Sunday, May 22, 2016

Black Candles (1982) and Evil Eye (1975)

Hey, another two mini-reviews. Why? Because I love you that much (actually, because it's a Sunday and I'm bored). Here's two movies that came on a DVD I rented from Netflix.

First is "Black Candles", which comes from "Vampyres" and "Symptoms" director José Ramón Larraz. Here, a young woman and her boyfriend head to England after her brother dies. Whilst staying at her sister in law's place, the two soon find themselves drawn into a Satanic cult that fancies such things like orgies (so far, so standard) and bestiality (okay, that's a bit fucked up).

Though "Vampyres" and 'Symptoms" are underrated horror films, "Black Candles is ultimately a bore-and that say a lot considering it has goat fucking and a man getting a sword shoved up his ass. It's an erotic horror movie, but none of it is actually sexy, and when you get down to it, it's basically an excuse to shoot sex scenes with the veneer of a horror movie slapped onto it. It's the kind of movie where hardly anything happens, and it comes to no surprise that it's director disowned it after it was released. At least the score is fun.

Slightly better, but still not good is "Evil Eye." In this movie, the police are investigating Peter Crane (Jorge Rivero), who may or may not be connected to those around him dying. In the process, Pete has been having nightmares dealing with the murders, and soon, others are in danger as well.

An occasionally interesting blend of Giallo and supernatural elements, "Evil Eye" ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. There's a fun, jazzy score by Stelvio Cipriani, some interesting ideas and enough female nudity to please fans of trash, but the movie is unable to congeal into a whole. As a result, it's often incoherent, feeling like a bunch of images and plot points that don't go anywhere, all leading to a pretty lame conclusion. Oh well.

Black Candles: 2/10

Evil Eye: 4/10

Slaughter Hotel (1971) and Corpse Mania (1981)

To make up for lost times (I have a life beyond writing reviews hardly anyone reads), here are two quick reviews for entries in the Giallo genre. However, they come from two different countries-the genres country of origin (Italy) and one from China.

First off is "Slaughter Hotel", which comes from Fernando Di Leo, who is largely known for helping to popularize the Italian "poliziotteschi" (police) genre. Here, he dips his toes into horror territory with the tale of a psychiatric ward for rich women. Lo and behold, since this is a giallo movie, there is a killer knocking some of them off, and usually after sex. Also, there is a lot of sex, as this at times feels more like a soft core porn movie that sometimes borders on hardcore territory (including close ups of open female genitalia. It seems they knew what crowd they were catering to.)

Whilst a fun time on paper, "Slaughter Hotel turns out to be a chore to sit through. Whilst I have no problem with sex and female nudity (quite the opposite in fact), this tends to go the Jess Franco route of making female nudity dull with a seemingly endless stream of uninvolved sex scenes and writhing around on beds. The kills are mediocre, and worst of all the movie lacks anything resembling atmosphere or suspense. This is especially shocking considering that Di Leo's later films (such as "Caliber 9" and "The Italian Connection") are bursting with fun. There's nothing like that here.

On a much better note is "Corpse Mania", which was produced by the Shaw Brothers (yes, they produced more than just Kung-Fu movies) and directed by Chih-Hung Kuieh*. Here, the police are after a madman who has been killing women at a local brothel (as well as those who get in the way.) Also, the killer may have a thing for corpses, as we see in one really disgusting scene.

Though you know who the killer is from the get go, "Corpse Mania" is a solid little movie filled with at times realistic (and nauseating) gore, good direction and a story that manages to keep the viewer engaged throughout it's short run time. It also manages to wear it's influences on it's sleeve (the killer's look brought to mind a mix of "The Invisible Man" and "Blood and Black Lace", whilst some of the kills and gore reminded me of the then rising slasher genre) without feeling derivative. Oh, and maybe it's just me, but it was kind of refreshing to see a giallo movie that didn't offer an endless series of red herrings for a change.

As a whole, "Slaughter Hotel" is a sleazy but ultimately dull film that made me want to watch superior fare such as "Torso" and "Strip Nude For Your Killer." "Corpse Mania" on the other hand, is an seriously underrated film that deserves a bigger cult following, and might please fans of Toshiharu Ikeda's "Evil Dead Trap."

Slaughter Hotel: 2/10
Corpse Mania: 8/10

*Outside of this, Kuieh's other credits within the horror genre include "The Killer Snakes" (1974), "Hex" (1980) "Hex vs. Witchcraft" (1980) and "Boxer's Omen" (1983)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Entrails of a Virgin (1986)

"Entrails of a Virgin" is a movie that, for a while, was pretty notorious, though many had never seen it, joining the ranks of "Premutos", the "August Underground" series or more recently, "The Human Centipede" and "Serbian Film"* as something that was fucked up beyond belief. Therefore a must for fans of the most hardcore of horror. 

The plot really isn't much to talk about. A group of people involved in a soft core porno film end up hitting someone (or something), and end up having to take refuge in a warehouse. In between discomforting sex scenes and a bizarre wrestling match, a demonic creature (who is basically a dude covered in mud) begins to knock them off one by one-well, he kills the dudes, then rapes and kills the women.

Outside of the disappointing killer, I actually liked "Entrails of a Virgin." By that, I mean I liked the horror part of the movie. Director Kazuo "Gaira" Komizu** actually proves himself to be a pretty competent director, clearly inspired by both "Evil Dead" and Italian horror (creative cinematography and fog drenched landscapes and atmosphere) and the slasher genre (some pretty nasty death scenes, including one of the most depraved disembowelment scenes I have ever seen) whilst still managing to make it feel like it's own movie. Also, if you've seen Adam Wingard's directorial debut "Home Sick" and then see this, you will recognize that the character Tiffany Shepis plays that goes insane is clearly modeled after the woman who goes insane in this movie. 

What I don't like-everything else. I know it's a movie called 'Entrails of a Virgin." I'm not expecting anything politically correct from this. I don't even mind an abundance of sex scenes. However, I don't like an abundance of sex scenes that play out like rape scenes, and rape scenes that have women enjoying the act. That shit does not fly with me. Nor does the conclusion, which just-happens. Once we see why the killer is doing this, the viewer is still confused. There isn't any rhyme or reason for it other than the director wants to see women being raped and degraded.

It's not only gross-it's frustrating. There are actually things I really like about this movie. I just wish at the end of the day, it didn't make me want to bleach my eyes when it was over.

Rating: 5/10

* I still haven't seen that movie, and I doubt I ever will.

**Gaira has done other films of this ilk-including "Entrails of a Beautiful Woman", "Female Inquisitor" and "Guzoo: The Thing Forsaken By God." He also did the tamer zombie film "Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay", which I reviewed in the past.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Black Demons (1991)

"Black Demons", in spite of it's title, is an in name only sequel to Lamberto Bava's "Demons" movies. Nope, instead, you get a zombie movie instead of the sorta zombie movie those films were. It's also an Italian horror film from the late 80's/early 90's, so you can throw any hopes for it being good. Oh, and yes, it's as racist as it's title implies.

Here, three college kids, a couple and housekeeper are menaced by zombies. So, what are these zombies after? Well, they want revenge. You see, they were slaves that were killed, and after being resurrected via a voodoo curse, they decide to kill six white people. Also, they still have nooses around their necks, God, this movie is fucking racist. Like, even by the standards of exploitation movies, this shit is offensive, and I am a man who isn't offended easily.

So, it's offensive. How bad is it outside of that? Well, first of all, this was directed by Umberto Lenzi, who previously directed a prior movie I reviewed in "Nightmare Beach". To be fair, he directed some solid genre movies in the past, such as the giallo films "Seven Bloodstained Orchids" and "Spasmo", but he is mostly known as the man that created the Italian Cannibal genre with the film "Man From the Deep River" and later directing one of the most notorious entries of that sub-genre "Cannibal Ferox". At this point, his career had gone the way of any other Italian genre director not named Dario Argento or Michele Soavi-down the crapper.

So yeah, this movie sucks. There's some decent gore, but the direction is so bland and wooden. You can't help but wish that Lenzi was at least trying (apparently, even he hates this movie) but here the movie feels like it was directed by a man who no longer gave a shit about anything. It doesn't help that the cast is terrible, not to mention unlikable and hey-what do you know, casually racist too. What the hell were Lenzi and screenwriter Olga Pehar* thinking? Maybe this was originally meant to be an indictment of colonialist, racist attitudes, but that is more than likely giving this movie way too much credit.

There really isn't much of anything here. This is the kind of bottom of the barrel garbage that has no reason to exist, and actually makes you angry once it is over. Shit, "After Death" aka "Zombi 4" is a better Italian Zombie movie than this.

Rating: 1/10

*Pehar's is Lenzi's wife, and has helped write other movies of his-including "Ironmaster", "Hitcher in the Dark", "Hell's Gate" and other late period Lenzi films.

2LDK (2003)

The story behind "2LDK" is an interesting one, to say the least. Long story short: Two directors (Ryuhei Kitamura and in this case, Yukihiko Tsutsumi) ended up in a dare: make a movie with two actors, on one set, with only one week to make the thing. The end result here is...actually pretty damn good.

Two aspiring actresses (Maho Nonami and Eiko Koike) couldn't be more different. One is more reserved, the other more outgoing. One is a bit more neat, one isn't. They also are both competing for a role in a movie-a meaty role at that. So, what starts as disagreements turns into trickery and sabotage. Which in turn turns into a slap fight. Which then turns to the two literally at each other's throats, trying to kill one another.

Basically, take "The Odd Couple", "Heathers" and pre 9/11 black comedies like "Fight Club" and "American Psycho", and this is what you get-a darkly hilarious, all around violent (but not that gory) and surprisingly smart satire about the ambition for fame and the tendency for little things to blow out of proportion. The two leads are great, managing to capture their dueling personalities without overdoing it or hamming it up for the camera. They actually feel like real people. especially early on with their banter coming off as natural instead of forced.

As for the eventual fight-I'm not going to say much, except that it starts out small, and then involves everything from hair dryers to chainsaws. It's absolutely insane, like an ultra violent Tex Avery cartoon, topping it all off with a punch line that had me laughing hysterically. 

If you want a genre movie that manages to be naturally funny instead of beating you over the head with it's message, then this is a must. A real underrated gem.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nightmare Beach (1989)

Also known as "Welcome To Spring Break", this movie is essentially a hybrid of three things that were dying in the waning days of the 80's-the slasher movie, the raunchy beach comedy and Italian horror-in particular the giallo. It also may or may not have been directed by Umberto Lenzi*. The credit for the film goes to "Harry Kirkpatrick", which seems to be a pseudonym, but Lenzi insists that it wasn't him. So who directed this? Who knows? Honestly, who cares either.

The movie begins with the execution of the leader of a biker gang called the Demons (who actually have the logo of Lamberto Bava's "Demons" on their jackets).  One year later, it's SPRING BREAK! WOOOOO! It is here that we are introduced to two indistinguishable slabs of meat masquerading as human beings (one of whom, Nicolas De Toth, went on to be a successful editor in Hollywood) are out for fun. However, a psychopath dressed in a motorcycle get-up is killing dumb teens via electrocution (and one death via immolation). So, whose the culprit? Is it the corrupt police officer (John Saxon)? The weird Reverend (Lance LeGault)? The alcoholic doctor (Michael Parks)? Or has the man who was executed-who promised revenge from beyond the grave-come back?

There is some fun to be had with "Nightmare Beach", but most of it comes from the fact that the whole thing is basically late 80's America through the eyes of people who don't live there. That and the fact John Saxon and Michael Parks are fine. Outside of that, there isn't a whole lot to get excited about here.

This is mostly due to the fact that the direction is so bland. Lenzi (or Kirkpatrick, or whoever) seems to have forgotten how to direct, and the whole thing feels like a lot of Italian horror movies from this period-flat and ultimately forgettable. There is gore, but it all looks unconvincing and cheap. The score is by Claudio Simonetti, but it's repetitive and truth be told, okay at best. In fact, that's another big problem the movie has-it's repetitive. I don't know about you, but after a while, the barrage of stereotypical characters, wet t-shirt contests and awful music (so much shitty Hair Metal) begins to grow monotonous.

I've definitely seen worse as far late 80's/early 90's Italian horror is concerned (hello "Killing Birds" and "Witchery"), but outside of people who need to see every 80's slasher movie and the most undemanding trash enthusiast, there isn't a lot to love here. Hell, you'll probably forget it exists a month after seeing it.

Rating: 4/10

*Lenzi not only may or may not have directed this-he also wrote it alongside Vittorio Rambaldi, the son of legendary effects man Carlo Rambaldi. I also mention this because he previously directed the Lenzi scripted "Primal Rage". Also, the obnoxious, sounds like the theme for a failed 80's sitcom pop song from that movie (called "Say the Word") pops up here too.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Last Shift (2014)

One of the things I like about Netflix is how some studios release their movies on the service mere weeks (or in the case of IFC, the day of) their home video release. Case in point-Magnolia pictures, who have a tendency to release their movies a month or so afterwards, such as today's movie "Last Shift".

Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) is a rookie cop who is told to wait for a team to pick up hazardous material. Unbeknownst to her, the department is haunted by the ghost of John Michael Paymon (Joshua Mikel), a cult leader whose spirit-and those of his followers-is waiting and ready for her...

Best described as a mix of "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Sinister", "Last Shift" is a movie that definitely got under my skin. It's a bit of a slow burn (and occasionally drags), but as it goes on, the film creates an atmosphere of dread and unease that sticks with you, thanks in particular to the simple but effective story that creates a sense of isolation. Oh, and the fact that it manages to do jump scares and not come off as derivative or forced. They actually feel earned. Oh, and when the final 20 minutes come in, it all builds into something that actually creeped me out a bit.

I'd be lying if the movie is perfect (some of the visuals feel a little too much like the director watched "Sinister" and thought "hey, let's do something like that!") but in the end, this is a nice little sleeper that deserves your attention.

Rating: 7.5/10