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.