Sunday, October 31, 2010

Demons (1985)

To end the month of October, I think it's time for me to take a look at one of my favorite party horror movies. Usually, these kinds of movies are fun, but they don't exactly come off as classics - they're fun if not exactly great films. Fortunately, there are exceptions to this rule, as movies such as "The Return of the Living Dead", "The Night of the Creeps" and "Evil Dead II" for example have shown. Well, Mario Bava's son Lamberto and Producer/Co-Writer Dario Argento gave the world just that with the movie "Demons."

The plot really isn't all that spectacular - a group of people are invited to watch a new horror movie about demons thanks to a mysterious masked man (Michael Soavi.) Well, one of the lady friends (Geretta Giancarlo) of a Pimp Named Tony(Bobby Rhodes), who bares no relation to A Pimp Named Slickback from "The Boondocks", scratches her face on a mask. Bad news of course, as she starts to turn into a demon of sorts, and soon, the infection starts to spread. Oh, and there's those dumb metal head/punk kids outside.

So yeah, "Demons" is basically various zombie movie cliches mixed with a somewhat dumb "Evil Dead" knock off. To be fair, "Demons" probably won't appeal to everyone. It's unapologetic in how harebrained it is, features music from the likes of Motley Crue, Go West and Billy Idol, and the whole thing lacks a cohesive plot or any real characterization. However, these things actually suit the film perfectly. While Bava actually shows some skill here, with some creative camera work and a great use of color schemes, the movie has no serious artistic aspirations. This is a movie that wants to entertain, and dammit if it doesn't.

And there's so much here to love. The gore is nasty (gouged out eyes, torn out throat, oozing pus, and much more) and very well done by Rosario Prestopino, and Claudio Simmonetti's score is a blast, mixing his usual electronic atmospherics with a slight dance touch (the title theme is pretty sweet.) Plus, the whole thing is done with so much gutso. It's basically Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento going completely nuts with ideas (original are derivative) and going out of their way to make a completely unhinged fun house of horrors. Then there's the dumb punk kids in the car. At one point, they indulge in the best product placement ever - snorting cocaine out of an empty coke can. I doubt Coca-Cola were thrilled by this, but like the whole movie, it's so ridiculous that it's awesome.

As a dumb, head-banging horror flick, "Demons" is one of the best ever, and is a must for fans of the wacky and fun side of the genre. If you haven't seen it yet, then what are you waiting for?

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Hammer found the hit they needed with 1970's "The Vampire Lovers." A loose retelling of Sheridan Le Fan's "Carmilla", the film mixed the studio's atmospheric trademarks and haunting Gothic horror with new levels of violence and (especially) eroticism that struck a chord with audiences, and pretty much kicked off the lesbian vampire craze. So, like other hits the studio had with their takes on Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy, the studio decided to capitalize on the success of this movie. Sadly, what we got was "Lust for a Vampire", which proves that all the T&A in the world can't always save a movie.

"Lust" opens with a woman being sacrificed by Count Karnstein (played by-oh God no-Mike Raven) to resurrect Carmilla (Yutte Stensgaard, replacing Ingrid Pitt.) Well, it looks like they've got a new Finishing School full of female victims, as well as a handsome author named Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) whose taken interest in Carmilla and the more Lestrange Headmaster Giles Barton (Ralph Bates) who really wants to be the vampire family's minion.

Though there are some pluses-a few eerie moments (the image of Carmilla walking off into the fog is haunting), a few fine performances from several Hammer regulars, the obligatory female nudity and an impressive score from Harry Robinson, but "Lust for the Vampire" is a rather limp affair. This is largely due to the lackluster direction from Jimmy Sangster and anemic screenplay by Tudor Gates. Sangster is well respected for writing screenplays for some of Hammer's finest movies, such as "The Curse of Frankenstein", "The Horror of Dracula" and "The Mummy", but as a director he just seems uninterested with the whole affair (indeed, he's gone on to dismiss the movie), making it all feel more like generic Erotic Horror instead of a Hammer movie-and the use of stock footage from one of the studio's Dracula films, as well as the poor production values sure don't help matters much. Gates' screenplay meanwhile, is full of plot holes and lapses in logic. Here, vampires can walk around during the day, and Carmilla has gone from a predatory but also almost human monster to a bland bisexual girl.

Also worth noting is that most of the performances here are really bad. Sure, Johnson and Suzanna Leigh do fine in their roles, but Yutte Stensgaard is really hit and miss as Carmilla. There's moment's where she shows promise, but she's too poorly written, and her cross eyed throes of ecstasy look is more bound to draw laughs than scares. That's nothing compared to Ralph Bates, whose melodramatic performance as a man who really wants to be Carmilla's servant is hilarious, as is his awful hair. At least those involved had the decency to keep Mike Raven's role small, as he's only in the movie's opening and conclusion. Plus, the fact that his voice has been dubbed over by actor Valentine Dyall is probably a blessing in disguise.

Hammer would give the world one more lesbian vampire film with "Twins of Evil" that same year (I have no idea if that's available on DVD in the U.S.-let me know if it is), but this is just a poor film. I wanted to like it at times, but it's just too bland, poorly directed, written and acted to enjoy. See "The Vampire Lovers", a Jean Rollins vampire film or "Vampyres" if you want a better fix of Sapphic undead girls.

Rating: 3.5/10

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

The lesbian vampire really came into prominence in the 70's. Sure, it had been around before, with the Sheridan Le Fanu novella "Carmilla", and films like "Blood and Roses", but the 70's is when this particular sub-genre peaked. Jean Rollin made a career out of these movies (he'd been doing it since the late 60's), and movies like Jess Franco's "Vamyros Lesbos"and José Ramón Larraz's classic "Vampyres" have become beloved cult classics.

Hammer on the other hand, would be the last studio that you would expect to enter this sub-genre. The studio was mostly known for it's modestly bloody updates of classic horror monsters, Gothic horror yarns and intelligent Science Fiction films. Yet by the time 1970 came along, the studio had begun to see that things were changing in the horror market. So, they took a chance by taking on "Carmilla" and adding stronger (well, for the time) amounts of sex and violence into a film with "The Vampire Lovers."

When a countess is away to attend to a sick friend, her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) arrives as a house guest. However, villagers are showing up dead, and Laura (Pippa Steel), the daughter of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) is very ill and pale. Fortunately, Marcilla is there to take care of her-and she has a very special interest in Laura.

While I've mentioned in the past that Hammer had some difficulty with keeping up with the times, "The Vampire Lovers" is proof that the studio could still pull off a nice, Gothic horror yarn and at the same time could give newer, hungrier audiences a bit more. Sure, the requisite bloody neck bites, fog drenched atmosphere and haunting menace the studio is known for is here, but this movie, as I mentioned earlier, is stronger in the sex and violence department. The violence is a bit more graphic (bloodier than usual decapitations are on display), and there's plenty of very unapologetic use of female nudity, especially from Pitt, who bares all and looks great doing it. Also, while not as graphic as other lesbian vampire flicks, what you get should still please exploitation fans.

Yet, this is no mere exploitation. The direction by Hammer vet Roy Wade Baker* is solid throughout, and makes the best of it's setting, and manages to wring every drip of atmosphere that he can from the proceedings without losing sight of what the movie is. It's also at times almost reminiscent of the doomed romanticism of Jean Rollins' vampire films (This movie was a big influence on Rollins), with Marcilla/Carmilla's feelings for Laura feeling genuine instead of just "Hey, girls on girls man!" Plus, Pitt does a great job in her role, making the vampire both sympathetic and predatory without overacting her role.

Needless to say, Hammer hit pay dirt with this movie, and gave the world two more lesbian vampire films a year later in "Lust for a Vampire" (which featured-horror of horrors-Mike Raven) and "Twins of Evil" (which featured Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson.)

Rating: 8.5/10

*Though he'd done several Hammer movies, Baker is mostly known for directing the classic film "A Night to Remember." His other credits include the Marilyn Monroe films "Don't Bother to Knock" and "I'll Never Forget You", among several others.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

"The Count is back with an eye for London's Hot Pants - And a Taste for Everything."

To quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin'. Sadly, that didn't work for Hammer. The venerable studio had made a huge name for itself in the 50's and 60's, but by the time the 70's came about, the public had started to take interest in other types of horror fare. At this time, genres like Giallo and films like "Night of the Living Dead" and "The Last House on the Left" were changing the name of the game. Suddenly, Frankenstein and Dracula seemed like old news to some. So, the studio decided to get with the times. Granted, the studio had proven they could get with the times thanks to films like "Vampire Lovers", but two years later, they would give the world a misfire in "Dracula A.D. 1972", which should just be seen just for the fact that somebody actually thought that this movie would be a good idea.

The film actually begins in fine fashion, as we are transported to London circa 1872, in which Dracula (Christopher Lee) and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) are fighting once again. The whole thing ends with the horse buggy crashing, and Dracula being impaled by the remains of a wooden wheel. Though the scene (and indeed the whole film) is scored by Manfred Mann member Michael Vickers in what sounds like leftover "Scooby Doo" music, it's all filmed as if it were one of Terence Fisher's essential Hammer horrors.

Cut to 100 years later, in which cops stop a party featuring a bunch of actors in their 30's playing teens, as well as something more evil and dastardly than Dracula himself-hippies. Granted, why anyone would want to stop a party with Caroline Munro and Stephanie Beacham is beyond me. What's also notable is that Hammer's usually keen eye for capturing generational and class conflict fails here, as you can't blame the older folks for throwing out these obnoxious hippies.

I really hate hippies.

Anywho, the cleverly named Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) decides to bring along some of these hippies for a black mass. Well, they don't conjure up Satan, but they do get the next best (or worst) thing-Dracula, and he has his eye on the Van Helsing house, particularly Jessica Van Helsing (Beacham) and Abraham Van Helsing, a distant relative of Dr. Van Helsing (Cushing again.)

There's a lot about the movie that falls flat-it mostly lacks atmosphere, has an inappropriate sounding score, has a dreadful performance from Neame, it often feels like "Austin Powers vs. Dracula", etc. The movies biggest problem though, is that it doesn't go far enough. The studio had shown prior to this that they could further as far as sex and violence is concerned. Here, in 1972, horror was starting to push boundaries, yet this movie just plays it too safe. I'm sorry, but a PG rated Dracula movie in this time just feels out of place. It reeks of a studio trying to stay with the changing times, but simultaneously feeling afraid to do so.

Still, it needs to be seen, as it's mostly hilarious. Sure, it's bad, but it's the kind of bad movie that's never a painful experience, with incredible dated dialogue ("Dig the music kids!"), poor fashion, and more somehow making this watchable and unintentionally gut busting. Plus, Lee and Cushing still come off with their dignity entact, with Cushing doing fine as a man who must beat the clock to stop the count, and Lee still maintaining the same imposing, evil performance that commands the screen whenever he's there (and sadly, that ain't much.)

As a curiosity, "Dracula A.D. 1972" is beyond any kind of proper rating. It lives in complete paradox-it's both dire to watch and one of the funniest films of the 70's, though it's not supposed to be. It really must be seen to be believed.

Rating: I Don't Know

While the film ends with "Rest in Final Peace", Hammer would bring Dracula back two more times-once for the equally misguided "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" and for the entertaining and energetic Shaw Bros. Kung-Fu mash-up "Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires" (which didn't feature Lee as Dracula.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Dead Next Door (1989)

If there's anything I hate, it's revisiting a movie I loved when I was a kid, then returning to it and realizing that it's not a very good movie. Case in point: "The Dead Next Door." The debut feature from micro-budget mainstay J.R. Bookwalter, it was made in the span of five years, shot on 8 mm camera, and financed and produced by Sam Raimi. The film was a revelation to me when I saw it as a teen. A made for next to nothing zombie movie that actually delivered and had some neat ideas! Well, I then learned there were tons of zombie movies like this, and though this is essentially the most well loved of the micro-budget zombie movies, revisiting it years later as a 27 year old man, I realize that it's just not a good movie.

The premise deals with the inevitable rise of the zombie apocalypse, and a government group called The Zombie Squad that must exterminate the scourge of the dead. Our heroes Raimi (ugh) (Pete Ferry), Mercer (Michael Grossi) and others soon head to Ohio, only to run afoul of a religious cult lead by Rev. Jones (really???) (Robert Kokai) who believe it is God's will to let the dead wipe out humanity. Well, Mercer get's infected, and a cure is provided by Dr. Moulsson (Bogdan Pecic), which has some pretty bad side effects. Also, you know Jones is evil because he wears sunglasses at night (DON'T MESS WITH A MAN IN SHADES!!!)

I really don't want to rip on "The Dead Next Door." The whole thing took years to complete, was clearly a labor of love for those involved, and it's easy to see why it's such a cult favorite among horror fans. It's all done with loads of energy and enthusiasm, and not only did Sam Raimi help fund it, but Bruce Campbell serves as one of the dubbed voices! Plus, the gore effects are incredible considering the budget (about $75,000) and a decent D.I.Y. cheap synthesizers and drum machine score by Bookwalter himself. Ripping on the movie almost makes me feel bad.

Alas, it's still not a good movie. The acting is all around terrible, and the script is poorly written, giving us uninteresting, unsympathetic and all around drab characters who make increasingly stupid decisions. Hell, Dr. Moulsson is a a really bland villain of sorts, basically playing the arrogant scientist cliche poorly. And what kind of scientist wears a trucker hat anyways? (there's a lot of bad "only in Ohio" fashions from the 80's here.) Jones by the way, is just another insane cult leader, and it really doesn't help that the cult themselves feel more like a mild inconvenience than a serious threat.

And speaking of the cult, this brings up another problem-the whole movie is inconsistent. At one moment, the cult is going on and on about what they believe to be God's wrath, and the next they're sacrificing women while wearing black robes. Seriously, what kind of cult is this? Then there's the zombies. At one moment they are shambling, then they are sprinting. And why is it that some can be killed via a bullet to the head or decapitation, and some can't? Finally, low-budget directors: please refrain from naming characters after well known directors and figures in horror. We get it, you love horror movies.

Again, I really don't want to be hard on "The Dead Next Door." It's obviously made for beer and cigarettes money, and everyone involved clearly gave it their all for years. Sadly, it didn't do it for me in the end. All the enthusiasm and love for the horror genre in the world doesn't mean you can do a good horror movie.

Rating: 4.5/10

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Subspecies (1991)

In the late 80's and early 90's, home video had become the place to go to for horror. Freddy and Jason had played themselves out, slasher movies were yesterday's news, and the big studios wanted little to do with horror. So that's where guys like Troma and many an independent distributor came in. Sure, the product wasn't always great (I'm pretty sure not many people hold fond memories of the likes of "Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator", no matter how great the title may have been), but it was still a product that people wanted.

Then there was Charles Band. A producer who had struck gold with the likes of "Re-Animator", "Trancers" and other titles with Empire Pictures, he eventually created Full Moon Pictures. Unlike other Direct to Video studios of the time, Full Moon movies felt like movies. They didn't rely on the cheap vomit and fart jokes Troma indulged in, nor did they count on cheap gore and enthusiasm over skill like many Direct to Video movies of the time. Their movies had an air of professionalism to them. They also gave the world two beloved franchises-"Puppet Master" and "Subspecies." So let's take a look at the first "Subspecies" movie, shall we?

"Subspecies" deals with an evil, ugly vampire named Radu (Anders Hove), who wants possession of an ancient relic called the Bloodstone, which holds the blood of saints. Oh, and he kills his father King Vladislav (Angus Schrimm, sporting a hilarious fright wig.) Meanwhile, three girls-two American and one Romanian-are in Romania to study it's culture, when a zoologist falls for American Girl Michele (Laura Mae Tate.) However, the zoologist is actually Radu's good half brother Stefan (Michael Watson) in disguise, and he must find a way to stop Radu.

"Subspecies" works mostly thanks to Hove as the evil Radu. In spite of his bad early 90's hair, he's a creepy, evil son of a bitch with very long fingers, bad hygiene issues (dude tends to drool) and creepy features. He's like an updated Nosferatu, and Hove plays the guy to a T, making him a memorable villain. Then there's the genuine authenticity of the whole thing. The castles, villages, ruins and graveyards all breathe life into the proceedings, and create an atmosphere that at times reminded me of a Hammer movie. It's also well directed by Ted Nicolaou, and has a great score, and you have a decent movie.

Wait, a decent one? Surely Joe, you make it sound excellent!

Well, apart from Hove and Schrimm (and Ivan J. Rado and Karl), nobody here really stands out. In fact, all of the females are really bland, and Stefan feels far too much like the kind of vampire that had been made popular by Anne Rice at the time-though the fact that he dresses like Dave Gahan circa "Violator" put a small smirk on my face. The ending is also leaves room for a sequel (it lead to several in fact), albeit in the lamest way imaginable. I'm sorry, but you shouldn't end a movie feeling like it has the intention to be a franchise. Then there's the Subspecies themselves. They are these little demon like things that come from the blood of Radu's fingers, and they're more cute than creepy. It really doesn't help when your instincts tell you to go "awww" when you see monsters.

"Subspecies" is decent enough though ultimately uneven Gothic horror fare made for weekends in which you have little else to watch. I wanted to like it more, as this is the second time I've seen it, and it's ultimately a movie I enjoyed more the first time than I did the second.

Rating: 6/10Ted Nicolau has directed many a movie for Charles Band, including all four "Subspecies" movies, their spin-off vehicle "Vampire Journals", many titles for Band's kids label Moonbeam, and the pre-Full Moon venture "Terrorvision." He also directed the awful "Blair Witch" ripoff "The St. Francisville Experiment."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965)

When people think of Italian zombie movies, they think of those gore drenched entries from the late 70's and 80's done by directors like Lucio Fulci. However, the walking dead had already been something of a staple in that country, with movies like the sword and sandals film "War of the Zombies", the Vincent Price vehicle "The Last Man in Earth" (more of a vampire film, but it influenced many a zombie film) and Jorge Grau's absolutely essential "The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue." Another pre-splatter era zombie film is Massimo Pupillo's 1965 entry "Terror Creatures from the Grave."

An attorney heads to an old, Gothic castle (always with the dilapidated castles in these movies) so he can settle the estate of it's now dead owner. The owner however, had some dark secrets involving dabbling in the occult and being able to summon the spirits of plague victims. Well, his ghost now resides in said castle, and he and some zombies are ready for payback.

"Terror Creatures from the Grave" has two major flaws that keep it from being great. First of all is the conclusion, which is the ultimate "well, here's your ending!" type of finish. The whole thing just ends, without any serious feeling of resolution to it. The biggest problem though, is the fact that you never see the zombies apart from their hands. I know that Pupillo was aiming for a "it was too horrible to show the audience" approach, but not even showing the dead is a total rip off.

Still, the movies not a total bust. The melodramatic dubbing is a hoot, and Pupillo proves to be a capable director who can capture a sense of Gothic unease and atmosphere that at it's best, almost reminded me of Mario Bava. Oh, and speaking of that director, it's nice to see Barbara Steele here. Another thing worthy of note is that for a Black and White horror movie, this can be strong stuff for it's type, with an acid melted face, plague related sores, and in the film's highlight, a wheelchair bound man killing himself with a sword, with the bloody aftermath (complete with intestines!) on unapologetic display.

As it stands, "Terror Creatures from the Grave" is a decent though minor entry in the pantheon of Italian horror. Give it an afternoon viewing, but don't expect to be amazed.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Night of the Demons (2009)

As of late, it feels like every horror movie from the 70's and 80's has been remade or will be remade. So far, we've gotten remakes of "A Nightmare on Elm Street", "Friday the 13th", "My Bloody Valentine" and more. Hell, even "I Spit on Your Grave" has been remade, which is something I never saw coming. So while many cry foul over this, what happens when a movie that while fun, isn't really a classic gets remade? Well, you might get Adam Gierasch's remake of "Night of the Demons", which really isn't that different in tone and spirit than the original.

The plot is pretty much the same as the original: a group of dumb teens played 20 and 30 somethings go to a party in a house with a dark past, hosted by Angela (Shannon Elizabeth.) A big difference-unlike the original, this is a party that you would love to be in, full of hot girls, loud music and plenty of booze. Well, the cops break this whole thing up, leaving behind Angela, Maddie (Monica Keena), Colin (Edward Furlong), Suzanne (Bobbi Sue Luther), Lily (Diora Baird), Dex (Michael Copon) and Jason (John F. Beach.) And, like the original, all hell breaks loose when the demons come out to play.

If the movie has anything working against it, it's that it feels the need to explain too much. One of the things that worked about the original was that it didn't feel the need to over explain everything to the audience. All we knew was that they were demons, they possessed you, and they hated dumb kids meddling where they shouldn't. That out of the way, it does have one thing the original didn't-decent to good performances. Granted, they aren't award worthy, but they work here, and everyone gives it their all without missing the mark. Plus, we get a few memorable new moments, including a nasty breast and face ripping and even demonic possession via anal sex. Demonic butt sex-there's a first (though Japan probably has probably done that in some cartoons many a time.)

Apart from that, well, as I said it really isn't a very different movie than the original. Sure, it has some more fun songs and thankfully doesn't remake the movie shot for shot (though we do get an updated version of the infamous lipstick scene and a Linnea Quigley cameo that pays homage to her introduction in the original), but in spirit and tone, it's the same beast. That means that it's a not particularly scary but fun for what it is ride, filled with gore, boobs, bad jokes and more. Most fans of the original probably won't feel betrayed, as it's a fine beer and pizza horror flick. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Crucible of Terror (1971)

Deep down, many horror fans want to act in a horror movie. I've romanticized over the idea, and I'm sure you have too. Here's the thing-many a time, people who want to be or try to be a big name in horror suck as actors. All the notable names in the genre either have experience in acting or became genre icons by sheer accident.

I bring all of this up because I want to talk about Mike Raven. He was a popular radio DJ and occult enthusiast who was also a huge horror fan. So, with Horror in Britain going through a slow decline in the 70's, some saw Raven as the next big horror star. That worked out as well as you think it would, as Raven gave bad performances in such movies as "Lust for the Vampire", "Disciple of Death" and this movie, 1971's "Crucible of Terror."

Raven stars as Victor Clare, an insane sculptor who kills a woman named Chi-San (cult actress Me Me Lai) and turns her into a sculpture. Well, James Davies (James Bolam) acquires some of Victor's work through his son Michael ("Raiders of the Lost Ark's" Ronald Lacey), who decides to set up a weekend with some folks at his dad's secluded cottage. As you can guess, people start getting knocked off.

Though it resembles a Giallo film and has some decent, bloody death scenes, "Crucible of Terror" is a bore. For one thing, the script and direction by Tom Parkinson (his sole writing and directing credit) is flat and uninvolved, with cheap sets and wooden acting dominating the proceedings. It also fails to do anything interesting with Victor's family, who are all unlikeable, obnoxious characters who lack anything resembling empathy, interest or investment, which makes their eventual fates more boring than interesting. Then there's Raven. It's been said many times that he resembles a poor man's Christopher Lee, but I disagree-that would be insulting to an actual poor man's Christopher Lee. His bug eyed, over dramatic performance can't even register on a camp level.

If you ask me, films like "Crucible of Terror" are living proof that you can't just automatically become a horror star. There's better British horror from the 70's, so why bother with this?

Rating: 2/10

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Assault of the Sasquatch (2010)

Bigfoot. He's out there some say. Me? I doubt it, but whatever. That hasn't stopped the big guy from being the subject of many independent and low-budget horror films. I could go on and on with the number of movies the big guy has been in (or in these cases, a guy in a monster suit), but that would take forever. So instead, I'll just get to reviewing "Assault of the Sasquatch", the latest from the guys at Synthetic Cinema International-you know, the same guys who made "Werewolf: The Devil's Hound" and "Banshee!!!"

Our movie begins with a bunch of stereotypical rednecks making traps-complete with pizza (*sigh*, this is going to be a long movie), and this goes about as well as you'd expect. Next thing you know, a bear poacher is being held in jail. Thing is, the impounded truck of his has a deadly secret-Sasquatch, whose now out of his natural environment. Add a cop and his daughter who don't exactly see eye to eye, a bad ass chick who can apparently kick the creature's ass, the man who killed said cop's wife, and what you get is "Assault on Precinct 13" with Bigfoot. Oh, and some terrible comic relief from two idiots searching for the hairy guy.

I will say this much: "Assault of the Sasquatch" is an improvement for the guys at Synthetic Cinema International. Here the direction isn't as over the top and migraine inducing as their prior works, the acting, while not great, is at least passable among some of the actors, the gore effects and kills are slightly more interesting, and I actually chuckled a bit on two occasions (the best scene in the movie involves a death via "Dead End" sign.)

Unfortunately, like their other movies, this is a movie that's in search of a tone. What exactly is this movie? Is it a horror comedy in the vein of Troma? A serious cop drama? An action horror hybrid? It doesn't seem to know what it is, and that makes for a jarring viewing experience. At one moment, we get Bigfoot stealing someone's pizza, then the next we get some drama involving the cop and his daughter, and then later on we get stuff like that and people fighting Bigfoot. It's a movie from people who had no idea what kind of movie they were making.

To make matters worse, most of the comedy here is stupid, and not the kind of "dumb but funny" stupid. I mean "Oh God why am I watching this" stupid. There are so many bad attempts at comedy, such as a bit involving a chihuahua and our intrepid duo of Bigfoot hunters failing to pick up chicks, that you want to tell the people behind the movie "Look, we really don't need any of this." Then there's the nerdy guys looking for Bigfoot-one in which is a skinny guy with glasses, and the other a fat guy* who constantly screams at the top of his lungs at any given moment. I hated these two so much, as they were like the non-inbred cousins of Arnie and Mitch from "The Crater Lake Monster." The fact that the movie devotes so much time to them should be counted as a criminal offense.

As a whole, I almost wanted to like "Assault of the Sasquatch" at times, as there's moments in here that come off as a reasonable enough B-Movie. However, the inconsistent tone, terrible jokes and obnoxious duo kept it from really doing anything.

Rating: 3/10

*Apparently, the fat guy is a bit of a Youtube sensation who refers to himself as "theduder." I have nothing to add other than that's an awesome name. Too bad he can't act.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Lost Continent (1968)

Though it's proven to be one of Hammer's greatest achievements, their adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out" proved to be a bit of a financial disappointment for the studio. So what now? Sure, the studio had been branching out in the world of the fantastic, with the likes of "She" and "One Million Years BC" proving they were capable of more than just Gothic horror tales, but the studio still needed something new. As great as their Dracula and Frankenstein tales may have been, audiences could only see Dracula die so many times. Well, the studio decided to take on another Dennis Wheatley novel in "Uncharted Seas", and call it "The Lost Continent." The end result isn't Hammer's finest moment, but it is one of their most over the top ones.

A cast of wholly unlikable characters (including Hammer vets Suzanna Leigh and Eric Porter) with many personal problems decide to get away from it all in a cruise ship. Well, a storm ends up leaving them stranded in the middle of the ocean, and they end up stranded on a long forgotten island. It's at this point that the movie goes from mundane to "holy shit what the hell am I watching?"

If there are problems plaguing "The Lost Continent", it's that everything that happens before they run into out of the ordinary problems is something of a test on ones patience, and that's because 1.) it's a bit boring, and 2.) as I mentioned, every one of these characters are unlikable. Seriously, how and why anyone would want to put up with this knobs is beyond me, as they do nothing but bicker, fight and drink. Okay, that last part isn't bad, but when it's people you'd want nothing to do with-not so much.

Thankfully, things start to get rolling when our "heroes" encounter some man eating seaweed. It's at this point that the film takes a turn for the totally insane and fun, and it's great that it does so. Sure, it's not particularly scary or atmospheric (save for the inevitable use of fog machines) but that doesn't matter when you've got: man eating seaweed, a giant octopus, a giant scorpion, a giant crab-and said monsters duking it out, Dana Gillespie and her gravity defying breasts, a creature that's a dead ringer for the sarlacc from "Return of the Jedi", and the lost descendants of Spanish conquistadors who are ruled over by a kid known as "El Supremo", which may beat "Vaginamyte" as the best name in genre movie history. So yeah, the movie becomes totally insane and hilarious as it goes along, and that's what makes it so much fun. So what if the script feels like it was written by a pair of 15 year old boys? That's just a part of the appeal.

Besides, there's a character named "El Supremo." Any complaints afterward seem useless.

In short, "The Lost Continent" might not be Hammer's finest hour, but who cares? Fans of ridiculous, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink genre fare will be in heaven. A shame that a sequel never happened, as "The Lost Continent II: The Legend of Supremo's Gold" would have been the bomb.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Classic Poster Art: Alien (1979)

The Gorgon (1964)

Ask a horror fan who Terence Fisher is, and the answer will probably be "That guy who did a bunch of Hammer movies." Granted, he did plenty of work outside of the horror genre (including "A Song for Tomorrow", "Distant Trumpet" and episodes of "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), he's mostly known for directing some very notable horror films for Hammer, including "The Horror of Dracula", "The Curse of Frankenstein", "The Hound of the Baskervilles" among them. He also did some non-franchise work, including "The Stranglers of Bombay", "House of Fright" and this 1964 feature, "The Gorgon."

In a small English village, people are dying in the most odd of circumstances-they are turning into stone. Well, Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) has come to town to clear the name of his dead son, and Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing) may know a bit too much about what's going on. Well, it turns out that people are turning into stone due to a mythological, snake-haired creature named Megaera (Prudence Hyman - *snicker*) aka. The Gorgon.

A rare example of Hammer not using one of the old Universal horror monsters for a change, "The Gorgon" is still pretty much what one would expect from a Hammer film-Gothic atmosphere, strong performances (Hammer always managed to get those in their movies), a fun score from James Bernard, and all the requisite Hammer vets (Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, etc.) all figure into the movie-and really, that's what makes these movies so great. The direction is top notch, and serves as a fine example of how the director was a master of capturing a creepy atmosphere. It also helps that while the movie is a bit slow at times, it's never really boring, and actually keeps you wondering what will happen next. Also, it cracks me up to no end that the term for being turned to stone by the creature is "Gorgonized."

If the movie does run into any problems, it's that the creature itself really isn't all that interesting or creepy. I'm sorry, but the make up job for The Gorgon is just rather poor, and just made me think "I waited all this time, and this is all I get?"

So while it's not Fisher's finest moment, "The Gorgon" is still a must see for fans of British Horror and Hammer in general. Oh, and I'm going to try and add "Gorgonized" into my vocabulary more often.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Knock, Knock (2007)

One of the most used sub-genres in the world of Independent Horror is the slasher movie. For some, all you need is a lot of gore, nudity, a masked killer, and voila! You have a slasher movie. The problem though, is that so many of these movies are pretty much terrible. I'm sorry, but it takes more than just gore and a few neat kills to make an interesting slasher movie in my opinion. Case in point, Joe Ariola's (*snicker*) 2007 film "Knock, Knock."

The plot is nothing you haven't seen before: A group of friends find themselves being knocked off one by one by a hulking masked killer. So, it's up to retired detective Mike (Antonio Mastrantonio) and rookie detective Billie Vega (Kim Taggart) to find out who it is.

There is one thing that stands out in "Knock, Knock." One is the gore effects. Long story short: they're fantastic, with intestines, impalement, and much more all being offered in graphic, grisly glory, and not at one moment looking bad (save for the poor make up job on the killer.)

And that's all that stands out. Sure, the gore is effective and realistic, but the kills are all done to the point of overkill. Sure, you kill a guy, but do you really need to saw off his limbs and head afterward? Everything else about the movie is really bad. The score is your textbook "we did this at home" affair, and the direction is all over the place, with all the slow motion screams, red tinted images and more I've come to expect.

Worst of all is the acting-if you could call it that. Look, I'm aware that slasher films are not known for Oscar caliber performances, but everyone here is awful, and everyone here has dreadful characterization, particularly Mike and his granddaughter Nikki (Joli Julianna.) All we know about their relationship is that he's a really hard worker (he didn't even attend his son's funeral), and that she's mad at him for it.

I could go on and on, but yeah, there's nothing here you haven't seen before, and done much better in the past. Rent "The Burning" or something like that instead of bothering with this.

Rating: 2/10

Night of Death! (1980)

One of the things I love about older European horror movies is that there are so many titles that deserve rediscovery. Sure, many horror fans know of the films of Jean Rollin, Dario Argento, and a sundry of others, yet other films like "The Bloodstained Shadow", "The Hanging Woman" and other little known entries remain largely in obscurity. Well, thanks to the miracle of DVD, more fans are getting to know these lost gems, and the 1980 French title "Night of Death!" is a reminder of why it's so great to look for forgotten titles.

Hélène (Betty Beckers) runs Deadlock House, an old folks home in the quiet French countryside. Well, Martine (Isabelle Goguey) is headed to Deadlock for a nursing position. Granted, the folks there are a bit odd, but there's nothing to worry about-except for their tendency to form mobs at night, get into physical fights, and the fact that they hold a dark secret to staying alive. Oh, and then there's the reports of "The Golden Needle Killer."

When you get down to it, nursing homes are creepy places, and "Night of Death!" know how to exploit this. The eerie manor and French countryside has a haunting, Gothic quality, and director Raphaël Delpard knows how to exploit this to it's full advantage-even moments of gore have a haunting aura to them. Hell, the fact that it has evil elderly people in it is a nice touch-it's an interesting answer to the old "evil children" cycle, and feels like a logical horror answer to the old conceit of the elderly eating the young, because here that's taken literally. Plus, most of it moves in a reasonable pace, with loose ends being answered instead of ignored, which is refreshing to see in a genre film.

If the movie runs into any walls, it's in the following factors: the conclusion and the acting. The last 10 minutes just become scene after scene of bloody violence, which interrupts the eerie proceedings beforehand, and feels out of place. Plus, pretty much everybody overacts in this. I know, it's a nursing home, and there are people who aren't sane, but come on, even those that aren't crazy overact, and it's more than a bit distracting.

For fans of French horror, "Night of Death!" is worth viewing. If Jean Rollin and S.F. Brownrigg collaborated on a project, it would most likely resemble this.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Night of the Sorcerers (1973)

In the world of Spanish horror, one of the directors whose most talked about is Amando De Ossorio. The reason for this is mostly due to the fact that he is the man who gave the world the "Blind Dead" films-atmospheric, exploitative and haunting films (well, except for the third one) about evil, eyeless Templar knights who come back from the grave. The films made him a renowned name in horror, even after his death. Yet people also tend to forget his other entries in the field of horror-the rather lamentable "The Sea Serpant", the largely forgotten "The Possessed", the middling vampire horror-comedy "Fangs of the Living Dead" and the enjoyable monster flick "The Lorelei's Grasp." Oh, and of course, this movie, the fun exploitation vehicle "The Night of the Sorcerers."

A group of researchers go into the heart of Africa. Thing is, the area has a dark secret: years ago, voodoo priests captured women for dark rites, whipping and decapitating them in the process. Also, for some reason or another this turns said women into leopard skin bikini wearing vampires. In a surprising turn of events, the voodoo priests are back, and shit's going to get real.

From the get go, some of today's audience probably will find "The Night of the Sorcerers" a bit objective. Though not exactly a member of the PC Police myself (it comes with watching this kind of thing), I can see why: the image of large black men in Africa torturing naked white women is something that puts a bit of a bad taste in one's mouth. Also, fans of the "Blind Dead" films may be let down by this venture, as it lacks much of the atmosphere and scares of those movies.

That parts just fine though, because it doesn't try to replicate the success of those movies, and it most likely isn't meant to scare anyone. This is a movie with the following

  • Hot European women-all in which end up in a state of undress at one point.
  • Hot vampire girls in leopard skin bikini's running in slow motion
  • Occult rites
  • Bloody death scenes
  • A total lack of logic
And so much more. This isn't meant to be taken as serious film-making. This is dumb, sleazy exploitation garbage made for undemanding audiences, and you know what? It's good at what it does. Amando De Ossorio knows what kind of film he's making, and clearly knew what those who frequented Grindhouse theaters and Drive-In's wanted, and he delivers.

It also helps that he was a talented director too, as he films the whole thing with vivid colors, requisite fog drenched night scenes and stylish, almost artistic violence. Plus, the acting is surprising good, with genre vets Simón Andreu, Maria Kosty, and Jess Franco regular Kali Hansa doing fine work in their roles.

Is "The Night of the Sorcerers" a great movie? The short answer to that is "no." It is however, a fun slice of exploitation hokum, and makes for a fine Saturday afternoon viewing. It's the "Citizen Kane" of Hot European Vampire Girls Running Around in Leopard Bikinis movies.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dead of Winter (2009)

Winter has proven time and again to be an effective season for genre films to take place. The best known examples of course, are "The Thing", "The Shining" and "30 Days of Night", though more low budget and foreign entries like "Screams of a Winter Night", "Cold Prey" and "The Last Winter" have taken the frozen, snow covered landscape of winter to try and convey a sense of menace and evil. Another entry into this field of frostbitten horror is veteran TV actor Brian McNamara's 2007 directorial effort "Dead of Winter."

Kevin (Al Santos) and his girlfriend Tiffany (Sandra McCoy) are going to celebrate the 7th anniversary of their relationship. Fine and all, but it all leads to experimenting with Crystal Meth and Randy (Alex Boyd) slips LSD in their drinks. The couple decides to leave the party, only to start to see people and hear voices. To make matters worse, their car breaks down, leaving them in the middle of nowhere, thinking somebody is stalking them.

While the premise sounds a bit like that of a slasher movie, "Dead of Winter" is anything but, as there's not much of a body count or any gore present. Instead, the film decides to use the winter wilderness and paranoia of the two leads to take over, thus creating a sense of dread and horror instead of what a lot of independent productions aim for. That's fine and all, as it works quite well at times (a scene in which Kevin is "chased" is particularly effective.) Hell, the acting is better than expected (smart move getting people that are real actors for a change) and it moves at a reasonable pace. So where does it go wrong?

Well for one thing, the direction is hit and miss. McNamara does make some fine chances and knows how to conjure up a haunting atmosphere, but he also relies a bit too heavily on fast and slow motion techniques as times, which tends to become a bit distracting. Also, while the acting is fine, and while it is an independent production (albeit one released by Lionsgate), it at times feels a bit too much like something you'd find if you watched channels like Lifetime. This particularly shows in the party scene, which feels far too much like something out of a television movie. Then there's the conclusion, which not only explains what happened, but does so with an obligatory twist ending that feels insulting. It also doesn't help that the character of Kevin suddenly becomes a poor man's Jack Torrance in the last 10 minutes.

At best, "Dead of Winter" is at least worth a Netflix streaming on a winter day when there's nothing else to do, but it ultimately ends up becoming a missed opportunity. Sure, it's nice to see an independent horror film that relies more on atmosphere and dread than it does buckets of blood, but the end result is so hit and miss that you'll just shake your head by the time it's over.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

What phrase besides "remake" are horror fans usually wary of? "Direct to Video/DVD Sequel." If a horror or action movie proves to at least be a modest hit in theaters, then you can bet your biscuits that there is going to be a sequel that doesn't get a theatrical release, and that it's not going to be that good. Sure, there are exceptions, such as "Wrong Turn 2." But for every "Wrong Turn 2", there's going to be something like "Wrong Turn 3" or "The Descent 2." Sadly, "30 Days of Night: Dark Days" is in the unsatisfactory side of the coin,

After the events of "30 Days of Night", Stella (Kiele Sanchez, replacing Melissa George) has relocated to L.A., where she's trying to convince people of what really happened. Luckily for her, there's a group of renegade vampire hunters-Paul (Rhys Coiro), Amber (Diora Baird), Todd (Harold Perrineau) and good guy vampire Dane (Ben Cotton)-want her to help them rid the world of the vampire menace. Now, they must prevent a ship from entering Alaska, and stop Lilith (Mia Kirshner), the queen of the vampires.

I will give "30 Days of Night: Dark Days" credit for a few things. Some of the performances are fine, with Sanchez doing a good job of filling Mellisa George's boots. There's also some fine vampire deaths, and a really nice score from Andres Boulton. Sadly, not all of the performances are up to par, with Baird being a bit annoying as the tough-girl Amber (though it's neat to see her play against type), and Kirshner not really doing the best job as Lilith. Remember how imposing Danny Huston was as Marlow in the previous movie? Let's just say you won't loose any sleep over Lilith.

Which leads to the movie's biggest flaw: a lot of it just feels so half-baked. The vampires-once terrifying, animalistic killers-now just look like Goth's in leather. You're less likely to be interested in them then just shrug your shoulders and say "eh" whenever they show up. Then there's the massive amount of gun-play involved. Look, I know those involved were aiming for a different type of movie, but this feels less like a logical successor to "30 Days of Night" than it does a Direct to DVD "Blade" knock-off. Oh, and do we really need the black guy to be the first to die again? Come on, cut him some slack.

As it stands, there's much worse Direct to DVD titles out right now, and there's worse vampire movies out right now. That's no real excuse though, as "30 Days of Night: Dark Days" is pretty much just another generic sequel that nobody really asked for. To pardon the bad joke, it lacks bite.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, October 4, 2010

Horror Hospital (1973)

Micheal Gough isn't exactly a stranger to genre fair. A veteran actor whose credits include the pre Nolan "Batman" films (he was Alfred), as well as several Tim Burton films ("Sleepy Hollow" and "Alice in Wonderland"), films from Derek Jarman and Ken Russell and episodes of "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Avengers." His genre credits are numerous-"Dr. Terror's House of Horrors", "Horror of Dracula" and "Horrors of the Black Museum" for example, all had him-and had the same word in their title. Well, you can also add Antony Balch's "Horror Hospital" as another horror film starring the man.

60's rocker Jason Jones (Robin Askwith) is a man who needs a break. So, what better than a Countryside retreat to relax? Well, there's a bit of a catch though-the place is run by one Dr. Christian Storm (Gough), who seems be up to something. Of course he is, since this is a movie called "Horror Hospital", and as it turns out, he's got his plans set on his niece Judy (Judy Peters), our hero, and anyone else who comes by. As it turns out, he's been doing some experiments that turn the inmates into computer controlled zombie killers.

Though it runs into some problems (most of the performances are bland), "Horror Hospital" is a fun piece of anything goes camp filled with bent sex appeal (gratuitous female nudity, leather clad biker boys), bloody violence, off the wall humor, a dwarf assistant named Fredrick (Skip Martin), zombies, a monster, and so much more. In some ways, the film could almost be described as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" with a bit more bloodshed, no transvestites and no musical numbers. Hell, Dr. Storm's home practically resembles the Frank N' Furter castle!

Adding up to all of it is a really enjoyable performance from Gough, who makes for a villain whose both menacing and amusing. While most actors would play the character of Dr. Storm with camp histrionics, Gough manages to find the right balance, making the character a believable villain while clearly having fun with the material.

I can't say that "Horror Hospital" will be everyone's cup of tea, but those who enjoy oddball British Horror will be sure to lap this all up.

Rating: 8/10
Apart from this, director Antony Balch also made the offbeat sex comedy "Bizzare." Also worthy of note are his collaborations with author William S. Burroughs, including "William Buys a Parrot", "Bill and Tony", "Towers Open Fire" and "The Cut Ups."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Werewolf: The Devil's Hound (2007)

And now, back to more Direct to DVD bullshit from Lionsgate (who else?)

I mentioned in an earlier review that one of the worst sins a Horror/Comedy can commit is to not even bother to try. Well, another thing that can hurt a horror comedy is if it tries too hard. Mixing the two together is a tricky thing to do, and often times you have to either find the right balance between the two, or you have to go "fuck it" and just go completely insane with the concept. Well, "Werewolf: The Devil's Hound" certainly tries to have it many ways, but the end result is about as good as you'd expect.

A female werewolf (Christy O. Cianci) has escaped Germany and made it here in the states. While there, she kills people, and bites FX artist Kevin Madden (Michael Dionne.) As expected, bad things start to happen, as well as poor attempts at drama, screwball comedy and a some German Werewolf hunters get into the mix as well.

The problems with "Werewolf: The Devil's Hound" are too numerous to mention. Sure, it runs into many of the problems that low-budget Direct to DVD horror run into (bad acting, poor editing, etc.), but those are the least of it's problems. The direction by Gregory C. Parker and Christian Pindar (yep, two people wrote and directed this) is erratic to the point of nausea, feeling too often like it was done by two guys hopped up on Red-Bull. It also doesn't help that the werewolves are also incredibly lame, with Christine Hofferman (the girl werewolf) looking too much like a lycanthropic version of the Shaggy Dog, and the werewolf version of Kevin looking and at times acting like Wolverine with bad contact lenses. The biggest flaw though, is the schizophrenic nature of the script, which constantly shifts from dead serious to insanely goofy. The best example of this is the character of Kwan (Lance Hallowell) the Werewolf Hunter. The moment he starts doing lame pratfalls, I couldn't help but mutter to myself "Chris Kattan: Werewolf Hunter."

To be fair (I can't believe I'm saying this), I can't rate this as low as I want to because as awful as it all is, it at least has a little ambition (the film certainly seems to have an interest in the sexual aspects of lycanthropy.) The problem though, is that it doesn't know what to do with said ambition. Watching it, I can't help but think that with a better script and better direction, this could have at least been tolerable.

What's funny about this is that if it weren't for the poor direction, and if it had been released in the late 80's or the 90's, it probably would have gained a small cult following. That does seem to be the case here, as it feels at times like the people behind this are hoping that such a thing will happen, and who knows, maybe it will. Several bad Horror/Comedy flicks have inexplicably become cult items, so whose to say this won't become one?

Rating: 1.5/10

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Psychomania (1973)

It sometimes feels like zombies have been through all kinds of jobs and statuses. So far, they've been Nazis (Too many films to count), Etruscans ("Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror"), mastered the martial arts ("Kung Fu Zombie", "Ninja vs. Zombie") and several other occupations. Hell, even the biker isn't safe. Yes, there's been zombie bikers, ranging from the Shot on Video Atrocity "Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels" (Believe me when I say the title is the best thing the movie has going for it) and Michel Soavoi's essential Italian flick "Cemetery Man." What one doesn't realize that the first movie to do this was Don Sharp's 1973 oddity "Psychomania."

Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a ruthless biker gang named The Living Dead. After entering a forbidden room at his place (he's rich and lives with his mom BTW), he discovers some dark secrets, as well as how to die, and then come back as one of the undead. Well, he tries this, and taa-daa, it works! The next thing you know, the other members of the biker gang are doing the same thing, and they seem to be invincible.

Not a particularly scary movie, "Psychomania" is still a fun but all around strange little movie that seems to take a real fondness for oddball psychedelic images. There's plenty to praise here, as the acting is better than one might expect from a movie like this. Henson in particular stands out, clearly having the time of his life, and at times coming off as a less sadistic version of Alex from "A Clockwork Orange." Also, whereas other biker/horror movie hybrids might have failed to live up to expectations ("Werewolves on Wheels" anyone?), it manages to get by with a fast pace and sense of dark humor that's pretty infectious. Then there's the great score by John Cameron, which is full of fuzzy guitars, organs, and other instruments. It's just a really enjoyable psychedelic rock score that suits the tone of the film perfectly.

If the movie does have any problems, it's that there's little to any logic to go by here. Why doesn't Tom's mother (Beryl Reid) seem to show that much concern for Tom and his gang's antics until the film is almost over. And while there is somebody on the case, where are all the police while these guys are running roughshod through England? Maybe it's just me, but come on, give us some kind of explanation.

As it stands, "Psychomania" is still plenty of campy fun that serves as good nighttime entertainment for fans of the more unusual side of horror cinema. Besides, with the words "zombie bikers", you get a lot of what you wanted, and then some.

Rating: 7.5/10

Apart from this, director Murphy has also directed 'Witchcraft", "Rasputin the Mad Monk", "Kiss of the Vampire", "The Curse of the Fly" and several other British genre films.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Burning Bright (2010)

In case you read this blog regularly (and I hope you do), you probably remember that after reviewing "Four Dragons", I decided to go on a hiatus as far as Direct to DVD movies from Lionsgate are concerned. The reason for this was quite simple actually-I was sick of having to watch crap like "Dead Clowns", "Experiment in Torture" and "Circle of Pain", and it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that if I kept sitting through such crap, that I would become a very bitter man. So yeah, the hiatus is over.

That out of the way, while the company has been known for releasing Direct to DVD crap for years, they are still able to release something worth watching like "The Burrowers" and "The Children." Now, just when it was all starting to look hopeless, a little gem called "Burning Bright" has come along, and I couldn't be more pleased.

Kelly Taylor (Briana Evigan) has a pretty shitty life. Her mother died from a sleeping pill overdose, she has to be the one that takes care of her autistic brother Tom (Charlie Tahn) and her asshole Stepfather Johnny (Garret Dillahunt) has taken all of her college scholarship money. To make matters worse, a Bengal Tiger Johnny purchases for a safari ranch he wants to start gets loose and finds the house she and her brother are staying in, and there's a bit of a hurricane going on.

A cat and mouse game involving a real live (no mechanical or CG effects here), real big cat, "Burning Bright" is a taught little movie that's full of tension and suspense. The film doesn't have anything going for it in the gore department (it's PG-13), but that's just fine, because it doesn't need any gore. It instead uses a terrifying situation and milks it for all it's worth, and best of all makes you care about Kelly and Tom's plight. That's because the performances from Evigan and Tahn are great, with Evigan making for a great sympathetic every-girl who must fight to protect all she has left, and Tahn managing to add a layer of innocence to his role, doing a much better job than many child actors in horror films do. The film's biggest strength though, is the decision to use a real Bengal Tiger instead of obvious special effects, which makes the creature all the more imposing.

If there are any flaws, it's the whole sub-plot revolving around the storm outside. Once the Tiger comes into play, we still see outside shots of the storm, but it doesn't seem to be viewed as a threat anymore. Granted, there is a man eating cat in the house, but still, this is a hurricane. At least make more out of it.

As a whole, "Burning Bright" is one of the best Direct to DVD flicks of the year, as well as refreshing proof that amidst a sea of crap, Lionsgate can still release an little seen gem on DVD. Check it out.

Rating: 8/10