Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And Soon The Darkness (2010)

If there's one thing horror movies have taught us over the years, it's "Never leave home to a foreign country or island." The Italian cannibal movies taught is this, Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2" taught us this, the "Hostel" movies taught us this-the list goes on really. If you go to places your unfamiliar with in horror, you will end up in danger. Well, you can add the new remake of the Robert Fuest film "And Soon the Darkness" to that list.

The film deals with two best friends, Shy, virginal Stephanie (Amber Heard) and wild party girl Ellie (Odette Yustman), who are on vacation in Argentina. Well, they miss their bus, and after lazing around in bikinis (not a bad sight I must say), Ellie ends up being kidnapped. So, can Stephanie find her friend? What's with that nosy American man Michael (Karl Urban)? Are the local policeman Calvo (César Vianco) and a guy Ellie hooked up with the night before (Michel Noher) somehow behind this?

As you can guess, there isn't that much mystery behind what will happen. Hell, it pretty much shows you one of the villains from the get go. Yep, this is yet another movie with sketchy law enforcement figures involved with shady dealings, the "good girl" becoming the requisite "final girl", and so many other genre trappings that tell you exactly what happens. And that's what's wrong with the movie. Well, that and it's mostly kinda dull, because you know what's going to happen, so it's hard to really invest any interest in anything that occurs. Sure, there's at least two things that are effective (the town of crumbling buildings and dead trees has an eerie ambiance) but the whole thing is written and directed to the point that it feels more like a direct to television movie than it does a serious genre entry.

It also doesn't help that none of the actors are really given much to do with their roles. To be fair, they all do fine work (except for Yustman, who I just found irritating), but they're all just characters we've seen before. Plus, we aren't really given much of these people as characters. We know that Michael is a stranger whose looking for his wife, but that's it. There's no other reason to care about him or anyone here.

If I could compare "And Soon the Darkness" to another movie, it would be to "Turistas", only without the sadistic edge, and just as uneventful to boot. This movie should have just been called "And Soon the Dullness."

Rating: 3/10

Monday, December 27, 2010

Zombie Nation (2004)

These days, one director whose name horror fans have learned to fear is Ulli Lommel. Originally known for directing films like the supernatural slasher flick "The Boogeyman", the Richard Hell (yes, the musician) vehicle "Blank Generation" and the notorious gay themed horror film "The Tenderness of Wolves", Lommel was a director who at one point could at least be said to have not been terrible. How times change then, because his name is now largely synonymous with pretty bad (and all around tasteless in a bad way) accounts of notorious serial killers and murder cases, and the type of unwatchable, oftentimes lazy low budget crap that polluted rental shelves in the decade. Case in point: his misleadingly titled movie "Zombie Nation."

"Zombie Nation" deals with officer Joe Singer (Günther Ziegler, whose character is supposed to be from Alabama, yet he speaks with a heavy Germanic accent), who likes to pick up loose women, fondle them, and then torture and kill them. Why? Well, like so many cinematic psychopaths in low budget garbage like this, he had a really bad childhood with a minister dad (David Hess, in a rather worthless cameo) and an abusive mom that has turned him into a religious zealot/killer. Well, one woman knows that others are disappearing, so she has herself protected by a voodoo curse in case he gets her. The next thing you know, she and a few others come back from the dead for revenge.

I don't have a problem with the cheap production values (apparently, houses and police stations are in abandoned furniture stores and boiler rooms.) A lot of really low budget exploitation movies were able to take their obvious limitations and still come up with something entertaining. The problem though, is that "Zombie Nation" is really, really bad horror/exploitation garbage. The kind that makes you feel like you've wasted an hour and a half of your life you will never get back. The kind that makes you incredibly mad when it's over. So, what makes it so bad?

For one thing, this movie has no energy to it whatsoever. Pretty much everything about this-from the dialogue to the constant flashbacks to the violence has all the verve and spirit of a man on downers. This movie can't even make a dumb redneck getting his penis torn off and eaten interesting. Then there's the aforementioned flashback scenes, which are handled with all the finesse of an epileptic person holding a food tray. The flashbacks themselves just show up from time to time, and don't offer anything worthy of note other than they are some of the clumsiest attempts at adding back story I've ever seen. Don't even get me started on the "Fight Club" flashback. Also, I know the director (who has a horrible acting role as a therapist who constantly asks "Is it safe?") was working with a budget, but come on, this police station can't even afford things like computers or radios?

Then there's the zombies themselves. While one of them wonders if there are "millions more like us", this isn't really a zombie nation. Apparently, a zombie nation or whatever only needs five zombies. Also, in Ulli Lommel's world, all you need to look like a zombie is some white make-up, a little blood here and there, and enough eyeshadow to make them look like you have raccoon eyes. These thing's not only don't look like zombies (they don't even show any signs of decay), but they don't act like zombies either. I'd forgive this if the intention was to try something different to subvert the expected behavior of the walking dead, but this just reeks of laziness. These zombie girls talk, drive cars, flirt, wear sunglasses, and do so many other things that they did when they were alive. This barely even counts as a zombie movie, as it's more of yet another "killer with mommy issues" movie. Oh, and what's with the annoying Euro-Dance music that plays whenever the girls go on the attack?

I hated everything about this movie, and I didn't give a shit about anyone or anything in it either. As a matter of fact, you can tell nobody involved gave a shit about what they were doing, and there is nothing worse than lazy exploitation. If you, like me, managed to sit through this whole thing, then congratulations, you are just as pissed off as I am. Look, I know Lionsgate and other studios realize that there is an undemanding audience to cater to, but come on, this is bad even by terrible Direct to DVD standards. Seriously, the people who released this crap should feel ashamed of themselves.

I could complain more and more, but yeah, there is no reason to see this. I can't see it appealing even to the bad movie mavens of the world. This movie is worthy of nothing but a big, fat

Friday, December 24, 2010

Best Sleepers/ Guiltiest Pleasures of 2010

As I promised, here's the best sleeper movies and the guiltiest pleasures of 2010. Many (if not most) of these were Direct to DVD movies, or barely where a blip in the radar, while the guilty pleasures are films that I enjoyed that got a lot of flack anyways. So, here goes

Best Sleepers

The Horseman-It took awhile, but Steven Kastrissios's tale of revenge finally came to American shores this year, and is the best Direct to DVD film of the year. Featuring an impressive performance from Peter Marshall as a father on a quest for vengeance, and who must save his soul in the process, "The Horseman" is a must for those who love an intelligent take on a well-worn sub-genre.

Triangle-Christopher Smith is one of those director's who get's better with each film. "Triangle" is a captivating puzzle of a movie, with enough twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing, all without insulting their intelligence.

Parasomnia-It got decidedly mixed reviews, but William Malone's adult fairy tale about a boy who must save a girl suffering from the the sleep disorder that is the film's title is a surreal, poetic movie that's unlike any other genre release this year. Kudos to Patrick Kilpatrick who plays one of the best villains in a genre film this year.

Burning Bright-Proof that Lionsgate can still release solid genre films to the DVD market, "Burning Bright" is a suspenseful little gem that serves as a reminder of what is capable with a PG-13 rating and limited locations.

Fragile-It took five years for this haunting ghost story from director Jaume Balagueró to hit the U.S., and was the best of the "Fangoria Frightfest" titles.

-On surface level, "Mutants" is the French answer to "28 Days Later." In actuality, it's a look at how a couple who must cope when one of them is infected, and actually teases audiences with a little thing called hope. If you have a choice between this and another recent French zombie film in "The Horde", go with this one.

Hidden-Out of all of this year's "Horrorfest" titles, "Hidden" is the one that unjustly seems to get the least attention. A shame really, as it's a creepy little movie about the past coming back to haunt it's main character, and serves as proof that Norway has a real grip on the genre at the moment.

Grimm Love-Those used to the tired sensationalism of most "True Story" horror films will be surprised at the restraint and strong performances in Martin Weisz's take on the infamous German Cannibal Sex murders.

Guilty Pleasures

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever-No, I didn't enjoy it as much as the original. Yes, the final ten minutes suck, and it obviously reeks of studio tampering. At the same time, dammit, I really enjoyed much of this over the top sequel, which manages to bring in enough laughs, gross outs, and inspired touches (love the "Getting ready for Prom" montage") to make it impossible for me to hate.

Mega Piranha-You must have a heart of coal to hate this movie.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Worst/Most Disappointing/Most Forgettable of 2010

I'm not bothering to do a best of 2010 list. I will however, do a worst of 2010 list, because it's much more fun. You can expect a Biggest Sleepers/Guilty Pleasures of 2010 list later on though. So, let us start with

The Worst

Survival of the Dead-It kind of pains me to include, this, because I tend to love Romero. Sure, a few of his movies ("Bruiser", "Season of the Witch" and "Diary of the Dead") are more fascinating as ideas then they are movies, but that still doesn't excuse "Survival of the Dead", which is not only the single worst genre film that came out this year (and that says a lot), but has pretty much killed any good will I had in future projects from the director. Horribly acted, written and directed in every way imaginable, it feels nothing like a movie from a man whose been directing movies for more than 40 years, and pissed me off to no end.

Bitch Slap-Dear people of Earth: Just because you love exploitation movies doesn't mean you should always do a tribute to them. Case in point: "Bitch Slap", which may be the worst attempt at paying tribute yet. An homage to "Tough but Sexy Chicks" flicks from back in the day, the movie is a headache to sit through in every way, shape and form, as well as not in any way as cleaver or smart as it thinks it is. It clearly wants to be a love letter to exploitation, but it feels like what would happen if a hormonal 14 year old watched a marathon of Cinemax movie, then watched a few exploitation movies, and capped it all off with "Sin City."

The Graves-Horrorfest has released it's share of clunkers in the past ("Lake Dead", "Unearthed" and "Slaughter"), but "The Graves" has the distinction of being the worst one yet. The directorial debut of Brian Pulido (creator of the all around bad "Lady Death"), "The Graves" less resembles a true genre effort as much as it does an attempt to appeal to horror fans than it does a movie geared towards the Hot Topic crowd. Also features the worst performances from Bill Mosley and Tony Todd, especially the latter.

Jonah Hex-In spite of what notoriously obnoxious film critic Armond "Me Against the World" White said, "Jonah Hex" is not a feast of cinematic genius. It is however, an erratic, grating and poorly acted and directed abortion, which features the worst performance of John Malkovich's career, and was abandoned by original writers Neveldine and Taylor, and re-written into the mess you got. When even Megan Fox seems bored and embarrassed to be there, you know you have a clunker.

A Nightmare on Elm Street-First of all, "The Hitcher" is still the worst Platinum Dunes remake thus far. This is however, a very close second that even a fine performance from Jacky Earle Haley couldn't save. Also, adding more to the "Freddy Kruger is a pedophile" sub-plot may be one of the weakest attempts at trying to make a horror villain evil ever. Instead of making him a force of evil, it just makes the viewer nauseous. Seriously, ew.

My Soul to Take-Wes Craven is a man with an erratic career. For every classic he's done, there's also some real mediocre to laughable movies. Sadly, "My Soul To Take" is his worst effort yet, and contains noting interesting of note other than boredom and a horrible attempt at creating a new cinematic boogieman.

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams-I didn't particularly care Tim Sullivan's sequel to Herschel Gordon Lewis' trash classic "2000 Maniacs", as it felt a bit like it tried too hard and wasn't particularly funny. His sequel though, is the worst Direct to DVD sequel of the year. Forced, painful and all around stupid, "Field of Screams" thinks that including gay jokes, racism, song parodies and Bill Mosley and Lin Shaye fucking automatically equals entertainment. Seriously, fuck this movie.

Road Kill-The kind of Straight to DVD movie that makes you wonder if you've done something bad in a past life to endure such punishment, with nothing really resembling scares or interest, and everything resembling annoying edits and horrible film making.

The "Tapout Presents" Films-Look Lionsgate, I know I'm your bitch, and that you love to release pretty much anything that's cheap and to the point on DVD. Still, you gotta stop releasing these. Sure, "Locked Down" marked a small improvement, but it was still bad. I'm pretty sure MMA fans deserve better than such blatantly cheap cash grabs.

Skyline-Um, there were what looked like vaginas and anal sockets sucking people up, but that's all that's noteworthy about the horribly written and acted alien invasion movie.

Legion-From Tyrese saying things like "When I was a shortie" to the terribly edited action scenes to Dennis Quaid looking more bored than ever, "Legion" was an annoying and all around attempt at mixing Biblical and Post-Apocalyptic horror. For a better mainstream version of a Post-Apocalyptic movie, see "The Book of Eli."

Big Money Rustlas-To be fair, I will never watch this. However, it's the principal of the thing...

Most Disappointing

The Expendables-From the cast, the director and even the cameos, you could be forgiven for thinking "The Expendables" would be the best macho action movie of the year. However, it didn't really get interesting until the third act, and until then, was pretty much just mediocre and kinda boring. When the inevitable sequel comes around, maybe Stallone will do a better movie, but until then, better luck next time.

Sea of Dust-A tribute to old school British Horror and a critique of religion being used to commit atrocities, "Sea of Dust" is a movie that ends up being too poorly acted (the lead is the definition of bland), confused (What's this supposed to be a tribute to, Hammer or Ken Russel?) and too weird for the sake of weirdness for it's own good. Still, the director shows potential, so maybe next time will be a charm.

Brain Dead-Truth in advertising at least. While I'm only a fan of one of Kevin Tenney's film's ("Night of the Demons"), I was looking forward to this. So, while it has all the boobs and blood I was hoping for, it ends up trying way too hard, with all of it's jokes and most of the attempts at humor (what the hell was that ending?) falling flat, and trying to be an instant cult classic. The thing is, movies become cult favorites over time. Going out to make a cult movie rarely if ever works, and this is no exception.

Altitude-An ambitious to say the least movie with a fine lead, "Altitude" ends up sacrificing all it's good will on trite melodrama and an atrocious conclusion.

Most Forgettable

Clash of the Titans-The only reason this didn't get a lower rating from me is because of the eye candy to be honest. Still, the remake of "Clash of the Titans" is so whatever that I barely even remember anything about it, other than "Hey, the Kraken and the giant scorpions were cool", and that Ralph Fiennes and Liam Nieson competed to see who could overact the most.

The Rig-Remember all of those "Alien" rip offs that came out back in the day? Well, Peter Atencio sure does, and his movie-well, it's a movie, I'll give it that much.

Growth-A more serious entry in the "parasites that change people" sub-genre, "Growth" really doesn't offer much that stands out, and feels like an episode of something like "One Tree Hill" as done by the Scy-Fy channel.

Case 39-Hey, remember that evil child movie with Renée Zellweger, Ian McShane and Bradley Cooper that was on the shelf for a while? Yeah, me neither.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days-A by the numbers Direct to DVD sequel if there ever was one, "Dark Days" is far from one of the worst I've seen, but there isn't really a whole lot that will warrant repeat viewings.

Resident Evil: Afterlife-I really don't see any reason to get mad about this, because you should know your in for forgettable mediocrity with a movie like this. To expect anything less is stubborn.

Thank God I Didn't See

Saw 3D and Unchained-Let's just say I invoked the "Life's Too Short" clause on these.

Outback-Apparently, this Aussie effort is so bad, it makes "Road Kill" look like a work of genius. I still might (I said might) check this one out.

Most Unnecessary Sequel

The Descent 2-"The Descent" was one of the best horror films of the last decade, as well as the best British horror film of the last decade. So, why in God's name would there be a sequel? Granted, the end result is pretty bad, but could have been worse. However, the whole thing just screams "why?", and really has no reason to exist other than to get money from fans of the original.

Could Be a Cult Classic In Spite of Itself

Wrong Side of Town-Poorly acted, directed, choreographed, etc. "Wrong Side of Town" is an incredibly bad movie. Yet, you can't turn away from it for some reason. If any movie this year deserves to be a cult classic for fans of really bad action movies, it's this one.

Neowolf-Originally titled "The Band From Hell", and clearly released to capitalize on the current "Twilight" phenomenon, "Neowolf" ends up becoming a bad movie lovers paradise, with enough clunky direction, acting and terrible music to garner a following for those that love to watch low-budget bullshit.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Horde (2009)

France has received something of a resurgence as far as horror films are concerned. Granted, France is no stranger when it comes to the genre, with the likes of "Les Diaboliques", "Eyes Without a Face" and the films of Jean Rollin, but it was "The Brotherhood of the Wolf" and Alexandre Aja's slasher movie "High Tension" that got the ball rolling again. With that, movies like "Martyrs", "Inside" and even micro-budgeted oddities like "Resonnances" have entered the markets. Well, it was only a matter of time until the French gave the world a new entry into the more modern zombie genre with Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher's "The Horde."

After a college is brutally slain, a rogue cop decides it's time to raid the high rise operations base of Nigerian gangster Adewale (Eriq Ebouaney.) However, things take a turn for the worst when the dead begin to rise, so the cops and the gangsters must band together to survive. Oh, and then there's Adewale's brother Bola (Doudou Masta) and crazy old war vet René (Yves Pignot) to look out for.

Clearly inspired by the likes of Zack Snyder's impressive 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead" (you get running zombies) and video games like "Dead Rising", "The Horde" clearly wants to be a fun filled roller coaster ride. Interestingly, much of what doesn't revolve around the sprinting dead is what makes this interesting. The performances here are all pretty good, with Ebouaney and Masta doing great work as brothers who seem to be at a moral crossroads, and Jean-Pierre Martins coming off as respectable as the cop who tries to be a voice of reason. However, it's Pignot who steals the show as René. Clearly having the time of his life, the actor is a total blast as a clearly unhinged geezer who may be the toughest man there.

However, as I said, much of what happens without the zombies is what makes it interesting. Okay, the final 20-15 minutes manage to be pretty entertaining as far as zombie action is concerned, but much of what occurs with the ravenous dead feels a bit too paint by the numbers. Throughout each scene of zombies biting and consuming human flesh and people fending them off, I just couldn't help but think to myself "Yeah, this is a zombie movie." To be fair, it's not a bad zombie movie. Hell, it's a decent time waster. It's just that there's a sense of familiarity throughout it all, and it made me think "Hey, I've seen this before."

As I said, "The Horde" isn't a bad movie, and makes for a decent enough time waster of a zombie movie. However, it's nothing particularly original, and it could have been a bit more engaging.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Killing Machine (2010)

It makes sense for somebody whose a veteran actor of a specific genre to eventually be a producer, writer or director for said movie. Many a genre stalwart-Angela Bettis, Robert Englund, and Bruce Campbell have all taken a part of directing films, for better or for worse. So for someone like Dolph Lungren, it makes sense, as he's been a veteran of macho action films for a long time, and has already directed some titles in said genre. Which leads to today's film, "The Killing Machine."

Dolph stars as Edward Genn, a divorced father and investment broker, whose living a double life. You see, he also used to be a dangerous KGB assassin known as "Icarus." Well, the past comes back to haunt him in the Russian mob, and when they go after his family, it's time to strike back.

As you can tell, "The Killing Machine" is pretty much your meat and potatoes style action/revenge movie. Thankfully, said meal isn't unappetizing, though it's certainly not spectacular. This comes from Anchor Bay, who at least seem to have an eye when it comes to direct to DVD action fair, in that said movies have good production values. It's also got enough bloody violence to satiate fans of mindless action fare, and it's all done with relish without feeling like overkill. Lundgren himself does a fine job as the former assassin, doing what he can with the rather basic material (though I had to turn on the subtitles whenever he delivered a monologue), and it's always fun to see Bo Svenson, here acting with a very unconvincing Russian accent. That's just fine though, as it adds to the escapist tone of the whole thing.

If there are any problems, it's the direction and a few other performances. Sure, Lundgren will always be a convincing bad ass, but as a director, there isn't a whole lot about his style that sticks out (though it's nice to see someone not resort to hyperactive editing choices), as it's all done straightforward to the point of feeling a bit vanilla. Also, Stefanie von Pfetten and Lindsay Maxwell deliver performances that could only be described as "unsatisfactory at best." They're really bad here, and kinda drag thing down whenever they show up, though they are pretty attractive.

As a whole, "The Killing Machine" isn't bad for a weekend afternoon action movie. It's serviceable enough, though it's more passable than it is exciting to be honest.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

For Your Height Only (1981)

It's about a 3 ft man whose a "James Bond" style secret agent.

Really, that's what "For Your Height Only" is about. It's a movie in the type of cult movies that aren't really all that offensive when you get down to it, but they have a premise that defies any serious explanation, and must be seen to be truly appreciated or loved. You know, films like "Death Bed: The Bed That Eats", "Godmonster of Indian Flats" and whatever the hell "Boardinghouse" was. Fortunately, it's a better directed and more fun than those movies, but still beggars any sort of logic, even whilst watching it.

When Dr. Van Kohler is kidnapped by the nefarious Mr. Giant so said villain can use the good doctor's invention, "The N-Bomb" (no, not the "N-Bomb" you aren't allowed to say, that internet tools like to use as an atrocious attempt to be funny.) So, who must save the day? Why, it's Agent 00 (Weng Weng), a 3 foot tall secret agent, ladies man, master of the martial arts, expert marksman, and all around bad ass!

That's all just the tip of the iceberg. This movie has so many things that must be seen and heard to be believed. With Agent 00 defeating men in ridiculous ways (kicks to the crotch, shooting men who just point their guns and take forever to fight back), a score that blatantly lifts from the theme from "James Bond", and hilariously awkward editing, acting, and drama. In the world of exploitation films from the Philippines (though it's a bit tame really), this may be the most insane.

It's also one of the most beloved, and for so many good reasons. Who cares if the acting is at question and the direction from Eddie Nicart is at times nonexistent. But who cares? This is a hilarious, insane, and all around really fun film that rarely if ever lets up. This is a movie that also never takes itself seriously, but thankfully doesn't wink at it's audience. If something like this was made today, it would all be treated as one big joke, but everyone involved plays it straight, and that's for the best. In a movie like this, playing it straight is for the best. Also, bad editing and poor choreography aside, the character is Agent 00 actually does come off as a bad ass. I'm sorry, but any man that can get any woman he wants, can defeat villains with ease, and do it all without breaking a sweat is awesome, no matter how big or small he is.

"For Your Height Only" taught me to love and be a better man. Okay, it really didn't. It did however, entertain me throughout it's duration, and must be seen by people who think they've seen it all. Totally watch it.

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Women's Prison's Massacre (1983)

The late Bruno Mattei never did make a good movie. From 1970 to 2007, films like "Rats: Night of Terror", "The Other Hell" and his foray into the Italian zombie craze "Hell of the Living Dead" defied not only good taste, but good movie making in general. To be fair, I don't think he had any serious artistic pretensions in mind (See the interview he did for the "Hell of the Living Dead" DVD), and he always knew that in the end, he was making trash. If you ask me though, a few of the movies he did were pretty entertaining trash too, such as his Women in Prison classic "Women's Prison Massacre", which was a sequel to his prior WIP film "Violence in a Women's Prison", and the last entry in the notorious "Black Emanuel" series.

Emanuele (Laura Gemser) is in jail on false charges after trying expose a corrupt politician. Said prison is a hotbed for torture, lesbian sex, cat fights, knife fights and other things exploitation fans love , all overseen by Colleen the Warden (Lorraine De Selle.) Well, things turn from bad to worse when a group of male psychopaths meant to be stationed in said prison escape, and the next thing you know, rape, torture, and bloody murder and blood flow freely.

Opening with an oddly artsy introduction to three of the prisoners, "Women's Prison Massacre" is a film with plot holes, questionable logic, unintentionally funny dialogue and more. So yes, it's not a particularly good movie. As an exploitation film though, it's a blast for lovers of scuzzy, sleazy exploitation, and may be Mattei's best film overall. He might have not been the most talented director, but he clearly understands what fans of these kinds of movies want, and it's all shot with plenty of energy, as there's never a dull moment in this movie, all making it slightly less offensive than it clearly wants to be, yet still ultimately rewarding to fans of such trash. It also boasts a catchy (and all around very Italian sounding) electronic score by Luigi Ceccarelli (a Mattei film regular) and a script (co-written by Claudio Fragrasso*, another Mattei Regular) that, while not good, delivers the kind of cheese and ugliness one expects from a Mattei film.

I've always believed that an exploitation movie usually succeeds not because of one memorable set piece, but because of several, and boy, this movie has them. Among the highlights on display:
  • A rapist having his penis split open by a razor hidden in his victims vagina
  • A pretty nasty cat fight
  • A Russian roulette scene that ends with brain matter and blood splatting into the mouth of one of the escaped killers
  • A rather discomforting "hold your head underwater" scene
  • The warden stripping down to her black panties and stockings
I think you get the idea. This kind of thing isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for fans of the crasser, nastier side of exploitation, this is a must see.

Rating: 8/10

*Fragrasso himself is a longtime veteran of Italian genre and exploitation films. His other credits include writing "Hell of the Living Dead", the ill advised sequel to "Zombi 2", and many others. His directorial credits include "Monster Dog" (starring Alice Cooper) and "After Death" (aka "Zombi 4"), though he's mostly known for being the man responsible for giving the world "Troll 2."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dead Noon (2007)

You really can't fault shitty independent horror movies based on their budgets. Films like "The Evil Dead" and it's ilk surpassed their low budgets with plenty of innovation, skill and all around awesomeness. Besides, super low budget horror movies can not only be a fine place to cut ones teeth, but also prove to be a chance of showing what you are capable of. Sadly, having a super low budget doesn't mean that your movie will be any good. Case in point: Andrew Wiest's $4,000 Horror Western "Dead Noon", which was distributed by a studio that knows a thing or two about releasing bad low budget horror to DVD-the one and only Lionsgate Studios.

After beating the Devil in a game of chess, a man named Frank (Robert Bear) earns the right to walk the Earth. Once returning to this realm, he gains the ability to raise the dead, and decides to use this power as a means to get payback on the man who killed him by going after his descendant Kane (Tye Nelson.)

I can't really fault the movie too much on it's budget. Director Wiest isn't exactly the worst director, and I have to admit, the skeletal zombie cowboys and walking skeletons do have a certain campy appeal. I can however, fault the movie on numerous other aspects, such as the poor dialogue and acting, not to mention the script. It's clear that Wiest loves westerns and horror movies, so it's only natural for him to mix the two. However, none of this remotely feels like a legitimate western, as everyone delivers their dialogue without much conviction or energy. The various attempts at "artsy" camera angles and film techniques also are at fault, as they clash with the rest of the movie. Then there's all the lapses in logic, including the usual (how on Earth do these people never run out of bullets?) to the more glaring (how is Kane a coward exactly?) It's all written like the writers (three of them, including Wiest) and director had some big ideas, but they didn't know what to do with most of them.

The films biggest cardinal sin though, is the blatant stunt casting and the last few minutes. Kane Hodder is given top billing, but he's only in the movie for a few wrap around segments, as he tells a girl he kidnapped the whole story of the movie. By the time the movies over, I not only wondered why his character was included (he really doesn't serve much of a purpose), but that the actor was cast simply because he's a known name in horror. It all leads to a terrible twist at the end, which feels insulting, and again doesn't really feel like it serves any big purpose. The film can't even capture any sort of atmosphere. Nearly everything that happens just sort of happens.

I can't blame Wiest for trying, as this is a first time effort. I can however, blame him and others for the terrible script and all around uneventful and painfully dull feeling of the movie.

Rating: 1.5/10

Friday, December 3, 2010

Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980)

Mixing pornography and horror is nothing new. Since the 70's, movies such as "Sex Wish", "The Devil Inside Her", and "Hardgore" mixed bloodshed with cumshots. Not a particularly inviting prospect when you think about it, but hey. Hell, for some reason, some like the idea of pornographic action with zombies. I know there's a fetish for everything, but still, the mere idea is still revolting. Italy of course, was no stranger to any of this, particularly Joe D'Amato. An exploitation director known largely for films such as "Anthropophagus", "Beyond the Darkness" and "Emmanuel and the Last Cannibals", the director had tried his hand (pun partially intended) in mixing the two with the atrocious "Porno Holocaust." While public reaction met to this was poor at best, he tried it again with 1980's "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead."

John Wilson (Mark Shannon) and his terrible porno mustache are on a business trip captained by Larry O' Hara (exploitation vet George Eastman, who wrote this movie) to purchase a small island called "Cat Island" for an investment group. Of course, he brings "company" in Fiona (Dirce Funari), and plenty of sex goes on. Apart from that, they get to the island, and more sex occurs. Oh, and there's a local legend mentioned by a voodoo loving couple (which includes "
"Emmanuel" herself, Laura Gemser), and the next thing you know, a black cat comes into play, and the dead walk the islands.

As an adult film, "Erotic Nights" is all around bad. For fans of pornography, there's only one really explicit scene, as the rest is mostly just lots of soft-core frolicking. None of the sex on display is particularly arousing or worth a damn, and most of the cast seems uninterested and uncomfortable. Granted, there is a scene where a woman opens a wine bottle with her vagina, but it's more "what the hell was that?" than it is sexually interesting, though I kept wondering "So, where did the cork go?" Eastman himself even gets some action, but he keeps his pants on (literally) whenever he gets laid, which made me wonder "Who makes a porn movie where someone keeps their pants on during sex?" As for the zombie action, you get a little here and there earlier on, but it's not until the last 30 minutes that they really come into play. Until then, you get lots of padding and uninvolved, vanilla sex scenes. Keep in mind that the version I watched (the uncut version) is 112 minutes long.

Not all hope is gone though. The score by Marcello Giombini is great (especially the main theme), and really compliments the proceedings far better than they deserve. Also, when the zombies finally do rise, the film actually improves a bit. The zombies themselves are very creepy, looking like a mix of the Templar zombies from the "Blind Dead" films and the rotting zombies from Fulci's "Zombi 2." It's at this moment that director D'Amato actually manages to do something that's sort of interesting, as he manages to make what's actually a somewhat passable zombie movie. The problem though, is that by then, it's too little too late. You'll be lucky if you stay awake during most of what occurs beforehand, as everything else is dull and poorly directed.

"Erotic Nights of the Living Dead" isn't really worth watching except as a period curio and nothing more. As it stands, the mix of gory zombie action and pornography on display has too much tedium and sloppy film making to warrant any interest.

Rating: 3.5/10

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cannibal Ferox (1981)

Italian cannibal movies are one of the most notorious types of early exploitation movies, in that many of them most likely couldn't be made today. Even shocking, politically incorrect sub-genres like Nazispoitation, Nunspoitation and the "roughie" horror/porn movies could probably be made today. But Italian cannibal movies? They had real life animal cruelty, torture, rape, castration and all kinds of other unpleasantness on display. Granted, I'm sure you'd have better luck getting away with everything but the animal cruelty aspect, but that's it. Maybe the ASPCA were on an off day.

One of the most notorious entries in this world is "Cannibal Ferox" aka "Make Them Die Slowly", from the man who created the sub-genre, Umberto Lenzi. It claims to have been banned in 31 countries (I kinda doubt that), was one of the most infamous of the "Video Nasties" in Britain, and to this day is one of the most talked about and watched Italian exploitation films ever. While it is an all around vile, ugly and nasty piece of work, that's not to say that it's a good movie.

"Ferox" tells the heartwarming tale of Gloria Davis (Lorraine De Selle), an anthropologist who takes her brother Rudy (Danilo Mattei) and a slutty girl named Pat (Zora Kerova) to Columbia so she can disprove cannibalism.* However, they run into trouble with Mike Johnson (Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka "Italian Horror's favorite whipping boy"), a coked up psychopath whose on the lam from New York and Lt. Rizzo (Robert Kerman.) He's also pissed off the natives via some very violent and horrible actions, and everyone's going to pay.

When you get down to it, "Cannibal Ferox" is downright indefensible. I try not to say such things, as it's clear that the movie wants to upset viewers and make them physically sick. There are two things though, that make it so, and none of it is the sheer sadism and graphic gore on display (little of it is that convincing by the way), and it's the animal cruelty and the sheer hypocritical nature of it all. Lenzi just delights in showing animals getting killed, and though it isn't as disturbing when he shows something like an Iguana killing a Snake (it's nature after all), but showing the natives butcher a turtle and Mike kill and torture a pig are absolutely revolting. Shit like this is why man invented the fast forward button. Then there's the sheer hypocrisy of the film. It's fine that they're trying to make a statement about colonialism and racial prejudice, it's not cool to wallow in such sadism and wanton cruelty (real and fake) and then scold the viewer. It's like letting a dog roll in shit, then scolding it for doing so.

Granted, Radice is wonderfully over the top as Mike, and chews scenery with the best of them, and the score by Roberto Donati and Fiamma Maglione is catchy as hell (though a bit out of place at times), but that's all there is that's good. I know this is supposed to disturb the viewer, but in this case, that's not enough. Just because it's notoruiys doesn't mean it should be considered worth watching, no matter what.

Rating: 2.5/10

In reality, cannibalism among tribes is an incredibly rare thing, and only happens on a few occasions in a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Contraband (1980)

People tend to forget the other directorial ventures of horror directors. Carpenter did TV movies, Romero did "There's Always Vanilla" and a documentary about O.J. Simpson (this was before...well, you know), Argento and Bava did westerns, etc. The list goes on. Lucio Fulci is another good example. Though he did his first foray into the genre in 1969 with the giallo "One on Top of the Other" aka "Perversion Story" and is mostly known for his outrageously gory horror films of the 80's, he had been directing since 1959, and had done everything from Vaudeville style comedies to westerns. Then there's his foray into the popular violent crime films from Italy, 1980's "Contraband."

Luca Di Angelo (Fabio Testi-*snicker*) is a cigarette smuggler with a wife and kid, and can be a tough guy when push comes to shove. Well, a rival gang of cocaine smugglers is in town, and they mean business. Well, Luca isn't interested in coke, so he declines. Well, each member of his gang starts getting knocked off in grisly fashion, his brother is killed, and his wife and son are kidnapped. So yep, push has come to shove.

Though not a horror movie, and featuring some glaring faults (it mostly isn't that different from other Italian crime films of the time, the score from Fabio Frizzi is hit and miss, and there's a moment or two of inopportune comedy), it's still a piece of nasty, nihilistic exploitation that should please fans of this kind of thing. One of the the most notable things about is how violent and gory the whole enterprise is. Luca's wife is raped, a woman has her face disfigured by a Bunsen Burner, a man has a hole shot into his neck and throat region, a man literally had his guts blown out, etc. Granted, it's Fulci era 1980, so that's expected. It also has all of the other things associated with the director at the time-namely zoom shots and fog drenched atmosphere-that makes it unmistakably his.

It's also worth noting that Fulci actually let's the audience spend some time with a few of the characters, and while most of them aren't exactly the most wholesome bunch, you still get a sense and feel for them before and after some of them meet grisly fates. He also has a fine leading man in Testi (I'm sorry, I can't help but laugh after saying his name), who surprisingly isn't bland or uninteresting. Plus, the fact that we get to see his home and family life adds weight to his character arc.

Though not one of his best, "Contraband" still comes with a recommendation for Fulci fans, especially those interested in what he could do outside of the horror genre. For fans of violent, ugly exploitation films, they'll want to give this a shot too.

Rating: 7.5/10
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