Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shadow (2009)

I wonder how Richard Connell would have felt that "The Most Dangerous Game" ended up becoming a template for so many horror films. From the Ozploitation classic "Turkey Shoot" to WWE Film's preachy misfire "The Condemned", the subject of man hunting man is one that's too easy not to pass up for some. Well, Federico Zampaglione, an Italian pop star, has taken on this subject too with "Shadow", which could have used more "Dangerous Game" and a lot less of what some like to call "torture porn."

Iraq war soldier David (Jake Muxworthy) sets off to Europe to get some biking done, when he meets a cute girl named Angeline (Karina Testa.) Unfortunately, they end up running into troublesome hunters Buck (Chris Coppola) and Fred (Ottaviano Blitch), who end up being the least of his problems, because a man named Mortis (Nuot Arquint) has some murderous and torture happy designs on David and the hunters.

I will say this much about "Shadow": the cinematography and outdoors locations look great. Now that I've said nice things, I'll get on with the many, many bad things. For starters, none of this is scary, suspenseful or interesting. The whole thing feels like the kind of bad torture flicks that plagued video stores in the late 2000's, with one-note characters, poor acting and a terrible pacing. The villain is also lame, looking more like a refugee from a bad music video than somebody who belongs in a horror movie. The rock score by Andrea Moscianese is as bland as they come, and never sounds appropriate or menacing.

Then there's the conclusion, which offers a terrible twist ending that also serves as a rather misguided commentary on the horrors of war. Look, I'm about as anti-war as the next guy, but the twist offered here makes no sense in the context of the film, and feels like your usual axe-grinding. If you are going to make some political commentary, at least add it when it feels necessary. Here it's just a terrible conclusion to an already bad movie.

If you are hoping for a return to the glory days of Italian horror, then "Shadow" will just leave you angry. If you are the type of person who likes the "Saw" movies-you'll probably hate this too, and find it to be incredibly pointless.

Rating: 1.5/10

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

The 70's had a thing for recycling the 50's era "monsters created by nuclear energy/radiation" genre. Why I don't know, but it probably had to do with newer concerns for the environment. Or it was because producers knew some still had a thing for those 50's movies, which is the most likely answer. One of the titles that tends to get talked about is William Sachs' (who also gave the world "Galaxina") 1977 film "The Incredible Melting Man", either from seeing it on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland or because it was lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000. Anyways, I've been meaning to review this for a while now, so here goes.

Astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) was a part of a mission to the rings of Saturn, where he seems to have been the only survivor. Also, his body is slowly melting, and he needs to eat human flesh to stay alive. Can Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) save the day, or will he act like a bitch because his wife Judy (Ann Sweeney) forgot crackers?

First things first: this is not a good movie. Granted, the fact that it was featured on MST3K is kind of a giveaway, but still. Anyways, this is a movie with not too impressive directing (if it weren't for the minor gore, melting man and a bit of female nudity, this could have passed for a television movie), bad comic relief* (Judy's horny parents-yuck), all around poor performances, a really dated score that feels like it belongs on a television movie, a lack of likable characters (only Steve comes off as sympathetic) and more.

That out of the way, it's still a watchable and occasionally sort of fun movie. The "melting" FX and gore were provided by Rick Baker, who needs no introduction to genre fans, and are all pretty impressive. There's also something of a charm to the sheer 70's feel that you don't get anymore, as well as the fact that our monster isn't exactly discriminate about who it eats-meaning yep, the annoying old couple get knocked off. Nice to see that Sachs was thinking of some of us at least.

Can I recommend "The Incredible Melting Man"? Well, if you love bad movies, this is a must, and it's didn't make me angry. For everyone else...well, I guess that depends.

Rating: 5.5/10

* Originally, Sachs intended this to be a parody of 50's B-Movies, but the studio said no to that. You do get instances of humor, but they only work a few times.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scourge (2008)

I haven't reviewed a movie released by Lionsgate in a while, so hey, why not review the "parasites turn people into something resembling zombies" movie "Scourge"?

Scott (Nick Rhind) has come to town, meeting his ex Jesse (Robyn Ledoux) in the process. Well, also in said town, a church has burned down, and it had entombed an ancient pestilence called "The Scourge", which has gotten loose, and starts turning anyone it infects into a hungry, belching, zombie like being that eats any kind of food, and attacks and spreads the parasite. Can Scott and Jesse stop The Scourge before it's too late, and rekindle their love in the process? Can they deal with Corrupt Sherrif Durst (Russ Ferrier)? Will you find any reason to care?

I will give "Scourge" this much: it does have a few decent gory scenes (best one: jaw punched nearly off), a sense of awareness, and the Canadian feeling of the movie doesn't hurt. Also, I like the feel of the movie at times, as it feels like the kind of unambitious but watchable B-Movies you'd got back in the 80's. Oh, and the CG creature effects aren't too bad. They aren't great, but they are better than a lot of low budget CG creations.

That's not to say that this is a good movie. If you took "The Hidden" and "Slither", and removed much that made them noteworthy, then "Scourge" is what you get. The whole thing is also a cliche as you get, and not in a good way. Corrupt police? Check. Bad boy with a past? Yep. Rekindled romance between bad boy and ex-girlfriend? Uh huh. Comic relief fat guy? You bet your ass. It also doesn't help that none of the performances here are worth a damn, especially two leads, who have the charisma and chemistry of dry cement. Watching them, I couldn't help but roll my eyes when they finally got together, and this is coming from a guy whose a bit of a romantic at heart. I normally love seeing two people get together, but not if I don't care about them.

I didn't really hate "Scourge". but that's because I didn't really give a shit about it either. If you're going to watch it, wait until it comes on TV, particularly the Chiller channel, which tends to pick up movies like this regularly.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Junk (2000)

When I reviewed "Primal", I mentioned that while it was a pastiche of a movie, it was at least an entertaining one. What I was saying in short is that if you are going to do a horror movie that brings nothing new to the table, at least make sure that said movie is fun to watch. That's exactly what Atsushi Muroga's 2000 zombie movie "Junk" is-a movie that's nothing new whatsoever, but at least comes from someone who understands how to do mindless fun.

In Japan, a new formula called DNX has been created in a military lab, which can bring the dead back to life. This turns out to be, as Will Arnett's Gob character from "Arrested Development" would call, "a huge mistake", as it awakens a very naked-and shockingly hot, girl who has a taste for human flesh. To make matters worse, a team of petty jewel thieves end up finding out that the only thing worse than running from the law and getting double crossed is a horde of zombies. Now, they must fight for their lives, all while the scientist who created the serum must put a stop to this madness, and what do you know, he knows this zombie gal, who also has a thing for tight leather and jack boots. If she weren't dead, I'd be in love.

There really isn't anything new here. Take "Re-Animator", "Return of the Living Dead 3", "Day of the Dead" and a Tarantino knock-off, and "Junk" is what you get. As far as knock-offs go, this one is actually pretty fun, with plenty of gore, the already mentioned female nudity, and a sense of humor and energy to the proceedings. The one thing that helps this out the most is the inspiration it takes from Italian zombie movies. In short, if you like films like "Zombi 2", "Burial Ground" and even "Hell of the Living Dead", then you might like this, as there's nods to those movies (one zombie looks like it could have escaped "Nightmare City", the dead rising with white sheets tied to them could have come from a Fulci movie-the list goes on) that actually manage not to feel derivative. You can tell that Muroga did his homework, and knows what fans of these kinds of movies want, and he largely delivers.

Well, except in the acting department. While nobody expects great acting from movies like this, most of the performances here are pretty bad-with the American actors in particular being awful. Every time one of them appeared on the screen, I found myself cringing at the poor line delivery and lack of conviction in their performances.

Still, "Junk" is the good kind of junk-not too bright, but it offers enough nudity, gore and all around fun to make it impossible to hate. Italian zombie fans in particular should give this a shot.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Landlord (2009)

I usually try to avoid micro-budgeted horror comedy movies. Not because of poor acting or budgetary reasons, but because most of them just flat out suck, and we all know how painful a bad comedy can be. Why do most of them suck? Because they think buckets of no budget gore, bad jokes, toilet humor, and obvious homages will get them by. So, while I wasn't blown away by it, I did find Emil Hyde's "The Landlord" to be slightly refreshing, as it's humor is more of the dry, often times dark variety.

Meet Tyler (Derek Dziak.) He's a nice guy who just happens to be cursed to work for a demon haunted apartment building possessed by Rabisu (Rom Barkhordar) and Lamashtu (Lori Myers.) Well, things start to look good for him when Southern gal Donna (Erin Myers) enters his life-except for the fact that her ex is in town. Oh, and Rabisu and Lamashtu have plans for her unborn child.

As I said, "The Landlord" didn't quite blow me away. For one thing, while I appreciate the dry humor on display, the more serious moments come off as awkward, with the disgruntled ex and a flashback to Tyler's past in particular not working. There's also a really unnecessary sub-plot revolving around Tyler's sister Amy (Michelle Courvais) and a gang of vampires. There's really no point to this sub-plot, and it really shows the films biggest weakness: it doesn't really know how to balance humor and drama, and tends to throw in unneeded plot elements into the stew. Also, I really didn't care for the score from a band called The Mystechs, which really jarred on my nerves.

That out of the way, there are things I like about this. The make-up effects are shockingly good for a movie with an $18,000 budget, as are the performances. Barkhorder in particular steals the show as the Hawaiian shirt loving Rabisu, who at times is more like a terrible roommate than he is an evil demon, especially with his tendency to use Tyler's credit card. Oh, and I did get some good, hearty laughs out of this, mostly from Rabisu, but also from scenes like a botched robbery. It's nice to see a movie that actually pays attention to its humor instead of just throwing things on the wall to see if they stick.

In the end, "The Landlord" is a movie that only works 50 or 55% of the time, and has too many unnecessary sub-plots for it's own good. That out of the way, it's still better than a lot of the micro-budget horror comedy movies I've seen, and for that, it deserves some props.

Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sick Nurses (2007)

The "Asian Ghost" genre is pretty well known thanks to films like "Ringu", "Ju-On" and "The Eye" giving the world specters with long black hair and bad intentions their day in the spotlight. However, like many sub-genre's in horror, it eventually got old, with movie after movie giving audiences little in the way of surprises, and with that lost interest. So, what kind of movie could take this concept and add a few new things to it? Well, how about the Thai film "Sick Nurses", which adds gore and a sadistic sense of humor to the equation.

Meet Dr. Taa (Wichan Jarujinda), who has seven nubile nurses working for him-as well as a black market organ ring. Well, one of the girls isn't too keen on this, so the other nurses kill her. Seven days later, she's back as a ghost, and she's pissed off.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the thing that sets this apart from other "Asian Ghost" movies is the gory violence and sadistic humor on display. In some ways, this feels kind of like a grotesque, blackly comic goof on the sub-genre, with plenty of soap opera melodrama and off-kilter twists managing to keep our interest. This is also more of a slasher movie with Italian horror like undertones, as each death is creative and at times humorous in their own sick way. Highlights in the carnage include death via suffocation from very long hair, a scene that brings to mind the old J.G. Thirlwell pseudonym "You've Got Foetus on Your Breath", and a conclusion that shamelessly lifts from Takashi Miike's "Gozu."

That out of the way, the movie does run into two problems. One is the acting, as everybody (except for Chidjan Rujiphun as Nook) is pretty bad all around, with no real reason to care if anyone here lives or dies, though that might be the point. Also, though it's got some really nasty violence, the movie is afraid to deliver on the nudity department. This is the kind of movie in which a girl showers with her clothes on, which puts a damper on a film that should be shameless exploitation.

Still, "Sick Nurses" is a fun but not great take on a tired sub-genre that throws in enough curve balls and surprises to keep the viewers interest. Not a bad way to spend a boring afternoon.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, September 12, 2011

Savage Harvest (1994)

I want to revisit my reviews of "The Severed Head Network" and 1994's vampire splatter-flick "Darkness." First "Darkness", because in that review, I mentioned how in the 90's there wasn't any demand for the likes of Italian gore movies and other exploitation films, so some ended up trying to fill that gap with movies that they shot on home video that tried to emulate the likes of "Burial Ground" and "Zombi 2." I mention "The Severed Heads Network" because while I haven't enjoyed the movies of Wicked Pixel, I do appreciate that in the world of underground horror, they at least seem to be trying something different.

So, why did I invoke those two? Because "Savage Harvest" was the first movie from Wicked Pixel main man Eric Stanze, and to be honest, isn't all that original.

The premise is pretty simple: Mikki (Lisa Morrison) has been given the task of being the counselor of a summer camp, and decides to hang out with friends so they can clean up her pal Karen's (Ramona Midgett-*snicker*) Uncles cabin. Well, Mikki's old boyfriend (David Berliner) comes in with some old rocks and an old tale about an Native American curse and demons. Well, it turns out to be true. If you've seen "The Evil Dead", "Night of the Demons" or "Demons", you know what happens next.

As you can see, "Savage Harvest" isn't that original, as it's pretty much a no-budget, shot on camcorder riff on the above mentioned movies. Thankfully, Stanze actually shows some talent behind the camera, with some neat camera angles and tricks on display. Also, for a movie made for nothing, the gore looks fantastic, with a few inventive moments (tongue with a poisonous stinger on the tip) to keep momentary interest. Plus, I gotta hand it to him for taking the mythology (no matter how dumb it feels sometimes) within the movie seriously. Most micro-budget debuts offer gore and no structure, but at least Stanze is clearly putting a lot of effort into this.

Sadly, this still isn't a good movie. Why? Well for starters, none of these characters are particularly interesting. You have to wait until after the (actually creepy) opening until anything gory happens. For a while, it's just amateur level acting and dialogue that's hard to decipher at times due to sound and budgetary reasons. I try not to complain about that sort of thing in these kinds of horror movies, but the attempts at characterization presented are awkward, and reek of a first time director not fully realizing how to hone his craft yet. Then there's the music. The score at times is kinda neat, but other times it's really, really annoying-especially during the attack scenes. Then there's the awful songs from a band called Hotel Faux Pas, which is just really dull sounding garage rock that has no personality.

I'm going to bring up "Darkness" again, because like that film, this feels more like a rough-draft or demo for a movie. Still, while I don't like it, the direction does show some potential, and I gotta give the director credit for sticking with his guns and making a movie for nothing. A sequel came out eleven years later, and to be honest, I'm kinda interested in it.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dream Home (2010)

The economy sucks right now. You knew that, but it's still worth noting. At the moment, I can't find a job anywhere, and neither can anyone else. People are also losing their homes, and can't seem to find one no matter what. In short, things suck at the moment. So it is timely that the movie "Dream Home" would tackle the shitty home property market, and how it's affected everyone else in the world-or in this case, Hong Kong.

Josie Ho is Cheng Lai - Sheun, a girl who knows a thing or two about hardships. She lost her parents to mesothelioma, she was smacked around as a child, and she's wanted to have a home to her own-a high rated establishment at that-since she was a kid. Well, she's worked her fingers to the bone to invest in it. Well, the deal ends up falling through, and she's left to her own devices. By that, I mean she sees this as a place to kill for...literally.

Timely, smart, blackly comic, gory and very well acted, "Dream Home" is the kind of horror movie we need more of. This is a film that anyone who wants a home to their own or who has worked extremely hard, only to get nothing in return can relate to. It especially fits considering the state of the housing situation in China. Right now, this has effected the younger generation most of all, as many can't find a place of their own, and are having trouble making ends meet at the end of the day.

Apart from that, this is just a sick but entertaining film. The kills are often times very creative, sometimes just wrong (a pregnant woman is killed via plastic bag and vacuum cleaner), sometimes wince inducing (castration), sometimes darkly funny (wooden plank shoved in the mouth) and always very bloody. Also worthy of notice is Josie Ho, who in spite of the horrible things she does, is somewhat easy to relate to. Granted, most people who are in her position won't go the lengths of killing people, but sympathy can be seen in this monster, whose done everything and gotten nothing in return in a hard-knock life. You don't condone what she does, but you can feel for her either way.

As I said, we need more timely, sick, and disturbingly entertaining horror movies like this. It's easily one of the best sleepers I've seen all year.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)

With the following exceptions-"I Walked With a Zombie", "Carnival of Souls", "Plague of the Zombies" and "White Zombie"-there really weren't many good zombie movies before "Night of the Living Dead." Most of them dealt either with Voodoo and exploited white racial fears, or they dealt with fears of the atomic age. Also, they were (pardon the pun) lifeless, boring, talky and not worth watching. The same could be said for the Sam Katzman produced "Zombies of Mora Tau", only it's voodoo zombies don't offer any racism-though it does have a lot of bitchy white people.

A group sailors decide to get some diamonds from the ocean, and ignore the warnings about a sailor guard from 60 years earlier that died in a shipwreck. Of course, this turns out to be a mistake, as those dead sailors come back to retrieve their treasure, and in the process turn the bitchy Mona Harrison (Allison Hayes) into a zombie.

Apart from Hayes, whose a lot of fun as the all around sour bitch, the only thing that really stands out in "Zombies of Mora Tau" is the dead themselves. They're clearly being controlled by Voodoo, but they don't have a master. In fact, they are actually ancestors of the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead", as they have no emotions, and a single motive in mind that they wish to attain. Plus, a few of the scenes with them are actually kinda creepy.

Sadly, this is a movie that could have used a bit more of the dead, as the living are all unlikeable, and mostly just complain or yell at one another. Plus, they are incredibly stupid, as they have constant opportunities to set the dead on fire (it's the one thing that can kill them), and they never do it. Hell, I ended up sympathizing more with the zombies in this movie. All they want is their diamonds. If these dumb fucks hadn't stolen it, or would just give them back, none of this would have happened. As for the rest of the movie-well, most of what doesn't involve the nautical dead is boring.

In short: liked the zombies and one of the actors, but didn't care for much much else. I wanted to enjoy this, but apart from hardcore fans of cheap B-movies from the 50's and hardcore zombie lovers, there isn't any reason to see this.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Devil's Sword (1984)

Barry Prima is a name that's synonymous with Indonesian action movies. Born Bertus Knoch in 1985 in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, the actor has many credits in the countries action-based exploitation films, with "The Warrior", "Hijacked to Hell", "Revenge of the Ninja" and others filling VHS rentals and gaining the actor a small but devoted cult following. At first, I figured that I'd review either "The Warrior" or the cannibal movie he was in called "Primatives", but instead I decided to go with "The Devil's Sword", which is half post "Conan the Barbarian" Sword n' Sorcery movie, half martial arts movie, and all pure insanity.

Prima plays Mandala, who reaches a village that has been attacked by the servants of the Crocodile Queen, leaving behind only two survivors. It seems that the queen wants possession of The Devil's Sword, because whoever possesses the sword will have the power to rule over the world-or something. Now Mandala must find the sword and vanquish this evil that plagues the land, while in the process getting in many bloody battles.

"The Devil's Sword" is the kind of exploitation movie that doesn't offer a whole lot as far as intelligence is concerned, but makes up for it with cheap gore, sex, and all around random madness. A great example of this would be the scene where Mandala and a female accomplice find themselves battling Crocodile Men, which are guys in the least convincing monster outfits imaginable. I found myself laughing at this, but at the same time, it had better than expected fight choreography, bloodshed, and a sheer "hey, what the hell" attitude going for it. It's scenes like this that make me applaud director Ratno Timoer and writer Imam Tantowi for pretty much mixing the likes of "Conan the Barbarian", kung-fu movies like "Master of the Flying Guillotine", and Indonesian folklore to create a stew that's incredibly bizarre but altogether tasty.

I did however, get bored with the constant shots of male servants making out with or salivating over the evil queen. Granted, she's hot, but the viewer doesn't need to see seemingly endless footage of her playing tonsil hockey and swimming with men. Scenes like this feel more like padding than something that will advance whatever flimsy plot there is.

Still, this makes for a fun time for fans of Indonesian genre movies, and for those who have a taste for the absolutely bizarre in foreign exploitation. If the writers and director of "Conan" dropped acid, were working with a low budget and watched a marathon of supernatural themed kung-fu movies from the Shaw Bros., this is what it would probably resemble.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Haunted (1977)

The Native American curse is something familiar in horror. From the Indian burial ground ("Pet Cemetery", "Poltergeist") to the wronged Native American man (Fred Olen Rey's "Scalps" to the abominable horror-comedy "Thankskilling"), this sub-genre can play with two things: white racial fears or white liberal guilt. Well, what if a movie doesn't really do either? The answer: Michael A. DeGaetano's little known and generically named "Haunted."

During the Civil War, Apache girl Abanaki (Ann Williams) is sentenced to death for stealing a soldier named Andrew's (Aldo Ray) horse for witchery and for discovering some unsavory truth's about Andy and a Priest wanting gold. Cut to today (well, 70's present day), where Jennifer Baines' (Williams again) car breaks down, and she ends up in the Apacheland Movie Ranch-built where the old town was. The next thing you know, the descendants of those that sentenced Abanaki are dying...

Apart from a fine score by Lor Crane, "Haunted" is the kind of 70's horror movie that's mostly forgotten for very good reason. It's a pretty dull affair, with little of the death or events taking place feeling particularly suspenseful or interesting, and the plot pretty much the same thing you've had to deal with many times in past. There's also a really bad song called "Indian Woman" in the title sequence fits alongside other terrible songs featured in 70's horror, some pretty poor pacing, endless scenes of dialogue delivered with no conviction whatsoever, and a curse that's ultimately lame. The scariest thing here is Aldo Ray without a shirt on.

The biggest problem with the movie, is that it doesn't seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is this a supernatural revenge tale? A western melodrama with female nudity? a tale of romance? Who is this movie supposed to appeal to? You're left not knowing the answer to any of this, as it just leaves all kinds of plot details and ideas hanging without being realized.

"Haunted" is nothing more than a dire viewing experience, with hardly anything to recommend or compliment. It's a movie that just doesn't go anywhere, and left me thinking that I could be watching something else instead of wasting my time with this.

Rating: 1.5/10