Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Graves (2010)

Everyone knows what "After Dark Horrorfest" is. Every year, Lionsgate and After Dark films release eight films into select theaters for a limited time. While there have been some real winners from this line up-"The Gravedancers", "Reincarnation", "The Abandoned" and "Mullberry Street" for example-by the time the second Horrorfest came around, we started getting movies that one is amazed got any sort of theatrical release. For every winner in Horrorfest, there will be mediocre to disappointing movies like "Tooth & Nail" and "Dying Breed", to really awful fair like "Lake Dead" and "Slaughter." Well, you can add "The Graves to that third category, as it may be the worst Horrorfest movie yet.

The Graves sisters-Abby (Jillian Murphy) and Megan (Clare Grant)-are two comic book, punk rock (well, as the director sees punk) and horror loving girls aka. two girls you will never meet in the real world. Well, Megan is headed to ASU with a marketing degree, so as a last hurrah, they decide to go looking for a fun roadside attraction. They instead end up going to Skull City Mine, a Ghost Town. Of course, it's not really abandoned, and soon the sisters find themselves fighting for their lives against a psychopath named Caleb (Bill Moseley) and a religious cult lead by Reverend Abraham (Tony Todd.) Can they survive? What's with the supernatural evil living in the town? Why should we care? How on Earth would stabbing a man's thigh kill him?

"The Graves" is nothing more than a failure. Writer and Director Brian Pulido is a horror comic book veteran (he is the creator of "Lady Death"* and "Evil Ernie"), but for a guy with such a pedigree, his movie comes off as rather clueless as to what makes horror movies like this work. The whole thing feels too much like Pulido was thinking to himself "well, horror fans like this in horror movies", but that he had no idea as to what makes such movies work. In fact, the whole thing feels artificial, as if it comes from somebody who has no understanding of the genre, but wants a quick buck. That's last part obviously isn't what Pulido intended, but that is how it feels.

It also doesn't help that our protagonists are completely bland and obnoxious. The film wants you to like the Graves sisters, but they are so dull, unrealistic and annoying that you keep hoping for the whole movie to come to a merciful end. Even worse amazingly, are the performances from Moseley and Todd. Here, Bill just plays another variation on the psychopathic killer he's played in far superior films, only really bad. It makes you wish he would have played someone else. Todd meanwhile, is so over the top and overacts so much that it becomes laughable. The fact that these two beloved genre veterans are even in dreck like this is depressing as hell, especially with the underwhelming performances they give.

I wish I could say "The Graves" is worth watching, but it's not. Instead, it's a cheap, superficial imitator that clearly wants to be loved, but lacks any of the elements that makes horror like this fun. Instead it's a headache to watch, more appropriate for Hot Topic shopping kids than genre fans. Avoid.

Rating: 0/10

*At one point, the Graves sisters start going on about their love of Chaos Comics, one in which pretty much plugging "Lady Death" in a groan inducing bit of shameless self promotion. What the fuck Brian?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Battle Girl: The Living Dead In Tokyo Bay (1991)

The early 90's weren't the best of times for horror. Theatrical films were becoming more scarce, and even calling horror movies horror (the dreaded "Suspense Thriller" tag) was suddenly dirty. Plus, people were tired of the same old hack and slash and endless sequels. That's why home video was now the place to go for the large part. Studios like Full Moon, Troma and others flourished in this era, offering horror fans something that usually wasn't good, but at least proudly called itself horror. One of the burgeoning things to come from this was V-Cinema, a Japanese style of direct to video releasing that saw some of the more outlandish and outrageous titles come into play. One of the films released in the earlier part of this era was Kazou 'Gaira' Komizu's 1991 zombie flick "Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay."

A meteor crashes into Tokyo Bay, leading to a strange cloud being emitted and covering the city-turning many of it's inhabitants into flesh eating zombies. To make things worse, survivalist gangs now roam the city, and the military isn't exactly doing much to help the situation. There's only one person who can save the day, and it's a girl named Keiko (Japanese Female Wrestler Cutie Suzuki, who certainly lives up to her name), who dons a hi-tech body armor suit complete with guns, the ability to give her superhuman powers, and all kinds of gizmos. In the process, she finds herself being hunted by a group of advanced killers, and discovers some dark government secrets.

Though he didn't write it, "Battle Girl" is a bit curious considering that some of Komizu's prior works ("Entrails of a Virgin" and "Guts of a Virgin" for example) were notorious for how grotesque, perverse and all around politically incorrect they were. That's because this movie is a rather dry affair, with only small dashes of gore and not an inkling of nudity on display. In some ways, that's a shame (though it is a bit nice to see a movie from him that doesn't barrage you with sexual violence for a change), because a bit more gore would have made this a more enjoyable affair. The films is also far too short (only 74 minutes in length) and at times feels like a movie with some big ideas that is unable to accomplish all it wants because of it's length.

There's still some fun to be had out of the film. The synthesizer score by Ra is a lot of fun, and adds to the almost comic book like atmosphere of the whole thing. The low tech special effects also add to it's charm, especially the meteorite itself, which brought back fond memories of watching 70's-90's genre pictures from Japan-if I had seen this as a teen, I would have thought it was the best movie ever made. The zombie make up is competent enough, and the movie also tries to get away with some political commentary about nationalism (though it feels a bit odd to have critiques of the military in a movie that so lovingly shows off gun play and explosions.) Oh, and while the fight choreography isn't up to muster, it's nice to see Joshi (Japanese Woman's Wrestling) stars deliver Spinning Back Breakers and Tombstone Piledrivers.

As a whole, "Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay" is a slight affair, and is anything but essential. That out of the way, it's a decent time waster with some bright spots that appeal to the 16 year old in me, and should be seen by fans of Japanese zombie flicks, though it's not as fun or over the top as later movies. Look at it as an appetizer.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Alabama's Ghost (1973)

Oh where for art thou Fredric Hobbs? An artist who was at one time a filmmaker, I remember reading about your movies in the book "Nightmare USA"-you did two more art house oriented flicks ("Troika" and "Roseland") before graduating to the horror field with this movie and "Godmonster of Indian Flats." I had heard of "Godmonster", and thought that the premise (a giant Sheep monster) was too ludicrous to pass up on. I still haven't seen it, though your other movies remain rather elusive to find. Well thank the glory of Youtube, which had this movie. Now if only I could figure out what in God's name I just watched.

A Nightclub janitor (Christopher Brooks) goes into a secret room of sorts, and finds the belongings of an old magicians belongings. He decides "Hey, might as well try this stuff on" and viola! He's no longer a mere janitor, he's "Alabama, King of the Cosmos." The movie then becomes a series of events involving ghosts, vampires, blackmail, Nazis, and a whole lot more.

I have no clue as to what it is I just watched. What exactly is "Alabama's Ghost?" Is it a horror movie? A melodrama? A Blaxploitation movie? An art flick? Or is it somebody taking the mickey on conventions and making some sort of horror satire? I can't figure out what it is, except that it feels like something someone from an underground 60's Art House background made a horror movie in the early 70's while on a lot of drugs.

I can't say I hated the movie in any way, but that's because I don't know what to feel. The acting is bad, the plot is...well, it's something, and the movie has no real rhythm. Oh, and the conclusion features an elephant, vampires, a wand zapping people, and...I can't believe this movie.

Seriously, how do you rate a movie like this? Plenty of horror movies are strange, but this movie is one of those strange horror flicks that's in a class of it's own. Fredric Hobbs, I don't know if I should salute you or ask you what drugs you were on while making this movie.

Rating: I Don't Know.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reincarnation (2005)

In the late 90's and early to the early 2000's, Japanese Horror was the new thing among horror fanatics and critics alike. It's easy to see why-many of them were movies that didn't dole out gallons of viscera, and instead focused on creeping dread and atmosphere-as well as creepy ghosts. One of the director's to get attention during this time was Takashi Shimizu, whose film's "Ju-On" and it's sequel created shock waves across, some calling it one of the scariest movies ever made. While it was an impressive venture, I wouldn't call it one of the scariest movies ever. Unfortunately, constant remakes of Asian horror flicks (including two done by Shimizu himself-both of the "Ju-On" films) and the fact that they just started to feel so similar ended the J-Horror boom. Kind of a shame, because his 2005 late entry flick "Reincarnation" is an uneasy little gem.

A young actress (Yuka) has a problem-she's starting to see restless spirits. It all starts to happen while filming a horror film about a crazed professor who kills 11 guests at a hotel. unfortunately, nobody told the director or anyone else involved that filming in the exact place where said murders took place is probably a really bad idea. Spooky shit starts to go down, and all that jazz.

A creepy little movie, "Reincarnation" knows the importance of atmosphere, and manages to use it without any of it feeling wasted. From the get go, you know it's going to end bad, and it makes the anticipation work to it's advantage. With the exception of the ghost aspect, the plot doesn't really resemble a J-Horror flick, instead taking on aspects more familiar to American horror movies-particularly "The Shining", but it never feels like a rip off. The real strength though, is the final minutes of the movie, which become a real test of nerves in that they pull the strings of the audience and let all of the tension and atmosphere that was present beforehand pay off in a satisfying and all around scary way.

If it does have any problems, it's the general lack of originality. Sure, it tries to take influence outside of the J-Horror box, but seasoned fans of the style will get a sense of Déjà vu during the thing. How many more scary ghosts with black hair can one get before they get tired of it? It's a good movie, but watching it, one can see why this style of horror died.

"Reincarnation" is still a pretty impressive supernatural horror yarn that never leaves the audience feeling cheated, even though they may feel like they've seen it before. Check it out on a rainy night at least.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Darkness (1993)

The 90's was the era in which the Shot on Camcorder and Super 8 video flick came further into play. It started in the 80's, but it wasn't until the 90's that this phenomenon really started to take off. In a sense, it's a bit understandable as to why so many kids would pick up their mom's camcorder and make gory horror flicks with friends. On one hand, it's fun to videotape you and your friends goofing off, and a lot of horror fans were disappointed that flicks like "The Evil Dead" and various Italian gore flicks weren't as marketable anymore. Plus, "The Evil Dead" was made for next to nothing with friends, so why not try it yourself? Well, that's the thing-Sam Raimi and other directors had history of film school and other such ventures they were experienced with. There's about 1% chance you'll be the next Raimi or Peter Jackson. Case in point-the 1993 blood and guts spectacular "Darkness."

The story deals with a small community being under siege by a legion of vampires. After seeing a friend being attacked in a convenience store, a lone avenger named Tobe (Gary Miller, sporting the world's most tacky mullet) arms himself with a chainsaw, holy water and more to do battle with this army of vampires. In the process, he finds a group of survivors, as well as Liven, the king of the vampires.

To be fair, "Darkness" is actually better than many of it's micro-budget ilk of the 90's. It was directed by Leif Jonker, an enthusiastic horror buff who originally didn't intend the thing to be a real horror flick, but a promo reel of sorts. One thing led to another, and this is what the viewer gets. The gore effects are hit and miss (sometimes too easily resembling red Kool-Aid, other times quite effective and nauseating-check out the ending meltdown sequence for example), and the movie itself is done with a lot of enthusiasm. So much in fact, that it's hard to to appreciate all of the energy and love being put forth by those involved.

That out of the way, it's still not a particularity good horror flick. Being shot on Super 8, the entire thing is grainy and dark, sometimes to the point that you have trouble telling what's going on. The cheap keyboard score and bad Death Metal music (seriously, what is it with no-budget 90's to today horror and badly done Death Metal? And why does everbody look like they just left a Cannibal Corpse show?) is also annoying, and tends to grate on the ears. The biggest flaw though, is that there isn't a whole lot of meat on the ribs so to speak. Sure it's got enthusiasm and gore to spare, but it doesn't have much else going for it, and it becomes more apparent about halfway through. I'm sorry, but all the gore in the world isn't enough to save a movie if there isn't much else going on.

For fans of no-budget 90's horror and the like, "Darkness" isn't too bad, as it's more enjoyable and ambitious than many other films of it's ilk. For anyone else though, it's basically just a tedious but never hate worthy experience that you could probably avoid, as you wouldn't be missing a whole lot.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Mad (2007) and Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis (2004)

The zombie comedy is actually a rather old thing. Starting in the 40's with movies like the Bela Lugosi vehicle "Zombies on Broadway", it wasn't until the 80's that mixing the two together became more popular thanks to the likes of "Re-Animator", "Return of the Living Dead" and "Night of the Creeps" among those that thought mixing gory zombie mayhem and black humor would make for a fun concoction. This continued well into the 90's, and really kicked in the last decade thanks to "Shaun of the Dead." Unfortunately, not everyone in the post "Shaun" era of zombie movies have been able to do a zombie comedy successfully-many have failed or come up short. Cases in point are "The Mad" and the Thailand zombie flick "Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis."

"The Mad" tells the tale of Jason Hunt (Billy Zane), a former rock star turned doctor and family man. When he and the family decide to stop at a bed and breakfast, only to see their vacation turn bad when an infection brought forth by meat patties begins turning the locals into flesh eating zombies.

"The Mad" isn't really a detestable movie, but it's not a good one either. While the cast is game (especially Billy Zane), the whole thing just feels generic. There isn't a whole lot of excitement to have with the movie either, because many of the jokes tend to tank (a few made me chuckle) and it doesn't really go far enough. There's moments of gore, but for a movie with an "Unrated" tag, it sure feels tame. It basically suffers from both trying too hard to be campy (the whole concept of killer burger patties) and not doing anything that hasn't been done before.

Better (but also not spectacular) is "Sars Wars", a movie with a premise that's too out there to resist. A Fourth generation version of the SARS virus has come to Thailand, and it turns people into zombies. Meanwhile, a schoolgirl named Liu (Phintusuda Tunphairao) has been kidnapped, and it's up to Khun Krabii (Supakorn Kitsuwon), a dimwitted man to save her.

What "Sars Wars" does have going for it is a manic energy and some surprisingly funny jokes ("Zombies, a bomb and a Giant Snake? This movie is really aiming for some cash!"), as well as some decent gore and zombie action to boot. Unfortunately, it also has it's share of jokes and humor that falls flat. One of the problems is the use of comical sound effects and bad slapstick humor that annoys more than amuses. Even worse is the sexual humor, which falls flat. While it's obvious that the movie is trying to entertain audiences and make people laugh, and it's got plenty of enthusiasm to boot, it's kind of hard to fully appreciate the hit and miss nature of the humor and movie at hand, making for an uneven viewing experience.

As they stand, nobody should really hate "The Mad" or "Sars Wars", but there isn't a whole lot to remember about them either. Sure, the two movies aren't the bottom rung of the zombie movie ladder, but they aren't exactly at the top either. They are just...kind of there.

Rating: "The Mad" (4/10) and "Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis" (5.5/10)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spider Baby (1963)

In the world of horror, family is almost never normal. You are either a family of fucked up psychopaths, a dysfunctional suburban family, or a suburban or bourgeois family made to suffer because the director is an asshole who wants to make a statement. In the world of psycho family flicks, there are the obvious classics-"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Spider Baby." Directed in 1963 by exploitation legend Jack Hill ("Foxy Brown", "The Big Bird Cage", "The Big Bird House", "Coffy" and "Switchblade Sisters"), "Spider Baby" is an essential 60's horror movie that paved the way for many a great genre picture, and whose influence can still be felt today.

In an old mansion, the final generation of an inbred family-spider obsessed Virginia (Jill Banner), mentally retarded Ralph (Sid Haig) and scheming Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) are looked out after by the kindly Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) Said children have a bit of a problem-they have a condition that causes them to mentally deteriorate-oh, and commit acts of murder and cannibalism. Unfortunately for them, some distant relatives come in to dispose the family of their home. This doesn't sit too well, especially for Virginia, who just can't wait to play "Spider."

Shot in 1963 but not released until 1968 due to financial issues, "Spider Baby" is a classic example of mixing horror and black comedy in a near perfect tone. The film has a gloriously morbid sense of humor about itself, and rarely takes itself too seriously. Everything about the movie, from the opening credits to the twist ending, is a blast to watch, and clearly made for those seeking old school exploitation thrills and something that pays homage to the classics (the mere fact that Lon Chaney Jr. is in this, and that there's a conversation about old Universal horror films says volumes) without being obnoxious. The script by Hill and the score by Ronald Stein helps matter considerably, adding to the fun house atmosphere of it all.

Best of all though, are the performances. Chaney and Washburn steal the show, while Quinn Redeker and Carol Ohmart are shockingly not hate-able as the Aunt and Uncle. In fact, little if any of the movie is hateful at all, especially towards our twisted miscreants. Yeah, they are murderous cannibals, but they are also strangely likable and sympathetic in a way few horror families are. In a small way, "Spider Baby" has the most loving and close knit family in horror history, and makes up for what viewers normally get.

But enough pontificating on themes. "Spider Baby" is just a whole lot of ghoulish fun from start to finish that only the most sour of heart could reject. Just beware, there's a full moon tonight!

Rating: 9/10

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ax 'Em (1992)

Why?

Why do I do this? Why do I review movies? I sometimes wonder if it effect's my sanity . If you ask me, those of us who have to watch movies like the one you are about to read about should be given public service medals or awards or something. Police protect us, doctors and nurses save our lives, we watch terrible movies so you don't have to. Let that sink in for a moment, and if you feel thankful, then that feels okay I guess. If you still bother to watch them (and this) then there is no hope for you whatsoever. So anyways, off to the review.

The old "Friends decide to have fun in the woods" style slasher movie has been done more than porn star Aurora Snow. Take some dumb kids, put them in the middle of nowhere, unleash a killer, and viola! You have yourself a movie that's been done many a time before. There have been movies that made that work to their advantage, but more often than not, it becomes a disaster. Case in point is Michael Mfume's 1992 slasher disaster "Ax 'Em" aka "The Weekend It Lives."

You know you are in serious trouble when you notice two things: 1.) The title credits are done with the cheapest WordArt imaginable, and 2.) This movie was made in 1992, but didn't receive any sort of distribution until 2002. That's right, this piece of shit didn't pick up the slightest bit of interest for 10 years. While many a horror movie in the past has struggled to find distribution, this movie took longer than most do, which says a lot.

Now on to the plot. You can thank me later for this.

It's the same thing you've seen done before, as I've mentioned. A group of friends decide to have fun in the woods, but run into a psychopath (this one traumatized by having his family killed-his name is Halloween Harry by the way) who starts to pick them off one by one. The thing is, this isn't just another bad slasher movie. This is the kind of bad slasher movie that only comes along every once in a while, and is proof that the spirit of incompetent slasher movies like "Don't Go in the Woods...Alone!" and "Scream" (aka "The Outing"-no, not the Wes Craven movie of the 90's) never died.

The movie was made for approximately $650, and it shows. The editing is so bad it makes the films of Andy Milligan look great. The kills are uneventful as they get (an axe and a machete to the head and a machete to the wrist are all you are going to get folks.) The acting...oh you know how bad it is. The sound is muddled and distant. Everything-and I mean everything-about this fucking cinematic abortion is an offense to the eyes and ears.

It almost feels like Mfume and co. went out of their way to make the worst movie imaginable, and they succeed beyond their wildest dreams. This isn't even amusingly bad. This is the worst kind of bad movie-the kind that makes you hate yourself after you watch it. Why would anyone want to watch this? Better question, why would anyone want to make a movie like this? Questions like this are beyond the universe, and beyond any sort of human comprehension.

If anything, "Ax 'Em" is proof that no matter what you say, you need people like us. People who will suffer through the worst movies imaginable so you don't have to. You see, we do care.

Rating:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Strangeness (1985)

You gotta love Code Red. For those not in the know, they are a DVD distribution company that specializes in the obscure, the odd, and the sometimes neglected entries in Horror and Exploitation. While they've released some movies that are anything but good, they've also re-introduced Cult Classics like "Stunt Rock" and "Messiah of Evil" to the public. One of their DVD releases from 2009 was Melanie Anne Philips' 80's monster in a cave flick "The Strangeness." I remember reading about it in Stephen Thrower's essential tome "Nightmare USA", as it was a student flick of sorts made by friends for about $20,000. So was it worth the wait for DVD release?

The movie deals with a group of explorers who end up being trapped in a cave. Thing is, there's a legend of a creature that lurks the cave and kills those who dare enter it's territory. Of course, nobody believes this (except grizzled old Miner Morgan, played by Keith Hurt) and they decide to explore. You've seen these movies, so you know what happens next.

For a low budget 80's flick made by a group of friends, "The Strangeness" is surprisingly watchable. The cave set's are claustrophobic enough and shockingly realistic, while the John Carpenter like score is a lot of fun and the movie does offer a few fun moments. It also helps some that the creature (more on it next paragraph) is done via Stop Motion, and while the animation is a bit jerky, it's got a lot charm and low budget ingenuity, not to mention enthusiasm. You can tell the work that went on it was a labor of love. Oh, and the fact we mostly just see glimpses of it works pretty well

Oh, and the creature itself-um, wow. How can I describe how it looks? Well, it's tentacled, is shaped a bit like a penis, and it's mouth...well, um...it's mouth drools slime and looks like a gaping vagina. I know, I can't believe it either. It looks like a mix of something Lovecraft would have made if he was a fan of Freud, or something out of one of those pornographic Japanese cartoons. It really needs to be seen to be believed.

However, this is a student film so to speak, so of course, the acting is terrible (save for creature animator and Producer Mark Sawicki as a nosey, know it all writer working on a book) and at times is grating. It also doesn't help matters at all that the movie is so talky. Come on, we don't care about any of these people, so stop making us spend time with them.

Cut out some of the boring dialogue, and "The Strangeness" could have been a winner. As it stands, it's a minor movie that has it's charms and was clearly a labor of love, but nothing more. That out of the way, fans of lesser known cave creature flicks like "What Waits Below" and "The Boogens" will probably have a lot of fun. Just don't expect anything special.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Toolbox Murders (1978)

The slasher movie may have received a bigger boost in the following decades, but the 70's is where it started. Well, some could argue that the old serial killer movies, films like "Psycho" and "Peeping Tom" and the Italian Giallo films helped pave the way, but it wasn't until the likes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (which I never really considered a slasher), "Black Christmas" and of course "Halloween" that these get the ball rolling. And some of these movies were just plain old mean spirited. Flicks like "Don't Go in the House" and "Bloodrage" were seaming with ugliness and decay, portraying a world in which people-particularly women-were to suffer. One of the films of this mean spirited slasher ilk was Dennis Donnelly's 1978 flick "The Toolbox Murders."

A psycho wearing a ski mask is going around am apartment complex killing off women that he sees as immoral and sinful with the aid of the contents of his toolbox. He doesn't kill all of them off though-he sees hope in a girl named Laurie Ballard (Former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin, who will always be the voice of Lucy Van Pelt* in my heart) who he promptly kidnaps and thinks he can save. Can Laurie's brother Joey (Nicolas Beauvy) figure out whose behind these slayings? What's with the weird tenant Vance (Cameron Mitchell) who is still feeling the effects of his daughter's death? And does his nephew (Wesley Eure, who many know from the old "Land of the Lost" show) know more than he's letting on?

From the get go, you know who the killer is (it's Vance) and that his nephew is also crazy. That's just fine though. "The Toolbox Murders" is a legendary slice of 70's exploitation sleaze that get's to the dirty work fast. While kills in slasher movies would go on to be more graphic, the ones present are still nasty, the highlight being a women involving a nail gun that has gone on to become one of Stephen King's favorite horror movie kills. It also helps that the film manages to capture a seedy atmosphere that doesn't overwhelm, and that the performances are largely impressive, with Mitchell doing a fine job as Vance, and Ferdin making for a great woman in distress without overacting.

The movie's flaws though, come in when it tries to make Vance into something of a sympathetic character. I know, it's okay to humanize him, but he's a psychopath. Trying to make the audience feel bad for him-especially after he kills women-is pointless. It also doesn't help that the whole thing just kind of ends. There's a large caption explaining how it's based on a "true story" (nothing new in exploitation) and it then ends.

For those interested in slasher movies before the era of "Friday the 13th", then "The Toolbox Murders" is a good choice, as it's a mean, nasty little movie that makes no apologies. You can probably do better, but for old school, ugly exploitation, you can do much, much worse. It's not perfect, but it practically defines old school Grindhouse movies.

Rating: 7.5/10

*It's kind of funny when you imagine that it's Charlie Brown getting revenge for all those times Lucy pulled the football away.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Laid to Rest (2009)

The slasher movie is one of the most used genres in horror. I could talk about it's history, but that would take far too long. I can say that it takes a lot of effort for there to be a slasher flick that manages to impress, or at least entertain. Like zombie movies, anyone can do a slasher movie-it just takes a lot to make one that's good or memorable. That's why like zombie movies, there are so many bad slasher movies flooding DVD rental shelves these days. Thankfully, Robert Hall's "Laid to Rest" manages to be an interesting though not exactly classic slasher flick.

The film opens with a rather annoying credits sequence full of gore, flashy edits and loud music before we get to the plot. An unnamed girl (Bobbi Sue Luther) wakes up in a casket, unaware of who she is or what she's doing there, and finds herself being pursued by a large killer with a big knife, a metallic skull mask and a small camera on his shoulder called Chrome Skull (Nick Principe.) She escapes, and finds refuge in a married couple named Tucker (Kevin Gage) and Cindy (Lena Headey), only to find Chrome Skull is still after her. Can she escape as the body count rises?

There's a lot to like about "Laid to Rest." The kills and gore effects are impressive, the acting is strong, the score is effective, and the use of character actors like Richard Lynch and Jonathon Schaech is nice without being distracting. The thing that really stands out though is Chrome Skull. He's a tall, vicious son of a bitch who kills without mercy, and enjoys recording his work. He also has a nifty mask, and is smarter and more resourceful than most slasher villains. Another nice touch is that we are never given a clear motive for his actions, other than the fact that he's just a homicidal serial killer. This works because this isn't a movie looking for explanations. It's simple and to the point, and that's all it really needs to be.

Unfortunately, the movie does suffer some problems. For one thing, there's no real scares in this. A rather lame complaint I know, but there are moments that are atmospheric and capture a sense of dread, but they never pay off, leaving the viewer a little cheated. Also, it occasionally veers too close to torture territory. It doesn't do this much, but when it does, it's distracting and clashes with the tone of the film.

It won't win any awards for originality (most slasher movies won't either), but "Laid to Rest" is a shockingly impressive slasher movie that won't be looked at as a classic, but get's the job done better than many recent movies of it's ilk.

Rating: 7/10

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

To say "Jaws" had an affect on the Exploitation genre in the 70's and early 80's would be an understatement. After that movie, everyone was doing a "nature run amok" flick-some of which are considered classics ("Piranha", "Kingdom of the Spiders") while others were misfires (John Frankenheimer's "Prophecy") that still maintain a cult following. Then there are movies like William R. Stromberg's 1977 movie "The Crater Lake Monster", which offer nothing whatsoever, and are largely forgotten for a very good reason.

A meteor crashes into Oregon's Crater Lake, unearthing a prehistoric egg which of course hatches, awakening an Plesiosaur that beging to snack on some of the townsfolk. Can the town stop this aquatic menace? How long can the audience put up with Arnie and Mitch (Glen Roberts and Mitch Kowalski), our comic relief?

From beginning to end, "The Crater Lake Monster" is beyond a chore to sit through. The stock music soundtrack is annoying, the acting is grating, pacing that's not just slow, but molasses rolling down a grassy hill slow, some of the worst attempts at comic relief I've ever seen, and small but generic dashes of blood are beyond obnoxious. Even the stop-motion creature lacks charm, and can't save this snoozfest.

Then there's Arnie and Mitch. These two character's are beyond awful, and are so bad they should count as a crime against humanity. They ogle women, get in comedic "fights", and basically act like jack asses. These are exactly the kind of people I've spent my life avoiding. Why would I want to sit through a movie that spends so much time with them?

There is pretty much nothing that I can recommend in "The Crater Lake Monster." Everything about it ranges from forgettable to just terrible. In the field of low budget regional fair from the 70's, this is essentially bottom of the barrel crap. In the end of the movie, Arnie dies (even that can't save this movie), and Mitch is left alone, saying "Damn you Arnie." Damn you Arnie indeed. And Damn this movie.

Rating: 0/10

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dead Snow (2009)

Two of the best and most influential horror movies of the 80's are Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" and it's sequel. Sure, other movies mixed gore and gallows humor in the past, but these went even further-especially "Evil Dead II." Here was a movie that laughed right in the face of the conventional status of most movies-even horror comedy movies-and mixed the gory thrills with a surreal, almost "Three Stooges" like quality of slapstick. Since then, many a movie-Peter Jackson's "Braindead", the "Crank" movies, Ngai Kim Lam's Kung-Fu Splatter Flick "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky" to name a few-have used this movie as a template to go completely bonkers. While Tommy Wirkola's Norwegian Nazi Zombie Comedy "Dead Snow" isn't as fun as the aforementioned movies, it sits up their with the likes of "Evil Aliens" and "Dead & Breakfast" as a none too original but worthy film of the style.

The plot takes something that's been done so many times now, it's beyond plagiarism: Some dumb kids (here medical students) go to a cabin, and run into zombies-Nazi Zombies in this case.

So yes, it's all been done before. But in this case, who cares? Sure, some of the references to older, better horror movies (Do we really need two people talking about 80's horror movies and a guy in a "Braindead" shirt?) tend to get really annoying, but this is one of those cases in which familiarity does not breed contempt, because Wirkola directs the whole thing with enough relish, energy and entertaining gore gags (the best being a man hanging from a Zombie's intestines that must be seen to be believed) to make the whole thing a lot of fun. Plus it helps that the actors in this are actually pretty good, and that the electronic score helps to compliment the snowy Norwegian atmosphere.

Oh, and it's really funny. Out of all of the Nazi Zombie movies I've seen, this one is the funniest. The more it goes on, and the gorier it gets, the funnier it gets. It's impossible to not get swept away in this world were an impossible number of zombie soldiers rise from their cold graves while our heroes dispatch the fascist walking cadavers with a chainsaw and other nifty ways.

Nobody is going to give "Dead Snow" points for originality, and that's just fine. It just wants to be an energetic, fun and funny splatter-fest, and in that respect, I salute it-but not in the way the zombies in it salute...

Rating: 8/10

The Corpse Grinders (1971)

The reason Ed Wood get's more attention than most incompetent directors of the past is because he had delusions that what he was doing was really art. Other, possibly equally incompetent director's of exploitation movies had no real delusions of grandeur towards what they were doing. They knew they were doing low to no budget schlock geared towards undiscriminating audiences back in the day. One of these directors of hokey stupidity was Ted V. Mikels. Mikels toiled around for years, releasing such "classics" as "The Black Klansman", the Mystery Science Theater flick "The Girl in the Gold Boots", "The Astro Zombies", "Blood Orgy of the She Devils" and "Ten Violent Women." I've never seen "Klansman", so I can't judge it on it's own merits (though I'm sure it's terrible), but I have seen his inept but utterly mind bending 1971 movie "The Corpse Grinders."

The plot is utterly ridiculous, even in the annals of 70's exploitation. So here it goes.

The Lotus Cat Food Company has found itself in dire straits when they are hit with financial problems. Before you can sing the "Meow Mix" jingle, they find a new, cheaper source for meat to put in the cat food-human corpses from the graveyard! So with the help of the handy dandy Corpse Grinding Machine (actually, cardboard boxes posing as a machine, but who's counting?), they are able to get the job done. Well, things soon start to turn sour when the cats start to develop a taste for human flesh, and start attacking their owners.

If you wanted proof that cheesy, no-budget horror existed before the camcorder era, then "The Corpse Grinders" is proof of that as it's an amazingly cheap exploitation movie. The acting and dialogue (the movie was co-written by Arch Hall Sr. of "Eegah!" infamy) is below community theater levels bad, while the sets are clearly made out of cardboard and construction paper. The score sounds like it came from an old Monogram flick. There is gore, but the effects are barely adequate, and used too sparingly. We even get a "deaf" woman using sign language that she's clearly making up on the spot.

In spite of all of this, the movie is clueless to the point of being charming. I mean, this is the absolute pits, but it's also the best movie Mikels ever did (which says something), and the all around cheapness and exploitative nature (plenty of women lounging around wearing very little, the mere idea of cute little house cats killing their owners) makes for an amusing experience. It also helps that the whole thing is mercifully short at 72 minutes, so it doesn't exactly waste anybodies time.

Nobody is going to mistake "The Corpse Grinders" for a good movie. Hell, it's a very bad movie. That out of the way, it's not detestably bad, as it's a quick, trashy affair that might please fans of no-budget schlock. A sequel to the movie was released in 2000, and I haven't seen it-nor will I ever. I pity those that do/did though.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wrong Side of Town (2010)

Lionsgate is known for many things: Releasing controversial movies ("Irreversible", "O", "American Psycho"), prestige pictures that get award attention ("Precious", "Crash", "Away From Her") and of course Horror movies (too many to count-though that genre has unfortunately taken something of a back seat as far as theatrical releases are concerned.) But the one thing people tend to forget to associate Lionsgate with is Straight to DVD movies. For who knows how long, Lionsgate has been giving the world the best (well, usually worst or most mediocre) in straight to DVD Horror, Action and general Exploitation. David (the absolutely abysmal "Last House on the Left" rip off "Chaos") DeFalco now gets into this market with "Wrong Side of Town", a really bad but at least laughable blend of Wrestlesploitation (B-Movie with a Professional Wrestler(s)) and Rapsploitation (B-Movie with a Rapper(s).)

Bobby Kalinowsky (Rob Van Dam) is living a peaceful life with his wife and daughter, when they are invited to a night club run by a corrupt crime lord named Seth (Jerry Katz.) When his wife is nearly raped by Seth's coked up younger brother, Bobby comes in to save to day-and inadvertently kills the guy. None to pleased by this turn of events, Seth puts a bounty on Bobby's head, and hires local gangs (which include R&B singer Omarian, rapper Ja Rule and wrestler Viscera) to hunt him down. Thing is, Bobby is an ex-navy seal, and knows how to fight back. He knows he can't go at it alone though, so he turns to his old buddy Big Ronnie (Dave Bautista) for help.

First thing's first: "Wrong Side of Town" is not anywhere near as bad as DeFalco's prior movie "Chaos", as it's nowhere near as downbeat or ugly as that film. It's still an inept exercise though, with atrocious acting (more on that in the next paragraph), poorly choreographed action scenes, poor direction, heavily advertised actors not getting particularly huge roles (Ja Rule is barely in it, and probably wondering what the hell happened to his career in that he has ended up having a small role in a terrible Straight to DVD movie from the director of "Chaos", and Bautista, despite getting top billing, is barely in the thing), bad editing, and so much more. Sure, you can throw in all the nudity (including a cameo from porn star Stormy Daniels) and action you can, but that doesn't make the movie good.

And back to the acting. Oh boy, it is atrocious. Nobody in this movie can act worth a damn-especially star Rob Van Dam, who acts stiff and boring to the point that you wonder if he's an inanimate object and not a living being. In fact, the terrible acting ends up becoming the sole saving grace of this movie, as it becomes hilarious. My stomach actually hurt from laughing so hard, especially when we first meet the character of Big Ronnie. It's almost worth cherishing in that respect.

Apart from it's casting, there is no real distinguishing "Wrong Side of Town" from any other bad Straight to DVD action movie from Lionsgate. Everything from the low rent "James Bond" inspired opening credits to everything else on display is low rent to the point of inanity. That out of the way, if shitty Straight to DVD action movies are your thing, and if you want a good laugh out of cinematic ineptitude, then by all means watch this. Besides, it's not everyday that you get to see Ja Rule get shot in the head. That I can applaud.

Rating: 2.5/10

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Flesh Eaters (1962)

Believe it or not, exploitation existed well before the Grindhouse theaters. Yep, from the 30's to the early 60's, people were releasing trashy exploitation with gratuitous nudity and the occasional gory thrills (see Dwain Esper's inane but very amusing 1934 flick "Maniac" for example.) The late 50's and early 60's were also an era in which less low rent fair (such as the pivotal French classic "Eyes Without a Face" and the British Horror favorite "Fiend Without a Face") showed audiences more than they expected in the blood letting department.

But this isn't about movies that appeal to the Criterion crowd, this is about the exploitation movies. Low Budget flicks at the time were beginning to push the envelope as far as gore was concerned. "The Monster of Piedras Blancas" showed audiences bloody severed heads, while the inane MST3K favorite "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" gave us brain surgery and other moments and Herschel Gordon Lewis broke all the rules with "Blood Feast." Another movie in this tradition is Jack Curtis' 1962 flick "The Flesh Eaters."

Hard luck charter pilot Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders) has to fly a bitchy. alcoholic actress (Rita Morley) and her sexy assistant Jan (Barbara Wilkin) to Provincetown. What do you know, mechanical problems and an impending storm causes them to land on a deserted island, where German scientist Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck*) resides. Thing is, he's got a rather dark past (shocking I know) and it involves flesh eating microbes that surround the island.

In the field of Proto-Grindhouse Exploitation, "The Flesh Eaters" is something of a classic. The cast is mostly strong, with Morley doing a good job as actress Laura Winters, finding a great way to make her a controlling bitch while offering her brief moments of vulnerability. Wilkin is decent, though it's obvious that she's been cast mainly for her figure (she even takes her shirt off-no nudity, but it's the thought that counts I guess.) Kosleck does a good job with his role, though he looks and sounds a lot like fellow German actor Udo Kier. As for the gore effects, well, they won't cause many to lose their appetites, and they aren't too graphic, but few movies at the time showed flesh being eaten away from the bone, and there's a certain charm to the cheap effects on display.

If the movie does suffer any problems, it's in Ray Tudor as Omar, a white, Jive talking Hipster (the 50's and 60's type, not the type of today) who serves as our comic relief. Every time He opens his mouth, you just want to cringe, and you are happy when he kicks the bucket in what's also the best death in the movie.

Interestingly, this would be the only movie directed by Curtis, who went on to be the voice of Pops on "Speed Racer." It's something of a shame, because "The Flesh Eaters" is a capably directed (well, more so than other exploitation films of the time) and acted little B-Movie that's a must for fans of low budget horror of the era.

Rating: 8/10

*Kosleck escaped Germany in the 30's during the Nazi regime, only to end up playing a former Nazi in this movie. Irony can be a cruel bitch sometimes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ghost Lake (2004)

The idea of the aquatic zombie has been one that always fascinated me. Starting in short fiction, it wasn't until 1957 with "The Zombies of Mora Tau" that it came to the screen. This continued with Ken Wiederhorn's 1977 cult favorite "Shock Waves", Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2", Jean Rollin's uber sleazy but ultimately lukewarm "Zombie Lake", George Robotham's obscure "Dark Echoes" and even George A. Romero himself getting into it with "Land of the Dead." The idea of the undead dragging victims into a watery grave or simply rising to attack others is a unique premise, and one that Jay Woelfel tried in 2004 with "Ghost Lake." Too bad the end result is one of the weaker entries.

Rebecca Haster (Taturn Adair) is a grieving woman dealing with the death of her parents who goes to an upstate New York cottage owned by her parents to spend time to herself. She meets a man named Stan James (Timothy Prindle), who is a nominee for "most generic character name ever", and decides to pick up this stranger. She also starts to see supernatural images of people drowning. Turns out that there's a reason for this. Years ago, many people drowned while a dam was being constructed, and they will soon rise to claim some victims.

The movie does have these things going for it-plenty of atmosphere and the zombies. The dead here are rather creepy, taking on a more ghostly presence than one of a gang of mindless flesh eaters. Hell, the things owe very little to Romero or his contemporaries (apart from the obligatory backlit shot of the walking dead), as the movie aims for a more atmospheric style than a splatter movie. Unfortunately, that's all it has going for it.

For one thing, the movie is entirely too long at 112 minutes. If the whole thing had been 30 minutes shorter, this would be more excusable, but the length ends up making the movie a hassle to sit through. It also doesn't help that nobody here can act worth a damn in this movie, particualarly Adair, who can't act terrified in a convincing way at all. Horror movies like this need actors that are at least competent enough to carry it, but nobody here is. The movie may have tons of atmosphere, but after a while, it becomes obvious that it doesn't know what to do with all of it, and there's nothing worse than wasted atmosphere. To make matters worse, the score by Woelfel is really bad and repetitive, and ended up annoying me.

It's obvious that the director was aiming to do something different than the usual straight to video zombie flick, so he should at least be commended for that. However, the whole thing is just too lackluster to recommend, and probably won't gain more than a minor cult following in the future. Chalk it up an an ambitious failure.

Rating: 2.5/10