Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bonus Scream Queen: Cherie Johnson

For the third year in a row, I bring you a flag-draped Scream Queen for the Fourth of July, officially making it a tradition.

Celebrate Independence Day with Cherie Johnson, a child actress who got her start on "Puniky Brewster" and made a successful transition to adulthood in front of the camera with roles in horror films such as "Dead Tone", "Killer Weekend" (both 2007), and "Raven" (2010).

Friday, June 7, 2013

A film of a child molester's nightmares?

Terror Toons (2001)
Starring: Beverly Lynne, Lizzie Borden, and Kelly Lui
Director: Joe Castro
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Sisters Candy (Borden) and Cindy (Lynne) are left home for the night while their parents attend a wedding. Cindy receives a DVD called "Terror Toons". When the violent, insane cartoon characters of Dr. Carnage and Max Assassin leap from the screen into the real world, the cartoon violence soon causes real blood to flow.

Regular readers probably have probably seen me rant multiple times about filmmakers needing to take their budget and available talent-pool into account when conceiving and executing projects.

"Terror Toons" is exactly the kind of horror film that SHOULD NOT be made on a tiny shoestring budget. It's abo an animated DVD (which looks atrocious) from which cartoon characters emerge to slaughter people in the real world (through painfully cheap effects and in costumes that look worse than the animated world they emerged from) and a need for copious gore effects (which the film's tiny budget apparently couldn't even handle).

There's also an issue with the casting. Candy in particular is problematic. I can't tell if she's supposed to be very young or simply retarded. In either case, the casting is bad, first and foremost because of the very, VERY bad boob job the actress is sporting. (And if she's supposed to be a young kid, then the sort of airbags she's sporting on her chest must mean she's the kind chick convicted child rapist Roman Polanski has nightmares about.)

The difficulty of getting a read on what the viewer is supposed to make of Candy is perhaps also a problem with the script... it doesn't seem like the writers put a whole lot of thought into her or any other of the characters in the film; the two cartoon killers seem to be the most realized characters around. And then there's Satan and his monologuing. Huh?

We can add the direction and camerawork to the to the parade of awfulness that is present in this flick, although all i can say about either is that aside from there obviously was a camera present, I'm not convinced the person running it had much in the way of an idea about how to set a scene. And the acting... it is almost uniformly awful. Lynne and Lui are the only two appearing that seem to have even an iota of talent; everyone else deserves to be murdered by cartoon characters come to life for thinking they should appear on film.

With all the negativity I'm spewing at this film, why did I give it even Two Stars? Well, I'm giving some credit for Lynne and Lui, a couple of semi-bright spots in the otherwise pathetic cast of actors. I'm also giving some credit for some nice looking sets once the cartoon characters invade the house and transform it into a cartoon-house (the place still looks like someone's basement or trailer, but at least some effort was made). I'm also giving some consideration for a neat idea, even if it was one that was far beyond the meager means and talent that were available to execute it.

"Terror Toons", despite a concept that seems appealing to lovers of weird movies, is a film that the vast majority of us are better off avoiding. However, it should be required viewing for those of you out there thinking about making your own movie. It's an illustration of why you need to plan your project carefully and realistically before you start. It's a film that the people involved simply were not able to do justice, and you can learn from their example and not repeat their mistake.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Knight Chills": A horror movie that captures the reality of the table-top RPG experience?

Knight Chills (2002) 
Starring: Michael Wayne Walton, Tim Jeffrey, Laura Tidwell, and DJ Perry 
Director: Katherine Hicks
 Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A mentally unstable roleplaying gamer (Walton) loses track of the lines between reality and fantasy and kills himself over the unrequited love of a part-time game-group member (Tidwell). The tragedy quickly turns to terror for the surviving gamers, as they are one by one stalked and killed by someone (or some thing) who appears to be the dead player's character.

I really wanted to like this movie. As a long-time roleplaying gamer, as well as a professional roleplaying game writer, I thought the premise of "Knight Chills"--a game group that ends up being stalked by one of the RPG characters coming to life--sounded very, very cool. I still think it's a great concept, but it's not one that is really used to its fullest potential here. Not even close.

While "Knight Chills" is better than many of the low-budget movies of its kind (the ones providing filler for DVD multipacks with names like "100 Horror Films" or "Gory Graveyards"), with overall better acting, better technical competence, and a better score, it is still crammed full of filler material and displays many of the typical cheap movie flaws... with badly scripted and redundant "character development" scenes being the most prominent of those flaws in this movie. To the film's flaws, we can add kill-scenes so lame and without resolution that we aren't even sure if the character dispatched is dead or just fainted due to low blood sugar or something.

Further, "Knight Chills' goes a great job of conveying what is must be like to be a spectator at a roleplaying game. The wife of my friend and fellow writer John Rateliff once described roleplaying game sessions as "two minutes of action crammed into four hours."

The gaming scenes in "Knight Chills" made me more fully understand what she meant than I had before. They rang true to life, with the Gamemaster (Jeffrey) and the I-game-because-my-boyfriend-likes-his-geeky-friends-and-I-like-my-boyfriend chick (Tidwell) seeming particularly realistic. And that could be the problem. RPGs ARE boring, unless you're in the game, playing a character.

So, as much as I wanted to be able to give "Knight Chills" a rave review, I can't. I can't even recommend it, unless you're a GM who wants to show his players what bad gaming protocol is.

Monday, May 27, 2013

'Quicksilver Highway' is one ot stay away from

Quicksilver Highway (1997)
Starring: Christopher Lloyd, Matt Frewer, Missy Crider, and Raphael Sbarge
Director: Mick Garris
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

It's hard to go wrong with an horror anthology movie, and if you're adapting stories by Stephen King and Clive Barker to the screen, you'd think it would be even harder. But no. Screenwriter/director Mick
Garris managed to completely botch the effort with "Quicksilver Highway."

Maybe the idea here was to make an anthology featuring darkly humorous tales, ala the likewise King-based "Creeopshow" anthology films, and they simply failed to be funny. If a desire to make a horror movie that drew upon the absurd, it would explain a lot about the choices of stories, the nature of the framing sequence, and several other quirky aspects of the film. In fact, I am assuming that it's was supposed to be more funny than it is, as it's the only way I can write this review without relegating it "Movies You Should [Die Before You] See."--it's something I would hate to do with a film featuring actors I live, based on stories from writers I like. IF this is a failed horror comedy, the two featured short films ("Chattering Teeth" and "Body Politic") are a little less awful, because one assumes they were intended to be absurd to begin with.

But even so, part of me feels that maybe the Three Star rating I am giving "Quicksilver Highway" is too generous.

The film starts to go wrong with the framing sequence. Having a narrator link the stories via introductory bits is a well-established convention for these movies, but Christoper Lloyd is so off-putting as  a weirdo in a rune-engraved leather collar telling stories to total strangers who made the bad decision to visit his establishment that the smart viewers might have taken it as a sign of things to come. This warning would probably be even more evident to those smart viewers when he repeatedly states his stories have no point. I was not among those smart viewers, so I kept watching.

Of the stories, we first have "Chattering Teeth," based on a tale by Stephen King.  In it, a man who is saved from a psychotic hitchhiker by a pair of over-sized, wind-up toy teeth. At no point does this short even get tense, let alone scary, and to describe the resolution as anticlimactic might be too generous. It does, however,  deliver on the promise of Lloyd's character As lame as this one is, it pales in comparison to the one that follows.

"The Body Politic" is the second tale, and it was adapted from a very bad Clive Barker story about a surgeon whose hands rebel against the rest of his body--and then cause the hands of others to rebel as well. Setting aside the fact that the hands can do nothing without the muscles of the arms--and yet a hospital full of rebellious hands are dragging people around as the story builds to its ludicrous climax--there simply isn't anything scary about the story. It's even too stupid to be funny, although Matt Frewer's over-the-top performance as the doctor at war with his own hands was lots of fun, and it earns the "Quicksilver Highway" an entire Star.

While Frewer's performance was the only really good one in the film, I can't complain about any of the other cast members; they all did excellent jobs with the material they had to work with. I can't even really blame Christopher Lloyd for making me wonder if I really wanted to keep watching, because he was just being Christopher Lloyd doing the best he could with a bad part.

As regular readers know, I love anthology films, so I always hate nt being able to recommend them. In the case of "Qucksilver Highway, the only thing I can be truly positive about is.Frewer's performance--and that's not enough for me to recommend you waste your time on this botched effort.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Sybil Danning

Born an Army Brat, Sybil Danning grew up to be one of the most commanding figures in B-movies of the late 1970s and 1980s. Few actresses could look as deadly and sexy waving a gun (or a sword or some weird alien raygun) around as Danning. Most of her resume are action or various exploitation (and sexploitation) films, but she can also be seen in a few horror films, like "The Lady in Red Kills Seven Times" (1972), "Night Kill" (1980), "Julie Darling" (1983), "Howling II" (1985), and "The Tomb" (1997).

In 1989, Danning mostly retired from acting when she co-founded a production company. She remains CEO pf that operation, but still takes the occasional part. Her most substantial horror roles in recent years was in the 2007 remake of "Halloween" and a recurring part on the homoerotic vampire TV series "The Lair" (2009).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

One of the great Peter Cushing's worst films?

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng and Wanda Ventham
Director: Vernon Sewell
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A blood-sucking creature is on the loose, and Inspector Quennel (Cushing) is hot on its trail. All the clues point to the household of harmless entomologist Dr. Mallenger (Flemyng). Can his promiscious daughter (Ventham) be a literal man-eater?

Peter Cushing reportedly described this movie as the worst one he was ever in. While it isn't all that good--it's slow-moving, it's requirements for special effects to turn a buxom babe into a giant blood-sucking moth are beyond the meager budget it was produced with, and the ending is one of the most abrupt and badly motivated among the many abrupt and badly motivated endings of British monster movies from the 1950s and 1960--but it isn't anywhere near as bad as "Scream and Scream Again," so I can only assume that either Cushing had a better time making the latter film or he hadn't made it yet when he talked down "Blood Beast Terror".

While it's certainly true that this is one of those very rare occasions where Cushing doesn't seem to be giving the role his all--this is the only time I remember feeling like he "phoned in" his performance--he still brings more life to the scenes he's in than is found virtually anywhere else in the film. In fact, aside from Cushing, the only interesting thing in the picture is Wanda Ventham (or, more specifically, Wanda Ventham's cleavage).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: June Collyer

June Collyer's film career began in silent movies when she was cast in the 1927 drama "East Side, West Side." She made 11 films before making a successful transition to sound pictures where she was counted among the most radiant leading ladies of thrillers and horror films from the smaller studios; while most of her roles during the silent era were in romantic dramas, most her sound era parts were in mysteries and horror films.

Collyer's greatest chillers and thrillers include "Illusion" (1930), "The Drums of Jeopardy" (1931), "Before Midnight" (1933), "The Ghost Walks" (1934), and "A Face in the Fog" (1936). Also of note is "Murder By Television" (1935), in which Collyer was featured along side the great Bela Lugosi. However, it is not a good film by any measure, and it is only worth viewing for the greatest Lugosi or Collyer fans.

Collyer retired from film after completing "A Face in the Fog" to focus on raising her two children. In 1950, after they were grown, she returned to acting on "The Steve Erwin Show," a sit-com  starring her husand which aired until 1955. The end of that series was also the end of Collyer's acting career, as she retired a second and final time.

June Collyer passed away in 1968. As the years go by, more and more of her films are being lost to time, with many of her silent pictures already gone forever and the same is true of many of her talkies. For some, only one or two known prints are known to survive on fragile nitrate stock and they are not slated for preservation. For all the negative things film snobs like to say about the shoddy transfers on budget-priced DVDs, at least they're keeping otherwise lost classics available for viewing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Evening with June Collyer

A favorite actress of mine from the 1930s is June Collyer. Below, I present reviews of a trio of her pictures that make for a great in-home film festival. Have some friends over for an evening of old-time chillers and light-hearted mystery, and discover the radiance of NUELOW Games's unofficial mascot!

Have some fellow movie buffs over for a light dinner, make some popcorn, and then settle in for a fun night of classic movies. All three films can be had on DVD for extremely reasonable prices--and they may even be available for free streaming online if your television is hooked up to the internet. (Me, I still prefer DVDs... there's no risk of load-time lag with them.)

If you and your friends are gamers, perhaps you can even fit in a little roleplaying fun in between or after the films. As mentioned, June Collyer is the unofficial mascot of NUELOW Games, so it stands to reason she'd be featured in one of their products--a product titled "Black Kitten vs. June Collyer" written by yours truly as a supplement for ROLF!: The Rollplaying Game. It's got superheroes, movie stars, and communist zombies... all ready for you to play, or for you to fight with characters of your own creation. (Click here for more information about, and to see previews of, "Black Kitten vs. June Collyer".)

The Drums of Jeopardy (1931)
Starring: Warner Oland, June Collyer, Lloyd Hughes, Hale Hamilton, Wallace MacDonald, Clara Blandick, and Mischa Auer
Director: George B. Seitz
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When one of the men of the Petrov family makes his daugher pregnant, dumps her, and causes her to commit suicide, but then won't own up to his misdeed, Dr. Boris Karlov (Oland) sets out to gain revenge by seeing them all dead. He persues them halfway around the world, to America, where a secret service agent (Hamilton) and a feisty young American woman (Collyer) end up in the middle of this Russian struggle for survival and revenge.

"The Drums of Jeopardy" is a nifty little thriller from the early days of talkies that's jam-packed with drama, action, and humor. Its fast-paced script hardly gives the viewers a chance to realize that just about everything in this film has become almost painfully cliche in the nearly eighty years since its original release, nor does it pause long enough to really let us consider how outrageous and dimwitted the "brilliant" plan of the Federal Agents who match wits with Karlov is. We're too busy hating the slimy Russian nobleman Prince Gregor (Wallace MacDonald) who not only impregnated and dumped a poor girl, but who then refuses to live up to what he's done and ultimately tries to sell out everyone else to save his own skin; admiring the beauty of the resourceful young Kitty Connover (June Collyer, as great as she's ever been); snickering at the comic relief provided by her sharp-tongued aunt (Clara Blandick), and grinning with sinister glee as Dr. Karlov delivers zingers and pulls tricks on the good guys that allows him to take a place among the great villains of movie history 's zingers as his evil plans fall into place (an honor deserved in no small part due to an excellent performance by character actor Warner Oland who is best remembered for playing Charlie Chan).

Another remarkable aspect of this film that sets it apart from many others from this period is that it has a villain that the viewer can relate to. His daughter was violated and tossed aside by the Petrovs, so, given that this is a melodramatic thriller and we're talking about Russians here, it's only natural he'd take elaborate and final revenge against not only the Petrovs but Russian nobility in general. Karlov is a character who is almost like a tragic hero in his stature within this film and he is must more interesting than most film villains from the early days of film.

I should note that as much as I enjoyed this film, I was a little disappointed in some aspects of how the story unfolded. I've already commented on the moronic nature of the government agents in the film, but a bigger dissapointment was that Karlov didn't really get his full revenge and we don't get to see that rat bastard Gregor die a slow and painful death. (That alone makes me wish for a remake of this movie. I'd love to see Tim Thomerson as Karlov!)

Speaking of Karlov... yes, the villain of this movie is named Boris Karlov. Given that this film is based on an American novel that was originally published in 1920, I think we can chalk this up to one of those weird coincidences. Karloff was an obscure stage actor touring Canadian backwaters at the time the book was written. (Although at least one source claims that Karloff chose his screen name because of the novel.)

All in all, "The Drums of Jeopardy" is a great little film that really deserves better than to be trampled to dust under the marching feet of pop culture and swept away by the passage of time.

  The Ghost Walks (1934)
Starring: John Miljan, Richard Carle, Johnny Arthur, Spencer Charters, June Collyer, Donald Kirke and Eve Southern
Director: Frank R. Strayer
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A playwright (Miljan) invites a theatrical producer (Carle) and his fey secretary (Arthur) to join him in the country so they can discuss his latest play. The writer has secretly hired a bunch of actors who will perform the play, essentially hoaxing the producer with a fake murder, hoping he'll be amazed by the play's realism. His plan backfires, however, when one of the actors turns up dead for real and they receive word that a dangerous lunatic has escaped from a nearby asylum.

"The Ghost Walks" is a highly entertaining comic mystery that takes the mainstays of the "dark old house" genre that flourished in the early 1930s and mixes it with an Agatha Christie vibe and throws in a "mad doctor" (or maybe just the legend of one?) for good measure. Oh, and these elements are mixed up by several plot twists that will surprise and amuse even the most experienced viewer of films from this period.

This is a fine little movie that doesn't deserve the obscurity it has been relegated to. It features a well-paced script filled with great plot twists, snappy dialogue and a brand of comedy that has held up nicely to the passage of time. While the film has plenty of elements that are standard (it's a dark and stormy night, the characters are all trapped in the house with a killer and people keep dying and/or vanishing mysteriously no matter what the survivors try) it's comic relief characters and the overall thrust of the gags are highly unusual for a film from this period. (Basically, instead of the dippy, superstitious black manservant, we have a effeminate secretary to a pompous theatrical agent, both of whom aren't half as smart as they think they are... but the audience has a great time laughing at their expense. And, with the exception of the psychotically PC who can't laugh at anything except rednecks or Christians being lampooned, these comic relief characters and the jokes around them are ones that can be enjoyed today without that uncomfortable feeling of racism.)

The print of "The Ghost Walks" that I watched was very worn and damaged in many places. All the frames were there, but there was lots of scratches on the film and the image was often very blurry. I suspect that digital video and the DVD format came along just in time to rescue this film from oblivion. Director Frank Strayer was definately one of the most talented people working in independent, low-budget films during the 1930s; I've enjoyed every one of his films, with "The Monster Walks" being the only one I haven't given a Fresh rating to.

"The Ghost Walks" is worth checking out if you enjoy lighthearted mysteries, even if you aren't a big fan of early cinema.

A Face in the Fog (1936)
Starring: Lloyd Hughes, June Collyer, Al St. John, and Lawrence Gray
Director: Robert Hill
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When society reporter-trying-to-become-a-crimebeat-reporter Jean Monroe (Collyer) claims to have seen the face of the mysterious killer who is poisoning theatre people in the city, and that she intends to reveal his identity in a future column, she becomes his next target. Her fiance and fellow reporter Frank Gordon (Hughes) teams with criminologist and playwright Peter Fortune (Gray) to catch the killer before he claims Jean's life.

"A Face in the Fog" is one of those weakly written mysteries where there is only one possible suspect, who, after concocting a really brilliant method of committing his murders, subsequently behaves so stupidly that even Barney Fife could have caught him while in the middle of a three-day moonshine bender. The plot also doesn't make a lot of sense, nor do the reasons for who the killer chooses as his victims.

However, the actors perform with such charm and sincerity, and the film moves at such a break-neck pace that you'll hardly have time to notice its shortcomings--which means my criticisms probably amount to no more than nitpicking. June Collyer as the stubbornly brave, career-minded journalist is especially good, in what proved to be her last movie before she left acting for some 15 years to raise her children.

Although this is an entertaining enough movie, with an excellent cast and sharp direction, the script is just shaky enough that I can't give it a wholehearted recommendation. Admirers of June Collyer or Lloyd Hughes should certainly check it out, and I think it's worth adding to the line-up of any in-home film festival you might want to hold centering on either one, but it's not quite a must-see if you're just looking for something to pass the time with.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A naked witch not worth checking out

The Naked Witch (1964)
Starring: Robert Short, Libby Hall, and Jo Maryman
Directors: Larry Buchanan and Claude Alexander
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A graduate student (Short) researching the history of a VERY ethnically German town in Texas digs up the corpse of a long-dead witch (Hall) and restores her to life. She the proceeds to take bloody revenge on the decendents of the transplanted Teutonics who murdered her.

To describe "The Naked Witch" as awful is to give it a backhanded compliment. Awful is the mildest of terms one can apply to this film. To make it even worse, it's BORING. What we have here is enough content to barely fill an episode of "Tales From the Darkside" or "Ray Bradbury Theater" but it's stretched out to twice that length. And, although the film barely clears one hour of running time, it feels like twice that.

The fact the script was suitable for a 23-minute TV show rather than a movie is only part of the awfulness here. It's compounded by the film's cast.

First, there's leading man Robert Short, an actor who was born 50-60 years too late. He would have been perfect for slient movies, because he can act with his face and his body language, but whenever he tries to deliver a line, he spoils everything. I am convinced that if you were to put a loaded gun to Mr. Short's head and say, "Act frightened or I will blow your brains out!" he's say "Please, no. Spare me. I have a wife and kids" in a wooden monotone. And we get to suffer through that wooden monotone as Short narrates many of the movies events.

Second, there's Libby Hall, the Naked Witch of the title. She is slightly better than Short when it comes to the acting but not by much. With her, the problem is more a physical one. Although I like nudity as much as the next guy, there really are some women who should keep their shirts on. Ms. Hall is one of them. I don't mean to pick on her, but someone involved with the production should have realized that if you're going to try to sell you movie with sex, you need to have someone a little more sexy doing it; Hall's breasts would have looked just fine if they had been left to the imagination, but when they're exposed, you find yourself seeing something you wish you hadn't. (That said, we don't get to see much of her breasts--not only does the Naked Witch not spend a whole lot of time Naked but when she does, there are often censor bars across the unfortunate boobies.)

Third, there's the fact the fact that every bit of dialogue in the film is atrociously bad... and it sounds even worse coming from the mouths of untalented actors. This isn't entirely the fault of the actors, but good actors can make bad lines at least sound passable. No such luck here.

The only thing that saves this film from a 0-rating is that Buchanan does show the occassional flare for dramatic visuals. There are some great scenes of the Naked Witch walking through the Texas landscape, and there's an almost-great scene where the blood from one of her victims spreads in a body of water. However, such visual moments are shattered by the bad acting and Buchanan's otherwise incompetent directing. He misses more moments to create spookiness or great visuals than he grasps.

All-in-all, I have to wonder why anyone would think this film was worth preserving and re-releasing on DVD. There is so little about it that is worth anything that it was truly wasted time and effort.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Julie Christie

British actress Julie Christie spent her childhood on her father's tea plantation in India before being sent to home to England for her education. Desiring to be an actress at a young age, she soon found success on the stage, but was not satisfied; to Christie, film was how well you did on film was how you measured success.

Pushing hard to leave the stage for the screen, her first major opportunity seemed to be the lead female part in the spy thriller "Dr. No," but she ultimately lost the part to Ursula Andress for not being "busty enough." It all worked out for Christie, however, as bigger and better opportunities swiftly developed and she was soon on her way to super-stardom in celebrated landmark films like "Darling" and "Dr. Zhivago."

At the height of her career in the late 1960s, Christie was wealthy enough to not need to work and she became very choosy about the role she picked. As the frequency with which she appeared on screen diminished, so did her profile as an actress and her career went into an intended eclipse. She then began devoting most of her time to political and social causes.

Christie continues to work vocationally in film to this day, choosing mostly small and unusual films to grace with her magnetic presence and beauty. Along the way, she has appeared in several horror films, all of which have been made better by her presence. Among there are "Don't Look Know" (1973), "Demon Seed" (1977), and "Red Riding Hood" (2011).

Sunday, April 28, 2013

'Killer Weekend' is made watchable by strong acting performances

Killer Weekend (2007)
Starring: Eric Roberts, Frida Farrell, Jake Terrell, Cherie Johnson, and Jenna Colby
Director: Rob Walker
Rating: Three of Four Stars

An abusive husband (Roberts) goes full-scale psychopathic killer when his sister-in-law (Farrell) and friends come to spend the weekend with his wife (Colby).

"Killer Weekend" is one of those films that is technically incompetent on almost every level--the dialogue is clunky, the script is badly done with virtually no story element properly developed, and the cinematography is incompetent with many scenes being badly framed and a number of traditional niceties being almost completely absent (I think I only noticed one proper two-shot in the entire film)--but which is made watchable by strong performances by actors who deserved better material than what they were working with.

The main reason to watch this movie is Eric Roberts. He is once again playing an eccentric lunatic, but the combination of smarm and homicidal mania makes the character lots of fun to watch. The character is, like every other character in the film, paper-thin, but Roberts plays him with such psychopathic glee that it hardly matters. It would have been nice if he had been a little less of a cypher as far as where he had come from, how he got to be so rich, and why he went from being an abusive control freak to a psycho-killer, but Roberts is so good here that I can forgive the bad story-telling.

Two other stand-out performances are given by Frida Farrell (strangely credited as Frida Snow) and Cherie Johnson. While Farrell's character ultimately ends up as a stereotypical last-minute bad-ass who survives via bad writing, and Johnson's character ultimately ends up as just another murder victim (although dispatched in one of the more sadistic ways in the film), the performances given by both of them make their characters rise above the bland writing. If a little more effort had been put into the script, these would have been great characters--Johnson's character in particular since there were hints about her being psychic. Those hints didn't go anywhere, though, and ultimately just end up as a random, pointless element in the story--like the Mexican gardener who stumbles around for two days fatally wounded, or the two house guests who arrive in a separate car. If these two fine actresses had been given better material, they could have been great here. (And speaking of better material--if you're going to put a shower scene in your film, especially if its got a hottie like Farrell in the shower, pay her enough money to make the shower scene matter!)

I am rating "Killer Weekend" a generous Three Stars, almost entirely on the strengths of the performances given by Roberts, Farrell, and Johnson. Almost everything else here is either forgettable or bad--although I will say that the death of Johnson's character is one of the creepiest ones I've seen in my 30 or so years of watching horror flicks. In fact, all the business surrounding the samurai sword is extremely disturbing and far better realized than any other part of the film. Still, the bad here so outweighs the good that the only reason to check out this film is if you're a fan of Roberts or looking for something to round out a slasher movie-centric bad movie night.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Scream Queens: Cherie Johnson

Cherie Johnson got her professional start at the tender age of nine with a starring role on "Punky Brewster" (1984 - 1988). Television audiences could then watch her grow up, as she went onto playing a lead role on other sit-coms, such as "Family Matters" (1990 - 1998) and eventually made a successful transition to adult actress with a recurring role on "The Parkers" (1999 - 2003).

In recent years, Johnson has focused her career on feature films, with a few direct-to-video works thrown into the mix. A handful of horror movies can be counted among the 20 movies she has been featured in over the past decade, namely  "Dead Tone", "Killer Weekend" (both 2007), and "Raven" (2010).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Ashley Tisdale

Born in 1985, Ashley Tisdale is an singer, dancer, and actor who got her start in show business at the age of 10 with cartoon voice work. She spent her teenage years appearing on dozens of television shows in parts that ranged from one-shot appearances, supporting roles, to starring. She is perhaps best known for her role as Sharpay Evans in the "High School Musical" made-for-TV movies.

Over the years, Tisdale has had a smattering of horror roles, starting with "Donnie Darko" in 2001. Appeared on the telelvision series "Charmed", provided the voice for Sabrina  in "Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch", and starred in "Scary Movie 5.". She is currently filming "Left Behind," which is slated for release in 2014.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Ann Sothern

Ann Sothern was multi-talented actress and singer who appeared on stage, radio, film, and television. She was a tremendously popular comedienne and leading lady during the 1930s and 1940s and one of the early superstars of television with starring roles in the long-running comedy series "Private Secretary" and "The Anne Sothern Show" during the 1950s.

Starting in 1950, Sothern had opportunties to put her talent for dramatic acting on display with leading and supporting roles in crime dramas, film noir pictures, and out-and-out horror movies. Some of her horror films are "Shadow on the Wall" (1950), "Lady in a Cage" (1964), "The Killing Kind" (1973), and "The Manitou" (1975).

Sothern retired from acting in 1987. She passed away in 2001.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Elisha Cuthbert

Born in 1982, Canadian Elisha Cuth gut her start in showbusiness as a child model. Her first acting job came on the kids-friendly horror anthology TV series "Are You Afraid of the Dark" (in 1996, and she returned to the series for the 1999 and 2000 season). At 17, she moved to Los Angeles in order to further her acting career. Her first big break came in 2001 when she landed the part of Kim the Fox series "24," a part she played on and off throughout the 2000s.

Cutherbert's acting resume is a diverse list of comedies, dramas, and, of course, horror. In addition to her recurring role on "Are Your Afraid of the Dark" she also appeared in the "Are You Afraid of the Dark" made-for-television movie (2000), the equally kids-friendly chiller "Believe" (2000), teen-oriented horror films "House of Wax" and "The Quiet" (both in 2005), and the badly marketed horror flick "Captivity" (2007).

Cuthbert is currently starring in the sitcom "Happy Endings".

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter with the Daywalts

It's early Easter morning at the Daywalt household... and something's not quite right.

"The Easter Bunny is Eating My Candy" (2008)
Starring: Abigail Daywalt and Marichelle Daywalt
Director: Drew Daywalt
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Scream Queens: Lupita Tovar

Mexican actress Lupita Tovar was discovered in 1929 by a Fox Studios executive while performing in a play in her home coutry. Within mere weeks, she was in Hollywood, laboring with furious passion to not only secure roles in films but to also improve her craft as an actress in every way possible.

Tovar entered the film business just as Talkies were arriving on the scene, yet where many silent movie performers were falling by the wayside, despite arriving in Hollywood knowing virtually no English. Within seven months, she was being cast in major roles, beginning with "The Veiled Woman" opposite Bela Lugosi in 1929.

Although Tovar appeared in numerous English-language films, she is best known today for her roles in Spanish-language versions that were shot concurrently with English-language versions of big studio releases, often on the very same sets. Particularly remarkable is her role as Eva in the Spanish-language version of Universal Pictures's classic "Dracula" (1931)--not only is the film superior in almost every way to the Tod Browning version, but Tovar is far better in the role of innocent-girl-turned-seductive-vampire-puppet than Helen Chandler was in the English version. (In Mexico, Tovar may be best remembered as having starred in the 1932 film "Santa", a box office smash that was the first talkie produced in the country.)

Tovar appeared in 31 movies before retiring from acting in 1945. Other horror credits include "La Volentad del Muerto" (1930), the Spanish-language version of "The Cat Creeps" and the aforementioned "The Veiled Woman" (1929) and "Santa" (1932).

Friday, March 29, 2013

One of Argento's best, but still flawed

The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971)
Starring: Karl Malden, James Franciscus, and Catherine Spaak
Director: Dario Argento
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A blind maker of crossword puzzles (Malden) overhears a suspicous conversation while walking home one night--and when the conversation appears to have been a precursor to murder, he teams with a young reporter (Franciscus) to uncover the truth.

"The Cat 'o Nine Tails" is perhaps the most underrated film that Dario Argento ever made, including by Dario Argento.

This isn't surprising since the film is short on many of Argento's trademark elements, such as characters seemingly forgetting facts they discovered two scenes earlier, the gore is limited as most of the onscreen deaths are strangulations and there are very little examples of sadistic and spectacular murders of women. Heck, the film is even a little more coherent than most of Argento's film. However, the film is still an Argento film, so that means a lack of focus in the story and that most of the characters are severely underdeveloped--in fact, the only character with any depth at all in this film is Karl Malden's blind puzzle-maker. The combination of missing elements that Argento fans look for and the presense of the things that most Argento fans hate about his films results in a movie that no one thinks is worthwhile.

And that is a shame, because the film is actually an above-average example of a1970s Italian murder mystery film. Compared to "Torso" or "The Case of the Bloody Iris", "5 Dolls for an August Moon" or other famous "giallo" pictures, it;'s a spectacular movie. It's plot is far more engaging, the characters and the actors portraying them are far more engaging, and the story, while unfocused and implausable, engages the viewers from the get-go and ever lets up until the very end. It is also peppered with visual flourishes that combine with a growing nightmare-like sense of dread and inevitable doom that will have you believing that the absolutely worst outcome imaginable is where things are heading.

"The Cat o' Nine Tails" is a stylish mystery film that has received a bad rap due to who directed it and what the expectations are from one of his movies. It's not perfect, but no matter what Argento might say in interviews, or what you might hear from fans and critics, it's a far sight better than the vast majority of the crap he has foisted upon movie-goers over the years.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Madge Bellamy

Born in 1899, Madge Bellamy had an interest in showbusiness from a young age. She ran away from home at the age of 17 and she was soon working on Broadway as an actress and dancer. In 1921, she made the move to film and within just a few years she was one of the popular stars appearig in silent movies.

Unlike many of her contemparies, Bellamy made a successful transition to Talkies with a starring turn in the hit movie Mother Knows Best. However, a dispute with studio bosses at Fox in 1929 brought her star crashing down to Earth. After a few years of not being able to find any work at all, in 1932 she resurfaced in low-budget pictures from "Poverty Row" studios.

Today, Bellamy is best remembered today for her haunting performance in "White Zombie" (1932), where she co-starred with several other silent movie actors who had fallen on hard times and horror movie giant Bela Lugosi. As it turned out that wuold be her final major film role.

In 1943, after a decade of smaller and smaller parts, Bellamy's flagging career was effectively ended by scandal when she was accused assaulting her wealthy and married lover. She spent the next several decades in relative poverty until she sold her property during the California real estate boom during 1980s. She is reported to have said that she made more money on that land sale than she did during her 20-year film career.

Bellamy passed away in 1990.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

'Bane' is interesting but deeply flawed

Bane (2009)
Starring: Sophie Dawnay, Tina Barnes, Lisa Devlin, Sylvia Robson, Daniel Jordan, and Jonathan Sidgwick
Director: James Eaves
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Four women (Barnes, Dawnay, Devlin, and Robson) wake up locked in a room with electrified walls and no memory of who they are. They soon discover they are part of some sort of nightmarish research project... and that their role in it is likely to end with their deaths.

"Bane" is a bit of a throwback to the day when "Cube" was the cutting-edge in the torture porn sub-genre. It's a film that keeps viewers engaged because of the mystery surrounding the who, why, and what of its story. The  violence comes in shocking spurts, and the gore shown in such a way that more is in the imagination than on the screen--both of which are huge plusses in the film's favor and which add to its watchability.

Another plus is the strong cast of actors. Everyone gives convincing and engaging performances, with Daniel Jordan as the creepy doctor in charge really making you hate him as the film unfolds and he cruelly subjects the four victims to mind-games and later out-and-out torture. The only principle performer who seems flat and out of place is Jonathan Sidgwick, but I suspect that may be by design rather than Sidgwick being untalented. He doesn't have much to do except look handsome--and he sticks out in the otherwise grim and grimy environment of the film. (I've not seen him in anything else, so it's not completely fair of me to pass judgement on him.)

And it's especially not fair, because Sidgwick's character may seem flat and out of place as a result of the film's flawed script. With a great cast, a strong premise, and some nice twists before we get to the end, this film has all the makings of something I'd give Seven or Eight Stars to. However, writer/director James Eaves did not spend enough time on inserting character touches to elevate the film to that level.

It's hard for me to talk about where Eaves script goes wrong without spoiling the movies twists, but, basically, he didn't spend enough time showing us the personalities of the four captives--or even the two main ones. I understand this is difficult, given the fact they don't know who they are, and the need for the film to maintain its secrecy to the end, but at least giving us some broader strokes about who the characters are deep down would have been helpful in making the viewers care more about them as the film unfolded.

Take for example Katherine. In the opening sequence where the four women are shown being inducted into the research project, she is shown not putting up a fight. As we are first introduced to the characters, we get the sense that she might be some sort of leader or authority figure when she is "in her right mind," but this seems to be forgotten as the film unfolds as she makes no effort to organize the women or negotiate with her captors, or do anything you'd expect a positively directed Type A personalty to do. Without ever receiving any sort of insight into who she is, we can't engage wit her because of her strange passivity. On the flip side, we have Natasha--a negatively directed Type A personality who spends the movie ranting and raving and otherwise behaving like a lunatic, but ultimately not standing up to anyone or anything except Katherine's mild attempts to impose order and humanity among the captives. As a result, the viewer is more annoyed at Natasha than concerned for her safety. The nature of the characters is somewhat explained toward the end of the film, but that doesn't excuse the fact that Eaves didn't give us enough sense of who they are earlier.

Another script problem relates to the twist in the story. I like the twist, but I don't like how it was handled. Again, I can't comment in too much detail without ruining the film, but the way the ending is handled gives you the sense that the people conducting the research project the women are part of are true and utter morons. Basically, any rational (or irrational person for that matter) would be able to see that there's no point in murdering the test subjects as happens here... and the fact that the project seems to have been designed with the death of the subjects as the end result makes it even stupider.

While there are some things to like about "Bane"--and I was generally entertained by it--it's hard for me to give it a glowing recommendation because the execution of the story is so flawed. If you liked "Cube," you might like this. If you haven't seen "Cube", check it out first. It's the grand-daddy of the sub-genre... and a better film all-around.

Note: This review was based on a screener copy provided to me by distributor Chemical Burn/Reality Entertainment.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Cheyenne King

Native American actress, dancer, and model Cheyenne King is someone I'd really like to see in more horror films. You can read reviews of the ones she's been in so far by clicking here. The few she's been in makes me think she could be absolutely fantastic in the right parts. (This is the first of an infrequent series of repeat "Scream Queens" I don't think we see nearly enough of.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Of possible interest if you like horror fiction

The horror short story anthologies featuring work by Robert E. Howard that I've put together for NUELOW Games are on sale for 25% off the usual price through 3/12/2013.

If you want read some bone-crunching, blood-chilling, action-packed tales of terror--and get them cheaply--I think this is where you want to look. Click here to see a full listing of the fiction collections available.

Click these individual links to read about specific horror titles (or to get your own copy):

Names in the Black Book

Shadows of Texas

White Fell and Other Stories (also featuring writing by Clemence Housman and Steve Mller)

Shadows of Dreams (poetry collection)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday Scream Queens: Monique DuPree

Born in 1974, Monique DuPree began her show-business career as a child model. She grew into a talented actress, singer, and dancer, and she has been putting those talents (as well as her other two immense assets assets) on display in more than two dozen of horror films over the past 15 years. And this while raising an ever-growing bunch of children--nine at the last count.

DuPree's will bolster her horror resume with at least four more films this year, including John Johnson's reciently completed remake of Edward D. Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" titled "Plan 9", and four others in various states of production--"Sex, Blood and Fairy Tales", "Scream Queen Campfire", and "Sheiff Tom vs. the Zombies".

'Skeleton Key' is access to goofy horror spoofing

Skeleton Key (2006)
Starring: John Johnson, David Simmons, Liam Smith, Karthik Srinivasan, Chris Jenkins, Jay Barber, Denise Shrader, Debbie Rochon, and Codo the Dog
Director: John Johnson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A tabloid reporter and his photographer (Johnson and Srinivasan) take a cab driven by a Hatian immigrant (Simmons) to the small town of Nilbog to the town of Nibog to discover who's been shipping zombies via parcel post to unsuspeting people. What they find is evil and madness manifested in every conceivably crazy way and a mad scientist (Barber) trying to export this evil to the rest of the world.

 "Skeleton Key" is a swirling, chaotic mess of a movie that was made for an ultra-low budget, haphazardly mixes fourth-wall humor with horror movie spoofs and bizarre jokes about life, love, sex, death, and everything in between. As is fitting for a movie set in the town of Nilbog--the location for one of the worst movies ever made, "Troll 2"--this movie is a pretty bad movie that makes no sense from beginning to end. However, this is a "bad movie" because it's MADE that way. As a result, it's very, very funny. The people involved with the crap passing itself off as satires and farces in the movie theaters in the past decade (such as "Superhero Movie", "Disaster Movie", and "An American Carol") should take lessons from John Johnson on how to make a film that is basically just about characters running from one joke to the next. (The might also have him explain the proper way to incorporate a man in a tutu weilding a giant dildo as a club, because he's got one here and it's damn funny!)

"Skeleton Key" pokes fun at horror movie conventions either by simply mocking them (like when the characters are constantly splitting up to search the monster-infested houses of Nilbog), or turning them completely on their head (such as when the precocious kid character doesn't live through the film but instead dies in the one truly creepy moment in the film). More specifically, the film seems to be send-up of the amateurish shot-with-video cameras-borrowed-from-the-parents-and-starring-me-and-all-my-friends that have been so very common at the lower end of the direct-to-DVD spectrum of horror flicks in recent years. The movie hits just abot every thing that makes many of those movies so awful, but it does it so well that I have every belief that John Johnson and his cast and crew knew exactly what they were doing and every cheap moment and bad edit or sloppy bit of lighting is intentional. (The fact many of the same people were involved in the technically very accomplished film "Alucard" makes me even more firm in this belief.)

Another sign that Johnson and his co-stars knew what they were doing, and that this film is intentionally cheesy and bad, is the quality and nature of the acting. Everyone in the film is ACTING--doing voices and exaggerated accents, mugging at the camera, and generally just clowning around. Johnson, on the other hand, gives a very straight performance, one that is completely out of step with the hamming and mugging going on all around him--despite the fact that his character keeps addressing the viewer and is continually and hilariously beset by visions sent by his Evil Side made manifest after he is bitten by a Nilbog Zombie. It's a clear sign that the chaos and apparent disorganization of the film is carefully constructed and calculated. (And if there was any doubt that the quality of this film is carefully constructed that doubt should be put to rest by the musical number 'Rain". I used to think only "Weird Al" Yankovic could write ballads like this song, but Chris Jenkins can give him a run for his money.)

"Skeleton Key" isn't a movie for everyone, but if you have an appreciation for low-budget horror movies, have been annoyed by the pathetic state of so many independent films that are released these days, and have a sense of humor and a soft spot for "Airplane!" and "Men in Thights"-style spoofs, this is a film worth checking out. (You may also need to have a sense of humor about yourself, or at least an ability to laugh at your friends. One of the strangest characters in the film--who is both watching the film, narrating the film and being a character in the film--is a very heavy-handed lampoon at hardcore horror dorks who will praise anything that's released on DVD, so long as it has zombies and/or vampires, tits, and is presented as an "indie film".

If you want to give regulars at Bad Movie Night gatherings a jolt to their system and a real "what the hell are we watching?" experience, you need a copy of this movie. You'll also want a copy of "Skeleton Key 2", which is one of those rare sequels that's better than the original. (Some day, I will get around to watching the third installment in this epic trilogy. It apparently has pirates.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Masiela Lusha

Masiela Lusha had her first big roles on the "George Lopez" series (2002 - 2007) where she played the stars trouble-making teenage daughter, and by providing voices for the animated series "Clifford's Puppy Days" (2003 - 2005). Even while working on those programs, her film career was launching, and it has thrived in the years since. She has been featured in films of almost every genre, and her horror roles so far have been "Kill Katie Malone"  has since gone on to have a thriving career. She has graced movies of virtually every genre, and among those have been horror films like "Blood: The Last Vampire" (2009), "Kill Katie Malone" (2010), "Of Silence" and "The Architect" (both in 2012).

In addition to her busy acting schedule, Lusha is a writer who has several books and poetry collections to her name.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

'Blood' is a fine anime adaptation

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)
Starring: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham, JJ, Field, Masiela Lusha, Larry Lamb, and Koyuki
Director: Chris Nahon
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The battle between a secret society and their demon opponents comes to a head in 1970s Japan when the latest seek-and-destroy mission for 400-year-old immortal Saya (Jun) uncovers a demonic infestation on an American Army base is being coordinated by the most powerful demon of all, Onigen (Koyuki).

"Blood: The Last Vampire" is a live-action adaptation of the Japanese animated series "Blood", and those roots show most clearly in a roof-top chase sequence where Saya is trying to save a hapless American girl from the winged demon that is carrying her off -- with camera angles and the framing of shots feeling as if they were meticulously matched with whatever might have been in the original source.

we get everythig but speedlines coming off the her feet as we see them in close-up as Saya is running along the roof. However, the film is a veritable smorgasbord of genres and styles, all jumbled together in a fun stew of action/adventure, espionage, martial arts, historical melodrama, and, of course, gory bloodspattered horror. Its particularly fascinating the way the hues of the lighting and sets change when the film shifts from action to horror mode and back again.

There are some aspects of the film that don't make a whole lot of sense, such as why an ancient and super-secret demon-fighting society is so poor at planning that they don't have cover IDs that stand up to even the slightest scrutiny, or are so inept at inserting undercover operatives that they send their agent into an American school on an American military base wearing a Japanese high school "sailor suit" uniform--but in the big picture of this fast-moving and exciting film, those are minor complaints.

The acting is all-around decent, with stars Gianna Jun and Allison Miller being both energetic and likeable in their performances. I suspect that both fans of the original cartoon and those who can't stand anime will like this movie equally. There's enough of an anime look and feel that I suspect this is a faithful adaptation, but there's more than enough slicing and dicing of demons and weird conspiracy action that the anime haters will be happy, too. Heck, even if you don't like reading subtitles, this is an Asian film that you'll enjoy as most of the dialogue is in English.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Gianna Jun

South Korean model and actress Gianna Jun (aka Ji-hyun Jun) is best known for her starring turn in the romantic comedy "My Sassy Girl" (2001), but the horror-tinged films she's starred in are equally worthy of notice. So far, she hasn't made any straight horror films, but the supernatural romance "Il Mare" (2001), the creepy thriller "The Uninvited" (2003), and the genre mash-up, live-action anime adaptation that is "Blood: The Last Vampire" (2009) are well worth checking out by horror fans. ("Il Mare" was the point of origin for the Sandra Bullock/Kenau Reeves vehicle "The Lakehouse".)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Coming soon: Voices from the Grave

My love of anthology films is a matter of public record--as you can see by clicking here if you didn't already know. Walter "Scarlet Fry" Reuther recently called my attention to a forthcoming horror anthology film, he got me looking forward to summer!

"Voices From the Grave" features three shorts, which seems to be close to the perfect number of segments in anthology films as the best of them seem to have three tales., One of them is based on a story from Gary Brandner, the author of "The Howling". (Yeah... I know Mr. Brandner's cinematic track record is a bit up and down, but we all have our low points.)

The three tales of supernatural terror promise to be“Invitation” (in which a sad sack loser attends a party he'll remember until the day he dies), “All Hallows’ Eve” (where a vengeful ghost turns a bitter man's Halloween night upside down), and "Re-Possessed" (in which ghostly road hazards endanger the young owner of a used car owner. "Voices From the Grave" is slated for a 2013 August release.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Jeanne Tripplehorn

American actress Jeanne Tripplehorn's horror resume is a little thin, but it is thick with psychopaths. Her first major screen role was in "Basic Instinct" (1991) and she later portrayed the target of a serial killer in "Office Killer" (1997). More recently, she has co-starred in the television series "Criminal Minds" (since 2012) where she is an FBI analyst who catches serial killers.

Although the majority of her other roles have been in comedies--including horror-tinged dark ones like "Very Bad Things" (1998)--along the way Tripplehorn has appeared in a handful of thrillers, such as "The Firm" (1992), "Paranoid" (2000), and "Brother's Keeper" (2002).

She presently remains a regular cast member of "Criminal Minds."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Ashley Laurence

Born and raised in Southern California, Ashley Laurence gravitated to a career in acting at a young age. Her first big break came when she starred in the 1987 horror classic "Hellraiser". She went on to appear in the first two sequels of the series and several other horror films in the 25 years that have followed.

Among Laurence's other horror films are "Lurking Fear" (1994), "Warlock III" (1999), "Hellraiser: Hellseeker" (2002), and "Chill" (2007).

Laurence is curently filming "Vendetta," a film about two sistres being stalked by a homicial maniac.. A release date has yet to be announced.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Terminating workers... literally

Office Killer (1997)
Starring: Carol Kane, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Molly Ringwald
Director: Cindy Sherman
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After a mousey, put-upon copy editor (Kane) accidentially kills an obnoxious staff writer, she embraces her inner serial killer and sets about cutting the work force at her office to the bone.

"Office Killer" is a very dark comedy that gets darker and transitions into a horror film as the psychotic nature of the main character becomes clear and her list of victims grow. It's one of those movies with sciens are equally horrifying and hilarious. You will find yourself feeling a little ashamed over laughing at some of the scenes--but I am certain you will laugh.

Carol Kane, as the titular office killer, does an excellent job of transitioning from eccentric to evil as the film progresses, and she has enough charisma that the viewer continues to feel a connection with her even after she sets her sights on the character that comes closest to being the film's heroine (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn).

Kane's performance is one of the things that makes this film fun to watch, Another is the way the script starts turning slasher movie tropes on their heads as the story progresses. In fact, one of the characters you expect to see die early on remains alive until the very end... and Molly Ringwald does such a fine job of playing this bitchy character that you may keep watching just to see her get taken out.

Unfortunately, as with so many movies, the writer/director had trouble ending the film. There are few movies that I've liked that have blown their endings as completely as "Office Killer" does. After a wild and creative build-up, the film peeters out with a hackneyed and unsatisfying resolution that neither successfully ties up the story nor gives the sensation of "the saga continues" that I suspect it was supposed to.

Aside from the final couple of minutes, though, this is a very entertaining film that is worth checking out.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Pola Negri

Can a silent movie star be a "Scream Queen"? If she can be a "Screen Siren," I don't see why not, especially when she starred in the first mummy move ever made.

Pola Negri spent her childhood in crushing poverty in Warsaw, Poland, but as a teenager she found success first as a ballet dancer and later as a celebrated stage actress. The coming World War I also saw the dawn of Negri's career as a screen siren--and after a string of box office successes in collaboration with German director Ernst Lubitsch, Negri was offered contracts in Hollywood. Negri's popularity in America in the early 1920s initially rivaled that which she had enjoyed in Europe, but when increasing film censorship limited her ability to play the sexy temptresses and sultry vamps she specialized in, and a series of publicity stunts she staged around the funeral of Rudolph Valentino which caused the public to sour on her, crippled her success. The arrival of the talkies was the final blow to her American film career, as her thick accent did not play well with audiences.

 Negri went back to Europe in 1933 with hopes of reviving her flagging career. She worked for a time in Germany, but, despite being one of Hitler's favorite actresses, was troubled by the violent and oppressive Nazi regime, In 1941, she returned to the United States. Her film career, however, was at an end.

Although most of her films were romances and dramas, Negri did star in a few of the earliest horror films. Among these are "The Dead Eyes" (1917), "The Devil's Pawn" (1918), "The Eyes of the Mummy" (1918), and "The Charmer" (1925).

Pola Negri passed away in 1987.

Friday, February 1, 2013

This nerd's revenge is no laughing matter

Slaughter High (1986)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Carmine Innaconne, Simon Scuddamore, Gary Martin, Billy Hartman, Michael Safran, Donna Yaeger, Kelly Baker, Josephine Scandi, and Sally Cross
Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra, and Peter Mackenzie Litten
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Ten years to the date after an April Fool's prank gone bad leaves a kid scarred and maimed for life, the clique of bullies who were at fault (led by Innaconne and Munroe) are invited to a class reunion at their now-closed high school. By the time they discover they are the only ones invited, they are locked in the building and being stalked by a homicidal maniac in a jester's mask.

"Slaughter High" belongs to a family of films that are as old as horror and thriller film genres themselves--a collection of more or less unlikeable characters are gathered together and made the subject of revenge by someone they wronged in the past. It's actually a plot that pre-dates film, but it's one that continues to be the driving force in so many films because it is an easy skeleton upon which to build a story that everyone can relate to.

This particular version of the very old story was, in 1986, a mix of hoary tradition and newer trends. It's got the mysterious masked figure, who's been around since silent films, with an uncanny ability to kill and vanish without a trace until he returns to kill again; and it's got the gory and sometimes bizarrely creative and unlikely murder methods that are the hallmark of the then relatively new Slasher Film subgenre. And just like the old time thrillers, the cast of victims are a bunch of louts who deserve some form of justice to be meted out against them. This mix of old and new resulted in a film that remains fun to watch even now... and which feels fresher and more original than the majority of modern slasher films and revenge thrillers you may be unfortunate enough to catch of cable television or, God help you, during an overpriced visit to your local movie theater. Even the gratuitous nudity that you expect in a film of this type and vintage turns out to not be quite so gratuitous, as it leads to one of more shocking double homicides you're ever likely to witness. (And it's also one of those moments where you may feel a little bit of guilt over laughing at what you're seeing unfold.)

One particularly strong point about the film is that it has a "surprising shock twist ending" that actually is just that. Not only that, but the mail story resolves itself in an unexpected fashion, which would have been a satisfying end all to itself, but the fact the filmmakers then give us an honest-to-God good twist ending denoument makes the film all the stronger and causes me to forgive what minor missteps I noticed along the way.

The fact the film has a strong cast lifts the film even further than the well-written story and fun kill scenes already did. The performances are even more noteworthy when one considers that this is a British film with British actors pretending to be Americans and yet there is only one dodgy accent in the bunch.

All in all, "Slaughter High" is an underrated classic of the Slasher Film genre. It's well worth checking out.

Trivia: This film's original title was "April Fools", which explains why the title song reference April Fool's Day, why the victim of the prank gone wrong is born on April Fool's Day, and why the action takes place on April Fool's Days ten years apart. The title was changed prior to release so as to avoid confusion with the Paramount Pictures release "April Fool's Day" which came out the same year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday Scream Queen: Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy is one of those actresses I've always felt would have been great in horror films, yet whose career barely touched on the genre. But, since this is my blog and my profile series, and since I wish she had been in more thrillers and chillers, I going to give her a moment in the spotlight,.am featuring her here.

Loy actually started her career on a path that seemed like it could lead to a career in horror films when they exploded in popularity in the 1930s. She began her film career during the waning days of silent movies, frequently playing exotic femme fatales. Unlike many of her fellow silent movie actresses, she made a successful transition to talkies where she continued for a time to play villainesses... until she transitioned into big-budget comedy and romantic dramas with what became her signature role of the hard-drinking, sharp-witted Nora Charles in the "Thin Man" series. It wasn't until very late in her acting career that she returned to the horror and thriller genres.

Loy's career spanned nearly 60 years and 129 movies. Among her noteworthy thrillers and horror films are "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), "Midnight Lace" (1960), "Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate" (1971) "The Elevator" (1974) and  "Ants" (1977).

Myrna Loy passed away in 1993 at the age of 88.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Dead Collections' has too much of a good thing

Dead Collections (2012)
Starring: Caitlyn Fletcher, Roberto Lombardi, Edward X. Young, Linnea Sage, Jerry Ross, Samuel L.M. Cole, and Suzi Lorraine
Director: John Orrichio
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

 Sara (Fletcher), left with a broken heart and a mountain of debt following her husband's suicide, moves in with her senile uncle (Cole) to regain her footing. But strange events start occurring in the house, indicating the house or Sara herself might be haunted by a ghost, even as a creepy funeral director (Young) and a homicidal debt collector (Lombardi) begin stalking her. The question becomes which will Sara lose first--her sanity or her life?

 "Dead Collections" is an entertaining and chilling film that features a talented cast that is supported by a script that features enough material for two or three films. And that is its downfall.

 As mentioned above, there are three perceived threats that close in on the main character as the film unfolds. That's not atypical for a film like this, but generally one or more turns out to be a red herring or ends up working in the main character's favor. The film doesn't exactly go in that direction--which I appreciate, as fresh approaches are needed in the horror genre these days--but the presence of a funeral director with more dark secrets than a shelf full of gothic romance novels, and a psychotic debt collector who won't take anything but payment in full as an answer in the same movie is too much of a good thing.

 Roberto Lombardi gives a consistently frightening performance as debt collector Thomas Callan, and I could easily see myself giving this film a rating of Seven if he had been the major villain and the funeral director had been reduced to a minor threat or completely removed.

 Edward X. Young is equally menacing in his part, and I could likewise see myself giving a film featuring him as the major villain (perhaps titled "Wake" or "Vigil") a rating of Seven.

 Heck, I could even see myself possibly giving a Seven rating to a film where Caitlyn Fletcher, as Sara, is trying to put her life back together while living in a haunted house and dealing with the harassment of either a creepy funeral director or a pushy bill collector, who ultimately turn out to have played a role in her husband's death.

 But having all these elements, and two intensely evil characters receiving equal play as they zero in on the same target becomes too much of a good thing and loads this single story with way more than it can bear. It means more characters than is good for a film of this kind, and, perhaps worse, it leads to a muddling of timelines and plots. (The passage of time is a real issue in this film... some events that feel like they occur days apart--and probably should--must happen within the same afternoon from the way the film flows. Similarly, events that seem like they happen at the same time don't, as it's must be one time of day at the house where Sara is while another time of day elsewhere in the world.

 For all my griping, there is a lot to like about this film--and that's WHY I'm griping. As mentioned, I like the entire cast. There's lots of nice camerawork and the effects are decent for a movie at this budget level. The film is trim and free of padding, always a welcome thing. The music soundtrack is subtle and well-deployed. The film kept me engaged all the way to the very end, which is the greatest praise I can give a movie considering the seemingly endless backlog of DVDs that are forever awaiting my attention. In fact, the film is strong enough that the "shock ending" didn't bother me half as much as it usually does... but it the end, "Dead Collections" falls victim to being too much of a collection of characters and plot-threads.

It's still better than the majority of horror films being released these days... and far FAR better than the only other movie I can think of that I felt had a similar problem of colliding stories and villians--"Scream and Scream Again". (Which I reposted just before putting this review up, so you can read my take on that film, too, if you like.)