Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Fact: Brian Trenchard-Smith is one of the great unsung heroes of Exploitation Cinema. Here's a man whose credits include "Stunt Rock", "The Man From Hong Kong", "Dead-End Drive In", and others-all classics in the field of Australian Exploitation-or as it's more commonly known, "Ozploitation." This is a sub-genre that has become more well known over time thanks to the essential documentary "Not Quite Hollywood." One of the most well known examples of this kind of Exploitation Cinema is Smith's 1982 film "Turkey Shoot."

The premise to the movie deals with a group of "Deviants" in a fascist future (or in this case, 1995) who have been sent to a rehabilitation fortress run by the evil Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig.) Long story short, they soon find themselves in a fight for their lives against Thatcher and his cohorts (including Australian Character Actor Roger Ward) in a "Most Dangerous Game" like situation. There's one thing Thatcher and co. didn't expect though-one Paul Ward (the one and only Steve Railsback), whose not going to go down easy.

"Turkey Shoot" (also known as "Escape 2000" and the awesomely titled "Blood Camp Thatcher") is a blast of old school Exploitation Hokum that makes for a lot of trashy fun. It certainly has political undertones (The fact that the lead villain is named Thatcher, the fact that the villains look like Bourgeoisie pigs, etc.) but in the end, it's not interested too much in political commentary-it just wants to entertain you with cheap thrills, and on that level, it succeeds. If a Circus Freak/Wolfman, gore, gratuitous nudity, a predatory lesbian and more are your thing, then this is heaven. It also helps that the movie never treats itself too seriously. Quite the contrary in fact-this is a goofy, gory splatter movie, and it knows it, and has fun with that fact.

The movie isn't without flaws though. For one thing, the acting (save for a Railsback as a total bad ass and Ward as a sadistic guard) is weak, and at times grating-you never really feel for any of these guys. Also, the electronic score by Brian May (no, not the same Brian May from Queen) is dated as hell, not to mention annoying.

Those are all mild quibbles though. "Turkey Shoot" is trash cinema done right, and is a ton of fun to boot. Some might not enjoy it (and if they wouldn't, then why are they reading in the first place?) but for guys like me, it's just what the doctor ordered.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Silent Scream (1980)

To say the 80's were the heyday of the slasher flick would be putting it lightly. While the likes of "Black Christmas" and "Halloween" were the start, it was "Friday the 13th" that got the ball rolling. After that, a new, gory, sleazy slasher movies was in theaters or on VHS on a regular basis. Some have gone on to be considered classics of the genre ("My Bloody Valentine", "The Burning" and "The Prowler" to name a few), while others were simply atrocious ("Don't Go in the Woods...Alone!", "Horror Honeymoon", "The Final Terror", etc.) Then of course, there were those underrated entries that tried to add something akin to atmosphere and scares as opposed to gore and creative kills. "The Silent Scream" is a part of that category.

The plot deals with a girl named Scotty Parker (Rebbecca Balding-such an unfortunate last name), who needs a place to live. Fortunately, she finds a place in Ms. Engels (Yvonne De Carlo, best known as Lilly Munster) mansion. There's others at the mansion, including a guy named Jack Towne (Steve Doubet), who she takes a liking to, and Engels creepy son Mason (Brad Rearden-yet another unfortunate last name.) As is in such movies, someone is starting to kill a few of the kids, and the police (well known character actors Cameron Mitchell and Avery Schreiber) are on the case. So who is killing the kids? Is it Mason? Ms. Engels? Or is it somebody else...

Owing more to "Psycho" and "Black Christmas" than the likes of it's gorier brethren, "The Silent Scream" did good box office upon it's theatrical debut, but went on to be largely forgotten. A shame really, as this is a little known gem. The film does have some blood, but it's hardly a gory movie. It instead relies more on a sense of unease and tension, and it milks said tension for all it's worth. It also helps that the acting is good as well. Mitchell dials it down, and gives a decent (but slight) performance, while Rearden has an seriously creepy turn as the disturbed Mason. To make matters better, Barbara Steele makes the most of her role in the movie, and does a great job even without uttering a word.

If there is a problem with the movie, it's the invertible family secrets sub-plot. While De Carlo and Rearden to commendable jobs with the material (especially Rearden,) the eventual revelations feel something like a cop-out. Maybe it's just me, but how many of these movies have dark family secrets? I know, it owes a heavy debt to "Psycho", but still...

Minor gripes aside, "The Silent Scream" is a rare gem that it worth a look for slasher fans looking for more suspense than gore. Is it a classic? Almost, but it's still pretty good. Too bad it was the only movie Denny Harris wrote and directed-it would have been nice to see what he could have done next. Knowing Hollywood though, it probably would have been "The Silent Scream II: Scream Louder."

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Boardinghouse (1982)

Sometimes, a movie comes along that confounds you in every way possible. Said movie is not a good movie. Hell, when you get down to it, it's downright dreadful. Yet you can't hate it. That's because you don't know what to make of it. How do you treat such a movie? It's bad, but it's also so strange, so absolutely bonkers, that it's mere existence will confound and puzzle you for years-maybe for the rest of your life. John Wintergate's 1982 movie "Boardinghouse" is one of these movies.

The "plot" so to speak, deals with a boarding house that has a history of murder. Well, it seems that Jim Royce (director Wintergate, going under the the pseudonym Hawk Adly, and using every opportunity imaginable to be clad in either speedos or tightie whities in a series of very homoerotic moments) decides to inherit the house. He also has telekinesis. Anyways, he decides to invite a group of scantily clad women who are more than willing to go through various stages of undress or have sex with him. No, this is not a porno (though it certainly has production values worthy of one.) Too bad for them there's an evil force that's haunting said girls with hallucinations and killing people off.

Shot on camcorder (the first horror movie of it's type actually) and released in Grindhouse theaters (yes, a shot on video movie actually got a theatrical release), "Boardinghouse" is terrible beyond words. The acting is so bad it would be offensive to even call it acting. The electronic score resembles a bad John Carpenter knock off. The gore FX work is beyond poor. The use of shitty 80's rock is an offense to the ears. The digital effects are laughable to extremes. I could go on an on really, but yeah, this is the pits.

That out of the way, it's never unwatchable. Sure, it's bad (and I mean bad), but unlike most shot on video horror movies, it's never boring. And that's because it really is unlike anything I've ever seen before. Imagine something that resembles a blend of the following:

  • A bad shot on video slasher movie
  • A porn movie without the hardcore sex (but plenty of nudity)
  • Something shot by friends to stave off boredom
  • The type of thing you'd see somebody make for public access television back in the day.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. "Boardinghouse" is so inept, so strange, and so surreal that it borders on some kind of accidental genius. You just sit there, mouth agape watching the thing, and you can't quite figure out why, but you become transfixed by it's world. It barely even resembles a movie. It's a total piece of shit, but you never stop watching it, nor will you ever forget it no matter what. Hell, you might even watch it again. As I said, it's unlike anything I've ever seen.

Some movies confound you, and others warp your mind as to what they are, even if you don't quite know what they are themselves. "Boardinghouse" is one of the latter. Can I recommend it? It depends. It's absolutely awful, but if you really want to see it, I just couldn't say no. It really is a one of a kind experience. Whether or not you want to partake in said experience is totally up to you.

Interestingly, Wintergate says he originally intended this to be a Horror/Comedy, but the distributors were against that idea. He's also into New Age Philosophy. And he still has awful hair.

Rating: I Don't Know.