Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer (2010)

I'm not a fan of most serial killer movies. There's a few that are worth it, but most of them tend to be poorly made video fodder for the unadventurous and stupid (the serial killer flicks of Ulli Lommel, for example.) Also, there's the fact that most serial killer and murder cases tend to be a bit much for me. Sure, I can watch slasher movies and whatnot, but I can take comfort in the fact that those are fictional. Then there's the fact that a lot of serial killer movies tend to be kinda the same in some regards. Well, writer/director Mark Vidak tries to do something a little different with "Cyrus: Mind of a Serial Killer", and at first it seems like he's going to pull off a good movie-well, at first being a key response.

Maria (Danielle Harris) hosts a show about cold case mysteries, and has come to a small town to investigate the decades long disappearances of several women. Here, she meets with Emmett (Lance Henriksen), who knows a lot about what's going on. From here, we learn about Cyrus(Brian Krause), a man with a terrible life and luck, who became a serial killer. Also, it seems like Emmett knows a bit too much about Cyrus.

For a while, it feels like "Cyrus" is actually going to be a decent little surprise. The cast of character actors (Rae Dawn Chong as a former victim) and horror vets (Doug Jones as an expert on serial killers, Tiffany Shepis as Cyrus' abusive prostitute mother) all do fine work, the atmosphere is filled with dread, and the director adds a bit of pitch black humor (Cyrus' aversion to profanity for example) to the proceedings. Most worth of praise is Krause as Cyrus. The character is absolutely despicable in what he does, but he's also a tragic figure born of harsh circumstances, whose frightening throughout but still a little human thanks to the actor's performance. If he's lucky, Krause could get some great work as a character actor in the future.

As I said though, the movie works at first. Unfortunately, it also falls into many of the cliches (abusive authority figures, neglectful wives, a mother whose a whore, etc.) that fall into the genre. Granted, a lot of these things tend to be true for a lot of serial killers, but at the same time, they are themes that have been dealt with so many times in the past that they aren't all that interesting or intriguing. There's some ugly violence and gore on, but I felt that in a movie that had such an eerie atmosphere, there doesn't need to be images of innards plopping into empty buckets. The biggest problem is the conclusion, which you see coming a mile away, yet still feels insulting. The director could have gone with a few shades of gray, but when it ends the way it does, I couldn't help but say to myself "Wait, that's it? That's the ending?"

So, is "Cyrus" ultimately worth seeing? Well, if you enjoy movies about serial killers, than this is certainly for you. As for me, I was hoping for something good. Too bad the end result is a movie that starts out fine but ends up beeing another serial killer movie.

Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010)

This year, someone who wasn't Lionsgate or the like have decided to release a slew of movies in limited release. No, not several in a theater, but one at a time. That someone is horror website Bloody Disgusting, who have picked several movies from around the world for theatrical release in their "Bloody Disgusting Selects" series, which I think is a great idea. Why? Because it's good to see genre fair made outside of the Hollywood system get a theatrical release with the help of someone whose not a part of the system cog. So, let's take a look at the short but intriguing German film "Rammbock: Berlin Undead", which reminded me of last year's underrated French zombie film "Mutants."

Michael (Michael Fuith) is going through a break-up with his girl Gabbi (Anka Graczyk), and decided to go to Berlin to make things right. When he goes to her apartment though, he finds out that something worse than getting dumped has happened-namely an epidemic that has reduced people to fleet footed, foaming at the mouth, flesh hungry zombies. Now, Michael, Harper (Theo Trebs) and a slew of others must fend for themselves, while Michael worries about what happened to Gabbi, and whether or not she's alive.

Though not exactly a long movie (it's only 64 minutes long), "Rammbock" manages to get more characterization and scares than a lot of more recent zombie movies. The characterization in particular is a strength, because like George Romero's best zombie films or something like "28 Days Later", the story is less about the dead then it is about people caught in a horrific situation. There's also enough original touches (bright lights-especially those from cameras-are a great way to fend off the dead), humor (Michael getting upset about Gabbi's silverware getting bent) and sympathetic characters (even though you pretty much figure out Gabbi's fate early on, you still can't help but feel for Michael) to help it stand out. Plus, after seeing constant zombie movies from Germany that are a whole lot of gore and nothing else, it's nice to see something like this.

Those the movie have any problems? Well, a lot of the performances feel a bit subdued, which is odd considering this takes place during a zombie apocalypse. You'd expect to see more people freaking out in such a situation, though I do find it refreshing to see a movie of this sort that doesn't focus on the usual "mankind and his darkest instincts" cliche.

As a whole, I recommend "Rammbock" to fans of more thoughtful zombie movies that look more at loss and smart touches instead of the usual "gore and fanboy-esque appreciation" approach. See it sometime.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Taint (2010)

One of the best lines in "This is Spinal Tap" is also the most true: "There's a Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid." You could say that about a lot of horror-comedy movies, especially the likes of Troma. For years, movies like "The Toxic Avenger", "Killer Condum" and "Tromeo and Juliet" skirted the line between "this is just idiotic" and "you know, that's actually pretty clever." Sadly, you can't say that for the majority of the independent movies that try to mix these two like Troma, as I've been assaulted by plenty of terrible "dumb but proud" horror comedy flicks from this spectrum, that tried to be like Troma. Fortunately, Drew Bolduc and Dan Nelson's "The Taint", which quite capably straddles the line between clever and stupid, and is actually not half bad either.

Bolduc stars as Phil O'Ginny, who finds out that he's one of the few men left who haven't gone mad. You see, the water has been tainted, and it has turned most of the male populace into raging "misogynists", or guys with semen spewing erections out of their pants who want to do nothing but crush the heads of women. Now, Phil and tough gal Misandra (Colleen Walsh) must survive in a world gone mad, whilst in the process running into a gym teacher turned rapist who tends to find himself in rather homoerotic positions, and a masked man named Ludas (Kenneth Hall) who knows where "The Taint" comes from.

If "The Taint" suffers from any problems, it's that the film ends up being too self aware for its own good. Here, the various offensive images (castration, abortion, Nazi imagery, etc.) are all gross, but they don't have the shocking impact they should because it's clear everybody involved is really into the joke, thus giving the movie a bit too much of a "nudge-nudge wink-wink" feeling. The general theme/commentary on misogyny isn't that offensive either for the same reasons. It's as if the filmmakers were saying "Heh, weren't these 80's horror flicks tasteless and lewd?", but without any other point.

Still, as I said, it's a lot better than some of the no-budget indie flicks I come across, mostly because this really does feel like one of the better Troma movies for the most part, with plenty of lewd behavior, humor that sometimes does work (Hall is hilarious as Ludas-I laughed hard at the line "Welcome to my friends parents basement!"), and outrageous, over the top gore. Speaking of which, the gore effects are all great, with all the head-crushing, blood splatter, face ripping and other acts of violence never feeling like padding, and looking impressive in the process. This is also not bad for a first time effort, and that's really the best thing about this. Sure, a lot of tiny-budgeted horror flicks are done with blood, sweat and tears, but this is a movie from guys who really seemed to have put their rancid little hearts into it, with Nelson and Buldoc participating in so many of the film's factors (editing, scoring, effects, cinematography) that the end result is impossible to not root for, even if the constant shots of fake cocks ejaculating get's old.

So yeah, "The Taint" is a DIY effort in every way imaginable, and while it runs into many of the flaws those movies do, it still manages to stand head and shoulders above some of their recent peers. Fans of Troma and the like, you have found a largely worthy heir!

Rating: 6.5/10

Update: Troma has gained distribution rights for this movie, which makes total sense.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Hanging Woman (1973)

Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina Alvarez) was a fixture in Spanish Horror-as far as actor's go, he was that countries Karloff. So when he died in late 2009, he left behind a vast array of work that has maintained a cult following-"Night of the Werewolf", "Blue Eyes of a Broken Doll", "Count Dracula's Great Love"-to name a few. While I mentioned his passing in my review of "Premutos", looking back, I should have written a review of one of his movies instead of that movie. So without further ado, here's a look at the Italian-Spanish production "The Hanging Woman", in which he played a hunchback.

Serge Chekov (Stelvio Riso) is a swinging 70's kinda guy whose come to Scotland to gain an inheritance. In between sexing up the ladies, he runs into the hanging corpse of a lady. Soon, events revolving around a satanic coven, mad science, murder, zombies roaming the graveyard, and Igor (Naschy), who also happens to be a necrophiliac.

Though Naschy only has a supporting role, "The Hanging Woman" is still quite a treat of 70's style Gothic Horror. In fact, much of the film is quite reminiscent of the 70's era Hammer output, with its emphasis on fog drenched atmosphere, Gothic locales and low key exploitation elements such as nudity and some minor gore. The movie itself is quite capably directed by capably directed by José Luis Merino, who offers a nice mix of eerie moments with ones that range from tasteless (Chekov's treatment of women, Igor's um...kinks) with ones that just outright daffy (the reason the dead are walking could have come from one of those old 1940's quickies.) That's part of what makes the whole thing so much fun-sure, it feels a bit familiar at times, but the familiarity helps the movie instead of hindering it. Also worthy of mention is the undertone of black humor that permeates the proceedings. While the movie would never be mistaken for a comedy, scenes involving characters such as a horny witch are clearly done with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Which brings me back to Naschy. While I mentioned he doesn't have a huge role, fans of his should still love this. Here, he manages to bring all kids of baggage with Igor-insecurity at one moment, to moments that bring forth revulsion the next-with ease. It's easy to see why folks such as myself hold him to such esteem, as he was able to take such characters and make them his own. Such a role and performance is a testament to his talents as an actor.

If there are any problems, it would be that apart from the more eccentric characters (particularly Igor), nobody here is all that interesting. Chekov is just your typical chauvinistic jerk who doesn't have many redeeming qualities, whilst Doris (Dianik Zurakowska) is yet another damsel in distress character. A bit more thought into some of the characters would have helped.

That out of the way, fans of Paul Naschy and European Horror fare will certainly find a lot to enjoy here. If that's your cup of tea, then check it out.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Witchery (1988)

Joe D'Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi) is one of the names that's synonymous with Italian trash and exploitation, having done everything from porn, porn/horror hybrids ("Porno Holocaust", "Erotic Nights of the Living Dead") sword n' sorcery movies (the "beloved" "Ator" series), gory nastiness ("Beyond the Darkness" and my favorite movie of his "Anthropophagus" and it's sequel) and much more. If there was a pie in exploitation, he probably had his fingers in it. Case in point: "Witchery", a film he served as a producer for that was a sequel for Umberto Lenzi's "Ghosthouse", and is pretty much an Italian rip-off of "The Exorcist" and "Poltergeist", with more gore and sleaze, but not as fun as it should have been.

Jane Brooks (Linda Blair) is pregnant and heading back to her husband's mother's house. The only thing scarier than the fact that David Hasselhoff is in this is the fact that she's been having strange, violent nightmares, and all of this talk about a witch. Well, the whole family ends up being stranded in the house, and to make things worse, all that witch talk turns out to be true, and she's going to torture and kill these folks one by one, so she can drag them into hell for a sacrifice.

I'll give "Witchery" this much: It sure as hell doesn't skimp on the violence and gore. Here, lips are sewn shut, a man is crucified, left upside down and burned, and in the most unpleasant moment, Linda (Catherine Hickland) is raped in a dream by a man whose mouth is sewn shut. There's also plenty of unintentional hilarity on display, from people not bothering to wonder where family members have disappeared to, to the hilarious "sucked into hell" optical effects that are hopelessly dated even for the time.

As I said though, this sadly isn't the best trash movie. Sure, it's violent, but most of the violence-such as a spoiled old woman (Annie Ross) having her mouth sewn shut and being tied under a chimney fire unbeknownst to the family-end up being more tedious than gruesome. The direction from Fabrizio Laurenti is flat and dull, as is the cinematography from Gianlorenzo Battaglia, neither of which fits the gruesome events. The script by Daniele Stroppa and Harry Spalding* is terrible, never bothering to explain even the most basic plot tenants or logic. If the witch has access to Satan's domain, why does she have to keep doors open? Why does the witch try to kill Jane and her baby when she needs both alive? These and other events go on unexplained, making for a frustrating experience. It also doesn't help that nobody in this delivers a good performance. Hasselhoff...well, you expected him to be bad, but Blair just looks like she'd rather be somewhere else, and was probably thinking "another movie in which my character is possessed?"

Unless you are the world's most indiscriminate connoisseur of trash, "Witchery" will just prove to be a mindless bore to sit through. There's better things D'Amato was attached to, so why bother with this?

Rating: 3/10

*Stroppa has written several Italian genre and exploitation films in the past, his best being Lamberto Bava's "Delerium" and the 1997 film "The Wax Mask", which was supposed to be directed by Lucio Fulci. He also wrote such "classics" such as "Zombi 5: Killing Birds", "Creepers", and the latter day Fulci films "The House of Clocks" and "Voices from Beyond."

Spalding is mostly known as the screenwriter for "The Watcher in the Woods", though his other writing credits include "The Earth Died Screaming", "Chosen Survivors", and several other genre titles from the 60's. "Witchery" serves as his last writing credit, and it sadly wasn't the best way to go out.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986)

As 1986 came around, it was becoming clear that the slasher movie craze wasn't going to last forever. Sure, we got "Friday the 14th Part 6", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" and "April Fools Day", but we also got duds like "Aerobicide" and "Killer Party", and more duds were to come. Granted, there were duds beforehand, but here the genre was really beginning to get long in the tooth for some. So, while Jim McCullough Sr.'s movie "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" isn't exactly a dud, it's not much of a hit either.

Evelyn (Anna Chappell) has spent years in an insane asylum, and she's now free. So, how's she going to spend her time out? Why, by killing her young charge, then tormenting a group of diverse customers with vermin, and bringing her old sickle to get the job done...

One review I read a few days ago described this as "a typical 80's slasher film." While it's certainly a slasher movie from the 80's, it isn't that typical. In fact, the plot and some of the events in the movie have more in common with 70's oddities like "The Terror at Redwolf Inn" and "Don't Look in the Basement", which proves to be a treat and a hindrance. On one hand, there's plenty of weirdness going on, with Evelyn's worldview being predictably distorted and offbeat. The score by Ron Di Iulio is great, an oddball and fun piece of electronic swirls and sounds that perfectly contemplates the eerie backwoods atmosphere. I also really like the attention to characters, which range from a reverend (Bill Thurman) to two wanna be country star sisters. The characters provided are diverse, and a welcome change from the usual horny teens.

However, as I said, the 70's style story and events are also a hindrance. For one thing, this movie is from the mid 80's, and what might have worked in the early to mid 70's doesn't work as well here. There's bloodshed (including a nifty bit with a hand being severed), but most of the kills are pretty uneventful. While I like the attention given to the characters, none of the performances are that good, as people tend to snoop around when they shouldn't (though I do like the sole black man in the movie pointing out that you'd have to be stupid to go snooping around. He was the smartest guy in the whole movie.) Speaking of which, I'm amazed as the basic lapses of logic in this movie, in which people don't notice that Evelyn is so clearly unhinged, and are willing to accept her as the motel owner. The ending is pretty weak too, with the final confrontation with Evelyn feeling poorly choreographed and uneventful.

To be honest, if this had come from the early to mid 70's, I'd probably be a little more forgiving towards the movie. As it stands, it's not a terrible movie. It just happens to be one that doesn't offer much to win people over.

Rating: 5.5/10

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mandrake (2010)

I gotta give it to the Sy-Fy Channel: when it comes to monsters, they aren't afraid to get creative to say the least. From mythical beings ("Wyvern") to mutations ("Mansquito") and other weird whats-its ("Sharktopus.") So, a movie about an ancient, walking tree that is awoken isn't that far fetched for this channel. Hence, the movie "Mandrake."

Under the orders of Harry Vargas (Benito Martinez from "The Shield" aka the best show ever made), Soldier of Fortune Sgt. McCall (Max Martini), archeologist Felicia (Betsy Russell, mostly known as Jigsaw's wife in the "Saw" movies*) and several others to go to the jungles to retrieve an infamous dagger from a burial ground. Well, after pulling it from the skeletal remains of a conquistador, bad events start to occur revolving around a long thought to be extinct tribe and the Mandrake tree.

Take "Predators", "Tremors", every stupid-white-people-anger-natives movie, and 1957's "From Hell It Came", and "Mandrake" is what you get-only nowhere near as fun as that sounds. To be fair, it isn't a worthless movie. None of the performances are bad per say (Martinez in particular is fun, though those hoping for "Aceveda vs. The Man Eating Tree" will be disappointed), the score by Jermaine Stegall is at least tolerable, the locations are great, the cinematography is fine, and the direction is at least standard. So yeah, little in this is offensively bad.

The thing though, is that it's a Sy-Fy Channel movie, which is a nice way of saying the whole thing is thoroughly average. While the performances aren't bad, the characters are all around dull and uninteresting. The gore and kills available are of the standard bad CGI level you get from movies like this. The mandrake itself has a neat design, but the effects feel inadequate. The events aren't really that exciting, and if you've seen any of the aforementioned movies (especially "Predators" and "Tremors"), none of this is going to feel fresh. Hell, if you've seen several Scy-Fy channel movies, you know what to expect from this-bad CGI, little effort being put in it, and a little self awareness.

It's nothing that made me angry, but I doubt I'll remember much of "Mandrake" in a few days. If it's on TV, then you could probably watch it, but you won't be recommending it to anyone either.

Rating: 4/10

*Before the movie menu, there was a trailer/ad for all of the "Saw" movies (obviously included to capitalize on the fact that Betsy Russell is in this movie.) You just know a few executives at Lionsgate wish they could have let the series continue.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet (2009)

In the last decade and the current one, a sudden resurgence of movies trying to hearken back to the gory heyday of the slasher movie have come about. Films like "Hatchet", "Midnight Movie", "Laid to Rest" and several others have done their best to bring back the Regan era slasher film, trying to create iconic killers for a new generation of fear fans. Frank Sabatella's 2009 slasher movie "Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet" (previously released independently, now being re-released by Lionsgate) is the latest of these movies, but in the process, forgets a very important aspect to these movies-make them interesting.

The movie opens promisingly, with a young Mary Hatchet (Patricia Raven) butchering her family in gory fashion before being sentenced to a mental hospital. Once she enters the hospital, he are treated to an ugly scene where an older Mary (Samantha Facchi) being raped and impregnated by an orderly, and her miscarriage leading to another slaughter, and her being gunned down. Years later, a group of really obnoxious teens (well, twenty and thirty something year old actors playing teens) celebrate "Blood Night", which commemorates the death of Mary Hatchet. Well, this turns out to be what Will Arnett's Gob character from "Arrested Development" would call "a huge mistake", because Mary comes back, and she's pissed.

There really isn't much good about "Blood Night." The gore is plentiful, but the effects work is hit and miss, with some moments looking great, and others a bit rubbery and fake. The kills are also hit and miss, some of which are great (dig the spine and intestine removing scene) and others the same "decapitations and geysers of blood" we've seen in the past. The direction is pretty bad, with poor camera angles and obnoxiously flashy editing dominating much of the film. The characters are mostly annoying, as are most of the actors. It also doesn't help that a lot-and I mean a lot-of time is spent watching these stupid kids partying and having a good time, to the point that when the killer goes back to work, you'll be lucky to stay awake.

This leads to another problem I have with the movie: Mary Hatchet isn't really all that scary or interesting. Slasher movies of the past, and more recent ones like the aforementioned "Laid to Rest" remembered to give the audience slasher villains that were menacing and imposing, not to mention interesting. Mary Hatchet on the other hand, is just another vengeful specter who kills. She doesn't have any real personality, and apart from the fact that she's naked, there's nothing memorable about her.

I'll give the movie this much: it sure as hell doesn't skimp on the bloodshed, carnage and nudity, Danielle Harris does a good job in her role, and though his character exists only to explain the legend of the title villain, Bill Mosely does a fine job with his limited role (he's probably also glad to not be playing a psychopath for a change.) Plus, this is Sabatella's first movie. Maybe he'll learn from the mistake he makes here the next time.

Sadly, those aren't reasons to recommend this movie, which is just a drab experience to watch. You're better off watching one of the 80's slasher movies that influenced it than the movie itself.

Rating: 3/10

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Terror Within (1989) and Dead Space (1991)

As the 80's came to a close and the 90's came in, something became clear: many movies produced by Roger Corman were getting noticeably more forgettable. Sure, he produced and directed his share of duds in the past, he returned to the directing chair in the underrated "Frankenstein Unbound", and a few of the movies from this era are guilty pleasures, but at the same time, it was clear that the era of "Death Race 2000", "Humanoids From the Deep" and other cult favorites had come to an end. Besides, in this time, the era of the Grindhouse theater was over, and home video was the replacement. Still, it would have been nice to see at least a little more put into the movies being reviewed today.

First is 1989's "The Terror Within", which takes place on a post apocalyptic world with monstrous creatures known as "Gargoyles" roam. Here, a group of survivors have managed to live thanks to an antidote, and they find a girl outside of their compound who is pregnant. However, she's pregnant with a gargoyle, and when she gives birth, all hell starts to break loose.

There are a few things to like about this movie. The cast (which includes character actors Andrew Stevens, George Kennedy and John Lafayette) is largely good to decent, the 80's style synthesizer score by Rick Conrad is a lot of fun, and it's impossible to hate the cheap rubber monster costume available. That out of the way, "The Terror Within" is just too average to fully recommend. The whole thing has the same "been here, seen that" feeling of other Corman produced "Alien" knock-offs of the time, only without the button pushing fun of the likes of "Galaxy of Terror." Hell, whatever nudity we do get is brief (and unpleasant), and while it's bloody, the movie feels tame compared to those movies (though that's mostly due to the MPAA crunching down on violence at the time.) Plus, nothing about it is exciting. Instead of thinking "Wow, a Roger Corman production!", you think to yourself "Yep, a Roger Corman Production."

That out of the way, it's a masterpiece compared to 1991's "Dead Space." A boring remake of the Corman produced "Forbidden World", this deals with Commander Krieger ("Beastmaster" star Marc Singer) and his robot sidekick Tinpan (Rodger Halston) coming to the space station Phaebon, where a creature/virus in a cocoon has hatched. Now, this over sized virus must be stopped...or else.

Apart from the presence of Bryan Cranston (who went on to much better things-most notably the brilliant AMC show "Breaking Bad"), everything about this movie reeks of bad early-to-mid 90's video exploitation fodder. There's nudity, but only in one instance. The score by Daniel May* is as generic as they come. The bloodshed is minimal. The direction...well, you can tell that Fred Gallo is doing the best he can with the limited budget, but the script by Catherine Cyran is as dull and stupid as they come. The other performances are all pretty bad, especially Singer, who seems uninterested. I think you get the point. That out of the way, while the creature itself is mostly immobile, the design given to it is pretty cool.

If you absolutely have to pick between the two (which are available on the same disc thanks to Shout! Factory's "Roger Corman Cult Classics" collection), go with "The Terror Within." That out of the way, don't expect much. It's funny to see these labeled as "Cult Classics" though, as these are pretty much forgettable.

Ratings:

The Terror Within: 4.5/10

Dead Space: 1.5/10

*May went on to perform, compose and arrange songs for various television shows and movies, including "Fight Club", "Memento" and "American Gangster."

As for "Dead Space"-creature designer Dean Jones went on to work on "Star Trek: The Next Generation", "Dexter" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Prior to this, he did special effects make-up for "Blue Velvet."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rubber (2010)

Damn.

There's nothing worse than a movie that you look forward to that ends up letting you down. I remember being really angry whilst watching the 98 "Godzilla" in theaters. Being let down when I saw "Diary of the Dead." I should be used to this by now. But when the early word and trailer for Quentin Dupieux's movie "Rubber"-a film about a killer tire named Robert-I thought to myself "Okay, this looks like it's going to be great." I mean, with a premise like that, how can you go wrong? Answer: by making a movie that's not as funny as it should be (though there are some laughs along the way) and ultimately too smug and pointless for it's own good.

The film starts out with a man (Stephen Spinella) telling the audience about how so many things in movies occur for no reason, and that this is a movie dedicated to "no reason" before he gives binoculars to a group of spectators who then watch the adventures of Robert as if they were a movie. Also, Robert falls for a sexy woman named Sheila (Roxane Mesquida), and after seeing some of his tire brethren being burned, decides to take his anger out at the rest of the world. Oh, and he can blow things up (particularly people's heads) via telekinesis. Oh, and there's a guy called The Accountant (Jack Plotnick) whose up to no good.

Why is he up to no good? You're guess is as good as mine, as the movie never explains it. While I'm aware that the theme of the movie is "no reason", it ultimately amounts to "no point." Much of the movie feels like it was made without any purpose, and the whole thing ends up feeling less like a meta-satire than it does a rather dull prank that's too in love with itself. It's a movie that thinks it's really clever by having people stand like they are spectators to a movie, but after a while, the whole "no reason" factor takes away a lot of the fun, and feels like a poor gimmick that's disguised as being smart and saying something when it ultimately means nothing.

I won't lie however, when I say that I did get some laughs out of this movie. The laughs I did get came from the general absurdity of several situations (Robert the tire watching TV, falling in love, killing people, taking a shower, etc.) that the movie commits itself to, and I gotta say that I applaud writer/director Dupieux for sticking with such a wacky premise, even though he ends up hurting it with the entire "no reason" theme. Also, it's always nice to see veteran character actor Wings Hauser, and he's a lot of fun whenever he shows up. The highlight however, is a scene revolving around a mannequin that was the funniest moment in the movie, and is impossible to hate.

Speaking of hate, I can't hate this movie, because it tries to be something different and succeeds. The problem though, is that the something different isn't all that involving or fun. It's mostly just ponderous and frustrating.

Rating: 4.5/10

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Red River (2011)

One of the things that plagues a lot of micro-budget horror movies these days is a lack of originality. Granted, movies that lack originality can be good or even great, but at times you are just left thinking to yourself is "I've seen this before." I say this because I've seen a lot of no-budget movies that have tried to emulate the Grindhouse and Exploitation movies of yesteryear, only to miss the mark not because of restrictions, but because the people behind them forget what it is that makes those movies so memorable. Case in point: Jacob Ennis' "Red River", which tries to mix the likes of "The Hills Have Eyes", "Motel Hell" and no-budget regional horror of the 70's with a heaping helping of modern day extreme gore and torture. Too bad the end result isn't good.

A group of annoying college kids who we don't give a shit about decide to go camping. Too bad for them that a religious maniac with a voice box named Roland Thatcher (Dave Haney) is killing pretty much anyone who comes into the woods for his deformed cannibal son "Hamburger Head" (Jason Crowe.) That's it as far as plot goes.

I'll give "Red River" this much: most of the gore effects are impressive, the cinematography is much better than it usually is in these kinds of no-budget movies, and at times I kind of liked the local, homegrown feel of the movie. Too bad none of the movie is particularly interesting, as the constant "Roland kills people" cycle of the movie is empty as all get. You can only see this bible-thumping maniac kill dumb people we don't care about so much until you start to tune out. Speaking of which, there are way too many lapses in logic when it comes to Roland. Why and how is it that this aging man with a gut and voice box is able to catch up to and kill so many people who are so much younger than him? Why do so many people not suspect that this guy might be up to something? That's just lazy writing.

Speaking of lazy writing, nobody in this movie is written well. Roland is just another murderous religious maniac that's been done so many times in the past, while Hamburger Head is just another pale imitation of Leatherface/every mutant inbred killer cannibal you've seen before. Meanwhile, the movie spends so much time with the main kids, which would be fine if you cared about them. These hollow dunderheads do nothing but bitch, have sex, bitch some more, make decisions that would make the kids from other slasher movies roll their eyes, bitch some more...you get the point.

I have seen worse as far as micro-budget horror goes, especially in this route, but this is still a lazy as all get backwoods slasher movie that offers nothing you haven't seen before, and done better. Skip it.

Rating: 1.5/10

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Incubus (1982)

What's an Incubus? Why, they're a band who came to fame in the late 90's/early 2000's who had several hits and maintain a loyal following. Okay, so other than that, what's an Incubus? Long story short, it's a male sex demon. I say all of this because demonic and supernatural rape is nothing new, going on through mythology, literature and films for years (as Hentai has shown us.) Besides, the mere idea of a demonic or ghostly presence raping somebody is horrific as it is. Well, John Hough tried his take on the sexual demon in his 1982 Canadian film "The Incubus."

In a small New England town, someone or something is raping and murdering women for impregnation reasons (he or it is also killing menfolk.) Dr. Sam Cordell (John Cassavetes) is perplexed by this, as is police chief Hank Walden (John Ireland), as well as the fact that local boy Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh) is having strange nightmares that involve rape, murder and the occult. So, are these just dreams? Of course they aren't.

What's interesting about "The Incubus" is that unlike many of the genre films of this era, this is not a slasher movie. Nope, this is a Gothic tale that owes a tip of the hat or two to Euro Horror. Hell, if this had been made in the 70's, you'd expect someone like Jean Rollin, Jesus Franco or Paul Naschy to be involved. Anyways, the movie does offer some nice atmosphere and some some mild but decent enough gore. The most intriguing aspect of the movie however, is its grim look at heterosexuality. The Incubus and the carnage in it's wake is disgusting, and only exists to impregnate women, while Dr. Cordell has an somewhat incestuous attachment to his daughter. In a genre where sex and death are always linked, the content in "The Incubus" is appropriately revolting, taking place in a world where Eros is a worse fate than Thanatos.

Yet despite the offensive content, little in the film is actually that disturbing or scary. The rape scenes are rarely that graphic, and one is set to footage of Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden fame) and his old band Samson. Maybe it's just me, but taking a potentially disturbing scene and splicing it with the sound and images of New-Wave-of-British-Heavy-Metal ruins the impact. (not a knock on the music though.) The acting is also nondescript, with Cassavetes in particular not interested in any of this, as he's clearly available for a paycheck and nothing more. The ending is also really bad. Sure, it's a downer, but you see it coming a mile away and are left thinking "Wait, hold on. That's it?"

So, is "The Incubus" worth seeing. Well, as a curio maybe, but it's not really a hidden gem or colossal failure. It's a movie that's just there.

Rating: 5/10

*John Hough has had quite a varied career, starting out on TV until he got a break in horror with Hammer's "Twins of Evil" and his most celebrated title, the classic haunted house film "The Legend of Hell House." After doing three movies for Disney ("The Watcher in the Woods" and both "Witch Mountain" movies), he directed this movie, which was savaged by critics and most likely ignored by audiences. His career never fully recovered, and other than "Howling IV: The Original Nightmare" and "American Gothic", he stuck mostly with TV. His last movies were the drama "Something to Believe In" (which has nothing to do with the Poison song) and the forgotten direct-to-video movie "Hell's Gate."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Drive Angry (2011)

The thing I want the most out of a B-Movie is to be entertained. Social commentary and whatnot are all fine, but if you don't have anything else for me, then get out. Roger Corman got that back in the day, producing the likes of "Death Race 2000", "Humanoids From the Deep" and "Forbidden World" among others. While some of these movies might have made a social statement, they also remembered what audiences wanted. Well, "Drive Angry" doesn't say anything insightful or intelligent, but dammit if it isn't one of the most fun B-Movie experiences I've seen all year, from Hollywood or not.

John Milton (Nicolas Cage) has broken out of hell to kill cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke), who killed his daughter and plans to sacrifice her baby in the name of Satan. In the process, he befriends Piper (Amber Heard), a down on her luck but tough as nails waitress, and finds the law (lead by Tom Atkins) and King's cult going after him. Oh, and to make matters worse, The Accountant (William Fichtner) has been sent by Satan to send Johnny boy back to hell.

The reason I mentioned Roger Corman earlier was mostly because of this: out of all the exploitation tributes I've seen, this is probably the one that most accurately captures the unapologetic fun and energy of the man's 70's/early 80's heyday. There's fast cars, humor that's actually funny, gratuitous nudity, gratuitous violence, gore, Satanic cults, souped up cars, car chases, explosions, likable characters, charismatic villains and anti-heroes, bare-knuckle action, and so much more. Unlike crap like "Bitch Slap" and "The Bleeding", this is clearly the work of people who not only love 70's exploitation and the like, but have done their homework and actually know what fans of those movies want, and, Hollywood sheen aside, delivers it.

Acting wise, it's pretty strong as well. Cage is good as our hero, delivering the kind of performance we should have gotten in "Season of the Witch", while Heard seems to be having a lot of fun as the tough as they get Piper and Billy Burke adds Southern swagger to Jonah King. The big standout though, is Fichtner as The Accountant. He steals the show here, adding an almost Christopher Walken level cool to his performance, delivering one liners with ease and making every scene he's in entertaining as hell.

I will admit that I do have two minor complaints. For one, we don't really get to know anything about Jonah's followers, as they are simply available to be killed by Milton or get their asses kicked by Piper. It would have been nice to at least know a little bit about one of them. Also, while he's fun in his role, it would have been nice if we had gotten a bit more of Tom Atkins. Dude's a cult movie icon for a good reason, and a few more scenes with him would have been great.

Still, those are minor complaints. "Drive Angry" is an unapologetic, crass, loud piece of work with nothing but mayhem on it's mind, and God bless it's heart for it. If only more tributes to exploitation where this fun.

Rating: 8.5/10