Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Crow: Salvation (2000)

To say that "The Crow: City of Angels" was a disappointment would be an understatement. The reviews were unkind, the box office wasn't up to snuff, and fan reaction was mostly poor. Plus, it killed off Rob Zombie's chances of directing an entry in the series, though that's probably a good thing. Needless to say, I doubt many were pining for a new entry.

We got one though, from Bharat Nalluri (who previously directed two British crime movies) in "The Crow: Salvation." I'm pretty sure that regardless of the prior film's poor performance, the Weinstein Brothers still had hope. Hey, maybe if this one is at least a moderate hit, we can get Rob Zombie to do the one he wants to do! Or, how about a hip hop version starring DMX and Eminem! Well, that never happened. Oh sure, the thing got a theatrical release. By that, I mean it played in one theater, and then disappeared a week later. Then it went to video, and few have cared about it since. Sure, it's gotten a cult following (You can't say the same about "Wicked Prayer"), but so does "City of Angels." That's not exactly good.

Alex Corvis (Eric Mabius) has been falsely accused of the murder of his girlfriend (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe.) He says he;s innocencent, and that a man with scars on his right arm is the culprit. This doesn't work out for him, he's executed, and since this is a "Crow" movie, he comes back from the grave for revenge.

"No, I'm not trying to be The Riddler."

There are a few things in the film that actually do work. Mabius, while not as good as Brandon Lee, does manage to make this version of The Crow his own without imitating the former. In fact, most of the performances here are good, though the presence of such great character actors like Fred Ward, William Atherton and Walton Goggins sure helps. Then there's Kirstin Dunst, whose the most surprising cast member here. At the time, she was something of a rising star and seemed to be the next big thing (yes, even before "Spider Man" and "Bring it On"), so my best guess is that the studio thought that she would be enough to warrant a wider release. Also worthy of note is the fact that the film manages to bring in some dark humor not unlike the first film, and the plot is occasionally more interesting than the one in "City of Angels."

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn't up to snuff. Probably the biggest problem is that there's no sense of style to this. Say what you will about "City of Angels", but it at least had a unique, Gothic look to it. Here, the movie just looks and feels like another generic sequel. The direction is also bland as all get out. Simply put, Nalluri doesn't know how to do an action scene, and thinks that randomly thrown in car chases and explosions will keep the viewers attention instead of character or plot development. The movie ends up feeling like it's being directed on autopilot by a man whose really not all that interested in what he's doing.

"Are you supposed to be like, scary or something?"

Then there's the fact that, like the previous movie, nothing about this feels necessary. The original "The Crow" worked as a stand alone movie, and nothing about it felt like it needed a sequel. This, like the first sequel, feels like it was made simply to get money from what it assumed would be an anxious public, but that would not be the case. That would be fine if, you know, the end result wasn't so paint by the numbers.

As a whole, I feel the same way about "Salvation" that I do "City of Angels." It has it's moments, and I can see why it has a cult following, but at the end of the day, the thing doesn't really justify it's existence. At the same time, a part of me kinda wishes that the Rob Zombie and hip hop versions had been made. Sure, they would have been bad (probably worse), but at least they would have had ambition to them.

Rating: 4.5/10

As for the somehow manages to be more forgettable than the last one. Tricky, Days of the New, some electro-rock group called Sin and Monster Magnet turn in some good songs, but the rest ranges from forgettable (lame Industrial Rock, a Rob Zombie remix-seriously, what was it with Rob Zombie remixes on soundtracks in the late 90's and early 2000's?), ill conceived (regrettable covers of Bob Dylan and Ministry by Hole and Static-X with Fear Factory singer Burton C. Bell) to all around awful (Kid Rock, a Fly's song with a rapper coming in for no reason whatsoever.) It just serves as a reminder of how bad some of the music was back then.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Second Viewing: Zombi 3 (1988)

Like it or not, those of us that review movies sometimes end up revisiting ones that we didn't care for when we first saw them. Call it a form of masochism, call it dedication to your craft, or you can call it a momentary lapse in judgement. Sometimes, we find ourselves enjoying said movies upon second viewing, while other times...not so much. Without further adieu, let's take a look at a movie I previously reviewed.

Comebacks don't always work out. Some bands have been "making a comeback" for years now. Some directors have been "making a comeback" for years. The problem with this is that more often then not, comebacks just don't work out the way we hope they will.In a lot of ways, Lucio Fulci's (and the Bruno Mattei's) "Zombie 3" is something of the definition of a failed comeback.

The only way to make Radio DJ's tolerable

Fulci himself was no stranger to horror even before his splatter days. He made his first venture into the genre with 1969's "Perversion Story", and made several acclaimed Giallo films in the 70's. It was 1979's "Zombie 2" though, that made him a horror favorite. Released in it's home country as an unofficial sequel to "Dawn of the Dead", "Zombi 2" became the definitive Italian zombie movie-loaded with nauseating gore, outrageous set pieces, oodles of atmosphere and little attention to things like plot or thematic elements. After the movie was a hit, Fulci followed it up with more gore happy horror films-"City of the Living Dead", "The Beyond", "House by the Cemetery" and "New York Ripper" all made him a hollowed name in the annals of the genre.

And then...not much worthy of mention. Sure, he continued to make movies, but they were lacking. The wonderful style and suspense of his 70's Giallos was gone, and while some of his movies still had gore, they were rarely as nausea inducing or creative and atmospheric as his splatter films were. If anything, his movies were becoming boring and redundant instead of gross or creepy. So in short, he needed a comeback.

In what seemed like good news at the time, he was given an offer he couldn't refuse-a chance to do a sequel of sorts to "Zombi 2." Granted, it was in no way connected to the original and was written by Claudio Fragasso, but at the time it seemed like the movie he needed. Well, health problems arose, as did on set conflicts (the latter not exactly alien to Fulci) and production gaffs, leading to Fulci leaving the set. The end result is not exactly what those involved hoped for. Fans of the original were unhappy, it came out in a time when horror was starting to die in Italy, and it was unable to make to the states officially until the last decade.

A few, a few men.

The plot, as it is, kinda feels like a more action packed, more serious attempt at remaking "Return of the Living Dead." A terrorist is infected by the bio-weapon he's carrying, and his body is cremated by the U.S. military. As we all know, this turns out to be...

...and the next thing you know, it infects the inhabitants of the island the terrorist was on, turning them (and some of the animals) into flesh hungry zombies. Now, members of the military and some tourists most fend for themselves as the inevitable zombie apocalypse draws nearer.

Revisiting it, I found "Zombi 3" to be both an oddly fascinating and somewhat depressing experience. On one hand, the movie rarely makes any sense, is full of plot holes and can be unintentionally hilarious. The zombies themselves have no real continuity here-at one moment they are lurching flesh eaters, and the next they have the agility of a ninja. People often make the dumbest decisions, and completely random events (a zombie's head in a refrigerator flying out and attacking a man) happen without rhyme or reason, as if those behind it thought "Hey, why not?" In that way, it is worth watching as a bad but interesting experience.

At the same time, it all feels like a "what could have been" experience. Whereas the original had a sense of menace and rotting dread, this one tries to go the action movie route, which is a mistake due to how dull and ultimately boring the action ultimately is. People fire guns, zombies jump out of trees, people try to escape...and none of it is interesting. Also, while there's gore, none of it is up to par with the original, or even Mattei's "Hell of the Living Dead." Sure, that movie is bad, but there's a weird sense of fun to it, and it's completely unapologetic about it's cheap exploitation roots and impressive, gory set pieces. Here, it feels like those behind it are embarrassed with what they are making, and don't have any real conviction towards the film.

Finally, the whole thing feels like it's too little, too late. If this had been written by someone else and done back when Fulci was still hot, it could have been a more effective movie. However, the end result feels a lot like other Italian horror movies that started to pop up at this time-indifferent, lazy and not worth watching unless you are a bad movie fanatic.

Hey, that's not my leftovers!

Maybe in some alternate universe, "Zombi 3" is actually a better movie. In this universe though, it's a misfire that's best viewed as a morbid curio and little else.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012-The Rest

Just as it says-the rest. Disappointments, forgettable films, guilty pleasures and future bad movie classics.


Absentia-A lot of people went nuts for this supernatural tale, but I found it to be a letdown. Sure, the acting is solid, but I found it to be kinda dull and the ending to be something of a bad decision. Also, the repetitive score got on my nerves

Expendables 2-I will admit that I liked this a little more than the last one, but the constant switches from serious action movie to tongue-in-cheek action movie is annoying. Also, Chuck Norris jokes in 2012?

Most Forgettable

Underworld: Awakening-It's...yet another "Underworld" movie. Sure, there's some fun action scenes, and it does have the distinction of being the goriest of the films, but at the end of the day, it all feels about as formulaic as they come.

Inkubus-Produced by and starring Joey Fatone, this sucker has a great performance by Robert Englund and little else. The cheap, Youtube video level production doesn't help.

Night Wolf-Lionsgate strikes again by saying Tom Felton stars in this unremarkable and mostly bad werewolf film, when in fact he only has a small supporting role. I don't remember anything else about it.

Guiltiest Pleasures

Rise of the Animals-Low on cash and acting talent, this manages to be a marginally charming little film that's more fun than most SyFy channel movies.

Zombie A-Hole-By all accounts, I should hate this micro-budget exploitation homage from Dustin Mills (whose "Puppet Monster Massacre" kinda annoyed me), but this shockingly imaginative movie has tons of gore, nudity, a bit of humor and insane amounts of dedication and enthusiasm to make for a shockingly fun time that puts most micro-budget zombie movies to shame.

Resident Evil-Retribution-If you were to ask me what this movie is about, my answer would honestly be "I have no idea." All I know is that explosions happen, slow motion is abused, zombies and monsters run amok and the most basic tenants logic, characterization and plot are thrown out the window for sheer mindless spectacle. However, at the very least, this is never boring and actually kinda fun in a "high fat buttery popcorn" way.

Future Bad Movie Classic

Nazi's at the Center of the Earth-For years, the Asylum has made bad movies. Here though, they have gone completely out of their mind, at first being shockingly serious and sombre for a movie from this studio. Then Hitler's head comes alive and is attached to a robot, and it goes fucking insane. Bad, but must be seen to be believed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Best Sleepers of 2012

2012 saw several great horror movies. However, some ended up falling under the radar, and will hopefully find themselves an audience. Sure, you saw "Cabin in the Woods", and you heard all about "Kill List" and V/H/S, so what else is there? Here are the best genre films you probably missed (and should see) in no particular order

Dredd-Dammit  America, this should have been a hit. Pretty much the "Judge Dredd" movie many wanted, this sucker has it all-great acting, top notch direction, graphic bloodshed, a throbbing electronic score and some wonderfully dark satire. The fact it was a box office bomb kinda pisses me off, since I want to see more of this world.

Killer Joe-A southern fried, blackly comic noir with horror undertones, this deserves all kinds of love. Featuring great performances (including the best performance of Matthew McConaughey's carrer), excellent direction from William Friedkin, the most inspired use of the Clarence Carter song "Strokin'" ever, and the most perverse use of KFC ever put to film (or probably done anywhere.) This is the year's best sleeper, and needs to be seen by more people.

Bedeviled-Yes, another Korean revenge film that has something to say about the nature of vengeance. However, this one manages to create a build up to the meltdown, thus creating an impending sense of dread instead of any sort of catharsis. Challenging stuff to watch (this sucker has some ugly subject matter even for this kind of movie), but worth it.

Father's Day-If you haven't seen what may very well be the best movie Troma has released in years, it's not your fault-the company and Astron 6 are in a bit of a legal tiff right now (Troma might have been giving away DVR copies), and the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is in a limited edition. That out of the way, this is an hilarious homage/send-up of exploitation that is tasteless, gory and absolutely demented-as well as one of the funniest Neo-Grindhouse movies so far.

The Loved Ones-Just when it seemed that the torture genre was all out of life, along came this sucker to breathe some new life into it. Featuring solid direction, great performances (especially from Robin McLeavy as the sadistic Lola) and a strong streak of black humor, this proves that you can still manage to make a movie like this work if you have the right ingredients. I'll take this over the "Saw" sequels any day.

The Snowtown Murders-Yet another Aussie horror film ("Loved Ones" was from Australia too), this downbeat horror/drama is based on the true story of the most notorious serial murders in the countries history, and is a creepy and unsettling look at the allure of evil and the horrors of homophobia.

Juan of the Dead-Helping to prove that there's still life in the undead heart of zombie movies, "Juan of the Dead" is a funny and intelligent look at the life of an aimless man who suddenly feels purpose when the dead walk the Earth. Filled with engaging characters and refreshingly smart political subtext, "Juan" is worth a look.

The Aggression Scale-Steven C. Miller finally proves himself to be a director to watch out for in this unique twist on the home invasion movie that's both suspenseful and darkly funny. You know the story-family moves in to a house, criminals decide to take them hostage. However, it seems the youngest son has a few tricks up his sleeve.

The Theater Bizarre-While "V/H/S" got a lot of attention, I feel that this unique little anthology has gone largely unnoticed, which is a shame. Not every segment works (Tom Savini's is a bit of a disappointment), but most of it manages to capture various moods and horrors in a way that's haunting, disgusting and refreshingly original.

Rabies-You know that movie where a group of people are hunted by a killer in the woods? The Israeli film "Rabies" takes a new spin at this by making sure that it really could be anybody.

Exit Humanity-Yet another spin on the zombie movie, "Exit Humanity" mostly takes place after the civil war where a man must cope with reality and try to find a way to survive-and a bit of hope-in a zombie ridden landscape. A good example of indie horror done right, this minimalist film doesn't override it's budget, is well directed and serves as another rare zombie movie worth seeing in today's overstuffed market.

The Tall Man-No,Pascal Laugier did not make a movie that will effect the viewer the way "Martyrs" did. This however, is a better than expected tale of a woman who must find out what happened to her children-and if the urban legend of an entity known as "The Tall Man" is real. Relying more on suspense and build up than gore and torture, "The Tall Man" may not be perfect, but I do feel that it deserves to be seen.

Bait 3D-There is really nothing that is groundbreaking or original here. Hell, a lot of it plays like the kind of thing studios dump in theaters for no reason. However, this is an example of that kind of movie which actually manages to be an entertaining little popcorn movie that offers enough energy, personality and humor to keep you interested.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Snuff (1976)

Bait and switch. That's the game behind "Snuff", whose behind the scenes story is much more interesting than the actual movie. Originally a forgotten exploitation film directed by the guys who gave you "Shriek of the Mutilated", a producer decided to re release it (unbeknownst to the directors) with new footage that would be added at the end. The footage? An authentic snuff movie. By "authentic snuff movie", I mean something that's clearly fake. Nonetheless, controversy started, protests (some fabricated") burst, and the movie itself was released. The end result? Nothing good, though the tagline "The film that could only be made in South America-where life is CHEAP!" and the unapologetic score (which even rips off "Satisfaction") offer incidental pleasures.

The "plot", as it were, deals with a cult lead by a man who calls himself Satan (pronounced "Sah-Ten") who gets his biker members to do his evil bidding. After a whole lot of boredom and nothing happening (the re-editing job leaves a lot to be desired), the "director" yells "cut", then invites one of the actresses (who is clearly not the same actress that was in the film) on set. Cue torture and murder, then roll credits.

Everything about "Snuff" ranges from unremarkable to unintentionally hilarious. The footage from "The Slaughter" is mostly boring, and plays out like "I Drink Your Blood" minus that film's trashy charm. The "snuff" footage itself is not only unconvincing, but borders on unintentionally comical. The gore itself is unconvincing, the actress seems to be more annoyed than distressed, and the act of violence is as unrealistic as the violence perpetrated in the "Slaughter" footage. The whole movie is much adieu about nothing.

Unless you absolutely have to see every notorious exploitation movie, "Snuff" is nothing worthy of note. It's a cheap, uninteresting exploitation film that gives cheap exploitation movies a bad name. Still, great tagline.

Rating: 1/10

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Worst of 2012

Every year, we get plenty of awful movies. It takes a special type however, to make the worst list. Here they are

The Devil Inside-It takes a distinct dishonor to be not only the worst of the year, but the  worst found footage movie I've ever seen. This tale of demonic possession not only has the two dumbest priests in the history of cinema (they don't want to be caught, yet they let themselves get filmed and demand the camera never go off) but one of the worst endings I have ever seen in my life. After seeing this, I almost want to forgive M. Night Shyamalan-almost.

Knock Knock 2-Just...damn. After whatever success the previous movie had, Lionsgate thought it would be fine to release a completely unrelated movie as a sequel. If you've seen "Dark Harvest 2: The Maize" (also an unrelated movie released as a sequel), you know how this turns out.

ATM-The premise is ripe for suspense (a group of people trapped in a closed space while a killer is outside) is ruined by horrible direction and decisions so stupid they somehow set white people back further. Add the fact that this was from the writer of the all around great "Buried" makes it all inexcusable.

The Apparition-I almost didn't want to include this, as it made me laugh (though all of those laughs are unintended) a lot. However, this would be ghost tale is let down by a brain dead script, lifeless performances, a complete lack of interest in the subject matter and an all too sudden and all around pathetic conclusion.

Piranha 3DD-A how to in making a terrible sequel, John Gulgar's "Piranha 3DD" (ha ha) has plenty of sleaze and gore like the prior film, but it lacks the spirit of that one. Here, it just feels ugly, insultingly stupid and nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is.

Strippers vs. Werewolves-Ya know, sometimes you need to come up with more than a cleaver title to make a fun movie. By that I mean all the time. Actually think things out.

Detention-A headache of a horror movie. "Detention" constantly barrages the audience with random nonsensical pacing, ADD styled plotting and pacing, incessant pop culture riffing and Dane Cook as a high school principal.

The Raven-So, how do you make a movie with John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe bad? By giving it a convoluted plot, poor direction and even a horrible performance from Cusack himself.

The Wicker Tree-Also the most disappointing movie of the year, "The Wicker Tree" is a sequel to the best horror film of all time-and lacks all the vision, humor and bleak atmosphere of the original. I know, I shouldn't compare it to the prior film, but when it all feels like it's being made by a first time director on autopilot (and it's actually by the director of the original), that's unforgivable.

Dark Tide-Barely released theatrically, this shark horror film starring Haley Barrey is a lot of things-boring, poorly written, poorly acted and poorly directed. If anything, it's a great example of how to waste a good cast on pure bullshit.

The Divide-Xavier Gans returns behind the camera in this post apocalyptic tale about the dark side of human nature. That would be great if it wasn't so in your face with it's message, which feels as subtle as a sledgehammer and as entertaining as a hangover.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance-I know that Ghost Rider isn't the most respected comic book creation, but I like him. Then again, I think the premise of the character is pretty great on a B-Movie level-which is something this sequel (and the prior film) can't figure out. It's got a decent first act, but the second and third ones are painfully boring, as if directors Nevaldine and Taylor can't do something out of their usual "let's throw a bunch of crazy shit onto the screen" mode.

I will say this much-at least there weren't any remakes on the list.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

From what I gather, Theodore Gershuny's "Silent Night, Deadly Night" is the first Christmas themed horror film. A public domain favorite, it's not mostly forgotten (it has something of a following and is being remade), and I figured "well, I'm reviewing three Christmas themed horror films, so I guess this would be a good final pick."

"He went to 'Jared"!
Jeffrey Butler (James Patterson) has inherited a mansion with a bit of a dark past. You see, years earlier the place was a home for the criminally insane, and his Grandfather Wilford set himself ablaze on Christmas Eve. The townspeople are all acting pretty hostile towards the whole situation, wanting the place to be demolished. To make matters worse, a serial killer has escaped and begins to go on a spree that doesn't involve shopping on Christmas Eve. So, why is this all happening, and what connection does Jeffrey's family have with it?
It's be lying if I said this is a perfect film. It wastes John Carradine in a rather thankless role as a mute newspaper editor, and at times the direction feels a bit off. Also, not the movie's fault, but time has not been kind to this sucker picture wise. The image is so faded at times that it becomes difficult to tell when it's night or day, and the sound is more than a bit muffled.

Thankfully, it hits more than it misses, especially in the atmosphere department. This is actually a pretty creepy little movie that makes good use of flashback sequences (which use Mary Warnov and fellow Warhol factory regulars Ondine, Tally Brown, Lewis Love and Candy Darling) to create a mood of unease, as well as some genuinely haunting visuals (the best being a group of inmates escaping and slowly walking around as if they were zombies) and an effectively unsettling but simplistic score to boot. It also moves at a pretty reasonable pace and thankfully doesn't offer too much fat in the story, keeping things simple and effective. Oh, and if your wondering if there's any blood, you might be satisfied. It's not what you'd call a splatter film, as it relies more on ambiance than it does gore, but you do get a few choice kills with the highlight being a shockingly nasty ax murder.

I don't know if I can call this a lost classic, but it is a nice little piece of atmospheric, low-budget horror from the 70's that somehow managed to cast a spell on me. Sometimes, that's all I want.

Rating: 7/10

Interesting bit of trivia: Lloyd Kaufman was one of the producers for this movie. Also, Miss. Warnov was married to the director at the time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

I can totally see why Christmas is such welcome fodder for horror films. The stress really gets to you. The commercialization is headache inducing, the music-I could go on and on really. Then there's just the thrill some seem to get in fucking around with all that Christmas cheer. I'm sure that's what the Dick Randall produced "Don't Open Till Christmas" was hoping for, even though the end result is pretty bad and not as fun as it should be, especially considering how gleefully sleazy it all is.

The mask looks more like the face of a man whose about to be caught masturbating than it does that of a serial killer.

"Don't Open" deals with a fate worse than being a mall Santa-being a guy dressed as Santa while someone is killing all the other Santa's. You just know your next. Inspector Ian Harris (Edmund Purmond, who also directed) is on the case, but like most, the case isn't going to have a pretty ending. The fact that his only help is a scuzzy tabloid reporter (Alan Lake) isn't making it any easier.

If it sounds like I'm being a bit too vague when it comes to the plot, that's because there's little to actually write about. The whole thing is paced terribly, with only the murder scenes having any sort of interest. They are pretty bloody and nasty, with the worst being a castration that takes place while the victim is taking a leak. Then there's Caroline Munro, who shows up to sing a pretty bad dance pop song, only for that to end with someone dressed as Santa getting offed.

Caroline Munro, probably thinking of better times.

Everything outside of this is pretty forgettable. The direction is pretty bad, the majority of the performances are weak at best, and the whole thing feels like a jumbled mess. The killer's motive often feels wishy-washy, a lot of characters show up for no apparent reason, and people sometimes don't seem to be too upset that people are dying. Granted, a lot of this is probably due to the troubled production history of the film, with Purmond being fired as director, and replacement director (and writer) Derek Ford also getting fired. Indeed, nobody knows who directed the final product, but I don't envy them due to the constant delays and re-writes the thing went through. It's amazing the thing got finished or released at all. 

Apart from those who love to watch cinematic train wrecks and the most devoted trash fans, I can't see many getting a kick out of this. The whole thing is confusing, and feels more like a series of scenes thrown together than it does an actual movie.

Rating: 2.5/10

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Silent Night (2012)

Confession time: I'm not what you would call a big fan of the movie "Silent Night, Deadly Night." Apart from it's "Killer dressed as Santa" gimmick, the controversy it gained, and a memorable kill involving antlers, I've always found it to be a somewhat forgettable 80's slasher. So, when it was announced that Steven C. Miller was going to direct a remake, I wasn't exactly upset. In fact, after the surprise home run that was "The Aggression Scale", I started to show interest in it. The end result is...actually not that bad, though I couldn't help but feel that it could have been better.

This Santa will "sleigh" ya! Get it? Yeah, I hate myself after that one too.

"Silent Night" opens with the killer putting on his Santa costume, making a mask, and getting right to work. By that, I mean killing a guy via electrocution. Cut Aubrey Bradimore, who is getting ready for her new job in the police force. Joined by the perpetually bored Brenda (Ellen Wong, who you may remember as Knives Chou in "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"), the obnoxious Deputy Jordan (Brendan Fehr) and Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell), she soon finds herself hot on the trail of the killer Santa, who seems to have a pattern that goes beyond people being naughty or nice.

When you get down to it, this is really a remake in name only. Instead of focusing on a man's downward spiral, what we get instead is a pretty straightforward slasher movie. On the plus side, the cast is pretty game throughout. McDowell chews scenery (well, yeah) and is clearly having fun, while King makes for a sympathetic protagonist. Donal Logue however, ends up stealing the show as a foul mouthed, total asshole who just happens to be a town Santa. Speaking of which, the movie is actually pretty funny at times, which helps quite a bit. Much of this has to do with the colorful supporting cast, and the movie is smart enough not to make the killer an anti-hero while also making most of his victims unsympathetic. Oh, and if you want good kills, this sucker has tons of them. Heads a split open, people are torched alive, fed to mulch machines and so much more. 

At the same time, this is still a flawed movie. For one thing, I found the random shout outs to the other films to be a bit awkward. Normally I don't mind this, but scenes such as a recreation of Linnea Quigly's death in the original actually fall flat, and almost left me wanting to see the original again to compare the two. It also occasionally falls victim to a lot of modern editing techniques as well. Fortunately, this doesn't happen often, but the occasional quick cut and shaky cam sequences that pop up kinda hurt the momentum a but. Finally, the reveal of the killer at the end is kind of lame. You can't help but wonder if writer Jayson Rothwell had no idea how to end it, and just pulled something randomly out of his hat.

As a whole, I can say I liked "Silent Night" more than I thought I would. I'm sure fans of the original, and slasher fans in general will probably get a kick out of it, even though I don't think it will end up in the cavalcade of classic Holiday themed horror films.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, December 3, 2012

Simply Having a Bloody Christmastime!

It's December, and that means it's time for awful commercials, eggnog, having to hear "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime" and "Christmas Shoes", and of coarse, Christmas themed horror movies. This time around, I've decided to dedicate my time to reviewing three of those movies
  • "Silent Night" on Tuesday
  • "Don't Open Til Christmas" on Wednesday
  • "Silent Night, Bloody Night" on Thursday
Hope you like all of this. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pieces (1982)

"Pieces" is an interesting movie to talk about. When you get down to it, it's not a very good movie. The characters are poorly written, some scenes are awkwardly staged, the direction is occasionally suspect and the movie is unintentionally laughable at times. At the same time, I love it's rancid, illogical heart. It's also undeniably fun, stupid to the point of being almost charming, is shockingly inspired and loaded with every fans of scuzzy exploitation want. Plus, it proves the taglines to be right: "It's exactly what you think it is!" and "You don't need to go to Texas for a Chainsaw Massacre!"

"Son, are you making a puzzle of a naked woman?"
"Okay dear!"

"Pieces" is the heartwarming tale of a mother who finds her son making a puzzle of a naked woman, and the son who just felt that he had to kill her with an ax and hack her up with a hacksaw. Years later, these events have lead him to go on a killing spree which involves campus women, a large knife and most notably a chainsaw. Not only that, but a chainsaw that he can hide behind his back and not have the victim notice it. As the bodies pile on and the police investigate, it seems that anyone could be the killer. So, who is it? The Dean (Edmund Purdon)? Lt. Bracken (Christopher George)? Campus kid Kendall (Ian Sera)? Or could it be campus hedge trimmer Willard (Paul Smith, who is best known for playing Bluto in Robert Altman's "Popeye")?

"Dude, like...why are ya lookin' at me like that?!"

In spite of it's many flaws, "Pieces" actually has some things going for it. For one thing, the mystery aspect is handled pretty well, as is the slasher element. Part of what makes this so fascinating is that it also serves as something of a giallo film. The killer has all the hallmarks of the kind of killer these movies offered back in the day-the black gloves and trench coat, the identity clouded by shadows, and even a stabbing on a waterbed that recalls that genre at it's most violent. Speaking of which, fans of gore and sleaze are going to have a field day with this. The splatter is nasty and unflinching, and also uses actual pig's blood instead of the usual kayro syrup. Also look for tons of female nudity, as well as some brief male frontal if you are in to that sort of thing.

Then there's the complete randomness of the whole experience. Events sometimes occur without explanation or sense. For example
  • A woman on roller sketes running into a mirror
  • A woman who is decapitated in the park in broad daylight
  • Mary Riggs (played by Christopher George's wife Linda Day) running into a karate professor who attacks her, falls to the ground, gets up and says "Must have been something I ate! Bad chop suey!" To be fair, moments like that do show that the people behind the movie probably didn't take this too seriously.
  • This

The fact that it's so of it's time helps too. If someone tried to do something like this today (I'm looking at you, "Porkchop"), it wouldn't be as enjoyable as it is. This sucker is a nice little time capsule of the kind of thing that was shown in Grindhouse and Drive-In theaters back in the day, and the kind of sleaze that once filled video rental shelves. You can't really recreate that.

At the end of the day, those who don't like unintentional comedy and buckets of filth and sleaze will probably avoid this. Everyone else: You'll probably find a place in your heart for it like I do.

Rating: 8/10

This film was co-written and produced by Dick Randall, who produced a ton of exploitation movies from 1961-1991. His other credits include "The Girl in Room 2A", "Black Deep Throat", "Master With Cracked Fingers", "Escape From Women's Prison", "French Sex Murders", "Slaughter High" and "Don't Open Till Christmas"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ritual (2002)

The story behind "Ritual" is in some ways more interesting than the movie itself. It originated as a remake of one of my favorite zombie movies, "I Walked with a Zombie." However, the "Tales From the Crypt" content was added later, which is kind of weird to me. I mean, at that point whatever pop culture influence the TV series had was pretty much gone, and the prior film "Bordello of Blood" was something of a bomb. Anyways, it sat on the shelf for a while until Dimension purchased it, removed the Crypt Keeper, and pretty much made it a straight to video remake of "I Walked with a Zombie" with a different title. It received little to any fanfare, though it can now be bought on DVD and Blu-Ray for cheep thanks to Echo Bridge (who purchased a lot of the more forgotten Dimension titles) or on Netflix instant.

Opening with a burning room murder that's much better than the one in "Ghost in the Machine", "Ritual" then takes us to the U.S., where doctor Alice Dodgson (Jennifer Grey) had her license suspended after a patient dies. Luckily for her, she soon finds work at the Caribbeans in Wesley Clayborne (Daniel Lapaine), who has cephallitis. That's not his only problem though. Wesley believes that he's been cursed by a voodoo ritual, and that at night, he becomes a zombie. As she digs more into finding out why Wesley is cursed and who is responsible, she soon finds that the conspiracy goes beyond him, as murder and more strange events begin to take place.

Before I to the review, I just want to say that Kristen Wilson plays an island girl named Caro Lamb. I mention this because holy smokes, she is absolutely gorgeous. I mean seriously, her character drips pure sex appeal, and is one of the sexiest women I've seen in a genre movie in ages.

Good lord.

Anyways, "Ritual" is an okay but not exactly spectacular film. It has plenty of atmosphere, most of the performances are good (Wilson steals the show), the gore is used sparingly and effectively, there's a few nice nods to the original (though a cover of "Oh Misery" kinda sucks), and for the large part, the mystery surrounding the film is rarely boring. Unfortunately, the script just isn't up to par. There's humor (mostly from Tim Curry as a permanently horny doctor), but most of the movie takes itself far too seriously. There's little actual energy in the writing, not to mention that the movie itself is a bit too long for it's own good.

"Hello? I seem to have ended up in the 80's."

Then there's some seriously wasted opportunities. One of the biggest is how the film uses Curry. The man's a well respected character actor, but it hardly does anything with him. He's there for a few scenes, and that's it. Then there's the other subplots, such as Wesley's older brother Paul ("Nightbreed" actor Craig Sheffer), which ultimately don't go anywhere interesting. In fact, the big twist nearing the end isn't all that surprising at all. In the end, this is a wasted opportunity. Sure, it's perfectly watchable and wouldn't make a bad Saturday afternoon viewing, but it's also kinda forgettable. It doesn't really feel all that necessary, and feels more like a mix of a mid 90's horror film and a direct to video sequel to Wes Craven's "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (which I love) than it does a remake of of the most important zombie films ever made.

Rating: 5/10

Classic Poster Art: Twins of Evil (1971)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Strippers vs. Werewolves (2012)

I'm kinda amazed that there's now a "Strippers vs. Whatever monster the director felt like using" genre nowadays. I doubt Jay Lee had any idea that his film "Zombie Strippers" would have some sort of influence, but lo and behold, this is what we get. Unfortunately, in this case we get something like "Strippers vs. Zombies", which is from the same guys who gave you "Dead Cert."

Opening with a building blowing up and a shitty cover of "Hungry Like the Wolf", our film soon flashes towards the present, where a stripper named Justice (Adele Silva) kills a man via stabbing him in the eye with a silver pen. I think it should be mentioned that said man was turning into a werewolf. This doesn't sit well with a gang of werewolves lead by  Ferris (Billy Murray-no, not that one), who decide to head to The Silvadollaz club, but not for a lap dance. Let the battle begin!

Well, it takes a while-actually, way too long-for the final showdown to commence. What we get instead is a wave of tedium, bad acting (which shocks me considering several of the actors here aren't exactly amateurs or terrible actors), wasted opportunities (Robert Englund shows up for a rather pointless cameo, and seems like he doesn't want to be there), bad Electro Pop, and really cheap looking werewolves. Also, for a movie called "Strippers vs. Werewolves", you'd expect more in the gore and nudity department. Sure, there's full frontal female nudity and blood, but it seems to be afraid to embrace it's sleazy premise.

A scene from the local "Sideburns for Monsters" convention

If anything, "Strippers vs. Werewolves" is mostly guilty of the fact that it commits the biggest sin any movie could commit-it doesn't even try. It all feels muted, as if those who made it wanted to make a trashy B-Movie, but simply went with an attention grabbing title and forgot everything else. As it stands, none of the humor is particularly funny, the writing is lazy, the direction is piss poor, and the whole enterprise ends up feeling redundant. Sure, you've got strippers and werewolves, but the filmmakers leave you nothing else.

The most telling bit of dialogue (actually, the only memorable bit of dialogue) comes nearing the end, when someone leaves a theater saying "It's not great art, but it's great trash." Well, as a guy whose seen a lot of great trash, I can safely say that this movie is not great trash. It's just boring trash.

Rating: 0/10

As for why I haven't done many reviews this month: I've been pretty busy, and I decided to take a break after October. Don't worry though, as you'll get more in December, as well as the annual best sleepers and worst movies lists.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vampire Circus (1972)

As the 70's wore on, it was starting to become obvious that old Hammer standbys like Dracula and Frankenstein were beginning to grow out of fashion. People still loved the characters. It was just that there had been several movies with them, and the decade that gave us the likes of "Dawn of the Dead" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" saw the landscape of horror change. There were still plenty of Gothic horror films from this era, but even they began to rely more of blood and female nudity to appease the masses. How did Hammer respond? Well, there were misfires like "Scars of Dracula" and "Lust for a Vampire", and then there's more impressive entries. Films like "Vampire Circus", which managed to capture the changing of the guard whilst still holding on to what made Hammer Studios what it was.

The last thing a dentist wants to see

In the 16th century, the children of a small town have been disappearing, and the nefarious Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) is blamed by the townspeople, who proceed to kill him. However, he places a curse on the town, and has a girl named Ana (Domini Blythe ) contact his cousin Emil (Anthony Corlan.) Decades later, the town has seen better days, and what do ya know, a carnival full of strange people (including "Star Wars" and "A Clockwork Orange" actor David Prowse as a strongman) rolls in. Soon though, dead bodies begin to show up, children go missing, and it seems that the curse of Mitterhaus is rolling into fruition.

I'd be lying if I said that "Vampire Circus" is a flawless movie. For one thing, there are (brief) scenes that rely on stock footage, and while it isn't too obvious, it still feels a bit distracting. Plus, the thing feels a bit illogical and rushed at times, with things such as crucifixes and stakes being used to kill vampires end up feeling undercooked, and it does feel a little rushed near the end.

Still, this is a solid little movie that bleeds atmosphere and eroticism. In fact, this is probably the most erotically charged of Hammer's vampire films, with scenes such as vampire lovemaking and a very suggestive dance between a leopard woman and her partner oozes sexuality. There's also a feeling of absolute evil that is hard to shake off, particularly the fact that even children are in danger here. Granted, children in danger is nothing new in horror, but to actually see something like a vampire sinking it's teeth into one's neck is an unsettling image. Oh, and those hoping for blood will be pleased. This isn't a splatter film, but there's moments that are pretty strong for a Hammer movie, in particular a leopard killing a family, some vicious stake impalement and decapitation. Fortunately, it's all handled pretty well (much better than the two aforementioned misfires) and helps add to the whole 70's vibe the thing has going to it.

Oh shit, I left the oven on!

For fans of Hammer, "Vampire Circus" is both worth a watch and one of the better vampire films they released in the 70's. Now if you could excuse me, there's a circus coming into town...

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tarkan vs. The Vikings (1971)

I love Mondo Macabro. For those not in the know, they are a label that gives DVD releases to some of the strangest films from around the world. Some of them are just plain awesome ("Mill of the Stone Woman" and "Alucarda") some are just plain bad ("Countess Perverse" and  "Clonus") and then there are those that are bad and awesome at the same time. Films like today's entry, "Tarkan vs. The Vikings", which truly must be seen to be believed. Think a "sword and sorcery" movie minus the sorcery and filled with bizarre but indelible moments.

I'm going to try and explain the plot of this movie, but bare with me because damn is it going to be hard. Tarkan (whose a Turkish pop hero made famous by comic books, and is played by Kartal Tibet) is a Hun whose people have been ravished and the princess kidnapped by ruthless vikings in really colorful outfits. I mean like psychedelic colorful.

Anyways, Tarkan and his canine sidekick Kurt (who makes many barking, whining and growling noises yet rarely moves his mouth) are going to rescue the princess, as well as avenge the attack on his people and the death of his other dog, who was also named Kurt. Good to see he thought things through while naming his dogs. However, he's got more than just the vikings to deal with as Chinese warrior girl Lotus (Seher Seniz-so yes, there are no actual Asian actors here) has made a pact with the vikings. Oh, and they sacrifice women to an octopus, which looks like this

The opening fight scene itself pretty much sets the tone, though in some cases not the one they were hoping for. It's pretty violent stuff, with plenty of beheading, impalement and even kids being killed. However, it's all done with swords and spears that are clearly plastic or made out of cardboard, and by vikings in technicolor outfits. Also, a dog attacking someone that is obviously someone throwing the poor thing at said person.

From then on, things get even stranger. There's loads of continuity problems (one of the main characters has water splashed in their direction, yet in the next frame they are completely dry), a score that is blatantly plagiarist (even "borrowing" from the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey") and tons of random fights, acts of violence and even some brief nudity. Yep, this is all goofy as hell, but it's never boring. That's mostly because you get a feeling that everything here is meant to be fun instead of nasty, and the whole thing is so delirious and out there that you can't help but join in on the ride.

Plus, it's hard not to appreciate what those involved were aiming for. Yes, they didn't have the budget Hollywood movies had, but who cares? They made a movie, and at the end of the day, it didn't bore me at all and entertained me in spite of (and because of) it's obvious flaws. To pick on a movie like this is like yelling at a wounded puppy. It might be injured because of it's own stupidity, but you can't hate it no matter what.

For those with a taste for the truly out there, "Tarkan" is a blast. If anything, it's a shame that so many Turkish genre films have gone on to be forgotten about or even destroyed. It's such a strange but intriguing world, and it's always nice to see what these kinds of movies are like from a different cultural perspective.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, November 9, 2012

Listen (1996)

There were a lot of trends from the 90's that feel ancient nowadays. Virtual Reality. Industrial Rock. Pogs (not a diss on that though.) Another one of these trends was the "Erotic Thriller", which was made popular thanks to the likes of "Basic Instinct" and "Sliver" (you know, that movie with one of the Baldwin Brothers and Sharon Stone? You know, the one with Enigma aka "One of the whitest things in music history" aka "Hey, let's mix generic dance beats with half assed samples of chanting and world music!" on the soundtrack?) In the process, there were a lot of straight to video variations on this genre, such as the 1996 film "Listen" by Gavin Wilding.*

Sarah (Brooke Langton) is a former lesbian who has moved into an apartment, where her boyfriend Jake (Gordon Currie) and ex-girlfriend Krista (Sarah Buxton) live. In her apartment is a defective cordless phone that lets her eavesdrop and leads her to having phone sex. Unfortunately for her, a killer is targeting the people she's been talking to. The police say it's the same killer who just happened to vanish last year, but it could be anyone...

There's little in "Listen" that's terrible per say, but there's little that's good either. Like many straight-to-video films from the period, it's largely forgettable and isn't particularly well acted or directed. Hell, the sole reason most audience members will want to see this is the eroticism angle, which plays out like an extended, suspense themed episode of one of those old "erotic anthology" shows from the period like "Erotic Confessions" (How do I know about this? Simple, scramble vision from the 90's my dear reader!) or something.

If your a fan of that kind of thing, then will probably be of interest, and the killer aspect of the film does kind of bring to mind something that wouldn't be too out of place in a giallo film (Just don't expect anything too violent.) However, the conclusion is something of a confusing twist ending that goes "No, this is the killer! No, this is the killer!" too often, leaving anything revolving around believability out the window. Also worthy of mention is how it kinda bungles the whole lesbian aspect. There's tons of potential here for commenting on society's attempts to repress homosexuality, but it doesn't seem interested in that at all.

As a whole, I've seen much worse than "Listen", but there's little of it worth mentioning other than the fact that I remember seeing a copy of it in one of those VHS rentals in the 90's (Haven't bothered to watch it until now. I'm sure 15 year old me would be all like "Whoa, she's masturbating!") and that it was talked about in "VideoHound's Horror Show", which was a book I had. Unless you have fond memories of straight-to-video erotic thrillers from the 90's, skip it. Actually, I don't think it's available on DVD anywhere (not even in some sort of Echo Bridge or Mill Creek box set), so I doubt you'll ever see it anyway.

Rating: 4.5/10

*Wilding is a veteran of the direct to video world, whose genre credits include the Christopher Lloyd vehicle "Convergence", "Spliced" with Ron Silver, "Stag" with Mario Van Peebles and Kevin Dillon and "Caught in the Headlights" with Erika Eleniak. Never heard of them? That's fine, I doubt few else have, or at least remember them.

Exorcism (1975)

The cinematic output of Jesus Franco is a puzzling one for me. Well, the praise it gets is. Whilst guys like Jean Rollin were dreamy, atmospheric and poetic at their best, I rarely got that feeling with Franco. Some of his 60's films are worth a look ("Diabolical Dr. Z" is actually a pretty good time), but as the Spanish film system became more liberated, Jess decided to make movies that offered what exploitation fans wanted-tits, ass and violence. While this sounds great on paper, for me his movies lack much as far as entertainment goes, and "Exorcism" (which in spite of it's title, never has such an event happen) is a good example of that.

She's either dying or bored to death

Franco himself stars as Mathis Vogel, a defrocked priest who writes to an pseudo S&M magazine about demonic activities and black magic practices. One night, he goes to an erotic show based around a Black Mass, and lo and behold, he thinks the whole thing is real and that everyone is possessed, he goes on a killing spree, with the likes of a model named Anne (Franco regular Lina Romay) being a prime target.

That's about it as far as plot is concerned. There's potential here for some interesting social commentary, but Franco doesn't seem to be too interested in that sort of thing. He seems to be more interested in sex and female nudity than saying anything relevant. To be fair, Romay does a fine job, the aforementioned nudity is sometimes pleasing to the eyes and there is a great bit of shocking violence, but after a while "Exorcism" starts to get really boring. Most of the violence isn't all that graphic, and Franco isn't really the best director. Sure, there are one or two nice shots, but the direction is kinda lifeless, with way too many lingering shots and repetition to really get invested.

Oh look, something shiny!

Which leads me to my biggest complaint: this movie is fucking boring. Franco seems to be obsessed with showing you the same thing (Black Mass rituals and writhing naked bodies) to the point of making the whole endeavor redundant to sit through. This is a movie that's main goal is showing off as much boobs, butts, bush and sleaze as possible, but it never feels erotic. It's all shot in a really matter-of-fact style, and after a while all of the events end up blurring together. You can only show sleaze for so long until it loses it's impact and becomes uneventful.

I know, there's an audience for this. For that audience (and fans of the directors work), you'll probably eat this up. Me? I just kept wanting to hit the fast forward button.

Rating: 2.5/10

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Black Sunday (1960)


Many have said "Black Sunday" was the first movie Mario Bava directed. That's technically not true-he completed the 1956 film "Lust of the Vampire" before moving on to this film. "Sunday" however, is not only a better movie, but is a more essential film. In fact, it's the essential Italian horror film. Sure, "Suspiria" may be my all time favorite Italian genre film, but without "Sunday", there would be no "Suspiria." Hell, there wouldn't be much in the world of Italian horror to begin with, as this is the one that made the genre cool in that country, and has many of the themes and solid well, everything that went on to typify the best Italian horror movies.

The plot itself is pretty simple stuff really. Centuries ago, the witch Katia Vadja (Barbara Steele) has been tied to a stake and had The Mask of Satan (as seen above) hammered to her face. Before her death, she announces a curse on the town that has condemned her, and vows to one day return.Two centuries later, the good doctors Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and Gorbarec (John Richardson) investigate the tomb in which Katia has been buried, and inadvertently resurrect her. Now, with eyes on her look-alike descendent Princess Asa Vadja (Steele again), Katia plans to make the town pay.

Simply put, "Black Sunday" is Bava's masterpiece. The film essentially defines the term "Gothic", and is one of the best example of this genre. Everything from the gorgeous Black and White photography (done by Bava) to the set designs bleed atmosphere and dread. The entire film is loaded with a sense of unease, and the various eerie images (the eyeless corpse of Katia, her servant rising from the grave and her scarred face for example) creating a vibe of supernatural evil and sheer hopelessness at ease. If anything, it's one of the most assured directorial debuts in horror, as Bava manages to make a film that feels almost effortless in it's craftsmanship.

Hell, it still feels fresh. Everything from the fog drenched landscapes to the cobweb covered castle would normally feel old fashioned, but Bava manages to make the whole thing feel almost new and original. That's partially due to the films influences. While the likes of Hammer and it's Gothic atmosphere are a clear inspiration, the film also owes heavily to the expressionistic silent horrors that came from Germany. If there's any post silent films horror movie outside of "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" that can be compared to the likes of "Nosferatu", "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and "Häxan", it's "Black Sunday." Here, the art house and horror meet seamlessly, creating a world that's as beautiful and ethereal as it is haunting and atmospheric.

Anyone who says they love horror that hasn't seen "Black Sunday" owes themselves to ASAP. Hell, anyone who says they love movies in general should see it. There's a reason everyone from Stephen King to Martin Scorsese praises the works of Bava, and you are missing one of the genre's biggest treats if you haven't seen most of his work-especially this film.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Horror fans, especially the hardcore, love to talk about those undiscovered gems in the genre. Be it the likes of "Horrors of Malformed Men" to "The Asphyx" to "The Lost", we feel a need to champion those little movies that have escaped through the cracks. This includes me of course. A good portion of this blog is dedicated to little known horror films that I feel deserve a chance of some sorts. One of these movies guys like me like to champion is the John D. Hancock film "Let's Scare Jessica to Death", which drips with atmosphere and mood.

Jessica (Zohra Lambert) is finally out of the mental hospital, and is going to spend some time with her friends and husband in a remote farm that they have purchased. When they get there, they find a squatter named Emily (Mariclare Costello) living there. That's not a problem, but what is a problem is that Jessica begins seeing visions of a strange girl living by the lake. She and her friends later learn of the story of a girl who drowned at the lake, and legend has it that she may be a vampire. As events start to spiral downwards and the townspeople seem to be acting stranger, Jessica begins to spiral as well. Could these events all be in her head, or is it all really happening?

The main thing that makes "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" (which will henceforth be referred to as "Jessica") work is how it plays with concepts of reality vs. madness. We know that Jessica is a woman with a troubled mental past, so it would be easy to dismiss her visions and breakdowns as the result of a broken mind. However, the images themselves never feel like they are all in her head. Everything from the ghostly vampire to the zombified townspeople with strange marks on their bodies feels like something is not right here. The paranoia and atmosphere of the film are that of surrealistic dread that lovingly plays with reality vs. fiction to the degree of pure unease, which makes for a frightening but disorientating experience.

Also worthy of mention is the social subtext of the film. Like "Messiah of Evil" or even "I Drink Your Blood", "Jessica" largely deals with the darker side of the hippie dream. However, whereas "Messiah" dealt with generational conflict and "Blood" was essentially a dumb but really fun exploitation movie that played of public perceptions and fears after the Manson Family murders, this film goes deepest of all. Here, we are introduced to a world of misguided youths, cracking egos, drug fueled paranoia and the looming sense of conformity that helped destroy the utopia style vision many hoped for. In the world of "Jessica", we see that it wasn't authority figures who destroyed it all (though it's hinted that they helped), but that the hippie dream was destined to fall apart under its own hand.

For those who love atmospheric horror films from the 70's, this is one of those largely ignored gems that continues to find an audience and deserved recognition. For those that love to look for offbeat obscurities that are actually creepy, then you should definitely check this out.

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween (2007)

Every now and then, we get things that seemed like a good idea at the time. The Iraq War seemed like a good idea at the time to some. Crystal Pepsi seemed like a good idea at the time to some. We all thought that the band The Darkness was a good idea at first, but then we realized that it was a one note joke that got old fast.

You can add Rob Zombie's remake of "Halloween" as a part of the "it seemed like a good idea at the time" category, as well as it's epitaph. Granted, "House of 1000 Corpses" proved to be a disappointment, but the sequel "The Devil's Rejects" proved to be a nasty surprise that announced to the world "Hey, this guy who legally changed his last name to Zombie might be on to something here!" Afterwards, the Weinstein brothers went up to him and asked "How about you remake "Halloween." After getting the blessing of John Carpenter (who just said "do what you want"), Robbie Z decided to go with it. The end result was...well, you get the idea.

Here, Michael Myers isn't just a kid who stabbed his sister to death for some reason. Nope, he's part of a dysfunctional trailer trash family made up of a verbally abusive dad (William Forsythe), a sympathetic stripper mom (Sherri Moon Zombie, who actually delivers a solid performance) and a trashy sister (Hanna Hall.) One night, he finally has enough and kills everyone in his family except for his baby sister and mother. For this, he gets to spend time in incarceration while under the observation of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell.)

As the years go on, Michael puts on the strange habit of wearing various masks he makes, which is actually a pretty cool idea. In fact, much of what happens while he's in incarceration is the highlight of the movie. If you ask me, this would probably have been a better movie if it were a prequel in which most of it deals with his days with Loomis. Of course, Rob has to ruin it all once Michael escapes. Since I watched the directors cut, I had the misfortune of seeing two orderlies rape a female patient in front of Michael. I really don't want to know at what point of writing this Zombie thought to himself "Hey, you know what the original "Halloween" was missing? A rape scene!" Anyways, he kills the rapists and the only guy who was ever nice to him (Danny Trejo), and escapes. He then kills a trucker named Joe Grizzly (Ken Foree) while the guy is taking a shit, and steals his outfit too. Why Rob Zombie felt "Halloween" needed a man sitting on the toilet is beyond me. You'd think at some point his mind would have told him "Hey, putting rape and defecation into a remake of "Halloween" is a terrible idea."

Loomis of course finds out about this, and knows that Michael is headed back to Haddonfield to take care of some unfinished business. He's also written a book about his experiences trying to deal with Michael, and has gotten rich off of it. So yeah, Loomis has gone from a generally decent guy to a greedy, rich asshole. Meanwhile, Laurie (Scout-Taylor Compton) has to go babysitting on Halloween while her friends (Including Danielle Harris, who plays the Sheriffs daughter-the latter is played by Brad Dourif) go out for fun with their boyfriends. Michael though, has plans for them-plans that involve murder and a reunion with the girl who was actually his baby sister.

The problems in this film are numerous. A good example is how hardly anyone is written well. The only people who come off as sympathetic are Michael's mother and Trejo's orderly. Sherri does deserve credit, as she does a great job playing the mother of a monster. Everyone else however, is unlikable. Loomis is now an opportunistic jerk, Michael's dad is the worst guy imaginable, and then there's Laurie. In the original (one could say "Hey, this isn't the original, so stop comparing them!" Well, it's a remake, so comparisons are warranted), she was the every girl caught in a hellish situation you wanted her to get out of. Here, she's a foul mouthed brat that finger bangs a bagel in front of her mother. What's sadder is the fact that I got the feeling that if these characters were better written, their performances would be better. You can tell that McDowell and Compton are trying their hardest, but the script gives them nothing to work with. What were once genuinely human characters are now just unlikable cretins.

That leads me to another big problem-the tone. Granted, the original wasn't sunshine and rainbows, but there was a pulpy sense of fun to it. Zombie strips all of that away, and gives us something that is just sombre and depressing instead of scary and suspenseful. Which gives us the film's biggest flaw: the treatment of Michael Myers. The thing that made Michael such a terrifying presence was the fact nobody knew why he did what he did. Hell, he probably didn't know why. He was just evil personified, and that's why he worked. He is the unexplainable. The Boogieman. Here, Zombie tries to tell us why he's the way he is, and that becomes the movies biggest undoing. What was once one of the most iconic villains in movie history has now been reduced to a generic serial killer with family issues.

I'm sure when some studio heads are asked why allowing a remake of "Halloween" that plays out like this was a good idea, the answer will either be a.) It seemed like a good idea at the time, or b.) It made a lot of money, so who cares what you think? I'm sure the latter would be the answer, but we not only as fans but as audience members deserve better. Either way, Rob Zombies remake of a classic not just in horror, but in cinema is proof positive as to why 99% of the time, trying to do a darker, grittier remake is a horrible idea. This is John Carpenter's classic as imagined by that creepy kid in high school who drew disturbing things in his notebook.

Rating: 2.5/10 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Virgin Witch (1972)

In case you've noticed, there are tags at the bottom of my reviews. One that is very prevalent is "There's boobs too", which is included for movies that have several instances of female nudity, or one in particular that really stands out. If there was any movie worthy of that tag, it would be Ray Austin's 1972 film "Virgin Witch", in which female nudity seems to be the only reason for it's existence.

You have no idea how hard it was to find a picture without boobs.

The plot (well, what plot we have at least) deals with Christine (Anne Michelle) and her sister Betty (Vicki Michelle) getting the once in a lifetime chance to become models. Heading to a castle for a photo shoot (which is always a great idea), Christine is lured in by Sybil White (Patricia Haines), who is needs a virgin to join her coven of witches. Amazingly, Christine is all for joining this coven, but we all know this will turn out to be 

And Christine soon finds herself fighting for control. So in short, it's kinda like "Twins of Evil", only without vampires, crazy puritans and not as good.

There's little in "Virgin Witch" that could be called scary. Granted, it can occasionally be atmospheric, but as I said earlier, this is a movie that seems to exist simply to show a whole lot of naked women, and in that regard, it can be called a success. It helps that the women are all gorgeous in that vintage 70's glamor way, and that unlike something like a Jess Franco movie, it doesn't make the nudity redundant and ultimately dull.

Everything else? Well, it's not that badly directed or acted I guess, but little of it is all that great. The horror aspect itself feels pretty muted to be honest, as if those behind it were almost reluctant to include the whole occult angle. Like other European genre films from this era, it's an occult horror tale that's more interested in breasts than it is horror. Hell, if your looking for gore you will be disappointed, though you might like the rituals themselves, which have a very druggy vibe to them.

As a whole, "Virgin Witch" isn't much to write home about. That out of the way, if your in the mood for blatant sexploitation fluff, then you could do a whole lot worse than this, and would make for a decent rental in that case. Plus, you know, boobs.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween II (1981)

Confession time: I'm not a fan of "Halloween III: Season of the Witch." I know, it has a very loyal following, and I admire that it tries to do something without Michael Myers but I always found it to be more goofy (the Silver Shamrock song, The Robot henchmen) than creepy. I can say that it is better than the sequels that followed, which turned Michael Myers into another generic slasher villain. They also gave us the Thorn Cult, Laurie Myers dying, and Busta Rhymes beating the shit out of Myers. Then came the remakes Rob Zombie made that turned a horror icon into yet another serial killer with family issues.

To me, "Halloween II" is the only good sequel in the series. This one has gotten something of a drubbing over time-it's not as good as the original (few sequels are), it's not scary and it shouldn't have amplified the blood quotient some say. I say fuck 'em. This is an under appreciated little film whose reputation has thankfully improved overtime (I still remember when it had a 5.1 rating on IMDB. Eh, it's not the first time they were wrong.)

This movie actually takes place immediately after the events of the first. Laurie Strode (Once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis) has been sent to a hospital after undergoing a traumatic experience with Michael Myers. As you may recall, Michael isn't dead. He's very much alive, and has one thing in mind: Laurie. That and killing others. So technically, he's got two things on his mind-Laurie and randomly killing people. At least he has his priorities in check. In the process, Dr. Loomis (Once again played by Donald Pleasence) knows Michael is still at large, and knows what he's after. What he and Laurie don't know is why Michael is after her. Of course, we all know it turns out that she's Michael's sister (Oh don't go "spoilers dude." Everyone knows that. Even those who never bothered with the sequels know that.)

It's obvious that "Halloween II" isn't excellent like the original. It lacks some of the top notch well, everything about the original. Hell, the character of Budd (Leo Rossi) is pretty annoying, and simply exists to have pussy on his mind 24/7. Apart from that, this is a solid sequel. Part of this is because this is the last time (for me at least) Michael still feels scary. He's still "The Shape" here, he still has no true emotion, and he's still an imposing figure. The fact that the shadows seem to follow him everywhere he goes probably helps matters.

The film also has some striking images. The best one of course is at the end when Michael is on fire, but the look of the hospital is one of pure despair. Even the violence doesn't hurt-a death via drowning in a scalding hot bathtub would make Dario Argento proud (and reminded me of a similar scene in his Giallo masterpiece "Deep Red.") The script (written by Carpenter and series co-creator Debra Hill) is also pretty good, and adds nice touches such as the connection the pagan holiday Samhain has to the events. It also does a fine job of capturing the connection between Michael and Laurie. Nearing the end when Laurie says Michael's name, he stops. It's like the film is saying that he's briefly reconsidering what he's doing, or that he's just shocked that someone knows who he is. Finally, the score from Carpenter is great, and perfectly fits the eerie ambiance of the film. Oh, and look for a then unknown Dana Carvey in a cameo as an assistant.

At the risk of pissing someone off, "Halloween II" is the only sequel in the series that matters. Forget "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" or "Halloween III: Season of the Witch." This is the one that you should see. It genuinely feels like it was the last hurrah for a character who deserves his reputation of being the ultimate example of his type. Of course this was supposed to be, but we all know how that ended.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Funhouse (1981)

Tobe Hooper will forever be known for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Poltergeist", which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it continues to give him work. On the other hand, everyone will always compare his other work to those two particular movies, which has kind of handicapped his career. Whatever else he's done, people will always go "It's no "Texas Chainsaw" or "Poltergeist."" It's a real shame too, because he's done some good to great work outside of those movies (and some pretty bad ones), with "The Funhouse" probably being his best work outside of them.

I don't care if it's a bet-I'm not eating that!

The film actually has a fun opening that playfully riffs on both "Psycho" and "Halloween." Here, Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge, who went on to play Beethoven's wife in "Amadeus") is attacked in the shower by a killer in a clown mask-who has a rubber knife. It's her little brother (Shawn Carson) pulling a prank on her.

Anyways, Amy, her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee"), and her pals Richie (Miles Chaplin) and Liz (Largo Woodruff) are off to the local carnival to see the sights and sounds. They decide it would be a fun idea to spend the night at the local funhouse, and then things turn south when they see a man in a Frankenstein mask (William Cober) kill a trashy fortune teller (Sylvia Miles from "Midnight Cowboy.") However, this isn't a man-it's a deformed mutant whose not going to let them out-not if his abusive dad (Kevin Conway, who also plays a Freak Show and Strip Show Barker) has anything to say about it.

A face not even a mother could love

Part of the appeal "The Funhouse" has for me is the fact that in the end of the day, it's not really a slasher movie. Sure, it's got a killer going after teens, but the killer isn't human this time around. If anything, this is more of an homage to Universal Horror films from the 30's, 40's and 50's. Everything from the set design to the people at the Carnival and the father/son plot could have come from these movies, and it's nice to see this kind of thing instead of the usual slice n' dice. Granted, it's all done from the mind of Hooper and writer Larry Block, which means that you still get the same kind of warped humor and sideshow style weirdness you'd expect, but that's always welcomed.

It also looks great. The funhouse set in particular is impressive, full of offbeat visuals and haunting ambiance that breathes personality. Same with the direction and cinematography, which manages to largely forgo splatter for a "Halloween Spookshow" vibe that perfectly fits the atmosphere of the film. Oh, and I can't go on without mentioning the all around awesome score by John Beal, which is one of the best of the 80's. It's a wonderful Orchestral score that thankfully uses synthesizer's sparingly (they are only used for the funhouse theme) and recalls the best horror music from the era the film pays tribute to.

 You know, this looks kinda like the obese lady from the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remakes. Ironic, no?

"The Funhouse" is the most criminally overlooked of Hooper's filmography, and is a must for anyone who wants a slightly different take on the teen centric horror films of the 80's. It should be mentioned that the new collector's edition from Shout Factory is great, and has all kinds of fun extras.

Rating: 8.5/10