Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eaten Alive (1980)

Though he dabbled in zombies, violent police flicks, gialli and a sundry of other exploitation styles, Umberto Lenzi is mostly known for his contributions to the Italian cannibal cycle. It makes sense really-he made the first one of it's type in 1972 with "The Man From Deep River", and gained further notoriety with the 1981 film "Cannibal Ferox." Another entry into this vicious sub-genre Lenzi gave the world was his 1980 film "Eaten Alive", which has no relation to Tobe Hooper's 1977 of the same name, though the latter movie is a superior product, while this is mean spirited but ultimately unsatisfying exploitation.

Sheila Morris (Janet Agren) decides to team up with an adventurer and Vietnam Vet named Mark (Pornstar and Italian cannibal veteran Robert Kerman) to try and find her sister who has gone missing in the jungles of New Guinea. What she ends up running into a religious cult led by a deranged preacher named Jonas Melvyn (Ivan Rassimov) who has located his commune in a village inhabited by cannibals. The usual shenanigans ensue.

Though featuring a cast of exploitation veterans (Kerman, Rassimov, Mel Ferer and Me Me Lai), hardly anybody in "Eaten Alive" seems to act well...alive. Okay, Kerman is fine, but everyone else seems to be performing on auto-dial, practically sleepwalking through their roles. Also, while all the usual tropes of Italian cannibal flicks-animal cruelty (always hated that), gore, rape, a racist depiction of natives as savages and cannibalism-are on display, little of this is able to gain much attention. That's largely because the direction is so choppy, even feeling a need to include stock footage for whatever reason. Plus, people used to this kind of fair have seen this before, and done better believe it or not.

To be fair, there are worst examples in this sub-genre, especially from other directors. Hell, the final attack by the cannibals is gory and surprisingly suspenseful (even though you really don't feel for any of these people), and managed to gain my interest for a good while. Oh, and being an Italian flick, there is no shock that the score (by Roberto Donati and Fiamma Magilone) is a lot of fun, and at times catchy.

So "Eaten Alive" isn't totally worthless, but whether or not it's for you depends on who the viewer is. If you like your exploitation fair with a mean edge no matter how competent or incompetent it is, then this is totally for you. Others however will find this cannibal feast to be a meal that doesn't fill them up much.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

I'm actually shocked that so far I haven't covered Italian horror in this blog, especially the Italian cannibal and zombie films of the 70's and 80's. I could explain the two sub-genres, but such has been done to death at this point. So instead I'll just go into this review of Marino Girolami's combination of the two genres "Zombie Holocaust" (released in the US as "Dr. Butcher MD: Medical Deviate") without a long explanation.

In New York (well, an Italian exploitation director's version of New York) where someone has been stealing body parts from the hospital. It seems that Anthropologist Lori Ridgeway (Alexandra Delli Colli) has noticed what looks like an ancient tribal sign, which leads to her and Dr. Peter Chandler ("Zombi 2" star Ian McCulloch) into an expedition into the Moluccas Islands. Along the way, the meet Dr. Obrero (a wonderfully over the top Dan O'Brien) and a tribe of cannibals. Oh, and Obrero has been up to some experiments...

In a lot of ways, "Zombie Holocaust" is a summary of many of the things that make Italian trash films so much fun. It's got gore, some impressive death scenes (including a choice bit involving a boat motor), nudity, a fun score, bad acting, and a devil may care attitude towards things like logic or characterization. In short, it's a combination of "Zombi 2" and "Eaten Alive" (not the Tobe Hooper film.) The film also has the advantage of having a rather nasty sense of humor, which is something lacking in many Italian genre films. O'Brien helps with the films tone, delivering a fun, scenery chewing performance that steals the show from the rest of the cast. Oh, and if the animal cruelty prevelent in many Italian cannibal films bothers you, then you'll be relieved to know that there is none of that here.

If the film has any serious problem, it's the zombies themselves. While the bad make-up effects are a bit annoying, the big flaw is that they aren't much of a threat. They don't do a whole lot, and feel too much like an afterthought, like the director just threw them in without any idea on how to use them.

Is "Zombie Holocaust" a good movie? From a traditional standpoint, the answer is no. The cast is mostly bland, the zombies feel underused, and it at times doesn't feel too professionally done. As an exploitation film though, it succeed with flying colors, and delivers what fans of this kind of fair want.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bronson (2008)

The problem with a lot of movies that are based on a true story is that they are genuinely terrible. Sure, films like "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer", "Monster" and several others have made it work, but then there are films like "B.T.K.", several Ulli Lommel disasters, and crap like "Bundy" polluting DVD shelves across America. I guess that's why I'm so grateful for Nicolas Winding Refn's (The "Pusher" trilogy) creative bio-pic "Bronson", which while not a horror film, is an original portrait of a man you wouldn't like to know.

Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy) didn't have a rough life. He was raised by a pair of well-to-do parents, suffered no traumas or abuse, and had a decent upbringing. Sure, he was prone to violent outbursts, but other than that, he was fine. Well, he's sentenced to 7 years after trying to rob a bank-which becomes 30 years in solitary confinement due to being prone to beating guards to death and having a hostage every now and then. This is all told through his alter ego, known as "Charles Bronson."

"Bronson" is interesting in particular due to how different it is. Instead of offering the doldrums of his life or weighing in on morality and messages, it uses a rather experimental and almost non-traditional take on his life via monologues to an "audience", animation and plenty of other techniques. It also helps considerably that it avoids the sensationalism that these types of movies tend to fall into. Best of all is Hardy, who is a revelation as "Bronson." He's charismatic, charming, and scary all at once. He's a fascinating anti-hero of sorts-not the least bit sympathetic at all, but managing to paint a portrait of an intelligent man who just happens to have a thing for violence.

If it does fall through any problems, it's that it at times feels a bit too much like another British indie flick. It offers so many fascinating artistic choices, but at times, when it tries to settle down a little, it loses a little bit of steam, and almost feels conventional-though it thankfully offers not a whole lot of that, and allows business to pick up soon afterward.

Is "Bronson" a perfect movie? No, but it makes for an impressive film from a talented director and an actor who delivers a knock out performance. See it if you have the chance.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Unhinged (1982)

The thing about 80's slashers is that to get to the good and great ones, you have to wade through a marsh of shit. Sure, films like "The Burning" and "Just Before Dawn" are close to fans hearts for very good reason, but for every "Friday the 13th IV", there are unwatchable disasters like "The Prey" and "Doom Asylum" that make one wonder why they watch these movies.

Then there's Don Gronquist's "Unhinged." One of the movies that made the UK's "Video Nasty" list due to it's cover art, the movie has garnered a mixed reputation. Some see it as one of the worst representations of the slasher genre, while others see it as a neglected gem. To tell the truth, this is a case where neither is really correct.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Three college girls are on there way to a Jazz festival, when their care crashes in the woods during a rainstorm. They end up finding what seems at first like hospitality from a family in an old mansion. This being a slasher movie, things soon turn south.

The problem with "Unhinged"-well, one of them, is that it's a mostly lackluster affair. The directing is choppy for the large part, while the acting is bad even for slasher movie standards. It also doesn't help that it is sloooooow moving to the point of tedium. I'm all for slow moving horror, but I have my limits. There's also a twist at the end that's borderline insulting, and is one of the worst lifts from "Psycho" I've ever seen. One wonders what those involved were thinking when they wrote this.

Yet, there are some bright spots. Though there are only three death scenes, they are actually quite violent and interesting, and manage to keep the viewers interest-even though it feels like they've come in too late. The electronic score by Jon Newton is also great, and probably one of the most underrated scores in slasher movie history. Finally, there are some fairly creepy moments in the movie, and it uses it's atmosphere quite well in places.

Still, the bad outweighs the good unfortunately. Should you see it? Well, if you are obsessed with 80's slasher movies, then yes you should see it. Otherwise, you really aren't missing a whole lot. Not one of the worst slasher movies ever, but not exactly a good one either.

Rating: 4.5/10

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010)

Greek mythology is awesome. Seriously-Zeus, Hercules, Icarus, The Hydra, etc-it's the definition of totally bad ass. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with this kind of thing, and I still hold a special place in my heart for it. So I guess that's why the original "Clash of the Titans" was so pretty much one of my favorite movies as a kid. sure, The Kraken wasn't originally in Greek Mythology, and it was more of a squid like entity, and looking back, it was a fun but hardly perfect movie, but that's okay. Unfortunately not okay is the new remake of said movie, which is a major letdown.

The skinny on the plot: The gods, particularly Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes) have noticed something-man is not too happy with them, and are turning on them as well. So, it's time to remind mankind the order of thing, which will involve the son of Hades-The Kraken in this case-laying waste to mankind. But there is a man who is destined to stop the monster-Perseus (Sam Worthington) who with the help of some soldiers, must embark on an epic quest.

There are a few things to enjoy about the new "Clash of the Titans", and it certainly didn't make me angry per say. The Kraken itself is awesome, and many of the visuals and designs are fun. It's also nice to see that like in those old stories, the gods are assholes. The trailer says "Damn the Gods", but watching it, I though "To hell with that, Fuck the Gods."

But for every thing it does get right, it still comes up short. The acting is mostly unremarkable, with Worthington being particularly bland (though Perseus was bland in the original), and Fiennes and Neeson seeming to be in a competition to see who can overact the most-Fiennes wins, but just barely. The direction and editing is also messy-the whole thing is edited in a way that it at times resembles the world's longest, most expensive metal music video, but sadly not in a good way. The battles and action scenes are occasionally fun, but mostly feel too much like theyd belong in every other dull Hollywood blockbuster movie.

Which leads to the film's biggest flaw-it's so hollow. Sure, there's big monsters and spectacle on the screen, but it lacks the heart and enthusiasm of the original. The original was a good example of a popcorn movie done right-nothing spectacular, but fun in it's own right. The new one though, is just another Hollywood movie without much that stands out, and not a whole lot that is memorable. It's mostly a whole lot of nothing.

In the end, there's not a whole lot to hate about the new "Clash of the Titans", but that's because there isn't a whole lot to feel about it either way. It's practically the definition of "whatever."

Rating: 4/10

Friday, April 9, 2010

Not On DVD Yet

Thanks to DVD and Blu-Ray, many an obscure and sought after horror movie has become available once again. Yet, some titles still remain elusive in the US. Here's some genre fair that deserves DVD treatment, preferably with a special edition

Blood Diner (1987)

Though not exactly the most competent or best directed movie, "Blood Diner" nonetheless deserves a DVD release. A tribute/pseudo remake/pseudo sequel to Herschel Gordon Lewis' "Blood Feast", "Diner" is one of the strangest and most surreal horror comedy movies of the 80's that has garnered a devoted cult following. I should know-I'm a part of it.

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Though mostly known for having Taafe O'Connell getting raped and devoured by a giant space worm, "Galaxy" also has a solid genre cast (Robert Englund! Sid Haig! Zalman King!), some creative death scenes, and best of all, the girl who played Joanie on "Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi" having her head reduced to gore.

Night of the Demon (1980)

Mixing the Bigfoot movie with slasher mayhem, "Demons" might not be the best movie, but it's blend of creative death scenes and pure sleaze has made this a much sought after slice of unapologetic exploitation.

Rolling Vengeance (1987)

80's action cheese doesn't come any cornier than this Canadian export. After his family is killed and his girlfriend is raped, Big Joe Russo (Lawrence Dane) decides to get payback with the help of his Monster Truck. Look at it as "Road House" meets a "Deliverance" knock off.

Death Weekend (1976)

Considered a classic in the rape/revenge cycle, "Weekend" is bolstered by being a surprisingly smart exploitation film that looks at issues such as misogyny, class struggle and gender roles, as well as some interesting character development and satisfying payback.

Blood Salvage (1990)

A dark humored hicksploitation movie, "Salvage" is a shockingly entertaining film complete with appearances from fine character actors (Danny Nelson! John Saxon!) and a cameo from the one and only Evander Holyfield.

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

One of the best vampire films of the 90's, "Skin" turned out to be a favorite with critics, and has a then unknown Viggo Mortensen. It's a real shame that this Gothic Horror classic remains unavailable on DVD. Let's cross our fingers and hope.

The Uninvited (1944)

Why is this movie-one of the first serious supernatural horror films-unavailable on DVD? I mean, Martin Scorcese considers it one of the best horror movies of all time, and it's a must for fans of "The Haunting" and other chilling horror tales.

Paperhouse (1988)

Another critical darling unavailable on DVD, Bernard ("Candyman") Rose's subtle tale of a girl who can enter another world has been languishing for far too long. A haunting, lyrical film that demands your attention, and deserves a DVD release.

Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1966)

Come on, it's got Christopher Lee, vampires, werewolves, voodoo, killer vines, disembodied hands, and a ghastly sense of fun. Plus, it's an anthology film from Amicus. What's not to love?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Girly (1970)

The psychotic woman is one of horror's most well known tropes. From the old actress of "Whatever happened to Baby Jane" to the scorned lover of "Fatal Attraction" and the psychosexual madness of Asami in "Audition", hell have no fury like a woman in general. Like in many sub-genres, there are forgotten gems-in this sub-genre, it's Freddie Francis' 1970 Brit Horror oddity "Girly."

Meet Girly (Vanessa Howard). She lives with Mumsy (Ursula Howells-hey, same last name!), Nanny (Pat Heywood) and Sonny (Howard Trevor). Her and the family have a nice little hobby-they like to invite men over for games, and then kill off said men. Well, they meet a new friend (Michael Bryant), whose different than the others. You see, he's a smart, scheming man whose got a few tricks up his sleeve, and it's going to turn everyone's world upside-down.

A strange but intriguing black comedy that received critical acclaim but languished in obscurity, "Girly" is something of a minor miracle that at times resembles an R-rated version of those old Disney movies that starred British thespians like Julie Andrews. Those hoping for gore will walk out disappointed, but that's just fine. "Girly" works because of the way it plays with viewer expectations. In most movies, you'd expect the "friend" to be put through endless scenes of torture, but not here. By making this man much more cunning than characters like this usually are, the film pulls the rug out from under the viewer, proving that like this "friend", it's a lot smarter than other psychotic family movies.

It also helps that the acting is strong. Howard steals the show as Girly, adding a teasing sexuality and mixing it with a not so hidden sense of menace and insanity-ah hell, the girl is nuts, and it's a lot of fun to watch. Bryant is also great, and plays with viewer expectations. Trevor also makes for a fun psychopath, clearly having the time of his life with the role, while Howells and Heywood manage to underplay their characters while simultaneously making them just as mad as Girly and Sonny.

For fans of the odd and obscure, "Girly" is something of an instant classic that has been unknown for far too long. It's on DVD now, so check it out, as it's a real diamond in the rough.

Rating: 9/10