Sunday, June 27, 2010

Backwoods (2008)

The thing about having a hit movie-even one that's not a hit in theaters-is that you are going to be imitated. Take the Rob Schmidt film "Wrong Turn" for example. It didn't exactly tear it up in the box office, but it was an enjoyable tribute to the Backwoods horror cycle of old that proved to be a hit on DVD. So it was inevitable for a series of imitators to come into play, as movies such as "Lake Dead" and "Timber Falls" offered nothing new or entertaining for those who enjoy such movies. While Marty Weiss' made for TV movie "Backwoods" (quite the original title there Bucky O' Hare) is better than those movies, it's still not a particularly interesting viewing experience.

In Los Angeles, Video Game honcho Johnny Dash (Chris Zimmerman, whose character name sounds like that of the drummer of an 80's Hair Metal band-"Here's Johnny Dash, drummer of Steel Gunn!") has invited some of his employees (including Hillary Duff's sister Haylie) to a paintball game at a corporate retreat on the Northern California woods. Since this movie is called "Backwoods", they end up running afoul a group of inbred psychopaths who want the women for breeding.

To be fair to "Backwoods", the direction and editing is surprisingly competent, and there are several moments in which Weiss manages to get some good mileage out of the woodland areas as a place where evil doings are occurring. The acting is also better than expected, with Duff in particular doing a good job with her role, even if there isn't a whole lot to her character. Oh, and since it's a made for TV movie, it's not going to be a particularly graphic affair, but we do get a few nice moments such as an arrow through the neck.

That's where the positive aspects end though. As a whole, the whole movie is the same thing you've seen before with backwoods horror movies of the last few years, with torture, cliched rednecks, attempted rape and other such acts occurring aplenty. Again, it's not that graphic, but you've seen this done so many times already that it all feels the same, as if you've seen this before, and done better. Hell, it feels more like it's imitating those movies at times, even going far enough to whole sale rip off the "Going into the scary house" scene from "Wrong Turn" and it's sequel. Oh, and while I'm used to it in horror, do we really need another "Backwoods religious fanatic" plot point? It's been done to death already, and adds nothing to the movie. Finally, there's the inbred rednecks themselves. Remember how great those types of guys looked in "Wrong Turn" and it's sequel? Well, you won't get any of that here, as the make-up is rather poor to say the least.

"Backwoods" certainly earns it's title, but doesn't earn any points for originality. Granted, I'm not expecting that from a movie like this, but come on, give me a little more to feed on instead of this. I want some ribs, not the leftovers.

Rating: 3/10

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Classic Poster Art: The Centerfold Girls (1974)

The Severed Heads Network (2000)

The problem with a lot of independent/underground production companies these days is that it feels like many of them cater to the same audiences. Just throw in some cheap gore, some nudity and some really bad jokes and music, and you can call it a day. That's not the case with Wicked Pixel. While I'm not a fan of theirs (the one film from them I have seen, "Ice From the Sun", ended up feeling too much like a student film trying to shock audiences), I do admire the fact that they aren't doing movies to cater to audience expectations. They are doing what they want to do, such as the anthology "The Severed Heads Network."

Actually, it's not really an anthology. It's actually a collection of short films from the guys. So, how do they measure up? Well, let's rate and review!

First, it's "Vomire" by Chad Eivans. This is an odd, experimental and plotless venture featuring blasphemy, odd images and footage from slaughter houses. This is probably the weakest of the films, as it's just too pretentious and obnoxious to enjoy, not to mention tedious in a "look how edgy I am" way. 1/10

Next on the table is "Faith in Nothing" by Eric Stanze. This is actually a music video for a group called Analogue Satellite. It's essentially a girl in various stages of undress and some creative camera work. Not terrible, but not great either. 5/10

Tommy Biondo's "Satisfaction" is a hard to watch film due to it's use of hardcore sex and rape. That out of the way, the acting is pretty good and the climax is memorable. It just didn't win me over. 5.5/10

Time for another music video. This time it's the Tom Tevlin directed "Unwanted" for the band Purple Screwdriver. I just couldn't get into it-the direction is fine, the the whole "Man chased by his inner demons" thing just seemed lame. 3.5/10

Jason Christ's (nice name) 5 minute short "Victim" has a predictable conclusion, but it's the first good short in the collection, as it's a neat twist on the old "kids stalked by a killer" scenerio. 7/10

Sedgewick" by Steven M. Lashly is the best film in the collection. Dealing with a man suffering from dementia in a grocery store. it's a creepy, unsettling little ditty that get's under your skin thanks to it's assured direction and ability to capture a nightmarish atmosphere, with a little black humor to help out. 8/10

Aaron Crozier gives us something different with "Liontown", an unusual black comedy/musical about a group of animals who end up getting eaten by lions, hence the title. It's a bit too goofy at times, but it's a nice change in pace that got a few chuckles out of me. 7.5/10

Lastly it's another music video. This time it's "Curveball: A Pile of Junk" directed by Jason Christ. There's some nice images here, but like"Unwanted", I ended up wondering what the point of it was. 3.5/10

As a whole, there are things to like about "The Severed Heads Network," and as I said, it's refreshing to see this kind of ambition and originality in underground horror. The problem though, is that it ends up feeling too ambitious for it's own good, at times aiming too much to be weird for the sake of weirdness , not to mention pretentious. Which is a shame, as I really wanted to like this a little more. It's just that it ended up letting me down quite a bit.

Not all hope is lost, as films #5-#7 make for fine viewing. Just skip the other titles, and you'll probably enjoy it. As a whole however-it doesn't gel.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Jean Rollin Zombie Trilogy: The Living Dead Girl (1982)

The vampire films of Jean Rollin are the definition of cult favorites. While some tend to sneer at them, others have noticed an undeniable artistry in them. Much like the lesbian vampire films Hammer did, the films have a poetic blend of Gothic trappings and unabashed eroticism, only with more bloodshed than those films. While I've reviewed his zombie films so far, none of those have that erotic content. Than can't be said for "The Living Dead Girl", a unique blend of the two that while not great like "The Grapes of Death", is still a fine conclusion for the trilogy.

After an Earthquake causes a toxic spill, Catherine (Françoise Blanchard) has come back from the dead. Wandering the French countryside, she ends up in a castle, and runs into her old friend Hélène (Marina Pierro.) Unfortunatetly for Catherine, she now needs blood to live, and Hélène is more than willing to bring fresh victims to the castle.

As I said, "The Living Dead Girl" is an interesting mix of the zombie and vampire genres. While she doesn't have fangs and can walk in daylight, she does need to drink blood to survive. That little tidbit aside, there's still a lot to like about the film. Like Rollins' vampire films, there is an impressive blend of potent eroticism, graphic bloodshed (Catherine really gets into drinking blood) and eerie atmosphere. The lesbianism on display-well, there's no denying it's hot, but it's filmed and directed in such a way that it feels almost like you are watching an art film. It also helps that the acting is impressive, with Blanchard managing to create a sympathetic monster who hates what she's become, and Pierro adding levity as the best friend who wants her friend to stay, yet doesn't know the pain she is causing her.

Flaws? Well, there are a few. The conclusion just kind of happens, as there isn't any real feeling of closure to the film. The problem that sticks out the most however is Carina Barone and Mike Marshall as two photographers. Everything involving them feels intrusive, and I was left wondering "Why are they here?" Even their eventual fate at the end feels oddly out of place.

Still, "The Living Dead Girl" makes for a fine conclusion to Rollins' zombie trilogy, and is required viewing for fans of French horror. Just don't bother telling me "She's not really a zombie" though, because that argument has gotten old. She's sort of a zombie. That matters enough.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Jean Rollin Zombie Trilogy: Zombie Lake (1981)

The Nazi is the ultimate unsympathetic figure in cinema. I mean, they're Nazi's. Nobody is going to like or sympathize with them, and for very good reason. I guess that's why the Nazi is such an often used figure in the world of horror, especially zombie films. From Ken Wiederhorn's cult favorite "Shock Waves" and Jess Franco's abysmal "Oasis of the Zombies", the idea of undead fascists has served as a cold, stark and oddly entrancing monster. One of the director's to take a stab at this sub-genre was Jean Rollin with the Eurocine production "Zombie Lake", the second entry in his zombie trilogy. Too bad the end result may be his weakest film.

In a small French village, German soldiers were killed by the bad-asses from the French Resistance and dumped into a lake. Thing is, said Nazi's are now coming back as zombies, attacking the villagers-or at least does that are attractive naked women. Also, a girl in the village figures into the plot as well, as her father returns from his watery grave.

It sounds like a lot of fun, but "Zombie Lake" is actually a serious bore. None of the zombie make-up is realistic whatsoever. It's essentially a group of men whose faces are painted green in a poor attempt to pass as a horde of walking corpses. It also doesn't help that said make-up effects tend to melt off from time to time. Even the copious nudity on display doesn't help, as it lacks the poetic eroticism of Rollin's other films. I'm all for sleaze, but when a director known for his artistic take on erotic horror can't deliver on that, one can't help but be annoyed.

Hell, little of the movie feels anything like a Jean Rollin movie. You can tell he did the movie simply for the money, as the film offers no real ambition or spirit. Instead you get lazy direction and a horrible story which offers no attempts at trying to engage the audience. It just goes through the motions, feeling more like the aforementioned "Oasis of the Zombies" than one of Rollin's more Gothic and poetic horrors.

"Zombie Lake" is a huge misfire that shows a director on a bad day, as it lacks anything worth recommending. Maybe undemanding fans of European sleaze will buy it, but for me it's just too dull and uneventful to watch again.

Rating: 1/10

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Jean Rollin Zombie Trilogy: The Grapes of Death (1978)

For fans of Euro Horror, Jean Rollin needs no introduction. A long time director, he's mostly known for his vampire films, which mixed eroticism with bloody violence and Gothic atmosphere in a combination that was as poetic and oddly beautiful as it was grotesque. However, one mustn't forget his three entries into the world of zombie movies, two of which are worth checking out. The one that is about to be reviewed is his first entry in the trilogy, 1978's "The Grapes of Death."

Elisabeth (Rollin regular Marie-Georges Pascal) is in the French countryside when something is happening. It seems that a pesticide has been sprayed in the vineyards, and it's having a bad effect on the populace. One that's causing them to become violent, zombie like killers. Can she find a way out before they can get to her?

From the get go, it's a bit of a leap to really call the zombies in "The Grapes of Death" zombies. If anything, they're more reminiscent of the infected populace from George Romero's "The Crazies" (only with the ability to recognize what they are doing and whatnot) and the pseudo-zombies from Umberto Lenzi's "Nightmare City." The film does hold a social conscience not unlike Romero's work though, especially when it comes to ecological and environmental issues. The "dead" here are not the real villains. Sure, they kill, torture and maim with zeal, but the true villain in "Grapes" is mankind itself, in particular it's ignorance and arrogance towards the environment. The infected townspeople may be the main threat, but the finger of blame remains on those responsible for the catastrophic events that transpire.

Apart from that, this has many of the hallmarks of that has made Rollin's work so revered among horror fans and students of the genre. It's got the Gothic atmosphere (the use of a very creepy blind girl, the countryside is used effectively as a place were death lives) and the sadistic violence (including nasty moments such as an impalement with a pitchfork and a nasty beheading), but it lacks in the erotic beauty of his other works. That's just fine though, as it's still one of his best works, as well as one of his more straightforward films.

The tone and feel of the movie is strikingly conventional for a Rollin movie-well, as conventional as he could be at least, and it's also capably directed, with moments of sheer suspense and violence that show just how versed in the art of fear the director is. The moment in which the blind girl meets her fate is possible the best example of this. While most directors would linger on the scene without any emotional investment, Rollins cinematography and capable direction creates a scene of pure terror and potent sorrow. The viewer doesn't want anything to happen to her, and at the same time, they realize that the townsfolk are victims too.

As I said, "The Grapes of Death" is one of the director's finest works, and one of the best zombie films of the 70's. For those that wonder what French horror was like before the likes of "High Tension" and "Martyrs", this is a great place to look.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

I'd think that by now I should expect more. What I mean is this: I've been watching horror and exploitation for God knows how long. I should know that a great title can lure you in, but it won't make for a fun movie. Sure, there's exceptions to the rule, but there are also so many other titles that offer fun titles, which promise all kinds of fun, but in the end just don't deliver. Case in point: Michel Levesque's 1971 Horror/Biker flick hybrid "Werewolves on Wheels"

The plot goes a little something like this: a biker gang runs into a monastery, and run into a group of black robed Satan worshipers. The monks try to persuade one of the females in the gang to be a sacrifice, but the gang will have none of that. The jokes on them though, as the ritual has possessed the girl, causing her to become a werewolf.

On paper, "Werewolves on Wheels" sounds like a blast. It's got a fun soundtrack, a little gore, goofy werewolf make-up, Satanic rituals that are more funny than scary, and some unapologetic female nudity. That out of the way, there are some serious padding issues. It feels like it takes forever for things to happen, and whenever something does happen, the viewer is then subjected to constant conversations about nothing, painful attempts at acting, poorly choreographed fight scenes. It also feels like the whole werewolf sub-plot isn't exploited enough. We don't get much werewolf action until nearing the end, and the majority of it just feels like a dull biker movie.

And speaking of dull, the biker gang themselves may be the most dull one in movie history. They constantly biker and talk about things nobody cares about, and the viewer just sits there, waiting for there to be some more werewolf action. Yet there isn't much. It's a movie that promises the viewer "Werewolves on Wheels", but you wish there was more of the former than the latter. Or at least an equal time devoted to both.

I wish I could like "Werewolves on Wheels" more, as it has various elements that should make it fun. Sadly, it doesn't do a lot with what it has, instead making the viewer more impatient than excited.

Rating: 2/10

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Samurai Princess (2009)

In case you didn't know, Japanese Horror has changed since the earlier parts of the last decade. Sure, there were films like "Ichi The Killer" and the ongoing wave of Japanese Zombie flicks, but for much of the last decade, the country was largely known for it's supernatural creep fests with long haired ghost girls and mounting dread. While that was fun for a while, it eventually went the way of many fads/sub-genres of horror-yesterday's news. You can only see a pale supernatural force so much until you get bored.

So what's the new-wave of Japanese Horror at the moment? Splatter Comedy flicks. Movies that owe largely to the likes of old Troma movies, Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" and the like than they do old Japanese Urban Legends and haunted TV's or whatever. Flicks such as "The Machine Girl", "Tokyo Gore Police" and the upcoming "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl" have defined this new era, and Kengo Kaji's "Samurai Princess" is one of the latest in this new trend.

The plot takes place in an alternate universe Japan, in which a our titular heroine (adult film actress Aino Kishi) was one a normal girl. That is, until a group of rapists had their way with her friends and left her for dead. Oh, and a mad scientist has fused the souls of her dead friends, implanted them into her, and turned her into a vengeful cyborg. Wackiness and arterial spray ensues.

From the get go, "Samurai Princess" is utterly bug-fuck insane. It has chainsaw legs, wacky villainous sidekicks (the mad scientist has a gaggle of fan girl types following him wherever he goes-it's actually a lot funnier than it sounds), evil monsters, a pair of breasts that double as grenades (yes, you read that right), a man wielding a guitar that doubles as a sword and a chainsaw, and so much more. It's also shockingly funny as times, with some amusing gags thrown in, as well as the non-stop insanity making sure that you never grow bored. It also helps that the gore never wears out it's welcome-quite the contrary in fact, as each set piece is bonkers and all around entertaining.

Yet, the whole thing ends up feeling kind of like the sum of it's parts. One major flaw is the production values. While I normally don't complain about poor production values in genre fair, the Shot on Video style left me feeling a little let down, as it would have benefited from better editing, camera work and whatnot. Also, the performances are really hit and miss, with Aino Kishi being a bit bland as our heroine (though the fact that she's willing to disrobe doesn't hurt the least). The biggest flaw though, is the poor fight choreography. Films like this need fight scenes that can hold up with the movie, and here they just can't.

In the end, it's a flawed movie, but for rainy weekend fair, "Samurai Princess" makes for a fun time. If Troma made a "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" episode, it would probably resemble this.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Plague of the Zombies (1966)

In hindsight, it's interesting to see zombie movies that were released before "Night of the Living Dead." It was still a time of firsts-"Zombies of Mora-Tau" gave the world the first aquatic zombie flick, "Zombies on Broadway" gave the world it's first "zombedy", and racist bullshit like "King of the Zombies" ended up being largely forgotten for good reason. However, there were some strong titles in this era-Jacques Tourneur gave the world the brilliant "I Walked With a Zombie", and then there's Hammer Films' entry, the 1966 film "I Walked With a Zombie."

When young workers are dying in a mysterious epidemic in ye old Cornwell, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell, who played Watson in "The Hound of Baskersvilles) goes on to investigate. It turns out that the dead are coming back to life thanks to Squire Hamilton (John Carson), who has been using voodoo to bring them back as slaves to work in the mines and do his bidding.

"Plague of the Zombies" is an essential zombie film for a number of reasons. It may not be a gory movie, but it's Gothic atmosphere more than makes up for it. The dead themselves are creepy, almost mindless drones that work and stalk en masse, predating the hordes of the dead Romero would use in his films-one wouldn't be shocked if "Plague" was a big influence on "Night of the Living Dead." It's also very well acted film, with most of the cast delivering fine performances, with Carson in particular making for a fun villain. Oh, and the zombie make-up is great, and much better looking than the type found in earlier films.

That out of the way, the most striking thing about the movie is it's social commentary. The fact that Hamilton is bringing the dead back to work for him has a striking political subtext of the selfish aristocracy and their exploitation of the working class that is positively Marxist. Sorry George, but as far as the zombie as a tool for Left Wing political commentary goes, Hammer did it first.

All in all, "Plague of the Zombies" is a must for zombie fans and fans of British Horror in general, that's also smarter than most zombie films that came before or during that time. See it if you want a good, creepy flick with some smart things to say.

Rating: 9/10

Hammer would return to the world of the dead with the campy but fun 1974 Kung-Fu/Horror hybrid "Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires", which was also one of their last movies.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

From Within (2008)

I've always found religious nuts to be despicable. You know, the kind of assholes who try to force their religious views on others. The same guys who go around bombing abortion clinics and ranting about how they think homosexuality is an abomination. Those guys. Maybe it's just common sense, or maybe it's just the liberal in me, but I hate those guys.

Small rant out of the way, it's not the least surprising that these kinds of psychopaths are common in horror. I sometimes wonder if Stephen King would have a career without them. A more recent film that looks at this phenomenon is Phedon Papamichael's 2008 tale "From Within."

In a small Maryland town, there has been an outbreak in teen suicides that spreads after one person sees said suicide. A young teen named Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) thinks that their is a connection between this and a wiccan teen named Aidan (Thomas Dekker), who also the brother of the tormented kid who offed himself before all of these shenanigans took place. Meanwhile, the Bible-Thumping townsfolk have decided to take matters into their own hands.

"From Within" those have some strengths going for it. Some of the performances are quite strong, with Rice and Dekker making for likable leads. Adam Goldberg steals the show however, clearly having the time of his life playing against type as the psychopathic redneck Roy. There's also a nice aura of mystery to the proceedings, not to mention a great downbeat ending that put a smile on my face.

That out of the way, the film ends up feeling like a missed opportunity. For one thing, there isn't a whole lot that's scary here. Instead of doing something with it's intriguing premise, the movie ends up mining from cliches found in many a late 90's/early to mid 00's Japanese horror flicks that you've seen done a thousand times before. Also, while I'm all for seeing religious nuts being portrayed in a negative light, there isn't a thing that differentiates them from any other group of religious nuts you've seen done a thousand times before in flicks like this. At least pretend to give them some characterization beyond "Damn the sinners!" tropes. Other horror movies have dealt with such issues before in a much more intelligent manner. This one offers nothing new to the table.

The biggest flaw though, is the fact that so many of the characters in this movie behave unrealistically. There's no sense of panic in the townspeople, and this is a town with an epidemic of suicides. They instead turn to going after witches, and even have themselves a little witch hunt, all while shrugging off said suicides. There's no believable motivation to their actions, and it's annoying as hell (pun intended.)

It's a shame really, as "From Within" is a movie that has plenty of potential. It just squanders it with an over-reliance on cliches and a general lack of urgency. Kinda sad really, as I didn't hate it at all. I was just left thinking "That was it? That could have been so much better."

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Carnival of Blood (1970)

To say Herschel Gordon Lewis had an impact on horror would be an understatement-maybe the ultimate one. If it wasn't for him, many of the graphic horrors that we have today would probably not exist. That out of the way, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have had many of the odd knock offs and movies inspired by his work-films like "The Ghastly Ones", "The Undertaker and His Pals" and "The Corpse Grinders" all played in drive ins and the Deuce at 42nd Street back in the day-all clearly inspired by Lewis' brand of gory mayhem. One of the films that typifies this kind of horror flick is Leonard Kirtman's 1970 cheapie "Carnival of Blood."

At a Coney Island Carnival, somebody is killing off very annoying female customers. So, it's up to DA Dan Nolastnamegiven (Martin Barlorski) and his hot girlfriend Laura (Judith Renick) to find out whose behind all of this. So who is it? Is it the Fortune Teller (Kally Mills)? The mentally retarded and deformed Paulie (Burt Young of "Rocky" fame, in a "sensitive" portrayl)? Or is it the bald guy with serious mother issues (Earle Edgerton)? Also, why are so many of the woman here annoying, and why would a Gypsy have a portrait of Jesus?

From the get go, "Carnival of Blood" is not a good movie. The acting is uniformly terrible, and rarely in a so bad it's good way. The direction is mostly inept to the point of laughter. The score is made up of repetative electronic music cues and really bad hippie dippy folk music that annoys the viewer. The conclusion is laughable at best, and the gore effects are too infrequent, not to mention laughably fake.

Yet in spite of it's many flaws, it remains oddly watchable. One of the main reasons is the carnival itself. The whole thing is low rent and sleazy, and really captures most of what makes these kinds of cheap carnivals what they are-from the rude customers to the sketchy characters and the not exactly good food. Also, the cheap gore effects have a strange, low rent charm, and the movie actually gets away with a nice scene involving a teddy bear stuffed with intestines. It's funny seeing that it got a PG rating back in the day. Oh, and then there's Earle Edgerton as Tom. While his performance is bad, it's at least amusingly bad. Everything from a flashback to other attempts to build pathos for his character fails, but dammit if he doesn't try. There's something almost admirable about that.

Can I recommend "Carnival of Blood"? Not really, as it's rather boring at times, and doesn't live up to it's promise. That out of the way, if no-budget exploitation is your thing, then you can do a whole lot worse as far as rentals go.

Rating: 5/10

Fun fact: "Carnival of Blood" is one of two horror movies Leonard Kirtman wrote and directed-the other was the horrible and unwatchable "Curse of the Headless Horseman." He does have plenty of credits as a director, producer and writer for adult films though.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Don't Answer The Phone (1980)

Some of the old Grindhouse movies leave you wanting to take a shower after it's all said and done. Many of the films of this nature ("Maniac", "The Toolbox Murders", "Don't Go in the House") are just ugly beasts. They are vicious, questionable, possibly misogynistic, and all around scuzzy, like a man trying to pick a fight with you. Yet, several of these movies have an undeniable edge to them, thanks to strong performances, a pervasive, dread filled ambiance and a look and professional feel to them. One of the movies of this era that almost joins the ranks of these movies is Robert Hammer's nasty but all around flawed 1980 film "Don't Answer the Phone!"

A deeply disturbed Vietnam veteran named Kirk Smith (Nicholas Worth) has taken a shining to strangling scantily clad women in Los Angeles, all while taunting a young psychologist named Lindsey Gale (Flo Lawrence) on the radio. Can Lt. Chris McCabe (James Westmoreland) stop this deranged lunatic?

From the get go, "Don't Answer the Phone" is a rough little movie. It's not the goriest movie, but the murder scenes are queasy, voyeuristic and all around sadistic, making the viewer feel very uncomfortable, which is clearly the intent. That out of the way, Worth does a great job as the psychopath. A veteran character actor, he really bites into the role, creating the portrait of a man you wouldn't want to run into for many reasons. Byron Allred contributes a great old school electronic score which complements the sleazy proceedings quite well.

Sadly, that's were the good aspects end. The movie ends up suffering from several flaws, such as the misplaced comic relief. For a movie that wants to provoke and offend sensibilities so much, it almost feels like it's afraid it will go too far, and ends up using poorly timed comic relief to pad things out. It also doesn't help that the other performances are pretty weak, and don't really offer anything as far as characters are concerned. Gail in particular is a weak character-a stereotypical, weak liberal type who doesn't stand a chance without the help of the more conservative cop characters. Even the direction feels lackluster. While other movies of this nature were pretty questionable, they at least felt like they were under capable hands. This just feels like a jumbled mess from a director whose unsure of himself.

In the end, "Don't Answer the Phone" is a movie caught between two worlds: it wants to be a grim psychological study, but it doesn't seem very sure of itself. It's an ultimately uneven viewing experience that might be of interest to those curious of what kind of movies played in the likes of 42nd Street back in the day, but if you already know what kind of exploitation fair was shown back in the day, then you probably don't need to see this, as there are better examples.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Candy Snatchers (1973)

I tend to think that the term "cult movie" lost a lot of it's meaning when "Snakes on a Plane" came out. Not a knock on that movie by any means. I say this because this marked the point when the media would label any movie coming out that was "outside of the norm" so to speak a "cult movie." Granted, this happened before this, but this is when it really started to get annoying.

To me, a cult movie-a real cult movie-doesn't gain said label right away. It takes time for a movie to gain that label. It needs a small but devoted audience ("The Evil Dead" may still be a cult movie, but I personally think it's lost a little of it's cult appeal now that so many people know of the movie-though it is still a classic in it's own right), something that makes it stand out from the mainstream, and that leaves a lasting impression on said small audience. It may not be a perfect movie, but it needs that special something. A perfect example of a movie that earns the name "cult movie" is Guerdon Trueblood's 1973 Grindhouse favorite "The Candy Snatchers."

A teenage heiress (Susan Sennett, playing a 14 year old but clearly in her early 20's) is kidnapped by a trio of thugs (one of them played by former Playboy Centerfold Tiffany Bolling) who want some diamonds from her stepfather Avery (Ben Piazza). Then some problems arise-a mute autistic boy named Sean (the director's son Christopher) sees what's going on, problems among the trio arise when greed and violence start to raise their ugly heads, and Avery doesn't care all that much about Candy anyways.

"The Candy Snatchers" is a mean, gritty and sleazy affair that's a real treat for exploitation fans. It's got all kinds of immoral behavior (kidnapping, rape and murder), gratuitous female nudity, and a nihilistic tone. It's also a capably acted little movie, Bolling, Brad David and Vincent Martorano all delivering fine performances, managing to play their characters monstrous at one moment, then strikingly human the next with ease (Martorano also deserves attention for his wonderfully tacky shirt that say "Coors: It's What's For Breakfast!") Attention should also be given to Christopher Trueblood as Shawn, who manages to play the character with surprising depth for a child actor. Add a downbeat conclusion and a really fun score by Robert Drasnin, and you have a hit.

Well, not everything hits. There are moments of humor involving Shawn that really clash with the tone of the movie. This is a dark exploitation movie. It doesn't need light hearted laughs. Also, the sole sore thumb in the acting department are Shawn's Parents, especially his mother. The actress playing her is incredibly shrill and over the top, and really got on my nerves.

But those are minor complaints. "The Candy Snatchers" as a whole is a well directed and (mostly) well acted piece of exploitation that should please fans of the style, and will hopefully gain more fans in the future. As I said, it certainly earns it's "cult movie" status.

Rating: 8/10