Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Warren Stevens: 1919-2012

Hard Target (1993)

I figured it was only a matter of time before I reviewed both a John Woo movie and a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Woo of course, is known for directing some of the best action movies from China-"Hard Boiled", "A Better Tomorrow" and "The Killer", which are loved by both action connoisseurs, critics and cinephiles alike. Van Damme, is known for staring in many action movies, with only a small handful being ones I liked, and a genuinely great movie in "J.C.V.D." Well thankfully, the Sam Raimi produced "Hard Target" is one of the ones I like, as well as Woo's U.S. directorial debut.

Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) is in search of her father, who has gone missing in New Orleans. Hiring the aid of homeless drifter Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) who by coincidence knows martial arts, they discover that his disappearance has to do with a "Most Dangerous Game" style hunt headed by the ruthless Emil Fouchon (Lance Henriksen, back when he could get roles in major theatrical releases), and that they are he and his pals new prey.

There's little about "Hard Target" that will make you think "this is the best movie ever!" Van Damme is awful (and sports a mullet haircut), and Wilford Brimley sports the least convincing Cajan accent since...well, ever. That out of the way, it's an enjoyable little bit of "Saturday Afternoon Cinema", with enough B-Movie cool (you also get a pre "The Mummy" Arnold Vosloo and Henriksen chewing scenery in the best ways possible) to get on by.

It's also helped by a sense of humor, especially evident in a scene in which Chance knocks a rattle snake out via punching it. While many call this a bad movie moment, this is actually the most Raimi inspired moment, done with a clear wink and a nod. While this isn't the best John Woo movie, it's also far from the worst (remember "Paycheck"?), as he does a fine job with most the cast and directs with his usual eye for visuals and set pieces. Which leads me to the real star of the movie: the action. Granted, this is a Woo movie, but dammit if the scenes here aren't great. There's plenty of kicks and punches traded, bouts of bloody (at times almost gory*) mayhem occur, and people die spectacular deaths-I could go on really, but it's really fun to watch.

At the end of the day, this is anything but a classic. However, if your in the mood for an undemanding but enjoyable B-Level action movie, you should give this one a shot sometime.

Rating: 7/10

*Apparently, Woo had to cut some of the violence down due to the MPAA breathing down his back over it, especially in a scene where someone has their ear cut off with scissors. There's a bootleg of the uncut version floating around.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Deadly Spawn (1983)

It's rare that you find a micro-budget movie that's not only has a cult following, but is actually worthy of the praise it's received. Lord knows I've had to sit through so many cult favorite micro-budget movies-"Meat Market", "Darkness", "The Shatter Dead", etc.-that failed to win me over for a myriad of reasons. So while it's not perfect, it's refreshing to watch a movie like "The Deadly Spawn", which has so much heart, enthusiasm and love put into it, and get's so much right, I can't help but watch it with a big smile plastered on my face.

The plot couldn't be more basic-a meteorite crashes onto Earth. Inside of it are alien creatures with big mouths, lots of teeth, and a desire to eat, and they are loose inside of a house. Now, it's up to a group of teens and horror/science fiction obsessed boy Charles (Charles George Hildebrandt) to stop this menace before it's too late.

As I said, it's pretty basic stuff. Made for $25,000 and a love for 50's alien invasion movies, and featuring plenty of 80's splatter, "The Deadly Spawn" does have it's flaws. For starters, none of the performances here are good, though that's a given in movies like this. However, you also have plenty of stretches of what I like to call "talk instead of dialog", or moments in which people just prattle on about nothing in particular for a while. Maybe if the conversations were better written, I would be more forgiving.

And here's where I get forgiving-"The Deadly Spawn", while not an all time classic in horror, is definitely a classic in the world of micro-budget movies. Here, while the actors aren't good, at least the characters they play actually feel like people instead of one dimensional stereotypes. Speaking of one dimensional, director Douglas McKeown (in his only directorial effort) knows that this is basic stuff, and thankfully doesn't try to try and give it all a "bigger meaning" or something like this. This is a monster movie and nothing more, and he proves himself to be a capable director who can move things at a good clip and not bog it down too much. Oh, and the synthesizer heavy score by Paul Cornell, Michael Perilstein and Kenneth Walker is great, perfectly fitting the mood of the whole thing and is pretty damn catchy to boot. Fans of late 70's/early-to-mid-80's horror movie scores will lap it up.

Oh, and then there's the best thing about the movie-the effects. It's obvious that the monsters are the stars here, and they look great-and not just for a movie made for a quarter of $100,000. The toothy beasts-from the 7-8 foot tall monster in the basement that escape upstairs to the tadpole like baby aliens-are all the definition of low budget ingenuity (and were created by future X-Files make-up effects man John Dods), and look like they could belong in a bigger budgeted movie. As for the gore effects-those are plentiful too, with heads getting bitten off, faces being ripped up and more happening with pure, unapologetic abandon.

For fans of 80's horror, "The Deadly Spawn" is a must see that offers enough gore, monsters and fun for a night with friends and a six-pack. Not a perfect movie, but a lot of fun, which is what you want from a monster movie like this.

Rating: 7.5/10

Friday, March 23, 2012

Well

In my review for "Creature", I kind of ripped on Fangoria and Chris Alexander for promoting/supporting said movie. I have to say: I am sorry. As a blogger, that is unprofessional behavior, and I should have done more research before making such statements. From the research I've done since: it seems Mike Gingold didn't care for the movie either, so I'm not alone I guess. Anyways, again my most sincere apologies.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Creature (2011)

I remember seeing "Creature" on the marquee at my theater. I didn't bother to see it, and judging from the amount of people who saw it (about $327,000-also, I heard only like six people bothered to see it at my theater) and reviews (apparently, everyone but Fangoria* hated it), not many did either. Nonetheless, I started to grow fascinated by the movie-that tends to happen to those of us that review movies. How could a movie bomb so spectacularly on both levels? Was it really as bad as everyone said it was? The answer to that question: yes.

The story is pretty basic-hell, it's probably too basic. A group of friends go into the backwoods of Louisiana for for a good time, but end up running afoul of a half crocodile/half man (unfortunately, he's not the half shark/alligator/half man rapper Kool Keith told us of) who wants to mate with women and kill men. Also, it is worshiped by a religious cult that has Sid Haig and Pruitt Taylor Vince.

The so-bad-it's-bad ways of "Creature" are numerous. It's obvious that director Fred Andrews wants this to be a "Hatchet" style horror fest, and while offers us plenty of female nudity, he skimps out on two important aspects: gore, humor and personality. There's gore, but not a whole lot, and none of it is particularly interesting, and many of the kills take place off screen. Hell, the final battle between our surviving heroes and the monster takes place off screen, which feels pretty insulting. If you are going to offer us a rubber-suit-style monster movie/slasher hybrid, at least offer more on the thrills. Even the titular creature itself isn't all that impressive.

Then there's the acting. Look, I know movies like this aren't known for great performances, but you can't help but feel bad for some of the actors involved (Amanda Fuller, who did such a great job in "Red, White and Blue" is better than this IMO) having to deliver such awful dialog. Even the presence of Sid Haig doesn't help, as he just plays a half-assed version of his Captain Spaulding character. That leads me to another thing-if I were from Louisiana, I'd probably be offended by this movie. Here, everyone from the bayou is portrayed as an incestuous sister fucker whose all about bad teeth and doing the "lords work." I know, stereotypes are a given in movies like this, but here it just feels lazy and narrow minded.

There's no reason whatsoever to watch "Creature", not even as a curio. This is a boring, lazy, half-directed crock that deserved the poor fate it received. This movie can go fuck itself as far as I'm concerned.

Rating:










*Fangoria gave this movie a lot of press and mostly praise due to the fact that editor Chris Alexander is "friends" with the director. Way to hold on to your integrity guys.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Art Garfunkle in "Boxing Helena"

Posted because...well, look at him.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tower of Evil (1972)

Jim O' Connolly is a man who had his fingers in various pies as far as genre movies are concerned. As an associate producer, he's responsible for "Konga." As a writer, he wrote "Blood Beast From Outer Space." As a production manager, he worked on "Horrors of the Black Museum." And as a director, he did the Joan Crawford vehicle "Berzerk" and his best known (and best overall) movie, "The Valley of Gwangi." However, if I were to pick a second favorite it would his 1972 directorial effort "Tower of Evil."

Two men docking at Snape Island find a series of grisly murders-and a naked, terrified and hysterical woman with a knife. Taken back to London, she undergoes a form of hypnotherapy, and remembers who-or what-it was that killed those people. Meanwhile, a group of archeologists, along with a fisherman and a detective head to the island looking for an old an Phonecian treasure. Well, they find it-as well as the sole inhabitant of the island-and he ain't happy.

Part of what makes "Tower of Evil" interesting to me is the fact that it seems to take place in two different worlds as far as style goes. On one hand, there's plenty of creepy atmosphere, aided by fog, creative sets and a sense of foreboding evil on the horizon. At the same time though, it's essentially a blueprint for what would become the slasher movie-in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the makers of movies like "Friday the 13th" had seen this. This is a film with a deranged, deformed psychopath who kills people in a sundry of bloody ways, all while the usual rules-don't have sex, don't smoke pot, etc.-apply.

Apart from that, this is an entertaining exploitation movie from a time in which British horror was beginning to get a bit harder around the edges. While none of the actors are particularly good, the fact that the likes of Robin Askwith (playing an American of all things) and Jill Haworth show up should perk a few eyebrows. Also, while not the goriest movie by today's standards, the old school, low-fi gore effects are a lot of fun, with the highlights including a severed head rolling down the stairs and a choice impalement via a spear. Oh, and you get the requisite female nudity-and for the ladies and gay or bisexual viewers, some male nudity as well.

At the end of the day, this isn't the most surprising movie, as you pretty much know whose going to live and die. However, for fans of the trashier side of British horror, this is a good time all around, and would make a fun double feature with Anthony Balch's "Horror Hospital" or Gary Sherman's "Raw Meat."

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988)

The name Fred Olen Ray either drums up interest or disdain in the field of cult moviedom. For some, he's a guy whose given the world some entertaining but lightweight exploitation movies. For others, he's a man who's never made a good movie in his life. I lean more towards the latter myself, but I don't hate the man. I will say this though: if he has a movie he can call his masterpiece, it would probably be "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers", a rather lame brained but shockingly enjoyable for what it is horror/comedy.

Jack Chandler (Ray regular Jay Richardson) is a private eye whose tracking down runaway girl Samantha (Linnea Quigley), whom he believes is caught up in a series of unsolved murders. Along the way, he meets Mercedes (Michelle Bauer), who has a thing for chainsaws. Long story short: it turns out that the two ladies are part of a religious cult that worships said power tools, lead by a man known only as "The Stranger" (Gunner Hansen.)

"Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" is the antithesis of what you'd call a smart movie. The humor can be pretty dumb at times (Ray sure likes his "private dick" puns), the 80's style fashion and hair can be an eyesore, and the ending is a bit too predictable. That out of the way, Ray knows exactly what he's making-a dumb, boobs and blood filled b-movie that caters to a certain audience. While not the best example in the genre, it at least offers plenty of both, as well as some shockingly inspired jokes and some genuine ingenuity for a movie shot on previously used sets for a budget of $50,000.

It also helps that the acting is better than usual. Richardson makes for a likable lead, gleefully sending up old private detective stereotypes and winking at the audience without overdoing it, while Hansen seems to be having a good time as a deranged cult leader. However, it's Quigley and Bauer who steal the show. Sure, the look great (as one would expect), but they bring some real energy to their roles, dismembering hapless shmoes with ease and embracing the parts they play with zeal.

At the end of the day, "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" won't be considered a classic in the field of horror/comedy movies. It is however, the best Fred Olen Ray movie I've seen, and at a brisk 72 minutes, it's a fine little time waster. Unfortunately, we never got the promised follow up "Student Chainsaw Nurses."

Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Suckling (1990)

Some guys! All they wanna do is blow their load on your face! Ah well, everyone's got their problems...-Hooker, "The Suckling"

When it comes to horror, you can't really be surprised as far as premises are concerned. Only such a genre could come up with the likes of "Death Bed: The Bed that Eats", "I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle" or today's movie, Francis Teri's lone directing and writing effort "The Suckling."

Starting out with a rolling text that informs us that the following events actually happened in 1973 (okay then...), "The Suckling" deals with a couple who go to a brothel that doubles as an illegal abortion clinic run by Big Mama. The girl ends up having her fetus aborted against her will, which is flushed down the toilet-and then has toxic waste from a barrel spill on it (because all abortion clinics and whore houses have that in their backyards), turning it into a rampaging monster that wants blood. Now barricaded by a strange membrane, the patrons of the house must fend for their lives.

When you look at the premise, "The Suckling" looks like the kind of trashy, potentially offensive movie that cult movie nuts such as myself look at with a cocked eyebrow, thinking "well, that's different." First of all, it's not at all pro-life propaganda, as it so many moments (a topless nurse with an axe, a man being sodomized by a dildo, dialogue like "You wish, penis brain!") that let you know that this is meant to be exploitation for a certain audience and nothing more. The movie itself does get this right-the make-up, gore and creature effects are great, and bleed the kind of low-budget ingenuity that I embrace. Going from a man in a monster suit (played by Fangoria managing editor Michael Gingold of all people) to puppetry and crude stop-motion, you can't help but smile at the practical effects on display.

Unfortunately, everything else-acting, direction, editing, music (a pretty redundant piano and synthesizer score), pacing and lighting fails. Granted, this is a low budget horror film, so I can forgive some of that. However, while there's some choice gore (a decapitation, an impalement and a meltdown in the end credits), the movie isn't gory enough to warrant as the kind of splatter fest that this should be, nor does it have enough nudity. In fact, apart from the premise and the conclusion, little of this actually feels tasteless. Most of it just feels like a rather routine, low budget monster movie and siege style horror movie that only offers a few surprises, and mostly just plays out in routine fashion, with many of the kills occurring off screen or coming off as rather tame.

This leads me to mention the biggest problem the movie has-it all plays itself too straight. Sure, there's moments of humor, but none of them are funny. This is a movie about an aborted fetus that turns into a killer monster. It should be a sleazy, scuzzy movie with a bent sense of humor and plenty of memorable moments. Instead you only get a few, with a lot of useless talk and yammer among amateur actors. That's not what I want from a movie like this.

On paper, "The Suckling" looks like a dream come true for the likes of Troma and Frank Henenlotter fans. While it might appeal to the former, the latter will probably walk away disappointed. This is for undiscerning trash fans only.

Rating: 3.5/10

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Pack (2010)

Rule number I forget in horror: Don't leave someone behind when they've "disappeared". It will come back to haunt you, or the people responsible for his "disappearance" will get you. That's what happens in the French horror film "The Pack."

Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) picks up a hitchhiker named Max (Benjamin Biolay) and they go to a local truck-stop diner. They running into a gang of degenerate bikers (is there any other kind in movies?), only to have said bikers get scared off by the owner of the restaurant La Spack (Jean-Pierre Jeunet regular Yolande Moreau.) When Max doesn't return after a trip to the bathroom, Charlotte finds herself in the clutches of Spack, who turns out to be Max's mother-and who feeds people to ground dwelling, humanoid flesh eaters.

I won't deny that for what it is, "The Pack" manages to be fun albeit unspectacular. It's got a nasty and welcome streak of black humor that doesn't go overboard into a horror/comedy route, which is kind of refreshing. It's also capably directed, has some good performances (especially from Moreau, who seems to be having a blast as the villain), some decent atmosphere, and some choice gore. Also, Phillipe Nahon shows up wearing a shirt you've probably seen online that says "I Fuck on the First Date", which automatically bumps this up half a star.

However, as I said, the end result feels kind of unspectacular. That's mostly because of the fact that most of this is either predictable or familiar, and none of it is particularly suspenseful or scary. You know from the get go that La Spack is up to no good, what with her threatening the bikers with a gun and coming off as loony. We also get the requisite nods to other, better horror movies, including a near end siege straight of of "Night of the Living Dead" (or if you want to be obscure, Robert Voskanian's sole directorial effort "The Child"), and yet more references to the likes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." That reminds me: do we really need another visual tribute to the door slamming from that movie?

As it is, "The Pack" is far from a classic, and not in the higher tier of the recent wave of French horror. However, it's disposable, mostly unoffensive fun that's not spectacular but does a good enough job, and would make a fun triple bill with "The Horde" and "Frontier(s)."

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mutant Vampire Zombies From The 'Hood! (2008)

Remember C. Thomas Howell? First of all, he's in no way related to me. Second of all, he was in such classics as "The Outsiders", "E.T.", "The Hitcher" and "Red Dawn" (and um, "Soul Man.") Well, his career hasn't been what you'd call a wrecking ball of success, as he's been in a whole lot of shit, usually of the straight to video variety-("House of the Fallen", "Hot Boyz" and "The Hitcher II"-yes, there was a sequel), and judging by 2008's "Mutant Vampire Zombies From the 'Hood!", that hasn't changed much.

Thom Boy stars as David, a police officer who finds himself in the middle of a gang dispute. Said dispute ends up going to the wayside though, when an extra powerful solar flair turns most of L.A. into ravenous, rape-happy blood suckers. Now, they must band together in order to survive, take refuge thanks to a scientist and his daughter-you know, the usual.

There's very little here that's new in MVZFTH that separates it from other straight to video zombie movies. I will say that the make-up and gore effects are pretty good, and that in the field of urban zombie movies, it's better than "Dead Heist" and especially "Zombiez." That's the faintest of praise though.

This is the type of movie that thinks making a bunch of actors play racial stereotypes (some of which are rather offensive) and having them point guns at each other and yell and curse a lot automatically makes good drama and characterization. It also clearly wants to be embraced by a certain audience, but it forgets to be a fun movie in the process. Sure, there's gratuitous nudity, gore and zombie/vampire hybrids, but it forgets basic things like good direction, pacing and an interesting plot or characters. This is all formulaic and familiar, and wants so much to be a cult movie that it forgets that it takes effort to make one.

The acting is also pretty bad. Howell seems to be bored in his role, looking like he's rather be anywhere else. An even bigger offender though, is Tyshawn Bryant as G-Dog. First of all, his name is G-Dog. Nobody uses names like that anymore. Second of all, he uses lingo and slang that's incredibly dated, meaning that out of all the cast, he get's the worst dialog. It also doesn't help matters that he can't seem to act to save his life, and delivers all his dialog in a dull, deadpan manner.

Is there any reason to see this movie? No, there is not, unless you want to see every C. Thomas Howell movie. That out of the way, he has a recurring role on the hit TV show "Southland", and he's in "The Amazing Spiderman" this year, so who knows, maybe things are slowly coming up Milhouse for him.

Rating: 2/10

Apart from having an amusing name, Thunder Levin made his directorial debut with the not remembered by anyone horror film "Soulmates" (aka "Evil Lives.") He was also a still photographer for "Saturday the 14th Strikes Back", "Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls" and "Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II." He's more recently moved on to working for The Asylum, writing the "Fast and Furious" ripoff "200 M.P.H." and writing and directing the upcoming mock-buster "American Battleship."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Classic Poster Art: The House on Sorority Row (1983)


You know, it really doesn't look like a poster for a slasher movie.