwell) to answer for his failure... and for not being evil enough. Will his ex-lover Batty Boop (De Mare) and the rest of the demonic clown posse come up with a way to save him before all his names are struck from the demonic record and he fades into oblivion?

"Killjoy Goes to Hell" is another Full Moon winner for John Lechago. In this direct sequel to "Killjoy 3" (which is being re-released by Full Moon under the new name "Killjoy's Revenge"). he builds on what was started in that previous film while taking Killjoy and related characters in a completely different and unexpected direction. The result is the sort of crazy mix of fantasy. humor, and horror present in some of the greatest Full Moon releases of years past. We also have some honest-to-God plot and character development present in this film, something which has been lacking in most recent pictures from the Band fantasy factory and which has been in short supply in the "Killjoy" films until now. To make the package even more enjoyable, the film features passable digital effects, nice sets, and great make-up jobs.

Trent Haaga, in this third outing as the demonic clown, gives his best performance yet, actually managing to give a little depth to what is basically a killer cartoon character. Similarly, Victoria De Mare, returning as the clown succubus Batty Boop, as quite a bit more to do than just be silly and look sexy and deadly--like Haaga with Killjoy, she gets to give Boop some texture and depth.

In fact, every single character in the film--from the girl who survived Killjoy and his clown posse's rampage  in the previous film (now committed to a mental hospital) to minor characters like the Demonic Bailiff--has one or two character defining moments if they utter any dialogue at all. Even the do-nothing character of Freakshow from "Killjoy 3" serves a purpose and gets to shine in this outing.

And because writer/director Lechago actually took the time and effort to write a decent script that gave the actors something to work with, there's enough material that he was able to create a full-length 90-minute movie, instead of sneaking over the finish line with 65-70 minutes that seems to have become the Full Moon norm. The strong script also makes the fairly pointless side-business of a pair of homicide detectives trying to piece together the truth about the events of Killjoy 3" tolerable even while you're wishing the film would get back to the insanity of the trial in hell.

The fact this film is as good as it is is even more remarkable when when considers the fact that it was made on an extremely small budget, was shot over 7 days in May of 2012, and that I am writing this review in late September of 2012, not from a rough edit but from the final version that will be on sale at in two weeks and showing up in Redbox rental outlets in time for Halloween.

Is it perfect? No, but most of the problems I could call attention to would amount to little more than nitpicking. This is a fun flick that is full of the spirit that old time fans loved Full Moon for back in the 1990s. It's the sort of film I hope for as I keep coming back to the House That Band Built... and it's a film that has just put John Lechago high on the list of names to watch for. He's two for two as far as Full Moon films go! (Three for three overall, if I count his non-Full Moon picture that I've seen.)

31 Nights of Halloween:
The Tale of Haunted Mike

With a ghost story, it's all in the telling. No one knew that better than Haunted Mike. Knew.

The Tale of Haunted Mike (2008)
Starring: Mike D'Alonzo, Thomas Rhoades,  and Krystal Rohrer
Directors: Drew Daywalt and David Schneider
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Thursday, October 25, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Lock Up

Ever been the last one at work, knowing your the last one in the building but still sensing that you're not alone? Yeah--you shake off that creepy feeling because you know you're alone.

Except... what if you're not?

Lock Up (2011)
Starring: Josh Burdett
Director: Ben Kent
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Fetal

Black-and-white films are usually the purview of the Shades of Grey blog, but this short film is so creepy that it had to be featured here!

Fetal (2008)
Starring: Sebastian Bales
Director: Tony Falcon
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Stitches

There must be something about British babysitters and red balloons that portend disaster....

 Stitches (2011) 
Starring: Bethan Hanks and Jason Labotik
Director: Ben Kent
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Bethan Hanks: Babysitter in Trouble of the Day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

'The Abominable Dr. Phibes' is a must-see!

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Jeffrey, Joseph Cotten, Virginia North, Norman Jones, and John Cater
Director: Robert Fuest
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

A series of doctors are being murdered in elaborate ways that seem to be inspired by the Biblical Ten Plagues of Egypt. The only suspect that Police Inspector Trout (Jeffrey) can identify is a musician and mechanical genius who has been dead for ten years (Price). But as he tries (and fails repeatedly) to stop the killings, he eventually proves that Sherlock Holmes wasn't quite right--sometimes even the impossible must be true.

"The Abominable Dr. Phibes" is one of the best-mounted horror comedies ever made. Its story line is a great send-up of pulp stories and horror/mystery films of the 1920s and 1930s that often featured caped and masked villains killing their victims in impossible elaborate ways, and where the bumbling cops always had to turn to some outside, smarter source to help them solve the crime. But while it pokes fun at those classics without which the horror genre would never have come into being, it does so with an affection that shines through in every scene and in every performance by the film's stellar cast, some of whom got their start in those films. From beginning to end, the film strikes all the right chords and is perfectly paced.

Some have described Dr. Phibes as Vincent Price's greatest role. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but he does give a fabulous performance. Equally impressive is Virginia North, who plays his mysterious and silent hench-woman, whose outlandish wardrobe is as much a spoof of the Vera West-designed gowns that were seen in so many of the early horror films from Universal Pictures as the movie is of the masked killer-type horror pictures.. Although police detectives Trout and Schenley (played Peter Jeffrey and Norman Jones) are the movie's beleaguered heroes, it's Price and North who are the real stars of the film. Whenever one or both of them appear, they command the scene.

Another star of the film are the fantastic art-deco sets and overall production design that bring to life a sort of Platonic Ideal of the elegance and grace of the 1920s that is then defiled by the strange and sometimes silly antics of the characters who inhabit it. The sets and the bizarre activities of Phibes and his seductive sidekick also bring the film a bizarre atmosphere that helps to both heighten the comedy and horror as it unfolds.

The only complaint I can mount against the film is that the only way that several of his elaborate methods of executing his victims work is that they remain passive. For example, what was there to stop the victim who was killed by bats from simply running out of the room? One could argue that in another instance Dr. Phibes' assistant is so bewitching that she keeps the victim from fighting back or running away, but there is otherwise no reason why he should have just sat there and been killed. However, these criticisms amount to little more than nitpicking at a film that isn't supposed to be taken all that seriously.

If you haven't seen this certified classic, you must not let this Halloween season pass without rectifying that!

31 Nights of Halloween: Five Minutes Earlier

It's the fourth Monday of October... and it's time for another short film as part of the ongoing Terror Titans 31 Nights of Halloween horror celebration.

If you hear a knock at your door in the middle of the night, you probably should be a little more careful than the young lady in today's story. You might at the very least grab a bathrobe, or put some pants on... although not doing so might lead to a fun time all-around.

Five Minutes Earlier (2009)
Starring: Brooke Wolfe
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Brooke Wolfe isn't wearing pants in this photo either. Maybe it's a religious thing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Movies You Didn't See

We're taking a break from the short films today in order to bring you some previews for famous movies as they manifested themselves in alternate realities.

As you will see, there's a fine line between humor and horror, and between the heart-warming and the heart-pounding.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Scream Queens: Jennifer Lim

English actress Jennifer Lim was born in London in 1980, and her first major film role was as one of the hapless travelers who become victims in the 2005 torture porn flick "Hostel". 

The following year, she starred in the first made-for-distribution-via-cellphone series "When Evil Calls," which was later edited together into the direct-to-DVD film of the same name. Although in her mid-twenties at the time, she carried off playing an outcast teenager who inadvertently brings terror and destruction upon her schoolmates with a demon-infested cellphone.

After these two roles, Lim has more or less stayed away from the horror genre, but the fact she's been in a couple of sci-fi films-- "Womb" in 2010 ad the forthcoming "Piercing Brightness"--gives one hope that she will eventually grace another chiller with her presence.

31 Nights of Halloween: Night Terror

It's 3AM, and you awaken to find your shower spattered with blood and gore. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!

 Today's short is an interesting little item that consists only the essential elements of the modern zombie movie.)

Night Terror (2011)
Starring: Evan Harter and Kaitlyn McCartney
Director: Evan Harter
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars


Friday, October 19, 2012

Full Moon Friday: The Best of 'Puppet Master'

Over the past couple of weeks, I have encountered three different movie fans who had never heard of the 'Puppet Master' films, one of Charles Band's signature creations and quite possibly his most famous. One of these people hadn't even heard of Charles Band, nor even the possibility that someone would make a horror movie featuring dolls and puppets.

It's probably one of the many signs that I and the rest of my generation are getting old... and that there's a changing of the trash pop-culture guard going on, as we steadily shuffle off Stage Left and the new kids are taking out place, with whatever icons they are bringing with them.

But as I fade into that gentle night, I want to make a shout-out to a couple of films *I* found scary as a kid... a couple of films I think some of you young whipper-snappers with your youPhones and iTubes might find entertaining. They've even recently been released on BluRay, so you know they've got to be good.

This Full Moon Friday is devoted to the three (out of ten so far) Puppet Master films. Two of them are also the best films--perhaps the only decent films--from director DDavid DeCoteau. Check them out, my young friends. See how weird your parents REALLY are... because these are the sorts of films we rented when when we were your age. Yes... we watched movies about killer puppets and nefarious Nazis. And we had to ride our bikes all the way to the video stores or corner gas stations get them them, sometimes even having to reserve copies in advance. And we watched 'em on video tape. That had to be rewound. AND WE LIKED IT!

Puppet Master (1989)
Starring: Paul Le Mat, Robin Frates, Irene Miracle, Barbara Crampton, Kathryn O'Reilly, Matt Roe and William Hickey
Director: David Schmoeller
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After their friend commits suicide following his discover of a supernatural secret possessed by WW2-era puppeteer and toymaker Andre Toulon (Hickey). four psychics travel to the mansion he killed himself in to investigate. They soon regret launching their investigation, as Toulon's greatest creations--a group of singularly twisted dolls--come to life in order to stalk and kill them in gory ways.

There are some films that one should allow to live in memory. For me, "Puppet Master" is one of those. I first saw this movie in 1990 or so, and I remembered the general story, and the cool stop-motion killer puppets. However, I had absolutely no memory of how awful the acting is, nor how bad much of the dialogue is.

This is probably still one of the best movies to ever emerge from Full Moon Entertainment, and while that may sound like I'm damning with faint praise, I'm not intending to do so. The stop-motion photography and the design of the very creepy killer toys in the film are top-notch, as is the use of sound throughout the film (especially where the toys are concerned). Leech Woman is every bit as disturbing as a I remembered! In fact, this is really the only time where Leech Woman is as gross and disgusting as she needs to be.

Aside from the puppets, the only other thing that works here is the villain (whose nature I won't comment on for fear of ruining the film for those who may not have seen it). He is a truly monstrous character and the final act of the film, where he is revealed along with the full monstrousness of his actions--making the killer puppets look like the toys they are by comparison--is some of the very best movie making that Charles Band has ever presided over.

Although crippled by the bad acting, the creativity of the story and the deadly toys go a long way to making up for that shortcoming. The stop-motion animation is extremely well done, and it's worth seeing this creepy movie for that alone.

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

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

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

(It's not quite in step with "Puppet Master II", but then that's a big plus in its favor. As a matter of fact, none of the various Puppet Master movies are perfect fits for each other as far as continuity goes.)

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

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

Retro Puppet Master (1999)
Starring: Greg Sestero, Brigitta Dau, Stephen Blackehart, Jack Donner and Guy Rolfe
Director: David DeCoteau (as Joesph Tennent)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

It's 1892 and Andre Toulon (Sestero), the young owner and operator of an avant-garde puppet theater in Paris becomes smitten with Ilsa (Dau), the daughter of the Swiss ambassador, when she attends one of his shows. But before romance can bloom, Toulon and Ilsa become the targets of an ancient cult of demon worshippers attempted to retreive the secret of animating dead matter with the spririt of the living that was stolen from them by an Egyptian mystic (Donner). Even as the minions of the cultists destroy everything Toulon holds dear, they place him on the path to his destiny as the beloved and feared Puppet Master.

"Retro Puppet Master" is the seventh entry in Full Moon's most successful franchise, the Puppet Master series. It's actually a decent movie that offers a level of fright that I haven't seen in the series since the original "Puppet Master" film, as well as featuring a decent script and a talented cast of actors (including Guy Rolfe, in his final role). The gore is low, but the tension and excitement is high, as we witness the creation of Andre Toulon's first set of magical puppets and they go on a rampage in defense of their master and his lady love.

Although the heart of the movie is strong, it still has some fatal flaws.

First, we have the usual Full Moon sloppiness as far as continuity goes. The seventh Puppet Master is a prequel that gives fills in more of Andre Toulon's backstory, but its pieces don't quite fit with what we learned in "Puppet Master", "Puppet Master II" or "Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge". (Of course, ignoring "Puppet Master II" counts in this film's favor, as it doesn't fit with any other film in the series, presenting Toulon and Ilsa both as evil psychos.) I've been been a bit bemused by Charles Band's apparent purposeful disregard for continuity in the movies he produces... it's one thing for Universal or Hammer to not give a rat's ass for continuity in the 1940s and 1950s when movies weren't readily available at the corner drugstore or from, but why Band & Company--whose films have been direct-to-video/DVD for most of his career--can't get with the times where it's easy to watch an entire film series back-to-back is beyond me.

Second, "Retro Puppet Master" offers an incomplete story. It ends without explaining a mystery that was set up in the film's framing sequence--how was Toulon's first set of puppets destroyed?--and it ends on the cusp of what sounds like a far more exciting adventure than the one we have just watched, one that will see Toulon and Ilsa in a showdown with the demon cultists. When I see a movie, I expect it to come to a satisfying close, even if the filmmakers are already planning a sequel. This film comes to a close, but it's far from satisfying. (And, to make matters worse, we'll probably never see this story completed, as Band has returned to the series in the "Puppet Master III" mode, with a couple of films set in the 1940s with Toulon's puppets against squaring off against the Nazis.)


31 Nights of Halloween: Murder, He Wrote

The first sign the author in today's selection is insane is the fact he's using a manual typewriter!

  Murder, He Wrote (2012)
Starring: Chris Milne and Maria Passarou Director: Arik Shahzadeyan
Rating: Six of Ten Stars


Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: The Halloween Rap

Here's a little short film/video from J-Rok and friends that celebrates the Halloween and all the horror tropes and cliches on displays in the short films featured here all month for the 31 Nights of Halloween.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Road Rage

Today's offering is a cautionary tale about being on your best behavior when behind the wheel of your car. You never know which driver may be fueled by psychotic rage even greater than yours.

Road Rage (2011)
Starring: Keiko Agena
Director: Barbara Stepansky
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Red Balloon

Teenaged babysitters having bad nights are a very popular theme among horror shorts--possibly because of the model set by "Halloween", but also because the bedeviled babysitter is herself a horror trope... and one around which all kinds of things can be built.

 Here's one of the better ones of a huge selection floating around out there.

 Red Balloon (2010) 
Starring: Rachel Bright and Niamh Palmer Watson
Directors: Damien Macé and Alexis Wajsbrot
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars


Monday, October 15, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Night of the Punks

Welcome to the third Monday in October and the 31 Nights of Halloween. We're halfway to Halloween, and if you look in the shadows, you will see that the monsters are starting to gather. On second though, maybe you shouldn't look. It might be safer that way.

Today we bring you one of the longest films we'll be showing this month at Terror Titans, but you'll find that your 18 minutes are well-spent.

In "Night of the Punks", a small-time band first out-of-town gig turns into a nightmare when the audience turns out to be hungrier for human flesh than they are for music.

Night of the Punks (2011)
Starring: Luke Ewdards, Aubrey Wood, Nick Mundy, Dominic Deleo, Mike Kinshella, and John Bobek
Director: Dan Reisser
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

For more about this film, visit the official website by clicking here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween: Smoke

Today's film is a tribute to the psychological horror tales of Edgar Allan Poe. It's the story of a man who gets away with murder... almost. It's another excellent offering from Drew Daywalt.

Smoke (2008)
Starring: Paul Hungerford
Directors: Drew Daywalt and David Schneider
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Tracy Scoggins

Born and raised in Texas, Tracy Scoggins narrowly missed qualifying for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Diving Team. However, she found success as a model and by the mid-1980s had transitioned completely to acting. She was busy guest-starring on numerous television action shows and was a regular on night-time soap operas "Dynasty" and "The Colbys" (from 1985 to 1989), as well as "Hawaiian Heat" and "The Renegade" (both in 1984).

As the 1990s dawned, Scoggins career emphasis shifted to movies, with a focus on thrillers and horror films. and starring in over 20 movies during the decade. Among these were the classic Charles Band production "Demonic Toys" (1992), "Watchers II" (1990) and "Dead On" (1993).

During the second half of the decade, Scoggins was at her busiest, as she returned to series television, big time, while continuing to make films. She had recurring or starring roles in "Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years" (1995 - 1996), "Highlander: The Series" (1996 - 1997), and both the "Babylon 5" series, the "Babylon 5" made-for-TV movies, and the spin-off series "Crusades" (1998 - 1999).

Her career began to cool during the 2000s, but she has continued to appear in films and television series, with horror genre appearances including "Asylum of the Damned" (2003), "Saurian", "Mr. Hell", and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (all in 2006), and the irregularly released homoerotic-themed "Dante's Cove" (starting in 2007 and continuing at least through 2011).

31 Nights of Halloween:
The Insane & Milla the Destroyer

Today's offering is the tale of John Vincent, a police detective on a hunt that never ends. It's a bit predictable, but very nicely staged.

The Insane (2006)
Starring: James Spofforth
Directors: Mark Cripps and David J. Ellison
Rating: Six of Ten Stars


Bonus Feature: Milla the Destroyer - Incarnation Three
How will the Mayan-promised End of the World come? Perhaps by massive storms with Milla the Destroyer at their center?

Friday, October 12, 2012

'Asylum of the Damned' should be shut down

Asylum of the Damned (aka "Hellborn") (2003)
Starring: Matt Stasi, Bruce Payne, Tom Lister, Gregory Wagrowski, and Tracy Scoggins
Director: Phil Jones
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

When James Bishop (Stasi) goes from run-of-the-mill resident to supervisor of a ward at St. Andrews' State Mental Hospital straight ouf of medical school, he thinks his career is off to a rocketing start. However, he soon discovers this mental hospital is a little more hellish than most... and that a demonic cult is feeding the patients to a demon in the hospital's basement.

"Asylum of the Damned" features a lazily written, badly researched script--from presenting a plot that only works because our hero behaves stupidly from the outset, to presenting us with a hospital so badly run that even the demon in the basement wouldn't be able to save its director (Payne) from being investigated by any number of regulatory commissions--that features dialogue that's so tortured at times that the writer must have been emulating Ed Wood.

The film also fails utterly to do what a horror film set against a modern backdrop absolutely must to in order to work: The film never bothers to ground itself in anything that resembles normality. It is groan-inducingly unbelievable from the outset. The creepy way the hospital is presented as soon as our hero arrives, and the behavior of the staff--from the security guard to the head doctor--is so rude and unprofessional from their first appearances that it's plain the viewer is in for something very awful... and it guarantees the film's failure. The overblown attempts at establishing a menacing air IMMEDIATELY in the film means that no true menace is ever really felt--even the hackneyed "gotcha!" scares fail to work, because the film's beginning is so badly botched.

It's a shame the direction and scripting of this movie was so severely botched, because the cast actually did a fairly good decent job. If these actors were assembled for a film with a script that was perhaps taken through a second draft before filming started, and if they were in a film that actually had a first act, I think they might be able to impress. The creature design was also excellent--the soul-eating demon in the hospital's basement is far better looking than I would have expected in a rancid turkey like this. It's the one thing in the film that will make you sit up and go "wow!'

Of course, I don't recommend you ever take the opportunity to view that demon, because "Asylum of the Damned" isn't worth whatever time you devote to it.

Now it can be told...
Popcorn Press will publish my
Cthulhu Poem

While I was preparing "Shadows of Dreams: Poetry and Verse by Robert E. Howard" for publication, I got a hankering to write some poetry, which means that Howard joins Emily Dickinson and Bret Harte as one of the poets who can get me thinking in a rhyme-and-meter sort of mood.

Steve Miller in a Rhyme-and-Meter Sort of Mood (Artist's Conception)
 As long-time readers might have heard me say before, I like to have an audience for the stuff I write, so anything I think is halfway decent, I try to get in front of the public. So as I was idly typing up fragments of poems and gradually hitting upon a few nice ideas and even nicer bits of verse, my mind turned to how I was going to get some of these in front of readers.

 One of the potential outlets for my creations that came to my notice was the Lester Smith-edited "Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness". Knowing Lester as a fun guy and an exceptionally talented poet, I thought to myself, "Well... it can't hurt to come up with something suitable and see how it goes."

Out of twelve completed Cthulhu and Lovecraft poems, I really liked three. Out of the three, there were two I thought that were good enough to send to Lester for consideration. Out of the two, one was accepted pretty much as I sent it in, and the other... well, you'll just have to wait and see when "Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness" comes out.

 This is pretty exciting for me--my first published poetry since the 1980s will be appearing in one of Lester Smith's great horror-themed poetry collections! For more information on "Cthulhu Haiku and Other Mythos Madness" and how to pre-order a copy via Kickstarter, click here.

 If you yourself are in the mood to write some poems about creeping horrors and sleeping elder gods, it's not too late. In this day and age of POD and e-books, Lester is still considering submissions and will be accepting them through Midnight (your local time) on Saturday October 13. The e-book editions are scheduled to be released on October 15 (!).

Full Moon Friday: When Toys Attack!

A recurring theme in the films produced by B-movie mogul Charles Band are killer toys. I'm not talking about the hottest Christmas toys, or the gadgets for the man-cave, but actual killer toys. Toys that creep up behind you and stab you and slash at your legs until you fall down so they can rip out your throat.

Here are a few of the more noteworthy killer toy movies from the Full Moon Fantasy Factory. When reading the reviews, you will notice that I reference the "Puppet Master" films repeatedly in the following reviews. If you are unfamiliar with those, you can come back next Friday when I cover the best entries in that long-running film series.

Dolls (1987)
Starring: Carrie Lorraine, Stephen Lee, Ian Patrick Williams, Guy Rolfe, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Hilary Mason, Bunty Baily and Cassie Stuart
Director: Stuart Gordon
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Stranded travelers spend the night in an old mansion inhabited by an elderly couple (Mason and Rolfe) and their magical dolls... dolls that don't take kindly to abusive adults or house-guests that behave badly.

"Dolls" is a comedy/horror flick that has the feel of a fairy tale--a feel the filmmakers purposefully work to evoke and this atmosphere makes the movie that much more interesting viewing.

The film has also has qualities about it that evoke classic horror films and thrillers from the 1930s and 1940s, primarily the sub-genre that get's referred to as "dark old house movies". The pacing of the story and the "just rewards" given to the characters as it unfolds have a "Tales From the Crypt" or "House of Mystery" feel to them that makes the film even more fun to watch.

At the same time, "Dolls" was also groundbreaking. If not for this film, "Puppet Master" might never have come into being, as much of what goes on here feels like a rough draft for that movie and franchise. (There's even a bit from here that is echoed several times in the "Puppet Master" films, but not surpassed, and that's the appearance of filmdom's most unusual firing squad.)

The film is artfully shot and edited, features an excellent score and has a cast of actors that are all perfect in their parts. Comic actor Stephen Lee has a nice turn as a man whose childlike wonder and innocence protects him from the rampaging killer dolls; veteran British character actors Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason are great as the elderly masters of the dark old house; and the rest of the cast present characters so obnoxious that you can't wait to see them get bumped off. Even child actor Carrie Lorraine is far better than most children her age. It's a shame she quit acting after this film.

Demonic Toys (aka "Dangerous Toys") (1991)
Starring: Tracy Scoggins, Bentley Mitchum, Daniel Cerny, Michael Russo, Peter Schrum, Ellen Dunning, William Thorne, Robert Stoeckle, and Jeff Weston
Director: Peter Manoogian
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Police Detective Judith Gray (Scoggins) pursues gunmen who have just murdered her partner and father of her unborn child (Weston) into a warehouse full of toys. When a demon (Cerny, voiced by Stoeckle) that has lain dormant for decades under the building's foundation senses her, it decides her baby will be its physical form and it animates toys in warehouse to capture her and kill everyone else inside. Will Judith, together with a teen runaway (Dunning), a hapless fast-food delivery boy (Mitchum), a lazy security guard (Schrum), and a mad-dog killer (Russo) be able to fend off the demon and his cute-but-deadly minions, or will she become the unwilling mother of Hell on Earth?

"Demonic Toys" is another highly entertaining movie from Full Moon's Golden Age of the early 1990s. It offers a perfect blend of horror and comedy, and it's a far creepier movie than the demon-possessed toys that are its main selling point led me to believe.

In fact, while much of the film is definitely played tongue-in-cheek, the concept of a demon seizing a woman so it can possess her unborn child is one that creeps me out just thinking about it. The concept is made even creepier in execution here, as the demon generally presents himself as a little boy (played on screen by child actor Daniel Cerny, but voiced with great effectiveness by Robert Stoeckle). Seeing a child talk about spiritual rape and murder is very, very disturbing.

The whole "demon replacing the sould of an unborn child" plot of the film actually adds some (perhaps inadvertently) depth and controversy to the film. Judith is barely one month pregnant, yet the film makes it clear that her fetus is most definitely aready a baby, complete with a soul that is looking forward to being born and experiencing life on Earth. Fanatical pro-abortioners should stay away from this flick, but those right-wing pro-lifers in the audience should check it out (at least those of you who don't mind foul language used with great comedic effect).

The acting in the film is good all around, with the aforementioned Robert Stoeckle providing a great demon voice, and Bentley Mitchum coming across as a young version of Bruce Campbell's Ash from "Evil Dead 2" as he battles the killer toys. Leading lady Tracy Scroggins has a tendency to chew up the scenery, but in a movie featuring demon-possessed killer toys a touch of overacting isn't that big a deal.

Other noteworthy players in the film are the toys of the title. They are more funny than scary, but that's intentional on the part of the filmmakers. In fact, the knife-weilding, foul-mouthed Baby Oopsie-Daisy (and its uncredited voice actor) has some of the film's funniest moments and best lines. The puppetry and stop-motion animation used to bring the toys to life are very well-done, particularly in the case of Baby Oopsie-Daisy, the killer teddy bear, and the toy soldier who joins the fray late in the film. However, as funny as the toys are, they inflict some very gruesome deaths on some of the characters, and thus give rise to some displays of gore effects that are as impressive as the craftsmanship involved in animating the toys.

This is a fun romp of a movie. If you're looking for some comedy-tinged horror that might even inspire a thought or two as the mayhem unfolds, "Demonic Toys" might just be the film for you.

Ragdoll (1999)

Starring: Russell Richardson, Jennia Watson, Freda Payne, Bill Davis and Tarnell Poindexter
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Young up-and-coming musician Kwame (Richardson) turns to his grandmother's book of voodoo spells to get revenge after New Orleans crimelord Big Pere (Davis) has her beaten to the point she's in a coma. Kwame inadvertently unleashes uncontrollable killing magic--in the form of a ragdoll--that not only goes after Big Pere's gang but also those whom Kwame loves.

"Ragdoll" is a fun little flick that features all the "typical" Full Moon elements, including a killer puppet. If you enjoy that special atmosphere that hovers around most of the best features that have the name Charles Band in the production credits, you're bound to enjoy this movie. In fact, it may represent the last gasp of Band's Golden Age as far as the film's he's helmed. Although the VERY low budget is evident throughout the film, the magic is present to a degree that we won't see again until "Doll Graveyard" (and, even there, it's stronger in this film). Of course, it may also be that the film ends up as strong as it is because it is helmed by one of the most talented editors and directors who has worked with Band, Ted Nicolaou.

The film succeeds primarily due to strong performances from Russell Richardson (the handsome lead, playing Kawme), Jennia Watson (the very attractive love interest, Teesha) and Freda Payne (the target of the gangster attack that triggers the events of the film and whose skill with sorcery will be Kwamie's and Teesha's only chance of survival). Their acting talents go a long way to making us buy into the danger and threatening nature of the killer puppet in this movie, which isn't anywhere as impressive as the Demonic Toys or Andre Toulon's puppets, and which sounds like an angry cat. The film's climax also wouldn't be anywhere near as suspenseful if not for the skills of these three actors.

There were only two things that got in the way of this film rating perhaps a point higher that I am currently assigning it.

First, the film could have done with a little more of a denouement than it has, or perhaps a brief reappearance of the Shadow Man, the devil-figure with whom Kwame makes the deal that unleashes the "killing magic"; his take on the turn of events would have been interesting. I like the fact the movie ends when it's over--with no "surprise shock ending" or the likes tacked on--but a little more of a wrap up would still have been preferable.

Second, for a film with a running time that barely breaks 80 minutes, a lot of tme is taken up by acts performing songs. There are three rap songs and two pop/soul tunes of mediocre quality included in the film, and, knowing Charles Band's love of using movies as promotional vehicles for other ventures (and other ventures as promotional vehicles for his movies), they are undoubtedly there in what was a failed attempt at branching out into a Full Moon pop music venture. (I suspect "The Horrible Dr. Bones" and "Blood Dolls" were part of that same scheme.)

An over-abundance of average pop music aside, "Ragdoll" is a fun flick that should prove entertaining, especially if you add it to the line-up of a Bad Movie Night (or, since I am posting this round-up in October, for viewing at a Halloween get-together)..
Doll Graveyard (2005)
Starring: Jared Kusnitz, Gabrielle Lynn, Anna Alicia Brock, Kristyn Green, Hannah Marks, Brian Lloyd, and Scott Seymour
Director: Charles Band
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In 1910, a little girl (Marks) is killed by her abusive father and buried with her dolls in the backyard. 95 years later, one of the dolls is unearthed after a storm and cleaned up by a dorky young collector of action figures (Kusnitz). That night, the vengeful spirit of the girl animates the rest of the dolls and they go on a rampage during an illicit party thrown by his older sister (Lynn) while their single, back-in-the-dating-scene-again is out of the house.

"Doll Graveyard" is one of the best Full Moon movies of recent vintage. The script is decent and straight-to-the point, the acting is pretty good, the film is suspenseful, and the staging and other technical aspects are all well-handled.

Unfortunately, it's still a far cry from the films that Charles Band helmed in 1990s, a period that is increasingly starting to look like his Golden Age.

The first and biggest problem with the film is that the "straight-to-the-point" strong suit mentioned above is also one of the film's weaknesses. It's too straight-to-the-point. The film would have been far more effective if we'd gotten to see the characters in their normal, every day lives. We should have seen the kids at school, we should have been told what happened to their Mom, we should have seen what their Dad was like before the dolls attack--and before he found a certain item in the backyard. (Hell, we should have seen him FINDING the item in the backyard.)

At a running time 71 minutes, there was plenty of room for expansion in this film, and it would have been far better if we had gotten to know the characters a little better. It would have heighted the suspense and the humor, and it would have made this a much better movie. Of course, it would have required two or three more locations, which would have meant many thousands of dollars more for the budget. I understand why the film is structured the way it is, but I don't have to like it.

A second problem with the film is the ending. The ending is weak and badly conceived. Does Dad live or die? What's the deal with the spirits? (And what about those dead bodies? Someone's going to jail for murder, because the cops sure aren't going to buy "the dolls did it!")

The third and final problem is that the killer dolls here are little more than retreads of murderous toys that Charles Band has already done with more punch in previous movies. The Samuari doll and the Prussian officer doll are retreads of Blade and Tunneler respectively from the "Puppet Master" movies, while the cutesy doll is very similar to Baby Oopsie from "Demonic Toys" (except more nonsensical... why does a demon possessed doll with a porcelain head suddenly develope the ability to gnaw on people?)

For all these complaints, however, "Doll Graveyard" still is entertaining if you like that Charles Band brand of weirdness.

Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys (2004)
Starring: Corey Feldman, Danielle Keaton, Vanessa Angel, Silva Suvadova, Nikolai Sotirov and Anton Falk
Director: Ted Nicolaou
Producers: Charles Band, Jeff Franklin, Bob Perkis and Jörg Westerkamp
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Eccentric inventor and toymaker Robert Toulon (Feldman) and his teenaged daugther Alexandra (Keaton) recreate the secret formula that can bring inanimate objects to life, and they use it to revive some of the puppet's created by Robet's grand-uncle Andre Toulon--Blade, Pinhead, Jester, and Six-shooter. It's a good thing they do, because the sinister president Erica Sharpe (Angel) of Sharpe Toys has been selling demon-possessed toys which will come to life Christmas morning and kill millions of Americans, sacrificing their souls to the demonlord Bael (Falk) and elevating Erica to ruler of Earth. Only the Toulons and the magic puppets can stop them... if they survive long enough.

"Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys" is one of the best movies to come out of the Sci-Fi Channel's original programming department. Yes, it's goofy and illogical and the special effects won't be winning any awards, but it's a fun and funny movie.

Although the creator of both the Demonic Toys and the Puppet Master concepts, Charles Band, had no direct part in the creation of this film, the presence of an old-time Full Moon script-writer (C. Courtney Joyner) and a director who worked on a number of Full Moon features (Ted Nicolaou) the spirit of the original movies is alive and well in this one. In fact, it's better than much of what Band has been producing and directing lately.

Corey Feldman in particular is great fun as the gruff grand-nephew and last male decendent of the Toulon line, and teenaged actress Danielle Keaton gives a nice performance as a cute and well-mannered kid who patiently puts up with the dad's weird nature. The father/daughter relationships in this movie is one of the things that makes it such an interesting film, particuarly when the Toulons are considered in the light of the relationship that Erica Sharpe must have had with her father. There's nothing deep here--like most films from the brain-trust that is/was the Full Moon gang, the emphasis is on gags, gimmicks and gore rather than characterization--but it's enough to make us interested in the characters, enough to make us care.

Demonic Toys 2 (2010)
Starring: Michael Citriniti, Alli Kinzel, Lane Compton, Leslie Jordan, Selene Luna and Elizabeth Bell
Director: William Butler
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A wealthy collector of oddities (Citriniti) and his entourage travel to a deserted Italian castle to acquire a legendary mechanical dolls known as Devoletto. Once there, however, demonic spirits that have been lurking in the castle for centuries possess other grotesque toys he has collected and a bloodbath begins.

The tagline for this movie reads, "Playtime is over." I fear I must agree.

With not only the promise of the legendary Demonic Toys returning to action, but also the presence of Dr. Lorca from Charles Band's spectacular film "Hideous!" (review here) and the film being shot in the same castle as "Castle Freak" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" this should and could have been a nostalgic return to the Old Days of Full Moon's Golden Age of the 1990s. It's a direct appeal to fans of all those classic Full Moon pictures. Unfortunately, the film falls short of its promise.

The cast gives a performance of typical Full Moon caliber, with Michael Citriniti as Dr. Lorca and Elizabeth Bell as his unfaithful, gold-digging wife being especially fun to watch. The rest of the cast is also pretty good, but they are let down by a script that feels as if it needed another draft or two, and by shoddily done special effects.

First, the puppetry is weak, as has been the tendency in most recent Full Moon efforts--it's not as bad as that featured in "Skull Heads" or "Decadent Evil," but it's also not as good as what we saw in "Doll Graveyard" and it can't hold a candle to the original "Demonic Toys."

Second, the gore effects are also weak and vastly inferior to the original "Demonic Toys." As mentioned above, this film should have been a return to the 1990s since it is built around evoking films from those days. The gore effects should have been Old School--red corn syrup, fake guts... the works. Instead, we're treated to not-very-convincing computer-generated effects (with a supposedly severed head and blood spray from the neck being especially pathetic). Maybe the new generation of Bad Movie Lovers are satisfied with such cartoony gore, but us Grognards need a little more to be happy, especially when it comes to a movie that plays on nostalgia. (On a positive note, the CGI-created muzzle-flashes on the gun that Lorca fires in a couple of different scenes is very well done. Not all the computer effects are poorly done.)

And, finally, there are the demonic toys. Like everything else that invites comparison to previous Full Moon efforts, they come up short. The reason for them being animated is vague and the reason for them starting to kill is nonsensical in the greater context of what's going on in the story. Jack Attack, due to the crew's limited ability to engage in actual puppeteering is ineffectual dramatically because they are completely unconvincing. Worse, the "Baby Ooopsie" in this version is voiced in such a way that most of its lines are incomprehensible. Sure, it's great that it speaks like a baby... but an actor with strong enough ability to enunciate words should have been hired so he could speak like a baby AND still deliver lines that could be understood.

I sat down wating to like this movie. I wish I could give it a better review than I am. I think I might have been able to, if just a little more money and time had been spent on making this movie. Charles Band has always made cheap movies, but they didn't use to look and feel cheap... and with the computer generated gore effects and the substandard puppetry, this film both looks and feels cheap.

In the final analysis, the only truly good things I can about the film is that Alli Kinzel makes an appealing female lead and I hope to see her in more Full Moon pictures in the future, and that I feel Dr. Lorca may not be dead and that he might be back for another misadventure in the future. (The rating I'm giving the film is about as low a 4 as I can give.)