Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Fear: My Name is Kris Kringle

Here's a horror short film to make your Christmas Eve just a little more chilling....

My Name is Kris Kringle (2010)
Starring: Bradley James, R.A. Mihailoff, Azure Parsons, and Donnie Jeffcoat
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Mary Woronov

Mary Woronov got her start in show business as part of Andy Warhol's entourage, but it wasn't until she parted ways with Warhol (and drug addiction) that her career really began to take off.

Since her debut in 1966, Woronov has appeared in 90 or so movies, many of them horror films or black comedies. Among her best roles--even if the films aren't necessarily all that good-- are "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1971), "Sugar Cookies" (1973), "Death Race 2000" (1975), "Hollywood Boulevard" (1976), "Eating Raul" (1982), "Blood-o-Rama" (1984). "TerrorVision" (1986), "The Halfway House" (2003), and "The House of the Devil" (2003).

In addition to her acting, Woronov is also an accomplished writer with three published books to her name.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cancer research kills on the island of terror

Island of Terror (aka "Night of the Silicates) (1966)
Starring: Edward Judd, Peter Cushing, Carole Gray, Eddie Byrne and Sam Kydd
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Bone specialist Dr. David West (Judd) and pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Cushing) travel to a remote island off the coast of England to help stem an outbreak of a strange disease that seems to be dissolving the very bones of animals and island residents. The soon discover that the island is about to be overrun by gigantic, mobile, mutated cells that survive by sucking calcium and other minerals from their victims. Will the scientists find a to destroy the seemingly indestructible, rapidly multiplying monsters before they kill everything on the island... and then spread to the rest of the world? More importantly, will the lovely Toni (Gray) slap Dr. Stanley for his heavy-handed flirtatious comments?

"Island of Terror" is a GREAT monster movie with a fabulous setting and a cast that deliver excellent performances. The movie starts creepy, builds tension steadily, and ends up with an exciting climax where survivors are crammed into a single building for a desperate last stand. It is a classic in every sense of the word, from the Golden Age of sci-fi in at the cinema.

I've heard this film compared to the original "Dr. Who" series, both in a favorable and a disparaging sense. I tend to think the comparison is accurate, particularly of the John Pertwee and Tom Baker years. The monsters bear some resemblance in design to many of those we saw on "Dr. Who" (and perhaps they may seem laughable to the "sophisticated" viewer in the 21st century) and the setting, nature, and development of the story is likewise similar to the stories featured on the TV show. However, "Island of Terror" is much better paced, far better acted, and far better filmed than any "Dr. Who" storyline. (I also suspect that a couple of people who have made such comments have had limited exposure to British sci-fi from the 50s and 60s... and so perhaps everything would remind them of "Dr. Who.")

If you like monster movies and classic sci-fi films, you owe it to yourself to check out "Island of Terror." Another reason to see it is Peter Cushing's performance. He gets to show off his comedy skills.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Embeth Davidtz

American actress Embeth Davidtz grew up in South Africa where she began her acting career with the National Theatre Company. She soon moved onto film, however, with her first screen appearance being in the 1989 sci-fi horror flick "Mutator".

After making a few more films in South Africa,  Davidtz returned to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, CA. She has appeared in a range of moves and television series, but the bulk of her resume consists of thrillers and horror films, including such greats as "Army of Darkness" (1992), "Fallen" (1998), "The Hole" and "Thirteen Ghosts" (both in 2001), and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo". (2011).

After she was was married in 2002, Davidtz output slowed slightly, as she has been tending to family and her two children. She continues to have leading roles in films and television series, and she recently completed work on "Paranoia", a thriller slated for release in 2013.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Worst documentary crew ever?

Ghost Attack on Sutton Street (2012)
Starring: Lee Roberts, Michelle Gant, Pete Cox, Matthew Davies, and Michelle Hare
Director: Philip Gardiner
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A documentary crew follows Haunted Events UK on an investigation of hauntings at the Sutton Street indoor market in this clumsy attempt at making a... well, to be honest, I'm not sure WHAT they were trying to accomplish.

"Ghost Attack on Sutton Street" is either a failed mockumentary, a failed at attempt at making a "ghosts are real" hoax film ala "The Last Exorcism", or a failed promotional film for Haunted Events UK. Whatever the intent, the end result doesn't make the future career prospects of any of the participants seem particularly rosey.

Let's set aside for a moment that the fact that Gardiner and his B-camera man are the worst documentary crew in the history of filmmaking, if this film was supposed to be a real documentary. No camera is EVER pointed where something is supposed to happen--even if the "ghost hunter" is saying, "Over there, something is going to happen with that toy car over there"--the cameras remain on the "ghost hunter" or some other equally uninteresting bit of scenery until someone shouts "Oh my God! Something DID happen over there!"

But, of course, by the time the camera turns to where an event is happening, it's already over--the ghost is done moving a toy car or knocking over a chair, or what have you.

And the supposed evidence of ghosts that Haunted Events UK presents in this film are so hackneyed or transparently clumsy that even the most game middle school girls would be unlikely to be terrified by them. They rank from medium tricks that were stale back when Arthur Conan Doyle was being duped by them, to clumsy hoaxes that a child would be able to see through.

The most lame way the Haunted Events UK tries to "prove" the existence of ghosts to the audience involves toy cars. Toy cares are left sitting on counters and if the car is later found to have been moved, a ghost has been by. Why do ghosts like to play with Matchbox Cars? Who knows. But the toy cars DO get moved... when no one is looking, of course. Or when the "paranormal expert" is looking at a toy car and the camera is conveniently filming something completely irrelevant. The car trick MIGHT be taken as a sign of ghostly activities, because the crew is supposedly the only people inside the building if not for the fact that the "paranormal expert" sends half the team away because it's getting too dangerous due to ghost activity about halfway through the movie. If Haunted Events UK is in the business of staging "haunted house" tours, then it's pretty clear who's moving the cars or rattling chains or what have you. Basically, anyone who rolls their eys at the "my Maglite is blinking, so a ghost must be trying to communicate!" nonsense from SyFy's "Ghosthunters".

I've touched twice on the awful cinematography in the film, but it pales in comparison to the omnipresent, nerve-grating score that does more to undermine the sense of reality that was most likely the goal of the film than the third-rate carnival acts of the Haunted Events UK crew could ever do. It's overblown, tedious, and consistently out of place.

My final take on "Ghost Attack on Sutton Street" is that it's a film that shouldn't be viewed by anyone, except maybe aspiring filmmakers who might benefit from a compact collection of every single thing you could do wrong when trying to make a hoax movie.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A horrible horror movie

Slaughtered (2008)
Starring: Chris Smith, Arlisha Fogle, Aschleigh Jensen, Rebecca McQuen, and Cheri Lynn
Director: Anthony Doublin
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

Harold (Smith) is a psychopath who murders nude models and posts gory images of his crimes on a pay/members-only website. As he goes about his business of booking small-time models and murdering them, the world's worst detective (Fogle) is hired to locate one of Harold's victims. But something else is closing in on Harold--the restless spirits of his victims. Is he truly being haunted, or are the ghosts just a figment of his deterioriating sanity?

"Slaughtered" is a movie so bad that the only good things I can say about it is that it's well-lit and the camera is in focus at all times. And I'd be appalled if those weren't quality, given that the writer/director of this should-have-been cinematic abortion is a well-established lighting technician and cameraman with several regular gigs on television series to his credit.

But as a director and a screen-writer, he is completely incompetent.

We have a central character--I can't bring myself to call him a protagonist--who is both loathsome and uninteresting, whose only defining characteristics is that he wears too much eye-liner and likes to kill women. Oh... and he's also a peeping tom who likes watching his models undress via a webcam before he... makes them undress and kills them. We never learn anything about Harold... who he is, why he is doing what he's doing, or any other stuff that might make him a little interesting. He never becomes more than a crazy goth in too much eye-liner.

We have a character who should be the hero, but who is so irrelevant to the plot that by the time she arrives at Harold's house, the movie's over... his last victim has freed herself and ghosts have exacted gory revenge on him. (Yeah, I just spoiled the movie. If you had watched it, you would have wished I had and saved you the misery.) She's also, as I mentioned in the teaser summary at the top of the review, the world's dumbest detective; while working on her missing person's case, she calls up the local police station and offers sexual favors in exchange for open missing persons cases. I've no doubt she's real popular around the squad room, since those sorts of things are not under lock and key... the police are trying to find those people. A Google search might have given her the same information as those files. And then there's the fact she spends much of the movie in her office (which looks like it might be a nook in her kitchen) trying to "hack" Harold's members-only snuff-port site. Why didn't get herself a pre-paid Mastercard, billed to her client, and just sign up for the site under a fictitious name?!

Of course, the police in the area of California where the film takes place--Santa Barbara? I think it was mentioned at some point, but my brain was starting to turn off by that point, so I'm not sure--aren't much smarter. Nude models are going missing... nude models who are contacted via their promotional web sites, via email... nude models who have computers and email accounts where correspondence is stored. It seems to me that it wouldn't take more than a couple of vanished women with emails from Harold in their inbox to make the police interested in him and his little web-venture. That and the fact that he disposes of their bodies, fully intact, in dumpsters. Neither Harold, nor the cops, have apparently watched even one episode of "CSI". Or "Quincy, M.E.". Or even "Columbo." Hell, the world's dumbest detective looked at the email account of one victim and zeroed in on Harold.

Some of the laziest writing I have ever seen in a film that was supposedly made by a professional is on display here. The cipherous nature of Harold. the idiocy and plot irrelevancy of the character who should be the hero, and the absence of any apparent thought devoted to how Harold can be getting away with his serial killing are only the worst sins among a multitude.

Moving onto the direction... words fail me. Either Doublin managed to make scenes of girls getting undressed boring, or I need to have my testosterone levels checked. We're treated to three scenes of girls getting undressed and then getting dressed (before undressing again and being murdered), and the next one is duller than the one that went before. Even the kill scenes are boring, with only the first one having even the slightest impact, possibly because it was a bit unexpected. Usually with films like this, I'm disgusted or irritated--I do not like movies whose central and only theme is the brutalization of women and other innocent victims--but with "Slaughtered", each murder brought a greater degree of indifference.

Perhaps it has something to do with the acting, which was almost as universally flat as the direction. The fact that Doublin is a seasoned professional probably helped him keep the "playing to the back row at the community theatre"-style performances that usually plague movies of this kind. The actors here all seemed comfortable in front of a camera and aware of how to play to it... but one can also easily understand why very few of the cast have credits beyond this picture, or other films directed by Doublin.

"Slaughtered" is lurking inside several multi-packs from Maxim Media's Pendulum Pictures imprint. Wherever you find it, save it for last... or, better yet, don't bother with it at all. The only reason to watch it is to gain a greater appreciation for Mario Bava's excellent "Hatchet for the Honeymoon" and Robert Hammer's "Don't Answer the Phone". Those films have many elements in common with Slaughtered... only they were made by directors who understand how to put a movie together.

Saturday Scream Queen: Shayla Beesley

Shayla Beesley is an emerging character actress who has had parts in a range of comedies, thrillers, and horror films, playing a variety of different teenaged girls. 

Beesley first starring role in a horror film came in "Perkins' 14" (2009) and she's been growing her horror resume ever since. She is currently filming two horror films slated for release in 2013 ("Spreading the Darkness" and "The Devil's Ink") and recently completed work on a third one ("MoniKa").

In addition to acting, Beesley is working toward a BA in Psychology.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Aliens are out to sea in 'Virus'

Virus (1998)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland and William Baldwin
Director: John Bruno
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A tugboat crew trying to salvage a mysteriously deserted Russian research vessel find themselves battling for survival against a hurricane and the alien lifeform that has taken up residence onboard the ship.

"Virus" is a sci-fi action thriller that doesn't feature the most original of scripts--the late 1990s seems to have been the era of ghost ships and hurricanes, and the featured alien menace is a cross between Stargate's Replicators and Star Trek's Borg--but it's well-acted, features great special effects and sets, and is full of tension and fun, gory action from beginning to end. And it's probably a good thing that it moves so fast, because you almost don't have time to think about some of the weaker parts of the story nor a couple of the fairly large plot holes.

If you're looking for sci-fi thriller you can watch without taxing your brain too much, this is the film to seek out. Otherwise, you can skip it, like just about everyone did when it first appeared in theatres. (It cost over $75 million to make and it barely took in $14 million in the US theaters.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Scream Queen: Beginning Year Four

Today, the Saturday Scream Queen series enters its fourth full year as a regular series on the Cinema Steve blog network. Almost every Saturday since December 5th, 2009, I've posted at least one mini-profile of an actress who caught my eye in one or more horror movies, for one or more reasons. The series debuted with Valerie Leon and I've spotlighted more than 160 actresses since. (When I say "almost every Saturday," it doesn't mean I've skipped any weeks, but that on Saturday July 21, 2012, the profile was a "non-profile" in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to senseless violence. And then there's this post....)

In celebration of what has gone before and in anticipation of the beautiful and talented actresses I will be writing about in the years to come, I am presenting my 20 favorites that I've covered so far. While every actress I cover in the series qualifies as a favorite, if a film features one of the ladies listed here, it goes on the top of the "To Be Watched" pile.

Click on the links under the photos to see the past profiles and reviews of films featuring the actress, either here on Terror Titans or one of other Cinema Steve blogs.

Evelyn Ankers
At Shades of Gray and Terror Titans

Erin Brown (aka Misty Mundae)
At Terror Titans

Veronica Carlson
At Terror Titans

Jamie Lee Curtis
At Terror Titans

Maryam d'Abo
Adrienne Barbeau
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Audrey Hepburn
At Terror Titans and Watching the Detectives

Jennifer Love Hewitt
Kate Jackson
Milla Jovovich
Cheyenne King
Suzi Lorraine
Jacqueline Lovell (aka Sarah St. James)
At Terror Titans and The Charles Band Collection

Soledad Miranda
At Terror Titans and Shades of Gray

Barbara Shelley
Patty Shepard
Barbara Steele
Gloria Stuart
Faye Wray

Cushing shines in "Night of the Ghoul"

Night of the Ghoul (aka "The Ghoul" and "The Thing in the Attic") (1975)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, John Hurt, Alexandra Bastedo, Ian McCulloch, Gwen Watford, and Don Henderson
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A group of drunken young people out for a drive (Carlson, Bastedo, McCulloch) get lost on country back roads. Ignoring the warning of a crazy country bumpkin (Hurt), they seek refuge in the isolated mansion of Dr. Lawrence (Cushing). When the visitors start dying messily, the secret of the mansion is revealed in all its horror.

"Night of the Ghoul" is a great-looking film burdened a meandering, unoriginal script full of badly written dialogue, which in turn leads to weak performances by most of the featured actors. The one standout performance is delivered by Peter Cushing. It's not unusual that he is the only decent thing about a movie he appears in, but his performance as the tortured Dr. Lawerence is one of his very best and most moving screen appearances. This may be because Cushing reached into himself and used the real pain he still felt from the death of his wife--who had been the center of his world in every way--in one of two tributes he gave to their love on screen. (The other appears in the 1972 anthology film "Tales from the Crypt".)

Aside from Cushing, there's nothing else particularly noteworthy here... and nothing that you haven't seen done better in other movies. Even the Big Secret of Dr.Lawrence's creepy old mansion, while pretty horrendous, is presented in such a feeble fashion that what was supposed to be shocking feels more like a "how terrible... and they were such nice people, too" moment.

"Night of the Ghoul" is a film that admirers of the great talent that was Peter Cushing should seek out. Everyone else won't be missing much if they pass on this film.